Tag Archives: Aaron Maté

renewed calls for a full investigation into the OPCW Douma cover-up

On April 15th, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias faced questions about the Douma cover-up from Mick Wallace and Clare Daley of the European Parliament. Both Wallace and Daley asked Arias why he has refused to address the Douma cover-up and meet with the dissenting inspectors. The meeting chair, former French cabinet minister Nathalie Loiseau, tried to cut-off the questions and even apologized to Arias for them being posed.  Arias then made a series of excuses and even false claims.

The following day, the Douma scandal was discussed at an Arria Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The invited briefers at the meeting included Hans von Sponeck and Lawrence Wilkerson, two veteran diplomats who have signed a Statement of Concern about the Douma scandal, alongside other notable voices including five former OPCW officials. In his comments, von Sponeck revealed that Arias, the OPCW chief, refused to read the statement and returned it to sender. In response, the ambassadors of the nations that bombed Syria in April 2018 – the US, UK, and France – tried to dismiss the Douma cover-up scandal as Russian propaganda and refused to offer any substantive comments on the issue.

The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté also presented evidence to the UNSC and embedded below is a powerful report by Maté on what took place and why it is vital to counter the lies of the OPCW and its new chief Fernando Arias:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the third of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 19th 2019, was the Douma gas attack staged…? little by little the truth is coming out was the first of two articles (here is a link to the follow up) in which I presented some of the growing evidence disproving the official story surrounding the alleged Syrian chlorine gas attack in Douma and including the Twitter stream from BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, in which he claimed to have knowledge that the event was staged by terrorist faction Jaish al-Islam.

Do you remember these harrowing scenes shot inside a hospital in Douma from early April last year?

The footage of an alleged chemical attack is genuinely distressing. The children who have queued up to receive treatment are clearly suffering, and many have terrified looks in their eyes. However, within hours and with the actual arrival of journalists on the ground, the first reports differed markedly from claims presented in this video footage.

They did not find evidence to corroborate the story that poison gas had been released. Instead, they spoke to eyewitnesses who described the aftermath of conventional airstrikes, some of whom also talked about smoke and dust inhalation. (Here are extracts of these on-the-ground reports that I reposted at the time.)

“What you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani, an eyewitness working in the clinic, told Robert Fisk of The Independent. The same doctor also explained how although the patients were suffering from smoke and dust inhalation, “someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.” 1 This story was later corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of others including 11-year-old Hassan Diab (one of the children seen in the video) and by members of the hospital staff. 2

In short, what the video shows is real in one sense, but in another way this is a manufactured panic that was staged, repackaged and distributed all by the White Helmets group. In different circumstances, the footage would be called fake news because it is.

The tweet above was written by BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, and it first came to light in February before being swiftly deleted. “After almost 6 months of investigations”, Dalati claims, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

Continuing in another tweet:

Truth is James Harkin got the basics right in terms of Douma’s “propaganda” value. The ATTACK DID HAPPEN, Sarin wasn’t used, but we’ll have to wait for OPCW to prove Chlorine or otherwise. However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

In the same thread Dalati added:

I can tell you that Jaysh al-Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist. They coopted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation. In fact, one of the 3 or 4 people filming the scene was Dr. Abu Bakr Hanan, a “brute and shifty” doctor affiliated with Jaysh Al-Islam. The narrative was that “there weren’t enough drs” but here is one filming and not taking part of the rescue efforts. Will keep the rest for later.

As Zerohedge reported at the time:

Interestingly, the BBC’s Dalati had actually first hinted he knew that elements surrounding the Douma attack had been staged a mere days after the incident.

In a now deleted April 11, 2018 tweet, he had stated: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

Thus far mainstream networks have not picked up on this latest bombshell admission from the BBC producer, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any formal response from the BBC based on the Russian foreign ministry’s request. 3

Click here to read the full report entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden.

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More recently, a suppressed OPCW report was made public by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The following extracts are drawn from an excellent overview put together by Kit Knightly and published at Off-Guardian:

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2 : ”The Patio”

Location 4: ”The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of the Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly.

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The corporate media has so far paid little attention to the leaked OPCW document. This can be justified, of course, if as the OPCW contend:

“the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM [OPCW Fact-Finding Mission]”

However, the provenance of the document was in fact established by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media prior to publicly releasing it. As they explain:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, who is listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We have confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM, Henderson was assigned to lead the investigation of the cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand that “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

Moreover:

The engineering sub-team could not have been carrying out studies in Douma at Locations 2 and 4 unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (the body that oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely that Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

And lastly:

The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter. 5

Click here to read more from the briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

One mainstream journalist who did pick up and report on news of the leak is Peter Hitchens:

[A]s I said in my March 9th article ‘On the subject of the cylinders it [the OPCW’s final report] says physical evidence was ‘consistent’ with the view that the cylinders had passed through the concrete roof of the building in which they were found. […]

The leaked document differs sharply from this. So I set out first of all to discover if the OPCW disputed the claim that the leaked document came from within its organisation. As you will see from the response below (As it is mostly flannel, I have highlighted the key words), it does not dispute this. I also asked them to confirm that its named author was in fact an OPCW employee. As you will see from the response below, it declined to confirm the latter. I think, if it had wished to do so, it could have disowned the name person.

I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:

‘The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed.  All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat.

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. (my emphasis, PH)

 At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.’

I thank the OPCW for confirming that the document is genuine. 6

[All emphasis retained from Peter Hitchen’s original article]

Click here to read Peter Hitchen’s full article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” published by the Mail Online.

On the basis of available evidence, the OPCW is a compromised intergovernmental body whose independence can no longer be relied upon. Previously the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media had concluded that:

“It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”

On the basis of the latest disclosure, however, their revised statement concludes more forcibly addressing what it describes as “the hijacking of OPCW”:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. 7

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version below. You are encouraged to download it and share it widely:

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As the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media rightly assert, there were victims who were killed at Douma. The most graphic video footage shows literally dozens of corpses lying on top of one another, with some appearing to have a kind of froth on their mouths. These victims were originally said to have been sheltering in an underground shelter where the gas canisters were allegedly dropped, although it seems more probable that the scenes are from inside a flat. Embedded below is only uploaded version I can find on youtube – it forms the opening segment to a CNN bulletin [the footage runs from 30–60 secs]:

Back in 2013, Euronews interviewed Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute, who had outlined inconsistencies in footage of patients’ symptoms released following the earliest alleged chemical attacks:

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

As the evidence stacks up that the Douma gas attack was entirely staged, the most likely explanation is therefore a macabre one. Jonathan Cook puts it plainly:

An atrocity that appears to be corroborated again by BBC producer Riam Dalati in another of his follow-up tweets:

Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.

Tyler Durden, in the same Zerohedge article, writes:

Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed-out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies. 8

Click here to read Tyler Durden’s full article.

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One final thought as the corporate media turns a blind eye to the approach of the annual “private gathering” of our senior politicians, business leaders, and other movers and shakers at Bilderberg – with days to go the venue still remains a closely guarded secret – it is noteworthy (as I have noted previously) that Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of the OPCW during the Douma investigation, was in attendance at the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria (June 2015) just short of three years prior to the Douma incident. His stay at this secretive conference with its strictly off-the-record political agenda meant rubbing elbows with top brass from Nato, CEOs of the major arms manufactures, and senior politicians including ministers of defence, which clearly compromises the independence and discredits claims of impartiality of this former chief of OPCW. There is a conflict of interests here that needs to be investigated.

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1 From an article entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attacks” written by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent on April 17, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

2 Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

3 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

4 From an article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly, published in Off-Guardian on May 14, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/05/14/leaked-report-douma-chemical-attack-likely-staged/ 

5 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

6 From an article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” written by Peter Hitchens, published in the Mail Online on May 16, 2019. https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2019/05/strange-news-from-the-opcw-in-the-hague-.html

7 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

8 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

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PR rebranding of al-Qaeda in Syria – take three!

Back in February, Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline programme conducted an interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and commander-in-chief of its rebranded offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Jolani, who has been identified as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US State Department, currently has a $10 million bounty on his head:

The interview conducted by Frontline’s Martin Smith is essentially a “media show”—Smith’s own words—staged to whitewash the bloody history of the Al Nusra Front’s terrorism in Syria and provide Jolani with a forum for proclaiming the front’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a legitimate political force and natural ally of Washington. The terrorist designation attached to himself and his organization was “unfair” and “political,” Jolani said.

Smith asked Jolani to take a pledge: “Will you say here and now then, very clearly, that you as a former Al Qaeda leader … will not support … any attacks against the United States?” The Al Qaeda veteran readily accepted.

The HTS leader was also allowed to issue blanket denials of the widespread charges of torture, disappearances, summary executions and severe repression of any form of dissent in the territory in Idlib under control of HTS gunmen. Those who made such charges, he said, were “Russian agents” or “regime agents.”

From an article entitled “Washington brings Syria’s Al Qaeda in from the cold” published wsws.org.

In the same piece Bill Van Auken continues:

A week before the broadcast, three women and one man, accused of adultery and attempted murder, were stoned to death by HTS security forces in the Idlib city center, one of many such barbaric public executions.

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report on Syria in which it described brutal repression of Idlib’s civilian population at the hands of HTS.

“Torture and ill-treatment were widespread,” it reported. “Torture was most common in Idlib central prison and its Shahin section, in Harem central prison and Ouqab prison, with methods including severe beatings, placing detainees in a ‘coffin’ or in a dulab (tyre) or suspending them by their limbs. Victims were frequently tortured during interrogation sessions, and held incommunicado to ultimately extract confessions. Some detainees were told to write a testimony dictated to them by the interrogators, or forced to sign or thumbprint a document, with no knowledge of its content. Some detainees died as a result of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care.” The report added that “former detainees described being sexually harassed, forced to strip naked, electrocuted on their genitals and raped in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham facilities.”

And on April 5, the Syrian Network for Human Rights confirmed that “at least 2,246 Syrian citizens are still detained or forcibly disappeared in HTS’s detention centers, constituting a grave threat to the detainees’ wellbeing, given the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

Concluding:

The attempt to rehabilitate Jolani not only exposes the lies, hypocrisy and criminality of US imperialist policy in the Middle East, it is a warning that new atrocities are being prepared in Washington’s quest for hegemony over the region and entire globe.

Click here to read the full article by Bill Van Auken published on April 7th.

As part of this same public relations campaign to rehabilitate the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which rules Idlib, Syria’s last militant-controlled province – former top US diplomat James Jeffrey, who served as US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy to the International military intervention against ISIL, also acknowledged on the same PBS show that HTS is a US “asset”:

“They are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, and Idlib is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East”

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Lindsey Snell is an independent journalist who reports from across the Middle East and North Africa. In 2016, she was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria – what was then called al-Nusra Front – and held captive for ten days before escaping. Recently interviewed by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone, she was asked about her response to James Jeffrey’s endorsement of HTS:

“It was shocking but not totally shocking because a year ago he made some similar comments – something along the lines of ‘they’re not like ISIS planning international attacks; they’re just in Syria’. Just softening the image of HTS already. So it’s just been a lead up to now – you know, now [he is] explicitly saying they are a US asset.” [from 4:45 mins]

She continues:

“It’s funny because their rebranding campaign actually started when I was their captive – they changed their name for the first time and they announced that they had split from al-Qaeda when I was their captive. It of course didn’t actually change anything and to this day most of them still call themselves Nusra. People in Syria referring to them call them Nusra. I mean their split from al-Qaeda was really just a cosmetic thing, it was surface level; it wasn’t real.

“They’re still the same group. They’re still the same terrorists. They’re inflicting Sharia law on everyone in their territories. While this New York Times journalist was there a few weeks ago, they executed three people for adultery. Stoned them to death.

“They’re the same group. And so all these things that they’re doing are cosmetic. I think that the only substantive thing that they’ve done is that they’re no longer capturing foreigners. I mean they’re no longer trying to take a foreign journalist and holding them for ransom. They’re working with Turkey to allow foreign journalists to basically come and propagandise for them.” [from 5:30 mins]

The full interview is embedded below:

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the first of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 27th 2019, terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time covers the BBC’s role in an earlier rebranding exercise.

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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

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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.

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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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5 former OPCW officials join prominent voices to call out Syria cover-up

Reprinted below is the full ‘Statement of Concern’ signed by more than twenty prestigious academics, journalists and leading weapons experts including five former OPCW officials who are named as Dr. Sabine Krüger, former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009; Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq; Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader; Alan Steadman, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & UNSCOM Inspector; and José Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France. The full list of signatories is attached at the end of the statement.

Click here to read the same statement as it originally appears posted on the Courage Foundation website on Thursday March 11th.

Embedded below is the latest broadcast of The Grayzone’s ‘Pushback’ in which Aaron Maté details the letter and airs clips of his and Tulsi Gabbard’s recent ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ appearance discussing the OPCW controversy:

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Statement of Concern

The OPCW investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Syria

We wish to express our deep concern over the protracted controversy and political fall-out surrounding the OPCW and its investigation of the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.

Since the publication by the OPCW of its final report in March 2019, a series of worrying developments has raised serious and substantial concerns with respect to the conduct of that investigation. These developments include instances in which OPCW inspectors involved with the investigation have identified major procedural and scientific irregularities, the leaking of a significant quantity of corroborating documents, and damning statements provided to UN Security Council meetings. It is now well established that some senior inspectors involved with the investigation, one of whom played a central role, reject how the investigation derived its conclusions, and OPCW management now stands accused of accepting unsubstantiated or possibly manipulated findings with the most serious geo-political and security implications. Calls by some members of the Executive Council of the OPCW to allow all inspectors to be heard were blocked.

The inspectors’ concerns are shared by the first Director General of the OPCW, José Bustani, and a significant number of eminent individuals have called for transparency and accountability at the OPCW. Bustani himself was recently prevented by key members of the Security Council from participating in a hearing on the Syrian dossier. As Ambassador Bustani stated in a personal appeal to the Director General, if the Organization is confident in the conduct of its Douma investigation then it should have no difficulty addressing the inspectors’ concerns.

To date, unfortunately, the OPCW senior management has failed to adequately respond to the allegations against it and, despite making statements to the contrary, we understand has never properly allowed the views or concerns of the members of the investigation team to be heard or even met with most of them. It has, instead, side-stepped the issue by launching an investigation into a leaked document related to the Douma case and by publicly condemning its most experienced inspectors for speaking out.

In a worrying recent development, a draft letter falsely alleged to have been sent by the Director General to one of the dissenting inspectors was leaked to an ‘open source’ investigation website in an apparent attempt to smear the former senior OPCW scientist. The ‘open source’ website then published the draft letter together with the identity of the inspector in question. Even more alarmingly, in a BBC4 radio series aired recently, an anonymous source, reportedly connected with the OPCW Douma investigation, gave an interview with the BBC in which he contributes to an attempt to discredit not only the two dissenting inspectors, but even Ambassador Bustani himself. Importantly, recent leaks in December 2020 have evidenced that a number of senior OPCW officials were supportive of one OPCW inspector who had spoken out with respect to malpractice.

The issue at hand threatens to severely damage the reputation and credibility of the OPCW and undermine its vital role in the pursuit of international peace and security. It is simply not tenable for a scientific organization such as the OPCW to refuse to respond openly to the criticisms and concerns of its own scientists whilst being associated with attempts to discredit and smear those scientists. Moreover, the on-going controversy regarding the Douma report also raises concerns with respect to the reliability of previous FFM reports, including the investigation of the alleged attack at Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

We believe that the interests of the OPCW are best served by the Director General providing a transparent and neutral forum in which the concerns of all the investigators can be heard as well as ensuring that a fully objective and scientific investigation is completed.

To that end, we call on the Director General of the OPCW to find the courage to address the problems within his organization relating to this investigation and ensure States Parties and the United Nations are informed accordingly. In this way we hope and believe that the credibility and integrity of the OPCW can be restored.

Signatories in Support of the Statement of Concern:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

Professor Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor U. of Arizona and Institute Professor (em), MIT.

Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor, Harper’s Magazine.

Daniel Ellsberg, PERI Distinguished Research Fellow, UMass Amherst. Former Defense and State Department official. Former official of Defense Department (GS-18) and State Department (FSR-1).

Professor Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University.

Tulsi Gabbard, former Presidential candidate and Member of the US House of Representatives (2013-2021).

Professor Dr. Ulrich Gottstein, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW-Germany).

Katharine Gun, former GCHQ (UKGOV), whistleblower.

Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary-General (1994-98).

Professor Pervez Houdbhoy, Quaid-e-Azam University and ex Pugwash.

Kristinn Hrafnnson, Editor in Chief, Wikileaks.

Dr. Sabine Krüger, Analytical Chemist, Former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009.

Ray McGovern, ex-CIA Presidential Briefer; co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (rtd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Professor Götz Neuneck, Pugwash Council and German Pugwash Chair.

Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader, Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq

John Pilger, Emmy and Bafta winning journalist and film maker.

Professor Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and Head Industry Inspections.

Professor John Avery Scales, Professor, Pugwash Council and Danish Pugwash Chair.

Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (Iraq).

Alan Steadman, Chemical Weapons Munitions Specialist, Former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and UNSCOM Inspector.

Jonathan Steele, journalist and author.

Roger Waters, Musician and Activist.

Lord West of Spithead, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 2002-06.

Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

Colonel (ret.) Lawrence B. Wilkerson, U.S. Army, Visiting Professor at William and Mary College and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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these materials may have been obtained through hacking…

After The Grayzone‘s Max Blumenthal reported on newly leaked documents exposing a massive UK government propaganda campaign against Russia, Twitter added an unprecedented warning label that “These materials may have been obtained through hacking.” Although Twitter may have intended to restrict the article, the warning had the opposite effect: it quickly went viral.

Here Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté discuss the suppression effort and the damning UK government leaks at the heart of it. After years of fear-mongering about Russian interference in Western democracies, these UK government files expose a sprawling propaganda effort that explicitly aims to “weaken” Russia. The documents reveal that this propaganda campaign has also enlisted major media outlets Reuters and the BBC, as well as the NATO member state-funded website Bellingcat.

Click here to full the original article entitled “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to ‘weaken Russia,’ leaked docs reveal”.

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Additional:

In the video below, Jimmy Dore outlines Twitter’s new rules and explains how in an absolutely Orwellian twist they are now literally redefining the word ‘hack’ to make it apply to all leaked materials. He also speaks to Max Blumenthal and they discuss an attempted policy reversal when Twitter briefly decided to remove their warning label [caution: strong language]:

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when hate speech is just dandy: release of CCE report throws into light the strange liberal love affair with Alexei Navalny

If I was to describe Muslim migrant workers arriving here from the south as cockroaches and then go so far as you recommend eradication as a solution, not only would I expect my readers to be absolutely disgusted, but I would think it quite justifiable for WordPress, Facebook and Twitter to censor such incendiary racist content. And I say this as an ardent proponent for free speech who fully supports the right for others to hold and spread contemptible opinions, not even debarring vile racism so long as it is within well-established restrictions that make it illegal to incite violence.

With this in mind, now watch “Alexei Navalny Certified Nationalist” (as his own caption reads) rallying his base by speaking to supporters in precisely this way in a political promo broadcast from 2007:

Click here to find the same content uploaded on the Internet Archive.

Ten years later in 2017, Navalny, already the darling of western liberals, was featured by the Guardian in an interview with Shaun Walker. A perfect opportunity to issue his apology and express some modicum of regret (even if phoney) for what the article lightly describes as “a number of disturbing videos, including one in which he is dressed as a dentist, complaining that tooth cavities ruin healthy teeth, as clips of migrant workers are shown.” Instead, however, we learn, Navalny remains “unapologetic”:

He sees it as a strength that he can speak to both liberals and nationalists. But comparing migrants to cockroaches? “That was artistic license,” he says. So there’s nothing at all from those videos or that period that he regrets? “No,” he says again, firmly.

Well hey ho, Navalny may speak in terms no different from Le Pen and Trump and with less restraint and worse manners, and be unrepentant in his choice of rancid language and imagery so long as it appeals to a slavering nationalist base, but quite unlike Le Pen and Trump he somehow still manages to tick all of the liberal boxes; his single discernible quality being his hostility towards Putin, which is evidently all that finally counts. The Guardian certainly gives Navalny a pass, Shaun Walker continuing:

Perhaps he has a cynical belief that, with the support of the liberal elite sewn up, the anti-migrant rhetoric can potentially help him appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, most opposition politicians, even if they don’t like Navalny much, are aware that he is the best hope for swelling anti-Putin sentiment. 1

However, not everyone is so forgiving. For perfectly understandable reasons therefore, and with public pressure mounting, on Tuesday Amnesty International quietly downgraded the status of Navalny, determining that he no longer fits their criteria for “prisoner of conscience”.

In dismay, the BBC yesterday reported:

A spokesman for the human rights organisation in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to “de-list” Navalny was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and “impede” Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody. 2

To be honest, I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about Alexei Navalny, and though our own liberal media has got into the unfortunate habit of fawning over Russia’s own Trump, his “anti-corruption” shtick (to drain the Kremlin swamp presumably!) seems to strike less of a chord with the average Russian. In the west, Navalny is endlessly held up as the poster child of Russian opposition, and yet in truth his political sideshow is seen more as a dubious irrelevance and especially by those on the left who are actually taking the battle to the oligarchs.

To better gauge Russian public opinion and hear a genuine left-wing take on Alexei Navalny, I recommend this recent Grayzone interview in which Katya Kazbek, the editor-in-chief of arts and culture magazine Supamodu.com; and Alexey Sakhnin, activist and a member of the Left Front, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin protest movement from 2011 to 2013, spoke with Aaron Maté:

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Unrelated but with perfect timing, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) yesterday released its long-awaited report. In it they are calling for new laws to tackle the spread of hate speech and the glorification of extremism.

Set up by Theresa May’s government back in 2017 in the shadow of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, the “independent” CCE, “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism,” 3 was headed up by a little-known activist called Sara Khan and ex-senior police officer, Sir Mark Rowley. At the time, the appointment of Khan came as a shock to many and was heavily criticised by anti-racist voices as politically diverse as former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Naz Shah and Diane Abbott, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, and CAGE, the London-based advocacy group for Muslim detainees.

Writing in Middle East Eye, Siema Iqbal expressed her own outrage at Khan’s appointment as follows:

An article Khan wrote that was published in a report by Hope Not Hate in 2017, which amounts to a collection of smears directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broad-brush strokes with which she portrayed these organisations, many of which are stalwarts of the community, does not command confidence. It is true that Khan is from the Pakistani and Muslim communities, but without legitimacy and without trust, this amounts to little.

Continuing:

[W]hat is more extraordinary, is that the government has launched a Commission to Counter Extremism when there is no actual legal definition of the term itself. How is it possible to work on something the government has failed to define?

Instead, why not engage more widely with Muslim community organisations and address the concerns around Prevent and the lack of transparency around the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit and its work?

Numerous academics, organisations and individuals have expressed their concerns around the discriminatory aspects of the Prevent policy and its pseudo-scientific basis, yet the government still refuses to call an independent enquiry.

The government may have found itself a Muslim woman to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office alongside others. However, she is outnumbered by those who will not. 4

Click here to read Siema Iqbal’s full article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment”.

The details of this new CCE report recommend the further tightening of controls on activities the commission describes as “hateful extremism”, which according to Mark Rowley is “where one group targets another to ‘to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology’ and wanting ‘to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence’”:

It is based on a concept already in use in terrorism trials, the “mindset material” where extremist material, such as from the far right or Islamist terrorist videos, are accepted as evidence of pre-existing extremism. […]

Rowley said a tougher approach for the internet was needed but technology companies had pointed out there was little more they could do until they [sic] was an accepted definition of what counted as extremism: “The magnifying effect of social media had transformed it from a sideshow to a major threat.”

The report said there were worrying signs the young were being duped by extremists.

From an article in the Guardian which also includes a response from a spokesman for CAGE – an organisation Sara Khan now claims could meet ‘the threshold for action’ – who in turn accuses the commission of “implementing an ‘official’ state-sanctioned policy of ‘cancel culture’ arguing for further restrictions on lawful speech”:

“After 3 years, and at great taxpayer expense, the CCE concludes its work without any further clarity on what ‘extremism’ is. Instead it promotes ideas from some of the most stridently Islamophobic and censorious organisations in the industry.” 5

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

While seemingly unconnected, the latest twist in the Navalny saga and the concurrent release of the CCE report throw abundant light on the double standards we see operating throughout the media. More alarmingly, the difference in the way cases are being treated seems to be indicative of a divergence at the level of law: what is deemed politically acceptable potentially informing what kinds of freedom of speech will be legally sanctioned in the future.

On the one hand, anyone in Britain presumed to be creating “a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence” may soon find themselves faced with the threat of prosecution. The big question is, of course, to whom will this legislation actually apply? Muslims understandably fear that once again they will be the ones targeted.

Meanwhile, censorship on the grounds of such vaguely defined infringements as “hateful extremism” provides yet another pretext to deplatform alternative opinion, which is deeply worrying at a time when freedom of speech, especially on the internet, is already under sustained attack and unwanted alternative opinions are already subjected to unprecedented levels of censorship.

On the other hand, describing Muslim migrant workers as cockroaches and openly calling for their eradication will doubtless continue to be passed over as a minor indiscretion and more actively defended as a justifiable ploy for gaining political traction against the enemy, just so long as your name is Alexei Navalny.

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1 From an article entitled “Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’” written by Shaun Walker, published in the Guardian on April 29, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/29/alexei-navalny-on-putins-russia-all-autocratic-regimes-come-to-an-end

2 From an article entitled “Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status” written by Sarah Rainford, published in BBC News on February 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56181084

3 From Theresa May’s statement following the terrorist attack near a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, published in full by BBC News on June 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40327996

4 From an article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment” written by Siema Iqbal, published in Middle East Eye on January 29, 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/68777

5 From an article entitled “New UK laws needed to stop hate speech and extremism, says report” written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on February 24, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/24/new-uk-laws-needed-to-stop-hate-speech-and-extremism-says-report

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José Bustani, former head of OPCW, blocked by US, UK and France from giving testimony to UNSC – you can read it here

Ian Henderson, a veteran OPCW inspector who challenged a cover-up of his organization’s investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, recently testified before the United Nations Security Council. At the meeting, Henderson was both attacked and ignored by US, UK, and French diplomats whose governments bombed Syria over allegations that Henderson’s censored investigation undermined.

Click here to watch Ian Henderson’s testimony and to read my previous post on the subject.

At another UN Security Council gathering one week later [Monday 5th Oct], the US and its allies continued their censorship campaign by voting to block the testimony of the OPCW’s former chief, José Bustani, who had come to speak out in support of the whistleblowers. The Grayzone obtained Bustani’s prepared statement and has published it in full (it is also reproduced below).

On yesterday’s Pushback, host Aaron Maté, who delivered his own statement to the first UNSC meeting (again, see previous post), recapped on these extraordinary events with excerpts of Henderson and Bustani’s comments, as well as those of the Western ambassadors who tried to silence them.

Although the UNSC hearings were called to look into allegations of the OPCW’s cover-up specifically during its investigation into an alleged chemical attack on Douma in April 2018 – accusations that then served as a pretext for the bombing of Syria by the US, UK and France – Aaron Maté felt compelled to also repudiate prior allegations of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta since this matter had been raised by the French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière.

I strongly advice readers to watch the final section of this episode [beginning at about 39 mins] which reviews Ian Henderson’s closing statement at the end of the first UNSC meeting, including Henderson’s claim of earlier political interference hampering the OPCW’s original investigative role inside Syria.

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As the OPCW’s first Director General, Bustani experienced first-hand the costs of challenging pro-war narratives. In 2002, he was personally threatened by John Bolton and ousted as OPCW chief after he facilitated inspections that stood in the way of the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq.

In testimony that the UN did not allow to be submitted, Bustani voices support for the OPCW inspectors who found evidence that undermined the official narrative (but were censored by their superiors under US pressure) and urges the current Director General, Fernando Arias, to let them air their suppressed evidence in a transparent manner.

“At great risk to themselves, [the inspectors] have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out,” Bustani says. “Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing.”

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A full transcript of José Bustani’s statement is reproduced below:

Mr Chairman, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, your excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is José Bustani. I am honoured to have been invited to present a statement for this meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Syrian chemical dossier and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As the OPCW’s first Director General, a position I held from 1997 to 2002, I naturally retain a keen interest in the evolution and fortunes of the Organisation. I have been particularly interested in recent developments regarding the Organisation’s work in Syria.

For those of you who are not aware, I was removed from office following a US-orchestrated campaign in 2002 for, ironically, trying to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention. My removal was subsequently ruled to be illegal by the International Labour Organisation’s Administrative Tribunal, but despite this unpleasant experience the OPCW remains close to my heart. It is a special Organisation with an important mandate. I accepted the position of Director General precisely because the Chemical Weapons Convention was non-discriminatory. I took immense pride in the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of its inspectors and wider staff in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. No State Party was to be considered above the rest and the hallmark of the Organisation’s work was the even-handedness with which all Member States were treated regardless of size, political might, or economic clout.

Although no longer at the helm by this time, I felt great joy when the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”. It was a mandate towards which I and countless other former staff members had worked tirelessly. In the nascent years of the OPCW, we faced a number of challenges, but we overcame them to earn the Organisation a well-deserved reputation for effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention autonomy, impartiality, and a refusal to be politicised. The ILO decision on my removal was an official and public reassertion of the importance of these principles.

More recently, the OPCW’s investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons have no doubt created even greater challenges for the Organisation. It was precisely for this kind of eventuality that we had developed operating procedures, analytical methods, as well as extensive training programmes, in strict accordance with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Allegations of the actual use of chemical weapons were a prospect for which we hoped our preparations would never be required. Unfortunately, they were, and today allegations of chemical weapons use are a sad reality.

It is against this backdrop that serious questions are now being raised over whether the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of some of the Organisation’s work is being severely compromised, possibly under pressure from some Member States. Of particular concern are the circumstances surrounding the OPCW’s investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018. These concerns are emanating from the very heart of the Organisation, from the very scientists and engineers involved in the Douma investigation.

In October 2019 I was invited by the Courage Foundation, an international organisation that ‘supports those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record’, to participate in a panel along with a number of eminent international figures from the fields of international law, disarmament, military operations, medicine, and intelligence. The panel was convened to hear the concerns of an OPCW official over the conduct of the Organisation’s investigation into the Douma incident.

The expert provided compelling and documentary evidence of highly questionable, and potentially fraudulent conduct in the investigative process. In a joint public statement, the Panel was, and I quote, ‘unanimous in expressing [its] alarm over unacceptable practices in the investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Douma’. The Panel further called on the OPCW, ‘to permit all inspectors who took part in the Douma investigation to come forward and report their differing observations in an appropriate forum of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fulfilment of the spirit of the Convention.’

I was personally so disturbed by the testimony and evidence presented to the Panel, that I was compelled to make a public statement. I quote: “I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

The call for greater transparency from the OPCW further intensified in November 2019 when an open letter of support for the Courage Foundation declaration was sent to Permanent Representatives to the OPCW to, ‘ask for [their] support in taking action at the forthcoming Conference of States Parties aimed at restoring the integrity of the OPCW and regaining public trust.’

The signatories of this petition included such eminent figures as Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor at MIT; Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chair of the Swedish Doctors for Human Rights; Coleen Rowley, whistle-blower and a 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year; Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General; and Film Director Oliver Stone, to mention a few.

Almost one year later, the OPCW has still not responded to these requests, nor to the ever-growing controversy surrounding the Douma investigation. Rather, it has hidden behind an impenetrable wall of silence and opacity, making any meaningful dialogue impossible. On the one occasion when it did address the inspectors’ concerns in public, it was only to accuse them of breaching confidentiality. Of course, Inspectors – and indeed all OPCW staff members – have responsibilities to respect confidentiality rules. But the OPCW has the primary responsibility – to faithfully ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (Article VIII, para 1).

The work of the Organisation must be transparent, for without transparency there is no trust. And trust is what binds the OPCW together. If Member States do not have trust in the fairness and objectivity of the work of the OPCW, then its effectiveness as a global watchdog for chemical weapons is severely compromised.

And transparency and confidentiality are not mutually exclusive. But confidentiality cannot be invoked as a smoke screen for irregular behaviour. The Organisation needs to restore the public trust it once had and which no one denies is now waning. Which is why we are here today.

It would be inappropriate for me to advise on, or even to suggest how the OPCW should go about regaining public trust. Still, as someone who has experienced both rewarding and tumultuous times with the OPCW, I would like to make a personal plea to you, Mr Fernando Arias, as Director General of the OPCW. The inspectors are among the Organisation’s most valuable assets. As scientists and engineers, their specialist knowledge and inputs are essential for good decision making. Most importantly, their views are untainted by politics or national interests. They only rely on the science. The inspectors in the Douma investigation have a simple request – that they be given the opportunity to meet with you to express their concerns to you in person, in a manner that is both transparent and accountable.

This is surely the minimum that they can expect. At great risk to themselves, they have dared to speak out against possible irregular behaviour in your Organisation, and it is without doubt in your, in the Organisation’s, and in the world’s interest that you hear them out. The Convention itself showed great foresight in allowing inspectors to offer differing observations, even in investigations of alleged uses of chemical weapons (paras 62 and 66 of Part II, Ver. Annex). This right, is, and I quote, ‘a constitutive element supporting the independence and objectivity of inspections’. This language comes from Ralf Trapp and Walter Krutzsch’s “A commentary on Verification Practice under the CWC”, published by the OPCW itself during my time as DG.

Regardless of whether or not there is substance to the concerns raised about the OPCW’s behaviour in the Douma investigation, hearing what your own inspectors have to say would be an important first step in mending the Organisation’s damaged reputation. The dissenting inspectors are not claiming to be right, but they do want to be given a fair hearing. As one Director General to another, I respectfully request that you grant them this opportunity. If the OPCW is confident in the robustness of its scientific work on Douma and in the integrity of the investigation, then it has little to fear in hearing out its inspectors. If, however, the claims of evidence suppression, selective use of data, and exclusion of key investigators, among other allegations, are not unfounded, then it is even more imperative that the issue be dealt with openly and urgently.

This Organisation has already achieved greatness. If it has slipped, it nonetheless still has the opportunity to repair itself, and to grow to become even greater. The world needs a credible chemical weapons watchdog. We had one, and I am confident, Mr Arias, that you will see to it that we have one again.

Thank you.

Click here to read the same transcript on The Grayzone official website.

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Ian Henderson, Theodore Postol and Aaron Maté testify at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up

“The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing”

“I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

— José Bustani, first Director General of OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

*

At an Arria-Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Aaron Maté of The Grayzone delivered remarks on the OPCW’s ongoing Syria scandal.

Veteran OPCW inspectors who investigated an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018 say that their probe was censored and manipulated. Under direct US government pressure, the OPCW concealed evidence that pointed to the incident being staged on the ground, and instead released a report that suggested Syrian government culpability. The allegation against Syria led to the bombing of Syria by the US, France, and UK just days after the alleged Douma incident.

In his remarks, Aaron calls this “one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory” and urges the UN and OPCW to let the OPCW inspectors air their concerns, and present the evidence that was suppressed.

Full transcript: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/29/gr…

(It is also reproduced in full below.)

Other briefers participating in the UN session included former OPCW inspector and whistleblower, Ian Henderson, a member of the Douma team, who offered a sincere, heartfelt closing statement embedded below – the same statement can also be watched in the full video (linked below) beginning at 3:00:00 hours:

Award-winning physicist Theodore Postol, MIT professor emeritus and former Pentagon adviser, was another who briefed the meeting and his slide presentation [20 mins long] based on evidence discrediting the alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun can be viewed by following the link below beginning from 33:00 mins.

The full video of the UN session can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3ibKj4R

*

Transcript of Aaron Maté’s full statement with original links retained:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Aaron Maté. I am a journalist with The Grayzone, based in the United States. It’s an honor to speak to you today about what I think is one of the most important, and overlooked, global stories in recent memory.

The OPCW — the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog — is facing a serious scandal. Leaks from inside strongly suggest the OPCW has been severely compromised. The implications of this are grave.

It would mean that the OPCW was exploited to accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma in April 2018. It would also mean that the OPCW was used to retroactively justify the bombing of Syria by several member states, just days after the alleged Douma incident. In short, it appears the OPCW was compromised to justify military strikes.

There are also indications that the OPCW has retaliated against two veteran officials who were part of the Douma investigation and challenged the censorship of the Douma evidence.

These two OPCW officials are highly regarded scientists with more than 25 years of combined experience at the organization. Yet instead of being protected, and given the chance to air their concerns, these two scientists have seen their reputations impugned by the OPCW leadership.

There is substantial evidence to back all of this up. I will summarize the key details.

The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission, or FFM, deployed to Syria and what is known as Country X to investigate the Douma incident in April 2018. They interviewed scores of witnesses and visited several key sites. They examined gas cylinders found at the scene, took chemical samples and hundreds of photos, and conducted detailed measurements.

Upon their return from Syria, the FFM team drafted an extensive and detailed report of their findings. But what the investigators found in Douma is not what the OPCW released to the world. And that is because the investigators who were on the ground in Syria were overruled, and had their findings censored.

The key facts about this censorship are, to my knowledge, undisputed:

1) The investigators’ initial report, which was due for imminent publication, was secretively re-edited to produce a version that sharply deviated from the original. Both versions – the original and the altered report – have been published by Wikileaks.

Comparing both reports we see that key facts were removed or mis-represented. Conclusions were also rewritten to support the allegation that a chlorine gas attack had occurred in Douma.

Yet the team’s initial, original report did not conclude that a chemical attack occurred. In fact, their report had presented the possibility that victims in Douma were killed in an incident that was “non-chemical related.” Though unstated, the reader could easily infer from this that the militants who controlled Douma at the time had staged the scene to make it falsely appear that a chemical attack had occurred.

2) Then there is the toxicology assessment. Four experts from an OPCW and NATO-member state conducted a toxicology review.

They concluded that observed symptoms of the victims in Douma, “were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine, and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified.”

This finding was kept secret, and are inconsistent with the conclusions of the final report.

3) There were also chemical tests of the samples collected in Douma. These samples showed that chlorinated compounds were detected at what amounted to trace quantities in the parts-per-billion range.

Yet this finding was also not disclosed. Furthermore, it later emerged that the chemicals themselves did not stand out as unique: most, if not all, could have resulted from contact with household products such as bleach — or come from chlorinated water or wood preservatives.

Crucially, the control samples collected by the inspectors to give context to the analysis results were never analyzed.

4) Because of other leaks, we now know that this censorship was protested from the inside. The chief author of the initial report, identified by the OPCW as Inspector B, was among those who deployed to Syria for the entire Douma mission. Records show he was also, at the time, the OPCW’s top expert in chemical weapons chemistry.

On June 22nd, 2018 Inspector B protested the secretive redaction in an e-mail expressing his “gravest concern.” I will quote him: “After reading this modified report, which incidentally no other team member who deployed into Douma has had the opportunity to do, I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts.”

5) After that e-mail of protest, and just days before a substitute, stop-gap interim report was published on July 6, something very unusual occurred. A U-S government delegation met with members of the investigation team to try to influence them. The US officials encouraged the Douma team to conclude that the Syrian government had committed a chemical attack with chlorine. It is worth noting here that the US delegation promoted this chlorine theory despite the fact that it was still not publicly known that no nerve agents had been found in Douma.

The Douma investigators reportedly saw the meeting as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, State Parties are explicitly prohibited from seeking to influence the inspectors in the discharge of their responsibilities.

6) Inspector B’s intervention thwarted the imminent release of the doctored report.

But at that point, the OPCW officials began to manage the issuance of a new negotiated report, namely, the so-called interim report that was released on July 6 2018.

Although this interim report no longer contained some of the unsupported claims that senior OPCW officials had tried to insert, it still omitted key facts found in the original, uncensored report.

7) Around that time, the investigation saw a drastic change. The protesting Inspector B – who had written the original report — was sidelined from the investigation. OPCW executives then decreed that the probe, from that point forward, would be handled by a so-called “core team.”

This new “core” team made formal the exclusion of all of the inspectors who had conducted the investigation in Syria, except for one paramedic. It was this so-called core team—and not the inspectors who had signed off on the original report—that generated the OPCW final’s report of March 2019.

8) That final report sharply differed from what the OPCW inspectors reported in the suppressed initial report. The final report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Douma and that “the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” Many crucial facts and evidence redacted from the original report continued to be omitted.

9) The final report also saw a major discrepancy when it comes to witness testimony. The witnesses interviewed offered sharply contrasting narratives – yet only those witnesses whose testimony supported the use of chemical weapons, were used to inform the report’s conclusions.

It is also worth noting the imbalance in witness locations: although the alleged chemical incident took place in Syria, twice as many witnesses were interviewed in Country X.

10) One inference drawn from the OPCW’s final report was that gas cylinders found in Douma likely came from military aircraft. But a leaked engineering assessment assigned to a sub-team of the FFM found otherwise.

The OPCW leadership has yet to offer a substantive explanation for why such critical evidence was excluded and why the original report was radically altered.

The OPCW Director General Fernando Arias justified the conclusions of the final report and excused alleged fraudulent scientific behavior by incorrectly stating that “the FFM undertook the bulk of its analytical work” during the last seven months of the investigation – or after the interim report that was published in July 2018.

A close review of the final report demonstrates that this is far from the case. As the dissenting inspectors have noted, by the time the interim report was released, 31 of the 44 samples were analyzed, 34 of the 39 interviews had been conducted and analyzed, and the toxicological study was already done but the conclusions excluded.

In the nearly eight months after the Interim Report was released, only 13 new samples were analyzed along with 5 additional interviews.

Comparing the text of the final report to the original report is also instructive. The final report copy and pastes much of the text of the original report – the one difference is that inconvenient evidence was removed, and un-supported conclusions were added.

But even if it were true that the bulk of the analysis was done after the interim report, the fact the OPCW would have conducted the bulk of its work after July 2018 would not in any way explain or justify the alleged scientific fraud committed before it. In fact, it would only raise the possibility that more fraud occurred.

Instead of addressing the discrepancies and cherry-picked facts, the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias has also denigrated the two members of the Douma fact-finding mission team who challenged the manipulation of facts and evidence.

The Director General has falsely portrayed them as rogue actors, with only minor roles in the investigation and incomplete information.

Yet these two inspectors are unlikely candidates to suddenly go so rogue. Inspector A has been identified as Ian Henderson – he is here today. The second inspector is known only as Inspector B. They served with the OPCW for 12 and 16 years, respectively.

Internal OPCW appraisals of their job performance offer effusive praise. In 2005, a senior OPCW official wrote that Henderson has consistently received “the highest rating possible.… I consider [him] one of the best of our Inspection Team Leaders.”

In 2018, an OPCW superior wrote that Inspector B, “has contributed the most to the knowledge and understanding of Chemical Weapons chemistry applied to inspections.” Another manager described B as “one of the most well regarded” team leaders, whose “experience of the organisation, its verification regime, and judgment are unmatched.”

It is important to also stress that the internal concerns go beyond Douma team members. Earlier this year, I heard from an OPCW official who voiced outrage at the treatment of Henderson and Inspector B. I quote this person now:

“It is quite unbelievable that valid scientific concerns are being brazenly ignored in favour of a predetermined narrative. The lack of transparency in an investigative process with such enormous ramifications is frightful. The allegations of the two gentlemen urgently need to be thoroughly investigated, and the functionality of the organisation restored.”

Now fortunately, the two inspectors involved in this Douma controversy have offered a path to transparency and to resolving this scandal. Earlier this year, they each wrote letters to the OPCW Director General asking for their concerns to be heard.

The inspectors have received support from several prominent figures, including the OPCW’s First Director General, Jose Bustani. In October 2019, Bustani took part in a panel that heard an extensive presentation from one of the Douma investigators.

Mr. Bustani wrote: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I have always expected the OPCW to be a true paradigm of multilateralism. My hope is that the concerns expressed publicly by the Panel, in its joint consensus statement, will catalyse a process by which the Organisation can be resurrected to become the independent and non-discriminatory body it used to be.”

I hope that Mr. Bustani’s words will be heeded. As a first step, the OPCW can simply do what it has refused to do so far: meet with the entire Douma team, and let them present the evidence that was censored. It is very concerning that despite the allegations here, the OPCW Director General has never met with members of the Douma team – not just the two dissenting inspectors that are known, but the entire team. If the OPCW is confident in its conclusions, then it should have no issue with at least hearing a dissenting point of view.

The importance of addressing this issue extends far beyond repairing the OPCW’s reputation. Syria is a country that is now trying to rebuild from a devastating, nearly decade-long proxy war that caused massive suffering, destruction and death. But as Syria is trying to rebuild, it now faces a new kind of warfare in the form of crippling economic sanctions. In justifying the sanctions, the US government has cited, among other things, allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The US government also says that the Syrian government is the target of these sanctions. But it is the Syrian people who feel the pain. The UN rapporteur on sanctions says that, “unilateral sanctions applied to Syria have visited untold sufferings on ordinary people.” The World Food Program warns that Syrians living under economic blockade now face “mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

The use of the OPCW to justify warfare on Syria – whether in the form of military strikes in 2018 or economic strangulation today in 2020 – is additionally tragic in light of the OPCW’s own history. It was just seven years ago that the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work eliminating chemical weapons, including in Syria. That was a towering achievement, and a hopeful moment for those who seek a world at peace. How unfortunate then, to see the world’s top chemical weapons watchdog now potentially being comprised to lodge unproven allegations against Syria and justify warfare against it.

The OPCW inspectors who have been silenced and maligned are trying to defend their organization’s noble legacy from political exploitation. It is my hope that they will be heard. Thank you.

||| The Grayzone |||

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Norman Finkelstein on Netanyahu’s options for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestine

With Israel poised to illegally annex parts of the West Bank on Wednesday 1st July, author and scholar, Norman Finkelstein, discussed Netanyahu’s options with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté. Finkelstein says Netanyahu is exploiting a brief window of opportunity under Trump and will use the deadline to swallow up valuable West Bank while pretending to be making a compromise:

“If there were an Oscar for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year,” Finkelstein says. “And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the Occupied Territories that will preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state — they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, gut-wrenching compromise. I could write the script.”

The transcript below is mine:

Aaron Maté: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a date of July 1st to begin Israel’s annexation of major parts of the Occupied West Bank. Under Netanyahu’s plan Israel would declare sovereignty over all of the illegal settlements built on Palestinian land since 1967 including in the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu has a green light from Washington. The Trump administration has said it will recognise Israel’s annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank. For the rest of the world, the annexation move is the latest grave escalation of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. In a statement, a group of 47 independent UN legal experts call the annexation plan “a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”

Well, joining me is Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar: his latest book is called “I Accuse!” Norman welcome to Pushback.

Uncertainty still about what Netanyahu is going to do on July 1st, but what do you think people should know about his talk of annexing the West Bank?

Normal Finkelstein: Well, there are several things. First of all, it’s clearly illegal under international law. Secondly, what seems to have prompted it is not law but brutal politics; namely, Mr Netanyahu is of the opinion, which is probably correct, that he has an opportunity that won’t come again to carry out a large scale ‘legal’ annexation of parts of the West Bank, and that Trump may not be around after November. It’s a question mark. And he wants to take advantage of that opportunity. And I would say thirdly, you have to always bear in mind two things about Mr Netanyahu:

Number one: he is a showman. He’s not really a statesman; he’s a showman. He’s a performance artist. And number two: he is acutely aware of political opportunities. In that regard he’s a politician for sure. He takes advantage of – he exploits – political opportunities as they come along.

There are many examples: actually you’d be surprised, there’s actually a scholarly and academic literature showing how Israelis exploit – take advantage of – political opportunities that come along in order to achieve their goals. Media opportunities, I should say.

So that in mind, there is the possibility that an annexation will occur, although it’s still a question mark. My own opinion is there seem to be three main variations. (Obviously, there are subdivisions of the variations.) But one is annex the Jordan Valley. Two is annex the settlement blocs. And three is annex large chunks of the West Bank: the official figure is 30%; I’m more inclined to believe it’s 40%, but that’s beside the point.

I do not believe he will annex the Jordan Valley, because it’s a question of how it looks. The image projected. So, I said at the beginning, Mr Netanyahu is basically a showman – a performance artist – and so if you look at the map: what it would look like if on one end is Israel and on the other end is Jordan Valley, and in the middle, sandwiched between, are all these Palestinians who don’t have any voting rights.

If you look at the map, it looks like apartheid. Because it looks like if one border is the Jordan Valley, the other border is what’s called the Green Line; namely Israel before the June 1967 war; and then in between are all these Arabs who have no voting rights. It looks like one state where a large chunk of the population is disenfranchised. That looks like apartheid. So I don’t think he’s going to do that.

September 2019 annexation proposal by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jordan valley shown in orange and the rest of the West Bank including Jericho shown in white.

A second possibility is annexing the whole of the West Bank, or large chunks of it. Again, same problem: how do you represent to the world all those Arabs in the West Bank who have no rights? Who have no voting rights, which are the baseline for any rights in our world. Or rights in a state, which is citizenship; and they don’t have citizenship. So that doesn’t look good.

But there’s a third possibility. The third possibility is the settlement blocs. Now, if you look at the map – if you annex the settlement blocs – they border the Green Line, mostly. So that looks okay on the map.

Israel officially claims to annex the settlement blocs would mean annexing 5% of the West Bank. In fact it would be 10% because they play with the numbers, they cook the numbers. It would be about 10% of the West Bank. And if you look at the map, there are two settlement blocs, one called Ariel and one called Ma’ale Adumim. Now those settlement blocs on the ground, they bisect the West Bank, more or less at the centre; because Ma’ale Adumim stretches more or less to Jericho. And then there’s the second settlement bloc, Ariel Shomron, which will bisect the northern half of the West Bank.

Green Line indicated with the Ariel settlement located top left and Ma’ale Adumim centre right

However, if you look at the map, it doesn’t quite look that way because the map doesn’t show the mountainous areas, which means it doesn’t look fully like a bisection of the West Bank. The point is, in my view, without going into all the technicalities, you probably can get away with annexing the settlement blocs. First of all, all of the Democrat Party and Republican Party leadership has always said that Israel would get the settlement blocs anyhow in a final settlement. That’s what Dennis Ross says…

AM: Dennis Ross being the so-called “peace envoy” for the Clinton administration.

NF: Yes, and he’s actually recommended now that Israel annex, not the whole West Bank, not the Jordan Valley, just annex the settlement blocs. He’s officially on record supporting that.

And so first of all the political elites have supported the annexation of the Israeli settlement blocs already. Secondly, you can put the pretence, or make the pretence, that there’s still the possibility of a Palestinian state because “it’s only 5% of the West Bank”. Thirdly, it can be cast as Netanyahu making a gut-wrenching compromise: he wanted the whole of the land of Israel and he had to appease the right-wing of his coalition – and so he makes his gut-wrenching compromise to annex some territory because otherwise his coalition is going to fall apart.

AM: Similar to what they did in Gaza back in 2005, around then, when Sharon reluctantly gave up Gaza, and there was this huge staged performance and there were the scenes of the settlers being pulled out, and they were wailing and we were supposed to feel sorry for them. Meanwhile Israel, as it’s pulling out of Gaza, it’s consolidating its control and expanding its control over the much more valuable territory in the occupied West Bank.

NF: Listen, I’ve said many times if there were an Academy Award – an Oscar – for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year; there wouldn’t even be competition. It would be like comparing Sir Lawrence Olivier with Brad Pitt.  I mean Israel is so practised at the art of performance.

And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the occupied Palestinian Territories that will effectively preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state for geographic and economic reasons which I don’t want to bore listeners with – they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, anguishing, gut-wrenching compromise by Israel. I could write the script.

So I think that’s probably what will happen. And everybody will be a celebratory mood – no quite the contrary, take that back…

The Israeli right-wing – I should say Israeli right-right-right-wing, because there’s a right-right-right-right-wing and there’s a right-right-right-wing, and there’s a right-wing. There’s no centre and there’s no left in Israel: so an unusual state in the world in that regard. But the right-right-right-right-wing and the right-right-[wing] will be so angry, and they’ll be so indignant, and everybody else, [like] The New York Times, will be celebrating the fact that Netanyahu made a very pragmatic decision that kept the two-state solution alive.

AM: There are countries though around the world who are, at least publicly, criticising this. Does this open up the way possibly for some actions like sanctions to be taken against Israel if it illegally annexes territory that it is not legally entitled to?

NF: I don’t believe that will happen because of the way it is going to be presented to the world. It will be presented as a pragmatic compromise. It won’t be presented as an illegal annexation. They’ll keep repeating the fake figure of 5%. They’re going to keep saying, anyhow, we all know that in the final settlement the settlement blocs would have been annexed by Israel in a land swap. And they’ll make it all legitimate, and there will be no reaction.

I’m very sceptical of the kinds of apocalyptic scenarios which are conjured up, and in fact apocalyptic scenarios abet Netanyahu’s agenda, and probably he does it intentionally – I don’t know how much he calculates down to the fine points, but he likes the idea of these apocalyptic scenarios because then he’s going to say “well it’s only 5%”. And it’s going to make him look reasonable.

So all this talk about sanctions – Did anything happen after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? No.

AM: But let’s point out something positive, which is that Bernie Sanders came somewhat close to the nomination, and during the process his advocacy of basic Palestinian rights was popular, and that message is increasingly resonant inside the Democratic base. So in terms of holding Israel accountable, pushing back on the Trump administration’s support for Israeli annexation, do you see a ray of light possibly, right here inside the US when it comes to sentiment towards Israel, and people no longer being willing – except for those in Congress – to stand by as it commits its atrocities?

NF: Trump’s biggest ally in the world is Netanyahu. That doesn’t play very well with a lot of people, you know even people who support Israel. It just doesn’t play well because you’re supposed to be anti-Trump if you’re a Democratic Party member or if you support any of the popular causes you’re supposed to be anti-Trump. So it doesn’t play very well that Trump has the closest alliance to any world leader with Netanyahu. So there is an unexpected consequence of the Trump presidency which it ended up even further discrediting the Palestinian cause in even mainstream American politics because of that Trump-Netanyahu alliance.

AM: [clarifying Finkelstein’s remark] Not discrediting the Palestinian cause?

NF: Discrediting the Israeli cause because of that alliance.

Yes, so it’s been a positive development. It’s part of, as I said, the long-term shift in public opinion as Israel has moved further and further to the right, and a lot of the truth has come out making the cause indefensible.

A lot will depend on whether you can make the Palestinian cause again a salient issue in American political life. If for example the Palestinians found the wherewithal to demonstrate and engage in collective action, there’s some reason for hope. It’s going to be very tough under Biden, if he wins; impossible under Trump.

It’s just a very difficult period right now. I don’t believe in giving people false hope. I think it’s a very tough period right now, but as you say, the positive thing is public opinion is shifting; it’s becoming more manifest as against latent; more active as against passive; and it’s an opportunity for people to work for their so-to-speak cause within a larger progressive or radical framework. So there are possibilities. That’s the most I can say.

From a very young age I read a speech by the African revolutionary at the time Amílcar Cabral, who was a leader of a movement called the PAIGC in a tiny, tiny, tiny, little country called Guinea-Bissau. And he had given a speech and the title was “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. So that resonated with me. I thought that’s the right approach to politics: Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.

So I’m not one for pep talks. I try to be analytical. I try to be objective. I try to be realistic. Because otherwise I feel it’s patronising. It’s like ‘I know the truth, but I can’t tell you the truth because you’re not ready for it – you’re not equipped for it’. So I have to pretend as if things are better than they actually are so as to lift your spirits because you need useful lies to keep you going, but I don’t. No, I don’t do that.

I think that you can be honest about a situation – I’m honest about the situation with myself – I recognise that we’re at a very difficult moment. But truth be told, it doesn’t diminish an iota of the energy I invest in this, because for me it’s not about Palestinians, it’s not about Jews.

At one point in my life, yes it was. And I’ll acknowledge that. I just felt revulsion at what these people – how they had exploited and corrupted the memory of my parents’ suffering during World War Two for an insidious cause. It’s not about that anymore for me: it’s not about Palestinians; it’s not about Jews; it’s not about corrupting the memory of what my parents’ endured during World War Two.

For me it’s about two very basic things – and it took me a very, very long time to reach this point in my life – that it’s no longer about anything personal. It is about people because the memory of my parents’ suffering is permanently engraved in me. But fundamentally, at root, at its core, it’s about Truth and Justice: those eternal values.

And when I see them sullied, or prostituted, it nauseates me. It makes me so angry that people can be so cheap; sell themselves at such a low price: for a mess of professional porridge [sic], they’ll sell out those values.

It’s a very interesting thing for me, and we’ll leave it at that, that all of these stupid leftist, postmodernists, who say that there’s no such thing as truth, there’s no such thing as Justice – these are all social constructions – these intellectually impoverished morons… and then you go to the demonstrations against police brutality, in commemoration of what happened to George Floyd and many others, and what’s the slogan that’s most popular at these demonstrations?  What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

And I think to myself while all these stupid intellectually impoverished so-called academics sit around at stupid, ignorant, irrelevant conferences talking about how Justice and Truth are all just social constructions. When the moment comes we all reach back to those same fundamental values: Truth and Justice. What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

Those values will, so long as humankind endures, forever resonate.

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Mike Pompeo’s ‘democratic plan’ for Venezuela and Juan Guaidó’s alleged involvement in terrorist regime change operations

After bizarrely placing Nicolás Maduro top of a wanted list on charges of drug trafficking, the Trump administration then unveiled a so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ that calls for the ouster of the Venezuelan President in exchange for a five-person “Council of State”.

Irrespective of the hardships already suffered by the people of Venezuela under the current sanctions programme, and heedless to a worsening situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the US is threatening “increased” sanctions if Venezuela does not comply.

Yesterday, Aaron Maté from The Grayzone spoke to Latin America policy analyst and campaigner with Codepink, Leonardo Flores, about the latest US effort to starve Venezuelans into submission in order to force a regime change.

Towards the end of the interview, Leonardo Flores describes the extraordinary revelations of Cliver Alcalá, who is one of those indicted by the US Department of Justice on accusations of narco-trafficking. Shortly after the DOJ press conference ended, Alcalá actually confessed on Twitter that he was involved in plots including terrorist attacks to overthrow Maduro.

Additionally, he said weapons confiscated by Colombian police were paid for with money provided by Juan Guaidó. However, Alcalá was not only implicating Washington’s choice for Venezuelan President, Juan Guaidó, scandalously seen photographed with members of the infamous Los Rastrojos drug cartel, but also an unspecified number of US advisors, who he claims met with him on no less than seven different occasions. Alcalá has now been turned over to US authorities.

The transcript of the interview below is mine [interview begins at 1:50 mins].

Aaron Maté: What is your reaction to this so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ from Pompeo?

Leonardo Flores: My reaction really is bewilderment. Because a few days ago, as you just said, the Department of Justice unveiled indictments against Maduro and 13 other former and current government officials and members of the military; immediately ramping up the pressure. And then this transition proposal seems to be kind of a step back.

First of all it’s a total non-starter. It’s not going to go anywhere. It wasn’t negotiated with anyone in Venezuela on the side of the government. It’s a plan that supposedly came from Juan Guaidó in part, but really it’s been designed in the State Department itself.

AM: The thinking here in the White House, what do you think it is? They’ve been trying now for more than a year to overthrow Maduro. They’ve tried to spark some military uprisings. It hasn’t worked. Now they’ve shifted to this bounty last week on Maduro’s head. Wat do you think is the strategy going on inside Washington? What are they hoping to achieve with these narco charges against Maduro, and now this new so-called plan?

LF: Well, in a sense they’re just trying to throw everything at the wall to just see what sticks. But, particularly with this plan, I think it’s to alleviate the pressure that’s coming on them due to the sanctions.

We’ve seen everyone from the UN to the EU to other multilateral organisations and NGOs call for a lifting of the sanctions. We’re seeing a letter being sent around the Senate that has at least 11 people who’ve signed on led by Senator Chris Murphy calling for humanitarian relief for Venezuela and Iran: lifting the sanctions during this pandemic. And so I think that’s maybe getting to the Trump administration and this is their way of sending some kind of olive branch to these more moderate factions in Washington. But, you know, it’s not a serious proposal.

Side note: “It hurts our nation’s security and our moral standing in the world when our sanctions policy results in innocent people dying. I am particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on the COVID-19 response in Iran and Venezuela”

— Sen. Chris Murphy

AM: What I think has been overlooked in the discussion of all this is that in trying to install Guaidó, the Trump administration has portrayed this picture where it has been basically Maduro versus Guaidó, and there’s no-one in between. But meanwhile, there have been negotiations between Maduro and elements of the Venezuelan opposition, just not the one that includes Guaidó’s faction. Can you talk about this and how it’s been ignored.

LF: Sure. So, the last time Guaidó participated in negotiations seriously – his faction I mean – was in August 2019. And those talks were undermined when the Trump administration imposed what the Wall Street Journal called an economic embargo; they really ramped up the sanctions on August 5th.

After that, about a month later, Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan government began negotiating with more moderate sectors of the political opposition – sectors of that really want to engage in democracy and engage in politics and aren’t looking for regime change. And coincidentally, those months of 2019, I’m talking about September, October and November; they were the most stable months in a really crazy year for Venezuela, that started off with this attempted coup by the Trump administration and Juan Guaidó.

Now, those negotiations are still ongoing. There’s ongoing dialogue. They resulted with – in early January – with a new election for the President of the National Assembly. This new President of the National Assembly was from the same party as Juan Guaidó. I think he was expelled from that party – but I’d have to check up on that to be honest. And what we’re seeing is that Juan Guaidó got kind of pushed out and these extremist opposition sectors got pushed out a bit from these attempted negotiations. So this is their way back in, so to speak.

AM: So, if you could address someone who might look at this plan now from Pompeo and – the way Pompeo’s framing it is that, you know, the US has no preference for who leads Venezuela aside from Maduro. We want him gone. In fact, Pompeo said as much today. Let me play you a clip…

Mike Pompeo: We’ve made clear all along that Nicolás Maduro will never again govern Venezuela, and that hasn’t changed.

AM: That’s Mike Pompeo. Well first of all, let me just ask you to respond to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the United States, declaring that the leader of another country will never govern there again.

LF: I mean it’s completely ridiculous. Maduro has been governing since 2013 and he has been governing throughout this whole time when the State Department has been trying to portray Venezuelan government as nonexistent and they’re trying to force Juan Guaidó as the so-called “interim president”.

But what’s really curious to me is that there’s contradictions within the White House. So that’s a very interesting Pompeo quote, but earlier today, Elliot Abrams, who’s the Special Representative for Venezuela for the Trump administration; he told Reuters that “while Maduro would have to step aside” – and this is a direct quote [the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile ] – “the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and he even suggested that he ‘could theoretically’ run in the election.

So Abrams is saying ‘hey maybe Maduro can run’, Pompeo’s saying ‘Maduro is never again going to be able to govern’. There’s clear disconnect. It’s kind of indicative of what we’ve seen in the White House since Trump to office, with lack of communication between different sectors of the executive branch.

AM: Let’s say that Abrams, what he suggests, is the proposal that the US is putting forward, then somebody might look at that and say, hey you know listen the US shouldn’t be involved in Venezuela, but it is, and the fact is that right now they’re putting forward this plan where they’re offering to relieve these crippling, murderous sanctions if Venezuela just agrees to this new transition and hold new elections. Why not just abide by that to help ease the suffering of Venezuela?

LF: Well, Venezuela has a constitution. I mean that’s the biggest thing we have to talk about. It is a sovereign country that has a constitution, and is guided by that constitution. And so the Trump administration used that constitution, and made these kind of quasi-legal arguments, to say that Juan Guaidó was actually the real President because Maduro was ‘not officially in power’. And now they’re turning around and saying well you know what, forget that constitution and let’s talk about this whole ‘democratic framework transition’ that has no constitutional basis in Venezuela at all.

But what I think we really need to emphasis is that if the Venezuelan government decided to hold new elections – new presidential elections – after coming to an agreement with the opposition, they’re well within their rights. But this plan is being imposed from abroad, it lacks any sort of popular support within Venezuela, and in that regard it’s a non-starter.

AM: Just to stress this point, I do think holding new elections – that has been under discussion in Maduro’s negotiations with the opposition, right?

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean first of all there have to be new elections – I mean parliamentary elections because those are due this year. And after those parliamentary elections there is the possibility that you might have new presidential elections in Venezuela.

