Julian Assange and the Mindszenty Case

Courageous publishers like Julian Assange and principled churchmen like Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty are a rarity: Neither would be silenced; and both had to seek asylum; but the similarity ends there, explains Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

During World War II Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was a huge critic of fascism and wound up in prison. In Oct. 1945 he became head of the Church in Hungary and spoke out just as strongly against Communist oppression. He wound up back in prison for eight more years, including long periods of solitary confinement and endured other forms of torture. In 1949 he was sentenced to life in a show trial that generated worldwide condemnation.

Two weeks after the trial began in early 1949, Pope Pius XII (having failed to speak out forcefully against the Third Reich) did summon the courage to condemn what was happening to Mindszenty. Pius excommunicated everyone involved in the Mindszenty trial. Then, addressing a huge crowd on St. Peter’s Square, he asked, “Do you want a Church that remains silent when she should speak … a Church that does not condemn the suppression of conscience and does not stand up for the just liberty of the peoplea Church that locks herself up within the four walls of her temple in unseemly sycophancy …?”

When the Hungarian revolution broke out in 1956, Mindszenty was freed, but only for four days.  When Soviet tanks rolled back into Budapest, he fled to the U.S. embassy and was given immediate asylum by President Eisenhower.

There the Cardinal stayed cooped up for the next 15 years.  Mindszenty’s mother was permitted to visit him four times a year, and the communist authorities stationed secret police outside the embassy ready to arrest him should he try to leave.  Sound familiar?

Where is the voice of conscience to condemn what is happening to Julian Assange, whose only “crime” is publishing documents exposing the criminal activities and corruption of governments and other Establishment elites? Decades ago, the U.S. and “civilized world” had nothing but high praise for the courageous Mindszenty. He became a candidate for sainthood.

And Assange?  He has been confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for six years —from June 19, 2012—the victim of a scurrilous slander campaign and British threats to arrest him, should he ever step outside. The U.S. government has been putting extraordinary pressure on Ecuador to end his asylum and top U.S. officials have made it clear that, as soon as they get their hands on him, they will manufacture a reason to put him on trial and put him in prison. All for spreading unwelcome truth around.

A Suppression of Conscience

One might ask, is “unseemly sycophancy” at work among the media? The silence of what used to be the noble profession of journalism is deafening. John Pilger — one of the few journalists to speak out on Julian Assange’s behalf, labels journalists who fail to stand in solidarity with Assange in exposing the behavior of the Establishment, “Vichy journalists — after the Vichy government that served ad enabled the German occupation of France.”

Pilger adds

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 … 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.'”

WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if?

In an op-ed published several years ago by The Los Angeles Timestwo members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Coleen Rowley and Bogdan Dzakovic, pointed out that — If WikiLeaks had been up and running before 9/11 — frustrated FBI investigators might have chosen to leak information that their superiors bottled up, perhaps averting the terrorism attacks.

There were a lot of us in the run-up to Sept. 11 who had seen warning signs that something devastating might be in the planning stages. But we worked for ossified bureaucracies incapable of acting quickly and decisively. Lately, the two of us have been wondering how things might have been different if there had been a quick, confidential way to get information out.”

Fourth Estate on Life Support

In 2010, while he was still a free man, the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity gave its annual award to Assange. The citation read:

It seems altogether fitting and proper that this year’s award be presented in London, where Edmund Burke coined the expression “Fourth Estate.” Comparing the function of the press to that of the three Houses then in Parliament, Burke said: “…but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important far then they all.”

The year was 1787—the year the U.S. Constitution was adopted. The First Amendment, approved four years later, aimed at ensuring that the press would be free of government interference. That was then.

With the Fourth Estate now on life support, there is a high premium on the fledgling Fifth Estate, which uses the ether and is not susceptible of government or corporation control. Small wonder that governments with lots to hide feel very threatened.

It has been said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” WikiLeaks is helping make that possible by publishing documents that do not lie.

Last spring, when we chose WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for this award, Julian said he would accept only “on behalf or our sources, without which WikiLeaks’ contributions are of no significance.”

We do not know if Pvt. Bradley Manning gave WikiLeaks the gun-barrel video of July 12, 2007 called “Collateral Murder.” Whoever did provide that graphic footage, showing the brutality of the celebrated “surge” in Iraq, was certainly far more a patriot than the “mainstream” journalist embedded in that same Army unit. He suppressed what happened in Baghdad that day, dismissed it as simply “one bad day in a surge that was filled with such days,” and then had the temerity to lavish praise on the unit in a book he called “The Good Soldiers.”

Julian is right to emphasize that the world is deeply indebted to patriotic truth-tellers like the sources who provided the gun-barrel footage and the many documents on Afghanistan and Iraq to WikiLeaks. We hope to have a chance to honor them in person in the future.

Today we honor WikiLeaks, and one of its leaders, Julian Assange, for their ingenuity in creating a new highway by which important documentary evidence can make its way, quickly and confidentially, through the ether and into our in-boxes. Long live the Fifth Estate!”

Eventually a compromise was found in 1971 when Pope Paul VI lifted the excommunications and Mindszenty was able to leave the U.S. embassy.  Can such a diplomatic solution be found to free Assange? It is looking more and more unlikely with each passing year. 

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and also of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity.  He was a US Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 30 years.

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The Eerie Silence Surrounding the Assange Case

Julian Assange remains cut off from the world in Ecuador’s London embassy, shut off from friends, relatives and thousands of supporters, leaving him unable to do his crucial work, as John Pilger discusses with Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

In a recent communication between Randy Credico, an Assange supporter, comic and radio producer, and Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, Assange’s fear of arrest and extradition to the US was confirmed by the leader of the Russia-gate frenzy.

Credico received the following response from Schiff after meeting the the Congressman’s staff, in which Credico was trying to connect Assange with Schiff: “Our committee would be willing to interview Assange when he is in U.S. Custody and not before.”

Dennis Bernstein spoke with John Pilger, a close friend and supporter of Assange on May 29. The interview began with the statement Bernstein delivered for Pilger at the Left Forum last weekend in New York on a panel devoted to Assange entitled, “Russia-gate and WikiLeaks”.

Pilger’s Statement

“There is a silence among many who call themselves left. The silence is Julian Assange. As every false accusation has fallen away, every bogus smear shown to be the work of political enemies, Julian stands vindicated as one who has exposed a system that threatens humanity. The Collateral Damage video, the war logs of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Cablegate revelations, the Venezuela revelations, the Podesta email revelations … these are just a few of the storms of raw truth that have blown through the capitals of rapacious power. The fakery of Russia-gate, the collusion of a corrupt media and the shame of a legal system that pursues truth-tellers have not been able to hold back the raw truth of WikiLeaks revelations. They have not won, not yet, and they have not destroyed the man. Only the silence of good people will allow them to win. Julian Assange has never been more isolated. He needs your support and your voice. Now more than ever is the time to demand justice and free speech for Julian. Thank you.”

Dennis Bernstein: We continue our discussion of the case of Julian Assange, now in the Ecuadorian embassy in Great Britain. John Pilger, it is great to talk to you again. But it is a profound tragedy, John, the way they are treating Julian Assange, this prolific journalist and publisher who so many other journalists have depended on in the past. He has been totally left out in the cold to fend for himself.

John Pilger: I have never known anything like it. There is a kind of eerie silence around the Julian Assange case. Julian has been vindicated in every possible way and yet he is isolated as few people are these days.  He is cut off from the very tools of his trade, visitors aren’t allowed. I was in London recently and I couldn’t see him, although I spoke to people who had seen him. Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador, said recently that he regarded what they are doing to Julian now as torture.  It was Correa’s government that gave Julian political refuge, which has been betrayed now by his successor, the government led by Lenin Moreno, which is back to sucking up to the United States in the time-honored way, with Julian as the pawn and victim.

Should be a ‘Constitutional Hero’

But really it comes down to the British government. Although he is still in a foreign embassy and actually has Ecuadorian nationality, his right of passage out of that embassy should be guaranteed by the British government. The United Nations Working Party on Unlawful Detentions has made that clear. Britain took part in an investigation which determined that Julian was a political refugee and that a great miscarriage of justice had been imposed on him.  It is very good that you are doing this, Dennis, because even in the media outside the mainstream, there is this silence about Julian. The streets outside the embassy are virtually empty, whereas they should be full of people saying that we are with you. The principles involved in this case are absolutely clear-cut. Number one is justice. The injustice done to this man is legion, both in terms of the bogus Swedish case and now the fact that he must remain in the embassy and can’t leave without being arrested, extradited to the United States and ending up in a hell hole.  But it is also about freedom of speech, about our right to know, which is enshrined in the United States Constitution. If the Constitution were taken literally, Julian would be a constitutional hero, actually. Instead, I understand the indictment they are trying to concoct reads like a charge of espionage! It’s so ridiculous.That is the situation as I see it, Dennis. It is not a happy one but it is one that people should rally to quickly.

DB: His journalistic brethren are sounding like his prosecutors. They want to get behind Russia-gate freaks like Congressman Adam Schiff and Mike Pompeo, who would like to see Assange in jail forever or even executed.  How do you respond to journalists acting like prosecutors, some of whom used his material to do stories? This is a terrible time for journalism.

JP:You are absolutely right: It is a terrible time for journalism. I have never known anything quite like it in my career. That said, it is not new. There has always been a so-called mainstream which really comes down to great power in media. It has always existed, particularly in the United States. The Pulitzer Prize this year was awarded to The New York Times andThe Washington Post for witch-hunting around Russia-gate! They were praised for “how deeply sourced their investigations were.” Their investigations turned up not a shred of real evidence to suggest any serious Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

Like Webb

The Julian Assange case reminds me of the Gary Webb case. Bob Parry was one of Gary Webb’s few supporters in the media. Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series contained evidence that cocaine trafficking was going on with the connivance of the CIA. Later Webb was hounded by fellow journalists and, unable to find work, he eventually committed suicide. The CIA Inspector General subsequently vindicated him. Now, Julian Assange is a long way from taking his own life. His resilience is remarkable. But he is still a human being and he has taken such a battering.

Probably the hardest thing for him to take is the utter hypocrisy of news organizations—like The New York Times, which published the WikiLeaks “War Logs” and “Cablegate,” The Washington Post and The Guardian, which has taken a vindictive delight in tormenting Julian. The Guardian a few years ago got a Pulitzer Prize writing about Snowden. But their coverage of Snowden left him in Hong Kong. It was WikiLeaks that got Snowden out of Hong Kong and to safety.

Professionally, I find this one of the most unsavory and immoral things I have seen in my career. The persecution of this man by huge media organizations which have drawn great benefit from WikiLeaks. One of Assange’s great tormentors, The Guardian‘s Luke Harding, made a great deal of money with a Hollywood version of a book that he and David Lee wrote in which they basically attacked their source. I suppose you have to be a psychiatrist to understand all of this. My understanding is that so many of these journalists are shamed. They realize that WikiLeaks has done what they should have done a long time ago, and that is to tell us how governments lie.

DB:One thing that disturbs me greatly is the way in which the Western corporate press speculate about Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 election, that it was a hack through Julian Assange. Any serious investigator would want to know who would be motivated. And yet the possibility that it might be the dozen or so pissed-off people who went to work for the Clinton machine and learned from the inside that the DNC was all about getting rid of Bernie Sanders…this is not a part of the story!

Eight Hundred Thousand Disclosures on Russia

JP:What happened to Sanders and the way that he was rolled by the Clinton organization, everybody knows that this is the story. And now we have the DNC suing WikiLeaks! There’s a kind of farcical element to this. I mean, none of this came from the Russians. That WikiLeaks is somehow in bed with the Russians is ludicrous. WikiLeaks published about 800,000 major disclosures about Russia, some of them extremely critical of the Russian government. If you are a government and you are doing something untoward or you are lying to your people and WikiLeaks gets the documents to show it, they will publish no matter who you are, be they the United States or Russia.

DB:Randy Credico, because of his work and his decision to devote a very high-profile series to the persecution of Julian Assange, recently found himself under attack. He went to the White House Press Roast and, after having a nice discussion with Congressman Schiff, he yelled out “What about Julian Assange?”  The room was packed full of reporters but Randy was attacked and dragged out. It was if everyone there was embarrassed to recognize that one of their brethren was being brutalized.

JP:Randy shouted some truth. It is very similar to what happened to Ray McGovern. Ray is a former member of the CIA but extremely principled. I might suggest he is a renegade now.

DB:It was hysterical to watch these four armed guards who kept shouting “Stop resisting, stop resisting!” and they are beating the hell out of him!

JP:I thought the image of Ray being hauled off was particularly telling. These four overweight, obviously ill-trained young men manhandling Ray, who is 78 years old. There was something highly emblematic about that for me. He stood up to challenge the fact that the CIA was about to hand over leadership to a person who had been in charge of torture. It is both shocking and surreal, which of course the Julian Assange case is as well. But real journalism should be able to get through the shocking and the surreal and get to the truth. There is so much collusion now, with all these dark and menacing developments. It is almost as if the word “journalism” is becoming blighted.

DB:There has certainly been a lot of collusion when it comes to Israel. Then the word “collusion” is quite appropriate.

JP:That’s the ultimate collusion. But that’s collusion with silence. Never has there been a collusion like the one between the U.S. and Israel. It suggests another word and that is “immunity.” It has a moral immunity, a cultural immunity, a geopolitical immunity, a legal immunity, and certainly a media immunity. We see the gunning down of over 60 people on the day of the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Israel has some of the most wickedly experimental munitions in the world and they fired them at people who were protesting the occupation of their homeland and trying to remind people of the Nakba and the right of return. In the media these were described as “clashes.” Although they did become so bad that The New York Times in a later edition changed its front page headline to say that Israel was actually killing people. A rare moment, indeed, when the immunity, the collusion was interrupted. All the talk of Iran and nuclear weapons is without any reference to the biggest nuclear power in the Middle East.

DB:What would you say have been the contributions that Julian Assange has made in this age of censorship and cowardice in journalism? Where does he come into the picture?

JP:I think it comes down to information. If you go back to when WikiLeaks started, when Julian was sitting in his hotel room in Paris beginning to put the whole thing together, one of the first things he wrote was that there is a morality in transparency, that we have a right to know what those who wish to control our lives are doing in secret. The right to know what governments are doing in our name—on our behalf or to our detriment—is our moral right. Julian feels very passionately about this. There were times when he could have compromised slightly in order to possibly help his situation. There were times when I said to him, “Why don’t you just suspend that for a while and go along with it?” Of course, I knew beforehand what his answer would be and that was “no.” The enormous amount of information that has come from WikiLeaks, particularly in recent years, has amounted to an extraordinary public service. I was reading just the other day a 2006 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Caracas which was addressed to other agencies in the region. This was four years after the U.S. tried to get rid of Chavez in a coup. It detailed how subversion should work. Of course, they dressed it up as human rights work and so on. I was reading this official document thinking how the information contained in it was worth years of the kind of distorted reporting from Venezuela. It also reminds us that so-called “meddling” by Russia in the U.S. is just nonsense. The word “meddling” doesn’t apply to the kind of action implied in this document. It is intervention in another country’s affairs.

WikiLeaks has done that all over the world. It has given people the information they have a right to have. They had a right to find out from the so-called “War Logs” the criminality of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They had a right to find out about Cablegate. That’s when, on Clinton’s watch, we learned that the NSA was gathering personal information on members of the United Nations Security Council, including their credit card numbers. You can see why Julian made enemies. But he should also have made a huge number of friends. This is critical information because it tells us how power works and we will never learn about it otherwise.  I think WikiLeaks has opened a world of transparency and put flesh on the expression “right to know.” This must explain why he is attacked so much, because that is so threatening. The enemy to great power is not the likes of the Taliban, it is us.

DB:And who can forget the release of the “collateral murder” footage by Chelsea Manning?

JP:That kind of thing is not uncommon. Vietnam was meant to be the open war but really it wasn’t. There weren’t the cameras around. It is indeed shocking information but it informs people, and we have Chelsea Manning’s courage to thank for that.

DB:Yes, and the thanks he got was seven years in solitary confinement. They want to prosecute Assange and maybe hang him from the rafters in Congress, but what about Judith Miller and The New York Times lying the West into war? There is no end of horrific examples of what passes for journalism, in contrast to the amazing contribution that Julian Assange has made.

Click here to listen to this interview.

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




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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Bolton Flunky Fleitz Raises Stakes for Iran

From the Archive: Islamophobe & Bolton pal Fred Fleitz has been named chief of staff for the National Security Council. Fleitz was a danger a decade ago in the Bush administration and is even more so now, recalls Ray McGovern.

Ray McGovern reports that with Bolton’s old “enforcer” Fred Fleitz as NSC Chief of Staff the odds increase of war with Iran. Bolton and Fleitz can now elbow out any honest intelligence on Iran and goad the President into a world-class catastrophe. This time the result would be much worse — geometrically worse says McGovern than during the Bush administration.  

By Ray McGovern  Special to Consortium News

Originally published April 12, 2016

On a recent TV appearance, I was asked about whistleblowing, but the experience brought back to mind a crystal-clear example of how, before the Iraq War, CIA careerists were assigned “two bosses” – CIA Director George Tenet and John Bolton, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the arch-neocon who had been thrust on an obedient Secretary of State Colin Powell.

CIA “analyst” Frederick Fleitz took the instructions quite literally, bragging about being allowed to serve, simultaneously, “two bosses” — and becoming Bolton’s “enforcer.” Fleitz famously chided a senior intelligence analyst at State for not understanding that it was the prerogative of policymakers like Bolton – not intelligence analysts – to “interpret” intelligence data.

In an email from Fleitz in early 2002, at the time when one of his bosses, the pliable George Tenet, was “fixing” the intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq, Fleitz outlined the remarkable new intelligence ethos imposed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their subordinates who were reshaping the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Apparently, senior State Department intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, “had not gotten the memo” on how things had changed. Rather, he was performing his duties like a professional analyst under the old rules. Westermann had the temerity to block coordination on a speech in which Bolton wanted to make the spurious assertion that Cuba had a developing biological weapons program.

On Feb. 12, 2002, after a personal run-in with Westermann, Fleitz sent Bolton this email: “I explained to Christian [Westermann] that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data and the I.C. [Intelligence Community] should do as we asked.” Fleitz informed Bolton that Westermann still “strongly disagrees with us.”

At this point, Bolton became so dyspeptic that he summoned Westermann to his office for a tongue-lashing and then asked top officials of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to fire him. Instead, they defended him, and this was not the only time intelligence managers at State – virtually alone in the Intelligence Community – gave the Bush-43 White House and political hacks like Bolton the clear message not to count on managers and analysts at INR to acquiesce in the politicization of intelligence.

Exaggerating Iran Threat

Later, Fleitz went on to bigger and better things. In 2006, he became “senior adviser” to House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan. Bowing to desires of the White House to portray Iran as a strategic threat, Hoekstra had Fleitz draft an almost comically alarmist paper titled “Recognizing Iran as Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.” Fleitz was told not to coordinate his paper with the Intelligence Community.

The objective was to pre-empt a formal National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – an NIE that the Senate had just commissioned. Fleitz and Hoekstra feared the NIE might come to unwelcome conclusions, contradicting the kinds of stark warnings about Iran’s nuclear program that the White House wanted to use to stir up fear and justify action against Iran. Iraq deja vu.

The Fleitz-Hoekstra gambit failed. Their over-the-top paper made them the subject of ridicule in professional intelligence circles.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar was named to manage the formal NIE on Iran, and, mirable dictu, he was not only a seasoned professional but also a practitioner of the old-time ethos of objective, non-politicized intelligence.

Worse still for Bush, Cheney and their sycophants, the NIE of November 2007, endorsed by all 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community began: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

That Estimate holds the distinction of being the only NIE of which I am aware that demonstrably played a key role in preventing an unnecessary war – the war on Iran that Cheney and Bush were planning for 2008. Bush pretty much admits this in his memoir Decision Points, which includes a highly instructive section that he must have written himself.

Indeed, nowhere in his memoir is Bush’s bizarre relationship to truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the Intelligence Community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest NIE that stuck a rod in the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war with Iran.

Bush complains bitterly that the “eye-popping” NIE “tied my hands on the military side,” adding that the “NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

An Embarrassment

How embarrassing it must have been for Bush and Cheney! Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence report, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact — and not a good one.” Spelling out how the NIE had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Yet, that didn’t stop neocon warmongers from trying. The NIE was subject to virulent criticism by those disappointed that it did not provide justification for a “preventive” attack on Iran.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who has proudly described himself as the “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA),” called the Iran NIE “deceptive.” Hoekstra called it “a piece of trash.”

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department official who had managed strategic intelligence analysis but quit before the intelligence debacle on Iraq, could not resist commenting on this bizarre set of circumstances from his new position as a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association: “There is some considerable irony in hearing such criticism from those intimately familiar with the inner workings of the intelligence community, who seemed to have sleep-walked through the serious professional lapses of the 2002 NIE on Iraq WMD.”

But the neocons were deprived of the Iran war for which they had been lusting (just as, six years later, they were deprived of the war on Syria, into which they almost mouse-trapped President Barack Obama).

Still, you need not worry about any negative consequences for the compliant Bush-Cheney “analysts” who were willing to “fix” more intelligence around war policies. As usually happens in Official Washington, they landed on their feet. For instance, Fleitz is now Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by Frank Gaffney, Jr., an archdeacon of neocondom, who is still its president.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A former Army officer and CIA analyst, McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, in an attempt to expose the corruption of intelligence under the Cheney-Bush regime.




How to Honor Memorial Day

From the Archive: Memorial Day should be a time of sober reflection on war’s horrible costs, not a moment to glorify war. But many politicians and pundits can’t resist the opportunity, as Ray McGovern explains in this updated commentary from May 24, 2015. 

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

Originally published on 5/24/2015

How best to show respect for the U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for their families on Memorial Day? Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars in the first place and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.

First, let’s be clear on at least this much: the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq so far and the 2,350 killed in Afghanistan [by May 2015] did not “fall.” They were wasted on no-win battlefields by politicians and generals cheered on by neocon pundits and mainstream “journalists” almost none of whom gave a rat’s patootie about the real-life-and-death troops. They were throwaway soldiers.

And, as for the “successful surges,” they were just P.R. devices to buy some “decent intervals” for the architects of these wars and their boosters to get space between themselves and the disastrous endings while pretending that those defeats were really “victories squandered” all at the “acceptable” price of about 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers each and many times that in dead Iraqis and Afghans.

Memorial Day should be a time for honesty about what enabled the killing and maiming of so many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the senior military brass simply took full advantage of a poverty draft that gives upper-class sons and daughters the equivalent of exemptions, vaccinating them against the disease of war.

What drives me up the wall is the oft-heard, dismissive comment about troop casualties from well-heeled Americans: “Well, they volunteered, didn’t they?” Under the universal draft in effect during Vietnam, far fewer were immune from service, even though the well-connected could still game the system to avoid serving. Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, for example, each managed to pile up five exemptions. This means, of course, that they brought zero military experience to the job; and this, in turn, may explain a whole lot — particularly given their bosses’ own lack of military experience.

The grim truth is that many of the crëme de la crëme of today’s Official Washington don’t know many military grunts, at least not intimately as close family or friends. They may bump into some on the campaign trail or in an airport and mumble something like, “thank you for your service.” But these sons and daughters of working-class communities from America’s cities and heartland are mostly abstractions to the powerful, exclamation points at the end of  some ideological debate demonstrating which speaker is “tougher,” who’s more ready to use military force, who will come out on top during a talk show appearance or at a think-tank conference or on the floor of Congress.

Sharing the Burden?

We should be honest about this reality, especially on Memorial Day. Pretending that the burden of war has been equitably shared, and worse still that those killed died for a “noble cause,” as President George W. Bush liked to claim, does no honor to the thousands of U.S. troops killed and the tens of thousands maimed. It dishonors them. Worse, it all too often succeeds in infantilizing bereaved family members who cannot bring themselves to believe their government lied.

Who can blame parents for preferring to live the fiction that their sons and daughters were heroes who wittingly and willingly made the “ultimate sacrifice,” dying for a “noble cause,” especially when this fiction is frequently foisted on them by well-meaning but naive clergy at funerals. For many it is impossible to live with the reality that a son or daughter died in vain. Far easier to buy into the official story and to leave clergy unchallenged as they gild the lilies around coffins and gravesites.

Not so for some courageous parents. Cindy Sheehan, for example, whose son Casey Sheehan was killed on April 4, 2004, in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, demonstrated uncommon grit when she led hundreds of friends to Crawford to lay siege to the Texas White House during the summer of 2005 trying to get Bush to explain what “noble cause” Casey died for. She never got an answer. There is none.

But there are very few, like Cindy Sheehan, able to overcome a natural human resistance to the thought that their sons and daughters died for a lie and then to challenge that lie. These few stalwarts make themselves face this harsh reality, the knowledge that the children whom they raised and sacrificed so much for were, in turn, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, that their precious children were bit players in some ideological fantasy or pawns in a game of career maneuvering.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is said to have described the military disdainfully as “just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” Whether or not those were his exact words, his policies and behavior certainly betrayed that attitude. It certainly seems to have prevailed among top American-flag-on-lapel-wearing officials of the Bush and Obama administrations, including armchair and field-chair generals whose sense of decency is blinded by the prospect of a shiny new star on their shoulders, if they just follow orders and send young soldiers into battle.

This bitter truth should raise its ugly head on Memorial Day but rarely does. It can be gleaned only with great difficulty from the mainstream media, since the media honchos continue to play an indispensable role in the smoke-and-mirrors dishonesty that hides their own guilt in helping Establishment Washington push “the fallen” from life to death.

We must judge the actions of our political and military leaders not by the pious words they will utter Monday in mourning those who “fell” far from the generals’ cushy safe seats in the Pentagon or somewhat closer to the comfy beds in air-conditioned field headquarters where a lucky general might be comforted in the arms of an admiring and enterprising biographer.

Many of the high-and-mighty delivering the approved speeches on Monday will glibly refer to and mourn “the fallen.” None are likely to mention the culpable policymakers and complicit generals who added to the fresh graves at Arlington National Cemetery and around the country.

Words, after all, are cheap; words about “the fallen” are dirt cheap especially from the lips of politicians and pundits with no personal experience of war. The families of those sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan should not have to bear that indignity.

‘Successful Surges’

The so-called “surges” of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly gross examples of the way our soldiers have been played as pawns. Since the usual suspects are again coming out the woodwork of neocon think tanks to press for yet another “surge” in Iraq, some historical perspective should help.

Take, for example, the well-known and speciously glorified first “surge;” the one Bush resorted to in sending over 30,000 additional troops into Iraq in early 2007; and the not-to-be-outdone Obama “surge” of 30,000 into Afghanistan in early 2010. These marches of folly were the direct result of decisions by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to prioritize political expediency over the lives of U.S. troops.

Taking cynical advantage of the poverty draft, they let foot soldiers pay the “ultimate” price. That price was 1,000 U.S. troops killed in each of the two “surges.”

And the results? The returns are in. The bloody chaos these days in Iraq and the faltering war in Afghanistan were entirely predictable. They were indeed predicted by those of us able to spread some truth around via the Internet, while being mostly blacklisted by the fawning corporate media.

Yet, because the “successful surge” myth was so beloved in Official Washington, saving some face for the politicians and pundits who embraced and spread the lies that justified and sustained especially the Iraq War, the myth has become something of a touchstone for everyone aspiring to higher office or seeking a higher-paying gig in the mainstream media.

Campaigning in New Hampshire, [then] presidential aspirant Jeb Bush gave a short history lesson about his big brother’s attack on Iraq. Referring to the so-called Islamic State, Bush said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out … the surge created a fragile but stable Iraq. …”

We’ve dealt with the details of the Iraq “surge” myth before both before and after it was carried out. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Reviving the Successful Surge Myth”;  “Gen. Keane on Iran Attack”; “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”; and “Troop Surge Seen as Another Mistake.”]

But suffice it to say that Jeb Bush is distorting the history and should be ashamed. The truth is that al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq before his brother launched an unprovoked invasion in 2003. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” arose as a direct result of Bush’s war and occupation. Amid the bloody chaos, AQI’s leader, a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pioneered a particularly brutal form of terrorism, relishing videotaped decapitation of prisoners.

Zarqawi was eventually hunted down and killed not during the celebrated “surge” but in June 2006, months before Bush’s “surge” began. The so-called Sunni Awakening, essentially the buying off of many Sunni tribal leaders, also predated the “surge.” And the relative reduction in the Iraq War’s slaughter after the 2007 “surge” was mostly the result of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad from a predominantly Sunni to a Shia city, tearing the fabric of Baghdad in two, and creating physical space that made it more difficult for the two bitter enemies to attack each other. In addition, Iran used its influence with the Shia to rein in their extremely violent militias.

Though weakened by Zarqawi’s death and the Sunni Awakening, AQI did not disappear, as Jeb Bush would like you to believe. It remained active and when Saudi Arabia and the Sunni gulf states took aim at the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria AQI joined with other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as the Nusra Front, to spread their horrors across Syria. AQI rebranded itself “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or simply “the Islamic State.”

The Islamic State split off from al-Qaeda over strategy but the various jihadist armies, including al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, [then] seized wide swaths of territory in Syria — and the Islamic State returned with a vengeance to Iraq, grabbing major cities such as Mosul and Ramadi.

Jeb Bush doesn’t like to unspool all this history. He and other Iraq War backers prefer to pretend that the “surge” in Iraq had won the war and Obama threw the “victory” away by following through on George W. Bush’s withdrawal agreement with Maliki.

But the crisis in Syria and Iraq is among the fateful consequences of the U.S./UK attack 12 years ago and particularly of the “surge” of 2007, which contributed greatly to Sunni-Shia violence, the opposite of what George W. Bush professed was the objective of the “surge,” to enable Iraq’s religious sects to reconcile.

Reconciliation, however, always took a back seat to the real purpose of the “surge” buying time so Bush and Cheney could slip out of Washington in 2009 without having an obvious military defeat hanging around their necks and putting a huge stain on their legacies.

The political manipulation of the Iraq “surge” allowed Bush, Cheney and their allies to reframe the historical debate and shift the blame for the defeat onto Obama, recognizing that 1,000 more dead U.S. soldiers was a small price to pay for protecting the “Bush brand.” Now, Bush’s younger brother can cheerily march off to the campaign trail for 2016 pointing to the carcass of the Iraqi albatross hung around Obama’s shoulders.

Rout at Ramadi

Less than a year after U.S.-trained and -equipped Iraqi forces ran away from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, leaving the area and lots of U.S. arms and equipment to ISIS, something similar happened at Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. Despite heavy U.S. air strikes on ISIS, American-backed Iraqi security forces fled Ramadi, which is only 70 miles west of Baghdad, after a lightning assault by ISIS forces.

The ability of ISIS to strike just about everywhere in the area is reminiscent of the Tet offensive of January-February 1968 in Vietnam, which persuaded President Lyndon Johnson that that particular war was unwinnable. If there are materials left over in Saigon for reinforcing helicopter landing pads on the tops of buildings, it is not too early to bring them to Baghdad’s Green Zone, on the chance that U.S. embassy buildings may have a call for such materials in the not-too-distant future.

The headlong Iraqi government retreat from Ramadi had scarcely ended when Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), described the fall of the city as “terribly significant” which is correct adding that more U.S. troops may be needed which is insane. His appeal for more troops neatly fit one proverbial definition of insanity (attributed or misattributed to Albert Einstein): “doing the same thing over and over again [like every eight years?] but expecting different results.”

As Jeb Bush was singing the praises of his brother’s “surge” in Iraq, McCain and his Senate colleague Lindsey Graham were publicly calling for a new “surge” of U.S. troops into Iraq. The senators urged President Obama to do what George W. Bush did in 2007 replace the U.S. military leadership and dispatch additional troops to Iraq.

But Washington Post pundit David Ignatius, even though a fan of the earlier two surges, was not yet on board for this one. Ignatius warned in a column that Washington should not abandon its current strategy:

“This is still Iraq’s war, not America’s. But President Barack Obama must reassure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the U.S. has his back, and at the same time give him a reality check: If al-Abadi and his Shiite allies don’t do more to empower Sunnis, his country will splinter. Ramadi is a precursor, of either a turnaround by al-Abadi’s forces, or an Iraqi defeat.”

Ignatius’s urgent tone was warranted. But what he suggests is precisely what the U.S. made a lame attempt to do with then-Prime Minister Maliki in early 2007. Yet, Bush squandered U.S. leverage by sending 30,000 troops to show he “had Maliki’s back,” freeing Maliki to accelerate his attempts to marginalize, rather than accommodate, Sunni interests.

Perhaps Ignatius now remembers how the “surge” he championed in 2007 greatly exacerbated tensions between Shia and Sunni contributing to the chaos now prevailing in Iraq and spreading across Syria and elsewhere. But Ignatius is well connected and a bellwether; if he ends up advocating another “surge,” take shelter.

Keane and Kagan Ask For a Mulligan

The architects of Bush’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 troops into Iraq, former Army General Jack Keane and American Enterprise Institute neocon strategist Frederick Kagan, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned strongly that, without a “surge” of some 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops, ISIS would win in Iraq.

“We are losing this war,” warned Keane, who previously served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “ISIS is on the offense, with the ability to attack at will, anyplace, anytime. … Air power will not defeat ISIS.” Keane stressed that the U.S. and its allies have “no ground force, which is the defeat mechanism.”

Not given to understatement, Kagan called ISIS “one of the most evil organizations that has ever existed. … This is not a group that maybe we can negotiate with down the road someday. This is a group that is committed to the destruction of everything decent in the world.” He called for “15-20,000 U.S. troops on the ground to provide the necessary enablers, advisers and so forth,” and added: “Anything less than that is simply unserious.”

(By the way, Frederick Kagan is the brother of neocon-star Robert Kagan, whose Project for the New American Century began pushing for the invasion of Iraq in 1998 and finally got its way in 2003. Robert Kagan is the husband of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who oversaw the 2014 coup that brought “regime change” and bloody chaos to Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis also prompted Robert Kagan to urge a major increase in U.S. military spending. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”] )

What is perhaps most striking, however, is the casualness with which the likes of Frederick Kagan, Jack Keane, and other Iraq War enthusiasts advocated dispatching tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to fight and die in what would almost certainly be another futile undertaking. You might even wonder why people like Kagan are invited to testify before Congress given their abysmal records.

But that would miss the true charm of the Iraq “surge” in 2007 and its significance in salvaging the reputations of folks like Kagan, not to mention George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. From their perspective, the “surge” was a great success. Bush and Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on Jan. 20, 2009.

As author Steve Coll has put it, “The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush’s] presidency would not end with a defeat in history’s eyes. By committing to the surge [the President] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate.”

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, “even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me.” Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the U.S. was losing. Suddenly, with some fancy footwork, it became Laura, Barney and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus along with 30,000 more U.S. soldiers making sure that the short-term fix was in.

The fact that about 1,000 U.S. soldiers returned in caskets was the principal price paid for that short-term “surge” fix. Their “ultimate sacrifice” will be mourned by their friends, families and countrymen on Memorial Day even as many of the same politicians and pundits will be casually pontificating about dispatching more young men and women as cannon fodder into the same misguided war.

[President Donald Trump has continued the U.S.’s longest war (Afghanistan), sending additional troops and dropping a massive bomb as well as missiles from drones.  In Syria he has ordered two missile strikes and condoned multiple air strikes from Israel.  Here’s hoping, on this Memorial Day 2018, that he turns his back on his war-mongering national security adviser, forges ahead with a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un rather than toy with the lives of 30,000 U.S. soldiers in Korea, and halts the juggernaut rolling downhill toward war with Iran.]

It was difficult drafting this downer, this historical counter-narrative, on the eve of Memorial Day. It seems to me necessary, though, to expose the dramatis personae who played such key roles in getting more and more people killed. Sad to say, none of the high officials mentioned here, as well as those on the relevant Congressional committees, were affected in any immediate way by the carnage in Ramadi, Tikrit or outside the gate to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

And perhaps that’s one of the key points here. It is not most of us, but rather our soldiers and the soldiers and civilians of Iraq, Afghanistan and God knows where else who are Lazarus at the gate. And, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 




A Tale of Two Tortures

How the Americans and the British “tortured some folks” and got away with it, as Annie Machon explains.

By Annie Machon Special to Consortium News

in Brussels

It was with some disbelief that I read of two torture-related stories emerging around the same time last week. The first was about the legal victory of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, Libyan dissident, kidnap victim of MI6 and the CIA, and torture victim of Colonel Gaddafi. UK governmental apologies were finally made and reparation paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of torture condemned.

Meanwhile, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full disgusting display. Our American chums are in the process of attempting to appoint an alleged notorious torturer as the head of the CIA.

While nominee Gina Haspel had soft-ball questions lobbed at her by a tame pack of senators at her confirmation hearing, retired CIA senior analyst, former presidential briefer, and now justice activist, Ray McGovern, stood up and said what the Senators knew, but would not say: namely that she supervised — directly, on site — the waterboarding of Al Nashiri, who had been kidnapped and brought to the first secret CIA prison abroad (in Thailand) for “interrogation.” McGovern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when additional police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By juxtaposing these two incidents I am not trying to make the point that the UK is morally better than the USA when it comes to torture over the last 17 years – manifestly it has not been – but certainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of torture was verboten. Partly for ethical reasons, but mainly because the British Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-productive the use of torture and illegal imprisonment could be during the early stages of the bitter civil war in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

A Lesson Forgotten

Unfortunately those hard-won lessons were generational, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a result, come the aftermath of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh military retaliation, illegal war, kidnapping and torture, the compliant British intelligence agencies followed helter-skelter down the same path, all in the name of the special intelligence relationship.

So, back to the Belhaj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to transport you back to 1995. Although the US-funded Mujahideen in Afghanistan was by then morphing into al- Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emergent, if regional threat, peace seemed to be breaking out all over the world: the Cold War was officially over, a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Northern Ireland was in the making, and there even seemed to be some progress with the running political sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occupation, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

However, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the Western intelligence hit list. This was partly because it was suspected by the UK government to have been behind the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and the search for the perpetrators was a top level priority for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any progress, and partly because Gaddafi had largely closed the huge Libyan oil reserves to Western oil companies.

Worth a Ton to MI6

So when, in 1995, a Libyan military intelligence officer (subsequently codenamed TUNWORTH) walked into the British embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the resident spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gaddafi, solve the Lockerbie case, and allow Britain and its allies to once again plunder the vast Libyan oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islamist extremists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted support and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illegal under UK law, which required a ministerial sign-off before such an operation, and then it went wrong, killing innocent people. How much heinous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Belhaj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the very organisation that MI6 had funded for this attack. As a result, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the international fold following his notorious deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 2004, Belhaj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his pregnant wife were tracked down and intercepted by MI6 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thailand and held in a CIA black site, before onward transit to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Belhaj and his pregnant wife were lashed to the floor of a US military transport plan for the duration.

Belhaj was subsequently held in the notorious Abu Selim prison for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tortured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

That could have been the end of it, except the West made a catastrophic decision to once again try to depose Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its P\president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reliable UK and USA, in a “humanitarian intervention” to protect the citizens of Islamist Benghazi – which by the way was not under direct threat at the time. Another fabricated excuse for a Western war of aggression.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is currently under investigation for illegally accepting five million euros from Gaddafi to fund his bid for the French Presidency in the 2007 election, and in the same year Gaddafi was awarded a full state visit to France.)

The ‘Deal in the Desert’

This time the West achieved openly and shamelessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shamefully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gaddafi, who was caught, brutalised and buggered with a bayonet, murdered, and his mutilated corpse left on display for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was captured, tortured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-entering the political fray in Libya.

In the chaos that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of documents left in the office of notorious intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the country initially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these documents was a letter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facilitate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a congratulatory letter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facilitate the capture of Belhaj, and effectively to see him as a “gift” to the Libyan regime in 2004, as a gesture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s letter to Musa Kusa, submitted by Belhaj’s lawyers:

“I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Mr Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years…..Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from [Mr Belhaj] through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence about [Mr Belhaj] was British… I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gaddafi regime fatally trusted its new relationship with the West; and a man and his pregnant wife suffered, and the country as a whole continues to suffer immensely from the ensuing civil war that followed Gaddafi’s assassination..

The court case last week in the UK was a victory for them. Belhaj himself, despite successive UK governments offering one million pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknowledgement and apology from the UK government about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accepted half of the amount offered. The three UK key players – Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen naturally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blemish to their reputations….

So are we likely to see the same admission of guilt from the instigators of the US torture programme?

Far from it. Even if Gina Haspel is not confirmed by the full Senate, the fact she was even considered for the post of heading the CIA is utterly shameless. As was the disgusting treatment of CIA pensioner and peace protester, Ray McGovern.

Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service (the U.S. counterpart is the FBI).




Haspel Says CIA Won’t Torture Again as Ray McGovern is Dragged Out of Hearing

2nd UPDATE: After refusing to directly answer questions about her history as an alleged torturer, Ray McGovern decided to ask Gina Haspel a question or two of his own and he wound up in jail for it, reports Joe Lauria.

Updated with news that McGovern returned home and details of him being charged with Unlawful Disruption of Congress and Resisting Arrest.

By Joe Lauria  Special to Consortium News

Instead of facing a judge to defend herself against prosecution for violating U.S. law prohibiting torture, 33-year CIA veteran Gina Haspel on Wednesday faced the Senate Intelligence Committee in a hearing to confirm her as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Haspel does not look like someone who would be associated with torture. Instead she would not be out of place as your next door neighbor or as a kindly grade-school teacher. “I think you will find me to be a typical middle-class American,” she said in her opening statement.

Haspel is the face of America. She not only looks harmless, but looks like she wants to help: perhaps to recommend a good gardener to hire or to spread democracy around the globe while upholding human rights wherever they are violated.

But this perfectly typical middle class American personally supervised a black site in Thailand where terrorism suspects were waterboarded. It remains unclear whether she had a direct role in the torture. The CIA said she arrived at the black site after the waterboarding of senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah had taken place. Some CIA officials disputed that to The New York Times. The newspaper also reported last year that Haspel ran the CIA Thai prison in 2002 when another suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded.  

Even if she did not have a direct hand in overseeing the torture, she certainly acquiesced to it. And if that were not bad enough, Haspel

urged the destruction of 92 videotaped CIA “enhanced interrogations,” conducted at the prison in Thailand, eliminating evidence in a clear-cut obstruction of justice to cover-up her own possible crimes.

At her public hearing Haspel refused to say that the torture was immoral. Instead she tried to romanticize her nefarious past in adolescent language about the spy trade, about going to secret meetings on “dark, moonless nights,” in the “dusty back alleys of Third World capitals.”

Haspel claimed to have a “strong moral compass.” We really can’t know because we only found out about what she did in Thailand in 2002 because of press reports. Just about everything else she did during her three decades at the agency remains shrouded in secrecy because she refused to declassify almost all of her record for the committee.

Bloody Gina,” as some CIA colleagues called her, told the hearing she would not re-institute the “enhanced interrogation” program if she became director. One wonders if the US were attacked again like on 9/11 if she would keep her vow, especially as she admitted nothing wrong with “enhanced interrogation” the first time.

Haspel testified that the U.S. has a new legal framework that governs detentions and interrogations forbidding what she refused to call torture. But the U.S. already had a law on the books against it when the Senate ratified the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on October 21, 1994. Every time the U.S. “tortured some folks” after that, as Barack Obama put it, it broke U.S. law.

In speaking about it in a folksy way, Obama was minimizing the enormity of the crime and justifying his decision to not prosecute any American who may have taken part in it. That includes Haspel. So instead of facing the law she’s facing a career promotion to one of the most powerful positions in the United States, if not the world.

McGovern Speaks Out

Haspel tried to wiggle out of relentless questioning about whether she thought torture was immoral, let alone illegal. Completely ignoring U.S. ratification of the Convention Against Torture, Haspel clung to the new Army Field Manual, which contains a loophole in an annex added after 9/11 that justifies cruel punishment, but not specifically torture.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was tortured in Vietnam, had no doubts about Haspel. After the hearing he issued a statement saying, “Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

Because she wasn’t giving any straight answers, Ray McGovern, a CIA veteran of 27 years and frequent contributor to Consortium News, stood up in the hearing room and began asking his own questions. Capitol police were immediately ordered by the chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), to physically remove McGovern from the room. As he continued turning towards the committee to shout his questions, four officers hauled him out. They ominously accused him of resisting arrest. Once they got him into the hallway, rather than letting him go his way, four policemen wrestled him to the ground, re-injuring his dislocated left shoulder, as they attempted to cuff him.

After spending the night in jail, McGovern, 78, was to be arraigned on Thursday. He has not responded to several voice message left on his mobile phone. A police officer at Central Booking told Consortium News McGovern was no longer under their control and had been sent to court. According to DC Superior Court, he has been charged with Unlawful Disruption of Congress and Resisting Arrest. Ray returned home Thursday night.

McGovern was one of several people arrested before and during the hearing for speaking out. The spectacle of citizens of this country, and in Ray’s case a veteran CIA officer, having to resort to disrupting a travesty of a hearing to put an alleged torturer in charge of the most powerful spy agency in the world is a disturbing indicator of how far we have come.

A Different Kind of Hearing

In 1975, Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) conducted hearings that revealed a raft of criminality committed by the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a period of thirty years from the end of the Second World War. It has been more than 40 years since that Senate investigation. After the release of the CIA Torture Report by the Senate in 2014 and the revelations about the NSA by Edward Snowden, a new Church Committee-style expansive probe into the intelligence agencies is long overdue.

A central question it should ask is whether the CIA really serves the interests of the American people or rather the interests of its rulers, which the agency has done from its founding by Wall Street elites, such as its first director, Allen Dulles.

While the Republican-controlled intelligence committee may have partisan motives to launch such a new Church-like commission to look into the agencies’ shenanigans in the Russia-gate fiasco, the majority of Republicans are hawks on intelligence matters and many support torture and want Haspel to be the next CIA director. For instance, Burr told Haspel: “You are without a doubt the most qualified person the president could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70-year history of the agency. You have acted morally, ethically and legally over a distinguished 30-year career.”

None of this bodes well for the nation.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com 

 




Will a Torturer Become CIA Director?

Gina Haspel faces a confirmation hearing on Wednesday to become CIA director despite her record of supporting torture, which even the Pentagon admitted does not work, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled on Wednesday to decide whether to recommend that Gina Haspel be confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The mind boggles.

It is no secret that Haspel oversaw detainee torture, including waterboarding, at a CIA “black site” base in Thailand. The nonprofit National Security Archive, housed at The George Washington University, reports that Haspel later drafted a cable ordering the destruction of dozens of videotapes of torture sessions, including some from before her arrival. Haspel also helped feed repeated lies about the supposed effectiveness of torture to CIA superiors, Congress, and two presidents.

So how does President Donald Trump think he can get this nomination approved? It is a sad story. Polling shows that most Americans, including Catholics, have been persuaded by Hollywood films and TV series, other media, and Trump himself that torture works. “Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump told ABC News in January 2017. 

Given the utilitarian tone dominating the discussion, I will first address whether there is any evidence that torture “works,” and then comment on the tendency to equivocate—in what one might call a jesuitical way—about the morality of torture. I must, however, point out upfront that the civilized world has long since decided that torture is intrinsically evil: always wrong. It is also against international and domestic law, of course. But torture is not wrong because it is illegal. It is the other way around. Torture is illegal because it is just flat wrong—always.

Coercing False ‘Intelligence’

On Sept. 6, 2006, Gen. John Kimmons, then the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, chose to address this issue publicly at a Pentagon press conference just one hour before he knew that President George W. Bush would publicly extol the virtues of torture methods that became known as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Gen.l Kimmons said, “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years—hard years—tell us that.”

Here is the exception, however: Torture can “work” like a charm when interrogators are told to coerce false “intelligence” that can be used, for example, to start a war.

Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has explained how his boss was mousetrapped by CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin as Col. Wilkerson was putting the final touches on Secretary Powell’s misbegotten speech on Iraq to the UN Security Council on Feb 5, 2003. Mr. Tenet used information he knew was from torture to mislead Powell into claiming there was a “sinister nexus” between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to Col. Wilkerson, Tenet did not tell Powell that this “intelligence” came from a source, Ibn Shayk al-Libi, who had been “rendered” to and waterboarded by Egyptian intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency had officially pronounced unreliable what al-Libi had said, but Tenet never told Powell. Al-Libi then recanted less than a year later, admitting that he fabricated the story about Saddam and al-Qaeda in order to stop the torture.

‘Intrinsic Evil’

Those of us who attended Jesuit institutions decades ago were taught that there was a moral category called “intrinsic evil”—actions that were always wrong, including rape, slavery and torture. Sadly, at my alma mater Fordham University, torture seems to have slipped out of that well-defined moral category into a “gray world.” 

In spring 2012, graduating seniors who were aware of Homeland Security Advisor (and later CIA head) John Brennan’s checkered career strongly opposed the decision by Fordham’s president, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., to invite Brennan, who graduated from Fordham College in 1977, to give the university commencement address on the Bronx campus and be awarded—of all things—a doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa. Brennan was already on record defending “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons abroad and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Many Fordham students saw scandal in that the violent policies Brennan advocated were in stark contrast to the principles that Fordham University was supposed to stand for as a Catholic Jesuit University. Scott McDonald, a graduating senior, asked to meet with President McShane to discuss those concerns, but Brennan remained as commencement speaker. McDonald left the meeting wondering if the moral theologians at Fordham now considered torture a “gray area.”

Last year, Fordham again honored Brennan by appointing him distinguished fellow for global security at the school’s Center on National Security. And Brennan has endorsed the Haspel nomination.

I feel all this on a deep personal level. Not only have I been a proud Fordham Ram since 1953 but, more important, we have nine grandchildren, seven of whom have not yet chosen their college. It pains me greatly not to be able to recommend my alma mater.

Ray McGovern originally drafted this article at the request of the Jesuit weekly, America. It was circulated in-house but then nixed for publication.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington, D.C.. A Fordham alumnus, he spent 27 years as a CIA analyst, from the Kennedy administration to the first Bush administration. He holds a certificate in theological studies from Georgetown and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.




Robert Mueller: Gone Fishing

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s strategy may be to try to lure Donald Trump into perjury when Mueller can already get all the answers to his questions from the NSA, say Ray McGovern and Bill Binney.  

 

By Ray McGovern and Bill Binney Special to Consortium News

After a year of investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, in effect, admitted that he has hit a dry well.  He is under strong pressure to keep the charade going until the November elections, however, so he and his high-priced legal brain-trust have devised a new tactic.

One would think they could come up with something less transparent.  After all, Mueller was FBI Director from 2001 to 2013 and knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak.  But it does not appear likely that he is going to get his man this time.  So, rather than throw in the towel, he is making a college try at cajoling President Donald Trump into helping him out.

Today’s New York Times print-edition lede by Michael S. Schmidt, “Questions for President Show Depth of Inquiry Into Russian Meddling,” bespeaks an embarrassingly desperate attempt to get President Donald Trump to incriminate himself.  And, given Trump’s temperament and his dismissive attitude toward his legal advisers, the President might just rise to the bait.

Schmidt reports that Mueller’s high-powered legal team has prepared over four dozen questions for Trump “on an exhaustive array of subjects.” Assuming the Times is correct and the questions indeed are Mueller’s, an earlier electronic Times headline would seem more to the point: “Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Quest on Russia Ties and Obstruction.”  Not depth, as in the earlier headline, but breadth.  Deep dry well already dug.  A “broad quest,” yep, now that could be the ticket!   The questions leaked to the the Times betoken a very wide quest, indeed,

stopping just short of the proverbial, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Or, in Trump’s case, “What discussions did you have with Stormy Daniels during your dalliance with her?” Schmidt reports that “the open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers.”  

Here’s one “open-ended” query as described by the Times: “[W]hat happened during Mr. Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow.” That’s the trip about which an opposition-research investigator working for the Clinton campaign (through a cut-out) came up with the scurrilous “pee-tape” story about Trump consorting with prostitutes.

Also included in the “exhaustive array of subjects” are questions like this: What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?” In an attempt to put some gravitas behind this question, the Times explains that “Mr. Priebus, who was Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, has said he raced out of the White House after Mr. Sessions and implored him not to resign. Mr. Mueller has interviewed Mr. Priebus and would be able to compare his answers with those of Mr. Trump.” Aha!  Might this be a clue to Mueller’s approach?  Something informally called The Flynn-Papadopoulos Playbook for Dummies?  What if the President’s recollection does not exactly match that of Priebus?  A gotcha moment?  Perjury.

But does anyone really care if recollections don’t square on such trivia?  Never before has it been clearer that the Mueller investigation is 90 percent charade.  Often, lawyers are not very good at the game.  This is no exception.

Theater of the Absurd

Mueller knows better than anyone, where and how to find the dirt on the Trump campaign, collusion with Russia, or anything else.  That he has been able to come up with so little — and is trying to get some help from the President himself — speaks volumes.

Mueller does not need to send his team off on a “broad quest” with “open-ended” queries on an “exhaustive array of subjects.”  If there were any tangible evidence of Trump campaign-Russia collusion, Mueller would almost certainly have known where to look and, in today’s world of blanket surveillance, would have found it by now.  It beggars belief that he would have failed, in the course of his year-old investigation, to use all the levers at his disposal — the levers Edward Snowden called “turnkey tyranny” — to “get the goods” on Trump.

Here’s what the “mainstream” media keeps from most Americans:  The National Security Agency (NSA) collects everything: all email, telephone calls, texts, faxes — everything, and stores it in giant databases.  OK; we know that boggles the mind, but the technical capability is available, and the policy is to “collect it all.”  All is collected and stored in vast warehouses.  (The tools to properly analyze/evaluate this flood of information do not match the miraculous state of the art of collection, so the haystack keeps growing and the needles get harder and harder to find.  But that is another story.)

How did collection go on steroids? You’ve heard it a thousand times — “After 9/11 everything changed.”  In short, when Vice President Dick Cheney told NSA Director and Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to disregard the Fourth Amendment, Hayden saluted sharply. 

And so, after 9/11, NSA’s erstwhile super-strict First Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Collect Information on Americans Without a Court Warrant,” went the way of the Fourth Amendment.  (When this became public, former NSA Director Adm. Bobby Ray Inman stated openly that Hayden violated the law, and former NSA Director Army Gen. William Odom said Hayden ought to be courtmartialed.  The timorous “mainstream” media suppressed what Inman and Odom said.)

Mischievous “Hops”

On January 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama directed the intelligence community to limit their warrantless data searches for analysis/evaluation to two “hops,” either he did not understand what he was authorizing or he was bowing, as was his custom, to what the intelligence community claimed was needed (lest anyone call him soft on terrorism). 

Intelligence directors were quite happy with his decision because, basically, it authorized them to spy on anyone on the planet.  To explain: Hop” is a term used in Graph Theory for social network analysis.  (In WW I, this activity was called net reconstruction.  During and after WW II it was labeled contact chaining.  The general practice in the U.S. goes back at least as far as the Civil War.  By watching who was visiting whom in Washington, the Pinkertons were able to uncover a Confederate spy ring.)

Hop” refers to one connection in a series of connections in a social network.  For example, I call you (that’s the first hop); then you call someone else (second hop).  Another term for hop is degree of separation, 2 hops = 2 degrees of separation.  

Several of us NSA alumni/members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried, in vain, to warn the White House of the danger of allowing the second hop to apply to government departments or to businesses. The reason is straightforward; if you include “businesses” like Google, for example, which has up to a billion connections per day, it will not take very long before you have included everyone.

Small wonder, then, that leaders of NSA and the rest of the intelligence community were delighted with Obama’s January 2014 decision.  It meant they could continue collecting and targeting anyone they wanted.  In essence, this means that the FBI/NSA/CIA believe they have approval to surveil any US citizen without a court warrant.  And that is what they are doing.

Parallel Construction & ‘Wiretapping’

But when the FBI, for example, does find evidence enough to prosecute, it is has to circumvent rules of criminal procedure by creating a “parallel construction.”  This involves obtaining evidence similar to that in NSA-collected data and using the new “legal” evidence in court, without telling the judges, lawyers, or defendants where they originally got it from. This, of course, can amount to perjury and applies also to any warrant requests and sworn affidavits submitted to get the warrants.  Former FBI Director Mueller has said he was comfortable with this process, which the Bureau has been using since 2001, right after 9/11.

In a 2011 interview by Barton Gellman for Time magazine, Mueller made it clear his FBI had been using the “Stellar Wind” program since late 2001. This is the program by which the NSA has been collecting and storing domestic data on virtually all US citizens. 

So, in essence, Mueller and his FBI were fine with deceiving court and defendant alike, denying defendants the right to proper and full discovery. Finally, performing surveillance on anyone in the Trump campaign or in his administration, would mean the NSA/FBI/CIA could “legally” (by their own warped standards) spy on everyone associated with the Trump administration even retroactively, going back to before the campaign began. That means Mueller could have access to all the answers before he even asks Trump the first question. 

We do not know exactly what prompted Trump to claim a year ago that he had been “wiretapped” (“wiretapping” has gone the way of the Edsel Ford), but if he was told he had been surveilled, he was probably accurately informed.  No doubt he was/is but one hop, skip, and a jump away from others under surveillance, without any requirement even for the skip and the jump — much less a warrant.

Ray McGovern (rrmcgovern@gmail.com) was a CIA analyst for 27 years; from 1981 to 1985 he briefed the President’s Daily Brief one-on-one to President Reagan’s most senior national security officials.  William Binney (williambinney0802@comcast.net) worked for NSA for 36 years, retiring in 2001 as the technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and reporting; he created many of the collection systems still used by NSA. 




Month in Review: Syria, Gaza, Russia and Tributes to Bob Parry

A look back at the stories in April that made the headlines on Consortium News.

By Joe Lauria

The worsening crises in Syria and Gaza dominated Consortium News’ coverage in April. 

Last month also saw publication of numerous tributes to the late founder and editor of Consortium News, Bob Parry. A memorial for Bob was held in Arlington, Virginia on April 14. Several tributes (from John Pilger, Brian Barger, Joe Lauria and Don North) were posted on the site and a video of the entire event was made available on April 27.

Syria

Donald Trump’s April 14 air strike on Damascus was the focal point of the Syria coverage. In the lead-up to the strike Consortium News zeroed in on two aspects downplayed or totally ignored by corporate media: the legality of the strike and the question of evidence. In the aftermath of the strike, we focused on the continuing lack of proof of a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb—Trump’s supposed casus belli, or as Ray McGovern quipped, a casus belly laugh.

After a supposed chemical attack on April 7 allegedly killed dozens of people in the Damascus suburb, and talk of a U.S. military retaliation stirred in Washington, Consortium News published an appeal by a group of international lawyers on April 11, arguing that the U.S. could only act in self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. charter or with U.N. Security Council authorization. The Trump administration sought neither.

Instead Trump toyed with the idea of conflict with nuclear-armed Russia in a series of tweets, the most alarming of which was on that very day, April 11: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

On the same day, as Trump contemplated his “nice” strike, we also ran an article from University of Illinois Professor Francis Boyle about America’s “Unlimited Imperialism,” based on the teachings of Prof. Boyle’s mentor Hans Morgenthau. The day before, on April 10, Consortium published a piece on the dangers of nuclear confrontation with Russia, as well as an excerpt from Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, “The Doomsday Machine.”

We took a look at America’s Long History of Trying to Determine Who Rules Syria in a column on April 12 by Caitlin Johnstone. The following day a memo to President Trump from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity was published, urging Trump to obtain evidence of Syrian culpability and follow U.S. and international law before deciding to commit an act of war.

On the next night Trump attacked. We published a quick reaction to the strike, pointing out that chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due a few hours later to arrive in Syria to begin their work to determine whether chemicals were even used in Duma. By contrast, corporate media wheeled out ex-generals, many with undisclosed military industry contracts, to tout the hardware the U.S. had employed in an advertisement masquerading as news analysis. The issue of evidence and legality was hardly raised in mainstream reports.

In the days following the attack, Consortium News ran pieces from Norman Solomon calling the strike a salute to the “Russia-gate faithful;” first-time writer Barry Kissin wrote on Defense Secretary James Mattis’ 24-hour about-face from opposition to support for the strike; two pieces were published on reports that victims in Duma had suffered from smoke inhalation rather than chemical weapons; and another on the possible role of the White Helmets in the chemical weapons story.

Lawrence Davidson penned a commentary on April 19 exploring the psychological state of leaders who resort to force in the wake of the Syria strike.

A report, special to Consortium News, from Damascus on April 27 described life in the Syrian capital after the defeat of jihadists in nearby Ghouta. The rebels had been firing rockets into Damascus for the past seven years. The same day we ran an interview by Dennis J. Bernstein of weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who refuted U.S. government claims of a chemical attack.

On April 29 we published the first part of an in-depth analysis by As’ad AbuKhalil, his first piece for Consortium, on the U.S. role in Syria from before the crisis, and how mainstream media suppresses American responsibility for the bloodshed there.

Gaza

While the crisis sharpened in Syria, a series of Friday protests inside the border fence separating Gaza from Israel resulted in the Israeli Defense Forces murdering dozens of Palestinian protestors and injuring more than a thousand. Consortium News ran seven pieces on Gaza, including interviews by Dennis J. Bernstein of Diana Buttu, Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, Gaza-based journalist Wafa al-Udaini and Max Blumenthal.

Marjorie Cohn wrote a commentary on April 8 in which she argued that Israel should be brought before the International Criminal Court for its actions in Gaza. And David William Pear, examining the plight of Gazans, wrote on April 20 about the difference between “’Worthy’ and ‘Unworthy’ Victims.”

Russia

The site published several pieces on the ongoing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and the dangers that entails. Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould wrote an in-depth, two-part series on how neoconservatives grabbed power behind the scenes and targeted Russia.

Ray McGovern covered a story that was completely ignored by corporate media: a criminal referral of Hillary Clinton, James Comey and others in the Russia-gate affair.

Will Porter also wrote on April 18 about increased tension between the U.S. and Russia that would result if a new move by Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was realized. And Gareth Porter delved into the mystery of the poisoning of a former Russian double agent that the British government has used to ramp up already tense relations with Russia, without offering any solid evidence.

Martin Luther King Jr.

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, Margaret Kimberley, of Black Agenda Report, in her first piece for Consortium News, explored how King’s legacy has been betrayed. Don North, a former correspondent for NBC News, recalled how he left the violence of Saigon to arrive in Washington a day later as the riots in reaction to King’s death started to spread. And William F. Pepper, lawyer for the King family, and Andrew Kreig, marveled at a story in The Washington Post that actually reopened the question of who killed King.

 Joe Lauria is the Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News.