US Secretary of State John Kerry wants to draw “absolute” lines across Syria to create the Western “areas of influence” there. Such an approach resembles nothing so much as neo-colonialism, experts say.
The idea to create spheres of influence in Syria voiced recently by US Secretary of State John Kerry clearly indicates that Washington continues to pursue its Plan B in Syria.
In his interview with The New York Times editorial board Kerry narrated that the White House proposed to draw clear lines in Syria to the Kremlin.
“We’ve even proposed drawing a line, an absolute line, and saying, ‘You don’t go over there, we don’t go over here, and anything in between is fair game.’ And they are considering that, and I think we will get there in the next week or so,” Kerry told the editorial board.
However, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, such an approach is oversimplified.
“This approach is slightly simplistic. The principal goal is to fight against terrorism [in Syria],” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference on Monday, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
It should be noted that Kerry’s ‘offer’ followed the Saudi-backed High Negotiations’ Committee (HNC) decision to suspend its participation in the Geneva talks on April 21.
On that day most HNC members left Geneva in protest against the ongoing violence in Syria which they blindly blame on Damascus.
The HNC is well-known for its anti-Assad stance. However, by no means the entity represents the Syrian opposition as a whole. The HNC brought together Saudi-backed rebels in Syria, including notorious Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam groups which actually share the same Islamist ideology as Daesh and al-Qaeda’s affiliate al-Nusra Front.
A day after the HNC demarche Lavrov called attention to the fact that besides the HNC there are also the Moscow and Cairo groups, Hmeymim group and the group of independent opposition members which express their willingness to continue the dialogue with Damascus over the situation in Syria.”Some people have already left [the Syrian opposition’s] High Negotiations Committee [HNC]. They disagreed that radicals ruled the committee, including Jaysh al-Islam leaders. This fact confirms that we were right while proposing to include it in the list of terrorist groups… This group, as well as Ahrar ash-Sham are actively proving in action that they fully support those anti-humane, brutal approaches used by Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra [al-Nusra Front],” the Russian Foreign Minister underscored.
According to Elena Suponina, President of the Center for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, John Kerry’s offer to divide Syria into spheres of influence with Russia means that Washington now regards Moscow as an equal player in the Middle East.
In her Op-Ed for RIA Novosti Suponina recalls, that four years ago the Obama administration did not even bother to take Russia’s interests in the region into consideration.
However, in general, the White House continues to demonstrate a double-standard approach toward Syria and other regional players, according to the expert.
“It looks as if the colonial epoch and the times of re-division of the world by global powers have returned” Suponina writes, calling attention to the fact that Western policy-makers (most notably John Kerry himself) have repeatedly claimed that it is highly inappropriate to behave “in 19th-century fashion” in the 21st century.
And now Kerry proposes to draw “absolute lines” across the Middle Eastern region, she remarks, warning that Syria is “only the beginning.”
Kerry’s “fair game” in Syria will most likely prompt more destruction and devastation. Is Washington ready to take responsibility for chaos in the region?
On the other hand, Kerry’s proposal looks rather controversial since it was Russia, not the US that was invited to Syria by the legitimate Syrian government.
In his interview with Radio Sputnik political scientist Alexander Kamkin echoed Suponina’s stance.”Genuine peace still looks a way off and it looks like the Western nations still hope to implement the Libyan scenario in Syria… They use the war with Daesh as just a means of building large coalitions, but if you look at the previous such campaigns you will see that our American ‘partners’ rarely practice what they preach,” Kamkin told Radio Sputnik.
Hans-Christof Von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, expressed his concerns regarding the fact that Washington continues to conduct a “series of experiments” in Syria.
“The Americans are never short of experiment, never short of trying something new… It is jumping from one laboratory test to another, and in the meantime the country continues to go further towards a destroyed nation,” Sponeck told Russia Today.
Interestingly enough, it seems that there is no concordance in Washington regarding what to do next in Syria.
US President Barack Obama said Sunday that he does not support the idea of creating so-called “safe” or “buffer” zones in Syria as it would need Washington’s deeper military involvement in the region.
At the same time, Obama has signaled that 250 US Special Operation Forces troops will be soon deployed in the war-torn country.
What surprised me most about the Iraq War wasn’t how wrong the expectation of happy Iraqis showering American troops with flowers was or even how badly the war would turn out – all that was predictable and indeed was predicted. But what I didn’t expect was that the U.S. government would ever admit that there were no WMD stockpiles.
I assumed that the U.S. government would do what it usually does: continue the lie to protect its “credibility.” Because that is what “credibility” has become, powerful institutions and people maintaining the aura of being right even when they’re completely wrong.
There is even a national security argument to be made: If the U.S. government must justify its actions to the American people and the world with propaganda themes, it can’t simply admit that previous ones were lies because then it would lose all “credibility.” The next time, the public might not be as open to the propaganda. The people might catch on.
And that would present a problem to the U.S. government, which feels it needs the approval or at least the confused acquiescence of the American people and to a lesser extent the world before charging off to war or starting some expensive confrontation with a foreign power.
So, in a sick kind of way, it makes more sense to stick with the lie and rely on a corrupted mainstream media to hold the line. Anyone who dares challenge the falsehoods then can be discredited or marginalized.
That’s why I was surprised when the U.S. government admitted that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq and no active nuclear-weapons program, either. I was expecting that President George W. Bush’s team would assemble some buckets of chemicals found at Baghdad swimming pools – pile them up in front of a credulous media – and announce, “we got here just in time!”
After all, the U.S. government rarely corrects its misstatements and outright lies, no matter how significant they may be. For instance, there’s never been a formal admission that the Gulf of Tonkin claims, which launched the Vietnam War, were false.
On a smaller scale, I encountered something similar when I was covering the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Reagan administration massively exaggerated the discovery of some useless World War I era rifles in a musty-smelling warehouse to claim that the little Caribbean island was about to be transformed into the hub of terrorism for the Western Hemisphere.
As absurd as the claim was, it worked well enough amid a well-staged propaganda campaign complete with American students kissing the tarmac when they returned to the United States and members of Congress waving around some Grenada government contracts — in Russian.
Dig in the Heels
We are now seeing similar dig-in-the-heels strategies regarding Syria and Ukraine. Though I’m told that U.S. intelligence knows that the Obama administration’s propaganda is no longer operative on the 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus and the 2014 shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the storylines won’t be retracted or corrected.
To do so – to say that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces weren’t responsible for the sarin attack and that the Russians weren’t behind the MH-17 catastrophe – would destroy the propaganda narratives that have been useful in justifying the shipment of arms to Syrian rebels and the launching of a new Cold War against Moscow.
If the American people and the world public were informed that they had been misled on such sensitive topics – and that the real guilty parties might include people getting American support – that could devastate U.S. government “credibility” and disrupt future plans.
Therefore, mounting evidence that Assad didn’t cross President Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013, must be brushed aside or forgotten.
In a classic show of cognitive dissonance, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Obama that U.S. intelligence had no “slam dunk” evidence of Assad’s guilt. But Goldberg then continued his long article on Obama’s foreign policy as if Clapper’s warning never happened and as if Assad were indeed guilty.
Since then, major American columnists writing about Goldberg’s article have simply ignored the Clapper revelation, which tended to confirm earlier reporting at some independent Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, and by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who traced the sarin to a likely operation by Islamic radicals aided by Turkish intelligence. But those Assad-didn’t-do-it reports were almost universally ignored, except for the occasional ridicule.
The problem for the columnists – and for the rest of Official Washington’s insider community – was that Everyone Who Mattered had already declared as flat fact that Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” with the sarin attack. So what would happen to their “credibility” if they admitted that they were wrong again, since many also had been famously wrong about Iraq’s WMD?
Plus, who could force these Important People to face up to their own misfeasance and malfeasance? Does anyone expect that Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought war against Syria in retaliation for the sarin attack, will retract what he claimed repeatedly that “we know” about Assad’s guilt? What would that do to Kerry’s “credibility”?
Kerry also was on the front lines pointing the finger of blame at Russia for the MH-17 shoot-down on July 17, 2014. He rushed off to the Sunday TV shows just three days after the tragedy over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people and made the case that Moscow and the ethnic Russian rebels were to blame.
A source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in that same time frame was telling me that it was already clear to them that an element of the Ukrainian military was responsible. But hanging the slaughter of all those innocents around Russian President Vladimir Putin’s neck was just too tempting – and served U.S. propaganda needs to get Europe to join in economic sanctions against Russia and to let the U.S. government rev up a new and costly Cold War.
