Is Hillary Clinton ‘Honest’?

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton’s defenders object to the widespread public view that she is a liar by noting she scores reasonably well on the accuracy of her policy statements, but that is missing the point, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has offered a curious defense of Hillary Clinton’s “honesty,” refuting the public’s widespread view that she is a liar by narrowly defining what it means to be “honest” and arguing that she is less dishonest than she is a calculating and corner-cutting politician.

Kristof writes, “as we head toward the general election showdown, by all means denounce Hillary Clinton’s judgment and policy positions, but let’s focus on the real issues. She’s not a saint but a politician, and to me this notion that she’s fundamentally dishonest is a bogus narrative.”

Kristof cites, for instance, that half of her campaign statements, as evaluated by PolitiFact, were rated either true or mostly true, comparable to how the group assessed statements by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Ted Cruz and much better than Donald Trump’s 22 percent. Leaving aside the “conventional wisdom” bias of this mainstream media organization, Kristof does seem to have a point. In a narrow definition of “honesty,” former Secretary of State Clinton may be “truthful” or kind of truthful half the time.

But Kristof misses the larger point that the American people are making when 56 percent of them rate her negatively and many call “crooked” and “dishonest.” They seem to be commenting on her lack of authenticity and perhaps her resistance to sincerely acknowledging major errors in judgment. She only grudgingly apologized for her pro-Iraq War vote and still insists that her bloody “regime change” scheme for Libya was a good idea, even as the once-prosperous North African nation slides into anarchy and deprivation – with the chief beneficiary the head-choppers of the Islamic State.

A Nixonian Quality

Many Americans sense that there is a Nixonian quality to Hillary Clinton – her excessive secrecy, her defensiveness, her rigidity, her unwillingness to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. Even when she is forced into admitting a “mistake,” such as her violation of State Department rules when she maintained a private email server for official correspondence, she acts as if she’s just “apologizing” to close off further debate or examination. As with Richard Nixon, there’s a feeling that Clinton’s apologies and rationales are self-serving, not forthcoming.

Yet, while it’s true that Nixon was a deceitful character – his most famous lie being when he declared “I am not a crook” – I would argue that he had some clear advantages over Clinton as President. He was a much more strategic thinker than she is – and sometimes went against the grain of expectations as encapsulated in the phrase “Nixon goes to China,” meaning that Nixon could open up to communist China precisely because he was viewed as such a hardliner who would never do such a thing but who finally judged that the move was in America’s interests.

While it’s impossible to say whether Clinton would seize unexpected openings as President, she showed none of that creativity, subtlety and courage as Secretary of State. She marched down a straightforward neocon line, doing precisely what Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted in the Middle East.

Clinton tried to sabotage President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran and favored military solutions to Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. She also followed a rightist approach in backing the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted an elected progressive president who had offended some of the Honduran oligarchs and outside corporate interests.

Lack of Self-Criticism

In addition, Clinton appears to have learned nothing from her support for the catastrophic Iraq War and has argued against “conflating” her Iraq decision with her Libya decision. But that suggests that she is incapable of learning a lesson from one mistake and applying it to a similar situation, an almost disqualifying characteristic for someone who hopes to become President.

Being a successful President requires extracting painful lessons from one mistake and making sure you don’t make the same mistake again. But Clinton’s personal arrogance or defensiveness (it’s hard to figure out which is dominant) prevents her from that sort of self-criticism.

Indeed, her ritualistic (and politically timed) apology for her Iraq War vote in 2006 came across less as an honest recognition that she had done something horribly wrong than that she had to say something to appease a furious Democratic electorate as she mounted her first run for President against anti-Iraq War candidate Obama.gates-duty

After losing to Obama and becoming his Secretary of State, she privately hedged her Iraq War apology by saying privately that she thought that President George W. Bush’s “surge” in Iraq was successful and admitting that she had only opposed it in 2007 for political reasons, according to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his memoir, Duty.

On Oct. 26, 2009, as Gates — a holdover from the Bush administration — and Clinton joined forces to pressure Obama into approving a similar “surge” for Afghanistan, Gates recalled a meeting in which Clinton made what he regarded as a stunning admission, writing:

“The exchange that followed was remarkable. In strongly supporting the surge in Afghanistan, Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary [in 2008]. She went on to say, ‘The Iraq surge worked.’

“The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.” (Obama’s aides disputed Gates’s suggestion that the President indicated that his opposition to the Iraq “surge” was political, noting that he had always opposed the Iraq War. The Clinton team has not challenged Gates’s account.)

But the exchange, as recounted by Gates, indicates that Clinton not only let her political needs dictate her position on an important national security issue, but that she accepts as true the superficial conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” in Iraq, which claimed the lives of about 1,000 American soldiers and a much larger number of Iraqis but failed its principal mission of buying time for the Iraqis to resolve their sectarian differences.

So, when one considers Hillary Clinton’s “honesty” more should be in play than simply whether she accurately describes her policy positions half the time. Honesty, as most people would perceive it, relates to a person’s fundamental integrity, strength of character, readiness to acknowledge mistakes and ability to learn from them. On that measure, the American people seem to have sized up Hillary Clinton pretty well.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon.“]

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




How CBS News Aided the JFK Cover-up

Special Report: With the Warren Report on JFK’s assassination under attack in the mid-1960s, there was a chance to correct the errors and reassess the findings, but CBS News intervened to silence the critics, reports James DiEugenio.

By James DiEugenio

In the mid-1960s, amid growing skepticism about the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman findings on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there was a struggle inside CBS News about whether to allow the critics a fair public hearing at the then-dominant news network. Some CBS producers pushed for a debate between believers and doubters and one even submitted a proposal to put the Warren Report “on trial,” according to internal CBS documents.

But CBS executives, who were staunch supporters of the Warren findings and had personal ties to some commission members, spiked those plans and instead insisted on presenting a defense of the lone-gunman theory while dismissing doubts as baseless conspiracy theories, the documents show.john-f-kennedy-35

Though it may be hard to remember – amid today’s proliferation of cable channels and Internet sites – CBS, along with NBC and ABC, wielded powerful control over what the American people got to see, hear and take seriously in the 1960s. By slapping down any criticism of the Warren Commission, CBS executives effectively prevented the case surrounding the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy from ever receiving the full airing that it deserved.

Beyond that historical significance, the internal documents – compiled by onetime CBS News assistant producer Roger Feinman – show how a major mainstream news organization green-lights one approach to presenting sensitive national security news while blocking another. The documents also shed light on how senior news executives, who have bought into one interpretation of the facts, are highly resistant to revisit the evidence.

Buying In

CBS News jumped onboard the blue-ribbon Warren Commission’s findings as soon as they were released on Sept. 27, 1964, just over 10 months after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. In a special report, CBS and its anchor Walter Cronkite preempted regular programming and, with the assistance of reporter Dan Rather, devoted two commercial-free hours to endorsing the main tenets of that report.

However, despite Cronkite and Rather giving the Warren Report their public embrace, other people, who were not in the employ of the mainstream media, examined critically the report and the accompanying 26 volumes. Some of these citizens were lawyers and others were professors, the likes of Vincent Salandria and Richard Popkin. They came to the conclusion that CBS had been less than rigorous in its examination.

By 1967, the analyses challenging the Warren Report’s conclusions had become widespread, including popular books by Edward Epstein, Mark Lane, Sylvia Meagher and Josiah Thompson. Thompson’s book, Six Seconds in Dallas, was excerpted and placed on the cover of the wide-circulation magazine Saturday Evening Post. Lane was appearing on talk shows. Prosecutor Jim Garrison had announced a reopening of the JFK case in New Orleans. The dam was threatening to break.

The doubts about the Warren Report had even spread into the ranks at CBS News, where correspondent Daniel Schorr and Washington Bureau chief Bill Small recommended a fair and critical look at the report’s methodology and findings. Top prime-time producer Les Midgley later joined the effort.

CBS News vice president Gordon Manning sent the proposal on to CBS News president Richard Salant in August 1966, but it was declined. Manning tried again in October, suggesting an open debate between the critics of the Warren Report and former Commission counsels, moderated by a law school dean or the president of the American Bar Association. The idea was to give the two sides a chance to make their best points before the viewing public.

Zapruder Evidence

One month after Manning’s debate proposal, Life Magazine published a front-page story in which the Warren Commission’s verdict was questioned by photographic evidence from the Zapruder film (which the magazine owned). Life also interviewed Texas Gov. John Connally who disagreed that he and Kennedy had been hit by the same shot, a claim that undercut the “single bullet theory” at the heart of the Warren Report.

Without the assertion that a single bullet inflicted multiple wounds on Kennedy and Connally, who was riding in front of the President, the commission’s verdict collapses. The magazine story ended with a call to reopen the case. Indeed, Life had put together a small journalistic team to do its own internal investigation.

A few days after this issue appeared, Manning again pressed for a CBS special. This time he suggested the title “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald,” with a panel of law school deans reviewing the evidence against Oswald in a mock trial, including evidence that the Warren Commission had not included. In other words, there would be a chance for American “jurors” to weigh the evidence that might have been presented against Oswald if he had lived and to make a judgment on his guilt. Again, this approach offered the potential for a reasonably balanced examination of the Kennedy assassination.

At this point, Manning was joined by producer Midgley, who had produced the two-hour 1964 CBS special. Midgley’s suggestion differed from Manning’s in that he wanted to title the show “The Warren Report on Trial.” Midgley suggested a three-night, three-hour series with one night given over to the commission defenders, one night including all the witnesses that the commission overlooked or discounted, and the last night including a verdict produced by legal experts. But the title itself suggested a level of skepticism that had not been part of the earlier proposals.

The Higher-ups Intervene

However, then CBS senior executives began to intervene. On Dec. 1, 1966, Salant wrote a memo to John Schneider, president of CBS Broadcast Group, telling him that he might refer the proposal to the CBS News Executive Committee (CNEC). According to information that a former CBS assistant producer Roger Feinman obtained during a legal hearing against CBS, plus secondary sources, CNEC was a secretive group that was created in the wake of Edward R. Murrow’s departure from CBS.

Murrow was a true investigative reporter who became famous through his reports on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s abuses and the mistreatment of migrant farm workers. The upper management at CBS did not like the controversies that these reports generated among influential segments of the American power structure. There was a perceived need to tamp down on such wide-ranging and independent-minded investigations. After all, the CBS executives were part of that power structure.

CBS News president Salant epitomized that blurring of high-level corporate journalism and America’s ruling class. Salant had gone to Exeter Academy, Harvard, and then Harvard Law School. He was handpicked from the network’s Manhattan legal firm by CBS President Frank Stanton to join his management team.

During World War II, Stanton had worked in the Office of War Information, the psychological warfare branch. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower had appointed Stanton to a small committee to organize how the United States would survive a nuclear attack. From 1961-67, Stanton was chairman of Rand Corporation, a CIA-associated think tank.

The other two members of CNEC were Sig Mickelson, who had preceded Salant as CBS News president and then became a director of Time-Life Broadcasting, and CBS founder Bill Paley, who had also served in the World War II psy-war  branch of the Office of War Information and – after the war – let CIA Director Allen Dulles have the spy agency informally debrief CBS overseas correspondents.

When Salant turned the Warren Commission issue over to CNEC, the prospects for any objective or skeptical treatment of the JFK case faded. “The establishment of CNEC effectively curtailed the news division’s independence,” Feinman later wrote about his discoveries.

Further, Salant had no journalistic experience and was in almost daily communication with Stanton, whose background was in government propaganda.

Scaling Back

The day after Salant informed CNEC about the proposed JFK assassination special, Salant told CBS News vice president Manning that he was wavering on the mock trial concept. Salant’s next move was even more ominous. He sent both Manning and prime-time news producer Midgley to California to talk to two lawyers about the project.

One of the attorneys was Edwin Huddleson, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Cooley, Godward, Castro and Huddleson. Huddleson attended Harvard Law with Salant and, like Stanton, was on the board of the Rand Corporation. The other lawyer was Bayless Manning, Dean of Stanford Law School. They told the CBS representatives that they were against the network undertaking the project on the grounds of “the national interest” and because of the topic’s “political implications.”

CBS News vice president Manning reported that both attorneys advised the CBS team to ignore the critics of the Warren Commission or to appoint a special panel to critique their books, in other words, to put the critics on trial. Huddleson also steered the CBS team to cooperative scientists who would counter the critics.

On his return to CBS headquarters, Manning saw the writing on the wall. He knew what his CBS superiors really wanted and it wasn’t some no-holds-barred examination of the Warren Commission’s flaws. So, he suggested a new title for the series, “In Defense of the Warren Report,” and wrote that CBS should dismiss “the inane, irresponsible, and hare-brained challenges of Mark Lane and others of that stripe.”

Out on a Limb

Manning’s defection from an open-minded treatment of the evidence to a one-sided Warren Commission defense left producer Midgley out on a limb. However, unaware of what Salant was up to, on Dec. 14, 1966, Midgley circulated a memo about how he planned on approaching the Warren Report project. He proposed running experiments that were more scientific than “the ridiculous ones run by the FBI.” He still wanted a mock trial to show how the operation of the Commission was “almost incredibly inadequate.”

In response, Salant circulated an anonymous, undated, paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal to Midgley’s plan, which Feinman’s later investigation determined was written by Warren Commissioner John McCloy, then Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and the father of Ellen McCloy, Salant’s administrative assistant.

In this memo, McCloy wrote that “the chief evidence that Oswald acted alone and shot alone is not to be found in the ballistics and pathology of the assassination, but in the fact of his loner life.” As many Warren Commission critics have noted, it was this approach – discounting or ignoring the medical and ballistics evidence, but concentrating on Oswald’s alleged social life – that was a fatal flaw of the Warren Report.

Despite the familial conflict of interest, Ellen McCloy was added to the distribution list for almost all memos related to the Kennedy assassination project and thus could serve as a secret back-channel between CBS and her father.

A Stonewall Defense

Clearly, the original idea for a fresh examination of the Warren Commission and the evidence that had arisen since its report was published in 1964 had been turned on its head. The CBS brass wanted a defense, not a critique.

Salant asked producer Midgley, “Is the question whether Oswald was a CIA or FBI informant really so substantial that we have to deal with it?” Midgley, increasingly alone out on the limb, replied, “Yes, we must treat it.”

As the initial plan for a forthright examination of the Warren Commission’s shortcomings was transformed into a stonewall defense of the official findings, there was still the problem of Midgley, the last holdout. But eventually his head was turned, too.

While the four-night special was in production, Midgley became engaged to Betty Furness, a former actress-turned-television-commercial pitchwoman whom President Lyndon Johnson appointed as his special assistant for consumer affairs, even though her only experience in the field had been selling Westinghouse appliances for 11 years on television. She was sworn in on April 27, 1967, which was about two months before the CBS production aired. Two weeks after it was broadcast, Midgley and Furness were married.

As Kai Bird’s biography of McCloy, The Chairman, makes clear, Johnson and McCloy were friends and colleagues. But there is another point about how Midgley was convinced to go along with McCloy’s view of the Warren Commission. Around the same time he married Furness, he received a significant promotion, elevated to executive editor of the network’s flagship news program, “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.” This made him, in essence, the top news editor at CBS, a decision that required the consultation and approval of Salant, Cronkite and Stanton – and very likely the CNEC.

So, instead of a serious investigation into the murder of President Kennedy – at a time when there was the possibility of effective national action to get at the truth – CBS News delivered a stalwart defense of the Warren Commission’s conclusions and heaped ridicule on anyone who dared question those findings.

Shaping that approach was not only the influence of Warren Commission member John McCloy, an icon of the Establishment, but the carrots and sticks applied to senior CBS producers, such as Gordon Manning and Les Midgley, who initially favored a more skeptical approach but were convinced to abandon that goal.

Curious Consultants

Once McCloy was brought onboard, the complexion of CBS’s treatment of the JFK assassination changed. CBS hired consultants who were rabidly pro-Warren Report to appear as on-air experts while others would be hidden in the shadows. In addition to the clandestine role of McCloy, some of these consultants included Dallas police officer Gerald Hill, physicist Luis Alvarez and reporter Lawrence Schiller.

Officer Hill was just about everywhere in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He was at the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald worked and allegedly shot the President from the sixth floor; Hill was at the murder scene of Officer J. D Tippit, who was allegedly shot by Oswald after he fled Dealey Plaza; and he was at the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested.

