The US intelligence community is “confident” that Russia is behind the recent hacks of US officials’ and organizations’ emails, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Intelligence said.
According to the joint statement issued Friday, “disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” says the statement, posted by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The thefts and disclosures are “intended to interfere with the US election process,” the statement said, adding that “the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia” to influence public opinion.
External attempts to access election systems in several states“in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company,” the US officials said. “However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.”
It would be “extremely difficult” for anyone to alter ballot counts or election results through cyberattacks, DHS and DNI said.
DHS has established an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group “with experts across all levels of government” to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks, and urges state and local election officials to seek cybersecurity assistance from the federal authorities.
This is the first time the US government has officially accused Russia of cyberattacks related to the US presidential campaign. The Democratic National Committee blamed Russia for the hack of their email servers in June, though a lone hacker going by the name ‘Guccifer 2.0’ claimed responsibility and denied any ties to Russia.
The statement from Homeland Security and DNI comes just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russian actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” Moscow has dismissed Kerry’s words as “propaganda” intended to distract from US failure to implement the Syrian ceasefire agreement.
US cybersecurity experts claim that six out of eight IP addresses used by the DNC hackers were hosted on King Servers, a Russian provider. Vladimir Fomenko, owner of the company, told RT that he was never contacted by US law enforcement, however.
“We are ready to assist in probing this crime and consulting the FBI or other services on such issues. Hackers are a common threat and we must fight it together,” Fomenko said.
“If the FBI asks, we are ready to supply the IP addresses, the logs,” he said. “Nobody is asking… It’s like nobody wants to sort this out.”
Earlier this year, we wrote about Australia’s refusal to allow researchers to check e-voting software being used in that country. The situation in Argentina seems to be even worse. Access Now provides the background (original in Spanish):
The ruling party in Argentina is driving the adoption of an electronic voting system for national elections. Despite stern warnings from computer security experts about the dangers of the system, the ruling party is persisting with the project and plans to put it to a vote in Congress in the coming weeks.
Techdirt readers hardly need to be reminded about the deeply-flawed nature of e-voting systems, but there’s a useful article on Medium (in Spanish) with plenty of links to hispanophone experts from widely-different backgrounds warning against the move.Imposing an e-voting system may be foolish, but Argentina’s plans manage to magnify that folly many times over. A blog post in Spanish by Javier Smaldone explains why:
The proposal provides for imprisonment (1 to 6 years) for conducting activities that are essential in any audit or independent review of the system.
Thus, it is intended to impose the use of computer system in the casting and counting of votes, and as if it were not already extremely difficult for any citizen to be sure how it works (and it is safe), anyone who tries to find out is punished with imprisonment.
It’s one thing to bring in an e-voting system that most experts say is a bad idea in theory. But making it effectively illegal to point out flaws that exist in practice is really asking for trouble. Unless this proposed law is changed to allow independent scrutiny of the systems, Argentina will probably find this out the hard way.
The White Helmets: a heartfelt humanitarian NGO or an elaborate and cynical western PR stunt promoting illegal regime change in Syria? Does the wearing of white helmets mean they are the good guys supporting a just cause?
CrossTalking with Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, and Patrick Henningsen.
© Israel / YouTube
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is calling out at pretty much everyone and anyone who has wronged Jews over the last 3,000 years in a modern-day history lesson in a satirical video.
The satirical video outlines the “history of the Jewish people” by focusing on Jacob and Rachel, a nice Jewish couple that are pushed out of their home by an endless stream of unwelcome visitors.
“From ancient times to modern days, the Land of Israel has seen a whirlwind of visitors knocking on its door… but Jews were always present in their home-sweet-home,” read the new YouTube video’s caption.
Assyrians, Greeks, Arabs, crusaders, the British and many other guests stop by to “claim the home as their own” until the British eventually “realize this isn’t Europe” and give the couple back their home.
That is until, finally, a knock at the door unveils a Palestinian couple looking for somewhere to stay.
Since the Snowden disclosures, it has been clear that the NSA conducts unconstitutional, dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications. However, it now appears that the NSA is using surveillance authorities to conduct an entirely new type of surveillance: requiring major companies to conduct mass e-mail wiretaps, which involve searching the content of all incoming traffic.
If the news stories that broke earlier this week are accurate, here’s what we know:
Last year, Yahoo, in response to a classified government order, scanned hundreds of millions of mail accounts for a “set of characters” or digital “signature” of a communications method purportedly used by a state-sponsored terrorist organization. The search was apparently performed on all messages as they arrived at Yahoo’s servers. All of this was done without input from Yahoo’s security team, potentially placing users’ security at risk and ultimately prompting the resignation of the company’s chief security information officer.
It appears that a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), approved the surveillance—or at least approved the general procedures the government used to identify its targets. There are conflicting reports on what authority the government relied on.
Unfortunately, the news stories and Yahoo’s cryptic response leave more questions than answers. Yahoo’s ability to disclose information about this classified government program may be limited. But the Obama Administration owes the public far more information about this spying program, especially if it is going to fulfill its promise of increased transparency. As a start, the Obama Administration and other major tech companies should publicly answer the following questions:
1. What authority did the government rely on in compelling Yahoo to search its customers’ emails?
The million-dollar question – which remains unanswered – is what legal authority the government relied on for its demand to Yahoo. Initial reports suggested that the government may have relied on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a highly controversial provision enacted as an amendment to FISA in 2008. More recently, however, news reports have stated that the government obtained what is known as a “traditional” FISA order under Title I of the statute. In either scenario, the surveillance would reflect a dramatic shift in the public understanding of how these authorities are used. Title I authorizes the government to search the communications of a particular person or entity. But, if news reports are accurate, it would mean that the government is now using this law to require that companies scan the content of all users’ incoming emails.
2. What is the program’s legal justification and has it been reviewed?
Whether government is relying on Section 702 or Title I, it seems to have strayed far from the original congressional intent. What is the government’s legal justification for this type of surveillance? And, if the surveillance was authorized by the FISC, was the court aware that its order required Yahoo to search the emails of hundreds of millions of innocent users?
In the past, the government and FISC have engaged in legal gymnastics to justify mass surveillance. The public and Congress have the right to know if this is happening yet again. The Obama Administration should release all legal memoranda it relied on in conducting the Yahoo surveillance, and it should disclose any relevant FISC opinions regarding the surveillance. If no such FISC opinions exist then the public deserves to know, as that itself is cause for concern.3. What types of content searches does the government believe it has the authority to conduct under Title I and Section 702, and are past statements about these authorities still accurate?
Intelligence officials have argued that surveillance programs conducted on U.S. soil are narrowly targeted because the government searches only for specific communication identifiers (like an email address) and not for keywords (like “bomb”). But the Yahoo story suggests that even this limitation may be falling to the wayside. If Yahoo conducted a broad search of its users’ incoming email for a “set of characters” or digital “signature,” that information may have been found in the content of communications. In other words, individuals may have been targeted not based on any preexisting suspicion about who they are or who they communicate with, but based solely on what they were communicating. Moreover, it is unclear whether this “signature” was used only by the target organization, or also by other wholly unaffiliated individuals. If the intelligence community is now engaging in this type of content-based surveillance, then the Obama Administration has a responsibility to set the record straight.
4. If the government relied on Section 702, did Yahoo attempt to filter out purely domestic communications?
Section 702 does not authorize the government to collect or search purely domestic communications. However, the stories contain no details about whether Yahoo made efforts to filter out purely domestic communications, and if so, how successful those efforts were. If such efforts were not made and the surveillance occurred under Section 702, then the Obama Administration should immediately disclose the number of purely domestic communications that were collected and searched under the order so that the public can fully assess the privacy implications.
5. If the government relied on Section 702, did the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB) know about this type of surveillance when they conducted their examination?
In 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board issued a report on Section 702. While we disagreed with many of the report’s conclusions, there is no doubt that the PCLOB declassified important information about Section 702 to facilitate a more robust debate. However, the PCLOB’s public report makes no mention of the types of demands that were purportedly received by Yahoo. If the PCLOB was unaware that this surveillance was occurring under Section 702, why were they not informed? If they knew, why was this information withheld from the public? Either way, this further calls into question the conclusions in the PCLOB report and the adequacy of existing oversight mechanisms.
6. How are other major companies interpreting their obligations under Section 702 and Title I?
Major companies like Google have issued statements saying they have never received the types of demands described in the Yahoo stories and reaffirming that they would challenge such a demand. While we applaud these companies for their statements, more information is needed to fully understand how the government is using its surveillance authorities. Specifically, we urge major technology companies to make publicly available information on how they interpret Section 702 and Title I, and to describe the types of demands that they believe clearly fall outside the statutes’ purview. In this way, companies can help to fill the information abyss left by the Yahoo story and the intelligence community’s lack of transparency.
Interactions between young people and police don’t occur just on the streets of America — they’re happening in our nation’s K-12 schools, too. Increasingly police have become “embedded” in schools, in many cases working there full-time. Many are considered school staff and have daily authority over students, even in situations that have traditionally been seen as everyday disciplinary matters.
Little is known about the day-to-day practices of school-based police and about the rules under which they operate. Nobody — not even the federal government — knows how many sworn law enforcement officers (and of what type) are assigned to schools. What we do know should give us pause for concern.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1.6 million children go to public schools that have police officers but no counselors. Some 24 percent of public elementary schools and 42 percent of public high schools have sworn police officers. Three of the five largest school districts in the country hire more security officers than counselors.
Black students are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as white students. And Black and Latino students are more likely to go to schools that have resident police no matter the level of crime in the surrounding neighborhood or misbehavior at the school.
Whether they are called school police officers, school resource officers, or school safety agents; carry the same weapons as a regular cop; serve in uniform; are friendly or aggressive; or are unionized; these officers have the power to arrest, detain, interrogate, and issue criminal citations to students.
It is time to rethink the role police play in our schools.
The boundaries between police and educators have become less clear — who decides what when interacting with students — and the degree of collaboration between police and educators has increased in the past two decades. Often when controversies arise, police say, “Don’t blame us. We’re here because the school asked us to be here.” Educators say, “We cannot control what police do in our school — that’s a law enforcement matter.”
Embedding such officers has real consequences for students and for the culture of schools. One popular (and growing) type of school policing, the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, blurs those lines and accountability even more. SROs are described as mentors and classroom presenters as well as cops, a so-called “triad” model of school policing. In fact, this is a big selling point of the program. School policing is presented as a form of community policing — without regard to the costs.
The activities of school-based police officers (especially SROs) are typically less regulated by formal policies than those of officers that are called to a school from the outside. Can a school-based officer be permitted to question a student without reading him or her rights? What about when an SRO is “mentoring”? What about seeing a student’s records without the permission of the student or parent? When must an SRO get a search warrant? … Full article
Libraries often find themselves on the frontlines against government overreach, whether it is opposing local politicians who want to ban books or protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their patrons from police intrusion.
The Kansas City, Mo., Public Library system has dealt with these issues over the years. But now the library finds itself at the center of a new controversy — aggressive policing — a trend increasingly common in the streets but rarely seen inside the walls of libraries.
In May, Kansas City police arrested an audience member attending a public event at a local branch of the city’s library system. The police also arrested an employee of the Kansas City Library who intervened on behalf of the audience member.
The library kept quiet about the May 9 incident for several months, hoping the city would drop the charges against the two people. When the city told the library it was moving forward with the charges, the library began to publicize the incident and how the local police suppressed free speech.
“They’ve kind of doubled-down on this and they’re moving ahead with the prosecution,” R. Crosby Kemper III, the Kansas City Library executive director, said in a video interview posted Sept. 30 on the Kansas City Star website. “At this stage, I’m actually outraged. This is a big violation of the very First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We would expect our police department, which we have worked with very closely over the years, to want to talk to us about this and deal with this in a community way. Instead, they’ve chosen to defend the indefensible conduct of their off-duty police officer.”
The audience member, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, was standing still and speaking into a microphone when a security guard grabbed him. Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library system, intervened without touching the security guard and asked for Rothe-Kushel to be allowed to leave the library peacefully.
Woolfolk reportedly suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer providing security at the event hit him in the leg. Rothe-Kushel was arrested and charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Woolfolk was arrested and charged with interfering with an arrest.
The arrests occurred at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library, where diplomat and Middle East «specialist» Dennis Ross was giving the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City. The Jewish Community Foundation hired the private security and off-duty police officers for the event.
Prior to the event, the library said it specified that no one was to be removed for asking uncomfortable questions and not without permission of library staff, unless there was an imminent threat of physical danger. “We were absolutely clear on this issue from the very beginning,” Kansas City Library spokeswoman Carrie Coogan said. “We don’t know why that was not communicated to the security teams that were there that day.”
The American Library Association (ALA) issued a statement on Oct. 3 expressing its support for the Kansas City Library and commended Woolfolk for defending Rothe-Kushel’s “right to question and debate matters of public concern.”
“The ALA commends the Kansas City Public Library for its commitment to fostering public deliberation and the exchange of a wide spectrum of ideas by offering meeting rooms and other spaces for lectures, educational programs, and organizational meetings,” ALA President Julie Todaro said in a statement. “Libraries are public institutions that serve as catalysts for public discussions that help solve community challenges. Such efforts are not possible when patrons are not allowed to engage in open debate in a public forum, but rather are arrested for asking difficult questions.”
The ALA said it will “extend resources” to the staff of the Kansas City Library in their legal battle over the incident.
The Jewish Community Foundation has tightened security at its facilities and events over the past two years. In April 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., a notorious neo-Nazi and Klansman, killed two people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in nearby Overland Park, Kan. Frazier also killed one person at Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community located in Overland Park. Miller was convicted of the killings and sentenced to death.
In a statement on the May 9 incident, the Jewish Community Foundation noted that it included a question-and-answer opportunity after Ross’s speech “in the spirit of encouraging dialogue.” During the Q&A, “a series of actions by a questioner and a library employee began that resulted in their arrests by local law enforcement,” the organization said.
Jewish Community Foundation spokeswoman Brooke Hardy said the organization has been trying to encourage a resolution to the incident “that would be acceptable to all parties” and that it will “continue to cooperate in this matter.”
Rothe-Kushel told the Mondoweiss news site that the private security guard who grabbed him at the event was Blair Hawkins, who serves as security director for the Jewish Community Foundation.
The Kansas City Library has no plans to stop partnering with the Jewish Community Foundation, Coogan said. The library also will continue to allow private security guards at future library events. “We just will make absolutely, positively sure that they understand the expectations ahead of time,” she said.
Mark Hand can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.
Library Patron and Librarian Facing Charges Following Arrests by Homeland Security Liaison During Public Q&A with former Ambassador Dennis Ross
See also interview with Jeremy 9/30
Below is a transcript of the clip with a few additional comments based on another video:
Hi, thank you. I’m very interested in the issue of tribalism and terror. Just today, I ran into an article referencing Truman’s daughter’s, Margaret’s book, disclosing that the Stern Gang sent mail bombs to Truman in ‘47, and we know that when I think – I can’t remember which group blew up the King David Hotel, but Jews were amongst the dead involved in that ‘necessary statecraft’, what ultimately became that. So you see this long history of not only the United States, but Israel utilizing terrorism that includes potentially the death of its own tribe to advance its own geopolitical cause all the way up into the 21st century, including September 11th and that whole mess that I would tell people to look at Alan Sabrosky, the Jewish, courageous Marine who’s exposed the Zionist role in that. So I would ask you, at what point does the Jewish diaspora – do we have to have the ethical courage – I’m a Jewish American – to point out that especially in America, both the countries that operate in our name have used terrorism way too long, including against its own citizens, to project power at home and abroad. When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?
Well, look, I don’t think that as a matter of policy, that the United States or Israel engage in acts of terror. Terror is you target deliberately civilians for an expressed political purpose. The idea that Israel had something to do with 9/11 is just outrageous – they had nothing to do with it. [Applause]
Tell that to the Marine. Tell that to the Marine, Alan Sabrosky.
Look him up, Jewish American Marine.
You know what? You can make up whatever you want to.
I didn’t make that up.
Well, I’m a big believer – as Patrick– Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, everybody’s entitled to their own opinions; they’re just not entitled to their own facts. [Applause]
Take your own advice Dennis.
True—–, Go look at September —- [–mic being cut in and out] …. [off mic] free fall speed
[At this time, while at the microphone beginning to respond to Dennis Ross, Rothe-Kushel’s upper left arm was grabbed with force, with no apparent warning, from behind by the head of the Jewish Community Foundation’s private security detail, and pushed away from the microphone and towards another, currently unidentified, member of security.]
Jeremy Rothe-Kushel: Do not touch me!
Get your hands off me right now!
[Multiple people are grabbing Rothe-Kushel at this point]
You can ask me to leave.
I will leave if asked.
Get your hands off me!
Hey! He has a right to talk without being–
Patron sitting next to Greg:
No he had a right to ask the question and he asked the question.
They don’t have to be putting their hands on him like that!
Get your hands off me.
I will leave if asked.
Get your hands off of me.
I will ask if leaved–
[At this time, Dennis Ross begins to move on to the next question, by stating the following:]
Okay, you know what? I will accept the question and we can ignore that.
I will leave.
Get your hands off of me!
I didn’t threaten anybody.
Right now you’re disturbing-
It’s all on video.
Unknown: You get out.
Forty years ago, on October 6, 1976, Cubana Flight 455 on its way from Barbados to Jamaica was bombed shortly after takeoff, killing 73 people, including the national fencing team of Cuba.
In what was immediately seen as a terrorist act, most in the international community joined Cuba in denouncing the horrific act.
In 2011, declassified CIA documents showed that one of the key figures in this terrorist attack was Luis Posada Carriles, a right-wing Cuban who had fled the island after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
The documents revealed that it was Posada Carriles, now 88, who had planned the 1976 bombing. He had already gained experience terrorizing the Cuban people as a participant in the failed CIA-orchestrated Bay of Pigs assault in 1961.
Peter Kornbluh, author of the book, “Back Channel to Cuba,” and a former researcher at the National Security Archive of George Washington University, said in 2011 that the declassified documents “again brings up the issue of how an international terrorist like Luis Posada Carriles can live happily ever after in Miami.”
This point demonstrates that the Oct. 6 anniversary should not only be remembered, it should be reflected upon.
The 1976 attack highlights U.S. imperialism’s decades-long war of sabotage against the Cuban Revolution. Despite a thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations, this war has not subsided.
A free man, Posada Carriles moved to Venezuela in the early 80’s where he was eventually jailed for his acts of terror against Cuba. But he escaped in 1985 and resumed plotting against Cuba and its leader, Fidel Castro.
In this period, he was also instrumental in plotting against the revolutionary government of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, working as a coordinator for the contras who were fighting a war backed by the U.S. government.
Posada Carriles bragged to the New York Times in 1998 that he had been responsible for the 1997 hotel bombings targeting Cuba’s tourist industry that killed an Italian tourist, saying the man just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Posada Carriles later recanted his story.
The New York Times wrote in 1998, “Mr. Posada was schooled in demolition and guerrilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s. In a series of tape-recorded interviews … Posada said the hotel bombings and other operations had been supported by leaders of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Its founder and head, Jorge Mas Canosa … was embraced at the White House by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.”
The CANF recieved millions of dollars of U.S. tax-payer money to carry out its dirty war against Cuba for decades, according to declassified documents.
Posada Carriles was again arrested in 2000 for possession of explosives in Panama and charged with plotting to assassinate the Cuban leader at the Peoples’ Summit taking place at the University of Panama. Soon after he went into hiding.
When Posada Carriles resurfaced in Miami in 2005, the U.S. government refused to extradite him to Cuba or Venezuela to face judicial proceedings for his crimes.
In early 2011, Posada Carriles was finally put on trial in El Paso, Texas—not for his many terrorist acts—but for immigration fraud and obstruction of a proceeding.
He was charged with lying to an immigration judge about his involvement in the 1997 bombings and about how he entered the U.S. in 2005.
U.S. prosecutors presented evidence that Posada Carriles played a major role in carrying out bombings in Cuba. Many expected convictions on at least some of these charges but the jury dumbfounded prosecutors with a complete acquittal.
Ricardo Alarcon, a long-time Cuban leader and at the time, the president of the national assembly, told AP, “The stupid and shameful farce is over.”
Venezuela’s government also denounced the trial as “theater,” saying Washington continued to harbor a mass murderer.
Alarcon had intimate and deep knowledge of the farce that is the U.S. judicial system. He had been a leading advocate of the Cuban Five and a principle strategist for their freedom.
The Cuban Five were Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez. They were arrested by the U.S. government in Miami in 1998 and falsely accused of committing espionage conspiracy against the U.S. and other related charges.
They were convicted in a federal court in 2001 and spent over 15 years in jail, labeled by the U.S. government and media as terrorists.
But the Five were in fact counter-terrorists, heroes who were willing to sacrifice their lives, leave their beloved families and homeland to protect Cuba from U.S. aggression. They worked to stop terror and aimed to defend Cuba from the kind of aggression Posada Carriles and his CIA cohorts carried out.
The Five reflect a spirit of justice and peace and to this day—having returned to their beloved country—continue to inspire all those who yearn for a better world.
As long as the likes of Posada Carriles are free to walk the streets of Florida, Cuba must do everything it can to defend itself from U.S. terror.
As long as the U.S. continues to occupy Guantanamo, the Cuban Revolution must be ready to defend itself, despite President Barack Obama’s dubious declarations.
A Salon magazine article in 2008 raised this question: “The coddled ‘terrorists’ of South Florida: Anti-Castro Cuban exiles who have been linked to bombings and assassinations are living free in Miami. Does the U.S. government have a double standard when it comes to terror?”
The answer is yes—a thousand times yes.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault worked up his frequent-flyer air miles account this week with consecutive flights to Moscow then to Washington in a bid to push through a UN Security Resolution for a new ceasefire in Syria.
Ayrault began his shuttle diplomacy with stern condemnation of the Syrian government for what he said were «war crimes» committed in the besieged city of Aleppo. The French minister also implied Russian complicity in the same alleged crimes. It wasn’t the first time he made such accusations against Russia and its Syrian ally.
When the ceasefire brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov broke down at the end of last month, it was Ayrault who led vociferous denunciations at the UN, along with American UN ambassador Samantha Power, blaming Russia for «barbarous crimes against humanity».
This week on his way to Moscow, Ayrault accused Russia of «cynicism that is fooling nobody» in reference to the renewed Russian-backed offensive by Syrian state forces to recapture the militant-held eastern quarter of Aleppo. That part of the city housing about 250,000 people has been under the control of various Islamist militants dominated by the terrorist group Al Nusra Front since 2012.
France, the US and Britain, amplified by the Western news media, have been conducting a relentless campaign to portray the Russian-backed Syrian operation on Aleppo as criminal and brutally injurious to the civilian population. Since the ceasefire collapsed during the last week of September, the Western media have been saturated with unverified claims of Russian air strikes killing civilians in eastern Aleppo and of targeting hospitals and humanitarian aid facilities.
France 24, the state-owned broadcaster of Ayrault’s country, never gives any reports from the Syrian government-held quarters of Aleppo where the majority of citizens – some 1.5 million – are residing. These areas are routinely shelled by the militants, with hundreds of victims over the past few weeks. Yet, France 24 and the other Western media outlets appear to operate on the basis that the majority of Aleppo’s population simply does not exist.
Nor do the Western media report that the majority of Aleppo’s civilians are willingly residing in the government-held districts out of seeking protection from the Islamist militants. Moreover, neither is it reported that the mainstay of the 250,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo are being held there against their will by the militants as hostages, or human shields. They can’t flee out of fear that remaining family relatives will be murdered in retribution.
The evidently selective humanitarian concern expressed by the French foreign minister and his Western counterparts for the people of Aleppo begins to alert one of a more nuanced – dare we say cynical – agenda.
Claims of Russian and Syrian «war crimes» made by Ayrault and other Western officials are based on «rebel sources» within besieged eastern Aleppo. One of the primary sources is the so-called «volunteer aid» group known as the White Helmets. Video footage purporting to show the aftermath of Russian air strikes is routinely aired by France 24 and other Western channels with the White Helmets logo displayed. It is presented as a bona fide humanitarian agency, when it fact the group is funded by US and British governments to the tune of $23 million and is embedded with the Al Nusra terrorist-controlled Aleppo Media Center. In short, a terrorist propaganda outlet, which serves to feed Western media and government ministers with disinformation that is purveyed to the Western public in order to discredit and demonize Syria and Russian forces.
French diplomats told Reuters this week that France is drafting its proposed resolution to the UN Security Council in such a way that Russia would have to exercise its veto if it is to block it. In that way, the French purpose is to project Russia as an unreasonable member of the Security Council and a stalwart backer of the Syrian «regime». This amounts to more cynical Western attempts to traduce Russia and Syria as the perpetrators for the ongoing violence.
Russia is unlikely to support the French-sponsored resolution because the resolution is impossibly one-sided and belies a political objective of undermining Syria and Russia. France is calling for an immediate cessation of fighting in Aleppo, including no military flights over the city; and, secondly, for the complete humanitarian aid access to eastern Aleppo.
This French initiative – under the guise of urgent humanitarianism – is a de facto «no fly zone» that will bolster the fighting capability of the anti-government insurgents, which, as noted, are dominated by al-Qaeda-affiliated terror groups.
When Russia and Syrian forces agreed to the ceasefire declared earlier on September 12, they did so on the strict condition that militants not associating with terrorist brigades would henceforth separate physical units. But no such separation occurred, as many observers had predicted, because Western government claims of «moderate rebels» being interspersed with «extremists» are nothing but a cynical charade. All these militants belong to the same terrorist front which Western governments have been arming in a covert war for regime change against President Bashar al-Assad – a longtime ally of Russia and Iran.
The only parties to respect the ceasefire called by Kerry and Lavrov last month were the Syrian army and its allies among the Iranian and Hezbollah militias, as well as the Russian air force. The foreign-backed militants continued to carry out hundreds of breaches of the truce, while also using the initial reduction of operations by the Syrian and Russian forces as an opportunity to regroup and rearm.
What French minister Ayrault is calling for in a renewed ceasefire this week is merely a repeat of the previous one – this time without even a pretense that the terrorists might separate into «moderates» and «extremists».
French and Western anxiety to implement some kind of cessation around Aleppo is correlated with the increasingly desperate, losing situation for the regime-change insurgents. Aleppo is a key battleground. If the Syrian and Russian forces manage to vanquish this bastion for the militants then the six-year war in Syria will be over.
The Western sponsors of the covert war in Syria stand to incur a huge strategic defeat. It should be also noted that 66-year-old Jean-Marc Ayrault was previously French prime minister back in 2012, at the very time that France was beginning to covertly supply weapons to illegally armed groups in Syria – in contravention of a European Union embargo.
This is why Ayrault and his American and British allies are now assiduously piling the political pressure on Russia to desist from its offensive in Syria. The Western sponsors are desperately trying to salvage their proxy assets on the ground and to salvage their criminal regime-change project – using the language and emotion of humanitarian concern and legal niceties.
You can’t get much more cynical than that. Now Monsieur Ayrault, just who is accusing who of what?
The UK’s leading arms maker, BAE Systems, says it is in talks with Saudi Arabia to secure a multi-billion-dollar arms contract, amid outrage over the use of British-made weapons by Riyadh in Yemen.
“Discussions between BAE Systems, the UK government and Saudi Arabia are progressing,” the London-based weapons maker said on Thursday.
BAE Systems also noted that it was working to define the scope of cooperation between the UK and the Arab kingdom over the next five years.
Under the terms of the contract, the multinational aerospace and electronics giant will provide training, support and upgrades for Hawk aircraft the UK has sold to Saudi Arabia. It also hopes to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the Saudis for a reported £4 billion ($4.97bn) under a separate deal.
This is while British lawmakers from a powerful committee said last month that there was evidence that UK-made weapons have been used in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law.
“The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia,” the Committee on Arms Export Control (CAEC) said.
The committee also raised serious concerns about the UK’s commitment to international law regarding the sale of arms.
CAEC inquiry chair Chris White stressed that the government must now take urgent action in halting the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
UK supports repressive regimes
Meanwhile, the British government was accused on Thursday of sacrificing human rights in order to access oil from repressive regimes in the Persian Gulf region.
Human rights group War on Want said in a report that the UK regards Persian Gulf states as vital partners in securing Britain’s energy interests.
“From the sale of vast quantities of tear gas and other crowd control tools, to the training of sniper units used to put down pro-democracy protests, the UK government, working closely with a large number of private companies, are key partners for repressive regimes in the [Persian] Gulf, with devastating consequences for democracy and human rights,” said Dr. Sam Raphael, the report’s author and senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Westminster.
According to the report, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are among the Persian Gulf countries regarded as priority markets. The two Arab kingdoms have been widely criticized by international advocacy groups for their human rights record.
London has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Riyadh for 40 years.
According to sources, the UK supplied export licenses for close to £3 billion ($3.73bn) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2015. The British government has also been accused of being involved in guiding the Saudi military aggression in Yemen.
Since the beginning of the Saudi war against Yemen in March of last year, nearly 10,000 people, including over 2,000 children, have been killed.
As world leaders congregated in Jerusalem last weekend to eulogise Shimon Peres as a “great peacemaker”, the peace camp of which he was the figurehead went to war against its main Palestinian partner in Israel.
Ayman Odeh, head of the only Jewish-Arab party in the Israeli legislature, is the most prominent representative of Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens. He also serves as chairman of a coalition called the Joint List, formed with other Palestinian parties, that is now the third largest in parliament.
Mr Odeh, nonetheless, enraged the Israeli Jewish public by refusing to attend Peres’s funeral.
The Joint List leader is known for his efforts to build bridges to deprived and vulnerable Jewish communities. He is committed to strengthening trust between Jews and Palestinians, rather than emphasising national conflict.
His advocacy for a new civic identity – abolishing Israel’s institutionalised ethnic categories of Jew and Arab – earned him a place last year on the top 100 global thinkers list compiled by Foreign Policy magazine.
So how, the Israeli media lamented, could he not pay his last respects to Peres, architect of the Oslo Accords?
Mr Odeh’s boycott of the funeral was all the more shocking to Israelis because Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, came to bid Peres farewell – after Israel issued him a rare permit to enter Jerusalem. Pictures of Mr Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands only underscored Mr Odeh’s absence.
But even that was hastily exploited to augment Peres’s beatification. If Peres had long proved his dedication to the cause of peace, Mr Odeh’s treatment of him in death confirmed that Israel lacked a Palestinian partner even inside Israel.
That is a narrative that Israeli Jews are only too familiar with. After the Oslo process collapsed at the Camp David summit in 2000, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak – then head of the peace camp – accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of being “no partner for peace”. This paved the way to the Second Intifada.
In similar fashion, Jewish politicians associated with the peace movement turned their fire on Mr Odeh. Erel Margalit, a member of parliament in the centre-left Zionist Union, accused him of “sticking a finger in the eyes” of the peace camp.
By contrast, for most Palestinians, it was Mr Abbas’s attendance at the funeral, not Mr Odeh’s boycott, that was baffling.
While Mr Odeh acknowledged the private grief of the Peres family, he argued that the funeral was “part of a national day of mourning in which I have no place”.
The mythical Peres honoured by the world is unrecognisable to Palestinians. They regard even his most visible achievement, the Oslo Accords, as a cynical trap. It was never designed to lead to a viable Palestinian state, but rather leave the PA in a twilight zone of semi-sovereignty, acting as the servile police force of the occupation.
In addition, Israel’s Palestinian citizens like Mr Odeh found that Oslo intentionally severed them from their kin in the occupied territories, culminating in a steel-and-concrete separation barrier that further fragmented the Palestinian people.
The domestic narrative about Peres excluded Israel’s Palestinian citizens no less, said Mr Odeh.
Eulogies in Hebrew extolled a Peres who armed Israeli soldiers to destroy the Palestinian homeland in the Nakba of 1948; who then oversaw two decades of internal military repression against Israel’s Palestinian minority; who built a nuclear bomb to ensure Israel could bully the entire Middle East; and who engineered the settlement project as a way to make the occupation irreversible.
These were reasons enough for not attending. But Mr Odeh expressed a more personal concern.
Given their unique position inside Israel, Palestinian citizens had connected with the “historic pain” of a long-persecuted people. But that empathy had never been reciprocated – even by Israel’s peace camp.
Mr Odeh was not referring only to the Nakba. Peres’s funeral coincided with the anniversary of events at the start of the Second Intifada when Israeli police killed 13 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Among them was the brother of Mr Odeh’s wife.
Although a later judicial inquiry concluded that the police had an institutional view of Israel’s Palestinian minority as an enemy, no officers were indicted. Neither was there a formal apology, even from Peres, who served for many years as president.
In choosing to attend the funeral, Mr Abbas doubtless had to weigh up many factors, including his international standing, diplomatic protocol and bolstering his own legacy as a peacemaker.
The major consideration for Mr Odeh, by contrast, was whether his presence might further indulge the self-delusions and moral evasions of Israel’s self-styled peace camp.
The correctness of his decision was driven home soon enough. On Tuesday, the Israeli media reported that Isaac Herzog, head of the peace bloc in parliament led by the Zionist Union, was close to a deal to join the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
If Mr Herzog does decide to shore up a government committed to militarism and entrenching the occupation, he will be following a path well trodden by Peres himself.