All posts by Tyler Durden

Germany Backpedals On NATO Spending Promise As France Goes Full Throttle

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Germany is poised to renege on its promise to boost NATO spending, backtracking on a public commitment last year by Chancellor Angela Merkel to increase German military expenditure to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2024 - bringing it closer to the 2 percent level set by NATO themselves, according to the Wall Street Journal.
If confirmed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the move would mark a fresh step in the gradual estrangement between the US and its erstwhile loyal European ally and comes after Mr. Trump’s repeated attacks of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders for not meeting a 2 percent military-spending target. -WSJ
Berlin currently spends around €43 billion ($49 billion), equal to just over 1.2 percent of GDP on defense. Under a new plan unveiled on Monday by the finance ministry, the spending would rise to just 1.37 percent of GDP next year, then decrease again to 1.33 percent in 2019, 1.29 percent in 2022 and 1.25 percent in 2023.

"The commitment we have made to NATO states that spending should reach 2 percent if the budget conditions allow for it. We haven't abandoned the target but it remains a challenge that the federal government wants to master," said a senior government official. 

Berlin's change of heart is the second recent rebuke of President Trump - who publicly embarrassed Germany during a July 2018 bilateral breakfast over their reliance on Russian energy. 

Germany is "captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia," said Trump, adding "The former Chancellor of Germany is the head of the pipeline company that is supplying the gas." 

"Ultimately Germany will have almost 70 percent of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas. So you tell me, is that appropriate?" Trump asked. "It should have never been allowed to happen. So Germany is totally controlled by Russia." 

Berlin has not taken kindly to Trump's rhetoric, which includes criticism over Germany's decision to let Chinese technology giant Huawei build their next generation 5G mobile network.

"NATO members clearly pledged to move towards, not away, from 2 percent by 2024. That the German government would even be considering reducing its already unacceptable commitments to military readiness is a worrisome signal to Germany’s 28 NATO allies," said the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. 

France goes the other way

Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, French armed forces minister Florence Parly said Monday that France "Fully support[s] the US insistence on the 2 percent," adding that French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Europeans might enshrine this objective in a treaty. 

That said, Parly also knocked the United States for what she described as an increasingly transactional relationship with allies. 

"NATO’s solidarity clause is called Article 5, not Article F-35," said Parly, adding "I’m personally more concerned at the notion that the strength of NATO solidarity might be made conditional on allies buying this or that equipment. The alliance should be unconditional, otherwise it’s not an alliance."
Last year, Trump said he was willing to help smaller, less-wealthy countries purchase US weapons.

'We are not going to finance it for them but we will make sure that they are able to get payments and various other things so they can buy — because the United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world, the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything,' he said at a news conference.

In his most recent budget proposal, Trump has also sought to revive a failed effort from the early days of the administration to offer flexible loans to countries to help them purchase everything from trucks to military training to fighter jets and drones. -Defense One
 To help smaller countries buy US military equipment, a State Department official said that it would be seeking up to $8 billion to "make US defense equipment a more competitive and more affordable option for partner countries."

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Pompeo Announces Ban On International Criminal Court Officials Probing US War Crimes

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The US has threatened to revoke visas for members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague should they so much as investigate any criminal actions of American military personnel. The United States has never been a member of the ICC and considers it without authority over matters related to Americans or allies conducting joint operations. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a scathing rebuke Friday following ICC statements that it would look into possible US war crimes in Afghanistan, and as pressures mount for the court to bring cases against Israel for human rights crimes against Palestinians. “We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo went to far as to specifically address ICC members and employees: “If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States,” he said.

Washington has long relied on defense of "US sovereignty" when the international court has received allegations of torture by American forces or allies, or other war crimes like "mistaken" coalition bombings of civilians attending wedding parties or funerals in Afghanistan

The US position has been to say American courts and investigators can handle and prosecute if need be any allegations of US misconduct or war crimes, and has for years throughout the "global war on terror" viewed the Netherlands-based ICC with hostility.

During his Friday comments Pompeo said further the restrictions “may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without the allies’ consent,” according to the AP

He also warned about potential economic sanctions against member and host nations "if the ICC does not change its course."

The ICC, for its part, has vowed to continue to operate "undeterred" by any US actions, and articulated that the court "is needed to prosecute cases when a country fails to do so or does an insufficient job of it," as the AP reported. 

Pompeo's words were also widely seen as a threat to the ICC prosecutor and personnel who last year formally requested of the court to open an investigation into war crimes allegations against US forces and intelligence, as well as allied Afghan national security forces, going all the way back to May 2003. 

According to the AP
The prosecution’s request says there is information that members of the US military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”
Among the more shocking actions the US has taken to prevent any attempted prosecution of Americans by the ICC was the Bush administration's American Servicemembers Protection Act of 2002, popularly derided as the "Hague Invasion Act".

The law was designed to protect all US military and intelligence members on the basis that Washington could at anytime use force to liberate them from ICC incarceration. 

Human Rights Watch described at the time of its being signed into law
US President George Bush today signed into law the American Servicemembers Protection Act of 2002, which is intended to intimidate countries that ratify the treaty for the International Criminal Court (ICC). The new law authorizes the use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a US-allied country being held by the court, which is located in The Hague. This provision, dubbed the "Hague invasion clause," has caused a strong reaction from US allies around the world, particularly in the Netherlands.
With such significant threats, the ICC's actions against Americans, Israelis or allied forces will likely only remain symbolic and designed to drive media attention and scrutiny of American actions overseas. 

Meanwhile the pattern will remain of only third world, African, and Balkan warlords actually being brought to justice at the Hague, and never western officials. 

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Rubio Demands US Initiate ‘Widespread Unrest’ In Venezuela

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Predictably during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, Republican chairman Marco Rubio condemned Venezuela's Maduro as a "clear danger" and a "threat to the national security of the US." To be expected the hearing was filled with plenty of threats and talk of flipping "military elites" and enforcing tougher sanctions.

But perhaps unexpected was just how out in the open and brazen Rubio's own admissions of how far he's willing to go in promoting regime change in Caracas. In public testimony he called on the US to promote “widespread unrest” in order to eventually bring down the Maduro government.

It appears Rubio is now urging the White House to initiate a full-on "Syria option" for Venezuela, which implies covert arming, funding, and militarization of the opposition to reach peak escalation and confrontation with the government, perhaps inviting broader external military intervention, similar to efforts to topple Syria's Assad over the past years.

We've commented before about how popular anti-Maduro protests seemed to have lost significant momentum of late, pretty much fading out altogether over the past couple weeks, after tensions came to a head on Feb. 23 when US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido led a failed attempt to get an unauthorized humanitarian aid convoy across the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

This as it appeared the opposition was itching for a provocation that might draw the US and regional allies into some of kind of more direct intervention, and as a significant uptick in US military flights went to and from Colombia near the border with Venezuela.

During Thursday's Senate hearing, there appeared a willingness to admit the fact that it appears Maduro is not going anywhere anytime soon, for example, when the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said, "Confronting tyranny requires sustained commitment. But Maduro is not invincible. He's far from it."

Though issuing plenty of threats of tighter sanctions and strangling Venezuelan oil exports, the Democrats on the committee stopped short of endorsing military action: "The support that we have lent unequivocally on Venezuela does not include the use of force," Menendez said further.

However, Rubio's extreme "regime change by any means possible" hawkishness was on full display. Journalist Max Blumenthal reports:

At Senate hearing on Venezuela just now, Marco Rubio called for the US to promote “widespread unrest” as a means of encouraging regime change. His proposal was met with approval.

Blumenthal noted this was a reference to instigating further "violent guarimba riots" — referencing the local Spanish word — that have been a feature of Venezuelan city streets since Maduro was sworn in for a second six year term in January, and which has further represented the more violent side of Venezuelan politics for years.