But those U.S. propaganda desires have put the Dutch in a difficult spot, since they are leading the investigation into the crash which departed from Amsterdam and carried many Dutch citizens en route to Kuala Lumpur. Part of the Dutch problem is that Dutch intelligence has confirmed that the only Buk or other anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine capable of hitting a commercial airliner at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian military.
Recently, the Obama administration also had to decide how to respond to a letter from Thomas Schansman, the father of the only U.S. citizen killed in the crash, Quinn Schansman. In a letter dated Jan. 5, 2016, Schansman asked Secretary Kerry to release the radar and other evidence that he claimed to have in summer 2014 that supposedly showed where the missile was fired, a basic fact that the Dutch investigation has yet to nail down.
One of the many anomalies of the MH-17 case was Kerry’s assertion within three days of the crash that the U.S. government had precise information about the launch but then has left Dutch investigators struggling to figure out that detail for nearly two years.
On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
At a news conference on Aug. 12, 2014, Kerry made similar claims: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this airplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
As the months wore on – passing the first anniversary of the crash and then after last October’s inconclusive report by the Dutch Safety Board – Thomas Schansman finally reached out to Kerry directly with his Jan. 5 letter. More weeks and months passed before Schansman received Kerry’s reply on March 24, although the letter was curiously dated March 7.
The letter offered no new information as Kerry stuck to the old story. Recently, I was told that a possible explanation for the delay in the letter’s delivery was that a discussion was underway inside the Obama administration about whether to finally come clean about MH-17 even if that would clear Russia and the ethnic Russian rebels and shift the blame onto a rogue or poorly disciplined unit of the Ukrainian military.
But the decision was made to stand pat, the source said, explaining that otherwise “the narrative would be reversed,” throwing the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government on the defensive and negating some of the propaganda advantages gained against Russia.
Plus, if the U.S. government admitted that it had played such a cynical propaganda game, which also smacks of obstruction of justice by giving the actual culprits nearly two years to make their escape and cover their tracks, there would be a loss of “credibility” in Washington.
Apparently, it made more geopolitical sense to keep the heat on Russia and then to lean on the Dutch authorities to fit their investigative findings around the needs of the NATO alliance. That is, after all, how the U.S. government usually operates. It’s also why I was so surprised that the truth finally was told about Iraq not possessing the WMD.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The United States and its regional allies have prepared plans to supply more-powerful weapons to militants fighting the Syrian government, amid concerns that a landmark ceasefire is threatening to fall apart.
US officials said the so-called Plan B is aimed at providing vetted “moderate” militant units with weapons system that would enable them to launch attacks against Syrian government aircraft and artillery positions, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
US-backed militants carried out a series of attacks in central and southern Syria on Monday even as the Damascus government was observing a ceasefire and holding talks with opposition groups to end the years-long conflict.
A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia went into effect on February 27 across Syria. The truce agreement does not apply to Daesh and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. A new round of discussions is to resume between the two sides in Geneva this week.
Concern has been growing that the recent uptick in violence is putting intense strain on the fragile truce.
US Secretary of State John Kerry floated the idea of a “Plan B” for the first time late in February, stressing that partitioning of Syria was on the table if the ceasefire collapsed.
The preparations for the “Plan B” were discussed at a secret gathering of intelligence chiefs in the Middle East before the ceasefire went into effect and in exchanges between intelligence services, the Journal said.
During those sessions, the CIA gave assurances to allies that they would be given approval to expand arms shipments to Syria’s “moderate” militants.
Coalition members reportedly agreed to the outlines of the plan, but the White House must approve the list of proposed weapons systems before they can be sent to Syria.
“The agreement is to up the ante, if needed,” a senior US official said.
The plan for introducing more sophisticated weapons into the Syrian battlefield is perceived as being part of a broader behind-the-scenes effort by the US to counter its adversaries in the conflict.
US officials have privately warned their Russian counterparts that the armed opposition will persist in Syria and that a return to full-scale fighting could put further strain on Russian pilots there, according to the Journal.
In addition, Pentagon officials said in recent weeks that the White House was looking to “greatly increase” the number of special forces deployed in Syria. The US military also said that it had resumed training new units of militants operating in the country.
The discussions for a possible escalation of the proxy war in Syria have been fueled to a large extent by a relatively successful Russian campaign in the country.
Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry will not offer any apologies to the people of Hiroshima over the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city, a senior US official says.
Kerry arrived in Hiroshima on Sunday and is reportedly arranging for a trip by President Barack Obama as the first US president to visit the city, as part of his trip to Japan for a G7 summit in late May.
“If you are asking whether the secretary of state came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no,” a senior US official told reporters Sunday, on condition of anonymity.
“If you are asking whether the secretary and I think all Americans and all Japanese are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen, the answer is yes,” he noted.
Kerry and a number of other foreign ministers are slated to visit Peace Memorial Park as well as a museum dedicated to the obliteration of the city by an American atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.
The bombing killed nearly 140,000 people and was shortly followed by another US atomic bombing on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 70,000 people three days later.
Kerry was visiting the memorial to “recognize the huge loss of life” during the war, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
“It is also an acknowledgement that since the end of World War II that the United States and Japan have become the closest of friends and strong allies,” he added.
Attending the two-day G7 gathering was also on Kerry’s agenda, where he will be discussing with other leaders “urgent international political and security concerns and to speak with one, clear voice on concrete actions needed.”
Diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan will also partake in the G7 meeting.
Kerry’s trip to Japan comes after a visit to Afghanistan where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday.
Secretary of State John Kerry has rebuffed a request from the father of the only American citizen killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for Kerry to disclose the radar and other data that he cited in 2014 in claiming to know the precise location of the missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner over eastern Ukraine killing 298 people.
In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas Schansman, the father of American-Dutch citizen Quinn Schansman, asked Kerry to turn over that data to aid the investigation seeking to identify who was responsible for shooting down the plane on July 17, 2014. In a letter dated March 7, 2016, but just delivered to Thomas Schansman on Thursday, Kerry expressed his condolences and repeated his claim to know where the missile launch originated, but did not provide new details.
Kerry wrote, “The assessment I provided to the media three days following the shoot down remains unchanged, and is corroborated by the findings of the Dutch Safety Board [DSB]. Flight 17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.”
But Kerry’s assertion is not entirely correct. Despite Kerry’s claim on July 20, 2014 – three days after the shoot-down – to know the location of the missile launch, the Dutch Safety Board reported last October that it could only place the likely launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area that included territory under both government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile).
Why the U.S. government has dragged its heels about supplying the evidence that Kerry claimed to possess just days after the tragedy has become a secondary mystery to the allegations and counter-allegations about whodunit. That Kerry would not even elaborate on that information in response to the father of the lone American victim is even more striking.
In an email to me with Kerry’s letter attached, Thomas Schansman wrote, “the message is clear: no answer on my request to hand over satellite and/or radar data to DSB or public.”
Plus, Kerry’s credibility has come under a darkening cloud because of recent disclosures undermining his repeated claims on Aug. 30, 2013, that “we know” that Syrian government forces were responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. Despite Kerry’s assertions of certainty in that case, he presented no verifiable evidence and it has since been confirmed that the U.S. intelligence community lacked “slam dunk” proof.
Nearly a year after his “we know” performance regarding the Syria-sarin case, Kerry staged a reprise expressing similar certainty about the MH-17 case – again dumping the blame on the target of an intensive U.S. propaganda campaign, this time Russia, which was backing the rebels in eastern Ukraine. Kerry again failed to supply supporting evidence.
Cracks in the Story
Also, some of Kerry’s MH-17 assertions have shown cracks as more information has become available. For instance, despite Kerry’s putting the blame on the ethnic Russian rebels and their supporters in Moscow, Western intelligence now says the only functioning Buk anti-aircraft missiles in the area were under the control of the Ukrainian military.
According to Dutch intelligence – and implicitly corroborated by U.S. intelligence – Ukraine’s Buk batteries were the only anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of hitting a commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet. That information was contained in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD).
MIVD made its assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”
MIVD added that the rebels lacked that capacity, having only short-range anti-aircraft missiles and a few inoperable Buk missiles that had been captured from a Ukrainian military base. “During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational,” MIVD said. “Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”
U.S. intelligence, which had eastern Ukraine under intensive overhead surveillance in summer 2014, implicitly corroborated MIVD’s conclusion in a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014. It listed weapons systems that Russia had provided the rebels but made no mention of a Buk missile battery.
