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Crypto CIA spy op revelations makes us see US’ Huawei objections in a new light

© Global Look Press/ GEISSE; © REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
By Neil Clark | RT | February 13, 2020

The revelation that the CIA (and German Intelligence) was in secret control of the Swiss cryptography firm Crypto AG highlights the hypocrisy of US ‘security concerns‘ over the advance of Huawei and other firms.

The very wise old saying that if you point  one finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you, was classically illustrated by this week’s bombshell revelations — published in the Washington Post and on ZDF and SRF – that the CIA and BND (West Germany’s secret service) secretly owned and controlled the Swiss cryptography company Crypto. The real owners of Crypto installed ‘backdoor vulnerabilities’ in its products which allowed the US and West Germany to eavesdrop on communications — from enemies and allies alike — which the senders believed had been successfully encrypted. We’re talking here about  top secret communications between leading government officials, spies, diplomats and military figures.

Just imagine that back in the 1970s or 80s you had claimed that the Crypto was a CIA front. You’d have been dismissed as a ‘crank conspiracy theorist, ’and/or ‘totally paranoid‘ by the gatekeepers of that time. But the rumours were true. Once again a ‘conspiracy theory’ has turned out  to be not as barmy as once depicted. Truth again proved to be stranger than fiction.

How much intelligence was gathered via Crypto is quite staggering. As RT has reported: “Throughout the 1980s — around 40% of all government transmissions analysed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) ran through Crypto‘s devices.”

What a neat little racket. Over 120 governments of the world, but not the former Soviet Union and Communist China who, to their great credit were distrustful, made use of Crypto’s products. These governments, which included Iran, Libya, Argentina and Egypt were effectively paying the Americans and West Germans to spy on them!

The Germans bowed out of the operation in 1993, but for the next 25 years, the CIA kept it running. Which begs the question: what other US Intelligence fronts of the past and present don’t we know about?

In her 1999 book Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders detailed how the CIA funded a whole range of publications and artistic enterprises often through the ’Congress for Cultural Freedom’.

Literary journals (who conveniently had a pop at communism) were funded by the CIA. Modern artists were funded by the CIA. Writers, poets and philosophers were funded by the CIA.

And under ‘Operation Mockingbird’ leading journalists were basically recruited to the agency.

According to Carl Bernstein, the CIA had over 400 journalists working for them in the old Cold War.

“In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations,” the American journalist writes.

The CIA‘s own records show that, by 1991, they had relationships with “every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly and television network in the country”.

Now we know they were even behind Crypto too!

Given the organisation’s modus operandi, it is scarcely believable that the CIA doesn’t have similar ‘relationships’ and control mechanisms working today. Why wouldn’t it?

Not only should the Crypto revelations make us more aware of the CIA’s very wide reach, they should also make us see the American objections to the involvement of firms from China and Russia with developing telecommunications infrastructure and new technology in a completely different light.

The Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky, has seen its software banned from use on US government networks, while the Chinese giant Huawei has been hit with sanctions — and warnings given to other countries about letting it build their 5G networks.

Taking the moral high ground (as always), US officials have said that Huawei could covertly access mobile-phone networks through ‘back doors’.

OMG! You mean like the US did with Crypto?

The Wall Street Journal cites the same US officials saying that “Huawei has had this secret capability for more than a decade.”

What ‘intelligence’ would that be I wonder? The CIA’s?

What seems to be the objection here is that China might end up doing what the US has been doing for years, namely spying on countries through ‘back doors’. How dare they! The hypocrisy as I’m sure you’ll agree is off the  scale.

The strength of the objections — and indeed the sanctions already imposed in the US against the company tell us one thing. Huawei, unlike Crypto, Encounter magazine, the ‘National Committee for a Free Europe’, and lots of organisations we probably still don’t know about, is no CIA front.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , | Leave a comment

State-backed Alliance for Securing Democracy disinfo shop falsely smears The Grayzone as ‘state-backed’

By Alex Rubinstein | The Grayzone | February 13, 2020

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, an online censorship initiative of the Western government-funded German Marshall Project, falsely and hypocritically characterized The Grayzone and independent journalist Jordan Chariton as “state-backed media,” smearing them for their factual reporting on the shadowy network behind the controversial app that undermined the integrity of the Iowa caucuses.

The Grayzone has exposed the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) in a series of investigative reports as a neo-McCarthyite outfit prone to spreading disinformation, staffed by counter-terror cranks and national security hustlers.

The ASD’s parent organization also happens to be bankrolled by the US government, numerous European governments, and the European Union, at the tune of millions of dollars — making these false accusations against The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton actual state-backed smears.

Chariton, who founded the independent progressive news outlet Status Coup, hit back at the ASD’s outrageous claims. “The days of faux democracy gladiators defaming journalists – whose factual work they seek to discredit –  as part of a Kremlin syndicate are over. It’s time to fight back,” he told The Grayzone.

On February 10, the ASD published a dubious analysis of a supposed Russian effort to spread conspiracies and disinformation around the Iowa caucuses. It honed in on the Russian-funded Sputnik News and three shows broadcast by RT. Those programs included “Going Underground,” which is hosted by British journalist Afshin Rattansi.

The post continued: “In addition, all the most popular tweets about Iowa retweeted in this time period by at least one monitored account pushed a narrative that the Democratic National Committee and/or the Democratic establishment more broadly seeks to undermine Sanders via nefarious means. Monitored accounts ‘Redacted Tonight’ (@redactedtonight) and ‘Watching the Hawks’ (@watchinghawks) are the primary accounts engaging directly with this material.”

“Watching the Hawks” is hosted by American journalist and son of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, Tyrel Ventura. “Redacted Tonight” is a political satire show hosted by American comedian Lee Camp. Camp opens each show by welcoming his live studio audience to “the comedy show where Americans in America covering American news are called foreign agents.”

The social media managers for both “Watching the Hawks” and “Redacted Tonight” are US citizens.

Nonetheless, the retweeting by these shows of factual reporting by The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton set off national security alarm bells among the disinformation warriors of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Grayzone article that the ASD took issue with exposed the role of pro-Israel billiionaire Seth Klarman in pouring his money into the Super PAC behind the faulty Iowa vote results app, while at the same time donating directly to candidate Pete Buttigieg – the candidate who benefited the most from the sabotage of the caucus results.

The Klarman Family Foundation also happens to be a major funder of the ASD.

On Twitter, the ASD muddled the distinction between The Grayzone, Chariton, and the RT-sponsored Twitter accounts that retweeted them. The outfit claimed that “state-backed media accounts spread various conspiracy theories about the Iowa caucuses, many of which claimed the DNC, news media, and other candidates used “dirty tricks” to steal the victory from Sen. Bernie Sanders.” Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of tweets by The Grayzone and Chariton, making no mention of either “Watching the Hawks” or “Redacted Tonight.”

The false accusation was subsequently retweeted by ASD founder Clint Watts.

The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal responded to the smear with indignation: “Neither Jordan Chariton nor The Grayzone are state-backed media, unlike your fiscal parent. And our reporting is 100% factual, unlike yours,” Blumenthal wrote on Twitter. “We are currently exploring options for holding your McCarthyite operation fully accountable for spreading malicious disinformation.”

After enduring a withering barrage of online criticism for its malicious falsehood, the ASD issued a weasely “clarifying point.”

The Alliance for securing media citations and grants from oligarchs

The Alliance for Securing Democracy is the most prominent of an array of information warfare initiatives that exploited public hysteria over supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

The group’s Hamilton 68 Dashboard claimed to have tracked 600 Twitter accounts supposedly “linked to Russian influence operations.” In the mainstream press, that dubious claim was stretched even further as the dashboard was touted as a tool for keeping tabs on “Russian bots.”

Among the widely cited claims of Russian covert influence campaigns was the #taketheknee trend inspired by blacklisted NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s high-profile protest of police brutality. The ASD’s cynical accusation, that a domestic protest movement against racism was being manipulated by the Kremlin, was reported uncritically by the New York Times.

The ASD has even claimed that Stars and Stripes,  a military publication operated out of the Department of Defense, was an outlet “relevant to Russian messaging themes.” It has made similar accusations against The Intercept.

Oddly enough, the sole proprietor of The Intercept is billionaire Pierre Omidyar, whose Democracy Fund is a major financial backer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

An ASD fellow who helped design its bogus bot tracker, Andrew Weisburd, has publicly fantasized about the murder of Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald, whom he branded a “traitor.”

Aside from Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, the ASD is backed by Craig Newmark, the namesake of Craigslist, and the Klarman Family Foundation. As The Grayzone recently reported, Seth Klarman is a major funder of pro-settler Israel lobby organizations. He is also a prominent debt vulture strangling Puerto Rico with austerity. And, again, Klarman is a top donor to Buttigieg, the self-declared winner of the Iowa caucuses.

Ascertaining a full picture of just who is backing the ASD is not possible, however, as the organization’s public list of funders “does not include any donors who do not wish to disclose their charitable giving.”

But besides the centrist billionaires that fund it, the group’s fiscal parent rakes in money from Western governments, including the US State Department.

Meet the real state-backed disinfo shop

While the Alliance for Securing Democracy claims to be independently funded, it shares major backers with the German Marshall Fund (GMF), including the Sandler Foundation.

Likewise, Omidyar’s Democracy Fund gave somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million to the GMF, while Klarman Family Foundation chipped in between $250,000 and $499,999.

Alliance for Security Democracy German Marshall Fund donors governments

According to the ASD website, the group is “housed at the German Marshall Fund.”

Unlike The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton, the GMF is a state-backed entity that faithfully pursues the agenda of its government funders.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the German Marshall Fund received $1 million or more from both the German and Swedish foreign offices, at least $1 million from the US State Department, and $1 million or more from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a primary arm of the US government for fomenting regime change abroad.

The European Commission — which is the executive branch of the European Union — supported the German Marshall Fund to the tune of between $500,000 and $999,999.

Additional supporters of the German Marshall Fund include branches of the German and US government, anti-communist billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, NATO, internet giants like Google, the European Parliament, oil companies like Exxon, big agro companies like Bayer, large banks, and an array of global arms dealers such as Raytheon and Boeing.

The Theranos nanotainer of Russiagate online initiatives

The Alliance for Security Democracy’s bogus dashboard was undoubtedly the most-cited authority on Russian bot activity in the media. But its credibility suffered a major blow following a series of revealing remarks by founder Clint Watts, who confessed to Buzzfeed, “We don’t even think [all the accounts we monitor are] all commanded in Russia — at all. We think some of them are legitimately passionate people that are just really into promoting Russia.”

Having banked his credibility on fighting the supposedly pernicious presence of Russian bots, Watts went on to concede, “I’m not convinced on this bot thing.”

The ASD’s faulty methodology was developed by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan. The latter was involved in orchestrating a false flag influence campaign targeting Alabama’s Senate elections, and was banned from Facebook after it was exposed. New York Times reporter Scott Shane, who reported on the disinformation campaign, was also responsible for hyping up the ASD’s supposed findings on the “take the knee” hashtag.

But among the ASD’s cadre of national security hacks, Clint Watts is perhaps the most shameless hustler. As The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal previously reported, “Watts appears to speak no Russian, has no record of reporting or scholarship from inside Russia, and has produced little to no work of any discernible academic value on Russian affairs.”

In his published work, Watts has not only called for the US to “befriend” the “al-Qaeda linked group” Ahrar al-Sham; he also urged Washington to support “jihadi[s]” in order to deliver “payback” to Russia.

In testimony to Congress in 2017, Watts claimed Russia organized a massive bot attack on his Twitter account after his article urging support for al-Qaeda was published. The tale was not just hyperbole; it appeared to have been a fabrication. He also regaled Congress with a story about RT’s and Sputnik’s coverage of a stand-off at Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase that was completely false.

Clint Watts has admitted to running an influence operation for 15 years aimed at improving approval for US foreign policy in the Middle East, which he has said “had almost no success,” and came at a cost of “billions a year in tax dollars.”

While he hypes his work for the FBI, where he spent at most one year, Watts has spent much of his career at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a hardline neoconservative think tank founded by an open white supremacist.

And left unmentioned in Watts’ bio is his affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency: the Agency has published an article he co-authored with former CIA director and current CNN contributor John Brennan.

Besides producing dubious analysis, Clint Watts has exhibited a tendency for paranoid Cold War fantasies. In 2017, he warned an audience that Russia was “trying to knock us down and take us over,” then claimed that his colleagues had seen their computers “burned up by malware” after they criticized Russia.

In response to supposed Russian meddling, Watts has called for interfering in Russia’s elections, “but do[ing] it in line with the founding principles of democracy and America.”

He has also called for a government-imposed censorship campaign inside the United States, demanding it “quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

Even as the Alliance for Securing Democracy was exposed by The Grayzone and others as the Russiagate version of the phony Theranos nanotainer – with Clint Watts playing the Cold Warrior analog to Elizabeth Holmes – the state-backed neo-McCarthyite operation has forged ahead, rebranding its dashboard as “Hamilton 2.0” and rolling out an “Authoritarian Interference Tracker.”

Currently, the ASD is hyping up claims by NATO vassal state Estonia about Russian interference in their country, according to its “Authoritarian Interference Tracker.” Coincidentally, former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves sits on ASD’s advisory council.

He is joined on the ASD board by Michael Chertoff, the notoriously self-dealing former Department of Homeland Security chief; and by John Podesta, who workshopped ways to “stick the knife” into Bernie Sanders while leading Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. Podesta was recently nominated to the 2020 Democratic Convention Rules Committee.

Also on the ASD advisory council is neoconservative extraordinaire turned liberal media’s favorite Never-Trumper Bill Kristol, who is widely acknowledged as the leading media and think tank influencer behind the US invasion of Iraq. Kristol has called for a deep state coup to depose Trump, and is rolling out a wave of ads to undermine Bernie Sanders.

Former CIA director Michael Morell, who offered unsolicited advice on killing Russians and Iranians in Syria during a televised interview, and the obsessively anti-Russian former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also occupy seats on the council.

While the ASD couches its work as an attempt to counter Russian disinformation, a clear pattern has emerged of efforts to suppress domestic reporting in the US that doesn’t conform to the imperial foreign policy consensus.

As The Grayzone previously reported, senior German Marshall Fund fellow and neocon movement veteran Jamie Fly appeared to take credit for a purge of popular Facebook accounts of alternative media outlets including The Free Thought Project, Anti-Media, and Cop Block. He promised it was “just the beginning.”

Now, the Alliance for Securing Democracy has trained its guns on The Grayzone. And with its latest falsehood, this malign organization has targeted an independent journalistic organization that has done more than any other to hold it accountable.

Alexander Rubinstein has covered foreign policy, police, prisons, and protests for a variety of publications including The Grayzone and Mint Press News. Follow him on Twitter at @RealAlexRubi.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

The Washington Mandarins and Veteran Disinformation Spooks Behind Stanford’s Internet Observatory

By Morgan Artyukhina | Sputnik | February 13, 2020

Stanford University’s Internet Observatory (SIO) is the latest in a growing network of cybersecurity groups policing the activities of social media users, pushing a pro-State Department line about Washington’s adversaries, and spreading the fear of disinformation that’s driving popular support for renewed conflict with Russia and other nations.

This article will pull back the veil on one of the fastest-growing institutions in the US Security State’s information war. Some of the observatory’s central figures include Facebook’s security chief during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, leading academic champions of Western triumphalism and US policy advisers, and even a lead researcher from a cybersecurity group previously exposed as being itself a disinformation outfit.

‘Rebuilding the Arsenal of Democracy’

Formed just this past summer, the observatory is attached to Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center instead of a think tank like the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab or operating as a for-profit cybersecurity company, like FireEye. In line with its more academic focus, SIO offers cybersecurity courses for students, such as program Director Alex Stamos’ popular “HackLab” course, “Trust & Safety Engineering,” and “Online Open Source Investigation,” as well as grants for full-time researchers and post-doctoral students, counting among its staff senior Stanford academics.

Startup funding for the Observatory came from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, a $5 million gift to fund nearly a dozen researchers for two years. Newmark, the billionaire founder of the website Craigslist, has quietly established a name for himself as another bankroller of State Department-approved media organs, alongside eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, oil tycoons the Koch brothers, and investor George Soros. Sputnik’s inquiries to Stamos about potential future funding sources were not returned by the time this story went to publication.

Newmark’s justification for supporting the Observatory serves as an effective summary of his efforts in this field:

“What we’re doing is rebuilding the arsenal of democracy,” he told Reuters in July 2019. On another occasion, Stanford quoted him as saying: “The strength of our democracy depends on ensuring that all people have access to accurate information. The Internet Observatory has a vision for a trustworthy Web, and I’m proud to support their mission-critical work to grapple with disinformation and other ways that bad actors use tech against the common good.”

Who’s Who at SIO

Heading up the outfit is Alex Stamos, the former security chief at Facebook and a visiting fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution think tank. Not only was Stamos in charge of Facebook’s cybersecurity during the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which some 87 million users had their personal information collected and used, most without their knowledge or consent, by companies intending on helping candidates like Donald Trump shape elections, but when he left Facebook in the summer of 2018 to form the SIO, Stamos’ departure was based primarily in his disagreement with other Facebook executives’ apprehension at surrendering so much user data to cybersecurity firms in their effort to track down supposed Russian political meddling on the site.

Meanwhile, its research team is headed up by Renée DiResta, a Mozilla fellow who’s lectured at events hosted by the arch-conservative Federalist Society. DiResta was also the research director at New Knowledge, ostensibly a cybersecurity outfit that disbanded after it was revealed they had played a deep role in an online disinformation campaign designed to influence the December 2017 Alabama special election in favor of Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

Stanford Internet Observatory Director Alex Stamos (left) and Research Manager Renée DiResta (right), Rod Searcey

While DiResta has sworn up and down that she knew nothing about the disinformation campaign being waged by New Knowledge chief Jonathon Morgan, at the time of the campaign she was also an Advisor on Policy at Data for Democracy, an informal cybersecurity brainstorming and collaboration network set up and coordinated by Morgan.

Other Stanford academics who’ve joined the SIO milieu include “end of history” proponent Francis Fukuyama and Hoover Institute fellows Amy Zegart and Michael McFaul, the latter of whom was also US Ambassador to Russia.

Further, the Stanford Cyber Policy Center’s codirector is Nate Persily, who founded Social Science One in April 2018 to do much the same as the SIO hopes to now: sort through petabytes of privacy-protected data on Facebook users to “investigate the spread of information and misinformation on Facebook, and their impact on elections and democracy,” as Wired put it in July 2018. Indeed, Wired noted Stamos hoped in setting up the Observatory to gain access to Facebook data via SSO.

“There’s an enormous number of questions you can ask about what 2 billion people around the world are clicking and reading and sharing,” Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science director Gay King, who co-founded SSO with Persily, told Wired. The group receives funding from Omidyar-connected groups such as the Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and the Omidyar Network, as well as the Charles Koch Foundation of conservative oil tycoon fame.

DiResta’s Proximity to Disinformation Electioneering

DiResta became embroiled in this disinformation cauldron as early as November 2016, when she met Mikey Dickerson, a former Obama administration official who served as the first head of the US Digital Service, which managed US government websites and who, according to the Washington Post, “expressed a desire to fight back” against Trump’s election victory.

“There was a feeling after the Trump election that Democrats hadn’t prioritized tech, that Republicans had built this amazing juggernaut machine,” DiResta told the Post in January 2019. “The right wing was running a meme war, and there were these crazy dirty tricks. People wanted to build countermeasures.”

Facebook banned the account of Jonathon Morgan, the CEO of New Knowledge, a cyber firm that meddled in Alabama’s 2017 special election.

Soon after, Dickinson founded American Engagement Technologies (AET), which later played a pivotal role in the Alabama special election, coordinating a massive effort to impersonate Republicans in an effort to discourage Alabamans from voting for Republican candidate and slavery and pedophilia defender Roy Moore. AET was bankrolled by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who sunk $750,000 into AET, $100,000 of which was used by Dickinson to hire New Knowledge. New Knowledge, in turn, coordinated Project Birmingham, the name of the disinformation effort, as documents obtained by the Washington Post show.

Hoffman has emerged again in recent news as the money behind ACRONYM, the group who sabotaged the February 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus results in an operation noted by observers to be very similar to that concocted by New Knowledge, including attempting to frame Russians for the interference.

​DiResta, in turn, advised AET before it obtained Hoffman’s backing, migrating to New Knowledge in the aftermath of the Alabama campaign, pledging to the Post she knew only of “an experiment in Alabama” but disavowing knowledge of their tactics.

However, DiResta had also joined Morgan startup group Data for Democracy as the group’s Policy Lead in August 2017, a nonprofit network of roughly 1,200 hackers founded by Morgan the previous December to “use data and technology for social impact,” according to its LinkedIn profile, especially “election integrity, disinformation & social network manipulation, transparency, and policy initiatives.” Between these three connections, it seems increasingly unlikely she knew nothing of the tactics behind Project Birmingham  – indeed, she had already professed sympathy with just such efforts to “fight back” against Trump.

The Pesky Problem of Privacy

Stamos, in an interview with Reuters, said pressures on Facebook to protect user privacy are making it harder to see and combat misuses on the platform, such as disinformation and election interference.

“The ability to do academic research on what’s happening online has never been worse,” Stamos told Reuters in a July 2019 interview. “What you get is everything encrypted and everything locked up and not available to researchers.”

He specifically blasted the Federal Trade Commission settlement requiring Facebook’s board to create an independent privacy committee and to have greater oversight over third-party apps on its platform, saying the skittishness it creates around sharing users’ data with research groups would be “a blow for the public’s understanding of social media manipulation,” as Reuters summarized it.

​Building a ‘Data Clearinghouse’

Indeed, now that Stamos has moved from security chief to academic, he’s renewed his pressure on tech giants to hand over user data for “academic” purposes, successfully winning backdoor access to user and ad data via API gateways from Facebook, Google, and Bing, turning the SIO into what Wired called “his data clearinghouse.”

At the time this article went to publication, Stamos had not answered inquiries by Sputnik about the other social media giants Wired noted the Observatory was courting for API access, including Twitter, YouTube and Reddit.

‘For $5,000 I Can Buy A Whole Lot of Speech’

Like Stamos, DiResta has a history of distrusting online people-to-people networks. In September 2018, she appeared on a panel titled, “Is Social Media a Threat to Democracy? Fake News, Filter Bubbles, and Deep Fakes,” at which she blasted Twitter for enabling “more speech” with its autofill retweet function, noting that “for $5,000 I can buy a whole lot of speech.”

That event, the Reboot 2018 Conference in San Francisco, was hosted by the Federalist Society, perhaps the country’s premier elite club for the Establishment Right, counting so many leading DC policymakers, diplomats and federal judges – including more than half of the Supreme Court – that in January 2019, Washington Post Magazine opined that the Federalist Society had reached an “unprecedented peak of power and influence.”

In describing the panel’s focus, the event handout noted that “Social media companies are under increasing scrutiny for their effect on American society. According to critics, these platforms promote hyper-partisanship, disinformation, extremism and even violence. They are also blamed for facilitating Russian-sponsored voter manipulation during the 2016 election. Our panel of experts will discuss these challenges as well as their implications for the upcoming election.”

Renee DiResta speaking at Reboot 2018 Conference in San Francisco, October 2, 2018, Sputnik Screenshot

Pruning Facts: Be More Like Google!

Since its formation, the Observatory has rushed to embrace the standard of “Russian disinformation campaigns,” turning out several reports ostensibly documenting such efforts in Africa, and also attacking Bing for failing to prune their search results of pro-Russian links.

While the SIO purports to have identified “Evidence of Russia-Linked Influence Operations in Africa,” as the title of an October 2019 report suggests, in truth they offer nothing but insinuation and supposition. The report itself admits they “cannot independently verify” their most contentious claim, that the Russian security contractor “Wagner Group” is behind a supposed “Facebook operation” in Libya.

Further, the extent of their proof of “Russia-linked organizations likely operating at least in part at the behest of a state actor” that shared “tactical similarities to Internet Research Agency activities” extends to little more than native-speakers speaking well of local initiatives tied to the Russian government and Facebook pages that “often re-posted Sputnik articles.” Quelle horreur!

This is the same kind of suggestive wording obfuscating ignorance that FireEye and the Atlantic Council’s DFRL have employed in claiming to identify disinformation campaigns by US targets for regime change, including Russia but also Venezuela, Iran, and China, among others.

For example, as Sputnik has reported, during the regular purges carried out by Twitter and Facebook, the cybersecurity reports used to justify the purges routinely enjoyed only moderate or low confidence by the researchers, and in at least one instance in May 2019, Twitter Site Integrity chief Yoel Roth was forced to admit they never looked at FireEye’s report before summarily deleting 2,800 accounts “linked to Iran.”

In another report in December 2019, the SIO faulted Microsoft default search engine Bing for failing to prune its search results as efficiently as Google does, specifically naming higher-ranked links to Sputnik and RT stories on search terms like “novichok,” “Skripal,” and “MH17” as a problem.

A graphic from a December 2019 report by the SIO showing RT and Sputnik in search results for “skripal” “MH17” and “novichok” on Bing and Google, Stanford Internet Observatory

In an interesting moment of frankness, the SIO admits that Google does, in fact, manually prune its search results – something the tech giant has long maintained it doesn’t do. A November 2019 report by the Wall Street Journal confirmed what documents leaked to the Daily Caller the previous April had hinted at: that Google intervenes directly to “correct” algorithms that yield politically undesirable search results.

“Over time, Google has increasingly re-engineered and interfered with search results to a far greater degree than the company and its executives have acknowledged,” the WSJ wrote, noting the efforts had increased sharply since the 2016 US elections. The litany of manipulations range from “algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones” to making “behind-the-scenes adjustments” to “auto-complete suggestions, boxes called ‘knowledge panels’ and ‘featured snippets,’ and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.”

“Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results,” the WSJ report continues. “These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by US or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.”

From ‘Fake News’ to ‘Disinformation’

The language deployed in the SIO report is also interesting, in that it categorizes stories forwarding a point of view differing from the US State Department’s line alongside conspiracy theory links about Pizzagate, links between vaccines and autism, and white supremacist content, as if they were all just flavors of “fake news” to be purged in the defense of “real” news.

Although US President Donald Trump is credited with popularizing the slander, “fake news” is a narrative swallowed hook, line and sinker in recent years by both tech giants and the billionaire investors who bankroll their growing media networks. For example, in 2015, Craig Newmark Philanthropies joined the Omidyar-backed Knight Foundation, the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation to back Google’s First Draft News and the Google News Lab, projects that aimed to coordinate “efforts between newsrooms, fact-checking organizations, and academic institutions to combat mis- and disinformation.”

As MintPress News documented, these efforts are just drops in the bucket of a much larger project involving every major US-based tech giant to shape media narratives around the globe to reflect the US State Department line, adopting common definitions of disinformation that dismiss alternative points of view as assaults upon reality.

“Fake news” has dovetailed with “disinformation” to provide a convenient excuse to extend state control over the realm of cyberspace, and the SIO is just the latest instrument in a growing symphony of thought policing.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | 1 Comment

Palestinian Minor Reveals Harrowing Details in Israeli Custody

Palestine Chronicle | February 13, 2020

In a testimony made through his lawyer to the Committee of Prisoners and Former Prisoners Affairs, Palestinian teenage prisoner Mahmoud Thawabteh revealed details about the difficult conditions inside Israeli prisons.

Thawabteh, 17, was arrested from his house in Beit Fajjar in eastern Bethlehem when Israeli occupation soldiers stormed the neighborhood at dawn, the boy’s lawyer told the Committee. 

According to the testimony, Thawabteh was harshly interrogated in the street, before army dogs were unleashed at him.

The boy revealed that he was brutally beaten and he had several dog bites on his legs.

 “They beat me up on my head and back using their rifles and sticks”, Thawabteh said, as reported in Quds News Network.

After a harrowing journey in an Israeli army jeep, the teenage boy was taken to the notorious Etzion interrogation center, where dozens of Palestinian minors were held and reportedly tortured over the years.

Conveying Thawabteh’s testimony, his lawyer went on to say that the teenager was allowed to see a doctor just before his interrogation commenced. However, the Israeli doctor did little to stop the bleeding or to treat the bruises and bite marks, aside from taking Thawabteh’s blood pressure.

Thawabteh was held in the Etzion facility for three days, during which he was interrogated, assaulted, and beaten repeatedly, before being moved to the Ofer military jail, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

On January 13, Thawabteh was one of 34 Palestinian minors who were relocated from the Ofer prison to the Damon prison, inside Israel, without being accompanied by their adult overseers, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS).

Commenting on that experience, Thawabteh told his lawyer that the children were placed in a squalid section of the prison that was infested with insects. They were left largely alone, as the Israeli prison guards refused to provide them with basic services or needs. 

The Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun had reported earlier that “every year, around 700 Palestinian children are brought before Israeli military courts after being arrested, detained and interrogated.”

“The vast majority report some form of torture and abuse, including kicking and beating in military jeeps as well as psychological torture during interrogation, including threats to arrest family members.”

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel prosecutes leaders from Golan for opposing wind turbines

MEMO | February 13, 2020

The Israeli Magistrates Court in Nazareth held trial Tuesday evening of well-respected leaders from the occupied Golan, who opposed the Israeli project to install wind turbines to produce energy over large areas, estimated at thousands of dunums of the Golan lands.

Hundreds of people from the villages of the occupied Golan headed to the Israeli Magistrate Court to support the prosecuted leaders.

Sheikh Fouad Qassem Al-Shaer, from Majdal Shams village, said: “There are foul intentions behind the trial of the Sheikhs and leaders, who opposed a project that is going to affect more than 300 farmers in the villages of Golan. The project is going seize about 4,500 dunums of agricultural land.”

Al-Shaer stressed that “countering the project will be possible through raising awareness of the risks of this settlement project, which claims the implementation of green energy production, and its impact on the lives of people.”

In this context, Emil Masoud, coordinator of the solidarity campaign with Sheikh Salman Ahmed Awad and Tawfiq Kinj Abu Saleh, said that they were brought to trial without committing any violation, except for opposing to the wind power project.

Masoud, from Masade village, asserted: “The aim of this trial is to intimidate and scare people, so that the company can implement 25 turbines, to be built on an area of 4,316 dunums as a first stage.”

After hearing the allegations of the parties, the court asked them to sit together to reach a settlement or an agreement.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 1 Comment

Syria: M5 highway secured, time for truce

Syrian forces took control of  M5 highway connecting economic hub of Aleppo to Damascus and other key population centres to Jordanian border, February 12, 2020.
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | February 13, 2020

The de-escalation talks between Moscow and Ankara over the Russian-backed offensive by the Syrian government forces in the northwestern province of Idlib didn’t help defuse tensions.

On the contrary, Turkish-Syrian tensions cascaded and an unraveling of the Russian-Turkish entente may ensue.

Another Turkish delegation is due to visit Moscow to discuss Idlib. This follows visits by two Russian delegations to Turkey last week and a phone conversation between President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Erdogan on Wednesday.

Turkey is hanging tough. Erdogan threatens to hit Syrian army and push it behind the 12 Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end-February. He warns that unless Syrian forces retreat, Turkey will expand its offensive. He also signals that air strikes by Syrian and Russian planes in Idlib will be countered.

According to Erdogan, if the Syrian government establishes complete control over the country, it could threaten Turkey’s security and stability. He has backed his words by moving hundreds of tanks and heavy armour into Syria and significant troop deployments in Idlib.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defence Ministry announced earlier today in Moscow that “a vital transport corridor in Syria — the M5 highway linking the besieged northern capital Aleppo with Syria’s southern cities (Hama, Homs and Damascus) — has been liberated from terrorists.”

The Syrian news agency SANA further elaborated that in operations on Wednesday, Syrian forces gained control of the Aleppo countryside to the west of M5 highway, which are regions previously held by extremist groups — principally, the al-Qaeda group known as Jabhat al-Nusra,  supported by Turkey.

In sum, the Russian-Syrian operations in Idlib have reached a defining moment — control of the M5 highway. The Russian Defence Ministry highlighted that control over the M5 highway is a game changer.

Indeed, Turkey understands this fully well too. A commentary on Wednesday by TRT World, Turkish state media, described M5 highway as “the key to controlling Syria”. It explained,

“The M5 highway is also critical in linking Syria with the Jordanian border and in the recent past to Turkey’s southern city of Gaziantep, an industrial hub and a centre for imports and exports. … Functioning as the backbone of the national road network, the M5… has economic importance because it connects the city of Aleppo, which was the industrial capital, with Damascus and also continued to the southern border that was the main highway for transit trade.

“The M5 motorway has further critical extensions to the port of Tartus, home to Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean, and Latakia, the home of the Assad family clan and Russia’s largest electronic eavesdropping post outside its territory…

“The recent Assad regime offensive and capture of Saraqib, a town at the intersection between the M4 and M5 in Idlib province, was a strategic coup. Not only did the regime open up a critical part of the M5 motorway leading to North Aleppo but also west to the M4 highway leading to Jisr Al Shughur one of the largest cities in Idlib province and still under rebel control from there to Latakia. Beyond the strategic importance of the highway for anti-regime rebels, controlling the M5 would have meant the physical collapse of the authority of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad.”

In retrospect, notwithstanding the warnings and threats held out by Turkey, Moscow was determined for good reason that the operation must be carried froward to its logical conclusion, namely, liberation of M5 from the clutches of the al-Qaeda terrorist groups.

Turkey may not like that it has been checkmated. The entire Turkish strategy of using terrorist groups as proxies in the 9-year Syrian conflict is crumbling. The battle-hardened al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Idlib in their thousands may flock to Turkey, which could pose an ugly security situation.

Since 2016, Turkey resorted to a strategy of carving out Syria’s northern territories as its “sphere of influence”, but that strategy  is no longer sustainable.

On the other hand, the truce reached through the Astana and Sochi talks with Russia and Iran lies in tatters. Turkey’s best bet will be to improve its negotiating position and thereafter seek a new equilibrium with its Astana partners.

But how would Turkey navigate to that point? For Moscow and Damascus, control of M5 highway is non-negotiable. Erdogan claims Turkey would contest Damascus’ (and Russian) monopoly over air space. But Turkish air force stands much diminished after the huge purge of officers following the US-backed coup attempt in 2016.

Erdogan will think twice before confronting Russia militarily. The nice words of solidarity from US officials notwithstanding, he’d know that the US-Kurdish axis is pivotal to Washington’s Middle East strategy.

In fact, the US military is already fishing in troubled waters to regain control of border regions with Kurdish population in northeast Syria, which it vacated in a hurry last October following President Trump’s impetuous declaration on troop withdrawal from Syria (which he revoked subsequently.)

Turkey needs to reconcile with the inevitability of the Syrian leadership pressing ahead with plans to regain control of the entire country. That is to say, Russia and Syria may adopt a “salami tactic” and keep hunting down the residual al-Qaeda terrorists.

Turkey’s options have dried up. The way out is to cut losses, which is best done by reaching a renewed understanding with Russia and Iran. The priority should be that Turkey’s core interests are not in jeopardy, especially the Kurdish conundrum in northern Syria.

Clearly, Putin’s priority is to end the conflict and stabilise the Syrian situation. There shouldn’t be a conflict of interests with Turkey. The alternative is for Turkey to team up with the “spoilers” —  the cold warriors in Washington who do not want Russian presence in the Mediterranean and the Saudi regime with its antipathy toward Iran’s rise.

Therefore, a rebalancing of the Turkish-Russian entente is possible — and is to be expected. Moscow keeps good contacts with Kurds and Damascus has common interests with Ankara in regard of Kurdish problem.

Turkey’s border security is best addressed by fortifying the cardinal principle in inter-state relationships — non-interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 2 Comments

Sudan to Compensate Families of USS Cole Victims

teleSUR | February 13, 2020

The new Sudanese government has agreed to compensate the families of sailors killed in an Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole warship 20 years ago, state news agency SUNA said on Thursday, part of government efforts to remove the country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The report said the settlement had been signed on Feb. 7. It did not mention the amount paid in compensation, but a source with knowledge of the deal, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Sudan had agreed to settle the case for $30 million.

The 17 sailors were killed, and dozens of others injured, in the attack on Oct. 12, 2000, when two men in a small boat detonated explosives alongside the Navy guided missile destroyer as it was refueling in the southern Yemeni port of Aden.

Khartoum agreed to settle “only for the purpose of fulfilling the condition set by the U.S. administration to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism”, SUNA said, citing the justice ministry.

Being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism makes Sudan ineligible for desperately needed debt relief and financing from lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Removal from the list potentially opens the door for foreign investment.

“The government of Sudan would like to point out that the settlement agreement explicitly affirmed that the government was not responsible for this incident or any terrorist act,” the justice ministry said in its statement, cited by SUNA said.

The announcement comes two days after Khartoum and rebel groups agreed that all those wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in the Darfur region should appear before the tribunal. The list includes Sudan’s ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

The U.S. sailors’ relatives had sued Sudan under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which generally bars suits against foreign countries except those designated by the United States as a sponsor of terrorism, as Sudan has been since 1993.

Sudan did not defend against the claims in court. In 2014, a trial judge found that Sudan’s aid to al Qaeda “led to the murders” of the 17 Americans and awarded the families about $35 million, including $14 million in punitive damages.

Sudan then tried to void the judgment, arguing the lawsuit was not properly served on its foreign minister, violating notification requirements under U.S. and international law.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the bid by the families last year.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

More Lies on Iran: The White House Just Can’t Help Itself as New Facts Emerge

By Philip Giraldi | Strategic Culture Foundation | February 13, 2020

Admittedly the news cycle in the United States seldom runs longer than twenty-four hours, but that should not serve as an excuse when a major story that contradicts what the Trump Administration has been claiming appears and suddenly dies. The public that actually follows the news might recall a little more than one month ago the United States assassinated a senior Iranian official named Qassem Soleimani. Openly killing someone in the government of a country with which one is not at war is, to say the least, unusual, particularly when the crime is carried out in yet another country with which both the perpetrator and the victim have friendly relations. The justification provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking for the administration, was that Soleimani was in Iraq planning an “imminent” mass killing of Americans, for which no additional evidence was provided at that time or since.

It soon emerged that the Iranian was in fact in Baghdad to discuss with the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi a plan that might lead to the de-escalation of the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a meeting that the White House apparently knew about and may even have approved. If that is so, events as they unfolded suggest that the U.S. government might have encouraged Soleimani to make his trip so he could be set up and killed. Donald Trump later dismissed the lack of any corroboration of the tale of “imminent threat” being peddled by Pompeo, stating that it didn’t really matter as Soleimani was a terrorist who deserved to die.

The incident that started the killing cycle that eventually included Soleimani consisted of a December 27th attack on a U.S. base in Iraq in which four American soldiers and two Iraqis were wounded while one U.S. contractor, an Iraqi-born translator, was killed. The United States immediately blamed Iran, claiming that it had been carried out by an Iranian supported Shi’ite militia called Kata’ib Hezbollah. It provided no evidence for that claim and retaliated by striking a Kata’ib base, killing 25 Iraqis who were in the field fighting the remnants of Islamic State (IS). The militiamen had been incorporated into the Iraqi Army and this disproportionate response led to riots outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which were also blamed on Iran by the U.S. There then followed the assassinations of Soleimani and nine senior Iraqi militia officers. Iran retaliated when it fired missiles at American forces, injuring more than one hundred soldiers, and then mistakenly shot down a passenger jet, killing an additional 176 people. As a consequence due to the killing by the U.S. of 34 Iraqis in the two incidents, the Iraqi Parliament also voted to expel all American troops.

It now appears that the original death of the American contractor that sparked the tit-for-tat conflict was not carried out by Kata’ib Hezbollah at all. An Iraqi Army investigative team has gathered convincing evidence that it was an attack staged by Islamic State. In fact, the Iraqi government has demonstrated that Kata’ib Hezbollah has had no presence in Kirkuk province, where the attack took place, since 2014. It is a heavily Sunni area where Shi’a are not welcome and is instead relatively hospitable to all-Sunni IS. It was, in fact, one of the original breeding grounds for what was to become ISIS.

This new development was reported in the New York Times in an article that was headlined “Was U.S. Wrong About Attack That Nearly Started a War With Iran? Iraqi military and intelligence officials have raised doubts about who fired the rockets that started a dangerous spiral of events.” In spite of the sensational nature of the report it generally was ignored in television news and in other mainstream media outlets, letting the Trump administration get away with yet another big lie, one that could easily have led to a war with Iran.

Iraqi investigators found and identified the abandoned white Kia pickup with an improvised Katyusha rocket launcher in the vehicle’s bed that was used to stage the attack. It was discovered down a desert road within range of the K-1 joint Iraqi-American base that was hit by at least ten missiles in December, most of which struck the American area.

There is no direct evidence tying the attack to any particular party and the improvised Kia truck is used by all sides in the regional fighting, but the Iraqi officials point to the undisputed fact that it was the Islamic State that had carried out three separate attacks near the base over the 10 days preceding December 27th. And there are reports that IS has been increasingly active in Kirkuk Province during the past year, carrying out near daily attacks with improvised roadside bombs and ambushes using small arms. There had, in fact, been reports from Iraqi intelligence that were shared with the American command warning that there might be an IS attack on K-1 itself, which is an Iraqi air base in that is shared with U.S. forces.

The intelligence on the attack has been shared with American investigators, who have also examined the pick-up truck. The Times reports that the U.S. command in Iraq continue to insist that the attack was carried out by Kata’ib based on information, including claimed communications intercepts, that it refuses to make public. The U.S. forces may not have shared the intelligence they have with the Iraqis due to concerns that it would be leaked to Iran, but senior Iraqi military officers are nevertheless perplexed by the reticence to confide in an ally.

If the Iraqi investigation of the facts around the December attack on K-1 is reliable, the Donald Trump administration’s reckless actions in Iraq in late December and early January cannot be justified. Worse still, it would appear that the White House was looking for an excuse to attack and kill a senior Iranian official to send some kind of message, a provocation that could easily have resulted in a war that would benefit no one. To be sure, the Trump administration has lied about developments in the Middle East so many times that it can no longer be trusted. Unfortunately, demanding any accountability from the Trump team would require a Congress that is willing to shoulder its responsibility for truth in government backed up by a media that is willing to take on an administration that regularly punishes anyone or any entity that dares to challenge it. That is the unfortunate reality in America today.

February 13, 2020 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism, War Crimes | , , | 4 Comments