Politicized Intelligence Kneecapping Trump

The back story behind the CIA’s leaked claim of Russia helping Donald Trump is an attempt to hobble Trump’s less-hawkish foreign policy before he even gets into the White House, says ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

It is not difficult to understand the dynamics of the recent U.S. presidential election. These same dynamics played a part in Brexit, and continue to unfold throughout Europe: there has been little or no real “growth” since 2005 – for many Americans and Europeans. Good quality jobs for native-born Americans and Europeans are rare, and those employment increases that have occurred, are mostly in the minimum wage sector – and have been filled by recent immigrants.

Many native-born Americans and Europeans are feeling the economic pips squeezed to the limit, at the same time that zero or negative interest rates has eviscerated savings income, and is threatening their pensions.

This is the economic malaise. And on top of this has been the political malaise and widespread reaction against the center-leftist “values-based,” identity politics that stressed the rights and interests of a growing spectrum of “victims” in society: specifically defined in polar opposition to the mainstream American and European way-of-life.

The aggressiveness behind this polar oppositional positioning, intentionally demonizes and weakens the cultural mainstream:  in effect, ordinary people who worked, had loving wives or husbands and children, and attended church, became the “deplorables,” bigots or racists. It was against this supposed cultural “tyranny” that identity victims needed to be supported.

Gender relations were twisted as new genders proliferated, the propaganda of gender diversity exploded, and parent-children relations eroded. Indeed, “white,” “male” and “Christian” are the only identities you may freely and gratuitously abuse in the U.S. and Europe today. Many ordinary Americans and Europeans find this intolerable. They are pushing-back.

Nothing About Russia

None of these dynamics have anything at all to do with Russia or President Vladimir Putin – except that many Russians express bewilderment that Europe has become so embroiled in this gender politics, and in a war against traditional cultural and moral values.

But today, certain Western intelligence services – the CIA and MI6 – want to suggest that Putin had his “thumb on the scales” of the U.S. election, and “may manipulate a series of key elections [to be held] in Europe next year” too.  The narrative has evolved from one of Russian influence in U.S. elections, to that of a decisive influence.

As one former CIA officer and U.S. national intelligence co-ordinator, Graham Fuller puts it: “And now, in perhaps the most volatile delegitimization gambit ever, Trump is now whispered to be ‘Putin’s candidate,’ a Russian pawn who has infiltrated the White House itself …

“This is all very ugly stuff. Worse, it looks like questioning the electoral process and the legitimacy of the election itself may become a permanent feature of our domestic politics, inciting further divisiveness and bitterness on both sides of the political divide, rendering the country (even more) ungovernable.”

Indeed, it is ugly stuff. The politicization of intelligence has reached new heights. Russia is not responsible for the widespread opposition to globalization in the U.S. and Europe: simply, the original theory behind globalization (David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory) no longer retains validity or meaning in the changed reality of today’s world (see here, for an explanation).

And economic growth is proving elusive for a number of reasons, which reflect deep-seated changes under way in the world today (aging demography, China’s stall, and more generally, the failure of debt-led growth policies to work any more, inter alia). For sure, the leadership of the CIA understands these longer-term dynamics at work in recent U.S. and European elections.

A recent Pew survey, for example, shows: “The Republican Party made deep inroads into America’s middle-class communities in 2016. Although many middle-class areas voted for Barack Obama in 2008, they overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump in 2016, a shift that was a key to his victory … In 2016, Trump successfully defended all 27 middle-class areas won by Republicans in 2008. In a dramatic shift, however, Hillary Clinton lost in 18 of the 30 middle-class areas won by Democrats in 2008 … Overall, Democrats experienced widespread erosion in support from 2008 to 2016. Their share of the vote fell in 196 of the 221 metropolitan areas examined. The loss in support was sufficiently large to move 37 areas from the Democratic column to the Republican column …”.

A Charge Lacking Evidence

And, so far, the American officials have stated explicitly that there is no evidence to sustain their claim of Russian involvement – and National Security Agency, which, alone, might have such evidence – were it to exist – has not come forward to confirm the CIA “assessment.” Other American intelligence agencies have directly contested the leaked CIA “finding.”

In short, we are told that the CIA claims are based on “inference”: which is to say that the CIA officials are “confident,” based on their psychological profile of President Putin, that the latter would prefer Mr. Trump as President; that since it was the Democrats who experienced leaks – and not the Republicans – it may be inferred that a hostile power was behind the leaks; and since Putin lies at the apex of Russian power, it may “confidently” be inferred that he personally would have authorized and directed such leaks.

Of course, this is not intelligence. This is simply a given conceptual framework (or group think), which may be right or may be wrong, being played out. It is blatantly political – unless sustained by hard intelligence.

And it is pernicious. Regardless of what may be said officially, in due course, in respect to the CIA claims, a cloud of illegitimacy will hang over the Trump Administration, and, as Graham Fuller rightly observes, this supposed illegitimacy, derived from the decisive influence of Russia on the election, may not be ephemeral, but rather continue to haunt the President throughout his incumbency. (It is hard to lay to rest CIA inferences once made, beyond repeating that there is no definite evidence to support them.) Such a finding would hardly dissipate the smoldering antipathies.

The allegation of Russian malfeasance may also derail the confirmation of Rex Tillerson, official “friend of Russia,” as Secretary of State. It may thus hobble Trump’s ability to reach détente with Russia – and may taint any détente that subsequently may be reached with Russia.

It is likely too, to make President Putin more wary of reaching any accord with Tillerson – suspecting that any new détente with the U.S. will unleash a further torrent of abuse of Russia from a polarized America. Even were Putin personally to welcome a Trump political initiative, further abuse of Russia in America and Europe might not be judged by President Putin to be worth the candle. No people, and not least the Russian people, like to see their country traduced publicly, and at length, in the world press. The onslaught is already having its impact: Russians will be asking themselves can Trump command such a divided and soured country.

Delegitimizing a President

Can one conclude that this outcome (a delegitimized Presidency) was somehow other than that which the CIA intended? Pat Buchanan (himself a thrice-time U.S. Presidential candidate) has no doubts: “The [New York] Times editorial spoke of a ‘darkening cloud’ already over the Trump presidency, and warned that a failure to investigate and discover the full truth of Russia’s hacking could only ‘feed suspicion among millions of Americans that … (t)he election was indeed rigged.’

“Behind the effort to smear Tillerson and delegitimize Trump lies a larger motive. Trump has antagonists in both parties who are alarmed at his triumph, because it imperils the foreign policy agenda that is their raison d’être, their reason ‘for being.’

These people do not want to lift sanctions on Moscow. They do not want an end to the confrontation with Russia. As is seen by their bringing in tiny Montenegro, they want to enlarge NATO to encompass Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

They have in mind the permanent U.S. encirclement of Russia … Their goal is to bring down Putin and bring about ‘regime change’ in Moscow.”

In short, the Russia “hype” is about blocking Trump from making his foreshadowed shift away from the new Cold War, pursued by the present U.S. establishment, and towards initiating détente instead, and perhaps the playing up of the Russian “threat” extends even to hoping to frighten enough presidential electors to change their vote on Dec. 19 (though that prospect seems improbable).

If there are indeed foreign intelligence services with their “thumb” in the American election, arguably it is those European services that are feeding the “profound” propaganda threat from Russia meme – and thereby helping in the delegitimization of the U.S. President-elect, and to keeping the new Cold War alive. (There are European states deeply opposed to any rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia).

But this politicization of intelligence is pernicious in another way – to which Graham Fuller also alludes. The allegations that Trump is a knowing or unknowing pawn of Russia is explosive emotional material thrown into an already enflamed, splintered and embittered American national psyche.  The “not my President” meme may make it impossible for Trump to operationalize his policies – as polarized government departments turn upon each other (as is already occurring amongst the intelligence agencies). In short, it can paralyze the very operationality of government.

Buchanan states the obvious conclusion, when he writes: “early in his presidency, if not before, Trump is going to have to impose his foreign policy upon his own party and, indeed, upon his own government. Or his presidency will be broken, as was Lyndon Johnson’s.”

Profound Polarization

But let us be clear: de-legitimation can be a two-edged sword. Were, by some pretty unimaginable event, Hillary Clinton to be enacted as President vice Trump, she would find her ability to command the authority of the state as hobbled by the bitterness and anger – as would a delegitimized Trump.

Politicization of intelligence services is not new, nor are “black” (i.e. false-flagged) information operations conducted by Western services, but the scale of the present assault on a U.S. President-elect marks, perhaps, a different order of potential consequences.

How can this have happened? The war in Syria has had, it seems, a hugely corrosive effect on services such as CIA and MI6. Firstly, there was the tension of contradiction: the deceit to be maintained of ostensibly fighting terrorism, while secretly supporting such bloody forces (in order to weaken President Bashar al-Assad and subsequently Russia).

Secondly, that of pretending to be pursuing a “principled” policy of off-shored “identity politics” (Sunnis as victims), while quietly accepting – and becoming dependent on – the “off-balance sheet” subventions flowing from the very patrons of such forces (shades of Clinton Foundation pay-to-play ethos).

And thirdly, by becoming the echo chamber of claims, however improbable, however false, thrown up by sundry armed movements and their paymasters – with the intent to force the hand of Western military intervention. In short, these services cease to be observers; they became investors. They become lost in a maze of contorted realities, false propaganda, and of acquired hubris. Like Prometheus, they think to secretly steal from Zeus, the god of war: they aspire to dictate war and peace.

Into this heady world of “strategic communication” warfare, has intruded Mr. Trump, spoiling their Syria gambit – and promising détente with Russia. It must indeed seem intolerable.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.

Making Russia ‘The Enemy’

Exclusive: Despite conflicting accounts about who leaked the Democratic emails, the frenzy over an alleged Russian role is driving the U.S. deeper into a costly and dangerous New Cold War, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The rising hysteria about Russia is best understood as fulfilling two needs for Official Washington: the Military Industrial Complex’s transitioning from the “war on terror” to a more lucrative “new cold war” – and blunting the threat that a President Trump poses to the neoconservative/liberal-interventionist foreign-policy establishment.

By hyping the Russian “threat,” the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks, who include much of the mainstream U.S. news media, can guarantee bigger military budgets from Congress. The hype also sets in motion a blocking maneuver to impinge on any significant change in direction for U.S. foreign policy under Trump.

Some Democrats even hope to stop Trump from ascending to the White House by having the Central Intelligence Agency, in effect, lobby the electors in the Electoral College with scary tales about Russia trying to fix the election for Trump.

The electors meet on Dec. 19 when they will formally cast their votes, supposedly reflecting the judgments of each state’s voters, but conceivably individual electors could switch their ballots from Trump to Hillary Clinton or someone else.

On Thursday, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. joined the call for electors to flip, writing: “The question is whether Trump, Vladimir Putin and, perhaps, Clinton’s popular-vote advantage give you sufficient reason to blow up the system.”

That Democrats would want the CIA, which is forbidden to operate domestically in part because of its historic role in influencing elections in other countries, to play a similar role in the United States shows how desperate the Democratic Party has become.

And, even though The New York Times and other big news outlets are reporting as flat fact that Russia hacked the Democratic email accounts and gave the information to WikiLeaks, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, told the London Daily Mail that he personally received the email data from a “disgusted” Democrat.

Murray said he flew from London to Washington for a clandestine handoff from one of the email sources in September, receiving the package in a wooded area near American University.

“Neither of [the leaks, from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] came from the Russians,” Murray said, adding: “the source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray said the insider felt “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.” Murray added that his meeting was with an intermediary for the Democratic leaker, not the leaker directly.

[Update: Murray subsequently said his contact with the intermediary at American University was not for the purpose of obtaining a batch of the purloined emails, as the Daily Mail reported, since WikiLeaks already had them. He said the Mail simply added that detail to the story, but Murray declined to explain why he had the meeting at A.U. with the whistleblower or an associate.]

If Murray’s story is true, it raises several alternative scenarios: that the U.S. intelligence community’s claims about a Russian hack are false; that Russians hacked the Democrats’ emails for their own intelligence gathering without giving the material to WikiLeaks; or that Murray was deceived about the identity of the original leaker.

But the uncertainty creates the possibility that the Democrats are using a dubious CIA assessment to reverse the outcome of an American presidential election, in effect, making the CIA party to a preemptive domestic “regime change.”

Delayed Autopsy

All of this maneuvering also is delaying the Democratic Party’s self-examination into why it lost so many white working-class voters in normally Democratic strongholds, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Rather than national party leaders taking the blame for pre-selecting a very flawed candidate and ignoring all the warning signs about the public’s resistance to this establishment choice, Democrats have pointed fingers at almost everyone else – from FBI Director James Comey for briefly reviving Clinton’s email investigation, to third-party candidates who siphoned off votes, to the archaic Electoral College which negates the fact that Clinton did win the national popular vote – and now to the Russians.

While there may be some validity to these various complaints, the excessive frenzy that has surrounded the still-unproven claims that the Russian government surreptitiously tilted the election in Trump’s favor creates an especially dangerous dynamic.

On one level, it has led Democrats to support Orwellian/ McCarthyistic concepts, such as establishing “black lists” for Internet sites that question Official Washington’s “conventional wisdom” and thus are deemed purveyors of “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.”

On another level, it cements the Democratic Party as America’s preeminent “war party,” favoring an escalating New Cold War with Russia by ratcheting up economic sanctions against Moscow, and even seeking military challenges to Russia in conflict zones such as Syria and Ukraine.

One of the most dangerous aspects of a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency was that she would have appointed neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and her husband, Project for the New American Century co-founder Robert Kagan, to high-level foreign policy positions.

Though that risk may have passed assuming Clinton’s Electoral College defeat on Monday, Democrats now are excitedly joining the bash-Russia movement, making it harder to envision how the party can transition back into its more recent role as the “peace party” (at least relative to the extremely hawkish Republicans).

Trading Places

The potential trading places of the two parties in that regard – with Trump favoring geopolitical détente and the Democrats beating the drums for more military confrontations – augurs poorly for the Democrats regaining their political footing anytime soon.

If Democratic leaders press ahead, in alliance with neoconservative Republicans, on demands for escalating the New Cold War with Russia, they could precipitate a party split between Democratic hawks and doves, a schism that likely would have occurred if Clinton had been elected but now may happen anyway, albeit without the benefit of the party holding the White House.

The first test of this emerging Democratic-neocon alliance may come over Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Exxon-Mobil’s chief executive Rex Tillerson, who doesn’t exhibit the visceral hatred of Russian President Vladimir Putin that Democrats are encouraging.

As an international business executive, Tillerson appears to share Trump’s real-politik take on the world, the idea that doing business with rivals makes more sense than conspiring to force “regime change” after “regime change.”

Over the past several decades, the “regime change” approach has been embraced by both neocons and liberal interventionists and has been implemented by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sometimes, it’s done through war and other times through “color revolutions” – always under the idealistic guise of “democracy promotion” or “protecting human rights.”

But the problem with this neo-imperialist strategy has been that it has failed miserably to improve the lives of the people living in the “regime-changed” countries. Instead, it has spread chaos across wide swaths of the globe and has now even destabilized Europe.

Yet, the solution, as envisioned by the neocons and their liberal-hawk understudies, is simply to force more “regime change” medicine down the throats of the world’s population. The new “great” idea is to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia by making its economy scream and by funding as many anti-Putin elements as possible to create the nucleus for a “color revolution” in Moscow.

To justify that risky scheme, there has been a broad expansion of anti-Russian propaganda now being funded with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money as well as being pushed by government officials giving off-the-record briefings to mainstream media outlets.

However, as with earlier “regime change” plans, the neocons and liberal hawks never think through the scenario to the end. They always assume that everything is going to work out fine and some well-dressed “opposition leader” who has been to their think-tank conferences will simply ascend to the top job.

Remember, in Iraq, it was going to be Ahmed Chalabi who was beloved in Official Washington but broadly rejected by the Iraqi people. In Libya, there has been a parade of U.S.-approved “unity” leaders who have failed to pull that country together.

In Ukraine, Nuland’s choice – Arseniy “Yats is the guy” Yatsenyuk – resigned amid broad public disapproval  earlier this year after pushing through harsh cuts in social programs, even as the U.S.-backed regime officials in Kiev continued to plunder Ukraine’s treasury and misappropriate Western economic aid.

Nuclear-Armed Destabilization

But the notion of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia is even more hare-brained than those other fiascos. The neocon/liberal-hawk assumption is that Russians – pushed to the brink of starvation by crippling Western sanctions – will overthrow Putin and install a new version of Boris Yeltsin who would then let U.S. financial advisers return with their neoliberal “shock therapy” of the 1990s and again exploit Russia’s vast resources.

Indeed, it was the Yeltsin era and its Western-beloved “shock therapy” that created the desperate conditions before the rise of Putin with his autocratic nationalism, which, for all its faults, has dramatically improved the lives of most Russians.

So, the more likely result from the neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” plans for Moscow would be the emergence of someone even more nationalistic – and likely far less stable – than Putin, who is regarded even by his critics as cold and calculating.

The prospect of an extreme Russian nationalist getting his or her hands on the Kremlin’s nuclear codes should send chills up and down the spines of every American, indeed every human being on the planet. But it is the course that key national Democrats appear to be on with their increasingly hysterical comments about Russia.

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Trump of giving Russia “an early holiday gift that smells like a payoff. … It’s rather easy to connect the dots. Russia meddled in the U.S. election in order to benefit Trump and now he’s repaying Vladimir Putin by nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.”

Besides delaying a desperately needed autopsy on why Democrats did so badly in an election against the also-widely-disliked Donald Trump, the new blame-Russia gambit threatens to hurt the Democrats and their preferred policies in another way.

If Democrats vote in bloc against Tillerson or other Trump foreign-policy nominees – demanding that he appoint people acceptable to the neocons and the liberal hawks – Trump might well be pushed deeper into the arms of right-wing Republicans, giving them more on domestic issues to solidify their support on his foreign-policy goals.

That could end up redounding against the Democrats as they watch important social programs gutted in exchange for their own dubious Democratic alliance with the neocons.

Since the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Democrats have courted factions of the neocons, apparently thinking they are influential because they dominate many mainstream op-ed pages and Washington think tanks. In 1993, as a thank-you gift to the neocon editors of The New Republic for endorsing him, Clinton appointed neocon ideologue James Woolsey as head of the CIA, one of Clinton’s more disastrous personnel decisions.

But the truth appears to be that the neocons have much less influence across the U.S. electoral map than the Clintons think. Arguably, their pandering to a clique of Washington insiders who are viewed as warmongers by many peace-oriented Democrats may even represent a net negative when it comes to winning votes.

I’ve communicated with a number of traditional Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because they feared she would pursue a dangerous neocon foreign policy. Obviously, that’s not a scientific survey, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that Clinton’s neocon connections could have been another drag on her campaign.

Assessing Russia

I also undertook a limited personal test regarding whether Russia is the police state that U.S. propaganda depicts, a country yearning to break free from the harsh grip of Vladimir Putin (although he registers 80 or so percent approval in polls).

During my trip last week to Europe, which included stops in Brussels and Copenhagen, I decided to take a side trip to Moscow, which I had never visited before. What I encountered was an impressive, surprisingly (to me at least) Westernized city with plenty of American and European franchises, including the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Starbucks. (Russians serve the Starbucks gingerbread latte with a small ginger cookie.)

Though senior Russian officials proved unwilling to meet with me, an American reporter, at this time of tensions, Russia had little appearance of a harshly repressive society. In my years covering U.S. policies in El Salvador in the 1980s and Haiti in the 1990s, I have experienced what police states look and feel like, where death squads dump bodies in the streets. That was not what I sensed in Moscow, just a modern city with people bustling about their business under early December snowfalls.

The police presence in Red Square near the Kremlin was not even as heavy-handed as it is near the government buildings of Washington. Instead, there was a pre-Christmas festive air to the brightly lit Red Square, featuring a large skating rink surrounded by small stands selling hot chocolate, toys, warm clothing and other goods.

Granted, my time and contact with Russians were limited – since I don’t speak Russian and most of them don’t speak English – but I was struck by the contrast between the grim images created by Western media and the Russia that I saw.

It reminded me of how President Ronald Reagan depicted Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as a “totalitarian dungeon” with a militarized state ready to march on Texas, but what I found when I traveled to Managua was a third-world country still recovering from an earthquake and with a weak security structure despite the Contra war that Reagan had unleashed against Nicaragua.

In other words, “perception management” remains the guiding principle of how the U.S. government deals with the American people, scaring us with exaggerated tales of foreign threats and then manipulating our fears and our misperceptions.

As dangerous as that can be when we’re talking about Nicaragua or Iraq or Libya, the risks are exponentially higher regarding Russia. If the American people are stampeded into a New Cold War based more on myths than reality, the minimal cost could be the trillions of dollars diverted from domestic needs into the Military Industrial Complex. The far-greater cost could be some miscalculation by either side that could end life on the planet.

So, as the Democrats chart their future, they need to decide if they want to leapfrog the Republicans as America’s “war party” or whether they want to pull back from the escalation of tensions with Russia and start addressing the pressing needs of the American people.

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

Hypocrisy Behind the Russian-Election Frenzy

Exclusive: The madness sweeping Official Washington and the mainstream media about alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election is pervaded by breathtaking hypocrisy, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As Democrats, the Obama administration and some neocon Republicans slide deeper into conspiracy theories about how Russia somehow handed the presidency to Donald Trump, they are behaving as they accused Trump of planning to behave if he had lost, questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process and sowing doubts about American democracy.

The thinking then was that if Trump had lost, he would have cited suspicions of voter fraud – possibly claiming that illegal Mexican immigrants had snuck into the polls to tip the election to Hillary Clinton – and Trump was widely condemned for even discussing the possibility of challenging the election’s outcome.

His refusal to commit to accepting the results was front-page news for days with leading editorialists declaring that his failure to announce that he would abide by the outcome disqualified him from the presidency.

But now the defeated Democrats and some anti-Trump neoconservatives in the Republican Party are jumping up and down about how Russia supposedly tainted the election by revealing information about the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Though there appears to be no hard evidence that the Russians did any such thing, the Obama administration’s CIA has thrown its weight behind the suspicions, basing its conclusions on “circumstantial evidence,” according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times reported: “The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday. Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

In other words, the CIA apparently lacks direct reporting from a source inside the Kremlin or an electronic intercept in which Russian President Vladimir Putin or another senior official orders Russian operatives to tilt the U.S. election in favor of Trump.

More ‘Group Thinking’?

The absence of such hard evidence opens the door to what is called “confirmation bias” or analytical “group think” in which the CIA’s institutional animosity toward Russia and Trump could influence how analysts read otherwise innocent developments.

For instance, Russian news agencies RT or Sputnik reported critically at times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in U.S. press accounts arguing that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But that charge assumes two things: that Clinton did not deserve critical coverage and that Americans – in any significant numbers – watch Russian networks.

Similarly, the yet-unproven charge that Russia organized the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the private email account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta assumes that the Russian government was responsible and that it then selectively leaked the material to WikiLeaks while withholding damaging information from hacked Republican accounts.

Here the suspicions also seem to extend far beyond what the CIA actually knows. First, the Republican National Committee denies that its email accounts were hacked, and even if they were hacked, there’s no evidence that they contained any information that was particularly newsworthy. Nor is there any evidence that – if the GOP accounts were hacked – they were hacked by the same group that hacked the Democratic Party emails, i.e., that the two hacks were part of the same operation.

That suspicion assumes a tightly controlled operation at the highest levels of the Russian government, but the CIA – with its intensive electronic surveillance of the Russian government and human sources inside the Kremlin – appears to lack any evidence of such a top-down operation.

Second, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.

Murray said, “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

‘Real News’

But even if Assange did get the data from the Russians, it’s important to remember that nothing in the material has been identified as false. It all appears to be truthful and none of it represented an egregious violation of privacy with some salacious or sensational angle.

The only reason the emails were newsworthy at all was that the documents revealed information that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were trying to keep secret from the American voters.

For instance, some emails confirmed Sen. Bernie Sanders’s suspicions that the DNC was improperly tilting the nomination race in favor of Clinton. The DNC was lying when it denied having an institutional thumb on the scales for Clinton. Thus, even if the Russians did uncover this evidence and did leak it to WikiLeaks, they would only have been informing the American people about the DNC’s abuse of the democratic process, something Democratic voters in particular had a right to know.

And, regarding Podesta’s emails, their most important revelation related to the partial transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks, the contents of which Clinton had chosen to hide from the American people. So, again, if the Russians were involved in the leak, they would only have been giving to the voters information that Clinton should have released on her own. In other words, these disclosures are clearly not “fake news” – the other hysteria now sweeping Official Washington.

In the mainstream news media, there has been a clumsy effort to conflate these parallel frenzies, the leak of “real news” and the invention of “fake news.” But investigations of so-called “fake news” have revealed that these operations were run mostly by young entrepreneurs in places like Macedonia or Georgia who realized they could make advertising dollars by creating outlandish “click bait” stories that Trump partisans were particularly eager to read.

According to a New York Times investigation into one of the “fake news” sites, a college student in Tbilisi, Georgia, first tried to create a pro-Clinton “click bait” Web site but found that a pro-Trump operation was vastly more lucrative. This and other investigations did not trace the “fake news” sites back to Russia or any other government.

So, what’s perhaps most telling about the information that the CIA has accused Russia of sharing with the American people is that it was all “real news” about newsworthy topics.

What Threat to Democracy?

So, how does giving the American people truthful and relevant information undermine American democracy, which is the claim that is reverberating throughout the mainstream media and across Official Washington?

Presumably, the thinking is that it would have been better for the American people to have been kept in the dark about these secret maneuverings by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and, by keeping the public ignorant, that would have ensured Clinton’s election, the preferred outcome of the major U.S. news media.

There’s another double standard here. For instance, when a hack of — or a leak from — a Panamanian law firm exposed the personal finances of thousands of clients, including political figures in Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other nations, there was widespread applause across the Western media for this example of journalism at its best.

The applause was deafening despite the fact that at least one of the principal “news agencies” involved was partly funded by the U.S. government. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a USAID-backed non-governmental organization, also was earlier involved in efforts to destabilize and delegitimize the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Corruption” allegations against Yanukovych – pushed by OCCRP – were integral to the U.S.-supported effort to organize a violent putsch that drove Yanukovych from office on Feb. 22, 2014, touching off the Ukrainian civil war and – on a global scale – the New Cold War with Russia.

Yet, in the case of the “Panama Papers” or other leaks about “corruption” in governments targeted by U.S. officials for “regime change,” there are no frenzied investigations into where the information originated. Regarding the “Panama Papers,” there was simply back-slapping for the organizations that invested time and money in analyzing the volumes of material. And there were cheers when implicated officials were punished or forced to step down.

So, why are some leaks “good” and others “bad”? Why do we hail the “Panama Papers” or OCCRP’s “corruption evidence” that damaged Yanukovych – and ask no questions about where the material came from and how it was selectively used – yet we condemn the Democratic email leaks and undertake investigations into the source of the information?

In both the “Panama Papers” case and the “Democratic Party leaks,” the material appeared to be real. There was no evidence of disinformation or “black propaganda.” But, apparently, it’s okay to disrupt the politics of Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other countries, but it is called a potential “act of war” – by neocon Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona – to reveal evidence of wrongdoing or excessive secrecy on the part of the Democratic Party in the United States.

Shoe on the Other Foot

Russian President Putin, while denying any Russian government attempt to tilt the election to Trump, recently commented on the American hypocrisy about interfering in other nations’ elections while complaining about alleged interference in its own or those of its allies. He described a conversation with an unnamed Western “colleague.”

Putin said, “I recently had a conversation with one of my colleagues. We touched upon our [Russian] alleged influence on some political processes abroad. I told him: ‘And what are you doing? You have been constantly interfering in our political life.’ And he replied: ‘It’s not us, it’s the NGOs’. I said: ‘Oh? But you pay them and write instructions for them.’ He said: ‘What kind of instructions?’ I said: ‘I have been reading them.’”

Whatever one thinks of Putin, he is not wrong in describing how various U.S.-funded NGOs, in the name of “democracy promotion,” seek to undermine governments that have ended up on Official Washington’s target list.

And another aspect of the hypocrisy permeating Official Washington’s belligerent rhetoric directed toward Russia: Aren’t the Democrats doing exactly what they accused Trump of planning to do if he had lost the Nov. 8 election, i.e., question the legitimacy of the results and thus undermine the faith of the American people in their democratic system?

For days, Trump’s unwillingness to accept, presumptively, the results of the election earned him front-page denunciations from many of the same mainstream newspapers and TV networks that are now trumpeting the unproven claims by the CIA that the Russians somehow influenced the election’s outcome by presenting some Democratic hidden facts to the American people.

Yet, this anti-Russian accusation not only undermines the American people’s faith in the election’s outcome but also represents a reckless last-ditch gamble to block Trump’s inauguration – or at least discredit him before he takes office – while using belligerent rhetoric that could push Russia and the United States closer to nuclear war.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea for the CIA to at least have hard evidence before the spy agency precipitated such a crisis?

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

The Syrian-Sarin ‘False Flag’ Lesson

Exclusive: Amid Official Washington’s desire to censor non-official news on the Internet, it’s worth remembering how the lack of mainstream skepticism almost led the U.S. into a war on Syria, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

A review of events leading to the very edge of full-blown U.S. shock-and-awe on Syria three years ago provides a case study with important lessons for new policymakers as they begin to arrive in Washington.

It is high time to expose the whys and wherefores of the almost-successful attempt to mousetrap President Barack Obama into an open attack on Syria three years ago. Little-known and still less appreciated is the last-minute intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin as deus ex machina rescuing Obama from the corner into which he had let himself be painted.

Accumulating evidence offers persuasive proof that Syrian rebels supported by Turkish intelligence – not Syrian Army troops – bear responsibility for the infamous sarin nerve-gas attack killing hundreds of people on Aug. 21, 2013 in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. The incident bears all the earmarks of a false-flag attack.

But U.S. and other “rebel-friendly” media outlets wasted no time in offering “compelling” evidence from “social media” – which Secretary of State John Kerry described as an “extraordinary tool” – to place the onus on the Syrian government.

However, as the war juggernaut started rolling toward war, enter Putin from stage right with an offer difficult for Obama to refuse – guaranteed destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons on a U.S. ship outfitted for such purpose. This cheated Washington’s neocon mousetrap-setters out of their war on Syria. They would get back at Putin six months later by orchestrating an anti-Russian coup in Kiev.

But the play-by-play in U.S.-Russian relations in summer 2013 arguably surpasses in importance even the avoidance of an overt U.S. assault on Syria. Thus, it is important to appreciate the lessons drawn by Russian leaders from the entire experience.

Putting Cheese in the Mousetrap

So, let us recall that on Dec. 10, 2015, just over one year ago, Turkish Member of Parliament Eren Erdem testified about how Turkey’s intelligence service helped deliver sarin precursors to rebels in Syria.

The Official Story blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was already collapsing – largely discredited by reports in independent media and by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh – though it remained widely accepted in the U.S. mainstream media which repeatedly cited the case as the moment when Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons and Obama had failed to back up his threat.

But Erdem took the debunking of the “official” tale to a public and official level. Based on government documents from a Turkish court, which he waved before his MP colleagues, Erdem poured ice water on the West’s long-running excited belief that Assad had “gassed his own people.”

But, alas, if you do not understand Turkish, or if you missed this story in the Belfast Telegraph of Dec. 14 or if you don’t read some independent Web sites or if you believe that RT publishes only Russian “propaganda,” this development may still come as a huge surprise, for Erdem’s revelations appeared in no other English-language newspaper.

So, those malnourished by “mainstream media” may be clueless about the scary reality that Obama came within inches of letting himself be mousetrapped into ordering U.S. armed forces to mount a shock-and-awe-type attack on Syria in late summer 2013.

Turkish MP Testimony

Addressing fellow members of the Turkish Parliament, Turkish MP Erdem from the opposition Republican People’s Party directly confronted his government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem described official Turkish reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had evidence of sarin gas-related shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.”

Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin. Small wonder that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately accused Erdem of “treason.”

Erdem testified that the 13 suspects, who had been arrested in police raids on the plotters, were released just a week after they were indicted. The case was shut down abruptly by higher authority.

Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Erdem’s disclosures were not entirely new. More than two years before Erdem’s brave actions, in a Memorandum for the President by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity of Sept. 6, 2013, we had reported that coordination meetings had taken place just weeks before the sarin attack at a Turkish military garrison in Antakya, some 15 miles from the border with Syria.

In Antakya, senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials were said to be coordinating plans with Western-sponsored rebels who were told to expect an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development.” This, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria, and rebel commanders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Assad government.

A year earlier, The New York Times reported that the Antakya area had become a “magnet for foreign jihadis, who are flocking into Turkey to fight holy war in Syria.” The Times quoted a Syrian opposition member based in Antakya, saying the Turkish police were patrolling this border area “with their eyes closed.”

Kerry Dancing

It is a safe bet that Secretary of State John Kerry’s aides briefed him in timely fashion on Erdem’s revelations. This may account for why, on a visit to Moscow on Dec. 15, 2015 (four days after Erdem’s testimony), Kerry chose to repeat the meme that Assad “gassed his people; I mean, gas hasn’t been used in warfare formally for years and gas is outlawed, but Assad used it.”

Three days later, The Washington Post dutifully echoed Kerry, charging that Assad had killed “his own people with chemical weapons.” And this charge remains a staple in U.S. corporate media, where Erdem’s testimony is still nowhere to be found.

Kerry also didn’t want to admit that he had grossly misled the American people on an issue of war and peace. Just days after the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack at Ghouta, Kerry and his neocon allies displayed their acumen in following George W. Bush’s dictum: “You got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

On Aug. 30, Kerry solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “We know” the Assad government was responsible for the sarin deaths, finally giving Kerry and the neocons their casus belli.

But on Aug. 31, with U.S. intelligence analysts expressing their own doubts that Assad’s forces were responsible, Obama put the brakes on the juggernaut toward war, saying he would first seek approval from Congress. Kerry, undaunted, wasted no time in lobbying Congress for war.

On Sept. 1, Kerry told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that briefings in Congress had already begun and that “we are not going to lose this vote.” On Sept. 3, Kerry was back at it with a bravura performance before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, whose leaders showed in their own remarks the degree to which they were lusting for an attack on Syria.

The following offers a taste for Kerry’s “protest-too-much” testimony: “the Assad regime, and only, undeniably, the Assad regime, unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens. … In their lust to hold on to power, [they] were willing to infect the air of Damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers and hundreds of their children, their lives all snuffed out by gas in the early morning of August 21st.

“Now, some people here and there, amazingly, have questioned the evidence of this assault on conscience. I repeat here again today that only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. It did happen, and the Assad regime did it.

“Within minutes of the attack, the social media exploded with horrific images of men and women, the elderly, and children sprawled on a hospital floor with no wounds, no blood, but all dead. Those scenes of human chaos and desperation were not contrived. They were real. No one could contrive such a scene. …

“And as we debate, the world wonders, not whether Assad’s regime executed the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century — that fact I think is now beyond question — the world wonders whether the United States of America will consent through silence to standing aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence.”

Kerry’s added a credulity-stretching attempt to play down the role and effectiveness of Al Qaeda in Syria, and exaggerated the strength of the “moderate” rebels there. This drew unusually prompt and personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin: “Kerry Lies”

Rarely does it happen that a president of a major country calls the head diplomat of a rival state a “liar,” but that is the label Russian President Putin chose for Kerry on the day after his congressional testimony. Referring to Kerry during a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin addressed the sarin issue in these words:

“It is simply absurd to imagine that Assad used chemical weapons, given that he is gaining ground. After all, this is a weapon of last resort.” Putin claimed, correctly, that Assad had “encircled his adversaries in some places and was finishing them off.”

Putin continued: “I watched the congressional debates. A congressman asked Mr. Kerry, ‘Is Al Qaeda present there? I’ve heard they have gained momentum.’ He replied, ‘No. I can tell you earnestly, they are not.’”

Putin continued, “The main combat unit, the so-called Al-Nusra, is an Al-Qaeda subdivision. They [the Americans] know about this. This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. After all … we talk with them, and we assume they are decent people. But he is lying, and he knows he is lying. That is sad. …

“We are currently focused on the fact that the U.S. Congress and Senate are discussing authorization for use of force. … As you know, Syria is not attacking the U.S., so there is no question of self-defense; and anything else, lacking U.N. authorization, is an act of aggression. … we are all glued to our televisions, waiting to see if they will get the approval of Congress.”

On the following day, Sept. 5, Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for a G-20 summit, with ample reason to suspect that Putin was right about Kerry lying about the sarin attack – the President having been warned the previous week by National Intelligence Director James Clapper that there was no “slam-dunk” evidence against the Assad regime. So, Obama agreed to Putin’s offer to get Syria to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction, and the war fever began to abate.

Curiously, Kerry himself was kept in the dark about the Putin-Obama agreement and was still making the case for war on Sept. 9. At the very end of a press conference that day in London, Kerry was asked whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”

Still later on Sept. 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. As soon as Kerry arrived back in Washington, he was sent off to Geneva to sign the deal that Obama had cut directly with Putin. (All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.)

Yet, two weeks later, Obama was still reading from the neocon teleprompter. In his formal address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, he declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the [Syrian] regime carried out this [sarin] attack.”

More Candor With Goldberg

Earlier this year, though, Obama was bragging to his informal biographer, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, about having thwarted planning for open war on Syria, even though that required disregarding the advice of virtually all his foreign-policy advisers.

One gem fished out by Goldberg was Obama’s admission that DNI Clapper had warned him in late August (a week before he went to St. Petersburg and a month before his U.N. speech) that the evidence pinning blame on Damascus for the sarin attack was hardly airtight.

Goldberg wrote that Clapper interrupted the President’s morning intelligence briefing “to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’” Clapper chose his words carefully, echoing the language that CIA Director George Tenet used to falsely assure President George W. Bush that the case could be made to convince the American people that Iraq was hiding WMDs.

Even though Obama continued to dissemble and the mainstream U.S. news media has continued to treat Syria’s “guilt” in the sarin attack as “flat fact,” the neocons did not get their war on Syria. I describe an unusually up-front-and-personal experience of their chagrin under the subtitle “Morose at CNN” in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”

Nor did neocon disappointment subside in subsequent years. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has remained among the most outspoken critics of Obama’s decision to cancel the attack on Syria in 2013.

On Dec. 3, 2014, Corker complained that, while the U.S. military was poised to launch a “very targeted, very brief” operation against the Syrian government for using chemical weapons, Obama called off the attack at the last minute.

Corker’s criticism was scathing: “I think the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here, as far as signaling to the world where we were as a nation, was August a year ago when we had a 10-hour operation that was getting ready to take place in Syria but it didn’t happen. … In essence and – I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical — we jumped in Putin’s lap.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington. A CIA analyst for 27 years, he has experience recognizing false-flag attacks when he sees them. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which he co-founded, has published several memoranda on the sarin attack.


Big Media’s Contra-Cocaine Cover-up

Special Report: Twelve years ago, a campaign of character assassination by the major U.S. newspapers drove an honest journalist to suicide. Now those papers claim to be paragons of truth-telling, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Amid the mainstream U.S. media’s current self-righteous frenzy against “fake news,” it’s worth recalling how the big newspapers destroyed Gary Webb, an honest journalist who exposed some hard truths about the Reagan administration’s collaboration with Nicaraguan Contra cocaine traffickers.

Webb’s reward for reviving that important scandal in 1996 – and getting the CIA’s inspector general to issue what amounted to an institutional confession in 1998 – was to have The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lobby for, essentially, his banishment from journalism.

The major media pile-on was so intense and so effective that Webb lost his job at the San Jose Mercury-News and could never find regular work in his profession again. Betrayed by his journalistic colleagues, his money gone, his family broken and his life seemingly hopeless, Webb committed suicide on Dec. 9, 2004.

Even then, the Los Angeles Times wrote up his obituary as if the paper were telling the life story of an organized-crime boss, not a heroic journalist. The Times obit was then republished by The Washington Post.

In other words, on one of the most significant scandals of the Reagan era, major newspapers, which now want to serve as the arbiters of truth for  the Internet, demonstrated how disdainful they actually are toward truth when it puts the U.S. government in a harsh light.

Indeed, if it had been up to the big newspapers, this important chapter of modern history would never have been known. A decade earlier, in 1985, Brian Barger and I first exposed the Contra-cocaine connection for The Associated Press – and we watched as the big papers turned their backs on the scandal then, too.

The main point that Webb added to the story was how some of the Contra cocaine fed into the production of crack-cocaine that had such a devastating effect on America’s black communities in particular. Webb’s disclosure of the crack connection infuriated many African-Americans and the big papers acted as if it was their civic duty to calm down those inner-city folks by assuring them that the U.S. government would never do such a thing.

So, instead of doing their jobs as journalists, the major newspapers acted as the last line of defense against the people learning the truth.

A Solid Record

Yet, what’s remarkable now about the Contra-cocaine scandal is that – despite the cover-up efforts of the big papers – the truth is out there, available in official government documents, including the CIA’s inspector general’s report.

Collectively, the information also represents a damning indictment of The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times and demonstrates why they are unfit to lecture anyone about what’s real and what’s “fake.”

For instance, in 2013, at the National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland, I discovered a declassified “secret” U.S. law enforcement report that detailed how top Contra leader Adolfo Calero was casually associating with Norwin Meneses, described in the records as “a well-reputed drug dealer.” Meneses was near the center of Webb’s 1996 articles for the San Jose Mercury-News.

The report was typical of the evidence that the Reagan administration — and the big newspapers — chose to ignore. It recounted information from Dennis Ainsworth, a blue-blood Republican from San Francisco who volunteered to help the Contra cause in 1984-85. That put him in position to witness the strange goings-on of Contra leaders hobnobbing with drug traffickers and negotiating arms deals with White House emissaries.

Ainsworth also was a source of mine in fall 1985 when I was investigating the mysterious channels of funding for the Contras after Congress shut off CIA support in 1984 amid widespread reports of Contra atrocities inflicted on Nicaraguan civilians, including rapes, executions and torture.

Ainsworth’s first-hand knowledge of the Contra dealings dovetailed with information that I already had, such as the central role of National Security Council aide Oliver North in aiding the Contras and his use of “courier” Rob Owen as an off-the-books White House intermediary to the Contras. I later developed confirmation of some other details that Ainsworth described, such as his overhearing Owen and Calero working together on an arms deal as Ainsworth drove them through the streets of San Francisco.

As for Ainsworth’s knowledge about the Contra-cocaine connection, he said he sponsored a June 1984 cocktail party at which Calero spoke to about 60 people. Meneses, a notorious drug kingpin in the Nicaraguan community, showed up uninvited and clearly had a personal relationship with Calero, who was then the political leader of the Contra’s chief fighting force, the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force (or FDN).

“At the end of the cocktail party, Meneses and Calero went off together,” Ainsworth told U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello, according to a “secret” Jan. 6, 1987 cable submitted by Russoniello to an FBI investigation code-named “Front Door,” a probe into the Reagan administration’s corruption.

After Calero’s speech, Ainsworth said Meneses accompanied Calero and about 20 people to dinner and picked up the entire tab, according to a more detailed debriefing of Ainsworth by the FBI.

Concerned about this relationship, Ainsworth said he was told by Renato Pena, an FDN leader in the San Francisco area, that “the FDN is involved in drug smuggling with the aid of Norwin Meneses who also buys arms for Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN.” Bermudez was then the top Contra military commander.

Corroborating Account

Pena, who himself was convicted on federal drug charges in 1984, gave a similar account to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to a 1998 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich, “When debriefed by the DEA in the early 1980s, Pena said that the CIA was allowing the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds.

“Pena stated that he was present on many occasions when Meneses telephoned Bermudez in Honduras. Meneses told Pena of Bermudez’s requests for such things as gun silencers (which Pena said Meneses obtained in Los Angeles), cross bows, and other military equipment for the Contras. Pena believed that Meneses would sometimes transport certain of these items himself to Central America, and other times would have contacts in Los Angeles and Miami send cargo to Honduras, where the authorities were cooperating with the Contras. Pena believed Meneses had contact with Bermudez from about 1981 or 1982 through the mid-1980s.”

Bromwich’s report then added, “Pena said he was one of the couriers Meneses used to deliver drug money to a Colombian known as ‘Carlos’ in Los Angeles and return to San Francisco with cocaine. Pena made six to eight trips, with anywhere from $600,000 to nearly $1 million, and brought back six to eight kilos of cocaine each time. Pena said Meneses was moving hundreds of kilos a week. ‘Carlos’ once told Pena, ‘We’re helping your cause with this drug thing we are helping your organization a lot.”

Ainsworth also said he tried to alert Oliver North in 1985 about the troubling connections between the Contra movement and cocaine traffickers but that North turned a deaf ear.

“In the spring some friends of mine and I went back to the White House staff but we were put off by Ollie North and others on the staff who really don’t want to know all what’s going on,” Ainsworth told Russoniello.

When I first spoke with Ainsworth in September 1985 at a coffee shop in San Francisco, he asked for confidentiality, which I granted. However, since the documents released by the National Archives include him describing his conversations with me, that confidentiality no longer applies. Ainsworth also spoke with Webb for his 1996 San Jose Mercury-News series under the pseudonym “David Morrison.”

Though I found Ainsworth to be generally reliable, some of his depictions of our conversations contained mild exaggerations or confusion over details, such as his claim that I called him from Costa Rica in January 1986 and told him that the Contra-cocaine story that I had been working on with my AP colleague Brian Barger “never hit the papers because it was suppressed by the Associated Press due to political pressure primarily from the CIA.”

In reality, Barger and I returned from Costa Rica in fall 1985, wrote our story about the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling, and pushed it onto the AP wire in December though in a reduced form because of resistance from some senior AP news executives who were supportive of President Reagan’s foreign policies. The CIA, the White House and other agencies of the Reagan administration did seek to discredit our story, but they did not prevent its publication.

An Overriding Hostility

The Reagan administration’s neglect of Ainsworth’s insights reflected the overriding hostility toward any information even from a Republican activist like Ainsworth that put the Contras in a negative light. In early 1987, when Ainsworth spoke with U.S. Attorney Russoniello and the FBI, the Reagan administration was in full damage-control mode, trying to tamp down the Iran-Contra disclosures about Oliver North diverting profits from secret arms sales to Iran to the Contra war.

Fears that the Iran-Contra scandal could lead to Reagan’s impeachment made it even less likely that the Justice Department would pursue an investigation into drug ties implicating the Contra leadership. Ainsworth’s information was simply passed on to Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh whose inquiry was already overwhelmed by the task of sorting out the convoluted Iran transactions.

Publicly, the Reagan team continued dumping on the Contra-cocaine allegations and playing the find-any-possible-reason-to-reject-a-witness game. The major news media went along, leading to much mainstream ridicule of a 1989 investigative report by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who uncovered more drug connections implicating the Contras and the Reagan administration.

Only occasionally, such as when the George H.W. Bush administration needed witnesses to convict Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega did the Contra-cocaine evidence pop onto Official Washington’s radar.

During Noriega’s drug-trafficking trial in 1991, U.S. prosecutors called as a witness Colombian Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, who, along with implicating Noriega, testified that the cartel had given $10 million to the Contras, an allegation first unearthed by Sen. Kerry. “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” a Washington Post editorial on Nov. 27, 1991, acknowledged. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”

But the Post offered its readers no explanation for why Kerry’s hearings had been largely ignored, with the Post itself a leading culprit in this journalistic misfeasance. Nor did the Post and the other leading newspapers use the opening created by the Noriega trial to do anything to rectify their past neglect.

Everything quickly returned to the status quo in which the desired perception of the noble Contras trumped the clear reality of their criminal activities. Instead of recognizing the skewed moral compass of the Reagan administration, Congress was soon falling over itself to attach Reagan’s name to as many public buildings and facilities as possible, including Washington’s National Airport.

Meanwhile, those of us in journalism who had exposed the national security crimes of the 1980s saw our careers mostly sink or go sideways. We were regarded as “pariahs” in our profession.

As for me, shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal broke wide open in fall 1986, I accepted a job at Newsweek, one of the many mainstream news outlets that had long ignored Contra-connected scandals and briefly thought it needed to bolster its coverage. But I soon discovered that senior editors remained hostile toward the Iran-Contra story and related spinoff scandals, including the Contra-cocaine mess.

After losing battle after battle with my Newsweek editors, I departed the magazine in June 1990 to write a book (called Fooling America) about the decline of the Washington press corps and the parallel rise of a new generation of government propagandists.

I was also hired by PBS Frontline to investigate whether there had been a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, whether those arms-for-hostage deals in the mid-1980s had been preceded by contacts between Reagan’s 1980 campaign staff and Iran, which was then holding 52 Americans hostage and essentially destroying Jimmy Carter’s reelection hopes. [For more on that topic, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Finding New Ways

In 1995, frustrated by the growing triviality of American journalism, and acting on the advice of and with the assistance of my oldest son Sam, I turned to a new medium and launched the Internet’s first investigative news magazine, known as Consortiumnews.com. The Web site became a way for me to put out well-reported stories that my former mainstream colleagues ignored or mocked.

So, when Gary Webb called me in 1996 to talk about his upcoming series reviving the Contra-cocaine story, I explained some of this tortured history and urged him to make sure that his editors were firmly behind him. He sounded perplexed at my advice and assured me that he had the solid support of his editors.

When Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series finally appeared in late August 1996, it initially drew little attention. The major national news outlets applied their usual studied indifference to a topic that they had already judged unworthy of serious attention.

But Webb’s story proved hard to ignore. First, unlike the work that Barger and I did for AP in the mid-1980s, Webb’s series wasn’t just a story about drug traffickers in Central America and their protectors in Washington. It was about the on-the-ground consequences, inside the United States, of that drug trafficking, how the lives of Americans were blighted and destroyed as the collateral damage of a U.S. foreign policy initiative.

In other words, there were real-life American victims, and they were concentrated in African-American communities. That meant the ever-sensitive issue of race had been injected into the controversy. Anger from black communities spread quickly to the Congressional Black Caucus, which started demanding answers.

Secondly, the San Jose Mercury-News, which was the local newspaper for Silicon Valley, had posted documents and audio on its state-of-the-art Internet site. That way, readers could examine much of the documentary support for the series.

It also meant that the traditional “gatekeeper” role of the major newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, was under assault. If a regional paper like the Mercury-News could finance a major journalistic investigation like this one, and circumvent the judgments of the editorial boards at the Big Three, then there might be a tectonic shift in the power relations of the U.S. news media. There could be a breakdown of the established order.

This combination of factors led to the next phase of the Contra-cocaine battle: the “get-Gary-Webb” counterattack. Soon, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Times were lining up like some tag-team wrestlers taking turns pummeling Webb and his story.

On Oct. 4, 1996, The Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives did help the cocaine cartels. The Post’s approach fit with the Big Media’s cognitive dissonance on the topic: first, the Post called the Contra-cocaine allegations old news, “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post said, and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.”

To add to the smug hoo-hah treatment that was enveloping Webb and his story, the Post published a sidebar story dismissing African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”

Next, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times weighed in with lengthy articles castigating Webb and “Dark Alliance.” The big newspapers made much of the CIA’s internal reviews in 1987 and 1988, almost a decade earlier, that supposedly had cleared the spy agency of any role in Contra-cocaine smuggling.

But the first ominous sign for the CIA’s cover-up emerged on Oct. 24, 1996, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz conceded before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the first CIA probe had lasted only12 days, and the second only three days. He promised a more thorough review.

Mocking Webb

But Webb had already crossed over from being treated as a serious journalist to becoming a target of ridicule. Influential Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz mocked Webb for saying in a book proposal that he would explore the possibility that the Contra war was primarily a business to its participants. “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” Kurtz smirked.

Yet, Webb’s suspicion was no conspiracy theory. Indeed, Oliver North’s chief Contra emissary, Rob Owen, had made the same point in a March 17, 1986 message about the Contra leadership. “Few of the so-called leaders of the movement . . . really care about the boys in the field,” Owen wrote. “THIS WAR HAS BECOME A BUSINESS TO MANY OF THEM.” [Emphasis in original.]

Ainsworth and other pro-Contra activists were reaching the same conclusion, that the Contra leadership was skimming money from the supply lines and padding their personal wealth with proceeds from the drug trade.

According to a Jan. 21, 1987 interview report by the FBI, Ainsworth said he had “made inquiries in the local San Francisco Nicaraguan community and wondered among his acquaintances what Adolfo Calero and the other people in the FDN movement were doing and the word that he received back is that they were probably engaged in cocaine smuggling.”

In other words, Webb was right about the suspicion that the Contra movement had become less a cause than a business to many of its participants. Even Oliver North’s emissary reported on that reality. But truthfulness had ceased to be relevant in the media’s hazing of Gary Webb.

In another double standard, while Webb was held to the strictest standards of journalism, it was entirely all right for Kurtz, the supposed arbiter of journalistic integrity who was a longtime fixture on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” to make judgments based on ignorance. Kurtz would face no repercussions for mocking a fellow journalist who was factually correct.

The Big Three’s assault, combined with their disparaging tone, had a predictable effect on the executives of the Mercury-News. As it turned out, Webb’s confidence in his editors had been misplaced. By early 1997, executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had his own corporate career to worry about, was in retreat.

On May 11, 1997, Ceppos published a front-page column saying the series “fell short of my standards.” He criticized the stories because they “strongly implied CIA knowledge” of Contra connections to U.S. drug dealers who were manufacturing crack cocaine. “We did not have enough proof that top CIA officials knew of the relationship,” Ceppos wrote.

Ceppos was wrong about the proof, of course. At AP, before we published our first Contra-cocaine article in 1985, Barger and I had known that the CIA and Reagan’s White House were aware of the Contra-cocaine problem at senior levels. One of our sources was on Reagan’s National Security Council staff.

However, Ceppos recognized that he and his newspaper were facing a credibility crisis brought on by the harsh consensus delivered by the Big Three, a judgment that had quickly solidified into conventional wisdom throughout the major news media and inside Knight-Ridder, Inc., which owned the Mercury-News. The only career-saving move — career-saving for Ceppos even if career-destroying for Webb — was to jettison Webb and the Contra-cocaine investigative project.

A ‘Vindication’

The big newspapers and the Contras’ defenders celebrated Ceppos’s retreat as vindication of their own dismissal of the Contra-cocaine stories. In particular, Kurtz seemed proud that his demeaning of Webb now had the endorsement of Webb’s editor.

Ceppos next pulled the plug on the Mercury-News’ continuing Contra-cocaine investigation and reassigned Webb to a small office in Cupertino, California, far from his family. Webb resigned from the paper in disgrace. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hung Out to Dry.”]

For undercutting Webb and other Mercury-News reporters working on the Contra-cocaine project — some of whom were facing personal danger in Central America — Ceppos was lauded by the American Journalism Review and received the 1997 national Ethics in Journalism Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.

While Ceppos won raves, Webb watched his career collapse and his marriage break up. Still, Gary Webb had set in motion internal government investigations that would bring to the surface long-hidden facts about how the Reagan administration had conducted the Contra war.

The CIA published the first part of Inspector General Hitz’s findings on Jan. 29, 1998. Though the CIA’s press release for the report criticized Webb and defended the CIA, Hitz’s Volume One admitted that not only were many of Webb’s allegations true but that he actually understated the seriousness of the Contra-drug crimes and the CIA’s knowledge of them.

Hitz conceded that cocaine smugglers played a significant early role in the Contra movement and that the CIA intervened to block an image-threatening 1984 federal investigation into a San Francisco-based drug ring with suspected ties to the Contras, the so-called “Frogman Case.”

After Volume One was released, I called Webb (whom I had spent some time with since his series was published). I chided him for indeed getting the story “wrong.” He had understated how serious the problem of Contra-cocaine trafficking had been, I said.

It was a form of gallows humor for the two of us, since nothing had changed in the way the major newspapers treated the Contra-cocaine issue. They focused only on the press release that continued to attack Webb, while ignoring the incriminating information that could be found in the full report. All I could do was highlight those admissions at Consortiumnews.com, which sadly had a much, much smaller readership than the Big Three.

The major U.S. news media also looked the other way on other startling disclosures.

On May 7, 1998, for instance, Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, introduced into the Congressional Record a Feb. 11, 1982 letter of understanding between the CIA and the Justice Department. The letter, which had been requested by CIA Director William Casey, freed the CIA from legal requirements that it must report drug smuggling by CIA assets, a provision that covered the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan mujahedeen.

In other words, early in those two covert wars, the CIA leadership wanted to make sure that its geopolitical objectives would not be complicated by a legal requirement to turn in its client forces for drug trafficking.

Justice Denied

The next break in the long-running Contra-cocaine cover-up was a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich. Given the hostile climate surrounding Webb’s series, Bromwich’s report also opened with criticism of Webb. But, like the CIA’s Volume One, the contents revealed new details about serious government wrongdoing.

According to evidence cited by Bromwich, the Reagan administration knew almost from the outset of the Contra war that cocaine traffickers permeated the paramilitary operation. The administration also did next to nothing to expose or stop the crimes.

Bromwich’s report revealed example after example of leads not followed, corroborated witnesses disparaged, official law-enforcement investigations sabotaged, and even the CIA facilitating the work of drug traffickers.

The report showed that the Contras and their supporters ran several parallel drug-smuggling operations, not just the one at the center of Webb’s series. The report also found that the CIA shared little of its information about Contra drugs with law-enforcement agencies and on three occasions disrupted cocaine-trafficking investigations that threatened the Contras.

As well as depicting a more widespread Contra-drug operation than Webb (or Barger and I) had understood, the Justice Department report provided some important corroboration about Nicaraguan drug smuggler Norwin Meneses, a key figure in Gary Webb’s series and Adolfo Calero’s friend as described by Dennis Ainsworth.

Bromwich cited U.S. government informants who supplied detailed information about Meneses’s drug operation and his financial assistance to the Contras. For instance, Renato Pena, the money-and-drug courier for Meneses, said that in the early 1980s the CIA allowed the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. Pena, the FDN’s northern California representative, said the drug trafficking was forced on the Contras by the inadequate levels of U.S. government assistance.

The Justice Department report also disclosed repeated examples of the CIA and U.S. embassies in Central America discouraging DEA investigations, including one into Contra-cocaine shipments moving through the international airport in El Salvador. Bromwich said secrecy trumped all.

“We have no doubt that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy were not anxious for the DEA to pursue its investigation at the airport,” he wrote.

Bromwich also described the curious case of how a DEA pilot helped a CIA asset escape from Costa Rican authorities in 1989 after the man, American farmer John Hull, had been charged in connection with Contra-cocaine trafficking. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “John Hull’s Great Escape.”]

Hull’s ranch in northern Costa Rica had been the site of Contra camps for attacking Nicaragua from the south. For years, Contra-connected witnesses also said Hull’s property was used for the transshipment of cocaine en route to the United States, but those accounts were brushed aside by the Reagan administration and disparaged in major U.S. newspapers.

Yet, according to Bromwich’s report, the DEA took the accounts seriously enough to prepare a research report on the evidence in November 1986. One informant described Colombian cocaine off-loaded at an airstrip on Hull’s ranch.

The drugs were then concealed in a shipment of frozen shrimp and transported to the United States. The alleged Costa Rican shipper was Frigorificos de Puntarenas, a firm controlled by Cuban-American Luis Rodriguez. Like Hull, however, Frigorificos had friends in high places. In 1985-86, the State Department had selected the shrimp company to handle $261,937 in non-lethal assistance earmarked for the Contras.

Hull also remained a man with powerful protectors. Even after Costa Rican authorities brought drug charges against him, influential Americans, including Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, demanded that Hull be let out of jail pending trial. Then, in July 1989 with the help of a DEA pilot — and possibly a DEA agent as well — Hull managed to fly out of Costa Rica to Haiti and then to the United States.

Despite these startling new disclosures, the big newspapers still showed no inclination to read beyond the criticism of Webb in the press release.

Major Disclosures

By fall 1998, Washington was obsessed with President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which made it easier to ignore even more stunning Contra-cocaine disclosures in the CIA’s Volume Two, published on Oct. 8, 1998.

In the report, CIA Inspector General Hitz identified more than 50 Contras and Contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade. He also detailed how the Reagan administration had protected these drug operations and frustrated federal investigations throughout the 1980s.

According to Volume Two, the CIA knew the criminal nature of its Contra clients from the start of the war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. The earliest Contra force, called the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ADREN) or the 15th of September Legion, had chosen “to stoop to criminal activities in order to feed and clothe their cadre,” according to a June 1981 draft of a CIA field report.

According to a September 1981 cable to CIA headquarters, two ADREN members made the first delivery of drugs to Miami in July 1981. ADREN’s leaders included Enrique Bermudez and other early Contras who would later direct the major Contra army, the CIA-organized FDN which was based in Honduras, along Nicaragua’s northern border.

Throughout the war, Bermudez remained the top Contra military commander. The CIA later corroborated the allegations about ADREN’s cocaine trafficking, but insisted that Bermudez had opposed the drug shipments to the United States that went ahead nonetheless.

The truth about Bermudez’s supposed objections to drug trafficking, however, was less clear. According to Hitz’s Volume One, Bermudez enlisted Norwin Meneses the Nicaraguan cocaine smuggler, the friend of Adolfo Calero, and a key figure in Webb’s series to raise money and buy supplies for the Contras.

Volume One had quoted another Nicaraguan trafficker, Danilo Blandon, a Meneses associate (and another lead character in Webb’s series), as telling Hitz’s investigators that he (Blandon) and Meneses flew to Honduras to meet with Bermudez in 1982. At the time, Meneses’s criminal activities were well-known in the Nicaraguan exile community, but Bermudez told the cocaine smugglers that “the ends justify the means” in raising money for the Contras.

After the Bermudez meeting, Meneses and Blandon were briefly arrested by Honduran police who confiscated $100,000 that the police suspected was to be a payment for a drug transaction. The Contras intervened, gained freedom for the two traffickers and got them their money back by saying the cash, which indeed was for a cocaine purchase in Bolivia, belonged to the Contras.

There were other indications of Bermudez’s drug-smuggling complicity. In February 1988, another Nicaraguan exile linked to the drug trade accused Bermudez of participation in narcotics trafficking, according to Hitz’s report. After the Contra war ended, Bermudez returned to Managua, Nicaragua, where he was shot to death on Feb. 16, 1991. The murder has never been solved.

The Southern Front

Along the Southern Front, the Contras’ military operations in Costa Rica on Nicaragua’s southern border, the CIA’s drug evidence centered on the forces of Eden Pastora, another top Contra commander. But Hitz discovered that the U.S. government may have made the drug situation worse, not better.

Hitz revealed that the CIA put an admitted drug operative, known by his CIA pseudonym “Ivan Gomez,” in a supervisory position over Pastora. Hitz reported that the CIA discovered Gomez’s drug history in 1987 when Gomez failed a security review on drug-trafficking questions.

In internal CIA interviews, Gomez admitted that in March or April 1982, he helped family members who were engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. In one case, Gomez said he assisted his brother and brother-in-law transporting cash from New York City to Miami. He admitted he “knew this act was illegal.”

Later, Gomez expanded on his admission, describing how his family members had fallen $2 million into debt and had gone to Miami to run a money-laundering center for drug traffickers.

Gomez said “his brother had many visitors whom [Gomez] assumed to be in the drug trafficking business.” Gomez’s brother was arrested on drug charges in June 1982. Three months later, in September 1982, Gomez started his CIA assignment in Costa Rica.

Years later, convicted drug trafficker Carlos Cabezas alleged that in the early 1980s, Ivan Gomez was the CIA agent in Costa Rica who was overseeing drug-money donations to the Contras. Gomez “was to make sure the money was given to the right people [the Contras] and nobody was taking  . . .  profit they weren’t supposed to,” Cabezas stated publicly.

But the CIA sought to discredit Cabezas at the time because he had trouble identifying Gomez’s picture and put Gomez at one meeting in early 1982 before Gomez started his CIA assignment. While the CIA was able to fend off Cabezas’s allegations by pointing to these minor discrepancies, Hitz’s report revealed that the CIA was nevertheless aware of Gomez’s direct role in drug-money laundering, a fact the agency hid from Sen. Kerry in his investigation during the late 1980s.

There was also more to know about Gomez. In November 1985, the FBI learned from an informant that Gomez’s two brothers had been large-scale cocaine importers, with one brother arranging shipments from Bolivia’s infamous drug kingpin Roberto Suarez.

Suarez already was known as a financier of right-wing causes. In 1980, with the support of Argentina’s hard-line anticommunist military regime, Suarez bankrolled a coup in Bolivia that ousted the elected left-of-center government. The violent putsch became known as the Cocaine Coup because it made Bolivia the region’s first narco-state.

By protecting cocaine shipments headed north, Bolivia’s government helped transform Colombia’s Medellin cartel from a struggling local operation into a giant corporate-style business for delivering vast quantities of cocaine to the U.S. market.

Flush with cash in the early 1980s, Suarez invested more than $30 million in various right-wing paramilitary operations, including the Contra forces in Central America, according to U.S. Senate testimony by an Argentine intelligence officer, Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.

In 1987, Sanchez-Reisse said the Suarez drug money was laundered through front companies in Miami before going to Central America. There, other Argentine intelligence officers, veterans of the Bolivian coup, trained the Contras in the early 1980s, even before the CIA arrived to first assist with the training and later take over the Contra operation from the Argentines.

Inspector General Hitz added another piece to the mystery of the Bolivian-Contra connection. One Contra fund-raiser, Jose Orlando Bolanos, boasted that the Argentine government was supporting his Contra activities, according to a May 1982 cable to CIA headquarters. Bolanos made the statement during a meeting with undercover DEA agents in Florida. He even offered to introduce them to his Bolivian cocaine supplier.

Despite all this suspicious drug activity centered around Ivan Gomez and the Contras, the CIA insisted that it did not unmask Gomez until 1987, when he failed a security check and confessed his role in his family’s drug business.

The CIA official who interviewed Gomez concluded that “Gomez directly participated in illegal drug transactions, concealed participation in illegal drug transactions, and concealed information about involvement in illegal drug activity,” Hitz wrote.

But senior CIA officials still protected Gomez. They refused to refer the Gomez case to the Justice Department, citing the 1982 agreement that spared the CIA from a legal obligation to report narcotics crimes by people collaborating with the CIA who were not formal agency employees. Gomez was an independent contractor who worked for the CIA but was not officially on staff. The CIA eased Gomez out of the agency in February 1988, without alerting law enforcement or the congressional oversight committees.

When questioned about the case nearly a decade later, one senior CIA official who had supported the gentle treatment of Gomez had second thoughts. “It is a striking commentary on me and everyone that this guy’s involvement in narcotics didn’t weigh more heavily on me or the system,” the official told Hitz’s investigators.

Drug Path to the White House

A Medellin drug connection arose in another section of Hitz’s report, when he revealed evidence suggesting that some Contra trafficking may have been sanctioned by Reagan’s National Security Council. The protagonist for this part of the Contra-cocaine mystery was Moises Nunez, a Cuban-American who worked for Oliver North’s NSC Contra-support operation and for two drug-connected seafood importers, Ocean Hunter in Miami and Frigorificos De Puntarenas in Costa Rica.

Frigorificos De Puntarenas was created in the early 1980s as a cover for drug-money laundering, according to sworn testimony by two of the firm’s principals, Carlos Soto and Medellin cartel accountant Ramon Milian Rodriguez. (It was also the company implicated by a DEA informant in moving cocaine from John Hull’s ranch to the United States.)

Drug allegations were swirling around Moises Nunez by the mid-1980s. Indeed, his operation was one of the targets of my and Barger’s AP investigation in 1985. Finally reacting to the suspicions, the CIA questioned Nunez about his alleged cocaine trafficking on March 25, 1987. He responded by pointing the finger at his NSC superiors.

“Nunez revealed that since 1985, he had engaged in a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council,” Hitz reported, adding: “Nunez refused to elaborate on the nature of these actions, but indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotics trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC. Nunez refused to identify the NSC officials with whom he had been involved.”

After this first round of questioning, CIA headquarters authorized an additional session, but then senior CIA officials reversed the decision. There would be no further efforts at “debriefing Nunez.”

Hitz noted that “the cable [from headquarters] offered no explanation for the decision” to stop the Nunez interrogation. But the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers Jr. said the Nunez-NSC drug lead was not pursued “because of the NSC connection and the possibility that this could be somehow connected to the Private Benefactor program [the Contra money handled by the NSC’s Oliver North] a decision was made not to pursue this matter.”

Joseph Fernandez, who had been the CIA’s station chief in Costa Rica, confirmed to congressional Iran-Contra investigators that Nunez “was involved in a very sensitive operation” for North’s “Enterprise.” The exact nature of that NSC-authorized activity has never been divulged.

At the time of the Nunez-NSC drug admissions and his truncated interrogation, the CIA’s acting director was Robert Gates, who nearly two decades later became President George W. Bush’s second secretary of defense, a position he retained under President Barack Obama.

Drug Record

The CIA also worked directly with other drug-connected Cuban-Americans on the Contra project, Hitz found. One of Nunez’s Cuban-American associates, Felipe Vidal, had a criminal record as a narcotics trafficker in the 1970s. But the CIA still hired him to serve as a logistics coordinator for the Contras, Hitz reported.

The CIA also learned that Vidal’s drug connections were not only in the past. A December 1984 cable to CIA headquarters revealed Vidal’s ties to Rene Corvo, another Cuban-American suspected of drug trafficking. Corvo was working with Cuban anticommunist Frank Castro, who was viewed as a Medellin cartel representative within the Contra movement.

There were other narcotics links to Vidal. In January 1986, the DEA in Miami seized 414 pounds of cocaine concealed in a shipment of yucca that was going from a Contra operative in Costa Rica to Ocean Hunter, the company where Vidal (and Moises Nunez) worked. Despite the evidence, Vidal remained a CIA employee as he collaborated with Frank Castro’s assistant, Rene Corvo, in raising money for the Contras, according to a CIA memo in June 1986.

By fall 1986, Sen. Kerry had heard enough rumors about Vidal to demand information about him as part of his congressional inquiry into Contra drugs. But the CIA withheld the derogatory information in its files. On Oct. 15, 1986, Kerry received a briefing from the CIA’s Alan Fiers, who didn’t mention Vidal’s drug arrests and conviction in the 1970s.

But Vidal was not yet in the clear. In 1987, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami began investigating Vidal, Ocean Hunter, and other Contra-connected entities. This prosecutorial attention worried the CIA. The CIA’s Latin American division felt it was time for a security review of Vidal. But on Aug. 5, 1987, the CIA’s security office blocked the review for fear that the Vidal drug information “could be exposed during any future litigation.”

As expected, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did request documents about “Contra-related activities” by Vidal, Ocean Hunter, and 16 other entities. The CIA advised the prosecutor that “no information had been found regarding Ocean Hunter,” a statement that was clearly false. The CIA continued Vidal’s employment as an adviser to the Contra movement until 1990, virtually the end of the Contra war.

Hitz also revealed that drugs tainted the highest levels of the Honduran-based FDN, the largest Contra army. Hitz found that Juan Rivas, a Contra commander who rose to be chief of staff, admitted that he had been a cocaine trafficker in Colombia before the war.

The CIA asked Rivas, known as El Quiche, about his background after the DEA began suspecting that Rivas might be an escaped convict from a Colombian prison. In interviews with CIA officers, Rivas acknowledged that he had been arrested and convicted of packaging and transporting cocaine for the drug trade in Barranquilla, Colombia. After several months in prison, Rivas said, he escaped and moved to Central America, where he joined the Contras.

Defending Rivas, CIA officials insisted that there was no evidence that Rivas engaged in trafficking while with the Contras. But one CIA cable noted that he lived an expensive lifestyle, even keeping a $100,000 Thoroughbred horse at the Contra camp. Contra military commander Bermudez later attributed Rivas’s wealth to his ex-girlfriend’s rich family. But a CIA cable in March 1989 added that “some in the FDN may have suspected at the time that the father-in-law was engaged in drug trafficking.”

Still, the CIA moved quickly to protect Rivas from exposure and possible extradition to Colombia. In February 1989, CIA headquarters asked that the DEA take no action “in view of the serious political damage to the U.S. Government that could occur should the information about Rivas become public.”

Rivas was eased out of the Contra leadership with an explanation of poor health. With U.S. government help, he was allowed to resettle in Miami. Colombia was not informed about his fugitive status.

Another senior FDN official implicated in the drug trade was its chief spokesman in Honduras, Arnoldo Jose “Frank” Arana. The drug allegations against Arana dated back to 1983 when a federal narcotics task force put him under criminal investigation because of plans “to smuggle 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States from South America.” On Jan. 23, 1986, the FBI reported that Arana and his brothers were involved in a drug-smuggling enterprise, although Arana was not charged.

Arana sought to clear up another set of drug suspicions in 1989 by visiting the DEA in Honduras with a business associate, Jose Perez. Arana’s association with Perez, however, only raised new alarms. If “Arana is mixed up with the Perez brothers, he is probably dirty,” the DEA said.

Drug Airlines

Through their ownership of an air services company called SETCO, the Perez brothers were associated with Juan Matta-Ballesteros, a major cocaine kingpin connected to the 1985 torture-murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, according to reports by the DEA and U.S. Customs. Hitz reported that someone at the CIA scribbled a note on a DEA cable about Arana stating: “Arnold Arana . . . still active and working, we [CIA] may have a problem.”

Despite its drug ties to Matta-Ballesteros, SETCO emerged as the principal company for ferrying supplies to the Contras in Honduras. During congressional Iran-Contra hearings, FDN political leader Adolfo Calero testified that SETCO was paid from bank accounts controlled by Oliver North. SETCO also received $185,924 from the State Department for delivering supplies to the Contras in 1986. Furthermore, Hitz found that other air transport companies used by the Contras were implicated in the cocaine trade as well.

Even FDN leaders suspected that they were shipping supplies to Central America aboard planes that might be returning with drugs. Mario Calero, Adolfo Calero’s brother and the chief of Contra logistics, grew so uneasy about one air freight company that he notified U.S. law enforcement that the FDN only chartered the planes for the flights south, not the return flights north.

Hitz found that some drug pilots simply rotated from one sector of the Contra operation to another. Donaldo Frixone, who had a drug record in the Dominican Republic, was hired by the CIA to fly Contra missions from 1983 to 1985. In September 1986, however, Frixone was implicated in smuggling 19,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States. In late 1986 or early 1987, he went to work for Vortex, another U.S.-paid Contra supply company linked to the drug trade.

By the time that Hitz’s Volume Two was published in fall 1998, the CIA’s defense against Webb’s series had shrunk to a fig leaf: that the CIA did not conspire with the Contras to raise money through cocaine trafficking. But Hitz made clear that the Contra war took precedence over law enforcement and that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra crimes from the Justice Department, Congress, and even the CIA’s own analytical division.

Besides tracing the evidence of Contra-drug trafficking through the decade-long Contra war, the inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of the Contra-drug problem but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

According to Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: to oust the Sandinista government. . . . [CIA officers] were determined that the various difficulties they encountered not be allowed to prevent effective implementation of the Contra program.” One CIA field officer explained, “The focus was to get the job done, get the support and win the war.”

Hitz also recounted complaints from CIA analysts that CIA operations officers handling the Contras hid evidence of Contra-drug trafficking even from the CIA’s analysts.

Because of the withheld evidence, the CIA analysts incorrectly concluded in the mid-1980s that “only a handful of Contras might have been involved in drug trafficking.” That false assessment was passed on to Congress and to major news organizations, serving as an important basis for denouncing Gary Webb and his “Dark Alliance” series in 1996.

CIA Admission

Although Hitz’s report was an extraordinary admission of institutional guilt by the CIA, it went almost unnoticed by the big American newspapers.

On Oct. 10, 1998, two days after Hitz’s Volume Two was posted on the CIA’s Web site, the New York Times published a brief article that continued to deride Webb but acknowledged the Contra-drug problem may have been worse than earlier understood. Several weeks later, the Washington Post weighed in with a story that simply missed the point of the CIA’s confession. Though having assigned 17 journalists to tear down Webb’s reporting, the Los Angeles Times chose not to publish a story on the release of Hitz’s Volume Two.

In 2000, the House Intelligence Committee grudgingly acknowledged that the stories about Reagan’s CIA protecting Contra drug traffickers were true. The committee released a report citing classified testimony from CIA Inspector General Britt Snider (Hitz’s successor) admitting that the spy agency had turned a blind eye to evidence of Contra-drug smuggling and generally treated drug smuggling through Central America as a low priority.

“In the end the objective of unseating the Sandinistas appears to have taken precedence over dealing properly with potentially serious allegations against those with whom the agency was working,” Snider said, adding that the CIA did not treat the drug allegations in “a consistent, reasoned or justifiable manner.”

The House committee, then controlled by Republicans, still downplayed the significance of the Contra-cocaine scandal, but the panel acknowledged, deep inside its report, that in some cases, “CIA employees did nothing to verify or disprove drug trafficking information, even when they had the opportunity to do so. In some of these, receipt of a drug allegation appeared to provoke no specific response, and business went on as usual.”

Like the release of Hitz’s report in 1998, the admissions by Snider and the House committee drew virtually no media attention in 2000, except for a few articles on the Internet, including one at Consortiumnews.com.

Because of this journalistic misconduct by the Big Three newspapers, choosing to conceal their own neglect of the Contra-cocaine scandal and to protect the Reagan administration’s image, Webb’s reputation was never rehabilitated.

After his original “Dark Alliance” series was published in 1996, I joined Webb in a few speaking appearances on the West Coast, including one packed book talk at the Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica, California. For a time, Webb was treated as a celebrity on the American Left, but that gradually faded.

In our interactions during these joint appearances, I found Webb to be a regular guy who seemed to be holding up fairly well under the terrible pressure. He had landed an investigative job with a California state legislative committee. He also felt some measure of vindication when CIA Inspector General Hitz’s reports came out.

But Webb never could overcome the pain caused by his betrayal at the hands of his journalistic colleagues, his peers. In the years that followed, Webb was unable to find decent-paying work in his profession, the conventional wisdom remained that he had somehow been exposed as a journalistic fraud. His state job ended; his marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay bills; and he was faced with a forced move out of a house near Sacramento, California, and in with his mother.

On Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; laid out a certificate for his cremation; and taped a note on the door telling movers, who were coming the next morning, to instead call 911. Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more.

Even with Webb’s death, the big newspapers that had played key roles in his destruction couldn’t bring themselves to show Webb any mercy. After Webb’s body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work.

I told the reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes. But I added that the Los Angeles Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had ignored Hitz’s final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.

To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The Los Angeles Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA’s admissions in 1998. The obituary was republished in other newspapers, including the Washington Post.

In effect, Webb’s suicide enabled senior editors at the Big Three newspapers to breathe a little easier, one of the few people who understood the ugly story of the Reagan administration’s cover-up of the Contra-cocaine scandal and the U.S. media’s complicity was now silenced.

To this day, none of the journalists or media critics who participated in the destruction of Gary Webb has paid a price. None has faced the sort of humiliation that Webb had to endure. None had to experience that special pain of standing up for what is best in the profession of journalism, taking on a difficult story that seeks to hold powerful people accountable for serious crimes, and then being vilified by your own colleagues, the people that you expected to understand and appreciate what you had done.

On the contrary, many were rewarded with professional advancement and lucrative careers. For instance, for years, Howard Kurtz got to host the CNN program, “Reliable Sources,” which lectured journalists on professional standards. He was described in the program’s bio as “the nation’s premier media critic.” (His show later moved to Fox News, renamed “MediaBuzz.”)

But the Webb tragedy and the Contra-cocaine case remain relevant today because they underscore how the mainstream press cannot be trusted with decisions about what news is true and what is false. If such a Ministry of Truth had existed in the late 1990s, the dark chapter of the Reagan administration’s dealings with Nicaraguan drug traffickers would still be just a vague and easily dismissed rumor.

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

The Need to Hold Saudi Arabia Accountable

Exclusive: One of Official Washington’s favorite “group thinks” is to insist that Iran is the “chief sponsor of terrorism,” but the reality is that Saudi Arabia is much guiltier and U.S. officials know it, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If someone wants to become somebody in Official Washington, there are certain lies that you must assert as undeniable truths, almost like flashing a secret sign to gain entry to an exclusive club. For instance, you must say that Iran is the world’s “chief sponsor of terrorism” though that is patently false.

The problem is that a much bigger sponsor of terrorism is Saudi Arabia, with some competition from Qatar, but those two Gulf states are extremely wealthy U.S. “allies” and their hatred of Iran is shared by Israel, which possesses the most intimidating foreign lobby in Washington. So, deviation from the “Iran-chief-sponsor-of-terrorism” mantra marks you as someone who is not part of the club and never will be.

Yet, while lies may be the mother’s milk of Official Washington, there are severe costs paid by the American people and even more by the people of the Middle East who have suffered from the bloody consequences of this particular lie because it has been at the root of a series of misguided U.S. interventions, which themselves have spread widespread terror.

The U.S. government allied itself with Saudi Arabia in building the modern Islamic terrorism movement in the 1980s when the Reagan administration went in 50/50 with Saudi Arabia to finance and arm the Afghan mujahedeen – a project costing billions of dollars – to fight a merciless war against Soviet troops defending a leftist, secular regime in Kabul.

That war not only opened the gates of Kabul to the likes of Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden and the Taliban but it created the methodology and means for the Saudis to expand their Sunni proxy wars against various Shiite “apostates” and secularists across the region.

Though hailed in U.S. propaganda as noble freedom fighters, the mujahedeen routinely sodomized, tortured and murdered captured Russian soldiers and put Afghan women back into prehistoric servitude. After the Taliban prevailed in 1996, they castrated Afghan President Najibullah and hung his mutilated body from a light pole. In the years that followed, there were plenty of public beheadings for violating the Taliban’s fundamentalist teachings, which were shared by Saudi officialdom.

From the “successful” Afghan experience, the Saudi intelligence agency recognized the value of using Sunni fundamentalist fanatics as the tip of the spear in wars against Middle East secularists and Shiites, including Shia Islam’s spinoffs, such as Alawites and Houthis.

The Saudis also recognized the value of influencing Official Washington, which the kingdom had tried to do by creating its own lobby based on spreading around lots of money. But that Saudi effort was blunted by Israel and its lobby, which didn’t want to share its unmatched influence over the U.S. government.

So, the Saudis found it easier to “rent” the Israel Lobby by developing covert ties with Israel and quietly paying Israel billions of dollars. The Saudi dollars, in effect, replaced the money that Israel had been getting from Iran during the 1980s when Israel brokered Iran’s arms sales. As part of the Israeli-Saudi under-the-table alliance, the two countries agreed that Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” – stretching from Tehran through Damascus to Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut – were their joint strategic enemies.

Behind the combined clout of politically influential Israel and financially powerful Saudi Arabia, the script was written for U.S. politicians, pundits and officials to recite: “Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism.”

This dogma is repeated again and again, including by retired Generals James Mattis and Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor, respectively. But the terror groups that Americans fear most, such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, are supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, not by Iran.

Hillary Knew Well

And this reality is well known to senior U.S. officials even though it is never openly acknowledged. For instance, classified documents provided to WikiLeaks included diplomatic cables from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top advisers recognizing that violent jihadist groups were raising millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, an inconvenient truth that even The New York Times has finally recognized.

Secretary Clinton wrote in a December 2009 cable that Saudi Arabia was the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Clinton recognized that Saudi largesse also was financing terrorists of Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) inside Syria and Iraq.

In a 2014 email from the leaked account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, Clinton wrote, “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

A Confession

To better understand the Saudi role in supporting Sunni extremism, you have to recognize that the Saudi princelings get a pass on their licentious behavior by buying leniency from the religious ulema (or leaders) through financing the extreme Wahhabi teachings that justify bloody retribution on all sorts of heretics.

This reality was explained in testimony by Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth 9/11 hijacker who is serving a life sentence in a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Moussaoui told lawyers for the families of 9/11 victims about top-level Saudi support for Osama bin Laden right up to the eve of the attacks and even described a plot by a Saudi embassy employee to sneak a Stinger missile into the U.S. under diplomatic cover and use it to bring down Air Force One.

Moussaoui’s list of Al Qaeda contributors included the late King Abdulllah and his hard-line successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz; Turki Al Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and subsequently ambassador to the U.S. and U.K.; Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador, intelligence chief and close friend of the Bush family; and Al-Waleed bin Talal, a major investor in Citigroup, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the Hotel George V in Paris, and the Plaza in New York.

“Ulema, essentially they are the king maker,” Moussaoui testified. “If the ulema say that you should not take power [because of some personal deviancy], you are not going to take power.”

Israeli Preference

Israeli officials also have explained why they favor Al Qaeda or Islamic State over the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad – because Assad is supported by Iran and comes from the Alawite branch of Shiite Islam.

In one of the most explicit expressions of Israel’s views, its Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post in September 2013 that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al Qaeda.

And, if you might have thought that Oren had misspoken, he reiterated his position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” said Oren, who is now a deputy minister for diplomacy in Netanyahu’s office.

Israel’s preference for the “Sunni evil” – along with its semi-covert relationship with Saudi Arabia – helps explain why the Israel Lobby has weighed in so heavily against Iran and the Shiites.

Iran’s Guilt

But what’s the truth about Iran? While Saudi Arabia and Qatar finance Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there must be reasons why U.S. officials line up to profess that Iran is the “chief sponsor of terrorism.”

Well, apparently that is a reference to Iran’s support for Hezbollah, a Shiite movement in southern Lebanon that emerged as a resistance to Israeli occupation of that area in the 1980s. For years, Hezbollah has attacked Israeli targets in a tit-for-tat shadow war of assassinations and bombings that has crossed the line into terrorism by both sides. But neither Hezbollah nor Iran have been connected to any significant terror attack aimed at Americans in the past couple of decades.

Indeed, the usual citation regarding Iranian “terrorism” is the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks near Beirut airport in 1983, but that attack was not “terrorism,” at least as it is classically defined as an intentional attack on civilians with the intent of achieving a political objective.

The factual details here are important. President Ronald Reagan deployed the Marines as “peacekeepers” following Israel’s invasion and occupation of much of Lebanon. However, as fighting continued, there was mission creep.

National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who often represented Israel’s interests in the upper echelons of the Reagan administration, convinced the President to authorize the USS New Jersey to fire long-distance shells into Muslim villages, killing civilians and convincing Shiite militants that the United States had joined the conflict.

On Oct. 23, 1983, Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions, demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks in Beirut and killing 241 American servicemen.

Though the U.S. news media immediately labeled the Marine barracks bombing an act of “terrorism” – and that misnomer has stuck – Reagan administration insiders knew better, recognizing that McFarlane’s “mission creep” had made the U.S. troops vulnerable to retaliation.

“When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides,” Gen. Colin Powell wrote in his memoir, My American Journey. In other words, Powell, who was then military adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recognized that the actions of the U.S. military had altered the status of the Marines in the eyes of the Shiites.

But that is not to say that in the 1980s and the early 1990s Iran did not support actions that would constitute “terrorism.” There were the kidnappings of American civilians in Lebanon (and possibly the retaliatory bombing of PanAm 103 in 1988 after the U.S. Navy had shot down an Iranian civilian airliner a few months earlier). But the main reason that Iran is still touted as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” is that it remains at the top of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s enemies list, not that the label is justified by recent events and evidence.

The claim by some Americans that Iran’s support for Iraqi resistance to the American military occupation of Iraq was “terrorism” also turns the concept on “terrorism” on its head since American soldiers who have conquered a sovereign nation are not “civilians” and thus attacking them with IEDs or other weapons does not constitute “terrorism.”

The more recent complaints about Iranian “aggression” are even more dishonest. Iran has been invited by the sovereign governments of Iraq and Syria to assist in fighting Islamic State and Al Qaeda terrorists in those countries. Under international law, there is nothing illegal about that and it surely does not constitute “aggression.”

Saudi Arabia and the State Department have also accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, although the extent of that assistance is apparently negligible and whatever it is, it is vastly overwhelmed by Saudi Arabia’s massive bombardment of Yemen, a true act of aggression that has killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians and is supported by the Obama administration.

Politicians Held Hostage

So, when I hear major U.S. officials repeat the falsehood about Iran as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” again and again, I’m reminded of a hostage video in which a captive is forced to read lies written by his captors who would inflict pain or death if the captive deviated from the script. But it’s hard to tell if these U.S. officials know that they’re lying or have internalized the lie as “truth.”

If some U.S. official did publicly pronounce the truth – that Saudi Arabia far outranks Iran as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” and that many people in the world would put the United States even higher – the truth-teller might never survive another Senate confirmation hearing, since the Israel Lobby would call in its chits and make an example of the apostate.

Which gets us to the problem of President-elect Trump naming retired Generals Mattis and Flynn to top national security posts. Was their Iran-bashing heartfelt, i.e., do they really believe this propaganda is true, or were they simply protecting their Official Washington “credibility” by saying something they knew to be false but also knew was a required password to enter the domain of the political elite?

The question is not an idle one because if President Trump is to achieve anything meaningful in the Middle East, he must begin by leveling with the American people about what the U.S. government really knows and then acting on the reality that Saudi Arabia – with its sponsorship of Al Qaeda, Islamic State and the Taliban – can no longer be coddled.

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

How War Propaganda Keeps on Killing

Exclusive: The “fake news” hysteria has become the cover for the U.S. government and mainstream media to crack down on fact-based journalism that challenges Official Washington’s “group thinks,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A key reason why American foreign debacles have been particularly destructive mostly to the countries attacked but also to the United States is that these interventions are always accompanied by major U.S. government investments in propaganda. So, even when officials recognize a misjudgment has been made, the propaganda machinery continues to grind on to prevent a timely reversal.

In effect, Official Washington gets trapped by its own propaganda, which restricts the government’s ability to change direction even when the need for a shift becomes obvious.

After all, once a foreign leader is demonized, it’s hard for a U.S. official to explain that the leader may not be all that bad or is at least better than the likely alternative. So, it’s not just that officials start believing their own propaganda, it’s that the propaganda takes on a life of its own and keeps the failed policy churning forward.

It’s a bit like the old story of the chicken that continues to run around with its head cut off. In the case of the U.S. government, the pro-war or pro-intervention “group think” continues to run amok even after wiser policymakers recognize the imperative to change course.

The reason for that dilemma is that so much money gets spread around to pay for the propaganda and so many careers are tethered to the storyline that it’s easier to let thousands of U.S. soldiers and foreign citizens die than to admit that the policy was built on distortions, propaganda and lies. That would be bad for one’s career.

And, because of the lag time required for contracts to be issued and the money to flow into the propaganda shops, the public case for the policy can outlive the belief that the policy makes sense.

Need for Skeptics

Ideally, in a healthy democracy, skeptics both within the government and in the news media would play a key role in pointing out the flaws and weaknesses in the rationale for a conflict and would be rewarded for helping the leaders veer away from disaster. However, in the current U.S. establishment, such self-corrections don’t occur.

A current example of this phenomenon is the promotion of the New Cold War with Russia with almost no thoughtful debate about the reasons for this growing hostility or its possible results, which include potential thermonuclear war that could end life on the planet.

Instead of engaging in a thorough discussion, the U.S. government and mainstream media have simply flooded the policymaking process with propaganda, some of it so crude that it would have embarrassed Joe McCarthy and the Old Cold Warriors.

Everything that Russia does is put in the most negative light with no space allowed for a rational examination of facts and motivations – except at a few independent-minded Internet sites.

Yet, as part of the effort to marginalize dissent about the New Cold War, the U.S. government, some of its related “non-governmental organizations,” mainstream media outlets, and large technology companies are now pushing a censorship project designed to silence the few Internet sites that have refused to march in lockstep.

I suppose that if one considers the trillions of dollars in tax dollars that the Military Industrial Complex stands to get from the New Cold War, the propaganda investment in shutting up a few critics is well worth it.

Today, this extraordinary censorship operation is being carried out under the banner of fighting “fake news.” But many of the targeted Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, have represented some of the most responsible journalism on the Internet.

At Consortiumnews, our stories are consistently well-reported and well-documented, but we do show skepticism toward propaganda from the U.S. government or anywhere else.

For instance, Consortiumnews not only challenged President George W. Bush’s WMD claims regarding Iraq in 2002-2003 but we have reported on the dispute within the U.S. intelligence community about claims made by President Barack Obama and his senior aides regarding the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.

In those two latter cases, Official Washington exploited the incidents as propaganda weapons to justify an escalation of tensions against the Syrian and Russian governments, much as the earlier Iraqi WMD claims were used to rally the American people to invade Iraq.

However, if you question the Official Story about who was responsible for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, after President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the mainstream media pronounced the Syrian government guilty, you are guilty of “fake news.”

Facts Don’t Matter

It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s been confirmed in a mainstream report by The Atlantic that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper advised President Obama that there was no “slam-dunk” evidence proving that the Syrian government was responsible. Nor does it matter that legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that his intelligence sources say the more likely culprit was Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front with help from Turkish intelligence.

By straying from the mainstream “group think” that accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of crossing Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons, you are opening yourself to retaliation as a “fake news” site.

Similarly, if you point out that the MH-17 investigation was put under the control of Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence service, which not only has been accused by United Nations investigators of concealing torture but also has a mandate to protect Ukrainian government secrets, you also stand accused of disseminating “fake news.”

Apparently one of the factors that got Consortiumnews included on a new “black list” of some 200 Web sites was that I skeptically analyzed a report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that while supposedly “Dutch-led” was really run by the SBU. I also noted that the JIT’s conclusion blaming Russia was marred by a selective reading of the SBU-supplied evidence and by an illogical narrative. But the mainstream U.S. media uncritically hailed the JIT report, so to point out its glaring flaws made us guilty of committing “fake news” or disseminating “Russian propaganda.”

The Iraq-WMD Case

Presumably, if the hysteria about “fake news” had been raging in 2002-2003, then those of us who expressed skepticism about Iraq hiding WMD would have been forced to carry a special marking declaring us to be “Saddam apologists.”

Back then, everyone who was “important” in Washington had no doubt about Iraq’s WMD. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt repeatedly stated the “fact” of Iraq’s hidden WMD as flat fact and mocked anyone who doubted the “group think.”

Yet, even after the U.S. government acknowledged that the WMD allegations were a myth – a classic and bloody case of “fake news” – almost no one who had pushed the fabrication was punished.

So, the “fake news” stigma didn’t apply to Hiatt and other mainstream journalists who actually did produce “fake news,” even though it led to the deaths of 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. To this day, Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor continuing to enforce “conventional wisdoms” and to disparage those who deviate.

Another painful example of letting propaganda – rather than facts and reason – guide U.S. foreign policy was the Vietnam War, which claimed the lives of some 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese.

The Vietnam War raged on for years after Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and even President Lyndon Johnson recognized the need to end it. Part of that was Richard Nixon’s treachery in going behind Johnson’s back to sabotage peace talks in 1968, but the smearing of anti-war dissidents as pro-communist traitors locked many officials into support for the war well after its futility became obvious. The propaganda developed its own momentum that resulted in many unnecessary deaths.

A Special Marking

In the Internet era, there will now be new-age forms of censorship. Your Web site will be excluded from major search engines or electronically stamped with a warning about your unreliability.

Your guilt will be judged by a panel of mainstream media outlets, including some partially funded by the U.S. government, or maybe by some anonymous group of alleged experts.

With the tens of millions of dollars now sloshing around Official Washington to pay for propaganda, lots of entrepreneurs will be lining up at the trough to do their part. Congress just approved another $160 million to combat “Russian propaganda,” which will apparently include U.S. news sites that question the case for the New Cold War.

Along with that money, the House voted 390-30 for the Intelligence Authorization Act with a Section 501 to create an Executive Branch “interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence,” an invitation to expand the  McCarthyistic witch hunt already underway to intimidate independent Internet news sites and independent-minded Americans who question the latest round of U.S. government propaganda.

Even if a President Trump decides that these tensions with Russia are absurd and that the two countries can work together in the fight against terrorism and other international concerns, the financing of the New Cold War propaganda — and the pressure to conform to Official Washington’s  “group think” — will continue.

The well-funded drumbeat of anti-Russian propaganda will seek to limit Trump’s decision-making. After all, this New Cold War cash cow can be milked for years to come and nothing – not even the survival of the human species – is more important than that.

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

Warnings from the Cuban Missile Crisis

From the Archive: Fidel Castro’s death at 90 was treated more as a cultural event than a moment to reflect on the danger of thermonuclear war, a risk Don North saw up close in 1962 and described 50 years later.

By Don North (Originally published on Oct. 14, 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 27, 1962, now known as “Black Saturday,” was the day I arrived in Havana to report on the Cuban missile crisis, completely oblivious that 50 years later it would be considered “the most dangerous moment in human history,” the day we came closest to nuclear Armageddon.

My rendezvous with this existential crisis began on Oct. 22, in a New York bar where I had arranged to meet friends and incidentally to watch a TV address by President John F. Kennedy that was supposed to have something to do with Cuba. I had visited Cuba as a freelance journalist six months earlier and was fascinated by the country.

Kennedy’s TV address was a shocker. “Unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island,” Kennedy said looking grim. A hush fell over the bar and waiters stopped serving to hear his words.

After 50 years of study and analysis we now know that in addition to the nuclear-armed missiles, the Soviet Union had deployed 100 tactical nuclear weapons, which the Soviet commander in Cuba could have launched without additional approval from Moscow.

A U.S. naval blockade of Cuba had begun the day before Kennedy’s speech. “A strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated,” the President said.

As Kennedy spoke the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) had gone to DEFCON-3, (Defense Condition Three) two steps down from nuclear war, and dispersed its nuclear-armed bomber fleet around the United States. The Cold War had suddenly grown hot.

A truthful history of those dark days was the first casualty. Although tape recordings of White House meetings on the crisis were made, they were kept classified until ten years ago, as many of the participants worked to burnish or obscure their position at that time. Bobby Kennedy made a pre-emptive strike on history by writing and publishing his book, Thirteen Days, a self-serving recollection of the crisis.

We now know that JFK’s covert war against Cuba dubbed “Operation Mongoose,” a campaign of harassment and sabotage had contributed to the war of nerves that led the Russians to step in to the defense of Cuba. However, as transcripts of the taped White House meetings of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) would reveal when declassified decades later, JFK used cool political skill and all his intellect to prevent a possible nuclear war.

As he told the ExComm members, as he ordered the dangerous naval blockade to go into effect, “What we are doing is throwing down a card on the table in a game which we don’t know the ending of.”

The taped record of how JFK played his hand trying to contain the chaotic forces of history in the face of unyielding pressure from hawkish advisers like Generals Curtis Le May and Maxwell Taylor shows the crisis was a supreme test of the President’s ability to maintain an open mind, while holding to his entrenched abhorrence of war.

It is a cautionary tale to remember as we contemplate a possible future showdown with a nuclear-armed Russia or China and the need to evaluate a prospective President by his or her possession of sound judgment and emotional stability when those characteristics can make the difference between a peaceful compromise and a catastrophic war.

Hugh Sidey, a journalist who was a friend of Kennedy and covered the White House for Time magazine at the time of the crisis, had this to say in appraising JFK’s leadership: “Once in the Presidency there is virtually no time for re-education or introspection that might show a President where he is right or wrong and bring about a true change of mind. Events move too fast. A President may pick up more knowledge about a subject or find an expert aide on whom he can rely, but in most instances when he is alone and faced with a crucial decision he must rely on his intuition, a mixture of natural intelligence, education, and experience.”

Self-Assigned to Havana

Although a few weeks earlier I had finally landed a job as a news writer on the NBC evening news, I was ready to chuck it for the opportunity to report from a key city during the missile crisis where few foreign journalists were based. I walked across the street from NBC studios in Rockefeller Center to the Life magazine office.

Although I hadn’t worked for Life before and only owned an inexpensive Kodak, I was ushered in to see a senior editor and was immediately loaded down with several Leica camera bodies, an assortment of lenses and a brick of fast 35mm film. Life didn’t have a man in Havana and for this story they would risk taking a chance on a youthful broadcast news writer with some Cuba contacts willing to travel into ground zero for American ICBM’s and bombers.

“Don, you’re our man in Havana now,” said the editor in a well-cut gray suit. “Get some good shots, write some snappy cut lines and give us the story of Havana at the center of the storm.”

New Yorkers were scared. Newspapers carried illustrations of New York and Washington as targets within the range of the Soviet ICBMs now operational from Cuba. Lines formed at grocery stores and gas stations. Friends made plans to drive their children to relatives’ homes in less vulnerable areas of the country.

My sister Helen had recently arrived from Canada to work as a nurse at the Roosevelt Hospital in central Manhattan. We shared a small apartment. I was reluctant to leave her alone in a city perhaps facing a devastating enemy attack. Her hospital was already planning for handling casualties.

My first stop was Miami to consult with my friend Miguel Acocca, Time magazine’s man in the Caribbean. Miguel said I had two choices. The first was to link up with the U.S. Second Marine Division preparing landing craft in Key West for an invasion of Cuba. It would be called Operation Scabbards and be comparable to the Normandy landings in 1944. It would involve eight divisions, around 120,000 troops, and land on a 40-mile front between Mariel and Tarara Beach, east of Havana.

Or my second choice was to try to get on a Cubana Airlines flight left outside Cuba when the blockade went into effect, that would be returning to Cuba in the next few days from Mexico City.

I knew Mario Garcia-Inchaustigi, the Cuban ambassador in Mexico. We had shared many a rum and coke at the Delegates Lounge in the United Nations when he was the Cuban delegate and I was an announcer for U.N. General Assembly sessions. If there was any chance of a visa and a ticket on that flight, Mario could arrange it. I cabled the Embassy explaining my situation and took the next flight to Mexico.

With a visa in hand, purchasing a ticket on the Cubana flight was easy. The only passengers confirmed were members of an East German soccer team. Boarding the flight I was aware from monitoring recent radio broadcasts that it was a sensitive time to be arriving in Havana. The first Soviet ship to test the American blockade, the Grozny, was reported about to encounter U.S. Navy ships.

Earlier, in a radio broadcast Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had warned, “if the United States carries out the piratical actions, we shall have to resort to means of defense against the aggressor to defend our rights.”

Along with the youthful soccer team from East Berlin, there were five other international journalists on board the flight: a fellow Canadian Robert MacNeil of NBC; Gordian Troeller, a Luxemburger and his wife Marie Claude, both working for the German magazine Der Stern; Atsuhiro Horikawa, Washington correspondent of the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun, a Tokyo daily; and Alan Oxley, a British freelancer who  worked for CBS News and lived in Havana.

Not Welcome in Havana

Walking from the plane into the dark, hot, humid Havana air was not unpleasant and costumed guitarists strummed a welcome as we entered the passenger terminal. A giant poster declaring that Cuba was “en pie de Guerra” (on war alert) graced the terminal building.

Inside, men in battle fatigues with side arms or carrying machine guns eyed arriving passengers suspiciously. My visa was stamped and I was directed to an adjacent room where my fellow journalists were being held. In a few minutes, soldiers with machine guns at the ready ordered us in Spanish to take our luggage and board an army truck waiting outside.

We were driven to the center of Havana to a small, modern hotel called The Capri. The officer in charge informed us politely in English that we were to be “guests of the Cuban government.” We were given room keys and escorted under armed guard to rooms on the ninth floor. Two guards with machine guns were posted outside our rooms.

The Capri Hotel was located in the heart of downtown Havana, a few blocks from the Havana Hilton and the old Hotel Nacional. I lay in my bed trying to sleep but kept thinking about a U.S. Pentagon study of nuclear war effects on different size cities. If the worst happened overnight and U.S. ICBMs dropped a one megaton bomb on Havana, it would vaporize my hotel leaving a crater 1,000 feet wide and 200 feet deep. The blast would destroy virtually everything within a 1.7 mile radius.

Of the two million inhabitants hundreds of thousands living in central Havana would be killed instantly. Tens of thousands more would die of radiation within hours. Fires would rage across the rest of the city as far as the Soviet military headquarters in El Chico, 12 miles from city center.

But confined to our hotel, we were oblivious to the momentous events unfolding on Black Saturday:

–A U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance aircraft had been shot down while on a mission to photograph the Soviet missiles. The pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, was killed.

–A U.S. Air Force U-2 accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace near Alaska and Soviet interceptors gave chase.

–Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reported the Soviet ship Grozny was steadily approaching the Cuban quarantine line.

–Six low level U.S. “Crusader” reconnaissance flights had been forced  to turn back by Cuban ground fire while photographing missile sites.

–The U.S. Navy located and dropped practice depth charges to force four Soviet “Foxtrot” nuclear armed submarines to surface.

–The Soviet Union and the United States both conducted atmospheric nuclear tests on this day.

–Two Cuban exiles dispatched by the CIA under the Mongoose program had set explosive charges at the Metahambre copper mine in Pinar Del Rio. The two were captured by Cuban police.

Any one of these incidents could have provoked a nuclear response in the tense “eye-ball to eye-ball” atmosphere that prevailed that day. Twenty-four Soviet SAM sites were now operational.

But there were stories within each of those stories. For instance, the CIA flew slightly better U-2’s than the U.S. Air Force; they had a more powerful engine and could fly 5,000 feet higher. President Kennedy preferred to have Air Force pilots flying over Cuba than CIA pilots as fewer questions would be asked if they were shot down. The CIA reluctantly agreed to lend several of its U-2’s to the Air Force and they were repainted with Air Force insignia.

As one U-2 approached the missile site at Banes, in Western Cuba near Guantanamo, an order came from Soviet military headquarters in El Chico near Havana, “Destroy target number 33. Use two missiles.” A proximity fuse detonated the SAMs as they closed in, spraying shrapnel and killing Major Rudolf Anderson instantly.

Declassified Soviet sources have confirmed the missile was not cleared to fire by the Kremlin. Furious, Khrushchev ordered no further firings take place without his direct orders. In Washington, Air Force Gen. Curtis Le May ordered rocket-carrying fighters readied for an attack on the SAM site. The White House ordered Le May not to attack unless he had direct orders from the President.

“He chickened out again,” Le May growled. “How in hell do you get men to risk their lives when the SAMs are not attacked?”

Thousands of miles away, a U-2 flying out of Eielson Air Force base in Alaska on a mission to monitor air samples during the Soviet nuclear test that day became disoriented and flew some 400 miles into Soviet airspace. The pilot was Captain Chuck Maltsby.

The Soviets could well have regarded this U-2 flight as a last-minute intelligence reconnaissance in preparation for nuclear war. Soviet MIG aircraft tried to intercept the U-2 flying at 75,000 feet but could not reach that altitude. Alaskan Command sent up two nuclear armed F-102 interceptors to protect the U-2.

When President Kennedy was later told about the incident he replied, “There’s always some sonofabitch who doesn’t get the word.”

Six U.S. Navy “Crusaders” flying at tree-top level under Soviet radar headed westward to photograph the missile sites of Pinar Del Rio. Antiaircraft guns manned by Cuban crews opened fire as the Crusaders approached the San Cristobal missile site. The pilots, aware of multiple hits, aborted the mission and flew home to Key West.

Soviet submarine commanders were highly disciplined and unlikely to trigger their nuclear torpedoes by design, but we now know the unstable conditions on board the subs raised the specter of an accidental nuclear launch. U.S. Navy ships had located four Soviet “Foxtrot” submarines lurking in the waters south of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Each day the subs had to surface to charge their batteries and report to Moscow. Once located the subs were forced to surface by U.S. Naval ships dropping hand grenades and practice depth charges.

On “Black Saturday,” Oct. 27, 1962, one sub B-59, commanded by Captain Valentin Savitsky, had been chased for two days. His batteries were low and he had not been able to communicate with Moscow. Temperatures in the sub reached as high as 140 degrees, food was spoiling in the refrigerators and water was low and rationed. Carbon dioxide levels were becoming critical and sailors were fainting from heat and exhaustion.

Submerged several hundred feet the sub came under repeated attack from the USS Randolph dropping practice depth charges. The explosions became deafening. There is no greater humiliation for a submarine captain than to be forced by the enemy to surface.  Forty years later, a senior sub officer on B-59, Vadim Orlov, described the scene as Captain Sevitsky lost his temper.

“Savitsky became furious. He summoned the officer in charge of the nuclear torpedo, and ordered him to make it combat ready. ‘We’re going to blast them now,’ said Savitsky. ‘We will perish ourselves, but we will sink them all. We will not disgrace our Navy.” Fellow officers persuaded Savitsky to calm down and a decision was made to surface in the midst of four American destroyers.

A Spy and Journalist Out of Their Depth

In Washington, a Russian KGB officer and an ABC News reporter inserted themselves in the drama. Aleksandr Feklisov, the KGB station chief, had approached ABC News State Department correspondent John Scali with a plan to dismantle missile bases in Cuba in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade. Scali ran it past Secretary of State Dean Rusk and got his approval.

Their meddling was a classic case of miscommunication between Washington and Moscow at a time when a misstep could have led to nuclear war. By Scali’s account it had been a Soviet initiative. Feklisov presented it as an American one. What Scali thought was a feeler from Moscow was in reality an attempt by the KGB to measure Washngton’s conditions for a settlement.

Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin said he had not authorized this type of negotiation and refused to send Feklisov’s messages to Moscow. Feklisov could only send his negotiation report with Scali by cable to KGB headquarters. There is no evidence the cable was ever read by Khrushchev or played any part in Kremlin decision-making. Yet, the Scali-Feklisov meetings would become part of the strange mythology of the Cuban missile crisis.

I later came to know Scali as a very undiplomatic diplomatic correspondent given to outbursts of temper. I was a correspondent for ABC News in Vietnam and not supportive of the war. Scali was a hawk whose Vietnam visits were choreographed by President Lyndon Johnson and Gen. William Westmoreland. He often trumpeted his role as mediator in the missile crisis and was later named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon.

Before “Black Saturday” ended President Kennedy got more bad news. The CIA determined for the first time that five out of six medium-range missile sites in Cuba were fully operational. With the sand in the glass almost gone that evening, Kennedy sent his brother Robert to meet with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to warn him U.S. military action was imminent. At the same time, Khrushchev was offered a possible way out. Pull his missiles out of Cuba and the U.S. would promise not to invade and also withdraw missiles from Turkey.

Radio News

In Havana, our Japanese colleague Horikawa had a powerful Zenith shortwave radio and we spent a lot of time Sunday listening to news broadcasts from Miami. Khrushchev had “blinked.” Moscow radio broadcast a long letter Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy agreeing to remove the missiles from Cuba under U.N. inspection. Kennedy in return agreed not to invade Cuba. The crisis between the world’s superpowers was waning. However, Fidel Castro was furious over the settlement and felt betrayed by his Soviet friends.

We continued to be his guests. We were fed regularly, but monotonously from the hotel kitchen. It was mostly “arroz con pollo,” chicken with rice. It helped to wash it down with Bulgarian red wine at $5 a bottle. And to make meals an even more festive occasion we ordered Cuban cigars and Russian Vodka at a nominal price in U.S. dollars. Periodically on the Miami NBC radio station, it was reported that six international journalists who had flown into Havana had not been heard from and were considered “missing.”

On Monday, another day passed and no one came to see us. The guards did not communicate. We spent a lot of time trying to be journalists, jotting in our journals whatever we could observe from our room windows. Looking down toward the harbor, we could see a lot of ships, including Soviet freighters that had passed through the blockade.

On the Malecon, the seaside street, we could see an anti-aircraft battery manned by Cuban soldiers. Regularly, U.S. Navy “Crusader” reconnaissance planes flew over our hotel very low. But we never saw the anti-aircraft battery engage them as the speedy jets screamed overhead.

Platoons of “milicianos,” male and female civilians on military duty, often marched through the streets in view of our hotel. On Cuban radio or even the hotel sound system, patriotic music interrupted by urgent announcements of news bulletins and excerpts from speeches of Fidel kept the country charged up for war. Cubans were told regularly to expect an invasion by the United States.

Whoever was in charge seemed to have forgotten about us. We were never mistreated, but simply held incommunicado. From the first day we began plotting ways to draw attention to our dilemma.

One afternoon I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw two old friends from my childhood in Canada drinking at an outdoor cafe just below my window. Doug Buchanan and Rod McKenzie were pilots for International Air Freighters flying Toronto to Havana. We hastily wrote a letter addressed to the Havana Associated Press office listing our names, nationalities and the circumstances of our house arrest and tossed it through the window louvers to the old friends lurking below.

As fate would have it, the letter floated down nine stories and came to rest on the roof of a guard post below. The two pilots perhaps emboldened by rum and cokes climbed up to the roof of the guard post to retrieve the letter, whereupon the guards seized them and marched them off at gunpoint.

The next day, Alan Oxley, the British journalist whose home was Havana, spotted a girlfriend in a bikini sunning herself on the roof of an apartment building adjacent to our hotel. Alan shouted to her to bring her baby and try to visit us in the hotel. Within an hour she arrived pushing a baby buggy and the guards allowed her in to visit with Alan. Before she left we slipped the letter to AP into the baby’s diaper but the crafty guards searched on the way out and found the letter.

Phone Home

The following day, Horikawa, the Japanese journalist suggested a new plan to make contact with the outside world. The phones in our rooms were all dead, shut off at the switchboard. We screwed off the plates in the wall where the phone wires entered and found a gathering of multicolored wires. With a razor blade we slit each of the wires and inserted the phone terminal connections.

Our theory was that by trial and error we would eventually tap into wires connected to another room and the call would register at reception as coming from another room. We intercepted conversations in Russian, Spanish and Chinese, before finally tapping into phone lines of an empty room. At last we got a dial tone and called the number for the Associated Press. The AP already knew who we were, but promised to contact the Embassy of each of us being held.

All the wires were somehow jammed back into the wall as if they had never been tampered with. It was just in time, as the hotel manager and receptionist came to the ninth floor and ordered the guards to inspect an empty room where they claimed telephone calls were being made. Later that day, the Miami radio station reported our names and that we were being held under house arrest in The Capri.

Still no one came to visit and time passed very slowly. Robert MacNeil, who had recently come from assignment in London, had a pocketful of British half pennies and introduced us to the popular pub game in Britain called “Shove Ha’penny.” It involved hitting a half penny with your palm and sending it into a pattern of lines on the table. First person to fill the rows wins the game. We played for hours.

On our fourth day of confinement, Oct. 30, we heard on the radio that Castro had rejected the Washington-Moscow settlement. U Thant flew in to Havana to attempt to persuade him but failed. Three days later, on Nov. 4, the Soviets sent in their prime negotiator, Anastas Mikoyan, to reason with Castro. By then, we had been under house arrest for nine days.

Free at Last

Raul Lazo, a young junior officer at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, quietly called on us that evening and simply said we were free to go and report as we liked. “I hope you will forgive us for having detained you. Please understand the crisis made it necessary,” he said.

To celebrate our freedom, Robert MacNeil and I checked out the thriving nightclub in The Capri, whose loud music had kept us awake while under house arrest. The big Havana hotels still featured lavish floor shows, typical of pre-revolutionary decadence with leggy dancers in brief costumes. Tables were crowded with well-dressed couples drinking rum or vodka. The air was heavy with aromatic Cuban cigar smoke.

Enjoying our first night of freedom we took a late night stroll that took us past the Havana TV station. A large black limousine pulled up and out stepped Commandante Che Guevara wearing army fatigues, his signature beret with a red star and a large Cohiba cigar clenched in his teeth. Che had been in his military headquarters in a limestone cave in Pinar Del Rio throughout the crisis. This was his first night back in Havana. A small group of admirers quickly surrounded him and he signed a few autographs.

I approached with my flash camera and said, “Por favor, Commandante.” Che smiled without removing his cigar and I shot a close-up head shot against the night background. (Later at home in New York, the photo when processed was sharp and clear and I fancied becoming a millionaire from poster and t-shirt sales. Alas, the color slide of Che later went missing when an airline lost my suitcase.)

Lively bars with bands and dance floors were open late that night. Robert and I took a table and ordered a final Daiquiri to toast our freedom. A friendly waiter discovered that we were Canadian journalists. A few minutes later a spotlight hit our table as the master of ceremonies said, “Bienvenidos, amigos periodistas Canadianse.”

Then, the spotlight swung to a table just behind us. “Bienvenidos, companero sovietico,” said the announcer. Sitting in the spotlight was Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the famous Russian poet. We sent him a drink and introduced ourselves. Yevtushenko was working on a heroic film about Castro. He had written a poem that would appear on the front page of Pravda, the Moscow daily:

America, I’m writing to you from Cuba,

Where the cheekbones of tense sentries

And the cliffs shine anxiously tonight

Through the gusting storm.                 

A tabaquero with his pistol heads for the port.

A shoemaker cleans an old machine gun,

A showgirl, in a soldier’s laced-up boots,

Marches with a carpenter to stand guard.

America, I’ll ask you in plain Russian;

Isn’t it shameful and hypocritical

That you have forced them to take up arms

And then accuse them of having done so?

I heard Fidel speak. He outlined his case

Like a doctor or a prosecutor.

In his speech, there was no animosity,

Only bitterness and reproach. America, it will be   

difficult to regain the grandeur that you have lost                                  

Through your blind games, While a little island,     

standing firm, became a great  country.      

First thing Monday morning all six of us who had been held in The Capri turned up at the Foreign Ministry as instructed to obtain press credentials so we could cable or phone our reports. We were told the officials responsible for press accreditation were out of town and to try again “manana.”

Dangerous Company

On my first trip to Havana, in March 1962, I had met Larry Lunt, a friendly American who owned a large ranch called Finca San Andres in Pinar Del Rio province, about a hundred miles west of Havana. He had been very helpful to me and had brought me along to many Embassy parties. I spent several weekends as his guest at the ranch.

Larry was a World War II and Korean War veteran and had been a rancher in Wyoming until moving to Cuba in 1955. He had not been a fan of Batista and was pleased when Castro took over in 1959. Soon he was appalled by Fidel’s move to Communism, but in conversations with me did not harshly denounce the regime or its ruinous economic policies. I repeatedly called a number I had for Larry’s apartment in Havana. It never answered and I assumed he was at his ranch without a phone.

The maxim that a person is known by the company he keeps is especially true in Cuba. In numerous trips to Cuba as a journalist and a tourist I always assumed the phones in my hotel were bugged, but I never felt I was under surveillance. Certainly Larry Lunt was under surveillance when I befriended him in March 1962. Unknown to me Larry Lunt was a CIA agent.

I read a newspaper in 1965 that reported Lunt had been arrested and imprisoned in Havana. There were no other reports that came to my attention until I learned of a book he had written and published in 1990 Leave me my Spirit. It’s a remarkable memoir of Lunt’s 14 years in a Cuban prison and his work as a CIA agent.

Lunt had been recruited and trained by the CIA before moving to Cuba. Under the agency’s guidance, he bought the farm as a base for secret operations. In his book, Lunt described running numerous Cuban agents who were in a position to provide intelligence. His ranch covered hundreds of acres and was ideal for air drops of saboteurs, arms, explosives and ammunition. He had provided early reports that the San Cristobal missile site photographed by U-2’s in October 1962 was a Soviet intermediate-range missile site.

Each month, Larry relayed a report from one agent who was an engineer at the Matahambre copper mine near his ranch. The mine produced 20,000 tons of copper a year, mostly for export to the Soviet Union. The CIA in its “Operation Mongoose” unsuccessfully tried to sabotage Matahambre 25 times. Even during the October crisis, two agents who had planted bombs at the mine were captured by Castro forces.

In 1979, Lunt was released and deported in an exchange of prisoners. Many spies in Cuba had been executed for lesser crimes than Lunt. However, his book is an eloquent view of inhuman conditions in Cuban prisons and of his unconquerable spirit that helped him to survive.

Pacifying Fidel

Every day we assembled at the Foreign Ministry in quest of Cuban press cards and every day we were told to try again tomorrow. Fidel was furious with his Soviet friends for caving in to U.S. demands and had even rejected a Soviet proposal for international inspection. U Thant had come and gone from Havana, and on Nov. 2, Khrushchev’s principal deputy Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Havana to persuade Fidel to agree to inspection and removal of the Ilyusian-28 bombers.

Castro grudgingly met Mikoyan’s plane, but refused to meet with him for days. At the bar of the Havana Libre Hilton, I chanced to meet a Canadian pilot who had flown in with Mikoyan’s plane. In 1962, Canadian pilots were required on flights out of Gander airport in Newfoundland. He would be pleased to keep me informed on Mikoyan’s schedule and planned departure date which would indicate his tough negotiations with Castro were over.

The Hilton bar was probably the most conspicuous watering hole in Havana and again if Cuban intelligence was noticing the company I kept, it would not enhance my daily request for a press card.

One of the most well-informed and influential diplomats in Havana was Dwight Fullford, second secretary at the Canadian Embassy. I learned he had pressed the Foreign Ministry hard for my release from house arrest. On the fourth evening after my release from the hotel, Dwight and his wife Barbara invited me for dinner at a popular Havana restaurant. We had just met on a street corner and Dwight excused himself to buy cigarettes.

Standing on the corner talking with Barbara, I was astonished to see a black limousine pull up and two men in suits jump out. They grabbed me forcefully, shoved me into the car and in a screech of tires sped away leaving Barbara to explain the sudden disappearance of their dinner guest. Dwight, like the responsible diplomat he was, went back to the Embassy to again work the phone lines on my behalf to the Foreign Ministry.

I was taken to a small jail near the harbor which was used for immigration cases. Within an hour most of the journalists held in The Capri had been rounded up and again became guests of the government, this time in a grimy cell. The next morning a diplomat from the Canadian Embassy dropped by to say the Cubans had decided to deport us to Mexico, the only place Cubana Airlines was flying that week.

There was a hitch. The Mexicans had refused to receive supposed criminals from a Cuban jail. The diplomat said he was working on it.

The next three days passed slowly behind bars. We scratched our names and the date on the cement wall along with thousands of other past prisoners. A young Nicaraguan who spoke excellent English said his name was Raul and tried to engage us in constant conversation. He was obviously a government plant and we regaled him with glowing admiration for the Cuban revolution, Fidel and Che, hoping he would report on us favorably.

There was a TV set mounted high on the wall that we could view through the bars. Each evening of our stay they broadcast a serial based on Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. In his later years Hemmingway had lived in Havana and his books were still popular there.

One morning our luggage that we had left in the hotel when we were seized was brought to our cell. Nothing seemed to be missing from mine, but books, letters and private papers had notes pinned to them with Spanish translations written on stationery of the Cuban Security police. For some reason I had brought along a small song book from the University of British Columbia, my alma mater. Several of the songs, like a Scottish drinking song, had been labeled as secret code.

The next morning, the head guard announced we would be released later that day. However, pointing at the substantial beard I had grown since arriving in Cuba, he said, “Senor North, before you can be released you must shave your beard. In Cuba only Fidelistas have beards and you’re not a Fidelista.”

I protested but he was adamant. No shave, no freedom. A dull Gillette was produced with no shaving soap or hot water and with a gun in my back I stood at the sink and painfully shaved.

Mexico had agreed to issue transit visas and we were booked on a flight to New York leaving two hours after our arrival. We were deported without ceremony.

Summing Up Fifty Years

Perhaps the best book looking back on the dark days of October 1962 is One Minute to Midnight by journalist Michael Dobbs. In summing up how catastrophe was averted, Dobbs wrote:

“Despite all their differences, both personal and ideological, the two men had reached similar conclusions about the nature of nuclear war. Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy both understood that such a war would be far more terrible than anything mankind had known before. They also understood that a commander in chief could not always control his own armies. In short they were both human beings flawed, idealistic, blundering, sometimes brilliant, often mistaken, but ultimately very aware of their own humanity.”

Despite everything that divided them, they had a sneaking sympathy for each other, an idea expressed best by Jackie Kennedy in a private letter she sent to Khrushchev following her husband’s assassination:

“You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in a determination that the world should not be blown up. The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones. While big men know the need for self-control and restraint, little men are sometimes moved more by fear and pride.”

In retrospect it is clear the United States needs its President not to be so overdosed with his own testosterone or so obsessed by his own insecurities that he not only understands the meaning of nuance but is actually prepared to conduct relations with the rest of the world in a balanced, thoughtful manner.

Ultimately it means showing the judgment of a John Kennedy rather than the belligerence of a Gen. Curtis LeMay. The danger today may not be as high as in October 1962, but it is not hard to imagine that another nuclear crisis could arise.

In 50 years, we have learned a great deal about the events of October 1962, but do we know the full truth even today? The British think tank, Royal Institute of International Affairs, in writing on this subject concludes:

“We believe that even if we knew every detail about the crisis it would not mean we could write a definitive history, even if that history were to be written from the perspectives of each participant in turn. The reason for this is that motivations and intentions are rarely revealed and are usually inconsistent across time if not at each specific moment.”

In March 2001, at a conference on the missile crisis held in a hotel at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, I interviewed Arthur Schlesinger who had been a close adviser and speechwriter for Kennedy at the time of the crisis. Schlesinger told me:

“History is an argument without end. No historian would use the word definitive because new times bring new preoccupations and we historians realize we are prisoners of our own experience. As Oscar Wilde used to say, one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”

Don North has covered some of the most dangerous stories of the past half century, including the Cuban missile crisis and conflicts in Vietnam, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Middle East. North’s Inappropriate Conduct told the story of a Canadian war correspondent in Italy in 1944 who operated at the risky front line between truth and propaganda in wartime.

Extracting Castro from the Demonization

The mainstream U.S. news media often lacks historical perspective, a problem most acute when the subject, like Fidel Castro, has faced Official Washington’s geopolitical demonization, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

There was something both sad and disturbing about popular American reactions to the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 25. According to The New York Times, news of his death caused much of the Cuban American population of south Florida to “fill Miami’s streets with song.” Those were songs of “rejoicing” rather than dirges. We will examine why these celebrations occurred later in this analysis. However, first we want to give Señor Castro his due.

Fidel Castro was the man who led the successful effort to overthrow the brutal and reactionary dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista – a dictatorship that had the backing of the U.S. government. The Castro-led victory of 1959 began a long period of transformation for Cuba, raising the country from a starkly poor Third World condition to a modernizing socialist state. Here are some of that country’s achievements under Castro’s leadership:

— The expansion of nationwide public education, which uplifted the Cuban population from being largely illiterate to being mostly literate.

— The introduction and development of a modern and accessible public health care system, which all but eliminated death from curable diseases and greatly reduced the infant mortality rate.

— The expansion of services, such as the electric grid, sewage systems, and a reliable water supply, into the countryside.

— The establishment of programs of sustainable development as the nation’s economy diversified according to environmentally safe guidelines. This did involve redistribution of large landed estates to over a quarter million peasants.

— A significant reduction of both racism and sexism through education and new laws.

— A considerable reduction of economic disparities.

There was, of course, a price to be paid for these advances. All of this and more was made possible by instituting a socialist economy and a one-party government. This alienated much of the country’s upper and middle classes. Resistance brought varying degrees of repression. Over time many of those whose economic lifestyles were compromised learned to resent and indeed hate Castro. Tens of thousands of them fled to the United States.

If the socialist road was, predictably, going to divide Cuba in such a drastic way, why did Castro decide to go this route? It was not, as popularly believed, because he came to power a convinced communist. His move to the left was in direct reaction to the policies adopted by the U.S. government.

A Fateful Visit

In April 1959, at the invitation of the American Association of Newspaper Editors, Castro paid a visit to the United States. The trip provided an opportunity for consultations with the U.S. government, although U.S. officials only begrudgingly met with Castro. There was a lot of annoyance at his early, if short-lived, declaration of neutrality when it came to the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower showed his displeasure with Castro by opting for a game of golf. But Castro did manage to get a three-hour audience with Vice President Richard Nixon.

It seems that the meeting did not go very well. Castro refused to promise swift new elections in Cuba. He was convinced that the nation’s priorities were economic and not political. And although Castro protested that he was not a communist, Nixon was suspicious. After the meeting he concluded that Castro was “either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline – my guess is the former.”

Subsequently, the U.S. government refused any economic assistance to the new Cuban regime. Worse yet, a decision was made to institute “punishment politics.” In March 1960, President Eisenhower set up funding for the overthrow of Castro. A year later the Kennedy administration carried out the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. It was against this background that Castro and his advisers quickly turned to the Soviet Union for the economic and military assistance necessary for their survival.

Rejecting Sacrifice

Do those who jumped for joy in Little Havana on Nov. 25 understand this history? Most of them are the descendants of individuals who rejected Castro’s socialist ideals. Their own loyalties were not to Cuban society as a whole, but rather to family and/or a restricted economic community that was being forced to sacrifice for the greater good. Yet, for many Cubans of means, the notion of the greater good proved too threatening to be identified with their local interests.

Thus, the rejoicers’ immediate ancestors fled to the U.S. with their portable wealth and formed the political lobby (based, by the way, on the strategy and tactics of the Zionist lobby) that kept the U.S. government scheming against Cuba for over 50 years. Is it any wonder that their children should have a biased view of history?

The Cuban Americans are not the only ones to express a one-sided view of things. Members of the American conservative elite also rejoiced at Castro’s death. Here a representative voice is that of George Will, a political commentator whose columns appear in The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Will’s column on Castro’s death appeared on Nov. 28 under the title “Cuba a Tomb of Utopianism.” It is a historically incorrect judgment by virtue of the fact that Cuba’s achievements under Castro’s leadership, some of which are listed above, are not utopian at all, but rather quite real. But Will cannot see this any more than the celebrants of Little Havana. For him Castro is nothing more than a “charismatic totalitarian” whose life was “nasty” and whose “regime was saturated with sadism.” He goes on to compare Castro to Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.

What is his evidence for these morbid exaggerations? Well, the Cuban government imprisoned some of its opponents, though they allowed many more of them to emigrate out of the country. Between 500 and 700 of Batista’s henchmen were tried and executed. Over time the regime manifested increasing authoritarian tendencies largely due to relentless U.S. efforts to destroy the country’s economy and overthrow its government.

In other words, the United States created an ongoing wartime situation for Havana. Under such circumstances the historically usual reaction is for a government – any government – to become more controlling. George Will takes no notice of this.

The Cuban American rejoicing at Castro’s death, and George Will’s misreading it as the a sign of a “dead utopianism,” are both disturbing manifestations of historical narrow-mindedness.

In the case of the celebrants, this attitude is no doubt connected to pent-up anger over the fact that something had been taken from them, or from their relatives, as part of an effort to remake a society that, prior to 1959, had only enriched the wealthy and impoverished the poor.

George Will’s attitude is a function of his conservative worldview. He gives no credit at all to the economic and social achievements of Fidel Castro because he can’t get past his ideologically driven interpretation of the political steps taken to realize them.

And neither of the above will admit to the truth that the Cuba policy of the United States over more than 50 years contributed strongly to the road Castro took.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

WPost Won’t Retract McCarthyistic Smear

After publishing a McCarthyistic “black list” that smears some 200 Web sites as “Russian propagandists,” The Washington Post refuses to apologize — and other mainstream media outlets pile on, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

We still don’t have any sort of apology or retraction from the Washington Post for promoting “The List” — the highly dangerous blacklist that got a huge boost from the newspaper’s fawning coverage on Nov. 24. The project of smearing 200 websites with one broad brush wouldn’t have gotten far without the avid complicity of high-profile media outlets, starting with the Post.

On Thursday — a week after the Post published its front-page news article hyping the blacklist that was put out by a group of unidentified people called PropOrNot — I sent a petition statement to the newspaper’s executive editor Martin Baron.

“Smearing is not reporting,” the RootsAction petition says. “The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism — promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government — violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. We urge the Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.”

After mentioning that 6,000 people had signed the petition (the number has doubled since then), my email to Baron added: “If you skim through the comments that many of the signers added to the petition online, I think you might find them to be of interest. I wonder if you see a basis for dialogue on the issues raised by critics of the Post piece in question.”

The reply came from the newspaper’s vice president for public relations, Kristine Coratti Kelly, who thanked me “for reaching out to us” before presenting the Post’s response, quoted here in full:

“The Post reported on the work of four separate sets of researchers, as well as independent experts, who have examined Russian attempts to influence American democracy. PropOrNot was one. The Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list of organizations that it said had — wittingly or unwittingly — published or echoed Russian propaganda. The Post reviewed PropOrNot’s findings and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.”

Full of Holes

But that damage-control response was as full of holes as the news story it tried to defend.

For one thing, PropOrNot wasn’t just another source for the Post’s story. As The New Yorker noted in a devastating article on Dec. 1, the story “prominently cited the PropOrNot research.” The Post’s account “had the force of revelation, thanks in large part to the apparent scientific authority of PropOrNot’s work: the group released a 32-page report detailing its methodology, and named names with its list of 200 suspect news outlets…. But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess.”

Contrary to the PR message from the Post vice president, PropOrNot did not merely say that the sites on its list had “published or echoed Russian propaganda.” Without a word of the slightest doubt or skepticism in the entire story, the Post summarized PropOrNot’s characterization of all the websites on its list as falling into two categories: “Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were ‘useful idiots’ — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.”

As The New Yorker pointed out, PropOrNot’s criteria for incriminating content were broad enough to include “nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself.” Yet “The List” is not a random list by any means — it’s a targeted mish-mash, naming websites that are not within shouting distance of the U.S. corporate and foreign policy establishment.

And so the list includes a few overtly Russian-funded outlets; some other sites generally aligned with Kremlin outlooks; many pro-Trump sites, often unacquainted with what it means to be factual and sometimes overtly racist; and other websites that are quite different — solid, factual, reasonable — but too progressive or too anti-capitalist or too libertarian or too right-wing or just plain too independent-minded for the evident tastes of whoever is behind PropOrNot.

As The New Yorker’s writer Adrian Chen put it: “To PropOrNot, simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labeled a Russian propagandist.” And he concluded: “Despite the impressive-looking diagrams and figures in its report, PropOrNot’s findings rest largely on innuendo and conspiracy thinking.”

As for the Post vice president’s defensive phrasing that “the Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list,” the fact is that the Post unequivocally promoted PropOrNot, driving web traffic to its site and adding a hotlink to the anonymous group’s 32-page report soon after the newspaper’s story first appeared. As I mentioned in my reply to her: “Unfortunately, it’s kind of like a newspaper saying that it didn’t name any of the people on the Red Channels blacklist in 1950 while promoting it in news coverage, so no problem.”

Pushing McCarthyism

As much as the Post news management might want to weasel out of the comparison, the parallels to the advent of the McCarthy Era are chilling. For instance, the Red Channels list, with 151 names on it, was successful as a weapon against dissent and free speech in large part because, early on, so many media outlets of the day actively aided and abetted blacklisting, as the Post has done for “The List.”

Consider how the Post story described the personnel of PropOrNot in favorable terms even while hiding all of their identities and thus shielding them from any scrutiny — calling them “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

So far The New Yorker has been the largest media outlet to directly confront the Post’s egregious story. Cogent assessments can also be found at The InterceptConsortium NewsCommon DreamsAlterNetRolling StoneFortuneCounterPunchThe Nation and numerous other sites.

But many mainline journalists and outlets jumped at the chance to amplify the Post’s piece of work. A sampling of the cheers from prominent journalists and liberal partisans was published by FAIR.org under the apt headline “Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited ‘Fake News’ Blacklist?

FAIR’s media analyst Adam Johnson cited enthusiastic responses to the bogus story from journalists like Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar and MSNBC’s Joy Reid — and such outlets as USA TodayGizmodo, the PBS NewsHourThe Daily BeastSlateAPThe Verge and NPR, which “all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback.” On the MSNBC site, the Rachel Maddow Show’s blog “added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that ‘it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign.’”

With so many people understandably upset about Trump’s victory, there’s an evident attraction to blaming the Kremlin, a convenient scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. But the Post’s blacklisting story and the media’s amplification of it — and the overall political environment that it helps to create — are all building blocks for a reactionary order, threatening the First Amendment and a range of civil liberties.

When liberals have green-lighted a witch-hunt, right wingers have been pleased to run with it. President Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government. Joe McCarthy and the era named after him were soon to follow.

In media and government, the journalists and officials who enable blacklisting are cravenly siding with conformity instead of democracy.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.