All posts by Whitney Webb

Iran Warns It Will Respond to Future Israeli Strikes Targeting Syria and Its Allies

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Concerns that the conflict in Syria could soon escalate have now grown exponentially following comments from Iran’s top security official that Israel will face retaliatory actions if the country continues to launch unilateral strikes against Syrian military installations.

Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Iranian Fars news agency that Israel “will face reactions that would cause sorrow and penitence” if it continues to launch new airstrikes targeting Syria in support of “terrorist groups” that are fighting to overthrow the country’s government.

Shamkhani, who made the statements during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, added:
The Zionist regime [in Israel] is seeking to create a crisis in Syria and has taken measures in direct support of terrorist groups by hitting the Syrian Army and the forces [in Syria] fighting against terrorism.”
The Iranian official’s warning comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted on Tuesday that his government would continue to launch strikes against Syria “to prevent the Iranian military buildup in Syria” and that “we will do what is necessary to defend Israel’s security.”

Netanyahu vowed to continue the strikes in defiance of Russia’s recent decision to deliver the S-300 missile-defense system to Syria following the downing of a Russian military plane in the country earlier this month. The Russian military has blamed Israel – which was bombing the Syrian city of Latakia at the time the plane went down – for the plane’s destruction and the death of its crew. However, Israel has denied responsibility for the incident.

As recent comments by Netanyahu make clear, Israel has long justified its hundreds of airstrikes in Syria by asserting that it was bombing Iranian military installations. Israel claims the installations are part of an Iranian effort to establish a military foothold in Syria with the aim of placing pressure on Israel’s northern border.

Iranian and Syrian government officials have repeatedly denied this claim, as Iran’s military presence in the country has long been confined to a handful of military advisors who work with the Syrian Arab Army at the behest of the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel’s risk-benefit analysis

However, Israel’s long-standing goal of overthrowing the Syrian government, and Tel Aviv’s covert funding and arming of Syrian “rebels,” suggest that Israel’s motivation for launching the strikes goes far beyond alleged concerns over Iran’s military presence and is instead aimed at increasing Israel’s power in the region and its claim to the Golan Heights — Syrian territory that Israel illegally annexed in 1981.

Netanyahu’s recent assurance that Israeli airstrikes would continue has also provoked warnings from Syria’s government, with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad stating on Tuesday that Israel should think twice before launching new attacks in Syria once the S-300 systems are in place and that Syria would use the systems in self-defense to target Israeli planes violating its airspace.

Now, with Iranian officials also warning of retaliatory measures following the next Israeli strike on Syria, the ball is in Israel’s court, as the Israeli government now has the power to push Syria’s conflict towards a dramatic escalation whenever it chooses.

With US support for Israel ensured if such an escalation does take place, Israel seems willing to take the risk of sparking a larger war in Syria. Though such a war would bring nothing but chaos to the region, leaked State Department emails have shown that chaos in Syria benefits Israel, suggesting a strategic motive on Israel’s part for the taking of such a risk.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

After Cutting All UNWRA Humanitarian Aid, US to Award Israel with $3.3B/Year in Military Aid

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A massive spending bill, which would deliver $3.3 billion dollars in military aid to Israel over the next year, passed the House on Wednesday under cover of a media blackout. The US Senate had passed a different version of the same bill in early August, a vote that also went largely unreported.

Now, after the House’s passage of a slightly altered version of the Senate’s spending bill, officially titled the “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018,” all that remains is for the two chambers of Congress to reconcile their versions before the product is sent to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law. According to Skopos Labs, the bill now has a 90 percent chance of being enacted. If enacted, the bill will be the largest aid package in American history.

As MintPress previously reported, $3.3 billion was supposed to be the annual limit for US military aid to Israel. However, the figure is actually set to be higher this year as a result of Congress’ recent passage of a massive $716 billion defense bill that provides an additional $550 million in US aid for Israeli missile defense systems. That defense bill also authorizes an additional $1 billion for US weapons stockpiles in Israel.

Furthermore, the $3.3 billion in annual aid is set to continue for the next decade based on the current text of the bill and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the Obama administration — totaling over $38 billion over the next decade when accounting for annual military aid and annual aid given specifically to fund Israeli missile defense.

That startling figure roughly equates to $23,000 for every Jewish family living in Israel.

In addition to the massive sum the legislation would give to the Israeli military, the bill would also mandate that NASA closely cooperate with the Israel Space Agency (ISA), despite the latter’s history of espionage targeting NASA.

The massive amount of aid the US government is set to give to Israel comes amid Israel’s unprecedented crackdown on unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip and a looming Israeli military operation aimed at “conquering” the Palestinian enclave. The aid package’s imminent package is also set to coincide with efforts to annex the vast majority of Palestine’s West Bank, which has been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967.

As MintPress noted in a previous report, such grave violations of human rights would normally prevent the US government from providing aid to Israel, given that the Leahy Laws enable the US to withhold military assistance from units and individuals in foreign security forces if they have committed a gross violation of human rights.

However, the US government – particularly under the rabidly pro-Israel administration of President Trump, which just last week cut all funding for Palestinian humanitarian relief through UNRWA – has consistently shown that it is willing to bend the rules for Israel.

Congress waves the Israeli flag

The $3.3 billion military aid package was only one of the bills passed by the House that is set to benefit Israel. Another bill, which has also been largely overlooked by the media, would seek to create a special government envoy tasked with monitoring “anti-Semitism” and criticism of Israel worldwide.

According to the text of the bill – officially titled the “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act of 2017” – the envoy would “serve as the primary advisor to, and coordinate efforts across, the United States government relating to monitoring and combating anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incitement that occur in foreign countries,” and have the rank of ambassador. Only two members of the House voted against the bill: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA).

While an effort to combat “anti-Semitism” is a noble cause, the recent endorsement of a controversial definition of the term by Congress, which defines certain criticisms of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic, makes it likely that any envoy appointed to this position would be focused on clamping down on domestic and international criticisms of the Israeli government.

Given the potential dangers that such a position could pose to free speech, not just in the US but abroad, it is surprising that this bill’s passage by an overwhelming majority received next to no media attention. Yet, in light of the media blackout also surrounding the imminent approval of the US massive aid package to the Israeli military, it is perhaps not so surprising.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

One Year After Calling Idlib ‘Al Qaeda’s Largest Safe Haven Since 9/11,’ the US Govt is Trying to Save it

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As the Syrian government and its allies prepare to begin a military offensive against the last rebel-held province in the country, top US government officials and even US President Donald Trump have recently urged Syria to refrain from “recklessly” attacking the Idlib province, warning that it could result in a high civilian death toll. These recent statements of US government officials have sought to portray Idlib as chiefly populated by civilians and benign opposition “rebels.”

Yet, just last year, one of the US government’s top counterterrorism officials involved in the country’s Syria and Iraq policy stated on video that, in contrast to current government statements, Idlib is dominated by none other than the Al Qaeda terrorist group and that the province should be a major focus of US counterterrorism policy given the threat that Idlib represents to global efforts to fight terrorism.

Speaking last July at a conference organized by the Middle East Institute, Brett McGurk – the US government’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (Daesh, ISIS) – called Syria’s Idlib province “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11 tied directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri [current leader of Al Qaeda].” He then immediately added that the Al Qaeda presence in Idlib was a “huge problem” and had been so “for some time.” McGurk later stated that the efforts by foreign governments, including the US, “to send in tens of thousands of tons of weapons and looking the other way as foreign fighters come into Syria may not have been the best approach. Al Qaeda has taken full advantage of it and Idlib now is a huge problem.”

McGurk’s characterization of Idlib as an “Al Qaeda safe haven” has also been reported on by the mainstream US press. For instance, last February, The Washington Post published an article that stated that Idlib, “the biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria,” was “falling under the control of Al Qaeda-linked extremists.” One of the rebels quoted in the Post article stated that Al-Qaeda-linked radicals “are controlling every aspect of life” in Idlib and that “Al-Qaeda ideology is spreading everywhere.”

