All posts by Tyler Durden

In Shocking, Viral Interview, Qatar Confesses Secrets Behind Syrian War

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A television interview of a top Qatari official confessing the truth behind the origins of the war in Syria is going viral across Arabic social media during the same week a leaked top secret NSA document was published which confirms that the armed opposition in Syria was under the direct command of foreign governments from the early years of the conflict.

And according to a well-known Syria analyst and economic adviser with close contacts in the Syrian government, the explosive interview constitutes a high level "public admission to collusion and coordination between four countries to destabilize an independent state, [including] possible support for Nusra/al-Qaeda." Importantly, "this admission will help build case for what Damascus sees as an attack on its security & sovereignty. It will form basis for compensation claims."

A 2013 London press conference: Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. A2014 Hillary Clinton email confirmed Qatar as a state-sponsor of ISIS during that same time period. 

As the war in Syria continues slowly winding down, it seems new source material comes out on an almost a weekly basis in the form of testimonials of top officials involved in destabilizing Syria, and even occasional leaked emails and documents which further detail covert regime change operations against the Assad government. Though much of this content serves to confirm what has already long been known by those who have never accepted the simplistic propaganda which has dominated mainstream media, details continue to fall in place, providing future historians with a clearer picture of the true nature of the war.

This process of clarity has been aided - as predicted - by the continued infighting among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) former allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with each side accusing the other of funding Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists (ironically, both true). Increasingly, the world watches as more dirty laundry is aired and the GCC implodes after years of nearly all the gulf monarchies funding jihadist movements in places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

The top Qatari official is no less than former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who oversaw Syria operations on behalf of Qatar until 2013 (also as foreign minister), and is seen below with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this Jan. 2010 photo (as a reminder, Qatar's 2022 World Cup Committee donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2014).

In an interview with Qatari TV Wednesday, bin Jaber al-Thani revealed that his country, alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States, began shipping weapons to jihadists from the very moment events "first started" (in 2011).

Al-Thani even likened the covert operation to "hunting prey" - the prey being President Assad and his supporters - "prey" which he admits got away (as Assad is still in power; he used a Gulf Arabic dialect word, "al-sayda", which implies hunting animals or prey for sport). Though Thani denied credible allegations of support for ISIS, the former prime minister's words implied direct Gulf and US support for al-Qaeda in Syria (al-Nusra Front) from the earliest years of the war, and even said Qatar has "full documents" and records proving that the war was planned to effect regime change.

According to Zero Hedge's translation, al-Thani said while acknowledging Gulf nations were arming jihadists in Syria with the approval and support of US and Turkey: "I don't want to go into details but we have full documents about us taking charge [in Syria]." He claimed that both Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (who reigned until his death in 2015) and the United States placed Qatar in a lead role concerning covert operations to execute the proxy war.

The former prime minister's comments, while very revealing, were intended as a defense and excuse of Qatar's support for terrorism, and as a critique of the US and Saudi Arabia for essentially leaving Qatar "holding the bag" in terms of the war against Assad. Al-Thani explained that Qatar continued its financing of armed insurgents in Syria while other countries eventually wound down large-scale support, which is why he lashed out at the US and the Saudis, who initially "were with us in the same trench."

In a previous US television interview which was vastly underreported, al-Thani told Charlie Rose when asked about allegations of Qatar's support for terrorism that, "in Syria, everybody did mistakes, including your country." And said that when the war began in Syria, "all of use worked through two operation rooms: one in Jordan and one in Turkey."

Here is the key section of Wednesday's interview, translated and subtitled by @Walid970721. Zero Hedge has reviewed and confirmed the translation, however, as the original rush translator has acknowledged, al-Thani doesn't say "lady" but "prey" ["al-sayda"]- as in both Assad and Syrians were being hunted by the outside countries.

The partial English transcript is as follows:
When the events first started in Syria I went to Saudi Arabia and met with King Abdullah. I did that on the instructions of his highness the prince, my father. He [Abdullah] said we are behind you. You go ahead with this plan and we will coordinate but you should be in charge. I won’t get into details but we have full documents and anything that was sent [to Syria] would go to Turkey and was in coordination with the US forces and everything was distributed via the Turks and the US forces. And us and everyone else was involved, the military people. There may have been mistakes and support was given to the wrong faction... Maybe there was a relationship with Nusra, its possible but I myself don’t know about this… we were fighting over the prey ["al-sayda"] and now the prey is gone and we are still fighting... and now Bashar is still there. You [US and Saudi Arabia] were with us in the same trench... I have no objection to one changing if he finds that he was wrong, but at least inform your partner… for example leave Bashar [al-Assad] or do this or that, but the situation that has been created now will never allow any progress in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], or any progress on anything if we continue to openly fight.
As is now well-known, the CIA was directly involved in leading regime change efforts in Syria with allied gulf partners, as leaked and declassified US intelligence memos confirm. The US government understood in real time that Gulf and West-supplied advanced weaponry was going to al-Qaeda and ISIS, despite official claims of arming so-called "moderate" rebels. For example, a leaked 2014 intelligence memo sent to Hillary Clinton acknowledged Qatari and Saudi support for ISIS.

The email stated in direct and unambiguous language that:
the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.
Furthermore, one day before Prime Minister Thani's interview, The Intercept released a new top-secret NSA document unearthed from leaked intelligence files provided by Edward Snowden which show in stunning clarity that the armed opposition in Syria was under the direct command of foreign governments from the early years of the war which has now claimed half a million lives.

The newly released NSA document confirms that a 2013 insurgent attack with advanced surface-to-surface rockets upon civilian areas of Damascus, including Damascus International Airport, was directly supplied and commanded by Saudi Arabia with full prior awareness of US intelligence. As the former Qatari prime minister now also confirms, both the Saudis and US government staffed "operations rooms" overseeing such heinous attacks during the time period of the 2013 Damascus airport attack.

No doubt there remains a massive trove of damning documentary evidence which will continue to trickle out in the coming months and years. At the very least, the continuing Qatari-Saudi diplomatic war will bear more fruit as each side builds a case against the other with charges of supporting terrorism. And as we can see from this latest Qatari TV interview, the United States itself will not be spared in this new open season of airing dirty laundry as old allies turn on each other.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

In A Dramatic Pivot, Shia Militia Leader Tells US: ‘Get Ready To Leave Iraq’

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A prominent Iraqi militia leader with close ties to Iran has told the United States to go home while also accusing US forces of not actually being interested in fighting ISIS: “Your forces should get ready to get out of our country once the excuse of Daesh’s presence is over," said Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, the commander of the Shiite PMU group Asaib (Popular Mobilization Unit), through the group's TV channel on Monday. The threatening statement was issued the same day Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi publicly rejected Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's earlier suggestion that Iraqi paramilitary units who have for years fought Islamic State terrorists are actually "Iranian" and not Iraqi nationals.  

On Sunday Tillerson controversially asserted that Iranian "militias" need to leave Iraq as the fight against Islamic State militants was coming to an end while in Riyadh where he engaged in rare high level talks with Abadi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. “Certainly Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fighting against (the Islamic State group) is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said during a press conference in Riyadh, just before boarding a plane for Baghdad. "All foreign fighters need to go home,” he added.

But Iraqi PM Abadi pushed back against the Secretary of State in a face to face meeting in Baghdad on Monday. Abadi's words to Tillerson were publicized through a statement on the prime minister's official Facebook page posted late Monday, which has been translated by Zero Hedge (emphasis ours):
Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi during his meeting with the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured him that the fighters of al-Hash'd al Shaabi [PMU militias] are Iraqi fighters who fought terrorism and protected their country, they sacrificed in order to win against Daesh [ISIS], and that Hash'd al Shaabi is an official institution under the state. The Iraqi Constitution doesn’t allow for foreign armed groups under state institutions, and further said that we should encourage these fighters because they are the hope of our country and for the region.
And a separate statement issued earlier in the day by the prime minister's media office warned, "No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters.” So it appears, based on today's rebuttals, that the Iraqi government and its paramilitary forces increasingly see American troop presence as the actual foreign menace which potentially threatens Iraqi national sovereignty.

Interestingly, Abadi's defense of the PMU forces appears to hinge on Article 9 section 1A of the Iraqi Constitution.

Tillerson's statements, however, are a reflection of the Washington foreign policy establishment's increased frustration at Shiite-led Iran’s expanding sway in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq. US regional allies Saudi Arabia and Israel are arguably even more frustrated, reflected in the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric coming out of both countries, and the fact that the two former enemies are finding more and more common ground against Iran and Syria.

But the US and its allies have created the very situation and conditions they now find untenable. In Syria the West's fueling of an international proxy war for regime change pushed President Assad to increasingly rely on Iranian forces in a now more than 6-year long war against both homegrown and foreign Sunni jihadists. Furthermore, Iran's chief paramilitary ally in the region, Hezbollah, has played an even bigger role in pushing out ISIS and other al-Qaeda linked insurgents from Syria's major cities.

In Iraq, Shiite parties have dominated politics since the US toppled the Sunni-dominated secular Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Essentially, the neocons handed Baghdad to the very pro-Shia forces in Iraq that they now rant in frustration against, as is now commonly understood even among some of the very architects of Bush's war.

The ultimate fear from the perspective of the US-Israel-Saudi axis remains the possibility of, in the words of Henry Kissinger, "a Shia and pro-Iran territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut" and the establishment of a supposed "Iranian radical empire." For neocons, the next Middle East threat ever-looms ad infinitum (there will always be another boogeyman...and another, and another, and another...) as an excuse to maintain America's "forever wars" in the region.

And of course, Iraqi PM Abadi understands all of this very well - he further knows that American officials believe in the principle of "sovereignty" until they simply don't, that is, up until the point that US allied sovereign governments refuse to remain pliant puppets of American interests. In this case, the some 80,000 to 100,000 Iraqi PMU militias perceived by the US as being under Iranian influence and serving Iranian interests are considered by American and Saudi officials as intolerable, even while they fight ISIS.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

‘The Police Just F**ked My Life’ – Alabamians Outraged As Civil Asset Forfeitures Soar

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The morning of June 29, 2010, began much like any other day for Frank Ranelli, the owner of FAR Computers in Ensley, Alabama. Ranelli, who had owned his computer repair business just outside of Birmingham for more than two decades, was doing some paperwork in his windowless office when he heard loud banging on the front door.  Within a matter of moments Ranelli was placed under arrest and all of the computer equipment in his store, much of which belonged to customers, had been confiscated by Alabama police never to be returned. Per AL.com:
Within moments, a Homewood police sergeant had declared a room full of customers' computers, merchandise and other items 'stolen goods,' Ranelli recalled. He ordered his officers to 'arrest them all,' according to Ranelli, who was cuffed and taken to the Homewood jail along with two of his shop employees.

The police proceeded to confiscate more than 130 computers - most of which were customers' units waiting to be repaired, though some were for sale - as well as the company's business servers and workstations and even receipts and checkbooks.

'Here I was, a man, owned this business, been coming to work every day like a good old guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning - I was in here doing my books from the day before - and the police just f***ed my life,' he said.
Nothing ever came of the case. The single charge levied against Renelli of receiving stolen goods was dismissed after he demonstrated that he had followed proper protocol in purchasing the sole laptop computer he was accused of receiving illegally. That said, despite no official charges and no jury trial, Ranelli has been trying, to no avail, for nearly 7 years now to recover the items the officers took from his business.

Rick Hightower had a similar experience with Alabama police when he was a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  After being arrested for "lewd behavior" at a college party in 2008, Hightower says police raided his apartment and confiscated as much as $200,000 worth of musical instruments and other property.  Despite never being charged with stealing the property, Hightower says police have refused to return any of the confiscated items. 
On April 13, 2008, he was arrested and initially charged with lewd behavior after police said he was caught exposing himself at Samford University in Birmingham, according to court filings. Hightower, who has a fairly extensive rap sheet, was ultimately convicted of indecent exposure and resisting arrest in connection with that incident.

Five days after his arrest, officers with the Homewood and UAB police departments raided Hightower's apartment, executing a warrant to search for files, cameras and any other evidence related to the incident at Samford.

They also decided to seize "a large amount of property believed to be stolen," including "musical instruments, electronics and other items," according to a UAB Police Department report on the search.

As such, Hightower was charged with receiving stolen property. He was never charged with stealing any of the other items that were seized from his apartment, and was not convicted of stealing the English horn, as he provided a receipt that showed that he had purchased the item from a thrift store.

And yet the Homewood Police Department - which stored and ostensibly continues to store the items seized in the raid - did not return the horn or any other items to Hightower. More than nine years later, he has yet to even lay eyes on any of the possessions that were taken from him.
Unfortunately, the raids on Ranelli's business and Hightower's apartment are not isolated incidents. They are just a couple of many similar cases that have taken place in Alabama and across the US in recent years, according to Joseph Tully, a California criminal lawyer with expertise in civil asset forfeitures.
Long used in major criminal busts as a means to confiscate money and possessions obtained by illegal means, civil asset forfeiture impacts thousands of Americans each year and has become the subject of intense national and local scrutiny over the past decade.

The ability of law enforcement agencies to use such tactics to take people's assets and property almost at will 'lends itself to abuse,' Tully, who describes cases like Ranelli's as 'theft,' said.

'It's really hard to fight the system. If it was a private citizen who stole your things, you could go get your things, or in the olden days you could get your shotgun and pay the thief a visit and say, 'give me my stuff back.' But you can't do that in this case because it's the police.'

In fiscal year 2016, law enforcement agencies in Alabama seized more than $2.2 million worth of "assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes," according to its annual report to Congress. In fiscal 2014, the total value of such assets seized by law enforcement in the state was more than $4.9 million.
That recent drop is the local manifestation of a nationwide reduction in the use of civil asset forfeiture as public awareness and outcry over its widespread use has grown in recent years, according to experts. The tactic is still regularly deployed, impacting dozens of Alabamians each year. But the tide is turning. Fourteen states, from New Mexico to Connecticut, have passed laws in recent years to stop police from seizing property absent a criminal conviction.
'The pendulum is starting to swing but I wouldn't say that it has been swinging back the other way for too long,' Tully said. 'State and local governments are starting to act ... Law enforcement officers are coming around a bit and there's a little bit of a curb in police doing whatever they want.'

And on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directing a deputy to establish a unit aimed at ensuring there are no abuses of a federal policy reinstated by Sessions in July to help state and local law enforcement agencies seize accused criminals' property.

Alabama's laws, however, still provide the state's citizens with few protections from the practices, earning the state a 'D- for its civil asset forfeiture laws' in a November 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia nonprofit advocacy law firm.

Alabama laws stack the deck against victims of asset forfeiture by establishing a 'low bar to forfeit' and not requiring a conviction to do so; offering "limited protections for innocent third-party property owners"; and letting '100 percent of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement,' the report stated.
The irony here, of course, is that we live in a country where the police can show up to any "Regular Joe's" apartment on any given day and legally confiscate all of his stuff but James Comey couldn't even manage to interview a material witness in the Hillary email investigation without first granting them an immunity deal.  Seems fair...

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

US Deploys Special Forces ‘Decapitation’ Team To South Korea

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Today, the South Korean and US navies on Monday kicked off massive combined drills off the coast of the peninsula amid heightened tensions, a train exercise which North Korea has warned may prompt another ballistic missile launch, potentially to coincide with the launch of the Chinese 19th Party Congress on October 18. The two allies plan to continue the Maritime Counter Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) through Friday in the East Sea and the Yellow Sea.

As reported over the weekend, the drill involves the US 7th Fleet's aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers - the USS Stethem (DDG-63) and the USS Mustin (DDG-89). The carrier strike group will train with South Korean warships and other defense assets, such as the Sejong the Great Aegis ship and P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft in the East Sea.

And while details of the drill were well-known in advance, what was reported for the first time overnight from Yonhap is that a unit of US special forces tasked with carrying out "decapitation" operations is also aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the group, according to a defense source. So far, little else is known about why said decapitation team is on location, or whether it will be put into use, although it presence may explain Trump's "calm before the storm" comment that beffudled the media two weeks ago.

Among other assets mobilized for the joint drill are F-15K, FA-18 and A-10 fighter jets, as well as AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, Lynx and AW-159 Wild Cat naval choppers. The US has also deployed a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) plane to closely monitor the North's ground and naval forces.

Some more details about the drill from Yonhap:
The joint training is aimed at promoting 'communications, interoperability and partnership in the (U.S.) 7th Fleet area of operations,' the fleet said. It initially announced that the practice around the peninsula will end next Thursday but later corrected the date to Friday. Meanwhile, the US has sent a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber, F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets and several other types of high-profile defense assets to the Seoul air show to open this week.

'Approximately 200 US personnel are expected to participate in the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2017, scheduled from Oct. 17-22 at the Seoul K-16 airport,' the 7th Air Force said.

Among the U.S. military aircraft to join the biennial event are the F-22 Raptor, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt II, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker, E-3 Sentry, U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk, it added. Also fielded will be the Air Force's fifth-generation fighter, the F-35A Lightning II, U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon and a U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook.

'This year's air show will feature demonstrations from US Air Force F-22 Raptors assigned to the 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska,' the 7th Air Force said. More than 400 defense firms from 33 countries plan to participate in the ADEX to begin Tuesday.
As part of the drills, the US military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, the NYT reported.  The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most, with some estimates predicting that over 2 million South Koreans could die in the North Korean retaliation.

Meanwhile, on Monday, North Korea accused the US of “pushing” the DPRK into making a hydrogen bomb, the head of North Korea’s delegation to the multinational Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting has said.

“Exactly the US have pushed the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to become a possessor of the hydrogen bomb,” the deputy chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, An Tong Chun, announced Monday. The North Korean official was speaking at the assembly of the world’s oldest international body of lawmakers in St. Petersburg, Russia. Parliamentarians from more than 160 nations are attending the IPU session.

The question now is whether North Korea will once again test said Hydrogen bomb and, if so, whether the crack "decapitation" team meant to take out North Korea's leadership will be put to use.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

This Is What Americans Heard During The Mysterious Cuban Sonic Attacks, And Why Experts Don’t Buy It

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Multiple neurologists and experts have told The Guardian that the mysterious "sonic attacks" upon US diplomats in Cuba are likely just a case of mass hysteria. The extensive Guardian report is based on research and interviews with top neurologists and medical experts explaining that the likeliest explanation for the strange and inexplicable symptoms reported by US embassy staff in Cuba which have led to a breakdown in relations between the two countries has nothing to do with some kind of Cuban sonic device or high tech conspiracy.

The neurologists say that the most plausible explanation is that the diplomats' high stress environment is leading to neurological abnormalities and disorders which are causing psychosomatic (or self-induced) symptoms. If true it would be a shocking revelation that such a "natural cause" phenomenon could result in the US removing most of its embassy staff from Havana. The Guardian report was issued on the very day that the Associated Press published what it purports to be an audio recording of high pitched undulating sounds which some embassy workers in Havana claim made them sick. Reports indicate that 22 US victims have suffered mysterious ailments after working at the embassy, including hearing, visual, cognitive, balance, sleep and other problems.

Though it took over a year for the complaints to surface in the media, it all started in the fall of 2016. Several of the affected diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of Barack Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. The various accounts were strange yet similar: one diplomat, for example, described being jolted awake in a Havana hotel room by a grinding, blaring cacophony. When he moved a few feet across the room, the noise stopped. When he got back into bed, the agonizing sound hit him again; as if, he told doctors, he had walked through some invisible wall cutting straight down the middle of his room. Multiple personnel also reported persisted nausea, nosebleeds, headaches, and dizziness while stationed in Cuba.

The US State Department has deemed the occurrence to be deliberate attacks, though US officials have stopped short of pointing the finger directly at the Cuban government. But The Guardian is now casting significant doubts on the US allegations even while its report acknowledged the new audio recording obtained by the AP.
It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to undulate, even writhe. Listen closely: There are hear multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.
The Guardian begins by citing Alan Carson, a consultant neuropsychiatrist and former president of the British Neuropsychiatry Association, who explained, “Typically what one gets in a functional disorder is some trigger. It is often relatively mild and non-specific, it can be a minor physical injury. But then a combination of a degree of anxiety and also belief and expectation distort that feeling.”

Carson suggested that initial reports of US staff hearing strange sounds and experiencing unusual sensations could have triggered similar sensations in others: “If there is a strong enough expectation that something is going to happen, that will distort in an entirely real way the incoming information,” Carson said. “In certain circumstances that can be transmitted from person to person... If one person has that experience strongly enough and sets off that train of thought in somebody’s else’s mind, that can happen too.”

The report further cites Mark Hallett, head of the human motor control section of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, to introduce the likely possibility of a "mass hysteria" phenomenon. Hallet said, “From an objective point of view it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else.” This involves possible "functional disorders" taking root among small groups of people based on the power of suggestion in high stress close working environments. The Guardian explains further:
'Mass hysteria' is the popular term for outbreaks among groups of people which are partly or wholly psychosomatic, but Hallett stressed there should be no blame attached to them.

'Psychosomatic disease is a disease like anything else. It shouldn’t be stigmatized,' said Hallett, who is also president of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology. 'It’s important to point out that symptoms like this are not voluntary. They are not a sign of weakness in an individual’s personality.'
Hallet also noted the vagueness of the complains among the nearly two dozen embassy staff: “There are a very large number of individuals that have relatively vague complaints as far as I can see.” He said. “There has been an exploration of possible causes for this and nothing has been found and the notion of some sonic beam is relatively nonsensical."

“If it is mass hysteria that would clarify all the mystery – and presumably normalize US-Cuban relations again,” Hallett suggested. “These people are all clustered together in a somewhat anxious environment and that is exactly the situation that precipitates something like this. Anxiety may be one of the critical factors."

Jon Stone, a University of Edinburgh neurologist and leading author in the field also told The Guardan that such disorders were so frequent in society that it constitutes the second commonest reason people seek out neurologists. “There is a misconception that only people who are weak-willed, people who are neurotic, get these symptoms. It isn’t true,” Stone explained. “We are talking about genuine symptoms that people have of dizziness, of headaches, of hearing problems, which they are not faking.” Stone seconded Hallett's analysis of the mass hysteria phenomenon as "the outbreak could have started with one or two people falling ill with headaches or hearing problems, and those spread in a high-stress atmosphere and then amid talk of a 'sonic attack'."

One of the interviewed medical professionals went so far as to say it's likely that experts within American intelligence understand the "mass hysteria" possibility quite well. According to Dr. Robert Bartholomew, author and widely regarded expert on outbreaks of mass hysteria:
None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation... American intelligence agencies are the most sophisticated in the world, and they reportedly don’t have a clue as to what’s causing the symptoms. I will bet my house that there are agents in the intelligence community who have also concluded that this is a psychogenic event – but their analysis is either being repressed or ignored by the Trump administration because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Mass psychogenic illness is by far the most plausible explanation.
Meanwhile The Guardian questioned the US State Department about the possibility of functional disorders, to which a spokesperson responded: “We have no definitive answers on the cause or the source of the attacks on US diplomats in Cuba, and an aggressive investigation continues. We do not want to get ahead of that investigation.”

We will be to the first to confess that the idea that this could all be much ado about nothing based on some kind of psychosomatic self-induced mass hysteria and panic event would be an explanation perhaps just as wildly unexpected and "out there" as the high tech sonic device attack scenario. Either one sounds like it could be the plot line for some sci-fi movie or X-Files type series.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Congress Relying On Debunked ‘Guilt By Association’ Online Tool To Track ‘Russian Influence’

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As we previously warned, the latest McCarthyite scam called "Hamilton 68" is increasingly serving as a go-to source for major media outlets and more disturbingly, now even members of Congress. This week Republican Senator James Lankford (Oklahoma) added another layer to the seemingly endless 'Russiagate' conspiracies - he claimed Wednesday during a hearing on threats faced by the US that Russia is using the NFL anthem kneeling controversy to drive a wedge through the American populace.

Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the bizarre claim that, "We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL,” during a hearing on threats faced by the United States. Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained further that, "They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they are trying to push divisiveness in this country."

Representative Adam Schiff of California, a Democrat, has also been a leading congressional voice demanding investigations into supposed Russian social media manipulation and election meddling. Stories in Reuters and the New York Times this week which uncritically amplified the claims, referenced the Hamilton 68 online platform as a key source of information for congressional investigators. Reuters described the online tool as:
A website built by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic project to counter Russian disinformation, showed tweets promoting both sides of the football debate from 600 accounts that analysts identified as users who spread Russian propaganda on Twitter. A Senate aide said the website was viewed as credible among congressional investigators.
But a cursory glance at Hamilton68 - which is mostly funded by the US and NATO states (Bill Kristol is on the project's board, need we say more?) - reveals that both its list of "600 accounts" and methodology for determining these accounts as purveyors of "Russian disinformation" are largely hidden from public view. As we concluded when we initially profiled the platform and the organization behind it, the online tool is lacking in any semblance of scientific data-driven analysis, and its conclusions are thus meaningless. It exists to give gullible audiences the illusion that a data analysis driven tech tool produced via a "bipartisan" think tank has meticulously and objectively proven the "there's a Russia connection lurking behind every corner" conspiracy theory.

But the senselessness of Senator Lankford's shrill and bizarro assertions hardly needs much comment: he's essentially claiming that nefarious Russian-backed social media accounts promoted two contrary positions at a moment when much of the American populace itself was doing the exact same thing through millions of tweets, Facebook posts, and online message boards. As Mark Zuckerburg pointed out this week in what was surely a disappointing moment of truth for promoters of Russiagate conspiracies in general, "campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online" which was "1000x more than any problematic ads we've found."

It's important to remember that Hamilton 68 dashboard's "monitoring" of content primarily features what it calls "second tier Russian propaganda." As we previously reported this involves the following:
It tracks and stores information about others who have no connection to Russia but who 'on their own initiative reliably repeat and amplify Russian themes.' This is what the German Marshall Fund calls a 'network' of second tier disinformation distributors.
If an article, tweet, or headline is trending among "Russian influence" accounts - which in this case means Alliance for Securing Democracy's secret list of 600 twitter accounts - the trending URL appears on the dashboard's front page. Essentially this is simple guilt by association, as we described:
What does this 'network' of people with no connection to Russia but who amplify Russian 'themes' do?

It 'reflects Russian messaging priorities, but that does not mean every name or link you see on the dashboard is pro-Russian. The network sometimes amplifies stories that Russia likes, or people with like-minded views but no formal connection to Russia.'

So, according to the self-proclaimed alliance for securing democracy you might not even know it when you are pushing Russian state propaganda!
So if even if stories from mainstream or establishment news organizations like The Washington Post, Bloomberg, or Reuters happen to be tweeted frequently by "Russian influence accounts" these mainstream sites appear on Hamilton 68's dashboard. Again, given that originating account identities are not revealed, the information is meaningless - it's but a mere reflection of what happens to be trending all over social media at any given moment.

Indeed here is an example of sites the tool was tracking within the first week Hamilton 68 was launched at the beginning of August. The below dashboard pane is accompanied with the descriptor: "Top websites tweeted by a monitored set of accounts related to Russian influence campaigns." Both Bloomberg and The Washington Times and other mainstream and long established outlets appear somewhat regularly on this dashboard which claims to identify Russian meddling.

But the dashboard more often targets hugely popular independent news sites like Robert Parry's Consortium News, The Federalist, Breitbart, and WikiLeaks. As The New York Times mentions, "Of 80 news stories promoted last week by those accounts, more than 25 percent 'had a primary theme of anti-Americanism.'" It is impossible to know what, according to the site's designers, "anti-Americanism" means, but it no doubt involves articles which are critical of US foreign policy. This means that if a Washington Post or Reuters article, for example,highlights "staggering" Iraqi civilian deaths under US coalition bombings, that article would likely register as "anti-American" by the platform and its creators. By such methods, the Washington Post, Reuters, and numerous independent sites are brought under suspicion alongside RT News and Sputnik. But "anti-American" could also simply mean any article produced by a site that Hamilton 68's creators don't like. Again, the data is meaningless. 

Indeed, on Thursday both The Intercept and Antiwar.com were top trending sites on the Hamilton's 68 dashboard. Ironically, The Intercept has take various editorial positions concerning Russian hacking allegations, and last June published a rather sensational headline, Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election, which ended up making only a small splash, but landed NSA leaker Reality Winner in jail.

Thursday's (9/28) list of Top Trending Domains advanced by what Hamilton 68 identifies as Russian backed social media accounts. Antiwar News and The Intercept were trending.

Antiwar.com was founded as far back as 1995 for the purpose of opposing American militarism and interventionism. It was one of the early and consistent few news and activist sites which opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Starting in 2011 it came under FBI investigation after what the FBI admitted was a "mistake". The site's founders, who were also personally under FBI monitoring for their "anti-war views", estimate that they had lost at least $75,000 per year after donors pulled their support while citing fears that the FBI might monitor them too. Antiwar was forced to sue in federal court just to clear its name and reputation, and yet the damage is long lasting and not fully quantifiable.

Similarly, as Hamilton 68's methodology is based entirely on guilt by association, it could potentially do some real damage to the independent sites it targets. This is an increased possibility given that highly visible outlets like the New York Times, Reuters, and NPR are now citing it. And this is precisely what it aims to do: silence dissenting voices and independent thought. But like the first round of McCarthyite hysteria, this too shall hopefully pass, and history will not look kindly on those engaged in this shrill and absurd witch hunt which doesn't appear to be relenting anytime soon.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Coverup? FBI, DOJ Refuse To Comply With Congressional ‘Trump Dossier’ Subpoena

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In what looks like a naked coverup meant to obscure the fact that the Department of Justice's decision to launch a criminal investigation into possible Russia-Trump collusion was based on a lie, Reuters reports that the DOJ and FBI are resisting a Congressional subpoena from to turn over documents that would reveal details about how the infamous "Trump dossier" factored into their decision to launch said investigation.

Despite receiving the subpoena from US Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, the FBI is steadfastly refusing to turn over the documents because the agency says they would purportedly compromise an ongoing criminal investigation (the FBI’s investigation into Mueller). More likely, the agency’s intransigence stems from fears that the one Russia collusion narrative that Democrats have actively worked to suppress could come back to haunt them.
The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas in August seeking 'any and all documents' about both agencies’ dealings with former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, according to a letter seen by Reuters from committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump supporter.

Steele compiled the so-called Trump dossier, which Trump was told by FBI director James Comey contained salacious material about the businessman-turned president. Trump and his associates have said the dossier’s contents were false.
As we noted earlier this month when the subpoenas were first filed, the now-infamous Trump dossier was provided to the FBI even though it contained knowingly inaccurate allegations. Russia-born financier and Putin opponent Bill Browder revealed as much during an explosive piece of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee over the summer that was multilaterally ignored by the media, when he claimed that the document was indirectly financed by a “senior Russian government official.”

Unsurprisingly, Nunes and his fellow Republicans are spearheading the subpoena effort, while Democrats on the committee, including leading anti-Trumper Adam Schiff, have resisted their efforts at every turn, claiming the subpoenas are part of a plan to try and "discredit" the dossier's author, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

To be sure, many of the claims Steele made in the dossier have already been discredited. For example, the FBI has found no evidence, for example, supporting the dossier’s claim that an attorney for Mr. Trump went to the Czech Republic to meet Kremlin officials, U.S. officials said. The attorney has also denied the claim.

For their part, Republicans on the committee contend that understanding the genesis of the dossier, and whether it was created with the explicit intention of sabotaging Trump, is important.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee has also been battling with the Justice Department for months over its request to interview two FBI officials about Trump’s dismissal in May of Comey as FBI chief, according to letters from the committee and the department. On Sept. 22, it agreed that it would be “appropriate” for the officials to testify provided that it would be in a classified setting and did not interfere with Mueller’s inquiry.

Not unlike the Ring of Sauron from “The Lord of the Rings”, the Trump dossier has created problems for everyone who has touched it. Buzzfeed is being sued for defamation by an individual who was named in the dossier in a case that bears several eerie similarities to the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that killed Gawker. CNN published a series of embarrassing clarifications and retractions. Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele, has been widely criticized for its role in creating the document, and one of its founders was finally compelled to privately testify before a Senate committee after months of dragging his feet.