Hill appeared in the CBS 1967 program show as a speaker. But Roger Feinman found out that Hill also was paid for six weeks work on the show as a consultant. During his consulting, Hill revealed that the police did a “fast frisk” on Oswald while in the theater. They found nothing in his pockets at the time, which begs the question of where the bullets the police said they found in his pockets later at the station came from. That question did not arise during the program since CBS never revealed the contradiction. (Click here and go to page 20 of the transcript.)

Physicist Luis Alvarez, who had a served as an adviser to the CIA and to the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, spent a considerable amount of time lending his name to articles supporting the Warren Report and conducting questionable experiments supporting its findings. As demonstrated by authors Josiah Thompson (in 2013) and Gary Aguilar (in 2014), Alvarez misrepresented some data in some of his JFK experiments. (Click here and go to the 37:00 mark for Aguilar’s presentation.)

Making Fun

The same year of the 1967 CBS broadcast, reporter Lawrence Schiller had co-written a book entitled The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report, a picaresque journey through America where Schiller interviewed some of the prominent – and not so prominent – critics of the report and caricatured them hideously.

Secretly, he had been an informant for the FBI for many years keeping an eye on people like Mark Lane and Jim Garrison, whom Schiller attacked despite discovering witnesses who attested to Garrison’s suspect Clay Shaw using the alias Clay Bertrand, a key point in Garrison’s case. The relevant documents were not declassified until the Assassination Records and Reviews Board was set up in the 1990s. [See Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by James DiEugenio, p. 388]

This cast of consultants – along with McCloy – influenced the direction of the 1967 CBS Special Report. The last thing these consultants wanted to do was to expose the faulty methodology that the Warren Commission had employed.

As in 1964, Walter Cronkite manned the anchor desk and Dan Rather was the main field reporter. Again, CBS could find no serious problems with the Warren Report.  The critics were misguided, CBS said. After all, Cronkite and Rather had done a seven-month inquiry.

‘Unimpeachable Credentials’ 

In the broadcast, Cronkite names the men on the Warren Commission as their pictures appear on screen. He calls them “men of unimpeachable credentials” but left out the fact that President Kennedy fired Commissioner Allen Dulles from the CIA in 1961 for lying to him about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

When Cronkite got to the crux of the program, he said the Warren Commission assured the American people that they would get the most searching investigation in history. Then, Cronkite showed books and articles critical of the commission and mentioned that polls showed that a majority of Americans had lost faith in the Warren Report.

At that point, the network special revealed its purpose, to discredit the critics and reassure the public that these people could not be trusted.

Cronkite went through a list of points that the critics had raised, including key issues such as how many shots were fired and how quickly they could be discharged from the suspect rifle. On each point, Cronkite took the Warren Commission’s side, saying Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor with the rifle attributed to him by the Warren Commission. Two of three were direct hits – to Kennedy’s head and shoulder area – within six seconds.

One way that CBS fortified the case for just three shots was Alvarez’s examination of the Zapruder film, Abraham Zapruder’s 26-second film of Kennedy’s assassination taken from Zapruder’s position in Dealey Plaza, a sequence that CBS did not actually show.

Alvarez proclaimed that by doing something called a “jiggle analysis,” he computed that there were three shots fired during the film. What the jiggle amounted to was a blurring of frames on the film (presumably because Zapruder would have flinched at the sound of gunshots).

Dan Rather took this Alvarez idea to Charles Wyckoff, a professional photo analyst in Massachusetts. Agreeing with Alvarez, at least on camera, Wyckoff mapped out the three areas of “jiggles.” The Alvarez/Wyckoff formula was simple: three jiggles, three shots.

But as Feinman found out through his legal discovery and hearings, there was a big problem with this declaration. Wyckoff had actually discovered four jiggles, not three. Therefore, by the Alvarez formula, there was a second gunman and thus a conspiracy.

Wyckoff’s on-camera discussion of this was cut out and not included in the official transcript. But it is interesting to note just how committed Wyckoff was to the CBS agenda, for he tried to explain the fourth jiggle as Zapruder’s reaction to a siren. As Feinman noted, how Wyckoff could determine this from a silent 8 mm film is puzzling. But the point is, this analysis did not support the commission. It undermined the Warren Report and was left on the cutting-room floor.

There were other problems with the Alverez-Wyckoff “jiggle” theory, since the first jiggle was at around Zapruder frame 190, or a few frames previous to that, which would have meant that Oswald would have had to be firing through the branches of an oak tree, which is why the Warren Commission moved this shot up to frame 210.

But CBS left itself an out, claiming  there was an opening in the tree branches at frame 186 and Oswald could have fired at that point. But that is patently ridiculous, since the opening at frame 186 lasted for 1/18th of a second. To say that Oswald anticipated a less than split-second opening, and then steeled himself in a flash to align the target, aim, and fire is all stuff from the realm of comic books super heroes. Yet, in its blind obeisance to the Warren Report, this is what CBS had reduced itself to.

Another way that CBS tried to bolster the Warren Report was to have Wyckoff purchase other Bell and Howell movie cameras (since CBS was not allowed to handle the actual Zapruder camera.) After winding up these cameras, CBS hypothesized that Zapruder’s camera might have been running a little slow, giving Oswald a longer firing sequence.

The problem with this theory, however, was that both the FBI and Bell and Howell had tested the speed of Zapruder’s actual camera. Even Dick Salant commented that this was “logically inconclusive and unpersuasive,” but it stayed in the program.

The Shot Sequence

But why did Rather and Wyckoff have to stoop this low? The answer is because of the results of their rifle firing tests. As the critics of the Warren Report had pointed out, the commission had used two tests to see if Oswald could have gotten off three shots in the allotted 5.6 seconds indicated by the Zapruder film.

These tests ended up as failing to prove Oswald could have performed this feat of marksmanship. What made it worse is that the commission had used very proficient rifleman to try and duplicate what the commission said Oswald had done. [See Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 108]

So CBS tried again. This time they set up a track with a sled on it to simulate the back of Kennedy’s head. They then elevated a firing point to simulate the sixth floor “sniper’s nest,” though there were differences from Dealey Plaza including the oak tree and a rise in the street in the real crime scene. Nevertheless, the CBS experimenters released the target on its sled and had a marksman named Ed Crossman fire his three shots.

Crossman had a considerable reputation in the field, but – even though he was given a week to practice with a version of the Mannlicher Carcano rifle – his results were not up to snuff. According to a report by producer Midgley, Crossman never broke 6.25 seconds (longer than Oswald’s purported 5.6 seconds) and – even with an enlarged target – he got only two of three hits in about 50 percent of his attempts.

Crossman explained that the rifle had a sticky bolt action and a faulty viewing scope. But what the professional sniper did not know is that the actual rifle in evidence was even harder to work. Crossman said that to perform such a feat on the first time out would require a lot of luck.

However, since that evidence did not fit the show’s agenda, it was discarded, both the test and the comments. To resolve that problem, CBS called in 11 professional marksmen who first went to an indoor firing range and practiced to their heart’s content, though the Warren Commission could find no evidence that Oswald practiced.

The 11 men then took 37 runs at duplicating what Oswald was supposed to have done. There were three instances where two out of three hits were recorded in 5.6 seconds. The best time was achieved by Howard Donahue on his third attempt after his first two attempts were complete failures.

But CBS claimed that the average recorded time was 5.6 seconds, without including the 17 attempts that were thrown out because of mechanical failure. CBS also didn’t tell the public the surviving average was 1.2 hits out of three with an enlarged target.

The truly striking characteristic of these trials was the amount of instances where the shooter could not get any result at all. More often than not, once the clip was loaded, the bolt action jammed. The sniper had to realign the target and fire again. According to the Warren Report, that could not have happened with Oswald.

There is also the anomaly of James Tague, who was struck by one bullet that the Warren Commission said had ricocheted off the curb of a different street, about 260 feet away from the limousine. But how could Oswald have missed by that much if he was so accurate on his other two shots? That was another discrepancy deleted by the CBS editors.

The Autopsy Disputes

CBS also obscured what was said by the two chief medical witnesses after the assassination by Dr. Malcolm Perry from Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where Kennedy was taken after he was hit, and James Humes, the chief pathologist at the autopsy examination at Bethesda Medical Center that evening.

In their research for the series, CBS had discovered a transcript of Dr. Perry’s press conference that the Warren Commission did not have. But CBS camouflaged what Perry said on Nov. 22, 1963, specifically about Kennedy’s anterior neck wound. Perry said it had the appearance to him of being an entrance wound, and he said this three times.

Cronkite tried to characterize the conference as Perry being rushed out to the press and badgered. But that wasn’t true, since the press conference was about two hours after Perry had done a tracheotomy over the front neck wound. The performance of that incision had given Perry the closest and most deliberate look at that wound.

Perry therefore had the time to recover from the pressure of the operation and there was no badgering of Perry. Newsmen were simply asking him questions about the wounds he saw. Perry had the opportunity to answer the questions on his own terms. Again, CBS seemed intent on concealing evidence of a possible second assassin — because Oswald could not have fired at Kennedy from the front.

Commander James Humes, the pathologist, did not want to appear on the program, but was pressured by Attorney General Ramsey Clark, possibly with McCloy’s assistance. As Feinman discovered, the preliminary talks with Humes were done through a friend of his at the church he attended.

There were two things that Humes said in these early discussions that were bracing. First, he said that he recalled an x-ray of the President, which showed a malleable probe connecting the rear back wound with the front neck wound. Second, he said that he had orders not to do a complete autopsy. He would not reveal who gave him these orders, except to say that it was not Robert Kennedy. [Charles Crenshaw, Trauma Room One, p. 182]

The significance of the malleable probe is that, if Humes was correct, the front and back wounds would have come from the same bullet. However, we learned almost 30 years later from the Assassination Records Review Board that other witnesses also saw a malleable probe go through Kennedy’s back, but said the probe did not go through the body since the wounds did not connect. However, x-rays that might confirm the presence of the probe are missing. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 116-18]

Location of the Wounds

On camera, Humes also said the posterior body wound was at the base of the neck. Dan Rather then showed Humes the drawings made of the wound in the back as depicted by medical illustrator Harold Rydberg for the Warren Commission, also depicting the wound as being in the neck, which Humes agreed with on camera. He added that they had reviewed the photos and referred to measurements and this all indicated the wound was in the neck.

Even for CBS — and Warren Commissioner John McCloy — this must have been surprising since the autopsy photos do not reveal the wound to be at the base of the neck but clearly in the back. (Click here and scroll down.) CBS should have sent its own independent expert to the archive because Humes clearly had a vested interest in seeing his autopsy report bolstered, especially since it was under attack by more than one critic.

The second point that makes Humes’s interview curious is his comments on the Rydberg drawings’ accuracy. These do not coincide with what Rydberg said later, not understanding why he was chosen to make these drawings for the Warren Commission since he was only 22 and had been drawing for only one year. There were many other veteran illustrators in the area the Warren Commission could have called upon, but Rydberg came to believe that it was his inexperience that caused the commission to pick him.

When Humes and Dr. Thornton Boswell appeared before him, they had nothing with them: no photos, no x-rays, no official measurements, speaking only from memory, nearly four months after the autopsy, Rydberg said. [DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 119-22] The Rydberg drawings have become infamous for not corresponding to the pictures, measurements, or the Zapruder film.

For Humes to endorse these on national television – and for CBS to allow this without any fact-checking – shows what a case of false journalism the special had become.

Limiting Access

CBS also knew that Humes said he had been limited in what he was allowed to do in the Kennedy autopsy, a potentially big scoop if CBS had followed it. Instead, the public had to wait another two years for the story to surface at Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw when autopsy doctor Pierre Finck took the stand in Shaw’s defense. Finck said the same thing: that Dr. Humes was limited in his autopsy practice on Kennedy. [ibid, p. 115]

The difference was that this disclosure would have had much more exposure, impact and vibrancy if CBS had broken it in 1967 rather than having the fact come up during Garrison’s prosecution, in part, because the press corps’ hostility toward Garrison distorted the trial coverage.

So, in the summer of 1967, CBS again had come to the defense of the official story with a four-hour, four-night extravaganza that again endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission.

At the time of broadcast, it was the most expensive documentary CBS ever produced. It concluded: Acting alone, Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy. Acting alone, Jack Ruby killed Oswald. And Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. All the controversy was Much Ado about Nothing.

Unwinding the Back Story

In 1967, the clandestine relationship between CBS News President Salant and Warren Commissioner McCloy was known to very few people. In fact, as assistant producer Roger Feinman later deduced, it was likely known only to the very small circle in the memo distribution chain. That Salant deliberately wished to keep it hidden is indicated by the fact that he allowed McCloy to write these early memos anonymously.

As Feinman concluded, McCloy’s influence over the program was almost certainly a violation of the network’s own guidelines, which prohibit conflicts of interest in the news production, probably another reason Salant kept McCloy’s connection hidden.

In the 1970s, after Feinman was fired over a later dispute regarding another example of CBS News’ highhanded handling of the JFK assassination – and then obtained internal documents as part of a legal hearing on his dismissal – he briefly thought of publicizing the whole affair (which he eventually decided against doing).

But Feinman wrote to Warren Commissioner McCloy in March 1977 about the ex-commissioner’s clandestine role in the four-night special a decade earlier. McCloy declined to be interviewed on the subject, but added that he did not recall any contribution he made to the special.

But Feinman persisted. On April 4, 1977, he wrote McCloy again. This time he revealed that he had written evidence that McCloy had participated extensively in the production of the four-night series. Very quickly, McCloy got in contact with Salant and wrote that he did not recall any such back-channel relationship.

In turn, Salant contacted Midgley and told the producer to check his files to see if there was any evidence that would reveal a CBS secret collaboration with McCloy. Salant then wrote back to McCloy saying that at no time did Ellen McCloy ever act as a conduit between CBS News and her father.

However, in 1992 in an article for The Village Voice, both Ellen McCloy and Salant were confronted with memos that revealed Salant was lying in 1977. McCloy’s daughter admitted to the clandestine courier relationship. Salant finally admitted it also, but he tried to say there was nothing unusual about it. [See http://www.assassinationresearch.com/v1n2/mediaassassination.html]

Reassuring Americans

So, in 1967, CBS News had again reassured the American people that there was no conspiracy in President Kennedy’s murder, just a misguided lone gunman who had done it all by himself. Anyone who thought otherwise was confused, deceptive or delusional.

However, in 1975, eight years after the broadcast, two events revived interest in the JFK case again. First, the Church Committee was formed in Congress to explore the crimes of the CIA and FBI, revealing that before Kennedy was killed, the CIA had farmed out the assassination of Fidel Castro to the Mafia, a fact that was kept from the Warren Commission even though one of its members, Allen Dulles, had been CIA director when the plots were formulated.

Secondly, in the summer of 1975, in prime time, ABC broadcast the Zapruder film, the first time that the American public had seen the shocking image of President Kennedy’s head being knocked back and to the left by what appeared to be a shot from his front and right, a shot Oswald could not have fired.

The confluence of these two events caused a furor in Washington and the creation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to reopen the JFK case.

Having become a chief defender of the original Warren Commission findings, CBS News moved preemptively to influence the new investigation by planning another special about the JFK case.

CBS’s Sixty Minutes decided to do a story on whether or not Jack Ruby and Lee Oswald knew each other. After several months of research, Salant killed the project with the investigative files turned over to senior producer Les Midgley before becoming the basis for the 1975 CBS special, which was entitled The American Assassins.

Originally this was planned as a four-night special. One night each on the JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King and the George Wallace shootings. But at the last moment, in a very late press release, CBS announced that the first two nights would be devoted to the JFK case. Midgley was the producer, but this time Cronkite was absent. Rather took his place behind the desk.

In general terms, it was more of the same. The photographic consultant was Itek Corporation, a company that was very close to the CIA, having helped build the CORONA spy satellite system. Itek’s CEO in the mid-1960s, Franklin Lindsay, was a former CIA officer. With Itek’s help, CBS did everything they could to move their Magic Bullet shot from about frame 190 to about frames 223-226.

Yet, Josiah Thompson, who appeared on the show, had written there was no evidence Gov. Connally was hit before frames 230-236. Further, there are indications that President Kennedy is clearly hit as he disappears behind the Stemmons Freeway sign at about frame 190, e.g., his head seems to collapse both sideways and forward in a buckling motion.

But with Itek in hand, this became the scenario for the CBS version of the “single bullet theory.” It differed from the Warren Commission’s in that it did not rely upon a “delayed reaction” on Connally’s part to the same bullet.

