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First Senate bill of 2019 would give Israel billions of dollars, combat BDS, and rebut Trump’s Syria withdrawal

Marco Rubio’s career has been funded by pro-Israel billionaires such as Normal Braman, Paul Singer, Sheldon Adelson, and Larry Ellison. (Photo from Politico )
By Alison Weir | If Americans Knew | January 6, 2019

According to Marco Rubio, the first bill the 2019 U.S. Senate will take up is one that is focused on Israel. His twitter announcement shows a number of people suggesting that he should instead focus on getting the U.S. government running.

The four-part bill, designated S.1, is composed of measures on behalf of Israel that Congress tried and failed to pass in 2018. Some were pioneered by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The first component is the “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2019” – the 2018 text can be seen here. This would give Israel $33 billion over the next ten years in addition to the $5.5 billion enacted in last year’s defense spending bill. This is reportedly the largest military aid package in U.S. history. The bill was held up by Senator Rand Paul, who threatened a filibuster against it. Most Americans feel the U.S. already gives Israel too much money.

Unlike the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the Obama administration negotiated with Israel in 2016, this would make the $38 billion a floor rather than a ceiling and cements it into law (an MOU is non-binding). It also provides Israel additional perks, including calling for NASA to work with Israel’s space agency, despite Israel’s alleged acquisition of classified U.S. research.

Another component of the bill is the “Combatting BDS Act of 2019” (the text of the previous version is here). This allows state and local governments to prohibit contracting with any entity that participates in BDS, the boycott of Israel over Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Many groups and individuals oppose the bill on the ground that it violates freedom of speech. AIPAC is a strong supporter of such legislation.

A third component is “The United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act,” which would provide money to Jordan. Israel has long used U.S. aid packages to Mideast governments to enable Israel’s regional divide-and-conquer strategies.

Similarly, the fourth component is the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019” (2018 version here), which imposes sanctions on Syria. Roll Call reports that the bill “could serve as a rebuttal” to President Trump’s recent announcement that he was going to withdraw troops from Syria. NBC reports: “They can’t make Trump keep troops in Syria. They’ve asked for increased sanctions on Syria instead.”

Bill being fast-tracked

According to Roll Call, the composite bill, entitled “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019,” is being “expedited through a Senate procedure that allows for bypassing the committee process, and the new chairman of the committee of jurisdiction for most of the bills is on board with the approach.”

The chairman is Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. According to Open Secrets, one of Risch’s main sources of campaign donations is the pro-Israel lobby.

Image from video of Risch’s speech at AIPAC convention; view it here

It appears that none of the U.S. news reports on the legislation inform voters how much U.S. tax money the bill will give to Israel; many reports don’t even mention that aspect of the bill. This continues the media omission on this subject.


Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel.

January 6, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 9 Comments

Fun at the United Nations and in Congress: Israel Wins the Comedy Competition

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image Credit: GPO
By Philip Giraldi | American Herald Tribune | October 8, 2018

Most people are unaware of the fact that the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place in September, is actually a major audition opportunity for aspiring stand-up comedians. This year, American President Donald Trump was one of the pre-event favorites according to the Las Vegas betting line based on his hilarious tweets back in January explaining that he is “like, really smart,” before observing that he “would qualify as not smart, but genius…. and a very stable genius at that!”

To be sure, when he addressed the assembly on September 25th and rambled on about how “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” the audience was ready to share in the fun and laughed out loud at the absurdity of the notion. They were still giggling on the following day when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley quipped with a straight face that the audience was actually laughing with Trump out of respect for him and what he was saying.

Netnyahu Bomb a4fdb

Trump’s tour de force seemed unbeatable but the wily Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an ace up his sleeve. Bibi’s performance back in 2012 when he produced the by now infamous cartoon of an alleged Iranian nuclear bomb about to go off was still recalled by many in the audience as the ultimate stand-up joke U.N. style, a legendary performance. But the same creative thinking that produced the bomb with its lit fuse had come up with a different kind of delayed action joke that Bibi knew would confuse his audience before being revealed for what it was, trumping Trump’s attempt at humor, so to speak. Netanyahu produced a series of large photos taken near Tehran by Israeli intelligence showing a wall and a gate. He said it was an Iranian “secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and material for Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.”

Netanyahu Iran 31852

The audience gasped, clearly impressed by Bibi’s unexpected rollout of a hitherto unknown top secret installation, but the joke came the next day when it was revealed that the complex inside the wall actually contained a number of businesses, including a scrap metal dealership and a carpet cleaning service. Bibi likely reacted with his Gary Cooper grin, “Hey, the joke’s on you guys who are always whining about Israel’s nuclear stockpile.” A U.S. intelligence official was also apparently in on the jape, commenting a day later that “What Netanyahu said last night was slightly misleading. We knew about the facility in Tehran and it’s a place full of file cabinets and documents, not aluminum pipes or centrifuges.”

So it was a weekend of fun for the Israeli delegation, including convivial friendly banter with the representatives of all Israel’s four or five friends in the General Assembly, but you can only generate so much excitement when talking to a dry stick like Nikki Haley or the ambassador from Micronesia. Fortunately, good news had come through late in the week, concerning how seven more demonstrating Gazans had been shot dead by Israeli snipers, and there was also an exciting new development in that the Israeli navy had now gotten into the game, shooting Gazans demonstrating on the beaches along their own seafront since Israel regards anyone who seeks to access the water as being a terrorist, transgressing against Israel’s modern-day Mare Nostrum. Ninety-three more Palestinians were injured, 37 of whom were wounded by gunfire.

There was also a lot of funny stuff going on in Washington, perhaps driven by a desire to outdo the frolicking taking place at the U.N. building in New York City. Congressmen got together and said, “Hey, let’s see what we can give to Israel without anyone in the media coming out with so much as a peep.” One Congressman, possibly Chuck Schumer or Ben Cardin or even Lindsay Graham, must have come up with the idea for a new law that would compel the White House to give to Israel a minimum of $3.8 billion dollars a year for the next ten years no matter what Israel does or says. Shoot Arabs, kick them out of their homes, or just simply treat them like shit, it will all be the same to Uncle Sam. If they want to bomb Peoria, be my guest. Written into the bill is the provision that the president cannot in any way reduce or delay the payment going from the U.S. Treasury to the Israeli Central Bank.

And $3.8 billion is only a minimum. Section 103 of the House bill removes all limitations on how much money Israel gets. Under the new act, instead of $38 billion being the cap, as stipulated in the 2016 memorandum of understanding, it will be a minimum payment until 2028. Constant lobbying by Israel and its friends in the Congress will inevitably mean that the amount might double or triple during that time period. This is a huge gift to Netanyahu, who is undoubtedly laughing all the way to the bank, as the expression goes.

Section 106 of the bill is another freebee, increasing Israel’s access to a U.S. provided war-reserve stockpile that is maintained in Israel by completely removing the limits on how many weapons can be “transferred,” without any payment or charge. The existing limit of $200 million worth of arms per annum charged against the aid package has now been eliminated, allowing the Israelis to take whatever they want.

And there’s more. Section 108 of the Act permits Israel to export arms it receives from the United States, even though that violates U.S. law. And it will also be allowed to use the American aid to buy weapons from its own defense industries, eliminating any benefit for U.S. domestic arms manufacturers.

In short, the comedy routine by the U.S. Congress vis-à-vis Israel has consisted of rolling over and playing dead while handing over the reins of American foreign policy to a foreign power. Netanyahu has scored a hat trick, defying U.S. interests while increasing both aid and concessions. The House bill that spells it all out in detail will now go back for Senate approval, and then to Trump to be signed into law.

The only ones not laughing at the comedy routines both at the U.N. and in Washington are the American taxpayers and those of us who want U.S. foreign policy to respect American values and interests. And by the way, the House has named the bill after Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a well-known Israel firster whose groveling before Netanyahu and Jewish groups has been notable even by the low standards of the House of Representatives. The bill is now officially the “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.”

October 8, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Saudi Arabia teams up with Israel in anti-Qatar lobbying in the US Congress

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali – Journal of America – June 10, 2017

US proposed  legislation – Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2017 – threatening to sanction Qatar for its support of the so-called “Palestinian terror” was sponsored by 10 lawmakers who received more than $1m over the last 18 months from lobbyists and groups linked to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Al Jazeera reported Friday.

The HR 2712 bill was introduced to the US House of Representatives on May 25, but the text wasn’t available until Friday morning, hours after Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt put 59 people and 12 institutions linked to Qatar on a “terror list”, Al Jazeera said.

HR 2712’s sponsors received donations totaling $1,009,796 from pro-Israel individuals and groups for the 2016 election cycle alone, according data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy, and then compiled by Al Jazeera.

Sponsors of the bill are: Congressmen Brian Mast (FL-18), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (CA-39) and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (NY-16). The bill is co-sponsored by Congressmen Brad Sherman (CA-30), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Ted Poe (TX-2), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Ted Deutch (FL-22) and Thomas Suozzi (NY-3).

Al Jazeera reported that Royce received $242,143 from pro-Israel sources for the 2016 election cycle, $190,150 went to Engel. Mast, who volunteered with the Israeli military after he finished serving in the US Army, received $90,178.

“Following my service in the U.S. Army, I chose to volunteer alongside the Israeli Defense Forces because our countries share the common ideals of freedom, democracy and mutual respect for all people. Hamas preaches destruction to Israel and death to the values we hold dear in the United States. They have murdered more than 400 Israelis and at least 25 American citizens.” Rep. Mast was quoted as saying.

According to Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonprofit that aims to strengthen the voice of US citizens of Iranian descent, there are similarities between the US-allied Arab nations’ “terror list” and HR 2712 show[ing] growing cooperation between Gulf Arab states and Israel.

“The coordination between hawkish pro-Israel groups and UAE and Saudi Arabia has been going on for quite some time,” Parsi told Al Jazeera. What is new, he continued, is pro-Israel groups such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies “coming out with pro-Saudi [articles] and lobbying for them on Capitol Hill”.

Parsi was quoted as saying that the sponsors of the bill are traditional pro-Saudi lawmakers, however they are in the pro-Likud camp. Likud  is the party of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

President is required

The Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act requires the President to submit to Congress an annual report for the next three years identifying foreign persons, agencies or instrumentalities of a foreign state who knowingly and materially assist Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or an affiliate or successor of one of those organizations.

After identifying the organizations, the President must impose two or more sanctions, including denying

a) Export-Import guarantees,
b) defense support under the Arms Export Control Act,
c) export of munitions to any agreement to which a person identified is a part,
d) export of goods or technology controlled for national security reasons,
e) loans more than $10 million, or
f) seizure of property held within the United States.

The bill also requires the President to report to Congress on each government that provides support for acts of terrorism and provides material support to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any affiliate or successor organization, or the President determines to have engaged in a significant transaction to knowingly and materially provide support to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or any affiliate or successor organization.

After identifying the governments, the President must suspend U.S. assistance to that government for one year, instruct the executive directors of each international finance institution to vote against any loan or technical assistance to that government and prohibit any munitions export to that government for one year.

Additionally, the President must prohibit that government’s transactions in foreign exchanges that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and prevent that government’s transfers of credits or payments between financial institutions subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Important Sections of the HR 2712 Bill

Section 2: Findings and Statement of Policy

Subsections (a)(3) and (4) state that “Hamas has received significant financial and military support” from Qatar and that the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence confirmed that “Qatar, a longtime US ally has for many years openly financed Hamas.” The bill also finds that Qatar hosts a number of high-ranking Hamas officials, including Khaled Mashal.

Subsections (a)(5) through (7) outline Iran’s material and financial support and subsections (8) through (10) detail Iranian support to the PIJ.

Section 3: Imposition of Sanctions with Respect to Foreign Persons and Agencies and Instrumentalities of Foreign States Supporting Hamas, the PIJ, or Any Affiliate or Successor Group

No later than 120 days after H.R. 2712 is enacted—then once a year for no more than three years—the president must report to Congress the foreign persons, agencies, and instrumentalities of foreign states that provide support to the aforementioned groups. Two exceptions are reserved for the president, however. If the president notifies Congress 15 days prior to completing a “significant transaction” with a foreign entity or agency that is in the “national interest” of the United States, the foreign entity or agency may be exempt from sanctions. The other exception is reserved for the president to issue waivers that would exempt a foreign entity or agency from sanctions for 120 days, as long as Congress is notified seven days prior.

Set forth in this bill are sanctions on the following:

  • Banking and financing (e.g., extensions of credit, guarantees, insurance, etc.)
  • Defense-related sales (including munitions, defense services, and construction services)
  • Goods and technologies regulated through the Export Administration or included in the US Munitions List
  • Medical, agricultural, and humanitarian goods and services are not included among sanctioned items.

Section 4: Imposition of Sanctions with Respect to Foreign Governments That Provide Material Support to Hamas, the PIJ, or Any Affiliate or Successor Thereof

Much like Section 3, Section 4 sets a 120-day deadline after enactment for the president to report to Congress any governments the Secretary of State has determined “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This report must be resubmitted, with relevant information, every 180 days.

The sanctions set forth in this section include the prohibition or suspension of the following for one year:

  • US aid to the foreign government
  • Extension of loans and financial or technical services
  • Export of items on the US Munitions List or Commerce Control List
  • Transactions in foreign exchanges in which the United States has jurisdiction
  • Transfers of credit or payments between one or more financial institutions subject to US jurisdiction
  • Should the president determine it is in US security interests and notify Congress seven days in advance, he can waive any foreign government sanctions for 180 days.

Section 5: Report on Activities of Foreign Countries to Disrupt Global Fundraising, Financing, and Money Laundering Activities of Hamas, the PIJ, or Any Successor or Affiliate Thereof

This bill outlines a reporting requirement for the president, no later than 180 days after the bill’s enactment. The president must report a list of foreign countries providing support for the aforementioned organizations and further assessments including:

  • Steps the foreign government is taking to freeze assets of these groups
  • Any reasons the government is not taking adequate steps to freeze assets
  • Measures taken by the United States to freeze assets
  • List of countries where the aforementioned groups fundraise and steps those countries are taking to disrupt the fundraising efforts
  • List of countries from which the groups receive surveillance equipment and what measures are being taken to disrupt the acquisition.

To borrow from Marcus Montgomery, an Analyst at the Washington DC-based Arab Center, the language of HR 2712 is interesting since it introduces sanctions for actions likely already covered under existing legislation. Hamas and the PIJ are both designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) by the State and Treasury Departments, respectively. With that in mind, it is already illegal for US entities or institutions to support such groups. Thus, the sanctions proposed in this bill that pertain to US jurisdiction are redundant.

Formally targeting Iran is redundant as well because Tehran has been declared a state sponsor of terror by the State Department and prohibitions against exports of arms, financial and technical services, and US aid to Iran are already in place.

For Marcus Montgomery, Qatar would be the truly new target under this legislation, but as an ally with which the United States has economic and military ties, it is tough to see many in the Senate agreeing to label Qatar a de facto state sponsor of terror.

Erdogan vows to stand by ‘Qatari brothers’

Interestingly, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan Friday called for full removal of a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar after approving the deployment of Turkish troops there, saying Riyadh needed to put brotherhood ahead of animosity.

Erdogan said isolating Qatar would not resolve any regional problems and vowed to do everything in his power to help end the regional crisis. “We will not abandon our Qatari brothers,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party at a fast-breaking meal on Friday in Istanbul during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“I also have a special request from the Saudi administration. You are the largest and most powerful state in the Gulf. We call you the Custodian of the Holy Places. You especially should work for brotherhood, not animosity. You have to work for bringing brothers together. This is what we expect from Saudi, the Custodian of the Holy Mosques,” Erdogan was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying.

“I say it should be lifted completely,” Erdogan said of the embargo.

Turkey, which has maintained good relations with Qatar, as well as several of its Gulf Arab neighbors, offered food and water supplies to stave off possible shortages. “There are those who are uncomfortable with us standing by our Qatari brothers, providing them with food. I’m sorry, we will continue to give Qatar every kind of support,” Erdogan said, adding that he had never witnessed Doha supporting “terrorism”.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s parliament ratified two deals on deploying troops to Qatar and training the Gulf nation’s security forces. The deal to send Turkish soldiers in Qatar, aimed at improving the country’s army and boosting military cooperation, was signed in April 2016 in Doha.

After an initial deployment of Turkish soldiers at a base in Doha, Turkish fighter jets and ships will also be sent, the mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper said on its website on Friday.

“The number of Turkish warplanes and Turkish warships going to the base will become clear after the preparation of a report based on an initial assessment at the base,” Hurriyet said.

A Turkish delegation will go to Qatar in the coming days to assess the situation at the base, where about 90 Turkish soldiers are currently based, Hurriyet said adding: there were plans send some 200 to 250 soldiers within two months in the initial stage.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.

June 12, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

U.S. Senate Committee Approves Sanctions, Venezuela to Appeal to United Nations

By Z.C. Dutka | Venezuelanalysis | May 20th 2014

Earlier this afternoon in Washington, the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate approved 13 to 2 the “Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act.” The bill includes sanctions on key individuals of the Venezuelan government and at least $15 million to “defend human rights… and strengthen the rule of law.”

The Menendez Bill

Committee chair, Democrat Robert Menendez, who played a lead role in the writing of the proposed legislation, plans to present the bill before the whole Senate within the coming weeks.

The legal measures proposed are in regards to recent anti-government protests that have reached levels of extreme violence in certain Venezuelan cities, resulting in 42 dead, 800 injured, and millions of dollars of public property damaged, including the burning of multiple universities.

Menendez said the US can’t “play the role of bystander” while Venezuelan president is going to “dangerous extremes to silence political dissent.”

“The U.S. should always be on the side of human rights around the world,” said another lead supporter, Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio.

Rubio has prepared list of Venezuelan military and government officials who would be targeted for sanctions if the bill were to pass. Among those listed are attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz and the head of operations for the National Guard, Manuel Quevedo.

Earlier this month another piece of similar legislation, the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, promoted by Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, passed the corresponding foreign committee of the U.S. Congress. It has yet to be addressed by Congress as a whole.

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has attended the senate hearings and expressed concern on behalf of the White House.

“This is not a U.S.-Venezuela issue,” she said. “We have strongly resisted attempts to be used as a distraction from Venezuela’s real problems.”

She has displayed equal unease that the bill might distract from the important dialogue that is taking place between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

Appeal to the UN

Even before the bill passed today’s Senate committee, Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua expressed outrage at what he considers repeated US “interference” in Venezuelan affairs.

On Thursday Jaua announced his plan to present a formal claim to the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

“We’ve had enough of the United States assuming a role that belongs to multilateral bodies, Jaua said Thursday. “We must remember that as a free and independent nation we do not recognize the United States parliament… as a legislative [force] over Venezuela. There are basic principles of the United Nations Charter that must be respected.”

The minister has called a meeting with the UNASUR, to be held next week in Ecuador. He plans to bring with him a “dossier of all the declarations of interference posed by representatives of the United States, starting with president Obama, Secretary [of State John] Kerry, and others…”

May 21, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Bill Proposing Sanctions on Venezuela Passes House Foreign Affairs Committee

By Z.C. Dutka | Venezuelanalysis | May 9, 2014

Santa Elena de Uairen – A Human Rights bill proposed by Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which includes sanctions on the Venezuelan government, cleared its first legislative hurdle this morning after passing the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Individual Sanctions



The bill, known as the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, will sanction individuals responsible for “serious human rights abuses” against those participating in the anti-government protests that have received widespread media attention since February. It also includes those individuals who have supported those acts, whether financially or otherwise, and those officials who called for the arrest of those “legitimately exercising their freedom of expression and assembly.”

The most recent draft presented to the Committee listed asset blocking and inadmissibility to the US as types of individual sanctions. It also included the possibility of a presidential waiver of the application of sanctions, if the U.S. president should consider national security interests call for it, or conditions in Venezuela have improved.

Democracy Promotion



Section 7 of the bill outlines a “Comprehensive Strategy to Promote Internet Freedom and Access to Information,” including the expansion of activities to “train HR, civil society, and democracy activists” and the expansion of proxy servers for said activists, as well as access to “uncensored news sources.”

Section 8 asks that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, submit a “comprehensive strategy outlining how the US is supporting the citizens of Venezuela” in seeking basic civil liberties, development of an independent civil society, and free and transparent elections.

Section 9 offers refugee status or political asylum in the US to Venezuelan political dissidents if requested, and a direct effort on behalf of the US state department to identify cases of “prisoners of conscience and HR abuses in Venezuela.”

The bill ends with Section 10, the Authorization of Appropriations for Assistance to Support Civil Society in Venezuela, which pledges a minimum of $5 million through USAID, and finally, a Sunset Clause of two years after the date of enactment of the legislation.

Response



Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has accused possible sanctions of being “encouragement to extremist groups,” those protestors who he believes have sparked violence in their widespread call for regime change. 

Members of the Venezuelan opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), have also expressed their misgivings at the prospect of sanctions.

This morning Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, heard testimonies from Venezuelan opposition representatives regarding the alleged use of extreme force on behalf of Venezuelan security forces. She admitted to hearing a “diversity of opinions,” from “different oppositional factions” but that the majority asked that the U.S. not impose sanctions “yet.”

“They have asked us not to introduce sanctions at this time,” Jacobson said.

A caravan of Venezuelans, residents of South Florida, traveled to Washington D.C. yesterday to show support for the bill.

Only two committee representatives, Gregory Meeks and Karen Bass, voted against the bill this morning. In recent weeks, many Latin American leaders have expressed their distaste for the possibility of US interference in Venezuela.

Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica said, “When the entire world asks the U.S. to shelve its economic blockade policy against Cuba, voices emerge from within that government threatening sanctions against Venezuela. Are the lessons of history never learned? (…) the first thing that Venezuela and all of Latin America need is to be respected.”

Many sources believe the bill will reach the House floor the week of May 12th, and will likely be approved with little resistance. A number of organizations, including the Alliance for Global Justice, have organized petitions in attempts to prevent this from taking place.

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuadorian Fugitives Gave Large Sums of Money to US Politicians

Prensa Latina | March 13, 2014

Washington – Ecuadorian bankers Roberto and William Isaias, current fugitives, donated large sums of money to campaigns of U.S. politicians, the press revealed today.

Reports underline that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating cases that involve Congressional Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, among other politicians.

New York’s NBC network says the FBI suspects that Menendez, through phone calls and recommendation letters to the Department of State and other bodies, helped the Ecuadorian brothers establish themselves in the U.S. in exchange for donations to his reelection campaign.

Journalist and blogger Alberto Padilla claims he can confirm that, since they arrived to live in Miami, the Isaias have financed an active lobbying campaign against the Rafael Correa administration in Ecuador and have also aided senators, in exchange for being allowed to remain in the United States.

The Isaias were sentenced in absentia to eight years of imprisonment on April 11, 2012 by the National Court of Justice after a judicial process that lasted 13 years and in which 54 judges participated.

In the Ros-Lehtinen case, the Daily Beast website assured that she recently received money from the former bankers in exchange for help.

The Isaias had donated at least $23,700 USD to Ros-Lehtinen during the 2010, 2012 and 2014 electoral cycles, according to federal contribution campaign registers.

The Isaias also contributed to the campaign funds of Florida’s Senator Bill Nelson, and Congresswoman and also President of the National Democrat Committee Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Representative Joe Garcia.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Corruption | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Administration Considering Targeted Sanctions against Members of Venezuelan Government

By Jake Johnston | CEPR Americas Blog | March 4, 2014

Members of Congress and the Obama administration have consistently placed the blame for the violence stemming from protests on the Venezuelan government, while overlooking or ignoring violent incidents by opposition protesters, including the decapitation of motorcycle riders, the burning of government buildings and metro stations, attacks against state media companies, and the killing of individuals seeking to dismantle barricades, including a National Guard officer. Officials have referred instead to “systematic” human rights abuses and government repression, without citing evidence.

Based on these assertions, momentum is building to implement sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the press on Monday that, “There should be sanctions on individuals. … The administration is looking at those.” Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, cited a “high-level” State Department official that she had recently spoken to.

That the administration is considering sanctions comes on the heels of demands from members of congress that the Obama administration go further in its application of pressure on the Venezuelan government. After introducing legislation “supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democracy,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated that:

“But this resolution can only be the first step to hold Maduro and his fellow regime thugs accountable for their violent response and their abuses of the Venezuelan people’s liberties and human rights. I have already begun circulating a letter amongst my colleagues in the House, addressed to President Obama, asking him to take immediate actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are responsible for violations of their people’s human rights. We are calling for the President to enact immediate sanctions against these officials, under authorities granted to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), including denying them visas to enter the United States, blocking their property and freezing their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibiting them from making any financial transactions in the U.S.”

Ros-Lehtinen also plans to introduce a bill that would require the administration to take these steps. The moves from the House of Representatives have been echoed in the Senate, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced a resolution calling for sanctions. Menendez stated:

“Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government. We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past.”

Marco Rubio even made the case for sanctions on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” telling host David Gregory that, “I would like to see specific U.S. sanctions against individuals in the Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions.” Florida Governor Rick Scott has also called for sanctions. Although neither the House nor the Senate have passed these resolutions calling for sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last week that, “with respect to Venezuela, Congress has urged sanctions.”

The call for sanctions has also been trumpeted by the press, with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer saying that if Venezuela does not respond to “international diplomatic pressures,” then the Congress “should revoke the U.S. visas of Venezuelan government and military leaders.” Further, Otto Reich, the former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time of the U.S.-backed coup of 2002, wrote an opinion piece for the National Review titled “It’s Time for Sanctions in Venezuela.”

None of the members of congress nor any of the resolutions mention the fact that of the 18 tragic deaths in Venezuela since the protests began, many were not protestors, but individuals removing barricades and motorcyclists killed by wires strung across streets, or by crashing into barricades. In one case, a member of the Venezuelan National Guard was shot and killed. The Senate resolution makes no call for both sides to refrain from violence nor does it condemn the violent actions of some from the protest movement, however it does deplore “the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela and the inexcusable use of violence…to intimidate the country’s political opposition.”

While, undoubtedly, excessive force has been used by members of the Venezuelan security forces, over 10 individuals have been arrested for these actions and further investigations are under way. According to the Attorney General (AG) of Venezuela, there are currently 27 investigations into violations of human rights. The AG, Luisa Ortega Diaz, stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” Far from censoring information or trying to hide the extent of the arrests or of those killed in the last few weeks, Diaz has provided regular updates to the press and has kept the public informed about the status of investigations.

March 5, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran

Chavez-Iran-Venezuela-Ahmadinejad

By Jim Lobe | LobeLog | July 18, 2013

Last Thursday, the highly respected, non-profit investigative news agency ProPublica featured a 2,400-word article, “The Terror Threat and Iran’s Inroads in Latin America”, by its award-winning senior reporter, Sebastian Rotella, who has long specialized in terrorism and national-security coverage. In support of its main thesis that Iran appears to be expanding its alleged criminal and terrorist infrastructure in Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. governments throughout the region,” Rotella quotes the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Lt. Gen. James Clapper (ret.), as telling a Senate hearing last year that Iran’s alliances with Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. government” could pose

…an immediate threat by giving Iran – directly through the IRGC, the Quds Force [an external unit of the IRGC] or its proxies like Hezbollah – a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies.

Now, there is a serious problem with that quotation: Clapper never said any such thing. Indeed, the exact words attributed to the DNI were first spoken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing entitled “Ahmadinejad’s Tour of Tyrants and Iran’s Agenda in the Western Hemisphere” (page 2) by none other than the Committee’s then-chair, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose hostility toward Iran is exceeded only by her views on Cuba and Venezuela.* It is, after all, one thing to have the head of the U.S. intelligence community tell Congress that the threat of an attack against the United States from various “platforms” in Latin America is “immediate.” It’s quite another for a far-right Cuban-American congresswomen from Miami to offer that assessment, particularly given her past record of championing Luis Posada Carriles and the late Orlando Bosch, both of whom, according to declassified CIA and FBI documents, were almost certainly involved in the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner, among other terrorist acts.

I personally have no doubt that the misattribution was unintentional and merely the product of sloppiness or negligence. But negligence matters, particularly when it is committed in pursuit of a thesis that Rotella has long propagated (more on that in upcoming posts) and that comes amid an ongoing and well-orchestrated campaign against Iran that could eventually result in war, as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reminded us yet again Sunday. Of course, such a glaring mistake also detracts from the credibility of the rest of the article, much of which is based on anonymous sources whose own credibility is very difficult to assess.

The Iranian threat and anonymous sourcing

Most of the article concerns a hearing with the rather suggestive title, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere”, which was held July 9 by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency of the Republican-led House Homeland Security Committee with the apparent purpose of rebutting a still-classified State Department report, which included a two-page unclassified appendix concluding that Iran’s influence in the region is actually on the wane. In addition to reporting on the hearing, however, Rotella provides some original reporting of his own in the lede paragraphs, setting an appropriately dark and menacing tone for the rest of his story:

Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited his ally President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, where the firebrand leaders unleashed defiant rhetoric at the United States.

There was a quieter aspect to Ahmadinejad’s visit in January 2012, according to Western intelligence officials. A senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) traveled secretly with the presidential delegation and met with Venezuelan military and security chiefs. His mission: to set up a joint intelligence program between Iranian and Venezuelan spy agencies, according to the Western officials.

At the secret meeting, Venezuelan spymasters agreed to provide systematic help to Iran with intelligence infrastructure such as arms, identification documents, bank accounts and pipelines for moving operatives and equipment between Iran and Latin America, according to Western intelligence officials. Although suffering from cancer, Chavez took interest in the secret talks as part of his energetic embrace of Iran, an intelligence official told ProPublica.

The senior IRGC officer’s meeting in Caracas has not been previously reported.

The aim is to enable the IRGC to be able to distance itself from the criminal activities it is conducting in the region, removing the Iranian fingerprint,” said the intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “Since Chavez’s early days in power, Iran and Venezuela have grown consistently closer, with Venezuela serving as a gateway to South America for the Iranians.”

The bold face, added for emphasis, is designed to illustrate Rotella’s heavy reliance on anonymous “intelligence officials”, none of whose nationalities are specified. In the context of an investigative report, that failure begs a series of questions that bear on the credibility of the account.

For example, does he include Israelis in his definition of “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials?” After all, it would be one thing to cite a Swedish intelligence official who may tend to be somewhat more objective in describing Iranian-Venezuelan intelligence cooperation; it’s quite another to quote an Israeli “official” responsible to a government that has been aggressively promoting a policy of confrontation with Iran for many years now. And if his sources agreed to talk to Rotella only on the condition of being identified as “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials”, why did they do so? (Indeed, the only identified “Western intelligence official” quoted — or misquoted — by Rotella in the entire article is Clapper.) Identifying at least the nationality of the officials with whom Rotella spoke with would help readers assess their credibility, but he offers no help in that regard.

Moreover, given the details about the meeting provided by Rotella’s sources, why was the senior IRGC officer who set up the purported joint intelligence program with the Venezuelans not named? That omission sticks out like a sore thumb.

But the problems in Rotella’s article go beyond the misattribution of the Ros-Lehtinen quote or his heavy reliance on anonymous sources. Indeed, it took all of about 30 minutes of Googling (most of which was devoted to tracking down the alleged Clapper quote) to discover that the story also includes distortions of the record in relevant criminal proceedings and a major error of fact in reporting the testimony of at least one of the hearing’s four witnesses — all of whom, incidentally, share well-established records of hostility toward Iran.

But before going into the results of my Google foray, let’s hear what a former top U.S. intelligence analyst had to say about Rotella’s article. I asked Paul Pillar, a 28-year CIA veteran who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 (which means he was in charge of the analysis of those regions for the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies), if he could read it. This was his emailed reply:

The article certainly seems to be an effort to go out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities in the hemisphere, by dumping together material that is either old news or not really nefarious, and stringing it together with innuendo. Almost all of the specifics that get into anything like possible terrorist activities are old.  The Iranian efforts to make diplomatic friends in Latin America by cozying up with the regimes in Venezuela and elsewhere that have an anti-U.S. streak is all well known, but none of that adds up to an increase in clandestine networks or a terrorist threat.  The closest the article gets in that regard is with very vague references to Venezuela being used by “suspected Middle Eastern operatives” and the like, which of course demonstrates nothing as far as Iran specifically is concerned.  Sourcing to an unnamed “intelligence officer” is pretty meaningless.

As we will try to show in subsequent posts by Marsha Cohen and Gareth Porter (who both contributed substantially to this post), Pillar’s assessment could apply to a number of Rotella’s articles, especially about the Middle East and alleged Iranian or Hezbollah terrorism, going back to his years at the Los Angeles Times. What virtually all of them have in common is the heavy reliance on anonymous intelligence sources; a mixture of limited original reporting combined with lots of recycled news; a proclivity for citing highly ideological, often staunchly hawkish neoconservative “experts” on Middle East issues from such think tanks as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) without identifying them as such; a surprising deference (considering his status as an investigative reporter) toward “official” accounts or reports by friendly security agencies, some of which work very closely with their Israeli counterparts (see, for example, this 2009 story about an alleged plot against the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan about which Gareth plans to write a post); and a general failure to offer critical analysis or alternative explanations about specific terrorist incidents or groups that are often readily available from academic or other more independent and disinterested regional or local specialists.

Iran in Latin America

In the meantime, it’s also important to set the context for Rotella’s latest article. It came amid an intense campaign over the past couple of years by Iran hawks, including individuals from the various neoconservative think tanks cited above, to highlight the purported terrorist threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah from their Latin American “platforms,” as Ros-Lehtinen put it. Those efforts culminated in legislation, the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” approved overwhelmingly by Congress last December. Among other provisions, it required the State Department to report to Congress on Iran’s “growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere,” along with a strategy for neutralizing it, within six months. That report, only a two-page annex of which was publicly released, was submitted at the end of last month.

To the disappointment of the bill’s chief sponsors, notably the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Jeff Duncan, the report concluded that, despite an increase in Tehran’s “outreach to the region working to strengthen its political, economic, cultural and military ties, … Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” And while the rest of the report remains classified, its contents reportedly were consistent with those of the State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism, also released last month, which found no evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah terrorist plotting or operations in the Americas, in contrast to what it described as a sharp increase of such activity in Europe, the Middle East and Asia during the past year.

Duncan, who, incidentally, spoke on a panel on Evangelical Christian support for Israel at AIPAC’s annual conference last year, and who in 2011 became the only member of Congress given a 100-percent rating on the Heritage Action for America legislative scorecard, expressed outrage at these conclusions, accusing the State Department of failing to “consider all the facts.” In particular, he charged that the State Department had not taken into account new evidence “documenting Iran’s [ongoing] terrorism activities and operations in the Western Hemisphere” compiled by an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, in a 502-page report released (perhaps not entirely coincidentally) just one month before the State Department was due to submit its study.

The Nisman Report and the AMIA bombing

In 2006, Nisman, the chief prosecutor in the case of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building, released an even longer controversial report on that case in which he concluded that the bombing had been ordered by Iran’s top leadership and carried out by Hezbollah operatives under the direction of Iran’s cultural attaché at its Argentine embassy, Mohsen Rabbani. (Gareth wrote his own critique of the 2006 report for the The Nation in 2008, joining many Argentine journalists and researchers in questioning Nisman’s theory of the case. Last week he published a related story for IPS that noted the diminished credibility of Nisman’s primary source, a former Iranian intelligence operative named Abdolghassem Mesbahi. He plans a new series on the subject to begin later this month.) The State Department report, Duncan said at the hearing, “directly contradicts the findings from Mr. Nisman’s three-year investigation, which showed clear infiltration of the Iranian regime within countries in Latin America using embassies, mosques, and cultural centers.”

Indeed, according to Nisman’s new report, Iran, through Rabbani and other operatives, has established “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” throughout Latin America, including in Guyana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Uruguay and, most especially in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, a region about which Rotella wrote rather darkly when he was Buenos Aires bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in the late 1990’s. (In fact, a 15-year-old article on the TBA as a “Jungle Hub for World’s Outlaws” and a refuge for terrorists was cited by WINEP’s Matthew Levitt in written testimony submitted at last week’s hearing. Long one of Rotella’s favorite sources, Levitt, the subject of a rather devastating — albeit pay-walled — profile by Ken Silverstein in Harper’s Magazine last year, has been a major figure in the U.S.- and Israeli-led campaign to persuade the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, a campaign that has been boosted by Rotella’s work, as reflected in this article published by ProPublica last April. The symbiotic relationship between the two men may be the subject of a subsequent LobeLog post.)

Nisman, whose new report has been promoted heavily by neoconservative media and institutions over the past six weeks (see, for example, here, here, here, and here), had been invited by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, to testify at last week’s hearing. But, as noted by Rotella in the article, “his government abruptly barred him from traveling to Washington”, a development which, according to McCaul, constituted a “slap in the face of this committee and the U.S. Congress” and was an indication that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had no intention to “pursue justice and truth on Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing.”

(In his message to me, Pillar noted that there were other good reasons why Kirchner would not want to see Nisman “being used as a prop in Duncan’s hearing …[given] other equities …regarding relations with Washington,” including the ongoing lawsuit against Argentina by a group of hedge funds — led by Paul Singer, a billionaire and major funder of hard-line pro-Israel organizations — that have sponsored full-page ads in the Washington Post and other publications highlighting, among other things, Argentina’s allegedly cozy relationship with Iran.)

In his article, Rotella, who appears to have accepted without question the conclusions of Nisman’s 2006 report on the AMIA bombing, also offers an uncritical account of the prosecutor’s latest report, quoting affirmations by Duncan, McCaul, as well as the four witnesses who testified at the hearing, that the report’s main contentions were true — Iran and Hezbollah are indeed building up their terrorist infrastructure in the region. “The attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990s revealed the existence of Iranian operational networks in the Americas,” Rotella’s writes. “The Argentine investigation connected the plots to hubs of criminal activity and Hezbollah operational and financing cells in lawless zones, such as the triple border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and the border between Colombia and Venezuela.”

The Nisman Report and the JFK Bomb Plot

After noting U.S. Treasury designations in 2008 of two Venezuelans as terrorists “for allegedly raising funds for Hezbollah, discussing terrorist operations with Hezbollah operatives, and aiding travel of militants from Venezuela to training sessions in Iran”, Rotella provides the purported Clapper quote about Venezuela and its allies offering “a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies”, suggesting (falsely) that the DNI himself endorsed Nisman’s view that Iran was behind a plot to attack JFK airport six years ago:

The aborted 2007 plot to attack JFK (airport) was an attempt to use that platform, according to the Argentine special prosecutor. A Guyanese-American Muslim who had once worked as a cargo handler conceived an idea to blow up jet fuel tanks at the airport. He formed a homegrown cell that first sought aid from al Qaida, then coalesced around Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese politician and Shiite Muslim leader.

The trial in New York federal court revealed that Kadir was a longtime intelligence operative for Iran, reporting to the Iranian ambassador in Caracas and communicating also with Rabbani, the accused AMIA plotter.

‘Kadir agreed to participate in the conspiracy, committing himself to reach out to his contacts in Venezuela and the Islamic Republic of Iran,’ Nisman’s report says. ‘The entry of Kadir into the conspiracy brought the involvement and the support of the intelligence station established in Guyana by the Islamic regime.’

Police arrested Kadir as he prepared to fly to Iran to discuss the New York plot with Iranian officials. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But this account of the case is tendentious, to say the least, and here I am relying on Gareth’s research into the case which he covered in an IPS story last week. While Rotella claimed that the would-be terrorist “cell” had “coalesced around” Kadir, the original criminal complaint that was submitted to the U.S. district court in New York on which the arrests of the four men accused in the plot were based makes clear that Kadir was a secondary participant at the time the arrest was made. In addition, the complaint made no mention of any ties between Kadir and Iran.

Moreover, Rotella’s assertion that the trial revealed Kadir to have been “longtime intelligence operative for Iran” is unfounded, apparently based on nothing more than a set of personal letters Kadir had sent by ordinary mail to Rabbani and the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela and the fact that some contact information for Rabbani was found in Kadir’s address book.

But Kadir’s letters to Rabbani were clearly not the work of an Iranian intelligence operative. They consisted of publicly available information about the political, social and economic situation in Guyana, where Kadir was a member of parliament. Indeed, the fact that they were sent by regular mail — and the lack of any known replies by the addressees — suggests that Kadir’s relationship to Iranian intelligence was even more distant and less interactive than that of George Zimmerman’s to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in Florida.

During the subsequent trial in 2010, the prosecution tried to play up the letters and even asked Kadir if he was a spy for Iran, which he denied strongly. No other evidence implicating Iran in the plot was introduced. Even the U.S. Attorney’s press release issued after Kadir’s sentencing (and discoverable within milliseconds on Google) offers no indication that Iran had any knowledge of the plot at the time of his arrest. Finally, if indeed the U.S. government had acquired any evidence that Rabbani or any other Iranian official had a role in the plot, as asserted by Nisman, it seems reasonable to ask why he wasn’t indicted along with Kadir and the three others? Yet, in spite of all these factors, Rotella appears to accept Nisman’s argument that the Iranian government had a role in the case and that Kadir was its “long-time intelligence operative” presumably in charge of its “intelligence station” in Guyana.

Rotella next cites the purported testimony (of unknown origin) of Fernando Tabares, the former director of Colombia’s intelligence agency who

…described a mission by an Iranian operative to Colombia via Venezuela in 2008 or 2009. Working with Iranian officials based at the embassy in Bogota, the operative, according to Nisman’s report, ‘was looking at targets in order to carry out possible attacks here in Colombia,’ Tabares testified.

Apart from the vagueness of this account about the unidentified Iranian operative and his mission — as well as the absence of any corroborating evidence — Rotella omitted the easily discoverable fact (via Google) that Tabares himself was sentenced in 2010 to eight years in prison for abuse of trust and illegal wire-tapping, a detail that may reflect on the former intelligence chief’s credibility.

Iranian migrants (refugees?) to Canada

A couple of paragraphs later, Rotella cites the testimony of Joseph Humire, “a security expert” and one of the four witnesses who testified at last week’s hearing. According to Rotella, Humire, executive director at the Center for a Secure Free Society

…cited a report last year in which the Canadian Border Services Agency described Iran as the top source of illegal migrants to Canada, most of them coming through Latin America. Between 2009 and 2011, the majority of those Iranian migrants passed through Caracas, where airport and airline personnel were implicated in providing them with fraudulent documents, according to the Canadian border agency.

But Rotella misreports Humire’s testimony. Humire did not say that Iran was the top source of illegal migrants to Canada; he said Iran was the top source country of improperly documented migrants who make refugee claims in Canada — a not insignificant difference, particularly because the number of Iranian asylum-seekers who come to Canada each year averages only about 300, according to the CSBA report, which noted that 86% won their asylum claims. In addition, the report, a heavily redacted copy of which was graciously provided to me by Humire, indicates that, between 2009 and 2012, more of these migrants flew into Canada from Mexico City and London than from Caracas.

Moreover, the picture painted by the redacted CSBA report is considerably less frightening than that offered by either Rotella or, for that matter, Humire’s testimony.

Many of these migrants use “facilitators” to enter Canada, according to the report. “…Information provided by the migrants on their smugglers suggest possible links to organized criminal elements both within and outside of Canada…Many people seeking refuge in Canada use fake documents and rely on middlemen to help them flee persecution in their homelands.

“While Iranian irregular migrants mainly enter Canada to make refugee claims, it is possible that certain individuals may enter with more sinister motives”, the report cautioned, observing that 19 Iranian immigrants had been denied entry on security grounds since 2008.

So, instead of the flood of Iranian operatives pouring into Canada as suggested by Rotella, what we are talking about is a relatively small number of Iranians who are seeking asylum from a repressive regime. And, like hundreds of thousands of other refugees around the world, they rely on traffickers who provide them with forged or otherwise questionable documents. A few of these may be entering Canada for “more sinister motives”, but Rotella offers no concrete evidence that they have done so.

Yet Rotella follows his brief — if fundamentally flawed — summary of Humire’s remarks about Iranian asylum-seekers in Canada with his own riff, going “out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities,” as Pillar notes, and returning once again to those anonymous “security officials” as his sources.

Humire’s allegations are consistent with interviews in recent years in which U.S., Latin America and Israeli security officials have told ProPublica about suspected Middle Eastern operatives and Latin American drug lords obtaining Venezuelan documents through corruption or ideological complicity.

“There seems to be an effort by the Venezuelan government to make sure that Iranians have a full set of credentials,” a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Last year’s secret talks between Iranian and Venezuelan spies intensified such cooperation, according to Western intelligence officials who described the meetings to ProPublica. The senior Iranian officer who traveled with the presidential entourage asked Venezuelan counterparts to ensure access to key officials in the airport police, customs and other agencies and “permits for transferring cargo through airports and swiftly arranging various bureaucratic matters,” the intelligence official said.

Venezuelan leaders have denied that their alliance with Iran has hostile intent. They have rejected concerns about flights that operated for years between Caracas and Tehran. The State Department and other U.S. agencies criticized Venezuela for failing to make public passenger and cargo manifests and other information about secretive flights to Iran, raising the fear of a pipeline for clandestine movement of people and goods.

The flights have been discontinued, U.S. officials say.

ProPublica’s high standards

I personally believe that ProPublica, since it launched its operations in 2008, has performed an invaluable public service in providing high-quality investigative journalism at a time when the genre risked (and still risks) becoming virtually extinct. As a result, readers of the agency have come to expect its articles not only to compile existing information that is already publicly available in ways that connect the dots, but also provide significant, previously unpublished material with important insights into the events of the day in ways that seriously challenge conventional wisdom as defined by mainstream media and, as ProPublica’s mission statement puts it, “those with power.”  The question posed by Rotella’s latest article — as well as other work he has published on alleged Iranian and Hezbollah terrorism — is whether it meets the mission and high standards that ProPublica readers expect.

Given the misattribution of a quotation critical to the story’s thesis; the prolific use of anonymous “Western intelligence sources” and the like; the citation of sources with a clear ideological or political axe to grind; the omission of information that could bear on those sources’ credibility; the more or less uncritical acceptance of official reports that are known to be controversial but that generally reflect the interests of the axe-grinders; and the failure to confirm misinformation that can be quickly searched and verified, one can’t help but ask whether Rotella’s work meets ProPublica’s standards.

That question takes on additional and urgent importance given the subject — alleged terrorist activities by Iran and Hezbollah — Rotella specializes in. All of us remember the media’s deplorable failure to critically challenge the Bush administration’s allegations — and those of anonymous “Western intelligence sources”, etc. — about Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as well as his vast and fast-growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including a supposedly advanced nuclear-weapons program. We now face, in many respects, a comparable situation with respect to Iran. Bearing that history in mind, any media organization — but especially one of ProPublica’s stature and mission — should be expected to make extraordinary efforts not only to verify its information, reduce its reliance on anonymous sources and avoid innuendo, but also to aggressively challenge “official” narratives or those that are quite obviously being promoted as part of a campaign by parties with a clear interest in confrontation — even war — with Iran. The stakes are considerable.

Gareth Porter and Marsha Cohen contributed substantially to this report.

*Today, shortly before this blog post was published and one day after I contacted the DNI press office to confirm that the quotation had been misattributed to DNI Clapper, ProPublica issued the following correction: “Due to an error in testimony by a congressional witness, this story initially misattributed a statement made by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. The story has been revised to correct the attribution and incorporate Clapper’s actual statement to a Senate committee.” In my view, the wording of the correction, suggesting that the misattribution was the fault of a witness, underlines the importance of meticulous fact-checking when dealing with such a charged issue. As noted above, Clapper was the only identified Western intelligence official cited in the article, and his quotation — or non-quotation — is critical to the overall credibility of the underlying thesis: that Iran and Hezbollah are building a terrorist infrastructure in the Americas aimed at the U.S.  While the quote in question is now properly attributed to Ros-Lehtinen (who was never mentioned in the original version), the implicit suggestion that she has serious expertise on the issue, in my opinion, makes the article’s underlying thesis even less credible.

Further weakening the thesis is the introduction in the article’s corrected version of the Arbabsiar case (the alleged 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington) about which Rotella was initially skeptical but which he and/or his editors have now seen fit to include in the story.  But citing the Arbabsiar case begs a serious question: If Iran, the Quds Force and Hezbollah have built up all these terrorist hubs and smuggling networks throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (and even into Canada), why would Quds Force commanders resort to recruiting a totally inexperienced, obviously unstable Iranian-American failed used-car salesman (now described by Rotella as “an Iranian-American operative”) to make contact with the Zetas to arrange the assassination? Conversely, if the Quds commanders felt they had to resort to Arbabsiar to establish contact with the Zetas to get the job done, then the existence of the terrorist infrastructure depicted in Rotella’s article looks even more doubtful than it did in the original story.

UPDATE: Apparently, the witness who misattributed the Ros-Lehtinen/Clapper quote was AFPC’s Ilan Berman (who most recently misattributed the quote in a usnews.com op-ed co-authored with Netanel Levitt on July 15). Berman, a leading figure in the continuing sanctions campaign against Iran, suggested shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that Washington should pursue regime change in Iran.

Photo Credit: Prensa Miraflores

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran

Rafael Correa, the Press, and Whistleblowers

By ADAM CHIMIENTI | CounterPunch | June 25, 2013

Once again, we are witnessing a growing frustration with “tiny” Ecuador. The United States government is clearly not happy with what would be the latest diplomatic slap in the face coming from the South American country, i.e. the pending arrival of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in the coming days. Beyond the United States’ government though, the US press corps are also seemingly up in arms. Why are they so angry? Well, it appears that they are indignant over the perceived hypocrisy of President Rafael Correa.

According to an article from The Atlantic (and another similar one from NPR here), the Ecuadorian leader “has created a safe space for foreigners like Assange — and now possibly Snowden –[but] he doesn’t do the same for dissenters within his own country.” News agencies like NBC News and The Atlantic think this is “interesting” and want to know ‘Why Ecuador?’ Such inquiries naturally turn to the NGOs, who are also less than pleased with this unruly little country. Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others are upset that this very week, the one-year anniversary of Assange being holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (and the same week that the Snowden asylum request is being reviewed), the Ecuadorian National Assembly has passed a Communications Bill that detractors claim is a major blow to a free press.

Claims of Hypocrisy

For several of the opposition figures and US-based observers, Ecuador’s new media legislation has sealed the deal on the stasi-like state that they imply or openly charge Correa has been dreaming about for years. In other words, transparency advocates like Assange and Snowden are compromising their credibility by associating with the Correa government. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the right-wing terrorist supporter/US Congresswoman representing Miami, has been busy tweeting as much. The Ecuadorian government, however, asserts that the bill is meant to place more media power in the hands of public groups and move away from privately owned media monopolies.

Meanwhile, the Council of Hemispheric Relations, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Heritage Foundation all say that Ecuador must be punished for this latest insult to the US government. James Roberts of Heritage lashed out at the South American leader on June 24, writing in the National Review Online:

“Rafael Correa has demonstrated a blatant disregard for international standards of justice. That kind of conduct may not be surprising from a man who seeks to don the mantle of Chávez, but it should not be rewarded with trade preferences.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how a figure like Correa would have been dealt with a few decades back, but it appears that the more heavy-handed approach is not really possible at the moment, much to the dismay of the powerful and connected.

Returning to the issue of freedom, has the defiant president of Ecuador used the National Assembly to pass a law that NPR, The Atlantic and others tell us will be used to make the country less transparent and more hostile to journalists who only wish to be free to monitor the government and act as a check on state power? Well, let’s hold off on the most absurd elements of irony here for a moment and address the issue at hand.

About a Coup

It should certainly not be regarded as a good thing if the case was simply a cut-and-dry example of authoritarian overreach. Freedom of the press, as we are learning with the Snowden case, has seemingly never before been so important, or so contentious for that matter. However, the Ecuadorian issue is not so simple and it was certainly complicated after a day of crisis nearly three years earlier when factions of the National Police and armed forces attacked the president of Ecuador on September 30, 2010. The event was widely regarded as a coup attempt. What exactly went down is still somewhat unclear. There was a dramatic showdown between Correa himself and police officers that were angered by a supposed attempt to cut their pay. What is for certain, though, is that it was a countrywide, well-coordinated attempt to shut down the National Assembly, the two major airports in Guayaquil and Quito and eventually a hospital where the president was being treated for wounds. Furthermore, the plotters were also attacking journalists throughout the country, and most of these were pro-government reporters working for public media outlets.

The opposition press has taken an active role in attempts to discredit Correa since he first ran for president. He has elaborated on his views of the press and they are certainly not very congenial. In 2012, during a public TV interview in Spain, Correa said, “one of the main problems around the world is that there are private networks in the communication business, for-profit businesses providing public information, which is very important for society. It is a fundamental contradiction.”

One of the issues that NGOs and journalists have cited in their litany of complaints about Ecuador’s endangered freedom of the press actually stems from the 2010 police and military uprising. During the chaos that ensued during the alleged coup attempt, one reporter from the paper of record in Guayaquil took the opportunity to claim that Correa had ordered police to fire on a crowd of innocent onlookers caught up in the melee, presumably aiming to provoke anti-government sentiments. The claim turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. The government fined the journalist and his paper El Universo some $40 million for defamation but later withdrew the charges. Consider what might have happened in the US if the Los Angeles Times or Washington Post would have falsely claimed that Barack Obama had personally ordered military or police forces to fire on a crowd of protesters and innocent people were injured as a result somewhere in Washington, D.C It would be difficult to imagine a reporter and his editors ever committing such a stupid move, but if they had, there would have been some serious consequences. Alas, this is not really too shocking in the context of a sensationalist Latin American press.

Televised and Untelevised Revolutions

That dramatic Ecuadorian affair is reminiscent of the 2003 documentary film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,directed by the Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briai. The pair happened to be in Caracas, Venezuela during one of several 21st century Latin American coup attempts thus far. The film provided a key glimpse into the nature of media in the region, so often dominated by pro-US elites. It showed the efforts expended by private media outlets to incite anger and get people out in the streets in order to challenge the power of anti-Washington governments.

Right up until his death, it was a sort of requirement for US and European governments, journalists and NGOs to claim that Hugo Chávez Frías was a dictator for not renewing the license of RCTV. The outlet, owned by Marcel Granier, was one of the most virulent anti-government television stations operating on the state-owned airwaves and the Venezuelan government eventually forced them over to cable television. The criticism of the allegedly authoritarian leader served to cover up the very questionable coverage by corporate media. Indeed, one anti-Chávez commentator honestly noted six months ago that the idea that Chavez ever controlled the Venezuelan media was a myth. He pointed out that back in April 2002,

“Coup plotters collaborated with Venezuelan media figures before the coup. The media refused to show statements by officials condemning the coup d’état. When the coup d’état failed, the private Venezuelan networks refused to broadcast the news that Chávez had returned to power.”

“Correa is a Very Smart Guy”

The Venezuelan experience did not escape the attention of the rather astute and confident Correa. Neither did the fact that, only 15 months prior to the attempted coup in Ecuador, there was a successful coup in Honduras, removing the president of that country, Manuel Zelaya, by gunpoint in the middle of the night. This was considered to be illegal by President Obama himself, although soon after the offending and illegitimate new government of Roberto Micheletti was accepted by his administration and is still backed to this day by Washington (under current President Porfirio Lobo). This support comes despite a terrible record of human rights abuses and, yes, a genuine threat to a the flow of crucial information. Journalists have been censored and intimidated since the 2009 coup in Tegucigalpa and, what’s worse, have frequently been murdered by the government and its allies. Honduras consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. The double standards are blatant and many would like to see the opinion-makers from the States take a closer look in the mirror.

Popular Support and Popular Media

Anyone who would have spent some time watching The Revolution Will Not Be Televised would have also learned what President Hugo Chávez, then only a mere three years into his presidency, meant to the millions of impoverished and the historically marginalized majority in Venezuela. This did not stop the State Department and its allies from focusing on how best to rid Venezuela of its president. (Incidentally, while doing an internship for the State Department in the fall of 2001, I was invited by the Public Diplomacy department to work on ideas on how to get the message out to Venezuelan people about the dangerous nature of President Chávez.) That coup attempt failed, as the one in Ecuador would eight and a half years later, mainly because the people staunchly backed the president of the Republic.

At the time of the 2002 coup attempt, Chávez was wildly popular and the same was true of Rafael Correa in September 2010; two weeks before the coup attempt, polls found that he had the support of 67% of respondents in the capital Quito and nearly 60% in his native Guayaquil, the second largest city. Correa actually got a nice bump in approval ratings after the whole affair and, more recently, he has just won a major reelection bid in February of this year precisely because he has brought political and economic stability to the country of 15 million people. Poverty has been reduced dramatically since Correa took office. Public works projects have resulted in huge improvements to the country’s infrastructure and, more importantly, there is a sense of independence from the yoke of neocolonialism so prevalent in years past.

It appears that Correa and the government may have some good reasons to increase the influence of publicly owned media companies and challenge private corporate media elites. This foray into press control is a dangerous game, however, especially since there appear to be some genuine concerns from indigenous and environmental activists who oppose the government’s expansive plans for an economy based primarily on extraction. Often, those who disagree with Correa are dismissed as childish Marxists, or more alarmingly, terrorists. There must be more attempts to reach a humane and considerate consensus on some of these crucial issues, especially as the Chinese enter the fray in search of resources to fuel their economic needs and a gateway into South America (and Ecuador recovers from two major oil spills so far this year). There are clearly opportunities, but also responsibilities to the environment and the people that live outside of the metropoles.

With such considerations in mind, is there a reason to agree with the opinion-makers in the US who would dub Correa as a dictator, increasingly revealing his dangerous nature?

One of Correa’s main antagonists is Martin Pallares, a senior political editor at one of the major national newspapers El Comercio. Pallares recently said, “I think freedom of press in Ecuador is gravely threatened by a system managed by the government. They have the objective to discredit the media, affect their credibility. And they also want to characterize the press like political adversaries and destabilization agents.” In a very important sense, the media should or even must by its nature act like political adversaries. Destabilization is a different story however. In the case of the coups in Latin America, there is typically interference by Western powers, especially the United States, and this often serves to destabilize governments Washington deems troublesome (through the funding of local civil society groups via the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and, of course, the CIA). The message is often that these groups are just trying to further democratic causes, but this belies an obvious mission by colluding corporate and government powers that is evident throughout the many anti-democratic interventions and support of such leaders in postwar history (from Iran in 1953 to both the Maldives and Paraguay in 2012).

Felonious Journalists

Returning to the issue of irony, here you have several of the leading news outlets in the US reporting on the lack of media freedom in Ecuador, yet ignoring the major issues raised by leakers, journalists, and publishers such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. In effect, these major corporate outlets are legitimizing or are even themselves guilty of demonization of these individuals who have put everything on the line to get the public talking about some serious violations of human rights and privacy, and the dangerous encroachment of the corporate state. One has to wonder if the fact that many of these commentators themselves are getting paid major corporate money has anything to do with their take on the Snowden/Ecuador affair.

If you watched the Sunday morning talk show highlights, you should be able to draw your own conclusion. One jaw-dropping example of the corporate media’s lack of objectivity in this discussion was the meticulously staged interview that George Stephanopoulos did with General Keith Alexander, the man who has access to the personal data of nearly anyone he so chooses to target. There were several moments in which the responses to some of the host’s softball questions were so weak (lots of babbling about dots) that it was unbelievable that Stephanopoulos didn’t pounce. Yet, why he did not or would not do such a thing is evident considering the establishment’s treatment of the recently departed journalist Michael Hastings, loathed for his refusal to play footsie with the biggest fish in the game. That sort of behavior simply cannot be tolerated.

Also on the talk show rounds, there was David Gregory’s aggressive and ethically revealing accusation thrown at guest Glenn Greenwald in the form of a ‘tough question’. Gregory actually asked Greenwald why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime, and The Guardian columnist sharply replied that it was “pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies”, with no evidence of wrongdoing. But there you have the attitude that the establishment needs to maintain close ties; it mustn’t be overly adversarial and never threaten the stability of the government or a particular administration, even if that means sitting on stories such as the spying on US citizens, like The New York Times was guilty of in 2004 when it delayed publication of a story on government surveillance after being approached by the Bush Administration.

Indy (media) to the Rescue

Modern professional journalism often leaves us wanting for more. Thankfully, we have the independent media outlets that are often way ahead on exposing some of the more heinous crimes of the times. This helps millions around the world identify the mantras of the media elite in the United States: 1) the corporate bias is never to be exposed or acknowledged; 2) it should never be overly adversarial to the government; and 3) a “journalist” should always attempt to divert from important issues that arise from whistleblowing by attacking the whistleblower’s character.

Of course, all of these conventions go out the window when it comes to perceived enemies, in which case the media, NGOs, corporations and the US government always work together in delegitimization and destabilization efforts. Snowden has followed Assange’s lead and is headed to Ecuador not simply because, as The Atlantic has suggested, both parties feel persecuted or they want to ‘poke the US in the eye’. The reason why Ecuador has offered asylum and why Snowden was seeking it from them is because they believe that there is hope in the future, beyond the grossly excessive power of the United States and its presumed worldwide dominion. The whistleblowers and the Ecuadorian leaders, like countless others around the world, believe that the only hopeful way forward is to shatter the antiquated and dangerous notions inherent in establishment journalism, corporate supremacy, and US hegemony. I guess it is no surprise that the privileged classes vehemently disagree.

Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@gmail.com.

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How AIPAC Rules

By JEFF KLEIN | CounterPunch | May 31, 2013

Last week the Senate passed Resolution 65, mandating a new round of sanctions against Iran and promising to support Israel if it should choose to launch a unilateral war.  The bill contradicted explicit US policy in a number of areas:  it imposed secondary penalties on US allies; it lowered  the bar for military action to Israel’s preferred language of “nuclear capability” rather than acquisition of a nuclear weapon; and it interferes with the attempt to reach a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear impasse at a delicate time.  No wonder Secretary of State John Kerry implored Congress not to pass the bill when he testified before the Senate Foreign relations committee last month.

Nevertheless, the Senate bill came to a vote on May 22, and the result – in a roll call vote – was 99-0 in favor of the bill.

In the last Congress, another Iran Sanctions measure – an amendment attached to the 2012 Defense Appropriation Bill — was also opposed by the Obama administration. The provision, probably illegal under WTO rules, mandated secondary penalties against foreign banks which did business with Iran’s oil sector (US banks were already banned from doing so).  Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner wrote a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee “to express the Administration’s strong opposition to this amendment because, in its current form, it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have taken to build strong international pressure against Iran.”  Two State Department officials of the Administration testified against the amendment; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry also opposed the measure.

However, when the amendment’s sponsors insisted on a roll call vote, it passed 100-0.  Even Senator Kerry voted for the measure he had earlier opposed.

To understand how this can happen, it is useful to look at the Israel Lobby’s legislative MO — as well as the larger dynamic around Israel advocacy within the US Congress, in our political system and in the press.

AIPAC, of course, is the premier Israel Lobby organization.  Every March at its annual Conference the group assembles a huge turnout of moneyed and grassroots lobbyists.  Scores of members of Congress from both parties and political aspirants of all stripes jockey to express their loyalty to the Lobby.  It is at these conferences that AIPAC’s major legislative priorities for the year are unveiled.  This always includes renewed (and increased) military aid for Israel and for the last ten years or so various measures to oppose, sanction and preferably make war on to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran — Israel’s last remaining serious military opponent in the Middle East.

Here is the way it works.

–In the days before the yearly AIPAC conference in early March, reliable members of Congress from both parties – preferably non-Jews – are prevailed upon to submit AIPAC-drafted bills with a substantial number of initial bi-partisan sponsors.  This year the highlighted legislation included House Res. 850, The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, introduced on February 28 by California Democrat Rep. Edward Royce and 31 co-sponsors (16 Democrats and 15 Republicans); and Senate Res. 65, Strongly Supporting the Full Implementation of United States and International Sanctions On Iran, also introduced on February 28 by the every dependable Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC] and 22 initial co-sponsors (13 Democrats and 9 Republicans).  Another bill, apparently a late entry from the March 2-4 Conference itself, did not follow the preferred pattern.  House Res. 938, The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 was introduced hurriedly on March 4 by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL27] with only two Democratic co-sponsors.  These three bills embodied AIPAC’s 2013 declared legislative priorities: Prevent Iranian Nuclear Weapons Capability; Strengthen U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation;  Support Security Assistance for Israel.

– Then, before leaving Washington, the AIPAC Conference attendees launch themselves on Capitol Hill to recruit more co-sponsors for the AIPAC bills.  Initially, this is mostly pushing on an open door, as many legislators are eager to join the bandwagon;  some were simply not asked earlier in the interest of bi-partisan balance; some were not quick enough to get listed when the initial bills were introduced.  Within a few weeks of the AIPAC Conference Senate Res. 65 had an additional 55 co-sponsors, House Res. 850 added more than 250 sponsors; and House Res. 983 more than 150.

–The effort continues to line up more cosponsors with the aim of securing an irresistible momentum for the bills.  Many legislators simply take more time to pin down; others (few) might have been reluctant holdouts persuaded not to find themselves isolated against the AIPAC juggernaut.  An AIPAC staffer once famously bragged that “in twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on a napkin”. It took a little longer this time, but Senate Res. 65 already had 91 co-sponsors before it came up for a vote. House Res. 850, still pending, now has 351 co-sponsors; H. Res. 983 has 271.

–Not all AIPAC-initiated legislation follows this pattern.  Other bills or amendments come up during the year and are pushed as opportunities or needs present themselves.  Some of these bills – and the frequent “Congressional Letters” of support for Israel — have little practical impact on policy but are part of AIPAC’s promotion of discipline among US legislators.  I call it “puppy training,” so that members of Congress are reflexively obedient to AIPAC’s legislative agenda.  The 29 standing ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress in 2011 are a good illustration of the outcome.  Pavlov had nothing on the Israel Lobby.

It might be tempting to conclude – as AIPAC and its allies contend – that Congress acts in response to the overwhelming public support for Israel.  However, it is important to observe that votes on the Lobby’s bills are rarely much publicized in the US – as opposed to Israeli –mainstream media.  Of course, the pro-Israel political machine, the Rightwing and Zionist blogosphere do pay close attention, ever-ready to reward or punish legislative misbehavior. Most of the public remains, by design, completely unaware of these political maneuverings.  Not long ago, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor proposed voting separately on military aid to Israel so as to insulate it from potential cuts to Pentagon spending, but he was quickly persuaded to drop the idea.  The Israel Lobby prefers to have the $3 billion plus in annual aid to Israel discretely hidden within the vast Defense Appropriation Bill.

So the power of AIPAC derives not fundamentally from Israel’s vast popularity.  Although opinion polls do regularly confirm the public supports Israel at a much higher level than the Palestinians (no surprise), substantial pluralities still prefer that the US stay neutral in the conflict.  I have seen no polling about support for the billions in military aid to Israel each year.  It is hard to imagine that the majority response would be anything but negative in the light of cuts to funding other popular government programs. Not surprisingly the Lobby prefers “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the question of yearly$billions for Israel.

The apparent dominance of the Israel Lobby in Congress stems from what I would call “asymmetric politics”.  AIPAC represents the power of a well-funded and single-issue political machine.  It is quick to punish recalcitrant legislators – or to reward good behavior with dollars and campaign support from the many PACS and rich donors who take its direction.

On the other side, the advocates for Palestinian rights are scattered, poor and little threat to incumbent legislators. The Arab and Muslim communities cannot match the Israel Lobby’s Jewish financial base or its mobilized grassroots numbers. Many of their communities are relatively new in the US, insecure and targeted by the well-funded complex of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim mobilization since 9/11.  The great mass of the public are simply not involved and not paying much attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict or much aware of pro-Israel political power in Congress.

Seen in this light, members of Congress – ever averse to risk, as are all elected officials – are behaving rationally when they defer to the Israel Lobby.  They pay little or no price for playing ball with AIPAC and risk a backlash with no apparent reward if they don’t.

As for the broader anti-war and progressive movements, even when they have adopted good positions on Palestinian rights or opposing the Lobby-supported drive for war with Iran, these issues usually turn out to be “expendable” in comparison to other agendas.

Two recent examples will illustrate this dynamic.

This Spring, a well-established national peace organization, with a significant branch in Massachusetts, decided to endorse Democratic Rep. Ed Markey prior to the special primary election for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.   Markey is on the right side of most issues progressives hold dear, but he was also an initial supporter of the Iraq War.  And he has become a very reliable backer of Israel-Lobby legislative priorities, where in Massachusetts he is something of an outlier on these issues. He was among only three Massachusetts delegation co-sponsors of H. Res. 850 and among only two of H. Res. 983.  He is also a dependable signer of whatever letter AIPAC is collecting signatures for, such as the one supporting the assault on Gaza a few years ago.

Some members of the peace organization argued in favor of no endorsement for Markey – at least in the primary – because of his poor record on Iran and Palestine, but they were outvoted.  The majority argued that an endorsement and fundraising for Markey would give them “access” to promote better positions on these issues after the election.  A cynic may wonder whether Markey, or any other progressive legislator would take this seriously.  A long-serving national board member of the group resigned in protest.

Then there is Massachusetts’ celebrity Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Many of her progressive supporters were uneasy over the boiler-plate pro-Israel language on her campaign web site, however there was little doubt that she was a genuine populist on other issues and would bring a rare progressive voice to the halls of Congress.  This, in large measure, she has done.

However, when push came to shove, Sen. Warren was persuaded to add her name as a sponsor to Senate Res. 65 – late to be sure (not until May 7) – and she joined in the unanimous vote in favor of the bill.  Now Warren, a faculty member of Harvard Law School undoubtedly knows the score on the Israel and Iran issues.  It is hard to imagine she hasn’t had certain conversations in the Faculty Club about Palestine, heard about the many events at her school on issues of Human Rights and International Law in the Middle East or understood the role of the Israel Lobby in war-promotion and military spending.

No doubt Warren rationalized her vote pragmatically.  Why risk becoming an isolated Senate freshman and losing her political credibility?  Why not submit to what was required in order to give her space to battle on other political issues she cared about?  For Senator Warren – as for so many progressives and Liberals — her seat is worth the price of a vote for AIPAC.

This is the way asymmetric politics works for the Israel Lobby.  It is the dynamic that puts our country in opposition to most of the world with respect to International Law and peace in the Middle East.  And it may yet succeed in getting us into a war with Iran.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union president, peace and justice activist, Palestinian rights supporter.  He just started a blog at http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net

May 31, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

FP 50 Inadvertently Reveals Israel’s Dominance of GOP

By Maidhc Ó Cathail | The Passionate Attachment | August 31, 2012

Foreign Policy magazine has compiled a list of the 50 Republicans who have the greatest influence on the GOP’s foreign policy. “Politics is mostly about people — and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to foreign policy,” explains Foreign Policy in its introduction. With the U.S. presidential election looming, the magazine offers “to peel back the curtain on this rarefied part of the Establishment” to better inform American voters about “the advisers who will determine the country’s course in the world” in the event that they elect Mitt Romney. The FP 50, it says, are “all GOP partisans” from the different “ideological traditions” — namely, realism, neoconservatism, and “even” isolationism — that are “currently fighting for the soul of their party’s foreign policy.” A cursory look at the list, however, shows that a far more influential ideological tradition — Zionism — holds sway over the Republican Party.

Although only about 20% of American Jews supported the GOP in 2008, the FP 50 features as many as 20 Jewish partisans of Israel, including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (#2), Brookings Institution senior fellow Robert Kagan (#4), and casino mogul and mega-donor Sheldon Adelson (#9) who make its top 10 most powerful Republicans on foreign policy. Also at number 8 is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the stridently pro-Israel chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose maternal grandfather was a “pillar” of Cuba’s Jewish community who helped found several synagogues there. More importantly, several of the most passionate Israel partisans are close advisors to the Romney team, including Kagan, Dan Senor (#13), Dov Zakheim (#27), Eliot Cohen (#29), and Elliott Abrams (#35).

Moreover, the careers of many of the non-Jewish individuals on Foreign Policy’s list have been inextricably linked to their staunch support of the Jewish state. Topping the FP 50 is Senator John McCain who not only continues the family tradition of covering up Israel’s deliberate June 8, 1967 attack on the USS Liberty but invariably leads the call — in unison with Senator Joe Lieberman — for U.S. intervention in countries surrounding the Jewish state. At number 26 is Senator Mark Kirk, “the Israel lobby’s favorite senator” whose office this year served as a conduit for an Israeli initiative to redefine Palestinian refugees out of existence. And coming in in 46th place is John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, which, as FP points out, “has done more than just about any other organization to make Israel a defining foreign-policy issue for evangelical Christians in the United States.”

Indeed, out of the 50 Republicans who have the greatest influence on the GOP’s foreign policy, Congressman Ron Paul — who, along with his son, Senator Rand Paul, is ranked #25 — appears to be one of the very few who could be relied upon to put U.S. interests ahead of Israel’s. Yet Foreign Policy, a division of the pro-Israel Washington Post, never explicitly refers to the decisive — and potentially catastrophic — influence Tel Aviv would have over a Romney administration. However, those familiar with the operations of the Israel lobby know that, as the magazine puts it, “the relentless lobbying and insider machinations of surprisingly few people can often end up defining the foreign policy of entire administrations.”

August 31, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on FP 50 Inadvertently Reveals Israel’s Dominance of GOP

US Realists, Neocons and the War in Syria

Pletka wants Washington to ‘stop subcontracting Syria policy.’ (C-SPAN)
By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | August 15, 2012

In US political circles, the Syria conflict is increasingly being presented as a discussion pertaining to Israeli interests. This attitude is not substantially different from the way US politicians and media weighed in on the Egyptian January 25 revolution and its aftermath. Egypt mostly matters because of the US-brokered Camp David treaty of 1979, which benefited Israel beyond all expectations. The treaty had ushered in a false period of peace; it turned Egypt into an American ally, largely alienating it from its Arab political context.

When it comes to US foreign policy in the Middle East, Israel represents a point of departure for many in the US political establishment. Neoconservative groups have long defined US foreign policy in the region. Their most crucial and unifying concern is Israel’s security and any threat, real or imagined, to Israel’s regional domination.

The neocons clustered through various organizations and think tanks. Most visible among them was the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which included very influential foreign policy individuals. PNAC’s ‘vision’ was seen as the roadmap that guided George W. Bush in his war against Iraq, the sanctions against Iran, and the overall hostile relationship that defined (and continues to define) US foreign policy in the Middle East. Tainted by the disastrous foreign policy, PNAC folded, only to be reinvented two years ago with the advent of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

The neocons are duly challenged. Their critics in the establishments are the ‘realists’ (as described by former Secretary of State James Baker in a recent interview with Foreign Policy). The so-called realists are far less organized than the neocons. They were simply empowered by the latter’s mammoth failures. Now the neocons are making a comeback, thanks to the golden opportunities presented by ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East.

“Our biggest threat today isn’t Syria, or even Iran, or Russia or China,” Baker told Foreign Policy. “Our biggest threat today is our own economy, and we cannot continue to be strong diplomatically, politically, and militarily and be weak economically” (August 9). Baker, of course, hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The problem is that the pro-Israel camp is asking for a military intervention in Syria and an escalation against Iran, both of which come with a high political and financial price tag — one that the US cannot afford.

Another ‘realist’ is Aaron David Miller, a former US adviser on the Middle East (to six Secretaries of State) and a member of the US Advisory Council of Israel Policy Forum. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 6, in an article entitled ‘Syria: Let’s Stay out of It’, Miller stated, “Syria today is a mess — but it’s a Syrian mess. Afghanistan and Iraq should teach us that America can’t control the world. It’s time for the United States to focus on fixing its own broken house instead of chasing the illusion that it can always help repair somebody else’s.”

However, this ‘realist’ estimation by Miller was further discussed in his article in Foreign Policy two days later. In ‘Winners and Losers of Syria’s Civil War,’ Miller argued that Israel was a possible winner in case of Bashar Al Assad’s fall.

“The good news for the Israelis is that Iran and Hezbollah will be weakened by Al Assad’s fall. The bad news is that like so much of the Arab Spring/ Winter, the impending transition brings with it enormous uncertainty.”

US intervention in Libya was a much easier decision for both neocons and realists. A letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative and signed by 40 policy analysts, calling on President Barack Obama’s administration to arm Libyan rebels and to “immediately’ prepare for military action to bring down the Libyan regime under Muammar Gaddafi. The neocons’ calls at the time were hardly rejected as ‘unrealistic’. According to Jim Lobe, they were “a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage US intervention in the Balkans and Iraq.” Of course, they got what they asked for in Libya. Now, the neocons are pushing for another intervention in Syria.

“Washington must stop subcontracting Syria policy to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. They are clearly part of the anti-Al Assad effort, but the United States cannot tolerate Syria becoming a proxy state for yet another regional power,” wrote Danielle Pletka, a leading neocon and vice-president of Foreign and Defence Policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (Washington Post, July 20).

Despite immense hesitation from the Obama administration, the neocons are now trying to weasel in their version of an endgame in Syria. Their efforts are extremely focused and well-coordinated, making impressive use of their direct ties with the Israeli lobby, major US media and Syrian leaders in exile. Writing in CNN online, Elise Labott reported on a recent neoconservative push to upgrade American involvement in Syria, urging “the Obama administration to increase its support of the armed opposition” (CNN, August 1).

The ‘experts’ included Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), another pro-Israel conduit in Washington, established in 1985 as a research department for the influential Israeli lobby group, AIPAC. Obama obliged under pressure from the ‘experts’. According to CNN, he signed a secret order “referred to as an intelligence ‘finding,’ allow[ing] for clandestine support by the CIA and other agencies.”

More, On July 31, AIPAC urged all members of Congress to sign on a bill introduced by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman. Entitled ‘The Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (H.R.1905)’, the bill, if passed, “will establish virtual state of war with Iran,” according to the Council for the National Interest. The old neoconservative wisdom arguing for an unavoidable link between Syria, Iran and their allies in the region is now being exploited to the maximum. Their hope is to settle all scores left unsettled by the Bush administration.

US foreign policy in Syria is likely to become clearer once the signs of an endgame become easier to read. Until then, the neocons will continue to push for another campaign of intervention. For them, influencing the endgame in favor of Israel is much more beneficial than dealing with a divided country, which is ‘subcontracted’ to other regional powers, per Pletka’s unrelenting wisdom.

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment