Tag Archives: GCHQ

corona marginalia: ‘weaponising truth’

In just the past week, the national-security states of the United States and United Kingdom have discreetly let it be known that the cyber tools and online tactics previously designed for use in the post-9/11 “war on terror” are now being repurposed for use against information sources promoting “vaccine hesitancy” and information related to Covid-19 that runs counter to their state narratives.

writes Whitney Webb in a recent article in which she investigates the newest wave of censorship in the now relentless campaign against free speech on the internet.

Entitled “US – UK Intel Agencies Declare Cyber War on Independent Media”, the article continues:

A new cyber offensive was launched on Monday by the UK’s signal intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which seeks to target websites that publish content deemed to be “propaganda” that raises concerns regarding state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccine development and the multi-national pharmaceutical corporations involved.

Similar efforts are underway in the United States, with the US military recently funding a CIA-backed firm—stuffed with former counterterrorism officials who were behind the occupation of Iraq and the rise of the so-called Islamic State—to develop an AI algorithm aimed specifically at new websites promoting “suspected” disinformation related to the Covid-19 crisis and the US military–led Covid-19 vaccination effort known as Operation Warp Speed.

Both countries are preparing to silence independent journalists who raise legitimate concerns over pharmaceutical industry corruption or the extreme secrecy surrounding state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccination efforts, now that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate is slated to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by month’s end.

Pfizer’s history of being fined billions for illegal marketing and for bribing government officials to help them cover up an illegal drug trial that killed eleven children (among other crimes) has gone unmentioned by most mass media outlets, which instead have celebrated the apparently imminent approval of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine without questioning the company’s history or that the mRNA technology used in the vaccine has sped through normal safety trial protocols and has never been approved for human use. Also unmentioned is that the head of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Patrizia Cavazzoni, is the former Pfizer vice president for product safety who covered up the connection of one of its products to birth defects.

Essentially, the power of the state is being wielded like never before to police online speech and to deplatform news websites to protect the interests of powerful corporations like Pfizer and other scandal-ridden pharmaceutical giants as well as the interests of the US and UK national-security states, which themselves are intimately involved in the Covid-19 vaccination endeavor.

In the same piece, Whitney Webb also highlights the involvement of a US tech firm called Primer whose founder, Sean Gourley, has previously worked on military AI tracking systems and called for the creation of a “Manhattan Project for truth”:

In early October, the US Air Force and US Special Operations Command announced that they had awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to the US-based “machine intelligence” company Primer. Per the press release, “Primer will develop the first-ever machine learning platform to automatically identify and assess suspected disinformation [emphasis added]. Primer will also enhance its natural language processing platform to automatically analyze tactical events to provide commanders with unprecedented insight as events unfold in near real-time.”

According to Primer, the company “builds software machines that read and write in English, Russian, and Chinese to automatically unearth trends and patterns across large volumes of data,” and their work “supports the mission of the intelligence community and broader DOD by automating reading and research tasks to enhance the speed and quality of decision-making.” In other words, Primer is developing an algorithm that would allow the national-security state to outsource many military and intelligence analyst positions to AI. In fact, the company openly admits this, stating that their current effort “will automate the work typically done by dozens of analysts in a security operations center to ingest all of the data relevant to an event as it happens and funnel it into a unified user interface.”

Primer’s ultimate goal is to use their AI to entirely automate the shaping of public perceptions and become the arbiter of “truth,” as defined by the state. Primer’s founder, Sean Gourley, who previously created AI programs for the military to track “insurgency” in post-invasion Iraq, asserted in an April blog post that “computational warfare and disinformation campaigns will, in 2020, become a more serious threat than physical war, and we will have to rethink the weapons we deploy to fight them.”

In that same post, Gourley argued for the creation of a “Manhattan Project for truth” that would create a publicly available Wikipedia-style database built off of “knowledge bases [that] already exist inside many countries’ intelligence agencies for national security purposes.” Gourley then wrote that “this effort would be ultimately about building and enhancing our collective intelligence and establishing a baseline for what’s true or not” as established by intelligence agencies. He concludes his blog post by stating that “in 2020, we will begin to weaponize truth.”

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article which is straplined “British and American state intelligence agencies are ‘weaponizing truth’ to quash vaccine hesitancy as both nations prepare for mass inoculations, in a recently announced ‘cyber war’ to be commanded by AI-powered arbiters of truth against information sources that challenge official narratives” on her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Filed under Britain, internet freedom, USA

‘The Russian Interference Report, Without Laughing’ | Craig Murray

Now the madding crowd has moved on, I take a mature look at the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on Russia. It is so flawed it is tempting simply to mock it. But in fact, it is extremely dangerous.

It calls expressly and repeatedly for the security services to be actively involved in “policing the democratic space” and castigates the security services for their unwillingness to interfere in democratic process. It calls for tough government action against social media companies who refuse to censor and remove from the internet material it believes to be inspired by foreign states. It specifically accepts the Integrity Initiative’s Christopher Donnelly and Ben Nimmo as examples of good identifiers of the material which should be banned – even though Nimmo is the man who stated that use of the phrase “Cui bono” is indicative of a Russian troll, and who accused scores of ordinary Scottish Independence supporters of being Russian trolls.

In order for you to assess the threat of a report which specifically calls on the social media companies to ban those individuals the British government identifies as Russian trolls, and which calls on the security services to act against those people, remember Ian.

Ian was identified by the British government as a Russian troll, on the word of Nimmo and Donnelly – exactly the “experts” on which this report relies. This report proposes Ian, and people like him, be banned from social media and subject to security service surveillance.

Listen to Ian:

In short the report is a real threat to democracy. Its evidence base is appalling, and that is what I shall look at first.

The ISC took evidence from just five “experts” outside the intelligence services. They were Anne Applebaum, Bill Browder, Christopher Donnelly, Edward Lucas and Christopher Steele. I do not quite know how to get over to you the full significance of this. It would be impossible to assemble a group of five witnesses with any pretence whatsoever to respectability (and some of them have an extremely tenuous link to respectability) that would be more far out, right wing and Russophobic. They are the extreme fringe of anti-Russian thinking. They are nowhere near the consensus among the academic, diplomatic and other genuinely expert communities on Russia.

There is simply no attempt at balance whatsoever. The best I can try to get over the extent of this would be to compare it to a hypothetical parliamentary inquiry into Old Firm rivalry where the only witnesses are Scott Brown, Neil Lennon, John Hartson, the Green Brigade, and a Cardinal. There is not any attempt from the ISC to interview any witness who is even remotely balanced or can give the view from the other side. Some might feel that a report entitled simply “Russia” which called zero actual Russians as witnesses is somewhat flawed.

To go through those witnesses.

Anne Applebaum is the most respectable of them. I should state that I know both Anne (whom I know as Ania) and her husband, Radek Sikorski MEP, slightly from my time as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Poland (1994-8). Anne is a right wing journalist who has worked at both the Spectator and the American Enterprise Institute, a Randian think tank. She identifies as Polish and shares the understandable visceral distrust of Russia felt by the Polish right. Her husband Radek Sikorski is a long term friend of Boris Johnson, member of the Bullingdon Club, also worked at the American Enterprise Institute and is a former Defence Minister of Poland. Radek’s persona as a politician is very much based around his hawkish stance on Russia. Both Anne and Radek have consistently argued for the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO and forward stationing of US troops and missiles towards Russia.

Bill Browder is a billionaire who made his money out of the Russian people from the fallout of Russia’s chaotic privatisation process. He achieved fame by portraying his highly corrupt accountant, Sergei Magnitskiy, as a human rights campaigner murdered by the Russian authorities. Browder’s account of events was found to be fundamentally false by the European Court of Human Rights, in a judgement which received zero truthful reporting in Western media. Here is an extract from the judgement of the ECHR:

The applicants argued that Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had not been based on a reasonable suspicion of a crime and that the authorities had lacked impartiality as they had actually wanted to force him to retract his allegations of corruption by State officials. The Government argued that there had been ample evidence of tax evasion and that Mr Magnitskiy had been a flight risk.

The Court reiterated the general principles on arbitrary detention, which could arise if the
authorities had complied with the letter of the law but had acted with bad faith or deception. It found no such elements in this case: the enquiry into alleged tax evasion which had led to
Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had begun long before he had complained of fraud by officials. The decision to arrest him had only been made after investigators had learned that he had previously applied for a UK visa, had booked tickets to Kyiv, and had not been residing at his registered address.

Furthermore, the evidence against him, including witness testimony, had been enough to satisfy an objective observer that he might have committed the offence in question. The list of reasons given by the domestic court to justify his subsequent detention had been specific and sufficiently detailed.

The Court thus rejected the applicants’ complaint about Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest and subsequent detention as being manifestly ill-founded.

The ECJ found that Magnitskiy indeed died as a result of the shortcomings of Russia’s brutal prison regime – very similar to that of the United States in this regard – but that he was properly in prison on viable criminal charges. The western media may ignore the fact that Browder’s activism is motivated entirely by a desire to hold on to his own vast ill-gotten wealth, and that the highest of courts has found his campaigning is based on a false narrative, but it is deeply, deeply shocking that the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who must know the truth, still give Browder credibility. There is no sense in which Browder is a respectable witness.

Christopher Donnelly was forced to step down as a person with significant control of fake charity “The Institute for Statecraft” after the Scottish Charity Regulator found that:

“There was no clear explanation as to why the salaries being paid to charity trustees were considered reasonable and necessary, and we had concern about the charity trustees’ decision-making process around these payments. We do not consider that this private benefit was incidental to the organisation’s activities that advanced its purposes”.

In other words, making money for its trustees, principally Christopher Donnelly, was a purpose of the Institute for Statecraft, not an incidental benefit. This is what the Charity Regulator also found about this fake charity:

The Charity Regulator also found that the Integrity Initiative, run by the Institute for Statecraft, was sending out party political tweets. All of this activity was of course carried out with taxpayers money, the Integrity Initiative being funded by the FCO, the MOD, and the security services.

The Integrity Initiative is a covert propaganda organisation designed to do precisely what the ISC report accuses Russia of doing – covertly influencing politics in both the UK and numerous other countries by state sponsored propaganda disguised as independent journalism or social media posts. Christopher Donnelly heads the Integrity Initiative. Its basic method of operation is secretly to pay mainstream media journalists around the world to pump out disguised British government propaganda, and to run hidden social media campaigns doing the same thing.

All of the “expert witnesses” before the committee feature in the leaked Integrity Initiative documents as part of Integrity Initiative activites. They are all engaged in doing precisely what they here accuse the Russians of doing. The best exposition, to the highest academic standards, of the fascinating leaked documents of the Integrity Initiative operation is by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and the Media. You can very happily spend an hour looking through their report.

So the UK UK was asking its own paid propagandists what they thought of the Russian propagandists. Every one of the witnesses makes their living from postulating the Russian threat. They therefore said the Russian threat is very big indeed.

Edward Lucas is a hilarious professional Russophobe. He is the go-to anti-Russia expert of the BBC, and can be guaranteed to say something stimulating, such as this:

Lucas actually uses #newcoldwar in his twitter profile, and is jolly keen on the idea.

Christopher Steele is a charlatan and con-man. He is by no means unique in trading on the glamour and reputation of MI6 to build up a consultancy business after an undistinguished career as a middle ranking MI6 officer.

When Steele produced, for a large sum of money, his famous “Pee dossier” on Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, it was obvious to anyone with any professional background in intelligence analysis that it simply could not be genuine. It claimed to have a level of access into Russian security circles which is greater than the penetration ever secured by MI6 or the CIA. I immediately pointed out its deficiencies, but these were ignored by an establishment media desperate to explain away the Trump insurgency into their political space.

Since then the dossier has simply fallen apart. Steele has been successfully sued by people named in the dossier. The lawyer Michael Cohen has shown that he was definitively not in Prague on the date Steele claimed he was meeting Russian hackers there, and indeed has never been to Prague. Most telling of all, it turns out that most of the content of the dossier was simply a compilation of the gossip of the Russian emigre community in Washington by Igor Danchenko, formerly a junior staff member at the Brookings Institute, a liberal foreign policy thinktank.

The silence of the media on the unravelling of the Steele Dossier has been so remarkable it has drawn comment in unexpected quarters:

Having seen the quality of the input, it is unsurprising that the report is a case of “rubbish in, rubbish out”. So let us now, with rubber gloves and a peg on the nose, pick through the rubbish.

To start at para 1, the tone is immediately set of paranoid antagonism to Russia. There is no attempt at balance whatsoever; anti-Russian statement is built on anti-Russian statement until we are supposed to be carried away by the stream of rhetoric to accept each succeeding proposition as it is piled up. Like this one:

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 demonstrated that Russia under President Putin had moved from potential partner to established threat.

Did it really? Accepting for the sake of argument that the official British explanation of Litvinenko’s death is true and it was a murder by the Russian state, does that show that Russia is an “established threat”? It would certainly be an appalling abuse of human rights and show Russia is a threat to Russian dissidents, but would it really show Russia is an “established threat” to you and me? Plenty of other countries murder their opponents abroad, notably the USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Uzbekistan, countries the UK government is proud to call allies. The UK kills opponents abroad continually, in drone strikes, including deliberately by drone killing its own citizens and even killing young British children. I can condemn all such murders equally. But why should we be carried away by the anti-Russian rhetoric into finding it uniquely reprehensible, only when Russia does it?