Ballistics Tests

CBS also employed Alfred Olivier, a research veterinarian who worked for Army wound ballistics branch and did tests with the alleged rifle used in the assassination. He was a chief witness for junior counsel Arlen Specter before the Warren Commission. [See Warren Commission, Volume V, pgs. 74ff]

For CBS in 1975, Olivier said that the Magic Bullet, CE 399, was not actually “pristine.” For CBS and Dan Rather, this made the “single bullet theory” not impossible, just hard to believe.

Apparently, no one explained to Rather that the only deformation on the bullet is a slight flattening at the base, which would occur as the bullet is blasted through the barrel of a rifle. There is no deformation at its tip where it would have struck its multiple targets. There is only a tiny amount of mass missing from the bullet.

In other words, as more than one author has written, it has all the indications of being fired into a carton of water or a bale of cotton. If CBS had interviewed the legendary medical examiner Milton Helpern of New York — not far from CBS headquarters — that is pretty much what he would have said. [Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 69.]

Rather realized, without being explicit, that something was wrong with Kennedy’s autopsy. He called the autopsy below par and reversed field on his opinion about pathologist Humes, whose experience Rather had praised in 1967. In the 1975 broadcast, Rather said that neither Humes nor Boswell were qualified to perform Kennedy’s autopsy and that parts of it were botched.

But let us make no mistake about what CBS was up to here. The entire corporate upper structure — Salant, Stanton, Paley — had overrun the working producers and journalists, including Midgley, Manning and Schorr. And those subordinates decided not to utter a peep to the outside world about what had happened.

Not only Cronkite and Rather participated in this appalling exercise, so too did Eric Sevareid, appearing at the end of the last show and saying that there are always those who believe in conspiracies, whether it be about Yalta, China or Pearl Harbor. He then poured it on by saying some people still think Hitler is alive and concluding that it would be impossible to cover up the assassination of a President.

But simply in examining how a major news outlet like CBS handled the evidence shows precisely how something as dreadful and significant as the murder of a President could be covered up.

Much of this history also would have remained unknown, except that Roger Feinman, an assistant producer at CBS News, had become a friend and follower of the estimable Warren Commission critic Sylvia Meagher. So, Feinman knew that the Warren Commission was a deeply flawed report and that CBS had employed some very questionable methods in the 1967 special in order to conceal those flaws.

When the assassination issue returned in the mid-1970s, Feinman began to write some memoranda to those in charge of the renewed CBS investigation warning that they shouldn’t repeat their 1967 performance. His first memo went to CBS president Dick Salant. Many of the other memos were directed to the Office of Standards and Practices.

In preparing these memos, Feinman researched some of the odd methodologies that CBS used in 1967. Since he had been at CBS for three years, he got to know some of the people who had worked on that series. They supplied him with documents and information which revealed that what Cronkite and Rather were telling the audience had been arrived at through a process that was as flawed as the one the Warren Commission had used.

Feinman requested a formal review of the process by which CBS had arrived at its forensic conclusions. He felt the documentary had violated company guidelines in doing so.

Establishment Strikes Back

As Feinman’s memos began to circulate through the executive and management suites – including Salant’s and Vice-President Bill Small’s – it was made clear to him that he should cease and desist from his one-man campaign. When he wouldn’t let up, CBS moved to terminate its dissident employee.

But since Feinman was working under a union contract, he had certain administrative rights to a fair hearing, including the process of discovery through which he could request certain documents to make his case. His research allowed him to pinpoint where these documents would be and who prepared them.

On Sept. 7, 1976, CBS succeeded in terminating Feinman. But the collection of documents he secured through his hearing was extraordinary, allowing outsiders for the first time to see how the 1967 series was conceived and executed. Further, the documents took us into the group psychology of a large media corporation when it collides with controversial matters involving national security.

Only Roger Feinman, who was not at the top of CBS or anywhere near it, had the guts to try to get to the bottom of the whole internal scandal.

And Feinman paid a high personal price for doing so. Feinman’s contribution to American history did not help him get his journalistic career back on track. When he passed away in the fall of 2011, he was freelancing as a computer programmer.

[This article is largely based on the script for the documentary film Roger Feinman was in the process of reediting at the time of his death in 2011. The reader can view that here.]

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.




A New Anti-Assad Propaganda Offensive

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. media, including the “liberal” New Yorker, is reprising its propagandistic role before the Iraq War now in Syria with a new round of one-sided reporting, as Daniel Lazare explains.

By Daniel Lazare

Now that Syria’s “cessation of hostilities” appears to be crumbling and rebel forces are gearing up for a fresh offensive, the mighty U.S. propaganda machine is once again up and running.

A case in point is “The Assad Files,” an 11,000-word article in last week’s New Yorker that is as willfully misrepresentative as anything published about Syria in the last five years or so, which is saying a great deal.

Written by a young Columbia Journalism School graduate named Ben Taub, it tells of a Canadian political entrepreneur named William Wiley who, starting in 2012, persuaded the European Union and the German, Swiss, Norwegian, Danish and Canadian governments to give him millions of dollars so he could begin building a criminal case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

To that end, Wiley hired lawyers, translators, and analysts and sent investigators into Syria itself alongside “moderate” rebels so that they could rifle security and intelligence installations in search of incriminating evidence. Once they got what they were looking for, they either squirreled it away locally or spirited it over the border to an undisclosed location in Western Europe where the documents could be scanned, bar-coded, and safely secured.

The upshot is a 400-page legal brief that Taub says “links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coordinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives.” It is “a record of state-sponsored torture,” he adds, “that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty.”

Taub fills his article with lots of J-school-style color, informing us that Wiley is “a field guy, not an office guy”; that he “handles the considerable stress of his profession with Cuban cigarillos, gallows humor, and exercise,” and that, at age 52, “he bench-presses more than three hundred and fifty pounds.” He describes in vivid detail one of Wiley’s associates negotiating his way through 11 rebel checkpoints while transporting a truckload of captured Syrian government documents. But for all his diligence, he manages to overlook the blindingly obvious problems that Wiley’s activities raise. For instance:

–He notes that no international judicial body has jurisdiction over Syrian war crimes and that, in May 2014, Russia and China specifically vetoed a UN resolution assigning the International Criminal Court such a role. So what’s the point of a 400-page legal brief if there’s no court to present it to? Is this a genuine pursuit of legal truth or just another propaganda exercise funded by the West?

–Waving such objections aside, Taub quotes Wiley as saying: “We’re simply confident – and I don’t think it’s hubris – that our work will see the light of day, in court, in relatively short order.” But what on earth does this mean? That Wiley has inside knowledge that Assad is about to fall?

Western Crimes

–By zeroing in on Assad alone, the investigation ignores malfeasance by other players. Arming rebels and sending them to spread terror across the Syrian countryside, for example, is a straight-out violation of the UN Charter, which declares that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Yet Wiley says nothing about such crimes even though the U.S. and Saudi Arabia commit them daily. The same goes for bombing Syrian targets without express Syrian government permission. That, too, is illegal. Yet Wiley remains silent about that as well.

–Sending investigators into Syria without express government approval is likewise a violation, which means that Wiley and his group are also complicit. Washington would not like it if Syria sent “investigators” to this country to break into FBI offices and rifle through CIA files. So what gives Wiley the right to do the same? And given the intensity of the propaganda war surrounding Syria, what weight should one give to the purported evidence?

Although you wouldn’t know it from a travesty like “The Assad Files,” the facts about Syria have long been clear. In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report stating that Al Qaeda, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood were “the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” that their goal was to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition” – which is to say Turkey, the Arab Gulf states, and the Western powers – “want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at Harvard’s Kennedy School that “the Saudis, the emirates, etc. were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda.”  (See quote starting at 53:20.)

In October 2015, a New York Times editorial noted that private donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait were continuing to channel funds to ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh), while, in January 2016, the newspaper reported that Saudi aid to Islamist rebels in Syria has totaled not hundreds of millions of dollars as Joe Biden had stated, but billions.

In other words, the U.S. and its Arab Gulf allies lavished immense funds on a Sunni fundamentalist rebellion from the start, they encouraged the growth of Salafist caliphate, and they stood by as private money flowed to Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

This is a scandal that people should be shouting about from the rooftops. Standing reality on its head, however, The New Yorker wants us to believe that the only person to blame for this debacle is Assad. If he hadn’t disregarded Barack Obama’s order to step down in August 2011, then America and its allies would not have been obliged to fund jihadists bent on installing a Sunni dictatorship in Damascus.

Through his obstinacy, Assad forced the U.S. to back a religious war of extermination against Alawites, Christians and other minorities, which is why Washington now has no choice but to arrest him, give him a fair trial and then find him guilty as charged.

Cooking the Books

Taub cooks the books in various ways. He devotes much of his article to a 38-year-old dissident named Mazen al-Hamada who says he spent a year in Assad’s prisons, suffering repeated beatings and emerging a broken man as a consequence.

“People went crazy,” he tells Taub of his time inside. “People would lose their memories, people would lose their minds.” Even though Hamada was eventually able to leave Syria and join his sister in the Netherlands, he spends his days agonizing over the friends and relatives he left behind.

“Where are they?” he cries. “Are they alive? Are they dead?” Every day is “misery,” he tells Taub. “It’s misery. It’s misery. It’s death. It’s a life of death.”

This is powerful stuff, especially for those who enjoy reading about evil Arab dictators. But the careful reader will notice that Hamada has no connection to Wiley’s campaign and that his role, rather, is to put flesh on the bones of Wiley’s dry legal arguments by describing what’s at stake.

Taub thus goes into painful detail about the tortures that Hamada says he endured – beatings, burnings, electric shock, and so on. It’s gruesome stuff, and, according to Taub, Hamada “sobbed desperately” in recounting it.

But what did Hamada do to merit such treatment, if indeed such abuses were inflicted? The article says only that he comes from an educated middle-class family in the city of Deir Ezzor and that members “were outspoken critics of the government, and even before the revolution they were routinely followed and periodically arrested. They were especially outraged by the government’s failure to do anything about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. ‘It was all organized to benefit the élites,’ Hamada said.”

This makes them sound like Bernie Sanders supporters. Taub adds that Hamada also organized inside a local mosque but assures us that it was just a matter of convenience.

“It was a logistical issue,” he quotes Hamada as saying. “Everyone went to the mosque on a Friday, everyone came out. …  If we could have come out of churches, we would have come out of churches!”

But is that really all there is to it? In fact, Deir Ezzor is part of Syria’s wild east, a tribal region that was an Al Qaeda stronghold following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then again after the Arab Spring beginning in early 2011.

“The religious and tribal powers in the [border] regions began to sympathize with the sectarian uprising,” states the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report, written just a few months after Hamada’s arrest the following March. (emphasis added). “This sympathy appeared in Friday prayer sermons, which called for volunteers to support the Sunni’s [sic] in Syria.”

So what The New Yorker doesn’t tell us is that Hamada agitated inside mosques at a time when they were resounding with calls for holy war against Assad and his fellow Alawites. This doesn’t prove that Hamada is not a liberal, a social democrat, or some other mild-mannered sort. But it raises the possibility that he’s something else – a Salafist, perhaps, a Wahhabist, or a supporter of Al Qaeda.

A One-Sided Morality Play 

If Taub seems stingy with the details, it’s most likely because he doesn’t want anything getting in the way of his simple-minded morality play about a noble dissident suffering at the hands of a cruel and vicious tyrant.

But how do we know Hamada suffered at all? How do we know he’s not making it all up? Taub summons up bits and pieces of corroborative evidence in an effort to buttress his account, none of it terribly convincing.

Hamada says that after he and his fellow prisoners were transferred to an air base at Al-Mezzeh, a few kilometers west of Damascus, guards taunted them by saying that the Americans would soon bomb the installation, killing them all.

Since Obama was threatening to retaliate against Syria for the use of sarin gas a few days earlier and “at least one of the sarin-gas rockets is believed to have been launched from the base at al-Mezzeh,” according to Taub, the story seems to make sense.

But there’s a problem: Taub’s statement about al-Mezzeh is dubious at best. In contrast to the Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack at the Ein Tarma/Zamalka area, located to the east of Damascus, the sarin-gas attack at Al Moadamiyah, located near al-Mezzeh to the west, is so poorly documented that it’s unclear whether it occurred at all.

Members of the United Nations inspection team, which gained access to the site five days later, found no evidence of sarin from their field tests, a result later confirmed by two U.N. labs, which reported no sarin or other chemical weapons agents present, although the two labs had conflicting findings on whether a trace chemical from the area might have resulted from degraded sarin.

But even that suspicion was undercut by the fact that a second rocket recovered in the Ein Tarma/Zamalka area several days later tested positive for actual sarin (though it had been exposed to the elements even longer). That crude second rocket was later determined to have a range of only about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have come from the Syrian base and more likely came from rebel-controlled territory. Later evidence, including a report by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, pointed to the likelihood that it was launched by rebel jihadists as a provocation to draw the U.S. military into the conflict on their side.

There was also the question of why Assad would have invited in U.N. inspectors to examine a prior chemical attack against his troops and then launch a large-scale sarin attack on a nearby location just as the investigative team was settling into a Damascus hotel.

As the excellent open-source “WhoGhouta” blog points out, it doesn’t make sense unless the Baathists were bent on suicide – and if there’s one thing we know after five years of civil war, it is that the Damascus regime’s goal is not suicide but survival.  [See also Consortiumnews.com’s “A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack.”]

Of course, it is possible that Hamada’s Syrian guards might have anticipated a U.S. attack even if Assad’s government had nothing to do with the sarin attack. But the dubious case surrounding the sarin gas incident leaves his account sounding contrived and unsubstantiated, an example of old anti-Assad propaganda being dredged up in support of yet another round of lies and distortions.

Dubious Photos

Taub also invokes the famous “Caesar,” the pseudonym of a Syrian army photographer who caused a sensation in early 2014 by defecting with 55,000 photographs purportedly documenting the torture and killing of 11,000 detainees at the hands of the Syrian security establishment.

Where Hamada says he was assigned a four-digit identification number during his confinement, many of Caesar’s victims were also tagged with a four-digit ID, which makes Hamada seem more plausible. Where Hamada reported a pile-up of dead bodies at the hospital in which he was interned, Caesar, clicking away at the same facility, also reported a gruesome pile-up. If Caesar is believable, then Hamada is as well.

But Caesar’s tale fairly cries out skepticism.  For instance:

–His publicity campaign was paid for and organized by Qatar, a key backer of Islamist rebel groups, which also engaged a London law firm to testify that the photos were genuine.

–The photos were hurriedly released just as peace talks in Geneva were about to begin, talks that Qatar and its rebel allies both opposed.

–Rather than victims of the regime, an examination by Human Rights Watch found that nearly half the pictures were of dead army soldiers, members of the security services, or victims of fires and car bombs – i.e. victims not of the government, but of the rebels.

–A further examination by the Syria Solidarity Movement found that significant numbers of photos showed fresh bullet or shrapnel wounds suggesting that the victims had died in combat rather than in prison; signs of bloating suggesting that they had also perished in conflict zones; or bandages indicating that they had died after receiving medical treatment.

Where Hamada, moreover, said that dead bodies were stored in toilets of all places – guards instructed him to “pee on top of the bodies,” he assures a credulous Taub – the bodies that Caesar photographed were stored in a morgue or in a garage bay.

Caesar’s photos thus prove absolutely nothing about the Assad regime in general or about Hamada’s experience in particular. Since their evidentiary value is nil, we have no reason to believe that he is telling the truth as opposed to filling a young reporter’s head with stuff and nonsense designed to set his editor’s pulse racing back in New York.

The result is every bit as outrageous as the articles The New Yorker ran prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq alleging collusion between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

The Christian Science Monitor, one of the few publications not to tumble into bed with Caesar and his photos, described them as “a well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar, a regime opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who have committed war crimes of their own.”

With the White House preparing to up the ante in Syria by possibly supplying the rebels with portable anti-aircraft missiles weapons that will almost inevitably find their way into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda – is there any reason to regard “The Assad Files” as anything other than a well-timed propaganda exercise as well?

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “How The New Yorker Mis-Reports Syria.”]

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

 




How The New Yorker Mis-Reports Syria

Exclusive: The New Yorker and editor David Remnick were catastrophically wrong about the Iraq War, but they continue publishing the same one-sided propaganda on the Syrian conflict, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

Only 6 percent of Americans surveyed in a new national poll say they have a lot of confidence in the media — a result driven by a widespread perception that news stories are one-sided or downright inaccurate. That finding came to mind as I heard New Yorker editor David Remnick introduce an April 17 segment on Syria on the New Yorker Radio Hour.

