Category Archives: Middle East

colour revolution or not: with protests in Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Haiti and Hong Kong, what are the tests of authenticity?

When the Ukrainians gathered in the square in 2014, the stage had been set for a bloody coup. Today ‘the Maidan’ or ‘Euromaidan’ is seldom if ever mentioned and a false impression is often given that the subsequent Ukrainian civil war was sparked by a Russian invasion of Donbass and its annexation of Crimea. However, at the time of the Maidan, western media featured the Ukraine’s fascist-led colour revolution on a nightly basis: the use of catapaults to launch rocks at the police then applauded by BBC and C4 correspondents alike, as more judiciously were the Molotov cocktails laced with polystyrene for extra adhesion.

Even as it became abundantly clear that leading perpetrators of the violent disorder were neo-Nazi brown-shirts Svoboda and their paramilitary comrades Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector), who were engaged in arson attacks on union buildings and ultimately shooting live ammunition into the square, our media maintained the official charade that this was all part of a ‘pro-democracy demonstration’.

In Venezuela we have been presented with a different fictional account by the same media outlets as once again the US ramped up its repeated efforts to overthrow the elected President, Nicolás Maduro; on this occasion, manoeuvring to replace him with the hand-picked puppet Juan Guaidó. Thus, during another ‘popular uprising’ horrifically violent acts by anti-government thugs that included the burning of opponents alive, went unreported as the corporate media once again parroted the official line that consistently portrayed the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ fighting against ‘a regime’ and ‘a dictator’.

Today we have the so-called ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ in Hong Kong who are again lauded for their commitment, courage and ingenuity; even when it comes to smashing up buildings, and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police lines. And when considering the authenticity of any uprising, our media’s characterisation of rioting as ‘protesting’ must always be considered a red flag. But besides the one-sided media coverage that quickly prioritises and magnifies the events on the ground (numbers, or rather the perception of numbers matters greatly) and makes this its nightly headline, there are further clues we can look for that help with spotting colour revolutions and distinguishing them from authentic uprisings.

By definition, colour revolutions are driven and directed by outside interests that steer the movement both by means of financial support and by way of official legitimisation (hence the unduly favourable media coverage). And whenever the US State Department issues statements that acknowledge its backing of any protest movement – but especially protests that destabilise states labelled hostile or ‘rogue’ – it is more than likely meddling directly in events on the ground.

In former decades it was left to the CIA to foment uprisings to topple unwanted governments or otherwise unfavourable ‘regimes’, but that role has today been passed over to its soft power agencies USAID and the GONGOs – government-organised non-governmental organisations. Amongst today’s prime movers we find the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which describes itself as “a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and that, in turn, funds think tanks and private NGOs. In their 2012 report, NED indicated that it spent more than $3 million on programmes in the Ukraine alone. It had previously spent millions more in US attempts to destabilise Chevez in Venezuela. As author and historian William Blum writes:

How many Americans could identify the National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate – the Church committee of the Senate, the Pike committee of the House, and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing the powers-that-be much embarrassment.

Something had to be done. What was done was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization, with a nice sounding name – The National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.

It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of public relations, and of cynicism.1

Click here to read the full piece which provides details of NED’s meddling in elections across the world on William Blum’s official website.

Alongside the dirty hands of in-house agencies USAID and NED there is also the closely aligned and US government-funded NGO Freedom House which claims to be “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world” and “a catalyst for greater political rights and civil liberties”. Habitually too, we will find the involvement of similarly deceptive ‘independent’ ‘pro-democracy’ organisations more than likely funded by or closely associated with billionaire George Soros.

As the Guardian’s Ian Traynor wrote at the time of America’s first soft coup in Ukraine, the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, in an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev”:

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable in plotting to beat the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev.

The operation – engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience – is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections.

He continues:

In Ukraine, the equivalent is a ticking clock, also signalling that the Kuchma regime’s days are numbered.

Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists’ weapons. Irony and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful.

Last year, before becoming president in Georgia, the US-educated Mr Saakashvili travelled from Tbilisi to Belgrade to be coached in the techniques of mass defiance. In Belarus, the US embassy organised the dispatch of young opposition leaders to the Baltic, where they met up with Serbs travelling from Belgrade. In Serbia’s case, given the hostile environment in Belgrade, the Americans organised the overthrow from neighbouring Hungary – Budapest and Szeged.

In recent weeks, several Serbs travelled to the Ukraine. Indeed, one of the leaders from Belgrade, Aleksandar Maric, was turned away at the border.

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute. 2

Click here to read Ian Traynor’s full article.

Applying these criteria, it is possible to test the ongoing protests around the world to ascertain the likelihood and scale of outside interference. In the following sections I provide a brief overview region by region. In summary, those pursuing anti-austerity objectives are almost certainly the least susceptible to external manipulation; these include the mass uprisings in Chile, Ecuador, France and Haiti. The unrest in Catalonia is a consequence of a different form of state repression with historical roots and the mainly peaceful protests are the spontaneous response of a mostly genuine pro-democracy grassroots movement. The situation in Hong Kong is more complicated and compelling evidence of western interference is presented below.

Update:

Press TV compares western media coverage of the protests in Hong Kong, the Gilets Jaunes in France, and the Great March of Return in Gaza:

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Hong Kong

As the initially peaceful protests and mass demonstrations rapidly turned into riots and highly coordinated pockets of violent resistance, it also became increasingly clear that contrary to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, and US government denials, the unrest had indeed been actively fomented by agencies acting on behalf of American foreign policy agenda. The following extended extract is taken from an assiduously referenced investigative piece written by geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci:

US policymakers have all but admitted that the US is funnelling millions of dollars into Hong Kong specifically to support “programs” there. The Hudson Institute in an article titled, “China Tries to Blame US for Hong Kong Protests,” would admit:

A Chinese state-run newspaper’s claim that the United States is helping pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong is only partially inaccurate, a top foreign policy expert said Monday. 

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland the U.S. holds some influence over political matters in the region.

The article would then quote Pillsbury as saying:

We have a large consulate there that’s in charge of taking care of the Hong Kong Policy Act passed by Congress to insure democracy in Hong Kong, and we have also funded millions of dollars of programs through the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] … so in that sense the Chinese accusation is not totally false.

A visit to the NED’s website reveals an entire section of declared funding for Hong Kong specifically. The wording for program titles and their descriptions is intentionally ambiguous to give those like US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plausible deniability.

However, deeper research reveals NED recipients are literally leading the protests.

The South China Morning Post in its article, “Hong Kong protests: heavy jail sentences for rioting will not solve city’s political crisis, former Civil Human Rights Front convenor says,” would report:

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, from the Civil Human Rights Front, was among 49 people arrested during Sunday’s protest – deemed illegal as it had not received police approval – in Central and Western district on Hong Kong Island.

The article would omit mention of Johnson Yeung Ching-yin’s status as an NED fellow. His profile is – at the time of this writing – still accessible on the NED’s official website, and the supposed NGO he works for in turn works hand-in-hand with US and UK-based fronts involved in supporting Hong Kong’s current unrest and a much wider anti-Beijing political agenda.

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin also co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post with Joshua Wong titled, “As you read this, Hong Kong has locked one of us away.”

Wong has travelled to Washington DC multiple times, including to receive “honors” from NED-subsidiary Freedom House for his role in leading unrest in 2014 and to meet with serial regime-change advocate Senator Marco Rubio.

It should also be noted that the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum also sits on the NED board of directors.

This evidence, along with extensively documented ties between the United States government and other prominent leaders of the Hong Kong unrest reveals US denial of involvement in Hong Kong as yet another wilful lie told upon the international stage – a lie told even as the remnants of other victims of US interference and intervention smolder in the background.

The direct ties and extreme conflicts of interest found under virtually every rock overturned when critically examining the leadership of Hong Kong’s ongoing unrest all lead to Washington. They also once again reveal the Western media as involved in a coordinated campaign of disinformation – where proper investigative journalism is purposefully side-stepped and narratives shamelessly spun instead to frame Hong Kong’s ongoing conflict in whatever light best suits US interests.

What’s worse is big-tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google purging thousands of accounts attempting to reveal the truth behind Hong Kong’s unrest and the true nature of those leading it. If this is the level of lying, censorship, and authoritarianism Washington is willing to resort to in order for Hong Kong’s opposition to succeed, it begs one to wonder what this so-called opposition is even fighting for. Certainly not “democracy” or “freedom.” 3

Click here to read Tony Cartalucci’s full article.

Here to read a follow up piece in which Cartalucci explains how Twitter “not only has taken no action to expose and stop US interference in Hong Kong, but is actively aiding and abetting it” by “target[ing] accounts within China itself to disrupt any effort to expose and confront this US-backed unrest unfolding in Hong Kong.”

And here to read an earlier post which provides further background to the current uprising in Hong Kong.

Note that: on Wednesday 23rd, HK’s security chief John Lee announced that the bill that had triggered the initial demonstrations by allowing for the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China – legislation that protesters feared Beijing may use to target dissidents – was officially withdrawn. In response, several opposition lawmakers tried to heckle Lee’s speech, demanding his resignation:

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Haiti

Mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, began in July 2018 following disclosure of the embezzlement of $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans when “former Presidents René Préval and Michel Martelly, declared states of emergency, allowing their respective prime ministers — Jean-Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe —to approve projects using PetroCaribe funds”:

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti had accumulated more than $396 million in debt to Venezuela, which the South American nation forgave. But in the last seven years, it has wracked up [sic] almost $2 billion in new debt as Martelly’s government ministers traveled the globe promoting a new image of a post-quake Haiti while reconstruction projects languished and tens of thousands continued to live in camps. As of October, more than 37,000 Haitians still lived in 27 camps, the International Organization for Migration said. 4

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

Although it was the PetroCaribe scandal that sparked the initial unrest, there are many related concerns about government corruption that continue to fuel the protests:

But the anger isn’t just over squandered money. It’s also directed at Haitian politicians and their privileges in a country where two out of three people live on less than $2 a day and concerns are increasing over the potential for more social unrest.

During recent political mudslinging, the president of the Haitian Senate and an opposition senator accused each other of corruption. Sen. Ricard Pierre said Haiti’s cash-strapped government was paying $115,500 to rent a residence for the head of the body, Sen. Joseph Lambert. Lambert in turn accused Pierre of stealing the chamber’s generator.

Pierre denied the accusation. Lambert announced that the Senate would cancel the lease and curtail lawmakers’ privileges. The damage, however, was already done.

“They were not even ashamed,” K-Lib, 37, [whose real name is Valckensy Dessin] said, adding that it’s time for Haitians to stop accepting “corruption and impunity” as normal.

“After the last events that happened to Haiti, the Haitian population understands the necessity for them right now to take part in everything that is happening in the country,” he said. “What’s happening is a movement of massive collective consciousness.” 5

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

On Valentine’s Day Al Jazeera reported the deaths of “at least” nine people and “dozens of others injured”. 6 The deaths received very little coverage in either the corporate or alternative media.

Here is a report uploaded by The Real News Network on October 22nd, featuring political economist Keston Perry, who says the Trump administration is propping up the Haitian regime:

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France

Many thousands of Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) anti-austerity protesters will once again peacefully take to the streets in Paris and other cities across France tomorrow for the fiftieth consecutive weekend.

Last weekend’s ‘Acte 49’ protests took place in Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux and looked like this:

And like this – met by a very heavy-handed police response which includes the deployment of water-canon, flash grenades and tremendous quantities of teargas (some dropped from helicopters), while the corporate media generally ignores these protests altogether:

One of the first political commentators to understand the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 7

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

And here to read my own assessment of the Gilets Jaunes movement from an article published on March 25th entitled “Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition”.

It is difficult to find up-to-date figures of casualties for the full year of Gilets Jaunes protests but as of July, Spiked online magazine was reporting:

The gilets jaunes have been protesting in France – week in, week out – for over six months. They have had to run the gauntlet of tear gas, police batons and rubber bullets every weekend. And yet there has been barely any coverage of the police’s actions – let alone condemnation.

As of this week, the French police stand accused of causing 861 serious injuries to yellow-vest protesters: one woman has been killed, 314 have suffered head injuries, 24 have been permanently blinded, and five have had their hands blown off. Police have attacked disabled people and the elderly. 8

Click here to read the full report published by Spiked online.

On February 23rd, French lawyer and former gendarme, Georgia Pouliquen, produced and uploaded an impassioned video testifying to the brutal treatment meted out against Yellow Vest protestors by President Macron’s French government. In May, Pouliquen travelled to England for the first time in order to help spread the truth about Macron’s assault on the French people. The following upload begins with her original video and afterwards features an extended interview she gave to Brian Gerrish of UK Column News:

Update:

Images from Gilets Jaunes Acte 50 on Saturday Oct 26th:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Priscillia Ludosky, one of the founders of the Gilets Jaunes movement, on RT’s ‘Going Underground’. They discussed the French police’s use of flash-ball riot control guns against protesters, the massive amount of injuries recorded among the Gilets Jaunes protesters, as well as the European Commission’s role in permitting state repression:

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Ecuador

In common with the Gilets Jaunes protests in France, it was the raising of fuel prices that ultimately sparked the ongoing crisis in Ecuador, in this case following President Lenín Moreno’s announcement that his government was intending remove subsidies on petrol. However, the underlying reason for the protests traces back to just a few days earlier when on October 1st, Moreno was quick to capitulate to IMF demands for the imposition of severe austerity measures and a raft of neo-liberal conditionalities following the acceptance of a $4 million loan:

Protests began on October 3 when President Lenin Moreno cut petrol subsidies that had been in place in the country for 40 years. The cuts saw the price of diesel more than double and petrol increase by 30 percent, overnight.

The government also released a series of labour and tax reforms as part of its belt-tightening measures it was forced to undertake when it agreed to a $4.2bn loan with the IMF.

Some of the more controversial reforms include a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a requirement that public sector workers donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month, and a decrease in vacation days from 30 to 15 days a year. 9

Click here to read the full report published by Al Jazeera.

At the height of the protests, Moreno decided to relocate his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil before sending armoured cars onto the streets of the capital Quito in desperate attempts to quell the disturbances:

Tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people participated.

They were massively disruptive, and the government response was fierce. Security forces killed at least seven people, arrested about 1,000, and injured a similar number. Moreno had declared a “state of exception,” a curfew beginning at 8 pm, and yet still had to flee the capital—temporarily moving it from Quito to the port city of Guayaquil.

writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation magazine, adding:

Amnesty International had demanded “an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and…swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment.” The level of police repression shocked many in a country where security forces are not known for the use of excessive force.

