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US inks deal to purchase Iron Dome missile systems from Israel

Press TV – August 13, 2019

The US army has formally signed a contract to purchase two Iron Dome missile systems from Israel, according to a report.

America’s military magazine, Defense News, said in a report on Tuesday that the US Defense Department had finalized a deal to buy two batteries of the Israeli-made Iron Dome missile system for its interim cruise missile defense capability.

The report said the contract was signed in the last few weeks and that Israel and the US are currently in talks on transferring the systems to America.

“Now that the contract is set in stone, the Army will be able to figure out delivery schedules and details in terms of taking receipt of the systems,” the military magazine said.

Defense News added that the Israeli-made Iron Dome is meant as an interim missile defense solution for the US but it could turn into a permanent one depending on its performance in the field.

The purchase deal, initially announced earlier in the year, has been hailed as historic, marking the first time Israel has sold a standalone weapons system to Washington.

“A great achievement for Israel, this is yet another expression of the strengthening of our strong alliance with the US,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in February.

The Iron Dome has been co-developed by American company Raytheon and Israeli defense firm Rafael. It is partly manufactured in the United States.

The Iron Dome is claimed to be capable of detecting, assessing and intercepting a variety of shorter-range targets such as rockets, artillery and mortars.

The system was originally developed to counter small rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups fired into Israeli occupied territories in retaliation for the regime’s crimes against Palestinians.

The Iron Dome has proven largely ineffective in serving that purpose.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Corruption | , | 2 Comments

India’s narrative on J&K is hyperbolic

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | August 13, 2019

Editorials have appeared in two leading Delhi newspapers today (here and here) urging the government to present a credible, appealing diplomatic narrative on the J&K developments.

The Indian narrative so far is largely focused on the domestic audience. It has gone to ridiculous extents by projecting that the situation is actually quite “normal” in J&K. Pictures of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval savouring (mutton) biryani with Kashmiri Muslims on a street corner in Srinagar have been doing the rounds. (Indeed, it was a charade to hoodwink the public.)

Crude propaganda won’t win hearts and minds. A narrative has to be crafted rationally. It’s common knowledge that there is little acceptance of the government move among Kashmiri Muslims.

When it comes to the external projection of the Indian narrative, given the fact that India’s case is flying in the face of international law and the UN Charter, the government must be capable of sensitivity.

The government would have seized the initiative at the diplomatic level if only soon after Home Minister Amit Shah piloted through both houses of the parliament at breakneck speed the legislation on abrogating Article 370 of the constitution, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had stood up and made a suo moto statement offering to discuss all differences with Pakistan bilaterally in a comprehensive dialogue in the best interests of regional security, peace and stability.

Of course, such a momentous initiative would have required imagination, far-sightedness and wisdom — and, most important, political courage at the leadership level. The shortfall in statecraft and diplomacy is appalling.

A self-righteous attitude will not do. Take EAM’s demarche with the Chinese counterpart State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Monday. The MEA readout spells out the Indian stance on the following lines:

One, constitutional amendment is an “internal matter for India” and the “sole prerogative of the country”.

Two, abrogation of J&K’s special status (including changes in Ladakh’s status) is aimed at “promoting better governance and socio-economic development”.

Three, the government move has “no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control” with China.

And, four, India is “not raising any additional territorial claims.”

Incredibly enough, this was how EAM brushed aside China’s “serious concern over the recent escalation of turmoil in Kashmir” – that “any unilateral action that may complicate the situation in Kashmir should not be taken; that the Kashmir issue is a dispute born out of the region’s colonial history and should be properly handled in a peaceful way in line with the UN Charter, relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and bilateral agreements between Pakistan and India”; and, its expectation that “India will play a constructive role in regional peace and stability.” (here, here, here, here and here

EAM’s rejoinder may have some resonance domestically within India as a macho attitude, but it will only arouse mirth and derision abroad — even in the diplomatic enclave in Chanakyapuri area.

No P5 member country has officially voiced support for India. There is no shred of evidence that the Russian Foreign Ministry voiced support for India on the issue — not on the FO website; neither in a Tass or Novosti report nor even in the irrepressible Russian press. Some fly-by-night operator well-versed with the Indian rope trick, apparently spread fake news on a Friday night and it became “breaking news” in India by next morning. Pathetic.

Simply put, the Indian stance articulated by EAM is fundamentally flawed in logic and can only be counter-productive, as it shuts the door on discussion. The point is, Kashmir is an international dispute and India unilaterally changed J&K’s “status” in violation of the relevant UN resolutions. No one will accept India’s claim that it is an “internal matter”.

World opinion accepts that Pakistan is a party to Kashmir dispute. It is beside the point that India is not redrawing boundaries. And it’s gratuitous to say there is “no implication” for the LOC or the LOAC. If things were that simple, why couldn’t Modi government stomach the CPEC passing through Gilgit-Baltistan? We screamed, “territorial sovereignty” blah, blah.

World opinion will only believe that Delhi’s real intention is to change the demographic balance so that there shall be no Muslim-majority entity henceforth within the Indian Union.

If such unilateral acts in modern history are as simple as “internal matter”, why is no one recognising Russia’s annexation of Crimea? Why is Beijing so sensitive on intervention in Hong Kong? Why is the US insisting on “freedom of navigation” in South China Sea? Why is the US raising eyebrow over the North Sea Route and the Arctic? What is wrong with Iran’s claim over Persian Gulf as sovereign territory? What prevents Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa from solving the Tamil problem in similar fashion (as he hinted last week)?

The Modi government will be creating a long-term, intractable problem for India for generations to come by adopting such an ostrich approach. Analysts have pointed out (here and here) that the change in Ladakh’s status makes the India-China border dispute incredibly complicated and all but unsolvable. India’s international standing can get seriously damaged.   

