CIA Whistleblower Kiriakou Honored

CIA officer John Kiriakou, the first U.S. official to confirm that waterboarding was used to torture “war on terror” detainees, then faced a retaliatory prosecution and 30 months in prison. Recognizing his sacrifice, the literary group PEN gave Kiriakou its First Amendment Award, observed ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern 

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 16, PEN Center USA, the West Coast branch of PEN International, gave former CIA officer John Kiriakou its First Amendment Award for his role in exposing waterboarding as torture used during President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” Kiriakou then faced retaliation which led to a 30-month prison term for revealing classified information.

PEN International, a human rights and literary arts organization that promotes the written word and freedom of expression, asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to write an essay describing Kiriakou’s contribution and sacrifice. McGovern wrote:

John Kiriakou was just a name in the news until early 2012 when I got a call from Jesselyn Radack, mutual friend, whistleblower and intrepid attorney, who suggested I have lunch with him. John had been arrested in January and charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Over lunch I learned how John had transitioned from highly decorated CIA officer to target of a government vendetta.

John, you see, had refused to be trained in how to torture. Even worse, he had the temerity to confirm publicly that our government was implementing a White House-approved program of torture techniques that turned out to be virtually identical to those listed in the Gestapo Handbuch.

Those of you who have seen the documentary Silenced already know of the key role Jesselyn Radack has been playing in defending whistleblowers like John Kiriakou. What? This is the first you have heard of Silenced? Well, there’s a subject for another discussion. Suffice it to note here that the powers-that-be in the distribution business simply chickened out, as they so often do.

Silenced chronicles behavior by faux lawyers at the Department of Justice that is anything but just or lawful. But, hey, who, in this day and age, wants to take on a notoriously vindictive DOJ? And so, with supreme irony, Silenced has been silenced.

The documentary shows in a poignant way how, after Jesselyn Radack’s own ordeal at the hands of DOJ where she had been an adviser on legal ethics, she decided to devote the rest of her professional life to defending other whistle blowers. John Kiriakou and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake are also featured all three playing their own roles.

The film presents an extraordinary example of how personal involvement with innocent suffering with injustice suffered first hand or by others can move the heart and the will so deeply that experience becomes catalyst for solidarity and action.

And healing. This came second nature to the community that immediately enfolded the Kiriakou family and helped John’s wife Heather and their three young children 2, 7, and 9 at the time survive the ordeal of two years with dad stuck in prison. There were lots of us many no strangers to jail or prison for whistleblowing or nonviolent resistance and Code Pink, as usual, stepped up to share leadership.

Making an Example of John

At CIA’s urging, DOJ was coming after John Kiriakou big time. And Heather, herself a widely respected CIA analyst, was let go. In effect, government retaliation created a situation of “two-less” replacing the “twofer” that had been serving with such distinction and integrity at CIA.

When John went to prison, I could identify albeit in a very small way with what it means to be away from wife and children for what seems like forever. Decades ago I had spent three months alone in the Soviet Union, away from my wife and three small children. I ached; I missed the hugs so much that I dreamed of finding a way to send my arms home in the diplomatic pouch.

It’s harder still, of course, for wives. It always is. It was challenging enough for my wife to cope with our three children all of them under ten for three months. The mind boggles at what it must have been like for Heather with three still younger children.

And in the midst of all this, with zero warning, Heather’s mother had a fatal heart attack. She had been an anchor against the wind for Heather and also a large part of her grandchildren’s lives. With our own three daughters, I have witnessed first-hand the sanctity of the unique bond between mother and daughter. Maybe only a woman can fully understand the depth of the challenge Heather faced with the sudden death of her treasured soul mate and with no husband nearby to lean on.

The “Dark Side”

John Kiriakou had become CIA’s Enemy No. 1 because he was the first insider to disclose that his former colleagues had been suborned into implementing a program of torture. Alarm bells had sounded at CIA: What if some of John’s former colleagues retrieved their consciences and followed his example? This could not be allowed to happen. Swift retribution was indicated.

The broader question, of course, is why had it been so easy to get CIA operatives to walk on Dick Cheney’s “Dark Side.” The context, of course, is 9/11. We keep hearing: “AFTER 9/11 EVERYTHING CHANGED.” Really? Everything? Did torture somehow slip out of the moral category it had long inhabited together with rape and slavery the category ethicists call “intrinsic evil?”

No way, said John Kiriakou. And thus began a cruel duel between two unequal adversaries: an exceedingly ruthless, vindictive government and a CIA professional determined not to violate his conscience.

What happened not only to many of John’s colleagues but also to Americans at large parallels what happened to Germans after their “9/11,” the burning of the Parliament building in Berlin on Feb. 27, 1933. Be afraid, they were told, be very afraid. It worked. With what a young German lawyer (later a writer with the pen-name Sebastian Haffner) living in Berlin at the time called “sheepish submissiveness,” Germans acquiesced in the most draconian, one might say “Patriot Act”-type, violations of their own Constitution. Haffner wrote:

“The sequence of events … is wholly within the normal range of psychology, and it helps to explain the inexplicable. The only thing that is missing is what in animals is called ‘breeding.’ This, a solid inner kernel that cannot be shaken by external pressures and forces, something noble and steely, a reserve of pride, principle, and dignity to be drawn on in the hour of trial.”

Missing? Missing in many; anchored in Greek marble in John Kiriakou.

In exposing torture, John found himself in the company of other officials with integrity and guts like Gen. John Kimmons, head of U.S. Army Intelligence. On the very day (Sept. 6, 2006) that President George W. Bush publicly disclosed and bragged about the supposed effectiveness of what he called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation (then given the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques”), Kimmons arranged his own press conference at the Pentagon and said:

“I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Actually, Kimmons could have gone back 70 years not just five. It turns out that “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a literal translation of the Gestapo Handbuch’s “Verschaerfte Vernehmung.” And most of those Nazi “techniques” are the same ones blessed by the Bush-Cheney administration (with just a few further enhancements).

The award from PEN seems all the more appropriate inasmuch as John is now a writer and speaker of truth a well as a consultant on films and TV shows. And as many of us know only too well, he has his work cut out for him, whether writing about intelligence, torture, or how our prisons must be humanized.

The Challenge

Polling shows that most Americans continue to support brutal methods of interrogation, even in the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee report made public last December that, using CIA’s own cables, disproved claims that torture “worked.” Trouble is, Americans don’t read Senate reports; they watch TV and movies. That’s how they “know” torture works. Think Fox TV’s series “24.” Think Columbia Pictures’ “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“Jack Bauer, the hero of “24,” breaks captives’ fingers to elicit information that “keeps us safe.” And Americans applaud. Worse still, interrogators are misled and corrupted. Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer at Guantanamo, told British author Philippe Sands that Bauer “gave people lots of ideas. We saw ‘24’ on cable … It was hugely popular.”

Sands wrote, “She [Beaver] believed the series contributed to an environment in which those in Guantanamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline and to go further than they otherwise might.” Sands added that “24” also made it more difficult for those who objected to the abuse to stop it.

In fact, “24” was making torture appear so effective and even glamorous that U.S. military officials appealed to the creators of the show to tone down the torture scenes and give less play to the fiction that torture is “effective.”

Some psychological research has shown that fiction is as effective as non-fiction at deeply moving people even when they know that what they are being moved by is a fictional account. People tend to be “transported” by a good story providing “truths” that appear just as powerful (or even more so) as those we encounter in the real world.

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Which brings us to “Zero Dark Thirty.” And this, I believe, would be of particular interest to PEN. How in the world will John Kiriakou be able to open minds to the reality that the issue of morality aside torture does not “work,” when so many have actually seen it “work” watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” as well as “24?”

True, John Kiriakou has an abundance of experience and credibility. But what are these, stacked up against seeing torture work “with your own eyes?” John can cite the following facts until he is blue in the face, but the odds remain high against him.

On Dec. 21, 2012, two days after “Zero Dark Thirty” premiered, CIA’s acting director took the unusual step of formally addressing agency employees with these words:

“[T]he film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate. … [It] creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false. … I want you to remember that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not a documentary.”

Sen. John McCain, who was tortured as a POW in North Vietnam, said the film left him sick  “because it’s wrong.”

Historian Karen J. Greenberg, Director of Fordham University Law School’s Center for National Security, wrote this about the film’s director: “Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists.” Greenberg called the film “the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.”

And Peter Maass of The Atlantic wrote that the film “represents a troubling new frontier of government-embedded filmmaking.” And Maass, too, is right.

Looking Forward

I’m not sure John Kiriakou would qualify for PEN Center USA’s specific program for “Emerging Voices,” but I am sure that, just the same, this year’s First Amendment Awardee is a very important emerging voice both as writer and as a consultant on films and TV shows. Of this we can also be sure; nothing John gets involved in will glorify torture or otherwise bend to prevailing winds of dishonesty.

With the support of Heather and many others, he has already bucked a powerful system arrayed against him. John Kiriakou will give no quarter in his passion for spreading truth around, no matter how many additional systemic hurdles he may be required to surmount.

Besides, he has “backing.” If you don’t believe me, download Silenced.

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which welcomed John Kiriakou into membership from federal prison.

Lost on the ‘Dark Side’ in Syria

The full story of how the U.S. ended up allied with some Sunni extremists in Syria while at war with others is a convoluted tale dating back to President George W. Bush’s neocons venturing off into Vice President Cheney’s “dark side” to work with violent jihadists, writes British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

When, in early August, the Pentagon’s former highest ranking intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, said that it had been a “willful decision” by the “West” to back the establishment of “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” in order to bring pressure on the Syrian government, and then went on to confirm that the recently declassified 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report on the rise of ISIS in Syria, had explicitly warned of the possibility of “an Islamic State” being declared “through a union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” there was almost silence in the mainstream media.

No one wanted to touch the “live wire” of possible U.S. collusion with Caliphate forces. But it was clear enough what the American General was saying: the jihadification of the Syrian conflict had been a “willful” policy decision, and that since Al Qaeda and the ISIS embryo were the only movements capable of establishing such a Caliphate across Syria and Iraq, then it plainly followed that the U.S. administration, and its allies, tacitly accepted this outcome, in the interests of weakening, or of overthrowing, the Syrian state.

Many in the West found General Flynn’s comments hard to believe in spite of his direct knowledge of events. How could this be? It must have seemed so counter-intuitive to most viewers or readers. And it is something which touches on a still suppurating wound to the Western psyche: 9/11.

But now, with Russia and Iran’s military intervention, the Syria mess in which the West finds itself is only too evident: Russia is providing air cover to the Syrian army, intent on severing the insurgent supply lines from Turkey, on the one hand, and to cutting the Mosul to Aleppo supply route, on the other – as a precursor to the strategic defeat of ISIS.

But in face of these actions, Western leaders are widely seen to be prevaricating, and even seem to wish to impede, and to inflict direct pain, on Russian and others’ attempts to defeat the radical Caliphate forces, by endorsing a wave of TOW missiles and MANPADS reaching Syria from their Gulf suppliers. So where exactly does the West stand?

The forces which the 4+1 Alliance (Russia, Syria Iran and Iraq plus Hezbollah) has to defeat sometimes are not ISIS, but Al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham — jihadist, Caliphate forces, in short, that have absolutely no interest in any political settlement other than their own victory. Yet Western leaders shout “foul,” and imply that these are somehow “our boys” and should not be attacked.

The West’s Mess

The “mess” that the West is in is apparent to all across the region: the U.S. and its allies are both ostensibly “at war” with head-chopping, radical Sunni forces, and “in bed” with them, at the same time.  How could this have happened? How can this mess be resolved?

The roots to U.S. ambivalence towards fired-up radical Sunni Islam (as I have previously noted) lie primarily with the group of American neoconservatives who formed an influential “Cold-Warrior” nexus around Vice President Dick Cheney, and who were obsessed with rolling-back Soviet influence in the Middle East, and in overturning the Arab socialist-nationalist states who were viewed both as Soviet clients, and as threats to Israel.

David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East adviser, stressed (in 1996) that “limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse” of Ba’athism must be America’s foremost priority in the region. Secular-Arab nationalism should be given no quarter, not even, he added, for the sake of stemming the tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

In setting the destruction of secular nationalism as its overwhelming priority, America by default found itself compelled to be allied with the Gulf Kings and Emirs who traditionally have resorted to Sunni jihadism as the inoculation against democracy.

But America’s (and Britain’s) use of radical Sunni jihadist movements for their “greater geo-political ends” was already well-embedded long before 1996.  When asked whether he regretted the CIA giving covert support to jihadists in Afghanistan six months prior to the Soviet military intervention (at Kabul’s request), President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbig Brzezinski, replied:

“Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul [the Soviets intervened on Dec. 24, 1979]. And that very day, I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid [to radical Islamic forces] was going to induce a Soviet military intervention [in Afghanistan].”

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war, and looked to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic mujahedeen, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

Brzezinski: Nonsense!

The Neocon Scheme

Though the principle of using fired-up Sunni jihadism for U.S. geopolitical ends was already well-established, the roots to today’s American Syria imbroglio lie more with the events of 2006 and 2007:  the 2003 war in Iraq had not brought about the pro-Israeli, pro-American regional bloc that had been foreseen by the neocons, but rather, it had stimulated a powerful “Shia Crescent” of resistance stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean — and Gulf leaders had become frightened.

