After making the provocative and dangerous charge that Russia is covering up Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the Trump administration withheld key evidence to support its core charge that a Syrian warplane dropped sarin on a northern Syrian town on April 4.
A four-page white paper, prepared by President Trump’s National Security Council staff and released by the White House on Tuesday, claimed that U.S. intelligence has proof that the plane carrying the sarin gas left from the Syrian military airfield that Trump ordered hit by Tomahawk missiles on April 6.
The paper asserted that “we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence,” but then added that “we cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods.”
I’m told that the key evidence was satellite surveillance of the area, a body of material that U.S. intelligence analysts were reviewing late last week even after the Trump-ordered bombardment of 59 Tomahawk missiles that, according to Syrian media reports, killed seven or eight Syrian soldiers and nine civilians, including four children.
Yet, it is unclear why releasing these overhead videos would be so detrimental to “sources and methods” since everyone knows the U.S. has this capability and the issue at hand – if it gets further out of hand – could lead to a nuclear confrontation with Russia.
In similarly tense situations in the past, U.S. Presidents have released sensitive intelligence to buttress U.S. government assertions, including John F. Kennedy’s disclosure of U-2 spy flights in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Ronald Reagan revealing electronic intercepts after the Soviet shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983.
Yet, in this current case, as U.S.-Russian relations spiral downward into what is potentially an extermination event for the human species, Trump’s White House insists that the world must trust it despite its record of consistently misstating facts.
In the case of the April 4 chemical-weapons incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which reportedly killed scores of people including young children, I was told that initially the U.S. analysts couldn’t see any warplanes over the area in Idlib province at the suspected time of the poison gas attack but later they detected a drone that they thought might have delivered the bomb.
A Drone Mystery
According to a source, the analysts struggled to identify whose drone it was and where it originated. Despite some technical difficulties in tracing its flight path, analysts eventually came to believe that the flight was launched in Jordan from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base for supporting Syrian rebels, the source said, adding that the suspected reason for the poison gas was to create an incident that would reverse the Trump administration’s announcement in late March that it was no longer seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.
If indeed that was the motive — and if the source’s information is correct — the operation would have been successful, since the Trump administration has now reversed itself and is pressing Russia to join in ousting Assad who is getting blamed for the latest chemical-weapons incident.
Presumably, however, the “geospatial intelligence” cited in the four-page dossier could disprove this and other contentions if the Trump administration would only make its evidence publicly available.
The dossier stated, “Our information indicates that the chemical agent was delivered by regime Su-22 fixed-wing aircraft that took off from the regime-controlled Shayrat Airfield. These aircraft were in the vicinity of Khan Shaykhun approximately 20 minutes before reports of the chemical attack began and vacated the area shortly after the attack.”
So, that would mean – assuming that the dossier is correct – that U.S. intelligence analysts were able to trace the delivery of the poison gas to Assad’s aircraft and to the airfield that Trump ordered attacked on April 6.
Still, it remains a mystery why this intelligence assessment is not coming directly from President Trump’s intelligence chiefs as is normally the case, either with an official Intelligence Estimate or a report issued by the Director of National Intelligence.
The White House photo released late last week showing the President and a dozen senior advisers monitoring the April 6 missile strike from a room at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was noteworthy in that neither CIA Director Mike Pompeo nor Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was in the frame.
Now, it is the White House that has released the four-page dossier supposedly summing up the assessment of the “intelligence community.”
An Argumentative Dossier
The dossier also seems argumentative in that it assumes that Russian officials – and presumably others – who have suggested different possible explanations for the incident at Khan Sheikdoun did so in a willful cover-up, when any normal investigation seeks to evaluate different scenarios before settling on one.
It is common amid the “fog of war” for people outside the line of command – and even sometimes inside the line of command – to not understand what happened and to struggle for an explanation.
On April 6, before Trump’s missile strike, I and others received word from U.S. military intelligence officials in the Middle East that they, too, shared the belief that the poison gas may have resulted from a conventional bombing raid that ruptured containers stored by the rebels, who – in Idlib province – are dominated by Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its allies.
Those reports were cited by former U.S. intelligence officials, including more than two dozen who produced a memo to President Trump urging him to undertake a careful investigation of the incident before letting this crisis exacerbate U.S.-Russia relations.
The memo said “our U.S. Army contacts in the area” were disputing the official story of a chemical weapons attack. “Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died,” the memo said.
In other words, to suggest possible alternative scenarios is not evidence of a “cover-up,” even if the theories are later shown to be erroneous. It is the normal process of sorting through often conflicting initial reports.
Even in the four-page dossier, Trump’s NSC officials contradicted what other U.S. government sources have told The New York Times and other mainstream news outlets about the Syrian government’s supposed motive for launching the chemical-weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
According to the earlier accounts, the Syrian government either was trying to terrorize the population in a remote rebel-controlled area or was celebrating its impunity after the Trump administration had announced that it was no longer seeking Assad’s removal.
But the dossier said, “We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure.” Although Khan Sheikhoun was not near the fighting, the dossier presented the town as an area of support for the offensive.
Assuming this assessment is correct, does that mean that the earlier explanations were part of a cover-up or a propaganda operation? The reality is that in such complex situations, the analyses should continue to be refined as more information becomes available. It should not be assumed that every false lead or discarded theory is proof of a “cover-up,” yet that is what we see here.
“The Syrian regime and its primary backer, Russia, have sought to confuse the world community about who is responsible for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people in this and earlier attacks,” the dossier declared.
But the larger point is that – given President Trump’s spotty record for getting facts straight – he and his administration should go the extra mile in presenting irrefutable evidence to support its assessments, not simply insisting that the world must “trust us.”
[In a separate analysis of the four-page dossier, Theodore Postol, a national security specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concluded that the White House claims were clearly bogus, writing:
“I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.
“In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4. This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment, is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House.”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
Anuar Majluf, head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, during a visit last year to Jerusalem. Nov. 2016 | Foto: Facebook
On Tuesday activists throughout Latin America called on Chile to reciprocate after Israel denied entry to a Chilean citizen leading an annual Easter pilgrimage to Palestine.
The head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, Anuar Majluf, said Israeli officials denied him entry to the occupied West Bank on Monday based on a controversial new law which bans anyone publicly supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against the illegal occupation of Palestine.
“I feel terrible pain because I’m now unable to visit my family’s homeland, as a Chilean citizen with a Palestinian lineage,” Majluf said in a statement.
“On the other hand, I know that what I suffer is nothing compared to the suffering of the many Palestinians who, if they dare to defy Israel’s policies, often end up dead, tortured or in the prisons of the occupation,” Majluf added.
“The Chilean government should act reciprocally and refuse entry to Israeli citizens who come as tourists to Chile. If Israel knew that its repressive actions and laws have consequences, it would be much less likely to enact them,” he continued.
“The international community, and the Chilean government specifically, should at least demand an explanation from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and demand that Israel stop illegitimately denying entry to international supporters of Palestinian rights,” Majluf concluded.
Majluf’s call for a firm response was echoed by Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, in a letter to Chile’s Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz.
“I respectfully ask that you take concrete measures to protect the right of your citizens to visit, work, invest and live in Palestine,” wrote Erekat on Tuesday.
Erekat warned that if Chileans traveling to Palestine continue to be “threatened and treated like criminals” it would be “a tragedy not only for the community but for the future potential of relations between both countries.”
The PLO letter came one day after 16 organizations representing the Palestinian diaspora throughout Latin America and the Caribbean called on Chile to “repair this affront against a Chilean citizen and exercise the principle of reciprocity against a country that breaks all the rules and places itself above the law of all nations.”
Several prominent Chilean politicians echoed the call, asking Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to respond in kind.
“As Chile allows the free entry and passage of Israeli citizens, it is unacceptable that Israel openly violates the rights of Chilean citizens,” said Chilean Senator Eugenio Tuma Zedán on Tuesday.
Chile has one of the largest and oldest Palestinian diaspora populations outside of the Middle East, and in November of this year the nation’s capital, Santiago, will host the first ever Latin American Palestinian diaspora conference
Majluf is the fourth person denied entry into Israel or occupied Palestine in the past week based on the 6-month old anti-BDS law.
Over the weekend, three Swedish citizens and members of a World Congress of Churches delegation were turned back upon arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport, and on Friday Israel refused entry to a U.K. citizen and member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
However, the Palestinian BDS National Committee noted that the timing of Israel’s banning of Majluf was particularly egregious.
Denying entry to “a Christian who was on a delegation to visit the Holy Land this Easter, is another low for Israel,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, a spokesperson for the committee.
After several months of pushing the “Russiagate” conspiracy theory – a wild-eyed, all-encompassing but somewhat nebulous narrative involving U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, the Russian mob, assassinations and certain indiscretions with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel – the U.S. mainstream media is now reverting to its traditional role of downplaying conspiracy theories, particularly those raising questions about the intelligence surrounding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week.
On Monday, the New York Times published an article titled “Syria Conspiracy Theories Flourish, at Both Ends of the Spectrum,” which lamented the fact that websites on the left and the right have raised doubts about the casus belli for U.S. military action against Syria.
Noting that some alternative news sites have called the chemical attack a “false flag” operation and others have raised the question of whether Trump’s military action was a “wag the dog” diversion tactic, the Times pointedly attempts to “debunk” the internet memes that have been raising doubts about the chemical attack or calling into question the justification for the U.S. military action.
With an aggressiveness not seen at all when it comes to the unsubstantiated “Russian election-hacking” allegations, the Times fires back forcefully on matters such as whether President Bashar al-Assad had reason to use chemical weapons in the first place or whether anti-Assad forces may have had advance knowledge of the sarin attack. The Times article uses curt, all-caps responses to rebut these claims, such as flatly stating, “FALSE,” “NO EVIDENCE,” or “MISLEADING.”
The Times, for example, points out that Information Clearing House has argued that Assad lacked an obvious tactical or strategic reason to use chemical weapons, and therefore the attack may have actually been carried out by one of the terrorist groups operating in Syria such as Al-Nusra Front. As the Times responds, however, “THIS IS MISLEADING.”
Floating a few reasons that Assad’s forces might have conceivably been motivated to conduct a chemical attack, the Times argues that the attack was “consistent with Mr. Assad’s calculated strategy of attempting to drive out the civilian population in rebel strongholds through bombing neighborhoods and civilian targets.” The Syrian leader may have also “felt emboldened” by perceived shifts in U.S. foreign policies and priorities under Trump, the Times speculates.
Of course, this is simply guesswork on the part of the Times, which is not presenting any facts to counter doubts over the official story, but just responding to the doubts with more conjecture. The Times also seems to be cherry-picking some of the more easily “debunked” stories surrounding the Syria case, failing to address legitimate concerns over the lack of proof of Assad’s culpability. These include doubts raised by the former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who told BBC Radio last week that there is “no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was.”
It would not make sense for Assad to launch such an attack, Ford said, claiming that it would be “totally self-defeating.” He also objected to the veracity of claims made by eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw chemical bombs dropping from the air. “Well, you cannot see chemical weapons dropping from the air,” he said. “Such testimony is worthless.”
There are also serious doubts as to whether Syria even possesses the chemical weapons in question, with the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noting that since 2013, “all of the chemical weapons declared by Syria were removed and destroyed outside of Syrian territory.”
While some governments have claimed that Syria’s declaration about its chemical weapons program may have been incomplete, the OPCW stresses that it has adapted itself “in unprecedented ways” in efforts “to remove, transport and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile in the midst of an active conflict zone.”
With this in mind, Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, last Friday blasted the United States for unilaterally attacking Syria, saying that it recalls the decision 14 years earlier to attack Iraq based on equally questionable intelligence. It is “vital to remember what history teaches us,” Llorenti said, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq and holding up a photo of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivering false testimony to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
“Whereas an investigation would have allowed us to establish in an objective manner who is responsible for the [chemical] attacks [in Syria], this is an extreme, extreme violation of international law,” he said.
In addition to the doubts that have been raised at the United Nations, a number of the U.S.’s closest G7 allies have refused to implement additional sanctions against Syria without proof of Assad’s guilt.
As the BBC reported on Tuesday, “Sanctions against Russian and Syria will not be put in place until after an investigation into last week’s apparent chemical attack, British government sources said. Members of the G7 group of leading industrialised nations agreed to delay implementing sanctions until there was ‘hard and irrefutable evidence’ over the alleged chemical attack.”
Yet the New York Times and other mainstream U.S. outlets continue to report as undisputed fact that Assad’s government intentionally carried out this attack, and furthermore, that Moscow knew about it in advance.
The sorts of unequivocal retorts that the NYT uses against journalists and bloggers for raising doubts about the official stories could, of course, just as easily be applied to the official stories themselves. When the Associated Press, for example, reported on Tuesday that “The United States has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week,” the Times could have responded with an emphatic all-caps retort such as “NO EVIDENCE.”
These retorts could also be used against the accusations of the Russian government engaging in a convoluted conspiracy to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances by hacking John Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails in order to expose the Democratic establishment’s undermining of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign while simultaneously “elevating” Trump’s candidacy in the media through the so-called “pied piper” strategy, with the evil geniuses of the Kremlin somehow knowing beyond a doubt that this information would sway voters in favor of voting for the least popular major-party nominee in a generation.
Just as the NYT has denounced theories surrounding the Syria chemical attack as lacking evidence, so too could the entire Russiagate narrative be picked apart as lacking any foundation in fact. All that one needs to do is actually read the U.S. intelligence assessment that dubiously concluded that Russia “interfered” in the election without offering anything approaching hard proof of this claim – spending seven full pages instead bashing the Russian network RT for its perceived biases.
Going through the Director of National Intelligence report from last January, the reader is left with few details as to how the extraordinary conclusion was reached that Russia “hacked” the election, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have called an “act of war.”
The closest thing to evidence that could be found in the DNI report was regarding so-called Russian fingerprints on the hacking attacks of Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails, including malware associated with Russian hackers, as well as some Cyrillic letters and the phrase “Felix Edmundovich,” a reference to the founder of the Soviet Union’s secret police.
However, as revealed in subsequent WikiLeaks’ disclosures of the so-called Vault 7 documents, the CIA has developed numerous tools, including a library of foreign malware, that can be used to falsely implicate a foreign intelligence service in a cyber-attack. These revelations called into question the entire basis for Washington’s case against Moscow for allegedly interfering in the U.S. election, but besides a few articles in the alternative press, including at Consortium News, the revelations received scant attention.
Apparently, the disclosures of CIA hacking activities – including new revelations of the CIA deploying malware in Samsung televisions as covert listening devices to spy on unwitting Americans – were not the sort of conspiracy theory considered worthy of sustained media coverage in the United States. In contrast to the months of wall-to-wall coverage of Russiagate, the Vault 7 leaks were largely treated as a one-day story by the mainstream press.
The disparity in coverage speaks to a longstanding aversion of the mainstream media to what it considers illegitimate “new media” encroaching on its territory and peddling conspiracy theories and what is today called “fake news.” This hostility can be traced to the earliest days of the internet.
Twenty years ago, responding to a proliferation of alternative news sites on the World Wide Web – or what was called back then the “information superhighway” – Newsweek magazine ran a 1,800-word article entitled “Conspiracy Mania Feeds Our Growing National Paranoia.” In the piece, Newsweek denounced what it called “conspiracy freaks.”
Explaining a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories as evidence of “mass psychosis,” the article warned that the “ranks of the darkly deluded may be growing” as “conspiracism has become a kind of para-religion.” It took particular aim at the African-American community, which it described as “a hotbed of this kind of suspicion and mistrust,” for believing that “the CIA had spread the crack epidemic by backing Nicaraguan drug dealers whose profits went to the contras.”
Newsweek also criticized Oliver Stone, director of “Platoon” and “JFK,” and Chris Carter, the creator of the popular “X-Files” television series, for promoting dangerous ideas that had the effect of eroding trust in the government. “On ‘The X-Files,’ everything from who killed JFK to why the Buffalo Bills lose so many Super Bowls is traceable to a single master plan,” Newsweek sneered.
Of course, Newsweek wasn’t alone in scoffing at popular conspiracy theories in the ‘90s. In fact, it was conventional wisdom among “respectable” media that government leaders simply do not cross certain lines, and that certain stories, for example, regarding CIA involvement in the cocaine trade – no matter how much evidence backed them up – were off-limits. Those who failed to get on board with this groupthink, for example Gary Webb who wrote a widely disseminated series for the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA-crack cocaine connection, had their careers destroyed.
