All posts by Philip Giraldi

John Brennan’s CIA Trump Task Force

undefined

There is considerable evidence that the American system of government may have been victimized by an illegal covert operation organized and executed by the US intelligence and national security community. Former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former FBI Director Jim Comey appear to have played critical leadership roles in carrying out this conspiracy and they may not have operated on their own. Almost certainly what they may have done would have been explicitly authorized by the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his national security team.

It must have seemed a simple operation for the experienced CIA covert action operatives. To prevent the unreliable and unpredictable political upstart Donald Trump from being nominated as the GOP presidential candidate or even elected it would be necessary to create suspicion that he was the tool of a resurgent Russia, acting under direct orders from Vladimir Putin to empower Trump and damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Even though none of the alleged Kremlin plotters would have expected Trump to actually beat Hillary, it was plausible to maintain that they would have hoped that a weakened Clinton would be less able to implement the anti-Russian agenda that she had been promoting. Many observers in both Russia and the US believed that if she had been elected armed conflict with Moscow would have been inevitable, particularly if she moved to follow her husband’s example and push to have both Georgia and Ukraine join NATO, which Russia would have regarded as an existential threat.

Trump’s surprising victory forced a pivot, with Clapper, Brennan and Comey adjusting the narrative to make it appear that Trump the traitor may have captured the White House due to help from the Kremlin, making him a latter-day Manchurian Candidate. The lesser allegations of Russian meddling were quickly elevated to devastating assertions that the Republican had only won with Putin’s assistance.

No substantive evidence for the claim of serious Russian meddling has ever been produced in spite of years of investigation, but the real objective was to plant the story that would plausibly convince a majority of Americans that the election of Donald Trump was somehow illegitimate.

The national security team acted to protect their candidate Hillary Clinton, who represented America’s Deep State. In spite of considerable naysaying, the Deep State is real, not just a wild conspiracy theory. Many Americans nevertheless do not believe that the Deep State exists, that it is a politically driven media creation much like Russiagate itself was, but if one changes the wording a bit and describes the Deep State as the Establishment, with its political power focused in Washington and its financial center in New York City, the argument that there exists a cohesive group of power brokers who really run the country becomes much more plausible.

The danger posed by the Deep State, or, if you choose, the Establishment, is that it wields immense power but is unelected and unaccountable. It also operates through relationships that are not transparent and as the media is part of it, there is little chance that its activity will be exposed.

Nevertheless, some might even argue that having a Deep State is a healthy part of American democracy, that it serves as a check or corrective element on a political system that has largely been corrupted and which no longer serves national interests. But that assessment surely might have been made before it became clear that many of the leaders of the nation’s intelligence and security agencies are no longer the people’s honorable servants they pretend to be. They have been heavily politicized since at least the time of Ronald Reagan and have frequently succumbed to the lure of wealth and power while identifying with and promoting the interests of the Deep State.

Indeed, a number of former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Directors have implicitly or even directly admitted to the existence of a Deep State that has as one of its roles keeping presidents like Donald Trump in check. Most recently, John McLaughlin, responding to a question about Donald Trump’s concern over Deep State involvement in the ongoing impeachment process, said unambiguously “Well, you know, thank God for the ‘deep state’…With all of the people who knew what was going on here, it took an intelligence officer to step forward and say something about it, which was the trigger that then unleashed everything else. This is the institution within the US government…is institutionally committed to objectivity and telling the truth. It is one of the few institutions in Washington that is not in a chain of command that makes or implements policy. Its whole job is to speak the truth — it’s engraved in marble in the lobby.”

Well, John’s dedication to truth is exemplary but how does he explain his own role in support of the lies being promoted by his boss George “slam dunk” Tenet that led to the war against Iraq, the greatest foreign policy disaster ever experienced by the United States? Or Tenet’s sitting in the U.N. directly behind Secretary of State Colin Powell in the debate over Iraq, providing cover and credibility for what everyone inside the system knew to be a bundle of lies? Or his close friend and colleague Michael Morell’s description of Trump as a Russian agent, a claim that was supported by zero evidence and which was given credibility only by Morell’s boast that “I ran the CIA.”

Beyond that, more details have been revealed demonstrating exactly how Deep State associates have attempted, with considerable success, to subvert the actual functioning of American democracy. Words are one thing, but acting to interfere in an electoral process or to undermine a serving president is a rather more serious matter.

It is now known that President Barack Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan created a Trump Task Force in early 2016. Rather than working against genuine foreign threats, this Task Force played a critical role in creating and feeding the meme that Donald Trump was a tool of the Russians and a puppet of President Vladimir Putin, a claim that still surfaces regularly to this day. Working with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Brennan fabricated the narrative that “Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.” Brennan and Clapper promoted that tale even though they knew very well that Russia and the United States have carried out a broad array of covert actions against each other, including information operations, for the past seventy years, but they pretended that what happened in 2016 was qualitatively and substantively different even though the “evidence” produced to support that claim was and still is weak to nonexistent.

The Russian “election interference” narrative went on steroids on January 6, 2017, shortly before Trump was inaugurated, when an “Intelligence Community Assessment” (ICA) orchestrated by Clapper and Brennan was published. The banner headline atop The New York Times, itself an integral part of the Deep State, on the following day set the tone for what was to follow: “Putin Led Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Says.”

With the help of the Establishment media, Clapper and Brennan were able to pretend that the ICA had been approved by “all 17 intelligence agencies” (as first claimed by Hillary Clinton). After several months, however Clapper revealed that the preparers of the ICA were “handpicked analysts” from only the FBI, CIA, and NSA. He explained rather unconvincingly during an interview on May 28, 2017, that “the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique,” adding later that “It’s in their DNA.”

Task Force Trump was kept secret within the Agency itself because the CIA is not supposed to spy on Americans. Its staff was pulled together by invitation-only. Specific case officers (i.e., men and women who recruit and handle spies overseas), analysts and administrative personnel were recruited, presumably based on their political reliability. Not everyone invited accepted the offer. But many did because it came with promises of promotion and other rewards.

And this was not a CIA-only operation. Personnel from the FBI also were assigned to the Task Force with the approval of then Director James Comey. Former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele’s FBI handler, Michael Gaeta, may have been one of those detailed to the Trump Task Force. Steele, of course, prepared the notorious dossier that was surfaced shortly before Donald Trump took office. It included considerable material intended to tie Trump to Russia, information that was in many cases fabricated or unsourced.

So, what kind of things would this Task Force do? The case officers would work with foreign intelligence services such as MI-6, the Italians, the Ukrainians and the Australians on identifying intelligence collection priorities that would implicate Trump and his associates in illegal activity. And there is evidence that John Brennan himself would contact his counterparts in allied intelligence services to obtain their discreet cooperation, something they would be inclined to do in collegial fashion, ignoring whatever reservations they might have about spying on a possible American presidential candidate.

Trump Task Force members could have also tasked the National Security Agency (NSA) to do targeted collection. They also would have the ability to engage in complicated covert actions that would further set up and entrap Trump and his staff in questionable activity, such as the targeting of associate George Papadopoulos. If he is ever properly interviewed, Maltese citizen Joseph Mifsud may be able to shed light on the CIA officers who met with him, briefed him on operational objectives regarding Papadopoulos and helped arrange monitored meetings. It is highly likely that Azra Turk, the woman who met with George Papadopoulos, was part of the CIA Trump Task Force.