The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” a U.S. government consultant said at the time. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

It had been Israel’s failure in its 2006 war to seriously damage Hezbollah, that had been the straw, as it were, that broke the camel’s back — so unnerving Israel and Gulf leaders.  And it provoked, too, a fierce debate within Washington:

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger,Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Seymour Hersh: “The Saudis and some in the administration, have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran; and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

It was also, in a sense, a victory for the closely, Saudi-aligned Sunni leadership of Lebanon, which over the preceding years, had deepened its connection with Sunni extremist groups that espoused a militant vision of Islam (such as Fatah al-Islam), and were hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

These covert allies of March 14th [a Lebanese anti-Syrian coalition named after the date of the so-called Cedar Revolution ] were viewed by the Lebanese Sunni élite as the putative foot soldiers “war experienced” from the Iraq conflict who could be nurtured, and eventually would rise sufficiently in their capabilities, to take on Hezbollah militarily in Lebanon: they were to be March 14th’s Sunni shock-troops, in other words, who would contain Shia influence, and perhaps even ultimately defeat it.

This Lebanese experience was held up to the U.S. administration by those such as Jeff Feltman (then U.S. ambassador in Beirut) as the “pilot” strategy for what could be achieved in Syria. March 14th leaders argued that they could safely manage these radical elements: that despite inclining towards an al-Qaeda orientation, they stood somehow within the broad Sunni “tent,” erected and led by Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia.

The fall of Syria held out the prospect of a wedge being jammed in between Iran and Israel’s nemesis: Hezbollah.  It was a prospect that enticed the U.S. administration: “This time, the U.S. government consultant told me,” wrote Seymour Hersh, “Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that ‘they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was “We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.” It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at, [they should throw them at] Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians  – [should] they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.’”

‘Sick and Hateful’

Not all Saudis however were so sure: one former Saudi diplomat, speaking to Hersh, accused Hezbollah’s leader, Nasrallah, of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon: “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

Cheney and his team nevertheless were intrigued by Bandar’s ideas for Syria, but remained cautious: “We need to do everything possible to destabilize the Syrian regime and exploit every single moment they strategically overstep.” (As Cheney famously said, “We also have to work – though sort of on the dark side – if you will.”)

In an interview with the Telegraph in 2007, David Wurmser (former adviser to Cheney and John Bolton) confirmed, “that [this] would include the willingness to escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Syrian] regime if necessary.” He said that “an end to Baathist rule in Damascus could trigger a domino effect that would then bring down the Teheran regime.”

Bandar had boasted of his ability to manage the jihadists: “Leave that aspect to me.” Cheney’s then National Security Adviser, John Hannah, later noted the consensus at the time: “Bandar working without reference to U.S. interests is clearly cause for concern. But Bandar working as a partner against a common Iranian enemy is a major strategic asset.”

This point the entry of Saudi Arabia into a major initiative against Syria – also marked the start of the strategic alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, united in their common hostility to Iran.

In fact, the former Saudi diplomat had been right. Neither Hariri, nor Prince Bandar, was able to control the inflamed Caliphate forces with which they were working.  What moderates there were, simply kept migrating politically towards the Al-Qaeda and the ISIS Caliphate camp and CIA-supplied weapons migrated too. The Syrian conflict was becoming, in character, increasingly jihadist, just as General Flynn was warning as early as 2012.

President Barack Obama is clear that, from the outset, he never believed in the notion of “moderates.”  In 2012, he told Jeffrey Goldberg, “When you have a professional army that is well-armed and sponsored by two large states who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict , the notion that we could have, in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces, changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” (Emphasis added).

Obama did not believe in the moderates, but was under pressure from the “hawks,” including his own envoys, Fred Hof and General Allen, to expedite President Assad’s ouster. But the President was adamant that “We’re not going to just dive in and get involved with a civil war that in fact involves some elements of people who are genuinely trying to get a better life but also involve some folks who would over the long term do the United States harm.”

The answer as so often was to move to more covert means in order to mollify the “hawks” by increasing the clandestine operations in support of the opposition including the jihadists:

President Obama: And it is our estimation that [President Bashar al-Assad’s] days are numbered. It’s a matter not of if, but when. Now, can we accelerate that? We’re working with the world community to try to do that. ()

Goldberg: Is there anything you could do to move it faster?

President Obama: Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough. (Laughter.)

No ‘Clean Way’

But plainly, the administration could see how others not in “a clean way” were changing “the equation on the ground.” In 2014, Vice President Biden was rather more candid:

“The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was , there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers 

“And what my constant cry was that our biggest problem is our allies , our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks  the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world

“And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden I don’t want to be too facetious but they had seen the Lord [that is to say, the Gulf States said they would join a coalition against ISIS]. Now we have the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.”

Paradoxically, John Hannah perhaps with the benefit of experience had this to say about Obama’s Syria policy, referring to Obama’s June 2015 meeting with Gulf leaders at Camp David. Hannah noted that having “stressed his understanding of the threat Iran poses to the region”:

“[Obama] let loose with this little gem: The Arabs, according to the president of the United States, need to learn from Iran’s example. In fact, they need to take a page out of the playbook of the Qods Force, by which he meant developing their own local proxies capable of going toe-to-toe with Iran’s agents and defeating them. The president seemed to marvel at the fact that from Hezbollah to the Houthis to the Iraqi militias, Iran has such a deep bench of effective proxies willing to advance its interests.

“Where, he asked, are their equivalent on the Sunni side? Why, he wanted to know in particular, have the Saudis and their partners not been able to cultivate enough Yemenis to carry the burden of the fight against the Houthis? The Arabs, Obama suggested, badly need to develop a toolbox that goes beyond the brute force of direct intervention. Instead, they need to, be subtler, sneakier, more effective, well, just more like Iran.”

To which John Hannah reflected (clearly now with the benefit of experience):

“Think about it. Feeling threatened, desperate, uncertain of U.S. support, and in an existential death match with an intensely sectarian Shiite Iran, who do you think the Wahhabis are most likely to turn to as potential proxies in a pinch? AQAP in Yemen? Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria? The Islamic State in Iraq? Impossible, you say? Maybe. But maybe not.

“The past isn’t necessarily prologue, but it’s certainly reason to proceed very, very cautiously. The president appears to have a special infatuation with the relatively low cost, under-the-radar utility of black ops, covert action, and paramilitary activities. He also seems eager, even desperate, to ease the burdens of U.S. global leadership by compelling difficult allies to step up and police their own neighborhoods.

“Combine these impulses together and it all sounds great in theory as a means of countering Iran. But this is the Middle East and the coming jihad vs. jihad sectarian conflagration is only just getting started. So be careful what you wish for.”

Obama’s Muddle

Hence the nature of the mess in Syria: Sometimes it is just not possible to “square a circle” by conceding a little to all sides to domestic “hawks,” to the Special Ops industry, to Gulf allies – whilst trying to hold on to the line of no decisive U.S. military intervention. Semantics and “horse-trading” aside, no matter how frequent the re-branding, Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra and their ilk (Ahrar Ash-Sham, etc.), cannot be conceived as “moderate” in a peculiarly British “Weybridge” sense, nor in any other sense.

Tom Friedman put it well: “Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.”

Not surprisingly, then, some in America are (cautiously) beginning to see President Putin’s military initiative as the only way to cut the Gordian knot and release President Obama from his “knot” of ambivalence: Let Russia and its allies defeat ISIS, and let “the farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict” – in Obama’s words become somehow assimilated into the political process.

Now that could become an “achievement.”

Alastair Crooke is a British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. [This article previously appeared at the Conflicts Forum’s Web site and is republished with permission.]

Can Obama Level with the People?

Exclusive: Another terrorist outrage this one in Paris is spreading fear and fury across Europe. Which makes this a key moment for President Obama to finally level with the American people about how U.S. “allies” — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar — have been aiding and abetting extremists, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The atrocities in Paris, killing more than 120 people, have brought forth the usual condemnations against terrorism and expressions of sympathy for the victims, but the larger question is whether this latest shock will finally force Western leaders to address the true root causes of the problem.

Will President Barack Obama and other leaders finally level with the American people and the world about what the underlying reasons for this madness are? Will Obama explain how U.S. “allies” in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, have been fueling this Sunni extremism for years? Will he dare recognize that Israeli repression of the Palestinians is a major contributing factor, too?

On a practical level, will Obama finally release those 28 pages from the congressional 9/11 report that addressed evidence of Saudi support for the hijackers who attacked New York and Washington in 2001?

Does he have the courage to explain how this scourge of Sunni terrorism can be traced back even further to the late 1970s when President Jimmy Carter started a small-scale covert operation in Afghanistan to destabilize a Moscow-backed secular regime in Kabul and that President Ronald Reagan then vastly expanded the program with the help of the Saudis, pouring in a total of $1 billion a year and giving rise to Saudi militant Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda?

Can Obama be convinced that telling hard truths to the American people is not only vital to a democratic Republic in a philosophical way but can have the practical effect of creating crucial public support for rational policies? Will he realize that propaganda schemes or “strategic communications” may be clever short-term tricks to manipulate the American people but they are ultimately counterproductive and dangerous?

Will Obama finally take on Official Washington’s well-entrenched neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” junior varsity by challenging their innumerable false narratives? Will he pointedly blame the neocons and the liberal hawks, including those who run the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, for the disastrous Iraq War? Will he take on the “deep state” dug in at the big-name think tanks, not just at neocon havens like the American Enterprise Institute but at the center-left Brookings Institution?

Can the President muster the courage to ally himself with the American people, arming them with real information, so they can act like true citizens in a Republic rather than cattle being herded toward the slaughterhouse? Can he shake his own elitism or his fear of social ostracism to somehow become a true leader in his last year in office, rather than a timid follower of the prevailing “group think”?

Just because the “important people” have fancy credentials and went to the “right” schools, doesn’t mean that they have any monopoly on wisdom. Indeed, in my nearly four decades covering Official Washington, these “smart” folks have been wrong a lot more than they have been right. A leader of historic dimensions recognizes that reality and takes on the know-it-alls. In this case, a leader who enlists the American public by giving them reliable information could change this depressing dynamic.

If Obama could muster such courage and show trust in the people, he could bend the prevailing false narratives in the direction of truth and reality. On a practical level, he could help make the current Syrian peace talks succeed by stopping his endless repeating of the neocon/liberal-hawk mantra blaming President Bashar al-Assad for the entire mess and insisting that “Assad must go.” [See’s “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.”]

Twist Some Arms

Instead, Obama could twist the arms of his Saudi, Qatari and Turkish “friends” to get them to halt their financing and military support for Sunni jihadists associated with Al Qaeda and its various spin-offs, like the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front. And he could work cooperatively with Russian President Vladimir Putin to squeeze concessions out of both the Assad regime and the U.S.-financed “moderate” opposition so a unity government can begin to restore order in Syria and isolate the extremists.

Once some security is achieved, the Syrian people could hold elections to decide their own future and pick their own leaders. That should not be the business of either Obama or Putin.

As part of this effort, Obama could finally release the U.S. intelligence analyses on both jihadist funding and the circumstances surrounding the lethal sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, which the Obama administration hastily blamed on Assad’s regime although later evidence pointed toward a likely a provocation by Sunni extremists. [See’s “The Collapsing Syria Sarin Case.”]

To create crucial space for cooperating with Putin, Obama also could let the American people in on the reality about the Ukraine crisis in 2014, which was used by the neocons and liberal hawks to drive a wedge between Obama and Putin. [See’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

U.S. intelligence analysts know a lot about key turning points in that conflict, including the Feb. 20, 2014 sniper attacks, which set the stage for ousting elected President Viktor Yanukovych two days later, and the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was used to build an anti-Putin hysteria. [See’s “MH-17: The Dog Still Not Barking.”]

I’m told that these tragedies became propaganda weapons to deploy against Assad, Yanukovych and Putin rather than horrific crimes that deserved serious investigation and accountability. But whatever the ultimate conclusion about who is to blame for these crimes, why has Obama withheld from the American people what U.S. intelligence analysts know about those three incidents?

It was Obama, after all, who talked so much about “transparency” and trusting the American people as a candidate and during his first days in office. But since then, he has conformed to the elitist Orwellian approach of managing our perceptions rather than giving us the facts.

Yet, if Obama could get his cooperation with Putin back on track recognizing how useful it was in 2013 when Putin helped Obama get Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons and assisted in wresting important concessions from Iran about its nuclear program then the two powers could also weigh in on securing a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, another major irritant to peace in the region.

Indeed, it appears that the possibility of Obama and Putin working together to force the Israelis to make meaningful concessions for peace was a factor in the neocon determination to turn an eminently manageable political dispute in Ukraine over the pace of its integration into Europe without rending its ties to Russia into the dangerous frontlines of a new Cold War.

The neocons and liberal hawks outmaneuvered Obama who fell in line with the Putin-bashing, all the better to fit within Official Washington’s in-crowd.

Thus, the Syrian crisis was left to fester with Obama acquiescing to neocon/liberal-hawk demands for arming and training “moderate” rebels although the President recognized that the idea was a “fantasy.” He also resisted some of the more extreme ideas, like an outright U.S. military invasion of Syria framed as a humanitarian “safe zone.”

But the Paris tragedy is another reminder that it is well past time for Obama to resurrect his helpful relationship with Putin and restore the teamwork that held such promise toward settling conflicts through negotiations, along the lines of the Iran nuclear deal.

If Obama were to choose that route  which could be implemented through a combination of truth-telling to the American people and pragmatic big-power diplomacy with Russia he could at least start addressing the underlying causes of the violence tearing apart the Middle East and now spreading into Europe.

Or will Obama’s reaction to the Paris attacks be just more of the same more tough-guy talk about “resolve,” more “targeted” killings that slaughter many innocents as “collateral damage,” more tolerance of Saudi-Turkish-Qatari support for Sunni militants in Syria and elsewhere, more acceptance of hard-line Israeli repression of the Palestinians, more giving in to neocon/liberal-hawk demands for “regime change” in the neocons’ preferred list of countries?

If the history of the past seven years is any guide, there’s little doubt which direction President Obama will choose. He will go with Official Washington’s flow; he’ll worry about what the editorialists at the Post and Times might think of him; he’ll accommodate the neocons and liberal hawks who remain influential inside his own administration. In short, he’ll continue down the road toward destruction.

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 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 Enduring Crime of ‘Agent Orange’

A half century ago, the U.S. government began a campaign of spraying Agent Orange herbicides on the forests of Southeast Asia, thinking that by defoliating vast areas, the military could more effectively bomb the “enemy” but instead created an ecological and health catastrophe, as Gary G. Kohls recalls.

By Gary G. Kohls

Fifty years ago next month (December 1965), with the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rubber stamp approval of President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the United States Air Force started secretly spraying the forests of Laos with a deadly herbicide that was known as Agent Orange.

Operation Ranch Hand, whose motto was “Only We Can Prevent Forests” (a shameful takeoff of Smokey the Bear’s admonition), was a desperate, costly and ultimately futile effort to make it a little harder for the National Liberation Front soldiers from North Vietnam to join and supply their comrades-in-arms in the south.

Both the guerrilla fighters in the south and the NLF army had been fighting to liberate Vietnam from the exploitive colonial domination from foreign nations such as imperial France (that began colonizing Vietnam in 1874), then Japan (during World War II), then the United States (since France’s expulsion after their huge military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954) and then against its own nation’s U.S.-backed fascist/military regime in South Vietnam that was headed by the brutal and corrupt President Ngo Dinh Diem.

(Incidentally, the nepotism in Diem’s iron-fisted rule was almost laughable, with one brother being the Catholic Archbishop of Vietnam, a second brother being in charge of the Hue district, and a third brother being the co-founder of the only legal political party in South Vietnam as well as Diem’s principal adviser. True democracies do not criminalize political parties.)

The aim of the National Liberation Front was to unite the north and the south portions of the country and free it from the influence and occupation of foreign invaders. The leader of the liberation movement since its beginning was Ho Chi Minh, who had made sincere appeals to both President Woodrow Wilson (after World War I had weakened France’s colonial system) and President Harry Truman (after the Japanese had taken over Vietnam during World War II and then surrendered to the U.S. in 1945).

Each appeal asked for America’s help to liberate Vietnam from their French colonial oppressors and each one fell on deaf ears, even though Ho Chi Minh had frequently incorporated the wording and spirit of America’s Declaration of Independence in his continuous efforts to achieve justice for his suffering people.

Agent Orange’s Ecological Devastation

Operation Ranch Hand had actually been in operation since 1961, mainly spraying its poisons on Vietnam’s forests and crop land. The purpose of the operation was to defoliate trees and shrubs and kill food crops that were providing cover and food for the “enemy.”

Operation Ranch Hand consisted of spraying a variety of highly toxic polychlorinated herbicide solutions that contained a variety of chemicals that are known to be (in addition to killing plant life) human and animal mitochondrial toxins, immunotoxins, hormone disrupters, genotoxins, mutagens, teratogens, diabetogens and carcinogens that were manufactured by such amoral multinational corporate chemical giants like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Diamond Shamrock (now Valero Energy).

All were eager war profiteers whose CEOs and share-holders somehow have always benefitted financially from America’s wars. Such non-human entities as Monsanto and the weapons manufacturers don’t care if the wars that they can profit from are illegal or not, war crimes or not; if they can make money they will be there at the trough.

They are however, expert at duping the Pentagon into paying exorbitantly high prices for inferior, unnecessary or dangerous war materiel. One only needs to recall Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Corporation and that company’s no-bid multibillion dollar contracts that underserved U.S. soldiers during the past three wars, but enriched any number of One Percenters.

Agent Orange was the most commonly used of a handful of color-coded herbicidal poisons that the USAF sprayed (and frequently re-sprayed) over rural Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It was also used heavily over the perimeters of many of the U.S. military bases, the toxic carcinogenic and disease-inducing chemicals often splashing directly upon American soldiers. (But “stuff happens” as Donald Rumsfeld would say).

The soil in and around some of the U.S. and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) military bases continue to have extremely high levels of dioxin. The U.S. military bases where the barrels of Agent Orange were off-loaded, stored and then pumped into the spray planes or “brown water” swift boats are especially contaminated, as were those guinea pig “atomic soldiers” who handled the chemicals.

The Da Nang airbase today has dioxin contamination levels over 300 times higher than that which international agencies would recommend remediation. (Guess which guilty nation is doing nothing about Agent Orange contamination of the sovereign nation of Vietnam?)

It is fair to speculate that any American GI who spent any time at bases such as Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa in the 1960s and 1970s may have been exposed. U.S. Navy swift boat crews that sprayed Agent Orange on the shores of the bushy rivers that they patrolled were often soaked by the oily chemicals that were sprayed from the hoses. Secretary of State Kerry, who commanded a swift boat as a U.S. Navy lieutenant, are you listening?

The poisonous spraying continued for a decade until it was stopped in 1971. The South Vietnamese air force, that had started spraying Agent Orange before the U.S. did, continued the program beyond 1971.

Chemical That Never Stops Poisoning

Agent Orange was a 50/50 mixture of two herbicides: 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid). Other herbicide agents were mixtures of other equally toxic polychlorinated compounds, but every barrel was contaminated by substantial amounts of dioxin, one of the most toxic industry-made chemicals known to man.

The toxicity of the herbicidal chemicals known as “dioxins” or “dioxin-like compounds” is due to the chlorine atoms and the benzene molecules (or phenyl groups) in the compound to which they are attached.

Dioxins have very long half-lives and are thus very poisonous to the liver’s detoxifying enzymes that humans and animals rely on to degrade synthetic chemicals that get into the blood stream. The fatty tissues of exposed Vietnam vets, even decades after exposure, continue to have measureable levels of dioxins.  

According to Wikipedia, “War crimes have been broadly defined by the Nuremberg Principles as ‘violations of the laws or customs of war,’ which includes massacres, bombings of civilian targets, terrorism, mutilation, torture and the murder of detainees and prisoners of war (realities that abounded at places like My Lai and other massacre sites).  Additional common crimes include theft, arson, and the destruction of property not warranted by military necessity.”

According to that definition, anybody with a smidgen of awareness of what really happens in any combat zone would have to conclude that every war that the U.S. military has ordered its young soldiers to go off and fight and kill in, especially the many corporate-endorsed, Wall Street wars, was laden with war crimes.

Four million innocent Vietnamese civilians were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered diagnosable illnesses because of it, including the progeny of people who were exposed to it, approximating the number of innocent Vietnamese civilians that were killed in the war.

The Red Cross of Vietnam says that up to 1 million people are disabled with Agent Orange-induced illnesses. There has been an epidemic of birth defects, chronic illnesses, fetal anomalies and neurological and mental illnesses since the “American War.”

Most thinking humans would agree that destroying the health and livelihoods of innocent farmers, women, children, babies and old people by poisoning their forests, farms, food and water supplies qualifies as a war crime.

Disrespecting Sickened Veterans

According to Wikipedia, the chemical companies accused in an Agent Orange Vietnam veterans’ class action lawsuit in 1984 (against seven chemical companies that got Agent Orange contracts from the Pentagon) denied that there was a link between their poisons and the veterans’ health problems.

On May 7, 1984, as is usual for Big Corporations that know when they are losing, the seven chemical companies settled out of court for $180 million just hours before jury selection was to begin. The companies agreed to pay the $180 million as compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them, with 45 percent of the sum to be paid by Monsanto.

Many veterans were outraged, feeling that they had been betrayed by the lawyers. Fairness Hearings were held in five major American cities, where veterans and their families discussed their reactions to the settlement, and condemned the actions of the lawyers and courts, demanding the case be heard before a jury of their peers. The federal judge refused the appeals, claiming the settlement was “fair and just.”

By 1989, the veterans’ fears were confirmed when it was decided how the money from the settlement would be paid out. A totally disabled Vietnam veteran would receive a corporate-friendly maximum of $12,000 spread out over the course of 10 years. By accepting the settlement payments, disabled veterans would become ineligible for many state benefits such as food stamps, public assistance and government pensions. A widow of a veteran who died because of Agent Orange would only receive $3,700.

According to Wikipedia, “In 2004, Monsanto spokesman Jill Montgomery said Monsanto should not be liable at all for injuries or deaths caused by Agent Orange, saying: ‘We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause, but reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.’”

Talk about governmental and corporate disrespect for military veterans who have been sickened by military toxins or physically or psychologically wounded in battle! Such shabby treatment of returning veterans has been the norm after every war, including the “bonus army” revolt of the 1930s when thousands of poor, disabled and/or unemployed World War I vets marched on Washington, DC, demanding the bonus that had been promised them in the 1920s. Rather than receiving justice, Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower ordered their troops to burn the bonus army’s temporary villages and disperse the vets empty-handed.

I conclude this essay by listing the currently-accepted list of diseases that the Veteran Administration acknowledges can be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. This applies to American veterans, but one can be certain that the consequences are a hundred times worse for the Vietnamese people who were sprayed and who are still being exposed to it in the soil for the last 50 years.

The VA says that certain cancers and other health problems can be caused by exposure to Agent Orange and the other herbicides during their military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits if they have one of these diagnoses:

Amyloidosis, Chronic B-cell Leukemias, Chloracne, Type II Diabetes Mellitus, Hodgkins Disease, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Parkinson’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer), Hairy Cell Leukemia, Soft Tissue Sarcomas and spina bifida in infants of Agent Orange exposed Vietnam veterans.

Gary G. Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug, mental health care for the last decade of his family practice career. He now writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly published in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. Many of Dr. Kohls’ columns are archived at

Carpetbagging ‘Crony Capitalism’ in Ukraine

Exclusive: Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and other key officials were given overnight Ukrainian citizenship — with the law requiring them to renounce their old allegiances — but the American-born Jaresko has balked at that mandate, raising questions about her true motives, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Last December, before being named Ukraine’s Finance Minister, American-born Natalie Jaresko accepted Ukrainian citizenship as a prerequisite for getting the job, but in almost one year since she has not renounced her U.S. citizenship, according to U.S. records and a Ukrainian official.

The Ukrainian Constitution allows for only “single citizenship,” meaning that a foreigner who is granted Ukrainian citizenship must terminate his or her previous citizenship and must submit a document attesting to that renunciation “within two years from the date of granting of Ukrainian citizenship,” said Mariia Budiakova, press secretary of the Ukraine Embassy in Washington.

The U.S. government publishes quarterly the names of Americans who have renounced their U.S. citizenship and those names — printed in the Federal Register since last December — do not include Jaresko, who has chosen to remain a U.S. citizen, a fact confirmed by Budiakova.

Jaresko appears to be exploiting the two-year period for submitting proof of renouncing her prior citizenship so she can hold her powerful Ukrainian position for two years with the option of then dropping her Ukrainian citizenship and keeping her U.S. citizenship.

But that manipulation of the process creates the appearance of a carpetbagger with dual loyalties and reinforces the image, highlighted by Russian media, of a Ukrainian government being run behind the scenes by the United States and other outsiders.

There’s also the possibility that Jaresko is exploiting this opportunity to learn all she can about the inner workings of the Ukrainian government to position herself to quit her post after two years, drop her temporary Ukrainian citizenship, and become a well-paid consultant with valuable contacts inside Ukraine’s Finance Ministry.

Such opportunism would fit with Jaresko’s history. Though hailed as the face of Ukrainian “reform,” Jaresko has long used her official connections to enrich herself, an inconvenient truth that undercuts the U.S. government’s desired image for the regime in Kiev as committed to the fight against corruption.

Prior to her appointment as Finance Minister, Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat, headed the U.S.-taxpayer-financed Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), created in the 1990s to help jump-start an investment economy for Ukraine and Moldova. WNISEF was overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

WNISEF officials were limited to $150,000 in compensation a year, but Jaresko maneuvered to exceed that total, ultimately collecting more than $2 million a year by shifting management of WNISEF to her own private company, Horizon Capital, and arranging to get lucrative bonuses when selling off investments, even as the overall WNISEF fund was losing money, according to official records.

For instance, Jaresko collected $1.77 million in bonuses in 2013, according to WNISEF’s latest available filing with the Internal Revenue Service. In her financial disclosure forms with the Ukrainian government, she reported earning $2.66 million in 2013 and $2.05 million in 2014, thus amassing a sizeable personal fortune while investing U.S. taxpayers’ money supposedly to benefit the Ukrainian people.

Meanwhile, WNISEF continued to hemorrhage money, shrinking from its original $150 million to $89.8 million in the 2013 tax year, according to the IRS filing. WNISEF reported that the bonuses to Jaresko and other corporate officers were based on profitable exits from some investments even if the overall fund was losing money. [See’s “How Ukraine’s Finance Minister Got Rich.”]

Hailed as ‘Reformer’

Still, Jaresko and other foreigners who were brought in to fill key positions in the current Ukrainian regime were described as “technocrats” whose only interest was to bring good government to Ukraine, a country long saddled with institutionalized corruption. Jaresko was hailed as a Ukrainian “reformer” who in the words of New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman “shares our values.”

But Jaresko’s business history offers little reason for optimism about Ukraine rooting out official self-interest. Indeed, Jaresko would seem to fit the bill as a classic “crony capitalist,” someone who takes advantage of government connections to line his or her own pockets. Her failure to expeditiously comply with the Ukrainian Constitution and renounce her U.S. citizenship reinforces the view that she is more opportunist than reformer.

According to recent accounts from Ukraine, official corruption remains a deep-seated problem more than a year-and-a-half after the February 2014 overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was lambasted by the Western media for having a sauna in his official residence, the sauna becoming emblematic of his alleged abuse of power.

Prior to his ouster, Yanukovych and his government were targeted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which is funded by USAID, the same organization that hired Jaresko to run WNISEF, and Open Society, a foundation headed by George Soros, a hedge-fund billionaire who has profited off the financial destabilization of fragile governments.

OCCRP’s selective outrage over “corruption” raises questions as to whether it is a genuinely journalistic operation or a propaganda front for the U.S. government and Western business interests targeting regimes that don’t play ball. After all, Jaresko’s multi-million-dollar profiting off her relationship with the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF would seem to be a starker example of corruption than Yanukovych’s sauna.

The new U.S.-backed regime in Kiev also has enacted “reforms” that slash pensions, energy subsidies and other social programs (reducing the living standards of average Ukrainians) while moving to privatize Ukraine’s economy and encouraging large Western corporations to exploit the country’s resources including “fracking” for shale gas in eastern Ukraine.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, an inviting target especially since other European nations, such as Great Britain, Poland, France and Bulgaria, have resisted fracking technology because of environmental concerns. An economically supine Ukraine is presumably less able to say no. [See’s “Beneath the Ukraine Crisis: Shale Gas.”]

This process in Ukraine also appears to have benefited from some greasing of the skids by hiring well-connected Americans besides Jaresko. Just three months after Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, appointed Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to its board of directors. Burisma a shadowy Cyprus-based company also lined up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures.

As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.”

According to investigative journalism inside Ukraine, the ownership of Burisma has been traced to Privat Bank, which is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the U.S.-backed “reform” regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine (though Kolomoisky was eventually ousted from that post in a power struggle over control of UkrTransNafta, Ukraine’s state-owned oil pipeline operator).

Also, regarding Western energy interests, on Dec. 13, 2013, when neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was pushing for Yanukovych’s ouster, she reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations” at a conference sponsored by Chevron. She even stood next to the company’s logo.

The Carpetbaggers

Jaresko was only one of several foreigners recruited by President Petro Poroshenko to fill key positions in the Ukrainian government, with these officials also granted instant Ukrainian citizenship. Along with Jaresko’s appointment last December, Poroshenko brought onboard Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius, a partner in investment firm East Capital, as Economy Minister and Georgian Aleksander Kvitashvili, who had served as Georgia’s health minister and labor minister, as Health Minister.

Last May, Poroshenko appointed ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saaskashvili to be governor of Ukraine’s restive Odessa region. Saaskashvili, who faces charges in Georgia for alleged abuse of power during his presidency, also received overnight Ukrainian citizenship but — unlike Jaresko — he announced that he had dropped his Georgian citizenship, a move that short-circuited his possible extradition back to Georgia.

Another foreigner whose appointment raised eyebrows was the choice of Estonian Jaanika Merilo to be put in charge of attracting foreign investments. Merilo was a Jaresko associate known more for her personal ties to wealthy business tycoons, such as English businessman and investor Richard Branson, and kinky online photos than her skills as a technocrat.

The message from the new regime in Kiev may be that Ukraine is open for Western investment, but a less charitable interpretation is that Ukraine is open for unbridled exploitation led by foreign operatives with a history of self-dealing who are overseeing another — and possibly far grander — era of official corruption.

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 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.

Fresh Twists in the Lockerbie Case

Exclusive: The near-three-decade-old Pan Am 103 case — a plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland — shows how a dubious “group think” of Official Washington not only withstands scrutiny but can become the foundation for further allegations and become “history,” as John Ashton describes.

By John Ashton

On Oct. 15, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office, announced that two Libyan men are being treated as suspects in the 28-year-old Pan Am 103 bombing case. They were widely reported to be Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker, and Abdullah Senussi, Muammar Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both were associates of the only person convicted of the bombing, Abelbaset al-Megrahi, who died in 2012.

The development came almost 15 years after Megrahi’s trial, but only two days after the broadcast by PBS Frontline of a three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber. Trailed by a long article in the New Yorker, the film was made by Ken Dornstein, a former Frontline staffer whose older brother David was one of 270 who died when Pan Am 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988.

The documentary reveals that Masud was named by a German judge as the technical expert responsible for the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack, which killed three, including two U.S. servicemen, and injured many more, led to the U.S. air strikes on Libya, for which Libya allegedly took revenge with the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Megrahi flew with Masud from Malta to Libya on the morning of the Lockerbie bombing having, according to the prosecution, placed a suitcase containing a bomb on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. The unaccompanied suitcase was allegedly transferred to a feeder flight to London Heathrow and again at Heathrow on to Pan Am 103.

Megrahi denied knowing Masud, yet the two men were on other flights in the run-up to Lockerbie and, according to the film, Masud was in the car that met him on his return to Libya in 2009, following his release from prison in Scotland.

Before I comment, a declaration of interest. I worked for Megrahi for three years as a researcher and following his return to Libya, and, at his request, wrote his biography. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of Ken Dornstein’s production and, although I disagree with his conclusions, am on good terms with him.

There is no doubt that Libya supported terrorist groups and that at least one Libyan, Musbah Eter, who was an official at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin, was involved in the La Belle bombing. Eter was convicted for his role following a confession in which he implicated his co-accused, Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa (both of whom worked at the People’s Bureau) and Chaana’s wife Verana.

He implicated a number of others, including Masud, whom he described as a bomb technician. Masud was never apprehended for the bombing and when German prosecutor Dethlev Mehlis went to Libya to interview witnesses all denied his existence, as did the Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case.

Less Straightforward

There is also no doubt that the La Belle case is far less straightforward than portrayed in the film. At the time of the bombing, the Reagan administration was involved in a large, secret and dirty war against Libya. From the time Reagan took office in 1981 his government exaggerated the country’s role in terrorism, which it claimed, falsely, was central to a Soviet-directed global conspiracy against the West.

At the same time, the Reagan administration downplayed the role of equally active terrorist states Syria and Iran. There were two reasons for this: firstly, those countries held far greater strategic power in the Middle East than Libya; and secondly, their militant proxies held U.S. hostages in Lebanon. The hostages’ safe return was an obsession that led the administration into the Iran-Contra scandal.

Under the direction of CIA’s rabidly neocon director, William Casey, the Agency launched a massive covert campaign against Libya, aimed at toppling Gaddafi. It was run from the National Security Council by the same people who ran the Iran-Contra operation, including Oliver North.

Disinformation was central to the campaign. In 1981, the CIA put out a false story that Gaddafi has sent a hit squad to the U.S. to assassinate Reagan. The White House played along using an unmarked car to drive Reagan while decoy limousines were used to dupe the non-existent gunmen.

By the mid-1980s, the White House hardliners were hungry for an excuse to attack Libya and NSC staff drew up plans to provoke Libya in to a response that would provide the excuse they needed. Naval exercises were conducted off the Libyan coast in which Libyan vessels were hit and territorial water repeatedly violated.

Gaddafi appeared not to take the bait. Then, on April 5, 1986, came the La Belle bombing. The White House soon announced that it had irrefutable evidence of Libya’s involvement. Nine days later came the air strikes against Libya, which came within a whisker of killing Gaddafi.

The “irrefutable evidence” was intercepts of incriminatory messages sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Libyan intelligence traffic was normally processed and evaluated by a group known as G-6 at the National Security Agency, before being forwarded elsewhere.

An investigation by Seymour Hersh for the New York Times established that the La Belle intercepts were never sent to G-6. An NSA official told him “The G-6 section branch and division chiefs didn’t know why it was taken from them. They were bureaucratically cut out and so they screamed and yelled.”

Another explained, “There is no doubt that if you send raw data to the White House, that constitutes misuse because there’s nobody there who’s capable of interpreting it. . . . You screw it up every time when you do it and especially when the raw traffic is translated into English from a language such as Arabic, that’s not commonly known.”

The eventual prosecution of Eter and his three co-accused was reliant upon Eter’s confession and corroborating material from the files of the former East German security service, the Stasi. (Chaana also confessed but his evidence was not considered as important and Eter’s.) The Stasi had a number of informants within Berlin’s Arab communities, including Chaana, and kept a close watch on the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau.


During the 1980s, Berlin was a pit of Cold War double-dealing. The Stasi files indicate that among the Arab communities survival and personal advancement often trumped loyalty to any particular cause. The information relayed to the Stasi by its Arab informants might be cast iron, but against this background it’s also possible that they were recycling each other’s inventions.

The East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau, in particular, hosted numerous personal rivalries and little mutual trust. Eter was one of the more interesting vipers in the nest. According to the Stasi and a 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF, he was a CIA asset. ZDF discovered that, at the time he made his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

The year before La Belle he was named as a suspect in the assassination in West Germany of a Libyan dissident called Jibril el-Dinali. (Der Spiegel reported at the time that dissidents believed that the German federal police, the BKA, had supplied their secret addresses to Libyan officials in return for intelligence about the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction, which had received Libyan support.)

Eter is Ken Dornstein’s key witness and will be central to any prosecution of Masud and Senussi. According to the film, since Dornstein made contact, he has told the FBI that Masud and Megrahi were pivotal to the Lockerbie plot. He claims that Masud told him personally that he was responsible for both the Lockerbie and La Belle bombings.

Unfortunately for anyone tasked with prosecuting at a trial of the new suspects, the CIA connection and his murderous past leave Eter with a credibility problem. So too does the fact that he waited 19 years after confessing to talk about Lockerbie.

Other Stasi informants involved in the case had a relationship with the CIA, as did some of those originally implicated in the bombing. One was a close associate of Chraidi’s, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, who with his brother Mohamed ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians.

The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud Abu Jaber and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. They mixed regularly with the Chraidi and the other defendants and hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. They were watched by the Stasi and KGB, both of which concluded that they were working for Western intelligence.

One declassified KGB document suggested that Mahmoud Abu Jaber was a CIA agent provocateur, who was used to create a case against Libya. Group member Mahmoud Amayiri, who was both Shatta’s brother and Mahmoud Abu Jaber’s right-hand man, confirmed to ZDF through his Norwegian lawyer that he had been working for Mossad. He had fled Germany for Norway in 1990, following the issuing of an arrest warrant, which was later dropped.

The idea that some of the La Belle plotters were western agents provocateur is not far-fetched. A 1997 investigation by British Channel 4 TV’s Dispatches series revealed that the CIA-funded anti-Gaddafi terrorist group Al-Burkan was involved in the 1984 murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed when staff at the London Libya People’s Bureau opened fire on a crowd of anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

A member of a Berlin criminal gang connected to Al-Burkan described transporting the murder weapon to London and handing it over to an Al-Burkan member. The program uncovered evidence that the fatal shot was fired from a building adjacent to the People’s Bureau used by the UK intelligence services. It also claimed that Al Burkan had moles within the People’s Bureau.

Reluctant Cooperation

The U.S. government was reluctant to share its intelligence about La Belle with the Germans and it was not until 1996 that it did. It appeared to be convincing and included transcripts of intercepted messages, allegedly between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau. Among other things, these suggested that senior Libyan intelligence official Said Rashid, a friend and relative of Megrahi’s, coordinated the attack.

The U.S. government may well have believed the intercepts to be genuine, but, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, they were an elaborate hoax. In his 1994 memoir, The Other Side of Deception, he claimed that the messages were in fact part of a Mossad disinformation operation codenamed Trojan.

Ostrovsky said that a few weeks before the bombing Israeli commandos secretly installed special communications equipment in an apartment near Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, which was subsequently used to broadcast phony terrorist orders. Neither German prosecutor Mehlis, nor the FBI, contacted Ostrovsky about his claims.

While none of this rules out Libyan sponsorship of La Belle, it does flash a warning that we should treat the official account with caution.

An even thicker fog surrounds Lockerbie. The CIA’s campaign against Libya did not end with the 1986 raids, indeed a few months after them President Reagan signed a secret National Security Decision Directive, which, according to a leak to Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, ordered “covert, diplomatic and economic steps designed to . . . bring about a change of leadership in Libya.”

In view of what we now know about Lockerbie, it’s not outlandish to suggest that those covert steps may have included manipulating the investigation behind the backs of the police and prosecutors.

Declassified U.S. intelligence documents state as fact that the bombing was not Gaddafi’s revenge for the 1986 raids, but was rather Iran’s for the U.S. Navy’s accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, which killed 290 people six months before Lockerbie.

According to the documents, the Iranians contracted out the job to the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command, which had a track record of blowing up aircraft. One document, from 1991, stated, without naming the PFLP-GC, that the Iranian interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi paid the bombers $10 million.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer has provided some of the details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC plot and another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials closely connected to the PFLP-GC that the group carried out the attack.

Two months before Lockerbie members of the group were arrested in Germany, including bomb-maker Marwan Kreesat, who had made the bombs used in previous attacks. He admitted building bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players, the same brand that housed the Lockerbie bomb ,and said the group was planning to strike a western airliner. Other members of the group and at least one of his bombs evaded detection.

A Strange Warning

Less than three weeks before the bombing, the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security (ODS) warned that unnamed radical Palestinians in Europe were planning to target Pan Am. The warning came three days before the better known and entirely separate warning received by the U.S. embassy in Helsinki that an attack on Pan Am was imminent.

Whereas the Helsinki warning was written off as a hoax, the ODS warning, which was not revealed until seven years after the bombing, has never been adequately explained.

The key evidence that led the investigators away from Iran and PFLP-GC towards Libya was a small piece of circuit board known as PT/35(b), found within a blast-damaged piece of a Maltese-made shirt. The prosecution case at Megrahi’s trial was that it matched boards made to order for Swiss company Mebo by its supplier Thüring.

Crucially Mebo used the boards in timers called MST-13s, which it had designed and built 20 for the Libyan intelligence service. Megrahi was a partner in a Libyan company that rented part of Mebo’s Zurich offices.

Well before Lockerbie, the CIA had an MST-13 timer that had been seized in Togo in 1986 and photos of the one seized in Senegal in 1988. Prosecution statements by a CIA technical expert, disclosed six years after Megrahi’s conviction, revealed that the Agency was also aware before Lockerbie that the timers had been made by Mebo and supplied to Libya.

The Agency had a backchannel to Mebo boss Edwin Bollier via the Swiss police, so it’s likely that it knew of Megrahi’s connection to Mebo via his company ABH. (The Stasi, who had a relationship with Bollier from at least the early 1970s, were convinced by the late 1980s that he was a direct CIA asset.)

The story of the PT/35(b) fragment is ridden with evidential anomalies. Megrahi’s trial team highlighted a number of discrepancies concerning the fragment, including the fact that the handwritten description on the police label attached to the piece of shirt had been surreptitiously changed from “Cloth” to “Debris.”

There were numerous other discrepancies not raised at trial. These included German documents that reported that the Scottish police had told the German federal police that PT/35(b) had been found in January 1990, seven months after it was officially found.

In his memoir Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation, the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, revealed that he and his Scottish counterpart, Stuart Henderson, speculated that the fragment was a CIA plant. They dismissed the suggestion on the grounds that “Neither of us believed the CIA or any government official would do such a thing.”

However, Marquise also revealed that their Swiss police counterpart suspected it was a plant. This is especially interesting in view of a claim made in an affidavit by Mebo technician Ulrich Lumpert, who designed the boards and produced prototypes, that a year before the Lockerbie investigators had linked PT/35(b) to Mebo the Swiss police visited him and took with them a prototype board.

Shortly before Megrahi’s trial, the Scottish prosecutors received information from witnesses in the U.S. suggesting that an electronics company in Florida had made replica MST-13s for the CIA, but the lead was not properly investigated.

A Miscarriage of Justice

Documents unearthed by Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the statutory body that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland, highlighted more anomalies. They included a police memo stating that PT/35(b) had been tested for explosive residues and found to be negative, which contradicted the court testimony of the Crown’s forensic experts, who said that no such tests had been done.

As Frontline’s documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, points out, the SCCRC investigated Bollier’s claim that the fragment was fabricated and found it to be baseless. However, the film fails to mention that both the SCCRC and Bollier missed the most important discrepancy concerning PT/35(b), which only emerged during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal in 2009.

Metallurgical analysis showed that the fragment’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards made by Thüring, which were used in the timers supplied to Libya, were plated with a tin-lead alloy. Crown scientists had speculated that the explosion had changed the plating, but tests commissioned for the appeal disproved the theory. The work demonstrated beyond doubt that the Lockerbie fragment was not, as the court had accepted, a match for the Libyan MST-13s.

Other important forensic items had a dubious provenance. Among them was a collection of small charred circuit board fragments that apparently originated from a Toshiba BomBeat RT-SF16 radio cassette player.

A large proportion of the global production total of the model had been bought by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Said Rashid. The fragments appeared to be compelling evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, but, like PT/35(b), their origin is questionable. They were discovered by an air accident investigator within a folded piece of aluminum from the luggage container that housed the bomb suitcase.

Giving evidence at Megrahi’s trial, the investigator could not suggest how the blast could have caused the fragments to become trapped within the aluminum. He was sure that the fold had not occurred at the time of the explosion, which suggested that someone had placed the fragments within the aluminum after the blast.

Also of great importance to the prosecution case was a fragment of brown checked trousers containing a sewn-in label of a Maltese manufacturer called Yorkie. The item led the police to a shop in Malta called Mary’s House, where the proprietor, Tony Gauci, recalled selling a bundle of clothes, including brown checked trousers and other items found among the Lockerbie debris, to an oddly behaved Libyan a few weeks before the bombing.

Two years later, Gauci picked out Megrahi from a photo line-up, although he was considerably younger, smaller and lighter skinned than the man described by Gauci.

When the trouser fragment was first examined, the Yorkie label was seen by neither the forensic examiner nor the police officer present despite being easily visible. When questioned about it by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, both said they could not have missed it, which suggested that the label appeared after the examination.

The CIA not only knew before Lockerbie that Mebo had supplied MST-13 timers to Libya, they also knew that Megrahi regularly travelled to Malta, that he was related to Said Rashid and others high up within Libyan intelligence and security, and that Rashid was the head of the Libyan General Electrical Company. Much of this knowledge it attempted to conceal.

No Dissident

According to the former deputy chief of the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism division, the Diplomatic Security Service, Fred Burton, a CIA official told him before New Year in 1988 that the bomb was in a Maltese-originating brown Samsonite.

Burton is no Lockerbie dissident, he believes Megrahi and Libya were guilty, but, if true, his indiscretions throw a big wrench into the prosecution narrative, which held that the evidence to support the claim was uncovered by the police well in to 1989.

A number of rescue volunteers have described to me arriving in Lockerbie within two hours of the bombing to find a group of American agents already present. According to the official narrative, this never happened and the first U.S. government staff only arrived three hours later.

Police officers reported concerns that Americans had unsupervised access to the crash site and a British helicopter crew member told me that the day after the bombing his crew ferried CIA agents around the site.

Some potentially significant forensic items found at the crash site disappeared, among them an AA battery with a piece of wire soldered to one of its terminals. German police photographs of the PFLP-GC’s Toshiba bomb showed that it incorporated AA batteries with wires soldered to their terminals.

Anyone raising these evidential anomalies gets branded a conspiracy theorist by the supporters of the official narrative, yet that narrative and the one newly minted by My Brother’s Bomber are themselves elaborate conspiracy theories.

When the theories and counter-theories are cast aside in favor of hard facts, the official narrative is no longer tenable. Not only did PT/35(b) not originate from one of the timers supplied to Libya, but Megrahi was clearly not the man who bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase and that purchase took place when he was not in Malta. New analysis of the baggage evidence demonstrates that the bomb suitcase originated from London Heathrow, rather than Malta.

Perhaps the hardest fact of all for the defenders of Megrahi’s conviction, which has barely been reported in all the coverage generated by My Brother’s Bomber , is that in 2007 the conviction was referred back to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on no fewer than six grounds.

One of these was that the trial court judgment, delivered by three of Scotland’s most senior judges, was unreasonable. Four of the other grounds concerned non-disclosure by the prosecution of important evidence.

The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal in the belief that it would aid his application for compassionate release from prison. Sadly, the commission this month rejected an application by family members and relatives of some of the British victims of Pan Am 103 for a further review of the conviction.

It may be that the only way to re-test the evidence against Megrahi will be a trial of the two newly announced suspects. If that happens, don’t hold your breath for a guilty verdict.

John Ashton is a British writer and researcher. From 2006 to 2009 he worked with the legal team fighting to overturn Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for the Pan Am 103 bombing. He is the author of Megrahi: You are My Jury The Lockerbie Evidence (pub. Birlinn 2012) and Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters (pub. Birlinn 2013). 

Obama’s Double-Standard on Leaks

Though President Obama touts America as a nation of laws and evenhanded justice, there is a blatant double-standard regarding how people are punished for national security breaches whistleblowers are harshly punished but the well-connected get a pass, writes John Hanrahan.

By John Hanrahan

There he goes again. In recently proclaiming Hillary Clinton free of any national security breach, even as the FBI was continuing its investigation of her use of a potentially risky private email server for official business while she was Secretary of State, President Barack Obama continued his disturbing pattern of rendering his personal verdict ahead of legal proceedings in high-profile cases involving classified government information.

From Private Chelsea Manning to General David Petraeus to Edward Snowden and now to Hillary Clinton, the President has sounded off with his opinions on guilt or innocence, and on any alleged damage to national security, in advance of either a trial, or an indictment, or completion of an investigation.

Short version: whistleblowers Manning and Snowden clearly guilty; former high government officials Petraeus and Clinton, no problem.

In April 2011, two years before court martial proceedings began and almost two years before Manning acknowledged being a source for hundreds of thousands of classified documents released by Wikileaks, Obama proclaimed Manning guilty. The materials Manning provided to Wikileaks exposed diplomatic secrets and U.S. military abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, including showing greater numbers of civilian casualties than admitted publicly by U.S. officials.

Among the most shocking was the classified “collateral murder video” that showed U.S. military personnel in an Apache helicopter in a Baghdad suburb indiscriminately firing on and killing more than a dozen people, including rescuers and two Reuters employees, and wounding others, including two children.

Likewise, exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden was excoriated in absentia by Obama in January 2014 for providing to journalist Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras and others a trove of frightening National Security Agency documents. The documents showed that the Big Brother State had indeed arrived via the NSA’s worldwide, dragnet surveillance and data collection programs.

Petraeus received Obama’s no-harm-no-foul verdict in November 2012, while Clinton won the president’s thumbs-up during a 60 Minutes appearance by the President that was broadcast this past Oct. 11.

In his public pronouncements, a double standard has been applied by the President to powerful former governmental figures caught up in investigations regarding classified information. In Obama’s eyes, neither Petraeus nor Clinton did anything wrong: Not Petraeus in providing extremely highly secretive documents to his mistress Paula Broadwell; nor Clinton, in using her personal email server to conduct official business while she was Secretary of State, a server that might have contained classified information and that critics contend could have been easily penetrated by hackers, including unfriendly foreign governments.

And in both the Petraeus and Clinton cases, Obama stated his views publicly in an early stage of an investigation, sending a message that would certainly give pause to FBI investigators and federal prosecutors trying to build a case involving either of those two powerful former government officials.

It’s worth revisiting some of what Obama said about these various national security investigations, and the possible impact his statements had or might have on subsequent events in these cases:

Chelsea Manning

On April 21, 2011, Obama was confronted, and recorded, at a political fundraiser by a Manning supporter who wanted to know why Manning was being prosecuted on such serious charges. Manning, said Obama, was “irresponsible, risked the lives of service members and did a lot of damage. He broke the law.”

Remember, this was two years before Manning went to trial and almost two years before Manning acknowledged being the source for documents released by Wikileaks. Nothing had been proved against Manning in any legal forum.

Obama also made further comments that have a delightful irony about them, given the subsequent investigation of Petraeus, as well as the disclosure that former CIA Director Leon Panetta had provided classified information to the makers of the torture-justifying movie, “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Said Obama: “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate.”

To those of us who attended sessions of Manning’s 2013 court-martial, with the defense hamstrung by adverse national security rulings and barred by espionage law from mounting a public-interest defense, the verdict was not surprising. But the draconian 35-year sentence meted out by military judge Colonel Denise Lind was a shocker even in the context of the sham that is “military justice.”

Human nature, being what it is, would suggest that when the top military boss, the commander-in-chief, publicly pronounces the defendant guilty in advance of trial, some attention is certainly paid further down the chain of command to not only winning a conviction, but imposing a stiff sentence as well.

In that context, the President’s pre-trial comments amounted to exerting undue command influence, as Manning supporters and even some in the mainstream press pointed out at the time. NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski wrote this:

“The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits ‘Command Influence,’ in which a superior officer up the chain of command says or does something that could influence any decisions by a military judge or jury in a criminal case. As commander in chief, there’s no one higher up the chain than the president.”

In receiving that unconscionable 35-year prison term from Judge Lind, Manning may indeed be paying the price for Obama’s pre-trial comments.

General Petraeus

On Nov. 9, 2012, just three days after Obama was reelected, Petraeus resigned as CIA director as the news broke of his affair with Paula Broadwell. A mere five days after that, with the FBI’s investigation still in an early phase, Obama, in his first post-election news conference, all but exonerated Petraeus,saying:

“I have no evidence, from what I have seen at this point, that classified information was exposed.” He also said that he had seen nothing “that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.”

Obama then poured it on, reminding the American public that this four-star general is a unique man who deserves being left alone because of all of his service on our behalf.

“We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done,” Obama said. “And my main hope right now is, is that he and his family are able to move on and this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

Obama may or may not have known that just the previous month (October 2012) Petraeus had lied to the FBI that he had not provided any classified information to Broadwell (who co-authored a biography of Petraeus). He had also signed a statement upon leaving the CIA that he had no classified material in his possession, another lie.

When the FBI raided Petraeus’s home in April 2013, agents confiscated from an unlocked desk drawer eight notebooks that contained what the New York Times described as “handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers.” Petraeus himself described material in some of the so-called “black books” as being “highly classified.”

Petraeus subsequently admitted providing the classified notebooks to Broadwell and worked out a sweetheart plea deal under which he was not charged with a felony or covering up by lying to the FBI, but instead was allowed to plead guilty to a minor misdemeanor count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material.

For that, in marked contrast to two convicted CIA whistleblowers, John Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling, who received prison sentences of 30 months and 42 months, respectively, Petraeus was given no prison time. His slap-on-the-wrist “punishment”: two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

In addition to having a compliant Justice Department to thank, Petraeus can certainly give a tip of his general’s hat to a president, who made his views clear early on: Namely, you do not send a world-famous general to jail for an offense that would likely land any less heralded soldier in federal prison for many years.

In any event, present and future high-ranking government officials should take note: There is now an apparent “mistress exception” loophole in all those laws and regulations relating to the leaking of classified materials.

Edward Snowden

In a Jan. 17, 2014 speech touting what he described as his plans to reform U.S. surveillance practices, President Obama said that the “Snowden disclosures” had the effect of “revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.”

“Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations,” Obama said. “Our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”

Five days after Snowden revealed himself as the whistleblower source for the NSA documents, the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against him, charging him with theft and, more seriously, with two espionage charges: “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”

In the event Snowden someday faces a trial, you can bet that some variation of Obama’s words, that Snowden’s disclosures had revealed “methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come”, will be part of the prosecutor’s arsenal of charges. Just as was the case in the Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling and John Kiriakou prosecutions, whistleblowing equates to endangerment to us all.

Hillary Clinton

In an appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes that was broadcast on Oct. 11, 2015, Obama said that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server is “not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.” While he opined that Clinton’s use of the non-governmental server was a “mistake,” Obama added: “I don’t think it posed a national security problem.”

How can the President be so sure in the initial stages of an investigation that Manning is guilty and Petraeus and Clinton have done nothing to endanger national security? That Snowden and Manning, though, did endanger national security, but Clinton’s problematic private server, there for the possible picking by friendly or unfriendly nations or terrorist factions, did not?

This gratuitous support for Clinton, coming smack in the middle of the FBI investigation, sends a message down the civilian chain of command: Move on. Nothing to see here. An FBI agent or Justice Department prosecutor might just want to think twice about whether it’s a great career-enhancing move to keep pursuing the Clinton email matter when the President sends such a message out to the world.

(As if the pressure weren’t already enough, knowing that the woman you’re investigating could very likely be elected president next year.)

Even people who believe that Clinton did nothing wrong, who feel that this is just another Republican-influenced vendetta to sabotage her presidential campaign, should be concerned that a president would interject himself thusly into an ongoing investigation.

Two days after the 60 Minutes broadcast, White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued one of those statements intended for that segment of the American public that just fell off the turnip truck: The President’s comment on 60 Minutes was “based on what we publicly know” and “certainly was not an attempt, in any way, to undermine the importance or independence of the ongoing FBI investigation.”

A president who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School has to know that casting such public judgments with the weight of the presidency behind them, guilty for whistleblowers who perform a true public service, exceptions for high-ranking government officials because a double standard applies, further erodes the already crumbling rule of law in this fearful post-9/11 era.

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for  The Washington Post,  The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of  Government by Contract  and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He wrote extensively for, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. [This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.] 

How Ukraine’s Finance Chief Got Rich

Exclusive: Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko collected at least $1.77 million in bonuses from a U.S.-taxpayer-funded investment project that she ran even as it was losing money, a sign that her image as a paragon of public-interest “reform” may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Before becoming Ukraine’s Finance Minister last December, Natalie Jaresko collected $1.77 million in bonuses from a U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund where her annual compensation was supposed to be limited to $150,000, according to financial documents filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service this year.

The near 12-fold discrepancy between the compensation ceiling and Jaresko’s bonuses, paid in 2013, was justified in the IRS filing from the Jaresko-led Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF) by drawing a distinction between getting paid directly from the $150 million U.S. government grant that created the fund and the money from the fund’s “investment sales proceeds,” which were treated as fair game for extracting bonuses far beyond the prescribed compensation level.

Using this supposed loophole, Jaresko and some of her associates enriched themselves by claiming money generated from U.S. taxpayers’ dollars while avoiding any personal financial risks. She and other WNISEF officers collected the bonuses from what they deemed “profitable” exits from some investments even if the overall fund was losing money and shrinking, as it apparently was in recent years.

According to WNISEF’s filing for the 2013 tax year, submitted to the IRS on Aug. 11, 2015, the value of the investment fund had shrunk from $150 million at its start to $93.9 million in the fund’s 2012 tax year and to $89.8 million in the 2013 tax year. (WNISEF’s tax years end on Sept. 30.)

So, Jaresko’s arrangement was something like taking someone else’s money to a roulette table, placing it on black, and claiming a share of the winnings if the ball stopped on black. However, if the ball landed on red, then the someone else absorbed the loss, except in this case the winners were Jaresko and her associates and the losers were the American taxpayers.

The purpose cited by the U.S. Congress in starting the non-profit WNISEF with $150 million in the 1990s was to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine and Moldova for the benefit of the people of those countries. The project was administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which selected Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat of Ukrainian heritage, to run the project.

Last December, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko named Jaresko Finance Minister after awarding her instant Ukrainian citizenship. At that point, she quit WNISEF and has since become the face of Ukrainian “reform,” representing the U.S.-backed government at international banking events at Davos, Switzerland, and elsewhere while appealing for billions of dollars in Western financial aid which she oversees.

Thus, Jaresko’s standards for handling public moneys are relevant to judging whether the new regime is just a reshuffling of who gets to plunder Ukraine or a serious effort at reform. The overthrow of the previous Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych was largely justified in February 2014 because of allegations about corruption. The new regime has presented itself as committed to reform, even though some outside observers contend that corruption is as bad or worse than under the old government.

Self-Interest v. Public Interest

There is also the question of whether Jaresko is more interested in getting rich than in serving the people of Ukraine. As WNISEF’s chief executive officer, Jaresko seemed to grow dissatisfied with her $150,000 salary. For instance, in 2004, she earned more than double the prescribed amount, paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for that year.

According to audit documents that I obtained from USAID, an “Expense Analysis” for 2004 showed $1,282,782 being paid out as “Exit-based incentive expense-equity incentive plan” and another $478,195 being paid for “Exit-based incentive expense-financial participation rights.” That suggested that Jaresko was already claiming bonuses from WNISEF’s investments (bought with U.S. taxpayers’ money) and sold during 2004.

In 2006, Jaresko’s compensation for her work with WNISEF was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two related entities Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF), a private entity to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals.

Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006.

According to the USAID’s expense analyses for 2004-06, the taxpayer-financed WNISEF spent $1,049,987 to establish EEGF as a privately owned investment fund for Jaresko and her colleagues. USAID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies.

For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF. Though the IRS forms have a line for earnings from “related organizations,” WNISEF listed nothing, apparently treating compensation from Horizon Capital and EEGF as “unrelated” for the purposes of reporting compensation for Jaresko and other officers.

So, the scale of how much Jaresko was making from her association with WNISEF was unclear until last week when the IRS released WNISEF’s 2013 tax filing of Aug. 11, 2015, in response to a request from Though the filing still did not disclose all of Jaresko’s WNISEF-related compensation, it did list her $1.77 million share of the $4.5 million in bonuses awarded to her and two other WNISEF officers, Iwashko and Koszarny.

WNISEF filings also said the bonuses were paid regardless of whether the overall fund was making money, noting that this “compensation was not contingent on revenues or net earnings, but rather on a profitable exit of a portfolio company that exceeds the baseline value set by the board of directors and approved by USAID” with Jaresko also serving as a director on the board responsible for setting those baseline values.

Though compensation for Jaresko and other officers was shifted outside public view after 2006 as their pay was moved to the affiliated entities the 2006 IRS filing said: “It should be noted that as long as HCA earns a management fee from WNISEF, HCA and HCAD [the two Horizon Capital entities] must ensure that a salary cap of $150,000 is adhered to for the proportion of salary attributable to WNISEF funds managed relative to aggregate funds under management.”

Audit Gaps

KPMG auditors, who reviewed WNISEF finances, also took a narrow view of how to define income for Jaresko and other officers, only confirming that no “salary” exceeded $150,000, apparently not looking at bonuses and other forms of compensation. Neither USAID officials nor Jaresko responded to specific questions about WNISEF’s possible conflicts of interest, how much money Jaresko made from her involvement with WNISEF and its connected companies, and whether she had fully complied with IRS reporting requirements.

After Jaresko’s appointment as Finance Minister, and her resignation from WNISEF, I reviewed WNISEF’s available public records and detected a pattern of insider dealings and enrichment benefiting Jaresko and her colleagues. That prompted me in February to file a Freedom of Information Act request for USAID’s audits of the investment fund.

Though the relevant records were identified by June, USAID dragged its feet on releasing the 34 pages to me until Aug. 28 when the agency claimed nothing was being withheld, saying “all 34 pages are releasable in their entirety.” However, when I examined the documents, it became clear that a number of pages were missing from the financial records, including a total of three years of “expense analysis” in three-, six- and nine-month gaps since 2007.

Part of KPMG’s “Independent Auditors’ Report” for 2013 and 2014 was also missing. The report stated that “except as discussed in the third paragraph below, we conducted our audits in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America,” accountant-speak that suggests that “the third paragraph below” would reveal some factor that did not comply with generally accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).

But three paragraphs below was only white space and there was no next page in what USAID released. After I pointed out the discrepancies to USAID on Aug. 31, I was told on Sept. 15 that “we are in the process of locating documents to address your concern. We expect a response from the bureau and/or mission by Monday, September 28, 2015.”

After the Sept. 28 deadline passed, I contacted USAID again and was told on Oct. 2 that officials were “still working with the respective mission to obtain the missing documents.” On Oct. 22, USAID sent me one additional page from KPMG’s audit report stating that its review of WNISEF’s books lacked “an external quality control review by an unaffiliated audit organization” as required by the U.S. government’s auditing standards because no such program is offered in Ukraine. Other pages are still missing.

An earlier effort by Jaresko’s ex-husband Ihor Figlus to blow the whistle on what he considered improper business practices related to WNISEF was met by disinterest inside USAID, according to Figlus, and then led to Jaresko suing him in a Delaware court in 2012, using a confidentiality clause to silence Figlus and getting a court order to redact references to the abuses he was trying to expose.

Figlus’s complaints related to what he saw as improper loans that Jaresko had taken from Horizon Capital Associates to buy and expand her stake in EEGF, the privately held follow-on fund to WNISEF. After Figlus discussed this issue with a Ukrainian journalist, Jaresko sent her lawyers to court to silence him and, according to his lawyer, bankrupt him.

The filings in Delaware’s Chancery Court are remarkable not only because Jaresko succeeded in getting the Court to gag her ex-husband through enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement but the Court agreed to redact nearly all the business details, even the confidentiality language at the center of the case. [See’s “Ukraines Finance Ministers American Values.”]

Shared Values

Earlier this year, I sent detailed questions to USAID and to Jaresko via several of her associates. Those questions included how much of the $150 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money remained in WNISEF, why Jaresko reported no compensation from “related organizations,” whether she received bonus money, how much money she made in total from her association with WNISEF, what AID officials did in response to Figlus’s whistle-blower complaint, and whether Jaresko’s legal campaign to silence her ex-husband was appropriate given her current position and Ukraine’s history of secretive financial dealings.

USAID press officer Annette Y. Aulton got back to me with a response that was unresponsive to my specific questions. Rather than answering about the performance of WNISEF and Jaresko’s compensation, Aulton commented on the relative success of 10 “Enterprise Funds” that USAID has sponsored in Eastern Europe, adding:

“There is a twenty year history of oversight of WNISEF operations. Enterprise funds must undergo an annual independent financial audit, submit annual reports to USAID and the IRS, and USAID staff conduct field visits and semi-annual reviews. At the time Horizon Capital assumed management of WNISEF, USAID received disclosures from Natalie Jaresko regarding the change in management structure and at the time USAID found no impropriety during its review.”

One Jaresko associate, Tanya Bega, Horizon Capital’s investor relations manager, said she forwarded my questions to Jaresko, but Jaresko did not respond.

Despite concerns that Jaresko may have enriched herself at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and then used a Delaware court to prevent disclosure of possible abuses, Jaresko has been hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a paragon of reform in the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime.

Last January, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman cited Jaresko as an exemplar of the new Ukrainian leaders who “share our values” and deserve unqualified American support. Friedman uncritically quoted Jaresko’s speech to international financial leaders at Davos, in which she castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values, with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for.”

Exactly which Western “values” Jaresko actually shares remains unclear because of the fog surrounding her actions at WNISEF and her unwillingness to reveal how much she made from her association with a U.S.taxpayer funded project. However, if those Western “values” include putting citizens’ interests before self-interest and believing that transparency is critical for a democracy, Jaresko may need some remedial training.

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 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.

How Technology Kills Democracy

In shutting down whistleblowing and investigative journalism on national security issues, the U.S. government can use its technology to determine who is speaking to whom and then use that metadata as evidence of leaks, a chilling new reality that endangers democracy, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

Of all the excuses ladled out for the Obama administration’s shredding of the Fourth Amendment while assaulting press freedom and prosecuting “national security” whistleblowers, none is more pernicious than the claim that technology is responsible.

At first glance, the explanation might seem to make sense. After all, the capacities of digital tech have become truly awesome. It’s easy to finger “technology” as the driver of government policies, as if the president at the wheel has little choice but to follow the technological routes that have opened up for Big Brother.

Now comes New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, telling listeners and viewers of a Democracy Now interview that the surveillance state is largely a matter of technology: “It’s just the way it is in the 21st century.”

That’s a great way to depoliticize a crucial subject — downplaying the major dynamics of the political economy, anti-democratic power and top-down choices — letting leaders off the hook, as if sophistication calls for understanding that government is to be regulated by high-tech forces rather than the other way around.

In effect, the message is that — if you don’t like mass surveillance and draconian measures to intimidate whistleblowers as well as journalists — your beef is really with technology, and good luck with pushing back against that. Get it? The fault, dear citizen, is not in our political stars but in digital tech.

When Amy Goodman asked Savage about the Obama administration’s record-high prosecutions of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, he summed up this way:

“Because of technology, it’s impossible to hide who’s in contact with whom anymore, and cases are viable to investigate now that weren’t before. That’s not something Obama did or Bush did. It’s just the way it is in the 21st century, and investigative journalism is still grappling with the implications of that.”

A more astute and candid assessment of such matters can be found in “Through the Looking-Glass,” where Lewis Carroll wrote this dialogue:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” Alice replied, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” Humpty Dumpty responded, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

The surveillance state is not the default setting of digital technology. The surveillance state is a failure and suppressor of democracy. A surveillance state or a democratic system — which is to be master? [For a real-life example of how this technological prowess was used to punish a whistleblower, see the case of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling.]

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents

From the Archive: As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with President Obama, the mainstream media is asking who’s to blame for their chilly relationship. But the problem is not just personal. It goes to Israel’s longstanding efforts to out-fox U.S. presidents, as Morgan Strong described in 2010.

By Morgan Strong (Originally published May 31, 2010)

At the end of a news conference on April 13, 2010, President Barack Obama made the seemingly obvious point that the continuing Middle East conflict pitting Israel against its Arab neighbors will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Obama’s remark followed a similar statement in congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, linking the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the challenges that U.S. troops face in the region.

“The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said in prepared testimony. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

[Petraeus later tried to back away from this implicit criticism of Israel, fearing that it would hurt his political standing with his neoconservative allies. He began insisting that the analysis was only part of his written testimony, not his oral remarks.]

Yet, the truth behind the assessments from Obama and Petraeus is self-evident to anyone who has spent time observing the Middle East for the past six decades. Even the staunchly pro-Israeli Bush administration made similar observations.

In 2007 in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice termed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process of “strategic interest” to the United States and expressed empathy for the beleaguered Palestinian people. “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people,” Rice said, referring to acts of Palestinian violence.

But the recent statement by Obama and Petraeus aroused alarm among some Israeli supporters who reject any suggestion that Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians might be a factor in the anti-Americanism surging through the Islamic world.

After Petraeus’s comment, the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League said linking the Palestinian plight and Muslim anger was “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

However, the U.S. government’s widespread (though often unstated) recognition of the truth behind the assessment in Petraeus’s testimony has colored how the Obama administration has reacted to the intransigence of Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. government realizes how much it has done on Israel’s behalf, even to the extent of making Americans the targets of Islamic terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks (as the 9/11 Commission discovered but played down) and sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Middle East conflicts.

That was the backdrop in March 2009 for President Obama’s outrage over the decision of the Netanyahu government to continue building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem despite the fact that the move complicated U.S. peace initiatives and was announced as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to reaffirm American support for Israel.

However, another little-acknowledged truth about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is that Israeli leaders have frequently manipulated and misled American presidents out of a confidence that U.S. politicians deeply fear the political fallout from any public battle with Israel.

Given that history, few analysts who have followed the arc of U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding in 1948 believe that the Israeli government is likely to retreat very much in its confrontation with President Obama. [Now, nearly seven years into Obama’s presidency after Netanyahu’s persistent obstruction of Palestinian peace talks and his steady expansion of Jewish settlements that assessment has proved out.]

Manipulating Eisenhower

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the fledgling Jewish state and had supplied Israel with advanced U.S. weaponry. Yet, despite Eisenhower’s generosity and good intentions, Israel sided with the British and French in 1956 in a conspiracy against him. Israeli leaders joined a secret arrangement that involved Israel invading Egypt’s Sinai, which then allowed France and Great Britain to introduce their own forces and reclaim control of the Suez Canal.

In reaction to the invasion, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt by sending ground troops. With Cold War tensions already stretched thin by the crises in Hungary and elsewhere, Eisenhower faced the possibility of a showdown between nuclear-armed adversaries. Eisenhower demanded that the Israeli-spearheaded invasion of the Sinai be stopped, and he brought financial and political pressures to bear on Great Britain and France.

A ceasefire soon was declared, and the British and French departed, but the Israelis dragged their heels. Eisenhower finally presented Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with an ultimatum, a threat to cut off all U.S. aid. Finally, in March 1957, the Israelis withdrew. [For details, see Eisenhower and Israel by Isaac Alteras.]

Even as it backed down in the Sinai, Israel was involved in another monumental deception, a plan for building its own nuclear arsenal. In 1956, Israel had concluded an agreement with France to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israel also signed a secret agreement with France to build an adjacent plutonium reprocessing plant.

Israel began constructing its nuclear plant in 1958. However, French President Charles de Gaulle was worried about nuclear weapons destabilizing the Middle East and insisted that Israel not develop a nuclear bomb from the plutonium processing plant. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion assured de Gaulle that the processing plant was for peaceful purposes only.

After John F. Kennedy became President, he also wrote to Ben-Gurion explicitly calling on Israel not to join the nuclear-weapons club, drawing another pledge from Ben-Gurion that Israel had no such intention. Nevertheless, Kennedy continued to press, forcing the Israelis to let U.S. scientists inspect the nuclear reactor at Dimona. But the Israelis first built a fake control room while bricking up and otherwise disguising parts of the building that housed the plutonium processing plant.

In return for allowing inspectors into Dimona, Ben-Gurion also demanded that the United States sell Hawk surface-to-air missiles to the Israeli military. Kennedy agreed to the sale as a show of good faith. Subsequently, however, the CIA got wind of the Dimona deception and leaked to the press that Israel was secretly building a nuclear bomb.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson also grew concerned over Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. He asked then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Eshkol assured Johnson that Israel was studying the matter and would sign the treaty in due course. However, Israel has never signed the treaty and never has admitted that it developed nuclear weapons. [For details, see Israel and The Bomb by Avner Cohen.]

Trapping Johnson

As Israel grew more sophisticated and more confident in its dealings with U.S. presidents, it also sought to secure U.S. military assistance by exaggerating its vulnerability to Arab attacks. One such case occurred after the Egyptians closed off the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel in May 1967, denying the country its only access to the Red Sea. Israel threatened military action against Egypt if it did not re-open the Gulf.

Israel then asked President Johnson for military assistance in the event war broke out against the Egyptians. Johnson directed Richard Helms, the newly appointed head of the CIA to evaluate Israel’s military capability in the event of war against the surrounding Arab states.

On May 26, 1967, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban met with Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Helms. Eban presented a Mossad estimate of the capability of the Arab armies, claiming that Israel was seriously outgunned by the Arab armies which had been supplied with advanced Soviet weaponry. Israel believed that, owing to its special relationship with the United States, the Mossad intelligence assessment would be taken at face value.

However, Helms was asked to present the CIA estimate of the Arabs’ military capabilities versus the Israeli army. The CIA’s analysts concluded that Israel could “defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting a successful major offensive on the fourth.” [See “C.I.A. Analysis of the 1967 Arab Israeli War,” Center for the Study of Intelligence.]

“We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials,” the CIA report said. “It is probably a gambit intended to influence the U.S. to provide military supplies, make more public commitments to Israel, to approve Israeli military initiatives, and put more pressure on Egyptian President Nasser.” [See A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms.]

The CIA report stated further that the Soviet Union would probably not interfere militarily on behalf of the Arab states and that Israel would defeat the combined Arab armies in a matter of days. As a consequence, Johnson refused to airlift special military supplies to Israel, or to promise public support for Israel if Israel went to war.

The Six-Day Success

Despite Johnson’s resistance, Israel launched an attack on its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, claiming that the conflict was provoked when Egyptian forces opened fire. (The CIA later concluded that it was Israel that had first fired upon Egyptian forces.)

On June 8, at the height of the conflict, which would become known as the Six-Day War, Israeli fighter/bombers attacked the USS Liberty, a lightly armed communications vessel sent on a mission to relay information on the course of the war to U.S. naval intelligence.

The attack killed 34 Americans sailors, and wounded 171 others. Israeli leaders have always claimed that they had mistaken the U.S. vessel for an enemy ship, but a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, believed the attack was deliberate, possibly to prevent the United States from learning about Israel’s war plans. [See As I Saw It by Dean Rusk.]

However, in deference to Israel, the U.S. government did not aggressively pursue the matter of the Liberty attack and even issued misleading accounts in medal citations to crew members, leaving out the identity of the attackers.

Meanwhile, on land and in the air, Israel’s powerful military advanced, shredding the Arab defenses. Soon, the conflict escalated into another potential showdown between nuclear-armed superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. On June 10, President Johnson received a “Hot Line” message from Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin. The Kremlin warned of grave consequences if Israel continued its military campaign against Syria by entering and/or occupying that country.

Johnson dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, in a move to convince the Soviets of American resolve. But a ceasefire was declared later the same day, with Israel ending up in control of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian lands including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

But a wider war was averted. Johnson’s suspicions about Israel’s expansionist intent had kept the United States from making an even bigger commitment that might have led to the Soviets countering with an escalation of their own.

Nixon and Yom Kippur

Israeli occupation of those additional Arab lands set the stage for a resumption of hostilities six years later, on Oct. 6, 1973, with the Yom Kippur War, which began with a surprise attack by Egypt against Israeli forces in the Sinai.

The offensive caught Israel off guard and Arab forces were close to overrunning Israel’s outer defenses and entering the country. According to later accounts based primarily on Israeli leaks, Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” ordered the arming of 13 nuclear weapons, which were aimed at Egyptian and Syrian targets.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Simha Dintz warned President Richard Nixon that very serious repercussions would occur if the United States did not immediately begin an airlift of military equipment and personnel to Israel. Fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene and that nuclear war was possible, the U.S. military raised its alert level to DEFCON-3. U.S. Airborne units in Italy were put on full alert, and military aid was rushed to Israel.

Faced with a well-supplied Israeli counteroffensive and possible nuclear annihilation, the Arab forces fell back. The war ended on Oct. 26, 1973, but the United States had again been pushed to the brink of a possible superpower confrontation due to the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict.

Nuclear ‘Ambiguity’

On Sept. 22, 1979, after some clouds unexpectedly broke over the South Indian Ocean, a U.S. intelligence satellite detected two bright flashes of light that were quickly interpreted as evidence of a nuclear test. The explosion was apparently one of several nuclear tests that Israel had undertaken in collaboration with the white-supremacist government of South Africa. But President Jimmy Carter at the start of his reelection bid didn’t want a showdown with Israel, especially on a point as sensitive as its secret nuclear work with the pariah government in Pretoria.

So, after news of the nuclear test leaked a month later, the Carter administration followed Israel’s longstanding policy of “ambiguity” about the existence of its nuclear arsenal, a charade dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency with the United States pretending not to know for sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.

The Carter administration quickly claimed that there was “no confirmation” of a nuclear test, and a panel was set up to conclude that the flashes were “probably not from a nuclear explosion.” However, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and various nuclear experts later concluded, the flashes were most certainly an explosion of a low-yield nuclear weapon. [For details, see Hersh’s Samson Option.]

Getting Carter

Despite Carter’s helpful cover-up of the Israeli-South African nuclear test, he was still viewed with disdain by Israel’s hard-line Likud leadership. Indeed, he arguably was the target of Israel’s most audacious intervention in U.S. politics.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter over the 1978 Camp David accords in which the U.S. President pushed the Israelis into returning the Sinai to the Egyptians in exchange for a peace agreement. The next year, Carter failed to protect the Shah of Iran, an important Israeli regional ally who was forced from power by Islamic militants. Then, when Carter acceded to demands from the Shah’s supporters to admit him to New York for cancer treatment, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.

In 1980, as Carter focused on his reelection campaign, Begin saw both dangers and opportunities. High-ranking Israeli diplomat/spy David Kimche described Begin’s thinking in the 1991 book, The Last Option, recounting how Begin feared that Carter might force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state if he won a second term.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Begin’s alarm was driven by the prospect of Carter being freed from the pressure of having to face another election, according to Kimche.

“Unbeknownst to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves, and they were waiting to play it,” Kimche wrote. “The card was President Carter’s tacit agreement that after the American presidential elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

So, by spring 1980, Begin had privately sided with Carter’s Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, a reality that Carter soon realized. Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992 regarding allegations about Israel conspiring with Republicans in 1980 to help unseat him, Carter said he knew by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that looked into the so-called October Surprise case.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Doing What Was Necessary

Begin was an Israeli leader committed to do whatever he felt necessary to advance Israeli security interests and the dream of a Greater Israel with Jews controlling the ancient Biblical lands. Before Israel’s independence in 1948, he had led a Zionist terrorist group, and he founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 with the goal of “changing the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Begin’s anger over the Sinai deal and his fear of Carter’s reelection set the stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republicans, according to another former Israeli intelligence official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its Iranian intelligence network that had been decimated by the Islamic revolution. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some military spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979 and continued them despite Iran’s seizure of the U.S. hostages in November 1979.

Extensive evidence also exists that Begin’s preference for Reagan led the Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back, interfering with the President’s efforts to free the 52 American hostages before the November 1980 elections.

That evidence includes statements from senior Iranian officials, international arms dealers, intelligence operatives (including Ben-Menashe), and Middle East political figures (including a cryptic confirmation from Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir). But the truth about the October Surprise case remains in dispute to this day. [For the latest details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

It is clear that after Reagan defeated Carter, and the U.S. hostages were released immediately upon Reagan being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, Israeli-brokered weapons shipments flowed to Iran with the secret blessing of the new Republican administration.

Dealing with Reagan

The Israel Lobby had grown exponentially since its start in the Eisenhower years. Israel’s influential supporters were now positioned to use every political device imaginable to lobby Congress and to get the White House to acquiesce to whatever Israel felt it needed.

President Reagan also credentialed into the Executive Branch a new group of pro-Israeli American officials the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Jeane Kirkpatrick who became known as the neocons.

Yet, despite Reagan’s pro-Israel policies, the new U.S. President wasn’t immune from more Israeli deceptions and additional pressures. Indeed, whether because of the alleged collusion with Reagan during the 1980 campaign or because Israel sensed its greater clout within his administration, Begin demonstrated a new level of audacity.

In 1981, Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst, as a spy to acquire American intelligence satellite photos. Eventually, Pollard purloined massive amounts of intelligence information, some of which was reportedly turned over to Soviet intelligence by Israel to win favors from Moscow.

Prime Minister Begin sensed, too, that the time was ripe to gain the upper hand on other Arab enemies. He turned his attention to Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was based. When U.S. intelligence warned Reagan that Israel was massing troops along the border with Lebanon, Reagan sent a cable to Begin urging him not to invade. But Begin ignored Reagan’s plea and invaded Lebanon the following day, on June 6, 1982. [See Time, Aug. 16, 1982.]

As the offensive progressed, Reagan sought a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was intent on killing as many PLO fighters as possible. Periodic U.S.-brokered ceasefires failed as Israel used the slightest provocation to resume fighting, supposedly in self-defense.

“When PLO sniper fire is followed by fourteen hours of Israeli bombardment that is stretching the definition of defensive action too far,” complained Reagan, who kept the picture of a horribly burned Lebanese child on his desk in the Oval Office as a reminder of the tragedy of Lebanon.

The American public nightly witnessed the Israeli bombardment of Beirut on television news broadcasts. The pictures of dead, mutilated children caught in the Israeli artillery barrages, were particularly wrenching. Repulsed by the carnage, the U.S. public decidedly favored forcing Israel to stop.

When Reagan warned Israel of possible sanctions if its forces continued to indiscriminately attack Beirut, Israel launched a major offensive against West Beirut the next day. In the United States, Israeli supporters demanded a meeting with Reagan to press Israel’s case. Though Reagan declined the meeting, one was set up for 40 leaders of various Jewish organizations with Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

Reagan wrote once again to Begin, reminding him that Israel was allowed to use American weapons only for defensive purposes. He appealed to Begin’s humanitarianism to stop the bombardment.

The next day, in a meeting with Israeli supporters from the United States, Begin fumed that he would not be instructed by an American president or any other U.S. official. “Nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that Jews do not kneel but to God,” Begin said. “Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.”

More Tragedy

Begin’s government also used the tragedy in Lebanon as an opportunity to provide special favors for its American backers.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Freidman wrote that the Israeli Army conducted tours of the battlefront for influential U.S. donors. On one occasion, women from Hadassah were taken to the hills surrounding Beirut and were invited to look down on the city as Israeli artillery put on a display for them. The artillery began an enormous barrage, with shells landing throughout the densely populated city. The shells struck and destroyed apartments, shops, homes and shacks in the squalid refugee camps of the Palestinians.

A ceasefire was finally agreed upon by Israel and the PLO, requiring Yasser Arafat and all PLO fighters to leave Lebanon. The Palestinians were assured, as part of the agreement brokered by the United States, that their wives and children living in Lebanese refugee camps would be safe from harm. The PLO then left Lebanon by ship in August 1982, moving the PLO headquarters to Tunisia.

On Sept. 16, Israel’s Christian militia allies, with Israeli military support, entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and conducted a three-day campaign of rape and murder. Most of the dead with estimates varying from Israel’s count of 400 to a Palestinian estimate of nearly 1,000 were women and children.

American Marines, who had been dispatched to Lebanon as peacekeepers to oversee the PLO evacuation but then had departed, hastily returned after the Sabra and Shatila massacres. They were housed in a large warehouse complex near Beirut’s airport.

Over the next year, American forces found themselves drawn into the worsening Lebanese civil war. A key moment occurred on Sept. 18, 1983, when Reagan’s national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who was considered a staunch supporter of Israel, ordered U.S. warships to bombard Muslim targets inside Lebanon.

As Gen. Colin Powell, then a top aide to Defense Secretary Weinberger, wrote in his memoir, “When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides.” [See Powell’s My American Journey.]

Muslim attacks on the Marines in Beirut soon escalated. On Oct. 23, 1983, two Shiite Muslims drove explosives-laden trucks into two buildings in Beirut, one housing French forces and the other the Marines. The blasts killed 241 Americans and 58 French.

Over the ensuing weeks, American forces continued to suffer losses in skirmishes with Muslim militiamen near the Beirut airport and American civilians also became targets for execution and hostage-taking. On Feb. 7, 1984, Reagan announced that the Marines would be redeployed from Lebanon. Within a couple of weeks, the last of the Marines had departed Lebanon, having suffered a total of 268 killed.

However, the hostage-taking of Americans continued, ironically creating an opportunity for Israel to intercede again through its contacts in Iran to seek the help of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime in getting the Lebanese Shiite militants to release captured Americans.

Israeli arms dealers and neocon Americans, such as Michael Ledeen, were used as middlemen for the secret arms-for-hostages deals, which Reagan approved and McFarlane oversaw. However, the arms deliveries via Israel failed to reduce the overall number of Americans held hostage in Lebanon and were eventually exposed in November 1986, becoming Reagan’s worst scandal, the Iran-Contra Affair.

Noriega and Harari

Though Israel’s government had created some headaches for Reagan, it also provided some help, allowing its arms dealers and intelligence operatives to assist some of Reagan’s favorite covert operations, particularly in Central America where the U.S. Congress had objected to military assistance going to human rights violators, like the Guatemalan military, and to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

As Vice President, George H.W. Bush met with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga and considered him a compliant partner. Noriega subsequently funneled financial and other help to Reagan’s beloved Contras and once even volunteered to arrange the assassinations of leaders of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

One of Noriega’s top operatives was Michael Harari, who had led Israeli assassination teams and who had served as the Israeli Mossad station chief in Mexico. In Panama, Harari became a key intermediary for Israeli contributions to the Contras, supplying them with arms and training, while Noriega handed over cash.

But Noriega and Harari were conducting other business in the region, allegedly working as middlemen and money launderers for the lucrative smuggling of cocaine into the United States. When that information surfaced in the U.S. news media and Noriega became notorious as an unstable thug George H.W. Bush as President found himself under enormous political pressure in 1989 to remove Noriega from power.

So, Bush prepared to invade Panama in December 1989. However, the Israeli government was concerned about the possible capture of Harari, whom U.S. prosecutors regarded as Noriega’s top co-conspirator but who also was someone possessing sensitive information about Israeli clandestine activities.

Six hours before U.S. troops were to invade Panama, Harari was warned of the impending attack, an alert that enabled him to flee and may have compromised the safety of American paratroopers and Special Forces units preparing to begin the assault, units that took surprisingly heavy casualties.

Tipped off by Israeli intelligence agents, Harari was whisked away by an Israeli embassy car, flying a diplomatic flag, with diplomatic license plates to ensure he would not be stopped and held, according to an interview that I had in January 1990 with Col. Edward Herrera Hassen, commander of Panama Defense Forces.

Harari soon was on his way back to Israel, where the government has since rebuffed U.S. requests that Harari be extradited to the United States to stand trial in connection with the Noriega case. For his part, Noriega was captured and brought to the United States where he was convicted of eight drug and racketeering charges. [Hariri died on Sept. 21, 2014, in Tel Aviv at the age of 87.]

The Lobby

The one constant in Israel’s endless maneuverings both with and against the U.S. government has been the effectiveness of the Israel Lobby and its many allies to fend off sustained criticism of Israel, sometimes by smearing critics as anti-Semitic or by mounting aggressive cover-ups when investigations threatened to expose ugly secrets.

Given this long record of success, U.S. presidents and other politicians have demonstrated a declining capacity to press Israel into making concessions, the way Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter tried to do. For instance, when President Bill Clinton first met with Netanyahu in 1996, Clinton was surprised to find himself getting a lecture from Israel’s Likud prime minister. “Who the f**k does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?” a peeved Clinton was quoted as saying. [See The Much Too Promised Land, by Aaron Miller, an aide to Clinton.]

Joe Lockhart, then White House spokesman, told Clayton Swisher, author of The Truth About Camp David, that Netanyahu was “one of the most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth.”

Faced with these difficulties and fending off Republican attempts to drive him from office Clinton put off any serious push for a Middle East peace accord until the last part of his presidency. Clinton negotiated the Wye River memorandum with Netanyahu and Arafat on Sept. 23, 1999, calling for reciprocal undertakings by both sides. The agreement called for the freezing of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, but Netanyahu failed to stop the settlement activity. Demolition of Palestinian homes, restrictions on movement by Palestinians, and settlement building continued.

Ultimately, Clinton failed to achieve any breakthrough as his final efforts collapsed amid finger-pointing and distrust between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Handling Bush

Israel’s hopes were buoyed further when George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001. Unlike his father who looked on the Israelis with suspicion and felt some kinship with the Arab oil states, the younger Bush was unabashedly pro-Israel.

Though Reagan had credentialed many young neocons in the 1980s, he had kept them mostly away from Middle East policy, which usually fell to less ideological operatives such as Philip Habib and James Baker. However, George W. Bush installed the neocons in key jobs for Mideast policy, with the likes of Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, and Lewis Libby inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

The neocons arrived with a plan to transform the Middle East based on a scheme prepared by a group of American neocons, including Perle and Feith, for Netanyahu in 1996. Called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the idea was to bring to heel all the antagonistic states confronting Israel.

The “clean break” was to abandon the idea of achieving peace in the region through mutual understanding and compromise. Instead, there would be “peace through strength,” including violent removal of leaders who were viewed as hostile to Israel’s interests.

The plan sought the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which was called “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” After Hussein’s ouster, the plan envisioned destabilizing the Assad dynasty in Syria with hopes of replacing it with regime more favorable to Israel. That, in turn, would push Lebanon into Israel’s arms and contribute to the destruction of Hezbollah, Israel’s tenacious foe in South Lebanon.

The removal of Hezbollah in Lebanon would, in turn, weaken Iran’s influence, both in Lebanon and in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, where Hamas and other Palestinian militants would find themselves cornered.

But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be overwhelmed even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.

The only way to implement the strategy was to enlist a U.S. president, his administration and the Congress to join Israel in this audacious undertaking. That opportunity presented itself when Bush ascended to the White House and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, created a receptive political climate in the United States.

Turning to Iraq

After a quick strike against al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan, the Bush administration turned its attention to conquering Iraq. However, even after the 9/11 attacks, the neocons and President Bush had to come up with rationales that were sellable to the American people, while playing down any suggestion that the coming conflicts were partially designed to advance Israel’s interests.

So, the Bush administration put together tales about Iraqi stockpiles of WMD, its “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program, and its alleged ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorists determined to strike at the United States. The PR operation worked like a charm. Bush rallied Congress and much of the American public behind an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which began on March 19, 2003, and drove Saddam Hussein’s government from power three weeks later.

At the time, the joke circulating among neocons was where to go next, Syria or Iran, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Meanwhile, Israel continued collecting as much intelligence as possible from the United States about the next desired target, Iran. On Aug. 27, 2004, CBS News broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy working for Israel as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. The official was identified as Lawrence Franklin.

Franklin pled guilty to passing a classified Presidential Directive and other sensitive documents pertaining to U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran to the powerful Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which shared the information with Israel.

According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top secret information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s policy director, and Keith Weissman, a senior policy analyst with AIPAC.  On Aug. 30, 2004, Israeli officials admitted that Franklin had met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran’s nuclear programs.

Franklin was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for passing classified information to a pro-Israel lobby group and an Israeli diplomat. No charges were brought against the AIPAC executives or the Israeli diplomat.

Bloody Chaos

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, it turned out that occupying Iraq was more difficult than the Bush administration had anticipated. Ultimately, more than 4,400 American soldiers died in the conflict along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The bloody chaos in Iraq also meant that the neocon “real men” couldn’t go either to Syria or Iran, at least not right away. They were forced into a waiting game, counting on the short memories of the American people before revving up the fear machine again to justify moving to the next phase.

When the U.S. death toll finally began to decline in Iraq, the neocons stepped up their alarms about Iran becoming a danger to the world by developing nuclear weapons (although Iran has disavowed any desire to have nukes and U.S. intelligence expressed confidence in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a warhead four years earlier).

Still, while trying to keep the focus away from its own nuclear arsenal, Israel has pushed the international community to bring pressure on Iran, in part by threatening to mount its own military attack on Iran if the U.S. government and other leading powers don’t act aggressively.

The neocon anti-Iran plans were complicated by the victory of Barack Obama, who promised to reach out in a more respectful way to the Muslim world. Inside Israel and in U.S. neocon circles, complaints quickly spread about Obama’s coziness with Muslims (even claims that he was a secret Muslim or anti-Semitic). Obama further antagonized the neocons and Israeli hardliners by suggesting a linkage between the festering Palestinian problem and dangers to U.S. national security, including violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Netanyahu, who again had assumed the post of prime minister, and the neocons wanted U.S. policy refocused on Iran, with little attention on Israel as it continued its longstanding policy of building more and more Jewish settlements on what was once Palestinian land.

In reaction to Netanyahu’s unwillingness to curb those settlements and with the announcement of more housing units during Biden’s visit Obama retaliated by subjecting Netanyahu to several slights, including refusing to have photographs taken of the two of them meeting at the White House.

Obama walked out of one meeting with Netanyahu after failing to get his written promise for a concession on halting further settlement construction. Obama went to dinner alone, a very pointed insult to Netanyahu. As Obama left the meeting, he said, “Let me know if there is anything new,” according to a member of Congress who was present.

Secret Pacts

For his part, Netanyahu has claimed that secret agreements with the Bush administration allow for the continued building of settlements. However, Obama said on National Public Radio that he does not consider himself bound by secret oral agreements that may have been made by President Bush.

Instead, Obama claims Israel is bound by the 2003 “Road Map” agreement which prohibits building more settlements. “I’ve said clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of these obligations,” Obama said.

Still, Obama has shied away from publicly challenging Israel on some of its most sensitive issues, such as its undeclared nuclear-weapons arsenal. Like presidents back to Nixon, Obama has participated in the charade of “ambiguity.” Even as he demanded “transparency” from other countries, Obama continued to dance around questions regarding whether Israel has nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu and Israel surely have vulnerabilities. Without America’s military, diplomatic and economic support, Israel could not exist in its present form. One-quarter of Israeli wage incomes are derived from American aid money, German reparations and various charities. Without that outside assistance, Israel’s standard of living would sink dramatically.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel receives $2.4 billion a year in U.S. government grants, military assistance, loan guarantees, and sundry other sources. The United States also pays Egypt another $2 billion to keep the peace with Israel. The combined assistance to both countries comprises nearly one half of all U.S. foreign aid assistance worldwide.

In a sense, Israel can’t be blamed for standing up for itself, especially given the long history of brutality and oppression directed against Jews. However, Israeli leaders have used this tragic history to justify their own harsh treatment of others, especially the Palestinians, many of whom were uprooted from their ancestral homes.

Over the past six decades, Israeli leaders also have refined their strategies for taking advantage of their staunchest ally, the United States. Today, with many powerful friends inside the United States and with Obama facing intense political pressure over his domestic and national security policies the Israeli government has plenty of reasons to believe that it can out-fox and outlast the current U.S. president as it did many of his predecessors.

Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and was an advisor to CBS News “60 Minutes” on the Middle East. He is author of ebook, The Israeli Lobby and Me, Bush Family History, and Hoodwinking American Presidents.