That same article went on to report that most rebels have joined one of the two most powerful factions in Idlib: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition formed by Syria’s Al Qaeda branch al-Nusra Front; or the “more moderate” Ahrar al-Sham, a coalition known for being a common battlefield ally of al-Nusra Front. The New York Times wrote in 2015 that Ahrar al-Sham membership included associates of Osama bin Laden.

However, recent statements made by Trump administration officials omit this key fact, despite the fact that the Al Qaeda presence and threat within the Idlib province remains unchanged from last year. In fact, since last year, Al Qaeda’s presence in Idlib has only grown, as Al Qaeda affiliates in other parts of Syria were evacuated to Idlib province as part of several deals negotiated with the Syrian Arab Army that resulted in the surrender of then-rebel-held territories to the Syrian government.

Unsurprisingly, US mainstream media outlets now echo the Trump administration on Idlib, despite their own past admissions that the province is dominated by Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. For instance, a New York Times article published this past Sunday opened by lamenting that the Syrian government offensive targeting Idlib presented a threat to “rebel fighters and their civilian supporters who rose up more than seven years ago demanding regime change,” noting only in the story’s 21st paragraph that these same “rebel fighters” are “affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

While it may seem striking that the Trump administration would spring to the defense of a known “Al Qaeda safe haven,” government officials have stated in recent months that the US’ objectives in Syria are no longer about fighting terrorism but about countering the “Iranian menace,” as National Security Adviser John Bolton stated in July. Thus, it seems that defending Al Qaeda has become par for the course given the Trump administration’s ultimate goal of targeting Iran, a country that has spent much of the past seven years fighting terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Is Mattis Next on Chopping Block for Questioning the ‘Adelson Agenda’?

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Like Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster before him, Secretary of Defense James Mattis – one of the longest-serving members of the Trump cabinet – may soon be out of a job. Just as was the case for the former secretary of state and the former national security adviser, media reports are now asserting that Mattis has been shut out of major White House decisions for months and is increasingly “out of the loop.”

According to
 NBC News, Mattis was shut out of major administration decisions such as President Trump’s decision to tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (better known as the Iran nuclear deal), Trump’s call to militarize outer space, and his decision to cancel war games near North Korea during recent negotiations with that country’s leadership.

The Secretary of Defense’s “fall from grace” is a dramatic departure from the early days of the administration, when Trump – out of respect for Mattis – kept him informed of key decisions even when they had disagreed. Now, however, the report notes that Trump relies heavily, if not exclusively, on the advice of two administration officials: 
John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, the very men who replaced McMaster and Tillerson.

Overall, the report mirrors those that had preceded the firings of both
 Rex Tillerson from the top post at the State Department and H.R. McMaster from his position as national security adviser. In each of those instances, first Tillerson and then McMaster were described by administration officials as being “at odds” with the President over key decisions such as North Korea and the Iran deal.

The similarities, however, between Mattis’ fall from favor and those experienced by his former allies in the administration don’t end there.

The price of crossing Sheldon

The firings of Tillerson and McMaster were notable for the involvement of powerful pro-Israel figures — particularly Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is currently the largest donor to both Trump and the Republican Party. Both of those figures 
had opposed major policy objectives that were of great interest to Adelson, especially the destruction of the Iran deal.

In addition to trying to save the Iran deal, Tillerson had further earned the ire of Israel hard-liners by demanding that Israel 
return millions in US military aid last year that had exceeded the figure agreed upon under the Obama administration. However, McMaster’s reference to Israel as an “occupying power” and his acknowledgment of Palestine as a state not only angered the Israel lobby but also prompted groups like the Zionist Organization of America and even Adelson himself to pave the way for McMaster to be replaced with Iran war-hawk and Adelson confidante John Bolton.

Now, with both McMaster and Tillerson gone, Mattis seems to be on the chopping block for a similar reason, especially given the fact that he had not been consulted on the destruction of the Iran deal – a deal that
 Mattis supported. In addition, Mattis, though he never went as far as McMaster or Tillerson in upsetting the Israel lobby, did notably oppose Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a policy move that had been directed by Adelson himself. Mattis had worried that the decision would increase unrest in the region.

Furthermore, prior to becoming Secretary of Defense, Mattis had 
criticized Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, asserting that it could lead to an “apartheid state,” and had claimed that the US’ pro-Israel bias had alienated the US from “moderate Arabs” in the Middle East.

A fly in the ointment on Kushner’s “peace” plan?

Yet, it is not surprising that talk of Mattis’ lack on influence and an imminent departure from the White House accompanies the White House’s upcoming “peace plan” for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Indeed, Jared Kushner, the administration’s Middle East peace envoy, recently wrapped up a trip to the region and 
asserted on Monday that the plan would be ready “soon.”

Given Kushner’s own 
Zionist background as well as his support for illegal settlements and recent receipt of $30 million from a top Israeli financial institution, experts have warned that Kushner’s “peace” plan would likely call for the continued military occupation of the West Bank, would offer no right of return, and would not give Palestine East Jerusalem as part of a future state.

Such a plan is likely to be rejected by Palestinians and lead to increased protests. With Mattis’ past and more recent history raising concerns that such policies would lead to a more insecure Middle East and harm the US’ regional objectives, the imminent release of the Kushner plan may be the perfect excuse for the Trump administration to show Mattis the door.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Outcome of Assange Case Could Undermine the Rights of Millions

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As the sixth anniversary of his extended stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London approaches, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is faced with increasingly limited options. Barred from communicating with the outside world and from receiving most visitors, Assange’s only hope of avoiding extradition to the United States on trumped-up espionage charges comes down to the governments of the two countries of which he is a citizen: Australia and Ecuador.

In an unexpected move last week, the Australian government sent officials to meet with Assange and later confirmed that Australia would finally extend consular assistance to the Australian-born journalist after years of failing to do so and even threatening to revoke his Australian passport. The Australian government, in the past, has attempted to argue that it can do little to help Assange’s situation, asserting that it was “unable to intervene in the due process of another country’s court proceedings or legal matters.”

It has also failed to publicly comment on the UN’s finding that Assange has been subjected to arbitrary detention by the United Kingdom — asserting, 
as recently as last week, that the government’s position on the matter is “confidential,” and deflecting responsibility by claiming that the UN’s findings “are directed at the United Kingdom and Sweden, not at Australia.”

However, given the fact that Sweden has dropped all legal proceedings against him, and with his protected status at the Ecuadorian embassy in question, Australia is now coming under unprecedented pressure to act. And the political pressure the Australian government is facing involves the broader implications the Assange case holds for Australian citizens as a collective, not just for Assange as an individual.

As
 recently noted by Richard Hoffman at WSWS:
The issue at stake for the Australian government is its commitment to the protection of the human rights of its citizens, including internationally recognized legal and democratic norms such as free speech, the right of due process, freedom from cruel and degrading treatment, and the right not to be punished in the absence of a criminal act.
Indeed, Assange’s detention in the embassy has been carried out in the complete absence of criminal charges, as the only remaining legal justification for his arrest by the U.K. government is his breach of bail.

However, as
 Hoffman writes, a breach of bail would not lead to incarceration in the U.K., as the primary punishment for such infractions is the payment of a bail bond, which was forfeited in Assange’s case. Thus, the only reasonable conclusion regarding the U.K.’s intention to detain Assange if he leaves the embassy is that it is to extradite him to the United States — the very basis for his protected status.

What undercutting Assange would mean for all Aussies

Thus, if Australia reneges on its obligations to protect Assange and fight for his rights, the implications such actions would hold for every other citizen of the country are as vast as they are chilling. It would set the legal precedent for Australia to allow any of its citizens to be detained, imprisoned and/or silenced by another government without charges, greatly weakening the rights of any Australian national living or traveling abroad. Essentially, it would mean that many of the rights granted to an Australian by right of one’s citizenship would evaporate the second he or she set foot on foreign soil.

Were Assange anyone else, the Australian government would be forced to act – at the very least – to maintain the appearance that it is committed to the rights of citizens and its own national sovereignty. However, Assange is no “normal” individual in this sense – his arrest is a “
priority” to the US government, which is now seeking to maximize pressure to extradite Assange while his protected status is at its weakest.

Thus, the degree to which the Australian government is influenced by the United States will be the deciding factor in this case. That influence, particularly under the current government of Australia, is as strong as ever and has been undeniable for decades. Indeed, since World War II, Australia has been very much
 a part of US empire, hosting numerous US-related military facilities and consistently offering support for US wars in exchange for “preferential” access to US-manufactured weapons.

That relationship 
has only grown stronger in recent years, in part due to Australia’s major role in facilitating the US military’s “pivot to Asia” that was first announced under Barack Obama. With the current prime minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull,having been a former executive at the US-based “vampire squid” bank Goldman Sachs, the past influence of the US on Australia’s government remains a factor that continues to demand attention.

Will the long-standing influence of the US military-industrial complex be enough for Australia to choose to jeopardize the rights of its other 25 million citizens by setting a dangerous precedent in Assange’s case? The extent of the “consular assistance” that Australia has now extended to Assange will effectively answer that question.

Ecuador’s pivot towards US empire

While Australia susses out its position, the most pressing threat to Assange’s security seems to come from the country that first granted him asylum, Ecuador. Once defiant in the face of US pressure, Ecuador under President Lenín Moreno has 
sought to return to its neo-colonial status under the thumb of the United States, despite Moreno’s having campaigned as a loyalist to former President Rafael Correa, who had granted Assange asylum in the first place.

Moreno’s “betrayal” of Correa was foreshadowed by WikiLeaks’ releases in the past. In 2010, WikiLeaks’ released 
a 2007 document on Moreno written by the Bush-appointed US Ambassador to Ecuador Linda Jewell. In the report, Jewell stated her view that then-Vice President Moreno would be “useful” to Washington:
Moreno welcomed the visit and expressed his admiration for the United States … He said that Ecuador had to get past its cultural inclination to always play the ‘blame game’ with respect to its problems, which so often includes blaming the US for one thing or another … He will be a useful partner and advocate for many of our development assistance programs, and he will likely also be a useful and strategic conduit for political messages that may be difficult to deliver directly to Correa.”
This past Saturday, Correa’s Twitter account tweeted a screenshot of this same document, leading some to suggest that the document’s publication by Assange’s organization helped motivate Moreno’s recent decision to silence the journalist.

As the document foretold, Moreno indeed has sought to return his country to the sphere of US influence. He 
has barred Correa from running for re-election and removed Correa loyalists from his cabinet. He has also begun paving the way for the US military to regain its foothold in the country, which was abruptly ended in 2009 when Correa expelled the US military from its base. The only exception is Ecuador’s granting of citizenship to Assange. However, this was done behind Moreno’s back and orchestrated by Correa ally María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry.

As in Australia’s case, the actions of Moreno’s government in the Assange case will have similarly far-reaching implications for the rights of its citizens, especially if Moreno chooses to revoke Assange’s asylum. Yet, while Moreno is likely to avoid revoking Assange’s asylum directly, his decision to gag Assange suggests that he is opting to make Assange’s stay in the embassy so miserable that he will choose to leave of his own accord.

Correa has hinted that this is the case, as he has called Assange’s current treatment by Ecuador within the embassy a form of “
torture,” and also noted months prior that Moreno was set to ensure that Assange’s days in the embassy were numbered. If Ecuador is willing to “torture” one of its own citizens in an effort to force him to “voluntarily” rescind its protections, its commitment to protecting the right to free speech and even the very dignity of its other citizens is immediately called into question.

While the “vassal state” status of Australia and potentially Ecuador may do much to endanger the status of Assange, a negative decision by both governments on this single case would also set dangerous precedents for the rights of all citizens of both of those countries, a combined population of over 41 million people. As a result, the outcome of Assange’s case could well be much more damaging to Australia or Ecuador than the content of any past or future WikiLeaks release. If both countries fail to act on their obligation to protect one of their own, it will force them both to acknowledge that their citizens’ rights and their national sovereignty come second to the lures and demands of the American empire.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Trump Puts his Logo on the Military-Industrial Complex, Sets Up US Arms Sales with Syria Demo

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The week after the US, along with the UK and France, launched unilateral strikes against the Syrian government, the Trump administration is rolling out a “Buy American” weapons-selling initiative aimed at allowing other nations to buy even more weapons from US-based arms manufacturers. According to Reuters, the initiative, set to be announced today, will speed up the approval of arms deals to US allies and will call for members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, as well as the president himself, to act as “closers” in major arms deals and salesmen for US weapons companies at international air shows and weapons showcases.

“This policy seeks to mobilize the full resources of the United States government behind arms transfers that are in the US national and economic security interest,” a White House official told Reuters. After news of the initiative first broke in the media, US weapons manufacturers made massive gains in the stock market and Raytheon’s stock hit an all-time high. In addition to helping the military-industrial complex secure more business, Trump may be pushing the initiative, at least in part, because of his personal investments in US weapons giants like Raytheon, Boeing and General Electric.

The initiative comes less than a week after the US strikes launched against Syria, and the strikes themselves were likely part of a PR bid to boost US weapons manufacturers and international arms orders leading up to the “Buy American” announcement. In addition, doubts have been raised that the strikes were planned to cause any major damage to the Syrian government, as the Syrian and Russian governments were allegedly “tipped off” by Trump prior to the attack, and given ample time to prepare by evacuating nearly all key military hardware.

This suggests that the purpose of the strike was not actually to harm the Syrian government as much as showcase US military might and weaponry in the lead-up to the official announcement of Trump’s new weapons selling initiative.

My missile’s better than your missile

Indeed, the US military, after the strike, praised the offensive for its “precision,” and the types of missiles and assets used – nearly all from US weapons giants like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing – figured prominently in media coverage of the strike. After the strikes, the stocks of US weapon manufacturers jumped sharply, adding nearly $10 billion to their market value. The strike also enriched the president himself by virtue of his stock holdings in Raytheon and Boeing.

The Syria strikes were also notable because they were used to debut new US-made missiles, which – unsurprisingly – received glowing reviews and a PR boost following the Syria strikes. Nineteen of those new missiles – the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, or JASSMs, manufactured by Lockheed Martin – were used for the first time in last week’s Syria attack after over 20 years of performance problems and other setbacks drastically delayed their development. However, their performance in the Syria strike conveniently proved a real-time “testing ground” for the missiles, and enough buzz for the missile’s troubled past to be forgotten. Further proof that the strikes were ordered with this purpose in mind is the fact that Lockheed Martin executives were preparing for a jump in JASSM orders before the strikes were even announced.

Using the Syria strike as a weapons-selling strategy may well have backfired, however. According to Russia, 71 of 103 missiles fired by the US, U.K. and France were shot down, resulting in a dismal success rate of around 31 percent and leading the coalition to hit only three of its original eight targets. It is likely for this very reason that the Pentagon has since changed its story by claiming that the US and its allies had always intended to hit only three targets, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Changing the narrative here is essential in attempts to boost US weapon sales — as admitting the success of the Russian-manufactured missile defense systems used in Syria would damage the sales of US missiles and bomber jets while boosting sales of Russian missile defense units.

Peanuts, popcorn, cool new missiles!

Trump’s bid to increase US arms sales, by using the Syria strikes as a PR blitz to show the effectiveness of US-made weapons, is just the latest action taken by the president to cement his role as America’s top arms dealer.

For instance, Reuters reported that Trump had personally intervened on behalf of Boeing, currently the US’ top weapons contractor, in a January phone call with the emir of Kuwait. During the call, Trump reportedly pushed the Kuwaiti leader to move forward on a $10 billion fighter-jet deal that Boeing considered “critical to its military aircraft division.” Trump’s presidency has thus far been incredibly kind to Boeing, which received $1.1 billion as a result of the Trump tax cut legislation and has seen its stock price double during his presidency.

More recently, Trump, during the recent visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, held posters with pictures of US armaments and jets that had been sold to Saudi Arabia, smiling while boasting to reporters that “we make the best military product in the world.”

In addition, Trump has been working on rewriting the government’s Conventional Arms Transfer policy and the International Traffic in Arms regulations in order to make it easier to export more military-grade weapons. “It is about making sure we are doing everything we can to promote the competitiveness of American trade,” a State Department official told Politico last fall about the upcoming deal. Another similar effort taken up by the Trump administration involves using US diplomacy to assist US weapons companies obtain lucrative foreign-government contracts.

These changes, which the Trump administration plans to make official policy as soon as this week, have long been a major lobbying objective of the US weapons industry. Ultimately, though, they show that the military-industrial complex – long operating behind-the-scenes in US politics – is now set to become an integral part of the US’ public face, as Trump finds his niche “closing deals” for US weapon manufacturers around the world. Of course, with so many arms deals in the making, major wars and global conflicts likely aren’t too far behind.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

How the US Occupied the 30 Percent of Syria Containing Most of its Oil, Water and Gas

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DAMASCUS, SYRIA –   After the U.S. launched “limited” airstrikes on Friday against Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. will maintain its illegal presence in Syria until U.S. goals in the area are fulfilled, opening the door for the U.S. occupation to continue indefinitely. 

While the U.S. military presence in Syria has been ongoing since 2015 – justified as a means of countering Daesh (ISIS) — U.S. troops have since turned into an occupying force with their failure to pull out following Daesh’s defeat in northeastern Syria. Currently, the U.S. occupies nearly a third of Syrian territory — around 30 percent — including much of the area east of the Euphrates River, encompassing large swaths of the Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah and Raqqa regions.

Though the U.S. currently has between 2,000 to 4,000 troops stationed in Syria, it announced the training of a 30,000-person-strong “border force” composed of U.S.-allied Kurds and Arabs in the area, which would be used to prevent northeastern Syria from coming under the control of Syria’s legitimate government. Though it backtracked somewhat after backlash from Turkey, the U.S. has continued to train “local forces” in the area. Russian military sources have asserted that former members of Daesh — who were allowed to leave cities attacked by the U.S. and their proxies, as was the case in battle for Raqqa — are to be included among the force’s ranks. 

This, along with the U.S. government’s insistence on maintaining the occupation until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power, shows that the U.S. government has no intention of permitting the reunification of Syria and will continue to occupy the region over the long term.

The illegal U.S. occupation of Syria has been widely noted in independent and corporate media, but little media attention has focused on identifying the wider implications of this occupation and the U.S.’ main objectives in keeping northeastern Syria from coming under the control of the legitimate, democratically elected Syrian government. As is often the case in U.S. occupations, both historical and present, it is an effort born out of two goals: resource acquisition for U.S. corporations and the destabilization of a government targeted for U.S.-backed regime change.

Control of fossil fuel deposits and flow

Northeastern Syria is an important region owing to its rich natural resources, particularly fossil fuels in the form of natural gas and oil. Indeed, this area contains 95 percent of all Syrian oil and gas potential — including al-Omar, the country’s largest oil field. Prior to the war, these resources produced some 387,000 barrels of oil per day and 7.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, and were of great economic importance to the Syrian government. However, more significantly, nearly all the existing Syrian oil reserves – estimated at around 2.5 billion barrels – are located in the area currently occupied by the U.S. government.

In addition to Syria’s largest oil field, the U.S. and its proxies in northeast Syria also control the Conoco gas plant, the country’slargest. The plant, which can produce nearly 50 million cubic feet of gas per day, was originally built by U.S. oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips, which operated the plant until 2005, after which Bush-era sanctions made it difficult to operate in Syria. Other foreign oil companies, like Shell, also left Syria as a result of the sanctions.

With the U.S. now occupying the area, the oil and gas produced in this region are already benefiting U.S. energy corporations to which Trump and his administration have numerous ties. According to Yeni Şafak, the U.S. along with the Saudis, Egypt, and Kurdish officials held meetings where decisions were made to extract, process and market the fossil fuels harvested in the region, with the Kurds being given a handsome share of the profits. As of 2015, the Kurds were said to be earning in excess of $10 million every month.

Syria’s Kurdistan exports its oil to Iraq’s Kurdistan, with which it conveniently shares a border, and it is then refined and sold to Turkey. Though no corporations are publicly involved, the deal between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds was brokered by unnamed “oil experts” and “oil investors.” The Kurds in Syria and Iraq did not even sign the agreement in person. They were subsequently “informed” of the agreement by the United States and instructed to supervise the operation.

A source in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) told NOW News that “with regard to southern Kurdistan, it was a company and not the KRG that signed the deal, and it is [the company] that directly hands over the sums in cash every month.” Given that over 80 foreign companies are involved in the KRG’s oil trade, most of them U.S.-based, we can safely assume that many of the same players have also been involved in developing the oil trade of Syria’s Kurdistan.

Major corporate interests

The Trump administration’s numerous connections to the U.S. oil industry make this alliance clear. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired in March, was previously the top executive at ExxonMobil, an oil company that unilaterally brokered an oil deal with Iraqi Kurds behind the back of the Iraqi government and has expressed interest in developing Syrian oil interests in the portion of the country currently occupied by the U.S. 

ExxonMobil also had a major stake in the proposed Qatari pipeline, whose rejection by Assad was a likely factor in jumpstarting the Syrian conflict. Trump himself, prior to assuming the presidency, also had sizable investments in ExxonMobil — as well as in 11 other major oil and gas companies, including Total, ConocoPhillips, BHP and Chevron.

In addition, even though Tillerson has now gone, his replacement, Mike Pompeo, is equally a friend to the U.S. oil and gas industry. Pompeo is the “#1 all time recipient” of money from Koch Industries, which has numerous interests in oil and gas exploration, drilling, pipelines, and fossil-fuel refining.

While the U.S. occupation of Syria is no doubt motivated by a desire to exploit the region’s oil and gas resources for itself, the U.S.’ refusal to leave the area is also born out of a concern that, were the U.S. to leave, its chief rival, Russia, would claim the oil and gas riches of Syria’s northeast. Indeed, according to an energy cooperation framework signed in January, Russia will haveexclusive rights to produce oil and gas in areas of Syria controlled by the Syrian government.

Since 2014, the U.S. has been aggressively trying to limit Russia’s fossil-fuel sector, particularly its exports to Europe, andreplace them with U.S.-produced fossil fuels. As former Speaker of the House John Boehner wrote in 2014, “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy.” Allowing the Russian fossil fuel sector to strengthen, whether in Syria or elsewhere, would harm U.S. strategic objectives, U.S. corporate bottom lines and the U.S.’ vision of maintaining a unipolar world at all costs.

Location, location: pipeline maps and a zero-sum game with Russia

In addition to its fossil fuel resources, Syria’s strategic location makes it crucial to the regional flow of hydrocarbons. Having the northeastern section of Syria under the control of the U.S. and its proxies could have a profound effect on future and existing pipelines. As The New York Times noted in 2013, “Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East.”

For that very reason, much of the U.S.’ Middle East policy has been aimed at seizing control of territory and pushing for the partition of countries to secure safe transit routes for oil and gas. In Syria such plans to partition the country for this purpose date back to as early as the 1940s, when European oil interests in the country’s northeast began to grow. Since then, several countries have tried to occupy parts of northern Syria to secure control of the region for these strategic purposes, including Turkey and Iraq in addition to Western powers.

A crucial pipeline already exists in northeastern Syria that connects Syria’s oil fields to the Ceyhan-Kirkuk pipeline. Though that pipeline sustained heavy damage in 2014, there are plans to rebuild it or build a new pipeline alongside it. Thus, northeastern Syria also boasts oil export infrastructure that could help Syrian oil travel easily to Turkey and thus to the European market.

In addition, the conflict in Syria – now in its seventh year – was, in part, initiated as a result of clashes over two pipeline proposals that needed to secure passage through Syria. Syria, not long before the foreign-funded proxy war besieged the country, had turned down a U.S.-backed proposal that would take to Europe natural gas from Qatar in favor of a Russia-backed proposal that would take natural gas originating in Iran.

Though those pipeline proposals are no longer as powerful in shaping motives as they once were – largely due to Qatar’s rift with other Gulf monarchies andimproved relations with Iran – the northeastern part of Syria remains key to U.S. objectives. According to the German publication Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, the U.S. has developed plans to build a new pipeline from the Persian Gulf to Northern Iraq and into Turkey through northeastern Syria, with the ultimate goal of supplying oil to Europe. Russia, for its part, opposes this plan, as it seeks to maintain its own lucrative exports of fossil fuels to Europe.

Water and land

Beyond fossil fuels and pipelines, northeast Syria boasts several other key advantages in terms of resources. Chief among those is water – a resource of prime importance in the Middle East. The U.S.-controlled portion of Syria is home to the country’s three largest freshwater reservoirs, which are fed by the Euphrates river. 

One of those reservoirs now controlled by the U.S. and its proxies, Lake Assad, is the country’s largest freshwater reservoir andsupplies government-held Aleppo with most of its drinking water. It also provides the city with much of its electrical power, which is generated by Tabqa Dam, also located in the occupied territory. Another key hydroelectric power plant is located at Tishrin Dam and is also controlled by U.S.-backed proxy forces.

In addition to its abundant water resources, northeastern Syria is also home to nearly 60 percent of Syria’s cropland, a key resource in terms of Syria’s sustainability and food independence. Prior to the conflict, Syria invested heavily in bringing irrigation infrastructure into the area in order to allow agriculture there to continue despite a massive regional drought. Much of that irrigation infrastructure is fed by the occupied Tabqa Dam, which controls the irrigation water for 640,000 hectares (2,500 square miles) of farmland.

Game plan for occupation, partition

Unlike the northeast’s fossil fuel resources, the U.S. is not hoping to gain financially from the region’s water and agricultural resources. Instead, the interest there is strategic and serves two main purposes.

First, control over those resources – particularly water and the flow of the Euphrates – gives the U.S. a key advantage it could use to destabilize Syria. For example, the U.S. could easily cut off water and electricity to government-held parts of Syria by shutting down or diverting power and water from dams in order to place pressure on the Syrian government and Syrian civilians.

Though such actions target civilians and constitute a war crime, the U.S. has used such tactics in Syria before, such as in the battle for Raqqa when it cut off water supplies to the city as its proxies took control of the city from Daesh (ISIS). Other countries, like Turkey, have also cut off the flow of the Euphrates on two occasions over the course of the Syrian conflict in order to gain a strategic advantage.

By controlling much of the country’s water and agricultural land – not to mention its fossil fuel resources — the U.S. occupation will not only accomplish its goal of destabilizing Syria’s government by depriving it of revenue; it also invites a broader conflict from Syria and its allies, who are eager to prevent another long-term U.S. occupation in the Middle East and to reclaim the territory for Syria.

Another way the U.S. has the ability to destabilize Syria through its occupation of the northeast is its plan to have the Saudisrebuild much of the area. Though the U.S. initially allied itself with the Kurds in northeastern Syria, opposition from Turkey has led Washington to focus more on working with Arabs in the area, particularly those allied with or formerly part of Saudi-allied Wahhabi groups, in order to create a Saudi-controlled enclave that could be used to destabilize government-controlled areas of Syria for years to come. The area is set to become much like the Idlib province, which is also essentially an enclave for Wahhabi terrorists.

The U.S. plan to create a Wahhabi enclave in northeast Syria was directly referenced in a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012. That report stated:
“THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY [WHO] SUPPORT THE [SYRIAN] OPPOSITION… THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…” [capitalization original]
Despite Daesh’s defeat, their presence in Northeastern Syria, as the DIA reveals, was cultivated to provide a pretext for the foreign control of the region.

Partition chess: thinking two moves ahead

Whether the Saudis or the Kurds ultimately end up dominating the portion of Syria currently occupied by the United States is besides the point. The main U.S. purpose in occupying the northeast portion of Syria is its long-standing goal of partitioning Syria, thereby permanently separating the country’s northeast from the rest of the country.

Throughout the Syrian conflict, the U.S. government has repeatedly tried to sell partition to the public, arguing that partition is the “only” solution to Syria’s ongoing “sectarian” conflict. However, this sectarianism was cynically engineered and stoked by foreign powers precisely to bring about the current conflict in Syria and ultimately justify partition.

WikiLeaks revealed that the CIA was involved in instigating anti-Assad and “sectarian” demonstrations as early as March 2011.Declassified CIA documents show that the plan to push partition by directly engineering sectarianism in order to weaken the Syrian state dates back to at least the 1980s. The partition idea was also repeatedly touted by the Obama administration, which stated on several occasions that it “may be too late” to keep Syria whole.

Though the Obama administration has come and gone, the Trump administration is also set to push for partition, thanks to the recent appointment of John Bolton to the position of National Security Adviser. As MintPress recently reported, Bolton has long advocated for combining northeastern Syria with northwestern Iraq in order to create a new country, which Bolton called “Sunnistan,” that would dominate the two countries’ fossil fuel resources and would count on the key water and agricultural resources of the region to sustain the population. Bolton called for the Gulf Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, to finance the creation of that state – hence the Trump administration’s recent attempts to negotiate a “deal” with the Saudis by which they take over control of the U.S.-occupied portion in Syria if they agree to pay $4 billion for reconstruction.

Aiming at Iran

While gaining control of key resources for partitioning Syria and destabilizing the government in Damascus, the U.S.’ main goal in occupying the oil and water rich northeastern Syria is aimed not at Syria but at Iran.

As U.S.-based intelligence firm Stratfor noted in 2002, taking control of Syria’s northeast would greatly complicate the land route between Syria and Iran as well as the land route between Iran and Lebanon. In January, Tillerson made this objective clear. Speaking at Stanford University, Tillerson noted that “diminishing” Iran’s influence in Syria was a key goal for the U.S. and a major reason for its occupation of the northeast.

By cutting off the route between Tehran and Damascus, the U.S. would greatly destabilize and weaken the region’s “resistance axis” and the U.S. — along with its regional allies – would be able to greatly increase its regional influence and control. Given the alliance between Syria and Iran, as well as their mutual defense accord, the occupation is necessary in order to weaken both nations and a key precursor to Trump administration plans to isolate and wage war against Iran.

With internal reports warning of the U.S.’ waning position as the “world’s only superpower,” the U.S. has no intention of leaving Syria, as it is becoming increasingly desperate to maintain its influence in the region and to maintain as well the influence of the corporations that benefit the most from U.S. empire.

Acknowledgment: Investigative journalist Rick Sterling, who specializes in the Syria war, provided MintPress with some images and pertinent information that was used in this story.

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

US Commander: ‘US Troops Prepared to Die for Israel’ in War against Syria, Hezbollah

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Last Sunday, the largest joint military exercise between the United States and Israel began with little fanfare. The war game, dubbed “Operation Juniper Cobra,” has been a regular occurrence for years, though it has consistently grown in size and scope. Now, however, this year’s 12-day exercise brings a portent of conflict unlike those of its predecessors.

Previous reports on the operation suggested that, like prior incarnations of the same exercise, the focus would be on improving Israeli defenses. “Juniper Cobra 2018 is another step in improving the readiness of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and the IAF [Israeli Air Force] in particular to enhance their operational capabilities in facing the threat posed by high-trajectory missiles,” Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovitch, the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division head, told the Jerusalem Post.

However, this year’s “Juniper Cobra” is unique for several reasons. The Post reported on Thursday that the drill, set to end on March 15, was not only the largest joint US-Israeli air defense exercise to ever happen but it was also simulating a battle “on three fronts.” In other words, Israel and the US are jointly simulating a war with Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine – namely, the Gaza strip – simultaneously.

What makes this last part so concerning are Israel’s recent statements and other preparations for war with all three nations, making “Juniper Cobra” anything but a “routine” drill. It is instead yet another preparation for a massive regional conflict, suggesting that such a conflict could be only a matter of months away.

As MintPress recently reported, Israeli officials recently told a bipartisan pair of US Senators that it needed “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition” for a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon — a war that will expressly target Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings. The alleged motive for the invasion is the presence of Iranian rocket factories. However, this allegation is based solely on the claims of an anonymous deputy serving in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and was first reported on by a Kuwaiti newspaper known to publish stories planted by the Israeli government.

In addition, Israel has been laying the groundwork for an invasion of Syria since last year and is largely responsible for the current conflict in Syria that has raged on for seven years. Israel’s current push to invade Syria is also based on flimsy evidence suggesting that Iran is establishing bases in Syria to target Israel.

Israel has also been preparing for a conflict on the embattled Gaza strip, which – owing to the effects of Israel’s illegal blockade and the devastation wrought by past wars – is set to be entirely uninhabitable by 2020. Reports have quoted officials of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip, as saying that they place the chances of a new war with Israel in 2018 “at 95 percent” and that war games, like Operation Juniper Cobra, were likely to be used to plan or even initiate such a conflict. This concern was echoed by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who stated that another Israeli invasion of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, was “likely” to occur this year. Eizenkot ironically framed the imminent invasion as a way to “prevent a humanitarian collapse” in Gaza.

Such a war is likely to be ignited by the unrest destined to follow the US’ imminent move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move, set to take place in May, led Hamas to call for a third intifada, or uprising, in response to the US’ unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in defiance of the international consensus.

Beyond the fact that Israel is preparing to go to war with several countries simultaneously is the fact that US ground troops are now “prepared to die for the Jewish state,” according to US Third Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Richard Clark. “We are ready to commit to the defense of Israel and anytime we get involved in a kinetic fight there is always the risk that there will be casualties. But we accept that, as in every conflict we train for and enter, there is always that possibility,” Clark told thePost.

However, more troubling than the fact that US troops stand ready to die at Israel’s behest was Clark’s assertion that Haimovitch would “probably” have the last word as to whether US forces would join the IDF during war time. In other words, the IDF will decide whether or not US troops become embroiled in the regional war for which Israel is preparing, not the United States. Indeed, Haimovitch buoyed Clark’s words, stating that: “I am sure once the order comes we will find here US troops on the ground to be part of our deployment and team to defend the state of Israel.”

Operation Juniper Cobra is not a routine exercise; it is a portent of a potentially devastating war for which Israel is actively preparing, a war likely to erupt within the coming months. In addition to overtly targeting civilians, these preparations for war — as Juniper Cobra shows — directly involve the United States military and give the war-bent Israeli government the power to decide whether or not American troops will be involved and to what extent. This is a devastating giveaway of national sovereignty by US President Donald Trump.

While the potential involvement of the US forces in such a war is being framed as limited in scope, there is no indication that such a war will be so in practice. Indeed, the US is currently occupying 25 percent of Syria and the Trump administration has economically attacked Palestinians living in Gaza by withdrawing crucial aid, as well as Hezbollah by enforcing new sanctions against the group. Furthermore, Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the fact that Iran — and even Russia — could become involved in such a conflict means that it could quickly spiral out of control.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Something For Everyone: Mueller Indictment a Boon for Partisan Status Quo

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Last Friday, depending on which side of the partisan divide one was watching from, President Trump was either vindicated or his treachery was confirmed. The impetus for these seemingly disparate reactions was Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian nationals, the latest and largest indictment to result from his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. However, over the nine months that Mueller’s investigation has been active, it has continuously grown from its original purpose of investigating Russian collusion, expanding to include the business dealings of Trump and his inner circle with countries ranging from Qatar to China, meaning that the probe is no longer expressly about Russian collusion.

The drift of focus from its original purpose — as well as its failure to produce any connection between the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and the leaks of DNC and John Podesta’s emails — has led critics who place themselves outside of the left-right paradigm to treat this latest indictment with skepticism. Not only that, but concerns have been raised that the real purpose of Mueller’s probe is much more subtle and nefarious than publicly admitted and that it may itself be a threat to American democracy.

One such critic is Daniel McAdams, political analyst and executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. McAdams, in an interview with MintPress News, stated that the Mueller indictment “has something for everybody,” explaining the strikingly different reactions from the establishment left and right. However, McAdams noted that the indictment was especially helpful to the “entire political class in Washington,” which may now “continue with its Cold War 2.0 project” without interference from anyone in favor of normalizing U.S.-Russian relations. In addition, McAdams warned that the recent indictment is likely to have a “chilling effect on the First Amendment,” also a boon to those elements of the political elite that seek to limit the acceptable range of debate on U.S. foreign policy.

A “show” indictment with something for everybody

The indictment released last Friday really did have “something for everybody,” as McAdams noted. The indictment itself details an effort by Russian nationals to “defraud the United States impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions of the government […] for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes.”

The establishment-left widely praised the indictment as the indictment asserted that the Russians charged “were instructed […] to use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump […]),” lending support the one of Clinton’s many “What Happened” narratives. The establishment-right was similarly pleased, as it “put Russia on notice.”

The president and his supporters also applauded the indictment because it showed no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, and crowed that the current administration had been vindicated of the accusation that Trump and/or his campaign had knowingly worked with a foreign government to alter the outcome of the election.

Partisan politics aside, there are many interesting facets of the indictment that have largely been glossed over by the mainstream press. Chief among these is the fact that no evidence was presented that shows that the Russian nationals were acting at the behest of the Russian government. They were foreign nationals who, as some have pointed out, were making internet memes and social media groups prompted by an economic motivation as opposed to having been motivated by a Russian intelligence operation to interfere in the U.S. political process.

Furthermore, journalist Adrian Chen, who in 2015 investigated the so-called “Russian troll farm” at the center of the indictment, has noted that its operations were unsophisticated and “ineffective,” and that its employees “have a bare grasp of the English language.” Also noteworthy is the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noted that the “troll farm’s” efforts did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, buoying Chen’s claims of the group’s ineffectiveness.

In addition, none of the 13 Russian nationals named in the indictment will ever face trial in the U.S. — meaning that Mueller and his team will never need to prove their case against them, as the evidence laid out in the indictment will never be scrutinized in a legal setting. Thus, the American public is unlikely to ever know if this recent indictment is fact-based or not. As McAdams pointed out, “prosecutors often lie and they may be lying here.”

Other criticisms of the indictment include the fact that, of the ads and social media campaigns allegedly produced by the Russian nationals, many were aired after the election and 25 percent were never seen at all — while some included content promoting Hillary Clinton, progressive causes like Black Lives Matter and even puppies.

No shutting Mueller down: the box Trump is in

However, one of the more overlooked implications of this recent indictment is not in the indictment at all. Instead, it is related to the fact that – even though no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign has been revealed after nine months of investigating with the help of the U.S. surveillance apparatus – the Mueller investigation will continue “for months.”

As Bloomberg reports, Mueller is still actively investigating Trump-Russia collusion as well as obstruction and shady financial dealings of prominent Trump associates. According to that report, the recent indictment of 13 Russian nationals “should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation.” In addition, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and current CNN contributor, ominously noted that there are “other shoes to drop” in the Mueller probe. He noted that those “shoes” will likely involve the “financial entanglements between the Trump Organization before the election and then during it.”

Thus, the political pressure that has been applied to Trump thanks to the Mueller probe will continue. As analysts have noted, such political pressure has prevented Trump from adopting the non-interventionist foreign policy he campaigned on (whether or not Trump ever had any intention of putting that policy into effect is a separate issue).

