Are whistleblowers—whose anonymity is often their best protection against retribution—made safer by being forced to register as whistleblowers with the U.S. government? Or are they being placed in greater danger?
The Obama administration is demanding they step forward and sign up.
Indeed, exposing government corruption or other wrongdoing often means being discreet, if not anonymous, on the part of the individuals blowing the whistle, unless they want to face retribution from higher-ups involved in the misdeeds. Keeping one’s identity hidden is almost always essential for whistleblowers because of managers’ or executives’ impulse to protect themselves and punish those exposing their mistakes. Thus, any government program that requires whistleblowers to reveal themselves—ostensibly for their own good—might seem disingenuous, if not counterproductive to encouraging workers to expose law breakers.
But the Obama administration is taking this approach by mandating that government employees register as official whistleblowers under the Insider Threat program it established three years ago. This program was adopted, the president said, to protect against internal dangers lurking within federal agencies.
One of the biggest supporters on Capitol Hill of government whistleblowing says the Obama program’s registration requirement is a terrible idea and antithetical to the importance of whistleblowers coming forward.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who coauthored the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (pdf), addressed the U.S. Senate recently to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the landmark bill. During his speech, Grassley criticized Insider Threat’s effort to expose whistleblowers, citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a prime concern.
The Republican senator said he’s been trying for months to get the FBI to share its Insider Threat training materials. But the bureau has steadfastly refused.
At one point, the FBI’s top Insider Threat official agreed to meet with Grassley and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to discuss how the bureau was training its people to
“distinguish between true insider threats and legitimate whistleblowers.”
The official, according to Grassley’s speech, told them not to worry about the training materials, which they had failed to bring along to the meeting.
“He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people,” Grassley said in his speech.
The official then “abruptly walked out” of the meeting after being there only 10 minutes.
“These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection,” Grassley stated.
The senator, who has served in Congress since 1975, added that Obama’s registration requirement was an idea that “should be pretty alarming to all Americans. Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has.”
To Learn More:
Grassley Talks About the Anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (Senator Charles Grassley)
Terrorists, Spies, Whistleblowers Treated the Same by Obama Administration (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Obama Anti-Whistleblower Program Requires Federal Employees to Report Suspicions of other Employees or Risk Punishment (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.
The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.
Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.
Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.
The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a December 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.
Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.
Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed December 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.
And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”
The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.
But the order allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.
The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.
The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.
The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.
That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.
Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.
The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.
The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”
The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”
That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”
On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.
Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.
The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.
It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does not constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.
Illegal US drone strikes continue (the Long War Journal says there have been 8 drones strikes in Yemen so far in 2014), but efforts to curb the use of killer drones have made remarkable headway this year.
While the faith-based community has taken far too long to address the moral issues posed by remote-controlled killing, on February 13, the World Council of Churches — the largest coalition of Christian churches — came out in opposition to the use of armed drones. The Council said that the use of armed drones poses a “serious threat to humanity” and condemned, in particular, US drone strikes in Pakistan. This is a breakthrough in the religious community, and should make it easier for individual denominations to make similar pronouncements, as the Church of the Brethren has.
There have also been major developments in the secular world. In February, the European Union, with an overwhelming vote of 534-49, passed a resolution calling on EU Member States to “oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings” and demanding that EU member states “do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states.” This resolution will pressure individual European nations to stop their own production and/or use of killer drones (especially the UK, Germany, Italy and France), and to stop their collaboration with the US drone program.
People on the receiving end of US drone strikes have also stepped up their opposition. On April 1, a group of friends and family of drone strike victims in Yemen came together to form the National Organization for Drone Victims. This is the first time anywhere that drone strike victims have created their own entity to support one another and seek redress. The organization plans to conduct its own investigations, focusing on the civilian impact of drone attacks. At the official launch, which was packed with press, the group said any government official supporting the US drones should be tried in a criminal court. “Today, we launch this new organization which will be the starting point for us to get justice and to take legal measures on a national and international scale against anyone who is aiding these crimes,” said the organization’s president Mohammad Ali al-Qawli, whose brother was killed in a drone strike.
The Pakistani government has taken its opposition to drone strikes directly to the UN Human Rights Council. Pakistan, with the co-sponsorship of Yemen, introduced a resolution calling for transparency in drone strikes and for setting up a committee of experts to address the legal issues. Despite the opposition of the United States, which boycotted the talks and lobbied to kill the resolution, it passed on March 24 by a vote of 27-6, with 14 abstentions. The panel of experts that will be convened is scheduled to present its findings at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2014.
UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, also used this session of the UN Human Rights Council to release a detailed report on the issue of drones. Emmerson examined 37 instances of drone strikes in which civilians were reportedly killed or injured and concluded that nations using drones must provide a “public explanation of the circumstances and a justification for the use of deadly force.” Emmerson said it was critical for the international community to reach a consensus on many issues presented by drones strikes, including state sovereignty and whether it is legal to target a hostile person in a non-belligerent state.
These new developments have come about due to increasing public scrutiny and protests against drone attacks, such as the ongoing protests at the Hancock, Beale, and Creech Air Force Bases, the headquarters of drone manufacturer General Atomics, the White House, CIA, Congress and the Pentagon. The entire month of April has been designated for Days of Action, with film showings, talks, die-ins, re-enactments of drone strikes and other creative actions happening throughout the country.
Activists opposing weaponized drones are pleased to finally see more movement at the international level, and hope this will result in heightened pressure on the Obama administration, both internationally and domestically, to stop its policy of targeted assassinations and instead adhere to the rule of law.
A new investigation reveals that the US government has secretly funded a social media network program to instigate political unrest in Cuba.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has been secretly financing the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter,” for more than two years to undermine the Caribbean country’s government, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
The program has reportedly been able to evade Cuba’s Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political rallies.
The service drew in tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware of Washington’s scheme. The investigation showed that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has gone to extensive lengths to conceal its involvement in the program.
It also added that USAID set up front-companies overseas and routed money through a Cayman Islands bank to hide the funding it supplied to support the Cuban Twitter project.
Havana and Washington have been at odds since the Cuban revolution, led by Fidel Castro, toppled Fulgencio Batista’s regime in 1959. The US started imposing measures on the same year and placed an official embargo against Cuba in 1962.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that after the 2008 US presidential election, Obama had promised a new beginning with Cuba but “the reality of the last four years has been characterized by a persistent tightening of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade.”
President Obama’s speech in Brussels this week was a shocking mélange of ignorance and arrogance masquerading as foreign policy.
Attempting to justify placing the US on war footing with Russia over the recent referendum in Crimea, the president stated:
Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.
Of course anyone who followed the Kosovo fiasco knows that never happened. There was no such thing. Made up. The Kosovo parliament declared independence unilaterally backed up by US/NATO military power to ensure the change of borders.
