Trump Resumes Abuse of ‘Terror List’

The U.S. government has long abused its “terrorism list” by including disfavored nations while leaving off “allies” implicated in 9/11 and other terror attacks, a practice President Trump has resumed, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

President Trump’s placement of North Korea on the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism continues a manipulation, by several administrations, of this list for reasons other than terrorism. Neither an earlier removal of North Korea from this list (by the George W. Bush administration in 2008) nor Trump’s return of North Korea to the list this week had anything to do with any changes in North Korea’s conduct as far as terrorism is concerned.

The Bush administration’s delisting was part of an unsuccessful effort to do something about Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The Trump administration has seized upon relisting is supposedly another form of pressure on North Korea, with the concern again centered on nuclear weapons.

Rationales being voiced for the newest move show what a stretch it is from what are supposed to be the criteria, defined by statute, for placement on the state sponsor list. Some defenders of the move refer to North Korean actions three decades ago.

Pyongyang really was doing international terrorism in the 1980s, mainly aimed against South Korea. It was responsible for a bomb in Rangoon that killed several visiting members of the South Korean cabinet in 1983. It planted a bomb in a Korean Air civilian airliner in 1987, killing more than a hundred. But North Korea got out of international terrorism in subsequent years, with the hope of gaining some degree of international political rehabilitation. In terms of the legal standards for remaining on the state sponsor list, the delisting of North Korea in 2008 was overdue.

A more recent North Korean-perpetrated incident was the assassination in Malaysia this February of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. This killing, being performed clandestinely on foreign soil, technically meets the definition of international terrorism. And it is yet another example of repugnant and brutal behavior by the Pyongyang regime. But it had nothing to do with any campaign of terrorism that poses a threat to anyone other than members of Kim Jong Un’s own family or regime whom he perceives as a possible threat to his rule.

Past Practice

Other countries besides North Korea have been the subject of misuse of the state sponsor list. The Reagan administration took Iraq off the list as part of its tilt toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. The George H.W. Bush administration returned Iraq to the list after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Neither move had to do with any change in Iraqi behavior regarding international terrorism.

Cuba remained on the list, for reasons involving anti-Castro domestic U.S. politics, long after it had ceased doing anything that could be construed as international terrorism.

Barack Obama made more of an honest effort than most other U.S. presidents to respect the legal criteria associated with the state sponsor list. The belated removal of Cuba from the list was part of this. The Obama administration reportedly considered relisting North Korea but refrained because it could not identify a sound legal rationale for doing so.

Other administrations’ misuse of the state sponsor list has been a sloppy way of expressing disapproval of regimes they didn’t like. The sloppiness hides how such regimes may exhibit multiple forms of objectionable conduct, each posing its own problems and each of which can be addressed through different means. Blurring everything together into a miasma of undifferentiated rogue state behavior undermines the possibility of using diplomacy and carefully crafted incentives to ameliorate any one form of objectionable conduct, be it terrorism or weapons proliferation or something else, even if we can’t solve every problem we have with a regime.

Misusing the list of state sponsors of terrorism sends the message that the United States does not care all that much about terrorism itself. It undermines the credibility of efforts that really are focused on countering terrorism. Most fundamentally, it diminishes the incentive of the targeted regime to get out or stay out of international terrorism. If the North Korean regime sees that it is going to be branded a state sponsor of terrorism regardless of what it is doing terrorism-wise, it has that much less disincentive against sliding back into the reprehensible things it was doing in the 1980s.

This is one form of poor statesmanship in which Trump is not alone. His move regarding the state sponsor list does indicate a shortfall in careful and creative thinking about ways to counter the North Korean nuclear challenge.

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




The Lost Journalistic Standards of Russia-gate

Exclusive: The Russia-gate hysteria has witnessed a widespread collapse of journalistic standards as major U.S. news outlets ignore rules about how to treat evidence in dispute, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A danger in both journalism and intelligence is to allow an unproven or seriously disputed fact to become part of the accepted narrative where it gets widely repeated and thus misleads policymakers and citizens alike, such as happened during the run-up to war with Iraq and is now recurring amid the frenzy over Russia-gate.

For instance, in a Russia-gate story on Saturday, The New York Times reported as flat fact that a Kremlin intermediary “told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had ‘dirt’ on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of ‘thousands of emails.’” The Times apparently feels that this claim no longer needs attribution even though it apparently comes solely from the 32-year-old Papadopoulos as part of his plea bargain over lying to the FBI.

Beyond the question of trusting an admitted liar like Papadopoulos, his supposed Kremlin contact, professor Joseph Mifsud, a little-known academic associated with the University of Stirling in Scotland, denied knowing anything about Democratic emails.

In an interview with the U.K. Daily Telegraph, Mifsud acknowledged meeting with Papadopoulos but disputed having close ties to the Kremlin and rejected how Papadopoulos recounted their conversations. Specifically, he denied the claim that he mentioned emails containing “dirt” on Clinton.

Even New York Times correspondent Scott Shane noted late last month – after the criminal complaint against Papadopoulos was unsealed – that “A crucial detail is still missing: Whether and when Mr. Papadopoulos told senior Trump campaign officials about Russia’s possession of hacked emails. And it appears that the young aide’s quest for a deeper connection with Russian officials, while he aggressively pursued it, led nowhere.”

Shane added, “the court documents describe in detail how Mr. Papadopoulos continued to report to senior campaign officials on his efforts to arrange meetings with Russian officials, … the documents do not say explicitly whether, and to whom, he passed on his most explosive discovery – that the Russians had what they considered compromising emails on Mr. Trump’s opponent.

“J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon official who worked for the Trump campaign as a national security adviser [and who dealt directly with Papadopoulos] said he had known nothing about Mr. Papadopoulos’ discovery that Russia had obtained Democratic emails or of his prolonged pursuit of meetings with Russians.”

Missing Corroboration

But the journalistic question is somewhat different: why does the Times trust the uncorroborated assertion that Mifsud told Papadopoulos about the emails — and trust the claim to such a degree that the newspaper would treat it as flat fact? Absent corroborating evidence, isn’t it just as likely (if not more likely) that Papadopoulos is telling the prosecutors what he thinks they want to hear?

If the prosecutors working for Russia-gate independent counsel Robert Mueller had direct evidence that Mifsud did tell Papadopoulos about the emails, you would assume that they would have included the proof in the criminal filing against Papadopoulos, which was made public on Oct. 30.

Further, since Papadopoulos was peppering the Trump campaign with news about his Russian outreach in 2016, you might have expected that he would include something about how helpful the Russians had been in obtaining and publicizing the Democratic emails.

But none of Papadopoulos’s many emails to Trump campaign officials about his Russian contacts (as cited by the prosecutors) mentioned the hot news about “dirt” on Clinton or the Russians possessing “thousands of emails.” This lack of back-up would normally raise serious doubts about Papadopoulos’s claim, but – since Papadopoulos was claiming something that the prosecutors and the Times wanted to believe – reasonable skepticism was swept aside.

What the Times seems to have done is to accept a bald assertion by Mueller’s prosecutors as sufficient basis for jumping to the conclusion that this disputed claim is undeniably true. But just because Papadopoulos, a confessed liar, and these self-interested prosecutors claim something is true doesn’t make it true.

Careful journalists would wonder, as Shane did, why Papadopoulos who in 2016 was boasting of his Russian contacts to make himself appear more valuable to the Trump campaign wouldn’t have informed someone about this juicy tidbit of information, that the Russians possessed “thousands of emails” on Clinton.

Yet, the prosecutors’ statement regarding Papadopoulos’s guilty plea is strikingly silent on corroborating evidence that could prove that, first, Russia did possess the Democratic emails (which Russian officials deny) and, second, the Trump campaign was at least knowledgeable about this core fact in the support of the theory about the campaign’s collusion with the Russians (which President Trump and other campaign officials deny).

Of course, it could be that the prosecutors’ “fact” will turn out to be a fact as more evidence emerges, but anyone who has covered court cases or served on a jury knows that prosecutors’ criminal complaints and pre-trial statements should be taken with a large grain of salt. Prosecutors often make assertions based on the claim of a single witness whose credibility gets destroyed when subjected to cross-examination.

That is why reporters are usually careful to use words like “alleged” in dealing with prosecutors’ claims that someone is guilty. However, in Russia-gate, all the usual standards of proof and logic have been jettisoned. If something serves the narrative, no matter how dubious, it is embraced by the U.S. mainstream media, which – for the past year – has taken a lead role in the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

A History of Bias

This tendency to succumb to “confirmation bias,” i.e., to believe the worst about some demonized figure, has inflicted grave damage in other recent situations as well.

One example is described in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2006 study of the false intelligence that undergirded the case for invading Iraq in 2003. That inquiry discovered that previously discredited WMD claims kept reemerging in finished U.S. intelligence analyses as part of the case for believing that Iraq was hiding WMD.

In the years before the Iraq invasion, the U.S. government had provided tens of millions of dollars to Iraqi exiles in the Iraqi National Congress, and the INC, in turn, produced a steady stream of “walk-ins” who claimed to be Iraqi government “defectors” with knowledge about Saddam Hussein’s secret WMD programs.

Some U.S. intelligence analysts — though faced with White House pressure to accept this “evidence” — did their jobs honestly and exposed a number of the “defectors” as paid liars, including one, who was identified in the Senate report as “Source Two,” who talked about Iraq supposedly building mobile biological weapons labs.

CIA analysts caught Source Two in contradictions and issued a “fabrication notice” in May 2002, deeming him “a fabricator/provocateur” and asserting that he had “been coached by the Iraqi National Congress prior to his meeting with western intelligence services.”

But the Defense Intelligence Agency never repudiated the specific reports that were based on Source Two’s debriefings. Source Two also continued to be cited in five CIA intelligence assessments and the pivotal National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002, “as corroborating other source reporting about a mobile biological weapons program,” the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Thus, Source Two became one of four human sources referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003, making the case that Iraq was lying when it insisted that it had ended its WMD programs. (The infamous “Curve Ball” was another of these dishonest sources.)

Losing the Thread

After the U.S. invasion and the failure to find the WMD caches, a CIA analyst who worked on Powell’s speech was asked how a known “fabricator” (Source Two) could have been used for such an important address by a senior U.S. government official. The analyst responded, “we lost the thread of concern as time progressed I don’t think we remembered.”

A CIA supervisor added, “Clearly we had it at one point, we understood, we had concerns about the source, but over time it started getting used again and there really was a loss of corporate awareness that we had a problem with the source.”

In other words, like today’s Russia-gate hysteria, the Iraq-WMD groupthink had spread so widely across U.S. government agencies and the U.S. mainstream media that standard safeguards against fake evidence were discarded. People in Official Washington, for reasons of careerism and self-interest, saw advantages in running with the Iraq-WMD pack and recognized the dangers of jumping in front of the stampeding herd to raise doubts about Iraq’s WMD.

Back then, the personal risk to salary and status came from questioning the Iraq-WMD groupthink because there was always the possibility that Saddam Hussein indeed was hiding WMD and, if so, you’d be forever branded as a “Saddam apologist”; while there were few if any personal risks to agreeing with all those powerful people that Iraq had WMD, even if that judgment turned out to be disastrously wrong.

Sure, American soldiers and the people of Iraq would pay a terrible price, but your career likely would be safe, a calculation that proved true for people like Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post who repeatedly reported Iraq’s WMD as flat fact and today remains the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post.

Similarly, Official Washington’s judgment now is that there is no real downside to joining the Resistance to Trump, who is widely viewed as a buffoon, unfit to be President of the United States. So, any means to remove him are seen by many Important People as justified – and the Russian allegations seem to be the weightiest rationale for his impeachment or forced resignation.

Professionally, it is much riskier to insist on unbiased standards of evidence regarding Trump and Russia. You’ll just stir up a lot of angry questions about why are you “defending Trump.” You’ll be called a “Trump enabler” and/or a “Kremlin stooge.”

However, basing decisions on dubious information carries its own dangers for the nation and the world. Not only do the targets end up with legitimate grievances about being railroaded – and not only does this prejudicial treatment undermine faith in the fairness of democratic institutions – but falsehoods can become the basis for wider policies that can unleash wars and devastation.

We saw the horrific outcome of the Iraq War, but the risks of hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia are far graver; indeed, billions of people could die and human civilization end. With stakes so high, The New York Times and Mueller’s prosecutors owe the public better than treating questionable accusations as flat fact.

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).




Undercounting the Civilian Dead

During the “war on terror,” the U.S. government has understated the number of civilians killed (all the better to manage positive perceptions back home). But a new report underscores the truth, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Anyone willing to think carefully and critically about the use of armed force against a target such as Islamic State (ISIS) would do well to read the intensively researched piece in the New York Times by investigative journalist Azmat Khan and Arizona State professor Anand Gopal about civilian casualties from the air war waged by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The key conclusion is that those casualties are far higher — probably many times higher — than what the U.S. military acknowledges.

Such a discrepancy has been suspected for some time, based on earlier work by private organizations that comb press reports and other publicly available information from afar. Khan and Gopal went beyond that work by selecting three areas in Nineveh province as samples in which they performed an exhaustive on-the-ground investigation, interviewing hundreds of residents and sifting through the rubble of bombed structures. They compared such direct evidence, incident by incident, with what the responsible U.S. military command said it had in its records about airstrikes it had conducted in the area and the results of those airstrikes.

The authors were given access to the operations center at a U.S. airbase in Qatar that has directed the air war, and their article includes the U.S. military’s side of this story, with a description of the procedures used to select targets and assess damage, including civilian casualties. The impression left is not one of willful deception or malfeasance. Rather, the problem is partly a matter of lacking the time and personnel to do the sort of detailed after-the-fact, on-the-ground investigation for every target that Khan and Gopal did with their sample.

It is partly a matter of deficient record-keeping. It is in large part a matter of the fog of this kind of war making much faulty and woefully incomplete information almost inevitable. Although some of the civilian casualties represent collateral damage in the form of people who were in the vicinity of bona fide ISIS targets, others were in places that the targeteers mistakenly identified as having an ISIS connection.

The conditions in which civilians were living when under ISIS control worked against accurate analysis by the military of potential targets, which relied heavily on aerial observation. The observing of people going in and out of buildings in what looked like normal everyday activity was taken as a sign either that the building itself was a normal civilian structure or that there were too many innocent people in the immediate vicinity to hit it.

The absence of such innocent-looking activity tended to be taken as confirmation of any other reason to suspect that malevolent ISIS operations were going on inside. But in the so-called caliphate of ISIS, many people who otherwise would have been moving around freely tended instead to stay indoors at home. They in effect had the choice of increasing their exposure to the vagaries and brutality of ISIS or of raising suspicion at that airbase in Qatar that their home had something to do with ISIS.

Khan and Gopal are unable to extrapolate from their data, being only a sample, to any comprehensive number of innocent civilians killed and wounded in this air war. They note, however, that the concentration of civilian casualties is likely to be even higher in some areas, such as the western part of Mosul, where ISIS held out longer against coalition bombardment than it did in the areas that the authors investigated.

Values and Morality

These findings provide disturbing food for thought in at least three respects. One concerns the values and morality involved in a U.S. military operation in which so many innocents suffer so much. The human faces that Khan and Gopal attach to some of the specific cases of suffering they have investigated underscore the fundamental wrongness of what has been occurring.

A second concerns the counterproductive aspects of an offensive that is supposed to be a combating of terrorism. The Donald Rumsfeld question — are we creating more terrorists than we are killing? — is still quite pertinent. The unsurprising resentment against the United States that results from U.S. aircraft killing and maiming innocent people, or destroying their homes, tends to create more terrorists.  At a minimum, it fosters the sort of sentiment that existing terrorists exploit and win them support.

A third implication involves the ability of the American public and political class to assess adequately what is going on with a military campaign of this sort. The biggest problem as always is an unwillingness to pay adequate attention to information at our disposal.

But in this case there is the added problem of bum information. Khan and Gopal write that the huge disparity between official numbers and probable actual figures of civilian casualties means this aerial offensive “may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

There are important policy decisions ahead about a continued U.S. military role, if any, in the areas where the ISIS caliphate once stood. Civilian casualties, and the importance of having an accurate sense of the extent of casualties that our own forces cause, need to be part of any debate about those decisions. But probably the lessons of the anti-ISIS air war apply at least as much to other states and regions where the United States has assumed the role of aerial gendarme, using either manned or unmanned means, against groups such as ISIS or al-Qaeda.

One thinks in particular of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in the absence of any geographically defined Congressional authorization for such use of force, there is no limit to where the United States will bombard from the sky and where, given the intrinsic difficulties in assembling accurate targeting information against such shadowy adversaries, more innocent civilians will die. This is one of the continuing dark sides of a “war on terror” that has been militarized to the extent that ill-chosen metaphor implies.

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




Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

President Trump and his son-in-law bet that the young Saudi crown prince could execute a plan to reshape the Mideast, but the scheme quickly unraveled revealing a dangerous amateur hour, writes ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success.

“It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.”

Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped.

But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit, a columnist for Al Monitor, put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell” (emphasis added).

The Syrian Defeat

Let us be clear, the so-called Sunni Alliance (principally Saudi Arabia and UAE, with Egypt already backing off) has just been roundly defeated in Syria. It has no capability whatsoever to “roll-back” Iran, Hezbollah or the Iraqi PMU (a Shiite militia) – except by using the Israeli “stick.” Israel may have the same strategic interests as the Sunni Alliance, but as Caspit notes, “the Saudis are interested in having Israel do the dirty work for them. But as it turns out, not everyone in Israel is as excited about it.”

Caspit calls a prospective clash between the Sunni Alliance and the Iranian-led front “a veritable war of Armageddon.” Those words encapsulate Israeli reservations.

This refusal to “bark” (in the famous Conan Doyle account of Sherlock Holmes) somehow knocks the blocks out from under Kushner’s “grand plan” because if Israel is opting out, what is there left to talk about? Israel precisely was the “stick” in Trump’s plan too. No stick: no Sunni Alliance roll-back of Iran; no further Saudi normalization with Israel; no Israeli-Palestinian initiative. MbS’ clumsiness (“reckless[ness]” a US official has called it) has pulled the rug out from under U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Why did Trump gamble so heavily on the inexperienced Kushner and the impulsive MbS? Well, of course, if such a “grand plan” had indeed worked out, it would have been a major foreign policy coup – and one done over the heads of the professional foreign policy and defense echelon who were excluded from it. Trump then would have felt himself freer to ascend above the Establishment tentacles: to attain a certain elevated independence and freedom from his “minders.” He would have achieved his coup through family channels, rather than be officially advised.

But, if it sinks into farce, and MbS becomes regarded in the U.S. as a maverick, rather than a Machiavelli, the (slighted) “system” will exact its revenge: presidential judgments will stand devalued — and ever more in need of justification and “minding.”

MbS (and Kushner) may have hurt President Trump in a much wider way therefore: the failed bet on the untried MbS may leach into other spheres – such as, in consequence, U.S. allies’ openly questioning the soundness of Trump’s North Korea judgments. In short, the U.S. President’s credibility will bear the consequences for his falling for MbS’ spin.

Wishful Thinking

There is, to be fair, much that is fanciful (even sycophantic) in the Western treatment of Saudi Arabia (President Trump is not alone in his thrall of things Saudi): the very notion of Saudi Arabia transforming itself into some muscular, “modern” regional powerhouse that can stare down Iran, in itself, would seem a tad unrealistic, yet this is widely accepted among U.S. commentators. Yes, the kingdom has little alternative but to transform as its oil dividend approaches expiry, and that may well mean, in theory, wrenching the kingdom onto a new course.

 

But defining exactly how the kingdom can re-invent itself, without tearing itself apart, is likely to be much more complex than advocating some superficial embrace of “Western modernity,” or that of combatting “corruption.” These are red herrings: the family is the state; and the state (and its oil wealth) is the family’s. There is no boundary, or demarcated frontier, between state and family. The latter enjoy the privileges and perquisites of birth (depending on proximity, or distance, from the throne). And perquisites awarded or appropriated, reflect only the monarch’s power-needs that serve to sustain his absolutism. There is no “damned merit” or equity in this system, nor was it ever intended.

What then can the term “corruption” mean in such a system? Saudi Arabia does not even pretend to a level, rules-based playing field. The law (and the rules) simply are what the king says, or signs, day-to-day.

What “corruption” used to mean, when Europe earlier “enjoyed” such a similar absolutist system, was clear enough: you had got in the king’s way, that is all that “corruption” implied. So, if the outside world thinks that MbS is moving Saudi Arabia towards a Western modernity, then they must mean either that MbS is planning the jettisoning of “the family” (the 15,000 princes of the blood royal), or he’s moving towards some constitutional monarchial set-up, and a rules-based society of citizens, rather than subjects.

Nothing in MbS’ actions suggest that he is moving in that direction. Rather, his actions suggest that he wants to recover and restore the absolutist aspect to the monarchy. And the modernity that he is seeking is of the type that you buy, virtually ready-made, ready to be assembled from its box. In short, the plan is to buy an industrial base, “in a box,” off the shelf, to make up for depleting oil revenues.

Vision 2030 tells us that this well-packaged, high-tech, “industrial base” is supposed to yield $1 trillion’s profit per annum, if all goes well … eventually. That is to say, it is intended as replacement source of income: precisely to support “the family” – and not displace it. It is not therefore “reformist” in the Western notion of modernity being “equality before the law” and of protected rights.

Unrealistic Hopes  

Well, this type of non-organic, high-speed industrialization is not so easy to graft into society (if you are not Josef Stalin). It is expensive and, as history also tells us, is socially and culturally disruptive. It will cost a lot more than the reported $800 billion which MbS hopes to “recover” from his detainees (through physical coercion – some 17 have been already been hospitalized, in consequence of their treatment in detention).

But, if it is not to Westernize the economy, why then are so many senior family members needing to be “got out of the way”? This part of the “grand plan” relates perhaps, to the reason why MbS wanted, so much, to “woo and capture” President Trump (as Miller and Solkosky put it). MbS is frank about this: he has been telling President Trump that he wants to restore the kingdom’s former grandeur; to be again the leader of the Sunni world, and the guardian of Islam. And to do that, upstart Iran and the Shi’i revival must be knocked back down into subordination to Saudi leadership.

The difficulty is that some in the family would have opposed such adventurism against Iran. MbS seems to be pursuing a notion similar to that adopted by the neocons: i.e. the Kristolian argument that you can’t make (or restore) a “benevolent hegemony” omelet without breaking a few eggs. And as Miller and Sokolsky noted, Trump “didn’t take much convincing” — MbS’ vision intersected precisely with his own imperatives (and animus towards Iran). Trump duly tweeted his endorsement for the Saudi “corruption” crack-down.

And here lay the third leg to the “grand plan”: Israel would be “the stick” for the Saudi-UAE-U.S. alliance against Iran (Hezbollah was to be to be its peg for action). Saudi Arabia then, in return, would move to recognize the Jewish State, and Israel would give the Palestinians “something”: a “something” that might be called a state, even if it was much less than a state. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia would co-ordinate in pressuring the Palestinians to accept the U.S. proposals for a “settlement.”

Why did it go so wrong? Exaggerated expectations of that which each other party could realistically implement. Believing each other’s rhetoric. America’s love affair with Saudi royalty. Kushner’s family ties to Netanyahu. Wishful thinking on the part of Kushner and Trump that MbS could be the instrument to restore not just the Saudi kingdom as America’s “policeman” in the Islamic world, but even the American-led order in the Middle East, too.

Maybe Jared Kushner believed Bibi Netanyahu when he hinted that “normalization” of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel would witness reciprocation in Israeli concessions to the Palestinians (when in fact, the Israeli security cabinet has already vetoed the concessions – well short of a state – that were being discussed in this connection)?

Maybe Jared believed MbS when he suggested that he could mobilize the Sunni world against Iran – if America and Israel backed him (when even Egypt opposed destabilizing Lebanon)?

Maybe MbS believed that Trump spoke for America when he offered to support him (when in fact, he spoke only for the White House)?

Maybe MbS thought that Trump would rally Europe against Hezbollah in Lebanon (in fact, the Europeans have prioritized Lebanese stability)?

And, maybe MbS and Kushner thought Netanyahu spoke for Israel when he promised to be a partner in the front against Hezbollah and Iran? Was it the “grand plan” that was affirmed between Netanyahu and Trump on the day before the latter launched his United Nations broadside at Iran in September? When in fact, while any Israeli Prime Minister can wage war against the Palestinians with a relatively free hand, the same is not true where the state of Israel itself is being put at stake. No Israeli P.M. can commit to a possibly existential conflict (for Israel), without having broad support from the Israeli political and security establishment. And the Israel Establishment will only contemplate war when it is plainly in the Israeli interest, and not merely to please MbS or Mr Trump.

Ben Caspit (and other Israeli commentators) confirm that the Israeli establishment does not see war with Hezbollah, and the risk of a wider conflict, to be in the Israeli interest.

The fallout from this episode is highly significant. It has exposed that Israel presently is deterred from contemplating a war in the region (as Caspit explains). It too has underlined the hollowness of MbS ambitions to mount a “Sunni Alliance” against Iran; and it has undercut President Trump’s containment policy for Iran. For now, at least, we may expect Iran and Russia to consolidate the state in Syria, and to stabilize the northern tier. Caspit’s “war of Armageddon” may yet arrive – but not for now, perhaps.

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




Russia-gate Spreads to Europe

Exclusive: The Russia-gate hysteria has jumped the Atlantic with Europeans blaming Russia for Brexit and Catalonian discontent. But what about Israeli influence operations or, for that matter, American ones, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Ever since the U.S. government dangled $160 million last December to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation, obscure academics and eager think tanks have been lining up for a shot at the loot, an unseemly rush to profit that is spreading the Russia-gate hysteria beyond the United States to Europe.

Now, it seems that every development, which is unwelcomed by the Establishment – from Brexit to the Catalonia independence referendum – gets blamed on Russia! Russia! Russia!

The methodology of these “studies” is to find some Twitter accounts or Facebook pages somehow “linked” to Russia (although it’s never exactly clear how that is determined) and complain about the “Russian-linked” comments on political developments in the West. The assumption is that the gullible people of the United States, United Kingdom and Catalonia were either waiting for some secret Kremlin guidance to decide how to vote or were easily duped.

Oddly, however, most of this alleged “interference” seems to have come after the event in question. For instance, more than half (56 percent) of the famous $100,000 in Facebook ads in 2015-2017 supposedly to help elect Donald Trump came after last year’s U.S. election (and the total sum compares to Facebook’s annual revenue of $27 billion).

Similarly, a new British study at the University of Edinburgh blaming the Brexit vote on Russia discovered that more than 70 percent of the Brexit-related tweets from allegedly Russian-linked sites came after the referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. But, hey, don’t let facts and logic get in the way of a useful narrative to suggest that anyone who voted for Trump or favored Brexit or wants independence for Catalonia is Moscow’s “useful idiot”!

This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of seeking to “undermine free societies” and to “sow discord in the West.”

What About Israel?

Yet, another core problem with these “studies” is that they don’t come with any “controls,” i.e., what is used in science to test a hypothesis against some base line to determine if you are finding something unusual or just some normal occurrence.

In this case, for instance, it would be useful to find some other country that, like Russia, has a significant number of English speakers but where English is not the native language – and that has a significant interest in foreign affairs – and then see whether people from that country weigh in on social media with their opinions and perspectives about political events in the U.S., U.K., etc.

Perhaps, the U.S. government could devote some of that $160 million to, say, a study of the Twitter/Facebook behavior of Israelis and whether they jump in on U.S./U.K. controversies that might directly or indirectly affect Israel. We could see how many Twitter/Facebook accounts are “linked” to Israel; we could study whether any Israeli “trolls” harass journalists and news sites that oppose neoconservative policies and politicians in the West; we could check on whether Israel does anything to undermine candidates who are viewed as hostile to Israeli interests; if so, we could calculate how much money these “Israeli-linked” activists and bloggers invest in Facebook ads; and we could track any Twitter bots that might be reinforcing the Israeli-favored message.

No Chance

If we had this Israeli baseline, then perhaps we could judge how unusual it is for Russians to voice their opinions about controversies in the West. It’s true that Israel is a much smaller country with 8.5 million people compared to Russia’s 144 million, but you could adjust for those per capita numbers — and even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that Israel’s interference in U.S. policymaking still exceeds Russian influence.

It’s also true that Israeli leaders have often advocated policies that have proved disastrous for the United States, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s encouragement of  the Iraq War, which Russia opposed. Indeed, although Russia is now regularly called an American enemy, it’s hard to think of any policy that President Vladimir Putin has pushed on the U.S. that is even a fraction as harmful to U.S. interests as the Iraq War has been.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we could have an accounting of how much “U.S.-linked” entities have spent to influence politics and policies in Russia, Ukraine, Syria and other international hot spots.

But, of course, neither of those things will happen. If you even tried to gauge the role of “Israeli-linked” operations in influencing Western decision-making, you’d be accused of anti-Semitism. And if that didn’t stop you, there would be furious editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the U.S. mainstream media denouncing you as a “conspiracy theorist.” Who could possibly think that Israel would do anything underhanded to shape Western attitudes?

And, if you sought the comparative figures for the West interfering in the affairs of other nations, you’d be faulted for engaging in “false moral equivalence.” After all, whatever the U.S. government and its allies do is good for the world; whereas Russia is the fount of evil.

So, let’s just get back to developing those algorithms to sniff out, isolate and eradicate “Russian propaganda” or other deviant points of view, all the better to make sure that Americans, Britons and Catalonians vote the right way.

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).




America’s Renegade Warfare

Exclusive: Claiming the right to launch preemptive wars and fighting an ill-defined “global war on terror,” the U.S. government has slaughtered vast numbers of civilians in defiance of international law, says Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

Seventy-seven million people in North and South Korea find themselves directly in the line of fire from the threat of a Second Korean War. The rest of the world is recoiling in horror from the scale of civilian casualties such a war would cause and the unthinkable prospect that either side might actually use nuclear weapons.

Since the first Korean War killed at least 20 percent of North Korea’s population and left the country in ruins, the U.S. has repeatedly failed to follow through on diplomacy to establish a lasting peace in Korea and has instead kept reverting to illegal and terrifying threats of war. Most significantly, the U.S. has waged a relentless propaganda campaign to discount North Korea’s legitimate defense concerns as it confronts the threat of a U.S. war machine that has only grown more dangerous since the last time it destroyed North Korea.

The North has lived under this threat for 65 years and has watched Iraq and Libya destroyed after they gave up their nuclear weapons programs. When North Korea discovered a U.S. plan for a Second Korean War on South Korea’s military computer network in September 2016, its leaders quite rationally concluded that a viable nuclear deterrent is the only way to guarantee their country’s safety.

What does it say about the role the U.S. is playing in the world that the only way North Korea’s leaders believe they can keep their own people safe is to develop weapons that could kill millions of Americans?

The Changing Face of War 

The Second World War was the deadliest war ever fought, with at least 75 million people killed, about five times as many as in the First World War. When the slaughter ended in 1945, world leaders signed the United Nations Charter to try to ensure that that scale of mass killing and destruction would never happen again. The U.N. Charter is still in force, and it explicitly prohibits the threat or use of military force by any nation.

It was not just the scale of the slaughter that shocked the world’s leaders into that brief moment of sanity in 1945. It was also the identities of the dead. Two-thirds of the people killed in the Second World War were civilians, a drastic change from the First World War, only a few decades earlier, when an estimated 86 percent of the people killed were uniformed combatants. The use of nuclear weapons by the United States raised the specter that future wars could kill an exponentially greater numbers of civilians, or even end human civilization altogether.

War had become “total war,” no longer fought only on battlefields between soldiers, but between entire societies with ordinary people, their homes and their lives now on the front line. In the Second World War:

–Fleets of warplanes deliberately bombed cities to “dehouse” civilian populations, as British officials described their own bombing of Germany. “As I write this,” George Orwell wrote from London in 1941, “Highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

–Submarines sank hundreds of merchant ships in an effort to starve their enemies into submission. General Carter Clarke, who was in charge of interpreting Japanese intelligence for President Truman, said in a 1959 interview that Japan surrendered because it faced mass starvation due to the sinking of its merchant shipping, not because of the gratuitous U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was estimated that 7 million more civilians would die of starvation if Japan fought on until 1946.

–Genocidal mass extermination campaigns killed civilians based only on their political affiliation or ethnicity. Under cross-examination by a young American prosecutor, Benjamin Ferencz, SS Gruppenfuhrer Dr. Otto Ohlendorf explained patiently to a courtroom in Nuremberg why he found it necessary for the “preemptive defense” of Germany to order the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. He explained that even children had to be killed to prevent them too becoming enemies of Germany when they grew up and found out what happened to their parents.

Despite the U.N. Charter and international efforts to prevent war, people in countries afflicted by war today still face the kind of total war that horrified world leaders in 1945. The main victims of total war in our “modern” world have been civilians in countries far removed from the safe havens of power and privilege where their fates are debated and decided: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; Somalia; Pakistan; Yemen; Libya; Syria; Ukraine. There has been no legal or political accountability for the mass destruction of their cities, their homes or their lives. Total war has not been prevented, or even punished, just externalized.

But thanks to billions of dollars invested in military propaganda and public relations and the corrupt nature of for-profit media systems, citizens of the countries responsible for the killing of millions of their fellow human beings live in near-total ignorance of the mass killing carried out in their name in these “red zones” around the world.

People in ever-spreading war zones are living under the very conditions of total war that the world recoiled from at the end of the Second World War. Like Orwell in London in 1941, they hear highly civilized human beings flying overhead trying to kill them, human beings who know nothing about them beyond the name of the city where they live and its strategic value in wars that offer them, the victims, nothing but death or destitution.

In the case of drones, the human beings trying to kill them from the other side of the world are so highly civilized that they can hop into cars and drive home to have dinner with their families at the end of their shifts, while another “team member” efficiently takes over the “joy-stick” and carries on killing.

People in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya have been subjected to hunger and starvation under sieges and naval blockades that are as brutally effective as German and American submarines were in World War Two. Millions of people in Yemen face an imminent danger of starvation under the U.S.-backed naval blockade and Saudi and Emirati bombing of Yemeni ports.

In retaliation for one missile fired at Riyadh, the Saudi capital, last week, the U.S.-backed coalition completely closed all Yemen’s ports, tightening the blockade on millions of starving people. The requirements of necessity and proportionality, which have been basic principles of customary international law since the Nineteenth Century, lie buried in the graveyards of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is the U.S. Guilty of Genocide? 

The U.S. military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq quickly adopted “divide and rule” strategies that targeted Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Sunni Arabs in Iraq. When I pointed this out to a friend who teaches military history in 2005, he asked only, “How else can you do it?” I reminded him that “you” don’t have to “do it” at all.

U.S. and allied forces in Iraq have killed at least 10-15 percent of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and displaced about half of them. Sunni Arabs have been relentlessly targeted for detention, torture and summary execution since 2004, when ex-Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence chief Steven Casteel, retired Colonel James Steele and a CIA team reportedly based on the eighth floor of the Iraqi Interior Ministry recruited, trained and equipped “Special Police” death squads to conduct a reign of terror that tortured and killed tens of thousands of men and boys in Baghdad and elsewhere.

After training by James Steele’s Special Police Training Teams, each Iraqi Special Police unit worked closely with a U.S. Special Police Transition Team (SPTT), and their operations were commanded and controlled from a high-tech command center staffed by U.S. and Iraqi personnel. An SPTT assigned to the notorious Wolf Brigade in Baghdad was from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Nightstalkers,” who usually provide helicopter transport for U.S. special operations but in this case appear to have used their helicopters mainly to fly detainees to their deaths.

After the exposure of their Al Jadiriyah torture prison in November 2005, the Special Police were rebranded as the National Police (and the Wolf Brigade, incongruously, as the Freedom Brigade).  But their torture and killing raged on, under cover of an official narrative of “sectarian violence” which scrupulously ignored the command and control of these forces by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, the CIA and the U.S. military.

At the peak of this campaign in July-October 2006, supported by the U.S. Operations Together Forward I & II, National Police death squads flooded the main morgue in Baghdad with up to 1,600 bodies per month. Thousands more Iraqis were killed and buried elsewhere or just disappeared, while 2 million people were displaced inside Iraq and another 2 million fled the country.

This ethnic cleansing campaign has continued under the U.S-backed Shiite government and has kept driving Sunni Arab Iraqis into armed resistance groups, of which Islamic State is only the latest, creating pretexts for endless violence against them. Kurdish military intelligence reports have estimated that 40,000 civilians were killed in the recent U.S.-led assault on Mosul, by tens of thousands of bombs and missiles dropped by U.S. and “coalition” warplanes, U.S. Marine 220-lb HiMARS rockets and U.S., French and Iraqi heavy artillery. This is still only an estimate, and the true number of civilians killed in Mosul was probably higher.

From 2004 on, the ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs has been a deliberate, calculated element of the U.S.’s “divide and rule” policy in Iraq, with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” That is the legal definition of genocide in Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention. The working title of my book about the U.S. invasion and destruction of Iraq was From Aggression to Genocide.

As for the killing of “enemy” children, President Obama justified the murder of 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen in October 2011, two weeks after the assassination of his father, the Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. In one of Donald Trump’s first acts as president, he authorized a U.S. special operations attack that killed Abdulrahman’s 8-year old sister Nawar and other family members in January 2017 – after Trump, on the campaign trail, had vowed to kill the families of suspected terrorists.

Benjamin Ferencz, the by then 81-year-old American lawyer who prosecuted SS Gruppenfuhrer Ohlendorf and his accomplices at Nuremberg, was interviewed by NPR eight days after the mass murders of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done,” Ferencz insisted. “We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened… I say to the skeptics, ‘Follow your procedure and you will see what happens.’ … We will have more fanatics and more zealots deciding to come and kill the evil, the United States.”

But in the courtroom of American politics, hopelessly corrupted by the CIA’s politicized intelligence and manufactured crises and the “unwarranted influence” of the Military Industrial Complex, our leaders chose Ohlendorf’s logic over Ferencz’s. Neither the millions of people killed in 16 years of war, nor its legacy of ruin and chaos in country after country, nor the utter failure of the “war on terror” on its own terms have led to any change in this illegitimate, criminal and, in the case of Sunni Arabs in Iraq, genocidal U.S. policy.

The Geneva Conventions

As well as the unfulfilled promise of peace in the U.N. Charter, the post-World War II effort to prevent the future mass slaughter of civilians led to a major revision of the Geneva Conventions in 1949. That included a brand new convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention, dedicated entirely to the protection of civilians in wartime or under military occupation.

Two additional protocols were added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977, to adapt them to the changing nature of war and to provide even greater protections to civilians.  The First Additional Protocol has been signed and ratified by 174 countries and the Second by 168 countries. The United States has not ratified either of the Additional Protocols, but it is legally bound by them because treaties that have been ratified by large majorities of countries automatically become part of customary international law, which is universally binding.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1949 Conventions in 1999, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) conducted a survey of 17,000 people in 17 countries to see how well people around the world understood “the rules and limits of what is permissible in war” under the Geneva Conventions. The study was titled People on War – Civilians in the Line of Fire.

The 17 countries surveyed included 12 where wars had recently been fought, four of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Switzerland, where the ICRC is based. The introduction to the People on War report noted that 90 percent of the people killed in recent wars were civilians and that, in today’s world, “war is war on civilians.” But the report went on:

“…the more these conflicts have degenerated into wars on civilians, the more people have reacted by reaffirming the norms, traditions, conventions and rules that seek to create a barrier between those who carry arms into battle and the civilian population… Large majorities in every war-torn country reject attacks on civilians in general and a wide range of actions that by design or default could harm the innocent.”

People interviewed in Switzerland and the four Security Council permanent member countries were asked to choose between a firm statement that armed forces “must attack only other combatants and leave civilians alone,” and a weaker statement that, “combatants should avoid civilians as much as possible.”  About three-quarters of respondents in the U.K., Russia, France and Switzerland chose the first statement, which correctly summarizes the rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while 26 percent in the U.K. and 16-17 percent in Russia, France and Switzerland chose the weaker one.

When it came to the United States, though, a very different pattern emerged. Only 52 percent of Americans understood that attacking civilians is strictly prohibited, while 42 percent chose the weaker option, twice as many as in the other four countries. The ICRC report noted that, “Across a wide range of questions, in fact, American attitudes towards attacks on civilians were much more lax.”

The survey also asked whether it is lawful to attack “enemy combatants in populated villages or towns in order to weaken the enemy, knowing that many civilians would be killed.” Once again, while only 20-29 percent of people in the other four countries thought this was allowed, that increased to 38 percent among Americans. Since 1999, this question has arisen again and again across America’s war zones, most recently in the U.S.-led massacres of Iraqi and Syrian civilians in Mosul and Raqqa.

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, U.N. human rights reports repeatedly reminded U.S. officials of their duty as an occupying power to protect civilians, and notified them that U.S. military operations in civilian areas were routinely violating international humanitarian law. John Pace, who headed the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq during the U.S. occupation, compared U.S. efforts to police Iraq by military force to “trying to swat a fly with a bomb,” a fitting metaphor for the entire “war on terror.”

The People on War survey also found large discrepancies in attitudes to the Geneva Conventions themselves. In countries that had recently experienced war, only 28 percent of people agreed with a statement that the Conventions “make no real difference” to the brutality of war.  But in the U.S. (57 percent) and U.K. (55 percent), twice as many people agreed with that statement.

U.S. War Crimes

We could speculate on why Americans are so exceptionally “lax” in their attitudes toward protecting civilians in wartime. But in practice, the real-world impact of these exceptional attitudes could be overcome if Americans who joined the armed forces received serious training in their responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Tragically, they do not.

U.S. military recruits receive only a 50-minute class on the laws of war, focused mainly on the Third Geneva Convention and the rights of POWs, and a refresher of the same 50-minute class before deployment. A retired JAG officer who taught law of war classes and veterans who have sat through them have all told me that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the rights of civilians as “protected persons” were barely mentioned, if at all.

The lax attitude of Americans toward the killing of civilians and the poor training of U.S. troops in their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions have combined to make invasion and occupation by American forces especially deadly, dangerous and terrifying for civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and wherever U.S. forces are deployed.

In practice, U.S. forces operate under much lower standards than those of the Geneva Conventions, and civilians whose countries have fallen prey to U.S. aggression do not enjoy the protections guaranteed to them under the laws of war. As I wrote in an article in 2016, this is a classic case of the “normalization of deviance,” a sociological term for the way that powerful institutions like the U.S. military tend to develop weaker, looser norms of conduct than the formal or legal rules that officially apply to them.

Illegal U.S. rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan have included: systematic, theater-wide use of torture; orders to “dead-check” or kill wounded enemy combatants; orders to “kill all military-age males” during certain operations; and “weapons-free” zones that mirror Vietnam-era “free-fire” zones. A U.S. Marine corporal told a court martial prosecuting one of his men for “dead-checking” a wounded Iraqi civilian that “Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency,” nullifying the critical distinction between combatants and civilians that is the very basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

When junior officers or enlisted troops have been charged with war crimes against civilians, they have often been exonerated or given light sentences because courts martial have found that they were acting on orders from more senior officers. But the senior officers implicated in these crimes have been allowed to testify in secret or not to appear in court at all, and have almost never been charged.

To make matters even worse for civilians in Iraq, U.S. military and civilian officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, misled the troops they sent to kill and die in Iraq with lies about shadowy connections between the people of Iraq and the young Saudis who committed the crimes of September 11th. In 2006, three years into the war, a Zogby poll of U.S. troops in Iraq found that 85 percent of them still believed that their mission in Iraq was to “retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks.”

A million Iraqis have paid with their lives for these American lies and the war crimes they have served to justify, while the U.S. officials involved are still walking free, and in many cases still climbing the twisted ladder of success inside the U.S. Military Industrial Complex. Colonel Jeffrey Buchanan, who headed a Special Police Transition Team in Iraq at the time of the exposure of the Al Jadiriyah torture prison in 2005, has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and is currently in charge of hurricane relief to Puerto Rico.

A New Body of Research

After 16 years of ever-spreading and intractable war, a significant body of research is finally emerging to clarify who exactly the U.S. is fighting in its ever-expanding war zones and what drives civilians to join armed groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda or Islamic State.

In the looking-glass world of U.S. propaganda, U.S. forces are “fighting them there” so that we don’t have to “fight them here.” But researchers are learning that, like the Iraqis who rose up to resist the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of their country, most of the people joining armed groups across Africa and the Middle East are only fighting at all because U.S. and allied forces are “fighting them there,” in their countries, cities, villages and homes.

Researchers have interviewed people who have joined armed resistance groups in countries across the world to ask them about what drove them to join an armed group and take part in guerrilla warfare or terrorism. In 2015, the Center for Civilians in Conflict published the results of interviews with 250 people who joined armed groups in Bosnia, Somalia, Gaza and Libya in a report titled, The People’s Perspective: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict. One of its main findings was that, “The most common motivation for involvement, described by interviewees in all four case studies, was the protection of self or family.”

If most of the people fighting U.S. forces and their allies across the world, from Niger to Ukraine to the Philippines, are just trying to defend themselves and their families against our “counterterrorism” operations, that turns the whole basis of the U.S. “war on terror” on its head. The most effective way to reduce violence and terrorism would obviously be to stop putting them in such an intolerable position in the first place.

Also in 2015, Lydia Wilson, a researcher for the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, was allowed to interview a number of captured Islamic State fighters in Kirkuk, Iraq. Wilson’s fellow researchers included retired U.S. Major General Doug Stone, who managed U.S. military prisons in Iraq during the U.S. occupation and did some of the first serious Western research into the motivations of Iraqi resistance fighters.

It was hard for Wilson to find captured Islamic State fighters to interview, because Kurdish and U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces summarily execute Islamic State fighters that they capture. But the police in Kirkuk were at least putting prisoners on trial before killing them, so Wilson got permission from the police chief to talk to some prisoners who were awaiting execution.

The first prisoner Lydia Wilson interviewed was captured, tried and sentenced to death for exploding at least four car-bombs and a scooter-bomb in Kirkuk. But his interview was not exceptional – Wilson found that his account of his motivations was repeated by every other prisoner. He explained that his first loyalty was to his wife and two children, and that he joined ISIS (as Islamic State is commonly known) to support his family. He told Wilson, “We need the war to be over, we need security, we are tired of so much war… all I want is to be with my family, my children.”

At the end of the interview, Wilson asked the prisoner if he had any questions. By then he knew that General Stone, one of Wilson’s colleagues, was ex-U.S. military, and, instead of asking a question, he just exploded in anger at him, “The Americans came. They took away Saddam but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

General Stone was not surprised.  This was the same outraged speech he had heard from nearly every prisoner since he started interviewing his own prisoners in Iraq in 2007, identifying the poisonous and blood-soaked legacy of the U.S. invasion and occupation as the driving force behind their actions.

Lydia Wilson summarized what she learned about the prisoners in Kirkuk in an article for The Nation: “They are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death by execution or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government. They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity, but cultural, tribal and land-based, too.”

The recent killing of four U.S. soldiers in Niger surprised many Americans, but the U.S. has 6,000 troops in 53 countries in Africa, so we should be ready to welcome home flag-draped coffins from seemingly random countries across the continent. But before our deluded leaders reduce the entire continent of Africa to a new U.S. “battlefield,” Americans should take note of a new report published by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), titled Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment.

This report is based on 500 interviews with militants from across Africa. As its title suggests, the interviewers questioned the militants specifically about the “tipping point” that decided each of them to actually join an armed group such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabab or Al Qaeda. By far the largest number (71 percent) said that some kind of “government action,” such as ”killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend,” was the final straw that pushed them over the red line from civilian life to guerrilla war. By contrast, religious ideology was generally not a decisive factor in that decision.

The report concluded, “State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse.” In its section on “Policy Implications,” it added, “The Journey to Extremism research provides startling new evidence of just how directly counter-productive security-driven responses can be when conducted insensitively.”

Across the world, it is obvious, and now well-documented, that U.S. aggression and militarism are causing the very problems they claim to be trying to solve. By design or default, U.S. policy is confusing cause and effect to justify military operations that turn civilians into combatants, fueling an ever-escalating, ever-spreading cycle of increasingly global violence and chaos.

As the world confronts critical problems and demands on its resources, from climate change to poverty and inequality, it can no longer afford to follow the pied piper of American “leadership” that leads only to war and chaos.

U.S. leaders often raise the specter of “appeasement” to guilt-trip reluctant allies into supporting U.S.-led wars. But maybe it is time for world leaders to recognize that the real appeasement they have been engaged in is the appeasement of the United States, by actively or tacitly encouraging it in an illegal policy of militarism and serial aggression that is spreading violence and chaos across the world.

Surely the real lesson of the 1930s and the Second World War, now reinforced by the experience of the past 20 years, is that it is not enough to simply sign treaties that prohibit aggression and war crimes. The world must be ready to actually enforce the prohibition against the threat or use of military force in customary international law, the 1928 Kellogg Brand Pact and the U.N. Charter – by uniting peacefully and diplomatically to stand up to U.S. aggression and militarism before they lead to a cataclysmic total war that will kill tens or even hundreds of millions of civilians, in Korea or somewhere else.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




The Ever-Expanding ‘War on Terror’

In the shadows, the U.S. special operations war on “terrorists” keeps on expanding around the globe, now reaching into Africa where few detectable American “interests” exist, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

If national-security reporters are ever replaced by robots writing boilerplate stories, blame it on the fact that U.S. military policy has become so predictable and repetitive.

Consider this New York Times story from 2011:

“The Central Intelligence Agency is building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for strikes in Yemen using armed drones. . . . The construction of the base is a sign that the Obama administration is planning an extended war in Yemen against an affiliate of Al Qaeda. . . . The clandestine American operations in Yemen are currently being run by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.”

Back then, the story could just as well have been set in South Asia, where Pakistan was also a major target of CIA and military drone strikes. Today it could apply, with only a few word changes, to new drone bases in Africa that target jihadists across the vast and thinly populated Sahel region.

As NBC recently reported, “The Trump administration is paving the way for lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger as the U.S. military pushes forward with a plan to arm the Reaper drones that fly over that country.”

That push was prompted by the recent killing of four Americans soldiers who were supporting a secret Joint Special Operations Command mission. NBC reported that their death “is fueling an urgency within the Trump administration to take more aggressive steps against the terrorist groups that are operating in North and West Africa, according to intelligence and military officials.”

It’s not clear whether the Trump administration even knows what terrorist groups to target. Numerous armed bands operate in the vast desert region, where ethnic and tribal disputes are rife.

Nor is it clear what critical U.S. interests are at stake. Take a look at a map of Africa and see if you can identify anything that most Americans would find worth fighting over within a one-thousand-mile radius of Niger.

The Action-Reaction Cycle

Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s response is the latest predictable move in the action-reaction cycle we have seen so many times since 9/11: Washington sends troops to the Middle East, South Asia or Africa to wage war against terrorists. The terrorists kill some of the Americans, so Washington sends even more troops, drones and bombers.

In the process, invariably, some civilians die. More terrorists are born. Soon the United States is building more far-flung bases and waging war in yet another country, without explicit congressional authorization.

As a military strategy, this bipartisan strategy has been a dismal failure. At a cost of several trillion dollars, U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries have succeeded only in growing the numbers of terrorists and insurgents and widening their geographic footprint.

In Yemen, for example, drone strikes and Joint Special Operations Command missions in late 2009 and early 2010 killed dozens of civilians, fueling recruitment of local Al Qaeda ranks.

After one such attack with cluster munitions killed 35 women and children in 2009, Princeton University’s Gregory Johnsen called the Obama administration’s strategy “incredibly dangerous” because it would draw new support to radical jihadists — as indeed it did. Four years later, another U.S. attack wiped out a wedding procession, causing nationwide outrage.

Yet the Trump administration has dramatically increased the pace of drone strikes and other military operations in Yemen, including a botched raid in January that killed “scores of civilians” and one U.S. commando.

More Terror in Somalia

President Obama insisted in 2014 that the “strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

That rosy assessment would come as news not only to the people of Yemen, who have seen Al Qaeda thrive since the United States and Saudi Arabia expanded that country’s war, but also in Somalia. The East African country recently suffered the worst terror attack in its history — a truck bomb that killed more than 300 people in the center of Mogadishu.

That attack, according to news reports, may have avenged a “botched U.S.-led operation” against al-Shabaab insurgents in August, which killed ten civilians, including three children.

Few Americans are aware of the scope of U.S. military operations in Somalia, where Washington is fighting one of its many undeclared wars. American drone strikes may have killed as many as 510 people in the country since 2007, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks death and injury reports.

In addition, the Pentagon has sharply increased the number of U.S. soldiers in the country, from 50 or so early this year to more than 400 today.

On March 30, President Trump declared Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” giving the Pentagon authority to conduct air strikes without interagency vetting to minimize civilian casualties. The decision was quickly followed by a wave of suicide attacks by al-Shabaab against Somali government forces.

Niger Is Next

The head of the U.S. Africa Command has called Somalia “our most perplexing challenge,” but Niger surely ranks high on the list. Its contingent of 800 U.S. soldiers is one of the largest of several dozen low-profile U.S. military deployments on the continent.

The proposed expansion of drone strikes to that nation “would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations,” according to NBC. To date, drones flown by the United States out of a base in Niger have been used only in Libya and Somalia. The base was approved by the Obama administration in 2014 to target “emerging” terrorist threats in the Sahel.

Donald Trump, who long ago forgot his promise to pull back from costly military interventions abroad, is doubling down on Obama’s strategy. “The war is morphing,” said Trump’s close confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the Armed Services Committee. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less.”

The United States already has hundreds of soldiers stationed in neighboring Cameroon, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and other nations — some 6,000 troops in all of Africa.

Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, reports that the U.S. military now conducts an average of nearly 3,500 missions per year on the continent, an “explosive” increase of 1,900 percent since the U.S. Africa Command was created in 2008.

Beware of a Backlash

“The huge increase in U.S. military missions in Africa over the past few years represents nothing less than a shadow war being waged on the continent,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

“This military-heavy policy,” Hartung warned, “risks drawing the United States more deeply into local and regional conflicts in Africa and generating a backlash that could actually aid terrorist organizations in their recruitment.”

The most authoritative new study of the sources of terrorism and insurgency on the continent, Journey to Extremism in Africa (September 2017), finds that what triggers many individuals to join violent groups are incidents of government-sponsored violence, such as “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend.”

“These findings throw into stark relief the question of how counter-terrorism and wider security functions of governments in at-risk environments conduct themselves with regard to human rights and due process,” concludes the report, based on interviews with more than 500 former members of militant organizations.

“State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse. . . These findings suggest that a dramatic reappraisal of state security-focused interventions is urgently required.”

Numerous other experts have drawn similar conclusions from conflict zones in the Middle East and Asia. In 2008, a RAND Corporation report on Lessons for Countering al-Qa’ida warned the U.S. military to “resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment. . . . Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.”

Similarly, the Stimson Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy, composed of former senior officials of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department, warned in 2014 that U.S. strikes had strengthened radical Islamic groups in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Among other drawbacks, it declared that “civilian casualties, even if relatively few, can anger whole communities, increase anti-US sentiment and become a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. Even strikes that kill only terrorist operatives can cause great resentment, particularly in contexts in which terrorist recruiting e?orts rely on tribal loyalties or on an economically desperate population.”

These findings seem fully applicable to Niger, where “The growing foreign military footprint in the country appears to have fed a local backlash against both the government and Western countries,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Since the killing of the U.S. soldiers, Niger authorities have made things worse, rounding up village leaders and ordering thousands of people to evacuate the area where the Americans were ambushed in order to escalate the war on local militants.

The outcome will, of course, be the exact opposite of what Washington intends. As University of Kent professor Yvan Guichaoua said, “Targeting these groups is the best way to make their leaders heroes, foster unity in jihadi ranks, and inflame communal violence. All policymakers working in the area know well the highly inflammable nature of the situation.”

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has almost no one “working in the area.” President Trump only got around to announcing his intent to nominate an ambassador to Niger on September 2. The administration has deployed only five ambassadors to a continent of 54 countries and has not yet appointed a senior policymaker for Africa in the State Department.

Africa is suffering from a host of maladies, including ineffectual and corrupt governance, severe climate change, crumbling infrastructure and technological backwardness — as well as civil wars and insurgencies. The United Nations just warned that the continent needs 11 million more doctors, nurses and teachers to prevent a “social and economic disaster” by 2030.

Trying to address these complex ailments through increased U.S. armed intervention will simply aggravate the problem, as it has in so many other parts of the world. That should be the real lesson we take from the tragic failure of the recent U.S. military mission in Niger, and from the broader tragedy of our post–9/11 response to terrorism abroad.

Jonathan Marshall, an independent journalist and scholar, is author or co-author of five books related to national security or international relations, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). [This article originally appeared at http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-lose-special-operations-war-africa-23160 Reprinted with author’s permission.]

 




Mocking Trump Doesn’t Prove Russia’s Guilt

Exclusive: President Trump is getting mocked for “trusting” Vladimir Putin’s denial about “meddling” in U.S. politics — and not accepting Official Washington’s groupthink — but ridicule isn’t evidence, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

If the bloody debacle in Iraq should have taught Americans anything, it is that endorsements by lots of important people who think something is true don’t amount to evidence that it actually is true. If endorsements were the same as evidence, U.S. troops would have found tons of WMD in Iraq, rather than come up empty.

So, when it comes to whether or not Russia “hacked” Democratic emails last year and slipped them to WikiLeaks, just because a bunch of people with fancy titles think the Russians are guilty doesn’t compensate for the lack of evidence so far evinced to support this core charge.

But the reaction of Official Washington and the U.S. mainstream media to President Trump saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed sincere in denying Russian “meddling” was sputtering outrage: How could Trump doubt what so many important people think is true?

Yet, if the case were all that strong that Russia did “hack” the emails, you would have expected a straightforward explication of the evidence rather than a demonstration of a full-blown groupthink, but what we got this weekend was all groupthink and no evidence.

For instance, on Saturday, CNN responded to Trump’s comment that Putin seems to “mean it” when he denied meddling by running a list of important Americans who had endorsed the Russian-guilt verdict. Other U.S. news outlets and politicians followed the same pattern.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a big promoter of the Russia-gate allegations, scoffed at what Trump said: “You believe a foreign adversary over your own intelligence agencies?”

The Washington Post’s headline sitting atop Sunday’s lede article read: “Trump says Putin sincere in denial of Russian meddling: Critics call that ‘unconscionable.’”

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and another Russia-gate sparkplug, said he was left “completely speechless” by Trump’s willingness to take Putin’s word “over the conclusions of our own combined intelligence community.”

Which gets us back to the Jan. 6 “Intelligence Community Assessment” and its stunning lack of evidence in support of its Russian guilty verdict. The ICA even admitted as much, that it wasn’t asserting Russian guilt as fact but rather as opinion:

“Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

Even The New York Times, which has led the media groupthink on Russian guilt, initially published the surprised reaction from correspondent Scott Shane who wrote: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

In other words, the ICA was not a disposition of fact; it was guesswork, possibly understandable guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. And guesswork should be open to debate.

Shutting Down Debate

But the debate was shut down earlier this year by the oft-repeated claim that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred in the assessment and how could anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies concluded!

However, that canard was finally knocked down by President Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who acknowledged in sworn congressional testimony that the ICA was the product of “handpicked” analysts from only three agencies – the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.

In other words, not only did the full intelligence community not participate in the ICA but only analysts “handpicked” by Obama’s intelligence chiefs conducted the analysis – and as we intelligence veterans know well, if you handpick the analysts, you are handpicking the conclusions.

For instance, put a group of analysts known for their hardline views on Russia in a room for a few weeks, prevent analysts with dissenting viewpoints from weighing in, don’t require any actual evidence, and you are pretty sure to get the Russia-bashing result that you wanted.

So why do you think Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan put up the no-entry sign that kept out analysts from the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency, two entities that might have significant insights into Russian intentions? By all rights, they should have been included. But, clearly, no dissenting footnotes or wider-perspective views were desired.

If you remember back to the Iraq WMD intelligence estimate, analysts from the State Department’s intelligence bureau, known as INR, offered unwelcome dissenting views about the pace of Iraq’s supposed nuclear program, inserting a footnote saying they found it too difficult to predict the fruition of a program when there was no reliable evidence as to when – not to mention if – it had started.

DIA also was demonstrating an unusually independent streak, displaying a willingness to give due consideration to Russia’s perspective. Here’s the heterodox line DIA took in a major report published in December 2015:

“The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine. Moscow views the United States as the critical driver behind the crisis in Ukraine and the Arab Spring and believes that the overthrow of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych is the latest move in a long-established pattern of U.S.-orchestrated regime change efforts.”

So, not only did the Jan. 6 report exclude input from INR and DIA and the other dozen or so intelligence agencies but it even avoided a fully diverse set of opinions from inside the CIA, FBI and NSA. The assessment – or guesswork – came only from those “hand-picked” analysts.

It’s also worth noting that not only does Putin deny that Russia was behind the publication of the Democratic emails but so too does WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange who has insisted repeatedly that the material did not come from the Russians. He and others around WikiLeaks have strongly suggested that the emails came as leaks from Democratic insiders.

Seeking Real Answers

In the face of Official Washington’s evidence-free groupthink, what some of us former U.S. intelligence analysts have been trying to do is provide both a fuller understanding of Russian behavior and whatever scientific analysis can be applied to the alleged “hacks.”

