Latest Odds of a Shooting War Between NATO and Russia

Hungarian scholar George Szamuely tells Ann Garrison that he sees a 70 percent chance of combat between NATO and Russia following the incident in the Kerch Strait and that it is being fueled by Russia-gate.

An Interview with George Szamuely

by Ann Garrison
Special to Consortium News 

George Szamuely is a Hungarian-born scholar and Senior Research Fellow at London’s Global Policy Institute. He lives in New York City. I spoke to him about escalating hostilities on Russia’s Ukrainian and Black Sea borders and about Exercise Trident Juncture, NATO’s massive military exercise on Russian borders which ended just as the latest hostilities began.

Ann Garrison: George, the hostilities between Ukraine, NATO, and Russia continue to escalate in the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait, and the Black Sea. What do you think the latest odds of a shooting war between NATO and Russia are, if one hasn’t started by the time this is published?

George Szamuely: Several weeks ago, when we first talked about this, I said 60 percent. Now I’d say, maybe 70 percent. The problem is that Trump seems determined to be the anti-Obama. Obama, in Trump’s telling, “allowed” Russia to take Crimea and to “invade” Ukraine. Therefore, it will be up to Trump to reverse this. Just as he, Trump, reversed Obama’s policy on Iran by walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. So expect ever-increasing US involvement in Ukraine.

AG: NATO’s Supreme Commander US General Curtis M. Scaparrotti is reported to have been on the phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “offering his full support.” Thoughts on that?

GS: There has been a proxy war within Ukraine since 2014, with NATO backing Poroshenko’s Ukrainian government and Russia backing the dissidents and armed separatists who speak Russian and identify as Russian in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbass region. But in the Kerch Strait the hostilities are between Russia and Ukraine, with NATO behind Ukraine.

A shooting war will begin if it escalates to where NATO soldiers shoot and kill Russian soldiers or vice versa. Whoever shoots first, the other side will feel compelled to respond, and then there’ll be a war between Russia and NATO or Russia and a NATO nation.

We don’t know whether NATO would feel compelled to respond as one if Russians fired on soldiers of individual NATO nations—most likely UK soldiers since the UK is sending more of its Special Forces and already has the largest NATO military presence in Ukraine. Russia could defeat the UK, but if the US gets involved, all bets are off.

AG: It’s hard to imagine that the US would allow Russia to defeat the UK.

GS: It is, but on the other hand, the US is the US and the UK is the UK. The United States might well be ready to fight to the last Brit, much as the United States is definitely ready to fight to the last Ukrainian. There are already 300 US paratroopers in Ukraine training Ukrainians, but the British would be well advised that words of encouragement from Washington don’t necessarily translate into US willingness to go to war.

AG: The US Congress passed a law that US troops can’t serve under any foreign command, so that would require US command.

GS: Yes, and without that, any British military defeat could be blamed on traditional British military incompetence rather than US weakness or foolish braggadocio.

AG: This latest dustup between the Russian and Ukrainian navies took place in the Kerch Strait. I had to study several maps to understand this, but basically neither Russian nor Ukrainian vessels, military or commercial, can get to or from the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea without passing through the Kerch Strait. That doesn’t mean that neither could get to the Black Sea, because both have Black Sea borders, but they couldn’t get from ports in the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea and back.

And neither Ukraine nor Russia can get from the Black Sea to Western European waters without passing through the Bosporous and Dardanelles Straits in Turkey to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, and then further to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is bordered on one side by Spain and the British territory of Gibraltar, and on the other by Morocco and the Spanish territory Ceuta. So there are many geo-strategic choke points where Russian ships, naval or commercial, could be stopped by NATO nations or their allies, and Ukraine has already asked Turkey to stop them from passing through the Bosporus Strait. Thoughts on that?

GS: Well, of course Ukraine can ask for anything it likes. There’s no way in the world Turkey would try to stop Russian ships going through the Bosporus Strait. That would be a violation of the 1936 Montreux Convention and an act of war on the part of Turkey. It isn’t going to happen. As for the Kerch Strait, it is Russian territorial water. Ukraine is free to use it and has been doing so without incident since 2014. The only thing the Russians insist on is that any ship going through the strait use a Russian pilot. During the recent incident, the Ukrainian tug refused to use a Russian pilot. The Russians became suspicious, fearing that the Ukrainians were engaged in a sabotage mission to blow up the newly constructed bridge across the strait. You’ll remember that an American columnist not so long ago urged the Ukrainian authorities to blow up the bridge. That’s why the Russians accuse Kiev of staging a provocation.

AG: There’s a longstanding back channel between the White House and the Kremlin, as satirized in Dr. Strangelove. Anti-Trump fanatics keep claiming this is new and traitorous, but it’s long established. Obama and Putin used it to keep Russian and US soldiers from firing on one another instead of the jihadists both claimed to be fighting in Syria. Kennedy and Khrushchev used it to keep the Bay of Pigs crisis from escalating into a nuclear war. Shouldn’t Trump and Putin be talking on that back channel now, no matter how much it upsets CNN and MSNBC?

GS: Well, of course, they should. The danger is that in this atmosphere of anti-Russian hysteria such channels for dialogue may not be kept open. As a result, crises could escalate beyond the point at which either side could back down without losing face. What’s terrifying is that so many US politicians and press now describe any kind of negotiation, dialogue, or threat-management as treasonous collusion by Donald Trump.

Remember Trump’s first bombing in Syria in April 2017. Before he launched that attack, Trump administration officials gave advance warning to the Russians to enable them to get any Russian aircraft out of harm’s way. This perfectly sensible action on the part of the administration—leave aside the illegality and stupidity of the attack—was greeted by Hillary Clinton and the MSNBC crowd as evidence that the whole operation was cooked up by Trump and Putin to take attention off Russia-gate. It’s nuts.

AG: Most of us have heard Russia and NATO’s conflicting accounts of why the Russian Navy seized several Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov. What’s your interpretation of what happened?

GS: As I said, I think the Russians had every right to be suspicious of the intent of the Ukrainian vessels. The Ukrainians know that these are Russian territorial waters. They know that the only way to go through the Kerch Strait is by making use of a Russian pilot. They refused to allow the Russians to pilot the ships through the strait. Whatever the Ukrainians’ ultimate intent was—whether it was to carry out an act of sabotage, to provoke the Russians into overreaction and then to demand help from NATO, or simply to go through the strait without a Russian pilot in order to enable President Poroshenko to proclaim the strait as non-Russian—whatever Kiev’s intent was, the Russians were entitled to respond. The force the Russians used was hardly excessive. In similar circumstances, the US would have destroyed all of the ships and killed everyone on board. Recall, incidentally, Israel has seized Gaza flotilla boats and arrested everyone on board. In 2010, the Israeli Navy shot nine activists dead during a flotilla boat seizure, and wounded one who died after four years in a coma.

AG: Don’t the US, Ukraine, and the UN Security Council refuse to recognize the Kerch Strait as Russian territory, and insist that Russia’s claim to it violates various maritime treaties? I know the UNSC refuses to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, not that that does Syria any good.

GS: According to the 2003 agreement, Russia and Ukraine agreed to consider the strait as well as the Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters. From 2014 on, Russia considered the strait as Russian waters, though it’s made no attempt to hamper Ukrainian shipping. The Azov Sea is still shared by Russia and Ukraine. During the recent incident, the Ukrainian Navy acted provocatively, deliberately challenging the Russians. As for what the UNSC accepts, how would NATO respond if Serbia entered Kosovo on some pretext or other?

AG: OK, now let’s go back to NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture, a massive military exercise on Russia’s Scandinavian and Arctic borders that concluded on November 24, one day before the Kerch Strait incident. The first phase was deployment, from August to October. The second phase was war games from October 25th to November 7th. The war games were based on the premise that Russia had invaded Scandinavia by ground, air, and sea. They included 50,000 participants from 31 NATO and partner countries, 250 aircraft, 65 naval vessels, and up to 10,000 tanks and other ground vehicles, and I hate to think about how much fossil fuel they burned.

The final phase was a command post exercise to make sure that, should NATO forces ever face a real Russian invasion of Scandinavia, their response could be safely coordinated in Norway and in Italy, far from the war zone.

So George, do Scandinavians have reason to worry that Russia might invade any of their respective nations?

GS: Not at all. This is ridiculous. It was the largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, and why? Why did they do this? Russia isn’t threatening Scandinavia, but it’s more likely that it will if NATO continues conducting war games on its borders. Right now tension between East and West is escalating so fast that a single event could be like a match that triggers an explosion, and then there’ll be a war.

AG: There was a recent Russian exercise, or joint Russian and Chinese exercise, based on the premise that the US had invaded Korea, right?

GS: Right. But it wasn’t anywhere near Europe, so it wasn’t threatening the Europeans. It took place in eastern Siberia, so it shouldn’t have caused panic in NATO countries. It shouldn’t have caused panic in the US either, because the Pacific Ocean separates the US and the Korean Peninsula.

What’s striking about Trident Juncture is that it involved Sweden and Finland, both of whom are traditionally neutral. They were neutral during the Cold War, not joining any alliances. Finlandization came to mean a foreign policy that in no way challenged or antagonized the USSR. So now here’s Finland rolling back that policy and joining NATO in this massive military exercise to stop nonexistent Russian aggression.

AG: Has Russia ever attempted to seize territory outside its own borders since the end of the Cold War?

GS: No. Russia never attempted to seize territory outside its own borders. The case cited by the West is Crimea, but that was really an outstanding issue that should have been addressed during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin, the drunken, incompetent stooge that the US installed, just neglected it.

The Russian-speaking and Russian-identified people of Crimea were unhappy about Ukraine claiming sovereignty over them. They had been an autonomous republic within the USSR, and after its dissolution, they still retained their constitutional autonomy. That’s what gave them the right to hold a referendum to join the Russia Federation in 2014.

If the West is involved in an uprising, as in Ukraine, it recognizes the “independence” of the government it puts in power. It won’t recognize the constitutional autonomy of Crimea, which predated the 2014 Ukrainian revolution or illegal armed coup, whichever you call it, because it wasn’t part of their plan.

AG: The NATO nations and their allies say that Russia invaded and occupied Crimea, violating Ukrainian sovereignty according to international law. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman referred to the “illegal annexation” of Crimea at least three times after the Kerch Strait incident. How do you explain the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea prior to the referendum?

GS: They didn’t invade and occupy Crimea. Their forces were there legally, according to a 25-year lease agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

Crimea had been a part of Russia for more than 200 years. For most of the time, during the USSR era, it was an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. In 1954, Khrushchev transferred some degree of sovereignty over the Crimean Republic to Ukraine. I’m not entirely sure why he did that, but the issue wasn’t that important then because Ukraine, Russia and Crimea were all part of the USSR.

Khrushchev didn’t envisage an independent Ukraine walking off with such a prize piece of real estate. Crimea is not only a huge tourist destination, it is also the site of Russia’s primary naval base on the Black Sea in Sevastopol. Yeltsin failed to address the problem in 1991. Since then, every time Crimeans talked about holding a referendum on their future, Kiev threatened to use force to stop them. Kiev would have used force again in 2014 if the Russians in the Port of Sevastopol had not left their Crimean base and made their presence known.

AG: The US, aka NATO, has an empire of military bases all over the world, and troops right up against Russia’s borders as in Exercise Trident Juncture. Does Russia have anything remotely like it?

GS: No. Russia does not have military bases outside its borders, which are now more or less as they were in 1939, when the USSR was surrounded by hostile states that were more than happy to join Hitler. So it’s ridiculous to tell Russia, “Don’t worry about our troops and war games all over your borders because we don’t really mean any harm.” Washington is calling Russia an existential enemy, and the UK is promising to stand shoulder to shoulder with its NATO allies and partners against “Russian aggression,” which is really Russian defense. So now we have an explosive situation on the Ukrainian and Russian borders that could easily turn into a shooting war.

AG: I read some US/NATO complaints that Russia was conducting exercises on its own side of the border. And last week NATO accused the Russian military of jamming its signals during its rehearsal for a war on Russia’s borders.

GS: Yes, that’s what the US considers Russian aggression, even though its troops and bases are all over the world and all over Russia’s borders.

AG: Competition between US and Russian energy corporations is one of the main undercurrents to all this. The US State Department even said that Europe should abandon the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project with Russia because of the Kerch Strait incident, but that received a cool response, particularly from Angela Merkel. What are your thoughts about that?

GS: Well, obviously, the Trump administration is determined to push the Europeans to give up on natural gas from Russia and to opt, instead, for US liquefied natural gas (LNG). The problem is that LNG shipped across the Atlantic is much more expensive than natural gas piped to Europe from Russia. So it’s clearly not in the interests of the Europeans to have a bigger energy bill. Look what’s happening in France. Ordinary people are not making so much money that they can afford to shell out more for energy, particularly when there is no need to do so. Some countries such as Poland are so imbued with hostility toward Russia that they’re willing to pay more for gas just to hurt Russia, but Germany won’t go down this path.

AG: Anything else you’d like to say for now?

GS: Yes, I think it’s amazing that this many years after the Cold War we’ve reached a point where there’s almost no public criticism of a policy that has led to the US abandoning a major arms control agreement, namely the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987.

There’s almost no public criticism of the US getting involved in an armed confrontation on Russia’s doorstep, in Ukraine, Syria, Iran, or conceivably even Scandinavia. There’s almost no public criticism of roping formerly neutral European powers like Sweden and Finland into NATO military exercises.

Given the fact that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that went into effect in 2011 will expire in 2021, and given that there’s nothing on the horizon to take its place, this is an extraordinarily perilous point in time.

And much of this has to be blamed on the liberals. The liberals have embraced an anti-Russian agenda. The kind of liberal view that prevailed during the Cold War was that we should at least pursue arms control agreements. We might not like the Communists, but we need treaties to prevent a nuclear war. Now there’s no such caution. Any belligerence towards Russia is now good and justified. There’s next to no pushback against getting into a war with Russia, even though it could go nuclear.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.




Yes, Virginia, There Is a Deep State and Bob Parry Exposed It

In his efforts to uncover the Iran-Contra plot and the machinations surrounding Russia-gate, Bob Parry was in the forefront of journalists exposing the inner workings of the Deep State, recalls Ray McGovern during our Winter Fund Drive.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

A year ago yesterday, it became fully clear what was behind the feverish attempt by our intelligence agencies and their mainstream media accomplices to emasculate President Donald Trump with the Russia-gate trope.

It turned out that the objective was not only to delegitimize Trump and make it impossible for him to move toward a more decent relationship with Russia.

On December 12, 2017, it became manifestly clear that it was not only the usual suspects — the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank Complex, namely, the Boeings, Lockheeds, and Raytheons profiteering on high tension with Russia; not only greedy members of Congress upon whom defense contractors lavish some of their profits; not only the TV corporations controlled by those same contractors; and not only the Democrats desperately searching for a way to explain how Hillary Clinton could have lost to the buffoon we now have in the White House.

No, it was deeper than that. It turns out a huge part of the motivation behind Russia-gate was to hide how the Department of Justice, FBI, and CIA (affectionately known as the Deep State) — with their co-opted “assets” in the media — interfered in the 2016 election in a gross attempt to make sure Trump did not win.

Russia-gate: Cui Bono?

This would become crystal clear, even to cub reporters, when the text exchanges between senior FBI officials Peter Strzok and girlfriend Lisa Page were released exactly a year ago. Typically, readers of The New York Times the following day would altogether miss the importance of the text-exchanges.

