Israel Wants More from US

The Obama administration and Israel are locked in a curious negotiation over how many billions of dollars the U.S. will send to Tel Aviv, a demonstration of Israel’s political clout, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

With most stalemated international negotiations, the reasons for both the impasse and the continuation of talks are easy to understand. A range of possible agreed outcomes exists, with some more favorable to one party and some more favorable to the other, and with each side naturally trying to get as good a deal as it can. For each party, there is at least some possible agreement that would be better than no agreement at all.

The parties keep bargaining because each would lose something if they failed to reach an agreement. If that were not the case, then one or the other of the parties would have no reason to bargain in the first place and there would be no negotiation at all.

It thus is hard to explain, or rather to justify, what is described as a negotiating impasse between the United States and Israel over the size of a new package of U.S. aid to Israel. The situation is reported as if this were one more example of a typical stalemated international negotiation, but it is not.

This is not a situation in which each country would have something to lose if no agreement is reached. Instead it is entirely a one-sided arrangement: a gift of money from the United States to Israel. There is nothing in any such aid package that carries a benefit for the United States and that the United States would not be getting in the absence of an agreement.

It is not as if the absence of an agreement about an aid package would entail some consequence in the Middle East detrimental to U.S. interests as well as Israeli interests, such as giving rise to a destabilizing military threat by some other state in the region against Israel.

This is not the case first of all because of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority in the region, which still would be overwhelming even without any further U.S.-funded enhancements. It also is not the case because even if enhancements were required to maintain the superiority, Israel — which is among the richest 15 percent of countries in the world as measured by GDP per capita — is quite capable of paying for them itself.

A U.S. Subsidy

The U.S. aid is a subsidy for Israeli taxpayers, paid for by American taxpayers. American taxpayers have been very generous in this regard (or made to be so by American politicians), with the annual aid package to Israel exceeding $3 billion in each of the last several years and with total U.S. aid to Israel, even by the most conservative tallies, topping $120 billion. With the Israeli government budget at around $75 billion, the annual gift from American taxpayers is equivalent to about a four percent rebate to Israeli taxpayers.

Or one can look at equivalence in terms of the spending end rather than the revenue end. The gifted funds involve that much less money available for programs benefiting Americans and that much more money for the Israeli government to spend on whatever it wants to spend it on.

Shekels, like dollars, being fungible, what the money gets spent on need not have anything to do with the defense or security of Israel. The money that is no longer available for repair of America’s crumbling roads and bridges, for example, can get spent by Israel on other roads and bridges — including the roads in the West Bank that are used only by Israelis and especially settlers and that the Palestinians who live in the West Bank are prohibited from using, or even crossing except on foot.

Of course, we all know what goes through the minds of American politicians when they are dealing with a subject involving Israel and why this question of the aid package is being treated as if it really were like other international negotiations in which each side has something to lose. The feared loss is the domestic political consequence of being targeted as someone whose love for Israel is less fervent than that of a political opponent and of being outspent by, and losing to, that opponent in the next election.

In the case of President Barack Obama, the New York Times article on this subject describes his objective as being “to burnish his legacy” with “the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation” and to “cement his claim to have done more than any other president to support Israel’s security.”

Political Consequences

Let us at least be honest about the objectives if those objectives involve individual politicians’ re-election prospects or the legacies of politicians not running for re-election. Such objectives are quite different from the interests of the United States or of American taxpayers. They are even different from the security and well-being of Israel.

A larger aid package for Israel certainly is not in order as “compensation” for concluding the multilateral agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program. An agreement that has curtailed that program and moved Iran farther away from any prospect of having a nuclear weapon is, as many former senior Israeli national security officials have recognized, an improvement in, rather than a detriment to, the security of Israel.

The Netanyahu government’s actual reasons for not wanting anyone to have any dealings with Iran are not reasons to be encouraged, from the standpoint of either Israeli or U.S. interests. Any “compensation” would only be in the North Korean sense of a regime engaging in troublesome behavior (which in the Netanyahu government’s case has involved its blatant interference in the U.S. political process to try to kill the Iran agreement) and then expecting a payoff in return for not engaging, for a while, in more such behavior.

The only possible justification for increased largesse to Israel at this point would be as preparation for a serious effort in the remaining months of the Obama administration to get the Israeli government to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians involving a genuine two-state solution. To be seen bending over even farther backwards than before as a supporter of Israel could be a necessary part of any such effort, given political realities in both Israel and the United States. But whether the Obama administration will make such an effort remains to be seen.

In the meantime, those members of the U.S. Senate who signed a letter urging the administration to conclude quickly a memorandum of understanding with Israel about a new aid package ought to be explaining to their taxpaying constituents what such aid really means in fiscal terms as described above.

The administration itself might take some advice from Donald Trump — even though Trump himself might not always apply his own advice to dealings with Israel — in a speech on foreign policy that, while studded with inconsistencies and falsehoods, included a pointer from this self-proclaimed expert on deal-making.

“In negotiation you must be willing to walk,” said Trump. “When the other side knows you’re not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win.”

Walking away from a negotiation can entail substantial risk, in the form of losing benefits that can only be gained from an agreement. Such risks are much more common in international relations than in the business dealings Trump is familiar with, in which there is always some other property owner, or some other hotel or golf course, to which one can turn for an alternative deal. But as far as U.S. gift-giving to Israel is concerned, there is no risk at all to U.S. interests from walking.

The situation at hand is the equivalent of a nephew complaining about the amount of birthday gift money he got from an uncle and wanting uncle to agree to give more. Negotiation is not the appropriate response for uncle. Either walking or saying “take it or leave it” would be more appropriate, as would a stern reminder to the nephew about who in this relationship is the giver and who is the taker.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

 




Russia Rises From the Mat

The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that its heady “unipolar” days are over with Russia no longer the doormat of the 1990s, but Washington’s arrogance risks war, even nuclear annihilation, explains Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

In Moscow, the preparations for the May 9th Victory Day parade began in the middle of the final week of April. Heavy equipment including mobile ICBM carriers and the latest battle tanks, together with troop formations passing through Red Square, carry on the long tradition established in Soviet times of demonstrating the nation’s military might on this day for televised dissemination across the entire expanse of Eurasia.

Meanwhile, preparations have also been made for this year’s edition of another Victory Day parade that began just one year ago but is likely to become a still more enduring tradition, the so-called March of the Immortal Regiment in which ordinary citizens carry photographs of their own family heroes from WWII: fathers, grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers who fought on the front or worked at defense positions behind the lines.

These processions, which are held in towns across Russia, tap into a nationwide wellspring of emotion and pay tribute to the fact that every family in the country lost members to the WWII war effort. Every one.

This extraordinary sense of loss from war is something that sets Russian consciousness apart from American consciousness and at times makes it difficult to recall that we were allies in that epochal war. The 40 years of Cold War alienation between us is another factor that dims what we once achieved together. For these reasons, President Vladimir Putin’s evocation of our WWII alliance when he spoke before the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September 2015 and called upon the United States to link arms with Russia and head up a multinational effort to defeat the Islamic State and vanquish terrorism fell on deaf ears in the U.S.

Tense Relations

The past several years have not been easy for relations between our countries. And yet, if looked at with some detachment, the apple of contention between us can and should become the very source of our future mutual understanding and cooperation in addressing constructively the world’s many problems. Both nations in their own way take pride in their independent spirit and creative contributions to peace and generalized prosperity. Both nations are great powers that determine the world’s destiny. Both are “hammers,” not “nails.” For that very reason we are often at odds.

On the U.S. side, triumphalism over its self-declared “victory” in the Cold War in 1989, gloating over the economic and social collapse of the Russian Federation in the 1990s, and ambition to secure Woodrow Wilson’s vision of a world safe for democracy through interventions abroad intended to hasten the seemingly inevitable course of history all heightened the tensions in Russian-American relations way beyond where they would naturally have been from the inherent competitiveness of two great powers.

Until the eye-opening display of Russian military gear and capability beginning with the bloodless reunification with Crimea of spring 2014 and running through the resoundingly successful five-month Russian air campaign in Syria starting in October 2015,

American behavior towards Russia in the new millennium had been conditioned by a now seriously outdated view of its potential adversary as a failing state lacking in economic might and in social coherence to withstand serious pressure from outside, enjoying unjustified international rights inherited from its Soviet past and having as its only military props an aging strategic nuclear force that would be practically unusable if push came to shove because that would spell national suicide.

The reality today is what President Boris Yeltsin foretold to Bill Clinton when Russia was in a supine position, protesting lamely against American intervention in Russia’s old client state, Serbia: “think again, because Russia will be back.”

Indeed, under Vladimir Putin Russia has come back as great powers usually do. It may be smaller than the USSR, but it is vastly more fit, with a mixed market/directed economy that is far more agile and better managed, with conventional forces that approach and in certain domains exceed Western standards. Russia’s living standards are higher and it possesses strong reserves of patriotism to support a shared sense of its place in the world. Russia is now a formidable and arguably unbeatable foe if confrontation is where some U.S. policymakers want relations to go.

There are those Americans who look back with nostalgia to what they perceive as Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with Moscow “from a position of strength.” U.S. Ambassador to Russia at the time, Jack Matlock, has made it clear that the U.S. carefully avoided any appearance of abusing its relative advantage when dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev to reach a dramatic relaxation of tensions through dismantling the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire on mutually agreed terms. But even if we assume that the “position of strength” was an invisible driver of those talks, in conditions of today’s revitalized Russia such an approach is only bringing us tit-for-tat escalation of military and political posturing.

Nuclear War Risks

In such a climate of heightening tensions, the law of averages tells us that if something can go amiss it will, and there is presently too little shared trust to ensure that faulty launch warnings or some similar technical or human errors will not lead to irrevocable counter-responses, ending civilization on Earth as we know it.

Statesmanship and common sense dictate that the United States and Russia seek ways to engage with one another in permanent rather than episodic manner, and that we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and mutual respect.

That is the essence of foreign policy “realism” – the judicious use of American power – which has been injected into the ongoing presidential campaign as a guiding principle by Republican candidate Donald Trump. He has no proprietary rights over it, and it would be a good thing if congressional candidates gave it a test drive as well because it is the only approach to international affairs that can save us from needless confrontation and risk of nuclear war, which is where we find ourselves today.

Only when this critical threat has been resolved can we move on to the unquestionable benefits of constructive programs of cooperation between Russia and the United States in peace-keeping and support for political processes in the world’s hot spots, in investment and trade, in culture and education, in sports, in science and technology, and in the many other forms of interaction at the level of ordinary citizens which characterized these relations in happier times.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.  © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016

 




Hillary Clinton’s Damning Emails

Exclusive: Before the Democrats lock in their choice for President, they might want to know if Hillary Clinton broke the law with her unsecure emails and may be indicted, a question that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern addresses.

By Ray McGovern

A few weeks after leaving office, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have breathed a sigh of relief and reassurance when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied reports of the National Security Agency eavesdropping on Americans. After all, Clinton had been handling official business at the State Department like many Americans do with their personal business, on an unsecured server.

In sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, 2013, Clapper said the NSA was not collecting, wittingly, “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” which presumably would have covered Clinton’s unsecured emails.

But NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations — starting on June 5, 2013 — gave the lie to Clapper’s testimony, which Clapper then retracted on June 21 – coincidentally, Snowden’s 30th birthday – when Clapper sent a letter to the Senators to whom he had, well, lied. Clapper admitted his “response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize.”  (On the chance you are wondering what became of Clapper, he is still DNI.)

I would guess that Clapper’s confession may have come as a shock to then ex-Secretary Clinton, as she became aware that her own emails might be among the trillions of communications that NSA was vacuuming up. Nevertheless, she found Snowden’s truth-telling a safer target for her fury than Clapper’s dishonesty and NSA’s dragnet.

In April 2014, Clinton suggested that Snowden had helped terrorists by giving “all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like.” Clinton was particularly hard on Snowden for going to China (Hong Kong) and Russia to escape a vengeful prosecution by the U.S. government.

Clinton even explained what extraordinary lengths she and her people went to in safeguarding government secrets: “When I would go to China or would go to Russia, we would leave all my electronic equipment on the plane with the batteries out, because … they’re trying to find out not just about what we do in our government, they’re … going after the personal emails of people who worked in the State Department.” Yes, she said that. (emphasis added)

Hoisted on Her Own Petard

Alas, nearly a year later, in March 2015, it became known that during her tenure as Secretary of State she had not been as diligent as she led the American people to believe. She had used a private server for official communications, rather than the usual official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Thousands of those emails would retroactively be marked classified – some at the TOP SECRET/Codeword level – by the department.

During an interview last September, Snowden was asked to respond to the revelations about highly classified material showing up on Clinton’s personal server: “When the unclassified systems of the United States government, which has a full-time information security staff, regularly gets hacked, the idea that someone keeping a private server in the renovated bathroom of a server farm in Colorado is more secure is completely ridiculous.”

Asked if Clinton “intentionally endangered US international security by being so careless with her email,” Snowden said it was not his place to say. Nor, it would seem, is it President Barack Obama’s place to say, especially considering that the FBI is actively investigating Clinton’s security breach. But Obama has said it anyway.

“She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,” the President said on April 10. In the same interview, Obama told Chris Wallace, “I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI – not just in this case, but in any case. Full stop. Period.”

But, although a former professor of Constitutional law, the President sports a checkered history when it comes to prejudicing investigations and even trials, conducted by those ultimately reporting to him. For example, more than two years before Bradley (Chelsea) Manning was brought to trial, the President stated publicly: “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. He [Bradley Manning] broke the law!”

Not surprisingly, the ensuing court martial found Manning guilty, just as the Commander in Chief had predicted. Though Manning’s purpose in disclosing mostly low-level classified information was to alert the American public about war crimes and other abuses by the U.S. government, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

On March 9, when presidential candidate Clinton was asked, impertinently during a debate, whether she would withdraw from the race if she were indicted for her cavalier handling of government secrets, she offered her own certain prediction: “Oh, for goodness sake! It’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”

Prosecutorial Double Standards

Merited or not, there is, sadly, some precedent for Clinton’s supreme confidence. Retired General and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus, after all, lied to the FBI (a felony for “lesser” folks) about giving his mistress/biographer highly classified information and got off with a slap on the wrist, a misdemeanor fine and probation, no jail time – a deal that Obama’s first Attorney General Eric Holder did on his way out the door.

We are likely to learn shortly whether Attorney General Loretta Lynch is as malleable as Holder or whether she will allow FBI Director James Comey, who held his nose in letting Petraeus cop a plea, to conduct an unfettered investigation this time – or simply whether Comey will be compelled to enforce Clinton’s assurance that “it’s not going to happen.”

Last week, Fox News TV legal commentator Andrew Napolitano said the FBI is in the final stages of its investigation into Clinton and her private email server. His sources tell him that “the evidence of her guilt is overwhelming,” and that the FBI has enough evidence to indict and convict.

Whether Napolitano has it right or not, it seems likely that Clinton is reading President Obama correctly – no profile in courage is he. Nor is Obama likely to kill the political fortunes of the now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, if he orders Lynch and Comey not to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for what – in my opinion and that of most other veteran intelligence officials whom I’ve consulted – amounts to at least criminal negligence, another noxious precedent will be set.

Knowing Too Much

This time, however, the equities and interests of the powerful, secretive NSA, as well as the FBI and Justice, are deeply involved. And by now all of them know “where the bodies are buried,” as the smart folks inside the Beltway like to say. So the question becomes would a future President Hillary Clinton have total freedom of maneuver if she were beholden to those all well aware of her past infractions and the harm they have done to this country.

One very important, though as yet unmentioned, question is whether security lapses involving Clinton and her emails contributed to what Clinton has deemed her worst moment as Secretary of State, the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel at the lightly guarded U.S. “mission” (a very small, idiosyncratic, consulate-type complex not performing any consular affairs) in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

Somehow the terrorists who mounted the assault were aware of the absence of meaningful security at the facility, though obviously there were other means for them to have made that determination, including the State Department’s reliance on unreliable local militias who might well have shared that inside information with the attackers.

However, if there is any indication that Clinton’s belatedly classified emails contained information about internal State Department discussions regarding the consulate’s security shortcomings, questions may be raised about whether that information was somehow compromised by a foreign intelligence agency and shared with the attackers.

We know that State Department bureaucrats under Secretary Clinton overruled repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi. We also know that Clinton disregarded NSA’s repeated warnings against the use of unencrypted communications. One of NSA’s core missions, after all, is to create and maintain secure communications for military, diplomatic, and other government users.

Clinton’s flouting of the rules, in NSA’s face, would have created additional incentive for NSA to keep an especially close watch on her emails and telephone calls. The NSA also might know whether some intelligence service successfully hacked into Clinton’s server, but there’s no reason to think that the NSA would share that sort of information with the FBI, given the NSA’s history of not sharing its data with other federal agencies even when doing so makes sense.

The NSA arrogates to itself the prerogative of deciding what information to keep within NSA walls and what to share with the other intelligence and law enforcement agencies like the FBI. (One bitter consequence of this jealously guarded parochialism was the NSA’s failure to share very precise information that could have thwarted the attacks of 9/11, as former NSA insiders have revealed.)

It is altogether likely that Gen. Keith Alexander, head of NSA from 2005 to 2014, neglected to tell the Secretary of State of NSA’s “collect it all” dragnet collection that included the emails and telephone calls of Americans – including Clinton’s. This need not have been simply the result of Alexander’s pique at her disdain for communications security requirements, but rather mostly a consequence of NSA’s modus operandi.

With the mindset at NSA, one could readily argue that the Secretary of State – and perhaps the President himself – had no “need-to-know.” And, needless to say, the fewer briefed on the NSA’s flagrant disregard for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures the better.

So, if there is something incriminating – or at least politically damaging – in Clinton’s emails, it’s a safe bet that at least the NSA and maybe the FBI, as well, knows. And that could make life difficult for a Clinton-45 presidency. Inside the Beltway, we don’t say the word “blackmail,” but the potential will be there. The whole thing needs to be cleaned up now before the choices for the next President are locked in.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as a CIA analyst for 27 years, during which he prepared and briefed the morning President’s Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.




No Dissent from Anti-Russian Propaganda

The European Union prides itself on its commitment to free expression, except apparently when a documentarian diverges from the official line bashing Russia. Then silencing dissent becomes the “responsible” response, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The West’s propaganda campaign against Russia took an unusual turn this week as a new documentary challenging the Western narrative of how Kremlin critic Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 was blocked from being shown at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

The last-minute shutting down of the documentary, “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” was engineered by lawyers for William Browder, the influential chairman of the investment fund Hermitage Capital and an associate of Magnitsky.

Based in London, Browder has been an unrelenting crusader for imposing sanctions on Russian officials allegedly connected to Magnitsky’s death in prison. Browder successfully pushed for the U.S. Congress to approve the 2012 Magnitsky Act and has lobbied the European Parliament to pass a similarly punitive measure.

On Wednesday, Browder pulled off a stunning show of force by arranging the cancellation of “The Magnitsky Act” documentary just minutes before invitees entered the auditorium at the parliament building for the showing.

Instead of watching and then discussing the film, the few of us who attended were drawn precisely to the power of the absent puppet master, Bill Browder, as Andrei Nekrasov, the film’s director, explained the reasons for his rare dissent against the Magnitsky narrative that Browder has peddled for years.

St. Petersburg-based film director Nekrasov said he had originally intended to produce a documentary largely supportive of Browder’s narrative but a eureka moment led him to change the message of his film midway through production into what ultimately became a scathing critique of Browder and a serious critique of the entire concept of applying personal sanctions against alleged human rights abusers without due process, as was the case in the compilation of the so-called “Magnitsky List” of Russians blamed for Magnitsky’s death.

A Praised Filmmaker

Nekrasov is an internationally recognized artist who has won prizes for dramas, documentaries and arts programs in Germany and France with his work presented at festivals around the world. Fluent in German, French and English in addition to his native Russian, Nekrasov took parts of his professional education in France and the U.K.

In his home country, Nekrasov has a reputation as a nonconformist and his reporting has taken on Russian authorities in the past, including a film arguing that the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings were organized by the KGB successor organization (FSB) to justify the second war in Chechnya that brought Vladimir Putin to power.

In other words, Nekrasov has not been a friend of the Kremlin, let alone a “stooge” of the Putin regime. Indeed, he said that before taking the assignment to do a film about Magnitsky for the ARTE television channel, he had friendly relations with Browder, whom he had met a number of times in different settings. Nekrasov said he fully believed in Browder’s narrative of the murder of Magnitsky as a way to silence his investigation into the theft of Hermitage Capital’s assets by crooked Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs officials.

Nekrasov said his change of heart came in the middle of shooting the film when Browder’s people handed him a copy of the affidavit signed by Magnitsky that was said to have led to his murder in detention. The introduction to the document laid out precisely that argument of Russian wrongdoing, but the content, the actual text signed by Magnitsky, said nothing whatever about his investigating the theft of $230 million and made no charges whatsoever against Ministry of Internal Affairs officers.

That glaring discrepancy prompted Nekrasov to gather more and more evidence, leading ultimately to his conclusion that the Magnitsky case was a sham fabricated by Browder, that there was no murder, that Magnitsky’s death was a case of negligence and nothing more sinister, the sort of thing that happens quite routinely in U.S. and other prisons around the world, however sad that may be.

Moreover, this discovery set Nekrasov’s mind to thinking about how and why what was now obvious to him was hidden to all others through whose hands the facts, factoids and allegations of the Magnitsky affair had passed over the past seven years. His inescapable conclusion was the explanation was to be found only in blind anti-Russian prejudice, the denigration not only of the country’s leader but of its entire political establishment if not the nation as a whole.

Nekrasov began to wonder how anyone could accept as reasonable the assumption that in that country of 146 million people there was not a single honest or professionally competent judge, not a single policeman who was not a crook.

Dangerous Thought

Nekrasov expressed concern for his own future welfare after the negative publicity arising from his discovery of unpleasant truths about the Magnitsky affair, especially in Russia where he fears that pro-Browder people will consider his documentary a betrayal.

Regarding why the film’s screening was canceled on Wednesday night, Finnish parliamentarian Heidi Hautala, the sponsor of the event (and reportedly Nekrasov’s girlfriend), said it was not an action imposed by the President of the European Parliament, though he surely took a dim view of allowing this dissenting viewpoint to be shown in an auditorium at the parliament.

Nekrasov cited two last-minute objections. One was from a German politician whom he interviewed for the film, MEP Marieluise Beck, a leading member of the Greens in the Bundestag, the party allied to the European Parliament bloc from which Hautala, the organizer of the screening, comes.

In the interview segment which Beck now demanded be excised, she demonstrated, in Nekrasov’s view, exactly what was wrong with the position held by Browder’s defenders in Europe.

When he confronted her with the discrepancies, with the reasons he had changed his view of the Magnitsky affair, Beck insouciantly replied that “this is just details” about which she did not care and that the overriding fact remained the same: that Magnitsky died in prison.

However, Nekrasov said the decisive objection that led to the cancellation was from the director of the German national public broadcaster ZDF, a major sponsor of the film who claimed that Browder’s lawyers threatened to sue for libel if the film were shown and would “ruin the broadcaster financially.” Given the public standing of ZDF, that threat appears to have been no more than bluster, however it sufficed for the ZDF management to cave in.

Nekrasov expressed his surprise and alarm that Browder had the money and the contacts to so intimidate the backers of the film. But Nekrasov’s own position vis-à-vis Browder is now inescapably one of self-defense rather than slinking away. Browder has publicly claimed that the film is flawed by inadmissible fabrications and falsifications. It is Nekrasov’s stated intent to take Browder to court for defamation.

But it’s now unclear whether “The Magnitsky Case: Behind the Scenes” will be aired on ARTE, the European cultural channel, as scheduled on May 3 given the vast resources Browder has mobilized to prevent its showing.

Political Courage

Faced with objections from the Green bloc, Hautala showed political courage in sponsoring the documentary. She is known for her strong interest in defending human rights globally, including in Russia, and mentioned in her opening remarks that she was the first MEP to call for sanctions against Russia over the death in detention of Sergei Magnitsky and to this day she favors targeted sanctions against human rights violators.

But she has set four operating principles for sanctions to be workable, all of which come down to adhering to the rule of law: the charges must be verifiable, proving the connection of the persons to the violation; they must be transparent, so that everyone can judge the grounds; they must provide access to remedy for the targeted persons; and they must contain a sunset clause or duration period for possible reevaluation of the grounds.

Hautala also mentioned that she is one of 17 MEPs on Russia’s retaliatory “black list” of 89 European politicians and influential persons, though she complains that she has never received from Russian authorities the individual justifications on why she is on the list and has no access to a remedy to appeal that arbitrary decision.

Hautala displayed even more courage by admitting to the auditorium several prominent critics of the Browder/Magnitsky story, including Pavel Karpov, one of the two Ministry of Interior officers who were accused by Browder of overseeing the torture and murder of Magnitsky and of doing so to cover up their theft of $230 million in assets from his Hermitage Capital operation in Moscow which Magnitsky was said to have been investigating.

Karpov used the opportunity to explain his challenge to these allegations as unsubstantiated and how his bringing of defamation charges against Browder in London courts never was heard.

Also, Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Moscow lawyer, was given the floor to issue a lengthy denunciation of Browder for his crimes of egregious tax evasion that were the apparent motive for his creating the Magnitsky controversy. Veselnitskaya is the attorney of Denis Katsyv, the son of a Vice President of Russian Railways whose assets in the U.S. were frozen under the Magnitsky Act because of allegations that he had somehow enjoyed a share of the purloined Hermitage Capital money.

Hautala also allowed in Russian electronic and print media journalists, including, most significantly, Yevgeni Popov, the Vesti television presenter and director of a hard-hitting and controversial documentary entitled The Browder Effect, which was aired on the flagship Pervy kanal state channel on April 13.

Popov flew in for the European Parliament event and later his interview with Nekrasov on the streets of Brussels was part of a featured news item on the cancellation of the film’s screening.

Still, the lengths to which Browder seems prepared to go suggests that the dominant Western narrative of the Magnitsky affair is coming under pressure and that there is growing skepticism even in the West over whether the case is as simple as evil Russian agents murdering a noble investigator.

There finally is some suspicion that perhaps the controversy was manufactured, in part, to cover up possible criminal activity by Browder and to fend off Russian demands for his extradition to face pending prosecution.

Another open question is whether a second allegation against Browder in Popov’s documentary can be made to stick: namely that William Browder was a contractor working with/for British intelligence (MI6) and the CIA from 1996 and that since 2006 has been controlling Russia’s non-systemic opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a mission to destabilize the Russian government and prepare the way for regime change.

Serious questions, however, have been raised about the authenticity of some of Popov’s documents and whether the accusations against Navalny have any merit.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord.  His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Trump’s Foreign Policy Mishmash

Donald Trump’s “big” foreign policy speech was a mishmash of his reasonable calls for American restraint blended with some bluster about unleashing military force, salted with some predictable Obama bashing, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

An indication of how far removed most of the current presidential campaign has been from intelligent and useful debate on important public issues is the speech on foreign policy that Donald Trump gave in Washington on Wednesday. It is such an indication because the speech was supposed to meet a higher standard: to be one of a series of serious statements by the candidate that would describe the direction of a Trump administration, in contrast to the bombast and invective that have been salient characteristics of this particular candidate’s campaign so far.

The difference between this speech and the rest of the campaign, however, was more one of style than of substance. Trump stuck to his script, competently using a teleprompter and hardly saying a word more than what was in the prepared text. There were no vulgarities or personal insults in this Trump appearance.

The general policy direction laid out was so general and vague as to be platitudinous, expressed in such phrases as “America first” (evidently with no intent to associate with the earlier isolationist use of that term) and that the United States should always endeavor to “win.” He called, again in general terms, for a coherent foreign policy, but the speech itself did not constitute such a policy.

The specifics, such as they were, differed little from what has been heard in bits and pieces from Trump earlier. Rambling at times, the speech was more in the nature of a series of bumper stickers, with well-tested applause lines printed on them, that had been stitched together.

The speech exemplified some unfortunate attributes of campaign rhetoric for which audiences have shown a depressingly large tolerance. There is no reason for Trump and his advisers to correct such attributes now, given that such faults have not kept him from getting where he is now, on the verge of clinching his party’s nomination.

There are, perhaps most obviously, blatant contradictions and inconsistencies. In this speech, for example, Trump described earlier Cold War years as a sort of golden age of American foreign policy but also disavowed participation in the type of international institutions that were a major and even indispensable part of U.S. policy during those years.

He called for beefing up the U.S. nuclear arsenal and more spending on U.S weapons generally but also stated that a major problem in the world is that there are too many weapons.

He complained that our friends cannot count on us, but also spoke about how they should rely more on their own resources rather than on the U.S. to defend themselves. He spoke about finding common ground with adversaries and turning them into partners, but while applying this thought to Russia and to some extent to China he took the exact opposite tack regarding Iran. And so forth.

There also are flights from factual reality—or in other words, making things up. Trump declared, for example, that Iran has “ignored” the terms of the recent nuclear agreement, a statement that bears no resemblance to the record so far of Iranian compliance with those terms. He labeled Israel as the “one true democracy” in the Middle East, ignoring the lack of political rights of a substantial population under Israeli control and making it less of a democracy than, say, Tunisia.

He declared that President Obama’s policies “unleashed” ISIS, which rewrites the history in which this group arose as a direct result of the previous U.S. administration’s invasion of Iraq, and in which the group received a further boost when a civil war, not started by any U.S. administration, broke out in Syria.

He also blamed the North Korean nuclear problem on Obama, ignoring the history in which that country’s big progress toward a bomb occurred after the Bush administration effectively junked an agreement that had been reached with North Korea under the Clinton administration. He declared any reference to an inflammatory video in Libya as a “total lie,” whereas in fact there was such a video and it had a substantial effect in stoking popular furor that extremists in that country exploited. And so forth.

Another common pattern has been excoriation of an incumbent while saying and recommending many of the same things that the incumbent is saying and doing. There was plenty of both—excoriating Obama while imitating him—in this speech.

Trump’s hopeful remarks about relations with Russia sounded a lot like the Obama administration’s “reset” of that relationship. Trump’s call to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal sounded a lot like the nuclear modernization program on which the Obama administration already—to the chagrin of many Democrats—has embarked.

Trump’s comments about allies not paying their fair share was a paraphrase of what Obama has said about free riders. A call by Trump for “restraint” in dealing with conflicts overseas sounded a lot like the approach the Obama administration is taking in Syria. Trump also made a big point about how opposed he supposedly was to the Iraq War, once again ignoring that Barack Obama was more clearly and earlier on the right side of that issue than Trump was.

There is a lot of what can best be described as emoting, without any serious effort to make it a real debate about policy. One familiar example in this speech was the criticism of both Obama and Hillary Clinton for not “naming the enemy” of radical Islam. Once again nothing was said about what the likely practical effects of a particular choice of words on this subject would be. Nor was there the slightest evidence introduced that the President and former Secretary of State do not understand at least as well as their political opponents the nature of this particular enemy, however more careful they are in their public choice of words.

And there was also the pattern of making promises about obtaining results without giving the slightest idea of how those results would be attained. Probably the clearest example of this in Trump’s speech was his declaration that ISIS “will be gone quickly” if he were to become president. He didn’t say “where” or “when” he would so something — or even what he would do — to bring about this happy result, or how anything he would do would be any different from what is being done now.

“We have to be unpredictable,” Trump said. Evidently a U.S. president has to be unpredictable to the American people and not just to ISIS.

If the purpose of Trump’s appearance this week was to check a box for “a major foreign policy speech” without straying far from the sort of slogans that in even more disjointed form have gotten Trump to where he is today, then the speech served that purpose. But it left us without a clear idea of what the foreign policy of an administration headed by this intentionally unpredictable would-be president really would look like.

The deficiencies go beyond Trump himself. Some of the patterns mentioned above have been visible in some form in American political rhetoric for a long time. Trump’s most visible contributions may have been the insults and vulgarities. Much of the rest already was there.

The contest for the GOP nomination, which much of the time has resembled the Jerry Springer Show more than a serious debate about public policy, has ripened what was there. And Trump has exploited the mess.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




9/11 Commission Didn’t Clear Saudis

As the Obama administration belatedly weighs releasing the 28 pages on the Saudi role in 9/11, Americans should not be fooled by claims minimizing the Saudi involvement, writes 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser.

By Kristen Breitweiser

Americans are not used to reading investigative pieces of journalism. We like to tweet and text in small bites. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, the most important things can’t be explained in 15 bites or less. Sometimes, it takes more space and time. And so I ask everyone who is reading this blog to please read it in its entirety — especially the bold parts.

And, if you care about our country, if you care about peace, and keeping American lives safe from terrorists, pay attention to what is being said here — and never forget it.

The time has come to clarify some inaccuracies and misleading statements being made in the media regarding the 28 pages, the 9/11 attacks, the investigation of the 9/11 attacks, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In doing so, perhaps the American public will come to understand the importance of passing JASTA (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) and releasing the 28 pages in their entirety.

The 9/11 Commission’s mandate was to not replicate, but rather to expand upon the investigation of the JICI. The JICI was the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, headed by Sen. Bob Graham and Rep. Porter Goss. The JICI is where the 28 pages originated. Furthermore, the JICI made a finding of fact and final recommendation that further investigation into the role of KSA and the 9/11 attacks needed to be done, immediately.

Therefore, the 9/11 Commission should have carried out this further investigation of the KSA and 9/11. But, they did not. It is only the 9/11 families and intrepid journalists who have continued to investigate the Saudi role for the past 12 years.

As reported and documented in The New York Time’s national security correspondent Philip Shenon’s book, “The Commission,” Staff Director of the 9/11 Commission, Phil Zelikow, actively worked against any thorough investigation into the KSA and its role in the 9/11 attacks.

So, when two JICI staffers were brought over to the 9/11 Commission to continue their work on the links between the KSA and the 9/11 attacks, they were blocked by Zelikow. Zelikow fired one investigator when she tried to access the 28 pages as part of her further investigation and work for the commission. And, the second staffer (who was the person responsible for writing the 28 pages in the first place when he worked on the JICI) was actively thwarted from his investigation by Zelikow, as well.

In fact, once the 9/11 Commission report was in its final draft form, Zelikow “re-wrote” the entire section that dealt with the Saudis — leaving out vital, highly pertinent, and extremely damning information.

Thus, when a person says the 9/11 Commission, “found no evidence linking the Saudis,” be wary of the cute context of the words. The 9/11 Commission “found no evidence” because they were either never allowed to look for any evidence or whatever evidence they did find was conveniently written out of the final report, compliments of Phil Zelikow.

Why would Zelikow block his own investigation? No one knows for sure, but for starters, Zelikow was taking regular phone calls from White House political adviser Karl Rove whose job at the time was to ramp up the drumbeat for the war in Iraq — not a war with Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Zelikow was part of George W. Bush’s transition team and good friends with Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. In fact, it was Zelikow’s job to brief the incoming Bush Administration about national security issues. It’s safe to say that the pre-9/11 “sleeper cells” living inside the U.S., and the other facets of the Saudi nexus of help for the 9/11 hijackers, which was occurring while Zelikow was on the transition team, was not something Zelikow was eager to delve into as Staff Director of the 9/11 Commission.

Had the information regarding the Saudis and 9/11 been properly and fully investigated by the 9/11 Commission, and had that investigation continued thereafter, the facts surrounding the FBI and CIA and their collective failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, would have certainly come to further light. Let’s not forget the Director of the FBI’s unacceptable “handling” and “covering up” of several Saudi accomplices before and after the 9/11 attacks by permitting them to leave the country, evade arrest, and prosecution.

Suffice it to say, both the JICI and the 9/11 Commission clearly document that prior to the 9/11 attacks, the KSA was not as helpful as it could be with regard to providing access to Al Qaeda prisoners, stopping the flow of money to UBL, and/or sharing information with regard to UBL.

But most importantly, both the JICI and the 9/11 Commission provide plenty of statements, facts and findings that show KSA aided, abetted and had roots and connections to the 9/11 hijackers. In short, there’s likely a very good reason that the name “Saudi Arabia” appears more often in both reports than names like Iran, Syria and Iraq.

The JICI Finding #15 states, “Regarding Saudi Arabia, the Committee heard testimony from U.S. government personnel that Saudi officials had been uncooperative and often did not act on information implicating Saudi nationals. According to a U.S. government official, it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters relating to Osama bin Laden … a number of U.S. government officials complained to the Joint Inquiry about a lack of Saudi cooperation in terrorism investigations both before and after the September 11th attacks.

The JICI Finding #20 states, “Through its investigation, the Joint Inquiry developed information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the U.S. The Joint Inquiry’s review confirmed that the Intelligence Community also has information, much of which has yet to be independently verified, concerning these potential sources of support. In their testimony, neither CIA nor FBI officials were able to address definitively the extent of such support for the hijackers globally or within the U.S. or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. … This gap in U.S. intelligence coverage is unacceptable, given the magnitude and immediacy of the potential risk to U.S. national security. The Intelligence Community needs to address this area of concern as aggressively and quickly as possible.”

 

The JICI’s Final Recommendation # 19, “The Intelligence Community and particularly the FBI and the CIA should aggressively address the possibility that foreign governments are providing support to or are involved in terrorist activity targeting the U.S. and U.S. interests. State sponsored terrorism substantially increases the likelihood of successful and more lethal attacks within the U.S.

This issue must be addressed from a national standpoint and should not be limited in focus by the geographical and factual boundaries of individual cases. The FBI and CIA should aggressively and thoroughly pursue related matters developed through this Joint Inquiry that have been referred to them for further investigation by these Committees.”

Commission Staff Statement #5, “Diplomacy” states, “the Saudis were reluctant or unable to provide much help.“ The Staff Statement concludes, “before 9/11 the Saudi and U.S. governments did not achieve full sharing of important intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort to track and disrupt the finances of the al Qaeda organization.”

Commission Staff Statement #8, “National Policy Coordination” states, “in June 1999, National Security Adviser Berger and Clarke summarized for President Clinton what had been accomplished against bin Laden. An active program to disrupt al Qaeda cells around the world was underway and recording some success. The efforts to track bin Laden’s finances with help from Saudi Arabia had not yet been successful.”?

Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice’s testimony before the commission states, “Under [Bush’s] leadership, the U.S. and our allies are disrupting terrorist operations, cutting off their funding and hunting down terrorists one by one. Their world is getting smaller. The terrorists have lost a home base and training camps in Afghanistan. The governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now pursue them with energy and force.”

Upon questioning by 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman, Condoleeza Rice was asked, “Were you aware of the activities of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs here in the United States during the transition? And Rice replied, “I believe that only after September 11th did the full extent of what was going on with the Ministry of Religious Affairs become evident.”

Lehman continued, “Were you aware of the extensive activities of the Saudi government in supporting over 300 radical teaching schools and mosques around the country, including right here in the United States?“ Rice replied, “I believe we’ve learned a great deal more about this and addressed it with the Saudi government since 9/11.”

Staff Statement #9, “Law Enforcement, Counterterrorism, and Intelligence Collection in the United States Prior to 9/11” in its “Terrorist Financing” section states, “Prior to September 11, these FBI offices had been able to gain a basic understanding of some of the largest and most problematic terrorist financing conspiracies that have since been identified. The agents understood that there was a network of extremist organizations operating within the U.S. supporting a global Islamic jihad movement. They did not know the degree to which these extremist groups were associated with al Qaeda. …

The FBI operated a web of informants, conducted electronic surveillance, and had opened investigations in a number of field offices. Numerous field offices including New York, San Diego, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit had significant intelligence investigations into groups that appeared to be raising money for Islamic extremist groups. Many of these groups appeared to the FBI to have some connection to either al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.”

The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report states, “When Bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fund-raising efforts drawing on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals. … Al Qaeda appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors … particularly in Saudi Arabia. Some surely knew the ultimate destination of their donations.

“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities. Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government individually funded the organization.

This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very limited oversight. To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.“ (170-172)

Of particular note is footnote #86 from Chapter 6, “From Threat to Threat” that states, “CIA analytic reports, “Usama Bin Ladin: Some Saudi Financial Ties Probably Intact,” OTI IR 99-005CX, Jan 11, 1999, “How Bin Ladin Commands a Global Terrorist Network,” CTC 99-40003, Jan 27, 1999, “Islamic Terrorists: Using Nongovernmental Organizations Extensively,” CTC 99-40007, April 9, 1999.

Also of note, footnote #29 from Chapter 7, “The Attack Looms,” that details a description of the two San Diego hijackers Hazmi and al Mihdhar stating, “He recalled Hazmi and al Mihdar arriving at the mosque on their own and describing themselves as clerks employed by the Saudi Arabian government. The two said they needed help finding a school where they could study English which neither spoke well enough. The mosque administrator suspected that Mihdar might have been an intelligence agent of the Saudi government. … We have no evidence contradicting the administrator’s account.”

From these statements, it can be seen that there was clearly a “network of extremist organizations operating within the U.S. supporting a global Islamic Jihad movement.” In addition, it seems crystal clear that at least one foreign government was supporting these networks of extremist organizations.

As stated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups is Saudi Arabia. Clinton stated, “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.”

It’s my opinion that the 28 pages will clarify the network of Saudis that supported the 9/11 hijackers. This network will likely have links to the Saudi Islamic Affair Ministry — “well known in intelligence circles to be the Saudi’s fifth column in support of Muslim extremists.”

In addition, clarification of the roles and connections to the 9/11 hijackers of several people will also likely happen with the release of the 28 pages. These people include: Fahad al Thumairy, Omar al Bayoumi, Osama Bassnan, Anwar Awlaki, and Eyad al Rababah. Go ahead and google them. The damning facts are plain to see.

More notably, the 28 pages will likely reveal that the FBI and CIA had open investigations with several of the aforementioned people both before and after the 9/11 attacks. This fact, alone, will prove to be uncomfortable since it will be difficult to explain why the 9/11 attacks were not prevented.

Furthermore, it will be difficult to understand why certain facts involving the aforementioned individuals were conveniently ignored and not fully investigated after the 9/11 attacks by the FBI, CIA, and the 9/11 Commission.

So, please do me a favor: when you hear someone shrieking about all the dangerous reciprocal lawsuits being created as a result of the 9/11 families wanting to hold funders of mass murder accountable, look carefully into those good people’s involvement with the Saudis or less than successful intelligence policies.

And when you hear about certain Senators who outright or secretly oppose legislation that would ensure nations like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are held accountable for their funding of mass terrorism attacks, check to see what their involvement with the KSA has been for the past 15 years.

Finally, when you notice a person speaking out against ordinary citizens’ undeniable right to hold mass murderers accountable, look ever so closely and carefully because most likely there’s a reason they’re worried – and it’s got nothing to do with this nation’s well-being.

President Obama tells us we will have to wait another 60 days for the release of the 28 pages. I certainly hope that the President recognizes that anything less than the release of the full 28 pages will be seen as further proof of this government’s cover-up of Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks.

The clock is ticking …and the 9/11 families, along with the rest of America, are paying close attention.

Kristen Breitweiser is a 9/11 widow and activist who – working with other 9/11 widows known collectively as the “Jersey Girls” – pressured the U.S. government to conduct a formal investigation into the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Follow Kristen Breitweiser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kdbreitweiser. [This article originally appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost. 9/11 widows Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg, and Lorie Van Auken also sign their names to this blog.]




Erosion of the ‘War on Drugs’

Exclusive: Support for the “war on drugs” has eroded so much that anti-drug-war hoax statements from senior officials sounded plausible even to the mainstream media, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

In 1998, assembled delegates to the United Nations vowed to largely eliminate the world drug problem within a decade. Eighteen years later, of course, the problem is bigger than ever. This April 19-21, the UN held its next global summit on drug control in New York City, with less laughable results.

The acronym for the event — UNGASS — suggested that the proceedings might consist of the usual political hot air and flatulent speeches. But some news accounts of the event reported a remarkable change of heart among world leaders — away from the century-long policy of law enforcement and crop eradication in favor of radical alternatives like drug legalization.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Yuri Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as saying, “The science increasingly supports decriminalization and harm reduction over proscriptive, fear-based approaches. It’s time to reverse the cycles of violence that occur wherever ‘drug wars’ are undertaken, and to abandon policies that exacerbate suffering.”

The newspaper also quoted a spokesman for the international drug agency, Kevin Campo, in the same vein: “We can begin to dismantle ‘just say no’ policies that result in millions needlessly killed and incarcerated — and that defy logic and science — and instead bring to the forefront humane solutions that are known to work.”

Alas, those decent and informed sentiments proved to be a hoax. Kevin Campo doesn’t exist, and Fedotov never said the words ascribed to him in a fake press release, probably engineered by supporters of marijuana legalization.

A second fake news release, also attributed to UNODC, exposed the first one as a hoax. It explained that “Although many UN member states now consider decriminalization a viable way to reduce drug violence, corruption, and mass incarceration, the UN has yet to adopt a more progressive policy due to a few states like Russia, China, and the United States, who persist in employing and promoting heavily punitive drug policies.”

It quoted a real spokesperson for the agency as saying, “Citizens of deadbeat states like the USA, Russia, and China must lobby their governments if they want to see change. . . Sadly, without better state policy, home growing [of pot] is the only way for a user to opt out of the cycle of violence.”

A Spoof Illustrating a Changed Reality

As the spoof itself illustrated, however, this U.N. conclave actually did achieve something: unlike the dismal 1998 summit, it provided a venue for voices of sanity to question the “war on drugs” that has consumed countless lives and untold billions of dollars in a fruitless effort to repeal the law of supply and demand.

The New York Times, for example, was spurred by the event to call on the U.S. government to “play a much stronger role in shaping new policies,” such as drug decriminalization, that “could render the existing drug treaties obsolete.”

Leading international human rights organizations, echoing a sharply worded report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, used the conference to call attention to “the human rights abuses and violations that arise in the context of drug control policies and counter-narcotic operations,” including executions, torture, and relentless militarization of “public security and policing.”

The World Health Organization condemned the traditional focus on law enforcement strategies for fighting drugs and called for alternative measures “grounded in the fundamental public health precepts of equity and social justice, [and] human rights.”

Meanwhile, more than a thousand activists and celebrities—including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former Secretary of State George Shultz, two former presidents of Mexico, a former president of Brazil, and many other world leaders — sent UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon an open letter declaring that the criminalization of drugs over the past century “has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights.”

Drug control, their letter continued, has “created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.”

A Colombian Course Correction

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, representing one of the world’s leading “source” countries for illicit drugs, used the forum to condemn the “repression” of small growers — a policy demanded by Washington and backed up over the years by arms, herbicides, police and military training, and threats to cut off aid for non-compliance.

“After so many lives that have been destroyed, after so much corruption and so much violence, after so many young people being marched off to jail, can we say that we have won the war (on drugs) or at least that we are winning it?” Santos asked. “Unfortunately the answer is ‘no.’”

Santos also asked, “How do you explain to a humble Colombian farmer that he’s going to jail because he’s growing marijuana when anybody in Colorado or Washington in the U.S., anybody at all, can grow marijuana, sell it and consume it freely? It simply doesn’t make sense.”

Santos has taken Colombia in a sharply different direction than that of his conservative predecessor Alvaro Uribe, who was long favored by Washington despite (or because of) his support for right-wing, drug-trafficking paramilitary groups.

Santos is working to conclude peace talks with two Marxist guerrilla groups that have engaged in drug trafficking to finance their rebellions. His success would not only bring Colombia welcome relief from decades of violence, but would likely also create better conditions for encouraging peasants to substitute commercial crops for coca, cannabis, or poppies.

Other leaders in the Americas have also broken with the status quo. Uruguay legalized the possession and sale of marijuana; Mexico says it intends to ease restrictions on personal use of pot, and so does the new government of Canada. In 2012, the then-president of Guatemala called for international legalization of drugs.

Advocates of ending the war on drugs point to documented harm reduction from drug decriminalization programs in Portugal, Switzerland and Holland. Evidence also suggests that the growing movement to decriminalize marijuana use in some U.S. states has cut sharply into the sales of Mexican drug cartels.

The Obama administration has tread with extreme caution to deflect partisan charges of being “soft” on drugs. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement calling for “a pragmatic approach that better balances public health and law enforcement” while still attacking international trafficking organizations. President Obama has previously offered reformist words, but through his appointments and budget priorities has continued to support traditional “drug war” policies that fill prisons with non-violent criminals, militarize police forces, and devastate communities of color.

The wisdom of those failed policies is more open to question than ever thanks to the recently ended U.N. summit.

As the Open Society Foundations observed recently, “Never before have so many governments voiced displeasure with the international drug control regime. Never before, to this degree, have citizens put drug law reform on the agenda and passed regulatory proposals via referenda or by popular campaigns. Never before have the health benefits of harm reduction approaches — which prevent overdose and transmission of diseases like HIV — been clearer. For the first time, there is significant dissent at the local, national, and international levels.”

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




The Pentagon’s Medal Inflation

Like grade inflation in college, the Pentagon has engaged in medal inflation, diluting awards for actual heroism by proliferating ribbons for bureaucratic skills, as Chuck Spinney and James Perry Stevenson explain.

By Chuck Spinney

It should be clear that the Global War on Terror (GWOT) launched by George W. Bush and perpetuated by Barack Obama is a bust. It is now the longest war in U.S. history; it is now the second most expensive war in U.S. history; and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet despite the GWOT’s astronomical cost, forces deployed and combat tempos are minuscule when compared with those of the far lower cost Vietnam War. Nevertheless, the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Pentagon are whining to Congress that these tepid tempos have created a looming readiness crisis. They assert the relatively small cutbacks in the future growth implied by the budget caps of Budget Control Act of 2011 to what is by far the largest defense budget in the world is now the “gravest strategic danger” facing the United States!

A logical person, living in a sane world, would think that the GWOT, its high cost, its clearly broken nature, and the huge size of the defense budget would be major issues in the 2016 presidential election. But the presidential candidates and the mainstream media, like the Pentagon, are silent on this surreal travesty. Indeed, the pathologies of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) are as much off limits in contemporary political discourse as is foul language is at holy communion.

In part, that is due to the fact that lots of people and a substantial part of our nation’s economy are prospering — i.e., the are becoming rich and powerful — from living off the MICC’s degenerating status quo. One metric of this obscene transfer of wealth can be seen in the proliferation of MICC-related “McMansions” in and around Versailles on the Potomac.

Sustaining the money flow through the MICC requires ornaments of success to compensate for and distract attention from its glittering if depressing reality. The proliferation of American flags in politicians lapels and on car bumpers, suggesting uncritical patriotism and triumphalism, is one example. Fantasies dressed up in Power-Point briefings about ever emerging technical revolutions, implying the future will be different from the past, are yet other examples of how ornaments prop up a dysfunctional reality in contemporary discourse.

My long-time friend and partner in crime, James P. Stevenson, has just written an essay analyzing yet another, little examined set of visual aids propping up the surrealism of the MICC. His subject is the proliferation of glittering “been there, done that” decorations now adorning the chests our senior military officers.

Jim proves his point (1) by making an elegantly simple comparison of the gongs adorning the chests of today’s generals to those that adorned the chests of the World War II generals — a war which historians may remember as our last “successful” war (thanks in large part to the enormous contributions of the Soviet Union) and (2) by showing how today’s gong show highlights individual careerism and vanity while degrading the recognition of heroism and self-sacrifice.

To be sure, as Jim is at pains to point out, gong proliferation did not begin with the GWOT, but it has grown over time. But I would add, like the MICC (and the MICC’s McMansions), which also evolved slowly and insensibly over time, gong proliferation, especially in the highest ranks, metastasized during the GWOT.

Attached herewith is Stevenson’s handiwork — think of it as yet another metaphor for the Defense Death Spiral and yet another canary in the coal mine warning us of decay within.

Chuck Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who was famous for the “Spinney Report,” which criticized the Pentagon’s wasteful pursuit of costly and complex weapons systems. [This story originally appeared at Spinney’s blog at http://chuckspinney.blogspot.com/2016/04/pentagon-gong-show.html]

It’s Hard to Tell War Heroes From Paper-Pushers When Everybody Gets So Many Dumb Ribbons

By James Perry Stevenson, War is Boring, April 25, 2016

There has been a jarring addition to U.S. military uniforms since the end of World War II. Seventy years ago, high-ranking officers wore relatively few ribbons or medals?—?and awards for valor were rare. Go back farther to the Civil War, and it was common for officers to not wear military decorations at all.

But for the modern officer, it’s now possible to perform one’s duties without being a hero and still have a chest full of ribbons that are indecipherable to all but the most dedicated students of phaleristics.

Most of all, the typical Twenty-first Century American general is a walking wall of multi-colored “great job” ribbons, none of which are awards for valor.

The ribbons have spread so widely that it has become difficult to differentiate heroes from bedecked bureaucrats, assignment-junkies and dedicated self-improvement types?—?which, I suppose, is partly the point.

The bureaucrats who added the great-job ribbons have ensured that some of these ribbons rank higher than do most medals for actual, individual acts of heroism. That obviously reflects misplaced priorities within the U.S. military’s value-system. But that isn’t to say we should take away the officers’ ribbons.

No, there’s a better way?—?one that would visually differentiate awards for valor and heroism from the clutter of ribbons for “great job,” “been there” and “done that.”

The American military acknowledges the commendable and selfless efforts of its soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in two distinct ways?—?promotions and medals.

The difference between a ribbon and a medal is merely technical. A ribbon is worn on the everyday uniform, while medals are reserved for formal occasions. They both refer to the same award.

Traditionally, the military rewards jobs-well-done with better or faster promotions. For officers, the addition of gold braid on their sleeves or a change in silver insignia represents an easy-to-discern promotion in rank.

In cases where no promotion takes place, a new, more responsible assignment?—?such as becoming a commanding officer of a ship or aircraft squadron?—?is a clear indication of an officer’s continuous good work.

Acts of valor, on the other hand, are usually brief events?—?sometimes instantaneous?—?but of course are still worthy of note. Awarding ribbons are the usual way the military offers this notice.

The military also assigns precedence among various ribbons by placing them in an order of importance, with the most important residing at the top of a uniform’s area for ribbons, and the least important living at the bottom.

A full chest of ribbons usually contains the four types?—?one each for valor, for a job well-done, for stating where and when the wearer served, and?—?finally?—?ribbons representing an individual’s professional self-improvement.

It gets more complicated. The military also awards “dual-use” ribbons that can indicate heroism with a quarter-inch “V” attachment. The Army and Air Force call the “V” the “V Device” and the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard call it the “Combat V.”

Without the V, the ribbon stands for “extraordinary” or “meritorious” conduct. And this varies between service branches. The same medal can mean different things depending on the service that issues it. Yes, this is complicated. Thanks for bearing with me.

At the beginning of World War II, the big three awards for valor and heroism?—?the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star?—?were known to most military personnel and even to many civilians.

But with the growth of military bureaucracy, manned by more and more careerists whose fingers have pulled more paper than triggers, the military developed a mindset that these silent warriors, working behind the lines, needed some recognition. The rear-echelon types began issuing themselves ribbons simply for being good administrators.

As a result, it’s gotten really hard to discern a hero from a bureaucrat. Plus there’s the visual pollution of dozens of ribbons adorning one uniform. Furthermore, ribbon-proliferation dilutes the importance of any particular award. Any one medal doesn’t mean a whole lot when everyone’s got lots and lots of them.

The following series, depicting four sets of ribbons, shows the evolution of medals for heroism competing with great-job ribbons.

The top seven ribbons the U.S. Army awarded at the beginning of World War II?—?five ribbons for heroism, one for a great job, and one for being wounded?—?are depicted here in priority order. The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal (a great-job medal), the Silver Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier’s Medal for non-combat heroism and the Purple Heart.

The only addition for heroism in the U.S. Army by the end of 1945 was the Bronze Star Medal with the V Device. The medals the Army added for heroism after the 1950s are the Air Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, all of which offer the opportunity to attach the V Device, converting the ribbon from great-job award to an award for heroism.

Heroism medals have to compete visually with great-job medals as well as ones for “been there” and “done that.” If we were to limit visual clutter to only the addition of great-job ribbons, you begin to see the problem.

Hero medals now compete with great-job ribbons added since the end of World War II (in red) and great-job ribbons added before and during World War II (in green). In both cases, hero ribbons compete for precedence. In some cases, great-job ribbons outrank awards for heroism. Furthermore, the qualifications are such that only those at the top of the military hierarchy are in a position to receive them.

Take the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, which outranks the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for heroism. According to the Defense Department, the DDSM is only awarded to “members whose direct and individual contribution to national security or national defense are recognized as being so exceptional in scope and value as to be equivalent to contribution associated with positions encompassing broader responsibilities.”

But isn’t that what high-ranking generals and admirals are supposed to do? Awarding generals and admirals a medal for “encompassing broader responsibilities” after also giving them four stars is the functional equivalent of a participation award.

Not that many service members would even recognize the great-job ribbons. The author’s recent unscientific survey of a group of U.S. Air Force enlisted airmen illustrates the effect of ribbon-clutter. None of the five airmen could name or recognize any valor-based ribbon aside from the Medal of Honor.

“We have trouble keeping up with the ribbons they keep awarding us, so when we see someone else’s medals, we usually try to see what ribbons we might have in common,” one airman said.

That airman has been in the Air Force for just under four years and yet he had been awarded seven ribbons. For a comparison, Army generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Henry “Hap” Arnold each received only 10 American ribbons during their entire military careers?—?culminating, of course, with World War II.

The ribbons received by an Air Force airman after four years is close to reaching the number of American ribbons two American generals, Eisenhower and Arnold, received after over 30 or 40 years respectively in the U.S. Army.

Now contrast the number of ribbons Army general Omar Bradley received by the end of World War II to the ribbons awarded to Gen. David Petraeus after his 37-year career in the U.S. Army that ended in 2011.

Gen. David Petraeus’s Medals.

Seven of Petraeus’s 11 personal decorations were created after 1970, so if he wore only those medals available during World War II, he would have just four medals and only one for heroism?—?the Bronze Star Medal with V Device.

Gen. Omar Bradley’s Medals.

Bradley’s medals were all awarded by the end of World War II, including the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for heroism.

The addition of been-there and done-that ribbons added to Petraeus’s personal decorations, resulting in a display not unlike that of a Latin American potentate. Petraeus’a look differs from Bradley’s more conservative appearance.

This is not to diminish the importance of great-job medals. Indeed, they are an important function of personal military decorations. Rewarding great work is an appropriate application of military medals, particularly for younger service members.

It’s possible that great work can have an even greater benefit to the military and the country than an individual’s heroic acts. An excellent example is illustrated by the efforts of the late Air Force Colonel John R. Boyd.

Five years after Boyd received his first Legion of Merit as a 32-year old Air Force captain?—?a virtually unheard-of feat, as the Legion of Merit is often referred to as a “colonel’s medal”?—?he received another Legion of Merit because he “developed the energy-maneuverability concept,” which helps pilots and designers to compare one airplane against another in a quantitative way.

In layman’s terms, his methods permitted pilots to see where an enemy airplane has advantages and disadvantages in the air. Boyd took his energy-maneuverability concepts to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and briefed pilots on how to use the concepts to avoid getting hit by surface-to-air missiles.

While waiting for a friend at the Miramar Naval Air Station Officer’s Club, I struck up a conversation with an officer sitting next to me at the bar. Noticing his gold wings and ribbons, indicating he’d been to Vietnam, I asked him if he’d ever heard of John Boyd.

“You bet,” he said.

“What do you know about him?” I asked.

“He came over to ’Nam to brief us on how to use his energy-maneuverability to evade SAMs.”

“What did you think of his briefing?”

“My wingman thought he was full of crap. I didn’t. Only one of us is here talking to you.”

Boyd ultimately was awarded four Legions of Merit. The cumulative effect of his efforts most likely saved more lives than any singular heroic act. However, if Boyd were alive today, I believe he would agree that individual acts of heroism should be at the head of the line.

Here then is a better way to make valorous awards stand out?—?and in such a way that even civilians will know they’re looking at a warrior who has risked his or her life to save others.

Currently, the regulations call for unit citations?—?ribbons awarded to a group rather than to an individual?—?to be displayed on the right side of the uniform from the wearer’s perspective, the side opposite of where ribbons are normally worn. Although unit citations are important, deference should be given to the individual hero.

Looking at the picture of Petraeus, it’s not immediately obvious that he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a V Device, a medal for heroism. But if it were on the right side where unit citations currently reside all alone, it would be clear to anyone that he’d been awarded a ribbon for heroism.

Ranking great-job medals higher in precedence than those for heroism also indicates a misunderstanding of human nature?—?and a miscalculation of value?—?on the part of the military bureaucracy

It is often less-expensive enlisted personnel who find themselves in hazardous conditions and who are likely to encounter?—?to put it obliquely?—?the opportunity to demonstrate valor. Awarding a two-star general at the Pentagon the third-highest military ribbon for creativity with his pen and ranking such action greater than, say, a combat soldier saving someone during a firefight, is plain wrong.

Becoming a one-star general or admiral should be reward in and of itself. And rising from one star to four should require no further adulation.

As Napoleon famously observed, humans are motivated by the possibility of being acknowledged for having done more than was expected of them. Our own Medal of Honor, awarded for acts “above and beyond the call of duty,” acknowledges this. Congress was concerned enough about the dilution of the Medal of Honor that, over the decades, lawmakers have passed several laws making it a crime to falsely wear the United States’ highest award … or even claim to have won it.

A U.S. court of appeals effectively endorsed those laws in early 2016. “We conclude that the government … has a ‘substantial countervailing objective’ of avoiding dilution of ‘the country’s recognition of [the award recipient’s] sacrifice in the form of military honors,’” the court wrote.

But an unintentional dilution of medals for valor, honor and sacrifice is exactly what has happened due to the proliferation of ribbons. To honor our true heroes, we should isolate their ribbons for the sake of visual clarity. Put ’em on the wearer’s right.

That won’t totally solve the ribbon-clutter problem. But it’s a start.

 




Saudi Role Beyond the 28 Pages

Release of the 28 secret pages from the congressional 9/11 report may be long overdue, but the depth of Saudi involvement with Islamic radicals goes much deeper, says Gareth Porter at Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

The controversy surrounding the infamous “28 pages” on the possible Saudi connection with the terrorists that were excised from the joint Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is at fever pitch. But that controversy is a distraction from the real problems that Saudi Arabia’s policies pose to the United States and the entire Middle East region.

The political pressure to release the 28 pages has been growing for the past couple of years, with resolutions in both houses of Congress urging President Barack Obama to declassify the information. But now legislation with bipartisan sponsorship has advanced in Congress that would deprive any foreign government of sovereign immunity in regard to responsibility for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and thus make it possible to sue the Saudi government in court for damages from the 9/11 attacks.

That development prompted Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to threaten last month to pull out as much as $750 billion in Saudi assets held in the United States. The Obama administration opposes the legislation, warning of “unintended consequences” – specifically that the U.S. government could face lawsuits because of its actions abroad. Analysts of Saudi economic policy, however, do not take al-Jubeir’s threat very seriously since it would simply punish the Saudi economy.

Meanwhile, Obama in an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News on April 16, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is reviewing the 28 pages “to make sure that whatever it is that is released is not gonna compromise some major national security interest of the United States.” Obama said Clapper was nearly finished so the issue might finally come to a head within the next few weeks.

But it is unlikely that the declassification of the redacted 28 pages would add any dramatic new revelation to the story of the Saudis and the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Former Sen. Bob Graham, who was head of the Senate side of the joint intelligence committee, has implied that the 28 pages containing incriminating evidence about the hijackers’ links to the Saudi government. But Graham’s smoking gun is more likely to be speculative leads rather than real evidence of Saudi government support for the hijackers.

Aid to Two Hijackers?

Past suspicions of an official Saudi role in assisting the hijackers has focused on the two Saudi Al Qaeda operatives, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who moved to the San Diego area in early February 2000 and were immediately assisted by a Saudi man who was suspected by Saudis in the San Diego area of working for the Saudi intelligence service.

What many have cited as even more suspicious is the fact that $130,000 in certified bank checks were sent to the wife of Omar al Bayoumi, the suspected Saudi intelligence agent, by the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and – more than a decade later – head of Saudi intelligence.

