All posts by Tyler Durden

US Intel Officials Publicly Contradict Netanyahu’s UN Speech On ‘New’ Iran Atomic Facility

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Netanyahu's Thursday UN General Assembly speech predictably included the familiar props and visuals condemning Iran over what the Israeli prime minister says is a continuing nuclear program it is hiding from the world's view.

Like pretty much all prior Netanyahu speeches focusing on Iran, he held up a physical "evidence" to illustrate his points as he spoke — this time it was a "proof" that Iran has yet another secret warehouse holding nuclear-related material in the form of an aerial photograph of the Iranian capital marked with a red arrow pointing to a large building.

Though this was perhaps a step up from the cartoon bomb performance at the UNGA in 2012, the act is now a fixture and entirely predictable after many others spanning years, barely eliciting much media excitement compared to six years ago.

But unlike the last number of similar speeches, US intelligence officials have told Reuters that the claims are not true.

“I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran, a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear program,” Netanyahu said as if breathlessly leading a breaking news press conference.

He said the site had previously held some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of radioactive material that has since been moved in a curiously specific claim that would now seem very hard if not impossible to prove — given that... well it's all been moved according to the claims. He called on the UN atomic agency to initiative immediate inspection with Geiger counters.

“Since we raided the atomic archive, they’ve been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it?” he said. “They took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence.”

And on Twitter the Israeli prime minister began making a public appeal in parallel to his speech, asking people to "Google it" and offering the coordinates "35.5022 51.2997. It’s Iran’s secret nuclear warehouse in Tehran. Look for it and share it asking people to."

Iranian officials were quick to seize upon his once again attempting to persuade through ample use of props and visuals, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif mocking, "No arts & craft show will ever obfuscate that Israel is only regime in our region with a *secret* and *undeclared* nuclear weapons program - including an *actual atomic arsenal*. Time for Israel to fess up and open its illegal nuclear weapons program to international inspectors."

And elsewhere foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, “The world will only laugh loudly at this type of false, meaningless and unnecessary speech and false shows,” according to Fars news.

Considering this usual run of events anytime Netanyahu address the UN, the only surprise came later in the day, when Reuters cited US intelligence officials who immediately contradicted the content of his speech.

Reuters called the claims of the freshly revealed purported atomic facility "nothing new" to the Americans, according to an unnamed intelligence source:
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is aware of the facility Netanyahu announced and described it as a 'warehouse' used to store 'records and archives' from Iran’s nuclear program.
And further citing a second intelligence official, the report continued:
A second US intelligence official called Netanyahu’s comments 'somewhat misleading. First, we have known about this facility for some time, and it’s full of file cabinets and paper, not aluminum tubes for centrifuges, and second, so far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out of the JCPOA any faster than it otherwise could.'
A separate Israeli media report also noted the contradiction between Netanyahu's speech and US intelligence: "The claims gainsay the remarks made by Netanyahu, who said that the site, which sits a short distance from Shourabad, contained some 15 kg (33 pounds) of radioactive material that has since been moved."

Thus it appears the media — including Israeli media — aren't so lockstep in uncritically repeating Netanyahu's talking points anymore.

Also on Thursday the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) made more claims connected with the UN speech, tweeting satellite images via its official account that claim Iran is establishing at least three missile factories inside Lebanon in partnership with Hezbollah, specifically in dense civilian neighborhoods of Beirut.

Israel has lately vowed to continue attacking Iranian forces stationed in Syria, and Thursday's media information and propaganda blitz portend it is prepping for more rounds of strikes.

With Russia threatening response and now set to deliver the S-300 air defense system to Syria, it could be that Israel sets its sites on these purported Hezbollah "missile factories" on Lebanese soil.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

The White House Has A Step-By-Step ‘Program Of Escalation’ For Venezuela

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The White House has prepared an intelligence blueprint for regime change in Venezuela, according to a bombshell Monday evening report in Axios.

According to the report, which follows a New York Times story from early this month that confirmed the administration had previously established a "clandestine channel" involving covert meetings with Venezuelan military coup plotters targeting President Nicolás Maduro, the White House has prepared for multiple scenarios involving dramatic military escalation that could trigger US invasion of the small Latin American country.

Per Axios:
The White House National Security Council drafted a step-by-step “program of escalation” for Venezuela after President Trump took office, including the grounds for military intervention, a former senior official said today.
The plans were revealed by Fernando Cutz, who was a top adviser to former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and the top National Security Council official on South America, while speaking at an event at the Wilson Center.

Cutz said he was part of a working group to lay out potential scenarios of escalating crises in Venezuela and corresponding options detailing the US reaction to events.

Among the scenarios Cutz outlined included the potential for a Venezuelan military assault and takeover of the US embassy in Caracas, or a massacre of 1,000 civilians which could trigger an America military response on humanitarian grounds.

However Cutz voiced skepticism over the success of many of the plans, questioning what would come the day after if a coup d'état or even complete regime collapse were to occur.

According to Axios:
He said other steps the White House “had ready” included a full oil embargo, which would severely restrict Venezuela's cashflow but presented the question: “If we destroy Venezuela, and we make the situation worse for the people of Venezuela, what comes next?” They didn't have a satisfactory answer.
Concerning prior reports that Trump White House officials had previously met with Venezuelan military coup plotters to discuss potential support for fomenting regime change:
Cutz was asked about the meetings and said the White House “never debated supporting a coup” or offered support or tacit approval to coup plotters, but was “open to listening” to “any significant players.” He also said he had “no idea” why Trump had mentioned military action, adding that it “wasn’t in the script.”
Several secret meetings between the Trump administration and Venezuelan military officers reportedly took place to talk about potential coup plans, but according to administration sources "the coup plans stalled". The meetings were said to have been spearheaded by someone simply described as a "career diplomat".

According to the New York Times reporting in early September, "American officials did not provide material support, and the plans unraveled after a recent crackdown that led to the arrest of dozens of the plotters." The secret talks were reportedly dropped and the mutinous officers on their own.

Meanwhile Cutz suggested that if things got bad enough in Venezuela, citing a refugee crisis that could possibly swell to 5 million displaced, or a coup scenario or mass uprising, Trump could take steps to intervene: "the least bloody of those is probably going to be a foreign military intervention,” he said, echoing the usual pro-regime change Washington calculus.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

UK Begged Trump Not To Declassify Russia Docs; Cited ‘Grave Concerns’ Over Steele Involvement

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The British government "expressed grave concerns" to the US government over the declassification and release of material related to the Trump-Russia investigation, according to the New York Times. President Trump ordered a wide swath of materials "immediately" declassified "without redaction" on Monday, only to change his mind later in the week by allowing the DOJ Inspector General to review the materials first.

The Times reports that the UK's concern was over material which "includes direct references to conversations between American law enforcement officials and Christopher Steele," the former MI6 agent who compiled the infamous "Steele Dossier." The UK's objection, according to former US and British officials, was over revealing Steele's identity in an official document, "regardless of whether he had been named in press reports."

We would note, however, that Steele's name was contained within the Nunes Memo - the House Intelligence Committee's majority opinion in the Trump-Russia case.

Steele also had extensive contacts with DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie, who - along with Steele - was paid by opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the anti-Trump campaign. Trump called for the declassification of FBI notes of interviews with Ohr, which would ostensibly reveal more about his relationship with Steele. Ohr was demoted twice within the Department of Justice for lying about his contacts with Fusion GPS.

Perhaps the Brits are also concerned since much of the espionage performed on the Trump campaign was conducted on UK soil throughout 2016. Recall that Trump aid George Papadopoulos was lured to London in March, 2016, where Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud fed him the rumor that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was later at a London bar that Papadopoulos would drunkenly pass the rumor to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer (who Strzok flew to London to meet with).

Also recall that CIA/FBI "informant" (spy) Stefan Halper met with both Carter Page and Papadopoulos in London.
Halper, a veteran of four Republican administrations, reached out to Trump aide George Papadopoulos in September 2016 with an offer to fly to London to write an academic paper on energy exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.

Papadopoulos accepted a flight to London and a $3,000 honorarium. He claims that during a meeting in London, Halper asked him whether he knew anything about Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails.

Papadopoulos had other contacts on British soil that he now believes were part of a government-sanctioned surveillance operation. -Daily Caller
In total, Halper received over $1 million from the Obama Pentagon for "research," over $400,000 of which was granted before and during the 2016 election season.

In short, it's understandable that the UK would prefer to hide their involvement in the "witch hunt" of Donald Trump since much of the counterintelligence investigation was conducted on UK soil. And if the Brits had knowledge of the operation, it will bolster claims that they meddled in the 2016 US election by assisting what appears to have been a set-up from the start.

Steele's ham-handed dossier is a mere embarrassment, as virtually none of the claims asserted by the former MI6 agent have been proven true.
Steele, a former MI6 agent, is the author of the infamous and unverified anti-Trump dossier. He worked as a confidential human source for the FBI for years before the relationship was severed just before the election because of Steele’s unauthorized contacts with the press.

He shared results of his investigation into Trump’s links to Russia with the FBI beginning in early July 2016.

The FBI relied heavily on the unverified Steele dossier to fill out applications for four FISA warrants against Page. Page has denied the dossier’s claims, which include that he was the Trump campaign’s back channel to the Kremlin. -Daily Caller
That said, Steele hasn't worked for the British government since 2009, so for their excuse focusing on the former MI6 agent while ignoring the multitude of events which occurred on UK soil, is curious.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

UK Begged Trump Not To Declassify Russia Docs; Cited ‘Grave Concerns’ Over Steele Involvement

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The British government "expressed grave concerns" to the US government over the declassification and release of material related to the Trump-Russia investigation, according to the New York Times. President Trump ordered a wide swath of materials "immediately" declassified "without redaction" on Monday, only to change his mind later in the week by allowing the DOJ Inspector General to review the materials first.

The Times reports that the UK's concern was over material which "includes direct references to conversations between American law enforcement officials and Christopher Steele," the former MI6 agent who compiled the infamous "Steele Dossier." The UK's objection, according to former US and British officials, was over revealing Steele's identity in an official document, "regardless of whether he had been named in press reports."

We would note, however, that Steele's name was contained within the Nunes Memo - the House Intelligence Committee's majority opinion in the Trump-Russia case.

Steele also had extensive contacts with DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie, who - along with Steele - was paid by opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the anti-Trump campaign. Trump called for the declassification of FBI notes of interviews with Ohr, which would ostensibly reveal more about his relationship with Steele. Ohr was demoted twice within the Department of Justice for lying about his contacts with Fusion GPS.

Perhaps the Brits are also concerned since much of the espionage performed on the Trump campaign was conducted on UK soil throughout 2016. Recall that Trump aid George Papadopoulos was lured to London in March, 2016, where Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud fed him the rumor that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was later at a London bar that Papadopoulos would drunkenly pass the rumor to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer (who Strzok flew to London to meet with).

Also recall that CIA/FBI "informant" (spy) Stefan Halper met with both Carter Page and Papadopoulos in London.
Halper, a veteran of four Republican administrations, reached out to Trump aide George Papadopoulos in September 2016 with an offer to fly to London to write an academic paper on energy exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.

Papadopoulos accepted a flight to London and a $3,000 honorarium. He claims that during a meeting in London, Halper asked him whether he knew anything about Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails.

Papadopoulos had other contacts on British soil that he now believes were part of a government-sanctioned surveillance operation. -Daily Caller
In total, Halper received over $1 million from the Obama Pentagon for "research," over $400,000 of which was granted before and during the 2016 election season.

In short, it's understandable that the UK would prefer to hide their involvement in the "witch hunt" of Donald Trump since much of the counterintelligence investigation was conducted on UK soil. And if the Brits had knowledge of the operation, it will bolster claims that they meddled in the 2016 US election by assisting what appears to have been a set-up from the start.

Steele's ham-handed dossier is a mere embarrassment, as virtually none of the claims asserted by the former MI6 agent have been proven true.
Steele, a former MI6 agent, is the author of the infamous and unverified anti-Trump dossier. He worked as a confidential human source for the FBI for years before the relationship was severed just before the election because of Steele’s unauthorized contacts with the press.

He shared results of his investigation into Trump’s links to Russia with the FBI beginning in early July 2016.

The FBI relied heavily on the unverified Steele dossier to fill out applications for four FISA warrants against Page. Page has denied the dossier’s claims, which include that he was the Trump campaign’s back channel to the Kremlin. -Daily Caller
That said, Steele hasn't worked for the British government since 2009, so for their excuse focusing on the former MI6 agent while ignoring the multitude of events which occurred on UK soil, is curious.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

US Destroyer Enters Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Build; Carrier On Standby

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An American battleship, the USS Bulkeley destroyer, has reportedly entered the Mediterranean and is headed for Syria, equipped with over 50 Tomahawk missiles. This deployment comes after previous reports of the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arriving in the Mediterranean, and after the arrival Tuesday of A U.S. Marine Corps small attack carrier full of F-35B stealth jets, the USS Essex, in the Middle East region as detailed by the military website, Task and Purpose.

The Russian news agency Interfax now reports that American forces in the region possess up to 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so.

And the USS Essex, part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), has rapid deployment forces of Marine units designed for immediate amphibious landing in coastal areas, along with a advanced stealth fighter aircraft.

Gerald Olin, commander of Amphibious Squadron of which the Essex is part, has defined the deployment's mission as follows: “The embarked Marines of 13th MEU allow us the flexibility to rapidly respond to crises and set conditions that promote security in the region.”

The build-up in and near the Mediterranean comes amidst a massive Russian navy presence along Syria's coast and after two weeks of threats from US officials that America will react "swiftly and appropriately" should Assad launch a chemical weapons attack.

Though Russian bombing over Idlib began days ago, it appears a full Syrian Army and Russian assault has been delayed partly over the objections of Turkey. 

According to Task and Purpose the agile Essex small carrier is designed for quick military action and response
Until recently, the U.S. had no capital ships and just one or two destroyers in the Mediterranean, but the USS Essex, a small, flat-deck aircraft carrier used to launch U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jets that can take off almost vertically, just arrived off the horn of Africa, USNI News reports.
Though the Essex remains on the opposite side of the Suez Canal from Russia’s ships in the Mediterranean, it’s a quick-moving ship. Additionally, the F-35Bs can fly about 550 miles out from the ship in stealth configurations that make them hard to detect for enemy defenses. Last week Russia conducted major military drills along Syria's coast as a show of force. On Saturday footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry showed marine special forces equipped with the latest Russian gear landing on the shores of the Syrian Latakia province.

As part of the staged invasion, the Russian Marines used helicopters, fast attack craft and armored vehicles while landing from major amphibious ships under cover of dozens of Russian combat aircraft

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have said that the US “does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria."

However, the US responded to the Russian drills by its own drill involving over 100 Marines flown to southeast Syria for "snap live-fire exercises" in order to send a "strong message" to Russia after earlier last week Moscow warned its forces could attack in the area near US-occupied At Tanf.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

US Military Preparing For ‘Options’ In Syria

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Events are moving rapidly in Syria as Russian jets pound insurgent positions in Idlib Province and as the Syrian Army initiates a ground invasion which Damascus has described as coming in a "phased" approach.

The White House responded to the Syrian and Russian bombing campaign by vowing it would act “swiftly and vigorously” should chemical weapons be used, and a day ago claimed there's “lots of evidence” chemical weapons are being prepared by the Syrian forces, citing intelligence of such activities.

And now America's top general has confirmed the Pentagon is drawing up military options to attack Syria and is in currently in close discussion with the White House over the plans. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters on Saturday during a trip to India, according to Reuters:
...he was involved in 'routine dialogue' with the White House about military options should Syria ignore US warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.
However, Gen. Dunford noted that no decision has been made to intervene militarily in response to Idlib.

“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a group of reporters.

Dunford added in reference to his talks with President Trump: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

Trump had previously bombed Syria twice after allegations that Assad ordered a chemical weapons attack — in April 2017 and April 2018 — the former was in response to a claimed sarin attack on Idlib.

White House officials have vowed to hold Assad responsible for any chemical attack allegations that emerge.