Readers of Robert Parry’s article on December 13, 2017, “The Foundering Russia-gate ‘Scandal,” would be gently led to understand the importance of this critical extra dimension explaining the the media-cum-anonymous-intelligence-sources frenzied effort to push the prevailing Russia-gate narrative, and — and how captivated and unprofessional the mainstream media had become.

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Bob Parry did not call me frequently to compare notes, but he did call on Dec. 12, 2017 for a sanity check on the release of the Strzok-Page texts. FBI Agent Peter Strzok interviewed Hillary Clinton on her servers (and led that investigation); he was the hand-picked FBI agent who took part in the Jan 2017 light-weight intelligence “assessment” that blamed Russia for the 2016 election result, and he was on special counsel Robert Mueller’s staff investigating alleged Russian interference. Bob and I agreed on the texts’ significance, and I was tempted to volunteer a draft to appear the next day. But it was clear that Bob wanted to take the lead, and it would turn out to be his last substantive piece. He had already laid the groundwork with three articles earlier that month. (All three are worth reading again. Here are the links.

Here’s how Bob began his article on the Strzok-Page bombshell. (Not a fragment of it seemed to impact mainstream media.):

The disclosure of fiercely anti-Trump text messages between two romantically involved senior FBI officials who played key roles in the early Russia-gate inquiry has turned the supposed Russian-election-meddling “scandal” into its own scandal, by providing evidence that some government investigators saw it as their duty to block or destroy Donald Trump’s presidency.

As much as the U.S. mainstream media has mocked the idea that an American ‘deep state’ exists and that it has maneuvered to remove Trump from office, the text messages between senior FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page reveal how two high-ranking members of the government’s intelligence/legal bureaucracy saw their role as protecting the United States from an election that might elevate to the presidency someone as unfit as Trump.”

Parry’s Cri de Coeur

Fast forwarding just two weeks, Bob had a stroke on Christmas Eve, which seriously affected his eyesight. By New Year’s Eve 2017, though, he was able to “apologize” (typical Bob) to Consortium News readers for not filing for two weeks.

In January, he had additional strokes. When I visited him in the hospital, he was not himself. What is indelible in my memory, though, is the way he kept repeating from his hospital bed: “It’s too much; it’s just too much, too much.”

What was too much?

Since Bob told me how hard he had to struggle, with impaired vision, to put together his Dec. 31 piece, and since what he wrote throws such light on Bob and the prostitution of the profession he loved so much, I include a few excerpts below. (Forgive me, but I cannot, for the life of me, pare them down further.)

These paragraphs from Bob are required reading for those who want to have a some clue as to what has been going on in Washington, and the Faustian bargain Strzok — sorry, I mean struck — between the media and the Deep State. Here’s what Bob, clear-eyed, despite fuzzy eyesight, wrote:

On Christmas Eve, I suffered a stroke that has affected my eyesight (especially my reading and thus my writing) although apparently not much else. The doctors have also been working to figure out exactly what happened since I have never had high blood pressure, I never smoked, and my recent physical found nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps my personal slogan that ‘every day’s a work day’ had something to do with this.

Perhaps, too, the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism was a factor. It seems that since I arrived in Washington in 1977 as a correspondent for The Associated Press, the nastiness of American democracy and journalism has gone from bad to worse. …

“More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result –and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of American media. This perversion of principles –twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and
evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues … Everything became ‘information warfare.’ …

The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda. Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts? … The American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’ Indeed to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a ‘Putin apologist’ or ‘Kremlin stooge.’

Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith. …

The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump ‘Resistance.’ The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.

Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump ‘progressives’ were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers –or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the ‘facts’ to ‘get’ some ‘bad’ political leader or ‘guide’ the public
in some desired direction.”

Robert Parry, who exposed Deep State skullduggery in the Iran-Contra affair, died on January 27, 2018. Our corrupt media, though, live on in infamy. Strokes and pancreatic cancer were the cause. But I think Bob was also a casualty of the stress caused by the Faustian media/Deep State bargain. It was just “too much.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Bob Parry was happily surprised when he learned that CIA and other intelligence analysts, as opposed to operations people, were as devoted as he was to spreading some truth around; he welcomed our input — in particular the corporate memos from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity; the VIPS archive on CN appears at: https://consortiumnews.com/vips-memos/

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The Guardian/Politico Psyop Against WikiLeaks

The claims made by Luke Harding and The Guardian that Assange met Manafort will never be proven true, and they know it. And we should never let them forget it, says Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
Caitlinjohnstone.com

For the first few hours after any new “bombshell” Russia-gate story comes out, my social media notifications always light up with poorly written posts by liberal establishment loyalists saying things like “HAHAHA @caitoz this proves you wrong now will you FINALLY stop denying Russian collusion???” Then, when people start actually analyzing that story and noting that it comes nowhere remotely close to proving that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election, those same people always forget to come back afterward and admit to me that they were wrong again.

This happens every single time, including this past Tuesday when The Guardian published a new “bombshell” report saying that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had had secret meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. When experts all across the political spectrum began pointing out that the story contained no evidence for its nonsensical claims and was entirely anonymously sourced, nobody ever came back and said “Hey sorry for calling you a Russian propagandist, Caitlin; turns out that story wasn’t as fact-based as I’d thought!” When evidence for a single one of the article’s claims failed to turn up for a day, then two days, then three days, nobody came back and said “Gosh Caitlin, I owe you an apology for mocking you and calling you Assange’s bitch; turns out WikiLeaks and Manafort are suing that publication and its claims remain completely unproven.”

And of course they didn’t. They weren’t meant to. They were meant to absorb The Guardian’s false claims as fact, add it to their Gish gallop mountain of false evidence for Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks collusion, and then be shuffled onward by the relentless news churn of the corporate propaganda matrix like always. But I’m never going to let them forget that this happened, and neither should you.

Desperate Overreach

If it wasn’t obvious to you last week that there is an unelected power establishment which needs above all else to control the public narrative about what’s going on in the world, it should certainly be obvious to you this week. The Guardian hit piece was so spectacularly desperate in its over-reaching to advance a narrative which has been used to manufacture support for longtime CIA/MI6 agendas like arresting Julian Assange, stopping WikiLeaks, censoring the internet and subverting Russia that it completely exposed itself as the establishment psyop firm that it is.

If that wasn’t evidence enough, in the wake of the Guardian controversy, Politico took the downright shocking step of allowing an anonymous former CIA officer to publish a lie-filled article speculating, on no evidence whatsoever, that if the story proves untrue it will be because false information was fed to the Guardian by Russia-linked operatives. The article’s anonymous author claims that there are exactly two main possibilities here: (1) that the article is 100% true and will be vindicated, or (2) that the article is based on disinformation which was planted in “an attempt to make [Guardian author Luke] Harding look bad.”

This is obviously absurd for two reasons. The first reason is because no Kremlin operative could possibly make Luke Harding look worse than Luke Harding already did in his pathetic, fumbling attempts to argue his case for collusion while promoting his book Collusion to a less-than-sycophantic interviewer in December of last year, in which Harding grew frustrated and hung up on his own interview. The second reason is that there is another far more likely possibility than the two offered by Politico’s anonymous spook.

Former Guardian employee Jonathan Cook explains that from what he learned while working at the outlet, the most likely explanation is that the editors permitted the article to be published because its anonymous sources came from within an intelligence or defense agency. As we’ve seen time and time again, from the Iraq WMD narrative to the Russian hacking narrative, western mass media outlets have a ubiquitous standing policy of printing assertions by opaque, dishonest, unaccountable government agencies as objective fact. When asked why she unquestioningly printed a false assertion that real social media users who deny any connection to Russia were Russian “bots”, the Guardian’s own political editor Heather Stewart unapologetically stated, “It’s not my analysis?—?as the piece makes quite clear?—?it’s the government’s.” As long as it comes from the government, the mass media stenographers will print what they’re told to print. But tell me more about how awful RT is because it’s “state media”.

Cook writes as follows:

I worked for The Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.

And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.

That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had ‘insurance’ on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services?—?presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.

It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value.”

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

The claims made by Luke Harding and The Guardian will never be proven true, and they know it. They knowingly printed claims that they were one hundred percent aware they’d never be able to provide proof of, and the clicks their viral story generated rewarded them with a shower of cash. Their fake story was then passed along by news outlets everywhere, including an MSNBC panel which hilariously kept informing its readers that if this Guardian report is confirmed it would be the first ever actual evidence linking Trump to WikiLeaks in a meaningful way.

We must never forget that this was done. We must keep bringing up the undeniable fact that  The Guardian published false claims about a longtime target of western intelligence and defense agencies, then was backed up by a longtime insider from one of those agencies who was permitted to publish anonymously in an ostensibly unrelated outlet. This is one of those jaw-dropping glimpses behind the puppet stage we must never permit the world to forget, much like the time CNN knowingly staged a fake interview with a Syrian girl reciting scripted war propaganda. We must keep bringing this up at every opportunity in our efforts to give people glimpses behind the propaganda curtain, continuing to remind them next week, next month, next year, and ten years from now.

Forgiveness is overrated. Forgiveness is a key foundational element in most abusive relationships, wherein the abusee is manipulated or bullied into forgiving the abuser again and again, without ever holding a grudge. This is true of a battered spouse, and it is true of an oppressed populace. The ability to hold a grudge is therefore of paramount importance in fighting the propaganda machine on which our rulers have built their oppressive empire. Otherwise we will be shuffled forward in the news churn, just like the goldfish-brained Russia-gaters who are moved along from one false story to the next into the amnesia of the endlessly spewing news churn.

Don’t forget. Remember this one. Remember it, and keep bringing it up.

This article originally appeared on caitlinjohnstone.com

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




The Fate of Julian Assange: Chris Hedges Interviews Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria

On his program “On Contact,” journalist and author Chris Hedges interviews Joe Lauria, CN editor, on the moves to prosecute Julian Assange using the Espionage Act; the media’s cravenness and the latest on Assange’s condition in London.




33 Trillion More Reasons Why The New York Times Gets it Wrong on Russia-gate

Further research shows The New York Times was even further off the mark in blaming Russian social media for Trump’s win, as Gareth Porter reports.

Facebook Said 80,000 Russian Posts Were

Buried in 33 Trillion Facebook Offerings Over

Two-Year Period Further Undermining NYT’s Case 

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

Even more damning evidence has come to light undermining The New York Times‘ assertion in September that Russia used social media to steal the 2016 election for Donald Trump.   

The Times‘ claim last month that Russian Facebook posts reached nearly as many Americans as actually voted in the 2016 election exaggerated the significance of those numbers by a factor of hundreds of millions, as revealed by further evidence from Facebook’s own Congressional testimony.

Th further research into an earlier Consortium News article shows that a relatively paltry 80,000 posts from the private Russian company Internet Research Agency (IRA) were engulfed in literally trillions of posts on Facebook over a two-year period before and after the 2016 vote. 

That was supposed to have thrown the election, according to the paper of record. In its 10,000-word article on Sept. 20, the Times reported that 126 million out of 137 million American voters were exposed to social media posts on Facebook from IRA that somehow had a hand in delivering Trump the presidency. 

The newspaper said: “Even by the vertiginous standards of social media, the reach of their effort was impressive: 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans, and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone.” The paper argued that 126 million was “not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential election.”

But Consortium News, on Oct. 10, debunked that story, pointing out that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti failed to report several significant caveats and disclaimers from Facebook officers themselves, whose statements make the Times’ claim that Russian election propaganda “reached” 126 million Americans an exercise in misinformation.

The newspaper failed to tell their readers that Facebook account holders in the United States had been “served” 33 trillion Facebook posts during that same period — 413 million times more than the 80,000 posts from the Russian company.

What Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 31, 2017 is a far cry from what the Times claims. “Our best estimate is that approximately 126 million people may have been served one of these [IRA-generated] stories at some time during the two year period,” Stretch said.

Stretch was expressing a theoretical possibility rather than an established fact. He said an estimated 126 million Facebook members might have gotten at least one story from the IRA –- not over the ten week election period, but over 194 weeks during the two years 2015 through 2017—including a full year after the election.

That means only an estimated 29 million FB users may have gotten at least one story in their feed in two years. The 126 million figure is based only on an assumption that they shared it with others, according to Stretch.

Facebook didn’t even claim most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people were.

In addition, Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016 that FB subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.

And now, according to the further research, the odds that Americans saw any of these IRA ads—let alone were influenced by them—are even more astronomical. In his Oct. 2017 testimony, Stretch said that from 2015 to 2017, “Americans using Facebook were exposed to, or ‘served,’ a total of over 33 trillion stories in their News Feeds.”

To put the 33 trillion figure over two years in perspective, the 80,000 Russian-origin Facebook posts represented just .0000000024 of total Facebook content in that time.

Shane and Mazzetti did not report the 33 trillion number even though The New York Times’ own coverage of that 2017 Stretch testimony explicitly stated,Facebook cautioned that the Russia-linked posts represented a minuscule amount of content compared with the billions of posts that flow through users’ News Feeds everyday.”

The Times‘ touting of the bogus 126 million out 137 million voters, while not reporting the 33 trillion figure, should vie in the annals of journalism as one of the most spectacularly misleading uses of statistics of all time.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.

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Facebook Censorship of Alternative Media ‘Just the Beginning,’ Warns Top Neocon Insider

At a Berlin security conference, hardline neocon Jamie Fly appeared to claim some credit for the recent coordinated purge of alternative media, report Max Blumenthal and Jeb Sprague.

By Max Blumenthal and Jeb Sprague
Gray Zone Project

This October, Facebook and Twitter deleted the accounts of hundreds of users, including many alternative media outlets maintained by American users. Among those wiped out in the coordinated purge were popular sites that scrutinized police brutality and U.S. interventionism, like The Free Thought Project, Anti-Media, and Cop Block, along with the pages of journalists like Rachel Blevins.

Facebook claimed that these pages had “broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” However, sites like The Free Thought Project were verified by Facebook and widely recognized as legitimate sources of news and opinion. John Vibes, an independent reporter who contributed to Free Thought, accused Facebook of “favoring mainstream sources and silencing alternative voices.”

In comments published here for the first time, a neoconservative Washington insider has apparently claimed a degree of credit for the recent purge — and promised more takedowns in the near future.

Russia, China, and other foreign states take advantage of our open political system,” remarked Jamie Fly, a senior fellow and director of the Asia program at the influential think tank the German Marshall Fund, which is funded by the U.S. government and NATO. “They can invent stories that get repeated and spread through different sites. So we are just starting to push back. Just this last week Facebook began starting to take down sites. So this is just the beginning.”

Fly went on to complain that “all you need is an email” to set up a Facebook or Twitter account, lamenting the sites’ accessibility to members of the general public. He predicted a long struggle on a global scale to fix the situation, and pointed out that to do so would require constant vigilance.

Fly made these stunning comments to Jeb Sprague, who is a visiting faculty in sociology at the University of California-Santa Barbara and co-author of this article. The two spoke during a lunch break at a conference on Asian security organized by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin, Germany on Oct. 15 and 16.

The remarks by Fly — “we are just starting to push back” — seemed to confirm the worst fears of the alternative online media community. If he was to be believed, the latest purge was motivated by politics, not spam prevention, and was driven by powerful interests hostile to dissident views, particularly where American state violence is concerned.

Fly: A Rising Neocon

Fly is an influential foreign policy hardliner who has spent the last year lobbying for the censorship of “fringe views” on social media. Over the years, he has advocated for a military assault on Iran, a regime change war on Syria, and hiking military spending to unprecedented levels. He is the embodiment of a neoconservative cadre.

Like so many second-generation neocons, Fly entered government by burrowing into mid-level positions in George W. Bush’s National Security Council and Department of Defense.

In 2009, he was appointed director of the Foreign Policy Initiative(FPI), a rebranded version of Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, or PNAC. The latter outfit was an umbrella group of neoconservative activists that first made the case for an invasion of Iraq as part of a wider project of regime change in countries that resisted Washington’s sphere of influence.

By 2011, Fly was advancing the next phase in PNAC’s blueprint by clamoring for military strikes on Iran. “More diplomacy is not an adequate response,” he argued. A year later, Fly urged the US to “expand its list of targets beyond the [Iranian] nuclear program to key command and control elements of the Republican Guard and the intelligence ministry, and facilities associated with other key government officials.”

Fly soon found his way into the senate office of Marco Rubio, a neoconservative pet project, assuming a role as his top foreign policy advisor. Amongst other interventionist initiatives, Rubio has taken the lead in promoting harsh economic sanctions targeting Venezuela, even advocating for a U.S. military assault on the country. When Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign floundered amid a mass revolt of the Republican Party’s middle American base against the party establishment, Fly was forced to cast about for new opportunities.

He found them in the paranoid atmosphere of Russiagate that formed soon after Donald Trump’s shock election victory.

PropOrNot Provides the Spark

A journalistic insider’s account of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Shattered, revealed that “in the days after the election, Hillary declined to take responsibility for her own loss.” Her top advisers were summoned the following day, according to the book, “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up … Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”

Less than three weeks after Clinton’s defeat, The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg published a dubiously sourced report headlined, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news.’” The article hyped up a McCarthyite effort by a shadowy, anonymously run organization called PropOrNot to blacklist some 200 American media outlets as Russian “online propaganda.”

The alternative media outfits on the PropOrNot blacklist included some of those recently purged by Facebook and Twitter, such as The Free Thought Project and Anti-Media. Among the criteria PropOrNot identified as signs of Russian propaganda were: “Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone” and “Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad.” PropOrNot called for “formal investigations by the U.S. government” into the outlets it had blacklisted.

According to Timberg, who uncritically promoted the media suppression initiative, Propornot was established by “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Timberg quoted a figure associated with the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, Andrew Weisburd, and cited a report he wrote with his colleague, Clint Watts, on Russian meddling.

Timberg’s piece on PropOrNot was promoted widely by former top Clinton staffers and celebrated by ex-Obama White House aide Dan Pfeiffer as “the biggest story in the world.” But after a wave of stinging criticism, including in the pages of The New Yorker, the article was amended with an editor’s note stating, “The [Washington] Post… does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.”

PropOrNot had been seemingly exposed as a McCarthyite sham, but the concept behind it — exposing online American media outlets as vehicles for Kremlin “active measures” — continued to flourish.

Taxpayers Pay for Russian Bot Tracker

By August, a new, and seemingly related initiative appeared out of the blue, this time with backing from a bipartisan coalition of Democratic foreign policy hands and neocon Never Trumpers in Washington. Called the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), the outfit aimed to expose how supposed Russian Twitter bots were infecting American political discourse with divisive narratives.

It featured a daily “Hamilton 68” online dashboard that highlighted the supposed bot activity with easily digestible charts. Conveniently, the site avoided naming any of the digital Kremlin influence accounts it claimed to be tracking. The initiative was immediately endorsed by John Podesta, the founder of the Democratic Party think tank the Center for American Progress, and former chief of staff of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Julia Ioffe, the Atlantic’s chief Russia-gate correspondent, promoted the bot tracker as “a very cool tool.”Unlike PropOrNot, the ASD was sponsored by one of the most respected think tanks in Washington, the German Marshall Fund, which had been founded in 1972 to nurture the special relationship between the U.S. and what was then West Germany.

The German Marshall Fund is substantially funded by Western governments, and largely reflects their foreign-policy interests. Its top two financial sponsors, at more than $1 million per year each, are the U.S. government’s soft-power arm the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the German Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt). The U.S. State Department also provides more than half a million dollars per year, as do the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and the foreign affairs ministries of Sweden and Norway. It likewise receives at least a quarter of a million dollars per year from NATO.

Though the German Marshall Fund did not name the donors that specifically sponsored its Alliance for Securing Democracy initiative, it hosts a who’s who of bipartisan national-security hardliners on the ASD’s advisory council, providing the endeavor with the patina of credibility. They range from neocon movement icon Bill Kristol to former Clinton foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan and ex-CIA director Michael Morell.

Jamie Fly, a German Marshall Fund fellow and Asia specialist, emerged as one of the most prolific promoters of the new Russian bot tracker in the media. Together with Laura Rosenberger, a former foreign policy aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Fly appeared in a series of interviews and co-authored several op-eds emphasizing the need for a massive social media crackdown.

During a March 2018 interview on C-Span, Fly complained that “Russian accounts” were “trying to promote certain messages, amplify certain content, raise fringe views, pit Americans against each other, and we need to deal with this ongoing problem and find ways through the government, through tech companies, through broader society to tackle this issue.”

Yet few of the sites on PropOrNot’s blacklist, and none of the alternative sites that were erased in the recent Facebook purge that Fly and his colleagues take apparent credit for, were Russian accounts. Perhaps the only infraction they could have been accused of was publishing views that Fly and his cohorts saw as “fringe.”

What’s more, the ASD has been forced to admit that the mass of Twitter accounts it initially identified as “Russian bots” were not necessarily bots — and may not have been Russian either.

‘Not Convinced on This Bot thing’

A November 2017 investigation by Max Blumenthal found that the ASD’s Hamilton 68 dashboard was the creation of “a collection of cranks, counter-terror retreads, online harassers and paranoiacs operating with support from some of the most prominent figures operating within the American national security apparatus.”

These figures included the same George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security fellows — Andrew Weisburd and Clint Watts — that were cited as experts in the Washington Post’s article promoting PropOrNot.

Weisburd, who has been described as one of the brains behind the Hamilton 68 dashboard, once maintained a one-man, anti-Palestinian web monitoring initiative that specialized in doxxing left-wing activists, Muslims and anyone he considered “anti-American.” More recently, he has taken to Twitter to spout off murderous and homophobic fantasies about Glenn Greenwald, the editor of The Intercept — a publication the ASD flagged without explanation as a vehicle for Russian influence operations.

Watts, for his part, has testified before Congress on several occasions to call on the government to “quell information rebellions” with censorious measures including “nutritional labels” for online media. He has received fawning publicity from corporate media and been rewarded with a contributor role for NBC on the basis of his supposed expertise in ferreting out Russian disinformation.

However, under questioning during a public event by Grayzone contributor Ilias Stathatos, Watts admitted that substantial parts of his testimony were false, and refused to provide evidence to support some of his most colorful claims about malicious Russian bot activity.

In a separate interview with Buzzfeed, Watts appeared to completely disown the Hamilton 68 bot tracker as a legitimate tool. “I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” Watts confessed. He even called the narrative that he helped manufacture “overdone,” and admitted that the accounts Hamilton 68 tracked were not necessarily directed by Russian intelligence actors.

We don’t even think they’re all commanded in Russia — at all. We think some of them are legitimately passionate people that are just really into promoting Russia,” Watts conceded.

But these stunning admissions did little to slow the momentum of the coming purge.

Enter the Atlantic Council

In his conversation with Sprague, the German Marshall Fund’s Fly stated that he was working with the Atlantic Council in the campaign to purge alternative media from social media platforms like Facebook.

The Atlantic Council is another Washington-based think tank that serves as a gathering point for neoconservatives and liberal interventionists pushing military aggression around the globe. It is funded by NATO and repressive, US-allied governments including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey, as well as by Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pynchuk.

This May, Facebook announced a partnership with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) to “identify, expose, and explain disinformation during elections around the world.”

The Atlantic Council’s DFRLab is notorious for its zealous conflation of legitimate online dissent with illicit Russian activity, embracing the same tactics as PropOrNot and the ASD.