But even if those checks were a covert way of supporting an intelligence operative, the broader theory that Bayoumi’s job was to take care of the hijackers does not hold up in light of the information now available. Investigations by the FBI, the CIA and the two major public 9/11 bodies turned up no evidence that Bayoumi provided any financial support to hijackers. On the contrary they showed that Hazmi and Mihdhar were getting money when they needed it through a direct Al Qaeda channel.

On the contrary, the 9/11 Commission learned that the hijackers had left the apartment they had gotten through Bayoumi very soon after moving in, apparently because al-Bayoumi had organized a party in the apartment that was videotaped by one of the participants, and that the Al Qaeda operatives had seemingly not welcomed the attention.

Very soon after that, moreover, Mihdhar actually left the United States and didn’t return until mid-2001. And in June 2000, Hazmi moved to Arizona apparently through a network of contacts that Al Qaeda had established in Tucson in the 1990s.

So Bayoumi did not play any role in the plans of Hazmi and Mihdhar, and the efforts to find any other evidence that the Saudi government was knowledgeable about Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plans have so far turned up nothing. It is unlikely that the leads related to suspicions of Saudi involvement to be found in the 28 pages are completely different from those that have already been widely discussed in the media.

A CIA Recruitment?

Bayoumi’s relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar has given rise to speculation about why the CIA failed to inform the FBI about the presence of Mihdhar in the United States until just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks. White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke was outraged that the CIA had known that an Al Qaeda terrorist was on his way to the United States and had kept Clarke in the dark, even though he was supposed to receive every intelligence report on terrorism.

Clarke said in a 2009 interview that the only reason he could think that the CIA kept the information to itself was that Cofer Black, the head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, was determined to recruit Hazmi and Mihdhar as CIA agents inside Al Qaeda. Clarke speculated that the CIA would have used Saudi intelligence to approach the two Al Qaeda operatives and obviously assumed that Bayoumi was the Saudi agent who made the contact.

But more than a year had passed after the contact between the two Al Qaeda operatives and Bayoumi had been broken off before the CIA contacted the FBI and other agencies to request that Mihdhar be put on a watch list and began its own search for Mihdhar. That delay was obviously not the result of an effort to recruit Mihdhar and Hazmi.

The truth is far more shocking: as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center had not even continued to focus on Mihdhar after first learning about his visa in February 2000.  It had already lost track of him, and had moved on to other issues. Not until a review in August 2001 had revealed its oversight did the CTC do anything about Mihdhar, which is why the hijackers were not tracked down before Sept. 11.

A Push Toward 9/11

The Saudi regime certainly played a role in the trail of events that led to 9/11, but there is no need to wait for the declassification of the 28 pages to understand that trail. It has long been well documented that the socio-political constituency for bin Laden’s anti-U.S. organization in the kingdom was so large and influential that the government itself was forced to tread with extreme caution on Al Qaeda until the group’s attacks on the Saudi regime began in 2003.

The Clinton administration had learned that Saudi supporters of bin Laden were being allowed to finance his operations through Saudi charities. The regime systematically denied CIA requests for bin Laden’s birth certificate, passport and banks records. 9/11 Commission investigators learned, moreover, that after bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan in May 1996, a delegation of Saudi officials had asked top Taliban leaders to tell bin Laden that if he didn’t attack the regime, the 1994 termination of his Saudi citizenship and freezing of his assets would be rescinded.

The U.S. government has known that Saudi financing of madrassas all over the world has been a major source of jihadist activism. The Saudi regime’s extremist Wahhabi perspective on Shia Islam is the basis for its paranoid stance on the rest of the region and the destabilization of Syria and Yemen.

The 28 pages should be released, but at a time when the contradictions between U.S. and Saudi interests are finally beginning to be openly acknowledged, the issue is just another diversion from the real debate on Saudi Arabia that is urgently needed.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]




Missing the Biggest 2016 Story

The biggest political story of 2016 has been the rise of protest candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but it was a phenomenon that the mainstream U.S. media largely missed or belittled, writes Neal Gabler.

By Neal Gabler

To their everlasting discredit, most of the MSM Big Feet, which is what the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer labeled the self-important, pontificating political reporters and pundits who dominate our press, got it all wrong about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

That is no small thing when you consider those two are the big stories this campaign season. It’s like a weatherman missing a Category Five hurricane. Of course, if a weatherman had blown that call, he probably would be fired. With pundits, getting it wrong never seems to matter.

To their credit, a few of those Big Feet have fessed up to their errors. New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the most contrite, admitted that he realized he had been living in a bubble and had to get out in the country a bit more – “change the way I do my job,” is how he put it — to understand the American psyche.

Brooks is right that a huge disconnect exists between the people who report on our politics and the people who participate in them. My own sense is that by and large political journalists are a smug bunch, but they come by it naturally. If they seem to have contempt for us, it is because they really do have different experiences and inhabit a different world from the vast majority of their fellow Americans.

The most powerful of them – the ones you read, see and hear the most – constitute an elite so far removed that it could only understand us through the most aggressive sympathetic imagination. And that is not going to happen.

For one thing, journalists as a whole don’t look like the rest of America. “The typical U.S. journalist is a 41 year-old white male,” began a 2006 report by the Pew Research Center. When that report was updated in 2013, that typical journalist had become a 47 year-old white male, and the median age had risen not only at newspapers, where one might expect journalists to be aging along with their institution, but also at TV and radio stations and even online news sites.

As for the “white” part, journalists are overwhelmingly white in a nation that is increasingly diverse. Roughly 37 percent of Americans are minorities – a number that is growing rapidly. But by one study, minorities possessed only 22 percent of television journalism jobs, 13 percent of radio jobs and 13 percent of daily newspaper jobs.

Another study, by Indiana University, puts the percentage of minority-held journalism jobs much lower: 8.5 percent in 2013.

And as for the “male” part, while the number of women in journalism has been increasing ever so gradually, only one-third or so of full-time journalists are women – a fraction that has held more or less steady since the 1980s.

So here is the situation: A country that is increasingly younger, darker and half female is being reported on by a press corps that is older, whiter and more male. A gaping demographic gulf separates the press from the people – a gulf that undoubtedly affects the kinds of stories chosen and the way in which they are covered.

And there are other dredges that widen the gulf. Although journalists are obviously scattered throughout the country, they are not geographically apportioned equally. As one might expect, the news centers are New York, Washington and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles.

Of the 40,000 journalists in America, nearly a quarter live in these three areas, which is staggering when you think about it, and which certainly skews the news coverage. It also seems to confirm the familiar gripe of Middle America that media elites consider most of the country a fly-over from LA to NYC.

I love New York, and I am fond of Los Angeles and Washington, too, but I would hardly say that these three are microcosms of America. While all three rank highly among American cities in a rubric of racial and ethnic diversity, as determined in a study by Wallethub.com (NYC at #6; LA at #54 and DC at #78), all three are middling in income diversity (DC at #86; NYC at #157; LA at #183). That means most Big Feet reporters live in economically stratified cities, and many of them, almost by definition, live in the upper income strata.

The average reporter or correspondent doesn’t make very much money, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2015 – a little less than $50,000. By comparison, the mean household income in the U.S. generally is just about $52,000. But remember those BLS figures include all reporters and correspondents in the country, including folks in the boondocks where salaries are low. If you focus on the Big Three cities, the picture is somewhat different. The mean annual wage for a reporter in NY is $69,000, in the metro DC area $75,000, and in LA $48,000, actually under the general mean, which suggests how much the major news media outlets are really concentrated in the East.

Of course, those figures very likely underestimate what national correspondents earn, much less what the Big Feet – the reporters and pundits who wield the most influence – get. We don’t know exactly what their salaries are because they aren’t going to tell us, but we don’t have to exercise too much imagination to believe that they are extremely well paid, as in “one percent” well paid.

This matters because the widest gulf between the press and the people is probably not politics (over 50 percent of reporters call themselves independents, so they aren’t pitched at the political poles) or race or ethnicity or geography or even the culture that is forged by a combination of these – though all are important and all contribute to a press corps that neither resembles America nor, in many respects, thinks like most Americans.

Rather, the widest gulf may be economic. It is very possible that reporters – especially the Big Feet – dismissed Trump and Sanders because journalists couldn’t possibly fathom the deep, seething, often unspoken economic discontent that afflicts so many Americans and that has helped fuel both the Trump and Sanders movements. They couldn’t fathom it, perhaps, because they haven’t experienced it. I know because I have.

When you put their geographical proximity together with their class solidarity, it is entirely likely that MSM reporters will huddle, the way most geographic and economic cohorts do. They are more likely to see the same things, attend the same parties and events, mingle with the same people, draw on the same sources and send their children to the same schools, which adds up to their seeing the world in similar ways and reporting the same stories in the same ways.

In short, the MSM is not only an elite, it is a kind of economic and cultural clique. And that clique is not us.

So David Brooks can leave his bubble and attempt to find the soul of America. It is an admirable objective. But like all Big Feet, he would have to do more than change the way he does his job. To do it right, he would have to give up his home, his salary, his friends, his comfort, his inevitable sense of privilege. That is the only way he might truly feel, and thus fully comprehend, the pain and anger that is at the heart of this strange campaign year.

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA TImes Book Prizes, Time magazine‘s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at the Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy. [This article originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/the-mainstream-medias-big-disconnect-why-they-dont-get-middle-america/ ]