The Task Force also could carry out other covert actions, sometimes using press or social media placements to disseminate fabrications about Trump and his associates. Information operations is a benign-sounding euphemism for propaganda fed through the Agency’s friends in the media, and computer network operations can be used to create false linkages and misdirect inquiries. There has been some informed speculation that Guccifer 2.0 may have been a creation of this Task Force.

In light of what has been learned about the alleged CIA whistleblower there should be a serious investigation to determine if he was a part of this Task Force or, at minimum, reporting to them secretly after he was seconded to the National Security Council. All the CIA and FBI officers involved in the Task Force had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, but nevertheless were involved in a conspiracy to first denigrate and then possibly bring down a legally elected president. That effort continues with repeated assertions regarding Moscow’s malevolent intentions for the 2020 national elections. Some might reasonably regard the whole Brennan affair, to include its spear carriers among the current and retired national security state leadership, as a case of institutionalized treason, and it inevitably leads to the question “What did Obama know?”

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Deep State on the National Security Council: Colonel Vindman Is an ‘Expert’ With an Agenda

undefined

The current frenzy to impeach President Donald Trump sometimes in its haste reveals that which could easily be hidden about the operation of the Deep State inside the federal government. Congress is currently obtaining testimony from a parade of witnesses to or participants in what will inevitably be called UkraineGate, an investigation into whether Trump inappropriately sought a political quid pro quo from Ukrainian leaders in exchange for a military assistance package.

The prepared opening statement by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, described as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC), provides some insights into how decision making at the NSC actually works. Vindman was born in Ukraine but emigrated to the United States with his family at age three. He was commissioned as an army infantry officer in 1998 and served in some capacity in Iraq from 2004-5, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb and received a purple heart. Vindman, who speaks both Ukrainian and Russian fluently, has filled a number of diplomatic and military positions in government dealing with Eastern Europe, to include a key role in Pentagon planning on how to deal with Russia.

Vindman, Ukrainian both by birth and culturally, clearly was a major player in articulating and managing US policy towards that country, but that is not really what his role on the NSC should have been. As more than likely the US government’s sole genuine Ukrainian expert, he should have become a source of viable options that the United States might exercise vis-à-vis its relationship with Ukraine, and, by extension, regarding Moscow’s involvement with Kiev. But that is not how his statement, which advocates for a specific policy, reads. Rather than providing expert advice, Vindman was concerned chiefly because arming Ukraine was not proceeding quickly enough to suit him, an extremely risky policy which has already created serious problems with a much more important Russia.

Vindman apparently sees Ukraine-Russia through the established optic provided by the Deep State, which considers global conflict as the price to pay for maintaining its largesse from the US taxpayer. Continuous warfare is its only business product, which explains in part its dislike of Donald Trump as he has several times threatened to upset the apple cart, even though he has done precious little in reality. Part of Vindman’s written statement (my emphasis) is revealing: “”When I joined the NSC in July 2018, I began implementing the administration’s policy on Ukraine. In the Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency. This narrative was harmful to US government policy. While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine’s prospects, this alternative narrative undermined US government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”

Alexander Vindman clearly was pushing a policy that might be described as that of the Deep State rather than responding to his own chain of command where it is the president who does the decision making. He also needs a history lesson about what has gone on in his country of birth. President Barack Obama conspired with his own version of Macbeth’s three witches – Rice, Power and Jarett – to overthrow the legitimate government of Ukraine in 2014 because it was considered to be too close to Moscow. The regime change was brought about by “mavericks” like the foul-mouthed neocon State Department officer Victoria Nuland and the footloose warmonger Senator John McCain. Vice President Joe Biden also appeared on the scene after the “wetwork” was done, with his son Hunter trailing behind him. Since that time, Ukraine has had a succession of increasingly corrupt puppet governments propped up by billions in foreign aid. It is now per capita the poorest country in Europe.

Washington inside-the-beltway and the Deep State choose to blame the mess in Ukraine on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the established narrative also makes the absurd claim that the political situation in Kiev is somehow important to US national security. The preferred solution is to provide still more money, which feeds the corruption and enables the Ukrainians to attack the Russians.

Colonel Vindman, who reported to noted hater of all things Russian Fiona Hill, who in turn reported to By Jingo We’ll Go To War John Bolton, was in the middle of all the schemes to bring down Russia. His concern was not really over Trump vs. Biden. It was focused instead on speeding up the $380 million in military assistance, to include offensive weapons, that was in the pipeline for Kiev. And assuming that the Ukrainians could actually learn how to use the weapons, the objective was to punish the Russians and prolong the conflict in Donbas for no reason at all that makes any sense.

Note the following additional excerpt from Vindman’s prepared statement: “….I was worried about the implications for the US government’s support of Ukraine…. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

Vindman’s concern is all about Ukraine without any explanation of why the United States would benefit from bilking the taxpayer to support a foreign deadbeat one more time. One wonders if Vindman was able to compose his statement without a snicker or two intruding. He does eventually go on to cover the always essential national security angle, claiming that “Since 2008, Russia has manifested an overtly aggressive foreign policy, leveraging military power and employing hybrid warfare to achieve its objectives of regional hegemony and global influence. Absent a deterrent to dissuade Russia from such aggression, there is an increased risk of further confrontations with the West. In this situation, a strong and independent Ukraine is critical to US national security interests because Ukraine is a frontline state and a bulwark against Russian aggression.”

The combined visions of Russia as an aggressive, expansionistic power coupled with the brave Ukrainians serving as a bastion of freedom is so absurd that it is hardly worth countering. Russia’s economy is about the size of Italy’s or Spain’s limiting its imperial ambitions, if they actually exist. Its alleged transgressions against Georgia and Ukraine were both provoked by the United States meddling in Eastern Europe, something that it had pledged not to do after the Soviet Union collapsed. Ukraine is less an important American ally than a welfare case, and no one knows that better than Vindman, but he is really speaking to his masters in the US Establishment when he repeats the conventional arguments.

It hardly seems possible, but Vindman then goes on to dig himself into a still deeper hole through his statement’s praise of the train wreck that is Ukraine. He writes “In spite of being under assault from Russia for more than five years, Ukraine has taken major steps towards integrating with the West. The US government policy community’s view is that the election of President Volodymyr Zelensky and the promise of reforms to eliminate corruption will lock in Ukraine’s Western-leaning trajectory, and allow Ukraine to realize its dream of a vibrant democracy and economic prosperity. The United States and Ukraine are and must remain strategic partners, working together to realize the shared vision of a stable, prosperous, and democratic Ukraine that is integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community.”

Alexander Vindman does not say or write that the incorporation of Ukraine into NATO is his actual objective, but his comments about “integrating with the West” and the “Euro-Atlantic community” clearly imply just that. The expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders by the rascally Bill Clinton constituted one of the truly most momentous lost foreign policy opportunities of the twentieth century. The addition of Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance would magnify that error as both are vital national security interests for Moscow given their history and geography. Vindman should be regarded as a manifestation of the Deep State thinking that has brought so much grief to the United States over the past twenty years. Seen in that light, his testimony, wrapped in an air of sanctimoniousness and a uniform, should be regarded as little more than the conventional thinking that has produced foreign policy failure after failure.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The White House Plan to Strangle Iran

undefined
Photo: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem/ flickr

There is a certain irony in President Donald Trump’s frequently expressed desire to withdraw from the endless wars that have characterized the so-called “global war on terror” initiated by George W. Bush in 2001. The problem is that Trump has expressed such sentiments both when he was running for office and also as recently as last week without actually doing anything to bring about change. In fact, the greatly ballyhooed “withdrawal” from Syria turned out to be more like a relocation of existing military assets, with soldiers moving from Syria’s northern border to take up new positions to continue control of the Iraqi oil fields in the country’s southeast. Indeed, the number of American soldiers in Syria may have actually been increased with armor units being transferred from their base in Iraq.

The all too characteristic Trumpean flip-flop on Syria may have been due to pressure from congress and the media, who were bleating over how the departure of U.S. troops was a grave mistake, but if that is true it is a tribute to the abysmal ignorance of America’s Solons on the Potomac and the presstitutes who echo their bipartisan myopia. In truth, clinging to the Syrian oil wells makes no sense just as the war in the north served no purpose. The petroleum production is not enough to pay for the occupation, even if the oil is successfully stolen and sold, by no means a certainty as the rest of the world minus Israel regards it as the property of Damascus.

And to be sure, congress-critters know all about winners and losers. The mainstream media has been full of utter nonsense, including claims that Russia, Iran and Syria were all winners due to the American pull-out while neoliberal democracy promotion in the Middle East has suffered a defeat and Israel is now under threat. And, of course, the United States has to its shame betrayed yet another ally in the Kurds while also losing all credibility worldwide.

No one has, of course, examined any of the claims being made by the interventionist crowd. How Russia has won in taking on a client state that it cannot afford, or Iran in maintaining an extraterritorial presence that is regularly bombed by Israel, is by no means clear. President al-Assad meanwhile has the not so enviable task of putting his country back together. Meanwhile the Kurds will manage by cutting their own deal with Syria and Turkey with Russia serving as guarantor of the arrangement.

The real reasons for maintaining a U.S. military presence in Syria all have to do with Israel, which has long supported a fracturing of that country into its constituent parts both to weaken it as an adversary and to enable the Jewish state to steal still more of its land, possibly to include the sparsely populated oil producing region. Israel also wants a robust American military presence in Syria to prevent Iran from turning it into a base for attacks across the border, an unlikely prospect but one that has resonated with the U.S. Congress. Indeed, deterring Iran is the reason most often cited by both Washington and Tel Aviv for American interference in Syria, where it has no other actual interest apart from an apparent demented desire to remove President Bashar al-Assad.

In fact, all of the turmoil about what Trump might or might not do, plus the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has enabled the White House to move quietly ahead with its major foreign policy objective, which is, not surprisingly, destroying Iran. On October 28th, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin was in Israel – of course – where he announced at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would increase economic pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, saying that  “We have executed on a maximum pressure campaign for sanctions. They have worked, they are working, they are cutting off the money. We will continue to ramp up, more, more, more ...” Turning to Netanyahu he added “I just came from a very productive working lunch with your team. They gave us a bunch of very specific ideas that we will be following up.” Netanyahu responded “So I want to thank you for what you’ve been doing and encourage you, Steve, to do more - more, a lot more.”

Mnuchin the Poodle, who did not seem to know that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, was referring to the latest round of sanctions, announced in Washington three days before, that are clearly intended to make it impossible for Iran to use the international banking system to engage in any commerce at all. To achieve that objective, the Trump administration sought to exclude Iran from the global financial system by declaring that the country is a “jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern.”

The new designation, which comes on top of the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) similar designation for the Iranian Central Bank, requires U.S. banks to conduct “special due diligence” on accounts maintained by foreign banks if those foreign banks themselves hold accounts for Iranian financial institutions. The chain of secondary sanctions means that, in practical terms, U.S. banks will press their foreign correspondents to close any accounts maintained on behalf of Iranian banks so as to eliminate sanctions risk. This will further sever Iran from the global financial system, as Iran’s few remaining non-designated banks will find it increasingly difficult to maintain accounts abroad.

Treasury’s designation of Iran as a primary jurisdiction of money laundering will make it impossible for the few Iranian banks that deal internationally to maintain what limited overseas accounts continue to be available to them. The blocking of those accounts, either held directly by the Iranians or through other banks, will mean that Iranian importers will be unable to pay for medicine or food coming into the country, the so-called humanitarian goods that are normally exempted from sanctions. The new OFAC regulation does provide a framework for banks to continue hold Iranian accounts by filing detailed monthly reports, but the paperwork and other procedures are deliberately onerous and it is likely that few international banks will be interested in making the effort to comply.

That there is a coordinated scheme being pursued to continuously increase the punishment of the Iranian people was also suggested last Wednesday when the Trump administration joined six Persian Gulf nations in sanctioning over two dozen corporations, banks and entities that, it was claimed, are connected to Iranian support of Hezbollah and other groups the Department of State designates as terrorists. In a statement, the Treasury Department announced the sanctions mark the “largest joint designation to date” by the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) — which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. According to the Treasury Department, several of the companies sanctioned were financially supporting a subsidiary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the U.S. designated as a terrorist organization earlier this year.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, on his tour of the Middle East, remarked that “This action demonstrates the unified position of the Gulf nations and the United States that Iran will not be allowed to escalate its malign activity in the region.”

Make no mistake, the United States is conducting an economic war against Iran that is undeniably aimed at making the Iranian people so miserable that they will rise up in revolt. And the punishment being meted out will hurt the poorest and weakest most of all while also hardening support for the regime rather than weakening it. Not only is the White House action directed against Iran immoral, it is also illegal as Iran and the United States are not at war and Iran does not threaten Americans in any way. The whole affair is just one more example of how powerful domestic constituencies, in this case that of Israel, have distorted U.S. foreign policy and driven it in directions that are both shameful and that serve no plausible national interest.

Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.

Killing Julian Assange: Justice Denied When Exposing Official Wrongdoing

undefinedundefined

The hideous treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues and many observers are citing his case as being symptomatic of developing “police state” tendencies in both the United States and in Europe, where rule of law is being subordinated to political expediency.

Julian Assange was the founder and editor-in-chief of the controversial news and information site WikiLeaks. As the name implies, after 2006 the site became famous, or perhaps notorious, for its publication of materials that have been leaked to it by government officials and other sources who consider the information to be of value to the public but unlikely to be accepted by the mainstream media, which has become increasingly corporatized and timid.

WikiLeaks became known to a global audience back in 2010 when it obtained from US Army enlisted soldier Bradley Manning a large quantity of classified documents relating to the various wars that the United States was fighting in Asia. Some of the material included what might be regarded as war crimes.

WikiLeaks again became front page news over the 2016 presidential election, when the website released the emails of candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta. The emails revealed how Clinton and her team collaborated with the Democratic National Committee to ensure that she would be nominated rather that Bernie Sanders. It should be noted that the material released by WikiLeaks was largely documentary and factual in nature, i.e. it was not “fake news.”

Because he is a journalist ostensibly protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, the handling of the “threat” posed by journalist Assange is inevitably somewhat different than a leak by a government official, referred to as a whistleblower. Assange has been vilified as an “enemy of the state,” likely even a Russian agent, and was initially pursued by the Swedish authorities after claims of a rape, later withdrawn, were made against him. To avoid arrest, he was given asylum by a friendly Ecuadorean government seven years ago in London. The British police had an active warrant to arrest him immediately as he had failed to make a bail hearing after he obtained asylum, which is indeed what took place when Quito revoked his protected status in April.