Ben Nimmo, a DFRLab fellow who has built his reputation on flushing out online Kremlin influence networks, embarked on an embarrassing witch hunt this year that saw him misidentify several living, breathing individuals as Russian bots or Kremlin “influence accounts.” Nimmo’s victims included Mariam Susli, a well-known Syrian-Australian social media personality, the famed Ukrainian concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa, and a British pensioner named Ian Shilling.

In an interview with Sky News, Shilling delivered a memorable tirade against his accusers. “I have no Kremlin contacts whatsoever; I do not know any Russians, I have no contact with the Russian government or anything to do with them,” he exclaimed. “I am an ordinary British citizen who happens to do research on the current neocon wars which are going on in Syria at this very moment.”

With the latest Facebook and Twitter purges, ordinary citizens like Shilling are being targeted in the open, and without apology. The mass deletions of alternative media accounts illustrate how national security hardliners from the German Marshall Fund and Atlantic Council (and whoever was behind PropOrNot) have instrumentalized the manufactured panic around Russian interference to generate public support for a wider campaign of media censorship.

In his conversation in Berlin with Sprague, Fly noted with apparent approval that, “Trump is now pointing to Chinese interference in the 2018 election.” As the mantra of foreign interference expands to a new adversarial power, the clampdown on voices of dissent in online media is almost certain to intensify.

As Fly promised, “This is just the beginning.”

This article originally appeared on the Grayzoneproject.com

Jeb Sprague is a visiting faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of “Globalizing the Caribbean: Political economy, social change, and the transnational capitalist class” (Temple University Press, 2019), “Paramilitarism and the assault on democracy in Haiti” (Monthly Review Press, 2012), and is the editor of “Globalization and transnational capitalism in Asia and Oceania” (Routledge, 2016). He is a co-founder of the Network for the Critical Studies of Global Capitalism.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the PartyGoliath: Life and Loathing in Greater IsraelThe Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.




Report Says Russia-gaters Should Go Quietly in the Night

After more than two years of mania about Russia stealing the 2016 election for Trump and demonization of anyone who questioned it, an embarrassing end may soon be near for the Russia-gaters, says Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

In a new article titled “Mueller report PSA: Prepare for disappointment”, Politico cites information provided by defense attorneys and “more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case” to warn everyone who’s been lighting candles at their Saint Mueller altars that their hopes of Trump being removed from office are about to be dashed to the floor.

“While [Mueller is] under no deadline to complete his work, several sources tracking the investigation say the special counsel and his team appear eager to wrap up,” Politico reports.

“The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump?—not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths,” the report also says, adding that details of the investigation may never even see the light of day. “It will be up to DOJ leaders to make the politically turbo-charged decision of whether to make Mueller’s report public,” Politico reported.

So that’s it then. An obscene amount of noise and focus, a few indictments and process crime convictions which have nothing to do with Russian collusion, and this three-ring circus of propaganda and delusion is ready to call it a day.

This is by far the clearest indication yet that the Mueller investigation will end with Trump still in office and zero proof of collusion with the Russian government, which has been obvious since the beginning to everyone who isn’t a complete moron. For two years the idiotic, fact-free, xenophobic Russia-gate conspiracy theory has been ripping through mainstream American consciousness with shrieking manic hysteria, sucking all oxygen out of the room for legitimate criticisms of the actual awful things that the US president is doing in real life. Those of us who have been courageous and clear-headed enough to stand against the groupthink have been shouted down, censored, slandered and smeared as assets of the Kremlin on a daily basis by unthinking consumers of mass media propaganda, despite our holding the philosophically unassailable position of demanding the normal amount of proof that would be required in a post-Iraq invasion world.

As I predicted long ago, “Mueller isn’t going to find anything in 2017 that these vast, sprawling networks wouldn’t have found in 2016. He’s not going to find anything by ‘following the money’ that couldn’t be found infinitely more efficaciously via Orwellian espionage. The factions within the intelligence community that were working to sabotage the incoming administration last year would have leaked proof of collusion if they’d had it. They did not have it then, and they do not have it now. Mueller will continue finding evidence of corruption throughout his investigation, since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish, but he will not find evidence of collusion to win the 2016 election that will lead to Trump’s impeachment. It will not happen.” This has remained as true in 2018 as it did in 2017, and it will remain true forever.

None of the investigations arising from the Russia-gate conspiracy theory have turned up a single shred of evidence that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to rig the 2016 election, or to do anything else for that matter. All that the shrill, demented screeching about Russia has accomplished is manufacturing support for steadily escalating internet censorship, a massively bloated military budget, a hysterical McCarthyite atmosphere wherein anyone who expresses political dissent is painted as an agent of the Kremlin and any dissenting opinions labeled “Russian talking points”, a complete lack of accountability for the Democratic Party’s brazen election rigging, a total marginalization of real problems and progressive agendas, and an overall diminishment in the intelligence of political discourse. The Russia-gaters were wrong, and they have done tremendous damage already.

In a just world, everyone who helped promote this toxic narrative would apologize profusely and spend the rest of their lives being mocked and marginalized. In a world wherein pundits and politicians can sell the public a war which results in the slaughter of a million Iraqis and suffer no consequences of any kind, however, we all know that that isn’t going to happen. Russia-gate will end not with a bang, but with a series of carefully crafted diversions. The goalposts will be moved, the news churn will shuffle on, the herd will be guided into supporting the next depraved oligarchic agenda, and almost nobody will have the intellectual honesty and courage to say “Hey! Weren’t these assholes promising us we’ll see Trump dragged off in chains a while back? Whatever happened to that? And why are we all talking about China now?”

But whether they grasp it or not, mainstream liberals have been completely discredited. The mass media outlets which inflicted this obscene psyop upon their audiences deserve to be driven out of business. The establishment which would inflict such intrusive psychological brutalization upon its populace just to advance a few preexisting agendas has proven that it deserves to be opposed on every front and rejected at every turn.

And those of us who have been standing firm and saying this all along deserve to be listened to. We were right. You were wrong. Time to sit down, shut up, stop babbling about Russian bots for ten seconds, and let those who see clearly get a word in edgewise.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




AUDIO: Shady Claims by NYT on Russia-gate: Peter B. Collins interviews Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter discusses with radio host Peter B. Collins his Consortium News article exposing exaggerated claims of Russian skulduggery on Facebook in 2016.

By Peter B. Collins

Journalist and historian Gareth Porter returned to the Peter B. Collins show to discuss his new article, exposing exaggerated claims of Russian skulduggery on Facebook in 2016. Porter’s article was published last week at Consortium News, showing inaccurate claims in the late-September recap of Russia-gate by New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti.

Both Porter and your humble host consider Shane to be a credible reporter, and credit him with caveats in stories on Russia-gate, including the quote from the September 26 report that these claims “can neither be proven nor disproven.”

We note how many “progressive” media figures, including Thom Hartmann, claim that Mueller’s convictions and plea deals amount to proof of “collusion”, even though Manafort and the others have not been tried on such charges.

Porter explains that the numbers cited by the Times about Facebook are grossly exaggerated, with “potential impressions” being treated as click-throughs.  He notes that Facebook estimates that only 1 out of 10 posts in a news feed are actually read by the user.  When you compare the modest traffic attributed to all Russians, including government actors, it’s infinitesimal compared to the $80 million-plus the Trump campaign spent on dark-targeted Facebook ads.

Porter also looks at the role of Twitter bots in amplifying tweets by the candidates, and argues that the impacts cited by Shane and Mazzetti are not significant. Listen to Peter B. delve deep into the deceptions of Russia-gate with Gareth Porter. Running time 35:14. 

Peter B. Collins, a veteran radio host on the airwaves in the San Francisco Bay Area, is host of the Peter B. Collins Show.




The Shaky Case That Russia Manipulated Social Media to Tip the 2016 Election

The idea promoted by the NYT’s Shane & Mazzetti that the Russian government seriously threatened to determine the 2016 election does not hold up when the larger social media context is examined more closely, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

In their long recapitulation of the case that Russia subverted the 2016 election, Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times painted a picture of highly effective Russian government exploitation of social media for that purpose. Shane and Mazzetti asserted that “anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference” in the election.

What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come,” they write elsewhere in the 10,000-word article.

But an investigation of the data they cite to show that the Russian campaigns on Facebook and Twitter were highly effective reveals a gross betrayal of journalistic responsibility. Shane and Mazzetti have constructed a case that is fundamentally false and misleading with statistics that exaggerate the real effectiveness of social media efforts by orders of magnitude.

‘Reaching’ 129 Million Americans

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), is a privately-owned company run by entrepreneur Vevgeny V. Prigozhin, who has ties with President Vladimir Putin. Its employees poured out large numbers of social media postings apparently aimed at stoking racial and cultural tensions in the United States and trying to influence U.S. voters in regard to the presidential election, as Shane and Mazzetti suggest. They even adopted false U.S. personas online to get people to attend rallies and conduct other political activities. (An alternative explanation is that IRA is a purely commercial, and not political, operation.)

Whether those efforts even came close to swaying U.S. voters in the 2016 presidential election, as Shane and Mazzetti claimed, is another matter.

Shane and Mazzetti might argue that they are merely citing figures published by the social media giants Facebook and Twitter, but they systematically failed to report the detailed explanations behind the gross figures used in each case, which falsified their significance.

Their most dramatic assertions came in reporting the alleged results of the IRA’s efforts on Facebook. “Even by the vertiginous standards of social media,” they wrote, “the reach of their effort was impressive: 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans, and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone.”

Then, to dramatize that “eventual audience” figure, they observed, “That was not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential elections.”

But as impressive as these figures may appear at first glance, they don’t really indicate an effective attack on the U.S. election process at all. In fact, without deeper inquiry into their meaning, those figures were grossly misleading.

A Theoretical Possibility

What Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch actually said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last October was quite different from what the Times reporters claimed. “Our best estimate is that approximately 126,000 million people may have been served one of these [IRA-generated] stories at some time during the two year period,” Stretch said.

Stretch was expressing a theoretical possibility rather than an established accomplishment. Facebook was saying that it estimated 126 million Facebook members might have gotten at least one story from the IRA –- not over the ten week election period but over 194 weeks during the two years 2015 through 2017. That, figure, in turn, was based on the estimate that 29 million people might have gotten at least one story in their Facebook feed over that same two-year period and on the assumption that they shared it with others at a particular rate.

The first problem with citing those figures as evidence of impact on the 2016 election is that Facebook did not claim that all or even most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people was, in fact, election-related. But Stretch did testify that IRA content over that two–year period represented just four ten thousandths (.0004) of the total content of Facebook newsfeeds.

Thus each piece of IRA content in a Facebook feed was engulfed in 23,000 pieces of non-IRA content.

That is an extremely important finding, because, as Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016, Facebook subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.

Facebook did conduct research on what it calls “civic engagement” during the election period, and the researchers concluded that the “reach” of the content shared by what they called “fake amplifiers” was “marginal compared to the volume of civic content shared during the U.S. elections.” That reach, they said, was “statistically very small” in relation to “overall engagement on political issues.”

Shane and Mazzaetti thus failed to report any of the several significant caveats and disclaimers from Facebook itself that make their claim that Russian election propaganda “reached” 126 million Americans extremely misleading.

Tiny IRA Twitter Footprint

Shane and Mazzetti’s treatment of the role of Twitter in the alleged Russian involvement in the election focuses on 3,814 Twitter accounts said to be associated with the IRA, which supposedly “interacted with 1.4 million Americans.” Although that number looks impressive without any further explanation, more disaggregated data provide a different picture: more than 90 percent of the Tweets from the IRA had nothing to do with the election, and those that did were infinitesimally few in relation to the entire Twitter stream relating to the 2016 campaign.

Twitter’s own figures show that those 3,814 IRA-linked accounts posted 175,993 Tweets during the ten weeks of the election campaign, but that only 8.4 percent of the total number of IRA-generated Tweets were election-related.

Twitter estimated that those 15,000 IRA-related tweets represented less than .00008 (eight one hundred thousandths) of the estimated total of 189 million tweets that Twitter identified as election-related during the ten-week election campaign. Twitter has offered no estimate of how many Tweets, on average were in the daily twitter stream of those people notified by Twitter and what percentage of them were election-related Tweets from the IRA. Any such notification would certainly show, however, that the percentage was extremely small and that very few would have been read.

Research by Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren of Clemson University on 2.9 million Tweets from those same 3,814 IRA accounts over a two year period has revealed that nearly a third of its Tweets had normal commercial content or were not in English; another third were straight local newsfeeds from U.S. localities or mostly non-political “hashtag games”, and the final third were on “right” or “left” populist themes in U.S. society.

Furthermore, there were more IRA Tweets on political themes in 2017 than there had been during the election year. As a graph of those tweets over time shows, those “right” and “left” Tweets peaked not during the election but during the summer of 2017.

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The Mysterious 50,000 ‘Russia-Linked’ Accounts

Twitter also determined that another 50,258 automated Twitter accounts that tweeted about the election were associated with Russia and that they have generated a total to 2.1 million Tweets — about one percent of the total of number election-related tweets during the period.

But despite media coverage of those Tweets suggesting that they originated with the Russian government, the evidence doesn’t indicate that at all. Twitter’s Sean Edgett told the Senate Intelligence Committee last November that Twitter had used an “expansive approach to defining what qualifies as a Russian-linked account.” Twitter considered an account to be “Russian” if any of the following was found: it was created in Russia or if the user registered the account with a Russian phone carrier or a Russian email; the user’s display name contains Cyrillic characters; the user frequently Tweets in Russian, or the user has logged in from any Russian IP address.

Edgett admitted in a statement in January, however, that there were limitations on its ability to determine the origins of the users of these accounts. And a past log-in from a Russian IP address does not mean the Russian government controls an account. Automated accounts have been bought and sold for many years on a huge market, some of which is located in Russia. As Scott Shane reported in September 2017, a Russian website BuyAccs.com offers tens and even hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts for bulk purchase.

Twitter also observed that “a high concentration of automated engagement and content originated from data centers and users accessing Twitter via Virtual Private Networks (“VPNs”) and proxy servers,” which served to mask the geographical origin of the tweet. And that practice was not limited to the 50,000 accounts in question. Twitter found that locations of nearly 12 percent of the Tweets generated during the election period were masked because of the use of such networks and servers.

Twitter identified over half of the Tweets, coming from about half of the 50,000 accounts, as being automated, and the data reported on activity on those 50,000 accounts in question, indicates that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns were using the automated accounts in question. The roughly 23,000 automated accounts were the source of 1.34 million Tweets, which represented .63 percent of the total election-related Tweets. But the entire 50,000 accounts produced about 1 percent of total election-related tweets.

Hillary Clinton got .55 percent of her total retweets from the 50,000 automated accounts Twitter calls “Russia-linked” and .62 percent of her “likes” from them. Those percentages are close to the percentage of total election-related Tweets generated by those same automated accounts. That suggests that her campaign had roughly the same proportion of automated accounts among the 50,000 accounts as it did in the rest of the accounts during the campaign.

Trump, on the other hand, got 1.8 percent of this total “likes” and 4.25 percent of his total Retweets for the whole election period from those accounts, indicating his campaign was more invested in the automated accounts that were the source of two-thirds of the Tweets in those 50,000 “Russia-linked” accounts.

The idea promoted by Shane and Mazzetti that the Russian government seriously threatened to determine the winner of the election does not hold up when the larger social media context is examined more closely. Contrary to what the Times’ reporters and the corporate media in general would have us believe, the Russian private sector effort accounted for a minuscule proportion of the election-related output of social media. The threat to the U.S. political system in general and its electoral system in particular is not Russian influence; it’s in part a mainstream news media that has lost perspective on the truth.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.