France also indicated last week that it too would respond with military force should chemical weapons be deployed.

When pressed by reporters over whether the US actually has intelligence to back its claims, Gen. Dunford responded, “I wouldn’t comment on intelligence at all, in terms of what we have, what we don’t have.”

Meanwhile in Idlib, some truly strange theatrics have already begun, with Al Jazeera depicting  locals preparing paper cups, bags and cotton, which are somehow supposed to serve as "chemical protective" gear.

Nevermind that nerve agents are absorbed through the skin, or that a little cotton and charcoal can do nothing, it's all about setting the stage for a "provocation" in order to draw in US military intervention against Assad's forces.

* * *

Meanwhile Russia has cited its own intelligence saying that Syrian armed groups in Idlib are preparing for a staged chemical provocation, which Moscow says the West will use to justify a strike against Syrian government forces.

Speaking to Newsweek ahead of this week's events, Syria analyst Joshua Landis said that there is every reason to doubt the veracity of past rebel claims regarding government chemical weapons usage — a surprising admission given his prominence as speaking from within the heart of the media foreign policy establishment.

Landis said, "I don't know what to make of the US and Russian war of words over the potential use of chemical weapons in Idlib. The final reports on the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta were not definitive."

"There was no evidence found for the use of nerve agents, but controversy over the use of chlorine gas. The rebels had reason to carry out a false flag operation, as the regime and Russians suggested, but the regime refused to let U.N. inspectors in to test for chemical weapons until after a lengthy delay, which was suspicious," he concluded.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

DNC Backpedals After Cyberattack ‘Hack’ Was Actually A Security ‘Test’

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The DNC has backpedaled on a report by CNN that a recent "sophisticated attempt to hack into its voter database" had been discovered by San Francisco-based cybersecurity firm Lookout - whose co-founder John Hering contributed $30,700 to the DNC in June of 2016, along with $2,700 to Hillary Clinton the same day. It's not Lookout's fault, however, as they were simply "looking out" for the Democratic National Committee when they discovered a "simulated phishing test" they assumed was real.

And in a massive breakdown in communication before verifying facts, the DNC contacted the FBI and CNN about the hack - before thinking to speak with the outside contractor which runs the voter database, NGP VAN.
Earlier on Wednesday, Bob Lord, the committee's chief security officer, briefed Democratic officials after detecting a fake login page that was designed to look like the access page Democratic Party officials and campaigns across the country use to log into a service called Votebuilder, which hosts the party's voter database, a Democratic source familiar with the briefing told CNN.

The initial detection of the apparent hacking attempt by a cybersecurity firm on Monday prompted the DNC to call the FBI, the source said. -CNN
According to Axios, NGP-VAN was running an unauthorized "simulated phishing test" on the DNC's VoteBuilder system. Meanwhile, PCMag reporter Michael Kan reported  that it was the Michigan Democratic Party which asked a third party (NGP VAN) to conduct the test.

In short, San Francisco-based cybersecurity firm Lookout discovered the "simulated phishing test" on VoteBuilder, alerted the DNC - which failed to check with NGP VAN before contating the FBI and CNN to make national news.

Flashback to the 2016 Election

NGP Van was founded by Nathaniel Pearlman, chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Their 'VoteBuilder' software was designed for Democratic candidates to track and analyze highly detailed information on voters for the purposes of 'microtargeting' specific demographics.

On December 16th, 2015, NGP VAN updated the Votebuilder with a patch that contained a bug - allowing the Sanders and the Clinton campaigns to temporarily access each other's proprietary voter information for around 40 minutes. Lo and behold, the Sanders campaign National Data Director, Josh Uretsky, was found to have accessed Clinton's information and was promptly fired.

Uretsky's excuse was that he was simply grabbing Clinton's data during the window of vulnerability to prove that the breach was real, while Sanders called it a setup - claiming that Uretsky was a DNC plant - "recommended by the DNC's National Data Director, as well as a former COO of NGP VAN."

We wonder what Seth Rich, a Bernie Sanders supporter working as the DNC's Voter Expansion Data Director, thought of Sanders' assertion that the DNC set him up?

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

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.

* * *

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.