The Death of a Charming Charlatan

Exclusive: The death of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who collaborated with U.S. neocons to bamboozle the American people into invading Iraq, merits a moment of reflection on how the ongoing chaos in the Middle East (and now Europe) got going, writes retired USAF Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski.

By Karen Kwiatkowski

Ahmed Chalabi, age 71, has died of a heart attack in Baghdad. As a close observer of his unique role in provoking the Iraq War a foreign policy and strategic military disaster 12 years ago I can’t help but look back on that time as an age of innocence. That may sound ironic, but I think it’s true given that many Americans now see that even elections don’t change much.

As painful as it was to watch the U.S. government plunge into the Iraq War based on false WMD warnings raised in part by Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress there was still a sense of hope back then that the truth could be told and the culprits could be held accountable. That seems now to have been a naive dream.

In 2003, Chalabi was on track to become the new leader of Iraq, just as soon as Paul Wolfowitz’s projected “cakewalk” was finished. Towards this end, he was using, and being used by, the neoconservative cabal of Bush/Cheney appointees in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department.

Yet, despite the fact that the “cakewalk” turned into a blood-soaked grind and has now spread disorder across the Middle East and into Europe many of the same men and a few women are still advising and influencing the Obama administration’s security policies toward Eastern Europe, the Mideast, Russia and China.

Now, as then, this group of neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals lack the good sense that God gave a chicken. They still march off without a recognizable moral compass (even as they assert their moral superiority) and still without the slightest respect for either the Constitution or the soldiers and marines they gleefully send into harms’ way.

At least with Chalabi, in the early 2000s, the U.S. government had a dapper and hopeful spokesperson for what Iraq was supposed to become. Some saw Chalabi as smooth while others viewed him as oily a conman with his own checkered past but he was purported to be the kind of modern Iraqi who could make Iraq a better place.

Chalabi’s optimism, his delusions of grandeur, and his faith in the conspiracy of empire led him to the hubris of the neocons, those vainglorious sorcerers wielding the bureaucratic power of the Pentagon and the White House. Together, they were a perfect match. Chalabi’s fantasies for Iraq were the natural product of his fundamental criminality, but his delusions also were vital to the neocons as they spun their spell to entrance the American public.

Still, Chalabi could be understood as a character in a Edith Wharton novel, trapped in his own era, not overly complex, but certainly earnest. The same cannot be said for the American neoconservatives who used him. Even in his guile there was a sense of guilelessness. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq failed to turn up the promised WMD or confirm Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to Al Qaeda, Chalabi defended the falsehoods, calling himself “a hero in error.”

There was a time when I saw Chalabi as a big part of our foreign policy conundrum, but the past decade has shown us where the real evil lies. Today, I see Chalabi more as a victim of his bad assumptions about the neoconservatives, who privately celebrate the cost, chaos, destruction and decimation of whole countries and cultures, in the name of their twisted vision.

Unheeded Warnings

In 2003, the canaries in this dark coal mine were warning about the lies told by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and political appointees throughout Washington to justify an American satrapy in Iraq. While some of us could see a future far grimmer, far more dangerous, and far more destructive than the neocon promises of American soldiers being welcomed by children throwing flowers and candy many Americans could not. Chalabi was a useful part of why that was.

The warnings from government whistleblowers, knowledgeable observers around the world, and independent-minded journalists and historians were hushed, silenced and buried until Iraq was burning and a quarter of that country’s population had been made refugees by an unwinnable war and a hated occupation.

It took years for the fraud committed by the neoconservatives, their allies in mainstream media, and the Bush administration to sink in, though many Americans still appear confused as to how they should assess what happened. The bottom line is that what occurred was a crime against the American people, the Constitution, international law, the Iraqis and their neighbors. Yet, there has been a stunning lack of accountability for the culprits who perpetrated this crime.

A dozen years after the war began, Chalabi’s promised golden age for Iraq and the Middle East has turned to dross. Today, it is common knowledge that the “word” of the United States is rarely good. Today, the world understands the ambitions of the United States as reptilian rather than republican, driven by a kind of rabid hostility and covetousness that in 2003 most did not easily perceive.

Today, to seek a partnership with the Pentagon or State Department as you try to shape your own small country’s history means you are more gambler than statesman, more fool that patriot.

The actions of the United States in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, Libya and Syria alliances of greed and dependency that Washington has maintained throughout this era reveal an ugly truth. U.S. foreign policy is not about democracy and self-determination, it is not about hope. Rather, it is about crony capitalism, old-style imperialism, theft and tyranny, all wrapped up in a maelstrom of bureaucratic infighting and budget padding.

No one is trusted in the conduct of America’s never-ending “wars.” Today, when a Russian airliner crashes, the U.S. is as likely to be blamed as a terrorist group, and the terrorist groups themselves are differentiated by their degree of U.S. support and their use of U.S. weaponry with some Sunni jihadists in Syria now firing U.S.-supplied TOW missiles and being hailed by U.S. politicians as “our guys.”

We’ve come a long way since 9/11 when President Bush said aiding or harboring a terrorist made one as guilty as the terrorist.

Since 2003, many Americans have discovered that their political leadership is addicted to arrogant mayhem. What worked to create public support for foreign wars in 2003 is now laughed at, or ignored, by a cynical citizenry. We have learned to distrust our government, on issues both foreign and domestic.

Chalabi, though his passing has been little noticed and less mourned, reminds us of how U.S. foreign policy with its military adventurism was formed and still is formed. The world that made him a celebrity now faces the cold reality of the widening chaos that is the result of the past dozen years.

We may not see another charlatan like Chalabi soon. One surely can hope that Americans would quickly spot a new Chalabi today and discount the optimistic messaging that he or she is selling. In a troubling way, that is a good thing. These days, the U.S. President no longer even attempts to sell new wars, invasions, occupations and assassinations to the war-exhausted public. He just conducts them in the shadows.

Chalabi’s passing reminds us that we live in a post-heroic world, where the U.S. war machine rumbles along on borrowed money without a coherent strategy, vision, success or accountability and also without a soul and without heroes. That sad fact is certainly worth a moment of quiet reflection.

Karen Kwiatkowski is a retired USAF Lt Col, who publicized what she saw in the Pentagon at her final assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  She farms with her family in western Virginia, and writes occasionally for LewRockwell.com, and other outlets.




Obama’s Abuse of ‘Espionage’ Act

President Obama who took office vowing “transparency” has run one of the most opaque administrations in U.S. history, hiding information that the public needs to know and destroying the lives of government officials who dare to share some secrets with the citizenry, ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou says.

By John Kiriakou

Chelsea Manning’s attorneys are gearing up for a long and hard appeal of the former soldier’s espionage convictions. It’s not going to be easy: The Supreme Court has had several opportunities in the past to rule the Espionage Act unconstitutionally broad (which it is), but has not done so. Let’s hope the Court has come to its senses. It’s time for the Espionage Act to go.

The Espionage Act was written in 1917 to combat German saboteurs during World War I. And it was updated only once, in the early 1950s during the hysteria surrounding the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The truth of the matter is that the Espionage Act is almost never used. At least it wasn’t until Barack Obama became president. You see, from 1917 until 2008, the Espionage Act was used only three times to prosecute individuals not accused of aiding a foreign country. But President Obama’s Justice Department has charged nine individuals with espionage since he became president.

None of those individuals gave or sold classified information to a foreign power. None sought personal gain in any way. Instead they were charged with passing what the statute calls “national defense information” to members of the press or academia. Most of them were prosecuted for whistleblowing.

In most cases, what they did was the definition of whistleblowing: They revealed evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. I am one of those individuals. I was charged with three counts of espionage. And for telling the press that the U.S. was torturing prisoners at black sites around the world and that torture was official U.S. government policy, I was sentenced to 30 months in prison. I served 23 months.

The Justice Department’s decision to file espionage charges against Edward Snowden under the same act is another example of the Obama administration’s policy of using an iron fist against human rights and civil liberties activists.

But there are other cases, too. Tom Drake, a senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA), blew the whistle on an illegal and wasteful program to intercept the communications of American citizens. He didn’t go to the press. He went to the NSA’s Inspector General, the General Counsel, the Pentagon Inspector General, and then to the Congressional Oversight Committee, just like he was supposed to. His reward was 10 espionage charges, all of which were eventually thrown out, but not until he had lost his job, his home, and his pension.

And one man, a State Department analyst named Stephen Kim, took a plea to an espionage charge after he was arrested for having a conversation with a Fox News reporter about North Korea. This was something that was a regular part of his job. And an administration official called the information that Kim was convicted of giving Fox “a nothing burger.”

But that didn’t stop the Justice Department from forcing Kim to take a plea to a felony that sent him to prison for a year and a half. Kim also lost his job, his home and his family. His wife left him and moved back to South Korea. And just to add insult to injury, as a part of his plea bargain, Kim had to stand before the judge and say, “I am not a whistleblower.”

President Obama has used the Espionage Act to prosecute those whose whistleblowing he wants to curtail. But it’s more than that. The purpose of an Espionage Act prosecution is to ruin the whistleblower personally, professionally and financially. It is meant to send a message to anybody else considering speaking truth to power: Challenge us and we will destroy you.

The effect of an Espionage Act charge on a person’s life being viewed as a traitor, being shunned by family and friends, incurring massive legal bills is all a part of the plan to frighten other people from revealing governmental waste, fraud, abuse and illegality. It forces the whistleblower into personal ruin, to weaken him to the point where he will plead guilty to just about anything to make the case go away. I know. That’s exactly what happened to me.

In early 2012, I was arrested and charged with three counts of espionage and one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA). (I was only the second person in U.S. history to be charged with violating the IIPA, a law that was meant to be used against rogues like Philip Agee, who wrote a book in the 1960s that listed the names of hundreds of undercover CIA officers.)

Two of my espionage charges were the result of a conversation I had with a New York Times reporter and an ABC News reporter about torture. Specifically, the classified information I was accused of giving the reporter was this: That the CIA had a program to capture or kill members of al-Qaeda. That’s right. The CIA argued in my case that the fact that we were looking for al-Qaeda fighters after the Sept. 11 attacks was Top Secret. Seriously. The CIA “declassified” the information solely for the purpose of prosecuting me.

I gave the reporter no classified information only the business card of a former CIA colleague who had never been undercover and who was then working in the private sector. The other espionage charge was for giving the same unclassified business card to a reporter for ABC News. All three espionage charges were eventually dropped, but only after I agreed to take a plea. I agreed to 30 months in prison so as not to risk the possibility of 45 years in prison that I could have gotten had I been found guilty at trial.

That’s what the Justice Department does. It heaps on charges so that the person pleads guilty to something anything to make the case go away. Believe me, very, very few people risk the 45 years. That’s why the government has a conviction rate of 98.2 percent.

(As an aside, when Saddam Hussein got 98 percent of the vote in his last presidential election, we screamed to the international community that it was rigged. When the Justice Department wins 98 percent, we say they’re all geniuses.)

So, why charge a whistleblower with a crime in the first place? Leaks happen all the time in Washington. But the leaks that make the government look good are never prosecuted. Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta boastfully revealed the identity of the Seal Team member who killed Osama bin Laden in a speech to an audience that included uncleared individuals.

That’s a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Panetta also shared his memoir with his publisher before it was cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board. That is exactly this administration’s definition of espionage: Sharing national defense information with a person not entitled to receive it.

Former CIA director General David Petraeus gave classified information to his girlfriend, including the names of undercover officers. He then lied to the FBI about it. But he was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. There was no Espionage Act charge for him.

The Obama administration’s so-called “cybersecurity czar,” General James “Hoss” Cartwright, allegedly told The New York Times that the White House was behind the release of the Stuxnet virus, which attacked computers being used in the Iranian nuclear program. That, too, is the definition of espionage.

But why wasn’t Cartwright prosecuted? In addition to being known in the press as President Obama’s favorite general, the Cartwright leak made the White House look good, tough and active against Iran. So there were no charges.

In my case, prosecution was my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program and for confirming to the press, despite government protestations to the contrary, that the U.S. government was, indeed, in the business of torture.

Obama declared a war on whistleblowers virtually as soon as he assumed office. Some of the investigations began during the Bush administration, as was the case with Tom Drake, but Espionage Act cases have been prosecuted only under Obama. Indeed, former Attorney General Eric Holder said just before he left office in early 2015 that he wished he had prosecuted more leak cases.

This policy decision to target whistleblowers smacks of modern-day McCarthyism. Washington has always needed an “ism” to fight against, an idea against which it could rally its citizens like lemmings. First, it was anarchism, then socialism, then communism. Now, it’s terrorism. Any whistleblower who goes public in the name of protecting human rights or civil liberties is accused of helping the terrorists.

That the whistleblower has the support of groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or the American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t matter. The administration simply presses forward with wild accusations against the whistleblower: “He’s aiding the enemy!” “He put our soldiers’ lives in danger!” “He has blood on his hands!” Then, when it comes time for trial, the espionage charges invariably are either dropped or thrown out.

