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Political Legitimacy Dies in 2020

By James Bovard | American Institute for Economic Research | July 28, 2020

The American political system may be on the eve of its worst legitimacy crisis since the Civil War. Early warning signals indicate that many states could suffer catastrophic failures in counting votes in November. The election will occur amidst the vast economic devastation inflicted by a political class that responded to COVID by seizing almost unlimited power. And Deep State federal agencies have already proven that they will trample the law to sabotage election results.

America could soon see a hundred-times worse replay of the Florida presidential balloting 20 years ago in the Bush-Gore showdown. Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes but the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Two days, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Unfortunately, “legitimacy via blocked recounts” may also be the epithet for the 2020 presidential election.

Because of the pandemic, many states are switching primarily to mail-in voting even though experiences with recent primaries were a disaster. In New York City, officials are still struggling to count mail-in ballots from the June primary. Up to 20% of ballots “were declared invalid before even being opened, based on mistakes with their exterior envelopes,” the Washington Post noted, thanks largely to missing postmarks or signatures. In Wisconsin, more than 20,000 “primary ballots were thrown out because voters missed at least one line on the form, rendering them invalid.”

Some states are mailing ballots to all the names on the voting lists, providing thousands of dead people the chance to vote from the grave. President Trump claims that the shift to mail-in voting could result in “the most corrupt vote in our nation’s history.” Trump is often wrong on issues but even a New York Daily News article tagged the recent primary results a “dumpster fire.” Delayed election results and potentially millions of disputed ballots could minimize support for whoever is designated the next president.

Elections supposedly choose which candidates are selected to follow the law and uphold the Constitution, but COVID shutdown dictates vividly how political power is now practically unlimited. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer prohibited “all public and private gatherings of any size” (prohibiting people from visiting friends) and also prohibited purchasing seeds for spring planting in stores after she decreed that a “nonessential” activity. Oregon Governor Kate Brown banned the state’s four million residents from leaving their homes except for essential work, buying food, and other narrow exemptions, and also banned all recreational travel – even though much of her state had almost zero COVID cases.

In the name of reducing risks, politicians entitled themselves to destroy tens of millions of jobs. Permitting governors to shut down churches was not on the ballot but that didn’t stop many states from banning worship services at the same time politicians cheered mass protests that scorned “stay-at-home” orders.

The media has often whitewashed the damage from COVID power grabs in part because every restriction was supposedly justified by “science.” After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dictated that nursing homes must admit COVID patients, more than 6,000 elderly nursing home residents were killed by the coronavirus. Cuomo has yet to reveal which “science” textbook spawned this policy (which several other states also imposed). Were those state governments grossly incompetent or were they murderous? It doesn’t matter because Trump made rude comments about N.I.H. honcho and media darling Anthony Fauci. What’s the point of voting for politicians who merely need to invoke dubious statistical extrapolations to sow death and economic devastation?

Finally, does the presidential election even matter? Deep State federal agencies are a Godzilla that have established their prerogative to undermine if not overturn election results. The FBI has achieved saint-like status among many liberals for its efforts to topple Trump. For almost three years, the nation’s political life was roiled by an investigation driven by false allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. As George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley observed last week, the media continues to ignore “one of the biggest stories in decades. The Obama administration targeted the campaign of the opposing party based on false evidence.” Obama officials who exploited the CIA and other intelligence agencies to illicitly target Trump campaign officials have laughed all the way to million-dollar book advances.

During the Trump impeachment effort, the establishment media openly cheered the Deep State. New York Times columnist James Stewart assured readers that the secretive agencies “work for the American people,” New York Times editorial writer Michelle Cottle hailed the Deep State as “a collection of patriotic public servants,” and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson captured the Beltway’s verdict: “God bless the Deep State!” The media has almost completely abandoned its watchdog role, and its veneration will make it easier for the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency to ravage not just elections but also Americans’ rights and liberties in the coming years.

Even before the voting starts, surveys show that for the first time “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with their system of government,” the Atlantic reported. The percentage of Americans who “expressed trust in government in Washington” has fallen from 73% in 1958 to only 17% now, according to the Pew Research Center. But those numbers could quickly become far more ominous for our political ruling class.

What happens if Trump continues to repel many if not most potential voters, and then Biden comes across in the presidential debates as clueless and doddering as did Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a congressional hearing last July? How many Americans will feel forced to choose between a scoundrel and an idiot?

Many pundits and professors presume that a Biden victory in November will magically re-legitimize the American political system. But almost all the problems of recent years will continue or intensify. The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, both of which horribly botched the nation’s response to COVID, will continue bollixing public health crises. U.S. foreign policy will continue to be reckless and self-defeating, with American pretensions to global hegemony becoming ever more ludicrous. Deficit spending will continue to spin out of control, spiraling closer to the day when the Federal Reserve’s sorcery fails to entrance financial markets. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans appear willing to bankrupt the nation to perpetuate their own power.

Federal legitimacy hinges on the Constitution, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that either Trump or Biden will “make America constitutional again.” As Thomas Jefferson declared in 1786, “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.” What’s the point of voting if “government under the law” is not a choice on Election Day? American political legitimacy will continue plummeting as long as politicians scorn any legal and constitutional limits on their power.

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a frequent contributor to The Hill, and a contributing editor for American Conservative.

July 29, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception | , , , | Leave a comment

Cybereason Announces New Plans to “Accelerate” Access to US Govt Networks Ahead of 2020 Election

By Whitney Webb | The Last American Vagabond | July 27, 2020

A cybersecurity firm tied to Israeli intelligence’s Unit 8200 that simulated a series of terrorist attacks occurring on the U.S. 2020 election has announced a new hire with deep ties to the U.S. intelligence and defense communities with the goal of gaining greater access to U.S. government networks.

A cybersecurity company tied to Israeli intelligence and a series of unnerving simulations regarding cyber-terrorist attacks on the upcoming U.S. elections has recently announced a new hire who plans to aid the company in further penetrating the U.S. public sector. Last Wednesday, the company Cybereason announced that it had hired Andrew Borene as its Managing Director for its recently launched U.S. public sector business. Borene, who boasts longstanding ties to the U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon, “will accelerate Cybereason’s partner and customer presence in the U.S. public sector,” according to a Cybereason press release.

“My goal is to build a strong business for Cybereason within the U.S. public sector and I am planning to recruit a group of direct support executives, veterans and alumni of the elite [U.S.] military units and agencies that have defended our nation in the information age. I’ll also work to establish a network of the best channel and delivery partners for federal, state and local governments,” Borene said per the press release.

Eric Appel, Cybereason’s General Manager for North American Sales, stated that “We’re excited about Andrew joining Cybereason and the opportunity in the U.S. public sector for Cybereason to make a profound impact on helping the nation’s federal civilian, military, state and local government agencies…”

Borene will likely be successful in his ability to recruit a sales team of prominent alumni from the U.S. intelligence and defense communities to market Cybereason’s products throughout the U.S. government. Prior to joining Cybereason, Borene was a senior advisor to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the intelligence community’s “DARPA” equivalent that is housed within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). He served in that capacity on behalf of intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Prior to that, Borene served as Associate Deputy General Counsel to the Pentagon and was previously a military intelligence officer for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Borene’s private sector experience is also significant, as he was a senior executive at IBM. Notably, the current Chief Information Officer for the CIA, Juliane Gallina, had served alongside Borene as a top IBM executive prior to taking her current position at the agency. In addition, Borene also boasts ties to Wall Street as a veteran of Wells Fargo’s investment banking division.

In addition, Borene has deep ties to Washington’s foreign policy establishment as a “life member” of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and to the national security-think tank nexus through his senior fellowship at the National Security Institute (NSI). NSI’s board includes former NSA directors, Keith Alexander and Michael Hayden (also a former CIA director); former Deputy Defense Secretary and “architect” of the Iraq War, Paul Wolfowitz; former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd; and a variety of other former top intelligence and defense officials as well as Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists.

Notably, Borene is the latest addition to Cybereason with ties to the U.S. intelligence and defense communities as the company’s advisors include Robert Bigman, former Chief Information Security Officer for the CIA as well as Peter Sherlock, the former Chief Operating Officer of MITRE corporation, a major intelligence and defense contractor connected to the Ptech-9/11 controversy.

Cybereason: a front for Israeli Military Intelligence

Cybereason’s announcement of its hire of Andrew Borene coincided with its launch of its new “U.S. public sector business,” meaning that Cybereason now seeks to have its cybersecurity software running on even more of the U.S. government’s most classified networks. Cybereason, for years, has already been running on several sensitive U.S. government networks through its partnerships with IT contractors for intelligence and defense, such as Lockheed Martin (also a Cybereason investor), WWT and Leidos. However, Borene’s hire and this new publicly announced pivot towards the U.S. public sector clearly demonstrates the company’s interest in further deepening its presence on U.S. government networks.

Cybereason’s pivot is concerning for several reasons. First, its co-founders are alumni of Israel’s Unit 8200, an elite unit of the Israeli Intelligence corps that is part of the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence and is involved mainly in signal intelligence, surveillance, cyberwarfare and code decryption. It is also well-known for its surveillance of Palestinian civilians and for using intercepted communications as blackmail in order to procure informants among Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank.

In addition, all three Cybereason co-founders, after leaving Unit 8200, went on to work for two private Israel-based tech/telecom companies with a notorious history of aggressive espionage against the U.S. government: Amdocs and Comverse Infosys (the latter is now known as Verint Systems Inc.). This raises the possibility that Cybereason software could potentially be used as a backdoor by unauthorized actors, given that the company’s co-founders all previously worked for firms that have a history of placing backdoors into U.S. telecommunications and electronic infrastructure as well as aggressively spying on U.S. federal agencies.

Also notable is the fact that the company’s current CEO and co-founder Lior Div was much more than the average Unit 8200 officer during his time in the unit, as he “served as a commander [in Unit 8200] and carried out some of the world’s largest cyber offensive campaigns against nations and cybercrime groups. For his achievements, he received the Medal of Honor, the highest honor bestowed upon Unit 8200 members,” according to his biography. Troublingly, in an interview that Div gave to TechCrunch last year, Div stated that his work at Cybereason is “the continuation of the six years of training and service he spent working with the Israeli army’s 8200 Unit.”

This is particularly noteworthy given that Israel’s government has openly admitted that an on-going intelligence operation, first initiated in 2012 – the year Cybereason was founded, involves Israeli military intelligence and intelligence operations that had previously done “in house” (i.e. as part of Unit 8200, Mossad, etc.) being spun off into private companies, specifically start-ups in the “cyber” realm.

This operation is part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “deliberate policy” to have former members of Israel’s “military and intelligence units … merge into companies with local partners and foreign partners” in order to make it all but impossible for major corporations and foreign governments to boycott Israel and to also to ensure that Israel becomes the world’s dominant “cyber power.”

One notable report on this policy, published by Israeli outlet Calcalist Tech, interviewed dozens of Israeli military, intelligence and government officials and noted that “since 2012, cyber-related and intelligence projects that were previously carried out in-house in the Israeli military and Israel’s main intelligence arms are transferred to companies that in some cases were built for this exact purpose.” The article also states that beginning in 2012, Israel’s intelligence and military intelligence agencies began to outsource “activities that were previously managed in-house, with a focus on software and cyber technologies.”

“Simulating” the Cancellation of the 2020 Election

In light of Cybereason’s background and the “acceleration” of their presence on U.S. government networks, the timing of their redoubled efforts to court the U.S. public sector add additional layers of concern given that it precedes the U.S. 2020 election by a matter of months. Since last year, Cybereason has conducted multiple simulations focused on the 2020 election, which were attended by federal officials from the FBI, DHS and the U.S. Secret Service and all of which ended in disaster. In those simulations, the 2020 election was ultimately canceled and martial law was then declared due to the chaos created by a group of hackers led by Cybereason employees.

Notably, Cybereason stood to gain nothing financially from the simulations given that their software could not have prevented the attacks waged against the U.S.’ electoral infrastructure in the exercise and the company framed their hosting of the simulations as merely “altruistic” because of their professed desire to help “protect” U.S. election infrastructure. The attacks conducted in the simulations by Cybereason employees included creating power grid blackouts, the use of deep fakes to sow confusion, creating havoc with municipal sewage systems and crashing self-driving cars into voters waiting in line to cast their ballots, killing 32 and injuring over a hundred people.

In the months since I first wrote about Cybereason and their 2020 “doomsday” simulations back in January, U.S. government officials and mass media alike have been warning that these same types of attacks that Cybereason simulated are likely to come to pass on this upcoming election day, scheduled for November 3rd of this year. More recently, in less than a week, headlines like “Election Security Experts Expect ‘Chaos’ Unless Action Taken,” “New York’s Pandemic Voting ‘Chaos’ Set to Go Nationwide in November,” and “Foreign adversaries ‘seeking to compromise’ presidential campaigns, intel warns,” among others, have been published in major U.S. media outlets.

While these narratives have asserted that China, Russia and/or Iran will be to blame for such attacks, it is worth noting that a tight-knit web of Israeli state-owned and private companies tied to Israeli military intelligence now run the software controlling key parts of the power grid in New York, California and elsewhere in the U.S.; are the main global producers of deep fakes; and the main providers of “security” software for self-driving and semi-self-driving cars, the quantity of which on U.S. streets has grown dramatically as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

With Cybereason’s newly announced push to run its software on critical U.S. government networks at both the federal and state levels, the company’s history of simulating terror attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure and their openly admitted and on-going ties to Israeli military intelligence deserve more scrutiny than ever as the U.S. election draws closer.

July 27, 2020 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

War Crimes and War Criminals: Who Will Be Held Accountable?

By Philip Giraldi | Strategic Culture Foundation | July 23, 2020

There is something unique about how the United States manipulates the “terrorism” label to avoid being accused of carrying out war crimes. When an indigenous militia or an armed insurgency like the Taliban in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan attacks American soldiers subsequent to a U.S. invasion which overthrew the country’s government, it is considered by Washington to be an act of “terrorism.” Terror attacks de facto permit a carte blanche response, allowing virtually anything as retaliation against the parties involved or countries that support them, including the assassination of foreign government officials. But for the attacker, whose perspective is quite different, the incident often could reasonably be described as legitimate resistance to a foreign occupier and much of the world might agree with that assessment.

So, it all comes down to definitions. The United States covers its version of reality through liberal use of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which more-or-less gives a blanket approval to attack and kill “terrorists” anywhere at any time. And how does one become a terrorist? By being included on the U.S. government’s heavily politicized annual list of terrorist groups and material supporters of terrorism. That was the argument that was used by the United States when it killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in January, that his organization, the Qods Force, was on the “terrorist” lists maintained by State and the Treasury Department and he was therefore held to be guilty of any and all attacks on U.S. military carried out by Qods or by presumed Iranian surrogate militias.

The case made to justify killing Soleimani was considered deeply flawed at the time it took place. Because the United States says something is legal due to a law Congress has passed does not make it so, just as most of the world would consider the U.S. profile killings by drone in Afghanistan and elsewhere, based on nothing more than the assumption that someone on the ground might be a “terrorist,” to be little more than war crimes.

It has recently been revealed that the Trump Administration has issued a so-called “finding” to authorize the CIA to conduct more aggressive cyberattacks against infrastructure and other targets in countries that are considered to be unfriendly. The finding specifically named Iran, North Korea, China and Russia as approved targets and it is of particular interest because it basically left it up to the Agency to decide whom to attack and to what degree. As Washington is not at war with any of the countries named and is essentially seeking to damage their economies directly, the activity undertaken by CIA has constituted acts of war and, by widely accepted legal definition, attacks on countries that are not actually threatening are war crimes.

To counter the negative publicity about Trump Administration actions and to establish a possible casus belli, Washington has been floating numerous stories alleging Iranian, Russian and Chinese “aggression.” The ridiculous story about Russia paying Afghans bounties to kill American soldiers was quickly debunked, so the White House and the captive media are now alleging that Moscow hacker/spies are seeking to steal proprietary information dealing with the development of a coronavirus vaccine. The agitprop coming out of Washington to blame Russia for nearly everything notwithstanding, opinion polls suggest that most of the world considers Washington to be the primary source of global instability, rejecting the assertion by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. is a “force for good.”

So, it is reasonable to suggest that the United States has been guilty of many war crimes in the past twenty years and has only been shielded from the consequences due to its ability to control the message combined with its power in international fora and its unwillingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

But the willingness of the international community to look the other way in support of the war crimes double standard appears to be changing. The ICC, which has had its investigators denied entry to the United States, has been investigating Israeli war crimes even as it also looks at developments in Afghanistan and Iraq involving U.S. forces. Trump’s ban on entry by ICC personnel includes their families even if they are American citizens and it also protects Israel in that ICC investigators looking into the possible war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and officers as well as the relevant Jewish state’s government officials will also be sanctioned and denied entry into the U.S. In practical terms, the Trump Administration is declaring that Israeli and U.S. soldiers will be regarded as one and the same as they relate to dealings with the ICC, a conceit that is little known to the American public.

The Israelis have responded to the threat from the ICC by compiling a secret list of government officials and military officers who might be subject to ICC issued arrest warrants if they travel in Europe for war crimes committed in Lebanon and Syria as well as of crimes against humanity directed against Palestinians. The list reportedly includes between 200 and 300 names.

That Israel is making a list of people who might be vulnerable to accusations of having possibly committed war crimes is a de facto admission by the government that such crimes were in fact committed. The ICC will soon decide whether to move on the December request by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate both Israel and Hamas over suspicions of war crimes in Gaza and Jerusalem as well as on the occupied West Bank beginning in 2014. The investigation would include “crimes allegedly committed in relation to the use by members of the IDF of non-lethal and lethal means against persons participating in demonstrations beginning in March 2018 near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which reportedly resulted in the killing of over 200 individuals, including over 40 children, and the wounding of thousands of others.”

Given the time frame, Israeli government officials and military officers would likely be the first to face scrutiny by investigators. According to Haaretz, the list would almost certainly include “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former defense ministers Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, and current Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi; and the former and current heads of the Shin Bet security service, Yoram Cohen and Nadav Argaman, respectively.”

One wonders who would be included on a comparable list for the United States. There are a lot of lying politicians and sly generals to choose from. As both Israel and the United States do not recognize the authority of the ICC and will almost certainly refuse to participate in any fashion if the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity ever actually make it to the court, any discussion of lists are at this point merely travel advisories for war criminals. The United States will push back and will inter alia certainly attempt to discredit the court using whatever weapons are available, to include sanctions against the nations that support any investigation and trial.

One nevertheless has to hope that the court will persevere in its effort to expose the crimes that continue to be committed by the U.S. and Israel in both Palestine and Afghanistan. Embarrassing Washington and Jerusalem in a very visible and highly respected international forum might be the only way to change the direction of the two nations that more than any other insist that “might makes right.”

July 23, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Don’t Always Believe CIA Narratives. But When I Do, I Believe Them About China.

By Caitlin Johnstone | July 22, 2020

My social media notifications have been lighting up the last few days with virulent Chinagaters sharing a video which purports to show Uighur Muslims being loaded onto a train to be taken to concentration camps. It’s actually an old video that had already surfaced last year, but it is magically making the rounds again as a new and shocking revelation in 2020 now that western China hysteria has been officially kicked into high gear, at exactly the same time the US enacts one of the most dangerous and incendiary escalations of recent years in the South China Sea.

Everyone tagging me in this video presents it as a self-evident “gotcha” moment, in exactly the same way Russiagaters spent years tagging me in every HUGE BOMBSHELL WALLS ARE CLOSING IN item of thinly sourced narrative fluff in their debunked conspiracy theory that the Kremlin had infiltrated the highest levels of the US government.

They are one hundred percent certain that the video shows Uighurs being loaded onto a train to go to a concentration camp, solely because that is what the bit of text over the video tells them that that’s what they are seeing. They aren’t looking at the actual data and thinking critically about it, they’re looking at the narrative and believing it on blind faith. Which, in a post-Iraq invasion world, is an absolutely insane thing to do when presented with information about a nation that is targeted by the US-centralized empire.

In reality there’s nothing in the video which tells us that these are Uighur people being sent to a “re-education camp” and not merely a conventional prison transfer of convicted criminals, the likes of which take place in the far more populous US prison system all the time. It’s an unknown. We are told by the BBC’s Andrew Marr (the same Andrew Marr whose phony journalism Noam Chomsky derided years ago) that it has been “authenticated by western intelligence agencies and by Australian experts”, which in practice are the same thing, and that’s really the extent of the evidence. Again, this is an insane source to take on faith in a post-Iraq invasion world.

There are in fact an abundance of reasons to be highly skeptical of the establishment narrative about what is happening to Uighurs in Xinjiang. But that isn’t the point that I am trying to make here.

The point I am trying to make here is that the only sane response to any narrative that is being promoted by western intelligence agencies and their media stenographers about governments which have resisted absorption into the imperial blob is intense and unrelenting skepticism. These organizations have such an extensive and well-known history of lying about exactly this sort of thing that they have left us no choice but to withhold belief from anything they say absent a mountain of independently verifiable evidence if we want to have a fact-based relationship with reality.

None of this means that China has a wonderful government. It doesn’t even mean that all the bad things we’re being told about what the Chinese government is doing are false. It’s entirely possible that that video shows exactly what we’re being urgently told to believe it shows. There’s simply no way to be sure one way or the other in an information ecosystem that is so severely tainted by propagandistic narrative manipulation.

Surely the Chinese government is far from sinless. It seems to be a constant that power structures which keep secrets and use propaganda will always wind up doing ugly things. But this doesn’t mean you go believing whatever cold war-facilitating story we are fed by western power structures about it. Not if we want to avoid being duped into serving as pro bono CIA propagandists, unwitting tools of a murderous war machine.

There is a slow-motion third world war underway between the US-centralized power alliance and the nations like China which have resisted being absorbed into it, and that war is being largely facilitated by propaganda. If one doesn’t wish to become a propagandist themselves, one ought to withhold belief from the stories they are told about the terrible, awful things the unabsorbed nations are doing which require extensive sanctions, subversion and interventionism in response.

This doesn’t mean you believe the opposite of what you’re told, it simply means you refrain from believing either way and remain agnostic until presented with hard verifiable proof. Believing damaging narratives about US-targeted governments is exactly as stupid as believing the words of a known compulsive liar about someone you know he hates.

China is such a curious anomaly in the narrative matrix. Many who are normally skeptical of claims by western governments immediately swallow anything they’re told about China. They not only believe all such claims, it never even occurs to them to seriously question them. Like they seem to be genuinely unaware that skepticism of establishment China narratives is even an option. The claims just slide right into the “believe” file in their mind, completely unchecked by anything resembling critical thought.

I argue with people all over the political spectrum about China online, and an astonishing percentage of them have clearly put exactly zero research into critically examining these claims, even if they’re people who are normally relatively critical of western foreign policy. They’re often completely unaware that whatever claims they’re advancing are not just disputed but have large amounts of evidence against them. This is because they’ve done no research whatsoever into finding out what they were told is even true. They’ll do that research on Iran, they’ll do it about Russia, they’ll do it about Syria, but with China all skepticism immediately goes right now the window. It’s the weirdest thing.

Always be intensely skeptical of claims made about governments targeted by the known liars who run the US-centralized empire. Always, always, always, always. If you advance imperialist propaganda, then you are just as culpable for the bloodshed and suffering they help facilitate as the people who are actually launching the missiles.

Stay skeptical, my friends.

July 22, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 4 Comments

The Evil, Immoral, Vicious, and Hypocritical Embargo Against Cuba

By Jacob G. Hornberger | FFF | July 20, 2020

The banality of evil that characterizes the U.S. national security state is demonstrated perfectly by the continuation of its deadly economic embargo against Cuba, which has been ongoing for some 60 years.

What’s the point of the embargo? After all, the Pentagon’s, CIA’s, and NSA’s official enemy Fidel Castro died years ago. Why continue to intentionally inflict harm on the Cuban people?

And make no mistake about it: Inflicting harm on the Cuban people is the purpose of the embargo. Its aim is to impoverish or starve Cubans into ousting their post-Castro regime and installing another pro-U.S. right-wing brutal dictatorship similar to the one that Castro ousted from power in the Cuban revolution.

In fact, the first embargo that the U.S. implemented against Cuba was during the reign of the crooked, corrupt, and brutal pro-U.S. right-wing dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. That was an arms embargo. U.S. officials didn’t want weaponry imported into Cuba because that might enable the Cuban people to oppose Batista in a violent revolution.

During his reign, Batista partnered with the Mafia, the premier criminal organization that was smuggling drugs into the United States. As part of their partnership agreement, Batista let the Mafia operate gambling casinos in Cuba. As part of that cozy relationship, Batista would have his henchmen kidnap under-aged girls in Cuba and turn them over to the Mafia, which would then provide them as perks to the high-rollers in its casinos. That’s one of the things that brought on the Cuban Revolution.

That’s the guy that the U.S. national-security state was hell-bent on keeping in power. Thus, it should surprise no one that the CIA, like Batista, later entered into partnership with the Mafia, knowing full well that the Mafia was engaged in massive criminal activity. The purpose of the CIA-Mafia partnership was assassination. They were working together to assassinate Castro.

It stands to reason that the Mafia would try to assassinate Castro. It has lost all its casinos to Castro’s nationalization. And it was in the business of killing people.

But the U.S. government? In the business of murder? And in partnership with the biggest criminal organization in the world?

Don’t forget something important here: Castro, Cuba, and the Cuban people have never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. No invasion. No terrorist attacks. No assassinations.

In fact, it has always been the other way around. In the more than six decades of bad relations between Cuba and the U.S., it has always been the U.S. government that has been the aggressor. An invasion, terrorist attacks, assassination attempts, and the embargo, all on the part of the U.S. government.

U.S. national-security state officials always justified such actions under the notion that Cuba was the spearhead of a worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the United States, one that was supposedly based in Moscow. It was always a ridiculous notion but that was the mindset of CIA, NSA, and Pentagon officials during the Cold War — that Cuba’s communist regime posed a grave threat to U.S. “national security.”

But the Cold War ended more than 30 years ago. Do the CIA, NSA, and Pentagon still think that the United States is in danger of falling to the Cuban communists?

Of course not. Now, it’s just sheer viciousness. Now, it’s just a matter of doing everything possible to oust the current regime in Cuba from power and restoring a Batista-like dictatorship, one that will be loyal and deferential to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.

The viciousness is demonstrated by the fact that the embargo doesn’t just criminalize Americans who do business with Cuba. It also targets foreign companies who do so. If they are caught doing so, they are targeted for prosecution or economic banishment here in the United States. In the minds of U.S. officials, it’s more imperative than ever to squeeze as many Cubans as possible into death and suffering.

Needless to say, the embargo has made things significantly worse for the Cuban people during the COVID-19 crisis. That’s fine with U.S. officials. The more Cubans who die, the greater the chance of an internal regime-change operation.

Sure, there is no doubt that Cuba’s socialist economic system is a major factor in the economic suffering of the Cuban people. But there is also no doubt that the U.S. embargo has served as the other side of a vise that has squeezed the economic lifeblood out of the Cuban people.

A dark irony, of course, is that the embargo has enabled the U.S. government to wield and exercise the same type of economic control over the American people that the Cuban socialist regime exercises over the Cuban people. It’s called adopting socialism to oppose socialism.

When will the evil, immoral, vicious, and hypocritical U.S. embargo against Cuba be lifted? When a critical mass of the American people, including those who go to church every Sunday, have a crisis of conscience and demand that it be lifted.

July 20, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 2 Comments

Powell & Iraq—Regime Change, Not Disarmament: The Fundamental Lie

By Scott Ritter – Consortium News – July 18, 2020

The New York Times Magazine has published a puff piece soft-peddling former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s role in selling a war on Iraq to the UN Security Council using what turned out to be bad intelligence. “Colin Powell Still Wants Answers” is the title of the article, written by Robert Draper. “The analysts who provided the intelligence,” a sub-header to the article declares, “now say it was doubted inside the CIA at the time.”

Draper’s article is an extract from a book, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, scheduled for publication later this month. In the interest of full disclosure, I was approached by Draper in 2018 about his interest in writing this book, and I agreed to be interviewed as part of his research. I have not yet read the book, but can note that, based upon the tone and content of his New York Times Magazine article, my words apparently carried little weight.

Regime Change, Not WMD

I spent some time articulating to Draper my contention that the issue with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was never about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but rather regime change, and that everything had to be viewed in the light of this reality—including Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 presentation before the UN Security Council. Based upon the content of his article, I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.

Powell’s 2003 presentation before the council did not take place in a policy vacuum. In many ways, the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was a continuation of the 1991 Gulf War, which Powell helped orchestrate. Its fumbled aftermath was again, something that transpired on Powell’s watch as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Powell was part of the policy team that crafted the post-Gulf War response to the fact that Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, survived a conflict he was not meant to. After being labeled the Middle East equivalent of Adolf Hitler whose crimes required Nuremburg-like retribution in a speech delivered by President Bush in October 1990, the Iraqi President’s post-conflict hold on power had become a political problem for Bush 41.

Powell was aware of the CIA’s post-war assessment on the vulnerability of Saddam’s rule to continued economic sanctions, and helped craft the policy that led to the passage of Security Council resolution 687 in April 1991. That linked Iraq’s obligation to be disarmed of its WMD prior to any lifting of sanctions and the reality that it was U.S. policy not to lift these sanctions, regardless of Iraq’s disarmament status, until which time Saddam was removed from power.

Regime change, not disarmament, was always the driving factor behind U.S. policy towards Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Powell knew this because he helped craft the original policy.

I bore witness to the reality of this policy as a weapons inspector working for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), created under the mandate of resolution 687 to oversee the disarming of Iraq’s WMD. Brought in to create an intelligence capability for the inspection team, my remit soon expanded to operations and, more specifically, how Iraq was hiding retained weapons and capability from the inspectors.

SCUDS

One of my first tasks was addressing discrepancies in Iraq’s accounting of its modified SCUD missile arsenal; in December 1991 I wrote an assessment that Iraq was likely retaining approximately 100 missiles. By March 1992 Iraq, under pressure, admitted it had retained a force of 89 missiles (that number later grew to 97).

After extensive investigations, I was able to corroborate the Iraqi declarations, and in November 1992 issued an assessment that UNSCOM could account for the totality of Iraq’s SCUD missile force. This, of course, was an unacceptable conclusion, given that a compliant Iraq meant sanctions would need to be lifted and Saddam would survive.

The U.S. intelligence community rejected my findings without providing any fact-based evidence to refute it, and the CIA later briefed the Senate that it assessed Iraq to be retaining a force of some 200 covert SCUD missiles. This all took place under Powell’s watch as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

I challenged the CIA’s assessment, and organized the largest, most complex inspection in UNSCOM’s history to investigate the intelligence behind the 200-missile assessment. In the end, the intelligence was shown to be wrong, and in November 1993 I briefed the CIA Director’s senior staff on UNSCOM’s conclusion that all SCUD missiles were accounted for.

Moving the Goalposts

The CIA’s response was to assert that Iraq had a force of 12-20 covert SCUD missiles, and that this number would never change, regardless of what UNSCOM did. This same assessment was in play at the time of Powell’s Security Council presentation, a blatant lie born of the willful manufacture of lies by an entity—the CIA—whose task was regime change, not disarmament.

Powell knew all of this, and yet he still delivered his speech to the UN Security Council.

In October 2002, in a briefing designed to undermine the credibility of UN inspectors preparing to return to Iraq, the Defense Intelligence Agency trotted out Dr. John Yurechko, the defense intelligence officer for information operations and denial and deception, to provide a briefing detailing U.S. claims that Iraq was engaged in a systematic process of concealment regarding its WMD programs.

John Yurechko, of the Defense Intelligence Agency, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Oct. 8, 2002 (U.S. Defense Dept.)

According to Yurechko, the briefing was compiled from several sources, including “inspector memoirs” and Iraqi defectors. The briefing was farcical, a deliberate effort to propagate misinformation by the administration of Bush 43. I know—starting in 1994, I led a concerted UNSCOM effort involving the intelligence services of eight nations to get to the bottom of Iraq’s so-called “concealment mechanism.”

Using innovative imagery intelligence techniques, defector debriefs, agent networks and communications intercepts, combined with extremely aggressive on-site inspections, I was able, by March 1998, to conclude that Iraqi concealment efforts were largely centered on protecting Saddam Hussein from assassination, and had nothing to do with hiding WMD. This, too, was an inconvenient finding, and led to the U.S. dismantling the apparatus of investigation I had so carefully assembled over the course of four years.

It was never about the WMD—Powell knew this. It was always about regime change.

Using UN as Cover for Coup Attempt

In 1991, Powell signed off on the incorporation of elite U.S. military commandos into the CIA’s Special Activities Staff for the purpose of using UNSCOM as a front to collect intelligence that could facilitate the removal of Saddam Hussein. I worked with this special cell from 1991 until 1996, on the mistaken opinion that the unique intelligence, logistics and communications capability they provided were useful to planning and executing the complex inspections I was helping lead in Iraq.

This program resulted in the failed coup attempt in June 1996 that used UNSCOM as its operational cover—the coup failed, the Special Activities Staff ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM, and we inspectors were left holding the bag. The Iraqis had every right to be concerned that UNSCOM inspections were being used to target their president because, the truth be told, they were.

Nowhere in Powell’s presentation to the Security Council, or in any of his efforts to recast that presentation as a good intention led astray by bad intelligence, does the reality of regime change factor in. Regime change was the only policy objective of three successive U.S. presidential administrations—Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43.

Powell was a key player in two of these. He knew. He knew about the existence of the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group. He knew of the successive string of covert “findings” issued by U.S. presidents authorizing the CIA to remove Saddam Hussein from power using lethal force. He knew that the die had been cast for war long before Bush 43 decided to engage the United Nations in the fall of 2002.

Powell Knew

Powell knew all of this, and yet he still allowed himself to be used as a front to sell this conflict to the international community, and by extension the American people, using intelligence that was demonstrably false. If, simply by drawing on my experience as an UNSCOM inspector, I knew every word he uttered before the Security Council was a lie the moment he spoke, Powell should have as well, because every aspect of my work as an UNSCOM inspector was known to, and documented by, the CIA.

It is not that I was unknown to Powell in the context of the WMD narrative. Indeed, my name came up during an interview Powell gave to Fox News on Sept. 8, 2002, when he was asked to comment on a quote from my speech to the Iraqi Parliament earlier that month in which I stated:

“The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government and others has not to date been backed up by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for attacking the United States. Void of such facts, all we have is speculation.”

Powell responded by declaring,

“We have facts, not speculation. Scott is certainly entitled to his opinion but I’m afraid that I would not place the security of my nation and the security of our friends in the region on that kind of an assertion by somebody who’s not in the intelligence chain any longer… If Scott is right, then why are they keeping the inspectors out? If Scott is right, why don’t they say, ‘Anytime, any place, anywhere, bring ‘em in, everybody come in—we are clean?’ The reason is they are not clean. And we have to find out what they have and what we’re going to do about it. And that’s why it’s been the policy of this government to insist that Iraq be disarmed in accordance with the terms of the relevant UN resolutions.” (emphasis added, Aletho News )

Of course, in November 2002, Iraq did just what Powell said they would never do—they let the UN inspectors return without preconditions. The inspectors quickly exposed the fact that the “high quality” U.S. intelligence they had been tasked with investigating was pure bunk. Left to their own devices, the new round of UN weapons inspections would soon be able to give Iraq a clean bill of health, paving the way for the lifting of sanctions and the continued survival of Saddam Hussein.

Powell knew this was not an option. And thus he allowed himself to be used as a vehicle for disseminating more lies—lies that would take the U.S. to war, cost thousands of U.S. service members their lives, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, all in the name of regime change.

Back to Robert Draper. I spent a considerable amount of time impressing upon him the reality of regime change as a policy, and the fact that the WMD disarmament issue existed for the sole purpose of facilitating regime change. Apparently, my words had little impact, as all Draper has done in his article is continue the false narrative that America went to war on the weight of false and misleading intelligence.

Draper is wrong—America went to war because it was our policy as a nation, sustained over three successive presidential administrations, to remove Saddam Hussein from power. By 2002 the WMD narrative that had been used to support and sustain this regime change policy was weakening.

Powell’s speech was a last-gasp effort to use the story of Iraqi WMD for the purpose it was always intended—to facilitate the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. In this light, Colin Powell’s speech was one of the greatest successes in CIA history. That is not the story, however, Draper chose to tell, and the world is worse off for that failed opportunity.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.

July 18, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Russians are coming, again! Poorly understood cybercrimes play perfectly into political agendas

By Helen Buyniski | RT | July 16, 2020

Foreign hackers are determined as ever to steal technology, meddle in elections and skew foreign policy, but fear not! The CIA has apparently been authorized to deliver preemptive cyber-strikes based on partisan mythmaking.

US, UK and Canadian intelligence dropped a 16-page report on Thursday accusing “Russian hackers” – specifically APT29, the “Cozy Bear” hacking group of ‘Russiagate’ fame – of targeting unspecified entities involved in developing the (increasingly controversial) Covid-19 vaccine.

However, the report is fraught with the same factual pitfalls plaguing previous unsubstantiated “Russian hacking” tales, seemingly designed to capitalize on the general population’s ignorance about cyber-attacks – or vaccines, for that matter. While Democrat-linked cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike specializes in attributing state actors to malware attacks, more reputable companies avoid doing so based solely on the malware used, since hacking groups often exchange tools or even collaborate.

The best, or just best-funded hackers are able to not only cover their tracks effectively but create a fake trail leading to someone else. The WikiLeaks Vault 7 release in 2017 exposed the disturbing tools the CIA has at its disposal for simulating foreign cyberattacks, tools that allow the agency to make it seem like Moscow or Tehran is behind a hack when the real culprits are in Langley, Virginia.

Russia is far from the only country to be accused of such behavior, of course – China was accused of attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research back in May, while US and UK intelligence agencies warned that same month that other “threat groups” were “actively targeting” local governments, pharmaceutical and research firms, healthcare facilities, and universities for virus-related hacking.

Nor is this latest outbreak of finger-pointing limited to the pandemic. On Thursday, UK foreign minister Dominic Raab denounced “Russian actors” for “almost certainly” seeking to meddle in the 2019 election – not by actually breaking any laws, but by “amplifying” documents leaked by other people on Reddit and circulated around social media in the run-up to December’s contest

Raab didn’t name any of the Russians responsible for circulating the material, perhaps mindful of the embarrassment that befell his ideological brother-in-arms, Atlantic Council bot-hunter Ben Nimmo, who accused several real people of being “Russian bots.” Further covering his bases, Raab in the same statement acknowledged that there was “no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election.”

Even the most nonspecific shrieking about Russian hackers plotting to steal vaccine data, however, distracts from the inconvenient reality that the vaccines under development in the UK and US are performing abysmally. Neither the US company Moderna – initially hailed as the frontrunner despite never having brought a vaccine to market before – nor the UK’s collaboration between Oxford University and pharma giant AstraZeneca have produced any encouraging results in their clinical trials.

That didn’t stop the US from ordering 300 million doses of the Oxford jab, though the Trump administration’s coronavirus czar Anthony Fauci has already begun lamenting the “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country” he fears will keep Americans away from the needle.

With regard to hacking, however, the world might be more concerned about the CIA than the Russians – especially following Wednesday’s Yahoo News report that the agency had received carte blanche from Trump to wage preemptive (i.e. unjustified) cyber-warfare against any individual or organization it could link to a “handful of adversarial countries.”

According to several former US officials, the CIA has been wielding unprecedented offensive powers against American civilians only tenuously connected to Washington’s geopolitical rivals since 2018, checking off at least 12 cyber-attacks on its “wish list” already. Liberated from the tiresome need to provide “years of signals and dozens of pages of intelligence” justifying raining computer-borne chaos and destabilization on its victims, the CIA has wrought “a combination of destructive things – stuff is on fire and exploding – and also public dissemination of data: leaking or things that look like leaking.”

News of the CIA being given carte blanche appears at the same point in the US election cycle as the 2018 report about a similar measure that freed the hands of the Pentagon to conduct its own cyberattacks without interference from the State Department or any intelligence agencies.

With a hotly anticipated election coming up in November, it’s not hard to imagine how a few well-placed “leaks” or “destructive things” might convince voters to put aside their concerns about the administration’s response to the pandemic – or to place it front and center, depending on whether the CIA has decided it can live with four more years of Trump.

One thing is certain: the “Russian meddling” narrative isn’t going away anytime soon.

Helen Buyniski is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

July 17, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , | Leave a comment

How an Israeli Spy-Linked Tech Firm Gained Access to the US Gov’t’s Most Classified Networks

By Whitney Webb | Unlimited Hangout | July 15, 2020

If the networks of the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community and a slew of other U.S. federal agencies were running the software of a company with deep ties, not only to foreign companies with a history of espionage against the U.S. but also foreign military intelligence, it would — at the very least — garner substantial media attention. Yet, no media reports to date have noted that such a scenario exists on a massive scale and that the company making such software recently simulated the cancellation of the 2020 election and the declaration of martial law in the United States.

Earlier this month, MintPress News reported on the simulations for the U.S. 2020 election organized by the company Cybereason, a firm led by former members of Israel’s military intelligence Unit 8200 and advised by former top and current officials in both Israeli military intelligence and the CIA. Those simulations, attended by federal officials from the FBI, DHS and the U.S. Secret Service, ended in disaster, with the elections ultimately canceled and martial law declared due to the chaos created by a group of hackers led by Cybereason employees.

The first installment of this three part series delved deeply into Cybereason’s ties to the intelligence community of Israel and also other agencies, including the CIA, as well as the fact that Cybereason stood to gain little financially from the simulations given that their software could not have prevented the attacks waged against the U.S.’ electoral infrastructure in the exercise.

Also noted was the fact that Cybereason software could be potentially used as a backdoor by unauthorized actors, a possibility strengthened by the fact that the company’s co-founders all previously worked for firms that have a history of placing backdoors into U.S. telecommunications and electronic infrastructure as well as aggressive espionage targeting U.S. federal agencies.

The latter issue is crucial in the context of this installment of this exclusive MintPress series, as Cybereason’s main investors turned partners have integrated Cybereason’s software into their product offerings. This means that the clients of these Cybereason partner companies, the U.S. intelligence community and military among them, are now part of Cybereason’s network of more than 6 million endpoints that this private company constantly monitors using a combination of staff comprised largely of former intelligence operatives and an AI algorithm first developed by Israeli military intelligence.

Cybereason, thus far, has disclosed the following groups as lead investors in the company: Charles River Ventures (CRV), Spark Capital, Lockheed Martin and SoftBank. Charles River Ventures (CRV) was among the first to invest in Cybereason and has been frequently investing in other Israeli tech start-upsthat were founded by former members of the elite Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 over the last few years. Spark Capital, based in California, appears to have followed CRV’s interest in Cybereason since the venture capitalist who co-founded Spark and led its investment in Cybereason is a former CRV partnerwho still has close ties to the firm.

While CRV and Spark Capital seem like just the type of investors a company like Cybereason would attract given their clear interest in similar tech start-ups coming out of Israel’s cyber sector, Cybereason’s other lead investors — Lockheed Martin and SoftBank — deserve much more attention and scrutiny.

Cybereason widely used by US Government, thanks to Lockheed

“A match made in heaven,” trumpeted Forbes at the news of the Lockheed Martin-Cybereason partnership, first forged in 2015. The partnership involved not only Lockheed Martin becoming a major investor in the cybersecurity company but also in Lockheed Martin becoming the largest conduit providing Cybereason’s software to U.S. federal and military agencies.

Indeed, as Forbes noted at the time, not only did Lockheed invest in the company, it decided to integrate Cybereason’s software completely into its product portfolio, resulting in a “model of both using Cybereason internally, and selling it to both public and private customers.”

Cybereason CEO and former offensive hacker for Israeli military intelligence — Lior Div — said the following of the partnership:

Lockheed Martin invested in Cybereason’s protection system after they compared our solution against a dozen others from the top industry players. The US firm was so impressed with the results they got from Cybereason that they began offering it to their own customers – among them most of the top Fortune 100 companies, and the US federal government. Cybereason is now the security system recommended by LM to its customers for protection from a wide (sic) malware and hack attacks.”

Rich Mahler, then-director of Commercial Cyber Services at Lockheed Martin, told Defense Daily that the company’s decision to invest in Cybereason, internally use its software, and include the technology as part of Lockheed Martin’s cyber solutions portfolio were all “independent business decisions but were all coordinated and timed with the transaction.”

How independent each of those decisions actually was is unclear, especially given the timing of Lockheed Martin’s investment in Cybereason, whose close and troubling ties to Israeli intelligence as well as the CIA were noted in the previous installment of this investigative series. Indeed, about a year prior to their investment in the Israeli military intelligence-linked Cybereason, Lockheed Martin opened an office in Beersheba, Israel, where the IDF has its “cyberhub”. The office is focused not on the sales of armaments, but instead on technology.

Marilyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s CEO, said the following during her speech that inaugurated the company’s Beersheba office:

The consolidation of IDF Technical Units to new bases in the Negev Desert region is an important transformation of Israel’s information technology capability… We understand the challenges of this move. Which is why we are investing in the facilities and people that will ensure we are prepared to support for these critical projects. By locating our new office in the capital of the Negev we are well positioned to work closely with our Israeli partners and stand ready to: accelerate project execution, reduce program risk and share our technical expertise by training and developing in-country talent.”

Beersheba not only houses the IDF’s technology campus, but also the Israel National Cyber Directorate, which reports directly to Israel’s Prime Minister, as well as a high-tech corporate park that mostly houses tech companies with ties to Israel’s military intelligence apparatus. The area has been cited in several media reports as a visible indicator of the public-private merger between Israeli technology companies, many of them started by Unit 8200 alumni, and the Israeli government and its intelligence services. Lockheed Martin quickly became a key fixture in the Beersheba-based cyberhub.

Not long before Lockheed began exploring the possibility of opening an office in Beersheba, the company was hacked by individuals who used tokens tied to the company, RSA Security, whose founders have ties to Israel’s defense establishment and which is now owned by Dell, a company also deeply tied to the Israeli government and tech sector. The hack, perpetrated by still unknown actors, may have sparked Lockheed’s subsequent interest in Israel’s cybersecurity sector.

Soon after opening its Beersheba office, Lockheed Martin created its Israel subsidiary, Lockheed Martin Israel. Unlike many of the company’s other subsidiaries, this one is focused exclusively on “cybersecurity, enterprise information technology, data centers, mobile, analytics and cloud” as opposed to the manufacture and design of armaments.

Haden Land, then-vice president of research and technology for Lockheed Martin, told the Wall Street Journal that the creation of the subsidiary was largely aimed at securing contracts with the IDF and that the company’s Israel subsidiary would soon be seeking partnership and investments in pursuit of that end. Land oversaw the local roll-out of the company’s Israel subsidiary while concurrently meeting with Israeli government officials. According to the Journal, Land “oversees all of Lockheed Martin’s information-systems businesses, including defense and civilian commercial units” for the United States and elsewhere.

Just a few months later, Lockheed Martin partnered and invested in Cybereason, suggesting that Lockheed’s decision to do so was aimed at securing closer ties with the IDF. This further suggests that Cybereason still maintains close ties to Israeli military intelligence, a point expounded upon in great detail in the previous installment of this series.

Thus, it appears that not only does Lockheed Martin use Cybereason’s software on its own devices and on those it manages for its private and public sector clients, but it also decided to use the company’s software in this way out of a desire to more closely collaborate with the Israeli military in matters related to technology and cybersecurity.

The cozy ties between Lockheed Martin, one of the U.S. government’s largest private contractors, and the IDF set off alarm bells, then and now, for those concerned with U.S. national security. Such concern makes it important to look at the extent of Cybereason’s use by federal and military agencies in the United States through their contracting of Lockheed Martin’s Information Technology (IT) division. This is especially important considering Israeli military intelligence’s history of using espionage, blackmail and private tech companies against the U.S. government, as detailed here.

While the exact number of U.S. federal and military agencies using Cybereason’s software is unknown, it is widespread, with Lockheed Martin’s IT division as the conduit. Indeed, Lockheed Martin was the number one IT solutions provider to the U.S. federal government up until its IT division was spun off and merged with Leidos Holdings. As a consequence, Leidos is now the largest IT provider to the U.S. government and is also directly partnered with Cybereason in the same way Lockheed Martin was. Even after its IT division was spun off, Lockheed Martin continues to use Cybereason’s software in its cybersecurity work for the Pentagon and still maintains a stake in the company.

The Leidos-Lockheed Martin IT hybrid provides a litany of services to the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence. As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock noted for The Nation, the company does “everything from analyzing signals for the NSA to tracking down suspected enemy fighters for US Special Forces in the Middle East and Africa” and, following its merger with Lockheed and consequential partnership with Cybereason, became “the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.” Shorrock also notes that these private-sector contractors now dominate the mammoth U.S. surveillance apparatus, many of them working for Leidos and — by extension — using Cybereason’s software.

Leidos’ exclusive use of Cybereason software for cybersecurity is also relevant for the U.S. military since Leidos runs a number of sensitive systems for the Pentagon, including its recently inked contract to manage the entire military telecommunications infrastructure for Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). In addition to maintaining the military telecom network, Cybereason is also directly partnered with World Wide Technologies (WWT) as of this past October. WWT manages cybersecurity for the U.S. Army, maintains DISA’s firewalls and data storage as well as the U.S. Air Force’s biometric identification system. WWT also manages contracts for NASA, itself a frequent target of Israeli government espionage, and the U.S. Navy. WWT’s partnership is similar to the Lockheed/Leidos partnership in that Cybereason’s software is now completely integrated into its portfolio, giving the company full access to the devices on all of these highly classified networks.

Many of these new partnerships with Cybereason, including its partnership with WWT, followed claims made by members of Israel’s Unit 8200 in 2017 that the popular antivirus software of Kaspersky Labs contained a backdoor for Russian intelligence, thereby compromising U.S. systems. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the alleged backdoor but did not mention the involvement of Unit 8200 in identifying it, a fact revealed by the New York Times a week later.

Notably, none of the evidence Unit 8200 used to blame Kaspersky has been made public and Kaspersky noted that it was actually Israeli hackers that had been discovered planting backdoors into its platform prior to the accusation levied against Kaspersky by Unit 8200. As the New York Times noted:

Investigators later discovered that the Israeli hackers had implanted multiple back doors into Kaspersky’s systems, employing sophisticated tools to steal passwords, take screenshots, and vacuum up emails and documents.”

Unit 8200’s claims ultimately led the U.S. government to abandon Kaspersky’s products entirely in 2018, allowing companies like Cybereason (with its own close ties to Unit 8200) to fill the void. Indeed, the very agencies that banned Kaspersky now use cybersecurity software that employs Cybereason’s EDR system. No flags have been raised about Cybereason’s own collaboration with the very foreign intelligence service that first pointed the finger at Kaspersky and that previously sold software with backdoors to sensitive U.S. facilities.

SoftBank, Cybereason and the Vision Fund

While its entry into the U.S. market and U.S. government networks is substantial, Cybereason’s software is also run throughout the world on a massive scale through partnerships that have seen it enter into Latin American and European markets in major ways in just the last few months. It has also seen its software become prominent in Asia following a partnership with the company Trustwave. Much of this rapid expansion followed a major injection of cash courtesy of one of the company’s biggest clients and now its largest investor, Japan’s SoftBank.

SoftBank first invested in Cybereason in 2015, the same year Lockheed Martin initially invested and partnered with the firm. It was also the year that SoftBank announced its intention to invest in Israeli tech start-ups. SoftBank first injected $50 million into Cybereason, followed by an additional $100 million in 2017 and $200 million last August. SoftBank’s investments account for most of the money raised by the company since it was founded in 2012 ($350 million out of $400 million total).

Prior to investing, Softbank was a client of Cybereason, which Ken Miyauchi, president of SoftBank, noted when making the following statement after Softbank’s initial investment in Cybereason:

SoftBank works to obtain cutting edge technology and outstanding business models to lead the Information Revolution. Our deployment of the Cybereason platform internally gave us firsthand knowledge of the value it provides, and led to our decision to invest. I’m confident Cybereason and SoftBank’s new product offering will bring a new level of security to Japanese organizations.”

SoftBank — one of Japan’s largest telecommunications companies — not only began to deploy Cybereason internally but directly partnered with it after investing, much like Lockheed Martin had done around the same time. This partnership resulted in SoftBank and Cybereason creating a joint venture in Japan and Cybereason creating partnerships with other tech companies acquired by SoftBank, including the U.K.’s Arm, which specializes in making chips and management platforms for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

SoftBank’s interest in Cybereason is significant, particularly in light of Cybereason’s interest in the 2020 U.S. election, given that SoftBank has significant ties to key allies of President Trump and even the president himself.

Indeed, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son was among the first wave of international business leaders who sought to woo then-president-elect Trump soon after the 2016 election. Son first visited Trump Tower in December 2016 and announced, with Trump by his side in the building’s lobby, that SoftBank would invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 jobs. Trump subsequently claimed on Twitter that Son had only decided to make this investment because Trump had won the election.

Son told reporters at the time that the investment would come from a $100 billion fund that would be created in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund as well as other investors. “I just came to celebrate his new job. I said, ‘This is great. The US will become great again,’” Son said, according to reports.

Then, in March of 2017, Son sent top SoftBank executives to meet with senior members of Trump’s economic team and, according to the New York Times, “the SoftBank executives said that because of a lack of advanced digital investments, the competitiveness of the United States economy was at risk. And the executives made the case, quite strongly, that Mr. Son was committed to playing a major role in addressing this issue through a spate of job-creating investments.” Many of SoftBank’s investments and acquisitions in the U.S. since then have focused mainly on artificial intelligence and technology with military applications, such as “killer robot” firm Boston Dynamics, suggesting Son’s interest lies more in dominating futuristic military-industrial technologies than creating jobs for the average American.

After their initial meeting, Trump and Son met again a year later in June 2018, with Trump stating that “His [Son’s] $50 billion turned out to be $72 billion so far, he’s not finished yet.” Several media reports have claimed that Son’s moves since Trump’s election have sought to “curry favor” with the President.

Through the creation of this fund alongside the Saudis, SoftBank has since become increasingly intertwined with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), a key ally of President Trump in the Middle East known for his authoritarian crackdowns on Saudi elites and dissidents alike. The ties between Saudi Arabia and SoftBank became ever tighter when MBS took the reins in the oil kingdom and after SoftBank announced the launch of the Vision Fund in 2016. SoftBank’s Vision Fund is a vehicle for investing in hi-tech companies and start-ups and its largest shareholder is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Notably, Son decided to launch the Vision Fund in Riyadh during President Trump’s first official visit to the Gulf Kingdom.

In addition, the Mubadala Investment Company, a government fund of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), gave $15 billion to the Vision Fund. UAE leadership also share close ties to the Trump administration and MBS in Saudi Arabia.

As a consequence, SoftBank’s Vision Fund is majority funded by two Middle Eastern authoritarian governments with close ties to the U.S. government, specifically the Trump administration. In addition, both countries have enjoyed the rapid growth and normalization of ties with the state of Israel in recent years, particularly following the rise of current Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Jared Kushner’s rise to prominence in his father-in-law’s administration. Other investments in the Vision Fund have come from Apple, Qualcomm and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, all tech companies with strong ties to Israel’s government.

The Saudi and Emirati governments’ links to the Vision Fund are so obvious that even mainstream outlets like the New York Times have described them as a “front for Saudi Arabia and perhaps other countries in the Middle East.”

SoftBank also enjoys close ties to Jared Kushner, with Fortress Investment Group lending $57 million to Kushner Companies in October 2017 while it was under contract to be acquired by SoftBank. As Barron’s noted at the time:

When SoftBank Group bought Fortress Investment Group last year, the Japanese company was buying access to a corps of seasoned investors. What SoftBank also got is a financial tie to the family of President Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.”

According to The Real Deal, Kushner Companies obtained the financing from Fortress only after its attempts to obtain funding through the EB-5 visa program for a specific real estate venture were abandoned after the U.S. Attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission began to investigate how Kushner Companies used the EB-5 investor visa program. A key factor in the opening of that investigation was Kushner Companies’ representatives touting Jared Kushner’s position at the White House when talking to prospective investors and lenders.

SoftBank also recently came to the aid of a friend of Jared Kushner, former CEO of WeWork Adam Neumann. Neumann made shocking claims about his ties to both Kushner and Saudi Arabia’s MBS, even asserting that he had worked with both in creating Kushner’s long-awaited and controversial Middle East “peace plan” and claimed that he, Kushner and MBS would together “save the world.” Neumann previously called Kushner his “mentor.” MBS has also discussed on several occasions his close ties with Kushner and U.S. media reports have noted the frequent correspondence between the two “princelings.”

Notably, SoftBank invested in Neumann’s WeWork using money from the Saudi-dominated Vision Fund and later went on to essentially bail the company out after its IPO collapse and Neumann was pushed out. SoftBank’s founder, Masayoshi Son, had an odd yet very close relationship with Neumann, perhaps explaining why Neumann was allowed to walk with $1.7 billion after bringing WeWork to the brink of collapse. Notably, nearly half of SoftBank’s approximately $47 billion investments in the U.S. economy since Trump’s election, went to acquiring and then bailing out WeWork. It is unlikely that such a disastrous investment resulted in the level of job creation that Son had promised Trump in 2016.

Given that it is Cybereason’s top investor and shareholder by a large margin, SoftBank’s ties to the Trump administration and key allies of that administration are significant in light of Cybereason’s odd interest in 2020 U.S. election scenarios that end with the cancellation of this year’s upcoming presidential election. It goes without saying that the cancellation of the election would mean a continuation of the Trump administration until new elections would take place.

Furthermore, with Cybereason’s close and enduring ties to Israeli military intelligence now well-documented, it is worth asking if Israeli military intelligence would consider intervening in 2020 if the still-to-be-decided Democratic contender was strongly opposed to Israeli government policy, particularly Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. This is especially worth considering given revelations that sexual blackmailer and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who targeted prominent U.S. politicians, mostly Democrats, was in the employ of Israeli military intelligence.

Notably, Cybereason’s doomsday election scenarios involved the weaponization of deep fakes, self-driving cars and hacking Internet of Things devices, with all of those technologies being pioneered and perfected — not by Russia, China or Iran — but by companies directly tied to Israeli intelligence, much like Cybereason itself. These companies, their technology and Cybereason’s own work creating the narrative that U.S. rival states seek to undermine the U.S. election in this way, will all be discussed in the conclusion of MintPress’ series on Cybereason and its outsized interest in the U.S. democratic process.

July 15, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Russophobia | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It Was JFK Who Blinked in the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Jacob G. Hornberger | FFF | July 13, 2020

By the time he graduates public high school, most every student in America has been indoctrinated with the notion that it was Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev who “blinked” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually it was President John Kennedy who “blinked” during the crisis, and it was a good thing he did.

Every public school student across America is also indoctrinated with the notion that the Soviet Union installed “offensive” missiles in Cuba during the crisis, which the U.S. national-security establishment gravely maintained were a grave threat to U.S. “national security.”

That’s a lie too. The Soviet missiles were defensive in nature. Their aim was to deter another U.S. invasion of the island or, in the event that deterrence failed, to enable Cuba to defend itself against another unlawful U.S. invasion with nuclear weapons.

It’s important to keep in mind an important fact: In the long relationship between communist Cuba and the United States, it has always, without exception, been the United States, not Cuba, that has been the aggressor.

Cuba has never attacked or invaded the United States or even threatened to do so. It has also never initiated any act of terrorism within the United States. Instead, it has been the U.S. government that has done those types of things against Cuba.

There is the brutal economic embargo that the U.S. government has enforced against Cuba almost from the start of the communist regime there. Its aim has always been to inflict impoverishment, suffering, and death on the Cuban people as a way to achieve regime change in the country.

Operating through the CIA, the U.S. government also orchestrated numerous assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. President Lyndon Johnson referred to the CIA’s assassination program as “a damned Murder, Inc.” The CIA had entered into an assassination partnership with the Mafia, the most crooked murderous private organization in the world.

The CIA also sponsored terrorist attacks inside Cuba, for the purpose of destroying government-owned enterprises and to foment revolution. The attacks produced both death and property damage.

The CIA also sponsored a military invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, which was designed to oust the Fidel Castro regime and replace it with another U.S. puppet regime, similar to the one that Castro had ousted from power in the Cuban revolution. The invasion failed and Castro’s forces killed or captured the CIA’s invaders.

After the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Joint Chiefs of Staff continually exhorted Kennedy to order an all-out U.S. military invasion of Cuba for the purpose of regime change. As part of its efforts, the Pentagon presented Kennedy with a regime-change plan called Operation Northwoods. It called for terrorist attacks to be carried out on American soil that would result in the loss of American life. The plan was to blame the attacks on Cuban agents, which would then give Kennedy the rationale for invading Cuba. Kennedy rejected the plan.

Castro was well aware of the steadfast determination of the CIA and the Pentagon to invade Cuba.  But while he could defeat a rag-tag army of CIA-trained Cuban exiles, Castro knew that there was no way he could win if the U.S. military attacked and invaded Cuba.

That was when he asked the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. It was his only chance to deter an invasion. He had also decided that if the invasion came, he was determined to resist it with nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, the Pentagon was livid with Kennedy. If he had accepted Operation Northwoods, the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt, this problem would never have arisen. Now America was faced with nuclear weapons 90 miles away from American shores, which, the JCS maintained, were a grave threat to “national security” even though they were defensive in nature.

The Pentagon exhorted and pressured Kennedy to order a bombing and an invasion of Cuba. Otherwise, the Pentagon maintained, there was no way America could survive.

Kennedy resisted the pressure. And it was a good thing he did. What he and the CIA didn’t know is that Soviet tactical nuclear weapons were fully armed and that Soviet commanders on the ground had been given battlefield authority to use them. If Kennedy had followed the recommendation of the Pentagon to bomb and invade Cuba, it is a virtual certainty that it would have led to all-out nuclear war.

Kennedy ended up striking a deal with the Khrushchev in which the U.S. would not invade Cuba and the Soviets would withdraw their nuclear weapons. That’s precisely what Castro wanted. That’s why the missiles had been put there in the first place. Kennedy also secretly promised to remove U.S. nuclear weapons from Turkey that were aimed at the Soviet Union.

Thus, contrary to what public school students are taught about the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was Kennedy, not Khrushchev, who “blinked” during the crisis. It’s a good thing that he had the wisdom to do so because his action saved the world from nuclear holocaust.

But the military and the CIA were furious. They considered Kennedy’s resolution of the crisis to be akin to surrender, treason, and cowardice. More important, by agreeing to leave a permanent communist outpost 90 miles away from American shores, Kennedy, the national security establishment felt, had placed America in grave jeopardy insofar as “national security” was concerned.

For more details, see FFF’s ebook JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s.

July 15, 2020 Posted by | Book Review, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Iran explosions: Did Israel and the US just start a cyber war?

By Scott Ritter | RT | July 10, 2020

Explosions rocked a pair of Iranian factories involved in the manufacture of centrifuges for its nuclear program, and the development of advanced ballistic missiles. Iran suspects a cyberattack by either the US, Israel or both.
A series of explosions hit various locations throughout Iran in late June and early July, killing scores of people and causing extensive damage. Two of these locations stand out in particular because of their importance to Iran’s national security, and their involvement in technology related to nuclear enrichment programs and ballistic missile production, which have been singled out by both the US and Israel as representing a threat to regional and international peace and security.

Early on Friday, a series of explosions reportedly hit the outskirts of Tehran, as well as the cities of Garmdareh and Qods, with speculation that missile depots were the intended target of the blasts.

The precise cause of the two explosions has not yet been determined. One, at a centrifuge production hall located in the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, remains under investigation. The other, at the Hemma Missile Industries Complex, has been linked to an explosion in a gas tank.

The Natanz facility, believed to have been involved in assembling advanced centrifuges used in the enrichment of nuclear fuel, was heavily damaged, setting back efforts by months, if not longer. The Hemmat facility, believed to be involved in the production of advanced Shahib-3 ballistic missiles, also suffered serious damage, but the precise extent remains unknown.

Israel’s non-denial

In typical fashion, Israel denied having any involvement in the Iranian explosions, while at the same time indicating that it was concerned about the Islamic Republic’s activities. Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz noted that “not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us.”

Gantz then threw in a hint about what might have happened. “All those systems,” he said, referring to Iran’s nuclear and missile activities, “are complex. They have very high safety constraints, and I’m not sure [the Iranians] always know how to maintain them.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi – who himself was once head of the Israeli Defense Force – was more circumspect. “We have a long-term policy over the course of many administrations not to allow Iran to have nuclear abilities,” Ashkenazi noted. “This [Iranian] regime with those abilities is an existential threat to Israel, and Israel cannot allow it to establish itself on our northern border.” As to what Israel may have done to prevent this, he said: “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”

History of sabotage

Both Israel and the US have a history of collaboration when it comes to covert action designed to retard Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. Perhaps the best known of these was the Stuxnet virus, which struck the Natanz facility in the summer of 2010 and was responsible for the destruction of a large number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Less known, but as or more effective, is a long-term CIA program to sabotage Iranian missiles and rockets, including those involved in Iran’s space launch program.

Perhaps the most public face of this program came in the form of a tweet from President Trump in August 2019, following the explosion of an Iranian space vehicle on its launch pad during final preparations for blast-off. “The United States of America,” Trump tweeted, “was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.” As non-denials go, this one was crude and transparent.

The heart of the CIA sabotage effort lies in its ability to infiltrate the illicit black-market supply chains used by Iran to support its programs, and infiltrate defective materials which, once installed, would cause catastrophic failure. Gantz’s allusion to the complexity of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile endeavors, and the “safety” issues involved (and Iran’s inability to maintain these systems), provides strong circumstantial evidence that Israel, most likely in collaboration with the CIA, was able to gain access to suppliers involved in the construction of both the Natanz and Hemmat sites. This probably involved the distribution of natural gas for industrial purposes. Defective sensors and/or valves could lead to catastrophic failure, and result in massive, highly destructive events.

Iran’s silence as evidence

The official Iranian position is that while it has identified the precise cause of the explosions in question, it is not releasing this information on the grounds of national security. This delay would make sense in the case of any sabotage derived from defective sensors and valves – Iran would need to reverse-engineer its acquisition efforts, identify all materials acquired together with the failed components, and safely remove them from wherever they had been installed. Iran would also need to try and find out how and where their counterintelligence and security systems failed, before implementing new procedures.

The lack of a specific explanation, however, has not prevented senior Iranians from speculating about either the cause of the explosions, or the perpetrators. “Responding to cyberattacks is part of the country’s defense might,” the head of Iran’s civil defense, Gholamreza Jalili, noted. “If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond.”

The Iranian News Agency, IRNA, hinted at the potential for a larger crisis emerging in the aftermath of the Natanz and Hemmat explosions. “So far, Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA observed. “But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime (Israel) and the US, means that strategy… should be revised.”

Potential chaos

It is unlikely that Iran would seek to respond to any destructive cyberattack in a disproportionate manner – don’t expect missiles to fly against either Israel or US bases in the region. Instead, Iran will probably deploy its own very capable offensive cyberweapons in targeted retaliation, either against facilities in Israel and/or the US, or against regional targets affiliated with either of those countries.

Cyber warfare is a new phenomenon, one which can inflict significant collateral damage on civilian infrastructure both in the targeted nation, as well as third parties not directly involved in the conflict at hand. If Israel and/or the US were, in fact, to have conducted a destructive cyberattack on Iran, there will almost certainly be retaliation. Where this cycle of cyber warfare will end, however, is unknown. Given the complex realities of cyber warfare, where computer viruses are released in a manner conducive to causing a global cyber pandemic, the question must be asked if the outcome achieved at Natanz and Hemmat was worth the potential risk accrued. If history is any lesson, the answer is – and will be – a resounding ‘No.’

July 10, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 14 Comments

Key U.S. Ally Indicted for Organ Trade Murder Scheme

By Nicolas J.S. Davies | Dissident Voice | July 6, 2020

When President Clinton dropped 23,000 bombs on what was left of Yugoslavia in 1999 and NATO invaded and occupied the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, U.S. officials presented the war to the American public as a “humanitarian intervention” to protect Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanian population from genocide at the hands of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. That narrative has been unraveling piece by piece ever since.

In 2008 an international prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, accused U.S.-backed Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo of using the U.S. bombing campaign as cover to murder hundreds of people to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market. Del Ponte’s charges seemed almost too ghoulish to be true. But on June 24th, Thaci, now President of Kosovo, and nine other former leaders of the CIA-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA,) were finally indicted for these 20-year-old crimes by a special war crimes court at The Hague.

From 1996 on, the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies covertly worked with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to instigate and fuel violence and chaos in Kosovo. The CIA spurned mainstream Kosovar nationalist leaders in favor of gangsters and heroin smugglers like Thaci and his cronies, recruiting them as terrorists and death squads to assassinate Yugoslav police and anyone who opposed them, ethnic Serbs and Albanians alike.

As it has done in country after country since the 1950s, the CIA unleashed a dirty civil war that Western politicians and media dutifully blamed on Yugoslav authorities. But by early 1998, even U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard called the KLA a “terrorist group” and the UN Security Council condemned “acts of terrorism” by the KLA and “all external support for terrorist activity in Kosovo, including finance, arms and training.” Once the war was over and Kosovo was successfully occupied by U.S. and NATO forces, CIA sources openly touted the agency’s role in manufacturing the civil war to set the stage for NATO intervention.

By September 1998, the UN reported that 230,000 civilians had fled the civil war, mostly across the border to Albania, and the UN Security Council passed resolution 1199, calling for a ceasefire, an international monitoring mission, the return of refugees and a political resolution. A new U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, convinced Yugoslav President Milosevic to agree to a unilateral ceasefire and the introduction of a 2,000 member “verification” mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But the U.S. and NATO immediately started drawing up plans for a bombing campaign to “enforce” the UN resolution and Yugoslavia’s unilateral ceasefire.

Holbrooke persuaded the chair of the OSCE, Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, to appoint William Walker, the former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador during its civil war, to lead the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM). The U.S. quickly hired 150 Dyncorp mercenaries to form the nucleus of Walker’s team, whose 1,380 members used GPS equipment to map Yugoslav military and civilian infrastructure for the planned NATO bombing campaign. Walker’s deputy, Gabriel Keller, France’s former Ambassador to Yugoslavia, accused Walker of sabotaging the KVM, and CIA sources later admitted that the KVM was a “CIA front” to coordinate with the KLA and spy on Yugoslavia.

The climactic incident of CIA-provoked violence that set the political stage for the NATO bombing and invasion was a firefight at a village called Racak, which the KLA had fortified as a base from which to ambush police patrols and dispatch death squads to kill local “collaborators.” In January 1999, Yugoslav police attacked the KLA base in Racak, leaving 43 men, a woman and a teenage boy dead.

After the firefight, Yugoslav police withdrew from the village, and the KLA reoccupied it and staged the scene to make the firefight look like a massacre of civilians. When William Walker and a KVM team visited Racak the next day, they accepted the KLA’s massacre story and broadcast it to the world, and it became a standard part of the narrative to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia and military occupation of Kosovo.

Autopsies by an international team of medical examiners found traces of gunpowder on the hands of nearly all the bodies, showing that they had fired weapons. They were nearly all killed by multiple gunshots as in a firefight, not by precise shots as in a summary execution, and only one victim was shot at close range. But the full autopsy results were only published much later, and the Finnish chief medical examiner accused Walker of pressuring her to alter them.

Two experienced French journalists and an AP camera crew at the scene challenged the KLA and Walker’s version of what happened in Racak. Christophe Chatelet’s article in Le Monde was headlined, “Were the dead in Racak really massacred in cold blood?” and veteran Yugoslavia correspondent Renaud Girard concluded his story in Le Figaro with another critical question, “Did the KLA seek to transform a military defeat into a political victory?”

NATO immediately threatened to bomb Yugoslavia, and France agreed to host high-level talks. But instead of inviting Kosovo’s mainstream nationalist leaders to the talks in Rambouillet, Secretary Albright flew in a delegation led by KLA commander Hashim Thaci, until then known to Yugoslav authorities only as a gangster and a terrorist.

Albright presented both sides with a draft agreement in two parts, civilian and military. The civilian part granted Kosovo unprecedented autonomy from Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav delegation accepted that. But the military agreement would have forced Yugoslavia to accept a NATO military occupation, not just of Kosovo but with no geographical limits, in effect placing all of Yugoslavia under NATO occupation.

When Milosevich refused Albright’s terms for unconditional surrender, the U.S. and NATO claimed he had rejected peace, and war was the only answer, the “last resort“.  They did not return to the UN Security Council to try to legitimize their plan, knowing full well that Russia, China and other countries would reject it. When UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright the British government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over NATO’s plan for an illegal war of aggression against Yugoslavia, she told him to “get new lawyers“.

In March 1999, the KVM teams were withdrawn and the bombing began. Pascal Neuffer, a Swiss KVM observer reported, “The situation on the ground on the eve of the bombing did not justify a military intervention. We could certainly have continued our work. And the explanations given in the press, saying the mission was compromised by Serb threats, did not correspond to what I saw. Let’s say rather that we were evacuated because NATO had decided to bomb.”

NATO killed thousands of civilians in Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia, as  it bombed 19 hospitals, 20 health centers, 69 schools, 25,000 homes, power stations, a national TV station, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and other diplomatic missions. After it invaded Kosovo, the U.S. military set up the 955-acre Camp Bondsteel, one of its largest bases in Europe, on its newest occupied territory. Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, visited Camp Bondsteel in 2002 and called it “a smaller version of Guantanamo,” exposing it as a secret CIA black site for illegal, unaccountable detention and torture.

But for the people of Kosovo, the ordeal was not over when the bombing stopped. Far more people had fled the bombing than the so-called “ethnic cleansing” the CIA had provoked to set the stage for it. A reported 900,000 refugees, nearly half the population, returned to a shattered, occupied province, now ruled by gangsters and foreign overlords.

Serbs and other minorities became second-class citizens, clinging precariously to homes and communities where many of their families had lived for centuries. More than 200,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities fled, as the NATO occupation and KLA rule replaced the CIA’s manufactured illusion of ethnic cleansing with the real thing. Camp Bondsteel was the province’s largest employer, and U.S. military contractors also sent Kosovars to work in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2019, Kosovo’s per capita GDP was only $4,458, less than any country in Europe except Moldova and war-torn, post-coup Ukraine.

In 2007, a German military intelligence report described Kosovo as a “Mafia society” based on the “capture of the state” by criminals. The report named Hashim Thaci, then the leader of the Democratic Party, as an example of “the closest ties between leading political decision makers and the dominant criminal class.” In 2000, 80% of the heroin trade in Europe was controlled by Kosovar gangs, and the presence of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops fueled an explosion of prostitution and sex trafficking, also controlled by Kosovo’s new criminal ruling class.

In 2008, Thaci was elected Prime Minister, and Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. (The final dissolution of Yugoslavia in 2006 had left Serbia and Montenegro as separate countries.) The U.S. and 14 allies immediately recognized Kosovo’s independence, and ninety-seven countries, about half the countries in the world, have now done so. But neither Serbia nor the UN have recognized it, leaving Kosovo in long-term diplomatic limbo.

When the court in the Hague unveiled the charges against Thaci on June 24th, he was on his way to Washington for a White House meeting with Trump and President Vucic of Serbia to try to resolve Kosovo’s diplomatic impasse. But when the charges were announced, Thaci’s plane made a U-turn over the Atlantic, he returned to Kosovo and the meeting was canceled.

The accusation of murder and organ trafficking against Thaci was first made in 2008 by Carla Del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY), in a book she wrote after stepping down from that position. Del Ponte later explained that the ICTFY was prevented from charging Thaci and his co-defendants by the non-cooperation of NATO and the UN Mission in Kosovo. In an interview for the 2014 documentary, The Weight of Chains 2, she explained, “NATO and the KLA, as allies in the war, couldn’t act against each other.”

Human Rights Watch and the BBC followed up on Del Ponte’s allegations, and found evidence that Thaci and his cronies murdered up to 400 mostly Sebian prisoners during the NATO bombing in 1999. Survivors described prison camps in Albania where prisoners were tortured and killed, a yellow house where people’s organs were removed and an unmarked mass grave nearby.

Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty interviewed witnesses, gathered evidence and published a report, which the Council of Europe endorsed in January 2011, but the Kosovo parliament did not approve the plan for a special court in the Hague until 2015. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and independent prosecutor’s office finally began work in 2017. Now the judges have six months to review the prosecutor’s charges and decide whether the trial should proceed.

A central part of the Western narrative on Yugoslavia was the demonization of President Milosevich of Yugoslavia, who resisted his country’s Western-backed dismemberment throughout the 1990s. Western leaders smeared Milosevich as a “New Hitler” and the “Butcher of the Balkans,” but he was still arguing his innocence when he died in a cell at The Hague in 2006.

Ten years later, at the trial of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the judges accepted the prosecution’s evidence that Milosevich strongly opposed Karadzic’s plan to carve out a Serb Republic in Bosnia. They convicted Karadzic of being fully responsible for the resulting civil war, in effect posthumously exonerating Milosevich of responsibility for the actions of the Bosnian Serbs, the most serious of the charges against him.

But the U.S.’s endless campaign to paint all its enemies as “violent dictators” and “New Hitlers” rolls on like a demonization machine on autopilot, against Putin, Xi, Maduro, Khamenei, the late Fidel Castro and any foreign leader who stands up to the imperial dictates of the U.S. government. These smear campaigns serve as pretexts for brutal sanctions and catastrophic wars against our international neighbors, but also as political weapons to attack and diminish any U.S. politician who stands up for peace, diplomacy and disarmament.

As the web of lies spun by Clinton and Albright has unraveled, and the truth behind their lies has spilled out piece by bloody piece, the war on Yugoslavia has emerged as a case study in how U.S. leaders mislead us into war. In many ways, Kosovo established the template that U.S. leaders have used to plunge our country and the world into endless war ever since. What U.S. leaders took away from their “success” in Kosovo was that legality, humanity and truth are no match for CIA-manufactured chaos and lies, and they doubled down on that strategy to plunge the U.S. and the world into endless war.

As it did in Kosovo, the CIA is still running wild, fabricating pretexts for new wars and unlimited military spending, based on sourceless accusations, covert operations and flawed, politicized intelligence. We have allowed American politicians to pat themselves on the back for being tough on “dictators” and “thugs,” letting them settle for the cheap shot instead of tackling the much harder job of reining in the real instigators of war and chaos: the U.S. military and the CIA.

But if the people of Kosovo can hold the CIA-backed gangsters who murdered their people, sold their body parts and hijacked their country accountable for their crimes, is it too much to hope that Americans can do the same and hold our leaders accountable for their far more widespread and systematic war crimes?

Iran recently indicted Donald Trump for the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, and asked Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for him. Trump is probably not losing sleep over that, but the indictment of such a key U.S. ally as Thaci is a sign that the U.S. ”accountability-free zone” of impunity for war crimes is finally starting to shrink, at least in the protection it provides to U.S. allies. Should Netanyahu, Bin Salman and Tony Blair be starting to look over their shoulders?

Nicolas J.S.Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

July 6, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | 1 Comment

BOUNTYGATE: Scapegoating Systemic Military Failure in Afghanistan

By Scott Ritter | Consortium News | July 5, 2020

On the morning of Feb. 27, Beth Sanner, the deputy director of national intelligence for mission integration, arrived at the White House carrying a copy of the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), a document which, in one form or another, has been made available to every president of the United States since Harry Truman first received what was then known as the “Daily Summary” in February 1946.

The sensitivity of the PDB is without dispute; former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer once called the PBD “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government,”while former Vice President Dick Cheney referred to it as “the family jewels.”

The contents of the PDB are rarely shared with the public, not only because of the highly classified nature of the information it contains, but also because of the intimacy it reveals about the relationship between the nation’s chief executive and the intelligence community.

“It’s important for the writers of the presidential daily brief to feel comfortable that the documents will never be politicized and/or unnecessarily exposed for public purview,” former President George W. Bush observed after he left office, giving voice to a more blunt assessment put forward by his vice president who warned that any public release of a PDB would make its authors “spend more time worried about how the report’s going to look on the front page of The Washington Post.

Beth Sanner

Sanner’s job was the same for those who had carried out this task under previous presidents: find a way to engage a politician whose natural instincts might not incline toward the tedious, and often contradictory details contained in many intelligence products. This was especially true for Donald J. Trump, who reportedly disdains detailed written reports, preferring instead oral briefings backed up by graphics.

The end result was a two-phased briefing process, where Sanner would seek to distill critical material to the president orally, leaving the task of picking through the details spelled out in the written product to his senior advisors. This approach was approved beforehand by the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA and the president’s national security advisor.

Sanner, a veteran CIA analyst who previously headed up the office responsible for preparing the PDB, served as the DNI’s principal advisor “on all aspects of intelligence,” responsible for creating “a consistent and holistic view of intelligence from collection to analysis” and ensures “the delivery of timely, objective, accurate, and relevant intelligence.”

If there was anyone in the intelligence community capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff when it came to what information was suited for verbal presentation to the president, it was Sanner.

No copy of the PDB for Feb. 27 has been made available to the public to scrutinize, nor will one likely ever be.

However, based upon information gleaned from media reporting derived from anonymous leaks, a picture emerges of at least one of the items contained in the briefing document, the proverbial “ground zero” for the current crisis surrounding allegations that Russia has paid cash bounties to persons affiliated with the Taliban for the purpose of killing American and coalition military personnel in Afghanistan.

Links Between Accounts

Sometime in early January 2020 a combined force of U.S. special operators and Afghan National Intelligence Service (NDS) commandos raided the offices of several businessmen in the northern Afghan city of Konduz and the capital city of Kabul, according to a report in The New York Times. The businessmen were involved in the ancient practice of “Hawala.” It is a traditional system for transferring money in Islamic cultures, involving money paid to an agent who then instructs a remote associate to pay the final recipient.

Afghan security officials claim that the raid had nothing to do with “Russians smuggling money,” but rather was a response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body established in 1989 whose mission is, among other things, to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

This explanation, however, seems more of a cover story than fact, if for no other reason than that the FATF, in June 2017, formally recognized that Afghanistan had established “the legal and regulatory framework to meet its commitments in its action plan,” noting that Afghanistan was “therefore no longer subject to the FATF’s monitoring process.”

The joint U.S.-Afghan raid, according to the Times, was not a takedown of the Halawa system in Afghanistan—a virtually impossible task—but rather a particular Halawa network run by Rahmatullah Azizi, a one-time low-level Afghan drug smuggler-turned-high profile businessman, along with a colleague named Habib Muradi.

Azizi’s portfolio is alleged by the Times, quoting a “friend,” to include serving as a contractor for U.S. reconstruction programs, managing undefined business dealings in Russia, which supposedly, according to unnamed U.S. intelligence sources quoted by the Times, included face-to-face meetings with officers from Russian Military Intelligence (GRU), and serving as a bagman for a covert money laundering scheme between the Taliban and Russia.

Some thirteen persons, including members of Azizi’s extended family and close associates, were rounded up in the raids. Both Azizi and Muradi, however, eluded capture, believed by Afghan security officials to have fled to Russia.

Based in large part on information derived from the interrogation of the detainees that followed, U.S. intelligence analysts pieced together a picture of Azizi’s Halawa enterprise—described as “layered and complex”, with money transfers “often sliced into smaller amounts that routed through several regional countries before arriving in Afghanistan.”

What made these transactions even more interesting from an intelligence perspective, were the links made by U.S. analysts between Azizi’s Halawa system, an electronic wire transfer, a Taliban-linked account, and a Russian account that some believed was tied to Unit 29155 (a covert GRU activity believed to be involved with, among other activities, assassinations). The transactions had been picked up by the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. intelligence agency responsible for monitoring communications and electronic data worldwide.

The discovery of some $500,000 in cash by U.S. special operators at Azizi’s luxury villa in Kabul was the icing on the cake—the final “dot” in a complex and convoluted game of “connect the dots” that comprised the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of the alleged Russian (GRU)-Taliban-Azizi connection.

The next task for U.S. intelligence analysts was to see where the Russian (GRU)-Taliban-Azizi connection took them. Using information gathered through detainee debriefings, the analysts broke down money Azizi received through his Halawa pipeline into “packets,” some comprising hundreds of thousands of dollars, which were doled out to entities affiliated with, or sympathetic to, the Taliban.

According to Afghan security officials quoted by the Times, at least some of these payments were specifically for the purpose of killing American troops, amounting to a price tag of around $100,000 per dead American.

The game of “connect the dots” continued as the U.S. intelligence analysts linked this “bounty” money to criminal networks in Parwan Province, where Bagram Air Base—the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan—is located. According to Afghan security officials, local criminal networks had carried out attacks on behalf of the Taliban in the past in exchange for money. This linkage prompted U.S. intelligence analysts to take a new look at an April 9, 2019 car bomb attack outside of Bagram Air Base which killed three U.S. Marines.

This information was contained in the PDB that was given to Trump on Feb. 27. According to standard procedure, it would have been vetted by at least three intelligence agencies—the CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), and the NSA. Both the CIA and NCC had assessed the finding that the GRU had offered bounties to the Taliban with “moderate confidence,” which in the lexicon used by the intelligence community means that the information is interpreted in various ways, that there are alternative views, or that the information is credible and plausible but not corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.

The NSA, however, assessed the information with “low confidence,” meaning that they viewed the information as scant, questionable, or very fragmented, that it was difficult to make solid analytic inferences, and that there were significant concerns or problems with the sources of information used.

Floating in the Bowl

All of this information was contained in the PDB carried into the White House by Sanner. The problem for Sanner was the context and relevance of the information she carried. Just five days prior, on Feb. 22, the U.S. and the Taliban had agreed to a seven-day partial ceasefire as prelude to the conclusion of a peace agreement scheduled to be signed in two days’ time, on Feb. 29.

NSA HQ, Fort Meade, Maryland. (Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, was in Doha, Qatar, where he was hammering out the final touches to the agreement with his Taliban counterparts. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was preparing to depart the U.S. for Doha, where he would witness the signing ceremony. The information Sanner carried in the PDB was the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.

The problem was that the intelligence assessment on alleged Russian GRU “bounties” contained zero corroborated information. It was all raw intelligence (characterized by one informed official as an “intelligence collection report”), and there were serious disagreements among the differing analytical communities—in particular the NSA—which took umbrage over what it deemed a misreading of its intercepts and an over reliance on uncorroborated information derived from detainee debriefs.

Moreover, none of the intelligence linking the GRU to the Taliban provided any indication of how far up the Russian chain of command knowledge of the “bounties” went, and whether or not anyone at the Kremlin-let alone President Vladimir Putin-were aware of it.

None of the information contained in the PDB was “actionable.” The president couldn’t very well pick up the phone to complain to Putin based on a case drawn solely from unverified, and in some cases unverifiable, information.

To brief the president about an assessment which, if taken at face value, could unravel a peace agreement that represented a core commitment of the president to his domestic political base—to bring U.S. troops home from endless overseas wars—was the epitome of the politicization of intelligence, especially when there was no consensus among the U.S. intelligence community that the assessment was even correct to begin with.

This was a matter which could, and would, be handled by the president’s national security advisors. Sanner would not be briefing the president in person on this report, a decision that Trump National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien agreed with.

Blaming Russia

Ending America’s nearly 19-year misadventure in Afghanistan had always been an objective of President Trump. Like both presidents before him whose tenure witnessed the deaths of American service members in that hard, distant and inhospitable land, Trump found himself confronting a military and national security establishment convinced that “victory” could be achieved, if only sufficient resources, backed by decisive leadership, were thrown at the problem.

His choice for secretary of defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a retired Marine general who commanded Central Command (the geographical combatant command responsible for, among other regions, Afghanistan) pushed Trump for more troops, more equipment, and a freer hand in taking on the enemy.

By the Fall of 2017, Trump eventually agreed to the dispatch of some 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, along with new rules of engagement, which would allow greater flexibility and quicker response times for the employment of U.S. air strikes against hostile forces in Afghanistan.

Mattis: Got what he wanted

It took little more than a year for the president to come to grips with a reality that would be reflected in the findings of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, that there had been “explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public…to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

In November 2018, Trump turned on “Mad Dog”, telling the former Marine General “I gave you what you asked for. Unlimited authority, no holds barred. You’re losing. You’re getting your ass kicked. You failed.”

It was probably the most honest assessment of the War in Afghanistan any American president delivered to his serving secretary of defense. By December 2018 Mattis was out, having resigned in the face of Trump’s decision to cut American losses not only in Afghanistan, but also Syria and Iraq.

That same month, U.S. diplomat Khalilizad began the process of direct peace talks with the Taliban that led to the Feb. 29 peace agreement. It was a dispute over Afghan peace talks that led to the firing of National Security Advisor John Bolton. In September 2019—Trump wanted to invite the Taliban leadership to Camp David for a signing ceremony, something Bolton helped quash. Trump cancelled the “summit”, citing a Taliban attack that took the life of an American service member, but Bolton was gone.

Taking on Failure

One doesn’t take on two decades of systemic investment in military failure that had become ingrained in both the psyche and structure of the U.S. military establishment, fire a popular secretary of defense, and then follow that act up with the dismissal of one of the most vindictive bureaucratic infighters in the business without accumulating enemies.

Washington DC has always been a political Peyton Place where no deed goes unpunished. All president’s are confronted by this reality, but Trump’s was a far different case—at no time in America’s history had such a divisive figure won the White House. Trump’s anti-establishment agenda alienated people across all political spectrums, often for cause. But he also came into office bearing a Scarlet Letter which none of his predecessors had to confront—the stigma of a “stolen election” won only through the help of Russian intelligence.

The “Russian interference” mantra was all-pervasive, cited by legions of anti-Trumpers suddenly imbued with a Cold War-era appreciation of global geopolitics, seeing the Russian Bear behind every roadblock encountered, never once pausing to consider that the problem might actually reside closer to home, in the very military establishment Trump sought to challenge.

Afghanistan was no different. Prior to stepping down as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in September 2018, Army General John Nicholson sought to deflect responsibility for the reality that, despite receiving the reinforcements and freedom of action requested, his forces were losing the fight for Afghanistan.

Unable or unwilling to shoulder responsibility, Nicholson instead took the safe way out—he blamed Russia.

Scapegoating

“We know that Russia is attempting to undercut our military gains and years of military progress in Afghanistan, and make partners question Afghanistan’s stability,” Nicholson wrote in an email to reporters, seemingly oblivious to the history of failure and lies being documented at that moment by Sopko.

In March 2018 Nicholson had accused the Russians of “acting to undermine” U.S. interests in Afghanistan, accusing the Russians of arming the Taliban. But the most telling example of Russian-baiting on the part of the general occurred in February 2017, shortly after President Trump was inaugurated. In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nicholson was confronted by Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and ardent supporter of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan.

“If Russia is cozying up to the Taliban—and that’s a kind word—if they are giving equipment that we have some evidence that the Taliban is getting…and other things that we can’t mention in this unclassified setting? And the Taliban is also associated with al-Qaida? Therefore Russia is indirectly helping al-Qaeda in Afghanistan?” Nelson asked.

“Your logic is absolutely sound, sir,” was Nicholson’s response.

Except it wasn’t.

Russia has a long and complicated history with Afghanistan. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and over the course of the next decade fought a long and costly war with Afghan tribes, backed by American money and arms and a legion of Arab jihadis who would later morph into the very al-Qaeda Sen. Nelson alluded to in his question to General Nicholson.

By 1989 the Soviet Empire was winding down, and with it its disastrous Afghan War. In the decade that followed, Russia was at odds with the Taliban government that arose from the ashes of the Afghan civil war that followed in the wake of the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

Moscow threw its support behind the more moderate forces of the so-called Northern Alliance and, after the al-Qaeda terror attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, was supportive of the U.S.-led intervention to defeat the Taliban and bring stability to a nation that bordered the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union, which Russia viewed as especially sensitive to its own national security.

Realized US Was Losing the War

Fourteen years later, in September 2015, Russia was confronted by the reality that the U.S. had no strategy for victory in Afghanistan and, left to its own devices, Afghanistan was doomed to collapse into an ungovernable morass of tribal, ethnic and religious interests that would spawn extremism capable of migrating over the border, into the former Soviet Central Asian Republics, and into Russia itself.

Russia’s concerns were shared by regional countries such as Pakistan and China, both of which faced serious threats in the form of domestic Islamist extremism.

The capture of the northern Afghan city of Konduz, followed by the rise of an even more militant Islamist group in Afghanistan known as the Islamic State-Khorassan (IS-K), both of which occurred in September 2015, led the Russians to conclude that the U.S. was losing its war in Afghanistan, and Russia’s best hope was to work with the prevailing side—the Taliban—in order to defeat the threat from IS-K, and create the conditions for a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan.

None of this history was mentioned by either Gen. Nicholson or Sen. Nelson. Instead, Nicholson sought to cast Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan as “malign”, declaring in a Dec. 16, 2016 briefing that:

“Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban. And their narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government. And of course … the Afghan government and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones achieving the greatest effect against Islamic State. So, this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”

Absent from Nicholson’s comments is any appreciation surrounding the creation of IS-K, and the impact it had on the Taliban as a whole.

The formation of IS-K can be causally linked to the disarray that occurred within the internal ranks of the Taliban in the aftermath of the death of Mullah Omar, the founder and moral inspiration of the organization. The struggle to pick a successor to Omar exposed a Taliban fractured into three factions.

One, representing the mainstream faction of the Taliban most closely linked to Mullah Omar, wanted to continue and expand upon the existing struggle against the Government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led coalition, which supported and sustained it in an effort to re-establish the Emirate that ruled prior to being evicted from power in the months after the terror attacks of 9/11.

Another, grounded in the ranks of Pakistani Taliban, wanted a more radical approach which sought a regional Emirate beyond the borders of Afghanistan.

A third faction had grown tired of years of fighting and viewed the passing of Mullah Omar as an opportunity for a negotiated peace settlement with the Afghan government. IS-K emerged from the ranks of the second group, and posed a real threat to the viability of the Taliban if it could motivate large numbers of the Taliban’s most fanatic fighters to defect from the ranks of the mainstream Taliban.

Mujahideen who fought Soviets, Aug. 1985 (Wikimedia Commons)

For the Russians, who witnessed the growing potency of the Taliban as manifested in its short-lived capture of Konduz, the biggest danger it faced wasn’t a Taliban victory over the U.S.-dominated Afghan government, but rather the emergence of a regionally-minded Islamist extremist movement that could serve as a model and inspiration for Muslim men of combat age to rally around, allowing the violent instability to fester locally and spread regionally for decades to come. The mainstream Taliban were no longer viewed as a force to be confronted, but rather contained through co-option.

In a statement before U.S. troops in December 2016, then-President Barack Obama openly admitted that “the U.S. cannot eliminate the Taliban or end violence in that country [Afghanistan].” Russia had reached that conclusion more than a year prior, following the Taliban capture of Konduz.

A year before Obama made this announcement, Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special representative to Afghanistan, noted that “Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours” when it came to limiting the spread of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and he acknowledged that Russia had “opened communication channels with the Taliban to exchange information.”

For its part, the Taliban was at first cold to the thought of cooperating with the Russians. A spokesperson declared that they “do not see a need for receiving aid from anyone concerning so-called Daesh [Islamic State] and neither have we contacted nor talked with anyone about this issue.”

Many of the Taliban leadership had a history of fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s and were loath to be seen as working with their old enemies. The rise of IS-K in Afghanistan, however, created a common threat that helped salve old wounds, and while the Taliban balked at any overt relationship, the Russians began a backchannel process of discreet diplomatic engagement. (Kabulov had a history of negotiations with the Taliban dating back to the mid-1990’s).

By November 2018 this effort had matured into what was called the “Moscow Format”, a process of diplomatic engagement between Russia and Afghanistan’s neighbors which resulted in the first-ever dispatch of a Taliban delegation to Moscow for the purpose of discussing the conditions necessary for peace talks to be held about ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

When President Trump terminated the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations in September 2019, it was the “Moscow Format” that kept the peace process alive, with Russia hosting a delegation from the Taliban to discuss the future of the peace process.

The Russian involvement helped keep the window of negotiations with the Taliban open, helping to facilitate the eventual return of the U.S. to the negotiating table this February, and played no small part in the eventual successful conclusion of the Feb. 27, 2020 peace agreement—a fact which no one in the U.S. was willing to publicly acknowledge.

Bad Intelligence

The Intelligence Collection Report that found its way into the Feb. 27 PDB did not appear in a vacuum. The singling out of the Hawala network operated by Rahmatullah Azizi was the manifestation of a larger anti-Russian animus that had existed in the intelligence collection priorities of the U.S. military, the CIA and the Afghan NDS since 2015.

This animus can be traced to internal bias that existed in both U.S. Central Command and the CIA against anything Russian, and the impact this bias had on the intelligence cycle as it applied to Afghanistan.

The existence of this kind of bias is the death knell of any professional intelligence effort, as it destroys the objectivity needed to produce effective analysis.

Sherman Kent

Sherman Kent, the dean of U.S. intelligence analysis (the CIA’s Center for Intelligence Analysis is named after him), warned of this danger, noting that while there was no excuse for policy or political bias, the existence of analytic or cognitive bias was ingrained in human condition, requiring a continuous effort by those responsible for overseeing analytical tasks to minimize.

Kent urged analysts “to resist the tendency to see what they expect to see in the information,” and “urged special caution when a whole team of analysts immediately agrees on an interpretation of yesterday’s development or a prediction about tomorrow’s.”

Part of a Litany of Intel Failures

The nexus of theory and reality was rarely, if ever, achieved within the U.S. intelligence community. From exaggerated Cold War estimates of Soviet military capability (the “bomber” and “missile” gaps), the underestimation of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese military capability, a failure to accurately predict the need for, and impact of, Gorbachev’s policies of reform in the Soviet Union, the debacle that was Iraqi WMD, a similar misreading of Iran’s nuclear capability and intent, and the two decade failure that was (and is) the Afghanistan experience, the U.S. intelligence community has a track record of imbuing its analysis with both political and cognitive bias—and getting it very, very wrong about so many things.

The Russian bounty story is no exception. It represents the nexus of two separate analytical streams, both of which were amply imbued with policy bias; one, representing America’s anger at not being able to control the fate of Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the second, America’s total misread of the reality of Afghanistan (and the Taliban) as it related to the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

For the first decade or so, these streams lived separate but equal lives, populated by analytical teams whose work rarely intersected (indeed, if truth be told, the Russian/Eurasian “house” was frequently robbed of its best talent to feed the insatiable appetite for more and better “analysis” driven by the GWOT enterprise.)

The election of Barack Obama, however, changed the intelligence landscape and, in doing so, initiated processes which allow these two heretofore disparate intelligence streams to drift together.

Under President Obama, the U.S. “surged” some 17,000 additional combat troops into Afghanistan in an effort to turn the tide of battle. By September 2012, these troops had been withdrawn; the “surge” was over, with little to show for it besides an additional 1,300 U.S. troops killed and tens of thousands more wounded. The “surge” had failed, but like any failure rooted in Presidential policy, it was instead sold as a success.

That same year the Obama administration suffered another policy failure of similar magnitude. In 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin swapped places with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and when Obama took office, his team of Russian experts, led by a Stanford professor named Michael McFaul, sold him on the concept of a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, which had soured under eight years of the Bush Presidency.

But the “reset” was decidedly one-sided—it placed all of the blame for the bad blood between the two nations on Putin, and none on two successive eight-year presidential administrations, led by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, which saw the U.S. expand the NATO alliance up to Russia’s borders, abandon foundational arms control agreements, and basically behave like Russia was a defeated foe whose only acceptable posture was one of acquiescence and subservience.

This was a game Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, only seemed too happy to play. His hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, however, would not.

With Medvedev installed as president, McFaul sought to empower Medvedev politically—in effect, to give him the “Yeltsin” treatment—in hopes that an empowered Medvedev might be able to muscle Putin out of the picture.

For any number of reasons (perhaps most important being Putin had no intention of allowing himself to be so squeezed, and Medvedev was never inclined to do any squeezing), the Russian “reset” failed. Putin was reelected as president in March 2012. McFaul’s gambit had failed, and from that moment forward, U.S.-Russian relations became a “zero sum game” for the U.S.—any Russian success was seen as a U.S. failure, and vice versa.

In 2014, after watching a duly elected, pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, removed from office by a popular uprising which, if not U.S. sponsored, was U.S. supported, Putin responded by annexing the Russian-majority Crimean peninsula and supporting pro-Russian secessionists in the breakaway Donbas region of Ukraine.

This action created a schism between Russia and the U.S. and Europe, resulting in the implementation of economic sanctions against Russia by both entities, and the emergence of a new Cold War-like relationship between Russia and NATO.

In 2015 Russia followed up its Ukraine action by dispatching its military into Syria where, at the invitation of the Syria government, it helped turn the tide on the battlefield in favor of Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, against an assortment of jihadist groups.

Overnight, the intelligence backwater that had been Russian/European affairs was suddenly thrust front and center on the world stage and, with it, into the heart of American politics. The McFaul school of Putin-phobia suddenly became dogma, and any academic who had published a book or article critical of the Russian president was elevated in status and stature, up to and including a seat at the table in the senior-most decision-making circles of the U.S. intelligence community.

The Russians were suddenly imbued with near super-human capability, up to and including the ability to steal an American presidential election.

After the failure of the Obama surge in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 of all U.S. combat troops, the mindset throughout the Central Command area of operations was “stability.” This was the command guidance and pity the intelligence analyst who tried to raise a red flag or inject a modicum of reality into the intelligence enterprise whose mission it was to sustain this sense of stability.

Indeed, when the Islamic State roared out of the western deserts of Iraq to establish itself in eastern Syria, dozens of CENTCOM intelligence analysts officially complained that their senior management was purposefully manipulating the analytical product produced by CENTCOM to paint a deliberately misleading “rosy” picture of truth on the ground out of fear of angering the Commanding General and his senior staff.

For anyone who has spent any time in the military, the importance of command guidance, whether written or verbal, when it comes to establishing both priorities and approach, cannot be overstated. In short, what the general wants, the general gets; woe be the junior officer or analyst who didn’t get the memo.

By 2016, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Nicholson, wanted to see Russians undermining U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan. The poisonous culture that existed inside CENTCOM’s intelligence enterprise was only too happy to comply.

The corruption of intelligence at “ground zero” ended up corrupting the entire U.S. intelligence community, especially when there was a systemic desire to transfer blame for the failure of U.S. policy in Afghanistan anywhere other than where it belonged—squarely on the shoulders of U.S. policy makers and the military that did their bidding.

And there was a beefed-up Russia/Eurasia intelligence apparatus looking for opportunities to foist blame on Russia. Blaming Russia for U.S. policy failure in Afghanistan became the law of the land.

The consequences of this political and cognitive bias is subtle, but apparent to those who know what to look for, and are willing to take the time to look.

Following the leak to The New York Times about the Russian “bounty” intelligence, members of Congress demanded answers about the White House’s claim that the information published by the Times (and mimicked by other mainstream media outlets) was “unverified.”

Rep. Jim Banks, who sits on the Armed Services Committee as one of eight Republican lawmakers briefed by the White House on the substance of the intelligence regarding the alleged Russian “bounties”, tweeted shortly after the meeting ended that, “Having served in Afghanistan during the time the alleged bounties were placed, no one is angrier about this than me.”

Bank’s biography notes that, “In 2014 and 2015, he took a leave of absence from the Indiana State Senate to deploy to Afghanistan during Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel.”

Banks’ timeline mirrors that offered by a former senior Taliban leader, Mullah Manan Niazi, who told U.S. reporters who interviewed him after the Russian “bounty” story broke that “the Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces—and on ISIS forces—in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present.”

Niazi: shady character (ToloNews/YouTube)

Niazi has emerged a key figure behind the crafting of the “bounty” narrative, and yet his voice is absent from The New York Times reporting, for good reason—Niazi is a shady character whose acknowledged ties to both the Afghan Intelligence Service (NDS) and the CIA undermine his credibility as a viable source of information.

Officials, speaking anonymously to the media, have stated that “the bounty hunting story was ‘well-known’ among the intelligence community in Afghanistan, including the CIA’s chief of station and other top officials there, like the military commandos hunting the Taliban. The information was distributed in intelligence reports and highlighted in some of them.”

If this is true, and some of this information found its way into the intelligence report referred to by Rep. Banks, then the U.S. intelligence community has been selling the notion of a Russian bounty on U.S. troops since at least 2015—coincidentally, the same time Russia started siding with the Taliban against IS-K.

Seen in this light, claims that Bolton briefed President Trump on the “bounty” story in March of 2019–nearly a full year before the PDB on it was delivered to the White House—don’t seem too far-fetched, except for one small detail: what was the basis of Bolton’s briefing? What intelligence product had been generated at that time which rose to a level sufficient enough to warrant being briefed to the president of the United States by his national security advisor?

The answer is, of cours–none. There was nothing; if there was, we would be reading about it with enough corroboration to warrant a White House denial. All we have is a story, a rumor, speculation, a “legend” promoted by CIA-funded Taliban turncoats that had seeped itself into the folklore of Afghanistan enough to be assimilated by other Afghans who, once detained and interrogated by the NDS and CIA, repeated the “legend” with sufficient ardor to be included, without question, in the intelligence collection report that actually did make into a PD–on Feb. 27, 2020.

There is another aspect of this narrative that fails completely, namely the basic comprehension of what exactly constitutes a “bounty.”

“Afghan officials said prizes of as much as $100,000 per killed soldier were offered for American and coalition targets,” the Times reported. And yet, when Rukmini Callimachi, a member of the reporting team breaking the story, appeared on MSNBC to elaborate further, she noted that “the funds were being sent from Russia regardless of whether the Taliban followed through with killing soldiers or not. There was no report back to the GRU about casualties. The money continued to flow.”

There is just one problem—that’s not how bounties work. Bounties are the quintessential quid pro quo arrangement—a reward for a service tendered. Do the job, collect the reward. Fail to deliver—there is no reward. The idea that the Russian GRU set up a cash pipeline to the Taliban that was not, in fact, contingent on the killing of U.S. and coalition troops, is the antithesis of a bounty system. It sounds more like financial aid, which it was—and is. Any assessment that lacked this observation is simply a product of bad intelligence.

The Timing

Whoever leaked the Russian “bounty” story to The New York Times knew that, over time, the basics of the story would not be able to stand up under close scrutiny—there were simply too many holes in the underlying logic, and once the totality of the intelligence leaked out (which, by Friday seemed to be the case), the White House would take control of the narrative.

The timing of the leak hints at its true objective. The main thrust of the story was that the president had been briefed on a threat to U.S. forces in the form of a Russian “bounty,” payable to the Taliban, and yet opted to do nothing. On its own, this story would eventually die out of its own volition.

On June 18, the U.S. fulfilled its obligation under the peace agreement to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 by July 2020. By June 26, the Trump administration was close to finalizing a decision to withdraw more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall, a move which would reduce the number of troops from 8,600 to 4,500 and thus pave the way for the complete withdrawal from U.S. forces from Afghanistan by mid-2021.

Both of these measures were unpopular with a military establishment that had been deluding itself for two decades that it could prevail in the Afghan conflict. Moreover, once the troop level had dropped to 4,500, there was no turning back—the total withdrawal of all forces was inevitable, because at that level the U.S. would be unable to defend itself, let alone conduct any sort of meaningful combat operations in support of the Afghan government.

It was at this time that the leaker chose to release his or her information to The New York Times, perfectly timed to create a political furor intended not only to embarrass the president, but more critically, to mobilize Congressional pushback against the Afghan withdrawal.

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee voted on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which required the Trump administration to issue several certifications before U.S. forces could be further reduced in Afghanistan, including an assessment of whether any “state actors have provided any incentives to the Taliban, their affiliates, or other foreign terrorist organizations for attacks against United States, coalition, or Afghan security forces or civilians in Afghanistan in the last two years, including the details of any attacks believed to have been connected with such incentives”—a direct reference to the Russian “bounty” leak.

The amendment passed 45-11.

This, more than anything else, seems to have been the objective of the leak. The irony of Congress passing legislation designed to prolong the American war in Afghanistan in the name of protecting American troops deployed to Afghanistan should be apparent to all.

The fact that it is not speaks volumes to just how far down the road of political insanity this country has travelled. On a weekend where America is collectively celebrating the birth of the nation, that celebration will be marred by the knowledge that elected representatives voted to sustain a war everyone knows has already been lost. That they did so on the backs of bad intelligence leaked for the purpose of triggering such a vote only makes matters worse.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.

July 6, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment