“The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form.” – Michel Foucault
In the late eighteenth century English Utilitarian philosopher and social-theorist Jeremy Bentham devised what he called the “perfect prison” – The Panopticon. The design is simple, a circular prison with one guard in the central room, and all the cells facing the guard tower. In this way the gaoler can have a line of sight to every cell at once, and no inmate can ever be sure he’s not being observed. Bentham described it as:
“… a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example… a mill for grinding rogues honest.”
Wikileaks latest release of classified documents, entitled Vault 7, comes as a timely reminder to all of us (as if we needed it) that the panopticon – the theorized perfect prison – is now a fibre-optic, digitized, hard-coded reality.
Here’s a run down from Wikileaks’ own analysis page (with some added emphasis):
The increasing sophistication of surveillance techniques has drawn comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984, but “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is surely its most emblematic realization.
The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.
As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.
The CIA’s Mobile Devices Branch (MDB) developed numerous attacks to remotely hack and control popular smart phones. Infected phones can be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.
The CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation. With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.
These early analyses show us the powerful trifecta of these operations – the CIA can hear you, find you and…if they deem it necessary…kill you. In fact, the reveal that the CIA has been working on hacking vehicle control systems adds new dimensions to the (as yet unsolved) case of Michael Hastings, a counter-culture voice in the American press who died in an inexplicable car accident four years ago. (A good rundown of the case can be found here.)
The repetition of a now well-established fact – that the CIA, NSA, DHS… whoever… can hack various electrical devices to listen in to our communications is nicely topical, given the current clash between the in-coming and out-going presidential administrations. An interesting thought is that Wikileaks, if it ever was as completely impartial and alternative as it purports to be, might be being used to score political points. The theorized split between the CIA (pro-Hillary) and the FBI (pro-Trump) works well as an explanation for this, as it did with the DNC and Podesta e-mail dumps prior to the elections. Either way, this information is nicely timed to remind the world that, as we already reported, of course Donald Trump was being surveilled. Everyone is.
The final section we’ve highlighted, the proof that “… the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from” is an interesting tidbit of information. Worth remembering, because it will almost definitely have fallen down the memory hole next time some “evidence” is produced claiming Russia or China or Iran have hacked this, that or the other.
Further along in Wikileaks’ explanation of the data, and much discussed on CNN and in Congress (who seem rather unfazed by the illegal bugging and possible assassinations), is that the CIA’s arsenal of “cyber-weapons” were unsecured, and probably stolen by unknown parties.
Did state and/or non-state actors access and steal CIA created data-mining programs and spyware? I don’t think it matters. At all. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple. Firstly, there are no groups LESS trustworthy than the American military intelligence institutions. Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t believe it to be true.
I don’t think the CIA had their weapons “stolen”, I think that establishing – in the public eye – that they don’t have sole control of these tools enables them to preserve plausible deniability, in the event they are used.
If the cyber-tools the CIA developed are also in private hands, they were more likely sold than stolen. The CIA has massive corporate ties in the media, defense, pharmaceuticals and countless other big corporate interests. To the extent it is essentially one large family.
So what has the media reaction been? Four years ago I would have answered “disappointing”, these days I would say “predictable”.
CNN chose to focus on the “stolen” angle, suggesting there be a Senate investigation – not into the CIA’s power to illegally surveil and/or kill American citizens – but into their lax security and whether or not they have endangered national security by letting their toys get taken away.
Already the false premise is set and the subject for debate is decided: The question is not whether or not they should have these powers, but whether enough is being done to ensure they are the only people who have them. In this way a public outcry can be generated, the CIA can be brought before the senate and begged to tighten their security (possibly further slipping what little congressional oversight they still endure in the process). Engineering a situation whereby the citizenry plead with you to what you wanted to do all along is one of the oldest tricks of government.
Ewen McAskill, writing in the Guardian, has this to say:
The leak, dubbed “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, will once again raise questions about the inability of US spy agencies to protect secret documents in the digital age.
He talks about it being an “embarrassment” for the CIA, and “good timing” for Trump. You’ll also be interested to know he considers the sky to be blue, and water wet. In-depth analysis is thin on the ground, as (more troublingly) is any indication that he understands that this is morally repugnant.
The BBC considers Wikileaks revelations to be a smaller story than the Lords voting on small amendments to the article 50 bill, or the Champions League. The story about how the CIA is spying on all of us and researching covert assassination techniques was filed, not under “politics”, but rather “technology”. You can only imagine that, had this modern BBC existed in 1945, they’d have reported the bombing of Hiroshima under “technology” too, perhaps with the headline “US make breakthrough in use of Nuclear energy”.
No one in the media is ready to concede this vindicates Trumps “wire-tap” tweets from a few days ago, or willing to admit that the “that would be illegal!” defence from Obama’s reps was farcical. (They will instead, in the coming days, point to this being another example of WikiLeaks being on Trump’s side and probably in the pay of Russia. Just watch).
All-in-all the media are taking it in their stride, not one source I could find expressed any kind of shock or moral outrage. They take a deliberately apathetic tone chosen very carefully. They tell us the facts, but refuse to analyse them. They address the current reality as the only option.
That the state claims the power to invade our privacy is a given, that they have the tools to do so, an unfortunate fact of life. Set in stone. The way the world works. No thought is given to holding governmental power to account, and no column inches supplied to those with an angry voice. In short the media provide only one message: They are always watching you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
In that sense the media, and even Wikileaks, provide a valuable service. There’s no point in creating a panopticon if nobody knows they are being watched.
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Fried, who recently retired as the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy.
It’s probably safe to wager that few people outside of Washington, and perhaps even quite a few people inside it, have ever heard of Ambassador Daniel Fried — at least not until very recently.
The longtime Ambassador, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. State Department, recently made headlines in Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Politico and NPR for a farewell speech he made to his State Department colleagues during which he took a parting shot at President Trump for the latter’s widely assumed (but yet to be acted upon) desire to come to an accommodation with Russia.
Fried’s address won praise from Establishment figures like former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken (a “powerful defense of liberal international order”), Atlantic Council executive Damon Wilson ( a “clarion call for the U.S. to believe in itself and lead [a] liberal order”) and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen (“a superb summation of everything worth fighting for to keep this planet fit for human habitation”).
Why all the excitement? Well for one, Frieds’s farewell hit the many of Establishment’s erogenous zones:
–NATO expansion as an unalloyed good: NATO and the E.U. – grew to embrace 100 million liberated Europeans… this great achievement is now under assault by Russia
–Realists just don’t “get it”: George Kennan didn’t think much of what he termed America’s moralistic-legalistic tradition. But this foreign policy exceptionalism was the heart of our Grand Strategy through two World Wars, the Cold War and the post-1989 era, and it was crowned with success.
–And then there is Fried’s tendentious (and among neoconservatives and liberal interventionists widely shared) rendering of history and his puzzling conflation of the world situations as they obtained in 1940 and as it obtains currently, in 2017: In 1940, Germany offered Britain a sphere of influence deal: German recognition of the British Empire in exchange for London’s recognition of Germany dominance of continental Europe. Churchill didn’t take the deal then; we should not take similar deals now.
While there can be little doubt that Fried served loyally, with distinction and was in all likelihood an exemplary functionary of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus, what else explains the outpouring of praise for Fried?
Part of it of course is that in Washington, you get points for longevity regardless of your record. Recall the encomiums heaped upon Andrew Marshall a couple years ago when Marshall, who spent his career as the Pentagon’s chief policy hand, retired after four decades in 2015.
The Washington Post reverentially called Marshall “the Pentagon’s Yoda”; The Economist praised him as “the quiet American”; and that year a flattering book was released about Marshall entitled The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy. In a review of the book, Notre Dame political scientist Michael Desch tartly noted that “at the end of the day, Marshall was not a saint but rather a public official who served too long and whose record was more mixed than his incense burners are prepared to admit.”
#Resistance to Trump
Another reason for the current praise for Fried’s address is that it combined two of the essential ingredients of the #Resistance that is currently so in vogue in today’s Washington: opposition to Trump and hostility to Russia – never mind whether the policy implications of such a stance are necessary or wise.
Days after he retired, Fried sat down with another tried-and-true Russia critic, former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post Susan Glasser, and said that in his opinion, “Russia despises the West. And it is doing what it can to weaken the West.” Trump should not, said Fried, “be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.”
That Fried’s carries these opinions on Russia is unsurprising; a look at his career in the Foreign Service shows a diplomat who took the most hawkish positions possible regarding Russia in the post-Cold War period. Fried was a vocal champion of NATO enlargement, arguing, as U.S. Ambassador to Poland in January 1998 that “NATO membership had a stabilizing effect on Western Europe’s ‘ethnic rivalries’ and the prospect of membership in ‘the West’ has strengthened political moderates and weakened nationalists throughout Central Europe, to U.S. benefit.”
This assessment looks rather less than prescient in light of the recent rise in ethno-nationalist regimes in Poland, Hungary and, of course, Ukraine.
As U.S. Assistant Secretary for Europe under George W Bush, Fried declared that Russia’s defense of the ethnic Russian enclave of South Ossetia against the neoconservative puppet government of Mikheil Saakashvili was “not the sign of a strong nation. It is the sign of a weak one.”
Russia, said Fried, anticipating many of the same talking points we hear today, told the Washington Post in August 2008, “Russia is going to have to come to terms with the reality; it can either integrate with the world or it can be a self-isolated bully. But it can’t be both.”
Fried was one of the lead architects of U.S. sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis and Crimean annexation. Having served as the State Department’s coordinator of sanctions policy, he recently argued that “without the sanctions the situation might well be much worse. And if you don’t think it can be worse then I think you just lack imagination. The Russians could have driven deeper into Ukraine and they could have tried to seize Mariupol or driven on land all the way to Crimea or attack Harkhiv. The sanctions may have stopped the Russians from going further.”
This summation is, to put it mildly, open to question, given that there is little evidence that the Russians even want the small part of Donetsk and Luhansk that they currently help to subsidize and support.
In the end, in judging the supposed wisdom of Fried’s recent fusillades against Trump and Russia we might look to the record of the man rather than his rhetoric.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
(Photo from YouTube)
A senior official with the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) says US efforts to seize $1.6 billion of Iran’s assets in Luxembourg run counter to the international laws and will bear no fruit.
CBI Legal Chief Executive Ardeshir Fereydouni made the remarks on Tuesday in reaction to a Monday report by the New York Times about a confidential court ruling by a Luxembourg court to freeze $1.6 of CBI assets in a financial institution in the European country.
According to informed sources, the Luxembourg court ordered the freezing of the CBI assets after a group of terror attack victims, who had won a default judgment against Iran in the US, filed a lawsuit at the European court to try to enforce it, the report said.
In 2011, the group had persuaded a federal judge in New York, George B. Daniels, to find that Iran had provided assistance to al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks, an allegation vehemently dismissed by the Islamic Republic. In 2012, the judge ordered Iran to pay the victims two billion dollars in compensatory damages and five billion dollars in punitive damages.
That judgment stagnated for years, as there was no obvious financial source to collect it. However, after the nuclear sanctions against Iran were lifted, the group referred the case to the Luxembourg court as it came to light that the Clearstream system in Luxembourg, which facilitates international exchanges of securities, was holding $1.6 billion in CBI assets.
“The issue of freezing [CBI assets] does not mean the withdrawal [of money] from the mentioned account and assets. The Luxembourg court is now studying the case and trying to find out whether the ruling issued by the US court can be recognized and enforced in Luxembourg,” Fereydouni said.
The CBI attorneys have submitted Iran’s defense with regard to the case. The country has also lodged a complaint against the US at the International Court of Justice, urging the international body to declare the issued verdicts as illegal and compel the US to end its anti-Iran measures, he added.
Iran has also claimed damages with regard to the previous cases in which the US had issued unjust rulings against the country, the CBI official pointed out.
Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian deputy foreign minister Majid Takht Ravanchi described the freezing of CBI assets in Luxembourg as part of an anti-Iran campaign and noted, “Some people acting against Iran have tried to broaden [the scope of] a ruling that was delivered in the US, which we consider totally unjust and baseless, to outside the country [the US].”
In a similar case in April, the US Supreme Court issued an order authorizing the transfer of around two billion dollars of frozen Iranian assets to the families of the victims of a 1983 bombing in Beirut, which targeted a US Marine Corps barracks in the Lebanese capital, and other attacks blamed on Iran.
The assets belong to the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which have been blocked under US sanctions.
Iran has denied any role in the attack and strongly criticized the US move.
At Mar-a-Lago this weekend President Donald Trump was filled “with fury” says The Washington Post, “mad — steaming, raging, mad.”
Early Saturday the fuming president exploded with this tweet: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
The president has reason to be enraged. For what is afoot is a loose but broad conspiracy to break and bring him down, abort his populist agenda, and overturn the results of the 2016 election.
At its heart is the “deep state” — agents of the intel community, their media collaborators, and their amen corner in a Democratic party whose control of our permanent government is all but total.
At the heart of the case against Trump is what appears to be a Big Lie.
It is that Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence hacked the DNC and John Podesta’s email account, then colluded with Trump’s friends or associates to systematically sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Therefore, Trump stole the election and is an illegitimate president. In this city, Trump is looked upon as a border-jumper, an illegal alien.
Yet let us consider the constituent components of the charge.
For months, we have heard that U.S. intel agencies agree that the Russians hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign, and gave the fruits of their cybertheft to WikiLeaks, because Putin wanted Trump to win.
For months, this storyline has been investigated by the FBI and the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress.
Yet where is the body of evidence that the Russians did this?
More critically, where is the evidence Trump’s people played an active role in the operation? Why is it taking the FBI the better part of a year to come up with a single indictment in this Trump-Putin plot?
Is this all smoke and mirrors?
In late February, The New York Times reported that Trump officials had been in regular touch with Russian intelligence officers.
The smoking gun had been found!
Yet, almost immediately after that report, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News “the top levels of the intelligence community” had assured him that the allegations of campaign contacts with Russia were “not only grossly overstated, but also wrong.”
If what Reince says is true, the real crime here is U.S. security officials enlisting their Fourth Estate collaborators, who enjoy First Amendment privileges against having to testify under oath or being prosecuted, to undermine the elected commander in chief.
Now we expect Russia to seek to steal our secrets as we steal theirs. After all, our NSA wiretapped Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Our National Endowment for Democracy pushes “color revolutions” to bring about regime change in the near abroad of Putin’s Russian Federation.
Our NGOs are being restricted, shut down, expelled from Russia, China, Israel and Egypt, because they have been caught interfering in the internal affairs of those countries.
There is talk that Putin used the pilfered emails as payback for Clinton’s urging demonstrators to take to the streets of Moscow to protest a narrow victory by his United Russia party in 2011.
As for the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower, President Obama has denied ordering any such thing and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assures us nothing of the sort was ever done.
Yet, there are other reports that intelligence officials got a warrant to surveil Trump campaign officials or the Trump Tower, and, though failing to succeed in the FISA court that authorizes such surveillance in June, they did succeed in October.
If true, this is a far more explosive matter than whether a Trump aide may have told the Russians, “You’re doing a great job!” when WikiLeaks blew DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz out of her job for tilting the playing field against Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
What needs to be done now?
The White House should tell the Justice Department to tell the FBI to expedite its investigation and file a report on what was done by the Russians. And if any Trump campaign official criminally colluded with the Russians, send the recommendation to indict to Justice.
The acting attorney general should instruct Director James Comey to run down, remove and recommend for prosecution any FBI or intel agent who has leaked the fruits of their investigation, or fake news, to the media. If Comey cannot find the source of the leaks, or lies, coming out of this investigation, a housecleaning may be needed at the bureau.
While President Obama may not have ordered any surveillance of Trump or his advisors, the real question is whether he or Attorney General Loretta Lynch were aware of or approved of any surveillance of Trump and his staff during the campaign.
Russian hacking of the DNC is a problem, not a scandal. The scandal is this: Who inside the government of the United States is trying to discredit, damage or destroy the President of the United States?
For these are the real subversives.
Copyright 2017 Creators.com.
In the explosive “Vault 7” CIA secrets published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday, the organization has warned that the CIA, among a myriad of other intrusive exploits, has been investigating ways to hack and manipulate the control systems of cars and trucks for use in covert operations.
According to WikiLeaks, the CIA’s interest in hacking vehicles is not specified, but could be used in sinister ways, including assassinations.
“As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks,” WikiLeaks said in a statement. “The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”
Many current vehicles are now mainly controlled by computer systems — including brake control, air bags, acceleration, steering, door locks, and other vital systems.
In 2014, hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek using their laptops while in the car, took over a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by a reporter for Wired, as they were traveling on the highway. The demonstration was shocking, and lead to the recall of 1.4 million vehicles. The previous year, hackers compromised a Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius, while sitting in the backseat.
The vehicle hacking reports were contained in the first batch of CIA leaks, titled “Year Zero.” Wikileaks published 8,761 documents and files which they claim are from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia.
WikiLeaks has a 100-percent track record for publishing authentic documents.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also chimed in on the issue, tweeting, “Still working through the publication, but what @Wikileaks has here is genuinely a big deal. Looks authentic.”
Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats.
As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that.
Yesterday I received four rather curious questions from Mariana Rambaldi of Univision Digital. I reproduce below the questions and the answers I have given.
Question 1: Seeing the case of Michael Flynn, that has to resign after it emerged that he spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions against Russia before Trump took office, and now Jeff Sessions is in a similar situation. Why is so toxic to talk with Sergey Kislyak?
Answer: Ambassador Kislyak is a distinguished and very able diplomat. Anyone interested in improving relations with Russia and avoiding another nuclear arms race — which is a vital interest of the United States — should discuss current issues with him and members of his staff. To consider him “toxic” is ridiculous. I understand that Michael Flynn resigned because he failed to inform the vice president of the full content of his conversation. I have no idea why that happened, but see nothing wrong with his contact with Ambassador Kislyak so long as it was authorized by the president-elect. Certainly, Ambassador Kislyak did nothing wrong.
Question 2: According to your experience, are Russian ambassadors under the sight of the Russian intelligence or they work together?
Answer: This is a strange question. Intelligence operations are normal at most embassies in the world. In the case of the United States, ambassadors must be informed of intelligence operations within the countries to which they are accredited and can veto operations that they consider unwise or too risky, or contrary to policy.
In the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, Soviet ambassadors did not have direct control over intelligence operations. Those operations were controlled directly from Moscow. I do not know what Russian Federation procedures are today. Nevertheless, whether controlled by the ambassador or not, all members of an embassy or consulate work for their host government. During the Cold War, at least, we sometimes used Soviet intelligence officers to get messages direct to the Soviet leadership. For example, during the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy used a “channel” through the KGB resident in Washington to work out the understanding under which Soviet nuclear missiles were withdrawn from Cuba.
Question 3. How common (and ethic[al]) is that a person related with a presidential campaign in the US has contact with the Russian embassy?
Answer: Why are you singling out the Russian embassy? If you want to understand the policy of another country, you need to consult that country’s representatives. It is quite common for foreign diplomats to cultivate candidates and their staffs. That is part of their job.
If Americans plan to advise the president on policy issues, they would be wise to maintain contact with the foreign embassy in question to understand that country’s attitude toward the issues involved. Certainly, both Democrats and Republicans would contact Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during the Cold War and discuss the issues with him.
As the person in charge of our embassy in Moscow during several political campaigns, I would often set up meetings of candidates and their staffs with Soviet officials. Such contacts are certainly ethical so long as they do not involve disclosure of classified information or attempts to negotiate specific issues. In fact, I would say that any person who presumes to advise an incoming president on vital policy issues needs to understand the approach of the country in question and therefore is remiss if he or she does not consult with the embassy in question.
Question 4: In a few words, What’s your point of view about Sessions-Kislyak case? Is possible that Sessions finally resigns?
Answer: I don’t know whether Attorney General Sessions will resign or not. It would seem that his recusal from any investigation on the subject would be adequate. He would not have been my candidate for attorney general and if I had been in the Senate I most likely would not have voted in favor of his confirmation. Nevertheless, I have no problem with the fact that he occasionally exchanged words with Ambassador Kislyak.
In fact, I believe it is wrong to assume that such conversations are somehow suspect. When I was ambassador to the USSR and Gorbachev finally allowed competitive elections, we in the U.S. embassy talked to everyone. I made a special point to keep personal relations with Boris Yeltsin when he in effect led the opposition. That was not to help get him elected (we favored Gorbachev), but to understand his tactics and policies and to make sure he understood ours.
The whole brou-ha-ha over contacts with Russian diplomats has taken on all the earmarks of a witch hunt. President Trump is right to make that charge. If there was any violation of U.S. law by any of his supporters — for example disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons — then the Department of Justice should seek an indictment and if they obtain one, prosecute the case. Until then, there should be no public accusations.
Also, I have been taught that in a democracy with the rule of law, the accused are entitled to a presumption of innocence until convicted. But we have leaks that imply that any conversation with a Russian embassy official is suspect. That is the attitude of a police state, and leaking such allegations violates every normal rule regarding FBI investigations. President Trump is right to be upset, though it is not helpful for him to lash out at the media in general.
Finding a way to improve relations with Russia is in the vital interest of the United States. Nuclear weapons constitute an existential threat to our nation, and indeed to humanity. We are on the brink of another nuclear arms race, which would be not only dangerous in itself, but would make cooperation with Russia on many other important issues virtually impossible. Those who are trying to find a way to improve relations with Russia should be praised, not scapegoated.
Jack Matlock served as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991.
A week after the Pentagon submitted its report to the White House on February 28 outlining a new strategy against terrorism, there are signs of a refreshing change of course in the US’ activities on the ground in Syria. It is extraordinary that President Donald Trump is proceeding on a novel track on Syria, according to his script, undeterred by the relentless assault on his citadel by recalcitrant groups of various persuasions in the Washington Beltway, especially the Russophobes and the Barack Obama era holdovers within the US establishment.
Trump, for sure, is proving to be a man of his words on Syria. Three things emerged in the past week. One, the US rejects its NATO ally Turkey’s pre-condition that it should cease the support for Syrian Kurds who are its allies in northern Syria. In fact, the US intends to wade deeper into the military operations in that region by beefing up the deployment of the Special Forces and stepping up arms deliveries to the Syrian Kurds, including deploying attack helicopters and artillery.
Two, Pentagon is concurring with the back-to-back deal reached by the Syrian Kurds with the government forces and Russia to jointly put a road block on the Turkish army’s plans to advance toward the strategic town of Manbij en route to the ISIS’ de facto capital, Raqqa.
This is turning out to be a curious joint enterprise with the US Special Forces having moved into Manbij town as a “visible sign of deterrence” (to quote Pentagon spokesman) against Turkey, while Russia is sending food and medical supply convoys to the town with the prior knowledge and coordination with Pentagon.
The US is indeed aware that the Russian convoy also brought “some armoured equipment” to Manbij. The Pentagon spokesman said on Friday, “We were aware of this. The Russian government has informed us of it as well. It has not changed anything we are doing.”
Three, stemming from the above stunning turn of events on the ground, clearly, the Trump administration seems to be edging away from the Obama administration’s overt and covert prioritization of the “regime change” agenda in Syria. Trump all along said he wanted the US military to train its sights exclusively on vanquishing the ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Now, we are, literally, witnessing this being implemented on the ground.
The “known unknown” here is as to when the US could turn to explicit cooperation with Russia on Syria, which is also something Trump has spoken about. Much depends on the space that Trump manages to create to push forward his independent foreign policies. To my mind, once the preparations begin for the daunting military operations to capture Raqqa, where the ISIS is well-ensconced, and when it transpires that a bloody drawn-out battle lies ahead, the US forces on the ground will need all the help they can get from like-minded quarters – Russia, in particular. Trump will count on Defence Secretary Gen. James Mattis to calibrate the shift.
The implications are going to be simply profound. For, if such cooperation is possible between the US and Russian militaries in Syria, what prevents a similar pooling of resources in Afghanistan as well? A curious US-China dalliance in Afghanistan recently sailed into view.
It is only through concerted US-Russia-China efforts on the ground alongside cooperation on the diplomatic and political turf that Afghanistan can be stabilized. Of course, this must be a spectre that is already haunting the Pakistani GHQ in Rawalpindi.
Read an insightful interview here by US Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely with Fox News (close to Trump’s circle) on what to expect in US-Russia relations. Interestingly, the general travelled to Moscow recently on Track 2 and had a “private meeting” with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov (who also happens to be the Kremlin’s Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.)
Hebron, occupied Palestine – Colonial settlers from the illegal settlements in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron) have repeatedly invaded and damaged a Palestinian kindergarten located on Shuhada Street over the last two days.
On Saturday night, the colonial settlers entered the Shuhada Street kindergarten, stealing two Palestinian flags and breaking cameras installed by the Palestinian families. The kindergarten connects directly to the roof of a residential building that houses three Palestinian families, which is accessible by the settlers through this roof access. The three families are now feeling under threat.
The following day, on Sunday afternoon, settlers again entered the kindergarten, but were surprised by the presence of Palestinians on their roof. Settlers then threw stones at the Palestinian youths before leaving. They cut a hole in the fence which protects the kindergarten entrance from illegal settlers entering. The settlers had clearly planned in advance to cut the fence as they had brought the necessary tools with them.
Wire-mesh fence cut by the settlers. Photo-credit: Human Rights Defenders Group
Settlers from the illegal settlements, under the protection of the Israeli forces, enjoy almost complete impunity for their actions, while Palestinians under the Israeli military law are presumed guilty until they can prove otherwise. The Palestinians living in the H2-area under full Israeli military control have no institution they can turn to for protection or help in this case, but are at the full mercy of the Israeli forces and settlers. With settlers having entered the compound for two days in a row, and the water tanks on the roof easily accessible, the families now do not only have to fear even more for their safety in their own homes, but also about being poisoned through their drinking water supply. In the past settlers in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood poisoned the water tank of a Palestinian family. Fortunately the poisoning was detected before anyone drank the water.
Everyone’s doing it
Those of us who voted for Donald Trump in hopes that he would turn out to be the peace candidate are facing disappointment. He has increased the already bloated military budget by $54 billion and has appointed an outspokenly anti-Russian and anti-Iranian active duty general as his National Security Advisor. A retired general with pretty much the same views heads the Pentagon. President Trump meanwhile vows to “extinguish” ISIS without presenting any plan regarding how exactly that might be accomplished.
The most important objective of all, resetting with Moscow to avoid World War 3, is in reverse gear, with the appointment of Fiona Hill, a critic of Vladimir Putin, as Russian specialist at the National Security Council. Meanwhile, our clueless United Nations Ambassador calls for Russia to withdraw from Crimea, where 58% of the population is Russian and only 24% is Ukrainian. Reports circulating in Washington suggest that the one phone call between Trump and Putin was a disaster, with the U.S. president demanding an end to the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty, which the Kremlin wants to renew, before going off on a tangential monologue about his unexpected electoral victory.
In fact, even though the individual neocons have largely been outed from the foreign and security policy positions they once dominated it would not be completely inappropriate to suggest that their legacy of military interventionism lives on in terms of what the Trump administration has been so far promoting to keep America “safe.” Where all of this will go is anyone’s guess.
But if there is one constant in all of this it is the bright shining beacon of Israel, with Trump recently enthusing over the “unbreakable” bond between the two countries. One hopes that he misspoke and really meant “unbearable” or even “unspeakable” but it is clear from other indications that The Donald has succumbed to the inevitable Washington groupthink regarding America’s greatest ally and best friend in the whole wide world.
On Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss “trade and security issues” without anyone complaining that he was in violation of the Logan Act, which apparently only applies if you are talking to Russians. And a congressional delegation is in Israel right now studying the feasibility of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which most foreign policy pundits consider to be a very bad idea. Meanwhile at the United Nations, the U.S. has blocked the appointment of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad as special representative to Libya. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley explained the veto, saying irrelevantly “For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel. The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations.”
Ambassador Haley has also denounced the international body in general terms, stating that she was “underscore[ing] the ironclad support of the United States for Israel,” adding that “I am here to emphasize that United States is determined to stand up to the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias.” And if anyone failed to understand, on March 1st, U.S. envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Erin Barclay told the group that it must drop its “obsession with Israel” or risk Washington withdrawing from the organization. The suggestion that the U.S. might consider departing came, incidentally, directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who proposed such action to Donald Trump to “delegitimize” the U.N. body.
It is ironic that in the midst of a media and congressional feeding frenzy on foreign interference in the U.S., the one country in the world that consistently leads Washington by the nose is immune from criticism. The subservient role dutifully played by every U.S. president since JFK when dealing with Tel Aviv has resulted in defining United States national interests in terms of Israeli perceptions. The real irony is that even though Trump is giving the Israelis everything they want and is bowing to the Israel Lobby and Jewish groups at every opportunity, it is still not enough. It is never enough. That is because the neoconservatives, who are mostly Jewish and themselves complete Israel-firsters, hate him, having overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton as president due to their conviction that she would be the more aggressive president. They now believe that if they succeed in forcing Trump’s resignation or impeachment they will return to power in whatever new government formulation is put in place, so they continue to pile on.
Israel’s friends characteristically either run or have the ear of the media and they are supported by a formidable Washington based lobbying machine to get their point across. Whenever anything happens in the Middle East or elsewhere that is related to Israel’s perceived interests the machine goes to work with multiple position papers presented to every congressional office the next morning by runners from AIPAC, AEI, FPI, WINEP, JINSA and FDD. No one else has the clout of the Israel Lobby.
And Trump is also being battered by Jewish interests coming from the political left. France’s greatest living poseur-hypocrite Bernard-Henri Levy, described as a “philosopher, filmmaker and activist,” has hammered Trump twice recently, first in The New York Times on January 19th. Levy, who has described the brutal Israel Defense Forces as “a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions” and who was a war-on-Libya cheerleader, warns that Trump is a threat to all American Jews. Why? Because even though he has showered benefits on Israel his love for the Jewish people is “insufficient.” Levy explains, “This love is precisely what is required of an American president in dealings affecting Israel.”
The reader might well be astonished by the chutzpah of Levy in demanding love on top of the $38 billion already in the pipeline and wonder even more why the New York Times would print such garbage. But the French whiz kid does not really explain his remark, instead going on to denounce the “betrayal” of Israel by President Barack Obama at the United Nations before explaining that as Trump is “deeply unpopular” it would not do for American Jews to embrace him closely even if it appears he is doing good things for Israel. And Levy provides “evidence” that Trump might not be what he seems, citing inter alia his speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition in which he said he didn’t need their money. Levy sees this as a precursor to genuine, full blooded anti-Semitism, and speculates that Trump will take revenge against Jews to show “that he is indeed smarter than they are.” Why would he do that? Because he “respects only power, money and the perquisites of the palace.”
Levy’s second foray second foray, on CNN a month later, took Trump to task for his “incredible slip” on January 27th, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when he did not single out Jewish victims of Nazi crimes and instead cited all of those exterminated by the Germans. For Levy, Jewish deaths are intrinsically more memorable and valuable than those of others and the failure to grant them special status is a “tell-tale trope of Holocaust deniers” and a “hallmark of the new anti-Semitism.”
Bernard-Henri goes on to cite more evidence of Trump’s closet anti-Semitism, including the assertion that he has failed to address the reality of “Jewish children who go to school full of fear.” While it is possible to dismiss Levy as a completely self-serving bullshit artist who badly needs a haircut and a bath, he is far from alone. Also on the left there is the renowned Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University.
Dershowitz, threatening to leave the Democratic Party if it elected Keith Ellison chair of the party’s central committee, appeared frequently on television and in the print media claiming that Ellison was an enemy of Israel and of the Jewish people. The threat to leave the Democrats produced numerous jokes directed at the abrasive and unpopular lawyer somewhat akin to those crafted at the expense of the Hollywood celebrities who promised to leave the country if Donald Trump were elected president. Unfortunately, I have to note that neither Dershowitz nor Barbra Streisand has yet departed.
Ellison was the preferred candidate of the Bernie Sanders liberal wing of the party and initial opinion polls suggested that he would likely win the position. While Dershowitz’s bombast could be regarded with some amusement, there was another, darker side to the campaign to sideline Ellison, who is black, a Muslim and not openly hostile to the Palestinians. This last attribute inevitably made it possible to start a whispering campaign labeling him as anti-Semitic and a number of Jewish Democratic fundraisers, to include Israeli Haim Saban of Hillary Clinton fame, privately made it known that they would end their donations to the party if Ellison were elected. Barack Obama and the Clintons also piled on, even working the phones to stop Ellison.
When Ellison lost in a close result, Dershowitz announced that he would not be leaving the party after all because the result was a “victory in the war against bigotry, anti-Semitism, [and] the anti-Israel push of the hard left within the Democratic Party.” As evidence of Ellison’s anti-Israel sentiment Dershowitz cited the congressman’s vote against funding Iron Dome, which is the Israel missile defense system. “Can you imagine any reasonable person voting against a missile system designed to protect innocent civilians against terrorist rocket attacks?”
Indeed Dersh, but maybe the Israelis should be paying for it, not the American taxpayer, which is actually the crux of the matter. I for one am tired of the perpetual whining of Alan Dershowitz and international professional Jews like Bernard-Henri Levi, who is frequently in the U.S. doing richly rewarded speaking tours on the so-called “Synagogue circuit.” And someone should wake U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley up to the fact that her job is to take care of the American people, not Israel. Quite frankly, if these folks are so much in love with Israel they should go live there and leave the rest of us as well as the U.S. Treasury alone.
If we are heading into yet another round of Israel-centric foreign policy we will be inevitably involved in new wars, starting with Iran which has always been Netanyahu’s enemy of choice. And then there is Syria, where the Israelis would prefer a continuation of chaos, presumably carried out by Washington which can pay the bills and take the casualties. As Bernard-Henri Levy has made clear and the Talmud asserts, Jewish lives are more important than those of gentiles, so it is fit and proper that Americans should fight and die to make sure that Israel might prosper.
In the West, even among people who consider themselves not susceptible to government-corporate media propaganda, any wild story about North Korea can be taken as credible. We should ask ourselves why that is the case, given what we know about the history of government and media fabrications, often related to gaining our acquiescence to a new war.
The corporate media reports North Korean agents murdered Kim Jong Nam with a banned chemical weapon VX. They fail to add that the US government is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. They rarely note the Malaysian police investigating the case have not actually said North Korea is connected to his death.
The story of his death or murder raises a number of serious questions. North Korea says Kim Jong Nam was not murdered, but suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, required constant medication, and this caused his death. The North Korean diplomat in Malaysia Ri Tong-il “cited the postmortem examination conducted by Malaysian health authorities, claiming that the postmortem showed Jong-nam died of a heart attack.”
Malaysian authorities conducted two autopsies, the second after the first said to be inconclusive in identifying a cause of death, before announcing well over a week later that VX was involved.
What was going on here? And why weren’t the autopsies made open to others besides Malaysian officials?
Why was the South Korean government the first country to come out quickly after Kim’s February 13 death to blame North Korea for murdering him with the VX nerve weapon – before Malaysia had determined anything? The Malaysian autopsy was not complete until February 23, ten days later.
Why did these two women charged with murder travel several times to South Korea before this attack occurred?
Why was the only North Korean arrested in the case released for lack of evidence?
The two women did not wear gloves, but had the liquid directly on their hands. “The police said the four North Korean suspects who left the country the day of the killing put the VX liquid on the women’s hands.” They later washed it off. Why did none of them die or even get sickened by it? No reports say they went to the hospital.
“Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Khalid said the women knew they were handling poisonous materials during the attack… leading forensic toxicologists who study murder by poison… question how the two women could walk away unscathed after deploying an agent potent enough to kill Kim Jong Nam before he could even make it to the hospital.”
“Tens of thousands of passengers have passed through the airport since the apparent assassination was carried out. No areas were cordoned off and protective measures were not taken.”
Why, if a highly deadly VX used to kill Kim, did the terminal remain open to thousands of travelers, and not shut down and checked for VX until February 26, 13 days later?
Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said “VX only requires 10 milligrams to be absorbed into the system to be lethal,” yet he added that there have been no reports of anyone else being sickened by the toxin.
DPRK’s Ri Tong-il said in his statement, “How is it possible” the two ladies survived? “How is it possible” no single person in the airport got contaminated? “How is it possible” no nurse, no doctor, no police escorting Kim after the attack were affected?
Why does Malaysia, which acknowledges Kim Jong Nam is Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, make the outrageous demand that Kim’s body won’t be released to North Korea until a close family member provides a sample of their own DNA?
From what we are told, the story does not add up.
Ri Tong-il asked in his same statement “Why is South Korea trying so hard [to blame the DPRK] in this instance? They have a great political crisis inside South Korea [which is quite true] and they need to divert people’s attention,” noting also that the two women involved traveled to South Korea and that South Korea blamed the North for murder by VX the very day it happened.
Ri Jong-choi, the released North Korean, “accused police of threatening to harm his family unless he confessed to the killing of the half brother of North Korea’s leader, calling it a plot to tarnish his country’s honor… Police never said what they believed Ri’s role was in the attack.”
“He also said Malaysian authorities told him at one point that if he confessed his guilt he would be able to stay in Malaysia.”
Stephen Lendman also gives a plausible explanation:
Here’s what we know. North Korean senior representatives were preparing to come to New York to meet with former US officials, a chance for both sides to discuss differences diplomatically, hopefully leading to direct talks with Trump officials.
The State Department hadn’t yet approved visas, a positive development if arranged.
Reports indicate North Korea very much wanted the meeting to take place. Makes sense. It would indicate a modest thaw in hostile relations, a good thing if anything came of it.
So why would Pyongyang want to kill Kim Jong-nam at this potentially sensitive time, knowing it would be blamed for the incident, talks likely cancelled?
Sure enough, they’re off, Pyongyang accused of killing Kim, even though it seems implausible they planned and carried out the incident, using agents in Malaysia to act as proxies.
Is it possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided to murder his apolitical brother, choosing to do so by using a banned highly toxic agent in public, under video cameras in a crowded airport of a friendly country? Instead of say, doing it by easier means in the North Korean Embassy’s guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur, where the New York Times said his brother sometimes stayed?
We are not supposed to doubt what we are spoon fed, that Kim Jong Un is some irrational war-mongering madman who has instituted a reign of terror. A safer bet is this is a new attempt to beat the drums of war against North Korea and its allies.
• See the author’s previous articles on North Korea.
Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity, is a long time Latin America solidarity activist, and presently puts out the AFGJ Venezuela Weekly.