Yet another problem with the Espionage Act is that it has never been applied uniformly. Immediately after its passage in 1917, American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs was arrested and imprisoned under the Espionage Act simply for criticizing the U.S. decision to enter the First World War. He ran for president from his prison cell.

Nearly a century later, when the deputy director for national intelligence revealed the amount of the highly-classified intelligence budget in an ill-conceived speech, she was not even sent a letter of reprimand despite the fact that the Russians, Chinese and others had sought the figure for decades. When the disclosure was reported in the press, the CIA simply fluffed it off as an “accident.”

When a White House scheduling secretary in 2012 released the name of the senior CIA officer in Afghanistan to an email list of hundreds of reporters, the White House called it “inadvertent” and moved on.

The Obama administration’s espionage prosecutions are political actions for political reasons, and are carried out by political appointees. The only way to end this or any administration’s abuse of the Espionage Act is to rewrite the law. It is so antiquated that it doesn’t even mention classified information; the classification system hadn’t yet been invented. The law is still so broad and so vague that many legal scholars argue that it is unconstitutional.

The only hope of ending this travesty of justice is to scrap the Espionage Act and to enact new legislation that would protect whistleblowers while allowing the government to prosecute traitors and spies. This would require Congressional leadership, however, and that is something that is very difficult to come by.

Giants like the late Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Frank Church, and the late Rep. Otis Pike, who boldly took on and reformed the intelligence community in the 1970s, are long-gone. Until someone on Capitol Hill begins to understand the concept of justice for national security whistleblowers, very little is likely to change.

The press also has a role to play, one that, so far, it has largely ignored. That role is to report on and investigate the whistleblower’s revelations of illegality, not on the kind of car he drives, the brand of eyeglasses he wears, where he went to college, or what his next door neighbor has to say about his childhood.

The attacks on our civil liberties that the whistleblower reports are far too important to move off-message into trivialities. After all, the government is spying on all of us. That should be the story. If Congress can’t or won’t right this wrong, the Supreme Court must.

John Kiriakou is an Associate Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. He is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. See: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/33288-focus-if-congress-wont-scrap-the-espionage-act-maybe-the-supreme-court-will]




The Dark Truth in the Movie ‘Truth’

Exclusive: Almost four decades after starring in “All the President’s Men,” Robert Redford returns portraying another famous journalist in “Truth.” But the world has been turned upside down. Mainstream media is no longer the hero exposing a corrupt president, but the villain protecting one, as James DiEugenio explains.

By James DiEugenio

In spring 2004, CBS news producer Mary Mapes was doing what journalists are supposed to do dig up facts that help the public understand important events and often make the powers-that-be squirm. She and Dan Rather, her colleague at the “60 Minutes” offspring “60 Minutes II,” had just exposed the U.S. military’s bizarre mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.

Documented with damning photos and direct testimony, the story revealed how U.S. military guards had stripped detainees naked and subjected them to sexual humiliations and severe physical abuse. The story forced President George W. Bush to claim that he was morally outraged by these practices and to demand that the implicated soldiers be court-martialed.

But the string that the Abu Ghraib case pulled eventually revealed that Bush and his senior advisers had authorized very similar treatment for detainees at CIA “black sites” and at Guantanamo Bay prison. In that sense, the Abu Ghraib prison story was one of the most important of the Iraq War in that it exposed the secret ugliness and grotesque criminality of Bush’s “global war on terror.”

Mapes had done other compelling stories for “60 Minutes” and its spinoff, including coverage of Karla Faye Tucker’s execution. The young woman was convicted of murder, but, in prison, became a born-again Christian and asked for a commutation from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. But Bush was eyeing political advancement and refused to grant it, letting her execution go forward.

In another powerful human-interest story, Mapes found the child of segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, a child he had fathered with a black woman.

In other words, Mapes was the kind of producer who delivered hard-hitting stories that news organizations claim that they crave, the sort of reporting that not only makes for good journalism but good TV.

But Mary Mapes ran into a buzz saw of career-destroying trouble on Sept. 8, 2004, when she and her colleagues at “60 Minutes II” broadcast a segment on Bush’s spotty service in the Texas Air National Guard, the route that the Bush Family scion took to avoid the Vietnam War.

The segment posed the question of whether Bush had honored his commitment or got special dispensation to avoid a large part of his duty. Within minutes of the show being aired, actually before the hour was over, the report came under attack from right-wing bloggers who accused CBS of using forged documents as part of its presentation. The key claim of these Bush defenders was that some of the documents couldn’t have been typed in the early 1970s because IBM’s Selectric typewriters couldn’t produce superscripts (a claim that turned out to be false, since Selectric typewriters did allow for superscripts, such as the little “th” or “st” after a number).

Blaming the Messenger

Yet, caught off-guard by the ferocity of this attack and its amplification through the right-wing echo chamber and then back into the mainstream media CBS executives put Mapes on leave. Less than two weeks after the broadcast on Sept. 20, 2004 she left her office in New York, never to return.

She was told not to talk to any reporters about the segment, an order that she unwisely obeyed. She was also told by CBS News President Andrew Heyward not to do any work advancing the story. A few days later, Heyward announced the formation of a review panel. Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, a Bush Family apparatchik, and former Associated Press chief Lou Boccardi headed it.

In January 2005, the panel issued its report critical of some journalistic procedures that Mapes and three other producers followed in putting together the segment, but the panel could not establish definitively whether the questioned documents were indeed forgeries.

On the day Heyward read the Thornburgh-Boccardi report without letting Mapes rebut its findings he called Mapes and fired her. Three other CBS employees involved with the production producer Josh Howard, vice president of prime time news Betsy West, and executive producer Mary Murphy were asked to resign.

Dan Rather was removed from his anchor spot at CBS Evening News in March of 2005. His contract was not picked up in 2006. Thus his association with CBS ended after 44 years.

But Mapes did not go quietly. Later in 2005, she wrote a book about her career at CBS and primarily about the whole Bush/National Guard segment she produced. Truth and Duty was a spirited defense of her and her colleagues’ performance on the story.

It was also a bare-knuckled reply to the workings and verdict of the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel, a report that most of the mainstream media and the unsuspecting public accepted at face value as being the last word on the whole issue.

Because Mapes had worked in Dallas for CBS News, she had heard many tales about Texas Gov. Bush’s National Guard service, or lack of such. In 1968, after George W. Bush graduated from Yale and without a student deferment, he was eligible for a tour in Vietnam via the draft. Though the Bush clan supported the Vietnam War in public, they understood that it was not at all a cause worth risking one’s life over. So to help Bush avoid getting shipped off to Indochina, the decision was made for him to join the National Guard but not just any unit in the National Guard.

The ‘Champagne’ Unit

Young Bush would join the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (or TANG). This Houston-based unit was a haven for the rich and powerful in Texas, so much so that it was nicknamed the “Champagne Unit.” Bush went in as a Second Lieutenant, even though he had not met any of the requisite requirements to merit such an officer’s position.

The 147th also trained Bush to be a pilot. Again, this was unusual because it was rather expensive to train a pilot from scratch. The usual route was to borrow trained pilots from regular Air Force units or to train young men who had some experience, which Bush did not have.

How did George W. Bush gain entry into the TANG? The Bush family cover story was that he had talked to Lt. Col. Walter Staudt, who told him positions were open. It later turned out that it was not at all that simple. What really happened was that Ben Barnes, state Speaker of the House, used some influence to gain entry for Bush, letting him leapfrog over many other applicants. In fact, one of the scoops that Mapes got for the “60 Minutes II” segment was that Barnes went on camera to talk about what he had done.

But getting in was just the beginning of the story. Young Bush was allowed to take “hiatuses” from active duty. For instance, Bush got a six-week leave to work on Sen. Ed Gurney’s campaign in Florida. He then seemed to lose his skills as a pilot. He had difficulty landing his F-102 fighter plane. Consequently, he was pulled from flight duty, his last sortie being performed in April 1972.

Then, with many months still left on his National Guard contract, he asked permission to work on another senatorial campaign for Win Blount in Alabama. Bush requested, and was granted, a transfer to the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance unit in Montgomery at Dannelly Field. But there was no credible evidence in Alabama that Bush ever showed up.

When Blount lost in November of 1972, Bush returned to Texas, but not apparently to Ellington Air Base in Houston as he was supposed to. He went to Florida and Washington DC, and then returned to Alabama. He then tried to go back to Texas to report, but his superiors did not want him there. Further, there was never any paperwork returned to Ellington from Alabama about his alleged alternative service.

As many who have examined the record have concluded, it is hard not to say that young Bush went AWOL and did not fulfill the last two years of a six-year military commitment. That should have gotten him kicked out of the TANG and made him eligible for the draft. His negligence should have meant no honorable discharge, but he got one nonetheless.

Finessing a Vulnerability

Years later when Bush launched his political career, it appears that his handlers understood what a liability this whole episode was. Karl Rove and Karen Hughes tried to intimidate local Texas writers like James Moore from questioning Bush about it. But then, as Moore noted, there were reports from TANG manager Bill Burkett that some of Bush’s entourage went into National Guard Headquarters to purge Bush’s files. Whatever one thinks of Burkett’s credibility, there were indeed several documents missing from Bush’s file, which should have been there.

The first time I ever heard about the Bush/TANG story was during the presidential campaign of 2004, which tells us something about the national news media’s insistence on ignoring it when Bush first ran for president in 2000. Back then, much of the mainstream press was enamored of George W. Bush, who gave out nicknames to his favorite reporters. The campaign press was also generally disdainful of Vice President Al Gore, who was deemed a boring nerd.

During that campaign, Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe brought the story about Bush’s shirking his National Guard duty outside of Texas. Robinson interviewed several of Bush’s commanders who did not recall seeing him in 1972 or 1973, either in Texas or Alabama.

But that well-documented story fell on deaf ears as far as the national press was concerned. Big-time political reporters were much more interested in making fun of Gore for supposedly saying, “I invented the Internet” although Gore never actually said that. In 2000, within the Washington press corps, there was a palpable yearning for a return of the Bush Family “adults” and the dispatch of Bill Clinton’s tawdry entourage.

However, four years later, in Campaign 2004, retired Gen. Wesley Clark was running as a Democrat and documentarian Michael Moore had framed a possible Clark-Bush race as “The General vs. the Deserter.” So, during an early debate, ABC’s Peter Jennings asked Clark about the charge that Bush had gone AWOL in Alabama. Jennings was clearly trying to embarrass Clark or get him to repudiate Moore’s comment.

As Amy Goodman later recalled this exchange on her show Democracy Now, it appeared to be a warning shot by the mighty MSM: We are not going to tolerate this kind of criticism of a sitting president. Mainstream journalists also were a bit touchy because they had ignored this important angle in 2000.

Ignoring Bush’s Past

In retrospect, it seems amazing that the MSM almost completely missed this story in 2000, even though they had the Boston Globe story in hand. As Mapes writes in her book, what could be more relevant than a man running for president who had escaped the Vietnam draft by having strings pulled to get him into the TANG and who then decided he did not need to fulfill his rather easy weekend commitment and thus reneged on the terms of his agreement? Does such an episode not speak to Bush’s character, especially his honesty and sense of duty?

Further, since Bush’s experience in the TANG seemed to be a fig leaf to avoid service in Vietnam, what would that say about how Bush regarded the seriousness of sending other men into combat? Not only did Bush never experience the danger, he actively avoided it.

Was this issue not even more relevant considering what Bush later did in Afghanistan and Iraq in dispatching National Guard units to repeated combat tours? But the American public never got a chance to fully debate this issue because the MSM largely hid it from public view in 2000 and then insisted on keeping it buried in 2004.

Yet, Mapes plowed ahead with her work on the Bush-National Guard story. She obtained documents from Burkett purportedly written by Bush’s immediate supervisor, the deceased Jerry Killian, that seemed to corroborate much of what had been said earlier about Bush’s avoidance of service. The documents were copies, not originals, so the ink and paper could not be tested though she used other means to seek to authenticate them, including pressing Burkett on where he got them.

She also interviewed another TANG officer, Bobby Hodges, who had served above Killian. Hodges backed up the complaints about Bush that appeared in the documents, namely that Bush refused to report for a physical, that his superior wanted to call for a panel before grounding him, and that there was pressure from above to not discipline Bush. But Hodges refused to appear on camera and did not want to see the Killian documents. (Mapes, p. 173, e-book edition.)

To further verify the documents, Rather and Mapes secured the services of four document examiners. Of the four, two vouched for the documents as genuine and signed by Killian. Two had reservations. Mapes put together what she called an overall “meshing document,” a collection of unquestionably genuine documents, which matched the information in the documents secured by Burkett.

She wanted to make a comparison graphic to include on the show, but senior producer Josh Howard vetoed that idea in favor of more from House Speaker Barnes. (ibid, p. 187) Josh Howard also deleted the off-camera audio interview with Bobby Hodges. Howard and news vice president Betsy West cut another interview with a military expert, Colonel David Hackworth.

In her book, Mapes wrote that after these deletions, she probably should have either delayed the story, or perhaps asked for it to be killed. (ibid, p. 188) But she did not.

Tipping Off the White House

But there was one other development that should have given her pause. Producer Josh Howard allowed the White House to look at the documents and comment on the show in advance. The White House had no comment on the documents, and only a mildly dismissive reply to the thesis of the show, responding that Bush had been released from his National Guard service with an honorable discharge.

The lack of both rigor and vigor in this reply, considering it was just weeks before the election, should have signaled that something ominous was being prepared. Because the online response was so fast and ferocious, it appears that Bush’s defenders were tipped off in advance, a possibility that gained more credence after Bush published his account in his 2010 memoir, Decision Point.

According to Bush, he was shown one of the purported memos by White House aide Dan Bartlett after stepping off Marine One late one night in September 2004.

“Dan told me CBS newsman Dan Rather was going to run a bombshell report on 60 Minutes based on the document,” Bush wrote. “Bartlett asked if I remembered the memo. I told him I had no recollection of it and asked him to check it out.

“The next morning, Dan walked into the Oval Office looking relieved. He told me there were indications that the document had been forged. The typeface came from a modern computer font that didn’t exist in the early 1970s.”

Though Bush does not specify exactly when these conversations took place relative to the program, they suggest that the White House had a more central role in launching the right-wing blogger attacks over “forged” documents than was known at the time. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush Gloats Over Dan Rather’s Ouster.”]

The counterattack from rightwing web sites followed the attack line laid out by Bartlett. The bloggers ignored the interviews about Bush being AWOL and focused solely on whether the documents were genuine or if a Microsoft Word program on a computer created them.

Once the first critiques were published, the attacks on CBS spread throughout the conservative blogosphere, then conservative talk radio, and next onto Fox News, before becoming a hot topic in the MSM.

The IBM Selectric

The bloggers’ claim was that the IBM Selectric typewriter that Killian supposedly used to type his memos lacked technical features regarding types of fonts, superscripting and proportional spacing. But the Bush defenders were wrong. IBM’s Selectric typewriters did possess those features, meaning that the documents could have been typed back then. (ibid, pgs. 194-203)

The CBS experts had anticipated this line of attack. But what shocked Mapes was that even though the critics were proved wrong, that didn’t seem to matter as the MSM joined in the rush to judgment against CBS. Again, the attacks did not focus on the substance of the report the interviews indicating that the sitting president of the United States had essentially been a wartime deserter but on the trustworthiness of the Killian documents.

Rather than resist the media stampede, CBS president Andrew Heyward joined in trampling his reporting team. Heyward decided to rid CBS of the problem and satisfy CEO Leslie Moonves who never cared much for investigative reporting by appointing a blue-ribbon panel that certainly couldn’t be criticized for being biased against Bush, quite rather the opposite.

Also, if the panel did its job correctly and issued a scathing critique of Mapes and her team Heyward could begin to reorganize the news department and swing the nightly news more to “infotainment,” supposedly a more profitable approach to “news.”

Though Rather first resisted the growing attacks seeing them as par for the course when trying to hold a powerful person accountable he soon saw the writing on the wall. He apparently hoped to salvage the situation by issuing an apology.

In her book, Mapes describes Rather’s call in which he informs her about his apology and the appointment of the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel. Mapes wrote she started weeping at the news, because she understood that she was finished. (ibid, p. 230)

And she was. The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel was anything but independent. It was an appendage of Heyward and Moonves — and protective of President Bush. The panel had a job in front of it: to convict those involved with the segment, no matter what the real facts of the case were.

Boccardi, known inside the AP as a careerist bureaucrat who also was uncomfortable with investigative journalism, was mostly a front, the token “journalist.” The other key participants in the inquiry were attorneys with Thornburgh’s law firm. Therefore, Mapes would not be judged by a panel of working journalists using journalistic standards, but by prosecuting attorneys chosen and paid for by Heyward and Moonves.

People who cared about real journalism noted the bias and flaws in the inquiry. New York Times former corporate counsel James C. Goodale, who argued landmark freedom-of-the-press cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, dissected the Thornburgh-Boccardi report in an article in New York Review of Books.

His article was so trenchant that Thornburgh and Boccardi made the mistake of replying to it. Goodale’s rebuttal was even more compelling. Suffice it to say that the panel never tried to determine if the Killian documents were genuine, probably because, as time went on, more and more evidence emerged that a computer or word processor could not have created the documents.

Extreme blow-ups revealed evidence of wear on certain letters of the typeface, a sign that a real typewriter, not some word-processing software, was used. (ibid, p. 329)

Mapes’s Truth and Duty was a strong and energetic reply to the forces that combined to torpedo her career, retire Rather from CBS, and intimidate network investigative reporting. Mapes argues that the last point was particularly effective. I wouldn’t go as far as that, since I think those forces were at work long before 2004. If they weren’t, then the whole Bush/TANG issue would have come up for serious examination in 2000.

Making a Movie

Screenwriter James Vanderbilt evidently liked Mapes’s book. His credits had included movies, such as Zodiac and The Amazing Spider Man. However, when he finally got a chance to direct a film, he picked Truth and Duty.

Vanderbilt also resisted the Hollywood impulse to overly fictionalize real events. He kept the script very close to the book. As far as I could tell, whatever alterations were quite minor.

Vanderbilt begins the film, entitled simply “Truth,” on the eve of the November 2004 election, well after Mapes had been banished from CBS, and the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel had been appointed. We glimpse her in her attorney’s office. I thought this was a good way to start the movie, since it left the implication that Mapes’s fate would be impacted by the election and also that her story, if properly handled, could have decided that election.

We then flashback to the days after the Abu Ghraib story appeared, when Mapes and Rather still had their careers. We see Rather getting an award and Mapes playing with her young son in her Dallas home.

After the success of the Abu Ghraib story, she’s approached by new “60 Minutes II” producers who want her to pitch them a story idea. She chooses whether Bush ducked out on his National Guard duty. We then watch as the story is built, including Barnes being caught on private video camera boasting about getting Bush into the TANG.

But as the film dramatically shows, there were two reversals to the story that proved disastrous to Mapes. First, Burkett apparently misrepresented where and how he got the Killian documents. He told her that they were given to him by a National Guard higher-up named George Conn, who worked at a level above Killian.

However, after the segment aired — and the controversy was swirling — Burkett told CBS executives that his earlier account was not accurate, a deception that he said was meant to stop Mapes from pestering him about the documents’ provenance.

In his revised account, he said he got the documents from a woman named Lucy Ramirez, who then asked him to burn the copies that she gave him after he had copied them.

Flipping the Script

CBS New president Heyward understood how badly this revision reflected on the story. So, he asked Burkett to do an on-camera interview discussing it. Burkett agreed to do so. But, as the film shows, Heyward, through prime-time news vice president Betsy West, used this interview to demean Burkett and take some of the stigma away from CBS.

We watch as West pens note after note to give to Mapes, who gives them to Rather, each one trying to transfer blame onto Burkett until finally Mapes will not cooperate anymore and finally neither will Rather.

After the interview is over, Burkett’s wife comes out of their room at the hotel and is asked how her husband is doing. We know he is not doing well because we just saw him taking oxygen for a neurological ailment that afflicts him.

The wife laces into the New York media bigwigs for taking advantage of people like her and her husband, pretending to be interested in their lives when they aren’t, for using them and spitting them out at the end of the process. This sequence is probably the dramatic high point of the film, and much of its power comes from the vivid performances of Stacy Keach as Burkett and Noni Hazlehurst as his wife Nicki.

The other reversal for Mapes was when Hodges finally did look at the Killian documents and gave his opinion that they were not genuine. He added that when Mapes first described their contents to him, he thought they were handwritten.

The obvious question is whether these later interviews were influenced by the initial misguided furor over the capabilities of Selectric typewriters and whether the political significance of the controversy affected what was said later. As Mapes wrote in her book, once her blood was in the water, it quickly became a maelstrom.

The Mapes Portrayal

In the movie, Mapes is portrayed by Australian actress Cate Blanchett, a versatile, technically sure actress who is always in control of what she does. Her best moment is when Mapes learns that her father, a Republican, has joined in the public pummeling of her by calling into a talk radio station. Blanchett/Mapes, in a desperate, plaintive request, begs him to stop participating in his daughter’s public humiliation.

In the movie, there are two other scenes that I thought were visually arresting. When Mapes and her lawyer are ushered into the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel’s office, the camera swirls quickly to show us just how large the panel is — so large that it takes up two levels of tables and chairs in front of the witness.

The second directorial flourish is when Rather played by Robert Redford calls Mapes to tell her that he is being removed as anchor of the CBS Evening News, a position he held for nearly a quarter of a century. He is calling her from the exterior balcony of his penthouse in New York and he gets to the point of the call circuitously. He recalls that CBS first understood that it could really make big money off the news department with the success of “60 Minutes” on Sunday evenings.

Mapes senses that something is wrong or why would he call her at night to tell her that. Then, Rather lets her in on his removal.

As the conversation ends, the camera pulls back to a panoramic shot of the New York skyline, as Redford/Rather slowly lowers his head. It’s a subtle visual strophe which epitomizes a man who has lost everything that is dear to him in the world.

Redford’s Two Roles

There is also poignancy in the choice of Robert Redford to play Dan Rather. Earlier in his career, Redford played Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men,” a rendition of The Washington Post’s famous Watergate investigation that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. That story, set mostly in 1972, represented a different moment for the mainstream news media, a brief period when U.S. journalism sought to hold powerful officials accountable and did a much better job of informing the American people about government wrongdoing.

Late in “All the President’s Men,” Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, make a mistake by assuming that a witness had mentioned a name before the Watergate grand jury when he hadn’t because he wasn’t asked. Yet, instead of throwing the two reporters to the wolves for this error, Post executive editor Ben Bradlee decides to stand behind his reporters.

The movie, “Truth,” is a counterpoint to that earlier, more heroic moment of American journalism. Instead of backing brave reporters who got the story right even if the process was imperfect and messy, the new generation of news executives simply protects the corporation, shields the powerful, and sacrifices the honest journalists.

It’s also interesting that “Truth” appears almost exactly a year after Jeremy Renner’s “Kill the Messenger,the account of how investigative journalist Gary Webb was destroyed by the mainstream press particularly The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times for disclosing the impact of cocaine trafficking by President Ronald Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contras.

In this Contra-cocaine case, the major newspapers had largely ignored the scandal when it was first reported by AP reporters Robert Parry and Brian Barger in 1985 and even when it was the subject of a Senate investigative report by Sen. John Kerry in 1989.

When Webb revived the story in 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News focusing on how some Contra cocaine fed into the crack epidemic the MSM refused to reconsider its cowardly bad judgment of the 1980s and instead made Webb and some alleged shortcomings in his three-part series the issue.

The demonization of Webb continued even after the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz issued two reports confirming that the Contras had been deeply involved in the drug trade and that the CIA was aware of the problem but chose to protect its clients for geopolitical reasons rather than blow the whistle on their crimes. The blacklisting of Webb from his profession led to his suicide in 2004. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How the Washington Press Turned Bad.”]

The two films have outwardly different subjects, but share a similar theme: how hard it is to tell the truth about difficult subjects in today’s corporate-controlled MSM news centers.

In both films, the central characters are remarkably successful news reporters who decide to pursue a subject that is anathema to the interests of the Establishment. They fail to understand the power of the forces arrayed against them, even when the counterattacks begin to pick up steam. They end up being victims of the corporate bureaucracies that they work for.

Although both stories are sad tales — no happy, triumphant endings — the fact that the films were made is encouraging because the public now can see how difficult it is to be an honest reporter in today’s environment. The powers available to stop serious investigative journalism in America are awesome and intimidating. Mary Mapes didn’t stand a chance.

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.




Checkmate on ‘The Devil’s Chessboard’

Exclusive: Since the end of World War II, what some call the “deep state” has taken hold of the American Republic, stripping the citizens of meaningful control over national security issues, with CIA Director Allen Dulles playing a key early role, according to David Talbot’s new biography reviewed by Lisa Pease.

By Lisa Pease

David Talbot’s new book The Devil’s Chessboard is an anecdotal biography of not just Allen Dulles but of the national security establishment that he helped create. Talbot gave himself the monumental task of summing up a 25-year slice of important history.

Because Talbot has a keen eye for both the absurd and the darkly humorous, he managed to make the disturbing history of that period not only eminently readable but engaging and at times downright entertaining.

I have consumed dozens of books on Allen Dulles, the CIA and Cold War history, yet I was still surprised by numerous revelations in Talbot’s book. He often covers well-known episodes through a less well-known set of incidents and characters.

Talbot writes about the ratlines (escape routes from Europe to Latin America for Nazis), but in the context of one particularly Machiavellian character. He writes about Lee Harvey Oswald from the point of view of one of his friends who sold him down the river to the Warren Commission, likely at the behest of the CIA, a friend who later ostensibly committed suicide just as a member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations was about to interview him. Talbot talks about the CIA’s mind-control programs in the context of Allen Dulles submitting his own son to those horrors.

Talbot and his research associate Karen Croft, to whom he dedicated his book, have found all sorts of nuggets in Allen Dulles’s papers, his appointment calendar, oral histories, and other less-used sources. In addition, Talbot infuses his book with anecdotes from interviews he personally conducted. While I found some points I could nitpick in various episodes, overall this is a worthy addition and a much-needed perspective that elucidates how we came to have two governments: the elected one and the one that doesn’t answer to the elected one.

Talbot’s presentation is not linear but episodic, jumping back and forth like a checker on the chessboard in his title to keep subjects thematically together. Doing this allows him to introduce the character of Allen Dulles quickly, by showing him handing over a World War I girlfriend, “a young Czech patriot,” to British agents who suspected her of being an enemy spy, after which, Talbot tells us, she “disappeared forever.”

Talbot demonstrates that Dulles always found a way to do what he wanted, regardless of what he had been asked to do, even from his entry into the World War II’s Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s forerunner. OSS chief William “Wild Bill” Donovan had tried to assign Dulles to London to exploit Dulles’s cozy relationships with high-net-worth individuals like the Rockefellers whom Dulles served as a lawyer at Sullivan and Cromwell. But Dulles instead got himself assigned to Bern, Switzerland, at the near center of Europe and a financial Mecca for secret bank accounts.

Allen Dulles’s older brother John Foster Dulles had funneled “massive U.S. investments” into Germany post-World War I that flowed back to the U.S. as war loans were paid off. Both Dulles brothers enabled the Nazis financially and socially, with John Foster Dulles at one point defending the character of a Nazi lobbyist who threw a party in New York City to celebrate a Nazi victory in France.

Sparing the Nazis

Talbot makes the case that Allen Dulles was all but a “Double Agent” for the Nazis during World War II. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew how close Dulles was to the Germans but thought Dulles, as an American, would do the President’s bidding, serving as a lure for high-profile Nazis so they could be identified and neutralized.

In pursuing victory, FDR pushed for an unconditional surrender, but Dulles had other plans. He told an agent of SS leader Heinrich Himmler that the Allies’ declaration of the need for unconditional surrender was “merely a piece of paper to be scrapped without further ado if Germany would sue for peace.”

Roosevelt had assigned Dulles to support Project Safehaven, a program to identify and confiscate Nazi assets stashed in neutral countries. But instead Dulles, aided by his friend Tom McKittrick, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, sought to protect his German client’s accounts.

Insubordination to presidents was a running theme in Dulles’s life. But the younger Dulles brother did not yet have the power he would command later in life, so FDR’s policies won out over Dulles’s covert challenges.

Money and the power that money enabled, not ideology, was the predominant motivator for Dulles and his ilk. As Talbot noted, “It is not widely recognized that the Nazi reign of terror was, in a fundamental way, a lucrative racket, an extensive criminal enterprise set up to loot the wealth of Jewish victims and exploit their labor.”

Dulles did not appear to have a problem with the decimation of the Jews. Instead, Dulles believed the real enemy were the Communists, who had the potential to shift the balance of financial power. So Dulles found natural camaraderie with the Nazi elite, who also viewed the Soviets as their biggest threat. Dulles ignored or downplayed the reports he was receiving from escapees and journalists regarding the burning of human beings in concentration camps.

Dulles’s declassified communications showed little regard for the killing of the Jews and much more interest in psychological warfare tricks, “such as distributing counterfeit stamps behind enemy lines depicting Hitler’s profile as a death’s skull, and other cloak-and-dagger antics,” Talbot tells us.

When one reporter took a detailed report of what was happening to Dulles, the journalist said Dulles was “profoundly shocked” and thought action should be taken immediately. Yet Dulles had been receiving similar reports for more than two years and had done nothing about it, and he did next to nothing with this report as well.

Dulles wasn’t the only one keeping the atrocities from being reported, of course. First, the Nazis operated in as much secrecy as possible, so credible reports were hard to come by. But even when they came, many others in government, such as Secretary of State Cordell Hull, turned a blind eye. Hull was one of those who advised President Roosevelt not to allow the St. Louis, a ship of German Jewish refugees, to dock at an American port and who had blocked an important, detailed, first-hand account of what was going on in the camps from reaching the President.

In Italy, Dulles pursued his own secret peace agreement, which he dubbed Operation Sunrise, which flew in the face of FDR’s stated policies. And while Dulles presented himself to people as a personal representative of FDR, the absurdity of that was not lost on some of Dulles’s targets.

Launching the Cold War

During the Nuremberg trials, again, Dulles took the side opposite of what FDR had wanted, the meting out of stern justice for such egregious crimes. Where Roosevelt and other Allied leaders saw war criminals, Dulles saw potential spies to be rescued.

Talbot devotes several chapters to Dulles’s cooperation with and protection of the Nazis. One chapter is devoted to Dulles’s bringing the “Gehlen organization” into the fold of U.S. intelligence, with dubious results.

And, Talbot describes how James Angleton appeared to have blackmailed his way into his position of Chief of Counterintelligence by promising not to expose Dulles’s hiding of Nazi funds. That would explain how Angleton rose to such a key position despite his dubious fitness for the job. The paranoid Angleton ruined the lives of many intelligence officers whom he suspected falsely of being foreign spies, while missing the fact that his good friend in British intelligence, Kim Philby, was a Soviet double-agent. But Allen Dulles was ever Angleton’s protector.

Due to the scope of the topics covered, Talbot is necessarily unable to go in great depth into any of them. His coverage of the Hiss case feels superficial to one who has read a great deal on the subject. For example, Talbot speculates that Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official accused of spying for the Soviets, didn’t want to recognize Whittaker Chambers, the chief witness against him, because the two had perhaps engaged in a homosexual liaison.

While that may be true, I’ve always found Hiss’s own reasons compelling: Chambers had gone by another name when he had first known him; it had been many years since they had met; and Chambers’s weight had changed dramatically. That seems to better explain why Hiss claimed he didn’t know Chambers until he had a face-to-face meeting with him. Then, he recognized his long-ago tenant.

Talbot sprinkles a little sexual innuendo throughout the book. Personally, I find that takes away from the telling of history because anyone can say anything about someone else when the person is no longer alive to dispute it. In most cases, these suspicions are neither provable nor relevant. Fortunately, these are minimal interruptions to the overall tale.

Talbot makes a compelling argument that a lot of the abuses of the intelligence apparatus that we are dealing with now had their genesis under Allen Dulles’s version of the CIA. He traces the notion that the CIA is “above the law” and unanswerable to oversight to the McCarthy hearings, where Dulles earned the undying loyalty of the CIA by refusing to turn over Sen. Joe McCarthy’s targets for questioning.

McCarthy was clearly overreaching in his pursuit of suspected Communists and homosexuals as alleged national security threats but there should have been another way to deal with that than by claiming the CIA was above the law. That single act of defiance, perhaps more than anything else, paved the way to the egregious CIA abuses that have occurred in the years since, including the illegal wiretapping of elected officials, opening them up to blackmail.

In another part of the book, Talbot details the rise of Nixon under, in part, Dulles’s sponsorship. Most of us know that Nixon received illegal campaign donations when he was running for president. But Nixon also shook down those who wanted him to run for Congress, claiming he couldn’t afford to live on the salary of a Congressman and that he’d need supplementary income if he were to run. These are the kinds of juicy details Talbot’s book provides in spades.

As CIA Director

President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Dulles as the fifth CIA director and the first civilian director in 1953, but, as Talbot makes clear, Dulles overrode some of Eisenhower’s wishes by collaborating with his brother, John Foster Dulles, who was Secretary of State. By and large, Eisenhower was okay with letting the Dulles brothers run U.S. overt and covert foreign policy as they helped shape the worsening Cold War.

Their hard-line anti-communism and sympathy for colonialism included organizing coups in Iran in 1953 and in Guatemala in 1954 and blocking a political settlement of the Vietnam conflict that would have involved elections leading to the likely victory of Ho Chi Minh. (John Foster Dulles died in 1959. The international airport outside Washington D.C. is named in his honor.)

One chapter focuses on the killing of “dangerous ideas” in the form of a lecturer at Columbia University, Jesús Galíndéz. He and compatriots had fought in the Spanish Civil War and fled to the Dominican Republic, only to find that they had “left Franco’s frying pan and landed in Trujillo’s fire.” Galíndéz later escaped the Dominican Republic for America and wrote a damning 750-page essay called “The Era of Trujillo,” as his PhD thesis.

Talbot reveals the role of CIA operative Robert Maheu and ex-FBI agent John Frank in the kidnapping of Galíndéz and his delivery to Trujillo, who tortured him, boiled him alive and fed him to the sharks. With the help of Dulles’s CIA, Galíndéz died in 1956.

Talbot also argues that the CIA was “too modest” when it claimed it was not responsible for the death of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba who was assassinated just days before John Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961. The CIA basically handed Lumumba over to the people who killed him, making the Agency, at the very least, strong accessories to the plot, and hardly the failed-plot-bystanders, the story that CIA officials sold to the Church Committee.

Though Eisenhower had given the Dulles brothers a long leash for their foreign policy schemes, President John F. Kennedy had different ideas. As president, he wanted to run his own foreign policy, and this deeply rankled Allen Dulles. However, in his first months in office, Kennedy acquiesced to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Furious that he let the CIA sell him on the scheme that was hatched under Eisenhower, Kennedy vowed to rein in the freewheeling CIA.

Dulles hadn’t had to answer to anyone for a long time. But his sloppy Bay of Pigs operation cost him all credibility with Kennedy, who took the high road publicly, refusing to blame the CIA outright. But in private, he made it clear the Agency was not to be trusted and that he wanted to shatter it into a million pieces. The enmity between the pair grew.

Allen Dulles also defied Kennedy’s wishes when the President promoted an opening to the Left in Italy. Under Dulles, the CIA continued working against those same forces while supporting the Right as the spy agency and its predecessor, the OSS, had done since World War II.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy was so suspicious of Dulles’s secret reach that after the Bay of Pigs fiasco he found Dulles’s sister working in the State Department and had her fired. President Kennedy ousted Dulles in November 1961, replacing him with John McCone.

But Dulles did not go quietly into the cold night, as Talbot tells it, but ran, essentially, a government in exile from his home on the Potomac. Talbot details some of the comings and goings and how Dulles may have used his own book tour to help plan and plot the assassination of President Kennedy.

The JFK Assassination

Toward the end of the book, Talbot focuses nearly as much on President Kennedy and the plot to assassinate him as he does on Allen Dulles, with mixed results. While Talbot has the facts right in the broad strokes, if not all the small details, his focus was, in my opinion, a tad misplaced in spots. For example, he appears to believe E. Howard Hunt’s deathbed “confession,” which many in the research community do not.

Hunt, a career intelligence officer who became infamous as a leader of Nixon’s Watergate burglary team, implicated President Lyndon B. Johnson in the plot to kill Kennedy, which has never made sense to me. If LBJ was so ruthless that he killed his way to the presidency, why did he decide not to run again in 1968? Historically, when people have killed their way to the throne, they do not voluntarily abdicate it.

And Hunt’s “confession” seemed motivated more by the goal of leaving his family a little money after his death than by a desire to tell the truth. Indeed, even Talbot is puzzled at things Hunt appears not to know that he would necessarily have known had he been privy to the inner workings of the plot.

Clearly, Talbot focuses on Hunt because of Hunt’s well-documented long-term friendship with Dulles. And, I do believe, from my own research, that Hunt was likely in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, presumably as paymaster, his usual role in operations, based in large part on the fuller evidence from which Talbot created his abbreviated summary on that point. But I’m not persuaded, by this presentation or my other research, that Hunt knew the details of the actual plot.

From my own 25-plus years of research into the documentary record of the Kennedy assassination, I have come to believe it more likely that Richard Helms, James Angleton and David Atlee Phillips were the top plotters, not Dulles. But, to Talbot’s point, all of these men were beholden, at different levels, to Dulles; in fact, Angleton carried Dulles’s ashes at his funeral in 1969.

David Atlee Phillips gained power in the CIA because of his successful operations during the 1954 overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala under Dulles. Helms was apparently insulated from the Bay of Pigs disaster in April 1961, perhaps by Dulles to keep a loyal person at the upper echelon of the CIA.

Given the hostility between Dulles and Kennedy, it remains a historical anomaly that Dulles managed to finagle his way onto the official investigation of Kennedy’s assassination. In that position, Allen Dulles was more responsible than anyone for the deliberate obfuscations of the Warren Commission. Dulles spent more minutes working for the commission than any other member. I agree with Talbot that the body should more appropriately have been named “the Dulles Commission.”

Talbot repudiated the recently resurfaced canard that Robert Kennedy had asked LBJ to appoint Dulles to the commission, a point lawyer and former House Select Committee investigator Dan Hardway has also recently made in detail recently with additional evidence. (See Section VIII in Hardway’s article “Thank you, Phil Shenon.”)

Dulles really did have ties to the family of Ruth and Michael Paine, the couple that housed the Oswalds in the months before the assassination. And Dulles really did monitor New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s case against Clay Shaw through the man Garrison had hired to provide “security,” Gordon Novel.

One of the most interesting people Talbot examined in the latter part of his book was JFK adviser and historian Arthur Schlesinger, who apparently had a distaste for Dulles and the CIA’s actions professionally while maintaining a personal and even warm relationship with Dulles though Schlesinger came to question that friendship in later years.

One of Talbot’s chapters, “I can’t look and I won’t look,” is named for something Schlesinger said when confronted with evidence of conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination. Here was a man so wedded to his circle that he did not want to believe someone he knew and admired could be responsible for such a heinous crime.

Toward the end of his life, Schlesinger reflected on his “truce” and friendship with Dulles’s protégé Richard Helms and later CIA Director William Casey. Talbot quoted Schlesinger as saying, “I did wonder at one’s [meaning his own] capacity to continue liking people who have been involved in wicked things. Is this deplorable weakness? Or commendable tolerance?”

The same must be asked of the public’s tolerance of secret operations that run counter to the principles of democracy in an open society. Is it commendable to tolerate assassinations and the darker deeds in the name of preserving the republic, or, more accurately, protecting the holdings of corporate leaders in the republic, or is it our weakness, as citizens of a democratic republic, that we have not raised our voices in protest of a secret, parallel government that has and no doubt will continue to pursue an independent path, out of control of our democracy?

That is the question that Talbot’s book asks between the lines. The Devil’s Chessboard gives us essential information to ponder before we make our answer.

Lisa Pease is a writer who has examined issues ranging from the Kennedy assassination to voting irregularities in recent U.S. elections.




Bowing to Silly US Propaganda

The U.S. government and mainstream media are so lost in their own propaganda that U.S. foreign policy lurches around the globe like a dangerous half-blind giant. False narratives are so powerful that even Sen. Bernie Sanders bends to the delusions, a danger to both U.S. national interests and the planet, writes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

If the U.S. is to ever change its foreign policy, which is currently based on dominance and aggression, to a foreign policy based on diplomacy and respect for international law, there needs to be a foundation of realistic assessments. Foreign policy decisions need to be based on reality not fantasy and propaganda.

Unfortunately, dysfunction, deception and propaganda extend across the spectrum from congressional Republicans to Hillary Clinton to the White House to Sen. Bernie Sanders. The following are recent examples:

–Benghazi Hearings in Congress ignore important issues to focus on superficial. Congress recently held hearings on what happened in Benghazi, Libya, leading up to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel on Sept. 11, 2012. The hearings focused on what former Secretary of State Clinton knew, when she knew it and whether she should have ordered more security. Before that, millions of dollars were spent exploring the fact that she maintained her email at a home server.

Yet, the root cause of Stevens’ death and consequences of the US/NATO overthrow of the Gaddafi government have been ignored. The hearings were silent on the deaths of tens of thousands of Libyans, the eruption and expansion of terrorism within Libya and beyond, and the massive numbers of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Instead of evaluating the consequences of “regime change” in Libya, Congressional members focused on cheap political advantage. Mainstream media said nothing about the shallowness of the hearings; they were happy to report on political maneuvering and whether or not Clinton would lose her temper or be able to get “above the fray.”

Points which would have been informative to explore include: Were the claims of imminent “massacre” in Benghazi exaggerated and largely false? These claims paved the way to the UN Security Council resolution and NATO imposed No Fly Zone. Was it a fake emergency? Who authorized the transition from “protecting civilians” to a campaign of attack and Libyan government overthrow? UN Security Council members China and Russia both say there were deceived and that the U.S. and NATO violated the UN Security Council resolution.

Politicians and much of the media have portrayed Gaddafi as “crazy” for many years. For readers interested in a reality check, see the short video of Gaddafi’s speech to the Arab League in 2008 as he points out the contradictions of acknowledging Israel on the 1967 boundary, as he warns the Arab League leaders of plots and coups, and as he says “we might be next” (for assassination).  For a concise contrast of Libya before and after the NATO-backed invasion see this article aptly titled “From Africa’s wealthiest democracy under Gaddafi to Terrorist Haven after US Intervention.”

–Clinton advocates No Fly Zone for Syria despite U.S. military opposition and Turkey turning against it. U.S. military leadership has generally opposed the “no fly zone” idea because a “no fly zone” begins with military attacks on anti-aircraft positions and is an act of war. They have underscored that imposing such a zone in Syria would be vastly more difficult than in Libya where there were no sophisticated anti-aircraft installations. Even then it took seven months of intense bombing to overthrow the Tripoli government. The risks in Syria would be huge with a significant chance of international war. The idea is reckless and irresponsible for the following reasons:

The areas are controlled by armed opposition groups, predominately Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaeda). Very few civilians remain in the areas proposed for “no fly zone” in Syria. Most have fled to areas under Syrian government control, especially around Latakia and Tartous. Others have gone to Turkey. The proposal is basically to make U.S. and NATO the air force for Al Qaeda. Amazing.

If a “no fly zone” were imposed, it would more likely become an “intense conflict zone” rather than a “safe zone” as promoted by interventionists. It would bring U.S. and NATO directly into the conflict which is what the proponents want. There already exists a “safe zone.” It’s called the Turkish border.

Of crucial importance, the second Turkish Parliamentary elections are Nov. 1. Polls indicate the ruling “Justice and Development Party” (AKP) will probably lose majority control of the parliament. It’s possible they will lose power altogether. Either way, this will put a stop to the schemes for an all powerful Turkish President (Erdogan) and continuation of the war on Syria. All three non-AKP parties in Turkey oppose the current policies supporting war and terrorism in Syria. Thus, Clinton’s “no fly zone” proposal is opportunistic and out of step with reality in Syria and Turkey.

White House continues anti-Assad lies as they are further exposed in Turkey. The White House must know very well that Assad government forces did NOT carry out the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. White House officials must be acutely aware of this because they could not get the U.S. intelligence community to agree with a statement that President Bashar al-Assad was behind the atrocity in the days following the attack. Instead of the usual “U.S. Intelligence assesses with high confidence ” they had to substitute the “U.S. Government assesses ” Although rarely remarked or noted in the mainstream media, this was a significant deviation.

Despite this, and the investigations by some of the most acclaimed U.S. investigative journalists (Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry, Gareth Porter, Russell Baker) all pointing to the Assad government NOT being responsible, just a couple weeks ago the White House spokesman asserted the Assad government “used chemical weapons against his own people.”

Last week in Turkey, two deputies of the social democratic party CHP held a press conference to expose the evidence of Turkish involvement in shipping sarin to Syria and the refusal of the Erdogan government to pursue the investigation or charge the culprits. This evidence, including wiretaps, supports the conclusions of Hersh and others that the chemical weapons used in the Aug. 21, 2013 attack were supplied by Turkey to armed “rebels.” This further exposes the fact-free propaganda that “Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.” Politicians and mainstream media outlets such as PBS Frontline just keep repeating it.

–Bernie Sanders joins the absurd propaganda campaign against Venezuela and its deceased leader Hugo Chavez. As recently reported at Venezuelanalysis, Sen. Sanders referred to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a “dead communist dictator.” It’s nonsense, just like the White House claim that Venezuela is a “threat to U.S. national interests.” It’s sad that Sanders is following that path.

Chavez was a socialist, not a communist; he was member and leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Between 1998 and 2013, Chavez and the PSUV competed in elections 17 times.  They won every time except once. Elections in Venezuela are vastly more free and fair than elections in the US. They have high turnout; they have very active and hard campaigning; there is a paper trail to verify the accuracy of the electronic voting, over 50 percent of the electronic votes are matched to the paper votes to confirm the accuracy of the vote counting.

National Lawyers Guild and Task Force on the Americas (and others) have sent many delegations to Venezuela. They have observed conditions including the voting process. The National Lawyers Guild’s statement on the 2013 election concluded the Venezuelan elections were “well organized, fair and transparent.”

“The U.S. would do well to incorporate some of the security checks and practices that are routine in Venezuela to improve both the level of participation and the credibility of our elections,” said NLG attorney Robin Alexander.

So why in the world is Bernie Sanders promoting false propaganda that Chavez was a “communist dictator”? Task Force on the Americas, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has written a letter to the Sanders campaign asking him to review and correct his inaccurate statement.

There is profound need for dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy. Given that over 55 percent of the discretionary budget of the U.S. goes to the military, it’s likely that positive changes in domestic policy will depend on changes in foreign policy. The starting point has to be realistic assessments of conditions in other countries, sincere examinations of the consequences of past actions and a genuine commitment to abide by international law. As we can see from the above examples, there is a long way to go.

Rick Sterling is an independent researcher/writer. He is on the board of Task Force on the Americas. He can be reached at rsterling1@gmail.com




Secrecy and Hillary Clinton

Over-classification of documents is the weapon of choice wielded by the U.S. government to punish  whistleblowers and keep the American people in the dark about its actions around the world. But the well-connected, like Hillary Clinton, get special forbearance, notes Diane Roark.

By Diane Roark

The system for classifying intelligence and other national security documents is broken in major respects. Increasingly, it is also manipulated to punish perceived critics or to protect agency reputations and high officials, both from adverse publicity and in the courts. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private rather than State Department email service illustrates many of these issues. Her experience stands in stark contrast to treatment of national security whistleblowers, as illustrated in particular by variance in National Security Agency (NSA) communications intelligence policies.

–Culpability. Former Secretary of State Clinton clearly and knowingly mishandled classified information. As a U.S. senator, security clearances were required for her membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2003 to 2009. Therefore, she knew the rules for handling classified information before she decided, at the outset when she became Secretary of State in early 2009, to use personal rather than secure email.

Hillary and Bill Clinton had suffered many political and public relations crises. She had already run for the presidency and likely would do so again. Rules for handling classified information were ignored, the effect being to hide records that could be used against her in a second presidential run.

It simply could never be argued plausibly that for four years, a person in the highest U.S. foreign policy slot had no classified or sensitive information in any business emails that she wrote or received over 30,000 of them. This defies the definition of the job.

The State Department is a primary user and a significant generator of classified information that bears on the great majority of issues coming before the Secretary. The State Department is also a profligate designator of “Sensitive But Unclassified” information.

–Overclassification. It is widely admitted that the intelligence classification system suffers from systemic over-classification. President Barack Obama has acknowledged the problem, and one review group even stated that almost every item now labeled Confidential should be Unclassified. There is no penalty for playing it safe or playing it political by classifying at too high a level, but there are potentially severe repercussions for an individual who mistakenly classifies at too low a level, or who is known to mishandle or publicly reveal classified information.

It is most unlikely, however, that Hillary Clinton will fall victim to accusations that rely on improper over­classification. The State Department and White House, including President Obama himself, sought to protect her and to minimize the effects of her behavior.

The case is extremely high-profile, Democrats in Congress would attack any borderline classification, and a host of well­paid lawyers would rise to her defense. Improperly classified items or those deemed Sensitive but Unclassified may be redacted from publicly released documents, but it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Clinton would be falsely accused of felonies.

Whistleblowers suffer a quite different fate. Intelligence agencies easily and repeatedly retaliate for the airing of their dirty laundry by accusing the whistleblower of improperly handling or revealing allegedly classified information. The Obama administration then prosecutes them under the Espionage Act, under which altruistic motivation is irrelevant and may not even be raised in court.

Former CIA official John Kiriakou revealed on television that post ­9/11 torture was official U.S. policy, not just attributable to a few rogue agents. The CIA seethed, but the Justice Department would not prosecute. Unfortunately, Kiriakou erred in giving a reporter the business card of a man he thought had retired from CIA but was still an agent under cover. The agent’s name was not published, but CIA got its revenge when Kiriakou was indicted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981. Left penniless with over $700,000 in legal bills even before trial, Kiriakou finally accepted a felony plea bargain and went to jail.

Thomas Drake and this author went through proper official channels in 2001­2002 to protest NSA’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. Along with colleagues Kirk Wiebe, William Binney and Edward Loomis, they also reported to the Defense Department Inspector General the waste of money on NSA modernization.

After domestic surveillance leaked to the New York Times four years later, the five became primary suspects, partly because the IG improperly offered their names to the FBI. All were raided, but no evidence was found because, as the reporter later stated publicly, he had not then met or communicated with any of the five.

Nonetheless, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for possessing five Unclassified NSA papers that NSA retroactively classified. He was threatened with 35 years in prison unless he pled guilty, but heroically resisted. Pre­trial hearings proved all the information in the documents had been declassified by NSA. After a years­old interview record was orally falsified, this author was asked to plead guilty to felony perjury, but also refused.

Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 governing classification stipulates that no information may be classified to conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; to prevent embarrassment; to restrain competition; or to prevent or delay release of information not requiring protection. This section is observed in the breach, as political considerations dictate.

For all the above proscribed reasons, unclassified parts of the NSA IG audit we requested are still withheld by NSA ten years after the audit was first published. Former NSA contractors Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou showed that illegal and unconstitutional activities were hidden from American citizens and others behind the veil of classification. For revealing material that never should have been classified in the first place, they are paying a very high price.

In Snowden’s case, many revelations about domestic surveillance still are treated as classified to keep them from U.S. voters, although every terrorist and every intelligence agency in the world has access to the documents and almost no ordinary person in any country of interest to the U.S. can function efficiently whilst avoiding NSA surveillance.

–Sensitive but Unclassified Material. Individual agencies claim an unsupervised right to withhold admittedly Unclassified information according to any criteria they see fit and for as long as they choose. In the Clinton email case, it is quite striking that not a word has been breathed about such Unclassified but Sensitive material. Her free pass in this respect is the envy of whistleblowers.

In our case, NSA initially refused to return any materials seized in the raids. When sued, NSA claimed that if a computer contained even one admittedly Unclassified document with material that had not been officially released by NSA, the Agency could retain and destroy the entire computer content. Courts eventually allowed NSA to keep such individual documents in their entirety and at their sole discretion, but required that others be copied and returned.

–With ordinary citizens or lower-level whistleblowers, Sensitive but Unclassified material is wielded as yet another weapon in the Executive’s arsenal of punishments. Even high­level intelligence officials have had difficulty publishing their memoirs, partly because pre­publication review agreements routinely allow an agency to withhold unclassified information.

Since the 1950s, most judges refuse to review allegedly classified or sensitive material even to determine that it does not fall under the common­sense prohibitions of Section 1.7 of the Executive Order on classification. The Executive Branch has also been famously successful in promulgating a “state secrets” doctrine to avoid or indefinitely delay court scrutiny of important civil liberties issues such as domestic surveillance. It is now known, however, that the original state secrets precedent wrongly invoked intelligence sources and methods to cover up Air Force culpability for a plane crash.

In the author’s case, even NSA’s grossly inconsistent classifications got a free pass. A document that was released to Kirk Wiebe as Unclassified was branded Top Secret Compartmented when found on the author’s computer. Confronted with this vast discrepancy, NSA alleged that it could neither confirm nor deny that the document had previously been released. It keeps no records of prior declassifications. Even in a related court case. Nor is it interested in an available system to compile and compare such records. But the judge let the classification stand.

Diane Roark retired in 2002 after 17 years on the professional staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and prior service on the National Security Council Staff, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in the Intelligence section of the International division of the Department of Energy.




Jeffrey Sterling’s Selective Prosecution

Exclusive: The leak conviction of ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling exposed a range of double standards, from how the spy agency treats African-Americans to how favored officials like Gen. David Petraeus get a pass while others get prison, an issue now before President Obama, writes Chelsea Gilmour.

By Chelsea Gilmour

Holly Sterling, the wife of a former CIA officer convicted of leaking details about a botched CIA plan to give flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran, has asked President Barack Obama to pardon her husband who was targeted for prosecution after accusing the CIA of racial discrimination and taking his concerns about the Iran scheme to congressional authorities.

In a 14-page letter to President Obama, Holly Sterling recounted the personal nightmare of the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of her husband, Jeffrey Sterling, an African-American, after an account of the Iran operation codenamed Operation Merlin appeared in State of War, a 2006 book by New York Times reporter James Risen.

After a conviction earlier this year based on only circumstantial evidence with Risen refusing to identify his source or sources Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to 3½ years in prison, a punishment that the judge made more severe because Sterling would not admit guilt and insisted on a trial.

Holly Sterling pleaded with the President to free her husband, noting the disparity between his sentence and the misdemeanor probation given to retired Gen. David Petraeus who admitted to giving highly classified information to his mistress/biographer and lying about it to FBI investigators.

“How do you explain the obvious disparate treatment of General Petraeus?” she asked Obama. “If one strips away the race, financial status, and political clout of Jeffrey and Mr. Petraeus and solely reviewed the alleged crimes of Jeffrey and those pled by the general, it is glaringly obvious this was selective prosecution and sentencing. Mr. Petraeus pled to far more egregious acts than Jeffrey was convicted of, yet Jeffrey is rotting in a prison cell while Mr. Petraeus continues to live his life as he so chooses.”

She also reminded Obama that he risked going down in history as the president who prosecuted more whistleblowers than all his predecessors combined. Obama’s zealous pursuit of leakers has stifled the normal give-and-take between national security officials and journalists, a process that historically has given the people some insights into what the U.S. government is doing in their name.

In the letter to Obama and at a news conference on Thursday, Holly Sterling sought to provide context for the U.S. government’s aggressive prosecution of her husband. She recalled how he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1993 and was trained as a case officer for the Iran Task Force, which included him learning Farsi.

In 1997, as Sterling was preparing to be stationed in Germany for his first overseas post, he was approached by a supervisor and told the job had been given to another employee, as Holly Sterling explained in her letter to the President. “It was at that moment, his supervisor stated [the reasoning], ‘We are concerned you would stick out as a big black guy speaking Farsi.’ With shock and dismay, Jeffrey replied, ‘When did you realize I was black?’”

Based on this episode and subsequent disparate treatment, Jeffrey filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint based on racial discrimination, the first African-American to do so, but it was dismissed in part because of the “state secrets privilege.” During this time, Sterling and Risen were in contact about the lawsuit, which Risen described in a New York Times story in 2002.

Risk of Whistle-blowing

After being dismissed from the CIA, Sterling took the steps that would eventually make him a whistleblower and get him targeted as the number one suspect in the leak investigation regarding Operation Merlin.

“In 2003, Jeffrey went to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to voice concerns he had regarding ‘Operation Merlin,’ which he worked on while at the agency,” Holly Sterling wrote. “He had grave concerns about mismanagement of the program and potential harm to our country. This was a legal and proper channel for agency employees to voice any such concerns.”

Holly Sterling’s appeal to Obama reflected the desperation of a 10½-year legal battle that culminated in Jeffrey Sterling’s conviction last May on nine felony counts, including seven under the antiquated Espionage Act, a World War I-era law aimed at spies and saboteurs, not whistleblowers.

Her letter seeking a pardon was the catalyst for a press conference about the Sterling case and the Obama administration’s “war on whistleblowers.” The speakers included Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics adviser to the Justice Department and herself a whistleblower; Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency where he exposed both waste and privacy violations; former CIA analyst Ray McGovern; and Delphine Halgand, a representative of Reporters Without Borders.

“I would like to remind everyone that Jeffrey Sterling is a whistleblower,” Radack pointed out. “Sterling is a whistleblower because he met with the Senate Committee on Intelligence [in 2003], a proper internal political channel that we’re always hearing people talk about and he made reports about what he saw as a botched CIA operation.”

Three years later after Risen’s book was published in 2006 the FBI targeted Sterling as the chief suspect, searching his house near St. Louis, where he worked as a fraud investigator. There was a period of relative quiet, until 2011, when Jeffrey was lured by his then-employer to his office under the ploy of a work meeting, and then was arrested by the FBI.

Though there were 90 other CIA officers who knew the details of Operation Merlin — and trial testimony during the Sterling case revealed that the FBI initially believed the leak had come from a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Sterling became the focal point of the investigation because he was seen as being a “disgruntled” employee who was fired by the CIA. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Persecution of CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling]

During the trial, evidence presented against Sterling consisted almost entirely of the metadata of conversations (phone calls and emails) between Sterling and Risen. The metadata provided the logs of conversations but did not include any actual content of the conversations, only that they took place. At no point were the prosecutors able to find any concrete evidence that Sterling had disclosed information regarding Operation Merlin to Risen.

Adequate Evidence?

The circumstantial evidence was deemed adequate, however, because Sterling was being charged under the Espionage Act, which only requires circumstantial evidence to prove guilt. Besides the relative ease of getting a conviction, the Espionage Act also makes no distinction between revealing information for the benefit of the public interest and engaging in conduct designed to help a foreign enemy in wartime.

“The Espionage Act has become a strict liability law, meaning that the prosecution does not have to prove that the whistleblower had any intent to harm the United States or benefit a foreign nation,” said Jesselyn Radack, who heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. “Worse, Sterling’s conviction is based on flimsy circumstantial evidence that almost certainly would not result in a conviction, except under the very vague and overbroad Espionage Act.”

Thomas Drake added, “And not only do they [administration officials] go after them [the whistleblowers] under the Espionage Act — it’s selective, it’s malicious, and it’s vindictive. See the problem, and of course, if you’re the government then you know this (they don’t like to admit it, but they will say it when necessary), if you’re charged with espionage there’s no public interest defense.

“If you go to the oversight committee [and the committee officials] decide you might have given something to them [that they] don’t like that you gave to them, even though they have oversight responsibilities, that’s no defense either. So here you are practicing the First Amendment redress in the public interest, and you find yourself criminalized. And that’s what’s happened in this country.”

Since the enactment of the Espionage Act in 1917, the Obama administration has used it to convict more people than all other administrations combined.

“The Obama administration presided over the most draconian crackdown on national security and intelligence whistleblowers in U.S. history,” Radack said. “The Justice Department has used the antiquated Espionage Act as a bludgeon to threaten, coerce, silence, and imprison whistleblowers for alleged mishandling of classified information.”

Radack continued, “Meanwhile, powerful and politically connected individuals accused of the same and much worse conduct receive, at most, a slap on the wrist. Like General David Petraeus, who gave away more secret information at a much higher level to his mistress and received a sweetheart plea deal for a minor misdemeanor.”

Thomas Drake elaborated, “In this country, National Security reigns supreme, it trumps everything. The primacy of national security gives the elite and those in privileged positions of power no accountability. It gives them immunity from any attempt to hold them responsible. And yet, we have an administration that has no problem licensing unto itself the authorization to leak to the press on an extraordinary level, in fact, leaking highly classified sources and methods for political purposes and to present themselves in the best possible light.

“And yet, if you go to an intel committee which provides oversight on the secret side of government, or if you dare go to the press or have any contact with the press, at all, under any circumstances, then you’ll be charged with espionage. Last time I checked, real spies don’t go to the press. Real spies go to other spies. Real spies don’t make public their secrets.”

Targeting Critics

Drake noted parallels between the Sterling case and his own whistleblowing case, in the context of disparate treatment and seeking appropriate redress in the public’s best interest. He explained that the government will often chalk these whistleblowing cases up to “individuals who have ‘personal grievances.’ So you have in my [Drake’s] case and in Jeffrey Sterling’s case, we bear the full punishment, we bear the burden of the politics of abject and outright personal destruction.

“We, as sources, whether to hold a mirror to those things in government that are wrong, that violate the law, that actually are, in fact, a danger to our national security, we’re the ones that pay the high price, we’re the ones that are put up on the altar of national security as sacrifices.”

In 2010, the U.S. government accused Drake, who had complained about NSA abuses, of mishandling classified material under the Espionage Act. Eventually all 10 original charges were dropped and Drake pled to one misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer.

As for the disparity between Petraeus’s wrist-slap and Jeffrey Sterling’s prison term, Holly Sterling said, “If you honestly look at the two cases you see that General Petraeus committed far more egregious acts than Jeffrey had allegedly done, and he did it for selfish reasons, while Jeffrey had gone to the Senate Intelligence Committee because he was concerned about the citizens of our country and what this possible Operation Merlin could have done.

“So, with General Petraeus’s punishment and Jeffrey’s punishment, it’s basically saying that the thought in this country is that if you are a Caucasian person and you do wrong, that you don’t need to be punished for it and you get a slap on the wrist, while if you are a man of color, you are guilty until proven innocent and you belong behind bars.”

Ray McGovern cited the troublesome use of metadata during the Sterling trial as evidence of guilt, noting that another name for metadata is circumstantial evidence. McGovern recalled that last May, “the former NSA General Council, Stu Baker, said ‘metadata absolutely tells you everything about anyone’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need any content.’”

McGovern described a meeting between Stu Baker and former NSA Director Michael Hayden, in which Baker’s metadata quote was repeated in the presence of Hayden. McGovern said, “General Hayden said, ‘If you have enough metadata you don’t need any content, we kill people based on metadata.’ Well, we also imprison people based on, mostly illegally acquired, metadata” a reference to the NSA’s collection of metadata on people around the world, including American citizens.

Dangerous Precedent

Delphine Halgand cited the dangerous precedent for whistleblowers and journalists that the Sterling trial represented because of the use of metadata: “The Department of Justice built a case against Sterling based entirely on circumstantial evidence and they sustained his conviction in what the BBC called, ‘a trial by metadata.’ How is it possible that proving the simple existence of contacts between a former CIA operative and a journalist is sufficient to convict someone of espionage?

“Is a relationship with a reporter the new catalyst for government prosecution of whistleblowers, whether alleged or actual? If anybody can be sentenced in the United States just because he was merely talking to a journalist on a regular basis, where is press freedom heading in the country of the First Amendment?”

Halgand continued, “It is really clear that the Department of Justice chose to make an example of Jeffrey, to warn government employees against talking to journalists. Leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalism in this country given that nearly all information related to national security is considered secret and classified.

“In fact, the war on whistleblowers is designed to restrict all but the officially approved version of events. The United States has witnessed an alarming trend in curtailing freedom on information these recent years, and as we heard earlier, President Obama’s so-called ‘war on whistleblowers’ played an important role in this decline.”

As Thomas Drake put it, “In the United States, national security is currently engaging in unamending the First Amendment. The cornerstone, the foundation of the Bill of Rights and all of our liberties and freedoms. If you don’t have the ability to do redress for grievances, if you don’t have the ability to publish what is in the public interest, to inform people, to associate freely one to another, then what we call our constitutional republic, this special form of democracy, begins to erode and disappear.”

Jesselyn Radack summed up the issue by reminding that whistleblower-leak investigations “mak[e] clear that punishing whistleblowers is a backdoor way of punishing journalists.” While curtailing the freedom of the press may be the ultimate target of this “war on whistleblowers,” Radack and Drake both remarked that, tragically, it is usually the whistleblower, the source, who takes the brunt of the law.

Holly Sterling reiterated that sentiment in her letter to Obama. “Not only has Jeffrey suffered but so have his family, his friends, community and society. And now an intelligent, strong, ethical, and productive member of our world feels as though he ceases to exist while in prison.”

While Holly Sterling has requested a presidential pardon, Sterling’s team is also appealing the court’s decision. But as media critic Normon Solomon, who helped host the press conference, put it, “‘Glacial’ would be overstating the speed with which the U.S. government is willing to proceed on such appeals.”

Radack added, “A pardon is vastly preferable to an appeal because appeals can take years and cost tons of extra money whereas a pardon can be done in a snap and it also erases the crime.” But she added, “I predict that General Petraeus will have a pardon before Jeffrey Sterling gets either a pardon or an appeal.”

Chelsea Gilmour is an assistant editor at Consortiumnews.com. She has previously published “The Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey” and Jeb Bushs Tangled Past.]




NYT Plays Games with MH-17 Tragedy

Exclusive: There was a time when The New York Times showed some skepticism toward the words of the U.S. government but those days are long gone, as the Times sinks even deeper into the propaganda swamp with an editorial playing games with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tragedy, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In its single-minded propaganda campaign against Russia, The New York Times has no interest in irony, but if it had, it might note that some of the most important advances made by the Dutch Safety Board’s report on the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came because the Russian government declassified sensitive details about its anti-aircraft weaponry.

The irony is that the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to declassify its intelligence information on the tragedy, which presumably could answer some of the key remaining mysteries, such as where the missile was fired and who might have fired it. While merrily bashing the Russians, the Times has failed to join in demands for the U.S. government to make public what it knows about the tragedy that killed 298 people on July 17, 2014.

In other words, through its hypocritical approach to this atrocity, the Times has been aiding and abetting a cover-up of crucial evidence, all the better to score some propaganda points against the Russ-kies, the antithesis of what an honest news organization would do.

In its editorial on Thursday, The Times also continues to play on the assumed ignorance of its readers by hyping the fact that the likely weapon, a Buk surface-to-air missile, was “Russian-made,” which while true, is not probative of which side fired it. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, is armed with Russian-made weapons, too.

But that obvious fact is skirted by the Times highlighting in its lead paragraph that the plane was shot down “by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile,” adding: “Even Russia, which has spent much of those [past] 15 months generating all kinds of implausible theories that put the blame on Ukraine, and doing its best to thwart investigations, has had to acknowledge that this is what happened.”

Though some misinformed Times’ readers might be duped into finding that sentence persuasive, the reality is that Russia has long considered it likely that a Buk or other anti-aircraft missile was involved in downing MH-17. That’s why Russia declassified so many details about its Buk systems for the Dutch investigation something governments are loath to do and the Russian manufacturer issued a report on the likely Buk role last June.

But the Times pretends that the Russians have now been cornered with the truth, writing that Russia “now argues that the fatal missile was an older model that the Russian armed forces no longer use, and that it was fired from territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.” Yet, much of that information was provided by the Russian missile manufacturer a long time ago and was the subject of a June press conference.

Blinded by Bias

If the Times editors weren’t blinded by their anti-Russian bias, they also might have noted that the Dutch Safety Board and the Russian manufacturer of the Buk anti-missile system are in substantial agreement over the older Buk model type that apparently brought down MH-17.

Almaz-Antey, the Russian Buk manufacturer, said last June that its analysis of the plane’s wreckage revealed that MH-17 had been attacked by a “9M38M1 of the Buk M1 system.” The company’s Chief Executive Officer Yan Novikov said the missile was last produced in 1999.

The Dutch report, released Tuesday, said: “The damage observed on the wreckage in amount of damage, type of damage, boundary and impact angles of damage, number and density of hits, size of penetrations and bowtie fragments found in the wreckage, is consistent with the damage caused by the 9N314M warhead used in the 9M38 and 9M38M1 BUK surface-to-air missile.”

Also on Tuesday, the manufacturer expanded on its findings saying that the warhead at issue had not been produced since 1982 and was long out of Russia’s military arsenal, but adding that as of 2005 there were 991 9M38M1 Buk missiles and 502 9M38 missiles in Ukraine’s inventory. Company executives said they knew this because of discussions regarding the possible life-extension of the missiles.

Based on other information regarding how the warhead apparently struck near the cockpit of MH-17, the manufacturer calculated the missile’s likely flight path and firing location, placing it in the eastern Ukrainian village of Zakharchenko, a few miles south of route H21 and about four miles southwest of the town of Shakhtars’k, a lightly populated rural part of Donetsk province that the Russians claim was then under Ukrainian government control.

The area is about three miles west of the 320-square-kilometer zone that the Dutch report established as the likely area from which the missile was fired. In July 2014, control of that area was being contested although most of the fighting was occurring about 100 kilometers to the north, meaning that the southern sector was more poorly defined and open to the possibility of a mobile system crossing from one side to the other.

Almaz-Antay CEO Novikov said the company’s calculations placed the missile site in Zakharchenko with “great accuracy,” a possible firing zone that “does not exceed three to four kilometers in length and four kilometers in width.” However, Ukrainian authorities said their calculations placed the firing location farther to the east, deeper into rebel-controlled territory.

Thus, the importance of the U.S. intelligence data that Secretary of State John Kerry claimed to possess just three days after the plane was shot down. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 20, 2014, Kerry declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

But the U.S. government has released none of its evidence on the shoot-down. A U.S. intelligence source told me that CIA analysts briefed the Dutch investigators but under conditions of tight secrecy. None of the U.S. information was included in the report and Dutch officials have refused to discuss any U.S. intelligence information on the grounds of national security.

In the weeks after the shoot-down, I was told by another source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that they had concluded that a rogue element of the Ukrainian government tied to one of the oligarchs was responsible for the attack, while absolving senior Ukrainian leaders including President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. But I wasn’t able to determine whether this U.S. analysis was a consensus or a dissident opinion.

Last October, Der Spiegel reported that German intelligence, the BND, concluded that the Russian government was not the source of the missile battery that it had been captured from a Ukrainian military base but the BND blamed the ethnic Russian rebels for firing it. However, a European source told me that the BND’s analysis was not as conclusive as Der Spiegel had described.

Prior to the MH-17 crash, ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine were reported to have captured a Buk system after overrunning a government air base, but Ukrainian authorities said the system was not operational, as recounted in the Dutch report. The rebels also denied possessing a functioning Buk system.

Who Has These Buks?

As for whether the 9M38 Buk system is still in the Ukrainian military arsenal, government officials in Kiev claimed to have sold their stockpile of older Buks to Georgia, but Ukraine appears to still possess the 9M38 Buk system, based on photographs of Ukrainian weapons displays. In other words, Ukrainian authorities appear to be lying about this crucial point.

It should be noted, too, that just because Russia no longer deploys the outmoded Buks doesn’t mean that it might not have some mothballed in warehouses that could be pulled out and distributed in a sub rosa fashion, although both the Ukrainian rebels and Russian officials deny this possibility. According to the Ukrainian government, the rebels were only known to have shoulder-fired “manpads” in July 2014 and that weapon lacked the range to destroy a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet.

Yet, rather than delve into this important mystery, The New York Times’ editorial simply repeats the Western “group think” that took shape in the days after the MH-17 tragedy, that somehow the rebels shot down the plane with a Buk missile supplied by Russia. The other possibility that the missile was fired by some element of the Ukrainian security forces was given short-shrift despite the fact that Ukraine had moved some of its Buk batteries into eastern Ukraine presumably to shoot down possible Russian aircraft incursions.

As described in the Dutch report, this Ukrainian concern was quite real in the days before the MH-17 shoot-down. On July 16 just one day before the tragedy a Ukrainian SU-25 jetfighter was shot down by what Ukrainian authorities concluded was an air-to-air missile presumably fired by a Russian warplane patrolling the Russia-Ukraine border.

Thus, it would make sense that the Ukrainian air-defense forces would have moved their Buk batteries close to the border and would have been on the lookout for possible Russian intruders entering or leaving Ukrainian air space. So, one possibility is that a poorly organized Ukrainian air-defense force mistook MH-17 for a hostile Russian aircraft high-tailing it back to Russia and fired.

Another theory that I’m told U.S. intelligence analysts examined was the possibility that a rogue Ukrainian element linked to a fiercely anti-Russian oligarch may have hoped that President Vladimir Putin’s official plane was in Ukrainian air space en route home from a state visit to South America. Putin’s jet and MH-17 had very similar markings. But Putin used a different route and had already landed in Moscow.

A third possibility, which I’m told at least some U.S. analysts think makes the most sense, was that the attack on MH-17 was a premeditated provocation by a team working for a hard-line oligarch with the goal of getting Russia blamed and heightening Western animosity toward Putin.

Obama’s Secrets

But whatever your preferred scenario whether you think the Russians or the Ukrainians did it the solution to the mystery could clearly benefit from President Barack Obama doing what Putin has done: declassify relevant intelligence and defense information.

One might think that the Times’ editors would be at the forefront of demanding transparency from the U.S. government, especially since senior U.S. officials rushed out of the gate in the days after the tragedy to put the blame on the Russians. Yet, since five days after the shoot-down, the Obama administration has refused to update or refine its claims.

Earlier this year, a spokesperson for Director for National Intelligence James Clapper told me that the DNI would not provide additional information out of concern that it might influence the Dutch investigation, a claim that lacked credibility because the Dutch investigation began within a day of the MH-17 crash and the DNI issued a sketchy white paper on the case four days later.

In other words, the initial U.S. rush to judgment already had prejudiced the investigation by indicating which way the United States, a NATO ally of the Netherlands, wanted the inquiry to go: blame the Russians. Later, withholding more refined intelligence data also concealed whatever contrary analyses had evolved within the U.S. intelligence community after Kerry and the DNI had jumped to their hasty conclusions.

Yet, The New York Times took note of none of that, simply piling on the Russians again and hailing a dubious online publication called Bellingcat, which has consistently taken whatever the U.S. propaganda line is on international incidents and has systematically screwed up key facts.

In 2013, Bellingcat’s founder Eliot Higgins got the firing location wrong for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria. He foisted the blame on Bashar al-Assad’s forces in line with U.S. propaganda but it turned out that the missile’s range was way too short for his analysis to be correct. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Then, earlier this year, Higgins fed Australia’s “60 Minutes” program wrong coordinates for the location of the so-called “Buk-getaway video” in eastern Ukraine. Though the program treated Higgins’s analysis as gospel, the images from the video and from the supposed location clearly didn’t match, leading the program to engage in a journalistic fraud to pretend otherwise. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Reckless Stand-upper on MH-17.”]

But the Times’ editorial board simply gushed all over Bellingcat, promoting the Web site as if it’s a credible source, writing that the Dutch report “is consistent with theories advanced by the United States and Ukraine as well as evidence collected by the independent investigative website Bellingcat.com, which hold that the fatal missile was fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.”

The Times then distorted the findings of the Buk manufacturer to present them as somehow contradicted by the Dutch report, which substantially relied on the declassified information from the manufacturer to reach roughly the same conclusion, that the missile was an older-model Buk.

However, without irony, the Times writes, “This fact is not something Russians are likely to learn; Russian television has presented only the Kremlin’s disinformation of what is going on in Ukraine and, for that matter, Syria. Creating an alternative reality has been a big reason for President Vladimir Putin’s boundless popularity among Russians. He sees no reason to come clean for the shooting down of the Boeing 777.”

Yet, the actual reality is that Russia has provided much more information and shown much greater transparency than President Obama and the U.S. government have. The Dutch report also ignored one of the key questions asked by Russian authorities in the days after the MH-17 shoot-down: why did Ukraine’s air defense turn on the radar used to guide Buk missiles?

But the Times remains wedded to its propaganda narrative and doesn’t want inconvenient facts to get in the way. Rather than demand that Obama “come clean” about what the U.S. intelligence agencies know about the MH-17 case, the newspaper of record chooses to mislead its readers about the facts.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The Kunduz Hospital Atrocity

The U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, blipped on and off the mainstream media’s radar, catalogued as just one more unfortunate mistake in the last 14 years of war. But there is probable cause to treat the atrocity as a war crime, writes Marjorie Cohn for TeleSUR.

By Marjorie Cohn

In one of the most despicable incidents of the United States’ 14-year war in Afghanistan, U.S. troops bombed a hospital in Kunduz, killing 22 people, including patients, three children, and medical personnel from Doctors Without Borders, or MSF. Thirty-seven people were injured, including 19 staff members in the Oct. 3 attack.

U.S. forces knew they were targeting a hospital because MSF, as it does in all conflict contexts, had provided its exact GPS coordinates on multiple occasions over the past months, including most recently on Sept. 29. There was a nine-foot flag on the roof that identified the building as a hospital. After the first strike, MSF contacted U.S. officials and reported the hospital was being bombed and begged them to halt the attack. Nevertheless, the U.S. AC-130 gunship continued to pummel the hospital repeatedly for more than one hour.

“Our patients burned in their beds,” said MSF International President Joanne Liu. “Doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked.”  She added, “Our colleagues had to work on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table an office desk while his colleagues tried to save his life.”

In attempting to explain why they had bombed a hospital, U.S. military leaders changed their story four times. On Saturday, the day of the bombing, U.S. spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said the strike occurred “against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

On Sunday, Gen. John Campbell, U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, claimed the strike occurred “against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members  in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility.”

On Monday, Campbell announced, “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support” and “several civilians were accidentally struck.” By Tuesday, Campbell said, “the decision to provide aerial fire was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a medical facility.”

Since the Pentagon has access to video and audio recordings taken from the gunship, they must know what actually occurred. Daily Beast reported that the recordings contain conversations among the crew as they were firing on the hospital, including communications between the crew and U.S. soldiers on the ground. Moreover, AC-130 gunships fly low to the ground so the crew can assess what they are hitting.

 

But members of Congress who oversee the Pentagon have been denied access to the classified recordings.

Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict.”

International law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said, “The critical question for determining if U.S. forces committed a war crime was whether they had notified the hospital ahead of the strike if they understood the Taliban to be firing from the hospital.”

MSF has said they were never notified that the hospital would be bombed. “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning,” according to MSF General Director Christopher Stokes.

Parties to a military conflict have a duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and civilians and their facilities cannot be targeted. If the hospital were being used for military purposes, the strike must be proportionate to the military advantage sought, and the U.S. forces had a duty to warn the people inside the hospital that it would be struck. No one in the hospital said it was being used for military purposes, and even if it was, the U.S. forces never warned those in the hospital before striking it.

The U.S. strike was a precise attack on the hospital, because no other buildings in the MSF compound were hit. MSF executive director Jason Cone said, “I want to reiterate that the main hospital building where medical personnel were caring for patients was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. So we see this as a targeted event.”

MSF is demanding an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), established under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. But the United States must consent to the investigation. The U.S. government says there are enough investigations one by the Pentagon, one by a joint U.S.-Afghan group, and one by NATO. But none of these is independent and impartial.

Historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter has written three articles about three different internal investigations the U.S. military used to cover-up operations that should have led to criminal prosecutions against U.S. officers. Why should we believe that this will be any different?

The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court provides several bases for war crimes prosecution. They include willful killing; willfully causing great suffering or serious bodily injury; intentional attacks against civilian or civilian objects; intentional attacks with knowledge they will cause death or injury to civilians when clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage; and intentionally attacking medical facilities which are not military objectives.

Although the United States is not a party to the Statute, there could be jurisdiction over U.S. leaders if the Security Council referred the matter to the Court. That will not happen because the United States would veto such a referral.

If U.S. leaders are found on the territory of a country that is a party to the Statute, that country could send them to The Hague, Netherlands, for prosecution. But the Bush administration blackmailed 100 countries into signing “bilateral immunity agreements,” promising they would not send U.S. nationals to The Hague on penalty of losing U.S. foreign aid.

Other countries can prosecute foreign nationals under the well-established doctrine of “universal jurisdiction.” But since Bush initiated his war on Iraq, no nation has been willing to incur the wrath of the United States by maintaining such an action against a U.S. leader.

Nick Turse and Bob Dreyfuss documented the killing of as many as 6,481 Afghan civilians by U.S. forces from October 2001 through 2012. The U.S. government has killed large numbers of civilians in its drone attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. But President Obama rarely apologizes to or compensates the victims. It is only because a Western-based organization was hit and the attendant media coverage has been so overwhelming that led Obama to apologize to MSF.

MSF’s advance provision of the hospital’s coordinates to U.S. forces, its notifications during the bombing, its denial that any fire was coming from the hospital, and the Pentagon’s shifting rationales for the bombing constitute probable cause that a war crime was committed.

Obama should consent to a full, independent, impartial investigation of the hospital bombing by IHFFC. If that investigation shows that war crimes probably occurred, appropriate prosecutions of the U.S. chain of command should ensue.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See www.marjoriecohn.com. [This article was originally published by teleSUR:  “http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Kunduz-Hospital-Bombing-20151013-0018.html”]




MH-17: The Dog Still Not Barking

Exclusive: The dog not barking in the Dutch report on the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is the silence regarding U.S. intelligence information that supposedly had pinned down key details just days after the crash but has been kept secret, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Dutch Safety Board report concludes that an older model Buk missile apparently shot down Malaysia Airline Flight 17 on July 17, 2014, but doesn’t say who possessed the missile and who fired it. Yet, what is perhaps most striking about the report is what’s not there nothing from the U.S. intelligence data on the tragedy.

The dog still not barking is the absence of evidence from U.S. spy satellites and other intelligence sources that Secretary of State John Kerry insisted just three days after the shoot-down pinpointed where the missile was fired, an obviously important point in determining who fired it.

On July 20, 2014, Kerry declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

But such U.S. government information is not mentioned in the 279-page Dutch report, which focused on the failure to close off the eastern Ukrainian war zone to commercial flights and the cause of the crash rather than who fired on MH-17. A Dutch criminal investigation is still underway with the goal of determining who was responsible but without any sign of an imminent conclusion.

I was told by a U.S. intelligence source earlier this year that CIA analysts had met with Dutch investigators to describe what the classified U.S. evidence showed but apparently with the caveat that it must remain secret.

Last year, another source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me they had concluded that a rogue element of the Ukrainian government tied to one of the oligarchs was responsible for the shoot-down, while absolving senior Ukrainian leaders including President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. But I wasn’t able to determine if this U.S. analysis was a consensus or a dissident opinion.

Last October, Der Spiegel reported that German intelligence, the BND, concluded that the Russian government was not the source of the missile battery that it had been captured from a Ukrainian military base but the BND blamed the ethnic Russian rebels for firing it. However, a European source told me that the BND’s analysis was not as conclusive as Der Spiegel had described.

The Dutch report, released Tuesday, did little to clarify these conflicting accounts but did agree with an analysis by the Russian manufacturer of the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems that the shrapnel and pieces of the missile recovered from the MH-17 crash site came from the 9M38 series, representing an older, now discontinued Buk version.

The report said: “The damage observed on the wreckage in amount of damage, type of damage, boundary and impact angles of damage, number and density of hits, size of penetrations and bowtie fragments found in the wreckage, is consistent with the damage caused by the 9N314M warhead used in the 9M38 and 9M38M1 BUK surface-to-air missile.”

Last June, Almaz-Antey, the Russian manufacturer which also provided declassified information about the Buk systems to the Dutch, said its analysis of the plane’s wreckage revealed that MH-17 had been attacked by a “9M38M1 of the Buk M1 system.” The company’s Chief Executive Officer Yan Novikov said the missile was last produced in 1999.

Who Has This Missile?

The Russian government has insisted that it no longer uses the 9M38 version. According to the Russian news agency TASS, former deputy chief of the Russian army air defense Alexander Luzan said the suspect warhead was phased out of Russia’s arsenal 15 years ago when Russia began using the 9M317 model.

“The 9M38, 9M38M, 9M38M1 missiles are former modifications of the Buk system missiles, but they all have the same warhead. They are not in service with the Russian Armed Forces, but Ukraine has them,” Luzan said.

“Based on the modification and type of the used missile, as well as its location, this Buk belongs to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine had three military districts , the Carpathian, Odessa and Kiev, and these three districts had more than five Buk anti-aircraft missile brigades of various modifications – Buk, Buk-M, Buk-M1, which means that there were more than 100 missile vehicles there.”

But Luzan’s account would not seem to rule out the possibility that some older Buk versions might have gone into storage in some Russian warehouse. It is common practice for intelligence services, including the CIA, to give older, surplus equipment to insurgents as a way to create more deniability if questions are ever raised about the source of the weapons.

For its part, the Ukrainian government claimed to have sold its stockpile of older Buks to Georgia, but Ukraine appears to still possess the 9M38 Buk system, based on photographs of Ukrainian weapons displays. Prior to the MH-17 crash, ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine were reported to have captured a Buk system after overrunning a government air base, but Ukrainian authorities said the system was not operational, as recounted in the Dutch report. The rebels also denied possessing a functioning Buk system.

As for the missile’s firing location, the Dutch report said the launch spot could have been anywhere within a 320-square-kilometer area in eastern Ukraine, making it hard to determine whether the firing location was controlled by the rebels or government forces. Given the fluidity of the frontlines in July 2014 and the fact that heavy fighting was occurring to the north it might even have been possible for a mobile missile launcher to slip from one side to the other along the southern front.

The Dutch report did seek to discredit one alternative theory raised by Russian officials in the days after the shoot-down that MH-17 could have been the victim of an air-to-air attack. The Dutch dismissed Russian radar data that suggested a possible Ukrainian fighter plane in the area, relying instead of Ukrainian data which the Dutch found more complete.

But the report ignored other evidence cited by the Russians, including electronic data of the Ukrainian government allegedly turning on the radar that is used by Buk systems for targeting aircraft. Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems to sites in eastern Ukraine in mid-July 2014 and why Kiev’s Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.

The Dutch-led investigation was perhaps compromised by a central role given to the Ukrainian government which apparently had the power to veto what was included in the report. Yet, what may have spoken most loudly in the Dutch report was the silence about U.S. intelligence information. If as Kerry claimed the U.S. government knew almost immediately the site where the fateful missile was launched, why has that evidence been kept secret?

Given the importance of the conflict in eastern Ukraine to U.S. intelligence, it was a high-priority target in July 2014 with significant resources devoted to the area, including satellite surveillance, electronic eavesdropping and human assets. In his rush-to-judgment comments the weekend after the crash, Kerry admitted as much.

But the Obama administration has refused to make any of its intelligence information public. Only belatedly did CIA analysts brief the Dutch investigators, according to a U.S. government source, but that evidence apparently remained classified.

The second source told me that the reason for withholding the U.S. intelligence information was that it contradicted the initial declarations by Kerry and other U.S. officials pointing the finger of blame at the ethnic Russian rebels and indirectly at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stood accused of giving a ragtag bunch of rebels a powerful weapon capable of shooting down commercial airliners.

Despite Russian denials, the worldwide revulsion over the shoot-down of MH-17, killing all 298 people onboard, gave powerful momentum to anti-Putin propaganda and convinced the European Union to consent to U.S. demands for tougher economic sanctions punishing Russia for its intervention in Ukraine. According to this source’s account, an admission that a rogue Ukrainian group was responsible would take away a powerful P.R. club wielded against Russia.

Among the organizations that have implored President Barack Obama to release the U.S. intelligence data on MH-17 is the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of mostly retired U.S. intelligence analysts.

As early as July 29, 2014, just 12 days after the shoot-down amid escalating Cold War-style rhetoric, VIPS wrote, “As intelligence professionals we are embarrassed by the unprofessional use of partial intelligence information. As Americans, we find ourselves hoping that, if you indeed have more conclusive evidence, you will find a way to make it public without further delay. In charging Russia with being directly or indirectly responsible, Secretary of State John Kerry has been particularly definitive. Not so the evidence.”

But the release of the Dutch report without any of that data indicates that the U.S. government continues to hide what evidence it has. That missing evidence remains the dog not barking, like the key fact that Sherlock Holmes used to unlock the mystery of the “Silver Blaze” when the sleuth noted that the failure of the dog to bark suggested who the guilty party really was.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.