Archive | June 28th, 2017

Russia-gate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra

NOVANEWS

Special Report: Many comparisons have been made between Russia-gate and the earlier scandals of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but the similarities are at best superficial, explains Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Russia-gate, the sprawling investigation into whether Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election, is often compared to the two big political scandals of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Watergate and Iran-Contra. Sometimes you even hear that Russia-gate is “bigger than Watergate.”

The bugged phone from the Watergate office of Democratic Party official Spencer Oliver. Placed on the phone during a May 1972 break-in, the bug was the only device that worked. A second break-in on June 17. 1972, led to the capture of Richard Nixon’s Watergate burglars.

Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about those two Twentieth Century scandals is how little Official Washington really understands them – and how these earlier scandals significantly contrast, rather than compare, with what is unfolding now.

Although the historical record is still incomplete on Watergate and Iran-Contra, the available evidence indicates that both scandals originated in schemes by Republicans to draw foreign leaders into plots to undermine sitting Democratic presidents and thus pave the way for the elections of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

As for Russia-gate, even if you accept that the Russian government hacked into Democratic emails and publicized them via WikiLeaks, there is still no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to do so. By contrast, in the origins of Watergate and Iran-Contra, it appears the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, respectively, were the instigators of schemes to enlist foreign governments in blocking a Vietnam peace deal in 1968 and negotiations to free 52 American hostages in Iran in 1980.

Though Watergate is associated directly with the 1972 campaign – when Nixon’s team of burglars was caught inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building – Nixon’s formation of that team, known as the Plumbers, was driven by his fear that he could be exposed for sabotaging President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to secure the White House that year.

After Nixon’s narrow victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Nixon that Johnson had a secret file, complete with wiretapped phone calls, detailing the Nixon campaign’s backchannel messages to South Vietnamese officials convincing them to boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. Later, Nixon learned that this incriminating file had disappeared from the White House.

So, in 1971, after the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which recounted the lies that had been used to justify the Vietnam War through 1967, Nixon fretted that the missing file about his peace-talk gambit in 1968 might surface, too, and would destroy him politically. Thus, he organized the Plumbers to find the file, even contemplating fire-bombing the Brookings Institution to enable a search of its safe where some aides thought the missing file might be found.

In other words, Watergate wasn’t simply a break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, in pursuit of useful political intelligence and Nixon’s ensuing cover-up; the scandal had its origins in a far worse scandal, the derailing of peace talks that could have ended the Vietnam War years earlier and saved the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and possibly more than 1 million Vietnamese.

Iran-Contra Parallels

Similarly, the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in 1986 with revelations that President Reagan had authorized secret arms sales to Iran with some of the profits going to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, but the evidence now indicates that the connections between Reagan’s team and Iran’s revolutionary regime traced back to 1980 when emissaries from Reagan’s campaign worked to stymie President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

PBS Frontline’s 1991 documentary, entitled “The Election Held Hostage,” co-written by Robert Parry

According to multiple witnesses, including former Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Nicholas Veliotes, the pre-election contacts led to the opening of a weapons pipeline to Iran (via Israel), after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, which was the precise moment when Iran finally released the American hostages after 444 days.

Some key players in the 1980 Reagan-Iran contacts reappeared four years later at the start of direct (again secret) U.S. arms shipments to Iran in 1985, which also involved Israeli middlemen. These key players included Iranian CIA operative Cyrus Hashemi, former CIA clandestine services chief Theodore Shackley, Reagan’s campaign chief and then-CIA Director William Casey, and former CIA Director and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

In other words, the Iran-Contra weapons shipments of 1985-86 appear to have been an outgrowth of the earlier shipments dating back to 1980 and continuing under Israeli auspices until the supply line was taken over more directly by the Reagan administration in 1985-86.

Thus, both the Watergate scandal in 1972 and the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986 could be viewed as “sequels” to the earlier machinations driven by Republican hunger to seize the enormous powers of the U.S. presidency. However, for decades, Official Washington has been hostile to these underlying explanations of how Watergate and Iran-Contra began.

For instance, The New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record,” treated the accumulation of evidence regarding Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit as nothing more than a “rumor” until earlier this year when a scholar, John A. Farrell, uncovered cryptic notes taken by Nixon’s aide H.R. Haldeman, which added another piece to the mosaic and left the Times little choice but to pronounce the historical reality finally real.

Grasping the Watergate Narrative

Still, the Times and other major news outlets have failed to factor this belated admission into the larger Watergate narrative. If you understand that Nixon did sabotage President Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks and that Nixon was aware that Johnson’s file on what LBJ called Nixon’s “treason” had disappeared from the White House, the early “Watergate tapes” from 1971 suddenly make sense.

President Richard Nixon with his then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in 1972.

Nixon ordered White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to locate the missing file but their search came up empty. Yet, some Nixon aides thought the file might be hidden at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington. So, in his desperate pursuit of the file, Nixon called for a break-in at Brookings, possibly even fire-bombing the building as a cover for his team of burglars to slip in amid the confusion and rifle the safe.

The old explanation that Nixon simply wanted to find some file related to Johnson’s 1968 pre-election Vietnam bombing halt never made sense given the extreme steps that Nixon was prepared to take.

The relevant portions of Nixon’s White House tapes include an entry on June 17, 1971, coincidentally one year to the day before the Watergate burglars were caught. Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger to the Oval Office and pleaded with them again to locate the file.

“Do we have it?” Nixon asked Haldeman. “I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.”

Haldeman: “We can’t find it.”

Kissinger: “We have nothing here, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Well, damn-it, I asked for that because I need it.”

Kissinger: “But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.”

Haldeman: “We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.”

Nixon: “Where?”

Haldeman: “[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God that there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings.”

Nixon: “Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.”

Kissinger: “Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.”

Nixon: “I want it implemented. Goddamn-it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Haldeman: “They may very well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to “

Kissinger: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.”

Haldeman: “My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.”

But Johnson did know that the file was no longer at the White House because he had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to remove it in the final days of Johnson’s presidency.

Forming the Burglars

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

“You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place (nor did the fire-bombing), but Nixon’s desperation to locate Johnson’s peace-talk file was an important link in the chain of events that led to the creation of Nixon’s burglary unit under Hunt’s supervision. Hunt later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972.

While it’s possible that Nixon was still searching for the file about his Vietnam-peace sabotage when the ill-fated Watergate break-ins occurred a year later, it’s generally believed that the burglary was more broadly focused, seeking any information that might have an impact on Nixon’s re-election, either defensively or offensively.

However, if you think back on 1971 when the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart and massive antiwar demonstrations were descending on Washington, Nixon’s desperation to locate the missing file suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crazy. There would have been hell to pay if the public learned that Nixon had kept the war going to gain a political advantage in 1968.

Walt Rostow’s “‘X’ Envelope”

Through 1972 – and the early days of the Watergate scandal – former President Johnson had stayed silent about Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks. But the ex-President became livid when – after Nixon’s reelection in 1972 – Nixon’s men sought to pressure Johnson into helping them shut down the Watergate investigation, in part, by noting that Johnson, too, had deployed wiretaps against Nixon’s 1968 campaign to obtain evidence about the peace-talk sabotage.

While it’s not clear whether Johnson would have finally spoken out, that threat to Nixon ended two days after Nixon’s second inaugural when on Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack. However, unbeknownst to Nixon, Johnson had left the missing file, called “The X-Envelope,” in the care of Rostow, who – after Johnson’s death – gave the file to the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas, with instructions that it be kept under wraps for at least 50 years. (Rostow’s instructions were overturned in the 1990s, and I found the now largely declassified file at the library in 2012.)

So, with the “The X-Envelope” squirreled away for more than two decades at the LBJ library and with the big newspapers treating the early sketchy reports of Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage as only “rumors,” Watergate remained a scandal limited to the 1972 campaign.

Still, Nixon’s cover-up of his campaign’s role in the Watergate break-in produced enough clear-cut evidence of obstruction of justice and other offenses that Nixon was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

A Failed Investigation

The 1979-81 hostage confrontation with Iran was not nearly as devastating a crisis as the Vietnam War but America’s humiliation during the 444-day-long ordeal became a focus of the 1980 election, too, with the first anniversary of Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran coincidentally falling on Election Day 1980.

President Jimmy Carter signing the Camp David peace agreement with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin.

President Carter’s failure to gain freedom for the 52 embassy personnel turned what had been a close race into a landslide for Ronald Reagan, with Republicans also gaining control of the U.S. Senate and ousting some of the most influential Democratic senators.

In 1984, Reagan won reelection in another landslide, but two years later ran afoul of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s secret arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to the Contras “broke” in November 1986 but focused only on Reagan’s 1985-1986 arms sales and the diversion. Still, the scandal’s crimes included violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the so-called Boland Act’s prohibitions on arming the Contras as well as perjury and obstruction of justice. So there was the prospect of Reagan’s impeachment.

But – from the start of Iran-Contra – there was a strong pushback from Republicans who didn’t want to see another GOP president driven from office. There was also resistance to the scandal from many mainstream media executives who personally liked Reagan and feared a public backlash if the press played an aggressive role similar to Watergate.

And, moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana who co-chaired the congressional investigation, sought to tamp down the Iran-Contra fires and set up firebreaks to prevent the investigation from spreading to related crimes such as the Reagan administration’s protection of Contra cocaine traffickers.

“Ask about the cocaine,” pleaded one protester who was dragged from the Iran-Contra hearing room, as the congressional investigators averted their eyes from such unseemly matters, focusing instead on stilted lectures about the Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.

It was not until 1990-91 that it became clear that secret U.S.-approved arms shipments to Iran did not start in 1985 as the Iran-Contra narrative claimed but traced back to 1981 with Reagan’s approval of arms sales to Iran through Israel.

Reagan’s politically risky move of secretly arming Iran immediately after his inauguration and the hostage release was nearly exposed when one of the Israeli flights strayed into Soviet airspace on July 18, 1981, and crashed or was shot down.

In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials.

“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said.

In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election. “It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”

However, in 1981, Veliotes said, the State Department issued misleading press guidance to cover the administration’s tracks and the Washington media failed to follow up. Thus, the U.S.-Israeli arms pipeline to Iran stayed secret from the American people until November 1986 when — despite Reagan’s long-running insistence that he would never trade arms with a terrorist state like Iran — the operation was exposed.

When I re-interviewed Veliotes in 2012, he said he couldn’t recall who the “people on high” were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments of U.S.-manufactured weapons, but he indicated that “the new players” were the young neoconservatives who were working on the Reagan campaign, many of whom later joined the administration as senior political appointees.

Documents that I discovered at the Reagan presidential library revealed that Reagan’s neocons at the State Department, particularly Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz, initiated a policy review in 1981 to allow Israel to undertake secret military shipments to Iran.

McFarlane and Wolfowitz also maneuvered to put McFarlane in charge of U.S. relations toward Iran and to establish a clandestine U.S. back-channel to the Israeli government outside the knowledge of even senior U.S. government officials.

Another Failed Investigation

In 1991, faced with the accumulating evidence of a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, Congress grudgingly agreed to take a look at these so-called “October Surprise” allegations. But Republicans, then led by President George H.W. Bush and his White House team, mounted an aggressive cover-up to “spike” the story.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana.

And, with the congressional inquiry largely in the hands again of Rep. Hamilton, the Democrats timidly folded their tent despite a growing body of evidence that the Reagan team was indeed guilty.

Much of that evidence flowed into the House Task Force in December 1992 when President George H.W. Bush had already been defeated for reelection and the Democrats were looking forward to their renewed control of Washington. So, instead of giving a careful review to the new evidence, the House Task Force ignored, disparaged or buried it.

The late-arriving material included sworn testimony on Dec. 18, 1992, from David Andelman, the biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, describing how deMarenches had confided that he had helped arrange the Republican-Iranian contacts. Andelman, an ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, said that while he was working on deMarenches’s autobiography, the arch-conservative spymaster admitted arranging meetings between Republicans and Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting held in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches ordered that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoirs because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Andelman’s testimony corroborated longstanding claims from a variety of international intelligence operatives about a Paris meeting involving Casey and Bush. But the Task Force report brushed this testimony aside, paradoxically terming it “credible” but then claiming it was “insufficiently probative.”

The Task Force’s report argued that Andelman could not “rule out the possibility that deMarenches had told him he was aware of and involved in the Casey meetings because he, deMarenches, could not risk telling his biographer he had no knowledge of these allegations.”

In the last weeks of the investigation, the House investigators also received a letter from former Iranian President Bani-Sadr detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House investigators dismissed Bani-Sadr’s first-hand account as hearsay and thus also lacking “probative value.”

I later unearthed some of the evidence in unpublished Task Force files. However, in the meantime, Official Washington had dismissed the “October Surprise” and other Iran-Contra-connected scandals, like Contra drug trafficking, as conspiracy theories.

The Russian Report

Ironically, another piece of late-arriving evidence was a January 1993 report from a national security committee of the Russian parliament about the Kremlin’s intelligence data confirming that key Republicans, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, had met with Iranian officials in Europe regarding the hostages during the 1980 campaign.

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush with CIA Director William Casey at the White House on Feb. 11, 1981. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)

Hamilton had requested the Russian assistance before the U.S. election in 1992, but the report was not sent until there were only two weeks left in George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Lawrence Barcella, who served as the Task Force chief counsel, later told me that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked Hamilton to extend the inquiry for three months but that Hamilton said no (although Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of denying Barcella’s request).

The other fatal flaw of the House investigation was that it left much of the actual investigating up to President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office and the State Department, although Bush was one of the chief suspects and, in 1991-92, was running for re-election, a campaign that would have been derailed if the 1980 October Surprise allegations were confirmed.

The naivete of this decision was underscored years later when I located a memo at Bush’s presidential library stating that the State Department had informed the White House counsel’s office that Casey had traveled to Madrid in 1980, corroborating a key October Surprise allegation.

The confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the October Surprise inquiry was taking shape, according to Beach’s memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, 1991, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, arranged an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

In 2013, when I interviewed Hamilton about the Beach memo, he lamented that the Madrid information had not been shared with his investigation, saying “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [George H.W. Bush] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the Task Force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

Not Moving the Needle

However, the Madrid trip revelation and other post-investigation disclosures failed to move the needle on Official Washington’s disdain for the October Surprise story.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1982. (U.S. government photo)

The later disclosures included a 1993 interview in Tel Aviv in which former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he had read the 1991 book, October Surprise, by Carter’s former National Security Council aide Gary Sick, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter’s reelection.

With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”

“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”

And, there were other corroborating statements as well. In 1996, for instance, while former President Carter was meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Arafat in Gaza City, Arafat tried to confess his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter in the presence of historian Douglas Brinkley. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election,” Arafat said, according to Brinkley’s article in the fall 1996 issue of Diplomatic Quarterly.

In 2013, after the movie “Argo” appeared regarding an early facet of the Iran-hostage crisis, former Iranian President Bani-Sadr elaborated on his account of Republican overtures to Iran in 1980 and how that secret initiative prevented release of the hostages.

In a Christian Science Monitor commentary, Bani-Sadr wrote, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation which prevented the attempts by myself and then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 U.S. presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

Then, Bani-Sadr added a new detail, that “two of my advisors, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by Khomeini’s regime because they had become aware of this secret relationship between Khomeini, his son Ahmad, … and the Reagan administration.” [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Compare and Contrast

So how do Watergate and Iran-Contra compare and contrast with Russia-gate? One key difference is that in Watergate in 1972-73 and Iran-Contra in 1985-86, you had clear-cut crimes (even if you don’t want to believe the two “prequels” from 1968 and 1980, respectively).

President Donald Trump being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power.

In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.” And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution.

There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence.

By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)

The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.

Railroading Flynn

In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration.

Green Party leader Jill Stein and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn attending a dinner marking the RT network’s 10-year anniversary in Moscow, December 2015, sitting at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in.

But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.

Yates also concocted a bizarre argument that the discrepancies between Flynn’s account of the call and the transcript left him open to Russian blackmail although how that would work – since the Russians surely assumed that Kislyak’s calls would be monitored by U.S. intelligence and thus offered them no leverage with Flynn – was never explained.

Still, Flynn’s failure to recount the phone call precisely and the controversy stirred up around it became the basis for an obstruction of justice investigation of Flynn and led to President Trump’s firing Flynn on Feb. 13.

Trump may have thought that tossing Flynn overboard to the circling sharks would calm down the sharks but the blood in the water only excited them more. According to then-FBI Director James Comey, Trump talked to him one-on-one the next day, Feb. 14, and said, “‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Trump’s “hope” and the fact that he later fired Comey have reportedly led special prosecutor Mueller to look at a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump. In other words, Trump could be accused of obstructing what appears to have been a trumped-up case against Flynn.

Of course, there remains the possibility that evidence might surface of Trump or his campaign colluding with the Russians, but such evidence has so far not been presented. Or Mueller’s investigation might turn over some rock and reveal some unrelated crime, possibly financial wrongdoing by Trump or an associate.

(Something similar happened in the Republican investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, a largely fruitless inquiry except that it revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent and received official emails over a private server, which Comey decried during last year’s campaign as “extremely careless” but not criminal.)

Curb the Enthusiasm

Another contrast between the earlier scandals (Watergate and Iran-Contra) and Russia-gate is the degree of enthusiasm and excitement that the U.S. mainstream media and congressional Democrats have shown today as opposed to 1972 and 1986.

The Washington Post’s Watergate team, including from left to right, publisher Katharine Graham, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Simons, and executive editor Ben Bradlee.

Though The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein aggressively pursued the Watergate scandal, there was much less interest elsewhere in major news outlets until Nixon’s criminality became obvious in 1973. Many national Democrats, including DNC Chairman Bob Strauss, were extremely hesitant to pursue the scandal if not outright against it.

Similarly, although Brian Barger and I at The Associated Press were pursuing aspects of Iran-Contra since early 1985, the big newspapers and networks consistently gave the Reagan administration the benefit of the doubt – at least before the scandal finally burst into view in fall 1986 (when a Contra-supply plane crashed inside Nicaragua and a Lebanese newspaper revealed U.S. arms shipments to Iran).

For several months, there was a flurry of attention to the complex Iran-Contra scandal, but the big media still ignored evidence of a White House cover-up and soon lost interest in the difficult work of unraveling the convoluted networks for arms smuggling, money laundering and cocaine trafficking.

Congressional Democrats also shied away from a constitutional confrontation with the popular Reagan and his well-connected Vice President George H.W. Bush.

After moving from AP to Newsweek in early 1987, I learned that the senior executives at Newsweek, then part of The Washington Post Company, didn’t want “another Watergate”; they felt another such scandal was not “good for the country” and wanted Iran-Contra to go away as soon as possible. I was even told not to read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it was published in October 1987 (although I ignored that order and kept trying to keep my own investigation going in defiance of the wishes of the Newsweek brass until those repeated clashes led to my departure in June 1990).

So, perhaps the biggest similarity between Russia-gate and Watergate is that Richard Nixon and Donald Trump were both highly unpopular with the Washington establishment and thus had few influential defenders, while an important contrast with Iran-Contra was that Reagan and Bush were very well liked, especially among news executives such as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham who, by all accounts, did not care for the uncouth Nixon. Today, the senior executives of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have made no secret of their disdain for the buffoonish Trump and their hostility toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In other words, what is driving Russia-gate – for both the mainstream news media and the Democrats – appears to be a political agenda, i.e., the desire to remove Trump from office while also ratcheting up a New Cold War with Russia, a priority for Washington’s neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks.

If this political drama were playing out in some other country, we would be talking about a “soft coup” in which the “oligarchy” or some other “deep state” force was using semi-constitutional means to engineer a disfavored leader’s removal.

Of course, since the ongoing campaign to remove Trump is happening in the United States, it must be presented as a principled pursuit of truth and a righteous application of the rule of law. But the comparisons to Watergate and Iran-Contra are a stretch.

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In Yemen’s Secret Prisons, UAE Tortures And US Interrogates

NOVANEWS

By Maggie Michael

Information Clearing House

MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces run a secret network of prisons where prisoners are brutally tortured. The U.S. has questioned some detainees, and have regular access to their testimony — a potential violation of international law. (June 21)

The United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces run a secret network of prisons where prisoners are brutally tortured. The U.S. has questioned some detainees, and have regular access to their testimony — a potential violation of international law. (June 21)

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations.

“There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.”

Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

Looking out over part of Aden Central Prison, known as Mansoura

None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

“We could hear the screams,” said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. “The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber.” He was flogged with wires, part of the frequent beatings inflicted by guards against all the detainees. He also said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

Like other ex-detainees, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested again. The AP interviewed him in person in Yemen after his release from detention.

The AP interviewed 10 former prisoners, as well as a dozen officials in the Yemeni government, military and security services and nearly 20 relatives of detainees. The chief of Riyan prison, who is well known among families and lawyers as Emirati, did not reply to requests for comment.

Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the abuses “show that the US hasn’t learned the lesson that cooperating with forces that are torturing detainees and ripping families apart is not an effective way to fight extremist groups.” Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday documenting torture and forced disappearances at the UAE-run prisons and calling on the Emirates to protect detainees’ rights.

Amnesty International called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has praised the UAE as “Little Sparta” for its outsized role in fighting against al-Qaida.

U.S. forces send questions to the Emirati forces holding the detainees, which then send files and videos with answers, said Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, which American officials confirmed to the AP. He also said the United States handed authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.

Al-Bahsani denied detainees were handed over to the Americans and said reports of torture are “exaggerated.”

18 secret prisons in Yemen controlled by the United Arab Emirates

The network of prisons echoes the secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama disbanded the so-called “black sites.” The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

“The UAE was one of the countries involved in the CIA’s torture and rendition program,” said Goodman, the NYU law professor. “These reports are hauntingly familiar and potentially devastating in their legal and policy implications.”

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition meant to help Yemen’s government fight Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who overran the north of the country. At the same time, the coalition is helping the U.S. target al-Qaida’s local branch, one of the most dangerous in the world, as well as Islamic State militants.

A small contingent of American forces routinely moves in and out of Yemen, the Pentagon says, operating largely along the southern coast. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes in the country to more than 80 so far this year, up from around 21 in 2016, the U.S. military said. At least two commando raids were ordered against al-Qaida, including one in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with at least 25 civilians.

A U.S. role in questioning detainees in Yemen has not been previously acknowledged.

Inside a secret prison in Yemen

A Yemeni officer who said he was deployed for a time on a ship off the coast said he saw at least two detainees brought to the vessel for questioning. The detainees were taken below deck, where he was told American “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. He did not have access to the lower decks. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing the operations.

Senior U.S. defense officials flatly denied the military conducts any interrogations of Yemenis on any ships.

“We have no comment on these specific claims,” said Jonathan Liu, a CIA spokesman, adding that any allegations of abuse are taken seriously.

This Yemeni man says his son was detained and has since disappeared.

The Yemeni officer did not specify if the ‘Americans on ships’ were U.S. military or intelligence personnel, private contractors, or some other group.

Two senior Yemen officials, one in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and another in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt province where Mukalla is located, also said Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the U.S. role.

The AP learned the names of five suspects held at black sites who were said to have been interrogated by Americans. The Yemeni official on the ship identified one of the detainees brought there. Four others were identified by former detainees who said they were told directly by the men themselves that they were questioned by Americans.

One detainee, who was not questioned by U.S. personnel, said he was subject to constant beatings by his Yemeni handlers but was interrogated only once.

“I would die and go to hell rather than go back to this prison,” he said. “They wouldn’t treat animals this way. If it was bin Laden, they wouldn’t do this.”

Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor and Desmond Butler in Washington and Ahmed al-Haj and Maad al-Zikry in Yemen contributed to this report.

See also – Inside Yemen’s secret prisons: ‘We could hear the screams’

Posted in Saudi Arabia, UAE, YemenComments Off on In Yemen’s Secret Prisons, UAE Tortures And US Interrogates

Nazi regime authorities approve budget for controversial ‘Apartheid road’ in West Bank

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Nazi regime has reportedly approved a budget for the construction of the so-called Eastern Ring Road in the occupied West Bank, known by activists and rights groups as the “Apartheid road.”

The road, part of Nazi state plans of developing the controversial E1 corridor, has been denounced as an attempt to further expand illegal Nazi Jewish settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory, while deepening the separation between Palestinian communities on opposite sides of Israel’s separation wall.

According to a statement released by Israeli rights group Ir Amim on Monday, the development of the road is “one of several developments necessary for preparing the ground for E1.”

The reports emerged from Israeli media outlet Zionist Hayom, which stated that the road is expected to be opened to Zionist traffic in the next 10 months.

According to rights groups, settlement construction in E1 would effectively divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state — as envisaged by the internationally backed two-state solution to the Palestinian-Nazi conflict — almost impossible.

Nazi regime activity in E1 has attracted widespread international condemnation, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has in the past said that “E1 is a red line that cannot be crossed.”

However, the Eastern Ring Road was proposed by former Nazi Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a plan to apparently solve the issue of bifurcating the West Bank, by facilitating “navigation from Ramallah to Bethlehem for Palestinians but without any access to Jerusalem.”

Following the second Palestinian intifada and Nazi regime construction of the separation wall that has disjointed Palestinian territory, Palestinians from the “West Bank side” of the separation barrier have been forced to obtain Nazi-issued permits in order to access occupied East Jerusalem, which some Palestinians and the international community still consider to be the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

A map released by Ir Amim shows the expected route of the road. According to the group, the road would “ease access” for Nazi settlers residing around Ramallah in contravention of international law, as settlers have “long exerted pressure to open the road, complaining about traffic jams and delays.”

Ir Amim pointed out that Nazi regime plan would enable further expansions of Nazi Jewish illegal settlements around Ramallah.

The road is also planned to connect with Road 1 that connects the mega settlement Maale Adumim with Jerusalem, and would also link to the Mount Scopus Tunnel Road through the Zeitim interchange, another controversial E1 related project that Nazi regime authorities had begun construction on several months ago, according to Ir Amim.

According to an earlier report released by Ir Amim, the Zeitim interchange is located between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, and would connect the Eastern Ring Road in the northern West Bank to road 417, leading to the south.

The group highlighted in the report that connecting these roads is “a crucial part in realizing the E1 plans,” as Nazi Jewish settlement construction in the E1 corridor would prevent Palestinians in the West Bank from using road 437, which “connects to road 417 and enables Palestinian traffic between the northern and southern West Bank.”

The plans aim to replace road 437 with the northern section of the Eastern Ring Road, which would divert Palestinian traffic away from road 437 and the E1 area” and would establish separate lanes for Nazi and Palestinian traffic, thus its label as an Nazi apartheid road.

Nazi regime plans in E1 have long been denounced by rights groups and the international community since its approval in 1999, in the wake of the Oslo Accords which expected the area of E1 to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) within an interim period of five years.

Another central aspect of Israel’s development plans in the area includes the full eviction and relocation of Bedouin communities residing in E1, near Maale Adumim.

This plan was furthered earlier this year when Nazi authorities delivered demolition notices to every single home in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, including the village’s elementary school. The village is located on the site of planned Nazi Jewish settlement development and on the Nazi side of the planned route of Nazi separation barrier.

Rights groups and Bedouin community members have sharply criticized Nazi relocation plans for the Bedouin residing near Maale Adumim, claiming that the removal would displace indigenous Palestinians for the sake of expanding Nazi Jewish settlements.

