The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 4—The Haunting Case of a Belgian Child Killer and How WikiLeaks Helped Crack It

Elizabeth Vos reviews the infamous legal case of Marc Dutroux and why it engendered public distrust in the institutions of government. 

This is the fourth article in a series that is looking back on the major works of the publication that has altered the world since its founding in 2006. The series is an effort to counter mainstream media coverage, which is ignoring WikiLeaks’ work, and is instead focusing on Julian Assange’s personality. It is WikiLeaks’ uncovering of governments’ crimes and corruption that set the U.S. after Assange and which ultimately led to his arrest on April 11. In this article by Consortium News contributor Elizabeth Vos, originally published by her in 2017 on Disobedient Media, Vos looked at how WikiLeaks helped uncover evidence that showed Belgian case was part of a politically-protected child sex trafficking network.  The Belgian case takes on added relevance in the wake of the arrest of financier Jeffery Epstein for alleged sex trafficking of children with allegations of Epstein’s connections to powerful intelligence agencies.

By Elizabeth Vos

The case of notorious homicidal pedophile Marc Dutroux, now serving a life sentence in Belgium, is infamous for the deep depravity of the crimes that were committed and witnessed.

Evidence emerged twice in the case, first in legal proceedings, secondly by the publication of many of the prosecution’s records by WikiLeaks in 2009.

The case was marked by the extreme suppression of evidence in what many have called a coverup perpetrated by the Belgian establishment. The episode is a definitive example of the exposure of deep judicial and political corruption leading to widespread public distrust in the legitimacy of their institutions of government.

This sentiment has been echoed most recently in the U.S., where the primary rigging in 2016 by the Democratic National Committee left many feeling that the rule of law has come to mean little in the face of an utterly corrupt establishment that has become unaccountable to the public.

The Dutroux scandal set a precedent of mass public protest in response to such abuses, evident last year (2016) in South Korea’s response to the scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her advisor Choi Soon-Sil. 

It took the better part of a decade for the Belgian legal system to convict Marc Dutroux in 2004 for the mid-1990s kidnapping and rape of six girls, four of whom were murdered. The case was infamous for an inexplicably high number of mysterious deaths, suppression of evidence by the police, and numerous accounts from witnesses of extreme abuse perpetrated by a well-connected, violent pedophile ring.

The case prompted roughly 300,000  Belgians to take to the streets in 1996 in solidarity with the victims in The White March,” where  protesters adopted a color that in Belgium is a sign of hope.

The Dutroux Affair left such deep scars on the consciousness of the Belgian population that roughly one third of Belgians who shared the surname Dutroux with the accused had their names legally changed. Despite the case having been legally concluded, many years later it is apparent that numerous significant elements of the important case remain unresolved.

Arrested

The case began with the arrest of Marc Dutroux in 1996. Two of the four dead girls found on his properties had been buried alive after being wrapped in plastic. Two more girls died of starvation in a home-made underground dungeon while Dutroux served a brief prison sentence. Part of the public outcry regarding the handling of Dutroux’s case stemmed from his previous convictions for similar rapes against young girls; despite the nature of these crimes, Dutroux had been released early, allowing him to re-offend.

Media reports describe victims kept in cages. A large amount of DNA evidence recovered from these cells were never analyzed by authorities, even though it may have revealed the identities of additional perpetrators. The defense regularly cited DNA evidence indicating that other people visited Dutroux’s cell, alluding to hundreds of human hairs that were never accounted for.

Adding to the botched nature of the case, police eventually admitted that they could have saved lives had they watched videos confiscated from Dutroux’s home showing him constructing the dungeon where some of the girls died.

Dutroux’s lawyer commented in court on the failure to analyze DNA evidence found in the basement cell where two of Dutroux’s victims died: “Can people really make you believe there wasn’t a pedophile ring? We see clearly in the dossier material proof that other people than the accused here present frequented the cellar.” 

Dutroux’s claims regarding help from the police appeared to have been corroborated by seven arrests in the case, including that of a police officer.

Dutroux and his counsel consistently alleged that he had abducted and abused girls with police help as part of a child trafficking and abuse network connected to the elite of the Belgian establishment during his criminal proceedings. The claims were discussed by The Washington Post, which also noted that police had said Dutroux was part of a child-prostitution ring that may also have been responsible for several other disappearances still unsolved. Reporters wrote that Dutroux’s “gang” allegedly offered to buy young victims for $5,000 apiece.

Accomplice Michel Nihoul

Dutroux also claimed that Belgian businessman Michel Nihoul had been his accomplice and was his link with a larger criminal enterprise. Nihoul was charged in relation to the case with “kidnapping, rape, conspiracy, and drug offenses,” among a total of 13 people who were charged in connection with the Dutroux case. Nihoul was acquitted of charges connected to kidnappping, but was convicted of participating in a ring that trafficked drugs and people into Belgium.

Nihoul had expressed confidence to The Guardian after charges were initially brought against him, saying that the case would never come to court because he had “information about important people in Belgium that could bring the government down.” During the interview Nihoul boasted, calling himself the monster of Belgium. His allusion to sexual blackmail material paralleled Marc Dutroux’s allegations during court proceedings that Nihoul was connected to a network of powerful child abusers.

According to the BBC,  investigators believed that Dutroux and Nihoul were both part of a larger human trafficking network: “Investigators believe Dutroux and Nihoul were planning a long distance prostitution trafficking network involving cars and the import of girls from Slovakia…” Fox News reported on the reaction of the mother of one of Dutroux’s victims, who said: “This has confirmed what I thought: They worked together… the recognition of this is a relief.”

Nihoul’s conviction for trafficking drugs and people begs the question as to who else may have been involved in the network. Nihoul’s statement that he could  “bring the government down” implied his criminal activities included ties with influential individuals, which echoed statements made by Marc Dutroux.

Witnesses in the case identified Nihoul as a violent man who attended orgies where children were sexually abused, tortured and sometimes killed with members of the establishment present. The first judge in the case, Jean-MarcConnerotte, believed “Nihoul was the brains behind the operation,” The Guardian reported. The Telegraph reported that Dutroux’s lawyers had alluded to horrific claims of a “satanic cult” that included child sacrifice. 

There were over 800 mentions of Nihoul in the WikiLeaks dossier, published in 2009. The notes record the presence of a photo of Nihoul with various political figures,” as well as a statement by Dutroux that: “Nihoul proposed to reduce [traffick] girls from Eastern countries.”

Descriptions of Dutroux in the dossier include his request of help from his brother in pushing a car laden with bodies into a canal. This instance was one of many observations in the dossier which strongly suggest that Dutroux and Nihoul were involved in more crimes than those for which they were charged, and that there may have been additional unknown accomplices in these acts. That these potential links were not investigated fueled public outrage at the failure of the Belgian judicial process.

WikiLeaks’ Information 

In 2009, WikiLeaks provided further information regarding the case via their publication of the Dutroux Dossier.” Belgian authorities later attempted – unsuccessfully – to force WikiLeaks to remove the Belgian dossier. Threats to sue WikiLeaks came amid the media firestorm in the wake of WikiLeaks’ publication of the Iraq War Logs, and the revelation of U.S. military human rights abuses.

WikiLeaks summarized the Dutroux case: “Dutroux was a figure in the European criminal underworld and the case had connections to other underworld figures, to police corruption and from there to Belgium political figures.” This case then, is unique in having been documented twice over, first in a contorted legal record and secondarily by a publisher with a flawless record for accuracy. 

WikiLeaks’ Dutroux dossier also shows large financial transactions, maps of numerous European countries, and the presence of international currencies including that of Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The dossier shows payments of hundreds of thousands of francs to Michelle Martin, Dutroux’s then-wife, and to Dutroux’s personal bank account. It appears to be a reasonable inference from these documents that Marc Dutroux and Michel Nihoul were not acting alone in their criminal enterprises. Much as in the lack of analysis of DNA material recovered from Dutroux’s basement, the lack of investigation into Marc Dutroux’s financial connections increased frustration over an appallingly inefficient legal procedure.

Marc Dutroux was as an electrician living on social security benefits during the time of the crimes, but nonetheless owned 10 houses. The New York Times wrote on this point: “…After several of the disappearances, Mr. Dutroux paid large sums of money into several bank accounts…Within four years of being released early from jail, where he had served time for rape and kidnapping, Mr. Dutroux — whose only official income was a welfare check — was worth an estimated 6 million francs, suggesting to investigators that he was acting for others higher up in a pedophile and prostitution ring.”

Mysterious Deaths

The investigation was also mired by an unusually high number of deaths in relation to the scandal. These included the son of a judge, police officers, and even the chief prosecutor overseeing the case.

The Guardian reported: “Since [Dutroux’s] arrest, twenty potential witnesses connected with the case have died in mysterious circumstances, fueling suspicions of a cover-up reaching the highest levels.” The Guardian added that important evidence had also disappeared.

The New York Times reported on the death of Hubert Massa, who served as the chief prosecuting attorney in Liege, and was in charge of the investigation into the alleged pedophile murders committed by Marc Dutroux. Massa was also the lead investigator of the 1991 gangland-style slaying of Andre Cools, the Socialist party boss in Wallonia. Massa’s death during the Dutroux case was termed a suicide by his superior Anne Thily. The main suspect in the Cools case also committed suicide.

Revelations of corruption resulting from Cools’ death led to the disgrace of Willy Claes, a Belgian statesman and secretary-general of NATO. Claes resigned from his leadership position after he was found guilty of corruption. The witness in the Dutroux investigation known as X3 further identified Willy Claes as one of those present during alleged torture, sexual abuse and murder of children. The Washington Post also speculated that there may have been a connection between the Cools case and that of Dutroux.

The New York Times reported on the death of the son of a police officer involved with investigating Dutroux: “Judge Poncelet’s son, a police officer, was involved in another case in which Mr. Dutroux was implicated. He was investigating the trafficking of stolen cars in 1996 when he was shot and killed in an unsolved murder.”

The Irish Times and other media noted strange deaths among witnesses tied to the Dutroux case, describing how Bruno Tagliaferro, a scrap merchant who planned to testify against Dutroux, was poisoned, and his wife was burned to death in her bed. A sex club owner associated with Nihoul was also shot to death.

Jean Van Peteghem was yet another death associated with the investigation; he had spoken to authorities regarding his involvement with Marc Dutroux. According to European reports, he died when his moped crashed into a bus. Dutroux also admitted murdering an accomplice, Bernard Weinstein. The many deaths surrounding the Dutroux scandal fueled concerns that Dutroux was part of a larger pedophile network that had gone unpunished.

Beacons of Hope

Despite these allegations, there were some who stood out as beacons of hope in the mind of the Belgian populace. Judge Connerotte, the original judge in the Dutroux investigation, was widely perceived as a hero in Belgium because his actions had resulted in the release of two girls; Sabine Dardenne, 12, and Laetitia Delhez, 14, from Dutroux’s dungeon. The Telegraph reported Sabine had been chained by the neck for 79 days and raped repeatedly. Despite having saved Sabine and Laetitia, Connerotte was removed from the case by the Belgian judiciary for what was labeled conflict of interest after he shared a meal at a fundraiser for the victim’s families. 

Statements made by the well-loved judge in the wake of his removal provided additional indications of deep corruption connected to the organized trafficking, rape and murder of children. Media reports described Connerotte’s statements in court, where he said “high-level murder plots” had stopped his investigation into a “child-sex mafia.” 

Connerotte further described his belief that mafia groups had seized control of the “key institutions of the country.” Connerotte discussed the information which was later published by WikiLeaks: “The file talks of seizure of children, foreign trafficking, and perhaps even of cells… The sum of 150,000 francs [£2,500] was mentioned as the price for girls. I was struck by the richness of these documents.”

That the well-liked judge responsible for the release of Dutroux’s only surviving victims would make such explosive statements regarding the case, illustrates the seriousness of the corruption surrounding the scandal, and explains the degree to which the Belgian public was affected by such stark revelations of Dutroux’s crimes as well as the procedural abuses which had allowed him to commit them with near impunity and which failed to investigate his alleged accomplices.

Adding to public frustration was the revelation that another judge in the case, Van Espen, had personal ties to Michel Nihoul. The Guardian reported that as a lawyer, Van Espen had represented Nihau’s wife and Van Espen’s sister was the godmother of Nihoul’s child. Despite this, The Guardian reported, Van Espen did not resign from the case until his relationship with Nihoul was publicly revealed in 1998, years into the investigation.

That Connerotte was removed while Van Espen had been allowed to remain on the case was yet another source of ire for the Belgian populace.

This corruption was yet again exposed when Marc Verwilghen, chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into the Dutroux case, reported attempts to stifle their investigation into how the case had been handled.  Verwilghen eventually publishing a book which claimed that the commission’s findings had been muzzled by political and judicial leaders to prevent the revelation of details which would have implicated the complicity of additional perpetrators.

That allegations of corruption and abuse made by the initial judge in the Dutroux case would be corroborated by the chair of the parliamentary inquiry into the botched case suggests to some extent the depth of corruption surrounding the investigation. The case was so deeply mishandled that it was reported to have inspired a complete “crisis of public confidence in the Belgian government.”

René Michaux, a police officer, was principally noted to have epitomized the mishandling of the case. Michaux had failed to properly analyze videotapes which were confiscated from Dutroux that would have revealed his involvement in rape and constructing cells in which the kidnapped girls were kept. Hundreds of the tapes were not processed, some were even returned to Dutroux. 

Michaux was additionally condemned in the eyes of the public for having ignored the sound of children screaming when he visited Dutroux’s home. Belgian police admitted this inaction resulted in the death of two of Dutroux’s victims. Despite such extreme incompetence, Marchaux received a promotion to the position of police commissioner before his death in 2009. Marchaux’s promotion was viewed by many to have implied rewards for compliance in a deeply corrupt legal system that simultaneously punished those who acted on behalf of victims, as had Judge Connerotte.

Corruption allegations were further fueled by the words of Anne Thilly, the prosecutor general of Liege, who claimed  bodies recovered from Dutroux’s property were too decomposed to perform DNA analysis. However, the BBC reported that: “… Autopsy states quite clearly that the bodies were not decomposed. Samples were taken. It is just that no one seems to know what has happened to the results…. Why… were the hairs which detectives gathered from the dungeon in Dutroux’s cellar never sent for DNA analysis?” This blatantly corrupt or incompetent process increased the gall of the Belgian public. 

‘X-witness’ Accounts

Numerous women, codenamed X-witnesses,” spoke to investigators working on the Dutroux case, claiming to have suffered horrific abuses at the hands of a criminal network linked to Dutroux and Nihoul, which had abused children in order to blackmail members of the Belgian establishment. According to BBC, the X- witnesses placed Nihoul and Dutroux at the scene of torture, rape and murder of multiple children along with other elite figures. Nihoul was also accused producing snuff films. The number of witnesses eventually reached to X9, according to a BBC documentary on the case.

The New York Times also reported on the book “The X-Files: What Belgium Was Not Supposed to Know About the Dutroux Affair,” which extensively documented the X-witnesses’ testimony:  “The book draws copiously from police files, transcriptions of the X-witnesses’ evidence, the findings of a parliamentary commission and other sources. Even if the way the X-witnesses testified seemed irrational, the authors say, many of the facts they described stand up to scrutiny.”

The first and most well-known victim to come forward was codenamed “X1,” her real identity later revealed in the press as Regina Louf. The BBC described Louf’s testimony: “It was big business – blackmail – there was a lot of money involved… sessions were secretly filmed without the clients’ knowledge.” The Guardian described Louf’s haunting allegations: “This ‘entertainment’ was not just sex… It involved sadism, torture and even murder, and again she described the places, the victims and the ways they were killed. One of the regular organizers of these parties, she claimed, was the man she knew as ‘Mich’, Jean Michel Nihoul, ‘a very cruel man. He abused children in a very sadistic way’, she said. Also there, she said, was the young Dutroux.”

The New York Times also noted: “[Louf spoke of] having been sold into prostitution by her grandmother and later introduced into a circle of orgies at which… she had seen young children tortured and murdered. The other X-witnesses, one of whom worked for the police, told similar stories of childhood abuse, and described hunts at which children were chased through woods with Dobermans. Mr. De Baets… had each of [Louf’s] statements checked out, and discovered that she had inexplicably detailed knowledge of the unsolved murders of two young women in the 1980s that supported the thesis of a conspiracy.”

As noted by The New York Times, Louf’s testimony was regarded as remarkably accurate, to the point that she was able to correctly describe the scene of an unsolved murder. The BBC reported Louf’s detailed testimony had included details of names and locations where members of the establishment had engaged in violent orgies with children; Louf alleged that Michel Nihoul was a regular participant in events. Louf also claimed that children had been raped, tortured, and murdered during the fetid gatherings, with the crimes often filmed for blackmail purposes.

The Guardian described Louf’s accuracy: “At least one of the murders she described matched an unsolved case… What Louf had described was a macabre torture which had eventually killed a 15-year-old girl she knew as Chrissie. ‘It was a sort of bondage,’ she told me, ‘so her legs and her hands and her throat were connected with the same rope, and so when she moved she strangled herself.’ ”

Further verifying the veracity of Louf’s description, The Guardian wrote that the scene of the murder she claimed to have witnessed occurred in an underground mushroom farm. The report states that the son of the former owner of the location had stated, “I have never met Regina Louf. All I know is that she could not have described the house as well as she did unless she’d been there… It would be impossible to invent it.” Louf’s struggle to speak out on the horrific abuses she claimed to have experienced and witnessed ultimately failed. Investigators who believed her testimony to be credible were removed from the investigation, and her real identity was leaked to the press.

After Louf’s identity was made public, her reputation was systematically destroyed. The BBC wrote that after her identity became known, a government-owned TV station RTBF began a campaign “designed to prove that Dutroux was an ‘isolated pervert’ kidnapping girls for himself, that there was no network, that Jean Michel Nihoul was innocent and Regina Louf was a liar.” After this point, the public effectively gave up struggling to find real justice for Dutroux’s victims. To protest systemic corruption was to be associated with insanity, and so outrage was morphed by shame into heavy silence. For years, the only answer to the known and unknown victims of Dutroux was the same: a resounding silence.

Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Consortium News.

This article first appeared on Disobedient Media.




New York Times Admits it Sent Story to Government for Approval

The American paper of record just provided a major example of the symbiotic relationship between U.S. corporate media and the government, Ben Norton writes for Grayzone.By Ben Norton
Grayzone

The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sent a story to the U.S. government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.

This confirms what veteran New York Times correspondents such as James Risen have said: The American newspaper of record regularly collaborates with the U.S. government, suppressing reporting that top officials don’t want made public.

On June 15, the Times reported that the U.S. government is escalating its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. According to the article, “the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively,” as part of a larger “digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.”

In response to the report, President Donald Trump attacked the Times on Twitter, calling the article “a virtual act of Treason.”

The New York Times’ PR office replied to Trump from its official Twitter account, defending the story and noting that it had, in fact, been cleared with the U.S. government before being printed.

“Accusing the press of treason is dangerous,” the Times communications team said. “We described the article to the government before publication.”

“As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns,” the Times added.

Indeed, the Times report on the escalating American cyberattacks against Russia is attributed to “current and former [US] government officials.” The scoop in fact came from these apparatchiks, not from a leak or the dogged investigation of an intrepid reporter.

‘Real’ Journalists Get Approval

The neoliberal self-declared Resistance jumped on Trump’s reckless accusation of treason (the Democratic Coalition, which boasts, “We help run #TheResistance,” responded by calling Trump “Putin’s puppet”). The rest of the corporate media went wild.

But what was entirely overlooked was the most revealing thing in The New York Times’ statement: The newspaper of record was essentially admitting that it has a symbiotic relationship with the government.

In fact, some prominent American pundits have gone so far as to insist that this symbiotic relationship is precisely what makes someone a journalist.

In May, neoconservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen — a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — declared that WikiLeaks publisher and political prisoner Julian Assange is “not a journalist;” rather, he is a “spy” who “deserves prison.” (Thiessen also once called Assange the devil.”)

What was the Post columnist’s rationale for revoking Assange’s journalistic credentials?

Unlike “reputable news organizations, Assange did not give the U.S. government an opportunity to review the classified information WikiLeaks was planning to release so they could raise national security objections,” Thiessen wrote. “So responsible journalists have nothing to fear.”

In other words, this former U.S. government speechwriter turned corporate media pundit insists that collaborating with the government, and censoring your reporting to protect “national security,” is definitionally what makes you a journalist.

This is the express ideology of the American commentariat.

NYT Editors ‘Quite Willing’ to Cooperate

The symbiotic relationship between the U.S. corporate media and the government has been known for some time. American intelligence agencies play the press like a musical instrument, using it to selectively leak information at opportune moments to push U.S. soft power and advance Washington’s interests.

But rarely is this symbiotic relationship so casually and publicly acknowledged.

In 2018, former New York Times reporter James Risen published a 15,000-word article in The Intercept providing further insight into how this unspoken alliance operates.

Risen detailed how his editors had been “quite willing to cooperate with the government.” In fact, a top CIA official even told Risen that his rule of thumb for approving a covert operation was, “How will this look on the front page of the New York Times?”

There is an “informal arrangement” between the state and the press, Risen explained, where U.S. government officials “regularly engaged in quiet negotiations with the press to try to stop the publication of sensitive national security stories.”

“At the time, I usually went along with these negotiations,” the former New York Times   reporter said. He recalled an example of a story he was writing on Afghanistan just prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Then-CIA Director George Tenet called Risen personally and asked him to kill the story.

“He told me the disclosure would threaten the safety of the CIA officers in Afghanistan,” Risen said. “I agreed.”

Risen said he later questioned whether or not this was the right decision. “If I had reported the story before 9/11, the CIA would have been angry, but it might have led to a public debate about whether the United States was doing enough to capture or kill bin Laden,” he wrote. “That public debate might have forced the CIA to take the effort to get bin Laden more seriously.”

This dilemma led Risen to reconsider responding to U.S. government requests to censor stories. “And that ultimately set me on a collision course with the editors at The New York Times,” he said.

“After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration began asking the press to kill stories more frequently,” Risen continued. “They did it so often that I became convinced the administration was invoking national security to quash stories that were merely politically embarrassing.”

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Risen frequently “clashed” with Times editors because he raised questions about the U.S. government’s lies. His stories “raising questions about the intelligence, particularly the administration’s claims of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, were being cut, buried, or held out of the paper altogether.”

The Times’ executive editor Howell Raines “was believed by many at the paper to prefer stories that supported the case for war,” Risen said.

In another anecdote, the former Times journalist recalled a scoop he had uncovered on a botched CIA plot. The Bush administration got wind of it and called him to the White House, where then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice ordered the Times to bury the story.

Risen said Rice told him “to forget about the story, destroy my notes, and never make another phone call to discuss the matter with anyone.”

“The Bush administration was successfully convincing the press to hold or kill national security stories,” Risen wrote. And the Barack Obama administration subsequently accelerated the “war on the press.”

CIA Infiltration and Manufacturing Consent

In their renowned study of U.S. media, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky articulated a “propaganda model,” showing how “the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them,” through “the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.”

But in some cases, the relationship between U.S. intelligence agencies and the corporate media is not just one of mere ideological policing, indirect pressure, or friendship, but rather one of employment.

In the 1950s, the CIA launched a covert operation called Project Mockingbird, in which it surveilled, influenced, and manipulated American journalists and media coverage, explicitly in order to direct public opinion against the Soviet Union, China, and the growing international communist movement.

Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, a former Washington Postreporter who helped uncover the Watergate scandal, published a major cover story for Rolling Stone in 1977 titled The CIA and the Media: How America’s Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up.”

Bernstein obtained CIA documents that revealed that more than 400 American journalists in the previous 25 years had “secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Bernstein wrote: “Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services — from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go?betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”

Virtually all major U.S. media outlets cooperated with the CIA, Bernstein revealed, including ABC, NBC, the AP, UPI, Reuters, Newsweek, Hearst newspapers, The Miami Herald, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Herald Tribune.

However, he added, “By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with The New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.”

These layers of state manipulation, censorship, and even direct crafting of the news media show that, as much as they claim to be independent, The New York Times and other outlets effectively serve as de facto spokespeople for the government — or at least for the U.S. national security state.

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebels podcast,” which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

This article is from Grayzone.




A USS Liberty’s Hero’s Passing

On the 52nd anniversary of the attack on the USS Liberty, Ray McGovern focuses on Terry Halbardier, who sent the SOS that saved the ship from Israeli destruction. 

This article was written in 2014 on the occasion of Halbardier’s death. 

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Terry Halbardier, who as a 23-year old seaman in 1967 thwarted Israeli attempts to sink the USS Liberty, died on Aug. 11 in Visalia, California. It took the U.S. government 42 years after the attack to recognize Halbardier’s heroism by awarding him the Silver Star, a delay explained by Washington’s determination to downplay Israeli responsibility for the 34 Americans killed and the 174 wounded.

On June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israeli military attacked the USS Liberty, an American spy ship which had been monitoring Israeli transmissions about the conflict. Intercepted Israeli communications indicated that the goal was to sink the Liberty and leave no survivors.

Warplanes and torpedo boats had already killed 34 and wounded 174, when Halbardier slid over the Liberty’s napalm-glazed deck to jury-rig an antenna and get an SOS off to the Sixth Fleet.  The Israelis intercepted the SOS and broke off the attack immediately. In effect, Halbardier prevented the massacre of all 294 onboard. Still, the infamy of the attack on the Liberty was two-fold.

First, the Liberty, a virtually defenseless intelligence collection platform prominently flying an American flag in international waters, came under deliberate attack by Israeli aircraft and three 60-ton Israeli torpedo boats off the coast of the Sinai on a cloudless June afternoon during the six-day Israeli-Arab war. Second, President Lyndon Johnson called back carrier aircraft dispatched to defend the Liberty lest Israel be embarrassed, the start of an unconscionable cover-up, including top Navy brass, that persists to this day.

Given all they have been through, the Liberty survivors and other veterans who joined Halbardier to celebrate his belated receipt of the Silver Star on May 27, 2009 can be forgiven for having doubted that the day of the hero’s recognition would ever come.

In the award ceremony at the Visalia (California) office of Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman pinned the Silver Star next to the Purple Heart that Halbardier found in his home mailbox three years ago. Nunes said, “The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent he [Halbardier] needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country.”

Nunes got that right. Despite the many indignities the Liberty crew has been subjected to, the mood in Visalia was pronouncedly a joyous one of Better (42 years) Late Than Never. And, it did take some time for the moment to sink in: Wow, a gutsy congressman not afraid to let the truth hang out on this delicate issue.

Treatment Accorded the Skipper

I was present that day and I could not get out of my head the contrast between this simple, uncomplicated event and the earlier rigmarole that senior Navy officers went through to pin a richly deserved Medal of Honor on another hero of that day, the Liberty’s skipper, Captain William McGonagle.

Although badly wounded by Israeli fire on June 8, 1967, McGonagle was able to keep the bombed, torpedoed, napalmed Liberty afloat and limping toward Malta, where what was left of the bodies of the 34 crewmen killed and the 174 wounded could be attended to. Do the math: yes, killed and wounded amounted to more than two-thirds of the Liberty crew of 294.

I remembered what a naval officer involved in McGonagle’s award ceremony told one of the Liberty crew: “The government is pretty jumpy about Israelthe State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal.”

When McGonagle received his award, the White House (the normal venue for a Medal of Honor award) was all booked up, it seems, and President Lyndon Johnson (who would have been the usual presenter) was unavailable.

So it fell to the Secretary of the Navy to sneak off to the Washington Navy Yard on the banks of the acrid Anacostia River, where he presented McGonagle with the Medal of Honor and a citation that described the attack but not the identity of the attackers.

Please don’t misunderstand. The Liberty crew is not big on ceremony. They are VERY-not-big on politicians who wink when Navy comrades are killed and wounded at sea. The Liberty survivors are big on getting the truth out about what actually happened that otherwise beautiful day in June 1967.

The award of the Silver Star to Terry Halbardier marked a significant step in the direction of truth telling. Halbardier said he accepted his Silver Star on behalf of the entire 294-man crew. He and fellow survivor Don Pageler expressed particular satisfaction at the wording of the citation, which stated explicitly — with none of the usual fudging — the identity of the attackers: “The USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats in the East Mediterranean Sea.”

In the past, official citations, like Captain McGonagle’s, had avoided mentioning Israel by name when alluding to the attack. I think former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck put it best in condemning this kind of approach as “obsequious, unctuous subservience to the peripheral interests of a foreign nation at the cost of the lives and morale of our own service members and their families.”  Strong words for a diplomat. But right on.

Just a Guy From Texas

Were it not for Halbardier’s bravery, ingenuity, and technical expertise, the USS Liberty would surely have sunk, taking down much if not all of the crew.

You see, the first thing the Israeli aircraft bombed and strafed were the Liberty’s communications antennae and other equipment. They succeeded in destroying all the antennae that were functional. One antenna on the port side, though, had been out of commission and had escaped damage.

In receiving the Silver Star, Halbardier made light of his heroism, claiming that he was just a guy from Texas who could do a whole lot with simple stuff like baling wire. (In the infantry we called this kind of thing a “field expedient.”)

In any case, with his can-do attitude and his technical training, he figured he might be able to get that particular antenna working again. But first he would have to repair a cable that had been destroyed on deck and then connect the antenna to a transmitter.

The deck was still being strafed, but Halbardier grabbed a reel of cable, ran out onto the deck, and attached new cable to the antenna so a radioman could get an SOS out to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

Voila. “Mayday” went out; almost immediately the Israeli aircraft and torpedo ships broke off the attack and went back to base; the Israeli government sent a quick apology to Washington for its unfortunate “mistake;” and President Johnson issued orders to everyone to make believe the Israelis were telling the truth, or at least to remain silent.

To their discredit, top Navy brass went along, and the Liberty survivors were threatened with court martial and prison if they so much as mentioned to their wives what had actually happened. They were enjoined as well from discussing it with one another.

As Liberty crewman Don Pageler put it, “We all headed out after that, and we didn’t talk to each other.” The circumstances were ready-made for serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The stories shared by Liberty survivors after the award ceremony, including descriptions of the macabre but necessary effort to reassemble torpedoed body parts, and the plague of survivor’s guilt, were as heart-rending as any I have heard. They are stories that should be shared more widely for those muzzled far too long.

These were the deep emotional scars to supplement the ones all over Halbardier’s body, some of which he uncovered when asked by the local press gathered there in Visalia. Typically, Halbardier made light of the shrapnel that had to be plucked out of his flesh, emphasizing that he was lucky compared to some of the other crew.

No Mistake

Despite Israeli protestations, the accumulated evidence, including intercepted voice communications, is such that no serious observer believes Israel’s “Oops” excuse of a terrible mistake. The following exchanges are excerpts of testimony from U.S. military and diplomatic officials given to Alison Weir, founder of “If Americans Knew” and author of American Media Miss the Boat:

Israeli pilot to ground control: “This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?”

Ground control: “Yes, follow orders.”

“But sir, it’s an American ship, I can see the flag!”

Ground control: “Never mind; hit it!”

Haviland Smith, a CIA officer stationed in Beirut during the Six-Day War, says he was told that the transcripts were “deep-sixed,” because the U.S. government did not want to embarrass Israel.

Equally telling is the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) destroyed voice tapes seen by many intelligence analysts, showing that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing. I asked a former CIA colleague, who was also an analyst at that time, what he remembered of those circumstances. Here is his e-mail reply:

“The chief of the analysts studying the Arab-Israeli region at the time told me about the intercepted messages and said very flatly and firmly that the pilots reported seeing the American flag and repeated their requests of confirmation of the attack order. Whole platoons of Americans saw those intercepts. If NSA now says they do not exist, then someone ordered them destroyed.”

One need hardly add at this point that the destruction of evidence without investigation is an open invitation to repetition in the future. Think the more recent torture-interrogation videotapes.

As for the legal side: the late Captain Ward Boston, unburdened himself on his accomplice role as the Navy lawyer appointed as senior counsel to Adm. Isaac Kidd, who led a one-week (!) investigation and then followed orders to pronounce the attack on the Liberty a case of “mistaken identity.” Boston signed a formal declaration on Jan. 8, 2004, in which he said he was “outraged at the efforts of the apologists for Israel in this country to claim that this attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’” Boston continued:

“The evidence was clear. Both Adm. Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew Not only did the Israelis attack the ship with napalm, gunfire, and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded, a war crime

“I know from personal conversations I had with Adm. Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

W. Patrick Lang, Col., USA (ret.), who was the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top analyst for the Middle East for eight years, recounted the Israeli air attacks as follows: “The flight leader spoke to his base to report that he had the ship in view, that it was the same ship he had been briefed on, and that it was clearly marked with the U.S. flag

“The flight commander was reluctant. That was very clear. He didn’t want to do this. He asked them a couple of times, ‘Do you really want me to do this?’ I’ve remembered it ever since. It was very striking. I’ve been harboring this memory for all these years.”

Lang, of course, is not alone. So too Terry Halbardier, who told those assembled at his Silver Medal award ceremony, “I think about it [the attack on the Liberty] every day.”

Why Sink the Ship?

What we know for sure is, as the independent commission headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Thomas Moorer put it, the attack “was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew.”

What we do not know for sure is why the Israelis wanted that done. Has no one dared ask the Israelis? One view is that the Israelis did not want the United States to find out they were massing troops to seize the Golan Heights from Syria and wanted to deprive the U.S. of the opportunity to argue against such a move.

James Bamford offers an alternative view in his excellent book, Body of Secrets. Bamford adduces evidence, including reporting from an Israeli journalist eyewitness and an Israeli military historian, of wholesale killing of Egyptian prisoners of war at the coastal town of El Arish in the Sinai.

The Liberty was patrolling directly opposite El Arish in international waters but within easy range to pick up intelligence on what was going on there. And the Israelis were well aware of that. But the important thing here is not to confuse what we know (the deliberate nature of the Israeli attack) with the ultimate purpose behind it, which remains open to speculation.

Also worth noting is the conventional wisdom prevalent in our Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) that Egypt forced Israel into war in June 1967. An excellent, authoritative source has debunked that, none other than former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin! In an unguarded moment in 1982, when he was prime minister, he admitted publicly:

“In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Thus, the Israeli attack admittedly amounted to starting a war of aggression, and the occupied West Bank territories and the Golan Heights gained by the Israelis in the 1967 war remain occupied to this day. The post World War II tribunal at Nuremberg distinguished a “war of aggression” from other war crimes, terming it the “supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Perhaps the attempt to sink the Liberty and finish off all survivors qualifies as one of those accumulated evils. Terry Halbardier summed it up this way when he was awarded his Silver Star:  “There’s lots of theories but let’s just say they didn’t want us listening in to what they wanted to do.”

Getting Away With Murder

In sum, on June 8, 1967, the Israeli government learned that it could get away with murder, literally, and the crime would be covered up, so strong is the influence of the Israel Lobby in our Congress, and indeed, in the White House. And those USS Liberty veterans who survived well enough to call for an independent investigation have been hit with charges of, you guessed it, anti-Semitism.

Does all this have relevance today? Of course. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that there is little that Israel could do that would earn the opprobrium of the U.S. Congress or retaliation from the White House, whether it’s building illegal settlements or slaughtering civilians in Gaza. The Israelis seem convinced they remain in the catbird’s seat, largely because of the Israel Lobby’s influence with U.S. lawmakers and opinion makers.

One of the few moments when a U.S. official has had the audacity to face Israel down came from significantly a U.S. Navy admiral. In early July 2008, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was sent to Israel to read the riot act to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who seemed to be itching to start hostilities with Iran while President George W. Bush was in office.

We learned from the Israeli press that Mullen, fearing some form of Israeli provocation, went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident like the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, that the Israelis should disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if Israel somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran.

This is the only occasion I am aware of in which a U.S. official of such seniority braced Israel about the Liberty incident. A gutsy move, especially with Vice President Dick Cheney and national security aide Elliott Abrams then in the White House, two hawks who might well bless, or even encourage, an Israeli provocation that would make it very difficult for Washington to avoid springing to the defense of its “ally.”

The Israelis know that Mullen knows that the attack on the Liberty was deliberate.  Mullen could have raised no more neuralgic an issue to take a shot across an Israeli bow than to cite the attack on the Liberty. The Jerusalem Post reported that Mullen cautioned that a Liberty-type incident must be avoided in any future military actions in the Middle East.

Perhaps Mullen had learned something from the heroism of Terry Halbardier

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. After serving as an Army infantry/intelligence officer, he spent a 27-year career as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




What the Latest Secret Government File Says About UK Middle East Policy

Mark Curtis details why a 1941 document might still be so sensitive in 2019 that the British government is refusing to release it. 

By Mark Curtis
British Foreign Policy Declassified

The British government is refusing to release a 1941 file on Palestine, as it might “undermine the security” of Britain and its citizens.

Why would a 78-year-old document be seen as so sensitive in 2019? One plausible reason is that it could embarrass the British government in its relations with Israel and Iraq, and may concern a long but hidden theme in British foreign policy: creating false pretexts for military intervention.

The Colonial Office document, at the National Archives in London, was uncovered by journalist Tom Suarez and concerns the “activities of the Grand Mufti [Haj Amin al-Husseini] of Jerusalem” in 1940-41.

After the assassination of Lewis Andrews, British district commissioner for Galilee, in September 1937, the British Government dismissed al-Husseini from his post as president of the Supreme Muslim Council and decided to arrest all members of the Arab Higher Committee, including Husseini.

He took refuge in the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif), fled to Jaffa and then Lebanon, and ended up in Iraq, where he played a role in the Iraqi national anti-British movement.

He spent the Second World War moving between Berlin and Rome and took part in the propaganda war against Britain and France through Arabic radio broadcasts.

Plan to ‘Clip the Mufti’s Wings’

In April 1941, nationalist army officers known as the Golden Square staged a coup in Iraq, overthrowing the pro-British regime, and signaled they were prepared to work with German and Italian intelligence. In response, the British embarked on a military campaign and eventually crushed the coup leaders two months later.

But Suarez discovered in the files that the British were already wanting such a “military occupation of Iraq” by November 1940 — well before the Golden Square coup gave them a pretext for doing so.

The reason was that Britain wanted to end “the mufti’s intrigues with the Italians.” One file notes: “We may be able to clip the mufti’s wings when we can get a new government in Iraq. FO [Foreign Office] are working on this.” Suarez notes that a prominent thread in the British archive is: “How to effect a British coup without further alienating ‘the Arab world’ in the midst of the war, beyond what the empowering of Zionism had already done.”

As British troops closed in on Baghdad, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom rocked the city, killing more than 180 Jewish Iraqis and destroying the homes of hundreds of members of the Jewish community who had lived in Iraq for centuries. The Farhud (violent dispossession) has been described as the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, the brutal pogrom against Jews carried out in Nazi Germany three years earlier.

There have long been claims that these riots were condoned or even orchestrated by the British to blacken the nationalist regime and justify Britain’s return to power in Baghdad and ongoing military occupation of Iraq.

Historian Tony Rocca noted: “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence, had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge.”

1953 Coup in Iran

Could this be the reason that U.K. censors want the file to remain secret after all these years? It would neither be the first, nor the last time that British planners used or created pretexts to justify their military interventions.

In 1953, the covert British and U.S. campaign to overthrow the elected nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran included a “false flag” element. Agents working for the British posed as supporters of the communist Tudeh party, engaging in activities such as throwing rocks at mosques and priests, in order to portray the demonstrating mobs as communists. The aim was to provide a pretext for the coup and the Shah of Iran’s taking control in the name of anti-communism.

Three years later, in 1956, Britain also secretly connived to create a pretext for its military intervention in Egypt. After Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and Britain sought to overthrow him, the British and French governments secretly agreed with Israel that the latter would first attack Egypt. Then, London and Paris would dispatch military forces on the pretext of separating the warring parties, and seize the canal. The plan went ahead but failed, largely owing to U.S. opposition.

Five years later, in 1961, it was a similar story in Kuwait. This little-known British intervention was publicly justified on the basis of an alleged threat from Iraq, but the declassified files that I have examined suggest that this “threat” was concocted by British planners. When Kuwait secured independence in June 1961, Britain was desperate to protect its oil interests and to solidify its commercial and military relations with the Kuwaiti regime. The files suggest that the British therefore needed to get the Kuwaitis to “ask” Britain for “protection.”

Kuwait Intervention

On June 25, 1961, Iraqi ruler Abdul Karim Qasim publicly claimed Kuwait as part of Iraq. Five days later, Kuwait’s emir formally requested British military intervention, and on  July 1, British forces landed, eventually numbering around 7,000.

But the alleged Iraqi threat to Kuwait never materialized. David Lee, who commanded the British air force in the Middle East in 1961, later wrote that the British government “did not contemplate aggression by Iraq very seriously.”

Indeed, the evidence suggests that the emir was duped into “requesting” intervention by the British, and his information on a possible Iraq move on Kuwait came almost exclusively from British sources. The files show that the “threat” to Kuwait was being pushed by the British embassy in Baghdad but contradicted by Britain’s consulate in Basra, near the Kuwaiti border, which reported no unusual troop movements.

British intervention was intended to reassure Kuwait and other friendly Middle Eastern regimes that were key to maintaining the British position in the world’s most important region. The prime minister’s foreign policy adviser said that letting go of Kuwait would have meant that “the other oil sheikhdoms (which are getting richer) will not rely on us any longer.”

By the time we reached the invasion of Iraq in 2003, creating false pretexts for interventions had become a familiar theme in British foreign policy.

Matter of Routine

To return to the 1941 document, British authorities have had a policy of either censoring, “losing” or destroying historical files that could undermine relations with current governments.

In 2012, an official review concluded that “thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments,” according to a report in The Guardian.

The files covered policies such as the abuse and torture of insurgents in Kenya in the 1950s, the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers in Malaya in 1948, and the army’s secret torture center in Aden in the 1960s.

Other papers have been hidden for decades in secret foreign office archives, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.

Whatever is in the 1941 document, if the British government is withholding its release for fear of upsetting relations with key allies, this would be less than surprising and more a matter of routine.

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 CollU.S. ion with Radical Islam.”

This article is from his website, British Foreign Policy Declassified.




The Real Bob Mueller

Robert Mueller Wednesday implied he would have indicted Donald Trump if he could have, resurrecting his saint-like status among Democrats who will now likely go for impeachment. But who is the real Bob Mueller? Ex-FBI official Coleen Rowley explained on June 6, 2017.

By Coleen Rowley
Special to Consortium News
June 6, 2017

Mainstream commentators display amnesia when they describe former FBI Directors Robert Mueller and James Comey as stellar and credible law enforcement figures. Perhaps if they included J. Edgar Hoover, such fulsome praise could be put into proper perspective.

Although these Hoover successors, now occupying center stage in the investigation of President Trump, have been hailed for their impeccable character by much of Official Washington, the truth is, as top law enforcement officials of the George W. Bush Administration (Mueller as FBI Director and James Comey as Deputy Attorney General), both presided over post-9/11 cover-ups and secret abuses of the Constitution, enabled Bush-Cheney fabrications used to launch wrongful wars, and exhibited plain vanilla incompetence.

TIME Magazine would probably have not called my own disclosures abombshell memo to the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry in May 2002 if it had not been for Mueller’s having so misled everyone after 9/11. Although he bore no personal responsibility for intelligence failures before the attack, since he only became FBI Director a week before, Mueller denied or downplayed the significance of warnings that had poured in yet were all ignored or mishandled during the Spring and Summer of 2001.

Bush Administration officials had circled the wagons and refused to publicly own up to what the 9/11 Commission eventually concluded, “that the system had been blinking red.” Failures to read, share or act upon important intelligence, which a FBI agent witness termed criminal negligence” in later trial testimony, were therefore not fixed in a timely manner. (Some failures were never fixed at all.)

Worse, Bush and Cheney used that post 9/11 period of obfuscation to “roll out” their misbegotten “war on terror,” which only served to exponentially increase worldwide terrorism.

Unfulfilled Promise

I wanted to believe Director Mueller when he expressed some regret in our personal meeting the night before we both testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told me he was seeking improvements and that I should not hesitate to contact him if I ever witnessed a similar situation to what was behind the FBI’s pre 9/11 failures.

A few months later, when it appeared he was acceding to Bush-Cheney’s ginning up intelligence to launch the unjustified, counterproductive and illegal war on Iraq, I took Mueller up on his offer, emailing him my concerns in late February 2003. Mueller knew, for instance, that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims connecting 9/11 to Iraq were bogus yet he remained quiet. He also never responded to my email.

Beyond ignoring politicized intelligence, Mueller bent to other political pressures. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mueller directed the “post 9/11 round-up” of about 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place (the New York City area) at the wrong time. FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially P.R. purposes. Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI “progress” in fighting terrorism. Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists.

A History of Failure

Long before he became FBI Director, serious questions existed about Mueller’s role as Acting U.S. Attorney in Boston in effectively enabling decades of corruption and covering up of the FBI’s illicit deals with mobster Whitey Bulger and other “top echelon” informants who committed numerous murders and crimes. When the truth was finally uncovered through intrepid investigative reporting and persistent, honest judges, U.S. taxpayers footed a $100 million court award to the four men framed for murders committed by (the FBI-operated) Bulger gang.

Current media applause omits the fact that former FBI Director Mueller was the top official in charge of the Anthrax terror fiasco investigation into those 2001 murders, which targeted an innocent man (Steven Hatfill) whose lawsuit eventually forced the FBI to pay $5 million in compensation. Mueller’s FBI was also severely criticized by Department of Justice Inspector Generals finding the FBI overstepped the law improperly serving hundreds of thousands of “national security letters” to obtain private (and irrelevant) metadata on citizens, and for infiltrating nonviolent anti-war groups under the guise of investigating “terrorism.”

For his part, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, too, went along with the abuses of Bush and Cheney after 9/11 and signed off on a number of highly illegal programs including warrantless surveillance of Americans and torture of captives. Comey also defended the Bush Administration’s three-year-long detention of an American citizen without charges or right to counsel.

Up to the March 2004 night in Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, both Comey and Mueller were complicit with implementing a form of martial law, perpetrated via secret Office of Legal Counsel memos mainly written by John Yoo and predicated upon Yoo’s singular theories of absolute “imperial” or “war presidency” powers, and requiring Ashcroft every 90 days to renew certification of a “state of emergency.”

The Comey/Mueller Myth

What’s not well understood is that Comey’s and Mueller’s joint intervention to stop Bush’s men from forcing the sick Attorney General to sign the certification that night was a short-lived moment. A few days later, they all simply went back to the drawing board to draft new legal loopholes to continue the same (unconstitutional) surveillance of Americans.

The mythology of this episode, repeated endlessly throughout the press, is that Comey and Mueller did something significant and lasting in that hospital room. They didn’t. Only the legal rationale for their unconstitutional actions was tweaked.

Mueller was even okay with the CIA conducting torture programs after his own agents warned against participation. Agents were simply instructed not to document such torture, and any “war crimes files” were made to disappear. Not only did “collect it all” surveillance and torture programs continue, but Mueller’s (and then Comey’s) FBI later worked to prosecute NSA and CIA whistleblowers who revealed these illegalities.

Neither Comey nor Mueller — who are reported to be joined at the hip” — deserve their current lionization among politicians and mainstream media. Instead of Jimmy Stewart-like “G-men” with reputations for principled integrity, the two close confidants and collaborators merely proved themselves, along with former CIA Director George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, reliably politicized sycophants, enmeshing themselves in a series of wrongful abuses of power along with official incompetence.

It seems clear that based on his history and close “partnership” with Comey, called “one of the closest working relationships the top ranks of the Justice Department have ever seen,” Mueller was chosen as Special Counsel not because he has integrity but because he will do what the powerful want him to do.

Mueller didn’t speak the truth about a war he knew to be unjustified. He didn’t speak out against torture. He didn’t speak out against unconstitutional surveillance. And he didn’t tell the truth about 9/11. He is just “their man.”

Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI special agent and division legal counsel whose May 2002 memo to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller exposed some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, was named one of TIME magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. Her 2003 letter to Robert Mueller in opposition to launching the Iraq War is archived in full text on the NYT and her 2013 op-ed entitled “Questions for the FBI Nominee” was published on the day of James Comey’s confirmation hearing. This piece will also be cross-posted on Rowley’s Huffington Post page.)

Relevant links:

http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20020603,00.html

http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Ch8.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/us/nationalspecial3/fbi-agent-testifies-superiors-didnt-pursue-moussaoui.html

http://www.truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/68973:the-iraq-effect-war-has-increased-terrorism-sevenfold-worldwide

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3322308/Number-people-killed-terrorists-worldwide-soars-80-just-year.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/05/politics/full-text-of-fbi-agents-letter-to-director-mueller.html

https://oig.justice.gov/special/0306/full.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/18/us/immigrants-suit-over-detention-after-9-11-is-revived.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/1970/01/19/one-lingering-question-for-fbi-director-robert-mueller/613uW0MR7czurRn7M4BG2J/story.html

http://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/21/comey-mueller-bungled-big-anthrax-case-together/

https://www.mintpressnews.com/anthrax-russiagate-muellers-special-counsel-appointment-raise-concern/228317/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/government_programs-jan-june07-patriotact_03-09/

http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/DOJ/story?id=4444329

https://www.aclu.org/news/fbi-counterterrorism-unit-spies-peaceful-faith-based-protest-group

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/opinion/questions-for-the-fbi-nominee.html

https://theintercept.com/2016/02/25/fbi-director-james-comey-who-signed-off-on-waterboarding-is-now-losing-sleep-over-an-iphone/

http://www.newsweek.com/ali-soufan-breaks-his-silence-77243

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/05/19/gregg-jarrett-why-robert-mueller-should-resign-as-special-counsel.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/10/want-a-special-prosecutor-to-replace-james-comey-history-might-change-your-mind/?utm_ter4091053795m

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/03/the-flawed-record-of-special-prosecutors-who-create-as-much-controversy-as-they-resolve/?utm_term=.29989d7a3635




The Real Mueller-Gate Scandal

Craig Murray blasts the special counsel for naming and condemning people without ever interviewing them.  

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool.

I did not comment instantly on the Mueller report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge — the leak of Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails to WikiLeaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1 percent having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1 percent, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the U.S. by party political boundaries, you are a fool.

On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.

Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney, a retired technical director at the National Security Agency, the $14 billion a year U.S. surveillance organization. He did not interview Julian Assange,  publisher of WikiLeaks. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless.

There has never been, by any U.S. law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.

That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying:

“Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.”

No Honest Policeman 

There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man. 

Two facts compound this failure. 

The first is the absolutely key word of Bill Binney, an acknowledged world leader in cyber surveillance who is infinitely more qualified than Crowdstrike. Binney states that the download rates for the “hack” given by Crowdstrike are at a speed — 41 megabytes per second — that could not even nearly be attained remotely at the location: thus the information must have been downloaded to a local device, eg a memory stick. Binney has further evidence regarding formatting that supports this. 

Mueller’s identification of “DC Leaks” and “Guccifer 2.0” as Russian security services is something Mueller attempts to carry off by simple assertion. Mueller shows DNC Leaks to have been the source of other, unclassified emails sent to WikiLeaks that had been obtained under a Freedom of Information request and then Mueller simply assumes, with no proof, the same route was used again for the leaked DNC material. His identification of the Guccifer 2.0 persona with Russian agents is so flimsy as to be laughable. Nor is there any evidence of the specific transfer of the leaked DNC emails from Guccifer 2.0 to WikiLleaks. Binney asserts that had this happened, the packets would have been instantly identifiable to the NSA. 

Bill Binney is not a “deplorable.” He is a former technical director of the NSA. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met him to hear his expertise on precisely this matter. Binney offered to give evidence to Mueller. Yet did Mueller call him as a witness? No. Binney’s voice is entirely unheard in the report. 

Mueller’s refusal to call Binney and consider his evidence was not the action of an honest man.

Vault 7 Release

The second vital piece of evidence we have is from WikiLeaks Vault 7 release of CIA material, in which the CIA themselves outline their capacity to “false flag” hacks, leaving behind misdirecting clues including scraps of foreign script and language. This is precisely what Crowdstrike claim to have found in the “Russian hacking” operation.

So here we have Mueller omitting the key steps of independent forensic examination of the DNC servers and hearing Bill Binney’s evidence. Yet this was not for lack of time. While deliberately omitting to take any steps to obtain evidence that might disprove the “Russian hacking” story, Mueller had boundless time and energy to waste in wild goose chases after totally non-existent links between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, including the fiasco of interviewing Roger Stone and Randy Credico. 

It is worth remembering that none of the charges against Americans arising from the Mueller inquiry have anything to do with Russian collusion or Trump-WikiLeaks collusion, which simply do not exist. The charges all relate to entirely extraneous matters dug up, under the extraordinary U.S. system of “justice,” to try to blackmail those charged with unrelated crimes turned up by the investigation, into fabricating evidence of Russian collusion. The official term for this process of blackmail is of course “plea-bargaining.”

Mueller has indicted 12 Russians he alleges are the GRU agents responsible for the “hack.” The majority of these turn out to be real people who, ostensibly, have jobs and lives which are nothing to do with the GRU. Mueller was taken aback when, rather than simply being in absentia, a number of them had representation in court to fight the charges. Mueller had to back down and ask for an immediate adjournment as soon as the case opened, while he fought to limit disclosure. His entire energies since on this case have been absorbed in submitting motions to limit disclosure, individual by individual, with the object of ensuring that the accused Russians can be convicted without ever seeing, or being able to reply to, the evidence against them. Which is precisely the same as his attitude to contrary evidence in his report.

Mueller’s failure to examine the servers or take Binney’s evidence pales into insignificance compared to his attack on Julian Assange. Based on no conclusive evidence, Mueller accuses Assange of receiving the emails from Russia. Most crucially, he did not give Assange any opportunity to answer his accusations. For somebody with Mueller’s background in law enforcement, declaring somebody in effect guilty, without giving them any opportunity to tell their side of the story, is plain evidence of malice. 

Inexplicably, for example, the Mueller report quotes a media report of Assange stating he had “physical proof” the material did not come from Russia, but Mueller simply dismisses this without having made any attempt at all to ask Assange himself. 

It is also particularly cowardly as Assange was and is held incommunicado with no opportunity to defend himself. Assange has repeatedly declared the material did not come from the Russian state or from any other state. He was very willing to give evidence to Mueller, which could have been done by video-link, by interview in the Ecuadorian embassy or by written communication. But as with Binney and as with the DNC servers, the entirely corrupt Mueller was unwilling to accept any evidence which might contradict his predetermined narrative.

‘Courier’ Ignored

Mueller’s section headed “The GRU’s Transfer of Stolen Material to Wikileaks” is a ludicrous farrago of internet contacts between WikiLeaks and persons not proven to be Russian, transferring material not proven to be the DNC leaks. It too is destroyed by Binney and so pathetic that, having pretended he had proven the case of internet transfer, Mueller then gives the game away by adding “The office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred by intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.” He names Andrew Muller-Maguhn as a possible courier. Yet again, he did not ask Muller-Maguhn to give evidence. Nor did he ask me, and I might have been able to help him on a few of these points.

To run an “investigation” with a pre-determined idea as to who are the guilty parties, and then to name and condemn those parties in a report, without hearing the testimony of those you are accusing, is a method of proceeding that puts the cowardly and corrupt Mueller beneath contempt.

Mueller gives no evidence whatsoever to back up his simple statement that Seth Rich was not the source of the DNC leak. He accuses Julian Assange of “dissembling” by referring to Seth Rich’s murder. It is an interesting fact that the U.S. security services have shown precisely the same level of interest in examining Seth Rich’s computers that they have shown in examining the DNC servers. It is also interesting that this murder features in a report of historic consequences like that of Mueller, yet has had virtually no serious resource put into finding the killer.

Mueller’s condemnation of Julian Assange for allegedly exploiting the death of Seth Rich, would be infinitely more convincing if the official answer to the question “who murdered Seth Rich?” was not “who cares?”

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. This article first appeared on his website.




Stefania Maurizi on How Julian Assange Changed Journalism

The Italian journalist and longtime media partner of WikiLeaks speaks with Dennis J. Bernstein and Randy Credico about the implications of Assange’s struggle against U.S. extradition. 

By Dennis J Bernstein and Randy Credico
KPFA Flashpoints 

Julian Assange was back in court twice last week, and will return to a high British court next month for the major legal battle of his life. It will determine whether the U.S. is allowed to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher to the U.S. for prosecution.

In the first of a series of extradition hearings on May 2, Assange appeared in court via video screen. He seemed composed and focused and ready to fight. He told the British High Court: “I do not wish to surrender for extradition. I’m a journalist winning many, many awards and protecting many people.” The next procedural hearing is scheduled for May 30 and another substantive hearing for early June.

Stefania Maurizi  is an investigative journalist for the Italian daily la Repubblica  and the author of two books; “Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani” and “Una Bomba, Dieci Storie.” She has for years worked closely with Assange on some of the most significant WikiLeaks releases including “Collateral Murder.” Maurizi also worked closely with Glenn Greenwald on the files about Italy of Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on National Security Agency surveillance. 

On May 2, right after Assange’s high court appearance, Maurizi told us that she fears for the health and welfare of Assange. She said she also fears for what it might mean to other journalists and whistleblowers if Assange is convicted in a U.S. court for his crucial work with whistleblowers, which has been used widely by news organizations.    

Dennis Bernstein: Stefania Maurizi, I’d like you to start by giving us your gut reaction to what we have seen so far in terms of the treatment of Julian in recent days.

Stefania MauriziFor me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years.  I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology.  It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was.  And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe.  I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.  If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice.  Now she is back in prison.  Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S.  Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything.  We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining.  Nothing happened.

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Dennis Bernstein:  You’ve worked very closely with Julian Assange in Italy.  You were in a sense a co-publisher in getting out crucial documentation.  Could you talk about why you consider Assange not only a publisher, but one of the most important publishers of our time?

Stefania MauriziI started working with WikiLeaks in 2009 when very few people knew about them.  They hadn’t yet published important documents like “Collateral Murder” or the “War Logs.”  I immediately saw that they were going to start a revolution. And that is what has happened: They have changed journalism. Their model of journalism spread and we see now leaks everywhere.  We see this model of collaborative media partnership used by many media, like the Panama Papers Consortium. In addition, you have to realize the importance of what they have revealed.  They have revealed the true face of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have revealed the inner working of U.S. diplomacy, for example, how they put pressure on Italian prosecutors who were trying to convict 23 Americans, almost all CIA agents, responsible for the extraordinary renditions here in Italy. Or they published revelations of how the U.S. forced the Italian government to purchase a Lockheed jet fighter.  This information is now available to everyone.  You can see how The Washington Post used emails to investigate the [Jamal] Khashoggi murder and they were able to do so because they had the courage to publish these files. Even in the case of the Panama Papers, only the journalists inside the partnership can access the original files.  WikiLeaks made these files fully accessible to everyone, so that every journalist, ever activist, every scholar, every citizen can be empowered by this information free of charge.  That is the revolution.

Dennis Bernstein:  Chelsea Manning is now in jail, refusing to cooperate with the grand jury.  This is someone who spent so much time in solitary confinement. One of the key collaborations had to do with the activities of the U.S. government in Central America, destabilizing, undermining governments.  Now they say they never get involved.  If you look at the documentation in the context of the current attempt by [U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela] Elliot Abrams to destabilize Venezuela, here comes WikiLeaks again.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  Whenever we have a scandal, we can go to the WikiLeaks website and search for any pertinent information.  The information they publish continues to inform the public. They are now paying a huge price. I myself feel guilty because I was able throughout the past 10 years to work on all these documents, to verify them and publish them without any risk.  Julian and WikiLeaks are paying a huge price and all the editors are silent.  People accuse me of acting as an activist.  I am not acting as an activist, I am speaking out because I feel uncomfortable when I see how professional journalists have all sorts of protection and are not facing imprisonment or extradition.

Randy Credico: The last time I saw you was in December of 2017.  I had seen Julian three months earlier and his health had declined noticeably in those few months.  Now that he is in jail, is he able to see doctors?  What is his physical health like at this point?

Stefania MauriziI am not sure whether he is able to see visitors.  It is a very strict regime, there are very strict rules for suspected terrorists.  He spends most of his time completely alone.  This comes after spending the last seven years at the embassy almost entirely alone, apart from occasional visits.  So you can imagine how his forced isolation is affecting his health.

Randy Credico: I look at the sentence that judge Deborah Taylor handed down: a year in jail for allegedly skipping bail.  Can you go into the bogus charges that were never filed against Julian, and how they were perpetuated with the assistance of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Stefania MaurizioThree years had passed since the Swedish case was closed.  No journalistic organization had ever tried to access these documents.  Thousands of journalists had covered the case but no one had the facts clear.  At that point I realized that it was important from a journalistic point of view to try to access the documentation.  These documents allow us to establish important facts, such as that it was the U.K. that advised the Swedish prosecutors against questioning Assange in London.  The whole case began with this refusal by the Swedish prosecutor.  Now we know that behind this decision there was the Crown Prosecution Service.  Let’s not forget that this agency is the very same agency which is in charge of deciding whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. now. The Crown Prosecution Service entered the case at the very beginning and they advised the Swedish prosecutor against questioning Assange in London.  Julian Assange never refused to be questioned, he refused to be extradited because he was convinced that the extradition to Sweden could pave the way for his extradition to the U.S. 

Now we see that he was right. 

And it was the Crown Prosecution Service which advised the Swedish prosecutor against dropping the case in 2013.  At that time the Swedish prosecutor considered to drop the case but the Crown Prosecution Service was against this possibility.

Finally, it was the Crown Prosecution Service who destroyed crucial emails about the case, even though the case is still ongoing.  I am still fighting in the U.K. tribunal because I want to access these documents and fill in the gaps.  Now the Swedish prosecutor is evaluating whether to open this case once again.  The statute of limitations is in August 2020.  There is a massive campaign about Julian being a rapist.  After one or two years of this campaign, who will care about Julian Assange being extradited to the U.S.?  That is a possible scenario.

Dennis Bernstein:  Again, Julian had his first hearing today [May 2, 2019] regarding extradition to the United States.  He looked okay but he is definitely in danger. Stefania, what responsibility do we have as journalists to stand up?  According to Daniel Ellsberg, if they go after Julian and Chelsea the way they want to in the United States, it is the end of journalism.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  This case is about whether the press is allowed to publish documents like the video “Collateral Murder,” which records war crimes and whether the press is allowed to publish documents about the NSA spying on world leaders, whether the press is allowed to publish documents on Guantanamo Bay.  We saw what happened after 9/11: habeas corpus came to an end with Guantanamo, the Fourth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] was trampled by the NSA.  Now they want to destroy the First Amendment and they will do it using Julian Assange. They will not go after The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Dennis Bernstein:  Wouldn’t you say that part of the genius of WikiLeaks was the ability to guarantee anonymity?  The reason why Assange has been successful and all these major journalistic organizations were willing to work with him is because of this process he created to guarantee anonymity.

Stefania Maurizi: Julian Assange understands technology and he understands the nature of power.  Most geeks know very little about power, about empire.  Thanks to his knowledge in the technology field, we have this platform. But let’s not forget that WikiLeaks is in trouble now not because they have this platform, but because they have the courage to publish.  It is not enough to get the documents.  Most newsrooms hide such documents.  One of the journalists at The Washington Post had the video “Collateral Murder” and he didn’t publish it.  WikiLeaks did.  It is not enough to have the platform: you have to have the integrity and the courage to publish.  The New York Times didn’t publish the important story that the NSA was intercepting the communications of U.S. citizens for more than a year.   For years The New York Times didn’t want to use the word “torture,” preferring instead “enhanced interrogation.”  The reason the U.S. authorities are hostile toward WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is because they publish what the U.S. media and many other media don’t want to publish.

Dennis Bernstein: Would you like to do a shout-out from one courageous woman there in Italy to a woman who became a woman in solitary confinement and was arrested again on International Women’s Day?

Stefania Maurizi: I feel a huge debt of gratitude because I have worked on Chelsea Manning’s documents for years.  I supported her defense fund, I wrote to her in prison.  I have tried to explain to my readers why she is tremendously courageous. I really would like to see her go free because I cannot accept that one of the most important journalistic sources of all time is again in prison.

Dennis Bernstein: Both Randy and I are extremely grateful for your work, Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist for la Repubblica and author of “Dossier WikiLeaks,”  which describes the power of a courageous publisher like Julian Assange, who has worked with extraordinary sources to get information out which we would otherwise never have heard.

Listen to the interview on KPFA.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.” You can access the audio archives at Flashpoint.  You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

Randy Credico is an American perennial political candidate, comedian, radio host, activist and the former director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.

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Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate

Ray McGovern calls out the void of evidence at the heart of the Senate hearing with Attorney General Barr on Wednesday.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

George Orwell would have been in stitches Wednesday watching Attorney General William Barr and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spar on Russia-gate.  The hearing had the hallmarks of the intentionally or naively blind leading the blind with political shamelessness.

From time to time the discussion turned to the absence of a legal “predicate” to investigate President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia.  That is, of course, important; and we can expect to hear a lot more about that in coming months.

More important: what remains unacknowledged is the absence of an evidence-based major premise that should have been in place to anchor the rhetoric and accusations about Russia-gate over the past three years.  With a lack of evidence sufficient to support a major premise, any syllogism falls of its own weight.

The major premise that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and gave WikiLeaks highly embarrassing emails cannot bear close scrutiny. Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan has told Congress he does not “do evidence.” In the same odd vein, Brennan’s former FBI counterpart James Comey chose not to “do evidence” when he failed to seize and inspect the DNC computers that a contractor-of-ill-repute working for the DNC claimed were hacked by Russia.

Call us old fashioned, but we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) still “do evidence” — and, in the case at hand, forensic investigation.  For those who “can handle the truth,” the two former NSA technical directors in VIPS can readily explain how the DNC emails were not hacked — by Russia or anyone else — but rather were copied and leaked by someone with physical access to the DNC computers.

We first reported hard forensic evidence to support that judgment in a July 2017 memorandum for the president. Substantial evidence that has accumulated since then strengthens our confidence in that and in related conclusions.  Our conclusions are not based on squishy “assessments,” but rather on empirical, forensic investigations — evidence based on fundamental principles of science and the scientific method.

Bizarre, Medieval

All “serious” members of the establishment, including Barr, his Senate interrogators, and the “mainstream media” feel required to accept as dogma the evidence-free conventional wisdom that Russia hacked into the DNC.  If you question it, you are, ipso facto, a heretic — and a “conspiracy theorist,” to boot.

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Again, shades of Orwell and his famous “two plus two equals five.”  Orwell’s protagonist in “1984,” Winston Smith, imagines that the State might proclaim that “two plus two equals five” is fact.  Smith wonders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true?

Actually, the end goal is not to get you to parrot that two plus two equals five. The end goal is to make it so you’d never even consider that two plus two could equal anything other than five.

During the entire Barr testimony Wednesday, no one departed from the safe, conventional wisdom about Russian hacking.  We in VIPS, at least, resist the notion that this makes it true.  We shall continue to insist that two and two is four, and point out the flaws in any squishy “Intelligence Community Assessment” that concludes, even “with high confidence,” that the required answer is “five.”

Doubtful Dogma

Wednesday’s Senate hearing brought a painful flashback to a similarly widely-held, but evidence-free dogma — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. attacked that country. It gets worse: Many of the same people who promoted the spurious claims about WMD are responsible for developing and proclaiming the dogma about Russian hacking into the DNC.  The Oscar for his performance in the role of misleader goes, once again, to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose “credits” go back to the WMD fiasco in which he played a central role.

Before the war on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put Clapper in charge of analysis of satellite imagery, the most definitive collection system for information on WMD.  In his memoir, Clapper admits, with stomach-churning nonchalance, that intelligence officers, including me, were so eager to help [spread the Cheney/Bush claim that Iraq had a ‘rogue WMD program’] that we found what wasn’t really there.” [Emphasis added]

Last November as Clapper was hawking his memoir at the Carnegie Endowment I had a chance during the Q and A to pursue him on that and on Russia-gate.  I began:

“You confess [in Clapper’s book] to having been shocked that no weapons of mass destruction were found.  And then, to your credit, you admit, as you say here [quoting 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.”

Evidence

Back to the Senate hearing on Wednesday: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), during a line of questioning about evidence of obstruction of justice, asked the attorney general if he personally reviewed the underlying evidence in the Mueller report.

 “No,” said Barr, “We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.  We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate.  We accepted it as accurate.”

Harris: You accepted the report as evidence?  You did not question or look at the underlying evidence?

Barr: We accepted the statements in the report and the characterization of the evidence as true.”

Harris: “You have made it clear that you did not look at the evidence.”

It was crystal clear on Wednesday that Barr had bigger fish to fry, as well as protective nets to deflect incoming shells.  He is likely to be preoccupied for weeks answering endless questions about his handling of the Mueller report. It is altogether possible, though, that in due course he plans to look into the origins of Russia-gate and the role of Clapper, Brennan and Comey in creating and promoting the evidence-free dogma that Russia hacked into the DNC — and, more broadly, that, absent Russia’s support, Trump would not be president.

For the moment, however, we shall have to live with “The Russians Still Did It, Whether Trump Colluded or Not.”  There remains an outside chance, however, that the truth will emerge, perhaps even before November 2020, and that, this time, the Democrats will be shown to have shot themselves in both feet.

For further background, please see:

VIPS Fault Mueller Probe, Criticize Refusal to Interview Assange

VIPS: Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, with special expertise on Russia, and prepared The President’s Daily Brieffor Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and his EU advisor say the publisher should not be tried in social media and must be given a fair hearing in court. 

 

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On Thursday this week WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a London court. This hearing relates to the request by the United States to extradite Assange to that country to face a computer hacking charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years. No doubt social media will be alive with commentary, support, abuse and everything in between concerning Assange’s plight.

When, after almost seven years, on April 11, 2019, Assange was arrested on Ecuadorian soil and taken into custody by U.K. police, social media exploded with the pro- and anti-Assange forces countering each other, and there has been a deluge of commentary about WikiLeaks and Assange the man. But much of what passes for comment about Assange on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook ignores some fundamental issues and facts about this extraordinary case. It is important to restate them in the hope, vain though it may be, that social media comment about Assange and WikiLeaks is at least well informed and deals with what is actually at stake in his case.

There is firstly the issue of Assange’s breaching bail in 2012 and seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This was never a case of an individual seeking to flee from justice. To see Assange’s actions in this light is to ignore the fundamental right every person has to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion. In his case the fear was Sweden would detain him and then hand him over to the United States. Sweden refused to assure him it would not.  We must also remember that Assange did not “hide” in the embassy, like a fugitive. He was detained because he had no choice — leave and be arrested was not a viable option.

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It is also essential that Assange’s right to a fair trial be respected. The opinions on his arrests, his alleged (mis-)conduct and his persona has essentially involved many on social media engaging in the classic “trial by media.”  The ongoing discussions about this on media platforms got divided in two camps: Assange is either a villain who deserves what he got or a hero who disclosed information that the public had a right to know.

Trial by Twitter

Assange’s case has, and is being decided upon by millions of social media judges around the world who are finding him guilty of hacking, espionage and sexual misconduct. And many of these same social media judges are deliberating on Assange’s extradition fight and the role of Sweden and the United States. Moreover, his trial on social media leads inevitably to the persecution by non-state actors in the form of harassment to WikiLeaks, Assange and to those close to him.

One issue is of particular concern. It is particularly troubling that many on social media are misleading others into thinking that there are legal proceedings afoot in Sweden today. This assertion is simply wrong. Assange has never been charged in Sweden, the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct was closed, twice. There are only two live issues before the courts, leaving aside the sentencing for breach of bail. They are, the extradition request and the accompanying charges brought by the U.S. in respect of which there is a real possibility that once on U.S. soil, Assange will face an inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and an unfair trial. It is to be expected Assange will receive a similar treatment as his collaborator, Chelsea Manning, who is currently detained due to her unwillingness to testify to a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

We simply say this to social media participants. Don’t judge Assange’s case on its presentation in the political arena, in the news or in the analysis of others on social media. Moreover, don’t let the procedure in Assange’s trial set a dangerous precedent for future, similar cases. The legal proceedings involving him must be decided by an impartial judge respecting and following the rule of law.  His case has to be judged fairly on the merits and on actual evidence rather than on conspiracy theories or political games. The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge and the respect to all the procedural requirements to minimize the risk on other potential breaches of fundamental rights. There is no exception to these fundamental rights in Assange’s case. Respecting Assange’s fair trial and the rule of law, will benefit justice.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Australian legal adviser to Julian Assange. Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne, Australia.

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New CN Series: The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 1—The Video that Put Assange in US Crosshairs

Collateral Murder” created a media sensation in 2010 and led to Chelsea Manning’s imprisonment and to a DOJ investigation of Julian Assange, reports Elizabeth Vos. But the war crimes the video exposed got no one else in trouble.

Consortium News today begins a series of articles, “The Revelations of WikiLeaks,” that will look back on the major works of the publication that have altered the world since its founding in 2006. This series is an effort to counter mainstream media coverage, which is ignoring WikiLeaks’ work, and instead is focusing on Julian Assange’s personality. It is the uncovering by WikiLeaks of governments’ crimes and corruption that set the U.S. after Assange and which ultimately led to his arrest on April 11. The “Collateral Murder” video was just the first of many major WikiLeaks revelations that made the journalist one of the world’s most wanted men, simply for the act of publishing.  

The Video that Put Julian Assange
in the Crosshairs of the United States

By Elizabeth Vos
Special to Consortium News

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006, but it was the April 5, 2010, publication of Collateral Murder that made the whistleblower-publisher a world-wide phenomenon, attracting admirers and enemies.

WikiLeaks wrote of the film: “The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

WikiLeaks noted that Reuters had unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to the video through the Freedom of Information Act in the years after the strike.

The day after the release of the footage, The New York Times described WikiLeaks as a once-fringe website that had moved into the big time. “The site has become a thorn in the side of authorities in the United States and abroad,” it said. “With the Iraq attack video, the clearinghouse for sensitive documents is edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and to advocacy.”

Before 2010 WikiLeaks received a few high-profile journalism awards. But in the years since the publication of the video, it has received a slew of honors, including The Sam Adams Award for Integrity.

On April 16, WikiLeaks announced a fresh award for its founder, Julian Assange, even as he remains isolated in a London prison.

Chelsea Manning

“Collateral Murder” was one of the most prominent releases sourced from then-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in a military prison as a result.

Manning, who had access to the video, having a Top Secret clearance, first offered the video to The New York Times and The Washington Post, which both turned her down. Manning then turned to WikiLeaks.

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Manning described the events that led up to her decision to submit the footage to the press in leaked audio of her testimony during her 2013 court-martial.

She said Reuters’ inability to get the footage via a freedom-of-information request contributed to her decision to leak it. “The most alarming aspect of the video for me, was the seemingly delight of bloodlust they [the pilots] appeared to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging with, and seemed to not value human life in referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”

Marjorie Cohn, a legal analyst, is one of those who has described the contents of the footage as evidence of U.S. war crimes. As such she argues that Manning was legally obligated to expose such information. In a 2013 column for Truthout, she cites the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual and the Uniform Code of Military Justice as all setting forth the duty of a service member to disobey unlawful orders.

None of the pilots, military officials nor policy-makers have ever been charged or otherwise held responsible for the events shown in the video.

U.S. Army 2007 Apache Helicopter Attack

The film depicts the July 12, 2007, shooting of over a dozen Iraqis by U.S. Army Apache helicopters armed with 30mm cannons in the Al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighborhood of New Baghdad, a district of Iraq’s capital city. The dead included Reuters’ photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant, Saeed Chmagh. WikiLeaks has said as many as 25 people were killed as a result of the incident.

 

After the initial attack, the helicopters fired on and killed people who stopped to try to rescue the wounded. A U.S. tank reportedly drove over a body, cutting it in half. Assange identified the individual run over by the tank as Namir Noor-Eldeen in an interview with Al Jazeera days after the publication of “Collateral Murder.” 

After receiving the encrypted footage, Assange and his associates spent a week working non-stop in Reykjavik, Iceland, to break the U.S. military’s encryption of the video.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, who now serves as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, went to Iraq as an investigative journalist to locate victims’ families and confirm details of the event prior to the film’s publication. The New Yorker reported: 

“He [Hrafnsson] claims to have found the owner of the building, an old man named Jabbar Abid Rady, born in 1941, a retired English teacher. Abid Rady told Hrafnsson that his wife and daughter had died in the attack. He said that five other people who had been living in the building died, too. Buildings under construction often serve as housing in war-ravaged places; people live in the lower floors, which are often built first and are inhabitable before construction ends. Abid Rady told Hrafnsson that three families had been living in this particular structure.”

Assange noted how the moving images had stirred public attention far more than any printed matter. “It’s very easy for people to see what’s going on,” he is quoted as saying in the April 2010 video interview with Al Jazeera. “It’s not too complex, there’s no language barriers with visual material. We released the policies behind this material as far back as 2007, classified US military policies.”

At one point in the video, American personnel can be heard laughing, saying: “The tank just drove over a body.” Assange commented on that, saying, “That was Namir’s body.”

Military’s Response

Shortly after the 2007 killings — and three years before the video was released — the U.S. military was quoted as underreporting the death toll and context of the incident.

Assange argued that the military’s reports of a “firefight” preceding the events shown on tape had been misrepresented in order to justify the killings.

After WikiLeaks’ release of “Collateral Murder,” the Pentagon acknowledged the authenticity of the video but said it did not contradict the official finding that the helicopters’ crew acted within the rules of engagement,” The Daily Telegraph reported.

The U.S. military rejected calls to discipline the crew for the deaths of the Reuters journalists because it said the men could not be distinguished from suspected insurgents. “The RPG in the video is real,” The Telegraph quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying. “We had insurgents and reporters in an area where U.S. forces were about to be ambushed. At the time we weren’t able to discern whether (Reuters employees) were carrying cameras or weapons.”

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Chris Walach, commander of the Apache helicopter pilots, in 2013, spoke with Democracy Now about the footage. “In Iraq, you can’t put pink gloves on Apache helicopter pilots and send them into the Ultimate Fighting ring and ask them to take a knee,” he said. “These are attack pilots wearing gloves of steel, and they go into the ring throwing powerful punches of explosive steel. They are there to win, and they will win.”

Shortly after “Collateral Murder’s” publication, Assange appeared on the “Colbert Report.” At one point, host Stephen Colbert joked that Assange is “a dead man.” Colbert asked Assange about allegations of a firefight preceding the events shown on the tape. “That’s a lie,” Assange responded. [05.20/11:39] He said that 28 minutes earlier there had been a report of small arms fire and that the Apache helicopters circling New Baghdad “came across these men and killed them.”

The Politicians React

On April 11, 2019, the day Assange was arrested, Reuters’ reporter Alistair Smout wrote in hindsight: “WikiLeaks incensed Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, and in 2010 a classified U.S. military video showing a helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.”

Within days of the publication of “Collateral Murder,” Obama Whitehouse Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answered questions from reporters on the contents of the video. When asked whether the actions of the U.S. personnel were “appropriate,” Gibbs said that he was not sure whether then-President Barack Obama had seen the video, adding:

“Many of you all have traveled with the President – this President or other Presidents in war zones. Many of you know colleagues that have reported from exceedingly dangerous places in the world. Our military will take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety and security of civilians, and particularly those that report in those dangerous places on behalf of news organizations. I honestly do not know enough about what was done previous, which is why I’d point you to the Department of Defense.”

Then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates blasted WikiLeaks for not providing context for the video. “These people can put out anything they want, and they’re never held accountable for it. There’s no before and there’s no after,” Gates said, likening the video as seeing warfare “through a soda straw.”

Gates said: “They’re in a combat situation. The video doesn’t show the broader picture of the firing that was going on at American troops. It’s obviously a hard thing to see. It’s painful to see, especially when you learn after the fact what was going on. But you—you talked about the fog of war. These people were operating in split second situations.”  

The strongest response to the video came in the form of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Assange, by at most six months after “Collateral Murder,” and subsequent releases of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, the next subject of CN’s series, that ultimately culminated in his arrest on April 11, 2019.

The investigation has been quietly gathering material since at least October 2010, six months after the arrest of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the army enlistee who is accused of providing the bulk of the leaks,” The New York Times reported in June 2013.

The FBI had begun investigating Assange and WikiLeaks as early as 2009, according to an affidavit given by Assange in September 2013.

While the Obama DOJ stopped short of crossing a red line to criminalize journalism, the Trump DOJ has stomped over it using the same evidence abandoned by the previous administration.

Media Response

“Collateral Murder” was unveiled at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on April 5, 2010. The New York Times reported:

“’There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad, said then.

But the video does not show hostile action. Instead, it begins with a group of people milling around on a street, among them, according to WikiLeaks, Mr. Noor-Eldeen and Mr. Chmagh. The pilots believe them to be insurgents, and mistake Mr. Noor-Eldeen’s camera for a weapon. They aim and fire at the group, then revel in their kills.”

The media’s reaction to the video’s release was mixed. The day after it was published, the Times ran a report, titled: “Iraq Video Brings Notice to a Web Site.”  It described criticism WikiLeaks received for publishing an edited version of the footage:

“Critics contend that the shorter video was misleading because it did not make clear that the attacks took place amid clashes in the neighborhood and that one of the men was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.”

Within months of the video’s release, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation  noted the sentiments of journalist David Finkel of The Washington Post: “They [WikiLeaks] provided artificial agenda driven context. There was an operation underway in reaction to an ongoing war. Not that apache helicopters were circling looking for a bunch of guys to just shoot up and kill.”  Finkel was stationed in Iraq in 2007 when the incident occured and included the event in his book, “The Good Soldiers.

In response to such criticism, Assange told Al Jazeera that the decision to give the film its title hinged on the moment where the Apache helicopter pilots shot at the van and individuals who had stopped to aid the wounded. He said:

“This is why we called it ‘Collateral Murder.’ In the first example, maybe it’s a collateral exaggeration or incompetence, when they strafe this initial gathering. This was recklessness bordering on murder, but we couldn’t say for sure that was murder. But this particular event, this is clearly murder.”

Media that have since turned on Assange, at the time praised him and WikiLeaks.

On the day the video was released, The Guardian, which has lately been on an anti-Assange campaign, was quick to write an article that referred to the problems the video posed for military authorities: The release of the video from Baghdad also comes shortly after the US military admitted that its special forces attempted to cover up the killings of three Afghan women in a raid in February by digging the bullets out of their bodies.”

Two days after “Collateral Murder’s” publication, The Guardian, then under editor Alan Rusbridger, published an opinion piece saying the footage was “heralded by some as the most important revelation since Abu Ghraib, and challenges not only the effectiveness of the US military’s rules of engagement policy, but also the integrity of the mainstream media’s coverage of similar incidents.”

James Fallows of The Atlantic  called “Collateral Murder” the “most damaging documentation of abuse since the Abu Ghraib prison-torture photos” 12 hours after the video’s release.

“The Collateral Murder video is one of the best known and most widely recognized results of the ongoing WikiLeaks project,” Christian Christensen, a University of Stockholm journalism professor wrote in 2014. “These particular images were, in many ways, the crystallization of the horrors of war.”

Within days of the video’s publication, Haifa Zangana, a novelist and former prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime, wrote an op-ed for The Guardian, saying her family lived in the area where the events took place, which she described as having previously been “safe for children to play outdoors.”

Zangana continued:

“Witnesses to the slaughter reported the harrowing details in 2007, but they had to wait for a western whistleblower to hand over a video before anyone listened. Watching the video, my first impression was, I have no impression. But the total numbness gradually grows into a now familiar anger. I listen to the excited voices of death coming from the sky, enjoying the chase and killing. I whisper: do they think they are God?”

Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Consortium News. She co-hosts the #Unity4J online vigil.

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