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Seven Days in September

A new book, an anonymous Op-Ed and an Obama speech in the first seven days of September appeared to reveal dangerous insider moves against a dangerous, but constitutionally elected president, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

In the first seven days of September efforts to manage and perhaps oust a constitutionally elected president were stunningly made public,  raising complex questions about America’s vaunted democratic system.  

What unfolded appears reminiscent of the novel and film Seven Days in May: the story of an attempted military coup against a U.S. president who sought better relations with Russia. The fictional president was based on the real one, John F. Kennedy, who opened the White House in 1963 to director John Frankenheimer to film the only scenes of a Hollywood movie ever made there.   

Kennedy was well aware of the Pentagon brass’ political fury after his refusal to proceed with a full-scale assault against Cuba in the Bay of Pigs operation. It was compounded by his desire for detente with Moscow after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Kennedy expressed forcefully in his seminal American University address, five months before his death. 

This is the essential (must watch) scene in the film, a brilliant 2:25 minutes of screen history:

The key quote from the character playing Kennedy is: “You have such a fervent, passionate, evangelical affection for your country, why in the name of God don’t you have any faith in the system of government you’re so hellbent to protect?”

You didn’t have to know Jack Kennedy to know that Donald Trump is no Jack Kennedy. Trump has staked out a raft of positions dangerous to the interests of most Americans and people around the world: on climate, billionaire tax breaks, health insurance, drone warfare, torture, immigration, Iran, Palestine and more.

But Trump has ostensibly tried to improve relations with Russia and North Korea to defuse the most sensitive nuclear trigger points on earth.  And for that he at least appears to be getting the pre-1963 Kennedy treatment.   

Circumstantial 

Until the first seven days of September there was only circumstantial evidence that intelligence agencies worked with the party in power to undermine the opposition party candidate before the election and the president afterward. 

These included:

  • a series of anonymous leaks to undermine the president from Obama’s intelligence officials, one admitted to by then FBI Director James Comey;
  • a series of anti-Trump political messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, including one that admits to there being “no there, there” regarding Trump-Russia collusion, even though Strzok joined Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team precisely to look for a “there, there;”
  • the use of a Democratic Party paid-for opposition research dossier  (not an intelligence agency vetted report) to be later used to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign and form a basis for the Mueller probe;
  • a CIA and FBI operative, linked to the firm that produced the dossier, who had infiltrated Jimmy Carter’s 1980 campaign, and in 2016 courted Trump campaign operatives in a possible sting operation to connect Trump to Moscow. 

This created a picture of the Democrats, the ruling party in the executive branch, using its intelligence agencies to undermine first a candidate and then a constitutionally elected president. Most of the corporate media buried or dismissed these leads as a “conspiracy theory,” while relentlessly pushing the so-far unproven conspiracy theory that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election.

The effort appeared to be classic projection onto Russia to deflect attention from Hillary Clinton’s self-made defeat and, in centuries-old political tradition, to falsely blame a hostile foreign power for rising domestic unrest resulting instead from bi-partisan, unjust policies, which have indeed “undermined our democracy” and “sowed social divisions.” It was that unrest that helped elect Trump.

As much of a danger as he may be to the republic, Trump will be gone in two or six years. The greater danger may well have been out-of-control, unelected intelligence officials inserting themselves into the electoral process and now, allied with Trump administration officials, into the governing process. A saying at the National Security Agency is: “Administrations come and go, but we will still be here.” 

Long-time Suspicions 

There have always been suspicions of forces behind the scenes holding the real power over American presidents. We only occasionally get glimpses of this. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter openly defied President Barack Obama when he sabotaged a plan to cooperate militarily with Russia against extremists in Syria by killing dozens of Syrian Arab Army soldiers just as Secretary of State John Kerry was nailing down the details of the agreement, which was then abandoned. This came as unelected officials pressured Obama to directly intervene in Syria.

Most of the time we are left to speculate about the unseen forces controlling a president.

But in September’s first seven days we had three unusually public indications of unelected people trying to undermine an elected president:  the revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book; the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times and an unusual speech by Barack Obama about Trump.

Masha Gessen, a strong critic of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, explained the danger this way in The New Yorker: 

“Having this state of affairs described in print further establishes that an unelected body, or bodies, are overruling and actively undermining the elected leader. While this may be the country’s salvation in the short run, it also plainly signals the demise of some of its most cherished ideals and constitutional norms. An anonymous person or persons cannot govern for the people, because the people do not know who is governing.”

Real Evidence Emerges 

On Sept. 5, The New York Times took the highly unusual decision to publish an anonymous op-ed article. Titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” it had the subtitle: “I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

The official, who has yet to be unmasked, provides clear evidence of unelected officials trying to control a less-than aware president:  “The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda…”

But here is the key.  This behind-the-throne power has a distinct political agenda. They’re not really concerned about “rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans” as the writer professes. Their concern is  determining policy. 

For instance this cabal has no problem with some of the most regressive parts of Trump’s program. The writer celebrates them.  “Don’t get me wrong,” he writes. “There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

Deregulation to let the private sector run roughshod over workers. Deregulation to worsen climate change. Tax reform to put millions more into billionaire’s pockets while average Americans remain mired in debt. And a more robust military to multiply human suffering around the world. 

This, instead, seems like the real problem the insiders have with Trump: “On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.”

It is Trump’s Russia policy–the only rational part of his agenda–that is their problem, not unlike the generals in Frankenheimer’s masterpiece. 

Obama Slams Trump

On Sept. 7, Obama broke with the tradition of former presidents and criticized his successor in a speech at the University of Illinois. It’s an unwritten rule in Washington then when you leave the White House you don’t look back. Of course it’s been broken before. Teddy Roosevelt called Taft a “puzzlewit” and a “fathead.”  But the idea is that when you are no longer an elected president you shouldn’t undermine the one who is. 

“How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?” Obama said, referring to Trump’s reluctance to condemn neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA last year.

As Obama was still president when his intelligence agencies apparently went to work on Trump, it was a bit rich for him to say: “”It should not be Democratic or Republican, it should not be partisan to say that we don’t pressure the Department of Justice or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.”

Evidently recalling his own battles with administration officials who pressured him, Obama however recognized that it is undemocratic for a president’s team to try to undermine him.  “The idea that everything will turn out OK because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren’t following the President’s orders,” Obama said of the anonymous op-ed, “… is not a check. I am being serious here. That is not how our democracy is supposed to work.”

Fear Over Fear

The most alarming revelations about the effort to control a president come from Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House, which first appeared in the media during the first seven days of September on Sept. 4. Woodward said in an interview that he “looked hard for evidence of collusion with Russia, but didn’t find any.”

That did not stop members of Team Trump from interfering in his duties as chief executive, going well beyond the role of counseling the president. 

Much of Woodward’s reporting is from anonymous and second hand sources.  Assuming that what he writes is true he reported that former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk.”  Had Trump signed it, the U.S. would have withdrawn from a free trade agreement with South Korea.  Woodward quotes Cohn in the words of an unnamed official as saying, “I stole it off his desk….I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”

That would appear to cross the line.

However it then becomes a lot more complicated than Seven Days in May.  

“He drafts a tweet saying, ‘We are going to pull out dependents from South Korea … Family members of the 28,000 people there,’” Woodward told CBS News. 

According to CBS:

That tweet was never sent, because of a back channel message from North Korea that it would regard a pullout of dependents as a sign the U.S. was preparing to attack. “At that moment there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that, ‘My God, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as an attack is imminent,’” Woodward said.

According to the book, Trump also told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the April 2017 chemical attack.  “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward. (That would not please the Kremlin, his supposed master, but whatever) .

Mattis supposedly told Trump he’d “get right on it” but ignored the order.  Mattis devised pin prick strikes instead. 

Is that insubordination? Or was that saving the U.S., the Middle East and perhaps the world from a major war?

It certainly sets up an excruciating dilemma. This time it may be the generals preserving the peace.

Seven Days in September may indeed be the reverse of Seven Days in May.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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