All posts by Dave DeCamp

Watchdog: US Aid to Venezuela Was Used to Push Regime Change

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A report from the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) watchdog found that aid allocated for Venezuela in 2019 was used as part of the Trump administration’s failed regime change effort.

In January 2019, the US and many of its allies recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela in an attempt to unseat Nicolas Maduro. As part of this policy, USAID started coordinating aid deliveries with Guaido.

The report from USAID’s Inspector General reads: “In January and February 2019, the US Government identified USAID’s humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans as also serving as a key tool to elevate support to the Venezuelan Interim Government and increase pressure on the Maduro regime.”

In February 2019, USAID sent 368 tons of aid worth $2 million to the Colombia-Venezuela border and the Caribbean island of Curacao. A media frenzy ensued as the Trump administration tried to force the Venezuelan government to accept the aid.

Since the US was calling for Maduro to be overthrown, he did not allow the trucks carrying the aid to enter the country from Colombia and stopped them at the border. One truck was set on fire, which US media outlets initially blamed on Venezuelan forces. But it turned out the blaze was started by a molotov cocktail thrown from the Colombian side of the border.

The Inspector General’s report makes it even more apparent that the attempt to ram the aid into Venezuela was merely a political stunt. For example, the aid was dramatically delivered to Colombia in giant Air Force C-17 cargo planes when there were cheaper commercial delivery options available.

The report also found that the aid package included ready-to-use supplemental food even though USAID said this type of commodity was not necessary after determining the nutritional status of Venezuelan children. Ultimately, only eight out of the 360 tons allocated for Venezuela made it into the country. The rest was delivered inside Colombia or shipped to Somalia.

Under direction from Guaido, USAID also minimized funding to the UN agencies that already had infrastructure set up in Venezuela to deliver aid. A Venezuelan non-governmental organization, which wasn’t named in the report, was awarded funding because it had US-aligned interests.

The Trump administration’s regime change effort came with a failed coup attempt and a brutal sanctions regime that has had a devastating impact on Venezuela’s civilian population. President Biden has continued the policy, continues to recognize Guaido, and appears to have no interest in giving Venezuela sanctions relief.


Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Biden Administration Announces Plan to Combat ‘Domestic Extremism’

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On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that President Biden ordered three US intelligence agencies to review the threat of “domestic violent extremism.”

Since pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the US Capitol building on January 6th, calls to combat “domestic terrorism” have been growing. Before January 6th, Biden’s transition team had said they were planning to pass laws against domestic terrorism, and the Capitol incident has made it a top priority.

“The January 6th assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known. The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat,” Psaki said.

Psaki went on to outline the first steps the Biden administration is taking. She said Biden ordered the newly confirmed Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to conduct a threat assessment along with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Psaki said the assessment will produce a “fact-based analysis on which we can shape policy.” In addition to the intelligence analysis, the National Security Council is being tasked with finding ways to disrupt “extremist networks.”

It’s not clear if the assessment will lead to US government agencies being granted new authorities to counter domestic terrorism.

Congress is onboard with prioritizing domestic threats. Earlier this week, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act was introduced in the House with bipartisan sponsors. The bill would establish offices within the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department to combat domestic terrorism.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Biden Taps Veteran Interventionist Samantha Power to Head USAID

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On Wednesday, Joe Biden announced that he will nominate Samantha Powerto head the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Power served as ambassador to the UN for President Obama from 2013 to 2017. Before that, she worked on Obama’s National Security Council, where she played an instrumental role in pushing for US intervention in Libya in 2011.

Power argued in favor of US intervention in Libya under the guise of protecting human rights and preventing genocide. She was joined in her crusade by then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice, who served as the UN ambassador at the time.

Reports from 2011 say the pressure from Power, Rice, and Clinton is what led Obama to intervene militarily in Libya, even though his other top advisors were against it. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates would later say that in a “51 to 49” decision, Obama decided to bomb Libya.

The US-NATO intervention in Libya that led to the brutal murder of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi was an absolute disaster. Destabilizing Libya turned the country into a haven for al-Qaeda-linked militants, resulted in targeted killings of black Africans, sparked a refugee crisis in North Africa, and even led to the creation of slave markets.

For her efforts in convincing Obama to destroy Libya, Power was promoted. As the US ambassador to the UN, Power advocated for US intervention in Syria and stood by as the Obama administration backed the Saudis in their brutal war against Yemen’s Houthis.

While Powers has since taken a public stance against the war in Yemen, she omitted her early role in supporting the vicious war from her memoir that was published in 2019. In the book, Power defended her decision to intervene in Libya and argued that more intervention in Syria could have prevented some of the war’s atrocities.

While it’s not exactly a national security position, Power will have a lot of influence on foreign policy from her future role as the head of USAID. The agency is often used to fund US regime change efforts. For example, in September 2019, USAID announced it would be providing $52 million to Juan Guaido, who the US recognizes as president of Venezuela, despite the fact that Nicolas Maduro holds the office. Earlier in 2019, the US supported Guaido in a failed coup attempt.


Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

DOJ Seizes 27 Domains, Claims They are Controlled by Iran

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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday that it seized 27 online domains, claiming the websites were controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The DOJ seized the domains under the guise of enforcing US sanctions against Iran and the IRGC.

Wednesday’s announcement followed the seizure of 92 domains in October that the DOJ also claimed were operated by Iran. The DOJ purports that the domains were being used to spread “Iranian propaganda” and “disinformation.”

The DOJ and the FBI work with US tech companies to make these seizures. “Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the FBI was able to disrupt this Iranian propaganda campaign and we will continue to pursue any attempts by foreign actors to spread disinformation in our country,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair said in a statement.

Among the domains seized on Wednesday were four news websites the DOJ seized under the guise of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The claim against the websites is that they targeted US audiences without disclosing ties to a foreign government.

“Here, the four domains purported to be independent news outlets, but they were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to covertly influence the American people to change United States policy concerning Iran and the Middle East,” the DOJ said.

One of the news sites taken down was the American Herald Tribune (AHT), a website whose editor in chief, Anthony Hall, is based in Canada. It’s not clear how the US government decided that AHT or the other websites are affiliated with Iran.

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote about social media censorship AHT has faced. Porter’s report says the FBI encouraged Facebook, Instagram, and Google to remove or restrict ads on AHT. In 2018, AHT’s Facebook page was deleted, and the outlets account on Facebook-run Instagram was also removed.

In January of this year, CNN published a story that claimed AHT was founded in Iran. CNN quoted an unnamed official from the cyber-security firm FireEye. According to Porter, FireEye boasts that it has contracts with “nearly every department in the United States government.”

The official told CNN that FireEye had “assessed” with “moderate confidence” that the AHT’s website was founded in Iran and was “part of a larger influence operation.” The term “moderate confidence” comes from US intelligence agencies and means there is plenty of room for doubt.

AHT published authors with dissenting views, who often criticized US foreign policy towards Iran. If the DOJ uses shaky assessments like the one from FireEye to take these sites down, it sets a dangerous precedent for independent media outlets.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Former Intel Officials Try To Downplay Ratcliffe’s Russiagate Releases

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US Intelligence officials were quick to speak through their stenographers in the media to downplay the contents of a memo released last week by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe about the origins of Russiagate. The memo made an explosive claim: Russian intelligence assessed that Hillary Clinton approved a campaign in July 2016 to link Donald Trump to Russia’s alleged hacking of the DNC to distract from Clinton’s email scandal.

After a week of sanctimonious statements from former intelligence officials, who according to Politico, were "aghast" with Ratcliffe’s decision to declassify the intelligence, the DNI declassified documents that showed the claim was not as "unverified" as these spooks would like the American people to believe.

In the memo released last week, Ratcliffe said handwritten notes from former CIA director John Brennan indicated that Brennan briefed President Obama on Clinton’s alleged plot. On Tuesday, Ratcliffe declassified those notes.

"We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]," Brennan’s notes read. "CITE [summarizing] alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service,"

Speaking with CNN after his notes were released, Brennan confirmed that he briefed Obama on this allegation.

"These were my notes from the 2016 period when I briefed President Obama and the rest of the national security council team about what the Russians were up to and I was giving examples of the type of access that the US intelligence community had to Russian information and what the Russians were talking about and alleging," Brennan said.

Before Brennan’s admission, the former CIA chief denounced Ratcliffe’s move to declassify the information and said the DNI is "is anything but an intelligence professional" and said Ratcliffe’s "selective declassification of information" was done to help President Trump. While Ratcliffe’s move was undoubtedly politically motivated, Brennan is in no position to judge anybody’s professionalism.

Brennan, who landed a job as an analyst for NBC in 2018, has used his prominence as a former CIA chief to make wild accusations about President Trump and Russia. After the 2018 Helsinki Summit, Brennan took to Twitter to accuse Trump of "treason" and said the president is "wholly in the pocket of Putin." In August 2018, Brennan penned an Op-Ed for The New York Times that said President Trump’s claims of no collusion are "hogwash." After Robert Mueller found no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, Brennan changed his tune and said he must have received "bad information." Whoops.

Ratcliffe also released a declassified CIA memo from September 2016 addressed to former FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok as part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Trump campaign officials’ alleged ties to Russia.

"Per FBI verbal request, CIA provides the below examples of information the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell has gleaned to date,” the memo reads. "An exchange [REDACTED] discussing US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server."

Last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham asked Comey if he remembered receiving the memo, but the former FBI chief conveniently forgot. "That doesn’t ring any bells with me," Comey said.

The inspector general report on the FBI’s spying of the Trump campaign revealed multiple instances of the agency withholding and misrepresenting information to the FISA court to obtain surveillance warrants. For example, the FBI withheld the fact that Trump campaign advisor Carter Page had been working with the CIA in his dealings with Russia. The September 2016 memo alleging Clinton ordered to stir up a scandal linking Trump to Russia is just another example in a long list of information the FBI ignored to fit its narrative.

As Graham pointed out during the hearing and the great Russiagate debunker Aaron Maté pointed out on Twitter, the fact that the Clinton campaign tried to hype Trump-Russia ties is nothing new. It is well known that the campaign hired Fusion GPS and former British spy Christopher Steele to compile a now-discredited dossier about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that relied heavily on internet rumors.

Ratcliffe’s memo says Clinton allegedly approved a campaign to stir up a scandal to distract from her emails on July 26th, 2016. A look at the timeline of events suggests Russian intelligence based this analysis, at least partly, on open-source information.

WikiLeaks began publishing emails from the Democratic National Committee on July 22nd, shortly before the Democratic National Convention. The emails were damning and revealed the DNC had a preference for Clinton and actively worked against the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The blog Moon of Alabama found Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook appeared on CNN on July 24th and made what was possibly the first allegation that Russia had "hacked" the DNC in support of Trump. Mook made the claim with no evidence, citing unnamed "experts."

"What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually of helping Donald Trump," Mook said.

As Bernhard put it at Moon of Alabama, "Mook’s TV appearance was probably a test balloon raised to see if such claims would stick." And stick they did.

The following day, The New York Times published a story that said, "the Russian-intervention narrative fits with Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to establish the idea that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wants to see Mr. Trump elected to weaken America and hurt its closest NATO allies."

In an interview on July 26th, 2016, President Obama alluded to the idea that Russia "hacked" the DNC to help Donald Trump. "What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems, not just government systems but private systems," Obama said. "What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that – I can’t say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin."

The allegation that Russia hacked the DNC first came from the private cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in June 2016. In its investigation, the FBI relied on CrowdStrike’s work and never had access to DNC servers. This year, a bombshell was revealed by declassified testimony from CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017.

Henry admitted his firm had no "concrete evidence" that alleged Russian hackers stole data from the DNC servers. "There are times when we can see data exfiltrated, and we can say conclusively. But in this case it appears it was set up to be exfiltrated, but we just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left," Henry said.

As far as attributing the "hack" to Russia, Henry said, "There are other nation-states that collect this type of intelligence for sure, but the – what we would call the tactics and techniques were consistent with what we’d seen associated with the Russian state."

While Brennan and other former officials express their disdain at Trump’s DNI for selectively declassifying this latest information, it is important to understand that the claim underpinning the entire Russiagate narrative still has many holes. And the conspiracy would have never been born without selective leaks of information by Obama-era intelligence officials.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Hearing Reveals US Govt’s Invisible Hand in Protests Around the World

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Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled Michael Pack, who President Trump recently appointed to head the US government’s state propaganda arm, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

Pack was appointed in June and started a big shakeup at the US state media outlets run by the USAGM, like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Pack fired senior staffers, pushed out management, and froze funding.

During last week’s hearing, Democrats and Republicans on the committee teamed up to attack Pack for his purges. But what seemed more important to Congress and former USAGM officials was Pack’s move to freeze funds to the Open Technology Fund (OTF). The OTF was formed in 2012 and operated as part of Radio Free Asia for seven years. In 2019, the OTF became an independent non-profit, although it is financed by US taxpayer dollars through the USAGM.

According to former USAGM officials and OTF board members, the OTF supports protesters in other nations across the world. “In many places around the globe, OTF quietly is providing support to protesters,” said Grant Turner, the former USAGM chief financial officer, who Pack removed in August. “So the Hong Kong protesters are protecting their identities from surveillance by OTF tools; protesters in Iran; we’ve seen it in Beirut,” Turner said.

Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, who sits on the board of the OTF, also testified and spoke of how the OTF helps protest movements. “OTF has a long history of supporting internet freedom efforts, and was poised to expand its efforts in Hong Kong,” Kornbluh said. “It was going to serve support for circumvention tools and expand support for digital training.”

Kornbluh explained that the USAGM froze OTF funds before China’s national security law for Hong Kong came into effect. “And then USAGM froze, and continues to withhold, its funding – and did that just weeks before the new security laws came into effect,” Kornbluh said. “So OTF hasn’t been able to support any of these efforts.”

The frozen Hong Kong funds were first reported by Time magazine in June. According to Time, Pack froze $2 million that would have “directly benefited the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.” One project the OTF was working on in Hong Kong was a “cybersecurity incident response team” that would have analyzed Chinese surveillance techniques in Hong Kong. The team would have shared information with developers who would design apps for protesters to use. The freeze in funding made this project impossible to go through with.

Another OTF project hampered by the freeze was a $500,000 “rapid response fund, designed to provide fast relief for civil society groups, protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders.” According to Time, this initiative has already made several payouts to groups in Hong Kong since the civil unrest began in June 2019.

The cut in funding inadvertently revealed the US government’s covert role in the Hong Kong protest movement. The US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy also provides funding for “pro-democracy” movements in Hong Kong.

Besides the US government supporting Hong Kong protesters through cutout organizations like the OTF and NED, there has been more overt interference in the city. Throughout the demonstrations, protesters were seen waving US flags and calling for Congress to pass legislation. Leaders of the movement even traveled to Washington and testified before Congress, pleading for US intervention.

President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law in November 2019. The administration has since sanctioned Hong Kong officials and changed the city’s special trade status. This US interference gave Beijing the foreign boogeyman it needed to pass the controversial national security law.

Pack was appointed to head the USAGM after the White House accused Voice of America of repeating Chinese state propaganda in its coronavirus coverage. Considering this, the damage Pack’s overhaul did to the OTF’s support for protesters in Hong Kong was likely an unintended consequence.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Pompeo’s Flimsy Case for Extending the Arms Embargo on Iran

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As part of its continued “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the Trump administration is pushing to extend a UN arms embargo on the Islamic Republic that is set to expire in October. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently presented the UN Security Council with a list of grievances against Iran, a list full of unsubstantiated claims and half-truths. And like most things Washington accuses Tehran of, the US and its allies in the region are guilty of similar or worse offenses.

The arms embargo on Iran will expire under terms agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement the US withdrew from in 2018 when it reimposed sanctions on Iran. “Because of the flawed nuclear deal negotiated by the previous American administration, the arms embargo on the world’s most heinous terrorist regime is scheduled to expire on October 18th, a mere four months from now,” Pompeo said to the UN Security Council on June 30th.

Pompeo went on to list attacks on US forces and allies in the region that he claimed Iran was behind, either directly or indirectly. “In January, Iran launched an attack on the coalition forces in Iraq with its own advanced missiles,” Pompeo said referring to Iran’s attack on bases in Iraq housing US troops, retaliation for the assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani – crucial context the secretary left out of his remarks.

Pompeo also mentioned Iran’s support for Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia militia that is frequently blamed for attacks on US forces in Iraq. “Iran, even as we sit here today, supplies Shia militia groups like Kata’ib Hizballah – groups which have launched dozens of rocket attacks since the fall of last year against US and coalition forces fighting the important continued important campaign against Daesh,” Pompeo said.

Like most accusations Pompeo makes, no evidence has been presented to corroborate the claim that Kataib Hezbollah was behind rocket attacks against US forces. The series of events that led up to the assassination of Soleimani was sparked by a rocket attack that killed a US contractor in Kirkuk, Iraq, which was blamed on Kataib Hezbollah.

A report from The New York Times revealed that Iraqi intelligence believes the attack in Kirkuk was more likely carried out by ISIS. Abu Ali al-Basri, Iraq’s head of intelligence and counterterrorism, told the Times that the US did not share any information about the Kirkuk attack. “They did not ask for my analysis of what happened in Kirkuk and neither did they share any of their information,” he said. “Usually, they would do both.”

After a rocket attack on Camp Taji in Iraq killed two American soldiers and one British soldier in March, the US pinned the blame on Khataib Hezbollah and bombed targets said to be weapons facilities belonging to the Shia group. The US bombing killed five members of Iraq’s security forces and one civilian. Shortly after the bombing, a new group called the League of Revolutionaries emerged and took credit for the Camp Taji attack. The League also threatened future attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad, a frequent target for lone rockets. Many groups inside Iraq want US troops out of their country, including Iraq’s parliament, who voted unanimously in favor of expelling the occupation forces after the killing of Soleimani.

Kataib Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), a group of about 40 Iraqi-state sponsored militias. The PMU was formed in 2014 to fight ISIS and played a crucial role in driving the radical militants out of major cities like Mosul and Fallujah. The drone strike that killed Soleimani on January 3rd also killed Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, the commander of the PMU.

In the Spring of 2019, multiple attacks on oil tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman were blamed on Iran by Pompeo and other Trump administration officials. These claims were never corroborated, the best the US could do was release photos of the damaged ships, and a grainy black and white video of a small boat alongside one of the tankers, nothing even remotely conclusive. This lack of evidence does not stop Pompeo from repeating the allegation that Iran was behind the sabotaged oil tankers as fact. “Iran unleashes ship-mining attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman, as it did in May and June of last year,” Pompeo told the Security Council.

Pompeo also accused Iran of being behind the September 2019 attack against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure that severely damaged the Kingdom’s oil production. Yemen’s Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, but Pompeo was eager to pin it on his favorite boogeyman. The day the news broke, the top diplomat immediately blamed Iran, ignoring the brutal war the Saudis have been waging against the Houthis.

Despite claims to the contrary in the wake of the attack, the Saudi oil facilities struck in September are in the range of the Houthis drones. The Houthis drone technology rapidly improved over the past few years, and the group has successfully launched many attacks deep inside Saudi territory.

The UN secretary-general released a report in June that discusses the Houthis attack on Saudi oil facilities. The report says, based on the analysis of debris recovered from sights of the September 2019, and debris recovered from other attacks that occurred in 2019, “the Secretariat assessed that the cruise missiles and/or parts thereof used in the four attacks were of Iranian origin.”

Pompeo cited this report in his remarks to the Security Council and said the report “confirmed that weapons used to attack Saudi Arabia in September 2019 were of Iranian origin.” The goalposts shifted with allegations against Iran concerning this attack. Initially, the Trump administration claimed satellite photos showed the attack came from the direction of Iran. Now it seems they have settled on the idea that Iran provided the Houthis with the weapons.

Despite the claims from Pompeo and the UN, it is not clear if Iran directly provided the weapons used in the September attack to the Houthis. A story from the US Embassy in Georgia about the Iranian embargo says the UN report confirmed the weapons were of Iranian origin based on a “US fact sheet.” Some analysts believe the Houthis might build their drones based on Iranian designs and blueprints, which would explain why the UN found similarities between the debris and weapons made in Iran.

The report also went over weapons seized off the coast of Yemen that were said to be of “Iranian origin,” something Pompeo mentioned at the Security Council meeting. Most recently, Pompeo claimed the US seized a vessel off the coast of Yemen that was carrying weapons from Iran on June 28th. Iran denied the charge and said Washington is just looking for an excuse to extend the arms embargo. While Iran openly supports the Houthis politically, they repeatedly deny sending weapons to the Zaydi Shia group, and the US-Saudi blockade on Yemen would make it difficult to do so.

It is not clear how far Tehran’s support for the Houthis goes, but what is clear is Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition, the other party to the conflict in Yemen, and the one with the most civilian blood on its hands. Since 2015 the Saudis, along with the UAE and other Gulf allies, have mercilessly bombed Yemen in an effort to oust the Houthis and reinstate President Hadi. Support for the war has been a bipartisan effort, as it was started with the blessing of the Obama administration and eagerly continued by the Trump administration.

Experts agree, if the US ended its support for the Saudi-led coalition, the war would quickly come to an end. But no matter how dire the situation gets on the ground for Yemenis, Washington continues its support for the Saudi’s under the guise of combating “Iranian influence,” even though the Houthi movement is entirely homegrown. Zaydi Shia Imams ruled the areas of North Yemen that the Zaydi Shia Houthis now control for over 1,000 years until 1962 — but these details are lost on Washington.

One of the most egregious Saudi airstrikes took place in Yemen in August 2018, when a coalition plane struck a school bus with a US-made bomb, killing 40 children and 11 adults. This horrific attack did not phase Mike Pompeo, who told Congress a month later that the coalition was taking “demonstratable” action to minimize civilian casualties. Pompeo’s statement ensured US support for the coalition would continue.

And for all Pompeo’s talk of Iran being a “terrorist regime,” it is actually the US weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE that end up in the hands of al-Qaeda in Yemen. In fact, the Houthis were previously an ally of Washington in its fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A Wall Street Journal report from January 2015 (the Saudi war on the Houthis started in March 2015) lays it all out. “The US has formed ties with Houthi rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, White House officials and rebel commanders said, in the clearest indication of a shift in the US approach there as it seeks to maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda,” the report reads.

Another belligerent ally of Washington, which prefers to wage war more covertly than the Saudis, has been ramping up tensions with Iran. Besides regularly bombing what is dubbed as “Iranian targets” in Syria, it appears Israel may be behind a recent string of explosions and fires in Iran. An intelligence source told The New York Times that Israel planted a bomb in the Natanz nuclear facility resulting in a blast that severely damaged the facility. Some experts believe a cyberattack caused the explosion, a method the US and Israel have used together to attack the Islamic Republic in 2010 with the Stuxnet virus.

Pompeo’s appeal to the Security Council will likely fail since Russia and China can veto the motion. Pompeo has argued the US can impose “snapback” sanctions on Iran under conditions of the nuclear deal, but other signatories have pointed out that the US can not enforce an agreement that it has already violated.

Whatever happens with the arms embargo, Pompeo will continue to hurl accusations at Iran. But whenever America’s top diplomat gets up to speak, it would be wise to keep in mind a rather candid admission he made last year in front of an audience at Texas A&M University. “When I was a cadet, what’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses.”

Reprinted with permission from Antwar.com.

Stumbling Towards Catastrophe: The New Cold War With China

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With tensions between the US and China at an all-time high, experts warn the two powers are closer to a military confrontation than ever before. A war with China should be unthinkable in Washington since the conflict could be catastrophic to the entire world as the threat of it erupting into a full-blown nuclear war is very real. But with a deteriorating trade relationship, tension over the Covid-19 pandemic, increased US Navy activity in the Pacific, new sanctions aimed at Chinese officials, and hostile rhetoric coming from the Trump administration, the unthinkable is becoming more and more likely.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions on Friday aimed at “current and former” Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, accusing them of violating Hong Kong’s autonomy. Hong Kong has served as a stage for recent US meddling, with Washington openly supporting the protests that rocked the city since March 2019. The Trump administration accused Beijing of violating Hong Kong’s autonomy with a new national security law made for the city, a bill designed to quell protests.

Some Chinese officials justified passing the law by pointing to the foreign interference in the demonstrations – that interference included Congress hosting protest leaders and passing legislation to confront Beijing over the former British colony. China’s concern with foreign interference is clearly outlined in the national security bill, which includes “collusion with foreign and external forces” on a list of criminal offenses the bill aims to combat.

The Senate just passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which would sanction “foreign individuals and entities that materially contribute to China’s failure to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy.” The new legislation is the Senate’s response to the Hong Kong national security law. Congress is also keen on confronting China militarily, with lawmakers working out a plan to give the Pentagon funds to increase its footprint in the region, a plan dubbed the “Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has repeatedly identified China as the Pentagon’s number one priority.

President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act into law on June 17th, a bill that will enable even more sanctions against Chinese officials over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. The Trump administration published a document last week that listed 20 Chinese companies and accused them of being arms of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Although nothing in the document substantiated the claim, it opens the possibility of Washington taking actions against the companies listed, like sanctions, which have become a staple of the administration.

The telecommunications company Huawei was included in the list of companies allegedly run by the PLA. Huawei, a major player in 5G technologies, has been banned from the US. The Trump administration is working hard to prevent other countries from doing business with Huawei and continues to pressure its allies into not accepting the company’s 5G technology. The common accusation against Huawei is that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries, an accusation that rings hollow coming from the US, a country that can track cell phones all over the world, as revealed by the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

These latest economic provocations came after the US and China signed the Phase One trade deal in January. According to The Wall Street Journal, when Mike Pompeo met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii on June 18th, Yang warned Washington’s recent meddling in Beijing’s affairs could jeopardize the trade deal. Yang listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as areas where the US meddles and expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with President Trump’s signing of the Uyghur Human Rights Act.

The increase in tensions between the US and China is due in large part to the Covid-19 pandemic. Top officials in the White House, including the president, have accused Beijing of a cover-up in the early days of the outbreak. In an interview with Fox News last week, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro was asked if the phase one trade deal was over. Navarro responded, “it’s over,” his reasoning being the fact that the Chinese officials who signed the agreement in Washington on January 15th did not mention the pandemic. Navarro claims the White House first heard of the pandemic after the Chinese diplomats’ plane took off, although Covid-19 was already in the news days before.

Navarro quickly recanted his statement on the trade deal and said he was taken “wildly out of context” in the interview. “I was simply speaking to the lack of trust we now have of the Chinese Communist Party after they lied about the origins of the China virus and foisted a pandemic upon the world,” Navarro said. President Trump took to Twitter to ensure that the trade deal is still “fully intact.”

In the early days of the Trump administration, Navarro and former White House strategist Steve Bannon fought hard to push President Trump to put tariffs on Chinese goods, a battle they won. Bannon, a self-described ultra-hawk when it comes to China, has been crusading against the CCP since he left the White House. In a recent interview with Asia Times, when asked if Washington should pursue regime change in Beijing, Bannon said, “I don’t think Asia can be free, until we’ve had regime change in Beijing. And I am an absolute advocate of that.”

Bannon denied rumors that he was joining the Trump campaign for 2020 but ensured many of his friends and colleagues will be on the president’s team. “One hundred and twenty percent of my time right now is spent on taking down the Chinese Communist Party, with the Committee on the Present Danger,” Bannon said. The Committee on Present Danger: China (CPD) is an incredibly hawkish think-tank started by Bannon and neoconservative Frank Gaffney in 2019.

On June 5th, the CPD published an essay titled “To the Americans Who Are on Their Knees,” which Gaffney and CPD chair Brian Kennedy called “the single most important call in a generation aimed at enabling our countrymen and women to recognize and respond appropriately to a present danger.” The essay addresses the protests that erupted across the US in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The author claims the American left leading the movement is the “catspaw” of foreign powers. “First, the police will be defunded; second, the Revolution will defund the US military; third, the Chinese and Russians will bomb and invade the country,” the essay reads.

This tirade could be dismissed as the ramblings of a crazed hawk, but a link to the essay remains in prominence on the CPD’s front page, and the think-tank’s message gets through to the White House. The group recently sent a letter to President Trump, praising him for releasing the list of 20 companies that are allegedly run by the PLA and gave the president advice on possible steps forward.

Some of the tamer rhetoric coming from the CPD and right-wing populists like Bannon resonates with many Americans. There are real concerns regarding US reliance on Chinese manufacturing, something that was exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic when the US faced shortages of personal protective equipment. The loss of American jobs to China is another talking point that gets through to people on the right and the left. There is a consensus among both groups that corporations sold out the American people when they exported manufacturing to China.

Despite the rhetoric, the fact that the US and China are each other’s largest trading partners has its benefits. This fact is enough to discourage officials on both sides from turning this Cold War into a hot one. But as trade relations sour, and President Trump openly considers completely “decoupling” from China, the risk of a shooting war is much higher.

The prophetic Justin Raimondo put it best in a March 2008 column titled, “Why They Hate China.” Justin wrote:

“If goods don’t cross borders, then armies soon will – a historical truism noted by many before me, and with good reason. Let it be a warning to all those anti-free trade, antiwar types of the Right as well as the Left – you’ll soon be jumping on the War Party’s bandwagon when it comes China’s turn to play the role of global bogeyman. The way things are going, that day may come soon enough.”

Justin’s words are something to reflect on while the US and China are careening towards war and people on the left and the right continue to demonize Beijing. While there are real concerns to be had with China’s human rights abuses, US intervention will undoubtedly make the situation worse. And hawks like Steve Bannon disguise their neocon hopes of regime-change in a country of 1.4 billion people as populist rhetoric to fool Americans into consenting to this new Cold War. Washington has a history of stumbling into catastrophe in East Asia. From Manila to Pyongyang, US adventurism in the region has left millions dead in its wake, a war with China will kill millions more — a potential catastrophe that must be avoided.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

OPCW Insiders Denounce Latest Syria Report

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Over the past year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been quietly facing a crisis of credibility. The crisis started when whistleblowers within the organization shared information that contradicted the findings of an OPCW investigation into the April 2018 alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria. Leaks and whistleblower testimony show the organization suppressed the findings of its experts to fit the narrative that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. That crisis of credibility continues. A group of OPCW insiders have just spoken out against a new report that blames the Syrian government for an alleged 2017 chemical weapons attack.

On April 8th, the OPCW issued the first report from its new Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), a unit of the organization established to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks inside Syria. The new IIT report found "reasonable grounds" to conclude the Syrian government was responsible for three chemical attacks in Ltamenah, Syria at the end of March 2017. Specifically, two sarin attacks on March 24th and 30th, and one chlorine attack on March 25th. The three alleged attacks jointly "affected" 106 people and did not claim any lives.

The Grayzone published a response to the IIT report from a group of OPCW insiders who called the credibility of the IIT "compromised" and said the report is "scientifically flawed." According to The Grayzone, the authors who wrote the piece "represent the view of, at minimum, a small group of current and former OPCW officials who took part in its [the IIT report’s] drafting and review."

The insiders were suspicious of the IIT from its formation. "It was very clear to us during the creation and setup of the IIT that its intent was not to investigate alleged incidents of chemical attacks in Syria. Instead, the team was created simply to find the Syrian government guilty of chemical attacks." The OPCW was granted the power to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in 2018.

The insiders question what motive the Syrian government would have to use chemical weapons, pointing out the government’s advantageous position over the opposition at the time. They also point out using chemical weapons would risk western intervention. "Let’s say they took this wild risk by using sarin …They did this by supposedly dropping a couple of sarin bombs on fields; agricultural lands in the middle of nowhere. Really?"

One fact the insiders take great issue with is that no members of the OPCW fact-finding mission (FFM) that initially investigated the Ltamenah incidents, and no members of the IIT ever deployed to the site of the alleged attacks. Instead, the investigators relied on evidence provided to them by members of Syrian opposition groups. The insiders wrote, "not one member of the IIT conducted a field investigation. Literally everything in the case has been provided by the sworn enemies of the Syrian government."

The insiders say the opposition groups brought "evidence" to the FFM over a period of months and years, and the handovers were generally done in Turkey. "The narratives, the witness accounts, the soil samples, the metal fragments, the photographs and videos; every item of so-called ‘evidence’ had been provided by those who have everything to gain by implicating their enemies in a chemical attack."

The insiders say the IIT is made up of investigators "without any background or expertise in chemistry, chemical weapons processes or technology, weapons systems or ballistics." Therefore, the investigators are completely reliant upon experts approved by the OPCW. According to the insiders, these experts "represent the same Western and NATO intelligence agencies, units, institutes, laboratories and individuals that have already become so heavily invested in ‘proving’ the complicity of the Syrian government."

If the Syrian government was not responsible for any chemical attacks at Ltamenah, it would point to staging by the opposition. The insiders explore how this could have been done. They again point out that the evidence the FFM and IIT used – soil and gravel samples and metal fragments – was given to them by opposition forces, some was even delivered over a year after the alleged incident.

The insiders also take issue with the language used in the report. "Weak language stating that ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe’ the official story, it could be argued, actually implies a 50/50 case in which there are similarly reasonable grounds ‘not to believe’ it."

"Reasonable grounds" was the same language used in the final FFM report on Douma, which was published in March 2019. The report found "reasonable grounds" to believe a chlorine chemical attack likely occurred. Although the report did not explicitly attribute blame, it ignored an engineering assessment by an OPCW employee that concluded there was a "higher probability" the two cylinders found in Douma were "manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft." This conclusion would point to a staging. Ignoring this conclusion, like the OPCW did, would lead the reader to believe the Syrian government was responsible. The engineering assessment was published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media in May 2019, kicking off the Douma whistleblower scandal.

So far, four whistleblowers from the OPCW have come forward to speak out against the Douma investigation. The Douma incident resulted in airstrikes against Syrian government targets from the US, UK, and France. Two of the whistleblowers who spoke out both claimed US officials were brought in to OPCW headquarters to present "evidence" to the FFM that the Syrian government was responsible for a chlorine attack in Douma. The Douma scandal shows the OPCW has been operating with a pro-western government bias.

The IIT is expected to release reports on the April 2017 attack in Khan Shaykhun and the April 2018 incident in Douma. The alleged attack at Khan Shaykhun resulted in US airstrikes on a Syrian government airbase. Similar to the Ltamenah incident, the Khan Shaykhun FFM was unable to visit the site of the alleged attack and relied on other groups to provide evidence. Among those groups were the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. This group of first responders claims to be neutral in the conflict but receives the bulk of its funding from western governments. Out of all the incidents the IIT is expected to report on, the Douma incident is the only one where an OPCW FFM was actually deployed to the site of the alleged attack. But when that FFM reached conclusions not acceptable to the OPCW and the western powers it favors, the team was replaced.

After the IIT published its report on Ltamenah, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement that said, "The United States shares the OPCW’s conclusions." Pompeo went on to praise the organization, "The United States commends the thorough investigations and expert work of the OPCW, which has again demonstrated that its efforts in Syria are unbiased and professional."

The OPCW’s credibility is able to survive since most western mainstream media outlets refuse to cover the Douma scandal. When the scandal is mentioned, it is usually referred to as "Russian disinformation." In a story about the coming IIT reports, The Guardian quoted a chemical weapons expert who referred to the scandal as part of "Russian-led disinformation campaigns." The expert said, "For example, the supposed whistleblower controversy at the OPCW last year, which the organization comprehensively rejected with an official inquiry. Even though the criticism was found to be baseless it does not stop the conspiracy theorists."

The two whistleblowers at the center of the controversy responded to the OPCW’s "official inquiry" in letters published by The Grayzone, and in Peter Hitchens’ blog at The Mail on Sunday. The whistleblowers’ responses completely dismantle the OPCW’s weak attempt at downplaying the leaks and discrediting the two men. As far as the scandal being a "Russian-led" disinformation campaign, the leaks and dissent came from within the OPCW, not from Russia.

As these IIT reports come out, it is important to look at them in the proper context. The OPCW should not have the power to assign blame while the Douma scandal goes unresolved. The IIT reports will likely be weaponized by western powers to increase sanctions on Syria – collectively punishing the citizens of a sovereign nation trying to rebuild after nine brutal years of war.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

New Anti-China Propaganda Uses Russiagate Playbook

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A rabid anti-China propaganda campaign has spread through the media since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The hysteria seems to be just as contagious as the virus, as Americans are bombarded with anti-China stories from the pages of The New York Times to segments on Fox News. Both Republicans and Democrats are arguing the other side is not tough enough on China as they gear up for the 2020 election.

Since Donald Trump was elected president, the unfounded claim that Russia meddled in the 2016 election was spread far and wide by intelligence officials and liberal media outlets.

A common tactic used to promote the Russiagate narrative was unnamed officials making statements to the press without providing evidence or any factual basis to their claims. Another common tactic was frequent media appearances by former intelligence officials, like James Clapper and John Brennan, usually making wild accusations about Trump and Russia. These tactics are being repeated to promote an anti-China narrative.

The New York Times ran a story on April 22nd titled, "Chinese Agents Helped Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in US, Officials Say." The article says rumors that were spread through text messages and social media posts in mid-March that claimed the Trump administration was going to lock down the entire country to combat coronavirus were boosted by "Chinese operatives." The authors’ sources are "six American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss intelligence matters."

The story is lacking in detail and provides no evidence for the officials’ claims. "The origin of the messages remains murky. American officials declined to reveal details of the intelligence linking Chinese agents to the dissemination of the disinformation, citing the need to protect their sources and methods for monitoring Beijing’s activities," the story reads. Two of the officials told the Times that "they did not believe Chinese operatives created the lockdown messages, but rather amplified existing ones."

Sensationalized reporting in the Times would not be complete without mentioning the Russians. "American officials said the operatives had adopted some of the techniques mastered by Russia-backed trolls, such as creating fake social media accounts to push messages to sympathetic Americans, who in turn unwittingly help spread them."

Ironically, the story recognizes the danger of US officials making selective leaks to the media. "Foreign policy analysts are worried that the Trump administration may politicize intelligence work or make selective leaks to promote an anti-China narrative … American officials in the past have selectively passed intelligence to reporters to shape the domestic political landscape." The Times uses the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an example of the dangers of selective leaks, ignoring the past four years of Russiagate stories that plagued its pages.

On April 17th, Fox News Host Tucker Carlson had former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright on his show to deliver some wild accusations about US politicians and the Chinese government. Wright insinuated that some members of Congress might be agents of China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Carlson explained to Wright that the show reached out to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and other elected officials to ask if they’ve had contact with any Chinese officials since the coronavirus outbreak began. Carlson said they did not respond and asked Wright, "What do you think we should infer from that?"

Wright responded, "I think that they’re nervous. I think there are a bunch of people who, because they’re either useful idiots or they have some degree of knowledge and relationships behind the scenes with the Chinese government. Some of them in fact could be Chinese agents of the MSS." Wright’s language comes straight from the Russiagate playbook. Intelligence officials and media pundits often referred to Trump as a "useful idiot" for Moscow, and some even speculated that the president is a "Russian agent."

Trump’s anti-Russia policies show that he is not working in the White House on behalf of Vladimir Putin. Similarly, anti-China legislation that has recently passed through the House and Senate makes it unlikely any MSS agents are working in the halls of Congress.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed unanimously through the Senate last year and had one lone nay vote in the House from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). The act, which was signed into law by President Trump, requires the State Department to prepare an annual report on the autonomy of Hong Kong from mainland China. The act also requires the Commerce Department to report on "China’s efforts to use Hong Kong to evade US export controls." The bill says the president shall present Congress with a list of any individuals that violate human rights in Hong Kong. Any findings that are unsatisfactory to the US could result in sanctions.

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was also passed unanimously through the Senate, and again, Rep. Massie was the only one to vote against the bill in the House. This bill, which has not made it to President Trump’s desk, would require the US to impose sanctions and export restrictions over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the western autonomous region of Xinjiang.

Rep. Massie, the sole dissenting voice in Congress, did not vote against these bills because of any loyalty to Beijing or Xi Jinping. "When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs," Massie wrote on Twitter, explaining his votes.

The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in March, passed unanimously through both the House and Senate, with Rep. Massie finally falling in line with his colleague’s anti-China policy. The TAIPEI Act says the US should "help strengthen Taiwan’s diplomatic relationships and partnerships around the world."

Taiwan remains the most sensitive issue between the US and China, since Beijing considers the island to be a part of China. Although the US does not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, Washington supplies the island with arms and frequently sails warships through the Taiwan strait, drawing the ire of Beijing. No members of Congress speak out against these provocations. Like the accusations about Trump and Russia, the idea that Congress is crawling with agents of Beijing is easily disproven by actual policy.

Tucker Carlson did not challenge any of Wright’s outrageous claims but instead nodded along. Since the start of the outbreak, Carlson’s show has focused on putting all the blame for the coronavirus pandemic on Beijing. Carlson’s recent content reflects the strategy of the White House. The Daily Beast obtained internal White House documents in March that showed the administration was pushing US officials to blame China for a "cover-up" in the early days of the outbreak. The strategy has proven useful as many pro-Trump media outlets put Beijing’s response to the pandemic under a microscope, and largely ignore the US government’s early missteps.

Politico obtained a memo sent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to GOP campaigns. The memo outlines an anti-China strategy for Republicans running for office in 2020. The document advises candidates to blame the pandemic on China, say Democratic opponents are too soft on China, and advocate for sanctions against Beijing. The memo is full of strong rhetoric like, "China is not an ally, and they’re not just a rival — they are an adversary and the Chinese Communist Party is our enemy."

The GOP guidelines are similar to the rhetoric coming from China hardliners like former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. In March 2019, Bannon and neoconservative Frank Gaffney founded the Committee on Present Danger: China, a think-tank that identifies China as the greatest "existential threat" to the United States. In his almost-daily podcast, Bannon rails against Beijing and pins all the blame for the pandemic on China. "The Chinese Communist Party is at war with their people, they’re at war with the world, and they’re at war with you … You may not have an interest in the Chinese Communist Party but its destroyed your life. OK? Your economic life, your spiritual life, your social life. The destruction is from Beijing," Bannon said in a recent episode.

Republicans and right-wingers are not the only ones looking to attack China this election season. The Biden campaign released an ad on April 18th that attacked Trump for his response to the virus. The ad said, "Trump rolled over for the Chinese" and criticized how much the president praised China’s handling of the pandemic early on. "Trump praised the Chinese 15 times in January and February as the coronavirus spread across the world," the ad said.

The anti-China propaganda seems to be turning public opinion against Beijing. A new poll from the Pew Research Center that surveyed 1,000 adults throughout March found that 66 percent have an unfavorable view of China, an increase of 14 percent since Pew last asked the question in 2018. Nine out of 10 adults surveyed view China as a threat, including 62 percent who see China as a major threat.

China may have made some mistakes in its early response to the virus, but that does not excuse the US government’s lack of preparedness, and treating the pandemic as an attack sets a dangerous precedent for future outbreaks. The strategy could backfire on Washington if any future pandemics originate in the US.

Like Russiagate, the anti-China propaganda will serve as a useful tool for a national security state that is looking to focus more on great power competition. The Pentagon identifies China as its number one priority and is looking to increase its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. The constant propaganda will make that increased presence more palatable to the American people. But that increased presence will bring more confrontation between the US and China, and bring the region and the world closer to nuclear war.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.