McAdams asserted that this political pressure will maintain Trump’s neocon-inspired and aggressive foreign policy:
This means Trump is free to pursue the neocon foreign policy of confrontation with Russia, but also that if he meant what he said about ‘getting along with Russia’ he’ll have to drop that: in exchange for ‘no collusion’ he will have to join the beat-up of Russia.”
Furthermore, any attempt to dissolve the investigation – no matter how much it expands or evolves – will lead to Trump being accused of collusion once again, regardless of the absence of evidence. Said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement:
At this point, any step President Trump may take to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation — including removing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, or threatening to remove Special Counsel Mueller directly — will have to be seen as a direct attempt to aid the Russian government in attacking American democracy.”
Some partisans have even argued that Trump is actively colluding with Russia by “not defending America” from Russia or implementing harsher sanctions and by letting Russia “attack us.” In other words, only further exacerbating the dangerous brinkmanship of the Cold War 2.0 will prevent Trump from being caught in the “collusion” snare.

Thus, while many praised the indictment, it seems the biggest winners to come out of the indictment’s release were the bipartisan war-hawks that dominate the political establishment in Washington.

What the indictment may mean for voices of dissent

Aside from pleasing the warmongers in the U.S. political establishment and intelligence community, the Mueller indictment has other potentially dangerous implications for any person – American or foreign-born – who criticizes the political status quo.

To McAdams, this was the most dangerous consequence of the indictment:
What is most alarming in the indictment is language clearly targeting ‘witting and unwitting accomplices’ to the so-called Russian efforts. As former CIA officer Phil Giraldi points out, ‘persons known and unknown’ who ‘unwittingly or wittingly’ helped the Russians could face consequences. Phil quotes a former prosecutor who says, ‘if I was an American and I did cooperate with Russians I would be extremely frightened…’ and also quotes Politico, which writes, ‘Now, a legal framework exists for criminal charges against Americans…’”
McAdams continued, noting that many dissenting voices, particularly those who object to interventionism or appear on outlets associated with Russia, could now be caught in the wide-cast net encompassing “Russian collusion:”
What does this mean? Does this mean that Americans who publicly dispute claims that the Russians are interfering in our democracy are ‘accomplices’ to the Russian efforts to dupe us? What about Americans who appear on RT, Sputnik, or other foreign-funded media outlets to criticize U.S. foreign policy? Are they accomplices to this ‘crime’ and thus liable to be prosecuted?”
As a result, the acceptable range of opinion in regard to U.S. foreign policy has been drastically reduced. On one hand, the Mueller indictment creates a foundation for the potential prosecution of any foreign citizen who criticizes an American political figure up for election. Thus, foreign writers who often write or tweet about U.S. politics – such as Aussies like John Pilger and Julian Assange, Canadians like Eva Bartlett, and Brits like Vanessa Beeley and George Galloway, among many other examples – could become the subject of a criminal investigation based on the precedent set up by the indictment. Even anti-Putin journalist Leonid Bershidsky ofBloomberg has worried that he could be targeted for merely being a Russian national who regularly writes about U.S. politics.

McAdams offered several hypotheticals to illustrate the potential implications:
If a non-interventionist calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, it can be argued that it is doing the bidding of Russia. Want to end the 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan? So does Russia. Want the U.S. out of NATO and NATO disbanded? So does Russia. Want a smaller U.S. military budget? So does Russia. Taken to its logical conclusion, under this aspect of the indictment it becomes impossible to challenge the current hyper-interventionist, hyper-militarist U.S. foreign policy.
Protecting the status quo

Given the more subtle and troubling implications of the Mueller indictment, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Mueller probe has less to do with “protecting” American democracy, as is often claimed by its most fierce proponents, and more to do with protecting the status quo.

For instance — though initially tasked with investigating the relationship between the DNC and Podesta leaks, the Trump campaign, and Russia — the Mueller investigation has yet to investigate the DNC servers or Seth Rich’s computer and has failed to interview key witnesses like Julian Assange. The leaks that ostensibly began Mueller’s investigation were not included in last Friday’s indictment.

Furthermore, the fact that “neither Republicans nor Democrats opposed the naming of Mueller as special counsel,” as McAdams pointed out, is very telling. The bipartisan support his appointment received is even more telling given that Mueller is the definition of a Washington insider who, during his time as head of the FBI, presided over the botched investigation into the anthrax scare and the baseless accusations of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq’s possession, which led to the disastrous invasion of that country and killed over half a million innocent Iraqis.

In protecting the status quo, Mueller’s goal is not to protect or strengthen U.S. democracy. Instead, it has shown itself to be a Trojan horse intent on restricting meaningful criticism or discourse related to the status quo, preserving the power structure of the political elites.

Trump and Bernie Sanders were not popular due to alleged Russian intervention. They gained popularity because they spoke against the status quo while, for many Americans, Clinton embodied its continuation. Mueller’s probe is proving itself to be the political establishment’s last-ditch attempt to keep things as they are, to prevent any meaningful change – no matter how strongly supported by the American electorate such change may be – by seeking to silence critics of U.S. “status quo” foreign and domestic policy.

However, as history shows, status quo domestic policy in the U.S. leads to the widening of the gap between rich and poor and the enrichment of corrupt corporations at the expense of the majority, while the foreign policy of the status quo always leads to war. With prominent politicians and U.S. intelligence officials now claiming that the U.S. is “under attack” and that the Russians are “already attempting” to target the upcoming midterm elections in November, the Mueller probe’s promotion of dangerous brinkmanship and its chilling effect on dissent is the real threat to the American people.

Top Photo | A Facebook posting for a group called “Being Patriotic.” A federal grand jury indictment alleges 13 Russians ran an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election beginning in June 2016, defendants allegedly organized and coordinated political rallies in the U.S. “Being Patriotic” promoted and organized two political rallies in New York according to the indictment. 

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.com.

Lifting of US Propaganda Ban Gives New Meaning to Old Song

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Though its ostensible purpose is to fund the US military over a one year period, the National Defense Authorization Act, better known as the NDAA, has had numerous provisions tucked into it over the years that have targeted American civil liberties. The most well-known of these include allowing the government to wiretap American citizens without a warrant and, even more disturbingly, indefinitely imprison an American citizen without charge in the name of “national security.”

One of the lesser-known provisions that have snuck their way into the NDAA over the years was a small piece of legislation tacked onto the NDAA for fiscal year 2013, signed into law in that same year by then-President Barack Obama. Named “The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012,” it completely lifted the long-existing ban on the domestic dissemination of US government-produced propaganda.

For decades, the US government had been allowed to produce and disseminate propaganda abroad in order to drum up support for its foreign wars but had been banned from distributing it domestically after the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. However, the Modernization Act’s co-authors, Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA, no relation to the Smith of the 1948 act), asserted that removing the domestic ban was necessary in order to combat “al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among populations.”

Thornberry stated that removing the ban was necessary because it had tied “the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others, by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” Yet, given that Thornberry is one of the greatest beneficiaries of weapon manufacturers’ campaign contributions, the real intent — to skeptics at least — seemed more likely related to an effort to ramp up domestic support for US military adventurism abroad following the disastrous invasions of Iraq and Libya.

Five years later, the effects of the lifting of the ban have turned what was once covert manipulation of the media by the government into a transparent “revolving door” between the media and the government. Robbie Martin — documentary filmmaker and media analyst whose documentary series,  “A Very Heavy Agenda,” explores the relationships between neoconservative think tanks and media — told MintPress, that this revolving door “has never been more clear than it is right now” as a result of the ban’s absence.

In the age of legal, weaponized propaganda directed at the American people, false narratives have become so commonplace in the mainstream and even alternative media that these falsehoods have essentially become normalized, leading to the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.”

Those who create such news, regardless of the damage it causes or the demonstrably false nature of its claims, face little to no accountability, as long as those lies are of service to US interests. Meanwhile, media outlets that provide dissenting perspectives are being silenced at an alarming rate.

The effects of lifting the ban examined

Since 2013, newsrooms across the country, of both the mainstream and “alternative” variety, have been notably skewed towards the official government narrative, with few outside a handful of independently-funded media outlets bothering to question those narratives’ veracity. While this has long been a reality for the Western media (see John Pilger’s 2011 documentary “The War You Don’t See”), the use of government-approved narratives and sources from government-funded groups have become much more overt than in years past.

From Syria to Ukraine, US-backed coups and US-driven conflicts have been painted as locally driven movements that desperately need US support in order to “help” the citizens of those countries — even though that “help” has led to the near destruction of those countries and, in the case of  Ukraine, an attempted genocide. In these cases, many of the sources were organizations funded directly by the US government or allied governments, such as the White Helmets and Aleppo Media Centre (largely funded by the US and U.K. governments) in the case of Syria, and pro-Kiev journalists with Nazi ties (including Bogdan Boutkevitch, who called for the “extermination” of Ukrainians of Russian descent on live TV) in the case of Ukraine, among other examples. Such glaring conflicts of interests are, however, rarely — if ever — disclosed when referenced in these reports.

More recently, North Korea has been painted as presenting an imminent threat to the United States. Recent reports on this “threat” have been based on classified intelligence reports that claim that North Korea can produce a new nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks, including a recent article from the New York Times. However, those same reports have admitted that this claim is purely speculative, as it is “impossible to verify until experts get beyond the limited access to North Korean facilities that ended years ago.” In other words, the article was based entirely on unverified claims from the US intelligence community that were treated as compelling.

As Martin told MintPress, many of these government-friendly narratives first began at US-funded media organizations overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — an extension of the US state department.

Martin noted that US-funded media, like Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE), were among the first to use a State Department-influenced narrative aimed at “inflaming hostilities with Russia before it soaked into mainstream reporting.” Of course, now, this narrative — with its origins in the US State Department and US intelligence community — has come to dominate headlines in the corporate media and even some “alternative” media outlets in the wake of the 2016 US election.

This is no coincidence. As Martin noted, “after the ban was lifted, things changed drastically here in the United States,” resulting in what was tantamount to a “propaganda media coup” where the State Department, and other government agencies that had earlier shaped the narrative at the BBG, used their influence on mainstream media outlets to shape those narratives as well.

A key example of this, as Martin pointed out, was the influence of the new think-tank “The Alliance for Securing Democracy,” whose advisory council and staff are loaded with neocons, such as the National Review’s Bill Kristol, and former US intelligence and State Department officials like former CIA Director Michael Morell. The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s Russia-focused offshoot, “Hamilton 68,” is frequently cited by media outlets — mainstream and alternative — as an impartial, reliable tracker of Russian “meddling” efforts on social media.

Martin remarked that he had “never seen a think tank before have such a great influence over the media so quickly,” noting that it “would have been hard to see [such influence on reporters] without the lifting of the ban,” especially given the fact that media organizations that cite Hamilton 68 do not mention its ties to former government officials and neoconservatives.

In addition, using VOA or other BBG-funded media has become much more common than it was prior to the ban, an indication that state-crafted information originally intended for a foreign audience is now being used domestically. Martin noted that this has become particularly common at some “pseudo-alternative” media organizations — i.e., formerly independent media outlets that now enjoy corporate funding. Among these, Martin made the case that VICE News stands out.

After the propaganda ban was lifted, Martin noticed that VICE’s citations of BBG sources “spiked.” He continued:
One of the things I immediately noticed was that they [VICE news] were so quick to call out other countries’ media outlets, but yet — in every instance I looked up of them citing BBG sources — they never mentioned where the funding came from or what it was and they would very briefly mention it [information from BBG sources] like these were any other media outlets.”
He added that, in many of these cases, journalists at VICE were unaware that references to VOA or other BBG sources appeared in their articles. This was an indication that “there is some editorial staff [at VICE News] that is putting this in from the top down.”

Furthermore, Martin noted that, soon after the ban was lifted, “VICE’s coverage mirrored the type of coverage that BBG was doing across the world in general,” which in Martin’s view indicated “there was definitely some coordination between the State Department and VICE.” This coordination was also intimated by BBG’s overwhelmingly positive opinion of VICE in their auditing reports, in which the BBG “seemed more excited about VICE than any other media outlet” — especially since VICE was able to use BBG organizations as sources while maintaining its reputation as a “rebel” media outlet.

Martin notes that these troubling trends have been greatly enabled by the lifting of the ban. He opined that the ban was likely lifted “in case someone’s cover [in spreading government propaganda disguised as journalism] was blown,” in which case “it wouldn’t be seen as illegal.” He continued:
For example, if a CIA agent at the Washington Post is directly piping in US government propaganda or a reporter is working the US government to pipe in propaganda, it wouldn’t be seen as a violation of the law. Even though it could have happened before the ban, it’s under more legal protection now.
Under normal circumstances, failing to disclose conflicts of interests of key sources and failing to question government narratives would be considered acts of journalistic malice. However, in the age of legal propaganda, these derelictions matter much less. Propaganda is not intended to be factual or impartial — it is intended to serve a specific purpose, namely influencing public opinion in a way that serves US government interests. As Karl Rove, the former advisor and deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush, once said, the US “is an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This “reality” is defined not by facts but by its service to empire. 

Meanwhile, counter-narratives, however fact-based they may be, are simultaneously derided as conspiracy theories or “fake news,” especially if they question or go against government narratives.

The revolving door

Another major consequence of the ban being lifted goes a step further than merely influencing narratives. In recent years, there has been the growing trend of hiring former government officials, including former US intelligence directors and other psyops veterans, in positions once reserved for journalists. In their new capacity as talking heads on mainstream media reports, they repeat the stance of the US intelligence community to millions of Americans, with their statements and views unchallenged.

For instance, last year, CNN hired former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper, a key architect of RussiaGate, has committed perjury by lying to Congress and more recently lied about the Trump campaign being wiretapped through a FISA request. He has also mad racist, Russophobic comments on national television. Now, however, he is an expert analyst for “the most trusted name in news.” CNN last year also hired Michael Hayden, who is a former Director of both the CIA and the NSA, and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

CNN isn’t alone. NBC/MSNBC recently hired former CIA director John Brennan — another key architect of RussiaGate and the man who greenlighted (and lied about) CIA spying on Congress — as a contributor and “senior national security and intelligence analyst.” NBC also employs Jeremy Bash, former CIA and DoD Chief of Staff, as a national security analyst, as well as reporter Ken Dilanian, who is known for his “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.

This “revolving door” doesn’t stop there. After the BBG was restructured by the 2016 NDAA, the “board” for which the organization was named was dissolved, making BBG’s CEO — a presidential appointee — all powerful. BBG’s current CEO is John Lansing, who – prior to taking the top post at the BBG – was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), a marketing association comprised of 90 of the top US and Canadian cable companies and television programmers. Lansing’s connection to US cable news companies is just one example of how this revolving door opens both ways.

Media-government coordination out of the shadows 

Such collusion between mainstream media and the US government is hardly new. It has only become more overt since the Smith-Mundt ban was lifted.

For instance, the CIA, through Operation Mockingbird, started recruiting mainstream journalists and media outlets as far back as the 1960s in order to covertly influence the American public by disguising propaganda as news. The CIA even worked with top journalism schools to change their curricula in order to produce a new generation of journalists that would better suit the US government’s interests. Yet the CIA effort to manipulate the media was born out of the longstanding view in government that influencing the American public through propaganda was not only useful, but necessary.

Indeed, Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, who also worked closely with the government in the creation and dissemination of propaganda, once wrote:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
While this was once an “invisible” phenomenon, it is quickly becoming more obvious. Now, Silicon Valley oligarchs with ties to the US government have bought mainstream and pseudo-alternative media outlets and former CIA directors are given prominent analyst positions on cable news programs. The goal is to manufacture support at home for the US’ numerous conflicts around the world, which are only likely to grow as the Pentagon takes aim at “competing states” like Russia and China in an increasingly desperate protection of American hegemony.

With the propaganda ban now a relic, the once-covert propaganda machine long used to justify war after war is now operating out in the open and out of control.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.