Archive | July 20th, 2017

“Computational Propaganda”: Armies of Cyber-Troops Manipulating Public Opinion

Report of the Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP)

The Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) investigates the interaction of algorithms, automation and politics. This work includes analysis of how tools like social media bots are used to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing political content, disinformation, hate speech, junk or fake news.

In their most recent report COMPROP have identified how organisations, often with public money, have created a system to help ‘define and manage what is in the best interest of the public.’COMPROP have compared such organisations across 28 countries, created an inventory system and logged the kinds of messages, valences (positive or negative messaging) and communication strategies used. They have also catalogued organisational forms and evaluated their capacities in terms of budgets and staffing.

This article focuses on the use of cyber-troops.

Cyber-troops are identified as government, military or political party teams committed to manipulating public opinion over social media. Its findings include the use of cyber troops that are now a pervasive and global phenomenon. Many different countries employ significant numbers of people and resources to manage and manipulate public opinion online, sometimes targeting domestic audiences and sometimes targeting foreign publics.

The basic finding include:

  • The earliest reports of organised social media manipulation emerged in 2010, and by 2017 there are details on such organisations in 28 countries, including the US and UK.
  • Looking across the 28 countries, every authoritarian regime has social media campaigns targeting their own populations, while only a few of them target foreign publics. In contrast, almost every democracy in this sample has organised social media campaigns that target foreign publics, while political-party-supported campaigns target domestic voters.
  • Authoritarian regimes are not the only or even the best at organised social media manipulation. The earliest reports of government involvement in nudging public opinion involve democracies, and new innovations in political communication technologies often come from political parties and arise during high-profile elections.
  • Over time, the primary mode for organising cyber troops has gone from involving military units that experiment with manipulating public opinion over social media networks to strategic communication firms that take contracts from governments for social media campaigns.

The report mentions that

In January 2015, the British Army announced that its 77th Brigade would “focus on non‐lethal psychological operations using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to fight enemies by gaining control of the narrative in the information age”. The primary task of this unit is to shape public behaviour through the use of “dynamic narratives” to combat the political propaganda disseminated by terrorist organisations. The United Kingdom is not alone in allocating troops and funding for influencing online political discourse. Instead, this is part of a larger phenomenon whereby governments are turning to Internet platforms to exert influence over information flows and communication channels to shape public opinion.”

What is of concern in the report is that Cyber troops use a variety of strategies, tools and techniques for social media manipulation. Generally speaking, teams have an overarching communications strategy that involves creating official government applications, websites or platforms for disseminating content; using accounts—either real, fake or automated—to interact with users on social media; or creating substantive content such as images, videos or blog posts. These teams engage in sending pro‐government, positive or nationalistic messages when engaging with the public online. Other teams will harass, troll or threaten users who express dissenting positions.

Other, more popular forms of individual targeting involves various forms of harassment. This generally involves verbal abuse, hate speech, discrimination and/or trolling against the values, beliefs or identity of a user or a group of users online. Of course, some governments will use this type of harassment during important political events, namely, elections.

In addition to official government accounts, many cyber troop teams run fake accounts to mask their identity and interests. This phenomenon has sometimes been referred to as “astroturfing”, whereby the identity of a sponsor or organisation is made to appear as grassroots activism (Howard, 2003). In many cases, these fake accounts are “bots”—or bits of code designed to interact with and mimic human users. According to media reports, bots have been deployed by government actors in Argentina (Rueda, 2012), Azerbaijan (Geybulla, 2016), Iran (BBC News, 2016), Mexico (O’Carrol, 2017), the Philippines (Williams S, 2017), Russia (Duncan, 2016), South Korea (Sang‐Hun, 2013), Syria (York, 2011), Turkey (Shearlaw, 2016) and Venezuela (VOA News, 2015).

These bots are often used to flood social media networks with spam and fake news. They can also amplify marginal voices and ideas by inflating the number of likes, shares and retweets they receive, creating an artificial sense of popularity, momentum or relevance.

Some cyber troop teams create content to spread certain political messages. This content creation amounts to more than just a comment on a blog or social media feed, but instead includes the creation of content such as blog posts, YouTube videos, fake news stories, pictures or memes that help promote the government’s political agenda. In the United Kingdom, cyber troops have been known to create and upload YouTube videos that “contain persuasive messages” under online aliases (Benedictus, 2016).

Government‐based cyber troops are public servants tasked with influencing public opinion. These individuals are directly employed by the state as civil servants, and often form a small part of a larger government administration. The report finds that “cyber troops can be found across a variety of government ministries and functions.” GCHQ is one such department.

The Australian Coalition Party used social media during its 2013 campaign to manipulate the public by using fake accounts to artificially inflate the number of followers, likes, shares or retweets a candidate receives, creating a false sense of popularity.

In Israel, the government actively works with student volunteers from Jewish organisations or other pro‐Israel groups around the world (Stern‐Hoffman, 2013). In many cases these top-performing volunteers awarded scholarships for their work (Stern‐Hoffman, 2013).

The report concludes:

“There is no doubt that individual social media users can spread hate speech, troll other users, or set up automated political communication campaigns. Unfortunately, this is also an organised phenomenon, with major governments and political parties dedicating significant resources towards the use of social media for public opinion manipulation.”

“I don’t think people realise how much governments are using these tools to reach them. It’s a lot more hidden,” Samantha Bradshaw, the report’s lead author told Bloomberg, noting the prominence of social media manipulation among democratic governments.

“They are using the same tools and techniques as the authoritarian regimes,” Bradshaw said. “Maybe the motivations are different, but it’s hard to tell without the transparency.”

In the meantime, it should not be forgotten that whilst on the one hand governments around the world, including Britain are actively engaging in online public manipulation, Theresa May, the prime minister, has already asked governments to unite to regulate what tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter allow to be posted on their networks. The EU has already clamped down with calls that they are effectively shutting down free speech as apposed to curtailing hate speech, whilst engaging in exactly that – hate speech.

Whilst you might expect some governments around the world such as Azerbaijan, China, Israel and North Korea to be engaging cyber-troops to manipulate pubic opinion, you would not expect other western democracies such as the USA, UK or Germany to be doing so. But then again, these very same countries have built massive 360 degree mass surveillance systems without any public debate at all.

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Nazi Dramatic Increase Arrest of Palestinian Children

Dramatic Increase in Israel’s Arrest of Palestinian Children, Abused, Deprived of Food, Beatings, Denied Legal Council
A Sixty-Two Percent Increase in Arrests

Some 331 Palestinian minors were arrested by Israel between January and May this year, a 62 per cent increase on figures from 2012 to 2015, NGO Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) revealed yesterday.

According to a report released by the human rights group, Israeli forces regularly abuse Palestinian children, depriving them of food, subjecting them to beatings and preventing them from accessing legal counsel.

Accountability Programme Director at DCIP, Ayed Abu Eqtaish, stated:

“For over a decade, ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system has been widespread and systematic.”

From the persistent and institutionalised ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children, to the systematic denial of their due process rights, emerges a system of control far removed from justice.

DCIP records of cases between January and June also show that 81 per cent of Palestinian children were strip searched upon detention, two thirds were denied legal counsel prior to interrogation and only three had a parent present during proceedings.

The report details that one of the youngest children to be detained was 12-year-old Suheib from a refugee camp in the occupied Ramallah-area. He was allegedly throwing stones when he was knocked to the ground by Israeli officers and then restrained, beaten and blindfolded. He was subsequently held overnight at a police station where he was interrogated and denied food for 24 hours.

In another case, a 13-year-old boy known only as Anas M. was tortured as an Israeli soldier grabbed his neck and attempted to strangle him.

Israel prosecutes up to 700 children each year in military courts. Last month DCIP held a congressional meeting on the situation of Palestinian children over 50 years of illegal occupation, concluding that Israel’s actions against minors outdoes all security rationale.

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Ottawa Must Seek Justice for Hassan Diab

‘By forcing Hassan Diab into legal purgatory, Canada is seriously undermining its commitment to due process’

GR Editor’s Note We bring to the attention of our readers the following opinion article published in theToronto Star. What this analysis raises and which requires further investigation:  Was the Harper government elected in 2006, in any way unduly pressured by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and B’nai Brith.  

*    *    *

With the welcome news of the $10-million apology for the travesties committed against Omar Khadr, a decade after the Canadian government apologized and awarded a similar sum to Maher Arar for his tragic ordeal, we know that Canada doesn’t always get it right. Now is the time for Canada to seek justice in the case of Hassan Diab.

Both of us were involved in the Canadian and Ottawa Jewish community in 2008 when French authorities accused Diab of having been involved in a 1980 terrorist attack on a Paris synagogue, a heinous act that killed four and injured scores more.

As Diab’s ordeal hit public consciousness, one of us (Mira Sucharov) was a columnist for Ottawa’s Jewish newspaper and later wrote for the Canadian Jewish News, and was (and remains) a professor at Carleton University where Diab taught. The other (Bernie Farber) was CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

At the time, neither of us questioned Canada’s decision to extradite Diab to France. In fact, a spokesperson for Farber’s organization had said that CJC was “very pleased” that law enforcement authorities were “never giving up in the fight against terrorism,” noting that the decision “brings comfort to the victims of terrorism as well.”

Nine years later, we realize we were wrong in not speaking out.

Casting a Canadian citizen out of the country to languish, without trial, in a foreign prison may help Canada adhere to the Extradition Act. And it may bring comfort to some, as the CJC spokesperson suggested. But we suggest that this comfort is misplaced. Most importantly, such a decision brings justice to no one.

The evidence against Diab is shaky at best. It appeared to rest on handwriting analyses that experts had discredited. The French authorities had tried to include “secret intelligence” from unidentified sources — evidence that Canadian authorities threw out. There is evidence that Diab was in Lebanon, not Paris, on the day of the attack. Fingerprints at the scene of the crime don’t seem to match those of Diab.

Robert Maranger, the Ontario Superior Court judge who agreed to the extradition, even admitted that “the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely.”

Nine years later, with absolutely no movement in sight, it is clear that Hassan Diab is not receiving justice by Canadian standards. This must change.

It is time for Canadian authorities to insist that France take proper judicial action or send him home. By forcing Diab into legal purgatory, Canada is seriously undermining its commitment to due process — one of the bedrock responsibilities of a democratic society to its citizens.

Some of you may be reading about this case for the first time. Others may have received requests to sign petitions. Some of you may have signed them; others may have deleted the email, feeling burdened by the details of an extradition case surrounding a citizen’s alleged involvement in a crime that occurred decades ago.

Neither of us is a trained lawyer. One of us is a social worker and community relations organizer; the other is a political scientist. But it doesn’t take an expert in criminal law to know when a government is falling down on its contract to its citizens. Both of us well understand the impact of false accusations on communities in any multicultural society, something all Canadians can intuitively grasp.

In the case of Hassan Diab, we have now concluded that it was all too easy to unquestioningly accept the decision to leave it in the hands of France, a fellow democracy. But a decade later, justice has not been served. Now we must get this right.

Doing so will help ensure that our country avoids living by the ugly rules of innuendo, unproven assumptions and discredited evidence — and instead protects the core values of democracy, including a robust adherence to the principles of justice.

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Venezuela: Once Again, Interference From the USA in Latin America

Remember the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela in 2002, which failed miserably as Hugo Chavez thrashed his treacherous assailants like a Grand Master of Chess humiliating a rookie with a fool’s mate in three seconds flat? Well ladies and gentlemen they are trying it on again, this time using traitors inside Venezuela (“Opposition”) to create chaos.

Fraudulent manipulation by Western stooges

This week (on Sunday) the “Opposition” organized an illegal and unofficial public consultation on Government plans to appoint a new Constituent Assembly with powers to substitute the National Assembly, giving it the possibility to alter the constitution. The other side of the coin is that the National Assembly is a bastion of Opposition members blocking Government measures, willfully sabotaging the process of Government and creating chaos to then blame the Government of President Nicolas Maduro of mismanagement.

In the 2015 legislative election, 7.7 million of Venezuela’s 19.5 million voters favored Opposition parties to the ruling PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). In this week’s unofficial election, 7,186,170 people voted, 96 per cent of these against the Government plans. However the Venezuelan Opposition and their masters in Washington have to understand that an illegal vote by 28 per cent of the electorate does not constitute a valid constitutionally-backed position or statement. It is a protest vote by those who fear they will lose their vested interests and this affirmation is backed up by the fact that most Venezuelans back the PSUV.

The Venezuelan Government has accused the Opposition of staging an illegal act which anyway is fraught with fraud, manipulation and violation of the principles of a democratic vote. Of the 102,000 registered Venezuelan voters abroad, some 600,000 voted, for instance. Jorge Rodríguez, leader of PSUV, declared that there is evidence that some people voted seven times, others 14 times.

European Union duped, swallowed nonsense hook, line and sinker

He states that the western observers, including the EU, were duped into thinking that “voters” was the same thing as “votes”. They fell for the Opposition swansong hook, line and sinker, including outrageous acts such as adding 50,000 votes to the result in the State of Aragua, a practice which was allegedly commonplace among Opposition campaign managers.

Communication from the Government of Venezuela

Venezuela repudiates erratic US communiqué

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela repudiates the unusual communiqué published by the White House, 17/07/2017.

It is a document never seen before, because of its low level and poor quality, and makes it difficult to understand the intentions of the aggressor country intellectually. Obviously, the United States government is accustomed to humiliating other nations in its international relations and believes that it will receive the subordination it is accustomed to. The gap that the United States government is digging into its relations with Venezuela hampers a rational prediction of its actions for the entire international community.

The United States government unabashedly shows its absolute partiality with the violent sectors and extremists of Venezuelan politics, who favor the use of terrorism to overthrow a popular and democratic government.

The moral ruin of the Venezuelan opposition has dragged President Trump to commit an open aggression against a Latin American country. We do not know who could have written, let alone authorized, a communiqué of so much conceptual and moral poverty.

The thin democratic veil of the Venezuelan opposition has fallen, and reveals the brutal interventionist force of the US government, which has been behind the violence suffered by the Venezuelan people in the last four months.

This is not the first time we have denounced and confronted threats as wild as those contained in this unusual document.

We call upon the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean and the free peoples of the world to understand the magnitude of the brutal threat contained in this imperial communiqué and to defend sovereignty, self-determination and independence, fundamental principles of international law.

The original constituent power is contemplated in our Magna Carta and it is only up to the Venezuelan people. The National Constituent Assembly shall be elected by the direct, universal and secret vote of all Venezuelans and all Venezuelans, under the authority of the National Electoral Council as contemplated by our legal system. It is an act of political sovereignty of the Republic, nothing and nobody can stop it. The Constituent Assembly Goes Ahead!

Today the Venezuelan people are free and will respond united before the insolent threat posed by a xenophobic and racist empire. The anti-imperialist thinking of the Liberator is more valid than ever:

“The United States seems destined by Providence to infest America with misery in the name of freedom” Simón Bolívar

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Billions of Dollars’ Worth of Weapons Brought into Syria, “Arms Traffic Organized by CIA and Pentagon”

Over the last seven years, several billion dollars’ worth of armament has been illegally introduced into Syria – a fact which in itself is enough to disprove the myth according to which this war is a democratic revolution. Numerous documents attest to the fact that the traffic was organised by General David Petraeus, first of all in public, via the CIA, of which he was the director, then privately, via the financial company KKR with the aid of certain senior civil servants. Thus the conflict, which was initially an imperialist operation by the United States and the United Kingdom, became a private capitalist operation, while in Washington, the authority of the White House was challenged by the deep state. New elements now show the secret rôle of Azerbaïdjan in the evolution of the war.

During the liberation of Aleppo and the capture of the Saudi military staff who were on site, Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva noted the presence of weapons from her country in nine warehouses abandoned by the jihadists. She carefully noted the information on the boxes, and once she returned home, she investigated the way in which the weapons had been delivered to Syria.

Since 2009 – with the short exception of the period between March 2013 to November 2014 – Bulgaria has been governed by Boïko Borissov, a highly colourful character allegedly with links to one of Europe’s main criminal organisations, the SIC. Let’s remember that Bulgaria is a member of both NATO and the European Union, and that neither of these two organisations offered the slightest criticism concerning the accession to power of a Mafia lord who had been identified as such a long time previously by the international police services.

It is therefore clearly at the risk of their lives that Dilyana Gaytandzhieva uncovered the organisation, and the editors of the Sofia daily, Trud, published her article [1]. While Bulgaria was one of the main arms exporters to Syria, it received help from Azerbaïdjan.

The gigantic CIA arms traffic against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and India

Since the beginning of the Arab Springs, a gigantic arms traffic was organised by the CIA and the Pentagon in violation of a number of resolutions by the UNO Security Council. All the operations that we will be mentioning here are illegal under international law, including those organised publicly by the Pentagon.

As far as arms traffic is concerned, even when individuals or private companies are used as shields, it is impossible to export sensitive equipment without the authorisation of the governments concerned.

All the weapons we will be mentioning, apart from the electronic intelligence systems, are ’Soviet-type’. By definition, even if we pretend that the armies supplied with NATO-type weapons are indeed the final recipients, this is an impossibility. These armies serve only to cover the traffic.

We already knew that the CIA had contacted the SIC, and that Boïko Borissov had been called upon to manufacture an emergency quantity of Captagon destined for the jihadists, first in Libya, then in Syria. Since Maria Petkova’s investigation, which was published in the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), we knew that between 2011 and 2014, the CIA and the SOCOM (Pentagon Special Operations Command) had bought 500 million dollars’ worth of weapons from Bulgaria on behalf of the jihadists. Then, later, we learned that other weapons were paid for by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and transported by Saudi Arabian Cargo and Etihad Cargo [2].

According to Krešimir Žabec, of the Zagreb daily Jutarnji list, at the end of 2012, Croatia delivered 230 tonnes of weapons to the Syrian jihadists for a value of 6.5 million dollars. The transfer to Turkey was handled by three Ilyushins from Jordan International Air Cargo, and the weapons were then parachuted by the Qatai Army [3]. According to Eric Schmitt of the New York Times, the whole system had been created by General David Petraeus, director of the CIA [4].

In 2012, when Hezbollah attempted to unearth the CIA / SOCOM network, an attack was perpetrated against a number of Israëli tourists at Burgas airport, the nerve centre of the traffic. Ignoring the Bulgarian police enquiry and the report of the medical examiner, the Borissov government blamed the crime on Hezbollah, and the European Union labelled the Lebanese Resistance as a “terrorist organisation” (sic). We had to wait for the provisional fall of Borissov before the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kristian Vigenine, pointed out that this accusation is without foundation.

According to a source close to the PKK, in May and June 2014, the Turkish secret services chartered special trains to deliver Ukranian weapons to Rakka – which was then called the Islamic Emirate in Iraq and Syria, and is now known as Daesh. The weapons were paid for by Saudi Arabia, as were more than a thousand Hilux vehicles (double cabin pick-ups) specially altered to resist desert conditions. According to a Belgian source, the purchase of the vehicles had been negotiated with the Japanese firm Toyota by the Saudi company Abdul Latif Jameel.

According to Andrey Fomin of the Oriental Review, Qatar, which did not want to be left out, bought the most recent version of the Air Missile Defense Complex “Pechora-2D” from the Ukranian state company UkrOboronProm, for the jihadists. The delivery was made by the Cypriot company Blessway Ltd [5].

According to Jeremy Binnie and Neil Gibson of the professional arms magazine Jane’s, the US Navy Military Sealift Command launched two tenders in 2015 for the transport of arms from the Romanian port of Constanta to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The contract was won by Transatlantic Lines [6]. It was implemented on 12 February 2016, just after the signature of the cease-fire by Washington, in violation of its engagement.

According to Pierre Balanian of Asia News, this system was extended in March 2017 with the opening of a regular maritime line by the US company Liberty Global Logistics, linking Livorno (Italy) / Aqaba (Jordan) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) [7]. According to geographer Manlio Dinucci, it was mainly used to deliver tanks to Syria and Yemen [8].

According to Turkish journalists Yörük Işık and Alper Beler, the last contracts of the Obama era were implemented by Orbital ATK, who organised, via Chemring and Danish H. Folmer & Co, a regular line between Burgas (Bulgaria) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). For the first time, we are now talking not only about weapons produced by Vazovski Machine Building Factory (VMZ) (Bulgaria), but also by Tatra Defense Industrial Ltd. (Czech Republic) [9].

Many other operations took place in secret, as demonstrated by the affairs of the cargo Lutfallah II, inspected by the Lebanese Navy on 27 April 2012, or the Togolese cargo the Trader, inspected by Greece on 1 May 2016.

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The total of these operations represent hundreds of tonnes of weapons and ammunition, perhaps even thousands, mainly paid for by the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, allegedly to support a “democratic revolution”. In reality, these petro-dictatorships only intervened to dispense the Obama administration with having to explain themselves to the US Congress (Operation Timber Sycamore) and cement their belief that the moon is made of green cheese [10]. All of this traffic was under the personal control of General David Petraeus, first of all via the CIA, of which he was the director, then via the financial investment company KKR, for which he worked thereafter. He benefited from the assistance of senior civil servants, sometimes under the presidency of Barack Obama, and then – massively – under that of Donald Trump.

The secret rôle – until now – of Azerbaïdjan

According to Sibel Edmonds – ex-FBI agent and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition – Azerbaïdjan, under President Heydar Aliyev, from 1997 to 2001 hosted in Bakou the number 2 of Al-Qaïda, Ayman el-Zawahiri. This was done at the request of the CIA. Although officially wanted by the FBI, the man who was then the number 2 of the international jihadist network travelled regularly in NATO planes to Afghanistan, Albania, Egypt and Turkey. He also received frequent visits from Prince Bandar ben Sultan of Saudi Arabia [11].

To its security relations with Washington and Riyadh, Azerbaïdjan – whose population is nonetheless mainly Chiite – adds Sunni Ankara, which supports it in its conflict with Armenia concerning the secession of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

Heydar Aliyev died in the United States in 2003, and was succeeded by his son Ilham Aliyev. The USA-Azerbaïdjan Chamber of Commerce thus moved into Washington’s backyard, with, alongside President Aliyev, stood Richard Armitage, James Baker III, Zbigniew Brzeziński, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle, Brent Scowcroft and John Sununu.

According to Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, in 2015, Minister for Transport Ziya Mammadov placed the state company Silk Way Airlines at the disposition of the CIA , at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, minimally scrupulous Elmar Mammadyarov, sent requests for official recognition of “diplomatic flights” to several of his embassies, which protected the flights from being searched under the Vienna Convention. In less than three years, more than 350 flights benefited from this extraordinary privilege.

Although, according to the international treaties, neither civil nor diplomatic flights are authorised to carry military material, requests for recognition as “diplomatic flights” require the explicit detailing of the cargo transported. However, at the request of the US State Department, at least Afghanistan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Congo, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Israël, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and United Kingdom closed their eyes to this violation of international law, just as they had ignored the CIA flights to and from their secret prisons.

In less than three years, Silk Way Airlines transported at least one billion dollars’ worth of armament.

One thing leading to another, journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva uncovered a vast system which also supplied the jihadists not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo – also paid for by the Saudis and the Emiratis. Some of the arms delivered in Arabia were redirected to South Africa.

The arms transported to Afghanistan were delivered to the Talibans, under the control of the US, which is pretending to fight them. Those delivered to Pakistan were probably destined to commit Islamist attacks in India. We do not know who were the final recipients of the arms delivered to the Republican Guard of President Sassou N’Guesso in the Congo, or those delivered to South Africa under President Jacob Zuma.

The main arms dealers were the US firms Chemring (already mentioned), Culmen International, Orbital ATK (also mentioned) and Purple Shovel.

Apart from the Soviet-type arms produced by Bulgaria, Azerbaïdjan, under the responsibility of Minister of the Defence Industry Yavar Jamalov, bought stocks in Serbia, the Czech Repûblic and also in other states, declaring each time that Azerbaïdjan was the final recipient of the merchandise. Concerning the electronic intelligence material, Israël placed at their disposition the firm Elbit Systems, which pretended to be the final recipient, since Azerbaïdjan does not have the right to buy this type of equipment. These exceptions attest to the fact that the Azerbaïdjani system, although requested by the United States and Saudi Arabia, was controlled from start to finish from Tel-Aviv.

The Hebrew state, which pretended to be neutral during the whole of the Syrian conflict, nonetheless bombed the Syrian Arab Army on many occasions. Each time Tel-Aviv recognised the facts, it pretended that it had destroyed the arms destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah. In reality, all these operations, with perhaps a single exception, were coordinated with the jihadists. So today we learn that Tel-Aviv supervised the deliveries of arms to these same jihadists, so that although Israël limited itself to the use of its air force to support them, it did in fact play a central rôle in the war.

According to the international conventions, the falsification of certificates of final delivery, and the supply of weapons to mercenary groups who overthrow legitimate governments, or destroy recognised states, are considered to be international crimes.

Translated by Pete Kimberley



[1] “350 diplomatic flights carry weapons for terrorists”, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, Trud, July 2, 2017.

[2] “War Gains : Bulgarian Arms Add Fuel to Middle East Conflicts”, Maria Petkova, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, December 21, 2015.

[3] “TAJNA LETOVA JORDANSKIH AVIONA S PLESA Sirijski pobunjenici dobivaju oružje preko Zagreba!”, Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 23 veljača 2013. «TRANSFER HRVATSKOG ORUŽJA POBUNJENICIMA U SIRIJI Sve je dogovoreno prošlog ljeta u Washingtonu!», Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 26 veljača 2013. “VIDEO: JUTARNJI OTKRIVA U 4 mjeseca za Siriju sa zagrebačkog aerodroma Pleso otišlo 75 aviona sa 3000 tona oružja!”, Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 7 ožujak 2013. “PUT KROZ ASADOVU SIRIJU Nevjerojatna priča o državi sravnjenoj sa zemljom i njezinim uništenim ljudima: ’Živote su nam ukrali, snove ubili…’”, Antonija Handabaka, Jutarnji list, 9 ožujak 2013.

[4] “In Shift, Saudis Are Said to Arm Rebels in Syria” and “Airlift To Rebels In Syria Expands With C.I.A.’S Help”, C. J. Chivers & Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, February 26 and March 25, 2013.

[5] “Qatar and Ukraine come to deliver Pechora-2D to ISIS”, by Andrey Fomin, Oriental Review (Russia), Voltaire Network, 22 November 2015.

[6] “US arms shipment to Syrian rebels detailed”, Jeremy Binnie & Neil Gibson, Jane’s, April 7th, 2016.

[7] “Jordan strengthens military presence on border with Syria and Iraq”, Pierre Balanian, AsiaNews, April 11, 2017.

[8] “From Camp Darby US weapons for the war in Syria and Yemen”, by Manlio Dinucci, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Il Manifesto (Italy) , Voltaire Network, 18 April 2017.

[9] “The Pentagon is following through on arms agreements that Obama made with Jihadists”, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Voltaire Network, 30 May 2017.

[10] “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels”, Mark Mazzetti & Matt Apuzzojan, The New York Times, January 23, 2016.

[11] Classified Woman. The Sibel Edmonds Story: A Memoir et The Lone Gladio, Sibel Edmonds.

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A Tale of Two Nations: Russia vs. USA Economic Prospects

Taking the extraordinary USA and EU economic sanctions against Russia and low oil prices since 2014 into account, Russia’s economic outlook looks excellent going forward while that of Trump’s America looks bleak, to put it mildly. Paraphrasing the memorable 1992 Presidential candidates debate between a then-young William Jefferson Clinton and George H.W. Bush, “It’s the debt, stupid.”

In the past few years too many US economists and analysts such as Moody’s Credit Rating have tried to dismiss the economy of the Russian Federation as a near-bankrupt Soviet-era oil and gas-dependent economy, devastated by the 2014 collapse in oil price. This is a grave mistake, especially so as military calculations of NATO in many cases depend on such poorly-informed and dated judgments. Here are just a few select examples of what is really going on in terms of cutting edge and even bleeding edge technology R&D and commercialization in Russia in the civilian sector. The West’s neo-colonial smug arrogance has no place.

Yes, the physical economy Russia has great problems. I’ve traveled throughout Russia many times since 1994. I have seen much beyond the breath-taking beauty of the Czar palaces of St. Petersburg or the spectacular Moscow Kremlin fortress constructed in the 1480’s. I’ve seen dilapidated infrastructure and streets with New York-style potholes in Russia’s smaller cities.

I grew up and for some time worked in proximity of slums and poverty in cities such as Boston, New York, Newark, or Dallas as a young man in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970s and after. The differences with Russia’s economic deficits are enormous. The growing poverty in America since the beginning of the 1970’s was as a deliberate economic policy consequence of Wall Street policies and notably so after the decision to abandon the Bretton Woods Gold Exchange Standard in 1971.

By contrast, the poverty in Russia today is a residue of the seventy years of Soviet conditions during the military necessities of the Cold War and the fatal flaws of its rigid central planning that suppressed individual initiative and creativity, or rather penalized it. That was aggravated in a devastating manner by the Gorbachev Perestroika monetary mistakes and the criminal CIA-backed looting of Russian state assets by the Yeltsin mafia in the decade of the 1990s.

In brief, the United States, when the falsified US Government economic data are stripped away, is falling deeper into debt and decay as money and Wall Street mega-banks reign supreme like Gods of Money. Russia in contrast is growing slowly but definitely out of its economic and infrastructure deficit of the past decades, in fact of the past century since the Western-backed Lenin coup d’etat of 1917While the United States over the past five decades has been tearing down its once prospering cities, infrastructure and industry, Russia is building up its national economy on an advanced technological basis with some of the most creative scientific and engineering minds on Earth. As Moody’s or S&P language might put it,

“USA economy: Outlook Negative going forward; Russia economy: Outlook Positive going forward.”

A Debtors’ Prison

The difference between the present economic prospects of the United States and that of the Russian Federation is fundamental. To begin with we need to examine the relative debt structures of the West versus the East. In the United States debts are soaring and the slums and homelessness are spreading, hidden behind United States’ Potemkin Village ultra-wealthy gentrified urban areas like Manhattan in New York City or Washington D C and its wealthy suburbs.

View from Midtown Manhattan, facing south toward Lower Manhattan

View from Midtown Manhattan, facing south toward Lower Manhattan (Source: Anthony Quintano / Wikimedia Commons)

Household debt in the USA, almost nine years after the financial collapse of September 2008, and after more than 8 years of near-zero Federal Reserve interest rates, is alarmingly high, higher than almost any time in the postwar period at almost 80% of GDP.

Of that household private debt, student loan debt for college education is more than $1.3 trillion, or an average debt of $48,000 a student. Astonishingly, students’ indebtedness for higher education has passed Americans’ legendary credit card debt in dollar terms. In early 2017 according to Federal Reserve and other data more than 44 million Americans held a total of some $1.3 trillion in debts for higher education. In 1997, only 20 years ago, total student debt was less than $30 billion, hardly a drain.

One reason for the explosion of debt is that total costs of a higher education in America today are soaring, notably at state-supported colleges. Costs rose 41% from 2002 to 2012. At the same time the incomes of the families of the households sending their children to college has stagnated and after 2008 declined in real terms.

For most of the immediate postwar period until the great economic crises of the 1970’s, higher education in the United States had a tradition–most especially at state universities– that tuition costs were minimal or state subsidized so that higher education could be open to anyone “with brains” as Harvard President Charles W. Eliot once charmingly put it. Higher education was seen by states and communities as an investment in the nation’s future. Those were the days before globalization and the great labor outsourcing. Now Federal government monies to support low-cost state college tuition have been severely cut, and state budgets across the country are still bleeding from the 2007-8 financial crisis.

Total private household debt in the United States today is over $12 trillion for combined home mortgage debt, college loans, car debt, credit card debt. That’s a huge burden weighing on the growth potential of the US economy.

Add to this the exponential growth of the US national debt, now just under $20 trillion, and it becomes clear that the campaign rhetoric of the Trump Presidency to “make America Great Again” requires emergency economic measures and effective and well-thought-through Chapter 9 type bankruptcy-reorganization of the nation’s debt in order to allow the United States to again become a real manufacturing economy not merely a financial speculator in debt.

In 1980 at the start of the “debts don’t matter” irresponsibility of the Reagan-Bush era, the level of Federal debt was a very manageable 30% of GDP. By the end of Bush Senior’s term in January 1993, it stood at more than double or 63% of GDP. It was beginning to “matter,” but Wall Street and bond traders loved it. When George W. Bush, took office in 2001 it had fallen back to 54% through no fault of Bush but rather to Baby-boomer demographics. From there US national debt took off like a ballistic missile, doubling by March 2017 to more than 104% of GDP today, just a whisker below a staggering $20 trillion.

This debt in the USA, private and public, is the true reason the Fed, more than eight years after the worst financial crisis in world history, still fears to bring interest rates much beyond the historically low 1.25% at present for fear of triggering a domino debt default collapse of the entire economy. Russia faces nothing remotely comparable in terms of such a debt prison.

The situation for the EU countries is only slightly better. The Eurozone countries have an average of 90% debt to GDP, far beyond the 60% ceiling of the Maastricht Treaty. In Greece it stands at 179 % , followed by Italy at 133 %, Portugal at 130 %, Cyprus at 107 % and Belgium at 106 %.

Russia looks quite healthy

By contrast Russia’s state debt is almost miniscule at 13% of GDP in 2016, the US dollar equivalent at present exchange rates of $190 billion. Inflation is currently measured between 4-5%. The Ruble is stable since the sanctions crisis and oil shock of 2014. And foreign investment is coming back into Russia’s economyMoreover, despite the collapse of world oil prices after September 2014, Russian oil exports have held firm or grown and gas exports via new pipelines to China and elsewhere in east Eurasia are about to give added revenue to state-owned Gazprom and other Russian oil companies. Russian domestic production costs for oil and gas are priced in Rubles and sold for dollars so the impact of a significant Ruble fall versus the dollar after 2014 was hardly severe as US Treasury financial warfare jockeys might have hoped.

Bank of Russia headquarters in Moscow (Source: NVO / Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s Central bank reserves today are more than healthy. In addition to a major restocking of its gold reserves the total reserves today stand at $406 billion, higher than in 2014 when it stood at $385 billion. In addition the Finance Ministry’s Sovereign Wealth Funds total another $90 billion at current exchange ratesMoody’s and S&P, tell me where is the ”risk“ of sovereign debt default that you still insist rating Russian state bonds as “junk”?

Political Bias Against Russia?

A note here is in order about the political nature of select sovereign credit risk ratings by the dominant US credit rating agencies Moody’s and S&P. During the depth of the ruble crisis in 2014 when plunging oil prices and US and EU sanctions forced Russian companies to repay foreign dollar or euro loans, as the West was threatening cutoff of SWIFT interbank lines to Russia, capital outflow reached $151 billion for the crisis year 2014, most in the last quarter.

In 2016 capital outflows out of Russia totaled a mere $15 billion, most to Russian companies overseas and the ruble remained stable. Despite the absence of any hint of a possible Russian sovereign debt default as in the Soros-linked ruble default crisis of August 1998 under the chaotic Yeltsin era, both Moody’s and S&P still keep Russian government debt rated at “below investment grade,” or “junk” grade, meaning that international pension funds and other major investors are prohibited by their own regulators from holding Russian state debt despite very attractive interest rates compared with the EU or USA or Japan.

Critics of the political bias of certain Moody’s and S&P sovereign debt ratings see the giant Wall Street rating companies who hold a de facto monopoly on world credit ratings, as too often operating with political bias. They cite the example of the spectacular bankruptcy of Enron in 2001 and the fact the two US rating companies continued to give Enron top ratings until the eve of bankruptcy. Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay happened to be a close friend of the Bush family which some believe played a role in the ratings blindness. Similarly, Moody’s and S&P did not warn of the largest financial collapse, that triggered by the meltdown in the bond-rated Mortgage Backed Securities market in so-called sub-prime real estate loans in the USA beginning in March 2007. They should have. They rated the Mortgage Backed bonds behind the crisis.

In effect it would appear that Moody’s and S&P (less so Fitch the smallest US rater of the three) act as an integrated adjuvant of the US Treasury economic warfare sanctions unit, using a blackmail of lowered credit rating to pressure Russia into destructive liberal economic reforms it does not at all need.

Let’s look briefly at some positive industrial areas of the Russian real economy instead of the virtual reality of Western ratings games. Here it looks anything but bankrupt or junk.

Civilian Sector to Gain from Military

The very advanced military technology that Russia’s intervention into the Syria war has demonstrated to the world confirms that Russian science and technology are world-class, and often far more.

In a speech July 9 at the opening ceremony in Yekaterinburg in central Russia of the International Industrial Trade Fair INNOPROM-2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin stated,

“Another key issue is to boost volumes of hi-tech production for the civil purposes by the defense industry complex. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is actively engaged in this issue now.”

This represents a sea change in Russian attitude towards its military technology sector. During the Cold War, a heritage of Stalin-era obsession with security, the military industry was completely sealed from any possible interaction with the civilian economy, resulting in huge imbalances in technology spread into the domestic economy to the present.

Civilian Advanced Aircraft

An instance of the kind of innovation and technology potential of this policy of supporting high-tech manufacture drawing on Russia’s extraordinary military aircraft experience is the rollout this May of the first test flight of Russia’s Irkut MC-21 narrow-body commercial jet. The development reportedly sent shock waves through the boardrooms of Boeing and Airbus.

The Irkut MC-21 has the widest fuselage of any narrow-body jet in the market giving more passenger comfort compared with the “sardines-in-a-can” passenger space on comparable Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 models. More attractive, especially for many developing markets in the Middle East and Asia, is the fact its price is some 15% below the A320. More interesting is the technology in the construction. The MC-21 has Russian-developed unique carbon fiber wings, giving the plane a 30% composite content. The wings were developed using a revolutionary new resin transfer infusion process created by AeroComposit in Ulyanovsk, Russia. Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A320 use metal wings.

Maiden flight of MC-21.jpg

Maiden flight of MC-21 (Source: Denis Fedorko / Wikimedia Commons)

Notably, the Irkut manufacturer is part of a new state aircraft group United Aircraft Corporation or UAC. It was during his first Presidency that Vladimir Putin merged the former military aircraft makers from Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev to form a single aircraft group, UAC, which is 80% state-owned.

In addition to the MC-21 narrow-body passenger medium-range jet, UAC has developed the regional Superjet-100 aircraft, certified for international routes in 2012. UAC subsidiary company, Sukhoi, claims direct operating costs to be 6–8% lower than its key competitor, the Brazilian Embraer 190/195 and can accommodate 22 more passengers. I can personally attest the aircraft is very comfortable.

Russia’s entry into the strategic civilian passenger jet market has recently taken on another new dimension in terms of creation of a Russian-Chinese joint venture. In June, 2016, the UAC and the China state aircraft corporation Comac created China-Russia Aircraft International Co, Ltd. (CRAIC), based in Shanghai. CRAIC is responsible for product and technology development, manufacturing, marketing, sales and customer service, consulting, program management. The two companies are creating a new generation of long-range wide-body commercial aircraft to compete with Airbus A380 and Boeing 787. The Sino-Russian jet will have a range of up to 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) and seat 280 passengers with operating costs 10-15% less than its rivals. UAC expects the new joint jet will take 10 percent of a market dominated by the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350.

Advanced Railway Equipment

Another sector of infrastructure manufacturing excellence from Russia is the extraordinary development of Russia’s United Wagon Company. Russia’s Putin, then-Prime Minister, attended the opening of the highly sophisticated new cutting-edge rail car factory of United Wagon’s Tikhvin Railway Car Building Plant in 2012 at a cost of almost $1 billion. Since then United Wagon has grown to be a major world-class builder of advanced specialized rail wagons, and is larger than any European freight wagon producer with 22,000 wagons a year.

The company took best practice experiences from the automotive, aerospace and rail industry around the world in the design of the factory. It combines foundry production and vehicle assembly on a single site giving it flexibility and productivity rates “several times” in excess of established Russian wagon plants. TVSZ can produce a wheelset every 4½ minutes and complete a wagon every 24 minutes. The factory outside St. Petersburg features the most advanced automated equipment and robots similar to equipment used by BMW and Airbus. The only comparable casting machinery is used by Daimler in Germany. TVSZ rail wagons are 50% cheaper to maintain than established Russian designs, and more track friendly.

During their recent talks before the Hamburg G20 meeting, Russian President Putin and ChinaPresident Xi Jinping discussed incorporating Russian rail car manufacturing capacities in the development of the vast high-speed rail infrastructure that is being built across Eurasia today including Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Clearly United Wagon was uppermost in Putin’s mind.

Unlike the United States which to the present day has managed to not build one single mile or kilometer of high-speed rail track capable of speeds above 140 mph, Russia is expanding its high speed rail, now officially in coordination with China’s vast One Belt, One Road Eurasian infrastructure project. Russia and China are jointly developing the priority project of a new high-speed rail link from Russia’s Kazan to Moscow, ultimately to be a key link in the OBOR Beijing to Moscow line. The Moscow-Kazan high-speed rail link will be 770 km long, with trains moving up to 400 km/hr and stops every 50-70 km. The high-speed journey from Moscow to Kazan will take 3.5 hours compared to the current 14 hours, revolutionizing economic relations all along the line.

With an eye to its growing trade relations to her East, Russia announced last year that it will build a new railway corridor in the Russian Far East for a faster connection between the Trans-Siberian railway and the Pacific Ocean via a new port on the Sea of Japan to be completed by 2025. The new transport corridor will be able to serve most of the ports of the Russian Far East, as well as Japan, China and Korea, and cuts the distance to the Trans-Siberian railway by 550 km, allowing much faster transportation of cargo to the European part of Russia.

Truly prospects for a dynamic, economically growing Russian real economy today is more positive than at any time in the past two centuries or more. I can’t help but feel it would do our world far more in terms of the good to end with the silly losing wars everywhere and return to building up our nations and civilization. The energy of war is a no-brainer. Building up is exciting as China and increasingly Russia realize.

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The Crossed Wires of the “Syrian Revolution”

Given impetus after the September 11th attacks in New York in 2001, the technology of “colour revolutions” as an element of fourth generation warfare has become the primary method of hijacking the functions of a foreign sovereign State. This is partially due it being both economically cheaper and less risky than a military incursion, but also due to the truncated way in which people now communicate. In general, the interactions between people in cyberspace can be measured in the microseconds category, thus it is much more difficult for any event to escape a camera lens. The perfect example of this is the way in which footage of bombings in Syria, Iraq, Yemen etc is uploaded to video hosting websites such as YouTube literally within the same hour that they happened.

This is in fact why the British businessman James Le Mesurier, the director of Mayday Rescue, was tasked by the architects of the Syrian war to create the White Helmets – a NGO that would serve as a way to control the narrative being broadcasted from the scene of the latest airstrike either by the Syrian or Russian airforce.

For Washington and allies it was absolutely imperative that during urban combat in cities like Aleppo, where civilians were being used as human shields by “moderate rebels” and Al-Qaeda in Syria, the Pentagon’s proxies were never shown in a bad light. Of course, in areas under the control of terrorists it was not possible for Damascus to send in ambulances and medical workers to help potential victims of bombings or shelling, and visa-versa – it wasn’t possible for medical workers terrorists to attend the scene of what was usually VBIED attacks in Assad-held areas. Thus, the status quo was the Syrian State media did its work in the government-controlled areas, and the West’s NGO network did its work in the jihadist-controlled areas.

Of course, the work that reached the eyes and ears of European and American corporate news viewers wasn’t that of the former, for obvious reasons. This is perhaps why the “White Helmets” received an Oscar – as a “thank you” for their “wonderful” work in ensuring the scent doesn’t follow Uncle Sam back across the Atlantic.

Whilst this mechanism worked efficiently for Washington et al during the most critical moments in the Syrian war, which, incidentally, cannot at all be described as “civil”, since the terrorists with weapons in their hands are 100% funded and armed by foreign States, the fact that it is unable to control every informational element of the conflict in the Levant highlights a key flaw in the “colour revolution”blueprint stored away on Capitol Hill.

To illustrate this point, the reader should now watch the video from July 18th, 2017, below, in which the notorious Al-Qaeda Saudi-born cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini – a key person in today’s jihadist movement in Bilad al-Sham, responsible for both recruitment and washing brains – is being interviewed by one of the key people in the West’s NGO circle Bilal Abdul Kareem.

Before talking about the content of the video above, it is very important to immediately recall that Muhaysini – the main ideological component of Al-Qaeda in Syria – has his own YouTube channel (Google permits this) as well as social media pages (his Twitter account was eventually deleted, but not before acquiring over 50k followers; he subsequently created multiple other accounts). Throughout the entire Syrian war he has been regularly interviewed by “journalists”, and usually the information that comes from his mouth is very damaging to the narrative of the war broadcasted by the media of Western States.

So, in the July 18th interview with Bilal Abdul Kareem he once again stated information that is contrary to what the US State Department expects observers to believe. To paraphrase, Muhaysini insists that not only is the so-called “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) not an organisation itself, but the name of an umbrella” that covers many local formations, but also that the “FSA” sees eye-to-eye with the Mujahideen on core issues, primarily the extermination of the Shia.

However, Western officials and media always insisted that the “FSA” is an organic “Army” consisting of “moderate rebel Syrian defectors” that represent the Syrian people (which are mostly Sunni)and was vetted by the US in the fight against the “non-democratic dictator” Assad, who “gasses his own people”. This difference in narrative regarding the “FSA” creates a very large void in the information sphere, and ultimately Washington et al is not able to deter people from approaching it, because to do so would lead a curious mind to the fact that Muhaysini in this instance is actually telling the truth. In fact, the Saudi cleric is only echoing what the leader of al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) Abu Mohammad al-Julani previously said –

“there is no such thing as the FSA, only slogans”.

Muhaysini’s statement explains what journalists (none from the West, by the way) who entered East Aleppo post-liberation saw first hand:

Stockpiles of western-made weapons that were being stored in schools, libraries, medical facilities – anywhere with four walls, were being used by various al-Qaeda affiliated groups to attack the Western side of the city. One such discovered weapon – $50,000 per unit TOW missiles – could only have come from a US-“vetted” group like Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which is known for beheading a child and filming it in Aleppo, and which fought side-by-side with al-Nusra in the same city. Now factor in Syrian “rebel” commanders revealing probably too much when giving interviews to the press, and it really becomes difficult to prove that there is a single non-terrorist entity called the “FSA”.

“FSA” groups that fought alongside al-Nusra in Aleppo…

By using what Muhaysini said in this video in conjunction with things he said in other videos (for example), the entire NGO network created by the “civilised” western world starts to get its wires crossed, leading to self-strangulation. This is in fact what happened with the fraudulent “Bana” personage. She has now been completely exposed, but she already served her purpose (to hide the West’s footprints in East Aleppo) and became null and void the moment Aleppo was liberated and the West’s attempts to declare a no-fly zone failed.

The crux of the matter is that the West knows from experience that propaganda and falsehoods have an expiration date, and thus there is a need for a reverse narrative, akin to following the same trail of footprints created when entering a forest in order to exit from it. However, as a result of what can only be described as sloppiness when implementing the “colour revolution” scenario in Syria, the green-white french-mandate flag used by the West to depict the imaginary “Syrian revolution” can today be seen flying over the heads of terrorist groups in Idlib – a city proven to be exclusively under al-Nusra control, and where the remnants of the “moderate rebels” that don’t opt to join Ahrar al-Sham (pro-Qatar and pro-Turkey) are being massacred by al-Nusra, above the heads of Turkish proxies in Northern Syria, which is precisely where they originate from, or above the heads of militants of the YPG/SDF, which now echo the Saudi wahhabist anti-Iran mantra whilst being used by the US as human shields to partition the country.

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Democracy is looking sickly across southern Africa

Henning Melber

The political climate remains fragile and the mentality of most opposition politicians hardly offers meaningful alternatives. This is possibly an explanation – but no excuse – for the undemocratic practices permeating almost every one of the region’s nations. Beyond multi-party systems with regular elections, they resemble very little of true democracies.

Politics are in shambles across the world. Populism and political gambles are making headlines from London to Washington. Southern Africa is no exception. If it’s any comfort, this suggests that there’s nothing genuinely typical about African versions of political populism. Nor are the flaws in democracy typically African.

This might put some events into wider perspective. But it’s nonetheless worrying to follow the current political turmoil in some southern Africa countries.

The regional hegemon, South Africa, is embroiled in domestic policy tensions of unprecedented proportions since it became a democracy. And the situation in the sub-region is not much better.

The state of opposition politics and democracy is in a shambles too. The fragile political climate and the mentality of most opposition politicians hardly offer meaningful alternatives. This is possibly an explanation – but no excuse – for the undemocratic practices permeating almost every one of the region’s democracies.

Beyond multi-party systems with regular elections, they resemble very little of true democracies.

South African hiccups

At the end of May the dimensions of “state capture” in South Africa were set out in a report published by an academic team.

It shows how deeply the personalised systematic plundering of state assets is entrenched. Additional explosive evidence was presented only days later through thousands of leaked e-mails. Dubbed the “Gupta Leaks”, they document a mafia-like network among Zuma-loyalists and the Indian Gupta family.

The evidence points to massive influence, if not control, over political appointments, the hijacking of higher public administration and embezzlement of enormous proportions.

Some 65% of South Africans want Zuma to resign. An all-time low approval rating of 20% makes him less popular among the electorate than even US President Donald Trump. Despite this – combined with growing demands from within the party that he steps down – the ANC still backs its president.

But divisions within the party are deepening, with some in its leadership demanding an investigation into the Gupta patronage network.

For his part, Zuma is focused on pulling strings to secure Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor as president of the party. The other front-runner candidate is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma’s assumption appears to be that, once in office, his former wife would not endorse any legal prosecution of the father of her children.

But the country’s official opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), isn’t reaping the benefits of the ANC’s blunders. It has its own problems, which are constraining the gains it might otherwise be making from the ANC’s mess.

The party is divided over what to do about its former leader and Premier of the Western Cape province, Helen Zille following a tweet in which she defended the legacy of colonialism. The comment whipped up a storm of protest and for weeks the party had been at pains on how to deal with the scandal.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane finally announced that Zille had been suspended from the party and that a disciplinary hearing would decide what further political consequences she might face. But a resilient Zille immediately challenged the decision.

Whatever the outcome, the DA’s image is damaged. Its aspirations to be the country’s new majority party has been dealt a major blow.

Regional woes

In Angola, 74-year-old Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in office since 1979, has decided to select a successor. The scenario will secure that the family “oiligarchy” will remain in control of politics and the country’s economy, while the governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) uses the state apparatus to ruthlessly suppress any meaningful social protests.

In contrast Robert Mugabe – reigning in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 – shows no intention of retiring. He was nominated again as the Zimbabwe African Nation Union/Patriotic Front’s (ZANU/PF) candidate for the 2018 presidential elections. But everyone is anxiously following the party’s internal power struggles over the ailing autocrat’s replacement. Fears are that the vacuum created by his departure might create a worse situation.

While the regime’s constant violation of human rights is – as in Angola – geared towards preventing any form of meaningful opposition, there are concerns that the unresolved succession might add another violent dimension to local politics.

Zambia’s democracy also looks sad. The country’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) is on trial for high treason. Hichilema has been embroiled in a personal feud with President Edgar Lungu of the governing Patriotic Front (PF) for years. He was arrested in early April after obstructing the president’s motor cavalcade. The charge of high treason is based on the accusation that he wilfully put President Lungu’s life in danger.

The trial is feeding growing concerns over an increasingly autocratic regime. The once praised democracy, which allowed for several relatively peaceful transfers of political power since the turn of the century, is now in decline.

Lesotho is also in a mess. It provides a timely reminder that competing parties seeking to obtain political control over governments are by no means a guarantee for better governance. Aptly described as a “Groundhog Day election”, citizens in the crisis-ridden country went to the polls for the third time since 2012 with no new alternatives or options.

Their limited choice is between two former prime ministers aged 77 (Tom Thabane) and 72 (Pakalitha Mosisili). The likely election result is another fragile coalition government – provided the military accepts the result.

Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for relative political stability in the region might still be in the making: President Joseph Kabila, whose second term in office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ended in December 2016, is still hanging on with the promise that he’ll vacate the post by end of this year.

Despite a constitutional two-term limit, his plans remain a matter of speculation. In a recent interview, he was characteristically evasive. He refused to give a straight answer on whether he’s still considering another term and flatly denied that he had promised anything, including elections.

Kabila’s extended stay in office threatens to exacerbate an already explosive and violent situation, with potentially devastating consequences.

His continued reign would not only provoke further bloodshed at home. Any spill-over will challenge the Southern African Development Community’s willingness and ability to find solutions to regional conflicts in the interests of relative stability. A stability which is at best fragile and indicative of the crisis of policy in most of the regional body’s member states.

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SAFTU: The tragedy and (hopefully not) the farce

eNCA / Xoli Mngambi

The labour movement has been unable to de-link itself from its archenemy: capital. As its structures bureaucratise, as its leaders become career unionists, as it opens investment companies and pays staff increasingly inequitable salaries, it increasingly mirrors the very thing it is fighting. If the South African Federation of Trade Unions is to meet its promise, it must be fundamentally different from the organisation it was born out of.

 “History repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce” – Karl Marx

The tragedy of the disintegration of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) happened slowly. As tragedies go, COSATU’s has been far less dramatic than most; it has rather been a sad slow and painful unravelling of a once vibrant and powerful organisation over 20 odd years. The unravelling of an organisation that forgot that the whole is made up of the sum of its parts; that continuously made the mistake of allowing personalities to undermine democracy, ambition to undermine equity and bureaucracy to undermine equality and democratic participation.

COSATU’s decay has had a significant impact on the South African working class. The impact has reverberated across the country in a myriad of ways and has been the result, both directly and indirectly, of COSATU’s failure to effectively and democratically represent the working class. This has been the case partly because of its alliance with the ANC and partly because of its (and the trade union movement in general’s) inherently defective organisational structure and patriarchal culture.

From the same ashes comes the rising of a new phoenix – a new hope for the South African working class – the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU). But the labour movement, broadly, has never been good at learning from its mistakes and this time around appears to be no exception. We can no longer make the mistake of thinking that changing the world is as simple as changing the colours of a flag. If we are to learn anything from history, it’s that the flag IS the problem. If we truly want to change our society we have to change everything about it right down to the very structure upon which it is based. Flag poles need to be pulled down. Globally, the labour movement has not been able to de-link its organisational structure from that of its arch-enemy – capital. As a result, after time, as its structures bureaucratise, as its leaders become career unionists/stewards, as it opens investment companies and pays staff increasingly inequitable salaries, it increasingly mirrors the very thing it is fighting.

SAFTU is claiming to be different. It has picked up the banner of socialism and is asking us to follow it into a different, better, more equitable and just future. If we need anything right now, we need it is a new hope. But if SAFTU is to meet its promise it has to be fundamentally different to the organisation it was born out of. Is it our new hope or is it the inevitable farce that follows tragedy? In looking at the founding principles SAFTU has put forward, there are a number of indicators that suggest it is going to repeat the mistakes of the old federation. Whilst the rhetoric harkens back to the great days of the Trade Union Movement the flagpole remains pretty much the same.

“We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’organization – independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical – democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orientated, internationalist, pan-Africanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” SAFTU

All genuine workers organisations started off independent of political parties but not apolitical. Any union worth their salt has started out being democratic and worker controlled. None of this is new, not in South Africa and not in the rest of the world. More importantly, no such union has managed to effectively challenge, let alone change capitalist society since the early part of the 20th Century and as we sit in the second decade of the 21st Century we find that most gains made by such unions have been successfully pushed back if not lost completely. Whilst SAFTU acknowledges a number of very important reasons why unions have failed, they have not asked the hardest question. Instead of asking what should a union do, the question SAFTU should be asking is: what have we been doing wrong? What is wrong with the nature of unions themselves?

“The new federation can show how different it is from other formations by showing that its principles are not just slogans, but guide our programmes in all that we do.” – SAFTU

Absolutely! This statement in particular sums up a great deal of what has been wrong with unions in the past and lies at the core of the argument this article is making. COSATU and many other unions globally have failed dismally at implementing working class principles, on many levels, in many ways. Let’s start with gender equity, shall we? In an important piece on the emergence of the new federation, Dr Asanda Benya asks: “How different will its gender politics be from Cosatu’s? Will it resemble and reproduce Cosatu’s gender stance, or reject it and take female workers seriously and appreciate the ways in which workplace struggles are gendered? After all, many of the same people who once led the unapologetically macho COSATU are now leading SAFTU.”

This question lies at the very heart of the sentiment of practising what you preach. However, from representation at the launching congress to the same limited rhetoric and even less imaginative policy approach to the inclusion of women in the new federation, there is no indication that the new federation will prioritise women’s issues or their rights. As things stand at present there is no reason at all to believe that the federation is any less “macho” than its predecessor. Rather, there is every reason to believe that the tradition of crying foul and claiming that you have been set up by an enemy cabal when either the president of the country or general secretary is accused of rape and sexual harassment will continue.

What exactly is the new federation going to do to ensure that women do not continue to be used as political tools in a battle of men over power? Will this be yet another federation controlled by working men that blames the victim in order to maintain control of its patriarchal power? If SAFTU is going to truly represent the working class, it has to recognise that work is gendered, that old style unionism is not; that if the union is going to ensure women and their issues are taken seriously this must be a primary focus of all policy. So far there is little evidence of this.

“Financial self-sufficiency and accountability and opposition, in word and deed, to business unionism, corruption, fraud and maladministration within its own ranks and in a capitalist society which is inherently corrupt” – SAFTU

During the 1990s there were huge debates in COSATU and its affiliates around the appropriateness of union investment companies. To the right there were strong arguments for using workers money to support unions and union principles. From the left there was strong resistance to what was seen as endorsing, if not becoming part of, the capitalist system.

Very few unions have effectively used money from these ‘investments’ to the benefit of the working class. SAFTU’s statement regarding the inherent corruption of capitalism sounds great but it is important to note that the call for channeling retirement funds into productive investment is not the same as the new federation using its own or its affiliate’s investment funds to lead productive investment. It is a demand for capital to do so.

What is unclear is what SAFTU’s position on union investment companies is. Is the federation and its affiliates planning on actually taking the money from its investment companies and using it to set up a housing cooperative or building societies like the unions of old? Or will these investment companies’ money continue to be used to buy more and bigger buildings and offices for the unions themselves?

In the launching congress a clause on union official’s salaries was included in SAFTU’s constitution saying that the leadership will not earn more than the average skilled worker. There has already been internal debate about what exactly the wage for an average skilled worker is. This lack of clarity is being used to argue that official salaries should not be set by the constitution and the broader congress, rather it should be an internal policy issue to be decided on by the leadership, including the very leadership that will earn these salaries.

Putting the argument against paying officials at all aside for a moment, the warning signs of impending bureaucratisation and elitism are already going off. Not only within SAFTU but within its affiliates, this question must be asked and must be addressed – if your principles are anti-capitalist and socialist, surely your structures should reflect these principles. All union workers should be paid the same.

By the same token, there is already a call to work towards negotiating for paid shop stewards. This development within the trade union movement has had one of the biggest negative impacts on the unity and solidarity of workers. It has been used by management as a highly effective tool to co-opt union shop stewards and to divide the shop floor. It has played a significant role in one of the main problems SAFTU has identified as one that needs to be corrected: the distance created between the union/officials and workers. A union is not a business and can never be driven by motives of personal or organisational gain; gain must always be for the union members and not an elite few. Unions of the past, unions that have been of and for its members, have done so due to the principled dedication of their ordinary membership and elected representatives without pay.

Overall, in relation to the issues of union finances and financial policies, despite all the noise to the contrary, for SAFTU it’s business as usual.

“We shall convene a bargaining conference to fight the attempts by the Free Market Foundation and employers to liquidate collective and centralized bargaining, and shall mobilize mass action to stop this attempt.”

A key function/business of unions is bargaining better wages and working conditions for its members. The greatest unions have been the ones where mass mobilisation of members around bread and butter issues have succeeded in making significant shifts in this regard. The real shifts, however, tend to be made when the general membership is actively involved through mobilisation, protest and strike.

Whilst centralised collective bargaining makes the bargaining process easier for unions and sets industry minimums, the notion of centralisation is ultimately counter-intuitive to a participatory, worker-led organisation. It is my contention that centralised collective bargaining centralises not only the negotiation process but the participatory, learning process of bargaining and workplace organisation; it also removes the power of workers to raise their voices collectively within a physically defined workplace, build workplace solidarity and share learnings from the process. Many union organisers and shop stewards of the past cut their teeth in shop floor bargaining processes. Centralisation of bargaining centralises power and decision-making and, whilst unintentional, it removes agency from workers on the shop floor.

The new federation needs to re-look its overall strategy in terms of how it takes capital on. It needs to assess where and when the greatest gains are made for the working class. From experience over the last 20 years, this is not at the negotiating table, not in the bargaining councils and not in NEDLAC. Workers and the working class have had to re-learn the lesson apartheid taught us: that real gains are made in the streets, in collective action not compromised negotiation.

“We shall discuss with all unions about how best to deliver quality service – working toward the development of a service charter.”

As with the practice of working within the financial systems of the capitalist class, the appropriation of business terms and capitalist language needs to be strongly guarded against. Language and words play a significant role in the culture of societies and organisations. Using words that reinforce a system and culture that you are fighting, that reinforce an unequal society with unequal roles, reinforce the current system and do not lay a solid foundation for a new society.

Yes “service” in COSATU unions over the past two decades has gone from bad to worse, but it could be argued that unions are not meant to service members. The idea of “service delivery” is in its very nature a neo-liberal word and attempting to fix what cannot be a capitalist endeavour by viewing a workers movement as an exchange of money for service is counter-intuitive. A real democratic worker controlled union is the WORKERS, nothing more nothing less.

Ideologically unions cannot be a business providing a service; they must be an organisation or movement of people that builds and develops a counter-power, counter-culture and a membership or cadre that struggle against the system by collectively negotiating better wages, by enabling and giving agency to its members to challenge and change their own realities. It must be about meeting members’ needs through organisation, education and learning, from participation, practice and direct democracy.

“Within the federation affiliates must have autonomy but not independence, but differences of opinion must be tolerated”.

Rightly, SAFTU identifies democracy as a key problem that needs to be addressed but it does so within the same hierarchical structure as the system it is fighting and the federation it left. Once again doing things differently and implementing the principles it espouses throw up a number of contradictions that SAFTU has not addressed. SAFTU has not identified how the power relations in a neo-colonial, patriarchal, capitalist system are replicated by their own structures. There have been way too many union congresses where “representatives” have dropped their mandates after conversation with “leadership” and voted against democratic decisions taken at the base.

A federation will not liberate the class, nor will its affiliates; only the working class can liberate itself and it will never be able to do that as long as there is an implicit belief in a Great Leader/s; as long as the union is seen as a legal service and as long as power and money are centralised. A truly participatory, democratic trade union would be one where the locals/branches of each affiliate control the membership dues collected, where they would use their dues to do work on the ground and put some aside for provincial and national work; where the workers have direct ownership of the means of trade union production (negotiation, representation, mobilisation) and where the extremely loosely used term, democracy, translates into individual worker agency and empowerment to ensure that the base, the majority, the working class, is where true power lies, and that it uses its power to change the world for the benefit of the many.

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Venezuela’s Rightwingers Are No ‘Beleaguered Democrats’

A study of five instances the right-wing opposition have been anti-democratic in Venezuela shows their real nature, writes Susan Grey

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition groups are often portrayed in parts of the international media as defenders of democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Since Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998, right-wing groups have used every method imaginable to undermine and destabilise the country’s elected presidents, first Chavez and then Nicolas Maduro.

Chavez’s first few years of office saw the introduction of wide-ranging reforms designed to tackle poverty and inequality, meaning Venezuela’s resources were used to benefit the majority instead of the wealthy elite.

However, Chavez’s reforms made enemies among the old elite. They disliked his land reforms and his plans to halt the privatisation of the oil industry and they feared his mobilisation of the poor.

Almost immediately the right-wing opposition began their relentless, undemocratic and often violent attacks on the government and its allies, which continue until this day.

Perhaps the most well-known example of their anti-democratic actions was the April 2002 coup d’etat which temporarily removed Chavez, when an alliance of sections of Venezuela’s corrupt old ruling elite — including industrialists and businessmen, media owners and conservative military officers, with the support of the US government — conspired to overthrow Venezuela’s elected government.

The leaders of the coup refused Chavez’s offer to negotiate and engineered his arrest, falsely claiming that he had resigned the presidency.

Related image

Pedro Carmona (Source:

They installed a new president — Pedro Carmona — who immediately decreed the abolition of democratic institutions such as the National Assembly and granted himself the right to select and remove governors and mayors.

Another decree suspended a series of popular laws passed by Chavez.

But, as crowds demonstrated in support of Chavez, word reached the generals in the President’s Guard that no resignation had taken place and that the attempted change of government was unconstitutional.

Chavez was then released and democracy restored.

During the two-day coup over 60 “Chavistas” were killed in Venezuela, but the coup’s defeat didn’t deter Venezuela’s right-wing opposition from carrying on with their unconstitutional attempts to oust Chavez.

Later in 2002 and into 2003, Venezuela’s oil industry was paralysed by management lockouts, resulting in billions of dollars of lost revenue, with catastrophic effects on the government’s social investment programmes.

Shortages of petrol for transport led to a wave of shortages of essential goods.

The lockout was initiated by various right-wing groups calling for a “national strike,” including managers within the oil industry and the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce.

Once again the aim of the lockout was to create enough chaos and hardship to force Chavez to resign. But again the right wing was defeated.

The lockout ended after 63 days, with workers loyal to the government managing to restart production.

While the right wing continued their anti-democratic antics — and to receive large amounts of funding from the US — throughout the rest of Chavez’s presidency, it was with his tragic death in 2013 that they again a saw chance to overturn social progress, and have stepped up their efforts to this end since.

After Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro’s victory in the 2013 presidential elections, losing candidate Henrique Capriles refused to accept the results and called his supporters onto the streets to “vent their anger.”

Thousands of right-wing protesters took to the streets and attacked the homes of prominent politicians and the head of the electoral council.

Health clinics and other social services built by the government also came under attack.

Capriles’s supporters set fires in the streets and marched through Caracas demanding a recount.

Eleven government supporters died in the violence. Opposition leaders insisted on a full recount, as well as the usual 46 per cent audit, despite the excellent reputation of the Venezuelan electronic voting system.

The Electoral Council agreed a full audit of the paper records and fingerprint registry, which confirmed Maduro’s victory.

Then in 2014, following an inflammatory speech by right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, anti-democratic sections of the opposition took to the street in violent protest, demanding La Salida (“the ousting”) of Maduro.

Barricades in the roads, known as “guarimbas,” were constructed with burning tyres, rubbish and barbed wire, whilst protesters attacked anyone who appeared to be a government supporter.

Motor cyclists were killed by barbed wire stretched across the roads. Universities were ransacked, health clinics were set on fire, bus stations wrecked and food delivery vehicles attacked.

The death toll, including members of the public from all sides as well as police and security forces, reached 43 before the violence subsided.

Now, again, this year, antidemocratic elements of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition have again sought to force the removal of Venezuela’s elected president, no doubt encouraged by increasingly hostile statements from the US Trump administration towards Maduro’s government, with leading right-wing opposition figures openly encouraging sections of the military to oust the government.

As part of this we have seen a new wave of right-wing opposition violence, as exemplified by a recent armed attack from a stolen helicopter on the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice.

Some of the worst (but by no means all) examples have seen protesters topple the main gate of a commune for low-income citizens, firing guns at residents, burning several homes and mortally wounding a child.

Other deaths have occurred in street violence, roadblocks, fire-setting and attacks on police officers trying to keep order.

Again this week, President Maduro has called for dialogue to find a peaceful way forward for the country to solve its difficulties but these calls have been rejected by much of the right-wing opposition, many of whom are hoping for a military coup or external intervention to remove Maduro before his term ends.

Progressives internationally shouldn’t be taken in by those seeking to portray Venezuela’s antidemocratic, right-wing opposition as beleaguered democrats, and should support dialogue and self-determination as the peaceful way forward for Venezuela to meet the challenges it currently faces.

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