This article is part of a series we are publishing from the ‘State of Surveillance’ report written by BigBrotherWatch, the civil liberties organisation. Much of the mainstream media have completely ignored its findings. Regular readers of TruePublica know we have published many reports and articles over the last four years relating to state surveillance (database) as we regard it to be a crucial battleground of our civil liberty. Today, it is a very serious worry that our entire mechanism of democracy is being undermined by excessive and uncontrolled state surveillance. This disproportionate obsession by the government and its agencies inhibits the fundamental ability of democratic rights to be exercised and amply demonstrates the thin ground Britain’s democracy stands on.
Phil Chamberlain is the Head of Department of Film & Journalism at the University of the West of England where he is responsible for more than a dozen undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as the Digital Cultures Research Centre. He teaches investigative journalism and his research interests cover surveillance, corporate discourses and court reporting. Phil has 20 years’ experience as a freelance journalist with working for newspapers, magazines and NGOs providing investigative news and feature stories. He co-authored Blacklisted: the secret battle between big business and union activists and is the author of Drones and Journalism: how the media is making use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Here is his report on state surveillance, employer blacklisting and the consequences of a state often out of control.
In 1987, Conservative MP Ken Warren wrote to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attaching a list of 270 names of alleged members of the left-wing organisation Militant. He demanded the security services investigate to ensure that none of those on the list were placed in sensitive positions in the civil service. Warren’s McCarthyite intervention piqued the interest of a secret Whitehall committee called Subversion in Public Life (SPL).
Made up of senior civil servants from different departments along with MI5 and Special Branch representatives, SPL analysed the supposedly subversive threat to the machinery of government. While Warren may have worried about 270 alleged Militant members, the committee noted that his list “added little to our present knowledge; indeed it contains a number of known inaccuracies.” A report from the committee the previous year had estimated there were 50,000 potential subversives in the country and identified 1,420 who worked in the civil service.
The majority of these were members of left-wing organisations but far-right supporters were also listed along with members of anarchist groups and “black and Asian racial extremists”. The Department of Health and Social Security recorded the biggest number of subversives within its ranks with 360 (including six fascists). The perceived infiltration of civil service unions by these groups was a constant source of concern.
Margaret Thatcher asked that the SPL also look into local government, education and the NHS which proved more problematic because of the devolved nature of those organisations. One solution was that education inspectors were asked to supply MI5 with details on teachers. The SPL was not merely a bureaucratic exercise but a blacklist. Departments were encouraged to not only record these individuals but ensure they were not put in sensitive roles or moved to posts where they could be isolated. There is no indication the individuals were ever informed about their status; indeed the chairman of the SPL warned of the intense embarrassment if its activities became public knowledge.
In 1985, the same year the SPL began its work, it had been revealed that the BBC was running a secret political vetting operation with MI5. Meanwhile, the Economic League, again with close links to the security services, was at the height of its powers even if its veil of secrecy was slipping. It was paid by corporations to keep files on hundreds of thousands of people deemed subversives and to ensure they could not get employment.
In 1985, the same year the SPL began its work, it had been revealed that the BBC was running a secret political vetting operation with MI5. Meanwhile, the Economic League, again with close links to the security services, was at the height of its powers even if its veil of secrecy was slipping. It was paid by corporations to keep files on hundreds of thousands of people deemed subversives and to ensure they could not get employment.
The SPL was apparently wound up in 1988 and the Cabinet Office has refused to comment further other than to say that it is an historical matter. But blacklisting is the employment habit the UK cannot seem to kick. Building firm boss Cullum McAlpine was keen not to let blacklisting resources go to waste. He paid £10,000 to the Economic League for several thousand personal files covering the construction sector and set up one of the league’s investigators and an admin assistant in a discrete office in the West Midlands.
Until it was exposed in 2009, his organisation the Consulting Association was taking thousands of pounds in fees from the country’s biggest building firms to run a secret blacklisting operation.
Engineer Dave Smith was one of the workers on the firm’s files and his experience is typical. What initiated his file was taking part in action to recover unpaid wages and becoming a safety representative – in other words, legitimate trade union activity. The file details what car he drove, his family members, as well as jobs he applied for. The result was immediate and catastrophic; work dried up and Dave was eventually forced to leave the industry. He never knew his file existed until the Information Commissioner raided the Consulting Association, seized some of its material and then made it available to the subjects. Dave’s story is repeated many times over but often with worse results. Marriages broke up under the strain of financial insecurity, people were forced to move abroad and their health was affected.
It appears that one feature of such operations is their tendency to expand. Just as the SPL was asked to look into local government and schools, the Economic League had considered keeping lists of football hooligans and people with HIV. The Consulting Association was not limited to the construction sector but had files on people working in local politics, academia, journalism, the railways and the offshore oil industry. The latter sector had a notorious policy called ‘Not Required Back’ which was stamped on the files of many a trade union member who had spoken out.
The Consulting Association also had files on several hundred environmental activists and here the overlap between the private sector and the state was most explicit. Along with anti-fascist activists, environmental activists were of particular interest to the security services. An officer in one of the police’s surveillance units even gave a presentation on its work targeting animal rights groups to the Association. The files, along with evidence from police whistleblower Peter Francis, have revealed that undercover police officers infiltrated trade unions, black justice campaigns and environmental groups among others.
Francis was a member of the Special Branch’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) set up in 1968 and which only folded after being exposed in 2008. Some SDS officers had sexual relations with activists and even children in the course of intruding on and manipulating activists’ lives. After reviewing evidence from the files and other sources, the Blacklist Support Group complained to the Metropolitan Police in 2012 with six specific allegations about collusion between the state and the private sector.
In 2018 the Metropolitan Police finally admitted, “Sections of the policing community throughout the UK had both overt and covert contact with external organisations, including the Economic League, for reasons stemming from crime reporting and the maintenance of public order and the prevention of terrorism.” This statement only acknowledged what had become incontestable. However, the Metropolitan Police rejected other complaints and specifically exonerated the Special Demonstration Squad from colluding with blacklisters.
The police’s statement deployed a well-worn defence for blacklisting operations – that they are about crime or terrorism.
The Cabinet Office files on the Subversion in Public Life committee explicitly separated out actions to counter terrorism from its remit and made no claim to tackle illegal behaviour. An analysis of the Consulting Association files shows that time and again, the first activity to trigger monitoring was an individual raising health and safety concerns. It was legitimate union activity that resulted in people being surveilled – criminal activity was mentioned in only a handful of the more than 3,000 files it held. It is worth noting that the activities of the SDS, the Consulting Association and the Economic League only ended after public exposure. There is little sense of a culture that sees such operations as wrong; only in getting caught. It took seven years for blacklisted construction workers to win a financial settlement and only one person was ever punished by the courts for their role in the scandal.
The SDS’ activities are currently the subject of a judge-led inquiry which is into its third year but yet to even begin taking evidence. Without an effective inquiry that the people affected can trust, there is little chance of change or indeed justice. Meanwhile, the monitoring of workers, unionists and especially whistleblowers continues.
The SDS’ activities are currently the subject of a judge-led inquiry which is into its third year but yet to even begin taking evidence. Without an effective inquiry that the people affected can trust, there is little chance of change or indeed justice. Meanwhile, the monitoring of workers, unionists and especially whistleblowers continues.
In 2015, Sir Robert Francis QC produced “Freedom To Speak Up”, a report into whistleblowing in the NHS. Francis reported that many people spoke of fears that whistleblowing would have a detrimental effect on their career and that there was evidence of “vindictive treatment” of people who raised concerns.
Dr Minh Alexander worked for 14 years as a consultant psychiatrist and had raised concerns over certain medical practices. She was made redundant in 2013 and reached a settlement with her employer. Alexander is one of many NHS staff who fear their careers have been ended because their decision to raise concerns has been recorded and shared. “The suppression of staff who speak up is a very old problem and will not go away until decision-makers truly accept that it is better to run a service in which staff and patients have a voice,” Alexander said.
Similarly, Eileen Chubb was forced to quit her job as a care assistant after raising concerns about patient safety. She now runs Compassion in Care which campaigns for better care for the elderly.
Official figures for 2017/18 showed that more than 350 whistleblowers in the NHS experienced repercussions after coming forward, including negative effects on their careers. Meanwhile, the Care Quality Commission, which helps regulate the sector, has been accused of revealing the details of dozens of whistleblowers to employers – a claim it denies.
Far from an historic concern and one limited to particular trades, the monitoring and blacklisting of workers remains the dirty secret of UK labour relations.
In one of the final acts of the Brown government, blacklisting was made illegal in 2010. As with pretty much every other state attempt to deal with the issue, it was a failure. Employment expert Professor Keith Ewing from King’s College London set out at length why the regulations are full of holes.
A key flaw is that it is a civil rather than criminal offence with the onus on the victim to prove their case; and since the victim is often up against a corporation, the balance of power is firmly against them. Blacklisting is a stark reminder of that imbalance of power but also that there is often no line between state and private, corporate and civil. The undercover police officers manipulating female activists into relationships were often seeking to protect corporate interests rather than prevent criminal wrongdoing. Indeed, in some cases, it is alleged they acted as agent provocateurs to incite wrongdoing.
The undercover police officers manipulating female activists into relationships were often seeking to protect corporate interests rather than prevent criminal wrongdoing. Indeed, in some cases, it is alleged they acted as agent provocateurs to incite wrongdoing.
There are three areas that desperately need improvement in order to tackle this scandal. Firstly, we need a properly funded public inquiry that can tease apart the links between the various people involved in blacklisting. Too much of the information has had to be pieced together by a few journalists, lawyers, MPs and many campaigners. Theresa May launched the judge-led Undercover Policing inquiry following revelations about the Special Demonstration Squad broken first by The Guardian. It has been little more than a disaster with no evidence heard in its first three years and participants boycotting the process because of a lack of trust. It is not expected to report until 2023.
Secondly, organisations charged with protecting personal information need better resourcing. Without the Information Commissioner’s Office, the secret blacklist files would not have been made public. The ICO needs the toughest tools if it is going to take on the biggest state and corporate interests and their digital archives. Thirdly, we need to see the delivery of justice.
It is worth pointing out that only one person was ever convicted for their part in the scandal. The company directors, human resources managers, police officers, civil servants and regulators who authorised, ignored or participated received no sanction. A survey by Building magazine found that 78% of human resources officials named as complicit in blacklisting were still employed four years after their role was revealed. There is a culture of acceptance that secret political surveillance and the sharing of information has always been with us and always will. Changing that culture will require a change in how power is distributed in society. It sounds too ambitious an objective. However, in 2009 a few dozen people affected by the blacklist gathered in a room by Parliament and decided that they wanted to do something about it. Seven years later they forced a multi-million-pound settlement from transnational construction firms. Where do we want to be in the next seven years?
Rep. and Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) brought the hammer and the house down on Twitter for calling out President Trump on subordinating the US military to a foreign power’s prerogative.
Trump awaits instructions from his Saudi masters. Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not “America First.” https://t.co/kJOCpqwaQS
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) 16 сентября 2019 г.
She was completely right to take this tack with Trump here. And Trump was completely right, for once, to ignore a challenge to his authority and persona. Because had he done so, he would have boosted Gabbard as a real challenger to him in 2020. Trump knows that in politics you neve r attack down unless there is no down side.
Gabbard’s uncompromising honesty and principles on these important foreign policy positions give her the moral high ground.
Trump can’t respond to that without betraying his entire Presidential aura.
She is correct that US citizens who sign up for the military take an oath to protect and defend the constitution and the people of the United States. They did not take an oath to protect foreign dictators incapable of basic defense of their most precious and valuable real estate.
This is especially true when said dictators are the aggressors in a war of conquest against their neighbors. After more than four years of fighting, using weapons produced by the United States, with assistance by US military advisers, the Saudi Arabians have completely botched their war in Yemen, committing dozens, if not hundreds, of despicable attacks on civilian targets without anything to show for it but animosity and, now, wholly insecure infrastructure.
That this infrastructure is vital to the global economy should be irrelevant to Trump’s calculus as to where to send US troops and war materiel. That was something Saudi Arabia’s Clown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman should have considered before starting this war back in 2015.
The Houthi rebels in Northern Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on the Abqaiq gas processing facility as a direct consequence of Saudi aggression. Of course, they are backed by Iran and Iranian technology.
It’s nearly a week after the event and we still don’t know for sure what happened. We have vague assurances from anonymous sources with the US and Saudi governments but no concrete details other than what was hit and how.
That Trump ultimately decided against going to war with Iran over this incident doesn’t negate Gabbard’s attack on him. It was cogent given the moment and is principled in how US troops should be used.
In all of this discussion about a potential war with Iran no one in the Trump administration or anywhere else have made a credible argument as to what actual threat Iran poses to the people of the United States.
Vague proclamations by Iranian politicians of “death to America” are, ultimately far less threatening or interesting than the parade of US Senators and Congresscritters saying that Iran is a “rogue regime” and it should be wiped off the face of the earth.
Are our sensibilities so fragile that we can’t handle a little criticism from people we have waged war by proxy with for over 70 years?
How is this any different than the average tweet by Lindsay Graham (R-AIPAC)?
We have senior officials, like the Secretary of State and the erstwhile National Security Adviser calling Iran ‘evil’ and we have officially lumped their army in with the same lot of terrorists as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. We have sanctioned their government and individuals within it.
Never forget that you reap what you sow in this life. And any animosity Iran and Iranians bear towards the US and Americans is richly deserved. The reverse, however, is difficult to make a case for.
Because, little factoid, Iran hasn’t attacked anyone in a span of time that is longer than the US has been a country.
Iran threatens Israel in the same way that Israel threatens it. Saudi Arabia threatens Iran as an oil competitor and religious one.
And the idea that the President of the United States should entertain even a mere thought of going to war with Iran over an attack on Saudi oil production should be anathema to anyone with two brain cells to rub together and make a spark.
Because at the end of the day this is not our fight. This is a fight between enemies made rich by oil in some cases (Saudi, Iran), political clout in high places in the US and U.K. in others (Israel) and friends in other high places and cultural integrity (Iran).
This is a cultural and religious conflict we barely understand and cannot change the dynamics of by blundering in with weapons of mass destruction. It is precisely because we take sides in this conflict that this conflict never ends.
And it is a conflict that dovetails with prevailing ‘wisdom’ in the West about how to maintain control over the planet that dates back more than 150 years. And that is why we do what we do. But it is time for that worldview to end.
It’s time bury Mackinder’s ideas alongside his corpse.
To Trump’s credit he seems to have realized that this incident was another like the events which led up to the US Global Hawk drone getting shot down in June. It was designed to get him to over-commit to a policy which would engulf the world in a war that only a very few powerful and highly placed want.
Even the tweet that Gabbard called him out on was carefully worded to cool things down and hint that he wasn’t prepared to respond militarily to this incident. As Gabbard climbs in the polls and is treated worse than Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Ron Paul by the Republicans in 2008 and 2012, she will hold Trump to account on foreign policy with an ever-growing clout and moral clarity which bodes well for the future of US involvement overseas.
And, like Nigel Farage in the U.K. offering the Tories a non-aggression pact to get a real Brexit over the finish line, Gabbard should put country before career and applaud Trump when he doesn’t act like Saudi Arabia’s “Bitch.” That will win her even more votes and more respect among the silent majority who are not in the throes of Trump Derangement Syndrome on both the Left and the Right.
Along with this, the likely end of Netanyahu’s political career should mark a sea change in US policy. While AIPAC’s pull is still very strong in the US, Israel’s commitment to an aggressive foreign policy with an uncommitted President should falter under a new government without its Agitator-in-Chief.
And without that animus propelling events along eventually cooler heads will prevail, and the present dynamic will change.
Trump made an enormous mistake pulling out of the JCPOA. That genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The question now is does he have the sense and the humility to realize his board position has materially weakened to the point where the probability of a rout is rising?
2020 for him has to be about making good on his promises to end the Empire building and improving relations with Russia. With Putin openly trolling him and the Saudis recently over weapon sales the odds of the latter happening are low.
But he can still make good on the former. Trump has lost so much of his goodwill with the people he’s ‘negotiating with’ that there is little to no wiggle room left. He has no leverage and he’s got no goodwill.
I saw this coming the day he bombed the Al-Shairat airbase in April 2017. I said then that it was one of the biggest geopolitical mistakes ever. It set the stage for all the others because it showed us just how out of his depth Trump was on foreign affairs. It set him back with both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi and it also showed how easily he could be manipulated by his staff and their rotten information.
It’s a deep hole he’s dug for himself. But there are still people who want to help him climb out of it. Gabbard’s ‘bitch slap’ is an example of the kind of tough love he needs to right his Presidency’s ship.
His base needs to do that a little more often and then maybe, just maybe, we’d get somewhere.
Should we chalk it up to coincidence theory that just days after Trump gives John Bolton the boot as his National Security Adviser, Iran is blamed for an attack on a Saudi oil facility, forcing Washington to forego any hope of peace with Tehran?
One day before Bolton’s abrupt departure from the White House, Trump had reportedly discussed with his security advisers the possibility of easing sanctions on Tehran in an effort to create the “right conditions” for a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations later this month.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters last week. “I do believe they’d like to make a deal.”
Now we may never know how things may have turned out because one week later that comment looks like a page torn from ancient history.
On Saturday, Yemen Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for sophisticated drone attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil factory, which is situated deep inside the country, more than 1,000 kilometers away from the Yemen border. If the claims are true, it would mark a serious turning point in the four-year military ‘intervention’, which has seen US- and British-backed Saudi forces take a heavy-handed approach to extricating the rebels from the capital, Sanaa.
Yemeni military spokesman Yahya Sari said the attack involved an “accurate intelligence operation” that was assisted by “honorable and free” men working inside of the Kingdom. That televised confession, however, wasn’t going to stop the United States and its regional allies from believing what they wanted to believe, which was that Iran was solely responsible for the incident.
Yahya Sari’: “10 UAVs Targeted the Aramco’s Refineries in Buqayq and Khurais”
He said: This operation took place after accurate intelligence operation with help of honorable and free mans within the Kingdom.
— IWN (@A7_Mirza) 14 сентября 2019 г.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose pugilistic presence in the Trump administration makes Bolton’s absence seem almost imperceptible, proclaimed in a tweet that Iran is responsible for launching “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”
Pompeo went on to say there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” while never proving evidence the attack originated from Iran either. In other words, Trump is being pushed into a situation where he has no choice but to fight. Not the best situation for an incumbent president heading into the election season. And it certainly doesn’t help his situation when members of his own party shake the pompoms for war, as Senator Lindsey Graham did when he called for attacks on Iran’s oil refineries.
Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) 14 сентября 2019 г.
Thus, in a matter of hours, Trump has gone from being open to the idea of talking to Iran to saying the US is “locked and loaded” and just waiting to “hear from the Kingdom” before the White House takes some kind of action against the suspected perpetrator.
Incidentally, although that ominous tweet certainly got the attention of Iranian officials, it is worth noting that just over two years ago, as the war rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington was hitting its crescendo, Trump used exactly the same threatening phrase “locked and loaded.” Yet today relations between the two countries have calmed considerably and Trump even went on to become the first US leader to enter North Korea. Was Trump sending a message to Tehran? Will the maverick from Manhattan soon be strolling down the streets of Tehran, shaking hands with imams as he did Kim Jong-un? Nothing would enrage the US deep state more.
With regards to the idea that Iran was behind the attacks on the Saudi oil factory that claim sounds highly dubious. Once again, we are expected to accept the narrative that sovereign states have some sort of suicide wish, and would happily submit to a mortal self-inflicted wound at the most incongruous time (as was the case with Syria, by the way, which, as the media desperately wanted everyone to believe, decided to carry out chemical attacks against the rebels, thereby risking a full-blown attack by the US military and half of NATO).
Iranian supported Houthi rebels who attacked Saudi oil refineries is yet another example of how Iran is wreaking havoc in the Middle East. The Iranian regime is not interested in peace – they’re pursuing nuclear weapons and regional dominance. https://t.co/RElvTDFYb2
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) 14 сентября 2019 г.
Indeed, why would Iran, even through the use of proxy forces, risk an attack on Saudi Arabia that could set the entire Middle East alight? The idea becomes all the more preposterous when we remember that just several weeks ago, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, made a surprise visit to the G7 summit, hosted by France, where world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, were gathered. Trump, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron during a post-summit press conference, agreed to the possibility of meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.
Trump even seemed open to the idea of backing away from current US policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran, saying he would consider providing Iran with an emergency credit line backed by its oil production.
Why would Tehran risk igniting World War III when the prospect for peace – not to mention financial relief – seems to be near at hand?
Iran’s active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues.
Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying. pic.twitter.com/oXdACvt20T
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) 25 августа 2019 г.
The circumstantial evidence points to the fact that Iran, as it has vociferously declared, had nothing to do with the brazen assault on Saudi Arabia. Trump, I would imagine, is probably also very wary of the accusations, spouted by none other than his own Secretary of State, since he is very familiar with such underhanded tactics due to his experience in Syria.
Thus far in his presidency, Donald Trump has been able to avoid full-blown war despite serious efforts by a consortium of concerns to trigger such an event. Despite the hawks he gathers around himself, probably in an effort to “keep his enemies closer,” as Sun Tsu recommended, Trump is clearly not enamored of the battlefield as are so many others in Washington. Trump is a businessman, and sees much more advantage in walking away from a hard-won contract than walking away from an obliterated landscape, the worst imaginable thing for a real estate developer. Nevertheless, it is a nerve-racking experience watching the author of the ‘Art of the Deal’ bluster and bluff his way against rivals right up to precipice of disaster before retreating back again to stable ground.
This strategy keeps the Deep State constantly off guard as to his real intentions, which is not about triggering World War III. How long the Deep State will tolerate such a relative atmosphere of global peace is another question, but they will certainly be doing everything in their power to ensure he does not secure another four years in the White House. And that is the tragic reality of Donald Trump’s real war.
Imagine for a moment that you had just finished a long day’s work with two hundred other farmers. You were settling down to relax for the night, when out of nowhere, Hellfire missiles rain down from drones in the sky and blow up dozens of your coworkers, maiming and tearing limbs from dozens more. Imagine if this happened inside the United States. Imagine the reaction from politicians and the US war machine looking to right this wrong.
Would you, as an American citizen sit idly back and accept the excuse given by the country who carried out that attack? Would you accept the wholesale slaughter of your fellow citizens by the dozen if the country who led the attack said it was a mistake and we did it to “help” you? What if it was one of your children killed in the attack? Or your brother, sister, father, mother, or grand parent? Would you simply accept that this slaughter was a mistake and the “help” you are receiving from this country is worth it?
Well, that is exactly what the United States is asking Afghanistan to do right now after a drone strike Wednesday night slaughtered 30 innocent civilian farmers as they rested from a long day’s work picking pine nuts. The attack also left 40 others maimed and mangled.
According to Reuters, a survivor of the drone strike said about 200 laborers were sleeping in five tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened.
“Some of us managed to escape, some were injured but many were killed,” said Juma Gul, a resident of northeastern Kunar province who had traveled along with laborers to harvest and shell pine nuts this week.
Naturally, the US is responding to the situation with a canned response and refusing to accept responsibility.
“U.S. forces conducted a drone strike against Da’esh (IS) terrorists in Nangarhar,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.”
Residents of the Nangarhar province spoke publicly Thursday and demanded the U.S. take responsibility for this murder.
“Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realize (they) will never win the war by killing innocent civilians,” said Javed Mansur, a resident of Jalalabad city.
This slaughter comes on the heels of a rather disturbing report released by the United Nations in April detailing how in the first part of 2019, US forces and their allies killed more civilians than the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
According to the most recent UN data, Afghan civilians were killed in greater numbers by NATO and pro-government security forces in the first three months of 2019 than by armed militants. Half of those slaughtered by allied troops were women and children.
In spite of countless drone bombs raining down from the skies, Hellfire and Tomahawk missiles flattening buildings, and mass graves filled with collateral damage, the US has absolutely nothing to show for it except physically and psychologically damaged veterans and a massive trillion dollar debt.
The Congressional Research Service, for example, concluded in 2015 that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion. However, according to a report from TIME magazine last year, that number is a gross underestimate.
As TFTP previously reported, according to an analysis from the “Costs of War Project” from Brown University’s Watson Institute, by the end of 2018, the U.S. War on Terror cost America taxpayers more than $5.6 trillion, which is an average of $23,386 per taxpayer.
As of late September 2017, the United States wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and the additional spending on Homeland Security, and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs since the 9/11 attacks totaled more than $4.3 trillion in current dollars through FY2017. Adding likely costs for FY2018 and estimated future spending on veterans, the costs of war total more than $5.6 trillion.
As The Nation noted, that estimate does not include several factors such as “the psychic costs to the Americans mangled in one way or another in those never-ending conflicts. They don’t include the costs to this country’s infrastructure, which has been crumbling while taxpayer dollars flow copiously and in a remarkably—in these years, almost uniquely—bipartisan fashion into what’s still laughably called ‘national security.’”
After 18 years, there is no sign that the War on Terror is ending anytime soon, but surely the United States is finally close to defeating Al Qaeda—right?
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. A report from the Los Angeles Times noted that in 2018, “Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever,” and instead of destroying the group, “U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.”
The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
While Al Qaeda may have started out as a small terrorist group, it has now grown into a massive network that is flourishing in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Libya—all countries where the U.S. has actively carried out bombing campaigns in recent years. Coincidence? Not at all.
Ask yourself this question, how many future terrorists did the United States create yesterday? Do you think that the children of those slain by a decade of bombing and constant threats of drone strikes will simply forget about the atrocities inflicted upon them? Do you think that the parents who watched their babies blown apart by predator drones, or the hospital workers who watched as US bombs rained down from the sky — will just turn the other cheek?
In reality, the US War on Terror has had the opposite effect on “fighting terrorists.” It is creating them. For the last 18 years, the US has actually been planting a garden in which a million Osama Bin Ladens would grow.
The truth is that since 9/11, the US and their NATO allies have fostered a breeding ground for extremist and fundamentalist groups. As Americans have sat back and said nothing over the last two decades, the military industrial complex was sowing the seeds for perpetual war, which left unchecked will inevitably lead to the demise of the American empire or total human annihilation—whichever comes first.
At a time of increasing tensions in the Middle East and the imminent danger of war, it was a salutary reminder of how diplomacy can and should work as seen from the successful summit held this week in Ankara between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran on promoting a lasting peace settlement in Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted his Russian and Iranian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani for the fifth summit of the Astana trilateral format dedicated to bringing about an end to the nearly nine-year war in Syria. The first such summit was held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in November 2017. A lot has been achieved in the intervening two years in terms of stabilizing Syria and bringing the political framework forward. It is still a work in progress with the three leaders due to meet next in Tehran for their sixth summit.
Russia’s Putin was evidently the central figure at the summit this week, holding bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Turkey and Iran before the trio went on to engage in full negotiations.
Balancing those two countries with respect demonstrates how Russia has come to be seen as a trusted interlocutor in the precarious region.
A joint communique was issued which underscored the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria; the need for implementing a lasting ceasefire in the northwestern province of Idlib; and the return of millions of refugees, both from outside Syria and regarding internally displaced people.
The three leaders committed to setting up a “constitutional committee” comprising the Syrian government, political opposition and civic society groups. The composition of the committee has been agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran and it is due to start the process of writing a new constitution for Syria, with the Astana format acting as guarantors in coordination with the United Nations.
Putin emphasized that the political process would be determined solely by Syrian people free from any constraints imposed by external powers.
The Russian president commented: “We all stand for Syria’s territorial integrity and insist that once problems of security and counter-terrorism are resolved, Syria’s territorial integrity will be fully restored. It concerns the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria’s territory too.”
He added that “self-governing areas” sponsored by foreign powers are not permissible. This was clearly a rebuke to Washington’s attempts to carve up Syria with its sponsorship of Kurdish separatists to set up an autonomous mini-state within Syria.
Putin reminded that “US troops are illegally present on Syrian territory” and that they must withdraw from the country. A proposal to withdraw American forces last year by President Donald Trump has not seen any progress towards that stated objective. It is long overdue to be implemented. Further delay is inexcusable.
The outcome of the Astana process is a vindication of Russia’s staunch support for Syria’s sovereignty. While Western powers and also Turkey had long-called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stand down, the summit this week is a confirmation of Moscow’s (and Tehran’s) principled defense of Syria’s right to national self-determination.
While Russia and Iran have both stood firm in their defense of Syria’s sovereignty over the years, Turkey’s role in the Syrian war has been one of baleful interference from its support for anti-government militant groups. Some of those groups backed by Turkey are known to have links to internationally proscribed terrorist networks.
At one point in the Ankara summit, Putin made a veiled criticism of Turkey’s ambiguous role. The Russian leader noted how jihadist terror groups had increased their aggression from bases in Idlib over the past year despite an earlier deal between Moscow and Ankara to establish demilitarized zones.
It is therefore incumbent on Turkey to implement its stated commitment to demilitarized zones and – like the Americans – to eventually withdraw its troops from northern Syria in respect of the nation’s territorial integrity.
In an apparent jibe at the United States and its support for Kurdish militants, Erdogan said, “it is unacceptable to support terrorist organizations under the guise of fighting terrorists.” The same words could ironically be applied to Turkey over its covert relationship with jihadi groups.
Russia, Turkey and Iran have certainly held opposing views on the war in Syria. However, it is to be welcomed that despite past differences, the trio are publicly committed to working towards a lasting political settlement in Syria, one which respects the authority of the government in Damascus. The process of dialogue, diplomacy and political engagement is the only way forward to secure Syria’s stability.
Not just for Syria’s stability but for the region as a whole. Russia can take huge credit for forging this process and bringing conflicting sides together. That being said, however, the summit in Ankara agreed that the Syrian state forces still maintain the right to eradicate terror groups which are proscribed by the United Nations Security Council. Those groups include all Al Qaeda-affiliated militants.
There are good grounds to welcome the expansion of the Astana format to help resolve other conflicts in the region. Lebanon and Iraq are to join the process as observer nations of the Astana process. Russia’s trusted role as an interlocutor could see the process being applied to bring an end to the war in Yemen. It may also be applied to help structure a peace process in Afghanistan, or to de-escalate tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia could perhaps constructively fill the void in resolving the perennial Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One thing seems sure though: the United States has forfeited its role as a self-declared mediator in the war-torn region. Washington seems only capable of inciting tensions, launching wars and prolonging enmities. Its art of diplomacy is redundant, and has been for many years. It seems to only know the black arts of subterfuge, intrigue and chaos. Even so-called allies no longer trust Washington.
By contrast, Russia has the growing stature of a genuine mediating player. It has the kudos of principled intervention from among nations of very polarized positions, from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, to Syria and Iran. Moscow is ideally suited to play an even bigger role in bringing about detente and progress in the tumultuous, blighted region.
One final amusing note is this: we should note how Russia’s evident conciliatory relations are contrasted with the caricature presented in Western media which portrays Moscow and Vladimir Putin as a malign actor. To any objective observer, Russia’s role is commendably bringing about peaceful results through its diligent diplomacy and consistent adherence to principles of sovereignty and respect for international law. Western media’s caricature of Russia should actually be applied to the United States, in which case it would not be a caricature, but rather an accurate condemnation.
Conn M. HALLINAN
Ever since coal was partnered with water to generate steam and launch the industrial revolution, Europeans have been pouring billions of tons of atmospheric warming compounds into the planet’s atmosphere. While scientists were aware of the climate-altering potential of burning hydrocarbons as early as 1896, the wealth generated by spinning jennies, power looms and drop forges was seductive, as was the power it gave countries to build colonial empires and subjugate populations across the globe.
But the bill is finally coming due.
When most people think of climate change, what come to mind are the poles, Asia’s fast vanishing glaciers, or Australia, where punishing droughts are drying up the sub-continent’s longest river, the Murray. But climate change is an equal opportunity disrupter, and Europe is facing a one-two punch of too much water in the north and center and not enough in the south.
According to recent projections, drought regions in Europe will expand from 13 percent of the continent to 26 percent and last four times as long, affecting upwards of 400 million people. Southern France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece will be particularly hard hit, though how hard will depend on whether the planet’s temperature hike is kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade or rises to 3 degrees centigrade.
Northern and Central Europe, on the other hand, will experience more precipitation and consequent flooding. Upward of a million people would be effected and damage would run into the hundreds of billions of Euros. While weather is battering away at Europe, sea rises of from four to six feet over the next century would inundate Copenhagen, the Netherlands, many French and German ports and London. If the Greenland ice sheet actually melted, the oceans would come up 24 feet.
Food production will be another casualty. According to David Wallace-Wells in “The Uninhabitable Earth,” cereal crops will decline 10 percent for every degree the temperature goes up. When crops fail, people will move and the logical place to go is north. It is not just war and unrest that is driving refugees toward Europe, but widespread crop failures brought about by too little or too much water.
The warming climate also allows insects, like the bark beetle, to attack Europe’s forests. The beetles are increasingly active in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Norway and, particularly, Russia, which host the largest temperate forests in the world.
Each tree that dies is one less carbon sink to transmute CO2 to oxygen. And dead trees are also more susceptible to forest fires, which can pump yet more of the climate warming gas into the atmosphere. Fires are not only increasing in countries like Spain, Greece and Portugal, but also in Sweden and Finland.
For many years climate change deniers—funded by hydrocarbon industry think tanks and sophisticated media campaigns—managed to inject a certain amount of doubt concerning global warming, but a rash of devastating hurricanes and last year’s wildfires in California have begun to shift public opinion. Last spring’s European elections saw Green parties all over the continent do well, and polls indicate growing alarm among the public.
A number of different European parties, including the British Labour Party, are pushing a “Green New Deal For Europe” based on a call by the United Nations to reduce green house gas emissions to zero by 2050.
The European Green Deal proposes using public investment banks to fund much of the plan, which is aimed at keeping rising temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade. While the price for rolling back emissions will certainly be high, the costs for not doing so are far greater, including the possibility that worldwide temperatures could go by as much as 5 degrees centigrade, a level that might make much of the world unlivable for human beings.
A jump of that magnitude would be similar to the kind of temperature rise the world experienced at the end of the Permian Era, 250 million years ago. Called the “Great Extinction,” it killed 96 percent of life in the sea and 70 percent on land.
A major reason for the Permian die off was the expansion of cynobacteria, which produce a toxic cocktail that can kill almost anything they comes in contact with. Such cynobacteria blooms are already underway in more than 400 places throughout the world, including a large dead zone in the Baltic Sea. Some New York lakes have become so toxic that the water is fatal to pets that drink from them.
The major fuel for cynobacteria is warm water coupled with higher rainfall—one of the consequences of climate change—that washes nutrients into lakes and rivers.
Of the 195 countries that signed the Paris Climate Accords, only seven are close to fulfilling their carbon emission pledges. And one of the world’s biggest sources of global warming gasses, the US, has withdrawn. If all 195 countries met their goals, however, the climate is still on target to reach 3 degrees Celsius. Even if the rise can be kept to 2 degrees, it will likely melt the Greenland ice cap and possibly the Antarctic ice sheets. Greenland’s melt would raise ocean levels by 24 feet, the Antarctic by hundreds of feet.
As overwhelming as the problem seems, it can be tackled, but only if the world mobilizes the kind of force it did to fight World War II. It will, however, take a profound re-thinking of national policy and the economy.
The US organization most focused on climate change these days is the Pentagon, which is gearing up to fight the consequences. But our enormous defense apparatus is a major part of the problem, because military spending is carbon heavy. According to Brown University’s “Cost Of War” project, the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of hydrocarbons on the planet. Yet a number of European countries—under pressure from the Trump administration—are increasing their military spending, exactly the wrong strategy to combat the climate threat.
The world will need to agree that keeping hydrocarbons in the ground is essential. Fracking, tar sands and opening yet new sources for oil and gas in the arctic will have to halt. Solar, hydro and wind power will need to be expanded, and some very basic parts of the economy re-examined.
This will hardly be pain free.
For instance, it takes 1,857 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, compared to 469 gallons for a pound of chicken. Yogurt uses 138 gallons. While beef production uses 60 percent of agricultural land, it only provides 2 percent of human caloric intake.
It is unlikely that people will give up meat—although growing economic inequality has already removed meat from the diet of many—but what we eat and how we produce it will have to be part of any solution. For instance, a major source of green house gases is industrial agriculture with its heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, close to 30 percent of food production goes to waste, most of it in wealthy countries. A fair distribution of food supplies would not only feed more people, it would use less land, thus cutting green house gasses up to 10 percent. Add to that curbing beef production, and hundreds of millions of square miles of grange land would be freed up to plant carbon absorbing trees.
Can this be done incrementally? It may have to be, but not for long. Climate change is upon us. What that future will be is up to the current generation to figure out, and while there is no question that concerted action can make a difference, the clock is ticking. When next the bell tolls, it tolls for us all.
On Saturday September 14th, Yemen’s Houthi rebels announced that they had conducted a massive attack on several Aramco plants in Saudi Arabia, including the largest oil refinery in the world in Abqaiq, using 10 drones. On Twitter, dozens of videos and photos showed explosions, flames and the resulting damage.
The move is part of a retaliatory campaign by the Houthis in response to the indiscriminate bombings conducted by the Saudi air force over more than four years. UN estimates speak of more than 100,000 deaths and the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
The Saudi kingdom finds itself in an increasingly dangerous situation as a result of the retaliatory capacity of the Houthis, able to inflict severe military and economic damage on Riyadh with their missile forces. Estimates suggest that Riyadh is losing something in the region of $300 million a day from the Houthi attacks. On Sunday September 15, a spokesman for the Saudi oil ministry spoke of damage that is yet to be calculated, possibly requiring weeks of repair. Meanwhile, Saudi oil production has halved following the Saturday attack. With a military budget of $200,000, the Houthis managed to inflict damage numbering in the billions of dollars.
House of Saud Isolated
The withdrawal of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates from the conflict in Yemen, driven by their desire to improve relations with Tehran, and the impossibility of the United States intervening directly in the conflict, has created significant problems for the House of Saud. The conflict is considered by the UN to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and Trump has no intention of giving the Democratic presidential contenders any ammunition with which to attack him. Bolton’s dismissal could be one of those Trump signals to the deep state stating that he does not intend to sabotage his re-election hopes in 2020 by starting a new war.
This reluctance by Washington to directly support Israel and Saudi Arabia has aggravated the situation for Riyadh, which now risks seeing the conflict move to its own territory in the south of the country. The Houthi incursions into Saudi Arabia are now a daily event, and as long as Riyadh continues to commit war crimes against innocent Yemeni civilians, the situation will only worsen, with increasingly grave consequences for the internal stability of the Saudi system.
Saturday’s retaliation is the real demonstration of what could happen to the Saudi economy if Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) refuses to sit down and negotiate a way out of one of the worst military disasters of the contemporary era.
The invincibility of US weapons systems is only in Hollywood movies
The Houthis have in recent months managed to strike their targets in Saudi Arabia dozens of times using different aerial means. This highlights once again the total failure of American air-defense systems in the country.
In contrast, the multiple Russian anti-aircraft systems in Syria have achieved a 100% success rate with regard to interceptions, managing to disable (through electronic warfare) all the drones, mortars and missiles launched by jihadists against Russia’s bases in Tartus bases and Latakia.
Mike Pompeo blames Tehran for the Yemeni attack on Saudi Arabia, of course without offering any proof. Riyadh and Tel Aviv are increasingly isolated in the Middle East. Washington is only able to offer tweets and paranoia about Iran to help its allies, given that a direct intervention is seen as being too risky for the global economy, not to mention the possibility of the conflict becoming a wider regional conflagration that would sink any chance of reelection in 2020 for the present administration.
Trump, Netanyahu and MBS are concocting a witches’ brew that will bring about a disaster of unprecedented proportions to the region. It is only a matter of time before we see the baleful consequences of their handiwork.
A hypothesis to be discarded
There is some talk doing the rounds that the Saudis conducted a false-flag attack on their own oil refineries, a hypothesis that enjoys a superficial plausibility. The resulting increase in the price of oil could be seen as having a positive effect on Aramco’s share price, it is true. But for the reasons given below, this hypothesis is actually not plausible.
The Houthis develop their own weapons, assisted by the Yemeni army. Used drones would cost less than $20,000 a piece. The military embargo on Yemen (enforced by the US and UK) has created a humanitarian disaster, limiting food and medicine. The delivery of weapons by sea therefore seems unlikely. As repeatedly stated by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, as well as representatives of Ansarullah, Tehran has no influence on the Houthis.
The Yemeni response is part of an increasing asymmetric logic, which has as its primary objectives the halt to Riyadh’s bombings of Yemen by increasing the costs of doing so such that they become unsustainable. The obvious pressure point is the 20 billion barrels in strategic reserves.
There is no need for a false flag to blame Iran for the work of the Houthis. The corporate media is enough to have the false accusations repeated without the help of the Israelis or US-based neocons.
The Saudis are more cautious, even if unable to decide how to proceed. In Yemen, they have no more cards to play: they do not want to sit down and deal with Ansarullah, Tehran is unassailable, while Tel Aviv is pushing for a conflict, with Riyadh offered to be sacrificed.
I have been writing for months that, sooner or later, an event will occur that will change the regional balance in a possible conflict with Iran. This happened on Saturday, when half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production was brought to a halt by an attack.
There could not be any worse news for the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists. If the Houthis could inflict such damage using 10 drones, then Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Washington must be having conniptions at the thought of what the Iranians would be capable of doing in the event that they themselves were attacked.
Any power (in this case the US and their air-defense systems) and its close ally would do everything to avoid suffering such a humiliation that would only serve to reveal their military vulnerabilities.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow is seen by many in Israel as a failure. It is confirmed in Tel Aviv that the Zionist state’s recent attacks in Syria have been quashed by Russian intervention, sending an unambiguous message to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and MBS, I reiterate, are heading towards the political abyss. And given their inability to handle the situation, they will do everything in their power to draw Washington into their plans against Iran.
It is all certainly vain. But in the coming weeks, I expect further provocations and tensions in the Middle East.
“Iran has launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” declared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Putting America’s credibility on the line, Pompeo accused Iran of carrying out the devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities that halted half of the kingdom’s oil production, 5.7 million barrels a day.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump did not identify Iran as the attacking nation, but did appear, in a tweet, to back up the secretary of state:
“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed!”
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been fighting Saudi Arabia for four years and have used drones to strike Saudi airport and oil facilities, claim they fired 10 drones from 500 kilometers away to carry out the strikes in retaliation for Saudi air and missile attacks.
Pompeo dismissed their claim, “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
But while the Houthis claim credit, Iran denies all responsibility.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif says of Pompeo’s charge, that the U.S. has simply replaced a policy of “maximum pressure” with a policy of “maximum deceit.” Tehran is calling us liars.
And, indeed, a direct assault on Saudi Arabia by Iran, a Pearl Harbor-type surprise attack on the Saudis’ crucial oil production facility, would be an act of war requiring Saudi retaliation, leading to a Persian Gulf war in which the United States could be forced to participate.
Tehran being behind Saturday’s strike would contradict Iranian policy since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal. That policy has been to avoid a military clash with the United States and pursue a measured response to tightening American sanctions.
U.S. and Saudi officials are investigating the sites of the attacks, the oil production facility at Abqaiq and the Khurais oil field.
According to U.S. sources, 17 missiles or drones were fired, not the 10 the Houthis claim, and cruise missiles may have been used. Some targets were hit on the west-northwest facing sides, which suggests they were fired from the north, from Iran or Iraq.
But according to The New York Times, some targets were hit on the west side, pointing away from Iraq or Iraq as the source. But as some projectiles did not explode and fragments of those that did explode are identifiable, establishing the likely source of the attacks should be only a matter of time. It is here that the rubber meets the road.
Given Pompeo’s public accusation that Iran was behind the attack, a Trump meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly’s annual gathering next week may be a dead letter.
The real question now is what do the Americans do when the source of the attack is known and the call for a commensurate response is put directly to our “locked-and-loaded” president.
If the perpetrators were the Houthis, how would Trump respond?
For the Houthis, who are native to Yemen and whose country has been attacked by the Saudis for four years, would, under the rules of war, seem to be entitled to launch attacks on the country attacking them.
Indeed, Congress has repeatedly sought to have Trump terminate U.S. support of the Saudi war in Yemen.
If the attack on the Saudi oil field and oil facility at Abqaiq proves to be the work of Shiite militia from inside Iraq, would the United States attack that militia whose numbers in Iraq have been estimated as high as 150,000 fighters, as compared with our 5,000 troops in-country?
What about Iran itself?
If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday — shutting down about 6% of world oil production — imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy.
In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?
Before Trump orders any strike on Iran, would he go to Congress for authorization for his act of war?
Sen. Lindsey Graham is already urging an attack on Iran’s oil refineries to “break the regime’s back,” while Sen. Rand Paul contends that “there’s no reason the superpower of the United States needs to be getting into bombing mainland Iran.”
Divided again: The War Party is giddy with excitement over the prospect of war with Iran, while the nation does not want another war.
How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see.
John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.” To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.
Ron Paul Institute Director Daniel McAdams opens this year’s Peace and Prosperity Washington conference with some thoughts on what anti-interventionism really means and why non-intervention is so important to our national security and our moral and financial future.
A new spy story has been making the rounds in Washington, but this time it involved a brave Russian official who allegedly was allegedly recruited while in the Russian Embassy in Washington in 2007 and then worked secretly for the CIA until he was exfiltrated safely in 2017 lest he be discovered and caught. The tale was clearly leaked by the Agency itself to CNN by way of “multiple Trump administration officials.”
The CNN headline Exclusive: US extracted top spy from inside Russia in 2017 landed like a bombshell but then pretty much disappeared as journalists noted a number of inconsistencies in the government-produced account of what had taken place. Matt Taibbi observed succinctly that “Seldom has a news story been more transparently fraudulent…the tale of Oleg Smolenkov is just the latest load of high-level BS dumped on us by intelligence agencies.”
The account that appeared in the mainstream media went something like this: A midlevel Russian official named Oleg Smolenkov was recruited decades ago by the CIA. He eventually wound up in an important office in the Kremlin that gave him access to President Vladimir Putin. Smolenkov was the principal source of information confirming that Russia, acting on Putin’s instructions, was trying to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. It was claimed that Smolenkov was actually able to photograph documents in Putin’s desk. CIA concerns that a mole hunt in the Kremlin resulting from the media revelations concerning Russian interference in the election might lead to Smolenkov resulted in a 2016 offer to extract him and his family from Russia. This was successfully executed during a Smolenkov family vacation trip to Montenegro in 2017. The family now resides in Virginia.
The CNN story and other mainstream media that picked up on the tale embroidered it somewhat, suggesting that although Smolenkov was the CIA’s crown jewel, the US has a number of “high level” spies in Moscow. It was also claimed that the timetable for the exfiltration was pushed forward by CIA in 2017 after it was noted that Donald Trump was particularly careless with classified information and might inadvertently reveal the existence of the source. The allegation about Trump carelessness came, according to CNN, after a May 2017 meeting between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which the president reportedly shared sensitive information on Syria and ISIS that had been provided by Israel.
Variants of the CNN story appeared subsequently in the New York Times headlined C.I.A. Informant Extracted From Russia Had Sent Secrets to US for Decades, which confirmed that the extraction took place in 2017 though it also asserts that the decision to make the move came in 2016 when Barack Obama was still president.
Taibbi observes, correctly, that CNN and the other mainstream elements reporting the story elaborated on it through commentary coming from anonymous “former senior intelligence officials.” As the networks have all hired ex-spooks, it raises the interesting possibility that employees of the media are themselves providing comments on intelligence operations that they were personally involved in, meaning that they might deliberately promote a narrative that does not cast them in a bad light.
Next morning’s Washington Post story US got key asset out of Russia following election hacking touched all bases and also tried hard to implicate Trump. It confirmed 2016 as the time frame for the decision to carry out the exfiltration and also mentioned the president’s talk with Lavrov in May 2017, though the meeting itself was not cited as the reason for the move. As Taibbi observes, “So why mention it?”
The Russians have denied that Smolenkov was an important official and have insisted that the whole story might be something of a fabrication. And the alleged CIA handling of the claimed top-level defector somewhat bears out that conclusion. Normally, a former top spy is resettled in the US or somewhere overseas in a fake name to protect him or her from any possible attempt at revenge by their former countrymen. In Smolenkov’s case, easily public accessible online county real estate records indicate that he bought a $1 million house in Stafford Virginia in 2018 using his own true name.
If the Russians were truly conducting a mole hunt that endangered Smolenkov it may have been because the US media and their anonymous intelligence sources have been bragging about how they have “penetrated the Kremlin.” A Washington Post June 2017 articled called “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Punish Russia for Putin’s Election Assault is typical. In that article, the author describes how CIA Director John Brennan secured a “feat of espionage” by running spies “deep within the Russian government” that revealed Russia’s electoral interference.
So, the Smolenkov story has inconsistencies and one has to question why it was deliberately leaked at this time. The only constant in the media coverage is the repeated but completely evidence-free suggestion that the mole was endangered and had to be removed because of Donald Trump’s inability to keep a secret. One has to consider the possibility that the story has been leaked at least in part due to the continuing effort by the national security state to “get Trump.”
Highly recommended is former weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s fascinating detailed dissection of Smolenkov’s career as well as a history of the evolution of CIA spying against Russia. Scott speculates on why the leak of the story took place at all, examining a number of scenarios along the way. Smolenkov, who, according to former CIA officer Larry Johnson, has oddly never been polygraphed to establish his bona fides, might have been a double agent from the start, possibly a low level functionary allowed to work for the Americans so the Russian FSB intelligence service could feed low level information and control the narrative. It is a “dirty secret” within the Agency that many agents are recruited by case officers for no other reason than to enhance one’s career. Such agents normally have no real access and provide little reporting.
Or alternatively, Smolenkov might have been someone who was turned after recruitment or a genuine agent who was trying to respond to urgent demands from his controller in Washington, who was de facto John Brennan, by producing a dramatic report that was basically fabricated. Or the story itself might be completely false, an attempt by some former and current officials at CIA to demonstrate a great success at a time when the intelligence community is under considerable pressure.
Scott also believes, as do I, that the story was leaked because John Brennan and his associates knew that they were deliberately marketing phony intelligence on Russia to undermine Trump and are trying to preempt any investigation by Attorney General William Barr on the provenance of the Russiagate story. If it can be demonstrated somehow that the claims of Kremlin interference came from a highly regarded credible Russian source then Brennan and company can claim that they acted in good faith. Of course, that tale might break down if anyone bothers to interview Smolenkov.
Another theory that I tend to like is that the CIA might be making public the Smolenkov case in an attempt to lower the heat on another actual high-level source still operating in Moscow. If Russia can be convinced that Smolenkov was the only significant spy working in the Kremlin it might ratchet down efforts to find another mole. It is an interesting theory worthy of spy vs. spy, but one can be pretty sure that Russian counterintelligence has already thought of that possibility and will not be fooled.
The reality is that spying is a highly creative profession, with operational twists and turns limited only by one’s imagination. In this case, unless someone actually succeeds in interviewing Oleg Smolenkov and he decides to tell the complete truth as he sees it, the American public might never know the reality behind the latest spy story.
I’m expected to write something about the Trump administration’s warmongering against Iran over an attack on a Saudi oil refinery, because that’s typically what I do in this ongoing improvisational exercise of mine: I write about the behavior of the US war machine and the propaganda that is used to bolster it. It’s what my readers have come to expect. But honestly I find the whole thing extremely tedious and I’ve been putting off writing about it for two days.
This is because from a propaganda analysis point of view, there’s really not much to write about. The Trump administration has been making bumbling, ham-fisted attempts at manufacturing public support for increasing aggressions against Iran since it initiated withdrawal from the JCPOA a year and a half ago, yet according to a Gallup poll last month Americans still overwhelmingly support diplomatic solutions with Tehran over any kind of military aggression at all. In contrast, most Americans supported a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq according to Gallup polls taken in the lead-up to that 2003 atrocity. With the far less committed Libya intervention, it was 47 percent supportive of US military actionversus 37 percent opposed.
That’s the kind of support it takes to get a US war off the ground these days. And it’s going to take a lot more than a busted Saudi oil refinery to get there, even in the completely unproven event that it was indeed Iran which launched the attack.
Donald Trump says he is ready to back Saudi Arabia in a conflict against Iran, if US concluded it was behind oil plant attacks pic.twitter.com/eT2Ki2toGS
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) 17 сентября 2019 г.
The reason I’m able to spend so much time writing about war propaganda as part of my job is because war propaganda is happening constantly, and the reason war propaganda is happening constantly is because it’s absolutely necessary for the perpetuation of the US-centralized empire’s slow-motion third world war against unabsorbed governments. In other words, the propaganda apparatus of the empire works constantly to manufacture consent for military aggressions because it absolutely requires that consent.
When I say that the imperial war machine requires public consent before it can initiate overt warfare, I’m not saying that the US government is physically or legally incapable of launching a war that the public disapproves of, I’m saying that it is absolutely essential for the drivers of empire to preserve the illusion of freedom and democracy in America. People need to feel like their government is basically acting in everyone’s best interest, and that it is answerable to the will of the electorate, otherwise the illusion of freedom and democracy is shattered and people lose all trust in their government and media. If people no longer trust the political/media class, they can’t be propagandized. Without the ability to propagandize the masses, the empire collapses.
So out of sheer self-interest, establishment power structures necessarily avoid overt warfare until they have successfully manufactured consent for it. If they didn’t do this and chose instead to take off the nice guy mask, say “Screw you we’re doing what we want,” and start butchering Iranians at many times the cost of Iraq in both money and in American lives lost, people would immediately lose trust in their institutions and the narrative matrix which holds the whole thing together would crack open like an egg. From there revolution would become an inevitability as people are no longer being successfully propagandized by the establishment narrative managers into believing that the system is working fine for everyone.
I can’t believe that the “US intelligence community’s” accusations about a foreign adversary turned out to be not nearly as reliable, certain or definitive as they and the US media originally depicted them to be. Is this the first time in US history this has happened? https://t.co/o5rONYJLEy
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) 17 сентября 2019 г.
Think about it: why else would the mass media be churning out propaganda about disobedient governments like Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Russia and China if they didn’t need to? They need the citizenry they’re charged with manipulating to consent to important geostrategic imperialist maneuvers, or they’ll break the hypnotic trance of relentless narrative control. And make no mistake, maintaining narrative control is the single highest priority of establishment power structures, because it’s absolutely foundational to those structures.
This is why the warmongers have been favoring economic warfare over conventional warfare; it’s much easier to manufacture support for civilian-slaughtering starvation sanctions. It’s slower, it’s sloppier, and it’s surely a lot less fun for the psychopaths in charge, but because the public will consent to economic sanctions far more readily than ground invasions or air strikes, it’s been the favored method in bringing disobedient governments to their knees. That’s how important manufacturing consent is.
So a bunch of drama around a Saudi oil refinery isn’t going to do the trick. The US government is not going to leap into an all-out war which would inevitably be many times worse than Iraq based on that, because they can’t manufacture consent for it right now. All they’re trying to do is escalate things a bit further with the goal of eventually getting to a point where Iran either caves to Washington’s demands or launches a deadly attack, at which point the US can play victim and the mass media can spend days tearfully running photos of the slain US troops. If that happens they might gain their consent from the public. If not, we may see them get a little more creative with their “crisis initiation”.
Until then this is a whole lot of noise and very little signal, which is why I find this current circus uninteresting to write about. It seems like every week now the Trump administration is trotting out some new narrative with the help of the mass media explaining why the Iranian government is evil and must be toppled, and nobody buys it because it’s on the other side of the damn planet and it’s always about something silly like oil or broken drones. Their unappealing pestering about this is starting to remind me of a really awkward loser who’s constantly asking out the prettiest girl in the office over and over again; you just want to pull him aside and say dude, stop. She’s just not into you.
I think I’m going to stop paying as much attention to these high-noise, low-signal Trump foreign policy dances and wait until I actually see a hard, tangible thing to run commentary on instead, particularly with Iran. With the narrative battle still so far from success it’s entirely likely that such an event will not occur until at least 2021, possibly under a President Warren whose warmongering will be cheered on as a historic victory for women everywhere.
Until then, just remember: they’re trying to manufacture your consent because they need it. So don’t give it to them. Make sure others don’t, either.
Global Islamic Terrorism is universally recognized as today’s big threat and has been the justification for all sorts of changes, especially to life in the West after 9/11. The Islamic terrorists whom we are supposed to fear on a daily basis more or less believe in some form of Wahhabism, which grew up in and is spread from Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly the US and the Saudis have been and still are staunch allies. This makes little sense on the surface but Saudi exceptionalism extends to Russia as well. Russia and former parts of its territory have been some of the biggest victims of Wahhabism and still fight it to this day and yet President Putin just vowed to protect them from air threats via Russia’s top of the line equipment. So this raises the question by what logic would Russia want work with the Saudis who prop up the ideas that murder their citizens? The short answer is Multipolarity.
During the Cold War we saw two great powers with massive spheres of influence dividing the planet between themselves. This Bipolar (in the literal sense) structure forced everyone on America’s side to be Capitalist / Western-style Democratic and everyone on the USSR’s side to be Communist. So for every Communist revolution that succeeded Moscow’s sphere of influence grew while Washington’s shrank.
Now in the 21st century this dynamic is much different as the sole Hyperpower is fighting against any upstarts who challenge its status, which means that every nation that succumbs to the Washington status quo is a victory for Monopolarity, while any nation that begins to act on its own or under the influence of anyone besides the US/NATO/The West is a victory for Multipolarity.
This is why today, unlike during the Cold War Russia has a policy of being open to working with anyone who is willing to work with them regardless of ideology. Of course during the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union would work with countries outside their political theory of preference to some degree, but now Russia is free from the burdens of Communist ideology and is thus free to associate with anyone and Moscow is willing to work with anyone because any nation that rises up to a high level of sovereignty creates another crack in the monolith of Monopolarity.
This is why Moscow has been cooperating with Turkey who at times has been very aggressive towards them, shooting down a Russian plane, forcing their way into Syria and working against Assad’s and Russia’s interests in the region, and opening Turkish Universities across parts of the Former USSR challenging Russian cultural influence. These all sound bad, but Moscow has a bigger fish to fry and the upstart Turks, despite being in NATO are beginning to push for a more powerful sovereign pro-Turkish foreign policy, which is bad for Russia in doses, but on the whole is a huge stride towards a Multipolar World that Russia so desperately needs.
And this is the logic that applies to the Saudis. True the Saudi Wahhabism and loud inaction in terms of containing Wahhabism have lead to the deaths of many Russian-speaking people the world over, but the Multipolar mission takes precedence, thus Putin offered the Saudis to buy Russian S-400 systems because “Our (Russian) air defenses can protect you, like they do Turkey and Iran” and that “These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack.”
Syria and Turkey are both major Multipolar victories so perhaps in Putin’s words there is a hint that Saudi Arabia could jump on the Other World Order’s boat by buying these defense systems. The S-400s in question could be used to defend against a local neighbor, but we could suppose that a massive surface-to-air set up would best be used to defend against NATO, who is the only serious missile launching threat.
To an extent it is very possible that this offer by President Putin to the parties indirectly responsible for a great deal of suffering in Russia could actually be an invitation to the Multipolar World.
Saudi Arabia has been very much the exceptional Arab nation in the Middle East when it comes to NATO’s actions, but nothing lasts forever. The Saudis have oil and little means to defend it, while at the same time maintaining an ideology that has been demonized by the Mainstream Media for almost 20 years, prepping the West with a casus belli when the time comes. The fear of Monopolar aggression could force the Saudis to buy into team Multipolarity.
London bourse turns down Hong Kong merger offer, saying it favors ties with Shanghai
The number of multinational corporations setting up their regional or Asian headquarters in Shanghai hit the 700 mark in August.
Among them, 106 companies including Apple, Tesla, General Motors, HP, Philips, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, German chemical giant Basf and others use the city as a base, managing their manufacturing and logistics across Greater China and even the entire Asia Pacific region.
Behind the sizeable cluster of head offices are the 4,661 new foreign investment projects registered in the first eight months, up 47.8% year on year, pooling US$13.07 billion, as Shanghai continues to reel in foreign capital.
The overall presence of foreign firms in Shanghai is comparable with Hong Kong, claimed a Shanghai official, although at present more Western firms run their Asian head offices from the former British colony.
The long-standing, interwoven relations between Shanghai and Hong Kong, when the former was a prime source of the flow of capital and talent to Hong Kong before 1949, shifted back to economic rivalry from 2000 onwards, especially after Shanghai surpassed Hong Kong in terms of gross domestic product for the first time in 2011.
Shanghai’s annual economic output is now one third larger than Hong Kong’s and will further edge up the elite league of the world’s top 10 in the near future, according to two separate rankings of urban agglomerations compiled by PwC and McKinsey.
Shanghai cadres are heartened by a special mention from the London Stock Exchange in its letterP of rejection regarding a US$36.6 billion merger proposed by the Hong Kong bourse, a deal that was announced earlier this month.
The London trading house noted it valued the mutually beneficial partnership with the Shanghai Stock Exchange as its “preferred and direct channel” to access the many opportunities with China and that Hong Kong’s proposal did not meet its strategic objectives, nor did the Hong Kong bourse offer the best long-term listing and trading platform for China.
Shanghai’s financial sector booked an annual output of 578.2 billion yuan in 2018, compared with Hong Kong’s corresponding figure of about 550 billion yuan.
The city is also doubling down on reforms and liberalization of regulations and capital flows within its expanded pilot free trade zone, which aims to gradually ease restrictions on two-way flows of capital between the FTZ and offshore markets, as stated in a masterplan promulgated by the State Council and People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank.
The Yemeni rebels’ drone blitz on the “nerve center” of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry was a devastating counter-offensive which potentially could end the four-year war in short order. What is even more catastrophic for the Saudi monarchy – especially the ambitious Crown Prince – is that the Houthi rebels have wielded the ultimate power to crash the kingdom’s oil economy.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) was the main architect of the disastrous Saudi war on Yemen. His military hard-man display was meant to consolidate his rise to power as heir to the Saudi throne. It was a calculation based on the blood of the Yemeni people. But now the war has gone from a callous game to a far-more dangerous threat to the House of Saud’s seat of power. If the Saudi oil economy is put at severe risk, then the lifeline for the monarchy is liable to be cut.
After last weekend’s spectacular air strike on the main oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia – northeast of the capital Riyadh, some 1,000 kms from Yemen – the Houthi military leadership is warning that more deeply-penetrating aerial attacks are on the way. The Yemeni rebels have demonstrated that nowhere in Saudi Arabia is safe.
Saudi air defenses and their multi-billion-dollar US Patriot anti-missile systems have been rendered useless against an-ever increasing arsenal of more sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated out of Yemen. UN experts reckon that the Houthis’ UAV-X drone has a range of up to 1,500 kms, which means that all of the Saudi oil infrastructure located in the Eastern Province near the Persian Gulf is a viable target.
Last weekend’s air strikes carried out with 10 drones, according to the Houthis, caused Saudi oil output to shut down by nearly half. The main target – the Abqaiq refinery – processes some 70 per cent of all Saudi crude destined for export. It is not clear when the processing plant can be restored to normal function. It may take weeks or even months. But if the Yemeni rebels can inflict that extent of damage in one air raid, it is not hard to foresee how the Saudi oil-dependent economy could conceivably be brought to a crippling standstill.
“The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,” said a Houthi military spokesman following the drone strikes. The rebels also warned foreign workers in Saudi Arabia associated with the country’s oil industry to vacate.
The Yemenis have a gun to the House of Saud’s head. It must give the rebels great satisfaction to finally have the Saudi monarchy in their cross-hairs after four years of Yemen suffering relentless aerial bombardment and siege by the US-backed Saudi military. The Saudi-led war on its southern neighbor – the poorest country in the Arab region – was always an outrageous aggression under the guise of supporting the return of a corrupt crony who had been ousted by the Yemenis in early 2015. Up to 100,000 people have been killed – most of them from the indiscriminate bombing campaign by Saudi (and Emirati) warplanes supplied and armed by the US, Britain and France. Millions face starvation in what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis for many years.
The Saudi rulers, Western governments and media have tried to obscure the genocidal war on Yemen as a “proxy war” involving Iran, as if Tehran is the instigator of subverting Saudi Arabia from the south. Iran backs the Houthis politically, and perhaps also militarily more recently, but any involvement by Tehran is a reaction to the initial Western-backed Saudi aggression against Yemen.
Claims by US and Saudi officials that Iran is responsible for the latest air strikes on Saudi Arabia’s vital oil industry are more of the same obfuscation. Such muddying of the waters is an attempt to distract from the central point that the Houthis are retaliating with the legitimate right of self-defense after years of merciless slaughter inflicted on their people by the Western-backed Saudi coalition.
There’s another urgent reason for why the Saudi rulers and the US are trying to blame Iran for the latest drone attacks on the Saudi oil industry. If admitted that the air raids were carried out primarily by the Houthis – perhaps even with Iranian drone technology – then that admission points to the complete vulnerability of the Saudi oil economy and the very power structure of the monarchial rulers.
A hint of the trepidation being felt in Riyadh are reports that the latest air strikes have rattled stock markets for Saudi petrochemical companies. Worse, it is also reported that the attacks may delay the planned stock market listing of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company. Worse still, the valuation of the company may be slashed due to the perceived risk from further Yemeni air strikes.
The planned Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Aramco – whereby the Saudi state is selling a portion of the company to private investors – has been one of the most talked about events in recent years among international business. The IPO which is due to be launched next year has been called the “biggest-ever” stock market sell-off.
In an extensive interview with Bloomberg in October last year, the Saudi Crown Prince, MbS, boasted that it was the “biggest IPO in human history”. He claimed then that Aramco’s total valuation was worth $2 trillion. If the Saudis sell off a 5 per cent share in the company, they are expecting to raise $100 billion in cash. The Aramco IPO is central to MbS’ ambitious diversification master plan for the entire Saudi economy, known as Vision 2030. The capital raised from the Aramco sell-off is intended to catalyze private sector employment and technological innovation in the oil-dependent kingdom whose budget is unsustainably propping up government-sector jobs and welfare largesse to prevent the young population of Saudis rebelling against the sclerotic House of Saud.
After the Houthis’ devastating air attacks on the Saudi oil heartland – the crown jewels of the kingdom – potential investors are now reportedly looking warily at the future risk of Aramco. Valuation of the company in the aftermath of the Yemeni drone strikes has been slashed by some estimates to $300 billion – that’s down by 85 per cent from the previous aspired-for $2,000 billion. If that downgrade holds or worsens with future Houthi attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, then the capital raised from an IPO could shrink from the $100 billion projected by the Crown Prince to $15 billion. In short, his Vision 2030 plan is down the pan.
It must be alarming to the young Saudi potentate that US President Donald Trump has begun to play down any retaliation against Iran, saying that he doesn’t want to be drawn into a war.
That means the Saudi monarchs are on their own and at the mercy of the Houthis and what they do next. The downfall of the scheming Crown Prince evokes a Shakespearian drama of treachery.
Now that the flags are back waving from the tops of flagpoles across the country, and the maudlin paeans to the close to 3000 lives lost in the airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it’s time we gave a thought to the dead who were ignored.
According to very conservative estimates, as reported by the “Costs of War” project of Brown University’s Watson Institute on International and Public Affairs, nearly 250,000 civilians have been killed during the 8 years since September 2001 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in wars or attacks that were instigated by the United States.
Those are very conservative figures carefully compiled by organizations like Iraq Body Count, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. These numbers are people known to have died in the violence of war, mostly as so-called “collateral damage,” but often deliberately, as when the US bombs a hospital, a wedding or a private housing compound in order to kill some targeted individual considered an “enemy combatant,” unconcerned about the others in the area, often women and children, who are almost certain to die or suffer serious injury as the result of a strike.
The numbers do not include the deaths that also stem from America’s post 9-11wars — things like starvation, deaths from lack of medical care, and especially deaths from diseases like typhus or dysentery caused by lack of access to clean water or adequate sanitation facilities.
It is scandalous that the US government does not publish accurate information about the mayhem and slaughter that its wars have caused, especially because it is precisely because of the US extensive use of airpower, including remotely piloted drones as a means of keeping politically dangerous US military casualties in the so-called “War on Terror” at a minimum that produce so many civilian casualties.
Reporters who want to learn about civilian casualties from these US wars must either take the dangerous step of going to the battle zones without US official backing (what is called embedding with American forces — a set-up that keeps the military in control of access and message), or rely on reports from NGOs that monitor such things.
According to some accounts, civilian deaths caused by America’s permanent war in the Middle East since 2001 could exceed one million. And remember, none of those deaths, occurring in places ruled by dictators, authoritarian governments or armed groups in the case of Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan, had any involvement in attacks on the US. Their deaths, whether caused directly or indirectly by the US military, can in no way be construed as “retribution” for the attacks of 9-11.
Add to that the other uncomfortable reality that many of the combatant deaths caused by US forces in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, border areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, are of fighters who are not terrorists at all, but rather, like the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces as well as the Pathet Lao in Laos, who fought and ultimately defeated US forces in the decade-long Indochina War of the ’60 and ‘70s, are actually “freedom fighters” who have been defending their countries from a US invasion and occupation.
Of course, if we were to acknowledge that the “War on Terror” launched by the Bush/Cheney administration against Afghanistan and later Iraq — two countries none of whose people had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks — had resulted in so many murdered civilians, it would not just tarnish the reputation of our country, but also those “heroes” in uniform who followed orders and did all the slaughtering.
Folks in Iraq Veterans Against the war and Veterans for Peace will readily explain that the high rates of traumatic stress suffered by returning US veterans of these undeclared and clearly illegal invasions and occupations by the US, like those among returning Vietnam War vets of a prior generation of US war, and the current high rate of suicide among veterans has much to do with the mission, which many troops admit has not had anything to do with “defending America” or “defending freedom,” and everything to do with projecting power and with seeking US global dominance in a world where the US is increasingly being challenged as the “sole power” envisioned by George H.W. Bush’s “New World Order” in the wake of the 1991 US-launched Gulf War against Iraq.
It’s time we as a nation gave some thought to and did some penance for all those civilian deaths and combatant deaths as we remember 9-11.
We might also bow our heads in mourning for the freedoms that we have surrendered to the national security state since that terrible day.
With President Trump’s long overdue firing of John Bolton on September 10th, a window into the battle between neocon zombies infesting the White House and Donald Trump was made visible once more. As much as people enjoy oversimplifying American politics- clumping all “right wing politicians” together as ideological war mongers, the reality as showcased again this week, is that things are more nuanced and that President Trump is not just another neocon.
To begin to appreciate this fight, it is useful to conduct a short survey of the 3 weeks of fanatical neocon maneuvers led by Bolton, Defense Secretary Esper, Sen. Marco Rubio, and VP Pence. These maneuvers were instigated by two “unforgivable sins” conducted by Trump when the latter: 1) stated his wish that Russia be re-introduced to the G7 on August 21 stating “I think it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent”, and 2) his defense of President Xi Jinping as “a great leader” who must resolve the Hong Kong chaos without American interference. These initiatives had to come undone at all costs.
Rubio, Esper, Pence and Bolton Push For War
First, neocon war hawk Marco Rubio ranted at length in the Washington Post calling for the US government to intervene into the Hong Kong mess which itself has been stirred up by American intelligence outfits like the CIA-affiliated National Endowment for Democracy.
In his September 3 editorial, Rubio stated “the administration should make clear that the United States can respond flexibly and robustly in Hong Kong” and called for the Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act co-sponsored by Rubio, Ben Cartin (Democrat), James Risch (Republican), and Robert Menendez (Democrat). The act, if passed would force the US government to fully support the Hong Kong color revolutionaries while sanctioning all
Chinese officials who “have undermined the city’s autonomy”.
Just before Rubio’s belligerent words went public, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper had already exclaimed publically that America had to confront China directly in support of US allies in the Asia-Pacific over territorial issues and containment of China’s growth. Esper shocked many Asian and western statesmen alike when he stated that there is a “coming shift” from “low intensity conflict… to high intensity conflicts against competitors such as Russia and China”.
In this surreal relay race to Armageddon, Vice-President Mike Pence next took the baton during his September 2 speech in Warsaw, Poland alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda. It was here that Pence here took the opportunity to demonize Russia when he said “with its efforts to meddle in elections across Europe and around the world, now is the time for us to remain vigilant about the intentions and the actions taken by Russia.” Pence went further to state without any evidence that “Russian forces still illegally occupy large parts of Georgia and Ukraine.”
Pence was joined in Poland by ex-US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who ended his tour of four former Soviet nations begun a week earlier (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Poland). Beginning his tour on August 26 in Kiev, Bolton took the opportunity to attack Ukraine’s growing relationship with China which is on the verge of finalizing a deal to purchase the beleaguered Ukrainian aerospace giant Motor Sich. Ever since the Russian sanctions began, the Ukrainian company has lost over 40% of its markets with the Chinese providing the only chance for its salvation. Exhibiting his usual flare for hypocrisy, Bolton attacked China saying: “The Chinese are not afraid to use corruption – or to put it bluntly, bribes – to get the decisions they want”, calling for Ukraine to reject the deal.
The New Silk Road: A Nightmare for all Neocons
It is important to note that Ukraine signed an action plan to join the Chinese-led Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st century maritime Silk Road already 18 months ago with recent plans to accelerate that cooperation. Ever since the BRI and Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union increasingly began merging into a unified program, western NATO-philes have realized that their years of hard work to de-rail a pro-Eurasian alliance in Ukraine could easily come undone.
Having made a mess of Ukraine, Bolton then headed to Belarus, and Moldova pushing an anti-Russian line, ending his trip in Poland where he solidified the location for the additional American 1000 troops to be added to the 4500 US troops already operating in the nation- many of whom operate America’s anti-Russian ABM system.
The ABM system which has been built up around Russia’s southern perimeter and which Poland plays a key role, is part of a larger agenda identified by the Russian government as “Full Spectrum Dominance” and seeks a unipolar nuclear first strike monopoly. Poland’s only hope to avoid being caught in the middle of a nuclear exchange between NATO and Russia is to break free of this program and accept China’s offers to join the BRI which experts have recently stated would make Poland “The Buckle of the Belt and Road”.
It was not lost on Bolton and Pence that Poland is also a key member of the 17+1 Central and Eastern European nations + China group which has deeply tied itself to the BRI while Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union- making their allegiance to the western technocracy more fragile than some would like to admit.
Breaking Free of the Self-Destructive Psychology of Empire
When objectively assessing the psychological state of the western oligarchy at this particular moment in history, it must be concluded that certain forces operating on behalf of the City of London and Wall Street would go to any length– not excluding nuclear war- in defense of their failing system. There is thus no solution to this dark chapter of the human experience unless:
The bankruptcy of the financial system now sitting atop a $800 trillion derivatives bubble is fully acknowledged such that a serious discussion centered on bankruptcy re-organization can finally occur.
That the neocons and other deep state operatives be flushed from power- following Bolton into the trash bin of history.
That the need for a new system premised upon cooperation and long term development is adopted post-haste. This new system would have to contain certain non-negotiable features such as nationally-guided capital controls to prevent speculative fluctuations of currencies and other vital resources, the separation of investment banking from normal commercial banking functions as was done under the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (repealed in 1999 in the USA), and long term credit generation for major infrastructure projects.
The BRI as the Foundation for a New System
Russia, China and India are increasingly becoming the foundation for a new multipolar world order founded upon the respect for sovereign nations and improvement of conditions of life of the people driven by Putin’s Far East/Arctic vision and China’s New Silk Road which are winning over dozens of nations to a new paradigm of political economy.
For all of his problems, Donald Trump has maintained a generally consistent (albeit flawed) intention to re-build American industry and infrastructure after decades of post-industrial decay and combat the Deep State which has worked on overtime to overthrow his presidency. On top of this, he has seriously worked to keep the nation out of foreign entanglements while avoiding any new wars (a first for any president in over 50 years). Most importantly, he has attempted repeatedly to create positive relations with Russia and China.
Whether the neo cons infesting the US administration successfully subvert this potential for a new paradigm which would be unstoppable under a Russia-China-India-USA alliance, or not remains an open question, but Trump’s firing of Bolton will hopefully represent a new purge of war mongering sociopaths while opening the door to a new foreign policy doctrine.
Fringe practicing wanton destruction for destruction’s sake surely have learned tactics from European black blocs
Pepe ESCOBAR, Hong Kong
What’s going on deep down in Hong Kong? For a former resident with deep cultural and emotional ties to the Fragrant Harbor, it’s quite hard to take it all in just within the framework of cold geopolitical logic. Master filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai once said that when he came up with the idea for Happy Together, he decided to shoot the story of his characters in Buenos Aires because that was as far away from Hong Kong as possible.
A few weeks ago I was walking the streets of far away Buenos Aires dreaming of Hong Kong. That Hong Kong that Wong Kar-Wai refers to in his masterpiece no longer exists. Unfortunately deprived of Christopher Doyle’s mesmerizing visuals, I ended up coming back to Hong Kong to find, eventually, that the city I knew also no longer exists.
I started my journey in my former ‘hood, Sai Ying Pun, where I lived in a studio in an average, slim, ultra-crowded Cantonese tower (I was the only foreigner) across the street from the beautiful, art deco St Louis school and not far from Hong Kong University. Although only a 20-minute walk over the hills to Central – the business and political heart of the city – Sai Ying Pun is mostly middle class with a few working-class pockets, only recently marching towards gentrification after a local MTR – subway – station was launched.
The busy streets of Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun district. Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons
Mongkok, across the harbor in Kowloon, with an unfathomably large population density, is the haven of frenetic small business Hong Kong, always crammed with students in search of trendy bargains. In contrast, Sai Ying Pun is a sort of languid glimpse of Hong Kong in the 1950s: it could easily have been the set for a Wong Kar-Wai movie.
From retirees to Mrs Ling, the laundry lady – still there, but without her previous, sprawling cat population (“At home!”) – the refrain is unanimous: protests, yes, but they must be peaceful. In Kowloon the previous night I had heard harrowing stories of teachers brainwashing elementary school pupils into protest marches. Not at St Louis – they told me.
Hong Kong University is another story; a hotbed of protest, some of it enlightened, where the golden hit in humanities is to analyze China as a “perfect dictatorship” where the CCP did nothing but ratchet up crude nationalism, militarism and “aggression,” in propaganda and in dealing with the rest of Asia.
As we reach Central, the Hong Kong matrix of hyper turbo-capitalism, “protests” dissolve as an unwashed-masses, bad-for-business, dirty word, dismissed at the restaurants of the old, staid Mandarin and the glitzier Mandarin Oriental, the Norman Foster/IM Pei headquarters of HSBC and Bank of China, the headquarters of JP Morgan – with a swanky Armani outlet downstairs – or at the ultra-exclusive China Club, a favorite of old Shanghai money.
Prada meets class struggle
It’s on weekends, especially Sunday, that all of Hong Kong’s – and turbo-capitalism’s – internal contradictions explode in Central. Filipina maids for decades have been staging an impromptu sit-in, a sort of benign Occupy Central in Tagalog with English subtitles, every Sunday; after all they have no public park to gather in on their only day off, so they take over the vault of HSBC and merrily picnic on the pavement in front of Prada boutiques.
Virtually everyone in Hong Kong has reasons to protest. Take the cleaning contingent – who must do the heavy lifting after all the tear gas, burnt-out bins, bricks and broken glass, like on Sunday. Their monthly salary is the equivalent of US$1,200 – compared with the average Hong Kong salary of roughly $2,200. Horrible working conditions are the norm: exploitation, discrimination (many are from ethnic minorities and don’t speak Cantonese or English) and no welfare whatsoever.
As for the ultra-slim fringe practicing wanton destruction for destruction’s sake, they surely have learned tactics from European black blocs. On Sunday they set fire to one of the entrances to ultra-congested Wanchai station and broke glass at Admiralty. The “strategy”: breaking off MTR nodes, because paralyzing Chek Lap Kok airport – one of the busiest on the planet – won’t work anymore after the August 12/13 shutdown that canceled nearly 1,000 flights and led to a quite steep drop in passengers coming from China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.
Two years ago, in Hamburg, Special Forces were deployed against black bloc looters. In France, the government routinely unleashes the feared CRS even against relatively peaceful Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vest protesters – complete with tear gas, water cannons and supported by helicopters, and nobody invokes human rights to complain about it. The CRS deploy flash ball strikes even against the media.
Not to mention that any occupation of Charles de Gaulle, Heathrow or JFK is simply unthinkable. Chek Lap Kok, on a weekday, is now eerily quiet. Police patrol all the entrances. Passengers arriving via the Airport Express fast train must now show passport and boarding pass before being allowed inside the terminal.
Western media accounts, predictably, focus on the radical fringe, as well as the substantial fifth-columnist contingent. This weekend a few hundred staged a mini-protest in front of the British consulate asking, essentially, to be given asylum. Some of them are holders of British National Overseas (BNO) passports, which are effectively useless, as the provide no working or residency rights in the UK.
Other fifth-columnists spent their weekend waving flags from Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, US, Taiwan, and last but not least, the Hong Kong colonial flag.
Meet homo Hong Kong
Who are these people? Well, that necessarily brings us to a crash course on homo Hong Kong.
Not many people in Hong Kong can point to ancestors in place before the Opium War of 1841 and the subsequent rule of imperial Britain. Most don’t know much about the People’s Republic of China, so essentially there’s no grudge. They own their own homes, which means, crucially, they are insulated from Hong Kong’s number one problem: the demented, speculative property market.
Then there are the old China elites – people who fled Mao’s victory in 1949. At first they were orphans of Chiang Kai-shek. Then they concentrated on hating the Communist Party with a vengeance. The same applies to their offspring. The ultra-wealthy gather at the China Club. The less wealthy at least can afford $5 million apartments at The Peak. Canada is a preferred destination – hence Hong-Couver as a substantial part of Vancouver. For them Hong Kong is essentially a transit stop, like a glitzy business lounge.
It’s this – large – contingent that is behind the protests.
The lower strata of the Escape from China elites are the economic refugees of 1949. Tough luck: still today they don’t own property and have no savings. A great many of the easily manipulated teenagers taking over the streets of Hong Kong dressed in black and singing “Glory to Hong Kong” and dreaming of “independence” are their sons and daughters. It’s certainly a cliché, but it does apply to their case: trapped between East and West, between an Americanized lifestyle on steroids and the pull of Chinese culture and history.
Hong Kong cinema, with all its pulsating dynamism and exhilarating creativity, may offer the perfect metaphor to understand the inner contradictions of the Fragrant Harbor. Take Tsui Hark’s 1992 masterpiece New Dragon Gate Inn, with Donnie Yen and gorgeous Maggie Cheung, based on what happened at a crucial pass in the Ancient Silk Road six centuries ago.
Here we may place Hong Kong as the inn between imperial despotism and the desert. Inside, we find fugitives imprisoned between their dream of escaping to the “West” and the cynically exploitative owners. That connects with the ghostly, Camus-infused existential terror for the modern homo Hong Kong: soon he may be liable to be “extradited” to evil China before he has a chance to be granted asylum by the benevolent West. A fabulous line by Donnie Yen’s character sums it all up: “Rain in the Dragon Gate mountains makes the Xue Yuan tiger come down.”
Good to be a tycoon
The drama played out in Hong Kong is actually a microcosm of the Big Picture: turbo-charged, neoliberal hyper-capitalism confronted to zero political representation. This “arrangement” that only suits the 0.1% simply can’t go on like before.
In fact what I reported about Hong Kong seven years ago for Asia Times could have been written this morning. And it got worse. Over 15% of Hong Kong’s population now lives in actual poverty. According to figures from last year, the total net worth of the wealthiest 21 Hong Kong tycoons, at $234 billion, was the equivalent of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves. Most of these tycoons are property market speculators. Compare it to real wages for low-income workers increasing a meager 12.3% over the past decade.
Beijing, later rather than sooner, may have awakened to the number one issue in Hong Kong – the property market dementia, as reported by Asia Times. Yet even if the tycoons get the message, the underlying framework of life in Hong Kong is not bound to be altered: maximum profit crushing wages and any type of unionization.
So economic inequality will continue to boom – as an unrepresentative Hong Kong government “led” by a clueless civil servant keeps treating citizens as non-citizens. At Hong Kong University I heard some serious proposals: “We need a more realistic minimum wage. “We need real taxes on capital gains and on property.” “We need a decent property market.”
Will that be addressed before a crucial deadline – October 1st – when Beijing will be celebrating, with great fanfare, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China? Of course not. Trouble will continue to brew at the Dragon Inn – as those underpaid, over-exploited cleaners face the bleakest of futures.
In early August India deployed 38,000 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir to join the half-million already there. (There are two Kashmirs, administered respectively by India and Pakistan, following post-colonial dissent concerning accession of the territory.) There was then a massive clamp-down after a decree of 5 August annulled Article 370 of India’s Constitution which guaranteed the rights of Kashmiris to freedom under local laws. The region was subjected to military occupation, with central rule imposing unprecedented restrictions on movement and banning communication with the outside world. These have been enforced for over six weeks.
Associated Press managed to report some incidents, however, including one when “Indian soldiers descended on Bashir Ahmed Dar’s house in southern Kashmir on August 10… Over the next 48 hours, the 50-year-old plumber said he was subjected to two separate rounds of beatings by soldiers. They demanded that he find his younger brother, who had joined rebels opposing India’s presence in the Muslim-majority region… In a second beating at a military camp, Dar said he was struck with sticks by three soldiers until he was unconscious.” They released him but “on August 14, soldiers returned to his house… and destroyed his family’s supply of rice and other foodstuffs by mixing it with fertiliser and kerosene.”
Although there was a petition on 12 September to President Trump by four US Senators “to immediately facilitate an end to the current humanitarian crisis” in Indian-administered Kashmir, there has not been one syllable of condemnation by the administration in Washington. London remained silent also. These energetically vociferous supporters of human rights have voiced not the slightest criticism of India for its persecution and imprisonment of innocent Kashmiris.
If this sort of thing had happened in Crimea there would have been massive coverage in the Western media and loud and penetrating censure and denunciation of Moscow by politicians, pundits and the ever-attentive US military.
Western media always refer to the 2014 accession by Crimea to Russia as ‘annexation’ by Russia of the land that is historically Russian, whose citizens are predominantly Russian-speaking and Russian-cultured, and whose government held a referendum which overwhelmingly indicated preference for accession to Russia. One would not know it from Western media, but the referendum was witnessed by 135 international observers from 23 countries, including the Austrian MP Johannes Hübner who said that “The view we get from the American and European media is very distorted. You get no objective information. So we decided to come here to have a look at what’s really going on and see if this referendum is credible”. Which it was.
In contradistinction, there has been no referendum in Kashmir, as required by international legislature. In January 1949 the UN Commission for India and Pakistan announced that “The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite” and the BBC notes that “in three resolutions, the UN Security Council and the United Nations Commission in India and Pakistan recommended that as already agreed by Indian and Pakistani leaders, a plebiscite should be held to determine the future allegiance of the entire state.”
But it seems that Western governments are given to condemning referendums when they don’t suit their purpose and ignoring UN Resolutions to hold them when that action would be embarrassingly inconvenient for the country involved.
There’s no freedom in Kashmir, and instead of enjoying a modicum of self-governance and being permitted a referendum on its future, Indian-administered Kashmir is subjected to what is called ‘lockdown’. Mobile phone networks and access to the internet have been blocked for over six weeks — and there hasn’t been an official syllable of disapproval in Washington or London. Certainly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on 9 September that she is “deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris” and also “alarmed” about “restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists” — but no Western government paid the slightest attention. Nor did the freedom-loving Western mainstream media, which is always alert for violations of human rights around the world. Well — in some parts of the world.
They ignore the savagery of Indian troops and the denial of basic freedoms in Indian-occupied Kashmir, but would they do that if such excesses were evident elsewhere? Imagine the uproar, the feverish surge of self-righteous passion, the fiercely critical condemnation of brutality and suppression of democracy if anything like this occurred in Crimea. The US and Britain would go berserk with sanctimony.
On 12 September Reuters reported that “Authorities in Indian Kashmir have arrested nearly 4,000 people since the scrapping of its special status last month, government data shows, the most clear evidence yet of the scale of one of the disputed region’s biggest crackdowns… More than 200 politicians, including two former chief ministers of the state were arrested.”
But Mr Trump didn’t say a word. He was otherwise occupied, tweeting insults, and while repression was surging in Kashmir was at a G-7 meeting in Biarritz where he referred to Egypt’s tyrannical Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as “my favourite dictator” which tells us a great deal about the outlook of the US President. It is not surprising that Trump doesn’t want to criticise Indian Prime Minister Modi, the director of despotism in Kashmir, as he considers that “Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media.” His final G-7 tweet was that he had “Just wrapped up a great meeting with my friend Prime Minister Modi of India at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France!” so it seems that the twitter soul mates approve of ultra-authoritarianism and that Trump isn’t going near the Kashmir human rights’ button anytime.
Britain’s Prime Minister Johnson is desperately trying to avoid the catastrophic outcome of quitting the European Union and has little time for wider affairs, so cannot be expected to say anything definitive about the atrocities in Kashmir other than his pronouncement of 9 August that the situation was “serious.” His stance on Crimea is set in the Western mould of ‘annexation’ and he is rabidly anti-Russia, so there is no chance of a movement to dialogue by the United Kingdom. The rest of Europe just wishes the Kashmir crisis would go away, and hangs on to the ‘annexation’ story about Crimea, where there was no ‘lockdown’, persecution or detention of innocent civilians at accession time. Imagine the furore if there had been use of pellet guns in Sevastopol.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo, urged the Indian government “to act in accordance with international human rights law and standards towards people living in Jammu and Kashmir, including in relation to arrests and detentions of political opponents, and the rights to liberty and freedom of movement” and pointed out that “The actions of the Indian government have thrown ordinary people’s lives into turmoil, subjecting them to unnecessary pain and distress on top of the years of human rights violations they have already endured.”
Will there be any action at all by Washington and London? No: not a hope. They’ll continue to bounce up and down about Crimea, where there is liberty and freedom of movement, while keeping silent about persecution in Kashmir.
They are looking at the world through a prism of hypocrisy.
Will Trump let the Saudis dictate when and where the United States goes to war? Who did it and why Evidence? False flag? So many questions.
John Bolton is out as Donald Trump’s second National Security Director. That’s an unqualified good thing as we pass the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11.
But Bolton is only one out of half a dozen very problematic neoconservative/evangelical voices in Trump’s cabinet, though the most obviously insane.
Bolton’s missteps this year are legion and legendary. From the failed coup in Venezuela I like to call the Bay of Fat Pigs to scuttling denuclearization talks with North Korea to helping maneuver Trump into a potential shooting war with Iran, Bolton’s fall from grace is emblematic of the inflexibility of neoconservative thinking.
And the irony here is that Bolton was fired just one day before the anniversary of 9/11, a day that can easily be seen as the day the growing cancer within U.S. foreign policy, neoconservatism, got its wings.
Trump finally seeing Bolton for the massive liability he was in achieving any of his ambitious foreign policy goals should be seen as their apotheosis. This is Peak Neocon folks.
They got everything they wanted, a pro-Israeli President with a deep-seated need to be liked who valued trust and loyalty over competence. Trump inherited a geopolitical landscape they’d engineered under Obama for their big win in the Middle East. All they needed to do was manipulate a volatile and image-obsessed Trump into a moment he couldn’t return from.
That moment came when Iran shot down a U.S. Global Hawk stealth drone violating their airspace alongside a manned P-8 Poseidon. Trump, smartly, didn’t take the bait and I said then he had a window of opportunity to put paid his peace bona fides by firing one of his inner staff who’d pushed him to that limit.
I give Trump a lot of credit here for not falling into the trap set for him. He now has to begin removing those responsible for this quagmire and I’m sure that will be on the docket when he meets with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping next week at the G-20.
It starts with John Bolton and it ends with Mike Pompeo.
And if he doesn’t replace them in the next six to eight weeks then we know Trump isn’t serious about keeping us out of war. He’s just interested in doing so until he gets re-elected.
He took a little longer than that but it’s clear Trump is not happy with the state of his foreign policy. Firing Bolton was an excellent start. But it’s not enough, not even close.
The problem, as I see it, is that while Trump’s desire for peace in these hot spots is real, he is incapable of seeing the path to achieving it because he doesn’t care about the details.
And it’s the details that always undo the Neocons’ plans for humanity. They apply the same tired trope, “squeeze them until the pipe squeak,” as Bolton put it, and if it doesn’t work, squeeze harder.
These folks are Trotskyites at heart, willing to do anything to bring about their revolution. Homeless after World War II, they found a home within the Republican Party starting with Bill Buckley and the National Review crowd in the 1950’s and slowly taking it over.
They have suffused both major parties with their dreams global domination by stoking American exceptionalism run rampant in the post WWII generations to intervene anywhere a wrong could be righted.
It’s pure insanity, if not inherently racist, and it needs to end.
My worry here is that Trump only did this to shore up his position with those who elected him for his foreign policy promises, none of which he has kept and nearly all of them he has broken, either willfully or through his passivity.
So, he needs to build on this down payment and get back to the table with North Korea, actually get Iran to sit at the table and tell the rabid anti-Russian political hoi polloi to just shut up and sit down.
His appeasement of the Neocons began with his bombing of the Al-Shairat airbase in April 2017 in response to the chemical weapons ‘attack’ in Khan Sheikoun. Isn’t is ironic that just over two years later the re-taking of that town in Syria was the launching point for sweeping changes in the geopolitical chessboard?
Trump wants to be seen as the strong and competent archetype. That’s the mantle he wants to take on as president. But he’s not doing that at all, he’s projected the aura of a mercurial and inconsistent bully with no clear strategy who refuses to keep his word.
How much of that comes from his staff, like Bolton, undermining him is irrelevant. As the leader, as the CEO, you are responsible for everything that happens under your command. Period.
Lead or get out of the way.
Since the Global Hawk incident Trump has gone from one foreign policy embarrassment to another. Chinese Premier Xi Jinping openly said he cannot believe anything Trump says. President Erdogan of Turkey recently came out and said he cannot keep silent anymore about how many weapons the U.S. shipped to the Kurdish SDF. According to Erdogan that number is an astounding 30,000 truckloads.
This is not what we voted for and it isn’t the path to peace in the Middle East.
There are lots of signs that Trump is ready to reverse course on most of his pressure programs and is angling to cut deals. He’s rumored to be meeting with Iranian President Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. His opening up about how Bolton’s presence angered North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and killed hopes for talks in Hanoi in February was refreshing honesty.
It is, sadly, what passes for diplomacy in his administration.
With the emergence of French President Emmanuel Macron leading rapprochement with Russia, after very successful 2+2 talks recently, Trump’s passive-aggression towards our policy in Ukraine is finally opening the door to improving relations with Russia.
And, of course, there is the climbing down off the mountains by both China and the U.S. over trade and tariffs. Finally, Trump might have been convinced that destroying global trade to accommodate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by plunging the world into a global financial crisis wasn’t going to get him onto Mount Rushmore.
Firing Bolton may have been a wake-up call to the rest of the neocons in his administration, tow the line or leave. Pompeo, in particular, has to be reined in as spokesman for Trump with foreign powers. His behavior to this point has been appalling, walking into places like Beirut and issuing threats like some out-of-touch monarch while availing himself liberally of the buffet table.
The early returns aren’t good. We see more shenanigans with Venezuela on the horizon. The U.S. is preparing sanctions on Rosneft and invoking a Cold War treaty to funnel money to pretender Juan Guido.
So, while I hope things improve, I’m not sanguine, in the near term. Trump has a lot of work to do and he doesn’t look like the guy capable of doing it. Having occasional bursts of outrage which culminate in him making grand gestures is not the same as having a plan and an agenda.
Like Xi, Trump has squandered the trust and goodwill of many who voted for him in 2016, and we simply don’t trust him anymore. He’s got to do a lot more than just fire one mustached crazy person who he is responsible for hiring in the first place.
Leaders accept responsibility. They accept their mistakes and chart a new course. Everyone on the other side of the ledger wants Trump to do the right thing but to this point he has mostly done the opposite. Personnel is policy. And until Trump begins appointing people to key positions that are 1) competent and 2) have a soul the edicts coming from Imperial D.C. will continue.
And the world will adjust to the rapid decline.
Scott Ritter probes Oleg Smolenkov’s role as a CIA asset and the use of his data by the director of the CIA to cast doubt over the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Reports that the CIA conducted an emergency exfiltration of a long-time human intelligence source who was highly placed within the Russian Presidential Administration sent shock waves throughout Washington, D.C. The source was said to be responsible for the reporting used by the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, in making the case that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered Russian intelligence services to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election for the purpose of tipping the scales in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump. According to CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the decision to exfiltrate the source was driven in part by concerns within the CIA over President Trump’s cavalier approach toward handling classified information, including his willingness to share highly classified intelligence with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a controversial visit to the White House in May 2017.
On closer scrutiny, however, this aspect of the story falls apart, as does just about everything CNN, The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets have reported. There was a Russian spy whose information was used to push a narrative of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; this much appears to be true. Everything else that has been reported is either a mischaracterization of fact or an outright fabrication designed to hide one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history — the use by a CIA director of intelligence data specifically manipulated to interfere in the election of an American president.
The consequences of this interference has deleteriously impacted U.S. democratic institutions in ways the American people remain ignorant of — in large part because of the complicity of the U.S. media when it comes to reporting this story.
This article attempts to set the record straight by connecting the dots presented by available information and creating a narrative shaped by a combination of derivative analysis and informed speculation. At best, this article brings the reader closer to the truth about Oleg Smolenkov’s role as a CIA asset; at worst, it raises issues and questions that will help in determining the truth.
“And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free,” John 8:32, is etched into the wall of the main lobby of the Old CIA Headquarters Building.
In 2007, Oleg Smolenkov was living the life of a Russian diplomat abroad, serving in the Russian embassy in Washington. At 33 years of age, married with a 1-year old son, Smolenkov was the picture of a young diplomat on the rise. A protégé of Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov, Smolenkov worked as a second secretary assigned to the Russian Cultural Center, a combined museum and exhibition hall operated by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (better known by its common Russian name, Rossotrudnichestvo), an autonomous government agency operating under the auspices of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In addition to hosting Russian artists and musicians, Rossotrudnichestvo oversaw a program where it organized all-expense paid cultural exchanges for young Americans to travel to Russia, where they were accommodated in luxury hotels and met with Russian officials. Smolenkov’s boss, Yegeny Zvedre, would also tour the United States, speaking at public forums where he addressed U.S.-Russian cooperation. As for Smolenkov himself, life was much more mundane — he served as a purchasing agent for Rossotrudnichestvo, managing procurement and contract issues for a store operating out of the Rossotrudnichestvo building, which stood separate from the main embassy compound.
Rossotrudnichestvo had a darker side: the FBI long suspected that it operated as a front to recruit Americans to spy for Russia, and as such every Russian employee was viewed as a potential officer in the Russian intelligence service. This suspicion brought with it a level of scrutiny which revealed much about the character of the individual being surveilled, including information of a potentially compromising nature that could be used by the American intelligence services as the basis of a recruitment effort.
Every Russian diplomat assigned to the United States is screened to ascertain his or her susceptibility for recruitment. The FBI does this from a counterintelligence perspective, looking for Russian spies. The CIA does the same, but with the objective of recruiting a Russian source who can remain in the employ of the Russian government, and thereby provide the CIA with intelligence information commensurate to their standing and access. Turning a senior Russian diplomat is difficult; recruiting a junior Russian diplomat like Oleg Smolenkov less so. Someone like Smolenkov would be viewed not so much by the limited access he provided at the time of recruitment, but rather his potential for promotion and the increased opportunity for more essential access provided by such.
The responsibility within the CIA for recruiting Russian diplomats living in the United States falls to the National Resources Division, or NR, part of the Directorate of Operations, or DO — the clandestine arm of the CIA. In a perfect world, the CIA domestic station in Washington, D.C., would coordinate with the local FBI field office and develop a joint approach for recruiting a Russian diplomat such as Smolenkov. The reality is, however, that the CIA and the FBI have different goals and objectives when it comes to the Russians they recruit. As such, Smolenkov’s recruitment was most likely a CIA-only affair, run by NR but closely monitored by the Russian Operations Group of the Agency’s Central Eurasia Division, who would have responsibility for managing Smolenkov upon his return to Moscow.
The precise motive for Smolenkov to take up the CIA’s offer of recruitment remains unknown. He graduated from one of the premier universities in Russia, the Maurice Thorez Moscow State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, and he married his English language instructor. Normally a graduate from an elite university such as Maurice Thorez has his or her pick of jobs in the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defense or the security services. Smolenkov was hired by the Foreign Ministry as a junior linguist, assigned to the Second European Department, which focuses on Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltics, before getting assigned to the embassy in Washington.
But his job as foreman of the Rossotrudnichestvo coop was not the kind of job a Maurive Thorez graduate gets; Smolenkov had to have felt slighted. He allegedly turned to drink, and his marriage was on the rocks; his colleagues spoke of a man who believed his salary was too low. The enticements of money and future opportunity — the CIA’s principle recruitment ploys — more than likely were a factor in convincing this dissatisfied diplomat to defect. Did the CIA compromise him by dangling the temptation of contract-based embezzlement? Or did the FBI uncover some sort of personal or financial impropriety that made the Russian diplomat vulnerable to recruitment? Only the CIA and Smolenkov know the precise circumstances behind the Russian’s decision to betray his country. But the fact is, sometime in 2007-2008, Smolenkov was recruited by the CIA.
After Smolenkov accepted the CIA’s offer, there was much work to be done — the new agent had to be polygraphed to ascertain his reliability, trained on covert means of intelligence collection, including covert photography, as well as on how to securely communicate with the CIA in order to transmit information and receive instructions. Smolenkov was also introduced to his “handler,” a CIA case officer who would be responsible for managing the work of Smolenkov, including overseeing the bank account where Smolenkov’s CIA “salary” would be deposited. Various contingencies would be prepared for, including procedures for reestablishing communications should the existing means become unavailable, emergency contact procedures and emergency exfiltration plans in case Smolenkov became compromised.
Took Away His Name, and Gave Him a Code
The recruitment of a diplomat willing to return to Moscow and be run in place is a rare accomplishment, and Smolenkov’s identity would become a closely guarded secret within the ranks of the CIA. Smolenkov’s true identity would be known to only a few select individuals; to everyone else who had access to his reporting, he was simply a codename, comprised of a two-letter digraph representing Russia (this code changed over time), followed by a word chosen at random by a CIA algorithm (for example, Adolf Tolkachev, the so-called “billion dollar spy,” was known by the codename CKSPHERE, with CK being the digraph in use for the Soviet Union at the time of his recruitment.) Because the specific details from the information provided by Smolenkov could compromise him as the source, the Russian Operations Group would “blend” his reporting in with other sources in an effort to disguise it before disseminating it to a wider audience.
Smolenkov followed Ambassador Ushakov when the latter departed the United States for Moscow in the summer of 2008; soon after arriving back in Moscow, Smolenkov and his wife divorced. Ushakov took a position as the deputy chief of the Government Staff of the Russian Federation responsible for international relations and foreign policy support. Part of the Executive Office of the Government of the Russian Federation, Ushakov coordinated the international work of the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and senior officials of the Government Executive Office. Smolenkov took up a position working for Ushakov, and soon found himself moving up the ranks of the Russian Civil Service, being promoted in 2010 to the rank of state advisor to the Russian Federation of the Third Class, a second-tier rank that put him on the cusp of joining the upper levels of the Russian government bureaucracy. He was granted a “second-level” security clearance, which allowed him to handle top secret information.
In 2013 Ushakov received a new assignment, this time to serve in the Presidential Executive Office as the aide for international relations. Smolenkov joined Ushakov as his staff manager. Vladimir Putin was one year into his second stint as president and brought Ushakov, who had advised him on foreign relations while Putin was prime minister, to continue that service. Ushakov maintained an office at the Boyarsky Dvor (Courtyard of the Boyars), on 8 Staraya Square.
The Boyarsky Dvor was physically separate from the Kremlin, meaning neither Ushakov nor Smolenkov had direct access to the Russian president. Nevertheless, Smolenkov’s new job had to have pleased his CIA masters. In the five years Smolenkov worked at the Executive Office of the Government, he was not privy to particularly sensitive information. His communications with CIA would most likely have been administrative in nature, with the CIA more interested in Smolenkov’s growth potential than immediate value of any intelligence he could produce.
Smolenkov’s arrival in the Presidential Administration coincided with a period of operational difficulty for the CIA in Moscow. First, the CIA’s internet-based covert communications system, which used Google’s email platform as the foundation for accessing various web pages where information was exchanged between the agent and his CIA handlers, had been globally compromised. Smolenkov had been trained on this system, and it provided his lifeline to the CIA. The compromise first occurred in Iran, and then spread to China; in both countries, entire networks of CIA agents were rounded up, with many being subsequently executed. China is believed to have shared the information on how to detect the covert communication-linked web pages with Russia; fortunately for Moscow Station, they were able to make the appropriate changes in the system to safeguard the security and identity of its agents. In the meantime, communications between the CIA and Smolenkov were cut off until the CIA could make contact using back-up protocols and re-train Smolenkov on the new communications procedures.
Moscow Station, however, was having trouble carrying out its clandestine tasks. In the fall of 2011, the CIA’s chief of station in Moscow, Steven Hall, had been approached by his counterpart in the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI) and warned that the CIA should stop trying to recruit agents from within the FSB ranks; the FSB had detected several of these attempts, which it deemed inappropriate given the ongoing cooperation between the intelligence services of the two countries regarding the war on terrorism.
But Hall had his orders, and after a year-long pause to review its operating procedures, Moscow Station resumed its targeting of FSB officers. Things went real bad real fast. In January 2013, a CIA officer named Benjamin Dillon was arrested by the FSB as he tried to recruit a Russian agent, declared persona non grata, and expelled from Russia. Then in May 2013 the FSB arrested another CIA officer, Ryan Fogle. Fogle was paraded before television cameras together with his spy paraphernalia, and like Dillon before him, expelled from the country. Moreover, the Russians, in condemning the CIA actions, revealed the identity of the CIA’s Moscow chief of station (Hall), who because of the public disclosure was compelled to depart Russia.
A CIA Dream
The loss of Dillon and Fogle was a serious blow to Moscow Station, but one from which the CIA could recover. But the near simultaneous loss of two case officers and the chief of station was a different matter altogether. Hall was one of the few people in the CIA who had been “read in” on the recruitment of Smolenkov, and as such was involved in the overall management of the Russian agent. The loss of Hall at this very sensitive time created a problem for both the CIA and Smolenkov. Smolenkov’s new assignment was a dream come true for the CIA — never before had the agency managed to place a controlled agent into the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.
But while Smolenkov had been able to provide evidence of access, by way of photographs of presidential documents, the CIA needed to confirm that Smolenkov hadn’t been turned by the Russians and was not being used to pass on disinformation designed to mislead those who used Smolenkov’s reporting. Normally this was done by subjecting the agent to a polygraph examination—a “swirl,” in CIA parlance. This examination could take place at an improvised covert location in Russia, or in a more controlled environment outside of Russia, if Smolenkov was able to exit on work or during vacation. But arranging the examination required close coordination between the CIA and its agent, as well as a healthy degree of trust between the agent and those directing him. With communications down, and the chief of station evicted, Smolenkov was left in a state of limbo while the CIA trained up new case officers capable of operating in Moscow and sought a replacement for Hall.
One of the ironies surrounding the arrest and expulsion of CIA officer Fogle, and the subsequent outing and eviction of Hall, was that Smolenkov was ideally positioned to provide an inside perspective on how the Russian leadership reacted to the incident. Smolenkov’s boss, Ushakov, was tasked with overseeing Russia’s diplomatic response. In a statement given to the Russian media, Ushakov expressed surprise at the timing of the incident. “To put it mildly,” Ushakov said, “it is surprising that this extremely crude, clumsy attempt at recruitment took place in a situation where both President Obama and President Putin have clearly stated the importance of more active cooperation and contacts between the special services of the two countries.”
Ushakov coordinated closely with the head of Putin’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, regarding the content of a letter Putin was planning to send in response to a previous communication from Obama. While the original text focused on missile defense issues, Ushakov and Patrushev inserted language about the Fogle incident. As a senior aide to Ushakov, Smolenkov was ideally positioned to gather intelligence about the Russian response. If he was able to communicate this information to the CIA, it would have provided Obama and his advisers time to prepare a response to the Russian letter. The situation meant that Smolenkov may have been reporting on events related to the expulsion of Hall, one of the CIA officers specifically trained to manage his reporting.
Amid the operational challenges and opportunity provided by Smolenkov’s new position within the Russian Presidential Administration, the CIA underwent a radical reorganization which impacted how human agents, and the intelligence they produced, would be managed. The past practice of having intelligence operations controlled by insular regional divisions, which promoted both a physical and philosophical divide between the collectors and their analytical counterparts in the respective regional division within the Directorate of Intelligence, or DI, was discontinued by Brennan, who had taken over as director of the CIA in May 2013.
To replace what he viewed as an antiquated organizational structure, Brennan created what he called “Mission Centers,” which combined analytical, operational, technical and support expertise under a single roof. For Moscow Station and Smolenkov, this meant that the Russia and Eurasia Division, with its Russian Operations Group, no longer existed. Instead, Moscow Station would take its orders from a new Europe and Eurasia Mission Center headed by an experienced CIA Russia analyst named Peter Clement.
Clement, who had earned a PhD in Russian history from Michigan State University, had a diverse resumé with the CIA which included service as the director for Russia on the National Security Council and as the CIA representative to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Clement served as the director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis and as the CIA’s Russia issue manager from 1997 to 2003; as the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) briefer for Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003-2004, and from 2005-2013, as the deputy director for intelligence for analytic programs. In 2015 Brennan appointed Clement to serve as the deputy assistant director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia, where he directed the activities of the newly created Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. If one was looking for the perfect candidate to manage the fusion of operational, analytical and technical experience into a singular, mission-focused entity, Peter Clement was it.
As Clement got on with the business of whipping the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center into shape, Smolenkov was busy establishing himself as an intelligence source of some value. Smolenkov’s success was directly linked to the work of his boss, Ushakov. In June 2015, Ushakov was put in charge of establishing a high-level working group in the fuel and energy sector for the purpose of improving bilateral cooperation with Azerbaijan. The reporting Smolenkov would have been able to provide on the work of this group would have been of tremendous assistance to those in the Obama administration working on U.S. energy policy, especially as it related to countering Russian moves in the former Soviet Republics.
Another project of interest was Russia’s sale of advanced Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan in support of their counterterrorism efforts. Coming at a time when U.S.-Pakistani relations were floundering, the Russian sale of advanced helicopters was viewed with concern by both the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Again, Smolenkov’s reporting on this issue would have been well received by critical policymakers in both departments.
But the most critical role played by Ushakov was advising Putin on the uncertain state of relations between the U.S. and Russia in the aftermath of the 2014 crisis in Ukraine, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ushakov’s 10-year tenure as Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. gave him unprecedented insight into U.S. decision making, experience and expertise Putin increasingly relied upon as he formulated and implemented responses to U.S. efforts to contain and punish Russia on the international stage.
While Ushakov’s meetings with Putin were conducted either in private, or in small groups of senior advisers, meaning Smolenkov was not present, Smolenkov was able to collect intelligence on the periphery by photographing itineraries and working papers, as well as overhearing comments made by Ushakov, that collectively would provide U.S. policymakers with important insight into Putin’s thinking.
Managing an important resource like Smolenkov was one of the critical challenges faced by Clement and the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. Smolenkov’s reporting continued to be handled using special HUMINT procedures designed to protect the source. However, within the Center knowledge of Smolenkov’s work would have been shared with analysts who worked side by side with their operational colleagues deciding how the intelligence could best be used, as well as coming up with follow-up questions for Smolenkov regarding specific issues of interest.
Given the unique insight Smolenkov’s reporting provided into Putin’s thinking, it would be logical that intelligence sourced from Smolenkov would frequently find itself briefed to the president and his inner circle via the PDB process, which was exacting in terms of vetting the accuracy and reliability of any intelligence reporting that made it onto its pages. As a long-time Russia expert with extensive experience in virtually every aspect of how the CIA turned raw reporting into finished intelligence, Clement was ideally suited to making sure his Center handled the Smolenkov product responsibly, and in a manner which maximized its value.
Meanwhile, Moscow Station continued to exhibit operational problems. By 2015 the CIA had managed to rebuild its stable of case officers operating from the U.S. embassy. But the FSB always seemed to be one step ahead. According to the FSB, the Russians were adept at identifying CIA officers working under State Department cover and would subject these individuals to extensive surveillance. As if to prove the Russian’s point, in short order the FSB rounded up the newly assigned case officers, along with the deputy chief of station, declared them persona non grata, and expelled them from Russia. To make matters worse, the FSB released surveillance video of all these officers, who in some cases were joined by their spouses, as they engaged in elaborate ruses to evade Russian surveillance in order to carry out their covert assignments.
Moscow Station’s string of bad luck continued into 2016, when one of its officers, having been detected by the FSB during a meeting, fled via taxi to the U.S. embassy, only to be tackled by a uniformed FSB officer as he tried to enter the compound. In the scuffle that followed, the CIA officer managed to make entry into the embassy building, compelling the FSB guard to release him once jurisdiction was lost. The CIA officer, who suffered a separated shoulder during the incident, left Russia shortly thereafter, together with a female colleague who had also been detected by the FSB while engaged in clandestine activities and subsequently declared persona non grata.
The FSB indicated, at the time these two officers were being expelled, that it had evicted three other CIA officers during the year. In addition to the decimation of its staff, Moscow Station was experiencing an alarming number of its agents being discovered by the FSB and arrested. While the Russians were circumspect about most of these cases, on several occasions they indicated that they had uncovered a spy by intercepting the electronic communications between him and the CIA. This meant that the Russians were aware of, and actively pursuing, the Google-based internet-based system used by the CIA to communicate with its agents in Russia.
Meanwhile, Smolenkov continued to send his reports to his CIA handlers unabated, using the same internet-based system. Under normal circumstances, an exception to compromise would raise red flags within the counterintelligence staff that evaluated an agent’s reporting and activity. But by the summer of 2016, nothing about the work of the CIA, and in particular the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center could be considered “normal” when it came to the Russian target.
Little White Envelope
Sometime in early August 2016, a courier from the CIA arrived at the White House carrying a plain, unmarked white envelope. Inside was an intelligence report from Smolenkov that CIA Director Brennan considered to be so sensitive that he kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restrictive process was too inclusive to adequately protect the source. The intelligence was to be read by four people only — Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. The document was to be returned to the courier once it had been read.
The contents of the report were alarming —Putin had personally ordered the cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
The intelligence report was not a product of Clement’s Europe and Eurasia Mission Center, but rather a special unit of handpicked analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI who were brought together under great secrecy in late July and reported directly to Brennan. These analysts were made to sign non-disclosure agreements protecting their work from their colleagues.
This new analytical unit focused on three new sensitive sources of information — the Smolenkov report, additional reporting provided by a former MI6 officer named Christopher Steele, and a signals intelligence report provided by a Baltic nation neighboring Russia. The Steele information was of questionable provenance, so much so that FBI Director James Comey could not, or would not, vouch for its credibility. The same held true for the NSA’s assessment of the Baltic SIGINT report. By themselves, the Steele reporting and Baltic SIGINT report were of little intelligence value. But when viewed together, they were used to corroborate the explosive contents of the Smolenkov intelligence. The White House found the Smolenkov report so convincing that in September 2016, during a meeting of the G-20 in China, Obama pulled Putin aside and told him to stop meddling in the U.S. election. Putin was reportedly nonplussed by Obama’s intervention.
It is extraordinarily difficult for a piece of intelligence to be deemed important and reliable enough to be briefed to the president of the United States. The principal forum for such a briefing is the Presidential Daily Brief, which prior to 2004 was a product produced exclusively by the CIA. When the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was signed into law in 2004, the responsibility for the PDB was transferred to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a newly created entity responsible for oversight and coordination of the entire Intelligence Community, or IC. The PDB is considered to be an IC product, the production of which is coordinated by ODNI’s PDB staff in partnership with the CIA Directorate of Intelligence (DI)’s President’s Analytic Support Staff.
Since he began reporting about his work in the Russian Presidential Administration in 2013, Smolenkov had, on numerous occasions, produced intelligence whose content and relevance was such that it would readily warrant inclusion in the PDB. After 2015, the decision to submit a Smolenkov-sourced report for inclusion in the PDB would be made by Clement and his staff. For a report to be nominated, it would have to pass an exacting quality control review process which evaluated it for accuracy, relevance and reliability.
Sometime in the leadup to August 2016, this process was halted. Oleg Smolenkov was a controlled asset of the CIA. While he was given certain latitude on what information he could collect, generally speaking Smolenkov worked from an operations order sent to him by his CIA controllers which established priorities for intelligence collection based upon information provided by Smolenkov about what he could reasonably access. Before tasking Smolenkov, his CIA handlers would screen the request from an operational and counterintelligence perspective, conducting a risk-reward analysis that weighed the value of the intelligence being sought with the possibility of compromise. Only then would Smolenkov be cleared to collect the requested information.
It is not publicly known what prompted the report from Smolenkov which Brennan found so alarming. Was it received out of the blue, a target of opportunity which Smolenkov exploited? Was it based upon a specific tasking submitted by Smolenkov’s CIA handlers in response to a tasking from above? Or was it a result of the intervention of the CIA director, who tasked Smolenkov outside normal channels? In any event, once Brennan created his special analytical unit, Smolenkov became his dedicated source. If Smolenko was in this for the money, as appears to be the case, he would have been motivated to come up with the “correct” answer to Brennan’s tasking for information on Putin’s role. By late 2016, Western media had made quite clear what kind of answer Brennan wanted.
Every intelligence report produced by a controlled asset is subjected to a counterintelligence review where it is examined for any evidence of red flags that could be indicative of compromise. One red flag is the issue of abnormal access. Smolenkov did not normally have direct contact with Putin, if ever. His intelligence reports would have been written from the perspective of the distant observer. His report about Putin’s role in interfering in the 2016 election, however, represented a whole new level of access and trust. Under normal circumstances, a report exhibiting such tendency would be pulled aside for additional scrutiny; if the report was alarming enough, the CIA might order the agent to be subjected to a polygraph to ensure he had not been compromised.
This did not happen. Instead, Brennan took the extraordinary measure of sequestering the source from the rest of the Intelligence Community. He also confronted the head of the Russian FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, about the risks involved in interfering in U.S. elections.
Whether Brennan further tasked Smolenkov to collect on Putin is not known. Nor is it known whether Smolenkov produced more than that single report about Putin’s alleged direct role in ordering the Russian intelligence services to intervene in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Despite Brennan’s extraordinary effort to keep the existence of a human source within the Russian Presidential Administration a closely-held secret, by December 2016 both The Washington Post and The New York Times began quoting their sources about the existence of a sensitive intelligence source close to the Russian president. The timing of these press leaks coincided with Smolensky being fired from his job working for the Presidential Administration; the method of firing came in the form of a secret decree. When the CIA found out, they desperately tried to convince Smolenkov to agree to extraction, fearing for his safety should he remain in Moscow. This Smolenkov allegedly refused to do, prompting the counterintelligence-minded within the CIA to become concerned that Brennan and his coterie of analysts had been taken for a ride by a Russian double agent.
Smolenkov’s firing occurred right before the Intelligence Community released its much-anticipated assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Like the special analytical unit created by Brennan to handle the intelligence about Putin ordering the Russian intelligence services to intervene in favor of Trump in the 2016 election, Brennan opted to produce the Russian interference assessment outside the normal channels. Usually, when the IC opts to produce an assessment, there is a formal process which has a national intelligence officer (NIO) from within the National Intelligence Council take the lead on coordinating the collection and assessment of all relevant intelligence. The NIO usually coordinates closely with the relevant Mission Centers to ensure no analytical stone was left unturned in the pursuit of the truth.
The 2016 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) was produced differently — no Mission Center involvement, no NIO assigned, no peer review. Just Brennan’s little band of sequestered analysts.
Smolenkov’s information took top billing in the ICA, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” published on Jan. 6, 2017. “We assess,” the unclassified document stated, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Smolenkov’s reporting appears to be the sole source for this finding.
The ICA went on to note, “We have high confidence in these judgments.” According to the Intelligence Community’s own definition, “high confidence’” generally indicates judgments based on high-quality information, and/or the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. A “high confidence” judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and still carries a risk of being wrong.
The same day the ICA was published, Brennan, accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, met with President-elect Trump in Trump Tower, where he was briefed on the classified information behind the Russian ICA. Included in this briefing was the intelligence from “a top-secret source” close to Putin which sustained the finding of Putin’s direct involvement.
Brennan had sold the Smolenkov reporting to both President Obama and President-elect Trump, along with the rest of the intelligence community, as “high-quality information.” It was, at best, nothing more than uncorroborated rumor or, at worst, simple disinformation. This reporting, which was parroted by an unquestioning mainstream media that accepted it as fact, created an impression amongst the American public that Vladimir Putin had personally ordered and directed a Russian interference campaign during the 2016 election designed “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible,” according to the ICA.
As CIA director, Brennan understood very well the role played by intelligence in shaping the decisions of key policy makers, and the absolute need for those who brief the president and his key advisers to ensure only the highest quality information and derived assessments are briefed. In this, Brennan failed.
Coming in From the Cold
After being fired from his position within the Presidential Administration, Smolenkov continued to live in Moscow, very much a free man. By this time he was the father of three children, his new wife having given birth to two daughters. Following Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, Brennan resigned as CIA director. By May, Brennan was testifying before Congress about the issue of Russian interference. Increasingly, attention was being drawn to the existence of a highly-placed source near Putin, with both The New York Times and The Washington Post publishing surprisingly detailed reports.
Concerned that Smolenkov could be arrested by the Russians and, in doing so, have control over the narrative of Russian interference transfer to Moscow, the CIA once again approached Smolenkov to defect to the United States. This time the Russian agent agreed.
In July 2017, Smolenkov, accompanied by his wife and three children, travelled to Montenegro on vacation. They arrived in the resort city of Tivat, flying on a commercial air flight from Moscow. The CIA took control of the family a few days later, spiriting them away aboard a yacht that had been moored at the Tivat marina. Upon his arrival in the U.S., Smolenkov and his family were placed under the control of the CIA’s resettlement unit.
According to the Russian media, Smolenkov’s disappearance was discovered in September 2017. The FSB opened an investigation into the matter, initially suspecting foul play. Soon, however, the FSB reached a different conclusion — that Smolenkov and his family had defected to the United States.
Normally a defector would be subjected to a debriefing, inclusive of a polygraph, to confirm that he or she had not been turned into a double agent. Smolenkov had, over the course of a decade of spying, accumulated a considerable amount of money which the CIA was holding in escrow. This money would be released to Smolenkov upon the successful completion of his debriefing. In the case of Smolenkov, however, there doesn’t seem to have been a detailed, lengthy debriefing. His money was turned over to him. Sometime in June 2018, Smolenkov and his wife bought a home worth nearly $1 million in northern Virginia. The couple used their real names. They were not afraid.
I can only speculate as to the circumstances that led to Smolenkov’s firing by secret decree. Normally, Russians charged with transmitting classified material to the intelligence services of a foreign state are arrested, placed on trial and given lengthy prison sentences, or worse. This did not happen to Smolenkov.
But this does not mean the Russian authorities were ignorant of his activities. This raises another possibility, that Smolenkov could have been turned by the Russian security services before he had compromised any classified information, and that he operated as a double agent his entire CIA career. Since the only classified information he transferred would, in this case, be approved for release by the Russian security services, he would not have technically committed a crime. If Smolenkov was working both sides, it could have been a Russian vehicle to create distrust between the U.S. intelligence community and Trump.
Smolenkov was fired, and left to his own devices, once his utility to Russia had expired. Having escaped being arrested as a spy, Smolenkov believed he might be able to live a normal life in Moscow. But when the potential for compromise arose due to leaks to the press, I asses that it was in the CIA’s interest to bring Smolenkov in, if for no other reason than to control the narrative of Russian interference.
There are three scenarios that could be at play regarding Smolenkov’s bone fides as a human intelligence source for the CIA. First, that this was a solid recruitment, that Smolenkov was the high-level asset the CIA and Brennan claim he was, and the information he provided regarding the involvement of Putin was unimpeachable. Mitigating against this is the fact that when Smolenkov was fired from his position in late 2016, he was not arrested and put on trial for spying.
Russia is fully capable of conducting secret trials, and controlling the information that is made available about such a trial. Moreover, Russia is a vindictive state–persons who commit treason are not tolerated. As Putin himself noted in comments made in March 2018, “Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers in arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those thirty pieces silver they were given, they will choke on them.” The odds of Smolenkov being fired for committing treason, and then being allowed to voluntarily exit Russia with his family and passports, are virtually nil.
The second scenario is a variation of the first, where Smolenkov starts as a solid recruitment, with his reporting commensurate with his known level of access–peripheral contact with documents and information pertaining to the work of the aide to President Putin on international relations. Sometime in July 2016 Smolenkov produces a report that catches the attention of DCI Brennan, who flags it and pulls Smolenkov out of the normal operational channels for CIA-controlled human sources, and instead creating a new, highly-compartmentalized fusion cell to handle this report, and possibly others.
Three questions emerge from the second scenario. First, was Smolenkov responding to an urgent tasking from Brennan to find out how high up the Russian chain of command went the knowledge of the alleged DNC cyber attack, or did Smolenkov produce this report on his own volition? Was Brennan arranging evidence to show that there was indeed a Russian hack. After all, all the FBI had to go by was a draft of a report by the virulently anti-Russian private security firm CrowdStrike. The FBI never examined the DNC server itself.
In any case, the Smolenkov report in the white envelope represented a level of access that would have significantly deviated from what one could expect from a person in his position and which suggests he may have been telling the CIA what he knew Brennan wanted to hear. As such, normal counterintelligence procedures should have mandated an operational pause while the intelligence report in question was scrubbed to ensure viability. Under no circumstances would a report so flagged be allowed to be put into the Presidential Daily Brief. However, by pulling the report from the control of the Europe and Eurasian Mission Center, turning it over to a stand-alone fusion cell, and bypassing the PDB process to brief the president and a handful of advisors, there would be no counterintelligence concerns raised. This implies that Brennan had a role in the tasking of Smolenkov, and was waiting for the report to come in, which Brennan then took control of to preclude any counter-intelligence red flags being raised.
The third scenario is that Smolenkov, a low-level failure of a diplomat with drinking issues, marital problems and monetary frustrations, was recruited by the CIA, but only with the complicity of the Russian security services. The same red flags that the CIA looks for when recruiting agents are also looked at by Russian counterintelligence. At what point in the recruitment process the Russians stepped in is unknown (if they did at all.) But it is curious that this professional failure was suddenly transferred from running a co-op to being the right hand man of one of the most influential foreign policy experts in Russia–Yuri Ushakov.
Moreover, this muddling diplomat whose questionable behavioral practices scream “recruit me” is, within three years of returning to Moscow, given a significant promotion that enables him to follow Ushakov into the Presidential Administration–a posting which would require extensive vetting by the Russian security services. Smolenkov’s promotion pattern is enough, in and of itself, to raise red flags within the counterintelligence offices tasked with monitoring such things. The fact that it did not indicates that the quality and quantity of reporting being provided by Smolenkov was deemed by the Americans too important to interfere with.
In this scenario, Smolenkov would have been playing to a script written by the Russian security services. Since he, technically, had broken no laws by serving as a double agent, he would not be subjected to arrest and trial. But once his existence became the fodder of the U.S. media via inference and speculation, his services as a double agent were no longer needed. He was fired from his position, via a secret Presidential proclamation, and set free to live his life as he saw fit.
The most pressing question that emerges from this possibility is why? Why would the Russian security services want to cook the books, so to speak, in a manner which made the Russians look guilty of the very thing they were publicly denying?
In my view, if one assumes that the Smolenkov July 2016 report at the center of this drama was not a result of serendipity, but rather a product derived from a specific request from his CIA managers to find out how high up in the Russian decision-making chain the authorization went for what U.S. intelligence agencies were already publicly pushing as an alleged DNC cyber attack, then the answer I believe becomes clear–the Russians knew the U.S. had an intelligence deficit. I am speculating here, but if the Russians provided an answer guaranteed to attract attention at a critical time in the U.S. presidential election process, it would inject the CIA and its reporting into the democratic processes of the United States, and thereby politicize the CIA and the entire intelligence community by default. This would suppose, however, that the agencies did not have their own motives for wanting to stop Trump.
Rogers, Comey, Clapper and Brennan all in a row.
In this scenario, the Russians would have been in control of when to expose the CIA’s activities–all they had to do was fire Smolenkov, which in the end they did, right as Smolenkov’s report was front and center in the post-election finger-pointing that was taking place regarding the allegation of Russian interference. The best acts of political sabotage are done subtlety, where the culprit remains in the shadows while the victims proceed, unaware that they have been played.
For the Russians, it didn’t matter who won the election, even if they may have favored Trump; simply getting President Obama to commit to the bait by confronting Putin at the G20 meeting in September 2016 would have been a victory, because I assess that at that point the Russians knew that they were driving the American narrative. When the President of the United States acts on intelligence that later turns out to be false, it is an embarrassment that drives a wedge between the intelligence community and the Executive Branch of government. I have no solid evidence for this. But in my speculation on what may have happened, this was the Russian objective–to drive that wedge.
An Idyllic Truce
In my view, the CIA, Russia and Smolenkov were happy to maintain the status quo, with Smolenkov living in comfortable retirement with his family, the CIA continuing to accuse Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and Russia denying it. As well, Russia seems to have brushed off the sanctions that resulted from this alleged “interference.” This idyllic truce started to unravel in May 2019, when Trump ordered Attorney General William Barr to “get to the bottom” of what role the CIA played in initiating the investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s investigation concluded earlier this year, with a 400-plus page report being published which did not find any evidence of active collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Trump’s instructions to Barr are linked to a desire on the part of the president to hold to account those responsible for creating the narrative of possible collusion. Reports indicate that Barr is particularly interested in finding out how and why the CIA concluded that Putin personally ordered the Russian intelligence services to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Barr’s investigation will inevitably lead him to the intelligence report that was hand couriered to the White House in early August 2016, which would in turn lead to Smolenkov, and in doing so open up the can of worms of Smolenkov’s entire history of cooperation with the CIA. Not only could the entire foundation upon which the intelligence community has based its assessment of Russian interference collapse, it could also open the door for potential charges of criminal misconduct by Brennan and anyone else who helped him bypass normal vetting procedures and, in doing so, allowed a possible Russian double agent to influence the decisions of the president of the United States.
Seen in this light, the timing of the CNN and New York Times reports about the “exfiltration” of the CIA’s “sensitive source” seems to be little more than a blatant effort by Brennan and his allies in the media to shape a narrative before Barr uncovers the truth.
At the end of the day, Smolenkov and his family are not at risk. If the Russian government wanted to exact revenge for his actions, it would have done so after firing him in late 2016. In any event, Smolenkov and his family would never have been allowed to leave Russia had he been suspected or accused of committing crimes against the state. A few days following Smolenkov’s “outing” by the U.S. media, the Russian government filed a request with Interpol for an investigation into how someone who had gone missing in Montenegro was now living in the United States.
The only person at risk from this entire sordid affair is Brennan, whose reputation and potential livelihood is on the line. At best, Brennan is guilty of extremely poor judgement; at worst, he actively conspired to use the office of Director of the CIA to interfere in the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. Neither option speaks well of the U.S. Intelligence Community and those in Congress charged with oversight of its operations.
The saga of daring escape by a supposed Russian CIA agent from the Kremlin’s clutches and then the added twist of a security-risk American president putting the agent’s life in danger does indeed sound like a pulp fiction novel, as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov put it.
How to explain this sensational story? “Opportunism” is one word that comes to mind.
The news media who pushed the story, CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post, are vehemently “anti-Trump”. Any chance to damage this president and they grab it.
Also, perhaps more importantly, these media are desperate to salvage their shot-through journalistic credibility since the “Russiagate” narrative they had earnestly propagated died a death, after the two-year Mueller circus finally left town empty-handed.
This damage to supposed bastions of US journalism cannot be overstated. More than two years of spinning speculation-cum-reporting about Russian collusion with Trump and/or interference in US politics has produced not a crumb of substantive fact. That means those media responsible for the “Russiagate” nonsense have forfeited that precious quality – credibility. They no longer deserve to be categorized as news services, and are more appropriately now listed as fiction peddlers.
So when they got the chance to seemingly resurrect their buried “Russiagate” yarn with this latest fable about agent Oleg Smolenkov being exfiltrated from Russia to the US, they leapt at it because their equally buried reputations are also at stake.
As far as we can tell, an anonymous intelligence source started the ball rolling. The source is likely to be former CIA chief John Brennan or former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Both are hangouts for the anti-Trump media since they lost their intel jobs at the beginning of 2017, and both are believed to have seeded the “Russiagate” narrative in 2016 from before Trump was elected.
Notably, the current CIA assessment of the latest US media reporting on the exfiltrated spy is that the reporting is “false” and “misguided”. In particular, the CNN spin that the agent (Smolenkov) had to be extricated from Russia in 2017 because Langley feared that Trump may have endangered the supposed Kremlin mole when he hosted Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House in May 2017.
Also of note is the dismissive response from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who rubbished the reports. He was head of the CIA during 2017. (Admittedly, Pompeo is a self-confessed liar.)
According to CNN, NY Times and Washington Post, the former spy in the Kremlin, named as Oleg Smolenkov by subsequent Russian media reporting, was a top mole with direct access to President Vladimir Putin. It is claimed that Smolenkov confirmed allegations about a Putin-directed plot to interfere in US presidential elections. The agent is said to have also confirmed that Putin (allegedly) ordered the hacking of the Democratic party’s central database to obtain scandalous material on Hillary Clinton which was then fed to the Wikileaks whistleblower site for the purpose of scuttling her bid for the presidency in November 2016, thus favoring Trump.
Smolenkov was allegedly providing this information on a purported Kremlin interference campaign in 2016.
The US media claim Smolenkov was exfiltrated from Russia by the CIA in June 2017 – out of concern for his safety, which CNN reported was being jeopardized by President Trump due to his implied compromised relations with Putin. Smolenkov and his family disappeared while on a holiday in Montenegro in June 2017.
After the story broke earlier this week about the exfiltrated Kremlin mole, subsequent media reporting tracked down Oleg Smolenkov and his wife living in a $1-million-dollar mansion in Stafford, Virginia. Curiously, public records showed the house purchase was in their names, which seems odds for a supposed top-level spy, who had apparently committed extreme betrayal against the Kremlin, to be living openly. The family apparently fled the house to unknown whereabouts on September 9 after the story about his alleged spy role broke this week.
Who is Oleg Smolenkov? The Kremlin said this week that he previously worked in the presidential administration, but he was sacked “several years ago”. He did not have direct access to President Putin’s office, according to the Kremlin. For his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says he never heard of the man before, never mind ever having met him.
It is understood that Smolenkov previously worked in the Russian embassy in Washington under ambassador Yuri Ushakov (1999-2008). Smolenkov reportedly continued working for Ushakov when the diplomat returned to Moscow after his ambassadorial tenure in the US.
Here is where we may speculate that Smolenkov was recruited by the CIA during his diplomatic assignment in the US. But we assume that the Kremlin’s assessment is correct; he did not have a senior position or access to Putin’s office. By contrast, the US media are claiming Smolenkov was “one of the CIA’s most valuable assets” in the Kremlin and that he was providing confirmatory information that Putin was (allegedly) running an interference campaign to subvert the US presidential elections.
The discerning detail as to the truth of the imbroglio is revealed by the US media claims that Smolenkov corroborated the alleged hacking into the Democratic party database in 2016. However, that specific allegation has been disproven by several top hacker experts, notably William Binney who was formerly technical head at the US National Security Agency. There was no hacking. The damaging information on Hillary Clinton was leaked by a Democratic party insider, possibly Seth Rich, who soon after was shot dead by an unknown attacker. In short, the entire narrative about the Kremlin hacking into the Democratic party is a fiction. The premise to “Russiagate” is baseless.
Thus, if Smolenkov is peddling fiction to his former handlers in the CIA, that means he has no credibility as a “top mole”.
Again, opportunism is the key. Somebody came up with a lurid story about “Russian interference” in US democracy and “collusion” with Trump. Maybe it was Smolenkov who saw an opportunity to win a big pay day from his CIA patrons by flogging them a blockbuster. Or maybe, Brennan and Clapper (known liars in the public record) dreamt up a scheme of Kremlin malignancy to benefit Trump, and if that could be tied to Trump then his election would be discredited and nullified. But what they needed was a “Kremlin source” to “corroborate” their readymade story of “Russian interference”. Step forward Oleg Smolenkov – fired and out of work – to do the needful “corroboration” and in return he gets a new life for himself and family with a mansion in a leafy Virginian suburb.
CNN, NY Times, Washington Post, Brennan and Clapper are so much damaged goods from past failure of “Russiagate” fabrications, they find an opportunity to salvage their disgraced names by outing the hapless Smolenkov at this juncture.
That then raises the grave question of why he was permitted to live openly in his own name?
There is a sinister similarity here to the Sergei Skripal case in England. Is Smolenkov being set up for hit which can then be conveniently blamed on Russia as “revenge” by the Russophobic, anti-Trump, deep state US media?
In all the hullabaloo of Brexit and its associated parliamentary infighting, little noticed has been how Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are attempting to change the very nature of the UK political landscape. Of course, the Brexit angst is making the attempt to leverage a strategic political shift much more visible, and more acute. Yet, actually the changes are not wholly, or even predominantly Brexit related, but reflect underlying tectonic plates clashing.
The point here is that the chaos in London is no parochial British, Brexit affair. It reflects something wider at work. Recognition of ‘plate’ movement already has been politically leveraged in the US (by Trump), and almost certainly the similar symptoms will present themselves across Europe too. These symptoms are here now (though they may not always be recognised as such, as one commentator already has noted – see later).
“The last Conservative MP in the seat of Newcastle-under-Lyme was Charles Donaldson-Hudson”, Daniel Capurro writes. “A JP [a local Judge] and member of the landed gentry, he held it from 1880 to 1885. Yet, when the autumn election finally arrives, Newcastle [a Labour bastion, ever since] will be one of the Tory party’s top target seats. The targeting of such seats is not the madness it might first appear. It is, in fact, part of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ masterplan for the future of the Conservative Party”.
A little back-context is required: In the late 1990s, the then leader of the Labour Party started to move the Party away from its roots in the Trade Union and labour rights movement, towards a ‘Washington Consensus’, neo-liberal stance, as epitomised by Tony Blair (who was drawing on the then Clinton winning experience). Labour had begun to understand that the endorsement of Wall Street and the City of London was a perquisite for any return to Office, and that in any case, the factory-based politics of the past, in this shiny, new cosmopolitan world of the urban and suburban élite, simply would not propel the movement into power.
Labour, at that moment, wished to become a typical Euro Centre-Left party, representing middle class voters who wanted to display their decency by voting for a party that espouses some, albeit quite restricted, notion of ‘social concern’.
But, as the preoccupations of the élite, metropolitan consciousness turned more and more ‘globalist’-espousing ‘disadvantaged’ groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, and gender non-conformists, rather than show empathy for the stresses of ordinary working men and women (whom they came to regard with contempt, as Ludite backwoodsmen and racists), so the Party’s internal gap opened wide.
This is the opening Cummings and Johnson have espied. The new demographics they believe, require rewriting the electoral landscape. Out is the Conservative electoral coalition of the recent past, which married urban and suburban social liberals with rural small-c conservatives (a marriage which was itself a cause of an internal tension, not dissimilar to that in the Labour Party – and as witnessed by the Tory 21 ‘Remainer’ rebels who were expelled from the Party). Centrism, in short, is no longer seen as advantageous. And, in comes a working-class, socially-conservative politics targeted at non-graduates in the Midlands and the North of England – i.e. at the Sixty-percenters as a whole.
“In this viewing, an extraordinary array of Labour seats [most of whom voted Leave] from Wrexham and Wakefield to Stoke-on-Trent Central and North could tumble into the Tory column on election night, and send Mr Johnson into Downing Street with a commanding majority”, Capurro suggests. Yes, the price may involve the loss of Conservative seats in London and the South East, but in practice the former electoral prize contested by both the main parties – the urban middle class – is itself suffering stress from globalist dynamics, as it bifurcates into the truly rich élite, and a struggling, belt-tightening Middle Class.
The Establishment élite sees the threat: This might – in the long game – end with the enthronement of the politics of the ‘deplorables’, and the eclipse (or ‘obsolescence’ in President Putin’s terminology) of liberalism.
Hence the bitter counter-revolution being mounted by the Establishment in the UK Parliament and the media. And hence the deep Establishment distrust of Johnson, for although he may represent the epitome of Establishment in one sense, he has always tried to position himself as the archetypical ‘outsider’.
The Northern working-class votes are those which Johnson wants to capture most dearly. Dominic Cummings knows from the ‘Leave’ campaign, and from Trump’s successes in US states not traditionally regarded as voting ‘Red’, that a focus on the culture ‘war’ – on issues such as transgender rights and ‘political correctness’ – can mobilise today’s voters, more than traditional family party affiliations. Cummings precisely intends to lever the toxicity of globalism not just with the ‘deplorables’, but with a Middle Class increasingly fearful of slipping into the abyss.
There are many problems to this evolving contestation of prevalent liberal millenarianism. A major problem is much more subtle, and less amenable to solution, than just the outbreak of ‘culture war’ – and it applies to all western economies: How – in this post-heavy-industry era – to maintain large-scale employment particularly for those with low (or no) skills.
Globalism unquestionably has contributed to the off-shoring of jobs to other parts of the globe, but the reality is that many of those jobs are not coming back ‘home’. They are assimilated elsewhere. They are lost for good.
The ‘new normal’ being touted by the US Administration is one that is not particularly concerned to re-capture, and bring home, mundane manufacturing processes. It wants for the US, the ultra high-tech end of manufacturing mainly, or only. This, it views, will represent the commanding heights of the new economics. And this view evidently is orientated more towards the objective to maintain US hegemony, than rather than for concern for the welfare of the US people. Such an economy – even if it were feasible to achieve – concentrated in the ultra high-tech, would face the issue of the 20% of Americans who then would become ‘unnecessary’ – surplus to needs, as it were. Do we really want to go there …?
Globalisation has had a great deal to do with this, but the decline of the factory-based economy in the West lies right at the very heart of our troubled political landscape (as Trump’s appeal to the ‘deplorables’ from a stance on the Nationalist-Right, rather than the globalist Left, strongly suggests).
Thibault Muzergues, European director of the International Republican Institute, warns that a structural divorce between the people and their representatives is in play. This happens once state institutions are viewed as a brake to preserve a status quo that is already in dispute, and in crisis. In other words, the Establishment counter action, and its rhetorical flourishes (i.e. describing the prorogation of the UK parliament as (literally) a coup d’état) in order to facilitate the crushing of the threat of ‘deplorablism’, precisely sets the ground for more bitter internal European strife.
“Some extol the unwavering will of the British leader [Johnson] to do what is necessary (within the limits of his constitutional rights, at least as long as the British courts will not block him) to put an end to the debate on Brexit by respecting the popular will … whilst others [in juxtaposition], praise the virtue of the [Italian] President for saving parliamentary democracy – in the face of the risk of a Salvini government … [coming to power].
“In both cases we are confronted with a conflict between direct democracy and parliamentary democracy, but this is not necessarily what is played out in the minds of actors, let alone citizens. For them, it is not so much a crisis of the institutions; but rather that of a crisis around Brexit, or in the person of Matteo Salvini.
“The problem is that the politicians in each camp (and with them their supporters) will be able to radically change their discourse on this question of legitimacy according to their own interests …
“This is a very dangerous game because it prepares the excessive politicization of institutions in a context of polarization of debates, and their use for partisan ends only – which undermines their legitimacy a little more. Without these institutions to manage or even settle our political conflicts, there is little that separates us from civil war or, as Hobbes described almost four centuries ago, from bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all. The slope we are currently following is therefore necessarily dangerous.”
But in comparing Johnson to Viktor Orban —as Austrian newspaper Der Standard did, with its London correspondent writing “Johnson and his henchmen clearly think Brexit is more important than democracy and the rule of law”; with Germany’s international public broadcaster DW calling “Boris Johnson, the UK dictator,” and Yascha Mounk in France’s Le Monde newspaper writing that suspending Parliament constituted the “most flagrant attack on democracy that Britain has ever known”, there is a distinct whiff of that old Viet Nam axiom of ‘destroying a village to ‘save’ a village’ metamorphosing into one of having a constitutionally legitimate British government overturned and destroyed, in order ‘to save democracy itself’ (and to save Britain from elections which might not produce the ‘correct’ outcome’).
If populism blighted “the most entrenched of democracies,” said an editorial in Le Monde, it “would be terrible news for the entire continent.” Well … welcome to the new Grand Inquisition: Does the prisoner (Johnson) confess before the Holy Inquisition that Parliament was suspended for heretical motives; or will he deny it, and face being burnt at the stake?
I didn’t watch the last Democratic presidential primary debates because I figured that without Tulsi Gabbard in there shaking things up it would be a boring, vapid parade of insubstantial verbal foam, and I love myself too much to go through such a horrible ordeal. By all accounts my prediction was correct, but I did miss one thing that’s been making the rounds in video clips for the last couple of days which I find absolutely bizarre.
Most of you have probably heard about Biden’s infamous “record player” comment by now, but for those of you who missed it, Biden was asked by debate moderator Linsey Davis to defend some comments he made about America’s problems with racism in the 1970s, and he responded by essentially saying that Black people don’t know how to raise their kids so they need to be taught how by social workers. Biden has been receiving mainstream criticism for his racist and paternalistic position, along with plenty of mockery for saying that parents need to be told to “make sure you have the record player on at night” so that kids hear enough words in early childhood.
It is pretty clear that Biden was trying to communicate an idea that is premised on a deeply racist and condescending worldview, so it’s to be expected that people would want to talk about that. It’s also to be expected that people would be making jokes about how the cute old man said “record player” like a grandpa. But what isn’t being discussed nearly enough is the fact that what Biden said was also a barely coherent, garbled word salad stumbling out of a brain that is clearly being eaten alive by a very serious neurological disease.
I’ve typed out a transcript of what Biden actually said, verbatim. There are no typos. I’ve also noted where Biden closes his eyes, probably to concentrate, which he does whenever he seems to be struggling especially hard to string words together. Try to read through it slowly, word-for-word, resisting the instinct to mentally re-frame it into something more coherent:
“Well they have to deal with the — Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved I started dealing with that. Redlining. Banks. Making sure that we’re in a position where — Look, talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to 45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise that equal [closes eyes] raise to getting out — the sixty-thousand dollar level.
“Number two: make sure that we bring into the help the — [closes eyes] the student, the, the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home. We need — We have one school psychologist for every fifteen hundred kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are reca — Now, I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. [Closes eyes briefly] We have make sure that every single child does in fact have three, four, and five year-olds go to school — school, not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t wanna help, they don’t want — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television, [closes eyes tightly] the — ‘scuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the-the-the-the phone, make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school, [closes eyes] a very poor background, will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”
Notice how it gets more garbled the longer he speaks. The response I transcribed was about eighty seconds in length. That was just one small part of a debate in which the former vice president performed no better and forgot three of his fellow candidates’ names.
Compare this befuddled, incoherent mess with footage of a younger Biden, like his famous quip about how Rudy Giuliani only ever mentions “a noun and a verb and 9/11” in a sentence, or this clip where he said if Israel didn’t exist America would have to invent it to protect its interests in the Middle East. Biden has always been notoriously gaffe-prone, but he was also sharp, alert, and articulate enough to deliver a punchline. As journalist Michael Tracey has been pointing out, what we’re consistently seeing over and over again from the former vice president now are not “gaffes”, but clear signs of cognitive decline. Contrast the difference between Biden’s younger footage and what was seen at the last debate with footage of Bernie Sanders throughout the decades, who has remained virtually identical save for appearance and hoarseness. Age does not account for this difference. Biden’s brain is dying.
It is certainly understandable that people are concerned about the presidential frontrunner having a racist worldview. But what’s really weird and creepy is how few people are discussing the obvious fact that the presidential forerunner is also clearly suffering from the early stages of some kind of dementia. The brain that spouted the gibberish transcribed above would probably score poorly on a basic test for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, yet discussion of his inability to complete a coherent sentence is relegated to the margins of political discourse. This is someone who is campaigning to have access to the nuclear codes, yet we’re only talking about how he’s kind of racist and not about the fact that his brain is turning into Swiss cheese right before our eyes. It’s freaky.
It’s freaky, but it kind of makes sense. One common difficulty in getting early treatment for people with Alzheimer’s disease is that those suffering from it often go to great lengths to hide their impairments, and another difficulty is that their families are often deeply in denial about their loved one’s mental decline. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some people hide their symptoms, or family members cover for them. That’s easy to understand, because Alzheimer’s dementia is associated with loss, such as loss of independence, loss of a driving privileges and loss of self.”
I think we’re seeing precisely this happening, both with Biden, and with his supporters. Biden himself is clearly doing everything he can to feign mental competency, and as a powerful politician aiming to accomplish a lifelong ambition to become the US president he’d certainly have a lot egoically invested in doing so. His supporters seem to be doing all kinds of denial mental gymnastics around his cognitive decline as well; just check out the responses to this Washington Post tweet for its article about Biden’s “record player” response.
Biden: “Make sure the record player is on at night” so kids hear more words https://t.co/szcq0vjVPP
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 13, 2019
Here are a few examples:
“Don’t pretend you didn’t understand what he was saying.”
“Actually, I recently saw a turntable for sale at Best Buys & vinyl records are back on the market. Try to keep up, WaPo.”
“My 22 year old son and all his friends play records on record players these days. If you’re insinuating that Joe is out of touch, you’re out of touch.”
“Actually currently, there are some people playing record players because they find the vinyl record has better sound quality. I think you are just picking and choosing who to go after.”
“He was saying they not hearing enough words. We did. We were read to. We listened to children’s albums. We had conversations. He was trying to get at the importance of those things. He didn’t do a great job on communicating it but he was right.”
“Twitter snark aside, there are studies to back up that claim.”
“He got 80% of the way through the debate without an embarrassing gaffe that highlights his age. Of course, Trump couldn’t get halfway through a debate without threatening his opponent with imprisonment.”
“Honestly…so what. I got the sentiment.”
“Not sure why people are being so condescending. Vinyl outsold CD last year, so, you know, record players are everywhere these days. You could say he’s stuck in the past or you could say he’s trending. Be kind.”
We saw this same impulse to protect and compensate for Biden’s mental decline from audience members during the debate, who gasped out loud when Julian Castro suggested that Biden had forgotten what he’d said two minutes ago. Many rank-and-file Democrats are so desperate for an end to an administration that is making them increasingly anxious and neurotic that they find it cognitively easier to compartmentalize away from the obvious fact that Biden is in a state of mental decline than to turn and face that reality. So they make excuses and pretend that his demented word salads are perfectly rational, hip references to the resurging popularity of vinyl records.
The only people who are absolutely acutely aware of Biden’s cognitive decline and yet still want him to become president are his handlers. There is no way his consistent pattern of verbal unintelligibility has gone unnoticed by those who are responsible for facilitating his election, and indeed The Hill reports that his “allies” have been floating the idea of scaling back his campaign appearances and scheduling them for earlier in the day when he’s not tired to help minimize his “verbal flubs”. These people are aware that Biden is losing his mind, but they are pushing him toward the White House anyway.
If Biden supporters were really intellectually honest with themselves about what’s going on, they’d see that they don’t actually want Joe Biden to be president, they want his unelected, unaccountable handlers to be president. From a position of intellectual honesty they’d be taking the position of arch neocon Bill Kristol, who once said he’d “prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”
And of course that wouldn’t be a first among US presidents even in recent history. Ronald Reagan had early signs of Alzheimer’s disease during his presidency according to his own son, and George W Bush was infamously just a puppet of his handlers like Dick Cheney. Indeed it would be possible to have an actual, literal Jim Henson puppet as president of the United States without America’s unelected power establishment skipping a single beat.
But that’s exactly the point: having a real human being in there with even a semi-functional mind can put some inertia on the most sociopathic impulses of America’s unelected permanent government. Both Trump and Obama are of course horrible presidents who have continued and expanded the Bush administration’s most evil agendas, but Obama slowed down the push to arm Ukraine against Russia and slammed the brakes on a full-scale bombing campaign on Syria, while Trump was unable to get along with John Bolton and is losing interest in Venezuela while resisting the push to start new wars. Despite all their flaws, they’ve resisted the permanent government’s worst impulses in some key ways. If it’s just Biden’s handlers and the unelected power establishment, there’s no humanity anywhere near the brake pedal.
Joe Biden thanks his longfriend timefriend who’s a friend and has been a friend in and out of public life. pic.twitter.com/EoUWZeW0an
— Florian (@BetaODork) August 22, 2019
So this makes sense to talk about no matter how you look at it. But we’re not. In mainstream discourse we’re speaking as though this is just a charmingly gaffe-prone old man who makes a few controversial statements from time to time but would still make a fine president, when really he shouldn’t even be allowed a driver’s license.
And I just find that really creepy and uncomfortable. As someone who’s never been able to leave elephants in rooms alone, the fact that the leading presidential contender is neurologically incapable of speaking coherently for eighty seconds sticks out like dog’s balls and it’s absolutely freakish that this isn’t front and center of our political discourse right now. Biden’s dementia should be the very first thing we discuss whenever his name comes up, not the last.
The disclosure by the British Parliament of the “Most Sensitive” Operation YELLOWHAMMER document describes a United Kingdom ripe for the machinations of Britain’s proto fascists, who make up a large part of the Tory government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. YELLOWHAMMER’s prediction of economic and social chaos in the United Kingdom resulting from a hard-British exit (BREXIT) from the European Union will have dire consequences for the rule of law and democracy throughout the United Kingdom.
Chaos is what fascists thrive upon. It was the pre-war and wartime British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley who opined that order could be created out of chaos. Therefore, Mosley’s modern-day fellow travelers, individuals like Johnson, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, Home Secretary Priti Patel and others felt the need to create, through a hard Brexit, chaos where none existed before. In a chaotic United Kingdom, these proto-fascists can achieve their ultimate goal of unquestioned authority and order in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, where far-right English nationalism holds sway.
In August of this year, 113 Member of Parliament signed a letter to Johnson that accused the prime minister of deploying the language of “fascism and authoritarianism” in plowing ahead with plans to leave the EU with no deal. Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament for five weeks, thus stifling debate on a hard Brexit, was seen by pro-EU MPs expelled from the Conservative Party by Johnson, as well as by MPs from the opposition Labor, Liberal Democratic, Green, Scottish National, Change UK, and Plaid Cymru parties, as one step toward fascism. The renegade Tory and other MPs actually questioned Johnson’s commitment to democracy.
As bad a Operation YELLOWHAMMER is for economic and political stability in a post-hard Brexit United Kingdom, it pales in comparison to another classified report on Brexit, Operation BLACK SWAN. This document foresees a doomsday scenario for the United Kingdom on par with World War II. BLACK SWAN includes nationwide food and fuel shortages, unavailability of medicines and medical supplies, a spike in unemployment, transport delays, and mass protests.
What the United Kingdom is currently experiencing is not much different than what occurred in Chile during the eighteen months prior to the September 11, 1973 fascist military coup that deposed Socialist President Salvador Allende. In 1972, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, then under a right-wing pro-Henry Kissinger cabal that included Deputy Director Vernon Walters, Counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, Deputy Director for Plans, Thomas Karamessines, and Western Hemisphere Division chief Theodore Shackley, commenced Project FUBELT. CIA operatives in Chile fomented labor strikes in an effort to undermine Allende’s government. Strikes by truckers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and white-collar workers created the climate for a fascist coup. A similar right-wing cabal currently exists in the CIA and Trump administration – primarily CIA director Gina Haspel and her predecessor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that is undermining the British political and business community opposition to Brexit and fomenting, through the disruptions foreseen in the Yellowhammer and Black Swan documents, civil strife that will create in the United Kingdom favorable conditions for a fascist and undemocratic power grab by Brexiteers and the far-right.
The current crop of right-wingers in ascendant positions inside the CIA and who are part of an interventionist cabal that includes Haspel, Pompeo, and Vice President Mike Pence used in Venezuela the economic chaos template in store for the United Kingdom. The CIA’s Operations CONSTITUTION and ARMAGEDDON sought to bring about a Venezuelan military revolt against President Nicolas Maduro by causing disruption in the Venezuelan economy, particularly the oil sector, and assassinating Maduro, respectively. The CIA’s chaos-creating operations, led by Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition leader on the payroll of the CIA and Colombian narco-lords, failed miserably.
The chaos envisaged for the United Kingdom is not much different than what the CIA helped launch in France in 1968. The CIA’s program, MHCHAOS, specifically targeted “New Left” groups in the United States and abroad. The CIA’s infiltration of the French leftist student and labor union uprising in 1968 was meant to target French President Charles De Gaulle as retaliation for his pulling France out of the NATO military structure in 1967, calling for U.S. military withdrawal from South Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, and cutting off French military sales to Israel. The CIA was suspected of actually training some radical student organizations in how to conduct street fighting.
One of the main leaders of the Paris Spring revolt of 1968 was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a darling of the New Left movement. He told French journalist Hervé Bourges in 1968 that the leftist rioters and protesters were offered “significant sums” of money by “American associations, subsidiaries, and intermediaries of the CIA.” Moreover, Cohn-Bendit was aware of a May 30, 1968 report by CIA director Richard Helms that denounced President De Gaulle as a “dictator.”
Today, instead of relying on leftist provocateurs like Daniel “Danny the Red” Cohn-Bendit in France in 1968, the CIA — under Haspel and far-right elements introduced by Pompeo — is relying on alt-right interlocutors like Steve Bannon, British Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, and Prime Minister Johnson’s political “Svengali” Dominic Cummings to bring about utter chaos in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Bannon and other alt-right leaders have made no secret of their policy to use the tactics of the New Left in the 1960s to bring about the chaotic conditions necessary for the introduction of fascist rule in countries like the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany.
In 1968, the CIA’s chaos in France was designed to replace De Gaulle with a government led by either Socialist leader Pierre Mendes-France or his colleague, Francois Mitterand. Unlike De Gaulle, these “leftists” were in the hip pocket of the CIA. In 2016, the CIA and its alt-right agents of influence were successful in running Prime Minister Theresa May and her allies from power in London. The goal of the chaos engineers at CIA headquarters in Langley – primarily found within the Special Activities Center (SAC) — is a post-Brexit United Kingdom and Ireland subservient to the political and economic diktats of a far-right cabal in Washington.
One recent classic textbook CIA use of chaos to bring about fascist rule took place in Brazil. In 2016 — the same year that Trump was elected president of the United States and the Brexit referendum passed in the United Kingdom — Brazil’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, was removed from office during an economic and political scandal disruption campaign enacted by the CIA. Not only was Rousseff impeached and removed from office but her leftist predecessor and likely successor, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, was hit with trumped up criminal charges stemming from Operation CAR WASH (“LAVA JATO”).
Brazilian federal judge and prosecutor Sergio Moro, who had been a CIA asset ever since he received specialized training in soft coup “lawfare” at Harvard University and the U.S. State Department in 1998, managed to produce a conviction of Lula on charges of money laundering and corruption arising from the criminal probe of Western Hemisphere-wide bribery involving the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht S.A. Lula’s 9 1/2 year prison sentence eliminated him from running for president in 2018. As a Brazilian economic recession worsened with prompting from CIA chaos engineers, the presidential election went to Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right admirer of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and avid admirer of Donald Trump. It turned out that there were significant connections between Bolsonaro and his family and Trump’s brain trust of Steve Bannon and data analytics companies involved in Trump’s election and the passage of Brexit.
To practically no one’s surprise, Bolsonaro appointed Moro as his Justice Minister. Bolsonaro’s green light for massive burning of the Amazon rainforest fit in nicely with the Trump-Pompeo-Haspel CIA’s economic chaos policy for not only Brazil but neighboring Bolivia.
Bolivia and the government of leftist president Evo Morales also came under economic and political pressure resulting from cross border forest fires.
Chaos is what has helped drive CIA operations since its creation in 1947. Chaos creation has now arrived in the United Kingdom with YELLOWHAMMER and BLACK SWAN and the main casualty is that nation’s long history of parliamentary democracy.
In the above video, the men of “Right Angle” try to get down to the mystery behind Bolton’s sudden firing but really couldn’t provide an answer. One of the hosts Bill Whittle, in regards to the constant disagreement between Trump and Bolton, made a good point that at times we need an advisor to disagree with us and mentally challenge the leader. But it is highly unlikely that Trump brought someone on to challenge himself, the real reason is a lot more practical for his particular presidency.
The men of Right Angle, like many in the media seem to forget that the President is not a omnipotent dictator. Very often and especially under continuous media attack the man in the highest office in the land needs to play ball in the system just like anyone else. Office politics can lead to a miserable work experience or even getting fired, if you’ve ever been afriad to express your true opinions at work or school just imagine what it is like to be the POTUS.
Trump came to power amidst a hurricane of madness claiming that he would be the next Hitler, that he would doom the economy and most insane of all that he was a Russian Manchurian Candidate just waiting to surrender to Moscow. In this sort of climate it was pivotal for Trump to demonstrate that he was at one with the swamp. This situation is like being a conservative professor at a university in California, you better hire a “diverse staff” to deflect any future allegations against you.
Candidate Trump was very angry at America’s wasteful foreign wars, viewed NATO as obsolete and wanted to work with Russia, not out of love for Putin or pelmeni but probably as a means of leverage against China. These sorts of radical opinions can be bad for your health on the Beltway so Trump immediately raised defense spending by 54 billion dollars after taking office. Bringing on good ole reliable pro status quo Bolton, after his spat with pro status quo McMaster probably gave Trump further breathing room.
Supposedly McMaster’s gruff attitude and aggression towards the narcissist-in-chief was his reason for being fired. Trump reacts very sharply to criticism and what he sees as betrayal, so perhaps The Donald just wanted a new quieter mumbling warmonger that would be easier to ignore. Curiously, Trump has greenlit further defense spending opportunities right before dumping Bolton. Maybe he has bought his way out of the need for a military industrial complex nanny?
We also should not forget that, Trump despite his “reputation” has not started any new conflicts and is more or less from a military standpoint stagnant as a leader, he really hasn’t done anything other than make threats and ignore or allow the State Department to continue to do its thing in regions like Venezuela and Hong Kong.
2017 and 2018 Trump needed to play ball, 2019 Trump who has cleared the media field of all the insane unfounded allegations against him has a lot more freedom to act. He is more free now to fire an advisor, whose advice he really didn’t listen to anyways and move forward. We should look at the firing of the frail moustached chickenhawk with some optimism.
If Trump is able to fire “one of the boys” from the Washington consensus then he must have already worked out enough deals to do things at least partially the way he wants to do them. True, there is not much time before the next election but Trump is now out from under the yoke of accusations.
The men in the video from Right Angle ended their conversation with Scott Ott’s view that Trump is simply bad at making a team. It would seem hard to believe that a titan of real-estate who has also been a key figure in television at his ripe old age has no idea how to build a team. In this regard Trump knows exactly what he is doing and whom he needs to pick for effect.
McCain picked Palin to have a younger female candidate to draw more votes. Obama picked Biden as a generic white person to play down any racial issues. Trump may be picking advisors the same way Presidents pick their back up – purely for PR, it is just that Trump’s PR is more internal and not aimed at any voters.
According to Bloomberg News this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed he is set to defy the new law designed to stop him forcing the U.K. out of the European Union with no deal next month, and is braced for a fight to settle Brexit in court.
According to a senior official in the U.K. government, Johnson has resolved on a hard-line plan as he prepares for his first face-to-face negotiations with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.
Rumours in government have it that Johnson would prefer to lose at every stage and be remembered as the PM who fought for democracy to the bitter end.
In the meantime, John Bercow has threatened Boris Johnson that he will be prepared to rip up the parliamentary rulebook to stop any illegal attempt by the prime minister to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October.
In a direct warning to No 10, the Speaker of the House of Commons said at the end of last week he is prepared to allow “additional procedural creativity” if necessary to allow parliament to block Johnson from ignoring the law.
Johnson faced yet another difficult day on Thursday as he was forced to deny having misled the Queen over his reasons for proroguing parliament, which was judged unlawful this week by a Scottish court. That decision looks set to be reversed in England on Tuesday.
That would be more than just another setback in a Brexit journey that has literally been full of them from the day Article 50 was triggered. Democracy itself is now being challenged in Britain.
As Prof Meg Russell of UCL’s Constitution Unit puts it: “The political constitution cannot operate properly if parliament is not sitting.” Under our system, parliamentary sovereignty is the whole shooting match: it is the constitution. “If you shut parliament, it’s very hard to say your constitution is working.”
A large number of Americans still don’t believe the official version of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. I am one of them.
The government and tame media version – that crazed Muslims directed by Osama bin Laden attacked New York’s twin towers and the Pentagon because they hated ‘our freedoms’ and our religions – is wearing very thin as contrary evidence piles up.
Ever since the attacks, I’ve held the belief that neither bin Laden nor Afghanistan’s Taliban were involved, though bin Laden did applaud the attacks after the fact and remains a key suspect. Unfortunately, he was murdered by a US hit squad instead of being brought to the US to stand trial. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was adamant that bin Laden was not behind the attacks.
So who did it? In my view, the attacks were financed by private citizens in Saudi Arabia and organized from Germany and possibly Spain. All the hijackers came from states nominally allied to the US or its protectorates.
Fifteen of the 19 were Saudis. Two came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. Amazingly, during the national uproar after the attacks, little attention was focused on Saudi Arabia, a key US ally (or protectorate) even though most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, and a planeload of important Saudis were quietly ushered out of the US by the CIA soon after the attacks.
Saudi Arabia was too important to US domination of the Mideast to point any fingers at the Saudis. The Saudi royal regime in Riyadh did not appear to have been involved – why would it since their survival and gravy train depended on US protection?
But the royal regime does not represent all Saudis, as many people believe. Saudi Arabia is a collection of tribes played off against one another by Riyadh and kept in line by the US Air Force from its bases in Saudi and a tribal force, ‘the white army,’ led by American ‘advisors.’ Saudi Arabia has little in the way of a regular army because its rulers fear coups by the armed forces such as occurred in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
In addition, over 40,000 Americans live and work in Saudi. Another 5,000 US military personnel are stationed there. Much of the kingdom’s technology – banking, telecommunications, airports and flights, trains, military affairs, TV and radio – are supervised by foreigners. This process began in the 1920’s when the British moved into Arabia and helped promote the Saudi tribe to prominence.
A sizeable Yemeni community lives in Saudi. The bin Laden family originally hailed from Yemen. Saudi also has an important Shia Muslim minority, about 20% of the population, with smaller numbers of other Muslim sects. Most important, the reactionary, ultra rigid Wahabi religious sect still dominates the nation and royal family. The Wahabis hate Shia, calling them apostates and heretics. A similar dim view is taken of the nine million foreign workers, principally Indians, Pakistanis and other South Asians, who do all of the Kingdom’s dirty work.
Within the complexities of Saudi Society lie bitterly anti-western groups who see the nation as being militarily occupied by the US and exploited – even pillaged – by foreigners. Arabia was originally the holy land of Islam. Today, it has been westernized, occupied by US military power, and given marching orders by Washington.
While covering the Afghan War in the 1980’s, I met Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a fiery nationalist leader and anti-communist who was bin Laden’s teacher and spiritual mentor.
“When we succeed in kicking the Russians out of Afghanistan,” Azzam told me, “we will go on and kick the Americans out of Saudi Arabia.” I was shocked, never having heard of Americans called ‘occupiers’. Azzam was murdered by a bomb soon after, but his words kept ringing in my ears. He thought of the Americans as much colonialists as the Soviets.
Private nationalist groups in Saudi who bitterly opposed foreign domination of their country could very well have financed and organized 9/11. But, of course, Washington could not admit this. That would have brought into question the US occupation of Saudi.
What’s also pretty clear is that Israel – at minimum – knew the attack was coming yet failed to warn its American ‘allies.’ Israel was the chief beneficiary of the 9/11 attacks – yet its bumbling Arab foes and bin Laden were blamed for this crime.
Gerald Epstein responds to Randall Wray’s defense of MMT.
Departure of US security hawk lowers the risk of war and has changed the dynamic in energy markets
Turns out, John Bolton is good for something: brightening the outlook for Asia’s inflation and growth.
Oil prices fell $1 per barrel within hours of news US President Donald Trump either demanded or accepted the resignation of his uber-hawkish national security adviser. Bolton had been angling behind the scenes for 17 months to invade every place from Iran to Venezuela. He did his best to break up Trump’s “love” affair with Kim Jong-un.
Bolton’s sudden departure has already changed the dynamics in energy markets. Punters spent much of 2018 – Bolton started in April of last year – pricing in military misadventures. In June, for example, bombers were actually en route to Iran – until Trump thought better of it and called off the airstrike.
For now, sliding oil prices is the best news Asia’s trade-reliant economies have received in those 17 months. On top of Trump’s trade war, oil’s 20% surge this year has been an intensifying headwind from Japan to Singapore. It’s been the added hit China didn’t need as Trump’s tariffs send growth to 27-year lows.
For nations facing dual budget and current account deficits, higher energy prices only add for financial strains. The “Bolton effect” is a load off for governments from India to Indonesia to the Philippines. They face their fair share of inflation spikes over the last year. They all have something else in common: epic infrastructure booms necessitating increased energy imports.
Those with healthier balance-of-payments positions – Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan – have been less vulnerable to this year’s market chaos. Here, too, less worrying about Bolton-instigated clashes in the Strait of Hormuz, South America, the Korean peninsula or elsewhere are a plus for top-line Asian growth. It’s one less major risk factor for executives planning investments and compensation for 2020.
There are other factors that could work in Asia’s favor. The relief-factor in Washington might offset Saudi Arabia’s efforts to hike prices ahead of the initial public offering of Aramco, the world’s most profitable oil company. So might a slowing US. Earlier this week, the US Energy Information Administration cut its outlook for oil consumption. It now expects global demand of about 900,000 barrels per day this year, which could be the weakest period since 2011.
Yet the Bolton news “tapped the brakes on prices” in ways sure to cheer investors and governments alike, says Ben Geman of Washington-based Axios news and data site.
There’s still a question of who Trump hires to replace Bolton, says Cliff Kupchan of Eurasia Group. “But,” he adds, “several key policy issues will probably take [a] less hardline. Regarding Iran, Bolton has been ‘Dr No’ when it comes to talks with Iran.
Trump, by contrast, says he hopes to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Bolton’s departure, meantime, means that even as Pyongyang expands its nuclear program, the odds of “fire and fury,” as Trump once put it, are declining.
“Bolton never bought the idea of talks,” Kupchan says. “The US is now even more likely to accept Kim’s demand for a phased approach to talks, and formal negotiations seem poised to restart. A breakthrough deal involving Kim agreeing to abandon his nuclear arsenal, however, remains very unlikely.”
Any U-turn in Afghanistan policies could, at least in the short run, reduce the uncertainty factor. Getting a key architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion girding for any number of clashes out of the West Wing is dollar-positive.
Yet Bolton is just a symptom of the Trumpian chaos roiling markets. As analysts at ClearView Energy Partners argue: “We would caution against the a priori conclusion that a post-Bolton administration might materially pivot from those positions.”
Who knows, Trump might replace Bolton with an even bigger hawk.
Good for Manila, Jakarta
Lower oil prices, though, would act like a stealth tax cut for households and smaller businesses. They offer Rodrigo Duterte an insurance policy against runaway inflation in the Philippines. They will aid Indonesia’s Joko Widodo in taming local bond markets and boosting investor confidence.
For Japan’s Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, calmer energy makers are always a plus for their resource-poor economies. And in a year in which so little is going China’s way, lower import prices give Xi Jinping’s a bit more latitude to let the yuan slide.
Even on Trump’s island of misfit toys, Bolton was a particular standout for the way he made the world a riskier place. His departure is the best news Asia’s economies have received in quite some time.
The people of Hong Kong enjoy one of the highest standards of livings of any city across continental Asia. Since peacefully being reabsorbed into mainland China in 1997, they have confounded endless Western Prophets of Doom: These falsely claimed that Beijing would not maintain its solemn undertakings for peace and security in the city and territory. They maintained that Hong Kong’s historic position as one of the great business hubs of Asia and the world would rapidly be destroyed. Nothing of the sort happened.
But the prosperity of Hong Kong for generations to come is danger now – and the threat manifestly does not come from Beijing.
The mass protests for greater democracy and freedom continue. And following a grim dynamic that goes back well over two centuries to the French Revolution they can never be satisfied.
The more that the administration of Hong Kong led by Carrie Lam and the national Chinese government in Beijing seek to avoid the undue use of force and the infliction of casualties, the more violent, the demonstrations slowly and remorselessly become, the broader and more sweeping are their demands for political liberties – though these are invariably vague and ill-defined.
I predict here – simply and clearly – that no matter how many concessions allegedly for liberty are given they will never satisfy the protestors and the Western governments who at the very least are using them as political puppets and pawns. All that can possibly be achieved is to create an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and violence: That is toxic to attract both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and also regular investment from the rest of China.
Therefore Hong Kong’s economy will founder, while unemployment and economic suffering will grow. Then, those suffering from it will be encouraged to blame the very government that has sought so long and so hard to prevent disasters from happening.
I speak with a particular authority on these matters: Half a century ago as a teenage Irish boy, I watched the same kind of protests destroy forever the peace and prosperity of one of the most advanced industrial centers on the face of the planet in the city of Belfast.
The lessons I learned then would serve the people of Hong Kong well today before they bring an unimaginable disaster upon themselves.
For popular violent protests against authorities never bring peace: They only bring war – Almost always on a scale that none of the protestors dreamed of when they took to the streets.
Prosperity never follows. At best there is mass unemployment and despair as local businesses and national investment flee the territory for decades and generations. You do not build factories and hire workers for them when the factory will be burned down in one of the endless clashes that will soon follow.
The “freedom” that the protestors demand is illusory. It is fools’ gold: It is the fantasy of wealth at the end of the rainbow that is never found.
Hong Kong’s enormous economic advantage for nearly 180 years under first British and over the past two decades of enlightened Chinese autonomous rule has been that it has been a secure, predictable and safe place to do business with the Mainland and with the wider region.
But that is no longer true: The longer the protests rage and the wider and more serious they become, the more that incalculable advantage is eroded before our eyes.
When I was a young boy, my father on Sunday mornings proudly took me down to the Harland & Woolf Shipyard on Queen’s Island to see some of the biggest moving vehicles in the world – giant cargo vessels, tankers, aircraft carriers and cruise ships – being built.
My father was proud of his son, but he was proud of his city too: Belfast was still the largest ship building center on earth. The great shipyard at its peak employed 35,000 workers. Enormous rivers of humanity would flow back and forth on the bridge over the River Lagan every day as its workers streamed to and from their labors. But for most of the past 50 years, almost all of it has become an industrial wasteland peopled only by ghosts.
Peace finally returned to Northern Ireland after 30 years of civil strife, but it was too late. The great shipyard never recovered and it never revived. What had been done could not be undone.
If these riots continue, that will be the fate of Hong Kong too. Nearly two centuries of growth and prosperity will wither and die.
This is no wild prediction. It is tantamount to a mathematical inevitability: There is a remorseless tidal wave of fate to the pattern of rising political protests that escalate into a violent revolution that can only be contained by the use of military force.
The Civil War in Northern Ireland raged – sometimes horrifically, sometimes more subdued – from 1968 to the landmark Good Friday Agreement of 1998. My old, dear friend, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam was the key figure driving the negotiations. She undermined her health doing so. Then a host of political parasites from US President Bill Clinton to British Prime Minister Tony Blair were eager to hog all the praise and credit for themselves years later as Mo lay dying from a brain tumor.
The decades that followed the collapse of law and order in Ireland in 1968-1972 were the darkest in the island’s troubled history since the Great Famine of the 1840s. The British government’s record of secret manipulation and involvement in dark excesses and crimes during those years gives London no moral standing today to lecture China on how it handles the unrest in Hong Kong, or anywhere else.
I never expected to see the end of apparently endless war in Ireland in my own lifetime. Thanks to Mo Mowlam’s selfless labors and those of countless other British and Irish figures great and small, peace finally came. The protestors of Hong Kong too now need to take a step back, suck in a deep breath and pause to think long and hard before they charge down that same doomed and awful path.
Now Twitter is just as corrupt (propaganda-organizations) as Google and Facebook and MSNBC and CNN and Fox and the Washington Post and The Atlantic and all the rest.
Caitlin Johnstone nailed it, on September 12th, under the headline “Have You Noticed How Social Media Purges Always Align With The US Empire?” and she opened:
Twitter has suspended multiple large Cuban media accounts for reasons the social media platform has yet to explain as of this writing, a move which journalist Dan Cohen has described as “the equivalent of silencing CNN, Fox, WaPo and NPR’s accounts” for that nation. The Union of Cuban Journalists has denounced the move as censorship.
Prior to that, on July 12th, she had headlined “Top Assange Defense Account Deleted By Twitter”, and she reported that, “One of the biggest Twitter accounts dedicated to circulating information and advocacy for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, @Unity4J, has been completely removed from the site. The operators of the account report that they have been given no reason for its removal by Twitter staff, and have received no response to their appeals.” Four days later, she headlined “Twitter Restores Assange Activism Account In Response To Backlash”, and Twitter will probably do the same this time around, but what about all the times they do this against less prominent entities or voices than Cuba or Julian Assange?
Everybody knows — Google and Facebook even have help-wanted ads out for — America’s social media barons hiring censors to restrict what those ’social’ media (a.k.a. U.S.-imperialist propaganda-organizations) will allow from ’society’ (the billionaire-approved members of it, that is) to report.
And as far as the print and broadcast U.S. media are concerned, they all are peddlers of either the Republican National Committee’s propaganda-line, or the Democratic National Committee’s propaganda-line (each controlled by that Party’s billionaires, its mega-donors); and does it really make any basic difference whether one is seeing propaganda from Republican Party billionaires, or from Democratic Party billionaires?
Why isn’t the entire world now blacking-out those media — those agencies of the U.S. international-corporate empire?
Why aren’t China, and Russia, and Iran, and maybe even India, developing their own competitors against the U.S. billionaires’ media?
Okay, you might say, RT.com was already somewhat that (and more truthful than any of the U.S.-and-allied versions were), before the U.S. Government declared it to be a “foreign agent,” and yet the U.S. regime doesn’t do the same (in effect) banning against the BBC, or against other (U.S.-regime-allied) government-broadcasters. But what’s especially needed, all over the world, are non-U.S.-regime competitors (Russian or otherwise), against Google and Facebook and Twitter, etc., and not only against the U.S. regime’s ’news’-media (NYT, CBS, CNN, NPR, or other).
When are those start-ups going to appear — and why haven’t they appeared already? Wouldn’t the competition be terrific for the public! After all: RT is ‘banned’ but still can be accessed.
The U.S.-and-allied ’news’-media propagandized the entire world to invade Iraq in 2003 on the basis only of U.S.-Government lies, and repeated that evil performance for the invasion of Libya in 2011, and of Syria in 2012 till today. Doesn’t anybody get it? Those ‘news’-media are the master fake-’news’ propagandists of all — now decade after decade! Their lies produce and ‘justify’ these wars.
I don’t usually waste my time taking apart run-of-the-mill anti-Russian stuff: there’s too much of it and it usually takes more effort to tear apart than it took the author to write. Fools and wise men, as the saying goes. But we have just had a number of pieces on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in Western news outlets. For example, the Washington Times, RFE/RL, The Guardian the Globe and Mail and Bloomberg. Governments have issued condemnations. The gist of them is that the pact showed that Hitler and Stalin were soul-mates and conspired to start the war and rip apart their neighbours. In most cases the authors try to tie this to today’s Russia: enemy then, enemy now.
Most of these pieces take it for granted Putin has some sort of approval of Stalin. But is it “approval” to call communism a road to a dead end – said earlier but most recently last December? What about his statement at the Butovo execution ground?
Those who were executed, sent to camps, shot and tortured number in the thousands and millions of people. Along with this, as a rule these were people with their own opinions. These were people who were not afraid to speak their mind. They were the most capable people. They are the pride of the nation.
Or about what he said when he unveiled the memorial in the centre of Moscow?
This horrific past must not be stricken from the national memory – let alone justified in any way – by any so-called higher good of the people.
One of Putin’s advisory councils speaks against statues to Stalin quoting a government resolution that it’s “unacceptable” to “justify the repressions” or deny that they happened. Paul Robinson has demonstrated the falsity of the “Stalin is back” here. It’s nonsense.
Another theme is that Moscow is distorting or whitewashing history. But the truth is that the articles are the ones distorting history. History is not supposed to be a box from which convenient accusations are selected, ignoring the rest: historians are supposed to try to figure out what happened and explain how it came to be. Most Western accounts of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact are selective briefs for the prosecution. Although I very much suspect that the authors don’t know any better and their outrage is founded on their ignorance.
23 August was the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement and its secret protocol for carving up Poland and other countries. An occasion to hammer Russia which was too good to pass up. But their argument – assertions really – collapse because none of them knows that what Stalin really wanted was an alliance with the Western powers to stop Hitler: the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement was Plan B, not Plan A.
When I was in university in the 1960s a text in one of my courses was AJP Taylor’s Origins of the World War II. It mentioned the British-French mission sent to Moscow upon Stalin’s invitation to form a USSR-UK-France alliance to stop Hitler. This event has mostly slipped down the memory hole but periodically makes a reappearance as, for example, in 2008 “Stalin ‘planned to send a million troops to stop Hitler if Britain and France agreed pact’“. Stalin’s anti-Hitler pact failed and, knowing that the USSR was on Hitler’s target list, he bought time with the pact and started grabbing territory so as to gain a buffer.
In other words, all these pieces, in their prosecutorial enthusiasm, leave out the context (or in the case of the Guardian, present the Russian view as mere – and, you’re supposed to understand, unwarranted – assertion). As I said, I was generally aware that Stalin had made an overture to Paris and London and therefore understood that the pact with Germany was his Plan B, but it wasn’t until I read this piece by Michael Jabara Carley that I understood just how comprehensive and long-lasting Stalin’s attempts to form an effective anti-Hitler coalition had been. I strongly recommend reading Carley’s essay in full but in summary Moscow understood the threat immediately and spent five or six years trying to get the Europeans to join with it in an anti-Hitler agreement. A weak mutual assistance pact with Paris appeared in 1935, approaches to London that year collapsed when it made a deal with Berlin, approaches to Bucharest and Prague failed, Warsaw was hopeless because of its early pact with Berlin and baked-in animosity. The Munich agreement of 1938 and (memory hole again) Warsaw’s collaboration with Berlin in eating Czechoslovakia just about ended Moscow’s hope but it tried one last time in late 1939. (The discussion here has some more details, particularly Chamberlain’s view and the British military’s warning that the Poles, alone, would last two weeks).
There were plenty of reasons why Stalin’s approaches were rejected by Western politicians: they didn’t see the threat, Chamberlain’s “most profound distrust of Russia”, no one liked communism, few trusted Stalin, many questioned the effectiveness of the Red Army, some hoped that the nazis and the communists would fight each other to the death, some preferred the nazis. Poland, whose territory was essential for an effective Soviet threat to Germany, was the decisive obstacle: Warsaw doubted that the Soviets, once in, would ever leave and believed, with its pact and collaboration with Berlin, that it was safe. So, Stalin’s Plan A never happened. Carley: “The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the result of the failure of nearly six years of Soviet effort to form an anti-Nazi alliance with the western powers”. Yes, the pact included a carve-up of several countries but Stalin was looking to the security of the USSR. (And, à la Fawlty Towers, don’t mention the Czechoslovakia carve up, it will spoil the morally superior position the West likes to take.) In the end Stalin miscalculated the timing: Hitler invaded before he’d knocked out Britain and its empire/commonwealth and before the Soviets had properly fortified their new borders.
The failure of Moscow’s long effort to put together an alliance to stop Hitler is the reason for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, not Stalin’s all-round nastiness and sense of fellowship with Hitler. Nasty the pact was, in a nasty period, but it was Stalin’s second choice. Those are the historical realities. Another historical reality (almost down the memory hole) is the fact that, if we’re talking about agreements with Hitler, Moscow was late to the party. Lots of leaders were fooled by Hitler but Stalin probably least of all.
Now, I suspect that the average Western newspaper consumer doesn’t know this background and – speaking for myself – I only found out about the Warsaw-Berlin pact a year or two ago. In fact, had it not been for remembering Taylor’s book, I would probably have been ignorant of Stalin’s Plan A too. The memory hole has swallowed much and most of the authors of these pieces seem quite unaware of that fact and are very offended when, for example, the Russians point out that Warsaw – officially the victim par excellence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – took its pound of flesh from Czechoslovakia.
Many of these pieces, after falsely establishing what they imagine to be a Stalin-Hitler common purpose, can’t resist trying to make a connection between what they imagine to have been Stalin’s motives then and Putin’s today. But it’s hard to see it. Yes, the effects of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact endure but, surely, the biggest “deadly result” of Stalin’s failed Plan A is the war itself. There are at least two ways to look at the Soviet occupation/control of most of the territories it liberated from the nazis: 1) the behaviour of an aggressive expansionist power, 2) that of a power determined that its neighbours would never again be assembly areas for another attack and had learned that it would be on its own if it happened again. We all know which conclusion the Western Allies came to. Elsewhere I have speculated on the cause of that choice but that’s another bit of past living on in the present.
In short, the basic premise of these pieces is quite simply wrong: Stalin didn’t feel an affinity to Hitler and cheerfully join him to rip things apart. And when the Russian talk about the Western European share of responsibility for Hitler’s war, it’s not “odious sophistry” or “rewriting history” or “propaganda”, it’s because they know about Stalin’s failed anti-Hitler coalition and most Western commentators don’t. It is very plausible that a coalition of the USSR, France and Britain and the smaller threatened countries would have prevented the war altogether. We do know that one conspiracy to overthrow Hitler was aborted by Chamberlain’s appeasement. Perhaps when one truly understands that Stalin’s Plan A might have prevented the war altogether, one can understand how irritated the Russians are when they’re blamed for starting it.
While the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the starter’s gun for Hitler’s attack on Poland it is historical nonsense to present the pact as Stalin’s preferred option. And more nonsense to somehow tie it all to Putin.
And what of Poland? Alone, it did last only a few weeks, the nazis killed about 20% of the population and in the end the USSR occupied it anyway. (A bit reminiscent, come to think of it, of Poland, Napoleon and Russia.)
(There is, however, an unforced parallel which doesn’t occur to anybody: both Putin and Stalin looked first to the West for partners; both were disappointed. Stalin probably realised with Munich that his alliance idea was impossible and I believe that for Putin the moment came with Libya. They decided that the West was недоговороспособны (Russian for “unable to negotiate” – editor’s note). That complicated Russian word contains within it the meaning that you cannot make an agreement with them and, even if you do, they will not keep it. So, there is some connection, after all, but it’s not what these people think.)
The phrase “The Koch Brothers” has become a shorthand for the insidious spread of radical right-wing power in America. But even those of us who devoured Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money,” as well as the work of other journalists who illuminated the reach of billionaires Charles and the recently deceased David Koch, including their massive network of conservative and libertarian Political Action Committees and the lobbying efforts of those PACs, might have only a glimmer of an idea of the size and scope of Koch Industries. The business is headed by Charles (David was a shareholder, but not involved in day-to-day affairs), and it’s what gave the brothers their money and influence.
If you’ve eaten produce grown in America, pumped gasoline, or dried your hands on paper towels from an office building bathroom, you’ve used a product that is at least tangentially, if not fully, produced by Koch Industries. It’s a company so valuable, that as journalist Christopher Leonard, author of “Kochland,” said of the company in a phone interview, “Koch’s annual sales are bigger than those of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined.”
The exact number however, remains a tightly guarded secret. As Leonard so meticulously details in his deeply researched and deeply revealing new book, Koch Industries is a privately held company, not beholden to shareholders, whose profits are continually reinvested in the business—to fund new projects, take over other companies, work the employees of those companies to the bone in the name of profits, and broaden and deepen their influence in multiple industries in order to broaden and deepen their influence on American politics and culture.
To understand how the Koch family, and Charles in particular, came to have that power, you must examine their business. That’s no easy task when the company in question is unburdened by such obstacles as quarterly reports, public shareholders and transparency requirements. Leonard, however (he spent seven years pouring over reams of documents, interviewing Koch employees, employees of the companies they bought, the government officials who investigated Koch, and the unions that tried to fight Koch), does a remarkable job of making a corporate history as compulsively readable as a thriller, if considerably more infuriating.
The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ilana Novick: Your book details Koch Industries’ remarkable ability to keep their activities, their corporate structure, even the products they make, secret. How did you first learn about the company and its reach across so many different companies and areas of the American economy?
Christopher Leonard: I’ve been a business reporter since 1999-ish, always based in the Midwest. As a business reporter for all those years in this kind of tight orbit around Kansas City, I would encounter Koch frequently, more than I think a lot of people normally would, for example, if you lived in Portland, Ore., or New York City.
In late 2011, I had this “aha” moment that, if I wrote about this one company, it would let me write about so much going on in the American economy. This is a massive corporation. It specializes in the kinds of businesses that underpin civilization, the kind of stuff everybody uses every day: fuel, fertilizer, building material, sensors in your phone, clothing material. Koch is there under the surface making all the machinery work.
When you write about this corporation, you’re writing about blue-collar manufacturing workers. You’re writing about labor unions. You’re writing about high finance, because they’re so deeply involved in derivatives trading and commodities trading. You’re writing about corporate lobbyists. It’s like the whole system is encapsulated in this one corporation. They really prize not just confidentiality, but secrecy. They don’t want other people to know what they’re doing, and that’s a strategic asset for them.
IN: You mentioned in a previous interview that Koch Industries is “impossible to boycott.” What did you mean by that, and what does that say about the company?
CL: First of all, Koch, unbeknownst to most people, is the third largest producer of nitrogen fertilizer in the world. Nobody thinks they buy nitrogen fertilizer, but nitrogen fertilizer is literally the foundation of the modern food system. Every single farmer who grows the big staple crops, corn and soybeans, has to apply nitrogen fertilizer to their fields almost every year. Without nitrogen fertilizer, it is no exaggeration to say you don’t have food. And this business is stunningly profitable. Believe it or not, it’s processing natural gas into these chemicals that are fertilizers, like anhydrous ammonia. Koch is super expert at processing fossil fuels like natural gas. And the profit margins are stunning, because natural gas prices are so low and demand for food is so high.
So Koch is processing this gas cheap, it’s selling this fertilizer at a very high price and reaping billions of dollars in profits. Again, this is a business that’s buried down at the root level of our economic system. The profits are stunning. And to boycott nitrogen fertilizer, I’m not kidding, you’d have to not eat. And that’s not an option. That’s why I say this business is un-boycott-able. Gasoline is a great example. Yes, you can boycott Koch, but it means you can’t drive most cars, or you have to be able to afford an electric car. They trade global oil supplies. This is a product that, by and large, most people simply can’t function without.
IN: You write about how when Charles Koch inherited Koch Industries from his father, it was a mid-size energy company. It was extremely profitable, but not what it is today. How did he do that?
CL: Charles Koch operates with a very long-term, strategic view. He is extraordinarily patient, and extraordinarily adaptable to volatile circumstances. And he’s got this theory of plowing profits back into the system. He doesn’t take on a lot of debt for the company itself but has cash on hand to buy up other firms. I mean, there’s a lot of deep data work to know more about the world than anybody else so that they can make really smart acquisitions. So there’s deep analysis, deep data-gathering that’s going on inside this corporation. All of that is admirable, but there are, without question, these practices over the years that I think would be objectionable to a lot of people.
IN: What are examples of the more objectionable actions that Koch took, that makes the company a villain for so many people?
CL: Koch was found guilty of criminal conduct in many cases. One of the chapters in the book shows how oil refinery managers intentionally dumped polluted water into nearby wetlands to evade regulatory problems. And that was illegal. The company for years (at least) essentially stole oil from the people who ran oil wells, the oil-producers. Koch would go gather oil and always take more oil than it paid for.
There are also bigger-picture things, too, that reflect a lot of what’s going on in the American economy. Koch is an expert of the so-called “private equity” form of capitalism, whereby Koch will go out and buy smaller companies. There will be job cuts. The workers who are left behind have to do more work on their shifts. I’ve interviewed people at Georgia Pacific who have to work 30 days in a row with no day off, and a whistleblower inside Koch’s Georgia Pacific division gave me 10 years’ worth of data that shows that workplace accidents are on the rise. The workplace is becoming more dangerous under this constant pressure to produce profits.
And we haven’t even talked about politics yet. The billions of dollars in profits that are generated from these businesses have been seared into affecting our public policy in a way that a lot of people might disagree with.
IN: The government has forced Koch Industries to pay for its activities, particularly, as you describe, in the 1990s, when they were found guilty of dumping harmful chemicals in and around their Pine Bend oil refinery, stealing oil from Native American reservations, and even being responsible for the death of two teenagers near one of their oil pipelines. But they faced very small fines, barely any accountability, for their involvement in the deaths of workers at Georgia Pacific plants. Why? Was it a result of their increased lobbying power, political donations and influence since the 1990s?
CL: Charles Koch completely loathes government. He dismisses the effect of government. He says government only causes more problems than it solves. But the company, Koch Industries, is really a good advertisement for government intervention in the sense that it was found guilty of a lot of criminal conduct in the 1990s. It faced a series of record-breaking fines and criminal charges for some of its conduct, and that changed Koch’s behavior. The book talks about how, in the year 2000, Charles Koch is holding a series of emergency meetings with his top leaders, and they totally restructure the company. Charles Koch says, “I don’t want these federal regulators on my property anymore. Change this. Don’t make this happen anymore.”
And they made a very good-faith effort, I think, to tighten the ship [obey regulations]. Now fast forward to the year 2019. This is a different story in some ways today. Let’s look at the problem of the growing injury rate at Koch’s major division of Georgia Pacific. The injury rate, depending on which injury rate you use, [rose] by more than 50% since 2010, and workers are getting killed on the job. Workers are losing limbs on the job. Workers are being burned, electrocuted—you name it—at higher levels than they were about eight years ago.
Now, I looked at a series of six worker deaths in the year 2014, which was a particularly bad year, and the regulatory agency over this issue was OSHA, and the fines for a worker getting killed on the job are to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. The fines for these worker deaths didn’t break $100,000 in most cases. That is literally a totally inconsequential financial number to Koch Industries.
And by contrast, when Koch was found polluting the area around its oil refinery in Minnesota that we just talked about a while ago, it was fined I think like $9 million. Still small, but a big enough fine to get national headlines. With these tiny little OSHA fines happening today, there’s virtually zero outside pressure for Koch to change its practices. And there’s ample evidence that Koch really hasn’t effectively changed its practices. So I think you can say that the lack of regulatory pressure seems almost to have certainly played a role in that.
IN: Koch Industries, through its corporate lobbying and Charles and David Koch, through their philanthropic and personal lobbying activities, are known for their hard-right libertarian views, and their attempts to shape American politics to reflect their views. Why are they so successful? And how are the corporate interests of Koch Industries related to the political interests of the Koch family?
CL: Since the 1970s, Charles Koch has been trying to reshape American society, and he’s funded Libertarian think tanks, which put out a lot of Libertarian papers. He funded university chairs to promote Libertarian ideas. But it was really only in the ’90s when Koch faced this massive legal threat that the company really started building this network of political pressure groups, hired more lobbyists, tried to essentially pressure the umpire and the government. And it’s only continued up through today.
IN: So is the company’s lack of accountability for their business practices, including workplace fatalities in recent years, related to an increase in political donations, lobbying and overall influence?
CL: There’s no question about it. I mean, in 1988, the United States Senate investigated Koch’s oil-gathering practices, and the United States Senate uncovered the systematic oil theft that we were talking about. The Senate held hearings. The Senate released a blistering report accusing Koch of theft, and the matter was referred to federal prosecutors in Oklahoma, where a lot of this theft had happened. And that moment is when Koch really ramped up its political influence system.
The political system under Koch, its political influence machine, dramatically expanded in 2008. And the reason why is because climate change regulation was looking almost like a certainty at that time. In ’08, John McCain and Barack Obama, Republican and Democrat, voiced the need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on the campaign trail. It is not coincidental. I have interviewed several former senior Koch Industries lobbyists and political operatives who explained to me how vital the issue of greenhouse gas emission law is to Koch.
So in ’08 and ’09, you see the size of the political network once again explode in size, and that’s when Koch really heavily invested in what I call this boots-on-the-ground activist network called Americans for Prosperity. That group explodes in ’08 and ’09, a lot of it to make sure the federal government never puts a price on emitting greenhouse gases.
IN: The parts of the book about the cap-and-trade fight at the beginning of the Obama presidency, the rise of the Tea Party and the influence of Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity were surprising to me, because I had associated that period and those groups with the fight over the Affordable Care Act. But your book shows that perhaps the more impactful fight was over carbon emissions and climate change.
CL: It’s totally true. Barack Obama comes into office posing an enormous threat, specifically to Koch Industries, the company, but also to Charles Koch’s worldview. Charles Koch views government intervention, like the New Deal programs that were passed back in the 1930s as a response to the Depression, Charles Koch thinks that was a huge mistake and detests New Deal-style programs. And Obama came in with this promise of basically a whole new New Deal, if you will.
And so what that threatened was a whole new era of government interventions in markets, which Charles Koch disagrees with philosophically but that also would have increased the regulatory burden on the massive industrial conglomerate he owns. Okay. So you’re right that the first fight Obama picked was over health care, and this was early in the administration, and there was a boiling anger at Obama across the country. And it wasn’t just Obama; it was the entire political system. And this anger boils over in the form of the tea party movement, which in the beginning really was driven by average people who were super upset at the direction they saw the country going.
IN: So how did the cap-and-trade fight intersect with the development of the Tea Party?
CL: Koch didn’t create the Tea Party, but it would charter buses to carry tea party activists to Washington. It opened Facebook groups to help tea party activists know where town hall meetings were, for example, and to meet up. This is the kind of really expensive backroom organizations that most movements have to work decades to develop. Koch kind of gave it to the Tea Party right of the box.
But strategically, at the core, what Koch really cared about was carbon and the greenhouse gas issue. And you can see the very beginning, there’s a scene in the book that the Americans for Prosperity [the Koch-sponsored conservative activist group] organized one of the very first Tea Party rallies in New Jersey, of all places, July 4, 2009. So you see Koch facilitating the Tea Party, but when the Americans for Prosperity get up on stage, what do they talk about? They talk about this cap-and-trade program, which would have regulated greenhouse gas emissions, not a central concern of tea party activists. Koch made it a concern.
They portrayed cap and trade as government tyranny, and they helped use the tea party momentum to destroy the cap-and-trade bill.
IN: So why didn’t fights over environmental policy get as much attention in the early Obama years, as the fight over health care?
CL: [Cap-and-trade] was a very complex, archaic bill based on Republican ideas that would have put a price on greenhouse gas pollution. To me, this is a very Koch-ian political dispute in the sense that all the action happened after the election. This is stuff happening inside the halls of Congress. The nitty-gritty, complex business of governing that doesn’t get as much attention, but that’s really vital to our lives. So Koch fought against regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the territory where it had the biggest advantage, which is away from the public eye.
IN: I also wanted to ask about Charles Koch in the Trump era. I think when Charles Koch didn’t endorse Trump it seemed like that may have hurt Trump’s election chances. But as your book shows, that’s not necessarily true, that much like a lot of different situations that Koch Industries has had to deal with, they found a way to exploit Trump for their purposes. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how they do that.
CL: Totally. Koch is riding public passion. It’s seizing on a public opportunity to play a bigger chess game. So here’s the chess game: Koch doesn’t like Trump, in essence. Trump is ideologically inconsistent. Charles Koch believes government ought to be tiny, government ought not intervene in markets. Trump has this America First, nationalist point of view, which embraces government intervention in some cases, like tariffs and tearing up trade deals. And, at least in his rhetoric, Trump supports entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, which Charles Koch does not.
The Koch network does not want to see Trump’s America First agenda take over the Republican Party. And once again, just as they did in the Obama era, the Trump network is fighting on the terrain where it has an advantage: the stuff that happens the day after the election, the complex governing administrative state of America.
Koch [seeks] to block the stuff out of the Trump administration it doesn’t like but support the stuff it does like, like dismantling EPA. And so the Koch network is trying to patiently contain the threat of Trumpism while getting out of Trump what it wants, basically.
“It does not matter whether the government is right or left-wing; impunity is maintained. Even with the previous governments it was discovered that the Armed forces burnt the archives with information and no steps were taken.” Former Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) member and torture survivor Erika Hennings has experienced the trauma of state-enforced oblivion – she is still seeking the details about the extermination and disappearance of her husband, Alfonso Chanfreau.
Forty-six years since the US-backed military coup overthrew the democratically-elected, socialist government led by Salvador Allende, Chilean society remains fragmented and burdened with a legacy which all governments since the transition back to democracy have failed to challenge.
The neoliberal experiment unleashed upon Chile was violent – in 2011, the Chilean state recognised 40,018 people as victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, among them 3,065 who were killed and disappeared. The Chilean military’s pact of silence has hampered efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as forced Chileans to contend with gaps in their personal and collective memory.
Human rights lawyer and Communist Party deputy Carmen Hertz, whose husband Carlos Berger was one of the victims of the Calama Massacre in October 1973 – the last stop of the dictatorship operation known as the Caravan of Death, has also blamed the governments from the transition onwards for cultivating state impunity. Fragments of her husband’s remains were identified – together with the other Calama victims, Berger was mutilated, buried clandestinely and later exhumed for disposal into the ocean. The Chilean state, Hertz asserted, “has debt in truth, in justice, in reparation.”
The Chilean state, however, has no intention of facilitating the Chilean quest for justice and memory. Upholding impunity remains a prime concern for the government and the military. Oblivion, the act of forgetting which Pinochet insisted upon as the only means to move on from dictatorship crimes against humanity, is never far from Chileans’ consciousness. As a mechanism endorsed and implemented at state level, Chileans involved in memory and resistance activity are perpetually fighting against government efforts to erase remembrance.
Last Sunday, a march led by various human rights and memory group commemorating the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship in Santiago was violently disrupted by the Chilean police.
A recent cruel taunt by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro directed at former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose father was murdered by the dictatorship, was mildly reprimanded by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera who, while denouncing the comment as regards subject matter, downplayed its significance by describing Bolsonaro’s dictatorship admiration as “different opinions”.
Bachelet, herself a torture victim, failed to maintain her promise to close the luxury prison of Punta Peuco, where former dictatorship agents serving multiple sentences lead privileged lives in incarceration. During her presidential terms, Bachelet made use of the Pinochet-era anti-terror law to target Mapuche communities and individuals involved in resistance. Although by no means an exception in resorting to the legislation, its use was most widespread during her tenure.
As part of his electoral campaign, Piñera had vowed changes to make the legislation easier to implement against the Mapuche. In November 2018, Mapuche youth Camilo Catrillanca was murdered by the Comando Jungla – a special force trained by the US and Colombia. Evidence related to the killing was destroyed and the witness, a minor, was beaten by the police.
In August this year, it was revealed that the Chilean military was spying on the Chilean investigative journalist and author Mauricio Weibel in 2016.
In another bizarre case, a former DINA agent pressed criminal charges against Javier Rebolledo, a Chilean investigative writer. Rebolledo’s research revealed detailed accounts of torture and sexual abuse perpetrated by DINA agents, among them Raul Quintana Salazar, who sued the author for purported defamation.
State-endorsed oblivion in Chile has made a travesty out of justice. Yet it has also ensured a strengthening of memory. The latter, however, faces one main hurdle in the form of governments normalising dictatorship violence. If governments in Chile continue to uphold the dictatorship pacts of silence, Chile’s memory will, with time, remain tethered to narrations which do not make it beyond diluted versions of history.
China gave Britain a stern warning this week that any naval maneuvers conducted with the US near its declared territories in the South China Sea will be met with a military response.
Beijing rapped London further, telling it to dump its “colonial attitude” with regard to Hong Kong. However, the ultimate leverage, was the caustic reminder to Britain that if it wants to trade with China in the future, then it better mind its manners.
Given the deepening turmoil over Brexit and the uncertain economic prospects once Britain quits the European Union, the British government is going to need every trading opportunity around the world it can muster. Keeping on good terms with China, the globe’s second-biggest national economy, will therefore be crucial for Britain’s post-Brexit survival.
Since taking office in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been quick to talk up a future golden era of bilateral trade relations with Beijing. He has expressed an interest in China’s Belt and Road Initiative for global trade, and he has even dared to ruffle US President Donald Trump by calling for an end to the tariffs and trade war with Beijing, thus implying the White House’s hardball policy is wrongheaded.
But here’s the tricky balancing act facing Britain. In trying to ingratiate itself with both Washington and Beijing for future trade deals, London is caught in an awkward contradiction. To do Washington’s bidding, Britain will be obliged to join forces for fomenting aggression against China.
China this week preempted that development by telling Britain in no uncertain terms that it can’t afford to antagonize Beijing without foregoing future trade and investment. In short, London has to make a decision: does it want war, or peace and prosperity with China?
The rebuke from Beijing followed a visit to London last week by US Secretary of State Mike Esper. During a major set-piece speech, Esper called on Britain and other European states to focus on confronting China and Russia, whom he accused of posing as aggressors.
“It is increasingly clear that Russia and China want to disrupt the international order by gaining a veto over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,” Esper said, seemingly unaware of the absurd hypocrisy of his words.
There have also been suggestions that Britain’s warships will be joining with US forces in so-called “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea. The recently launched super aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth, is designed to be capable of hosting up to 70 US F-35 fighter jets. The temptation for London will be to join Esper’s rallying call because of the need to pander to Washington for future trade favors.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, told media that if Britain embarks on such missions anywhere near islands claimed as Chinese territory, especially if the British are seen to be liaising with the Americans, then it will be viewed as “hostile”. The diplomat said such a development will be met with a military response.
He warned London not do America’s “dirty work” and rebuffed claims about “freedom of navigation” concerns as a cynical pretext for provocation.
Ambassador Liu said: “The South China Sea is a vast ocean, it is three million square kilometers wide. We have no objection to people sailing around there but do not enter Chinese territorial waters within twelve nautical miles. If you don’t do that, there shouldn’t be a problem. The South China Sea is wide enough to have free navigation of shipping.”
Major General Su Guanghui, the Chinese defense attaché in London, said that his country will continue to take a combative stance in what it considers to be incursions into its territories: “If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action.”
Last year, Britain sent a warship HMS Albion near Chinese-claimed territory in the South China Sea, which led to a naval confrontation and break down in bilateral relations. That maneuver was under the watch of former Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson who habitually used bellicose rhetoric describing China (and Russia) as global threats.
China’s ambassador to Britain categorically stated that there can be no repeat of this British naval conduct near Chinese-claimed territory. Don’t even think about it, was the tone.
Nevertheless, the diplomat said that China wants to develop cooperative relations with Britain to boost trade and investment. He said that Britain would lose out massively from new telecoms infrastructure development if a proposed partnership with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is jettisoned – under American pressure.
Thus, Britain has a simple choice really. It can either continue to serve as a henchman for Washington by offending China’s sovereign rights, or London can wise up and ditch its pretensions of colonial-era gunboat diplomacy. That means treating Beijing with the basic respect consistent with international norms.
It seems the days of British subterfuge and aggression on behalf of Uncle Sam are over. It’s totally unacceptable for such presumed privilege to wield aggression with impunity. And it is especially unviable when post-Brexit Britain is shaping up to be scuttling around the globe with a begging bowl for trade deals.
Twitter has suspended multiple large Cuban media accounts for reasons the social media platform has yet to explain as of this writing, a move which journalist Dan Cohen has described as “the equivalent of silencing CNN, Fox, WaPo and NPR’s accounts” for that nation. The Union of Cuban Journalists has denounced the move as censorship.
Last month we saw Twitter suspend hundreds of accounts which it claims originated in mainland China for engaging in “covert, manipulative behaviors” against the Hong Kong protests, with Facebook and Google / YouTube following suit in the creepy, uniform coordination we’ve come to expect between these social media giants. In June of this year Twitter removed thousands of accounts it claims were associated with the governments of Iran, Russia and Venezuela, as well as 130 accounts reportedly tied to the Catalan independence movement in Spain. In May Twitter removed 2,800 of what it claimed were “inauthentic accounts originating in Iran.” Earlier this year, Twitter and Facebook coordinated with each other to remove hundreds of accounts they claim were tied to “coordinated influence operations” in Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.
Cuba, China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and the Catalan independence movement. Noticing a pattern here?
Twitter just suspended the accounts of the biggest media outlets in Cuba and has given no reason. This is the equivalent of silencing CNN, Fox, WaPo and NPR’s accounts, but Cuba is a target of the empire so these arbitrary suspensions don’t generate outrage. https://t.co/0fgEiX8bjL
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) September 12, 2019
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the dynamics of empire, you will immediately recognize all of these purges as having targeted groups which are not aligned with the US-centralized power alliance. There have been no comparable mass social media purges of groups that are aligned with the US-centralized empire; a few accounts critical of Beijing were accidentally suspended from Twitter in June and replaced with a hasty apology, and a few Saudi bots were removed for defaming Jamal Khashoggi after his death, but that’s as close as you’ll find to any non-empire-aligned purge.
“But Caitlin!”, you may protest. “That’s because the US and its allies are free democracies which never engage in propaganda or coordinated influence operations. Those other governments that got their accounts purged are evil authoritarian regimes whose dishonest manipulations must be curtailed!”
And to you my hypothetical friend I say bull boogers. I can prove to you that propaganda and coordinated influence operations are at least as prevalent in the so-called free democracies of the western empire as they are in the so-called authoritarian regimes of unabsorbed nations, and I can do it without even looking up from the story I’m already reporting on.
Cuba denounces suspension of multiple official media Twitter accounts during a live TV address by President Diaz-Canelhttps://t.co/ktBMrfXZTJ
— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 12, 2019
See that hyperlink I put at the beginning of this essay when I first told you about the suspended Cuban media accounts? It links to an article that as of this writing is the only report in written English-language media on that story. The archived link says it’s from Yahoo News, but that’s actually just the outlet that picked it up; the story itself was from the news agency AFP, which is one of the mere three news agencies that are responsible for most of the news media reports in the western world.
This very AFP report claims that “Cuba is regularly criticized by watchdogs for exerting excessive control over the internet,” citing to substantiate this claim an organization called Freedom House, which the report describes only as “New York-based”. Freedom House, which self-brands as an “independent watchdog organization”, is in reality a narrative management firm that is funded by powerful plutocrats and has the bulk of projects paid for by the National Endowment for Democracy. The National Endowment for Democracy is funded directly by the US government, and was set up in 1983 to do overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly up until that point, namely effecting regime change in sovereign nations.
So to recap, the narrative management operation which calls itself a “watchdog” claimed that “watchdogs” criticize Cuba for internet censorship, and that “watchdog” organization is in fact funded by the US government, yet the news agency disclosed only that their source is “New York-based”. In an article about internet censorship.
To put it another way, one of only three news agencies responsible for generating most western news media asked a US government-funded PR firm that was specifically created to make news-friendly propaganda which literally meddles in other countries’ governments to validate the claim that the news of a country that they target conducts propaganda, while omitting the fact that it is a propaganda organization.
This is Inception-level propaganda. This article, the only one available as of this writing to anyone who is interested in Twitter’s censorship of Cuban media outlets, is infinitely recursive, fractal, nesting doll-level propaganda, a pure coordinated influence operation, from top to bottom. And yet all the parties known to have been involved in crafting this piece of propaganda still have their Twitter accounts up, from Yahoo News, to AFP, to Freedom House, to the National Endowment for Democracy. Because the free democracies of the west do not engage in propaganda.
Again, that’s just literally the first example I reached for because of the story I happen to be writing about here. It’s one of endless possible examples, because it’s happening constantly.
We need to stop pretending FB & Twitter aren’t arms of the US state. For over a year they’ve deleted accounts of Iranians, Venezuelans, Russians, & Chinese simply for daring to voice opinions different from the imperialist narrative, under the aegis of combating “disinformation.” pic.twitter.com/bML58Ufpe0
— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) August 20, 2019
Whenever I criticize these Silicon Valley tech giants for de-platforming voices which dissent from establishment narratives, I always get a deluge of pushback from establishment loyalists and capitalism cultists who insist that Twitter, Facebook and Google are private organizations who are free to do as they like with their personal property, and, since they are not government bodies, what they are doing cannot strictly be labeled censorship. But we see time and time again that their behavior absolutely does fall in line with the agendas of the CIA and the US State Department, and continually discover more and more evidence of extensive overlap between these corporations and government power.
“And these big tech giants… have basically gotten into bed with the US state,” journalist Alan MacLeod recently told The Canary’s Slava Zilber. “I mean, we’ve seen Facebook partnering with the Atlantic Council, which is an offshoot of NATO, whose board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and six or seven different former or current heads of the CIA. That’s the group that’s deciding what is ‘fake news’ and what is ‘real news’, and how the algorithms that dictate how billions of people around the world are going to see news. That’s who’s deciding what you see and what you don’t.”
Journalist Morgan Artyukhina noted this past May that FireEye, the very cybersecurity firm that Facebook and Twitter are relying upon to determine which accounts are inauthentic and require removal, was in fact “founded in 2004 with money from the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel.” As noted in 2016 by journalist Yasha Levine, FireEye itself feeds into anti-Russia narratives while simultaneously funding neoconservative narrative management firms which are hawkish toward Russia. As Sputnik noted last year, FireEye also happens to be “one of the few cyber firms to forensically analyze the alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee.”
“We need to stop pretending FB and Twitter aren’t arms of the US state,” Artyukhina said in a popular Twitter thread last month after another purge. “For over a year they’ve deleted accounts of Iranians, Venezuelans, Russians, and Chinese simply for daring to voice opinions different from the imperialist narrative, under the aegis of combating ‘disinformation’.”
“These reports often claim the accounts were ‘used to promote content from inauthentic news sites,’ but that simply refers to outlets like PressTV and TeleSUR, which don’t toe the Western MSM line,” Artyukhina added. “As always, it’s only propaganda when somebody else does it.”
“Inevitably, when the US targets a country for standing up to it, we’re bombarded with stories of evil deeds to justify US action against them,” Artyukhina continued. “This is not propaganda, to them, it’s simply ‘facts.’ However, try to counteract the massive MSM infowar — that’s disinformation.”
In a corporatist system of government, which has no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship is government censorship. There are manifold distortions that have been put in place to mask the reality that the same power structures which control the US government are also dictating the behaviors of the handful of social media platforms upon which the public has become dependent for networking and gathering information about what’s going on in the world, but that is indeed the reality and we do indeed need to regard it as such.
Just because there are no official connections between these corporations and the government doesn’t mean we have to make believe we can’t see actual connections right there in front of our faces, plain as day. There is no legitimate reason to go on pretending that these plutocratic Silicon Valley institutions are meaningfully separate from the US government. The only way to keep that illusion in place would be to continue swallowing all the lies that the propagandists have been shoving down our throats.
The departure of John Bolton as US National Security Adviser is a good step towards decreasing international tensions by the Trump administration. But a lot more is needed from President Donald Trump to indicate a serious pivot to normalizing relations with Russia, Iran and others.
When Trump gave Bolton his marching orders earlier this week, the president said he “strongly disagreed” with his erstwhile security adviser over a range of foreign policy issues. Trump had also expressed frustration with Bolton’s incorrigible militarist tendencies.
There is no doubt Bolton was an odious figure in the White House cabinet. One of our SCF authors, Martin Sieff, wrote this excoriating commentary on Bolton’s nefarious record of warmongering dating as far back as the launching of US wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, when the mustachioed maverick served then as a chief neocon ideologue in the GW Bush administration.
One wonders why Trump brought such a war hawk into his administration when he appointed Bolton as NSA in April 2018. Perhaps, as another of our writers, Robert Bridge, surmised in a separate commentary this week, Trump was using hardliner Bolton as a foil to deflect opponents from within the Washington establishment who have been trying to undermine the president as “soft on foreign enemies”. A ruse by Trump of keeping “your enemies close”, it is averred.
Bolton certainly did his best to hamper Trump’s seeming attempts at scaling back US foreign military interventions. He opposed the plan to withdraw American troops from Syria. The reckless Bolton also wound up a policy of aggression and regime change against Venezuela, which Trump has latterly seemed to grow wary of as a futile debacle.
In regard to Russia, Bolton carried heaps of Cold War baggage which made Trump’s declared intentions of normalizing relations with Moscow more difficult.
The shameless warmonger Bolton openly advocated for regime change in Iran, which seemed to contradict Trump’s oft-stated position of not seeking regime change in Tehran, despite the president’s own animosity towards Iran.
The former NSA also opposed any attempt by Trump to engage in detente with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Reportedly, it was Bolton who derailed the incipient efforts at opening up dialogue with Pyongyang.
It is also thought that Bolton used his influence to impede Trump’s recent bid to host Taliban leaders at Camp David earlier this month which was aimed at trust-building for a proposed peace deal to withdraw US troops from that country after nearly 18 years of disastrous war.
That said, however, President Trump has not shown himself to be exactly a dovish figure. He has overseen countless sanctions being imposed on Russia, the abandoning of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, and ongoing military support for the anti-Russia regime in Kiev.
Too, it was Trump who ordered the US collapse of the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 and the re-imposition of harsh sanctions on Tehran. So, it would be misplaced to paint Bolton as the sole malign actor in the White House. Trump is personally responsible for aggravating tensions with Iran, as well as with Russia, Venezuela and others.
Nevertheless, it is to be welcomed that an inveterate war hawk like Bolton no longer has the president’s ear. Perhaps Trump can be freer to act on his instincts as a pragmatic deal-maker. One thing that the president deserves credit for is his unconventional style of engaging with nations and leaders who are designated as foes of America.
Russia this week gave a reserved response to the sacking of Bolton. The Kremlin said it would make assessments of a positive change in US policy based on actions, not mere announcements, such as the firing of Bolton. Time will tell.
It seems significant that immediately after Bolton was relieved of his post, Trump hinted to reporters that he was considering lifting sanctions off Iran if such a move persuaded Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to hold a face-to-face meeting with Trump at the United Nations general assembly in New York later this month.
Iran has repeatedly stated categorically that there will be no talks with Trump unless his administration revokes sanctions and returns to abiding by the nuclear accord. If there is a serious pivot to normal diplomacy by the White House, then what Trump does about sanctions on Iran will be a litmus test.
The same can be said about US sanctions on Russia. If Trump is earnest about a genuine reset in bilateral relations, then he must get rid of the raft of sanctions that Washington has piled on Moscow since the 2014 Ukraine crisis amid the many spurious allegations leveled against Russia.
Bolton banished is but a small step towards a more diplomatically engaged US administration. But it would be unwise to expect the departure of this one figure as being a portent for progress and a more peaceful policy emerging in Washington.
The Washington establishment, the deep state and the bipartisan War Party, with its entrenched Cold War ideology, seems to have an endemic sway over policy which may thwart Trump’s efforts to direct a less belligerent US.
To illustrate the twisted nature of the US establishment, one only had to read the way sections of the American corporate-controlled media lamented the departure of Bolton. The New York Times, which is a dutiful conduit for deep state intelligence and the foreign policy establishment, actually bemoaned the ouster of Bolton, calling him a “voice of restraint”.
The NY Times commented, with approval, on how Bolton “objected to attempts to pursue diplomatic avenues with players considered American enemies. And he angered Trump with a last-minute battle against a peace agreement with the Taliban… whether it was inviting the Taliban to Camp David or cooperating with Russia, he [Bolton] was the national security adviser who said no.”
In another piece this week, the NY Times commented, again approvingly of Bolton: “Mr Bolton strongly opposed detente with Iran, and his unceremonious ouster has reignited concerns among some Republicans [and Democrats] in Congress about the White House’s declining projection of American military power around the world.”
Can you believe it? The so-called US “newspaper of record” is somehow valorizing an out-and-out warmonger in the form of Bolton, and appears to be advocating “projection of American military power around the world”. The latter phrase being but an Orwellian euphemism for imperialism and war.
The sobering conclusion is that Bolton’s departure hardly heralds a new beginning of diplomacy and engagement by Trump, if we assume to give this president the benefit of doubt for good intentions. Bolton may be gone, but there are formidable political forces in the US establishment which will work to ensure Trump’s room for maneuver remains heavily compressed. The Cold War ideology is so ingrained in Washington, it is much bigger than just one man, whether that is the vile personage of Bolton or the more flexible Trump.
The trial date for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his cohorts for their role in the September 11, 2001 attacks, which were responsible for the deaths of 2,976 people, has been finally set.
For January 11, 2021.
Wrap your heads around that for a moment. Kids who were born the year of the worst terror attack on U.S. soil are now applying for colleges and signing up for Selective Service. They’ll be able to vote in the next presidential election.
For those of us who went the through painful process of covering the evolution of the U.S. military tribunal at “Camp Justice” at Guantanamo Bay, the announcement that a date has been “set” means very little. Most observers don’t think it’ll happen, not in January 2021 or ever. Why?
The U.S. military and the CIA took KSM and other high level detainees who later spent time at the infamous GTMO off the battlefield and into “black” interrogation sites that most Americans would rather forget ever existed. They tortured these individuals for information before bringing them to GTMO and then tortured them some more. Anyone who does not believe that has been living in a politically warped state of denial for the last 18 years.
If it hadn’t happened, the U.S. military might have had a lot more than a handful of convictions (out of the hundreds of detainees who have rotated in and out of the prison). Out of the handful of convictions at Camp Justice, most have been overturned in the last several years. The record of this tribunal is pathetic. The only thing truly accomplished here is the U.S. military ecosystem flourishing a short hop from the Cuban mainland. What was supposed to be temporary has been made permanent, like all things in the American military industrial complex.
But back to the torture. The reason why KSM and his four cohorts have not gone to trial yet is because there is a dispute over whether their confessions are admissible because they were gleaned through torture sessions in CIA prisons. By law the any evidence obtained under these conditions is inadmissible. Defense lawyers in this case, as well in the other major case at Camp Justice—the 2000 USS Cole bombing—have been able to hold up the progress of both cases on this basis. If for some reason these men are convicted, and they get the death penalty, their lawyers were use torture to prolong that process too.
We know now that many of the detainees at Guantanamo at its peak were low level Taliban fighters, Al Qaeda lackeys, or worse, they were innocent souls who were at the wrong place at the right time. Many were turned in for money or revenge. Most of those men have long been repatriated. As of 2018, 40 remain.
With the death of Osama bin Laden, KSM remains the highest-level 9/11 suspect alive. He is not only charged with orchestrating the plots that brought down the Twin Towers in New York City and blasting a hole in the Pentagon, but is accused of personally beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. But when he was captured in Pakistan in 2003 he was taken to different black sites for months and subjected to the CIA extreme interrogation techniques that the Bush Administration had approved early in the war. He was reportedly waterboarded 183 times.
Now, nearly 17 years after his arrest, there is still no closure for the victims. Compare that to the tidy conviction of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was tried as the “20th hijacker” on felony conspiracy charges in federal civilian court in 2006. He’s now tucked away at a Supermax prison.
But the hardliners in the Bush Administration balked at trying more 9/11 suspects in civilian courts. They said Americans wouldn’t be safe with suspects so near, that the military tribunals were better equipped to handle these special terrorism cases. I’m sure they thought the optics were better: Who better to put these terrorist-fighters away than stern military justices on an island surrounded by soldiers and barbed wire?
Turns out on each point they were wrong, big time. Leaving out the legal morass and boatload of other administrative issues that have plagued the court, the biggest reason for the logjam is torture. Thanks to their zeal in exercising extreme techniques likely honed from a 60-year-old playbook—like waterboarding, sensory/sleep-deprivation, beatings, electric shocks and more—U.S. authorities still can’t seal the deal. And Americans lose again.
On 17 January 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower famously introduced the phrase “military-industrial complex”, referring to what he said might become a threat to American democracy — a takeover of the US Government by a “complex,” composed of generals and other national-security brass on the one side, and corporations such as Lockheed and their financiers, on the other. That warning turned out to have been prophetic. The revolving door, between the military top brass and the boardrooms of the arms-contractors and associated corporations and think tanks, spins ever-faster now, and it controls the news-media and the US Government ever-more, so as to produce more and more invasions, of countries that never had invaded, nor even threatened to invade, us. Such “aggressive wars” (unprovoked aggressions) are international war crimes, but are never prosecuted when the US does them. The threat that Eisenhower talked of was real, and it has actually won out against, and defeated, democracy in America, and it has since become a catastrophe, taking up more and more of the US Government’s resources, and delivering — to the people of the United States, and especially to the world-at-large — only more wars, and bloodshed, and poverty, and suffering, and less security, for everyone, but with increasing wealth for the few at America’s top, who have invested in this permanent militarization of the United States.
The chief beneficiaries have been owners of the arms-makers (such as Lockheed Martin) and of the fossil-fuels extraction firms (such as ExxonMobil). Controlling those types of firms is to participate in controlling the US Government, because the US Government serves those firms. Also, high-tech, such as Amazon corporation (whose cloud-computing for the US Government provides almost all of its profits), benefits enormously not only from the wars, but from the extension of the American empire. A threat by the US Government is a threat on behalf of those owners, and yet the owners who control those international corporations get none of the blame for those wars, which always serve their interests, by extending their empire even when the wars are lost.
How did this ongoing decades-long catastrophe happen?
It didn’t even strengthen the US militarily. Look at the record, and consider not only the phenomenon itself, but its actual results — a ceaseless string of military defeats:
Why did the US lose the war in Vietnam?
Why did the US lose the war in Afghanistan?
Why did the US lose the war in Iraq?
Why did the US lose the war in Libya?
Why did the US lose the war in Syria?
What produces this doubly-bad habit — actually badness squared — of the American Government, during the past fifty years: aggressions that fail?
Could it be because the takeover of America’s Government, by its arms-manufacturers and fuel-extraction firms — and their lobbyists and other agents — has been accompanied by soaring corruption? We’ll deal with that question later here. But first, let’s consider the shocking present condition of America’s military:
On 19 August 2019, the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia — a prime US ally in that part of the world — headlined a lengthy study and report: “AVERTING CRISIS: AMERICAN STRATEGY, MILITARY SPENDING AND COLLECTIVE DEFENCE IN THE INDO-PACIFIC”. Its Executive Summary presented the following key points:
America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific, and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain. …
Over the next decade, the US defence budget is unlikely to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy owing to a combination of political, fiscal and internal pressures. …
America has an atrophying force that is not sufficiently ready, equipped or postured for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific — a challenge it is working hard to address. …
A strategy of collective defence is fast becoming necessary as a way of offsetting shortfalls in America’s regional military power and holding the line against rising Chinese strength.
But did China actually cause this “atrophying”? Clearly not.
The problem is internal to America itself. Casting the blame elsewhere is only for idiots to believe, but foreign ‘enemies’ (such as China) are needed in order for the military-industrial complex to thrive. Can you imagine the military-industrial complex growing and thriving if the public believe that domestic corruption is actually behind this consistent and constant record, of US military failures?
Did China cause America’s defeat in Vietnam, or in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, or in Libya, or in Syria?
Let’s be more general about this: Did North Korea cause it? During the four-day period of 24-27 August 2019, an Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 adult US citizens asked them “Do you consider the countries listed below to be a friend or an enemy of the United States?” and listed 13 countries. The ones scoring highest for “Enemy” — the most-commonly selected, as being an “Enemy” — were: North Korea 53%, Iran 46%, Russia 35%, and China 21%. Did any of those nations cause this “atrophying”?
Ever since 2001, Gallup has asked, almost annually, and always in February, “What one country anywhere in the world do you consider to be the United States’ greatest enemy today?” No countries were ever listed for that question; the respondent in these polls always just answered it however that person wanted. In February 2001, 2% said “North Korea.” 6% said “Russia.” 8% said “Iran.” 14% said “China.” And a whopping 38% said “Iraq.” 4% said “Saudi Arabia.” Those were the most-frequently mentioned countries, shortly before 9/11 struck. 0% said “Afghanistan.” How accurately informed were Americans, by ‘our’ ‘news’-media, then? In February 2001, the top “enemy,” overwhelmingly (at 38%), was Iraq — which had never posed any threat, at all, to America. It was no enemy, whatsoever, to Americans. But we invaded and destroyed it in 2003 — after having long been strangulating its population, by means of an economic blockade, “sanctions,” following Saddam Hussein’s having invaded Iraq’s neighboring country, Kuwait, in 1990, and trying to take it from its owner, Kuwait’s royal Al-Sabah family. Americans then strangled Iraqis with sanctions for what their ruler Saddam Hussein had done to the Sabah clan, and then we invaded and destroyed Iraq altogether in 2003, for nothing but our Government’s, and its ‘news’-media’s, war-mongering lies — the ‘news’-media serving as mere stenographers for (instead of as investigators of) the Government’s ceaseless lies about ‘Saddam’s WMD’, etc.
Gallup’s next poll on this question was 2005, and the top “Enemy”s at that time were 22% each for “North Korea” and for “Iraq,” 14% for “Iran,” 10% for “China,” 3% for “Afghanistan,” and 2% each for “Saudi Arabia,” “Syria,” and “the United States itself.” How accurately informed were Americans, then? (Well: 2% got the answer right — or, maybe, 4% did, if the correct answer was both “the United States itself” and “Saudi Arabia.” That 2% or 4% was the highest percentage ever who got it right.)
By 2012, 10% said “North Korea.” 2% said “Russia.” 32% said “Iran.” 23% said “China.” 5% said “Iraq.” 7% said “Afghanistan.” How accurately informed were Americans, then?
In 2018 (the latest such poll), 51% said “North Korea.” 19% said “Russia.” 7% said “Iran.” 11% said “China.” 2% said “Iraq.” 0% said “Afghanistan. How accurately informed were Americans, then?
Isn’t it remarkable how malleable — changing over time — Americas’ opinions are, of which nations are ‘enemies’? The designation of which ones are ‘enemies’, at any given time, is controlled by the Government and its stenographic press — the ‘news’-media — and by the billionaires’ think tanks (such as Brookings Institution) that provide many of the ‘experts’, which the ‘news’-media cite and interview in order to validate the lies.
None of those countries had ever attacked America (except America’s own Deep State had, if that’s what was being referred to as “the United States itself”). Nonetheless, the US Government has threatened each one of those other countries many times, and has actually invaded some of them, but did even a single one of those countries ever commit aggression against the United States? Not even Afghanistan did, though the US-and-Saud-created Taliban had protected the Saudi aristocrat Osama bin Laden leading up to the 9/11 attacks. However, the Afghan Government afterward never invaded America. Not only was the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 unprovoked aggression, but (though less clearly) the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan also was. And yet, for some reason, Americans don’t view the US Government as a global criminal outlaw. Instead, Americans view the targeted foreign governments as if they were that. This is the consequence of a ceaselessly propagandistic national press, which protects itself and its masters (never revealing the truth about either itself or its masters — the regime’s propaganda that supplants truth), and fools its public to hate and fear those masters’ targeted ‘enemies’ — instead of to loathe those masters and their press (which have actually engendered such malleable mass-hatreds and the resulting unprovoked invasions by the US).
Is it the case that Americans’ fear and hatred of foreign governments varies according to what the owners of America’s major news-media have had their reporters report during the year before, and that the latter is, in turn, unskeptical stenographic reporting from whatever the US Government had just told them during the year before, and that it’s always full of lies, and none of it should be uncritically believed, and the American public are merely fools who are constantly being manipulated by the owners of the military-industrial complex, which actually controls not only the President, but the Congress, in both Parties, as well as their deceiving media? If that’s the case, then the generals and the armaments and extraction firms could be making lots of money, from manipulating the public, in this carefully coordinated way, by the controlling owners, the big stockholders — America’s 607 billionaires. It’s sometimes called “the Deep State.” But it’s not aiming for any actual victory by a military that actually represents the interests of the American people; it is instead merely aiming to generate sales of weapons and spreading of fear, and a continual succession of wars, so as to feed the controlling owners’ bloody greed to sell more weapons, oil, and gas. It’s safe for them to do, because international laws aren’t ever enforced against them, nor even against their top agents (such as America’s President, members of Congress, the CEOs of Lockheed Martin and of CNN, and all other agents of the billionaires). They’re all immune, no matter how many times they have deceived their public into supporting the perpetration of international war-crimes, on the basis of lies about their ‘humanitarian’ concern to spread ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’.
Is there any alternative explanation for these catastrophic continual results?
The US military is so profoundly corrupt that there are “Trillions of Dollars in US Military Spending Unaccounted For”, and yet the US military remains, by far, the most-trusted and highest-approved, of all institutions in America, respected above the Presidency, above the Congress, above the courts, above the schools, above any, at all, year after year, for decades. And the public accept this even when the US public themselves disapprove of the Government’s wars. So: there is total impunity for the mega-profiteers from all of these international war-crimes that are so routinely perpetrated by the US In fact, there is sound reason to believe that the corruption is so enormous that not only is the military-industrial complex the most corrupt part of the American nation, but this nation itself is actually, according to the most-reliable measures, the world’s most corrupt at its very top, and perhaps even below the very top. Perversely, the military is not only the most respected, but it’s also the most corrupt, of America’s institutions: it is corruption on top of corruption, the peak of corruption. And this is the reason why it’s the only federal department that is — and has always been — unauditable.
This is how the country that actually (though not in the official figures) spends around half of the world’s entire military budget can lose war after war after war and its military still retain the highest respect from its public — the highest of all of the nation’s institutions — regardless of its astounding longstanding record of failure and ongoing global catastrophes, producing benefits virtually only for the nation’s billionaires and their top agents, while mass-murdering millions abroad, for no other real purpose than to keep the profits flowing. Like Barack Obama (the invader of Libya and Syria on the basis of lies) repeatedly bragged, “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation”, meaning that all others are “dispensable.” Those others serve their purpose, as ‘allies’ to buy US-made weapons, or else as ‘enemies’ for those weapons to be used against. Even if the wars are lost, the weapons were sold, and the ‘enemies’ had served as target-practice, to keep the juices flowing, for America’s owners — people like this, and these. Such a nation used to be called an “Empire,” but now it’s called “hegemony”, in the wake of WW II. Perhaps it’s now called “the one indispensable nation,” and “hegemony,” because FDR had been opposed to empires, so they can’t call it an empire. Opposition to empires was FDR’s guiding principle in international relations, and this conviction he held was a major reason behind his plan for the UN to become the basis of an international democracy to emerge — no empires, at all. Today’s America is the reverse of that, more like a posthumous victory of fascism, which is based upon empire: this fascist victory after World War II is the burial of FDR’s plan and dream for the world. His dream has been buried by America’s own fascists.
The German intelligence-analyst who blogs anonymously as “Moon of Alabama,” and whose predictions, which I have closely watched for five years and found to be stunningly accurate, wrote, on September 5th, that, “The US military and its weapons are regularly hyped in ‘western’ media. But it has long been clear to (non-US) experts that US military technology is not superior to that of other countries. In several important fields Russian, Chinese and even Indian build weapons have much better capabilities. The reason is simple. US weapons are not developed or built with a real strategic need in mind. They don’t get developed for achieving the most effect in an existential war against a capable enemy, but to create profit.”
Given that America spends around half of the entire world’s military budget, and yet gets very bad military results, there can be no reasonable doubt that the reason is massive corruption. One prominent example is James Comey, who served President Clinton 1996-2001, President Bush 2002-2005, and President Obama 2013-2017; and he was Lockheed Martin’s second-or third-highest-paid executive, and then the chief lawyer for Lockheed Martin’s second-biggest owner, during the interim period 2005-2013, between Presidents Bush and Obama.
The liberal Republican James Comey became the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Lockheed Martin Corporation during 2005-2010, where his 2009 pay was $6,113,797. During that time, he also was a Director of the US Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Litigation Center, which works to support business interests in the courts, especially the interests of US-based international corporations, including Lockheed Martin. Furthermore, as of 12 March 2010, Comey also had been granted 162,482 free shares of stock in Lockheed Martin, which number was higher than that of anyone except the Chairman, the CEO President, and an Executive Vice President; so, Comey was among the very top people at Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin’s largest foreign customer was the Saudi Government, which is 100% owned by the Saud family. Today, those Comey shares are worth $47,119,780 — after his five years with the company, plus nearly nine years of growth in that stock, from the war-producing policies that Comey had helped to initiate.
Then, Comey bought a $3M mansion in Connecticut and became the General Counsel and a Member of the Executive Committee at the gigantic hedge Fund, Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates, in Connecticut, where Comey’s only publicly known pay was $6,632,616 in 2012. Dalio and Comey became very close — Dalio called Comey his “hero.” But Obama then hired the liberal Republican Comey as FBI Director in 2013, replacing the liberal Republican Mueller in that role, from which Obama’s successor President Trump fired Comey, and congressional Democrats then succeeded in getting Mueller assigned to become the Special Counsel who would supposedly investigate the legitimacy of that firing.
On 21 May 2013, Marketwatch bannered “Bridgewater Associates’ trades for Q2” and reported that
“After a number of tech companies — including those we’ve mentioned [Microsoft, Oracle, and Intel] and EMC — the largest single-stock holding in the fund’s portfolio was its roughly 220,000 shares of Lockheed Martin LMT, +1.93%. The company recently reported an increase in earnings compared with the first quarter of 2012, but revenue was down slightly and there is a good deal of speculation that the business will be impacted by cuts in US military spending. … Billionaire Ken Griffin’s Citadel Investment Group reported a position of 1.2 million shares at the end of December.”
Lockheed Martin is by far the largest US ‘defense’ contractor, taking 8.3% of all US Government purchases during 2015, as compared to #2 Boeing’s 3.8%, and #3 General Dynamics’s 3.1%.
That’s where the big money is being made: not in Government-service, but in the private-sector side of the revolving door between Government-service and the private sector. Phrased in a different way, and using a different metaphor: Government-service is the career’s entré, but the private sector is its dessert, in America’s corrupt system. Outright bribes aren’t necessary, in this system — the aristocratic system — where what matters is not what you know, but whom you know; not what skills you have, but whom your friends are. It doesn’t produce efficiency, but it does produce supercharged wealth at the very top, amongst the richest and most powerful few.
And it produces gargantuan and longstanding military failure.
On August 29th, the US Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued its “Report of Investigation of Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s Disclosure of Sensitive Investigative Information and Handling of Certain Memoranda”, which identified US criminal statutes that Comey had personally violated in order to precipitate the Obama Administration’s Russiagate investigations against then-candidate Donald Trump. It noted that “Comey’s closest advisors used the words ‘surprised,’ ‘stunned,’ ‘shocked,’ and [expressed] ‘disappointment’ to describe their reactions to learning what Comey had done.” And it stated, not just once but a number of times, the terse phrase that “After reviewing the matter, the [Justice] Department [now under Trump] declined prosecution.” Ironically, some of the very same criminal statutes that they said Comey had violated had been the same ones on which Comey had earlier refused to recommend prosecution of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — that the documents were his (her) personal property, and not the property of his (her) employer, the US Government. The I.G.’s report stated unequivocally, in his own case, “We conclude that the Memos were official FBI records, rather than Comey’s personal documents.” Perhaps Comey had felt free to do this because he had earlier refused to recommend prosecution of her for having done it. Perhaps he felt that his actions, as FBI Director, had, in her case, established a legal precedent, which superseded the congressionally passed and Presidentially signed-into-law criminal statutes that he was actually oath-bound to enforce and possessed no legal authority to either override or ignore. Perhaps that’s why he did it — perhaps he had persuaded himself that he wasn’t a criminal who was at the top. Perhaps he had deceived himself about that.
At the top, in the United States, corruption is not only massive; it is entirely bipartisan. There’s no way around it.
On 10 September 2019, the independent investigative journalist Sarah Carter headlined “Flynn Hearing Reveals Existence of Bombshell DOJ Memo Exonerating Michael Flynn”, and revealed evidence that Michael Flynn’s guilty plea in the Russiagate-Trump case had been based on Comey’s having hidden from Flynn exculpatory evidence, and that therefore the plea-agreement might be ruled invalid. Furthermore: “the existence of a Justice Department memo from Jan. 30, 2017 exonerating Flynn of any collusion with Russia,” and the document continues to be hidden from the public, but might soon be released. Yet the resulting war-mongering lies have shaped the public’s attitudes, and those attitudes could last for years and continue to shape American politics even long after the fraud has been exposed.
And that’s just one person’s case, Comey. The entire military-industrial complex operates this way, and long has been doing so, very successfully for America’s billionaires and their foreign allies, such as for the Sauds, and for the billionaires who control Israel. (Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, and virtually all of that aid from US taxpayers pays for Israel’s purchases of weapons from Lockheed Martin and other US weapons-firms.)
That’s the “swamp,” and Trump is part of it, like all recent US Presidents have been. There is no accountability, at the top. And this is why America’s military capabilities are failing.
The departure of the China hawk might clear the way for a trade-and-technology deal
President Trump needs a trade deal with China as quickly as possible to avert a sharp slowdown of the US economy, as recent polls have made clear. There won’t be any deal unless the US finds some way to walk back its efforts to keep China’s top telecommunication firm Huawei out of world markets. The summary dismissal today of National Security Adviser John Bolton increases the prospects of a deal, although the immediate motivation for Bolton’s departure most likely lies elsewhere.
China and the United States seemed on track for a trade deal in early December 2018 when XI Jinping and Donald Trump dined on the sidelines of a summit meeting in Buenos Aires – except that Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou at the Vancouver Airport. Trump didn’t know about the arrest, but his national security adviser John Bolton did, as Bolton later said in a radio interview.
A few weeks earlier, the US government began a campaign to persuade its allies to exclude Huawei from the rollout of 5G broadband networks, as the Wall Street Journal first reported Nov. 23, 2018. The Meng Wanzhou arrest, the first use of extraterritorial powers in the case of an alleged sanctions violation, was a declaration of war on the Chinese national champion. In the ensuing months, the United States banned US technology firms from supplying components and software to Huawei and demanded that its allies boycott its 5G network systems.
All of the presidential orders targeting Huawei were drafted by Bolton’s staff at the National Security Council offices in the Executive Office Building next to the White House. Trump’s national security adviser didn’t devise the campaign against Huawei, but he represented the views of the US intelligence community to the White House and helped formulate the rationale for the effort to derail Huawei’s market leadership. Huawei, the US government alleged, might build secret back doors into its routers and steal data, compromising the cybersecurity of any country it supplied. So dangerous was Huawei, US officials alleged, that the US might cut back on intelligence sharing with such countries.
This in my view was a willful deception on the part of America’s spies, intended to distract attention from a different sort of problem. I do not believe that Ambassador Bolton set out to deceive anyone, but it seems likely that he was captured by the intelligence community’s agenda. As I wrote in Asia Times July 7:
The US intelligence community’s alarm at Chinese leadership in 5G mobile broadband has less to do with a threat of Chinese eavesdropping than with the likelihood that electronic eavesdropping will become next to impossible, thanks to quantum cryptography. I have had a number of conversations on the topic with US as well as Chinese sources, but this conclusion appears obvious from public sources.
America’s intelligence community spends nearly $80 billion a year, including $57 billion for the National Intelligence Program and $20 billion for the Military Intelligence Program. Signals intelligence (SIGINT), mainly electronic eavesdropping, takes up the lion’s share of the budget. Among other things, the National Security Agency recorded more than half a billion calls and text messages of Americans in 2017.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Security Agency admitted – for the second time — that it improperly eavesdropped on Americans. The spooks’ ability to tap the conversations of prospective terrorists, foreign leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and pretty well anyone it wants is a source of enormous power as well as justification for continued funding.
In the meantime, America’s efforts to suppress Huawei have taken on a life of their own. In the Wall Street Journal today, financier George Soros, a bitter political enemy of President Trump, demanded to know if Trump will “sell out the US on Huawei” by including the technology issue in an overall trade deal. Soros wrote, “China is a dangerous rival in artificial intelligence and machine learning. But for now it still depends on about 30 U.S. companies to supply Huawei with the core components it needs to compete in the 5G market. As long as Huawei remains on the entity list, it will lack crucial technology and be seriously weakened… However, President Trump may soon undermine his own China policy and cede the advantage to Beijing.”
I do not think that the ban on exports of US components to Huawei will slow down its efforts in 5G broadband. With few exceptions, these components are easily sourced elsewhere, and China has had a blank check program to eliminate dependence on US technologies since March 2018, when the US banned sales of handset chips to China’s ZTE.
Still, it is odd to find the liberal Mr. Soros attacking President Trump, as it were, from the right. The US Establishment wants to throw whatever monkey-wrenches it has into the works in the hope of delaying Huawei long enough to figure out what it wants to do next. It doesn’t appear to be working. Last week Deutsche Telekom became the latest European country to inaugurate 5G networks using Huawei equipment.
Morris Lore reports at lightreading.com, “Before Deutsche Telekom’s 5G launch, Three, Vodafone and BT-owned EE had all turned on Huawei-built 5G networks in the UK, despite government indecision on the future role of Chinese suppliers. Vodafone is also using Huawei’s equipment to support 5G services in Italy, Romania and Spain, explaining why it has been Europe’s most vociferous opponent of the anti-Huawei campaign. Elsewhere, Huawei is live in Switzerland and Finland, where it equips Sunrise and Elisa respectively.”
To America’s great embarrassment, the whole of Eurasia has ignored its imprecations against Huawei. Bolton’s high-profile campaign, joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has failed, and President Trump doesn’t like to fail.
Bolton is quite the China hawk. In January 2018, three months before he took office, he argued in the Wall Street Journal that the US should station troops in Taiwan. China is glad to see the back of him. Global Times editor Hu Xijin tweeted, “Bolton has never played a positive role on China issues either, although it won’t be the reason why he was fired. I believe people who hold extreme political stance are paranoid and difficult to get along with. The news of Bolton being fired likely drew applause in the White House.”
Just what form a trade-and-technology deal might take is far from clear. The US cannot simply let the Huawei matter drop, but it might agree to comprehensive testing and screening of Huawei products. Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Huawei is “open to sharing our 5G technologies and techniques with US companies so that they can build up their own 5G industry.” He added that American companies can “change the software code. In that case, the US will be assured of information security.”
In short, Huawei has offered to call the American bluff about its purported data theft and open its proprietary technology to American inspection. The intelligence community and the China hawks, in general, will not like that, and Bolton’s departure removes one hawk from a particularly important nest.
My view is that Huawei’s dominance of a game-changing technology does indeed present a threat to the United States, but that John Bolton’s weasel war dance won’t do the United States any good. If the US wants to maintain technological superiority, it has to create national champions that can best Huawei, and that requires a massive commitment of federal R&D funding. In the meantime, President Trump may have to compromise with China to avoid a recession and defeat in the 2020 elections.
Randall Wray rebuts Gerald Epstein’s criticisms of Modern monetary Theory.
Certainly, there are many things that President Donald Trump can rightly be criticized for, but it is interesting to note how the media and chattering classes continue to be in the grip of the highly emotional but ultimately irrational “Trump derangement syndrome (TDS).” TDS means that even the most ridiculous claims about Trump behavior can be regurgitated by someone like Jake Tapper or Rachel Maddow without anyone in the media even daring to observe that they are both professional dissemblers of truth who lie regularly to enhance their professional resumes.
There are two persistent bogus narratives about Donald Trump that are, in fact, related. The first is that his campaign and transition teams collaborated with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton. Even Robert Mueller, he of the famous fact-finding commission, had to admit that that was not demonstrable. The only government that succeeded in collaborating with the incoming Trumpsters was that of Israel, but Mueller forgot to mention that or even look into it.
Nevertheless, Russia as a major contributing element in the Trump victory continues to be cited in the mainstream media, seemingly whenever Trump is mentioned, as if it were demonstrated fact. The fact is that whatever Russia did was miniscule and did not in any way alter the outcome of the election. Similarly, allegations that the Kremlin will again be at it in 2020 are essentially baseless fearmongering and are a reflection of the TDS desire to see the president constantly diminished in any way possible.
The other narrative that will not die is the suggestion that Donald Trump is either a Russian spy or is in some other, possibly psychological fashion, controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin. That spy story was first floated by several former senior CIA officers who were closely tied to the Hillary Clinton campaign, apparently because they believed they would benefit materially if she were elected.
Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell was the most aggressive promoter of Trump as Russian spy narrative. In August 2016, he wrote a New York Times op-ed entitled “I Ran the CIA. Now I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton.” Morell’s story began with the flat assertion that “Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president – keeping our nation safe… Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.”
In his op-ed, Morell ran through the litany of then GOP candidate Trump’s observed personality and character failings while also citing his lack of experience, but he delivered what he thought to be his most crushing blow when he introduced Vladimir Putin into the discussion. Putin, it seems, a wily ex-career intelligence officer, is “trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities… In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
How can one be both unwitting and a recruited agent? Some might roll their eyes at that bit of hyperbole, but Morell, who was a top analyst at the Agency but never acquired or ran an actual spy in his entire career, goes on to explain how Moscow is some kind of eternal enemy. For Morell that meant that Trump’s often stated willingness to work with Putin and the nuclear armed state he headed was somehow the act of a Manchurian Candidate, seen by Morell as a Russian interest, not an American one. So much for the presumed insider knowledge that came from the man who “ran the CIA.”
The most recent “former intelligence agents’” blast against Trump appeared in the Business Insider last month in an article entitled “US spies say Trump’s G7 performance suggests he’s either a ‘Russian asset’ or a ‘useful idiot’ for Putin.” The article cites a number of former government officials, including several from the CIA and FBI, who claimed that Trump’s participation at the recent G7 summit in Biarritz France was marked by pandering to Putin and the Kremlin’s interests, including a push to re-include Russia in the G-7, from which it was expelled after the annexation of Crimea.
One current anonymous FBI source cited in the article described the Trump performance as a “new low,” while a former senior Justice Department official, labeled Trump’s behavior as “directly out of the Putin playbook. We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.” An ex-CIA officer speculated that the president’s “intent and odd personal fascination with President Putin is worth serious scrutiny,” concluding that the evidence is “overwhelming” that Trump is a Russian asset, while other CIA and NSA veterans suggested that Trump might be flattering Putin in exchange for future business concessions in Moscow.
Another recently retired FBI special agent opined that Trump was little more than “useful idiot” for the Russians, though he added that it would not surprise him if there were also Russian spies in Trump’s inner circle.
The comments in the article are almost incoherent. They come from carefully selected current and former government employees who suffer from an excess of TDS, or possibly pathological paranoia, and hate the president for various reasons. What they are suggesting is little more than speculation and not one of them was able to cite any actual evidence to support their contentions. And, on the contrary, there is considerable evidence that points the other way. The US-Russia relationship is at its lowest point ever according to some observers and that has all been due to policies promoted by the Trump Administration to include the continuing threats over Crimea, sanctions against numerous Russian officials, abrogation of existing arms treaties, and the expansion of aggressive NATO activity right up to the borders with Russia.
Just this past week, the United States warned Russia against continuing its aerial support for the Syrian Army advance to eliminate the last major terrorist pocket in Idlib province. Once against, Washington is operating on the side of terrorists in Syria and against Russia, a conflict that the United States entered into illegally in the first place. Either Donald Trump acting as “the Russian agent” actually thinks threatening a Moscow that is pursuing its legitimate interests is a good idea or the labeling of the president as a “Putin puppet” or “useful idiot” is seriously misguided.
In 2017, MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory creature trapped in cold storage, suggested that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union was tantamount to fighting the battles of Agincourt, Waterloo and Trafalgar, a true statement of British strength. (Much inconsistency there, but let him ride with it.) “This is Magna Carta, it’s the Burgesses coming at Parliament, it’s the great reform bill, it’s the bill of rights, it’s Waterloo, it’s Agincourt, it’s Crecy. We win all of these things.”
Those things are not looking quite so victorious at the moment, stalling and falling as they are. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like his predecessor, is finding the House of Commons unruly, incapable of placation. He has lost every vote so far, failing to get the trigger by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to propel the country towards a speedy election. In response to that loss, Johnson appeared at the West Yorkshire Police Headquarters intending to crow about being “strong on crime” in front of a gaggle of police officers. Before asking the EU for an extension, he would “rather be dead in a ditch.”
He is also finding the House of Lords a tough proposition. Everyone is talking about ways that Brexit will not happen, rather than how it will happen. In order to effectuate the former, the need to take, again, the begging bowl to Europe to seek an extension past the October 31 date of departure is becoming pressing.
On Wednesday night, reports were filtering through that the House of Lords was determined to stay and debate for as long as it was required on the fate of a backbench bill seeking to block a no-deal Brexit. Some had even arrived with duvets and toothbrushes, anticipating a lengthy battle in the chamber. Richard Newby, the Liberal Democrats leader in the Lords, was relieved that it did not come to that. “I don’t think carrying through 24 or 48 hours as we have been doing in a sort of pathetic attempt to set a new Guinness world record… would do anybody any favours.”
At 1.30 Thursday morning, peers were informed that the bill tabled by Labour’s Hilary Benn would be returned to the lower house the following day by 5pm, scuppering any new attempts at a filibuster. (Such behaviour is precisely the sort that has gotten the conservative magazine, The Spectator, worried: pack the Lords, it suggests, with leavers, and we would not have this disagreeable nonsense.) On Monday, the bill will again be voted on in the Commons and, if passed, duly become law with royal assent.
Johnson, through a spokesman, has expressed a desire to reject the bill’s force, requiring him to seek yet another extension on Brexit till January 31 if October’s European Council summit fails to secure a deal or Parliament’s consent for a no deal. “The PM will not do this. It is clear the only action is to go back to the people and give them the opportunity to decide what they want: Boris to go to Brussels and get a deal, or leave without one on 31 October.”
The debate, the angst, and the anger, is taking place in a sealed vacuum, one that sees Europe and the European Union in the most abstract of terms. The United Kingdom remains psychically and spiritually estranged from the continent, a point that is also shown by the Remainers: Europe is only relevant as a commissariat to transact with, an assemblage of destinations rather than a set of ties. Well and good to get a vote to force Boris with his Begging Bowl to front up to the EU, but in the minds of most officials, the deal is done and dusted, on the table awaiting implementation. The rest is a carnival of despair marked by a parody akin to students who refuse to submit their assessments on time, though a worrying one for those in Brussels who fear that a successful exit might spell the end of the EU compact.
Such conditions breed foolishness, satire, and caricature. The trivial becomes arresting, compelling and disproportionately significant. A politician’s posture and demeanour – how that person behaves in the House – exceeds the interests of all others, including the mechanics of one of the most important processes in several generations. Where expertise on process is required, clownish expounding is preferred.
The delightfully hysterical reaction to Rees-Mogg himself is a case in point. The leader of the House of Commons has taken to becoming a bit of furniture, spreading out on the front bench, quite literally, the sort of behaviour that would not have been out of place from a Head Boy at a public school. This horrified conservative grandee Sir Nicholas Soames, former defence minister of the realm, and grandson of Winston Churchill. “He is in serious danger of believing his own shtick. He is an absolute fraud, he is a living example of what a moderately cut double-breasted suit and a decent tie can do with an ultra-posh voice and a bit of ginger stuck up his arse.” Even as the ship sinks, it is important to keep up appearances.
[Note: This article was sent to press just prior to the news that Donald Trump had requested the resignation of his National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Since that decision does not alter the argument made in this article, it is being presented here in its original form].
Trump supporters suffered a collective convulsion when foreign policy hawks, like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Elliott Abrams, were brought screeching into his administration. How could the US president be sincere about rolling back US military activities abroad, they asked, when the neocons had a hotline to his ear?
Yet here we are, almost three years later, and we’ve yet to witness Armageddon, although we do have a spectacular trade war raging with China. Mere mortals would view the cessation of US-driven hostilities as a positive development. For the US deep state, however, which depends upon military expansion and war for its very survival, it is an unspeakable disaster. In that sense, if Trump is really serious about draining the Swamp, abstaining from global aggression would be one of the most effective ways of achieving that goal.
….I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Had Hillary Clinton squeaked out a victory in 2016, we’d all be handwringing once again, attempting to make sense of yet another killing field – this time in Syria – reminiscent of the former Secretary of State’s “We came, we saw, he died” psycho scenario that played out in both Iraq and Libya. The closest the Trump administration got to full-blown warfare came in April 2017 when it launched missiles at a Syrian air base purported to have been involved in a chemical attack on civilians. Since that moment, which made the carnivorous media cheerleaders giddy from the promise of bloodshed, it has been relatively quiet on the Western front. So quiet in fact that John Bolton is probably wondering why Trump chose him as his security advisor in the first place.
— New Day (@NewDay) April 7, 2017
Indeed, not only has Washington not invaded a foreign country since Trump entered the Oval Office, it looks like Bolton may be remembered as the White House National Security Advisor who was sent home without a head of some foreign leader to place above the fireplace. And certainly not for lack of trying.
The belligerent Bush-era hawk who once spoke out in favor of preemptive strikes against both Iran and North Korea, Bolton also failed, thus far, to drive Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of Caracas. In fact, Maduro has claimed, without providing any evidence, that Bolton was personally responsible for organizing an attempt on his life.
The setbacks for the hawks continues in Afghanistan, where Trump has expressed a willingness to cut a deal with the Taliban that will allow him to draw down US troops and declare a foreign policy victory ahead of 2020 elections. Yet conspicuously missing from those peace talks is John Bolton, who reportedly has been blacklisted for peace talks later this month.
According to a report in the Washington Post, quoting an anonymous source, “Bolton asked for a copy of the draft agreement the United States is trying to strike with the Taliban. But the U.S. envoy leading the negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad, denied the request, saying Bolton could read the agreement in the presence of a senior official but not leave with it in hand…”
Most shocking of all, however, as far as the deep state is concerned, is Trump’s recent suggestion that he would be willing to sit down with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at UN headquarters later this month.
I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
Trump made the comments after he was essentially ambushed during the G7summit in Biarritz, France last month. At the secret invitation of French President Immanuel Macron, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a surprise visit to the meeting, to discuss possible ways of ending the standoff with Washington after the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal last year.
According to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, US sanctions are an effort to reduce Tehran’s oil exports—which provide some 40 percent of its revenue—to “zero.” Washington’s allies, however, fear that crushing the Iranian economy will eventually force Tehran into some sort of response, potentially a violent one, thereby giving the US a possible pretext for war.
“Iran’s strategy at this time is reducing its commitments under the nuclear deal,” Mehdi Mahmoudi, an Iranian journalist based in Tehran, told The Media Line. “Indeed, this tactic is successful because the European Union is now trying to do more and more work to appease Iran.”
— ايران وطن من . IRAN My Homeland (@IranHomeland) September 5, 2019
Trump’s great gambit
In an effort to understand Trump and his balancing act between a government loaded with hawks, and a geopolitical chess game rigged to dynamite, there are at least three dynamics at play – ‘3D chess’ if you like.
First, Trump the relentless businessman, whose talents are to be found in the boardroom as opposed to the battlefield, understands the need for strong-arm tactics in order to get the best possible deal. This he hopes to accomplish by putting notorious Neocons like Bolton, Pompeo and Abrams on the government payroll. Their mere presence sends an unmistakable message to Trump’s opponents: Cut a deal with me or I will remove the leash from these warmongers, who will be only too happy to do the bidding of the deep state. Thus far the nerve-rattling strategy, despite the unfathomable risks involved, has worked like magic against North Korea.
Next, by keeping snarling Neocons on the payroll, Trump gives the deep state the ‘false security,’ as it were, that another regime change operation is just one false flag attack away. Despite the string of chemical attacks in Syria, and the attack on foreign vessels blamed on Tehran, thus far Trump has managed to avoid a full-blown military scenario in places like Syria and Iran. Of course all that could change in a millisecond, but for now a very tense ‘peace regime’ is in place.
Finally, by keeping some of the most prominent members of the deep state under his wing, Trump not only works towards his own self-preservation, but facilitates his campaign pledge to drain the swamp. The importance of a ruler keeping his enemies close was laid out millennia ago by Sun Tsu, the Chinese military strategist. The question at this time is whether Trump is sincere, or still up to the task, of carrying out his incredibly ambitious plan.
Considering the untold humiliations he has suffered since entering the White House, at the hands of a media that has been completely co-opted by the deep state, it seems doubtful Trump will forego his house-cleaning campaign. In that event, the likes of Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams and other Neocon officials will be less useful against foreign adversaries than they will be against battling the D.C. swamp creatures, even if they, the neocons – Trump’s eternal enemies that he has deemed to keep close as the sage Chinese strategist advised – are wholly unaware of the contributions they will make to the main event.
Russophobic rhetoric persists in Washington, but a counter-argument is emerging.
Are Western democracies, the U.S. and France in the lead, rethinking the hostility toward Russia they conjured out of nothing since Moscow responded to the coup Washington cultivated in Ukraine five years ago? Will Trump eventually succeed in putting ties with Russia on a more productive path — triumphing over the hawks hovering around him? Have the Europeans at last grown weary of following the U.S. lead on Russia even as it is against their interests to do so?
In desultory fashion over the past month or so, we have had indications that the policy cliques in Washington are indeed reconsidering the Cold War II they set in motion during the Obama administration’s final years. And President Donald Trump, persistent in his effort to reconstruct relations with Russia, now finds an unlikely ally in Emmanuel Macron. This suggests a nascent momentum in a new direction.
“Pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound strategic mistake,” the French president asserted in a stunning series of remarks to European diplomats immediately after the Group of 7 summit in Biarritz late last month.
This alone is a bold if implicit attack on the hawkish Russophobes Trump now battles in Washington. Macron then outdid himself: “We are living the end of Western hegemony,” he told the assembled envoys.
It is difficult to recall when a Western leader last spoke so truthfully and insightfully of our 21stcentury realities, chief among them the inevitable rise of non–Western nations to positions of parity with the Atlantic world. You have nonetheless read no word of this occasion in our corporate media: Macron’s startling observations run entirely counter to the frayed triumphalism and nostalgia that grip Washington as its era of preeminence fades.
President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron in joint press conference in Biarritz, France, site of the G7 Summit, Aug. 26, 2019. (White House/ Andrea Hanks)
There is much to indicate that the West’s aggressively hostile posture toward Russia remains unchanged. The Russophobic rhetoric emanating from Washington and featured daily in our corporate television broadcasts continues unabated. Last month Washington formally abandoned the bilateral treaty limiting deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, signed with Moscow in 1987. As anyone could have predicted, NATO now suggests it will upgrade its missile defense systems in Poland and Romania. This amounts to an engraved invitation to the Russian Federation to begin a new arms race.
But a counter-argument favoring a constructive relationship with Russia is now evident. This is not unlike the abrupt volte-face in Washington’s thinking on North Korea: It is now broadly accepted that the Korean crisis can be resolved only at the negotiating table.
The Times Are Changing
The New York Times seems to be on board with this this sharp turn in foreign policy. It reported the new consensus on North Korea in a news analysis on July 11. Ten days later it published another arguing that it’s time to put down the spear and make amends with Moscow. Here is the astonishing pith of the piece: “China, not Russia, represents by far the greater challenge to American objectives over the long term. That means President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China.”
It is encouraging that the Times has at last discovered the well-elaborated alliance between Moscow and Beijing. It took the one-time newspaper of record long enough. But there is another feature of this article that is important to note: It was published as a lead editorial. This is not insignificant.
It is essential, when reading the Times, to understand the close — not to say corrupt — relations it has maintained with political power in Washington over many generations. This is well-documented in histories of the paper and of institutions such as the CIA. An editorial advancing a policy shift of this magnitude almost certainly reflects the paper’s close consultations, at senior levels of management, with policy-setting officials at the National Security Council, the State Department, or at the Pentagon. The editorial is wholly in keeping with Washington’s pronounced new campaign to designate China as America’s most dangerous threat.
It is impossible to say whether Trump is emboldened by an inchoate shift of opinion on Russia, but he flew his banner high at the Biarritz G–7. Prior to his departure for the summit in southwest France he asserted that Russia should be readmitted to the group when it convenes in the U.S. next year. Russia was excluded in 2014, following its annexation of Crimea in response to the coup in Kiev.
Trump repeated the thought in Biarritz, claiming there was support among other members for the restoration of the G–8. “I think it’s a work in progress,” he said. “We have a number of people that would like to see Russia back.”
Macron is plainly one of those people. It was just after Trump sounded his theme amid Biarritz’s faded grandeur — and what an excellent choice for a convention of the Western powers — that the French president made his own plea for repairing ties with Russia and for Europe to escape its fate as “a theater for strategic struggle between the U.S. and Russia.”
Biarritz from the Pointe Saint-Martin, 1999. (Wikimedia Commons)
“The European continent will never be stable, will never be secure, if we don’t pacify and clarify our relations with Russia,” Macron said in his address to Western diplomats. Then came his flourish on the imminent end of the Atlantic world’s preeminence.
“The world order is being shaken like never before. It’s being shaken because of errors made by the West in certain crises, but also by the choices made by the United States in the past few years— and not just by the current administration.”
Macron is an opportunistic main-chancer in European politics, and it is not at all certain how far he can or will attempt to advance his new vision of either the West or Europe in the Continent’s councils of state. But as evidence of a new current in Western thinking about Russia, the non–West in general, and Europe’s long-nursed desire for greater independence from Washington, the importance of his comments is beyond dispute.
The question now is whether or how soon better ties with Moscow will translate into practical realities. At present, Trump and Macron share a good idea without much substance to it.
Better US-Russia Ties May Be in Pipeline
But Trump may have taken a step in the right direction. Within days of his return from Biarritz, he put a hold on the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a military aid program that was to provide Kiev with $250 million in assistance during the 2019 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and runs to Sept. 30, 2020. The funds are designated for weaponry, training and intelligence support.
Trump has asked his national security advisers to review the commitment. The delay, coming hard on his proposal to readmit Russia to a reconstituted G–8, cannot possibly be read as a coincidence.
There will be other things to watch for in months to come. High among these is Trump’s policy toward the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russian gas fields to terminals in Western Europe, thereby cutting Ukraine out of the loop. Trump, his desire to improve ties with Moscow notwithstanding, has vigorously opposed this project. The Treasury Department has threatened sanctions against European contractors working on it. If Trump is serious about bringing Russia back into the fold, this policy will have to go. This may mean going up against the energy lobby in Washington and Ukraine’s many advocates on Capitol Hill.
To date, U.S. threats to retaliate against construction of Nord Stream 2 have done nothing but irritate Europeans, who have ignored them, while furthering the Continent’s desire to escape Washington’s suffocating embrace. This is precisely the kind of contradiction Macron addressed when he protested that Europeans need to begin acting in their own interests rather than acquiesce as Washington force-marches them on a never-ending anti–Russia crusade.
Macron may prove a pushover, or a would-be Gaullist who fails to make the grade. Or he may have just announced a long-awaited inflection point in trans–Atlantic ties. Either way, he has put highly significant questions on the table. It will be interesting to see what responses they may elicit, not least from the Trump White House.
Modern diplomacy can generally be traced back to the late 19th century and the intercession of professional diplomats in the foreign relations between major and minor powers of the era. International negotiations to resolve problems were primarily handled by diplomats prior to politicians giving their assent to peace treaties and compacts. The Congress of Berlin of 1878 and 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) helped resolve the Russo-Turkish War and Russo-Japanese War, respectively. These early diplomatic efforts would eventually lead to treaties establishing the League of Nations, the International Court of Justice, and the United Nations, in addition to a variety of regional and specialized international agencies. Each of these international agencies brought into being a corps of international diplomats who, for the most part, were committed to hammering out disputes between nations through negotiations and not armed conflict. The lessons of World Wars I and II provided an impetus for nations to commit to dialogue rather than war.
In recent years, the world has seen the rise of anti-diplomacy occasioned by the appearance on the world stage of political brutes, all operating under the color of “populism.” Aristotle defined a tyrant as someone who rules solely for his own benefit and pleasure. The world has seen the steady rise of such tyrants over the past few decades. What is alarming is that tyranny and anti-diplomacy has flourished in erstwhile democratic nations having traditional presidential-legislative and parliamentary systems of government.
Perhaps it is fitting that Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and former Italian prime minister who introduced brutish governance to Europe in the 1990s, has returned to politics after a respite brought about by several indictments and a 2013 conviction for tax fraud. Berlusconi leads his right-wing Forza Italia political party as a member of the European Parliament. Berlusconi’s populism is consistently directed against “Communists.” Berlusconi now directs his ire at the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which recently forced an old Berlusconi political ally – the right-wing Northern League led by Matteo Salvini – out of a coalition government. Salvini and Berlusconi now vie for the support of some 30 percent of the Italian electorate that continues to admire World War II fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Berlusconi is recognized more for his crude comments than his neo-fascist policies. In 2003, Berlusconi suggested in the European Parliament that German Social Democratic MEP Martin Schulz play the role of a “kapo,” a concentration camp inmate who was empowered by the Nazi camp officials to enforce rules and labor details, in a forthcoming film. In another reference to German concentration camps that same year, Berlusconi said, “Mussolini never killed anyone, he just sent dissenters abroad for vacation.” Italian relations with Germany and Israel soured. In 2009, at a G20 Summit photo shoot with Queen Elizabeth II and other world leaders, the queen was irritated by Berlusconi’s loud shouting, prompting her to ask Barack Obama – who Berlusconi previously called “sun-tanned,” – “Why does he have to shout?” In 2010, Berlusconi further irritated Israel by telling a joke about a Jew who hid fellow Jews in his basement for money without telling them World War II was over. In 2011, Berlusconi said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “an unfuckable lard-ass.” Berlusconi also made crude remarks about Finland’s female president, Tarja Halonen and criticized the Spanish government for having too many women in its Cabinet. Berlusconi insulted China when he claimed that under Mao Zedong, the Chinese government “boiled children to fertilize the fields.” It was a clear sign that the age of modern diplomacy had hit rocky shoals and was about to rapidly sink. In 2011, the worst was yet to come.
Berlusconi’s vulgarity and anti-diplomacy would soon be matched by that of Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines. Duterte called the US ambassador in Manila a “bakla,” which means an effeminate man in the Tagalog language. Duterte also called President Obama a “son of a whore” and Pope Francis a “son of a bitch.” After Iceland criticized Duterte’s human rights record, he responded by stating that Icelanders “go about eating ice” and claimed that Iceland had “no policemen.” He added that Iceland had “too much ice, and there is no clear day or night there.” Duterte’s Foreign Secretary, Teodoro Locsin, Jr., who is nominally in charge of the country’s diplomatic corps, emulated Duterte by referring to Europeans as people “who don’t shower at least once daily and [were] likely on cartel payroll.” Asked about the Philippines and the “international community,” Locsin replied, “Fuck the international community. It can be bought.”
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack recently insulted South Pacific leaders concerned about the effects of global climate change on their vulnerable nations when he said of Pacific islanders, “They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit.” Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga reacted by threatening to pull his nation’s citizens out of Australia’s seasonal workers program.
Such undiplomatic outbursts were once rare, even at the height of the Cold War. Dwight Eisenhower entertained visiting world leaders, including West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, French President Charles De Gaulle, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, at his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm, where, in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a point of inviting Eisenhower’s grandchildren to visit Moscow with their grandparents on a future state visit. The era of diplomacy – both quiet and for public consumption – was one of carefully-written communiqués and protocol-conscious photo opportunities. Four letter epithets were never publicly overheard in matters of diplomatic statecraft.
The personalized insult rhetoric was normally consigned to Third World firebrand dictators like Uganda’s Idi Amin, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh. In the current post-diplomacy era, such insults would no longer emanate from well-guarded presidential palaces in Kampala, Harare, or Banjul, but from the White House, Number 10 Downing Street, and Parliament Hill in Canberra. Leaders and their close advisers now sound more like drunken sailors leaving a bar than representatives of nations with long democratic traditions.
Britain’s Boris Johnson has had a non-distinguished history of insulting people, both as Mayor of London, Foreign Secretary, and now as Prime Minister. He once called those in Commonwealth nations, who avidly welcomed the British Queen, “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies” bearing “watermelon smiles.” Johnson also said the people of Papua New Guinea, a Commonwealth member nation, practiced “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.” Johnson also referred to Africa as “that country.” As Foreign Secretary, Johnson was prepared to recite a crude poem, titled the “Road to Mandalay,” written by Rudyard Kipling about colonial era-Burma. Johnson happened to be visiting the most scared Buddhist temple – the Shwedegon Pagoda – in Yangon, Myanmar. Johnson was prepared to utter the following stanza that referred to Buddha: “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud/ Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd” – before the British ambassador stopped him with a warning that it was definitely not appropriate to recite such words in the Buddhist religious shrine.
Johnson also insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who is no shrinking violet when it comes to his own insults – with a crude limerick he wrote:
“There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.”
Not to be outdone, Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were fond of trading insults, with each calling the other a “terrorist.” Erdogan also insulted Australia, stating that “anti-Muslim Australians” in Turkey would return to Australia in coffins like their grandfathers, a reference to the World War I Gallipoli, Turkey invasion that saw thousands of Australian soldiers killed in battle.
Johnson’s ideological and vulgar doppelganger in Washington, Donald Trump, has similarly disparaged Africa and Africans by calling their nations “shithole countries.” At a Republican Party fundraiser in the millionaire enclave of The Hamptons on Long Island, Trump mimicked South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by speaking in a mock Asian accent. Trump’s insults of Mexicans resulted in then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceling a visit to Washington in 2017.
Prior to his love affair with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump referred to him as “little rocket man.” Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau was called “very dishonest and weak” after Trump stormed out of the 2018 G-7 summit in Quebec. Trump called Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as “nasty,” after she rejected as “absurd” Trump’s proposal to buy Greenland from Denmark. Trump also insulted Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II by canceling, at the last minute, a state visit to Denmark, leaving the Danes with pre-purchased state dinner food and drink. Trump insulted Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven after the prime minister informed Trump that he had no power to release from jail a fourth-rate US rapper named A$AP Rocky who was charged with the assault of a man on a Stockholm street.
Others who have fallen victim to Trump’s personal insults include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, former British Prime Minister Theresa May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (who had to arrange for his own transportation to downtown Washington, DC after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia for a visit to the White House),Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (whose only invitation to meet with Trump was to be at an abruptly-canceled “secret” meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David in Maryland during the same week that marks the 9/11 attack). There have been others similarly insulted.
The schoolyard antics of Trump and Johnson are matched by Brazil’s Adolf Hitler-loving President Jair Bolsonaro. After President Macron criticized Bolsonaro’s handling of Amazon rainforest arson-inducted fires, Bolsonaro criticized the age of Macron’s wife, Brigitte, who is 66, as compared to Bolsonaro’s wife, who is 37. Macron responded, “I think that Brazilians, who are a great people, will probably be ashamed to see this behavior.” In July of this year, Bolsonaro canceled a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to get a haircut.
After United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet criticized police abuse and the killing of Amazon indigenous tribal leaders in Brazil, Bolsonaro replied, “While [Bachelet] says that Brazil is losing democratic space, she forgets that her country is not Cuba thanks only to those who had the courage to put a stop on the left-wing in 1973,” a reference to the 1973 military coup that ousted Chile’s democratically-elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. Bolsonaro added insult to injury by praising the Chilean junta’s execution of Bachelet’s father, Air Force Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet. Bolsonaro bragged that “among the communists during that era was her [Bachelet’s] brigadier father.” Bolsonaro’s Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, piled on, stating that: “What I see in the newspapers is that he [Bolsonaro] insulted [Michelle] Bachelet, or that he called Macron’s wife ugly . . . He did say that and it’s true – the woman is indeed ugly.”
Too many diplomats, from UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and UN Middle East mediator Count Folke Bernadotte to Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, US ambassador to Cyprus Rodger Davies, and UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson, have died in diplomatic service in furtherance of peace to allow low-class ruffians and gangsters to hijack modern diplomacy for their own greedy and extremist purposes.
John Bolton was only national security adviser of the United States for less than18 months but it felt as if he had been there forever. And we are not – alas – done with him yet.
The first thing to be said about Bolton’s fall is that it was entirely consistent with his lifelong pattern. He went reluctantly and departed with all the grace of a cockroach. He showed no loyalty or even courtesy to the president who raised him from being an aged, deserved has-been to briefly being one of the most powerful men on the planet. He could never be graceful or grateful, never be a gentleman. He could never simply shut up.
John Bolton was never a genius: Though like all his neoconservative friends he imagined himself to be. It was always the childish fantasy of a creepy little psychopath who never grew up, always a lie.
For decades, the cockroaches and spiders in the most obscure recesses of all the conservative, libertarian and liberal-progressive think tanks sprinkled across Washington like smallpox scabs spoke with awe of Bolton’s brilliant brain, his remorseless work ethic and his capacious memory. They were only exposing their own even greater mediocrity.
For Bolton always lacked any form of judgment, wisdom, discernment or restraint. He had a simplistic rigid mind that never learned any anything good that was new and never forget everything that was old and vile.
As recently as July, he was lauded at a farcical so-called “national conservative” conference outside Washington as a champion of restraint and peace in foreign policy. Josef Goebbels could not have come up with a more outrageous and ludicrous lie. It was like congratulating Jeffrey Epstein on his chastity and respect for virgins.
Bolton was lauded by unending generations of neocon whores in the American media for his breadth of vision as if he actually understood the world. In fact the only thing he ever understood – and knew how to play – was the media and think tank gossip games inside the Washington Beltway.
John Bolton claimed to defend the national security of the United States: Another lie. As usual in the Infernal Groves of the National Capital, everything is the opposite of what it is presented as being. In fact, he worked endlessly to put his country at unprecedented risk.
To the very end, he sought to keep American soldiers dying in their thousands in an unending war in Afghanistan that he worked so hard with his neocon soulmates to unleash under their brainless puppet George W. Bush. Indeed, it seems to have been his efforts to (at least initially successfully) derail promising peace talks in Qatar between the Trump administration and the Taliban that finally led his longsuffering president to pull the plug on him.
John Bolton was never elected to and for anything. Even he seemed to realize that he inspired as much human trust as a cobra. But shameless, fawning flattery he could do and it won him diplomatic and policymaking entrees to one Republican administration after another.
Every one of his policies failed, cost untold hundreds of billions of dollars or took hundreds of thousands of lives. It never seemed to matter. He could count on the indulgent hosts and producers of Fox News to wheel him out endlessly, again and again to trot out the same tired old lies masquerading as wisdom and truth.
No one was ever allowed to call him out on it on national television to his face. He would never allow it. Like so many armchair warriors, he had been a draft dodger and was always a bully and a coward.
President Trump, to his genuine credit was a real sportsman and athlete. He played golf well. All his life he has revered sporting champions and war heroes. That may be sneered at childish, but it is vastly preferable to the fraudulent intellectual arrogance of the neocons none of whom have ever seen a shot fired in anger or even a gun pointed in their direction by a stranger with a scowl on his face.
Bolton liked to think of himself as a massive, manly Champion of Freedom: Instead he was always Igor, the hunchback dwarf who capers bizarrely beside Dr. Frankenstein or Dracula, the real men of power eager to bask in their reflected might.
But as Igor, he was always there: His spells of real power and influence spanned a massive three and a half decades. As early as the first Reagan administration from 1981 to 1985, he was already unleashing civil war, massacres and even genocide on the women and children of Central America. It was, really all that he was ever good at.
Bolton was also a central figure in the destruction of Iraq in 2003. He cheered on the attempt to destroy Syria in 2011. He solemnly and thoughtfully endorsed the destruction of genuine democratic and constitutional government in Ukraine in the Maidan coup of 2011. When it came to unleashing the Dogs of War, he was relentless and remorseless to the end.
Nor should we celebrate prematurely that we have seen the last of him yet: A future President Mike Pence or Nikki Haley is perfectly capable of making John Bolton secretary of defense, secretary of state or national security adviser for a second time.
And do not rule out him appearing magically reinvented as a figure of supposed wisdom and restraint at the side of a future President Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. Compared to the fantastic, terrible and bizarre realities of Washington, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is a sober documentary.
John Bolton never saw a nuclear arms control treaty he did not hate. He was and is willfully blind to the dangers of Armageddon.
Perhaps the creators of “Team America: World Police” were right in their prophetic insight, except the secret cockroach from Outer Space masquerading as a human being and seeking to destroy the human race is not the ruler of North Korea, but Bolton, the “great” neoconservative “thinker” and “statesman.”
Apply Occam’s razor – and that is the hypothesis which most elegantly and fully fits and explains the facts. Who but a cockroach could possibly want thermonuclear war? Who but a cockroach – and John Bolton?
Chatter surrounding a potential exit for the uberhawk national security advisor has reached a fever pitch.
For a year-and-a-half, John Bolton has been Donald Trump’s bad cop.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the president.
Flashback to last Christmas, when Trump made a surprise trip to U.S. troops in Iraq after some prodding from the media. Holding court with the press, the president said: “By the way John and I agree on all of this.” This? The president had just announced a shock troop pullout in Syria—a pullback that the president’s NSA would eventually help smother in bureaucratic backrooms.
“I think John will say that we went through numerous—extension, extension, extension—John?” the president asked his top national security aide, characteristically, in front of the press. “And John’s…pretty strong on the subject. He’s pretty strong, he’s pretty hawkish on everything having to do with the military.”
Though President Trump is the commander-in-chief most skeptical of America’s role abroad in at least a generation, the former Manhattan maven has always been equally concerned about not appearing “weak.” Trump’s public handwringing with an official his junior has always made for a circus show.
The two have never been close, according to my interviews with administration officials current and former, and those who have known both men for years. So why, exactly, does the former George W. Bush U.N. ambassador sit in the chair of Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft for this White House? And might his days in that role be numbered?
No major politician, not even Barack Obama, excoriated the Iraq war more fiercely than did Trump during the primaries. He did this in front of a scion of the house of Bush and in the deep red state of South Carolina. He nevertheless went on to win that primary, the Republican nomination and the presidency on that antiwar message.
And so, to see Bolton ascend to the commanding heights of the Trump White House shocked many from the time it was first rumored. “I shudder to think what would happen if we had a failed presidency,” Scott McConnell, TAC’s founding editor, said in late 2016 at our foreign policy conference, held, opportunely, during the presidential transition. “I mean, John Bolton?”
At the time, Bolton was a candidate for secretary of state, a consideration scuttled in no small part because of the opposition of Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. As McConnell wrote in November of that year: “Most of the upper-middle-level officials who plotted the Iraq War have retreated quietly into private life, but Bolton has kept their flame alive.” Bolton had already been passed over for NSA, losing out early to the doomed Michael Flynn. Rex Tillerson beat him for secretary of state. Bolton was then passed over for the role of Tillerson’s deputy. When Flynn flamed out of the White House the following February, Trump chose a general he didn’t know at all, H.R. McMaster, to replace him.
Bolton had been trying to make a comeback since late 2006, after failing to hold his job as U.N. ambassador (he had only been a recess appointment). His landing spots including a Fox News contributorship and a post at the vaunted American Enterprise Institute. Even in the early days of the Trump administration, Bolton was around, and accessible. I remember seeing him multiple times in Washington’s Connecticut Avenue corridor, decked out in the seersucker he notoriously favors during the summer months. Paired with the familiar mustache, the man is the Mark Twain of regime change.
But Bolton coupled the Fox and AEI sinecures with gnarlier associations—for one, the Gatestone Institute, a, let’s say Islam-hostile outfit, associated with the secretive, influential Mercer billionaires. He also struck a ferocious alliance with the Center for Security Policy, helmed by the infamous Frank Gaffney, and gave paid remarks to the National Council for the Resistance of Iran, the lynchpin organization of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, or MEK. The latter two associations have imbued the spirit of this White House, with Gaffney now one of the most underrated power players in Washington, and the MEK’s “peaceful” regime change mantra all but the official line of the administration.
More than any of these gigs, Bolton benefited from two associations that greased the wheels for his joining the Trump administration.
The first was Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist. If you want to understand the administration’s Iran policy under Bolton to date, look no further than a piece by the then-retired diplomat in conservative mainstay National Review in August 2017, days after Bannon’s departure from the White House: “How to Get Out of the Iran Deal.” Bolton wrote the piece at Bannon’s urging. Even out of the administration, the former Breitbart honcho was an influential figure.
“We must explain the grave threat to the U.S. and our allies, particularly Israel,” said Bolton. “The [Iran Deal’s] vague and ambiguous wording; its manifest imbalance in Iran’s direction; Iran’s significant violations; and its continued, indeed, increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally demonstrate convincingly that [the Iran deal] is not in the national-security interests of the United States.”
Then Bolton, as I documented, embarked on a campaign of a media saturation to make a TV-happy president proud. By May Day the next year, he would have a job, a big one, and one that Senator Paul couldn’t deny him: national security advisor. That wasn’t the whole story, of course. Bolton’s ace in the hole was Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who has helped drive Trump’s Israel policy. If Trump finally moves against Bolton, it will likely be because Adelson failed to strenuously object.
So will Trump finally do it? Other than White House chief of staff, a position Mick Mulvaney has filled in an acting capacity for the entire calendar year, national security advisor is the easiest, most senior role to change horses.
A bombshell Washington Post story lays out the dire truth: Bolton is so distrusted on the president’s central prerogatives, for instance Afghanistan, that he’s not even allowed to see sensitive plans unsupervised.
Bolton has also come into conflict with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to three senior State Department officials. Pompeo is the consummate politician. Though an inveterate hawk, the putative Trump successor does not want to be the Paul Wolfowitz of the Iran war. Bolton is a bureaucratic arsonist, agnostic on the necessity of two of the institutions he served in—Foggy Bottom and the United Nations. Pompeo, say those around him, is keen to be beloved, or at least tolerated, by career officials in his department, in contrast with Bolton and even Tillerson.
The real danger Bolton poses is to the twin gambit Trump hopes to pull off ahead of, perhaps just ahead of, next November—a detente deal with China to calm the markets and ending the war in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the president announced a scuttled meeting with the Taliban at Camp David, which would have been an historic, stunning summit. Bolton was reportedly instrumental in quashing the meet. Still, there is a lot of time between now and next autumn, and the cancellation is likely the latest iteration of the president’s showman diplomacy.
Ending America’s longest war would be a welcome rebuttal to Democrats who will, day in and day out, charge that Trump is a fraud. But to do so, he will likely need a national security advisor more in sync with the vision. Among them: Tucker Carlson favorite Douglas Macgregor, Stephen Biegun, the runner-up previously, or the hawkish, but relatively pragmatic retired General Jack Keane.
Bolton seems to be following the well-worn trajectory of dumped Trump deputies. Jeff Sessions, a proto-Trump and the first senator to endorse the mogul, became attorney general and ideological incubator of the new Right’s agenda only to become persona non grata in the administration. The formal execution came later. Bannon followed a less dramatic, but no less explosive ebb and flow. James Mattis walked on water until he didn’t.
And Bolton appeared the leading light of a neoconservative revival, of sorts, until he didn’t.
Recently, the Japanese government announced that they will be shutting down the remaining 7 nuclear reactors at the Daiichi plant that was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011. This will bring the total number of nuclear reactors down to 33 (compared to 54 in 2011), only 7 of which are in active operation at any given time. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a good thing.
Since the tsunami hit on April 11, 2011 killing 18 000 civilians, there has been a tendency to refer to the event falsely as “Japan’s nuclear crisis”. The fear that has spread across the world resulted in one of the most devastating attacks on sovereign nations which could have only been executed had we done this to ourselves.
Japan – a nation which became the world’s 3rd largest economy due largely to its commitment to advanced scientific and technological progress and early embrace of nuclear power, has lost much of the energy self-sufficiency it once enjoyed when 25% of its electricity came from nuclear which today has fallen to 3%. Since the shutdown Japan has been forced to massively increase its imports of oil, natural gas and coal bringing in 9 million barrels/day and building 45 new coal plants. This dependency has not only subject it to the whims of the speculative markets, but also to the uncertain stability of the Middle East oil production.
Due to the hysteria unleashed in the wake of Fukushima, Germany was quick to follow the fear wave and declared that its full exit from nuclear by 2022 causing it to vastly increase its imports of fossil fuel from Russia, the Netherlands and USA (and ironically nuclear energy imports from France whose use of nuclear amounts to 70% of its energy basket). Once shut down in 2022, Germany will lose 22GW (or 11% of total capacity).
The fact is that to this day, not one Fukushima death is traceable to radiation exposure. While a meltdown did strike three of the ten reactors in the Daiichi complex, those which suffered damages used outdated technology and cut corners in safety standards such that no coolants were available once electricity was lost after the 8.9 earthquake struck. Those deaths which did occur in the aftermath, had more to do with heart attacks caused by the vast fear-driven evacuation of 160 000 citizens from towns across the coast of Japan- many of which remain abandoned to this day as 100 000 are still considered “nuclear refugees”. After extensive testing, the WHO found radiation levels of evacuees to be undetectable… a fact which has done little to reverse the deeply embedded fears within the Japanese zeitgeist.
The Positive Effects of Low Dose Radiation
Just to put it into perspective, nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s put over 100 times the radioactive waste into the atmosphere and oceans than what was released in Fukushima. In Utah, radiation in the 1950s and 1960s were also well over 100 times greater than the worst of Fukushima due to atomic bomb testing, but the state has enjoyed the lowest rates of cancer across America for over 60 years. Also of note, scientists studying A-Bomb survivors who received ionizing radiation in WWII were surprised to discover abnormally long life spans and low rates of cancer.
Today, in spite of the craze to ban Japanese tuna and other seafood from western markets for years, the actual radiation levels are far below the 1200 becquerel limit set by FDA standards and one would get larger doses of radiation by eating a banana or flying in an airplane. Believe it or not, but the Potassium-40 of an average banana releases 3000 beta decays/second and is deemed very good for living tissue and is known as “Low Dose Radiation” which is found in all bio-organic life and natural background radiation from food, the soil and sky.
The Fallacy of Decarbonisation
For those in Japan and Germany celebrating that the exit from nuclear is providing an opportunity to embrace solar and wind energy, a sad slap of reality has also occurred. Not only have energy costs skyrocketed wherever green energies been built, but the toxic waste caused by those photovoltaic cells far outpaces anything produced by the dirtiest nuclear reactor.
In 2017, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment issued the warning that by 2040, Japan would accumulate over 800 000 tons of solar panel waste with no means of disposal- which is 300 times greater than nuclear power. Solar panels have life expectancies of 25 years, after which their disposal becomes nearly impossible as they contain similar heavy metals and toxins as is found in computers and cell phones. They also contain vast toxic metals such as lead and carcinogens such as cadmium.
Disproving the very definition of “renewable energy”, wind mills (which are as tall as a Boing 747) cannot produce the energy density to melt the steel and produce the material needed to build a windmill.
Germany’s celebrated de-carbonisation scheme has resulted in a total failure with no carbon reduction after a 10 year effort, sky rocketing energy prices and a vast destruction of ecosystems. The think tank Frontier Center recently wrote of Germany’s energy debacle:
“Construction of solar and wind “farms” has already caused massive devastation to Germany’s wildlife habitats, farmlands, ancient forests and historic villages. Even today, the northern part of Germany looks like a single enormous wind farm. Multiplying today’s wind power capacity by a factor 10 or 15 means a 200 meter high (650 foot tall) turbine must be installed every 1.5 km (every mile) across the entire country, within cities, on land, on mountains and in water.”
Radioactivity is Natural!
The idea that radiation is deadly has been spread by a Malthusian lobby which has pushed the absurd notion that ALL doses of radiation are deadly under the theory of the Linear No-Threashold Model (LNT) which was adopted as a standard of medicine in 1959. This LNT hypothesis asserts without evidence that if a lot of radiation will kill you 100% of the time, a fraction of that dose will kill you a fraction of the time… which is equivalent to saying that if drinking 100 liters of water will kill you 100% of the time, drinking 1 liter of water will kill you 1% of the time.
Nicholas Fisher, a nuclear expert at Stony Brook University in New York responded to the fear mongering by reminding his readers that “we live on a radioactive planet in a radioactive universe. All life has evolved in the presence of natural radioactivity.”
Without that natural radiation emitted by stars, supernova, earth’s soil, cosmic radiation etc, then our very cellular functions break down and we get sick. This was demonstrated in tests conducted on lab rats in the 1990s which were isolated from natural background radiation, including in their food. People with arthritis and cancers have been recorded for generations to receive great benefits by soaking their bodies in radiation-rich mineral waters in Ukraine or the radioactive black soil beaches of Brazil proving that low dose radiation is beneficial for life. Another surprising 2010 study proving the benefits of radiation followed 250 000 nuclear workers found a much lower rate of cancer mortality relative to control groups.
Fear of radiation is a fraud pushed by a Malthusian lobby whose goal has been to dismantle the sovereign nation state by getting its victims to undermine their own basis of existence. This is the realization of the Trilateral Commission policy announced by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker who called for a “controlled disintegration” of industrial civilization in 1978. This is the program of Maurice Strong as he decapitated Canada’s nuclear program in the 1990s and called for the collapse of industrial civilization. This is the policy which is at the heart of the Green New Deal being spread by London bankers like Mark Carney and Prince Charles which is really just another name for de-population.
This is the program which China and Russia have rejected under the emerging global framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. China is planning to triple its nuclear sector by 2032 to power its vast growth program and Russia’s ambitious nuclear energy program is tied directly to Putin’s recent decision to challenge the Liberal Malthusian order by name. Any nation committed to raising the living standards and productive powers of its people cannot tolerate a de-carbonization or de-nuclearization plan for even a minute.