The only way to address the conundrum is to propose to Pakistan that India is ready to discuss these differences. Fortuitously, Pakistan also faces the unhappy situation that no one in the international community is showing willingness to stand up and be counted as its partner to push back at India.

The bottom line is that India enjoys wide acceptance for its insistence on bilateralism to resolve differences with Pakistan. India should now tactfully exercise this privilege. It is always possible to hold out informal assurances that there’ll be no “colonisation” of Kashmir valley. After all, we have such safeguards for many regions of India.  

The window of opportunity shall not remain open for long. From all accounts, the ground situation in J&K is explosive and the grating roar of human misery is approaching. PM Imran Khan’s prognosis on another Pulwama is not off the mark. For Delhi to build a new architecture in J&K out of the debris all around, a dialogue with Pakistan is critically important.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , , | Leave a comment

Mediation Is the Way Forward for Kashmir

By Brian Cloughley | Strategic Culture Foundation | August 13, 2019

It so happened that when the most recent Kashmir crisis broke on 5 August I was at a gathering of the UN Blue Berets of Kashmir. We served together in that beautiful but now chaotic region 39 years ago and have had a reunion almost every year since then. We have rarely been able to discuss good news about Kashmir, because there hasn’t been any.

The August decision by India’s ultra-nationalist Prime Minister to unilaterally change the status of the territory is only one of the many disasters to befall it in the seventy years since the Muslim majority state, the fiefdom of a Hindu Maharaja, was allocated to India by the colonial British who in 1947 had been forced to grant independence to India, resulting in creation of the separate nations of Pakistan and India which disagree about the status of the territory.

Before examining the Indian government’s recent actions, a most important aspect of the Kashmir dispute has to be clarified. It concerns the matter of bilateralism as interpreted by India. This was indicated, for example, by the newspaper the Chandigarh Tribune which stated on 8 August that “UN chief Antonio Guterres has recalled the Simla Agreement of 1972, a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan that rejects third-party mediation in Kashmir after Islamabad asked him to play his ‘due role’ following New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.”

The Tribune is one of India’s best newspapers. Its reports are usually factual, objective and well-written. But it is flat wrong in its contention that the Simla Accord “rejects” third party mediation about Kashmir, because it most certainly does no such thing.

The Tribune was retailing the policy of the Indian government whose External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar announced on 2 August that he had “conveyed to American counterpart Mike Pompeo, this morning in clear terms, that any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally.” India has for decades insisted that involvement of any third party is not permissible and that there can be no mediation.

It is obvious why India refuses to countenance mediation — because it is almost certain that any independent, objective mediator would make the point that UN Security Council agreements still apply to the territory, and that none of them, most notably the matter of a plebiscite, have been annulled or in any manner diluted. As the BBC has noted, “In three resolutions, the UN Security Council and the United Nations Commission in India and Pakistan recommended that as already agreed by Indian and Pakistani leaders, a plebiscite should be held to determine the future allegiance of the entire state.”

But it is India’s relentless and wilful misinterpretation of its existing accord with Pakistan that is the greatest blockage in the path to reconciliation.

The Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan was signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto following the 1971 war between the countries, which resulted in creation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. It lays down that “the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries” and “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them . . .”

First, the mention of the United Nations, which is important because the UN Charter states in Paragraph 33 that “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”

Mediation and arbitration are proposed, and the Simla Accord does not in any way discount or reject them. Its statement “That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them” is quite clear that by inclusion of the phrase “or by any other peaceful means” that mediation is not excluded.

India is intent on becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but this will be impossible if it continues to ignore the content of the UN Charter Chapter 1, Article 1, Paragraph 1, which says its aim is “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

It is difficult to see how India’s inflexible opposition to international mediation can benefit India or — much more importantly — the twelve million inhabitants of Indian-administered Kashmir.  The decision by Prime Minister Modi to annul Article 370 of the Constitution and thus abolish the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir was simply a movement in his ultra-nationalist campaign to ensure supremacy of Hindus. Since 1948 the Article has meant that the territory’s citizens have their own Constitution, their own laws, and the right to property ownership, with non-Kashmiris not being permitted to buy land. It is this last that is a major life-changer for the region, because southern Hindus will now be encouraged to by land and property, and gradually (or perhaps not-so-gradually) displace the Kashmiris themselves.

Modi promised “new opportunity and prosperity to the people” — but if he thought, before he made the announcement about annulment of citizen’s rights, that this would be greeted with enthusiasm and that his policy would indeed benefit the people of the territory, then why did he send “tens of thousands of Indian troops . . . in addition to the half a million troops already stationed there”? Why did the Central Government “shut off most communication with [the territory], including internet, cellphone and landline networks”?

Obviously he was expecting resentment from every Kashmiri. And he got it.

Even the news outlet India Today was slightly bemused, and three days before the Modi decision was made public reported that “In the past one week, the Narendra Modi government has decided to send an additional 38,000 troops to the Kashmir Valley in two batches — 10,000 and 28,000. This follows a statement by the home ministry in Parliament that the situation has improved in Kashmir Valley.” In other words the Central Government was well aware that the Constitution decision would provoke anger and bitterness on the part of Kashmiris and was well-prepared to take military action to crush any manifestation of discontent.

The New York Times observed that “Clamping down on millions of people is an extraordinary step for the world’s largest democracy. . . As tensions have risen in recent days, groups of young men, full of years of pent-up frustration, have squared off with soldiers, hurling rocks and ducking buckshot. Security forces arrested more than 500 people and put them in makeshift detention centres.”

