The Mueller Indictments: The Day the Music Died

Exclusive: The FBI’s Russia indictments last week have whipped Democrats and the mainstream media into a frenzy but the “scandal” may be collapsing under its own weight, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Fads and scandals often follow a set trajectory.  They grow big, bigger, and then, finally, too big, at which point they topple over and collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions.  This was the fate of the “Me too” campaign, which started out as an exposé of serial abuser Harvey Weinstein but then went too far when Babe.net published a story about one woman’s bad date with comedian Aziz Ansari.  Suddenly, it became clear that different types of behavior were being lumped together in a dangerous way, and a once-explosive movement began to fizzle.

So, too, with Russiagate.  After dominating the news for more than a year, the scandal may have at last reached a tipping point with last week’s indictment of thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian corporations on charges of illegal interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But the indictment landed with a decided thud for three reasons:

—  It failed to connect the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the alleged St. Petersburg troll factory accused of political meddling, with Vladimir Putin, the all-purpose evil-doer who the corporate media say is out to destroy American democracy.

—  It similarly failed to establish a connection with the Trump campaign and indeed went out of its way to describe contacts with the Russians as “unwitting.”

—  It described the meddling itself as even more inept and amateurish than many had suspected.

After nine months of labor, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller thus brought forth a mouse.  Even if all the charges are true – something we’ll probably never know since it’s unlikely that any of the accused will be brought to trial – the indictment tells us virtually nothing that’s new.

Yes, IRA staffers purchased $100,000 worth of Facebook ads, 56 percent of which ran after Election Day.  Yes, they persuaded someone in Florida to dress up as Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform and stand inside a cage mounted on a flatbed truck.  And, yes, they also got another “real U.S. person,” as the indictment terms it, to stand in front of the White House with a sign saying, “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss,” a tribute, apparently, to IRA founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the convicted robber turned caterer whose birthday was three days away.  Instead of a super-sophisticated spying operation, the indictment depicts a bumbling freelance operation that is still giving Putin heartburn months after the fact.

Not that this has stopped the media from whipping itself into a frenzy.  “Russia is at war with our democracy,” screamed a headline in the Washington Post.  “Trump is ignoring the worst attack on America since 9/11,” blared another.  “…Russia is engaged in a virtual war against the United States through 21st-century tools of disinformation and propaganda,” declared the New York Times, while Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter tweeted that the IRA’s activities amounted to nothing less than a “tech Pearl Harbor.”

All of which merely demonstrates, in proper backhanded fashion, how grievously Mueller has fallen short.  Proof that the scandal had at last overstayed its welcome came five days later when the Guardian, a website that had previously flogged Russiagate even more vigorously than the Post, the Times, or CNN, published a news analysis by Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, admitting that it was all a farce – and a particularly self-defeating one at that.

Mudde’s article made short work of hollow pieties about a neutral and objective investigation. Rather than an effort to get at the truth, Russiagate was a thinly-veiled effort at regime change.  “[I]n the end,” he wrote, “the only question everyone really seems to care about is whether Donald Trump was involved – and can therefore be impeached for treason.

With last week’s indictment, the article went on, “Democratic party leaders once again reassured their followers that this was the next logical step in the inevitable downfall of Trump.”  The more Democrats play the Russiagate card, in other words, the nearer they will come to their goal of riding the Orange-Haired One out of town on a rail.

This makes the Dems seem crass, unscrupulous, and none too democratic.  But then Mudde gave the knife a twist.  The real trouble with the strategy, he said, is that it isn’t working:

“While there is no doubt that the Trump camp was, and still is, filled with amoral and fraudulent people, and was very happy to take the Russians help during the elections, even encouraging it on the campaign, I do not think Mueller will be able to find conclusive evidence that Donald Trump himself colluded with Putin’s Russia to win the elections.  And that is the only thing that will lead to his impeachment as the Republican party is not risking political suicide for anything less.”

Other Objectives of “Russiagate”

No collusion means no impeachment and hence no anti-Trump “color revolution” of the sort that was so effective in Georgia or the Ukraine.  Moreover, while 53 percent of Americans believe that investigating Russiagate should be a top or at least an important priority according to a recent poll, figures for a half-dozen other issues ranging from Medicare and Social Security reform to tax policy, healthcare, infrastructure, and immigration are actually a good deal higher – 67 percent, 72 percent, or even more.

Summed up Mudde: “…the Russia-Trump collusion story might be the talk of the town in Washington, but this is not the case in much of the rest of the country.”  Out in flyover country, rather, Americans can’t figure out why the political elite is more concerned with a nonexistent scandal than with things that really count, i.e. de-industrialization, infrastructure decay, the opioid epidemic, and school shootings.  As society disintegrates, the only thing Democrats have accomplished with all their blathering about Russkis under the bed is to demonstrate just how cut off from the real world they are.

But Russiagate is not just about regime change, but other things as well.  One is repression.  Where once Democrats would have laughed off Russian trolls and the like, they’re now obsessed with making a mountain out of a molehill in order to enforce mainstream opinion and marginalize ideas and opinions suspected of being un-American and hence pro-Russian.  If the RT (Russia Today) news network is now suspect – the Times described it not long ago as  “the slickly produced heart of a broad, often covert disinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about democratic institutions and destabilize the West” – then why not the BBC or Agence France-Presse?  How long until foreign books are banned or foreign musicians?

“I’m actually surprised I haven’t been indicted,” tweets Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky.  “I’m Russian, I was in the U.S. in 2016 and I published columns critical of both Clinton and Trump w/o registering as a foreign agent.”  When the Times complains that Facebook “still sees itself as the bank that got robbed, rather than the architect who designed a bank with no safes, and no alarms or locks on the doors, and then acted surprised when burglars struck,” then it’s clear that the goal is to force Facebook to rein in its activities or stand by and watch as others do so instead.

Add to this the classic moral panic promoted by #MeToo – to believe charges of sexual harassment and assault without first demanding evidence “is to disbelieve, and deny due process to, the accused,” notes Judith Levine in the Boston Review – and it’s clear that a powerful wave of cultural conservatism is crashing down on the United States, much of it originating in a classic neoliberal-Hillaryite milieu.  Formerly the liberal alternative, the Democratic Party is now passing the Republicans on the right.

But Russiagate is about something else as well: war.  As National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster warns that the “time is now” to act against Iran, the New York Times slams Trump for not imposing sanctions on Moscow, and a spooky “Nuclear Posture Review” suggests that the US might someday respond to a cyber attack with atomic weapons, it’s plain that Washington is itching for a showdown that will somehow undo the mistakes of the previous administration.  The more Trump drags his feet, the more Democrats conclude that a war drive is the best way to bring him to his knees.

Thus, low-grade political interference is elevated into a casus belli while Vladimir Putin is portrayed as a supernatural villain straight out of Harry Potter.  But where does it stop?  Libya has been set back decades, Syria, the subject of yet another US regime-change effort, has been all but destroyed, while Yemen – which America helps Saudi Arabia bomb virtually around the clock – is now a disaster area with some 9,000 people killed, 50,000 injured, a million-plus cholera cases, and more than half of all hospitals and clinics destroyed.

The more Democrats pound the war drums, the more death and destruction will ensue.  The process is well underway in Syria, the victim of Israeli bombings and a US-Turkish invasion, and it will undoubtedly spread as Dems turn up the heat. If the pathetic pseudo-scandal known as Russiagate really is collapsing under its own weight, then it’s not a moment too soon.

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




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in January highlighted misrepresented historic events, analyzed shortcomings of the Democratic Party, and remembered Robert Parry’s legacy.

Giving War Too Many Chances” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 3, 2018

Missing the Trump Team’s Misconduct” by J.P. Sottile., Jan. 9, 2018

Pesticide Use Threatens Health in California” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 10, 2018

Trump Lashes Pakistan over Afghan War” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 11, 2018

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 11, 2018

Haiti and America’s Historic Debt” by Robert Parry, Jan. 12, 2018

Why Senator Cardin Is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning” by Norman Solomon, Jan. 16, 2018

Trump Ends Protections for El Salvador” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 18, 2018

An Update to Our Readers on Editor Robert Parry” by Nat Parry, Jan. 19, 2018

Regime Change and Globalization Fuel Europe’s Refugee and Migrant Crisis” by Andrew Spannaus, Jan. 20, 2018

‘The Post’ and the Pentagon Papers” by James DiEugenio, Jan. 22, 2018

Foxes in Charge of Intelligence Hen House” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 22, 2018

A National Defense Strategy of Sowing Global Chaos” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 23, 2018

George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?” by Robert Parry, Jan. 23, 2018

Tom Perez, the Democratic Party’s Grim Metaphor” by  Norman Solomon, Jan. 25, 2018

The Struggle Against Honduras’ Stolen Election” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 26, 2018

Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story” by George Eliason, Jan. 28, 2018

Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews” by Nat Parry, Jan. 28, 2018

Assault on the Embassy: The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later” by Don North, Jan. 30, 2018

Will Congress Face Down the Deep State?” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 30, 2018

Treasury’s ‘Kremlin Report’ Seen as Targeting Russian Economy” by Gilbert Doctorow, Jan. 31, 2018

Mass Surveillance and the Memory Hole” by Ted Snider, Jan. 31, 2018

How Trump and the GOP Exploit Israel” by Jonathan Marshall, Jan. 31, 2018

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




Selective Outrage Undermines Human Rights in Syria

Exclusive: Selective outrage over civilian suffering in Syria – hyping Syrian government abuses while downplaying the effects of U.S.-led Coalition air strikes – undermines the legitimacy of human rights advocacy, argues Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Few things threaten the legitimacy of human rights advocacy more than partisans invoking it selectively to promote one side in a violent conflict. That’s why people with genuine concern over the plight of war victims should be disturbed by the latest pumped-up campaign of selective outrage over the Syrian government’s bombing of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

That bombing has unquestionably been savage, and arguably even criminal. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But it does a grave disserve to the nearly half million people killed over the course of Syria’s civil war to single out the tragic killing of more than 300 civilians in that suburb as especially remarkable. Indeed, it betrays a political agenda aimed more at punishing the Damascus government than saving innocent lives.

News stories are full of quotes painting the situation as nearly unprecedented in its horror: “hell on earth,” “never seen anything like this,” “one of the worst attacks in Syrian history,” and “flagrant war crime” on an “epic scale.” A New York Times editorial, calling the battle “one of the most violent episodes of the seven-year war,” demands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leaders be tried for war crimes. And a columnist for The Guardian says “Eastern Ghouta is turning into Syria’s Srebrenica,” the Bosnian enclave where thousands of Muslims were killed by Serbian forces in 1995.

Anyone who tries to correct the record risks being misinterpreted as trying to minimize the real suffering or defend the government. I wish to do neither. I harbor no illusions about the regime’s motives, and I can only imagine the anguish of those living under daily bombardment, trying to care for the wounded while wondering if and when they will join the many who have already died.

But the recent situation in Eastern Ghouta is unfortunately not as unique as recent media accounts suggest. Just last month, the respected, independent monitoring group Airwars reminded us that U.S.-led Coalition air strikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa created many more victims with the same destructive tactics of “siege, bomb and evacuate.”

In just one incident in March 2017, Coalition bombers killed as many as 400 civilians at a school near Raqqa, where hundreds of women and children were taking shelter from the war.

“By the time Raqqa was liberated on October 20th,” Airwars estimated, “more than 1,450 civilians had likely been killed by the Coalition since the start of June. Other monitors said that at least 1,800 civilians died in the fighting. Defeat of [the] so-called Islamic State had come at an extraordinary cost, with the UN reporting that 80% of the city was left uninhabitable – despite the Coalition’s continued insistence that is had been ‘waging the most precise war in history.’”

UN and human rights workers, to their credit, decried the civilian casualties, but U.S. military commanders systematically downplayed them as exaggerated or “hyperbolic.” The Coalition bombing generated only limited concern in the West because of its worthy goal: liberating Raqqa from the grip of ISIS. (In the end, the BBC reported, hundreds of ISIS members were allowed to quietly escape the city unscathed as part of a secret deal with the Coalition.)

Yet when it comes to evaluating the morality (or lack thereof) of the Syrian government’s bombing of Eastern Ghouta, precious few news stories remind readers that most of the generically described “rebels” in that suburb are members of Islamist extremist groups, including at least one al-Qaeda affiliate. No reasonable government in Damascus would want them on its doorstep.

The regional director of the International Red Cross observed further that rebel forces were blasting Damascus with mortar shells, noting that “maybe this is a reality that is not really reported.”

Comparing the killing in Eastern Ghouta to such notorious events as the Srebrenica massacre is a not-so-subtle way of calling for further foreign military intervention against the Syrian regime in the name of humanitarian principles – precisely what has helped cause such prolonged war and devastation in the first place.

Anyone genuinely concerned with saving lives should, instead, urge rebel groups to join in United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, rather than boycotting them. Above all, they should ponder the words of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius following his recent return from viewing the unimaginable devastation in Raqqa:

“Raqqa is a warning to be careful about destroying the ruling order, anywhere, without knowing what will come next. Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps making this point – the United States was reckless to encourage the overthrow of authority in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya without better planning for the “day after” – and he’s probably right. Too often, the vacuums have been filled by warlords, foreign mercenaries and death cults.”

“The United States and its allies nearly destroyed Raqqa to rescue it from a caliphate that governed by torture,” he concluded. “It was a just war, but we should try hard to avoid having to fight one like it again.”

Jonathan Marshall is the author or co-author of five books on U.S. foreign relations and international affairs. His many articles on Syria include “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War,” “Death of the Syrian ‘Moderate’ Fantasy,” and “How The New Yorker Mis-Reports Syria.”




Time to Admit the Afghan War is ‘Nonsense’

Exclusive: Officially, the U.S. military objective in Afghanistan is to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, but just last month President Trump said that talks with the Taliban are off the table, indicating an incoherent policy, as Jonathan Marshall notes.

By Jonathan Marshall

Whatever happened to the Donald Trump who tweeted in 2013, “Let’s get out of Afghanistan … we waste billions there. Nonsense!”

And whatever happened to the reality TV star who used to tell under-performers, “you’re fired”?

Today, as commander in chief, President Trump is indefinitely extending the Afghan war’s record as the longest in U.S. history. He’s wasting $45 billion to wage it this year alone. And he’s not even thinking of firing his huckster generals who claim that sending a few thousand more troops and stepping up the bombing will be a “game changer.”

Much like the Vietnam War, every day’s news of war from Afghanistan puts the lie to optimistic claims of a military solution. A recent BBC study concluded that Taliban forces are now active in 70 percent of the country, more than at any time since the end of 2001. Unofficial U.S. estimates of their strength have soared from about 20,000 in 2014 to at least 60,000 today.

Afghan government forces number several times as many, but—like their counterparts in the Vietnam War—they “lack the one thing the U.S. cannot provide: the will to fight a protracted campaign against a committed enemy,” in the words of Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The Taliban have proven that no place in Afghanistan is safe from their long arm. At the beginning of February, they infiltrated a bomb-laden ambulance into Kabul, just blocks from a meeting at the Afghan Ministry of Defense with the head of the U.S. Central Command. Its blast killed more than 100 people and injured 235. It followed only days after Taliban gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing at least 20 people, including four Americans.

Inspector General Finds No Progress

The latest Inspector General report on the status of “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel,” issued Feb. 18, declares that U.S. and Afghan government forces made no progress last year in expanding their control of the country or in forcing the Taliban to the peace table, one of the administration’s stated goals.

“In addition,” the report said, “there were growing concerns about whether Afghanistan will be able to hold parliamentary elections as planned in July 2018, and the country was struggling to provide assistance to nearly two-million internally displaced persons.”

The report also highlighted the lethality of Taliban operations against Afghan military and police forces, but it declined to offer numbers, noting that the U.S. military had classified them at the request of the Afghan government.

To justify its optimism, the Trump administration has touted its ostensibly new tactic of bombing drug labs to deny the Taliban revenue. The Inspector General notes that such operations were undertaken as far back as 2009, to no end:

“The United Nations reported that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan set a new record in 2017. Cultivated land increased 63 percent over 2016 levels and potential opium production set a new record at 9,000 tons. The United Nations stated that the Afghan government’s strategic focus on protecting population centers in 2017 might have made rural populations more vulnerable to the influence of anti-government entities who pay local farmers to grow poppy and protect farmers from government eradication efforts.”

Similarly, U.S. military operations have failed to suppress Afghanistan’s version of ISIS, which recently conducted several spectacular terror attacks in Kabul. The U.S. command made “no discernible progress” on convincing Pakistan to close its borders to insurgents. Last but not least, the Afghan government remains a mess, riven by factional fights between President Ashraf Ghani and provincial warlords.

An Incoherent Policy

Meanwhile, unaddressed by the IG is the basic incoherence of a policy of bombing the Taliban into reconciliation. On paper, Washington aims to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, acknowledging that outright victory is impossible. But only this January, President Trump told members of the UN Security Council, “we don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” and a spokesman for President Ghani said recently, “We never negotiate with groups who resort to crime and the brutal killing of people and then claim responsibility for it.”

That sounds like a policy of stalemate if ever there was one.

“For years, we have been pursuing a strategy that will not win, but at the same time, we are doing just enough to ensure that we do not entirely lose,” concedes Kevin Hulbert, former CIA station chief in Kabul. “The way forward will be determined by clarifying our objectives, which to this point, have remained ambiguous at best.”

Clarifying our objectives would certainly help, but just as important are clarity about U.S. interests and capabilities.

Ever since 9/11, policy makers have largely taken American interests for granted. Yet aside from fantasies about developing Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, it’s hard to make a serious case that American lives and treasure will be more at risk from getting out of Afghanistan than continuing an endless war. The only significant interest at stake is political: no president wants to lose such a war.

And as to capabilities, the Obama-era surge proved that even with 100,000 troops, the United States cannot win a war against committed, indigenous insurgents who enjoy unlimited funding and protected foreign sanctuaries. Unlike the United States, the Taliban have nowhere to go. They will wait us out, even if that means fighting for another 16 years.

A decade ago, a top-level policy analysis requested by President George W. Bush admitted, “The United States is not losing in Afghanistan, but it is not winning either, and that is not good enough.” Those words are as true in 2018 as they were in 2008. The situation is still not good enough, and there’s no chance of it getting any better. It’s time for President Trump to wake up and say “you’re fired!” to anyone on his team who pretends otherwise.

Jonathan Marshall is the author or co-author of five books on U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. His articles on Afghanistan include “The Goal of ‘Not Losing’ in Afghanistan,”  “Blaming the Afghan War Failure on — Russia,” and “Afghanistan: President Obama’s Vietnam.”




America’s Election Meddling Would Indeed Justify Other Countries Retaliating In Kind

Highlighting the U.S.’s long history in meddling in other countries’ elections is not “whataboutism,” but rather a highly germane point to understanding the context for the allegations of Russian meddling in Election 2016, Caitlin Johnstone observes.

By Caitlin Johnstone

There is still no clear proof that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 U.S. election in any meaningful way. Which is weird, because Russia and every other country on earth would be perfectly justified in doing so.

Like every single hotly publicized Russiagate “bombshell” that has broken since this nonsense began, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian social media trolls was paraded around as proof of something hugely significant (an “act of war” in this case), but on closer examination turns out to be empty.

The always excellent Moon of Alabama recently made a solid argument that has also been advanced by Russiagate skeptics like TYT’s Michael Tracey and Max Blumenthal of The Real News, pointing out that there is in fact no evidence that the troll farming operation was an attempt to manipulate the U.S. election, nor indeed that it had any ties to the Russian government at all, nor indeed that it was anything other than a crafty Russian civilian’s money making scheme.

The notion that a few Russian trolls committed a “conspiracy to defraud the United States” by “sowing discord” with a bunch of wildly contradictory posts endorsing all sorts of different ideologies sounds completely ridiculous in a country whose mainstream media spends all its time actively creating political division anyway, but when you look at it as a civilian operation to attract social media followers to sock puppet accounts with the goal of selling promoted posts for profit, it makes perfect sense.

James Corbett of The Corbett Report has a great video about how absolutely bizarre it is that public dialogue is ignoring the fact that these trolls overwhelmingly used mainstream media like the Washington Post in their shares instead of outlets like RT and Infowars. As a scheme to acquire followers, it makes perfect sense. As a scheme to subvert America, it’s nonsensical.

There is currently no evidence that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election. But it is worth pointing out that if they did they had every right to.

What About Whataboutism

“Whataboutism” is the word of the day. At some point it was decreed by the internet forum gods that adding “-ism” to a description of something that someone is doing makes for a devastating argument in and of itself, and people have hastened to use this tactic as a bludgeon to silence anyone who points out the extremely obvious and significant fact that America interferes in elections more than any other government on earth.

“Okay, so America isn’t perfect and we’ve meddled a few times,” the argument goes. “So what? You’re saying just because we’ve done it that makes it okay for Russia to do it?”

Actually, yes. Of course it does. Clearly. That isn’t a “whataboutism,” it’s an observation that is completely devastating to the mainstream Russia narrative. If it’s okay for the CIA to continuously interfere in the elections of other countries up to and including modern times, it is okay for other countries to interfere in theirs. Only in the most warped American supremacist reality tunnel is that not abundantly obvious.

Every country on earth is absolutely entitled to interfere in America’s elections. America is responsible for the overwhelming majority of election interferences around the world in modern times, including an interference in Russia’s elections in the nineties that was so brazen they made a Hollywood movie about it, so clearly an environment has been created wherein the United States has declared that this acceptable.

It amazes me that more people aren’t willing to call this like it is. No, it would not be wrong for Russia to interfere in America’s elections. Yes, what America did to Russia absolutely would make a proportionate retaliation okay. Of course it would.

Ridiculous Double Standards

Imagine this:

A guy in a cowboy hat runs into a bar and starts punching people. Most of them just rub their sore jaws and hunch over their drinks hoping to avoid any trouble, but one guy in a fur cap sets down his vodka and shoves the man in the cowboy hat.

The man in the cowboy hat begins shrieking like a little girl. All his friends rush to his side to comfort him and begin angrily shaking their fists at the man in the fur cap.

“Hey, he punched me!” says the man in the fur cap.

“That’s a whataboutism!” sobs the man in the cowboy hat.

Can you imagine anything more ridiculous?

Seriously, how do people think this is a thing? How does anyone think it’s legitimate to respond to my article about a former CIA Director openly admitting that the U.S. still to this day interferes with elections around the world babbling about “whataboutisms”? What a doofy, indefensible monkey wrench to throw into the gears of political discourse.

Yes, obviously by asserting that it is acceptable for the CIA to meddle in other countries’ elections, the US has created an environment where that sort of thing is acceptable. If Americans just want to embrace their American supremacist bigotry and say “Yeah we can do that to you but you can’t do it to us cuz we have big guns and we said so,” that’s at least a logically consistent position. Crying like little bitches and behaving as though they’ve been victimized by some egregious immorality is not.

Channel 4 News reported on the research of the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Don Levin back in November, writing the following:

“Dov Levin, an academic from the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, has calculated the vast scale of election interventions by both the US and Russia.

“According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.
The majority of these – almost 70 percent – were cases of U.S. interference.

“And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.”

If Americans don’t like election meddling, they need to demand that their government stops doing it. As long as it remains the very worst offender in that department, the U.S. is entitled to nothing other than the entire world meddling in its elections.

I shouldn’t even have to say this. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




Mutually Assured Contempt at 2018 Munich Security Conference

The 2018 Munich Security Conference continued the trend of promoting a New Cold War while diplomats openly disparaged Russia and fretted over the Trump presidency, Gilbert Doctorow reports.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The annual Munich Security Conference is to geopolitics what Davos is to global economics: a forum for public discussion of challenges and trends, as well as a venue for side meetings off the official schedule by Very Important People that are at times even more intriguing than the formal events. By the latter I have in mind, for example, the tête-à-tête behind closed doors between former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the Russian ambassador to Germany that set tongues wagging back in Kiev and Moscow, even if it was passed up in the Euronews coverage.

The very biggest names in global politics make their appearances at Munich and occasionally catch the imagination of all with substantive as opposed to merely clever remarks. No one familiar with the venue can forget Vladimir Putin’s speech there of February 2007. It set in motion the open challenge to US global mastery that has evolved into the deep cracks in the world order which were the main theme of Munich a year ago, and which presented themselves again for consideration in the latest, 2018 edition, which took place 16-18 February.

Last year the biggest name in Munich was Chinese President Xi, who did not disappoint and stole the show by his robust defense of free trade, global cooperation to combat climate change and other leading issues of the day from which Donald Trump’s America seemed to be retreating. This year there was no one leader who commanded the attention of the audience and media. What special meaning the gathering had could be found in the Report of the organizers, which highlights the issues and guided the discussion in the various sessions over three days.

Parsing an 88-page text like the Report might be a step too far. But a word about its style is in order since that takes us directly to analysis of its content.

The Munich Security Conference takes place in Germany. Its website and promotional literature are bilingual, German-English.  However, the Report is in English, and in very special English at that. No British spelling or turns of speech here, unlike so many documents of think tanks generated on the Continent. No this is the American English of the U.S establishment in the self-satisfied and coy style of Foreign Affairs magazine. Where else would you find section headings entitled “Russia: Bearly Strong?” or “United States: Home Alone?”

And while the texts in the Report allude to interviews in the press by former German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier, and a side column quotes from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech to the Conference last year, there is more than a sprinkling of references to leading personalities in America’s Council on Foreign Relations, starting with its president, Richard Haass. And what is surely the most remarkable quote in the Report (see below) comes from Council member and long-time book reviewer for Foreign Affairs, Princeton University professor G. John Ikenberry.

To cut to the quick, the American input to the agenda and posture of the Munich Security Conference is of decisive weight when you look at the recommended reading (“Food for Thought”) and special reports sections at the back. In the Acknowledgements section at the very end, we find the heavyweights RAND Corporation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence listed together with the lightweight but very voluble Freedom House.

This Establishment is Atlanticist, a promoter of the liberal institutional order that it helped to create over the past 60 plus years in the knowledge that the biggest financial and political beneficiary of an order based on rules written in Washington has been the United States.  To a man, they are anti-Trump.

Indeed, the text of the Munich Report drips with anti-Trump innuendo and a good dose of despair over the ongoing triumph of the anti-Christ who is currently the U.S. President.

The introductory chapter of the Report bears the ominous title: “Present at the Erosion: International Order on the Brink?” The most striking remark on its first page is by G. John Ikenberry: “The world’s most powerful state has begun to sabotage the order it created. A hostile revisionist power has indeed arrived on the scene, but it sits in the Oval Office, the beating heart of the free world.”

Let us remember that over the course of his career Ikenberry has been a penetrating and at times courageous analyst. Back in 1992, he co-authored with Daniel Deudney a splendid article entitled “Who Won the Cold War” (Foreign Policy) explaining why it was a draw, ended by mutual agreement. He thereby went directly against the rising tide of neoconservatism and American hubris built on falsification of modern history.

American Establishment biases, willful ignorance of realities and fake news are given free rein in the page of the 2018 Report devoted to Russia. Here we read about the Kremlin’s “disinformation campaign” during the French presidential election of 2017 and about the “efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016” that have “paid dividends.”  Unproven allegations of meddling and illogical conclusions about dividends, considering the track record of the Trump administration in its first year in office: the dispatch of lethal military equipment to Ukraine that even Obama hesitated to approve, the extension of sanctions and a number of other measures raising the tensions with Russia in the Baltics and in Syria.

Here we find the stubborn refusal to accept the true scale and breadth of Russia’s might. We are reminded that the country’s GDP is the size of Spain, a proposition that is distorted and misleading depending as it does on exchange rates rather than purchasing power parity. At last report, Spain was not supplying one-third of all the natural gas consumed in Europe; Russia was.  At last report, Spain did not have a military budget that is second only to the United States; Russia has.

Yet, the Munich Security Conference differs in an important way from the American establishment, which is today not very welcoming of “adversaries” or “competitors” who may conceptualize the world order in their own way. Whatever its home grounds philosophically, the Munich Security Conference does try to be inclusive and brings even troublemaker countries and personalities into the tent. Moreover, the Security Conference, like Davos, has substantial continuity in the attendees. You heard from the Iranian Foreign Minister last year, and you will hear from him again this year, and probably next year as well.  This does not smooth out all the rough edges in these encounters, but it keeps them somewhat in check.

One of the “regulars,” and perhaps the most remarkable performer at the 2018 Munich Security Conference was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. I call him remarkable because of his ability to rise above his detractors in the hall through superior command of the facts, wit and daring.

At last year’s Munich Conference, a number of Lavrov’s pronouncements were met by derisive laughter from the Americans in the front rows, picked up by other Western diplomats and politicians. Yet, Lavrov took it in stride, remarking acidly that he had also found some statements by representatives of other countries to be laughable but had shown greater restraint than members of his audience.

Heckling also took place during Lavrov’s speech this year, though on a markedly lower scale. And once again, Lavrov took the upper hand, chided his detractors for their incivility and joked that it did not matter: “after all, they say laughter helps us live longer.”

Lavrov’s speech itself was a masterpiece of argumentation against the exclusion of Russia from the common European home, the descent of a divisive “us/them” thinking in Western Europe to justify the New Cold War. He specifically called out for condemnation the ongoing rewriting of history in the Baltic States, in Poland, and in Ukraine that airbrushes Russia out of the victory over Nazi Germany, encourages destruction of monuments to Soviet liberators and makes heroes of home-grown fascist movements as in Ukraine.

It bears mention that back home in Moscow, there are voices of strident nationalists like Vladimir Zhirinovsky who explain on national television day after day why it is time for Lavrov to go, because he is too soft, too easy going with the nation’s enemies in the West.

However, the skill at debate, nerves of steel and icy reserve that Lavrov displayed in Munich show yet again that he is the right man in the right place to defend Putin’s Russia.

The problem that comes out of the Report and the body language we saw in the conference proceedings is the following: whether the opposing sides of East and West were more or less restrained in their gestures and words, there lies on each side a poisonous contempt for the other that could lead to miscalculations and rash actions in the event of some incident, some mishap between our respective armed forces in any of the theaters where they are now operating in close proximity in support of opposing sides.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future?was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.




Nunes: FBI and DOJ Perps Could Be Put on Trial

House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes has stated that “DOJ and FBI are not above the law,” and could face legal consequences for alleged abuses of the FISA court, reports Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Throwing down the gauntlet on alleged abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by the Department of Justice and the FBI, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) stated that there could be legal consequences for officials who may have misled the FISA court. “If they need to be put on trial, we will put them on trial,” he said. “The reason Congress exists is to oversee these agencies that we created.”

Nunes took this highly unusual, no-holds-barred stance during an interview with Emmy-award winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, which aired on Sunday.

Attkisson said she had invited both Nunes and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) but that only Nunes agreed. She asked him about Schiff’s charge that Nunes’ goal was “to put the FBI and DOJ on trial.” What followed was very atypical bluntness — candor normally considered quite unacceptable in polite circles of the Washington Establishment.

Rather than play the diplomat and disavow what Schiff contended was Nunes’ goal, Nunes said, in effect, let the chips fall where they may. He unapologetically averred that, yes, a criminal trial might well be the outcome. “DOJ and FBI are not above the law,” he stated emphatically. “If they are committing abuse before a secret court getting warrants on American citizens, you’re darn right that we’re going to put them on trial.”

Die Is Cast

The stakes are very high. Current and former senior officials — and not only from DOJ and FBI, but from other agencies like the CIA and NSA, whom documents and testimony show were involved in providing faulty information to justify a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign official Carter Page — may suddenly find themselves in considerable legal jeopardy. Like, felony territory.

This was not supposed to happen. Mrs. Clinton was a shoo-in, remember? Back when the FISA surveillance warrant of Page was obtained, just weeks before the November 2016 election, there seemed to be no need to hide tracks, because, even if these extracurricular activities were discovered, the perps would have looked forward to award certificates rather than legal problems under a Trump presidency.

Thus, the knives will be coming out. Mostly because the mainstream media will make a major effort – together with Schiff-mates in the Democratic Party – to marginalize Nunes, those who find themselves in jeopardy can be expected to push back strongly.

If past is precedent, they will be confident that, with their powerful allies within the FBI/DOJ/CIA “Deep State” they will be able to counter Nunes and show him and the other congressional investigation committee chairs, where the power lies. The conventional wisdom is that Nunes and the others have bit off far more than they can chew. And the odds do not favor folks, including oversight committee chairs, who buck the system.

Staying Power

On the other hand, the presumptive perps have not run into a chairman like Nunes in four decades, since Congressmen Lucien Nedzi (D-Mich.), Otis Pike (D-NY), and Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) ran tough, explosive hearings on the abuses of a previous generation deep state, including massive domestic spying revealed by quintessential investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in December 1974. (Actually, this is largely why the congressional intelligence oversight committees were later established, and why the FISA law was passed in 1978.)

At this point, one is tempted to say plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – or the more things change, the more they stay the same – but that would be only half correct in this context. Yes, scoundrels will always take liberties with the law to spy on others. But the huge difference today is that mainstream media have no room for those who uncover government crimes and abuse. And this will be a major impediment to efforts by Nunes and other committee chairs to inform the public.

One glaring sign of the media’s unwillingness to displease corporate masters and Official Washington is the harsh reality that Hersh’s most recent explosive investigations, using his large array of government sources to explore front-burner issues, have not been able to find a home in any English-speaking newspaper or journal. In a sense, this provides what might be called a “confidence-building” factor, giving some assurance to deep-state perps that they will be able to ride this out, and that congressional committee chairs will once again learn to know their (subservient) place.

Much will depend on whether top DOJ and FBI officials can bring themselves to reverse course and give priority to the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. This should not be too much to hope for, but it will require uncommon courage in facing up honestly to the major misdeeds appear to have occurred — and letting the chips fall where they may. Besides, it would be the right thing to do.

Nunes is projecting calm confidence that once he and Trey Gowdey (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, release documentary evidence showing what their investigations have turned up, it will be hard for DOJ and FBI officials to dissimulate.

In Other News …

In the interview with Attkisson, Nunes covered a number of other significant issues:

  • The committee is closing down its investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign; no evidence of collusion was found.
  • The apparently widespread practice of “unmasking” the identities of Americans under surveillance. On this point, Nunes said, “In the last administration they were unmasking hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of Americans’ names. They were unmasking for what I would say, for lack of a better definition, were for political purposes.”
  • Asked about Schiff’s criticism that Nunes behaved improperly on what he called the “midnight run to the White House,” Nunes responded that the stories were untrue. “Well, most of the time I ignore political nonsense in this town,” he said. “What I will say is that all of those stories were totally fake from the beginning.”

Not since Watergate has there been so high a degree of political tension here in Washington but the stakes for our Republic are even higher this time. Assuming abuse of FISA court procedures is documented and those responsible for playing fast and loose with the required justification for legal warrants are not held to account, the division of powers enshrined in the Constitution will be in peril.

A denouement of some kind can be expected in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Anti-Trumpists Use Mueller Indictments to Escalate Tensions With Nuclear-Armed Russia

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 alleged members of a Russian troll farm is leading to calls for escalation with Russia, exacerbating tensions that are already at historic – and dangerous – lows, observes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

U.S. empire loyalists are so close to telling the truth when they babble about “Russian propaganda.” They are openly admitting that it is wrong to use media to manipulate the ways that Americans think and vote. Now all we need is for them to admit that they themselves do this constantly, and we’ll be on the right track.

The word “Russians” is America’s top trend on Twitter at the time of this writing because of a Mueller indictment of 13 alleged members of a Russian troll farm, those nefarious supervillains who posted pictures of puppies and promoted Bernie Sanders to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. election.”

Predictably, no evidence is added to cohesively tie the establishment Russia narrative together with allegations of Russia hacking the Democratic Party and giving their emails to WikiLeaks, meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. at Trump Tower, any shenanigans with well-hydrated Russian prostitutes, or indeed anything tying the troll farm to Trump or the Russian government at all.

The focus instead is on people disguising their identities to troll Americans on social media, which we have now learned constitutes a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.” As Disobedient Media’s Elizabeth Lea Vos rightly points out, it is also behavior that the Hillary Clinton campaign is known to have funded and engaged in extensively.

In response to this underwhelming revelation, Democrats and Never-Trumpers are howling for new Cold War escalations with Russia. This despite the fact that this administration has already killed Russians in Syria, greatly escalated nuclear tensions with Russia, allowed the sale of arms to Ukraine (a move Obama refused for fear of angering Moscow), established a permanent military presence in Syria with the goal of effecting regime change, forced RT and Sputnik to register as foreign agents, expanded NATO with the addition of Montenegro, assigned Russia hawk Kurt Volker as special representative to Ukraine, shut down a Russian consulate in San Francisco and expelled Russian diplomats as part of continued back-and-forth hostile diplomatic exchanges.

We are already at an extremely dangerous point in the ongoing trend of continuous escalations with a country that is armed with thousands of nuclear warheads. And these deranged lunatics want more.

“Special Counsel Mueller’s indictments are further proof that Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to interfere with our elections, with the goal of tipping the outcome,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Given these indictments, @realDonaldTrump should implement the sanctions that Congress passed immediately.”

Steven Schmidt, MSNBC analyst and former strategist for George W. Bush and John McCain, said that the word “meddling” is not a sufficiently inflammatory word, because “What Russia did is ATTACK the United States. Trump and the Corrupted GOP majority refuse to defend the sovereignty of the country from this outside THREAT from a hostile state actor.”

Congressmen Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff, Senator Bernie Sanders, popular commentators Preet Bharara and Joe Walsh have all joined in the pile-on, along with many, many others, all demanding that the president do more to escalate tensions with Russia even further than he already has.

This is exactly what renowned U.S.-Russian relations expert Stephen Cohen has been warning of: an extremely dangerous mixture of continually escalating Cold War tensions coexisting with hot proxy wars between two nuclear superpowers, with a president facing immense political pressures to keep advancing and never, ever back down. A narcissist in the White House being baited by his political enemies into a game of nuclear “chicken,” without the ability to swerve when necessary.

Meanwhile what are Republicans talking about? Why, they’re all crowing about the fact that these Russia revelations began on Obama’s watch and don’t show collusion, of course.

Do you see what is happening here? There is never, ever going to be any proof of Trump-Russia collusion, because that has never been what this is about. We’ve talked about this before: America’s unelected power establishment doesn’t care about impeaching Trump, it cares about hobbling Russia in order to prevent the rise of a potential rival superpower in its ally China. All this lunacy makes perfect sense when you realize this. The U.S. deep state is using the hysterical cult of anti-Trumpism to manufacture support for increasing escalations with Russia, and the anti-Trumpists are playing right along under the delusion that pushing for moves against Russia will hurt Trump.

Well they will not hurt Trump, because there has never been any Trump-Russia collusion. If there had been it would have been picked up by America’s sprawling surveillance networks and leaked to the Washington Post before the end of 2016, and if Trump were a Putin puppet he wouldn’t be continually escalating toward direct conflict with Russia in ways his predecessor Obama never would have dreamed of doing. They aren’t hurting Trump with these loud cries for increased sanctions and hawkishness, they’re imperiling us all.

Democrats, it is time to stop letting them bait you into calling for even more escalations with a nuclear superpower and start calling for detente instead. Republicans, it is time for you to stop putting partisan politics ahead of the survival of our species and start pushing against these dangerous escalations that your president has been playing right along with. These escalations are extremely dangerous and getting ever more so, and in the name of all that is holy I implore you to stop before the unthinkable happens.

On my knees I beg you all to stop this madness, for the sake of my children and yours. You lunatics on both sides of the political divide are going to get us all killed. In God’s name, stop. Please.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




NYT’s ‘Really Weird’ Russiagate Story

Exclusive: The Russiagate narrative has taken a turn toward the surreal with a report in the New York Times alleging that U.S. spies paid a “shadowy Russian” $100,000 for dirt on the president, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

A Russian national with ties to cybercrime and Russian intelligence snookered U.S. spooks out of $100,000 by promising them fresh dirt on Donald Trump.

That’s the takeaway from a strange front-page article that ran in last weekend’s New York Times, “U.S. Spies, Seeking to Retrieve Cyberweapons, Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets.” That’s not all the article said, but the rest was so convoluted and implausible that it can be safely discounted.

Even Matthew Rosenberg, the Times reporter who wrote the story, described it as “a really weird one” in an interview with Slate. More than merely weird, however, the piece offers valuable insight into the parallel universe that is Russiagate, one in which logic is absent, neo-McCarthyism is rampant, and evidence means whatever the corporate press wants it to mean.

The article says that the U.S. spies were seeking cyberweapons stolen from the National Security Agency by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers in 2016, but that a “shadowy Russian” kept pushing instead evidence buttressing the “golden showers” episode in the Christopher Steele dossier. The spooks were not interested because they didn’t want to soil their hands with “the stuff of tabloid gossip pages” and because they feared that the Russian was trying to drive a wedge between the intelligence agencies and the White House.  As the article puts it:

“The United States intelligence officials … were wary of being entangled in a Russian operation to create discord inside the American government.  They were also fearful of political fallout in Washington if they were seen to be buying scurrilous information on the president.”

But Rosenberg’s account raises a number of questions. One is why the spooks were “desperately” trying to retrieve stolen NSA hacking tools in the first place when, as cyber-security experts have warned, stolen malware is essentially irretrievable for the simple reason that it can be copied endlessly in an instant.  Once a secret is out, the damage is done – there’s no getting it back.

Another concerns why U.S. agents would continue taking “multiple deliveries” of anti-Trump data beginning last October that “they made clear that they did not want.”  Was the Russian unusually insistent? Or were the Americans less adamant than Rosenberg would have us believe?

Indeed, the article says that “at least four Russians with espionage and underworld connections have appeared in Central and Eastern Europe, offering to sell kompromat [i.e. compromising material] to American political operatives, private investigators and spies that would corroborate the [Steele] dossier.”  So it seems that demand for kompromat is as strong as it was in October 2016 when former FBI Director James Comey used the same unsubstantiated gossip to obtain a secret warrant to eavesdrop on an ex-Trump campaign aide named Carter Page.

Since the story about buying back malware doesn’t make sense, could it be that kompromat is what the Americans were seeking all along? This is not the sort of thing that Trump would like to hear. The article says that Russia is out to spread material that will “cast doubt on the federal and congressional investigations into the Russian meddling” even though kompromat buttressing the Steele dossier would do the opposite. It says that the negotiations “ended this year with American spies chasing the Russian out of Western Europe, warning him not to return if he valued his freedom,” and that the anti-Trump material remains in the hands of an American go-between “who has secured it in Europe.”

Which raises more questions still.  Can U.S. spies really lock up anyone they wish?  And where, precisely, did the American stash the kompromat – and to what end? Rosenberg indicates that he also interviewed the purported Russian agent. But nowhere do we get his side of the story concerning what the Americans were really after.

The results are incoherent even by Times standards. One reason may be that Rosenberg dashed the story off at breakneck speed after long-time intelligence writer and former Times-man James Risen published a similar piece a few hours earlier in The Intercept.  But another is that the Russiagate narrative that the Times is pushing is itself incoherent and that Rosenberg is guilty of nothing more than toeing the company line.

He let the cat out of the bag in the Slate interview, which ran shortly after the story appeared on the Times website:

“Spy games happen all the time, but you need a confluence of circumstances [for this]: You need an election with Russian interference. You then need a president to win and deny interference ever happened and say there is no collusion. You need the Russians to say, ‘Oh, wow, let’s take advantage of this. This really worked out. Let’s make it worse and start selling this stuff off.’”

Rosenberg continued: “What the Russians were committed to – what we really know – is that they were committed to messing with American democracy. … If their goal here is messing with American democracy, then getting some of this stuff out on Donald Trump, if it’s real, that’s worse, weakens him further, intensifies the political mess we are in. So there are reasons to do that. Plus, if you can get this into American consciousness through American spy agencies or law enforcement, you will have set off the White House versus its own spies in a way that if you are a Russian spy, that’s great. Disorder and dissension in the ranks of your enemies.”

This is a reporter’s mind on drugs, specifically the drug of boundless anti-Russian paranoia. But no matter how often the Times assures its readers that the Russians are out to get us, that they’re messing with our democracy, that they sow “disorder and dissension” wherever they can because that’s what Russians do – actual evidence, the stuff that sober minds require before making a judgment, remains remarkably thin.

Take Russian manipulation of social media, the subject of last November’s bizarre Moscow-style “show trial” in which attorneys for Facebook, Twitter, and Google were hauled before a congressional panel to confess their sins in allowing the Kremlin to use their platforms to subvert the state.  But the subversive Facebook ads that the alleged Kremlin-linked St. Petersburg “troll factory” known as the Internet Research Agency purchased added up to just $46,000 worth by Election Day, a drop in the bucket compared to the $81 million spent by the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

Politically, moreover, the ads were all over the map, some leaning right, some leaning left, and in one case, a page featuring photos of cute puppies, leaning in no apparent direction at all. Last September, The Atlantic tried to figure out what the Internet Research Agency was up to.  But after some 1,200 words of huffing and puffing, the best the magazine could come up with was that the ad campaign “was too small to seriously influence the election, but too big to be an afterthought.”

In other words, no one knows.  In a rare moment of journalistic sanity, Washington Post reporter Philip Bump observed that the ad buys were “often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.”

As for Twitter, Bump notes that the 2,700-plus accounts believed to be Russian-linked generated just 202,000 tweets between January 2011 and August 2017, a no-less-negligible sum next to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months prior to Election Day.

Even if all this shows the secret hand of the Kremlin at work, the effort pales in comparison to that of Israel (AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is among the most powerful lobbies in Washington); the Arab gulf states (which finance virtually every major think tank in DC); Ukraine (which has proved surprisingly effective in swinging official opinion), and so forth.

It barely merits a four-graph story on page A16.  Then there is the alleged Kremlin hack of the Democratic National Committee, the ur-crime that triggered the anti-Russian storm in the first place.

The January 2017 formal assessment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper contained nothing by way of evidence that a break-in had occurred or that Russian intelligence was responsible. (WikiLeaks, the recipient of the purloined emails, continues to insist that it was an inside leak.)  Even the Times conceded that the report was “unlikely to convince skeptics.”

Since the FBI never inspected the DNC’s computers first-hand, the only evidence comes from an Irvine, California, cyber-security firm known as CrowdStrike whose chief technical officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, a well-known Putin-phobe, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank that is also vehemently anti-Russian as well as a close Hillary Clinton ally.

Thus, Putin-basher Clinton hired Putin-basher Alperovitch to investigate an alleged electronic heist, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, his company concluded that guilty party was … Vladimir Putin. Amazing! Since then, a small army of internet critics has chipped away at CrowdStrike for praising the hackers as among the best in the business yet declaring in the same breath that they gave themselves away by uploading a document in the name of “Felix Edmundovich,” i.e. Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police.

As noted cyber-security expert Jeffrey Carr observed with regard to Russia’s two main intelligence agencies: “Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker.  Someone clearly had a wicked sense of humor.”

None of this proves that Russian intelligence didn’t hack the DNC, merely that a lot more evidence is needed before accepting the word of professional CIA disinformation experts. But the Times lives in an evidence-free world in which Russians are guilty regardless of what they do. Whether they’re pro-Trump or anti, out to discredit the Mueller investigation or bolster it, the only thing that matters is that they’re intent on sowing discord – and that U.S. intelligence agencies are blameless upholders of the rule of law.

The reduction ad absurdum occurred a few days later when CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and other heavyweights testified before Congress that Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections is already underway.

“Throughout the entire [intelligence] community,” declared Coats, “we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year” – which, loosely translated, means that evidence that Russia is on the warpath is as sparse today as it was previously.  Since “President Trump continues to refuse to even acknowledge the malevolent Russian role,” a Times editorial concluded, the possibility that “he is giving Russia a green light to tamper with the 2018 elections … can no longer be dismissed out of hand.”

All that was needed was for Editorial Page Editor James Bennet to hold up a list of 205 known Communists toiling away in the State Department. Trump is a reactionary, a con man, a bully, and much else besides. But with remarkable accuracy, liberals are obsessively zeroing in on the one thing he’s not: a Russian agent.

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




Korean Olympic Diplomacy Moves Forward Despite U.S. Intransigence

An interview by Dennis J. Bernstein with writer, activist and regional expert, Kay Jay Noh, about the big-power politics swirling around the Olympic Games now being held in South Korea.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

By many accounts, the Koreans – North and South – have prevailed over the disruptive desires of the United States, coming together in a series of very public actions, clearly meant to turn down the political heat generated by President Donald Trump and the U.S. pressure for military action. This pressure can be seen as a continuation of President Barack Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” a policy that called for full U.S. dominance in the region, including by containing China and the new emerging regional powers through a set of expansive, coordinated, and aggressive military alliances with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries.

The high-profile actions taken by the North and the South – both acting independently of Washington – left U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pouting and twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines during some very effective international diplomacy. In this regard, there does indeed seem to be a new and genuine desire on the part of the president of South Korea to forge a more peaceful and cooperative relationship with the North, even though U.S. officials and commentators seem to be dead set against it, portraying the warming relations between North and South as an attempt by the North to subvert the long and close relationship with the South.

In congressional hearings this week, the moves toward North-South de-escalation were dismissed by a leading Republican, Sen. James Risch of Idaho, as a “smile campaign.”

“The South Korean people seem to have been charmed to some degree, some of them seem to have been captivated by it,” Risch fretted.

Meanwhile, on the media front, CBS reported that its rival network NBC “was forced to fire one of its Olympic analysts after he inexplicably said Koreans are grateful for Japan’s role in their economic development – while ignoring the one-time imperial power’s brutalization of the peninsula.”

I spoke to writer and regional expert, Kay Jay Noh, about the Olympics and the big-power politics swirling around the Olympic Games in Seoul. Noh is a special correspondent for Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome back Kay Jay Noh. We want to get to some of the bigger political issues but let’s start with a media story. We’ve heard that NBC fired one of its analysts because it turned out he didn’t have a clue about Korean history and ended up insulting Koreans while trying to somehow curry favor with Japan.

Kay Jay Noh: This commentator, Joshua Cooper Ramo, is the Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates and a supposed expert on the geopolitics and culture of Asia.  The history is that Korea was brutally colonized and subjugated by Japan for three and a half decades.  As the Japanese athletes were coming in, Ramo said “Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945.  But every Korean will tell you,” he went on to say, “that as a technical, cultural and economic example, Japan has been so important to the transformation of Korea.”

This didn’t go over well with Koreans.  As one Korean put it, “After decades of human rights violations, exploiting our resources and attempting to destroy our heritage, Japan is not in a position to expect our gratitude.”  This is just one example of the extraordinary ignorance surrounding Korea, by so-called “experts.”

DB: What do you think was the significance in terms of diplomacy between the North and the South?  You have the United States swearing up and down that this is a ploy by the North to get in the way of our tight relationship with the South Koreans.

KJN: As you know, the Winter Olympics are usually not as well attended as the summer games and not as much a source of interest for the general global audience.  But these Olympics, held in the South Korean county of PyeongChang, have reached out to the North Koreans.  And the North Koreans have responded.

In fact, they responded very rapidly, sending over 500 of their citizens, including a cheerleading squad, an orchestra, a Taekwondo demo team, the head of the North Korean assembly, 22 athletes, and most surprisingly, Kim Yo Jong.  Kim Yo Jong is a  high-ranking politburo member, and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister.  Just the fact of the North Koreans defying expectations and showing up was a propaganda coup.

The allegation was that the North Koreans were going to use the Olympics as a propaganda offensive. Actually, that battle was lost before it even started, because so much of the Western media has gone overboard to portray the North Koreans as brainwashed zombies or belligerent monsters.  So when these representatives of North Korea show up and they are not cowed zombies or desperate monsters, but rather vivacious, congenial, and self-possessed women, that shattered a lot of received stereotypes.

DB: It does seem that there is a strong spiritual push by the new leadership in the south to bring the two countries together.  There have been some pretty warm words, haven’t there?

KJN: Absolutely. To give some more background, although technically North Korea and the US are still at war, North Korea and South Korea signed a Treaty of Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Non-aggression in 1992.  The letter of that agreement has not always been observed and, especially during conservative administrations, the hostilities have escalated.  But the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae In, was the chief of staff of Roh Moo Hyun, who headed a progressive administration and worked very actively toward reconciliation with the North in a program known as the “Sunshine Policy.”

To a certain extent, this small break in the clouds is an attempt to return to that policy of reconciliation.  What is notable is the congeniality with which the hand was extended toward North Korea.  For example, when the North Korean and South Korean athletes entered the stadium as one team, under a single flag, a standing ovation erupted as 35,000 people rose to their feet in a celebration of this very powerful coming together.

DB: Just watching on my TV, I was totally moved.

KJN: The other thing that was notable was that Vice President Pence was the only person who did not stand up. Here’s a man who criticized African American football players for “taking the knee” and has said that sports should not be politicized.  An American writer in the centrist Korean Times described Pence’s gesture as “mean-spirited and stupid arrogance, making America look bad in the eyes of the world.”  Professor Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, called it “a new low in American bullying.”

DB: These Olympics come in the context of some pretty crazy policy on the part of the United States government.  The permanent war government wants this kind of policy because it helps the weapons industry.  Can these meetings at the Olympics mean anything in this context?

KJN: It’s hard to say right now.  There seems to have been a bit of an about-face on the part of Pence, some have said because the enormous criticism he has received.  He has now said that he is willing meet and talk with the North Koreans without preconditions. At the same time, he has said that he intends to maintain maximal pressure and that there are even more extreme sanctions in the pipeline.  Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon met with the sister of Kim Jong Un on four occasions over three days, including a performance by the North Korean Orchestra. During a state luncheon, Kim Yo Jong extended an invitation to President Moon from Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea for a summit meeting “at the earliest date possible.”

In the visitor’s book, she wrote:  “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul get closer in people’s hearts and move forward for the future of a mutually prosperous unification.”

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