Journalist Clifton Ross, who has long reported from on the ground in Venezuela, explained the term as follows:

Your Spanish lesson for the day is guarimba, (feminine, as in ‘me voy a la guarimba’ I’m going to the guarimba) the blocking of roads, lighting of tires, and sometimes involving defensive acts of rock-throwing, a practice adopted by the Venezuelan opposition in response to elections they feel are unfair. Those who participate in the guarimbasare known as guarimberos. It is presently the season of guarimbas, and one can only hope, for the sake of the nation, that they will soon come to an end.

Though Maduro has survived the latest round of international pressure to succumb to internal coup efforts led by a US-supported opposition, the fires of unrest Venezuela don't look to be extinguishable anytime soon.

As Ben Norton also pointed out on Thursday while speaking of using "humanitarian aid" as a pretext for regime change: "They're not even hiding it at this point."

Indeed, Rubio personally promised just this during hearing: "To those in Venezuela: Your fight for freedom and restoration of democracy is our fight, and the free world has not and will not forget you," he said, and added, "We [the United States] will be [focused] on this as long as it takes." Earlier in the day Rubio told Fox News that:

"Trump won't give up until Maduro is gone in Venezuela."

More ominously, Rubio predicted during the hearing, "Venezuela is going to enter a period of suffering no nation in our hemisphere has confronted in modern history," in reference to the Venezuelan military blocking US aid shipments and tightening sanctions.

Of course Rubio laid all blame for the dire future plight of common Venezuelans on the Maduro regime alone, and not on his own admitted desire to stir yet more unrest in the country.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

“Better ‘No Deal’ Than ‘Bad Deal'”: Walking Out Of Hanoi Summit Earns Trump Bipartisan Praise

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Though Kim Jong Un has a long train ride back to Pyongyang to ponder how the collapse of Thursday's talks in Hanoi might impact his relationship with Trump, senior officials in his government are already signaling that the detente between the two geopolitical rivals might be over, having deliberately undermined President Trump by contradicting his version events during a midnight press conference - even going so far as to suggest that Kim has "lost the will" to continue negotiating (since North Korea's "reasonable" position "will never change" - something that US intel analysts have been saying for months).

And as we wait for a rebuttal from President Trump (who will arrive back home much quicker than Kim despite the greater geographical distance), it's worth noting that the reaction to Trump's performance in Hanoi - which provoked some twitter wits to joke that he managed to find another way for America to "lose" in Vietnam - hasn't been as negative as one might have expected.

In one of the few examples of true bipartisanship during the Trump era, lawmakers from both parties chimed in on Twitter and on the floor of the Senate to praise President Trump for having the temerity to walk away from the table.

Confounding Trump's allies and his enemies, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer even praised the president during a speech on the Senate floor for choosing to walk away instead of accepting an inferior deal that would have made the US less safe in the long run.

And Schumer wasn't the only Democratic leader to offer praise. According to Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi told reporters "It’s good that the president did not give him anything for the little he was proposing," and that "diplomacy is important; we all support it,” but the prospects for a deal were dim.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted that, while he wished Trump had stood up to Kim on the North's "brutal" human rights record (a sentiment that was echoed by other Democrats), "talking is never a bad idea and no deal is better than a bad one."

Marco Rubio took a brief break from tweeting about Venezuela to contradict an Axios report about his reaction to the talks, saying that, while he would love to "deal with a #NorthKorea that eliminates their nuclear weapons", agreeing to "sanctions relief while allowing them to hide warheads" would not only be a bad deal, but a "dangerous one."

Taking a slightly more belligerent tack, Senator Lindsey Graham applauded Trump for walking away, affirmed that the only good deal would be complete denuclearization and warned that, if relations with NK completely break down, there may come a time when the nuclear threat posed by North Korea must be dealt with "one way of the other."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, said Trump should be "commended" for his performance.

But the response wasn't all positive. Virginia senator and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine questioned why Trump decided to 'stick up' for Kim by telling reporters he believed Kim had no knowledge of the brutal treatment suffered by US student Otto Warmbier in a "rough" North Korean prison.

Both Pelosi and Kaine agreed that Trump's willingness to defend dictators was troubling.

Still, it's hardly surprising given all of the evidence that the intelligence community has unearthed showing that NK has continued its nuclear program at several clandestine sites exposed by satellites. Trump said that Kim expressed surprise when he presented him with evidence of the secret sites during the talks.

While it's still unclear exactly what impact the collapse of the Hanoi talks might have on Trump's negotiations with China, equity bulls better hope that Trump doesn't take the phrase "no deal is better than a bad one" to heart.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Death Knell For Syria Pullout: ‘We Have To Protect Israel’ Says Trump

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After approaching two months of talk of a "full" and "immediate" US troop withdrawal from Syria, first ordered by President Trump on December 19 — which was predictably met with swift and fierce pushback from beltway hawks including in some cases his own advisers — it now appears the death knell has sounded on the prior "complete" and "rapid" draw down order.

Trump said in a CBS "Face the Nation" interview this weekend that some unspecified number of US troops will remain in the region, mostly in Iraq, with possibly some still in Syria, in order "to protect Israel" in what appears a significant backtrack from his prior insistence on an absolute withdrawal. 

“We’re going to be there and we’re going to be staying. We have to protect Israel,” he replied when pressed by CBS reporter Margaret Brennan. “We have to protect other things that we have. But we’re – yeah, they’ll be coming back in a matter of time.” He did note that “ultimately some will be coming home.”

“Look, we’re protecting the world,” he added. “We’re spending more money than anybody’s ever spent in history, by a lot.” Trump's slow drift and change in tune on the subject of a promised "rapid" exit comes after Israeli officials led by Prime Minister Netanyahu alongside neocon allies in Washington argued that some 200 US troops in Syria's southeast desert along the Iraqi border and its 55-kilometer “deconfliction zone” at al-Tanf are the last line of defense against Iranian expansion in Syria, and therefore must stay indefinitely. 

“I want to be able to watch Iran,” Trump said further during the CBS interview. “Iran is a real problem.” He explained that “99%” of ISIS’s territory had been liberated but that a contingency of US troops must remain to prevent a resurgent Islamic State as well as to counter Iranian influence, for which American forces must remain in Iraq as well. 

“When I took over, Syria was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS, and you have the caliphate almost knocked out,” the president said. “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100% of the caliphate, which is the area – the land – the area – 100. We’re at 99% right now. We’ll be at 100.”

However Trump's invoking Iranian influence as a rationale for staying further contradicts his prior December statement that the defeat of ISIS was "the only reason" he was in Syria in the first place. 
MARGARET BRENNAN: How many troops are still in Syria? When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 2,000 troops.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're starting to, as we gain the remainder, the final remainder of the caliphate of the area, they'll be going to our base in Iraq, and ultimately some will be coming home. But we're going to be there and we're going to be staying--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So that's a matter of months?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to protect Israel. We have to protect other things that we have. But we're- yeah, they'll be coming back in a matter of time. Look, we're protecting the world. We're spending more money than anybody's ever spent in history, by a lot. We spent, over the last five years, close to 50 billion dollars a year in Afghanistan. That's more than most countries spend for everything including education, medical, and everything else, other than a few countries. — CBS "Face the Nation" Feb.3 interview transcript
The Pentagon in recent weeks has reportedly been putting logistics in place for a troop draw down from northern and eastern Syria.

Though it remains unclear just how many troops could remain as the majority possibly begin to pullout toward US bases in Iraq, the Tanf base could remain Washington's last remote outpost disrupting what US defense officials see as a strategic Baghdad-Damascus corridor and highway, and potential key "link" in the Tehran-to-Beirut so-called Shia land bridge. 

Foreign Policy magazine has identified this argument as the final card the hawks opposing Trump's draw down had to play in order to hinder to an actual complete US exit:
'Al-Tanf is a critical element in the effort to prevent Iran from establishing a ground line of communications from Iran through Iraq through Syria to southern Lebanon in support of Lebanese Hezbollah,' an unnamed senior US military source told the magazine.
The Israeli prime minister has pushed hard against the White House pullout plan, and "has repeatedly urged the US to keep troops at Al-Tanf, according to several senior Israeli officials, who also asked not to be identified discussing private talks," per Bloomberg. The Israelis have reportedly argued "the mere presence of American troops will act as a deterrent to Iran" even if in small numbers as a kind of symbolic threat.

The internal administration debate, following incredible push back against Trump's withdrawal decision, has made entirely visible the national security deep state's attempt to check the Commander-in-Chief's power. And now US presence at al-Tanf represents the last hope of salvaging the hawks' desire for permanent proxy war against Iran inside Syria. 

It appears the deep state has won out over Trump's initial policy decision once again; but it remains to be seen if, however slowly on what's clearly a delayed timetable departing from his original plans, all US troops ultimately exit Syria. Until then there'll be more time and perhaps more provocations the hawks can rely on to effectively ensure full circle return to indefinite occupation in Syria.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Twitter Bans 2,000 Pro-Maduro Accounts As Demands For Regime Change Escalate

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On the evening before National Security Advisor John Bolton reiterated that "all options [including, presumably, military intervention] are on the table" regarding the situation in Venezuela, Twitter announced that it had joined the US-backed coup by taking down 2,000 accounts that it said were engaged in a "state-backed influence campaign", according to RT.

In a blog post, Twitter said it removed 1,196 accounts located in Venezuela which it deemed to "appear to be engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences." The company also removed another 764 accounts, but said "we are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country."

The purge was part of a crackdown on "foreign information operations", which also serves as a resource for researchers hoping to investigate these operations. In the post, Twitter announced that it was adding five new sets of account sets to its archive of foreign influence campaigns.
Twitter has removed 764 accounts located in Venezuela. We are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country. However, these accounts are another example of a foreign campaign of spammy content focused on divisive political themes, and the behavior we uncovered is similar to that utilized by potential Russian IRA accounts. We are disclosing them out of an abundance of caution and welcome the feedback of researchers.

Additionally, we have removed 1,196 accounts located in Venezuela which appear to be engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences. We have shared information on these accounts with our industry peers, and continue to investigate malicious activity originating in Venezuela, both targeting audiences with in Venezuela and abroad.
Abby Martin, host of YouTube series Empire Files, lamented  that amid Twitter censorship of pro-government supporters, "pro-coup Venezuelans and right-wing exiles dominate the media sphere."

While at least one independent journalist accused  Twitter of acting as an "extension" of the US government.

And another journalist highlighted Twitter's caveat that the company wasn't able to "definitively tie" the accounts to the Maduro regime, meaning that some pro-Maduro Venezuelans with no ties to the government may have found their accounts eliminated.

Of course, this isn't the first time Twitter has cracked down on pro-government Twitter accounts. In September, Twitter suspended the official account of the Venezuelan government’s press team, reportedly without giving any explanation. In an interesting twist on a punitive technique often employed against conservatives, Twitter and several other US social media companies also removed the "verified" labels from accounts belonging to Maduro.

But of course anybody who questions Twitter's commitment to open expression is a bigot - and probably a Nazi.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Pence Urges Venezuelans To Rise Up Against ‘Dictator’ Maduro After Failed Military Revolt

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It appears the White House is ready to stoke the flames of anti-Maduro unrest following Monday's dramatic failed military revolt launched by 27 low-ranking officers and their subsequent arrests in the Cotiza neighborhood of Caracas, which sparked overnight protests and sporadic clashes with police after opposition leader Juan Guaido made a broad appeal to the military in a speech, urging them to demand Maduro step down. Guaido and other opposition leaders in the National Assembly have declared Wednesday a nation-wide protest day seeking to topple the regime — itself a historic date commemorating the end of Venezuela's military dictatorship in 1958.

On Tuesday US Vice President Mike Pence urged the Venezuelan people to "make your voices heard" in follow-up to Guaido's risky appeal, which appears a continuation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comments throwing the United States' full weight behind Venezuela's opposition seeking to depose President Nicolás Maduro, which he made over a week ago while in the Middle East after Maduro was sworn in to a widely contested six-year second term.

VP Pence's words were issued in a video posted to social media wherein he asserted, “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to to power." The video begins with Pence greeting in Spanish “Hola, I’m Mike Pence” but ending with a somewhat grimmer tone: “Vayan con Dios!” or “Go with God.”

Pence also praised Guaido, head of the opposition held National Assembly who previously called himself Venezuela's "legitimate" power, as the "courageous" leader of “the last vestige of democracy in your country,” referencing the legislative body. This week the government-stacked Supreme Court declared it would throw out recent measures by the National Assembly that declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate.

Pence said in the video he was delivering the message on behalf of Trump and the American people. Referencing the planned Wednesday protests, the vice president said:

As you make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say to all the good people of Venezuela, ‘Estamos con ustedes,’ we are with you.”

The country remains on edge Tuesday as following the mutiny and subsequent successful government crackdown, which further involved the rebellious unit briefly kidnapping several officials stealing weaponry at a police outpost a mere kilometers from the presidential palace, pockets of anti-Maduro protests were sparked in the capital city demanding the release of the detained soldiers, whose actions the government condemned as "treasonous" and "motivated by the dark interests of the extreme right," according to a statement announced on state TV. Maduro's right-hand man, Diosdado Cabello, also boasted on Twitter while speaking of the rebels: "They were neutralized, surrendered and captured in record time."

Pence's video remarks calling Maduro a "dictator" and essentially calling for a coup comes after months of both the Trump administration and US Congressional leaders becoming increasingly unrestrained in publicly calling for outright regime change. After Monday's coup attempt Florida Senator Marco Rubio went so far as to encourage more such military defections.

Meanwhile Venezuelan Foreign Minister Arreaza just days ago told Democracy Now that "Nothing that the opposition does is without the permission or authorization of the State Department... They say, 'We have to make consultations with the embassy. We have to make consultations with the Dept of State.'"

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Bolton Had Pentagon Draw Up “Far-Reaching Military Options To Strike Iran”

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The Wall Street Journal published an Iran bombshell Sunday morning, confirming the White House had the Pentagon prepare "military options" to strike the country last year. The sudden request, seen as an unprecedented Iraq-style "shock and awe" attack on Iran, caught the Pentagon off guard, to the point that "State Dept. and Pentagon officials were rattled by the request" which officials further told the WSJ was "mind-boggling" and "cavalier" in terms of how brazen it was.

The request for military options came in early September after the United States accused Iran-backed militias in Iraq of firing three mortars at the US Embassy and diplomatic compound in Baghdad, and at a time that riots and political instability were spreading throughout some major cities in Iraq, especially in the south. It was also an opportunity for noted Iran hawk and national security advisor John Bolton to push for "far-reaching military options to strike Iran" — a regime change project he's pushed in public many years prior to taking his White House post last April.

The WSJ reports:
The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.
Though it's unclear if the strike options ended up on President Trump's desk following the formal request from the National Security Council, or if they were ever seriously considered by the White House, “It definitely rattled people,” one former senior US administration official described. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran,” the source said.

The WSJ report confirms through admin officials that Bolton has, alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stuck by his prior public stance of seeking regime change in Tehran, even though Bolton has also acknowledged regime change in Tehran is not part of the president's agenda.

The report continues:
In talks with other administration officials, Mr. Bolton has made it clear that he personally supports regime change in Iran, a position he aggressively championed before joining the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the discussions.

As a think-tank scholar and Fox News commentator, Mr. Bolton repeatedly urged the US to attack Iran, including in a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.”

...Mr. Bolton has said that his job is to implement the president’s agenda, which doesn’t include regime change in Tehran. The State Department declined to comment.
Notably the plans for "military options" requested of the Pentagon included strategies for striking Syria as well.

In the months following September, just prior to Trump's announced US troops pullout of Syria, the State Department and Pentagon began articulating the US mission in Syria as to "counter Iran" now that ISIS forces had been largely defeated.

Perhaps knowing that Trump was leaning toward an eventual full Syria exit, Iran hawks within his own administration were possibly going "rogue" — as Bolton himself has recently been accused of.

The strike plans were reportedly so wide-ranging that they encompassed targeting pro-Iranian elements in Iraq as well, according to the WSJ:
Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well, according to people familiar with the talks.

In one meeting, Ms. Ricardel described the attacks in Iraq as “an act of war” and said the US had to respond decisively, according to one person familiar with the meeting.
Following the Sept. 6 mortar attack on the embassy by unknown militants, but which US officials described as Iran-backed groups, the White House issued an official statement on Sept. 11 that appeared to warn of a possible military action: “The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States government facilities,” the White House said.

In a follow-up interview about the incident weeks later, Pompeo expressed willingness to target Iran for terrorist actions its proxy groups conduct in neighboring Iraq: “Iran will be held accountable for those incidents,” he said in a Sept. 21 CNN interview. “Even militarily?” questioned CNN’s anchor during the interview. “They’re going to be held accountable,” Mr. Pompeo replied, and followed with, “If they’re responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we’re going to go to the source.”

And as recently as this month, administration officials led by Pompeo have accused Iran of using its space satellite launch program to shield a developing nuclear ballistic missile program.

On Jan. 3rd the Secretary of State threatened Iran via a Twitter statement over plans to fire off Space Launch Vehicles that possessed, as Pompeo claimed, "virtually the same technology as ICBMs" in a "defiant" launch that will "advance its missile program." He added, “We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.”

The WSJ described the embassy mortar attack incident as eliciting little coverage in international and US media. Given this, and that it took place in Iraq, yet was still enough for the NSC under Bolton to draw up major military strike plans on Iran, it seems clear that the hawks in the administration are ready to launch the next big regime change war on the smallest provocation.

Might Iran be proven to be behind a more direct attack on American assets abroad (as opposed to accusations against alleged proxies), could the "strike options" fast be put into effect?

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

LinkedIn Co-Founder Who Bankrolled Russian Bot “False Flag” Also Funded Left-Wing Midterm Meddling

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An online disinformation campaign conducted by a former Obama administration official leading up to the 2018 midterm elections was bankrolled by left-wing tech billionaire Reid Hoffman, according to the Daily Caller's Peter Hasson. 

Hoffman, who co-founded LinkedIn, admitted in December to funding American Engagement Technologies (AET) - which is currently embroiled in a "false flag" scandal stemming from the 2017 Alabama special election.

Now, AET and its founder Mickey Dickerson have come under fire for meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. 
American Engagement Technologies (AET), which was founded by former Obama administration official Mikey Dickerson, bought ads for two Facebook pages, “The Daily Real” and “Today’s Nation,” encouraging Republican voters to stay home in the midterm elections, Facebook’s ad archives show.

Both pages appear to be designed to give the impression that they were operated by frustrated conservatives rather than by Democratic operatives.

The American flag-adorned pages encouraged conservative voters to either stay home in November or vote for Democrats to punish Republicans for being insufficiently conservative. Other ads called polls predicting a “blue wave” in the 2018 elections “unreliable” and downplayed the election’s importance.

The misleading ads collectively garnered millions of impressions on Facebook, TheDCNF’s review of Facebook’s archives found. -Daily Caller
What the Caller discovered is that AET's 2018 meddling efforts went further than previously known "in attempting to mislead American voters for the purpose of swinging an election." In one ad campaign designed to convince GOP voters that the Democrats weren't a threat, AET suggested that the Democrat "blue wave" was nothing more than a myth, and that polls showing Democrats leading were "unreliable."

In another campaign aimed to frustrate Republican voters, AET pushed the narrative that congressional GOP were betraying "real conservatives," while in another campaign, the Democratic operatives wrote that: "Some Trump supporters see midterm losses for congressional republicans [sic] as a wake-up call to get serious on the wall," while another one suggested that "Trump is failing us." 

In another ad targeting the midterm elections, AET told voters that "none of this even matters," slamming both sides for "shouting so much." 
One series of ads told voters that there were “No good choices” in the midterm elections. Voting for Democrats to send a message “feels like the best option,” the Democratic operatives wrote.

Other ads linked to an article that urged “Semi-Trumpers” to either cross party lines, vote third-party or stay home in November, rather than vote Republican. “Even more true in light of the recent violence,” read the caption. “If you aren’t helping, don’t show up.”

A similar set of ads linked to an article that called for Republican voters to boycott the GOP. The post was captioned: “I hope folks go for this. Seems like the only thing that can save true conservatives.” -Daily Caller
During the 2017 Alabama special election, AET commissioned cybersecurity firm "New Knowledge" - founded by Jonathon Morgan, who created the technology running the infamous "Hamilton 68" propaganda website which purports to track Russian bot activity. 

Morgan's firm created over 1,000 Russian language Twitter accounts which supported Republican candidate Roy Moore, then Morgan pointed to his own bots following Moore to imply that he was a Russian stooge. 

Hoffman has since apologized, while Morgan was suspended by Facebook for "coordinated inauthentic" behavior.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Cuban Crickets Blamed For Brain-Melting Sonic Embassy Attacks

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Forget Vladimir Putin and hi-tech microwave weapons, the mystery behind US Embassy workers in Havana suffering from "sonic attacks" has apparently been solved.

The culprit of the mystery ailments which include damaged hearing, vision, cognition, balance and sleep? According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, the mysterious noise heard by dozens of embassy workers may have been crickets. 
[A] new study indicates that the culprit behind this debacle is in fact… a cricket. According to Alexander Stubbs, a scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, the mysterious noise is actually the echoing call of the Indies short-tailed cricket (Anurogryllus celerinictus). Stubbs will present his findings this week at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Tampa, Florida, based on a paper that was just released through the bioArxive online database. -NewsWise
Stubbs decided to investigate crickets after the Associated Press (AP) released a recording of the ear-shattering noise in October, 2017, which reminded him of insect calls he had heard while doing field work in the Caribbean. 

What about the US diplomats who have fallen ill in China with similar symptoms?
On May 23, the US State Department announced that one embassy worker in Guangzhou experienced "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure" before being diagnosed with symptoms similar to those found in the diplomatic personnel that were in Cuba, including mild traumatic brain injury.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that at least two more Americans in Guangzhou have experienced similar phenomena and also fallen ill. One of those embassy workers told the Times that he and his wife had heard mysterious sounds and experienced strange headaches and sleeplessness while in their apartment. -Business Insider
While the AP recording didn't match any of the hundreds of insect recordings Stubbs had available, he then realized that the US diplomats made the recordings indoors - and modified the insect calls on indoor speakers. 
Stubbs played the insect calls on indoor speakers, recorded the echoing calls, and performed the analyses again. The new results were noticeably different. Stubbs found that the echoing call of the Indies short-tailed cricket (A. celerinictus) was a near perfect match to the AP recording in pulse structure. Further tests in collaboration with bioacoustics expert Fernando Montealegre-Z at the University of Lincoln (UK) showed that the characteristic frequency decay within each pulse is consistent with the biomechanics of this cricket’s sound production. -NewsWise
Cuban officials submitted a report to the US government in 2018 postulating that a Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis) was the culprit , however it was disregarded - likely because said cricket's chirp does not match the continuous and grating sound heard in the diplomats' recording. The cricket suspected by Stubbs, on the other hand, has a continuous call that is absolutely horrible to listen to for any length of time. 
Why was the Indies short-tailed cricket not implicated before? A. celerinictus has only been documented in Jamaica and Grand Cayman and is not known to occur in Cuba. But it’s possible that this cricket was actually in Cuba all along. A. celerinictus used to go by a different name: A. muticus, another species that is nearly identical, and that does occur in Cuba. An entomologist at the University of Florida, Thomas J. Walker, distinguished the two species from each other in 1973 based on the frequencies of their wing strokes. But the distinct geographic ranges of the two crickets went unnoticed for over 40 years – until Stubbs used Walker’s field recordings of the crickets, which Walker had made available on his website, to investigate the strange recording from Havana. It is possible that the Cubans actually found the organism responsible but simply mis-identified it. -NewsWise
We guess the US State Department can call off the dogs over Russia or China - though this doesn't rule out Russian crickets trained to imitate their Caribbean counterparts. 

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.