Category Archives: September 11th

marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

On the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, last night’s BBC Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with a member of a Salafist terrorist faction which a mere forty days prior was officially affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Mostafa Mahamed, puffed up as “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), a rebranding of the al-Qaeda in Syria terrorist faction formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, was afforded uninterrupted airtime to claim that aside from no longer being any part of al-Qaeda, his terrorist militia is “deeply embedded in [Syrian] society and cannot be singled out in any way”. Put another way, he is saying “we are the moderates”.

[Note that: after I posted this article, BBC uploaded the report on the Newsnight youtube channel — I have therefore decided to include it in an update at the end of the article.]

Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of ISIL, soon after renamed ISIS and then DAESH, JFS are just the latest al-Qaeda franchise. Except that once ISIS had splintered from al-Qaeda, they were immediately decried as the terrorist bad boys – the worst of the worst – a portrait that took a little of the heat away from remnant factions of al-Qaeda, including allied ‘rebels’ Jabhat al-Nusra, thereby enabling some in the West to recast them in a comparatively better light. This time, however, JFS – who have been loyal al-Qaeda affiliates until July 28th – are seeking to jettison the terrorist label altogether, albeit with nothing more substantial than a name change:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 1

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian published on July 28th.

Back on BBC Newsnight, and following on from Mahamed’s more or less untrammelled JFS promo, the same report continued as follows:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 2

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

*

Update:

This curtailed version of the Newsnight report was uploaded on Sept 15th with the following notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

*

1 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

2 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, September 11th, Syria

another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

*

I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

*

1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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the time for truth and reconciliation must come

There were rumours emanating from those with radios, but we really didn’t know anything about it until half-time, when there was no score given for the Liverpool–Forest semi-final, and even then nobody had any real idea of the sickening scale of it all. By the end of our game, a dull, distracted 1–0 win, everyone knew there had been deaths.1

These measured words are taken from Nick Hornby’s book Fever Pitch. They form the opening to his chapter entitled simply “Hillsborough”, in which he describes the moments when he, along with hundreds of thousands of others at different football grounds across Britain, were first waking up to the dreadful news of what had happened earlier in Sheffield.

At this same time, and like many millions of others, I’d been watching the tragedy unfold live on TV. Cameras were there because the game between Liverpool and Forest was meant to have featured later on Match of the Day, but the game itself had barely kicked off before it had been abandoned. Rather than the beautiful game, we had instead watched in sorrow and disbelief, finding it hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the disaster. 96 innocent people who had gone out to enjoy a football match had lost their lives instead, and every other football fan felt the same, had the same thought: that there but for the grace of god go I.

Now, 23 years later, we have access to a little more of the awful truth, and not only regarding the failures of the police and other emergency services that had both caused and exacerbated the catastrophic sequence of events at Hillsborough, but also to the cover up that immediately followed. A conspiracy of silence that has since been maintained by the police themselves, was assisted by the deliberately distorted coverage of the press, and that had also involved the complicity of politicians all the way up to members within the cabinet of the Thatcher government.

To understand more about the government’s role, I recommend reading Craig Murray’s carefully considered appraisal of the released documents.

All of the revelations disclosed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel can be read online at hillsborough.independent.gov.uk.

So after more than two decades of fighting for justice, the families of the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster have won an important victory. The bigger truth is now officially admitted, and with those admissions, their loved ones have been formally exonerated of all blame. They can finally rest in peace.

Yet many of the admissions of failures actually come as little surprise. As long ago as 1992, Nick Hornby was writing:

It is easy to understand why bereaved families wish to see officers from the South Yorkshire police brought to trial: their errors of judgment were catastrophic.2

Hornby also goes on to say something that I imagine he must now, and in the light of this report, deeply regret:

Yet, though it is clear that the police messed up badly that afternoon, it would be terribly vengeful to accuse them of anything more than incompetence.3

Incompetence is a serious charge, of course, but what actually happened at Hillsborough appears to have involved nothing less than criminal negligence, and it doesn’t finish there. Criminal negligence, combined with deliberate alteration of evidence that we now know took place, means we are obviously dealing with matters of very serious criminality indeed. And so with the truth finally established, we may hope that the families will also succeed in bringing the guilty to justice.

Incidentally, I am not taking a swipe at Nick Hornby, since he was only reporting what we were all then given to believe. That we should draw a line at the level of incompetence and look no further. So if I had been writing about the Hillsborough Disaster twenty years ago, I may well have written something along similar lines. In any case, Hornby’s main point in the chapter is rather different, but an important one in other ways.

As a fellow football supporter, he could see – as many of us could also see – that the Hillsborough Disaster was an accident not simply waiting to happen, but a disaster of a kind that had already happened many times before: at Bolton in 1946 resulting in 33 fatalities; at Ibrox in 1902, 25 fatalities; and again in 1971, 66 fatalities; and then the Bradford Fire which killed 56 people almost exactly four years prior to the Hillsborough tragedy.

Another incident, and one that Hornby failed to mention, gives still more credence to his considered opinions. It had happened almost exactly eight years earlier in the 1981 FA Cup semi-final when Wolves played Tottenham at Hillsborough. On that occasion, it was the Tottenham fans who were nearly crushed to death at the same Leppings Lane end of the ground.

I’d been standing little more than a hundred yards away, watching it all from the Wolves’ end with my father, as fans has started spilling out on to the pitch. Assuming that it must have been some kind of deliberate pitch invasion, we had both thought little more about it. Yet the incident had in fact resulted in 38 injuries, including broken arms, legs and ribs, and it led to a decision to remove Hillsborough as a neutral venue for six years. So Hillsborough had only been reinstated as a semi-final venue in 1987, a mere two years before the worst disaster in British football’s woeful history.

As Hornby explains at length, nothing at all had been learned from these many earlier and sometimes tragic incidents. So the stadia, some of which had been built almost a hundred years before, were still inherently dangerous and dilapidated, whilst the perimeter fences, brought in under Thatcher’s government, and supposedly put up to protect the fans, turned the terraces into even more lethal deathtraps. His other point, however, is that we, the football fans, had let this happen to us, by being so caught up in the obsession of supporting our own teams to the extent that “nothing ever matters, apart from football”. What Hornby says then is painful but undeniably valid, and he may justifiably have gone further still.

For the sake of football we had allowed ourselves to be packed in like sardines and forced to stand inside what amounted to cages. We had submitted to being treated like prisoners, or worse. Back in 1985, the Chairman of Chelsea FC, Ken Bates, had even famously compared his own club’s supporters to animals, and suggested that the ordinary fences at Stamford Bridge were therefore inadequate – he thought they needed to be electrified! Fortunately, Bates was ignored.

Moving beyond the boundaries of football, and the timing of the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report on September 12th, has caused many, myself included, to feel a little renewed hope in another prolonged battle for truth and justice. For the long overdue re-opening of the investigation into the attacks of September 11th that has been sought by the families of the victims ever since the hopelessly misled and underfunded original 9/11 Commission report was released in July 2004.

Even Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton who had jointly led the 9/11 Commission, promptly and publicly admitted to the failures of the inquiry. Published in August 2006, their book Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, offers some insight into the many ways in which the Commission’s attempts to reach the truth had been frustrated and undermined by multiple lies and countless deceptions. Here’s an important example:

The biggest battle came over access to the White House morning intelligence report, the President’s Daily Brief, especially the one dated Aug. 6, 2001, barely a month before the attack. Titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the document noted that the F.B.I. was investigating suspicious Qaeda activity on American soil “consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” When finally asked to provide the commission with his own testimony, the president [Bush] said at first that he could spare only an hour of his time — and then with just the two chairmen. Later it was made clear that no recordings or transcripts would be permitted.4

The above extract is taken from James Bamford’s review of Without Precedent, published in the New York Times.

It has since been established beyond all reasonable doubt that the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the impending attacks of September 11th 2001, and it now transpires that document singled out by Kean and Hamilton was just one of many similar warnings.

Here are the words of Kurt Eichenwald, award-winning journalist, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and author of 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars:

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission hearings were coming down and saying, “We want to see these presidential daily briefs.” And the Bush administration fought releasing them. They finally released the August 6th one, which had the now-infamous headline, “Bin Laden determined to strike U.S.” And in her testimony, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser at the time, said this was merely a historical document.

It was a review of, you know, bin Laden and al-Qaeda and their intents and what they’ve done. And actually, when you read it, that is what it was. And it was also a red herring, because—I can’t say that’s why they released it, but it certainly was convenient, because that document was the only one of the many that had gone out over the previous few months that was historical. All the others were: “There is an attack coming,” “There’s an attack coming that’s going to be devastating. There are going to be mass casualties,” “There is a terrorist cell in the United States that is plotting to strike,” I mean, with a great deal of table pounding. And there was—and I don’t want to keep picking on Secretary Rice, but she did—in that, she did testify, “If we had been made aware that there was an attack coming, we would have done something.”

Well, they were made aware. And, you know, in the end, what these documents show is that the Bush administration was not at that point prepared to consider al-Qaeda and these kind of non-state terrorist organizations as being a significant threat.

Eichenwald was speaking on Democracy Now! on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 and you can read more of the transcript or listen to what else he had to say here.

That the 9/11 Commission was hampered by a massive cover up is no longer even debatable, and at the very least, we now know that the Bush administration were fully forewarned of the attacks. If this oversight were the only flaw in the Commission’s investigation, then this failure alone provides more than enough reason to demand a re-opening of the inquiry.

As the latest Hillsborough Disaster inquiry illustrates, however, there can be no legitimate excuse for drawing the line at questions of incompetence only. The families of the 9/11 victims are just as entitled to know the whole truth, whatever that may turn out to be, as the families of the victims at Hillsborough. So any re-opened inquiry must be allowed to get to the bottom of all of the many outstanding issues.

Click here to read an earlier post that delves more deeply into some of those issues.

Click here to read a different post about key 9/11 whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds.

The personification of Justice is blindfolded for a very good reason: she does not presume to know the truth, determining it impartially and only on the basis of the balance of evidence. Therefore, when it comes to matters of criminality, as in the case of the crimes of September 11th, the place for any inquiry ought properly to have been a court of law. And had the attacks not been conducted as a suicide mission, such a court of law hearing would most likely have taken place already. It follows however, that the 9/11 Commission hearings could and should have been conducted in accordance with the same strict protocols and procedures as those applied in any court of law, but evidently this did not happen. Instead, the 9/11 Commission was a travesty of justice and a betrayal of truth.

No discrimination can be made when it comes to justice – not our governments, nor those individuals holding positions of high office, can ever be allowed to operate above the law, but must always be held to account in every case when criminality is suspected. For if we do not insist upon “justice for all”, then, one day, we will surely wake up to discover that there is no longer any justice at all.

I leave you to reflect on a short speech given in January 2008 by Bob McIlvaine, whose son Bobby was one of the nearly 3,000 who were murdered in the 9/11 attacks:

*

Update:

Earlier this month, Ferdinando Imposimato, who is the honorary President of the Supreme Court of Italy, former Senior Investigative Judge, author or co-author of seven books on international terrorism, state corruption, and related matters, a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, and who also served on the Anti-Mafia Commission in three administrations, stated publicly that there is overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was a “false flag” attack. In the same statement, he also drew a direct comparison to the kinds of terrorist attack carried out as part of the strategia della tensione (“Strategy of Tension”) in Italy, which is otherwise known as Operation Gladio.

Judge Imposimato writes:

The 9/11 attacks were a global state terror operation permitted by the administration of the USA, which had foreknowledge of the operation yet remained intentionally unresponsive in order to make war against Afghanistan and Iraq. To put it briefly, the 9/11 events were an instance of the strategy of tension enacted by political and economic powers in the USA to seek advantages for the oil and arms industries.5

Operation Gladio had involved a clandestine state-sponsored terrorist network operating throughout Europe. A secret right-wing army that was controlled by the CIA and MI6 through NATO, and which killed hundreds of innocent Europeans and attempted to blame the deaths on Baader Meinhof, Red Brigades and other left wing groups.

Known as stay-behinds these armies were given access to military equipment which was supposed to have been used for sabotage in the event of a Soviet invasion. Instead it was used in massacres across mainland Europe as part of a CIA “Strategy of Tension”.

To learn more about how “false flag” killing sprees were used to shape European (and most especially Italian) public opinion during the 1970s and early 1980s, I strongly advice watching the three part BBC Timewatch investigation that was originally aired on BBC2 in 1992:

*

1 From Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, published by Penguin in 1992. p 209

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 From a book review entitled “Intelligence Test” written by James Bamford, published in the New York Times on August 20, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/books/review/20Bamford.html

5 From a letter published in the Journal of 9/11 Studies” published September 2012. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:NTloCpiQCa8J:www.journalof911studies.com/resources/2012-September—Imposimato-letter.pdf+&cd=9&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a

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keep calm and carry on… following orders

A few months ago, as I was out buying some milk from the local convenience store, I was quite stunned to read the headline story in the local paper:

ARMED police forced a busy Sheffield road to close after marksmen swooped on a car while hunting for a suspect.

City Road, between Wulfric Road and Cradock Road, was blocked by police cars holding up trams, buses and motorists.

Eyewitnesses told The Star the officers searched local businesses and police appeared to be focusing on a vehicle on City Road.

Tram passenger Stewart Dalton said his journey was interrupted when an unmarked police car stopped ‘abruptly’ outside a barber’s shop, blocking the tramlines.

He said several other police cars with armed officers arrived ‘within seconds’, and ordered customers out of the shop at gunpoint.1

Another eyewitness, Steve Smith, was also interviewed:

Mr Smith said the police officers arranged themselves in a circle as they surrounded the vehicle.

There were officers with hard hats, big rifles and stun guns. There were a lot of people looking at what was going on.”

Mr Smith added he saw ‘at least three’ marksmen and felt concerned after seeing the incident develop.

I’m quite shocked to see something like this happening,” he said.

Having been shaken a little just reading about such an incident so close to my home, those who actually witnessed the events first-hand must have been shocked in the extreme. Armed police “order[ing] customers out of the shop at gunpoint” to be “frisked and held until the incident was over”. Obviously there was a good reason for this excess show of police force…

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman confirmed officers stopped a vehicle on the road yesterday morning ‘in relation to an ongoing policing operation’.

Armed officers assisted as a matter of precaution, the road was temporarily closed for about 30 minutes but was fully re-opened at around 10.40am. No arrests have been made and inquiries continue. Police would like to reassure the public they can safely go about their daily business.”

What? No arrests. And no national news reports. Click here to read the full article in The Star.

I recall this story because I was reminded of it on hearing about the M6 Megabus fiasco on Thursday morning [July 5th]. Here’s the story from BBC news, which begins “Armed police swooped on a coach on the M6 Toll motorway in the West Midlands”2:

[Earlier,] Armed police officers could be seen next to the single-decker coach on the southbound carriageway, as passengers were led off one by one.

Passengers were made to sit on the northbound carriageway, apart from one another, while surrounded by officers.

Sniffer dogs and forensic officers were also brought in to aid the search, as officers in forensic suits and others in military fatigues checked the area.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed military personnel were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure.

One of the passengers on the bus told the BBC that she had no idea what was going on, that she didn’t see anything supsicious [sic], and wasn’t told why they were pulled over.

She was made to sit cross-legged on the tarmac and still was not told what was happening. She said the whole experience had been very “scary and frightening”.

And the reason this time…?

A police source told BBC Radio WM a passenger was seen pouring a liquid into a box, which then started smoking.

That was enough apparently for calling out police from the West Midlands and Staffordshire forces, not to mention the fire service and ambulance crews. It was enough to close carriageways in both directions on one of our busiest motorways for four hours, to bring in sniffer dogs and forensic teams, and most disturbingly “military personnel [who] were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure”. Yes, under routine procedure! On this occasion, one of the eyewitnesses, Nick Jones, who was four vehicles behind the coach when police stopped traffic told the BBC:

“I’ve never seen so many ambulances turning up, also armed police, helicopter and dozens of police cars.”

Another eye-witness Barry Jarvis said:

“It was very puzzling as to what was going on at first as there weren’t that many police there.

“It was only after 20 minutes or so when all these unmarked cars [were] coming through that we thought something major was happening.”

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

I think it is fair to conclude that “something major was happening”, but what was the actual reason for such a staggering show of police and military strength. Well, here’s a BBC news article posted just a few hours later:

Staffordshire Police have said they are not linking an incident on the M6 Toll motorway with terrorism.

Superintendent Dave Holdway from Staffordshire police confirmed that no-one was being treated as a suspect and the case was “not being treated as counterterrorism at this time”.3

So no arrests again. But plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing. Then some empty (or should I say ‘robust’) apologies and reassurances that this “multi-agency response” was “swift”, which it was, and “proportionate”, which it blatantly wasn’t.

Click here to read the complete BBC news article and watch video of the police statement.

This latest incident has since caused me to recall a different occasion when the police took exception to a coach load of passengers, although not because “they had received a report from a genuinely concerned member of the public”, but because the passengers in question were heading off for an anti-Iraq War protest outside the RAF Base in Fairford, Gloucestershire. Although the passengers on this occasion [March 2003] represented no threat whatsoever, the coaches were nevertheless held up for two hours by a hundred riot police, whilst the passengers and their possessions were searched under the Terrorism Act. Denied their right to protest they were all then “escorted” back to London.

This incident neatly book-ends Chris Atkins’ excellent film Taking Liberties (released in June 2007 and freely available online). It’s a documentary that should be watched by everyone who is concerned by the on-going erosion of our civil liberties (and that really should be everybody living in Britain right now), and it’s also a film that’s well worth watching a second time, as I discovered a few nights ago:

You can watch the complete documentary here on Ustream (albeit annoyingly interrupted by advert breaks).

Back then, the Terrorism bills were already being used against peaceful dissenters, and this is something I had personally experienced in the days immediately prior to the London bombings.

A mini-G8 summit had come to Sheffield. It was an event that passed off almost unreported but, and in spite of the lack of media exposure, a hundred or so peaceful protesters ventured out into the city centre. Once there, we were confronted by a large number of regular police officers. Police marksmen had also been stationed on many of the rooftops. The regular police formed a line of blue across Fargate, the main shopping street, and for whatever reason (since the site of the actual meeting was unknown to most of us) the protesters assembled in front of them. A little later, three vans filled with riot police pulled up. These promptly disembarked and assembled into another line that looked on menacingly. In the meantime, the main police line allowed protesters and others to cross through but only from one direction. When a friend of mine tried to go back to where he had originally come from, he was told that if he continued he would be arrested. “Under what law?” he’d asked. The Terrorism Act was the answer, of course.

A week or so later, I’d also encountered another high-visibility police presence around the Edinburgh march against the actual G8 summit, with even more marksmen and more officers pointing their cameras towards us. This protest again represented no threat whatsoever to the G8 meeting, which was in any case being held some miles away at Gleneagles. Indeed, it was an almost embarrassingly non-confrontational assembly. What little bite it might have had – and it didn’t have much once the organisers had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to banish politics for the day and focus only on the vacuous demand to “Make Poverty History” – was entirely stolen by Bob Geldof’s simultaneous and self-aggrandising “Live 8” gig. “What the hell was all that about?” I wondered after we’d returned to our hostel – why did any of us even bother to turn out at all? But I am digressing.

Guardian journalist Rachel Shabi wrote a brilliant article previewing the protests at the G8, although one that I came across only later, which perfectly conveyed my feelings at the time. In the same piece, she also detailed the new measures being brought in to stifle “illegitimate” protests (as opposed to the all-too-legitimate protest I’d been a part of), as well as the extraordinary level and cost of security that had been put into place around the Gleneagles summit itself:

We are about to witness how “illegitimate” protest is dealt with at the G8 summit. Already, anti-G8 protesters-to-be say they have been intimidated by police and now fear attending demonstrations. Hundreds of individuals have been filmed going into public meetings held by peaceful protest groups. More have been searched, visited at home, had notes and computers seized, and been offered cash rewards for information on other protesters.

Meanwhile at Gleneagles, rings of steel fencing surround the hotel grounds. More than 10,000 police will be in force, along with a reported 2,000 US marines, an SAS team and specially trained snipers. The area will be riddled with roadblocks and exclusion zones – protesters aren’t allowed to march near the hotel. All this security is estimated to cost around £100m. We can’t tell for sure because there’s a blanket information ban on preparations for the summit.4

As if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, and slap bang in the middle of the G8 summit, we were hit by the London bombings. Blair immediately rushed back to the capital and, before you could say Jack Straw (or on this occasion Charles Clarke), we were being made ready for yet another draft of anti-terrorist legislation: The Terrorism Act 2006. With a few strokes of the pen, still more of our civil liberties had been stolen from us, and all in the name of security.

Comparing these recent incidents to the situation back in 2007, when the horrors of the July 7th bombings of 2005 (which also feature in Atkins’ documentary) were still fresh in our minds, and it’s not difficult to see how the world has changed again. The most staggering example being the security measures at this year’s Olympics. Anti-aircraft missiles on top of London flats and battleships in the Thames. Welcome to Airstrip One!

The Overton Window, that narrow range of ideas that the general public responds to as acceptable, is being stretched again and again, just a little wider each time. A racheting up that started in Britain even before the September 11th attack thanks to Blair’s first Terrorism Act that was passed in 2000. And ever since then, no crisis is wasted, no opportunity missed.

At this point, I’d like to make a comparison. Anyone over the age of about twenty will be uncomfortably familiar with the threat of IRA atrocities. The IRA were a very real and ever-present danger. A group who in October 1984 had bombed the party in government at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and on a second occasion, in February 1991, mortar bombed John Major’s official residence in Downing Street. The ordinary person also had good reason to be concerned, public spaces having been frequently targeted throughout the seventies, eighties and well into the nineties.

Back then our governments had properly advised everyone to keep alert. Keep a look out for unattended luggage; this was the main thing. A few sensible precautions and nothing more. No paranoia descended over our nation. No calls for heavyweight legislation (at least not on the UK mainland). But then, of course, for much of that period we had enough on our minds already with the other very real threat of Cold War annihilation.

So the old bogeyman was the Soviet Union, but that apparently went away – in fact it didn’t, but that’s another story. Meanwhile today’s official bogeyman is al-Qaeda, which is actually quite an improvement when you think about it. After all, al-Qaeda don’t have the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. They just have a few fanatics with home-made bombs – so just why are we being told to be more afraid than ever?

Since September 11th, right throughout the whole period of this ludicrous “War on Terror”, successive British governments have all been behaving hysterically. Amplifying public fears in order to make wrongful arrest and imprisonment appear justified as necessary evils. This endless war against an altogether nebulous and shape-shifting enemy has also been used to justify and permit such truly Orwellian measures as indefinite detention in places like Guantanamo Bay, where facilities are soon to be upgraded at a cost of $40 million, along with “extraordinary rendition”, which also continues under Obama.

Click here to watch the same interview and read a transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

When torture becomes permissible on the grounds that it is necessary to defend our freedom then it doesn’t take a genius to understand that we are rapidly approaching the rocky shores of La-La Land. Which brings me back to the events of Thursday morning on the M6. Troops of armed police and military closing a motorway because someone on a coach was looking a bit suspicious, or, as the official story now has it, “smoking a fake cigarette” .

If an emergency response of this kind had happened twenty years ago I feel sure that it would have caused a storm of public outrage. Twenty years ago it would also have been considered absolutely unacceptable for police, let alone military officers, to hold perfectly innocent citizens at gunpoint. These days, however, a lame apology is deemed more than sufficient for the matter to rest. The media are quick to move on, the passengers feel happy just to be alive (or so we are informed), and meanwhile the message has been reinforced that we all just need to “keep calm and carry on… following orders”; the Overton Window having been pushed an inch or two wider again.

Fear, Joseph Goebbals once said, was the approach the Nazis had used to keep control of the German people. A cast-iron way of controlling the masses, it was fear that helped to instill compliance and stifle the voice of all who opposed the tightening bonds of tyranny. Fostering fear was simply the easiest and most effective way to keep the people in their boxes. It still is.

1 From an article entitled “Police marksmen swoop on car”, written by Richard Blackledge, published in The Star on March 8, 2012. http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/local/police-marksmen-in-swoop-on-car-1-4322525

2 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus coach stopped by armed police”, published by BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-18719962

3 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus alert: ‘Not terrorist attack’”, published on BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18725577

4 From an article entitled “The war on dissent”, written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on July 2, 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/jul/02/development.g8

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Sibel Edmonds goes public after a decade of being silenced

In the days following the September 11th attacks, Sibel Edmonds, who is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani, was recruited as a language specialist to assist with translations of NSA interceptions at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Two months later, in December, she received a phone call that would turn her life upside-down. She was about to discover that her own high security division had been infiltrated by spies.

When Edmonds reported these events to her supervisor, rather than pursuing the case, he asked her to keep quiet. In response, Edmonds decided to take her case to higher superiors, but again instead of listening to the evidence, they wanted to hear no more about it, whilst also taking retaliatory action that made it harder for her to perform her regular duties. Eventually she took her case to the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, who had himself been appointed just days prior to September 11th. Yet again this back-fired, and in consequence she suffered still more harassment. Then, on Friday March 22nd 2002, she was summarily dismissed from her job.

A few months later in July, Edmonds filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for unlawful termination of her employment, which she said was a direct consequence of whistleblowing on the criminal activities committed by government officials. In October 2002, the-then Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who in the wake of the September 11th attacks had pushed through the US Patriot Act, responded to Edmonds in a most extreme and heavy-handed fashion by invoking the State Secrets Privilege:

According to Ashcroft, everything involving my case and my allegations were considered state secrets, and whether or not I was right in my allegations, the United States District Court had to dismiss my entire case without any questions, hearings or oral argument; period. According to Ashcroft, the court had to grant his order and dismiss the entire case with no hearings solely based on the fact that he, Ashcroft, said so. After all, our government knew best. As of that day, my case came to be gagged; but I continued on.1

The message from the top was clear: to keep quiet or go to jail, and so she did. Until, that is, the Kean-Hamilton 9/11 Commission, when Edmonds realised that she had seen evidence that directly contradicted the “outrageous” testimony given by Condoleeza Rice. Bravely, Sibel Edmonds stepped back into the limelight again:

In early 2004, an unclassified summary of the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report on Edmonds confirmed that many of her claims “were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI’s decision to terminate her services.” In February of that year, Edmonds testified before the 9/11 Commission about problems at the FBI. Three months later, the Justice Department retroactively classified Edmonds’ briefings to Senators and the 9-11 Commission, as well the information the Senators had cited in their letter to the FBI, and forced the Members of Congress who had information about Edmonds’ case posted on their web sites to remove the documents.2

Edmonds was also gagged a second time in April 2004:

In April 2004, after attorneys for a large group of 9/11 family members subpoenaed my deposition, the then Attorney General, John Ashcroft, made his next move: He invoked the state secrets privilege for the second time, and this time, he designated my place of birth, date of birth, my mother tongue, my father tongue, my university background, and my previous employments all State Secrets, Top Secret Classified, and matters of the highest level national security. Let’s see, based on this new ruling and designation by our ironically named Justice Department, my passport would be considered a ‘top secret’ document since it contains my place of birth, information considered state secrets. According to our government officials my Virginia driving license would be considered a ‘Top Secret’ document, since it contains my date of birth, information considered state secrets and classified. Well, heck, even my resume would be considered ‘Top Secret’ since it contains my linguistic credentials and my degrees. As of that day, I officially became a notoriously gagged whistleblower; but I continued on.3

In 2006, Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Viallet made the French documentary4 Une Femme à Abattre [literally “a woman to be cut down”] about Sibel Edmonds’ continuing struggle for truth and justice. An English version of the film entitled Kill the Messenger was produced in 2007 by SBS Australia. It is embedded below:

In August 2004, Sibel Edmonds also founded the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. The NSWBC organizes current or former government employees who have been punished for exposing official wrongdoing and advocates for legislation to protect the rights of National Security whistleblowers.

Fearing that America is sliding ever more rapidly towards becoming a police state, Edmonds has now decided to break her gagging order by releasing a full account of what she uncovered whilst working for the FBI. So, on April 10th 2012, Edmond’s attorneys and the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) issued the following press release:

Today, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) revealed that the FBI required employees to sign employment contracts that are illegal under Federal law. The NWC launched the investigation in response to a nearly yearlong campaign by the FBI to prevent the publication of whistleblower Sibel Edmonds’ new book, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story.

On April 26, 2011, Ms. Edmonds followed official procedure and submitted her manuscript to the FBI for pre-publication clearance. Under the terms of her employment agreement and controlling regulations, the FBI was required to review and approve the submission within thirty (30) days. Instead of complying with the law, the FBI intentionally stalled the approval process for over 341 days and has still refused to “clear” the book for publication.5

For the full press release visit their website at http://www.whistleblowers.org.

Sibel Edmonds writes that:

I intend to publish this book as an American citizen armed with my First Amendment and validated even by our government’s own no-longer-followed laws and regulations. Doing otherwise would be ‘Un-American.’ I will leave being Un-American to our despotic rulers and those who choose to remain docile and silent.

I am also planning to write a blog series on the behind-the-scenes experiences and adventures in getting this book published. It was one thing to fight the despots in the government, but I had no intention of engaging in a major fight with corporate mega publishers on their version of censorship. I gladly turned my back, and took the alternative road. I have been determined to practice what I’ve been preaching all along. Doing that included undertaking an alternative publication venue (independently and proudly self-published!) and using alternative media-news-forums to reach out.6

Under the Obama administration, the war on whistleblowers rages on. On Thursday 5th April 2012, former CIA official John Kiriakou was indicted for allegedly leaking information to journalists. More then four years earlier, in December 2007, it was Kiriakou who had first exposed the CIA’s use of waterboarding on terrorist suspects.

If convicted, Kiriakou could now receive a maximum of 45 years in prison for the five-count indictment including three charges under the Espionage Act — the Obama administration has already invoked the Espionage Act more often than any other US administration in history.

Stephen Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, and Attorney-Trustee for the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, recently spoke on Russia Today [April 10th] about the publication of Sibel Edmonds’ book and the on-going Kiriakou case:

Sibel Edmonds is editor of Boiling Frogs Post and founder-director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

1 From an article entitled “Gagged, But Not Dead” written by Sibel Edmonds and published on May 14, 2005. http://www.justacitizen.com/articles_documents/May14-05-Gagged%20but%20not%20Dead.htm

2 From Press Release for 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award: “Translator Fired from FBI for Blowing Whistle on Intelligence Failures to Receive 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award” New York, NY, March 29, 2006. http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/633/prmID/172

3 Also taken from “Gagged, But Not Dead” written by Sibel Edmonds and published on May 14, 2005. http://www.justacitizen.com/articles_documents/May14-05-Gagged%20but%20not%20Dead.htm

4 Produced by Canal+ / Zadig Productions.

5 From a press release published on April 10, 2012 entitled “FBI Attempts to Hold Sibel Edmonds’ Book Hostage- Illegally & Unconstitutionally: Investigation Shows Agency Used Contract to Censor Whistleblowers”. http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2012/04/10/press-release-fbi-attempts-to-hold-sibel-edmonds-book-hostage-illegally-unconstitutionally/

6 From an article entitled “Calm before the storm?” written by Sibel Edmonds, posted on her own website on April 15, 2012. http://www.classifiedwoman.com/2012/04/15/updates-on-classified-woman-and-boiling-frogs-post/

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William Binney on the NSA domestic surveillance programme

On Friday [April 20th] Democracy Now! broadcast a special hour-long episode focusing on the growth of domestic surveillance in America. They spoke with National Security Agency whistleblower, William Binney, the key source for James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building a huge spy centre in Bluffdale, Utah. You can read more on this in an earlier post.

Binney served in the NSA for over 30 years working on intelligence gathering systems, but then quit his job on 31st October 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks when, as he puts it “all the wraps came off for NSA” and the agency began its warrantless-wiretapping of citizens. Concerned to draw attention to vast data-mining programmes that he believed could “create an Orwellian state”, and in particular one programme codenamed Stellar Wind, which he had helped to develop, he decided to become a whistleblower. His home was then raided by FBI agents on 26th July 2007, whilst on the same day, the homes of Diane Roark, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis were also subjected to FBI raids, ostensibly to uncover who had leaked information to the New York Times.

According to Binney:

“Well, that was the pretext, the leak on the—to give the New York Times thing. The real thing—what they were really doing was retribution and intimidation so we didn’t go to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and tell them, “Well, here’s what Gonzales didn’t tell you, OK.” That was what it was really all about.”

And what was it that the then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was keeping the lid on?

“Well, it was about—it was about Stellar Wind and all of the domestic spying.”

Binney believes that the intelligence service now hold copies of almost all of the emails passing through the US. Asked if there has been any qualitative change since the Obama administration came in versus what the Bush administration was practicing, Binney says:

Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. […]

[But] The point is, the data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.

In the same roundtable interview, Democracy Now! also spoke with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who explained how she is now repeatedly detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the United States, and to Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who has also faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, wikileaks.

Click here to watch video of the interview and to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

In the second part of the same interview, broadcast on Monday April 23rd, Binney talks about how John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness programme was a way “to test the waters in Congress to see how they would be receptive to something they were already doing”, and gives further details regarding the case made against fellow NSA whistleblower Tom Drake.

He is also asked his thoughts on the approval that has been granted for law enforcement agencies to use surveillance drones inside the United States. Binney says:

Well, that’s simply another step in the assembly of information. This is the visual part of the electronic information they’re collecting about people. So here’s your visual part. I mean, you could collect on phone—the cell phones as you move around, and then you can watch them now with a drone.

On the same broadcast, Jacob Appelbaum explains some of the ways one may now be able to circumvent this tightening state surveillance apparatus, such as setting up email accounts on Riseup rather than gmail or yahoo, and using browsers that can be downloaded free from the torproject. This actually sounds very promising to me, although not being a technical wiz, I confess that as yet I’m still linked up via the usual proprietary software.

I’ll leave final thoughts with Binney again, here speaking about the role of elected representatives, and their responsibility to uphold the rule of law:

Well, yeah, more importantly, it’s a violation of the constitutional rights of every American citizen. And that’s a violation that they took an oath to defend against.

Click here to watch the video and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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September 11th remembered

On November 10th 2001, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly with these words:

“We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.”

And true to his word, Bush, along with Cheney and the rest of the gang, did indeed remember the victims of 9/11, and especially so, whenever they needed cover for their imperialist adventures, or as pretext to undermine the American constitution, and, perhaps most deplorably of all, when using the horror of that day to legitimise imprisonment without trial and the use of torture. In short, they never shirked from reminding us of the terrible suffering of the victims of 9/11 as they inflamed new wars, bringing terror to many more millions of innocent people.

Yet, we should also remember how Bush, and the White House administration as a whole, made no great efforts to find out what really happened on September 11th. Indeed, how they first delayed, and then hampered at every turn, an investigation that they were eventually forced to conduct. So, overarching all the other questions that still surround the events of September 11th, there is one that echoes loudest: cui bono? Who actually benefited?

Was it Osama Bin Laden, already suffering from kidney failure (or so we were told) and now forced to scuttle around from cave to cave, presumably with his dialysis machine in tow, as bunker-busting bombs and “daisy-cutters” flattened all around him? Perhaps – Or how about the administration in Washington, suddenly positioned and enabled to embark on an endless war against a mysterious “axis of evil”.

The Kean-Hamilton 9/11 commission report is revealing but not in the way supposed. It is a surprising read. For instance, of the four-hundred plus pages, you discover that a mere fifty address the main events of the day itself. These few pages cover the total evidence provided by the testimony of all the first responders and other survivors. All condensed to fill just a single chapter: “Heroism and Horror”. Whilst, in the next chapter, something more startling is revealed.

Headed “Wartime”, the discussion has already moved on. Having no direct bearing on the events of the day of September 11th – and thus more in keeping with the report in general – the emphasis here is shifted to the urgency of an effective response. The concluding section to the chapter, which is subtitled: “‘Phase two’ and the question of Iraq”, begins as follows (and this is a direct quote):

President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussain’s regime might have had a hand in it. Iraq had been an enemy of the United States for 11 years, and was the only place in the world where the United States was engaged in on-going combat operations. … He told us he recalled Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide terrorists as well. Speculating about other possible states that could be involved, the President told us he also thought about Iran. [Richard] Clarke has written that on the evening of September 12, President Bush told him and some of his staff to explore possible Iraqi links to 9/11. “See if Saddam did this,” Clarke recalls the President telling them. “See if he’s linked in anyway.”1

So is this really how America of the twenty-first century constructs its foreign policy? Founding it on the hunches and suppositions of its great leader.

Meanwhile, we learn that September 11th was the ideal cover for governments to “bury bad news” as someone close to Tony Blair once carelessly put it. So what ought we to make of Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement to The Pentagon on September 10th of the disappearance of some 2.3 Trillion Dollars from US Defense expenditure accounts?2

Now obviously, 2.3 Trillion is one hell of a lot of money by anyone’s standards, but this was actually only one half of the bad news that Rumsfeld was delivering that day. He also had another axe to grind:

Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary.

The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. Not the people, but the processes. Not the civilians, but the systems. Not the men and women in uniform, but the uniformity of thought and action that we too often impose on them.

In this building, despite this era of scarce resources taxed by mounting threats, money disappears into duplicative duties and bloated bureaucracy—not because of greed, but gridlock. Innovation is stifled—not by ill intent but by institutional inertia.

Just as we must transform America’s military capability to meet changing threats, we must transform the way the Department works and what it works on. We must build a Department where each of the dedicated people here can apply their immense talents to defend America, where they have the resources, information and freedom to perform.

Our challenge is to transform not just the way we deter and defend, but the way we conduct our daily business. Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is a matter of some urgency. In fact, it could be said that it’s a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s.”3

This “modernization of the Department of Defense” Rumsfeld was calling for actually meant nothing less than the beginnings of privatisation of the US military. Here was news that few within the military could be expected to take lying down, but given the events soon to follow, could there have been any better occasion to bury the awful news and to stifle internal dissent?

Click here to read a transcript of Rumsfeld’s address to The Pentagon.


Chasing after justice, a few of the victims (including first responders, many of whom have since died, or are dying, of respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling toxic dust that the government was also fully aware of) got to have an inquiry. Right from the start they were deeply unhappy with how it had been delayed, was underfunded, and lacked independence. Afterwards, when they’d read the commission report, they felt betrayed for a second time. In response, they put together a documentary film called “9/11: Press for Truth”.4

Based in part around Paul Thompson’s carefully researched book ‘The Terror Timeline’, the film is compelling viewing and should be aired worldwide:

All the delays, the distortions, the changes in timelines, the endless deceptions that frustrated Kean and Hamilton (at least according to their own hand-washing account “Without Precedent”5) also troubled others on the 9/11 Commission.

The following overview was put together by Daniel Taylor (with linked references throughout):

Senator Max Cleland, who resigned from the 9/11 Commission after calling it a “national scandal”, stated in a 2003 PBS interview,

“I’m saying that’s deliberate. I am saying that the delay in relating this information to the American public out of a hearing… series of hearings, that several members of Congress knew eight or ten months ago, including Bob Graham and others, that was deliberately slow walked… the 9/11 Commission was deliberately slow walked, because the Administration’s policy was, and its priority was, we’re gonna take Saddam Hussein out.”

Cleland, speaking with Democracy Now, said,

“One of these days we will have to get the full story because the 9-11 issue is so important to America. But this White House wants to cover it up”.

In 2006 the Washington Post reported that several members of the 9/11 Commission suspected deception on part of the Pentagon. As reported,

“Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.”

9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey also has unanswered questions. As reported by Salon, he believes that there are legitimate reasons to believe an alternative version to the official story.

“There are ample reasons to suspect that there may be some alternative to what we outlined in our version,” Kerrey said. The commission had limited time and limited resources to pursue its investigation, and its access to key documents and witnesses was fettered by the administration.

Commissioner Tim Roemer, speaking to CNN, stated that Commission members were considering a criminal probe of false statements. As quoted,

“We were extremely frustrated with the false statements we were getting,” Roemer told CNN. “We were not sure of the intent, whether it was to deceive the commission or merely part of the fumbling bureaucracy.”

Click here to read the original article posted on September 11th 2009.

But there is another point here, and within the bigger scheme it is the more important one. Just like the commission itself, those who work within the media have a responsibility. It is their duty to demand the truth, even if only to apportion blame. Of course this is precisely what inquiries are supposed to do, but if, as is so often the case, the inquiry can’t deliver, then we rely upon journalists to step up to the mark. But they did not. During the four hundred and forty days when the administration dragged its heels before reluctantly opening its inquiry, the media kept their silence. And in decade since they have maintained this “impartial” stance, which really means defending the official version of events against all dissenting opinion.

Colonel Robert Bowman, a physicist who headed the “Star Wars” project, and also a former combat pilot who flew over a hundred missions during the Vietnam War, has put it this way:

“What are they trying to hide? Are they trying to hide guilt or incompetence? We don’t know, but we should know. Either way the American people deserve to know.”

Bob Bowman, ran for Congress as a Democrat candidate in 2006, determinedly trying to raise support for a full and totally independent re-investigation. He has frequently described the official theory of 9/11 as “a bunch of hogwash”, summing up the case against the Bush administration with these words:

“The very kindest that we can say is that they were aware of the impending attacks and let them happen. Now some people will say that’s much too kind. However, even that is high treason and conspiracy to commit murder.”

A decade has passed, Bush has gone, and nothing has changed. The deeply flawed version of events published by the 9/11 commission remains officially unchallenged. Meantime, the mainstream media, which remains just as eager as ever to reinforce the fears lurking at the back of our collective memories, has next to nothing to say when it comes to questions of justice. Even the barring of first responders and other survivors from attending the tenth anniversary memorial ceremony at Ground Zero barely makes the news:

But the campaign for justice led by the families and first responders goes on. Here, for instance, are two headline stories from yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

Former Senator Calls on Obama to Reopen 9/11 Investigation with Focus on Saudi Family

Former Florida senator, Bob Graham, is calling on President Obama to reopen the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks after new information has emerged about the possible role of prominent Saudis in the 9/11 attack. According to recent news reports, a wealthy young Saudi couple fled their home in a gated community in Sarasota, Florida, just a week or so before 9/11, leaving behind three cars and nearly all of their possessions. The FBI was tipped off about the couple but never passed the information on to the Sept. 11 Commission, even though phone records showed the couple had ties to Mohamed Atta and at least 10 other al-Qaeda suspects. Former Senator Bob Graham described the news as “the most important thing about 9/11 to surface in the last seven or eight years.” Graham said, “The key umbrella question is: What was the full extent of Saudi involvement prior to 9/11 and why did the U.S. administration cover this up?’’

Former FBI Agent Accuses CIA of Withholding Intelligence Before 9/11

A former FBI agent has accused the CIA of deliberately withholding photographs and information about two al-Qaeda operatives living in the United States before the Sept. 11 attacks. The agent, Ali Soufan, writes in a new book that the CIA rejected repeated FBI requests for information before 9/11 about possible al-Qaeda operatives. Then, hours after the World Trade Center was attacked, Soufan claims a CIA official in Yemen finally turned over the material that the FBI had requested months earlier. The CIA’s files included photographs of two of the hijackers who had been living in California. The CIA reportedly became aware of one of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi, a few days after he attended a secret planning meeting of al-Qaeda in Malaysia in January 2000.