Forensic investigations and testing of relevant download speeds, reported by members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), have undermined the Russia-did-it groupthink. But this attempt to engage in actual evaluation of evidence has been either ignored or mocked by mainstream news outlets.

Still, the suggestion in our July 24 VIPS memo that President Trump ask current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take a fresh look at the issue recently had some consequence when Pompeo contacted VIPS member William Binney, a former NSA Technical Director, and invited him to explain his latest research on the impossibility of the Russians extracting the Democratic emails via an Internet hack based on known download speeds.

In typically candid terms, Binney explained to Pompeo why VIPS had concluded that the intelligence analysts behind the Jan. 6 report had been making stuff up about Russian “hacking.”

When news of the Binney-Pompeo meeting broke last week, the U.S. mainstream media again rejected the opportunity to rethink the Russia-did-it groupthink and instead treated Binney as some sort of “conspiracy theorist” with a “disputed” theory, while attacking Pompeo’s willingness to discuss Binney’s findings as “politicizing intelligence.”

Despite the smearing of Binney, President Trump appears to have taken some of this new evidence to heart, explaining his dispute with open-mouthed White House reporters on Air Force One who baited Trump with various forms of the same question: “Do you believe Putin?” amid the new jeering about Trump “getting played” by Putin.

Trump’s demeanor, however, suggested increased confidence that the Russian “hacking” allegations were the “witch hunt” that he has decried for months.

Trump also jabbed the press over its earlier false claims that “all 17 intelligence agencies” concurred on the Russian “hack.” And Trump introduced the idea of a different kind of “hack,” i.e., Obama’s political appointees at the heads of the agencies behind the Jan. 6 report.

Trump said, “You hear it’s 17 agencies. Well it’s three. And one is Brennan … give me a break. They’re political hacks. … I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, you have [FBI Director James] Comey. Comey is proven to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker.”

Later, in deference to those still at work in intelligence, Trump said, “I’m with our [intelligence] agencies as currently constituted.”

While Trump surely has a dismal record of his own regarding truth-telling, he’s not wrong about the checkered record of the triumvirate of Clapper, Brennan and Comey.

Clapper played a key role in the bogus Iraq-WMD intelligence when he was head of the National Geo-spatial Agency and hid the fact that there was zero evidence in satellite imagery of any weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq invasion. When no WMDs were found, Clapper told the media that he thought they were shipped off to Syria.

In 2013, Clapper perjured himself before Congress by denying NSA’s unconstitutional blanket surveillance of Americans. After evidence emerged revealing the falsity of Clapper’s testimony, he wrote a letter to Congress admitting, “My response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize.” Despite the deception, he was allowed to stay as Obama’s most senior intelligence officer for almost four more years.

Clapper also has demonstrated an ugly bias about Russians. On May 28, as a former DNI, Clapper explained Russian “interference” in the U.S. election to NBC’s Chuck Todd on May 28 with a tutorial on what everyone should know about “the historical practices of the Russians.” Clapper said, “the Russians, typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.”

Brennan, who had previously defended torture as having been an effective way to gain intelligence, was CIA director when agency operatives broke into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee when it was investigating CIA torture.

Former FBI Director Comey is infamous for letting the Democratic National Committee arrange its own investigation of the “hacking” that was then blamed on Russia, a development that led some members of Congress to call the supposed “hack” an “act of war.” Despite the risk of nuclear conflagration, the FBI didn’t bother to do its own forensics.

And, by his own admission, Comey arranged a leak to The New York Times that was specifically designed to get a Special Prosecutor appointed to investigate Russia-gate, a job that fell to his old friend Robert Mueller, who has had his own mixed record as the previous FBI director in mishandling the 9/11 investigation.

There are plenty of reasons to want Trump out of the White House, but there also should be respect for facts and due process. So far, the powers-that-be in Washington – in politics, the media and other dominant institutions, what some call the Deep State – have shown little regard for fairness in the Russia-gate “scandal.”

The goal seems to be to remove the President or at least emasculate him on a bum rap, giving him the bum’s rush, so to speak, while also further demonizing Russia and exacerbating an already dangerous New Cold War.

The truth should still count for something. No one’s character should be assassinated, as Bill Binney’s is being now, for running afoul of the conventional wisdom that Trump – like bête noire Putin – never tells the truth, and that to believe either is, well, “unconscionable,” as The Washington Post warns.

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




Did Al Qaeda Dupe Trump on Syrian Attack?

Special Report: Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A new United Nations-sponsored report on the April 4 sarin incident in an Al Qaeda-controlled town in Syria blames Bashar al-Assad’s government for the atrocity, but the report contains evidence deep inside its “Annex II” that would prove Assad’s innocence.

If you read that far, you would find that more than 100 victims of sarin exposure were taken to several area hospitals before the alleged Syrian warplane could have struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Still, the Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM], a joint project of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], brushed aside this startling evidence and delivered the Assad guilty verdict that the United States and its allies wanted.

The JIM consigned the evidence of a staged atrocity, in which Al Qaeda operatives would have used sarin to kill innocent civilians and pin the blame on Assad, to a spot 14 pages into the report’s Annex II. The sensitivity of this evidence of a staged “attack” is heightened by the fact that President Trump rushed to judgment and ordered a “retaliatory” strike with 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase on the night of April 6-7. That U.S. attack reportedly killed several soldiers at the base and nine civilians, including four children, in nearby neighborhoods.

So, if it becomes clear that Al Qaeda tricked President Trump not only would he be responsible for violating international law and killing innocent people, but he and virtually the entire Western political establishment along with the major news media would look like Al Qaeda’s “useful idiots.”

Currently, the West and its mainstream media are lambasting the Russians for not accepting the JIM’s “assessment,” which blames Assad for the sarin attack. Russia is also taking flak for questioning continuation of the JIM’s mandate. There has been virtually no mainstream skepticism about the JIM’s report and almost no mention in the mainstream of the hospital-timing discrepancy.

Timing Troubles

To establish when the supposed sarin attack occurred on April 4, the JIM report relied on witnesses in the Al Qaeda-controlled town and a curious video showing three plumes of smoke but no airplanes. Based on the video’s metadata, the JIM said the scene was recorded between 0642 and 0652 hours. The JIM thus puts the timing of the sarin release at between 0630 and 0700 hours.

But the first admissions of victims to area hospitals began as early as 0600 hours, the JIM found, meaning that these victims could not have been poisoned by the alleged aerial bombing (even if the airstrike really did occur).

According to the report’s Annex II, “The admission times of the records range between 0600 and 1600 hours.” And these early cases – arriving before the alleged airstrike – were not isolated ones.

“Analysis of the … medical records revealed that in 57 cases, patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun,” Annex II said.

Plus, this timing discrepancy was not limited to a few hospitals in and around Khan Sheikhoun, but was recorded as well at hospitals that were scattered across the area and included one hospital that would have taken an hour or so to reach.

Annex II stated: “In 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

In other words, more than 100 patients would appear to have been exposed to sarin before the alleged Syrian warplane could have dropped the alleged bomb and the victims could be evacuated, a finding that alone would have destroyed the JIM’s case against the Syrian government.

But the JIM seemed more interested in burying this evidence of Al Qaeda staging the incident — and killing some expendable civilians — than in following up this timing problem.

“The [JIM] did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions,” the report said. But the proffered excuse about poor record-keeping would have to apply to multiple hospitals over a wide area all falsely recording the arrival time of more than 100 patients.

The video of the plumes of smoke also has come under skepticism from Theodore Postol, a weapons expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who noted that none of the three plumes matched up with damage to buildings (as viewed from satellite images) that would have resulted from aerial bombs of that power.

Postol’s finding suggests that the smoke could have been another part of a staging event rather than debris kicked up by aerial bombs.

The JIM also could find no conclusive evidence that a Syrian warplane was over Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the video although the report claims that a plane could have come within about 5 kilometers of the town.

A History of Deception

Perhaps even more significantly, the JIM report ignored the context of the April 4 case and the past history of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front staging chemical weapons attacks with the goal of foisting blame on the Syrian government and tricking the U.S. military into an intervention on the side of Nusra and its Islamic-militant allies.

On April 4, there was a strong motive for Al Qaeda and its regional allies to mount a staged event. Just days earlier, President Trump’s administration had shocked the Syrian rebels and their backers by declaring “regime change” was no longer the U.S. goal in Syria.

So, Al Qaeda and its regional enablers were frantic to reverse Trump’s decision, which was accomplished by his emotional reaction to videos on cable news showing children and other civilians suffering and dying in Khan Sheikhoun.

On the night of April 6-7, before any thorough investigation could be conducted, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles fired at the Syrian air base that supposedly had launched the sarin attack.

At the time, I was told by an intelligence source that at least some CIA analysts believed that the sarin incident indeed had been staged with sarin possibly flown in by drone from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base in Jordan.

This source said the on-the-ground staging for the incident had been hasty because of the surprise announcement that the Trump administration was no longer seeking regime change in Damascus. The haste led to some sloppiness in tying down all the necessary details to pin the atrocity on Assad, the source said.

But the few slip-ups, such as the apparent failure to coordinate the timing of the hospital admissions to after the purported airstrike, didn’t deter the JIM investigators from backing the West’s desire to blame Assad and also create another attack line against the Russians.

Similarly, other U.N.-connected investigators downplayed earlier evidence that Al Qaeda’s Nusra was staging chemical weapons incidents after President Obama laid down his “red line” on chemical weapons. The militants apparently hoped that the U.S. military would take out the Syrian military and pave the way for an Al Qaeda victory.

For instance, U.N. investigators learned from a number of townspeople of Al-Tamanah about how the rebels and allied “activists” staged a chlorine gas attack on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then sold the false story to a credulous Western media and, initially, to a U.N. investigative team.

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

Dubious Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

However, the claim itself is absurd since it is inconceivable that anyone could detect a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by “a distinct whistling sound.”

The larger point, however, is that the jihadist rebels in Al-Tamanah and their propaganda teams, including relief workers and activists, appear to have organized a coordinated effort at deception complete with a fake video supplied to U.N. investigators and Western media outlets.

For instance, the Telegraph in London reported that “Videos allegedly taken in Al-Tamanah … purport to show the impact sites of two chemical bombs. Activists said that one person had been killed and another 70 injured.”

The Telegraph quoted supposed weapons expert Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat and a senior fellow at the fiercely anti-Russian Atlantic Council, as endorsing the Al-Tamanah claims.

“Witnesses have consistently reported the use of helicopters to drop the chemical barrel bombs used,” said Higgins. “As it stands, around a dozen chemical barrel bomb attacks have been alleged in that region in the last three weeks.”

The Al-Tamanah debunking in the U.N. report received no mainstream media attention when the U.N. findings were issued in September 2016 because the U.N. report relied on rebel information to blame two other alleged chlorine attacks on the government and that got all the coverage. But the case should have raised red flags given the extent of the apparent deception.

If the seven townspeople were telling the truth, that would mean that the rebels and their allies issued fake attack warnings, produced propaganda videos to fool the West, and prepped “witnesses” with “evidence” to deceive investigators. Yet, no alarms went off about other rebel claims.

The Ghouta Incident

A more famous attack – with sarin gas on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, killing hundreds – was also eagerly blamed on the Assad regime, as The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Higgins’s Bellingcat and many other Western outlets jumped to that conclusion despite the unlikely circumstances. Assad had just welcomed U.N. investigators to Damascus to examine chemical attacks that he was blaming on the rebels.

Assad also was facing the “red line” threat from President Obama warning him of possible U.S. military intervention if the Syrian government deployed chemical weapons. Why Assad and his military would choose such a moment to launch a deadly sarin attack outside Damascus, killing mostly civilians, made little sense.

But this became another rush to judgment in the West that brought the Obama administration to the verge of launching a devastating air attack on the Syrian military that might have helped Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and/or the Islamic State win the war.

Eventually, however, the case blaming Assad for the 2013 sarin attack collapsed.

An analysis by genuine weapons experts – such as Theodore Postol, an MIT professor of science, technology and national security policy, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories – found that the missile that delivered the sarin had a very short range placing its likely firing position in rebel territory.

Later, reporting by journalist Seymour Hersh implicated Turkish intelligence working with jihadist rebels as the likely source of the sarin.

We also learned in 2016 that a message from the U.S. intelligence community had warned Obama how weak the evidence against Assad was. There was no “slam-dunk” proof, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. And Obama cited his rejection of the Washington militaristic “playbook” to bomb Syria as one of his proudest moments as President.

With this background, there should have been extreme skepticism when jihadists and their allies made new claims about the Syrian government engaging in chemical weapons attacks. But there wasn’t.

The broader context for these biased investigations is that U.N. and OPCW investigators have been under intense pressure to confirm accusations against Syria and other targeted states.

Right now, the West is blaming Russia for the collapsing consensus behind U.N. investigations, but the problem really comes from Washington’s longtime strategy of coercing U.N. organizations into becoming propaganda arms for U.S. geopolitical strategies.

The U.N.’s relative independence in its investigative efforts was decisively broken early this century when President George W. Bush’s administration purged U.N. agencies that were not onboard with U.S. hegemony, especially on interventions in the Middle East.

Through manipulation of funding and selection of key staff members, the Bush administration engineered the takeover or at least the neutralizing of one U.N.-affiliated organization after another.

For instance, in 2002, Bush’s Deputy Under-Secretary of State John Bolton spearheaded the takeover of the OPCW as Bush planned to cite chemical weapons as a principal excuse for invading Iraq.

OPCW Director General Jose Mauricio Bustani was viewed as an obstacle because he was pressing Iraq to accept OPCW’s conventions for eliminating chemical weapons, which could have undermined Bush’s WMD rationale for war.

Though Bustani was just reelected to a new term, the Brazilian diplomat was forced out, to be followed in that job by more pliable bureaucrats, including the current Director General Ahmet Uzumcu of Turkey, who not only comes from a NATO country but served as Turkey’s ambassador to NATO and to Israel. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “U.N. Enablers of ‘Aggressive War.’”]

Since those days of the Iraq invasion, the game hasn’t changed. U.S. and other Western officials expect the U.N. and related agencies to accept or at least not object to Washington’s geopolitical interventions.

The only difference now is that Russia, one of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, is saying enough is enough – and Russia’s opposition to these biased inquiries is emerging as one more dangerous hot spot in the New Cold War.

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




Trump and Democrats Misread Mandates

Exclusive: Neither the Democrats nor President Trump learned the right lessons from the 2016 election, leaving the nation divided at home and bogged down in wars abroad, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

One year ago, the American electorate delivered a confused but shocking result, the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a quirky outcome in the Electoral College that put Trump in the White House even though Clinton got three million more votes nationally. But neither party appears to have absorbed the right lessons from that surprise ending.

The Democrats might have taken away from their defeat the warning that they had forgotten how to speak to the white working class, which had suffered from job losses via “free trade” and felt willfully neglected as Democrats looked toward the “browning of America.”

The choice of Clinton had compounded this problem because she came across as elitist and uncaring toward this still important voting bloc with her memorable description of half of Trump’s voters as “deplorables,” an insult that stung many lower-income whites and helped deliver Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump.

For more than a decade, some Democratic strategists had promoted the notion that “demography is destiny,” i.e., that the relative growth of Latino, Asian and African-American populations in comparison to whites would ensure a future Democratic majority. That prediction seemed to have been validated by Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and 2012, but it also had the predictable effect of alienating many whites who felt disrespected and resentful.

So, while the Democrats and Clinton looked to a multicultural future, Trump used his experience in reality TV to communicate with this overlooked demographic group. Trump sold himself as a populist and treated the white working class with respect. He spoke to their fears about economic decline and gave voice to their grievances. He vowed to put “America First” and pull back from foreign military adventures that often used working-class kids as cannon fodder.

But much of Trump’s message, like the real-estate mogul himself, was phony. He really didn’t have policies that would address the needs of working-class Americans. Still, his promises of a massive infrastructure plan, good health-care for all, and rejection of unfair trade deals rang the right bells with enough voters to flip some traditionally Democratic blue-collar states to Republican red.

Staying Blind

You might have thought that the Democrats would respond to Trump’s shocking victory, which also left Republicans in charge of Congress and most statehouses around the country, by launching an apologetic listening tour to reconnect with working-class whites.

There also might have been a clear-eyed evaluation of the weaknesses of the Democratic presidential nominee who came to personify the corrupt insider-culture of Official Washington, exploiting government service for financial gain by raking in millions of dollars for speeches to Wall Street and other special interests.

Clinton also offended many peace voters because of her support for aggressive war, both as a U.S. senator backing the disastrous invasion of Iraq and as Secretary of State pushing for U.S. military interventions in Libya and Syria. Her apology for voting for the Iraq War came across as opportunistic and insincere, and her undisguised delight over Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s grisly murder (“We came; we saw; he died!”) seemed ghoulish.

And, whether fairly or not, many Americans were turned off by the Democratic Party’s emphasis on “identity politics,” the assumption that people would vote based on their gender, race or sexual orientation, rather than on bread-and-butter policies and war-or-peace issues.

In other words, the Democratic Party could have looked in the mirror and seen what many Americans found unappealing about the modern version of a party that had done so much to build the country, from the New Deal during the Great Depression through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and taking a leading role in addressing environmental, health-care and other national challenges.

But today’s Democrats instead chose to blame their plight largely on Russia and its alleged “meddling” in U.S. politics, a strategy that not only made little sense – given the many other reasons why voters turned away from Clinton and her party – but delivered a message to white working-class voters who had gone over to Trump that they were “stupid” and had been “duped.”

Whatever one thinks about white working-class voters who favored Trump, calling people gullible is not an effective way to woo back a voting bloc that already feels insulted and alienated.

Missing a Chance

So, when Trump was sworn in last Jan. 20, the ball was largely in his court. He could have focused on rebuilding America’s infrastructure; or he could have proposed a serious plan for improving access to health care; or he could have moved pragmatically to resolve a host of international conflicts that President Obama had left behind.

Instead, President Trump squandered his first days in office by getting into absurd arguments about his inaugural crowd size compared to Obama’s and denying that Clinton had won the national popular vote. His “alternative facts” made him a laughingstock.

Last spring, when I spoke with a group of Trump voters in West Virginia, they were still faithful to their choice – and wanted Washington to give him a chance – but they already were complaining about Trump’s personal outbursts on Twitter; they wanted him to concentrate on their real needs, not his petty squabbles.

But Trump wasn’t listening. He couldn’t kick his Twitter habit. He kept putting his giant ego in the way.

As his presidency stumbled forward, Trump also brushed aside suggestions that he reverse his image as a person who had no regard for facts by declassifying information about the conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere – to reveal situations where Obama and his team played propaganda games, rather than tell the truth.

And, lacking sufficient knowledge about the world, Trump failed when presented with sophisticated plans for reshaping U.S. policies in the Middle East to become less dependent on Israel and Saudi Arabia. Instead, Trump jumped into the arms of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman.

Pandering to Israeli-Saudi desires – and trying to show how tough he was – Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria over a dubious chemical-weapons incident; threatened more Mideast strife against Iran; and escalated the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Plus, he blustered about war against North Korea and personally insulted the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “little rocket man.” Rather than rein in neoconservative aggression, he continued to unleash it.

When Trump did address domestic policy, he defined himself as basically just another right-wing Republican, supporting a health-care scheme that would have made matters worse for millions of Americans and backing a tax-cut plan that would mostly benefit the rich while blowing an even bigger hole in the deficit. All that red ink, in turn, drowned any hopes for investments in a modern infrastructure.

In other words, Trump exposed himself as the narcissistic incompetent that his critics said he was. He proved incapable of even acting presidential, let alone showing that he could use his power to make life better for average Americans. He was left with little to boast about beyond the economy that was bequeathed to him by Obama.

Republicans also had little to brag about, explaining why Ed Gillespie, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Virginia in 2017, opted for ugly socially divisive attack ads as the best hope for defeating Democrat Ralph Northam, a Gillespie strategy called “Trumpism without Trump.”

But Gillespie’s approach backfired with a surprisingly strong turnout of Virginia’s voters putting Northam into the governor’s mansion and almost erasing the solid Republican majority in the state legislature.

Trump was left to tweet about how the Virginia results, which were echoed in other states’ elections on Tuesday, weren’t a reflection on his own popularity, ignoring his unprecedentedly low approval ratings for a president nine months into his first term.

So, the new political question is whether Trump can belatedly learn from his failures and finally undertake some actions at home and abroad that actually serve the interests of the American people and the world. Or will he continue to bumble and stumble along?

A parallel question is whether the Democrats will misinterpret their strong showing on Tuesday as encouragement to continue ignoring their own political and institutional shortcomings – and to keep on using Russia to bash Trump. Neither side has shown much aptitude for learning.

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).