“For the last five years Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has framed the revolution in his country as a conspiracy fueled entirely by foreign powers,” Remnick claimed. “His security agencies have . . . killed hundreds of thousands and displaced possibly half of the entire country.”

The New Yorker is famous for its fact checkers, but Remnick evidently failed to consult them. Even a casual listener might have questioned his remarkable attribution of Syria’s entire death toll and refugee crisis to Assad’s security agencies, as if ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other rebel forces were mere innocent bystanders.

In fact, the dead include somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 pro-government forces, comparable to the number of opposition fighters killed, and human rights organizations report that “Opposition armed groups in Syria have indiscriminately attacked civilians in government-held territory with car bombs, mortars, and rockets.”

But what about Remnick’s claim that Assad’s crackdown was driven by paranoia about foreign conspiracies? Like a feature article in his magazine’s April 18 issue, Remnick’s shorthand attempt to portray Assad as insane as well as ruthless fails the test of good journalism.

The article by Ben Taub, which describes efforts by international rights activists to smuggle government documents out of Syria for future war crimes trials, says that Assad “declared his intention to suppress dissent in the brutal tradition of his father” during an address to the Syrian nation on March 30, 2011, shortly after the outbreak of anti-government demonstrations in several cities.

Taub makes his point with a few choice quotes from the speech: “Syria is facing a great conspiracy, whose tentacles extend” to foreign powers that were plotting to destroy the country, [Assad] said. “There is no conspiracy theory,” he added. “There is a conspiracy.” He closed with an ominous directive: “Burying sedition is a national, moral, and religious duty, and all those who can contribute to burying it and do not are part of it.” He emphasized, “There is no compromise or middle way in this.”

Forgotten History

The quotes are accurate, but the missing context tells us important facts both about the origins of Syria’s violent conflict and what’s wrong with much advocacy journalism today. Assad certainly did see foreign conspiracies at work in Syria, but he was not paranoid. Unlike most of Taub’s readers, Assad knew that the first military coup in Syria’s modern history was instigated in 1949 by agents of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency.

That was not the last foreign covert intervention in Syria. In 1957, according to official papers summarized by The Guardian, “[Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan and President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria’s pro-western neighbours, and then to ‘eliminate’ the most influential triumvirate in Damascus. . .

“Although historians know that intelligence services had sought to topple the Syrian regime in the autumn of 1957, this is the first time any document has been found showing that the assassination of three leading figures was at the heart of the scheme.”

In 2005-6, as I documented previously in ConsortiumNews, Washington and Saudi Arabia began secretly backing Syria’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood with the goal of ousting Assad. Further details of that covert operation emerged just weeks after Assad’s March 30 speech, when the Washington Post reported that “The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country.”

The recipients were described in State Department cables as “moderate Islamists” and former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The paper continued:

“The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad . . .

“The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. . . .

“Syrian authorities ‘would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,’ read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time.”

In his March 30, 2011 address, Assad referred explicitly to the challenges his regime faced in 2005 and to recent anti-government violence incited by “satellite TV stations” — an obvious reference to Barada TV. So when Assad complained in his speech that “our enemies work every day in an organized, systematic and scientific manner in order to undermine Syria’s stability,” he was not merely delusional.

Acknowledging Fault

But Assad also took care to acknowledge Syria’s genuine internal problems and overdue reforms, “so that satellite T.V. stations will not say that the Syrian president considered all that has happened a foreign conspiracy.” Toward the end of his speech, Assad reiterated, “Since some people have short memory, I will refresh their memory once again by saying that not all of what is happening is a conspiracy, because I know that they are on the ready in their studios to comment.”

Despite Assad’s best efforts, Taub and Remnick evidently never got the message.

“We all discuss, criticize, and have our disagreements because we have not met many of the needs of the Syrian people,” Assad further conceded. “That is why it was easy to mislead many people who demonstrated in the beginning with good intensions. We cannot say that all those who demonstrated are conspirators. This is not true, and we want to be clear and realistic.”

Assad devoted much of his speech to explaining why reforms had moved so slowly since he took office in 2000. His message disappointed many Syrians, especially political critics living abroad. But, to the applause of other Syrians, he promised over the course of the following month to “identify the measures that need to be taken” for reform.

Unmentioned by Taub, Assad followed through with some significant steps. He fired unpopular governors of two provinces, named a new prime minister and cabinet, dismantled his unpopular National Security Court, and lifted the emergency law.

On April 16, Assad spoke to ministers of his new government, telling them that the most effective way for Syria to resist regime change was to carry out reforms and attend “to the needs of the Syrian population.”

Sounding not at all like a ruthless dictator, he also decried the loss of life during recent anti-government demonstrations, saying “the blood which has been spilled in Syria has pained us all. . . . We are sad for the loss of every Syrian and for all those who have been injured. We pray to God to provide solace to their families and friends.”

Assad discussed plans to lift the country’s state of emergency. He called for better training of police to help them “cope with the new reforms” and “protect demonstrators” while still preventing “sabotage.” He cited detailed proposals for improving the fight against public corruption. And he stressed the need for economic reforms to reduce unemployment and the despair felt by young people with no prospects.

Said Joshua Landis, a leading U.S. academic authority on Syria, Assad’s speech “was about as good” as he could have made it, and a big improvement on his March 30 address. “For those who continue to believe in the possibility of reform and not regime-change, this speech was reassuring.”

But anti-government demonstrators took Assad’s limited reforms as a challenge, not an opening. As I recounted previously, protesters declared one major city a “liberated zone,” prompting a massive crackdown by Assad’s security forces and gun battles between soldiers and armed opponents. Key opposition leaders also rebuffed national dialogue meetings sponsored by the Assad government in June and July of 2011, when the death toll was still low.

As Landis later commented, “Western press and analysts did not want to recognize that armed elements were becoming active. They preferred to tell a simple story of good people fighting bad people. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the opposition was peaceful and was being met with deadly government force and snipers. One only wonders why that story could not have been told without also covering the reality that armed elements, whose agenda was not peaceful, were also playing a role.”

The New Yorker, like much of the Western media, still prefers telling simple stories of good and evil when it comes to Syria. But quality journalism requires more than story-telling. It requires factual accuracy, context, and nuance, professional attributes needed more than ever during passionate times.

A less biased look at Assad’s words and actions would not absolve him of repression and war crimes, but might suggest that Syria’s opposition had peaceful alternatives to civil war.

We’ll never know, of course. But we do know for certain that by demanding nothing less than “regime change,” Assad’s opponents and their foreign backers contributed along with Assad’s own actions to one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time.

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




Bowing to America’s Oligarchs

Commerce Secretary (and Hyatt Hotel heiress) Penny Pritzker was treated with kid gloves and spared tough questions at the National Press Club, showing how America treats its own oligarchs, writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

Apparently, other countries, but not the U.S., have oligarchs. Billionaire and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker came and went to the National Press Club with hardly a tough question on Monday.

I’d submitted several questions, but first a word on the choreography of the event: Virtually every “news maker” event I recall seeing at the Press Club had the speaker at the head table which is on a stage a few feet up, speaking at a podium. This event, it was just her and the moderator, Press Club President Thomas Burr on two cushy chairs on the stage, with the “head table” below them. Whether this was to elevate the two of them, save her the trouble of having prepared remarks, or perhaps a new thing, an attempt to cast the billionaire in a more casual light — inspired by Davos-type events — I don’t know. But it was weird. [See video and PDF.]

Speaking of choreography, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue around the same time, several hundred people were arrested at the Capitol as part of the “Democracy Spring” and “Democracy Awakening” actions. It seemed odd to me, protests happening with “arrests” as part of a very planned action aimed in part against money in politics, while the very personification of big business advocacy in government received virtually no scrutiny.

It’s not just her job, or that she and her family is incredibly rich. It’s that Pritzker enriched herself by crashing a bank with sub-prime loans, causing 1,400 people to lose their savings. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s Sub-Prime Conflict.”]

In addition, a relation of hers was mentioned in the Panama Papers. So, while so many were breathlessly reporting on associates of designated “bad guys” like Russian President Vladimir Putin being mentioned in the Panama Papers, hardly a soul noted the Pritzker connection.

Finally, and perhaps most incredibly, Forbes several years ago did an investigation into the Pritzker family and found that they set up shell companies decades ago in ways that would be illegal now. In a sense, what we’re seeing is not just oligarchy, it’s aristocracy. A newly rich person can’t do what they’ve done, according to Forbes. [See a summary off each of these issues, based on investigations by Tim Anderson, Dennis Bernstein and McClatchy.]

And offshore shell companies were in the news of late. Oxfam just released a report claiming: “Tax dodging by multinational corporations costs the U.S. approximately $111 billion each year and saps an estimated $100 billion every year from poor countries” [PDF]. A prior report from the Tax Justice Network would seem to indicate that this was a severe under-estimate. That found that as of 2010, the super-rich were hiding at least $21 trillion in accounts outside their home countries [PDF].

I’d at least expected a mild question to Pritzker about offshore activity — and figured she’d talk about how the Obama administration is allegedly making moves to stop tax inversions. But there was nothing about any of this.

At the news maker event, I wrote a question on a card on the nub of the issues at play, something like this: “A relation of yours — Liesel Pritzker Simmons — is mentioned in the recently released Panama Papers. Do you have a comment on the extent of offshore shell companies — especially given that your family uses them through grandfather clauses in ways that would not be legal for anyone new now?”

That didn’t get asked, nor did several I’d submitted in an email prior to the to the Press Club president by email: “The Pope — and Bernie Sanders — talk about a ‘moral economy’ — that it’s inherently unjust if a very few individuals and families have enormous wealth while billions on the planet have virtually nothing. Your family of course is enormously wealthy — What do you think of that? (For overview, see ‘Panama Papers: Pritzkers, American Oligarchs.’)

“You have been charged with crashing Superior Bank in Chicago with a subprime mortgage scheme, resulting in 1,400 people losing their savings. How do you respond to these charges? (‘Obama’s Subprime Conflict’ and Bloomberg ‘Pritzker’s Superior Bank Subprime Losses Blemish Resume’)

“Do you argue that your massive fundraising efforts for Obama in 2008 and 2012 had nothing to do with him appointing you as Secretary of Commerce? (See from Public Campaign ‘Penny Pritzker, Not Just an Obama Donor.’)

“The name of Liesel Pritzker Simmons appears in the recently released Panama Papers, a relative who sued much of the rest of the family for allegedly trying to cheat her. But what’s perhaps notable about your family, as Forbes has written, is that you set up shell companies decades ago and thus can do things because of grandfather clauses that are not legal any more. Is that moral?

“Forbes — which estimates your net worth at 2.3 billion — had specific questions for you: ‘Tell us from the very, very beginning: What led to your being paid $53.6 million in ‘consultant’ income by your family’s offshore trusts in 2012? ‘Did your family’s carve-up finally produce significant tax payments? ‘Why are you your own biggest debtor? ‘Why is even your house in an LLC? ‘How do you rack up $250,000 on an American Express card?’

“On trade issues and the TPP — how do you respond to —

Zahara Heckscher, a breast cancer patient and writer: ‘If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive. Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access.’

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen: ‘The aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners is more than five times as high as before the deals went into effect, while the aggregate trade deficit with non-FTA countries has actually fallen.’

Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies — who has argued that NAFTA has pushed many Mexicans to migrate to the U.S. since it has become an ‘engine of poverty in Mexico’ since it has gutted family farming in Mexico, as wells as mom and pop stores, and indigenous industry.”

The questions that did get asked were fairly pedestrian and quite friendly: “Can you give us your perspective on the trade and trade agreements, in particular, and any fears about possible trade wars that have been talked about? … What is the Commerce Department doing with the U.S. and international partners to combat the cyber threat to the United States businesses? … Intellectual property of U.S. businesses in many forms; music, movies, have been stolen and stolen frequently. How much does this cost American businesses? [Prizker: ‘I don’t have the exact number in front of me.’] … Do you believe that China is manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage, and do you see any other countries doing that?”

The toughest question was probably “We’ve added nearly $10 trillion to the U.S. debt in the last seven, eight years. Is this a ticking time bomb for the U.S. and the global economy?” [See video and PDF.] The last question was: “I understand you are a marathon runner. I would like to know, and our audience, I think, would like to know, what is the secret for training for a marathon?”

It turned out Pritzker didn’t have to run from much in her appearance at the Press Club.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of votepact.org, which urges left-right cooperation. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini. [This article originally appeared as a blog post at http://husseini.posthaven.com/the-invisibility-of-us-oligarchs-the-case-of-penny-pritzker.]

 




Is Hillary Clinton Above the Law?

Exclusive: Secretary of State Clinton was harsh on subordinates who were careless with classified information, but those rules apparently weren’t for her, a troubling double standard, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“Enough of the emails,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn-ese, while turning to Secretary Hillary Clinton during their first debate on Oct. 13, 2015. Sanders won loud applause for what seemed a gentlemanly gesture in withholding criticism for her use of a private email server for classified information.

But when Sanders said “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” I had a flashback to a House hearing three decades ago on large liberties taken with the law during the Iran-Contra affair under President Ronald Reagan. Beginning his testimony, then-Secretary of State George Shultz made the mistake of saying, in effect, who cares about laws being violated: “The American people are tired of hearing about Iran-Contra.”

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, was quick to respond: “Mr. Secretary, I did not take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States until I got tired.”

Well, we intelligence professionals also took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. There was no “until we got tired” – or even “until we retired” in that oath. It has no expiration date. Congressman Obey’s persistence and tenacity offer a model for patriots.

It has been six months since Sanders’s magnanimous gesture let Clinton off the hook for playing fast and loose with laws passed to protect classified information. During subsequent debates, everything but the kitchen sink has been hurled at the candidates, but there has been little appetite for asking Secretary Clinton what she thought she was doing, and why she decided to ignore security safeguards. (The reason often given – because she liked her Blackberry so much – does not withstand close scrutiny.)

While “mainstream” media have largely avoided the issue, it did get mentioned during the March 9 debate in Miami. Longtime news anchor for Noticiero Univision, Jorge Ramos, asked Secretary Clinton whether she would quit the presidential race if she were indicted for putting classified information on her private email server. She replied: “Oh, for goodness sake, it’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”

But this is too important an issue to sweep under the rug. It is not only we veteran intelligence professionals who are alarmed at what appears, at best, to be Clinton’s carelessness and, at worst, her deliberate attempt to conduct her affairs in complete secrecy, avoiding the strictures of, for example, the Freedom of Information Act, which can give the people and historians access to public records in the future so they can understand how government decisions were made. So researchers who care about democracy care.

It is also the FBI that cares, and the National Security Agency, which is responsible for ensuring secure communications, cares. And so do all who may have sent a sensitive piece of intelligence to her that she, in turn, might have put on her unclassified system. If Americans at large were briefed on the potential national security implications, they too would care.

One of the distinct advantages of the collegial way we operate in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is that when, as now, one of us needs input from tried and trusted specialists, it is immediately at hand. So, I consulted several of my colleagues with special knowledge of these matters.

A Severe Compromise

For technical commentary on this issue, I turned to a specialist VIPS colleague named William Binney, who worked for NSA for 36 years. Binney co-founded NSA’s SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Automation Research Center, and retired from NSA as Technical Director. He said he shares my very strong feelings on the issue. He told me the following:

“The email issue with Secretary Clinton is one of the most severe compromises of security I have ever known. After all, if the Chinese, Russians and other hackers can penetrate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) servers and take the records of over 21 million U.S. citizens that over the years have applied for security clearances, then penetrating Hillary Clinton’s private server would be a piece of cake. Such penetration would yield insight into decision making at the highest level of the U.S. government, including what might be revealed in emails with the President.

“This is worse that the compromise of predominantly lower-level data by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and gives insight into planning at the highest levels in Washington – something that even all the torrent of data exposed by Edward Snowden could not provide. Reports that Clinton instructed subordinates to delete the security classification line on sensitive reports and email them to her, suggests a total disregard for the need to protect classified information and arrogance in deeming herself above lawful regulations governing the handling such data.

“We might as well have had an in-place mole at the highest level of our government. The FBI/Department of Justice would have already indicted lesser officials for less. Certainly, Clinton is receiving special treatment. It is a safe guess that FBI investigators are seething over their inability, so far, to pursue the case against Hillary with the vigor it merits.

“The case of Gen. David Petraeus comes immediately to mind. There was mucho seething at the FBI, when Petraeus gave his mistress classified documents of extreme sensitivity, lied about it to FBI investigators, and was let off with a slap on the wrist.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Gen. Petraeus: Too Big to Jail.”]