Charlie Skelton also published an excellent article on the Guardian news blog, reporting on a symposium of critical thinkers that was also held in New York on the day of the tenth anniversary:

What I heard, from speaker after speaker, was a heartfelt desire to turn away from the path of destruction, militarism and lies that America has been set upon after 9/11. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, mourned for Iraq: “One million dead, 4m displaced, and that’s a victory?” […]

He drew attention to an extraordinary story, barely touched by the mainstream press, that Richard Clarke, who was the White House counter-terrorism czar at the time of the attacks, has recently accused the CIA of deliberately suppressing information before 9/11, information that might have prevented the attacks. Clarke claimed: “There was a high-level decision in the CIA ordering people not to share information.” And who made this decision? “I would think it would have been made by the director”.

So that would be George Tenet. Director of the CIA from 1997-2004, now a managing director of an investment bank. The former CIA man, McGovern, ends his speech by saying: “Of all the people who should be put in prison, he’d be top of my list.”6

Another speaker at the conference was Wayne Madsen:

History, documentation, facts. A respect for life, and a respect for truth. This is what I heard, over and over again, at this remarkable conference. Wayne Madsen – a former naval officer and NSA operative – spoke of the atmosphere of “hype and fear” that still grips America, 10 years after 9/11. A fear that’s pumped into us, relentlessly, through our flatscreen HD Orwellian “telescreens”.

Madsen called for the release of the commission findings that Ludkowski told me about last night: “Let’s get those documents out of the National Archives!” But he noted that the man whose job it is to decide what gets released, the administrator of the White House office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is one Cass Sunstein. The same Cass Sunstein that in 2008 urged the government to “cognitively infiltrate” alternative groups like the 9/11 Truth Movement. So releasing those documents probably isn’t top of his to-do list.

Skelton summed up as follows:

We have to do something. Even if that something is simply to Google ‘Cass Sunstein’ and start from there. Begin your own cognitive infiltration. Google ‘Vigilant Guardian’ or ‘Able Danger’. Crosscheck ‘Abdel Hakim Belhadj’ and ‘Al-Qaida’. Begin digging. Begin thinking. And stop believing.

Click here to read his full article.

1 Extract from Kean-Hamilton 9/11 commission report, p.334, Section 10.3 entitled “Phase two” and the question of Iraq.

2 “On Sept. 10, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared war. Not on foreign terrorists, “the adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy,” he said. He said money wasted by the military poses a serious threat. “In fact, it could be said it’s a matter of life and death,” he said. Rumsfeld promised change but the next day – Sept. 11– the world changed and in the rush to fund the war on terrorism, the war on waste seems to have been forgotten.

“According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” Rumsfeld admitted. $2.3 trillion — that’s $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America.”

extract from “The War On Waste: Defense Department Cannot Account For 25% Of Funds — $2.3 Trillion” CBS News, Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2002.

3 Extract from “DoD Acuquistion and Logistics Excellence Week Kickoff – Bureaucracy to Battlefield: Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, Monday, September 10, 2001”. http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=430

4 “Like Paul Thompson [author of The Complete 9/11 Timeline], twenty-something filmmakers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy had been touched by September 11th but never thought much further about it. In the spring of 2003, during their last semester of film school at Columbia College in Chicago, a friend mentioned The Complete 9/11 Timeline in passing. That evening, Duffy and Nowosielski decided to take a look. They found themselves unable to stop reading, scrolling through the web site until being interrupted by sunrise. Though the filmmakers had never had any interest in the genre of documentary, as the months passed, they grew to believe that this was a story the American public needed to hear. By the 2nd anniversary of September 11th, they were seeking the funding for what would eventually become 9/11: Press for Truth.” taken from official website at http://www.911pressfortruth.com/#

5 “Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

“Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.

“In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.

“‘We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got tied.’”

Extract from an article entitled, “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon: Allegations Brought to Inspectors General”, written by Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writer, published on Wednesday, August 2, 2006; A03. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/01/AR2006080101300.html?sub=new

6 From an article entitled “How the world changed after 9/11” written by Charlie Skelton and published on the Guardian news blog on September 12, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/sep/12/9-11-symposium-charlie-skelton

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12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

*

Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Iraq, Jeremy Scahill, mass surveillance, Pakistan, police state, September 11th, Somalia, Uncategorized, USA

Bin Laden’s timely demise

Osama Bin Laden is finally dead. It’s official. Although, of course, you may recall some earlier pronouncements to similar effect. Indeed, investigator James Corbett has recently catalogued at least eight earlier instances (with links to the relevant articles) when heads of state, high-ranking government officials, and intelligence agencies have spoken of Bin Laden’s demise:

“Given Bin Laden’s documented kidney problems and consequent need for dialysis, government officials, heads of state and counterterrorism experts have repeatedly opined that Osama Bin Laden has in fact been dead for some time. These assertions are based on Bin Laden’s failing health in late 2001 and visible signs of his deteriorating condition, as well as actual reports of his death from the same time frame.

In July of 2001, Osama Bin Laden was flown to the American Hospital in Dubai for kidney treatment. According to French intelligence sources, he was there met by the local CIA attache. When the agent bragged about his encounter to friends later, he was promptly recalled to Washington.

On the eve of September 11, Osama Bin Laden was staying in a Pakistani military hospital under the watchful eye of Pakistan’s ISI, the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA with deep ties to the American intelligence community.”

On January 18, 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced quite bluntly: “I think now, frankly, he is dead.”

 On July 17, 2002, the then-head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, told a conference of law enforcement officials that “I personally think he [Bin Laden] is probably not with us anymore,” before carefully adding that “I have no evidence to support that.”

In October 2002, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN that “I would come to believe that [Bin Laden] probably is dead.”

In November 2005, Senator Harry Reid revealed that he was told Osama may have died in the Pakistani earthquake of October that year.

In September 2006, French intelligence leaked a report suggesting Osama had died in Pakistan.

On November 2, 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told Al-Jazeera’s David Frost that Omar Sheikh had killed Osama Bin Laden.

In March 2009, former US foreign intelligence officer and professor of international relations at Boston University Angelo Codevilla stated: “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.”

In May 2009, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confirmed that his “counterparts in the American intelligence agencies” hadn’t heard anything from Bin Laden in seven years and confirmed “I don’t think he’s alive.”

Why then has this week’s pronouncement been accepted as credible? Well, as Corbett points out, the big difference this time round is not that we have proof at last, but that news of Bin Laden’s death comes direct from the White House:

Now in 2011, President Obama has added himself to the mix of people in positions of authority who have pronounced Osama Bin Laden dead. Some might charge that none of the previous reports had any credibility, but as it is now emerging that Osama’s body was buried at sea less than 12 hours after his death with no opportunity for any independent corroboration of his identity, the same question of credibility has to be leveled at this latest charge. To this point, the only evidence we have been provided that Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday are some images on tv of a burning compound and the word of the man currently occupying the oval office.”

Complete article available at The Corbett Report.

Now if the man occupying the White House still had the name Bush, then there can be little doubting that this story would have come under far greater scrutiny than it is receiving. The sketchiness and strangeness of many details, and importantly, the lack of a body, or as yet, even any photos of a body, would surely have raised more eyebrows under Bush. And still we have only excuses for why none of this evidence has been presented. In other words, we have Obama’s word.

Of course we know Bush lied – both of them. George W. told us there were WMDs in Iraq, just as his father had sworn, a decade earlier, that Saddam’s forces were throwing babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the hospital floors of Kuwait. Both these stories turned out to be complete fabrications, although they still passed sufficiently under the mainstream radar to help ignite two different wars. But Obama is different. He’s not Bush, and he’s not even Clinton. He actually inhales. So if he says they killed Bin Laden then that’s good enough for me, right? After all, it’s not as if he’s in need of any more wars…

Whether more solid evidence emerges to prove the story of Bin Laden’s death, we must wait and see (though I wouldn’t hold your breath), whilst bearing in mind that it wasn’t long for the first major deception to appear – a badly photo-shopped fake image of his corpse – quickly passed off as authentic by almost every national newspaper. The Guardian (May 2nd) just happened to be a little wiser and more cautious:

“Osama bin Laden corpse photo is fake: Image of bloodied man picked up by British newspapers has been circulating online for two years”

An image apparently showing a dead Osama Bin Laden broadcast on Pakistani television and picked up by British newspaper websites is a fake.

The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.

It appears the fake picture was initially published by the Middle East online newspaper themedialine.org on 29 April 2009, with a warning from the editor that it was ‘unable to ascertain whether the photo is genuine or not’.”

Click here to read full article by Amelia Hill.

So Bin Laden is finally dead, apparently. What’s the likely upshot? Does this mark some kind of closure to the war on terrorism? Can we now move away from a policy of secret detainment and legitimised use of torture? Can we end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Might we also begin to reverse the anti-civil rights measures and systems of surveillance purportedly in place to save us from terrorist attacks? Can we all sleep more comfortably in our beds? Well, sadly, the most frequent answers we’re getting are simply no, no, and no again.

Let’s begin with Pakistan. Of the many mysteries still hanging over Bin Laden’s assassination, one of the strangest is that his hide-out was located just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy in Abbottabad. So how was it that Pakistan’s own intelligence service had failed to notice him? Indeed, how had it taken the US so long? Or was there some kind of a conspiracy afoot? A report from The Telegraph on May 2nd turns up some interesting documents:

 “WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden ‘protected’ by Pakistani security – Pakistani security forces allegedly helped Osama bin Laden evade American troops for almost 10 years, according to secret US government files.

American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.

The claims, made in leaked US government files obtained by Wikileaks, will add to questions over Pakistan’s capacity to fight al-Qaeda.” […]

According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that “many” inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.

The document stated: ‘In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.’”

Click here to read the full article by Tim Ross.

So is this actually true? Well, it’s in a document – so that bit’s true. Obviously, we don’t know if the information is true, however, and in light of what has happened since, the release of these documents has, to put it mildly, been a little inconvenient for Pakistan. On the other hand, of course, for those seeking justification for Obama’s military incursions into Pakistan, the release of these documents is a godsend.

And here is another article from The Telegraph, also May 2nd, and based on “information” contained in other leaked documents, which asks whether: “The killing of the world’s most wanted man as a direct result of information obtained from Guantanamo detainees such as KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] will reignite the debate over whether torture is a legitimate interrogation technique in the ‘war on terror’”:

“WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden killed after tip-offs from Guantanamo – The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was interrogated using “torture” techniques, gave the United States the breakthrough that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who was repeatedly subjected to methods including ‘waterboarding’ and stress positions, provided the CIA with the name of bin Laden’s personal courier, according to US officials.

A second source – also an al-Qaeda ‘leader’ held at Guantanamo Bay – then confirmed the courier’s identity, sparking an intense manhunt that resulted in the dramatic final raid.

Secret documents seen by The Daily Telegraph disclose that this second source – the terrorist operations chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi – played a key role in finding ‘safe havens’ for bin Laden and lived in the military town where he was finally found.”

Click here to read the full article by Tim Ross.

So does this mean we now need even more secret detainment and torture? Bin Laden’s death making the world still more brutal and barbaric…

As for the world being a safer place – and quite aside from the already flourishing speculation about “almost certain” and “highly likely” reprisals – if previous newspaper reports are to be understood correctly, then this might have been the very worst thing that ever happened – if, that is, the “information” contained in these documents (also recently released by wikileaks) is to be believed. Here’s one from February 1st, published in The Vancouver Sun:

‘Al-Qaida on brink of using nuclear bomb’

Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build “dirty” bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.

Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing “workable and efficient” biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West.

Thousands of classified American cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph detail the international struggle to stop the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the globe.

At a Nato meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaida was plotting a program of “dirty radioactive IEDs”, makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.


Click here to read the full article by Heidi Blake and Christopher Hope (of The Daily Telegraph).

 And a day later, another article about the leaks appeared in the Daily Mail:

 “World ‘on brink of nuclear 9/11’ as Al Qaeda plans large ‘dirty’ bomb”

Al Qaeda is attempting to stockpile ‘dirty’ radioactive explosives that could be used to target British troops or for a larger urban attack, it has emerged.

New diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks show that U.S. intelligence personnel have been informed of terrorist attempts to acquire dangerous amounts of uranium and plutonium.

The cables warn of a large trafficking operation of chemical weapons material and threats of a ‘nuclear 9/11’ unless the West intervenes swiftly.

Security chiefs briefed a Nato meeting in January 2009 that Al Qaeda was planning a programme of ‘dirty radioactive improvised explosive devices (IEDs)’.

The IEDs could be used against coalition forces in Afghanistan but would also contaminate the surrounding land with nuclear waste for years to come.”  1

Click here to read full article.

And now we have this – right on time – published April 26th in The Telegraph:

“Wikileaks: Al-Qaeda plotted chemical and nuclear attack on the West: Guantanamo interrogators have uncovered a determined attempt by al-Qaeda to attack Western countries using chemical or nuclear weapons, according to the top-secret files.”

One of the terrorist group’s most senior figures warned that al-Qaeda had obtained and hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if Osama bin Laden was killed or captured.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind currently facing trial in America over the 9/11 atrocities, was involved in a range of plans including attacks on US nuclear plants and a “nuclear hellstorm” plot in America.”

“According to the US WikiLeaks files, a Libyan detainee, Abu Al-Libi, “has knowledge of al-Qaeda possibly possessing a nuclear bomb”. Al-Libi, the operational chief of al-Qaeda and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before his detention, allegedly knew the location of a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if bin Laden were killed or captured.”

Click here to read full article by Holly Watt:

Now just think about this story for a moment – if a nuclear bomb were already planted in Europe or the US, would al-Qaeda then just “sit on it”, waiting for their enemy to strike whilst simultaneously hoping they don’t get too lucky; discovering the bomb before they get to Bin Laden? Or would they just have pressed the button long ago, in fact shortly after acquiring it, making sure to perpetrate the greatest terrorist attack in history, bar none? All of these leaks just seem too good to be true – at least, for anyone looking to perpetuate the “war on terror” and put an extra squeeze on Pakistan.

But there are also other doubts about the killing of Bin Laden. For instance, and given that the Americans had apparently been on his tail for months, if not years, why hadn’t they planned an operation to capture him alive? Especially as it seems he’d been holed up in this compound without phone or internet connection for years – so a sitting duck, basically – and that Bin Laden wasn’t even armed when they reached him.

By killing instead of capturing him, they’ve missed the chance to interrogate the man who was formerly at the helm of al-Qaeda, and remains accused of planning the 9/11 attacks. So why didn’t they put him on trial? On top of which, bringing Bin Laden to justice might have eased a little of the sting from any anti-American backlash. It would have demonstrated to the world that America really can occupy the moral high-ground. Yet instead of this, it seems that they couldn’t kill and bury Bin Laden fast enough, which inevitably looks suspicious.

Whatever the final truth – and information, let alone truth, seems to be in such short supply at present – Bin Laden’s demise couldn’t have been better timed for the US administration. Coming immediately in the wake of Obama’s reshuffling of his war-room staff last week, it has already helped him to legitimise America’s continuing role in what is now a whole decade of bloody imperialist interventions. At another stroke, it has established Obama’s newly nominated Secretary of Defense and former CIA chief, Panetta, as the latest in a long line of all-American heroes. And aside from being a helpful distraction from Obama’s many current domestic difficulties and failings, not to mention the deepening crisis in Libya, it will no doubt help rally support for the President, delivering a vital shot in the arm at the start of his re-election campaign.

As it happens, Bin Laden’s death also comes on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the event that brought him such infamy in the first place, and so we must hope that his end brings with it, an end to this post-9/11 era. Worryingly, however, there remains no end in sight for the “war on terror” – a war, or rather wars, that supposedly began with the singular object of finding Bin Laden “dead or alive” – the manhunt is now officially over, and yet, and aside from the unedifying spectacle of street celebrations, it actually feels like nothing has changed…

Of course, the many people cheering and waving flags at Ground Zero were already eager to believe that Bin Laden was killed by US special forces, just as Obama said; and obviously it’s always easier selling propaganda to the willing. Hardly surprisingly, in Pakistan, the public reaction has been quite different. The same story linking their own country directly to al-Qaeda, the Pakistani people have every reason to be suspicious of a frame-up and fearful of what comes next, especially given what happened to the last place that had “harboured” Bin Laden. If recent history has taught us anything, then it’s that we should be doubtful too.

The simple fact is that we are all swimming against constant currents of propaganda – currents that certainly strengthened in the wake of 9/11. And if you don’t notice these currents, then, as the joke goes, that just shows how really effective they are. Those cheering did so because they want to believe that U-S-A has won, or is winning. It has not, and it is not. And for just so long as this ridiculous and endless “war on terror” goes on, everyone has lost and will continue losing — everyone except for the corporate profiteers, that is.

But since Bin Laden is officially dead, the mission is accomplished, right? – which means it’s high time to stop the fighting and bring the troops home. And if not now, Obama, then when?

1 What the document fails to say is that the land in Afghanistan has in all likelihood already been contaminated “with nuclear waste for years to come” thanks to our use of so-called “depleted uranium”. This is certainly the case in Iraq:

US rejects Iraq DU clean-up”:

“The US says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium (DU) weapons it is using in Iraq. It says no clean-up is needed, because research shows DU has no long-term effects. It says a 1990 study suggesting health risks to local people and veterans is out of date.”

Click here to read full article by Alex Kerby, BBC News Monday 14th April, 2003.

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, depleted uranium, obituary, Pakistan, September 11th, Uncategorized, USA

the unbearable lightness of online petitions

We have reached an altogether desperate state of affairs. Whilst the Lib-Con coalition are greedily snatching every last penny from the poor so as to bail out their rich friends who run the hedge funds, Miliband jr is absent without leave, and the parliamentary Labour party are barely able to muster any opposition to the most savage government programme of cuts in living memory (arguing feebly that the cuts ought to fall less swiftly on our unfortunate heads). Differences between the parties have become quantitative rather than qualitative. Indeed, the public could be forgiven for thinking that we have been led into some kind of “three-in-one party state”, although in this, we are simply following the American example, political convergence in the US having occurred decades earlier, with the Democrats barely distinguishable from the Republicans during most of my lifetime.

It happens then, that as public concern becomes increasingly at odds with actual political will, and we slowly awaken to the realisation of our own political impotence with feelings of anger and frustration, we have begun to look for new and different ways to raise our voices. And, as it happens, there is a way. Quite literally at our fingertips, a new and outstanding mechanism for getting ourselves heard. The fastest, widest-reaching, and least restricted system of communications ever devised. The internet offers potential that few ever dreamed of, and it appears to be the perfect place to restart our democracy again. Can it deliver this promise, becoming the major catalyst for real and lasting changes to what remains a deplorably unfair world? I wait in hope. I write in hope. And in hope, I occasionally double-click my support to a variety of links for petitions from the ever-growing number of online pressure groups.

Yes, online pressure groups. It all started back in 1998 with the launch of MoveOn.org, which was set up to challenge the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A campaign that had originally been called “Censure and move on”, and called upon supporters to add their names to an online petition demanding: “Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country.” Then, a few years later, after the attacks of 9/11, MoveOn.org found a different role, as representative voice of the peace movement. I must have added my own name to dozens of their petitions around this time.

Now I’m guessing that you very likely have an online petition for something or other waiting in your inbox at this very moment. Someone forwarded it to you, a friend perhaps (possibly me), and now you’re wondering whether to bother following the link and clicking your own assent. Does it actually make one jot of difference whether you open it or simply delete? After all, what discernible effect can a few personal details and the cursory click of your mouse have on those with the executive power to make actual policy decisions? Well petitions do occasionally work, no doubt, and at a local level, for instance, petitions have undoubtedly slowed the ever-expanding supermarket takeover of our high streets, stalling corporate progress just a little bit. An online petition is just a bit easier – though not that much easier – than the old-fashioned pen and ink variety. So online petitions undoubtedly have a limited impact. Have petitions ever seriously altered the wider course of government policy? Well, there was the small victory with the forests I suppose. And on an international level? You probably can’t think of any instances, but might as well click anyway, adding your own micron of persuasion or dissent.

But hold it. Perhaps it really was too easy. Do you feel, however slight, any nagging doubts? After all, I’d be surprised if you took much trouble in checking into who is actually running the campaign in question, let alone ascertaining the faces behind the faces: the foundations and individuals who provided funds to keep the campaign offices running. Or if you did, then I’m guessing you probably didn’t recognise many, if indeed any, of those faces. Perhaps the major donors didn’t want their faces shown. In the case of MoveOn.org, international financier George Soros certainly kept a low profile when, in 2004, he gave the organisation a sum in the region of £1.5 million (chicken feed to Soros but a small fortune to any growing pressure group).12

So now you’re on the mailing list. One petition after another, awaiting approval in your inbox. A whole host of internet pressure groups that you’d previously never heard of, run by groups of people you’ve never met and doubtless never will, all constantly tugging at your overly twisted arm for ongoing and renewed support. Fresh campaigns for new causes. And many of the causes you agree with, whilst others you may feel cautious about. You can be selective of course, but then by supporting the causes you approve of, aren’t you inadvertently lending support to the pressure group in a more general sense? So when MoveOn.org later put its burgeoning weight behind the Obama campaign, did my earlier support against the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, also help to carry the vote for Obama’s election into office?

Which brings me to Avaaz. “Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere”, says the website blurb, which sounds great, albeit in a kind of wishy-washy corporate-speak sort of fashion. Launched in 2007, it began as a direct off-shoot of MoveOn.org, though quickly outgrowing its parent organisation, as it became the fastest expanding of all internet pressure groups. According to its own website again, the aim of Avaaz (which simply means “voice”) is to “empower[s] millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues”, which it achieves by setting overall priorities in accordance with results of its annual all-member polls. (And you can Click here to see the results of last year’s poll.) There is no agenda as such, no ideology, no corporate sponsors, but only a fresh approach to democracy. So is democracy effectively broadened on the basis of such internet polls? And can the world really be so radically reshaped, as Avaaz very boldly asserts, by means of regular email petitions? Co-founder and director, Ricken Patel, explained the mission of Avaaz to BBC HARDtalk in this interview broadcast in 2008.

Avaaz.org’s executive director, Ricken Patel, is interviewed by BBC’s Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk.

Back in March 2003, I put my name to a MoveOn.org emergency appeal to the UN Security Council which read: “The stakes couldn’t really be much higher. A war with Iraq could kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and inflame the Middle East. According to current plans, it would require an American occupation of the country for years to come. And it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine.” Unfortunately that petition had no effect. It fell on deaf ears and the ensuing war cost not tens, but hundreds of thousands of lives, so many in fact, that our governments very quickly decided to stop counting. And now, almost exactly eight years on, I have received the following appeal from its offspring organisation, Avaaz: “Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, “a no-fly zone” is actually a euphemism for a military operation that necessarily involves an intensive bombing campaign to ensure the total destruction of a country’s air defences. Avaaz are saying this is a necessary measure to protect Libyans from the brutal oppression of the Gaddafi regime, which may be correct, though any talk of humanitarian intervention in Libya, or anywhere for that matter, rings a little hollow given our recent record of “humanitarian intervention” in other parts of the Middle East. So is there really nothing ideological in Avaaz’s sudden call to arms?

The email continues: “The head of NATO, meanwhile, has said that any effort to create a no-fly zone would first require a resolution from the UN. In many crises like this one, one UN country or another has vetoed strong positions — but with Libya, something different has already begun. The Security Council’s sanctions are real. UN Ambassadors say that representatives are “substantially united” that Qaddafi has to go. What’s needed now is another push from the world’s people. A resolution wouldn’t be a silver bullet — the enforcement of a no-fly zone would be dangerous and complex. But even the serious threat of one could show Qaddafi that his time is up.” Could it be that military intervention in Libya will require an occupation of the country for years to come? Or that it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine? Is this what they mean by “dangerous and complex”? To get a better picture of what Avaaz might be meaning, I recommend watching their own award-winning short film “Stop the Clash of Civilisations”. This eye-catching animation paints the whole world as “dangerous and complex”, and as an infuriating confusion of shades of grey. The implication presumably being that right and wrong are matters only of opinion. With regards to where Avaaz actually stands politically, I felt none the wiser…

Avaaz currently claims to have a community of more than 7 million members, whilst admitting if pressed, that membership actually involves nothing more arduous than accepting the regular email drops (and having responded to past campaigns, presumably I too speak in the capacity of being an Avaaz member). They also claim to have “an ethic of servant leadership”; a statement of principle which can be read in two entirely different ways. They want us, of course, to understand that Avaaz are our servants, amplifying our voices and helping us to be heard, although it would be equally fair to say that “work[ing] with partners and experts to develop effective, member-driven campaign strategies”, means they may unwittingly be helping to lead the serfs by setting the agenda of their “partners and experts”.

The hard truth is that it actually makes no difference to the UN or the American or British governments what Avaaz demands, so be assured that the decision whether or not to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya was determined, as it always is, primarily on the basis of geostrategic interests. If two million people marching in London cannot change a government’s foreign policy, then what  sway do a few virtual signatures carry? When it comes to matters of such international importance, what pressure groups like Avaaz and MoveOn.org can and do achieve, however, is to help shape and inform sections of public opinion. Because Avaaz is really just another kind of brand. If we see the Avaaz logo on petition it helps to change how we feel about it. Understood this way, Avaaz is yet another small resonant component of the endlessly reverberating political echo chamber we now live in. But then, of course, you can always unsubscribe.

1 “Founded on millions of small donations, MoveOn.org hit the jackpot when it was embraced in 2004 by George Soros and his circle of rich friends, who later organized themselves into a loosely structured coalition known as the Democracy Alliance.” Click here to read full article from The Center for Public Integrity.

2 “The Democratic 527 organizations have drawn support from some wealthy liberals determined to defeat Bush. They include financier George Soros and his wife, Susan Weber Soros, who gave $5 million to ACT and $1.46 million to MoveOn.org; Peter B. Lewis, chief executive of the Progressive Corp., who gave $3 million to ACT and $500,000 to MoveOn; and Linda Pritzker, of the Hyatt hotel family, and her Sustainable World Corp., who gave $4 million to the joint fundraising committee.” Click here to read full article from the Washington Post.

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