The Lost Journalistic Standards of Russia-gate

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

By Robert Parry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing Corroboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing the Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Russia-gate Spreads to Europe

Exclusive: The Russia-gate hysteria has jumped the Atlantic with Europeans blaming Russia for Brexit and Catalonian discontent. But what about Israeli influence operations or, for that matter, American ones, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Ever since the U.S. government dangled $160 million last December to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation, obscure academics and eager think tanks have been lining up for a shot at the loot, an unseemly rush to profit that is spreading the Russia-gate hysteria beyond the United States to Europe.

Now, it seems that every development, which is unwelcomed by the Establishment – from Brexit to the Catalonia independence referendum – gets blamed on Russia! Russia! Russia!

The methodology of these “studies” is to find some Twitter accounts or Facebook pages somehow “linked” to Russia (although it’s never exactly clear how that is determined) and complain about the “Russian-linked” comments on political developments in the West. The assumption is that the gullible people of the United States, United Kingdom and Catalonia were either waiting for some secret Kremlin guidance to decide how to vote or were easily duped.

Oddly, however, most of this alleged “interference” seems to have come after the event in question. For instance, more than half (56 percent) of the famous $100,000 in Facebook ads in 2015-2017 supposedly to help elect Donald Trump came after last year’s U.S. election (and the total sum compares to Facebook’s annual revenue of $27 billion).

Similarly, a new British study at the University of Edinburgh blaming the Brexit vote on Russia discovered that more than 70 percent of the Brexit-related tweets from allegedly Russian-linked sites came after the referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. But, hey, don’t let facts and logic get in the way of a useful narrative to suggest that anyone who voted for Trump or favored Brexit or wants independence for Catalonia is Moscow’s “useful idiot”!

This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of seeking to “undermine free societies” and to “sow discord in the West.”

What About Israel?

Yet, another core problem with these “studies” is that they don’t come with any “controls,” i.e., what is used in science to test a hypothesis against some base line to determine if you are finding something unusual or just some normal occurrence.

In this case, for instance, it would be useful to find some other country that, like Russia, has a significant number of English speakers but where English is not the native language – and that has a significant interest in foreign affairs – and then see whether people from that country weigh in on social media with their opinions and perspectives about political events in the U.S., U.K., etc.

Perhaps, the U.S. government could devote some of that $160 million to, say, a study of the Twitter/Facebook behavior of Israelis and whether they jump in on U.S./U.K. controversies that might directly or indirectly affect Israel. We could see how many Twitter/Facebook accounts are “linked” to Israel; we could study whether any Israeli “trolls” harass journalists and news sites that oppose neoconservative policies and politicians in the West; we could check on whether Israel does anything to undermine candidates who are viewed as hostile to Israeli interests; if so, we could calculate how much money these “Israeli-linked” activists and bloggers invest in Facebook ads; and we could track any Twitter bots that might be reinforcing the Israeli-favored message.

No Chance

If we had this Israeli baseline, then perhaps we could judge how unusual it is for Russians to voice their opinions about controversies in the West. It’s true that Israel is a much smaller country with 8.5 million people compared to Russia’s 144 million, but you could adjust for those per capita numbers — and even if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that Israel’s interference in U.S. policymaking still exceeds Russian influence.

It’s also true that Israeli leaders have often advocated policies that have proved disastrous for the United States, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s encouragement of  the Iraq War, which Russia opposed. Indeed, although Russia is now regularly called an American enemy, it’s hard to think of any policy that President Vladimir Putin has pushed on the U.S. that is even a fraction as harmful to U.S. interests as the Iraq War has been.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we could have an accounting of how much “U.S.-linked” entities have spent to influence politics and policies in Russia, Ukraine, Syria and other international hot spots.

But, of course, neither of those things will happen. If you even tried to gauge the role of “Israeli-linked” operations in influencing Western decision-making, you’d be accused of anti-Semitism. And if that didn’t stop you, there would be furious editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the U.S. mainstream media denouncing you as a “conspiracy theorist.” Who could possibly think that Israel would do anything underhanded to shape Western attitudes?

And, if you sought the comparative figures for the West interfering in the affairs of other nations, you’d be faulted for engaging in “false moral equivalence.” After all, whatever the U.S. government and its allies do is good for the world; whereas Russia is the fount of evil.

So, let’s just get back to developing those algorithms to sniff out, isolate and eradicate “Russian propaganda” or other deviant points of view, all the better to make sure that Americans, Britons and Catalonians vote the right way.

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




Stumbling Blindly into Cold War Two

As the U.S. and its Western allies lurch into a new and dangerous confrontation with Russia, the different sides don’t even have a thorough understanding of the history behind the tensions, warns Alice Slater.

By Alice Slater

NATO’s recent provocative decision to build up its military forces across Europe — by sending four new multinational battalions to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland — comes at a time of great turmoil and intense questioning of global security with new forces for both good and evil straining to make their mark on the course of history.

This weekend, at the Vatican, Pope Francis held an international conference to follow up on the recently negotiated treaty to prohibit the possession, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons leading to their complete elimination which was negotiated in the United Nations General Assembly this summer by 122 nations, although none of the nine nuclear weapons states participated.

Honored at the conference were members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which worked with friendly governments to hold nuclear weapons unlawful, and has recently been awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its successful efforts.

The Pope issued a statement that the  doctrine of nuclear deterrence in which countries threaten to wreak catastrophic nuclear devastation on their opponents should they be attacked with nuclear bombs has become ineffective against Twenty-first Century threats like terrorism asymmetrical conflicts, environmental problems and poverty. While the church once held that such an insane policy could be moral and lawful, it no longer views it as such.  And there are plans for the church to examine the so-called theory of “just war” with an eye to prohibiting the very morality and legality of war itself.

In the U.S., an unprecedented examination of our hidden history has begun. People are questioning the numerous honorary statues memorializing Civil War generals from the South who fought to preserve slavery. Indigenous First Peoples are questioning the adulation given to Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” America for Spain and was responsible for enormous slaughters and bloodshed of natives in the first colonies established in the Americas. Famous and powerful men are being questioned in an avalanche of truth-telling about how they used their professional power to take sexual advantage of women who feared for their career prospects in theater, publishing, business, academia.

Need for Truth about U.S. and Russia

Unfortunately we have barely begun to tell the truth about the U.S. relationship with Russia and appear to be moving backwards in the U.S. with calls for RT, formerly Russia Today, the Russian equivalent of the BBC or Al Jazeera, to be registered in the U.S. as a foreign agent. This is certainly not consistent with the U.S. belief in the sanctity of a free press and will be challenged in the courts.

Indeed, there is a huge effort to misrepresent the provocations of NATO, to gloss over the history of the nuclear arms race– the refusal to take up Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer to Ronald Reagan to eliminate all their nuclear weapons provided the U.S. gave up its plans to dominate and control the use of space; the expansion of NATO despite President George H.W. Bush’s promises to Gorbachev that NATO would not go any further eastward beyond a unified Germany after the wall fell; Bill Clinton’s rejection of Vladimir Putin’s offer to cut arsenals to 1,000 nuclear weapons each and call all the parties to the table to negotiate for their elimination provided the U.S. didn’t put missiles in Eastern Europe; Clinton leading NATO into the unlawful bombing of Serbia, ignoring Russia’s veto of the action in the U.N. Security Council; George W. Bush walking out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty;  the blocking of consensus in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva to start negotiations on a Russian and Chinese proposal, made in 2008 and again 2015, to ban weapons in space.

Ironically, in light of the recent NATO announcement that it will expand its cyber operations, the U.S. rejection of Russia’s 2009 proposal to negotiate a Cyberwar Ban Treaty after the U.S. boasted of having destroyed Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity with Israel using the Stuxnet virus in a cyber-attack seems like a gross misjudgment on the part of the U.S. not to have taken Russia up on its proposal.

Indeed, the whole nuclear arms race might have been avoided, if Harry Truman and Josef Stalin could have agreed on a satisfactory arrangement for putting this devastating weapon under U.N. control at the end of World War II. Instead, the U.S. retained control of the technology, and the Soviet Union developed its own bomb.

Now we are entering a New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Perhaps the only way to understand this deterioration of U.S.-Russian relationship is to remember President Eisenhower’s warning in his 1961 farewell address about the military-industrial complex. The arms manufacturers, with billions of dollars at stake, have corrupted U.S. politics, media, academia and Congress.

U.S. public opinion is manipulated to support war and “blame it on Russia.” Meanwhile, the so-called “War on Terror” is a recipe for more terrorism. Like throwing a rock on a hornet’s nest, the U.S. sows death and destruction around the world killing innocent civilians in the name of fighting terrorism and thus invites more terror.

Russia, which lost 27 million people to the Nazi onslaught of World War II, may have a much better understanding of the horrors of war. Perhaps we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reveal the causes and provocation of the historic tensions between the U.S. and Russia. After all, in other spheres, we seem to be entering a new time of truth-telling. And what could be more welcome and important than an honest presentation of the U.S.-Russian relationship over the past century to further better understanding and a peaceful resolution of our differences.  With the looming environmental climate catastrophe and the possibility of destroying all life on earth with nuclear devastation, shouldn’t we give peace a chance?

Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War.




America’s Righteous Russia-gate Censorship

Exclusive: Arriving behind the anti-Trump “resistance” and the Russia-gate “scandal” is a troubling readiness to silence dissent in the U.S., shutting down information that challenges Official Narratives, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A stark difference between today’s Washington and when I was here as a young Associated Press correspondent in the late 1970s and the early 1980s is that then – even as the old Cold War was heating up around the election of Ronald Reagan – there were prominent mainstream journalists who looked askance at the excessive demonization of the Soviet Union and doubted wild claims about the dire threats to U.S. national security from Nicaragua and Grenada.

Perhaps the Vietnam War was still fresh enough in people’s minds that senior editors and national reporters understood the dangers of mindless groupthink inside Official Washington, as well as the importance of healthy skepticism toward official pronouncements from the U.S. intelligence community.

Today, however, I cannot think of a single prominent figure in the mainstream news media who questions any claim – no matter how unlikely or absurd – that vilifies Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country. It is all Russia-bashing all the time.

And, behind this disturbing anti-Russian uniformity are increasing assaults against independent and dissident journalists and news outlets outside the mainstream. We’re not just entering a New Cold War and a New McCarthyism; we’re also getting a heavy dose of old-style Orwellianism.

Sometimes you see this in individual acts like HuffingtonPost taking down a well-reported story by journalist Joe Lauria because he dared to point out that Democratic money financed the two initial elements of what’s now known as Russia-gate: the forensic examination of computers at the Democratic National Committee and the opposition research on Donald Trump conducted by ex-British spy Christopher Steele.

HuffingtonPost never contacted Lauria before or after its decision to retract the story, despite a request from him for the reasons why. HuffPost editors told a BuzzFeed reporter that they were responding to reader complaints that the article was filled with factual errors but none have ever been spelled out, leaving little doubt that Lauria’s real “error” was in defying the Russia-gate groupthink of the anti-Trump Resistance. [A version of Lauria’s story appeared at Consortiumnews.com before Lauria posted it at HuffPost. If you want to sign a petition calling on HuffPost to restore Lauria’s article, click here.]

Muzzling RT

Other times, the expanding American censorship is driven by U.S. government agencies, such as the Justice Department’s demand that the Russian news outlet, RT, register under the restrictive Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires such prompt, frequent and detailed disclosures of supposed “propaganda” that it could make it impossible for RT to continue to function in the United States.

This attack on RT was rationalized by the Jan. 6 “Intelligence Community Assessment” that was, in reality, prepared by a handful of “hand-picked” analysts from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. Their report included a seven-page addendum from 2012 accusing RT of spreading Russian propaganda – and apparently this Jan. 6 report must now be accepted as gospel truth, no questions permitted.

However, if any real journalist actually read the Jan. 6 report, he or she would have discovered that RT’s sinister assault on American democracy included such offenses as holding a debate among third-party candidates who were excluded from the Republican-Democratic debates in 2012. Yes, allowing Libertarians and Greens to express their points of view is a grave danger to American democracy.

Other RT “propaganda” included reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protests and examining the environmental dangers from “fracking,” issues that also have been widely covered by the domestic American media. Apparently, whenever RT covers a newsworthy event – even if others have too – that constitutes “propaganda,” which must be throttled to protect the American people from the danger of seeing it.

If you bother to study the Jan. 6 report’s addendum, it is hard not to conclude that these “hand-picked” analysts were either stark-raving mad or madly anti-Russian. Yet, this “Intelligence Community Assessment” is now beyond questioning unless you want to be labeled a “Kremlin stooge” or “Putin’s useful idiot.” [An earlier State Department attack on RT was equally ridiculous or demonstrably false.]

And, by the way, it was President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who testified under oath that the analysts from the three agencies were “hand-picked.” That means that they were analysts personally selected by Obama’s intelligence chiefs from three agencies – not “all 17” as the American public was told over and over again – and thus were not even a full representation of analysts from those three agencies. Yet, this subset of a subset is routinely described as “the U.S. intelligence community,” even after major news outlets finally had to retract their “all 17” canard.

So, the myth of the intelligence community’s consensus lives on. For instance, in an upbeat article on Tuesday about the U.S. government’s coercing RT into registering as a foreign agent, Washington Post reporters Devlin Barrett and David Filipov wrote, “U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the network and website push relentlessly anti-American propaganda at the behest of the Russian government.”

In the old days, even during the old Cold War and President Reagan’s ranting about “the Evil Empire,” some of us would have actually examined the Jan. 6 report’s case against RT and noted the absurdity of these claims about “relentlessly anti-American propaganda.” Whether you want to hear the views of the Greens and Libertarians or not – or whether you like “fracking” and hate Occupy Wall Street – the opportunity to hear this information doesn’t constitute “relentlessly anti-American propaganda.”

The U.S. government’s real beef with RT seems to be that it allows on air some Americans who have been blacklisted from the mainstream media – including highly credentialed former U.S. intelligence analysts and well-informed American journalists – because they have challenged various Official Narratives.

In other words, Americans are not supposed to hear the other side of the story on important international conflicts, such as the proxy war in Syria or the civil war in Ukraine or Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Only the State Department’s versions of those events are permitted even when those versions are themselves propagandistic if not outright false.

For example, you’re not supposed to hear about the huge holes in the Syria-sarin cases, nor about Ukraine’s post-coup regime arming neo-Nazis to kill ethnic-Russian Ukrainians, nor about Israel’s evolution into an apartheid state. All right-thinking Americans are to get only a steady diet of how righteous the U.S. government and its allies always are. Anything else is “propaganda.”

Also off limits is any thoughtful critique of that Jan. 6 report – or apparently even Clapper’s characterization of it as a product of “hand-picked” analysts from only three agencies. You’re not supposed to ask why other U.S. intelligence agencies with deep knowledge about Russia were excluded and why even other analysts from the three involved agencies were shut out.

No, you must always think of the Jan. 6 report as the “consensus” assessment from the entire “U.S. intelligence community.” And you must accept it as flat fact – as it now is treated by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other mainstream news outlets. You shouldn’t even notice that the Jan. 6 report itself doesn’t claim that Russian election meddling was a fact. The report explains, that “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.”

But even quoting from the Jan. 6 report might make an American reporter some kind of traitorous “Russian mole” whose journalism must be purged from “responsible” media and who should be forced to wear the journalistic equivalent of a yellow star.

The Anti-Trump/Russia Hysteria

Of course, much of this anti-Russian hysteria comes from the year-long fury about the shocking election of Donald Trump. From the first moments of stunned disbelief over Hillary Clinton’s defeat, the narrative was put in motion to blame Trump’s victory not on Clinton and her wretched campaign but on Russia. That also was viewed as a possible way of reversing the election’s outcome and removing Trump from office.

The major U.S. news media quite openly moved to the forefront of the Resistance. The Washington Post adopted the melodramatic and hypocritical slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” as it unleashed its journalists to trumpet the narrative of some disloyal Americans spreading Russian propaganda. Darkness presumably was a fine place to stick people who questioned the Resistance’s Russia-gate narrative.

An early shot in this war against dissenting information was fired last Thanksgiving Day when the Post published a front-page article citing an anonymous group called PropOrNot smearing 200 Internet news sites for allegedly disseminating Russian propaganda. The list included some of the most important sources of independent journalism, including Consortiumnews.com, apparently for the crime of questioning some of the State Department’s narratives on international conflicts, particularly Syria and Ukraine.

Then, with the anti-Russia hysteria building and the censorship ball rolling, Congress last December approved $160 million for think tanks and other non-governmental organizations to combat Russian propaganda. Soon, reports and studies were flying off the shelves detecting a Russian behind every article, tweet and posting that didn’t toe the State Department’s line.

The New York Times and other leading news organizations have even cheered plans for Google, Facebook and other technology companies to deploy algorithms that can hunt down, marginalize or eliminate information that establishment media deems “fake” or “propaganda.” Already Google has put together a First Draft coalition, consisting of mainstream media and establishment-approved Web sites to decide what information makes the cut and what doesn’t.

Among these arbiters of truth is the fact-check organization PolitiFact, which judged the falsehood about “all 17 intelligence agencies” signing off on the Russian “hacking” claim to be “true.” Even though the claim was never true and is now clearly established as false, PolitiFact continues to assert that this lie is the truth, apparently filled with the hubris that comes with its power over determining what is true and what is false.

But what is perhaps most troubling to me about these developments is the silence of many civil liberties advocates, liberal politicians and defenders of press freedom who might have been counted on in earlier days to object to this censorship and blackballing.

It appears that the ends of taking down Donald Trump and demonizing Vladimir Putin justify whatever means, no matter the existential danger of nuclear war with Russia or the McCarthyistic (even Orwellian) threats to freedom of speech, press and thought.

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




Mocking Trump Doesn’t Prove Russia’s Guilt

Exclusive: President Trump is getting mocked for “trusting” Vladimir Putin’s denial about “meddling” in U.S. politics — and not accepting Official Washington’s groupthink — but ridicule isn’t evidence, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

If the bloody debacle in Iraq should have taught Americans anything, it is that endorsements by lots of important people who think something is true don’t amount to evidence that it actually is true. If endorsements were the same as evidence, U.S. troops would have found tons of WMD in Iraq, rather than come up empty.

So, when it comes to whether or not Russia “hacked” Democratic emails last year and slipped them to WikiLeaks, just because a bunch of people with fancy titles think the Russians are guilty doesn’t compensate for the lack of evidence so far evinced to support this core charge.

But the reaction of Official Washington and the U.S. mainstream media to President Trump saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed sincere in denying Russian “meddling” was sputtering outrage: How could Trump doubt what so many important people think is true?

Yet, if the case were all that strong that Russia did “hack” the emails, you would have expected a straightforward explication of the evidence rather than a demonstration of a full-blown groupthink, but what we got this weekend was all groupthink and no evidence.

For instance, on Saturday, CNN responded to Trump’s comment that Putin seems to “mean it” when he denied meddling by running a list of important Americans who had endorsed the Russian-guilt verdict. Other U.S. news outlets and politicians followed the same pattern.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a big promoter of the Russia-gate allegations, scoffed at what Trump said: “You believe a foreign adversary over your own intelligence agencies?”

The Washington Post’s headline sitting atop Sunday’s lede article read: “Trump says Putin sincere in denial of Russian meddling: Critics call that ‘unconscionable.’”

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and another Russia-gate sparkplug, said he was left “completely speechless” by Trump’s willingness to take Putin’s word “over the conclusions of our own combined intelligence community.”

Which gets us back to the Jan. 6 “Intelligence Community Assessment” and its stunning lack of evidence in support of its Russian guilty verdict. The ICA even admitted as much, that it wasn’t asserting Russian guilt as fact but rather as opinion:

“Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

Even The New York Times, which has led the media groupthink on Russian guilt, initially published the surprised reaction from correspondent Scott Shane who wrote: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

In other words, the ICA was not a disposition of fact; it was guesswork, possibly understandable guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. And guesswork should be open to debate.

Shutting Down Debate

But the debate was shut down earlier this year by the oft-repeated claim that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred in the assessment and how could anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies concluded!

However, that canard was finally knocked down by President Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who acknowledged in sworn congressional testimony that the ICA was the product of “handpicked” analysts from only three agencies – the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.

In other words, not only did the full intelligence community not participate in the ICA but only analysts “handpicked” by Obama’s intelligence chiefs conducted the analysis – and as we intelligence veterans know well, if you handpick the analysts, you are handpicking the conclusions.

For instance, put a group of analysts known for their hardline views on Russia in a room for a few weeks, prevent analysts with dissenting viewpoints from weighing in, don’t require any actual evidence, and you are pretty sure to get the Russia-bashing result that you wanted.

So why do you think Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan put up the no-entry sign that kept out analysts from the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency, two entities that might have significant insights into Russian intentions? By all rights, they should have been included. But, clearly, no dissenting footnotes or wider-perspective views were desired.

If you remember back to the Iraq WMD intelligence estimate, analysts from the State Department’s intelligence bureau, known as INR, offered unwelcome dissenting views about the pace of Iraq’s supposed nuclear program, inserting a footnote saying they found it too difficult to predict the fruition of a program when there was no reliable evidence as to when – not to mention if – it had started.

DIA also was demonstrating an unusually independent streak, displaying a willingness to give due consideration to Russia’s perspective. Here’s the heterodox line DIA took in a major report published in December 2015:

“The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine. Moscow views the United States as the critical driver behind the crisis in Ukraine and the Arab Spring and believes that the overthrow of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych is the latest move in a long-established pattern of U.S.-orchestrated regime change efforts.”

So, not only did the Jan. 6 report exclude input from INR and DIA and the other dozen or so intelligence agencies but it even avoided a fully diverse set of opinions from inside the CIA, FBI and NSA. The assessment – or guesswork – came only from those “hand-picked” analysts.

It’s also worth noting that not only does Putin deny that Russia was behind the publication of the Democratic emails but so too does WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange who has insisted repeatedly that the material did not come from the Russians. He and others around WikiLeaks have strongly suggested that the emails came as leaks from Democratic insiders.

Seeking Real Answers

In the face of Official Washington’s evidence-free groupthink, what some of us former U.S. intelligence analysts have been trying to do is provide both a fuller understanding of Russian behavior and whatever scientific analysis can be applied to the alleged “hacks.”

Forensic investigations and testing of relevant download speeds, reported by members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), have undermined the Russia-did-it groupthink. But this attempt to engage in actual evaluation of evidence has been either ignored or mocked by mainstream news outlets.

Still, the suggestion in our July 24 VIPS memo that President Trump ask current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take a fresh look at the issue recently had some consequence when Pompeo contacted VIPS member William Binney, a former NSA Technical Director, and invited him to explain his latest research on the impossibility of the Russians extracting the Democratic emails via an Internet hack based on known download speeds.

In typically candid terms, Binney explained to Pompeo why VIPS had concluded that the intelligence analysts behind the Jan. 6 report had been making stuff up about Russian “hacking.”

When news of the Binney-Pompeo meeting broke last week, the U.S. mainstream media again rejected the opportunity to rethink the Russia-did-it groupthink and instead treated Binney as some sort of “conspiracy theorist” with a “disputed” theory, while attacking Pompeo’s willingness to discuss Binney’s findings as “politicizing intelligence.”

Despite the smearing of Binney, President Trump appears to have taken some of this new evidence to heart, explaining his dispute with open-mouthed White House reporters on Air Force One who baited Trump with various forms of the same question: “Do you believe Putin?” amid the new jeering about Trump “getting played” by Putin.

Trump’s demeanor, however, suggested increased confidence that the Russian “hacking” allegations were the “witch hunt” that he has decried for months.

Trump also jabbed the press over its earlier false claims that “all 17 intelligence agencies” concurred on the Russian “hack.” And Trump introduced the idea of a different kind of “hack,” i.e., Obama’s political appointees at the heads of the agencies behind the Jan. 6 report.

Trump said, “You hear it’s 17 agencies. Well it’s three. And one is Brennan … give me a break. They’re political hacks. … I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, you have [FBI Director James] Comey. Comey is proven to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker.”

Later, in deference to those still at work in intelligence, Trump said, “I’m with our [intelligence] agencies as currently constituted.”

While Trump surely has a dismal record of his own regarding truth-telling, he’s not wrong about the checkered record of the triumvirate of Clapper, Brennan and Comey.

Clapper played a key role in the bogus Iraq-WMD intelligence when he was head of the National Geo-spatial Agency and hid the fact that there was zero evidence in satellite imagery of any weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq invasion. When no WMDs were found, Clapper told the media that he thought they were shipped off to Syria.

In 2013, Clapper perjured himself before Congress by denying NSA’s unconstitutional blanket surveillance of Americans. After evidence emerged revealing the falsity of Clapper’s testimony, he wrote a letter to Congress admitting, “My response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize.” Despite the deception, he was allowed to stay as Obama’s most senior intelligence officer for almost four more years.

Clapper also has demonstrated an ugly bias about Russians. On May 28, as a former DNI, Clapper explained Russian “interference” in the U.S. election to NBC’s Chuck Todd on May 28 with a tutorial on what everyone should know about “the historical practices of the Russians.” Clapper said, “the Russians, typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique.”

Brennan, who had previously defended torture as having been an effective way to gain intelligence, was CIA director when agency operatives broke into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee when it was investigating CIA torture.

Former FBI Director Comey is infamous for letting the Democratic National Committee arrange its own investigation of the “hacking” that was then blamed on Russia, a development that led some members of Congress to call the supposed “hack” an “act of war.” Despite the risk of nuclear conflagration, the FBI didn’t bother to do its own forensics.

And, by his own admission, Comey arranged a leak to The New York Times that was specifically designed to get a Special Prosecutor appointed to investigate Russia-gate, a job that fell to his old friend Robert Mueller, who has had his own mixed record as the previous FBI director in mishandling the 9/11 investigation.

There are plenty of reasons to want Trump out of the White House, but there also should be respect for facts and due process. So far, the powers-that-be in Washington – in politics, the media and other dominant institutions, what some call the Deep State – have shown little regard for fairness in the Russia-gate “scandal.”

The goal seems to be to remove the President or at least emasculate him on a bum rap, giving him the bum’s rush, so to speak, while also further demonizing Russia and exacerbating an already dangerous New Cold War.

The truth should still count for something. No one’s character should be assassinated, as Bill Binney’s is being now, for running afoul of the conventional wisdom that Trump – like bête noire Putin – never tells the truth, and that to believe either is, well, “unconscionable,” as The Washington Post warns.

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




Did Al Qaeda Dupe Trump on Syrian Attack?

Special Report: Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A new United Nations-sponsored report on the April 4 sarin incident in an Al Qaeda-controlled town in Syria blames Bashar al-Assad’s government for the atrocity, but the report contains evidence deep inside its “Annex II” that would prove Assad’s innocence.

If you read that far, you would find that more than 100 victims of sarin exposure were taken to several area hospitals before the alleged Syrian warplane could have struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Still, the Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM], a joint project of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], brushed aside this startling evidence and delivered the Assad guilty verdict that the United States and its allies wanted.

The JIM consigned the evidence of a staged atrocity, in which Al Qaeda operatives would have used sarin to kill innocent civilians and pin the blame on Assad, to a spot 14 pages into the report’s Annex II. The sensitivity of this evidence of a staged “attack” is heightened by the fact that President Trump rushed to judgment and ordered a “retaliatory” strike with 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase on the night of April 6-7. That U.S. attack reportedly killed several soldiers at the base and nine civilians, including four children, in nearby neighborhoods.

So, if it becomes clear that Al Qaeda tricked President Trump not only would he be responsible for violating international law and killing innocent people, but he and virtually the entire Western political establishment along with the major news media would look like Al Qaeda’s “useful idiots.”

Currently, the West and its mainstream media are lambasting the Russians for not accepting the JIM’s “assessment,” which blames Assad for the sarin attack. Russia is also taking flak for questioning continuation of the JIM’s mandate. There has been virtually no mainstream skepticism about the JIM’s report and almost no mention in the mainstream of the hospital-timing discrepancy.

Timing Troubles

To establish when the supposed sarin attack occurred on April 4, the JIM report relied on witnesses in the Al Qaeda-controlled town and a curious video showing three plumes of smoke but no airplanes. Based on the video’s metadata, the JIM said the scene was recorded between 0642 and 0652 hours. The JIM thus puts the timing of the sarin release at between 0630 and 0700 hours.

But the first admissions of victims to area hospitals began as early as 0600 hours, the JIM found, meaning that these victims could not have been poisoned by the alleged aerial bombing (even if the airstrike really did occur).

According to the report’s Annex II, “The admission times of the records range between 0600 and 1600 hours.” And these early cases – arriving before the alleged airstrike – were not isolated ones.

“Analysis of the … medical records revealed that in 57 cases, patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun,” Annex II said.

Plus, this timing discrepancy was not limited to a few hospitals in and around Khan Sheikhoun, but was recorded as well at hospitals that were scattered across the area and included one hospital that would have taken an hour or so to reach.

Annex II stated: “In 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

In other words, more than 100 patients would appear to have been exposed to sarin before the alleged Syrian warplane could have dropped the alleged bomb and the victims could be evacuated, a finding that alone would have destroyed the JIM’s case against the Syrian government.

But the JIM seemed more interested in burying this evidence of Al Qaeda staging the incident — and killing some expendable civilians — than in following up this timing problem.

“The [JIM] did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions,” the report said. But the proffered excuse about poor record-keeping would have to apply to multiple hospitals over a wide area all falsely recording the arrival time of more than 100 patients.

The video of the plumes of smoke also has come under skepticism from Theodore Postol, a weapons expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who noted that none of the three plumes matched up with damage to buildings (as viewed from satellite images) that would have resulted from aerial bombs of that power.

Postol’s finding suggests that the smoke could have been another part of a staging event rather than debris kicked up by aerial bombs.

The JIM also could find no conclusive evidence that a Syrian warplane was over Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the video although the report claims that a plane could have come within about 5 kilometers of the town.

A History of Deception

Perhaps even more significantly, the JIM report ignored the context of the April 4 case and the past history of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front staging chemical weapons attacks with the goal of foisting blame on the Syrian government and tricking the U.S. military into an intervention on the side of Nusra and its Islamic-militant allies.

On April 4, there was a strong motive for Al Qaeda and its regional allies to mount a staged event. Just days earlier, President Trump’s administration had shocked the Syrian rebels and their backers by declaring “regime change” was no longer the U.S. goal in Syria.

So, Al Qaeda and its regional enablers were frantic to reverse Trump’s decision, which was accomplished by his emotional reaction to videos on cable news showing children and other civilians suffering and dying in Khan Sheikhoun.

On the night of April 6-7, before any thorough investigation could be conducted, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles fired at the Syrian air base that supposedly had launched the sarin attack.

At the time, I was told by an intelligence source that at least some CIA analysts believed that the sarin incident indeed had been staged with sarin possibly flown in by drone from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base in Jordan.

This source said the on-the-ground staging for the incident had been hasty because of the surprise announcement that the Trump administration was no longer seeking regime change in Damascus. The haste led to some sloppiness in tying down all the necessary details to pin the atrocity on Assad, the source said.

But the few slip-ups, such as the apparent failure to coordinate the timing of the hospital admissions to after the purported airstrike, didn’t deter the JIM investigators from backing the West’s desire to blame Assad and also create another attack line against the Russians.

Similarly, other U.N.-connected investigators downplayed earlier evidence that Al Qaeda’s Nusra was staging chemical weapons incidents after President Obama laid down his “red line” on chemical weapons. The militants apparently hoped that the U.S. military would take out the Syrian military and pave the way for an Al Qaeda victory.

For instance, U.N. investigators learned from a number of townspeople of Al-Tamanah about how the rebels and allied “activists” staged a chlorine gas attack on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then sold the false story to a credulous Western media and, initially, to a U.N. investigative team.

“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report said. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”

Dubious Evidence

Other people, who did allege that there had been a government chemical attack on Al-Tamanah, provided suspect evidence, including data from questionable sources, according to the report.

The report said, “Three witnesses, who did not give any description of the incident on 29-30 April 2014, provided material of unknown source. One witness had second-hand knowledge of two of the five incidents in Al-Tamanah, but did not remember the exact dates. Later that witness provided a USB-stick with information of unknown origin, which was saved in separate folders according to the dates of all the five incidents mentioned by the FFM [the U.N.’s Fact-Finding Mission].

“Another witness provided the dates of all five incidents reading it from a piece of paper, but did not provide any testimony on the incident on 29-30 April 2014. The latter also provided a video titled ‘site where second barrel containing toxic chlorine gas was dropped tamanaa 30 April 14’”

Some other witnesses alleging a Syrian government attack offered curious claims about detecting the chlorine-infused “barrel bombs” based on how the device sounded in its descent.

The U.N. report said, “The eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”

However, the claim itself is absurd since it is inconceivable that anyone could detect a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by “a distinct whistling sound.”

The larger point, however, is that the jihadist rebels in Al-Tamanah and their propaganda teams, including relief workers and activists, appear to have organized a coordinated effort at deception complete with a fake video supplied to U.N. investigators and Western media outlets.

For instance, the Telegraph in London reported that “Videos allegedly taken in Al-Tamanah … purport to show the impact sites of two chemical bombs. Activists said that one person had been killed and another 70 injured.”

The Telegraph quoted supposed weapons expert Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat and a senior fellow at the fiercely anti-Russian Atlantic Council, as endorsing the Al-Tamanah claims.

“Witnesses have consistently reported the use of helicopters to drop the chemical barrel bombs used,” said Higgins. “As it stands, around a dozen chemical barrel bomb attacks have been alleged in that region in the last three weeks.”

The Al-Tamanah debunking in the U.N. report received no mainstream media attention when the U.N. findings were issued in September 2016 because the U.N. report relied on rebel information to blame two other alleged chlorine attacks on the government and that got all the coverage. But the case should have raised red flags given the extent of the apparent deception.

If the seven townspeople were telling the truth, that would mean that the rebels and their allies issued fake attack warnings, produced propaganda videos to fool the West, and prepped “witnesses” with “evidence” to deceive investigators. Yet, no alarms went off about other rebel claims.

The Ghouta Incident

A more famous attack – with sarin gas on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, killing hundreds – was also eagerly blamed on the Assad regime, as The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Higgins’s Bellingcat and many other Western outlets jumped to that conclusion despite the unlikely circumstances. Assad had just welcomed U.N. investigators to Damascus to examine chemical attacks that he was blaming on the rebels.

Assad also was facing the “red line” threat from President Obama warning him of possible U.S. military intervention if the Syrian government deployed chemical weapons. Why Assad and his military would choose such a moment to launch a deadly sarin attack outside Damascus, killing mostly civilians, made little sense.

But this became another rush to judgment in the West that brought the Obama administration to the verge of launching a devastating air attack on the Syrian military that might have helped Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and/or the Islamic State win the war.

Eventually, however, the case blaming Assad for the 2013 sarin attack collapsed.

An analysis by genuine weapons experts – such as Theodore Postol, an MIT professor of science, technology and national security policy, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories – found that the missile that delivered the sarin had a very short range placing its likely firing position in rebel territory.

Later, reporting by journalist Seymour Hersh implicated Turkish intelligence working with jihadist rebels as the likely source of the sarin.

We also learned in 2016 that a message from the U.S. intelligence community had warned Obama how weak the evidence against Assad was. There was no “slam-dunk” proof, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. And Obama cited his rejection of the Washington militaristic “playbook” to bomb Syria as one of his proudest moments as President.

With this background, there should have been extreme skepticism when jihadists and their allies made new claims about the Syrian government engaging in chemical weapons attacks. But there wasn’t.

The broader context for these biased investigations is that U.N. and OPCW investigators have been under intense pressure to confirm accusations against Syria and other targeted states.

Right now, the West is blaming Russia for the collapsing consensus behind U.N. investigations, but the problem really comes from Washington’s longtime strategy of coercing U.N. organizations into becoming propaganda arms for U.S. geopolitical strategies.

The U.N.’s relative independence in its investigative efforts was decisively broken early this century when President George W. Bush’s administration purged U.N. agencies that were not onboard with U.S. hegemony, especially on interventions in the Middle East.

Through manipulation of funding and selection of key staff members, the Bush administration engineered the takeover or at least the neutralizing of one U.N.-affiliated organization after another.

For instance, in 2002, Bush’s Deputy Under-Secretary of State John Bolton spearheaded the takeover of the OPCW as Bush planned to cite chemical weapons as a principal excuse for invading Iraq.

OPCW Director General Jose Mauricio Bustani was viewed as an obstacle because he was pressing Iraq to accept OPCW’s conventions for eliminating chemical weapons, which could have undermined Bush’s WMD rationale for war.

Though Bustani was just reelected to a new term, the Brazilian diplomat was forced out, to be followed in that job by more pliable bureaucrats, including the current Director General Ahmet Uzumcu of Turkey, who not only comes from a NATO country but served as Turkey’s ambassador to NATO and to Israel. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “U.N. Enablers of ‘Aggressive War.’”]

Since those days of the Iraq invasion, the game hasn’t changed. U.S. and other Western officials expect the U.N. and related agencies to accept or at least not object to Washington’s geopolitical interventions.

The only difference now is that Russia, one of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, is saying enough is enough – and Russia’s opposition to these biased inquiries is emerging as one more dangerous hot spot in the New Cold War.

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




Learning to Love McCarthyism

Special Report: Many American liberals who once denounced McCarthyism as evil are now learning to love the ugly tactic when it can be used to advance the Russia-gate “scandal” and silence dissent, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times has finally detected some modern-day McCarthyism, but not in the anti-Russia hysteria that the newspaper has fueled for several years amid the smearing of American skeptics as “useful idiots” and the like. No, the Times editors are accusing a Long Island Republican of McCarthyism for linking his Democratic rival to “New York City special interest groups.” As the Times laments, “It’s the old guilt by association.”

Yet, the Times sees no McCarthyism in the frenzy of Russia-bashing and guilt by association for any American who can be linked even indirectly to any Russian who might have some ill-defined links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, in the same edition that expressed editorial outrage over that Long Island political ad’s McCarthyism, the Times ran two front-page articles under the headline: “A Complex Paper Trail: Blurring Kremlin’s Ties to Key U.S. Businesses.”

The two subheads read: “Shipping Firm Links Commerce Chief to Putin ‘Cronies’” and “Millions in Facebook Shares Rooted in Russian Cash.” The latter story, which meshes nicely with the current U.S. political pressure on Facebook and Twitter to get in line behind the New Cold War against Russia, cites investments by Russian Yuri Milner that date back to the start of the decade.

Buried in the story’s “jump” is the acknowledgement that Milner’s “companies sold those holdings several years ago.” But such is the anti-Russia madness gripping the Establishment of Washington and New York that any contact with any Russian constitutes a scandal worthy of front-page coverage. On Monday, The Washington Post published a page-one article entitled, “9 in Trump’s orbit had contacts with Russians.”

The anti-Russian madness has reached such extremes that even when you say something that’s obviously true – but that RT, the Russian television network, also reported – you are attacked for spreading “Russian propaganda.”

We saw that when former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile disclosed in her new book that she considered the possibility of replacing Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket after Clinton’s public fainting spell and worries about her health.

Though there was a video of Clinton’s collapse on Sept. 11, 2016, followed by her departure from the campaign trail to fight pneumonia – not to mention her earlier scare with blood clots – the response from a group of 100 Clinton supporters was to question Brazile’s patriotism: “It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponents about our candidate’s health.”

In other words, the go-to excuse for everything these days is to blame the Russians and smear anyone who says anything – no matter how true – if it also was reported on RT.

Pressing the Tech Companies

Just as Sen. Joe McCarthy liked to haul suspected “communists” and “fellow-travelers” before his committee in the 1950s, the New McCarthyism has its own witch-hunt hearings, such as last week’s Senate grilling of executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google for supposedly allowing Russians to have input into the Internet’s social networks.

Trying to appease Congress and fend off threats of government regulation, the rich tech companies displayed their eagerness to eradicate any Russian taint.

Twitter’s general counsel Sean J. Edgett told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism that Twitter adopted an “expansive approach to defining what qualifies as a Russian-linked account.”

Edgett said the criteria included “whether the account was created in Russia, whether the user registered the account with a Russian phone carrier or a Russian email address, whether the user’s display name contains Cyrillic characters, whether the user frequently Tweets in Russian, and whether the user has logged in from any Russian IP address, even a single time. We considered an account to be Russian-linked if it had even one of the relevant criteria.”

The trouble with Twitter’s methodology was that none of those criteria would connect an account to the Russian government, let alone Russian intelligence or some Kremlin-controlled “troll farm.” But the criteria could capture individual Russians with no link to the Kremlin as well as people who weren’t Russian at all, including, say, American or European visitors to Russia who logged onto Twitter through a Moscow hotel.

Also left unsaid is that Russians are not the only national group that uses the Cyrillic alphabet. It is considered a standard script for writing in Belarus, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbo-Croatia and Ukraine. So, for instance, a Ukrainian using the Cyrillic alphabet could end up falling into the category of “Russian-linked” even if he or she hated Putin.

Twitter’s attorney also said the company conducted a separate analysis from information provided by unidentified “third party sources” who pointed toward accounts supposedly controlled by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), totaling 2,752 accounts. The IRA is typically described in the U.S. press as a “troll farm” which employs tech-savvy employees who combat news and opinions that are hostile to Russia and the Russian government. But exactly how those specific accounts were traced back to this organization was not made clear.

And, to put that number in some perspective, Twitter claims 330 million active monthly users, which makes the 2,752 accounts less than 0.001 percent of the total.

The Trouble with ‘Trolling’

While the Russia-gate investigation has sought to portray the IRA effort as exotic and somehow unique to Russia, the strategy is followed by any number of governments, political movements and corporations – sometimes using enthusiastic volunteers but often employing professionals skilled at challenging critical information or at least muddying the waters.

Those of us who operate on the Internet are familiar with harassment from “trolls” who may use access to “comment” sections to inject propaganda and disinformation to sow confusion, to cause disruption, or to discredit the site by promoting ugly opinions and nutty conspiracy theories.

As annoying as this “trolling” is, it’s just a modern version of more traditional strategies used by powerful entities for generations – hiring public-relations specialists, lobbyists, lawyers and supposedly impartial “activists” to burnish images, fend off negative news and intimidate nosy investigators. In this competition, modern Russia is both a late-comer and a piker.

The U.S. government fields legions of publicists, propagandists, paid journalists, psy-ops specialists, contractors and non-governmental organizations to promote Washington’s positions and undermine rivals through information warfare.

The CIA has an entire bureaucracy dedicated to propaganda and disinformation, with some of those efforts farmed out to newer entities such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). NATO has a special command in Latvia that undertakes “strategic communications.”

Israel is another skilled player in this field, tapping into its supporters around the world to harass people who criticize the Zionist project. Indeed, since the 1980s, Israel has pioneered many of the tactics of computer spying and sabotage that were adopted and expanded by America’s National Security Agency, explaining why the Obama administration teamed up with Israel in a scheme to plant malicious code into Iranian centrifuges to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

It’s also ironic that the U.S. government touted social media as a great benefit in advancing so-called “color revolutions” aimed at “regime change” in troublesome countries. For instance, when the “green revolution” was underway in Iran in 2009 after the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Obama administration asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance so the street protesters could continue using the platform to organize against Ahmadinejad and to distribute their side of the story to the outside world.

During the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, Facebook, Twitter and Skype won praise as a means of organizing mass demonstrations to destabilize governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Back then, the U.S. government denounced any attempts to throttle these social media platforms and the free flow of information that they permitted as proof of dictatorship.

Social media also was a favorite of the U.S. government in Ukraine in 2013-14 when the Maidan protests exploited these platforms to help destabilize and ultimately overthrow the elected government of Ukraine, the key event that launched the New Cold War with Russia.

Swinging the Social Media Club

The truth is that, in those instances, the U.S. governments and its agencies were eagerly exploiting the platforms to advance Washington’s geopolitical agenda by disseminating American propaganda and deploying U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations, which taught activists how to use social media to advance “regime change” scenarios.

While these uprisings were sold to Western audiences as genuine outpourings of public anger – and there surely was some of that – the protests also benefited from U.S. funding and expertise. In particular, NED and USAID provided money, equipment and training for anti-government operatives challenging regimes in U.S. disfavor.

One of the most successful of these propaganda operations occurred in Syria where anti-government rebels operating in areas controlled by Al Qaeda and its fellow Islamic militants used social media to get their messaging to Western mainstream journalists who couldn’t enter those sectors without fear of beheading.

Since the rebels’ goal of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad meshed with the objectives of the U.S. government and its allies in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Western journalists uncritically accepted the words and images provided by Al Qaeda’s collaborators.

The success of this propaganda was so extraordinary that the White Helmets, a “civil defense” group that worked in Al Qaeda territory, became the go-to source for dramatic video and even was awarded the short-documentary Oscar for an info-mercial produced for Netflix – despite evidence that the White Helmets were staging some of the scenes for propaganda purposes.

Indeed, one argument for believing that Putin and the Kremlin might have “meddled” in last year’s U.S. election is that they could have felt it was time to give the United States a taste of its own medicine.

After all, the United States intervened in the 1996 Russian election to ensure the continued rule of the corrupt and pliable Boris Yeltsin. And there were the U.S.-backed street protests in Moscow against the 2011 and 2012 elections in which Putin strengthened his political mandate. Those protests earned the “color” designation the “snow revolution.”

However, whatever Russia may or may not have done before last year’s U.S. election, the Russia-gate investigations have always sought to exaggerate the impact of that alleged “meddling” and molded the narrative to whatever weak evidence was available.

The original storyline was that Putin authorized the “hacking” of Democratic emails as part of a “disinformation” operation to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and to help elect Donald Trump – although no hard evidence has been presented to establish that Putin gave such an order or that Russia “hacked” the emails. WikiLeaks has repeatedly denied getting the emails from Russia, which also denies any meddling.

Further, the emails were not “disinformation”; they were both real and, in many cases, newsworthy. The DNC emails provided evidence that the DNC unethically tilted the playing field in favor of Clinton and against Sen. Bernie Sanders, a point that Brazile also discovered in reviewing staffing and financing relationships that Clinton had with the DNC under the prior chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The purloined emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta revealed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street (information that she was trying to hide from voters) and pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

A Manchurian Candidate?

Still, the original narrative was that Putin wanted his Manchurian Candidate (Trump) in the White House and took the extraordinary risk of infuriating the odds-on favorite (Clinton) by releasing the emails even though they appeared unlikely to prevent Clinton’s victory. So, there was always that logical gap in the Russia-gate theory.

Since then, however, the U.S. mainstream narrative has shifted, in part, because the evidence of Russian election “meddling” was so shaky. Under intense congressional pressure to find something, Facebook reported $100,000 in allegedly “Russian-linked” ads purchased in 2015-17, but noted that only 44 percent were bought before the election. So, not only was the “Russian-linked” pebble tiny – compared to Facebook’s annual revenue of $27 billion – but more than half of the pebble was tossed into this very large lake after Clinton had already lost.

So, the storyline was transformed into some vague Russian scheme to exacerbate social tensions in the United States by taking different sides of hot-button issues, such as police brutality against blacks. The New York Times reported that one of these “Russian-linked” pages featured photos of cute puppies, which the Times speculated must have had some evil purpose although it was hard to fathom. (Oh, those devious Russians!).

The estimate of how many Americans may have seen one of these “Russian-linked” ads also keeps growing, now up to as many as 126 million or about one-third of the U.S. population. Of course, the way the Internet works – with any item possibly going viral – you might as well say the ads could have reached billions of people.

Whenever I write an article or send out a Tweet, I too could be reaching 126 million or even billions of people, but the reality is that I’d be lucky if the number were in the thousands. But amid the Russia-gate frenzy, no exaggeration is too outlandish or too extreme.

Another odd element of Russia-gate is that the intensity of this investigation is disproportionate to the lack of interest shown toward far better documented cases of actual foreign-government interference in American elections and policymaking.

For instance, the major U.S. media long ignored the extremely well-documented case of Richard Nixon colluding with South Vietnamese officials to sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks to gain an advantage for Nixon in the 1968 election. That important chapter of history only gained The New York Times’ seal of approval earlier this year after the Times had dismissed the earlier volumes of evidence as “rumors.”

In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan’s team – especially his campaign director William Casey in collaboration with Israel and Iran – appeared to have gone behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to undercut Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran and essentially doom Carter’s reelection hopes.

There were a couple of dozen witnesses to that scheme who spoke with me and other investigative journalists – as well as documentary evidence showing that President Reagan did authorize secret arms shipments to Iran via Israel shortly after the hostages were freed during Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981.

However, since Vice President (later President) George H.W. Bush, who was implicated in the scheme, was well-liked on both sides of the aisle and because Reagan had become a Republican icon, the October Surprise case of 1980 was pooh-poohed by the major media and dismissed by a congressional investigation in the early 1990s. Despite the extraordinary number of witnesses and supporting documents, Wikipedia listed the scandal as a “conspiracy theory.”

Israeli Influence

And, if you’re really concerned about foreign interference in U.S. elections and policies, there’s the remarkable influence of Israel and its perceived ability to effect the defeat of almost any politician who deviates from what the Israeli government wants, going back at least to the 1980s when Sen. Chuck Percy and Rep. Paul Findley were among the political casualties after pursuing contacts with the Palestinians.

If anyone doubts how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to pull the strings of U.S. politicians, just watch one of his record-tying three addresses to joint sessions of Congress and count how often Republicans and Democrats jump to their feet in enthusiastic applause. (The only other foreign leader to get the joint-session honor three times was Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill.)

So, what makes Russia-gate different from the other cases? Did Putin conspire with Trump to extend a bloody war as Nixon did with the South Vietnamese leaders? Did Putin lengthen the captivity of U.S. hostages to give Trump a political edge? Did Putin manipulate U.S. policy in the Middle East to entice President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and set the region ablaze, as Israel’s Netanyahu did? Is Putin even now pushing for wider Mideast wars, as Netanyahu is?

Indeed, one point that’s never addressed in any serious way is why is the U.S. so angry with Russia while these other cases, in which U.S. interests were clearly damaged and American democracy compromised, were treated largely as non-stories.

Why is Russia-gate a big deal while the other cases weren’t? Why are opposite rules in play now – with Democrats, many Republicans and the major news media flogging fragile “links,” needling what little evidence there is, and assuming the worst rather than insisting that only perfect evidence and perfect witnesses be accepted as in the earlier cases?

The answer seems to be the widespread hatred for President Trump combined with vested interests in favor of whipping up the New Cold War. That is a goal valued by both the Military-Industrial Complex, which sees trillions of dollars in strategic weapons systems in the future, and the neoconservatives, who view Russia as a threat to their “regime change” agendas for Syria and Iran.

After all, if Russia and its independent-minded President Putin can be beaten back and beaten down, then a big obstacle to the neocon/Israeli goal of expanding the Mideast wars will be removed.

Right now, the neocons are openly lusting for a “regime change” in Moscow despite the obvious risks that such turmoil in a nuclear-armed country might create, including the possibility that Putin would be succeeded not by some compliant Western client like the late Boris Yeltsin but by an extreme nationalist who might consider launching a nuclear strike to protect the honor of Mother Russia.

The Democrats, the liberals and even many progressives justify their collusion with the neocons by the need to remove Trump by any means necessary and “stop fascism.” But their contempt for Trump and their exaggeration of the “Hitler” threat that this incompetent buffoon supposedly poses have blinded them to the extraordinary risks attendant to their course of action and how they are playing into the hands of the war-hungry neocons.

A Smokescreen for Repression

There also seems to be little or no concern that the Establishment is using Russia-gate as a smokescreen for clamping down on independent media sites on the Internet. Traditional supporters of civil liberties have looked the other way as the rights of people associated with the Trump campaign have been trampled and journalists who simply question the State Department’s narratives on, say, Syria and Ukraine are denounced as “Moscow stooges” and “useful idiots.”

The likely outcome from the anti-Russian show trials on Capitol Hill is that technology giants will bow to the bipartisan demand for new algorithms and other methods for stigmatizing, marginalizing and eliminating information that challenges the mainstream storylines in the cause of fighting “Russian propaganda.”

The warning from powerful senators was crystal clear. “I don’t think you get it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, warned social media executives last week. “You bear this responsibility. You created these platforms, and now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it. Or we will.”

As this authoritarian if not totalitarian future looms and as the dangers of nuclear annihilation from an intentional or unintentional nuclear war with Russia grow, many people who should know better are caught up in the Russia-gate frenzy.

I used to think that liberals and progressives opposed McCarthyism because they regarded it as a grave threat to freedom of thought and to genuine democracy, but now it appears that they have learned to love McCarthyism except, of course, when it rears its ugly head in some Long Island political ad criticizing New York City.

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




Israeli-Saudi Tandem Adjusts to Syria Loss

Facing defeat in the proxy war in Syria, the Israeli-Saudi tandem is planning a new front against Hezbollah, presaged by Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s sudden resignation, as ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke explains.

By Alastair Crooke

It seems that matters are coming to a head in the Middle East. For many states, the coming period will likely prove to be the moment in which they determine their futures — as well as that for the region as a whole.

The immediate peg for “crunch time” is Russia’s fast-track proposal of a conference to be held in Sochi, with the near-full kaleidoscope of Syrian opposition invited, which, if all goes as planned, might mean 1,000 delegates arriving in Sochi as soon as Nov. 18.

The Syrian government has agreed to attend. Of course, when one hears of attendance in these numbers, it suggests that this is not intended as a “sleeves rolled-up” working session, but rather as a meeting in which Russian thoughts will be mooted on the constitution, the system of government, and the place of “minorities” – with a chaser that Russia wants fresh elections pretty darned quick: which is to say, in six months’ time. In short, this is to be the “last chance saloon” for opposition figures: come aboard now, or be shut out, in the cold.

This initiative has plenty of push behind it, including President Putin’s personal endorsement, but no guarantee of success. Both Iran and Turkey (the co-guarantors of Astana) privately may have reservations, not knowing precisely what Moscow might unveil. Iran is insistent on Syria retaining a strong centralized government, and Turkey is likely to worry about whether the Kurds might receive too much from Moscow; it will also have reservations about sitting down with the YPD (Syrian Kurds), which it views to be little more than a re-branded PKK, which Turkey regards as a terrorist organization. If Turkey does pull out, it will take an important slice of the opposition with it.

Critical moments in history, however, do have a habit of proving to be less critical than first imagined, but this one effectively marks the beginning of the winding up process of the Syrian war and of the 20-year “New Middle East” project (as devised by the U.S. and Israeli governments). How each state responds, will determine the Middle East landscape for the next years.

Military Mop-up 

Late last week, the Syrian army took the rest of Deir Ezzor city, and with it its rear now secure, the Syrian army is free to continue the 30 or so kilometers to reach Abu Kamal (al-Bukumal) – the last ISIS urban outpost – and the vital border crossing on the Euphrates with Iraq.  It is estimated that there may be 3,500 Da’esh (another name for the Islamic State or ISIS) in Abu Kamal. But Abu Kamal’s “twin” (on the Iraqi side of the border), al-Qaim, was taken by the Iraqi government’s PMU militia forces on Friday. The Iraqi forces are now clearing the city of its estimated 1,500 Da’esh fighters.

The Syrian army, backed up by several thousand recently injected Hezbollah forces, is poised to enter Abu Kamal in the coming days from two directions – and from the south, a co-ordinated thrust north up and into Abu Kamal by the Iraqi Hash’d a- Sha’abi (PMU) militia, will form a pincer.

American-supported SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), however, are also trying to reach Abu Kamal from the east (the U.S., pressured by Israel, would like to seal and close the border crossing). U.S. allied forces can move more quickly, as U.S. officers are seeking to bribe local tribal leaders who formerly had sworn allegiance to ISIS (with Saudi money), to switch sides, or at least to allow the SDF forces to advance unhindered by ISIS (as happened in the environs of Deir Ezzor).

In short, the military outcome in Syria is done (after six years of war), and now comes the political bargaining. How this plays out will determine the relative strengths of the forces that will shape the Middle East in the coming years. The outcome will likely see whether Turkey can be bullied back towards NATO (by threats such as that by General Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s military committee, warning of “consequences” for Turkey’s attempts to buy Russian air defenses), or whether Turkey’s determination to limit Kurdish aspirations will see Turkey position itself alongside Iran and Iraq (who share a common interest).

Turkey’s role in Idlib, in overseeing the de-escalation zone there, remains opaque. Effectively, its forces are positioned more to control the Afrin Kurdish “canton” (rather than monitor the Idlib de-escalation zone). It is possible that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to use Turkish troops to carve out a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border – in contravention to the Astana understandings. If so, this will place him at odds with both Moscow and Damascus (but will not necessarily imply a return to the NATO camp, either).

Syria’s Future

The bargaining at Sochi will also make clearer whether Syria will be a strong centralized state (as Iran prefers), or a looser federal state as America (and perhaps Russia) would prefer. Sochi will be something of a litmus for the extent to which American influence can shape outcomes in today’s Middle East. At present, it looks as if there is co-ordination between Moscow and Washington for a speedy political settlement in Syria, a U.S. declaration of victory over ISIS, Syrian elections, and an American exit from the Syrian theatre.

The outcome of the conference will also perhaps clarify whether the Syrian Kurds finally will remain with the U.S. CentCom project for retaining a permanent U.S. presence in northeast Syria (as Israel wants), or whether the Syrian Kurds will cut a deal with Damascus (after witnessing the crushing of the Barzani Kurdish independence project by neighboring powers).

If the latter occurs, the argument for retaining a longer-term U.S. presence in northeast Syria would lose force. The Saudis will have either to accept defeat in Syria, or act the party-pooper (by trying to re-ignite the remaining proxy forces in Idlib) – but, for that, the kingdom would need Turkey’s compliance, and that may not be forthcoming.

Iraq too, irked by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments suggesting that the PMU are Iranian – and must “go home” – has already shown signs of re-orientating towards Russia. (It has recently signed an expansive energy and economic protocol with Russia – after having reclaimed control of its borders and of Iraq’s energy resources – and is procuring Russian arms). Evidence of Iraq’s close connections with Syria, Turkey and Iran was very manifest in the quick execution of the put-down to the Kurdish independence gambit.

But the state facing the biggest dilemma in respect to the Syrian outcome is Israel. Alex Fishman, the doyen of Israeli defense columnists, has written that Israel simply has failed to adjust to strategic change, and is locked in a narrow “cold war” mentality:

“The Syrians fire rockets at open areas: Israel destroys Syrian cannons in response; the Iranians threaten to deploy Shiite forces in Syria: Israel announces ‘red lines’ and threatens a military conflict; Fatah and Hamas hold futile talks on a unity government: the prime minister declares Israel is suspending talks with the Palestinans – and everyone here applauds the security and political echelons: – ‘there, we showed them the meaning of deterrence’, [the Israeli leadership repeats].

“But what we are seeing here is a provincial defense policy, a false representation of a leadership that barely sees beyond the tip of its nose, and is busy putting out fires day and night.

“It’s a leadership that sees national security through a narrow regional viewpoint. It’s as if everything beyond Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran doesn’t exist. It’s as if the world around us hasn’t changed in the past decades, and we are stuck in the era of aggressive solutions in the form of reward and punishment as the main political-security activity. The current political-security echelon isn’t solving problems, isn’t dealing with problems, but simply postponing them, passing them on to the next generation”

Missing the Strategic Picture 

What Fishman is pointing to is profound: Israel has gained some tactical victories in the neighborhood (i.e. over the Palestinians generally, and in weakening Hamas), but it has lost sight of the wider strategic picture. In effect, Israel has lost its ability to dominate the region. It had wanted a weakened and fragmented Syria; it had wanted a Hezbollah mired in the Syrian mud, and an Iran circumscribed by Sunni sectarian antipathy towards the Shi’a generally. It is unlikely to get any of these.

Rather, Israel finds itself being deterred (rather than doing the deterring) by the knowledge that it cannot now overturn its strategic weakness (i.e. risk a three-front war) – unless, and only if, America will fully enter into any conflict, in support of Israel. And this is what worries the security and intelligence echelon: Would America now contemplate a decisive intervention on behalf of Israel – unless the latter’s very survival was at risk?

In 2006, Israeli officials recall, the U.S. did not enter Israel’s war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, and after 33 days, it was Israel that sought a ceasefire.

Fishman is right too that attacking Syrian factories and radar positions “out of old habit” solves nothing. It may be sold to the Israeli public as “deterrence,” but rather it is playing with fire. Syria has started to fire back with aged surface-to-air missiles (S200s) at Israeli aircraft. These missiles may not have hit an Israeli jet yet, and maybe were not even intended so to do. The Syrian message however, is clear: these missiles may be old, but they have a longer range than the newer S300: Potentially, their range is sufficient to reach Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv.

Are the Israelis sure that Syria and Hezbollah don’t have more modern missiles? Are they certain that Iran or Russia will not provide them such? The Russian defense minister was very angry on his visit to Tel Aviv to have been faced with an Israeli retaliatory air attack on a Syrian radar and missile position – as a welcome gift on landing in Israel. To his protests, his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Lieberman condescendingly said that Israel needed nobody’s advice in respect to Israel’s security. General Sergey Shoygu reportedly was not amused.

Can Israel come to terms with its new strategic situation? It seems not. Ibrahim Karagul, a Turkish political commentator and an authoritative voice of President Erdogan, writing in Yeni Safak, notes that “the foundations of a new disintegration [and] division are being laid in our region. Saudi Arabia’s ‘We are switching to moderate Islam’ announcement contains a dangerous game. The U.S.-Israel axis is forming a new regional front line.”

Karagul continues: “We have been watching the strange developments in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Israel and the U.S. for some time now. There is a new situation in the region, which we know is [principally aimed] against Iran; but has recently taken an open anti-Turkey state, aimed at limiting Turkey’s influence in the region … You will see, the ‘moderate Islam’ announcement will be immediately followed by a sudden and unexpected strengthening of Arab nationalism. This wave will not differentiate between Shiite or Sunni Arabs, but it will isolate the Muslim Arab world from the entire Muslim world.

“This separation will be felt most by the Shiite Arabs in Iraq. With this new block, Iraq and Iran are going to stage a new power showdown [i.e. will react forcefully to counter it]. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s future in power is also most likely going to [become contingent on the outcome to] this showdown.”

An American ‘Buy-in’

To give this project American “buy-in,” Israel and Saudi Arabia are focusing it on Lebanese Hezbollah, which the U.S. has declared to be a terrorist entity though the movement was part of Lebanon’s government, which was headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri until he ominously resigned today in an announcement made in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Hariri is a dual Saudi-Lebanese national.)

Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan (in Beirut last week) called for “toppling Hezbollah” and promised “astonishing” developments in “the coming days. Those who believe that my tweets are a personal stance, are delusional … the coming developments will definitely be astonishing.”

Al-Sabhan added that the kingdom’s escalation against Hezbollah could take several forms that would “definitely affect Lebanon. Politically, it might target the government’s relations with the world. At the economic and financial levels, it could target commercial exchange and funds, and militarily it might involve the possibility of a strike on Hizbullah by the U.S.-led coalition, which labels Hizbullah a terrorist organization.” (Comment: this latter point probably was made more in hope, than in expectation. Europe and the U.S. set considerable store on maintaining Lebanon as stable).

Karagul reflects further on this U.S.-Gulf-Israeli initiative:

“The moderate Islam project was tried the most in Turkey. We always said this is ‘American Islam’ and opposed it. The February 28 military intervention is the product of such a project. It was implemented by the U.S./Israel extreme right-wing and their partners on the inside. The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) is the product of such a project, and the Dec. 17/25 and July 15 attacks were made for this very reason. They were all aimed at trapping Turkey within the U.S./Israel axis.

“But Turkey’s local and national resistance has overcome them all. Now they are burdening Saudi Arabia with the same mission. That is how they are making it appear. I do not think that it is possible for Saudi Arabia to undertake such a mission. This is impossible both in terms of the regime’s character and its social structure. This is impossible because of the ‘Israel/U.S. sauce’.

“The discourse of making the switch to moderate Islam will cause serious confusion in the Saudi administration and grave social reactions. The actual conflict is going to take place within Saudi Arabia. Also, the Riyadh administration has no chance of exporting something to the region or setting an example.

“Especially once it is further revealed that the project is security-based, that a new front line has been formed, that it is all planned by the U.S.-Israel, it will result in a fiasco. This project is suicide for Saudi Arabia, it is a destruction plan; it is a plan that will destroy it unless it comes to its senses.”

Karagul makes the point well: the attempt to make Islam in the Christian “Westphalian” image has a disastrous history. The metaphysics of Islam are not those of Christianity. And Saudi Arabia cannot be made “moderate” by Mohammad bin Salman just ordering it. It would entail a veritable cultural revolution to shift the basis of the kingdom, away from the rigors of Wahhabism to some secularized Islam.

More War?

Where is this taking the Middle East: to conflict? Maybe. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not noted for his audacity: he his noted more for rhetoric which often has proved empty; and Israeli security officials are being cautious, but both sides are preparing against the possibility of what Karagul calls a “great power showdown.” It looks, though – from this and other Turkish statements – as if Turkey will be with Iran and Iraq, and standing against America and Saudi Arabia.

And President Trump? He is wholly (and understandably) preoccupied with the low-intensity war being waged against him at home. He probably tells Netanyahu whatever it is that might advance his domestic battles (in Congress, where Netanyahu has influence). If Bibi wants a fiery speech at the U.N. berating Iran, then, why not? Trump can then call on the trifecta of White House generals to “fix it” (just as he did with JCPOA, passing it to Congress “to fix”), knowing that the generals do not want a war with Iran.

The danger is a “black swan.” What happens if Israel goes on attacking the Syrian army and industrial premises in Syria (which is happening almost daily) – and Syria does shoot down an Israeli jet?

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.




Trump Follows Well-Worn Mideast Trail

Despite the chaotic appearance of President Trump’s Mideast policies, they actually represent a troubling consistency in U.S. subservience to Israel and Saudi Arabia, as ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller explains.

By Graham E. Fuller

Washington media, think tanks, various commentators and now Sen. John McCain continue hammering on an old theme — that the U.S. has “no policy towards the Middle East.” This is fake analysis. In fact the U.S. very much does have a long-standing policy towards the Middle East. It’s just the wrong one.

What, then, is U.S. policy in the Middle East — under Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton (and even earlier)? When all the rhetoric has been stripped away, we can identity quite clear, precise, and fairly consistent major strategic policy positions.

–First, Washington accedes to almost anything that Israel wants. This is an untouchable posture, a third rail, beyond any debate or discussion lest we anger the powerful Zionist lobby of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and end up being labeled “anti-Semitic.”

The New York Times does not even allow us to know that In Israel itself these issues are indeed seriously debated — but never in the U.S. Small tactical issues aside, there is zero American discussion about whether the far-right government of Israel should be the lode-star of U.S. policy-making in the Middle East.

–Second, we oppose all Iranian actions and seek to weaken that state. Not surprisingly this reflects a key Israeli position on the Middle East as well. Admittedly the U.S. has its own grudges against Iran going back a long way, while the Iranians bear grudges against the U.S. going back well before that.

–Oppose almost anything that Russia does in the Middle East and routinely seek to weaken the Russian position in the region.

–Destroy armed radical jihadi groups anywhere — unilaterally or via proxy.

–Support Saudi Arabia on nearly all issues. Never mind that the Saudi state is responsible for the export of the most radical, dangerous and ugly interpretations of Islam anywhere and is the prime promoter of extremist Islamist ideas across the Muslim world.

-=Maintain a U.S. military presence (and as many U.S. military bases as possible) across the Middle East and Eurasia.

–Maximize U.S. arms sales across the region for profit and influence. (There is of course a lot of competition here from the U.K., Russia, France, China, and Israel.)

–Support any regime in the Middle East — regardless of how authoritarian or reactionary it may be — as long as it supports these U.S. goals and policies in the region.

–“Protect the free flow of oil.” Yet that free flow of Middle East oil has almost never been threatened and its chief consumers — China, Japan, Korea — should bear whatever burden that might be. But the U.S. wants to bear that “burden” to justify permanent U.S. military forces in the Gulf.

But what about “American values” that are often invoked as goals — such as support for democracy and human rights? Yes, these values are worthy, but they receive support in practice only as long as they do not conflict with the paramount hierarchy of the main goals stated above. And they usually do conflict with those goals.

Far from a “lack of Middle East policy,” all this sounds to me like a very clear set of U.S. policy positions. Washington has consistently followed them for long decades. They largely represent a solid “Washington consensus” that varies only slightly as the think-tankers of one party or the other rotate in and out of government.

Trump in Line

Donald Trump has typically upset the apple cart somewhat on all of this — mostly in matters of style in his spontaneous policy lurchings of the moment. But Official Washington is pretty good in keeping the range of foreign policy choices fairly narrowly focused within these parameters. Indeed, some might say that this policy mix is just about right. Yet these U.S. aspirations have fairly consistently failed.

The most prominent U.S. policy failures are familiar and proceed from the goals.

–If unquestioning support to Israel is the top priority, Washington has not failed here. But Israel remains about as truculent as ever in maintaining its own priority of extending territorial control and creeping takeover of all Palestinian lands and people. Washington has not been able to protect Israel from itself; Israel has never been more of an international pariah than now in the eyes of most of the world, including large numbers of Jews.

Actually it would serve American interests to officially abandon the absurd theater of the  “peace process” which has always served as Israeli cover for ever greater annexation of Palestinian land. Instead the U.S. should let the international community assume the major voice, yes, including the United Nations, in holding Israel to international norms.

By now the “two-state solution” is unreachable; the issue is how to manage the very difficult and painful transition to an inevitable “one-state solution” for Palestinians and Israelis — in a democratic and binational secular state.

–Russia is today stronger and more important in the Middle East than since Soviet days. Moscow has been outplaying the U.S. in nearly every respect of the policy game since 9/11. U.S. influence meanwhile has declined in both relative and absolute terms. Yet Washington’s determination to maintain its own absolute primacy across the world firmly excludes any significant Russian role in global issues.

However, if Washington can bring itself to abandon the zero-sum game mindset and work towards a win-win approach with Moscow, it will find much to cooperate with Russia about. As it stands, persistent confrontational policies guarantee unending rivalry, a never-ending self-fulfilling prophesy.

–Contrary to stated U.S. policy goals, Iran has emerged the massive winner from nearly all U.S. policies in the region over two decades. Yet Turkey and Iran represent the only two serious, developed, advanced, stable states in the region, with broadly developed economies, serious “soft power,” and a flexible policies that have gained the respect of most Middle Eastern peoples, even if not of their governments.

Yes, Erdogan’s Turkey is at the moment a loose cannon; but Turkish political institutions will certainly survive him even as the clock is ticking on his power grip. Iran’s elections are more real than virtually any other Muslim state in the area. It may be convenient for some to lay virtually all U.S. troubles in the region at Iran’s door, but such analysis upon serious examination is quite deliberately skewed.

–U.S. policies and actions against radical and violent Islamist movements in the Muslim world represent a serious task. Sadly, it is the ongoing U.S. military actions themselves that help explain much of the continued existence and growth of radical movements, starting with major U.S. military support to Islamist mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Later the U.S. destruction of state and societal structures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, to some extent even in Syria and Yemen, have further stirred up anger and radical jihadism.

Another Way?

What can be done? Withdrawal of U.S. boots on the ground and the chain of military bases across the region and into Asia would represent a start, but only a start, in allowing the region to calm down. The region must work out its own problems and not be the object of incessant self-serving U.S. helicopter interventions.

Yes, ISIS is a target deserving of destruction, and U.S. policies have been a bit wiser in at least allowing many international forces to play a role in that campaign. But radicalism invariably emerges from radical conditions. There are few military solutions to radical social, political, economic and identity problems. And autocratic rulers will always greet a U.S. presence that helps maintain them in power.

Saudi policies that view Iran as the source of all Middle Eastern problems are erroneous and self-serving, and ignore the real roots of the region’s problems: unceasing war (primarily launched by the U.S.), vast human and economic dislocations, self-serving monarchs and presidents for life, and the absence of any voice by the people over the way they are ruled.

The militarization of U.S. foreign policy everywhere is ill-designed to solve regional problems that call for diplomacy and close cooperation with all regional powers — not their exclusion. Yet these U.S. policies increasingly resemble the late days of the Roman Empire as it found itself up to its neck in barbarians.

Most of the world would welcome shifts in U.S. policies away from the heavy focus on the military option. One reason the U.S. has been losing respect, clout and influence in the region is due to this failing military focus.

The rest of the world is now simply trying to work around U.S. fixations. Donald Trump is exacerbating the problem but he is in many ways the logical culmination of decades of failed American policies. Even a kinder gentler Trump cannot solve systemic U.S. foreign policy failures that are now deeply institutionalized.

So repeating the mantra that the U.S. lacks a Middle East policy serves only to conceal the problem. The U.S. very much does have a clear policy. It’s just been dead wrong.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com  [This article originally appeared at http://grahamefuller.com/washington-does-have-a-clear-me-policy-its-just-the-wrong-one/ ]




Blaming the Afghan War Failure on — Russia

Exclusive: Another part of the U.S. mainstream media’s rash of Russia-bashing is to claim that Moscow is arming Afghanistan’s Taliban, but again the evidence doesn’t match the accusations, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

News flash: The United States is supplying spiffy new Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks to the Taliban, who brazenly parade their troops in those vehicles “without fear of being targeted by Afghan or Coalition forces,” according to a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

As Bill Poggio observed in the foundation’s Long War Journal, “The Taliban displayed their military power in the contested district of Bakwa in a newly released video titled From the Fronts of Farah. The video which was released on the Taliban’s propaganda website, Voice of Jihad, ‘is dedicated to . . . showcasing the strength, control and advances of the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate,’ according to an accompanying statement.”

Poggio concluded, more reasonably than I suggest in my opening sentence, that the trucks displayed in the Taliban video were “captured from Afghan Army and police units,” not ordered directly by the Afghan insurgents out of a Pentagon catalog.

But U.S. officials have not shown the same good sense in their continued, but unsupported, denunciations of Russia for supplying the Taliban with assault rifles and other small arms.

I demolished that canard in a May 29 article. I pointed out that, contrary to a raft of news stories based on Pentagon leaks about Russian backstabbing, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency admitted in a Senate hearing, “I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred” by Russia to the Taliban.

The chairman of NATO’s military committee restated that conclusion in almost the same words just a few days ago. He told reporters in Washington, “I don’t have and I haven’t seen any hard evidence on the delivery of weapons from the Russians to the Taliban.”

Despite such authoritative denials, leading U.S. national security reporters — and government officials — have been keeping the story alive, as it fits the larger Washington narrative about Russia’s threat to U.S. security and Western values.

In late August, following President Trump’s address to the nation committing to a long-term battle in Afghanistan, Andrea Mitchell of NBC asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “why didn’t the President mention Russia’s rearming of the Taliban, which General [John] Nicholson has been talking about very openly? He seemed to be letting Russia off the hook in his speech.”

(Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has long complained of Russia’s “malign influence” in Afghanistan, and said in April that he was “not refuting” claims of Russian help to the Taliban.)

In response, Secretary Tillerson also chose not to refute such claims. “To the extent Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban, that is a violation, obviously, of international norms and it’s a violation of UN Security Council norms,” he said. “We certainly would object to that and call Russia’s attention to that.”

Russia vigorously denies doing any such thing. Of course it may be lying — providing arms to bog down the United States in war, or to curry favor with the Taliban as it racks up military gains across the country.

Dated Weapons

But many of the Russian weapons in the hands of the Taliban date back to Russia’s own misadventure in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to one small arms expert interviewed by an editor at The Atlantic. Other weapons in Taliban hands are Chinese or Pakistani knock-offs.

“Russian-made weapons of those calibers can be obtained in many places,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

As I documented previously, Moscow has been shipping assault weapons and providing flight training to Afghan government forces, not the Taliban. The insurgents don’t need to buy their weapons from abroad when they can simply take them from the Afghan army or police. “It’s simple and cheaper,” one Taliban commander told an American reporter.

As a result, U.S. taxpayers are going to great expense to arm the very people who are killing U.S. soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan.

The Taliban don’t just use those captured Humvees and trucks for show. In a stunning operation in mid-October, insurgents drove explosives-laden vehicles “captured from security forces” into an Afghan Army base in the southern province of Kandahar, killing most of its 60 members and leaving only two unhurt.

A day or two earlier, Taliban forces used the same tactic in two southeastern provinces, killing more than 40 police officers by detonating explosives in “Humvees paid for by the United States military,” according to the New York Times.

After 16 years of failed war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials may find it convenient to look for scapegoats like Russia. But the fault, with apologies to the Bard, is not in Moscow but in ourselves.

Jonathan Marshall’s previous articles on Afghanistan include “Alleged Russia-Taliban Arms Link Disputed,”  “The Goal of ‘Not Losing’ in Afghanistan,” “Afghanistan: President Obama’s Vietnam,” and “Why Washington’s War on Drugs in Afghanistan Isn’t Working.”