As it turned out, Julian Assange was not exactly alone when he was in the Ecuadorean Embassy. All of his communications, including with his lawyers, were being intercepted by a Spanish security company hired for the purpose allegedly by the CIA. There apparently was also a CIA plan to kidnap Assange. In a normal court in a normal country, the government case would have been thrown out on constitutional and legal grounds, but that was not so in this instance. The United States has persisted in its demands to obtain the extradition of Assange from Britain and London seems to be more than willing to play along. Assange is undeniably hated by the American political Establishment and even much of the media in bipartisan fashion, with the Democrats blaming him for Hillary Clinton’s loss while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has labeled him a “fraud, a coward and an enemy.” WikiLeaks itself is regarded by the White House as a “hostile non-government intelligence service.” Sending Julian Assange to prison for the rest of his life may be called justice, but it is really revenge against someone who has exposed government lies. Some American politicians have even asserted that jail is too good for Assange, insisting that he should instead be executed.

The actual charges laid out in the US indictment are for alleged conspiracy with Chelsea Manning to publish the “Iraq War Logs,” the “Afghan War Logs” and the US State Department cables. On May 23rd, the United States government further charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which criminalizes any exposure of classified US government information anywhere in the world by anyone. Its use would create a precedent: any investigative journalist who exposes US government malfeasance could be similarly charged.

Assange is currently incarcerated in solitary confinement at high-security Belmarsh prison. It is possible that the Justice Department, after it obtains Assange through extradition, will attempt to make the case that Assange actively colluded with the Russian government, a conspiracy to “defraud the United States” to put it in legalese. Assange is unlikely to receive anything approaching a fair trial no matter what the charges are.

Assange’s prison term ended on September 22nd, but an earlier procedural hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court had already decided that a full hearing on extradition to the US would not begin until February 25th, 2020. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange would not be released even though the prison term had ended, because he was a flight risk. His status in the prison system was duly changed from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition and his final hearing would be at the high security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court rather than in a normal civil court. Belmarsh is where terrorists are routinely tried and the proceedings there permit only minimal public and media scrutiny.

Most recently, on October 21st, 2019, Assange was again in Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a “case management hearing” regarding his possible extradition to the US Judge Baraitser denied a defense team request for a three-month delay so that they could gather evidence in light of the fact that Assange had been denied access to his own papers and documents in order to prepare his defense. British government prosecutor James Lewis QC and the five US “representatives” present opposed any delay in the extradition proceedings and were supported by Judge Baraitser, denying any delay in the proceedings.

Another procedural hearing will take place on December 19th followed by the full extradition hearing in February, at which time Assange will presumably be turned over to US Marshalls for transportation to the Federal prison in Virginia to await trial. That is, of course, assuming that he lives that long as his health has visibly deteriorated and there have been claims that he has been tortured by the British authorities.

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray, who knows Julian Assange well, was present when he appeared in court on the 21st. Murray was shocked by Assange’s appearance, noting that he had lost weight and looked like he had aged considerable. He was walking with a pronounced limp and when the judge asked him questions, to include his name and date of birth, he had trouble responding. Murray described him as a “shambling, incoherent wreck” and also concluded that “one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes.”

The British court was oblivious to Assange’s poor condition, with Judge Baraitser telling the clearly struggling prisoner that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. Objections to what was happening made by both Assange and his lawyers were dismissed by the Crown’s legal representatives, often after discussions with the American officials present, a process described in full by Murray, who, after describing the miscarriage of justice he had just witnessed observed that Julian Assange is being “slowly killed in public sight and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing.” He concluded that “Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?” Indeed.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Trump cancels the pullout from Syria then flip-flops, threatens war with Turkey and gives money to terrorists

undefined

The long nightmare in Syria might finally be coming to an end, but not thanks to the United States and the administration of President Donald Trump. Trump’s boast that “this was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else” was as empty as all the other rhetoric coming out of the White House over the past two and a half years. Nevertheless, it now appears that the U.S. military just might finally be bidding farewell to an exercise that began under President Barack Obama as a prime bit of liberal interventionism, with American forces illegally entering into a conflict that the White House barely understood and subsequently meddling and prolonging the fighting.

The fundamental reason why the U.S. was so ineffective was that the Obama Administration’s principal objective from the beginning was to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, yet another attempt at “humanitarian” regime change similar to that which produced such a wonderful result in Libya. Al-Assad was never in serious danger as he had significant popular support, including from the country’s Christian minority, and American piecemeal attempts to negotiate some kind of exit strategy were doomed as they eschewed any dealing with the legitimate government that was in place. The Syrian civil war supported and even enabled by Washington caused more than 500,000 deaths, created some 9 million internal and external refugees, and destroyed the Syrian economy and infrastructure while also almost starting a war between the U.S. and Turkey.

The Russians understood the American mistake and consequently were able to arrange a settlement which now appears to be viable. They were able to deal with the Syrian government, Turkey, and the Kurds who had been set adrift by Washington. The arrangement arrived at has a number of significant features. First, it guarantees Syria’s territory integrity, which presumably means the U.S. will eventually have to evacuate its remaining positions in the oil region. Second, it satisfies Turkish legitimate security demands for a disarmed safe zone, which means that Kurdish militias will have to disarm and/or move twenty miles away from the border. The safe zone will be patrolled by the Syrian Army and the Russians with Turkish observers. Third, all separatist groups (terrorists) will be hunted down and eliminated and further attempts by them to reestablish in Syria will be opposed by all parties to the agreement. Fourth, steps will be taken to make possible the orderly return of refugees to Syria.

It is undeniably true that throughout the Syrian farrago, President Trump’s admittedly inherited policy could not possibly have been more incoherent, occasionally bizarre, predictably inconsistent, and actually dangerous to genuine American interests in the region. It is to everyone’s benefit that the game is finally over, but one can expect the neoconservatives in the United States to do their best to bring about yet another reversal by Trump.

It must be conceded that along the way, President Trump was not exactly acting with a free hand. He has been beleaguered by a Deep State conspiracy against him that began even before he was nominated, though he didn’t have to help his enemies by shooting himself in the head at every opportunity through tweets and demeaning language. The apparent commitment to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria was long overdue as Washington’s involvement in the fighting was wrong by every measure right from the beginning and remaining has only served to make more complicated the country’s recovery from eight years of conflict. It also was contrary to its publicly stated objective of destroying ISIS. A strong Syrian government was and is best placed to do just that and Washington, in a panic to recruit, train and arm mercenaries to fight Damascus often wound up arming terrorists.

But doing what is right does not go far in today’s United States of America and the fact that Trump is now taking credit for a ceasefire and by extension a settlement of the conflict means little as he has predictably folded already once on plans to withdraw. The argument that the Kurds have been betrayed has a certain cogency, but the reality is that the Kurdish leaders entered into a relationship with the U.S. military based on their own interests with no expectation that Washington would be backing them up forever. They are now well placed to cut their own deals with both Damascus and Ankara, with Russia in the middle working to sustain the agreement to end the fighting and restore the Syrian state’s status ante bellum.

To give Trump his due, his original announcement that he was removing ALL U.S. troops from Syria made powerful new enemies in the Israel Lobby, which has been backing the president because of his many favors to Tel Aviv but which has never really liked or trusted him. Israel has long, and even openly, promoted the breaking up of Syria into its component tribal and religious parts to enable the acquisition of even more land in the Golan Heights and to reduce dramatically the threat coming from any unified government in Damascus. It has also seen the Syrian civil war as a proxy conflict fought by the its poodle the United States against Iran. Israel and its friends in Congress and the media will, to say the least, be disappointed if the war is now truly ended and the U.S. military is withdrawn.

Trump also must continue to deal with the fallout from his Democratic Party opponents, having given them a cudgel to beat him over the head with as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff all wax emotional over how they really love those “freedom fighting” Kurds. The Democrats, having denounced Trump with one voice, were joined by Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and the ever-versatile Lindsay Graham, all dedicated to the continuation of an interventionist foreign policy, though they would never quite call it that. It is not likely that any of them are really pleased with a deal to end the Syrian fighting.

So the opposition, coming from multiple directions against a Donald Trump also on the impeachment block for Ukraine, will continue and as of this writing it is by no means clear what will happen vis-à-vis the Pentagon announcing that some troops, augmented by armor units, would remain in Syria to protect the oil fields. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper explained to reporters that the remaining U.S. troops would seek “to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities.” The president has also suggested, in true Trumpean fashion, that “We want to keep the oil, and we’ll work something out with the Kurds. … Maybe we’ll have one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly,” a step that even the feckless Obama Administration had hesitated to take on legal grounds as the oil unquestionably belongs to Syria. Trump’s amigo Senator Lindsey Graham elaborated on the plan, saying bluntly that “We can use some of the revenues from future Syrian oil sales to pay our military commitment in Syria.”

And there will be additional fallout from Syria in the damaged relationships in the region. Demonstrating that it could actually screw up two things simultaneously, the White House had unleashed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned last Tuesday that the United States was ready to go to war against Turkey if it proved necessary. He said “We prefer peace to war… But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.” Pompeo’s comment comes on top of Trump warnings that he would “obliterate” or “destroy” the Turkish economy, statements that did not sit well in Ankara and will predictably only create new problems with a NATO member that has the largest army and economy in the Middle East.

And in another maladroit move, the White House has just announced that it will be giving $4.5 million to the so-called White Helmets, the major propaganda arm of the Syrian “resistance.” Falsely claiming to be a humanitarian rescue and relief organization, the White Helmets produced carefully edited films of “heroism under fire” that have been released worldwide. The films conceal the White Helmets’ relationship with the al-Qaeda affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra and its participation in the torture and execution of “rebel” opponents. Indeed, the White Helmets only operated in rebel held territory, which enabled them to shape the narrative both regarding who they were and what was occurring on the ground.

The White Helmets travelled to bombing sites with their film crews trailing behind them. Once at the sites, with no independent observers, they are able to arrange or even stage what was filmed to conform to their selected narrative. Perhaps the most serious charge against the White Helmets consists of the evidence that they actively participated in the atrocities, to include torture and murder, carried out by their al-Nusra hosts. There have been numerous photos of the White Helmets operating directly with armed terrorists and also celebrating over the bodies of execution victims and murdered Iraqi soldiers. The group’s jihadi associates regard the White Helmets as fellow “mujahideen” and “soldiers of the revolution.”

Some White Helmets continue to operate in Syria’s terrorist-controlled Idlib province, raising the question whether the United States is prepared to give more taxpayer derived money directly to terrorists. Several months ago, as the Syrian Army closed in on some of the other pockets where the White Helmets operated, the U.S. and Israel mounted an operation to evacuate many of them. Some of them and their families were moved to Israel and Jordan and many of them have wound up in Canada. If the White House again does a flip-flop and pulls the plug on the money earmarked for them it would truly be a welcome sign that the U.S. has realized that the game is over and its direct involvement in Syria should be ended.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest

Reprinted with permission from Unz Review.

Trump and Erdogan Are Alike: Both Are ‘Thin-Skinned’ and Relied on ‘Deplorables’ to Win

undefined

The apparent communications problems that have arisen between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are basically due to Trump’s failure to understand that Erdogan is essentially his Turkish counterpart in more ways that the title of the office that they both hold. They rose to power in a similar fashion, based on an understanding that there were large numbers of disenchanted essentially conservative voters, and they continue to rule in an unorthodox fashion that combines a high level of personal sensitivity with a tolerance for corruption plus a tendency to come out with brash misstatements.

One does not expect Trump to actually know anything about Turkey and its history, or, for that matter, about the political trajectory of Erdogan, but the American president’s businessman’s belief that his personal relationship with other countries’ leaders is enough to run a foreign policy is nevertheless seriously flawed. Trump has described Erdogan as a “friend” based on several personal meetings and phone calls, though it is very unlikely that the canny politician Erdogan would describe the relationship in the same manner. Trump’s most recent personal letter to the Turkish leader was reportedly thrown into the waste basket without being read.

Istanbul-born Erdogan, unlike Trump, came from a poor family and first became known as a professional soccer player. Also unlike Trump, he was and is deeply religious. He became a ward politician in Istanbul and was subsequently elected Mayor of the city in 1994 as the candidate of the moderately Islamist Welfare Party. Openly espoused religious parties were at that time illegal under the secular constitution imposed by the military in 1982, so he was stripped of his position by a military tribunal, banned from political office, and imprisoned for four months for the crime of “inciting religious hatred.”

After he was released from prison, Erdogan considered how to get around the ban on religion in politics, co-founding the ostensibly moderate and secular conservative Justice and Development Party known as AKP in 2001. In 2002, AKP won a landslide victory in national elections, but as Erdogan was technically still prohibited from holding office, the AKP’s co-founder, Abdullah Gul, instead becoming Prime Minister, which then led to the Chamber of Deputies’ legislative annulling of Erdogan’s political ban. Erdogan replaced Gul as Prime Minister in 2003. Erdogan led the AKP to two more election victories in 2007 and 2011, before being elected president in 2014, winning again in 2018.

The first years of Erdogan’s prime-ministership were politically moderate as Turkey was still governed under the military imposed constitution. There were promising negotiations for Turkey to enter the European union, foreign investment was encouraged, the economy benefited from measures to free up businesses from state control, and there was considerable state money spent on infrastructure. Behind the scenes, however, Erdogan worked closely with Fethullah Gulen and his Gulen Movement, currently designated as a terrorist organization, to purge the government of secular bureaucrats and army officers using Gulen’s networking and the judicial system, most notably through several show trials of military officers that led to constitutional referenda that both weakened the military’s grip and enabled the legalization of expressions of Muslim piety.

Erdogan was damaged by a series of anti-government protests that began in 2013. His response, like that of Donald Trump, has been to become increasingly authoritarian, claiming that the opposition to him was treasonous. He banned social media, took control of the judicial system, and arrested both journalists and opposition politicians. Opponents responded by going after massive corruption in the administration that included the prime minister’s sons and his chief financial supporters. A file containing recordings of conversations between Erdogan and his son in December 2013, in which he appeared to be providing instructions on how to conceal very large amounts of money, was made public. Erdogan denied that the conversation was genuine, instead calling it an “immoral montage.”

Subsequently, a widely publicized failed military coup in 2016 was blamed on Gulen but was more likely than not allowed to develop by Erdogan himself to provide an excuse for further repression of critics. More than 150,000 civil servants have since that time been fired and replaced by Erdogan loyalists.

In 2017 Erdogan formed an alliance with the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) to promote a constitutional referendum on the form of government. In spite of fierce opposition and considerable electoral fraud, the referendum passed and the new system of government, a presidential system without a prime minister, formally came into place after the 2018 national election, which was won by Erdogan and the new AKP-MHP People’s Alliance.

A currency and debt crisis beginning in 2018 have caused a significant decline in Erdogan’s popularity and led to a loss in the 2019 local elections in which the ruling party lost control of the capital Ankara and largest city and financial hub Istanbul for the first time in 25 years. After the loss, the Turkish government ordered a re-election in Istanbul, in which AKP-MHP lost the election again by an even greater margin. The two successive losses severely damaged Erdogan politically speaking. He had once said that if we “lose Istanbul, we would lose Turkey,” with critics calling the loss the “beginning of the end” for him.

The central point is that, like Trump’s plea to Make America Great Again, Erdogan rose to power by virtue of his realization that the often deeply religious Turkish peasantry, which was increasingly moving to the country’s large cities, was a disaffected pool of voters that had not been tapped emotionally or even practically by any of the major political parties. That that was so was largely due to the fact that the country’s military imposed constitution enshrined the secularism of the nation’s founder Kemal Ataturk and appointed the army as the guarantor of the Ataturk principles. Erdogan was arrested but he subsequently skillfully avoided prosecution during his rise due to his willingness to use language and metaphors that appealed to what he perceived as the devout but largely un-politicized majority. This is not dissimilar to Trump’s appeal to the so-called “deplorables” and it explains why both leaders have core supporters who follow them with a real passion.

Other similarities between the two include a propensity to say things spontaneously that are both absurd and politically damaging, a belief that the chief executive should have no restraint exercised over his policies and positions, sons who are benefitting from their father’s position, and a lack of discretion when using the telephone.

And then there is the style issue – both men are blunt, thin skinned and assertive, unwilling to be upstaged by anyone, which suggests that they have had a tendency to talk past each other either on the phone or in person. This explains the curious misunderstanding of what the Americans and Turks pledged to do over the phone in the aftermath of the partial withdrawal of US troops from the Syrian border region several weeks ago. It also explains why there will be no quick resolution to the problems that both Ankara and Washington have created as Syria struggles to return to something approaching normalcy.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

A Call for a Coup Plus a Week Like No Other for Tulsi Gabbard

undefined

There was what might be described as an extraordinary amount of nonsense being promoted by last week’s media. Unfortunately, some of it was quite dangerous. Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the Navy Seals when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed and who has been riding that horse ever since, announced that if Donald Trump continues to fail to provide the type of leadership the country needs, he should be replaced by whatever means are necessary. The op-ed entitled “Our Republic is Under Attack by the President” with the subtitle “If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office” was featured in the New York Times, suggesting that the Gray Lady was providing its newspaper of record seal of approval for what might well be regarded as a call for a military coup.

McRaven’s exact words, after some ringing praise for the military and all its glorious deeds in past wars, were that the soldiers, sailors and marines now must respond because “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.”

McRaven then elaborated that “These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’”

It is a call to arms if there ever was one. Too bad Trump can’t strip McRaven of his pension and generous health care benefits for starters and McRaven might also consider that he could be recalled to active duty by Trump and court martialed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And the good admiral, who up until 2018 headed the state university system in Texas, might also receive well merited pushback for his assessment of America’s role in the world over the past two decades, in which he was a major player, at least in terms of dealing out punishment. He wrote ““We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.”

Utter B.S., of course. The United States has been acting as the embodiment of a rogue nation, lashing out pointlessly and delivering death and destruction. If McRaven truly believes what he says he is not only violating his oath to defend the constitution while also toying with treason, he is an idiot and should never have been allowed to run anything more demanding than a hot dog stand. Washington has been systematically blowing people up worldwide for no good reasons, killing possibly as many as 4 million mostly Muslims, while systematically stripping Americans of their Bill of Rights at home. “Good guys” and “champions of justice” indeed!

And then there is the Great Hillary Clinton caper. In an interview last week Hillary claimed predictably that Donald Trump is “Vladimir Putin’s dream,” and then went on to assert that there would be other Russian assets emerging, including nestled in the bosom of her own beloved Democratic Party. She said, clearly suggesting that it would be Tulsi Gabbard, that “They’re also going to do third-party again. I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

Clinton explained how the third-party designation would work, saying of Jill Stein, who ran for president in 2016 as a Green Party candidate, “And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset — I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.”

Tulsi responded courageously and accurately “Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”

Tulsi has in fact been attacked relentless by the Establishment since she announced that she would be running for the Democratic nomination. Shortly before last Tuesday’s Democratic candidate debate the New York Times ran an article suggesting that Gabbard was an isolationist, was being promoted by Russia and was an apologist for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. In reality, Gabbard is the only candidate willing to confront America’s warfare-national security state.

The Hillary Clinton attack on Gabbard and on the completely respectable Jill Stein is to a certain extent incomprehensible unless one lives in the gutter that she and Bill have wallowed in ever since they rose to prominence in Arkansas. Hillary, the creator of the private home server for classified information as well as author of the catastrophic war against Libya and the Benghazi debacle has a lot to answer for but will never be held accountable, any more than her husband Bill for his rapes and molestations. And when it comes to foreign interference, Gabbard is being pilloried because the Russian media regards her favorably while the Clinton Foundation has taken tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments and billionaires seeking quid pro quos, much of which has gone to line the pockets of Hillary, Bill and Chelsea.

Finally, one comment about the Democratic Party obsession with the Russians. The media was enthusing last Friday over a photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing up across a table from President Trump and pointing at him before walking out of the room. The gushing regarding how a powerful, strong woman was defying the horrible chief executive was both predictable and ridiculous. By her own admission Pelosi’s last words before departing were “All roads lead to Putin.” I will leave it up to the reader to interpret what that was supposed to mean.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Sanctioning Away Free Speech: Americans Meet With Iranians at Their Peril

undefined

The issue of the United States waging what seems to be a global war by way of sanctions rarely surfaces in the western media. The argument being made by the White House is that sanctions are capable of putting maximum pressure on a rogue regime without the necessity of having to go to war and actually kill people, but the reality is that while economic warfare may seem to be more benign than bombing and shooting the reality is that thousands of people die anyway, whether through starvation or inability to obtain medicines. It is often noted that 500,000 Iraqi children died in the 1990s due to sanctions imposed by the Bill Clinton White House and current estimates of deaths in Syria, Iran and Venezuela number in the tens of thousands.

And meanwhile the regimes that are under siege through sanctions do not, in fact, capitulate to American demands even when they are feeling considerable pain. Cuba has been sanctioned by Washington since 1960 and nothing has been accomplished, apart from providing an excuse for the regime to tighten its control over the people. Indeed, one might argue that free trade and travel would have likely succeeded in democratizing Cuba much more quickly than threats coupled with a policy of economic and political isolation.

Apart from their ineffectiveness, the dark side of sanctions is what they do to third parties who get caught up in the conflict. America’s recently imposed total ban on Iranian petroleum exports comes with secondary sanctions that can be initiated on any country that buys the oil, alienating Washington’s few remaining friends and creating universal concern regarding the United States’ long-term intentions. Indeed, the United States was a country that prior to the “Global war on terror” was generally liked and respected, but today it is widely regarded as the most dangerous threat to peace in the world. This shift in perception is due to the actual wars that the US has started as well as the sanctions regime which has as its objective regime change of governments that it disapproves of.

Another aspect to sanctions that is somewhat invisible is the impact that government action has had on what are regarded as the constitutional rights of American citizens. Max Blumenthal has written an interesting article on a recent application of sanctions that has affected a group of citizens who were seeking to attend a conference in Beirut Lebanon.

Blumenthal describes how the attempt to criminalize any participation in a conference sponsored by the Iranian NGO New Horizon as a “significant escalation in the Trump administration’s strategy of ‘maximum pressure’ to bring about regime change in Iran.” A number of Americans who had intended to speak or otherwise participate in the conference were approached in advance by FBI agents, evidently acting under orders from Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The Agents warned that any participants in the conference might be subject to arrest upon return to the US because New Horizon is under sanctions. One of those who was approached by the Bureau explained that “They’re interpreting the regulations to say that even if you associate with someone who has been sanctioned, you are subject to fines and imprisonment. I haven’t seen anything in the regulations that allows that, but they’ve set the bar so low that anyone can be designated.”

The New Horizon Conference is an annual event organized by Iranian TV host and filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh and his wife, Zeina Mehanna. New Horizon was placed under financial sanctions earlier this year by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). [Full disclosure: the author attended and spoke at the conference in Mashhad last year]

US government interest in New Horizon conferences appeared to begin in 2014, after the Jewish Anti-Defamation league (ADL) called that year’s meeting an “anti-Semitic gathering” that “included US and international anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and anti-war activists.”

Potential participants in the Beirut conference made strenuous efforts to find out just what the consequences might be if they were to attend the event, but the Treasury Department refused to be drawn into a debate over restrictions that were arguably unconstitutional. Lawyers who were consulted warned that any notice from the FBI that someone might be arrested should be interpreted as meaning that someone will be arrested. Other sources in the government suggested privately that the Trump Administration would be delighted if it could make an example of some Americans who were soft on Iran.

Now that the conference has been concluded without any significant American presence, there has been some clarification of how the sanctions might be applied. Responding to a query by a potential participant, an OFAC employee explained that “transaction” and “dealing in transactions,” as those terms are used by OFAC, are broadly construed to include not only monetary dealings or exchanges, but also “providing any sort of service” and “non-monetary service,” including giving a presentation at a conference. Any person engaging in that activity could be subject to legal consequences because the Treasury Department and OFAC have broad latitude to take action against persons who violate its rules or guidelines, and that a range of factors are taken into consideration when deciding to take action against any specific person or for any specific violation.

When asked whether dealing with non-sanctioned Iranian organizations might also be construed negatively, the OFAC employee observed that there could or might be consequences. That’s because Iran (along with North Korea and a few other countries) is a “comprehensively sanctioned” country, meaning that anything having to do with “supporting it” is sanctionable.

Exactly how speaking at any Iranian sponsored event is damaging to American interests remains unclear, in spite of the “clarification” provided by OFAC, but the real damage is to those US citizens who choose to travel to countries that are at odds with Washington to offer a different perspective on what Americans actually think. And there is also considerable value in those travelers returning to the United States to share with fellow citizens perceptions of how foreigners regard US foreign policy, insofar as anything describable as a policy actually exists. In truth, the sanctions regime with its steady diet of punishment has now entered a new phase, as Blumenthal observed, where White House aggression overseas is now blowing back, eroding the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights in an act of self-destruction that is both unnecessary and incomprehensible.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Trump Administration Provides New Evidence for a Saudi Connection to 9/11

undefined

The debate over what actually occurred on 9/11 and, more to the point, who might have been behind it, continues to preoccupy many observers worldwide. There is considerable legitimate concern that the commission that reviewed the incident engaged in a cover-up designed either to excuse a catastrophic failure on the part of the United States’ national security apparatus, or even connivance of federal agencies in the attack itself. And then there is the issue of possible foreign government involvement.

The roles of the Saudi Arabian, Israeli and Pakistani governments and security services has never been adequately investigated in spite of the fact that all three countries had clear involvement with the mostly Saudi individuals who have been identified as the attackers. Beyond that, Israel had intelligence operatives that appeared to be celebrating the fall of the twin towers in real time, an involvement in what took place that has never been comprehensively looked at by .law enforcement due to unwillingness to offend the Israelis.

It was Saudi Arabia which had the most sustained and personal contact with some of the alleged hijackers. For years, families of victims have been seeking to find out more about the possible Saudi role, admittedly so they can sue the Kingdom in US courts under existing anti-terrorism legislation that dates from 2016 and is referred to as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The Act permits lawsuits in the US directed against any country whose government supports international terrorism.

The plaintiffs have won something of a victory recently with the Trump administration decision to declassify a key name of a Saudi official who has been long sought by the relatives of the victims. Under the terms of the information release, the government as well as the victims’ lawyers, who received the name under a “protective order,” have not been allowed to expose the name publicly.

The declassified name, which came from an FBI investigative file, is, however, only a partial victory for the group that goes by the name 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism. The release of other documents relating to the Saudi role is pending, possibly due to the Trump White House’s insistence on maintaining good relations with the Kingdom and more particularly with its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but the plaintiffs wonder how it is possible that information on the attack should still be classified more than eighteen years after the fact.

The name of the official is nevertheless important, even a “top priority,” because it is believed that he was a senior intelligence officer who was meeting with two men who may have assisted the alleged hijackers. The FBI even refers to it as “the primary piece of information that the plaintiffs in the 9/11 litigation have been seeking.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington has not commented on the report and the White House referred inquiries to the Justice Department, which did not comment beyond stating that it had been a top-level decision not to invoke the so-called “state secrets” privilege to keep the information classified.

Previous exposure of a possible Saudi role in 9/11 came with the release of the redacted “28 pages” of the 9/11 report on July 15, 2016. To be sure there were extensive deletions from the text to protect names and sources, but the document produced by the White House was at the time reported to be largely complete. CIA Director John Brennan provided some damage control prior to the release by arguing that much of the information contained in the redacted section consisted of “raw” and untested information, suggesting that it might not be completely reliable, while some who had seen the full document revealed through leaks that there would be no “smoking gun” exposing direct Saudi involvement in 9/11.

The release of the document produced a brief flurry in the media but, perhaps intentionally, the story disappeared amidst the avalanche of political convention reporting that summer. There was a great deal of new information, though most of it served to corroborate or expand on what was already known and reported. One snippet that was particularly interesting recounted how in 1999 two Saudi men on a flight from Phoenix to Washington DC for an alleged visit to the Saudi Embassy to attend a party asked numerous questions about the plane’s security and tried several times to enter the cockpit. They claimed their tickets were paid for by the Saudi Embassy.

There is a direct link between some of the 9/11 hijackers and presumed agents of the Saudi government but the 28 pages do not provide any conclusive evidence demonstrating collusion. In fact, the snippets rather suggest that the Saudis were more likely keeping tabs on some citizens whom they quite rightly might have suspected as threatening to their own national security. There are several hints in the text that the Saudis were quite aggressively running their own operations against their diaspora citizens. It was noted several times that they failed to fully cooperate with US counter-terror investigators prior to 9/11, which would not be surprising if they were simultaneous acting independently.

The key player in the story who directly assisted some hijackers, one Omar al-Bayoumi, has been described as a “non-official cover” intelligence officer, but the way his funding from the Embassy and other official sources fluctuated to pay him sometimes irregularly rather suggests that he might have been a source or informer, not an actual government case officer. Several other Saudis identified in the 28 pages also fit the same profile. Bayoumi was in regular contact with Fahad al-Thumairy, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, who may have been an actual intelligence officer and his controller.

There was also considerable evidence that Saudi government-funded charities, some linked to the Royal Family, did fund the alleged hijackers but the FBI did not find evidence that the government or senior Saudi officials were involved. The US government concluded that the document did not demonstrate any intent by the government in Riyadh to enable its citizens to carry out a terrorist attack on US soil nor knowledge that anything like that might be developing. It should also be noted for what it’s worth that the Bush Administration clearly regarded Saudi Arabia as a special friend and directed the FBI and CIA to “back off” from aggressively investigating its intelligence operations in the US and globally. Whether that made any difference in terms of what subsequently transpired cannot be determined, just as the surfacing of a new name for the families of victims may not prove to materially affect the viability of a lawsuit directed against Saudi Arabia.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Trump Frees Himself From Bolton – but Robert O’Brien Will Be Just as Bad

undefined

After months of rumors, John Bolton was finally fired from the White House but the post mortem on why it took so long to remove him continues, with the punditry and media trying to understand exactly what happened and why. Perhaps the most complete explanation for what occurred came from President Donald Trump himself shortly after the fact. He said, in some impromptu comments, that his national security advisor had “…made some very big mistakes when he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong Un. That was not a good statement to make. You just take a look at what happened with Gadhafi. That was not a good statement to make. And it set us back.”

Trump has a point in that Bolton was clearly suggesting that North Korea get rid of its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits, but it was the wrong example to pick as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave up his weapons and was then ousted and brutally killed in a rebel uprising that was supported by Washington. The Bolton analogy, which may have been deliberate attempt to sabotage any rapprochement, made impossible any agreement between Kim and Trump as Kim received the message loud and clear that he might suffer the same fate.

More recently, Bolton might have been behind media leaks that scuttled Trump’s plan to meet with Taliban representatives and that also, acting on behalf of Israel, undercut a presidential suggestion that he might meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Trump summed up his disagreements with Bolton by saying that the National Security Advisor “wasn’t getting along” with other administration officials, adding that “Frankly he wanted to do things — not necessarily tougher than me. John’s known as a tough guy. He’s so tough he got us into Iraq. That’s tough. But he’s somebody that I actually had a very good relationship with, but he wasn’t getting along with people in the administration who I consider very important. And you know John wasn’t in line with what we were doing. And actually in some cases he thought it was too tough, what we were doing. Mr. Tough Guy.”

Trump’s final comment on Bolton was that “I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can do to spin it his way,” a throw-away line that could well set the stage for what comes next. Bolton has many supporters among hardliners in the GOP and the media and will no doubt be inclined to respond to the president in kind, but once the back and forth starts many other factors and relationships will come into play.

After the firing, it was widely believed that Donald Trump might have actually gotten rid of Bolton for all the right reasons, namely that as president he is disinclined to start any new wars and seeks negotiated solutions to existing conflicts, both of which concepts were no doubt regarded as anathema by the National Security Advisor. Unfortunately, that argument runs into problems where rhetoric and deeds disconnect if one considers actual actions undertaken by the president, to include the man that Trump has now named as Bolton’s replacement, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien.

O’Brien might well have been ranked among the worst possible choices among the names floated in the media for the National Security Advisor position, mostly because he is almost completely lacking in actual experience related to the job. To be sure, he looks more presentable than the wild-eyed and walrus mustachioed Bolton, but Trump has repeatedly been overly deferential towards the bona fides of hardliners like O’Brien who boast of American Exceptionalism. The president will also likely appreciate that the sycophantic O’Brien’s lack of experience will mean that he will be completely deferential to the Chief Executive’s point of view at all times.

Trump’s cabinet choices have been so bad that they have led to musical chairs in nearly all senior positions. The president is to blame for having appointed Bolton, a man he disliked, though admittedly under orders from Israeli-American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and he also did not have to elevate Mike Pompeo first as CIA Director and then as Secretary of State. There is no one around who outdoes Pompeo when it comes to avoiding diplomacy and negotiations while also threatening dire consequences for America’s “enemies.” O’Brien’s hardline credentials are largely indistinguishable from those of Pompeo and Bolton and it is widely believed that his appointment was due to advocacy by the Secretary of State, who is reportedly assembling his national security team.

And it should be observed that Trump’s claimed avoidance of war credentials are pretty thin. Far from fulfilling campaign promises to end the wars he inherited, Donald Trump has continued and even escalated those conflicts. He has withdrawn from agreements with Russia and Iran that enhanced US national security. Drone strikes under Trump have increased dramatically and have exceeded the number occurring during both of Obama’s terms, while new rules of engagement have led to a major increase in civilian casualties from US bombing directed against ISIS and the Taliban. Most recently in Afghanistan, 30 farm workers were killed in a drone strike. Trump is also doubling down on his support for the Saudi genocide against Yemen.

And the president has demonstrated that he is willing to attack countries that do not threaten the US and with which Washington is not at war. He has twice illegally bombed Syria based on phony intelligence and even when he decided at the last minute not to use force, as he did earlier this year with Iran, there was no serious evidence that he was truly seeking dialogue. He is waging “maximum pressure” economic warfare against both Iran and Venezuela, in both of which countries he has called for regime change. He has threatened Russia over Crimea and Ukraine and is in a trade war with China. Transparent regime change policies coupled with willy-nilly imposing of sanctions are destructive, hostile steps that kill people in the targeted countries and make enemies where none previously existed.

America’s new National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien recently featured in a taxpayer funded trip to Stockholm to obtain the release of rapper ASAP Rocky, who had been arrested after getting involved in a fist fight. O’Brien had orders to threaten unspecified retaliation against the Swedish government if it did not accede to White House demands. That exercise in international bullying means that O’Brien is quintessentially Trump’s kind of guy. He has written a book entitled While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis, calling on the United States to end any “appeasement and retreat,” and has described the nuclear agreement with Iran, in predictable neocon fashion, as a repeat of 1938, Hitler and Munich. He was Mitt Romney’s foreign policy adviser and is a Mormon, which means he basically lines up alongside the Christian Zionists when it comes to Israel.

The Israel Lobby has predictably welcomed O’Brien. Sandra Parker or Christians United for Israel (CUFI), enthused how “CUFI enjoys a close working relationship with many officials throughout the Trump Administration, and we look forward to working with Ambassador O’Brien on strengthening the US-Israel relationship, confronting the Iranian menace, and curtailing the threat posed by terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Mort Klein President of the Zionist Organization of America observed how “Mr. O’Brien is a great friend of Israel, and is now the top-ranking Mormon in the pro-Israel Trump administration. He is also best friends with ardent Zionist US Ambassador to Germany [Richard] Grenell … And you can’t be a great friend of evangelical Christian Grenell unless you support Israel.”

So, does the firing of John Bolton and replacement by Robert O’Brien mean that there will be a change of direction in US foreign policy? The answer has to be no. Trump might well be maneuvering to avoid a new war as he will be in full 2020 campaign mode and wants to avoid falling into a quagmire, but the basic belligerency of the administration and its strong tilt towards supporting feckless allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia is certain to continue.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.