This trend continued into the 2000s, with millions of angry Americans still seething over the stolen election in 2000 told to “get over it,” and then called crazy for doubting the basis for George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq in 2003.
A couple years later, those who raised questions about the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina were accused by the Washington Post of “racial paranoia” and hawking “conspiracy theories,” such as the widespread belief that New Orleans’ levees may have been intentionally blown up to protect rich neighborhoods at the expense of poorer ones, or to drive low-income African Americans out of town.
But skip ahead a decade, and oddly, this same media that historically has been so hostile to conspiracy theories was seen eagerly pushing conspiracy theories surrounding Clinton’s loss to Trump. Headlines of “Russian election hacking” were freely used by the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times, despite the fact that there is zero evidence that Russia manipulated any voting machines in any state to alter the outcome of the election, or even any substantial proof offered to support the claims that the Kremlin attempted to influence voters’ decisions by exposing private emails between DNC officials.
Nevertheless, the Democrats and the media have coalesced around the conventional wisdom that the election was lost due to a Russian plot, which conveniently absolves the national Democratic Party of any responsibility for losing the election – for example by writing off the white working class vote or nominating a deeply flawed establishment candidate during a decidedly anti-establishment year – while simultaneously calling into question the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.
It also feeds into the rallying cry that the Democrats have embraced since losing the election, which has been variations of the theme “This is not normal,” expressed by the hashtag #NotNormal on social media. This theme laments the loss of a more “normal” time, presumably personified by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Typically, the slogan refers to Trump’s controversial dealings with Russia, his unconventional communication style and his extensively documented conflicts of interests, as well as perceived misogyny, nepotism, racism and incompetence in his administration.
Clearly, there is very little that can be considered “normal” about this administration, including the strange role of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who has moved into the White House while the First Lady, Melania Trump, lives in New York. The First Daughter reportedly was instrumental in convincing the President to carry out the unilateral attack on Syria. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff,’” Ivanka’s brother Eric Trump told the Telegraph.
While that is certainly not normal, what the Democrats and the media are revealing through their #NotNormal campaign and the official conspiracy theories that they are promoting – while downplaying other theories or doubts about government claims – is how much they actually consider “normal.”
In today’s America, what is normal, according to the bipartisan consensus, are unilateral strikes against countries without evidence and in violation of international law. It is also apparently normal for televisions to spy on law-abiding citizens, and with drone strikes shooting up 432% under the Trump presidency so far, it is apparently quite normal to use flying robots to bomb suspected terrorists (and their eight-year old daughters) half-way around the world. Indefinite detention at the legal black hole of Guantanamo is also rather normal.
After all, these are all policies that have been in place for a decade and a half under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and hope seems to be dwindling for returning to a period of actual normalcy.
The United Nations has raised alarm over a climbing number of refugees passing through Libya who are being traded in so-called slave markets before being held for ransom and subjected to malnutrition and sexual abuse.
Migrants are typically traded for as little as $200 to $500, and are held for an average of two to three months, said the head of the UN migration agency’s Libya mission, Othman Belbeisi, in a Geneva press briefing on Tuesday.
He emphasized that “migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity,” cautioning that “selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger.”
Many of the asylum seekers are used as day laborers in construction and agriculture, Belbeisi further stated, noting that although some are paid, others are forced to work without pay before being sold again to new buyers.
He also pointed to the extremely tragic fates that female refugees often encounter, saying, “About women, we heard a lot about bad treatment, rape and being forced into prostitution.”
According to a report released Tuesday by the agency, officially called the International Organization for Migration (IOM), its representatives have spoken to African refugees who recounted their experiences of being bought and sold in garages and parking lots in the southern Libyan city of Sabha, one of the nation’s main refugee smuggling hubs.
In the report, the IOM recounted the story of a Senegalese refugee – referred to as ‘SC’ to protect his identity — who spoke of being ‘bought’ and taken to his first ‘prison’ – a private home where more than 100 asylum seekers were beaten and held as hostages.
SC, the report added, was asked to pay 300,000 Central African Francs ($480) for his release, which he could not pay. He was then sold to another Libyan, who set his release price at 600,000 CFA ($970).
The Senegalese refugee further spoke of awful sanitary conditions and meals offered only once per day, adding that he was eventually able to get money from his family and work as an interpreter to avoid future beatings.
However, the IOM report added, others are not so lucky. Those who cannot pay are often killed or left to starve to death. They are buried without being identified.
“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” said IOM’s director of operations and emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”
The development came as Libya remains a major gateway for asylum seekers hoping to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 450,000 people making the crossing over the past three years.
So far this year, of an estimated 26,886 refugees who have crossed into Italy, more than 600 are known to have drowned at sea while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert, according to press reports.
A professor who challenged the 2013 claims of a chemical attack in Syria is now questioning the Trump administration’s narrative blaming the Assad government for the April 4 attack in the Idlib province town of Khan Shaykhun.
On Tuesday, the White House released a declassified intelligence brief accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad of ordering and organizing the attack, in which Syrian planes allegedly dropped chemical ordnance on civilians in the rebel-held town.
The report “contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft,” wrote Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Theodore Postol, who reviewed it and put together a 14-page assessment, which he provided to RT on Wednesday.
“I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun,” wrote Postol.
A chemical attack with a nerve agent did occur, he said, but the available evidence does not support the US government’s conclusions.
“I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report. But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct,” Postol wrote.
It is “very clear who planned this attack, who authorized this attack and who conducted this attack itself,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer also said that doubting the evidence would be “doubting the entire international reporting crew documenting this.”
The report offered by the White House, however, cited “a wide body of open-source material” and “social media accounts” from the rebel-held area, including footage provided by the White Helmets rescue group documented to have ties with jihadist rebels, Western and Gulf Arab governments.
Postol was not convinced by such evidence.
“Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”
Instead, “the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.”
“We again have a situation where the White House has issued an obviously false, misleading and amateurish intelligence report,” he concluded, recalling the 2013 situation when the Obama administration claimed Assad had used chemical weapons against the rebels in Ghouta, near Damascus.
“What the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true,” Postol wrote, “and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has told US President Donald Trump to resolve ongoing tensions with North Korea peacefully.
According to China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, Xi and Trump discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a phone call initiated by the US president on Wednesday.
“China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula… and is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the American side over the issue on the peninsula,” Xi told Trump during the conversation.
The White House has not released details on the phone conversation.
Last week, the Chinese and American leaders met in the United States, where Trump reportedly called on China to increase pressure on Pyongyang.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump said that if China refused to help, “we will solve the problem without them!”
The US has dispatched a strike group, including an aircraft carrier, to the Korean Peninsula amid rising tensions with North Korea. The Carl Vinson strike group also comprises two destroyers and submarines.
North Korea’s rapidly developing missile and military nuclear programs have unnerved Washington. The presence of US forces in the region and repeated threats of military action by Washington have on the other hand angered the North.
Meanwhile, an article on the Chinese Global Times newspaper warned Pyongyang in an editorial to “hit the brakes for peace.” It called on the North to halt any plans for nuclear and missile activities “for its own security.”
“Pyongyang can continue its tough stance; however, for its own security, it should at least halt provocative nuclear and missile activities. Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time,” the article read.
Angered by the deployment of the US strike group, North Korea has warned to attack US mainland with an atomic bomb. Trump has said Pyongyang “is looking for trouble.”
In 2016 Donald Trump turned the political world upside down, and not just because his victory prevailed against conventional wisdom. Trump claimed to want a new direction in foreign policy. Gone would be the trade deals that sent American workers on a race to an endless bottom. He said that he wanted a new relationship with Russia and felt that the two countries might become partners in a war against terrorism. This terrorism resulted from the United States reliance on jihadists in order to effect regime change. While Hillary Clinton was an openly provocative war hawk, Trump gave an impression of wanting change.
But his attack on a Syrian airfield shows adherence to the worst of United States foreign policy tradition. In less than one week the Trump administration went from saying that “Assad’s fate will be decided by the Syrian people,” and “Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out” to parroting Obama’s mantra that “Assad must go.” Vladimir Putin had already dispensed with calling the United States “our American partners.” He suspended Russia’s participation in an air safety agreement between the two countries. The likelihood of unintended consequence is now higher.
Trump was accused of being under Russian influence throughout the campaign and after his inauguration. Democrats used the charge to divert attention from their electoral failures, weaken the new president and force him to join the war party. They were determined to maintain foreign policy continuity and crush any nation that insisted on exercising sovereignty in the face of American attempts at full hegemony. They were also determined to crush Trump if he didn’t go along with their plans for a new American century.
The attack on the new president was unprecedented. After less than three months in office he was threatened with a severely damaged administration or impeachment. The Democrat’s vitriol had nothing to do with judicial appointments, deregulation of environmental protections or civil rights retreats back to the days of Jim Crow segregation. None of the issues which concern their base of supporters are the cause of their opposition. The fight was all about his willingness to carry on the drive for imperialism and the attempt to bring about regime change in Syria and in Russia too.
Years of demonizing Russia and president Vladimir Putin have had the desired impact. Democrats began by invoking the language of right wing discourse and endlessly repeated assertions of intelligence agencies. They are now praising him for bringing the world to the brink. Only one Democratic member of congress, Tulsi Gabbard, has dared to question the veracity of claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. The rest either heartily commend Trump or waffle by asking whether he should have asked for permission that they would surely have given.
The anti-war movement is weak, nearly killed off by the marketing that made Barack Obama look like a peace candidate. The U.S. Navy heads to Korea to threaten the DPRK which correctly points out that America’s aggressions force them to seek nuclear capability as a means of self-defense.
Syria is a living hell for millions of people because Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton wanted another notch on their regime change guns. Refugees flee from Libya and Syria because of their state sponsored terrorism. Trump is now making good on what his predecessors thought they could get away with easily when they began their plot in 2011.
In attacking Syria Trump upped the ante, bringing the world closer to war than even Obama did, and Democrats are praising him for it. The New York Times and the Washington Post both repeat lies about Assad and Putin and laud the man they disregarded just two weeks ago.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both support his actions in Syria. Sanders says, “We must get rid of Assad.” He proves himself to be a phony progressive, supporting the empire while claiming there is some difference between himself and his once and future rival.
Trump is still bringing out all of the contradictions in America at this stage of disintegration and crisis. He is certainly no match for the neo-cons, who had no intention of moving backwards from their Obama glory days. Republicans like Lindsay Graham and John McCain talk of “boots on the ground” and corporate media talking head Brian Williams says that deadly bombs are “beautiful.”
And what of the resistance? The pink pussy hat wearers and their ilk? They too approve of an American hegemon willing to kill at the first sign of a propaganda lie. They aren’t resisting anything at all. Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau have backed Trump too. If we didn’t know before, we now know who the imperialists are in this country and around the world.
The peace movement has an uphill climb. The demonization of Russia and Syria and the skillful manipulation of public opinion will make the work difficult. But someone must be willing to resist Trump and the Democrats too. Hillary Clinton was a threat to world peace but her electoral defeat did not mean the end of neocon dreams perpetrated by Democrats, Republicans and the corporate media.
The struggle is always the same. Presidents may be Democrats or Republicans. They may say they want to change foreign policy. But bloodshed persists. The fights against it must be equally relentless.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
Secretary of State Tillerson Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow was supposed to prepare the way for a Trump-Putin summit either as a self-standing event or on the sidelines of the next G-20 meeting in Germany. The hope was that the summit would consolidate the turn toward normalization of relations that President Trump had promised in his electoral campaign.
But the 180-degree reversal in the foreign policy of the Trump administration marked by the launch of a missile strike on Syria last week changed the expectations for Tillerson’s visit dramatically, to the point that one of the most widely respected Russian political observers, Director of the Near East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky, questioned why Tillerson’s visit is still on.
“It is not clear why Tillerson is coming,” Satanovsky said. “There is no reason at all for him to be received by Putin. Maybe it’s enough for him to talk to Maria Zakharova [spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs], perhaps with [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov.”
Satanovsky’s pessimism was largely shared by other experts and officials who appeared on the most popular Russian TV news programs, including the talk shows Sixty Minutes, Evening and Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, News on Saturday with Sergey Brillyov, and News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselyov. Always popular with their Russian audiences, these shows drew in remarkably high visitor rates on the internet as posted on youtube.com, between a quarter million and half a million visits each.
Following President Trump’s missile strike on a Syrian air base on April 6, pressure grew on President Putin to respond with his own muscle-flexing. However, the Kremlin’s immediate response was restrained. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply announced the suspension of the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding with the United States on deconfliction. That agreement put in place communications channels within the region and rules for conduct meant to prevent and/or resolve incidents between the Russian and U.S.-led coalition forces operating in Syria.
By the evening of April 7, the popular Russian state television talk show Sixty Minutes informed its audience about two essential facts regarding the U.S. missile strike. First, the level of damage inflicted on the Syrian air base at Shayrat turned out to be minimal, totally out of keeping with what one might have anticipated from 59 Tomahawks launched by U.S. naval vessels in the Mediterranean.
Rossiya 1 war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny presented footage he and his camera crew had taken at Shayrat just hours after the strike. It was clear that the landing strip itself was undamaged, that many hangars were similarly intact, and that the structural losses were limited to six out-of-date MIG23s that were being reconditioned and to some roadways and buildings of minor significance. The report also noted that a relatively small number of Syrian military personnel and civilians were killed and wounded.
Poddubny noted that not all of the cruise missiles seemed to have reached the target. Later news broadcasts clarified that only 23 of the 59 Tomahawks reached Shayrat.
The second fact, which tempered Russian anger about the attack, was news that the United States had given two hours advance warning to the Russians. This would have enabled them to withdraw any of their military personnel on the site and to avoid casualties that would call for retribution and spark a direct military confrontation.
But if the sting of the attack and its anti-Russian message were attenuated, there was from the outset some confusion among Official Russia over what message the strike was intended to deliver and to whom. There was also a great deal of interest in exploring the reasons for Donald Trump’s policy reversal on Syria and on Russia and interest in identifying the influencers behind the move so as to better understand what might come next and what to do about that.
Already in Sixty Minutes, the first authoritative view on what happened was put forward by Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party. For political reasons, i.e., policy disagreements with the current government, Zyuganov is a rare guest on Rossiya 1 and was likely invited on to rally unity among the Russian people in the face of the new threats and dangers coming from Washington.
His reading of Trump’s TV appearance announcing the missile strike was that the President looked “broken,” now in the thrall of the mafia that had been running the U.S. before his accession to power. Zyuganov noted that for once Trump was reading his text from a teleprompter and his voice seemed to be unsteady, highly emotional.
What Drove Trump
The discussion of what motivated Trump to act on Syria expanded later in the evening on a special edition of the Vladimir Solovyov talk show. The microphone was offered first to Vyacheslav Nikonov, chairman of the Duma Committee on Education who is better known in international circles for his years at the head of the NGO Russian World, sponsors of the Russian diaspora.
Since the U.S. presidential election in November 2016, Nikonov has appeared regularly on Rossiya 1 as a consistent advocate of Donald Trump in the expectation of very positive changes in U.S. foreign policy. But he was now caught out.
Nikonov said Trump was responding to popular outrage over pictures of children gassed to death that were featured on U.S. mass media so it appeared to Americans that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was poisoning his own people. However, if the villain in the piece was the media for an exploitative presentation, Nikonov acknowledged that there were aspects that were more generally disturbing, in particular, that Russian servicemen could have been on the base under attack. It seemed as if the right hand in America did not know what the left was doing and these contradictions do not bode well.
Igor Morozov, member of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, reminded the Solovyov audience that the idea of attacking Syrian military infrastructure was not something dreamed up at the last second by the Trump administration. Its author was General James Mattis when he was U.S. Commander in the Middle East in 2013 and was removed for promoting policies that contradicted President Obama’s desire to withdraw from war operations in the region, taking down the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Mattis is the Secretary of Defense and the cruise missile attack on the Shayrat air force base comes from his playbook.
In News on Saturday, host Sergey Brilyov remarked how ineffective the U.S. missile strike was in military terms, suggesting that it must be seen as a “signal” And that raised the question of a signal to whom? By process of exclusion, Brilyov recommended to his audience two possible addressees: China and the United States itself.
For Chinese President Xi, news of the American strike on Syria was delivered by Trump in the course of the state visit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The blunt warning was that if Xi does not help to rein in the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the United States would act on its own as it had just done in Syria.
But in Brilyov’s view the more important audience for Trump’s gesture was within the United States, within the political establishment, where he was fighting a desperate rearguard battle for his domestic policies against resistance from both hardline Republicans opposed to his foreign policy objectives and the whole of the Democratic Party.
Dmitry Kiselyov, Russia’s most senior news presenter, characterized Trump as a “tabula rasa,” without any experience in international politics who was now using America’s vast military potential to create a very dangerous situation. On his News of the Week program on Sunday evening, Kiselyov featured war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny reporting again from the Shayrat air base and explaining how it was once again operational.
Poddubny also showed off the piles of canisters at the base which appeared in previous telecasts from the air field and were claimed by some Western media to represent the chemical warfare munitions stored there by the Assad regime. He carefully explained that these containers are standard issue and are used to load all kinds of munitions onto fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, so that they have no relation whatsoever to chemical weapons which were nowhere to be seen at the base.
Kiselyov detailed at length the about-face of U.S. foreign policy on Syrian “regime change” and the reversal on efforts to join with Russia to fight terrorism. Now, objectively, the United States was fighting on the side of the terrorists. All of this meant that Trump would fail as a “deal maker” with Russia, that it was improbable he could patch things up with Russia.
Kiselyov called the U.S. President’s action “impulsive” and unsupported by facts. It was done in the context of U.S. domestic political warfare. Trump’s entourage was changing, with strategic political adviser Steve Bannon being shunted to one side and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner rising in prominence.
Kiselyov reserved special scorn for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nicki Haley. He pulled up on screen both her accusations against Assad and the riposte from Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Vladimir Safronkov that the United States was afraid of an independent investigation into the chemical incident in Idlib because it would not support their narrative.
Kiselyov concluded his reportage on the U.S. attack with harsh words, condemning what he called a prima facie case of U.S. aggression. It was not a reaction to any concrete event but was taken “due to the total failure of Donald Trump’s policies at home.”
But he said Russia would react with reason and caution: “It is clear no one intends to declare war on the U.S. But we cannot let this whole affair pass without practical response.”
Specifically, he called for the U.N. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the situation in Syria. They are the people who oversaw the removal and destruction of Assad’s chemical arsenal and production facilities, for which they won a Nobel Prize for Peace. Now they should be put back to work, he said.
Finally, Kiselyov ran a short interview with Yevgeny Satanovsky that summed up nicely the thinking of his peers: “All U.S. foreign policy actions are based on domestic political considerations. That is why they are so idiotic.”
The discussion of Trump’s missile strike continued on the Sunday Evening show of Vladimir Solovyov. After pointing to rumors of U.S. plans to destroy the North Korean regime with a similar attack, the host kicked off the discussion with a neat summary for his panel of how the U.S. is approaching world governance today: “The U.S. by itself decides which countries can exist, which cannot; which leaders will rule and who must be liquidated. The U.N. Security Council is not needed. The U.S. decides on its own what to do.”
A Cornered Trump
Alexei Pushkov, who was until September 2016 the chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Relations and is now chairman of the upper chamber’s Committee on Information, delivered a programmatic statement to explain what he believed happened:
“Trump is operating in a specific set of circumstances. The harder it is for the U.S. to manage the world, the more it tends to throw international rules to the wind. Trump has little opportunity to escape from the existing policies.
“The key question [regarding the chemical gas event at Idlib]: why would Assad use chemical weapons against this small town? He is winning the war. No one in the West has asked this question. Whose interests were served by this chemical event? It is good for American hawks, for [Sen. John] McCain, for the neighboring states which want to overthrow Assad. But it holds no advantages for Assad.
“We have not long ago heard [former National Security Adviser] Susan Rice and [former Secretary of State] John Kerry say that all of Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed. So where did Assad get these bombs?
“Per The New York Post, Tillerson is coming to Moscow to deliver an ultimatum on removal of Assad. If he comes here with an ultimatum, then the talks will head into a dead end. The experience of the last three years shows that the language of ultimatum does not work with Russia.”
The microphone was then turned over to Yevgeny Satanovsky, a leading expert on the Near East who was more specific in his recommendations on what Russia must do now:
–Clean up the province of Idlib, or at least the city of Idlib, driving out the Al Qaeda fighters who are now installed there so that an independent investigation can begin into what happened leading to the poison gas deaths.
–Since the U.S. clearly wants to take the Assad government’s sole remaining enclave in Eastern Syria at Dar Ezzor and turn it over to the terrorists, Russia must do its best now to break the blockade there.
–Tillerson must be approached very carefully. See whether he has come to negotiate or just to conclude with a press conference at which he tells the media that Russia is hopeless, that the U.S. cannot work with Moscow, and that the U.S. will now deal with North Korea and everywhere else on its own.
Among the other panelists on the Sunday Evening show, retired Lt. General Yevgeny Buzhinsky dealt with the question of the forewarning which the Russians received from the United States before the missile launch, saying:
“Trump is sitting on two stools. This is very sad. Yes, the U.S. gave us one and a half hours, maybe two hours of advance warning of the attack. But how?
“There are several lines of communication between us. There is a Chief of General Staff to Chief of General Staff line, which is very fast. This was not used. Instead they used a line of communications set up by the 2015 Deconfliction Memorandum of Understanding, at the regional level, between Americans in Jordan and Russians in Syria.
“The message on the impending attack was sent to the U.S. command in Jordan in the middle of the night and the duty officer was in no rush to forward it to his Russian counterpart in Syria. The duty officer there sent it to Moscow, to the Ministry of Defense, which also did not rush to respond or to pass the message to the Syrians. Net result: the two hours was barely enough for the Russians to take necessary precautionary measures. The Russian Ministry was furious.”
No doubt this explains why the first Russian reaction to the whole affair was to suspend the Deconfliction Memorandum.
The Chemical Canard
Yakov Kedmi, another panelist on Skype from Tel Aviv, offered insights into why the allegations of a Syrian government chemical weapon attack was nothing more than a canard, an unfounded rumor.
Kedmi is a former Soviet citizen, one of the first Soviet Jews to demand and finally receive permission to leave the country for Israel at the end of the 1970s. In Israel he joined the intelligence services where he had a full career. Until three years ago, he was persona non grata in Russia but has since established a niche on Russian television as a valued expert on Middle East security questions.
“What is strange here is that if the Syrians used this [air] base to attack Idlib with chemical weapons, then there should be a bunker of such weapons at the base. That would be very easy to detect using the intelligence means available – satellite images, drones, etc.
“Israel follows all movements of munitions to and in Syria going to Hezbollah. We know which trucks are carrying what and where. The United States surely knows the same about what interests it. Yet when speaking of the attack on the base the Americans did not identify any bunker or location for such weapons. Supposedly they are still looking. This shows it is a canard.
“As for the Israeli government, they say Amen to whatever stupidities the Americans say. That is the situation in our country.”
Overall, Official Russia seems to have calmly adopted the cynical interpretation that Donald Trump bombed the Syrian air base on the basis of a manufactured pretext in order to gain the upper hand in his bitter fight with hardline Republicans and the entire Democratic Party over Russia-gate and to advance his domestic political agenda.
If this interpretation is true and is eventually revealed to the American people, they are not likely to appreciate Trump’s cynicism. If he launched a missile attack on Syria based on a lie, Trump would have squandered his political capital with those who voted for him and for his promised pro-détente foreign policy. It is now improbable that he will win them back.
At the same time, Trump has not shed for long the dogs that have been snarling and nipping at his heels. Already Sen. McCain has blamed the supposed chemical attack on Trump’s earlier repudiation of “regime change” in Syria.
Donald Trump’s moral standing was never very high, even among his supporters. But the recruitment of former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson was seen as a victory for decency. Tillerson’s prepared remarks delivered at the opening of his confirmation hearings were crystal clear and bracing. He alluded to his training as an engineer who always followed the facts where they led him.
However, by loyally carrying the water for his boss on the alleged Syrian chemical attack, Tillerson has also damaged his credibility, drawing comparisons to Secretary of State Colin Powell who presented President George W. Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq to the United Nations.
Patently, in this current matter of state importance, indeed a matter that bears on war and peace, Tillerson did nothing to establish the facts. Now, he brings his tattered credibility to Moscow where he will face Russian officials who no longer believe that they can trust the Trump administration.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.
Almost immediately after video of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib hit Western media, Assad was declared guilty by US news networks and political commentators. The front page of the New York Times on April 5th showed a heartbreaking image of a child wounded in the alleged chemical attack with a headline claiming Assad was responsible.
By the afternoon of April 7th, a US attack seemed inevitable as both Rex Tillerson and Trump said action would be taken.
Between Democrats and Republicans, a bipartisan consensus emerged, rare in the Trump presidency, whereby Assad was deemed guilty and Trump was goaded on to attack. The few voices of dissent seemed mostly concerned with the lack of constitutional approval for the strike
The night of the strike, US media snapped into DPRK-style, state media mode. TV pundits fell into a trance while expressing the “beauty” of American power being unleashed on a country already destroyed by 6 years of war.
Pundits described the attack as “surgical” despite the pentagon quietly admitting one of the missiles missed its target and they don’t know where it landed. My questions to both CENTCOM and the Secretary of Defense Office on the missing cruise missile have thus far gone unanswered. However, Syrian sources claim civilians were killed in the missile strike.
Trump justified the attack by invoking religiously themed buzzwords and unconvincing blather on the “beautiful babies” murdered in the chemical attack.
Following the attack, Trump officials’ statements indicated there was a shift towards regime change. UN ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday that removing Assad is now a priority.
The Neocon sharks have started circling too. Bill Kristol tweeted that these strikes should be used to move towards regime change in Iran. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain have all joined in too, their mouths watering at the thought of ousting Assad.
But was Assad really responsible for the attack?
To ask such a question is to be deemed an “Assadist” by pundits and discourse police across the political spectrum.
Neither the lack of an independent investigation, nor the fact that nearly all the information on the alleged attack has come from rebel sources, who stand to benefit from a US response, is deemed sufficient cause for skepticism.
In a civilized society an actor is be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is determined, a legally justified course of action is taken. In the US however, if the accused is a US enemy, no evidence is needed, and even deranged conspiracies are given play in mainstream media coverage.
The best recent example of this is the US media’s conspiracy about Russia stealing the US election and working for Trump. The US media has stooped so low as to even push bizarre conspiracies by Louise Mensch. She recently claimed the 2014 uprising in Ferguson was a Russian plot.
In the case of the alleged attack on Khan Sheikhun, US officials and pro-war experts immediately declared Assad’s guilty and then cheered on an illegal use of force. This is all very reminiscent of the lead up to the Iraq war.
In an eerie coincidence, Michael R. Gordon, who with Judith Miller helped sell the Iraq WMD story to Americans, coauthored the New York Times April 4th article on Assad’s alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun.
To help sell the sarin narrative, the US media brought on a doctor to describe the alleged attack that has been accused of helping kidnap journalists in his work with extremists.
When the US investigated its own airstrike in Mosul this March, it took a number of days before it admitted it had killed hundreds of civilians. Yet, guilt was immediately assigned in the Khan Sheikhun attack.
In 2013, the US media also rushed to the conclusion Assad used sarin in a horrific incident in Ghouta. The US was on the verge of attacking Assad then, but Obama decided against it. Obama claimed he held off because US intelligence voiced skepticism about Assad’s guilt.
The UN investigation on the Ghouta attack took almost a month and even its conclusions have been disputed.
In December of 2013, Seymour Hersh published a lengthy investigation into the 2013 attack in Ghouta and found reason to doubt Assad’s responsibility for attack. He was forced to publish it in the London Review of Books after the New York Times and the Washington Post refused to run it.
He reported that classified US reports claimed that Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin”.
A month after Hersh’s piece appeared, a MIT study cast further doubt on the US government’s story by demonstrating that the rockets used in the Ghouta attack couldn’t have flown as far as the US government claimed.
Ted Postol, one of the authors of the study said, “We were within a whisker of war based on egregious errors.”
In this latest alleged gas attack, a few individuals have dared question the state narrative.
The journalist Robert Parry has recently claimed there is much to be made of the fact that Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, wasn’t among those helping sell this latest sarin story to the American people. He believes it indicates doubt in the CIA over Assad’s involvement.
Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has raised skepticism over Assad’s involvement. He says rebels have had chemical weapons facilities in Syria and some of the witnesses’ statements describe a strong smell during the attack, which indicates something other than sarin was used.
The Canadian government originally called for an investigation and stopped short of blaming Assad at the UN, but then later championed Trump’s strikes.
Groups like Organizations for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Human Rights Watch are still investigating the alleged attack in Khan Sheikhun.
Whether these groups or others will be able to conduct an independent investigation is not known. But in usual fashion, the US had no interest in investigating facts, which may provide the wrong answers.
It’s possible that Assad carried out the attack, but just because he’s a reprehensible figure doesn’t mean there is no need to present evidence and conduct an independent investigation.
What’s clear now is that the US attack benefitted jihadi groups, has made further US military action more likely, and has increased the chances of a direct military confrontation with Russia. All of these results are very dangerous.
Future US military action in Syria should be resisted with popular pressure. History shows we can’t count on the media or pundits to act as the voice of reason.
By Eric Walberg | American Herald Tribune | April 9, 2017
Claims that Assad is using chemical weapons are like a barometer: when the Syrian army is doing well, they surface, notably in 2013, 2015 and now, just as the Syria government looks close to some kind of ‘victory’. Both times in the past the intelligence came from Mossad and the claims fizzled out, though the propaganda that it was ‘likely’ by the Syrian Army stuck in western perception. The current chemical ‘attack’, instantly hailed by Israel, occurred just as peace talks were beginning in Geneva. The source of the claim is, again, most likely Israel, though that’s not part of the media fireworks. Tillerson might have checked with the Russians, as Russian military were stationed at the airport.
That is the background to the bombing of the air base April 6, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province two days before. National security adviser General Herbert McMaster solemnly declared, “We could trace this murderous attack back to that facility.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia of being either complicit or incompetent in failing to keep its 2013 promise of completely destroying Syria’s chemical weapons supply.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that. Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is.” Russia said it had suspended deconfliction channels with Washington, set up to avoid air collisions over Syria, though the Pentagon said it continued to use the channel.
Why would Assad launch chemical weapons when he was winning? The most plausible explanation was that the Syria air force hit a supply depot in rebel-held territory. That Assad would have ordered the use of chemical weapons was dismissed by Russian deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, who vetoed the usual US-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Assad, suggesting it was altnews. “We have not yet any official or reliable confirmation” of what took place or who was responsible, said the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at a press conference after the incident. The EU echoed this, though European countries either supported the US strike or kept mum.
Safronkov warned the US, “If military action occurred, it will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise. Look at Iraq, look at Libya.” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations, sounded a similar note. “I remember Hans Blix. Of course I’m concerned” about the possibility of a US attack in Syria.” Bolivia, a current member of the Security Council, requested an emergency session to address, and perhaps condemn, the US missile attack in Syria.
What makes the accusation doubly doubtful is the fact that Syria joined the international chemical weapons treaty in 2013, agreeing to renounce all use of chemical weapons, and through the mediation of Russia, to dispose of all that were in their hands. The deadline for destruction was 2014. Syria gave the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal and started its destruction in October 2013, two weeks before its formal entry into force. Idlib, the site of the current ‘attack’, has moved back and forth, and has been in rebel hands since 2015, and all the weapons were not yet removed.
As if scripted, ISIS stormed the Syrian army checkpoints in the nearby strategic town of Al-Furqalas.
Fate worse than death?
More civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict were killed by US-led coalitions than by ISIS or Russian-led forces in the last month, according to figures released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. ISIS killed 119 civilians in Syria in March, with Russian forces believed to have killed 224 civilians in the same month. The SNHR found the international coalition forces, led by the US, killed 260 civilians.
At the same time as the US was loudly denouncing Syria’s supposed chemical attack, which killed 80, the US was responsible for killing 85 (an airstrike on a school west of Raqqa killed at least 33 people, just after a separate US strike on a mosque complex in the north-west of the country killed 52). But it is the chemical attack claim–hotly disputed by the Russians, who are the most privvy to Syrian affairs–that gets the headlines, though unless I’m mistaken, a wartime death is a wartime death. Each one a tragedy.
The upsurge in civilian deaths has been so sharp that it’s overwhelmed Airwars.org. The site had to scale back its monitoring of Russian airstrikes in Syria and focus instead on bombings carried out by the US and its allies. At its peak, ISIS controlled about 40% of Iraqi territory; now it controls about 10%. In both Iraq and Syria, the battles are now in cities, making bombing raids lethal to civilians. The easier part of the war, which involved targeted airstrikes in less densely populated areas, is over, and deaths are bound to increase with ‘boots on the ground’.
It is difficult to understand just what Trump has in mind to end the violence in Syria and Iraq. He promised not to increase US intervention abroad, but at the same time, vowed that as president he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS.” US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have already killed 1,500 civilians in just Iraq and Syria this month alone, more than three times the number killed in President Barack Obama’s final full month in office, according to Airwars.
Trump and his top aides had accepted in recent days the “reality” of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority, but the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. When asked if this signalled a change in US policy, McMaster demurred. “I think what it does communicate is a big shift … in Assad’s calculus … because this is … the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father.”
Trump insists that the mainstream media lies, but then buys into the mainstream version of the war against Syria. He is being manipulated by the very forces he claims to oppose. What should be a sign of decisiveness looks more like another Trump gaffe. While the mainstream political world and media approved of the sabre-rattling, Trump’s own followers are against his bombing.
According to vox.com, among them were:
*Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars/ @PrisonPlanet. “I guess Trump wasn’t ‘Putin’s puppet’ after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I’m officially OFF the Trump train. I’ll be focusing my efforts on Le Pen, who tried to warn Trump against this disaster.”
*Mike Cernovich, #NoMoreWars. ” Today over 500,000 people have watched my videos and streams. 90% are @realDonaldTrump supporters, none want war with Syria.”
*Radio host Laura Ingraham, @IngrahamAngle. “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”
*Author Ann Coulter, @AnnCoulter. “The beloved rebels [sic] we’ll help by intervening in Syria: women forced into veils & posters of Osama hung on the walls.”
*Max Blumenthal. “US intervention would be the last hope for Syrian rebels, and a shot in the arm to al-Qaeda, which has grown to record size thanks to America’s military meddling across the Middle East. ”
*Even the readers at Breitbart, which is known as the home on the internet for pro-Trump coverage, rebelled against the attack.
Pacts made in hell
The parallel between the Russia-Syria anti-Trump campaigns by the establishment is obvious. The Russian spying hysteria (Obama expelled 35 diplomats in December 2016) and the support for lame-duck Ukraine was to prevent a new detente with Russia, and so far has worked. Trump doesn’t dare proceed with this key foreign policy objective. Originally, he tied relations with Russia with solving the crisis in Syria. “Let Russia do it.”
But in office, Trump instead strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia, signing a pact to work together in both Syria (Clinton’s “safe zones”) and Yemen. After a friendly White House meeting with Trump and Steve Bannon (the architect of Trump’s Muslim ban), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hailed Trump as “his Excellency,” describing him as a “true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote.” The only real agreement with the Saudis is the obsession to attack Iran, a pact made in hell.
Historical parallels abound here. Just as Putin was understandably supportive of Trump’s campaign for the presidency, Soviet Russia in its time very much wanted to be friends with Hitler, the ultimate ‘pact made in hell’. Israel Shamir argues it was a good idea given the times; the problem was that Hitler had other priorities, and the Russian desire for peace and friendship did not fit in. Things today have reached a head, not quite Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa against Russia, although the economic sanctions against Russia are warfare by another name.
The current airstrike, which could have killed Russians, is more like the Cuban missile crisis. But there is no JFK (who was, in any case, assassinated for his desire for peace with the Soviet Union). What should have been a diplomatic triumph–the unfolding of peace with Russia and an end to the Syrian tragedy–has turned into renewed US support for ISIS and confrontation with Russia, both of which could spin out of control. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him. And then there’s Ukraine.
«Sentence first, verdict afterwards», cries out the MSM Queen of Hearts: «Off with his head!»
In late February 2017, the Russian Federation and China vetoed a joint, US, French and British resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over allegations of chemical weapons use. I wondered at the time why this issue was coming back. In 2014, on Russian initiative the Syrian government agreed to give up its chemical weapons stocks under international observation and with international assistance. Subsequently, the UN confirmed, and the United States accepted, that the Syrian government had no further chemical weapons stocks or facilities for producing them. The Syrian government has always denied using chemical weapons in the proxy war being waged against it by the US-led western and regional coalition consisting most importantly of Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Apartheid Israel. The only entities using chemical weapons, sometimes as false flag operations, were and are the foreign backed Jihadist mercenaries operating in Syria.
Nevertheless, Jihadist use of chemical weapons has been largely ignored, or the responsibility for using them, in an Orwellian turnabout, has been foisted upon the Syrian government in Damascus. The issue keeps coming up, and is used by the United States and its European and regional vassals as an implicit threat or means of pressure against the Damascus government. In fact, according to Seymour Hersh, the muckraking American journalist, the US State Department and the CIA facilitated, or were complicit in the shipping of chemical weapons from Libya to Syria through Turkey for the use of their Salafist allies.
If you search Google, you will find numerous stories in the western Mainstream Media (MSM) about alleged Syrian war crimes or chemical weapons use intended, apparently, to set up that Anglo-French-US sponsored resolution at the end of February. In early February, for example, the MSM published dramatic stories about the Syrian government hanging 13,000 victims in a prison «slaughterhouse». The story originated with Amnesty International, a well-known NGO and propaganda agency in the service of the US State Department. This US inspired canard nevertheless did not gain traction. On 10 February, Global Research in Canada, amongst others, dismissed the Syrian «slaughterhouse» story as bogus American propaganda intended to justify US military intervention in Syria.
Within a week this «fake news» gave way to renewed accusations against the Syrian government of chemical weapons use. On 13 February Human Rights Watch, another well-known US propaganda agency, accused the Syrian government of «chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city». It called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. Tass and Sputnik responded on the following day dismissing the allegations. «Such reports prepared by laymen with reference to the data of social networks and stories by unknown anonymous witnesses over the phone are destroying further the already ambiguous reputation of Human Rights Watch», said the Russian defence department spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. Sputnik also quoted Konashenkov’s statement. Predictably, as if by cue the MSM immediately ran with the new allegations, accepting them as a given. Amongst these western sources were the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Voice of America and various other US overt and covert propaganda outlets.
A competing story about the US use of depleted uranium bombs in Syria was pushed into the background and disappeared. On 14 February the French government without any attempt at verification of the new accusations immediately demanded a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the imposition of sanctions on the Syrian government. «Syrian artists call for Assad’s prosecution for war crimes» ran another headline. Already, in mid-February the MSM was whipping up hysteria about Syrian chemical weapons. The big story in the last week of February was the Russian and Chinese veto of the Security Council resolution calling for sanctions on the Syrian government. «Russia breaks with Trump in the UN», said the LA Times. Russia was the real spoiler; China received less attention. Seven times, complained BBC, Russia «has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government». China only six times, added BBC. The British and French were indignant, forgetting how many times the United States has used its veto to block resolutions condemning Apartheid Israel or Apartheid South Africa. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared that Russia bore a «heavy responsibility towards the Syrian people and humanity as a whole». Oh my, «humanity», he said. Does that mean that the Jihadist terrorists rampaging in Syria, backed by France, are on the side of «humanity»?
The west’s indignation did not end with the Sino-Russian veto at the end of February. As if mysteriously directed, the MSM campaign of «false news» mounted in intensity during March. All the while, the Russian government was working to get peace talks moving toward a negotiated end of the war. The Turkish and Syrian presidents were supposed to meet in Moscow. Was the MSM campaign intended to block a negotiated settlement to the US-led proxy war against Syria? «Russia sides with chemical weapons», accused the New York Times on 1 March. «Ignoring UN», Fox News declared on 6 March, «Russia and Assad continue Syrian chemical weapons and bombing attacks labeled war crimes». Even lowly, US compliant Sweden jumped on Russia’s back. «France will go on fighting chemical weapons use», declared the French foreign minister. Oh, how brave of France.
Aliens from another planet deciphering MSM headlines in March might logically conclude that the Jihadist terrorists and mercenaries destroying Syria were the real heroes of the conflict. In March, accusation after accusation was hurled at Syria and especially against President Bashar al Assad, but as far as I can see, no credible evidence was ever presented which could indict the Syrian government. There is of course evidence of the western-backed Salafists using chemical weapons, though the MSM almost never notices it. On 20 March the EU sanctioned four Syrian military officials for alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Underlining western double standards, this headline on 17 March went almost unnoticed: «US Military Bombs Syrian Mosque during Evening Prayers, Killing Dozens». That’s the way it is in the western MSM, Pot calls Kettle black. One set of rules for the west and one set of rules for everyone else. The US-led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s caused the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. «We think the price was worth it», declared the sententious former Secretary of State Albright. How many Iraqi civilians died in the Anglo-American war of aggression of 2003? The estimates are more than a million dead.
If actions speak louder than words, one would have to reckon that the United States doesn’t give a damn about dead civilians—you know, «collateral damage» — except as bad publicity. And Washington can always count on the MSM to bury stories that tarnish the US image. Just look at the coverage of «collateral damage» around Mosul in Iraq.
And still the MSM’s invective spewed out against Assad and the Syrian government and against Russia, as though the Jihadist terrorists represent the most noble of causes. It’s true that Assad and Syria have fought back denying any use of chemical weapons. So did the dignified Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the MID spox, the eloquent Maria Zakharova, with her rapier-like sallies against US and western hypocrisy and double standards. And of course the truth-telling Vladimir Putin has repeatedly attempted to talk common sense and reason to the stone deaf west, only to be vilified for his efforts. Reason, logic and truth make little headway in the west against the cyclone of MSM invective and unsubstantiated accusations against Assad.
«Sentence first, verdict afterwards», cries out the MSM Queen of Hearts: «Off with his head!»
Then, on Tuesday, 4 April, Salafists in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykoun, long an Al Qaeda stronghold in north-western Syria, claimed that more than 50 people had been killed by a Syrian gas attack. The Syrian Arab Army denied any use of chemical weapons, though it confirmed an air raid on a Salafist arms dump where, unbeknownst to them, chemical weapons may have been stored. Outside of Khan Shaykoun, no one knows what really happened on 4 April, or whether the Salafists had launched yet another false flag attack to lay blame on the Syrian government, or indeed whether the alleged attack was staged by Al Qaeda and its «white helmets», subsidised by the United States and Britain. In the west no one wants to know. The United States did a U-turn after declaring only a day or two before that the Syrian people could decide who would govern them. Oh, how very decent of the United States, but then the Americans suddenly changed their minds.
The Khan Shaykoun gassing, or whatever it was, changed everything. The MSM cyclone, as if by cue, erupted once again to blow down Russian suggestions of a UN directed investigation. «Bashar el-Assad just gassed his own people», blared one typical headline. «Syria’s ‘barbaric’ regime» has to go, opined the British Foreign Secretary. The US ambassador at the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened US unilateral action, if the Security Council did not comply with American wishes. Khan Shaykoun looks like a set-up, the deus ex machina, the providential event, of a US orchestrated campaign to sabotage Russian-led peace talks and to justify US military aggression. Already some of Trump’s advisors are calling for a «full-scale war» against Syria.
There are a few voices of prudence in the United States, like former Congressman Ron Paul. «It makes no sense, even if you were totally separate from this and take no sides… and you were just an analyst, it doesn’t make sense for Assad under these conditions to all of the sudden use poison gasses», Paul commented: «I think it’s a zero chance that he would have done this deliberately». But no one in the US government was listening to people like Ron Paul, least of all President Donald Trump, who approved an attack in the early morning of 6 April on a Syrian airbase used in the fight against Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Fifty-nine cruise missiles were launched and 23 hit the airbase doing little damage apparently. What happened to the other 36 missiles? No one is saying for certain. The base was returned to operations within 24 hours, but the damage to the Russian-US relations is far more severe. How can Putin, Lavrov, or any Russian government official trust anything US «partners» say? They can’t. Dealing, negotiating, accepting the United States at its word is like trusting a rattlesnake. But the rattlesnake at least warns when it is about to strike.
After the sneak attack on Syria, President Putin was scathing, and accused the US of aggression, which of course it was, unless you believe the United States has special rights to attack any state it wants, if only it decides to do so. The accusations against the Syrian government, Putin said plainly, are «bullshit» or less colloquially, «utter nonsense» (дурь несусветная). Like the Tonkin Gulf, the Kosovo «genocide», the Kuwaiti incubator babies, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Libyan government «mass rapes» and «massacres», the US accusations against Assad are canards to justify military aggression. «Will we ever learn?» the brave Bolivian ambassador asked in so many words in the Security Council: «When is enough going to be enough?» When will Europeans wake up and say enough is enough? The European powers, most importantly France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are the only ones capable of saying to the United States, we won’t support your wars any more, stop. Stop before you drag us into World War III. Stop. Only the European powers, if they have the courage and determination to reassert their national independence, can restrain the United States without war. I dare to hope that they will take their courage in their two hands and act before it is too late. Time is running out.
More than two dozen ex-U.S. intelligence officials urge President Trump to rethink his claims blaming the Syrian government for the chemical deaths in Idlib and to pull back from his dangerous escalation of tensions with Russia.
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*
SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?
1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.
2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.
3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important –what they appear to believe happened.
4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?
5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.
6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”
Détente Nipped in the Bud
7 – Three-plus years later, on April 4, 2017, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev spoke of “absolute mistrust,” which he characterized as “sad for our now completely ruined relations [but] good news for terrorists.” Not only sad, in our view, but totally unnecessary – worse still, dangerous.
8 – With Moscow’s cancellation of the agreement to de-conflict flight activity over Syria, the clock has been turned back six months to the situation last September/October when 11 months of tough negotiation brought a ceasefire agreement. U.S. Air Force attacks on fixed Syrian army positions on Sept. 17, 2016, killing about 70 and wounding another 100, scuttled the fledgling ceasefire agreement approved by Obama and Putin a week before. Trust evaporated.
9 – On Sept 26, 2016, Foreign Minister Lavrov lamented: “My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine, [which] apparently does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.” Lavrov criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia on Syria, “after the [ceasefire] agreement, concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama, had stipulated that the two sides would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”
10 – On Oct. 1, 2016, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned, “If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian Army, it would cause a terrible, tectonic shift not only in the country, but in the entire region.”
11 – On Oct 6, 2016, Russian defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov cautioned that Russia was prepared to shoot down unidentified aircraft – including any stealth aircraft – over Syria. Konashenkov made a point of adding that Russian air defenses “will not have time to identify the origin” of the aircraft.
12 – On Oct 27, 2016, Putin publicly lamented, “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results,” and complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice.” Referring to Syria, Putin decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”
13 – Thus, the unnecessarily precarious state into which U.S.-Russian relations have now sunk – from “growing trust” to “absolute mistrust.” To be sure, many welcome the high tension, which – admittedly – is super for the arms business.
14 – We believe it of transcendent importance to prevent relations with Russia from falling into a state of complete disrepair. Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow this week offers an opportunity to stanch the damage, but there is also a danger that it could increase the acrimony – particularly if Secretary Tillerson is not familiar with the brief history set down above.
15 – Surely it is time to deal with Russia on the basis of facts, not allegations based largely on dubious evidence – from “social media,” for example. While many would view this time of high tension as ruling out a summit, we suggest the opposite may be true. You might consider instructing Secretary Tillerson to begin arrangements for an early summit with President Putin.
* Background on Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a list of whose issuances can be found at https://consortiumnews.com/vips-memos/.
A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.
We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:
No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.
Respectfully, we offer the same advice to you, President Trump.
* * *
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)
William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)
Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)
Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)
John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Lisa Ling, TSgt USAF (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
Sarah G. Wilton, Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret), DIA (ret.)
Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)
Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat