When Putin Bailed Out Obama

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

By Ray McGovern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama: Sensing a Trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton’s Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Convenient Sarin Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay-Back for Putin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Dumbed-Down New York Times

Exclusive: A New York Times columnist writes Americans are so “dumbed-down” that they don’t know that Russia “invaded” Ukraine two years ago, but that “invasion” was mostly in the minds of Times editors and other propagandists, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In a column mocking the political ignorance of the “dumbed-down” American people and lamenting the death of “objective fact,” New York Times columnist Timothy Egan shows why so many Americans have lost faith in the supposedly just-the-facts-ma’am mainstream media.

Egan states as flat fact, “If more than 16 percent of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, it would have been a Really Big Deal when Trump said that Russia was not going to invade it — two years after they had, in fact, invaded it.”

But it is not a “fact” that Russia “invaded” Ukraine – and it’s especially not the case if you also don’t state as flat fact that the United States has invaded Syria, Libya and many other countries where the U.S. government has launched bombing raids or dispatched “special forces.”  Yet, the Times doesn’t describe those military operations as “invasions.”

Nor does the newspaper of record condemn the U.S. government for violating international law, although in every instance in which U.S. forces cross into another country’s sovereign territory without permission from that government or the United Nations Security Council, that is technically  an act of illegal aggression.

In other words, the Times applies a conscious double standard when reporting on the actions of the United States or one of its allies (note how Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria was just an “intervention”) as compared to how the Times deals with actions by U.S. adversaries, such as Russia.

Biased on Ukraine

The Times’ reporting on Ukraine has been particularly dishonest and hypocritical. The Times ignores the substantial evidence that the U.S. government encouraged and supported a violent coup that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014, including a pre-coup intercepted phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who should lead the new government and how to “midwife this thing.”

The Times also played down the key role of neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists in killing police before the coup, seizing government building during the coup, and then spearheading the slaughter of ethnic Russian Ukrainians after the coup. If you wanted to detect the role of these SS-wannabes from the Times’ coverage, you’d have to scour the last few paragraphs of a few stories that dealt with other aspects of the Ukraine crisis.

While leaving out the context, the Times has repeatedly claimed that Russia “invaded” Crimea, although curiously without showing any photographs of an amphibious landing on Crimea’s coast or Russian tanks crashing across Ukraine’s border en route to Crimea or troops parachuting from the sky to seize strategic Crimean targets.

The reason such evidence of an “invasion” was lacking is that Russian troops were already stationed in Crimea as part of a basing agreement for the port of Sevastopol. So, it was a very curious “invasion” indeed, since the Russian troops were on scene before the “invasion” and their involvement after the coup was peaceful in protecting the Crimean population from the depredations of the new regime’s neo-Nazis. The presence of a small number of Russian troops also allowed the Crimeans to vote on whether to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, which they did with a 96 percent majority.

In the eastern provinces, which represented Yanukovych’s political base and where many Ukrainians opposed the coup, you can fault, if you wish, the Russian decision to provide some military equipment and possibly some special forces so ethnic Russian and other anti-coup Ukrainians could defend themselves from the assaults by the neo-Nazi Azov brigade and from the tanks and artillery of the coup-controlled Ukrainian army.

But an honest newspaper and honest columnists would insist on including this context. They also would resist pejorative phrases such as “invasion” and “aggression” – unless, of course, they applied the same terminology objectively to actions by the U.S. government and its “allies.”

That sort of nuance and balance is not what you get from The New York Times and its “group thinking” writers, people like Timothy Egan. When it comes to reporting on Russia, it’s Cold War-style propaganda, day in and day out.

And this has not been a one-off problem. The unrelenting bias of the Times and, indeed, the rest of the mainstream U.S. news media on the Ukraine crisis represents a lack of professionalism that was also apparent in the pro-war coverage of the Iraq crisis in 2002-03 and other catastrophic U.S. foreign policy decisions.

A growing public recognition of that mainstream bias explains why so much of the American population has tuned out supposedly “objective” news (because it is anything but objective).

Indeed, those Americans who are more sophisticated about Russia and Ukraine than Timothy Egan know that they’re not getting the straight story from the Times and other MSM outlets. Those not-dumbed-down Americans can spot U.S. government propaganda when they see it.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine”; “NYT Is Lost in its Ukraine Propaganda”; “NYT Whites Out Ukraine’s Brown Shirts”; and “NYT Enforces Ukraine ‘Group Think’”]




Sanders’s ‘Our Revolution’: Promise and Gaps

The New York Times greeted Bernie Sanders’s launch of Our Revolution with a report on staffing problems while other outlets ignored it, but a real problem was the senator’s silence on perpetual war, says Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

While Bernie Sanders was doing a brilliant job of ripping into the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the livestreamed launch of the Our Revolution organization on Wednesday night, CNN was airing a phone interview with Hillary Clinton and MSNBC was interviewing Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

That sums up the contrast between the enduring value of the Bernie campaign and the corporate media’s fixation on the political establishment. Fortunately, Our Revolution won’t depend on mainline media. That said, the group’s debut foreshadowed not only great potential but also real pitfalls.

Even the best election campaigns aren’t really “movements.” Ideally, campaigns strengthen movements and vice versa. As Bernie has often pointed out, essential changes don’t come from Congress simply because of who has been elected; those changes depend on strong grassroots pressure for the long haul.

It’s all to the good that Our Revolution is encouraging progressives around the country to plan far ahead for effective electoral races, whether for school board, city council, state legislature or Congress. Too many progressives have treated election campaigns as impulse items, like candy bars in a checkout line.

Opportunities await for campaigns that might be well-funded much as Bernie’s presidential race was funded, from many small online donations. But except for presidential races, the politics of elections are overwhelmingly local — and therein lies a hazard for Our Revolution.

A unified set of positions nationwide can be helpful; likewise publicity and fundraising for candidates across state borders. But sometimes hidden in plain sight is a basic fact: National support does not win local elections. Local grassroots support does.

 Backing from Our Revolution will be close to worthless unless people are deeply engaged with long-term activism in local communities — building relationships, actively supporting a wide range of sustained progressive efforts, developing the basis for an election campaign that (win or lose on Election Day) will strengthen movements.

Sooner or later, some kind of culture clash is likely to emerge when social-change activists get involved in a serious election campaign. Running for office involves priorities that diverge from some tendencies of movement activism (as I learned when running for Congress four years ago). The urgencies and practicalities of election campaigns aren’t always compatible with how grassroots progressive groups tend to function.

As a 501c4 organization, Our Revolution won’t be running campaigns. Instead, it’ll raise funds and provide support for campaigns while being legally prohibited from “coordinating” with them. And — most imminently with the urgent need to stop the TPP in Congress during the lame-duck session — Our Revolution could make a big difference in pressuring lawmakers on key issues.

Overall, the livestreaming debut of Our Revolution continued a terrific legacy from the Bernie campaign of educating and agitating with vital progressive positions on such crucial matters as economic justice, institutional racism, climate change, Wall Street, corporate trade deals and health care.

Silence on War

But throughout Our Revolution’s livestream, war went unmentioned. So did Pentagon spending. So did corporate profiteering from the massive U.S. military budget.

In that sense, the evening was a step backward for Bernie. After virtually ignoring foreign policy and military-related issues during his campaign’s early months last summer, he gradually criticized Hillary Clinton’s record of supporting “regime change.”

In early spring, during the New York primary campaign, he laudably called for evenhanded policies toward Israel and Palestinians. Although he never delivered more than occasional and brief glancing blows at the military-industrial complex during the campaign, Bernie did offer some valuable critiques of foreign policy.

But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.

Now, sadly, there may be a need to reactivate the petition headlined “Bernie Sanders, Speak Up: Militarism and Corporate Power Are Fueling Each Other,” which 25,000 people signed on a RootsAction webpage 12 months ago:

“Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy. We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called ‘the madness of militarism,’ and you should do the same. As you said in your speech to the SCLC, ‘Now is not the time for thinking small.’ Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.”

As the petition page noted, Dr. King “explicitly and emphatically linked the issues of economic injustice at home with war abroad.” In a society desperately needing “adequate funds for programs of economic equity and social justice,” the challenge remains clear: “Overcoming militarism is just as vital as overcoming oligarchy. We won’t be able to do one without the other.”

If Bernie and Our Revolution continue to evade the present-day realities of “the madness of militarism,” their political agenda will be significantly more limited than what our revolution requires for a truly progressive future.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, 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.

 




Target: Yugoslavia (A Look into the Future)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bag of Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

Moral Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolutionary Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disruptive Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recruiting Hackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




Television Wars (Crossing a Line in Serbia)

From the Archive: President Bill Clinton’s bombardment of Serbia in 1999 marked a grim turn in the practice of “information warfare,” with a lethal NATO attack targeting a Serb TV station which criticized the war, observed war correspondent Don North.

By Don North (Originally published on May 4, 1999)

On April 23, 1999, at 2:06 a.m. Belgrade time, as NATO was preparing for its 50th anniversary celebration in Washington D.C., two cruise missiles struck the Radio Televizija Srbija (SRT) headquarters in Belgrade.

About 150 civilian journalists, producers, technicians and janitors were working the nightshift when the missiles hit with what NATO called “surgical precision.”

The building’s four stories collapsed to the ground, sandwiching offices, television equipment, transmitters and people into a pile of smoldering rubble only 15 feet high.

TV screens throughout Serbia went blank in the middle of a Houston, Texas, TV station’s interview with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Firemen rushed to the scene to remove the injured. One technician trapped by tons of concrete could be extracted only by the amputation of both legs.

As the smoke and dust settled, at least 16 people were confirmed dead, another 19 injured and others were missing and feared buried in the rubble. But NATO’s premeditated attack on a civilian media target did little to drive SRT off the air.

By daylight, alternate transmitters had been activated and Serb TV was back on the air again. That morning, a blond woman was reading the morning news and calmly placed the devastation of SRT several minutes down the lineup of top news stories.

Few foreign journalists had believed that NATO actually would bomb SRT. But the Serbs did — and were prepared.

The Clinton administration and NATO made no apologies for the civilian dead. “Serb TV is as much a part of Milosevic’s murder machine as his military,” said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. “The media is one of the pillars of Milosevic’s power machine. It is right up there with security forces and the military.”

A Quiet Acceptance

The reaction to the SRT bombing was muted within many U.S. news organizations. Elsewhere, however, journalists and humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, condemned the strike against SRT.

Notable was a terse letter to NATO’s Secretary General Javier Solana from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists: “NATO’s decision to target civilian broadcast facilities not only increases the danger for reporters now working in Yugoslavia but permanently jeopardizes all journalists as noncombatants in international conflicts as provided for in the Geneva Conventions. It represents an apparent change in NATO policy only days after your spokesman Jamie Shea offered assurances that civilian targets would be avoided.”

From Belgrade, the Association of Independent Electronic Media in Yugoslavia, a leading voice of Serbian anti-Milosevic sentiment, also condemned the attack. “History has shown that no form of repression, particularly the organized and premeditated murder of journalists, can prevent the flow of information, nor can it prevent the public from choosing its own sources of information,” the groups said.

The New York Times quoted a senior Serb journalist saying he thought NATO had crossed an ambiguous moral line: “The people who were there were just doing their jobs. They have no influence on the content or on Milosevic. I hate Serb television. [But] we can differentiate between big lies and little ones.” [NYT, April 24, 1999]

Yugoslav officials said NATO was trying to destroy the free marketplace of ideas and insure that just one side’s “propaganda” could be disseminated.

Offending NATO

There is no doubt that SRT was a propaganda organ for Milosevic and his regime. Since the NATO bombing campaign began on March 24, 1999, SRT also had deeply offended NATO’s sensibilities with its graphics.

The NATO symbol was regularly shown turning into a Nazi swastika and Madeleine Albright grew Dracula teeth in front of burning buildings.

While highlighting the suffering from NATO air attacks, SRT ignored the tens of thousands of Albanian refugees fleeing Kosovo with their tales of rape and execution. SRT repeatedly showed video clips of old scenes: Milosevic meeting Serbian church leaders, Russian envoys and the Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.

But the station also broadcast to the world dramatic images of destruction caused by the NATO bombing and gave credible estimates of civilian casualties. SRT scooped the world press when it disclosed that a NATO aircraft had killed scores of Kosovar refugees in a bombing attack.

After SRT broadcast the scenes of the civilian carnage, NATO flip-flopped through the next 24-hour news cycle. NATO’s first response was: “We didn’t do it, the Serbs did it.” That changed to “we did bomb the column, but the Serbs killed the refugees.” Finally, NATO accepted fault and apologized.

Still, NATO’s glib cockney spokesman, Jamie Shea, pushed the edges of Orwellian doublespeak when he declared that the pilot had “dropped his bombs in good faith.”

Later, NATO played an audio-tape supposedly of the pilot in question. But it turned out that the recorded pilot was involved in a completely different operation. The real tape was withheld.

The SRT bombing, however, was no mistake. Internally, NATO had been debating for weeks whether or not to destroy Serb television.

Shea even suggested that the network might be spared if it would begin broadcasting at least six hours of Western news reports reflecting NATO’s views. Ironically, SRT had been broadcasting many of NATO’s pronouncements, albeit focusing on the misstatements and contradictions.

Still, though the bombing of SRT may have been aimed at the Milosevic propaganda machine, it also set back American and other foreign TV efforts to document the siege of Belgrade. Most of the video broadcast on international TV showing the results of bombing raids was obtained from SRT.

Controlling Information

Even before the SRT attack, NATO’s struggle to control the information flow had riled many leading Western media outlets.

On April 9, 1999, editors and executives of seven major U.S. news organizations — including The New York TimesThe Washington Post and CNN — protested to Defense Secretary William Cohen and urged him to loosen controls on information about the air strikes.

“Detailed information about the allied operation is vital to an informed public discussion of this matter of national interest,” the letter said. “On many days, the state-controlled Yugoslav media has been more specific about NATO targets than the United States or NATO.”

Historically, of course, the U.S. military has always been uncomfortable with American journalists reporting from behind enemy lines. Many senior U.S. officers are veterans of the Vietnam War and believe that American journalists should tailor their reporting to support the cause.

In that vein, Harrison Salisbury, the famous war correspondent for The New York Times was hailed for his reporting from the siege of Leningrad in World War II, when the Soviet Union was allied with the United States.

But when Salisbury became the first correspondent from a major U.S. newspaper to report from Hanoi during the Vietnam War, he was denounced as disloyal. In December 1966, Salisbury wrote, “Whatever the explanation, one can see United States planes are dropping an enormous weight of explosives on purely civilian targets.” His work earned him the nickname “Ho Chi Salisbury” at the Pentagon.

CNN’s Peter Arnett smuggled a satellite phone into Baghdad and reported live during the Persian Gulf War. His stories included moving first-person accounts of civilian targets destroyed by U.S. air attacks. In Washington, Arnett was subjected to insults as traitorous “Baghdad Pete.”

Sparing Americans

Some similar tensions — though not as severe — have surfaced in the current war for Kosovo. In the case of the SRT attack, however, U.S. officials were careful not to worsen relations with the American news media by accidentally killing U.S. correspondents.

In mid-April, about a week before the cruise missiles were launched, the White House reportedly tipped off the CNN brass about the impending attack of SRT headquarters. CNN bosses called Belgrade and ordered CNN’s people out of the SRT building where they had been preparing TV reports for a month.

Other reporters, however, did not get the word, or chose not to believe it. The London Independent’s Robert Fisk, an intrepid Western reporter, said he was invited to the doomed building for coffee and orange juice by Goran Matic, a Serb government official. Matic was convinced that the TV studios were next on NATO’s target list.

“Yet, oddly, we didn’t take him seriously,” Fisk reported. “Even when the air raid siren sounded, I stayed for another coffee. … Surely NATO wouldn’t waste its bombs on this tiresome station with its third-rate propaganda and old movies, let alone kill its staff. Once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you change the rules of war.”

The content of SRT broadcasts also was more complicated than NATO has asserted.

Besides serving as a Serb government voice, SRT was a center of cultural identity for the Serb nation. With the destruction of SRT headquarters, thousands of tapes and films have now been crushed to rubble, videos that once helped tell the Serbs and their children who they are — and provide some small comfort in their difficult lives.

Among the tapes smashed and burned was a program that I produced called “Servus, Adieu, Shalom,” a documentary tracing the long history of Viennese Jews, their persecution, their suffering in the Holocaust and their community’s resurgence in recent years.

The film was my donation to the UNESCO video bank. It was translated into the Serb language and distributed by UNESCO to SRT and other Balkan TV stations strapped for funds to buy quality programs.

My tape was being used in Belgrade as part of international efforts to encourage the region’s ethnic groups to overcome their historic hatreds.

There is also the question whether NATO’s briefings, aired live by CNN and other Western all-news networks, constitute propaganda as dubious as what appeared on SRT. On April 20, 1999, for instance, Shea reported that ethnic Albanian boys were forced to give blood for Serb casualties.

Though highly inflammatory, the allegation was made without attribution and without verifiable details. On April 22, Serbian Health Minister Leposava Milicevic denied Shea’s report, and Shea did not respond.

The mix of NATO propaganda and the selection of Serb targets also may represent a broader psychological warfare campaign against the Serb people. Gen. Wesley Clark, the American NATO commander, announced that NATO was seeking targets to “see to it that the morale of the people in Serbia continues to erode.”

Since the April 23 bombing, SRT transmissions have jumped from one site to another in hopes of avoiding the next bombs. Now, high on NATO’s target list is Politico Television, another outlet of Milosevic’s power structure in downtown Belgrade.

The London Guardian interviewed a 29-year-old tape editor, Vena Ducic, who was working the nightshift there along with about 100 other employees. “I am terrified,” Ducic said. “But I have two boys, so if I give up my job what do we do tomorrow?”

Beyond breaking the Serbs’ will, however, the attack on SRT was a blow to the world’s ability to view unfettered information, even when it is interspersed with propaganda.

Paul Scott Mowrer, a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News during World War I, understood the need for a maximum flow of news at a time when human lives are in the balance. He wrote: “In this nation of ours, the final political decisions rest with the people. And the people, so that they may make up their minds, must be given the facts, even in time of war, or perhaps, especially in time of war.”

Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of a new book, Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.




The Bogus ‘Humanitarian’ War on Serbia

NATO’s war on Serbia in 1999 was the template for other “humanitarian” wars – in Iraq, Libya and now Syria – but it wasn’t “news” when the Serbian leader was cleared, notes John Pilger.

By John Pilger

The exoneration of a man accused of the worst of crimes, genocide, made no headlines. Neither the BBC nor CNN covered it. The Guardian allowed a brief commentary. Such a rare official admission was buried or suppressed, understandably. It would explain too much about how the rulers of the world rule.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague has quietly cleared the late Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the massacre at Srebrenica.

Far from conspiring with the convicted Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Milosevic actually condemned ethnic cleansing,” opposed Karadzic and tried to stop the war that dismembered Yugoslavia. Buried near the end of a 2,590-page judgment on Karadzic last February, this truth further demolishes the propaganda that justified NATO’s illegal onslaught on Serbia in 1999.

Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006, alone in his cell in The Hague, during what amounted to a bogus trial by an American-invented international tribunal.” Denied heart surgery that might have saved his life, his condition worsened and was monitored and kept secret by U.S. officials, as WikiLeaks has since revealed.

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the Western media as the butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for genocide,” especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against this new Hitler.”

Exaggerating the Death Toll

David Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, declared that as many as 225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milocevic’s forces.

This was the justification for NATO’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure.

It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Secretary of State, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were worth it.”

Albright delivered an offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces outside the legal process,” and to the imposition of a neo-liberal free market,” Serbia would be bombed.

This was contained in an “Appendix B,” which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once NATO began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees fleeing a holocaust.” When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims.

The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines.”

The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-NATO Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The NATO attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s command and control.”

In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate NATO’s crimes.

A Model for More Wars

This was the model for Washington’s subsequent invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, by stealth, Syria. All qualify as paramount crimes” under the Nuremberg standard; all depended on media propaganda.

While tabloid journalism played its traditional part, it was serious, credible, often liberal journalism that was the most effective – the evangelical promotion of Blair and his wars by the Guardian, the incessant lies about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction in the Observer and the New York Times, and the unerring drumbeat of government propaganda by the BBC in the silence of its omissions.

At the height of the bombing, the BBC’s Kirsty Wark interviewed General Wesley Clark, the NATO commander. The Serbian city of Nis had just been sprayed with American cluster bombs, killing women, old people and children in an open market and a hospital. Wark asked not a single question about this, or about any other civilian deaths.

Others were more brazen. In February 2003, the day after Blair and Bush had set fire to Iraq, the BBC’s political editor, Andrew Marr, stood in Downing Street and made what amounted to a victory speech. He excitedly told his viewers that Blair had said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.”

Today, with a million dead and a society in ruins, Marr’s BBC interviews are recommended by the U.S. Embassy in London.

Marr’s colleagues lined up to pronounce Blair vindicated.” The BBC’s Washington correspondent, Matt Frei, said, There’s no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially to the Middle East … is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

Obeisance to Power

This obeisance to the United States and its collaborators as a benign force bringing good” runs deep in Western establishment journalism. It ensures that the present-day catastrophe in Syria is blamed exclusively on Bashar al-Assad, whom the West and Israel have long conspired to overthrow, not for any humanitarian concerns, but to consolidate Israel’s aggressive power in the region.

The jihadist forces unleashed and armed by the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey and their “coalition” proxies serve this end. It is they who dispense the propaganda and videos that becomes news in the U.S. and Europe, and provide access to journalists and guarantee a one-sided coverage” of Syria.

The city of Aleppo is in the news. Most readers and viewers will be unaware that the majority of the population of Aleppo lives in the government-controlled western part of the city. That they suffer daily artillery bombardment from Western-sponsored Al Qaeda is not news. On 21 July, French and American bombers attacked a government village in Aleppo province, killing up to 125 civilians. This was reported on page 22 of the Guardian; there were no photographs.

Having created and underwritten jihadism in Afghanistan in the 1980s as Operation Cyclone – a weapon to destroy the Soviet Union – the U.S. is doing something similar in Syria. Like the Afghan Mujahedeen, the Syrian rebels” are America’s and Britain’s foot soldiers. Many fight for Al Qaeda and its variants; some, like the Nusra Front, have rebranded themselves to comply with American sensitivities over 9/11. The CIA runs them, with difficulty, as it runs jihadists all over the world.

The immediate aim is to destroy the government in Damascus, which, according to the most credible poll (YouGov Siraj), the majority of Syrians support, or at least look to for protection, regardless of the barbarism in its shadows. The long-term aim is to deny Russia a key Middle Eastern ally as part of a NATO war of attrition against the Russian Federation that eventually destroys it.

Nuclear Risk

The nuclear risk is obvious, though suppressed by the media across the free world”. The editorial writers of the Washington Post, having promoted the fiction of WMD in Iraq, demand that Obama attack Syria. Hillary Clinton, who publicly rejoiced at her executioner’s role during the destruction of Libya, has repeatedly indicated that, as president, she will go further” than Obama.

Gareth Porter, a journalist reporting from Washington, recently revealed the names of those likely to make up a Clinton cabinet who plan an attack on Syria. All have belligerent Cold War histories; the former CIA director, Leon Panetta, says that the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground.”

What is most remarkable about the war propaganda now in flood tide is its patent absurdity and familiarity. I have been looking through archive film from Washington in the 1950s when diplomats, civil servants and journalists were witch-hunted and ruined by Sen. Joe McCarthy for challenging the lies and paranoia about the Soviet Union and China. Like a resurgent tumor, the anti-Russia cult has returned.

In Britain, the Guardian’s Luke Harding leads his newspaper’s Russia-haters in a stream of journalistic parodies that assign to Vladimir Putin every earthly iniquity. When the Panama Papers leak was published, the front page said Putin, and there was a picture of Putin; never mind that Putin was not mentioned anywhere in the leaks.

Like Milosevic, Putin is Demon Number One. It was Putin who shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Headline: As far as I’m concerned, Putin killed my son.” No evidence required.

It was Putin who was responsible for Washington’s documented (and paid for) overthrow of the elected government in Kiev in 2014. The subsequent terror campaign by fascist militias against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine was the result of Putin’s aggression.” Preventing Crimea from becoming a NATO missile base and protecting the mostly Russian population who had voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia – from which Crimea had been annexed – were more examples of Putin’s aggression”.

A Warmongering Media

Smear by media inevitably becomes war by media. If war with Russia breaks out, by design or by accident, journalists will bear much of the responsibility.

In the U.S., the anti-Russia campaign has been elevated to virtual reality. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist with a Nobel Prize, has called Donald Trump the Siberian Candidate” because Trump is Putin’s man, he says.

Trump had dared to suggest, in a rare lucid moment, that war with Russia might be a bad idea. In fact, he has gone further and removed American arms shipments to Ukraine from the Republican platform. Wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia,” he said.

This is why America’s warmongering liberal establishment hates him. Trump’s racism and ranting demagoguery have nothing to do with it. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s record of racism and extremism can out-trump Trump’s any day. (This week is the 20th anniversary of the Clinton welfare “reform” that launched a war on African-Americans). As for Obama: while American police gun down his fellow African-Americans the great hope in the White House has done nothing to protect them, nothing to relieve their impoverishment, while running four rapacious wars and an assassination campaign without precedent.

The CIA has demanded Trump is not elected. Pentagon generals have demanded he is not elected. The pro-war New York Times – taking a breather from its relentless low-rent Putin smears – demands that he is not elected. Something is up.

These tribunes of perpetual war” are terrified that the multi-billion-dollar business of war by which the United States maintains its dominance will be undermined if Trump does a deal with Putin, then with China’s Xi Jinping. Their panic at the possibility of the world’s great power talking peace – however unlikely – would be the blackest farce were the issues not so dire.

Trump would have loved Stalin!” bellowed Vice-President Joe Biden at a rally for Hillary Clinton. With Clinton nodding, he shouted, We never bow. We never bend. We never kneel. We never yield. We own the finish line. That’s who we are. We are America!”

Britain’s War Party

In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has also excited hysteria from the war-makers in the Labour Party and from a media devoted to trashing him. Lord West, a former admiral and Labour minister, put it well. Corbyn was taking an outrageous” anti-war position because it gets the unthinking masses to vote for him.”

In a debate with leadership challenger Owen Smith, Corbyn was asked by the moderator: How would you act on a violation by Vladimir Putin of a fellow NATO state?”

Corbyn replied: You would want to avoid that happening in the first place. You would build up a good dialogue with Russia … We would try to introduce a de-militarization of the borders between Russia, the Ukraine and the other countries on the border between Russia and Eastern Europe. What we cannot allow is a series of calamitous build-ups of troops on both sides which can only lead to great danger.”

Pressed to say if he would authorize war against Russia if you had to,” Corbyn replied: I don’t wish to go to war – what I want to do is achieve a world that we don’t need to go to war.”

The line of questioning owes much to the rise of Britain’s liberal war-makers. The Labour Party and the media have long offered them career opportunities.

For a while the moral tsunami of the great crime of Iraq left them floundering, their inversions of the truth a temporary embarrassment. Regardless of Chilcot and the mountain of incriminating facts, Blair remains their inspiration, because he was a winner.”

Dissenting journalism and scholarship have since been systematically banished or appropriated, and democratic ideas emptied and refilled with identity politics” that confuse gender with feminism and public angst with liberation and willfully ignore the state violence and weapons profiteering that destroys countless lives in faraway places, like Yemen and Syria, and beckon nuclear war in Europe and across the world.

The stirring of people of all ages around the spectacular rise of Jeremy Corbyn counters this to some extent. His life has been spent illuminating the horror of war. The problem for Corbyn and his supporters is the Labour Party.

In America, the problem for the thousands of followers of Bernie Sanders was the Democratic Party, not to mention their ultimate betrayal by their great white hope.

In the U.S., home of the great civil rights and anti-war movements, it is Black Lives Matter and the likes of Codepink that lay the roots of a modern version.

For only a movement that swells into every street and across borders and does not give up can stop the warmongers. Next year, it will be a century since Wilfred Owen wrote the following. Every journalist should read it and remember it.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com




Propaganda for Syrian ‘Regime Change’

Neocons and liberal hawks have poured millions of dollars into propaganda to justify “regime change” in Syria and are now desperate to keep the war going until President Hillary Clinton gets a chance to escalate, as Rick Sterling describes.

By Rick Sterling

Neocons and Clintonites have launched a major campaign with the goal of direct U.S. military intervention and aggression against Syria, potentially leading to war with Iran and Russia.

An early indication emerged as soon as it was clear the Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic Party nominee. Following the California primary, The New York Times reported on State Department diplomats issuing an internal memo “urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al Assad.”

In early August, Dennis Ross and Andrew Tabler opined in The New York Times about “The Case for (Finally) Bombing Assad”. Dennis Ross is a favorite Clintonite. In her book Hard Choices, Clinton described how she asked Dennis Ross to come to the State Department to “work on Iran and regional issues.”

New York Times regular Nicholas Kristof made his own pitch for war against Syria. According to the self-styled humanitarian, we need “safe zones” as proposed by Clintonite Madeline Albright and retired General James Cartwright. That is risky, Kristof said, but “the risks of doing nothing in Syria are even greater.”

PBS broadcast a story titled “Repeatedly targeted by airstrikes, Syrian doctors feel abandoned.” The story features video from the “White Helmets” along with photos from the reported April bombing of Al Quds Hospital. Currently there is a huge media campaign around the situation in Aleppo. Syrian American doctor Zaher Sahloul, of the Syrian American Medical Society, has been interviewed extensively on mainstream media as well as DemocracyNow with widespread promotion in Truthout and other sites.

There has been lots of publicity around a letter to President Obama, supposedly written by 15 doctors in East Aleppo. The letter ends “We need your action.” The flow and wording of the letter suggests it may have been composed by a marketing company and there has been no verification of the doctors who supposedly signed it.

The letter was likely written by a paid Syria War propagandist or Washington lobby firm. Read the letter here and judge for yourself. For contrast watch this interview with a real Syrian doctor not mouthing propaganda from K Street in Washington D.C.

An online Change petition asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama to “save the people of Aleppo.” The publicly funded Holocaust Memorial Museum has promoted the video #SaveSyria. One of the producers of the video is The Syria Campaign which is the marketing organization which branded the pervasive “White Helmets,” as documented in “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”.

In parallel with this media campaign, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has introduced HR5732 the “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2016.” The resolution calls for escalating economic/financial pressure on Syria and “Assessment of potential effectiveness of and requirements for the establishment of safe zones or a no fly zone in Syria”.

Dr. Sahloul, the Syrian American Medical Society doctor / spokesperson, says that Obama’s legacy will be defined by whether or not he attacks Syria to impose a “no fly zone.”  It seems unlikely that Obama would do that at the end of his term. Instead, the goal is to prepare the public for the new war to begin after Hillary Clinton becomes President.

Falsehoods and Lies of Omission 

In his article ““The media are misleading the public on Syria” author Stephen Kinzer recently wrote, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.”

Here a few facts about Aleppo which contradict the mainstream media narrative:

–At least 85 percent of Aleppo’s population is in government-controlled areas.

–The estimate of 300,000 civilians in rebel/terrorist-controlled east Aleppo is likely a gross exaggeration. In spring 2015, Martin Chulov of the Guardian visited the area and estimated there were 40,000.

–While there are very few doctors serving in the opposition-controlled Aleppo, there are thousands of doctors working in the government-controlled area.

–The dominant rebel-terrorist group in Aleppo is the Syrian version of Al Qaeda.

–The armed groups who invaded Aleppo have been unpopular from the beginning. In the fall of 2012, journalist James Foley wrote: “Aleppo, a city of about 3 million people, was once the financial heart of Syria. As it continues to deteriorate, many civilians here are losing patience with the increasingly violent and unrecognizable opposition — one that is hampered by infighting and a lack of structure, and deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups.” (Foley was later captured by Syrian rebels and executed by the Islamic State on Aug. 19, 2014.)

–The rebel-terrorists launch dozens and sometimes hundreds of mortars daily into the government-controlled areas causing huge casualties. Western media ignores this destruction and loss of life.

–The much publicized April bombing of the supposed Medecins sans Frontieres-supported “Al Quds Hospital” in Aleppo was full of contradictions and discrepancies. These were highlighted in an Open Letter to MSF. To this date, MSF has not provided corroborating information.

–Much of the video purporting to show bombing effects in Aleppo are stamped with the “White Helmets” logo. White Helmets is a creation of the U.S. and U.K. and primarily a propaganda tool. The claims they are Syrian, independent and non-partisan are all false.

–Much of the information about Syria comes from “activists” trained and paid by the U.S. In her book  Hard Choices, Secretary Clinton says the U.S. provided “training for more than a thousand (Syrian) activists, students, and independent journalists” (p464, hardback version). Obviously they are not independent and their reports should be carefully checked.

–In contrast with the ambiguous situation at “Al Quds Hospital”, consider what happened to Aleppo’s “Al Kindi Hospital.” Take three minutes to view the suicide bombing of Al Kindi Hospital. Take two minutes to view what the “rebels” did to Syrian soldiers who had been guarding the hospital.

–Like NBC correspondent Richard Engels’s fake kidnapping and the contrived CNN reports by “Syrian Danny,” the Aug. 21, 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta has been essentially shown to have been a staged event intended to force a U.S. attack on the Syrian government by making it appear that President Bashar al-Assad had crossed President Obama’s “red line.”

–The latest propaganda tool being used to promote U.S. aggression against Syria is the photograph of little Omran in the orange ambulance seat. The video comes from the Aleppo Media Center, or AMC. Like the White Helmets, AMC is a U.S. creation.

The photo of Omran has been widely accepted without scrutiny. The insightful Moon of Alabama has raised serious questions about the media sensation. Brad Hoff has documented that the main photographer, Mahmoud Raslan, is an ally of the Nour al Din al Zenki rebel terrorists who beheaded a young Palestinian Syrian a few weeks ago, confirmed step by step in this short video. Another good short video exposing the propaganda around #Syrianboy is here.

Why the Burst of Propaganda?

The Syrian crisis is at a critical point with the prospect that the rebel/terrorists will collapse.  If they are crushed or expelled, it would allow hundreds of thousands of displaced Aleppans to return home as soon as services are restored. This would also allow the Syrian army and allies to focus on attacking the Islamic State in the east and rebel/terrorist groups remaining in Idlib, Hama, the outskirts of Damascus and the south.

Until the last year, fanatics and mercenaries were traveling from all parts of the globe into Syria via Turkey. Tens of thousands went to Syria from Southeast Asia, China, Russia, North Africa, Europe and North America. They were given carte blanche to depart their home countries, arrive in Turkey and be guided into Syria.

For example, young Canadians such as Damien Clairmont went and died in Syria. His mother has courageously exposed the fact that Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) knew about his plans yet did nothing to stop him.

Progressive Muslim leaders demanded the government identify and start dealing with the radical recruiters. It was evidently the policy of the cynically named “Friends of Syria” to “look the other way” as their citizens were being brainwashed and then recruited to become terrorists attacking Syria.

Now, with terrorist blowback in Western Europe, the United States and Turkey, these same “Friends” are feeling consequences from their policies. Terror attacks in Britain, France, Belgium and the U.S. have ended – or at least disrupted – the policy of collusion with Wahhabi terrorists.

In the last year, security services have started arresting recruiters and new recruits. In Britain, a long-time promoter of ISIS has been convicted. In Belgium, the court has approved the extradition of a suspected French terrorist. Previously, Belgium was the Western country with the highest per capita number of citizens joining the terrorist fight in Syria. And now Turkey has started arresting people en route to join ISIS in Syria.

Since the rebel/terrorists invaded Aleppo in 2012, they have had a constant pipeline bringing weapons, fighters and supplies into the city. For the past few months the Syrian army has been on the verge of encircling and closing the access routes into rebel terrorist sections of east Aleppo.

Western media and governments, which support the rebel/terrorists, are doing all they can to delay or prevent this closure. They are trying to stall or prevent a Syrian government victory until someone more hawkish than Barack Obama is in the White House.

Driving the Conflict

Regional forces supporting the war on Syria include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Israel has always been deeply involved, contrary to the faulty analysis of some observers. Israel has provided medical and military support to Nusra/Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups operating near the Golan Heights. Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was explicit: “Israel has wanted Assad ousted since Syria war began.” Oren has said Israel favors that outcome even if it means a victory by Al Qaeda or other Sunni extremists.

The U.S. and Western powers are also deeply involved. Working with Saudi Arabia and through Turkey, the U.S. has supplied huge quantities of weapons to the rebel/terrorists. Sophisticated weaponry totaling 994 TONS was provided last winter as documented here.

On the other side, Iran and Hezbollah are committed to defending the existing Syrian government. They know that if the Syrian government falls, they will be the next ones under attack.

Russia also sees this as a crucial conflict. The U.S. has expanded NATO up to the Russian western border, promoted the 2014 Ukraine coup, and insisted on economic sanctions against Russia. Syria is Russia’s only Arab ally and hosts Russia’s only foreign naval base. Russia probably sees this conflict as a crucial for its own future. In another sign of resistance to U.S. global hegemony, China has indicated it wishes to expand military cooperation with Syria.

Following the U.S. lead, Canada, Australia and West European countries have supported the “regime change” effort despite it being in clear violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.

Despite five years of tragedy and destruction, the U.S. continues trying to overthrow or destroy the Syrian government. This is not a new U.S. objective. In 2005, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Syrian President Assad and said to him “Mr. President, you know the rhetoric of regime change is headed towards you from the United States….They’re talking about isolating you diplomatically and, perhaps, a coup d’etat or your regime crumbling. What are you thinking about that?”

Amanpour is not only a CNN host, she is the wife of neocon Clintonite James Rubin.

In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Syria to stop its support of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, “loosen” its alliance with Iran and sign a treaty with Israel. Significantly, these are Israel’s demands and of much higher importance to the Zionist state than the U.S.

The war in Syria is bringing numerous conflicts to a head: sectarian Wahhabism vs. humanitarian Islam; the “New American Century” with one superpower vs. a multilateral world; Zionist dominance and occupation vs. Lebanese and Palestinian resistance.

Hillary Clinton is on record criticizing the decision to not bomb Syria in late summer 2013 after the sarin gas attack outside Damascus. She has continued to promote the idea of a “no fly zone.” She is an avowed Zionist who has said she wants to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship to the “next level.”

Zionist Israel is deeply worried by the prospect of a strengthened Syria and Lebanese resistance. In addition, there are many Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Syria and Lebanon. They retain their wish to return home in keeping with international law. Just as Zionist Israeli interests were a major factor in the invasion of Iraq, so they are in continuing the conflict in Syria. In addition, neocons have not given up their goal of a “New American Century.”

The Western Left?

The Left has been weak in responding and opposing the aggression against Syria. Major factors have included:

–Saudi and U.S. State Department-funded Muslim groups which support the aggression against Syria. This includes the recently famous Dr. Zaher Sahloul and the Syrian American Medical Society. SAMS and Zahloul are aligned with Saudi Arabia and receive substantial State Department funding.

–Deluded leftist groups which support what they have been told is a people’s “revolution” in Syria, just as happened in Libya.

–The flooding of social media and the Internet by “activists” and Syrian “civil society” groups who are actually paid and trained agents of the West. This is confirmed by Clinton herself in her book Hard Choices.

–Uncritical acceptance of the claims by major non-governmental organizations (or NGOs), which are predominately funded by billionaires. These organizations need to be viewed with some skepticism because of their financial dependence on a few wealthy individuals with personal agendas.

For example, in 1990, Amnesty International mistakenly corroborated the accuracy of the false claim that Iraqi soldiers were stealing incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the cold floor.

In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Human Rights Watch, which is heavily funded by currency speculator George Soros, did not oppose the Iraq invasion and implicitly accepted it by only criticizing the lack of preparation. (HRW also promoted what turned out to a bogus story claiming that by “vectoring” the flight paths of two rockets it had proved that the Syrian military fired the sarin gas on Aug. 21, 2013, a claim that later collapsed when aeronautical experts determined that the only rocket found to carry sarin had a much shorter range.)

Physicians for Human Rights, another Soros project, has issued grossly misleading reports on Syria.

–Alternative media, which is progressive on many issues but echoes NPR and mainstream media on critical foreign policy issues including the Syrian conflict.

Some groups including Arab Americans for Syria, Syrian American Forum, Black Agenda Report, Syria Solidarity Movement, Answer and Workers World Party have actively challenged the disinformation but their budgets and influence are relatively small in comparison to the heavily funded organizations pushing for Syrian “regime change.”

Veterans for Peace, one of the most influential and respected peace organizations, has recently sharpened its understanding and position on Syria. Following a recent visit to Syria, the Vice President of Veterans for Peace, Jerry Condon, said, Everything we read about Syria in the U.S. media is wrong. The reality is that the U.S. government is supporting armed extremist groups who are terrorizing the Syrian people and trying to destroy Syria’s secular state.

“In order to hide that ugly reality and push violent regime change, the U.S. is conducting a psychological warfare campaign to demonize Syria’s president, Bashar al Assad. This is a classic tactic that veterans have seen over and over. It is shocking, however, to realize how willingly the media repeat this propaganda, and how many people believe it to be true.” 

What the Future Holds

Neoconservatives, including Clintonites, are pushing hard for a direct U.S. attack on Syria to prevent the collapse of their “regime change” project. Claiming that the U.S. and NATO can bring a “safe zone” and “protect civilians” is a grotesque falsehood. (In Libya in 2011, similar “humanitarian” claims were simply a cover for another “regime change” project that has unleashed more chaos and death across northern Africa.)

If the U.S. tries to impose a “no fly zone” in Syria, it will result in vastly more deaths and risk escalation into direct conflict involving Syria, Russia, Iran and Israel.

Former Acting CIA director Mike Morell, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, recently suggested the killing of Russians and Iranians in Syria to make them “pay a price.”

There is a clear solution to the Syrian tragedy: the countries who have been supplying tons of weapons and paying tens of thousands of mercenary terrorists should stop. The conflict would soon end. The foreigners would depart with much less fanaticism than what they came with. Many Syrian rebel/terrorists would accept reconciliation.

To create the circumstances for a peaceful settlement, there needs to be a global campaign for peace, but there is much responsibility in the U.S. since our government has become the greatest threat to peace with its insistence on global dominance. Following are some specific ideas that could help:

–Sen. Bernie Sanders raised expectations when he talked about the need stop the “regime change” foreign policy. Now is when he needs to be clear and unequivocal that U.S. military aggression against Syria will make things worse not better and must not happen. Sanders also proved that a progressive policy is popular. If Sanders abandons this core foreign policy position and does not speak out strongly against the drive for aggression, it will be a huge disappointment and failure.

–DemocracyNow and other leading alternative media need to start including different analyses. To a sad extent, their coverage of Syria has echoed NPR and CNN. If DemocracyNow is truly an “Exception to the Rulers,” it needs to start including more critical examinations.

DN producers should be studying publications such as Consortiumnews, Global Research, AntiWar, MoonOfAlabama, Al Masdar News, Al Mayadeen, Counterpunch, DissidentVoice, American Herald Tribune, 21stCenturyWire, Black Agenda Report, the Canary, RT, PressTV and TruePublica (not corporate ProPublica).

They should be bringing the observations and analysis of journalists such as Sharmine Narwani, Edward Dark, Eva Bartlett, Brad Hoff, Vanessa Beeley, Stephen Sahiounie to name just a few. Syrian academics such as Issa Chaer (U.K.) and Nour al Kadri (Canada) could be interviewed. Followers of DN have heard Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and other U.S. officials speaking about Syria countless times. Why have Amy and Juan not interviewed the Syrian Ambassador to the UN?

–This is an opportunity and challenge for Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka of the Green Party. They are clear on this issue. If they can get a mass audience to hear their message, it could be crucial to their winning support and prompting a necessary national debate.

At the moment there is almost no debate on the issue of perpetual war in the Middle East. Instead, the media is filled with propaganda using a boy’s photo to promote more war. The Green Party could play a hugely important role exposing the danger and duplicity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They could play a key role in blocking the Clintonite march to a new war.

–Veterans for Peace could play a leading role in changing the perception and ending the marginalization of the U.S. peace movement.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




A Lawless Plan to Target Syria’s Allies

Exclusive: Official Washington’s disdain for international law – when it’s doing the lawbreaking – was underscored by ex-CIA acting director Morell voicing plans for murdering Iranians and maybe Russians in Syria, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says.

By Ray McGovern

On Aug. 17, TV interviewer Charlie Rose gave former acting CIA Director Michael Morell a “mulligan” for an earlier wayward drive on Aug. 8 that sliced deep into the rough and even stirred up some nonviolent animals by advocating the murder of Russians and Iranians. But, alas, Morell duffed the second drive, too.

Morell did so despite Rose’s efforts to tee up the questions as favorably as possible, trying to help Morell explain what he meant about “killing” Russians and Iranians in Syria and bombing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into submission.

In the earlier interview, Morell said he wanted to “make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. … make the Russians pay a price in Syria.”

Rose: “We make them pay the price by killing Russians?”

Morell: “Yeah.”

Rose: “And killing Iranians?”

Morell: “Yes … You don’t tell the world about it. … But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”

In the follow-up interview, some of Rose’s fretful comments made it clear that there are still some American non-neocons around who were withholding applause for Morell’s belligerent suggestion.

Rose apparently has some viewers who oppose all terrorism, including the state-sponsored variety that would involve a few assassinations to send a message, and the notion that U.S. bombing Syria to “scare” Assad is somehow okay (as long as the perpetrator is the sole “indispensable” nation in the world).

Rose helped Morell ‘splain that he really did not want to have U.S. Special Forces kill Russians and Iranians. No, he would be satisfied if the U.S.-sponsored “moderate opposition” in Syria did that particular killing. But Morell would not back away from his advocacy of the U.S. Air Force bombing Syrian government targets. That would be “an okay thing” in Morell’s lexicon.

The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” That would seem to cover Morell’s plan.

But Morell seems oblivious to international law and to the vast human suffering already inflicted in Syria over the past five years by government forces, rebels, terrorists and outside nations trying to advance one geopolitical goal or another.

What is needed is a serious commitment to peace talks without unacceptable preconditions, such as outside demands for “regime change.” Instead, the focus should be on creating conditions for Syrians to make that choice themselves through elections or power-sharing negotiations.

Morell prefers to think that a few more U.S.-directed murders and some more aerial-inflicted mayhem should do the trick. Perhaps he thinks that’s the sort of tough-guy/gal talk that will impress a prospective President Hillary Clinton.

A Slight Imprecision?

Charlie Rose begins the “mulligan” segment with the suggestion that Morell might have slightly misspoken: “Tell me what you wanted to say so we understand it … Tell me what you meant to say … perhaps you did not speak as precisely as you should have or I didn’t ask the right questions.”

Morell responded, “No, no, Charlie, you always ask the right questions,” and then he presented his killing plan as a route to peace, albeit one in which the United States dictates “regime change” in Syria: “So there’s not a military solution to this, there is only a political solution. … And that political solution is, in my view, a transition of power from Assad to a, a, a transitional government that represents all of the Syrian people.

“That is only going to happen if Assad wants it to happen, if Russia wants it to happen, if Iran wants it to happen.  So … we need to increase our leverage over those … three people and countries, in order to get them more interested in having a conversation about a transition to a new government.

“And sometimes you use military force for military ends. Sometimes you use military force to give you political leverage. … So what I tried to say was, Look, we need to find some ways to put some pressure on Assad, or put some pressure on Russia, and put some pressure on Iran. Now, with regard to Russia and Iran, what I said was, what I wanted to say was: Look, the moderate opposition, which the United States is supporting (everybody knows that, right?), the moderate opposition is already fighting the Syrian government, and they’re already fighting Russians and Iranians. …

“So … the Syrian military, supported by Russia and the Iranians, is fighting the moderate opposition. And the moderate opposition is already killing Iranians and Syrians. What, what I said is that’s an okay thing, right, because it puts pressure on Iran and Russia to try to see some value in ending this thing politically. And what I said is that we should encourage the moderate opposition to continue to do that and perhaps get a lot more aggressive.” (Emphasis added)

Rose: “You weren’t suggesting that the United States should do that, but the moderate forces on the ground.”

Morell: “And I think I came across as saying U.S. Special Forces should go in there and start killing Iranians and Russians. I did not say that. …

“So that’s Russia and Iran. Now, Assad. How do you put some pressure on Assad, right? And here I did argue, Charlie, that the U.S. military itself should take some action, and what I would see as valuable is limited, very, very, very limited U.S. airstrikes against those assets that are extremely important to Assad personally. So, in the middle of the night you destroy one of his offices; you don’t kill anybody, right, zero collateral. … You do this with the same rules of engagement we use against terrorists. … (Emphasis added)

“You take out his presidential aircraft, his presidential helicopters, in the middle of the night, right, just to send him a message and get his attention that, that maybe your days are numbered here, just to put some pressure on him to think about maybe, maybe the need to think about a way out of this.

“Now these issues that I’m talking about here, right, are talked about in the sit room. They’re talked about in national security circles all the time, right. These are debates that people have, and I certainly understand that there are people on the other side of the argument from me, right. But I wasn’t talking about the U.S. starting a major war with Iran and Russia, and I think that was the way people interpreted it.”

Acts of Illegal War

Not to put too fine a point on this, but everything that Morell is advocating here violates international law, the rules that – in other circumstances, i.e. when another government is involved – the U.S. government condemns as “aggression” or as an “invasion” or as “terrorism.”

Remember, after the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in February 2014, when Russia intervened to allow Crimea to hold a referendum on splitting away from the new regime in Kiev and rejoining Russia, the U.S. government insisted that there was no excuse for President Vladimir Putin not respecting the sovereignty of the coup regime even if it had illegally ousted an elected president.

However, regarding Syria, the United States and its various “allies,” including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, have intervened directly and indirectly in supporting various armed groups, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, seeking the violent overthrow of Syria’s government.

Without any legal authorization from the United Nations, President Barack Obama has ordered the arming and training of anti-government rebels (including some who have fought under Nusra’s command structure), has carried out airstrikes inside Syria (aimed at Islamic State militants), and has deployed U.S. Special Forces inside Syria with Kurdish rebels.

Now, a former senior U.S. intelligence official is publicly urging bombing of Syrian government targets and the killing of Iranians and Russians who are legally inside Syria at the invitation of the internationally recognized government. In other words, not only does the U.S. government operate with breathtaking hypocrisy in the Syrian crisis, but it functions completely outside international law.

And, Morell says that in attacking Syrian government targets — supposedly without causing any deaths — the United States would employ “the same rules of engagement we use against terrorists,” except those rules of engagement explicitly seek to kill targeted individuals. So, what kind of dangerously muddled thinking do we have here?

One can only imagine the reaction if some Russian version of Morell went on Moscow TV and urged the murder of U.S. military trainers operating inside Ukraine – to send a message to Washington. And then, the Russian Morell would advocate Russia bombing Ukrainian government targets in Kiev with the supposed goal of forcing the U.S.-backed government to accept a “regime change” acceptable to Moscow.

A Fawning Audition

Rather than calls for him to be locked up or at least decisively repudiated, the American Morell was allowed to continue his fawning audition for a possible job in a Hillary Clinton administration by extolling her trustworthiness and “humanity.”

Morell offered a heartwarming story about how compassionate Clinton was as Secretary of State when he lost out to John Brennan to be the fulltime CIA Director. After he was un-picked for the job, Morell said he was in the White House Situation Room and Clinton, “sat down next to me, put her hand on my shoulder, and she simply said, ‘Are you okay?’ There is humanity there, and I think the public needs to know.”

And, Clinton was a straight-shooter, too, Morell explained: “You know, it’s interesting, Charlie, I worked with her for four years. Leon Panetta, David Petraeus worked with her for four years. We trusted her word; we trusted her judgment. You know, [CIA] Director Panetta, [CIA] Director Petraeus, I provided her with some of the most sensitive information that the CIA collects and she never gave us one reason to doubt how she was handling that. You know, she spoke to us forthrightly. … I trust her word and I trust her judgment.”

Can Morell be unaware that Clinton repeatedly put highly sensitive intelligence on her very vulnerable private email server along with other data that later investigations determined should have been marked SECRET, TOP SECRET, CODEWORD, and/or SPECIAL ACCESS PROGRAMS?

FBI Director James Comey, in announcing that he would not recommend prosecuting Clinton for compromising these secrets, called her behavior “extremely careless.”

For his part, Charlie Rose offered a lament about how hard it is for Clinton to convey her “humanity” and how deserving she is of trust. He riffed on the Biblical passage about those who can be trusted in small matters (like sitting down next to Morell, putting her hand on his shoulder, and asking him if he is okay) can be trusted on big matters, too.

My Travails With Charlie

Twelve years ago, I was interviewed by Charlie Rose, with the other interviewee (who participated remotely) James Woolsey, former head of the CIA (1993-95), arch-neocon, and self-described “anchor the Presbyterian wing of JINSA” (the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs).

The occasion was the New York premier of Robert Greenwald’s full-length film version of his documentary, “Uncovered: the Whole Truth About the Iraq War,” in which I had a small part and which described the many falsehoods that had been used by President George W. Bush and his neocon advisers, to justify invading Iraq. Woolsey did not like the film, and Greenwald asked me to take the Rose invitation that had originally been extended to him.

True to form, Charlie Rose knew on which side his bread was buttered, and it wasn’t mine. He was his usual solicitous self when dealing with an “important” personage, such as Woolsey. I was going to count the minutes apportioned to me and compare them with those given to Woolsey, but I decided to spare myself the trouble.

The last time I checked the Aug. 20, 2004 video is available for purchase but I refuse to pay for it. Fortunately, a friend taped and uploaded the audio onto YouTube. It might be worth a listen on a slow summer day 12 years after my travails with Charlie.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990 and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




A Cheap Shot at Bernie Sanders’ Summer Home

Exclusive: Charles Lane and other Washington Post editorialists defend neocon and neoliberal orthodoxies by demonizing foreign leaders who step out of line and now by making fun of Bernie Sanders for buying a summer home, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Though the competition is stiff, the gold medal for the creepiest Washington Post columnist could go to Charles Lane, who this week mocked Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife for buying a $575,000 vacation home on Vermont’s Lake Champlain – and cited this modest luxury as proof that capitalism is superior to socialism.

“To go with places they already own in Washington and their home town of Burlington, Vt., the Sanders family has purchased a vacation home on an island in Lake Champlain,” Lane wrote, adding: “As a slogan for the political revolution, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need for lakefront property’ doesn’t really cut it.” Ha-ha! Very funny!

Sanders’s wife Jane explained that the house was a replacement for a vacation home that her family had long owned in Maine. But the 74-year-old Sanders and his wife really need no defense for buying a rather modestly priced (certainly by Washington’s standards) lakefront property.

Lane’s column was also a cheap shot because a U.S. senator has little choice but to have domiciles in both Washington and his home state. So, to cite those two properties as further evidence of Sanders’s living a life of hypocritical extravagance is simply unfair.

But Lane is a good example of how a moderately talented journalist can build a prosperous career in Official Washington by sucking up to the powers-that-be and dumping on anyone who even mildly challenges those interests.

I first got to know Lane in 1987 when we both worked at Newsweek. Before Lane arrived at the magazine, Newsweek had distinguished itself with some quality reporting that belied the Reagan administration’s propaganda themes in Central America.

That, however, upset Newsweek’s executive editor Maynard Parker, who was a strong supporter of U.S. interventionism and sympathized with President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America. So, a shake-up was ordered of Newsweek’s Central America staff.

To give Parker the more supportive coverage he wanted, Lane was brought onboard and dispatched to replace experienced reporters in Central America. Lane soon began getting Newsweek’s field coverage in line with Reagan’s propaganda themes.

But I kept messing up the desired harmony by contesting those stories from Washington. This dynamic was unusual since it’s more typical for reporters in the field to challenge the U.S. government’s propaganda while journalists tied to the insular world of Washington tend to be seduced by access and to endorse the official line.

But the situation at Newsweek was reversed. Lane pushed the propaganda themes that he was fed from the U.S. embassies in Central America and I challenged them with my reporting in Washington. The situation led Lane to seek me out during one of his visits to Washington.

We had lunch at Scholl’s cafeteria near Newsweek’s Washington office on Pennsylvania Avenue. As we sat down, Lane turned to me and, rather defensively, accused me of viewing him as “an embassy boy,” i.e. someone who carried propaganda water for the U.S. embassies.

I was a bit nonplussed since I had never exactly put it that way, but it wasn’t far from what I actually thought. I responded by trying to avoid any pejorative phrasing but stressing my concern that we shouldn’t let the Reagan administration get away with misleading the American people and Newsweek’s readers.

As it turned out, however, I was on the losing side of that debate. Lane had the support of executive editor Parker, who favored an aggressive application of U.S. power abroad and didn’t like his reporters undermining those efforts. Like some other young journalists of that era, Lane either shared that world view or knew what was needed to build his career.

Lane did succeed in making a profitable career for himself. He scored high-profile gigs as the editor of the neocon New Republic (though his tenure was tarnished by the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal) and as a regular guest on Fox News. He’s also found steady employment as an editorialist for The Washington Post.

A Neocon to Count On

At the Post, Lane has been a reliable voice for reiterating whatever the neocon “group think” is. For instance, in 2013, when the Obama administration signed the preliminary agreement with Iran to restrain its nuclear program, Lane joined the chorus of naysayers who favored heightened confrontation with Iran in line with neocon hopes for more regional “regime change.”

Lane rhetorically waved the bloody shirt of Neda Agha Soltan, who was killed in 2009 apparently from a stray bullet during violent protests against the outcome of Iran’s presidential election, which was won by then-incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Not that long ago, it seemed the world would never forget Neda Agha Soltan,” Lane wrote. “On June 20, 2009, a government thug fired a bullet through the 26-year-old’s heart as she stood watching protests against the blatant election fraud that had secured victory for a presidential candidate backed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Video of her dying moments went viral, and Neda became a global symbol of the Green Revolution, as the Iranian people called their movement to topple a regime capable of such bloody deeds.”

But nearly everything that Lane asserted as fact was not fact. Iran’s 2009 elections were clearly won by Ahmadinejad, who may have lost among middle-class voters of Tehran but strongly carried the poor and working-class areas of Iran.

The Iranian opposition was unable to prove any significant fraud and the election results were in line with opinion polls conducted both before and after the election, from inside and outside Iran. None of the polls showed the Green movement candidate coming anywhere close to a plurality.

“These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]

Nevertheless, the mainstream U.S. news media, led by neocon outlets like The Washington Post, promoted the myth of a stolen election, all the better to rev up American public support for another “regime change” project against one more of Israel’s adversaries.

In 2013, however, Lane’s propagandistic sophistry had a more immediate goal. He was suggesting that the tragic but apparently accidental shooting death of a young woman in 2009 should prevent the international community from reaching an agreement with Iran on restricting its nuclear program.

Lane wrote: “Iran is once again in the headlines but not because Neda’s murderers are about to be held accountable. Nor has there been fundamental change in the regime that jailed and killed many rank-and-file members of the Green Revolution and continues to confine the movement’s leaders.

“No, we’re talking about the nuclear deal that the world’s great powers, led by the United States, signed … with Khamenei’s representatives amid much smiling and backslapping. No one’s talking about Neda. Maybe we should be.”

No Accountability on Iraq

But the last thing that a Washington Post editorial writer should call for is accountability, since the Post’s editorial pages served as a bulletin board for the many bogus assertions about Iraq’s WMD and thus cleared the way for the aggressive and disastrous war on Iraq.

Lane, not surprisingly, didn’t do much recounting of that human catastrophe, the one that his bosses — the likes of editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt and deputy editor Jackson Diehl — helped inflict on the people of Iraq by cheering on President George W. Bush and his neocon warmongers.

For instance, there was the case at the start of the Iraq War when Bush mistakenly thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might be eating at a Baghdad restaurant so U.S. warplanes leveled it, killing more than a dozen civilians, including children and a young woman whose headless body was recovered by her mother.

“When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then her head,” the Associated Press reported, “her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.” The London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented “a clear breach” of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing civilian targets.

But such civilian deaths were of little interest to The Washington Post’s editorial page and most of the mainstream U.S. media. “American talking heads … never seemed to give the issue any thought,” wrote Eric Boehlert in a report on the U.S. war coverage for Salon.com. “Certainly they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage left in the aftermath.”

Thousands of other civilian deaths were equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 who had been the center of his life. “It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the Iraq War was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As the armless Ali was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, the boy said he would rather die than live without his hands.

Yet, Ali Ismaeel Abbas and the many other innocent Iraqis who died as a result of the illegal war that Bush and his neocons launched and that The Washington Post’s editorial page cheered have been largely forgotten (at least by the mainstream U.S. media). Meanwhile, the American perpetrators of these war crimes and their apologists have faced virtually no accountability.

By 2013, there were new presidents in both the United States and Iran, Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, respectively, and they were willing to overcome the difficult history between the two countries, which included the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, followed by a brutal U.S-backed dictatorship for the next quarter century.

But Charles Lane apparently wanted to keep the hostilities going, all the better to set the stage for the neocon desire to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran and orchestrate another violent “regime change,” a process that surely would have left many more Iranians maimed and killed.

Lane’s column, however, failed to dissuade Obama and Rouhani from pursuing a permanent nuclear agreement, which was signed in 2015 and which experts say has succeeded in dialing back Iran’s nuclear program.

The Bash-Putin ‘Group Think’

Lane also has joined in Official Washington’s “group think” demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and everything he does, which has included his key role in helping Obama achieve that signature foreign policy success with the Iran nuclear deal.

In 2014, when Putin gave a speech critical of U.S. foreign policy, Lane and a solid phalanx of other Washington Post columnists denounced the Russian president as a madman. In his column, Lane not only denied the reality of modern American interventionism but accused Putin of doing what Lane was actually doing, twisting the truth.

“Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche,” Lane wrote.

Lane then suggested that Putin must be delusional. “The biggest problem with this cover story is that Putin may actually believe it,” Lane wrote.

Lane also was offended that when Putin later spoke to a crowd in Red Square, he concluded his remarks by saying “Long live Russia!” But why that is so objectionable coming from a Russian politician is hard to fathom. President Obama and other U.S. politicians routinely close their remarks with the words, “God bless the United States of America!”

Yet, Putin’s speech was really rather insightful, explaining Russia’s not unreasonable view of recent history, recognizing the actual U.S. approach to the world not the fairy-tale one favored by Lane and the Post.

Putin said: “After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading. Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.

“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”

Nothing in that key passage of Putin’s speech is crazy. He is stating the reality of the current era, though one could argue that this U.S. aggressive behavior was occurring during the Cold War as well. Since World War II, Washington has been in the business of routinely subverting troublesome governments (including overthrowing democratically elected leaders) and invading countries (that for some reason got in Washington’s way).

It is a challenge to list all the examples of U.S. interventions abroad, both in America’s “backyard” (Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, etc.) and in far-flung parts of the world (Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Lebanon, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.). These actions — usually outside international law and often in violation of those nations’ sovereignty — have continued into this century to the present day.

It’s also true that the United States has behaved harshly toward Russia during much of the post-Cold War era, reneging on an understanding with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that his concessions to President George H.W. Bush regarding German reunification and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by the U.S. government.

Yet, the U.S. government and corporate America moved aggressively against Russia in the post-Soviet era, helping to plunder Russia’s resources and pushing the frontlines of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. For all his autocratic faults, Putin has moved to put a stop to these encroachments against Russian national interests.

Putin also has acted as a valuable partner to Obama on some sensitive issues, helping to extricate the U.S. president from dangerous situations in Syria (by getting President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons in 2013) and in Iran (by facilitating the disposal of much of Iran’s processed nuclear fuel). In both cases, the neocons and The Washington Post’s editorialists were pounding the drums for more confrontation and war.

And, therein may lie the chief problem for Putin. He has become a major impediment to the grand neocon vision of “regime change” across the Middle East in any country considered hostile to Israel. That vision was disrupted by the disastrous outcome of the Iraq War, but the goal remains.

Putin also is an obstacle to the even grander vision of global “full-spectrum dominance,” a concept developed by neocons in the two Bush administrations, the theory that the United States should prevent any geopolitical rival from ever emerging again. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Grim Vision.”]

To demonize Putin and ensure that few Americans will actually examine what he’s said about U.S.-Russian relations, the likes of Lane portray Putin as unstable and delusional.

Now, Lane also appears to view Bernie Sanders and his call for a political “revolution“ along “democratic socialist” lines as a grave threat to the neocon (and neoliberal) status quo. So, Sanders has to be taken down a peg or two for the grievous crime of buying a summer home.

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).




Trump and the Long History of Media Bias

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. news media insists that its bias against Donald Trump is an aberration justified by his extraordinary recklessness, but the truth is U.S. media bias has a long history, says longtime journalist Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The new excuse for the U.S. mainstream media to violate its professional principles of objectivity and balance in covering this presidential race is that it’s all Donald Trump’s fault, or as The New York Times put it, “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.”

But that is just the latest dodge for American journalists who don’t really believe in the principle of evenhandedness. Many have been slanting their coverage for as long as I can remember in my nearly four decades covering news in Washington.

Indeed, bias and outright dishonesty have long been the norm for major American news outlets, especially in the fabrication of foreign monsters around the world for the U.S. military to seek out and destroy.

The truth is that at virtually every spin of America’s revolving wheel of “enemies,” The New York Times could write a similar headline blaming the foreign leaders, just as the newspaper did Trump: “Putin Tests the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism” or Bashar al-Assad or Saddam Hussein or any other designated villain du jour.

In the Times’ framing of the problem, it’s not the journalists who have a responsibility to maintain “the norms of objectivity”; it is Trump or some foreign villain who “tests” the norms. The journalists are the victims here, with their high standards being put under unfair pressure.

But I can’t remember a time when major U.S. news outlets approached a foreign policy issue with anything approaching objectivity or balance. With very few exceptions, the pattern is to fall in line behind the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s propaganda.

Indeed, when some of us have tried to apply objective or even-handed standards to foreign controversies, we faced resistance and punishment from our own news organizations. We learned that very few senior editors would challenge even the most blatant nonsense from the State Department or the White House. After all, that’s how they got to be senior editors.

Whether it was Nicaragua’s Sandinistas in the 1980s, or Iraq and Serbia in the 1990s, or Iraq (again) and Iran in the 2000s, or Syria, Russia, China and Iran (again) today, U.S. “star reporters” shucked aside even the pretense of fairness in favor of careerism. The more you pile on these “enemies” the better for you.

Along with these longer-term “enemies,” there are short-term “villains” who are transformed into cartoon characters almost overnight, such as Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych. Though elected by the voters, he was made into a “black hat” in 2013 and 2014 because he wouldn’t go along with an economic deal with Europe that involved harsh “reforms” from the International Monetary Fund.

Yanukovych also was considered an ally of neighboring Russia, so he got the full propaganda treatment from U.S. government agencies and their client “journalism” outfits, such as the U.S. AID-funded Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Those anti-Yanukovych themes, in turn, were picked up and amplified by mainstream U.S. media outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

So, on Feb. 22, 2014, when Ukraine’s elected president was violently overthrown in a putsch spearheaded by neo-Nazis and other ultra-nationalist street fighters, the West’s media almost universally cheered the coup as a victory for “democracy.”

No Self-Awareness

Of course, the abandonment of “objectivity” and honesty is not a new story in American journalism. In reality, there has long been a self-serving suspension of self-awareness on the part of U.S. media figures who still view themselves through the heroic but now foggy and yellowed prism of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

Yet, the pervasive bias in reporting on international crises is not just dishonest journalism in some academic sense; it also has helped the Military-Industrial Complex soak the U.S. taxpayers of trillions of dollars and enabled Official Washington to dispatch American soldiers to fight endless blood-soaked wars.

Arguably what’s different now is that this pattern of bias, which has been common in U.S. coverage of international affairs for years, has now spread to U.S. politics. But even that’s not especially new. The political pack has often had its favorites and has barely tried to conceal its desired outcome.

For instance, in Campaign 2000, which turned out to be one of the most significant elections in American history, the cool press corps kids covering the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush were smitten by Bush, the “regular guy” who gave them neat nicknames, while Gore was a boring wonk.

The anti-Gore journalistic sneering was palpable as reporters gleefully misreported key campaign moments such as the bogus quote attributed to Gore that “I invented the Internet” and other “boasts” that Gore never made.

The mocking of Gore and the fawning over Bush continued into the coverage of the Florida recount which gave the White House to Bush though Gore got more legal votes both in Florida and nationally. [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

While the hot-shot campaign reporters saw Campaign 2000 as a something of a lark – since the catastrophic consequences of Bush’s presidency were still in the future – today the mainstream media justifies its lack of objectivity as something of a duty to the nation.

As Jim Rutenberg wrote for the Times, “If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

“Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.

“If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”

Rutenberg acts as if he’s never given a thought to the prejudicial journalism that his own newspaper routinely shows in its coverage of foreign issues. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT’s Orwellian View of Ukraine.”]

A Trump-Putin Two-fer

In the Trump bashing, there’s also been a merger with the bashing of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump is sometimes accused of being a Russian “agent” because he believes that the United States can cooperate with Russia on fighting terrorism and other issues, rather than just rush to confront nuclear-armed Russia in a costly and dangerous New Cold War.

Amid the media frenzy over this so-called Trump-Putin “bromance,” Trump suggested that the Russians might be able to find Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000 State Department emails. Though obviously meant as a joke referring to the suspicions that Russia was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails, the comment was widely interpreted in the mainstream U.S. media as an act approaching “treason.”

Or as Rutenberg put it, Trump sought to “entice Russia to meddle in a United States presidential election by hacking his opponent (a joke, Mr. Trump later said, that the news media failed to get).”

Though it’s certainly true that some of Trump’s off-hand remarks – like suggesting that “Second Amendment people” could take action to stop Clinton’s gun-control plans – cross the line into the reckless, Trump’s email comment was surely not some serious appeal to the Russians to spy on Clinton. If he were serious, he surely would never have made the appeal publicly.

But the more important point is that the American people need to recognize that the major U.S. news media on foreign policy issues is deeply biased in line with what the U.S. foreign policy establishment wants. With Trump and Putin, the media gets a two-fer.

And, there is no conspiracy here. It’s just that if a foreign-policy or national-security reporter wants to get access to U.S. government information, much of it classified, he or she must show a readiness to take the U.S. “side.” If not, the next time there’s a major event – say, a U.S. military strike or the preparation of a government report on a foreign crisis – your competition will get the inside-story “tick-tock” or the document “leak,” not you.

Then, your editors will want to know how you got beat. They won’t want to hear excuses about how you’ve given the U.S. government authorities a hard time on some serious investigative project. Your editors will just want to have what the competition has – and if you can’t get it, they will happily give your job to someone who will play ball with the powers-that-be.

As for American journalists, they should come clean about their obvious biases – or they should commit themselves to an “oppositionist” position vis a vis all government officials, regardless of which government they represent and what the personal career consequences might be. One standard should fit all.

But that’s just wishful thinking. The best career path for media “stars” is to be dishonest, to pretend that you’re faithfully abiding by professional journalistic standards, except in some extreme cases like Trump’s presidential candidacy or in writing about some foreign “villain.” Then, you’re just doing what’s “good for the country.”

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).