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US not sending 14,000 troops to Mideast: Pentagon

Press TV – December 5, 2019

The Pentagon has denied a report concerning the expansion of US military presence in the Middle East.

The denial came in reaction to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The paper claimed that Washington was weighing the deployment of fourteen-thousand additional troops and a dozen of naval vessels in the region, to counter alleged threats from Iran.

A Pentagon spokesman, however, said that they were not considering sending additional troops to the Middle East.

“To be clear, the reporting is wrong. The U.S. is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East,” Alyssa Farah tweeted.

December 5, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 1 Comment

Study finds 50-year history of anti-Palestinian bias in mainstream news reporting

CONTEXT matters, and CONTEXT is often missing in news reports about Israel-Palestine
CONTEXT matters, and CONTEXT is often missing in news reports about Israel-Palestine
By Kathryn Shihadah – If Americans Knew – January 19, 2019

A recent media study based on analysis of 50 years of data found that major U.S. newspapers have provided consistently skewed, pro-Israel reporting on Israel-Palestine.

The study, conducted by 416Labs, a Toronto-based consulting and research firm, is the largest of its kind.

Using computer analysis, researchers evaluated the headlines of five influential U.S. newspapers: the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal from 1967 to 2017.

The study period begins in June 1967, the date when Israel began its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – now officially termed the Occupied Palestinian Territories – following its Six Day War against Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

Methodology involved the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP), a type of computer analysis that sifts through large amounts of natural language data and investigates the vocabulary. NLP tabulated the most commonly used words and word pairs, as well as the positive or negative sentiment associated with the headlines.

Using NLP to analyze 100,000 headlines, the study revealed that the coverage favored Israel in the “sheer quantity of stories covered,” by presenting Palestinian-centric stories from a more negative point of view, as well as by grossly under-representing the Palestinian narrative, and by omitting or downplaying “key topics that help to identify the conflict in all its significance.”

Four times more headlines mentioned Israel than Palestine

The Fifty Years of Occupation study reveals a clear media bias first in the quantity of headlines: over the half-century period in question, headlines mentioned Israel 4 times more frequently than Palestine.

The study revealed other discrepancies in coverage of Israel and Palestine/Palestinians as well.

Sentiment

For all 5 newspapers studied, Israel-centric headlines were on average more positive than the Palestinian-centric headlines.

Sentiment analysis measures “the degree to which ideological loyalty colors analysis.”

In order to measure sentiment, the study employed a “dictionary” of words classified as either positive or negative; each headline was scored based on its use of these words.

The report explains that journalistic standards require news stories to be “neutral, objective, and derived from facts,” but the reports on Israel-Palestine “exhibit some form of institutionalized ideological posturing and reflect a slant.” [See graphs below post]

Under-representation of the Palestinian voice

The study also found Palestinians marginalized as sources of news and information.

A simple case in point: The fact-checking organization Pundit Fact examined CNN guests during a segment of the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. Pundit Fact reported that during this time, 20 Israeli officials were interviewed, compared to only 4 Palestinians, although Palestinians were overwhelmingly victims of the incursion with 2,251 deaths vs. 73 Israeli deaths.

The study’s data reveal what it calls “the privileging of Israeli voices and, invariably, Israeli narratives”: the phrases “Israel Says” and “Says Israel” occurred at a higher frequency than any other bigram (2-word phrase) throughout the 50 years of headlines – in fact, at a rate 250% higher than “Palestinian Says” and similar phrases. This indicates that not only are Israeli perspectives covered more often, but Palestinians rarely have an opportunity to defend or explain their actions.

The report explains the significance of such asymmetry:

This imbalance matters, as official Israeli government policy is effectively made an intrinsic part of the discussion of the conflict, while the views of Palestinians living under occupation are subordinated to the margins.

Sins of omission and de-emphasis

The analysis turned up yet another significant problem with the newspapers’ coverage: failure to report, or to report adequately, on important aspects of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

The study found several critical topics that the 5 newspapers failed to cover adequately, resulting in reader misperceptions.

Peace process?

One misperception revolves around the alleged existence of an ongoing “peace process.”

The study points out the consistent use of bigrams such as “peace talks,” in spite of the fact that since 1993, peace talks have been essentially nonexistent. And,

A hallmark of the conflict has been the perception that there is an ongoing peace process which, from time to time, breaks down, thereby delaying resolution of the conflict…the dispute is effectively portrayed as being one between two equal warring sides, not one where one group is an occupier and the other the occupied.

Occupation

The researchers emphasize the fact that as the occupation of the West Bank (and de facto occupation of Gaza) drags on past 50 years, the brutality of the Israeli occupation is becoming normalized and its illegality forgotten.

They draw this conclusion from their analysis of the unigram “occupation,” which has appeared in headlines less and less frequently, dropping by 85% in Israel-centric headlines, and by 65% in Palestinian-centric headlines over the 50-year period.

Gaza

The blockade of Gaza, and the economic hardships of Gazans under the blockade, were mentioned in Palestine-centric headlines just 30 and 63 times respectively, in the 11 years since the blockade began.

In Covering Gaza: is the mainstream media discourse changing on Palestine-Israel?, Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center in Washington DC censures mainstream media coverage of the Great Return March – a nonviolent demonstration by Palestinian Gazans for justice and the end of the blockade – for failing to report the names of Gazan civilians killed by Israeli snipers, “in stark contrast to the usual reporting on Israeli victims, in which their pictures, lives, and grieving families are repeatedly shown and discussed.”

… and more

As another example, Palestinian refugees – still waiting to be repatriated according to UN Resolution 242 of 1949 – have been forgotten as a group: the words “Palestine Refugee(s)” in headlines has declined by 93% over the last 50 years, reflecting a decline in concern from media.

The study reveals similar underreporting on topics including the illegality of Israeli settlements and Palestinians’ designation of East Jerusalem as the future capital of the future Palestinian state.

According to Siham Rashid, formerly of the Palestinian Counseling Center, these accumulated flaws characterize the Israel-Palestine issue as

a conflict revolving around security and terrorism, with Israel being the victim…So, for many people, the conflict is understood as a conflict of land and borders between two peoples who have equal claims, not as a conflict between an oppressed and oppressor and colonized and colonizer.

International consensus

As cited by the researchers, Marda Dunsky’s  2008 book, Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, analyzed US media over a 4-year period. One of her most significant findings was the lack of coverage of the international consensus on important issues, for example the almost-universal conclusions that Israeli settlements are illegal, and that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their homes.

Greg Shupak’s The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media offers an example from Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli aggression of 2014 into Gaza. He points out that the blockade of Gaza, a key antecedent to the violence, was mentioned only once in the many New York Times editorials on the conflict published just before and during the war.

Shupak’s work shows how NYT “frequently omits important details that would better contextualize the conflict.”

In More Bad News From IsraelGlasgow University researchers Greg Philo and Mike Berry examined British mainstream media coverage of Israel-Palestine. In a study of BBC coverage, the lack of adequate context resulted in

the failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation…BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading.

Alison Weir of If Americans Knew has published extensive studies of American media coverage of Israel-Palestine which reveal “daily reporting [that is] profoundly skewed” and a “pervasive pattern of distortion” in which “[t]he favored population was the Israeli one.”

If Americans Knew has conducted six major studies and one shorter study on coverage of Israel-Palestine news and found that media had reported on Israeli deaths at far greater rates than they reported on Palestinian deaths. The studies also revealed the palpable pro-Israel bias, under-representation of the Palestinian voice and the omission or downplaying of critical topics.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States.

Causation?

The Canadian researchers found a “systemic problem in coverage,” but did not study the causation. Nevertheless, they excluded the possibility of “deliberate planned bias,” attributing the biased coverage to “the U.S. media’s affinity to broadly align and support their government’s foreign policy objectives.”

Some other researchers, however, report a wider range of factors, many connected to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. For example, Alison Weir discovered deep links between US media and Israel (e.g. hereherehere, and here). Mearsheimer and Walt reported on the power of pro-Israel pressure in their book The Israel Lobby; Paul Findley in his book They Dare to Speak Out, and others report a wider range of factors, many connected to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. In many cases, pressure from pro-Israel groups in the Israel lobby, contributed significantly to the consistent slant in mainstream media.

Conclusion

As the authors point out:

Whether online, television, or print, the mainstream media serves to provide most Americans with their daily news. How the media frames the news and presents it to viewers can profoundly shape their perception of current events.

Yet numerous analysts, across time and region, have established that this media consistently skews the news when it comes to Israel-Palestine. This results in nations and their governments upholding Israeli priorities rather than those of their own people, and perpetuating injustice toward Palestinians.


1-19 chart.png

July 29, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia denies withdrawing specialists from Venezuela, says cooperation is set to expand

RT | June 4, 2019

Reports of a mass exodus of Russian military and technical specialists from Venezuela are not true, Russian officials have said. Cooperation with Caracas is going on as usual and is set to expand, they said.

In a Sunday story, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian military and technical personnel had left Venezuela en-masse, with the numbers diminishing from some 1,000 to several dozens. The newspaper explained the alleged exodus with a lack of contracts and the fact that Moscow supposedly realized that Caracas lacks any funds to pay for the services of the Russian hi-tech and military hardware corporation Rostec.

On Monday, the corporation itself dismissed the report.

“The figures provided in the piece by the Wall Street Journal have been exaggerated tens of times. The numbers of our staff there has remained the same for many years,” the press service of Rostec stated.

The corporation explained that aside from having a permanent representation, it sends groups of technical specialists “from time to time” to Venezuela to perform maintenance and repairs of equipment supplied by Russia. “Just recently, the maintenance of a batch of aircraft was completed,” the press service added.

Russia’s state military hardware exporter, Rosoboronexport, on its part, said that Moscow and Caracas are actually planning to increase cooperation. Russian companies “remain committed to deepening cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and other departments of the Venezuelan government,” the exporter stated.

Shortly after the dismissal, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Russia had “removed most of their people” from Venezuela. It was not immediately clear what he meant, since apart from the Russian companies’ denial, there has been no official word from Moscow so far.

While military and technical cooperation between Russia and Venezuela has been going on for years, it made a lot of fuss lately amid the US-backed attempt to oust country’s President Nicolas Maduro and install self-styled ‘interim-president’ Juan Guaido instead. Russia’s modest military activity in Venezuela caught the eye of American politicians and media, sparking demands to Moscow to “get out” of what Washington believes to be its own “backyard.”

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 2 Comments

A Reuters Report on Iran That Fueled US Diatribes

By Ivan Kesic | Consortium News | December 27, 2018

When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave speeches about mega corruption in Iran this year, he did not cite a Reuters’ 2013 article or give credit to its three reporters; Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati.

Instead he presented it as the kind of specialized knowledge that only a high-ranking official such as himself might be in a position to reveal. “Not many people know this,” Pompeo told an audience gathered last July at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, California, “but the Ayatollah Khamenei has his own personal, off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad, worth $95 billion, with a B.” Pompeo went on to tell his audience that Khamenei’s wealth via Setad was untaxed, ill-gotten, and used as a “slush fund” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But a comparison between the 5-year-old Reuters article and Pompeo’s speech, which was lauded by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board as “truth telling,” shows a type of symbiosis that could only help cast a backward glow over President Donald Trump’s move, last summer, to reimpose all sanctions lifted by the Obama’s administration’s historic nuclear deal with Iran.

The imprint of the Reuters article on Pompeo’s speech was obvious in an anecdote about the travails of an elderly woman living in Europe. “The ayatollah fills his coffers by devouring whatever he wants,” Pompeo said. “In 2013 the Setad’s agents banished an 82-year-old Baha’i woman from her apartment and confiscated the property after a long campaign of harassment. Seizing land from religious minorities and political rivals is just another day at the office for this juggernaut that has interests in everything from real estate to telecoms to ostrich farming.”

The 82-year-old Baha’i woman living in Europe clearly matches Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh, a woman the Reuters team put at the very start of their extensive, three-part investigation. Here’s how the Reuters article begins: “The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.”

While tapping the human-interest aspects of the story, Pompeo’s speech steered clear of some of the qualifications that the Reuters reporters and editors injected into their general profile of corruption. Pompeo referred to Khamenei using Setad as a “personal hedge fund,” for instance, suggesting personal decadence on the part of the Iranian leader. But the Reuters team was careful to note that it had found no evidence of Khamenei putting the assets to personal use. “Instead, Setad’s holdings underpin his power over Iran.”

While stipulating that Khamenei’s greed was not for money but for power, the Reuters team neglected something of timely and possibly greater relevance. Earlier that same year the U.S. admitted its own longstanding greed for power over this foreign country.

Final CIA Admission

In August 2013—three months before the Reuter’s article was published—the CIA finally admitted its role in the 1953 Iranian coup. “Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States’ role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq’s ouster has long been public knowledge, but today’s posting includes what is believed to be the CIA’s first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup,” the archive said.

This U.S. aggression led directly to two phases of property confiscation in Iran: first under the Shah and then under the religious fundamentalists who overthrew him. Unaccountably, however, the Reuters team ignored the CIA admission so relevant to their story.

To its credit, the Reuters article does allude, early on, to the two inter-related periods of property confiscation in Iran. “How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune – by confiscating real estate,” the article says. But that sentence only functions as a muffled disclaimer since the team makes no effort to integrate that history into the laments of people such as Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh, who emotionally drives the story.

Dubious Figure

For anyone familiar with the history of property confiscations in Iran, this ex-pat widow is a dubious figure. In the article, she claims that she lost three apartments in a multi-story building in Tehran, “built with the blood of herself and her husband.” She also says her late husband Hussein was imprisoned in 1981 because he began working for a gas company that had been set up to assist unemployed members of the Baha’i faith, and finally executed a year later.

The suggestion is that he was killed as part of a widespread persecution of Bahai’i followers.

What the Reuters reporters and editors omitted to mention, however, is that Hussein had been a  lieutenant in the military regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; the last shah of Iran who was overthrown by the uprising of 1979.

The Shah’s name has become so intertwined with UK and U.S. meddling in Iran that his role in setting a pro-western foreign policy is mentioned in the opening sentence of the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on him. But the Reuters article places this mention at the end of the story, as deep background. By the time the team discloses the Shah’s penchant for confiscating property and flagrant corruption, the reader is in the third section of a three-part article. By that time, the elderly Vahdat-e-Hagh has come and gone. By then, she has cemented herself in the reader’s imagination as an unequivocal victim, even though some obvious questions about her should occur to anyone familiar with the country’s history.

How, for instance, did she and her husband come to own such significant property at the center of Iran’s capital city? Under the Pahlavi regime, most military personnel were provided with one apartment, not three. In the article, Vahdat-e-Hagh says that she and her husband obtained the property themselves, so presumably they did not inherit it. Could her late husband, Hussein, have been of high importance to the Shah’s U.S.-backed regime, which was famous for its lavish handouts to special loyalists?

Such questions float over the article, not only about this particular subject, but many others who are presented to dramatize the ayatollah’s misdeeds. Several sources appear as human rights “experts” and lawyers. They are all Iranians living abroad and many have controversial biographical details that go unmentioned. There are similar well-known credibility issues with people who are introduced as respectable scholars and politicians.

The article offers the story of another aggrieved Baha’i family without ever mentioning how such people, in general, had lost property during the Shah’s White Revolution of 1963 which was intended to weaken those classes that supported the traditional system, primarily landed elites.

One obvious problem with the article is the distance of the three Reuters journalists from the scene of their story. They are based in New York, London and Dubai and do not reveal their information-gathering methods about Iran, a country that admits very few foreign reporters. So far, Yeganeh Torbati, the reporter who presumably wrote the first, human-interest part of the story, has not responded to a message to her Facebook account seeking comment. Nor has she responded to an email. Torbati, now based in Washington, was based in Dubai in 2013.

Story with Long Legs  

In the years since its publication, the Reuters article has been bubbling up in book citations. Suzanne Maloney mentioned it in her 2015 book “Iran’s Political Economy since the Revolution” as did Misagh Parsa in “Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed” published in 2016.

This year Pompeo relied on it in four speeches. Two books published in 2018 place some weight on the Reuters article: “Challenging Theocracy: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics” by David Tabachnick, Toivo Koivukoski and Herminio Meireles Teixeira; and “Losing Legitimacy: The End of Khomeini’s Charismatic Shadow and Regional Security” by Clifton W. Sherrill.

The name Setad, which means “headquarters” in Farsi, has been kicking around Washington for five years, ever since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the group. In June of 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a press release about Setad and its subsidiaries, with a long list of Persian-named properties that were managing to avoid UN sanctions imposed on the country’s business dealings as a means of discouraging Iran’s enrichment of nuclear-weapon grade uranium.

Six months later, in November, Reuters published its extensive, three-part investigative package, which now tops Google searches for “Setad.”

The report was the first piece of important follow-up journalism on the U.S. Treasury press release. But in one key piece of wording, editors and reporters almost seem to be straining to move their story ahead of the government’s rendition, to the primary position it now holds in Google search-terms.

“Washington,” according to the article, “had acknowledged Setad’s importance.” Acknowledged? By journalistic conventions that Reuters editors would certainly know, an acknowledgement indicates a reluctant admission, something a source would rather not reveal. Five months earlier, however, the Treasury Department sounded eager to call attention to Setad as “a massive network of front companies hiding assets on behalf of … Iran’s leadership.”

For hardliners on Iran, the U.S. Treasury press release was important fodder. But it lacked the human drama necessary to stir an audience against the current regime.  When the Reuters article came along, with all its historical omissions, it filled that gap.

December 28, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do you believe it’s OUR goal? Putin says he knows ‘very well’ who seeks to rule the world

RT | December 20, 2018

Russia does not aim to rule the world, and such assumptions are part of an “imposed mentality” used to distract people, Vladimir Putin told a WSJ reporter when asked about Russia’s supposed ambitions for world domination.

Faced with a rather provocative question from the WSJ Moscow Bureau Chief, Ann Maria Simmons, Putin said that “when it comes to ruling the world we know very well where the headquarters [of those], who are trying to do exactly that,” is located. “And it’s not in Moscow,” the president added, speaking at an annual Q&A session in Moscow.

Although the Russian leader has never openly accused Washington of having some global ambitions, he still said that the ongoing contest of influence in the international arena is linked to “the US leading role in the world economy” and its enormous defense spending amounting to “more than $700 billion,” which Washington apparently seeks to translate into some political power.

Russia’s defense spending amounts to just $46 billion, the president said, noting that the total population of the NATO countries accounts for some 600 million people while Russia has just about 140 million.

“Do you really believe that it is our goal to rule the world?” Putin asked rhetorically.

All the speculation about Russia’s supposed aspirations for the world dominance are nothing but a “mentality imposed by some to achieve internal goals,” the president said.

December 20, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , | 1 Comment

US Says Assad Has Approved Gas Attack In Idlib, Setting Stage For Major Military Conflict

By Tyler Durden – Zero Hedge – 09/10/2018

At this point there’s not even so much as feigning surprise or suspense in the now sadly all-too-familiar Syria script out of Washington.

The Wall Street Journal has just published a bombshell on Sunday evening as Russian and Syrian warplanes continue bombing raids over al-Qaeda held Idlib, citing unnamed US officials who claim President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country’s last major rebel stronghold.”

And perhaps more alarming is that the report details that Trump is undecided over whether new retaliatory strikes could entail expanding the attack to hit Assad allies Russia and Iran this time around.

That’s right, unnamed US officials are now claiming to be in possession of intelligence which they say shows Assad has already given the order in an absolutely unprecedented level of “pre-crime” telegraphing of events on the battlefield.

And supposedly these officials have even identified the type of chemical weapon to be used: chlorine gas.

The anonymous officials told the WSJ of “new U.S. intelligence” in what appears an eerily familiar repeat of precisely how the 2003 invasion of Iraq was sold to the American public (namely, “anonymous officials” and vague assurances of unseen intelligence)  albeit posturing over Idlib is now unfolding at an intensely more rapid pace :

Fears of a massacre have been fueled by new U.S. intelligence indicating Mr. Assad has cleared the way for the military to use chlorine gas in any offensive, U.S. officials said. It wasn’t clear from the latest intelligence if Mr. Assad also had given the military permission to use sarin gas, the deadly nerve agent used several times in previous regime attacks on rebel-held areas. It is banned under international law.

It appears Washington is now saying an American attack on Syrian government forces and locations is all but inevitable.

And according to the report, President Trump may actually give the order to attack even if there’s no claim of a chemical attack, per the WSJ :

In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib, the northwestern province that has become the last refuge for more than three million people and as many as 70,000 opposition fighters that the regime considers to be terrorists.

And further:

The Pentagon is crafting military options, but Mr. Trump hasn’t decided what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the U.S. would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Mr. Assad in Syria, U.S. officials said.

Crucially, this is the first such indication of the possibility that White House and defense officials are mulling over hitting “Russian or Iranian military forces” in what would be a monumental escalation that would take the world to the brink of World War 3.

The WSJ report cites White House discussions of a third strike — in reference to US attacks on Syria during the last two Aprils after chemical allegations were made against Damascus —  while indicating it “likely would be more expansive than the first two” and could include targeting Russia and Iran.

The incredibly alarming report continues:

During the debate this year over how to respond to the second attack, Mr. Trump’s national-security team weighed the idea of hitting Russian or Iranian targets in Syria, people familiar with the discussions said. But the Pentagon pushed for a more measured response, U.S. officials said, and the idea was eventually rejected as too risky.

A third U.S. strike likely would be more expansive than the first two, and Mr. Trump would again have to consider whether or not to hit targets like Russian air defenses in an effort to deliver a more punishing blow to Mr. Assad’s military.

Last week the French ambassador, whose country also vowed to strike Syria if what it deems credible chemical allegations emerge, said during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Idlib: “Syria is once again at the edge of an abyss.”

With Russia and Iran now in the West’s cross hairs over Idlib, indeed the entire world is again at the edge of the abyss.

developing…

September 10, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Korean Voices Missing From Major Papers’ Opinions on Singapore Summit

WaPo: Americans Have Figured It Out: North Korea Won!

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin (6/17/18) epitomized the zero-sum takes of US pundits.
By Adam Johnson | FAIR | June 21, 2018

In major-paper opinion coverage of the Singapore summit, the people with the most to lose and gain from the summit, the people whose nation was actually being discussed—Koreans—were almost uniformly ignored.

Three major US papers—the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal—had only one Korean-authored op-ed out of 41 opinion pieces on the subject of the Korean peace talks.

The Post had 23 total opinion pieces, the Times had 16 and the Journal four. The only op-ed by a Korean was a pro-summit piece on June 12 by Moon Chung-in, an aide to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Of the 41 editorials or op-eds only four (9 percent), were broadly positive about the Trump/Kim summit, 29 (70 percent) were negative and eight (21 percent) were mixed or ambiguous. The full list, current as of June 19, is here.

As FAIR noted in May (5/7/18), there’s a huge chasm between how recent peace efforts are being received in ostensible US ally South Korea and how they’re being covered in US media. As we noted at the time, polling shows 88 percent of South Koreans in favor of these efforts, while the person spearheading them, President Moon, holds an 86 percent approval rating. But the bulk of US coverage ranged from snide dismissal to outright opposition (FAIR.org, 6/14/18).

Similarly, a poll taken after the Singapore summit found that 66 percent of South Koreans were pleased with the results, and only 11 percent opposed them. This contrasts sharply with the reaction in US newspapers, which has been overwhelmingly negative in tone, and dominated by NatSec-centered horse race takes over who “won.”

The New York Times published one pro-summit piece, by Victor Cha (6/12/18), and it was a very qualified and conflicted. The Washington Post was mostly negative and skeptical, with three exceptions: predictable partisan cheerleading from reliable Trump apologist Marc Thiessen (6/15/17); a measured “wait and see” take from Michael O’Hanlon, a fellow at the Brookings Institution (6/13/18); and the aforementioned piece by President Moon’s aide. The Wall Street Journal’s commentary was uniformly negative.

The US media’s reaction to the summit is almost a mirror image of that of the South Korean public: 70 percent of major US papers’ opinion columns disapproved of the summit, whereas 66 percent of South Koreans approved. Eleven percent of South Koreans disapproved,  whereas only 9 percent of professional opinion-havers at the Times, Post and Journal thought the summit was a good thing.

This raises an important question: Why? What do US pundits know that those with something actually at stake—Koreans—don’t know?

NYT: The Trump Doctrine Is Winning and the World Is Losing

Trump showed “reckless disregard for the security concerns of America’s allies,” argued Kori Schake of the International Institute for Strategic Studies–funded by Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin (New York Times, 6/15/18)

One factor is that our media system turns to professional “experts” at a small handful of establishment think tanks, and these are often funded by monied interests with a vested interest in particular kinds of policy (Extra!, 7/13). On international questions, this often means the arms industry, who are major funders of think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). These think tanks produced predictably hawkish putdowns of the summit, such as CSIS’s Sue Mi Terry, who told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, in a rare moment of candor:

A peace treaty is not OK. That should come at the end of the process, because a peace treaty, while it sounds great and could be historic, also undermines the justification of our troops staying South Korea.

The “justification” for troops also happens to be the justification for the weapons systems they come with, namely those of CSIS’s major donors Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing (FAIR.org, 5/8/17).

Another part of the problem is partisanship. US pundits overwhelmingly view the Kim/Trump summit as a Trump-led or US-directed event, rather than an essential but limited part of a broader peace effort being undertaken by the Koreas themselves. … Full article

June 21, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Trump: Prisoner of the War Party?

By Pat Buchanan • Unz Review • April 17, 2018

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria.’ We convinced him it was necessary to stay.”

Thus boasted French President Emmanuel Macron Saturday, adding, “We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term.”

Is the U.S. indeed in the Syrian civil war “for the long term”?

If so, who made that fateful decision for this republic?

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley confirmed Sunday there would be no drawdown of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, until three objectives were reached. We must fully defeat ISIS, ensure chemical weapons would not again be used by Bashar Assad and maintain the ability to watch Iran.

Translation: Whatever Trump says, America is not coming out of Syria. We are going deeper in. Trump’s commitment to extricate us from these bankrupting and blood-soaked Middle East wars and to seek a new rapprochement with Russia is “inoperative.”

The War Party that Trump routed in the primaries is capturing and crafting his foreign policy. Monday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page fairly blossomed with war plans:

“The better U.S. strategy is to … turn Syria into the Ayatollah’s Vietnam. Only when Russia and Iran began to pay a larger price in Syria will they have any incentive to negotiate an end to the war or even contemplate a peace based on dividing the country into ethnic-based enclaves.”

Apparently, we are to bleed Syria, Russia, Hezbollah and Iran until they cannot stand the pain and submit to subdividing Syria the way we want.

But suppose that, as in our Civil War of 1861-1865, the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, and the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949, Assad and his Russian, Iranian and Shiite militia allies go all out to win and reunite the nation.

Suppose they choose to fight to consolidate the victory they have won after seven years of civil war. Where do we find the troops to take back the territory our rebels lost? Or do we just bomb mercilessly?

The British and French say they will back us in future attacks if chemical weapons are used, but they are not plunging into Syria.

Defense Secretary James Mattis called the U.S.-British-French attack a “one-shot” deal. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appears to agree: “The rest of the Syrian war must proceed as it will.”

The Journal’s op-ed page Monday was turned over to former U.S. ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker and Brookings Institute senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon:

“Next time the U.S. could up the ante, going after military command and control, political leadership, and perhaps even Assad himself. The U.S. could also pledge to take out much of his air force. Targets within Iran should not be off limits.”

And when did Congress authorize U.S. acts of war against Syria, its air force or political leadership? When did Congress authorize the killing of the president of Syria whose country has not attacked us?

Can the U.S. also attack Iran and kill the ayatollah without consulting Congress?

Clearly, with the U.S. fighting in six countries, Commander in Chief Trump does not want any new wars, or to widen any existing wars in the Middle East. But he is being pushed into becoming a war president to advance the agenda of foreign policy elites who, almost to a man, opposed his election.

We have a reluctant president being pushed into a war he does not want to fight. This is a formula for a strategic disaster not unlike Vietnam or George W. Bush’s war to strip Iraq of nonexistent WMD.

The assumption of the War Party seems to be that if we launch larger and more lethal strikes in Syria, inflicting casualties on Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah and the Syrian army, they will yield to our demands.

But where is the evidence for this?

What reason is there to believe these forces will surrender what they have paid in blood to win? And if they choose to fight and widen the war to the larger Middle East, are we prepared for that?

As for Trump’s statement Friday, “No amount of American blood and treasure can produce lasting peace in the Middle East,” the Washington Post Sunday dismissed this as “fatalistic” and “misguided.”

We have a vital interest, says the Post, in preventing Iran from establishing a “land corridor” across Syria.

Yet consider how Iran acquired this “land corridor.”

The Shiites in 1979 overthrew a shah our CIA installed in 1953.

The Shiites control Iraq because President Bush invaded and overthrew Saddam and his Sunni Baath Party, disbanded his Sunni-led army, and let the Shiite majority take control of the country.

The Shiites are dominant in Lebanon because they rose up and ran out the Israelis, who invaded in 1982 to run out the PLO.

How many American dead will it take to reverse this history?

How long will we have to stay in the Middle East to assure the permanent hegemony of Sunni over Shiite?

Copyright 2018 Creators.com.

April 17, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 2 Comments

Bob Parry: Holding Government to Account

A memorial was held on Saturday for Robert Parry, the late founder and editor of this web site. Among the speakers paying tribute to Bob was Joe Lauria, the new editor of Consortium News.

By Joe Lauria

If you watch Bob’s various talks available on YouTube you’ll see that he was often asked why he started Consortium News. Bob says, essentially, that he got fed up with the resistance he faced from editors who put obstacles in the way of his stories, often of great national significance. One editor at Newsweek told him they were suppressing a story for “the good for the country.” The facts he’d unearthed went too far in exposing the dark side of American power. His editor was speaking, of course, about what was for the good of the rulers of the country, not the rest of us. As we just heard from John Pilger, Bob created a consortium for journalists who ran up against similar obstruction from their editors: a place for them to publish what they could not get published in the mainstream.

Sixteen years after Bob launched Consortium News with Sam and Nat I became one of those journalists. I’d had similar experiences. When I covered the diplomacy at the U.N. leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq for a Canadian chain that published the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and other papers, I gave equal weight in my stories to the German, French and Russian opposition on the Security Council to the invasion.  So the chain’s foreign editor called me up one day from Ottawa to berate me for not supporting the war effort in my reporting.

He told me his son was a marine. I told him I was certain he was proud of him, but my job was not to support the war but to report objectively on what was happening at the Security Council. The Bush administration never got their resolution. But they invaded anyway. It was illegal under international law as Kofi Annan finally said after being pressured by a BBC interviewer. Annan was then hounded to the point of a near nervous breakdown by the likes of then UN Ambassador John Bolton, who, unfortunately. has since gotten a promotion. I, on the other hand, on the day of the invasion was fired.

Later, while covering the U.N. for The Wall Street Journal, I found that several of my stories were suppressed or inconvenient facts were getting edited out. One was a story I twice had rejected on a declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document that predicted the rise of ISIS back in 2012 but was ignored in Washington. It said the U.S. and its allies in Europe, Turkey and the Gulf were supporting a Salafist principality in eastern Syria that could turn into an Islamic State. Such a story would undermine the government’s war on terrorism.

In another instance, my editors repeatedly removed from my stories, on the UN vote on Palestine’s observer status, a line indicating that 130 nations had already recognized Palestine. At that point I realized the Journal had an agenda—not to neutrally report complex international events from multiple sides, but to promote US interests abroad. So I turned to Bob and he accepted a piece from me on that Palestine issue in late 2011, the first of many of my articles that he eventually published.

Bob was without doubt the best editor I’ve ever had. He was the only one who really understood—or accepted–what I was writing about.

Bob was a supreme skeptic, but he never descended to cynicism. His legacy, which I am committed to carry on, was of a principled, non-partisan approach to journalism. He took a neutral stance reporting on international issues, which some wrongly saw as anti-American. Bob knew never to take a government official’s word for it, especially an intelligence official. He knew people in all governments lie. But there are two other parties involved: the press and the public. He understood that the press had to act as a filter, to verify and challenge government assertions, before they are passed on to the public. Bob became distraught, and in his last piece poignantly said so, about the state of American journalism, where careerism and vanity had aligned the profession with those in power, a power through which too many reporters seem to live vicariously.

The press’ power is distinct from the government’s, it is the power to hold government accountable on behalf of the public. Bob understood that the mainstream media’s greatest sin was the sin of omission: leaving out of a story, or marginalizing, points of view at odds with a U.S. agenda, but vital for the reader to comprehend a frighteningly complex world.

The viewpoints of Iranians, Palestinians, Russians, North Koreans, Syrians and others are never fully reported in the Western media, though the supposed mission of journalism is to tell all sides of a story. It’s impossible to understand an international crisis without those voices being heard. Routinely or systematically shutting them out also dehumanizes people in those countries, making it easier to gain popular support in the U.S. to go to war against them.

The omission of such news day after day in newspapers and on television adds up over the decades to what Bob called the Lost History of post-war America. It is a dark side of American history—coups overthrowing democratically-elected leaders, electoral interference, assassinations and invasions. Omitting that history, as it continues to unfold nearly everyday, gives the American people a distorted view of their country, an almost cartoonish sense of America’s supposed morality in international affairs, rather than it just pursuing its interests, too often violently, as all great powers do.

These things aren’t normally mentioned in polite society. But Bob Parry built his extraordinary career telling those truths. And I’m going to do my damnedest to continue, and honor, his legacy.

Thank you.

April 16, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

WSJ’s Epic Distortion of Colombian and Venezuelan Refugees

By Joe Emersberger | FAIR | February 18, 2018

A Wall Street Journal article by Juan Forero (2/13/18) ran with the headline “Venezuela’s Misery Fuels Migration on Epic Scale.” The subhead stated, “Residents Flee Crumbling Economy in Numbers That Echo Syrians to Europe, Rohingya to Bangladesh.”

Forero’s article quoted a UN official: “By world standards, Colombia is receiving migrants at a pace that now rivals what we saw in the Balkans, in Greece, in Italy in 2015, at the peak of [Europe’s] migrant emergency.” Further on, Forero says, “The influx prompted Colombian officials to travel to Turkey last year to study how authorities were dealing with Syrian war refugees.”

Two enormous problems with the way Forero and his editors have framed this article should immediately stand out:

  1. Colombia’s population of internally displaced people is about 7 million, and has consistently been neck and neck with Syria’s.  According to the UNHCR, as of mid-2016, Colombia is also the Latin American country which has the most number of refugees living outside its borders: over 300,000, mainly in Venezuela and Ecuador. Forero and his editors picked the wrong country to compare with Syria.
  2. Greece and Italy do not share a border with Syria, nor do the Balkans as they are generally defined. Colombia and Venezuela, by contrast, share a very long border. Forero’s comparison, therefore, excludes states that border Syria. Three of those bordering states—Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey—collectively absorbed 4.4 million Syrian refugees by 2016; five years after war broke out in Syria, Turkey alone took in almost 3 million.

It’s very important to expand on the first point.  Colombia is a humanitarian and human rights disaster, and has been for decades, in very large part due to its close alliance with the United States. Thanks to Wikileaks (CounterPunch, 2/23/12), we know that US officials privately acknowledged estimates that hundreds of thousands of people were murdered by right-wing paramilitaries, and that the killings have nearly wiped out some indigenous groups. Those genocidal paramilitaries have worked closely with the Colombian military that Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly praised in 2014 as a “magnificent” US partner.  “They’re so appreciative of what we did for them,” raved Kelly.

Praise for Colombia’s government has also come from the liberal end of the US establishment, albeit with much more subtlety than from Kelly. In 2014, a New York Times editorial (9/21/14) stated that “Colombia, Brazil and other Latin American countries should lead an effort to prevent Caracas from representing the region [on the UN Security Council] when it is fast becoming an embarrassment on the continent.” So to Times editors, Colombia is a regional good guy that must lead its neighbors in shunning Venezuela.

Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, was minister of Defense from 2006 to 2009. From 2002 to 2008, the Colombian military murdered about 3,000 civilians, passing them off as slain rebels. As human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik explained (Huffington Post, 11/20/14) , the International Criminal Court (ICC) “concluded that these killings were systemic, approved by the highest ranks of the Colombian military, and that they therefore constituted ‘state policy.’” The murders occurred with the greatest frequency between 2004 and 2008, which Kovalik observed “also corresponds with the time in which the US was providing the highest level of military aid to Colombia.”

If Colombian and US officials evade prosecution for all of this, it will be with the help of corporate media—as well as the severe limitations powerful governments impose on international bureaucracies like the ICC. Kovalik remarked:

You might say, no official of the US can be prosecuted by the ICC because the US has refused to ratify the ICC treaty. While this may appear to be true, this did not stop the ICC from prosecuting officials from the Sudan—also not a signatory to the ICC.

The closest Forero came in his article to even hinting at any of these gruesome facts was when he wrote that “Colombia has long had troubles of its own, including integrating former Communist guerrillas from a civil conflict that only ended recently.”  The “conflict” has not exactly “ended,” given that 170 leftist political leaders and activists were assassinated in 2017.

Putting aside Forero’s epic distortions by omission regarding Colombia, what about his reporting about migration from Venezuela? He wrote:

Nearly 3 million Venezuelans—a tenth of the population—have left the oil-rich country over the past two decades of leftist rule. Almost half that number—some 1.2 million people—have gone in the past two years, according to Tomás Páez, a Venezuelan immigration expert at Venezuela’s Central University.

In April 2002, Páez signed his name to a quarter-page ad in the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional that welcomed the dictatorship of Pedro Carmona, then head of Venezuela’s largest business federation, who was installed after a US-backed military coup briefly ousted the late President Hugo Chavez. I’ve written before (ZNet, 1/16/17) about Western outlets—New York Times (11/25/16), Reuters (10/15/14) and Financial Times (8/22/16)—citing Páez without disclosing his anti-democratic record.

The World Bank has compiled data over the years on the numbers of Venezuelan-born people living abroad. The numbers point to far smaller migrations than Páez has estimated:

Population of Former Venezuelan Residents Living Abroad

Data in table can be found here, here, here and here.

During the years Chavez was in office (1999–2013), the World Bank’s figures tell us Venezuelans living abroad increased by about 330,000. By 2013, Páez was estimating that about 1.3 million had left—about 1 million more than World Bank estimates. Would journalists ignore data published by the World Bank in favor of estimates by Páez if he were a staunch supporter of the Venezuelan government?

During those 1999–2013 years, the World Bank figures also say that the number of Colombian-born people living in Venezuela grew by 200,000. Forero’s article implies that migration from Colombia to Venezuela ended in the “late 20th century.”

The World Bank has not updated migration data past 2013, but there is no doubt there was a huge increase in migration from Venezuela since its economy entered into a very deep crisis starting in late 2014. (For an overview of the important role of US policy in creating the crisis and now deliberately making it much worse, see my op-ed, “US Policy a Big Factor in Venezuela’s Depression”—Tribune News Service, 2/2/18.)

According to a Colombian university study of Venezuelan migration to Colombia, it averaged about 47,000 per year from 2011–2014, then increased to 80,000 per year in 2015–16.

US government data show migration from Venezuela to the United States increasing from about 7,000 per year before 2013 to 28,000 per year by 2015, including Venezuelans who have entered without authorization.

Venezuelan Born Population in the United States

Numbers in the table can be found here and here.

From 2000 to 2013, the United States was the destination for about 30 percent of Venezuelan-born people who left to live abroad, according to the World Bank figures. If the Colombian university study and US government data are accurate, then the United States has been the destination for about 20 percent of Venezuelan migrants after 2013. That would mean about 140,000 Venezuelans per year were leaving to live abroad by 2016.

That is not remotely comparable to the 5 million Syrians who fled the country in the first five years following the civil war—and that doesn’t include over a million per year who fled their homes inside Syria (the internally displaced).

That Forero would even try to force this comparison into his article speaks volumes. It’s not hard to guess why it was made, given that US has bombed Syria regularly and has had Venezuela’s government in its crosshairs for almost two decades.

February 20, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

Putin Smeared Himself to Undermine Democrats — MSM Has a New Russiagate Theory

It’s now Russia’s fault Democrats needlessly polarized American society by advancing feeble-minded smears from the Clinton dossier

What can you do when Putin plays 7-dimensional chess
Russia Insider | February 6, 2108

US invaded Iraq in 2003 because Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”. Except Iraq didn’t have them. Once the lie had served its purpose the US admitted as much, but dodged responsibility by redacting the story: Iraq had been pretending it had WMDs! No way was the US smearing and invading the country based on that smear actually America’s fault.

Well neither is falsely accusing Russia of getting its Manchurian candidate into the White House. Because while KGB doesn’t actually have tons of blackmail material on him Russia pretended it did. Take it over Wall Street Journal :

There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and America’s political process. This is what seems most likely to me, having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the CIA, observing Soviet and then Russian intelligence operations. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.

The pattern of such Russian operations is to sprinkle false information, designed to degrade the enemy’s social and political infrastructure, among true statements that enhance the veracity of the overall report.

Oh those Russkies! While they actually did not do the things the Hillary dossier says, they wanted Americans to believe they did, so of course insane Russiagaters can not be blamed for advancing the lie Russia was actually secretly controlling their President.

So we’ve gone from Russia being responsible for Russiagate to Russia being responsible for Americans falsely believing Russia was responsible for Russiagate.

Also it’s now Russia’s fault Democrats needlessly polarized American society by advancing feeble-minded smears from the Clinton dossier.

Oh well, whatever keeps you from having to take responsibility I guess.

Nice round-about way of admitting the Steele Dossier was idiotic and that advancing it hurt Democrats, however.

February 7, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | Leave a comment

The WannaCry Cyberattack: What the Evidence Says and Why the Trump Administration Blames North Korea

By Gregory Elich | CounterPunch | January 3, 2018

On December 19, in a Wall Street Journal editorial that drew much attention, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert asserted that North Korea was “directly responsible” for the WannaCry cyberattack that struck more than 300,000 computers worldwide. The virus encrypted files on infected computers and demanded payment in return for supposedly providing a decryption key to allow users to regain access to locked files. Bossert charged that North Korea was “using cyberattacks to fund its reckless behavior and cause disruption across the world.” [1]

At a press conference on the same day, Bossert announced that the attribution was made “with evidence,” and that WannaCry “was directed by the government of North Korea,” and carried out by “actors on their behalf, intermediaries.” The evidence that led to the U.S. to that conclusion? Bossert was not saying, perhaps recalling the ridicule that greeted the FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s misbegotten report on the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. [2] “Press Briefing on the Attribution of the WannaCry Malware Attack to North Korea,” Whitehouse.gov, December 19, 2017.

The centerpiece of the claim of North Korean culpability is the similarity in code between the Contopee malware, which opens backdoor access to an infected computer, and code in an early variant of WannaCry. [3]

Contopee has been linked to the Lazarus group, a cybercrime organization that some believe launched the Sony hack, based on the software tools used in that attack. Since North Korea is widely considered to be behind the cyberattack on Sony, at first glance that would appear to seal the argument.

It is a logical argument, but is it founded on valid premises? Little is known about Lazarus, aside from the operations that are attributed to it. The link between Lazarus and North Korea is a hypothesis based on limited evidence. It may or may not be true, but the apparent linkage is far weaker than mainstream media’s conviction would have one believe. Lazarus appears to be an independent organization possibly based in China, which North Korea may or may not have contracted to perform certain operations. That does not necessarily mean that every action – or even any action at all – Lazarus performs is at North Korea’s behest.

In Bossert’s mind as well as that of media reporters, Lazarus – the intermediaries Bossert refers to – and North Korea are synonymous when it comes to cyber operations. North Korea gives the orders and Lazarus carries them out. James Scott, a senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, notes that “speculation concerning WannaCry attributes the malware to the Lazarus Group, not to North Korea, and even those connections are premature and not wholly convincing. Lazarus itself has never been definitively proven to be a North Korean state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT); in fact, an abundance of evidence suggests that the Lazarus group may be a sophisticated, well-resourced, and expansive cyber-criminal and occasional cyber-mercenary collective.” Furthermore, Scott adds, the evidence used to tie Lazarus to North Korea, “such as an IP hop or some language indicators, are circumstantial and could even be intentional false flags” to misdirect investigators. [4]

Whether an association exists or not between Lazarus and North Korea has little meaning regarding a specific attack. Joseph Carson of Thycotic emphasizes “that it is important to be clear that [Lazarus] is a group and motives can change depending on who is paying. I have found when researching hacking groups they can one day be working for one government under one alias and another using a different alias. This means that association in cyberspace means nothing.” [5]

It is considered a particularly damning piece of evidence that some of the tools used in an early variant of WannaCry share characteristics with those deployed in the cyberattack on Sony. [6] However, there is ample cause for doubting North Korea’s role in the Sony hack, as I have written about before. [7] Following the Sony breach, IT businessman John McAfee revealed that he had contact with the group that attacked Sony. “It has to do with a group of hackers” motivated by dislike of the movie industry’s “controlling the content of art,” he said, and the FBI was wrong in attributing the attack to North Korea. [8]

If attribution of the Sony hack to North Korea does not hold up, then linkage based on tool usage falls apart.

Once malware is deployed, it often appears for sale on the Dark Web, where it can be purchased by cybercriminals. The reuse of code is a time-saving measure in building new threats. Indeed, malware can find its way onto the market quite rapidly, and almost as soon as WannaCry was wreaking havoc back in May, it was reported that “researchers are already finding variants” of WannaCry “in the wild.” [9]

According to Peter Stephenson of SC Media, “The most prevailing [theory] uses blocks of code that were part of known Korean hacks appearing in the WannaCry code as justification for pinning the attacks on NK. That’s really not enough. These blocks of code are readily available in the underground and get reused regularly.” [10]

Commonality of tool usage means less than we are led to believe. “While malware may initially be developed and used by a single actor,” Digital Shadows explains, “this does not mean that it will permanently remain unique to that actor. Malware samples might be accidentally or intentionally leaked, stolen, sold, or used in independent operations by individual members of the group.” [11]

“Shared code is not the same as attribution. Code can be rewritten and erased by anyone, and shared code is often reused,” observes Patrick Howell O’Neill of Cyberscoop. “The same technique could potentially be used to frame another group as responsible for a hack but, despite a lot of recent speculation, there is no definitive proof.” [12]

None of the shared code was present in WannaCry’s widespread attack on May 12. Although it is more likely than not that the same actor was behind the early variants of WannaCry and the May version, it is not certain. Alan Woodward, cybersecurity advisor to Europol, points out, “It is quite possible for even a relatively inexperienced group to obtain the malicious WannaCry payload and to have repackaged this. Hence, the only thing actually tying the May attacks to the earlier WannaCry attacks is the payload, which criminals often copy.” [13]

The most devastating component WannaCry utilized in its May 12 attack is EternalBlue, an exploit of Windows vulnerabilities that was developed by the National Security Agency and leaked by Shadow Brokers. The NSA informed Microsoft of the vulnerability only after it learned of the software’s theft. According to Bossert, the NSA informs software manufacturers about 90 percent of the time when it discovers a vulnerability in operating software. It keeps quiet about the remaining ten percent so that it can “use those vulnerabilities to develop exploits for the purpose of national security for the classified work we do.” [14] Plainly put, the NSA intentionally leaves individuals and organizations worldwide exposed to potential security breaches so that it can conduct its own cyber operations. This is less than reassuring.

The May variant of WannaCry also implemented DoublePulsar, which is a backdoor implant developed by the NSA that allows an attacker to gain full control over a system and load executable malware.

The two NSA-developed components are what allowed WannaCry to turn virulent last May. After loading, EternalBlue proceeds to infect every other vulnerable computer on the same network. It simultaneously generates many thousands of random IP addresses and launches 128 threads at two-second intervals, seeking vulnerabilities in computers that it can exploit at each one of the generated external IP addresses.[15]

China and Russia were among the nations that were most negatively impacted by the malware. [16] WannaCry initially targeted Russian systems, which would seem an odd thing for North Korea to do, given that Russia and China are the closest things it has to allies. [17]

Digital Shadows reports that “the malware appeared to spread virtually indiscriminately with no control by its operators,” and a more targeted approach “would have been more consistent with the activities of a sophisticated criminal outfit or a technically-competent nation-state actor.” [18]

Flashpoint analyzed the ransom note that appeared on infected computers. There were two Chinese versions and an English version. The Chinese texts were written by someone who is fluent, and the English by someone with a strong but imperfect command of English. Ransom notes in other languages were apparently translated from the English version using Google translator. [19] It has been pointed out that this fact does not disprove the U.S. attribution of North Korea, as that nation could have hired Chinese cybercriminals. True enough, but then North Korea does not have a unique ability to do so. If so inclined, anyone could contract Chinese malware developers.  Or cybercriminals could act on their own.

Lazarus and North Korean cyber actors have a reputation for developing sophisticated code. The hallmark of WannaCry, however, is its sheer sloppiness, necessitating the release of a series of new versions in fairly quick succession. Alan Woodward believes that WannaCry’s poorly designed code reveals that it had been written by “a less than experienced malware developer.” [20]

Important aspects of the code were so badly bungled that it is difficult to imagine how any serious organization could be responsible.

IT security specialists use virtual machines, or sandboxes, to safely test and analyze malware code. A well-designed piece of malware will include logic to detect the type of environment it is executing in and alter its performance in a virtual machine (VM) environment to appear benign. WannaCry was notably lacking in that regard.  “The authors did not appear to be concerned with thwarting analysis, as the samples analyzed have contained little if any obfuscation, anti-debugging, or VM-aware code,” notes LogRhythm Labs. [21]

James Scott argues that “every WannaCry attack has lacked the stealth, sophistication, and resources characteristic of [Lazarus sub-group] Bluenoroff itself or Lazarus as a whole. If either were behind WannaCry, the attacks likely would have been more targeted, had more of an impact, would have been persistent, would have been more sophisticated, and would have garnered significantly greater profits.” The EternalBlue exploit was too valuable to waste “on a prolific and unprofitable campaign” like the May 12 WannaCry attack. By contrast, Bluenoroff “prefers to silently integrate into processes, extort them, and invisibly disappear after stealing massive fiscal gains.” [22] Bogdan Botezatu of Bitdefender, agrees. “The attack wasn’t targeted and there was no clear gain for them. It’s doubtful they would use such a powerful exploit for anything else but espionage.” [23]

WannaCry included a “kill switch,” apparently intended as a poorly thought out anti-VM feature. “For the life of me,” comments Peter Stephenson, “I can’t see why they might think that would work.” [24] When the software executes it first attempts to connect to a hostname that was unregistered. The malware would proceed to run if the domain was not valid. A cybersecurity researcher managed to disable WannaCry by registering the domain through NameCheap.com, shutting down with ease the ability of WannaCry to infect any further computers. [25]

Once WannaCry infected a computer, it demanded a ransom of $300 in bitcoin to release the files it had encrypted. After three days, the price doubled. The whole point of WannaCry was to generate income, and it is here where the code was most inept.

Ideally, ransomware like WannaCry would use a new account number for each infected computer, to better ensure anonymity. Instead, WannaCry hard-coded just three account numbers, which basically informed authorities what accounts to monitor. [26] It is an astonishing botch.

Incredibly, WannaCry lacked the capability of automatically identifying which victims paid the ransom. That meant that determining the source of each payment required manual effort, a daunting task given the number of infected computers. [27] Inevitably, decryption keys were not sent to paying victims and once the word got out, there was no motivation for anyone else to pay.

In James Scott’s assessment, “The WannaCry attack attracted very high publicity and very high law-enforcement visibility while inflicting arguably the least amount of damage a similar campaign that size could cause and garnering profits lower than even the most rudimentary script kiddie attacks.” Scott was incredulous over claims that WannaCry was a Lazarus operation. “There is no logical rationale defending the theory that the methodical [Lazarus], known for targeted attacks with tailored software, would suddenly launch a global campaign dependent on barely functional ransomware.” [28]

One would never know it from news reports, but cybersecurity attribution is rarely absolute. Hal Berghel, of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Nevada, comments on the “absence of detailed strategies to provide justifiable, evidence-based cyberattribution. There’s a reason for that: there is none. The most we have is informed opinion.”  The certainty with which government officials and media assign blame in high-profile cyberattacks to perceived enemies should at least raise questions. “So whenever a politician, pundit, or executive tries to attribute something to one group or another, our first inclination should always be to look for signs of attribution bias, cognitive bias, cultural bias, cognitive dissonance, and so forth. Our first principle should be cui bono: What agendas are hidden? Whose interests are being represented or defended? What’s the motivation behind the statement? Where are the incentives behind the leak or reportage? How many of the claims have been substantiated by independent investigators?” [29]

IT security specialist Graham Cluley raises an important question. “I think in the current hostile climate between USA and North Korea it’s not unhelpful to retain some skepticism about why this claim might have been made, and what may have motivated the claim to be made at the present time.” [30]

To all appearances, WannaCry was the work of amateurish developers who got hold of NSA software that allowed the malware to spread like wildfire, but their own code was so poorly written that it failed to monetize the effort to any meaningful degree.

WannaCry has its uses, though. The Trump administration’s public attribution is “more about the administration’s message that North Korea is a dangerous actor than it is about cybersecurity,” says Ross Rustici, head of Intelligence Research at Cybereason. “They’re trying to lay the groundwork for people to feel like North Korea is a threat to the homeland.” [31] It is part of a campaign by the administration to stampede the public into supporting harsh measures or possibly even military action against North Korea.

[1] Thomas P. Bossert, “It’s Official: North Korea is Behind WannaCry,” Wall Street Journal,” December 19, 2017.

[2] “Press Briefing on the Attribution of the WannaCry Malware Attack to North Korea,” Whitehouse.gov, December 19, 2017.

[3] “WannaCry and Lazarus Group – the Missing Link?” SecureList, May 15, 2017.

[4] James Scott, “There’s Proof That North Korea Launched the WannaCry Attack? Not So Fast! – A Warning Against Premature, Inconclusive, and Distracting Attribution,” Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, May 23, 2017.

[5] Eduard Kovacs, “Industry Reactions to U.S. Blaming North Korea for WannaCry,” Security Week, December 22, 2017.

[6] “WannaCry: Ransomware Attacks Show Strong Links to Lazarus Group,” Symantec Official Blog, May 22, 2017.

[7] Gregory Elich, “Who Was Behind the Cyberattack on Sony?” Counterpunch, December 30, 2014.

[8] David Gilbert, Gareth Platt, “John McAfee: ‘I Know Who Hacked Sony Pictures – and it Wasn’t North Korea,” International Business Times, January 19, 2015.

[9] Amanda Rousseau, “WCry/WanaCry Ransomware Technical Analysis,” Endgame, May 14, 2017.

[10] Peter Stephenson, “WannaCry Attribution: I’m Not Convinced Kim Dunnit, but a Russian…”, SC Media, May 21, 2017.

[11] Digital Shadows Analyst Team, “WannaCry: An Analysis of Competing Hypotheses,” Digital Shadows, May 18, 2017.

[12] Patrick Howell O’Neill, “Researchers: WannaCry Ransomware Shares Code with North Korean Malware,” Cyberscoop, May 15, 2017.

[13] Alan Woodward, “Attribution is Difficult – Consider All the Evidence,” Cyber Matters, May 24, 2017.

[14] Thomas P. Bossert, “It’s Official: North Korea is Behind WannaCry,” Wall Street Journal,” December 19, 2017.

[15] Luke Somerville, Abel Toro, “WannaCry Post-Outbreak Analysis,” Forcepoint, May 16, 2017.

Sarah Maloney, “WannaCry / WCry /WannaCrypt Attack Profile,” Cybereason, May 16, 2017.

Rohit Langde, “WannaCry Ransomware: A Detailed Analysis of the Attack,” Techspective, September 26, 2017.

[16] Eduard Kovacs, “WannaCry Does Not Fit North Korea’s Style, Interests: Experts,” Security Week, May 19, 2017.

[17] “A Technical Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware,” LogRhythm, May 16, 2017.

[18] Digital Shadows Analyst Team, “WannaCry: An Analysis of Competing Hypotheses,” Digital Shadows, May 18, 2017.

[19] Jon Condra, John Costello, Sherman Chu, “Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors,” Flashpoint, May 25, 2017.

[20] Alan Woodward, “Attribution is Difficult – Consider All the Evidence,” Cyber Matters, May 24, 2017.

[21] Erika Noerenberg, Andrew Costis, Nathanial Quist, “A Technical Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware,” LogRhythm, May 16, 2017.

[22] James Scott, “There’s Proof That North Korea Launched the WannaCry Attack? Not So Fast! – A Warning Against Premature, Inconclusive, and Distracting Attribution,” Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, May 23, 2017.

[23] Eduard Kovacs, “WannaCry Does Not Fit North Korea’s Style, Interests: Experts,” Security Week, May 19, 2017.

[24] Peter Stephenson, “WannaCry Attribution: I’m Not Convinced Kim Dunnit, but a Russian…”, SC Media, May 21, 2017.

[25] Rohit Langde, “WannaCry Ransomware: A Detailed Analysis of the Attack,” Techspective, September 26, 2017.

[26] Jesse Dunietz, “The Imperfect Crime: How the WannaCry Hackers Could Get Nabbed,” Scientific American, August 16, 2017.

[27] Andy Greenberg, “The WannaCry Ransomware Hackers Made Some Major Mistakes,” Wired, May 15, 2017.

[28] James Scott, “WannaCry Ransomware & the Perils of Shoddy Attribution: It’s the Russians! No Wait, it’s the North Koreans!” Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, May 18, 2017.

[29] Hal Berghel, “On the Problem of (Cyber) Attribution,” Computer — IEEE Computer Society, March 2017.

[30] Scott Carey, “Should We Believe the White House When it Says North Korea is Behind WannaCry?” Computer World, December 20, 2017.

[31] John P. Mello Jr., “US Fingers North Korea for WannaCry Epidemic,” Tech News World, December 20, 2017.

Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and the Advisory Board of the Korea Policy Institute. He is a member of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea, a columnist for Voice of the People, and one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language. He is also a member of the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia and the Pacific. His website is https://gregoryelich.org Follow him on Twitter at @GregoryElich

January 3, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment