Generally speaking, ideas are like plants and animals. Over time, they evolve, things change – we keep what works and throw away what doesn’t. Humans don’t have tails. Dolphins don’t have feet. Moths without camouflage get eaten. Methods and techniques are perfected, and accepted as “the way things are done”.
If you want to move something efficiently, you need wheels. If you want to lift something heavy, you use levers and pulleys. We make knives out of steel because it’s hard and can take an edge. We make clothes out of wool because its warm. Nobody makes teapots out of chocolate.
… and yet terrorists routinely use tools that are not fit for purpose.
As part of examination of the terrorist narrative, it’s time we asked ourselves – what exactly is the goal of “terrorism”?
What do terrorists want?
We’ve all lived with the concept of terrorism for so long now, we have perhaps forgotten what it means. It has become, as all words repeated ad nauseam , a collection of nonsense syllables. It has a cultural and social fog of ephemeral “meaning”, removed from solid language or the idea of definition in the true sense of the word.
For a generation or more a terrorist has simply been a man with a broken ideology, a black balaclava and a homemade bomb. We never give any thought to their ideals or greater plans, because they never have any. They are, in the specific, always insane. Always lone lunatics, depraved beyond reason. And yet, in the collective, they make up a great black-clad mass of “enemy”. A cloud of terrifying “them”, hell-bent on destroying “us”.
In this way terrorism, as a concept, is removed from reality. Inept idiots stuffing their y-fronts with C4 and their shoes with homemade napalm will never coalesce into an army, no matter how many of them there are. And yet somehow we are able to marry these oxymoronic ideas.
The fact that the aims of the movement are never successfully pursued by the individual apparent devotees should give us all pause. We should ask ourselves, as terrorist X kills Y number of people in city Z, what was he trying to achieve?
Terrorism is defined as:
The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”
But what are these “political aims”? Historically speaking, there are two categories of goal pursued by behaviours that are traditionally branded “terrorism”. Legislative policy change, and military victory – or “Activism” and “warfare”. Let us compare “terrorism” with each in turn.
Terrorism vs activism: Moral worthiness and good PR
The 20th century was marked with regular domestic political movements of varying size, and varying results. Generally speaking they were concerned with civil rights. Equality. Suffrage. Taxation. Workers’ rights. Religion. Sexuality. The basic ability of a human individual to exist in what is notionally a fair world.
It is commonly recognised that the most effective, and powerful, modus operandi for achieving these domestic political changes is through peaceful protest, industrial action, and non-violent resistance.
Workers, generations past, have simply denied their labour to their employers. In this way, you both make life more difficult for the people in authority and demonstrate the value of your work: “Look,” you say, “your country needs us to run it. Respect our sweat, as it makes the world turn.”
Martin Luther King championed black rights, and civil rights for all, through peaceful marches and eloquent speeches. Make the legal, social, and moral case for change and allow logic and justice to stand up for themselves. There is undeniable power in that. The same can be said for Gandhi.
Movements abstaining from violence retain the moral high ground, win over public support and – most importantly – prevent the state from branding them dangerous criminals, without revealing authoritarian hypocrisy. All of these movements were, eventually, met with state-backed violence and repression. Violent repression of non-violent protest is the greatest argument in favour of change, as it perfectly encapsulates the inherent contempt that power has for justice.
Even the more martial political activists and movements, those who believed in some restricted forms of violence – such as the Malcolm X or the Suffragettes – tended to turn their anger on property and authority… never on civilians.
It is the most basic common sense to realise that political change in the Western world can only be achieved through generating public support. Even unionised industrial action is often criticised in the media for “alienating the public”. You will never generate said support through acts of random, indiscriminate violence.
Further, if the desired “political aims” of terrorist attacks are legislative changes, why do they never articulate these demands? Where, as Bashar al-Assad has asked before, are the leaders, thinkers and ideas? Do ISIS or al-Qaeda or Boko Haram have a political wing, waiting to make laws in a parliament?
No. They exist only as formless threat. They demand our attention, and yet ask no concessions. They have no policies except being the embodiment of “evil”, and take up no position except “anti-West”. Their great goal, their “caliphate”? Nothing but a Mordor-like nightmare world of fiction. A dark dream built on tabloid headlines and fictional currencies and shocking YouTube videos. No diplomats make alliances in ISIS’ name. No lawyers make legal arguments for the state’s existence. No history serves as precedent for this “nation”.
It seems logical, then, to assume that domestic policy changes aren’t the true agenda of most modern “terrorism”. You don’t change systemic Islamophobia, for example, by stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.
Terrorism vs Warfare – Victory conditions and choice of targets
Non-state actors, rebels, partisans, revolutionaries, insurgents and guerillas can all fall under the wide umbrella of “terrorists”. However, unlike modern terrorists, these groups have a definitive purpose. Clear-cut victory conditions, and a pragmatic approach to achieving them.
It’s a simple strategic truth, passed down from time immemorial, that a small partisan force cannot face a large occupying force in open battle. Insurgents and guerillas learn to pick their targets with care. Use the landscape to their advantage. Sabotage infrastructure. Assassinate key leaders.
Scottish and Welsh armies ambushed occupying English forces in 14th century. In the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army performed hit-and-run raids on British foraging parties. French Resistance fighters and Czech partisans used sabotage and targeted key Nazi leaders for assassination during WWII. The North Vietnamese and Afghan soldiers used territorial knowledge to constantly undermine and confound American and Soviet forces trained for more prolonged pitched battles. The list is endless, up to and including Iraq and Afghanistan in America’s perpetual “war on terror”.
If your objective is to drain the resources of an occupying force, you target supply lines and commanding officers. If your aim is to inflict a big impact with limited resources, you target key infrastructure.
The Ukrainian government and associated right-wing militias deliberately cut-off water and power to Crimea and other former-Ukrainian territories in the east of the country. Israel regularly punitively cut-off Gaza’s access to water and power.
These are the basic, horrible, pragmatic facts of warfare.
We are constantly told we are “under threat”, that we are at war with people who “hate our freedoms”. The war on terror has been going on for 16 years, and though we haven’t won…we’re certainly not losing. And that’s almost entirely because the terrorists don’t seem to be trying very hard.
So why don’t terrorists follow these guidelines? Where are the acts of high impact political or industrial sabotage?
If you consider America (along with NATO) as, essentially, one giant Imperial force occupying the majority of the world, what good does blowing up a bus or driving through a crowd really do? It might “terrorise” people, but it doesn’t achieve anything militarily significant. Even if your goal is simply to kill as many people, and do as much damage, as possible.
Take 9/11, for example, as a military attack it was pointless and ineffective. Yes, one could argue that taking out 3 buildings with two planes is unprecedented as far as efficiency goes, but what did it achieve? 3000 dead civilians of no strategic importance. A big hole in the side of the Pentagon where the receipts were kept, and levelling the only 3 buildings in Manhattan that were more valuable as rubble than office space.
Why not fly those planes into nuclear power stations? Imagine 4 different airliners hitting four different nuclear reactors up and down the eastern United States? There are plenty to choose from, and if just 1/4 of them were successful there would have been destruction unmatched in the whole long history of sabotage. Power outages, civilian casualties, mass panic and long-term consequences of incalculable danger. Think Fukushima, only deliberate, and worse, and with a decent helping of American hysteria thrown in.
So why didn’t it happen?
Well, it wasn’t because it didn’t occur to them. In 2002, The Guardian reported on an Al-Jazeera interview with secret al-Qaeda sources inside Pakistan who claimed that nuclear reactors were the “original targets” for 9/11. So why didn’t they hit them? Well, because:
“al-Qaeda feared that such an attack “might get out of hand””
Yes, seriously. You see, they are all for death to America and destroying heretics… but only within reason.
In fact, despite the noted vulnerability of nuclear power stations to potential attack, and despite the CFR’s warnings that US forces had “found diagrams of American nuclear power plants” in al-Qaeda materials in Afghanistan” in 2002, it’s been 15 years and there has never been even one successful terrorist attack on any nuclear power station in the Western world.
Likewise dams, airports, television channels, factories and military bases. Western infrastructure has been virtually untouched during this “war”. Arabic and Middle Eastern infrastructure? Markedly less so.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra etc seem to have another “key leader” droned to death every other week. Have there been any terrorist assassination attempts on Western leader’s lives? None at all.
ISIS et al aren’t unaware of these tactics. They use them all the time… just only against the Syrian government.
The argument that modern terrorists would rather target Western “emblems” for “symbolic attacks” is absurd. Firstly the only “emblem” ever really attacked was the World Trade Center, which was never an emblem until after it was on fire. The Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty are both much bigger symbols to the American psyche. Secondly, nobody ever won a war with symbolic attacks.
No, the only rational analysis is that “terrorists” are either completely incapable of doing any real strategic damage to the West, or somehow judge it to be not in their interests to do so.
It’s easy to see the arguments that modern “terrorism” consistently uses tools and approaches proven to hinder the political progress of any movement, whilst engaging in impotent and pointless “military” tactics that offer no real threat to the Western way of life, or national security.
This kind of “Terrorism” is a relatively recent invention – no rational ideologue truly believes he furthers his minority cause by blowing up buildings or hurting civilians. There is not a single case, in the whole of human history, of these tactics working to secure their stated goal.
Let us revisit the above stated definition of terrorism:
The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”
Well what “political aims” have ever been achieved by modern terrorism? Is Palestine free? Is the American Empire brought low? Has Israel been annihilated? Obviously not, in fact the one time ISIS did attack the IDF, it was by accident. And they apologised.
Rather, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, terrorist attacks routinely (and notionally accidentally) serve one of three political purposes:
1. Create a reason to push for more centralised power within the attacked state – usually increased state powers of surveillance and/or decreased freedom for the citizenry (see London ’05, Paris ’14).
2. Create casus belli for a military intervention, or all out war, on foreign soil (see 9/11).
3. Undermine the security of a foreign government. Forcing them to commit resources to a war (Afghanistan 79, or Chechnya 2000), or else turn the government’s retaliation into a reason to attack them politically (Syria, Libya).
Throughout history terrorist attacks – from Ireland, to Chechnya, to the Maine, to the Reichstag fire – have tended to serve the interests of established power structures. This almost certainly cannot be accidental.
You could argue this is simply governments being opportunistic, but how fine is the line between taking advantage of an opportunity, and creating one? Indeed, given the compartmentalised, bureaucracy-ridden nature of the corridors of power, is there any reason to think such a line exists at all?
In Afghanistan, Muslim terrorists were funded by the CIA to overthrow the socialist government and undermine the USSR. In Ireland, the republican movement was funded by America. In Chechnya the IIB were funded by the CIA with the aim of Balkanising Russia. The list is endless.
Now, you can either subscribe to the naive “blowback” theory, where the government-created and funded terrorists turn on their creators, or you can assume that the same government which employs terrorists to further their interests overseas, will occasionally do so domestically as well.
With that in mind, it’s easy to conclude that “terrorism” is exactly what it sounds like. It exists, not to win a war or secure a freedom or defend a cause, but simply to scare people. The creation of an American military industrial complex that, at the end of the Cold War, suddenly found itself without an enemy. A sprawling Empire with no Barbarians at the gates.
Genuine attacks by CIA-backed lunatics, contrived false-flags or fictitious media creations… it makes no difference. Terrorism is there to act as a constant pulsing threat at the back of the collective imagination. To threaten us without seriously attacking us. To hate us without ever mortally hurting us. To “target” nuclear facilities… but somehow never quite follow through.
The final, absurd embodiment? ISIS. A scary sounding (English) acronym, scrawled across thousands of black banners and battle-standards. En evil empire of faceless men, tooling around the desert in matching Toyotas. Shooting high-definition recruitment videos with David Lean-esque wide-shots, to the strains of their theme song, to be shown on their own TV channel, complete with animated logo. Editing together jarring torture porn in front of stolen green-screens and uploading them to “ISIS-related” social media accounts that somehow never get closed.
If one true goal of terrorism is to promote fear in the citizenry, then the best defense is to reject fear. If terrorism seeks to make us act impulsively and foolishly, we should instead embrace reason.
How do you stop terrorism? You stop believing what you’re told to believe, and start investigating – every attack that is proved to be false-flag, or shown to have been misrepresented by the media (like the anthrax attacks in 2001, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident) weakens the integrity of future attacks. Every small awakening is a crack in the foundations of this terrible construct.
We need to ask ourselves – who stands to gain from our fear? What interests does public hysteria serve? Who profits from division in the 99%?
A rational and informed populace has only true enemy, and it is not terrorism or any of the other phantom horrors the 1% try to hang in front of our eyes. It is the elite themselves.
A local journalist in Khan Shaykhun, Syria. (YouTube)
Editor’s note: This article about the alleged nerve agent attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, earlier this month corrects an important error in the report by Theodore A. Postol that Truthdig posted Wednesday.
In my report published April 19 on Truthdig, I misinterpreted the wind-direction convention, resulting in my estimates of plume directions being exactly 180 degrees off. This article corrects that error and provides important new analytic results that follow from correction of that error.
When the error in wind direction is corrected, the conclusion is that if there was a significant sarin release at the crater as alleged by the White House Intelligence Report (WHR) issued April 11, the immediate result would have been significant casualties immediately adjacent to the dispersion crater.The fact that there were numerous television journalists reporting from the alleged sarin release site and there was absolutely no mention of casualties that would have occurred within tens to hundreds of meters of the alleged release site indicates that the WHR was produced without even a cursory low-level review by the U.S. intelligence community of commercial video data from the site. This overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the WHR identification of the crater as a sarin release site should have been accompanied with an equally solid identification of the area where casualties were caused by the alleged aerosol dispersal. The details of the crater itself unambiguously show that it was not created by the alleged airdropped sarin dispersing munition.
These new details are even more problematic because the WHR cited commercial video as providing information that the report used to derive its conclusions that there was a sarin attack from an airdropped munition at this location.
As can be seen by the corrected wind patterns in the labeled photographs below, the predicted direction of the sarin plume would take it immediately into a heavily populated area. The area immediately adjacent to the north-northwest of the road may not be populated, as there was likely heavy damage to those homes facing the road from a bombing attack that occurred earlier at a warehouse to the direct east of the crater (designated in images below). However, houses that were immediately behind those on the road would have been substantially shielded from shock waves that could have caused heavy damage to those structures.
Since the reported wind speeds were very low, and the area is densely packed with buildings, a sarin dispersal would certainly not have simply followed a postulated plume direction as shown with the blue lines in the images below. Sarin aerosol and gas would have been dispersed both laterally and downwind by building fronts and would also have been dispersed downward and upward as the gases and aerosols were gently carried by winds modified by the presence of walls, space ways and other structures. A purely notional speculation on how a sarin plume might be dispersed by the structures as prevailing winds push the aerosol and gas through the structures is shown in the photograph that contains the notation “Possible Area of Severe Sarin Exposure.”
The complicated wind pattern inside the densely populated living area would have resulted in sarin accumulating in basements and rooms that are roughly facing into the wind. There would also have been areas between buildings where sarin densities were much higher or much lower as the gentle prevailing winds moved around corners and created pockets of high- and low-density sarin concentrations.
In addition, the crater area where the sarin release was supposed to have occurred was close enough to the densely populated downwind area that significant amounts of sarin that would have fallen near the crater during the initial aerosol release would have resulted in a persistent plume of toxic sarin being carried into this populated area as the liquid on the ground near the crater evaporated during the day.
The close proximity to the crater would have certainly led to high casualties within the populated area.
The images of the goat and the two aerial photographs immediately beneath them are taken from two different videos published on YouTube by the same crew of journalists who reported in detail on the site of the alleged sarin attack. Additional video frames from these two videos are shown deeper in the article.
Video images of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
In one of the video reports the journalist takes the observer on a short walk to the location of the dead goat. A close-up suggests that the animal was foaming at its mouth and nose as it died.
Video taken from a drone at high altitude operated by the television crew shows the location of the dead goat, which is clearly well upwind of the alleged sarin release point. Under all but implausible conditions, the wind would have carried sarin away from the goat and the animal would not have been subjected to a significant dose of sarin.
If one instead guesses that the goat was wandering around and had moved into the path of the newly dispersed sarin, the goat should have been found on the ground near the release point as the sarin dose within the plume would have killed it very quickly.
Two of the images from the video report are of dead birds. Neither of these video images can be connected to the crater scene as there was no continuity of evidence from the movement of the cameras.
Video images from the first of two videos of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
Video images from the second of two videos of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
This assessment with corrected wind directions leads to a powerful new set of questions—especially, why were the multiple sets of journalists who were filming at the crater where the alleged sarin release occurred not showing the numerous victims of the alleged release who would have been immediately next to the area?
It is now clear that the publicly available evidence shows exactly where the mass nerve agent poisoning would have occurred if in fact there was an event where significant numbers of people were poisoned by a nerve agent release. This does not rule out the possibility of a nerve agent release somewhere else in the city. However, this completely discredits the WHR’s claims that those who wrote the report knew where the nerve agent release occurred and that they knew the nerve agent release was the result of an airdropped munition.
There is a second issue that I have refrained from commenting on earlier in the hope that such a discussion would not be necessary.
The mainstream media is the engine of democracy. Without an independent media providing accurate and unbiased information to citizens, a government can do pretty much what it chooses without interference from the citizens who elected it. The critical function of the mainstream media in the current situation should be to report the facts that clearly and unambiguously contradict government claims.
This has so far not occurred, and this is perhaps the biggest indicator of how incapacitated the mechanisms for democratic governance of the United States have become.
The facts are now very clear: There is very substantial evidence that the president and his staff took decisions without any intelligence, or far more likely ignored intelligence from the professional community that they were given, to execute a missile attack in the Middle East that had the danger of creating an inadvertent military confrontation with Russia. The attack has already created a very serious further downward spiral in Russian-U.S. relations and has had the effect of seriously undermining U.S. efforts to defeat Islamic State, a common enemy of the United States, Russia and the Western European powers.
As such, it is a sacred duty of the mainstream media to our democracy and its people to investigate and report on this matter properly.
Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issue. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.
Theodore A. Postol can be reached at email@example.com.
The United States and other Western countries have blocked any attempt to launch an objective investigation into the chemical weapons incident in the Syrian province of Idlib, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a recent interview with Sputnik.
“We formally sent a letter to the United Nations, we asked them in that letter to send a delegation in order to investigate what happened in Khan Shaykhun,” Assad said.
“Of course till this moment they haven’t sent anyone, because the West and the United States blocked any delegation from coming, because if they come, they will find that all their narratives about what happened in Khan Shaykhun and then the attack on Sha’irat airport was a false flag, was a lie,” he said.
Furthermore, Assad said that in the wake of the first attack in Aleppo carried out by terrorists against the army a few years ago, Damascus had asked the United Nations to send an investigation delegation “in order to prove what we said about the terrorists having used gas against our army.”
“And later many incidents happened in that way, and they didn’t send any delegation. It’s the same now,” Assad said.
Dmitry Egorchenkov, deputy head of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Prognosis at the People’s Friendship University of Russia, noted that the current situation proves that the West continues to apply double standards.
“Structures within the UN, first of all the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), try to conduct some kind of a remote investigation. These organizations and structures have ignored other reports by Damascus about chemical weapons incidents in Syria. Our Western partners continue to follow the logic of double standards. Unfortunately, the UN is not independent and cannot have an impartial role in the investigation,” Egorchenkov told Radio Sputnik.
According to the expert, the West is blocking the probe for a number of reasons.
“These organizations (the UN and the OPCW) are controlled by Western states. They are afraid of an impartial investigation because it may turn out that the incident was organized by West-backed forces. And if it turns out that the attack was fake this would mean it was part of an information war and this would be clear,” Egorchenkov pointed out.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the OPCW fact-checking mission investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhun said it had found traces of sarin in the victims’ bodies.
“The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible,” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Wednesday.
The next day, the OPCW rejected the Russian and Iranian proposal to investigate the suspected chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib.
According to ex-member of a UN commission on biological and chemical weapons Igor Nikulin, the OPCW probe cannot be considered objective in any way.
“Unfortunately, the hasty statements that they [OPCW officials] make without the commission’s visit [to Idlib], without taking analyses on the ground, are of course alarming as the footages we all saw don’t necessarily mean that exactly sarin had been used, although it cannot be excluded. If the commission arrived at the site and took trial tests, then it would be logical. But they made a diagnosis from The Hague. It reminds of a diagnosis of a doctor who did not see his patient,” he told Sputnik Radio.
Nikulin added that Damascus has been blamed for the alleged chemical attack that hadn’t been properly investigated.
On April 4, a chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib Province claimed the lives of some 80 people and inflicted harm on an additional 200 civilians. The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as well as a number of Western states, accused the Syrian government troops of carrying out the attack, while Damascus refuted these allegations. The Syrian government has repeatedly said that the Syrian Army does not possess chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 6 that groundless accusations related to the chemical weapons incident in Idlib Province were unacceptable before the investigation into the matter had been carried out.
However, the incident was used as pretext for the United States to conduct a missile strike against Ash Sha’irat Airbase on April 6. US President Donald Trump characterized the strike as a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government troops while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was a violation of international law. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the US missile strike against the Syrian airfield as a strategic mistake.
There is an anomaly among the evidence that the Syrian chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4, 2017 was a “false flag” operation, designed to provoke a US attack on Syria. The evidence is otherwise quite strong, as put forth by former Pentagon consultant and MIT professor Theodore Postol in his three part analysis of the declassified White House Report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack of April 4, 2017. Postol’s analysis has been widely cited as disproving the White House contention that the Syrian Air Force bombed the “rebel” controlled village with chemical weapons.
Indeed, Dr. Postol’s analysis pokes quite a few gaping holes in the White House Report, concluding that the crushed gas canister and the “crater” shown in open source videos and photographs from the site demonstrate that it could not have been delivered by air. Postol also concludes that the report is, in fact, fraudulent and was produced by the National Security Agency without the input or review of impartial intelligence professionals.
Nevertheless, Postol begs a couple of questions, the most compelling of which is how the “false flag” imposters on the ground would have known how to time their operation with the Syrian air strike that everyone admits actually took place (the Syrians and Russians alleging that only conventional weapons were used, and the Americans alleging the use of chemical weapons). In order to do this, they would have had to have advance knowledge of the attack. How would they have gotten this information?
A clue to this comes from the suspension of the Russian-American “deconfliction” agreement. Under a September, 2015, memorandum of understanding, information about all military flights by forces in the area would be shared in order to prevent dangerous and unintended confrontations. In this case, Russia informed its US counterparts of the intended Syrian strike twenty-four hours in advance.
That would be plenty of time to prepare a “false flag” operation of the type shown in the videos and photographs and described in the Postol analysis. But in that case, the information would have to have been conveyed by US sources to operatives on the ground in Idlib, which is headquarters for al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliates.
Russia seems to think that this is exactly what happened. Their unilateral suspension of the agreement has been widely interpreted as a reaction to the US attack on the al-Sha’yrat airstrip, but it may be more than that. Military actions are often calculated to appear to be a justifiable reaction to an earlier action from the other party. Thus, for example, the US chose to attack the Sha’yrat airstrip at least partly because that is where the aircraft that attacked Khan Sheikhoun had originated.
Similarly, Russia reacted to the US strike by authorizing increased anti-aircraft defenses in Syria and dispatching a frigate to its Mediterranean base in Tartus. These moves can be considered reactions to the fact that Russian anti-aircraft missile systems are known to be able to shoot down Tomahawk missiles of the type used in the US attack, and that the Tomahawks were fired from US vessels in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria.
But what about the suspension of the deconfliction agreement? How is that a specific response to the something done by the US? Perhaps Russia suspects that the information that they gave to the US in compliance with the agreement was leaked. Does Russia think that the US has al-Qaeda operatives at the highest and most secure levels of the U.S. government? That is a bit far-fetched, especially when there is a simpler and more plausible explanation.
The explanation is that al-Qaeda does not need operatives to get such information. The US has been strategically in bed with al-Qaeda, ISIS and their permutations for quite some time. US policy makers do not speak with a unified voice on this matter, but many – especially those of the neoconservative school of strategic policy – have cultivated the use of violent groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS as alternatives or supplements to the use of US forces on the ground.
Furthermore, many of the same policy makers were the ones who led the US into the disastrous wars in Iraq and Libya, and are committed to do the same in Syria. False flag operations and faulty intelligence are part of their stable, as they showed with their tall tales of WMD and Viagra-fueled black mercenaries. They have been influential in the US government since at least the Reagan administration, and groomed Hillary Clinton for the White House for decades.
Since the loss of their horse in the last presidential election, these policy makers have been trying to turn the Trump government against its campaign rhetoric of leaving Syria and letting Russia and the Syrian government put an end to ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. That is not part of their playbook. Their plan therefore uses false flag operations, false intelligence and working with terrorists, in order to control US foreign and military policy through subterfuge when they cannot control it directly.
But how can they do this? What sorts of connections make it possible for them to undermine the White House, State Department and intelligence services to achieve their ends? We don’t have to look far for examples.
An obvious one is the US attack on the Syrian army at Deir ez-Zour on September 17, 2016, killing scores of Syrian soldiers and wounding many more. Critically, this happened only five days into a trial ceasefire and only two days before the trial period was to end and the ceasefire to become permanent. Needless to say, this had the effect of scuttling the ceasefire, but interestingly, ISIS troops were apparently standing by to overrun Syrian army positions almost immediately after the US aircraft completed their bombing mission (and how would they have known when it was completed?).
US military officials said it was unintentional, but an excellent investigative report by Gareth Porter demonstrates that, in fact, this was a purposeful choice by high ranking US military officers to prevent the ceasefire from forcing them to cooperate with Russian counterparts on target coordination in Syria. These officers had allies in the administration, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who effectively undermined the policies of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their Russian counterparts, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. As Kerry admitted to the Boston Globe, “…we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to [the agreement].”
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence of US collusion with al-Qaeda, as well. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan even went so far as to admit that “AQ [al-Qaeda] is on our side in Syria.” Is it coincidence that most of the weapons delivered to “moderate rebels”, including TOW anti-tank guided missiles that turned the tide against the Syrian army in 2014-15 were almost immediately transferred or put under the control of al-Qaeda? Or that when US forces evacuated Falujah and other territories conquered by ISIS in the same period, it left behind huge quantities of arms, vehicles and other resources, contrary to standard military policy of destroying whatever could be of use to the enemy? Or that, more recently, when retaking Mosul, US forces left the way to Syria open for ISIS to flee to Syria and use its forces to retake Tadmur (Palmyra) from the Syrian army?
Typically, the US has created intermediaries such as the quasi-mythical “moderate rebels” between them and the most extreme terrorist organizations. However, the mythical quality of these emissaries is sometimes exposed, as when an audio recording was released of a conversation between John Kerry and twenty representatives from four “moderate” Syrian organizations in September, 2016, at the United Nations.
In the recording, a Syrian woman, Marcell Shehwaro, threatens Kerry that if the US doesn’t do more to help, they will join forces with al-Nusra (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria). Another man (unidentified) repeats the threat later in the recording. Shehwaro later argues that more support should go to al-Nusra; i.e., that “we are not arming the right people” and “there is not enough political and arms support to those who consider [al-Nusra] moderate. I wish we had these friends.”
Such admissions show that the veneer of “moderation” is very thin in these groups. They are, in fact, little more than a public relations front for al-Qaeda and ISIS, providing whatever the west needs – and especially news feeds – needed to keep support flowing.
The four groups represented at the meeting clearly have access to the highest levels of the US government and vice versa. It would be a simple matter for a US government official in the Pentagon, NSA or other agency to pass the information about Syrian aircraft movements to someone like White Helmets leader Raed Saleh, who was present at the Kerry meeting, with assurance that it would reach the al-Nusra leadership in Idlib. In effect, Kerry (and other government officials) are speaking directly to al-Qaeda.
Obama and Kerry learned their lesson. They understood the degree to which their decisions could be undermined, so to preserve their limited power, they sometimes went along with the powers that they could not control, and sometimes partly thwarted those powers. Obama was gifted with a Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who famously told him that the alleged 2013 Syrian army use of chemical weapons was “not a slam dunk,” which led the President to back off his plan to attack Syria.
Does Trump have such people? His replacement of noninterventionist Michael Flynn with war hawk H.R. McMaster is an ominous sign that neoconservative influence is reasserting itself. And the success of the Khan Sheikhoun false flag chemical weapons attack in inciting a US attack on Syria is a clear encouragement for more such false flag operations.
Paul Larudee is one of the founders of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements and an organizer in the International Solidarity Movement.
WASHINGTON – US intelligence remains in a high-level of confusion about the capabilities of the Islamic State terror group (Daesh), including its chemical weapons arsenal, retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski told Sputnik.
“The level of confusion in the US intelligence community is extremely high,” Kwiatkowski said on Thursday. “The political product from the US intelligence community seems incomplete and inaccurate, and likely not the result of an honest consensus among the intelligence agencies.”
The White House has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of being responsible for the April 4 chemical attack in the village of Khan Shaykun in Idlib province because it alleges that no one else could have done it.
However, Kwiatkowski dismissed this reasoning as superficial and false.
“The White House is clearly wrong with ‘no one else could have done it.’ While it is not completely clear what type of chemical exploded in Idlib last week, we have known about Islamic State and rebel group possession of chemical agents and production of them for several years,” she pointed out.
Daesh and other forces in the region certainly have the capabilities and resources to mount limited chemical weapons attacks such as the one carried out in Khan Shaykhun, Kwiatkowski observed.
“They, as well as other state players or intelligence operations of various states are also capable of ensuring a chemical release pretty much anywhere in the region,” she said.
President Donald Trump and his advisers were misguided in imagining that Assad could have had any motive to use chemical weapons at a time when his army and air force had established a clear ascendancy over Daesh forces and were rolling them back without need to use such weapons, Kwiatkowski pointed out.
“To suggest that Assad had a motive to use a chemical weapon against civilians at this stage of the win is beyond comprehension, and that logic alone should lead to a broad investigation of cui bono, and how it happened,” she remarked.
The US government remains handicapped because it does not have a consistent Syria or Iraq policy, nor does it have a consistent Daesh policy, Kwiatkowski explained.
“Airstrikes launched in the absence of an intelligence consensus and of an actual military and political strategy are pointless,” she stated.
Daesh could have received chemical weapons from several sources, Kwiatkowski also said.
“We know or suspect that various parts of the Islamic State are resourced by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait, Israel and the United States. We know that the Islamic State had been selling Iraqi oil on a black market, and this activity could have included funds to buy chemical weapons and their precursors,” she noted.
The use of chemical weapons by Daesh could now be blamed on Iraqi forces or on Assad’s forces, Kwiatkowski concluded.
The Russian military has questioned the swift conclusion of chemical weapons watchdog the OPCW, which has reported identifying sarin in samples related to an alleged attack in Syria on April 5.
The Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) convened in the Hague on Wednesday for an update on the investigation into the reported chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun.
Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü told members that four OPCW designated laboratories have studied samples collected from three victims of the alleged attack during their autopsy and seven individuals undergoing treatment after surviving the incident. He said analysis of all samples indicated exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance.
“While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible,” the official said.
The OPCW statement didn’t explain how exactly the samples were collected. The inspectors have yet to visit Khan Shaykhun, which would allow the collection of samples on the ground to confirm contamination from a chemical agent. The site is located in a rebel-controlled territory in the Idlib province. Üzümcü said such a visit would depend on the security situation and cited an attack on an OPCW fact-finding mission in May 2014.
The Russian military, however, questioned the swift analysis of the samples, saying the OPCW did not act with such speed in another incident in which a militant group reportedly used mustard gas in Aleppo.
“Russian specialists on the site of the crime [in Aleppo] collected samples of the agent, which had been delivered to representatives of the OPCW and transported to the Hague. By the way, the Syrian leadership at the time offered safety guarantees and insisted that OPCW experts visit Aleppo, but nobody came,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday.
“Four months later the OPCW still cannot come to a conclusion and call the mustard gas found there mustard gas, saying additional analysis is necessary,” he remarked.
The Russian military said it wanted details on who collected the samples and how they were studied at OPCW designated labs, and why the analysis in this case was completed in a much shorter space of time.
He added that if the OPCW states that sarin gas had been used in the incident, it would find it difficult to explain how White Helmet first responders survived exposure to the agent.
Footage taken at the scene in the aftermath of the alleged attack showed people from the controversial rescue group helping the victims while wearing no protective gear rated for handling sarin.
The OPCW is expected to provide a preliminary report on the incident within two weeks.
The incident in Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.
Washington fired a barrage of cruise missiles at the Syrian airbase from which it claimed the chemical weapons attack was launched – a move that was hailed by Syria’s neighbor Israel. Europe backs the accusations against the Syrian government, even though no solid evidence has been made public.
Russia has called for a thorough investigation of the incident, which would include an on-site inspection in the rebel-held territory, before coming to any conclusions. Moscow believes that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Damascus.
Russian Defence Minsitry: No one has asked for antidotes or medicines around location of alleged Idlib chemical attack
A puzzling new development has emerged in the aftermath of the alleged chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib Governorate from the 4th of April.
Since the incident, apparently no one in the Khan Shaykhun area in question has asked for any antidotes for exposure to toxic sarin gas, the chemical allegedly deployed on the 4th of April.
Many have consequently questioned whether the images presented of sarin gas victims were entirely inauthentic.
Thus far, the only video of the alleged attack’s aftermath have been provided by the White Helmets, an organisation widely exposed as fraudulent, comprising known and open supporters of al-Qaeda factions in Syria.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov has described the rather strange and incongruous developments at the location of the alleged attack over the last weeks,
“The impact zone in Khan Shaykhun, from where locals had to be evacuated, has not been identified. The town is living its life. Neither locals nor pseudo-rescuers have even asked for medicines, antidotes, (nor) decontaminants.
It is clear that, as in Iraq and Libya, there are simply no plans to carry out a qualified investigation in Khan Shaykhun by the current ‘schemers’ of the chemical attack”.
“It has been exactly two weeks after the incident with the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun. However, the only ‘proof’ of the use of chemical weapons remain only two White Helmets videos”.
These revelations may indicate that the incident was more than even a false flag, it may have been a false attack in totality.
Did Syria actually use chemical weapons?
Sounds like we’ve heard it all before, because we have, back in August 2013, and that turned out to be less than convincing. Skepticism is likewise mounting over current White House claims that Damascus used a chemical weapon against civilians in the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4th. Shortly after the more recent incident, President Donald Trump, possibly deriving his information from television news reports, abruptly stated that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had ordered the attack. He also noted that the use of chemicals had “crossed many red lines” and hinted that Damascus would be held accountable. Twenty-four hours later retribution came in the form of the launch of 59 cruise missiles directed against the Syrian airbase at Sharyat. The number of casualties, if any, remains unclear and the base itself sustained only minor damage amidst allegations that many of the missiles had missed their target. The physical assault was followed by a verbal onslaught, with the Trump Administration blaming Russia for shielding al-Assad and demanding that Moscow end its alliance with Damascus if it wishes to reestablish good relations with Washington.
The media, led by the usual neoconservative cheerleaders, have applauded Trump’s brand of tough love with Syria, even though Damascus had no motive to stage such an attack while the so-called rebels had plenty to gain. The escalation to a war footing also serves no U.S. interest and actually damages prospects for eliminating ISIS any time soon. Democratic Party liberal interventionists have also joined with Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio to celebrate the cruise missile strike and hardening rhetoric. Principled and eminently sensible Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, has demanded evidence of Syrian culpability, saying “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia—which could lead to nuclear war. This Administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning.” For her pains, she has been vilified by members of her own party, who have called for her resignation.
Other congressmen, including Senators Rand Paul and Tim Kaine, who have asked for a vote in congress to authorize going to war, have likewise been ignored or deliberately marginalized. All of which means that the United States has committed a war crime against a country with which it is not at war and has done so by ignoring Article 2 of the Constitution, which grants to Congress the sole power to declare war. It has also failed to establish a casus belli that Syria represents some kind of threat to the United States.
What has become completely clear, as a result of the U.S. strike and its aftermath, is that any general reset with Russia has now become unimaginable, meaning among other things that a peace settlement for Syria is for now unattainable. It also has meant that the rebels against al-Assad’s regime will be empowered, possibly deliberately staging more chemical “incidents” and blaming the Damascus government to shift international opinion farther in their direction. ISIS, which was reeling prior to the attack and reprisal, has been given a reprieve by the same United States government that pledged to eradicate it. And Donald Trump has reneged on his two campaign pledges to avoid deeper involvement in Middle Eastern wars and mend fences with Moscow.
There have been two central documents relating to the alleged Syrian chemical weapon incidents in 2013 and 2017, both of which read like press releases. Both refer to a consensus within the U.S. intelligence community (IC)and express “confidence” and even “high confidence” regarding their conclusions but neither is actually a product of the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which would be appropriate if the IC had actually come to a consensus. Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the Director of CIA were present in a photo showing the White House team deliberating over what to do about Syria. Both documents supporting the U.S. cruise missile attack were, in fact, uncharacteristically put out by the White House, suggesting that the arguments were stitched together in haste to support a political decision to use force that had already been made.
The two documents provide plenty of circumstantial information but little in the way of actual evidence. The 2013 Obama version “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013,” was criticized almost immediately when it was determined that there were alternative explanations for the source of the chemical agents that might have killed more than a thousand people in and around the town of Ghouta. The 2017 Trump version “The Assad Regime’s Use of Chemical Weapons on April 4, 2017,” is likewise under fire from numerous quarters. Generally reliable journalist Robert Parry is reporting that the intelligence behind the White House claims comes largely from satellite surveillance, though nothing has been released to back-up the conclusion that the Syrian government was behind the attack, an odd omission as everyone knows about satellite capabilities and they are not generally considered to be a classified source or method. Parry also cites the fact that there are alternative theories on what took place and why, some of which appear to originate with the intelligence and national security community, which was in part concerned over the rush to judgment by the White House. MIT Professor Theodore Postol, considered to be an expert on munitions, has also questioned the government’s account of what took place in Khan Sheikhoun through a detailed analysis of the available evidence. He believes that the chemical agent was fired from the ground, not from an airplane, suggesting that it was an attack initiated by the rebels made to appear as if it was caused by the Syrian bomb.
In spite of the challenges, “Trust me,” says Donald Trump. The Russians and Syrians are demanding an international investigation of the alleged chemical weapons incident, but as time goes by the ability to discern what took place diminishes. All that is indisputably known at this point is that the Syrian Air Force attacked a target in Idlib and a cloud of toxic chemicals was somehow released. The al-Ansar terrorist group (affiliated with al-Qaeda) is in control of the area and benefits greatly from the prevailing narrative. If it was in fact the actual implementer of the attack, it is no doubt cleaning and reconfiguring the site to support the account that it is promoting and which is being uncritically accepted both by the mainstream media and by a number of governments. The United States will also do its best to disrupt any inquiry that challenges the assumptions that it has already come to. The Trump Administration is threatening to do more to remove Bashar al-Assad and every American should accept that the inhabitant of the White House, when he is actually in residence, will discover like many before him that war is good business. He will continue to ride the wave of jingoism that has turned out to be his salvation, reversing to an extent the negative publicity that has dogged the new administration.
Not so long ago, using the term “false flag” immediately marked you as a “conspiracy theorist,” – basically a nutcase not in touch with reality. Supposedly.
In case anybody still doesn’t know, a “false flag [attack/event]” is an incident perpetrated by one party (usually a state) either against itself or someone else, while making it appear that a third party is to blame.
False flag events are far from a new idea. King Gustav III of Sweden staged an attack on one of his own outposts using soldiers in fake Russian uniforms, to provide a pretext for initiating war against Russia in 1788.
In the Gleiwitz Incident, Nazi Germany apparently staged an attack on a German radio station, in order to blame Poland and provide propaganda supporting the decision to go to war.
However, it is the United States which, in the 20th and 21st centuries, has been most frequently accused of perpetrating false flag events.
The 1898 Spanish-American war started after a US battleship, the Maine, mysteriously blew up in Havana harbor. The cause was never conclusively proven, but Spain was immediately blamed, and Congress declared war. (Nobody apparently asked what a US battleship was doing parked in another country’s harbor in the first place.)
Operation Northwoods was a plan developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and submitted to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, proposing various scenarios for faking terrorist attacks on the US and blaming them on Cuba. Kennedy rejected the plan.
Many consider the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964, which was used to introduce US ground troops into Vietnam, to have been a false flag. And millions of people world wide do not believe the official narrative of what occurred during the 9-11 attacks.
When the United States accused the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, of unleashing a sarin gas attack on civilians in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib province of Syria on April 4th – an incident which brought him no advantage, but played directly to the advantage of his enemies – the alternative media sphere immediately began crying foul.
Twitter exploded with indications that the event was staged, with so-called “white helmets” humanitarian workers caught in multiple compromising positions:
However, the proof in social media was only the first blow. None other than Russian President Vladimir Putin then spoke out, saying that Russia believed similar “provocations” were being planned:
His statement was followed by an extended interview given by Syrian President Assad, whose reasoned responses ripped to sheds the accusations of his accusers:
These public statements by two leading world statesmen immediately added impetus to the claims in alternative media that a false flag attack had indeed occurred.
Then, in a clear message to the United States, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov followed up his April 12th meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by meeting with the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria in Moscow only two days later, April 14th – a clear show of solidarity.
This followed Tillerson’s demand at the G7 in Lucca that Russia should “reconsider” its alliance with Iran and Syria.
At the press conference afterward, Lavrov stated about the alleged chemical attack:
There is growing evidence that this was staged – meaning the incident with the use of chemical weapons in Idlib province.
What makes the false flag at Khan Shaykhun unlike previous false flags is the speed with which it was exposed – both on the internet using the alleged footage itself, and possibly for the first time, by other state parties (Russia and Syria) opposed to the agenda the perpetrators seek to advance.
Now “false flag” has essentially entered the normal political lexicon.
And normalizing awareness of what a false flag is, along with decreasing acceptance of it as a state tactic, essentially means it will be increasingly difficult to succeed with one in the future.
Thus, it can be said that the era in which government orchestrated false flags can be carried out with a high chance of success is effectively over. Both modern communication media (i.e. the internet and smart phones) and risk of exposure by opposing governments will make it high-risk, low reward-undertaking.
That is not to say false flags will not continue to happen. They will. After all, the deep state apparatus appears both highly resistant to change, and severely lacking in originality. But such events will be increasingly less likely to be successful in convincing observers that the party they intend to implicate is the one to blame.
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.
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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has just held a press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Putin told reporters that Russian intelligence indicates that terrorist factions operating in Syria are planning further chemical weapons attacks, likely in regions south of Damascus.
Putin explained that these attacks will be used as provocations for further US military action in Syria as the terrorists will blame the attacks on President Assad. In other words, the intelligence points to a premeditated false flag attack.
“We have intelligence, showing that such provocations may happen in other parts of Syria, including territories south of Damascus. They plan to use some substances and then accuse the Syrian government of using those chemicals.”
Putin urged vigilance against such provocative attacks and reiterated Russia’s commitment to an impartial UN led investigation of the now infamous Idlib chemical weapons attack which America used as justification for their bombing of Syria last week.
“We believe every incident should be properly investigated so we plan to contact the UN institution at The Hague and we urge the international community to investigate the incident – then based on this investigation, a proper decision has to made.”
Putin also drew parallels between the US rush to war in Syria with George Bush’s attack on Iraq in 2003 when evidence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.
The Russian President stated quite frankly, ‘we’ve seen this all before’.
This comes as US Secretary of State Tillerson is to meet Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov later today in Moscow.