All posts by Alexander Rubinstein

Why the State Department Let a Terrorist Cult Gather on its Doorstep

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Watching the Trump administration’s push for war with Iran, news consumers may find it hard to be surprised by the lengths the US government is willing to go to in order to instigate war — or regime change at the very least — against the Islamic Republic. US citizens have been treated to lengthy lectures by the mainstream media, which laments the loss of an unmanned drone and a targeted Japanese oil tanker whose owner disputes Washington’s version of events.

Yet, it isn’t the Trump administration that solidified the US’s relationship with its strangest bedfellow in the battle against the Iranian government. That distinction goes to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton declassified the Mojahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK) as a terrorist organization in 2012. The Guardian described the move as a result of a “multimillion-dollar campaign.”
The campaign to bury the MEK’s bloody history of bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians and thousands of civilians, and to portray it as a loyal US ally against the Islamic government in Tehran, has seen large sums of money directed at three principal targets: members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and influential former officials.”
The outlet continued:
Three top Washington lobby firms — DLA Piper; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and DiGenova & Toensing — have been paid a total of nearly $1.5 million over the past year to press the US administration and legislators to support the delisting of the MEK and protection for its members in camps in Iraq.

Two other lobby groups were hired for much smaller amounts. The firms employed former members of Congress to press their ex-colleagues on Capitol Hill to back the unbanning of the MEK.”
Today, years after the group was removed from Washington’s terror list, it enjoys even more access to the halls of power, despite its dismal levels of approval in Iran, the country it claims to represent.

“The MEK has incredible influence in the White House and on the Hill. I frequently see them lobbying members of Congress and attending hearings with matching yellow jackets that say ‘Iranians support regime change,’ Lily Tajaddini, Iran Coordinator at CodePink, told MintPress News.

The group claims to want democracy, but it is abundantly clear that their ideal leader for the future of Iran is Maryam Rajavi, the woman who leads their cult. The contradiction was laid bare last week at a protest held by the group in Washington with chants of “Democracy and freedom, with Maryam Rajavi.”

A recent investigation by The Intercept revealed that the White House used an article by one Heshmat Alavi to justify its illegal withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). The only problem is that Alavi “is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and has never been a real person {emphasis added),” according to one former member of the cult, whose story was corroborated by other former members.

As LobeLog reported:
This new scandal…involves a wide political and media class that has become so besotted with an unrealistic anti-Iran agenda that it has left the door open to an unchecked, unverified flow of MEK propaganda throughout American politics and the media. Thanks to these regime-change advocates, a foreign group funded by a foreign government has easily manufactured a false narrative aimed at sending American soldiers to die in a war with Iran that is against US national interests.”
That foreign government is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Even the US government’s own Voice of America outlet reports:
Observers have long been puzzled about how the group [MEK] managed to shell out $25,000 speaker fees to the likes of [former Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich, [former Governor of New Mexico and US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill] Richardson, [former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard] Dean, former New York Mayor [and President Trump’s lawyer] Rudy Giuliani and others, given its small basis of support within the Iranian diaspora. It’s entirely possible that the Saudis have funded the MEK for years.”
And there is a consensus that Saudi Arabia is financing the group across the axis, with Russia’s SputnikNews reporting:
A former MEK member who oversaw the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of materials explained how the group has stayed financially afloat.

Massoud Khodabandeh explained that three tons of solid gold, a minimum of four suitcases of customized Rolex watches, and fabric that had been used to cover the Muslim holy site of Kaaba in Mecca were among the commodities shipped from Saudi Arabia to MEK operatives in Baghdad as part of the scheme.”
As MintPress News previously reported:
Testimony from a former high-ranking official from the Iranian militant opposition group…has confirmed that the group had been covertly financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For decades, the Gulf Kingdom…contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in gold and other valuables.”
Several fronts and bigtime backers

The MEK operates through several fronts, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), inter alia.

The former is a “little-known advocacy group determined to install itself as the new government of Iran,” which “continues to build a powerful influence network in Washington and beyond,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The latter is a US-based lobbying group.

NCRI has “been hosting opulent events at the National Press Club and elsewhere, publicizing itself through national and international media, and meeting with dozens of current and former government officials, all with the end goal of toppling the current Iranian government and rising to power in its place,” the watchdog reports. CRP adds:

“The [C]ouncil of [R]esistance either submitted or was quoted in 51 media pieces between December 2018 and May 2019, according to FARA [law requiring registration of foreign lobbyists] filings.”

Meanwhile, some of the biggest names in American politics openly back the group. The ultra-hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton, who has advocated for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, has spoken at their events. National Security Advisor John Bolton promised the group at its 2017 conference in Albania that “before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran.” Richardson, Gingrich and Guiliani also gave speeches there.
Among other prominent supporters of the group: former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ); retired General and former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army Jack Keane; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); Sen. John Boozman (R-AR); Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC); Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO); Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA); Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA); and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, among many, many more.

Chaos at the State Department

On Friday, some 500 MEK members demonstrated in front of the State Department building in Washington, equipped with stages, two large-screen TVs, and three confetti cannons. In between speeches, demonstrators chanted “Change, change, change / Regime change in Iran!”

They also chanted their support for MEK leader Maryam Rajavi — who is banned from entering the United Kingdom, yet bills herself as a progressive reformer despite her group’s terrorist past. “Rajavi yes / Mullahs no / They are terrorists, they must go!” MEK members chanted.

According to organizers, the MEK members flew in from “40 different states.”

One speaker opened the rally by proclaiming:
In one voice, we declare that the only solution is for the Iranian people to overthrow this regime and create a democratic nation. Our rally is timely, our message is clear. Thousands of Iranians are here to say it loud: ‘We call on the United States to support the Iranian uprisings for regime change.’”
He went on to call for more sanctions and for the designation of Iranian intelligence agencies as terrorist groups. The speaker continued:
With this comes the recognition of an alternative to the Iranian regime. Misses Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI have demonstrated leadership, a significant network, and the organizational capabilities to free Iran. And we support Misses Rajavi and her 10-point plan for a free, democratic, and non-nuclear Iran.

Let’s make sure that we are heard and on social media with the following hashtags: #MarchForRegimeChangeByIranians, #IStandWithMaryamRajavi, and #FreeIran.”
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Some people who spoke were not included on the list of speakers, including representatives McClintock and Sherman. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX) also had statements read to the MEK crowd. Later, former US Ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli also spoke.

A handful of counter demonstrators with the anti-war women’s group CodePink showed up to rally against the MEK group. Tajaddini had organized the protest but stayed at a distance, noting:
They target me because I am Iranian. They have yelled sexist slurs at me and make false claims that I am paid by the regime inside of Iran solely because I do not support sanctions or war against Iran.”
Days prior, CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin had confronted MEK members as they attempted to lobby Congress. On Friday, MEK had pictures on hand of Benjamin meeting with Iranian officials during her participation in peace delegations printed out in an effort to intimidate her. They surrounded her, pushed her, and called her a terrorist.

Immediately after the State Department security personnel escorted Benjamin from the mob, she told MintPress News:
This is an example of the mentality among these people. They have no respect for democracy.

If it weren’t for the police, they would be hitting us and assaulting like they have done many times. They are a cult and a former terrorist group. They have been legitimized with the support of John Bolton and other people in the administration. They’re hated inside Iran.”
One of the MEK members who was captured on video being pushed away by police for being too aggressive towards Benjamin, told MintPress News that Benjamin and the other members of CodePink “have got money from the Iranian agent to participate here.” The accusation of spying for or being on the payroll of Iran is included in most public testimony of those targeted by the group. The MEK member continued:
We want just change of the regime, nothing more, but they are supporting the Iranian terrorist regime.

I hope that the Iranian terrorist regime [is] overthrown and the people can choose anybody they want to. For example, if they elect Maryam Rajavi.”
Maryam Rajavi is the de-facto leader of the MEK since her husband mysteriously disappeared. Rajavi addressed the protest remotely, on two occasions reminding her supporters that the US is their ally and accusing the Iranian government of having it backwards. She congratulated MEK members for their growing support in Washington and shared her vision of opening up markets in Iran. Despite originally billing itself as a Marxist organization, MEK is now staunchly capitalist — perhaps a necessary condition for alliance with the US According to the group:
The council accepts national capitalism and the bazaar [marketplace], private ownership and enterprise, as well as private investment.”
But it isn’t only about the benjamins, CodePink’s Tajaddini argues:
Many members in Congress and the White House have strong ties to the Israeli and Saudi lobby groups [that] support sanctions and a war with Iran. They also support the MEK because they are then able to say that Iranians support the US-led regime change.”
The Congressional Cult Caucus

Gov. Richardson opened his speech with red meat for the MEK: “We need a new regime. That regime is you, the MEK.” Richardson concluded by leading a chant of “M-E-K!”

Richardson’s interest in the outcome of United States policy in the Middle East isn’t just confined to his support for the MEK, for which he is rewarded generously. He is also involved in a US oil project in the Syrian Golan Heights, which are illegally occupied by Israel, via a company called Genie Energy Ltd. Given the transnational nature of pipelines, Genie Energy stands to benefit from both regime change in Syria and Iran. Other figures on the company’s advisory board include former Vice President Dick Cheney, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, investment banker Jacob Rothschild and former CIA Director James Woosley.

Former Sen. Robert Torricelli, who helped lobby the Clinton state department to drop the MEK from its terrorist list, cheered Rajavi’s sacrifices for the movement.

Rep. Brad Sherman, Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, assured the crowd that the Iranian government “may be on its last leg.” He said that he was sure that Iran’s military was watching the protest remotely. “So Rouhani, this is the future of Iran. Watch it on your video streams,” he said.

Rep. Tom McClintock told the crowd that “the gang of thugs that have appointed themselves the rulers of Iran — their claim on power is illegitimate and the time to topple them is approaching.”

Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, said Iran is “choking” on US sanctions and condemned Iran for its alleged support of Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria. He told the MEK to “keep up your fight, keep up your resistance.”

Sharing a bit of what appears to be insider knowledge with the cultists, the general told them “the United States will lead a coalition of nations to keep the shipping lanes open in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. That will unfold in the days ahead.”

Following the rally, the MEK marched to the White House, again calling for regime change.
MEKing history

Virtually every investigation into the so-called “People’s Mujahedeen” — whether by think tanks, NGOs, or the media — concludes that their support inside of Iran is virtually non-existent. The group participated in the revolution against the Shah but was not invited to the table as a new government was being formed. And so they rebelled, engaging in a campaign of terror marked with assassination attempts against Iranian, US and Jordanian officials. They bombed many businesses. Three US military officials were killed; as were three contractors, and that was prior to the revolution. Afterwards, MEK attacks would see as many as 70 high-ranking officials from other political parties killed. Suicide attacks and assassinations continued.

Eventually, the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and was responsible for scores of Iranian casualties. This is largely credited as the reason the group is so widely despised in Iran.

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In 1989, Maryam and Masoud Rajavi made divorce compulsory to advance the so-called “ideological revolution.” In 1992, the group conducted “near-simultaneous” raids on Iranian embassies in 13 countries. By August 2002, the group started holding press conferences in Washington highlighting the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The next year, it bombed a UN compound in Iraq, causing the international body to vacate the country.

The RAND Corporation, a US government-funded militarist think tank, was asked by a Marine Corps major-general to provide a “rigorous analysis” of the group. The 133-page report states:
The MeK naturally sought out Iranian dissidents, but it also approached Iranian economic migrants in such countries as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates with false promises of employment, land, aid in applying for asylum in Western countries, and even marriage, to attract them to Iraq. Relatives of members were given free trips to visit the MeK’s camps. Most of these ‘recruits’ were brought into Iraq illegally and then required to hand over their identity documents for ‘safekeeping.’ Thus, they were effectively trapped.

During the more than four decades since its founding, the MeK has become increasingly adept at crafting and promoting its image as a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants, both secular and religious. This profile has been especially effective in the United States and Europe, where, until recently, the MeK’s extensive fundraising activities have been very successful.”
In the internet era, the cult has managed to keep up with the times. A Channel 4 report found one defector whose job it was to run pro-MEK sockpuppet accounts pretending to be Iranian.

In a possible testament to the group’s effectiveness at manipulating narratives, one media outlet has released what it says is leaked audio of the head of MEK’s cyber unit speaking to a US-based supporter. “We did our best to blame the [Iranian] regime for the [oil tanker] blasts. The Saudis have called Sister Maryam [Rajavi’s] office to follow up on the results,” the MEK official tells him.
One leading NGO — Human Rights Watch — did even more digging into the cultish behavior of the group. It interviewed a number of former members, uncovering one case in which a man was “held in solitary confinement for eight-and-a-half years” for wanting to leave. Two people were killed in interrogations.
The level of devotion expected of members was [on] stark display in 2003 when the French police arrested Maryam Rajavi in Paris. In protest, ten MKO members and sympathizers set themselves on fire in various European cities; two of them subsequently died.”
The rights group also reported “mass divorces” as a result of leadership’s “ideological revolution.” MEK told members it would enhance their “capacity for struggle.” Celibacy is likewise mandatory.
Human rights abuses carried out by [MEK] leaders against dissident members ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture.”
Today, the MEK is constructing a massive compound in Tirana, Albania. A former head of Albanian military intelligence told Channel 4 he thought they were trying to build “a state within a state.”

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An aerial shot of the sprawling MEK compound in Tirana, Albania.

The outlet reported that Albania agreed to allow the camp to be set up in order to earn itself additional support from the United States. The report contains the story of one couple from Canada who say their daughter was kidnapped 20 years ago by the group and who traveled to Albania to find her. The MEK social-media troll said there was “forced public confession about any thoughts about sex,” every night. Another said he was tortured for 45 days. The journalist behind the report was repeatedly harassed by MEK and its Albanian private security on camera.

A separate report, in LobeLog, states:
“One journalist confessed to me he felt afraid in his own country when the MEK, accompanied by hired armed Albanian security personnel, followed him. In a public space, they photographed him and made verbal threats, demanding that he hand over his phone on which he had earlier filmed activity outside the MEK camp gate.”
These horrifying anecdotes are apparently of little concern to former Sen. Torricelli, who lobbied to have the group removed from the US terrorist list. “To those of you in Tirana, thank you for being who you are: the point of the spear in the effort for Iranian freedom,” he told the MEK crowd in D.C. on Friday.

Media downplay the MEK

It appears that the horror stories from MEK compounds from Europe to the Middle East are also of little concern to the D.C. press corps. Multiple journalists tweeted about the events in manners clearly designed to manufacture a pro-war consensus. Reuters’ White House reporter Steve Holland and Eamon Javers, Washington correspondent for CNBC, offered no context on the group, thereby presenting the pro-regime change cultists as ordinary, concerned, Iranian-Americans.
NBC News White House Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell called the group “pro-democracy protesters seeking Iran regime change.” She eventually deleted the tweet without offering an explanation.

But despite the correspondent’s likely realization of the complete failure in her characterization, the report from NBC News that aired on its local affiliate made no mention of the MEK, yet somehow managed to regurgitate MEK’s inflated claim that it had “thousands” of protesters who attended, when it was clearly far less. The report even concluded with an unsourced claim:
I am told this march and rally was seen in Iran because of live coverage streamed over the internet. Reporting from the White House, Chris Gordon, News 4.”
The report was also tilted “US-Iran Tensions Trigger Protests in DC.” The headline gives the impression that the MEK was protesting in response to recent escalations, when its protest had in fact been long planned to mark the anniversary of a major protest held by the group in Tehran decades ago.

But when CodePink decided to have its own rally out in front of the White House — a feat organized in just three days — calling for an end to sanctions on Sunday, the media virtually ignored it save for a handful of independent reporters.

The MEK’s influence operation in the United States is monied and arguably successful. The cult has the backing of a number of Trump administration officials and allies, current and former members of Congress, and the establishment media. As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows. When it comes to the overthrow of a sovereign foreign government, it seems they are made even with those who are not allowed to keep bedfellows.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Massive Embezzlement Scandal Threatens Juan Guaido’s Political Future

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The political party of Juan Guaido — Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) — was never all that popular to begin with. The sixth largest political party in Venezuela, Popular Will is heavily financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Now, a recently exposed embezzlement scandal in Colombia risks to further alienate the party from the Venezuelan people.

What was supposed to be Guaido’s watershed moment has instead turned out to be a public-relations failure far worse than his quickly quelled attempted military coup, which MintPress News reported caused even the New York Times to describe Guaido as “deflated.”

What happened in Colombia appears to be so damning that not only is the Colombian intelligence service leaking documents exposing wrongdoing by Popular Will representatives appointed by Guaido, but the Organization of American States (OAS) — which is typically just as pro-opposition as the Colombian government — has called for an investigation.

In a tweet issued June 14 at 10:47 p.m. Venezuela time, Guaido called on his ambassador to Colombia — whom he had shut out of the aid event — to formally request an investigation by Colombian authorities, whose already-existing investigation is the reason the story came out in the first place. That was more than four hours after Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro called for an investigation that would clarify the “serious charges,” identify those responsible and effectuate accountability.

But Guaido had already been well aware of the charges, having dismissed his appointees who appear to be ringleaders of the embezzlement scheme. According to the report, he was contacted by the journalist who exposed the scandal 30 days before the story was published.

What happened in Cúcuta isn’t staying in Cúcuta

There’s barely a peep about the scandal in the Western press. A Google News search for “Juan Guaido scandal” and “Popular Will scandal” turned up nothing of relevance at the time of this article’s writing. But on Latin America social media, everyone is buzzing about it. American journalist Dan Cohen appears to be the first to highlight the scandal to an English-speaking audience.

It started with a request from Juan Guaido to billionaire investor and regime-change enthusiast Richard Branson.
The stated purpose of the concert was to help raise funds for humanitarian aid and spotlight the economic crisis. At least that’s how it was billed to Americans. To Venezuela’s upper class, it was touted as the “trendiest concert of the decade.”

It was to be a congregation of the elite with the ostensible purpose of raising funds for the poor. One director of Popular Will told Vice News in 2014 that “the bulk of the opposition protesters are from the middle and upper classes and are led by Venezuela’s elite.” The class character of the opposition has not changed since.

Meanwhile, USAID was to coordinate the delivery of aid alongside Guaido; and Elliot Abrams, who in Guatemala used “humanitarian aid” as cover for the delivery of weapons into the country, is running the White House’s policies toward Venezuela. And so the aid was widely criticized, even by the International Red Cross, as politicized. By others, it was called a Trojan Horse.

The concert was held in Colombia across a bridge linking the country to Venezuela. International media had claimed Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro had the bridge shut down to prevent the delivery of aid, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that the “Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.” But the bridge, in fact, has never been opened for use.

Nonetheless, Richard Branson sought to raise $100 million and promised that Guiado “will be coming to the other side of the bridge with maybe a million of his supporters.” In the end, it was a little more than 200,000 who came.

Meanwhile, Guaido told the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, that more than 1,450 soldiers had defected from the military to join them. But that figure was also inflated. A new report by PanAmPress, a Miami-based libertarian newspaper, reveals that it was just 700. “You can count on your fingers the number of decent soldiers who are there,” one local told the outlet.

Despite the low turnout, organizers lived it up in Colombia. Representatives from Popular Will, which rejects the socialist leadership of Venezuela, found themselves living like socialites across the border.

There were earlier signs of excess and debauchery. One Popular Will representative was hospitalized and his assistant found dead after overdosing while taking drugs with prostitutes, although Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) claims they were poisoned.

The inflated soldier count meant more funds for the organizers, who were charged with putting them up in hotel rooms. Guaido’s “army was small but at this point it had left a very bad impression in Cucuta. Prostitutes, alcohol, and violence. They demanded and demanded,” the report said. 

They also left a bad taste in the mouth of the authorities. The Colombian government was supposed to pay for some of the hotels, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was to cover the costs of others, while Guaido’s people were only going to pony up the cash for two of the seven hotels.

But Popular Will never paid, leaving one hotel with a debt of $20,000. When the situation became completely untenable, the hotel kicked 65 soldiers and their families to the curb. One soldier anonymously told the outlet that the party was not taking care of their financial needs as promised.

Guaido’s ambassador to Colombia took money out of his own pocket to try to resolve the dispute, but the check bounced.

The responsibility of taking care of the needs of the defectors went to Popular Will militants Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, as decreed by Juan Guaido in a signed statement. They were also charged with overseeing the humanitarian aid.

Barrera is the sister-in-law of Popular Will member of Congress Sergio Vargara, Guaido’s right-hand man. She and Rojas were managing all the funds.

But the pair started to live well outside their means, a Colombian intelligence source told the outlet. “They gave me all the evidence,” writes PanAmPress reporter Orlando Avendano. “Receipts that show excesses, some strangely from different check books, signed the same day but with identical writing styles.”

Rojas and Berrera were spending nearly a thousand dollars at a time in the hotels and nightclubs. Similar amounts were spent at times on luxurious dinners and fancy drinks. They went on clothes shopping sprees at high-end retail outlets in the capital. They reportedly overcharged the fund on vehicle rentals and the hotels, making off with the extra cash. Berrera even told Popular Will that she was paying for all seven hotels, not just the two. And they provided Guaido with the fake figure of more than 1,450 military defectors that needed accommodation.

In order to keep the funds flowing, Rojas and Berrera pitched a benefit dinner for the soldiers to Guiado’s embassy in Colombia. But when the embassy refused to participate, Berrera created a fake email address posing as a representative of the embassy, sending invitations to Israeli and US diplomats. They canceled the event after Guaido’s embassy grew wise to the scheme and alerted those invited.

“The whole government of Colombia knew about it: the intelligence community, the presidency, and the foreign ministry,” writes PanAmPress, calling it an “open secret” by the time Guaido dismissed the pair. But that was after Guaido had been defending them staunchly, trying to avoid a firing by transferring responsibilities to the embassy.

Berrera was called to the embassy for a financial audit, represented by Luis Florido, a founding member of Popular Will. She turned in just a fraction of the records uncovered by Colombian intelligence, accounting for only $100,000 in expenditures. “The [real] amount is large,” the outlet reports, citing an intelligence agent who says far more was blown.

Meanwhile, “at least 60 percent of the food donated” by foreign governments “was damaged.”

“The food is rotten, they tell me,” the PanAmPress reporter said, adding that he was shown photographs. “They don’t know how to deal with it without causing a scandal. I suppose they will burn it.”

It isn’t yet known exactly how much was embezzled by Popular Will, but it is likely the truth will come out in due time, and more investigations are likely underway. On Monday, Venezuelan defectors said they will hold a press conference in Cucuta, showcasing more corruption by Popular Will. For now, however, the fallout remains to be seen.

Guaidone?

One thing is certain: the scandal threatens to end Juan Guaido’s 15 minutes of fame. The de facto opposition leader had little name recognition inside Venezuela and never won a political position with more than 100,000 votes behind him. But the overnight sensation never had a lengthy life expectancy anyway.

Though he received so few votes (Venezuela’s population is nearly 32 million), Guaido became the president of the National Assembly because the body is controlled by a coalition of opposition groups, despite President Nicolas Maduro’s PSUV Party being the largest in the country. That was in January, and the length of the term lasts only one year. In 2015, the opposition coalition decided that after each term, the seat would be rotated to a representative of a different opposition party. While there is no law barring Guaido from being appointed president of the National Assembly again, tradition runs counter to it and another party may want to seize on a chance to get into the limelight.

Supporters of the coup — and Guaido’s self-declaration as interim president — claim that Maduro is derelict of his duties, which justifies a transition of presidential power according to the constitution. But the article that allows for such a transition in certain cases stipulates that ”a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days.”

To date, Guaido has run 145 days past his deadline to have elections held, and the opposition has made it clear they are not willing to accept new elections if Maduro runs.

This, of course, makes little dent in Guaido’s legitimacy in the eyes of the US and other countries that have recognized his presidency. US allies in Latin America have shown over the past few years that they have little regard for the sanctity of their constitutions. In 2017, a US-backed candidate in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, ran for re-election in explicit violation of that country’s constitution and only wound up winning through fraud. Last week, Ecuador made the decision to allow the US military to operate from an airfield in the Galapagos Islands despite a constitutional provision stating that the “establishment of foreign military bases or foreign facilities for military purposes shall not be allowed.”

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

American Govt., NGOS Fuel and Fund Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Protests

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Protesters in Hong Kong attempted to storm the parliament on Tuesday in opposition to an amendment to the autonomous territory’s extradition law with mainland China. The protest’s messaging and the groups associated with it, however, raise a number of questions about just how organic the movement is.

Some of the groups involved receive significant funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA soft-power cutout that has played a critical role in innumerable US regime-change operations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the bill, which is being considered in Hong Kong’s parliament, arguing that, should it pass, Congress would have to “no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

The State Department has also weighed in, saying it could “could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and negatively impact the territory’s long-standing protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values.”

The Canadian and British foreign ministries have also thrown their weight behind those opposing the bill.

By all indications, protesters are just getting started. On Wednesday, some told international media that they would try to storm parliament again. Protesters have been met with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police.

The protesters appear to be trying to raise awareness among Western audiences, using the “AntiExtraditionLaw” hashtag and signs in English. In one photograph, a group holds dozens of the old Hong Kong flags, when the territory was under the control of the British crown, while bearing a sign that accuses China of “colonialism.”

Major protests greet a minor change in law

The amendment to the extradition law would “allow Hong Kong to surrender fugitives on a case-by-case basis to jurisdictions that do not have long-term rendition agreements with the city.” Among those jurisdictions are mainland China and Taiwan. Ian Goodrum, an American journalist who works in China for the government-owned China Daily newspaper, told MintPress News:
It’s unfortunate there’s been all this hullabaloo over what is a fairly routine and reasonable adjustment to the law. As the law reads right now, there’s no legal way to prevent criminals in other parts of China from escaping charges by fleeing to Hong Kong. It would be like Louisiana — which, you’ll remember, has a unique justice system — refusing to send fugitives to Texas or California for crimes committed in those states.

Honestly, this is something that should have been part of the agreement made in advance of the 1997 handover. Back then bad actors used irrational fear of the mainland to kick the can down the road and we’re seeing the consequences today.”
The US agenda ripples through major NGOs

Like the US government, the NGO-industrial complex appears to be wholly on-board. Some 70 non-governmental organizations, many of them international, have endorsed an open letter urging for the bill to be killed. Yet it is signed only by three directors: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM).

The protests mark the latest flare-up in longstanding tensions over Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. In 2014, many of the groups associated with the current movement held an “Occupy” protest of their own over issues of autonomy.

Ironically, the issue of autonomy is not just of importance to Hong Kongers, but to the United States government as well. And it’s not all just harshly worded statements: the US government is pumping up some of the organizers with loads of cash via the NED.

Maintaining Hong Kong’s distance from China has been important to the US for decades. One former CIA agent even admitted that “Hong Kong was our listening post.”

As MintPress News previously reported:
The NED was founded in 1983 following a series of scandals that exposed the CIA’s blood-soaked covert actions against foreign governments. ‘It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,’ NED President Carl Gershman told the New York Times in 1986. ‘We saw that in the Sixties, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.’

Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, conceded to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.’”
The NED has four main branches, at least two of which are active in Hong Kong: the Solidarity Center (SC) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The latter has been active in Hong Kong since 1997, and NED funding for Hong Kong-based groups has been “consistent,” says Louisa Greve, vice president of programs for Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. While NED funding for groups in Hong Kong actually dates back to 1994, 1997 was the year the territory was transferred from control by the British.

In 2018, NED granted $155,000 to SC and $200,000 to NDI for work in Hong Kong, and $90,000 to HKHRM, which is not itself a branch of NED but a partner in Hong Kong. Between 1995 and 2013, HKHRM received more than $1.9 million in funds from the NED.

Through its NDI and SC branches, NED has had close relations with other groups in Hong Kong. NDI has worked with the Hong Kong Journalist Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the (Hong Kong) Democratic Party. It isn’t clear whether these organizations have received funding from the NED. SC has, however, given $540,000 to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in the course of just seven years.

The coalition cited by Hong Kong media, including the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Free Press, as organizers of the anti-extradition law demonstrations is called the Civil Human Rights Front. That organization’s website lists the NED-funded HKHRM, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the Democratic Party as members of the coalition.

It is inconceivable that the organizers of the protests are unaware of the NED ties to some of its members. During the 2014 Occupy protests, Beijing made a big deal out of NED influence in the protests and the foreign influence they said it represented. The NED official, Greve, even told the US government’s Voice of America outlet that “activists know the risks of working with NED partners” in Hong Kong, but do it anyway.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Afghan Civilians Fear CIA-Backed Death Squads that Can Call In Airstrikes

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Elite CIA-backed special forces in Afghanistan are leaving a trail of carnage in the country. As such units do not operate under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, they have been given near-impunity despite standing accused of war crimes.

Last month, the New York Times cited “senior Afghan and international officials” who said that while most strike forces in Afghanistan have been put under the purview of Afghan intelligence since 2012, two of the most “ruthless” units are “still sponsored mainly by the CIA.”

On Friday, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that at least one of these units has the capability of calling in air strikes.

Of the two special forces units that remain primarily influenced by the CIA, the name of only one was revealed: a group called “02” in the Nangarhar Province. The name of the unit in the Khost Province was not revealed. The units are trained and equipped by CIA agents and CIA contractors, and their fighters make three times the salary of a regular Afghan soldier. The unit in Khost is believed to have between 3,000 and 10,000 fighters while 02 is believed to be about 1,000 fighters strong.

A former senior Afghan security official told the Times that the strike forces were guilty of war crimes, while the United Nations has “expressed concern” about “consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal detention, and other abuses.” The unnamed unit in Khost was even singled out by the UN, which said it operates “with an absence of transparency and ongoing impunity.”

Brutality worthy of ISIS

In September, elders from the three Nangarhar districts gathered for a press conference in which they claimed that 100 civilians were killed by 02 in August. Elders are putting the number of civilians slain by 02 in the following two months, September and October, at 260.

One man who spoke at the conference said he and his two brothers were detained for three months as 02 tried to force video confessions of Taliban affiliation from him with threats of driving over him with a tank. He said he was placed in handcuffs and that they used needles to puncture holes in his veins.

In one case investigated by the Times, two brothers were killed as they watered their fields. In another case, a unit pursuing an alleged Taliban member entered the wrong home and killed a dozen civilians. In yet another case, 02 placed two brothers in handcuffs and spit hoods and interrogated them in front of their wives and children. After they were done being questioned, 02 dragged the brothers away and executed them in the corner of a bedroom, and then detonated the building.

According to “several current and former Afghan officials,” Americans help the unit find targets and guide operations. Those detained by such units frequently claim they have been tortured and Afghan officials say that Americans have been present at bases during such abuses. In the Nangarhar province alone, human-rights workers registered 15 complaints of torture by 02, according to the Times.

One medical worker who lives in the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar said he initially mistook 02 for ISIS when they showed up at his village surrounded by orange orchards.

“I ran and got my weapon — I thought it was the caliphate people. I didn’t know it was the government,” Khoshal Khan said. “Then they started firing, and I heard the gate blown up. They were speaking English, also.”

First, one man in the village, Mohamed Taher, was shot. According to his 16-year-old grandson, Sekander, one of Taher’s sons was also shot while following orders to come out of the building with his hands up. Then, 02 shot one of the grandsons in the head. And then another one of Taher’s sons.

“The women started crying. They called to be quiet, then they blew up the gates and came in,” Sekandar told the Times.

As his father bled to death in the yard after being shot while following orders, Adel, Taher’s 10-year-old grandson, was forced to take shelter inside. “They said, ‘Don’t come out — if the airstrikes hit you, then don’t complain.’” Adel still has shrapnel wounds on his face from the raid.

A relative of some of the people killed in the raid, Mohibullah, said that he sees little difference between the Islamic State and 02, since they both attack civilians without warning.

More killing power than the Caliphate

But, as it turns out, the 02 group is far better equipped than the Caliphate ever was. That’s because they have something Daesh lacked: air support. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found instances in which 02 raids were quickly followed by airstrikes. One man they spoke to said 16 civilians were killed in an 02 raid on his village, five of whom were family members.

“When my family members heard shots being fired outside, they went out to see what was going on and were hit by an airstrike that killed the five of them. The airstrike also destroyed part of our house,” he said. The outlet claims that 02 called in the strike.

“Numerous residents and relatives” said that one month later 02 killed 13 civilians, including four children, in a raid that included airstrikes. The Interior Ministry claimed that Islamic State fighters were killed, not civilians.

“First, they attacked us with bombs. Then they entered the living room and started to shoot around,” said one witness. “They didn’t care about who they were killing. They killed my uncle and his 9-year-old son. His wife and his other child were injured.” Another man told the outlet he lost seven family members in the raid.

Bombing and death squads a strange approach to nation-building

The CIA’s training, equipping, and support of 02 is reportedly stoking resentment of America’s 18-year occupation of the country, which has little to show in regard to net gains against the Taliban. Near the end of 2018 the Afghan government controlled the smallest amount of territory since a US military watchdog — the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — started keeping track in 2015. Meanwhile, the US dropped more bombs in 2018 on Afghanistan than during any other year on SIGAR record, which goes back to 2009.

While the US continues to conduct its mission of nation-building and “democracy promotion” in Afghanistan and attempts broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the government, bombing the country at unprecedented levels and being associated with de facto death squads on the ground could fuel distrust of the Americans.

“When the US also takes on the mission of state-building, then the contradictions between the two approaches — stealth, black ops, and non-transparency vs. institution building, rule of law, and accountability — become extraordinarily difficult to resolve, and our standing as a nation suffers,” bemoaned Karl Eikenberry, a former US commander in Afghanistan who later became a diplomat to the country.

Already, Afghans are beginning to suspect that the US sought to prolong its occupation of their country as means of securing a position to spy on Russia, China and Iran.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Twitter Greenlights Venezuela’s Pro-Opposition Online Blitz – Shuts Down Genuine Opponents

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As the US-backed coup attempt in Venezuela continues to take shape, shady anonymous actors are waging an information war manipulating social media with automated posts in an apparent attempt to manufacture a faux consensus for regime change in the online theater.

If you’ve been on Twitter since January 23, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only pastimes in Venezuela are protesting and replying to anyone and everyone on the platform critical of Washington’s clear collusion with the Venezuelan opposition in its quest for regime change.

Juan Guaido — who had a mere 90,000 followers on Twitter around the time of the coup attempt one year prior, and 340,000 around January 23, 2019 – has since skyrocketed on the platform, currently enjoying a following of more than 1,100,000.

While the phenomenon has not yet been linked to manipulation by the opposition, it raises questions about the online influencers who have tried to turn the previously little-known figure into a household name the world over.

An “immense campaign” and Twitter’s perverse response

Meanwhile, Twitter disinformation researcher and data visualization artist Erin Gallagher uncovered an immense campaign sympathetic to the right-wing Venezuelan opposition that used a variety of tools and applications to artificially inflate the reach of certain posts.

“The Venezuelan opposition is far from censored on Twitter,” she wrote. “To the contrary, their trends generate billions of impressions every day.”

Gallagher’s bombshell report was dropped on Thursday. The following day, Twitter took action — but not against the pro-opposition network. The company banned “764 accounts located in Venezuela” that it said used “spammy” political content “similar to that utilized by potential Russian [Internet Research Agency] accounts” and 1,200 accounts it said “appear” to be “engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic [Venezuelan] audiences.” Those accounts have been characterized online as “pro-Maduro.”

The apparent double standard wasn’t confined just to Twitter, however. The Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL), often the mainstream media’s go-to institution of “experts” on such matters, claimed in a blog post that it “did not find clear evidence of automated amplification of hashtags trending around the protests” against Maduro on January 23 (#23E), the day of Maduro’s inauguration, Gallagher noted.

The DFRL post, entitled “Protests Go Viral in Venezuela,” primarily took aim at the government for allegedly censoring the web and perhaps gaming hashtags on Twitter.

DFRL is an arm of the neoconservative Atlantic Council think tank, which is funded by NATO, Gulf monarchies, and the arms industry. Twitter has previously worked closely with the DFRL in countering alleged state-backed disinformation campaigns.

Gallagher wrote that she was “shocked at the contrast between the way DFRLab portrayed Venezuelan social media versus what I’ve been monitoring for 1.5 years.”

In that time, Gallagher discovered a hashtag — #TeamHDP — that was “used by an anonymous group of right-wing political hackers who have attacked the Venezuelan government, leaked documents online,” and doxxed Chavistas. Another hashtag employed by the network was #LaListaJustin, (Justin’s List, which is named after a fake Justin Bieber account that was a primary pusher of #TeamHDP). The #LaListaJustin released hacked documents showing personally identifiable information (such as home addresses, etc.) of Maduro supporters, members of the military, police, and their spouses and families.

The revelation is particularly troubling because the Venezuelan opposition has used vigilantism to enact violent retribution on Chavistas and public officials.

Apparently spearheading the #TeamHDP hashtag is a Miami-based company called DolarToday, which is used by financial websites and media to report on black market exchange rates for Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar. Maduro has previously accused DolarToday of manipulating exchange rates and fueling an economic war against his country

Between January 24 and January 28, DolarToday was a “central influencer of the #23E hashtag,” Gallagher wrote.

The company’s own Twitter account “averages” 349 tweets per day, but picks up steam around uprisings in Venezuela. Gallagher found more than 1,000 tweets per day around the attempted coup.

Beyond its own Twitter account, DolarToday’s tweets are reposted by a network of other accounts. One such artificially amplified message accused the late president Hugo Chavez of being a “perverted drug addict.”

DolarToday has two applications, SWAT Comunicacional and another named after itself. The apps allow users to log in and allow DolarToday to automatically repost the company’s tweets.

Gallagher wrote that she has “never seen anything with such a tremendous reach” as the Venezuelan opposition #TeamHDP hashtag, which was associated with hacking and doxxing (which is against Twitter’s terms of service.)

The researcher concluded that “Venezuelan opposition social media networks are engaging in inauthentic coordinated activity on Twitter.” Such “coordinated inauthentic activity,” it should be noted, has been the primary explanation given by social-media giants such as Twitter and Facebook as their reason for purging tens of thousands of accounts, including those of independent reporters.

A double standard beta-tested in Syria

Twitter and the DFRL appear to be turning a blind eye to violations of Twitter policy from pro-opposition networks while taking aim at allegedly pro-government disinformation operations, while neither has provided evidence of such a campaign by the government.

In many ways, the war in Syria served as a testing ground for propaganda tools — from the US-funded “civil defense” group White Helmets to US-backed Kurdish fighters, who were portrayed as defenders of an anarchist commune in the north.

But Venezuela today exists in an even more precarious position online due to the advent of institutions and “experts” that have made a name for themselves in the frenzy that has followed allegations that Russia used coordinated inauthentic behavior to sway the 2016 presidential elections; even more so because social-media giants like Twitter and Facebook have acquiesced.

For example, back in July, Twitter and Facebook were unaware of any state actors manipulating social media besides Russia. Since then, they have levied such accusations against Iran, and now Venezuela.

With these institutions now revealing their allegiances to the US regime-change machine, and the usual suspects (the Atlantic Council, for example) in full lockstep, it becomes incumbent on social-media users to ignore the “experts” and come to their own conclusions about the facts on the ground in Venezuela.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Amnesty International’s Troubling Collaboration with UK & US Intelligence

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Amnesty International, the eminent human-rights non-governmental organization, is widely known for its advocacy in that realm. It produces reports critical of the Israeli occupation in Palestine and the Saudi-led war on Yemen. But it also publishes a steady flow of indictments against countries that don’t play ball with Washington — countries like Iran, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea and more. Those reports amplify the drumbeat for a “humanitarian” intervention in those nations.

Amnesty’s stellar image as a global defender of human rights runs counter to its early days when the British Foreign Office was believed to be censoring reports critical of the British empire. Peter Benenson, the co-founder of Amnesty, had deep ties to the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office while another co-founder, Luis Kutner, informed the FBI of a gun cache at Black Panther leader Fred Hampton’s home weeks before he was killed by the Bureau in a gun raid.

These troubling connections contradict Amnesty’s image as a benevolent defender of human rights and reveal key figures at the organization during its early years to be less concerned with human dignity and more concerned with the dignity of the United States and United Kingdom’s image in the world.

A conflicted beginning

Amnesty’s Benenson, an avowed anti-communist, hailed from a military intelligence background. He pledged that Amnesty would be independent of government influence and would represent prisoners in the East, West, and global South alike.

But during the 1960s the U.K. was withdrawing from its colonies and the Foreign Office and Colonial Office were hungry for information from human-rights activists about the situations on the ground. In 1963, the Foreign Office instructed its operatives abroad to provide “discreet support” for Amnesty’s campaigns.

Also that year, Benenson wrote to Colonial Office Minister Lord Lansdowne a proposal to prop up a “refugee counsellor” on the border of present-day Botswana and apartheid South Africa. That counsel was to assist refugees only, and explicitly avoid aiding anti-apartheid activists. “Communist influence should not be allowed to spread in this part of Africa, and in the present delicate situation, Amnesty International would wish to support Her Majesty’s Government in any such policy,” Benenson wrote. The next year, Amnesty ceased its support for anti-apartheid icon and the first president of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

The following year, in 1964, Benenson enlisted the Foreign Office’s assistance in obtaining a visa to Haiti. The Foreign Office secured the visa and wrote to its Haiti representative Alan Elgar saying it “support[ed] the aims of Amnesty International.” There, Benenson went undercover as a painter, as Minister of State Walter Padley told him prior to his departure that “We shall have to be a little careful not to give the Haitians the impression that your visit is actually sponsored by Her Majesty’s Government.”

The New York Times exposed the ruse, leading some officials to claim ignorance; Elgar, for example, said he was “shocked by Benenson’s antics.” Benenson apologized to Minister Padley, saying “I really do not know why the New York Times, which is generally a responsible newspaper, should be doing this sort of thing over Haiti.”

Letting politics creep into mission

In 1966, an Amnesty report on the British colony of Aden, a port city in present-day Yemen, detailed the British government’s torture of detainees at the Ras Morbut interrogation center. Prisoners there were stripped naked during interrogations, were forced to sit on poles that entered their anus, had their genitals twisted, cigarettes burned on their face, and were kept in cells where feces and urine covered the floor.

The report was never released, however. Benenson said that Amnesty general secretary Robert Swann had censored it to please the Foreign Office, but Amnesty co-founder Eric Baker said Benenson and Swann had met with the Foreign Office and agreed to keep the report under wraps in exchange for reforms. At the time, Lord Chancellor Gerald Gardiner wrote to Prime Minister Harold Wilson that “Amnesty held the [report] as long as they could simply because Peter Benenson did not want to do anything to hurt a Labour government.”

Then something changed. Benenson went to Aden and was horrified by what he found, writing “I never came upon an uglier picture than that which met my eyes in Aden,” despite his “many years spent in the personal investigation of repression.”

A tangled web

As all of this was unfolding, a similar funding scandal was developing that would rock Amnesty to its core. Polly Toynbee, a 20-year-old Amnesty volunteer, was in Nigeria and Southern Rhodesia, the British colony in Zimbabwe, which was at the time ruled by the white settler minority. There, Toynbee delivered funds to prisoner families with a seemingly endless supply of cash. Toynbee said that Benenson met with her there and admitted that the money was coming from the British government.

Toynbee and others were forced to leave Rhodesia in March 1966. On her way out, she grabbed documents from an abandoned safe including letters from Benenson to senior Amnesty officials working in the country that detailed Benenson’s request to Prime Minister Wilson for money, which had been received months prior.

In 1967 it was revealed that the CIA had established and was covertly funding another human rights organization founded in the early 1960s, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) through an American affiliate, the American Fund for Free Jurists Inc.

Benenson had founded, alongside Amnesty, the U.K. branch of the ICJ, called Justice. Amnesty international secretariat, Sean MacBride, was also the secretary-general of ICJ.

Then, the “Harry letters” hit the press. Officially, Amnesty denied knowledge of the payments from Wilson’s government. But Benenson admitted that their work in Rhodesia had been funded by the government, and returned the funds out of his own pocket. He wrote to Lord Chancellor Gardiner that he did it so as not to “jeopardize the political reputation” of those involved. Benenson then returned unspent funds from his two other human-rights organizations, Justice (the U.K. branch of the CIA-founded ICJ) and the Human Rights Advisory Service.

Benenson’s behavior in the wake of the revelations about the “Harry letters” infuriated his Amnesty colleagues. Some of them would go on to claim that he suffered from mental illness. One staffer wrote:
Peter Benenson has been levelling accusations, which can only have the result of discrediting the organisation which he has founded and to which he dedicated himself. …All this began after soon after he came back from Aden, and it seems likely that the nervous shock which he felt at the brutality shown by some elements of the British army there had some unbalancing effect on his judgment.
Later that year, Benenson stepped down as president of Amnesty in protest of its London office being surveilled and infiltrated by British intelligence — at least according to him. Later that month, Sean MacBride, the Amnesty official and ICJ operative, submitted a report to an Amnesty conference that denounced Benenson’s “erratic actions.” Benenson boycotted the conference, opting to submit a resolution demanding MacBride’s resignation over the CIA funding of ICJ.

Amnesty and the British government then suspended ties. The rights group then promised to “not only be independent and impartial but must not be put into a position where anything else could even be alleged” about its collusion with governments in 1967.

Amnesty’s role in the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton

But two years later, senior Amnesty officials engaged in far more troubling coordination with Western intelligence agencies.

FBI documents, released by the Bureau in the spring of 2018 as a part of a series of disclosures of documents pertaining to the assassination of President John Kennedy, detail Amnesty International’s role in the killing of Black Panther Party (BPP) Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old up-and-coming black liberation icon — a killing that was widely believed to be an assassination but was ruled officially as a justifiable homicide.

Amnesty International co-founder Luis Kutner attended a November 23, 1969 speech of Hampton’s delivered at the University of Illinois.

During the speech, Hampton described the BPP “as a revolutionary party” and “indicated that the party has guns to be used for peace and self-defense, and these guns are at the Hampton residence as well as BPP headquarters,” according to the FBI document.

“Kutner has reached the point where he would like to take legal action to silence the BPP,” the FBI wrote. “Kutner concluded by stating that he believed speakers like Hampton were psychotic, and it is only when they are faced with a court action that they stop their “rantings and ravings.”

The FBI internal report on Kutner’s testimony cited above was issued on December 1, 1969. Two days later, the FBI, alongside the Chicago Police Department, conducted a firearms raid on Hampton’s residence. When Hampton came home for the day, FBI informant William O’Neal slipped a barbiturate sleeping pill into his drink before leaving.

At 4:00 a.m. on December 4, police and FBI stormed into the apartment, instantly shooting a BPP guard. Due to reflexive convulsions related to death, the guard convulsed and pulled the trigger on a shotgun he was carrying – the only time a Black Panther member fired a gun during the raid. Authorities then opened fire on Hampton, who was in bed sleeping with his nine-month pregnant fiancee. Hampton is believed to have survived until two shots were fired at point-blank range towards his head.

Kutner would go on to form the “Friends of the FBI” group, an organization “formed to combat criticism of the Federal Bureau of Investigations,” according to the New York Times, after its covert campaign to disrupt leftists movements — COINTELPRO — was revealed. He also went on to operate in a number of theaters that saw heavy involvement from the CIA — including work Kutner did to undermine Congolese Prime Minister and staunch anti-imperialist Patrice Lumumba — and represented the Dalai Lama, who was provided $1.7 million a year by the CIA in the 1960s.

While Amnesty International’s shady operations in the 1960s might seem like ancient history at this point, they serve as an important reminder of the role that non-governmental organizations often play in furthering the objectives of governments of the nations where they are based.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.