The US press? Silent on this monumental display of ignorance by the US commander in chief.
Speaking of changing borders, Obama said:
…in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.
But that is just what the United States did 15 years ago this week via the 78 day bombing of Serbia to change the borders and extract Kosovo as an independent (though profoundly dysfunctional) state. The US bombing of Serbia was of course outside international law, as was US invasion and occupation of Iraq, attack and invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Libya, bombing of Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
The president celebrated…
…the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose, the belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.
But in the modern world he champions — as opposed to his bad old system of using force to establish legitimacy — that consent of the governed is determined at the ballot box, rather than in burned-out buildings occupied by gangs of molotov cocktail throwing “activists.”
Indeed, as David Hendrickson recently wrote in the National Interest :
Americans have previously acknowledged a right of revolution in a circumstance where there has been no previous instance of an election and no possibility of one. But in a regime that has a constitution and that has prescribed rules for the transfer of power? Revolution in those circumstances has been generally seen as deeply illegitimate, and for the simple reason that once you depart from that rule you are in no man’s land.
So where Obama may see…
…the young people of Ukraine, who were determined to take back their future from a government rotted by corruption…
…the modern world he touts — free of the oppression where “order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign” — can only be brought about by his own terms through the rule of law and respect of the sovereignty of all the people through a free and fair vote. Otherwise, logic is clear, we are precisely back in those bad old days where might makes right.
How can two contradictory concepts both be true at the same time?
The president claims to…
…believe in democracy, with elections that are free and fair, and independent judiciaries and opposition parties, civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices.
All the while he champions a regime that came to power in Ukraine in the opposite manner from that which he recognizes as legitimate. Recognizing this fact depends not on whether one agrees with the political persuasion of the ancien or nouveau régime in Kiev.
The president displays another astonishing disconnect with historical reality when he claims that “even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system.”
It is not apocryphal that the United States precisely violated international law in its attack on Iraq, as it ignored the United Nations Security Council and instead made its own ad hoc “coalition of the willing” which through sheer will of the US was supposedly granted some manner of legitimacy. As if from some magic fairy dust.
Or could it have been through the very notion condemned in Obama’s speech “that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way – that recycled maxim that might makes right.”
What is perhaps most troubling is the president (and his advisors) have demostrated that the policies that may well determine whether we all will perish in a World War III are being made by people without even a passing familiarity with recent history. Those who would rather Tweet “selfies” like self-obsessed adolescents rather than open a history book.
Or, sadly perhaps, it is cynicism in the extreme: perhaps they do know better but count on the ignorance of the rest of us. Is that a safe bet?
I have been an outspoken advocate for a Medicare for all health system. During the health reform process, I did all that I could to push for single payer, including being arrested three times for civil disobedience. I was one of fifty doctors who filed a brief in the Supreme Court which expressed opposition to forcing people to buy private health insurance, a defective product. It pains me to see that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) siphons billions of public dollars to create more bureaucracy and transfers hundreds of billions of public dollars directly to the private insurance industry when I know that those dollars should be paying for the health care that so many in our country desperately need.
I am currently uninsured, so I have to make a choice. I don’t qualify for Medicaid and I’m too young for Medicare. By law, I am required to buy private insurance or pay a penalty. But I find myself in the position of not being able to do either. I can’t in good conscience give money to the health insurance industry that I am fighting to eliminate. And I can’t in good conscience pay a tax penalty that will be given to that industry. So, I am going to be a Conscientious Objector to the ACA.
I suspect that there are others who feel as I do. If you are planning to object to purchasing insurance and you support Medicare for all, you might like to join me in sending a letter to President Obama. Click on this link to do so.
The Issue is Access to Care, Not the Number Who Buy Insurance
As the March 31 deadline to purchase health insurance or face a penalty approaches, the public debate is focused solely on enrollment numbers. Great efforts are being expended to compel people to buy insurance. The “Young Invincibles,” a term created to misrepresent uninsured young adults, are being marketed heavily. And Enroll America, a coalition of advocates and health industry executives, is working overtime to encourage volunteers to be creative in the ways they locate and convince people to purchase insurance.
The mass media and politicians are constantly talking about the health care marketplace. We are being indoctrinated with market rhetoric. Patients are called consumers and health insurance plans are called products. The problem with this is that health care doesn’t belong in the marketplace whose logic dictates that care should be denied if a profit cannot be made. Health care is a public good and something that everyone needs throughout their lifetime.
Focusing solely on the number of people who are insured is what the private health insurance industry wants the public to believe is most important. The industry spent tremendous amounts of money and time to get a law that would force people to buy insurance in order to protect and enhance their assets. They want everyone to buy their products and to make people feel reckless or irresponsible if they don’t. This is a massive campaign to distract people from asking the questions that really matter, such as whether people with insurance will be able to afford health care, whether bankruptcies from medical debt will continue and whether overall health outcomes will improve.
In the United States, having health insurance does not guarantee access to necessary health care. In fact, rather than creating health security, the ACA is degrading health care coverage in the US. It is also creating the largest transfer of public dollars to a private industry ever, as UNITE HERE reports “most of the ACA’s $965 billion in subsidies will go directly to commercial insurance companies.”
The Insurance Scam
As Kevin Zeese and I wrote last fall, the ACA is one of the biggest insurance scams in history. It has made the already complex American health system, which spends over a third of health care dollars on insurance-created bureaucracy rather than care, much more complicated. It is based on principles that are the opposite of what are proven to be effective. Instead of being universal, everybody automatically enrolled as we did for seniors when Medicare started in 1965 and as most other industrialized nations do, we created a conservative, means-tested system that depends on individual income.
And instead of creating a single standard of care, so that everyone has access to the health care they need, the ACA locked into law a tiered system of coverage based on different metals: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Though they may sound good, it turns out that the upper tier plans are not any better than the lower tier plans in terms of what services are covered or where patients can go for care. The major difference is whether a person chooses to pay more up front in higher premiums and pay less when they need health care (upper tier plans) or chooses to gamble on staying healthy and pay less up front, risking higher out-of-pocket costs if they need care (lower tier plans). This is essentially a pay-now-or-pay-later scheme.
And it is a scheme, because there are no guarantees that people who have insurance will be protected from financial ruin if they have a serious health problem. It is essential to remember that nothing about the basic business model of insurance companies has changed. They exist to make a profit and they are very good at it. While they complain about the ACA, because its regulations require more work on their end to find ways around them, it has been very lucrative for them. Health insurance stock values have doubled since the law passed in 2010.
One of their major work-arounds is the use of narrow and ultra-narrow provider networks to discourage patients with pre-existing conditions from buying their plans and leave patients footing more of the bill. Narrow networks exclude at least 30% of local hospitals and ultra-narrow networks exclude at least 70%. This means that if the local cancer center isn’t included in a plan, then people with cancer are unlikely to buy that plan. To make it worse, it’s difficult for patients to determine what providers are included in different plans because the information on the insurance exchange websites has been found to be wrong half the time.