Operational Perspective

With the aim of getting expert commentary from an operational perspective, I turned to Scott Ritter, who served on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff during the first Gulf war, before he became chief U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq. Here’s what Ritter had to say:

“I can say that NSA/JSOC (and even U.N. teams such as the one I was running in Iraq) would LOVE for a foreign official at the secretary-of-state level to use a private server for official communications. One need simply to mimic a cell tower (the Stingray technology in vogue today would suffice) and you instantly have access to everything such an official does/says/types on a cell phone. That senior official would no longer have the unique identifiers and encryption that an official server would provide.

“By the way, it is no longer a secret that we targeted the unencrypted communications that Saddam Hussein and his closest advisers sent out, not just the encrypted ones. Any communications traffic analyst will tell you that simply reading the unclassified traffic provides a plethora of actionable intelligence – particularly since the communications intercepted are in real time.”

In the Field

So what can happen in the field – in combat areas and in places like Kabul – when regulations governing the handling of classified information are disregarded? For perspective on this, I turned to Matthew Hoh, Marine Captain in Iraq and later a senior State Department official in Afghanistan. He answered:

“Ordinary Americans need to know how serious this is. Just last week we witnessed one example of what could have happened when Secretary of State John Kerry was visiting Kabul and the Taliban tried to attack him with rockets. Whenever the President, Vice President, Secretary of State or Defense, Joint Chiefs Chairman, or a congressional delegation visits Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq, the planning and arrangements are secret. But this is the type of information that could be sent over Clinton’s personal email, hacked, and gotten a senior American official killed.

“Another example would be Clinton discussing information relating to intercepts of foreign leaders. It’s possible in her correspondence she could mention something regarding Putin, Cameron, Modi, et al. that we capture via SIGINT. That would not only be an embarrassment; it would blow that capability for such access (and squander the millions of dollars spent in creating it). Fortunately for the other world leaders, they don’t seem to have been as arrogant or dumb (or both of the above) in insisting on using non-secure communications.

“Was it not amazing that Clinton protégé, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, plotted the Feb. 22 coup in Ukraine with the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev on an insecure telephone! Wonder where Nuland got the idea that was all right.

“Only transmitting and sharing classified information via email through the secure email and internet system used by the U.S. government also prevents accidental transmission of secret information to people who should not receive secret information. It’s a closed system. Only those with the approved clearance and an authorized email account can receive the email. So you can’t accidentally type in the wrong name of a contact who is not trusted, is not a U.S. citizen, does not have a security clearance, etc. and send them an email with classified information.

“We’ve all done that with our email, type in the wrong name and send someone an email by accident. Or we’ve forwarded an email string with a chain of information somewhere down the body of the message that you didn’t want the recipient to see. By transmitting classified information via her personal email account Hilary Clinton could have very easily sent classified information to someone by accident. Of course, as everyone who uses email knows, once you send a message you have no control over where that message gets sent after you hit send. So, once she forwarded an email with classified information that information could be sent to anyone, anywhere in the world whether on purpose or on accident. That’s why you don’t transmit classified information outside the secure system.

“Another question: What information regarding her dealings outside of her official capacities may have been targeted? What I mean is besides U.S. government secrets that she possibly exposed were Clinton’s own secrets – perhaps a quid pro quo or two regarding foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. Such information could be used against her as political blackmail. What information could have been captured by a foreign power that could be used if/when Hillary Clinton came to office as President to gain leverage over her?

“Undoubtedly, if she wins election, her first priority will be re-election. So, my concern is not just for information that she could have compromised as Secretary of State that would have harmed the U.S. from 2009-2013, but what information has been compromised that could be used against her as blackmail if she is in the Oval Office?”

Clinton’s Judgment

So whether Sen. Sanders is right or not – that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails” – Hillary Clinton’s carelessness and entitlement in brushing aside the lawful security rules that apply to other government officials is an issue that bears on whether she has the character and judgment to be President.

In December 2011, when then-Secretary of State Clinton was busy denouncing Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning for leaking evidence of U.S. government wrongdoing, Clinton declared: “I think that in an age where so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.”

For leaking mostly low-level classified information to the public so the people could know about illegal or questionable acts by the government – none of the data top secret, the level that some Clinton emails have now been stamped – Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

But it seems that the applicable legal standard — or double standard — is that the more sensitive the security breach and the higher the status of the offender the lighter the punishment. For instance, Gen. David Petraeus divulged top-secret/code-word information to his biographer/mistress and lied to the FBI about it, but received only a misdemeanor citation (a fine and probation but no jail time) for mishandling classified material.

If that pattern is followed – and since Secretary of State Clinton outranked Gen. Petraeus – she might well expect even more lenient treatment, but her behavior might be something that the American voters would want to consider before giving her a promotion to U.S. President.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.




Putin Deftly Answers Russia’s Questions

Russian President Putin appeared on top of his game as he fielded questions from across Russia in his annual Q&A event which focused on concerns about the economy, as Gilbert Doctorow describes.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Anyone watching Russian state television in the past weeks would have been keenly aware that Thursday was D-day, the day of the annual marathon Q&A session of President Vladimir Putin with the nation. Russians were advised not only how to dial in on the usual land lines, but how to direct their video calls, send SMS or MMS, write in by email.

The only instructions missing were for acquiring seats in the auditorium which were evidently allocated by the presidential administration following its own notion of distribution by profession and industrial sector. Millions of questions and opinions were sent in ahead of the show. The operators during the show indicated that there were tens of thousands of live attempts to get a word to the President as he spoke.

Thursday’s show was clocked at something more than three hours. A year ago it was well over four hours. But the difference then and now went well outside any question of volumes of questions or time spent with Vladimir Putin on air. The whole exercise was far better choreographed and more impressive technically.

Just as Putin has recently taken to using teleprompters from time to time to achieve a more polished effect, so the Q&A today was more corporate in format and finish than in preceding years. Corporate means firstly no surprises.

The audience in the auditorium was better dressed and better behaved than in years past. We had no loudmouths like Ksenia Sobchak a couple of years ago using their invitations to sound off against the Putin regime.

The one easily identifiable critic from a Moscow radio station who was given the microphone was restrained and posed his question in rather oblique language: in plain text he was asking about the branding of the opposition as traitors by Chechnya boss Ramzan Kadyrov. And he nodded assent, when Vladimir Putin diplomatically reminded him of where Kadyrov came from, what his life path had been, and urged that his verbal outbursts not be given undue weight.

The well-behaved and well-turned out audience this time held no banners and wore no funny hats to draw the President’s attention to the outlying regions from which they had come for this event. Instead, television crews were prepositioned in Tomsk, on the Kerch bridge construction site of the Crimea, on Sakhalin, and one or two other remote sites. The provincials were well-vetted and stuck to business-like questions, instead of the traditional appeals to the President to visit them and share some dumplings over lunch.

Putin was visibly relaxed, though as always he was exceedingly well prepared with statistics on the tip of his tongue, able to answer questions about every imaginable aspect of government policy, economic forecasts, the international political situation. At the same time, his sense of humor and amusing use of Russian folk terms livened up what could otherwise be a dull session.

One outstanding example was his answer to a query from a nine-year-old as to whether he had been forced to eat hot cereal (kasha) as a child and whether his view of kasha had changed over time. He explained that “no” he had never been forced to do anything against his wishes as a child, that he always had liked kasha and had eaten it for breakfast today. Then he closed this out with the remark that, yes, his view of kasha had changed with the years, for the better: “As you get older and have fewer teeth, you enjoy kasha all the more.”

With similar aplomb Putin responded to a question about the cellist Sergei Roldugin, a friend whose name came up in Western media coverage of Russians having offshore accounts per the Panama Papers. In the past week, Putin directly defended Roldugin against harsh innuendo from foreign critics of Russia.

Then Russian state television in its weekly wrap-up broadcast on Sunday evening, Vesti nedeli, broadcast a feature interview with Roldugin to show what Roldugin’s “business activities” on- and off-shore have been all about: funding the purchase of rare Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century violins, cellos and other instruments abroad and making them available to young Russian virtuosos.

In his Q&A remarks, Putin on Thursday took a lighter tone and retold how a journalist’s account of a recent concert appearance of Roldugin mentioned that the maestro was playing some “second-hand” instrument, his slang term generally identified with flea markets.

Domestic Concerns

The questions for the most part were about domestic issues like the cost of living generally and inflation in food products in particular ever since the imposition of the Russian embargo in response to Western sanctions. Other typical subjects were the scarcity of cheap generic Russian drugs in pharmacies and the problem of monthly housing unit management costs that have far outpaced family income.

On the economic front Putin was cautiously optimistic, predicting a small 0.3 percent contraction this year and resumed growth from early 2017. This was the one nugget that The Financial Times has just seized upon to headline its coverage of the Q&A, thin pickings though it may be. (Western economic estimates predict a greater drop in Russia’s GNP in 2016 and are less bullish about 2017.)

One could just as easily have featured Putin’s assurances to a Russian dairy farmer concerned over how he could repay the loans he has taken to expand production if the sanctions end and the Russian counter-sanctions are dropped, as WTO rules require. Said Putin, I don’t think the sanctions are likely to be lifted any time soon, so don’t worry.

International affairs occupied a very small part of the Q&A session, and the very few controversial questions posed were deftly and diplomatically dispatched by the President. Thus, he dodged completely the request to identify which American presidential candidate, Clinton or Trump, was less threatening to Russia.

Instead, Putin chose to highlight the positive and to reiterate that Russia is ready to cooperate with all who treat it with respect and equality. And he stressed that in some areas even today Russia and the United States cooperate constructively, in particular on non-proliferation and the Iran nuclear issue.

Though the Q&A session this year was more corporate in style, the distinctive nature of the event that dominated past editions and which always made it hard for Westerners to comprehend, was not entirely absent. That essence is the traditional petition of the people to the Tsar for redress of abuses by local potentates, whether corrupt regional officials or thieving company bosses.

Thus, we heard from one auto industry worker in the Urals that he and his comrades receive their salaries three months in arrears and only partially. Another petitioner asked whether the governor in his Siberian region now under criminal investigation would be given the prison term he deserves for his thievery. And the lady on the video line from Omsk who opened the Q&A spoke for a vast number of write-and call-ins who complained about the deplorable state of the roads now that the snow has melted and the potholes were simply shocking to see. If any subject has come down through the ages in Russia, it is surely roads.

Vladimir Putin has often been called a modern-day Tsar in Western media in what is meant to be a pejorative label for an authoritarian ruler. To the extent the Q&A raises the image of traditional Russian petitions and denunciations to the sovereign, we have to ask how Vladimir Putin, the elected President of Russia and head of state,  measures up.

In a remarkable book entitled The End of  Tsarist Russia, the widely respected British historian Dominic Lieven remarks that it was almost impossible for any man to live up to the expectations that the Russian people had of their Tsar. He said this to exculpate Nicholas II, whom history has judged very harshly.

In this context, I would note that if Putin is to be seen as a Tsar, his performance in the Q&A, just as his daily performance of his duties, day-in-and-day out, deserves the highest grades for intelligence, diligence, reserve, management skills and the rest. If he is a Tsar, a Tsar of this quality comes along once in 300 years.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Learning to Love the Bomb — Again

Perhaps the height of Official Washington’s madness is the casual decision to invest $1 trillion in a new generation of nukes, including a downsized, easy-to-use variety, with almost no debate, a danger that Michael Brenner addresses.

By Michael Brenner

By now we are accustomed to bizarre foreign policy moves from the White House. The last 15 years have seen a series of initiatives that defy reason and good sense. The pattern is so well established that on the very rare occasions when a President follows a policy that is eminently logical – like Barack Obama’s decision not to bomb Iran – it is met with shock and awe.

Against this backdrop, the program to spend $1 trillion on developing an upgraded arsenal of nuclear weapons with expanded capabilities suggests a return to “normal” – that is, the bizarre. Yet this vast expenditure for no apparent strategic purpose has generated little debate whether within the Obama administration, political circles or the public.

This fits a by now recognizable pattern: critical decisions are taken on matters heavy with consequence without explanation of why that course of action is chosen and it then goes unremarked by the politicos and media. That double failing is making a mockery of our supposedly democratic governance. Furthermore, it allows to slip under the radar costly – potentially dangerous – initiatives that cannot hold up under scrutiny.

We have 70 years of history with nuclear weapons. The accumulated experience includes decades of Cold War dealings with the Soviet Union, nuclear arms spread to nine other countries, the refinement of our thinking about all aspects of their strategic role, and rigorous exercises on the logic of deterrence, of coercion, and compellence. No subject has been received as concentrated critical examination.

The understanding and wisdom acquired, though, seems to have largely eluded those who have chosen to head down the path of elaborating our nuclear capabilities and doctrines for their use. Why? We haven’t been told. However, we have learned from leaks what are the features of this massive new nuclear program.

One, it aims to design and to build a class of small (in size and yield) bombs in the 5-10 kiloton range. Incorporating highly sophisticated engineering, it theoretically would be possible to adjust the “yield’ depending on the target and the purpose.

Two, these nuclear munitions could be packaged as precision-guided weapons deliverable from either stationery missile platforms or aircraft that would launch them as they currently do warheads with conventional explosives.

Three, these refined capabilities would enable them to be used against hardened targets such as underground nuclear facilities, against an enemy’s military installations or against other high value targets.

Four, by implication these are “first-strike” weapons; that is to say, their value is not to deter another nuclear armed state by threatening devastating retaliation, but rather to accomplish a mission either related to a conventional conflict or to eliminate an objective judged to pose a potential threat. Thus, this “new age” nuclear force represents a radical departure from what has become the “no first use” principle of nuclear strategy – in practice if not in treaty.

Some Basic Truths

To place this radical development in perspective, it is essential to remind ourselves of a few basic truths distilled from our collective experience of the nuclear era.

–When we speak of an encounter between two nuclear armed states, the weapons’ primary utility is to deter the other. The risk and consequences of nuclear war are so great as to outweigh any possible advantage in trying to actually use them as part of a military strategy. This holds for all binary pairs of nuclear states: India-Pakistan, Israel-Iran (conjectured).

The resulting condition of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is stable when the following conditions are met: both sides have the capacity to withstand a first strike while retaining the means to deliver a nuclear riposte; and when there is the will to do so. No one has ever thought of testing the credibility of the latter. The exact modalities of the countries’ nuclear arsenals have no bearing on this fundamental logic.

This logic manifestly has been absorbed by everyone who has been in a position to order a nuclear strike. No civilian leader (or military commanders with a few exceptions) with the authority to launch a nuclear attack ever believed that the result would be other than a massive exchange – mutual suicide for those with large arsenals. This did not encourage risk-taking at lower levels of conflict. Just the opposite – for fear of escalation.

We have a contemporaneous account of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev visiting a Soviet ICBM site in the 1970s. The commanding general demonstrated to him exactly what the launch procedures would be were Brezhnev to punch in the codes that set the process in motion. For demonstration purposes, he was offered the opportunity to push this or pull that which would release the missiles if they had not been deactivated. Brezhnev’s hand began to shake, he broke into a cold sweat and he asked for reassurance three times that in fact the system had been deactivated.

We have abundant first-person evidence of how deeply engraved this inhibiting logic is. One example is from President Richard Nixon’s effort to persuade the Soviet leadership through hints and gestures that unless it applied its full weight on Hanoi to accept terms of a settlement satisfactory to Washington, he Nixon might consider a resort to battlefield nuclear weapons.

Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger went so far as to call in Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to convey the message personally in the hope of scaring him and the Kremlin leadership. The Soviets ignored the menace as a bluff lacking all credibility. (See the account in Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by Jeffrey P. Kimball & William Burr)

First Use?

–That raises the question of whether Washington has an interest in keeping open the option of making first use of nuclear weapons against Iran or North Korea. It is not at all obvious that these doctrinal nuances have any practical meaning other than as post hoc rationales for decisions taken for different reasons.

Preemptive nuclear strikes are highly risky since one never knows with certainty that they will disarm an enemy and prevent them from responding in other highly disagreeable ways. Think of 20,000 North Korean artillery pieces trained on Seoul. Think of Iran’s several opportunities to wreak havoc in the Gulf.

–First-use – even as doctrine – also sets dangerous precedents. It weakens the nuclear taboo entrenched since 1945, and it thereby heightens anxiety in a manner that increases the risk of accidental or miscalculated use.

–The smaller the caliber of nuclear arm, the greater the temptation to devise military doctrines for their use – despite the experience of the past 70 years and the logic outlined here. So-called Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) are inherently dangerous.

TNWs have a long history – both as to their inclusion in arsenals and in strategic thinking. This history, though, is now being ignored, whether neglect is due to inattention or to intentional dissimulation. The net effect is the same. There was a military reason why the United States was attracted to TNWs. In the context of Mutual Assured Destruction – or mutual dissuasion – wherein the resort to nuclear weapons leads inexorably to massive exchanges amounting to total destruction on both sides, the one with superior conventional forces possesses a theoretical advantage.

That is to say, it could overwhelm the weaker party, present it with a fait accompli, and expect that there would be no nuclear riposte since that would mean mutual destruction. In theory. The seeming answer: TNWs which, it was hoped, could be used to counter a massive conventional attack without triggering an all-out nuclear war. The risk of that happening, in turn, deters the would-be conventionally superior attacker – as does the fear of uncontrolled escalation.

However far-fetched, this was official American/NATO strategy in Europe from 1960 until the Cold War’s end. Our strategy, our force configuration, our contingency plans in Europe were all formed by this concept. We built thousands of TNWs of various calibers (including nuclear mines and shells that could be shot from artillery) and spread them around Europe and Korea. Whether and under what conditions they might be detonated always was obscure. It was a question that faded with stabilization of the nuclear relationship with the USSR. Under post-Cold War arms control agreements, they have been withdrawn.

Today, Pakistan military planners worry that they are facing an analogous dilemma in contemplating a conventionally superior India. Their strategic thinkers are pondering the idea of developing and deploying TNWs as deterrent/defense reinforcement. India, as did the Soviets, is pondering how it might counter such an eventuality: strike first with TNWs to neutralize those in the Pakistani inventory or warn that any first use likely would lead to mutual suicidal resort to strategic nuclear weapons.

The risk of nuclear war by miscalculation is greater in South Asia than it was in Europe. For geography characterized by the contiguity of the protagonists reduces warning times and immediately endangers national integrity. In addition, the absence of invulnerable Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) undermines the credibility of massive retaliation as a deterrent to first strikes.

Why Press Ahead?

So what is the point of constituting a high-tech nuclear force now to be centered on TNWs, precision-guided munitions and low-yield warheads? There is no conventionally superior, or equal, potential adversary out there. The United States enjoys conventional superiority over all conceivable enemies. So, the scenarios are quite different.

Pentagon military planners and their obedient White House “overseers” obviously have Iran and other possible ”rogue” states in mind – that is to the extent that strategic considerations of any kind lie behind the program’s development. For the driving forces are more likely to have been a dedication to technological along with powerful bureaucratic interests.

Let us assume, for the purpose of this logical exercise, that whatever strategic thinking has been done was not simply post-hoc justification. Can the inferior nuclear state deter the superior nuclear state from launching conventional attacks?

We do not have much data on this – especially since there is no case of the superior state trying to do so. Would an Iran with a rudimentary nuclear arsenal be able to deter an American or Israeli-led assault a la Iraq by threatening troop concentrations and/or fleet elements in the Persian Gulf? We certainly can say that it would heighten caution. An inferior nuclear state might wish to instill anxiety that its weapons could be activated accidently at the height of a crisis – thereby deterring a superior (nuclear and/or conventional) antagonist from pressing its advantage.

A similar logic points to cultivating an image of being ‘irrational.’ Would the United States have invaded Iraq if it believed a “crazy” Saddam had three or four nuclear weapons? Would it consider aggressive action against Iran if it believed the “mad Mullahs” in possession of three or four nuclear weapons? Not sure. But what bearing would upgraded TNWs have on this calculus? None.

If the inferior state (e.g. North Korea) has the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon against the superior’s homeland, that cautionary element grows by several factors of magnitude. Again, in theory. Again, TNWs add nothing to deterrence.

A second question: Can the nuclear state provide a credible deterrent umbrella for an ally that is conventionally inferior to a superior armed enemy? (Western Europe facing the Red Army; Saudi Arabia facing Iran circa 2040). The NATO and South Korea experience says ‘yes.’ That is, if the stakes are highly valued by the state providing the “nuclear umbrella.” Again, the risks of escalating to nuclear exchanges have a conservative effect on everyone. Two things deter: certainty; and total uncertainty.

Here is one general thought about extended deterrence as a “generic” type. Throughout the Cold War years, the United States and its strategically dependent allies wrestled with the question of credibility. Years of mental tergiversations never resolved it. For one intrinsic reason: it is harder to convince an ally than it is to convince a potential enemy of your readiness to use the threat of retaliation to protect them.

There are two aspects to this oddity. First, the enemy has to consider the psychology of only one other party; the ally has to consider the psychology of two other parties. Then, the enemy knows the full direct costs of underestimating our credibility and, in a nuclear setting, will always be ultra conservative in its calculations.

By contrast, the ally that has not experienced the hard realities of both being a possible target of a nuclear attack and the possible originator of a nuclear attack cannot fully share in this psychology. Is this last observation a point in favor of developing a more refined first-strike capability? No. For one thing, given the disproportion of forces, there is no conceivable gain from the conjectured fine-tuning. For another, the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region is very low.

Loose Talk

There is much loose talk about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East were the Sunni states truly worried about the prospect of an Iranian “breakout” 15 or so years from now. This proliferation scenario is fatally flawed. For one thing, a quick move to build a bomb within 90 days (as the Israelis say) or even a year is nonsense.

There is a lot more to the development of an atomic weapon than accumulating sufficient Uranium enriched to 90 percent (HEU). You don’t just pile it up in a corner, cover with a layer of dog-eared nuclear engineering manuals, and then come back a few months later to find that you have acquired a weapon by a process of spontaneous generation.

The engineering and manufacturing requirements are stringent. A competent, disinterested expert on matters of nuclear engineering and design will tell you that three-to-five years is a much more reasonable estimate – if there are no obstacles encountered.

Second, speculation about a Saudi nuclear program should stress the capabilities factor rather than the factor of will. Building a primitive nuclear bomb has become progressively easier as knowledge and technology are more readily available. Still, a development program requires sophisticated engineering skills and a deep industrial base. Saudi Arabia lacks both and will continue to lack both for the indefinite future.

Indeed, it is very thin even by regional standards. The KSA is unable to manufacture all but the most basic mechanical products. That deficit cannot be offset by contracted specialists. So once again we have supposedly responsible people holding responsible positions playing games of make-believe as if their politically driven pronouncements were grounded in reality and logically thought through.

So why are we pushing ahead with a hugely expensive nuclear weapons program that serves no evident strategic purpose? One conceivable answer is that we are just “keeping up with the Joneses.” But there are no Joneses anywhere out there. Greater efficiency? Nuclear weapons are unique in that they serve their purpose when they are not used – just sitting in the garage. Small improvements in potential performance, therefore, offer no benefit to the owner.

Another, more realistic explanation is that we want to prove to ourselves that we “can” do it. That is also why we climb mountains. In this case, there is something of a technological imperative involved as well. If advances in science and engineering hold out the prospect of our being able to do something technologically impressive, then we are tempted to demonstrate that we are up to the challenge.

Much of innovation in the post-modern era is of this nature, i.e. technological feats of uncertain practical benefit. To nuclear weapons, we should add the macho enhancement effect. That mind-set includes an element of faddism. We cultivate a desire for a product after the fact of its being manufactured. Smart Watches, for an example. Or, self-driving cars.

Post-hoc demand creation likely plays a role in maintaining impetus behind the $1 trillion nuclear arms build-up. Once the military people and defense “strategists” fix their minds on ultra-capable, precision-guided and customized nuclear missiles and bombs, they come up with ends to which they might be put. And let’s not forget that for some the idea of being able to launch a smart, nuclear-tipped missile down an imagined Iranian tunnel to where critical projects are located is thrilling.

Or, just think what might have happened had we such masterful technology when Osama bin Laden was holed up in a Toro Bora cave in December 2001. I guess that by some abstract thinking it could have compensated for the obtuseness of General Franks in refusing to send up Special Forces (for fear of casualties) or the ineptitude of the CIA/NSA in losing track of him for a decade until a walk-in gave away his location.

The titanosaur-sized price for that dubious gain hardly seems worth it when the much cheaper alternative is the promotion of qualified generals and Intelligence officials. The pity is not realizing at the outset that this greatest of all dinosaurs is actually a White Elephant.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu




The ‘Credibility’ Illusion

Exclusive: The Obama administration protects its “credibility” by refusing to budge on its claims about the 2013 Syria-sarin case or the 2014 plane shoot-down in eastern Ukraine even as the evidence shifts, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

What surprised me most about the Iraq War wasn’t how wrong the expectation of happy Iraqis showering American troops with flowers was or even how badly the war would turn out – all that was predictable and indeed was predicted. But what I didn’t expect was that the U.S. government would ever admit that there were no WMD stockpiles.

I assumed that the U.S. government would do what it usually does: continue the lie to protect its “credibility.” Because that is what “credibility” has become, powerful institutions and people maintaining the aura of being right even when they’re completely wrong.

There is even a national security argument to be made: If the U.S. government must justify its actions to the American people and the world with propaganda themes, it can’t simply admit that previous ones were lies because then it would lose all “credibility.” The next time, the public might not be as open to the propaganda. The people might catch on.

And that would present a problem to the U.S. government, which feels it needs the approval or at least the confused acquiescence of the American people and to a lesser extent the world before charging off to war or starting some expensive confrontation with a foreign power.

So, in a sick kind of way, it makes more sense to stick with the lie and rely on a corrupted mainstream media to hold the line. Anyone who dares challenge the falsehoods then can be discredited or marginalized.

That’s why I was surprised when the U.S. government admitted that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq and no active nuclear-weapons program, either. I was expecting that President George W. Bush’s team would assemble some buckets of chemicals found at Baghdad swimming pools – pile them up in front of a credulous media – and announce, “we got here just in time!”

After all, the U.S. government rarely corrects its misstatements and outright lies, no matter how significant they may be. For instance, there’s never been a formal admission that the Gulf of Tonkin claims, which launched the Vietnam War, were false.

On a smaller scale, I encountered something similar when I was covering the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Reagan administration massively exaggerated the discovery of some useless World War I era rifles in a musty-smelling warehouse to claim that the little Caribbean island was about to be transformed into the hub of terrorism for the Western Hemisphere.

As absurd as the claim was, it worked well enough amid a well-staged propaganda campaign complete with American students kissing the tarmac when they returned to the United States and members of Congress waving around some Grenada government contracts — in Russian.

Dig in the Heels

We are now seeing similar dig-in-the-heels strategies regarding Syria and Ukraine. Though I’m told that U.S. intelligence knows that the Obama administration’s propaganda is no longer operative on the 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus and the 2014 shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the storylines won’t be retracted or corrected.

To do so – to say that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces weren’t responsible for the sarin attack and that the Russians weren’t behind the MH-17 catastrophe – would destroy the propaganda narratives that have been useful in justifying the shipment of arms to Syrian rebels and the launching of a new Cold War against Moscow.

If the American people and the world public were informed that they had been misled on such sensitive topics – and that the real guilty parties might include people getting American support – that could devastate U.S. government “credibility” and disrupt future plans.

Therefore, mounting evidence that Assad didn’t cross President Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013, must be brushed aside or forgotten.

In a classic show of cognitive dissonance, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Obama that U.S. intelligence had no “slam dunk” evidence of Assad’s guilt. But Goldberg then continued his long article on Obama’s foreign policy as if Clapper’s warning never happened and as if Assad were indeed guilty.

Since then, major American columnists writing about Goldberg’s article have simply ignored the Clapper revelation, which tended to confirm earlier reporting at some independent Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, and by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who traced the sarin to a likely operation by Islamic radicals aided by Turkish intelligence. But those Assad-didn’t-do-it reports were almost universally ignored, except for the occasional ridicule.

The problem for the columnists – and for the rest of Official Washington’s insider community – was that Everyone Who Mattered had already declared as flat fact that Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” with the sarin attack. So what would happen to their “credibility” if they admitted that they were wrong again, since many also had been famously wrong about Iraq’s WMD?

Plus, who could force these Important People to face up to their own misfeasance and malfeasance? Does anyone expect that Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought war against Syria in retaliation for the sarin attack, will retract what he claimed repeatedly that “we know” about Assad’s guilt? What would that do to Kerry’s “credibility”?

Kerry also was on the front lines pointing the finger of blame at Russia for the MH-17 shoot-down on July 17, 2014. He rushed off to the Sunday TV shows just three days after the tragedy over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people and made the case that Moscow and the ethnic Russian rebels were to blame.

A source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in that same time frame was telling me that it was already clear to them that an element of the Ukrainian military was responsible. But hanging the slaughter of all those innocents around Russian President Vladimir Putin’s neck was just too tempting – and served U.S. propaganda needs to get Europe to join in economic sanctions against Russia and to let the U.S. government rev up a new and costly Cold War.

Going Dutch

But those U.S. propaganda desires have put the Dutch in a difficult spot, since they are leading the investigation into the crash which departed from Amsterdam and carried many Dutch citizens en route to Kuala Lumpur. Part of the Dutch problem is that Dutch intelligence has confirmed that the only Buk or other anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine capable of hitting a commercial airliner at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian military.

Recently, the Obama administration also had to decide how to respond to a letter from Thomas Schansman, the father of the only U.S. citizen killed in the crash, Quinn Schansman. In a letter dated Jan. 5, 2016, Schansman asked Secretary Kerry to release the radar and other evidence that he claimed to have in summer 2014 that supposedly showed where the missile was fired, a basic fact that the Dutch investigation has yet to nail down.

One of the many anomalies of the MH-17 case was Kerry’s assertion within three days of the crash that the U.S. government had precise information about the launch but then has left Dutch investigators struggling to figure out that detail for nearly two years.

On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

At a news conference on Aug. 12, 2014, Kerry made similar claims: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this airplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”

As the months wore on – passing the first anniversary of the crash and then after last October’s inconclusive report by the Dutch Safety Board – Thomas Schansman finally reached out to Kerry directly with his Jan. 5 letter. More weeks and months passed before Schansman received Kerry’s reply on March 24, although the letter was curiously dated March 7.

The letter offered no new information as Kerry stuck to the old story. Recently, I was told that a possible explanation for the delay in the letter’s delivery was that a discussion was underway inside the Obama administration about whether to finally come clean about MH-17 even if that would clear Russia and the ethnic Russian rebels and shift the blame onto a rogue or poorly disciplined unit of the Ukrainian military.

But the decision was made to stand pat, the source said, explaining that otherwise “the narrative would be reversed,” throwing the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government on the defensive and negating some of the propaganda advantages gained against Russia.

Plus, if the U.S. government admitted that it had played such a cynical propaganda game, which also smacks of obstruction of justice by giving the actual culprits nearly two years to make their escape and cover their tracks, there would be a loss of “credibility” in Washington.

Apparently, it made more geopolitical sense to keep the heat on Russia and then to lean on the Dutch authorities to fit their investigative findings around the needs of the NATO alliance. That is, after all, how the U.S. government usually operates. It’s also why I was so surprised that the truth finally was told about Iraq not possessing the WMD.

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).




Duping Progressives into Wars

The online advocacy group, Avaaz, has pulled progressives into support of U.S. “humanitarian” wars in Libya and Syria by promoting sweet-sounding ideas like “no-fly zones,” as John Hanrahan explains.

By John Hanrahan

A recent two-part series in The New York Times laid out in detail the pivotal role that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played in President Obama’s decision to join in France and Britain’s 2011 military campaign against long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The Times articles make the case that Clinton bears a heavy part of the responsibility for the tragic, increasingly chaotic aftermath of that campaign in which Gaddafi was ousted and killed.

As The Times summaries of the articles put it, Gaddafi’s fall “seemed to vindicate Hillary Clinton. Then militias refused to disarm, neighbors fanned a civil war, and the Islamic State found refuge,” leaving Libya “a failed state and a terrorist haven.”

While neocons, right-wingers and humanitarian interventionists back in 2011 were seeking regime change in Libya, there was one non-governmental organization that was alone among progressive groups in mobilizing public opinion around the world in support of military action in Libya in the form of “a no-fly zone.”

And this wasn’t just any organization, but the fast-growing, on-line advocacy giant Avaaz.org, which in 2011 had seven million members and today boasts 43.1-million members in 194 countries. As such, the New York City-based Avaaz is, as we noted in a previous article, the largest and most influential Internet-based, international advocacy organization on the planet.

