North Korea’s Understandable Fears

By escalating threatening rhetoric — and staging provocative military maneuvers — President Trump may believe he can intimidate North Korea into capitulation but history would tell you something else, writes David William Pear.

By David William Pear

Like Pavlov’s dog, the mainstream media slobbers predicable reactions every time North Korea launches another test missile. Listening to the blather one would think that once Kim Jong Un has a missile capable of reaching the U.S., he is going to use it in an unprovoked nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland killing millions of Americans.

However, for Kim to attack the U.S., he would have to be insane, paranoid, and suicidal. Top officials in the U.S. intelligence agencies say he is not. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has said publicly that Kim is acting very rationally; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that Kim is “not insane “; the CIA deputy director of the Korea Mission Center, Yong Suk Lee, says that Kim is not suicidal, either.

So we can rest fairly assured that Kim Jong Un is highly unlikely to wake up one morning and nuke America because he can. According to Yong, Kim “wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”[CNN, October 6, 2017]. Everyone in the mainstream media knows this or should.

And, North Korea has long had more reasons to fear the U.S. than vice versa. North Korea is not an existential threat to the U.S. national security; but the opposite is not the case – and the U.S. government is not shy about reminding North Korea of that fact. The U.S. regularly practices nuclear attacks on North Korea by air, land and sea, which draw the predictable response from Kim.

Yet, North Korea has offered to stop testing nuclear bombs, if the U.S. would stop playing nuclear war games on its border [The Guardian]. The reality is that the U.S. has been threatening North Korea for over 70 years.

While the U.S. mainstream media excites the U.S. public with warnings about “crazy” Kim Jong Un, what should frighten the American people is the long history of U.S. crazies who seriously contemplated and/or implicitly threatened to start a nuclear war with a variety of countries. President Trump is not the first president who cannot be trusted with the nuclear button. It is only by sheer luck that the world has escaped a nuclear war or a cataclysmic nuclear accident. There have been many close calls, and one day there may be one too many.

The U.S. keeps gambling with nuclear roulette, threatening North Korea, Iran, Russia, and the enemy du jour. One of the favorite U.S. verbal threats is to say that “all options are on the table,” which adversaries understand to include the nuclear option. The U.S. has even used nuclear bombs twice against civilian populations in 1945, and according to many historians unnecessarily, because Japan had already offered to surrender. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese died mostly so that President Harry Truman could impress Soviet leader Josef Stalin with a terrifying show of U.S. military might.

During the Korean War (1950 to 1953). President Truman publicly threatened to use the atomic bomb, and the military planned, practiced and shipped nuclear bombs to Asia to be dropped on North Korea. General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use 26 nuclear bombs and start a war with China, too [History News Network].

Truman gave General Matthew Ridgeway pre-authorization to use nuclear bombs, even after MacArthur was relieved of his command. Instead, the U.S. chose to destroy North Korea with conventional bombs and napalm, killing an estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population.

The Korean War is called the “Forgotten War” for a number of reasons, including that the U.S. military suffered what amounted to a humiliating defeat with some 37,000 American soldiers killed while they were being used essentially as negotiating chips. They “died for a tie,” where to draw the Military Demarcation Line between the North and South; and South Korea, too, was largely “destroyed to save it” from communism.

The South Koreans deserve a lot of credit for rebuilding a modern highly advanced society in all categories such as education, healthcare, technology, and their standard of living. But contrary to propaganda mythology, they did not develop under capitalist free-trade and democracy. The South Korean “miracle on the Han River” was achieved under a U.S.-backed military dictatorship, a highly planned economy, and billions of dollars from U.S. aid, loans and direct investment. [“Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism“, by Ha-Joon Chang].

Very Good Reasons

So, Kim Jong Un has very good reasons to fear U.S. threats. He knows that the U.S. is ruthless enough to kill millions of his people and destroy his country (along with gruesomely dispatching its leaders), much like the U.S. did in Iraq and Libya.

Sen. John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain said on Fox News that the U.S. should assassinate the “Crazy Fat Kid“. Words like that along with Trump’s insults (“Little Rocket Man”), threats and nuclear war games are sure to draw bombastic verbal reactions by Kim Jong Un and cause him to redouble his nuclear and missile programs. [The Nation].

While the U.S. constantly talks about a denuclearized Korean peninsula, it is the U.S. that first nuclearized it, starting with President Harry Truman’s threats in 1951. Then in July 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower unilaterally withdrew from section 13(d) of the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which made the introduction of any new weapon systems in the Korean peninsula forbidden to both sides. The U.S. broke the promise so that it could “equip U.S. forces in Korea with modern weapons;” dual capability (nuclear-conventional) weapons, such as the Honest John and the 280 mm. cannon, i.e. tactical nuclear weapons [National Security Council Report].

All during the rest of the Cold War the U.S. stationed at least 950 nuclear weapons in South Korea. The U.S. may have withdrawn its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as it says, but it still has plenty in Guam and elsewhere that it uses to constantly threaten North Korea with a nuclear attack.

While the U.S. mainstream media ponders how to get North Korea to sit down at the negotiating table, it is the U.S. that refuses to talk. North Korea has often offered to sign a permanent peace treaty and non-aggression agreement, but the U.S. has consistently rebuffed the offers. The State Department has repeatedly said in news conferences that it will not negotiate with North Korea unless North Korean officials meet unspecified preconditions first [U.S. Department of State]. What is puzzling is what the preconditions are, and how to get the U.S. to sit down at the table. Yet, the U.S. and its media constantly say it is North Korea that refuses to talk.

Understandable Paranoia

Unless there is a diplomatic solution, Kim Jong Un is rationally following in his father’s footsteps by developing a credible nuclear deterrent against threatened U.S. aggression.

In 2000, George W. Bush scoffed at President Clinton’s nuclear agreement with North Korea, and then, as President in 2002, Bush intensified threats with his “Axis of Evil” speech, which put North Korea on an enemies list with Iraq and Iran. Bush followed that speech by invading Iraq in 2003 with “Shock and Awe,” leaving the cradle of human civilization in ruins and later hanging Saddam Hussein.

Bush did not plan to stop with Iraq. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark says he was told at the Pentagon that Bush planned to invade seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran [YouTube].

It is the U.S. that has been paranoid, unpredictable and insane during the Twenty-first Century. And the problem did not start with Trump. After the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq, a smug-looking Bush got out of the passenger seat of a fighter jet that the pilot had landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. He strutted over to the microphone in his flight suit and gave a premature “Mission Accomplished” speech.

Lisa Schiffren gushed in the Wall Street Journal that Bush’s performance made him look hot and sexy in his flight suit, adding with admiration that Bush is “credible as a Commander in Chief.” The mainstream media has been the cheerleader for all of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Obama, Clinton and Kerry wars. The media is now inciting the U.S. public with propaganda for war with North Korea, Iran and Russia.

What can be said of Trump is that he seems to take pride in acting even crazier than his predecessors. So, Kim Jong Un is not paranoid to be fearful of what the U.S. might do and he has been acting predictably. The U.S. has left him little choice other than to defend his country with the deterrent of nuclear weapons.

As part of the “Axis of Evil” strategy, President George W. Bush sabotaged the negotiated nuclear agreement that the U.S. and North Korea had made under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. That is what precipitated North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and resuming its nuclear program.

Lessons Learned

Other countries tried submissive tactics to mollify Washington. For instance, in 2003, Bush persuaded Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to abandon his nuclear program. At the time, Bush encouraged North Korea to follow suit. saying “we want to have lessons learned, because we want Libya to be a model for other countries” to unilaterally disarm.

So, North Korea was paying close attention in 2011 when President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed a military campaign that exploited Libya’s defenselessness, destroyed the country. and led to Gaddafi’s torture-murder. In a TV interview, Clinton gloated “we came, we saw, he died!, hahaha!”

The lesson of Libya, according to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, is that “unfortunately, if you have nukes, never give them up — if you don’t have them, get them.”

Based on that history, the North Koreans are not going to trust a U.S. agreement again. They will trust in themselves, as they did when Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung led the guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. Korea’s historical philosophy is based on the principle of self-sufficiency and resistance against foreign domination, especially in the North.

The North Koreans now call their historical philosophy “Juche.” North Korea is determined to follow the principle of Juche to the “realization of independence in politics, self-sufficiency in the economy and self-reliance in national defence.” [official DPRK Juche link].

Now, President Trump has slammed the door shut on negotiations with Kim Jong Un by threatening to totally destroy North Korea with “fire and fury” and insulting him as the “Little Rocket Man.”

Kim takes it seriously when the U.S. repeatedly threatens to destroy his country. Trump’s insults also caused Kim to “lose face (kibun),” a very serious affront in Korean culture. The natural reaction for a Korean who has been disrespected is to become infuriated. It is predictable, and the U.S. knows it.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s latest outburst that if war comes, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed” is a further provocation, which the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called a really bloodthirsty tirade.”

But Lavrov added that “Moscow has been closely working with the U.S. on the North Korean issue, with several meetings being held between the countries’ diplomats in the Russian capital, and other venues.”

Vast Bloodshed

In the late Twentieth and early Twentieth-first centuries, U.S. wars and embargoes have killed millions of people around the planet, according to some estimates. Besides deploying devastating high-tech military weapons, the U.S. has interdicted food and medical supplies as part of total-war concepts.

As President Bill Clinton’s U.N. Ambassador (and later Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright once said, 500,000 dead children in Iraq – victims of U.S. sanctions – were “worth it” to punish the Iraqi government’s behavior. That is what the U.S. sanctions are now doing to North Korea. But as Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “North Korea will ‘eat grass’ before giving up nukes.”

The Koreans know the history of U.S. war-making well. The U.S. first contact with Korea in the Nineteenth Century involved a U.S. military expedition in support of a U.S. trade mission that challenged Korea’s isolation, self-sufficiency and refusal to trade. The appearance of U.S. warships sparked a conflict that led to the Americans killing some 243 Koreans at the cost of three American lives. When Japan colonized and annexed Korea in 1910, the Western colonial powers including the U.S. cheered approval.

All Korea has ever wanted was to be left alone. During its 4.000-year history, Korea has not been an aggressive expansionist country. To the contrary, Korea has been invaded by China, Mongolia, Japan, Russia and the U.S. Historically, Korea has resisted contact with foreigners because foreigners had always brought invasions.

Like his Korean ancestors, Kim Jong Un wants North Korea to be left alone for the Korean people to determine their own future.

David William Pear is a Senior Editor for OpEdNews.com and a Senior Contributing Editor for The Greanville Post. He is a Vietnam veteran having served as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group as a combat advisor to the Army of the Republic of (South) Viet Nam. [First Published at opednews.com]




When Washington Cheered the Jihadists

Exclusive: Official Washington helped unleash hell on Syria and across the Mideast behind the naïve belief that jihadist proxies could be used to transform the region for the better, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

When a Department of Defense intelligence report about the Syrian rebel movement became public in May 2015, lots of people didn’t know what to make of it. After all, what the report said was unthinkable – not only that Al Qaeda had dominated the so-called democratic revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for years, but that the West continued to support the jihadis regardless, even to the point of backing their goal of creating a Sunni Salafist principality in the eastern deserts.

The United States lining up behind Sunni terrorism – how could this be? How could a nice liberal like Barack Obama team up with the same people who had brought down the World Trade Center?

It was impossible, which perhaps explains why the report remained a non-story long after it was released courtesy of a Judicial Watch freedom-of-information lawsuit. The New York Times didn’t mention it until six months later while the Washington Post waited more than a year before dismissing it as “loopy” and “relatively unimportant.” With ISIS rampaging across much of Syria and Iraq, no one wanted to admit that U.S. attitudes were ever anything other than hostile.

But three years earlier, when the Defense Intelligence Agency was compiling the report, attitudes were different. Jihadis were heroes rather than terrorists, and all the experts agreed that they were a low-risk, high-yield way of removing Assad from office.

After spending five days with a Syrian rebel unit, for instance, New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers wrote that the group “mixes paramilitary discipline, civilian policing, Islamic law, and the harsh demands of necessity with battlefield coldness and outright cunning.”

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, assured the Washington Post that “al Qaeda is a fringe element” among the rebels, while, not to be outdone, the gossip site Buzzfeed published a pin-up of a “ridiculously photogenic” jihadi toting an RPG.

“Hey girl,” said the subhead. “Nothing sexier than fighting the oppression of tyranny.”

And then there was Foreign Policy, the magazine founded by neocon guru Samuel P. Huntington, which was most enthusiastic of all. Gary Gambill’s “Two Cheers for Syrian Islamists,” which ran on the FP web site just a couple of weeks after the DIA report was completed, didn’t distort the facts or make stuff up in any obvious way. Nonetheless, it is a classic of U.S. propaganda. Its subhead glibly observed: “So the rebels aren’t secular Jeffersonians. As far as America is concerned, it doesn’t much matter.”

Assessing the Damage

Five years later, it’s worth a second look to see how Washington uses self-serving logic to reduce an entire nation to rubble.

First a bit of background. After displacing France and Britain as the region’s prime imperial overlord during the 1956 Suez Crisis and then breaking with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser a few years later, the United States committed itself to the goal of defeating Arab nationalism and Soviet Communism, two sides of the same coin as far as Washington was concerned. Over the next half-century, this would mean steering Egypt to the right with assistance from the Saudis, isolating Libyan strong man Muammar Gaddafi, and doing what it could to undermine the Syrian Baathist regime as well.

William Roebuck, the American embassy’s chargé d’affaires in Damascus, thus urged Washington in 2006 to coordinate with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to encourage Sunni Syrian fears of Shi‘ite Iranian proselytizing even though such concerns are “often exaggerated.” It was akin to playing up fears of Jewish dominance in the 1930s in coordination with Nazi Germany.

A year later, former NATO commander Wesley Clark learned of a classified Defense Department memo stating that U.S. policy was now to “attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years,” first Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. (Quote starts at 2:07.)

Since the United States didn’t like what such governments were doing, the solution was to install more pliable ones in their place. Hence Washington’s joy when the Arab Spring struck Syria in March 2011 and it appeared that protesters would soon topple the Baathists on their own.

Even when lofty democratic rhetoric gave way to ominous sectarian chants of “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the coffin,” U.S. enthusiasm remained strong. With Sunnis accounting for perhaps 60 percent of the population, strategists figured that there was no way Assad could hold out against religious outrage welling up from below.

Enter Gambill and the FP. The big news, his article began, is that secularists are no longer in command of the burgeoning Syrian rebel movement and that Sunni Islamists are taking the lead instead. As unfortunate as this might seem, he argued that such a development was both unavoidable and far from entirely negative.

“Islamist political ascendancy is inevitable in a majority Sunni Muslim country brutalized for more than four decades by a secular minoritarian dictatorship,” he wrote in reference to the Baathists. “Moreover, enormous financial resources are pouring in from the Arab-Islamic world to promote explicitly Islamist resistance to Assad’s Alawite-dominated, Iranian-backed regime.”

So the answer was not to oppose the Islamists, but to use them. Even though “the Islamist surge will not be a picnic for the Syrian people,” Gambill said, “it has two important silver linings for US interests.” One is that the jihadis “are simply more effective fighters than their secular counterparts” thanks to their skill with “suicide bombings and roadside bombs.”

The other is that a Sunni Islamist victory in Syria will result in “a full-blown strategic defeat” for Iran, thereby putting Washington at least part way toward fulfilling the seven-country demolition job discussed by Wesley Clark.

“So long as Syrian jihadis are committed to fighting Iran and its Arab proxies,” the article concluded, “we should quietly root for them – while keeping our distance from a conflict that is going to get very ugly before the smoke clears. There will be plenty of time to tame the beast after Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions have gone down in flames.”

Deals with the Devil

The U.S. would settle with the jihadis only after the jihadis had settled with Assad. The good would ultimately outweigh the bad. This kind of self-centered moral calculus would not have mattered had Gambill only spoken for himself. But he didn’t. Rather, he was expressing the viewpoint of Official Washington in general, which is why the ultra-respectable FP ran his piece in the first place.

The Islamists were something America could employ to their advantage and then throw away like a squeezed lemon. A few Syrians would suffer, but America would win, and that’s all that counts.

The parallels with the DIA are striking. “The west, gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” the intelligence report declared, even though “the Salafist[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [i.e. Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency.”

Where Gambill predicted that “Assad and his minions will likely retreat to northwestern Syria,” the DIA speculated that the jihadis might establish “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality” at the other end of the country near cities like Hasaka and Der Zor (also known as Deir ez-Zor).

Where the FP said that the ultimate aim was to roll back Iranian influence and undermine Shi‘ite rule, the DIA said that a Salafist principality “is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Bottle up the Shi‘ites in northwestern Syria, in other words, while encouraging Sunni extremists to establish a base in the east so as to put pressure on Shi‘ite-influenced Iraq and Shi‘ite-ruled Iran.

As Gambill put it: “Whatever misfortunes Sunni Islamists may visit upon the Syrian people, any government they form will be strategically preferable to the Assad regime, for three reasons: A new government in Damascus will find continuing the alliance with Tehran unthinkable, it won’t have to distract Syrians from its minority status with foreign policy adventurism like the ancien régime, and it will be flush with petrodollars from Arab Gulf states (relatively) friendly to Washington.”

With the Saudis footing the bill, the U.S. would exercise untrammeled sway.

Disastrous Thinking

Has a forecast that ever gone more spectacularly wrong? Syria’s Baathist government is hardly blameless in this affair. But thanks largely to the U.S.-backed sectarian offensive, 400,000 Syrians or more have died since Gambill’s article appeared, with another 6.1 million displaced and an estimated 4.8 million fleeing abroad.

War-time destruction totals around $250 billion, according to U.N. estimates, a staggering sum for a country of 18.8 million people where per-capita income prior to the outbreak of violence was under $3,000. From Syria, the specter of sectarian violence has spread across Asia and Africa and into Europe and North America as well. Political leaders throughout the advanced industrial world are still struggling to contain the populist fury that the Middle East refugee crisis, the result of U.S.-instituted regime change, helped set off.

So instead of advancing U.S. policy goals, Gambill helped do the opposite. The Middle East is more explosive than ever while U.S. influence has fallen to sub-basement levels. Iranian influence now extends from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean, while the country that now seems to be wobbling out of control is Saudi Arabia where Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is lurching from one self-induced crisis to another. The country that Gambill counted on to shore up the status quo turns out to be undermining it.

It’s not easy to screw things up so badly, but somehow Washington’s bloated foreign-policy establishment has done it. Since helping to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Gambill has moved on to a post at the rightwing Middle East Forum where Daniel Pipes, the group’s founder and chief, now inveighs against the same Sunni ethnic cleansing that his employee defended or at least apologized for.

The forum is particularly well known for its Campus Watch program, which targets academic critics of Israel, Islamists, and – despite Gambill’s kind words about “suicide bombings and roadside bombs” – anyone it considers the least bit apologetic about Islamic terrorism.

Double your standard, double the fun. Terrorism, it seems, is only terrorism when others do it to the U.S., not when the U.S. does it to others.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace). 




Franken’s Opportunism on the Iraq War

Sen. (and former comedian) Al Franken was a rising Democratic Party star before sexual harassment allegations brought him down to earth, but was he really ever a progressive hero, asks William Blum at Anti-Empire Report.

By William Blum

Poor Al, who made us laugh for years on Saturday Night Live, is now disgraced as a woman molester – not one of the worst of the current pathetic crop, but he still looks bad. However, everything is relative, and it must be pointed out that the Senator is guilty of a worse moral transgression.

The erstwhile comedian would like you to believe that he was against the war in Iraq since it began. But he went to that sad country at least four times to entertain American troops. Does that make sense? Why does the Defense Department bring entertainers to military bases? To lift the soldiers’ spirits of course.

And why does the military want to lift the soldiers’ spirits? Because a happier soldier does his job better. And what is the soldier’s job? For example, all the charming war crimes and human-rights violations in Iraq that have been documented in great detail for many years. Didn’t Franken know what American soldiers do for a living?

Country singer Darryl Worley, who leans “a lot to the right,” as he puts it, said he was far from pleased that Franken was coming along on the tour to Iraq. “You know, I just don’t understand – why would somebody be on this tour if they’re not supportive of the war? If he decides to play politics, I’m not gonna put up with it.”

A year after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Franken criticized the Bush administration because they “failed to send enough troops to do the job right.” What “job” did the man think the troops were sent to do that had not been performed to his standards because of lack of manpower? Did he want them to be more efficient at killing Iraqis who resisted the occupation? The volunteer American troops in Iraq did not even have the defense of having been drafted against their wishes.

Franken has been lifting soldiers’ spirits for a long time. In 2009, he was honored by the United Service Organization (USO) for his ten years of entertaining troops abroad. That includes Kosovo in 1999, as imperialist an occupation as you’ll ever want to see. He called his USO experience “one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Franken has also spoken at West Point (2005), encouraging the next generation of imperialist warriors. Is this a man to challenge the militarization of America at home and abroad?

Tom Hayden wrote this about Franken in 2005 when Franken had a regular program on the Air America radio network: “Is anyone else disappointed with Al Franken’s daily defense of the continued war in Iraq? Not Bush’s version of the war, because that would undermine Air America’s laudable purpose of rallying an anti-Bush audience. But, well, Kerry’s version of the war, one that can be better managed and won, somehow with better body armor and fewer torture cells.”

While in Iraq to entertain the troops, Franken declared that the Bush administration “blew the diplomacy so we didn’t have a real coalition,” then failed to send enough troops to do the job right. “Out of sheer hubris, they have put the lives of these guys in jeopardy.”

Franken was implying that if the United States had been more successful in bribing and threatening other countries to lend their name to the coalition fighting the war in Iraq the United States would have had a better chance of WINNING the war.

Is this the sentiment of someone opposed to the war? Or in support of it? It is actually the mind of an American liberal in all its depressing mushiness.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report, https://williamblum.org/ .]




Cherry-picking Toward War with Iran

In trying to rally American hostility toward Iran, CIA Director Pompeo and other U.S. officials are engaging in the same kind of distorted intelligence that led to the catastrophic Iraq invasion, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Although nobody knows exactly where Donald Trump intends to go with his campaign of seeking confrontation with Iran, his administration already has provided disconcerting parallels with the techniques an earlier U.S. administration used in selling its launching of a war against Iraq. Among these techniques is the cherry-picking of intelligence not to inform policy-making or to enlighten the public but instead to inculcate false perceptions among the public and thereby to muster support for a policy already chosen.

The parallels have become remarkably close as the Trump administration has tried to get people to believe there is some sort of cooperation and common purpose between Iran and Al Qaeda. The President made this insinuation in his speech on Iran in October. Then his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, ordered a tendentious re-exploitation of already exploited documents captured in the raid at Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin  Laden.

This time the purpose was to find any possible connection between bin Laden’s group and Iran. Pompeo took the highly unusual step of giving an advance look at the selected documents to an advocacy organization: the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a leader of efforts to kill the agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program.

FDD duly did its part in the insinuation by highlighting a single document that it depicted as suggesting some sort of Iranian assistance to Al Qaeda. This was despite the fact that the thrust of the Abbottabad documents as far as Iran is concerned is that Tehran was in conflict, not cooperation, with Al Qaeda. This remains the judgment of experts who follow the terrorist group closely.

Even the very document FDD highlighted did not say what those highlighting it contended it said. It held no evidence of any Iranian assistance to Al Qaeda.

This entire effort to manipulate public perceptions has been remarkably similar to the efforts by promoters of the Iraq War to use whatever scraps they could find to suggest that there was, in George W. Bush’s words, an “alliance” between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda that in fact never existed.

More Cherry-picking

Now Colum Lynch and Dan De Luce at Foreign Policy report that the White House, in the latest bit of cherry-picking, “is pressing to declassify intelligence allegedly linking Iran to short-range ballistic missile attacks by Yemeni insurgents against Saudi Arabia.”

Our antennae ought to be raised very high regarding the motives and reality lying behind anything that comes out of this attempt to manipulate public perceptions.

Imagine that, in a parallel universe that Donald Trump did not inhabit, the White House was sincerely trying to help the public understand whatever was the foreign policy problem at hand. The problem in this case is the Yemeni civil war, which originated with discontent among northern tribes about how their interests were treated by the central government. The education of the public would note that large-scale intervention led by Saudi Arabia — which has a long history of conflict with, and demographic and security concerns about, Yemen — turned the civil war into bigger carnage. An aerial assault by Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates, together with a Saudi-imposed blockade, has further turned Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Meanwhile, some Iranian assistance reportedly has gone from Iran to the principal northern tribe, known as the Houthis. By any reasonable account, the physical impact of any such aid is minor compared to the Saudi military offensive. The lesson to the public might note that the Houthis have been among the staunchest adversaries of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. It might also note that the Houthis have been allied for most of the war with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who during more than three decades in power became known as America’s man in Yemen.

The Saudi air war has devastated Yemen. Is it any surprise that those now in power in the Yemeni capital of Sana (i.e., the Houthi-led coalition) would try to get off a few shots at Saudi Arabia in response? Should we even condemn this effort to strike back, any more than the much bigger strikes in the other direction?

The Trump administration’s efforts to highlight this one facet of a much larger war serve two of its objectives. One is to continue its overall campaign to pin on Iran all blame for any mayhem in the Middle East. The other is to distract as much attention as possible from the indefensible U.S. support (which began during the previous administration) for the Saudi offensive against Yemen. Meanwhile, the cherry-picking conveys to the public a false impression of what the Yemeni war is all about and what has caused it to take the shape that it has.

Lynch and De Luce report that the effort by the Trump White House to make public cherry-picked intelligence about Houthi-fired missiles is intended to influence not just a domestic audience but also opinion at the United Nations. Here is yet another parallel with the selling of the Iraq War. Specifically, it evokes the presentation to the Security Council in February 2003 by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who — against Powell’s own better judgment and contrary to the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community — laid out some scraps intended to persuade people that the non-existent alliance between Iraq and Al Qaeda really existed.

Such misuse of intelligence means foreign policy is being made on the basis of badly mistaken premises. The public sales job makes the misunderstanding all the worse, both because misperceptions are infused into a larger audience and because salesmen who are strongly committed to their cause — as was the case with the chief promoters of the Iraq War — come to believe their own propaganda.

The misuse also represents a subversion of the proper function of the intelligence agencies. Intelligence is supposed to inform policymakers to help them in making decisions they have not yet made. The agencies do not exist to be tools to sell publicly policy that already has been made.

The Trump administration is not the first to commit such misuse, but the misuse fits a pattern of how Trump has handled other government departments and agencies. That pattern, featuring many fox-running-the-henhouse senior appointments, has been one of subverting rather than executing the mission of agencies.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




What’s Wrong with Talking to North Korea?

Exclusive: President Trump fancies himself a crafty, zigzagging negotiator, but his pride in his bellicose unpredictability has brought the North Korean crisis to the edge of a horrific calamity, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

Anyone who says talk is cheap hasn’t tried getting President Trump to talk with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un. Not even the specter of a war that could kill millions of people on the Korean peninsula, Japan and now even the continental United States seems sufficient to push the two leaders into negotiations. Both sides insist on unacceptable preconditions before they will even consider holding formal talks to reach a peaceful settlement.

Successful negotiations might end Washington’s economic sanctions and military preparations against North Korea, but Pyongyang demands that outcome before it even starts talks. Two weeks ago, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Han Tae Song, said, “As long as there is continuous hostile policy against my country by the U.S. and as long as there are continued war games at our doorstep, then there will not be negotiations.”

On the other hand, the fact that South Korea sent seven warships in mid-November to join three U.S. aircraft carriers for war games off the coast of the Korean Peninsula almost seemed calculated to keep Pyongyang away from the bargaining table. U.S. and South Korean plans to start a massive five-day air force exercise on Dec. 4 will doubtless do the same. And the Trump administration’s recent designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism only reinforced Pyongyang’s suspicion that “the United States is not serious about negotiations,” in the words of one former Korea expert at the State Department.

As for U.S. demands, Defense Secretary James Mattis said recently of North Korea, “So long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don’t export their weapons, there would be opportunity for talks.” In other words, if they capitulate first, we will be happy to negotiate the terms of their surrender. Needless to say, North Korea’s latest test launch of its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile gave the middle finger to Mattis’s demands.

Trump’s About-Face

Last year, the man who prides himself as the world’s greatest deal maker raised hopes of peace by saying he would “absolutely” speak to Kim, even if there were only a “10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes.” Trump told a campaign rally in Atlanta, “What the hell is wrong with speaking? . . . We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table.”

A year later the President was no longer in the mood for a hamburger, well done or otherwise. “Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid,” Trump tweeted. “Hasn’t worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, making fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!”

No one in their right mind believes what his tweet implied — that war could solve the security issues raised by North Korea’s nuclear program.

Even before that country demonstrated the potential ability to hit the continental United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, it had the capacity to wipe out major U.S. coastal cities like New York, Houston, or Los Angeles with ship-borne nuclear bombs. North Korea’s massed artillery, chemical weapons, and nuclear bombs could also wreak havoc on South Korea and Japan, including U.S. civilians and military forces stationed there.

The result would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale,” in the words of Defense Secretary Mattis.

Under these circumstances, setting unacceptable preconditions for talks between the United States and North Korea is as self-defeating as the refusal of North Vietnam and the United States to hold peace talks until 1968 — after which they spent eight months arguing over the shape of the conference table. According to one researcher, nearly 1,600 U.S. soldiers lost their lives over those eight months of pointless maneuvering. Orders of magnitude more Americans could die if talks don’t begin soon to reduce the growing danger of preemptive or accidental war with North Korea.

Negotiations Can Work

Contrary to Trump’s tweet — if anyone in Washington will take the time to study some history — past negotiations with North Korea did succeed dramatically in slowing down its nuclear program.

Thanks to citizen diplomacy by former President Jimmy Carter, and President Bill Clinton’s realization that preemptive war was not an option, Washington and Pyongyang negotiated a “landmark deal” in 1994. North Korea agreed to shut down its plutonium production in return for promises of help with its civilian nuclear energy infrastructure.

Over the next several years, the United States was able to inspect some of North Korea’s nuclear facilities — an unheard-of concession — and also negotiate a freeze on its missile-testing program.

Although North Korea shared in the blame, the deal eventually unraveled in no small part because a Republican-dominated Congress refused to allow the Clinton administration to keep its commitments. The incoming George W. Bush administration then canceled all further talks and condemned North Korea as part of the “axis of evil.” Said Vice President Dick Cheney, “We don’t negotiate with evil. We defeat it.”

Eventually, multi-party talks resumed and North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” This time, a blatantly hostile move by Bush’s Treasury Department to freeze North Korean assets prompted Pyongyang to resume missile tests and trigger its first underground nuclear explosion.

The Obama administration, for its part, foolishly abandoned any hope of negotiations in favor of a policy of “strategic patience” — assuming that steady application of economic sanctions would bring Pyongyang to heel. If North Korea has proved anything, it’s that it will accept any level of suffering to achieve security.

All those failed opportunities leave the United States and South Korea only one real option with North Korea: to live with mutual nuclear deterrence, as we do with China and Russia, two far stronger nuclear powers that were once deeply hostile to the United States. It’s time — really, long past time — for both sides to drop their preconditions and start talking about how our countries can learn to live rather than die with each other.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international relations and history. His recent contributions to Consortiumnews.com on Korea include “Trump’s North Korea Delusions,” “Hurtling Toward Fire and Fury,” “Risk to US from War on North Korea,” “North Korea Fears ‘Regime Change’ Strike,” “The Negotiation Option With North Korea,” and “Behind the North Korean Nuke Crisis.”




US Bows to Israeli/Saudi Alliance in Blaming Iran

Exclusive: Contrary to common belief, Israel supported Iran’s Islamic Republic for more than a decade in the 1980s before shifting its favors to Saudi Arabia in the 1990s and making sure the U.S. followed suit, recalls Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

At first, American officials couldn’t believe it. In 1993, the Israelis began pressuring the Clinton administration to view Iran as the greatest global threat. Only a short time earlier, in the 1980s, Israel had been cooperating with the Iranians militarily and selling them weapons to fight Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War.

Back then, the Israelis were Iran’s best lobbyists in Washington, pushing the Reagan administration to talk to Iran, to sell arms to Iran, and even to ignore Iran’s tough talk on Israel. In that process, Israel was aided by a group of staunchly pro-Israeli officials within the Reagan administration whom we now know as the neoconservatives.

In 1981, just months after Iran had held 52 American diplomatic personnel hostage for 444 days, senior State Department officials Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz were advocating on behalf of the Israeli desire to sell Iran weapons. That initiative, which was continued by McFarlane when he became President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, ultimately led to the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986 when Reagan’s secret approval of U.S. arms shipments to Iran became public.

Yet, even in the wake of that scandal and the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, the neoconservatives who remained influential under Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush, pressed ahead with the goal of getting the U.S. to warm its relations with Iran. Iraq’s defeat at the hands of the U.S. military and its allies in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 further reduced the Arab threat to Israel’s security and encouraged more thinking about a possible U.S.-Iranian détente.

The Bush-I administration’s 1991 “National Security Strategy of the United States” said the U.S. was open to “an improved relationship with Iran,” a country that a 1991 National Intelligence Estimate said was “turning away from revolutionary excesses . . . toward more conventional behavior.”

However, in 1993, with the Clinton administration in power, the Israelis changed their tune, urging the U.S. government to find Iran lurking behind every terrorist attack, every conflict and every threat.

There appear to have been several factors leading to this Israeli switch – from the fact that the Cold War was over and thus Arab states that had relied on Soviet weaponry were weakened; that Iran-backed Hezbollah was challenging Israel’s military occupation of southern Lebanon; and that Israel could no longer profit from Iran’s desperate need for weapons (with the war with Iraq over and Iran’s treasury depleted) while the Arab oil states offered a more lucrative opportunity for both geopolitical and financial gain.

Hooked on the Money

Israeli leadership had found the billions of dollars from arms sales to Iran useful in maintaining Israel’s large military/intelligence infrastructure as well as Israel’s development of Jewish settlements inside Palestinian territories on the West Bank. With that cash source gone, Israel began recalculating its longstanding Periphery Strategy, which had called for countering Arab pressure from close-in states by cultivating relations with non-Arab regional powers on the periphery, such as Iran and Turkey.

There were also two other seismic events that altered the geopolitical landscape. The Cold War was over and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been humiliated in the Persian Gulf War. While the Israelis saw both events as positive, there were unintended consequences. The end of the Cold War meant the exit of the Soviet Union from the Middle East: that left Israel’s traditional Arab enemies even more enfeebled and the U.S. government less worried about losing influence in the oil-rich region. Iran also emerged as relatively stronger than Iraq due to Iraq’s failed invasion of Iran and its catastrophic defeat after its invasion of Kuwait.

Israel’s 1992 elections also brought Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and the Labor Party to power, raising the possibility of finally reaching a peace accord with the Palestinians and thus the possibility of more normalized relations with the Arab world. In turn, that raised the potential for more lucrative arrangements with oil-rich sheikdoms by, in effect, renting out the Israel Lobby to the Sunni-ruled Gulf states so they could push their historic conflict with the Shiites whose power base was Iran.

“There was a feeling in Israel that because of the end of the Cold War, relations with the U.S. were cooling and we needed some new glue for the alliance,” Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center told Trita Parsi. “And the new glue was radical Islam.”

But it was a very selective kind of radical Islam: not the kind Saudi Arabia was financing and exporting through Wahhabi fundamentalism and violent jihadists like those in Al Qaeda, but Iran’s radical Shiite Islam. Selling Iran as the number one global terror threat gave birth to a new Middle East enemy that replaced the Soviet Union and reinflated Israel’s value to the U.S. in the region. “Iran,” Inbar went on to explain, “was radical Islam.”

A New Alliance

For the first time, an alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States became possible with Iran as the designated enemy. The Israeli-Saudi relationship has evolved mostly in secret over the past couple of decades but has popped into view in recent years as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his inner circle have emphasized the common interests – especially animosity toward Iran – that they share with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu has recently referred to this Israeli-Saudi alliance when he said that Iran was driving Israel into cooperative arrangements with what he called “the modern Sunni states.” He referred to “a new alliance between Israel and Islamic states. … The good news is that the other guys are getting together with Israel as never before. It is something that I would have never expected in my lifetime.”

Nine months ago, Netanyahu delivered the same message when he said “for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.”

Though the Israeli-Saudi relationship is rarely spoken of out loud, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz admitted recently that Israel “has ties that are . . . partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries.” Saudi Arabia was the only one he specifically named. According to Reuters, he said those ties are fueled by “common concerns over Iran.”

But there are other foundations for this relationship. For years, Saudi Arabia sought to buy influence in Washington’s policy circles regarding the Middle East but was largely unsuccessful because Israel had cornered that market and Israel’s influential American supporters demonized lobbyists, academics and others who took Saudi money. Eventually, it became clear to Saudi Arabia that it made more sense to rent out Israel’s sophisticated lobbying apparatus rather than to fight it.

Investigative journalist Robert Parry reported that Saudi money helped seal this Israel-Saudi alliance, with the Saudis giving Israel billions of dollars and Israel reciprocating by giving Saudi Arabia added influence in Washington.

But Official Washington was surprised in the 1990s when Israel’s turnabout began — and Iran went from being a misunderstood nation tilting toward moderation to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Despite some bewilderment, U.S. policymakers soon readjusted their rhetoric as the legendary Israeli influence operations carried the day. Shiite Iran became the new terror threat, even after the 9/11 attacks that were organized by Al Qaeda, a Sunni fundamentalist group associated with Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic State

The gap between the facts on the ground – the recognition that Al Qaeda and Islamic State remain the real chief terror threats from radical Islam – and the propaganda of principally blaming Iran for terrorism has led to a quandary for U.S./Israeli propagandists. They want to focus Americans’ fury on Iran and its allies, Syria and Hezbollah, but it is Saudi-and-Gulf-connected terror groups, such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, that were chopping off heads of innocents and sponsoring terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe.

That disconnected reality explains why America’s response to the emergence of the Islamic State can best be characterized as confused and bizarre. Though the Obama administration claimed it was taken by surprise by the Islamic State’s emergence in Iraq and Syria, it really wasn’t. Rather, policymakers had sought to persuade the American public on the need for a “regime change” conflict in Syria, an Iranian ally. This strategy went back years.

A WikiLeaks-released cable dated Dec. 13, 2006, and written by the charge d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in Damascus to the Secretary of State recommended that the U.S. “coordinate more closely with” Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a policy to weaken President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and “to play on Sunni fears of Iranian influence.” The cable also recognized that Islamist extremists were “certainly a long-term threat” to the Syrian government.

Over the years, there was little change in this inconvenient truth that jihadists were playing a crucial role in achieving these geopolitical goals.  For instance, in a December 2009 cable, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban . . . and other terrorist groups.”

By Aug. 12, 2012, the U.S. government knew explicitly that Islamic extremists were the engine in the Syrian insurgency. A classified Defense Intelligence Agency Information Intelligence Report unambiguously declares that “The salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq, later ISIS and the Islamic State] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

Section 8.C. of the report astonishingly predicts that “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria.” Section 8.D.1. of the report goes on specifically to say that “ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

So, the U.S. government knew that the Islamic extremists drove the Syrian insurgency that Washington and its regional allies were supporting. U.S. intelligence analysts also had a surprisingly good idea what the possible outcome of that support was.

Yet, to advance the regional goals of the Israeli-Saudi tandem – i.e., the overthrow of the Syrian government because of its ties to Iran – the U.S. government was, in effect, supporting the very terrorists the war on terror was meant to eradicate.

Selling Al Qaeda

At times, senior Israeli officials made clear their preferences for Sunni extremists over more moderate Arabs associated with Shiite-ruled Iran. For instance, in September 2013, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Syria’s largely secular President Bashar al-Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in the interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Oren reiterated this position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was then massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” said Oren, who is now a member of the Knesset and part of Netanyahu’s government.

Other senior Israelis have expressed similar sentiments. Sima Shine, who is in charge of Iran for Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, urged Assad’s removal even if that might turn Syria over to extremists. “The ‘devil we know’ is worse than the devil we don’t,” she said in June 2013. “If Bashar remains in power, that would be a huge achievement for Iran.”

So, in 2014, when Islamic State jihadists advanced through Syria and Iraq and knocked on the door of Lebanon, their success should not have come as a surprise to President Obama and other U.S. policymakers. Today’s Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have in common that they are Iran’s three principal allies in the region.

In other words, the Islamic State’s interests largely corresponded to those of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.: isolating and weakening Iran. Only the Islamic State’s shocking excesses of videotaped beheadings of Americans and other captives – as well as its military successes inside Iraq – forced President Obama’s hand in committing U.S. forces to stop the Islamic State onslaught.

Obsessed with Assad

Still, America has long been bent on removing Assad from Syria. The coincidence of Islamic State and American interests in this regard is revealed in section 8.C of the DIA report: “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

So, the Islamic State’s advance into this region was consistent with American (and more to the point, Israeli and Saudi) interests because these Sunni extremists would block the supply lines from Iran to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Thus, initially at least, the U.S. government acquiesced to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front taking the lead in damaging or destroying Iran’s allies in Syria.

And Iran suspected as much. According to Iran expert Trita Parsi, the Iranians believed that the initial relaxed approach by the U.S. government toward the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front was because those militants were the point of the spear against pro-Iranian Shiite influences in not only Syria but Iraq and Lebanon as well.

So, the Saudi government provided the “clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region,” according to a leaked Hillary Clinton email on Sept. 17, 2014.

Less than a month later, on Oct. 2, 2014, Vice President Biden told a seminar at Harvard’s Kennedy School that “the Saudis, the emirates … poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military 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.”

The DIA report also named the Gulf States as among the “supporting powers” of the Syrian opposition. And at a May 2015 meeting between President Obama and the Princes of the Gulf Cooperation Council, according to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, “Obama and other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients, so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.”

However, with the Israel lobby redirecting Official Washington’s ire toward Iran, more political space was created for these Saudi-connected terror groups to carry out the regime change missions in Syria and elsewhere.

And Israel didn’t just prefer a victory in Syria by the extremists of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. United Nations observers in the Golan Heights reported witnessing cooperation between Israel and Syrian rebels, and Israel has frequently bombed Syrian targets (and here and here).

Netanyahu also reported that Israel has hit Hezbollah forces fighting against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria dozens of times. Recently, it has been revealed that Israel also provided funding, food and fuel to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.

Lebanon’s Crisis

But the Syrian “regime change” strategy didn’t work. With help from Iran and Hezbollah and Russia’s intervention in 2015, Assad and his army not only survived but routed the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other jihadists from major urban strongholds. Instead of Iran losing an ally in the region, Iran emerged with a stronger alliance and greater influence.

This setback, however, has not changed the Israeli-Saudi priorities; it has only made them more intense. As the outcome in Syria became more apparent, the anti-Iran gun sight pivoted to Lebanon. The recent confusing events in Lebanon, like the earlier ones in Syria, are best made sense of by looking through the gun barrel that is targeted on Iran.

On Nov. 4, after being summoned to Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly and mysteriously resigned. Hariri’s resignation came just one day after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, that was reportedly very positive. Velayati praised Hariri and reaffirmed Iran’s support for his coalition government.

Yet, a day later, speaking from Saudi Arabia, Hariri claimed his resignation was catalyzed by fear of an Iranian-Hezbollah assassination. But the Lebanese army said “it had not uncovered any plans for assassinations in Lebanon.” Neither had the army. So, why resign?

The clue may be provided by Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, who expressed Saudi Arabia’s desire for “toppling Hizbullah.” He promised that “The coming developments will definitely be astonishing.” He said the desire was not just his own, and that people “will see what will happen in the coming days.”

The Saudis said Hariri resigned because Hezbollah had “hijacked” his coalition government. Al-Sabhan called Hezbollah “the Party of Satan.”

Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, said that the resignation was “imposed on Prime Minister Hariri” by the Saudis. Nasrallah said Hezbollah did not want Hariri to resign, having been a part of Hariri’s coalition government for almost a year. Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, seemed to share Nasrallah’s suspicion, insisting that he would not accept Hariri’s resignation until Hariri returned to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia because his “resignation must be voluntary.”

In Lebanon, there was the suspicion that Hariri was held under house arrest. On Nov. 10, President Aoun told a meeting of foreign ambassadors that Hariri had been “kidnapped.”

Now, having finally returned to Lebanon after a French intervention brought him to Paris, Hariri met with President Aoun who asked him “to temporarily suspend submitting [his resignation] and to put it on hold ahead of further consultations on the reasons for it.” Hariri agreed.

Israel seems to have applauded Saudi Arabia’s Lebanese action and reaffirmed the Iranian motivation behind it. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and his statements are a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.”

Netanyahu also made a rare public acknowledgement of the Israeli-Saudi alliance when he said that Iran was driving Israel into cooperative arrangements with what he called “the modern Sunni states,” referring to “a new alliance between Israel and Islamic states.” According to reporting by Israel’s Channel 10, a leaked classified cable from the Israeli foreign ministry to Israeli ambassadors reveals that Israel ordered them to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts and to rally support for Hariri’s resignation.

Iran has also suggested that President Trump and the United States approve of this Lebanese intervention. The resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister came days after Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia on a trip that was not made known publicly.

Yemen’s Tragedy

While this new alliance took aim at Iran by targeting Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it also has targeted a Shiite spin-off sect, the Houthis in Yemen. Since 2015, the Saudis have been bombing and blockading Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country. But on Nov. 5, Saudi Arabia expressed outrage after intercepting a ballistic missile fired by Houthi forces in Yemen toward Riyadh. The Saudis accused Iran of providing the missile and ordering the attack – and called this an “act of war” by Iran and Hezbollah.

General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, called the charge against Iran “baseless,” as did Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo. Even Saudi officials were calling the missile a Yemeni Burqan 2H missile when it was intercepted. The Houthis said they fired the missile in response to the long-running Saudi bombardment that included a recent attack that killed 26 people.

Despite these denials of Iranian responsibility and the context of Saudi Arabia’s air war, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Nikki Haley called on the U.N. to hold Iran accountable for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by supplying the missile. She called on the U.N. to take “necessary action” against Iran.

The U.S. government has consistently rationalized the Saudi bombardment of Yemen as necessary to thwart Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf. U.S. accusations about Iran allegedly supplying the Houthis with weapons hang precariously on an “assessment” that Iran has used fishing boats to smuggle weapons into Yemen.

However, according to investigative journalist Gareth Porter, the U.S. was never able to produce any evidence for the link between Iran and the Houthis because the boats were stateless, and their destination was Somalia, not Yemen. An earlier ship was, indeed, Iranian but was not really carrying any weapons.

The Houthis also are allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who maintains control over the army, so the Houthis could get all the weapons they need from local arms supplies, including military bases stocked with American-made weapons.

And just as Iran does not substantially arm the Houthis, so it does not control them. In fact, they have proven to be beyond Tehran’s efforts to influence them. In 2014, the Iranians specifically discouraged the Houthis from capturing the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. However, the Houthis captured the city anyway, demonstrating Iran’s lack of control.

A U.S. intelligence official told The Huffington Post that “It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran.” Yemen specialist Gabriele vom Bruck has called Iran’s influence over the Houthis “trivial.” She said the Houthis want to be independent, not controlled by Iran: “I don’t think the Iranians have influence in their decision-making.” To the extent that Iran is involved in Yemen at all, that involvement came as a result of the devastating Saudi air war.

Dating back to the Obama administration, the U.S. government has made the Saudi aerial bombardment of Yemen possibleThe U.S. refuels the Saudi bombers in flight, supplies the bombs and provides targeting intelligence.

This U.S. complicity in what is widely regarded as a humanitarian catastrophe has continued into the Trump administration. A White House statement as recently as Nov. 24 reaffirmed U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, declaring: “We remain committed to supporting Saudi Arabia and all our Gulf partners against the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aggression and blatant violations of international law. Backed by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Houthi rebels have used destabilizing missile systems to target Saudi Arabia.”

The statement again reveals, not only the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the silence about its devastating bombing attacks, but the strategy of turning Yemen’s human tragedy into another excuse to blame Iran. The Iranian foreign ministry said the White House statement “clearly and without question proves America’s participation and responsibility in the atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen”.

Bahrain & Qatar

Washington’s Saudi-Israeli-supplied blinders on the Middle East carry over to other regional conflicts, too. For instance, in 2011, protesters in Bahrain demanded a true constitutional monarchy, the resignation of the Prime Minister, greater civil liberties and a real elected parliament. Though Bahrain has a parliament, it is actually governed by the U.S.-backed dictator, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, whose family has ruled Bahrain for over 200 years. The prime minister, the king’s uncle, is the longest reigning prime minister in the world, in power now for nearly 40 years.

Bahrain’s population is about 70 percent Shiite, though the ruling family, the government, the army and the police are all Sunni. The Shia have long been victims of discrimination. And the government maintains its control through repression, including the use of torture. Bahrain is located between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran and is seen by the U.S. as a strategically located check on Iranian influence and power.

Though the Obama administration touted itself as a big proponent of the “Arab Spring” and its promised democratization, Washington sided with the Bahraini dictators against the majority of the Bahraini people.

Days after mass arrests and beatings of protesters, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, went through with his planned visit to Bahrain where he reaffirmed the U.S.’s strong commitment to its military relationship with Bahrain and called Bahrain’s response to the protests “very measured.” Mullen stressed the U.S.-Bahrain “partnership” and “friendship.”

On the same day, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also gave full support to the Khalifa dictatorship. The U.S. continued to support the regime and to call for “stability” and “reform”: two words that are code for standing by dictatorships.

To help put down the protests in Bahrain, 1,000 Saudi troops invaded Bahrain across a causeway that connects the countries. The Obama administration remained silent.

Qatar also has suffered under the new Saudi-Israeli alliance because Qatar has pursued a more independent foreign policy than Saudi Arabia likes and now faces a Saudi-led siege as a consequence. Former British diplomat Alastair Crooke explained that Qatar’s principal sin is seeking peaceful coexistence with Iran.

When Washington asked Saudi Arabia to make reasonable proposals for the termination of the siege, Saudi Arabia included the demand that Qatar break all ties with Iran.

In other words, many of the most important events of the past several years are best explained as attempts to weaken Iran by weakening its proxies or allies or by setting up situations that appear to implicate Iran to justify hostility toward Iran.

A problem, however, has been that the major terrorist groups that have infuriated the American public are not Iranian-linked Shiites but rather Saudi-connected fundamentalist Sunnis. Still, the claim that “Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism” has become a rote and routine refrain from both Republicans and Democrats – as well as the U.S. mainstream media.

Much as Russia now gets blamed for every negative turn in Western democracies, Iran is the all-purpose villain whenever anything goes wrong in the Middle East. Yet, to understand these conflicts and crises, it is best to view them through the perspective of the hostility that the Saudi-Israeli alliance directs toward Iran and the acquiescence of U.S. governments, regardless of which party is in power.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.




Refusing to Learn Bloody Lessons

President Trump’s continued Afghan War pursues the same failed path as the prior 16 years, with the U.S. political/media elites learning no lessons, says former Marine officer Matthew Hoh in an interview with the American Herald Tribune.

Interviewer Mohsen Abdelmoumen: As an expert, how do you see the evolution of the political process in Afghanistan?

Matthew Hoh: Unfortunately, I have not seen any positive evolution or change in the political system or process in Afghanistan since 2009. What we have seen are three national elections that have been ruled to be grossly illegitimate and fraudulent by outside observers, but have been validated and supported by the American government through the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and the spending of tens of billions of dollars.

We have seen the creation of extra-constitutional positions in the government, such as the Chief Executive Officer position occupied by Abdullah Abdullah, which was done at the behest of the American government. Additionally, bargains and compromises that were brokered by the American government in an attempt to create more a more inclusive government, reduce corruption and heal fractures among the political bloc that once supported Hamid Karzai and the American presence has failed to achieve those things. Corruption is still the dominant feature of the Afghan government, and the political support for the rule of Kabul has deteriorated and splintered by the corruption and the machinations of the Karzai and now Ghani governments.

Most importantly, the political process, by being so corrupt, by seating successive governments that won by fraud and by disenfranchising various political communities, has alienated many, many Afghans, and not just those Pashtuns who ally themselves with the Taliban, from the government in Kabul. This has allowed for greater support for militia commanders and warlords outside of Kabul, as well as the Taliban, and has allowed the war to progress with no real hopes for reconciliation, negotiations or a cease-fire anywhere in the near future. (By supporting and growing a kleptocracy, a system of have and have nots, that system has by its nature and necessity produced more people out of the system than people in the system every year. This causes resentment, grievances and a desire to share in the spoils and gifts of American occupation that leads to greater violence, more political chaos and a dearth of hope for the future).

Can you explain to us what was the disagreement that led you to resign?

I had been twice to Iraq prior to my time in Afghanistan, and I had been working on issues of the wars since 2002 when I was in the Pentagon as a Marine Corps officer. I could no longer go along with the killing of the war, and the lies that propped up that killing. I saw in the Afghan government the worst excesses that I had seen in the Iraqi government and I knew the Afghan government in Kabul had no real or true interest in coming to a peace with the Taliban and those in the Afghan insurgency.

I also saw that Barack Obama’s administration cared only for the political value of Afghanistan in terms of American politics and had no real interest in the well being of the Afghan people. I also knew the amount of money that American corporations were making off of the war and how that influenced American policy and the escalation of the war. Finally, I also knew that American generals and civilians tasked with overseeing the war were more interested in preserving American empire, as well as their own careers and legacies, than achieving peace or ending the suffering of the Afghan people.

In addition to being a diplomat, you were a soldier and served in Iraq as a commander in the Marine Corps. In your opinion, was the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 justified?

No, the war in Iraq was not justified. There were many reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, but none of them were morally valid, internationally legal or had to do with the safety and security of the American people, or the well being of the Iraqi people. The reasons were many and included of course President Bush’s desire to win a war to win reelection in the United States in 2004, people in the government and foreign policy community who believed in removing Saddam Hussein to “democratize and Americanize” the Middle East for reasons of American Empire and hegemony, the influence of Israeli policy and thought on American policy, Iraq’s large and vast oil reserves, and the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Nations.

In your opinion, should the Bush administration be accountable in particular to a court for the crimes it committed in Iraq?

Yes. Without elaboration, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Bush Administration and those in charge should be held responsible. It is as simple as that.

 

You are a privileged witness as a diplomat and as a superior officer of the war in Iraq. You describe what happened during the intervention in Iraq as a vast racket. Can you tell us why?

The amounts of money that were made on the Iraq war by American corporations and individuals were enormous. In terms of direct spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the two are inseparable in many ways including in how the financing and the money making occurred), the direct costs of the wars are nearly $1.8 trillion dollars. Now these are just direct costs. Adding indirect costs of the war, such as healthcare for veterans and interest payments on debt, we see that the long term costs of the war may reach $6 trillion dollars. Again, this is just for the wars directly. At the same time the budget for the Pentagon this coming year will be $700 billion, which is 10 times more than Russia and 3 times more than China spend on their militaries, and this $700 billion does not include the money we spend on our intelligence agencies, healthcare for veterans, homeland security or interest payments for past defense and war debt (next year the United States will spend about $115 billion just on interest and debt payments for past wars and military spending).??This money primarily goes to American corporations that then put money into funding politicians in Congress, as well as to funding think tanks and universities that help to promote the policies that foster and sustain America’s wars in the Muslim world and America’s massive military budget. This funding process is cyclical and the instability and violence that American militarism, intervention and occupation fosters and sustains is utilized as continued justification by American politicians and generals for more military spending. ??On a another level, what I witnessed by my presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the mass amounts of money that are injected into these war zones fuel the corruption and that the massive amounts of money being received by those who are loyal or collaborating with the American forces provides no incentive for the Afghans or Iraqis working with the Americans to seek peace, reconciliation or a cease fire with their adversaries. So long as the Americans are keeping them in power and making them rich, there is no sense in pursuing an end to the conflict, an end to the American occupation/presence/influence or to seek reconciliation.

You are … an Advisory Board Member for Expose Facts (and other groups). Can you explain to our readership what the missions of these organizations are?

I am … an advisory board member for Veterans For Peace, Expose Facts, World Beyond War and the North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture. I am also an associate member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. All of these organizations seek to encourage peace and an end to America’s wars overseas as well as an end to the wars that we have in the United States, especially the oppression of people of color in the US.??Veterans For Peace is an international organization dedicated to informing people about the true costs and realities of war.

Expose Facts is an organization comprised of many former government officials who encourage whistleblowing and members of government, the military and corporations who are witness to wrongdoing to come forward and report this wrongdoing to the public.??World Beyond War is an international organization devoted to restructure how our world is shaped and to get people to believe and understand that a peaceful world is possible.??North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture is the only organization of its kind in the US. It is the only organization that is devoted wholly to researching, documenting and publicizing the role of the state of North Carolina in the American torture practices under President Bush. The desire is to hold people accountable for the torture that was conducted.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is an organization of former government and military members who were either intelligence officers or utilized intelligence in their careers (associate members). The purpose of VIPS is to provide alternative recommendations and views to the President of the United States, and to the media, that he is not getting from the American intelligence services.

While whistleblowers inform public opinion on various issues by taking major risks, don’t you think it is more than necessary to launch initiatives or even create a global specific program to protect whistleblowers?

Yes, one of the things I would like to see created is a fund to help whistleblowers pay for the very high costs that they incur by becoming whistleblowers. Whistleblowers lose their jobs, have expensive legal fees and may go for years without having the money necessary to support their families and pay their bills. This is a tactic used by the government and corporations to frighten people into not becoming whistleblowers. I would like to see a fund started that would help whistleblowers pay for these expenses and not be forced into bankruptcy and insolvency because they followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing.

You are also a man committed to the cause of the Palestinian people; you participated in a trip to Palestine with Veteran for Peace to see the conditions in which the Palestinians live. Can you tell us about this action?

This was a very important trip for me as spending 18 days with the people of Palestine and the popular resistance to the Israeli occupation was extremely moving and powerful. You can read essays and books or watch documentaries and films about the suffering of the Palestinian people, but until you are with them, you don’t really understand the horror and the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. As an American it was very important for me to go and stand in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly as my country is often the sole supporter of Israel and gives the Israeli military nearly $11 million dollars a day in assistance.

The United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel. How do you explain that?

The main reason for this is because of the perverted and corrupted political system in the United States that allows money to influence politics so greatly. The United States would not be such an unconditional supporter of Israel if not for the influence of money provided to American politicians, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but also through other sources. Without this overwhelming purchasing of politicians I don’t believe Israel would receive the support it does from the United States and I don’t think that Israel would be able to continue its occupation of the Palestinian people and the crimes against them.

In your opinion, what is the contribution of veterans like you, especially through Veteran for Peace, to support the resistance to US imperialism around the world?

The most important things American veterans can do is to speak openly and plainly about what they saw during their time in the military, what they took part in the wars, and what they truly believe the purposes of the wars and the American military is. It is hard in America for people to speak against the military and the wars, because we have a culture that celebrates war, violence and the military, but veterans must find the courage to do so because through their witness and testimony people can understand the realities and the truths of America’s wars, empire and imperialism.

It is important too for American veterans to stand in solidarity with those resistance movements both outside the United States and internal to the United States that are fighting against American militarism, occupation and intervention. This includes standing against client governments of the United States like Israel, South Korea and Japan. It is also necessary for veterans to stand with the oppressed communities of the United States; with Native Americans, Latino Americans and Black Americans. All of the oppressed people within the United States are victims of America’s militarism and continue to be oppressed by a system that provides overwhelming economic, civic and societal benefits to the wealthy white classes while continuing to punish people of color through mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, economic disadvantage, inadequate health care, poorer education, etc. Such treatment of people of color would not have been possible in the past without the American military and the effects of militarism on the white people of the United States, and now with militarized police remains essential in continuing the oppression. Much of this oppression finds its praxis and its implementation through the culture of violence in the United States that is a direct consequence of the militarism that so many American embrace. I believe militarism to be one of the true religions of the United States. This militarism leads to this culture of violence which accepts violence based solutions as not the only option, but the necessary option. It is through such policies of violence based solutions that America has the largest prison population in the world, epidemics of police violence, mass deportations of non-white people, etc.

How do you evaluate the alternative media experience? Don’t you think that in order to counter imperialist manipulation and propaganda, we need to rely on highly engaged and highly effective alternative media to win the information battle that is strategic?

Yes, I could not agree with you more. When I first started speaking about the war I was allowed onto and into mainstream media. I appeared on the main cable news networks and was published in major newspapers, but over the last decade voices of dissent, particularly those who are against war and imperialism have been dramatically marginalized from the mainstream, or corporate owned press.

In 2014, when I was arguing against a renewed American presence in Iraq, I was only able to appear on one cable news network and none of the major newspapers sought my opinion. The same occurred for many of my colleagues. Where we were successful in appearing on cable television news, CNN in my case, or being printed in major news papers and media outlets, we were outnumbered 5, 10 or 15 to one in terms of the voices and opinions that were pro-war.

For example, when I appeared on CNN during that time, I was introduced as “the lone dove in a field of wolves” by the anchor (Brooke Baldwin). This situation, this echo chamber, of pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-violence voices has only solidified and I know only a couple of people who have been able to get onto the major networks to argue against war and then they are outnumbered considerably and often drowned out by pro-war and pro-empire voices.

Without the alternative media voices like mine would have no outlet. I think however that the success of the alternative media has caused the mainstream media to tighten and limit its allowance of dissent as fear of dissent against the wars having an effect on the population and policy has caused the intersection of the military/government, the media and corporations to more rigidly control the messages being allowed. I think this really accelerated in 2013 when public opinion and public action towards Congress kept the Obama Administration from launching a war against the government of Syria. The nexus of the top echelons of the military/government, the media and the corporations is quite real and reinforcing, and the consequences of this have been the limitation and, in some cases, elimination of dissent from the corporate owned media.

What do you think of the fact that the Trump administration is going back on the Iranian nuclear deal and what is your opinion on the escalation between the United States and North Korea? Does US imperialism still need an enemy to exist, namely the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.?

I think that Trump going back on the nuclear deal with Iran was bound to happen. Trump is following the lead of the foreign policy establishment in the United States which is first and foremost committed to American hegemony and dominance. The preservation of the American Empire is the mission of most foreign policy experts in the United States, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

Cooperation between nations, demilitarization and world wide respect for human rights is hardly ever a concern for the American foreign policy establishment. This is why we see the same bellicosity to North Korea, and let’s not forget both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to destroy North Korea themselves.

I think not just for imperialism, but for our culture of militarism, violence and our nationalist concept of American Exceptionalism we must have an enemy. We view ourselves as Good, so there must be a Bad or an Evil. American Exceptionalism and the violence that comes with it, believed to be redemptive and justice-based, is a Manichean, binary framework, so Americans must have an adversary or an enemy. So sad and so tragic that so many have suffered, died and been made homeless all around the world, over the decades for such an absurd, ignorant, simplistic and false belief.

You received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling in 2010. What can you tell us about this award?

It was a very great honor. The prizes are awarded in the name of Ron Ridenhour, the soldier who helped alert people to the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. It is and has been very humbling to be included in such a prestigious group of men and women who have followed their consciences, looked past the risk and did what was right.

Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy (www.ciponline.org). Matthew formerly directed the Afghanistan Study Group, a collection of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Matthew has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. Embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq. [This slightly edited interview is published with Hoh’s permission.]




The Struggles of ‘A Good American’

Exclusive: A new documentary tells the story of ex-NSA official William Binney and his fight to get the federal bureaucracy to accept an inexpensive system for detecting terrorists while respecting the U.S. Constitution, writes James DiEugenio.

By James DiEugenio

In my view, one could not find a better title for Friedrich Moser’s film about former National Security Agency technical expert William Binney than the one decided upon, A Good American. His life illustrates the cost some people pay when a person’s morality and professional ethics clash with a governmental bureaucracy that values neither. Friedrich Moser’s film captures the man and his dilemma on a personal level, in historical terms, and in a memorable aesthetic form.

William Binney was born in Pennsylvania in September 1943. He attended Penn State University and graduated with a degree in mathematics. During the Vietnam War, Binney joined the Army so he could have some control over where he was stationed abroad. As the film shows, during his testing and his service, it was demonstrated he had a high aptitude in mathematical analysis and code breaking. So, he was stationed in Turkey for communications interception. From that nearby location, he was tasked with spying on the Soviet Union.

To say that Binney was good at what he did does not do his performance justice. In December 1967, given signals intercepted in Vietnam by an officer friend of his, Binney predicted the Tet offensive. Because of that forewarning, Binney’s friend was able to hold his position with almost no casualties. In 1968, based on intelligence gathering, he predicted two days in advance that the Soviets would invade Czechoslovakia.

What Binney was so good at was, in those days, called traffic analysis. That is, from the data he was given — no matter how skimpy, no matter how foreign — once it was translated, he was able to break down signal codes, and he then would use that information to map out a whole chain of command and control.

As his friend and eventual National Security Agency colleague Ed Loomis states, Binney was so good at this that he could eventually map out who was talking to whom and which way the communication was going. That is either up the hierarchy or down the hierarchy. All this from the raw data of intercepts. Off this performance, the Army decided to transfer Binney to the National Security Agency.

Skilled at Puzzles

While there, Binney continued his uncanny and unique work in deciphering war preparation through signals intelligence. He predicted the Yon Kippur War in 1973. As he states on camera, he accomplished this through bypassing the very long list of warning signals the NSA gave him. He made a much shorter list of only five indicators that he used at his own desk.

And it was this list that Binney used again six years later to predict the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He predicted both the time and the day. As he notes on camera, he was off by one hour. Binney was so gifted in the creation and perfection of mathematical algorithms that when he got a 64K ram desktop computer in 1983, he was soon outperforming the gigantic mainframes, which took up the entire floor of an office building.

During this introductory segment of the film, Binney says something that is crucial to understanding him, this film, and the moral quandary that constitutes the misuse of intelligence for political ends. Binney states that he got into signals intelligence because he did not think that America should go to war due to bad information.

Therefore, he saw his function as informing leadership properly so they did not make mistakes. When one thinks of some of the wars that the U.S. entered under false intelligence — from the Spanish-American War through the Vietnam War and most recently the war with Iraq — one has to appreciate how important Binney’s approach to his job was and how the contrary approach of politicized intelligence – i.e., analysis designed to please political interests – has led to disastrous results.

The War on Terror

From this point, the film introduces the Age of Terror, which A Good American starts with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Ramzi Yousef, one of the perpetrators, had spent time in an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. And the plot was advanced via telephone and through wire transfers from Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who was suspected later of playing a large part in the 9/11 attacks. The idea was to use a 1330-pound truck bomb to blast the basement supports of the North Tower and crash it into the South Tower. The plan did not come off as intended. But still, six people were killed and about a thousand were injured.

Some in the intelligence community thought the 1993 bombing was an isolated incident. But others, including Binney’s colleague at NSA, Tom Drake, thought it was really the start of a dangerous worldwide movement. But that warning went pretty much unheeded.

But Binney took it seriously; especially the phone calls and wire transfers involved. And that caused him to begin to think of constructing a worldwide surveillance program that would root out a terrorist threat before it could strike.

Binney boldly stated that they had to build something like a giant electronic grid, one that would somehow be able to capture, decipher and segregate the routing messages of 2.5 billion phones throughout the world.

When someone objected to the idea as being beyond the reach of any kind of cyber capability, Binney replied that if modern physics could map out a sub-atomic world that no one had seen or imagined, then the NSA could do the same in the atmosphere above us. That decision gave birth to first SARC, or Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, and then to Thin Thread.

SARC was a group of very select technicians and analysts within the NSA. In 1997, Binney chose them from the thousands of people he supervised. He picked them based on their creative aptitudes and their ability to think outside the box and not be limited or intimidated by the bureaucracy. Two of Binney’s cohorts in SARC are featured in the film: computer scientist Ed Loomis and senior analyst Kirk Wiebe.

In many ways, Thin Thread was Binney’s magnum opus, the crowning capstone to a brilliant career. It was an all-encompassing surveillance program that worked from what has come to be known as metadata. That term usually refers to what we would call the header, or the routing information on a message. That is, the program was guided by the earmarks of the sender, the receiver(s), the time stamp, and the geographic points of origin and destination.

Thin Thread would then correlate the information from financial transactions, travel records, web searches, and email messages in order to chart relationships among people in real time, as events were happening. As Binney says, it was all about finding patterns among people and charting out relationships.

Constitutional Safeguards

Binney had designed the program with internal safeguards in order to avoid legal and constitutional violations. The main objectives in this regard were to avoid stealing the actual contents of a message, and to also avoid as much as possible the danger of spying on Americans.

The latter was accomplished by only being able to focus the program on persons who were already targeted as domestic suspects. From there, if probable cause was established, the program was designed to take the case to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain a FISA warrant.

Fellow employees in the NSA who saw the prototype said the precision of the final correlations of information resembled a fingerprint a lawyer could take to a FISA Court.

From everyone in SARC, the Thin Thread program received fulsome praise as a problem solver for the NSA. Yet there were some in the NSA who wanted to work with more information, not less.

To Binney, this desire was problematic on three levels. First, it created storage problems for the immense amount of data collection. Second, there was the problem of time consumption: the more data collected (or “data mining”), the longer it took to analyze the information. Third, there was the constitutional problem from the invasion of privacy of American citizens.

Binney felt that this more invasive approach would lead to a breakdown in the legal system that would resemble the intrusions of a fascist state. The indiscriminate vacuuming up of data would fulfill the Orwellian idea of National Security Advisor John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness (TIA).

As the film depicts, Thin Thread fell victim to the ambitions of NSA Director Michael Hayden, who had been an Air Force General prior to heading the NSA. Thus, he understood how hierarchies work, and how power operates in a bureaucracy as large as the Pentagon, i.e., the value of expensive programs over cheaper ones.

When Thin Thread was ready to activate, Binney talked to a project acquisitions officer about purchasing the system for the NSA to use. According to Binney, the problem was that the price tag was too low. After the initial briefing, the officer came back and said words to the effect: Could you expand it to a budget of $300 million?

In short order Binney discovered the problem was that Hayden wanted a colossal program that he could tag with a correspondingly colossal price. This would expand the size and scope of the NSA to make it rival the CIA, which had always been the biggest kid on the block as far as the intelligence community went.

The Victory of Money

Therefore, over time, Thin Thread lost out to a much more expensive, but much less efficient and workable program called Trail Blazer, which was budgeted at over $1 billion and which eventually cost well over that sum.

As the film shows, the congressional liaison for the NSA, Diane Roark, told the agency that the project was both overdesigned and overly complicated. To her, it looked like a boondoggle in the making.

After Roark voiced her reservations, and interviewed some NSA employees from SARC, Hayden circulated a memo in which he voiced his disagreement with those who were countering his decision. He said these actions were hurting the NSA and he would not tolerate the dissent, a thinly veiled hint at retaliation.

Hayden decided to outsource Trail Blazer, rather than develop the program in-house. Hayden used a private company called Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which employs many former NSA managers. Hayden also brought back to the NSA an SAIC executive named Bill Black who was appointed Deputy Director to develop Trial Blazer.

Hayden then dispatched his third-in-command, Maureen Baginski, to deliver the news that Thin Thread was being abandoned. As Binney recalls, her memorable words were: If we abandon Trial Blazer, I make 500 people unhappy; if we abandon Thin Thread, I make 6 people unhappy. But happiness management was not Binney’s idea of what the NSA was about.

The clincher to that meeting was that the 9/11 attacks occurred three weeks later.

Evidently fearful of further attacks, Hayden closed down the NSA offices on 9/11 and the day after. To get inside, Binney disguised himself as a custodian and was astonished by the attitudes of people like Baginski who looked at the 9/11 attacks as something like a gift because now the NSA budget and its powers would be expanded beyond their wildest dreams. About two months later, both Binney and Wiebe decided to resign from the NSA.

It turned out that Roark and SARC were correct. Trail Blazer ended up being a costly failure. It was finally abandoned in 2006. But in 2002, members of SARC filed a complaint with the Department of Defense about the waste and abuse involved in the decision to start Trail Blazer when Thin Thread was already operating in prototype. That complaint was accepted and the inquiry by the Inspector General went on for years. When the report was finally issued in mid-2005, the large majority of the text was redacted. The film shows us these blank pages as Binney leafs through the report.

Tom Drake stayed on at NSA. He knew about Thin Thread and realized the prototype was still there. He decided to run the program through the data that had been collected prior to 9/11. Drake discovered that Binney’s program worked as he said it would. It picked up all the important movements and dispersal patterns. It even showed that the plot was more expansive than revealed: part of it had failed since some other planes had not been hijacked. Drake concluded that the information was there for the NSA to interpret but without Thin Thread they could not do so.

Hayden’s Intervention

When Wiebe and Binney left the NSA they created their own private company called Entity Mapping LLC, which began selling Thin Thread to other intelligence agencies like the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and Customs and Border Patrol. The NSA stepped in and negated these deals.

The film implies that Hayden did not want the NSA to be further embarrassed by a program he had rejected for all the wrong reasons. It was at this point that SARC decided to file the complaint with the Department of Defense. Drake said he would support the action from the inside since he was still at NSA. Although the Inspector General report was largely redacted, enough of it was readable so it was clear that Trail Blazer was the most expensive failure in the history of the NSA.

One might think that this story could not get any worse. But it does. After the New York Times and Baltimore Sun exposed the fact that, as Binney predicted, the NSA would eventually be involved with warrantless eavesdropping and invasions of privacy, the FBI made a series of criminal raids.

In July 2007, the FBI raided the homes of Loomis, Wiebe, Roark and Binney, along with a Justice Department lawyer named Thomas Tamm. The Bush administration was upset that the media was exposing their violations of the original FISA law that was enacted after the Church Committee’s exposure of U.S. intelligence abuses.

The FBI agents entered Binney’s home with guns drawn while he was in the shower. According to Roark, much of her NSA data on Thin Thread was confiscated by the FBI during the raid.

It turned out that it was Tamm who had been talking to the New York Times. Since he was a lawyer in the Justice Department working the FISA cases, he understood that the Bush administration was violating the law as to how NSA was attaining information and how the surveillance agency had targeted domestic citizens who were not contacted by foreign entities. The administration had set up a special branch of the FISA court to deal with those special cases.

The FBI cases against Binney, Roark, Loomis, Tamm and Wiebe were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Drake’s home was raided a few months later because he had talked to the Sun. The prosecuting attorneys tried to get Drake to testify against the others, but he refused to do so.

The prosecutors tried to get Roark to turn against Drake, but that did not work either. After Drake appeared on Sixty Minutes, the government dropped all charges except a misdemeanor for misusing an NSA computer system. Drake ended up losing his $155,000-a-year job at NSA, and his pension. He also was fired from his university teaching position.

As NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has stated, the major reason he decided not to go through internal channels when he discovered other abuses within the NSA programs, was because of the prior examples of what had happened to men like Binney and Drake.

Thus, in 2013, Snowden fled the country, contacted people in the media and revealed to them the privacy problems with NSA programs like Stellar Wind, and PRISM and Tempora. Binney had worked on Stellar Wind, but the NSA had altered it to spy on Americans after he left.

In other words, if Hayden had listened to Binney and SARC, there would have been no Edward Snowden and 9/11 might not have occurred. But as the film painfully points out, while Binney, Roark and Drake were being prosecuted, Hayden went on to get two major promotions. The first was Deputy Director of National Intelligence and later Director of the CIA. (Hayden remains a respected go-to intelligence expert sought out by the mainstream U.S. media.)

An Artistic Documentary

Friedrich Moser’s film about Binney is well made in what might be called the post- Errol Morris documentary mode. There is the well-chosen use of dramatic music and the liberal use of reenactments to demonstrate certain stages of Binney’s career. In an age of fine photography, the cinematography in this film is exceptional, even when watching without high definition. In fact, this documentary is more imaginatively directed than many feature films I have seen of late.

I would be remiss if I did not note that Moser is from Austria and his film was sponsored by the Austrian Film Institute. I doubt that such a film could be made in the United States today. Recently, the mainstream U.S. media has labeled him a “conspiracy theorist” because he has disputed the conventional wisdom that Russia “hacked” Democratic emails to help elect President Trump; Binney’s experiments revealed that the download speed of one of the key hacks was impossible via an Internet hack and instead matched what was possible from a direct download onto a thumb drive, i.e., a leak from an insider.

But that is the fate of people who sacrifice their careers for just causes. They eventually lose their reputations.

Moser is to be congratulated for making his aptly titled film, which would be enormously informative to about 99 percent of the public. I would recommend it to anyone. You can see it on Amazon for $4, the story of a good American.

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




Trump Resumes Abuse of ‘Terror List’

The U.S. government has long abused its “terrorism list” by including disfavored nations while leaving off “allies” implicated in 9/11 and other terror attacks, a practice President Trump has resumed, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

President Trump’s placement of North Korea on the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism continues a manipulation, by several administrations, of this list for reasons other than terrorism. Neither an earlier removal of North Korea from this list (by the George W. Bush administration in 2008) nor Trump’s return of North Korea to the list this week had anything to do with any changes in North Korea’s conduct as far as terrorism is concerned.

The Bush administration’s delisting was part of an unsuccessful effort to do something about Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The Trump administration has seized upon relisting is supposedly another form of pressure on North Korea, with the concern again centered on nuclear weapons.

Rationales being voiced for the newest move show what a stretch it is from what are supposed to be the criteria, defined by statute, for placement on the state sponsor list. Some defenders of the move refer to North Korean actions three decades ago.

Pyongyang really was doing international terrorism in the 1980s, mainly aimed against South Korea. It was responsible for a bomb in Rangoon that killed several visiting members of the South Korean cabinet in 1983. It planted a bomb in a Korean Air civilian airliner in 1987, killing more than a hundred. But North Korea got out of international terrorism in subsequent years, with the hope of gaining some degree of international political rehabilitation. In terms of the legal standards for remaining on the state sponsor list, the delisting of North Korea in 2008 was overdue.

A more recent North Korean-perpetrated incident was the assassination in Malaysia this February of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un. This killing, being performed clandestinely on foreign soil, technically meets the definition of international terrorism. And it is yet another example of repugnant and brutal behavior by the Pyongyang regime. But it had nothing to do with any campaign of terrorism that poses a threat to anyone other than members of Kim Jong Un’s own family or regime whom he perceives as a possible threat to his rule.

Past Practice

Other countries besides North Korea have been the subject of misuse of the state sponsor list. The Reagan administration took Iraq off the list as part of its tilt toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. The George H.W. Bush administration returned Iraq to the list after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Neither move had to do with any change in Iraqi behavior regarding international terrorism.

Cuba remained on the list, for reasons involving anti-Castro domestic U.S. politics, long after it had ceased doing anything that could be construed as international terrorism.

Barack Obama made more of an honest effort than most other U.S. presidents to respect the legal criteria associated with the state sponsor list. The belated removal of Cuba from the list was part of this. The Obama administration reportedly considered relisting North Korea but refrained because it could not identify a sound legal rationale for doing so.

Other administrations’ misuse of the state sponsor list has been a sloppy way of expressing disapproval of regimes they didn’t like. The sloppiness hides how such regimes may exhibit multiple forms of objectionable conduct, each posing its own problems and each of which can be addressed through different means. Blurring everything together into a miasma of undifferentiated rogue state behavior undermines the possibility of using diplomacy and carefully crafted incentives to ameliorate any one form of objectionable conduct, be it terrorism or weapons proliferation or something else, even if we can’t solve every problem we have with a regime.

Misusing the list of state sponsors of terrorism sends the message that the United States does not care all that much about terrorism itself. It undermines the credibility of efforts that really are focused on countering terrorism. Most fundamentally, it diminishes the incentive of the targeted regime to get out or stay out of international terrorism. If the North Korean regime sees that it is going to be branded a state sponsor of terrorism regardless of what it is doing terrorism-wise, it has that much less disincentive against sliding back into the reprehensible things it was doing in the 1980s.

This is one form of poor statesmanship in which Trump is not alone. His move regarding the state sponsor list does indicate a shortfall in careful and creative thinking about ways to counter the North Korean nuclear challenge.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




The Lost Journalistic Standards of Russia-gate

Exclusive: The Russia-gate hysteria has witnessed a widespread collapse of journalistic standards as major U.S. news outlets ignore rules about how to treat evidence in dispute, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A danger in both journalism and intelligence is to allow an unproven or seriously disputed fact to become part of the accepted narrative where it gets widely repeated and thus misleads policymakers and citizens alike, such as happened during the run-up to war with Iraq and is now recurring amid the frenzy over Russia-gate.

For instance, in a Russia-gate story on Saturday, The New York Times reported as flat fact that a Kremlin intermediary “told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had ‘dirt’ on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of ‘thousands of emails.’” The Times apparently feels that this claim no longer needs attribution even though it apparently comes solely from the 32-year-old Papadopoulos as part of his plea bargain over lying to the FBI.

Beyond the question of trusting an admitted liar like Papadopoulos, his supposed Kremlin contact, professor Joseph Mifsud, a little-known academic associated with the University of Stirling in Scotland, denied knowing anything about Democratic emails.

In an interview with the U.K. Daily Telegraph, Mifsud acknowledged meeting with Papadopoulos but disputed having close ties to the Kremlin and rejected how Papadopoulos recounted their conversations. Specifically, he denied the claim that he mentioned emails containing “dirt” on Clinton.

Even New York Times correspondent Scott Shane noted late last month – after the criminal complaint against Papadopoulos was unsealed – that “A crucial detail is still missing: Whether and when Mr. Papadopoulos told senior Trump campaign officials about Russia’s possession of hacked emails. And it appears that the young aide’s quest for a deeper connection with Russian officials, while he aggressively pursued it, led nowhere.”

Shane added, “the court documents describe in detail how Mr. Papadopoulos continued to report to senior campaign officials on his efforts to arrange meetings with Russian officials, … the documents do not say explicitly whether, and to whom, he passed on his most explosive discovery – that the Russians had what they considered compromising emails on Mr. Trump’s opponent.

“J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon official who worked for the Trump campaign as a national security adviser [and who dealt directly with Papadopoulos] said he had known nothing about Mr. Papadopoulos’ discovery that Russia had obtained Democratic emails or of his prolonged pursuit of meetings with Russians.”

Missing Corroboration

But the journalistic question is somewhat different: why does the Times trust the uncorroborated assertion that Mifsud told Papadopoulos about the emails — and trust the claim to such a degree that the newspaper would treat it as flat fact? Absent corroborating evidence, isn’t it just as likely (if not more likely) that Papadopoulos is telling the prosecutors what he thinks they want to hear?

If the prosecutors working for Russia-gate independent counsel Robert Mueller had direct evidence that Mifsud did tell Papadopoulos about the emails, you would assume that they would have included the proof in the criminal filing against Papadopoulos, which was made public on Oct. 30.

Further, since Papadopoulos was peppering the Trump campaign with news about his Russian outreach in 2016, you might have expected that he would include something about how helpful the Russians had been in obtaining and publicizing the Democratic emails.

But none of Papadopoulos’s many emails to Trump campaign officials about his Russian contacts (as cited by the prosecutors) mentioned the hot news about “dirt” on Clinton or the Russians possessing “thousands of emails.” This lack of back-up would normally raise serious doubts about Papadopoulos’s claim, but – since Papadopoulos was claiming something that the prosecutors and the Times wanted to believe – reasonable skepticism was swept aside.

What the Times seems to have done is to accept a bald assertion by Mueller’s prosecutors as sufficient basis for jumping to the conclusion that this disputed claim is undeniably true. But just because Papadopoulos, a confessed liar, and these self-interested prosecutors claim something is true doesn’t make it true.

Careful journalists would wonder, as Shane did, why Papadopoulos who in 2016 was boasting of his Russian contacts to make himself appear more valuable to the Trump campaign wouldn’t have informed someone about this juicy tidbit of information, that the Russians possessed “thousands of emails” on Clinton.

Yet, the prosecutors’ statement regarding Papadopoulos’s guilty plea is strikingly silent on corroborating evidence that could prove that, first, Russia did possess the Democratic emails (which Russian officials deny) and, second, the Trump campaign was at least knowledgeable about this core fact in the support of the theory about the campaign’s collusion with the Russians (which President Trump and other campaign officials deny).

Of course, it could be that the prosecutors’ “fact” will turn out to be a fact as more evidence emerges, but anyone who has covered court cases or served on a jury knows that prosecutors’ criminal complaints and pre-trial statements should be taken with a large grain of salt. Prosecutors often make assertions based on the claim of a single witness whose credibility gets destroyed when subjected to cross-examination.

That is why reporters are usually careful to use words like “alleged” in dealing with prosecutors’ claims that someone is guilty. However, in Russia-gate, all the usual standards of proof and logic have been jettisoned. If something serves the narrative, no matter how dubious, it is embraced by the U.S. mainstream media, which – for the past year – has taken a lead role in the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

A History of Bias

This tendency to succumb to “confirmation bias,” i.e., to believe the worst about some demonized figure, has inflicted grave damage in other recent situations as well.

One example is described in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2006 study of the false intelligence that undergirded the case for invading Iraq in 2003. That inquiry discovered that previously discredited WMD claims kept reemerging in finished U.S. intelligence analyses as part of the case for believing that Iraq was hiding WMD.

In the years before the Iraq invasion, the U.S. government had provided tens of millions of dollars to Iraqi exiles in the Iraqi National Congress, and the INC, in turn, produced a steady stream of “walk-ins” who claimed to be Iraqi government “defectors” with knowledge about Saddam Hussein’s secret WMD programs.

Some U.S. intelligence analysts — though faced with White House pressure to accept this “evidence” — did their jobs honestly and exposed a number of the “defectors” as paid liars, including one, who was identified in the Senate report as “Source Two,” who talked about Iraq supposedly building mobile biological weapons labs.

CIA analysts caught Source Two in contradictions and issued a “fabrication notice” in May 2002, deeming him “a fabricator/provocateur” and asserting that he had “been coached by the Iraqi National Congress prior to his meeting with western intelligence services.”

But the Defense Intelligence Agency never repudiated the specific reports that were based on Source Two’s debriefings. Source Two also continued to be cited in five CIA intelligence assessments and the pivotal National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002, “as corroborating other source reporting about a mobile biological weapons program,” the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Thus, Source Two became one of four human sources referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003, making the case that Iraq was lying when it insisted that it had ended its WMD programs. (The infamous “Curve Ball” was another of these dishonest sources.)

Losing the Thread

After the U.S. invasion and the failure to find the WMD caches, a CIA analyst who worked on Powell’s speech was asked how a known “fabricator” (Source Two) could have been used for such an important address by a senior U.S. government official. The analyst responded, “we lost the thread of concern as time progressed I don’t think we remembered.”

A CIA supervisor added, “Clearly we had it at one point, we understood, we had concerns about the source, but over time it started getting used again and there really was a loss of corporate awareness that we had a problem with the source.”

In other words, like today’s Russia-gate hysteria, the Iraq-WMD groupthink had spread so widely across U.S. government agencies and the U.S. mainstream media that standard safeguards against fake evidence were discarded. People in Official Washington, for reasons of careerism and self-interest, saw advantages in running with the Iraq-WMD pack and recognized the dangers of jumping in front of the stampeding herd to raise doubts about Iraq’s WMD.

Back then, the personal risk to salary and status came from questioning the Iraq-WMD groupthink because there was always the possibility that Saddam Hussein indeed was hiding WMD and, if so, you’d be forever branded as a “Saddam apologist”; while there were few if any personal risks to agreeing with all those powerful people that Iraq had WMD, even if that judgment turned out to be disastrously wrong.

Sure, American soldiers and the people of Iraq would pay a terrible price, but your career likely would be safe, a calculation that proved true for people like Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post who repeatedly reported Iraq’s WMD as flat fact and today remains the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post.

Similarly, Official Washington’s judgment now is that there is no real downside to joining the Resistance to Trump, who is widely viewed as a buffoon, unfit to be President of the United States. So, any means to remove him are seen by many Important People as justified – and the Russian allegations seem to be the weightiest rationale for his impeachment or forced resignation.

Professionally, it is much riskier to insist on unbiased standards of evidence regarding Trump and Russia. You’ll just stir up a lot of angry questions about why are you “defending Trump.” You’ll be called a “Trump enabler” and/or a “Kremlin stooge.”

However, basing decisions on dubious information carries its own dangers for the nation and the world. Not only do the targets end up with legitimate grievances about being railroaded – and not only does this prejudicial treatment undermine faith in the fairness of democratic institutions – but falsehoods can become the basis for wider policies that can unleash wars and devastation.

We saw the horrific outcome of the Iraq War, but the risks of hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia are far graver; indeed, billions of people could die and human civilization end. With stakes so high, The New York Times and Mueller’s prosecutors owe the public better than treating questionable accusations as flat fact.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).