The reason for the narrow networks is that when patients don’t go to an approved health provider, they bear most or all of the costs. The limit on how much money people can be required to spend in addition to premiums doesn’t apply when patients go out of network (and the limit was removed for 2014 anyway). In practice, if someone develops a serious health condition and the hospital or health professional that treats the condition is not in their network, they will have to go without care or find a way to pay for it. And if a person has a serious accident and is taken to a hospital that is out of network, the patient will again bear the total cost. Buying insurance is a health care crap shoot.
The Race to the Bottom in Health Care Benefits
Medical bankruptcy and self-rationing, foregoing necessary care due to cost, are two products of our market-based health system and we can expect them to continue under the ACA, even as more people become insured. Supporters of the ACA often quote the slowed rise of health care spending that has been happening since the financial crash in 2008. They claim it is a sign of the law’s positive effect; however, the slowing is actually due to fewer people using health services. In 2012, 80 million people went without necessary care because of cost.
Self-rationing will continue because there has not been an economic recovery for most of us. More than 80% of people are buying lower tier health plans that require high up-front payments for care at a time when most families are living paycheck to paycheck. The number of people who are considered poor or low income is rising. And, as Paul Bucheit writes, if we updated our standards for measuring poverty to reflect the current economic realities (the costs of food, housing, health care, education, etc), the poverty threshold would be over three times higher than it is now. He adds that half of the US population owns zero wealth because of debt. It is a sad irony that people are being forced to pay monthly premiums for health insurance that will leave them without money for actual care.
And now that lower coverage plans are legal, they are accelerating the race to the bottom in employer health benefits. Employers are shifting more of the cost of health care onto employees, reducing coverage for dependents, moving employees into private insurance exchanges (which do not qualify for subsidies) and penalizing employees for poor health habits, which places the blame for health problems on the individual without acknowledging that many drivers of poor health are out of the individual’s control. While tying health care to employment is not ideal, in the US at least the employer-based plans used to provide better benefits than those on the individual market.
The Practical Solution
The solution to the ongoing health care crisis is obvious. We need to reverse direction completely and move to a national publicly-funded health insurance for everyone. Some call this a single payer or ‘Medicare for all’ plan. We are already spending enough on health care in the US to provide high quality care to everyone. It is just wrong from a standpoint of what works to continue shifting more of our health care dollars to bureaucracy instead of to care and to the private insurance industry which is designed to keep as much for itself as it can get away with. It is immoral to protect insurance company profits instead of protecting the health and wellbeing of our people.
Putting our money into the insurance industry is a step in the wrong direction. The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, HR 676, in Congress, would eliminate the insurance industry and create lifelong comprehensive coverage for everyone. No matter what you choose to do about insurance, tell your Congress member to support HR 676. And if you are one of the millions who do not plan to buy insurance, join me in telling Obama why. Click here to write President Obama.
Margaret Flowers is co-director of It’s Our Economy, co-host of Clearing the FOG Radio and an organizer of the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. She is also with the Health Care is a Human Right campaign in Maryland.
The United States is considering allowing shipments of portable air defense systems to Syrian opposition groups, a U.S. official said Friday, as President Barack Obama sought to reassure Saudi Arabia’s king that the U.S. is not taking too soft a stance in Syria and other Mideast conflicts.
A Washington Post report said Saturday that the U.S. is ready to step up covert aid to Syrian armed groups under a plan being discussed with regional allies including Saudi Arabia.
The plan includes CIA training of about 600 Syrian opposition forces per month in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius wrote on Thursday. That would double the forces currently being trained in the region.
The Obama administration was debating whether to use U.S. Special Operation forces and other military personnel in the training, something Syrian mercenaries have argued would carry less political baggage than the CIA, according to the column.
The Obama administration has been criticized by some in Congress for failing to do more in Syria, where 140,000 people have been killed so far, millions have become refugees and thousands of foreign gunmen have been trained since 2011.
Washington was also considering whether to provide the armed opposition with anti-aircraft missile launchers, known as MANPADS, to stop President Assad’s air force, the column said. Saudi Arabia wanted U.S. permission before delivering them, it said.
The plan, which was still being formalized, also called for vetting of opposition forces for “extremist links” during and after training, according to Ignatius.
Qatar has offered to pay for the first year of the program, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the column. The program would try to stabilize Syria by helping local councils and police in areas not under Assad’s control and seek to establish safe corridors for humanitarian aid, it said.
Saudi rulers are hoping for the United States to shift its position on support for Syrian armed opposition, whom Riyadh has backed in their battle to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has denied any troop build-up on the Ukraine border, a claim voiced by President Barack Obama and Kiev officials. Moscow slammed the West for ignoring the results of recent fact-finding missions for the sake of political expediency.
On Friday Obama urged Russia to pull back “a range of troops,” which he said, “we have seen […] massing along that border under the guise of military exercises.”
“But these are not what Russia would normally be doing,” Obama said, speaking with CBS on his trip to Rome.
He then suggested that the troop build-up could be “just an effort to intimidate Ukraine.”
“It may be that they’ve got additional plans,” Obama said.
The US president’s comments came the day after a Ukrainian security official told Executive Vice President of the US-Atlantic Council Damon Wilson that “almost 100,000 soldiers are stationed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction … of Kharkov, Donetsk.”
“Russian troops are not only in Crimea, they are along all Ukrainian borders. They’re in the south, they’re in the east and in the north,” Andrey Parubiy, one of the so-called Maidan “commandants” who has been appointed chairman of Ukraine’s Security Council, told the Atlantic Council during a web conference Thursday.
Parubiy expressed his worry that continental Ukraine might “see a huge attack” on its territory.
“We are getting ready for it,” he said.
In the past few days, Western media has extensively reported that Russia is positioning its troops in Crimea and along the Ukrainian border. Some of the major news outlets speculated that Russian troops “appeared to be concealing their positions, trying to cloak their equipment, and establishing supply lines.”
Responding to those accusations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, in which it recalled four probes in March by foreign missions in Russia of regions bordering Ukraine.
The ministry said that “even Ukrainian inspectors” agreed that “there were no major military activities being carried out.”
The four international missions included representatives of Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Belgium, France and Ukraine. None of the missions “found ‘aggressive preparations’ and have not recorded any military activities, aside from the previously declared,” the statement said.
“Opportunities to conduct such activities were provided to all those who wished to get acquainted with the real situation in the border with Ukraine regions,” the ministry said.
The statement emphasized that “even Ukrainian inspectors” agreed that “there were no major military activities being carried out.”
“The result of this was the official reports submitted to all OSCE member states. The objective information contained in those reports, in our view, should have become a subject of an impartial analysis and basis for further conclusions,” the statement said.
This, however, is not the case here, the ministry said.
As another proof that there are no additional Russian troops and active military preparations, the Foreign Ministry referred to recent observation flights by American and German inspectors.
“The official results of those flights will be known later, after the processing of photographic materials. However, one can assume that if signs of large concentration of the armed forces were spotted from the air, our partners would not wait to present the ‘evidence’. Hence, it simply does not exist,” the ministry said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also questioned the objectivity of Western politicians.
“Is objective information collected by military inspectors not provided to the political leadership [of Western countries]? Or are these leaders, yielding to their emotions, inclined to ignore the facts in order to satisfy their own political tastes and preferences?” the ministry said.
The American people got a nasty taste of the danger that can come with false narrative when they were suckered into the Iraq War based on bogus claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction that he planned to share with al-Qaeda.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict along with hundreds thousands of Iraqis. The war’s total financial cost probably exceeded $1 trillion, a vast sum that siphoned off America’s economic vitality and forced cutbacks in everything from education to road repair. Plus, the war ended up creating an Iraqi base for al-Qaeda terrorists that had not existed before.
But perhaps an even more dangerous problem coming out of the Iraq War was that almost no one in Official Washington who pushed the false narrative – whether in politics or in the press – was held accountable in any meaningful way. Many of the same pols and pundits remain in place today, pushing similar false narratives on new crises, from Ukraine to Syria to Iran.
Those false narratives – and their cumulative effect on policy-making – now represent a clear and present danger to the Republic and, indeed, to the world. The United States, after all, is the preeminent superpower with unprecedented means for delivering death and destruction. But almost nothing is being done to address this enduring American crisis of deception.
Today, Official Washington is marching in lockstep just as it did in 2002-03 when it enforced the misguided consensus on Iraq’s WMD. The latest case is Ukraine where Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of committing “aggression” to expand Russian territory at the expense of noble ”democratic” reformers in Kiev.
Not only is this the dominant storyline in the U.S. media; it is virtually the only narrative permitted in the mainstream press. But the real narrative is that the United States and the European Union provoked this crisis by trying to take Ukraine out of its traditional sphere of influence, Russia, and put it in to a new association with the EU.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ukraine joining with the EU or staying with Russia (or a combination of the two) – depending on the will of the people and their elected representatives – this latest U.S./EU plan was motivated, at least in part, by hostility toward Russia.
That attitude was expressed in a Sept. 26, 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post by Carl Gershman, the neoconservative president of the National Endowment for Democracy, which doles out more than $100 million in U.S. funds a year to help organize “activists,” support “journalists” and finance programs that can be used to destabilize targeted governments.
Gershman, whose job amounts to being a neocon paymaster, expressed antagonism toward Russia in the op-ed and identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” the capture of which could ultimately lead to the ouster of Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
The NED, which was founded in 1983 to do in relative openness what the CIA had long done in secret, listed 65 projects that it was financing in Ukraine, using U.S. taxpayers’ money. In other words, Gershman’s op-ed reflected U.S. policy – at least inside the State Department’s still-neocon-dominated bureaucracy – which viewed the EU’s snatching of Ukraine from Russia’s embrace as a way to weaken Russia and hurt Putin.
Later, as the Ukrainian crisis unfolded, another neocon, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, reminded Ukrainian businessmen that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations,” implying that the U.S. expected something for all this money.
You might wonder why the American taxpayers should spend $5 billion on the “European aspirations” of Ukraine when there are so many needs at home, but a more relevant question may be: Why is the United States spending that much money to stir up trouble on Russia’s border? The Cold War is over but the hostility continues.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates described this thinking in his memoir, Duty, explaining the view of President George H.W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”
As Vice President, Cheney and the neocons around him pursued a similar strategy during George W. Bush’s presidency, expanding NATO aggressively to the east and backing anti-Russian regimes in the region including the hardline Georgian government, which provoked a military confrontation with Moscow in 2008.
Since President Barack Obama never took full control of his foreign policy apparatus – leaving the Bush Family apparatchik Gates at Defense and naming neocon-leaning Democrat Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – the bureaucratic momentum toward confronting Russia continued. Indeed, the elevation of operatives like Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, gave new impetus to the anti-Russian strategy.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who got his “dream job” last year with the considerable help of his neocon chum Sen. John McCain, has acted as a kind of sock puppet for this neocon-dominated State Department bureaucracy.
Either because he is overly focused on his legacy-building initiative of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal or because he has long since sold out his anti-war philosophy from the Vietnam War era, Kerry has repeatedly taken the side of the hawks: on Syria, Iran and now Ukraine.
On Syria and Iran, it was largely the behind-the-scenes cooperation between Obama and Putin that tamped down those crises last year and opened a pathway for diplomacy – much to the chagrin of the neocons who favored heightened confrontations, U.S. military strikes and “regime change.” Thus, it became a neocon priority to divide Obama from Putin. Ukraine became the wedge.
The Ukrainian crisis took a decisive turn on Nov. 21, 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych rebuffed a deal offered by the EU and the International Monetary Fund because it would have imposed harsh austerity on the already suffering Ukrainian people. Yanukovych opted instead for a more generous aid package of $15 billion from Russia, with few strings attached.
But Yanukovych’s turning away from the EU infuriated the U.S. State Department as well as pro-European demonstrators who filled the Maidan square in Kiev. The protests reflected the more anti-Russian attitudes of western Ukraine, where Kiev is located, but not the more pro-Russian feelings of eastern and southern Ukraine, Yanukovych’s strongholds that accounted for his electoral victory in 2010.
Though the Maidan protests involved hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians simply eager for a better life and a less corrupt government, some of the most militant factions came from far-right parties, like Svoboda, and even neo-Nazi militias from the Right Sektor. When protesters seized City Hall, Nazi symbols and a Confederate battle flag were put on display.
As the protests grew angrier, U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain, openly sided with the demonstrators despite banners honoring Stepan Bandera, a World War II-era fascist whose paramilitary forces collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of Poles and Jews. Nuland passed out cookies and McCain stood shoulder to shoulder with right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. [For more on the role of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, watch this report from the BBC.]
On Feb. 20, the violence intensified as mysterious snipers fired on both protesters and police. As police fought back, neo-Nazi militias hurled Molotov cocktails. More than 80 people were killed including more than a dozen police officers, but the U.S. press blamed the Yanukovych government for the violence, portraying the demonstrators as innocent victims.
Official Washington’s narrative was set. Yanukovych, who had been something of a hero when he was moving toward the EU agreement in the early fall, became a villain after he decided that the IMF’s demands were too severe and especially after he accepted the deal from Putin. The Russian president was undergoing his own demonization in the U.S. news media, including an extraordinary denunciation by NBC at the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
In the U.S. media’s black-and-white scenario, the “pro-democracy” demonstrators in the Maidan were the good guys who were fired upon by the bad-guy police. The New York Times even stopped reporting that some of those killed were police, instead presenting the more pleasing but phony narrative that “more than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February.”
To this day, the identity of the snipers who touched off the conflagration remains in serious doubt. I was told at the time that some U.S. intelligence analysts believed the shooters were associated with the far-right opposition groups, not with the Yanukovych government.
That analysis gained support when a phone call surfaced between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Paet reported on a conversation that he had with a doctor in Kiev who said the sniper fire that killed protesters was the same that killed police officers.
As reported by the UK Guardian, “During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.”
Paet said, “What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.
“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. … So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”
Ashton replied: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.”
Though this exchange does not prove that the opposition used snipers to provoke the violence, it is relevant information that could have altered how Americans viewed the worsening crisis in Ukraine. However, except for an on-the-scene report from CNN with the same doctor, the Paet-Ashton phone call disappeared into the U.S. media’s black hole reserved for information that doesn’t fit with a preferred narrative.
Black Hats/White Hats
So, with giant black hats glued onto Yanukovych and Putin and white hats on the protesters, the inspiring but false U.S. narrative played out in heroic fashion, with only passing reference to the efforts by Yanukovych to make concessions and satisfy the protesters’ demands.
On Feb. 21, Yanukovych tried to defuse the violence by signing an agreement with three European countries in which he accepted reduced powers, moved up elections so he could be voted out of office, and pulled back the police. That last step, however, opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias to seize government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.
Then, on Feb. 22, under the watchful eye of these modern-day storm troopers, a rump parliament – in violation of constitutional procedures – voted to impeach Yanukovych, who reemerged in Russia to denounce the actions as a coup.
Despite this highly irregular process, the U.S. government – following the lead of the State Department bureaucracy – immediately recognized the new leadership as Ukraine’s “legitimate” government. Putin later appealed to Obama in support of the Feb. 21 agreement but was told the ouster of Yanukovych and the installation of the U.S.-backed government were a fait accompli.
The rump parliament in Kiev also accused Yanukovych of mass murder in connection with the shootings in the Maidan — an accusation that got widespread play in the U.S. media – although curiously the new regime also decided not to pursue an investigation into the identity of the mysterious snipers, a point that drew no U.S. media interest.
And, a new law was passed in line with the desires of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists to eliminate Russian as one of the country’s official languages. New government leaders also were dispatched to the Russian-ethnic regions to take charge, moves that, in turn, prompted resistance from Russian-ethnic citizens in the east and south.
It was in this context – and with appeals from Yanukovych and ethnic Russians for help – that Putin got permission from the Duma to intervene militarily if necessary. Russian troops, already stationed in bases in Crimea, moved to block the Kiev regime from asserting its authority in that strategic Black Sea peninsula.
Amidst this political chaos, the Crimean parliament voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, putting the question to a popular vote on March 16. Not surprisingly, given the failed Ukrainian state, its inability to pay for basic services, and Crimea’s historic ties to Russia, Crimean voters approved the switch overwhelmingly. Exit polls showed about a 93 percent majority, just three points less than the official results.
Russia then moved to formally reclaim Crimea, which had been part of Russia dating back to the 1700s, while also massing troops along the borders of eastern Ukraine, presumably as a warning to the Kiev regime not to crush popular resistance to the anti-Yanukovych coup.
A Divergent Narrative
So, the factual narrative suggests that the Ukrainian crisis was stoked by elements of the U.S. government, both in the State Department and in Congress, encouraging and exploiting popular resentments in western Ukraine. The goal was to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and put it into the EU’s gravitational pull.
When Yanukovych balked at IMF’s demands, a process of “regime change” was put in motion with the U.S. and EU even turning their backs on the Feb. 21 agreement in which Yanukovych made a series of concessions negotiated by European countries. The deal was cast aside in a matter of hours with no attempt by the West to uphold its terms.
Meanwhile, Putin, who was tied up with the Sochi Olympics and obsessed over fears that it would be targeted by Islamist terrorists, appears to have been caught off-guard by the events in Ukraine. He then reacted to the alarming developments on Russia’s border, including the emergence of neo-Nazis as prominent figures in the coup regime in Kiev.
In other words, a logical – and indeed realistic – way to see the Ukraine-Crimea crisis is that Putin was largely responding to events that were outside his control. And that is important to understand, because that would mean that Putin was not the aggressor spoiling for a fight.
If there was premeditation, it was coming from the West and particularly from the neocons who remain highly influential in Official Washington. The neocons also had motive to go after Putin, since he helped Obama use diplomacy to quiet down dangerous crises with Syria and Iran while the neocons were pushing for more confrontation and U.S. military strikes.
But how did the U.S. news media present the Ukraine story to the American people?
First, there was the simplistic and misleading depiction of the pro-EU demonstrations as “democratic” when they mostly reflected the discontent of the pro-European population of western Ukraine, not the views of the more pro-Russian Ukrainians in the east and south who had pushed Yanukovych to victory in the 2010 election. Last time I checked, “democracy” referred to rule by the majority, not mob rule.
Then, despite the newsworthiness of the neo-Nazi role in the protests, the U.S. news media blacked-out these brown shirts because that ugly reality undercut the pleasing good-guys-vs.-bad-guys storyline. Then, when the snipers opened fire on protesters and policemen, the U.S. news media jumped to the conclusion that the killers were working for Yanukovych because that, too, fit with the desired narrative.
The violent overthrow of the democratically elected Yanukovych was hailed as an expression of “democracy,” again with the crucial role of the neo-Nazi militias largely airbrushed from the picture. The unanimous and near unanimous parliamentary votes that followed – as storm troopers patrolled the halls of government buildings – were further cited as evidence of “democracy” and “reform.”
The anger and fear of Ukrainians in the east and south were dismissed as Russian “propaganda” and Crimea’s move to extract itself from this political chaos was denounced as Russian “aggression.” U.S. news outlets casually denounced Putin as a “thug.” Washington Post columnist George F. Will called Putin “Stalin’s spawn.”
Former Secretary of State Clinton cited the Crimea situation to compare Putin to Hitler and to suggest that Putin was intent on recreating the old Soviet empire, though Crimea is only 10,000 square miles, about one-tenth of one percent the size of the old Soviet Union.
And, it wasn’t just that some or nearly all mainstream U.S. news organizations adopted this one-sided and misguided narrative. It was a consensus throughout all major U.S. news outlets. With a uniformity that one would normally associate with a totalitarian state, no competing narrative was permitted in the Big Media, regardless of the actual facts.
Whenever any of the more complex reality was included in a story, it was presented as Russian claims that were then followed by argumentative challenges. Yet, when U.S. officials made preposterous remarks about how uncivilized it was to violate another country’s sovereignty, the hypocrisy of their points went uncontested.
For instance, Secretary of State Kerry denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring, “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” But you had to look on the Internet to find any writer who dared note Kerry’s breathtaking double standard, since he voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist.
This cognitive dissonance pervaded the U.S. press and the political debate over Ukraine and Crimea. The long history of U.S. interventions in foreign countries – almost always in violation of international law – was forgotten, except for the rare occasion when some Russian “claim” about American hypocrisy was cited and then swatted down. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy.”]
Having worked many years in the mainstream U.S. news media, I fully understand how this process works and why it happens. Amid the patriotic chest-thumping that usually accompanies a U.S. military operation or American righteous outrage over some other nation’s actions, it is dangerous for your career to go against the flag-waving.
But it’s always been my view that such self-censorship is faux patriotism, as much as the happy story-lines are false narratives. Even if many Americans don’t want the truth, it is still the job of journalists to give them the truth. Otherwise, the U.S. democratic process is distorted and made dangerous.
Propaganda leads to bad policies as politicians – even when they know better – start parroting the errant conventional wisdom. We’ve seen this now with President Obama who – more than anyone – realizes the value of Putin’s cooperation on Syria and Iran but now must join in denouncing the Russian president and demanding sanctions.
Obama also surely knows that Yanukovych’s ouster violated both Ukraine’s constitution and principles of democracy, but he pretends otherwise. And, he knows that Crimea’s secession reflected the will of the people, but he must insist that their vote was illegitimate.
At a March 25 news conference in the Netherlands, Obama toed the line of the hypocritical false narrative. He declared, “we have said consistently throughout this process is that it is up to the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about how they organize themselves and who they interact with.” He then added that the Crimean referendum was “sloppily organized over the course of two weeks” and thus a sham.
If Obama were telling the truth, he would have noted that Yanukovych – for all his faults – was democratically elected in a process that was deemed fair by international observers. Obama would have acknowledged that Yanukovych agreed on Feb. 21 to a process that would have allowed for an orderly and legal process for his replacement.
Obama would have admitted, too, that the violent coup and the actions of the rump parliament in Kiev were both illegal and, indeed, “sloppily organized” – and that the U.S. government acted hastily in recognizing this coup regime. But double standards seem to be the only standards these days in Official Washington.
What is perhaps tragic about Obama is that he does know better. He is not a stupid man. But he doesn’t dare go against the grain for fear of being denounced as “naïve” about Putin or “weak” in not facing down “Russian aggression.” So, he reads the lines that have been, in effect, dictated by neocons within his own administration.
I’m told that Obama, like Putin, was caught off-guard by the Ukraine crisis. But Obama’s unwillingness or inability to recast the false narrative left him with no political choice but to join in the Putin-bashing. That, in turn, means that Putin won’t be there to help Obama navigate around future U.S. war plans that the neocons have in mind for Syria and Iran.
Indeed, neutralizing the Obama-Putin relationship may have been the chief reason why the neocons were so eager to stoke the Ukrainian fires — and it shows how false narratives can get people killed.
Not since Feb. 6, 2003, the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed the world with his slam-dunk speech “proving” that Iraq was hiding WMD, has the Washington Post’s editorial section shown this unity of “group think.” On Thursday, the Post presented a solid phalanx of denunciations directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Across the two editorial pages, Post writers and columnists stood, shoulder to shoulder, beating their chests about Putin as evil, mad or both. “A dangerous Russian doctrine,” screamed the lead editorial. “An elemental fear” was the headline of a George F. Will column. “Making Russia pay” was the goal of Sen. Marco Rubio’s opinion article. “Putin’s fantasy world” was explored by editorialist Charles Lane.
The one slightly out-of-step pundit was E.J. Dionne Jr. whose column – ”Can Crimea bring us together?” – agreed on Putin’s dastardly behavior but added the discordant note that most Americans weren’t onboard and didn’t want their government to “get too involved” in the dispute over Ukraine and Crimea.
All the other opinion articles marched in lockstep to the theme that Putin was crazy and delusional. The Post’s lead editorial favorably quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that Putin’s speech about the Ukraine crisis “just didn’t jibe with reality.”
This was the same John Kerry, who earlier in the Ukraine crisis, denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring that “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” Kerry, of course, voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist.
However, what now should be painfully clear is that since almost no one in Official Washington paid any serious price for following neocon propaganda into the Iraq War a decade ago, the same patterns continue to assert and reassert themselves in other crises a decade or more later, often executed by the same people.
The Washington Post’s editorial page is run by literally the same people who ran it when all those Post’s opinion leaders were standing with the estimable Colin Powell on Feb. 6, 2003, and asserting the existence of Iraq’s WMD as “flat fact.” Fred Hiatt is still the editorial-page editor and Jackson Diehl is still his deputy.
Putin’s Thoughtful Address
Yet, contrary to the Post’s latest “group think,” Putin delivered a rather remarkable, even insightful speech on Tuesday, explaining Russia’s not unreasonable view of recent history. Recognizing the actual U.S. approach to the world – not the fairy-tale one favored by Kerry and the Post – Putin said:
“Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading.
“Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.
“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”
Nothing in that key passage of Putin’s speech is crazy. He is stating the reality of the current era, though one could argue that this U.S. aggressive behavior was occurring during the Cold War as well. Really, since World War II, Washington has been in the business of routinely subverting troublesome governments (including overthrowing democratically elected leaders) and invading countries (that for some reason got in Washington’s way).
It is a challenge to list all the examples of U.S. interventions abroad, both in America’s “backyard” (Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, etc.) and in far-flung parts of the world (Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Lebanon, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.). These actions – usually outside international law and in violation of those nations’ sovereignty – have continued into the current century and the current administration.
It’s also true that the United States has behaved harshly toward Russia during much of the post-Cold War era, reneging on an understanding with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that his concessions to President George H.W. Bush regarding German reunification and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by the U.S. government.
Yet, the U.S. government and corporate America moved aggressively against Russia in the post-Soviet era, helping to plunder Russia’s resources and pushing the frontlines of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. For all his autocratic faults, Putin has moved to put a stop to these encroachments against Russian national interests.
Offending the Neocons
Putin also has helped President Barack Obama extricate the United States from dangerous situations in Syria and Iran – while the neocons and Washington Post’s editorialists were pounding the drums for more confrontation and war.
And, therein may lie the problem for Putin. He has become a major impediment to the grand neocon vision of “regime change” across the Middle East in any country considered hostile to Israel. That vision was disrupted by the disaster that the American people confronted in the Iraq War, but the vision remains.
Putin also is an obstacle to the even grander vision of global “full-spectrum dominance,” a concept developed by neocons in the two Bush administrations, the theory that the United States should prevent any geopolitical rival from ever emerging again. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Grim Vision.”]
Thus, Putin must be portrayed as unstable and dangerous even though much of his account of the Ukraine crisis fits with what many on-the-ground reporters observed in real time. Indeed, many of the key facts are not in serious dispute despite the distortions and omissions that have permeated the U.S. mainstream press.
For instance, there’s no factual dispute that Viktor Yanukovych was Ukraine’s democratically elected president. Nor is there an argument about him having agreed to a European-negotiated deal on Feb. 21, which included him surrendering much of his power and moving up elections so he could be voted out of office.
After that agreement – and Yanukovych’s order to pull back the police in the face of violent street demonstrations – it was widely reported that neo-Nazi militias spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup d’etat which forced Yanukovych to flee. And no one is credibly saying Ukraine’s constitutional rules were followed when a rump parliament stripped him of the presidency.
Nor is there any serious doubt that the people of Crimea, which has historically been part of Russia, voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to separate from the coup regime now governing Ukraine. The difference between exit polls and the official results was 93 percent in the exit polls and 96 percent in the final tally.
Only in the neocon-dominated and propaganda-soaked U.S. news media is this factual narrative in dispute – and mostly by ignoring or ridiculing it.
However, when Putin politely takes note of these realities, he is deemed by the Washington Post’s editorialists to be a madman. To hammer that point, the Post turned to one of its longtime neocon writers, Charles Lane, known for his skills at bending reality into whatever shape is needed.
In his column, Lane not only denied the reality of modern American interventionism but cleverly accused Putin of doing what Lane was actually doing, twisting the truth.
“Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled – so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him – that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche,” Lane wrote.
Lane then suggested that Putin must be delusional. “The biggest problem with this cover story is that Putin may actually believe it,” Lane wrote.
Lane also was offended that – when Putin later spoke to a crowd in Red Square – he concluded his remarks by saying “Long live Russia!” But why that is so objectionable coming from a Russian politician is hard to fathom. President Obama – and other U.S. politicians – routinely close their remarks with the words, “God bless the United States of America!”
But double standards have always been part of Charles Lane’s repertoire, at least since I knew him as a fellow correspondent for Newsweek in the late 1980s. Before Lane arrived at the magazine, Newsweek had distinguished itself with some quality reporting that belied the Reagan administration’s propaganda themes in Central America.
That, however, upset Newsweek’s executive editor Maynard Parker, who was a strong supporter of U.S. interventionism and sympathized with President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America. So, a shake-up was ordered of Newsweek’s Central America staff.
To give Parker the more supportive coverage he wanted, Lane was brought onboard and dispatched to replace experienced reporters in Central America. Lane soon began getting Newsweek’s field coverage in line with Reagan’s propaganda themes.
But I kept messing up the desired harmony by debunking these stories from Washington. This dynamic was unusual since it’s more typical for reporters in the field to challenge the U.S. government’s propaganda while journalists tied to the insular world of Washington tend to be seduced by access and to endorse the official line.
But the situation at Newsweek was reversed. Lane pushed the propaganda themes that he was fed from the U.S. embassies in Central America and I challenged them with my reporting in Washington. The situation led Lane to seek me out during one of his visits to Washington.
We had lunch at Scholl’s cafeteria near Newsweek’s Washington office on Pennsylvania Avenue. As we sat down, Lane turned to me and, rather defensively, accused me of viewing him as “an embassy boy,” i.e. someone who carried propaganda water for the U.S. embassies.
I was a bit nonplussed since I had never exactly put it that way, but it wasn’t far from what I actually thought. I responded by trying to avoid any pejorative phrasing but stressing my concern that we shouldn’t let the Reagan administration get away with misleading the American people – and Newsweek’s readers.
As it turned out, however, I was on the losing side of that debate. Lane had the support of executive editor Parker, who favored an aggressive application of U.S. power abroad and didn’t like his reporters undermining those efforts. Like some other young journalists of that era, Lane either shared that world view or knew what was needed to build his career.
Lane did succeed in making a profitable career for himself. He scored high-profile gigs as the editor of the neocon New Republic (though his tenure was tarnished by the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal) and as a regular guest on Fox News. He’s also found steady employment as an editorialist for the Washington Post.
Now, Lane and other Post columnists have made it clear who Official Washington’s new villain is and who must be loudly hissed: Vladimir Putin.
Protest, dissent and terrorist wars are obviously very distinct forms of expressing opposition and bringing about change. The Obama-Kerry regime claim that the opposition in Venezuela is a “protest movement” a “peaceful democratic opposition” expressing discontent with economic conditions and that the democratically elected Maduro Administration is an ‘authoritarian regime’ violently repressing dissent. Washington claims to play no part in the action of the opposition and that its pronouncements are directed at furthering democratic freedoms.
The overwhelming evidence speaks to the contrary. By every measure, the opposition has engaged in prolonged and extensive violent activity, including terrorist acts, assassinations, arson, destruction of public property including the murder of military officials and civilian supporters of the government. Widely circulated photographs, even in media outlets backing Washington, show opposition activists throwing Molotov cocktails and building barricades for street warfare.
The Obama-Kerry Administration is in total denial of each and every violent act by the opposition; it unconditionally defends the opposition; it forcibly attacks and demonizes each and every effort by the Government to defend the rights of its citizens, uphold the Constitution and enforce law and order. The Obama-Kerry regime’s political intervention, its escalating rhetoric, is designed to incite the opposition to continue and intensify its violent activity to destabilize the country..
Kerry’s vitriolic rhetoric is timed to coincide with the ebb of opposition activity. The purpose is to assure the opposition that Washington stands four-square with open terror warfare. The Obama regime’s propaganda, economic sanctions and channeling of financial and military resources is designed to buttress the declining fortunes of the terror campaign. Kerry- Obama sanctions and propaganda war complements the violent terrorist war internally.
Kerry-Obama Rely on the Big Lie
Kerry’s accusation that the Venezuelan government is launching “a terror campaign” – reverses roles: The Venezuelan government is the target of two months of violent assaults. Caracas is accused of the crimes committed by the US backed proxy opposition: a favorite ploy of totalitarian imperial rulers. Washington is intent on violently overthrowing a democratic government and establishing a satellite regime.
The launch of a proxy terrorist power grab is evident in every aspect of the opposition’s activity. The opposition is authoritarian and not democratic in its demands. Economic and social issues are simply ploys to pursue the overthrow of the government by force and violence. The terrorists’ violent action is designed to weaken and undermine the government – not negotiate and seek agreements on specific sets of issues. Government offers to meet and dialogue are rejected outright. Each government concession is interpreted as “weakness” and is exploited. Molotov cocktail throwing arrestees released from jail by the government return to firebomb buildings and police.
The opposition was given every chance to influence the electorate in Presidential, state and local elections and were defeated. They refused to accept the majority’s electoral choice and launched violent assaults to undermine majority rule. Opposition mayors aid and abet terrorist activity blocking commerce and assaulting local supporters of the national government.
The opposition has accumulated vast stores of arms and munitions suited for an armed uprising. It has organized snipers to assassinate military and police upholding the rule of law and protecting municipal workers and citizens voluntarily engaged in cleaning streets of debris.
In terms of means, goals and ideology the opposition fits the description of an imperial financied terrorist minority directed toward seizing power, destroying majority rule and imposing an autocratic dictatorship, serving as a proxy for US imperial power.
Democratic Politics or Terrorist Putsch?
In the 8 weeks to March 15, 2014, the terrorist opposition perpetrated 500 violent actions throughout the country. At least 68 members of the Venezuelan National Guard have been injured, shot, wounded or killed by Kerry’s “democratic protestors”. On May 13, government officials were attacked by high powered weapons; seven were arrested with arms and explosives. Paramilitary terrorists are openly trained at two or more universities (Carabobo University and UCV in Caracas) where phony claims of “autonomy” are used to shield armories, training bases and sanctuaries for paramilitary gangs and snipers.
Business revenues, salaries and wage losses run in the tens of millions. The sniper fire has curtailed the right of pro-government workers and citizens to shop, work and demonstrate. The terrorists have sown fear and insecurity, primarily in middle class neighborhoods – they dare not enter workers’ barrios.
The government has been extraordinarily tolerant (or excessively conciliatory) with the terrorist gangs considering the scope and depth of violence: as of March 15, of 1,529 arrestees only 105 remain in jail facing judiciary process.
Many concerned democrats and experts on terrorism believe the Maduro government’s restraint has allowed the terrorists time and space to arm, recruit and receive US funds via phony NGO’s, and to prepare for bigger and more destructive acts of terror, such as bombing bridges and assassinating top civilian and military officials. Their assessment of the Maduro governments’ security policy is that it is too focused on the “lowest level” – the bomb throwers – rather than the political networks which reach into the major political parties and business elite who provide financial aid, political cover and ideological justifications for the terror war. Moreover, the “revolving door” judicial system encourages terrorists– since a day in jail is a small price for burning down a community health center or firebombing a Guardsman.
The government in its efforts to secure agreements with a section of the opposition has tied the hands of the security forces in many instances: small contingents of Guardsmen are vulnerable to organized terror gangs protected by highly placed opposition political leaders.
In the past two months over a thousand public buildings have been violently assaulted , mostly firebombed by Kerry’s “democratic and peaceful opposition”. Many of the buildings targeted for firebombing are directly related to the governments’ popular social welfare program. They include centers providing adult educational programs and medical care; banks financing low income micro-economic projects; primary and secondary schools; publically owned supermarkets providing subsidized food and groceries; trucks transporting subsidized goods to working-class neighborhoods; public buses, community radio stations, pro-government media centers and Socialist Party headquarters.
Large scale caches of arms, including automatic rifles and mortars were discovered in an opposition controlled municipality underground parking lot; another cache of 2,000 mortars and other weapons were found in Táchira, a frontier state bordering Colombia and an opposition stronghold. Over half of the 68 National Guardsmen injured were shot by opposition snipers. On March 16 a Captain of the Guard was assassinated by a sniper holed up in a high rise. The assassin was captured-a Chinese mercenary hired by the opposition As part of a para-military hit team
Kerry-Obama’s claim that the protestors are mainly students is belied by the fact that nearly two-thirds (971) of the total arrestees (1,529) are non-students; many self-confessed “subsidized” street fighters.
Kerry’s claim that the US is “not involved”, and the State Departments’ ludicrous effort to ridicule Venezuela’s charges of US intervention (“paranoia”), are refuted by published official documents showing a continuous flow of tens of millions of dollars each year to opposition organizations linked to the terror networks, including $15 million disbursed during the first two months of this year.
Top security experts on externally funded terrorist warfare, reviewing the scope and depth of damage and casualties, urge the government to give greater backing and a bigger role to the armed forces in pacifying the country. Their recommendations include declaring martial law and organizing military sweeps in opposition strongholds to neutralize and disarm the terrorist groups; unlimited detention pending trials for suspected homicide perpetrators and arsonists; military trials for suspects accused of murdering soldiers. Opposition mayors, governors or university officials who offer sanctuaries and provide arms storage facilities would forfeit their impunity. In response to a multitudinous demonstration by civilians and soldiers in support of the Armed Forces and demanding that the Maduro government take firmer measures to end terror, Maduro issued an ultimatum to the terrorists to end their actions or face the full force of the public authorities.
President Maduro also addressed the Kerry-Obama regime, calling on it to stop backing the terrorist opposition by threatening economic sanctions and calling on Washington to join a tri-partite commission, including a top representative from the US, Venezuela and the Union of South American states (UNASUR), to discuss peace and sovereignty. UNASUR declared in favor of Maduro’s proposal for dialogue and his peace initiative. Kerry proceeded with sanctions in support of the terror war by proxy.
Time for political conciliation is running out: The Venezuelan Armed Forces may finally get a chance to end the specter of imperial war by proxy.
The Obama years in Washington were supposed to be transparent ones, with increased public access to and awareness of Executive Branch operations. If anything, however, censorship and maintaining government secrets have been more prevalent the longer President Barack Obama has been in office.
“The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records,” Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum reported for the Associated Press.
“In category after category—except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees—the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office,” they added.
In 2012, the year of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) revelations, the administration cited “national security” as reason to keep hidden information a record 8,496 times.
That was 57% more than during the previous year and more than double during Obama’s first year in office, when it cited that reason 3,658 times.
Even agencies whose mission is not the defense of the nation cited this reason for denying Freedom of Information Act requests. The Farm Service Agency did it six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did it twice and the National Park Service once.
“I’m concerned the growing trend toward relying upon FOIA exemptions to withhold large swaths of government information is hindering the public’s right to know,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the AP. “It becomes too much of a temptation. If you screw up in government, just mark it ‘top secret.’”
In 2013, a federal judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, upbraided the Obama administration for trying to keep secret a non-classified policy directive regarding “Global Development.”
Obama has also failed to get federal agencies to update their procedures for handling FOIA requests.
Fifty of 101 agencies still haven’t updated their FOIA regulations to comply with Congress’ 2007 FOIA amendments, and more than half of them (55 of 101) haven’t even complied with changes called for by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to establish a “presumption of disclosure” to encourage the release of more documents, according to the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.
To Learn More:
US Cites Security More to Censor, Deny Records (by Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum, Associated Press)
Half of Federal Agencies Still Use Outdated Freedom of Information Regulations (National Security Archive)
48 Years after Creation of Freedom of Information Act, State Dept., Defense Dept. and VA Get Failing Grades (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Judge Chastises Obama Administration for Using “Secret Law” to Withhold Documents (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)