On 9 August a reporter for the UK’s Guardian managed to find out that because of the clampdown on communications “people cannot call relatives, or call ambulances if there is an emergency. Public transport is not running, which means those with health problems can only get to a hospital if they have a car – and even then they struggle to get far. Across the city, many roads are permanently blocked by loops of barbed wire. At checkpoints, people – including families with children – can be seen pleading with police to let them pass. Most people, nervous that tensions were building last week, had stocked up on food and essentials, but it’s not known how long the curfew will last.”

On 10 August the BBC’s reporter filed that “Thousands of people took to the streets in Srinagar after Friday prayers, in the largest demonstration since a lockdown was imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir. The BBC witnessed the police opening fire and using tear gas to disperse the crowd. Despite that, the Indian government has said the protest never took place.”

Welcome to the Occupied Territory of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan continue to claim the whole of Kashmir, but neither government can seriously believe that any mediation tribunal would judge this to be appropriate. There would be compromise — the sort of compromise that India and Pakistan are incapable of reaching on their own.

If ever mediation was needed, it is now, before there is eruption that could lead to nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicle of Yet Another North Korean Short Range Missile Launch

By Konstantin Asmolov – New Eastern Outlook – 13.08.2019

In late July – early August 2019, North Korea conducted a series of short range missile launches and large-caliber multiple rocket launcher firings. It caused a certain stir, but, before analyzing the international reaction, let us review the chronicle of the events.

Let us first note that all the launches took place against the backdrop of a decrease in the US-North Korean dialogue (the working groups agreed on at “the 2.5 summit” have not begun the work yet) and the coming military exercises of the US and South Korea. Certainly, their scale is significantly lower than earlier, but in terms of “violating the spirit of the agreement,” it is identical to the similar action of North Korea.

Besides, the US delivered two more fifth generation F-35A jet fighters to South Korea. These invisible planes are theoretically invincible for the present level of the North Korean missile defense.

On July 25, early in the morning, North Korea launched two short-range missiles in the direction of the Sea of Japan. The first missile covered a distance of 430 kilometers, the second one 690 km. Both missiles flew at an altitude of about 50 km and fell in the Sea of Japan.

What is important though is that the South Korean military regularly lost sight of the second North Korean missile and, judging by what was shown by the surveillance systems, it carried out complex maneuvers of evasion in the horizontal and vertical plane. It did not fall at a certain destination after flying along a parabola trajectory, but flew for much longer keeping at low altitudes in a rectilinear trajectory. Besides, a flight altitude of 50 km is in the blind zone of the South Korean military Patriot PAC-3 SAM systems and the THAAD missile defense systems. At this altitude, North Korean missiles had been already able to cover a distance of up to 500 km. But the mark of 600 km was reached this time: such a weapon can strike any point on the Korean peninsula and at the same time avoid the missile defense systems.

It means that North Korea has a short prestart cycle missile with a complicated trajectory capable of both striking facilities protected by the existing missile defense systems and destroying these very systems.

The military believe that the launches were made by means of a mobile launcher at a low angle and the missiles were of the same type as those launched in May – the North Korean version of the Russian Iskander missile which flies along a complicated trajectory as well, unlike usual ballistic missiles, and therefore has great ability to avoid interception.

However, it should be noted that when South Korean military equate KN-23 to Iskander, they are not being frank. With a comparable degree of verisimilitude, one could say that the North Korean missile is equivalent to the South Korean Hyunmoo-2B or the Ukrainian Hrim-2. In any case, Hyunmoo-2B was made with the assistance of Russian engineers and practically on the basis of Iskander, which, however, this did not prevent military PR staff from describing it as their own design. The US experts Melissa Hanham and Jeffrey Lewis also note that there are several types of short-range missiles which bear a strong similarity to new North Korean complexes and that, in fact, all missiles of this class are similar.

The media coverage of the launch was no less important: the Korean Central News Agency provided a detailed report about the way Kim Jong-un “organized and guided the fire of the new-type tactical guided weapon as part of the power demonstration to send a solemn warning to the south Korean military warmongers who are running high fever in their moves to introduce the ultra-modern offensive weapons into south Korea and hold military exercises in defiance of the repeated warnings from the DPRK.”

The North Korean leader openly explained the purpose of the launch, stating that “the ultra-modern weapons and equipment which the bellicose forces of the South Korean military are introducing with desperate efforts are definitely offensive weapons and their purpose is absolutely clear.” Thus, “the South Korean authorities are revealing such strange double-dealing behavior as producing a “handshake of peace” and fingering joint declaration and agreement and the like before the world people and, behind the scene, shipping ultra-modern offensive weapons and holding joint military exercises.” Therefore, “we cannot but dynamically develop super powerful weapons systems to remove the potential and direct threats to the security of our country that exist in the south.”

Thus, a very clear message (or piece of advice) was conveyed to Seoul, namely that “the South Korean chief executive [must] understand in time the danger the developments will possibly bring, stop such suicidal act as the introduction of ultra-modern weapons and military exercises and come back to the proper stand as in April and September last year […] The South Korean chief executive should not make a mistake of ignoring the warning from Pyongyang, however offending it may be.”

The South Korean press immediately noted that the term “power demonstration” had not been used for a long time. On the other hand, the word “missile” was replaced with the expression “new-type tactical guided weapon,” and all the warnings were addressed to Seoul, rather than Washington, which Pyongyang intends to continue the dialogue with.

The second act took place on July 31, early in the morning. Two more ballistic missiles were launched in the direction of the Sea of Japan from mobile launchers in the district of Wonsan again. Both missiles covered a distance of about 250 km, reaching the altitude of 30 km. The South Korean military believe that, since the missiles flew at lower altitudes and covered a short distance, a near target strike with bypassing the enemy antimissile systems was rehearsed.

The Korean Central News Agency again, though in less detail this time, reported how highly Kim had appreciated the launch performance. After that, South Korean media started using the term “short range projectiles” instead of the word “missile,” emphasizing that, judging by the modification and flying range, the launch of July 31 was aimed at South Korea regardless of whether it is a multiple rocket launcher or a ballistic missile unit.

The third launch of two unidentified short range projectiles in the direction of the Sea of Japan took place on the night of August 2, 2019. The projectiles covered a distance of about 220 km with the maximum speed of 6.9 Mach at an altitude of 25 km.

This time, the Korean Central News Agency even showed a photo of the device more similar to a large caliber multiple rocket launcher than to a missile unit, though many important details were blurred. The weapon was dubbed a “newly-developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system,” and the launch was carried out for the purpose of checking the flight characteristics of mastering altitude, orbit control and target hit accuracy.

Kim Jong-un again “guided the test launch from an observation post.”

However, let us proceed with the conclusions:

  • Despite the sanctions, North Korean military production is continuing and provides quite modern weapons.
  • The launches are, certainly, a way to whip up Washington and to warn Seoul, as they represent an explicit real threat for South Korea due to the helplessness of its missile defense against this type of weapon.
  • However, the launches must be considered in the general context: against the backdrop of the development of the South Korean missile defense, it is no wonder that the opposite party reacted by designing missiles capable of bypassing this missile defense.
  • As the missiles operate within short range, the recent tests cannot be considered a violation of the Pyongyang’s self-proclaimed moratorium on ICBM launches and nuclear tests which North Korea first introduced at the end of 2017 and then confirmed officially in early 2018.
  • Certainly, the launches do not help reduce the tension, but North Korea is responding to the US and South Korean exercises and the import of new weapons to South Korea to the best of its ability.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Centre for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

A Few Thoughts on Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘Suicide’

By Michael Krieger | LIBERTY BLITZKRIEG | August 12, 2019

You know things are getting really weird when news of Jeffrey Epstein’s death in a New York City prison operated by the U.S. Department of Justice is the least surprising part of the whole story. Countless people, including myself, assumed this exact sort of thing would happen. Then, just like that, he’s gone.

I continue to think the players involved with Epstein in what appears to have been an intelligence-linked blackmail operation, as well as those at risk of being exposed in more detail, are simply too powerful and connected to the institutions that run this country (and others) for us to ever get real answers. It’s cynical and depressing, but based on what I’ve seen over the past couple of decades, it’s the most likely outcome.

Rule of law in America? Don’t be ridiculous. There are rulers and the ruled. Which bucket do you think you’re in?

But there’s some good that can come from this. One reason the American public is so passive relates to the fact many people live in a state of willful denial. To admit your country runs more like the Corleone family than some famed tome of Greek political-philosophy is a difficult step to take. To admit this means you’re either going to cower in a corner and hope to stay safe, or you’re going to do something about it. Many people still don’t want to do anything about it, so they continue to exist in a comfortable mental and emotional narrative of what they want to believe the U.S. is, as opposed to reality.

Although I harbor no illusions about justice being done in the Epstein case, there’s something each and every one of us can do. We can call this charade out for what it clearly is. The whole thing’s a giant middle finger squarely in the face of every single person on earth and should be treated as such. Never forget what happened here. Ever. And keep digging.

Take ownership of your mental faculties and show some courage. There are many, many questions to be asked at the moment and we should all start asking them. I’ll start.

Where the heck is Ghislaine Maxwell? You know, the woman Jeffrey Epstein referred to as his “best friend” and who’s accused of acting as his madam in this whole sordid affair. She seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth and very few people seem interested.

This should be the top question right now – Where is Ghislaine Maxwell (and why isn’t she in custody)?

As reported by CBS News:

London — The death of Jeffrey Epstein is putting new attention on his alleged co-conspirators, who could still face charges. The number one person on that list is Ghislaine Maxwell, who’s accused of finding teenage girls for Epstein and his friends — including a member of Britain’s royal family.

As CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reports, documents unsealed on Friday contain allegations that Maxwell, a close acquaintance of Epstein’s, played an “important role” in the late billionaire financier’s “sexual abuse ring,”directing an underage girl to have sex with Epstein and others. Maxwell strenuously denies the allegations. Her current whereabouts are unknown.

Strange, sure, but it gets even more bizarre once you understand who her late father, Robert Maxwell, was. There’s even a book written about him.

No, not strange at all. Totally normal, nothing to see here.

And what about Leslie Wexner, the billionaire who was Epstein’s only known client for all those years? Why isn’t he under far more scrutiny? We still have no idea how Epstein came into all his money, and while we may never get any real answers to these questions, they should be asked nonetheless. It’s imperative we don’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to this story.

Ask intelligent questions, keep digging and never forget what happened and how outrageous and unacceptable it truly is.

Finally, I’ve continued to add to my giant Epstein Twitter thread, which is now over 80 tweets long. Check it out again if you haven’t lately.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | | 4 Comments

The Curious Case of the Missing Professor Mifsud

By Johanna Ross | August 13, 2019

In The Times newspaper on July 30th, appeared a short and succinct article, easily missed were it not for its intriguing headline: ‘Missing academic Joseph Mifsud at heart of Mueller investigation’. The academic in question, one may or may not have heard of, depending on the extent to which one is reliant on mainstream media for keeping abreast of the news. But anyone attempting to keep up with the complex and murky world of the Mueller investigation, may be familiar with the name of this mysterious and elusive figure.

For it is none other than Professor Mifsud, affiliated with both the Universities of Stirling and East Anglia in the UK, that was identified by the FBI as being the source of the information that Russia had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. And intriguingly, the same Professor Mifsud who disappeared in October 2017 and has been missing ever since.

It was in April 2016 that Mifsud, who was qualified in education but somehow managed to find his way into the world of international diplomacy (becoming director of the London Academy of Diplomacy in 2012), reportedly met George Papadopoulos, foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, where he is said to have told him that the Russian government had ‘dirt on Hillary Clinton’. This information was then allegedly passed by Papadopoulos to the Australian High Commissioner in London, before being repeated to US authorities; that effectively Papdopoulos had known about the DNC hack prior to it being carried out. In short, Mifsud was the key to the whole ‘Russiagate’ scandal.

At the beginning of the Mueller investigation, Mifsud was widely portrayed as a Russian spy in the Western media. He is described in the Mueller report as having ‘connections to Russia’ and ‘having maintained Russian contacts’ as if that was somehow conclusive proof he was working for the Russians. Former FBI director James Comey also wrote in an opinion column in the Washington Post in May this year where he stated bluntly that Mifsud was a ‘Russian agent’. However as the Mueller investigation has trundled on and been exposed for being nothing more than a performance along the lines of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, the argument being put forward by the Republicans that Mifsud is a Western intelligence operative is looking more plausible.

When Rep. Jim Jordan (R, Ohio) questioned Robert Mueller why it was that Mifsud was reported to have lied three times to the FBI but was never indicted, Mueller replied simply that “I can’t get into internal deliberations with regard to who or who would not be charged.” Jordan responded in disbelief: ‘The guy who launches everything, the guy who puts this whole story in motion, you can’t charge him.  I think that’s amazing.” Jordan then asked Mueller if Mifsud was Western or Russian intelligence, to which Mueller replied “Can’t get into that.” As Devin Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee said during his opening remarks, Mifsud “is widely portrayed as a Russian agent, but seems to have far more connections with Western governments, including our own FBI and our own State Department, than with Russia.”

Meanwhile, all interviews carried out with Mifsud before his disappearance deny the claim that he discussed Russian government ‘dirt on Hillary Clinton’ with George Paradopoulos. According to Robert Mueller’s report, in an interview with the FBI in February 2017, Mifsud “denied that he had advance knowledge that Russia was in possession of emails damaging to candidate Clinton, stating that he and Papadopoulos had discussed cybersecurity and hacking as a larger issue and that Papadopoulos must have misunderstood their conversation.”

Whether Papadopoulos misunderstood or not, we will probably never know. But the idea of Misfud being an agent for the West is gaining traction with Republicans. Why is it that when so many people were indicted for providing false statements, but not Mifsud? If Mifsud was indeed a Russian agent, and had numerous contacts within western governments, why is it that they don’t seem in the least concerned by the fact they could have been compromised by him? And as Lee Smith has pointed out, writing for RealClearInvestigations, Mifsud has closer ties to western governments and institutions than to Russia, including the CIA, FBI and British secret service. Indeed, during his time in London and Rome he was reportedly involved in training diplomats, police officers and intelligence operatives.

Perhaps the main thing we can take away from this chapter in the fiction that is Russiagate, is the fact that these questions are not being posed by journalists. Hardly anyone in the western mainstream media seems prepared to question the narrative presented by the Democratic lobby that Mifsud was a Russian spy, complicit in a Putin-sponsored attempt to influence the US election. As Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at  George Washington University has written: “The most credible point about Mifsud is that his relative anonymity in news coverage reflects a broader problem that there is a consistent effort to preserve a narrative that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.”

And yet without any Russian actors featuring in this tale, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Democrats to keep pushing this narrative of Russian involvement. Mifsud has been vital so far, and his disappearance only emphasises further how important a protagonist he is in the Russiagate hoax. If he were to go on record as saying he worked for the FBI not the Russians, it would bury the collusion theory forever. So let’s not expect him to surface any time soon…

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 2 Comments

Dangerous Bill in Congress to Crush the PLO and PA

By Zaha Hassan | Al Shabaka | August 13, 2019

A bipartisan US bill currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee puts at stake the ability of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to engage diplomatic and legal channels to support Palestinian national aspirations and to seek accountability through international mechanisms, as well as the future of the US-Palestinian bilateral relationship.

The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019, Senate Bill 2132, revises the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) so that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) may be made to pay over $655 million in damage claims to American victims of political violence in Israel that had previously been dismissed by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. The bill goes well beyond an attempt to obtain compensation for victims’ families. If the bill is successful, the US would revert to treating the PLO as a mere terrorist organization without national representative character.

What is ATCA and Why Did it Need to be “Fixed”?

ATCA, which became law in October 2018, enables American citizens to sue foreign entities for acts of terrorism occurring before the effective date of the Act if those entities accept US assistance. ATCA was a response to the failed attempt by the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center to hold the PA and PLO liable in US courts for the deaths of American citizens killed between 2002 and 2004 during the Second Intifada. A lower court had awarded over $655 million to 11 US families; however, the 2nd Circuit Court ordered the claims dismissed on the grounds that the attacks took place entirely outside US territory without evidence that Americans were specifically targeted. The Supreme Court denied Shurat HaDin’s request for review of the appellate decision.

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley fast-tracked ATCA without debate by using a process known as “hotlining.” Under normal circumstances, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee would have had time to analyze the legislation and foresee how it would force the PA to reject all US aid, including funds for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. Grassley’s procedural stratagem of pushing ATCA through the Judiciary Committee, at a time when members were preoccupied with the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, precluded careful consideration of the ramifications. The need to “fix” ATCA became clear to Congress when the Palestinian prime minister sent a letter to the US secretary of state refusing to accept any future US assistance.

How the ATCA “Fix” is a Game Changer 

The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019 amends ATCA by allowing the PA to accept security assistance without triggering jurisdiction for terrorism-related claims. However, it introduces new avenues for the PLO and PA to be held liable: If the PLO continues to hold state status in UN agencies and bodies or at the International Criminal Court (ICC), or if PLO or PA officials enter the US on official business or maintain offices on US territory, then the previously dismissed damage claims will become due and future claims may be heard in US courts. The operation of Palestine’s mission to the UN in New York is excepted to the extent official UN business is being carried out; no other advocacy on behalf of Palestine or Palestinians may be conducted in the US.

Palestinians and those in the solidarity community may not appreciate how the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act could impact their human rights advocacy Click To TweetA more limited bill passed in the House of Representatives in July 2019 that also seeks to amend ATCA to ensure victims’ compensation for terrorism claims: The United States-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act. This bill links jurisdiction to whether the PLO advances an application for membership in the UN or reopens an office on US territory. The different House and Senate amendments to ATCA will have to be reconciled.

If the Senate version of the ATCA fix becomes law, the PLO and PA will have to make a choice:

  • Maintain their status at the UN and be held liable for previously dismissed terrorism claims, or
  • Downgrade their status at the UN, forgo pursuit of war crimes claims against Israelis by withdrawing from the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC, and resume receiving US security assistance.

In the former case, the PA will bankrupt itself and the US will treat the PLO as nothing more than a terrorist organization. In the latter case, the PLO will have relinquished any pretense that it can effectively represent the rights and interests of the Palestinian people. Either case means the end of a Palestinian negotiating partner for any future peace talks.

Upholding Palestinian Rights to Representation 

While many Republicans may have just this outcome in mind, Democrats, who still claim to support the two-state solution, may not understand the implications of the ATCA fix, just as they failed to understand the impact of ATCA in the first place.

Moreover, with all the focus on the anti- and pro-boycott resolutions in the House, many Palestinians and those in the solidarity community may not fully appreciate how the international delegitimization or bankrupting of the PLO – the body still recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people – could impact their human rights advocacy in the US and globally. Whatever one’s views about the PLO or PA, no longer having an address for the national aspirations of the Palestinian people will make international and US advocacy much more difficult.

Palestinians and those interested in a just peace should alert members of Congress to the impact of the Senate bill on the future of US-Palestinian bilateral relations and the possibility of finding a diplomatic resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Palestinian quest for self-determination and accountability for victims of war crimes should not be undermined to score short-term domestic political points that will have far-reaching implications for Mideast peace.

Al-Shabaka Policy Member Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research focuses on Palestine-Israel peace, the use of international legal mechanisms by political movements, and U.S. foreign policy in the region. She previously served as coordinator and senior legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team during Palestine’s bid for UN membership from 2010-2012. She received her J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and an LLM in Transnational & International Law from Willamette University.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 18 Comments

Turkey, Iran resume train service after four years

to increase the attractiveness of the van

Press TV – August 13, 2019

Turkey and Iran have restarted a train service between Ankara and Tehran after a four-year hiatus, in a further blow to US sanctions.

The Trans Asia Express, carrying passengers and freight, left Tehran railway station for the Turkish capital on Wednesday during a ceremony attended by senior officials.

Head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) Saeed Rasouli flagged off the first train service which will run on a weekly basis every Wednesday.

According to Mehr news agency, the five-car train carrying 200 passengers took about 60 hours to arrive in Ankara on Saturday.

The decision to resume the service came in May after meetings between Iranian and Turkish officials. Trains between the eastern Turkish city of Van near the Iranian border and Tehran resumed in late June.

The new service involves two train travel segments and a ferry journey. The IRIR train leaving Tehran will have a layover in the Iranian city of Tabriz before heading to Lake Van in eastern Turkey.

Passengers will then ride a ferry across the lake before taking a train operated by Turkey’s state railway agency to Ankara.

The service marks yet another milestone in burgeoning trade ties between Iran and Turkey whose leaders have dismissed unilateral American sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Washington has been tightening the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, aiming to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero, after President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic in November.

According to data released by Tehran Chamber of Commerce Industries Mines and Agriculture on Monday, Turkey imported $2.2 billion worth of goods and services from Iran in the first quarter of the Iranian year which began in March.

The figure marked a five-fold jump compared to the similar period in 2018, it said.

Tehran and Ankara have repeatedly reiterated their resolve to increase annual trade to a target of 30 billion dollar, around triple current levels.

Earlier this year, Iranian deputy industry minister Mohsen Salehinia said Iran and Turkey were negotiating the possibility of setting up joint industrial parks.

“The Turks are demanding cheap Iranian energy for joint production and in case we manage to reach a conclusion with the ministry of energy, a joint town will be set up,” he told a news conference in Tehran.

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for expansion of cooperation in various areas in a phone conversation.

Iran is one of the biggest oil suppliers for Turkey, which is almost completely reliant on imports to meet its energy needs. It also imports natural gas from Iran, the country’s second largest supplier after Russia.

Turkey has said it is looking into establishing new trade mechanisms with Iran, like the Instex system set up by European countries to avoid US sanctions reimposed last year on exports of Iranian oil.

President Erdogan has previously slammed the sanctions, saying they are destabilizing for the region.

His country is also facing US sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which has seriously strained relations between the NATO allies.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , | 3 Comments

Assange Must Not Also Die in Jail

By Craig Murray | August 13, 2019

The highly dubious death of Jeffrey Epstein in a US maximum security prison is another strong reason not to extradite Julian Assange into one – particularly as many of the same people who are relieved by Epstein’s death would like to see Assange dead too.

But there is every reason to fear Assange is already in danger, in Belmarsh maximum security prison, where he is currently incarcerated. As the great journalist John Pilger tweeted six days ago:

Do not forget Julian #Assange. Or you will lose him.
I saw him in Belmarsh prison and his health has deteriorated. Treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated and denied the tools to fight the bogus charges of US extradition. I now fear for him. Do not forget him.

There is no official explanation as to why Julian’s health has continued to deteriorate so alarmingly in Belmarsh. Nobody genuinely believes him to be a violent danger, so there is absolutely no call for him to be imprisoned in the facility which houses the hardcore terrorist cases.

Assange is fighting major legal cases in the UK, Sweden and the United States, yet is permitted visitors for only two hours per fortnight, inclusive of time spent with his three sets of lawyers. All of his visitors have been alarmed by his state of physical health and many have been alarmed by his apparent disorientation and confusion.

It is because of Assange’s draconian one year sentence for “bail-jumping” on claiming political asylum that he can be kept in such harsh conditions and with so little access to his lawyers. That is why his sentence was so unprecedentedly stiff for missing police bail. Otherwise, as a remand prisoner awaiting extradition hearing his conditions would ordinarily be less harsh and his access to lawyers much better. The Establishment has conspired to reduce his ability to defend himself in court. I am not convinced it is not conspiring to destroy him.

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Deception | , , | 4 Comments

Seth Rich’s Ghost Haunts the Courts

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | August 12, 2019

As if it weren’t enough of a downer for Russiagate true believers that no Trump-Russia collusion was found, federal judges are now demanding proof that Russia hacked into the DNC in the first place.

It is shaping up to be a significant challenge to the main premise of the shaky syllogism that ends with “Russia did it.”

If you’re new to this website, grab onto something, as the following may come as something of a shock. Not only has there never been any credible evidence to support the claim of Russian cyber interference, there has always been a simple alternative explanation that involves no “hacking” at all — by Russia or anyone else.

As most Consortium News habitués are aware, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (which includes two former NSA technical directors), working with independent forensic investigators, concluded two years ago that what “everyone knows to be Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee” actually involved an insider with physical access to DNC computers copying the emails onto an external storage device — such as a thumb drive. In other words, it was a leak, not a hack.

VIPS based its conclusion on the principles of physics applied to metadata and other empirical information susceptible of forensic analysis.

But if a leak, not a hack, who was the DNC insider-leaker? In the absence of hard evidence, VIPS refuses “best-guess”-type “assessments” — the kind favored by the “handpicked analysts” who drafted the evidence-impoverished, so-called Intelligence Community Assessment of Jan. 6, 2017.

Conspiracy Theorists

Simply letting the name “Seth Rich” pass your lips can condemn you to the leper colony built by the Washington Establishment for “conspiracy theorists,” (the term regularly applied to someone determined to seek tangible evidence, and who is open to alternatives to “Russia-did-it.”)

Rich was a young DNC employee who was murdered on a street in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2016. Many, including me, suspect that Rich played some role in the leaking of DNC emails to WikiLeaks. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that this may have been the case. Those who voice such suspicions, however, are, ipso facto, branded “conspiracy theorists.”

That epithet has a sordid history in the annals of U.S. intelligence. Legendary CIA Director Alan Dulles used the “brand-them-conspiracy-theorists” ploy following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when many objected — understandably — to letting him pretty much run the Warren Commission, even though the CIA was suspected of having played a role in the murder. The “conspiracy theorist” tactic worked like a charm then, and now. Well, up until just now.

Rich Hovers Above the Courts

U.S. Courts apply far tougher standards to evidence than do the intelligence community and the pundits who loll around lazily, feeding from the intelligence PR trough. This (hardly surprising) reality was underscored when a Dallas financial adviser named Ed Butowsky sued National Public Radio and others for defaming him about the role he played in controversial stories relating to Rich. On August 7, NPR suffered a setback, when U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant affirmed a lower court decision to allow Butowsky’s defamation lawsuit to proceed.

Judge Mazzant ruled that NPR had stated as “verifiable statements of fact” information that could not be verified, and that the plaintiff had been, in effect, accused of being engaged in wrongdoing without persuasive sourcing language.

Imagine! — “persuasive sourcing” required to separate fact from opinion and axes to grind! An interesting precedent to apply to the ins and outs of Russiagate. In the courts, at least, this is now beginning to happen. And NPR and others in similarly vulnerable positions are scurrying around for allies.?? The day after Judge Mazzant’s decision, NPR enlisted help from discredited Yahoo! News pundit Michael Isikoff (author, with David Corn, of the fiction-posing-as-fact novel Russian Roulette). NPR gave Isikoff 37 minutes on its popular Fresh Air program to spin his yarn about how the Seth Rich story got started. You guessed it; the Russians started it. No, we are not making this up.

It is far from clear that Isikoff can be much help to NPR in the libel case against it. Isikoff’s own writings on Russiagate are notably lacking in “verifiable statements of fact” — information that cannot be verified. Watch, for example, his recent interview with Consortium News Editor Joe Lauria on CN Live!

Isikoff admitted to Lauria that he never saw the classified Russian intelligence document reportedly indicating that three days after Rich’s murder the Russian SVR foreign intelligence service planted a story about Rich having been the leaker and was killed for it. This Russian intelligence “bulletin,” as Isikoff called it, was supposedly placed on a bizarre website that Isikoff admitted was an unlikely place for Russia to spread disinformation. He acknowledged that he only took the word of the former prosecutor in the Rich case about the existence of this classified Russian document.

In any case, The Washington Post, had already debunked Isikoff’s claim (which later in his article he switched to being only “purported”) by pointing out that Americans had already tweeted the theory of Rich’s murder days before the alleged Russian intervention.

Persuasive Sourcing’ & Discovery??

Butowsky’s libel lawsuit can now proceed to discovery, which will include demands for documents and depositions that are likely to shed light on whatever role Rich may have played in leaking to WikiLeaks. If the government obstructs or tries to slow-roll the case, we shall have to wait and see, for example, if the court will acquiesce to the familiar government objection that information regarding Rich’s murder must be withheld as a state secret? Hmmm. What would that tell us?

During discovery in a separate court case, the government was unable to produce a final forensic report on the “hacking” of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC-hired cyber firm, CrowdStrike, failed to complete such a report, and that was apparently okay with then FBI Director James Comey, who did not require one.

The incomplete, redacted, draft, second-hand “forensics” that Comey settled for from CrowdStrike does not qualify as credible evidence — much less “persuasive sourcing” to support the claim that the Russians “hacked” into the DNC. Moreover, CrowdStrike has a dubious reputation for professionalism and a well known anti-Russia bias.

The thorny question of “persuasive sourcing,” came up even more starkly on July 1, when federal Judge Dabney Friedrich ordered Robert Mueller to stop pretending he had proof that the Russian government was behind the Internet Research Agency’s supposed attempt to interfere via social media in the 2016 election. Middle school-level arithmetic can prove the case that the IRA’s use of social media to support Trump is ludicrous on its face.

Russia-gate Rubble

As journalist Patrick Lawrence put it recently: “Three years after the narrative we call Russiagate was framed and incessantly promoted, it crumbles into rubble as we speak.” Falling syllogism! Step nimbly to one side.

The “conspiracy theorist” epithet is not likely to much longer block attention to the role, if any, played by Rich — the more so since some players who say they were directly involved with Rich are coming forward.

In a long interview with Lauria a few months ago in New Zealand aired this month on CN Live!, Kim Dotcom provided a wealth of detail, based on what he described as first-hand knowledge, regarding how Democratic National Committee documents were leaked to WikiLeaks in 2016.

The major takeaway: the evidence presented by Dotcom about Seth Rich can be verified or disproven if President Trump summons the courage to order the director of NSA to dig out the relevant data, including the conversations Dotcom says he had with Rich and Rich may have had with WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. Dotcom said he put Rich in touch with a middleman to transfer the DNC files to WikiLeaks. Sadly, Trump has flinched more than once rather than confront the Deep State — and this time there are a bunch of very well connected, senior Deep State practitioners who could face prosecution.

Another sign that Rich’s story is likely to draw new focus is the virulent character assassination indulged in by former investigative journalist James Risen.

Not Risen to the Challenge

On August 5, in an interview on The Hill’s “Rising,” Risen chose to call former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney — you guessed it — a “conspiracy theorist” on Russia-gate, with no demurral, much less pushback, from the hosts.

The having-done-good-work-in-the-past-and-now-not-so-much Risen can be considered a paradigm for what has happened to so many Kool-Aid drinking journalists. Jim’s transition from investigative journalist to stenographer is, nonetheless unsettling. Contributing causes? It appears that the traditional sources within the intelligence agencies, whom Risen was able to cultivate discreetly in the past, are too fearful now to even talk to him, lest they get caught by one or two of the myriad surveillance systems in play.

Those at the top of the relevant agencies, however, are only too happy to provide grist. Journalists have to make a living, after all. Topic A, of course, is Russian “interference” in the 2016 election. And, of course, “There can be little doubt” the Russians did it.

“Big Jim” Risen, as he is known, jumped on the bandwagon as soon as he joined The Intercept, with a fulsome article on February 17, 2018 titled Is Donald Trump a Traitor?” Here’s an excerpt:

“The evidence that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win is already compelling, and it grows stronger by the day.

“There can be little doubt now that Russian intelligence officials were behind an effort to hack the DNC’s computers and steal emails and other information from aides to Hillary Clinton as a means of damaging her presidential campaign. … Russian intelligence also used fake social media accounts and other tools to create a global echo chamber both for stories about the emails and for anti-Clinton lies dressed up to look like news.

“To their disgrace, editors and reporters at American news organizations greatly enhanced the Russian echo chamber, eagerly writing stories about Clinton and the Democratic Party based on the emails, while showing almost no interest during the presidential campaign in exactly how those emails came to be disclosed and distributed.” (sic)

Poor Jim. He shows himself just as susceptible as virtually all of his fellow corporate journalists to the epidemic-scale HWHW virus (Hillary Would Have Won) that set in during Nov. 2016 and for which the truth seems to be no cure. From his perch at The Intercept, Risen will continue to try to shape the issues. Russiagaters major ally, of course, is the corporate media which has most Americans pretty much under their thumb.

Incidentally, neither The New York Times, The Washington Post, nor The Wall Street Journal has printed or posted a word about Judge Mazzant’s ruling on the Butowsky suit.

Mark Twain is said to have warned, “How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again!” After three years of “Russia-Russia-Russia” in the corporate — and even in some “progressive” — media, this conditioning will not be easy to reverse.

Here’s how one astute observer with a sense of humor described the situation last week, in a comment under one of my recent pieces on Consortium News :

“… One can write the most thought-out and well documented academic-like essays, articles and reports and the true believers in Russiagate will dismiss it all with a mere flick of their wrist. The mockery and scorn directed towards those of us who knew the score from day one won’t relent. They could die and go to heaven and ask god what really happened during the 2016 election. God would reply to them in no uncertain terms that Putin and the Russians had absolutely nothing to do with anything in ‘16, and they’d all throw up their hands and say, ‘aha! So, God’s in on this too!’ It’s the great lie that won’t die.”

I’m not so sure. It is likely to be a while though before this is over.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Ray was a CIA analyst for 27 years; in retirement he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

August 13, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment