All posts by Tyler Durden

A Four Person NATO-Funded Team Advises Facebook On Flagging ‘Propaganda’

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This is not at all comforting: during a week that's witnessed Alex Jones' social media accounts taken down by Facebook, Apple, Spotify and Google, and what appears to be a growing crackdown against alternative media figures including several prominent Libertarians, notably the Ron Paul Institute director, and the Scott Horton Show, who found their Twitter accounts suspended — we learn that the Atlantic Council is directly advising Facebook on identifying and removing "foreign interference" on the popular platform.

While the initiative was initially revealed last May through an official Facebook media release, more details of the controversial think tank's role have been revealed.

Supposedly the whole partnership is aimed at bringing more objectivity and neutrality to the process of rooting out fake accounts that pose the threat of being operated by nefarious foreign states.

And yet as a new Reuters report confirms, Facebook is now itself a top donor to the Atlantic Council, alongside Western governments, Gulf autocratic regimes, NATO, various branches of the US military, and a number of major defense contractors and corporations.

What's more is that the team of four total individuals running the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR Lab) is headed by a former National Security Council advisor for the last four years of the Obama administration, Graham Brookie, who is also its founder.

Apparently the group's work has already been instrumental in Facebook taking action against over two dozen "suspicious pages" flagged potential foreign actors such as Russia. According to Reuters:
Facebook is using the group to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. Last week, the company said it took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts that purported to be run by leftists and minority activists. While some US officials said they were likely the work of Russian agents, Facebook said it did not know for sure.
This is indeed the shocking key phrase included in the report:"Facebook said it did not know for sure." And yet the accounts were removed anyway.

The Facebook-Atlantic Council alliance reportedly springs from the social media giant's finding itself desperate for outside "neutral" help after a swell of public criticism, mostly issuing from congressional leaders and prominent media pundits, for supposedly allowing Russian propaganda accounts to operate ahead of the 2016 elections.
And in perhaps the most chilling line of the entire report, Reuters says, "But the lab and Atlantic Council bring geopolitical expertise and allow Facebook to distance itself from sensitive pronouncements." This is ostensibly to defuse any potential conflict of interest arising as Facebook seems a bigger presence in emerging foreign markets.

Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos recently told reporters, “Companies like ours don’t have the necessary information to evaluate the relationship between political motivations that we infer about an adversary and the political goals of a nation-state.” He explained further that Facebook would collect suspicious digital evidence and submit it to "researchers and authorities".

Since at least May when the relationship was first announced, the DFR Lab has been key to this process of verifying what constitutes foreign interference or nefarious state propaganda.

But here's the kicker. Reuters writes of the DFR Lab's funding in the following:
Facebook donated an undisclosed amount to the lab in May that was enough, said Graham Brookie, who runs the lab, to vault the company to the top of the Atlantic Council’s donor list, alongside the British government.
Facebook employees said privately over the past several months that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wants to outsource many of the most sensitive political decisions, leaving fact-checking to media groups and geopolitics to think tanks.

Facebook has defended the process as part of ensuring that it remains politically neutral, yet clearly the Atlantic Council itself is hardly neutral, as a quick perusal of its top donors indicates.

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Among the DFR Labs partners include UK-based Bellingcat, which has in the past claimed "proof" that Assad gassed civilians based on analyzing YouTube videos and Google Earth. And top donors include various branches of the US military, Gulf sates like the UAE, and notably, NATO.

The Atlantic Council has frequently called for things like increased military engagement in Syria, militarily confronting the "Russian threat" in Eastern Europe, and now is advocating for Ukraine and Georgia to be allowed entry into NATO while calling for general territorial expansion of the Western military alliance.

Further it has advocated on behalf of one of its previous funders, Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and gave a “Distinguished International Leadership” award to George W. Bush, to name but a few actions of the think tank that has been given authorization to flag citizens' Facebook pages for possible foreign influence and propaganda.

Quite disturbingly, this is Mark Zuckerberg's outside "geopolitical expertise" he's been seeking.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

After A Week Online, NATO’s Latest ‘Counter-Disinfo’ Facebook Game Is A Complete Flop

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We might consider this a bit of lighthearted weekend humor, but unfortunately it's all too real and all too lame, especially consideringsignificant funding and resources actually went into this. And given that it's NATO, somebody's tax dollars had to actually foot the bill. But even NBC's write-up of the story comes close to making fun of NATO's latest attempt to combat fake news in pointing out that "reaction... appears to muted."

NATO a week ago launched its newly unveiled "weapon in the disinformation battleground" to counter the big scary Russians and all others bent on manipulating the news toward their own sinister ends, as NBC explains:
Researchers at the defense alliance have developed a Facebook game that they believe can help people to be more discerning when sharing news online.

Initial reaction to the game, which is called The News Hero, appears to be muted. By Friday morning, it had received just 50 likes and one share.
The online game is designed to be played and shared on Facebook, and far from being some kind of action/spy or historical thriller (which might actually be somewhat interesting among the youth it aims to target), it places gamers in the position of being a news publisher in a professional newsroom. 

Players have to decide whether the headlines that pass their virtual 'desk' are real or fake. The game's creator's say they're seeking to educate the Western public on how to properly discern real news from fake news or worse, Russian state disinformation campaigns.

The News Hero was developed over a period of four months by a team of eight people at the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Latvia, which bills itself as "focused on countering misinformation campaigns" (yes, the name of this NATO unit is real).

NBC's report noted the developers were not forthcoming with just how much money was spent on the project.

Here's the brief game primer for 'The News Hero' hosted on an official NATO Stratcom account:



As Stars and Stripes explains, "the user is responsible for putting together a newspaper free of the phony. With the help of trusty assistant Bronco, you decide what is real and what is fake."

Or rather, you decide what NATO wants you to identify as fake, or real, or disinfo, or untrustworthy as a source.

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The NATO-created "News Hero" Facebook game launched a week ago.

Though the online game launched last Monday — a full week ago — it now has... wait for it... a whopping 3 shares and 123 'likes' as of late in the day Sunday.

So it appears people aren't even so much as making the effort to share it out of mockery, much less actually playing and promoting the game. 

The News Hero Facebook page describes the rules and objectives as follows: 

To get your company noticed and gain an audience, you must publish accurate news. Pay attention to the hints provided in the Fact Checker screen and verify the incoming stories. With each level becoming increasingly difficult you can hire new assistants and obtain things to customize your office. This will boost performance of your employees and help you earn more. The game is divided into three levels, each informing the player on how to distinguish between the fact and the fiction. Are you up for the challenge? Invite your friends and climb the leaderboard!

And Stars and Stripes explains some of the 'fake vs. true' news scenarios presented in the game as follows

Is Justin Timberlake really an anti-vaccination activist? Did a lady in Detroit really train a squirrel to attack her boyfriend?

In The News Hero, you have to decide — though a fact-checker does most of the thinking for you.

If you’re right, you gain virtual currency and a larger audience as reader trust grows for your news organization. If only it were so easy in the perilous real news world, where profits are elusive and clickbait an ever-growing lure.

One of the two reviews on the game's Facebook page sarcastically quips: OK. So this is the 'push back'. An 'A' for effort!

It's interesting to recall that ahead of and during the NATO summit in Brussels earlier this month President Donald Trump made headlines for berating other NATO member states for not living up to a prior 2014 pledge for member states to reach two percent spending of GDP on defense by 2024.

However, we doubt that the president had such further projects as The News Hero in mind when he called for more NATO defense spending. The online game is clearly a complete and utter flop.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

US And Allies Planning Evacuation Of White Helmets From Syria

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Perhaps we are about to witness the final chapter to the controversial White Helmets saga?

As we've detailed many times before both the West and the group's leadership have long claimed it's nothing but a humanitarian non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to rescuing Syrian's in the midst of war; however, new reports reveal the US and UK are mulling plans to evacuate the group's members who, far from being a "neutral" NGO, are funded by Western governments which have simultaneously sought the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US government officials say White Helmets members are in "imminent danger" and face the threat of assassination as pro-government forces advance deeper into southwest Syria.

CNN reports the following based on diplomatic sources:
The fate of some 1,000 volunteers and their family members, and the need to plan a possible evacuation for them, has become a focus of discussions of several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and Canada, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the subject and two administration officials.
And CNN reports further that President Trump broached the subject at the NATO summit in Brussels last week:
In the plans under discussion, the volunteer rescue workers, who are officially named the Syrian Civil Defense, would be resettled in several countries; two diplomatic sources mentioned the possibility of resettling some of the group in Canada and the United Kingdom, while another two sources said Germany is expected to take some rescuers.

President Donald Trump discussed the possible need to evacuate members of the group during his meetings at the NATO summit last week, a source confirmed. There were several conversations between the US and UK about the issue during the summit, the source said, adding that Western delegations have convinced the US to help lobby both Israel and Jordan to find escape routes for besieged rescuers.
Among the consistent criticisms leveled at the group has been that its rescuers only operate in al-Qaeda and anti-Assad insurgent held territory — this while being caught on film multiple times bearing arms alongside insurgents and even assisting in al-Qaeda conducted field executions — and the group has received large sums from Western governments even while presenting itself as a homegrown "first-responder" organization.

Yet last June this narrative was again exposed as obviously false as President Trump authorized new funding for the White Helmets to the initial tune of $6.6 million to continue what US officials call "the vital, life-saving operations of the Syrian Civil Defense, more commonly known as the White Helmets."

Soon after the State Department announced the formal resumption of funding, the Syrian Army began a successful offensive to take back Syria's southwest provinces with the help of Russian fighter jets. There's also been a significant uptick in Russian air strikes on al-Qaeda held Idlib province in recent months, which analysts bill as the last significant "opposition-held" territory in the war ravaged country.

Concerning the potential evacuation of White Helmets members, US planners see Russia as a possible obstacle, according to CNN:
Western countries hope to find a way to help the group leave Syria without Russia's aid, the diplomatic source said. They are looking at various possibilities for ground evacuation, but all of them are difficult and negotiations are at a sensitive stage, the source said.
And CBS reports the following statement issued by Trump administration officials:
"We are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the southwest since the Syrian regime and Russia violated the ceasefire,"National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said in a statement to CBS News' Margaret Brennan."This includes the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the fighting. Among them are many who fear regime reprisals, including specific groups, such as the White Helmets. We are pushing for Russia and the regime to allow international aid convoys to deliver badly needed assistance to the civilians in the Southwest."
Russian officials have accused the White Helmets of helping al-Qaeda groups stage "chemical attack provocations" — such as the latest April 7th suspected chemical attack in Douma — which Western countries and international media as a matter of course blame on the Assad government.

While evacuation plans are being discussed, it is also possible that the fate of the White Helmets could factor into reported ongoing negotiations between world powers to end the Syrian proxy war.

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The White Helmets are a 3,000 member NGO formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense. Established in "late 2012 - early 2013" after a group of 20 Syrians were trained and organized by former British army officer James Le Mesurier. The group then received funding from Le Mesurier's Netherlands-based non-profit group, Mayday Rescue - which is in turn funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments.

The US has in the past provided at least $32 million to the group - around 1/3 of their total funding - through a USAID scheme orchestrated by the Obama State Department and funneled to the White Helmets using a Washington D.C. contractor participating in USAID's Syria regional program, Chemonics.
According to their website, the White Helmets have been directly funded by Mayday Rescue, and a company called Chemonics, since 2014.

Yet there’s evidence that both of those organizations started supporting the White Helmets back in early 2013, right around the time the White Helmets claim to have formed as self-organized groups.

Mayday Rescue, as we said, is funded by the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments. And Chemonics?

They are a Washington, D.C. based contractor that was awarded $128.5 million in January 2013 to support “a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria” as part of USAID’s Syria regional program. At least $32 million has been given directly to the White Helmets as of February 2018. -TruthInMedia
So the US, Dutch, British, Danish and German governments have been funding the White Helmets, a non-governmental organization, through proxies for over five years.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

‘No Nerve Agents’ In Douma: OPCW Report Demolishes White House Sarin Narrative

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A preliminary report published Friday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found no traces of any nerve agent at the site of a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma. The OPCW report states this unambiguously as follows:
"No organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties."
Compare the newly published official OPCW findings with the 5-page White House assessment released on April 13th, just days after the alleged attack. Now contradicted by the new OPCW findings, the White House asserted that sarin was used at Douma:
A significant body of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment of Duma, while some additional information points to the regime also using the nerve agent sarin.
Firebrand British MP George Galloway responded as follows moments after the OPCW's findings were made public:
Was that, was that the news? What about Douma? The chemical weapons attack? The nerve agent bombs that rained down on Douma that took us to the brink of World War 3?

The OPCW have just reported, well two hours ago... There was no nerve gas attack on Douma. There was no nerve agent deployed on Douma. We were taken to World War 3’s brink on a crock. A crock of vile propaganda. Ring any bells?
No Nerve Agents, Concludes OPCW Report

The April 7th alleged chemical attack, widely blamed by Western countries and the media on Assad's forces, resulted in massive US-led retaliatory airstrikes mostly concentrated on suspected chemical production facilities in Damascus.

Though at the time both UN and OPCW officials urged caution in the rush to blame "animal Assad" for "using nerve agents" as many world headlines breathlessly concluded a mere moments after videos purporting to show scores of chemical attack victims first surfaced (and though CW experts themselves warned that not a single neutral observer was on the ground to verify such claims when it happened), the latest OPCW report flatly contradicts the narrative that quickly solidified in the mainstream.
Nerve agents like sarin were quickly associated in headlines with unverified allegations of a chlorine attack, for example in the following major UK headline a day after the incident: Syrian government accused of using nerve agents as death toll from Douma 'chemical weapons attack' rises.

Like dozens of others, the story uncritically promoted the following:
The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Centre alleged that a helicopter had dropped a barrel bomb containing sarin, and another organisation claimed that a hospital had been hit by a chlorine bomb

With images of women and children foaming from the mouth and nose circulating on social media, the death toll from Saturday evening’s attack on the town was said to have risen to at least 49, with some observers saying more than 150 people have been killed.
This as the White House said it had "very high confidence" the Syrian government carried out the attack, basing its assessment, as MSNBC reported at the time, in part on the following: "blood and urine samples obtained by the U.S. from victims of the chemical strike tested positive for chlorine gas and a nerve agent." 

The 5-page White House assessment released on April 13th asserted that sarin was used at Douma, something now contradicted by the OPCW
A significant body of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment of Duma, while some additional information points to the regime also using the nerve agent sarin.
Media Headlines Debunked

Throughout April and subsequent months, journalists and pundits continued to connect the suffering of victims in Douma with the deadly sarin nerve agent, as one NPR piece with the emotionally gripping headline, Syrian 7-Year-Old: 'I Want To Be A Doctor So I Can Help In A Chemical Attack', suggested: "The U.S. says it's highly confident that evidence points to the use of chlorine and possibly a nerve agent, perhaps sarin."

The White House began building its case against Assad upon this mysterious blood and urine "data", ultimately leading to President Trump unleashing over 100 tomahawk missiles on Damascus, was nowhere to be found in the OPCW's findings released Friday.

Here's CNN reporting in the days after events at Douma: But again, Friday's OPCW preliminary report, which unlike most others among its assessments included a verified full OPCW chain of custody for most samples as its investigators actually studied the site (notably, the April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun alleged CW attack site was never visited by investigators), reads as follows:
OPCW designated labs conducted analysis of prioritised samples. The results show that no organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties. Along with explosive residues, various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites, for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is on-going. The FFM team will continue its work to draw final conclusions.
'Chlorinated Organic Chemicals' But No Chlorine Confirmation

Interestingly, headlines are now making much of the mention of "various chlorinated organic chemicals" — with Reuters for example emphasizing, Chemical weapons agency finds 'chlorinated' chemicals in Syria's Douma.

The word "chlorine" is only used twice in the OPCW interim report, both in characterizations of social media and does not contain any declaration "confirming" chlorine allegations, in spite of current media reports wrongly suggesting the OPCW has found victims at Douma that died from chlorine exposure.

Apparently both Reuters and the BBC were forced to quickly correct their reporting of Friday's OPCW document, as both initially claimed that OPCW investigators confirmed chlorine used at Douma, whereas the document reads various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites (Reuters issued the following correction: Corrects to “various chlorinated organic chemicals” instead of chlorine; and the BBC changed its headline from "chlorine gas" to "possible chlorine").

This subtle distinction is significant as Moon of Alabama blog explains:
The "various chlorinated organic chemicals" are unsurprising. Chlorine is widely used for water purification and cleaning and "chlorinated organic chemicals" will be found in any household.

In the technical notes of the OPCW report note that one of its laboratory found "Dichloroacetic acid", "trichloroacetic acid", "chloral hydrate", "trichlorophenol" and "chlorphenol" in some of the samples its fact finding mission took at the claimed incident sites. These are all substances that are no surprise in any upbuild environment and especially within any home. Dichloroacetic acid" is for example "a trace product of the chlorination of drinking water". Chloral hydrate is likewise "a minor side-product of the chlorination of water when organic residues such as humic acids are present". The other substances are also not uncommon and of various household uses.
And importantly, the interim report does not include indications of quantities or concentrations in which these common substances were found, making it impossible to conclude further whether they were part of a chemical attack or were weaponized.

Instead, listed repeatedly throughout the technical notes of samples taken is "No chemicals relevant to CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] have been found." The OPCW report for example, concludes of a separate alleged chemical attack site in the same report: "the FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] cannot confidently determine whether or not a specific chemical was used as a weapon in the incidents that took place in the neighbourhood of Al-Hamadaniyah and in the area of Karm al-Tarrab."

'Non-persistant, irritating substance'

The report did have this interesting line, however: "The FFM noted that the persons affected in the reported incidents may, in some instances, have been exposed to some type of non-persistent, irritating substance."

This appears consistent with sources we highlighted in Famed War Reporter Robert Fisk Reaches Syrian 'Chemical Attack' Site, Concludes "They Were Not Gassed" — sources which suggested, as one doctor interviewed by Robert Fisk in Douma testified, that "the patients... were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation" due to conventional weapons landing on or near an underground shelter in which civilians were hiding. 

Fisk identified the doctor by name — Dr. Assim Rahaibani — which is notable given the fact that all early reporting from Douma typically relied on "unnamed doctors" and anonymous opposition sources for early claims of a chlorine gas attack (which had quickly morphed into an unverified "mixed" chlorine-and-sarin attack).

Fisk detailed the Syrian doctor's testimony for The Independent. The doctor was adamant in his emphasis that civilians were suffocating en masse, and were not gassed:
“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night–but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia–not gas poisoning.”
Major pro-rebel outlet said 'mass asphyxiation' after shelter collapse

The doctor's testimony was consistent with that of the well-known Syrian opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which initially reported based on its own pro-rebel sourcing that heavy government bombardment of Douma city resulted in the collapse of homes and underground shelters, causing civilians in hiding to suffocate.

According to SOHR, which has long been a key go-to source for mainstream media over the course of the war, "70 of them [women and children] have suffered suffocation as a result of the demolition of home basements over them due to the heavy and intense shelling."

Though outlets from The Guardian to The Washington Post to The New York Times had quoted SOHR on a near daily basis throughout the pior six years of war, the anti-Assad opposition outlet's reporting of mass asphyxiation due to collapse of shelters remained notably absent from the same publications.

Though the mass asphyxiation theory is speculation at this point (we weren't there and neither were the hundreds of journalists claiming while writing from hundreds or thousands of miles outside Syria that "Assad gassed his own people"), it will be interesting to see what the future full and complete OPCW report includes.

But at least at this still somewhat early point in what will likely be a continued lengthy investigation, we have absolute scientific confirmation from the OPCW that the White House once again lied us into bombing yet another Middle East country based on spurious "nerve agent" claims. 

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

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Syria: ‘Rebels Played Russian Roulette, And Lost’

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Middle East analysts are appropriately noting, "Rebels played Russian roulette, and lost" after Syrian Army ground forces accompanied by overwhelming Russian airstrikes in Syria's contested southwest region have collapsed anti-government lines with rapid speed. 

Early Friday a major strategic victory was announced as government forces took the Nassib border crossing after recapturing a string of over 8 border outposts in Daraa province.

The Nassib crossing is among Syria's most important and busiest international border crossings, and sits along the Damascus-Amman international highway. Prior to the war it was a main artery for Syrian exports to GCC countries. 

Opposition leaders have confirmed the crossing will now be controlled by Syrian government and Jordanian authorities for the first time after the FSA flag long flew over the outpost since anti-Assad militants captured it in 2015. 

The ongoing major offensive to take back Daraa and Al-Quneitra provinces from long entrenched FSA, al-Qaeda, and ISIS groups began last month, and though predicted by many to be a long and grinding affair that held the potential for external state military intervention, the unexpectedly rapid advance of pro-government forces has stunned observers. 

Al Masdar reports that three quarters of the region that witnessed the start of armed conflict in 2011 is now back under the control of Damascus:
As a result of these advances, the Syrian Army finds themselves in control of approximately 72 percent of southwest Syria. The remaining 28 percent is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and Jaysh Khaled bin Walid (ISIS affiliate).
Meanwhile Reuters reports that hundreds of troops in a large military convoy with Russian and Syrian flags have been seen heading to the newly liberated Nassib border crossing as anti-government fighters are laying down their weapons in droves.

According to Reuters:
Syrian rebels reached a deal with Russian officers on a phased handover of their weapons and the deployment of Russian military police near the Jordanian border, a rebel spokesman said.

Ibrahim Jabawi said the agreement was reached during ongoing talks in a town in southern Syria that also includes a cessation of hostilities by both sides.
The past week especially has witnessed mass handovers as well as abandonment of weaponry on the part of anti-government insurgents, resulting in some interesting photographs. 

Since the Syrian Army offensive in the southwest, many thousands of weapons have been recovered, including advanced anti-tank and shoulder fired rockets — a significant bulk of them originally supplied via the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and other western allies:
Anti-tank "TOW" missiles supplied as part of a CIA program have been recovered recently:
And in some cases Israeli supplied items have been recovered in Syria's southwest, near the contested Golan border:
Even this far into the Syrian conflict and after many other such weapons seizures throughout the country, analysts and journalists have commented that the sheer numbers of advanced weapons — in most cases obviously externally supplied — are "staggering."

Meanwhile, all of this begs the question: where will all the surviving jihadists currently fleeing the Syrian battlefield go? (assuming Syria-Russia will hit the last major expansive jihadist bastion of Idlib next).

Days ago Middle East based journalist Elijah Magnier translated a command issued and circulated by senior al-Qaeda operatives in northern Syria.

The al-Qaeda terror leaders urged followers to take action outside Syria now that the government and Russia are emerging victorious: "put your explosive belt on, take your family to a safe place, don't think of coming to Idlib for there only humiliation & rely on guerrilla/ insurgency."
Communiqué by AQ in Syria (Hurras al-Deen) to foreign fighters & Syrian fighting among Mujahedeen: "put your explosive belt on, take your family to a safe place, don't think of coming to Idlib for there only humiliation & rely on guerrilla/ insurgency"
As we've never been shy to point out over the years, the West and its gulf allies armed al-Qaeda to the teeth in Syria — something so well documented that international arms monitoring groups can pinpoint weapons serial numbers down to identifying particular European transit points through which weapons flowed as part of CIA covert shipments.

Surely, just as many or more quantities of weapons as have already been recovered will remain in the hands of jihadists seeking to exit Syria... but where will they go?

Very unfortunately, we have an idea of where they might end up... as we predicted years ago in the following: They Sow the Cyclone - We Reap the Blowback

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Ben Rhodes Admits Obama Armed Jihadists In Syria In Bombshell Interview

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Someone finally asked Obama administration officials to own up to the rise of ISIS and arming jihadists in Syria. 

In a wide ranging interview titled "Confronting the Consequences of Obama's Foreign Policy" The Intercept's Mehdi Hasan put the question to Ben Rhodes, who served as longtime deputy national security adviser at the White House under Obama and is now promoting his newly published book, The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House.

Rhodes has been described as being so trusted and close to Obama that he was "in the room" for almost every foreign policy decision of significance that Obama made during his eight years in office. While the Intercept interview is worth listening to in full, it's the segment on Syria that caught our attention.

In spite of Rhodes trying to dance around the issue, he sheepishly answers in the affirmative when Mehdi Hasan asks the following question about supporting jihadists in Syria:
Did you intervene too much in Syria? Because the CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding and arming anti-Assad rebels, a lot of those arms, as you know, ended up in the hands of jihadist groups, some even in the hands of ISIS.

Your critics would say you exacerbated that proxy war in Syria; you prolonged the conflict in Syria; you ended up bolstering jihadists.
Rhodes initially rambles about his book and "second guessing" Syria policy in avoidance of the question. But Hasan pulls him back with the following: "Oh, come on, but you were coordinating a lot of their arms."

The two spar over Hasan's charge of "bolstering jihadists" in the following key section of the interview, at the end of which Rhodes reluctantly answers "yeah..." — but while trying to pass ultimate blame onto US allies Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia (similar to what Vice President Biden did in a 2014 speech):
MH: Oh, come on, but you were coordinating a lot of their arms. You know, the U.S. was heavily involved in that war with the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks.

BR: Well, I was going to say: Turkey, Qatar, Saudi.

MH: You were in there as well.

BR: Yeah, but, the fact of the matter is that once it kind of devolved into kind of a sectarian-based civil war with different sides fighting for their perceived survival, I think we, the ability to bring that type of situation to close, and part of what I wrestled with in the book is the limits of our ability to pull a lever and make killing like that stop once it’s underway.
To our knowledge this is the only time a major media organization has directly asked a high ranking foreign policy adviser from the Obama administration to own up to the years long White House support to jihadists in Syria.

Though the interview was published Friday, its significance went without notice or comment in the mainstream media over the weekend (perhaps predictably). Instead, what did circulate was a Newsweek article mocking "conspiracy theories" surrounding the rapid rise of ISIS,including the following:
President Donald Trump has done little to dispel the myth of direct American support for ISIS since he took office. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump claimed—without providing any evidence—that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-founded the group and that ISIS “honors” the former president.
Of course, the truth is a bit more nuanced than that, as Trump himself elsewhere seemed to acknowledge, and which ultimately led to the president reportedly shutting down the CIA's covert Syrian regime change program in the summer of 2017 while complaining to aides about the shocking brutality of the CIA-trained "rebels".

Meanwhile, mainstream media has been content to float the falsehood that President Obama's legacy is that he "stayed out" of Syria, instead merely approving some negligible level of aid to so-called "moderate" rebels who were fighting both Assad and (supposedly) the Islamic State. Rhodes has himself in prior interviews attempted to portray Obama as wisely staying "on the sidelines" in Syria.

But as we've pointed out many times over the years, this narrative ignores and seeks to whitewash possibly the largest CIA covert program in history, started by Obama, which armed and funded a jihadist insurgency bent of overthrowing Assad to the tune of $1 billion a year (one-fifteenth of the CIA’s publicly known budget according to leaked Edward Snowden documents revealed by the Washington Post).

It also ignores the well established fact, documented in both US intelligence reports and authenticated battlefield footage, that ISIS and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) jointly fought under a single US-backed command structure during the early years of the war in Syria, even as late as throughout 2013 — something confirmed by University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis, widely considered to be the world's foremost expert on Syria.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

US Officially Resumes Funding For The White Helmets In Syria

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Screenshots from a four-minute video documents that the US government has been lying about the White Helmets' role as mere "first responders". Above they are seen assisting al-Nusra Front (AQ in Syria) in an execution which the group later owned up to. 

In a somewhat surprising but not entirely unpredictable turn, President Trump has authorized new funding for the White Helmets which had previously been put on hold. 

A State Department press release puts the initial funding figure at $6.6 million to continue what it calls "the vital, life-saving operations of the Syrian Civil Defense, more commonly known as the White Helmets." Elsewhere on the State Department's website the group is referenced as "first responders" in Syria; however, it remains an indisputable fact that the group only operates in al-Qaeda and anti-Assad insurgent held territory.

The statement continues: "The United States Government strongly supports the White Helmets who have saved more than 100,000 lives since the conflict began including victims of Assad's chemical weapons attacks."

In early May the Trump State Department froze funding to the controversial aid group which had provided the sole evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons on his own people in an April 7 attack on the city of Douma.

The prior funding freeze dealt a huge blow to the group's reputation, already long under fire after multiple videos emerged proving the White Helmets operate closely alongside know al-Qaeda terrorist groups, and have even participated in al-Qaeda execution videos typically in a support role of disposing the bodies.

As CBS News reported at the time:
Having not received US funding in recent weeks, White Helmets are questioning what this means for the future. They have received no formal declaration from the US government that the monetary assistance has come to a full halt, but the group's people on the ground in Syria report that their funds have been cut off. 
Much speculation abounded at the time over whether the freeze was a bureaucratic error in paperwork, or whether it was the result of the White House adopting a different view of the scandal-laden group.

After all in 2016 the US State Department had blocked entrance into the United States by Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets,and refused to say why. Saleh had been invited to receive in NYC an award by USAID and NGOs that the US government finances, but he was barred at the airport, apparently because the FBI had placed him onto its no-fly list as a known terrorist.

For this reason many analysts who have been critical of the group's known terror ties and penchant for "enhancing" and possibly staging videos were hopeful that Trump had changed his tune concerning the group. In the summer of 2017 Trump announced he was shutting down the CIA covert program to aid rebels in Syria after he saw a shocking video of CIA-supported fighters decapitating a young boy in Aleppo.

In an irony which will surely be lost on all mainstream pundits, the very group featured in the appalling beheading video which reportedly caused Trump to nix the CIA program, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, has been filmed in multiple UK Channel 4 broadcasts working closely with the White Helmets

* * *
Concerning last April's alleged Assad chemical attack, the evidence provided by the White Helmets was used by the West to justify several airstrikes on Syrian scientific and military facilities throughout April - the first one conducted on Syria's T4 airbase by Israel 48 hours after the White Helmets' report. Many Douma residents, meanwhile - including Hospital personnel - say the chemical attack never happened.

The White Helmets are a 3,000 member NGO formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense. Established in "late 2012 - early 2013" after a group of 20 Syrians were trained and organized by former British army officer James Le Mesurier. The group then received funding from Le Mesurier's Netherlands-based non-profit group, Mayday Rescue - which is in turn funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments.

The US has in the past provided at least $32 million to the group - around 1/3 of their total funding - through a USAID scheme orchestrated by the Obama State Department and funneled to the White Helmets using a Washington D.C. contractor participating in USAID's Syria regional program, Chemonics. 
According to their website, the White Helmets have been directly funded by Mayday Rescue, and a company called Chemonics, since 2014.

Yet there’s evidence that both of those organizations started supporting the White Helmets back in early 2013, right around the time the White Helmets claim to have formed as self-organized groups.

Mayday Rescue, as we said, is funded by the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments. And Chemonics?

They are a Washington, D.C. based contractor that was awarded $128.5 million in January 2013 to support “a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria” as part of USAID’s Syria regional program. At least $32 million has been given directly to the White Helmets as of February 2018. -TruthInMedia
So the US, Dutch, British, Danish and German governments have been funding the White Helmets, a non-governmental organization, through proxies for around five years.

* * *
Meanwhile Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov warned early this week that US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces are planning a "serious provocation" aimed at justifying a new round of Western coalition missile attacks against Syrian government bases and facilities.

Russia says it is aware of the existence of a video which will be used to "prove" an Assad chemical attack, similar to the videos which have emerged in past events. 

Konashenkov, in a statement carried by Russian state-run TASS and subsequently featured in a One America News report, said "According to the information confirmed through three independent channels in Syria, the command of the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’ aided by the forces of the US special ops units are preparing a serious provocation involving chemical warfare agents in the Deir ez-Zor province."

Russia has in the past pointed the finger at the White Helmets from staging such "provocations". 

"After being published in western media a staged video is set to initiate a missile strike on Syria’s state facilities by the US-led coalition and justify an offensive operation by militants against Syrian governmental forces on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River," he said, adding that Russia’s Defense Ministry warns that the use of such provocations for destabilization of the environment on the Syrian territory is unacceptable.

Perhaps today's announcement of the resumption of US funding for the White Helmets is merely the beginning of another major "event" which will justify more Western military intervention in Syria?

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Mueller Scrambles To Limit Evidence After Indicted Russians Actually Show Up In Court

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrambling to limit pretrial evidence handed over to a Russian company he indicted in February over alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, according to Bloomberg.

Mueller asked a Washington federal Judge for a protective order that would prevent the delivery of copious evidence to lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting, LLC, one of three Russian firms and 13 Russian nationals. The indictment accuses the firm of producing propaganda, pretending to be U.S. activists online and posting political content on social media in order to sow discord among American voters. 

The special counsel's office argues that the risk of the evidence leaking or falling into the hands of foreign intelligence services, especially Russia, would assist the Kremlin's active "interference operations" against the United States. 

“The substance of the government’s evidence identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment,” prosecutors wrote.
Improper disclosure would tip foreign intelligence services about how the U.S. operates, which would “allow foreign actors to learn of those techniques and adjust their conduct, thus undermining ongoing and future national security operations,” according to the filing.

The evidence includes thousands of documents involving U.S. residents not charged with crimes who prosecutors say were unwittingly recruited by Russian defendants and co-conspirators to engage in political activity in the U.S., prosecutors wrote. -Bloomberg
Mueller also accused Concord of "knowingly and intentionally" conspiring to interfere with the election by using social media to disparage Hillary Clinton and support Donald Trump.

And Concord Management decided to fight it... 

As Powerline notes, Mueller probably didn't see that coming - and the indictment itself was perhaps nothing more than a PR stunt to bolster the Russian interference narrative. 
I don’t think anyone (including Mueller) anticipated that any of the defendants would appear in court to defend against the charges. Rather, the Mueller prosecutors seem to have obtained the indictment to serve a public relations purpose, laying out the case for interference as understood by the government and lending a veneer of respectability to the Mueller Switch Project.

One of the Russian corporate defendants nevertheless hired counsel to contest the charges. In April two Washington-area attorneys — Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of the Reed Smith firm — filed appearances in court on behalf of Concord Management and Consulting. Josh Gerstein covered that turn of events for Politico here. -Powerline Blog
Politico's Gerstein notes that by defending against the charges, Concord could force prosecutors to turn over discovery about how the case was assembled as well as evidence that might undermine the prosecution’s theories.”

In a mad scramble to put the brakes on the case, Mueller's team tried to delay the trial - saying that Concord never formally accepted the court summons related to the case, wrapping themselves in a "cloud of confusion" as Powerline puts it. “Until the Court has an opportunity to determine if Concord was properly served, it would be inadvisable to conduct an initial appearance and arraignment at which important rights will be communicated and a plea entertained.”

The Judge, Dabney Friedrich - a Trump appointee, didn't buy it - denying Mueller a delay in the high-profile trial.

The Russians hit back - filing a response to let the court know that “[Concord] voluntarily appeared through counsel as provided for in [the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure], and further intends to enter a plea of not guilty. [Concord] has not sought a limited appearance nor has it moved to quash the summons. As such, the briefing sought by the Special Counsel’s motion is pettifoggery.”

And the Judge agreed...
A federal judge has rejected special counsel Robert Mueller’s request to delay the first court hearing in a criminal case charging three Russian companies and 13 Russian citizens with using social media and other means to foment strife among Americans in advance of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In a brief order Saturday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich offered no explanation for her decision to deny a request prosecutors made Friday to put off the scheduled Wednesday arraignment for Concord Management and Consulting, one of the three firms charged in the case. -Politico
In other words, Mueller was denied the opportunity to kick the can down the road, forcing him to produce the requested evidence or withdraw the indictment, potentially jeopardizing the PR aspect of the entire "Trump collusion" probe.

And now Mueller is pointing to Russian "interference operations" in a last-ditch effort. 

Of note, Facebook VP of advertising, Rob Goldman, tossed a major hand grenade in the "pro-Trump" Russian meddling narrative in February when he fired off a series of tweets the day of the Russian indictments. Most notably, Goldman pointed out that the majority of advertising purchased by Russians on Facebook occurred after the election, were hardly pro-Trump, and they was designed to "sow discord and divide Americans", something which Americans have been quite adept at doing on their own ever since the Fed decided to unleash a record class, wealth, income divide by keeping capital markets artificially afloat at any cost.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Trump ‘War Games’ Announcement Shocks South Korea, US Military Forces

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In what was perhaps the most surprising announcement to emerge from today's Trump-Kim summit, president Trump agreed to suspend military exercises with South Korea in return for a commitment to denuclearisation from North Korea.

As we reported earlier, Trump said the war games were expensive and “very provocative”, and yet stopping them has been called a "major concession", something the US has previously rejected as non-negotiable on the grounds that the exercises are a key element of its military alliance with Seoul, and maintaining a deterrent against North Korea. In return, Trump said Kim had agreed in a joint statement to reassert “his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

In other words, Trump made it appear that he is negotiating from a position of weakness to achieve a diplomatic goal which would have remained unachievable had Trump not taken the initiative. In doing so, however, he infuriated the neocons in his immediate circle. Immediately after the announcement, the WaPo's Josh Rogin noted that "Everything Trump is saying and doing goes directly against everything Bolton has ever said or believed about North Korea."

On the surface, anything that neocon warmonger Bolton hates can only be good.

But it wasn't just Trump's closest advisors that were shocked: both the South Korean government and US forces in the region appear to have been taken by surprise by Trump’s declared suspension of joint military exercises.

According to Reuters, US forces in Korea said they had not received updated guidance on military exercises.

“In coordination with our ROK [Republic of Korea] partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

Trump’s announcement also came as a surprise to the South Korean government. “At this point, we need to know President Trump’s exact meaning or intentions,” according to a statement released by the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “However we think that it is crucial to pursue various solutions for better dialogue.”

The South Korean military appeared similarly taken aback, with NBC News quoting a statement as saying: “Regarding President Trump’s comment regarding ending of the combined military drills … we need to find out the exact meaning or intention behind his comments at this point.”

Military officials from both countries, including the US defence secretary, James Mattis, had vigorously opposed curtailing joint military exercises, on the grounds that doing so would undermine the alliance and its deterrent against North Korea.

Kelly Magsamen, a senior Pentagon official dealing with Asian and Pacific security in the Obama administration, blasted the surprise suspension of military exercises and their disparagement as expensive and provocative “continues Trump’s disturbing pattern of undermining our democratic alliances while praising our adversaries”.

Then again, with North Korea having repeatedly said that any denuclearization could only take place if the US stops naval drills in the region, Trump's surprise decision just may be the missing link that gets North Korea to finally do what generations of western leaders have failed to achieve.

Trump said the summit on Tuesday would be followed next week by more negotiations between US and North Korean officials to work out the details of the agreement.

In an amusing twist, before his press conference, reporters were shown a video that Trump said he had played to Kim and his aides towards the end of their talks. It was made by Destiny Productions and was presented in Korean and English in the style of an action movie trailer.

It sought to illustrate alternative futures for North Korea: one a bright, colourful world of scientific progress and happiness, the other a monochrome world full of weaponry accompanied by ominous music. Only one person could choose between these two destinies, the film’s narrator said.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

German Officials Admit ‘Still No Evidence’ From UK That Russia Poisoned Skripals

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It seems notably fortuitous that the world is now distracted with the ongoing actions surrounding President Trump - whether in Quebec tweet-slamming PM Trudeau, or in Singapore ahead of his historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

We say "fortuitous" since it offers UK PM Theresa May some breathing room as her dramatic, quickly determined, and globally propagandized claims that Russia was the culprit for the poisoning of the Russian ex-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter; remain entirely unsubstantiated by any proof.

However, just as May was hoping the world had forgot dozens of nations expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats on nothing more than her word and the constant Russophobic narrative pumped thru the eyeballs and earholes of the rest of the world; the Germans just threw a rather loud wrench in the slient-running PR campaign that has taken the Skripal-murdering Putin off the frontpage.

German media reports that the German government has zero evidence from the British authorities that could back London’s claims that Moscow was behind the poisoning of the Skripals

More than three months since the start of the probe into the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, RT reports that the UK is still conspicuously tight-lipped when it comes to any real evidence that could prove its accusations against Russia.

This week, the German government informed a parliamentary oversight committee during a closed hearing that it still has not received any evidence suggesting that Russia might well be behind the incident that took place in early March, German TV station RBB reports.
'It is [still] only known that the poison used in the attack was a nerve agent called Novichok, which was once produced in the Soviet Union,' Michael Goetschenberg, a correspondent of German ARD and an expert on security services, told RBB, commenting on the results of the hearing, which he is familiar with.
Apart from this information, which was released by the British authorities soon after the incident, no new data on Russia’s alleged implication in this case was provided to Germany so far, he added.

German intelligence has also found no Russian trace in this case so far, Goetschenberg said.
'The BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence… has also contacted its own sources and tried to verify the information [about Russia’s potential involvement] in some way,' he told RBB, adding that it eventually failed to find any evidence pointing to Moscow as well.
Russia has categorically denied any involvement, and has complained that the victims were not allowed visits by Russian lawyers and diplomats, and the results of the investigation were kept secret. The Russian envoy to the UK has on several occasions alleged that London was even trying to “destroy” evidence in the probe.

Just days ago, Scotland Yard said it was still following multiple leads in the investigation, adding that it still “cannot discuss the results at this stage.” The probe has already cost £7.5 million ($10 million) to British taxpayers, according to the region’s police and crime commissioner.

Meanwhile, both Sergei and Yulia Skripal have been released from the hospital, seemingly no worse for the attampted assassination using the world's most deadly nerve agent.

Are we still supposed to believe that Vladimir Putin - the man who western media and politicians blame for meddling with US elections to get Trump elected, manipulating French elections (unsuccessfully), murdering reporters (that actually came back to life), causing Brexit, killing millions in Syria (and anywhere else that US hegemony is bring back democracy), enabling an entire nation's athletes to take steroids, and probably causing LeBron and the Cavs to get swept - managed to mess up the delivery of a deadly military grade nerve agent to kill an old man and a young woman?

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.