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US quietly recalls ALL B-52 bombers from Guam just DAYS after staging ‘show of force’

© US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Divine Cox
RT | April 18, 2020

All five nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers departed their forward base on the Pacific island of Guam just days after taking part in an ‘elephant walk’ show of force. The US Air Force says it wants to be more unpredictable.

The B-52H Stratofortresses departed Guam on Thursday, ending the Continuous Bomber Presence Mission that began in 2004, according to the War Zone blog. They were spotted flying over to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, with callsigns spelling “see you.”

The redeployment was in line with the new National Defense Strategy, calling for the bombers to return to their permanent base and keep the forward deployments less predictable, US Strategic Command spokesperson Major Kate Atanasoff told the War Zone.

“US strategic bombers will continue to operate in the Indo-Pacific, to include Guam, at the timing and tempo of our choosing.”

For the past 16 years, that place was the Andersen AFB on Guam, where the B-52 bombers as well as their newer B-1B and B-2 cousins, would do six-month stints. Under the Trump administration, however, the USAF began experimenting with “Dynamic Force Deployment,” sending B-2s to Wake Island amid their deployment at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

The bombers’ departure was accidentally revealed by the Pentagon on April 14, when a photo of them was captioned”Last Continuous Bomber Presence Mission on Guam” on the official Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website. The caption was later changed to “Andersen remains ready.”

That was the same caption that was used for the “elephant walk” publicity stunt the day before, when the five B-52s lined up on the runway with six KC-135 Stratotankers, an RQ-4 Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone and the Navy’s MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter.

The show of force was interpreted by the media as a message to China, North Korea and even Russia not to get any ideas about challenging US global hegemony. The main tool of US force projection in the region, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, has been very publicly sidelined by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, with its crew quarantined on Guam.

April 17, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | | 3 Comments

‘Grave concerns’ about Covid-19 immunity passports

By Tom WHEELDON | France 24 | April 16, 2020

Trapped between the competing urgencies of saving lives from Covid-19 and avoiding economic calamity, some government officials have mooted “immunity passports” as a way through the impasse. But experts told FRANCE 24 that the necessary antibody testing is not reliable enough – and even if the scheme were feasible, it could create a dangerous incentive for some to acquire the virus in order to qualify for some to acquire the virus in order to qualify for the passport.

The global tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 2 million on Wednesday – a day after researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health warned that the US may need to keep some social distancing measures until 2022, while the IMF predicted that, thanks to “the Great Lockdown”, the world will suffer the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Anxious about both the unfolding economic disaster and the risk of Covid-19 resurging if lockdowns are reversed prematurely, some officials in hard-hit countries have suggested that a system of immunity passports could be a route out of the coronavirus crisis – for some at least. The idea is that people who have already had the disease and thereby gained immunity could be given permits to live their lives mostly like they did before the pandemic.

Shortly after emerging from self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in early April that the British government was considering an “immunity certificate” system to allow those who qualify to “get back as much as possible to normal life”.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also given the idea her backing – putting it in a list of proposals for returning to business as usual in the City of Lights that she sent to the French government. On the other side of the Atlantic, Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that immunity passports are “being discussed” in the Trump administration. “It might actually have some merit under some circumstances,” he added.

Antibody tests ‘not sufficiently accurate’

Immunity passports would require tests for antibodies specific to Covid-19, which would be different from those used to discern whether or not people currently have the virus. The problem is that, as things stand, these tests “are not sufficiently accurate for individual immunity passports”, which means that “we are still a long way off it being useful to test individuals with these methods”, said Claire Standley, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security.

A major reason why such tests look likely to be ineffective, Standley explained, is that they do not seem specific enough to avoid mistaking a similar virus for Covid-19: “There may be cross-reactivity between the antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] and other circulating coronaviruses – including those that cause common colds – meaning a positive result might not indicate past exposure to SARS-CoV-2 but maybe another coronavirus instead.”

As well as flagging up people who have recovered from ailments that merely seem similar to Covid-19, Standley said these tests also have a problem in failing to detect some people who have experienced a minor form of the virus: “High false negative rates (lack of sensitivity) of the test mean that those currently available are not recommended for patient-level clinical diagnosis; unless the sensitivity improves, these tests may also not be effective in identifying people who have recovered from mild cases of Covid-19, and thus may have lower levels of antibodies in their blood.”

Immunity for less than one year?

Issues with the accuracy of testing equipment may be solved through rapid technological advances as the world’s scientists focus their energy and resources on tackling the coronavirus pandemic. However, one potentially intractable problem with immunity passports is that immunity might not last terribly long.

“At this point, the virus has been widely circulating in Europe and North America only for a couple of months, and so that is all the information we have – we will know in a year if immunity lasts a year; we will know in two years if immunity lasts two years,” noted Abram Wagner, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “From past research into other coronaviruses, immunity was not long lasting, and I would not be surprised if, for most people, immunity lasted less than one year.”

In addition to these scientific hindrances standing in the way of immunity passports, there are worries about the social implications: “I suspect many people will be resentful if others were able to return to work and make money because they had an immunity passport,” Wagner put it.

“I have grave concerns about how these types of schemes could be implemented equitably and fairly, even assuming a reliable antibody test were available, and more known about the length of immunity and how protective it is,” Standley added.

In particular, she said, immunity passports threaten to accentuate inequality between the haves and have-nots, which lockdowns have already intensified: “If the tests need to be purchased, this could further exacerbate disparities between those who can afford the tests (and who may already have been able to work from home/maintain an income during lockdown) versus those who cannot, and thus would be further barred from re-entering the workforce.”

Another unsettling point Standley raised is that immunity passports could create a perverse incentive to contract the coronavirus: “In an effort to return to work, or allow their children back to school, will the promise of an immunity passport make people behave less responsibly, and risk infection, in order to end up with a positive antibody test?”

In this way, an idea touted as a way of giving people their lives back could disadvantage those who have acted most virtuously, Standley warned: “The scheme would potentially punish those citizens who have behaved responsibly and tried their best to reduce their own risk of exposure and that of transmission within their communities.”

April 17, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Science and Pseudo-Science | 1 Comment

‘No evidence’ connecting Covid-19 to Wuhan lab – French official

RT | April 17, 2020

A French presidential official has batted down rumors alleging a link between the coronavirus epidemic and a virology lab in Wuhan, reiterating that there is “no factual evidence” to support the increasingly US-backed claims.

“We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no factual evidence corroborating the information recently circulating in the United States press that establishes a link between the origins of COVID-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory of Wuhan, China,” the official told reporters on Friday.

It isn’t just the American media running with the unsubstantiated theory – French media have also latched onto it, buoyed by President Emmanuel Macron himself recently questioning whether Beijing had been entirely honest about what happened in the early days of the epidemic.

“There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about,” the president told the Financial Times on Thursday, suggesting it would be “naive” to claim China had handled the crisis better than France. His comments came after the French Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in response to an article on the Chinese Embassy’s website suggesting some Western countries were abandoning elderly people to die in care homes, as had occurred in Spain.

China dismissed the quarrel as a “misunderstanding,” with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao pointing out that Beijing had not made any negative comments about France’s response to the crisis “and has no intention of making any.”

While the US government has not officially accused Beijing of unleashing the coronavirus upon the world, it has hinted in a growing number of ways that the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for the epidemic, complaining of it covering up the outbreak, suppressing reports coming out of China, and – most recently – of lacking the “openness and transparency” supposedly needed to operate a safe virology lab. Beijing has repeatedly denied the allegations that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

April 17, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 4 Comments

All Smoke and No Gun at the OPCW

By Jeremy Salt | American Herald tribune | April 16, 2020

Over the past decade, the London Guardian has never reported the war on Syria in any way commensurate with the principles of true journalism. It is had been running a line, consistently slanted to do as much damage to the Syrian government as possible. As such, it has been a central conduit in the propaganda war. It closed down ‘comment is free’ on its Syria articles long ago because well-informed readers could see what it was up to and were writing embarrassing correctives.

Throughout, its language has been the language of propaganda – ‘the regime,’ ‘Assad loyalists,’ ‘the dictator,’ ‘the rebels’, ‘the armed opposition,’ ‘the uprising,’ ‘the çivil war,’ so on and on, endlessly.  Its ‘coverage’ has always been calibrated to the damage it thinks it can do to the Syrian government. In fact, by supporting its ‘rebels’ and by implication the  governments arming and financing them, it has only aggravated the damage being done to Syria and its people who, all the evidence suggests, overwhelmingly support their president and their army, not these ‘rebels.’

Silent when its ‘rebels’ are taking a beating, the Guardian springs to life the moment there’s a fresh opportunity to abuse Syria’s president. Accordingly, when the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) issued its latest report on chemical weapon usage in Syria, its sibling Sunday paper, the Observer, was quick off the mark, running  a headline on April 12 reading “Assad to face justice.” It went on: “For the first time the world’s chemical weapons watchdog has directly accused Syria’s leadership of ordering illegal attacks on its own people.” Stating accusations from concealed sources as fact, it concludes that “the tyrant in Damascus has not yet won.”

As it turns out, the OPCW report is all smoke but no gun. Unsurprisingly, given their Syria coverage, the Guardian and the Observer are not even interested in distinguishing between the two. For their purposes, the smoke is as good as the gun. What they call “the world’s chemical weapons watchdog” is actually a watchdog protecting the interests of the governments attacking Syria through armed proxies. The Guardian and the Observer are watchdogs protecting the same interests, which in this case means protecting a tainted report coming from a tainted source.

Last year whistleblowers revealed that the OPCW executive had suppressed the interim report by the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma in April 2018, and had issued a doctored final report, reversing the on-the-spot findings of its own experts.

The final report concluded that the cylinder said to have crashed through a roof had probably been dropped from the air when its own engineers had arrived at the “higher probability” that it had been placed there manually. As for the heavy amounts of chlorine it suggested had been released from this cylinder, killing 43 people, according to anonymous “witnesses”, what its own chemists said they found in the air were microparticles no different from what would have been in the air normally. On January 20 this year, the OPCW’s inspection team leader at Douma, Ian Henderson, told a specially convened session of the UN Security Council that the evidence indicated there had been no chemical weapons attack at all at Douma.

Its fraudulent behavior exposed, the OPCW secretariat tried to dismiss the evidence of its whistleblower engineers and scientists as “subjective” but the damage to its credibility was terminal, and in seeking to uphold a tainted report from a tainted organization,  the Guardian and the Observer only underscore the tainted nature of their own ‘reporting’ and editorials on Syria.

Wisely, in this latest report, dated April 8, “The First Report by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team” (IIT), a body established in 2018, the OPCW does not return to what happened at Douma in 2018. The subject matter this time is chlorine and sarin attacks said to have been carried out in and around the “village” of Ltameneh on March 24, 25 and 30, 2017.

In fact, Al Lataminah (“Llatameneh”) is not a “village” as described in the IIT report but a town with a population of more than 16,000, according to the census of 2004.  This has probably shifted upwards or downwards since then. Close to Hama and only a few kilometers from the strategically important M5 highway, the town is located within territory in the Hama governorate that was under the control of Hayat Tahrir al Sham and other terrorist factions when the chemical weapons attacks were said to have taken place in 2017. Al Lataminah itself was the headquarters of Jaysh al ‘Izza (Army of Glory).

According to the IIT, there were three attacks, one of chlorine and two of sarin, on March 24, 25 and 30, each in cylinders or bombs dropped from the air by Syrian air force SU (Sukhoi) 22 fighter aircraft or helicopters. The format of the report is identical to the format of all its reports, and indeed all the reports put out by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Lots of acronyms, weighty officious language implying authority, lots of imputations but virtually nothing in the form of evidence that would stand up in a court.

The sources, individual, institutional and governmental (“state parties”) are all concealed. The OPCW says it sought entry into Syria, but was ignored by the Syrian government, which is hardly surprising given the fakery of its report on Douma. It talks of witnesses, who, as its investigators were not on the spot inside Syria, have to be regarded as alleged witnesses. It does not say who they were or where they were when interviewed, but Turkey would be most likely. Neither is there any mention of possible affiliations, perhaps to the White Helmets or one of the armed groups.

The report ties the alleged attacks to the close proximity of Syrian airbases and the daily activity of Syrian aircraft as they take off and return. Syria is fighting a war against terrorist groups that have infiltrated and taken over large parts of the Hama and Idlib governorates, so of course military planes and helicopters are frequently in the air. The ITT imputations that they might have been or could have been involved in chemical weapons attacks are devoid of substance.

The IIT report talks confidently of its chain of custody, including shell remnants said to have been taken from craters to one of its (unidentified) designated laboratories. It does not say who allegedly carried this material out of Syria but as Jaysh al ‘Izza was then in control of the town, one of its members or its sympathizers, committed to the destruction of the Syrian government and out to blacken its name whenever possible, is the most likely.

Included in the IIT evidential chain is information “obtained” during interviews, information “previously” provided by “witnesses,” interviews with “persons of interest” along with the evidence of other unidentified “witnesses” to the attacks and people affected by them. Again, these are alleged witnesses to an alleged attack and people allegedly affected by these alleged attacks. They were NOT interviewed in Syria and the IIT report provides no proof of their authenticity.

The IIT’s further sources include unidentified videos and “documents,” as well as “relevant material” from “various sources,” briefings and advice from unidentified “experts” and “specialists,” information from unidentified “open sources” and “forensic institutes,” and unspecified input from unidentified “state parties.”

Noting the use of tunnels at Al Lataminah by Jaish al ‘Izza, a “military expert” advising the IIT “noted [that] the use of chemical weapons in this area would not be inconsistent [my italics] with a strategy aimed at inflicting terror on both civilians and combatants.” Neither, of course, on the basis of past compelling evidence, would it be inconsistent with the proven attempts by terrorist groups to lure outside governments into launching an air war on Syria by staging faked chemical weapons attacks. The IIT refers to the possibility of a staged attack, but does not take it seriously.

It claims to have received information “from multiple sources”, unidentified of course, that senior Syrian Republican Guard officers (names redacted) sent orders to “former members” of the “previously-designated branch 450, a component of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme responsible for the storage, mixing and filling of chemical weapons, including sarin, to prepare items for use in the defense of Hama.” By imputation, these “items” were chemical weapons. The IIT also claimed to have “obtained information” that in March 2017, sarin precursors were being stored at a facility at Him Shinshar, in the Homs governorate.

The ITT notes that branch 450 was “officially” dissolved in 2013, insinuating, again, that it wasn’t really, while providing no evidence at all to back up the “information” received from some unnamed source that the Syrian government still had a stock of sarin precursors. It does not say where the “former members” are now, or what they are doing, and provides no hard evidence at all to back up the claim by hidden “multiple sources” that in 2017 they were still involved in the preparation of chemical weapons

The report refers to satellite imaging of the Shayrat airbase (provided by whom?) showing, “according to a specialist” (in what?) “structures” that “could have been used [my italics] to store chemical weapons.”  Perhaps they also could have been used to store engine parts, garden tools, food for the base canteen or cleaning material for the toilet blocks but the unknown contents of these “structures” are all part of the buildup to the IIT report’s conclusion that it was “very likely” Syrian air force planes did drop chemical weapons on Al Lataminah.

The same imagery indicated that part of the Hama airbase was a “possible barrel bomb storage depot” with a number of items visible as “possible barrel bombs.” No doubt there is a vast range of other possibilities for what these “items” might have been, so why pick just this one? The ITT also claimed to have “obtained information” that chlorine barrel bombs had been prepared at nearby Masyaf, the 12th century center of the Ismaili fidais (sacrificers) who have passed into history as the Order of the Assassins. According to the IIT’s source, they were taken to Hama, but without there being any inkling of who provided this “information,” such a claim cannot possibly be taken at face value.

The IIT claimed to have “received information” that 176 people were admitted to hospital after the (alleged) sarin attack on March 24 but admitted that it had been unable to locate the medical records. Clearly they would have been of paramount importance in confirming what had taken place, and medical staff in a hospital in a town controlled by Jaysh al ‘Izza could surely have been easily persuaded to provide them. There is no attempt by the ITT, however, to explain why its sources could not come up with photocopies of at least one or two of these records, if indeed there was an attack, if there were indeed casualties and if there were indeed medical records to photocopy.

The IIT further claims to have interviewed casualties and medical staff who described symptoms toxicologists found “plausible” as being consistent with the effects of nerve gas. In fact, sarin is so deadly that it can kill within one to ten minutes, with those who survive often suffering permanent brain damage, raising further questions about its alleged use at Al Lataminah. There is no indication in the IIT report that any of these alleged victims were subjected to a medical examination either in Syria or wherever it was that they were later interviewed.  For a team of investigators determined to get to the truth, one would have thought this also should have been a priority.

The IIT claimed to have interviewed individuals “with direct knowledge” of the attacks. It does not say where they were interviewed and how it knew they had “direct knowledge” of the alleged attacks. It further claims that munitions remnants (allegedly) taken from a crater “could be linked” to “potential chemical weapons use.” “Could be” and “potential” are hardly persuasive.

Samples were (allegedly) taken from one crater on March 26, 2017, but not delivered to the FFM until August 12. There is no indication of who in this Jaysh al ‘Izza-controlled town dug up the samples and gave them to the FFM nearly five months later. One would have to conclude that it was most likely someone from Jaysh al ‘Izza, if in fact there was a crater and the samples were taken from it and not somewhere else. Speculating further, the report says that 2000 bombs designed to carry chemical weapons had been converted into conventional bombs after 2013 and supposedly used but the secretariat had been unable to confirm that this had actually happened, conveniently leaving an avenue open to support the IIT’s claims.

The report claims that helicopters dropped four “barrel bombs” on March 25, one falling through the roof of a building, just as a cylinder full of chlorine was said to have done in the discredited report the OPCW issued on Douma. Three “witnesses” were said to have seen the event and reported that three people died as a result and 32 were injured. There is not a scintilla of confirmation for any of this. There is no indication of how the IIT was able to confirm that the individuals it interviewed in another country, apparently long after the event, really were witnesses.

Completely sweeping away the creaking foundations of all of this is the OPCW’s own earlier findings on the destruction of all the Syrian government’s stocks of chemical weapons material, following the staged attack in the Ghouta disrict, near Damascus, in August 2013, designed to draw Barack Obama over his self-declared “red line” so that he would launch an air attack.

Warned by his own intelligence agencies that the attack could be a setup, Obama pulled back at the last minute, but subsequently, the Syrian government offered to have all its stocks of chemical weapons destroyed under international supervision anyway. The process began in September 2013, the Syrian government simultaneously signing on to the International Convention on the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (1997).

By June 2014, the OPCW, the supervising body, reported that all production capacity had been destroyed. The remaining chemicals were removed from Syria and by August 2014,  all had been destroyed. In January 2016, the OPCW affirmed that the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons material in the previous three years had been completed. Now, however, the ITT is reproducing an unsubstantiated claim that they weren’t, in order to lend spurious plausibility to its accusations that the Syrian air force dropped chemical weapons and nerve gas on and around Al Lataminah.

The appropriate resting place for this report is not the filing cabinet but the wastepaper basket. With these reports, the OPCW has completely destroyed its credibility. It needs cleaning out, beginning with the sacking of the director-general and the entire secretariat. Otherwise, it should be replaced with a new body, if the world is to have a credible independent chemical weapons watchdog and not one that appears to dance to the foreign policy interests of the US and its global satraps.

April 17, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 1 Comment

China denies covering up Covid-19 severity, says revision increasing deaths by 50 percent ‘common practice’

RT | April 17, 2020

The correction of Wuhan’s Covid-19 death toll, which rose by 1,290 and now stands at 3,869, was part of a statistical verification process and is a common international practice, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Zhao Lijian rejected claims that the Chinese government had engaged in a cover-up of the severity of the outbreak, saying at a daily briefing that Beijing would not allow such a thing.

The claim has been pushed, among others, by US President Donald Trump, who froze funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) this week after accusing it of conspiring with China to mislead the world about the threat posed by the virus.

After the revision for Wuhan, the ground zero of the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s total death toll stands at 4,632. The change announced on Friday was explained by “incorrect reporting, delays and omissions of cases” by some medical institutions in the city during the early stages of the outbreak.

The US has had its own spike in Covid-19 deaths due to re-evaluation of previous cases. New York this week added 3,778 earlier deaths to its tally, including people “presumed” to have died from the infection based on symptoms and medical history rather than positive tests.

April 17, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments