Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad?

Special Report: Crossing a line from recklessness into madness, The New York Times published a front-page opus suggesting that Russia was behind social media criticism of Hillary Clinton, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

For those of us who have taught journalism or worked as editors, a sign that an article is the product of sloppy or dishonest journalism is that a key point will be declared as flat fact when it is unproven or a point in serious dispute – and it then becomes the foundation for other claims, building a story like a high-rise constructed on sand.

This use of speculation as fact is something to guard against particularly in the work of inexperienced or opinionated reporters. But what happens when this sort of unprofessional work tops page one of The New York Times one day as a major “investigative” article and reemerges the next day in even more strident form as a major Times editorial? Are we dealing then with an inept journalist who got carried away with his thesis or are we facing institutional corruption or even a collective madness driven by ideological fervor?

What is stunning about the lede story in last Friday’s print edition of The New York Times is that it offers no real evidence to support its provocative claim that – as the headline states – “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans” or its subhead: “Flooding Twitter and Facebook, Impostors Helped Fuel Anger in Polarized U.S.”

In the old days, this wildly speculative article, which spills over three pages, would have earned an F in a J-school class or gotten a rookie reporter a stern rebuke from a senior editor. But now such unprofessionalism is highlighted by The New York Times, which boasts that it is the standard-setter of American journalism, the nation’s “newspaper of record.”

In this case, it allows reporter Scott Shane to introduce his thesis by citing some Internet accounts that apparently used fake identities, but he ties none of them to the Russian government. Acting like he has minimal familiarity with the Internet – yes, a lot of people do use fake identities – Shane builds his case on the assumption that accounts that cited references to purloined Democratic emails must be somehow from an agent or a bot connected to the Kremlin.

For instance, Shane cites the fake identity of “Melvin Redick,” who suggested on June 8, 2016, that people visit DCLeaks which, a few days earlier, had posted some emails from prominent Americans, which Shane states as fact – not allegation – were “stolen … by Russian hackers.”

Shane then adds, also as flat fact, that “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

The Times’ Version

In other words, Shane tells us, “The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda.”

Besides the obvious point that very few Americans watch RT and/or Sputnik and that Shane offers no details about the alleged falsity of those “fire hose of stories,” let’s examine how his accusations are backed up:

“An investigation by The New York Times, and new research from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, reveals some of the mechanisms by which suspected Russian operators used Twitter and Facebook to spread anti-Clinton messages and promote the hacked material they had leaked. On Wednesday, Facebook officials disclosed that they had shut down several hundred accounts that they believe were created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin and used to buy $100,000 in ads pushing divisive issues during and after the American election campaign. On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages.”

Note the weasel words: “suspected”; “believe”; ‘linked”; “fingerprints.” When you see such equivocation, it means that these folks – both the Times and FireEye – don’t have hard evidence; they are speculating.

And it’s worth noting that the supposed “army of fake Americans” may amount to hundreds out of Facebook’s two billion or so monthly users and the $100,000 in ads compare to the company’s annual ad revenue of around $27 billion. (I’d do the math but my calculator doesn’t compute such tiny percentages.)

So, this “army” is really not an “army” and we don’t even know that it is “Russian.” But some readers might say that surely we know that the Kremlin did mastermind the hacking of Democratic emails!

That claim is supported by the Jan. 6 “intelligence community assessment” that was the work of what President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. But, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you hand-pick the analysts, you are hand-picking the conclusions.

Agreeing with Putin

But some still might protest that the Jan. 6 report surely presented convincing evidence of this serious charge about Russian President Vladimir Putin personally intervening in the U.S. election to help put Donald Trump in the White House. Well, as it turns out, not so much, and if you don’t believe me, we can call to the witness stand none other than New York Times reporter Scott Shane.

Shane wrote at the time: “What is missing from the [the Jan. 6] public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

So, even Scott Shane, the author of last Friday’s opus, recognized the lack of “hard evidence” to prove that the Russian government was behind the release of the Democratic emails, a claim that both Putin and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published a trove of the emails, have denied. While it is surely possible that Putin and Assange are lying or don’t know the facts, you might think that their denials would be relevant to this lengthy investigative article, which also could have benefited from some mention of Shane’s own skepticism of last January, but, hey, you don’t want inconvenient details to mess up a cool narrative.

Yet, if you struggle all the way to the end of last Friday’s article, you do find out how flimsy the Times’ case actually is. How, for instance, do we know that “Melvin Redick” is a Russian impostor posing as an American? The proof, according to Shane, is that “His posts were never personal, just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian worldview.”

As it turns out, the Times now operates with what must be called a neo-McCarthyistic approach for identifying people as Kremlin stooges, i.e., anyone who doubts the truthfulness of the State Department’s narratives on Syria, Ukraine and other international topics.

Unreliable Source

In the article’s last section, Shane acknowledges as much in citing one of his experts, “Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media.” Shane quotes Weisburd as admitting how hard it is to differentiate Americans who just might oppose Hillary Clinton because they didn’t think she’d make a good president from supposed Russian operatives: “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”

According to Shane, “Mr. Weisburd said he had labeled some Twitter accounts ‘Kremlin trolls’ based simply on their pro-Russia tweets and with no proof of Russian government ties. The Times contacted several such users, who insisted that they had come by their anti-American, pro-Russian views honestly, without payment or instructions from Moscow.”

One of Weisburd’s “Kremlin trolls” turned out to be 66-year-old Marilyn Justice who lives in Nova Scotia and who somehow reached the conclusion that “Hillary’s a warmonger.” During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, she reached another conclusion: that U.S. commentators were exhibiting a snide anti-Russia bias perhaps because they indeed were exhibiting a snide anti-Russia bias.

Shane tracked down another “Kremlin troll,” 48-year-old Marcel Sardo, a web producer in Zurich, Switzerland, who dares to dispute the West’s groupthink that Russia was responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and the State Department’s claims that the Syrian government used sarin gas in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, 2013.

Presumably, if you don’t toe the line on those dubious U.S. government narratives, you are part of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. (In both cases, there actually are serious reasons to doubt the Western groupthinks which again lack real evidence.)

But Shane accuses Sardo and his fellow-travelers of spreading “what American officials consider to be Russian disinformation on election hacking, Syria, Ukraine and more.” In other words, if you examine the evidence on MH-17 or the Syrian sarin case and conclude that the U.S. government’s claims are dubious if not downright false, you are somehow disloyal and making Russian officials “gleeful at their success,” as Shane puts it.

But what kind of a traitor are you if you quote Shane’s initial judgment after reading the Jan. 6 report on alleged Russian election meddling? What are you if you agree with his factual observation that the report lacked anything approaching “hard evidence”? That’s a point that also dovetails with what Vladimir Putin has been saying – that “IP addresses can be simply made up. … This is no proof”?

So is Scott Shane a “Kremlin troll,” too? Should the Times immediately fire him as a disloyal foreign agent? What if Putin says that 2 plus 2 equals 4 and your child is taught the same thing in elementary school, what does that say about public school teachers?

Out of such gibberish come the evils of McCarthyism and the death of the Enlightenment. Instead of encouraging a questioning citizenry, the new American paradigm is to silence debate and ridicule anyone who steps out of line.

You might have thought people would have learned something from the disastrous groupthink about Iraqi WMD, a canard that the Times and most of the U.S. mainstream media eagerly promoted.

But if you’re feeling generous and thinking that the Times’ editors must have been chastened by their Iraq-WMD fiasco but perhaps had a bad day last week and somehow allowed an egregious piece of journalism to lead their front page, your kind-heartedness would be shattered on Saturday when the Times’ editorial board penned a laudatory reprise of Scott Shane’s big scoop.

Stripping away even the few caveats that the article had included, the Times’ editors informed us that “a startling investigation by Scott Shane of The New York Times, and new research by the cybersecurity firm FireEye, now reveal, the Kremlin’s stealth intrusion into the election was far broader and more complex, involving a cyberarmy of bloggers posing as Americans and spreading propaganda and disinformation to an American electorate on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. …

“Now that the scheming is clear, Facebook and Twitter say they are reviewing the 2016 race and studying how to defend against such meddling in the future. … Facing the Russian challenge will involve complicated issues dealing with secret foreign efforts to undermine American free speech.”

But what is the real threat to “American free speech”? Is it the possibility that Russia – in a very mild imitation of what the U.S. government does all over the world – used some Web sites clandestinely to get out its side of various stories, an accusation against Russia that still lacks any real evidence?

Or is the bigger threat that the nearly year-long Russia-gate hysteria will be used to clamp down on Americans who dare question fact-lite or fact-free Official Narratives handed down by the State Department and The New York Times?

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).




U.N. Enablers of ‘Aggressive War’

Special Report: U.N. investigative reports, like a new one condemning Syria for alleged sarin use, are received as impartial and credible, but are often just more war propaganda from compromised bureaucrats, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Many people still want to believe that the United Nations engages in impartial investigations and thus is more trustworthy than, say, self-interested governments, whether Russia or the United States. But trust in U.N. agencies is no longer well placed; whatever independence they may have once had has been broken, a reality relevant to recent “investigations” of Syrian chemical weapons use.

There is also the larger issue of the United Nations’ peculiar silence about one of its primary and original responsibilities, shouldered after the horrors of World War II – to stop wars of aggression, which today include “regime change” wars organized, funded and armed by the United States and other Western powers, such as the Iraq invasion in 2003, the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, and a series of proxy wars including the ongoing Syrian conflict.

After World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunals declared that a “war of aggression … is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

That recognition became a guiding principle of the United Nations Charter, which specifically prohibits aggression or even threats of aggression against sovereign states.

The Charter declares in Article One that it is a chief U.N. purpose “to take effective collective measures … for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.” Article Two, which defines the appropriate behavior of U.N. members, adds that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…”

However, instead of enforcing this fundamental rule, the United Nations has, in effect, caved in to the political and financial pressure brought to bear by the United States and its allies. A similar disregard for international law also pervades the U.S. mainstream media and much of the European and Israeli press as well.

There is an assumption that the United States and its allies have the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world at anytime solely at their own discretion. Though U.S. diplomats and mainstream journalists still voice outrage when adversaries deviate from international law – such as denunciations of Russia over Ukraine’s civil war – there is silence or support when a U.S. president or, say, an Israeli prime minister orders military strikes inside another country. Then, we hear only justifications for these attacks.

Shielding Israel

For instance, on Friday, The New York Times published an article about Israel conducting a bombing raid inside Syria that reportedly killed two Syrians. The article is notable because it contains not a single reference to international law and Israel’s clear-cut violation of it. Instead, the article amounts to a lengthy rationalization for Israel’s aggression, framing the attacks as Israeli self-defense or, as the Times put it, “an escalation of Israel’s efforts to prevent its enemies from gaining access to sophisticated weapons.”

The article also contains no reference to the fact that Israel maintains a sophisticated nuclear arsenal and is known to possess chemical and biological weapons as well. Implicit in the Times article is that the U.S. and Israel live under one set of rules while countries on the U.S.-Israeli enemies list must abide by another. Not to state the obvious but this is a clear violation of the journalistic principle of objectivity.

But the Times is far from alone in applying endless double standards. Hypocrisy now permeates international agencies, including the United Nations, which instead of pressing for accountability in cases of U.S. or Israeli aggression has become an aider and abettor, issuing one-sided reports that justify further aggression while doing little or nothing to stop U.S.-backed acts of aggression.

For instance, there was no serious demand that U.S. and British leaders who organized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, should face any accountability for committing the “supreme international crime” of an aggressive war. As far as the U.N. is concerned, war-crimes tribunals are for the little guys.

This breakdown in the integrity of the U.N. and related agencies has developed over the past few decades as one U.S. administration after another has exploited U.S. clout as the world’s “unipolar power” to ensure that international bureaucrats conform to U.S. interests. Any U.N. official who deviates from this unwritten rule can expect to have his or her reputation besmirched and career truncated.

So, while harshly critical of alleged abuses by the Syrian military, U.N. officials are notoriously silent when it comes to condemning the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and other countries that have been “covertly” backing anti-government “rebels” who have engaged in grave crimes against humanity in Syria.

The U.S. and its allies have even mounted overt military operations inside Syrian territory, including airstrikes against the Syrian military and its allies, without permission of the internationally recognized government in Damascus. Yet, the U.N. does nothing to curtail or condemn these clear violations of its own Charter.

Breaking the Independence

The reason is that, for much of this century, the U.S. government has worked to bring key agencies, such as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), under U.S. control and domination.

This drive to neutralize the U.N.’s independence gained powerful momentum after the 9/11 attacks and President George W. Bush’s launching of his “global war on terror.” But this effort continued under President Obama and now under President Trump.

In 2002, after opening the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and effectively waiving the Geneva Convention’s protections for prisoners of war, Bush bristled at criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary C. Robinson.

Soon, Robinson was targeted for removal. Her fierce independence, which also included criticism of Israel, was unacceptable. The Bush administration lobbied hard against her reappointment, leading to her retirement in 2002.

Also, in 2002, the Bush administration engineered the firing of OPCW’s Director General Jose Mauricio Bustani who was viewed as an obstacle to the U.S. plans for invading Iraq.

Bustani, who had been reelected unanimously to the post less than a year earlier, described his removal in a 2013 interview with Marlise Simons of The New York Times, citing how Bush’s emissary, Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, marched into Bustani’s office and announced that he (Bustani) would be fired.

“The story behind [Bustani’s] ouster has been the subject of interpretation and speculation for years, and Mr. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, has kept a low profile since then,” wrote Simons. “But with the agency [OPCW] thrust into the spotlight with news of the Nobel [Peace] Prize [in October 2013], Mr. Bustani agreed to discuss what he said was the real reason: the Bush administration’s fear that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would conflict with Washington’s rationale for invading it. Several officials involved in the events, some speaking publicly about them for the first time, confirmed his account.”

The official U.S. explanation for getting rid of Bustani was incompetence, but Bustani and the other diplomats close to the case reported that Bustani’s real offense was drawing Iraq into acceptance of the OPCW’s conventions for eliminating chemical weapons, just as the Bush administration was planning to pin its propaganda campaign for invading Iraq on the country’s alleged secret stockpile of WMD.

Bustani’s ouster gave President Bush a clearer path to the invasion by letting him frighten Americans with the prospect of Iraq sharing its chemical weapons and possibly a nuclear bomb with Al Qaeda terrorists.

Dismissing Iraq’s insistence that it had destroyed its chemical weapons and didn’t have a nuclear weapons project, Bush launched the invasion in March 2003, only for the world to discover later that the Iraqi government was telling the truth.

Compliant Replacements

In comparison to the independent-minded Bustani, the biography of the current OPCW director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, a career Turkish diplomat, suggests that the OPCW could be expected to slant its case against the Syrian government in the current Syrian conflict.

Not only has Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, been a key player in supporting the proxy war to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Uzumcu also served as Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, which has long sought regime change in Syria and has publicly come out in favor of the anti-government rebels.

Another one-time thorn in the side of the U.S. “unipolar power” was the IAEA when it was under the control of Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian. The IAEA challenged the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq having a nuclear program, when one really didn’t exist.

However, being right is no protection when U.S. officials want to bring an agency into line with U.S. policy and propaganda. So, early in the Obama administration – as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pushing for a hardline on Iran over its nascent nuclear program – the U.S. government engineered the insertion of a pliable Japanese diplomat, Yukiya Amano, into the IAEA’s top job.

Before his appointment, Amano had portrayed himself as an independent-minded fellow who was resisting U.S.-Israeli propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program. Yet behind the scenes, he was meeting with U.S. and Israeli officials to coordinate on how to serve their interests (even though Israel is an actual rogue nuclear state, not a hypothetical or fictional one).

Amano’s professed doubts about an Iranian nuclear-bomb project, which even the U.S. intelligence community agreed no longer existed, was just a theatrical device to intensify the later impact if he were to declare that Iran indeed was building a secret nuke, thus justifying the desire of Israeli leaders and American neoconservatives to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran.

But this U.S. ploy was spoiled by Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning’s leaking of hundreds of thousands of pages of U.S. diplomatic cables. Among them were reports on Amano’s hidden collaboration with U.S. and Israeli officials; his agreement with U.S. emissaries on who to fire and who to retain among IAEA officials; and even Amano’s request for additional U.S. financial contributions.

The U.S. embassy cables revealing the truth about Amano were published by the U.K. Guardian in 2011 (although ignored by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets). Despite the silence of the major U.S. news media, Internet outlets, such as Consortiumnews.com, highlighted the Amano cables, meaning that enough Americans knew the facts not to be fooled again. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Manning Help Avert War with Iran?”]

A Collective Collapse

So, over the years, there has been a collective collapse of the independence at U.N.-related agencies. An international bureaucrat who gets on the wrong side of the United States or Israel can expect to be fired and humiliated, while those who play ball can be assured of a comfortable life as a “respected” diplomat.

But this reality is little known to most Americans so they are still inclined to be influenced when a “U.N. investigation” reaches some conclusion condemning some country that already is on the receiving end of negative U.S. propaganda.

The New York Times, CNN and other major U.S. news outlets are sure to trumpet these “findings” with great seriousness and respect and to treat any remaining doubters as outside the mainstream. Of course, there’s an entirely different response on the rare occasion when some brave or foolhardy human rights bureaucrat criticizes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Then, the U.N. finding is just a sign of anti-Israeli bias and should be discounted.

In the far more frequent cases when a U.N. report is in line with U.S. propaganda, American journalists almost never turn a critical eye toward the quality of the evidence or the leaps of logic. We saw that happen this week with a thinly sourced and highly dubious U.N. report blaming the Syrian government for an alleged sarin incident on April 4. A major contradiction in the evidence – testimony given to OPCW investigators undercutting the conclusion that a Syrian warplane could have dropped a sarin bomb – was brushed aside by the U.N. human rights investigators and was ignored by the Times and other major U.S. news outlets.

But what is perhaps most troubling is that these biased U.N. reports are now used to justify continued wars of aggression by stronger countries against weaker ones. So, instead of acting as a bulwark to protect the powerless from the powerful as the U.N. Charter intended, the U.N. bureaucracy has turned the original noble purpose of the institution on its head by becoming an enabler of the “supreme international crime,” wars of aggression.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “How US Pressure Bends UN Agencies.“]

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).




How ‘Regime Change’ Wars Led to Korea Crisis

Exclusive: The U.S.-led aggressions against Iraq and Libya are two war crimes that keep on costing, with their grim examples of what happens to leaders who get rid of WMDs driving the scary showdown with North Korea, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

It is a popular meme in the U.S. media to say that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “crazy” as he undertakes to develop a nuclear bomb and a missile capacity to deliver it, but he is actually working from a cold logic dictated by the U.S. government’s aggressive wars and lack of integrity.

Indeed, the current North Korea crisis, which could end up killing millions of people, can be viewed as a follow-on disaster to President George W. Bush’s Iraq War and President Barack Obama’s Libyan intervention. Those wars came after the leaders of Iraq and Libya had dismantled their dangerous weapons programs, leaving their countries virtually powerless when the U.S. government chose to invade.

In both cases, the U.S. government also exploited its power over global information to spread lies about the targeted regimes as justification for the invasions — and the world community failed to do anything to block the U.S. aggressions.

And, on a grim personal note, the two leaders, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, were then brutally murdered, Hussein by hanging and Gaddafi by a mob that first sodomized him with a knife.

So, the neoconservatives who promoted the Iraq invasion supposedly to protect the world from Iraq’s alleged WMDs — and the liberal interventionists who pushed the Libya invasion based on false humanitarian claims — may now share in the horrific possibility that millions of people in North Korea, South Korea, Japan and maybe elsewhere could die from real WMDs launched by North Korea and/or by the United States.

Washington foreign policy “experts” who fault President Trump’s erratic and bellicose approach toward this crisis may want to look in the mirror and consider how they contributed to the mess by ignoring the predictable consequences from the Iraq and Libya invasions.

Yes, I know, at the time it was so exciting to celebrate the Bush Doctrine of preemptive wars even over a “one percent” suspicion that a “rogue state” like Iraq might share WMDs with terrorists — or the Clinton Doctrine hailed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s acolytes enamored by her application of “smart power” to achieve “regime change” in Libya.

However, as we now know, both wars were built upon lies. Iraq did not possess WMD stockpiles as the Bush administration claimed, and Libya was not engaged in mass murder of civilians in rebellious areas in the eastern part of the country as the Obama administration claimed.

Post-invasion investigations knocked down Bush’s WMD myth in Iraq, and a British parliamentary inquiry concluded that Western governments misrepresented the situation in eastern Libya where Gaddafi forces were targeting armed rebels but not indiscriminately killing civilians.

But those belated fact-finding missions were no comfort to either Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, nor to their countries, which have seen mass slaughters resulting from the U.S.-sponsored invasions and today amount to failed states.

There also has been virtually no accountability for the war crimes committed by the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush and Obama both ended up serving two terms as President. None of Bush’s senior advisers were punished – and Hillary Clinton received the 2016 Democratic Party’s nomination for President.

As for the U.S. mainstream media, which behaved as boosters for both invasions, pretty much all of the journalistic war advocates have continued on with their glorious careers. To excuse their unprofessional behavior, some even have pushed revisionist lies, such as the popular but false claim that Saddam Hussein was to blame because he pretended that he did have WMDs – when the truth is that his government submitted a detailed 12,000-page report to the United Nations in December 2002 describing how the WMDs had been destroyed (though that accurate account was widely mocked and ultimately ignored).

Pervasive Dishonesty

The dishonesty that now pervades the U.S. government and the U.S. mainstream media represents another contributing factor to the North Korean crisis. What sensible person anywhere on the planet would trust U.S. assurances? Who would believe what the U.S. government says, except, of course, the U.S. mainstream media?

Remember also that North Korea’s nuclear program had largely been mothballed before George W. Bush delivered his “axis of evil” speech in January 2002, which linked Iran and Iraq – then bitter enemies – with North Korea. After that, North Korea withdrew from earlier agreements on limiting its nuclear development and began serious work on a bomb.

Yet, while North Korea moved toward a form of mutual assured destruction, Iraq and Libya chose a different path.

In Iraq, to head off a threatened U.S.-led invasion, Hussein’s government sought to convince the international community that it had lived up to its commitments regarding the destruction of its WMD arsenal and programs. Besides the detailed declaration, Iraq gave U.N. weapons inspectors wide latitude to search on the ground.

But Bush cut short the inspection efforts in March 2003 and launched his “shock and awe” invasion, which led to the collapse of Hussein’s regime and the dictator’s eventual capture and hanging.

Gaddafi’s Gestures

In Libya, Gaddafi also sought to cooperate with international demands regarding WMDs. In late 2003, he announced that his country would eliminate its unconventional weapons programs, including a nascent nuclear project.

Gaddafi also sought to get Libya out from under economic sanctions by taking responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Scotland, although he and his government continued to deny carrying out the terror attack that killed 270 people.

But these efforts to normalize Libya’s relations with the West failed to protect him or his country. In 2011 when Islamic militants staged an uprising around Benghazi, Gaddafi moved to crush it, and Secretary of State Clinton eagerly joined with some European countries in seeking military intervention to destroy Gaddafi’s regime.

The United Nations Security Council approved a plan for the humanitarian protection of civilians in and around Benghazi, but the Obama administration and its European allies exploited that opening to mount a full-scale “regime change” war.

Prominent news personalities, such as MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, cheered on the war with the claim that Gaddafi had American “blood on his hands” over the Pan Am 103 case because he had accepted responsibility. The fact that his government continued to deny actual guilt – and the international conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a judicial travesty – was ignored. Almost no one in the West dared question the longtime groupthink of Libyan guilt.

By October 2011, Gaddafi had fled Tripoli and was captured by rebels in Sirte. He was tortured, sodomized with a knife and then executed. Clinton, whose aides felt she should claim credit for Gaddafi’s overthrow as part of a Clinton Doctrine, celebrated his murder with a laugh and a quip, “We came; we saw; he died.”

But Gaddafi’s warnings about Islamist terrorists in Benghazi came back to haunt Clinton when on Sept. 11, 2012, militants attacked the U.S. consulate and CIA station there, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The obsessive Republican investigation into the Benghazi attack failed to demonstrate many of the lurid claims about Clinton’s negligence, but it did surface the fact that she had used a private server for her official State Department emails, which, in turn, led to an FBI investigation which severely damaged her 2016 presidential run.

Lessons Learned

Meanwhile, back in North Korea, the young dictator Kim Jong Un was taking all this history in. According to numerous sources, he concluded that his and North Korea’s only safeguard would be a viable nuclear deterrent to stave off another U.S.-sponsored “regime change” war — with him meeting a similar fate as was dealt to Hussein and Gaddafi.

Since then, Kim and his advisers have made clear that the surrender of North Korea’s small nuclear arsenal is off the table. They make the understandable point that the United States has shown bad faith in other cases in which leaders have given up their WMDs in compliance with international demands and then saw their countries invaded and faced grisly executions themselves.

Now, the world faces a predicament in which an inexperienced and intemperate President Trump confronts a crisis that his two predecessors helped to create and make worse. Trump has threatened “fire and fury” like the world has never seen, suggesting a nuclear strike on North Korea, which, in turn, has vowed to retaliate.

Millions of people on the Korean peninsula and Japan – and possibly elsewhere – could die in such a conflagration. The world’s economy could be severely shaken, given Japan’s and South Korea’s industrial might and the size of their consumer markets.

If such a horror does come to pass, the U.S. government and the U.S. mainstream media will surely revert to their standard explanation that Kim was simply “crazy” and brought this destruction on himself. Trump’s liberal critics also might attack Trump for bungling the diplomacy.

But the truth is that many of Washington’s elite policymakers – both on the Republican and Democratic sides – will share in the blame. And so too should the U.S. mainstream media.

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).




The Last of the Mad Pirates?

Exclusive: President Trump’s erratic behavior and careless bellicosity could have dire consequences for the world, but he also demonstrates the need to rethink America’s global power, notes David Marks.

By David Marks

There is clear evidence of a world increasingly steeped in conflict and violence: The degradation of U.S.-Russian relations, territorial tensions in the South China Sea, the hostile rhetoric between North Korea and the United States, an escalation of the border conflict between China and India, growing tension between Israel and Iran, and the continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine; among other hostilities around the globe yielding death and destruction.

Yet there is some indication that what we may be witnessing is darkness before a new dawn.

In his historical essay of 1968, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller, futurist and inventor of the geodesic dome, describes the conquest and colonization of the planet by Europeans as the age of the great pirates. He marks the end of that era with World War I, followed with a subsequent attempt by lesser pirates taking advantage of a time when the planet’s fate was precarious.

Fuller concluded that the later events of the Twentieth Century and beyond would be determined by the wisdom and strength of those who recognized that Spaceship Earth has limited resources that need to be appreciated and protected. As with others who consider our predicament, he saw only two possibilities:

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”

The reign of the last of the pirates in their final self-destructive, single-minded grasp for profits would either destroy human life as we know it or be countered with a new sustainable relationship with the Earth.

The struggle between the conflict generating profiteers and those who recognize that reducing conflict is the only path to sustaining human life on the planet, is coming to a head. Despite hard evidence that environmental traumas are increasing and will dominate the near future, the modern pirates are in defiant denial, leading their final charge against anything that might get in the way of gargantuan treasure chests. They must lie, cheat, pillage or kill in order to maintain the facade that everything is okay with the planet.

One of the most critical tools of the great pirates and their modern heirs is the ability to prey on the ignorant and misinformed.

The pirates of old applied the sword to abscond with valuables; and more often committed genocide to steal land and resources from the indigenous.

Propaganda Power 

Modern pirates inherited these tools and became specialists in others. They deceive, entice and encourage scapegoating to obtain treasures or protect their fortunes. Ignorance is fertile ground for their work. Anyone opposing these marauders and their skewed vision of the world become the objects of derision, ridicule and threats of violence.

Yes, this tale may sound familiar as we watch world events unfold. In that sense, the Trump presidency is a dramatic test of the planet’s fate; the last desperate, inane, final gasps of piracy confront us all.

Some recent U.S. Presidents, other world leaders, corporations and industrialists bear some resemblance to the pirates of old, and certainly there are current conflicts that are fueled outside the scope of U.S. influence. But Trump is straight out of Central Casting. And in contrast to his self-aggrandizement, he is not the heroic leader, but rather the mad, despised black pirate awash in his own darkness and loathing.

The glimmer of light comes because President Trump, pirate extraordinaire, is unwittingly doing everything to ensure that no one will ever tolerate a pirate again.

Because he is great at alienating others, Trump’s enemies begin to unite. Some of his previous supporters and loyalists have mutinied in reaction to his unwillingness to condemn racism and his willingness to pardon political allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently spoke an amazing phrase to encapsulate and isolate the so-called leader of the free world: “The President speaks for himself.”

The greatest danger, which was noted by some before he was elected and is just being recognized by those who have been on board his ship until now, is Trump’s proclivity to embrace violence, however and wherever it might suit him, such as his rush-to-judgment missile strike against a Syrian airbase in April. Many an eyebrow was raised at Trump’s “fire and fury like the world has never seen” threat against North Korea – suggesting a nuclear strike – but very few have broached the touchy subject of taking away his role as commander in chief, including his nuclear sword, via impeachment or the Twenty-fifth Amendment’s provision for declaring the President “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” (requiring a finding by the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet).

A Pattern of Violence

Veiled hope percolates that Trump’s words are no more than bluster – and it must be acknowledged that Trump’s predecessors resorted to violence repeatedly around the world, including Nobel Peace laureate Barack Obama, who acknowledged bombing seven countries, and George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and lusted for more wars, and that Trump’s rival last year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, may have surpassed even Trump in her hawkishness, having pushed for the invasion of Libya in 2011 and supporting the bloody proxy war in Syria.

But the current mad pirate, if nothing else, excels at unpredictability. The world watches in amazement as a buccaneer steers the most powerful ship on the planet with egoistic lunacy. How might this precarious tale have a happy end?

If we manage to survive these dangers, the Trump presidency could engender a new era of consensus. Perhaps with the maddest of the pirates gone, recognition of the causes of his ascendency might be considered. First and foremost: the last U.S. presidential election presented only a choice between an unsustainable status quo and a role of the dice.

In that sense, it is not enough for Trump simply to be replaced by another pirate, even one with a calmer disposition and a better vocabulary. For the U.S., a period of serious self-criticism is warranted. Without that, it is hard to envision how candidates seeking a more peaceful future can succeed.

President Trump’s crass destructiveness – and the more suave advocacy of violence by Bush, Obama and Clinton – should be a mirror for all Americans to reflect upon. The image of Trump is more garish and thus more obvious in its ugliness, but that may finally shake Americans of all ideological persuasions awake in the recognition of the viciousness that has absorbed American politics and society.

Trump’s unintended contribution is that he makes obvious how dangerous it is for the planet to have mad pirates at the helm. He has given re-birth to a concept that Fuller succinctly expressed: If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference.”

Perhaps – once Americans are awake to this reality – simple things might be prioritized; like reducing violence between nations and religions, reversing the abuses that have bruised the planet and polluted its atmosphere. And maybe working to ensure that everyone on Spaceship Earth is fed, sheltered and educated.

Unlikely, naive and idealistic you say? Perhaps, but the moral health of the United States is a strong influence on the rest of the world. The direction that the U.S. takes after Trump will be a key factor in future global stability, both politically and environmentally.

The veil hasn’t quite lifted and the pirates still dominate, but there’s potential for recognizing we’re all on a mother ship worth protecting.

David Marks is a veteran documentary filmmaker and investigative reporter. His work includes films for the BBC and PBS, including Nazi Gold, on the role of Switzerland in WWII and biographies of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.




The Possible Education of Donald Trump

Exclusive: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ratcheting up war tensions in Syria again, but President Trump reportedly is not happy with the threats as he shifts again toward resisting the neocons, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Despite the chaos and ugliness of the past seven months, President Trump has finally begun to turn U.S. foreign policy away from the neoconservative approach of endless war against an ever-expanding roster of enemies.

This change has occurred largely behind the scenes and has been obscured by Trump’s own bellicose language, such as his vow to “win” in Afghanistan, and his occasional lashing out with violence, such as his lethal Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian airfield.

Some Trump advisers also have downplayed the current shift because it may fuel the Democrats’ obsession with Russia-gate as a much-desired excuse to impeach Trump. Every peaceful move that Trump makes is called a sop to Russia and thus an excuse to reprise the dubious allegations about Russia somehow helping to elect him.

Yet, despite these external obstacles and Trump’s own erratic behavior, he has remained open to unconventional alternatives to what President Obama once criticized as the Washington “playbook,” i.e. favoring military solutions to international problems.

In this sense, Trump’s shallow understanding of the world has been a partial benefit in that he is not locked into to the usual Washington groupthinks – and he personally despises the prominent politicians and news executives who have sought to neuter him since his election. But his ignorance also prevents him from seeing how global crises often intersect and thus stops him from developing a cohesive or coherent doctrine.

Though little noted, arguably the most important foreign policy decision of Trump’s presidency was his termination of the CIA’s covert support for Syrian rebels and his cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to expand partial ceasefire zones in Syria.

By these actions, Trump has contributed to a sharp drop-off in the Syrian bloodshed. It now appears that the relatively secular Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is regaining control and that some Syrian refugees are returning to their homes. Syria is starting the difficult job of rebuilding shattered cities, such as Aleppo.

But Trump’s aversion to any new military adventures in Syria is being tested again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is threatening to attack Iranian and Hezbollah forces inside Syria.

Last week, according to Israeli press reports, a high-level delegation led by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen carried Netanyahu’s threat to the U.S. government. The Israeli leader surely has raised the same point directly in phone calls with Trump.

Tiring of Bibi

I was told that Trump, who appears to be growing weary of Netanyahu’s frequent demands and threats, flatly objected to an Israeli attack and brushed aside Israel’s alarm by noting that Netanyahu’s policies in supporting the rebels in Syria contributed to Israel’s current predicament by drawing in Iran and Hezbollah.

This week, Netanyahu personally traveled to Sochi, Russia, to confront Putin with the same blunt warning about Israel’s intention to attack targets inside Syria if Iran does not remove its forces.

A source familiar with the meeting told me that Putin responded with a sarcastic “good luck!” and that the Russians thought the swaggering Netanyahu appeared “unhinged.”

Still, a major Israeli attack on Iranian positions inside Syria would test Trump’s political toughness, since he would come under enormous pressure from Congress and the mainstream news media to intervene on Israel’s behalf. Indeed, realistically, Netanyahu must be counting on his ability to drag Trump into the conflict since Israel could not alone handle a potential Russian counterstrike.

But Netanyahu may be on somewhat thin ice since Trump apparently blames Israel’s top American supporters, the neocons, for much of his political troubles. They opposed him in the Republican primaries, tilted toward Hillary Clinton in the general election, and have pushed the Russia-gate affair to weaken him.

President Obama faced similar political pressures to fall in line behind Israel’s regional interests. That’s why Obama authorized the covert CIA program in Syria and other aid to the rebels though he was never an enthusiastic supporter – and also grew sick and tired of Netanyahu’s endless hectoring.

Obama acquiesced to the demands of Official Washington’s neocons and his own administration’s hawks – the likes of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, his successor John Brennan, and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power.

The Syrian conflict was part of a broader strategy favored by Washington’s neocons to overthrow or cripple regimes that were deemed troublesome to Israel. Originally, the neocons had envisioned removing the Assad dynasty soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Iran also on the “regime change” menu. But the disastrous Iraq War threw off the neocons’ timetable.

‘Regime Change’ Chaos

The Democratic Party’s liberal interventionists, who are closely allied with the Republican neocons, also tossed in Libya with the overthrow and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Then, weapons from Gaddafi’s stockpiles were shipped to Syria where they strengthened rebel fighters allied with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other Islamist groups.

Faced with this troubling reality – that the U.S.-backed “moderate rebels” were operating side by side with Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its allies – Washington’s neocons/liberal-hawks responded with sophisticated propaganda and devised clever talking points to justify what amounted to indirect assistance to terrorists.

The “regime change” advocates portrayed a black-and-white situation in Syria with Assad’s side wearing the black hats and various anti-Assad “activists” wearing the white hats (or literally White Helmets). The State Department and a complicit mainstream media disseminated horror stories about Assad and – when the reality about Al Qaeda’s role could no longer be hidden – that was spun in the rebels’ favor, too, by labeling Assad “a magnet for terrorists” (or later in cahoots with the Islamic State). For years, such arguments were much beloved in Official Washington.

But the human consequences of the Syrian conflict and other U.S.-driven “regime change” wars were horrific, spreading death and destruction across the already volatile Middle East and driving desperate refugees into Europe, where their presence provoked political instability.

By fall 2015, rebel advances in Syria – aided by a supply of powerful U.S. anti-tank missiles – forced Russia’s hand with Putin accepting Assad’s invitation to deploy Russian air power in support of the Syrian army and Iranian and Hezbollah militias. The course of the war soon turned to Assad’s advantage.

It’s unclear what Hillary Clinton might have done if she had won the White House in November 2016. Along with much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, she called repeatedly for imposing a “no-fly zone” in Syria to stop operations by the Syrian air force and Russia, a move that could have escalated the conflict into World War III.

But Trump – lacking Official Washington’s “sophistication” – couldn’t understand how eliminating Assad, who was leading the fight against the terrorist groups, would contribute to their eventual defeat. Trump also looked at the failure of similar arguments in Iraq and Libya, where “regime change” produced more chaos and generated more terrorism.

Pandering to Saudis/Israelis

However, in the early days of his presidency, the unsophisticated Trump lurched from one Middle East approach to another, initially following his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s grandiose thinking about recruiting Saudi Arabia to an “outside-in” strategy to settle the Israel-Palestine conflict, i.e., enlisting the Saudis to pressure the Palestinians into, more or less, letting Israel dictate a solution.

Kushner’s “outside-in” scheme was symbolically acted out with Trump making his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia and then to Israel in May. But I’m told that Trump eventually cooled to Kushner’s thinking and has come to see the Israeli-Saudi tandem as part of the region’s troubles, especially what he views as Saudi Arabia’s longstanding support for Al Qaeda and other terror groups.

Perhaps most significantly in that regard, Trump in July quietly abandoned the CIA’s covert war in Syria. In the U.S., some “regime change” advocates have complained about this “betrayal” of the rebel cause and some Democrats have tried to link Trump’s decision to their faltering Russia-gate “scandal,” i.e., by claiming that Trump was rewarding Putin for alleged election help.

But the bottom line is that Trump’s policy has contributed to the Syrian slaughter abating and the prospect of a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its Islamic State spinoff fading.

So, there has been a gradual education of Donald Trump, interrupted occasionally by his volatile temper and his succumbing to political pressure, such as when he rushed to judgment on April 4 and blamed the Syrian government for a chemical incident in the remote Al Qaeda-controlled village of Khan Sheikhoun.

Despite strong doubts in the U.S. intelligence community about Syria’s guilt – some evidence suggested one more staged “atrocity” by the rebels and their supporters – Trump on April 6 ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles fired at a Syrian air base, reportedly killing several soldiers and some civilians, including four children.

Trump boasted about his decision, contrasting it with Obama’s alleged wimpiness. And, naturally, Official Washington and the U.S. mainstream media not only accepted the claim of Syrian government guilt but praised Trump for pulling the trigger. Later, Hillary Clinton said if she were president, she would have been inclined to go further militarily by intervening with her “no-fly zone.”

As reckless and brutal as Trump’s missile strike was, it did provide him some cover for his July 7 meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany, which focused heavily on Syria, and also for his decision to pull the plug on the CIA’s covert war.

Saudi-backed Terror

I’m told Trump also has returned to his pre-election attitude about Saudi Arabia as a leading supporter of terror groups and a key provocateur in the region’s disorders, particularly because of its rivalry with Iran, a factor in both the Syrian and Yemeni wars.

Though Trump has recited Washington’s bipartisan (and benighted) mantra about Iran being the principal sponsor of terrorism, he appears to be moving toward a more honest view, recognizing the falsity of the neocon-driven propaganda about Iran.

Trump’s new coolness toward Saudi Arabia may have contributed to the recent warming of relations between the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and the Shiites of Iran, a sectarian conflict dating back 1,400 years. In a surprising move announced this week, the two countries plan an exchange of diplomatic visits.

Even in areas where Trump has engaged in reckless rhetoric, such as his “fire and fury” warning to North Korea, his behind-the-scenes policy appears more open to compromise and even accommodation. In the past week or so, the tensions with North Korea have eased amid backchannel outreach that may include the provision of food as an incentive for Pyongyang to halt its missile development and even open political talks with South Korea, according to a source close to these developments.

On Afghanistan, too, Trump may be playing a double game, giving a hawkish speech on Monday seeming to endorse an open-ended commitment to the near-16-year-old conflict, while quietly signaling a willingness to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban.

One alternative might be to accept a coalition government, involving the Taliban, with a U.S. withdrawal to a military base near enough to launch counterterrorism strikes if Al Qaeda or other international terror groups again locate in Afghanistan.

Many of Trump’s latest foreign policy initiatives reflect former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s hostility toward neoconservative interventionism. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon-Mobil chief executive, also shares a more pragmatic approach to foreign affairs than some of his more ideological predecessors.

Albeit still in their infancy, these policies represent a new realism in U.S. foreign policy that, in many ways, paralleled what President Obama favored but was often unwilling or unable to see through to its logical conclusions, given his fear of Netanyahu and the power of the neocons and their liberal-hawk allies.

Still, some of Obama’s most important decisions – not to launch a major military strike against Syria in August 2013 and to negotiate an agreement with Iran to constrain its nuclear program in 2013-15 – followed a similar path away from war, thus drawing condemnation from the Israeli-Saudi tandem and American neocons.

As a Republican who rose politically by pandering to the GOP “base” and its hatred of Obama, Trump rhetorically attacked Obama on both Syria and Iran, but may now be shifting toward similar positions. Gradually, Trump has come to recognize that the neocons and his other political enemies are trying to hobble and humiliate him – and ultimately to remove him from office.

The question is whether Trump’s instinct for survival finally will lead him to policies that blunt his enemies’ strategies or will cause him to succumb to their demands.

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).




Refusing to Learn Lessons from Libya

Exclusive: Official Washington never likes to admit a mistake no matter how grave or obvious. Too many Important People would look bad. So, the rationalizations never stop as with the Libyan fiasco, observes James W. Carden.

By James W. Carden

In recent weeks, the Washington Post’s Cairo bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan has published a series of remarkable dispatches from war-torn Libya, which is still reeling from the aftermath of NATO’s March 2011 intervention and the subsequent overthrow and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

On July 2, Raghavan reported on what amounts to Libya’s modern-day slave trade. According to his report, Libya is “now home to a thriving trade in humans. Unable to pay exorbitant smuggling fees or swindled by traffickers, some of the world’s most desperate people are being held as slaves, tortured or forced into prostitution.”

The numbers help tell the tale. “The number of migrants departing from Libya is surging,” writes Raghavan, “with more than 70,000 arriving in Italy so far this year, a 28 percent increase over the same period last year.”

On August 1, Raghavan returned to the pages of the Post with a disturbing portrait of life in Tripoli, reporting that: “Six years after the revolution that toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi, the mood in this volatile capital is a meld of hopelessness and gloom. Diplomatic and military efforts by the United States and its allies have failed to stabilize the nation; the denouement of the crisis remains far from clear. Most Libyans sense that the worst is yet to come.”

Raghavan notes that “Under Gaddafi, the oil-producing country was once one of the world’s wealthiest nations.” Under his rule, “Libyans enjoyed free health care, education and other benefits under the eccentric strongman’s brand of socialism.” It would be difficult not to see, Raghavan writes, “the insecurity that followed Gaddafi’s death has ripped apart the North African country.”

Taken together, Raghavan’s reports should come as a rude shock to stalwart supporters of NATO’s intervention in Libya. Yet the embarrassing fervor with which many embraced the intervention remains largely undiminished – with, as we will see, one notable exception.

An Upside-Down Meritocracy

Anne Marie Slaughter, who served as policy planning chief at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, emailed her former boss after the start of the NATO operation, to say: “I cannot imagine how exhausted you must be after this week, but I have never been prouder of having worked for you.”

Five months after the start of NATO operation against Gaddafi, Slaughter went public with her approval in an op-ed for the Financial Times titled “Why Libya Skeptics Were Proved Badly Wrong.” Proving, if nothing else, that the foreign policy establishment is a reverse meritocracy, Slaughter holds an endowed chair at Princeton and is also the well-compensated president of the influential Washington think tank New America.

President Obama’s decision to intervene received wide bipartisan support in the Congress and from media figures across the political spectrum, including Bill O’Reilly and Cenk Uyghur.

Yet the casus belli used to justify the intervention, as a U.K. parliamentary report made clear last September, was based on a lie: that the people of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi were in imminent danger of being slaughtered by Gaddafi’s forces.

The report, issued by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, states that “Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”

The report also noted that while “Many Western policymakers genuinely believed that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered his troops to massacre civilians in Benghazi … this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi. In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision.’”

Even as it became clear that the revolution had proved to be a disaster for the country, the arbiters of acceptable opinion in Washington continued to insist that NATO’s intervention was not only a success, but the right thing to do. It is a myth that has gained wide purchase among D.C.’s foreign policy cognoscenti, despite the judgment of former President Barack Obama, who famously described the intervention as “a shit show.”

Still Spinning

A full year after the commencement of NATO’s campaign against Gaddafi, former NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder and NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stravidis took to the pages of that reliable bellwether of establishment opinion, Foreign Affairs, to declare that “NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.”

According to Daalder and Stravidis, “the alliance responded rapidly to a deteriorating situation that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime.”

In 2016, a Clinton campaign press release justifying the ill-starred intervention, claimed “Qadhafi and his regime made perfectly clear what their plans were for dealing with those who stood up against his reign, using disgusting language in urging his backers to cleanse the country of these rebels. This was a humanitarian crisis.”

Astonishingly, the campaign “Factsheet” goes on to assert that, “there was no doubt that further atrocities were on the way, as Qadhafi’s forces storming towards the county’s second biggest city.” Yet there is, as both the U.K. parliamentary report and a Harvard study by Alan J. Kuperman found, no evidence for this whatsoever.

“Qaddafi did not perpetrate a ‘bloodbath’ in any of the cities that his forces recaptured from rebels prior to NATO intervention — including Ajdabiya, Bani Walid, Brega, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya, and much of Misurata — so there was,” writes Kuperman, “virtually no risk of such an outcome if he had been permitted to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi.”

Nevertheless, the myth persists. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid, the author of Islamic Exceptionalismcontinues to insist, against all evidence, that the intervention was a success.

“The Libya intervention was successful,” says Hamid, “The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.”

In this, Hamid is hardly alone. Left-activists in thrall to a Trotskyite vision of permanent revolution also continue to make the case that NATO’s intervention was a net positive for the country.

In a recent interview with In These Times, Leila Al-Shami claimed that “If Gaddafi had not fallen, Libya now would look very much like Syria. In reality, the situation in Libya is a million times better. Syrian refugees are fleeing to Libya. Far fewer people have been killed in Libya since Gaddafi’s falling than in Syria. Gaddafi being ousted was a success for the Libyan people.”

That danger in all this is that by refusing to learn the lessons of Libya (and Kosovo and Iraq and Syria) the U.S. foreign policy establishment will likely continue to find itself backing forces that seek to turn the greater Middle East into a fundamentalist Sunnistan, ruled by Sharia law, utterly hostile to religious pluralism, the rights of women, minorities and, naturally, U.S. national security interests in the region.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s Failed Libya ‘Doctrine.’”]

James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. Currently a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest.




The Agony of ‘Regime Change’ Refugees

Exclusive: There are positive signs of Syrians returning to Aleppo after the ouster of Al Qaeda’s militants. But the legacy of Western “regime change” wars continues to plague Europe and inflict human suffering, writes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

European nations have been thrown into a political crisis by the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming north from the Middle East and Africa. The number has grown in recent years, due to a mix of wars and poverty, resulting in a visible increase of the influx of foreigners across Europe, and a popular backlash that has political institutions scrambling to find a way to stem the flow and lessen the sense of emergency.

The problem is that the causes of the mass migration have deep roots that cannot be solved in the short-term; and even a medium- to long-term solution will require serious changes in foreign and economic policy for the entire Western world.

In September 2015, as the number of refugees from Syria increased due to the ongoing military conflict there, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprising announcement. Going against the grain of public opinion, in which anti-immigrant sentiment seemed to be rising rapidly, Merkel announced that her country would open its doors and accept hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers. Germany already has a large number of recent immigrants among its population, and the view was that a wealthy country with a population of over 80 million could certainly do its part to deal with the humanitarian crisis enveloping the Middle East.

The open attitude didn’t last long. In March 2016, Germany played a key role in reaching a deal with President Erdogan of Turkey, who in exchange for billions of euros, essentially closed the land route towards Europe through the Balkans. As a result, only the sea routes remained, with departures principally from Turkey, Egypt and Libya, making Greece and Italy the primary entry points to Europe. The routes have been further reduced over the past year, with the vast majority of departures currently originating in Libya.

Italy at Forefront

This has meant that in 2017 over 85 percent of total migrants headed towards Europe have arrived in Italy, a country that has led efforts to rescue people risking death in the Mediterranean in recent years. There have been ongoing negotiations with other European nations to relocate the migrants that are taken to Italian ports and lessen the burden on the country of entry, but the number of migrants relocated has been only a small portion of those that arrive.

As a result Italy, which is not particularly efficient in managing the new arrivals despite making significant strides in recent years, feels left alone to deal with a crisis that is straining its resources. One of the side effects is a palpable shift in public attitudes in this Catholic country, from openness to help those in need, to a feeling that the situation is out of control and that the identity of Europe is under threat from the constant influx of migrants from different cultures.

The Italian government is attempting to find a technical solution to reduce the flow across the sea, which includes negotiations with the various factions in Libya, a new code of conduct for NGOs working in the area, and tightening the rules for bringing migrants to Italian ports.

All of these measures address only the last link in the chain of migration from the Middle East and Africa though, and even if they were to succeed, would only block the flow from Libya – where migrants suffer horrendous conditions, including torture – while human traffickers would seek new routes to get around the obstacles put up by European governments.

The Larger Issue

The deeper problem to address is the causes of the migrant crisis. This requires taking a step backwards, to understand how the current situation was created. The first issue is that of Libya itself, a country without any effective centralized control, ruled over by rival factions that are unable or unwilling to stop the numerous human trafficking networks from taking money from desperate migrants and putting them on rafts pointed towards Italy, where they will either be rescued by naval forces or NGOs, or die along the way.

The prime responsibility for the Libyan chaos lies in Paris, London and Washington. The goal of overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi had been present for decades in Western capitals, but it was not until 2011 – under the cover of the “Arab Spring” – that the French government in particular began to organize the effort to overthrow him, and gain economic and strategic advantages for itself in Northern Africa as a result.

The French had already prepared the attack as they encouraged U.S. President Barack Obama to join the “humanitarian” war that was intended to save the opposition from being massacred by Gaddafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed up the pro-intervention faction in the Obama Administration to the point that the Libyan campaign became known to many as “Hillary’s War.”

Upon learning of Gaddafi’s brutal murder, Clinton paraphrased Julius Caesar declaring: “We came, we saw, he died.” The result though, rather than being a triumph of democracy, has been a decent into chaos, that among other things has allowed the country to become a key gathering point for terrorist groups such as ISIS.

‘Regime Change’ Chaos

The Libyan chaos, the most immediate hindrance to stopping the flow of migrants to Europe at this moment, leads to the larger issue of Western policy regarding terrorism and the Middle East in general. The series of “regime change” wars in recent years have reflected the goal of using terrorist networks for the West’s strategic advantage, while ignoring the long-term effects of this tactic. The support for the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in an attempt to weaken the Soviet Union, led directly to the rise of Osama bin-Laden and Al Qaeda in the 1990s.

The financial backing given to Sunni extremism, provided in particular by allies such as Saudi Arabia, spawned the terrorist groups that today target the West. From the war in Iraq to support for the most extreme anti-Assad groups in Syria, the United States and other Western powers have had a major hand in creating the very problem they are scrambling to deal with today.

The Obama Administration began a timid shift away from “regime change,” with the decision not to bomb Syria in 2013, and rather to seek cooperation with Russia. The attempt to rebalance U.S. interests in the Middle East was also reflected in the nuclear deal reached with Iran. The effort ultimately proved to be too little, too late though, as large sections of the institutions resisted the shift and Obama himself essentially ran out of time; by the end of his term he had succumbed to the pressure to maintain a hostile position towards Russia, and failed to define a new strategic orientation towards the Middle East.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the policies of regime change and is moving forward on cooperation with Russia in Syria, despite the bombing of a Syrian air base in April in response to dubious claims of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. Yet he has also toed the traditional pro-Saudi, anti-Iran line in the Middle East in general, making it seem doubtful that he is willing, or even able, to actually change U.S. policy in the region. As of now, the conflicts are far from being over, and from this perspective, it becomes clear that no short-term solutions are on the horizon.

An even broader issue is that of development, as economic conditions are once again overtaking political unrest as the main driver of migration. There has been talk recently of a European Plan for Africa, to spur economic development and remove the root causes that drive people to leave their homes and families despite the potential dangers. The reality though, is that the discussion still revolves around the type of limited initiatives that are all too similar to the programs of the International Monetary Fund, focused on improving the climate for private investment and other “structural reforms.”

Some of the goals may be laudable, but the approach is a far cry from that of the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II – which is often thrown around as a precedent when new plans are announced – that involved large amounts of public investment in rebuilding industrial capacity.

On this front as well, Western nations seem unable to recognize their own mistakes and contribution to the poverty in Africa that is driving a decades-long humanitarian crisis, that has now become an urgent political crisis for much of Europe as well.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (Why Trump is Winning – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (The Revolt of the Voters – July 2017).




Hillary Clinton Promised Wars, Too

Exclusive: President Trump has shattered the hope of many peace-oriented Americans that he would pull back from U.S. foreign interventions, but Hillary Clinton might have pursued even more wars, notes James W. Carden.

By James W. Carden

The alliance between neoconservatives and the Democratic foreign policy establishment, which is largely made up of former Obama administration officials and former Clinton campaign surrogates, has been much noted of late, particularly since the formation of the German Marshall Fund’s “Alliance for Democracy Project” which brings together high-profile members of both groups in an effort to fight what is loosely (and often inaccurately) defined as Russian “disinformation.”

Those who applaud the new alignment are quick to point out that Donald J. Trump who, by virtue of his volatile temperament and his alarming ignorance and inexperience, is a menace to his country and the planet. And at this stage in Mr. Trump’s presidency, that would seem unarguable.

And yet, Clinton partisans charge that those who withheld their support from Clinton not only bear responsibility for Trump, but also had no right to do so since it was, according to them, obvious that Clinton would have been, among other things, a more responsible steward of U.S. foreign policy than Trump.

And so, given the extreme bitterness that Hillary Clinton’s loss has engendered among a number of prominent members of the liberal commentariat, it might be worth looking at what her campaign promised with regard to foreign policy to see if the above criticism holds water.

The argument here isn’t that Trump isn’t awful (which is something I’ve never argued); it’s that he’s proven to be every bit as bad as some of us reasonably expected Clinton would have been; and if one takes the time to consult the Clinton campaign’s own briefing papers and fact sheets, one will find that on issue after issue, Clinton invariably took hawkish positions that reflected the fact that Clinton was (and remains) a saber-rattler par excellence – very much on par with the current occupant of the White House.

When North Korea conducted a nuclear test in September 2016, she released a statement, if not quite promising “fire and fury,” that did declare: “North Korea’s decision to conduct another nuclear test is outrageous and unacceptable. … This constitutes a direct threat to the United States, and we cannot and will never accept this.”

No Regrets on ‘Regime Change’

Beyond that, Clinton remained a firm believer in regime-change strategies. On Syria, the Clinton campaign “proposed instituting a coalition no-fly zone in the air coupled with safe zones on the ground to protect Syrian civilians and create leverage for a diplomatic resolution that includes Assad’s departure.” She supported the “deployment of special operating forces to Syria” and “strongly urged President Obama to arm moderate rebels in support of the eventual removal of the brutal Assad regime.”

Clinton also favored escalation in other hot spots. On Iran, the Clinton campaign outlined “a plan to counter Iran’s other malicious behavior” which included pledges to “deepen America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”; “expand our military presence in the region”; “increase security cooperation in areas like intelligence sharing, military backing and missile defense with our Gulf allies, to ensure they can defend themselves against Iranian aggression”; and “build a coalition to counter Iran’s proxies.”

When we also factor in Clinton’s support for the NATO’s illegal airstrikes on Kosovo (1999), her vote to authorize the second Iraq War (2003), her enthusiastic support for sending more troops to fight and die in Afghanistan (2009), and her disastrous embrace of regime change in Libya (2011) and Syria (2012), how can anyone be sure that her administration’s foreign policy would have been much of an improvement over what we now have?

Indeed, those who threw their support behind Clinton’s vision of American world leadership, like those associated with the “Alliance for Democracy,” really, with the notable exception of Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Climate Accord, have little to complain about.

Trump has done much as Clinton would have done by, among other things: slapping sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea; pledging unlimited support to Israel; reassuring “our allies” in the Persian Gulf and eastern Europe; condemning Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine; expanding military operations in eastern Syria; and lobbing none-to-veiled threats at the left-wing government in Venezuela.

So while it’s easy and almost certainly emotionally satisfying to the legions of Clinton supporters to tell themselves (and their readers) that of course Hillary would have been a better of steward of U.S. foreign policy than Trump, that assertion remains both unprovable and, given her record, highly questionable.

James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. Currently a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest.




Lawsuit Challenges DNC Anti-Sanders Bias

Blaming Russia has allowed the national Democratic Party to duck the real reasons why Hillary Clinton lost, the lack of a populist connection that a lawsuit is trying to expose, writes Norman Solomon at Truthdig.

By Norman Solomon

Nine months after losing the presidency, the Democratic Party is in dire need of a course correction. Grass-roots enthusiasm for the party is far from robust. Despite incessant funding appeals and widespread revulsion for the Trump administration, the Democratic National Committee’s fundraising is notably weak.

And the latest DNC chair, Tom Perez, sounds no more inspiring than his recent predecessors. When Perez speaks next to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, it’s a stark contrast between establishment clichés and progressive populism.

While a united front against the Trump regime would be ideal, mere unity behind timeworn Democratic leadership would hardly be auspicious. Breaking the Republican stranglehold at election time will require mobilizing the Democratic Party’s base on behalf of authentic populism. But the power structure of the DNC has other priorities.

A comment from Sanders five months ago remains fully relevant: “Certainly, there are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”

Meanwhile, along with most Democrats in Congress, the DNC remains eager to heap blame on Russia for the defeat of Hillary Clinton. That’s been a nifty way to deflect attention from what cried out for scrutiny after November’s election — the reality that Clinton’s close ties with Wall Street and big banks made it unconvincing to pitch her as an ally of working people.

All this is context for a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee that has been slowly wending its way through a federal district court in Florida. The suit contends that the DNC engaged in fraud by reneging on a key commitment in its charter.

The DNC charter is fairly explicit. Article V, Section 4 says: “In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns.”

The charter goes on to state: “The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.”

DNC emails that reached the public a year ago show direct and purposeful violations of those DNC rules. As The New York Times reported with understatement days before the national convention, “The emails appear to bolster Mr. Sanders’s claims that the committee, and in particular [DNC Chair Debbie] Wasserman Schultz, did not treat him fairly.”

A Lawsuit Filed

A week after the release of those incriminating DNC emails in July 2016, a Miami-based law firm (Beck & Lee) filed a suit on behalf of plaintiffs who had donated to the DNC, alleging that the DNC committed “civil fraud.”

The DNC emails show that top committee officials violated the DNC charter’s “impartiality and evenhandedness” requirements. When compelled to respond at a hearing in U.S. District Court in southern Florida on April 25, the DNC’s legal team came up with a revealing defense — claiming that the DNC has a right to be unfair during the presidential nominating process.

A lawyer for the DNC, Bruce Spiva, told the judge: “We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into backrooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.’ That’s not the way it was done. But they could have. And that would have also been their right.”

In other words, Spiva was saying that his clients atop the DNC didn’t mug democracy in this case but could have if they’d wanted to — and they retain the right to do so in the future.

Later that day, Spiva tried to clean up a potential public relations snafu while reaffirming the DNC’s legalistic stance: “In response to my hypothetical that the party could choose its nominees in a smoke-filled room, I want to just reiterate that the party ran the process fair and impartially, and does not do that and doesn’t plan to do that. But these, again, are political choices that either party is free to make and are not enforceable in a court of law.”

Lawyers often make “even if” arguments in court that might not look good elsewhere. But this one is unusually telling — telling us that the most powerful people at the DNC reserve the right to put their thumbs on the scales when the Democratic Party chooses its presidential nominee.

If DNC leaders really want to help build the kind of relationships with the grass roots that are needed for defeating the Trump-Pence forces, the DNC should be trying to climb out of its estrangement hole, not digging itself in deeper.

Alienation from the Democratic Party hierarchy last fall—especially among young people who turned out for Sanders during the primaries but not for Clinton in November — was a major factor in Trump’s victory. (CIinton’s youthful support sank to such a low level in national polling that I wrote for The Hill just five weeks before the November election, “If this country had a maximum voting age of 35, Hillary Clinton would now be in danger of losing the election to Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.”) Like the Clinton campaign itself, the DNC was complacent about the distrust that the party’s hierarchy had earned.

Eight months into 2017, the DNC seems to be on the same basic track as last year. It is symbolic and substantive that one of the national Democratic Party’s most prominent online fundraising spokespeople still is Donna Brazile, who filled in as acting DNC chair after Wasserman Schultz suddenly resigned in disrepute last summer when her on-the-job bias was exposed.

Tipping the Scales

The release of Clinton campaign emails showed that Brazile had used her position as a CNN commentator to obtain and secretly funnel debate questions to Clinton — via campaign chairman John Podesta and communications director Jennifer Palmieri — during the primary battle between Clinton and Sanders.

In a recent article, Salon columnist Sophia McClennen recalled: “In the months when she was interim DNC chair, Brazile went on totally lying about her transgressions until she finally admitted to doing it, but stated that she felt no remorse.”

McClennen added: “The DNC is tone deaf to the fact that Brazile and Wasserman Schultz and the whole pack of insiders that didn’t hold an ethical primary should be exiled from the party, they are tone deaf to the real reasons why Trump won, and they are tone deaf to the fact that Sanders is the most popular politician and the most popular Senator in the nation. … The Trump administration’s cronyism, elitism and disregard for any semblance of democratic values has voters calling for impeachment, but the DNC has its own credibility problems — exemplified by the fact that Donna Brazile is still a party insider.”

The twin imperatives of taking government control away from Republicans and fighting for a genuinely progressive agenda will require an ongoing challenge to the entrenched national Democratic Party leadership. (Those who scoff at using the Democratic Party as an electoral tool to oust the Trump-Pence-Ryan-McConnell GOP have no other credible electoral tool to propose.) We can’t afford to leave the Democratic Party to the corporatists and militarists who currently dominate it from the top.

Odds are that the fraud lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee won’t get much further in legal proceedings. Yet the suit has already clarified and underscored a crucial reality. Progressive rhetoric notwithstanding, the DNC remains in sync with the same kind of anti-democratic arrogance that oversaw the party’s disastrous 2016 election campaign. The progressive uprising for political revolution must continue.

Norman Solomon is coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate and coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. [This article first appeared at Truthdig at https://www.truthdig.com/articles/dnc-fraud-lawsuit-exposes-anti-democratic-views-democratic-party/ ]




New Cracks in Russia-gate Foundation

The Russia-gate groupthink always rested on a fragile foundation of dubious analysis and biased guesswork, but now has been shaken by new forensic studies of the purported “hack,” as Patrick Lawrence reported at The Nation.

By Patrick Lawrence

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised — a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump.

A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget.

In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.

All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined.

The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available. Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year — this standing as their authoritative judgment.

Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge. This is how officials avoid putting their names on the assertions we are so strongly urged to accept — as the record shows many of them have done.

We come now to a moment of great gravity.

There has been a long effort to counter the official narrative we now call “Russiagate.” This effort has so far focused on the key events noted above, leaving numerous others still to be addressed. Until recently, researchers undertaking this work faced critical shortcomings, and these are to be explained. But they have achieved significant new momentum in the past several weeks, and what they have done now yields very consequential fruit.

Forensic investigators, intelligence analysts, system designers, program architects, and computer scientists of long experience and strongly credentialed are now producing evidence disproving the official version of key events last year. Their work is intricate and continues at a kinetic pace as we speak. But its certain results so far are two, simply stated, and freighted with implications:

  • There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year — not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak — a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
  • Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source — claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.

New Analyses

This article is based on an examination of the documents these forensic experts and intelligence analysts have produced, notably the key papers written over the past several weeks, as well as detailed interviews with many of those conducting investigations and now drawing conclusions from them. Before proceeding into this material, several points bear noting.

One, there are many other allegations implicating Russians in the 2016 political process. The work I will now report upon does not purport to prove or disprove any of them. Who delivered documents to WikiLeaks? Who was responsible for the “phishing” operation penetrating John Podesta’s e-mail in March 2016?

We do not know the answers to such questions. It is entirely possible, indeed, that the answers we deserve and must demand could turn out to be multiple: One thing happened in one case, another thing in another. The new work done on the mid-June and July 5 events bears upon all else in only one respect. We are now on notice: Given that we now stand face to face with very considerable cases of duplicity, it is imperative that all official accounts of these many events be subject to rigorously skeptical questioning. Do we even know that John Podesta’s e-mail was in fact “phished”? What evidence of this has been produced? Such rock-bottom questions as these must now be posed in all other cases.

Two, houses built on sand and made of cards are bound to collapse, and there can be no surprise that the one resting atop the “hack theory,” as we can call the prevailing wisdom on the DNC events, appears to be in the process of doing so.

Neither is there anything far-fetched in a reversal of the truth of this magnitude. American history is replete with similar cases. The Spanish sank the Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. Iran’s Mossadegh was a Communist. Guatemala’s Árbenz represented a Communist threat to the United States. Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet puppet. The Sandinistas were Communists. The truth of the Maine, a war and a revolution in between, took a century to find the light of day, whereupon the official story disintegrated. We can do better now. It is an odd sensation to live through one of these episodes, especially one as big as Russiagate. But its place atop a long line of precedents can no longer be disputed.

Three, regardless of what one may think about the investigations and conclusions I will now outline — and, as noted, these investigations continue — there is a bottom line attaching to them. We can even call it a red line. Under no circumstance can it be acceptable that the relevant authorities — the National Security Agency, the Justice Department (via the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and the Central Intelligence Agency — leave these new findings without reply. Not credibly, in any case. Forensic investigators, prominent among them people with decades’ experience at high levels in these very institutions, have put a body of evidence on a table previously left empty. Silence now, should it ensue, cannot be written down as an admission of duplicity, but it will come very close to one.

It requires no elaboration to apply the above point to the corporate media, which have been flaccidly satisfied with official explanations of the DNC matter from the start.

Qualified experts working independently of one another began to examine the DNC case immediately after the July 2016 events. Prominent among these is a group comprising former intelligence officers, almost all of whom previously occupied senior positions. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), founded in 2003, now has 30 members, including a few associates with backgrounds in national-security fields other than intelligence. The chief researchers active on the DNC case are four: William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. Most of these men have decades of experience in matters concerning Russian intelligence and the related technologies. This article reflects numerous interviews with all of them conducted in person, via Skype, or by telephone.

The customary VIPS format is an open letter, typically addressed to the President. The group has written three such letters on the DNC incident, all of which were first published by Robert Parry at www.consortiumnews.com. Here is the latest, dated July 24; it blueprints the forensic work this article explores in detail. They have all argued that the hack theory is wrong and that a locally executed leak is the far more likely explanation.

In a letter to Barack Obama dated January 17, three days before he left office, the group explained that the NSA’s known programs are fully capable of capturing all electronic transfers of data. “We strongly suggest that you ask NSA for any evidence it may have indicating that the results of Russian hacking were given to WikiLeaks,” the letter said. “If NSA cannot produce such evidence — and quickly — this would probably mean it does not have any.”

The day after Parry published this letter, Obama gave his last press conference as President, at which he delivered one of the great gems among the official statements on the DNC e-mail question. “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking,” the legacy-minded Obama said, “were not conclusive.” There is little to suggest the VIPS letter prompted this remark, but it is typical of the linguistic tap-dancing many officials connected to the case have indulged so as to avoid putting their names on the hack theory and all that derives from it.

Cyber-Evidence

Until recently there was a serious hindrance to the VIPS’s work, and I have just suggested it. The group lacked access to positive data. It had no lump of cyber-material to place on its lab table and analyze, because no official agency had provided any.

Donald Rumsfeld famously argued with regard to the WMD question in Iraq, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In essence, Binney and others at VIPS say this logic turns upside down in the DNC case: Based on the knowledge of former officials such as Binney, the group knew that (1) if there was a hack and (2) if Russia was responsible for it, the NSA would have to have evidence of both. Binney and others surmised that the agency and associated institutions were hiding the absence of evidence behind the claim that they had to maintain secrecy to protect NSA programs.

“Everything that they say must remain classified is already well-known,” Binney said in an interview. “They’re playing the Wizard of Oz game.”

New findings indicate this is perfectly true, but until recently the VIPS experts could produce only “negative evidence,” as they put it: The absence of evidence supporting the hack theory demonstrates that it cannot be so. That is all VIPS had. They could allege and assert, but they could not conclude: They were stuck demanding evidence they did not have — if only to prove there was none.

Research into the DNC case took a fateful turn in early July, when forensic investigators who had been working independently began to share findings and form loose collaborations wherein each could build on the work of others. In this a small, new website called www.disobedientmedia.com proved an important catalyst. Two independent researchers selected it, Snowden-like, as the medium through which to disclose their findings.

One of these is known as Forensicator and the other as Adam Carter. On July 9, Adam Carter sent Elizabeth Vos, a co-founder of Disobedient Media, a paper by the Forensicator that split the DNC case open like a coconut.

By this time Binney and the other technical-side people at VIPS had begun working with a man named Skip Folden. Folden was an IT executive at IBM for 33 years, serving 25 years as the IT program manager in the United States. He has also consulted for Pentagon officials, the FBI, and the Justice Department. Folden is effectively the VIPS group’s liaison to Forensicator, Adam Carter, and other investigators, but neither Folden nor anyone else knows the identity of either Forensicator or Adam Carter. This bears brief explanation.

The Forensicator’s July 9 document indicates he lives in the Pacific Time Zone, which puts him on the West Coast. His notes describing his investigative procedures support this. But little else is known of him. Adam Carter, in turn, is located in England, but the name is a coy pseudonym: It derives from a character in a BBC espionage series called Spooks. It is protocol in this community, Elizabeth Vos told me in a telephone conversation this week, to respect this degree of anonymity.

Kirk Wiebe, the former SIGINT analyst at the NSA, thinks Forensicator could be “someone very good with the FBI,” but there is no certainty. Unanimously, however, all the analysts and forensics investigators interviewed for this column say Forensicator’s advanced expertise, evident in the work he has done, is unassailable. They hold a similarly high opinion of Adam Carter’s work.

Forensicator is working with the documents published by Guccifer 2.0, focusing for now on the July 5 intrusion into the DNC server. The contents of Guccifer’s files are known — they were published last September — and are not Forensicator’s concern. His work is with the metadata on those files. These data did not come to him via any clandestine means. Forensicator simply has access to them that others did not have. It is this access that prompts Kirk Wiebe and others to suggest that Forensicator may be someone with exceptional talent and training inside an agency such as the FBI.

“Forensicator unlocked and then analyzed what had been the locked files Guccifer supposedly took from the DNC server,” Skip Folden explained in an interview. “To do this he would have to have ‘access privilege,’ meaning a key.”

What has Forensicator proven since he turned his key? How? What has work done atop Forensicator’s findings proven? How?

The Transfer Rate

Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate — the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.

These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.

What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second — half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by www.speedtest.net/reports is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States.

In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between — but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads — conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like — degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.

Russian ‘Fingerprints’

In addition, there is the adulteration of the documents Guccifer 2.0 posted on June 15, when he made his first appearance. This came to light when researchers penetrated what Folden calls Guccifer’s top layer of metadata and analyzed what was in the layers beneath. They found that the first five files Guccifer made public had each been run, via ordinary cut-and-paste, through a single template that effectively immersed them in what could plausibly be cast as Russian fingerprints. They were not: The Russian markings were artificially inserted prior to posting. “It’s clear,” another forensics investigator self-identified as HET, wrote in a report on this question, “that metadata was deliberately altered and documents were deliberately pasted into a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings.”

To be noted in this connection: The list of the CIA’s cyber-tools WikiLeaks began to release in March and labeled Vault 7 includes one called Marble that is capable of obfuscating the origin of documents in false-flag operations and leaving markings that point to whatever the CIA wants to point to. (The tool can also “de-obfuscate” what it has obfuscated.) It is not known whether this tool was deployed in the Guccifer case, but it is there for such a use.

It is not yet clear whether documents now shown to have been leaked locally on July 5 were tainted to suggest Russian hacking in the same way the June 15 Guccifer release was. This is among several outstanding questions awaiting answers, and the forensic scientists active on the DNC case are now investigating it.

In a note Adam Carter sent to Folden and McGovern last week and copied to me, he reconfirmed the corruption of the June 15 documents, while indicating that his initial work on the July 5 documents — of which much more is to be done — had not yet turned up evidence of doctoring.

In the meantime, VIPS has assembled a chronology that imposes a persuasive logic on the complex succession of events just reviewed. It is this:

  • On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
  • On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described.
  • On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.

It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”

By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6.

Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated.

‘Hand-Picked’ Analysts

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA.

There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.

Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers — an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.

“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.

In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.

I concluded each of the interviews conducted for this column by asking for a degree of confidence in the new findings. These are careful, exacting people as a matter of professional training and standards, and I got careful, exacting replies.

All those interviewed came in between 90 percent and 100 percent certain that the forensics prove out. I have already quoted Skip Folden’s answer: impossible based on the data.

“The laws of physics don’t lie,” Ray McGovern volunteered at one point.

“It’s QED, theorem demonstrated,” William Binney said in response to my question. “There’s no evidence out there to get me to change my mind.” When I asked Edward Loomis, a 90 percent man, about the 10 percent he held out, he replied, “I’ve looked at the work and it shows there was no Russian hack. But I didn’t do the work. That’s the 10 percent. I’m a scientist.”

Editor’s note: In its chronology, VIPS mistakenly gave the wrong date for CrowdStrike’s announcement of its claim to have found malware on DNC servers. It said June 15, when it should have said June 14. VIPS has acknowledged the error, and we have made the correction.

Patrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer, whose most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World and Time No Longer: America After the American Century. His website is patricklawrence.us. [This article was originally published at The Nation at https://www.thenation.com/article/a-new-report-raises-big-questions-about-last-years-dnc-hack/ ]