Through its members’ petitions and a full-page ad last June in The New York Times, Avaaz has for the last few years been pushing for “a no-fly zone” in Syria, as have assorted neocons and war-hawks in Congress and think-tanks who favor military operations to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Hillary Clinton (but not other presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump) is a staunch advocate for “a no-fly zone” and regime change in Syria.

Like Clinton and other interventionists, Avaaz — in advocating for “a no-fly zone” in Syria — has not been chastened by what its advocacy wrought in Libya. Some of the same arguments for “a no-fly zone” that Avaaz made for Libya, it has made again over the last few years for Syria. This, despite as we noted in that earlier article, that top U.S. generals have warned that “a no-fly zone” in Syria is a “high-risk operation, a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties,” civilian and military.

It’s instructive to examine Avaaz’s no-fly zone advocacy for Libya in 2011 to get a handle on the organization’s continued thinking that — barring a diplomatic settlement growing out of a current tentative ceasefire in Syria — more war, under the cover of humanitarian intervention, would somehow save more civilians’ lives.

Libyan ‘No-Fly Zone’ Didn’t Turn Out Well

In its call for “a no-fly zone” in Libya in 2011, Avaaz submitted to the United Nations a petition containing 1,202,940 signatures gathered on-line. Demonstrating Avaaz’s impact, 90 percent of those were collected in just a two-day period between March 15 and 17 of that year, when its reported membership was a more modest, but still impressive, seven million.

And we now know what a sage piece of advocacy that was — as Libya experienced not only “a no-fly zone,” but U.S./NATO forces’ bombardments, the ousting and killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the rise of ISIS, the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the flood of refugees from the chaotic, failed country that Libya is today.

Even at the time Avaaz was gathering all those signatures back in 2011 in support of “a no-fly zone” in Libya, there were critics who wondered why a U.S.-based non-governmental organization felt it had to stand up with neocons and war-hawks in advocating for an action that violated Libya’s sovereignty and was likely to lead to more violence against the Libyan people.

As John Hilary writing in The Guardian presciently warned in March 2011: “Little do most of these generally well-meaning activists know, they are strengthening the hands of those western governments desperate to reassert their interests in north Africa. … A no-fly zone would almost certainly draw NATO countries into further military involvement in Libya, replacing the agency of the Libyan people with the control of those governments who have shown scant regard for their welfare.”

Hilary, executive director of War on Want, the U.K.-based charity that fights poverty and economic injustice, further noted, again presciently: “Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian — putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.”

Noting that support for “a no-fly zone” in Libya was at that time “rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic,” (just as has been the case in more recent years regarding Syria) Hilary commented: “The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck — those who usually oppose wars” [such as Avaaz] “are openly campaigning for more military involvement.”

On-line progressive organizations constantly seek signatures on petitions calling on the U.S. or other governments to adopt or change or reject certain policies. But Hilary pointed out that calling for “a no-fly zone” crosses a line into dangerous territory. As he wrote:

“The issue exposes the core of the problem with internet activism: instead of changing the world through a lifetime of education, it aims to change the world through a single click of the mouse. The impacts might be benign, when lobbying a government to stop causing harm. But a positive plan of action in a situation such as Libya requires more thought. Calling for military intervention is a huge step — the life and death of hundreds of thousands of people might hang in the balance. The difference between the ease of the action and impact of the consequence is great.”

Avaaz’s Justification

It’s worth examining the Libya experience to get some idea of how Avaaz sees using military action to achieve what it contended would be civilian-saving humanitarian results.

Looking back, in calling for “a no-fly zone,” Avaaz appeared to fully accept and spread the Gaddafi-will-systematically-murder-all-opponents line that Western governments were trumpeting as the justification for intervention, stating in its March 15, 2011 message to members: “Right now Gaddafi’s forces are crushing the rebellion town by town” and noted that “brutal retribution awaits Libyans who challenged the regime. If we don’t persuade the U.N. to act now, we could witness a bloodbath.”

Avaaz went on to say that while it “is deeply committed to non-violence … enforcing a no-fly zone to ground Gaddafi’s gunships is one case where UN-backed military actions seems necessary.”

On March 17, 2011, just two days into flooding the U.N. Security Council with petitions containing 1,172,000 signatures, Avaaz enthusiastically reported (exclamation point and all) that the United Nations had agreed to take “‘all necessary measures’ short of an invasion to protect the people of Libya under threat of attack, including a no-fly zone!”

It seems Avaaz’s expressed deep commitment to nonviolence had expanded beyond “a no-fly zone” to encompass “all necessary measures” — and Libya was soon on the receiving end of all those necessary measures.

When it was promoting “a no-fly zone” for Libya, Avaaz — as with its current Syria campaign — did receive pushback from some members. The organization felt it necessary to respond at some length on-line to the criticism before “the no-fly zone” was put into effect and the onslaught against Libya began.

Avaaz’s then-campaign director Ben Wikler (who is now with MoveOn.org), in an on-line posting responding to John Hilary’s Guardian article quoted above, outlined a number of reasons and procedures Avaaz used in taking up the cause of “a no-fly zone” for Libya. Among his points:

–“The call for a no-fly zone originated from Libyans – including the provisional opposition government, Libya’s (defected) ambassador to the UN, protesters, and youth organizations. … Avaaz staff are in close and constant contact with activists inside Libya and have been repeatedly asked to move forward on this campaign.”

–“In some ways,” Wikler wrote, “we work a lot like journalists … talking to people and weighing the facts before we form conclusions. However, our staff’s personal conclusions also have to pass the test of our membership being strongly supportive of any position we take.”

In the Libya case, though, it would seem that Avaaz scarcely considered the potential negative aspects of military action — such as, when you “win,” what happens afterwards.

–According to Wikler, a random-sample poll taken before the petition was promulgated on-line, showed that “84% of [Avaaz] members supported this campaign, while 9% opposed it. Since launching it, we’ve found intense support for the campaign from around the world.” Avaaz says that petition ideas such as “a no-fly zone” campaign “are polled and tested weekly to 10,000-member random samples — and only initiatives that find a strong response are taken” to the wider membership.

The organization has not disclosed who within Avaaz was the main instigator of the petitions for “no-fly zones” in Libya and Syria. Generally speaking, Avaaz says here’s how its petitions develop: “Avaaz staff don’t set an agenda and try to convince members to go along with it. It’s closer to the opposite: staff listen to members and suggest actions they can take in order to affect the broader world. Small wonder, then, that many of our most successful campaigns are suggested first by Avaaz members themselves. And leadership is a critical part of member service: it takes vision and skill to find and communicate a way to build a better world.”

Although this doesn’t say so, certainly on a matter of such import and controversy as “a no-fly zone” the final call would logically come from executive director Ricken Patel.

–Avaaz staff played “a key role in consulting with leading experts around the world (and most of our staff have policy as well as advocacy backgrounds) on each of the campaigns we run, and Libya was no exception.” This begs the question: Who were these experts, and did Avaaz seek out critics of such an action?

–On the question of whether imposing “a no-fly zone” would lead to a full-blown international war in Libya, Wikler downplayed the possibility at the time: “No-fly zones can mean a range of different things. Some analysts and military figures [none named by Wikler] have argued that it would require a pre-emptive attack on Libya’s anti-aircraft weapons. Others [again, none named], however, contend that merely flying fighter planes over the rebel-controlled areas would ensure that Qaddafi wouldn’t use his jets to attack eastern Libya, because he knows his air force is weaker than that of Egypt or NATO states. The best solution is the one that reduces civilian deaths the most with the least violence.Things might not turn out as expected, but while there are potential dangers to an international war, there are certain dangers to civilians if things continue without a no-fly zone.” [Emphasis added.]

Calling for military action seems a very risky calculation for an advocacy group to make, given even its own nodding recognition that the action it supports might bring on an international war or other “things … not expected.” And to discuss such an issue in a mere one sentence and conclude that the risk is worth it — and after the petition is already out there — is not indicative of a transparent, all-cards-on-the-table process that make for well-informed potential petition signers.

At the very least, now with the benefit of hindsight, you would think that the Libya experience would give Avaaz some second thoughts about supporting “a no-fly zone” in what top U.S. generals quoted in our previous article have described as the even riskier environment of Syria. But no such soul-searching is evident in Avaaz’s campaign for a Syrian “no-fly zone.”

For this and the previous article, we submitted a series of questions to Avaaz media personnel and campaign directors, with an emphasis on obtaining specifics as to the organization’s rationale for supporting “no-fly zones” in Libya and Syria — including whether the tragic outcome in Libya had figured at all in Avaaz’s consideration of whether to call for “a no-fly zone” in Syria. After requests (and reminders) on five occasions in November, December and January, we finally received a response on Feb. 11 from campaign director Nell Greenberg, but that addressed only a few of our specific questions. Our follow-up questions, submitted on Feb. 12, have gone unanswered.

As with the other questions we submitted to Avaaz personnel, the organization did not answer whether the Libya experience made the organization’s leaders think twice about taking up the Syria “no-fly zone” issue. It was possibly obscurely referencing the Libya “no-fly zone” when Greenberg stated to us: “Much of what you’re asking for are reflections on past campaigns given the geopolitical landscape today. But based on the way we work, I cannot tell you how any Avaaz member would feel today about a past campaign without going back and asking them.”

Our follow-up question made it clear that we were not asking how any individual Avaaz member might feel about the Libya campaign today, but rather how Avaaz’s leaders felt about proposing “a no-fly zone” for Syria when the Libya military action had  turned out so disastrously. To date, Avaaz has not responded to any of our follow-up questions.

–Regarding whether “a no-fly zone” would violate Libya’s national sovereignty, Wikler in March 2011 stated: “National sovereignty should not be a legitimate barrier to international action when crimes against humanity are being committed.” Then in perhaps a foreshadowing of the organization’s call for a similar action in Syria, Wikler added: “If you strongly disagree, then you may find yourself at odds with other Avaaz campaigns as well.”

Wikler concluded his defense of the call for a Libyan “no-fly zone” by saying: “All told, this was a difficult judgment call. Calling for any sort of military response always is. Avaaz members have been advocating for weeks for a full set of non-military options as well, including an asset freeze, targeted sanctions, and prosecutions of officials involved in the violent crackdown on demonstrators.

“But although those measures are moving forward, the death toll is rising. Again, thoughtful people can disagree – but in the Avaaz community’s case, only 9% of our thoughtful people opposed this position [84% approved] – somewhat surprising given that we have virtually always advocated for peaceful methods to resolve conflicts in the past. We think it was the best position to take given the balance of expert opinion, popular support, and most of all, the rights and clearly expressed desire of the Libyan people.”

The figure of 84 percent approval from a sampling of Avaaz members seem astounding — and raises the issue of whether the questions were worded in the most emotional ways that would produce such an overwhelming result (along the lines of — Gaddafi is slaughtering, and will slaughter, everyone in his path and we must act now to avert a bloodbath). It also raises the question of whether Avaaz offered any counterpoints that “a no-fly zone” could lead to a wider war and end up killing, maiming and displacing thousands of civilians.

Regardless of the numbers, relying on partisan civilian sources in embattled areas for tactics or military solutions of any sort is both a dubious and frightening proposition and hardly seems the role for an advocacy organization to undertake.

Avaaz’s Origins: Founders and Funders

Even in the U.S. progressive community, Avaaz is far less well-known than its sister advocacy organization MoveOn.org. To put Avaaz in perspective, a little background is in order.

Avaaz was created in 2006 and officially launched in 2007 by MoveOn.org Civic Action and the little known and closely affiliated global advocacy group Res Publica, Inc. Its initial significant financial backing came from liberal philanthropist George Soros and his Open Society Foundations (then called Open Society Institute).

Avaaz’s individual founders included three of its current officers/directors — Ricken Patel, Eli Pariser and Thomas Pravda — as well as Thomas Perriello, Andrea Woodhouse, Jeremy Heimans, and David Madden. (More about them later.)

If you don’t know much about Avaaz, or think about it as I long did as a non-U.S. entity (actually, its headquarters is in New York City), that is not so surprising since many of its campaigns are targeted to specific countries other than the United States, and only a little over 5 percent of its 43.1 million members are U.S.-based. (A member being anyone who has ever signed an Avaaz petition — and that includes me.)

Still, even that small U.S. percentage equates to 2.3 million people — a number that would be the envy of most U.S. activist organizations. (By way of comparison, Avaaz’s affiliated member organization MoveOn.org claims more than 8-million members.)

The U.S. membership in Avaaz is about the same as the German membership (2.2 million), and far less than France with 4.3 million and Brazil with a whopping 8.8 million members. Other nations with more than one million Avaaz members include Italy (2.1 million), Spain (1.8 million), the United Kingdom (1.6 million), Mexico (1.4 million), Canada (1.2 million). India has 991,000 members and Russia 901,000. Overall, Avaaz claims members in 194 countries, with its smallest membership — 81 — in the British overseas territory of Montserrat, population 5,100.

Avaaz is organized under the name the Avaaz Foundation, a 501(c)(4) non-profit lobbying organization, with its headquarters in Manhattan. It describes itself as having “a simple democratic mission: To close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”

In its most recent Form 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, signed in September 2015 for tax year 2014, Avaaz reported contributions totaling $20.1 million and net assets of $7.6 million. Avaaz, which says that it is entirely member funded, had previously stated that it accepts no single contribution of more than $5,000, but that was not the case in 2014 as the organization reported that 18 individuals had contributed amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,383. The contributors were not identified by name in the filing. Since around 2010, the organization is on record as not accepting corporate or foundation donations — although it did receive grants totaling $1.1 million from George Soros-connected foundations in the three years before that.

In response to our inquiry about Avaaz funding and the organization’s early link to Soros, campaign director Nell Greenberg responded: “With regards to Avaaz funding, this movement was founded with the ideal of being completely self sustaining and democratic. 100% of the Avaaz budget comes from small online donations…Avaaz has never taken a contribution from a government or a corporation, and since 2009 has not solicited any contributions from charitable foundations.”

She continued: “We did receive seed funding from George Soros and the Open Society Foundation, but not after 2009. No corporation, foundation or board member has influence on the organization’s campaign directions or positions. This is hugely important to ensuring that our voice is exclusively determined by the values of our members, and not by any large funder or agenda.”

Of Avaaz’s four current officers/directors, only executive director Ricken Patel was listed as full-time, with annual pay of $177,666 for 2014. Chairman Eli Pariser; treasurer Thomas Pravda, and secretary Ben Brandzel are not day-to-day employees and all received no compensation in 2014. Of Avaaz’s 77 employees, the five highest-compensated staff members after Patel received salaries ranging between $111,000 and $153,000.

For its various domestic and overseas campaigns, Avaaz reported providing $3.2 million in grants to U.S. organizations and $932,000 to foreign organizations in 2014. Reported grants of more than $5,000 came in five categories, with the largest recipients being the U.S. Fund for UNICEF ($1 million for education for Syrian refugees), and the Rain Forest Trust ($1 million for “conservation of land and species”).

To help combat the Ebola virus, Avaaz provided $500,000 to the International Medical Corps, $350,000 to Save the Children and $300,000 to Partners in Health. For organizing for the September 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, Avaaz provided $27,500 to Align and $10,000 to New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Rounding out the list, a $10,000 grant went to Amazon Watch for “protection of the Amazon.”

For activities outside the United States, Avaaz spent most heavily in Europe on campaigns, advertising and consulting — $6.2 million, with South America a distant second at $685,000 for consulting services, followed by East Asia and the Pacific with $553,000 for campaigns and consulting services. Expenditures in five other regions ranged from $45,000 to $270,000.

Avaaz reported that the foundation is still comprised of the same two member organizations — MoveOn.org Civic Action and Res Publica, Inc. (U.S.) — which were the original founding groups.

Res Publica, a 501(c)(3), lists the same Manhattan address as the 501(c)(4) Avaaz and presumably provides unspecified assistance to Avaaz. Back at Avaaz’s beginning, the three principals in Res Publica were the aforementioned Patel, Pravda and Perriello. The three men had all served with the International Center for Transitional Justice, which “assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse.” Also in those early days, according to some accounts, Avaaz listed the Service Employees International Union and Australia-based GetUp.org.au as co-founding organizations, but they seem to have long since been out of the picture.

In Res Publica’s most recent Form 990 filing with the IRS for 2013, Patel is listed as executive director, Pravda as treasurer, and Vivek Maru as secretary. All received no compensation. Contributions for 2013 totaled $963,895, of which $846,165 was from “Government grants” for unspecified purposes. The organization reported that it “provides strategic advice to other non-profit organizations … [and] also provides educational and action-based e-mail campaigns to citizens in every country via its website.” It also reported supporting projects “through fiscal sponsorship, that focused on online security and Internet freedom for repressed communities globally…”

Here are profiles of Avaaz co-founders and past and current officers:

Eli Pariser: Avaaz Chairman and Co-founder

Eli Pariser was executive director of MoveOn.org from 2004 through 2009 when the organization experienced explosive growth, and has been its board president since then. MoveOn, in the words of an on-line Pariser biography, “revolutionized grassroots political organizing by introducing a small-donor-funded and email-driven model that has since been widely used across the political spectrum.”

In addition to being a founder of Avaaz and currently serving as its chairman, the Brooklyn-based Pariser has been a member of the boards of Access and the New Organizing Institute. A best-selling author and former fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, Pariser is co-founder and executive of the on-line media company Upworthy. He is also currently a member of the advisory board of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs.

We would note that Pariser appears to be one of the few Avaaz founders and officers whose background is almost entirely in on-line activism, while some others have governmental or otherwise overseas experience working in programs in high poverty and/or war-torn countries.

We submitted several questions to Pariser on March 9, but he has not responded as of this writing.

Ricken Patel: Avaaz Executive Director and Co-founder

Prior to the founding of Avaaz in 2007, the Canadian-born Ricken Patel consulted for a number of international and well-established non-profit organizations — the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Harvard University, CARE International, and the International Center for Transitional Justice. He worked in several countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Afghanistan. He also was the founding executive director of Avaaz-affiliated Res Publica, which among its past projects “worked to end genocide in Darfur.” As executive director of Avaaz since its begining, Patel is the face of the organization and has been termed “the global leader of online protest” by The Guardian.

Thomas Pravda: Avaaz Treasurer and Co-founder

Through two of its co-founders — Tom Perriello and Thomas Pravda — Avaaz has connections to government officialdom in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Perriello (discussed below) is now with the State Department as U.S. special envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Congo-Kinshasa.

Pravda is currently serving as the (unpaid) treasurer and a director for Avaaz, while at the same time holding down a post as a diplomat with the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly known as the Foreign Office. He is also co-founder and officer in Res Publica.

As the Foreign Office is “responsible for protecting and promoting British interests worldwide,” this could raise conflict-of-interest possibilities regarding U.K. and U.S. foreign relations and military issues that might be taken up by Avaaz. This would include the organization’s advocacy for a no-fly zone in Syria, in which both the U.S. and U.K. would be expected to participate. Our research, though, found no example of anyone raising a specific issue about Pravda’s dual role as U.K. diplomat and Avaaz officer, but this relationship looks problematic on the face of it.

Pravda’s self-provided biography shows he has been with the Foreign Office since October 2003, and with Avaaz since 2006, and that he was also an advisor to the U.S. State Department in 2009-2010 regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In his diplomatic assignments Pravda has worked on E.U. trade and development policy; as an advisor to the Special Representative for Climate Change, and as the U.K. Representative in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has also consulted extensively on political, security, research and advocacy issues for such institutions as the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Development Program, the International Center for Transitional Justice and Oxford Analytica.

Ben Brandzel: Avaaz Secretary and Co-founder

In addition to currently serving as the (unpaid) secretary for Avaaz, Ben Brandzel is the founder and director of OPEN (Online Progressive Engagement Network), described as an alliance of the world’s leading national digital campaigning organizations. Besides being a founding board member and former senior campaigner at Avaaz, Brandzel is the chief founding advisor for OPEN member groups in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland. He also served as the original advocacy director for MoveOn.org and in 2009-2010 directed new media campaigns and fundraising for President Obama during the health reform campaign. He writes frequently on digital organizing and transnational movement building.

Tom Perriello: Avaaz Co-founder

If I were going to name one chief suspect among Avaaz’s founders as the architect of its “no-fly zone” advocacy in Libya and Syria, it would be Tom Perriello. More than anyone else connected with Avaaz from its earliest days, Perriello, since leaving the organization — first for Congress and then for the think-tank world before going to the U.S. State Department — has shown himself to be a reliable advocate for war: For continuing the war in Afghanistan, for bombing Libya and ousting Gaddafi, and for taking military action to support Syrian rebels and remove Assad from power.

Perriello champions “humanitarian intervention” and lauded the NATO bombing campaign in Libya — before the U.S./NATO “victory” there and before the country subsequently went all to hell — as a prime example of how this approach can succeed .

We asked Avaaz whether Perriello’s thinking had influenced the organization’s campaigns for “no-fly zones” in Libya and Syria, and received a stern denial from Avaaz’s Greenberg: “Tom Perriello, specifically, was an Avaaz board member at the founding of the organization but has not been on the board since December 2009, and has had no role in Avaaz’s Syria campaigns.”

Perriello’s career, like some others with Avaaz, has been more one of public service through established organizations than of activism. According to an on-line biography, in 2002-2003 Perriello was special advisor to the international prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, and then served as a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice in Kosovo (2003), Darfur (2005) and Afghanistan (2007). In 2004, he co-founded Res Publica with Patel and Pravda. Perriello has also been a fellow at The Century Foundation and is a co-founder of DarfurGenocide.org. He said in his on-line bio that he had “spent much of his career working in West Africa and the Middle East to create strategies for sustainable peace, and he was involved in the peace processes that helped end the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.”

A Democrat, Perriello was elected to Congress from Virginia’s 5th District in 2008. (It would appear from the statement we received from Avaaz that if Perriello left the organization in December 2009 then he was still on the Avaaz board during his first year in Congress.)

In his one term, Perriello was a staunch supporter of the global war on terror, the military appropriations to continue U.S. wars, and keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Defeated in his 2010 bid for reelection, Perriello went on to serve as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and counselor for policy also at Center for American Progress, a Democratic party-supporting think tank. From 2014 to the present he has been with the State Department, first as the Special Representative to the Secretary of State for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and since last summer as the U.S. special envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Congo-Kinshasa. Although said not to be involved with Avaaz currently, his humanitarian intervention philosophy seems alive and well at Avaaz with its calls for “no-fly zones” in Libya and Syria.

In this excerpt from his 2012 article on humanitarian intervention, Perriello sounds absolutely eager to send in the bombs wherever “egregious atrocities” are occurring and human beings are suffering. And this, as Perriello writes, would give “progressives” the “opportunity … to expand the use of force to advance key values.”

Following are two paragraphs from Perriello’s article that give the flavor of the “humanitarian intervention” philosophy he advocates. It would certainly be helpful if Avaaz would tell us if it subscribes to its co-founder’s rather bloodless and creepy prescription for advancing progressives’ “key values.”

“Operational developments since the end of the Cold War have substantially improved our capacity to wage smart military operations that are limited in time and scope and employ precise and overwhelming force,” Perriello wrote. “This presents progressives with an opportunity — one that is too often seen as a curse — to expand the use of force to advance key values.

“Our technical capacities, ranging from accuracy of systems intelligence to smart weaponry, now allow for previously impossible operations. Today, we have the ability to conduct missions from the air that historically would have required ground troops. And we possess an admittedly imperfect but highly improved ability to limit collateral damage, including civilian casualties. Among other things, this means fewer bombs can accomplish the same objectives, with early estimates suggesting that the Libyan air campaign required one-third the number of sorties as earlier air wars…

“We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality — whether or not one accepts its merits — that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering.”

Imagine the nerve of those other nations Perriello refers to — failing to see that the United States selflessly engages in “values-based” bombing: Bombs for a better world.

Andrea Woodhouse: Avaaz Co-founder

Another Avaaz co-founder, Andrea Woodhouse, describes herself as a development professional, social entrepreneur and writer. She has worked in many countries experiencing conflict and political transition, including Indonesia, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Burma/Myanmar. In Indonesia, she reported working on one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the world, which she said became the model for a national program of post-conflict reconstruction and state-building in Afghanistan. She has worked for the World Bank and the United Nations and was a founder of the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program.

Jeremy Heimans: Avaaz Co-founder

According to an on-line biography, Jeremy Heimans in 2005 co-founded GetUp, an Australian political organization and one of that country’s largest campaigning communities. It has campaigned for same-sex marriage and in support of Julian Assange of Wikileaks. In addition to being an Avaaz co-founder, Heimans in 2009 co-founded Purpose, an activist group that launched several major new organizations including All Out, a two-million member LGBT rights group.

David Madden: Avaaz Co-founder

David Madden, another Avaaz co-founder, is a former Australian Army officer and World Bank and United Nations employee. With Jeremy Heimans, he co-founded GetUp. Madden has worked for the World Bank in Timor Leste, and for the United Nations in Indonesia. In 2004, Madden was one of the founders of Win Back Respect, a web-based campaign against the foreign policy of U.S. President George W. Bush.

George Soros’s Role in Avaaz Early Years

For the last few years, various on-line bloggers have questioned whether Avaaz is somehow doing the bidding of philanthropist George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, or of the U.S. government (or portions thereof). (See an example here.)

There is no question that there was a close connection between Avaaz and Soros and his organizations dating back to Avaaz’s early days, but what — if anything — does that translate into today? As noted earlier, in one of the few of my questions that Avaaz answered directly, there was an acknowledgement of early Soros “seed money” to Avaaz, but a denial of any continuing involvement with the organization.

Of all individuals or organizations outside the Avaaz structure, though, Soros’s foundations played the most significant role in helping get Avaaz off the ground with generous grants. Additionally, the Open Society Institute (the previous name of the Open Society Foundations) served as Avaaz’s “foundation partner” on campaigns of joint interest, most notably in connection with the Burmese Democracy Movement.

Avaaz still has a Soros connection — notably, as indicated above, Eli Pariser serving on an Open Society advisory board. And both Avaaz and Soros seem to share an antipathy to what they characterize as “Russian aggression” as exemplified by Avaaz’s sometimes over-the-top statements about Russia in Syria. (For example, as noted in our previous article, Ricken Patel holding Putin’s government responsible for being complicit with the Assad government in “coordinating atrocities” and “targeting the assassinations of journalists” in early 2012. Also, see this Sept. 30, 2015 Avaaz posting using flimsy evidence to accuse Russian planes of deliberately bombing civilian neighborhoods.)

Donations by Soros’s Foundations

Over a three-year period beginning in 2007, Soros’s foundations — either directly or passed through Res Publica — gave Avaaz a total of $1.2 million. In 2007, the Open Society Institute gave $150,000 to Res Publica for general support for Avaaz, and $100,000 for Avaaz’s work on climate change.

In 2008, Open Society Institute again gave a total of $250,000 to Res Publica — with $150,000 of that again for general support for Avaaz and the remaining $100,000 for Avaaz’s climate change work. The following year, Soros was even more generous to Avaaz. His Foundation to Promote Open Society in its Form 990 filing for 2009 (page 87) reported giving a total of $600,000 to Res Publica for Avaaz’s use — $300,000 for general support and $300,000 for climate campaigning.

Avaaz increased its ties to the Soros organization in 2008 by selecting the then-named Open Society Institute (OSI) as its “foundation partner” to oversee some $325,000 in donations that Avaaz had received from its members — in just four days — to support the Burmese Democracy Movement.

Avaaz said it was linking up with OSI — “one of the largest and most respected foundations in the world” — for the purpose of OSI monitoring Avaaz’s grant awards and expenditures. OSI was “taking no overhead on the funds we are granting to Burmese groups” for technology, organizing, support for the regime’s victims and victims’ families, and international advocacy.

In June 2009, OSI reported that its Burma Project grantees — including Avaaz — had rallied global support around democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. On that occasion, Avaaz partnered with the Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now! Campaign to collect more than 670,000 signatures asking for UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s support for Aung San Suu Kyi and some 2,000 other political prisoners.

From available information, it does not appear Soros or his foundations have contributed financially to Avaaz or directly engaged in projects with the organization in the last five to six years. And Avaaz itself says the Soros financial connection ended in 2009. Whether the substantial assistance Soros’s foundations gave Avaaz in its first three years of existence carries any lasting influence, though, is certainly hard to show.

Avaaz’s Impressive Record of Advocacy

As noted in our previous article, even allowing for organizational self-hype, Avaaz has an impressive record of advocacy — a record that mostly seems off-kilter with its “no-fly zone” advocacy in Libya and Syria. For example, here are some other Avaaz campaigns not previously mentioned:

–Avaaz has played a prominent role in a number of actions directed at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

–Avaaz was a key player in a successful campaign (including a petition with more than 1.7 million signatures, coupled with occupations and protests at some 15 Barclays bank branches across the United Kingdom) to pressure Barclays to divest its $2.9 million holdings in an Israeli defense contractor, Elbit Systems.

Avaaz received plaudits from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for its role in that campaign. Elbit Systems is the major Israeli-based arms and security company that manufactures?drones used in surveillance and attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. It also provides electronics for the “apartheid wall” being constructed on the West Bank.

–A petition directed to the government of Israel and to the U.S. Congress netted 185,000 signatures in support of the portion of President Obama’s Cairo speech in June 2009 in which he said: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

–In 2011, some 1.6 million people — more than 300,000 of them in just the first two days — signed an Avaaz petition to European leaders and U.N. member states, urging them “to endorse the legitimate bid for recognition of the state of Palestine and the reaffirmation of the rights of the Palestinian people. It is time to turn the tide on decades of failed peace talks, end the occupation and move towards peace based on two states.”

–In March 2013, at the time of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC’s) annual conference and congressional lobbying days in Washington, D.C., Avaaz joined with Jewish Voice for Peace to erect hundreds of anti-AIPAC posters across Metro stations in central D.C. The signs read: “AIPAC does not speak for me. Most Jewish Americans are pro-peace. AIPAC is not.”

–Through its petitions, Avaaz has strongly opposed governmental surveillance of U.S. citizens, and has defended Wikileaks and national security whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

–In April 2011, amid news reports of Manning’s brutal treatment while imprisoned at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia before facing a court martial for providing classified documents to Wikileaks, almost 550,000 people signed an Avaaz petition to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The petition, headlined “Stop Wikileaks Torture,” called on those officials “to immediately end the torture, isolation and public humiliation of Bradley Manning. This is a violation of his constitutionally guaranteed human rights, and a chilling deterrent to other whistleblowers committed to public integrity.”

–A December 2010 Avaaz petition, calling “the vicious intimidation campaign against Wikileaks” by the U.S. and other governments and corporations “a dangerous attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” produced 654,000 signatures — more than 300,000 of those in the first 24 hours the petition was circulated on-line.

–In June 2013, just days after the first reports of the National Security Agency’s illegal worldwide spying appeared, some 1.38 million people signed a petition, headlined “Stand with Edward Snowden,” to President Obama. The petition read: “We call on you to ensure that whistleblower Edward Snowden is treated fairly, humanely and given due process. The PRISM program is one of the greatest violations of privacy ever committed by a government. We demand that you terminate it immediately, and that Edward Snowden be recognized as a whistleblower acting in the public interest — not as a dangerous criminal.”

–In April 2012, some 780,000 people signed an Avaaz petition to members of Congress, and another to Facebook, Microsoft and IBM (with 626,000 signers), to drop their support for the Internet surveillance bill known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The bill, the petition stated, would place “Our democracy and civil liberties…under threat from the excessive and unnecessary Internet surveillance powers” that it would grant to the U.S. government without requirement of a warrant.

–In the face of widespread hunger strikes at the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2013, Avaaz gathered 690,000 signatures on a petition to transfer the 86 men who had already been cleared for release, and to appoint a White House official whose responsibility it would be to close down the prison. Said the petition: “This shameful complex is a scourge on humanity, is destroying lives, and fuels hate across the world. Close it down!”

–Avaaz is also in the front ranks on various other issues —  fighting global warming, seeking an end to U.S. and European arms sales to Saudi Arabia, protecting rain forests, saving endangered species, promoting clean energy, challenging Rupert Murdoch’s bid for a greater media monopoly in the United Kingdom, defending human rights in a number of countries, etc.

In none of those other campaigns do we see Avaaz proposing military action of any sort. Why this anomaly when it came to Libya and now Syria? Especially, when military action’s aftermath turned out so badly in Libya, and when even the nation’s leading generals say a Syria “no-fly zone” would escalate the war and endanger the very civilians Avaaz has the stated goal of protecting?

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He wrote extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. [This story originally appeared at ExposeFacts.org at https://exposefacts.org/avaaz-ignores-libya-lessons-in-advocating-for-syria-no-fly-zone/ ]