The World According to Ben Rhodes: Hypocrisy in Obama’s Foreign Policy

In a new book Obama’s deputy national security adviser opens up about Pentagon interference in policy, Obama’s political calculations and his own ignorance of the Middle East, as As’ad AbuKhalil explains in this review.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Ben Rhodes’ interesting new book, The World as It is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (Random House), should be widely read not because of the wisdom or moral message it contains but because it is an unintended, damning account of liberal imperialism.

The book suffers from an acute case of self-congratulation, sanctimoniousness and hubris. The author situates himself (along with Samantha Power and the young Foreign Service officers who worked in the Obama White House) among the liberal advocates of foreign policy. He does not include Obama in this group, and the latter comes across—despite perfunctory praise—as he really is: an unprincipled politician who unfailingly subordinates moral arguments to political calculations. When, for example, Rhodes brings up the issue of a “democratic opening” in Myanmar, Obama quipped: “no one cares about Burma in Ohio” (p. 174).

This response reminds one of the famous retort Harry Truman gave to his disregard for the Arab perspective in his handling of the creation of the Jewish occupation state in 1948.

The rise of Rhodes to become a key national security advisor to Obama is rather surprising. He was educated in English literature and creative writing, and does not have any training in foreign policy or Middle East studies. But Rhodes worked for (former representative) Lee Hamilton at the Wilson Center, and that propelled him to the foreign policy-making world as he was a key writer of the Iraq Study Group’s report.

But as a speech writer for Obama, one strains to remember any memorable speech that he wrote, and Obama’s best—according to press accounts–speeches (like those timid speeches on racial issues, which always fell short of outright condemnation of white racism) were actually written by Obama himself. Rhodes is no Ted Sorensen or Bob Shrum, yet he enjoys listening to and reproducing his own words.

The liberal imperialist stance reminds one, paradoxically, of the stance of neo-conservatives: both use lofty ideals to marshal arguments for imperialist military intervention and hegemony in the affairs of other nations. Rhodes is so oblivious to the racism underpinning the liberal Western stance, that he assumes that human rights and morality is the thrust of his policy choices and those of his ilk. There is more than a tinge of racism in his treatment and references to Arabs, and his unabashed Zionism does not deviate from the traditional Zionist outright contempt for the Arab people.

Of all the reasons that Arabs had to revolt against cruel and oppressive regimes (the overwhelming majority of which are sponsored and armed by the U.S.—a small detail that is missing from this hefty book), Rhodes actually believes that it was Obama’s speech in Cairo, (as if it is even remembered by Arabs except to mock its promises and its condescending hectoring to Arab people about the Arab-Israeli question and the need for Arabs to accommodate themselves to Israeli occupation and aggression) which inspired Arabs to undertake the various Arab uprisings in what has become—offensively—known as “the Arab spring.”

And of course a native informant is always available to legitimize the contemptuous views by the White Man: he cites the authority of a “Palestinian-American woman whom I knew casually” (p. 60) to support his claim that Obama’s Cairo speech prompted Arabs to revolt, as if they had no reasons of their own. At least it was nice of Rhodes to admit that it was the U.S. government which handpicked the audience for the Cairo speech.(p. 59)

Ardent Zionism

Like all American officials who work on the Middle East, Rhodes (by his own admission) is an ardent Zionist who owns up to his past membership in AIPAC (p. 146). He considers U.S. support for Israeli occupation and aggression as the byproduct of “natural affinity for Israel” felt by “most Americans” (p. 57). But this foreign policy expert—by chance—fails to explain why the majority of public opinion in countries of the world—including in Western Europe—feels a natural affinity for the Palestinian people.

The discussion of U.S. policies toward the Arab-Israeli conflict within any U.S. administration is really an intimate debate among hardcore Zionists to see who can outdo the others in advancing the interests of Israeli occupation. Rhodes reports how Rahm Emanuel would refer to him as “Hamas” (p. 56) when he did not think Rhodes was being sufficiently supportive of Israeli interests. This passes as an internal debate about the best options for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

The book reveals more about the domineering role of AIPAC on all decisions undertaken by the Obama administration about the Middle East. Obama had to brief Netanyahu about the Iran nuclear deal before he briefed Congress, for instance.

The falsehood of the author’s human rights position is revealed by his references to Arab regimes. His ostensibly passionate concern for the victims of repression seems to be confined to Syria and Libya—conveniently the only Arab regimes not aligned with the U.S. government, although Muammar Qadhdhafi was a dictator honored by all Western governments in his last years in power. Hillary Clinton met and praised the head of his secret police while she was Secretary of State (not mentioned by Rhodes, obviously).

The book talks at length about the so-called “Arab Spring”, but there is not a word about Bahrain or Yemen (or Jordan or Morocco). The pro-U.S. dictatorships (which are the bulk of Arab regimes) are not mentioned at all in this book which leaves the reader with the impression that the entire Arab world was living in democratic bliss with the exception of Syria and Libya. Rhodes, even as a key staffer on the National Security Council, has yet to learn about the uprising in Bahrain. But noticing it would expose his hypocrisy and the moralistic inconsistency of the Obama’s White House.

Rhodes only mentions the suffering of the Egyptian people after it became clear that Hosni Mubarak could no longer cling to power. He says that key Obama administration officials, including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, argued in favor of bolstering Mubarak. Obama—as Rhodes recounts—was not as enthusiastic because Obama was not friends with Mubarak as he was the Jordanian despot, King Abdullah.

According to Rhodes, Former CIA director John Brennan was explicit in his belief that Arabs were “not ready for democracy” (p. 106). Rhodes’ bias in only expressing opposition to despots (and even elected leaders such as Yasser Arafat) who are not aligned with the U.S. becomes transparent when he describes a tour he made of a Saddam Hussein palace.

There was still on display gifts that Saddam had received from admirers like Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi,” Rhodes writes. As is widely known by people who know the region—the author excluded—Arafat never gave expensive or precious gifts to world leaders. He was known in fact to only give small replicas of Jerusalem or the Aqsa Mosque. Gaddafi’s relationship with Saddam was often frosty. Surely, the author should have noted that those who were far more generous in showering Saddam with precious and valuable items were pro-U.S. despots, such Gulf monarchs and Jordan’s King Husayn, whose friendship with Saddam was legendary, and whose son, the current King of Jordan, was one of Saddam’s son `Udayy Husayn’s closest friends.

That Rhodes didn’t know this indicates political bias. But then again, maybe U.S. occupation soldiers (or local Iraqi cronies) looted the expensive gifts in the wake of the U.S. invasion and left behind the cheaper gifts from Arafat and Qadhdhafi.

Investment in Dictatorship

Rhodes even makes an argument in favor of U.S. support for dictatorship (although he dares not name the dictators). He euphemistically calls such U.S. support “investment.” And he believes that the “return” on such investment is “worth it, even if we occasionally suffer losses, embarrassments, and moral compromises”. (p. 45). His boss came to office with an unapologetic, imperialist view of the world and with distrust of the liberation capacities of people in developing countries lacking “mature institutions” (p. 47). It is the same, old argument of past colonial powers.

One learns from this book that the U.S. military, since at least Sep. 11, now makes key political decisions that are constitutionally part of the powers of the civilian commander-in-chief. Presidents, especially Democratic presidents who are always perceived to be soft on war and defense, feel compelled to follow the wishes of the generals when it comes to troop deployment or redeployment. (p. 74) The military often leaks to the press its displeasure about presidential decisions or inclinations to force the hand of the president, as they did in the case of Obama and the increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the intelligence agencies offer opinions and revisions to Obama’s draft speeches. (p. 50)

Rhodes’ and Obama’s ignorance of Arab affairs is on display throughout the book. Here is their theory of the underlying causes of tensions between the U.S. and world Muslims: that Muslims have been quite unhappy with “a McDonald’s down the street and American pop culture on their television.” (p. 53). Both men would be quite surprised that Muslims do enjoy meals—available even with Halal meat for those who are sticklers about religious rules—at McDonalds.

Rhodes’ ardent Zionism permeates the pages. He even admits that during the preparation for a major campaign speech for Obama he recommended “going easy on Israeli settlements” (p. 55). Worse, Rhodes (the humane liberal) urged Obama to avoid even using the word “occupation” in reference to…Israeli occupation. (p. 58). In other words, Rhodes holds the same position held by Trump’s current ambassador in occupied Jerusalem.

The author seems to cover up at least part of Israel’s role in making U.S. Middle East policy. He talks about the Saudi king urging Obama to support Mubarak (he reveals that the king compared Egyptian protesters against Mubarak to Al-Qa`idah, Hizbullah, and Hamas (p. 102)), but Rhodes does not mention Netanyahu in the same vein (his role on Egypt was reported at the time by The New York Times and other U.S. media). In fact, there is more than a tinge of ethnic disparagement in his references to Palestine and Palestinians.

While noting that Netanyahu sat in the Oval Office and lectured Obama on the Israeli position on the “peace process”, Rhodes says he “was familiar with the emotions” of the Israeli leader. He reports matter-of-factly about the “heroic Israel of the 1960s and 1970s”—presumably referring to Israeli wars of aggression, attacks on Palestinian refugee camps, and the bombing of schools and civilians in Egypt during the War of Attrition.

Rhodes reproduces verbatim the Zionist and racist myths about Israel: “Jews building a nation in the dessert, fighting off Arab armies, led by towering figures like Golda Meir, who seemed both indefatigable and profoundly just.”(p. 145) Rhodes is still ignorant of the industriousness and farming energies of the Palestinian people throughout history, and he still operates under the discarded—and since academically discredited—clichés of classical Zionism. He does not know that his “just” Golda Meir ordered bombing of refugee camps and presided over an occupation state.

Furthermore, in describing the Palestinian territories, Rhodes makes that racist distinction (which has been regurgitated since the days of Herzl) between Europeanized Jews (as if Sephardim Jews don’t count) and the inferior Arabs. Rhodes writes: “Israel from the air resembles southern Europe; the settlements looked like subdivisions in the Nevada desert; the Palestinian towns looked shabby and choked off.” (p. 201). Rhodes also accepts Israel’s “security concerns” (p. 201) (which have historically served as justifications for wars and massacres), and attribute them to “a history of anti-Semitism that continues to the current day”–and not to the resistance against occupation. Does that mean that successive Israeli invasions of Lebanon and the various massacres in Palestinian towns and refugee camps was an attempt by Israel to eradicate anti-Semitism?

Hypocrisy on Syria

But the true nature of the hypocrisy of liberal interventionists of the Obama administration appears in Rhodes’ treatment of the Syrian war. Here, he pats himself on the back, repeatedly, because he consistently urged a U.S. war in Syria with a more muscular support for Syrian rebel groups—without much regard to their ideologies.

Shockingly, Rhodes appears as an advocate for al-Nusrah (the official branch of Al-Qa`idah in Syria), as David Petraeus was, and admits he was “against those who wanted to designate part of the Syrian opposition—al-Nusrah—as a terrorist organization. Al Nusrah was probably the strongest fighting force within the opposition, and while there are extremist elements in the group, it was also clear that the more moderate opposition was fighting side by side with al Nusrah. I argued that labeling al Nusrah as terrorists would alienate the same people we wanted to help, while giving al Nusrah less incentive to avoid extremist affiliations,” he writes on p. 197.

One would be curious to see the reactions of families and friends of Sep. 11 survivors to this callous passage by a senior official of the Obama administration (who was recently hired by Obama in his retirement). This foreign policy expert is making an argument that there are moderates and extremists within an organization which sprang from Bin Laden’s movement and which continues to pledge allegiance to Bin Laden and his ideology. Rhodes even harbors hopes that this Syrian branch of Al-Qa`idah can be steered in a moderate direction.

This book serves as an indictment of the liberal interventionists in the Obama administration. Those were people whose thirst and zealousness for wars on Middle East countries (provided their despots are not clients of the U.S.) match the thirst and zealousness of the neo-conservatives of the George W. Bush administration. Rhodes never explains to his readers why his fake, humanitarian concern for the welfare of the people of the region never extends to people suffering under Israeli occupation and the repression of pro-U.S. despots.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 

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Inside WikiLeaks: Working with the Publisher that Changed the World

Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi has worked with WikiLeaks for nine years on the Podesta emails and other revelations. Here’s an insider’s view of the publisher, which has incensed rulers around the world, desperate to hide their corruption.

By Stefania Maurizi
in Rome
Special to Consortium News

Silenced and cut off from the outside world, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the last six years with no access to sunlight, fresh air, or proper medical treatment. Furthermore, last March President Lenin Moreno’s Ecuadorian government cut his access to the internet, phone calls and even visitors and journalists. For a man who has already been confined to the embassy for so long, these restrictions are particularly harsh.

I began working as one of WikiLeaks’ media partners in 2009, before Assange and WikiLeaks published such bombshells as the “Collateral Murder” video. Over the last nine years, I have partnered with WikiLeaks on behalf of my newspaper, the Italian daily La Repubblica to work on the Podesta emails and many of its other secret files, except for those that WikiLeaks released without media partners: the DNC emails, the Saudi Cables, Turkey’s ruling party emails, the Hacking Team documents, the Collateral Murder video and the Brennan emails.

Like its work or not, WikiLeaks is an independent media organization that doesn’t have to rely on traditional media to publish its scoops. Indeed it was founded to bypass the legal qualms traditional media may have about publishing classified information.

With its 5.5 million followers on Twitter, WikiLeaks has a huge social media presence that gives its work immediate impact. But WikiLeaks has published most of its revelations in collaboration with a number of media partners.

For instance, I was a partner in the publication of the emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, which were published by WikiLeaks shortly after the infamous Access Hollywood video revealed candidate Donald Trump making rude remarks about women.

Many media outlets continue to report that the Podesta emails were released only minutes after the Access Hollywood video aired, hinting at some sort of coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. In a indictment issued last Friday, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, charged 12 officers of the Russian military intelligence service, GRU, for having allegedly hacked both the DNC and Podesta emails and allegedly passed them on to WikiLeaks for publication.

I have no idea who WikiLeaks’ sources were for the Podesta emails: the whole concept of WikiLeaks is based on the submission of secret or otherwise restricted documents by anonymous sources. Assange said numerous times that his source for the Clinton emails was not the Russian government nor a state party.

As I worked on the Podesta emails, I do know that their publication was not a last-second decision. I had been alerted the day before, and their staggered release was a choice WikiLeaks made after the organization was harshly criticized by mainstream media for publishing the DNC documents all at once. This time the emails would trickle out to make them easier for the public to digest. But that was criticized too by the U.S. media and the Democrats as an attempt to leave Clinton  bleeding a few weeks before the elections.

Ready to Release Trump Documents

I was also a witness when WikiLeaks received four documents about Trump’s business at a certain point during the campaign and media partners were asked to help verify the documents to determine if they should be published. The WikiLeaks team had already prepared a placeholder graphic for a possible release on Trump: a caricature of Trump and his characteristic hairstyle. Unfortunately, we found that the documents had already been made public.

Over the last nine years of my work in partnership with WikiLeaks on behalf of first the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso and then La Repubblica, I have spent many hours talking to Assange and his staff, maintaining weekly contact with them. Looking back, I realize that in all those years, I only met Assange as a free man once. That was in September 2010: he had just left Sweden to meet me and other journalists in Berlin after the publication of the Afghan War Logs. At that time, I didn’t realize so many years would pass without seeing him free again.

He is one of the most demonized men on the planet. “We are in the business of crucifixion,” he told me several months ago, before Ecuador cut his social contacts. Indeed he has been crucified for whatever he has done: he talked to the press? He is a narcissist. He didn’t talk to the press? He wants to fuel his image as an international mystery man. He is a complicated human being, but he is neither a hard man nor the imperious, James Bond-style villain depicted by newspapers. He can be warm, with a sharp sense of humor, and he is definitely brilliant and bold enough to publish exceptionally risky documents.

The Full Force of the State

WikiLeaks is rather unique from many standpoints. As a media organization publishing exclusively secret or otherwise restricted documents on “invisible powers,” such as intelligence agencies, which citizens do not normally perceive as directly relevant to their lives, there is little doubt that WikiLeaks has the full force of the State against it. It is probably the only Western media organization to have been under continuous investigation by the U.S. authorities – and probably others—since 2010, and it is definitely the only one whose editor is arbitrarily detained in the heart of Europe.

Whenever I say that Assange is the only editor arbitrarily detained in Europe, some object that he isn’t detained, or that he isn’t an editor at all. But that he is arbitrarily detained is the opinion of the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, whose decisions are considered authoritative by the European Court of Human Rights. The UK government has always rejected the UN body’s decision on Assange, and even tried to appeal it. Since losing this appeal, the UK authorities have continued to ignore the decision and apparently no one else has anything to say about it.

Many argue that Assange is not detained, but rather is in a state of “self-imposed exile,” since he could leave the embassy at any time. He could, if he wanted to, walk out and be arrested by the UK authorities, on now flimsy skipping bail conditions after Sweden dropped its investigation against him, and he’d face the risk of extradition to the United States. Last year the former head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, attacked him and his organization ferociously, calling WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has declared that arresting him is a priority.

Assange’s lawyers believe a grand jury in the state of Virginia has likely rendered a sealed indictment against him. Theoretically he is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution, which protects publication of stolen documents, something that major media does routinely. However, through the last years we have seen many attempts by the U.S. authorities to claim WikiLeaks and Assange have no First Amendment righrts.

Curiously, those critics who insist he is in a form of self-imposed exile or confinement seem to forget that Assange has attempted all sorts of legal routes to challenge his detention. I have never heard of someone imposing exile on himself while at the same time attempting various legal means to put an end to it.

Assange’s latest appeal to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court was dismissed last February by the British judge Emma Arbuthnot, in a ruling indicating that for UK Justice it is perfectly fine for an individual to remain confined to a tiny building for almost six years with no access to sunlight, fresh air or proper medical treatment. “I do not find that Mr. Assange’s stay in the Embassy is inappropriate, unjust, unpredictable, unreasonable, unnecessary or disproportionate”, concluded Arbuthnot with no British irony.

As far as the concept of “editor” goes, I can refer to my own experience, describing what I have seen on my end: Assange has always been the person coordinating WikiLeaks publication activities, making the editorial choices, deciding how to present the revelations to the public—just like any editor of traditional media. He and his organization are far from perfect: they have made mistakes and questionable choices, but it is a matter of fact that they have revealed very important information in the public interest.

Journalism and Beyond

Thanks to WikiLeaks, it has been possible to reveal the true face of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq (Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Logs Filesand Collateral Murder), the identities of Guantanamo detainees (Gitmo Files), the scandals and embarrassing diplomatic deals contained in 251,287 U.S. diplomacy cables, such as pressure from the U.S. to neutralize Italian prosecutors investigating the extraordinary rendition of the Milan cleric, Abu Omar (Cablegate).

It has been possible to reveal the inner workings of the U.S. private intelligence firm Stratfor (GIFiles) and the National Security Agency intercepts on German, French, Italian and Japanese leaders, including intercepts of the controversial, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (NSA World Spying Files). WikiLeaks also revealed EU operations to stop migrants and refugees (EU Military Ops Against Refugee Flow Files), and the CIA cyber weapons (Vault 7 Files). Its Tunisia Files contributed to the uprising there that set off the so-called Arab Spring. WikiLeaks has also released a cache of Spy Files from Russia.

All this valuable information has been made available to the world by WikiLeaks completely free of charge, so that once in the public domain, journalists, activists, scholars and citizens can access it directly worldwide, without needing media organizations or journalists to access the original files and make informed choices.

This publication strategy has worked: the exiled Islanders from the Chagos Archipelago for example have been using the U.S. diplomacy cables in court to support their struggle to return to the Chagos Islands, while a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, used the cables to support his case at the European Court of Human Rights against his extraordinary rendition.

As WikiLeaks sees it, publishing information in the public interest is an act that involves journalism, but also goes beyond journalism. That is why after partnering with media organizations, WikiLeaks makes the files publicly available so that everyone can access and use them.

Assange and his team pioneered a model so effective that it has been copied by many. They started a platform for anonymous submission of secret or otherwise restricted documents, a concept which has since been adopted by almost all major media outlets. They also established cross-jurisdictional collaborative reporting, now a model for major organizations like the Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published notable revelations like the Panama Papers.

Risk

Throughout the last nine years, I have seen Assange and his staff take enormous risks. “They run towards the risks everyone else runs away from,” Edward Snowden once told me in an interview. That means they take risks corporate media won’t take. At the end of the day corporate media are corporations: many decide they can afford only limited legal risks. As for the extralegal risks, few traditional editors and journalists are eager to end up confined to an embassy for six years.

We have seen what happened to Snowden when he was abandoned in Hong Kong: it took Assange’s close adviser, Wikileaks journalist Sarah Harrison, and the WikiLeaks’ staff to help him seek asylum. Although the newspapers that had obtained the Snowden files could have exerted enormous contractual power if they had wanted to broker an agreement with the U.S. government to protect Snowden, none of them did. As the American science fiction author Bruce Sterling put it: “It’s incredible to me that, among the eight zillion civil society groups on the planet that hate and fear spooks and police spies, not one of them could offer Snowden one shred of practical help, except for Wikileaks.”

From the very beginning, I have witnessed the virulent attacks against Assange and his staff and the dramatic failure of mainstream and non-mainstream journalists to seek factual information on the Swedish case by means of FOIA or other investigative tools. In the course of these last seven years, no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

It took an Italian journalist to litigate a FOIA in Sweden and in the UK because no international or local journalist had done so. While my FOIA litigation unearthed some suspicious facts (like the deletion of many crucial emails written and received by the British lawyer who had handled the Assange case for the Crown Prosecution Service – a deletion for which the UK authorities have provided no explanation) there has been no follow-up by any international or British media.

The Kremlin’s Useful Idiots?

Recently, The Guardian said, “Assange has a longstanding relationship with Russia Today. He has regularly appeared in interviews with the Russian broadcaster and hosted a program on RT in 2012.” In reality the broadcasting license for that program, known as “The World Tomorrow”, was acquired by my newsgroup as well, which publishes La Repubblica and l’Espresso. As far as I know, that program was not the product of any unique collaboration between WikiLeaks and RT.

While it is true that Assange and his staff have appeared on the Russian channel numerous times, I have only heard of one instance in which RT was a partner with WikiLeaks in the publication of secret files: the “Spy Files”, a series about brochures on private companies selling surveillance technologies. When WikiLeaks partners with traditional media, the partners know each other, they share the findings and the workload. Based on what I have observed, RT has never been part of this process, though it is true that RT quickly jumps on whatever WikiLeaks publishes, running articles on WikiLeaks publications based on the organization’s press releases and reporting on everything on the WikiLeaks front.

Russia perceives Assange as a sort of Western dissident. The country definitely loves the idea of “Western dissidents” and is happy to stick a finger in the eyes of the West by assuring wide coverage for Assange and his organization. Russia media highlights the contradictions in Western democracies which, while preaching aggressive journalism and the protection of journalistic sources, have instead put Chelsea Manning in prison, charged Snowden, investigated WikiLeaks for the last eight years and has kept its editor arbitrarily detained with no end in sight.

WikiLeaks has been accused of being the Kremlin’s useful idiot or its laundromat, or even a front for Russian intelligence. These kinds of allegations have been spread by the media with no solid evidence, always quoting anonymous intelligence officials who have an obvious interest in destroying WikiLeaks’ reputation. To protect himself and his organization, Assange has always avoided revealing the inner workings of WikiLeaks so as to not expose its resources and vulnerabilities to powerful entities like the CIA, which perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat to themselves.

This approach has helped project an allure of mystery and menace which has been used by many media outlets to fuel a vitriolic campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as James Bond-style villains with something dark to hide. Had Assange and his team ever lifted the veil and allowed the public to see the inner workings of WikiLeaks, public opinion would have perceived what is really behind it: a willingness to take the heat even in the face of very powerful entities.

No one can say how it will end for Assange and his team: if they end up in jail in the United States, it will be the first time that an editor and a media organization are imprisoned in the U.S. for their work, at least not since John Peter Zenger in Colonial America. As the icon of whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg, put it: “Under Trump, he may well be the first journalist in this country to be indicted.” There is a deafening silence on the impact of such a scenario on the freedom of the press and on the human rights of Assange and his staff.

Stefania Maurizi works for the Italian daily La Repubblica as an investigative journalist, after ten years working for the Italian newsmagazine l’Espresso. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents, and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden files about Italy. She has also interviewed A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, revealed the condolence payment agreement between the US government and the family of the Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto killed in a US drone strike, and investigated the harsh working conditions of Pakistani workers in a major Italian garment factory in Karachi. She has started a multi-jurisdictional FOIA litigation effort to defend the right of the press to access the full set of documents on the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks case. She authored two books: Dossier WikiLeaks. Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie, the latter translated into Japanese. She can be reached at stefania.maurizi@riseup.net

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How US Policy in Honduras Set the Stage for Today’s Mass Migration

U.S. policy in Honduras, particularly during the Obama administration, is directly responsible for part of the immigration crisis now gripping the U.S., argues Joseph Nevins.

By Joseph Nevins

Central American migrants – particularly unaccompanied minors – are again crossing the U.S.-Mexico boundary in large numbers.

Under the Obama administration In 2014, more than 68,000 unaccompanied Central American children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico boundary. There were more than 60,000 in 2016.

The mainstream narrative often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between migrant-sending countries and countries of destination. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.

Through my research on immigration and border policing, I have learned a lot about these dynamics. One example involves relations between Honduras and the United States.

  U.S. Roots of Honduran Emigration

I first visited Honduras in 1987 to do research. As I walked around the city of Comayagua, many thought that I, a white male with short hair in his early 20’s, was a U.S. soldier. This was because hundreds of U.S. soldiers were stationed at the nearby Palmerola Air Base at the time. Until shortly before my arrival, many of them would frequent Comayagua, particularly its “red zone” of female sex workers.

U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in “Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America,” American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.”

By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.” Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector. This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911.

Such developments made Honduras’ ruling class dependent on Washington for support. A central component of this ruling class was and remains the Honduran military. By the mid-1960s it had become, in LaFeber’s words, the country’s “most developed political institution,” – one that Washington played a key role in shaping.

The Reagan Era

This was especially the case during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. At that time, U.S. political and military policy was so influential that many referred to the Central American country as the “U.S.S. Honduras” and the Pentagon Republic.

As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country.

The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.

The Reagan administration also played a big role in restructuring the Honduran economy. It did so by strongly pushing for internal economic reforms, with a focus on exporting manufactured goods. It also helped deregulate and destabilize the global coffee trade, upon which Honduras heavily depended. These changes made Honduras more amenable to the interests of global capital. They disrupted traditional forms of agriculture and undermined an already weak social safety net.

These decades of U.S. involvement in Honduras set the stage for Honduran emigration to the United States, which began to markedly increase in the 1990s.

In the post-Reagan era, Honduras remained a country scarred by a heavy-handed military, significant human rights abuses and pervasive poverty. Still, liberalizing tendencies of successive governments and grassroots pressure provided openings for democratic forces.

They contributed, for example, to the election of Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist, as president in 2006. He led on progressive measures such as raising the minimum wage. He also tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.

Post-coup Honduras

The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular, sent conflicting messages, and worked to ensure that Zelaya did not return to power. This was contrary to the wishes of the Organization of American States, the leading hemispheric political forum composed of the 35 member-countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean. Several months after the coup, Clinton supported a highly questionable election aimed at legitimating the post-coup government.

Strong military ties between the U.S. and Honduras persist: several hundred U.S. troops are stationed at Soto Cano Air Base (formerly Palmerola) in the name of fighting the drug war and providing humanitarian aid.

Since the coup, writes historian Dana Frank, “a series of corrupt administrations has unleashed open criminal control of Honduras, from top to bottom of the government.”

Organized crime, drug traffickers and the country’s police heavily overlap. Impunity reigns in a country with frequent politically-motivated killings. It is the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, according to Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization.

Although its once sky-high murder rate has declined, the continuing exodus of many youth demonstrates that violent gangs still plague urban neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, post-coup governments have intensified an increasingly unregulated, “free market” form of capitalism that makes life unworkable for many. Government spending on health and education, for example, has declined in Honduras. Meanwhile, the country’s poverty rate has risen markedly. These contribute to the growing pressures that push many people to migrate, raising ethical questions about the responsibility of the United States toward those now fleeing from the ravages U.S. policy has helped to produce.

This article was originally published on Oct. 31, 2016 on The Conversation.

Joseph Nevins received his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include socioterritorial boundaries and mobility, violence and inequality, and political ecology; he has conducted research in East Timor, Mexico and the United States-Mexico border region.




A Call to Bring Julian Assange Home

The Australian government has an obligation to free Julian Assange, John Pilger told a rally in Sydney on June 16, marking Assange’s six years’ confinement in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

By John Pilger

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy.

The Australian government and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be.

They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home.

Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in Julian’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London unprotected.

We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a U.S. extradition warrant is successful — a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

I know Julian Assange well; I regard him as a close friend, a person of extraordinary resilience and courage. I have watched a tsunami of lies and smear engulf him, endlessly, vindictively, perfidiously; and I know why they smear him.

In 2008, a plan to destroy both WikiLeaks and Assange was

laid out in a top secret document dated 8 March, 2008. The authors were the Cyber Counter-intelligence Assessments Branch of the U.S. Defence Department. They described in detail how important it was to destroy the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”.

This would be achieved, they wrote, with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution” and a unrelenting assault on reputation. The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its editor and publisher. It was as if they planned a war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech.

Vichy Media

Their main weapon would be personal smear. Their shock troops would be enlisted in the media — those who are meant to keep the record straight and tell us the truth.

The irony is that no one told these journalists what to do. I call them Vichy journalists — after the Vichy government that served and enabled the German occupation of wartime France.

Last October, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Sarah Ferguson interviewed Hillary Clinton, over whom she fawned as “the icon for your generation”.

This was the same Clinton who threatened to “obliterate totally” Iran and, who, as U.S. secretary of State in 2011, was one of the instigators of the invasion and destruction of Libya as a modern state, with the loss of 40,000 lives. Like the invasion of Iraq, it was based on lies.

When the Libyan President was murdered publicly and gruesomely with a knife, Clinton was filmed whooping and cheering. Thanks largely to her, Libya became a breeding ground for ISIS and other jihadists.  Thanks largely to her, tens of thousands of refugees fled in peril across the Mediterranean, and many drowned.

WikiLeaks Exposed Clinton

Leaked emails published by WikiLeaks revealed that Hillary Clinton’s foundation – which she shares with her husband – received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the main backers of ISIS and terrorism across the Middle East.

As Secretary of State, Clinton approved the biggest arms sale ever — worth $80 billion — to Saudi Arabia, one of her foundation’s principal benefactors. Today, Saudi Arabia is using these weapons to crush starving and stricken people in a genocidal assault on Yemen.

Sarah Ferguson, a highly paid reporter, raised not a word of this with Hillary Clinton sitting in front of her.

Instead, she invited Clinton to describe the “damage” Julian Assange did “personally to you”. In response, Clinton defamed Assange, an Australian citizen, as “very clearly a tool of Russian intelligence” and “a nihilistic opportunist who does the bidding of a dictator”.

She offered no evidence — nor was asked for any — to back her grave allegations.

At no time was Assange offered the right of reply to this shocking interview, which Australia’s publicly-funded state broadcaster had a duty to give him.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ferguson’s executive producer, Sally Neighour, followed the interview with a vicious re-tweet: “Assange is Putin’s bitch. We all know it!”

There are many other examples of Vichy journalism. The Guardian, reputedly once a great liberal newspaper, conducted a vendetta against Julian Assange. Like a spurned lover, the Guardian aimed its personal, petty, inhuman and craven attacks at a man whose work it once published and profited from.  

The former editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, called the WikiLeaks disclosures, which his newspaper published in 2010, “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years”. Awards were lavished and celebrated as if Julian Assange did not exist.

Maligning and Profiting off Assange 

WikiLeaks’ revelations became part of the Guardian’s marketing plan to raise the paper’s cover price. They made money, often big money, while WikiLeaks and Assange struggled to survive. With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously abused Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”.

They also revealed the secret password Julian had given the Guardian in confidence and which was designed to protect a digital file containing the U.S. embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, who had enriched himself on the backs of both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, stood among the police outside the embassy and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.

The question is why.

Julian Assange has committed no crime. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish episode was bogus and farcical and he has been vindicated.

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape summed it up when they wrote, “The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.”

This truth was lost or buried in a media witch-hunt that disgracefully associated Assange with rape and misogyny. The witch-hunt included voices who described themselves as on the left and as feminist. They willfully ignored the evidence of extreme danger should Assange be extradited to the United States.

According to a document released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a “Manhunt target list”. One leaked official memo says: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.”

In Alexandra, Virginia – the suburban home of America’s war-making elite — a secret grand jury, a throwback to the middle ages — has spent seven years trying to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted.

This is not easy; the U.S. Constitution protects publishers, journalists and whistleblowers. Assange’s crime is to have broken a silence.

They Never Happened

No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account. It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of “unworthy” lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.

When  Harold Pinter accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he referred to “a vast tapestry of lies up on which we feed”. He asked why “the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought” of the Soviet Union were well known in the West while America’s imperial crimes “never happened … even while [they] were happening, they never happened.”

In its revelations of fraudulent wars (Afghanistan, Iraq) and the bald-faced lies of governments (the Chagos Islands), WikiLeaks has allowed us to glimpse how the imperial game is played in the 21st century. That is why Assange is in mortal danger.

Seven years ago, in Sydney, I arranged to meet a prominent Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull.   

I wanted to ask him to deliver a letter from Gareth Peirce, Assange’s lawyer, to the government. We talked about his famous victory — in the 1980s when, as a young barrister, he had fought the British Government’s attempts to suppress free speech and prevent the publication of the book Spycatcher — in its way, a WikiLeaks of the time, for it revealed the crimes of state power.

The prime minister of Australia was then Julia Gillard, a Labor Party politician who had

declared WikiLeaks “illegal” and wanted to cancel Assange’s passport — until she was told she could not do this: that Assange had committed no crime: that WikiLeaks was a publisher, whose work was protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia was one of the original signatories.

In abandoning Assange, an Australian citizen, and colluding in his persecution, Prime Minister Gillard’s outrageous behaviour forced the issue of his recognition, under international law, as a political refugee whose life was at risk. Ecuador invoked the 1951 Convention and granted Assange refuge in its embassy in London.

Gillard has recently been appearing in a gig with Hillary Clinton; they are billed as pioneering feminists.

If there is anything to remember Gillard by, it a warmongering, sycophantic, embarrassing speech she made to the US Congress soon after she demanded the illegal cancellation of Julian’s passport.

Malcolm Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia. Julian Assange’s father has written to Turnbull. It is a moving letter, in which he has appealed to the prime minister to bring his son home. He refers to the real possibility of a tragedy.

I have watched Assange’s health deteriorate in his years of confinement without sunlight. He has had a relentless cough, but is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray.

Malcolm Turnbull can remain silent. Or he can seize this opportunity and use his government’s diplomatic influence to defend the life of an Australian citizen, whose courageous public service is recognised by countless people across the world. He can bring Julian Assange home.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com. His new film, “The Coming War on China,” is available in the U.S. from www.bullfrogfilms.com





Still Waiting for Evidence of a Russian Hack

More than two years after the allegation of Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was first made, conclusive proof is still lacking and may never be produced, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

If you are wondering why so little is heard these days of accusations that Russia hacked into the U.S. election in 2016, it could be because those charges could not withstand close scrutiny. It could also be because special counsel Robert Mueller appears to have never bothered to investigate what was once the central alleged crime in Russia-gate as no one associated with WikiLeaks has ever been questioned by his team.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity — including two “alumni” who were former National Security Agency technical directors — have long since concluded that Julian Assange did not acquire what he called the “emails related to Hillary Clinton” via a “hack” by the Russians or anyone else. They found, rather, that he got them from someone with physical access to Democratic National Committee computers who copied the material onto an external storage device — probably a thumb drive. In December 2016 VIPS explained this in some detail in an open Memorandum to President Barack Obama.

On January 18, 2017 President Obama admitted that the “conclusions” of U.S. intelligence regarding how the alleged Russian hacking got to WikiLeaks were “inconclusive.” Even the vapid FBI/CIA/NSA “Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections” of January 6, 2017, which tried to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for election interference, contained no direct evidence of Russian involvement.  That did not prevent the “handpicked” authors of that poor excuse for intelligence analysis from expressing “high confidence” that Russian intelligence “relayed material it acquired from the Democratic National Committee … to WikiLeaks.”  Handpicked analysts, of course, say what they are handpicked to say.

Never mind. The FBI/CIA/NSA “assessment” became bible truth for partisans like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who was among the first off the blocks to blame Russia for interfering to help Trump.  It simply could not have been that Hillary Clinton was quite capable of snatching defeat out of victory all by herself.  No, it had to have been the Russians.

Five days into the Trump presidency, I had a chance to challenge Schiff personally on the gaping disconnect between the Russians and WikiLeaks. Schiff still “can’t share the evidence” with me … or with anyone else, because it does not exist.

WikiLeaks

It was on June 12, 2016, just six weeks before the Democratic National Convention, that Assange announced the pending publication of “emails related to Hillary Clinton,” throwing the Clinton campaign into panic mode, since the emails would document strong bias in favor of Clinton and successful attempts to sabotage the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  When the emails were published on July 22, just three days before the convention began, the campaign decided to create what I call a Magnificent Diversion, drawing attention away from the substance of the emails by blaming Russia for their release.

Clinton’s PR chief Jennifer Palmieri later admitted that she golf-carted around to various media outlets at the convention with instructions “to get the press to focus on something even we found difficult to process: the prospect that Russia had not only hacked and stolen emails from the DNC, but that it had done so to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.”  The diversion worked like a charm.  Mainstream media kept shouting “The Russians did it,” and gave little, if any, play to the DNC skullduggery revealed in the emails themselves. And like Brer’ Fox, Bernie didn’t say nothin’.

Meanwhile, highly sophisticated technical experts, were hard at work fabricating “forensic facts” to “prove” the Russians did it.  Here’s how it played out:

June 12, 2016: Assange announces that WikiLeaks is about to publish “emails related to Hillary Clinton.”

June 14, 2016: DNC contractor CrowdStrike, (with a dubious professional record and multiple conflicts of interest) announces that malware has been found on the DNC server and claims there is evidence it was injected by Russians.

June 15, 2016: “Guccifer 2.0” affirms the DNC statement; claims responsibility for the “hack;” claims to be a WikiLeaks source; and posts a document that the forensics show was synthetically tainted with “Russian fingerprints.”

The June 12, 14, & 15 timing was hardly coincidence. Rather, it was the start of a pre-emptive move to associate Russia with anything WikiLeaks might have been about to publish and to “show” that it came from a Russian hack.

Enter Independent Investigators

A year ago independent cyber-investigators completed the kind of forensic work that, for reasons best known to then-FBI Director James Comey, neither he nor the “handpicked analysts” who wrote the Jan. 6, 2017 assessment bothered to do.  The independent investigators found verifiable evidence from metadata found in the record of an alleged Russian hack of July 5, 2016 showing that the “hack” that day of the DNC by Guccifer 2.0 was not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

Rather it originated with a copy (onto an external storage device – a thumb drive, for example) by an insider — the same process used by the DNC insider/leaker before June 12, 2016 for an altogether different purpose. (Once the metadata was found and the “fluid dynamics” principle of physics applied, this was not difficult to disprove the validity of the claim that Russia was responsible.)

One of these independent investigators publishing under the name of The Forensicator on May 31 published new evidence that the Guccifer 2.0 persona uploaded a document from the West Coast of the United States, and not from Russia.

In our July 24, 2017 Memorandum to President Donald Trump we stated, “We do not know who or what the murky Guccifer 2.0 is. You may wish to ask the FBI.”

Our July 24 Memorandum continued: “Mr. President, the disclosure described below may be related. Even if it is not, it is something we think you should be made aware of in this general connection. On March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks began to publish a trove of original CIA documents that WikiLeaks labeled ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said it got the trove from a current or former CIA contractor and described it as comparable in scale and significance to the information Edward Snowden gave to reporters in 2013.

“No one has challenged the authenticity of the original documents of Vault 7, which disclosed a vast array of cyber warfare tools developed, probably with help from NSA, by CIA’s Engineering Development Group. That Group was part of the sprawling CIA Directorate of Digital Innovation – a growth industry established by John Brennan in 2015. [ (VIPS warned President Obama of some of the dangers of that basic CIA reorganization at the time.]

Marbled

“Scarcely imaginable digital tools – that can take control of your car and make it race over 100 mph, for example, or can enable remote spying through a TV – were described and duly reported in the New York Times and other media throughout March. But the Vault 7, part 3 release on March 31 that exposed the “Marble Framework” program apparently was judged too delicate to qualify as ‘news fit to print’ and was kept out of the Times at the time, and has never been mentioned since.

“The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, it seems, ‘did not get the memo’ in time. Her March 31 article bore the catching (and accurate) headline: ‘WikiLeaks’ latest release of CIA cyber-tools could blow the cover on agency hacking operations.’

“The WikiLeaks release indicated that Marble was designed for flexible and easy-to-use ‘obfuscation,’ and that Marble source code includes a “de-obfuscator” to reverse CIA text obfuscation.

“More important, the CIA reportedly used Marble during 2016. In her Washington Post report, Nakashima left that out, but did include another significant point made by WikiLeaks; namely, that the obfuscation tool could be used to conduct a ‘forensic attribution double game’ or false-flag operation because it included test samples in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi.”

A few weeks later William Binney, a former NSA technical director, and I commented on Vault 7 Marble, and were able to get a shortened op-ed version published in The Baltimore Sun.

The CIA’s reaction to the WikiLeaks disclosure of the Marble Framework tool was neuralgic. Then Director Mike Pompeo lashed out two weeks later, calling Assange and his associates “demons,” and insisting; “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

Our July 24 Memorandum continued:  “Mr. President, we do not know if CIA’s Marble Framework, or tools like it, played some kind of role in the campaign to blame Russia for hacking the DNC. Nor do we know how candid the denizens of CIA’s Digital Innovation Directorate have been with you and with Director Pompeo. These are areas that might profit from early White House review.  [ President Trump then directed Pompeo to invite Binney, one of the authors of the July 24, 2017 VIPS Memorandum to the President, to discuss all this.  Binney and Pompeo spent an hour together at CIA Headquarters on October 24, 2017, during which Binney briefed Pompeo with his customary straightforwardness. ]

We also do not know if you have discussed cyber issues in any detail with President Putin. In his interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly he seemed quite willing – perhaps even eager – to address issues related to the kind of cyber tools revealed in the Vault 7 disclosures, if only to indicate he has been briefed on them. Putin pointed out that today’s technology enables hacking to be ‘masked and camouflaged to an extent that no one can understand the origin’ [of the hack] … And, vice versa, it is possible to set up any entity or any individual that everyone will think that they are the exact source of that attack.

“‘Hackers may be anywhere,’ he said. ‘There may be hackers, by the way, in the United States who very craftily and professionally passed the buck to Russia. Can’t you imagine such a scenario? … I can.’

New attention has been drawn to these issues after I discussed them in a widely published 16-minute interview last Friday.

In view of the highly politicized environment surrounding these issues, I believe I must append here the same notice that VIPS felt compelled to add to our key Memorandum of July 24, 2017:

“Full Disclosure: Over recent decades the ethos of our intelligence profession has eroded in the public mind to the point that agenda-free analysis is deemed well nigh impossible. Thus, we add this disclaimer, which applies to everything we in VIPS say and do: We have no political agenda; our sole purpose is to spread truth around and, when necessary, hold to account our former intelligence colleagues.

“We speak and write without fear or favor. Consequently, any resemblance between what we say and what presidents, politicians and pundits say is purely coincidental.” The fact we find it is necessary to include that reminder speaks volumes about these highly politicized times.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer before serving as a CIA analyst for 27 years.  His duties included preparing, and briefing one-on-one, the President’s Daily Brief.

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Hillary Clinton is Now a Victim of ‘Socialists’

Hillary Clinton is incapable of coming to terms with her loss and now finds fault with greedy capitalists who are turning young people into socialists, as Paul Street explains.

By Paul Street Special to Consortium News

Hillary Clinton’s take on “what happened” in the 2016 election is a running tale of victimization. She was the casualty of FBI Director James Comey and of Vladimir Putin and WikiLeaks. She was unjustly loathed by that “basket” of racist, sexist, nativist, and homophobic “deplorables” that is supposedly the American “heartland,” white working-class and rural population – people she recently painted (at an elite globalist gathering in Mumbai, India) as a bunch of “pessimistic,” slow-witted and retrograde losers. She was victimized by Bernie Sanders, who (Hillary complained) wasn’t even a “real Democrat” but had the unmitigated chutzpah to let his primary campaign challenge her prearranged coronation as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Never mind the series of stupid, arrogant, and largely unforced errors that crippled her uninspiring and policy-bereft insider campaign that was under her command. And never mind her own epic unpopularity before and during the campaign – disapproval earned over her many years of functioning as a cold and transparently elitist Establishment agent of the wealthy corporate and financial Few.

Now the endlessly put-upon (yet fabulously wealthy) and eye-rolling Hillary has found some more scapegoats for her epic fail: first, “socialists” in the activist cadres and primary and caucus electorate of the Democratic Party, then younger voters, and finally greedy corporate chieftains whose greed has turned good Democrats into “socialists.” The “lying neoliberal warmonger” says she was victimized because of her identification as a “capitalist” after big business executives’ have sadly given capitalism a bad name—especially with young people.

In an interview with Time Inc. brands executive Alan Murray this month, she said that her economic policies were “probably” a tough sell with primary voters: “It’s hard to know, but I mean if you’re in the Iowa caucuses and 41 percent of Democrats are socialists or self-described socialists, and I’m asked ‘Are you a capitalist?’ and I say, ‘Yes, but with appropriate regulation and appropriate accountability.’ You know, that probably gets lost in the ‘Oh my gosh, she’s a capitalist!’”

Take that, Henry Wallace.

Pity the plight of the poor enlightened capitalist, Hillary Clinton, whose position high in the American Oligarchy’s permanent political class has permitted her to accumulate a net worth of at least $45 million.

Earlier in the same day as her interview with Murray, Hillary complained to the posh “Shared Value Leadership Summit” that “the reputation of capitalism is pretty much in tatters for young people” since powerful U.S. companies are “disrupting our democracy” (what democracy?) by worsening income inequality.

The way to fix this problem? Vote Republicans out of office in 2018, Hillary said – and vote in the Democrats, who Richard Nixon’s onetime political strategist Kevin Phillips rightly called “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”

Poor Hillary

Among the many things Hillary left out of her latest “poor me” whine, two deserve special mention here. First, the insufficiently regulated and excessively amoral business behavior that she says turned young people and a bunch of Iowa Dems into “self-declared socialists” is just capitalism being capitalism, not some weird aberration of the profits system.

Contrary to the Clintonian fable of “inclusive capitalism,” an oxymoronic concept the Clinton campaign rolled out in early 2015, the United States’ leading corporations and financial institutions have never placed workers and the public on an equal footing with investors and the bottom line. It was first and foremost the rise of a momentarily powerful and significantly Left-sparked industrial workers’ movement – rooted largely in the special workplace bargaining power of mass-production workers, not some imaginary corporate benevolence – that created a new and rising floor for working-class incomes during the “Golden Age” of American capitalism that the faux-populist Donald Trump absurdly but effectively promised to restore.

At the same time, the gains enjoyed by ordinary working Americans were made possible by the uniquely favored position of the United States economy (and empire) in the post-WWII world – a reflection (among other things) of Europe’s long suicide between 1914 and 1945. When that position was significantly challenged by resurgent Western European and Japanese economic competition in the 1970s and 1980s, the comparatively egalitarian trends of postwar America were reversed by capitalist elites who had never lost their critical command of the nation’s core economic and political institutions. Working- class Americans have paid the price ever since. For the last four decades, wealth, income, and power have been sharply concentrated upward, birthing a New Gilded Age of abject oligarchy and brazen plutocracy.

This “Great U-Turn” (By Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison) dates from the finance- and policy-designed onset of the neoliberal era in the mid-1970s It goes back to the Carter years.  And it marked a return to capitalism’s historical norm, as Thomas Piketty showed in his widely read tour de force Capital in the Twenty First Century (2014).  The neoliberal era and its current New Gilded Age capstone is the profits system returning to its long and militantly inegalitarian pattern.

Second, the Clintons have long stood precisely in the vanguard of the neoliberal deregulation of capitalism – in the lead of the shift to savage inequality and ubiquitous economic insecurity (the ruthless “betrayal of the American dream”) that has pushed millions of U.S. Americans, younger ones especially, to the left. After graduating from the ruling-class training ground that is Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Arkansas to help “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC),” according to writer Doug Henwood. The essence of the DLC was the “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection in service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

DLC: Origins in Attacking Arkansas Teachers

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law – this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas,” Henwood wrote. When the Arkansas-based, community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates for residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.” Hillary later joined the board of directors at the low-wage retail giant and union-busting, Chinese import platform Wal-Mart.

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill Clinton advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Clinton collaborated with the right-wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans.

Mr. Clinton then earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector.

‘Tell Me Something Interesting’

Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Barack Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

Who can ever forget Hillary’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program.  He told the First Lady about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian-style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as the most cost-effective plan on offer. “David,” Hillary said as she dismissed Himmelstein, “tell me something interesting.”

Mrs. Clinton’s service to the rich and powerful continued into the current millennium. As a U.S. Senator, she did Wall Street’s bidding by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-2012), she voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promised to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad.

Out of Step with the Majority

There’s nothing new about Mrs. Clinton and other neoliberal Democrats standing to the de facto moderate, Republican right of “socialist” (well, progressive and left-leaning) public opinion that has long been exhibited, not just by most Democrats but by most people in the U.S. Poll after poll in the current millennium has shown that most U.S. citizens are egalitarian social democrats, not capitalists, and certainly not neoliberals. Majorities have long backed single-payer health insurance, seriously progressive taxation, the restoration of workers’ right to organize powerful unions, collective bargaining rights, sound climate policy, strong environmental regulations, major reductions in the “defense” (empire) budget, and an expansion of the pubic social safety net.

This is the majority sentiment that Bernie Sanders ran in accord with in 2016. He would have won the Democratic presidential nomination and very possibly defeated Trump but for big-money Hillary’s corrupt and advance control and rigging of the Democratic National Committee, the primary race, and the Democratic National Convention.

Hillary is likely no longer a threat to poison the waters with another presidential run. The bitterness of her recent, Middle America-shaming remarks in India suggest that she’s finally thrown in the towel. Even a political figure as arrogant and removed from ordinary working people as Hillary Clinton must know that such comments (which Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) had to rush to distance his party from) do not square with another run for the White House.

While Hillary may be political history, however, the Democrats are still ruled by the same neoliberal and Clintonite ideology that Barack Obama was able to channel and sell in charismatic and outwardly likable ways that icy Hillary could not match.  Under the cover of Russia-gate, launched by Clinton and Obama Democrats to provide an external, conspiratorial, and neo-McCarthyite explanation for the failures of their own right-wing corporate and imperial politics (and to keep the fires burning under the New Cold War), the party’s leadership continues to stand well to the starboard side of majority progressive (“socialist”) opinion. The dollar-drenched Dems’ candidate roster for the upcoming Congressional mid-terms is loaded with right-wing Democrats (including an unprecedented usual number with military and intelligence backgrounds) masquerading as progressives.

Another Fake Progressive Leader?

Do the corporate and imperial Democrats have another Obama or young Bill Clinton in the wings, someone with the silver-tongued charm to manipulate populist sentiments on behalf of corporate and financial elitism? If so, their next faux-progressive pretender has yet to make his or her identity known.

Iowa progressives should start keeping an eye out Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, backed by neoliberals Clinton, Obama and Nancy “We’re Capitalist and That’s Just the Way It Is” Pelosi (net worth of $83 million) The money is on Harris, I am told by people in-the-Wall-Street-know. She should attend this year’s Iowa State Fair, where she can talk about Ethanol subsidies and listen to hog and soybeans farmers’ issues.

Young people, meanwhile, must deal with the ferocious economic disparity, abject plutocracy, permanent imperial war, and deadly environmental destruction passed on by older corporate and imperial, capitalist Democrats as well as radically reactionary and regressive capitalist Republicans – “two wings of the same bird of prey” (as Upton Sinclair said in 1904).

No wonder a majority of 18 to 29-year-olds tell posters they do not support capitalism.

Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois.  He is the author of seven books. His latest is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)




The (Unrecognized) US Contribution to Bloodshed in Syria, Part Two

Bashar Asad sought closer relations with the West but the U.S. was planning to remove him as early as 2006, eventually leading to war in Syria, says As’ad AbuKhalil in the second & last part of this Consortium News commentary.

You can read part one here.

By As`ad AbuKhalil  Special to Consortium News

Bashar Al-Asad did not intend to declare enmity with the U.S. when he took over from his father in 2000. On the contrary, he was keen on impressing Western leaders and governments, and incorporated many of the Western-promoted economic “reforms” ( a mere code word for neo-liberal policies which dismantle state social programs, end subsidies to the poor, and initiate privatization plans which benefit MNCs).

Bashar also continued a previous regime policy of security-intelligence cooperation with the U.S., especially since Syrian intelligence kept comprehensive files on Islamists after their past anti-regime activities (with the support of the Jordanian government by the admission of King Husayn in December 1985). Bashar was keen on pleasing Western powers perhaps in the hopes of obtaining Western investment and political pressure on Israel over the occupied Golan Heights.

Hoping most likely to ingratiate himself with Western powers, Bashar accepted the Saudi peace plan ( or so-called “Arab Peace Plan,” the name which came to then Crown Prince Abdullah bin `Abdul-`Aziz’s mind upon meeting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman). Bashar not only gave the Syrian regime’s approval, but pressured the Lebanese to approve the plan as well, despite the misgivings of then President Emile Lahoud. The plan was later officially adopted (on behalf of the Arab people) in the Beirut Arab League summit in 2002.

September 11 had hit shortly after Bashar’s ascension to the presidency. A list of U.S. demands was then handed to him by then Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Americans were unhappy with Syrian violations of the cruel, U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iraq, as well as the Syrian regime’s support for Hamas and Hizbullah. At the behest of Israel, the U.S. kept demanding that Hamas be expelled from Syrian territory.

The crisis in U.S.-Syrian relations peaked after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when Washington objected to the Syrian role in allowing fighters—both Islamist and Ba`thist—to cross the Syrian-Iraqi border to attack U.S. troops. One knowledgeable Syrian reporter described to me the Syrian policy at the time. He said Damascus sometimes allowed fighters to slip into Iraq, and other times they would arrest them to please the Americans.

The Syrian regime clearly knew its survival hinged on the failure of the U.S. occupation in Iraq, especially when U.S. officials made it very clear, in the exuberance that accompanied the preparation for the invasion, that Syria and Iran would be next on the U.S. list of regimes to overthrow. It is not clear exactly when the U.S. took the decision to bring down the Syrian regime but it was certainly well before the outbreak of the 2011 Syrian uprising.

Planned in Advance

The U.S. plot against Syria, however, doesn’t imply that the hundreds of thousands of Syrian protesters who took to the streets in 2011 were agents of foreign powers. Far from it: there were real and legitimate reasons for the Syrian people to protest against the regime and to demand real change. The republican Ba`thist coup of 1970 developed in time into a full-blown family dynasty, and the corruption of the regime was pervasive, while the early, (theoretical) ideological championing of the working classes had been long forgotten. And the regime did not relax the hold of the intelligence apparatus. The slight political freedoms promised by Bashar were soon discarded.

But long before Syrians protested, the U.S. government had been planning regime change. Time magazine reported as early as 2006: “The Bush administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is ‘supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists’ in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that ‘these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists‘”. The document also spoke of supplying “at least one Syrian politician” with money.

It was rather clear as soon as the protests started in 2011 that the U.S. embassy in Syria was heavily involved in the affair. Ambassador Robert Ford was not even trying to hide his active political role (a role that would have gotten any Arab ambassador kicked out of the U.S. if undertaken on U.S. territory). Anti-Hizbullah slogans raised by a few protesters in the first days of the uprising (Hizbullah had not even mentioned Syrian protests at that point) seem to have been the work of a covert foreign operation. Similarly, the sight of anti-Hizbullah demonstrators in recent Iranian protests were so quickly captured and disseminated by Western media and portrayed as the reason for the entire protest, which had its own indigenous causes. It is likely that U.S. heavy involvement in Syrian affairs actually helped the regime and provided it with pretexts to crack down against civilian protests.

The Myth of Obama’s Retreat

We are now accustomed to hearing that the Obama administration had “retreated” from the Middle East. This line was initially produced by Saudi regime propaganda, and then captured by the Saudi/UAE-funded think tanks in Washington before it was adopted by Western media. It is now the official U.S. media and think tank line about Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The notion that the Obama administration “retreated” from the region is belied by a record of heavy involvement and expansion of wars in the Middle East and North Africa. Obama expanded all the wars he inherited from the Bush administration with the exception of the occupation of Iraq occupation after objections from Baghdad, though that was partially reversed after ISIS took over large swaths of Iraqi territory. Obama also intensified covert operations, assassinations and drone warfare.

In Syria, Obama ultimately did not refrain from intervening by supplying various rebels with arms, money, and equipment. He just didn’t share the high regard for the jihadists nor did he support direct U.S. intervention that many of his advisors, such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, did. The New York Times reported that Gulf regimes received Obama administration consent before delivering arms to Syrian rebels. The notion, later raised, that the U.S. did not notice that Qatar had supplied some Syrian rebels with MOPADs is not believable.

By 2012, the U.S. knew that “most” of the arms shipped from Qatar and Saudi Arabia wound up in the hands of jihadi rebels. The myth of moderate Syrian rebels was almost an inside joke: no one really believed that the rebels were largely moderate nor that they were all controlled either by two woman from Damascus or by men in suits in Istanbul. This fiction was necessary to keep the war going and to win the sympathy of Western public opinion, an effort that was largely successful with the help of heavily funded Western public relations and lobbying firms paid for by Gulf monarchies.

Obama, typically, had it both ways: he would express doubts about the value of arming the Syrian rebels and would question their moderation, while authorizing shipments of money and arms and allowing the CIA and the Pentagon to train those same rebels (after screening them, of course, which amounted to asking each rebel whether he is a moderate or a radical).

The U.S. was heavily involved in the first major operation to arm the rebels and take the Syrian conflict in a bloody direction. The notion that the rebels were all moderate and secular but that they were radicalized by regime oppression was never proven, and it is not even believable. That secular and moderate protesters would suddenly grow beards and adopt the ideology of Al-Qai`dah or its splinter, ISIS, is too absurd a scenario to be taken seriously—but it was a convenient story for Western and Gulf media.

Launched from Lebanon

It was from Lebanon that the U.S. ran its first major operation to aid Syrian rebels and change the nature of the conflict in Syria from protests against the regime to a civil war. When the U.S. saw the regime was not falling as quickly as the Libyan, Tunisian, or Egyptian regimes had, it sought a quick end especially because of Israel’s stake in the outcome. In addition to a Jordan-based operation by U.S. and Saudi intelligence to aid the rebels, major arms smuggling operations were launched through the Lebanese “Fir` Al-Ma`lumat” (a Lebanese intelligence apparatus run by the Hariri family, and managed by U.S. and Saudi intelligence). The Hariri camp’s direct involvement in Lebanon was revealed in intercepted audio tapes in which a Hariri member of parliament, `Uqab Saqr, was heard responding to Syrian rebel’s demands for shipments of arms.

Wisam Al-Hasan (the head of the Hariri-contolled intelligence apparatus) was arming and training militants from Tripoli and the Biqa` region to send to Syria along with large shipments of arms. (The Economist noted his role back in 2013). Al-Hasan’s role was uncovered in Lebanon and he was assassinated in 2012 (his last foreign trip was to Washington, where he met the CIA director himself, David Petreus). Also, Lebanese authorities had intercepted a ship, the Lutfallah II, at the port of Tripoli in north Lebanon. It had a load of arms (from Libya) intended to be transferred to Syrian rebels. Tthe plan was initiated in the UAE and then reached Tripoli, a city was under the security control of Fir` Al-Ma`lumat.

It is highly likely that the U.S. threw its weight behind the regional effort by the GCC, Turkey and Jordan to topple the Syrian regime but the plan changed when the U.S. realized that the fall of the regime was more difficult than expected. Instead, the U.S. did what it has done before: allow various parties to engage in prolonged bloodletting for the benefit of its ally Israel. The U.S. had let the Iran-Iraq war drag on for eight years because it enjoyed watching two countries that it did not favor suffer and be distracted, while it did something similar in Lebanon: allowing the war to drag on for many years.

Furthermore, the story of U.S. involvement in the bloody war in Syria should note its reckless bombing (under the guise of the anti-ISIS coalition), which resulted in a large number of civilian casualties, but was—ironically—far less effective in defeating ISIS than the efforts of foes of the U.S. in Syria.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 




The ‘Values,’ ‘Vision,’ and ‘Democracy’ of an Inauthentic Opposition

Average Americans, whose economic survival is threatened, have no political party to represent them, including deceptive Democrats who claim to be their champions and blame others when their deception fails, says Paul Street.

By Paul Street Special to Consortium News

Never underestimate the capacity of the United States’ Inauthentic Opposition Party, the corporate Democrats, for self-congratulatory delusion and the externalization of blame.

Look, for example, at the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) recently filed 66-page lawsuit against Russia, WikiLeaks, and the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. The document accuses Russia of “mount[ing] a brazen attack on the American democracy,” “destabilize[ing] the U.S. political environment” on Trump’s (and Russia’s) behalf, and “interfering with our democracy….”

“The [RussiaGate] conspiracy,” the DNC Complaint says, “undermined and distorted the DNC’s ability to communicate the [Democratic] party’s values and vision to the American electorate” and “sowed discord within the Democratic Party at a time when party unity was essential…”

Yes, Russia, like numerous other nations living under the global shadow of the American Superpower, may well have tried to have some surreptitious say in 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Why wouldn’t the Kremlin have done that, given the very real and grave threats Washington and its Western NATO allies have posed for many years to post-Soviet-era Russian security and peace in Eastern Europe?)

Still, charging Russia with interfering with US-“American democracy” is like me accusing the Washington Capital’s star left winger Alex Ovechkin of interfering with my potential career as a National Hockey League player (I’m middle aged and can’t skate backwards). The U.S. doesn’t have a functioning democracy to undermine, as numerous careful studies (see this,this,this,this,this,this,this,this, and this) have shown.

We have, rather, a corporate and financial oligarchy, an open plutocracy. U.S.-Americans get to vote, yes, but the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, as leading liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) find, “government policy…reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

Our Own Oligarchs

Russia and WikiLeaks “destabilized the U.S. political environment”? Gee, how about the 20 top oligarchic U.S. mega-donors who invested more than $500 million combined in disclosed campaign contributions (we can only guess at how much “dark,” that is undisclosed, money they gave) to candidates and political organizations in the 2016 election cycle? The 20 largest organizational donors also gave a total of more than $500 million. The foremost plutocratic election investors included hard right-wing billionaires like casino owner Sheldon Adelson ($83 million disclosed to Republicans and right-wing groups), hedge-fund manager Paul Singer ($26 million to Republicans and the right), hedge fund manager Robert Mercer ($26 million) and packaging mogul Richard Uihlein ($24 million).

How about the multi-billionaire Trump’s own real estate fortune, which combined with the remarkable free attention the corporate media oligopoly granted him to help catapult the orange-tinted fake-populist beast past his more traditional Republican primary opponents? And what about the savagely unequal distribution of wealth and income in Barack Obama’s America, so extreme in the wake of the Great Recession that Hillary’s primary campaign rival Bernie Sanders could credibly report that the top tenth of the upper U.S.1% possessed nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90%? Such extreme disparity helped doom establishment, Wall Street- and Goldman Sachs-embroiled candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Mrs. Clinton in 2016. Russia and WikiLeaks did not create that deep, politically- and neoliberal-policy-generated socioeconomic imbalance.

Double Vision

And just what were the Democratic Party “values and vision” that Russia, Trump, and WikiLeaks supposedly prevented the DNC and the Clinton team from articulating in 2016? As the distinguished political scientist and money-politics expert Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen noted in an important study released three months ago, the Clinton campaign “emphasized candidate and personal issues and avoided policy discussions to a degree without precedent in any previous election for which measurements exist….it deliberately deemphasized issues in favor of concentrating on what the campaign regarded as [Donald] Trump’s obvious personal weaknesses as a candidate.” Strangely enough, the Twitter-addicted reality television star Trump had a lot more to say about policy than the former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a wonkish Yale Law graduate.

The Democrats “values and vision” in 2016 amounted pretty much to the accurate but hardly inspiring or mass-mobilizing notion that Donald Trump was an awful person who was unqualified for the White House. Clinton ran almost completely on candidate character and quality. This was a blunder of historic proportions, given Clinton’s own highly problematic character brand. Any campaign needs a reasonably strong policy platform to stand on in case of candidate difficulties.

By Ferguson, Jorgenson, and Chen’s account, Hillary’s peculiar policy silence was about U.S. oligarchs’ campaign money. Thanks to candidate Trump’s bizarre nature and his declared isolationism and nationalism, Clinton achieved remarkable campaign finance success with normally Republican-affiliated capitalist sectors less disposed to abide the standard, progressive-sounding policy rhetoric of Democratic Party candidates than their more liberal counterparts.

One ironic but “fateful consequence” of her curious connection to conservative business interests was her “strategic silence about most important matters of public policy. … Misgivings of major contributors who worried that the Clinton campaign message lacked real attractions for ordinary Americans were rebuffed. The campaign,” Ferguson, Jorgenson, and Chen wrote, “sought to capitalize on the angst within business by vigorously courting the doubtful and undecideds there, not in the electorate.”

Other Clinton mistakes included failing to purchase television ads in Michigan, failing to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic National Convention, and getting caught telling wealthy New York City campaign donors that Trump’s white supporters were “a basket of” racist, sexist, nativist, and homophobic “deplorables.” This last misstep was a Freudian slip of the neoliberal variety. It reflected and advanced the corporate Democrats’ longstanding alienation of and from the nation’s rural and industrial and ex-industrial “heartland.”

Fake Progressives

As left historian Nancy Fraser noted after Trump was elected, the Democrats, since at least the Bill Clinton administration, had joined outwardly progressive forces like feminism, antiracism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights to “financial capitalism.” This imparted liberal “charisma” and “gloss” to “policies that …devastated…what were once middle-class lives” by wiping out manufacturing, weakening unions, slashing wages, and increasing the “precarity of work.”

To make matters worse, Fraser rightly added, the “progressive neoliberal” blue-and digital-zone Democrats “compounded” the “injury of deindustrialization” with “the insult of progressive moralism,” which rips red-and analog-zone whites as culturally retrograde (recall candidate Obama’s problematic 2008 reflection on how rural and small-town whites “cling to religion and guns”) and yet privileged by the simple color of their skin.

Such insults from elite, uber-professional class neo-liberals like Obama (Harvard Law) and the Clintons (Yale Law) would sting less in the nation’s “flyover zones” if the those uttering them had not spent their sixteen years in the White House governing blatantly in accord with the wishes of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the leading multinational corporations. Like Bill Clinton’s two terms, the Obama years were richly consistent with Sheldon Wolin’s early 2008 description of the Democrats as an “inauthentic opposition” whose dutiful embrace of “centrist precepts” meant they would do nothing to “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards” or “significantly alter the direction of society.”

The fake-“progressive” Obama presidency opened with the expansion of Washington’s epic bailout of the very parasitic financial elites who recklessly sparked the Great Recession (this with no remotely concomitant expansion of federal assistance to the majority middle- and working-class victims), the abandonment of campaign pledges to restore workers’ right to organize (through the immediately forgotten Employee Free Choice Act), and the kicking of Single Payer health care advocates to the curb as Obama worked with the big drug and insurance syndicates to craft a corporatist, profit-friendly health insurance reform. Obama’s second term ended with him doggedly (if unsuccessfully) championing the arch-authoritarian global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership.

This Goldman Sachs and Citigroup-directed policy record was no small part of what demobilized the Democrats’ mass electoral base in ways that “destabilized the U.S. political environment” to the benefit of the reactionary populist Trump, whose Mercer family-backed proto-fascistic strategist and Svengali Steve Bannon was smartly attuned to the Democrats’ elitist class problem.

There was a major 2016 presidential candidate who ran with genuinely progressive “values and vision” – Bernie Sanders. The most remarkable finding in Ferguson, Jorgenson, and Chen’s study is that the self-declared “democratic socialist” Sanders came tantalizingly close to winning the Democratic presidential nomination with no support from Big Business. The small-donor Sanders campaign was “without precedent in American politics not just since the New Deal, but across virtually the whole of American history … a major presidential candidate waging a strong, highly competitive campaign whose support from big business was essentially zero.”

Sanders was foiled by the big-money candidate Clinton’s advance control of the Democratic National Committee and convention delegates. Under a formal funding arrangement it worked up with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in late September of 2015, the depressing “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary’s campaign was granted advance control of all the DNC’s “strategic decisions.” The Democratic Party’s presidential caucuses and primaries were rigged against Sanders in ugly ways that provoked a different lawsuit last year – a class-action suit against the DNC on behalf of Sanders’ supporters. The complaint was dismissed by a federal judge who ruled on the side of DNC lawyers by agreeing that the DNC was within its rights to violate their party’s charter and bylaws by selecting its candidate in advance of the primaries.

How was that for the noble “values and vision” that “American democracy” inspires atop the not-so leftmost of the nation’s two major and electorally viable political parties?

Under Cover of Russia-gate

That’s what “sowed discord within the Democratic Party at a time when party unity was essential…” Russia didn’t do it. Neither did WikiLeaks or the Trump campaign. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party establishment – themselves funded by major U.S. oligarchs like San Francisco hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer– did that on their own.

Could Sanders – the most popular politician in the U.S. (something rarely reported in a “mainstream” corporate media that could barely cover his giant campaign rallies even as it obsessed over Trump’s every bizarre Tweet) – have defeated the orange-tinted beast in the general election? Perhaps, though much of the oligarchic funding Hillary got would have gone to Trump if “socialist” Bernie had been the Democratic nominee. It is unlikely that Sanders could have accomplished much as president in a nation long controlled by the capitalist oligarchy in numerous ways that go far beyond campaign finance alone.

Meanwhile, under the cover of RussiaGate, the still-dismal and dollar-drenched corporate-imperial Democrats seem content to continue tilting to the center-right, purging Sanders-style progressives from the party’s leadership and citing the party’s special election victories (Doug Jones and Conor Lamb) against deeply flawed and Trump-backed Republicans in two bright-red voting districts (the state of Alabama and a fading Pennsylvania canton) as proof that tepid neoliberal centrism is still (even after Hillary’s stunning defeat) the way to go.

Along the way, the Inauthentic Opposition’s candidate roster for the upcoming Congressional mid-term election is loaded with an extraordinary number of contenders with U.S. military and intelligence backgrounds, consistent with Congressional Democrats repeated votes to give massive military and surveillance-state funds and power to a president they consider (accurately enough) unbalanced and dangerous.

The trick, the neoliberal “CIA Democrats” think, is to run conservative, Wall Street-backed imperial and National Security State veterans who pretend (see Eric Draitser’s recent piece on “How Clintonites Are Manufacturing Faux Progressive Congressional Campaigns”) to be aligned with majority-progressive left-of-center policy sentiments and values. It’s still very much their party.

Whatever happens during the next biennial electoral extravaganza, “the crucial fact” remains, in Wolin’s words nine years ago, “that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf” in the United States – the self-declared homeland and headquarters of global democracy.

Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois.  He is the author of seven books. His latest is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)




On the Criminal Referral of Comey, Clinton et al: Will the Constitution Hold and the Media Continue to Suppress the Story?

Ray McGovern reports on a major development in the Russia-gate story that has been ignored by corporate media: a criminal referral to the DOJ against Hillary Clinton, James Comey and others, exposing yet again how established media suppresses news it doesn’t like–about as egregious an example of unethical journalism as there is. 

By Ray McGovern  Special to Consortium News

Wednesday’s criminal referral by 11 House Republicans of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as several former and serving top FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials is a giant step toward a Constitutional crisis.

Named in the referral to the DOJ for possible violations of federal law are: Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey; former Attorney General Loretta Lynch; former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; FBI Agent Peter Strzok; FBI Counsel Lisa Page; and those DOJ and FBI personnel “connected to” work on the “Steele Dossier,” including former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente.

With no attention from corporate media, the referral was sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah John Huber.  Sessions appointed Huber months ago to assist DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz.  By most accounts, Horowitz is doing a thoroughly professional job.  As IG, however, Horowitz lacks the authority to prosecute; he needs a U.S. Attorney for that.  And this has to be disturbing to the alleged perps.

This is no law-school case-study exercise, no arcane disputation over the fine points of this or that law. Rather, as we say in the inner-city, “It has now hit the fan.”  Criminal referrals can lead to serious jail time.  Granted, the upper-crust luminaries criminally “referred” enjoy very powerful support.  And that will come especially from the mainstream media, which will find it hard to retool and switch from Russia-gate to the much more delicate and much less welcome “FBI-gate.”

As of this writing, a full day has gone by since the

letter/referral was reported, with total silence so far from The New York Times and The Washington Post and other big media as they grapple with how to spin this major development. News of the criminal referral also slipped by Amy Goodman’s non-mainstream DemocracyNow!, as well as many alternative websites.

The 11 House members chose to include the following egalitarian observation in the first paragraph of the letter conveying the criminal referral: “Because we believe that those in positions of high authority should be treated the same as every other American, we want to be sure that the potential violations of law outlined below are vetted appropriately.” If this uncommon attitude is allowed to prevail at DOJ, it would, in effect, revoke the de facto “David Petraeus exemption” for the be-riboned, be-medaled, and well-heeled.

Stonewalling

Meanwhile, the patience of the chairmen of House committees investigating abuses at DOJ and the FBI is wearing thin at the slow-rolling they are encountering in response to requests for key documents from the FBI.  This in-your-face intransigence is all the more odd, since several committee members have already had access to the documents in question, and are hardly likely to forget the content of those they know about.  (Moreover, there seems to be a good chance that a patriotic whistleblower or two will tip them off to key documents being withheld.) 

The DOJ IG, whose purview includes the FBI, has been cooperative in responding to committee requests for information, but those requests can hardly include documents of which the committees are unaware.

Putting aside his partisan motivations, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) was unusually blunt two months ago in warning of legal consequences for officials who misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to enable surveillance on Trump and his associates. Nunes’s words are likely to have sent chills down the spine of those with lots to hide: “If they need to be put on trial, we will put them on trial,” he said.”The reason Congress exists is to oversee these agencies that we created.”   

Whether the House will succeed in overcoming the resistance of those criminally referred and their many accomplices and will prove able to exercise its Constitutional prerogative of oversight is, of course, another matter — a matter that matters.

And Nothing Matters More Than the Media

The media will be key to whether this Constitutional issue is resolved.  Largely because of Trump’s own well earned reputation for lying, most Americans are susceptible to slanted headlines like this recent one — “Trump escalates attacks on FBI …” — from an article in The Washington Post, commiserating with the treatment accorded fired-before-retired prevaricator McCabe and the FBI he (dis)served.

Nor is the Post above issuing transparently clever warnings — like this one in a lead article on March 17: “Some Trump allies say they worry he is playing with fire by taunting the FBI. ‘This is open, all-out war. And guess what? The FBI’s going to win,’ said one ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. ‘You can’t fight the FBI. They’re going to torch him.’” [sic]

Mind-Boggling Criminal Activity

What motivated the characters now criminally “referred” is clear enough from a wide variety of sources, including the text messages exchange between Strzok and Page.  Many, however, have been unable to understand how these law enforcement officials thought they could get away with taking such major liberties with the law.

None of the leaking, unmasking, surveillance, “opposition research,” or other activities directed against the Trump campaign can be properly understood, if one does not bear in mind that it was considered a sure thing that Secretary Clinton would become President, at which point illegal and extralegal activities undertaken to help her win would garner praise, not prison.  The activities were hardly considered high-risk, because candidate Clinton was sure to win.

But she lost.

Comey himself gives this away in the embarrassingly puerile book he has been hawking, “A Higher Loyalty” — which

amounts to a pre-emptive move motivated mostly by loyalty-to-self, in order to obtain a Stay-Out-of-Jail card.  Hat tip to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone for a key observation, in his recent <href=”https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/james-comey-j-edgar-hoover-w519214″>article, “James Comey, the Would-Be J. Edgar Hoover,” about what Taibbi deems the book’s most damning passage, where Comey discusses his decision to make public the re-opening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. 

Comey admits, “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the re-started investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in the polls.”

The key point is not Comey’s tortured reasoning, but rather that Clinton was “sure to be the next president.”  This would, of course, confer automatic immunity on those now criminally referred to the Department of Justice.  Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men — even very tall men.  One wag claimed that the “Higher” in “A Higher Loyalty” refers simply to the very tall body that houses an outsized ego.

I think it can be said that readers of Consortiumnews.com may be unusually well equipped to understand the anatomy of FBI-gate as well as Russia-gate.  Listed below chronologically are several links that might be viewed as a kind of “whiteboard” to refresh memories.  You may wish to refer them to any friends who may still be confused.

2017

Russia-gate’s Mythical ‘Heroes’ June 6, 2017

What Did Hillary Clinton Know? Oct. 25, 2017

The Democratic Money Behind Russia-gate Oct. 29, 2017

The Foundering Russia-gate ‘Scandal’ Dec. 13, 2017 

2018

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate Jan. 11, 2018

Will Congress Face Down the Deep State? Jan. 30, 2018

Nunes Memo Reports Crimes at Top of FBI and DOJ Feb. 2, 2018

This is Nuts’: Liberals Launch ‘Largest Mobilization in History’ in Defense of Russiagate Probe Feb. 9, 2018

Nunes: FBI and DOJ Perps Could Be Put on Trial Feb. 19, 2018

Progressive’ Journalists Jump the Shark on Russia-gate March 7, 2018

Intel Committee Rejects Basic Underpinning of Russiagate March 14, 2018

McCabe: A War on (or in) the FBI? March 18, 2018

Former CIA Chief Brennan Running Scared March 19, 2018

 

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.  In retirement, he co-created Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




How Many Terms Till You’re a Tyrant Ripe for Regime Change?

In some cases, the hint that a country might be removing presidential term limits provides Washington sufficient cause to support a coup, but in other cases Washington celebrates presidents-for-life, observes Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

Donald Trump caused some concern last week when he appeared to praise Chinese President Xi Jinping’s removal of term limits on the president from the Chinese constitution, clearing the path for him to become “president for life.” At a fundraiser in Florida, Trump said, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great.” He then added, to enthusiastic cheers: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

Perhaps Trump was joking about China’s removal of presidential term limits from the constitution, but the U.S. wasn’t laughing when removing presidential term limits from the Honduran constitution was being considered. Washington backed a coup instead.

How many consecutive terms turns a president into a dictator? Many parliamentary democracies lack term limits. In Britain, Robert Walpole was prime minister for almost 21 years. William Pitt the Younger served for almost 19 and Thatcher and Blair served for 12 and 10 respectively. Washington never called Thatcher or Blair a dictator. In Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King served as P.M. for more than 21 years. Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, served for almost 19, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, father of the current prime minister, served for 15.

Term limits became a constitutional issue early in America. Many of the framers backed lifetime appointment for presidents. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both supported lifetime terms. So did others. One person would have swung the vote as it was defeated by a margin of only six votes to four.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not impose term limits on the president. And, despite Washington declining to run for a third term, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson all sought third terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a third term. And a fourth. It wasn’t until the middle of the last century that the 22nd amendment ensured that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice …”

That is a sentence that has recently come up for consideration in other countries too: none more troublingly than Honduras as far as the U.S. reaction goes. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Honduras removed the one-term limit on the president, clearing the way for Juan Orlando Hernández to run for a second term in office. The U.S. has supported Hernández’s bid for a second term though it is not clear the Honduran court had the authority to make that constitutional amendment without a vote by the people. It is also not clear that the court did legitimately make that amendment since a five-member panel and not the full 15-member court voted on the change.

The same support was not offered to the previous Honduran president, the popularly elected Manuel Zelaya, though he didn’t go as far as Hernández. Zelaya did not touch the constitution, he did not change presidential term limits and he did not run for a second term. He merely opened the constitutional change for discussion. Zelaya only had to announce a plebiscite to see if Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution for the hostile political establishment to falsely translate his intention into an intention to seek an unconstitutional second term and oust him in a coup.

Zelaya had never declared the intention to stand for a second term – only to open the constitutional prohibition on presidential re-election to discussion. But the Supreme Court declared the president’s plebiscite unconstitutional. On June 28, 2009, the military kidnapped Zelaya, and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president.

Though the U.S. backed Hernández, who actually did change term limits and actually did run for reelection, it not only failed to back the far more innocent Zelaya, it backed the coup against him. Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, the minister of culture in the Zelaya government, said on Democracy Now that “I know for a fact that CIA operatives and military personnel of the United States were in direct contact with the conspirators of the coup d’état and aided the conspirators of the coup d’état.”

Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot at least partially corroborated that claim when he told me that “the Obama administration acknowledged that they were talking to the [Honduran] military right up to the day of the coup, allegedly to convince them not to do it.” But, he added, “I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t convince them not to do it if they really wanted to: the Honduran military is pretty dependent on the U.S.”

After the coup d’état, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that she aided the coup government by helping to block the return of the elected government: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

The U.S. did all this while being in full knowledge that what was unfolding in Honduras was a coup. By July 24, 2009, less than a month after the coup, the White House, Clinton and many others were in receipt of a cable called “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup” that was sent from the U.S. embassy in Honduras. The embassy cable says “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” And just in case there were any objections, the cable adds that “none of the … arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”

The U.S. backed a coup in Honduras that removed a popular president for merely considering removing term limits. So, it should have been surprising when it backed a president in Honduras for actually removing term limits and seeking reelection, but, of course, it was never about term limits. It was fine for Juan Orlando Hernández because, according to State Department cables, “he has consistently supported U.S. interests.” But, it was not fine for Manuel Zelaya because he dared to serve the interests of the people who elected him instead of U.S. interests.

So, when Washington’s servant removed presidential term limits in America’s backyard, the U.S. embassy in Honduras certified his reelection, saying it was “pleased” with its “transparency.”

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. [This article originally appeared at Antiwar.com. Reprinted with permission.]