It has embarrassed the DOJ, which reportedly cited some of its unproven allegations as justification for launching a criminal probe into the Trump campaign – a probe that has dragged on for nearly nine months now, without producing anything that looks like actionable evidence against the president.

It’s long past time for the intelligence agencies to come clean about how the document factored into their thinking. Considering the volume of leaks meant to convey the implication of shadiness without providing anything in the way of actual evidence of collusion, it’s understandable why Trump’s loyalists in Congress want to expose the lies underpinning the collusion narrative.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Bombshell Report Catches Pentagon Falsifying Paperwork For Weapons Transfers To Syrian Rebels

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A new bombshell joint report issued by two international weapons monitoring groups Tuesday confirms that the Pentagon continues to ship record breaking amounts of weaponry into Syria and that the Department of Defense is scrubbing its own paper trail. On Tuesday the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) produced conclusive evidence that not only is the Pentagon currently involved in shipping up to $2.2 billion worth of weapons from a shady network of private dealers to allied partners in Syria - mostly old Soviet weaponry - but is actually manipulating paperwork such as end-user certificates,presumably in order to hide US involvement.

The OCCRP and BIRN published internal US defense procurement files after an extensive investigation which found that the Pentagon is running a massive weapons trafficking pipeline which originates in the Balkans and Caucuses, and ends in Syria and Iraq. The program is ostensibly part of the US train, equip, and assist campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, a coalition of YPG/J and Arab FSA groups operating primarily in Syria's east). The arms transfers are massive and the program looks to continue for years. According to Foreign Policy's (FP) coverage of the report:
The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022. The total, $2.2 billion, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.
But perhaps more shocking is the following admission that Pentagon suppliers have links with known criminal networks, also from FP:
According to the report, many of the weapons suppliers — primarily in Eastern Europe but also in the former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Ukraine — have both links to organized crime throughout Eastern Europe and spotty business records.

The sheer amount of material necessary for the Pentagon program — one ammunition factory announced it planned to hire 1,000 new employees in 2016 to help cope with the demand — has reportedly stretched suppliers to the limit, forcing the Defense Department to relax standards on the materials it’s willing to accept.
It is likely that the organized crime association is the reason why the Pentagon has sought to alter its records. In addition, the sheer volume of weaponry continuing to ship to the Syrian battlefield and other parts of the Middle East means inevitable proliferation among unsavory terror groups - a phenomenon which has already been exhaustively documented in connection with the now reportedly closed CIA programto topple the Syrian government. The associations and alliances among some of the Arab former FSA groups the DoD continues to support in the north and east remains fluid, which means means US-supplied weapons will continue to pass among groups with no accountability for where they end up.

One of the authors of the OCCRP/BIRN report, Ivan Angelovski, told Foreign Policy that, “The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition." The report is based on internal US government memos which reveal that weapons shipment destination locations have been scrubbed from original documents. 

Falsified and altered Pentagon procurement documents (Click to enlarge):

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Is an EUC (End User Certificate) still an EUC if it doesn't include an end user?

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Balkan Insight, which is hosting the original investigative report: "Seven US procurement documents were whitewashed to remove reference to 'Syria' after reporters contacted the Pentagon to enquire about whether the exporting countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia – had been informed of the destination."

The fact that Foreign Policy, which is the foremost establishment national security publication in the world, would admit that the Pentagon's Syria weapons procurement program is tied to East European organized crime is itself hugely significant. At this point the evidence is simply so overwhelming that even establishment sources like FP - which itself has generally been pro-interventionist on Syria - can't deny it.

FP further reports that the Pentagon program "appears to be turbocharging a shadowy world of Eastern European arms dealers." And adds further that, "the Pentagon is reportedly removing documentary evidence about just who will ultimately be using the weapons, potentially weakening one of the bulwarks of international protocols against illicit arms dealing."

Map/Infographic produced as part of the OCCRP/BIRN report, itself confirmed by Foreign Policy magazine. Notice the map denotes that prior CIA weapons went directly to Idlib province (northwest, section in green) and the Golan border region (south). Both of these areas were and continue to be occupied by al-Qaeda (in Idlib, AQ's Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham). In Idlib specifically, analysts have confirmed genocidal cleansing of religious minorities conducted by AQ "rebels" directly assisted by CIA weapons.

Late last month we featured the story of Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who was fired from her job after being interrogated by national intelligence officials for exposing the same Pentagon arms network which is the subject of the latest OCCRP/BIRN investigation. At the time, Al Jazeera was the only major international outlet which covered the story, which confirmed that Bulgarian agents interrogated Gaytandzhieva and "tried to find out her sources." An anonymous source had leaked a large trove of internal government files connected to the arms trafficking to the East European-based Trud Newspaper journalist, which was the basis of her reporting. The newest investigation released Tuesday appears to include some of the same documents, also confirmed by Gayandzhieva.

Read the full OCCRP/BIRN investigation here.

Read Zero Hedge's original coverage of the Pentagon's Balkan arms pipeline here.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Israel Launches Air Strikes On Syria And Assad’s Waiting Game’

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Immediately after Israel's latest unprovoked strike on Syria we posed the question, did Benjamin Netanyahu just panic? The answer is yes, Israel is now acting from a position of desperation as it has failed in its goal of regime change in Syria. Overnight (Wed. evening/Thursday early morning), Israel attacked a Syrian military base near the town of Masyaf at about 3:00 a.m. which Syria has now confirmed in a statement that warns of "serious repercussions". Syria reported two troop deaths in the attack. It appears to have been a massive strike - grainy photos show a large fireball lighting up the night sky outside of Masyaf.

Israel appears to have timed its attack to occur on the very night a controversial U.N. report was released earlier in the day (Wednesday) which blames the Assad government for using chemical weapons against civilians at Khan Sheikhoun in April. A number of Israeli analysts and media reports purport the Masyaf base to be a site for chemical and non-conventional weapons storage (such as "barrel bombs") while claiming the attack was motivated by "humanitarian" concern for Syrian civilians.

But this is the reason for Israeli media and defense officials quickly claiming that the strike at Masyaf was on a chemical weapons facility: they know the "humanitarian" angle sells in the West, especially when coupled with allegations of civilians being gassed. Currently, this is putting the dubious and contested claim that the Syrian government attacked Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas back in the spotlight at a time when Israel is eager to sell war for regime change while casting its actions in terms of protecting and defending civilians from a brutal dictator. In typical fashion the big newsrooms, which rarely report from inside Syria but instead opt for the comfort of Beirut, are uncritically echoing the "humanitarian airstrike" narrative. The New York Times, in a report filed from Jerusalem, narrates the attack as follows while relying on unnamed "former Israeli officials" and a single Syrian pro-opposition outlet:
Israeli officials did not comment on the strike, but a Syrian monitoring group and two former Israeli officials said it had targeted an installation of a government agency that produced chemical weapons and a military base that produced advanced missiles.

The strike came a day after a United Nations commission accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in an attack in April that killed dozens in the town of Khan Sheikhoun and flooded clinics with victims gasping for breath.
Initially some Syria observers questioned how the Israeli Air Force could strike so deep inside Syria with no response from the country's advanced Russian made S-400 anti-aircraft system. But it appears Syrian airspace was never violated as the Israeli jets reportedly fired from over Lebanon. Masyaf lies west of Hama and just north of the Lebanese border. While Israel's incursion into sovereign Lebanese airspace is illegal according to international law, Lebanon cannot respond as it has no air force nor does it possess adequate anti-aircraft missiles.

It is further significant that Israel chose to fire from over Lebanon (not for the first time) even though it has routinely violated Syrian air space in previous attacks. It appears that Israel calculated it's strike position to be in the vicinity of Russian military presence yet without forcing a Russian response by directly violating air space. The attack comes just over two weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. By many accounts the meeting was contentious as Netanyahu warned Putin that Israel would not tolerate Iranian presence in Syria. It was further revealed that a senior Israeli official accompanying Netanyahu on the trip threatened to assassinate Syrian President Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, while further adding that Israel will seek to derail the US-Russia brokered de-escalation deal reached in Astana, Kazakhstan earlier this summer.

Russia’s Pravda described a frantic and upset Netanyahu at the Sochi talks with the following: “according to eyewitnesses of the open part of the talks, the Israeli prime minister was too emotional and at times even close to panic. He described a picture of the apocalypse to the Russian president that the world may see, if no efforts are taken to contain Iran, which, as Netanyahu believes, is determined to destroy Israel.”

At first glance it does appear that Netanyahu is now making good on his threats, but is this latest flagrant aggression against Syria a sign of more attacks to come? Will Netanyahu pursue escalation in the hope of dragging the US and other allies into war? It's not likely. Realistically that possibility ended when Syria retook Aleppo and with the US-Russia Astana 'de-escalation' deal which tacitly legitimized Iranian presence in Syria. Even some within the pro-opposition regime change crowd took to social media after the strike to say "too little, too late".  Simply put, Israel lost the covert war and is now left "holding the bag" while its more powerful allies pull out of the full push for regime change.

But what is clear is that Israel remains deeply uncomfortable with the Syrian Army's overwhelming momentum of late (just this week the army initiated the liberation of Deir Ezzor from ISIS) and seeks to keep the fires burning in Syria, at least enough to bog down Assad and Iran. Worse for Netanyahu, Hezbollah seems stronger than ever, along with the so-called 'resistance axis' that stretches from Tehran to South Lebanon.

Israeli officials have gone so far as to declare their preference for Islamic State terrorists on their border rather than allies of Iran. But as we've repeatedly pointed out, Israel is acting from a position of weakness and desperation. All that Netanyahu can hope for now is that an Israeli provocation leads to a direct Syrian military response, but it appears that Assad is not taking the bait.

In 2013 when Israel launched a massive missile attack against a Syrian defense technology facility in Jamraya outside of Damascus, it claimed to be attacking a parked Hezbollah weapons convoy. Perhaps more brazen was the 2016 attack targeting Damascus International Airport, which killed a well-known Hezbollah commander. And in a significant admission earlier this month, the head of Israel's air force acknowledged nearly one hundred IDF attacks on convoys inside Syria over the course of the past 5 years.

Netanyahu himself was recently caught on a hot mic bragging that Israel had struck Syrian targets at least "a dozen times". And this is to say nothing of Israel's covert support to al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria's south, which has reportedly involved weapons transfers and treatment of wounded jihadists in Israeli hospitals, the latter which was widely promoted in photo ops involving Netanyahu himself. As even former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell once directly told the Israeli public, Israel's "dangerous game" in Syria consists in getting in bed with al-Qaeda in order to fight Shia Iran.

Indeed Assad has not taken the bait for years now. While pro-government Syrians have themselves at times complained about Israel's seeming ability to strike inside sovereign Syrian territory with impunity, Assad has the long-game in mind of "survival now, retaliation later". It was clear from the start that Israel's attacks on largely non-strategic targets were more about provocation: should Damascus lob missiles back in Israel's direction Netanyahu would launch an all-out assault while Syria was at its weakest in the midst of a grinding and externally funded al-Qaeda insurgency.

Israel has also been careful to frame its actions in terms of counter-terror strikes on Hezbollah targets for the sake of maintaining an air of legitimacy to its aggression. But as the Astana agreement demonstrates (a strategic victory for Russia-Iran-Syria),  Syria's ability to absorb Israel's repeat provocations seems to be part of a strategic "waiting game" born of an accurate self assessment of past and current vulnerabilities. As The Century Foundation concludes:
Syria’s contemporary leaders seem to have adopted a simplified version of the “long breath strategy” of the former president—and father of Syria’s current leader—Hafez al Assad. This strategy was named for Syria’s ability to draw a deep breath and weather short-term pain and setbacks in pursuit of a better deal.
And this strategy seems to be working, resulting in a shift in perspective which is even beginning to permeate at least part of the Israeli defense establishment:
A formerly very high-placed source in Israel’s security system spoke to Al-Monitor last week. He said on condition of anonymity, “It’s high time to admit that perhaps all our assessments were erroneous. The prevailing consensus of the last five years was that Syria will never return to its former state. We thought that however this turns out, the Syrian state as we knew it had passed from the world. But evidently we were wrong.” 

Israel’s top decision-makers have not changed course, but it is likely that such arguments are heard in private discussions, and top-secret intelligence assessments see it as a real possibility that Assad is capable of outsmarting those who prematurely eulogized him and Syria as we knew it

'Syria is returning, that is clear now,' said the source. 'It’s not about the quantity of territory, it’s about central rule. If nothing unexpected happens, in the near future, Assad will be declared the final, unequivocal winner of this war. Following that, the path to Syria’s rebuilding and reconstruction will be short.'
Concerning Israel's adventurist military action this week, contrary to the claims of unnamed "Israeli officials" who say the latest attack was against a branch of Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), it is likely that this week's air strike was yet another "routine" attack on a Hezbollah weapons depot.

According to Elijah Magnier - a veteran Kuwait-based Middle East journalist, fluent Arabic speaker, and one who reports from on the ground in Syria (and has done so for years) - Israel in truth hit another Hezbollah weapons storehouse (not a chemical weapons production facility). But with renewed claims that Syrian government possesses and has used sarin gas, Israel is seeking to maximize the propaganda value of the strike. After all, the world's attention now seems far away from Syria and the Israeli gloves are off. Israel will do and say whatever it can to get the wheels of internationally backed regime change in motion again.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Pentagon Unveils Plan For ‘Pre-Emptive Strike’ On North Korea

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Just hours after Trump made his famously heated vow to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea if provocations by the Kim regime continued, the US Air Force issued a very clear statement in which it explicitly said that it was "ready to fight tonight," launching an attack of B-1 bombers if so ordered:
'How we train is how we fight and the more we interface with our allies, the better prepared we are to fight tonight,' said a 37th EBS B-1 pilot. 'The B-1 is a long-range bomber that is well-suited for the maritime domain and can meet the unique challenges of the Pacific.'
Now, according to an NBC report, it appears that the B-1 pilot was dead serious, as the Pentagon has unveiled a plan for a preemptive strike on North Korean missile sites with bombers stationed in Guam, once Donald Trump gives the order to strike. Echoing what we said yesterday that war "under any analysis, is insanity", the preemptive strike plan is viewed as the "best option available" out of all the bad ones:
'There is no good option,' a senior intelligence official involved in North Korean planning told NBC News, but a unilateral American bomber strike not supported by any assets in the South constitutes 'the best of a lot of bad options.'
The attack would consist of B-1 Lancer heavy bombers located on Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, a senior acting and retired military officials told NBC news.

"Of all the military options … [President Donald Trump] could consider, this would be one of the two or three that would at least have the possibility of not escalating the situation,” retired Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and an NBC News analyst, said.

Why the B-1?
Military sources told NBC News that the internal justification for centering a strike on the B-1 is both practical and intricate. The B-1 has the largest internal payload of any current bomber in the U.S. arsenal. A pair of bombers can carry a mix of weapons in three separate bomb bays — as many as 168 500-pound bombs — or more likely, according to military sources, the new Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — Extended Range (JASSM-ER), a highly accurate missile with a range of 500 nautical miles, allowing the missile to be fired from well outside North Korean territory.
There is another important consideration: according to one senior military officer, "the B-1 has also been selected because it has the added benefit of not being able to carry nuclear weapons. Military planners think that will signal China, Russia, and Pyongyang that the U.S. is not trying to escalate an already bad situation any further.

The plan explains why in recent weeks pairs of B-1s have conducted 11 practice runs of a similar mission since the end of May, the last taking place on Monday, around the time Trump and Kim were exchanging unpleasantries in the media, with the training has accelerated since May, according to officials. In an actual mission, NBC notes that the non-nuclear bombers would be supported by satellites and drones and surrounded by fighter jets as well as aerial refueling and electronic warfare planes.

There are currently at least six B-1 bombers on Andersen Air Force base, which is located some 3,200km from North Korea. If given the command, these strategic bombers would target around two dozen North Korean "missile-launch sites, testing grounds and support facilities" according to sources cited by NBC.

Asked about the B-1 bomber plan, two U.S. officials told NBC News that the bombers were among the options under consideration but not the only option. NBC points out that "action would come from air, land and sea — and cyber."

Of course, as we elaborated yesterday, striking North Korea is certain to prompt an immediate and deadly response that could involve targets as near as Seoul, just 40 miles from the border, or as far away as Andersen AFB, according to Adm. Stavridis.

The use of the B-1 bombers to actually drop bombs and destroy Korean infrastructure and kill North Koreans would cause an escalation," said Stavridis. "Kim Jong Un would be compelled to respond. He would lash out militarily, at a minimum against South Korea, and potentially at long-range targets, perhaps including Guam. … That's a bad set of outcomes from where we sit now."

"Diplomacy remains the lead," said Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander, after the B-1 bombers' late May training run. "However, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario. If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing."

* * *

Finally, should the worst-case scenario be put in play, and conventional war is launched, here is what Capital Economics predicted would be the drastic economic consequences from even a contained, non-nuclear war.
  • North Korea’s conventional forces, which include 700,000 men under arms and tens of thousands of artillery pieces, would be able to cause immense damage to the South Korean economy. If the North was able to set off a nuclear bomb in South Korea, the consequences would be even greater. Many of the main targets in South Korea are located close to the border with the North. The capital, Seoul, which accounts for roughly a fifth of the country’s population and economy, is located just 35 miles from the North Korean border, and would be a prime target.

  • The experience of past military conflicts shows how big an impact wars can have on the economy. The war in Syria has led to a 60% fall in the country’s GDP. The most devastating military conflict since World War Two, however, has been the Korean War (1950-53), which led to 1.2m South Korean deaths, and saw the value of its GDP fall by over 80%.

  • South Korea accounts for around 2% of global economic output. A 50% fall in South Korean GDP would directly knock 1% off global GDP. But there would also be indirect effects to consider. The main one is the disruption it would cause to global supply chains, which have been made more vulnerable by the introduction of just-in-time delivery systems. Months after the Thai floods had receded in 2011 electronics and automotive factories across the world were still reporting shortages.

  • The impact of a war in Korea would be much bigger. South Korea exports three times as many intermediate products as Thailand. In particular, South Korea is the biggest producer of liquid crystal displays in the world (40% of the global total) and the second biggest of semiconductors (17% market share). It is also a key automotive manufacturer and home to the world’s three biggest shipbuilders. If South Korean production was badly damaged by a war there would be shortages across the world. The disruption would last for some time – it takes around two years to build a semi-conductor factory from scratch.

  • The impact of the war on the US economy would likely be significant. At its peak in 1952, the US government was spending the equivalent of 4.2% of its GDP fighting the Korean War. The total cost of the second Gulf War (2003) and its aftermath has been estimated at US$1trn (5% of one year’s US GDP). A prolonged war in Korea would significantly push up US federal debt, which at 75% of GDP is already uncomfortably high.

  • Reconstruction after the war would be costly. Infrastructure, including electricity, water, buildings, roads and ports, would need to be rebuilt. Massive spare capacity in China’s steel, aluminum and cement industries mean reconstruction would unlikely be inflationary, and should instead provide a boost to global demand. The US, a key ally of South Korea, would likely shoulder a large share of the costs. The US spent around US$170bn on reconstruction after the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. South Korea’s economy is roughly 30 times larger than these two economies combined. If the US were to spend proportionally the same amount on reconstruction in Korea as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would add another 30% of GDP to its national debt.
Naturally, should North Korea manage to successfully launch a nuke, the devastation, economic and otherwise, would be orders of magnitude greater.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.