I could go through every single para of the report, but life is too short. I will however pick out places where the logic is far less convincing than the rhetoric is impressive. From Para 3:

its lack of strong independent public bodies and the fusion of government and business allow it to leverage all its intelligence, military and economic power at the same time to pose an all-encompassing security threat.

Really? Is Russia really that unified? In fact, this is a startling over-simplification. The extreme oligarchic structure which resulted from the wholesale looting of assets in the western-inspired and western-overseen chaos of Russian privatisation has resulted in a state which is indeed not a healthy democracy. But neither is it a monolith with no dissent and no conflicting interests, and Putin has continually to balance the desires and goals of different oligarchs and factions. Not many Russians would recognise the portrayal here of a super efficient and coherent state and business machine.

Besides, even if it were true, Russia would still only have one fifth of the population of the European Union and an economy the size of Spain. The attempt to pump up Russia as a massive threatening superpower is simply nonsense. What Russia does have is the ability to take decisive politico-military action, on a small scale in limited theatres, such as Crimea or Syria. It does so with success because it has a leader who is better at the game of international realpolitik that his western contemporaries. That is not a value judgement: I personally believe Putin is right in Syria and wrong in Crimea. But to blame Russia for the decrepit state of current western diplomacy is a stretch.

By para 4 the report is surfing along on a surreal wave of nonsense:

The security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic.

Really? Nihilistic? Now the report has already stated that Russia is a remarkably monolithic and unified state apparatus, controlled presumably by President Putin. I can think of many adjectives to describe Putin, some of them not very pleasant – calculating, machiavellian and devious would be amongst them. But he is the absolute opposite of nihilist. He has a clearly defined view of Russia’s interests – and that view identifies Russian interests far too closely with himself and other oligarchs – and sets out diligently and consistently to advance those interests.

So you can define clear Russian policy goals in the international sphere. These include the consolidation of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union and, where possible, the re-integration of contiguous Russian majority speaking territory into Russia, as seen in Georgia and Ukraine. They include the reduction of democratic space for political dissent at home. They include the countering of American influence abroad, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia. These are serious, hard-headed policies. The very last word I would use to describe them is nihilistic. The Russian oligarch class are as unquestioningly materialist as any class in any society, ever. They are not nihilists.

I can only imagine that the committee picked up on the word “nihilist” from one of the crazed flights of fancy of Edward Lucas.

Para 4 then blunders on into still stranger territory:

It is also seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.

What could give them that idea?

But what is really strange is the lack of self awareness; a report built entirely upon paranoia about the Russian threat accuses Russia of paranoia about the western threat.

The next few paragraphs make repeated reference to the “Salisbury attacks” and simply take for granted the narrative that Russia was responsible for these. This I am not prepared to do. Clearly some kind of spy subterfuge took place in Salisbury involving both the UK and Russia, but there are too many obvious lies in the official UK government account. I still have seen no answers to my ten outstanding questions, while the attribution of the poison gets ever shakier, with new revelations from that cesspool of corruption, the bureaucracy of the OPCW.

Paras 13 to 20, on cyber warfare, again show that complete lack of self-awareness. They attribute a number of cyber hacks to Russia and the GRU, as though we did not know from Wikileaks Vault 7 leaks that the CIA specifically has a programme, “Umbrage” for leaving behind fake evidence of a Russian hack. But more tellingly, they quote GCHQ as their source of information.

Now it is a simple truth that hacking Russian communications, including military, political, security, research and commercial communications, has been a core part of GCHQ tasking from its establishment. Assuming at least some of the attributions to Russia on cyber warfare are correct, the synthetic outrage at Russia doing what we have been doing to Russia on a far, far larger scale for decades, is laughable. Even more so when paras 20 to 24 talk of the need for the MOD and GCHQ to expand their offensive cyber warfare as though this were a retaliatory measure.

From para 27 onwards the committee is talking about broadcast and new media disinformation campaigns. Here it stops pretending it knows any secret intelligence and states its information is open source, as at footnote 24 where the sources are frothing mad Edward Lucas and fake charity purveyor Christopher Donnelly, telling us how terrible Russian troll campaigns are.

Yet again, there is a total lack of self awareness. The committee fails to note that Donnelly himself has been spending millions of UK taxpayers’ money (at least that which did not go into his own pocket) running absolutely, precisely the same kind of covert campaign of hidden influence propaganda that they are accusing Russia of running. They accuse Russia Today of bias as though the BBC did not have its own state propaganda bias. Yet again, the lack of self-awareness is stunning.

Now we start to reach the stage where all this sanctimonious hypocrisy become really dangerous. Before you read this next few paras of the report, I would remind you that the repression of every bad regime everywhere has always been, in the eyes of the repressive security service, defensive. It is always to protect the truth, to prevent the spread of the lies and disaffection of evil foreign influence. That was the justification of the Cheka, the Gestapo, the Stasi and every South American dictator. They were all protecting the people from foreign lies. Now read this from the committee, and consider what it really means:

33. Whilst we understand the nervousness around any suggestion that the intelligence and security Agencies might be involved in democratic processes – certainly a fear that is writ large in other countries – that cannot apply when it comes to the protection of those processes. And without seeking in any way to imply that DCMS is not capable, or that the Electoral Commission is not a staunch defender of democracy, it is a question of scale and access. DCMS is a small Whitehall policy department and the Electoral Commission is an arm’s length body; neither is in the central position required to tackle a major hostile state threat to our democracy. Protecting our democratic discourse and processes from hostile foreign interference is a central responsibility of Government, and should be a ministerial priority.

34. In our opinion, the operational role must sit primarily with MI5, in line with its statutory responsibility for “the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy … ”.38 The policy role should sit with the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) – primarily due to its ten years of experience in countering the terrorist threat and its position working closely with MI5 within the central Government machinery. This would also have the advantage that the relationship built with social media companies to encourage them to co-operate in dealing with terrorist use of social media could be brought to bear against the hostile state threat; indeed, it is not clear to us why the
Government is not already doing this.

35. With that said, we note that – as with so many other issues currently – it is the social media companies which hold the key and yet are failing to play their part. The Government must now seek to establish a protocol with the social media companies to ensure that they take covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously, and have clear timescales within which they commit to removing such material. Government should ‘name and shame’ those which fail to act. Such a protocol could, usefully, be expanded to encompass the other areas in which action is required from the social media companies, since this issue is not unique to Hostile State Activity. This matter is, in our view, urgent and we expect the Government to report on progress in this area as soon as possible.

The government endorsed Donnelly/Nimmo operation identified Ian above as a Russian agent. I have no doubt they would count this article as Russian disinformation. They would set MI5 on Ian and I, and ensure our posts would be banned from social media. Only such a corrupt mainstream media as we have in the UK would fail entirely to note – and they have failed entirely to note – the extreme and illiberal aspects of this report.

There is a real danger identified by the report. But it is not Russia, it is the McCarthyite witch-hunt the report seeks to promote, ironically based upon an entire sea of disinformation.

By paragraph 42 the committee has left reality entirely behind in favour of a tour of Clintonland.

42. It was only when Russia completed a ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee in the US – with the stolen emails being made public a month after the EU referendum – that it appears that the Government belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area, given that the risk thresholds in the Kremlin had clearly shifted, describing the US ‘hack and leak’ as a “game changer”, 46 and admitting that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.

Contrary to the committee’s bland assertion, it is now well established that there never was any Russian hack of the DNC. Mueller failed entirely, after spending US $32million, to establish either a hack or Russian “collusion” with the Trump campaign. The only “evidence” there ever was for the Russian hack was an affirmation by the DNC’s security consultants, Crowdstrike, and this summer we learnt that Crowdstrike had never had any evidence of a Russian hack either. While those of us close to Wikileaks have been explaining for years it was a leak, not a hack. We were ignored by the media as it did not fit with the official disinformation campaign.

The committee query why the UK security services were not alerted by the DNC hack to take additional measures against Russia. The answer to that is very simple. The UK and US security services share all intelligence, so the UK security services were well aware from the US intelligence information that there was in fact no Russian hack. Unlike their US counterparts, they were not led by Clinton appointed loyalists prepared to perpetuate and act upon the lie to try to serve their political masters. On the other hand, the UK security services evidently did not feel it necessary to dampen the ardour of the committee on this point when it was about to propose a large increase in their powers and their budgets.

I had already blogged on paragraph 41 of the report and its accusation of Russian interference in the election campaign, founded entirely on a published article on Medium by witch-finder general, the Livingston unionist Ben Nimmo. That article states, among other things, that many Independence supporters on social media also support Russia on Ukraine, and therefore must be agents of Russian influence – as opposed to Scots who happen to support Russia over Ukraine. It notes that a number of people who support Scottish Independence appear not to have English as their first language, and some have trouble with definite and indefinite articles; therefore, Nimmo concludes they must be Russian trolls. As though we have no migrants who support Scottish Independence – and ignoring the fact Polish, Lithuanian, indeed the majority of languages in the world, also do not use definite and indefinite articles.

Let us remind ourselves of Ben Nimmo’s brilliant identification of top Russian trolls, nine out of ten of which turned out to be ordinary Scottish Independence supporters who simply tweeted things Nimmo does not like, while the tenth is a news aggregation bot which actually has the word “bot” in its name. That the committee takes this stuff seriously is a fact so eloquent in itself, I need hardly say more.

When we arrive at section 49 we finally reach material with which I can wholeheartedly agree. The UK, and the City of London in particular, was absolutely wrong to have welcomed in with open arms the Russian billionaires whose fortunes had been looted from the Russian people in the chaotic privatisation process, where assets were seized often by brute force, sometimes by bribery. There is no decent society in which the Deripaskas, the Usmanovs, the Lebvedevs, the Abramovics, should be accorded respect. Dirty money corrupts financial and political institutions. The committee is absolutely correct about that.

But have these people been living under a rock? UK politics and society have been a stinking morass of corruption for generations. Saudi money has worked in exactly the same way as Russian, and has had a bigger political influence, leading to a quite disgusting blind eye being turned to appalling human rights violations and military aggression against civilians. The same is true of all the Gulf states. London has been awash for over 40 years with Nigerian plutocrats, every single one of whose wealth has been corruptly looted. When I worked at the British High Commission in Lagos, the snobs’ estate agent Knight Frank and Rutley had an office there, staffed by expatriates, which did nothing but sell Surrey mansions and Docklands penthouses to crooks.

Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Angola, Sierra Leone, there is not a blood diamond or corruptly acquired oil barrel whose proceeds do not wash up in London. Four of the world’s top ten tax evasion bases are British colonies. The committee was right to describe the City of London as a “laundromat” for looted money, but wrong to ascribe that mainly to Russia. That is without considering the disgusting activities of our own UK and US billionaires, who control our media and ultimately our politics.

I can join in the committee’s condemnation of Russian oligarchs influence in British society, and especially their influence as donors on the Tory party. But remember Mandelson/Deripaska. The corruption has no ideological basis except selfishness. The financial interests of British, American, Russian, Saudi, French, Malaysian or any other billionaires are entirely intertwined, as is their political influence. It is the billionaires against the people. The nationality of the particular billionaire is irrelevant. I strongly recommend this report by Transparency International on the massive involvement of “respectable” British institutions in facilitating obviously corrupt transactions.

Does anybody seriously believe the influence of Russian billionaires is somehow more pernicious in the UK than the Saudis or any of the others I have mentioned? Of course nobody believes that; this report only achieves its aim by a blinkered focus on a singular anti-Russian racism. I am not going to expound on any more of the report, because there is a limit to how much racism I am prepared to wade through.

But before closing, I want to consider how enthusiasm for the new Cold War has swept up pretty well the entire political and media class. There are of course those who were enthusiasts for the last Cold War, the military and security services, the arms industry and bottom feeders like Christopher Steele and Christopher Donnelly, who make a surprisingly fat living from peddling the disinformation the state wishes to hear.

But the “Russia is the enemy” narrative has been taken up not just by the traditional right, but by those who would probably self-describe as liberal or social democrat, by supporters of Blair and Hillary.

Most of the explanation for this lies in the success of Blair and Clinton in diverting the “left” into the neo-con foreign policy agenda, through the doctrine of “liberal intervention”, which was the excuse for much Victorian imperialism. The notion is that if you only bomb and maim people in developing countries enough, they will develop democratic forms of government.

This thesis is at best unproven. But once you persuade people to accept one form of war, they seem to become enthusiasts for more of it, particularly those who work in media. It remains the most important single fact in British politics that, despite the fact almost everybody now acknowledges that it was a disaster, nobody ever lost their job for supporting the Iraq war. Quite a few lost their job for opposing it, Greg Dyke, Carne Ross, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Piers Morgan being among the examples. It is a simple matter of fact that the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders dominate the London political and media landscape, whereas there is no critic of the Iraq War in an important position of power.

But apart from the argument that we must oppose Russia because it is not a democracy (but not oppose Saudi Arabia because… well, because), something else is in play. The cosy liberal worldview has been shattered by a populist surge, as represented by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Both events are cataclysmic to the liberal mind and need to be explained.

For some reason, many mainstream liberals, especially the well-heeled ones who control the media and are columnists therein, are unable to acknowledge the truth. The truth is that our apparently comfortable modern society left a large number of people behind, who suffered loss of status from the ever-growing wealth gap and believed their opinions were not valued by an urban establishment they despised. These people revolted and had a right to revolt. That their discontent was seized upon and diverted by charlatans to unworthy political causes did not nullify the just causes of discontent. Loss of wages, job security and social status has bedeviled the disenfranchised at the same time that the plutocrats have been piling up personal wealth.

The upsurge of populism is a direct consequence of the vicious inequality of late stage capitalism, seasoned with racist attitudes to migrants which were themselves triggered by large waves of immigration the “liberal left” in fact caused with their obsessive pursuit of foreign invasion and destruction. That analysis, that the capitalist system they so wholeheartedly espouse and the wars for “freedom” they so ardently promote are the cause of the political setbacks they have encountered – is unpalatable to the media and political classes.

They therefore look for another cause for the raw political wounds of Trump and Brexit. Incredibly, they attempt to blame Putin for both. The notion that Russia, rather than deep disaffection of the less privileged classes, “caused” Trump, Brexit and even support for Scottish Independence is completely risible, yet uncritical acceptance of that analysis is fundamental to this report. It fits the mindset of the entire political and media establishment which is why it has been lauded, when it should be condemned as a real threat to the very political freedoms which it claims differentiate us from Russia.

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Click here to read the same article as it was originally published on Craig Murray’s official website on Wednesday August 12th.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

I would like to thank Craig Murray for permission to share and republish this article. Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by wall of controversy.

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, Russia

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #4 the weaponisation of social media

Important note: As we approach the period spanning the end of May and beginning of June when Bilderberg meetings are ordinarily scheduled, it should be observed that the home page of the official Bilderberg website currently declares in bold capitals:

THE MEETING 2020 IS POSTPONED.

It does not say for how long.

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Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you

— Joseph Heller 1

This is the fourth of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ at last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed here in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

This piece focuses on issues relating to the weaponsation of social media and cyber threats:


A schematically enhanced version of last year’s ‘key topics’

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Trolls R’ Us

JTRIG was in the business of discrediting companies, by passing “confidential information to the press through blogs etc.”, and by posting negative information on internet forums. They could change someone’s social media photos (“can take ‘paranoia’ to a whole new level”, a slide read.) They could use masquerade-type techniques – that is: placing “secret” information on a compromised computer. They could bombard someone’s phone with text messages or calls.

JTRIG also boasted an arsenal of 200 info-weapons, ranging from in-development to fully operational. A tool dubbed “Badger” allowed the mass delivery of email. Another, called “Burlesque”, spoofed SMS messages. “Clean Sweep” would impersonate Facebook wall posts for individuals or entire countries. “Gateway” gave the ability to “artificially increase traffic to a website”. “Underpass” was a way to change the outcome of online polls.

The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is a unit attached to Britain’s GCHQ. The summary above is based on a slides leaked by Edward Snowden. It outlines the sorts of disinformation tactics being deployed against targets across the world (including domestic ones) as far back as 2013. Of course, this is long before mainstream reports of Russian troll farms and the consequent calls for active internet censorship to save us from the ever-present threat of “fake news”.

Entitled “Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine”, the same Wired report devotes its main attention to the slightly better known UK disinfo operation, the 77th Brigade, that was founded officially in January 2015, although its establishment had in actuality involved the rebranding of a different agency formerly known as the “Security Assistance Group” 2:

Walking through the headquarters of the 77th, the strange new reality of warfare was on display. We’ve all heard a lot about “cyberwarfare” – about how states could attack their enemies through computer networks, damaging their infrastructure or stealing their secrets. But that wasn’t what was going on here. Emerging here in the 77th Brigade was a warfare of storyboards and narratives, videos and social media. An engagement now doesn’t just happen on the battlefield, but also in the media and online. A victory is won as much in the eyes of the watching public as between opposing armies on the battlefield. Warfare in the information age is a warfare over information itself.

A few paragraphs down, we also learn that:

Inside the base of the 77th, everything was in motion. Flooring was being laid, work units installed; desks – empty of possessions – formed neat lines in offices still covered in plastic, tape and sawdust. The unit was formed in a hurry in 2015 from various older parts of the British Army – a Media Operations Group, a Military Stabilisation Support Group, a Psychological Operations Group. It has been rapidly expanding ever since.

In 2014, a year before the 77th was established, a memo entitled “Warfare in the Information Age” flashed across the British military. “We are now in the foothills of the Information Age” the memo announced. It argued that the British Army needed to fight a new kind of war, one that “will have information at its core”. The Army needed to be out on social media, on the internet, and in the press, engaged, as the memo put it, “in the reciprocal, real-time business of being first with the truth, countering the narratives of others, and if necessary manipulating the opinion of thousands concurrently in support of combat operations.” 3

Click here to read the full article in Wired magazine.

In March 2018, James Corbett foreshadowed the Bilderberg group with a broadcast of his own show entitled “The Weaponization of Social Media”:

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New America

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left and helped Google shape those debates.

According to a New York Times article from August 2017 entitled “Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant”. The critic in question was a scholar working for New America called Barry Lynn who posted a statement on the think tank’s website applauding European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager for levying a fine of 2.4 billion euros against Google for breaching EU antitrust laws.

The same NYT report continues:

“New America financial supporters have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis or findings of New America research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs and communications efforts,” [New America’s executive vice president] Ms. [Tyra] Mariani said. She added that Mr. Lynn’s statement praising the European Union’s sanctions against Google had been temporarily removed from New America’s website because of “an unintentional internal issue” unrelated to Google or Mr. [Eric] Schmidt.

Ms. Mariani and Ms. [Riva] Sciuto [a Google spokeswoman] said Google is continuing to fund New America.

Hours after this article was published online Wednesday morning, Ms. [Anne-Marie] Slaughter announced that the think tank had fired Mr. Lynn on Wednesday for “his repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality.”

Ms. Slaughter also wrote on Twitter that the article was “false,” but was unable to cite any errors. New America would not make Ms. Slaughter available for an interview. 4

So what? Why am I writing about this hand-in-glove relationship between tech giant Google and the Executive Chairman of its parent company Alphabet Inc., Eric Schmidt, with a think tank formerly known as New America Foundation but since renamed simply New America? The short answer is one man: Peter Warren Singer.

A strategist for America Foundation, P.W. Singer specialises in 21st century warfare. In a few years he has published nothing short of a small library of books on related topics ranging from the post-9/11 rise of the mercenary armies, child soldiers, military robotics, cybersecurity and cyberwarfare. Amongst his most recent publications, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (2018) is already regarded as a seminal work.

If “CyberWar” is about hacking networks, “LikeWar” is about hacking the people on the networks, driving ideas viral through a mix of “likes” and lies. And in these battles for virality, which can generate real world power, generating a sense of authenticity has become an important milestone for any online operation, be it selling an album, a political campaign, or an information warfare operation designed to cause your enemies army to run away (as in the #AllEyesOnISIS operation). 5

From an article by P.W. Singer and co-author Emerson Brooking entitled “What Taylor Swift Teaches Us About Online War” published around the time of the book launch by Defense One in October 2018.

Funnily enough, and only a few months later, Singer was invited to the 2019 Bilderberg gathering in Montreux, when one of the key topics happened to be “The weaponisation of social media”.

I wonder whether he contributed to the discussion at all, and found the time to chew the cud with Bilderberg warhorse and his New America Foundation benefactor and Chairman Emeritus, Eric Schmidt.

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(Everything is) LikeWar

The pattern of military hardware silhouettes above welcomes visitors to P.W. Singer’s official website. To judge from his CV, he very probably has the same wallpaper up in his bedroom.

In a recent interview he told Lauren Hepler:

Social media is not just a communication space and a marketplace. It’s also a battle space. You have sides that go back and forth. They use tactics and strategies to achieve their goals. We’ve seen its weaponization to target elections, to target military units. We’ve seen it used to target corporations to try to sabotage their share price, to harm the rollout of a new product. We’ve also seen it have a real and very sad impact on public health.

This is now a matter of life and death. The deliberate spread of misinformation on coronavirus didn’t just shape a laggard Trump administration response, but also shaped individual-level decisions that were irresponsible and dangerous. It cost lives.

Singer calls a response at all levels: individual, governmental and, importantly, corporate:

Then we had coronavirus breakout, and all of them [‘the platform companies’] again implemented things [forms of censorship] that were unthinkable, impossible for them to do just a few months earlier. They should be applauded for doing it, but as they take on more and more of a political role, they are forced to play politics. For example, when someone posts information about a medical treatment that is not effective and maybe even dangerous, they knocked offline certain individuals for doing that, but not others because they’re a little bit too prominent, and if we do, then it will look like we’re playing politics.

Singer’s view is that playing politics is fine, indeed something the tech giants “should be applauded for doing”, however in western democracies, maintaining appearances is of the utmost importance. He continues:

I’m incredibly empathetic toward these companies, because they’re being forced to play this role in the U.S. essentially because we have not updated our election rules. In other nations, the companies have more guidance.

Incredibly empathetic… well, you’re hardly going to bite the hand that feeds you! But what is Singer’s role here? As a former Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and current Strategist for New America, whose major donors besides Eric and Wendy Schmidt also include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US State Department, Singer is clearly in the business of shaping US government policy on behalf of corporate interests. In this instance, enjoining the government to issue “guidance” on censorship such that the tech giants are then able to distance themselves from policies deliberately brought in to marginalise dissident voices.

A Washington Post article published in late 2016 entitled “Why Facebook and Google are struggling to purge fake news” made the matter plain:

Facebook, Google and other Web companies have sought to walk a fine line: They don’t want to get into the practice of hiring human editors, which they believe would make them vulnerable to criticisms of partisan bias and stray from their core business of building software. Yet outsiders, as well as some within Silicon Valley, are increasingly clamoring for technology giants to take a more active role in policing the spread of deceptive information.

“It is very difficult for Facebook to say they are not a gatekeeper when they drive such an enormous share of the attention of most news consumers across the world,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. “They need to figure out some editorial mechanism; with their scale comes responsibility.” 6

Singer admits:

A few weeks ago, there was a blast of kind-of-weird content moderation happening. It was because the platform companies had to send many of their people home, and they were using more and more AI that was understandably squirrelly. People were looking for conspiracy, when it was just AI doing its thing. 7

As an esteemed expert in his field Singer must know very well, of course, that this excuse of ‘squirrelly AI’ is actually a red herring. After all, the internet clampdown and “kind-of-weird content moderation” didn’t spring forth inadvertently on the back of the coronavirus lockdown a few weeks ago, but has been incrementally ratcheted up even before the first stirrings of the “Russiagate” hoax four years ago. As I pointed out in an earlier piece, fears of the fabled internet “kill switch” are a distraction, as the volume of dissident voices is being steadily turned down and the internet is slowly shut down by stealth.

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Project Birmingham: Alabama’s ‘fake news’ false flag

At least 1,100 Russian-language accounts followed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore’s Twitter account over the past few days. Moore’s team says they want to know why.

So begins an article in local newspaper the Montgomery Advertiser entitled “Russian invasion? Roy Moore sees spike in Twitter followers from land of Putin”

Caption retained:
A screen cap of Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore’s Twitter followers on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Moore’s campaign accounts was followed by thousands of Cyrillic-language accounts in the days prior. The Moore campaign says they have asked Twitter to investigate. (Photo: Twitter)

Beneath a composite image showing just a few examples of this huge army of Russian Twitter bots (see above), the same report into the stormy Alabama 2017 senate race between Republican Roy Moore and rival Democrat Doug Jones continues:

“We had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Drew Messer, a spokesman for the campaign, on Monday. “We’ve never purchased followers or dummy ads on Twitter. We’ve asked Twitter to look into this.”

The increase helped push Moore’s following on Twitter from about 27,000 accounts on Friday to over 47,000, ahead of Democratic nominee Doug Jones, who has about 39,000 followers on Twitter.

Adding:

The Jones campaign Monday evening said Moore was “embarrassing the people of Alabama with another disgusting and pathetic lie.”

“Maybe Moore should check with Vladimir Putin, who shares his views on depriving people of their civil rights,” the statement said.  8

Although Moore had been leading in the polls by six to eight points, it was finally Democrat Jones who went on to win the election. So had the disclosure of Russian influence during the campaign finally affected the result? Very possibly, although in the fullness of time something more extraordinary was revealed by an internal report. Those thousands of bots meddling in the campaign had not been Russian at all and had no connection whatsoever to Putin. Instead they were part of “an experiment”:

One participant in the Alabama project [aka ‘Project Birmingham’], Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee. […]

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.

The same piece includes a number of statements for Morgan, including this explanation:

Mr. Morgan said in an interview that the Russian botnet ruse “does not ring a bell,” adding that others had worked on the effort and had written the report. He said he saw the project as “a small experiment” designed to explore how certain online tactics worked, not to affect the election.

“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated,” said Mr. Morgan. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.” 9

Click here to read the full New York Times article published in December 2018 entitled “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics”.

Jonathan Morgan’s New Knowledge is a Texas-based cybersecurity firm, and behind it we find far larger concerns in the shape of American Engagement Technologies (AET) and for-profit investment management firm Investing In US. This is a trail I shall return to below.

However, it turns out that this phoney Russiagate operation was only part of the information warfare strategy. A separate effort had involved an elaborate fake campaign intended to convince voters of Republican candidate Moore’s supposed plans to reintroduce alcohol prohibition:

The “Dry Alabama” Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil’s work, and the state should ban it entirely.

Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported the Republican, Roy S. Moore, in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. “Pray for Roy Moore,” one tweet exhorted.

In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore — the second such secret effort to be unmasked.

So who was behind these disinformation campaigns? The same NYT piece continues:

The revelations about the first project, run in part by a cybersecurity company called New Knowledge, led Facebook to shut down five accounts that it said had violated its rules, and prompted Senator [Doug] Jones to call for a federal investigation. There is no evidence that Jones encouraged or knew of either of the deceptive social media projects. His spokeswoman, Heather Fluit, said his legal advisers were preparing to file a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission. […]

The first of the Alabama efforts was funded by Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who apologized and said he had been unaware of the project and did not approve of the underhanded methods. The second was funded by two Virginia donors who wanted to defeat Mr. Moore — a former judge accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls — according to a participant who would speak about the secret project only on the condition of anonymity and who declined to name the funders.

The two projects each received $100,000, funneled in both cases through the same organization: Investing in Us, which finances political operations in support of progressive causes. Dmitri Mehlhorn, the group’s managing partner, declined to comment on whether he approved of the tactics he had helped pay for. 10

For the record, Investing in US was co-founded by Reid Hoffman and Dmitri Mehlhorn, a former senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Click here to read the full NYT report entitled “Democrats Faked Online Push to Outlaw Alcohol in Alabama Race”.

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Pulling the strings back at Bilderberg

Reid Hoffman may be a name that is unfamiliar to you, even though he was co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn. As we learn from a NYT puff piece from 2011, after a shaky start, Hoffman was fortunate enough to have some well-connected associates:

In 1985, Mr. Hoffman enrolled at Stanford, where he majored in symbolic systems, the study of the relationship between computing and human intelligence. He soon befriended a fellow student, Peter Thiel, who would go on to found PayPal.

When his own social media start-up SocialNet flopped, Hoffman was invited to rejoin his old pal as Thiel was setting up PayPal:

As an executive vice president, it was up to Mr. Hoffman to manage external relations. “He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal,” Mr. Thiel says. “Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires.” 11

Click here to read the full NYT article entitled “A King of Connections Is Tech’s Go-To Guy”

Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman today sit at the high table as Bilderberg regulars alongside Eric Schmidt – the trio of techies have each attended every conference during the last four years: Thiel going under the title President of Thiel Capital; Hoffman more self-effacingly as a ‘Partner’ at Greylock Partners; and Schmidt, evidently the most modest of the three, declaring himself a mere ‘Technical Advisor’ to Alphabet Inc.

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Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

1 Though it is not referenced by Wikiquote, there are a wide variety of sources including articles published by the Guardian and The Atlantic magazine that have attributed Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 as the original source of this quote. Variations of the same quote are also misattributed to American singer, songwriter, and musician, best known as the guitarist and frontman of the rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain.

2 https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2015-02-24/225283/

3 From an article entitled “Inside the British Army’s secret information warfare machine” written by Carl Miller, published in Wired on November 14, 2018. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/inside-the-77th-brigade-britains-information-warfare-military

4 From an article entitled “Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant” written by Kenneth P. Vogel, published in The New York Times on August 30, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/politics/eric-schmidt-google-new-america.html?_r=0

5 From an article entitled “What Taylor Swift Teaches Us About Online War” written by Peter W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking, published in Defense One on October 2, 2018. https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/10/what-taylor-swift-teaches-us-about-online-war/151634/?oref=d-river

6 From an article entitled “Why Facebook and Google are struggling to purge fake news” written by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Caitlin Dewey & Craig Timberg, published in the Washington Post on November 15, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/why-facebook-and-google-are-struggling-to-purge-fake-news/2016/11/15/85022897-f765-422e-9f53-c720d1f20071_story.html

7 From an article entitled “A futurist on Covid-19 and business: Pandora’s box is now open” written by Lauren Hepler, published in Protocol on April 19, 2020. https://www.protocol.com/cyberwar-expert-pw-singer-coronavirus

8 From an article entitled “Russian invasion? Roy Moore sees spike in Twitter followers from land of Putin” written by Brian Lyman, originally published in the Montgomery Advertiser on October 16, 2017 (updated December 12, 2019) https://eu.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/southunionstreet/2017/10/16/roy-moores-twitter-account-gets-influx-russian-language-followers/768758001/

9 From an article entitled “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics” written by Scott Shane & Alan Blinder, published in The New York Times on December 19, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/us/alabama-senate-roy-jones-russia.html

10 From an article entitled “Democrats Faked Online Push to Outlaw Alcohol in Alabama Race” written by Scott Shane & Alan Blinder, published in The New York Times on January 7, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/07/us/politics/alabama-senate-facebook-roy-moore.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

11 From an article entitled “A King of Connections Is Tech’s Go-To Guy” written by Evelyn M. Rusli, published in The New York Times on November 5, 2011. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/business/reid-hoffman-of-linkedin-has-become-the-go-to-guy-of-tech.html?pagewanted=all

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Filed under analysis & opinion, internet freedom

further reasons to doubt Assad regime was behind Ghouta attack

The GCHQ listening post on Mount Troodos in Cyprus is arguably the most valued asset which the UK contributes to UK/US intelligence cooperation. The communications intercept agencies, GCHQ in the UK and NSA in the US, share all their intelligence reports (as do the CIA and MI6). Troodos is valued enormously by the NSA. It monitors all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East, ranging from Egypt and Eastern Libya right through to the Caucasus. Even almost all landline telephone communication in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage, picked up on Troodos.

Troodos is highly effective – the jewel in the crown of British intelligence. Its capacity and efficiency, as well as its reach, is staggering. The US do not have their own comparable facility for the Middle East. I should state that I have actually been inside all of this facility and been fully briefed on its operations and capabilities, while I was head of the FCO Cyprus Section in the early 1990s. This is fact, not speculation.

writes former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist, Craig Murray, in an article he posted on Saturday [August 31st].

Why is this important? Well, as Murray goes on to explain:

It is therefore very strange, to say the least, that John Kerry claims to have access to communications intercepts of Syrian military and officials organising chemical weapons attacks, which intercepts were not available to the British Joint Intelligence Committee.

On one level the explanation is simple. The intercept evidence was provided to the USA by Mossad, according to my own well placed source in the Washington intelligence community. Intelligence provided by a third party is not automatically shared with the UK, and indeed Israel specifies it should not be.

But the inescapable question is this. Mossad have nothing comparable to the Troodos operation. The reported content of the conversations fits exactly with key tasking for Troodos, and would have tripped all the triggers. How can Troodos have missed this if Mossad got it? The only remote possibility is that all the conversations went on a purely landline route, on which Mossad have a physical wire tap, but that is very unlikely in a number of ways – not least nowadays the purely landline route.

His own conclusion?

The answer to the Troodos Conundrum is simple. Troodos did not pick up the intercepts because they do not exist. Mossad fabricated them. John Kerry’s “evidence” is the shabbiest of tricks.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

There is also more direct evidence in the form of an eyewitness report from Yahya Ababneh (who was on the ground in Ghouta) and who published an article in collaboration with Dale Gavlak, herself a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press for two decades and someone has also worked for National Public Radio (NPR) and written articles for BBC News.

They wrote on Thursday [August 29th]:

Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.

The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”

However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

I recommend reading the full article but in short, Ababneh says that he was told that release of chemical agents was the result of an accident after at least 13 rebels “were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion”:

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.1

It should be noted that the website on which the story originally appeared, Mint Press, is a legitimate media organization based in Minnesota. Indeed, the Minnesota Post did a profile on them last year.

Click here to read the full article.

Incidentally, Bandar bin Sultan, or Prince Bandar if you insist, is a member of the ruling House of Saud and former Saudi ambassador to the United States, who has had extremely close ties to a number of American presidents, but most notably the two George Bushs – and apparently it was George W who gave him the creepy nickname “Bandar Bush”.

As current head of Saudi intelligence he has also made it into the news more recently for other reasons:

Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

Prince Bandar, head of Saudi intelligence, allegedly confronted the Kremlin with a mix of inducements and threats in a bid to break the deadlock over Syria. “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” he said at the four-hour meeting with Mr Putin. They met at Mr Putin’s dacha outside Moscow three weeks ago.

The extract taken from an article published by The Telegraph on Tuesday [August 27th] then goes on to outline a little more detail on the sort of “deal” Bandar was proposing:

The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.

As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”2

Click here to read the full article published in The Telegraph.

Revelations that certainly lend further credibility to the version of events reported on by Gavlak and Ababneh. So might it have been Saudi Arabia then who actually armed rebels with the chemical weapons that killed so many at Ghouta?

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Additional:

Here is Dale Gavlak being interviewed by Henry Peirse for GRNlive from June 2012. She shares her thoughts particularly with regards to the developing situation in Jordan where she has worked as a foreign correspondent for many years:

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Update:

On Monday [Sept 2nd], the news group McClatchy released a detailed article entitled “To some, US case for Syrian gas attack strike has too many holes”.

It begins:

The Obama administration’s public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining U.S. efforts this week to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad’s regime.

The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.

Click here to read the full article.

One of the joint authors of the piece, Mark Seibel, was also interviewed on Wednesday’s Democracy Now! which you can listen below. I have also included parts of the transcript to offer just a flavour of what Seibel had to say:

The holes that we identified in the piece really have to do with contradictions between what Secretary of State Kerry has said in his public announcements and what other partners, if you use that phrase, in the Syrian issue have also reported. And, basically, what we identified is that when it came to questions of the efficacy of a U.N. investigation or the number of people killed in the conflict, or even the U.S. rendition of what happened in what order, there are contradictions. Do they completely undercut the case? I don’t know. If you believe that conclusions are based on facts, then the question becomes, do we have the facts? And that’s—you know, that’s an issue.

Well, you know, we’ve been told that a chemical attack took place, and the evidence seems to be that some sort of attack took place. We don’t actually know what the chemical was. The U.S. has said that it was sarin. There’s every reason to think that might be true, but we don’t know what the chemical test was that led them to conclude that it was sarin. We don’t know how the evidence was obtained. We don’t know what lab it was worked in. We actually don’t know how they arrived at that conclusion so quickly. You know, they announced it Sunday. But, you know, according to—again, to the secretary of state, it will take the U.N. two, three, maybe four weeks to reach that same determination in very modern labs in Europe. So there’s an awful lot we don’t know about that. And because we don’t know it—because we don’t know the details, at least in the public case—and again, you know, we’re not sitting in the classified briefings, but we don’t really know. We are being asked to—excuse me—to trust the assertion that it was sarin and that we know that, but, here again, it’s—we’re asked to make a leap of faith.

Well, you know, the problem we see for our correspondents going in is that it’s not as safe to be there in areas that we used to think were safe, and it’s largely because of the presence of al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which are two al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations that we’ve seen their influence grow from closer to the border with Iraq, across the northeast and northern Syria, where they’re now very, very active in Idlib province and were responsible for fighting in Latakia, which is on the Mediterranean coast, though the fighting was not on the coast. And so, we’ve actually seen Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq—we’ve seen their influence grow in the last few months, and it’s one of the reasons that news organizations now are not sending correspondents into Syria in the way they used to, because it is not safe to be there.

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Further update:

McClatchy also reported on Monday 9th, citing information first released by the major German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, that “Intercepts caught Assad rejecting requests to use chemical weapons…”:

The report in Bild am Sonntag, which is a widely read and influential national Sunday newspaper, reported that the head of the German Foreign Intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, last week told a select group of German lawmakers that intercepted communications had convinced German intelligence officials that Assad did not order or approve what is believed to be a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people in Damascus’ eastern suburbs. […]

The newspaper’s article said that on numerous occasions in recent months, the German intelligence ship named Oker, which is off the Syrian coast, has intercepted communications indicating that field officers have contacted the Syrian presidential palace seeking permission to use chemical weapons and have been turned down.

The article added that German intelligence does not believe Assad sanctioned the alleged attack on August 21.

Click here to read the full article.

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And more evidence…

Furthermore, a Belgian journalist, Pierre Piccinin da Prata, who was held hostage with Italian reporter, Domenico Quirico, for five months says that he overheard his rebel captors admit that President Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the Ghouta massacre. The two reporters had been kidnapped while working in the war torn country back in April and were released over the weekend.

Following his release, Piccinin gave the following interview on Belgian RTL:

And here is a more extended interview Piccinin has also since given:

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1 From an exclusive report entitled “Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack”, written by Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh published by Mint Press on August 29, 2013. http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

2 From an article entitled “Saudi’s offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in The Telegraph on August 27, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10266957/Saudis-offer-Russia-secret-oil-deal-if-it-drops-Syria.html

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