Bedouin villages in the area also face routine demolitions by Nazi forces.

Since the E1 corridor is part of Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control and where Nazi Jewish settlements are planned, the Palestinians living there face routine attempts by Nazi regime to push them off the land.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 villages comprising of a population of 7,000 — 70 percent of whom are Palestinian refugees — in the central West Bank that are considered by the UN as being at risk of forcible transfer by Nazi regime to alternative sites, in violation of international law.

In addition, rights group B’Tselem has noted in the past that plans to develop the E1 corridor would also further isolate Palestinians straddled between the “West Bank side” of the separation barrier and those in occupied East Jerusalem, by “enclosing East Jerusalem from the East and linking it up with Israeli neighborhoods built north of the Old City.”

As East Jerusalem used to be the primary urban center for Palestinians in the West Bank, the E1 plans would further exacerbate a Palestinian-Palestinian separation that has wreaked havoc on Palestinian economic, social, and political life.

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Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View

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By Jonathan Cook | CounterPunch 

Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the man who exposed the Mai Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and the US military’s abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004, is probably the most influential journalist of the modern era, with the possible exception of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the pair who exposed Watergate.

For decades, Hersh has drawn on his extensive contacts within the US security establishment to bring us the story behind the official story, to disclose facts that have often proved deeply discomfiting to those in power and exploded the self-serving, fairy-tale narratives the public were expected to passively accept as news. His stature among journalists was such that, in a sea of corporate media misinformation, he enjoyed a small island of freedom at the elite, but influential, outlet of the New Yorker.

Paradoxically, over the past decade, as social media has created a more democratic platform for information dissemination, the corporate media has grown ever more fearful of a truly independent figure like Hersh. The potential reach of his stories could now be enormously magnified by social media. As a result, he has been increasingly marginalised and his work denigrated. By denying him the credibility of a “respectable” mainstream platform, he can be dismissed for the first time in his career as a crank and charlatan. A purveyor of fake news.

Nonetheless, despite struggling to find an outlet for his recent work, he has continued to scrutinise western foreign policy, this time in relation to Syria. The official western narrative has painted a picture of a psychotic Syrian president, Bashar Assad, who is assumed to be so irrational and self-destructive he intermittently uses chemical weapons against his own people. He does so, not only for no obvious purpose but at moments when such attacks are likely to do his regime untold damage. Notably, two sarin gas attacks have supposedly occurred when Assad was making strong diplomatic or military headway, and when the Islamic extremists of Al-Qaeda and ISIS – his chief opponents – were on the back foot and in desperate need of outside intervention.

Dangerous monsters

Hersh’s investigations have not only undermined evidence-free claims being promoted in the west to destabilise Assad’s goverment but threatened a wider US policy seeking to “remake the Middle East”. His work has challenged a political and corporate media consensus that portrays Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad’s main ally against the extremist Islamic forces fighting in Syria, as another dangerous monster the West needs to bring into line.

For all these reasons, Hersh has found himself increasingly friendless. The New Yorker refused to publish his Syria investigations. Instead, he had to cross the Atlantic to find a home at the prestigious but far less prominent London Review of Books.

Back in 2013 his contacts within the security and intelligence establishments revealed that the assumption Assad had ordered the use of sarin gas in Ghouta, outside Damascus, failed to stand up to scrutiny. Even Barack Obama’s national intelligence director, James Clapper, was forced to admit privately that Assad’s guilt was “not a slam dunk”, even as the media widely portrayed it as precisely that. Hersh’s work helped stymie efforts at the time to promote a western military attack to bring down the Syrian government.

His latest investigation questions whether Assad was responsible for another alleged gas attack – this one in April, at Khan Sheikhoun. Again a consensual western narrative was quickly constructed after social media showed dozens of Syrians dead, apparently following a bomb dropped by Syrian aircraft. For the first time in his presidency, Donald Trump received wall-to-wall praise for launching a military strike on Syria in response, even though, as Hersh documents, he had no evidence on which to base such an attack, one that gravely violated international law.

Hersh’s new investigation was paid for by the London Review of Books, which declined to publish it. This is almost as disturbing as the events in question.

What is emerging is a media blackout so strong that even the London Review of Books is running scared. Instead, Hersh’s story appeared yesterday in a German publication, Welt am Sonntag. Welt is an award-winning newspaper, no less serious than the New Yorker or the LRB. But significantly Hersh is being forced to publish ever further from the centres of power whose misinformation his investigations are challenging.

Imagine how effective Woodward and Bernstein would have been in bringing down Richard Nixon had they been able to publish their Watergate investigations only in the French media. That is the situation we have reached now with Hersh’s efforts to scrutinise the west’s self-serving claims about Syria.

US-Russian cooperation

As for the substance of Hersh’s investigation, he finds that Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base in April “despite having been warned by the US intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.”

In fact, Hersh reveals that, contrary to the popular narrative, the Syrian strike on a jihadist meeting place in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was closely coordinated beforehand between Russian and US intelligence agencies. The US were well apprised of what would happen and tracked the events.

Hersh’s sources in the intelligence establishment point out that these close contacts occurred for two reasons. First, there is a process known as “deconfliction”, designed to avoid collisions or accidental encounters between the US, Syrian and Russian militaries, especially in the case of their supersonic jets. The Russians therefore supplied US intelligence with precise details of that day’s attack beforehand. But in this case, the close ties also occurred because the Russians wanted to warn the US to keep away a CIA asset, who had penetrated the jihadist group, from that day’s meeting.

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” a senior adviser to the US intelligence community told Hersh. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon … would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear.”

According to US intelligence, Hersh reports, the Syrian air force was able to target the site using a large, conventional bomb supplied by the Russians. But if Assad did not use a chemical warhead, why did many people apparently die at Khan Sheikhoun from inhalation of toxic gas?

The US intelligence community, says Hersh, believes the bomb triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot in the building’s basement that included propane gas, fertilisers, insecticides as well as “rockets, weapons and ammunition, … [and] chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial”. These explosions created a toxic cloud that was trapped close to the ground by the dense early morning air.

Medecins Sans Frontieres found patients it treated “smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.” Sarin is odourless.

Hersh concludes that the “evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

Political suicide

Hersh’s main intelligence source makes an important contextual point you won’t hear anywhere in the corporate media:

“What doesn’t occur to most Americans is if there had been a Syrian nerve gas attack authorized by Bashar [Assad], the Russians would be 10 times as upset as anyone in the West. Russia’s strategy against ISIS, which involves getting American cooperation, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be responsible for pissing off Russia, with unknown consequences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of winning the war? Are you kidding me?”

When US national security officials planning Trump’s “retaliation” asked the CIA what they knew of events in Khan Sheikhoun, according to Hersh’s source, the CIA told them “there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian bombers had taken off] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.”

The source continues:

“No one knew the provenance of the photographs [of the attack’s victims]. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a [toxic] cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.”

Trump, under political pressure and highly emotional by nature, ignored the evidence. Hersh’s source says:

“The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity. It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit’.”

Although Republicans, Democrats and the entire media rallied to Trump’s side for the first time, those speaking to Hersh have apparently done so out of fear of what may happen next time.

The danger with Trump’s “retaliatory” strike, based on zero evidence of a chemical weapons attack, is that it could have killed Russian soldiers and dragged Putin into a highly dangerous confrontation with the US. Also, the intelligence community fears that the media have promoted a false narrative that suggests not only that a sarin attack took place, but paints Russia as a co-conspirator and implies that a UN team did not in fact oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile back in 2013-14. That would allow Assad’s opponents to claim in the future, at a convenient time, yet another unsubstantiated sarin gas attack by the Syrian government.

Hersh concludes with words from his source that should strike fear into us all:

“The issue is, what if there’s another false-flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys [Islamist groups] are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Four questions

Hersh’s investigation contributes to a more complex and confusing picture of events in Khan Sheikhoun. In the absence of an independent investigation, there is still no decisive physical evidence to confirm what happened. That makes context and probability important factors for observers to weigh.

So let us set aside for a moment the specifics of what happened on April 4 and concentrate instead on what Hersh’s critics must concede if they are to argue that Assad used sarin gas against the people of Khan Sheikhoun.

1. That Assad is so crazed and self-destructive – or at the very least so totally incapable of controlling his senior commanders, who must themselves be crazed and self-destructive – that he has on several occasions ordered the use of chemical weapons against civilians. And he has chosen to do it at the worst possible moments for his own and his regime’s survival, and when such attacks were entirely unnecessary.

2. That Putin is equally deranged and so willing to risk an end-of-times conflagration with the US that he has on more than one occasion either sanctioned or turned a blind eye to the use of sarin by Assad’s regime. And he has done nothing to penalise Assad afterwards, when things went wrong.

3. That Hersh has decided to jettison all the investigatory skills he has amassed over many decades as a journalist to accept at face value any unsubstantiated rumours his long-established contacts in the security services have thrown his way. And he has done so without regard to the damage that will do to his reputation and his journalistic legacy.

4. That a significant number of US intelligence officials, those Hersh has known and worked with over a long period of time, have decided recently to spin an elaborate web of lies no one wants to print, either in the hope of damaging Hersh in some collective act of revenge against him, or in the hope of permanently discrediting their own intelligence services.

Hersh’s critics do not simply have to believe one of these four points. They must maintain the absolute veracity of all four of them.

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How the Nazi regime Manages Its Message

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How Israel Manages Its Message

A new app enables instant pushback

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By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review 

Those of us who are highly critical of Israel’s ability to manipulate U.S. foreign policy frequently note how sites that permit comments on our articles are almost immediately inundated with hostile postings that are remarkably similar in both tone and substance. Given that it is unlikely that large numbers of visitors to the sites read the offending piece more-or-less simultaneously, react similarly to its content, and then go on to express their disgust in very similar language, many of us have come to the conclusion that the Israeli government or some of the groups dedicated to advancing Israeli interests turn loose supporters who are dedicated to combating and refuting anything and everything that casts Israel in a negative light.

The fact is that Israel is extremely active in an enterprise that falls in the gray area between covert operations and overt governmental activity. Many governments seek to respond to negative commentary in the media, but they normally do it openly with an ambassador or press officer countering criticism by sending in a letter, writing an op-ed, or appearing on a talk show. Such activity is generally described as public diplomacy when it is done openly by a recognized government official and the information itself is both plausible and verifiable, at least within reasonable limits. Israel does indeed do that, but it also engages in other activities that are not so transparent and which are aimed at spreading false information.

When an intelligence organization seeks to influence opinion by creating and deliberately circulating “false news,” it is referred to as a “disinformation operation.” But Israel has refined the art of something that expands upon that, what might be referred to more accurately as “perception management” or “influence operations” in which it only very rarely shows its hand overtly, in many cases paying students as part-time bloggers or exploiting diaspora Jews as volunteers to get its message out. The practice is so systemic, involving recruitment, training, Foreign Ministry-prepared information sheets, and internet alerts to potential targets, that it is frequently described by its Hebrew name, hasbara, which means literally “public explanation.” It is essentially an internet-focused “information war” that parallels and supports the military action whenever Israel enters into conflict with any of its neighbors or seeks to influence public opinion in the United States and Europe.

The hasbara onslaught inevitably cranks up when Israel is being strongly criticized. There were notable surges in activity when Israel attacked Gaza in 2009 and 2012, as well as when it hijacked the Turkish humanitarian relief ship the Mavi Marmara in 2011. The devastating 2014 Gaza fighting inevitably followed suit, producing a perfect storm of pro-Israel commentary contesting any published piece that in any way sympathized with the Palestinians. The comments tend to appear in large numbers on websites where moderation and registration requirements are minimal, including Yahoo! News, or Facebook and Twitter.

The hasbara comments are noticeable as they tend to sound like boilerplate, and run contrary to or even ignore what other contributors to the site are writing. They often include spelling and syntactical hints that the writer is not natively fluent in English. As is the practice at corporate customer support call centers in Asia, the commenters generally go by American-sounding names and use fake email addresses. They never indicate that they are Israelis or working on behalf of the Israeli government and they tend to repeat over and over again sound bites of pseudo-information, as when they falsely insist that Hamas was solely responsible for the recent Gazan wars and that Israel was only defending itself. The commenters operate in the belief that if something is repeated often enough in many different places it will ipso facto gain some credibility and create doubts regarding contrary points of view.

That Israel is engaged in perception management on a large scale has more-or-less been admitted by the Israeli government, and some of its mechanisms have been identified, to include the Strategic Affairs Ministry headed by Gilad Erdan. The most recent wrinkle, focused on countering the nonviolent Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, is an app called ACT.IL, that was developed by Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) in collaboration with the Israeli American Council, which can be downloaded at iTunes, Apple app store and Google Play. The app enables one to tap into “the collective knowledge of IDC students who together speak 35 languages hail from 86 countries and have connections to the pro-Israel community all over the world.” The Jerusalem Post, in an article praising the new initiative, describes how, “in this virtual situation room of experts, they detect instances where Israel is being assailed online and they program the app to find missions that can be carried out with a push of a button.” What does it do? In a trial run, an Australian business that allegedly refused to serve Israelis was bombarded with negative Facebook comments that reduced its rating from a 4.6 to a 1.4.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has sent a letter out to a number of pro-Israel organizations emphasizing the “importance of the internet as the new battleground for Israel’s image.” Haaretz reported in 2013 how Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office collaborated with the National Union of Israeli Students to establish “covert units” at the seven national universities to be structured in a “semi-military” fashion and organized in situation rooms. Students are paid as much as $2,000 monthly to work the online targets.

The serious collaboration between government and volunteers actually began with Operation Cast Lead in early 2009, an incursion into Gaza that killed more than 1,800 Palestinians, when the Foreign Ministry pulled together a group of mostly young computer savvy soldiers supplemented by students both overseas and within Israel to post a number of government-crafted responses to international criticism.

Many of the initial volunteers worked through a website giyus.org (an acronym for Give Israel Your United Support). The website included a desktop tool called Megaphone that provided daily updates on articles appearing on the internet that had to be challenged or attacked. There were once believed to be 50,000 activists receiving the now-inactive Megaphone’s alerts.

There have also been reports about a pro-Israel American group called Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) preparing to enter its own version of developments in the Middle East on the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. E-mails from CAMERA reveal that the group sought volunteers in 2008 to edit material on Wikipedia “to help us keep Israel-related entries … from becoming tainted by anti-Israel editors,” while also recommending that articles on the Middle East be avoided initially by supporters so as not to arouse suspicions about their motives. Volunteers were also advised to use false names that did not hint at any Israeli or Jewish connection and to avoid any references to being organized by CAMERA. Fifty volunteers reportedly were actively engaged in the program when it was exposed in the media and the program was put on hold.

CAMERA is an Internal Revenue Service-approved 501(c)(3) organization, which means that contributions to it are tax exempt. Such exemptions are granted to organizations that are either charitable or educational in nature and they normally preclude any involvement in partisan political activity. As CAMERA would not appear to qualify as a charity, it is to be presumed that its application for special tax status stressed that it is educational. Whether its involvement in “un-tainting” Wikipedia truly falls within that definition might well be debated, particularly as it appears to have been carried out in semi-clandestine fashion. CAMERA might well also be considered to be a good candidate for registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA), as its activity is uniquely focused on promoting the perceived interests of a foreign government.

The use of Israel’s universities as propaganda mills by the government also raises other significant issues. The growing BDS movement has included some Israeli universities as targets because of their alleged involvement with the government in the occupation of the West Bank. That the universities are also involved in possible government-sponsored information operations might be an additional convincing argument that BDS supporters might use to justify blacklisting at least some Israeli academic institutions.

Every government is engaged in selling a product, which is its own self-justifying view of what it does and how it does it. But the largely clandestine Israeli effort to influence American opinion is unique in that it comes from a country which receives more than $3 billion annually from the U.S. taxpayer. We Americans are therefore paying to be propagandized by people working for a foreign government who often pretend to be our fellow citizens but are not. What is occurring is essentially an intelligence operation directed against the United States, something that the CIA would have run back in the 1970s and 1980s. That Israel can continue to reap huge amounts of aid and political cover from Washington while it is actively working to make sure that Americans are poorly informed about the Middle East reveals more than anything the corruption of our political class and media, both of which appear to be ready to sell out for thirty shekels to anyone with the cash in hand. Time to drain the swamp, indeed.

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Nazi regime refuses entry to UNESCO group expected to visit Hebron’s Old City

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Nazi authorities have refused to grant entry visas for a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) investigative team scheduled to conduct a field visit to the Old City in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron in advance of an upcoming vote next month to consider the area an endangered world heritage site, Nazi media reported on Sunday.

While Palestinian authorities had planned to introduce the site for consideration on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 2018, they decided to fast track the site’s application owing to routine Nazi regime violence in the Old City, which Palestinians have claimed threatens the integrity of the site, and instead propose the area as an endangered site.

A Palestinian delegation to UNESCO had reportedly expressed the “alarming details about the Nazi regime violations in Al-Khalil/ Hebron, including the continuous acts of vandalism, property damage, and other attacks,” in a letter to the World Heritage Center.

Since Nazi army took over the West Bank in 1967 and began advancing Nazi Jewish settlements across Palestinian territory in violation of international law, Hebron has been a flashpoint for Nazi Jewish settler violence on Palestinians and their properties.

The Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the Old City where the Prophet Abraham is believed to be buried has been a focal point of such violence for decades, as the site is holy to both Muslims and Jews and has been a prime site for Nazi Jewish settler activities in the area.

The UNESCO team’s visit is aimed at assessing whether or not the Old City of Hebron is actually endangered, and would submit these findings to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a body that provides recommendations to UNESCO involving sites that could be considered on the World Heritage in Danger list.

According to The Jerusalem Post, other protected sites in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the ancient terraces of Battir, and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, had also been fast tracked by Palestinian authorities in previous years to include them on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list.

Nazi Jewish Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen reportedly said that the UNESCO group was being rejected entry into illegally occupied Palestime owing to the fact that ICOMOS had advised against considering the previous sites in the occupied territory as endangered and instead recommended that Palestinian authorities continue with the normal process.

UNESCO, however, had rejected these recommendations by ICOMOS for the Church of Nativity and Battir. Hacohen said that due to these past decisions by UNESCO to ignore recommendations made by ICOMOS, it would be “a shame to waste the time and money” of the committee.

He went on to denounce what he considered “Palestinian political moves under the guise of culture and heritage,” and added that UNESCO’s consideration of the site represented “lies that plot against the state of Israel as well as the history and the connection of the Jewish people to this important holy site.”

The Old City, which is under full Nazi military control, is home to some 30,000 Palestinians and around 800 Nazi Jewish settlers who live under the protection of Nazi forces.

UNESCO is scheduled to decide on the status of the Old City during a conference in Krakow, Poland from July 2-12. The vote is expected to include a clause rejecting Nazi reime sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem, which the Nazi army annexed in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Meanwhile, Israeli media site Ynet reported that Nazi regime have been scrambling to collect the seven votes needed to block the motion.

Ynet also said that in the “context of a peace process,” the inclusion of Hebron’s Old City into UNESCO’s World Heritage List would “impose limits on Israeli construction, the protection and development of the site and on specific areas in the vicinity,”  and expressed worry that Israel would “be condemned each time it erects a security checkpoint or conducts work in the area on the grounds that is is damaging a world heritage site.”

However, Nazi activities in Hebron and the rest of occupied Palestine have long been condemned by rights groups and the international community as human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and a threat to any future peace agreements, while the some 500,000 to 600,000 Nazi Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank are residing there in contravention of international law.

Nazi regime has accused the United Nations and its respective bodies of being “anti-Israel” for its stances against the now half-century occupation of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Such allegations have escalated following the passing of UN Resolution 2334, which condemned Nazi Jewish settlement building in Palestinian territory. The US had taken the Nazi regime by surprise at the time by abstaining from the vote, in a split from its typical objections to such moves.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the UN could no longer “bully” the Nazi regime over its violations of international law, and said that “we are not going to let that happen anymore.”

US President Donald Trump had also denounced the UN resolution, and even warned in a Twitter post last year that “things will be different” following his inauguration.

Earlier this year, the US House of Representatives even passed a resolution confirming US commitment as a diplomatic ally to the Nazi regime, and demanded that the US government dismiss any future UN resolutions they deemed “anti-Israel.”

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Nazi attempts to block yet another UN report

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Having succeeded in blocking a recent UN report that accused the Jewish Nazi regime of maintaining a system of apartheid, Nazi officials are now attempting to remove another UN report, which has charged Tel Aviv with carrying out extrajudicial executions along with a list of other human rights violations.

The report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which previously accused the Nazi regime of apartheid, has come under fire from Nazi Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, because it states that in the period from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 Nazi security forces killed 63 Palestinians, including 19 children, and wounded an additional 2,276 Palestinians including 562 children.

The previous ESCWA report, which had accused the Nazi regime of apartheid, was removed by the UN following protests by Nazi Danon and US Ambassador to the UN, Zionist puppet Nikki Haley, who this week described the UN report of reeking with anti-Israel bias”.

The new report accuses the Nazi  security forces of using disproportionate force against Palestinians and in some cases of “extrajudicial executions”. The report cites the UN Committee Against Torture and its concern about “Israeli practices towards Palestinian detainees”.

The list of human rights violations included in the report were also “torture or ill-treatment of Palestinian children” and “deprivation of basic legal safeguards for administrative detainees, isolation and solitary confinement of detainees, including minors, punishment and ill-treatment of hunger strikers.” The report also claimed that “no criminal investigation was opened into more than 1,000 complaints of torture or ill-treatment filed since 2001.”

Zionist sources have reported that Nazi Danon will work to have this report removed. “This is yet another blood libel against the State of Israel,” Arutz Sheva reported Nazi envoy to the UN saying. “Just as we succeeded in having the previous preposterous report removed, we will fight relentlessly against this blatantly false distortion of the truth as well.”

Read: The ESCWA Report

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Nazi regime and the Trump Administration Use Saudis for the Next ‘Controlled Chaos’ Project

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Amid the ongoing diplomatic row between Qatar and a number of Arab states and increased tensions in the Persian Gulf, Sputnik Turkiye talked to Hamide Yigit, a Turkish political analyst and an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, who explained what role the Trump administration will play in this conflict.

Hamide Yigit, a Turkish political analyst and expert in Middle Eastern affairs who has written a number of research papers on the Middle Eastern crises, commented to Sputnik Turkiye on the ongoing diplomatic row in between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its impact on the region.

The expert stressed that the Trump administration is trying to fully re-carve the Middle Eastern strategy of the Obama administration, which was based on the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, by betting on the control over radical Islamist forces from a new unified center. That is why Trump has focused his new foreign policy line on Saudi Arabia, she said.

“We could say that Trump has signalled a new stage in American Middle Eastern policy after the failure of the Middle Eastern policy of the previous administration, which bet on the structures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and left the legacy of a weakened US position in Syria against Russia’s strengthened influence in the region,” Hamide Yigit told Sputnik.

The new political line of President Trump, she further elaborated, is aimed at focusing on the Persian Gulf and pivoting towards Saudi Arabia. Such a strategy, however, poses certain difficulties for the US, as Saudi Arabia has suffered both political and economic defeats in Syria and Yemen.

However on the other hand, the polycracy among the jihadists in Syria has hampered US plans in that country. Thus the Trump administration decided to set up a unified control center for dealing with the radical Islamists but opted for the exclusion of Qatar from this system in favor of Saudi Arabia.

The dual power among jihadists, the expert explained, creates certain problems which could escalate into a confrontation. Hence the US has chosen Saudi Arabia to host a center which will incorporate all the levers of a hybrid war.

The crisis in the Persian Gulf, Hamide Yigit told Sputnik, is one of the latest US projects aimed at creating so-called “controlled chaos” in the region.

“At this particular moment it is hard to forecast how long this crisis will last. However if this US’ project, which provokes the escalation of tensions in the region, proves a success, it might hit a serious blow to Turkish positions in the region,” the expert explained.

In current conditions, she further said, Turkey should be aimed at maximum rapprochement with Iran and Russia, up to its accession into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

On the Iran’s example it is clearly seen how the project of the “controlled chaos” has been started in Syria and gradually embraced other countries of the region. Hence Hamide Yigit suggested that the relations between the Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf monarchies and Iran will aggravate even further.

The warnings of a number of experts that the Syrian war will further spill over to Iran are visibly becoming a reality. Iran is being virtually dragged into this war, the expert said.

Earlier Israel repeatedly made certain steps aimed at drawing Iran into this war, but the US kept preventing it, the political analyst said.

Now Saudi Arabia is provoking the escalation of tensions. It might certainly want to incite a large-scale conflict as its mere existence is directly dependent on the US-backed project of a large-scale war in the Middle East, Hamide Yigit concluded.

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Oligarchy and Zionism – Part I

NOVANEWS

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Why Are We Attacking the Syrians Who Are Fighting ISIS?

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By Ron Paul 

Just when you thought our Syria policy could not get any worse, last week it did. The US military twice attacked Syrian government forces from a military base it illegally occupies inside Syria. According to the Pentagon, the attacks on Syrian government-backed forces were “defensive” because the Syrian fighters were approaching a US self-declared “de-confliction” zone inside Syria. The Syrian forces were pursuing ISIS in the area, but the US attacked anyway.

The US is training yet another rebel group fighting from that base, located near the border of Iraq at al-Tanf, and it claims that Syrian government forces pose a threat to the US military presence there. But the Pentagon has forgotten one thing: it has no authority to be in Syria in the first place! Neither the US Congress nor the UN Security Council has authorized a US military presence inside Syria.

So what gives the Trump Administration the right to set up military bases on foreign soil without the permission of that government? Why are we violating the sovereignty of Syria and attacking its military as they are fighting ISIS? Why does Washington claim that its primary mission in Syria is to defeat ISIS while taking military actions that benefit ISIS?

The Pentagon issued a statement saying its presence in Syria is necessary because the Syrian government is not strong enough to defeat ISIS on its own. But the “de-escalation zones” agreed upon by the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Turks have led to a reduction in fighting and a possible end to the six-year war. Even if true that the Syrian military is weakened, its weakness is due to six years of US-sponsored rebels fighting to overthrow it!

What is this really all about? Why does the US military occupy this base inside Syria? It’s partly about preventing the Syrians and Iraqis from working together to fight ISIS, but I think it’s mostly about Iran. If the Syrians and Iraqis join up to fight ISIS with the help of Iranian-allied Shia militia, the US believes it will strengthen Iran’s hand in the region. President Trump has recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia where he swore he would not allow that to happen.

But is this policy really in our interest, or are we just doing the bidding of our Middle East “allies,” who seem desperate for war with Iran? Saudi Arabia exports its radical form of Islam worldwide, including recently into moderate Asian Muslim countries like Indonesia. Iran does not. That is not to say that Iran is perfect, but does it make any sense to jump into the Sunni/Shia conflict on either side? The Syrians, along with their Russian and Iranian allies, are defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda. As candidate Trump said, what’s so bad about that?

We were told that if the Syrian government was allowed to liberate Aleppo from al-Qaeda, Assad would kill thousands who were trapped there. But the opposite has happened: life is returning to normal in Aleppo. The Christian minority there celebrated Easter for the first time in several years. They are rebuilding. Can’t we finally just leave the Syrians alone?

When you get to the point where your actions are actually helping ISIS, whether intended or not, perhaps it’s time to stop. It’s past time for the US to abandon its dangerous and counterproductive Syria policy and just bring the troops home.

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