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Privacy, pulverized: NSA, GCHQ can bypass online encryption, new Snowden leak reveals

RT | September 5, 2013

The latest top-secret documents leaked to the media by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden reveal that United States and British spy agencies have invested billions of dollars towards efforts to make online privacy obsolete.

The New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica all reported on Thursday that newly released Snowden documents expose the great lengths that the National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, have gone to in order to eavesdrop on encrypted Internet communications.

According to the latest Snowden leak, the NSA and its British counterpart have circumvented the encryption methods used to secure emails, chats and essentially most Internet traffic that was previously thought to be protected from prying eyes.

The price tag for such an endeavor, the Guardian reported, is around a quarter-of-a-billion dollars each year for just the US, and involves not just intricate code-breaking, but maintaining partnerships with the tech companies that provide seemingly secure online communication outlets.

The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees that Internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments,” James Ball, Julian Borger and Glenn Greenwald reported for the Guardian.

Outside of the shadowy collaboration with Silicon Valley companies, the governments have also reportedly employed supercomputers capable of decrypting codes commonly used by the most popular online protocols, including HTTPS, voice-over-IP and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

For the past decade, NSA has lead [sic] an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” a 2010 GCHQ document referenced by the Guardian reads. “Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

With regards to reaching that goal through private-sector cooperation, the Guardian reported that the NSA works with tech companies to “covertly influence” their products.

So significant is the leak, the Times and ProPublica reported, that intelligence officials asked that the documents not be published in fear that the disclosures would prompt surveillance targets, such as terrorist organization, to alter the way they communicate online.

In an editorial published alongside the scoop this week by ProPublica, reporters Stephen Engelberg and Richard Tofel said the outlet decided to go ahead with the story because “It shows that the expectations of millions of Internet users regarding the privacy of their electronic communications are mistaken.”

News of the agency’s vast code-breaking capabilities comes just weeks following the shuttering of no fewer than two Internet services that provided encrypted email for paying customers.

Last month, the founder of email provider Lavabit announced that he was shutting down his company because staying in business would likely force him “to become complicit in crimes against the American people.”

Our government can order us to do things that are morally and ethically wrong, order us to spy on other Americans and then order us, using the threat of imprisonment, to keep it all secret,” Levison told RT.

The next day, competitor Silent Circle announced they’d be suspending their encrypted email service as well.

In the three months since Snowden fled the US and began leaking classified documents to the media, a number of international outlets have published revelations made possible by the analysis of top-secret files. According to the Times, Snowden supplied reporters with 50,000 documents, and the Guardian’s Greenwald said at least dozens were, in his opinion, newsworthy.

The latest revelation comes days after the media began reporting on the leaked US intelligence “black budget” supplied by Snowden. In that document, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper prefaced an executive summary by saying that America is “investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic.”

According to the secret funding request, the US Consolidated Cryptologic Program asked for $11 billion in fiscal year 2013 towards covert, code-breaking programs.

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | Leave a comment

The Most Awkward G20 Summit Ever

By Dan Beeton | CEPR Americas Blog | September 5, 2013

President Obama is in St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in the G20 Summit today and tomorrow, amidst a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and several G20 member nations. Looming over the summit are the Obama administration’s plans for a possible military attack on Syria, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that a U.S. military response without U.N. Security Council approval “can only be interpreted as an aggression” and UNASUR – which includes G20 members Argentina and Brazil, issued a statement that “condemns external interventions that are inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”

New revelations of NSA spying on other G20 member nation presidents – Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico – leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and first reported in Brazil’s O Globo, have also created new frictions. Rousseff is reportedly considering canceling a state visit to Washington next month over the espionage and the Obama administration’s response to the revelations, and reportedly has canceled a scheduled trip to D.C. next week by an advance team that was to have done preparations for her visit. The Brazilian government has demanded an apology from the Obama administration. In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, an anonymous senior Brazilian official underscored the gravity of the situation:

[T]he official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the episode, said Rousseff feels “patronized” by the U.S. response so far to the Globo report. She is prepared to cancel the visit as well as take punitive action, including ruling out the purchase of F-18 Super Hornet fighters from Chicago-based Boeing Co, the official said.

“She is completely furious,” the official said.

“This is a major, major crisis …. There needs to be an apology. It needs to be public. Without that, it’s basically impossible for her to go to Washington in October,” the official said.

Other media reports suggest that Brazil may implement measures to channel its Internet communications through non-U.S. companies. But when asked in a press briefing aboard Air Force One this morning, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes did not suggest that such an apology would be forthcoming:

Q   The Foreign Minister said he wanted an apology.

MR. RHODES:  Well, I think — what we’re focused on is making sure the Brazilians understand exactly what the nature of our intelligence effort is.  We carry out intelligence like just about every other country around the world.  If there are concerns that we can address consistent with our national security requirements, we will aim to do so through our bilateral relationship.

Such responses are not likely to go far toward patching things up with Brazil. It is conspicuously dishonest to suggest that the U.S. government “carr[ies] out intelligence like just about every other country around the world,” as no other country is known to have the capacity for the level of global spying that the NSA and other agencies conduct, and few countries are likely to have the intelligence budgets enjoyed by U.S. agencies – currently totaling some $75.6 billion, according to documents leaked by Snowden and reported by the Washington Post.

There are also signs that the Washington foreign policy establishment is troubled by the Obama administration’s dismissive attitude toward Brazil’s understandable outrage. On Tuesday, McClatchy cited Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue – essentially the voice of the Latin America policy establishment in Washington:

Peter Hakim, the president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy group, noted that Secretary of State John Kerry had visited Brasilia last month to patch things up after the initial NSA leaks but “really did not do a very good job. He just brushed it off.”

Hakim said he believed the O Globo report, and he added that “snooping at presidents is disrespectful and offensive.”

Rousseff and Pena Nieto had to issue strong statements, Hakim said. “Both have to show they are not pushovers, that they can stand up to the U.S.,” he said.

The ongoing revelations made by Snowden have affected U.S. relations with other countries as well. As the Pan-American Post points out, Peña Nieto may continue to reduce intelligence sharing with the U.S.; he also said yesterday that “he may discuss the issue with President Barack Obama at the summit.” U.S.-Russian relations, of course, have also recently become tense following Russia’s granting of temporary political asylum to Snowden.

The G20 Summit also comes just after the IMF, at the direction of the U.S. Treasury Department, changed its plan to support the Argentine government in its legal battle with “vulture funds” – meaning that U.S.-Argentine relations may also be relatively cool.

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will 1000 American ‘Human Shields’ Stop Another Criminal War?

By Franklin Lamb | Intifada | September 4, 2013

DamascusA sort of roller coaster atmosphere pervades Damascus these days with “good” and “bad” news rising and falling, often by the quarter hour. Much of the population is monitoring closely the news and quickly expressing their interpretations of the latest media reports and rumors as well as predicting the fairly precise timing of the now assumed American attack on their country.

In the very popular, and normally crowded Abaa Coffee House on the edge of the old city in what is called the Sarugha section, students and others enjoy the fine cool mist, as Damascenes have done for years, that is sprayed from ceiling pipes to provide welcome relief from the 37 degree Celsius (98 degrees F) outside temperatures. Many are glued to their laptops and/or in animated conversation analyzing the likely extent and timing of the soon believed to be arriving American missiles.

This observer often meets interlocutors in the Abaa because it’s very pleasant, large with dozens of tables, cheap and two blocks from my hotel.  I have noticed that common greetings are changing from “kif hallack”  ” (how are you?)  and “Arak lahekan” (see you later)  to “Get  home safely” and “Good luck with the checkpoints.”

But there is also a distinct growing esprit de corps and a broad coming together of much of the population here as the countdown to the American attack on Syria begins.  An evident rallying around the Assad regime, which one presumes is the opposite of what the White House was hoping would result from its threats.

A good friend from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) an humanitarian organization doing amazing rescue, and medical services for Syrians and Palestinians during this expanding crisis, described one way that her friends are preparing for the American attack.  “We gathered our important documents, birth, marriage certificate and passport and made photo copies.  Then we leave them with friends in “safe” areas or even bury them somewhere. No one knows how bad the Americans will bomb us. At work we have been told during our final practice drill last saturday that the next siren will be the ‘real thing’ and we will do as we have planned for.” She added, “Many of my friends and family are leaving but it’s not easy and is very expensive now to go to Lebanon and they don’t want us– and my family has decided to stay in our home no matter what happens in the coming days.”

One common topic being discussed is the reluctance of the American public to attack Syria and how Obama can ignore it.  “What kind of Democracy do you have that your President can ignore the will of the American public?”  this observer is frequently asked.  One soldier who is stationed with his unit just outside my hotel seemed to speak from his heart: “You Americans claim you are trying to help the Syrian people.  Every child knows, both here and in your country I think, that the coming attack will make things much worse for the Syrian people and many others. The American people are good and we hope they can control their government, but we are preparing for the worst and there will be consequences you will come to regret as with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.”

The government here is assuring the public that Syria is ready for the American attack and that public services will continue. TV channels show around the clock images of heroic Syrian army exploits with martial and patriotic music. Youngsters, students and workers are gathering at presumed targets offering themselves as Human Shields in solidarity with their countrymen while challenging President Obama to bomb their beloved Syria.

Interestingly, an International Human Shield movement is coalescing according to informed sources here and abroad. One initiative is to bring 1000 Americans and thousands of others, to Syria within the next ten days to guard likely bomb sites reminding one of the International Solidarity Movement volunteer’s efforts in Occupied Palestine in order to try to protect homes of Palestinians from Government bulldozing.

Some redacted specifics have been disclosed to this observer from an international organizing committee working around the clock on this Human Shield initiative.

Some descriptive excerpts:

International Human Shields  are planning on coming to Syria in solidarity with the Syrian people and in an effort to send a global message and hopefully deter an American attack next week…

Timing – While moves can be made fast and with all other key elements in place, time is not in our favor. Ten mores days for preparation would be ideal. The HS initiative assumes that it must be done in such a way that very little time lapse from the official announcement of the action to the actual arrival of the Human Shields on the ground in Syria…

Impact – In order to achieve a significant impact having at least 1000  Americans and several thousand international Human Shields deployed in Syria is the objective. With ideally at least one representative from every UN Member State, as evidence of the true ‘international community’ opposing the American attack.

The US activist-based steering committee is quickly bringing together professionals in IT, marketing, logistical planning and implementation, spokesperson(s), public relations, accounting, documentarians, and experienced project managers. Ferries from European ports are to be arranged to carry significant numbers of Human Shields from Major European cities. Ideally, several jumbo jets will be chartered to carry human shields from some of the world’s major cities and use of land convoys are under consideration.

An excerpt:

HS/Government Relations – The first objective of the enemies of Syria will be to portray Human Shields as nothing more than pawns of President Bashar al-Assad. This was precisely what the mainstream media did in 2003, presenting Human Shields as pawns of Saddam.  In order for the Human Shields to have power they must be seen as independent supporters of the people of Syria who represent the will of the vast majority of people around the world who oppose the pending US-led western attack. The HS should however work with prominent leaders in the civilian sector of Syrian society and great effort should be made to produce daily news stories of the Human Shields and Syrian people working together to protect Syria from the ongoing foreign instigated aggression. There are once again many details here and these would need to be discussed and agreed if any action will be able to reach its full potential.

Strategy – The sites that Human Shields deploy to must be very well publicized and these sites must be identified as protected sites under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The White House is saying that they are not going to attack infrastructure (as they did with Iraq in 2003), but they must attack the infrastructure as the goal is to drive Syria into the stone age and make it so weak that Israel will through its agents eventually take Syria over. They know that the Syrian people and military cannot be defeated without massive attacks on the infrastructure.

So it is absolutely vital that all power plants, water treatment facilities, bomb shelters (if they exist), civilian communications sites, food storage sites and other such sites that are critical to the civilian population are the primary if not sole focus of sites for the HS to deploy. They cannot deploy to military sites, although I personally feel this is morally defensible, it will neutralize the power of the HS in the public relations realm and intelligent public relations is absolutely critical.

A comprehensive list of protected sites is to be produced immediately and these sites will need to be verified by the most independent sources we can manage to obtain. UN representatives or former representatives would be great, human rights attorneys, legal experts and others of this type are very useful.

There will be room to deploy to sites not specifically listed in the Fourth Geneva Convention, such as with ethnic and religious minority communities who are deathly afraid of the foreign invaders/terrorists. Special emphasis should be placed on Christian populations as the western audience sadly has more sympathy for Christians than Muslims.”

Our goal is to personalize the people of Syria and show their suffering through the eyes of the HS with effective daily reports to be uploaded on the Internet and reported by legitimate news agencies such as Press TV, RT and Telesur. A massive effort must be made to educate the public about the reasons for the Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) and the imperial powers undeniable record of knowingly destroying the lives of ‘protected persons’ as defined in the FGC. There must be high quality, well-spoken Arabic/English speaking spokespersons.

We should be ready to provide evidence of any attack on such sites the moment it happens and have legal briefs prepared to immediately charge the aggressors with war crimes. This is why it is critical that the HS are almost exclusively at sites that are protected by the FGC.

The Action Plan concludes:

We cannot necessarily stop them from doing what they intend to do, but we can make their aggression harm them far more than Syria and its people in the end. Herein lays the power, using the enemies momentum against him in the most powerful way possible.

Time will tell which Americans will arrive first in Syria, the military or the American public. Many Syrians are today praying it will be the latter and have pledged to join them to defeat the coming aggression.

Franklin Lamb can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Syria: the Case for Peace

An Open Letter by Former UN Officials

THE CASE FOR PEACE

The drums of war are beating once more in the Middle East, this time with the possibility of an imminent attack on Syria, after the alleged use of chemical weapons by its government. It is precisely in times of crisis such as now that the case for peace can be made in the clearest and most obvious manner.

First of all, we have no proof that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. Even if proofs were provided by Western governments, we have to remain skeptical, remembering the Tonkin Gulf incident and the Vietnam war, the incubator baby massacre in Kuwait and the first Gulf war, the Racak massacre and the Kosovo war, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the second Gulf war, the threat of massacre in Benghazi and the Libyan war. All these justifications for previous wars were fabricated or dubious. We may also notice that evidence for the use of chemical weapons was provided to the U.S. by Israeli intelligence  which is not exactly a neutral actor.

Even if, this time, proofs were genuine, it would not legitimate unilateral action from anyone. That still needs an authorization of the Security Council. People who accuse the Security Council of inaction should remember how Western powers abused a Security Council resolution to stage a full-fledged attack on Libya in order to perform “regime change” in that country — this is what motivates Russia and China’s opposition to any Security Council motion that may lead to intervention in Syria.

What is called in the West the “international community” willing to attack Syria is reduced to essentially two major countries (US and France), out of almost two hundred in the world. No respect for international law is possible without respect for the decent opinions of the rest of mankind.

Even if a military action was allowed and carried on, what could it accomplish? Nobody can seriously control chemical weapons without putting “boots on the grounds”, which is not considered by anyone a realistic option after the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan. The West has no real ally in Syria. The jihadists fighting the government have no more love for the West than those who assassinated the U.S. Ambassador in Libya. It is one thing to take money and weapons from some country, but quite another to be its genuine ally.

There have been offers of negotiations coming from the Syrian, Iranian and Russian governments, which have been treated with contempt by the West. People who say “we cannot talk or negotiate with Assad” forget that this has been said about the National Liberation Front in Algeria, Ho Chi Minh, Mao, the Soviet Union, the PLO, the IRA, the ETA, Mandela and the ANC, and many guerillas in Latin America. The issue is not whether one talks to the other side, but after how many unnecessary deaths one accepts to do so.

The time when the U.S. and its few remaining allies acted as global policemen and national sovereignty was considered passé is actually behind us. The world becomes more multi-polar, not less, and the people of the world want more sovereignty not less. The greatest social transformation of the twentieth century has been decolonization and the West should adapt itself to the fact that it has neither the right, nor the competence, nor the means to rule the world.

There is no place where the strategy of permanent wars has failed more miserably than the Middle East, starting with the creation of Israel and the fateful decision to refuse the right of return to the Palestinian refugees. Then came the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, the Suez canal adventure, the many Israeli wars, the two Gulf wars, combined with the murderous sanctions against Iraq, the constant threats against Iran and now the war in Syria.

True courage does not consist in launching cruise missiles once more but  in breaking radically with that deadly logic: force Israel to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians, convene the Geneva II conference on Syria and discuss with the Iranian their nuclear program by taking honestly into account the legitimate security and economic interests of that country.

The recent vote against the war in the British Parliament, as well as reactions on social media, reflects a massive shift of public opinion in the West. We are getting tired of wars, and ready to join the real international community in demanding a world based on the U.N. Charter, demilitarization, respect for national sovereignty and equality of all nations.

The people of the West also demand to exercise their right of self-determination: if wars have to be made, they have to be based on open debates and direct concerns for our national security and not on some ill-defined and easily manipulable notion of “right to intervene”.

It remains to force our politicians to respect that right.

Dr. Hans Christof von Sponeck, UN Assistant Secretary General and United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (1998 -2000)

Dr. Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary General (1994-1998)

Dr. Saïd Zulficar, UNESCO official (1967-1996). Director of Operational Activities, Division of Cultural Heritage (1992 -1996)

Dr. Samir Radwan, Adviser on Development Policies to the Director-General of ILO (2001-2003). Egyptian Finance Minister (January-July 2011).

Dr. Samir Basta, Director of UNICEF’s Regional Office for Europe (1990-1995). Director of UNICEF’s Evaluation Office (1985-1990)

Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann, President of the UN General Assembly (2008-2009). Nicaraguan Foreign Minister (1979-1990).

José L. Gómez del Prado, Former Senior Officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Member of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries (2005-2011).

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historians will ask why Obama destroyed & torpedoed Syrian peace deal

RT | September 5, 2013

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds in the Syrian conflict, with suffering refugees reaching the two-million mark, RT’s contributor Afshin Rattansi says Obama actually destroyed the peace deal when it was on the table.

RT: First, let us just talk about where the countries are standing at the moment. France, for example, is saying “We won’t go ahead and strike unless US Congress sanctions military action”. And so, does that actually mean that this has got nothing to do with the UN Security Council; it all depends on what the US says?

Afshin Rattansi: That’s right. President Obama, that first African-American president in history, is presiding over what he presumably realizes is direct conflict with the UN, though it does have Ban-Ki Moon, a sanguine figure who doesn’t seem to care that much about the fact that it looks like it may suffer the same fate as the League of Nations. And President Francois Hollande cutting a suitably Napoleonic figure, saying “We feel very strongly about it, but we won’t do it, if President Obama doesn’t get his Congressional support”… I don’t know it’s not clear at the moment whether President Obama needs that Congressional support. But he has it anyway, if he gives away on Obama care maybe.

RT: It seems that he has got that support, because today the leaders have said they will support military intervention, and of course, this big vote is next week. But do you think there will be a definite vote in Congress for Obama to go ahead? The indications are there.

AR: I suppose when we first heard the Russian Defense Ministry talking about ballistic items being shot out of ships, it should drive home the point to people around the world that Obama can strike at any moment.

He has, after all, conducted joint strikes in the past 72 hours in Yemen and in Afghanistan. So, I don’t think he’ll wait for that approval; he is quite convinced he’ll get this approval definitely and there will be a few deals on things President Obama didn’t particularly want anyway, and was only doing to please his base. But no, I don’t think he needs Congressional approval, the exact vote, he was very clear to say he needed no timeline and there’s the fact that President Assad is threatening US national security, in which case there’s plenty of precedent for the United States President to act alone. The Congressional thing is a bit of window-dressing.

RT: Two million refugees now, a humanitarian crisis unfolding… What sort of repercussions does this have on neighboring countries?

AR: When one looks at those numbers of American destroyers, the number of missiles, and the cost of all of that… Historians in the future will be saying, “Why”, when there was a peace deal on the table to be discussed in Geneva, did Obama destroy and torpedo the peace deal and leave the plight of the refugees to get worse and worse?

One should add of course that while there are brilliant people working for NGO refugee agencies, they act as an arm of the American government. It might be incumbent on some of those refugee agency volunteers, and more so the people who are paid to work for them, to look at where their salaries are coming from – from the same people that are creating the refugee crisis. But, as you say, two million… When I was last in Syria, I was writing for CounterPunch and I was talking about the massive amount of care and concern President Assad’s government had for the results of the NATO invasion of Iraq, taking in the equivalent, proportionately, of twenty million refugees, if it was the United States.

RT: Just briefly, you’re there in London, Syria seems to be a long, long way away, but the refugee crisis, could it have some sort of impact on Europe?

AR: It was very recently that both parties here – Conservative and Labor – were ratcheting up pressure, saying “We don’t want asylum seekers”.  The Labor party here often says, “We are swamped with asylum seekers”. I think they live on 7 dollars a day. Of course, the refugee crisis will lead to Syrians looking for succor. And I’m sure Britain and America will welcome all these refugees. Again, as you say, hundreds of thousands in that region, and there will be refugees on the streets of London, if Obama carries out his plans for war.

Afshin Rattansi is a journalist, author of “The Dream of the Decade – the London Novels” and an RT Contributor. He can be reached at afshinrattansi@hotmail.com.

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel expects Congress to approve strike on Syria

MEMO | September 4, 2013

Israelis initially criticized the Obama administration when he referred the approval of a military strike on Syria to the Congress last week.
Israeli officials are expecting that US President Barack Obama will get Congressional approval for a military strike on Syria next week when the Congress reconvenes.

Israeli media reports said that the Israel lobby is working hard to convince lawmakers to support this decision.

Israelis initially criticized the Obama administration when he referred the approval of a military strike on Syria to the Congress last week.

However former head of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset Tzahi Hangbi told Israel’s military radio on Wednesday that calling the Obama administration “dead” was premature.

Hangbi, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, praised Obama’s decision to seek congressional support. He stated that Obama’s request would unite the administration and the congress, and the practical result of this step would be to widen the scope for any potential strike.

 

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Should We Fall Again for ‘Trust Me’?

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | September 3, 2013

In a dazzling display of chutzpah, the White House is demanding that Congress demonstrate blind trust in a U.S. intelligence establishment headed by James Clapper, a self-confessed perjurer.

That’s a lot to ask in seeking approval for a military attack on Syria, a country posing no credible threat to the United States. But with the help of the same corporate media that cheer-led us into war with Iraq, the administration has already largely succeeded in turning public discussion into one that assumes the accuracy of both the intelligence on the apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria and President Barack Obama’s far-fetched claim that Syria is somehow a threat to the United States.

Here we go again with the old political gamesmanship over ”facts” as a prelude to war, a replay of intelligence trickery from Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq’s nonexistent WMD. Once more, White House officials are mounting a full-court press in Congress, hoping there will be enough ball turnovers to enable the administration to pull out a victory, with the corporate media acting as hometown referees.

And in the weekend talk shows, Secretary of State John Kerry, team co-captain in this transparent effort to tilt the playing field, certainly had his game face on. Kerry left little doubt that he KNOWS that the Syrian government is guilty of launching a chemical weapons attack on suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. How do we know he knows? Simple: It’s “Trust me” once again.

Did you not watch Kerry’s bravura performance before the TV cameras on Friday when he hawked the dubious evidence against the Syrian government? Someone should tell Kerry that using the word “know” 35 times does not suffice to dispel well-founded doubts and continuing ambiguities about the “intelligence,” such as it is. The administration’s white paper, issued to support Kerry’s “knowledge,” didn’t provide a single verifiable fact that established Syrian government guilt. [See Consortiumnews.com’sA Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War.”]

But with his bravado, Kerry’s ploy was obvious – to sweep aside serious questions about the evidence and move the discussion simply to one of how much punishment should be inflicted on Syria. “So now that we know what we know, the question … is: What will we do?” Kerry said Friday.

But, Mr. Kerry, please not so fast with your attempt to do an Iraq War number on us. Frankly, asking us to simply trust you (especially after your 2002 vote for President George W. Bush’s Iraq War resolution) is too much to ask. Given the disease of prevarication circulating like a virus among top intelligence officials, one would have to have been “born yesterday” (to use one of Harry Truman’s expressions) to take you at your word.

And, there are hopeful signs that Congress, which has been fooled more than once before, may see through this latest rush to judgment. “Yes, I saw the classified documents,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told The Hill newspaper. “They were pretty thin.”

Some lawmakers are even stating another obvious point; i.e., that even with congressional approval, a military strike on Syria would be not only an international crime, but also unconstitutional because of the Constitution’s supremacy clause making treaties the supreme law of the land.

Under the United Nations Treaty, signatories like the U.S. pledge not to use – or even threaten to use – military force against another nation without U.N. Security Council approval or unless already attacked or in imminent danger of attack. None of those conditions apply here.

So, even if the “intelligence” against Syria were air-tight (which it isn’t) and if Congress approves a use-of-force resolution, the U.S. Constitution still requires that we abide by the U.N. Treaty and obtain Security Council approval. How can lawyers like Obama and Kerry ignore such basics?

There are also other options for punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if there’s real evidence that he was complicit in the Aug. 21 attack. Like other leaders accused of war crimes, he can be indicted by the International Criminal Court or subjected to a special war-crimes tribunal. Yet, instead of following those legal strategies, which are specifically designed for these sorts of situations, President Obama proposes punishing one alleged war crime by committing another.

Intelligence? A Sow’s Ear

But there remains the key question of establishing the Assad government’s guilt and whether the Obama administration’s “high-confidence” assessment about that point is justified. It is a time-honored (or, better, time-dishonored) custom for White House officials bent on war to distort or even manufacture “intelligence” to justify their aims, especially after they’ve gone public with their “knowledge.”

On this point, I can say – “with high confidence” – that the White House is at it again, perpetrating another fraud on Congress and the American people. And most of the U.S. mainstream press has elbowed past the many questions about the quality of the intelligence and has moved on to discussing whether President Obama will “win” or “lose” the congressional vote, whether partisanship will spill over into foreign policy hurting America’s “credibility” to look tough.

Was it just a little over a decade ago that we watched President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney create out of whole cloth intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq while the U.S. press corps mostly acted as stenographers and cheerleaders? Mistakes are forgivable; fraud is not; neither is cowardice in the face of a misguided rush to war. And the fact that not a single senior Bush administration official was held accountable compounds the problem.

Since many Americans, malnourished as they are by the corporate media, need to be reminded, let’s say it again: The pre-Iraq “intelligence” was not mistaken; it was fraudulent. And, sad to say, then-CIA Director George Tenet and his malleable managers were willing accomplices in that fraud. You need not take my word for it.

Just five years ago, in June 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, announced the conclusions of a five-year committee investigation into pre-Iraq War intelligence approved by a bipartisan majority of 10-5 (Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe voting with the Democratic majority). Emphasizing the committee’s conclusion that the Bush administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence, Rockefeller declared, “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Pressure on Intelligence Analysts

My former CIA analyst colleague, Paul R. Pillar, who, as National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East before the attack on Iraq, experienced up-front and personal the extreme pressure that intelligence analysts feel when a president has decided to make war, addressed this problem recently in “The Risk of Distorting Intelligence.” Pillar pointed out that an Associated Press story on the Obama administration’s preparation of the public for a military strike on Syria included these statements:

“The White House ideally wants intelligence that links the attack [with chemical weapons] directly to Assad or someone in his inner circle, to rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the military act[ed] without Assad’s authorization. That quest for added intelligence has delayed the release of the report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence laying out evidence against Assad. … The CIA and the Pentagon have been working to gather more human intelligence tying Assad to the attack.”

Pillar adds, “When one hears that policy-makers want not just intelligence on a particular subject but intelligence that supports a particular conclusion about that subject, antennae ought to go up. A ‘quest’ for conclusion-bolstering material is fundamentally different from an open-minded use of intelligence to inform policy decisions yet to be made. It is instead a matter of making a public (and Congressional) case to support a decision already made.”

This was the kind of highly politicized “policy kitchen” in which intelligence analysts and other officials were pressured to serve as cooks whipping up the frothy broth labeled “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons,” lauded by Secretary of State Kerry on Friday. The manner in which it was issued shows it to be a “policy statement,” NOT an “intelligence summary,” as widely described in the media. And, clearly, there were too many cooks involved.

In contrast to key past issuances of similarly high political sensitivity, the “Government Assessment” released on Friday does not appear under the letterhead of the Director of National Intelligence as was the case, for example, with the official statement issued on Sept. 28, 2012, “on the intelligence related to the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.”

This break in customary practice may have been simply a function of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper being in such bad odor among those lawmakers who still care about truth. Clapper has confessed to telling Congress, under oath, “clearly erroneous” things about the  National Security Agency’s surveillance abuses.

Thus, the administration runs some risk in trotting out Clapper this week to testify before the intelligence and national security committees of Congress. Perhaps the White House has decided it has to rely on Clapper’s demonstrated gift for lying with a straight face (though sweaty pate); or it may be counting on short-term memory loss on the part of the many superannuated and/or distracted members of Congress.

Clapper’s Record

Well before Obama appointed him Director of National Intelligence three years ago, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper showed himself to be a subscriber to the George Tenet doctrine of compliant malleability, having helped Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld falsify the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Did no one tell Obama about Clapper’s key role in the cooking of intelligence before the Iraq War?

Rumsfeld handpicked Clapper to be the first civilian director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), where he served during the crucial period of September 2001 to June 2006. NGA’s responsibilities included analysis of satellite imagery – the most capable and likely collection resource to discover weapons of mass destruction facilities in Iraq or to verify Iraqi “defector” reports of hidden WMD caches.

So why didn’t NGA point out the absence of WMD evidence or note the many discrepancies in the stories being told by the “defectors” – many of whom were coached by the pro-invasion Iraqi National Congress? The answer: Clapper knew which side his bread was buttered on. Instead of speaking truth to power, he not only fell in with the Tenet school of obeisance, but also glommed onto Donald Rumsfeld’s aphorism: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Working for Rumsfeld, Clapper’s job, pure and simple, was to stifle any untutored-to-the-ways-of-Washington analyst who might ask unwelcome questions like: Could the reason there is not a trace of Iraqi WMD in any of the satellite imagery be that there is none there – and that the Pentagon’s favorite “defectors” are lying through their teeth?

When no WMD caches were found, it was Clapper who suggested, without a shred of evidence, that Saddam Hussein had sent the phantom WMD to Syria, a theory that also was pushed by neocons both to deflect criticism of their false assurances about Iraq’s WMD and to open a new military front against another Israeli nemesis, Syria.  (It appears that time may have finally come.)

On more substantive issues – like the key one, “why they hate us” – Clapper has advanced some imaginative theories about what makes terrorists tick. It’s “self-radicalization,” you see. Clapper promoted this bedeviling concept while a nominee for the post of Director of National Intelligence, which he – having played fast and loose with the truth, aside – still occupies.

At his nomination hearing Clapper was asked by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, about lessons drawn from the investigation of Army Major Nidal Hasan, the psychiatrist sentenced to death last week for killing 13 people at Fort Hood. Clapper responded that “self-radicalization” is a “daunting challenge. … I don’t have the answer to the challenge; identification of self-radicalization may not lend itself to detection by intelligence agencies. … It’s almost like detecting tendencies for suicide ahead of time.”

Still Far From a Silk Purse

If intelligence community leaders have any pride left, they may also have been embarrassed by how last Friday’s “Government Assessment” fit the old bureaucratic image of a camel as the arch-typical horse designed by committee. Seldom have my intelligence alumni colleagues and I seen a more meandering, repetitive, fulsome document. Full of verisimilitude, the document nonetheless includes this key acknowledgment: “Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence can take short of confirmation.”

It seems a safe bet that during the next two weeks’ testimony before the various national security committees of the Senate and House, Kerry and Clapper will claim that additional intelligence has “confirmed” what until now has been simply the “assessments” of the U.S. government. Let’s hope that lawmakers have the good sense to ask for actual evidence that can withstand independent scrutiny.

Colin Powell’s meretricious U.N. speech on Feb. 5, 2003, was at least well crafted and persuasively presented. In a same-day assessment, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) gave him an A for presentation, while almost flunking him (with a C-minus) for substance. In our Memorandum for the President that day, we urged that the discussion be widened beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we saw no compelling reason and from which we believed the unintended consequences were likely to be catastrophic.

If President Obama would let us in the door, we would tell him the same thing today, since he has surrounded himself with a menagerie of “tough guys and gals” as well as some neocons and neocons-lite. Before Kerry went on TV Friday, VIPS had already warned Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey “there are serious problems with the provenance and nature of the ‘intelligence’ that is being used to support the need for military action.” Those problems remain.

Tonkin Gulf

From my own personal life experience, there was another good example of how the prostitution of intelligence works: When the Tonkin Gulf incident (used to “justify” the Vietnam War) took place 49 years ago, I was a journeyman CIA analyst in what Condoleezza Rice has called “the bowels of the agency.” As an intelligence analyst responsible for Russian policy toward Southeast Asia and China, I worked very closely with those doing analysis on Vietnam and China.

At the time, the U.S. had about 16,000 troops in South Vietnam, but there was mounting political pressure to dramatically expand the U.S. troop levels to prevent a Communist victory. President Lyndon Johnson feared that Republicans would blame him for “losing Vietnam” the way some tarred Harry Truman for “losing China.” So the Gulf of Tonkin incident – North Vietnamese allegedly firing on a U.S. destroyer in international waters – offered Johnson the chance both to look tough and to get a congressional carte blanche for a wider war.

Those of us in intelligence – not to mention President Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy – knew full well that the evidence of any North Vietnamese attack on the evening of Aug. 4, 1964, the so-called “second” Tonkin Gulf incident, was highly dubious.

But it fit the President’s purposes. The North Vietnamese could be presented as aggressors attacking a U.S. ship on a routine patrol in international waters. To make the scam work, however, the American people and members of Congress had to be kept in the dark about the actual facts of the case, all the better to whip them into a war frenzy.

Only years later was the fuller story revealed. During the summer of 1964, President Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were eager to widen the war in Vietnam. They stepped up sabotage and hit-and-run attacks on the coast of North Vietnam. Defense Secretary McNamara later admitted that he and other senior leaders had concluded that the seaborne attacks “amounted to little more than pinpricks” and “were essentially worthless,” but they continued.

Concurrently, the National Security Agency was ordered to collect signals intelligence from the North Vietnamese coast on the Gulf of Tonkin, and the coastal attacks were seen as a helpful way to get the North Vietnamese to turn on their coastal radars. The destroyer USS Maddox, carrying electronic spying gear, was authorized to approach as close as eight miles from the coast and four miles from offshore islands, some of which already had been subjected to intense shelling by clandestine attack boats.

As James Bamford describes it in Body of Secrets: “The twin missions of the Maddox were in a sense symbiotic. The vessel’s primary purpose was to act as a seagoing provocateur — to poke its sharp gray bow and the American flag as close to the belly of North Vietnam as possible, in effect shoving its 5-inch cannons up the nose of the Communist navy. In turn, this provocation would give the shore batteries an excuse to turn on as many coastal defense radars, fire control systems, and communications channels as possible, which could then be captured by the men … at the radar screens. The more provocation, the more signals…

“The Maddox’ mission was made even more provocative by being timed to coincide with commando raids, creating the impression that the Maddox was directing those missions and possibly even lobbing firepower in their support. … North Vietnam also claimed at least a twelve-mile limit and viewed the Maddox as a trespassing ship deep within its territorial waters.”

On Aug. 2, 1964, an intercepted message ordered North Vietnamese torpedo boats to attack the Maddox. The destroyer was alerted and raced out to sea beyond reach of the torpedoes, three of which were fired in vain at the destroyer’s stern. The Maddox’s captain suggested that the rest of his mission be called off, but the Pentagon refused. And still more commando raids were launched on Aug. 3, shelling for the first time targets on the mainland, not just the offshore islands.

Early on Aug. 4, the Maddox captain cabled his superiors that the North Vietnamese believed his patrol to be directly involved with the commando raids and shelling. That evening at 7:15 (Vietnam time) the Pentagon alerted the Maddox to intercepted messages indicating that another attack by patrol boats was imminent.

What followed was panic and confusion. There was a score of reports of torpedo and other hostile attacks, but no damage and growing uncertainty as to whether any attack actually took place. McNamara was told that “freak radar echoes” were misinterpreted by “young fellows” manning the sonar, who were “apt to say any noise is a torpedo.”

This did not prevent McNamara from testifying to Congress two days later that there was “unequivocal proof” of a new attack. And based largely on that, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution allowing Johnson to escalate the war with intense aerial bombardments and the dispatch of more than a half million U.S. troops, 58,000 who would die along with estimates of several million Vietnamese and other people of Indochina.

Meanwhile, in ‘the Bowels’

However, by the afternoon of Aug. 4, 1964, the CIA’s expert analyst on North Vietnam (let’s call him “Tom”) had concluded that probably no one had fired on the U.S. ships. He included a paragraph to that effect in the item he wrote for the Current Intelligence Bulletin, which would be wired to the White House and other key agencies and appear in print the next morning.

And then something unique happened. The Director of the Office of Current Intelligence, a very senior officer whom Tom had never before seen, descended into the bowels of the agency to order the paragraph deleted. He explained: “We’re not going to tell LBJ that now. He has already decided to bomb North Vietnam. We have to keep our lines open to the White House.”

“Tom” later bemoaned — quite rightly: “What do we need open lines for, if we’re not going to use them, and use them to tell the truth?”

The late Ray S. Cline, who as Deputy Director for Intelligence was the current-intelligence director’s boss at the time of the Tonkin Gulf incident, said he was “very sure” that no attack took place on Aug. 4. He suggested that McNamara had shown the President unevaluated signals intelligence that referred to the (real) earlier attack on Aug. 2 rather than the non-event on the 4th. There was no sign of remorse on Cline’s part that he didn’t step in and make sure the President was told the truth.

Though we in the bowels of the agency knew there was no Aug. 4 attack – and so did some of our superiors – everyone also knew, as did McNamara, that President Johnson was lusting for a pretext to strike the North and escalate the war. And, like B’rer Rabbit, nobody said nothin’.

Let’s hope that, this time on Syria, at least one or two senior intelligence or policy officials will find a way to get the truth out – heeding their own conscience and oath to support and defend the Constitution – rather than succumb to the ever-present temptation to give priority to being part of the President’s “team.”

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served in CIA from the administrations of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush, including as drafter and briefer of the President’s Daily Brief under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel’s rocket test gives Obama his Cuban missile moment

By Tony Gosling | RT | September 5, 2013

On Tuesday, September 3, 2013, the world awoke to a confused and contradictory story of two ‘missile tests’ off the coast of Syria. First came denials, then a series of contradictions from the US Defense Department, Navy and Israeli Defense Force.

Eventually the ‘joint US/Israeli exercise’ featuring Israeli ‘unarmed decoy missiles’ line emerged.

This unannounced ‘exercise’, while the region is on a hair trigger for war, paints a picture of a US president who has lost the initiative to his so-called allies. Israeli hawks are itching to shoot, annoyed by British, US and French democratic checks and balances. So the war hawks of Zion bare their talons, screech, and expect their US allies to cover their rear.

Letting missiles loose toward the Syrian coast on Tuesday was not a test, it was an Israeli provocation. In the few minutes these ‘Sparrows’ were whizzing toward Syria, President Assad’s military had to decide whether or not to retaliate. These German-designed guided missile destroyers or submarines that fired the missiles are lucky not to be at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Some of the older among us are experiencing deja vu. Fifty years ago during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, America and the Soviet Union peered over the edge of the nuclear abyss. US hawks were urging the president to invade Cuba before Khrushchev’s nuclear missiles arrived. Kennedy wisely demurred and it later emerged tactical nuclear weapons were primed and ready for US troops had they tried it on.

At the height of the Cuban crisis, 4am on Friday October 26, US Strategic Air Command (SAC) inexplicably launched an Atlas ICBM from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base straight toward Russia.

SAC knew the Soviet military would be bracing themselves for the first nuclear strike since Nagasaki and might choose to retaliate against North America before the Atlas arrived. When the Atlas dropped into the sea, Kennedy was finally told. A bemused and disturbed president issued direct orders prohibiting ANY further test launches.

This vicious tomfoolery is precisely what President Dwight D. Eisenhower meant when he warned in his closing address on January 17, 1961 that “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military industrial complex.” The former general feared for any president who’d never been a soldier.

There can be lots of money in making war. It’s an international protection racket. If you have a tame media and can’t find a good reason to fight … any old cock-and-bull story will do.

Obama’s ‘Little Syria’ reminds of Kennedy’s ‘Little Cuba’

The more fingers holding down triggers, buttons pressed and war-fighting supercomputer mice clicked, the more replenishment orders roll in and share prices edge up in real time. Since ‘Dr. Strangelove’ was made Commanding Officer those dividends just keep rolling in.

So after Jack Kennedy’s ‘Little Cuba’, how will Obama get on with ‘Little Syria’ and who are the main characters? The continent is different, but the stakes are the same, both sides look to be backed by unspeakable nuclear arsenals.

Free Syrian Army fighters stand in front of buildings damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the old city of Aleppo September 2, 2013. (Reuters/Molhem Barakat)

This time Zionist fundamentalist Benjamin Netanyahu has taken the role of Joker in the pack, straight out of Gotham City. A war crime is not a war crime and the UN Security Council is hooey when you’re on a mission from God. Here the NATO zone mainstream media has truly missed a trick: it’s not Yahweh, but one-eyed Wotan that floats Bibi’s boat.

So if the war crime orders really do come, let’s hope Obama’s ballistic missile security is up to scratch and whoever gives the illegal order is arrested rather than buttons being pressed. The signs are not good though: 341st Missile Wing’s Colonel David Lynch in Montana was relieved of his command last month after his Malmstrom ICBM Air Force base in Montana failed its safety test.

The covert war, the arming and training of the Syrian rebels, is all but lost. Now, if the NATO-Israeli alliance openly attacks Syria, there can and will be no repeating the lies and delusions of Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq or Libya. This time the people have spoken loud and clear in Britain, through the House of Commons.

If our so-called leaders travel any further down this bloody road to Damascus they will be declaring war not just on Syria, Iran and Russia, but on their own populations. While arms manufacturers BAe Systems and EADS share price might show a temporary spike, that is a war they can only lose.

Beginning his working life in the aviation industry and trained by the BBC, Tony Gosling is a British land rights activist, historian & investigative radio journalist.

September 5, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment