Archive | August 30th, 2018

Ivory Coast Grants Amnesty to 800 People as Elections Approach

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Two main political parties and coalitions split suggesting a possible realignment of forces

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Former First Lady Simone Gbagbo was one of 800 political detainees granted amnesty by President Alassane Ouattara early in August.

Ouattara was installed in power during April 2011 by the previous colonial power of France with a mandate from the western imperialist governments and their allies in the West Africa region.

Reports indicate that some 3,000 people died as a direct result of internecine violence over a dispute surrounding the national elections held in 2010. The French, United States and others supported Ouattara leaving Ivorian Popular Front (PFI) leaders President Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone as targets of the paratroopers from Paris.

The couple along with other PFI leaders took refuge in an Abidjan hotel which was raided by French soldiers taking the leadership of the government into custody. Former President Gbagbo was put on an airplane and sent to the Netherlands under the jurisdiction of the controversial and dreaded International Criminal Court (ICC).

Simone Gbagbo (image on the right) was held under the custody of the neo-colonial Ouattara regime in Abidjan where she was put on trial by people who obviously had a vested interest in her long-term imprisonment. The prosecution of the former first lady in such a politically charged atmosphere where the Ouattara regime sought to punish those who took a stand against French imperialist intervention during 2010-2011, led to the conviction of Simone Gbagbo who was given a 20 year prison sentence. 

Despite these legal developments a ban of supporters of the PFI continued to demand the release of the former president and the first lady. Some seven years have passed where today there is only a tenuous façade of normalcy prevailing. Ouattara is prohibited from running for another term in office and the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) functionary is tasked with creating the conditions for the continuation of the status quo.

A key element of the broader society as exemplified within the Catholic Church took a position which advocated some form of national reconciliation. After the granting of amnesty, Father Donald Zagore, a priest of the Society of African Missions, issued a statement expressing satisfaction that Ouattara had moved in the direction releasing political prisoners.

Zagore said that:

“[A] great step has been taken towards a true and definitive reconciliation, even if the road still remains long. The truth is that all of us Ivorians are very thirsty for peace and reconciliation. In the process of reconciliation initiated by the current power, justice was the fundamental principle on which to build this national reconciliation. Unfortunately, the Ivorian judiciary has remained in a logic of blatant impartiality, practicing the justice of winners, making it no longer an instrument of peace and reconciliation, but an instrument of injustice and division.” (Fides News Agency, Aug. 27, 2018)

Further noting the sectarian policies of the Ouattara government in maintaining its hegemony on the administrative, security and economic direction of the state, Zagore continued emphasizing:

“Peace was no longer possible in such a context. The only way out was an amnesty policy with the release of all political prisoners who favored an open dialogue for true reconciliation. The appeal was unanimous, social, political and religious groups intervened in favor of the release of political prisoners.”

Political Realignment and the Role of the Military

The political parties and coalitions backing both the former President Gbagbo and incumbent Ouattara have fractured leaving wide open the trajectory of the country. 

Earlier in August, the leader of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), former President Henri Konan Bedie, announced that he would not remain in the alliance with Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) after the president proposed to constitute the governing coalition known as the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) into one party. The PDCI indicated that it would contest local and regional elections scheduled in October on its own or form alliances with other political forces in the country. 

The dispute appears to be over who will succeed Ouattara in 2020. Both parties within the RHDP want to select their own respective candidates to run for the presidency in two years.

Ivorian supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and the FPI

Meanwhile the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) founded by Gbagbo has split over the question of leadership in the party. Gbagbo was elected as head of one faction with overwhelming support. The other wing of the FPI whose leader is former Prime Minister Pascal Affi Guesson, is in conflict with Abdoudramane Sangare, a staunch ally of Gbagbo. If these internal divisions are not resolved there is the possibility of two different candidates running for the presidency on behalf of the FPI in 2020.

Another aspect of the Ivorian political crisis is the role of the security forces particularly within the military. There have been several mutinies by army personnel over the last three years which threatened the overall stability of the country. Soldiers rebelled demanding that promised bonuses from the Ouattara regime be paid in full. The military consists of professionally trained soldiers and former rebels which sided with the French-backed RDR during the conflict over the outcome of the 2010 elections. 

There have been interventions by the military in Ivorian politics in the past most notably in 1999 when the soldiers took power opening the way for Ouattara to re-enter the country. A civil war erupted in 2002 where the country was divided between the North and the South. Questions of nationality and political rights led to sharp divisions within the political landscape and the military. The North of Ivory Coast is predominately Muslim where politicians disagreed over whether certain ethnic groups have full voting and participatory guarantees.

These conflicts arose after the death of long-time President Felix Houphouet-Biogny who ruled the country from the time of independence in 1960 to the early 1990s. Houphouet-Biogny maintained a close relationship with the former colonial power of France. The country was often praised by the western imperialists as a model for post-colonial development due to its rejection of any form of socialist-orientation.

The Political Economy of Neo-Colonialism

A similar pattern has emerged since 2011 when France with the support of the United States administration of former President Barack Obama overthrew Gbagbo and the FPI placing Ouattara in office. Since April 2011, Ivory Coast once again is hailed as an example of phenomenal economic growth in Africa.

Western financial publications cite the nine percent annual growth rate as the largest in the West Africa region. Nonetheless, this activity derives from foreign direct investment fostered by transnational corporations and banks on terms favorable to imperialism. Such an approach to development is not sustainable due to the dependent character of the Ivorian national economy.

The instability inherent is such a development agenda has been revealed over the last four years with the plunge in energy, agricultural and mineral prices of these commodities on the western capitalist dominated global markets. This decline in oil and natural gas prices was engineered by the U.S. under the Obama administration where the overproduction of these resources cut export earnings to emerging economies precipitously. 

Many of these same states have been thrown into recession and uncertainty. Currency values consequently are lowered with the concomitant unemployment and poverty soon to follow. 

The current situation calls for the resumption of dialogue and negotiations across the political spectrum in Ivory Coast. Moreover, the release of former President Gbagbo and the others held in the Netherlands by the ICC should be a focus of the PFI and other parties as a means to enhance national unity and the realization of genuine economic development and territorial sovereignty. 

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Zionist John McCain’s Imperial Complex

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John McCain’s Imperial Complex

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Obituaries are not the best places to identify faults unless they assume the form of a hatchet job.  The opposite is more often the case: worshipful and respectful to the point of being cloying.  As the tears dry, and the sobs of reflection pass, the figure transmogrifies.  For a politician, aspects of the hero are sketched out, crumples and creases ironed.  In the case of the late Senator John McCain, his role as sober, stable legislator were underscored in a world of Trumpland’s narcissistic chaos.  His five-year stint a prisoner of war in that brutal school of re-education “Hanoi Hilton” constituted an important part of resume building in politics, and it was not forgotten.

A drier eye would be more circumspect in looking at the senator from Arizona.  Christopher Hitchensdid not have much time for a person he regarded as a poor politician who never quite got over an inner gunpowder tendency to blow.

“He combines the body of an ox with the brains of a gnat,” he tartly observed in Slate in a year the senator was contesting the presidency against Barack Obama.  “Indeed, if his brains were made of gunpowder and were to accidentally explode, the resulting bang would not even be enough to rearrange his hair.”

For Hitchens on McCain, the question was whether rage was of the generous sort, or an ungovernable one leading to instability.

The case of McCain the erratic did not convince that other late scion of neoconservative enthusiasm, Charles Krauthammer, holding fort at the Washington Post in claiming that it was merely a “cheap Obama talking point.  The 40-year record testifies to McCain the stalwart.”  What held sway for Krauthammer against Obama was McCain’s insistence that the global financial crisis had softened US resolve; the need to be fearful of the outside world was ever present.  He proceeded to outline a laundry list of terrors current and imminent, all necessary mental baggage for the neoconservative zealot:

“We have a generations-long struggle with Islamic jihadism.  An apocalyptic soon-to-be-nuclear Iran.  A nuclear-armed Pakistan in danger of fragmentation.  A rising Russia pushing the limits of revanchism.  Plus to sure-to-come Falklands-like surprise popping out of nowhere.”

If you deal in the economy of fear, McCain was your man.

This harnessing of insecurity was something that played well with an individual who had transformed from hardened realist to messianic neoconservative, a process that was complete by 1999. That conversion saw a notable voice in Congress enlisted in the service of the American imperium, one far from cautious about the sorrows of imperial overstretch.  Even after the catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003, he would still stump for the neoconservative cause, issuing a manifesto of such themes for presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012:

 “We are now engaged in a great debate over whether America’s core challenge is how to manage our own decline as a great power – or how to renew our capacity to carry on our proud tradition of world leadership.  Ultimately, this is what’s at stake in this election, and the stakes could not be higher.”

It is precisely such a vision that landed US marines in Vietnam, in total ignorance of the nature of polycentric communism, and old Mesopotamia, in total obliviousness to the complex dynamic of Middle Eastern politics.  Both constituted failed experiments of a misguided, imperial cast of mind. The latter case supplied an object lesson in the tormentedly flawed policy of regime change, a point McCain refused to accept.  As Jacob Heilbrunn would observe in The National Interest,

“McCain’s vision of American power and influence around the globe is so open-ended that it constitutes an invitation for hegemony, something that China is bound to reject.”

Such a vision is, by nature, intolerant of rivals, and naturally inflating of threats.  Foes must be found; their potency must be exaggerated.  It persuaded McCain that North Korean nuclear tests, conducted in 2006, warranted the acquisition of a missile defence shield both futile and costly.

McCain’s other chequered side sported a certain insensitivity to race, a point that surfaced with a murmur in 2008.  Eight years prior, while on a bruising campaign trail for the White House that saw him pitted against the Bush dynasts, he made a crass remark reflecting on his time as a prisoner of war.

“I hate the gooks,” he shot at reporters aboard his campaign bus.  “I will hate them as long as I live.”

Executive director of the San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action was plainspoken in her disgust:

“For someone running for president not to recognize the power of words is a problem.”

McCain’s response was to issue a modest qualifier:

“I was referring to my prison guards and will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends.”

Tributes to McCain have attempted to isolate the good and noble from the rot and the core. Contrast McCain the principled man with the GOP, an unprincipled entity pockmarked by corruption.  Eugene Robinson of the Post is an exponent of this exercise.

“President Trump’s GOP,” he reflected, “could not care less about the ideals McCain stood for, such as honour, service and community.  The party is shamefully moulded in Trump’s image now, with its enormous corruption, monumental selfishness and grasping little hands.”

Sterling, graphic stuff, made less plausible by its errors: Trump’s GOP, the same entity so incredulous at his rise? The same entity so utterly opposed to him in favour of family nepotism?

For all his deeply critical faults, Trump lacks an ideological worldview that idolises the neoconservative creed.  His interventions leave aside the messianic urge to meddle in the name of a higher good – hardly surprising for one immune to such notions.  McCain, in razor sharp contrast, remained, to the last, the spokesman of US valour and its legions, even to the detriment of his own country and its cruel predations.

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How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of Russia Hacking US Voter Sites

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The narrative about Russian cyberattacks on American election infrastructure is a self-interested abuse of power by DHS based on distortion of evidence, writes Gareth Porter.

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The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites.  And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well. 

But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive.

DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story. When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable.

The National Security Agency and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigating team have also claimed evidence that Russian military intelligence was behind election infrastructure hacking, but on closer examination, those claims turn out to be speculative and misleading as well. Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU military intelligence officers does not cite any violations of U.S. election laws though it claims Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

A Sensational Story 

On Sept. 29, 2016, a few weeks after the hacking of election-related websites in Illinois and Arizona, ABC News carried a sensational headline: “Russian Hackers Targeted Nearly Half of States’ Voter Registration Systems, Successfully Infiltrated 4.” The story itself reported that “more than 20 state election systems” had been hacked, and four states had been “breached” by hackers suspected of working for the Russian government. The story cited only sources “knowledgeable” about the matter, indicating that those who were pushing the story were eager to hide the institutional origins of the information.

Behind that sensational story was a federal agency seeking to establish its leadership within the national security state apparatus on cybersecurity, despite its limited resources for such responsibility. In late summer and fall 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was maneuvering politically to designate state and local voter registration databases and voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” Such a designation would make voter-related networks and websites under the protection a “priority sub-sector” in the DHS “National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which already included 16 such sub-sectors.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other senior DHS officials consulted with many state election officials in the hope of getting their approval for such a designation. Meanwhile, the DHS was finishing an intelligence report that would both highlight the Russian threat to U.S. election infrastructure and the role DHS could play in protecting it, thus creating political impetus to the designation. But several secretaries of state—the officials in charge of the election infrastructure in their state—strongly opposed the designation that Johnson wanted.

On Jan. 6, 2017—the same day three intelligence agencies released a joint “assessment” on Russian interference in the election—Johnson announced the designation anyway.

Media stories continued to reflect the official assumption that cyber attacks on state election websites were Russian-sponsored. Stunningly, The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that DHS was itself behind hacking attempts of Georgia’s election database.

The facts surrounding the two actual breaches of state websites in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the broader context of cyberattacks on state websites, didn’t support that premise at all.

In July, Illinois discovered an intrusion into its voter registration website and the theft of personal information on as many as 200,000 registered voters. (The 2018 Mueller indictments of GRU officers would unaccountably put the figure at 500,000.) Significantly, however, the hackers only had copied the information and had left it unchanged in the database.

That was a crucial clue to the motive behind the hack. DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Andy Ozment told a Congressional committee in late September 2016 that the fact hackers hadn’t tampered with the voter data indicated that the aim of the theft was not to influence the electoral process. Instead, it was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information.” Ozment was contradicting the line that already was being taken on the Illinois and Arizona hacks by the National Protection and Programs Directorate and other senior DHS officials.

In an interview with me last year, Ken Menzel, the legal adviser to the Illinois secretary of state, confirmed what Ozment had testified.

“Hackers have been trying constantly to get into it since 2006,” Menzel said, adding that they had been probing every other official Illinois database with such personal data for vulnerabilities as well.  “Every governmental database—driver’s licenses, health care, you name it—has people trying to get into it,” said Menzel.

In the other successful cyberattack on an electoral website, hackers had acquired the username and password for the voter database Arizona used during the summer, as Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan learned from the FBI. But the reason that it had become known, according to Reagan in an interview with Mother Jones, was that the login and password had shown up for sale on the dark web—the network of websites used by cyber criminals to sell stolen data and other illicit wares.

Furthermore, the FBI had told her that the effort to penetrate the database was the work of a “known hacker” whom the FBI had monitored “frequently” in the past. Thus, there were reasons to believe that both Illinois and Arizona hacking incidents were linked to criminal hackers seeking information they could sell for profit.

Meanwhile, the FBI was unable to come up with any theory about what Russia might have intended to do with voter registration data such as what was taken in the Illinois hack.  When FBI Counterintelligence official Bill Priestap was asked in a June 2017 hearing how Moscow might use such data, his answer revealed that he had no clue:

“They took the data to understand what it consisted of,” said the struggling Priestap, “so they can affect better understanding and plan accordingly in regards to possibly impacting future elections by knowing what is there and studying it.”

The inability to think of any plausible way for the Russian government to use such data explains why DHS and the intelligence community adopted the argument, as senior DHS officials Samuel Liles and Jeanette Manfra (image on the right) put it, that the hacks “could be intended or used to undermine public confidence in electoral processes and potentially the outcome.” But such a strategy could not have had any effect without a decision by DHS and the U.S. intelligence community to assert publicly that the intrusions and other scanning and probing were Russian operations, despite the absence of hard evidence. So DHS and other agencies were consciously sowing public doubts about U.S. elections that they were attributing to Russia.

DHS Reveals Its Self-Serving Methodology

In June 2017, Liles and Manfra testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that an October 2016 DHS intelligence report had listed election systems in 21 states that were “potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”  They revealed that the sensational story leaked to the press in late September 2016 had been based on a draft of the DHS report. And more importantly, their use of the phrase “potentially targeted” showed that they were arguing only that the cyber incidents it listed were possible indications of a Russian attack on election infrastructure.

Furthermore, Liles and Manfra said the DHS report had “catalogued suspicious activity we observed on state government networks across the country,” which had been “largely based on suspected malicious tactics and infrastructure.” They were referring to a list of eight IP addresses an August 2016 FBI “flash alert” had obtained from the Illinois and Arizona intrusions, which DHS and FBI had not been able to  attribute to the Russian government.

The DHS officials recalled that the DHS began to “receive reports of cyber-enabled scanning and probing of election-related infrastructure in some states, some of which appeared to originate from servers operated by a Russian company.” Six of the eight IP addresses in the FBI alert were indeed traced to King Servers, owned by a young Russian living in Siberia. But as DHS cyber specialists knew well, the country of ownership of the server doesn’t prove anything about who was responsible for hacking: As cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr pointed out, the Russian hackers who coordinated the Russian attack on Georgian government websites in 2008 used a Texas-based company as the hosting provider.

The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect noted in 2016 that one of the other two IP addresses had hosted a Russian criminal market for five months in 2015. But that was not a serious indicator, either. Private IP addresses are reassigned frequently by server companies, so there is not a necessary connection between users of the same IP address at different times.

The DHS methodology of selecting reports of cyber incidents involving election-related websites as “potentially targeted” by Russian government-sponsored hackers was based on no objective evidence whatever. The resulting list appears to have included any one of the eight addresses as well as any attack or “scan” on a public website that could be linked in any way to elections.

This methodology conveniently ignored the fact that criminal hackers were constantly trying to get access to every database in those same state, country and municipal systems. Not only for Illinois and Arizona officials, but state electoral officials.

In fact, 14 of the 21 states on the list experienced nothing more than the routine scanning that occurs every day, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Only six involved what was referred to as a “malicious access attempt,” meaning an effort to penetrate the site. One of them was in Ohio, where the attempt to find a weakness lasted less than a second and was considered by DHS’s internet security contractor a “non-event” at the time.

State Officials Force DHS to Tell the Truth

For a year, DHS did not inform the 21 states on its list that their election boards or other election-related sites had been attacked in a presumed Russian-sponsored operation. The excuse DHS officials cited was that it could not reveal such sensitive intelligence to state officials without security clearances. But the reluctance to reveal the details about each case was certainly related to the reasonable expectation that states would publicly challenge their claims, creating a potential serious embarrassment.

On Sept. 22, 2017, DHS notified 21 states about the cyber incidents that had been included in the October 2016 report. The public announcement of the notifications said DHS had notified each chief election officer of “any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election.” The phrase “potential targeting” again telegraphed the broad and vague criterion DHS had adopted, but it was ignored in media stories.

But the notifications, which took the form of phone calls lasting only a few minutes, provided a minimum of information and failed to convey the significant qualification that DHS was only suggesting targeting as a possibility. “It was a couple of guys from DHS reading from a script,” recalled one state election official who asked not to be identified. “They said [our state] was targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”

A number of state election officials recognized that this information conflicted with what they knew. And if they complained, they got a more accurate picture from DHS. After Wisconsin Secretary of State Michael Haas demanded further clarification, he got an email response from a DHS official  with a different account.

“[B]ased on our external analysis,” the official wrote, “the WI [Wisconsin] IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said DHS initially had notified his office “that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites.” But under further questioning, DHS admitted to Padilla that what the hackers had targeted was the California Department of Technology’s network.

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Byron Deanalso denied that any state website with voter- or election-related information had been targeted, and Pablos demanded that DHS “correct its erroneous notification.”

Despite these embarrassing admissions, a statement issued by DHS spokesman Scott McConnell on Sept. 28, 2017 said the DHS “stood by” its assessment that 21 states “were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.” The statement retreated from the previous admission that the notifications involved “potential targeting,” but it also revealed for the first time that DHS had defined “targeting” very broadly indeed.

It said the category included “some cases” involving “direct scanning of targeted systems” but also cases in which “malicious actors scanned for vulnerabilities in networks that may be connected to those systems or have similar characteristics in order to gain information about how to later penetrate their target.”

It is true that hackers may scan one website in the hope of learning something that could be useful for penetrating another website, as cybersecurity expert Prof. Herbert S. Lin of Stanford University explained to me in an interview. But including any incident in which that motive was theoretical meant that any state website could be included on the DHS list, without any evidence it was related to a political motive.

Arizona’s further exchanges with DHS revealed just how far DHS had gone in exploiting that escape clause in order to add more states to its “targeted” list. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan tweeted that DHS had informed her that “the Russian government targeted our voter registration systems in 2016.” After meeting with DHS officials in early October 2017, however, Reagan wrote in a blog post that DHS “could not confirm that any attempted Russian government hack occurred whatsoever to any election-related system in Arizona, much less the statewide voter registration database.”

What the DHS said in that meeting, as Reagan’s spokesman Matt Roberts recounted to me, is even more shocking.

“When we pressed DHS on what exactly was actually targeted, they said it was the Phoenix public library’s computers system,” Roberts recalled.

Image below: National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. (Wikimedia)

In April 2018, a CBS News “60 Minutes” segment reported that the October 2016 DHS intelligence report had included the Russian government hacking of a “county database in Arizona.” Responding to that CBS report, an unidentified “senior Trump administration official” who was well-briefed on the DHS report told Reuters that “media reports” on the issue had sometimes “conflated criminal hacking with Russian government activity,” and that the cyberattack on the target in Arizona “was not perpetrated by the Russian government.”

NSA Finds a GRU Election Plot

NSA intelligence analysts claimed in a May 2017 analysis to have documented an effort by Russian military intelligence (GRU) to hack into U.S. electoral institutions. In an intelligence analysis obtained by The Intercept and reported in June 2017, NSA analysts wrote that the GRU had sent a spear-phishing email—one with an attachment designed to look exactly like one from a trusted institution but that contains malware design to get control of the computer—to a vendor of voting machine technology in Florida. The hackers then designed a fake web page that looked like that of the vendor. They sent it to a list of 122 email addresses NSA believed to be local government organizations that probably were “involved in the management of voter registration systems.” The objective of the new spear-phishing campaign, the NSA suggested, was to get control of their computers through malware to carry out the exfiltration of voter-related data.

But the authors of The Intercept story failed to notice crucial details in the NSA report that should have tipped them off that the attribution of the spear-phishing campaign to the GRU was based merely on the analysts’ own judgment—and that their judgment was faulty.

The Intercept article included a color-coded chart from the original NSA report that provides crucial information missing from the text of the NSA analysis itself as well as The Intercept’s account. The chart clearly distinguishes between the elements of the NSA’s account of the alleged Russian scheme that were based on “Confirmed Information” (shown in green) and those that were based on “Analyst Judgment” (shown in yellow). The connection between the “operator” of the spear-phishing campaign the report describes and an unidentified entity confirmed to be under the authority of the GRU is shown as a yellow line, meaning that it is based on “Analyst Judgment” and labeled “probably.”

A major criterion for any attribution of a hacking incident is whether there are strong similarities to previous hacks identified with a specific actor. But the chart concedes that “several characteristics” of the campaign depicted in the report distinguish it from “another major GRU spear-phishing program,” the identity of which has been redacted from the report.

The NSA chart refers to evidence that the same operator also had launched spear-phishing campaigns on other web-based mail applications, including the Russian company “Mail.ru.”  Those targets suggest that the actors were more likely Russian criminal hackers rather than Russian military intelligence.

Even more damaging to its case, the NSA reports that the same operator who had sent the spear-phishing emails also had sent a test email to the “American Samoa Election Office.” Criminal hackers could have been interested in personal information from the database associated with that office. But the idea that Russian military intelligence was planning to hack the voter rolls in American Samoa, an unincorporated U.S. territory with 56,000 inhabitants who can’t even vote in U.S. presidential elections, is plainly risible.

The Mueller Indictment’s Sleight of Hand

The Mueller indictment of GRU officers released on July 13 appeared at first reading to offer new evidence of Russian government responsibility for the hacking of Illinois and other state voter-related websites. A close analysis of the relevant paragraphs, however, confirms the lack of any real intelligence supporting that claim.

Mueller accused two GRU officers of working with unidentified “co-conspirators” on those hacks. But the only alleged evidence linking the GRU to the operators in the hacking incidents is the claim that a GRU official named Anatoly Kovalev and “co-conspirators” deleted search history related to the preparation for the hack after the FBI issued its alert on the hacking identifying the IP address associated with it in August 2016.

A careful reading of the relevant paragraphs shows that the claim is spurious. The first sentence in Paragraph 71 says that both Kovalev and his “co-conspirators” researched domains used by U.S. state boards of elections and other entities “for website vulnerabilities.”  The second says Kovalev and “co-conspirators” had searched for “state political party email addresses, including filtered queries for email addresses listed on state Republican Party websites.”

Searching for website vulnerabilities would be evidence of intent to hack them, of course, but searching Republican Party websites for email addresses is hardly evidence of any hacking plan. And Paragraph 74 states that Kovalev “deleted his search history”—not the search histories of any “co-conspirator”—thus revealing that there were no joint searches and suggesting that the subject Kovalev had searched was Republican Party emails. So any deletion by Kovalev of his search history after the FBI alert would not be evidence of his involvement in the hacking of the Illinois election board website.

With this rhetorical misdirection unraveled, it becomes clear that the repetition in every paragraph of the section of the phrase “Kovalev and his co-conspirators” was aimed at giving the reader the impression the accusation is based on hard intelligence about possible collusion that doesn’t exist.

The Need for Critical Scrutiny of DHS Cyberattack Claims

The DHS campaign to establish its role as the protector of U.S. electoral institutions is not the only case in which that agency has used a devious means to sow fear of Russian cyberattacks. In December 2016, DHS and the FBI published a long list of IP addresses as indicators of possible Russian cyberattacks. But most of the addresses on the list had no connection with Russian intelligence, as former U.S. government cyber-warfare officer Rob Lee found on close examination.

When someone at the Burlington, Vt., Electric Company spotted one of those IP addresses on one of its computers, the company reported it to DHS. But instead of quietly investigating the address to verify that it was indeed an indicator of Russian intrusion, DHS immediately informed The Washington Post.The result was a sensational story that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. power grid. In fact, the IP address in question was merely Yahoo’s email server, as Rob Lee told me, and the computer had not even been connected to the power grid. The threat to the power grid was a tall tale created by a DHS official, which the Post had to embarrassingly retract.

Since May 2017, DHS, in partnership with the FBI, has begun an even more ambitious campaign to focus public attention on what it says are Russian “targeting” and “intrusions” into “major, high value assets that operate components of our Nation’s critical infrastructure”, including energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.  Any evidence of such an intrusion must be taken seriously by the U.S. government and reported by news media. But in light of the DHS record on alleged threats to election infrastructure and the Burlington power grid, and its well-known ambition to assume leadership over cyber protection, the public interest demands that the news media examine DHS claims about Russian cyber threats far more critically than they have up to now.

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No, the UN Did Not Report China Has ‘Massive Internment Camps’ for Uighur Muslims

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Media outlets from Reuters to The Intercept falsely claimed the UN had condemned China for holding a million Uighurs in camps. The claim is based on unsourced allegations by two independent commission members, US-funded outfits and a shadowy opposition group.

Numerous major media outlets, from Reuters to The Intercept, have claimed that the United Nations has reports that the Chinese government is holding as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in “internment camps.” But a close examination of these news stories, and of the evidence behind them — or the lack thereof — demonstrates that the extraordinary claim is simply not true.

A spokesperson from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed in a statement to the Grayzone that the allegation of Chinese “camps” was not made by the United Nations, but rather by a member of an independent committee that does not speak for the UN as a whole. That member happened to be the only American on the committee, and one with no background of scholarship or research on China.

Moreover, this accusation is based on the thinly sourced reports of a Chinese opposition group that receives funding from foreign governments and is closely tied to exiled pro-US activists. While there have been many on-the-ground reports highlighting discrimination that Uighur Muslims have faced at the hands of the Chinese authorities, information about camps containing one million prisoners has originated almost exclusively from media outlets and organizations funded and weaponized by the American government to turn up the heat on Beijing.

A blatant falsehood introduced by Reuters and echoed across mainstream media

On August 10, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination conducted its regular review of China’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The review, which is conducted periodically for all 179 parties to the Convention, has generated a frenzied response by the Western corporate press — one which is uniformly misleading.

On the day of the review, Reuters published a report with an explosive headline: “U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps.”

Screengrab from Reuters

The claim was feverishly reproduced by outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post to denounce China and call for international action. Even The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan belted out the breathless headline, “One Million Muslim Uighurs Have Been Detained by China, the U.N. Says. Where’s the Global Outrage?” The impression readers were given was that the UN had conducted an investigation and had formally and collectively made such charges against China. In fact, the UN had done no such thing.

The headline of Reuters’ report attributed its explosive claim to the UN; yet the body of the article ascribed it simply to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. And this committee’s official website makes it clear that it is “a body of independent experts,” not UN officials.

What’s more, a look at the OHCHR’s official news release on the committee’s presentation of the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” in China was made by its sole American member, Gay McDougall. This claim was then echoed by a Mauritanian member, Yemhelhe Mint Mohamed.

During the committee’s regular review of China, McDougall commented that she was “deeply concerned” about “credible reports” alleging mass detentions of millions of Uighurs Muslim minorities in “internment camps.” The Associated Press reported that McDougall “did not specify a source for that information in her remarks at the hearing.” (Note that the headline of the AP news wire is much weaker than that of Reuters: “UN panel concerned at reported Chinese detention of Uighurs.”)

Video of the session confirms that McDougall provided no sourcing to back up her remarkable claim.

This is to say, one American member of an independent UN body made a provocative claim that China was interning 1 million Muslims, but failed to provide a single named source. And Reuters and the Western corporate media ran with it anyway, attributing the unsubstantiated allegations of one US individual to the UN as a whole.

In an email to the Grayzone Project, OHCHR spokesperson Julia Gronnevet confirmed that the CERD was not representative of the UN as a whole.

“You are correct that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an independent body,” Gronnevet wrote. “Quoted comments were made during public sessions of the Committee when members were reviewing State parties.”

Thus the OHCHR implicitly acknowledged that the comments by McDougall, the lone American member of an independent committee, were not representative of any finding by the UN as a whole. The report by Reuters is simply false.

“Credible reports” from a government-funded opposition group with zero transparency

In addition to this irresponsible misreporting, Reuters and other Western outlets have attempted to fill in the gaps left by McDougall, referring to reports made by so-called “activist group” the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). Conveniently left out of the story is that this organization is headquartered in Washington, DC.

CHRD, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from unnamed governments, advocates full-time against the Chinese government and has spent years campaigning on behalf of extreme right-wing opposition figures.

CHRD is not at all transparent about its funding or personnel. Its annual reports contain notes stating, “This report has been produced with the financial support of generous donors.” But the donors are never named.

Publicly available 990 IRS filing forms reviewed by the Grayzone show that the organization is substantially funded by government grants. In fact, in 2015 virtually all of the organization’s revenue came from government grants.

CHRD’s 2015 form 990 discloses that $819,553 of its $820,023 revenue that year (99.94 percent) came from government grants. A measly $395 came from investments, with another $75 from other sources. According to its 2016 form 990, CHRD received $859,091 in government grants in that year.

Which government provided these grants is not clear. The Grayzone did not receive a response to several emailed interview requests sent to the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

However, it appears likely that CHRD could be receiving funding from the US government-backed National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

A search of the NED’s grants database shows funding from 2014 and 2015 totaling approximately half a million dollars to “support the work of Chinese human rights defenders.” It is not clear if this is a reference to the organization specifically, but the description accompanying the grants matches that of CHRD.

CHRD has used its generous funding to provide grants to opposition activists inside China, bankrolling dozens upon dozens of projects in the country.

On its tax forms, CHRD lists its address as the Washington, DC office of Human Rights Watch. HRW has long been criticized for its revolving door with the US government and its excessively disproportionate focus on designated enemies of Washington like China, Venezuela, Syria, and Russia.

Human Rights Watch did not respond to an email from the Grayzone inquiring about its relationship with CHRD.

CHRD’s forms 990 also reveal that the board of the organization is a Who’s Who of exiled Chinese anti-government activists.

The chair of the group is the US-based activist Su Xiaokang, who proclaimed that the Chinese public supposedly “wants the U.S. to watch over activists, and is disappointed when Washington fails.” Fellow US-based dissident Teng Biao is a CHRD director who has sarcastically boasted of how the Chinese communist party dubbed him a “reactionary.”

CHRD’s secretary is the American academic Perry Link, who has built his public reputation on winding up on the Chinese government’s academic “blacklist.” Link testified for the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2014, claiming that the Chinese government is threatening academic freedom in the US.

In his congressional testimony, CHRD secretary Link insisted the US government should crack down on the Chinese government’s Confucius Institute organization and instead fund its own pro-US Chinese-language programs. Link characterized Chinese-language programs as a potential American weapon against the Chinese communist party, arguing they could “very arguably do more to blunt the CPC’s advance than the [B-2 Spirit Bomber] airplane could.”

These are some of the pro-US, anti-Chinese government figures who lead the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Otherwise, there is very little publicly available information about CHRD. It appears to largely be the brainchild of its international director, Renee Xia, an opposition activist who has publicly called for the US government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials under the Magnitsky Act.

Support for the “non violence advocate” who loves America’s wars

CHRD’s founder, Xia, was a strong supporter of the imprisoned hard-right neoconservative Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and she campaigned years for his release.

An archived version of the group’s website shows that as far back as 2010, CHRD was vociferously advocating on behalf of Liu, while likening the Chinese government to Nazi Germany.

While Liu Xiaobo became a cause celebre of the Western liberal intelligensia, he was a staunch supporter of colonialism, a fan of the most blood-soaked US military campaigns, and a hardcore libertarian.

As writers Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong reported in The Guardian in 2010, Liu led numerous US government-funded right-wing organizations that advocated mass privatization and the Westernization of China. He also expressed openly racist views against the Chinese.

“To choose Westernisation is to choose to be human,” Liu insisted, lamenting that traditional Chinese culture had made its population “wimpy, spineless, and fucked up.”

While CHRD described Liu as an “advocate of non-violence,” he practically worshiped President George W. Bush and strongly supported the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the war in Afghanistan. “Non-violence advocate” Liu was even a fan of America’s wars in Korea and Vietnam, which killed millions of civilians.

CHRD’s most recent China report — the one cited by Reuters and other outlets to give credence to the allegations of Uyghur re-education camps — further highlights the organization’s links to Washington and compromised impartiality.

Most sources on the Uighur “camps” story are US government-linked

The most-cited source in the CHRD report, accounting for more than one-fifth of the 101 references, is Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news agency created by the US government. Along with Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio y Televisión Martí, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia is operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency of the US government under the supervision of the State Department. Describing its work as “vital to U.S. national interests,” BBG’s primary broadcasting standard is to be “consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States.”

The near-total reliance on Washington-linked sources is characteristic of Western reporting on Uighurs Muslims in China, and the country in general, which regularly features sensational headlines and allegations. In addition to CHRD and RFA, it is common for reports to cite the World Uighur Congress, an organization funded by the NED. At a recent NED event, Grayzone editor Max Blumenthalinterviewed World Uighur Congress chairman Omer Kanat, who took credit for furnishing many of the claims of internment camps to Western media.

Another favorite congressional and mainstream media source for information about China is the Jamestown Foundation, a neoconservative think tank founded during the height of the Cold War by Reagan administration personnel with the support of then-CIA Director William J. Casey.  Former Jamestown board members include Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The latest incident of misreporting by Reuters is part of a trend of increasingly hostile, Cold War-like coverage of China by the Western press that coincides with Washington’s push for conflict with Beijing. In a series of policy statements, the Trump administration has repeatedly identified the “threat” posed by “economic and military ascendance” of China, with Defense Secretary James Mattis declaring that “Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”

Growing anxious about its diminishing global dominance, the United States seeks to forestall the rise of of an alternative node of international power. A longstanding component of US imperialism is the use of ostensibly impartial “civil society groups” and “think tanks” to promote narratives in the media supportive of US foreign policy goals. Often under the guise of “humanitarian concern,” such stories aim to stir up public outrage and weaponize it to advance imperial ambitions.

This time-tested program is at the heart of the intensifying campaign against China, and as the latest raft of bogus stories demonstrated, the corporate media is eager to play along.

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Syria and Iran Sign Defense Agreement: Defying Outside Pressure

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Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami visited Damascus Aug. 26-27 in order to have a new military cooperation agreement signed. The move is evidently a response to US and Israeli demands to withdraw Iranian forces from Syria. No details have been provided about the document’s content but it’s logical to surmise it contains a list of mutual obligations in the event that the Iranian military is attacked in Syria.

The deal mentions Iran’s role in the reconstruction of Syria’s defense industry, thus ending any hopes that its military presence in that country will end. According to the Iranian defense chief, the “defense and technical agreement” provides for the continued “presence and participation” of Iran in Syria. He added that an agreement had been reached with Syria that Iran would have “presence, participation, and assistance” in the reconstruction and that “no third party will be influential in this issue.”

The agreement was signed just as the Russia-Turkey-Iran summit was announced, which is scheduled for Sept. 7 in Tehran. Such events normally require thorough preparations. The parties are expected to reach an agreement on further joint steps to achieve progress in Syria. It’s important to align their positions before the UN talks in Geneva, which are slated for Sept. 11-12. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has invited the “big three” to participate. They can come up with joint initiatives while the US has nothing to offer but its demands for Iran’s withdrawal. It risks being left out in the cold, while diplomatic efforts initiated by other states bear fruit.

This turn of events will hardly be welcome news for those who would like to stymie the peace efforts and impose their own conditions for reaching any settlement of the problem.

The need to end Iranian assistance to Lebanon’s Hezbollah was emphasized during last week’s visit of US National Security Adviser John Bolton to Israel. The parties did not declare war on Iran, but there is no way to stop the supplies from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon without cutting off the land routes going through Syria. The US official insisted before the visit to Israel that the withdrawal of Iran’s forces from Syria is a prerequisite to any resolution of the conflict.

The US and its allies in Syria find it important to scuttle Syria’s plans to liberate the province of Idlib from the rebels. A false-flag chemical attack is expected to be staged soon, to create a pretext for military action. Once Syria and Iran are in the same boat, it makes no difference which of them is attacked first or where. There have been media reports that a large-scale military operation is in the works and can be expected in August or September.

There is no way to know what exactly Mr. Bolton discussed with the Israeli authorities during his visit to Jerusalem on Aug. 19 but the reports about the military activities at the US al-Shaddadi base in the Syrian province of al-Hasakah emerged soon afterward. The facility has been reported to have been updated to enable the landing and takeoff of heavy cargo aircraft. Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) has also been expanded. In August, shipments of ammunition and military hardware were delivered to several US-controlled facilities in Syria and Iraq. Radars have been transported to the SDF-controlled areas east of the Euphrates River.

Meanwhile, several thousand militants with heavy weaponry and armored vehicles in Syria’s Idlib province are getting ready to launch an offensive against government-controlled regions of Hama and Aleppo. The attack will be targeted at Syrian as well as Iranian and pro-Iranian forces that have been invited in by the Syrian government.

It looks like plans are underway to force Syria to plunge into turmoil once again. In reality, the combat actions have already started. The US and Israel conducted their first joint operation against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and the Iraqi Shiite Khata’ib Hezbollah, their allies, on Aug. 23 near Abu Kamal, which is situated on the highway between Syria and Iraq. President Trump has said so many times and on so many occasions that he wants the Americans to leave Syria but US foreign policy is known for its flip-flops. Whatever is said today may be forgotten tomorrow.

This time, Lebanon may become a new front. It’s widely believed that a war between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable. In February, US and Israeli troops held an exercise to practice for a potential war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, a country that holds a military agreement with Russia. The offshore drilling contracts Lebanon has signed with other countries, without solving its border dispute with Israel, are spurring the war preparations.

Syria and Iran have defied pressure and demonstrated their resolution not to bow but to protect their right to make independent decisions. They are offering a challenge. If the defense agreement just signed between those two allies provokes a military conflict, it will most certainly spill over to other countries, such as Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. It would lead to a long, protracted, and costly war.

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Anti-Semitism Charges Against Jeremy Corbyn Are Diversion From Israeli Occupation of Palestine

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Anti-Semitism Charges Against Jeremy Corbyn Are Diversion From Israeli Occupation of Palestine

 

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Featured image: Jeremy Corbyn addressing the Support for Gaza rally, 19th June 2014. (Photo: David Hardman/Flickr)

Jeremy Corbyn is a man who has dedicated his entire life to fighting racism and injustice — he is not a racist and therefore clearly he is not anti-Semitic. He has not once denied the Holocaust and therefore he is not a Holocaust-denier. It seems, however, that none of this matters to those who would bring him down.

The U.K. Labour Party conference is more than three weeks away and Jeremy Corbyn, true to himself and his principles, has risen above the mud-slinging and continues to fight for the principles to which he has dedicated his entire life. He focuses on issues like social justice; caring for the many rather than the few, the millions not the millionaires; and, as Corbyn himself said in his speech at last year’s convention, “end[ing] the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Zionist groups within the Labour Party, which include LFI (Labour Friends of Israel) and the JLM (the Zionist ‘Jewish Labour Movement’), skillfully utilize the pro-Zionist media. They are trying — and failing — to paint Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite. However, the problem is not anti-Semitism but Corbyn’s stance on Palestine. These Zionist groups want to get rid of Corbyn because of his principled stance on Palestine, Israeli colonialism and occupation of Palestine, and they use anti-Semitism labels because they think it will work.

The 1972 Munich-attacks issue

The desperation of those seeking to oust Corbyn can be seen by the latest accusation against him: attending a memorial for terrorists.

It was given impetus by a remark by the Israeli prime minister, in what is a shocking intervention by Israel in British politics. Benjamin Netanyahu made remarks about the Labour leader, saying that he deserves “unequivocal condemnation.” In what can only be described as an escalation of the already heavy-handed intervention of Zionist groups to end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Netanyahu said that Corbyn’s participation in a ceremony at a cemetery in Tunis in 2014 is deserving of condemnation, because — according to Netanyahu — terrorists are buried there.

Corbyn did not remain silent. True to himself once again, he struck back, reminding Netanyahu that what is deserving of condemnation is Israeli forces’ killing of hundreds of protesters in Gaza and the passing of the new, racist Israel Nation State Law.

Netanyahu — along with what may well be the loudest Zionist mouthpiece in Britain, The Daily Mail — claims that Corbyn was present at a ceremony and even laid a wreath on the graves of terrorists connected with the 1972 attack on the Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic games.

The truth of the matter is that the event in which Corbyn participated had nothing to do with the Munich attack. In 2014 Jeremy Corbyn attended a service at a cemetery in Tunis commemorating the victims of the 1985 Israeli airstrike on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) offices in Tunis. This Israeli attack was a breach of international law, violated the sovereignty of another country, and received worldwide condemnation, including by the United States.

Furthermore, none of the eight men who participated in the Munich attack are buried in Tunis. The four men who are buried there — and whose tombstones are shown in The Daily Mail photo — are Salah Khalaf, who was Yasser Arafat’s deputy; his aide, Fakhri al-Omari; Hayel Abdel-Hamid, who was the PLO chief of security; and Atef Bseiso. Bseiso was assassinated in Paris in 1992 — 20 years after the Munich Olympics. He was heavily involved in talks with the CIA in an attempt to advance relations between the U.S. and the PLO. Israel claimed that all four were involved in the attack in Munich and had all of them assassinated either directly or by the proxy terror group, Abu-Nidal. There was never a shred of proof, not to mention a trial, to substantiate Israel’s allegations against these men.

Blatant intervention

The big question is why does the Israeli prime minister feel he needs to engage in such blatant intervention and and make such blatantly false accusations just as Britain’s largest political party is about to convene? Netanyahu and his henchmen must realize that U.K. Labour, having gained over half a million members since Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent as leader, is poised to win in the next elections, so that, if Israel fails to oust him, Jeremy Corbyn will end up in 10 Downing Street.

One of the ridiculous charges laid against Corbyn is the following: He was criticized for attending a passover Seder with a particular group of Jewish people who “dismissed concerns about anti-Semitism in the party.” So it is not good enough that he went to a Seder and that he opted to do so among people who live in his own constituency; he had to do so with Jewish people who think a particular way.

Corbyn was also criticized for participating in an event with the late Hajo Meyer, a Jewish holocaust survivor himself. This was in 2010, when Corbyn hosted a Holocaust Memorial Day event in London with Meyer as the main speaker. Hajo Meyer was, like many holocaust survivors, a fervent advocate for Palestinian rights and a severe critic of Israel — hence the criticism.

Anti-Semitism

Another sticking point is the self-appointed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which apparently adopted a new and, in their own words, “non-legally binding” working definition of anti-Semitism. Initially Labour’s national executive committee refused to accept this definition, but there are signs that a compromise might be on the horizon. This definition of anti-Semitism is one that entire Jewish communities do not accept because it seeks to silence criticism of Israel and conflates Zionism with Judaism. The anti-Semitism definition includes several clauses that have nothing to do with racism or anti-Semitism and have everything to do with protecting Israel from criticism. For example:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

War of attrition  

Another example, in which I was personally involved, has to do with a comment that I made at a fringe event during the 2017 Labour conference and that turned into a major news item. During a panel on free speech, I said that free speech means we should be able to discuss every issue, including Palestine and the Holocaust. The Daily Mail published this as though it was a scandalous thing to say and accused Labour and even Corbyn himself for allowing it to happen.

Every other newspaper in Britain followed suit and then papers in Palestine and even the Israeli papers picked it up as well. I added in my remarks that, while free speech should not be criminalized, we do not need to give a platform to proponents of any racist ideology, and that includes Zionists who regularly demand to be present and give their perspective at events and lectures.

My presence during the conference and my comments did not warrant such attention. However, this is a war of attrition in which Labour Friends of Israel, the so-called ‘Jewish Labour Movement, and the British Daily Mail are leading the charge and will jump at every opportunity to get attention. Once again, the problem was not denial of the Holocaust or anti-Semitism — because there was no expression of either one — but the fear of a discussion on Palestine and Zionism.

By trying to silence the discussion regarding Zionism and its legitimacy, Israel abuses the memory of the millions who died in the Holocaust, particularly the Jewish victims. There are entire communities of Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors who are quite ready to discuss and debate any issue, including the Holocaust, and who view the Zionists’ stance as absurd. These same Jewish communities also reject Zionism and support the Palestinian call for BDS, or Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. It is time that these voices be heard.

Jeremy Corbyn is a man who has dedicated his entire life to fighting racism and injustice — he is not a racist and therefore clearly he is not anti-Semitic. He has not once denied the Holocaust and therefore he is not a Holocaust-denier. However, none of this matters. As was stated clearly in The Daily Mail,

“The Board of Deputies of British Jews warned Mr. Corbyn to ‘come out of hiding’ and said the anti-Semitism crisis would not go away.”

In other words, there is nothing he can say or do to “clear” himself. They are determined to oust him and they think the anti-Semitic card will do the trick.

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Puerto Rico Raises Hurricane Maria Death Toll From 64 to 2,975

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The government of Puerto Rico Tuesday raised its estimate of the number of Puerto Ricans who lost their lives to 2017’s Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975. This figure makes Maria the worst natural catastrophe on territory claimed by the US since the Galveston, Texas flood of 1900.

The near 50-fold increase in the death toll exposed what millions on the island already knew: that the authorities had long deliberately concealed the real human cost of the storm. It is also a searing indictment of the criminal negligence and indifference of both the US ruling establishment and its two major parties, as well as that of the territory’s own governmental authorities.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló officially adopted the new figure for the number of Hurricane Maria’s victims following the release of a study commissioned by his government and carried out by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The study appears to be the most scientifically rigorous and detailed thus far, drawing on demographic data that the Puerto Rican government had previously hidden from the public. It compared the death rates between September 2017 and February 2018 to earlier periods dating back to 2010. The researchers also factored in the mass exodus of people fleeing the desperate conditions prevailing in Puerto Rico, marked by interminable power outages, for the US mainland.

During this period, Puerto Rico’s population fell by 280,000, an 8 percent drop, making the increased number of deaths all the more extraordinary.

Earlier studies had already provided far higher numbers than the ludicrously low death toll maintained by the Puerto Rican government for nearly a year. Research done by Penn State based on death certificates had come up with an estimate of 1,139 deaths. Another study done by Harvard University, based on interviews with a random sample of some 3,300 households, yielded an estimate ranging between roughly 800 and 8,500, with a median figure of 4,645. This number was embraced by many Puerto Ricans who were outraged by the deliberate underestimate maintained by the Puerto Rican and US governments.

The Harvard researchers noted that this median figure was likely too low, and that the real number of deaths was probably higher than 5,000. No doubt the George Washington study also represents a serious underestimation of the real number of fatalities.

The George Washington study noted that many Puerto Rican doctors and hospitals had failed to follow protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control, and attributed deaths to the storm only where people were directly killed by the immediate destruction wrought by its winds and rain. Those who died because they could not get medical care or medications, were cut off dialysis and oxygen equipment because of the lack of electricity, or had medical conditions that they would not have confronted absent the wholesale destruction of the island’s infrastructure were not linked to Maria. It added that some doctors were reluctant to relate deaths to the hurricane “due to concerns … about liability.”

Among the more important findings of the George Washington study was the vastly disproportionate impact of the storm in terms of deaths among the poorer layers of Puerto Rican society, compared to the wealthy and the middle class.

It found that the risk of death was 45 percent higher, and remained so until the end of the study’s period in mid-February, among populations referred to by researchers as “low socioeconomic development municipalities.” For poorer inhabitants of the island generally, the chance of death was 60 percent higher.

A graph included in the study shows that, while the death toll increased among all layers of the population between September and October 2017, it rose far more sharply for the poorer layers of the population and continued to increase between October 2017 and February 2018, even as it leveled off for wealthier social layers.

The finding only confirms that Maria, like all natural disasters, served to lay bare the conditions of poverty, social crisis and inequality that existed before the storm ever made land.

The study also found that men over the age of 65 continued to confront a higher rate of deaths through the end of the survey period.

The George Washington researchers warned that, had the study continued, it would almost inevitably have tracked a continuing elevated death rate for these layers of the population, particularly given the protracted conditions of deprivation on the island, with a lack of electricity continuing for some until only weeks ago.

A proposed second phase of the George Washington study would aim at recording the names of those who died and providing in each case a cause of death, based on an examination of death certificates as well as interviews with families and medical personnel. The Puerto Rican government has yet to fund this stage of the inquiry.

The Trump administration responded to the latest death toll estimate with its inevitable brutish callousness. At a White House meeting Tuesday, Trump praised his administration for doing a “fantastic job” in Puerto Rico, despite the incontrovertible evidence that thousands were left to die because of its criminal negligence and insufficient aid.

The grotesque self-praise from the White House echoes the tone adopted by Trump when he staged a brief visit to Puerto Rico just two weeks after the storm, throwing paper towels to storm victims and congratulating the island’s governor and other officials for having avoided a “real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina,” which claimed over 1,800 lives in New Orleans and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He repeated the official death toll of 16 being put out by authorities in San Juan at the time. At the time, millions of people were still digging out from the storm, and everyone knew that far more people had lost their lives.

In addition to the widespread popular hatred for Trump and the US authorities, there is intense anger against Governor Rosselló and his local administration for failing to reveal the real scope of the tragedy inflicted upon the island’s population and to secure the resources needed to confront it.

The George Washington study contained damning criticism of local authorities, pointing out that their emergency planning contemplated only a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, leaving them grossly unprepared for Maria, which hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm. It also faulted a lack of communications between local and central authorities, and said, in relation to the number of deaths, that “information was intentionally held to evade blame.”

In an interview published Wednesday by San Juan’s leading daily, El Nuevo Día, Rosselló repeated at least seven times—by the paper’s count—that he had confronted an “unprecedented catastrophe,” in an attempt to justify the failure of his administration in the face of the disaster. Asked about his complicity with Trump in grossly underestimating the death toll and affirming that Puerto Rico had avoided a “real catastrophe,” Rosselló responded, “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Hindsight is 20-20.”

The reality is that the government in Puerto Rico, together with the Trump administration and both the Republicans and Democrats in Washington, has been focused—both before and after Maria struck the island—not on ameliorating conditions of poverty and social deprivation, but on extracting profits for Wall Street bondholders under conditions of the island’s fiscal bankruptcy. It is estimated that Puerto Rico, still confronting the protracted health emergency wrought by Maria, will pay $1.4 billion on debt restructuring over the next six years, an amount that significantly exceeds the entire budget of the island’s Health Department.

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US Media on McCain and “Russophobia”: John McCain’s Flawed Foreign Policy Advocacy

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Andrew Higgins’s August 28 New York Times article includes this excerpt:

The beauty of ‘Russophobia’ from Russia’s perspective is that it absolves Moscow of any responsibility for the consequences of its own actions — the annexation of Crimea, its military incursions into Georgia and eastern Ukraine, the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger jet and its repeated meddling in Western elections — and has turned the country into an innocent victim of, well, John McCain.

But what to do now that, as Oleg Morozov, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the Duma, Russia’s upper house of Parliament, declared this week, ‘The enemy is dead’?

Alexander Domrin, a Moscow academic and administrator of a Facebook page called ‘Russians for Donald Trump,’ said he was ‘not sorry’ that Mr. McCain had died, ‘because he was an enemy of my country,’ but conceded that finding a replacement hate figure will not be easy.”

*

The “beauty” of the above excerpted is its biased idiocy, relative to how the sound opposition to it is regularly muted in the “free press”. That reality explains why McCain’s death doesn’t create a vacuum in the manner suggested in the above referenced piece.

Crimea has a pro-Russian majority, which was understandably aghast at the coup like circumstances that occurred in Kiev. In addition, there’re the precedents pertaining to Kosovo and northern Cyprus, which make the selective hoopla against Crimea’s changed territorial status a high point of hypocrisy.

The 2008 war in the former Georgian SSR was initiated by the then Georgian government. Before, during and after that conflict, the majority of Ossetians and Abkhaz show a preference for Russia over Georgia.

The aforementioned shooting down of a Malaysian passenger jet occurred in a war zone. At the time, some other airlines took it upon themselves to re-route their planes away from that area. It was the responsibility of the Kiev regime to inform the international aviation authority of an unsafe war zone situation on their internationally recognized territory. It remains factually unclear as to who specifically shot down that plane. To a considerable extent, the matter of so-called Russian election meddling remains a faith based claim.

John McCain‘s anti-Russian biases were clearly evident before the political rise of the much despised (especially by the neocons and neolibs) Vladimir Putin. Around the time of NATO’s first wave of post-Soviet era expansion in 1999, McCain inaccurately portrayed the history of Poland and Russia in a PBS NewsHour segment.

In that particular cut, I very much recall how he described Poland’s last attack on Russia being in the early 1600s, much unlike what Russia has done to Poland since that time – described by McCain as several instances of imperial subjugation. Overlooked by him were the close to 100,000 Poles who joined Napoleon in his attack on Russia, as well as the romanticized (in some circles) Josef Pilsudski led Polish anti-Russian premised imperialism during the Russian Civil War.

In addition, Poland and Hungary followed Nazi Germany’s grab for Czechoslovak territory in 1938. Czechoslovakia at the time was on good terms with the Soviet Union. In 1934, Poland and Nazi-Germany had signed a non-aggression pact. At Munich, the West essentially appeased the dismembering of Czechoslovak territory. In contrast, the USSR offered an alliance with the West (notably France) to defend Czechoslovakia.

This proposal was rejected for several reasons. Some in the West were hoping that Hitler’s expansion would end at that point. Besides, Czechoslovakia’s positive relations with the USSR didn’t go well with those having an anti-Soviet and/or anti-Russian inclination. Some were also rooting for an eventual Nazi-Soviet conflict, with the West on the sidelines as the two dictatorships bludgeoned each other.

Stalin saw these trends and (within reason) concluded that a Soviet agreement with Nazi Germany served to hopefully delay the likelihood for a Nazi-Soviet war. He knew that the USSR needed time to further develop to better protect itself – knowing what happened when Russia fought Germany early in WWI, at a time when Russian military preparedness was lacking. Stalin might very well have hoped for a Nazi war with the West, which would see these power blocks weaken each other.

The lesson in all this is that the inability to recognize the legitimate concerns of a great power, will lead the latter to engage in activity that some others will not like. This kind of a scenario can lead to otherwise unnecessary activity, that’s across the board counterproductive. The late John McCain and his geopolitical supporters haven’t served the best interests of the US. Russia’s 2015 move in Syria, was partly initiated to prevent another flawed regime change operation, like what transpired in Iraq and Libya. Whether regarding the former USSR or otherwise, it’s quite wrongheaded to automatically side with another country in a dispute with Russia.

*

Michael Averko is a New York based foreign policy analyst and media critic.

Posted in USAComments Off on US Media on McCain and “Russophobia”: John McCain’s Flawed Foreign Policy Advocacy

“Broken Promises”: Conflicts between the Ukrainian (UOC KP) and Russian (UOC MP) Orthodox Churches

NOVANEWS

Is Ukrainians’ Criticism of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Fair?

 

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In July, Kyiv witnessed the celebrations of the 1030th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. Two largest Ukrainian Orthodox confessions – the Ukrainian Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) – traditionally held separate sacred processions on different days.

The state-backed UOC KP’s procession was attended by President Petro Poroshenko, vast number of government officials and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s delegates. Kyiv had assumed that the latter would come with the Tomos of Autocephaly (independence) for the Ukrainian Church but it never happened. And in his long speech,  President Emmanuel Macron of France didn’t even hint at the date when this important for the Ukrainian faithful event could take place.

In April, President Poroshenko met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in his residence in the Phanar quarter (Istanbul). As it was revealed later, one of the main agenda topics was the bestowal of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At the moment, the church situation in Ukraine is complicated. The country faces a fierce conflict between the UOC KP and UOC MP backed by Kyiv and Moscow. The UOC of the Kyivan Patriarchate broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1990s, when the independent Ukrainian state emerged. However, it still has been recognized by none of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Poroshenko is said to be setting up the new Autocephalous Church with this religious organization as its cornerstone. Obviously, the “hostile” UOC MP won’t be included in the Single Local Churchand will witness even higher pressure than now when its property is being seized or desecrated by pro-government radical nationalists.

Nevertheless, for Kyiv and personally Poroshenko the autocephaly project is a thing that really matters. On the eve of the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine, the Tomos (if granted by Constantinople) should become one of the aces up his sleeve in the election race. That’s why it was decided to boost the process.

Since April, Poroshenko kept claiming that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church would likely become autocephalous on 28 July, when the UOC KP celebrates the 1030th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. Many Ukrainians believed in their president’s words, and when the Tomos wasn’t granted, they lashed out not only at the government but also at Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew personally.

For example, the author of one of critical articles, expressing his indignation, not just accusesConstantinople of undermining the process of autocephaly bestowal but suggests that it should be proclaimed unilaterally, without the Phanar’s consent. Moreover, he blames Patriarch Bartholomew for his ties with Catholics and his inability to make firm decisions.

Besides that, the Ukrainians fear that the Phanar is concerned only with the matters of property. In particular, another critical article even provides a list of churches, buildings and territories which can possible come into Constantinople’s possession. However, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s representatives will need a place to live and hold divine services in. No one really means confiscating the property of Ukrainian Churches and handing it to the “Greek intruders”.

Of course, not all Ukrainian media outlets criticize the Phanar, but such harsh statements like the above-mentioned aren’t rare. The Ukrainians seem to have been hurt by broken promises. But what can the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew be blamed for? They didn’t promise the Ukrainian people that the Tomos would be bestowed on a certain date, they only named it the ultimate goal. The Phanar clearly understands that against the background of the today’s conflict between the faithful in Ukraine, autocephaly can be granted only after finding a way to heal the division. Why don’t some Ukrainians understand this? Don’t they see that they are throwing themselves under the bus by criticizing the Mother Church? The whole thing can easily come to naught: watching how groundlessly it is being criticized, the Patriarchate can turn away from Ukraine and never realize the dreams for autocephaly…

Posted in UkraineComments Off on “Broken Promises”: Conflicts between the Ukrainian (UOC KP) and Russian (UOC MP) Orthodox Churches

US Military Presence in Northern Syria: Towards A No Fly Zone

NOVANEWS

A Demonstration of Washington’s Disgusting Habits Is Being Staged in Syria

  

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It would seem that the proxy war that Washington has been waging on Syria has been nothing but a terrible, humiliating mess, but instead of calling it quits the White House is busy shifting gears again. While demonstrating its intention to strengthen its military presence in Syria, while still providing assistance to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK that is outlawed in Turkey, the US is now embarking on the mission of creating no-fly zones, the goal it has been after all along.

To achieve this goal, the Pentagon has deployed its radar systems in a number of cities in northern Syria, that are supposedly going to be used to monitor the operations carried out by the Turkish military. It seems that the relations between Ankara and Washington has hit an all time low if it comes down to the latter keeping a watchful eye of the former. It’s obviously not a coincidence that the safety umbrella that US policymakers are trying to pop open over the northern Syria is going to cover massive detachments of radical militants that have been rallying in Idlib from all parts of Syria, and now we see the reasoning behind this trend. It’s clear that Washington didn’t want to waste those valuable psychopaths that received an extensive amount of military training, since it hasn’t lost hope that it could still take down Damascus if the no-fly zones plan comes into fruition.

There has already been three full radars installations deployed in the areas of Kobani and Sarrin in the north of the Aleppo Governorate along with a total of 13 mobile radar systems that are going to be used for the monitoring of the Syrian sky. The rapid creation of no-fly zones in Syria has marked a new phase of Western military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic. This scenario has already been tested by Washington in Iraq and Libya, that is why American think tanks have been pushing for this option in Syria for almost a decade now.

Once a no-fly zone in Syria is declared, this step can followed by high precision weapons being used by the US-led coalition to destroy Syrian airfields, leaving Syrian armed forces without close air support. Should this plan come to fruition, any plane entering the no-fly zone will be detected and destroyed. Back in 2011, Washington was following the same exact path in Libya, first rendering Libyan airfield useless, before destroying radar installations and launch pads that could still prevent strikes on Libyan military facilities.

However, one must not forget that, according to the UN Charter, the authority to maintain international peace and security rests upon the shoulders of the UN Security Council. Both Washington, and its obedient vassals like the Great Britain have no privilege to do whatever they want if the rights of yet another international player is violated by their actions. It is the Security Council that determines the course of action whenever any threat to the international peace and security surfaces on the horizon. In a desperate attempt to force the UN Security Council into introducing a no-fly zone over northern Syria, the United States and its allies have been staging a new chemical provocationfor this time in Idlib, in a desperate attempt to push the blame on Damascus yet again.

According to the opinion voiced by a prominent Lebanese analyst, Nidal Sabi the threats that the US, France and Great Britain are voicing against Syria can result in an armed intervention against it, should there be a pretext in the form of chemical attack in Idlib presented as a justification. According to this expert, this provocation is being staged now by the accomplices of various terrorists groups that are known to the world as the White Helmets.

Foreign “experts” have already arrived to the village of Kafer-Zait in the Idlib Governorate to stage a chemical attack. According to truly independent sources in this region, the White Helmets have delivered chemical munitions to the warehouse of the terrorist group known as Ahrar al-Sham from the village of Afs, using two heavy duty trucks. This deadly load was accompanied by a total of eight representatives of the White Helmets that was received upon their arrival by the warlords of the terrorist formation. Later on, almost a half of the deadly munitions were transported to another location in the south of Idlib for a second false-flag attack to be staged there. It’s believed that these toxic substances will be unleashed against the village of Kafer-Zait. Then a group of local residents is going to pretend to be suffering from chemical poisoning so that the White Helmets could valiantly rush for their rescue in the process of filming a nerve-wrecking video that is going to be distributed across the Middle East and the MSN

This false-flag attack is going to mark the start of an all-out assault against Syrian people that is going to be mounted by the US-led coalition. According to the MSN, American warships are preparing to launch a total of 56 cruise missiles against various targets across Syria. Further still, this salvo is going to be supported by B-1 Lancers that carrying JASSM missiles from the US Air Force Al Udeid base in Qatar.

This nothing new in this flawed circuit of the American foreign policy that goes from the provocation, to hysteria, to retaliation and the regime change. But its use in Syria will effectively mark the end of international law and global security. Washington is behind itself with its attempts to de-legitimize its enemy, that is why it feels bold enough to tread the limits of international law. And it is quite remarkable that without any sort of permission granted by Damascus, Washington has not just been illegally occupying a strip of the Syrian territory, it’s going to use this fact to stage yet another act of aggression against Syria, while being unable to hide its disgusting habits. However, nobody is willing to discuss that with the destruction of the Syrian air force, pro-Damascus forces will lose the last advantage they have had over the forces of international terrorism.

Moreover, Russia has been pretty active in conducting air strikes again radical militants too. The unilateral declaration to establish a no-fly zone, and Washington will never obtain the approval from the UN Security Council to create one, will effectively mean the declaration of war against Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran. The implications are obvious. Russia’s air forces will not flee, nor will abandon the bombing campaign, that has been of great assistance to Assad’s offensive.

For their part, Syrian jihadists will only rejoice if the “two Shaytans” will try to consume each other with infernal fires.

But for the United States and Britain, such a prospect can also lead to serious consequences. In the US there’s an ever increasing number of people wonder what is the reasoning behind Washington’s obsession with regime change in Syria and is it really worth all the risks that that the Trump administration is so willing to ignore that it gets disturbing. American instructors that keep training all sorts of radical militants all across the Middle East are joking they are breeding the “next generation of al-Nusra,” but will they be just as cynical if they learn that these skills are going to be put to the test both in the EU and in the US itself.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on US Military Presence in Northern Syria: Towards A No Fly Zone


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