But there’s no way that those presidential elections can be carried out while Venezuela is under sanctions from the US and the EU; particularly by the US sanctions. This is reminiscent of Nicaragua in the ’90s when the Nicaraguan people had an election and the US government said that if the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] then wins, then the sanctions will continue, but if the opposition wins then the sanctions will be lifted.

AM: Let me play for you a clip on that front. This is John Stockwell, he is a former CIA officer, and he was describing this tactic the US uses of basically making countries like Nicaragua submit to US demands or starve.

John Stockwell [speaking on December 27th 1989]: The point is to put pressure on the targeted government by ripping apart the social and economic fabric of the country. Now that’s words, you know, social and economic fabric: that means making the people suffer as much as you can until the country plunges into chaos, until at some point you can step in and impose your choice of governments on that country.

AM: So that’s a former CIA officer describing the US approach to countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela. Leo, what’s your sense of where the Venezuelan people are at? They’ve been suffering for a long time now under these sanctions. There was just a poll that was shared by the opposition economist Francisco Rodríguez pointing out that two-thirds of Venezuelans say that US sanctions are causing huge misery inside their country.

What is your sense of where the electorate is at inside Venezuela? The people: are they at the point where they’re willing to give up [and] to submit to US demands, whatever they are, in return for some relief from this blockade?

LF: No, I wouldn’t say they are. I mean we have to be clear though, Venezuela is a very polarised country. So we have this sector that votes for the opposition – that a good percentage of it would likely welcome Pompeo’s plan. But then you have the Chavistas, which represent at least 40% of the electorate, and of all eligible voters, and they would absolutely reject this plan.

It’s absolutely true though that sanctions have completely destroyed the economic fabric of Venezuela. But one of the reasons that Venezuela has been able to overcome the pressure from the United States is due to the social fabric, and due to the organising at the community level, and due to the organising that the government enables from above.

AM: Okay, so you mentioned the Venezuelan electorate. Let me ask you quickly about this, because a huge talking point that the US administration uses and its parroted across the political establishment – even Democrats who oppose the sanctions parrot this talking point –which is that Maduro is not a legitimately elected leader, and they point to alleged fraud in the 2019 Venezuelan elections.

I know it’s complicated but can you give us the simplest case for why this talking point is false.

LF: Right. So, there’s actually no evidence that there was fraud, and really the argument that there was fraud only comes from the United States.

What happened in the 2018 elections is that sectors of the opposition just decided to boycott the election. And they boycotted at the direction, or under the instructions of the State Department.

In early 2018 there was dialogue between the government and the opposition. The two sides were very close to signing an agreement – they actually had an agreement written down. They were negotiating in the Dominican Republic, they went back to Venezuela for one week to consult with various parties involved; during that interim week, then-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, threatened an oil embargo, and he also suggested that if the military were to overthrow Maduro, that this move would be welcomed by the United States.

Also during that week, the State Department said that they would not recognise any elections in 2018: that Maduro had to go first before there were elections. That’s what leads to these kind of claims of fraud because of this opposition boycott. But really there was no fraud: the parties that did participate, participated fully; there were international observers; there was a vote that was audited; and Maduro won in a landslide election.

AM: Maduro received over six millions votes, and, if I have the history correct, the main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, who ran, he was even threatened with US sanctions if he kept participating in the elections.

LF: That’s right. And not only was Henri Falcón threatened with sanctions, but so was Allup who was leader of Acción Democrática – Democratic Action Party – this is one of the bigger opposition parties. It’s slightly more moderate than Juan Guaidó’s party. But he said, I think it was in March of 2019, excuse me 2018, he pondered ‘why would I run, if the US isn’t going to recognise my victory?’

And so the US made it clear that even if an opposition leader had won, that they were not going to recognise it because it wasn’t going to be the opposition leader that they wanted.

AM: So let me ask you about these narco-trafficking charges that have been unveiled against Maduro and other top officials. The allegation – and maybe you can explain it for us – because it’s pretty bewildering: is that Maduro and the other top Venezuelan officials have been engaged in a criminal conspiracy to flood the US with drugs, going back many years.

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. And so the DOJ talks about a plan to plot to flood the US with cocaine since 1999. Maduro wasn’t even in power in 1999. In 1999, he was a member of the National Constituent Assembly and he was helping to draft Venezuela’s constitution.

So one of the interpretations of these accusations in Venezuela is that these aren’t accusations against individuals, it’s really an accusation against the entire Bolivarian revolution. And going a little bit deeper, this plot claim by the DOJ is patently ridiculous, I mean, the US government’s own statistics show that over 90% of the cocaine in the United States is either from Colombia, or has travelled through Colombia. Those same statistics show that less than 7% of the cocaine that the United States has transited through Venezuela at some point.

Venezuela doesn’t produce coca – the coca leaf – it doesn’t produce cocaine, whereas Colombia is the biggest producer of both coca and cocaine in the entire world. It’s clear that these accusations – these charges – are completely politically motivated and they’re not based on any sort of reality.

If they were, then really the conspiracy to flood the United States with cocaine – you have to look at the President of Colombia and the prior President Álvaro Uribe and really the kind of entire Colombian social structure, which enables narco-paramilitaries to control their society and to support cocaine.

AM: And you’ve written about, for The Grayzone, a piece that explains that one consequence of this indictment, is that it’s triggered a confession – a very serious confession – by one of the people charged of a violent US-based plot against Maduro. Can you explain what happened there?

LF: Right. So one of the people indicted, his name is Cliver Alcalá, he was a former member of the military. He used to be very close to Chavismo. He flipped to the opposition in 2016 and since 2017, give or take, he’s been involved in various plots and coup attempts [including] attempted terror plots in Venezuela. He’s been linked to them.

And so immediately after the DOJ press conference last week that indicted Mr Alcalá, he posted some videos on Twitter and other social media confessing to a terror plot in Venezuela from about a week and a half ago —

So a bit of back story: the Colombian police seized 26 high-powered rifles and several other weapons of war and military equipment. Alcalá claimed that the weapons were his – that they were bought using money from Juan Guaidó. That he and Juan Guaidó had entered into a contract for the weapons. That the weapons were going to be used to help overthrow the Venezuelan government by causing a terror plot and by targeted assassination of Chavista leaders.

Alcalá now has been turned over to US authorities. It’s unclear what’s going to happen with him, but what is clear is that he implicated not just Juan Guaidó in this terror plot, but US advisors – he claims that he met with US advisors on at least seven different occasions.

AM: And just to put a final point on this, he says that Guaidó paid him money for this plot. And so those weapons that were seized in Colombia were paid for by Guaidó, and then presumably the US which backs up Guaidó, and is actually using money initially intended for Central American aid to pay for Guaidó and his fellow coup-plotters.

LF: Yeah, that’s right. The money wasn’t necessarily going to Alcalá directly, it was going to the weapons that Alcalá purchased. And Juan Guaidó’s only source of financing is the US government, which basically is us US taxpayers.

AM: So finally, as part of its coup effort in Venezuela, the US has been putting heavy pressure on anybody engaged in business with Venezuela, and that’s included sanctioning Russia’s state oil company, Rosnef.

Rosnef was recently forced to basically divest its holdings in Venezuela and then transfer it to another Russian government – in fact, the wholly Russian government owned company. Will this be enough to keep Venezuela afloat, or do you think that the power of the US is just too strong here?

LF: I think it would be enough under slightly different circumstances, but the fact is that oil is plummeting right now and so it’s unclear what’s happening with Venezuelan government’s finances.

I don’t think the Venezuelan government is going to fall due to financing. I think in that sense, you know, China and Russia have a lot invested in Venezuela, and Venezuela has other means of securing financing, whether it’s through gold or rare earth minerals. But it does make the situation much more difficult and it has led to gasoline shortages recently in Venezuela.

AM: And finally, in terms of what can be done here in the US, you mentioned that there’s now increased talk from Congress – increased pushback from Congress – asking them not to suspend the sanctions entirely, but to simply pause them during the coronavirus pandemic, which I suppose is better than nothing.

But as we are dealing now with economic troubles of our own here at home, what do you think can be done right now to push back on the Trump administration’s coup effort, and to try to stop the regime change plot on Venezuela – and to drop the sanctions?

LF: Well, I think for starters the issue of Venezuela has become incredibly toxic in mainstream politics. So if you take any sort of position that is deemed friendly to the Venezuelan government, even if it’s actually not necessarily friendly to the government, like say humanitarian relief and [lifting] sanctions, you’re immediately going to be seen with mistrust by a certain element of the political establishment.

And so I think that really what’s most important is that to highlight what the Trump administration has been doing to sabotage dialogue in Venezuela. If it were not for Trump, I think we would already have a political agreement in Venezuela and the country would be much more stable. But he’s in thrall to his financers in Florida, the Cuban-American lobby in Florida and rich Venezuelans in Florida; it all boils down to Florida unfortunately.

I think really that the best hope that the Venezuelan government has is to hold out until after the November elections. Even if Trump is re-elected I think it opens up a possibility of negotiations between the Trump administration and the Maduro government.

AM: Yeah, on that front it doesn’t inspire confidence that Joe Biden has fully embraced Trump’s coup attempt, and has recognised Juan Guaidó as the President, but certainly, no matter what happens, November will be a key date in all this and other issues of course.

Leo Flores, Latin American policy expert and campaigner with Codepink, thanks very much.

LF: Thank you Aaron.

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Filed under USA, Venezuela

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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