The government also raided homes to arrest political allies of former president Rafael Correa, including Paola Pabón, the governor of the province where the capital, Quito, is located. This continues a disturbing crackdown, which has included trumped-up charges against Correa himself and a number of former officials and the abuse of pretrial detention to force them into exile. On Monday, the Mexican embassy in Quito offered protection to a number of pro-Correa political dissidents, including legislators. 10

Click here to read Mark Weisbrot’s full report entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” published in The Nation magazine.

In the midst of Moreno’s state of emergency crackdown on October 11th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an official statement that begins:

“The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms.” 11

On October 10th, The Real News Network spoke to representatives of two of the largest indigenous organizations CONAIE and CONFENAIE:

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Chile

Protest in Chile erupted a fortnight ago, again in response to unsustainable increases in the cost of living but also with charges of government corruption hovering in the background. In response last Friday [Oct 18th], President Sebastián Piñera announced a state of emergency, and began sending in troops to disperse the demonstrations. As in Ecuador, a curfew was soon put in place. CBS News has since confirmed “at least 18 dead and thousands arrested”:

Approximately 20,000 soldiers are patrolling the streets. Nearly 200 people have been injured, and some 5,000 have been arrested.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about how security forces have handled the protests after the government ordered a military curfew. It was the first such curfew — other than for natural disasters — imposed since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship.

“We’re worried,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “The images that we’ve received from credible sources, trustworthy sources, show that there has been an excess of force both by police as well as some soldiers.” 12

Click here to read yesterday’s full report published by CBS News.

Al Jazeera‘s Manuel Rapalo reported from Santiago on October 23rd:

And this is footage of protests that took place yesterday:

Update:

Scenes from Chile’s capital Santiago on Friday [Oct 25th] with police firing tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators:

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Catalonia

On October 6th, author, political activist and commentator Chris Bambery, published an extended piece that put into historical context the rise of the Catalan independence movement and the likelihood of heightened protests in the coming weeks. His piece begins:

Catalonia awaits the verdict in the trial at the Spanish Supreme Court of 12 political and civic leaders charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’ for their part in the 1 October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. That verdict will be delivered before 17 October, the judges say. Brace yourself for a wave of non-violent direct action in response across Catalonia.

Continuing:

In Catalonia hundreds of mayors and councillors face trial for crimes such as keeping council buildings open on Spanish holidays or not flying the Spanish flag on those days, while others face trial for ripping up pictures of the King.

However offensive or outrageous you find such things it is hard to imagine them reaching the courts in Germany, France, the UK or other Western European states. The UK is no paragon of liberty and its democracy is flawed but its handling of the Northern Ireland peace process stands out well in comparison to Spain’s dealings with ETA and the offer of peace. Why are things different in Spain? 13

Click here to read Chris Bambery’s full article.

A few days later the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and EuroMed Rights issued a joint report accusing Spain’s Supreme Court of “serious irregularities” in the trial of the Catalan independentists:

The two organizations alleged that judges didn’t do enough to ensure that lawyers could shed light on the alleged facts—for instance, when they prevented defense teams from contrasting the testimony of some witnesses with actual footage from the scenes they were describing.

Observers from the two organizations, who attended the Supreme Court hearings in person, said that prosecutors called witnesses whose testimonies offered “stereotypical” narratives and didn’t guarantee the right to defense. 14

Click here to read the full report in Catalan News.

In light of the Supreme Court verdict and the imprisonment of nine independentist leaders, protesters then took to the streets of Barcelona:

By late afternoon, thousands of protesters had answered a call from the Tsunami Democràtic movement designed to bring the airport to a standstill.

Thousands set off by car, train and metro. When police closed the station, even more made the three-and-a-half hour journey on foot. Several people were injured as police baton-charged protesters on the concourse of Terminal 1, the main international terminal. Foam bullets were reported to have been fired and video emerged of national and the regional Catalan police beating demonstrators and attacking journalists.

Thirteen people received medical attention and more than 60 flights were cancelled. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

However, the real struggle for independence in Catalonia had already reached its crisis point two years ago on October 1st 2017 when, as eyewitness reporter Kevin Buckland testified:

[A]ll across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote. 16

Click here to read more from my October 4th post entitled “reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia”.

As a friend living in Barcelona reported on the eve of the Catalan elections just a few weeks later:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

Click here to read more of my original post “notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections” published on December 20th, 2017.

But the struggle over Catalonian independence cannot be understood without considering the broader historical context including concessions made following the death of Franco in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy. As Chris Bambery explains:

The European Union is very proud of Spain’s Transition and held it up as a model, for instance in the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. That in part explains its silence on what Spain has done in Catalonia, even its moves to stop three Catalan prisoners and exiles being able to take their seats in the European Parliament after they were elected this year.

When Franco died in 1975 a mass movement of anti-fascist resistance had grown up, strongest in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid. The May events of 1968 had set in motion a chain of events where the left seemed to be in the ascendant.

In ruling circles in Bonn, Paris, London and Washington there was concern that Franco’s death might unleash a mass movement moving in a revolutionary direction. Many on the revolutionary left confidently predicted that the regime could not be reformed but must be toppled.

In Portugal that is precisely what had happened.

Bambery concludes as follows:

It is very clear that the limits imposed on Spanish democracy during the Transition of the late 1970s need to be addressed. But that is something which is near impossible in the current atmosphere in Spain. A conviction for the Catalan 12 will only increase the alienation of that nation from the Spanish state. 17

Moreover, one of the side-effects of the 2008 financial crisis was that it opened up old wounds.

Back in October 2012, I reposted an article by journalist and pro-independentist Esther Vivas entitled “When will we see tanks in Barcelona”. She begins:

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia.

Continuing with tremendous prescience:

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result.

And concluding:

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent.

Appended to Esther Vivas’ piece I added my own “words of caution” that begin:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Click here to read to read all parts of the post entitled “on the struggle for an independent Catalonia”

In short, what is happening today in Catalonia is the almost inevitable consequence of multiple misguided actions by the Spanish state in its attempts to repress the independentist cause which has deep historical roots and was reignited by the austerity measures imposed during the 2008 debt crisis. The decision two years ago to crush a referendum on the spurious grounds that any vote on independence immediately violates the constitution and the draconian sentences issued to pro-independence leaders meant to quell support for the movement has instead emboldened opposition to Madrid and set in motion a potentially unstoppable revolt.

It is curious that some pro-independence sections of the Catalan protests have begun reaching out to pro-western Union Jack waving protesters in Hong Kong given how the colonial ties are in effect reversed, but the fact that tactics employed in Barcelona have copied those tried in HK does not mean the two movements share anything else in common. It is a mistake to confuse these movements.

Update:

Live feed of peaceful protests taking place on Saturday 26th in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence leaders to be freed:

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Final thoughts

There are mass demonstrations in two states that I have avoided discussing for quite different reasons: Palestine (specifically Gaza) and Lebanon.

In the case of Lebanon, where demonstrations began little more than a week ago, I am as yet disinclined to discuss the movement until I have a clearer understanding of its background and goals. Regarding Palestine, on the other hand, the case is absolutely open and shut and I have already posted many articles in support of the Palestinian struggle for recognition and full right to return to their land.

The Great March of Return protest that began in Gaza in March 2018 is the single longest running of all the uprisings in the world today. It is also the most dangerous and the most underreported. Dozens are wounded every single week and a great many of the victims are innocent bystanders and children, while our western governments remain impassive and the corporate media maintains an almost unbroken silence.

The Palestinian Center For Human Rights (PCHR) has documented 214 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 46 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics and 2 journalists. Additionally, 14,251 have been wounded, including 3,501 children, 380 women, 245 paramedics and 215 journalists – it also notes that many of those injured have sustained multiple injuries on separate occasions. 18

Today marks the 81st Friday of the mass demonstrations in Gaza. If we wish to hold up a standard against which all other popular uprisings might be gauged then it must surely be the Palestinian Great March of Return. If there is any flag to be waved today and any cause to stand firmly in solidarity with, it is for the freedom of the Palestinian people, and most especially those trapped within the open air prison of Gaza.

Update:

Palestinians gathered in the east of the blockaded Gaza Strip for the 80th consecutive Friday [Oct 25th] to demand the right of return to their ancestral homes. They also called for an end to the illegal Israeli blockade on the enclave, which according to the United Nations amounts to collective punishment:

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1 From an article entitled “Trojan Horses and Color Revolutions: The Role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” written by William Blum, published in Global Research on August 7, 2017. https://www.globalresearch.ca/trojan-horses-and-color-revolutions-the-role-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-ned/5515234

2 From an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

3 From an article entitled “US is Behind Hong Kong Protests Says US Policymaker” written by Tony Cartalucci, published in New Eastern Outlook on September 9, 2019. https://journal-neo.org/2019/09/09/us-is-behind-hong-kong-protests-says-us-policymaker/ 

4 From an article entitled “Haiti owes Venezuela $2 billion – and much of it was embezzeled, Senate report says” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on November 15, 2017. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article184740783.html

5 From an article entitled “’Where did the money go?’ Haitians denounce corruption in social media campaign” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on August 23, 2018. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article217110220.html

6 “Death toll rises in Haiti protest crackdown” published by Al Jazeera on February 14, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/death-toll-rises-haiti-protest-crackdown-190214174428945.html

7 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

8 From an article entitled “So now you care about France’s brutal treatment of protesters?” published by Spiked magazine on July 2, 2019. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/07/02/so-now-you-care-about-frances-brutal-treatment-of-protesters/ 

9 From an article entitled “Ecuador unrest: What led to the mass protests?” written by Kimberley Brown, published in Al Jazeera on October 10, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/ecuador-unrest-led-mass-protests-191010193825529.html

10 From an article entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” written by Mark Weisbrot, published in The Nation magazine on October 16, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/ecuador-protests-imf/

11 https://www.state.gov/united-states-response-to-protests-in-ecuador/ 

12 From an article entitled “At least 18 dead and thousands arrested in Chile protests” published by CBS News on October 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chile-news-santiago-at-least-18-dead-and-thousands-arrested-in-chile-protests-2019-10-24/ 

13 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

14 From a report entitled “Human rights groups denounce ‘serious irregularities’ in Catalan trial” published by Catalan News on October 9, 2019. https://www.catalannews.com/catalan-trial/item/human-rights-groups-denounce-serious-irregularities-in-catalan-trial

15 From an article entitled “Violent clashes over Catalan separatist leaders’ prison terms” written by Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen, published in the Guardian on October 14, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/catalan-separatist-leaders-given-lengthy-prison-sentences

16 From an article entitled “Disobeying Spain: the Catalan Referendum for Independence” written by Kevin Buckland, published in Counterpunch on October 3, 2017. https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/03/disobeying-spain-the-catalan-referendum-for-independence/ 

17 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

18 https://pchrgaza.org/en/?p=13019

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news doesn’t get any faker than this… ABC ‘apologises’ for showing video from US gun range in its reports on Syria

ABC News apologized Monday for mistakenly running a video that apparently was taken at a gun range in Kentucky with a report about Turkish attacks in northern Syria.

That’s right. On Sunday night and Monday morning [Oct 13th and 14th] ABC News ran reports which purportedly show “Turkey’s military bombing Kurd civilians in a Syrian border town”, when the footage in reality shows no bombing whatsoever, and hadn’t been recorded in Syria, or anywhere close to a real warzone – it was just a troop of good ol’ boys letting off steam in that all-American way!

The compilation below shows the ABC reports before the unedited original footage:

Most damning, however, is how all these ABC reports deliberately cropped the footage in such a manner to deceive the audience. Little wonder their official apology “did not specify how the error had occurred”:

A representative for ABC News declined to comment on how the mix-up had happened.

Obviously there was no “mix-up”, just propaganda: outrageous and unabashed Soviet-style lies.

Click here to read the full report published by The New York Times.

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White Helmets and Hala Systems – the grotesque militarisation of “humanitarianism” in Syria — The Wall Will Fall

Peter Ford, former UK Ambassador to Syria:

Inter alia the  investigation of Hala Systems shines a light on the strange situation where jihadi extremists in Idlib have mysterious access to state of the art drone technology capable of testing the defences of a nearby Russian airbase in. If the CIA and Pentagon had wanted to probe Russia’s defences in hot war conditions they could hardly have hoped for a better test bed. Speculation about US de facto collaboration with Al Qaida against Russia, as occurred earlier in Afghanistan, is far from fanciful.

The following extract is from an article written and published by Vanessa Beeley reposted from her website The Wall Will Fall.

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Hala Systems – who are they and what do they do?

In August 2015, my first article on the White Helmets was published by the Ron Paul Institute. In this article, I mention that Khaled Khatib, a White Helmet cameraman, was demanding an early warning system that would “ensure civilians can flee areas that are about to be bombed”. This appeal was echoed, at the time, by Syria Campaign director, James Sadri.

Syria Campaign were established with seed funding from Ayman AsfariAsfari, a Syrian oil executive, UK resident and supporter of the regime change war against Syria is also known for his generous contributions to the UK Conservative party. Asfari was investigated by the serious fraud squad UK on allegations of extensive bribery and corruption in the oil and gas industry for the last three years, according to the Electoral Commission.

The question I raised at the time in my article was “who would benefit most from this early warning system – the civilians or the “rebels”?

sentry

Screenshot from a Hala Systems promotional video – the Sentry system partnering the White Helmets.

In August 2016, one year after the appeal launched by the White Helmets and their PR agency, a Chicago-based company, Hala Systems, launched “Sentry” – a “threat-prediction system designed for use by civilians in conflict zones”. Hala Systems itself was launched in 2015 at the same time as the White Helmets were requesting radar support in their role as adjuncts to Al Qaeda (rebranded or affiliates).

According to published data about Sentry – the warning system relies on human observers and remote sensors to collect data on potential air strikes. Observers spot the take-off of Russian or Syrian warplanes – they enter critical information into an Android app, which then sends information to Hala’s servers. Sensors placed in trees or on top of buildings collect acoustic data which aid confirmation of plane type, location and flight path. Software gathers and analyses the data to determine the potential for and location of the incoming air raid. If the risk is high, the system will generate alerts via social media and activate air raid sirens remotely. Using a “neural network”, an automated system continuously scans Facebook, Twitter and Telegram for “posts that might indicate air strikes”.

Sentry is based on an original Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Lincoln Laboratory, prototype.

eleven-young-boys

Screenshot from one of Hala Systems promotional videos. A White Helmet operative describing 11 young boys trapped under the rubble in Idlib.

Hala works in partnership with the White Helmets to implement this technology with a special focus on Idlib province, NE Syria – “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11” according to Brett McGurk – former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the U.S. Department of State.

Hala Systems makes the claim that their technology has resulted in an estimated 20-27% reduction in casualty rates in 2018. Of course, it is not determined conclusively whether those casualties are civilians or armed group fighters. There is a history of the manipulation of statistics for the benefit of the US Coalition aggressors in Syria.

Hala Systems website informs us that they are “democratizing advanced defense, sensing, and artificial intelligence technology”. Their team is made up of the following members:

“..a team of 21 [now 29] working together around the world to solve hard problems. Founded by a rocket scientist, an ex-diplomat, and an expert in using technology for good, we hail from leading educational, research, and business institutions (including Stanford, MIT, Wharton, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, LBS, MIT-Lincoln Laboratory, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Deloitte, Booz, and the World Bank) and are united by a mission to create a sustainable business that provides massive social impact.” (emphasis added)

Salaries are generous at Hala Systems – an accountant or product manager is offered between $ 60 – 90k. $ 110 – 160k for a “firmware engineer”. According to some estimates, Hala Systems, is now a $4-6 million company with an impressive annual growth rate.

via White Helmets and Hala Systems – the grotesque militarisation of “humanitarianism” in Syria — The Wall Will Fall

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October 3, 2019 · 3:12 pm

Sheffield City Council to formally recognise the state of Palestine

The following is a press release by Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine published on 01.09.19

On Wednesday 4th September, Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council, will present a motion that if passed will make Sheffield the first UK council to formally recognise the state of Palestine. This follows a petition presented to the Council in July. The Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, will be present to mark this historic event.

At 1 p.m. there will be a flag raising event in front of the Town Hall conducted by the Ambassador with senior Councillors in attendance. From 2 p.m. the motion will be debated by the full council.

Palestinians live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza, and 5 million are living as refugees, many within their ancestral lands. Appalling human rights abuses take place under the occupation, including the incarceration of 500-700 Palestinian children per year. Schools and homes are regularly demolished as acts of collective punishment and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have no citizens’ rights. Gaza has been under siege since 2007 and has experienced prolonged blanket bombing on several occasions, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. The UN has declared that Gaza, with two million people crammed on this tiny strip of land, will be unfit to support human life by 2020. Unarmed protests against being forced to live in ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of mutilations from Israeli live fire.

From the end of World War 1 to 1948, Britain occupied Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of the state of Israel. Our country has a particular responsibility to make amends for great harms done in the process. Many of the abuses carried out by the Israeli state today were originally introduced under the British ‘Protectorate’. British governments have continued to give military, economic and diplomatic support to Israel despite its violations of countless UN resolutions calling for the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and for the right to Palestinian self-determination.

Recognition has huge symbolic meaning to a people denied their homeland and their identity. The announcement that Sheffield City Council would be taking this step and the image of the Palestinian flag raised in front of the Town Hall on 3rd July led to great rejoicing and media coverage in Palestine. Formal recognition by the Council has strong support within the city, which has a historic tradition of standing up for human rights and justice. It is to be hoped that other councils will follow Sheffield’s leadership and that a strong show of solidarity up and down the country will persuade the UK government to enact a policy it says it supports.
Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign also welcome the fact that Sheffield City Council is taking this step, commenting:

“Sheffield PSC welcomes the Council drawing attention to the continuing denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people. We know from our campaigning activities that most people in the city will welcome the Council’s position. We hope that this initiative will be followed by measures aimed at ending British military and economic collusion with Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land.”

For more information contact Julie Pearn, chair@slfp.org.uk

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Notice of Motion Regarding “Recognising Palestine as a Full State”: Given by Councillor Julie Dore and to be seconded by Councillor Adam Hurst

That this Council:-

(a) believes that there must be recognition of the rights of Palestinians to their own state, and thanks the petitioners for bringing this important issue to Full Council in July;

(b) notes that 138 nations of the UN, out of 193 (71.5%), recognise Palestine as a state and in 2012 the UN General Assembly moved to do so – though this was blocked from full UN membership by the Security Council;

(c) notes that the current UK Government appears to have no intention of recognising Palestine, and notes that this is in contrast to the Labour Party’s commitment to recognise Palestine as a full state as part of the United Nations and under UK law;

(d) believes that the recognition of Palestine as a state is one step towards a genuine two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict;

(e) believes there has to be a peace process and there has to be a right of the Palestinian people to live in peace and security as well as the right of Israel;

(f) believes that whilst Sheffield is just one city, it is important to make this symbolic gesture to formally recognise Palestine as a full state, and hope that this will increase pressure on the UK Government to do likewise; and

(g) requests that this Motion is submitted to the Foreign Office, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Click here to read the same press release at the Sheffield Friends of Palestine official facebook page

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Update:

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Russiagate autopsy notes: picking over the bones of the latest greatest fake news frenzy

“Trump is a corrupt real estate magnate with ties to the mafia and sleazy autocrats around the world. Anyone out to get him should have started by following his misbegotten money. Instead Democrats tried to do three things at once: get Trump, destroy U.S.-Russia relations to provoke a new Cold War that would profit the military-industrial complex and explain away the bankruptcy of Hillary Clinton’s brand of centrist corporatism.” — Ted Rall 1

I’ve been writing this blog for close to a decade and during that period can remember no major current affairs story so devoid of actual substance or so blatantly idiotic as Russiagate; yet the corporate media fell all over it like pigs jostling beneath a bucket of swill. Even by the abysmal standards of present day mainstream journalism, their collective laziness, lack of diligence, failure to investigate basic facts, and unquestioning reliance on official sources has been beyond belief…

Yep, those Russiagate WMDs just had to be somewhere right, because once located the twin evil-doers Trump and Putin could be taken down once and for all! Such was the infantile rationale. Wishful thinking became copy, as the news media gobbled up the lies and the half-truths, irrespective of the fact that the public was losing interest anyway. Having sacrificed the last remnants of any credibility, now we all must pay a hefty price for this mindboggling circus of deceit and the media’s demented role in its 24/7 promotion:

You know what was fake news? Most of the Russiagate story. There was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, that thing we just spent three years chasing. The Mueller Report is crystal clear on this.

He didn’t just “fail to establish” evidence of crime. His report is full of incredibly damning passages, like one about Russian officialdom’s efforts to reach the Trump campaign after the election: “They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.”

Not only was there no “collusion,” the two camps didn’t even have each others’ phone numbers!

Reported Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi shortly after the release of a redacted version of Mueller’s long anticipated report back in April. A few paragraphs on, he continues:

[R]eporters should be furious at the many sources close to the various investigations who (it now seems clear) must have known pretty early there were serious holes in many areas of this story, and that a lot of these “dots” were dead ends, but didn’t warn their press counterparts. For instance, the papers should be mad those who supposedly had misgivings about the Steele report didn’t warn them earlier.

But they’re not mad, which makes it look like a case of intentional blindness, in which eyes and ears were shut among other things because the Trump-Russia conspiracy tale made a ton of money. Media companies earned boffo ratings while the Mueller probe still carried the drama of a potential spectacular ending, with blue-state audiences eating up all those “walls are closing in” hot takes.

This fiasco will surely end up being a net plus for Trump. The obstruction parts of the report make him look like a brainless goon and thug, but the absence of what Mueller repeatedly calls “underlying crime” make his ravings about an elitist mob out to get him look justified. This is not an easy thing to achieve, but we’re there, and the press is a big part of that picture. 2

Click here to read Matt Tiabbi’s full report published by Rolling Stone magazine on April 23rd.

Political commentator and cartoonist Ted Rall, another Russiagate refusenik, didn’t even bother to wait for the release of the Mueller report before delivering his own damning verdict:

Russiagate was a propaganda campaign waged by the Democratic Party and its media allies with a daily blizzard of overheated speculation that Russia installed Donald Trump as its stooge by hacking the 2016 presidential election. Several years and millions of dollars later, special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that it didn’t happen.

Of course it didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened.

As I wrote last year: “You’re asking us to believe that Trump’s people met with Putin’s people, not to discuss Trump’s sleazy real estate developments in the former Soviet Union, but to encourage Russian hackers to break into the DNC, steal Hillary’s emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks with a view toward angering enough voters to change the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. Trump doesn’t even read one-page memos. Yet we’re being asked to believe that he supervised a ridiculously complex Machiavellian conspiracy? [”]

Rall was writing in late March immediately following Mueller’s final submission to Attorney General William Barr, and before the any public release of the report, but like others paying proper attention he quite rightly surmised that the investigation would run into the sand because the entire Russiagate conspiracy theory had always been a hoax – and the Mueller inquiry was therefore a $32 million ‘nothing burger’.

As he bluntly puts it:

The media idiots’ WMD BS cost a million-plus Iraqis their lives. Their Russiagate crap has vastly increased the chances that Trump will win reelection. Russiagate will make it all but impossible to impeach the bastard as he deserves and as the country desperately needs. 3

Click here to read Ted Rall’s full article entitled “The Actual Collusion”.

In December 2017, amid news the Mueller probe could extend through 2018, Guardian reporter Luke Harding spoke with Aaron Maté of ‘The Real News Network’ about Russiagate and Harding’s new book “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win”. The encounter was an extraordinary one:

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Mueller time is over, Russia-hate is here to stay

On July 24th Robert Mueller had one last chance to impress with his findings on Russiagate when delivered testimony in a hearing before Congress that would last more than seven hours. Afterwards there was a widespread feeling of deflation. Michael Graham of the Boston Herald nicely summed up the Democrat and other anti-Trump reaction:

Wednesday was a bad day for Democrats, because it was a bad day for Bob Mueller.

After weeks of breathless speculation from CNN panelists that the special counsel might leap to his feet, point a bony finger toward the White House and shout “J’Accuse!”… there were no bombshells in the testimony.

Instead, it was Mueller’s performance that bombed.

“This is very, very painful,” Obama’s political strategist David Axelrod tweeted during the hearings.

Progressive Newsweek columnist Seth Abramson called him “a bit of a bumbler,” and activist liberal attorney Laurence Tribe confessed, “Much as I hate to say it, this hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it.”

What was designed to be a devastating blow to the Trump presidency turned into a fiasco of fumbling and forgetfulness by Mueller. Before the hearings, Democratic sources described their strategy as “people don’t read the book, they watch the movie.” But Mueller refused to play the role of their leading man. He never read from the report a single time. 4

Scrambling around to salvage something from the wreckage, much of the subsequent mainstream attention switched to Mueller’s failings and away from the altogether suspicious lack of substance that was evident from the very outset. But then, as Graham says, “If Mueller’s not credible, neither is his investigation.”

Click here to read the full article entitled “Dems need to find another strategy, the Mueller one flopped”.

Also on July 24th, Marc Steiner of The Real News spoke with former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley about Mueller’s past incompetence and how the hearing had amounted to “Much Ado About Nothing”:

Then, on August 4th, one of the foremost serious investigators into Russiagate, Aaron Maté of The Greyzone, spoke with Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus at New York University and Princeton University, whose latest book is War with Russia: From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate.

They began by retracing the origins of Russiagate and moved on from there to discuss how the media frenzy has served to damage already strained US-Russian relations and intensify the new Cold War. Russiagate may be dead, but its spectre will continue haunt us, and that surely was the main point of constructing it:

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In the World of Truth and Fact, Russiagate is Dead | Craig Murray

Douglas Adams famously suggested that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. In the world of the political elite, the answer is Russiagate. What has caused the electorate to turn on the political elite, to defeat Hillary and to rush to Brexit? Why, the evil Russians, of course, are behind it all.

It was the Russians who hacked the DNC and published Hillary’s emails, thus causing her to lose the election because… the Russians, dammit, who cares what was in the emails? It was the Russians. It is the Russians who are behind Wikileaks, and Julian Assange is a Putin agent (as is that evil Craig Murray). It was the Russians who swayed the 1,300,000,000 dollar Presidential election campaign result with 100,000 dollars worth of Facebook advertising. It was the evil Russians who once did a dodgy trade deal with Aaron Banks then did something improbable with Cambridge Analytica that hypnotised people en masse via Facebook into supporting Brexit.

All of this is known to be true by every Blairite, every Clintonite, by the BBC, by CNN, by the Guardian, the New York Times and the Washington Post. “The Russians did it” is the article of faith for the political elite who cannot understand why the electorate rejected the triangulated “consensus” the elite constructed and sold to us, where the filthy rich get ever richer and the rest of us have falling incomes, low employment rights and scanty welfare benefits. You don’t like that system? You have been hypnotised and misled by evil Russian trolls and hackers.

[Whether Trump and/or Brexit were worthy beneficiaries of the popular desire to express discontent is an entirely different argument and not one I address here].

Except virtually none of this is true. Mueller’s inability to defend in person his deeply flawed report took a certain amount of steam out of the blame Russia campaign. But what should have killed off “Russiagate” forever is the judgement of Judge John G Koeltl of the Federal District Court of New York.

In a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against Russia and against Wikileaks, and against inter alia Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Julian Assange, for the first time the claims of collusion between Trump and Russia were subjected to actual scrutiny in a court of law. And Judge Koeltl concluded that, quite simply, the claims made as the basis of Russiagate are insufficient to even warrant a hearing.

The judgement is 81 pages long, but if you want to understand the truth about the entire “Russiagate” spin it is well worth reading it in full. Otherwise let me walk you through it.

This is the crucial point about Koeltl’s judgement. In considering dismissing a case at the outset in response to a motion to dismiss from the defence, the judge is obliged to give the plaintiff every benefit and to take the alleged facts described by the DNC as true. The stage of challenging and testing those facts has not been reached. The question Koeltl is answering is this. Accepting for the moment the DNC’s facts as true, on the face of it, even if everything that the Democratic National Committee alleged happened, did indeed happen, is there the basis for a case? And his answer is a comprehensive no. Even the facts alleged to comprise the Russiagate narrative do not mount up to a plausible case.

The consequence of this procedure is of course that in this judgement Koeltl is accepting the DNC’s “facts”. The judgement is therefore written entirely on the assumption that the Russians did hack the DNC computers as alleged by the plaintiff (the Democratic National Committee), and that meetings and correspondence took place as the DNC alleged and their content was also what the DNC alleged. It is vital to understand in reading the document that Koeltl is not stating that he finds these “facts” to be true. Doubtless had the trial proceeded many of them would have been challenged by the defendants and their evidentiary basis tested in court. It is simply at this stage the only question Koeltl is answering is whether, assuming the facts alleged all to be true, there are grounds for trial.

Judge Koeltl’s subsequent dismissal of the Russiagate nonsense is a problem for the mainstream media and their favourite narrative. They have largely chosen to pretend it never happened, but when obliged to mention it have attempted to misrepresent this as the judge confirming that the Russians hacked the DNC. It very definitely and specifically is not that; the judge was obliged to rule on the procedural motion to dismiss on the basis of assuming the allegation to be true. Legal distinctions, even very plain ones like this, are perhaps difficult for the average cut and paste mainstream media stenographer to understand. But the widespread failure to report the meaning of Koeltl’s judgement fairly is inexcusable.

The key finding is this. Even accepting the DNC’s evidence at face value, the judge ruled that it provides no evidence of collusion between Russia, Wikileaks or any of the named parties to hack the DNC’s computers. It is best expressed here in this dismissal of the charge that a property violation was committed, but in fact the same ruling by the judge that no evidence has been presented of any collusion for an illegal purpose, runs through the dismissal of each and every one of the varied charges put forward by the DNC as grounds for their suit.

Judge Koeltl goes further and asserts that Wikileaks, as a news organisation, had every right to obtain and publish the emails in exercise of a fundamental First Amendment right. The judge also specifically notes that no evidence has been put forward by the DNC that shows any relationship between Russia and Wikileaks. Wikileaks, accepting the DNC’s version of events, merely contacted the website that first leaked some of the emails, in order to ask to publish them.

Judge Koeltl also notes firmly that while various contacts are alleged by the DNC between individuals from Trump’s campaign and individuals allegedly linked to the Russian government, no evidence at all has been put forward to show that the content of any of those meetings had anything to do with either Wikileaks or the DNC’s emails.

In short, Koeltl dismissed the case entirely because simply no evidence has been produced of the existence of any collusion between Wikileaks, the Trump campaign and Russia. That does not mean that the evidence has been seen and is judged unconvincing. In a situation where the judge is duty bound to give credence to the plaintiff’s evidence and not judge its probability, there simply was no evidence of collusion to which he could give credence. The entire Russia-Wikileaks-Trump fabrication is a total nonsense. But I don’t suppose that fact will kill it off.

The major implication for the Assange extradition case of the Koeltl judgement is his robust and unequivocal statement of the obvious truth that Wikileaks is a news organisation and its right to publish documents, specifically including stolen documents, is protected by the First Amendment when those documents touch on the public interest.

These arguments are certainly helpful to Assange in the extradition case. But it must be noted that the extradition request has been drafted to try to get round the law by alleging that Wikileaks were complicit in the actual theft of documents by Chelsea Manning. Judge Koeltl does not address this question as he was presented with no evidence that Wikileaks had contact with the “hackers” prior to their obtaining the documents, so the question did not arise before him. In the extradition request, the attempt is to argue that Assange encouraged and abetted Manning in obtaining the material. This is supposed to be a different argument.

In fact this attempt to undermine the First Amendment has no merit. Cultivation of an insider source is a normal part of journalistic activity, and encouraging an official to leak material in the public interest is an everyday occurrence in such cultivation. In the “Watergate” precedent, for example, the “Deep Throat” source, Mark Felt of the FBI, was cultivated and encouraged over a period by Woodward. In addition to which, Manning’s access to the documents could not be characterised as “theft”. Leaking of official secrets by an insider is a very different thing to a hack from outside.

And in conclusion, I should state emphatically that while Judge Koeltl was obliged to accept for the time being the allegation that the Russians had hacked the DNC as alleged, in fact this never happened. The emails came from a leak not a hack. The Mueller Inquiry’s refusal to take evidence from the actual publisher of the leaks, Julian Assange, in itself discredits his report. Mueller should also have taken crucial evidence from Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who has explained in detail why an outside hack was technically impossible based on the forensic evidence provided.

The other key point that proves Mueller’s Inquiry was never a serious search for truth is that at no stage was any independent forensic independence taken from the DNC’s servers, instead the word of the DNC’s own security consultants was simply accepted as true. Finally no progress has been made – or is intended to be made – on the question of who killed Seth Rich, while the pretend police investigation has “lost” his laptop.

Though why anybody would believe Robert Mueller about anything is completely beyond me.

So there we have it. Russiagate as a theory is as completely exploded as the appalling Guardian front page lie published by Kath Viner and Luke Harding fabricating the “secret meetings” between Paul Manafort and Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy. But the political class and the mainstream media, both in the service of billionaires, have moved on to a stage where truth is irrelevant, and I do not doubt that Russiagate stories will thus persist. They are so useful for the finances of the armaments and security industries, and in keeping the population in fear and jingoist politicians in power.

Click here to read the same article entitled “In the World of Truth and Fact, Russiagate is Dead. In the world of the Political Establishment, it is Still the New 42” published by Craig Murray on August 4th.

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Just a few of the many wobbly planks of Russiagate

Aside from the breathtaking absurdity of many of the accusations and the woeful lack of substantiating evidence, the outstanding feature of Russiagate has been its bewildering and almost overwhelming complexity. On the one hand, the story revolves around the dodgy intrigues of Trump himself and an array of characters “presented to us as Russian ‘agents’ or Trump-Kremlin ‘intermediaries’”, but who, as Aaron Maté reminded us in a piece published in The Nation magazine back in March, turned out to be nothing of the sort:

None of the lies that Trump aides or allies were caught telling pointed us toward the collusion that members of the media and political figures insisted they were hiding. None of the various pillars of Russiagate—the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting; the fanciful assertions of the Steele dossier; the anonymously sourced media claims, such as Trump campaign members’ having “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials”—ever led us to damning evidence. And all of that is likely why Mueller never charged anyone with involvement in (or covering up) a Trump-Russia conspiracy. 5

While on the other hand, there are different strands of loosely related and similarly unproven charges that the Kremlin strove to “hack the election”. Allegedly, they did this by means of spreading ‘fake news’ memes via a troll farm, by hacking email accounts at the DNC and publishing the contents through Wikileaks, and it is even alleged that Russia has quite literally attempted to hack the US elections. This last allegation revolved around ‘evidence’ provided in the altogether bizarre case of an NSA leaker called Reality Winner – a fittingly peculiar name for the central protagonist!

In September 2018, Jimmy Dore ran a report entitled “DHS Official admits that the claims of Russians hacking different states was, well, not accurate”:

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Reproduced below is a compilation drawn from earlier articles in which I delved into allegations of Russian hacking of DNC accounts and the purported “election meddling” by Putin’s troll farms. The extracts are interspersed with relevant interviews and also included are extracts from articles by Whitney Webb and Craig Murray. Besides retracing the origins of the Russiagate debacle and reconstructing an extended narrative, I also hope to illustrate just how easy it was to avoid jumping aboard this insane runaway bandwagon.

In March, Aaron Maté gave an exclusive interview with ‘acTVism Munich’ speaking on the topic of “Everything you need to know about the Mueller investigation & Russiagate”:

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 ‘Russia hacked the election’

The following extract is from an extended post entitled “‘fake news’ is the new blackwhite” published Feb 20th 2018.

https://wallofcontroversy.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/fake-news-is-the-new-blackwhite/

Whenever Donald Trump barks “fake news” in avoidance of some nagging news reporter’s questions it comes across as a tacit admission of guilt. Subsequently the brush off is indeed reported upon as a tacit admission of guilt. And doubtless, more than half the time, it was a tacit admission of guilt: Trump has a great deal to be guilty about. However, it does not automatically follow that even the vile and corrupt Trump is guilty in every case.

‘Russiagate’ has dominated the US news cycle for well over eighteen months in spite of the fact that after several investigations there has been an embarrassing failure to uncover substantiating evidence pointing to an actual Russian plot to “hack the election” as was so vigorously claimed. But the latest twist in the saga is arguably the lamest to date. It involves Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian nationals for purportedly creating sockpuppet accounts on behalf of Trump (or else disparaging him – presumably for added confusion!), as well as (still more bafflingly) bolstering the campaigns of progressives Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in the 2016 election. Missing altogether are any claims that Trump knew anything at all about the alleged Russian meddling, or that in fact “Russia hacked the election” – the very pivot about which Russiagate started spinning. As even the Guardian admits in its wholly uncritical account of Mueller’s findings which is excitedly titled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy”:

The indictment does not allege that any American knowingly participated in Russian meddling, or that Trump campaign associates had more than “unwitting” contact with some who posed as Americans. Trump quickly claimed vindication, noting in a tweet that the interference efforts began in 2014 “long before I announced that I would run for president”. He added: “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Nor does it have anything to say regarding the origins of ‘Russiagate’:

The indictment does not mention the hacking of Democratic emails, which then turned up on WikiLeaks. It does not mention the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. It does not mention the four Trump associates who are facing charges that range from money laundering to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. America, and the world, is waiting for Mueller to join the dots. 6

I shall come back to Trump in a moment. But first please note how Mueller has been given a free pass by the media. This is the same Robert Mueller who was appointed FBI head by George W Bush literally one week prior to the September 11th attacks and who thereafter, as former FBI special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley points out at length, alongside then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey, “presided over post-9/11 cover-ups and secret abuses of the Constitution, enabled Bush-Cheney fabrications used to launch wrongful wars, and exhibited plain vanilla incompetence”:

I wanted to believe Director Mueller when he expressed some regret in our personal meeting the night before we both testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told me he was seeking improvements and that I should not hesitate to contact him if I ever witnessed a similar situation to what was behind the FBI’s pre 9/11 failures.

A few months later, when it appeared he was acceding to Bush-Cheney’s ginning up intelligence to launch the unjustified, counterproductive and illegal war on Iraq, I took Mueller up on his offer, emailing him my concerns in late February 2003. Mueller knew, for instance, that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims connecting 9/11 to Iraq were bogus yet he remained quiet. He also never responded to my email. 7

Click here to read Coleen Rowley’s full article entitled “Russia-gate’s Mythical ‘Heroes’”

Jimmy Dore reflects on Rachel Maddow’s reaction to the collapse of Russiagate – uploaded on March 25th:

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Drilling down into ‘Russiagate’ to find the origins of ‘fake news’

The following extract is a later section drawn from the same post entitled “‘fake news’ is the new blackwhite” published Feb 20th 2018.

https://wallofcontroversy.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/fake-news-is-the-new-blackwhite/

‘Fake news’ as a meme has befuddled millions. To paraphrase Orwell: like so many Newspeak words, this phrase has two mutually contradictory meanings. Used by the mainstream it represents a shield against deception. Used by an opponent, however, and it merely confirms the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.

Presumably for this reason, an oddly prevalent misapprehension has grown, especially amongst liberal-minded Trump opponents, that the term ‘fake news’ was coined by Donald Trump himself as a vain attempt to defend himself against regular attacks from the press corps. However, as soon as we retrace the breadcrumbs that lead back to ‘Russiagate’ reality becomes clearer.

‘Fake news’ was manufactured not by Trump, but by opponents. It arose from the ashes of the original ‘Russiagate’ scandal that had been concocted to divert attention from electoral rival Clinton in light of the leaks of campaign director John Podesta’s emails.  After her defeat, however, ‘Russiagate’ quickly resurfaced to spare Democrat blushes and with it came this new meme ‘fake news’.

[I then parsed a Yahoo! News story written by Michael Isikoff…]

The Obama administration today publicly accused the Russian government of cyberattacks against U.S. political organizations and prominent figures that are “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

The extraordinary move comes after months of disclosures stemming from the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other groups — cyberattacks that the U.S. intelligence community is now “confident” were directed by the Russian government.

In other words, we find the origins to what would soon become ‘Russiagate’: a story transparently devoid of any substantiated facts at all and based solely on allegations in turn determined baseless by a range of independent experts (read earlier post) and then widely forgotten.

This had followed from a joint statement made by the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security claiming:

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…

“These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process…

“Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

This clumsy yet effective scapegoating of Russia quite deliberately switched the attention of our gullible and obedient press away prying any further into Clinton’s emails, and there was more…

Earlier Friday, a group of former top national security officials and experts warned that Russian intelligence agents may “doctor” emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups as part of a sophisticated “disinformation” campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 election.

The group, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, urged the news media to be “cautious” about publishing such material lest they play into Russian hands.

“What is taking place in the United States follows a well-known Russian playbook: First leak compelling and truthful information to gain credibility. The next step: Release fake documents that look the same,” the group said in a joint public statement.

Much more…

“The Russians aren’t coming. They’re already here,” said Tara Sonenshine, a former undersecretary for public diplomacy under Clinton and one of the organizers of the joint statement.

The fear that more embarrassing emails may be coming is especially acute among Democratic operatives and loyalists, who have become convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin is more favorably disposed to Trump and doing what he can to assist his candidacy. And perhaps not surprisingly, most, if not all, of the 16 former officials and national security experts who signed the statement — including Chertoff, who served during the Bush administration — have endorsed Clinton.

Sonenshine insisted that the purpose of the letter was not to pressure the news media to refuse to publish any leaked emails. Instead, she said, it is only to inject a cautionary note into the review of such material given the Russian propensity to fabricate documents.

“You can’t put out a red stop sign to journalism,” she said. “But you can put up a yellow flag.”

Sonenshine and another organizer of the letter, Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress, said there is evidence that the Russian intelligence service has fabricated or altered documents to further its political aims in Ukraine and elsewhere. And the joint statement warns that such actions appear to fit into a larger strategy of using “cyber tools” targeting Western democracies. Similar concerns about Russian “information warfare” were raised in a recent U.S. intelligence report, disclosed last week by Yahoo News, that cited the activities of Russian Internet trolls and the broadcasts of RT and Sputnik, two state-sponsored media outlets. 8

Click here to read the full Yahoo! News story entitled “U.S. accuses Russia of cyberattacks ‘intended to interfere’ with election”.

Follow the link and still the list of allegations goes on…

Another tactic of the [Russian] trolls is to inject blatantly false stories into the media, forcing public officials in Europe and the U.S. to respond, according to Weiss and other experts. A New York Times Sunday Magazine piece last year documented how Russian trolls based in the St. Petersburg office had swamped Twitter with hundreds of messages about an explosion at a Louisiana chemical plant that never took place, setting up dozens of fake accounts and doctoring screenshots from CNN and Louisiana TV stations to make the pseudo-event seem real. (The trolls even created a fake Wikipedia page about the supposed explosion, which in turn linked to a phony YouTube video.) 9

From another Yahoo! News story by Michael Isikoff.

But still, September 2016 is prior to the full launch of the meme ‘fake news’ and so this story (like the ones quoted before) describes the ‘injection’ of “blatantly false stories” in an increasingly aggressive “information warfare” campaign with the ‘spread’ of “pro-Kremlin messages”. The Cold War overtones are unmistakeable. We are faced with the deliberate corruption of our free and democratic society that is as insidious as any viral infection: a corruption that needs naming and shaming. Finally, then we come to the manufacturing of the buzzword ‘fake news’ and to the appearance of PropOrNot.

This shadowy ‘group of experts’ which insists on complete public anonymity first made the headlines with the release of ‘a report’ in November 2016. Dramatically, it claimed to have identified more than 200 websites that were agents of Russian propaganda. ‘Fake news’ was about to become a fully-fledged trope.

So here is the Washington Post providing an uncritical platform (the editor’s note was added later) for the PropOrNot’s neo-McCarthyite blacklist:

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

It continues:

PropOrNot’s monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times. 10

Listed amongst these ‘Russian agents’ were WikiLeaks, Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, Antiwar.com, the Ron Paul Institute, Zerohedge, Corbett Report, Global Research and Counterpunch. In other words, pretty much anyone who’s anyone in alternative news.

As Glen Greenwald and Ben Norton wrote in The Intercept:

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:

Greenwald and Norton continue:

In his article, the Post’s Timberg did not include a link to PropOrNot’s website. If readers had the opportunity to visit the site, it would have become instantly apparent that this group of ostensible experts far more resembles amateur peddlers of primitive, shallow propagandistic clichés than serious, substantive analysis and expertise; that it has a blatant, demonstrable bias in promoting NATO’s narrative about the world; and that it is engaging in extremely dubious McCarthyite tactics about a wide range of critics and dissenters. 11

I will not link here to the Washington Post article because I am disinclined to direct others to waste their time on execrable clickbait. However, for anyone who wishes to check the above quotes, the link is available as always in the footnotes.

Click here to read Greenwald’s article in The Intercept.

James Corbett’s ‘Everything you wanted to know about Russiagate but weren’t stupid enough to ask’ in 3 minutes:

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 “Russia hacked the election” and other fake news

The following extracts are from a post entitled “‘Russia hacked the election’ and other fake news – whatever happened to journalism?” published on Jan 17th 2017.

https://wallofcontroversy.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/russia-hacked-the-election-and-other-fake-news-whatever-happened-to-journalism/

When I posted the previous article, not for a moment did I anticipate this already stale (nearly six months old) and contrived accusation of Russian hacking might be reheated and making the headlines well into the new year. Nor could I have envisaged that in the interim no fewer than two ‘intelligence reports’ would be issued to serve as flimsy support for otherwise groundless claims. Two reports with extremely serious sounding titles and elaborate illustrations, but not a single shred of evidence between them. Although that last part comes as no surprise at all, of course.

But before considering these twin tissues, not of lies, but of unsupported assertions, it is helpful to first remind ourselves what is to be understood when we read that “Russia hacked the election”. Because in spite of the seeming inference contained in those excitable words, the accusation falls far short of any literal suggestion that the Russians hacked into electronic voting machines or otherwise meddled directly in America’s electoral process.

Instead, the fragile claim is only that ‘the Kremlin’ (read Putin) hacked into the Democratic National Committee and thereafter released evidence to wikileaks exposing, amongst other things, how DNC staffers were manipulating the primaries to ensure Clinton prevailed against Bernie Sanders. Thus the outrage might be neatly encapsulated as follows:

Back in July it was quite evident that this fantasy about dastardly Russian interference had been concocted in order to misdirect everyone from the incriminating substance of the emails as such. And up to a point the distraction worked wonderfully well, even if the leak still did result in the embarrassing and untimely resignation of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Indeed, as the election neared, this evidence-free story was quietly sidelined, since Clinton’s victory had then appeared a nailed-on certainty.

But now, in the wake of Clinton’s shock defeat, the same unfounded insinuations that provided such a convenient decoy, with Putin standing in as a readymade scapegoat, have been rehashed again. Promoted by a neo-con establishment suddenly desperate to play the Russia card once more, we witness a choreographed outcry from the likes of Brennan and McCain, and the frenzied release of these half-baked ‘intelligence reports’.

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Glenn Greenwald also made a recent appearance on BBC’s Newsnight on Wednesday 11th [Jan]. He had been invited principally to discuss the latest revelations against the Kremlin in light of the release of memos purporting to show that Russia is in possession of compromising material on Trump – which is plausible but once again no credible evidence is being presented. The exchange of words he had with presenter Emily Maitlis was certainly memorable:

Here is a short extract (the transcription is mine):

Maitlis [from 1:20 min]: But hang on a sec, [this latest allegation] was taken seriously by the CIA – by the Central Intelligence Agency. Doesn’t that elevate it above gossip?

Greenwald: Right, so the CIA is an agency that has repeatedly got caught lying in the past. It is designed to disseminate propaganda. And they’re currently in open warfare with the person who was just elected President of the United States. They were behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign. So I agree that once the CIA briefs the President and President-elect on this document it becomes newsworthy to report that fact, but the mere fact that the CIA tried to enshrine this document in a cloud of authenticity or credibility doesn’t for me as a journalist convince me at all that the claims are true. I want to see evidence first that the claims are true.

Maitlis: Hang on a second – you’re calling the CIA partisan. Are you basically suggesting that if Donald Trump then goes on to ignore everything that the CIA tells him that’s no great loss to America?

Greenwald: No, I didn’t say anything even remotely like that. What I said was that the CIA –

Maitlis [interrupting]: You said that the CIA was partisan – that it was pitted against the President-elect.

Greenwald: Well, that’s absolutely true. The former head of the CIA, Michael Morell, went to the New York Times and endorsed Hillary Clinton. George Bush’s CIA head, General [Michael] Hayden went to the Washington Post and did the same thing. They both accused Trump of being a recruit of Vladimir Putin.

Maitlis: So in that case whatever they tell him he would have to take with a pinch of salt because he would see them as a partisan organisation. Is that what you’re essentially suggesting?

Greenwald: I would say that any rational human being with even minimal history of the United States and the CIA would take everything that the CIA says with a huge grain of salt. I would call it actually a dose of rational scepticism. Given how many times in the past that agency has lied and been in error. You know of course don’t you that the Iraq War was started because that agency said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was in alliance with al-Qaeda. Something that turned out to be tragically untrue. So of course people would treat those claims sceptically.

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On July 10th, Aaron Maté joined Lee Camp on his RT show ‘Redacted Tonight’ to discuss how the Russiagate allegations are losing credibility:

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A glimpse behind the Russiagate smokescreen?

The following extract is from a post entitled “Russian hacking is a silly smokescreen, so what’s behind it…?” published on Dec 14th 2016

https://wallofcontroversy.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/russian-hacking-is-a-silly-smokescreen-so-whats-behind-it/

This is one of the daftest stories I’ve heard in a long while, but since the Guardian, Washington Post and even President Obama are still trying to persuade us that this evidence-free allegation of Russian hacking is serious and worthy of the world’s attention then here is definitive debunking courtesy of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), whose combined expertise includes William Binney and Ray McGovern. They write:

The bottom line is that the NSA would know where and how any “hacked” emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network. This process can sometimes require a closer look into the routing to sort out intermediate clients, but in the end sender and recipient can be traced across the network.

The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network. Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked.

The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods. Thus, we conclude that the emails were leaked by an insider – as was the case with Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Such an insider could be anyone in a government department or agency with access to NSA databases, or perhaps someone within the DNC.

Concluding:

As for the comments to the media as to what the CIA believes, the reality is that CIA is almost totally dependent on NSA for ground truth in the communications arena. Thus, it remains something of a mystery why the media is being fed strange stories about hacking that have no basis in fact. In sum, given what we know of NSA’s existing capabilities, it beggars belief that NSA would be unable to identify anyone – Russian or not – attempting to interfere in a U.S. election by hacking. 12

Click here to read the full and very detailed analysis.

Furthermore, Craig Murray has testified that he actually KNOWS who is behind the leak (and be assured that Murray is no friend of Putin):

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”

I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things. 13 [bold emphasis added]

The extract was taken from an article credited to “Damien Gayle and [ahem] agencies” (with éminence grise ‘and agencies’ printed appropriately in a faint grey) published by the Guardian and with Murray’s statement buried deep within the paragraphs of spurious CIA hype. And that was that. Nobody has since cross-examined Murray’s assertion or otherwise acknowledged his testimony and rather than following it up in any fashion, the mainstream media has simply ignored it altogether.

Murray fleshes out his thoughts in an article on his blog on Sunday 11th:

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.

A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.

As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.

The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

Click here to read Murray’s full article.

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Forget Russiagate, what about Israelgate?

The following extract is from a post entitled “forget ‘Russiagate’, why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’…?” published on Sept 21st  2018.

https://wallofcontroversy.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/forget-russiagate-why-is-no-one-talking-about-israelgate/

Having trawled for evidence of “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as the Mueller investigation was tasked to do, it instead uncovered actual evidence of complicity with Israel. These uncomfortable revelations have since been swept under the carpet by the corporate media, but are discussed in detail elsewhere. For instance, as far back as last December Max Blumenthal was reporting for Alternet:

Seven months later, after three indictments that did little, if anything, to confirm the grand collusion narrative, Mueller had former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn dragged before a federal court for lying to the FBI. The Russia probe had finally netted a big fish.

As the details of the Flynn indictment seeped out into the press, however, the bombshell was revealed as another dud. To the dismay of many Trump opponents, nothing in Flynn’s rap sheet demonstrated collusion with Russia. Instead, the indictment undermined the Russiagate narrative while implicating another, much more inconvenient foreign power in a plot to meddle in American politics.

Blumenthal continues:

To be sure, Flynn indictment did contain a stunning revelation of collusion between Team Trump and a foreign state. But it was not the country that the national media has obsessed over for the past year.

Flynn was found by the FBI to have lobbied Kislyak to exercise Russia’s veto against the passage of a United Nations security council resolution condemning the growth of Israel’s illegal settlements. And he did so under orders from Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and Middle East fixer, who was himself acting on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thanks to Flynn’s indictment, we now know that the Israeli prime minister was able to transform the Trump administration into his own personal vehicle for undermining Obama’s lone effort to hold Israel accountable at the UN. A clearer example of a foreign power colluding with an American political operation against a sitting president has seldom, if ever, been exposed in such glaring fashion. 14

Click here to read Blumenthal’s full article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia”.

Around the same time, a journalistic investigation of Israeli meddling in American politics was also being quietly covered up. As a follow up to its damning report on the Israel Lobby’s activities in Britain, Al Jazeera’s Director of Investigative Journalism, Clayton Swisher, announced in October 2017 that the Qatari satellite channel had embedded a different undercover journalist (called “Tony”) inside the US Israel lobby:

Swisher made the announcement soon after the UK’s broadcast regulator dismissed all complaints against Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby.

That documentary, broadcast in January 2017, exposed Israel’s covert influence campaign in the UK’s ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties. The film revealed an Israeli embassy agent plotting with a British civil servant to “take down” a government minister seen as too critical of Israel.

Although Swisher promised the US film would come out “very soon,” nearly five months later it has yet to be broadcast. 15

Click here to read more on the announcement at The Electronic Intifada.

Based on newly leaked footage from the banned documentary, The Electronic Intifada published a follow-up article last week [Sept 13th] that discloses the operation of (what should be called) ‘troll farms’ operating under the cover of “The Israel Project” (TIP) using pro-Israel sockpuppets to sway public opinion and disseminate propaganda on the social media platform Facebook:

The Israel Project, a major advocacy group based in Washington, is running a secret influence campaign on Facebook.

The video above, exclusive to The Electronic Intifada, shows the latest excerpts to leak from the documentary.

Earlier leaked footage published by The Electronic Intifada and the Grayzone Project has already revealed underhanded tactics by anti-Palestinian groups planned and executed in collusion with the Israeli government.

In the newest clips, David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, is heard telling Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter: “There are also things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.”

“We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,” Hazony adds.

A major part of the operation is the creation of a network of Facebook “communities” focused on history, the environment, world affairs and feminism that appear to have no connection to pro-Israel advocacy, but are used by The Israel Project to spread pro-Israel messaging.

Why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’? The question in the title to this post is rhetorical, of course, but we might easily answer it anyway. Russiagate was the cover story for why the Clinton campaign bombed so badly and then afterwards successfully reworked into the pretext to close down “fake news” websites. Talking about Israelgate on the other hand… what would that achieve?

Click here to read the full article entitled “Censored film reveals The Israel Project’s secret Facebook campaign.

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On Monday 10th, The Real News interviewed Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal about censorship of the documentary. They spoke about leaked clips that show how the Israeli government was behind attacks on American pro-Palestinian activists and Black Lives Matter:

Ali Abunimah: We published on August 27th, the first leaked video from the film in which an official of The Israel Project names Adam Milstein, a pro-Israel financier based in California – real estate magnate who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. In the film, Milstein is named as the funder of ‘Canary Mission’ a blacklist for pro-Palestine activists and for years now people have been trying to find out who is behind ‘Canary Mission’ other than a few snippets of information which came out this appears to be first major break in cracking who is behind this.

And what it also shows is that ‘Canary Mission’ is part of a much bigger effort, effectively orchestrated by the Israeli government, in which groups like the ‘Israel on Campus Coalition’ and ‘The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ are acting as agents, or front groups, for the Israeli government, helping it to gather information on US citizens; to harass US citizens; and other activities – without being registered as foreign agents of the State of Israel. So this really I think explains why the Israel lobby put such intense pressure on Qatar and on Al Jazeera to censor the film. Because I think it reveals a lot of activity that they don’t want revealed.

And what’s ironic is that this film contains real evidence of foreign interference in American politics [and] in American civic life by a foreign state: orchestrated, funded and directed by a foreign state and it’s got no attention. The censorship has gotten very little attention in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, as you know very well, the mainstream media and mainstream politicians continue to chase the shadows of ‘Russiagate’ and Russian interference, which until now have proven to be just shadows, as opposed to this really powerful evidence of Israeli interference.

[from 1:55 mins]

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Winning friends and influencing people the Netanyahu way

Mr President, my dear friend Donald, you have shown consistently incredible support for Israel, for our right to self-defence. When we exercise that self-defence you have never flinched. You’ve always been there, including today, and I thank you.

Yesterday a rocket was fired from Gaza and deep inside Israel it hit a home north of Tel Aviv, it wounded seven including two small children, and miraculously no-one was hurt – no-one was killed. Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this. And as we speak, as I told you Mr President just now, Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.

I have a simple message to Israel’s enemies: we will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state. After this meeting I will return home ahead of schedule to lead the people of Israel and the soldiers of Israel, but before I go Mr President; it was so kind of you to invite me here, it was so important for me to come here to the White House and to thank you.

Mr President, over the years Israel has been blessed to have many friends who sat in the Oval Office, but Israel has never had a better friend than you. You show this time and again. You showed this when you withdrew from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. I remember in one of our first meetings you said “This is a horrible deal, I will leave it”. You said it, you did it.

You showed it when you restored sanctions against a genocidal regime that seeks to destroy the one and only Jewish state. You said “I will restore those sanctions”. You said it and you did it.

You showed that when you recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the American embassy there – and gave us a tremendous ambassador. You said it, you did it.

And you showed it once again today, Mr President, with your official proclamation recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is truly an historic day. 16

Address given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a White House visit on March 25th (shortly after the Mueller Report was submitted to Attorney General William Barr on March 22nd) as he thanked Donald Trump profusely before Trump signed a declaration in which America formally recognised Israel’s illegal annexation of Golan Heights.

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President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. Susan Walsh | AP

Whether Trump would entertain yet another Israeli request for unilateral recognition of illegally held territory — such as the West Bank — is a matter of debate. While it is known that Trump’s largest political donor — Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson — was responsible for the Jerusalem move, it is not known if Adelson had a hand in Trump’s recent decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

However, the Golan Heights decision seems to be a combination of an effort to boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of reelection in May as well as pressure from the U.S.-based oil company Genie Energy, which seeks to develop the large oil reserves in the Golan discovered in 2015. Genie Energy’s Israeli subsidiary, Afek, was granted exclusive drilling rights in the Golan by Netanyahu soon after the oil’s discovery and the company’s board is stocked with powerful people, including Jacob Rothschild, Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch, among others.

Past statements from long-time Trump advisor, and current U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, suggest that Trump is likely to honor Smotrich’s request if it is repeated by other Israeli politicians with pull in Washington or connections to Adelson. Soon after Trump won the 2016 election, Friedman claimed that Trump would support Israel’s annexation of much of the West Bank and even the entire West Bank, if Israel “deemed it necessary.” 17

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article.

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“The Steele Dossier or the Hitler Diaries Mark II” | Craig Murray, Jan 11th 2017

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2017/01/hitler-diaries-mark-ii-hope-changed-mattress/

The mainstream media’s extreme enthusiasm for the Hitler Diaries shows their rush to embrace any forgery if it is big and astonishing enough. For the Guardian to lead with such an obvious forgery as the Trump “commercial intelligence reports” is the final evidence of the demise of that newspaper’s journalistic values.

We are now told that the reports were written by Mr Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 man, for Orbis Business Intelligence. Here are a short list of six impossible things we are asked to believe before breakfast:

1) Vladimir Putin had a five year (later stated as eight year) plan to run Donald Trump as a “Manchurian candidate” for President and Trump was an active and knowing partner in Putin’s scheme.
2) Hillary Clinton is so stupid and unaware that she held compromising conversations over telephone lines whilst in Russia itself.
3) Trump’s lawyer/adviser Mr Cohen was so stupid he held meetings in Prague with the hacker/groups themselves in person to arrange payment, along with senior officials of the Russian security services. The NSA, CIA and FBI are so incompetent they did not monitor this meeting, and somehow the NSA failed to pick up on the electronic and telephone communications involved in organising it. Therefore Mr Cohen was never questioned over this alleged and improbable serious criminal activity.
4) A private company had minute by minute intelligence on the Manchurian Candidate scheme and all the indictable illegal activity that was going on, which the CIA/NSA/GCHQ/MI6 did not have, despite their specific tasking and enormous technical, staff and financial resources amounting between them to over 150,000 staff and the availability of hundreds of billons of dollars to do nothing but this.
5) A private western company is able to run a state level intelligence operation in Russia for years, continually interviewing senior security sources and people personally close to Putin, without being caught by the Russian security services – despite the fact the latter are brilliant enough to install a Manchurian candidate as President of the USA. This private western company can for example secretly interview staff in top Moscow hotels – which they themselves say are Russian security service controlled – without the staff being too scared to speak to them or ending up dead. They can continually pump Putin’s friends for information and get it.
6) Donald Trump’s real interest is his vast financial commitment in China, and he has little investment in Russia, according to the reports. Yet he spent the entire election campaign advocating closer ties with Russia and demonising and antagonising China.

Michael Cohen has now stated he has never been to Prague in his life. If that is true the extremely weak credibility of the entire forgery collapses in total. What is more, contrary to the claims of the Guardian and Washington Post that the material is “unverifiable”, the veracity of it could be tested extremely easily by the most basic journalism, ie asking Mr Cohen who has produced his passport. The editors of the Washington Post and the Guardian are guilty of pushing as blazing front page news the most blatant forgery to serve their own political ends, without carrying out the absolutely basic journalistic checks which would easily prove the forgery. Those editors must resign.

The Guardian has published a hagiography in which it clarifies he cannot travel to Russia himself and that he depends on second party contacts to interview third parties. It also confirms that much of the “information” is bought. Contacts who sell you information will of course invent the kind of thing you want to hear to increase their income. That was the fundamental problem with much of the intelligence on Iraqi WMD. Highly paid contacts, through also paid third parties, were inventing intelligence to sell.

There is of course an extra level of venial inaccuracy here because unlike an MI6 officer, Steele himself was then flogging the information for cash. Nobody in the mainstream media has asked the most important question of all. What was the charlatan Christopher Steele paid for this dossier?

As forgeries go, this is really not in the least convincing. It was very obviously not written seriatim on the dates stated but forged as a collection and with hindsight. I might add I do not include the golden showers among the impossible aspects. I have no idea if it is true and neither do I care. Given Trump’s wealth and history, I think we can say with confidence that he has indulged whatever his sexual preferences might be all over the world and not just in Russia. It seems most improbable he would succumb to blackmail over it and not brazen it out. I suppose it could be taken as the sole example of trickledown theory actually working.

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“Muellergate and the discreet lies of the Bourgeoisie” | Craig Murray, April 1st 2019

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/04/muellergate-and-the-discreet-lies-of-the-bourgeoisie/

In general, since the Mueller report confirmed that $50 million worth of investigation had been unable to uncover any evidence of Russiagate collusion, the media has been astonishingly unrepentant about the absolute rubbish they have been churning out for years.

Harding and the Guardian’s story about Manafort repeatedly calling on Assange in the Ecuador Embassy is one of the most blatant and malicious fabrications in modern media history. It has been widely ridiculed, no evidence of any kind has ever been produced to substantiate it, and the story has been repeatedly edited on the Guardian website to introduce further qualifications and acknowledgements of dubious attribution, not present as originally published. But still neither Editor Katherine Viner nor author Luke Harding has either retracted or apologised, something which calls the fundamental honesty of both into question.

Manafort is now in prison, because as with many others interviewed, the Mueller investigation found he had been involved in several incidences of wrongdoing. Right up until Mueller finalised his report, media articles and broadcasts repeatedly, again and again and again every single day, presented these convictions as proving that there had been collusion with Russia. The media very seldom pointed out that none of the convictions related to collusion. In fact for the most part they related to totally extraneous events, like unrelated tax frauds or Trump’s hush-money to (very All-American) prostitutes. The “Russians” that Manafort was convicted of lobbying for without declaration, were Ukrainian and the offences occurred ten years ago and had no connection to Trump of any kind. Rather similarly the lies of which Roger Stone stands accused relate to his invention, for personal gain, of a non-existent relationship with Wikileaks.

The truth is that, if proper and detailed investigation were done into any group of wealthy politicos in Washington, numerous crimes would be uncovered, especially in the fields of tax and lobbying. Rich political operatives are very sleazy. This is hardly news, and if those around Clinton had been investigated there would be just as many convictions and of similar kinds. it is a pity there is not more of this type of work, all the time. But the Russophobic motive behind the Mueller Inquiry was not forwarded by any of the evidence obtained. […]

Robert Mueller repeats the assertion from the US security services that it was Russian hackers who obtained the DNC emails and passed them on to Wikileaks. I am telling you from my personal knowledge that this is not true.

Neither Mueller’s team, not the FBI, nor the NSA, nor any US Intelligence agency, has ever carried out any forensic analysis on the DNC’s servers. The DNC consistently refused to make them available. The allegation against Russia is based purely on information from the DNC’s own consultants, Crowdstrike.

William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA (America’s US$40 billion a year communications intercept organisation), has proven beyond argument that it is a technical impossibility for the DNC emails to have been transmitted by an external hack – they were rather downloaded locally, probably on to a memory stick. Binney’s analysis is fully endorsed by former NSA systems expert Ed Loomis. There simply are no two people on the planet more technically qualified to make this judgement. Yet, astonishingly, Mueller refused to call Binney or Loomis (or me) to testify. Compare this, for example, with his calling to testify my friend Randy Credico, who had no involvement whatsoever in the matter, but Mueller’s team hoped to finger as a Trump/Assange link.

The DNC servers have never been examined by intelligence agencies, law enforcement or by Mueller’s team. Binney and Loomis have written that it is impossible this was an external hack. Wikileaks have consistently stressed no state actor was involved. No evidence whatsoever has been produced of the transfer of the material from the “Russians” to Wikileaks. Wikileaks Vault 7 release of CIA documents shows that the planting of false Russian hacking “fingerprints” is an established CIA practice. Yet none of this is reflected at all by Mueller nor by the mainstream media.

“Collusion” may be dead, but the “Russiagate” false narrative limps on.

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1 From an article entitled “The Actual Collusion” written by Ted Rall, published in Counterpunch on March 28, 2019. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/03/28/the-actual-collusion/

2 From an article entitled “The Press Will Learn Nothing From the Russiagate Fiasco” written by Matt Tiabbi, published in Rolling Stone magazine on April 23, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/russiagate-fiasco-taibbi-news-media-826246/ 

3 Ibid.

4 From an article entitled “Dems need to find another strategy, the Mueller one flopped” written by Michael Graham, published in the Boston Herald on July 24, 2019. https://www.bostonherald.com/2019/07/24/dems-need-to-find-another-strategy-the-mueller-one-flopped/ 

5 From an article entitled “RIP, Russiagate” written by Aaron Maté, published in The Nation magazine on March 26, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/rip-russiagate/

6 From an article entitled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy” written by David Smith, published in the Guardian on February 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/17/putins-chef-a-troll-farm-and-russias-plot-to-hijack-us-democracy

7 From an article entitled “Russia-gate’s Mythical ‘Heroes’” written by Coleen Rowley, published in Consortium News on June 6, 2017. https://consortiumnews.com/2017/06/06/russia-gates-mythical-heroes/

8 From an article entitled “U.S. accuses Russia of cyberattacks ‘intended to interfere’ with election” written by Michael Isikoff, published in Yahoo! News on October 7, 2016. https://www.yahoo.com/news/u-s-accuses-russia-of-cyberattacks-intended-to-interfere-with-election-214628799.html

9 From an article entitled “Russia steps up trolling attacks on the West, U.S. intel report finds” written by Michael Isikoff, published in Yahoo! News on September 28, 2016. https://www.yahoo.com/news/russia-steps-up-trolling-attacks-on-the-west-u-s-intel-report-finds-203421008.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma

10 From an article entitled “Russian propaganda effort helped to spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” written by Craig Timberg, published in the Washington Post on November 24, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/russian-propaganda-effort-helped-spread-fake-news-during-election-experts-say/2016/11/24/793903b6-8a40-4ca9-b712-716af66098fe_story.html?utm_term=.a1008a7fedcf

11 From an article entitled “Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group” written by Glen Greenwald and Ben Norton, published in The Intercept on November 26, 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/

12 From an article entitled “US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims” published by consortiumnews.com on December 12, 2016. https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/12/us-intel-vets-dispute-russia-hacking-claims/

13 From an article entitled “CIA concludes Russia interfered to help Trump win election, say reports” written by Damien Gayle and agencies, published in the Guardian on December 10, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/10/cia-concludes-russia-interfered-to-help-trump-win-election-report?CMP=share_btn_tw

14 From an article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia” written by Max Blumenthal, published in Alternet on Decmeber 5, 2017. https://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/flynn-indictment-exposes-collusion-israel

15 From an article entitled “What’s in Al Jazeera’s undercover film on US Israel lobby?” written by Asa Winstanley, published in The Electronic Intifada on March 5, 2018. https://electronicintifada.net/content/whats-al-jazeeras-undercover-film-us-israel-lobby/23496

16 The transcript is mine. Footage of the statement is available here: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/03/25/netanyahu-trump-israel-golan-heights-declaration-sot-ip-vpx.cnn

17 From an article entitled “After Trump’s Golan Heights Announcement, Israeli Politicians Now Pushing for US Recognition of West Bank as ‘Israeli’” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 25, 2019. https://www.mintpressnews.com/after-trumps-golan-heights-announcement-israeli-politicians-now-pushing-for-us-recognition-of-west-bank-as-israeli/256510/

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voices from a half-forgotten war: Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett return to speak with Syria’s ‘wrong victims’

The following are extended extracts taken from recent reports written and published independently by journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read these excellent articles in their entirety.

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‘Wrong victims’ of Syria war left voiceless by mainstream media, condemn West for their suffering

July 24 | Vanessa Beeley

Now that the Syrian Arab Army and allies have swept much of Syria clean of the terrorist groups introduced into the country by the US interventionist alliance, the civilian trauma is surfacing and is being processed.

In 2005, playwright Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech sent shock waves around the ruling establishment. During the speech, Pinter described the US strategy of “low intensity” conflict:

“Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom.”

The West established the malignant growth in Syria and the wider region, the terrorist groups are a cancer that the Syrian Arab Army and the people of Syria have been battling to contain and cauterise before it spreads to the rest of the world. The gangrene can be perceived as the trauma, the effects of this externally-fomented conflict upon the Syrian people.

No war is without victims, but in the West we only hear about the right kind of victims, those that squeeze into the narrow, mono-dimensional frame of the Syrian conflict. A frame manufactured by the ruling globalists and their PR cohorts in their aligned media institutions who have willingly provided the coverage that conceals the obscene crimes of their own governments while inventing slogans to criminalise the Syrian government and allies.

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Habib Raaed’s son was murdered in June 2014. Terrorists embedded in the Damascus suburbs and countryside of Eastern Ghouta targeted the Al Thawra sports club and basketball court with mortars. Three children were murdered in this attack. Habib’s son Elias, Maya Wahbeh and Robert Qoozma whose legs were amputated in the French Hospital – he later died from his awful wounds on 3 July 2014.

I spoke with Habib in July 2019, he told me:

“My son, from when he was born until the day of the attack, he never hurt anyone, he never insulted anyone… he was playing basketball in this court where we are, he was hit by a shell from those monsters – the monsters created by the hostile nations – he (my son) was killed with two of his friends, many were injured, his sister was next to him but she couldn’t save him, she couldn’t do anything for him.”

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Also in 2014, George Ibrahim and his now 14-year-old son, Jean, went through the trauma of another terrorist attack upon Al Manar elementary school in the Old City of Damascus, in the Bab Touma area. This Armenian Christian school was targeted by mortars in April 2014. As the children were sitting and gathering in the playground in the morning before classes began at 8am, a mortar struck the heart of the courtyard – 9-year-old Jean was suddenly caught up in unimaginable carnage.

George Ibrahim with his son Jean – revisiting the scene of the 2014 terrorist mortar attack on Al Manar elementary school, Damascus. © Vanessa Beeley

Jean witnessed his best friend, Sinan Mtanious, murdered in front of him – the shrapnel passed through his neck, killing him instantly. Another child, Lauren Bashour, lost her legs in the attack according to the school director, Ghassan Al Issa. Ghassan showed me the exact spot the missile struck, on the steps where children gathered to talk and sit before class. Ghassan said that at least eight children suffered severe injuries, the loss of limbs or hands, multiple shrapnel wounds as the molten metal scythed through their young flesh.

When George came rushing back to the school to rescue his son he was confronted with scenes of bloodshed, shock and horror – he told me that the childrens’ bodies were everywhere, some with limbs missing, many bleeding profusely from their open wounds, but he could not find his son anywhere, his panic was overwhelming. In fact, although grievously injured, Jean had somehow managed to stagger to the school entrance and had been bundled into the first ambulance by the SAA soldiers who had rushed to help the children. When George finally found his son, it was in the nearby French Hospital where Jean begged his father to “not let him die.”

In an interview with local media, Jean later demanded to know why the terrorists had done this, why they targeted children in school. Jean warned the terrorists that he “would talk to Jesus and ask him to punish them for their crimes” – even at that age, terribly injured and traumatised, Jean knew that the Western media (the BBC had visited the hospital) would not condemn this massacre nor would they headline his appeals for justice – he was not a ‘Bana’ or an ‘Omran’ – he was altogether the wrong kind of victim.

Jean was right – despite being in Damascus during the attack and witnessing the savagery of Western-backed armed gangs, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet still managed to spin the story away from condemnation of terrorist attacks and dishonestly in the direction of Syrian government responsibility.

When George and Jean agreed to talk to me about the attack five years later, in the same school courtyard where the blood of innocents had been shed, they both broke down as the nightmarish memories surfaced and opened wounds that had never been allowed to heal.

Click here to read the full article published on July 24th on Vanessa Beeley’s The Wall Will Fall website.

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Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp belie corporate media reporting

July 4 | Eva Bartlett

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups.

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

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Credit | War on the Rocks

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that, “the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

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Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all, a claim that would later be refuted by reports from both the UN and Red Crescent.

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

“We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp: “Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

“The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said, “There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States: “Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself.

Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report first published on July 4th by Mint Press News.

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Additional:

On Tuesday 23rd, Eva Bartlett spoke with Ryan Cristian of The Last American Vagabond about her recent trip to the Middle East and specifically the US-run al-Rukban internment camp in Syria, as well as what she personally witnessed while living in Palestine, and the parallels between the two atrocities (unfortunately the sound quality is quite poor in parts):

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Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells BBC: “you see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason”

On July 16th, BBC HARDtalk’s Zeinab Badawi visited to New York to interview Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who was attending high level talks at the UN. Hostilities between Iran and the US are at a historic high; after the recent shooting down of the US drone, President Trump said he was “ten minutes away from war with Tehran.”

Asked by Zeinab Badawi whether he accepts that America doesn’t actually want war, Javad Zarif replied:

“I accept that President Trump doesn’t want war, but I know that there are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war.” [from 10:10 mins]

With regards to how he assesses the likelihood of war, Zarif says:

“You see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason. It’s next to our coast. We have almost 1,500 miles of coast with Persian Gulf. It’s not the Gulf of Mexico. We are there protecting our territorial waters and if this drone had been shot in international waters – over international airspace – why did we get to pick up the pieces?” [from 10:30 mins]

The pretext for war with Iran is a familiar one – Iran is constructing weapons of mass destruction. In fact, for decades hawks in the West have echoed the claims made by Netanyahu that Iran is on the brink of building the bomb. This month we even heard Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt state without evidence that Iran is just a year away from developing a nuclear bomb.

In response to claims that Iran is a year away from making a nuclear bomb, Javad Zarif says:

“If Iran wanted to build a bomb, we would have built a bomb a long time ago. We could have built a bomb a long time ago. We do not want to build a bomb because we believe that a nuclear bomb will not augment our security. But if the Europeans are serious about a nuclear weapons free Middle East, there is somewhere else that they need to be looking and that is Israel where they have at least 200 warheads.” [from 9:20 mins]

Zeinab Badawi then poses the questions another way, suggesting that Iran might “stumble into a war”, to which Zarif replies:

“Well again, it’s the Persian Gulf because it’s next to our borders. It’s a body of water that Iran has protected, Iran has maintained the security and freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for millennia, and we will continue to do that. We are the major power in that region… Those who have brought their naval vessels to Persian Gulf are not helping to secure this body of water. […]

“Of course there is a possibility of accidents, but we cannot leave our own neighbourhood. Those who have come from outside have to decide why are they in that neighbourhood? And whether their presence in that neighbourhood is helping stability and security in that neighbourhood?  […]

As President Trump has said we were ten minutes away from war, because had they taken measures against Iran, President Trump had been told that Iran would be taking measures in self-defence.”

[from 11:55 mins]

Adding:

“The united States is right now engaged in economic war against Iran. There are countries that are providing the United States with logistical support, with reconnaissance; that means they are participating in the war… If there is a war then I do not think anybody will be safe in our region, but let us all try to avoid one. We don’t need a war; we’ve gone through eight years of war; a war that was imposed on us with the help of everybody.” [from 13:30 mins]

Javad Zarif is also highly critical of Europe and the easy way it has capitulated to US sanctions:

“If the Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, all of them try not to allow the united States to bully them into abiding by its decision, would the United States be able to destroy the global economy and put sanctions on all of them?” [from 4:10 mins]

Continuing:

“So you want to accept US dominance in global economy even to your own detriment? Unfortunately, this is what they’re saying and I don’t think this way they can resolve this crisis or any crisis. The Europeans and the rest of the global community are strong enough to withstand this… People are dying from cancer. Kids are dying from EB. People are dying from MS. Just because there are a very limited [range] of pharmaceuticals that we cannot produce in Iran and the United States says that they are exempt from sanctions but financial transactions in order to purchase them are not exempt.” [from 5:10 mins]

Asked why Iran has begun to enrich uranium to higher grades than those sanctioned under the JCPOA ‘Iran deal’, Javad Zarif says:

“We implemented the agreement fully. IAEA made 15 reports from the beginning: 5 of them after the US withdrawal; and all of them indicated thatIran was fulfilling its commitments fully. Unfortunately, the Europeans could not take advantage of this and just dragged their feet. It won’t happen again. You know Iran is a country with an old civilisation. For us the dignity of our people is extremely important. [from 7:25 mins]

Pressed by Zeinab Badawi who asks “so why enrich the uranium… partial compliance is not acceptable”, Zarif responds:

“The Europeans cannot say whether partial or full compliance is acceptable or not. It’s the deal itself. Paragraph 36 of the deal says that Iran or the other side – if we are not satisfied with the implementation of the deal by the other side, we can take some measures within the deal. That is in order to keep the deal surviving: to keep it from going totally dead. […]

“This deal was written based on total mistrust. Neither side trusted the other side. That is why we put everything in black and white. Very clearly stated that if we don’t comply, what they can take. If we are the initial breakers of the deal, they can take measures. If they are the initial breakers of the deal, they can also take measures.” [from 8:15 mins]

And later in the interview:

“Look we did not leave the negotiation table. It was the United States that left the negotiating table… You see this deal was the subject of twelve years of negotiations, two years of which were intense negotiations. I spent days, months, negotiating this. We spent a lot of time with the United States negotiating this deal. It’s about give and take… if you allow a bully to bully you into accepting one thing, you’ll encourage him to bully you into accepting other things. We negotiated this deal. We did what we were supposed to do; the US did not do what it is supposed to do. The United States is working on the policy line that what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.” [from 16:50 mins]

In response to broader Western accusations that Iran’s meddling has destabilised the region, Zarif says:

“Did we support Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran? Did we support ISIS? I mean President Trump himself said Iran is fighting ISIS. Are we bombing the Yemenis? Did we invade Yemen? Was it Iran that basically arrested the Prime Minister of Lebanon and kept him in prison for three weeks? If the United States is looking for those responsible for malign behaviour in the region the United States needs to look at its own allies. […]

“President Trump has said that I am not engaged in military war against Iran that I am engaged in economic war against Iran. What does it mean to be engaged in economic war? Economic war targets civilians, military war targets military personnel, civilians are sometimes collateral damage. But an economic war targets civilians. The United States Secretary Pompeo has said that we want the Iranian people to change their government. So putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorising Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That’s the classical definition of terrorism. […]

“Mike Pompeo’s allies in our region, Saudi Arabia, spend 67 billion dollars a year on military equipment. They are bombing the Yemenis. Are we doing that? We only spent 16 billion dollars last year on the entire military budget.”

[from 19:00 mins]

Finally, regarding the seizure of the oil tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar by British Royal Marines who boarded the ship on July 4th, Zarif says bluntly:

“It’s piracy plain and simple. First of all there are EU sanctions against buying Syrian oil, not against selling Syria oil… but we announced from the very beginning that that ship was not destined for Syria. […]

“The Tanker is not Iranian. It was carrying Iranian oil, which we had sold, and it was going to a place in the Mediterranean other than Syria. We made it clear. You know that we are under sanctions from the United States [and] their objective is to bring our oil sales to zero. That is why we will do whatever we can to avoid the United States knowing what we are doing.

“One more thing. The United Kingdom, by taking our ship – by confiscating our ship – is helping the United States imposing its illegal oil sanctions against Iran. This is not about EU sanctions against Syria, this is about Iran. That is why John Bolton thanked Great Britain for giving them the best Fourth of July present possible.

“If the UK wants to serve US interests they should not be talking about trying to preserve the JCPOA.”

[from 14:30 mins]

All transcriptions above are my own.

Click here to watch this interview uploaded on BBC iplayer, which is available for 11 months.

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Don’t attack Iran: take urgent action to stop the build up to war

The following statement has just been released by Stop the War Coalition:

Last night the Trump administration took us to the brink of war with Iran. According to the New York Times, the order to attack communications and military bases, including missile installations, was sent out and operations begun. Planes had taken off and ships were in position to attack. Shortly before the attack was due to start, it was cancelled.

All this points to the extreme danger presented by the current crisis. The fact that the top US foreign policy decision makers – Trump, Pompeo and Bolton – are all committed to a policy of confrontation with Iran is not an accident. It reflects the balance of opinion across Washington that a hard line is necessary with the Islamic Republic. This policy – most obviously expressed in the scrapping of the nuclear deal with Iran last year – can only reinforce the position of hardliners in Tehran. It means too that there are powerful forces in Washington that are looking for the pretext for war and will seize any opportunity for an attack.

A war with Iran would have incalculable consequences, greater even than the disastrous war on Iraq in 2003. In these circumstances, the anti-war movement must mobilise now to pressure our government to publicly oppose Washington’s recklessness and demand that military action is ruled out.

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Action you can take:

Join the Stop the War PROTEST on Wednesday 26th June at 5:00 pm outside Downing Street

SIGN the online petition.

Take part in the nationwide campaign day on Saturday 29th June:

Protest, petition or set up a stall. The need to campaign against a war on Iran is urgent. Do what you can in your local area to pressure our government to call for de-escalation and explicitly rule out military options against Iran.

Contact Stop the War Coalition (office@stopwar.org.uk or 0207 561 4830) with details of your actions and StWC will post them.

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Why the Risks of War with Iran are Real | Chris Nineham

Neither the US nor Iran really wants war we are told, because the reality of such a conflict is too horrific to contemplate. But the Gulf tanker crisis and the US response shows that we are alarmingly close to open hostilities. It is true that there are voices in the US defence establishment calling for restraint. It appears to be the case too that the Iranian government is operating on the assumption that the US doesn’t want a war. But there are several reasons why such assumptions are not a sound basis for judgement.

First, some do want military action against Iran. And they really are not marginal players. They include notably the US’s two main allies in the Middle East and the two most senior foreign policy officials in the US government. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel have been putting a strong case for action against Iran for some years. The US and its Western allies are closer to these countries governments than they have ever been.

John Bolton, who as National Security Advisor is the last man in any meeting with the President, is famously an advocate of war against the Islamic Republic. But Secretary of State Pompeo is equally hawkish. As a Republican Tea Party member of Congress from 2011 to 2017, he regularly called for regime change in Iran. In 2014, Pompeo demanded the Obama administration break off the talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal. He even called instead for launching airstrikes, saying fewer than 2,000 bombing sorties could take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

No surprises then that Pompeo’s response to the attacks on tankers in the Gulf has been to insist without credible evidence that Iran is responsible and throw in a highly questionable list of alleged recent Iranian atrocities for good measure. On top of the last round of tanker attacks these include an assault on the Green Zone in Baghdad not previously linked to Iran and a bombing in Afghanistan that has actually been claimed by the Taliban. Listening to his statement it was hard not to be reminded of the adrenaline pumped pronouncements in the run up to war in Iraq.

Donald Trump’s impulsive foreign policy style is hardly reassuring in this situation. His record of provocative action includes threatening North Korea with a nuclear strike, dropping the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in Afghanistan and surprise missile blitzes in Syria. But such confrontational and unpredictable behaviour isn’t just a quirk of personality. Despite Trump’s apparent isolationist rhetoric during his election campaign, America First policy has in practice meant less concern with multilateral institutions and an increased belligerence in key areas.

The general view in Washington is that Barack Obama’s strategy of projecting US power through proxies and drone warfare, stressing alliances and power balancing, failed to deal with the national humiliation in Iraq and Afghanistan or to rise to new challenges. Hence arms spending has been ramped up, and confronting Russia and Chinese influence has been flagged as the central concern. Faced with growing military challengers the administration’s approach is essentially to take them on and win.

The Iran policy has been developed in this context. Scrapping the nuclear deal and tightening sanctions on Iran are chiefly designed to inflict regime change but are also meant as a signal of a new bullishness in the Middle East and beyond. The results have been disastrous. The Iranian currency has plummeted, imports have been badly effected and living standards have fallen sharply. Last month’s ending of the oil exemptions has brought things to crisis point. Oil exports, by far Iran’s biggest earner, look like halving this month compared to last. Even in the short term, this is extremely damaging. Far from encouraging domestic opposition to the regime, most commentators agree this economic warfare is strengthening anti-western feeling and pushing the regime towards retaliation.

In the last few days Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but rejected the invitation he apparently carried from Trump saying “I do not consider Trump as a person worth exchanging any message with and I have no answer for him, nor will I respond to him in the future.”

War with Iran is closer than it has ever been. Just like in the run up to war in Iraq, there is a very powerful Washington lobby who think it is sound policy. In general, the Washington foreign policy establishment is on a rebound from the perceived timidity of the Obama years, in particular the situation with Iran is becoming tenser by the day. War can be avoided but the anti-war movement needs to be active and organised.

Click here to read the same article posted by StWC on Monday 17th.

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Alternative action you can take:

Pass the StWC resolution at your local party or trade union branch:

This branch notes:

That the US is on the verge of war with Iran, escalating a dangerous situation in the Middle East to the brink of a regional war.

That this is part of the policy of regime change advocated by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s two senior foreign policy officials.

That the wars pursued by our government, following the US’ lead, have been opposed by the majority of the population who want to see a change in UK foreign policy.

That the so-called special relationship has helped to tie Britain to a failed and damaging foreign policy.

This branch believes:

Rather than falling in line with the Trump administration’s dangerous brinkmanship, the British government should be calling for restraint and de-escalation and explicitly ruling out military options.

That Britain needs a new, independent, foreign policy based on co-operation and diplomacy. That such a policy would end the waste of billions of pounds that would be better spent on welfare, education and the NHS.

That the anti-war movement has played an important role in creating anti-war opinion in this country and strengthening the movement is essential to achieving a change in foreign policy.

This branch resolves:

  • To demand the government opposes military action on Iran.
  • To affiliate to Stop the War Coalition.
  • To oppose future foreign military interventions by the UK government.

DOWNLOAD HERE

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In the event of a US attack on Iran: protest @ Downing Street – details TBC.

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Filed under campaigns & events, Iran

let’s bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran… but first we need the pretext

Remember this outburst from former Republican presidential candidate, the late John McCain?

How about this obscene proposal from Trump’s largest donor Sheldon Adelson:

“What I would say is listen, you see that desert out there? I want to show you something. You pick up your cell phone… even at travelling rates… and what are they called? Roaming charges. You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say ‘Okay, let it go’. So there’s an atomic weapon goes over on a ballistic missile, so it’s in the middle of the desert and it doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever. And then you say ‘See – the next one is in the middle of Tehran.’ So we mean business.”

And it is important we do not forget General Wesley Clark’s well-known testimony that in the weeks following 9/11 he had been passed a memo by staff at the Pentagon from the office of the Secretary of Defense, then occupied by Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Paul Wolfowitz:

“that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” [from 1:20 mins]

Finishing off, Iran… Shouldn’t his statement still send a chill?

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So now let’s consider the main advocates for war on Iran today: Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton.

Here is an extended extract taken from an article I posted in response to Bolton’s appointment as National Security Advisor back in April 2018:

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 1, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 2

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 3

Click here to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 4

Click here to read the post from April 14th entitled “illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2”.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, arguing that “regime change” may be the international community’s only option to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in 2007:

Then more than a decade later on New Year’s Day 2018:

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Mike Pompeo was first appointed by Trump as Director of the CIA, and once his feet were under the table he immediately reaffirmed US good relations with Saudi Arabia before setting his sights on Iran. Michael D’Andrea is a notorious CIA hard-liner who had already earned the nicknames ‘Dark Prince’ and ‘Ayatollah Mike’, this bloodthirsty reputation gained after he “ramp[ed] up the drone program inside Pakistan… [and] also expanded its drone program to Yemen”. Then in June 2017, Pompeo moved D’Andrea to head the CIA’s Iran operations. 5

Within a year, Pompeo was himself promoted to serve as Secretary of State in Trump’s cabinet alongside the newly appointed Bolton. At his swearing-in ceremony Pompeo spoke of “confronting all types of Iranian hostility, and… deciding on the next steps for the flawed JCPOA [i.e., the Iran deal].” In his next breath he also echoed Trump’s election promise made at AIPAC, adding: “And we will soon move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, years ahead of schedule.” The rest is now history, of course.

One of the first speeches Pompeo gave after becoming Secretary of State was to the ultra conservative Heritage Foundation. In it he makes little secret of America’s intention to seek regime change in Iran:

“I can’t put a timeline on it, but at the end of the day, the Iranian people will decide the timeline… The Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly that will be wonderful. If they choose not to do so, we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes that I set forth.” 6

Shortly after this, he also compared Iran’s leaders to a “mafia” 7

Which brings us to the latest two attacks on oil tankers sailing in the Gulf of Oman, and to Mike Pompeo’s statement that it is “the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks”:

“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

Yet even the BBC news report from which this transcript is taken, has taken the trouble to insert a huge caveat. It reads: “Mr Pompeo presented no evidence”, before going on to reproduce the rest of Pompeo’s (baseless) allegations in full. 8

Mike Pompeo has repeatedly said he wants regime change in Iran, whilst Bolton has still more aggressively called for war on Iran, and who are we to doubt their word especially in light of America’s track record for illegal wars and invasions. So you would have to be extremely naive to trust any story that can usefully serve as yet another pretext for yet another Middle Eastern war, especially so when it is directed against the perennial arch-enemy of the neo-cons Iran. You must be that much more naive again when such allegations are made while the drums to war are already pounding:

As the Trump administration ratchets up tensions with Iran, escalating fears that the United States is looking for a possible path to another war in the Middle East, several Democratic presidential contenders are standing firm in their rejection of the White House’s attempts to create a legal rationale for war. They were responding to comments Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made in a May 21 classified briefing for members of Congress that suggested that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, passed by Congress three days after 9/11 could provide a legal basis for a war with Iran.

From an article published in yesterday’s The Intercept, which continues:

In interviews with The Intercept, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as well as spokespeople for Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said it would be illegal for the U.S. government to rely on a 2001 law that authorized military force against perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to go to war with Iran.

Five other prominent Democratic senators, including 2016 vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, filed a bipartisan amendment on Thursday to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for the 2020 fiscal year to prohibit funds from being used for military operations against Iran without congressional approval. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky also joined the Democrats.

Pompeo’s remarks were referenced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., early Thursday in a House Armed Services Committee markup session and confirmed to The Intercept by Gabbard, who was also present at the May briefing. 9

Click here to read the full report by The Intercept entitled “Mike Pompeo Said Congress Doesn’t Need to Approve War With Iran. 2020 Democrats Aren’t Having It.”

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If we set aside the obvious march to war, and also the recent history of other wars founded on lies and deceptions, and the more distant history of false flags including perhaps most pertinently the entirely phoney Gulf of Tonkin Incident that led to full-blown war against Vietnam, and also look right past the bellicose biographies of Bolton and Pompeo, such as to limit considerations solely and directly to the immediate facts as we find them, then still the case against Iran looks an extremely flimsy one. Here are three responses to the evidence as it has been so far presented.

In an article published today by Global Research, Stephen Lendman closely scrutinises the allegations on the basis of available evidence. He writes:

On Thursday, CENTCOM [US Central Command] used easily manipulated video footage to claim Iranian mines were responsible for damaging the Kokuka Courageous tanker, one of two vessels damaged in the Gulf of Oman.

On Friday, Yutaka Katada, president of the company owning the tanker refuted the claim, saying there’s a “high chance” that a “flying object” struck the ship, not a mine as the Trump regime claimed.

“I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” he stressed, adding: “The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole. Then some crew witnessed the second shot.”

No credible evidence backs the Trump regime claim about Iranian responsibility for what happened.

Aside from Britain sticking to the fabricated Trump regime claim, other European countries are dubious about its accuracy.

On Friday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the CENTCOM

“video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s senior advisor Nathlie Tocci expressed a similar view, saying:

“Before we blame someone, we need credible evidence,” adding:

Claiming Iran attacked a Japanese-owned tanker while its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran on a diplomatic mission “is not an especially rational thing to do.”

Operations Wolverines (OW) describes itself as follows:

“Deep State Denizen. COGSEC. IO. Critical thinking. Narrative Hijacking. High Brow Memetics. Fusion Analysis. Disruption Operations.”

In response to CENTCOM’s dubious video, falsely claiming an Iranian mine struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker, OW tweeted the following:

“I’ve reviewed 100+ hours of BDA and I can tell you this, the Navy edited this video and it’s now misleading.”

“Missing: data (skew angle, speed, GEO coordinates, etc), color (converted to black and white), platform, pilot commentary, and it’s too zoomed in.”

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted the following:

“That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded to Thursday’s Gulf of Oman incident saying:

“Moscow resolutely condemns the attacks whoever might be behind them,” adding:

“We think it necessary to refrain from quick conclusions. It is inadmissible to place responsibility for the incident on anyone until a thorough and unbiased international investigation is over.”

“We are worried over the tensions in the Gulf of Oman. We take note of deliberate efforts to whip up tensions, which are largely encouraged by the United States’ Iranophobic policy.”

As of now, the Trump regime failed to get world community support for what appears to have been a Thursday false flag to blame Iran for what no evidence suggests it had anything to do with.

It’s likely just a matter of time before something similar occurs again, pushing things closer to war on Iran in a part the world already boiling from US aggression.

[bold highlights as original]

Click here to read the full article entitled “Trump Regime Lurching Toward Possible War on Iran” published by Global Research.

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Craig Murray has also made the case that these attacks are a rather obvious false flag provocation:

I really cannot begin to fathom how stupid you would have to be to believe that Iran would attack a Japanese oil tanker at the very moment that the Japanese Prime Minister was sitting down to friendly, US-disapproved talks in Tehran on economic cooperation that can help Iran survive the effects of US economic sanctions.

The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was holed above the water line. That rules out a torpedo attack, which is the explanation being touted by the neo-cons.

The second vessel, the Front Altair, is Norwegian owned and 50% Russian crewed (the others being Filipinos). It is owned by Frontline, a massive tanker leasing company that also has a specific record of being helpful to Iran in continuing to ship oil despite sanctions.

It was Iran that rescued the crews and helped bring the damaged vessels under control.

That Iran would target a Japanese ship and a friendly Russian crewed ship is a ludicrous allegation. They are however very much the targets that the USA allies in the region – the Saudis, their Gulf Cooperation Council colleagues, and Israel – would target for a false flag. It is worth noting that John Bolton was meeting with United Arab Emirates ministers two weeks ago – both ships had just left the UAE.

The USA and their UK stooges have both immediately leapt in to blame Iran. The media is amplifying this with almost none of the scepticism which is required. I cannot think of a single reason why anybody would believe this particular false flag. It is notable that neither Norway nor Japan has joined in with this ridiculous assertion.

Click here to read the same piece entitled “The Gulf of Credibility” on Craig Murray’s blog.

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Likewise, Vijay Prashad challenged US claims that Iran attacked the oil tankers on yesterday’s Real News, and called for a full investigation to uncover the truth:

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1

“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

 

2 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

3 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

4 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

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When Mr. D’Andrea took over as the counterterrorism chief, only a handful of the agency’s drones were operational in Pakistan, and there were only three strikes that year, according to the Long War Journal, which keeps a tally of drone activity. By 2010, when the drone campaign was at its height, the agency launched 117 strikes against Qaeda militants and other jihadists sheltering in the mountainous tribal areas that run along Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.

The agency also expanded its drone program to Yemen under Mr. D’Andrea’s direction, and many in the C.I.A. credit him with playing an instrumental role in impairing Al Qaeda.

From an article entitled “C.I.A. Names New Iran Chief in a Sign of Trump’s Hard Line” written by Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 2, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20170602174554/https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/world/middleeast/cia-iran-dark-prince-michael-dandrea.html

6 Quoted in an article entitled “Iran told: comply with US demands or face ‘strongest sanctions in history’” written by Julian Borger and Heather Stewart, published in the Guardian on May 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/21/iran-nuclear-deal-mike-pompeo-us-sanctions

7

Pompeo, in a California speech to a largely Iranian-American audience, dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who negotiated a nuclear deal with the United States and five other countries, as “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry.” […]

Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said, citing what he called Iranian leaders’ vast wealth and corruption.

From an article entitled “Pompeo assails Iran’s leaders, compares them to ‘mafia’” written by Warren Strobel and Dana Feldman, published in Reuters on July 23, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-iran-pompeo/pompeo-assails-irans-leaders-compares-them-to-mafia-idUKKBN1KD04E

8 From an article entitled “Gulf of Oman tanker attacks: Iran calls US accusation ‘unfounded’” published by BBC news on June 14, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48630374

9 From an article entitled “Mike Pompeo Said Congress Doesn’t Need to Approve War With Iran. 2020 Democrats Aren’t Having It” written by Akela Lacy and Jon Schwarz, published in The Intercept on June 14, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/06/14/mike-pompeo-iran-war-authorization/

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terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time

The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] 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. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying 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.

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

“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.”

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

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 2015 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. 7

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’.

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

*

Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

*

1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

6 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

7 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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