The Twitter Smearing of Corbyn and Assange

Historian and U.K. analyst Mark Curtis checks out the Twitter accounts of journalists whose names have been associated with the Integrity Initiative, a British “counter disinformation” program.

By Mark Curtis
British Foreign Policy Declassified

The U.K.-financed Integrity Initiative, managed by the Institute for Statecraft, is ostensibly a “counter disinformation” program to challenge Russian information operations. However, it has been revealed that the Integrity Initiative Twitter handle and some individuals associated with this program have also been tweeting messages attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This takes on special meaning in light of the numerous U.K. military and intelligence personnel associated with the program, documented in an important briefing by academics in the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media.

Several journalists have been named as associated with the Integrity Initiative, either in program “clusters” or having been invited to an Integrity Initiative event, in the documents that have been posted online. (For more on this see section 7.1 of this briefing note, the “UK” section of the “Xcountry” document and journalists invited to speak at an Integrity Initiative event in London in November 2018.)

Analysis of 11 of these individuals has been undertaken to assess to what extent their tweets have linked Corbyn unfairly (for a definition see below) to Russia. The results show two things:

  • first, the smearing of Corbyn about Russia is more extensive than has been revealed so far;
  • second, many of the same individuals have also been attacking a second target – Julian Assange, trying to also falsely link him to the Kremlin.

Many of these 11 individuals are associated with The Times and The Guardian in the U.K. and the Atlantic Council in the U.S. The research does not show, however, that these tweets are associated with the Integrity Initiative (see further below).

Linking Corbyn to Russia

The Integrity Initiative said in a tweet, “we are not ‘anti-Russian’ and do not ‘target’ Mr Corbyn.” However, that tweet was preceded by the following tweets: 

  • “Skripal poisoning: It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”
  • “An alleged British Corbyn supporter wants to vote for Putin.”
  • “’Mr Corbyn was a ‘useful idiot’, in the phrase apocryphally attributed to Lenin. His visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.’” This tweet was a quote from an article by Edward Lucas in The Times, Corbyn’s sickening support of Soviet Empire.”

Here are examples of tweets from the 11 individuals.

Times columnist Edward Lucas has published an article on the Integrity Initiative website and been quoted as saying that his work with the Initiative has not been paid or involved anything improper. (See section 7.1.3 of this briefing note.) On Twitter, he has accused Corbyn of having blind spots on Putin’s plutocracy and Kremlin imperialism.”

 Lucas has also tweeted:

  • “Why does Corbyn not see that Russia is imperialist and Ukrainians are victims?” and  “It’s not just Corbyn. Here’s Swedish leftie @AsaLinderborg explaining why Nato not Putin is the real threat to peace” – linking to the latter’s article in a Swedish newspaper. 
  • “German hard-leftist GDR-loving wall-defending @SWagenknecht congratulates Corbyn on win” [in the Labour leadership contest]
  • “More excellent stuff on Corbyn’s love of plutocrats so long as they are Russian.”

In another tweet, he praised as brilliant an article about Corbyn “playing into Russia’s hands on the Scribal poisoning.” 

Deborah Haynes, until recently defence editor of The Times and now foreign affairs editor at Sky News, has tweeted:

Haynes has also tweeted about Corbyn “displaying staggering naivety and a complete failure to understand this state-sponsored attack by Russia on the UK. Appalling. Is he for real?”

Haynes has also tweeted: “Incredible that @jeremycorbynis attempting to score party-political points in wake of hugely significant statement by @theresa_may on Skripal attack by Russia.”

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum has tweeted that Corbyn is a “useful idiot” of Russia; about a “precise echo of Kremlin propaganda from Corbyn,” and that “Surprise! Russia sides with Corbyn against Cameron.”

Below is another. 

David Clark, a former adviser to the late Labour PM, Robin Cook, has tweeted that Corbyn is an “apologist” for Putin.  Below is another of Clark’s tweets. 

Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council in the U.S. has tweeted, referring to Corbyn: “Once a communist always so.”

His colleague at the Atlantic Council, Ben Nimmo, sent the following three tweets on Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership in August 2015:

  • “Why Russia loves Corbyn, in one headline”
  • “Russia’s certainly pushing Corbyn’s candidacy”
  • “From Russia with coverage – how RT is campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn.” Here’s one more, promoting a piece he wrote for the Daily Beast:

Natalie Nougayrede, Guardian columnist and on its editorial board, has tweeted this:

Nougayrede also retweeted an article by Jeremy Corbyn isn’t anti-war. He’s just anti-West.”

Three Guardian/Observer-linked journalists were invited to speak at an Integrity Initiative event in London in November 2018: Carole Cadwalladr, Nick Cohen and James Ball.

Cadwalladr has tweeted that “Labour has a Russia problem,” that Corbyn adviser Seumas Milne is “pro-Putin” and that “Milne’s support for Putin has made him a Russian propaganda tool.” One of Cadwalladr’s tweets noted:

  • “Here’s Corbyn’s principal advisor Seamus Milne on RT explaining why it was the fault of NATO aggression that Russia invaded Ukraine.

Another by Cadwalladr:

Nick Cohen has tweeted that “Labour is led by Putin fans” and: “What is worse? Farage and Corbyn and twitter trolls divert attention from Russia’s political assassinations because they believe Putin is innocent or because they are morally corrupt?” He has also retweeted an Observer article of his claiming that Labour leaders have promoted “endorsements of Russian imperialism” and that Corbyn’s policy has given Russia “a free pass” in Syria. 

Here is another: 

James Ball has tweeted a link to his own article in the New Statesman saying that Corbyn is “playing into Russia’s hands on the Skripal poisoning” and accusing Corbyn to the effect that he “took money from Russia Today.”

Linking Assange to the Kremlin

Many of the same individuals have also been tweeting false statements about Julian Assange and Russia.

The Integrity Initiative twitter site itself retweeted a Guardian smear article about a  lawyer, Adam Waldman, visiting the Wikileaks founder. 

It also tweeted: “If you still believe Assange is some kind of hero, you deserve pity at best.”

Anders Aslund has tweeted that Assange “represents certain Russian agencies” that “Wikileaks, Assange & Snowden are nothing but highly successful Russian special operations” and “Kremlin agents” and that “Assange is collaborating w[ith] Russia Today as program host. Would be strange if not full-fledged agent.”

Cadwalladr has also sought to overtly link Assange to the Kremlin.  She has tweeted that “Assange & Milne… are both Russian propaganda tools,” that Assange is a “special friend” of Russian intelligence and that Wikileaks has “colluded with…the Kremlin.”

In addition, Cadwalladr has tweeted several times that “Assange was in direct communication with Russian intelligence in 2016” and that “Wikileaks sought assistance from Russian intelligence officers to disrupt the US presidential election.” Cadwalladr is here claiming that Wikileaks knowingly colluded with Russian intelligence by releasing the files on the Democratic Party in 2016: in fact, this is not known or proven at all, while numerous media outlets also published or had contacts with Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks in 2016 – though do not figure as targets in her attacks.

Nick Cohen has also made many smears against Julian Assange, variously calling him a “Russian stooge,”  a “Putin agent,”  “pro-Putin,” a “Russian toady”, that he “works for Russia propaganda machine” while “Wikileaks will think whatever Putin tells it to think.”

David Leask, chief reporter of The Herald (Scotland), has described Assange as a “Kremlin proxy” while Anne Applebaum tweeted: “’Wikileaks is a front for Russian intelligence,’” linking to an article of the same headline. Edward Lucas retweeted his Times article suggesting that Assange and Wikileaks are part of the “Kremlin-loving camp”while David Clark has tweeted that “Assange is an active accomplice” of autocrats such as Putin.

Need for further research

There are some key points to be made about this analysis.

First, some of the tweets made by these individuals on Corbyn and Assange, not all of which are included here, are fair comment, even if, in my view, they are usually wrong. But others go beyond this, inferring that Corbyn (and Assange) are in effect agents of Russia and/or are willingly and knowingly amplifying Russia’s agenda, as little more than “tools” – with no evidence provided (understandably, since there is none). There is also sometimes the association of Corbyn with former communists. These areas are held to constitute smearing.

Second, it is not known and certainly not proven that these tweets are associated with the Integrity Initiative. Little is known of the internal workings of the Initiative. It is possible that some of the individuals may have been chosen by the Integrity Initiative to be associated with it precisely because of their pre-existing criticism of Russia or their willingness to accuse figures such as Corbyn with association with Russia. While I am not suggesting that these individuals’ tweets are necessarily linked to their role in the Integrity Initiative, there does appear to be something of a pattern among these people of smearing both Corbyn and Assange.

Third, and equally important, this is not a full analysis of these individuals’ outputs: it is limited to their tweets. Neither is it a full analysis of the false linking to Russia by individuals associated with the Integrity Initiative: several other journalists and figures named in the documents are not analysed here. Again, further research is needed.

Mark Curtis is an historian and analyst of U.K. foreign policy and international development and the author of six books, the latest being an updated edition of “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam.”




Covert British Military-Smear Machine Moving into US

After mobilizing a disinformation campaign across Europe, documents show that the Integrity Initiative is now infiltrating the U.S., report Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames.

By Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames
Grayzone

A bombshell domestic spy scandal has been unfolding in Britain, after hacked internal communications exposed a covert U.K. state military-intelligence psychological warfare operation targeting its own citizens and political figures in allied NATO countries under the cover of fighting “Russian disinformation.” 

The leaked documents revealed a secret network of spies, prominent journalists and think-tanks colluding under the umbrella of a group called “Integrity Initiative” to shape domestic opinion—and to smear political opponents of the right-wing Tory government, including the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin.

Until now, this Integrity Initiative domestic spy scandal has been ignored in the American media, perhaps because it has mostly involved British names. But it is clear that the influence operation has already been activated in the U.S.. Hacked documents reveal that the Integrity Initiative is cultivating powerful allies inside the State Department, top D.C. think tanks, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, where it has gained access to Katharine Gorka and her husband, the fascist-linked cable news pundit Sebastian Gorka. 

The Integrity Initiative has spelled out plans to expand its network across the U.S., meddling in American politics and recruiting “a new generation of Russia watchers” behind the false guise of a non-partisan charity. Moreover, the group has hired one of the most notorious American “perception management” specialists, John Rendon, to train its clusters of pundits and cultivate relationships with the media. 

Back in the U.K., Member of Parliament Chris Williamson has clamored for an investigation into the Integrity Initiative’s abuse of public money. 

In a recent editorial, Williamson drew a direct parallel between the group’s collaboration with journalists and surreptitious payments the CIA made to reporters during the Cold War.

“These tactics resemble those deployed by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird that was launched at the height of the cold war in the early 1950s. Its aims included using the mainstream news media as a propaganda tool,” Williamson wrote.

“They manipulated the news agenda by recruiting leading journalists to write stories with the express purpose of influencing public opinion in a particular way,” the Labour parliamentarian continued. “Now it seems the British Establishment have dusted off the CIA’s old playbook and is intent on giving it another outing on this side of the Atlantic.”

Unmasking a Smear Machine

The existence of the Integrity Initiative was virtually unknown until this November, when the email servers of a previously obscure British think tank called the Institute for Statecraft were hacked, prompting allegations of Russian intrusion. When the group’s internal documents appeared at a website hosted by Anonymous Europe, the public learned of a covert propaganda network seed-funded to the tune of over $2 million dollars by the Tory-controlled U.K. Foreign Office, and run largely by military-intelligence officers.

Through a series of cash inducements, off-the-record briefings and all-day conferences, the Integrity Initiative has sought to organize journalists across the West into an international echo chamber hyping up the supposed threat of Russian disinformation—and to defame politicians and journalists critical of this new Cold War campaign. 

bid for funding submitted by the Integrity Initiative in 2017 to the British Ministry of Defense promised to deliver a “tougher stance on Russia” by arranging for “more information published in the media on the threat of Russian active measures.”

The Integrity Initiative has also worked through its fronts in the media to smear political figures perceived as a threat to its militaristic agenda. Its targets have included a Spanish Department of Homeland Security appointee, Pedro Banos, whose nomination was scuttled thanks to a media blitz it secretly orchestrated; Jeremy Corbyn, whom the outfit and its media cutouts painted as a useful idiot of Russia; and a Scottish member of parliament, Neil Findlay, whom one of its closest media allies accused of adopting “Kremlin messaging” for daring to protest the official visit of the far-right Ukrainian politician Andriy Parubiy — the founder of two neo-Nazi parties and author of a white nationalist memoir, “View From The Right.”

These smear campaigns and many more surreptitiously orchestrated by the Integrity Initiative offer a disturbing preview of the reactionary politics it plans to inject into an already toxic American political environment. 

Aggressive Expansion

A newly released Integrity Initiative document reveals that the outfit plans an aggressive expansion across the U.S. 

The Integrity Initiative claims to have already established a “simple office” in Washington, D.C., though it does not say where. It also boasts of partnerships with top D.C. think tanks like the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and its close relationships with U.S. officials. 

A major hub of Integrity Initiative influence is the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, a de facto U.S. government propaganda operation that was established by President Barack Obama to battle online ISIS recruitment, but which was rapidly repurposed to counter Russian disinformation following the election of Trump.

The Integrity Initiative has also recruited one of the most infamous American PR men to organize its clusters of journalists and political figures. 

He is John Rendon, best known as “The Man Who Sold The War”— several wars, in fact, but most notoriously the Iraq invasion. Rendon was the self-described “information warrior” who planted fake news in major U.S.-U.K. media about non-existent WMD threats. With deep ties to the CIA and other military-intelligence agencies, his PR firm was paid $100 million to organize and sell Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. In 2002, The New York Times exposed a Pentagon program using Rendon to plant “disinformation” — including “false stories” and “the blackest of black PR” — in media outlets around the world, in order to shape public opinion and sell the Iraq invasion. 

Journalist James Bamford outlined a catalogue of disinformation feats Rendon performed for the Pentagon, such as identifying “the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships.” Bamford also found proposals and programs Rendon was involved in that aimed to “‘coerce’ foreign journalists and plant false information overseas… [and] find ways to ‘punish’ those who convey the ‘wrong message.’”

These tactics seem particularly relevant to his work with the Integrity Initiative, especially considering the internal documents that reveal further Rendon-style plans to produce reports and studies to be “fed anonymously into local media.” (Among the outlets listed as friendly hosts in Integrity Initiative internal memos are Buzzfeed and El Pais, the center-left Spanish daily.)

Keeping up With the Gorkas

Internal documents also refer to interactions between Integrity Initiative Director Chris Donnelly and top Trump officials such as Katharine Gorka, a vehemently anti-Muslim Department of Homeland Security official, as well as her husband, Sebastian, who earned right-wing fame during his brief tenure in Trump’s White House. 

The latter Gorka is an open supporter of the Hungarian Vitezi Rend, a proto-fascist order that collaborated with Nazi Germany during its occupation of Hungary. Following Trump’s election victory in 2016, Gorka appeared for televised interviews in a black Vitezi Rend uniform. 

Gorka was among the first figures listed on an itinerary for Donnelly to Washington this Sept. 18 to 22. The itinerary indicates that the two had breakfast before Donnelly delivered a presentation on “Mapping Russian Influence Activities” at the federally funded military research center, CNA.

 

According to the itinerary, Donnelly was granted access to Pentagon officials such as Mara Karlin, an up-and-coming neoconservative cadre, and John McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker, another neoconservative operative who also serves as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine. Numerous meetings with staffers inside the State Department’s Office of Global Engagement were also detailed. 

Foreign Agent in State?

Of all the State Department officials named in Integrity Initiative documents, the one who appeared most frequently was Todd Leventhal. Leventhal has been a staffer at the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, boasting of “20 years of countering disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and urban legends.” In an April 2018 Integrity Initiative memo, he is listed as a current team member:

Funded to the tune of $160 million this year to beat back Russian disinformation with “counter-propaganda,” the State Department’s Global Engagement Center has refused to deny targeting American citizens with information warfare of its own. “My old job at the State Department was as chief propagandist,” confessed former Global Engagement Center Director Richard Stengel. “I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”

Like so many of the media and political figures involved in the Integrity Initiative’s international network, the Global Engagement Center’s Leventhal has a penchant for deploying smear tactics against prominent voices that defy the foreign policy consensus. Leventhal appeared in an outtake of a recent NBC documentary on Russian disinformation smugly explaining how he would take down a 15-year-old book critical of American imperialism in the developing world. Rather than challenge the book’s substance and allegations, Leventhal boasted how he would marshal his resources to wage an ad hominem smear campaign to destroy the author’s reputation. His strategic vision was clear: when confronting a critic, ignore the message and destroy the messenger.

Integrity Initiative documents reveal that Leventhal has been paid $76,608 dollars (60,000 British pounds) for a 50 percent contract. 

While those same documents claim he has retired from the State Department, Leventhal’s own Linkedin page lists him as a current “Senior Disinformation Advisor” to the State Department. If that were true, it would mean that the State Department was employing a de facto foreign agent.

As a cut-out of the British Foreign Office and Defense Ministry, the Integrity Initiative’s work with current and former U.S. officials and members of the media raises certain legal questions. For one, there is no indication that the group has registered under the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act, as most foreign agents of influence are required to do.

Grants from Neocon Foundation

An Integrity Initiative memo states that the right-wing Smith Richardson Foundation has also committed to ponying up funding for its U.S. network as soon as the group receives 501 c-3 non-profit status. The foundation has already provided it with about $56,000 for covert propaganda activities across Europe.

The Smith Richardson Foundation has old ties to the U.S. intelligence community and controversial cold war influence operations. According to reporter Russ Bellant, the foundation was secretly bankrolling radical right-wing “indoctrination campaigns for the American public on Cold War and foreign policy issues”— programs that got the attention of Senator William Fulbright, who warned then-President John F. Kennedy of their dangers. At one of these indoctrination seminars, a Smith Richardson Foundation director “told attendees that ‘it is within the capacity of the people in this room to literally turn the State of Georgia into a civil war college,’ in order to overcome their opponents.”

Smith Richardson has funded a who’s who of the neoconservative movement, from hyper-militaristic think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute to the Institute for the Study of War. “To say the [Smith Richardson] foundation was involved at every level in the lobbying for and crafting of the so-called global war on terror after 9/11 would be an understatement,” wrote journalist Kelley Vlahos.

Besides Smith Richardson, the Integrity Initiative has stated its intention to apply for grants from the State Department “to expand the Integrity Initiative activities both within and outside of the USA.” This is yet another indicator that the U.S. government is paying for propaganda targeting its own citizens. 

‘Main Event’ in Seattle

An Integrity Initiative internal document argues that because “DC is well served by existing US institutions, such as those with which the Institute [for Statecraft] already collaborates,” the organization should “concentrate on extending the work of the Integrity Initiative into major cities and key State capitals [sic] across the USA.”

This Dec. 10, the Integrity Initiative organized what it called its “main event” in the U.S. It was a conference on disinformation held in Seattle, under the auspices of a data firm called Adventium Labs. Together with the Technical Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, the Integrity Initiative listed Adventium Labs as one of its “first partners outside DC.”

Adventium is a Minneapolis-based research and development firm that has reaped contracts from the U.S. military, including a recent $5.4 million cyber-security grant from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. 

Inside a modest-sized hotel conference room, the Adventium/Integrity event began with a speech by the Integrity Initiative’s Simon Bracey-Lane. Two years prior, Bracey-Lane appeared on the American political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.” Now, the young operator was back in the U.S. as the advance man for a military-intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader widely regarded as the British version of Sanders.

Bracey-Lane opened his address by explaining that Integrity Initiative director Chris Donnelly had been unable to appear at the event, possibly because he was bogged down in the scandal back home. He proceeded to read remarks prepared by Donnelly that offered a window into the frighteningly militaristic mindset the Integrity Initiative aims to impose on the public through their media and political allies.

According to Donnelly’s comments, the West was no longer in a “peace time, rules based environment.” From the halls of government to corporate boardrooms to even the U.K.’s National Health System, “the conclusion is that we have to look for people who suit a wartime environment rather than peacetime.”

During a Q&A, Bracey-Lane remarked that “we have to change the definition of war to encompass everything that war now encompasses,” referring vaguely to various forms of “hybrid warfare.” 

“There is a great deal to be done in communicating that to young people,” he continued. “When we mean being at war we don’t mean sending our boys off to fight. It’s right here in our homes.”

The emphasis on restructuring society along martial lines mirrored the disturbing thinking also on display in notes of a private meeting between Donnelly and Gen. Richard Barrons in 2016. During that chat, the two officers decided that the British military should be removed from democratic supervision and be able to operate as “an independent body outside politics.”

While Bracey-Lane’s presentation perfectly captured the military mindset of the Integrity Initiative, the speakers that followed him offered a diverse array of perspectives on the concept of disinformation, some more nuanced than others. But one talk stood out from the rest — not because of its quality, but because of its complete lack thereof.

Theorist of ‘Red-Brown’ Networks

The presentation was delivered by Alexander Reid Ross, a half-baked political researcher who peddles computer-generated spiderweb relationship charts to prove the existence of a vast hidden network of “red-brown” (or fascist-communist) alliances and “syncretic media” conspiracies controlled by puppeteers in Moscow. 

Ross is a lecturer on geography at Portland State University with no scholarly or journalistic credentials on Russia. But with a book, “Against the Fascist Creep,” distributed by the well-known anarchist publishing house, AK Press, the middling academic has tried to make his name as a maverick analyst. 

Before the Integrity Initiative was exposed as a military-intelligence front operation, Ross was among a small coterie of pundits and self-styled disinformation experts that followed the group’s Twitter account. The Integrity Initiative even retweeted his smear of War Nerd podcast co-host John Dolan.

In a series of articles for the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, Ross attempted to bring his warmed-over Cold War theories to the broader public. He wound up trashing everyone from the co-author of this piece, Max Blumenthal, to Nation magazine publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel to Harvard University professor of international relations Stephen Walt as hidden shadow-fascists secretly controlled by the Kremlin. 

The articles ultimately generated an embarrassing scandal and a series of public retractions by the editor-in-chief of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen. And then, like some Dr. Frankenstein for discredited and buried journalism careers, the British Ministry of Defense-backed Integrity Initiative moved in to reanimate Ross as a sought-after public intellectual. 

Before the Integrity Initiative-organized crowd, Ross offered a rambling recitation of his theory of a syncretic fascist alliance puppeteered by Russians: “The alt right takes from both this ‘red-brown,’ it’s called, or like left-right syncretic highly international national of nationalisms, and from the United States’ own paleoconservative movement, and it’s sort of percolated down through college organizing, um, and anti-interventionism meets anti-imperialism. Right?”

In a strange twist, Ross appeared on stage at the Integrity Initiative’s Seattle event alongside Emmi Bevensee, a contributor to the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) think tank, whose tagline, “a left market anarchist think-tank” expresses its core aim of uniting far-left anarchists with free-market right-libertarians. 

Bevensee, a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona and self-described “Borderlands anarcho into tech and crypto,” concluded her presentation by asserting a linkage between the alternative news site, Zero Hedge, and the “physical militarized presence in the borderlands” of anti-immigrant vigilantes. Like Bevensee, Ross has written for C4SS in the past. 

The irony of contributors to an anarchist group called the “Center for a Stateless Society” auditioning before The State – the most jackbooted element of it, in fact – for more opportunities to attack anti-war politicians and journalists, can hardly be overstated.

But closer examination of the history of C4SS veers from irony into something much darker and more unsettling.

White Nationalist Associates

C4SS was co-founded in 2006 by a confessed child rapist and libertarian activist, Brad Spangler, who set the group up to promote “Market anarchism” to “replace Marxism on the left.”

When Spangler’s child rape confessions emerged in 2015, the Center for Stateless Society founder was finally drummed out by his colleagues. 

There’s more: Spangler’s understudy and deputy in the C4SS, Kevin Carson — currently listed as the group’s “Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory” — turned out to be a longtime friend and defender of white nationalist Keith Preston. Preston’s name is prominently plastered on the back of Kevin Carson’s book, hailing the C4SS man as “the Proudhon of our time” — a loaded compliment, given the unhinged anti-Semitism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the influential 19thCentury French anarchist.

Carson only disowned Preston in 2009, shortly before Preston helped white nationalist leader Richard Spencer launch his alt-right webzine, Alternative Right. 

The C4SS group currently participates in the annual Koch-backed International Students For Liberty conference in Washington, D.C., LibertyCon, a who’s who of libertarian think-tank hacks and Republican Party semi-celebrities like Steve Forbes, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and Alan Dershowitz.

In 2013, C4SS’s Kevin Carson tweeted out his dream fantasy that four Jewish leftists—Mark Ames, co-author of this article; Yasha Levine; Corey Robin, and Mark Potok — would die in a plane crash while struggling over a single parachute. Potok was an executive editor at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which last year retracted every one of the crank articles that Alexander Reid Ross published with them and formally apologized for having run them.

For some reason, the super-sleuth Ross conveniently failed to investigate the libertarian group, C4SS, that he has chosen to partner with and publish in. That ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right—while cozying up to groups as sleazy as C4SS and authoritarian as the Integrity Initiative —is the sort of adaptive trait that MI6 spies and the Rendon Group would find useful in a covert domestic influence operation.

Ross did not respond to our request for comment on his involvement with the Integrity Initiative and C4SS.

Disinformation for Democracy

As it spans out across the U.S., the Integrity Initiative has stated its desire to “build a younger generation of Russia watchers.” Toward this goal, it is supplementing its coterie of elite journalists, think tank hacks, spooks and State Department info-warriors with certifiable cranks like Ross. 

Less than 24 hours after Ross’s appearance at the Integrity Initiative event in Seattle, he sent a menacing email to the co-author of this article, Ames, announcing his intention to recycle an old and discredited smear against him and publish it in The Daily Beast — a publication that appears to enjoy a special relationship with Integrity Initiative personnel. 

Despite the threat of investigation in the U.K., the Integrity Initiative’s “network of networks” appears to be escalating its covert, government-funded influence operation, trashing the political left and assailing anyone that gets in its way; all in the name of fighting foreign disinformation. 

“We have to win this one,” Integrity Initiative founder Col. Chris Donnelly said, “because if we don’t, democracy will be undermined.”

Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,” Goliath,” The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery,” which will be published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

 




Alger Hiss and Russia-gate

Jeremy Kuzmarov argues the Cold War case has enduring relevance to American political culture and provides clues to the motives and machinations underlying the new Russophobia.

By Jeremy Kuzmarov

In January 1950, Alger Hiss, a former State Department employee and director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary. The sentence, of which Hiss served 44 months, culminated a frenzied political trial that catapulted Richard Nixon to fame, undergirded the advent of McCarthyism and heated up the Cold War.

Today, it is worth looking back at the Hiss case because it offers important clues to the motives and machinations underlying the similarly politicized Russia-gate investigations. In both cases, powerful political players appear to have attempted to deflect acts of malfeasance by falsely accusing political adversaries of treasonous behavior while igniting anti-Russia hysteria and paranoid fears of subversion that threatened war between the major nuclear powers.

Hiss was the embodiment of the liberal, New Deal establishment, which had promoted a major expansion of domestic social welfare programs. Educated at Harvard Law School, Hiss clerked for Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked for the State Department before moving on to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Supportive of President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy of accommodation towards the SovietsHiss had been present at the 1945 Yalta conference, which resulted in a spheres of influence agreement.

Hiss had also worked as a legal assistant for the Nye Committee in the 1930s, a congressional investigation into war profiteering led by Gerald Nye, a Republican senator from North Dakota. The investigation exposed high-level corruption and connections between American companies and the growth of the Nazi war machine.

For instance, it revealed how United Aircraft sold commercial airplane engines to Germany for use in Luftwaffe fighter planes. It showed how Nazi troops were armed with American guns, and how Union Banking Corporation had engaged in a cartel agreement with the German chemical conglomerate, I.G. Farben, soon to be gas maker for Holocaust gas chambers.

Because of his work on the committee, Hiss made many powerful enemies. The Republican Party at the time was looking to revive its fortunes through red- baiting tactics that would deflect attention from their anti-labor program. The Justice Department also had begun to investigate alleged treasonous activities by GOP power brokers.

Among them was Thomas McKittrick, a former agent of the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA) who was the wartime president of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. He was also an executive with Chase Manhattan Bank and a Marshall Plan administrator who allegedly conspired with his friend, the future CIA Director Allen Dulles, to move looted Nazi gold to Argentina.

Another official under DOJ investigation was Sen. Prescott Bush, a managing director of the Union Banking Corporation, which helped provide financing to Nazi industrialists in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act during World War II. Bush was the father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush.

The Dulles’ Diversion’

The origins of McCarthyism predate McCarthy. In order to bury the war profiteering investigation and undermine a wartime plan adopted by FDR’s Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau to deindustrialize Germany and break the power of its banking cartel, Dulles and his associates began accusing New Deal Democrats of being spies.

The first was Harry Dexter White, liberal postwar director of the International Monetary Fund, who had pushed the German deindustrialization plan, and then came Hiss.

The GOP’s accusations of treason were part of a political counter-offensive designed to protect the real traitors while bolstering the party’s political fortune. Hiss’ alleged treason provided the “proof” that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were “dyed pink in Moscow.” Hiss’ trial was in turn politicized as much as the Soviet show trials.

John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state, and his brother Allen had worked as attorneys for Sullivan & Cromwell, which  according to journalist Stephen Kinzer, “thrived on its cartels and ties to the Nazi regime,” and kept its business with its clients all the way through the war.

After supporting Nixon’s campaign in California’s 12th Congressional district against Democrat Jerry Voorhis in 1946, the Dulles brothers began to accuse their enemies of communist subversion in order to bury investigation into their nefarious war-time activities and to undermine Morgenthau’s plan to deindustrialize Germany and break the power of its banking cartel.

The first target of their accusations was Harry Dexter White, liberal postwar executive director of the IMF and an assistant to Morgenthau who championed the German deindustrialization plan. President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill adopted the plan at the second Quebec Conference in September 1944. Truman replaced it in 1947 with the Marshall Plan, a robust program of economic aid that benefited U.S. business. 

Hiss was the second major target to fall victim to Dulles’ plot. Like Russia-gate, which has deflected attention from the Democratic Party failings, Hiss’ case became a media sensation that derailed critical scrutiny into treasonous wartime activity by plutocratic interests and provided “proof” for GOP voters that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were “dyed pink in Moscow”–much as Donald Trump is portrayed as a Moscow puppet.

Like the allegations against Trump, Hiss’ actual connection to Soviet espionage remains unproven. He never left any traces of even being a socialist. The documents Hiss is alleged to have smuggled were mundane and would have done nothing to harm national security. They included blank and illegible microfilms along with synopses about economic conditions in Manchuria, German trade policy in Braziland, unclassified manuals for operating naval rafts, parachutes and fire extinguishers; information that could have been found in the New York public library.

The Hiss case was marred by prosecutorial misconduct and illegalities. Hiss was entrapped by prosecutors who benefited from FBI surveillance of his witnesses and the sharing of that information with the prosecution’s leading witness, Whittaker Chambers, a Time magazine editor who said he had known Hiss in the mid-1930s. Allegations of biased FBI misconduct against Trump are similarly rife.

Like proponents of Russia-gate, Chambers had questionable credibility. His credibility was undermined by contradictory statements, dubious claims about the spy-craft trade and false testimony. William A. Reuben, who spent four decades researching the Hiss case, found that “the first thing to note about Whittaker Chambers’ confessions of communist underground work is that it has never been corroborated, either by documentary evidence or by the word of any other human being.”

KGB: Hiss Never an Asset

Years after the case, Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general and longtime chief of Russia’s foreign intelligence operations, stated that “Russian intelligence service has no documents proving that Alger Hiss cooperated with our service somewhere or anywhere,” while retired KGB Maj. Gen. Julius Kobyakov said Hiss never had any relationship with Soviet intelligence.”

Hede Massing, an Austrian actress and confessed former Soviet spy inside the U.S., was another key witness for the prosecution who was threatened with deportation if she did not testify against Hiss. The government claimed that Hiss was part of an underground spy cell called the Ware Group.”

However, Lee Pressman, a labor attorney who was a law school classmate of Hiss and a member of the group, testified that this was a Marxist study group in the 1930s and that Hiss was not a member. Pressman was later accused of being a Russian spy.

It was claimed that Chambers and Hiss had been introduced by Josef Peters, alleged brain of the entire communist underground. But there is no record of this, and Peters was mysteriously deported to Hungary on the eve of the trial, so he could not testify and said he never met Chambers, except possibly once in the 1930s.

Hiss’ wife, Priscilla, allegedly typed some of the smuggled State Department documents on a typewriter that was traced back to the Hiss family. However, later it was found that the FBI had suppressed a lab report showing she could not have typed the documents. The Woodcock typewriter, serving as key government evidence, was also possibly reproduced by the CIA or U.S. military intelligence, echoing the way the CIA has been alleged to be behind Guccifer 2 in the alleged Russian hack of the DNC computers.

Nixon alluded to this when he told aide Charles Colson, as recorded in White House tapes: “The typewriters are always key. We built one in the Hiss case.”

Hiss’ opponents believed they had their smoking gun years after the trial when encrypted Soviet cables, released following the opening of the Soviet archives in 1991 (known as the Venona files), exposed a State Department spy code-named Ales, whom they believed to meanAlger.

However, a 2007 American Scholar article by Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya argued that a more likely candidate was Hiss’ colleague, Wilder Foote, because a KGB operative placed Ales in Mexico City when Hiss was known to be in the U.S and the information came from someone inside the Office of the Lend- Lease Aadministration, where Hiss never worked.

The Soviets showed little interest in the political information Hiss could provide, since the Cambridge Five (famed British spies) leaked the major secret documents related to Yalta. Ales hence does not appear to have violated the Espionage Act, which requires specific injury to U.S. national interest.

More Parallels With 2016

The Hiss case exemplifies the abuse of the judicial system and manipulation of public opinion by opportunists such as Richard Nixon and elements of the Deep State during the Cold War. One can see parallels with Russia-gate here too, with opportunists such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and his uncorroborated leaks coming from intelligence sources.

These resemblances to current events are unfortunately salient. The Deep State always has wanted Russia as an enemy so huge military-defense budgets can be maintained, and so Russia does not control Central Asia’s oil and gas wealth. The main target of its political machinations today, farcically, is a Republican president who is an arch-imperialist and embodiment of the American dream in its valorization of wealth accumulation.

During the 2016 election, the party of Roosevelt ran a divisive candidate in Hillary Clinton who undermined the progressive insurgent, Bernie Sanders, through undemocratic methods. Instead of looking in the mirror, party power-brokers sought to blame Russia for its embarrassing defeat and divert the public’s attention. They spread rumors of Russian electoral manipulation, which, as in the Hiss case, have never been corroborated and probably never could be.

The Russia-gate investigation so far has many of the footprints of a politicized disinformation campaign, an amateur one at that, given that the January 2017 “assessment” by only three intelligence agencies—released to try to prove the charge of election hacking—was bereft of any evidence and focused mainly on attacking English-language Russian television as an alleged propaganda outlet.

Gross inconsistencies also have been apparent; in the refusal by Democratic National Committee to allow the FBI to examine its computer server where the alleged hack took place and in Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s refusal to interview WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange or witnesses such as British diplomat Craig Murray who met with the alleged leaker. Mueller also refuses to engage with a study carried out by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity,  or VIPS,  that determined the DNC data was leaked, not hacked, and that the data copying was performed on the East Coast of the United States and exceeded internet capability for a remote hack.

Liberals as Rightists

The timing of the indictment of 12 Russian spies by Mueller on the eve of a summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump was also suspicious, along with the indictment being presented as proof when it is unlikely the case would ever be prosecuted.

Businessmen with ties to the Democratic Party, such as  William F. Browder, meanwhile have replaced the old Wall Street Republicans in pushing the anti-Russia hysteria. They too aim to deflect attention from their commission of white-collar crime. In Browder’s case it was tax evasion, for which Putin prosecuted him. The methods of the New Cold Warriors are generally reminiscent of the old GOP in the levying of baseless accusations and adoption of methods of clandestine surveillance and attempted entrapment to discredit or prosecute Americans suspected of collusion with Russia, as had been the case with Hiss.

The Democrats and liberal media pundits on CNN and MSNBC and in journals like The New Yorker appear to be oddly in sync with the extremist John Birch society, which accused Eisenhower in the 1950s of leading a communist sleeper cell.

As Establishment Democrats and their fellow travelers drive much of the Russophobic hysteria in an effort to undermine Trump, it has been important for them to promote a useable past and distort the original history of the Cold War. As a case in point, Seth Ackerman wrote a piece in the supposedly left Jacobin magazine denouncing Roosevelt’s vice president, Henry Wallace, who had advocated for détente with the Russians, as a communist dupe.

Ackerman then asserted in a July essay, which was at least somewhat  critical of the Democrats’ current Russophobia, that “Hiss was a Soviet spy” who was “reportedly awarded secret Soviet decorations in honor of his service to Moscow.” However, even serious scholarship of an anti-Hiss bent has acknowledged that Hiss’ guilt remains speculative, and the opening of the Soviet archives has not revealed any smoking-gun evidence apart from the Venona files whose meaning is contested.

Joan Brady, in an important recent study of Hiss, “America’s Dreyfuss,” notes that the “red scare whipped up around the case became for America what antisemitism had been to Germany [in the 1930s], a force to unify the people and deflect attention from an economic re-arrangement that could not function freely without chipping away at their rights.”

Decades after the case against Hiss, he remains a “bogeyman” who continues to serve as the embodiment what happens when we let our guard down.

These words resonate in our political climate where the Russian threat is again being invoked as a force to unify the people against false enemies and to steer attention from pernicious economic arrangements and criminal malfeasance by political donors.

Spooked by insurgencies on both the right and the left in the 2016, the Establishment is worried about growing social unrest, both of which have been smeared as being influenced by Russia. New bogeymen are again being created to sustain a dangerous confrontationist policy toward Russia whose consequences may be even worse than the first Cold War.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is an historian and author, with John Marciano, of The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce.

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A Look Back at Clapper’s Jan. 2017 ‘Assessment’ on Russia-gate

On the 2nd anniversary of the “assessment” blaming Russia for interfering in the 2016 election there is still no evidence other than showing the media “colluded” with the spooks, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

The banner headline atop page one of The New York Times print edition two years ago today, on January 7, 2017, set the tone for two years of Dick Cheney-like chicanery: “Putin Led Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Says.”

Under a media drumbeat of anti-Russian hysteria, credulous Americans were led to believe that Donald Trump owed his election victory to the president of Russia, whose “influence campaign” according to the Times quoting the intelligence report, helpedPresident-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton.”

Hard evidence supporting the media and political rhetoric has been as elusive as proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003. This time, though, an alarming increase in the possibility of war with nuclear-armed Russia has ensued — whether by design, hubris, or rank stupidity. The possible consequences for the world are even more dire than 16 years of war and destruction in the Middle East.

If It Walks Like a Canard…

The CIA-friendly New York Times two years ago led the media quacking in a campaign that wobbled like a duck, canard in French.

A glance at the title of the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) (which was not endorsed by the whole community) — “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” — would suffice to show that the widely respected and independently-minded State Department intelligence bureau should have been included. State intelligence had demurred on several points made in the Oct. 2002 Estimate on Iraq, and even insisted on including a footnote of dissent. James Clapper, then director of national intelligence who put together the ICA, knew that all too well. So he evidently thought it would be better not to involve troublesome dissenters, or even inform them what was afoot.

Similarly, the Defense Intelligence Agency should have been included, particularly since it has considerable expertise on the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence agency, which has been blamed for Russian hacking of the DNC emails. But DIA, too, has an independent streak and, in fact, is capable of reaching judgments Clapper would reject as anathema. Just one year before Clapper decided to do the rump “Intelligence Community Assessment,” DIA had formally blessed the following heterodox idea in its “December 2015 National Security Strategy”:

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

Any further questions as to why the Defense Intelligence Agency was kept away from the ICA drafting table?

Handpicked Analysts

With help from the Times and other mainstream media, Clapper, mostly by his silence, was able to foster the charade that the ICA was actually a bonafide product of the entire intelligence community for as long as he could get away with it. After four months it came time to fess up that the ICA had not been prepared, as Secretary Clinton and the media kept claiming, by “all 17 intelligence agencies.”

In fact, Clapper went one better, proudly asserting — with striking naiveté — that the ICA writers were “handpicked analysts” from only the FBI, CIA, and NSA. He may have thought that this would enhance the ICA’s credibility. It is a no-brainer, however, that when you want handpicked answers, you better handpick the analysts. And so he did.

Why is no one interested in the identities of the handpicked analysts and the hand-pickers? After all, we have the names of the chief analysts/managers responsible for the fraudulent NIE of October 2002 that greased the skids for the war on Iraq. Listed in the NIE itself are the principal analyst Robert D. Walpole and his chief assistants Paul Pillar, Lawrence K. Gershwin and Maj. Gen. John R. Landry.

The Overlooked Disclaimer

Buried in an inside page of the Times on Jan. 7, 2017 was a cautionary paragraph in an analysis by reporter Scott Shane. It seems he had read the ICA all the way through, and had taken due note of the derriere-protecting caveats included in the strangely cobbled together report. Shane had to wade through nine pages of drivel about “Russia’s Propaganda Efforts” to reach Annex B with its curious disclaimer:

Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents. … High confidence in a judgment does not imply that the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong.”

Small wonder, then, that Shane noted: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission…”

Since then, Shane has evidently realized what side his bread is buttered on and has joined the ranks of Russia-gate aficionados. Decades ago, he did some good reporting on such issues, so it was sad to see him decide to blend in with the likes of David Sanger and promote the NYT official Russia-gate narrative. An embarrassing feature, “The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far,” that Shane wrote with NYT colleague Mark Mazzetti in September, is full of gaping holes, picked apart in two pieces by Consortium News.

Shades of WMD

Sanger is one of the intelligence community’s favorite go-to journalists. He was second only to the disgraced Judith Miller in promoting the canard of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in March 2003. For example, in a July 29, 2002 article, “U.S. Exploring Baghdad Strike As Iraq Option,” co-written by Sanger and Thom Shanker, the existence of WMD in Iraq was stated as flat fact no fewer than seven times.

The Sanger/Shanker article appeared just a week after then-CIA Director George Tenet confided to his British counterpart that President George W. Bush had decided “to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” At that critical juncture, Clapper was in charge of the analysis of satellite imagery and hid the fact that the number of confirmed WMD sites in Iraq was zero.

Despite that fact and that his “assessment” has never been proven, Clapper continues to receive praise.

During a “briefing” I attended at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington several weeks ago, Clapper displayed master circular reasoning, saying in effect, that the assessment had to be correct because that’s what he and other intelligence directors told President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.

I got a chance to question him at the event. His disingenuous answers brought a painful flashback to one of the most shameful episodes in the annals of U.S. intelligence analysis.

Ray McGovern: My name is Ray McGovern. Thanks for this book; it’s very interesting [Ray holds up his copy of Clapper’s memoir]. I’m part of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  I’d like to refer to the Russia problem, but first there’s an analogy that I see here.  You were in charge of imagery analysis before Iraq.

James Clapper: Yes.

RM: You confess [in the book] to having been shocked that no weapons of mass destruction were found.  And then, to your credit, you admit, as you say here [quotes from the book], “the blame is due to intelligence officers, including me, who were so eager to help [the administration make war on Iraq] that we found what wasn’t really there.”

Now fast forward to two years ago.  Your superiors were hell bent on finding ways to blame Trump’s victory on the Russians.  Do you think that your efforts were guilty of the same sin here?  Do you think that you found a lot of things that weren’t really there?  Because that’s what our conclusion is, especially from the technical end.  There was no hacking of the DNC; it was leaked, and you know that because you talked to NSA.

JC: Well, I have talked with NSA a lot, and I also know what we briefed to then-President Elect Trump on the 6th of January.  And in my mind, uh, I spent a lot of time in the SIGINT [signals intelligence] business, the forensic evidence was overwhelming about what the Russians had done.  There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever.  The Intelligence Community Assessment that we rendered that day, that was asked, tasked to us by President Obama — and uh — in early December, made no call whatsoever on whether, to what extent the Russians influenced the outcome of the election. Uh, the administration, uh, the team then, the President-Elect’s team, wanted to say that — that we said that the Russian interference had no impact whatsoever on the election.  And I attempted, we all did, to try to correct that misapprehension as they were writing a press release before we left the room.

However, as a private citizen, understanding the magnitude of what the Russians did and the number of citizens in our country they reached and the different mechanisms that, by which they reached them, to me it stretches credulity to think they didn’t have a profound impact on election on the outcome of the election.

RM: That’s what the New York Times says.  But let me say this: we have two former Technical Directors from NSA in our movement here, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity; we also have forensics, okay?

Now the President himself, your President, President Obama said two days before he left town: The conclusions of the intelligence community — this is ten days after you briefed him — with respect to how WikiLeaks got the DNC emails are “inconclusive” end quote.  Now why would he say that if you had said it was conclusive?

JC: I can’t explain what he said or why.  But I can tell you we’re, we’re pretty sure we know, or knew at the time, how WikiLeaks got those emails.  I’m not going to go into the technical details about why we believe that.

RM: We are too [pretty sure we know]; and it was a leak onto a thumb drive — gotten to Julian Assange — really simple.  If you knew it, and the NSA has that information, you have a duty, you have a duty to confess to that, as well as to [Iraq].

JC: Confess to what?

RM: Confess to the fact that you’ve been distorting the evidence.

JC: I don’t confess to that.

RM: The Intelligence Community Assessment was without evidence.

JC: I do not confess to that. I simply do not agree with your conclusions.

William J. Burns (Carnegie President): Hey, Ray, I appreciate your question.  I didn’t want this to look like Jim Acosta in the White House grabbing microphones away.  Thank you for the questioning though.  Yes ma’am [Burns recognizes the next questioner].

The above exchange can be seen starting at 28:45 in this video.

Not Worth His Salt

Having supervised intelligence analysis, including chairing National Intelligence Estimates, for three-quarters of my 27-year career at CIA, my antennae are fine-tuned for canards. And so, at Carnegie, when Clapper focused on the rump analysis masquerading as an “Intelligence Community Assessment,” the scent of the duck came back strongly.

Intelligence analysts worth their salt give very close scrutiny to sources, their possible agendas, and their records for truthfulness. Clapper flunks on his own record, including his performance before the Iraq war — not to mention his giving sworn testimony to Congress that he had to admit was “clearly erroneous,” when documents released by Edward Snowden proved him a perjurer. At Carnegie, the questioner who followed me brought that up and asked, “How on earth did you keep your job, Sir?”

The next questioner, a former manager of State Department intelligence, posed another salient question: Why, he asked, was State Department intelligence excluded from the “Intelligence Community Assessment”?

Among the dubious reasons Clapper gave was the claim, “We only had a month, and so it wasn’t treated as a full-up National Intelligence Estimate where all 16 members of the intelligence community would pass judgment on it.” Clapper then tried to spread the blame around (“That was a deliberate decision that we made and that I agreed with”), but as director of national intelligence the decision was his.

Given the questioner’s experience in the State Department’s intelligence, he was painfully aware of how quickly a “full-up NIE” can be prepared. He knew all too well that the October 2002 NIE, “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” was ginned up in less than a month, when Cheney and Bush wanted to get Congress to vote for war on Iraq. (As head of imagery analysis, Clapper signed off on that meretricious estimate, even though he knew no WMD sites had been confirmed in Iraq.)

It’s in the Russians’ DNA

The criteria Clapper used to handpick his own assistants are not hard to divine. An Air Force general in the mold of Curtis LeMay, Clapper knows all about “the Russians.” And he does not like them, not one bit. During an interview with NBC on May 28, 2017, Clapper referred to “the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.” And just before I questioned him at Carnegie, he muttered, “It’s in their DNA.”

Even those who may accept Clapper’s bizarre views about Russian genetics still lack credible proof that (as the ICA concludes “with high confidence”) Russia’s main military intelligence unit, the G.R.U., created a “persona” called Guccifer 2.0 to release the emails of the Democratic National Committee. When those disclosures received what was seen as insufficient attention, the G.R.U. “relayed material it acquired from the D.N.C. and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks,” the assessment said.

At Carnegie, Clapper cited “forensics.” But forensics from where? To his embarrassment, then-FBI Director James Comey, for reasons best known to him, chose not to do forensics on the “Russian hack” of the DNC computers, preferring to rely on a computer outfit of tawdry reputation hired by the DNC. Moreover, there is zero indication that the drafters of the ICA had any reliable forensics to work with.

In contrast, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, working with independent forensic investigators, examined metadata from a July 5, 2016 DNC intrusion that was alleged to be a “hack.” However, the metadata showed a transfer speed far exceeding the capacity of the Internet at the time. Actually, all the speed turned out to be precisely what a thumb drive could accommodate, indicating that what was involved was a copy onto an external storage device and not a hack — by Russia or anyone else.

WikiLeaks had obtained the DNC emails earlier. On June 12, 2016 Julian Assange announced he had “emails relating to Hillary Clinton.” NSA appears to lack any evidence that those emails — the embarrassing ones showing that the DNC cards were stacked against Bernie Sanders — were hacked.

Since NSA’s dragnet coverage scoops up everything on the Internet, NSA or its partners can, and do trace all hacks. In the absence of evidence that the DNC was hacked, all available factual evidence indicates that earlier in the spring of 2016, an external storage device like a thumb drive was used in copying the DNC emails given to WikiLeaks.

Additional investigation has proved Guccifer 2.0 to be an out-and-out fabrication — and a faulty basis for indictments.

A Gaping Gap

Clapper and the directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA briefed President Obama on the ICA on Jan. 5, 2017, the day before they briefed President-elect Trump. At Carnegie, I asked Clapper to explain why President Obama still had serious doubts.  On Jan. 18, 2017, at his final press conference, Obama saw fit to use lawyerly language to cover his own derriere, saying: “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not in being the conduit through which we heard about the DNC e-mails that were leaked.”

So we end up with “inconclusive conclusions” on that admittedly crucial point. In other words, U.S. intelligence does not know how the DNC emails got to WikiLeaks. In the absence of any evidence from NSA (or from its foreign partners) of an Internet hack of the DNC emails the claim that “the Russians gave the DNC emails to WikiLeaks” rests on thin gruel. After all, these agencies collect everything that goes over the Internet.

Clapper answered: “I cannot explain what he [Obama] said or why. But I can tell you we’re, we’re pretty sure we know, or knew at the time, how WikiLeaks got those emails.”

Really?

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year CIA career he supervised intelligence analysis as Chief of Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, as editor/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief, as a member of the Production Review Staff, and as chair of National Intelligence Estimates. In retirement he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

(Clarification:  After a reader’s comment, this article was amended to show that the Times was quoting from the ICA and that the Shane article, which the author said was buried inside, was not the same as the paper’s front page story.)




Watch the 11th Online Vigil for Julian Assange

Consortium News broadcast the 11th Unity4J vigil for WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange on Friday night.  You can watch it here.

Ecuador tries to find a legal way out of its commitment to Assange’s asylum in its London embassy, while Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says Assange should not be charged.

Watch the three-hour broadcast here: 




Critics of Syria Withdrawal Fueled Rise of ISIS

Too many of those protesting the removal of U.S. forces are authors of the catastrophe that tore Syria to pieces, reports Max Blumenthal for Consortium News.

By Max Blumenthal
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump’s announcement of an imminent withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria summoned a predictable paroxysm of outrage from Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Former secretary of state and self-described “hair icon” Hillary Clinton perfectly distilled the bipartisan freakout into a single tweet, accusing Trump of “isolationism” and “playing into Russia and Iran’s hands.”

Michelle Flournoy, the DC apparatchik who would have been Hillary’s secretary of defense, slammed the pull-out as “foreign policy malpractice,” while Hillary’s successor at the State Department, John Kerry, threw bits of red meat to the Russiagate-crazed Democratic base by branding Trump’s decision “a Christmas gift to Putin.” From the halls of Congress to the K Street corridors of Gulf-funded think tanks, a chorus of protest proclaimed that removing U.S. troops from Syria would simultaneously abet Iran and bring ISIS back from the grave.

Yet few of those thundering condemnations of the president’s move seemed able to explain just why a few thousand U.S. troops had been deployed to the Syrian hinterlands in the first place. If the mission was to destroy ISIS, then why did ISIS rise in the first place? And why was the jihadist organization still festering right in the midst of the U.S. military occupation?

Too many critics of withdrawal had played central roles in the Syrian crisis to answer these questions honestly. They had either served as media cheerleaders for intervention, or crafted the policies aimed at collapsing Syria’s government that fueled the rise of ISIS. The Syrian catastrophe was their legacy, and they were out to defend it at any cost.

Birthing ISIS From the Womb of Regime Change

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Clinton, Kerry, and the rest of the Beltway blob lined up reflexively behind George W. Bush. The insurgency that followed the violent removal of Iraq’s Ba’athist government set the stage for the declaration of the first Islamic State by Abu Musab Zarqawi in 2006.

Five years later, with near-total consent from Congress, Hillary enthusiastically presided over NATO’s assault on Libya, cackling with glee when she learned that the country’s longtime leader, Moammar Gaddafi, had been sodomized with a bayonet and shot to death by Islamist insurgents — “We came, we saw, he died!” It was not long before an Islamist Emirate was established in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, while 31 flavors of jihadi militias festered in Tripoli and Benghazi. 

While still defending her vote on Iraq, Hillary made the case for arming the anti-Assad opposition in Syria. “In a conflict like this,” she said, “the hard men with the guns are going to be the more likely actors in any political transition than those on the outside just talking.”

In 2012, the CIA initiated a one billion dollar arm-and-equip operation to fund the so-called “moderate rebels” united under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). A classified Defense Intelligence Agency memo distributed across Obama administration channels in August of that year warned that jihadist forces emanating from Iraq aimed to exploit the security vacuum opened up by the US-backed proxy war to establish a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria” — an “Islamic State,” in the exact words of the memo.  

Referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s Syrian affiliate by its name, Jabhat al-Nusra, before Western media ever had, the DIA emphasized the close ties the group had fostered with Syria’s “moderate rebels”: “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to Assad’s regime from the beginning because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

The memo was authored under the watch of then-Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was convicted this year of failing to register as a foreign agent of Turkey — an extremely ironic development considering Turkey’s role in fueling the Syrian insurgency. Predictably, the document was ignored across the board by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, heavy weapons were flowing out of the U.S. Incirlik air base in Turkey and into the hands of anyone who could grab them across the Syrian border.

As early as February 2013, a United Nations independent inquiry report concluded, “The FSA has remained a brand name only.” The UN further issued a damning assessment of the role of the United States, UK and their Gulf allies in fueling extremism across Syria. “The intervention of external sponsors has contributed to the radicalization of the insurgency as it has favoured Salafi armed groups such as the al-Nusra Front, and even encouraged mainstream insurgents to join them owing to their superior logistical and operational capabilities,” the report stated.

US Arms, ISIS Caliphate

How ISIS overran large swaths of territory in northeastern Syria and established its de facto capital Raqqa is scarcely understood, let alone discussed by Western media. That is partly because the real story is so inconvenient to the established narrative of the Syrian conflict, which blames Assad for every atrocity that has ever occurred in his country, and for some horrors that may not have ever taken place. Echoing the Bush administration’s discredited attempts to link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, some neoconservative pundits hatched a conspiracy theory that accused Assad of covertly orchestrating the rise of ISIS in order to curry support from the West. But the documented evidence firmly established the success of ISIS as a byproduct of the semi-covert American program to arm Assad’s supposedly moderate opposition.

Back in March 2013, a coalition of Syrian rebel forces representing the CIA-backed FSA, the Turkish and Qatari proxy, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra, overwhelmed the Syrian army in Raqqa. Opposition activists declared the city the “icon of the revolution” and celebrated in Raqqa’s town center, waving the tricolor flags of the FSA alongside the black banners of ISIS and al-Nusra, which set up its headquarters in the city’s town hall.

But disorder quickly spread throughout the city as its residents attempted to order their affairs through local councils. Meanwhile, the US-backed FSA had ceded the city to al-Nusra, taking the fight to the front lines against government forces further afield. The chaos stirred by the insurgents and their foreign backers had created the perfect petri dish for jihadism to fester.

A month after Raqqa was taken, the Iraqi zealot and ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed that al-Nusra had been a Trojan horse for his organization, referring to its commander, Mohammed Jolani, as “our son.” Jolani, in turn, admitted that he had entered Syria from Iraq as a soldier of the Islamic State, declaring, “We accompanied the jihad in Iraq as military escorts from its beginning until our return [to Syria] after the Syrian revolution.”

By August, Baghdadi completed his coup, announcing control over the city. According to the anti-Assad website, Syria Untold, the U.S.-backed FSA had “balked in the face of ISIS and avoided any military confrontation with it.” Many of its fighters quickly jumped ship to either the Islamic State or al-Nusra.

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“The [FSA] battalions are scared to become the weakest link, that they will be swallowed by ISIS,” a media activist named Ahmed al-Asmeh told the journalist Alison Meuse. “A number joined ISIS, and those who were with the people joined Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Backing “Territorial ISIS”

As the insurgency advanced towards Syria’s coast, leaving piles of corpses in its wake and propelling a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions, the U.S. stepped up its arm-and-equip program. By 2015, the CIA was pouring anti-tank missiles into the ranks of Nourredine Al-Zinki, an extremist militia that eventually forged a coalition with bands of fanatics that made no attempt to disguise their ideology. Among the new opposition umbrella group was one outfit called, “The Bin Laden Front.”

Despite all its war on terror bluster, the U.S. was treating ISIS as an asset in its bid to topple Assad. Then Secretary of State Kerry copped to the strategy in a leaked private meeting with Syrian opposition activists in Sept. 2016: “We were watching,” Kerry revealed. “We saw that Daesh [ISIS] was growing in strength and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, you know, that Assad might negotiate and instead of negotiating, you got Assad, ah, you got Putin supporting him.”

When Russia directly intervened in Syria in 2015, the Obama administration’s most outspoken interventionists railed against its campaign to roll back the presence of Al Qaeda and its allies, comparing it to the Rwandan genocide. These same officials were curiously quiet, however, when Russia combined forces with the Syrian military to drive ISIS from the city of Palmyra, to save the home of the world’s most treasured antiquities from destruction.

At a March 24, 2016, press briefing, a reporter asked U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, “Do you want to see the [Syrian] regime retake Palmyra, or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s [ISIS] hands?”

Toner strung together empty platitudes for a full minute.

“You’re not answering my question,” the reporter protested.

Toner emitted a nervous laugh and conceded, “I know I’m not.”

About a year later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman openly called for the U.S. to use ISIS as a strategic tool, reiterating the cynical logic for the strategy that was already in place. “We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad,” Friedman proposed. “After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war—the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other.”

Giving ISIS ‘Breathing Space’

When the U.S. finally decided to make a move against ISIS in 2017, it was gripped with anxiety about the Syrian government restoring control over the oil-rich areas ISIS controlled across the northeast.

With help from Russia, and against opposition from the U.S., Syria had already liberated the city of Deir Ezzor from a years-long siege by the Islamic State. Fearing that ISIS-occupied Raqqa could be next to be returned to government hands, the U.S. unleashed a brutal bombing campaign while its allies in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (a rebranded offshoot of the People’s Protection Units or YPG) assaulted the city by ground.

The U.S.-led campaign reduced much of Raqqa to rubble. In contrast to Aleppo, where rebuilding was underway and refugees were returning, Raqqa and outlying towns under U.S. control were cut off from basic government services and plunged into darkness.

The U.S. proceeded to occupy the city and its outlying areas, insisting that the Syrian government and its allies were too weak to prevent the resurgence of ISIS on their own. But almost as soon as U.S. boots hit the ground, ISIS began to gather strength. In fact, a report this August by the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team found that in areas under direct American control, ISIS had suddenly found “breathing space to prepare for the next phase of its evolution into a global covert network.”

This October, when Iran launched missile strikes against ISIS, nearly killing the ISIS emir, Baghdadi, the Pentagon complained that the missiles had struck only three kilometers from U.S. positions. The protest raised uncomfortable questions about what the top honchos of the Islamic State were doing in such close proximity to the American military, and why the U.S. was unwilling to do what Iran just had done and attack them. No answers from the Pentagon have arrived so far.

Target: Iran

With the appointment this August of James Jeffrey, a self-described “Never Trumper” from the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as Trump’s special representative for Syria engagement, it became clear that the mission to eradicate ISIS was of secondary importance. In testimony before Congress this December, Jeffrey laid out an agenda that focused heavily on what he called “Iran’s malign influence in the region,” “countering Iran in Syria,” and “remov[ing] all Iranian-commanded forces and proxy forces from the entirety of Syria.” In all, Jeffrey made 30 mentions of Iran, all of them hostile, while referring only 23 times to ISIS. It was clear he had regime change in Tehran on the brain.

Trump, for his part, had been mulling a removal of U.S. forces from northern Syria since at least last Spring, when he put forward a vision for an all-Arab military force funded by Saudi Arabia to replace them. But when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sawed apart inside his country’s embassy in Istanbul this October, Trump’s plan went to pieces as well. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exploited the Khashoggi saga to perfection, helping to transform Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman from the darling of America’s elite into persona non grata in Washington. As a result, he arranged a front line position for Turkey in the wake of any U.S. withdrawal.

There are now real reasons to fear that a Turkish advance will ignite a resurgence of ISIS. Turkey was not only a source of aid and oil sales to the jihadist group, it currently oversees a mercenary force of Salafi militiamen that includes droves of former Islamic State fighters. If the Turkish onslaught proves destabilizing, Iran and its allied Shia militias could ramp up their deployment in Syria, which would trigger a harsh reaction from Israel and its Beltway cut-outs.

Then again, the Kurdish YPG is in high level negotiations with Damascus and may team up with the Syrian military to fill the void. From an anti-ISIS standpoint, this is clearly the best option. It is  therefore the least popular one in Washington.

Whatever happens in Syria, those who presided over U.S. policy towards the country over the past seven years are in no position to criticize. They set the stage for the entire crisis, propelling the rise of ISIS in a bid to decapitate another insufficiently pliant state. And though they may never face the accountability they deserve, the impending withdrawal of American troops is a long overdue and richly satisfying rebuke.

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 forthcoming The Management of Savagery, which will be published 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 newly released Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the GrayzoneProject.com in 2015 and serves as its editor.

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Watch the 9th Vigil for Julian Assange with John Pilger, John Kiriakou and Ray McGovern

Consortium News broadcast the 9th Online Vigil for Julian Assange Friday night. Among the special guests were journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, who visited Assange at the Ecuador embassy in London. Watch the replay here.

The Unity4J vigil in support of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange began with CN Editor Joe Lauria interviewing John Pilger, who’s just been to see Assange. Other guests were former CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou, and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.




Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria

It would be nice to think the president has final say on foreign policy, given the U.S. Constitution. But the misleading troop withdrawal announcement, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggests the exact opposite, says Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The announcement on Wednesday that the U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Syria within the next month looked at first like a rare victory for Donald Trump in his admittedly erratic opposition to senseless wars of adventure. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” the president tweeted with an unmistakable air of triumph.

Don’t get your hopes up. Just about everything in these initial reports is either wrong or misleading. One, the U.S. did not defeat the Islamic State: The Syrian Arab Army, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militias did. Two, hardly was ISIS the only reason the U.S. has maintained a presence in Syria. The intent for years was to support a coup against the Assad government in Damascus—in part by training and equipping jihadists often allied with ISIS. For at least the past six months, the U.S. military’s intent in Syria has been to counter Iranian influence.

Last and hardly least, the U.S. is not closing down its military presence in Syria. It is digging in for an indefinite period, making Raqqa the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 U.S. troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital. Unofficially, according to The Washington Post and other press reports, the figure is closer to 4,000—twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil.

It would be nice to think Washington has at last accepted defeat in Syria, given it is preposterous to pretend otherwise any longer. Damascus is now well into its consolidation phase. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are currently working with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to form a committee in January to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution.

It would also be nice to think the president and commander-in-chief has the final say in his administration’s policies overseas, given the constitution by which we are supposed to be governed. But the misleading announcement on the withdrawal of troops, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggest something close to exactly the opposite.

As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call “the deep state” will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.

Blocking Few Good Ideas

Syria is a case in point, but one among many. Trump announced in March that he would withdraw American troops as soon as the fight against ISIS was finished. By September the Pentagon was saying no, U.S. forces had to stay until Damascus and its political opponents achieved a full settlement. From the new HQ in Raqqa, The Washington Post tells us, U.S. forces will extend “overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria.”

This is how 2018 has gone for Trump. This president has very few good ideas, but we can count on his foreign policy minders to block those he does have if they fail to conform to the orthodox playbook—the foreign policy “blob,” as Barack Obama famously called it.

Reversal on Military Budget

Earlier this month Trump complained about the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and pledged to cut it, if marginally, from its current $716 billion to $700 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. “I am certain that, at some time in the future,” he said in one of his inevitable tweets, “President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!”

Days later the president had a meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. The White House announced immediately afterward that the three had agreed on a 2020 defense budget of $750 billion: from a 2 percent cut to an increase of nearly 5 percent in the course of one meeting.

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Trump’s idea of improving relations with Russia has faced a wall of opposition from the first, needless to say. His summit with President Putin in Helsinki last July ignited a fresh uproar—and his suggestion that Putin come to Washington in the autumn still another. With Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the lead, that invitation was mocked to death within days. A New Year’s prediction: There will be no second summit with Putin, probably for the duration of Trump’s term in office.

Among the biggest disappointments of the year has been the administration’s failure to build on Trump’s effort to advance a settlement with North Korea after seven decades of tension in Northeast Asia. The Trump–Kim summit in Singapore last May did what initial encounters between heads of state are supposed to do: It established a working rapport. By that measure, any detached judgment of the meeting would have to count it a success.

But the U.S. press uniformly criticized Trump nonetheless for not coming home with the full details of the North’s nuclear disarmament. These same media have since treated us to the usual stories, sourced from the intelligence agencies, that the North is misleading us once again. Result: A second summit appears to have fallen off the White House’s agenda despite Trump’s statement at the UN last autumn that the two leaders would meet again “quite soon.”

One does not have to entertain any liking for Donald Trump to find this pattern disturbing. It suggests that our foreign policy cliques, wedded to an orthodoxy devoted more or less entirely to U.S. primacy, have positioned themselves—over the course of many administrations—to dictate America’s conduct abroad even to our presidents. There is danger in this, no matter who the occupant of the White House happens to be.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work viwww.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Michael Isikoff Cuts His Losses at ‘Russian Roulette’

Michael Isikoff, one of the biggest proponents of the Russia-gate story now says that Robert Mueller’s investigation is “not where a lot of people would like it to be,” says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Last Saturday, veteran Washington journalist Michael Isikoff began a John Ehrlichman/Watergate-style “modified limited hangout” regarding the embarrassing overreach in his Russia-gate “collusion” reporting. He picked an unctuous, longtime fan, radio host John Ziegler, to help him put some lipstick on the proverbial pig. Even so, the interview did not go so well.

Those who can muster some residual empathy for formerly serious reporters who have gotten Russia-gate so wrong, may feel genuine sadness at this point. Those fed up with pretense, unprofessionalism, and dodging, however, will find it hard to listen to the audible squirming without a touch, or more, of Schadenfreude — the word Germans use to denote taking joy at the misfortune of others.

In a word, it proved hard to square the circle inside which Isikoff and other Russia-gate aficionados have been living for more than two years after last week’s disclosures. Ziegler’s repeated expressions of admiration for Isikoff’s work, plus his softball questions, utterly failed to disguise Isikoff’s disappointment that Robert Mueller’s Russia-gate investigation is “not where a lot of people would like it to be.”

A lot of people” includes Isikoff.

Commenting on the trove of legal and other documents now available, Isikoff pretty much conceded that he and his co-writer, journalist David Corn were, in effect, impersonating serious investigative journalists when they published in April 2017 their gripping Russia-gate chef d’oeuvre: “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.”

Steele Dossier

Aware of the credulity given by Isikoff and Corn to the “Steele dossier,” Ziegler began with what he apparently thought was a soft-ball observation/question. “Would you agree that a lot of what is in the Steele Dossier has been at least somewhat vindicated?”

No,” said Isikoff flatly.

The conversation turned to so-called “logical” explanations for leaps of faith rather than analysis. Such as unsubstantiated accusations, like the so-called “pee-tape” that Isikoff now says is “likely false.”

A “modified limited hangout” is when someone’s cover story is blown and some truth needs to be divulged to deflect further inquiry. Isikoff’s begins at the 26:50 mark and goes on, churning one’s stomach for 30 minutes.

A better subtitle for Isikoff and Corn’s book might be “Based on What We Wanted to Believe Was a True Story.”

Isikoff told Ziegler that unless “Saint” Robert Mueller, as Democrats see him, can summon a Deus ex Machina to provide some actual evidence linking Trump or his campaign to collusion with Russia, former Isikoff acquaintances, like me, might legitimately ask, “What the hell happened to you, Mike?”

Isikoff and Corn have done some serious work together in the past. Their 2006 book, “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War” — was an accurate chronicle of the Cheney/Bush March of Folly into Iraq. That was also against a Republican administration. But they had interviewed people from both sides of the issues.

Though neither were fans of George W. Bush, they backed up their work with facts. “Russian Roulette” is a different story. It reads now like desperation to confirm what the authors hoped Mueller would find. He has failed them.

Is This Journalism?

Who can adequately explain the abject loss of journalistic standards when it comes to Russia-gate?

For Isikoff and Corn, as for other erstwhile serious journalists, there should be more crow than ham or turkey to eat in the weeks ahead.

Others come to mind: Jane Mayer of The New Yorker; James Risen, formerly of The New York Times; and lesser lights like McClatchy’s Greg Gordon; Marcy Wheeler, Amy Goodman’s go-to Russia-gate pundit at emptywheel.net; and extreme-partisan Democrat Marc Ash, who runs Reader Supported News.

Many had pinned their hopes on Trump’s 24-day national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, to supply grist for the “collusion” mill. That increased when word came he’d met 19 times with Mueller’s investigators as a cooperative witness.

Yet, something didn’t gel. Prosecutors said they’d go light on Flynn.

In (and Out) Like Flynn

Philip Ewing, the apparent odd-man-out at National Public Radio, observed Saturday: “Does that sound like the attitude they [the prosecutors] would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?”

Flynn was supposed to be sentenced for lying to the FBI on Tuesday. By afternoon, however, Federal District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan postponed the sentencing until at least March. The judge said he was “disgusted” by Flynn’s “very serious” crimes but later apologized from the bench for asking whether his actions might have been treasonous.

He gave Flynn the option of delaying sentencing until he had completed his cooperation with federal prosecutors, and Flynn agreed. But Sullivan remained adamant that Flynn could still end up in jail. If His Honor takes the time to read Professor Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, about Comey-endorsed FBI tactics — and not confine his reading solely to the Washington Post — it seems a safe bet he will give Flynn a stay-out-of jail card.

In an early morning tweet Tuesday, Trump wished Flynn good luck and commented: “Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion.” How can one interpret this? Either Mueller and his score of investigators were unable to get Flynn to spill the beans on collusion or — could it be possible? — there are no beans to spill.

Hold That Line

As for Isikoff and Corn, their profession — such as it is these days — can be expected to circle the wagons and give them the immunity granted 15 years ago to the faux-journalists who pushed the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) deception so hard — even after no WMD were found in Iraq.

Indeed, in recent days The New York Times and Washington Post have launched what looks like a stepped-up pre-emptive attack, lest readers start to doubt their rendering of Russia-gate. The headlines and the drivel that follow have been caricatures of journalism.

Be not misled about Russia-gate, The Washington Post editorial board wrote Tuesday morning. “It is no longer disputable.”

The analogy with mainstream media regurgitating fraudulent “facts” on Weapons of Mass Destruction before the invasion of Iraq is complete. How many recall then-Secretary of State Colin Powell telling the world on February 5, 2003 that his evidence and conclusions were “irrefutable and undeniable.”

Hardly New

John Swinton, a prominent journalist in New York in 1880, at a banquet, reportedly responded to a toast to the “independent press,” by saying: “There is no such thing as an independent press. You know it and I know it. … What folly is this toasting an independent press?

We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

Plus ca change ….

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Part of his job as a CIA analyst for 27 years was to analyze Soviet propaganda. He now experiences considerable nostalgia examining the propaganda put out by U.S. mainstream media. When you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy, IF you know where to look.

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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.