In other words, based on satellite imagery and other intelligence reviewed both before and after the shoot-down, U.S. and other Western intelligence services could find no proof that Russia had ever given a Buk system to the rebels or introduced one into the area. If Russia had provided a Buk battery – four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks – it would have been hard to miss.
There was also logic to support the notion that a Ukrainian team may have been responsible for the MH-17 shoot-down. At the time, the Ukrainian military was mounting an offensive against the rebels, who had resisted a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had strong support among Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority in the east.
As the Ukrainian offensive claimed territory that the rebels had held, the Ukrainian military moved several Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries toward the front, presumably out of concern that Russia might directly intervene to save the rebels from annihilation. Plus, on July 16, 2014, a Ukrainian warplane was shot down apparently by an air-to-air missile believed fired by a Russian jet, giving reason for the Ukrainian anti-aircraft batteries to be on edge the next day, looking for Russian aircraft possibly intruding into Ukraine’s airspace.
But this evidence – that the only operational Buk batteries were under control of the Ukrainian military – did not fit the U.S. propaganda needs of blaming Russia and the rebels. Any indication that the post-coup Ukrainian government was responsible would instead put the U.S.-backed Kiev regime in a negative light.
So, it makes sense in a “strategic communications” kind of way for Kerry and other U.S. officials to leave the conventional wisdom – blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 298 deaths – in place for as long as possible. Kerry told Thomas Schansman that he and the other families of victims should expect a long wait before the perpetrators are brought to justice.
In the letter to Thomas Schansman, Secretary Kerry wrote, “As a father myself, I can only begin to imagine the pain and loss you have endured with your son’s tragic passing. My heart goes out to you and your family.”
Kerry then added, “This investigative work is not easy, and bringing those responsible to justice will not be a quick process. However, Quinn, your family, and the families of all the others who died that day deserve such justice, and we will continue to do everything possible to achieve it.”
But the “everything” doesn’t apparently include releasing the data that Kerry claimed to have just days after the crash.
On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
In the letter asking Kerry to release that data, Thomas Schansman noted Kerry’s similar comments to a news conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
Yet where the missile launch occurred has remained a point of mystery to the Dutch-led investigation. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board put the missile launch in a 320-square-kilometer area. Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the DSB’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.
Earlier this month, Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team, told the families of the victims that the inquiry had yet to pin down the missile launch site, saying “In the second half of the year we expect exact results.” In other words, on the second anniversary of the shoot-down, the investigators looking into the MH-17 shoot-down still might not know what Kerry claimed to know three days afterwards.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.
A crucial problem in news media coverage of the Syrian civil war has been how to characterize the relationship between the so-called “moderate” opposition forces armed by the CIA, on one hand, and the Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra Front (and its close ally Ahrar al Sham), on the other.
But it is a politically sensitive issue for U.S. policy, which seeks to overthrow Syria’s government without seeming to make common cause with the movement responsible for 9/11, and the system of news production has worked effectively to prevent the news media from reporting it fully and accurately.
The Obama administration has long portrayed the opposition groups it has been arming with anti-tank weapons as independent of Nusra Front. In reality, the administration has been relying on the close cooperation of these “moderate” groups with Nusra Front to put pressure on the Syrian government.
The United States and its allies – especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey – want the civil war to end with the dissolution of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by U.S. rivals like Russia and Iran.
Reflecting the fact that Nusra Front was created by Al Qaeda and has confirmed its loyalty to it, the administration designated Nusra as a terrorist organization in 2013. But the U.S. has carried out very few airstrikes against it since then, in contrast to the other offspring of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh), which has been the subject of intense air attacks from the U.S. and its European allies.
The U.S. has remained silent about Nusra Front’s leading role in the military effort against Assad, concealing the fact that Nusra’s success in northwest Syria has been a key element in Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic strategy for Syria.
When Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government began last September, targeting not only ISIS but also the Nusra Front and U.S.-supported groups allied with them against the Assad regime, the Obama administration immediately argued that Russian airstrikes were targeting “moderate” groups rather than ISIS, and insisted that those strikes had to stop.
The willingness of the news media to go beyond the official line and report the truth on the ground in Syria was thus put to the test. It had been well-documented that those “moderate” groups had been thoroughly integrated into the military campaigns directed by Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham in the main battlefront of the war in northwestern Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
For example, a dispatch from Aleppo last May in Al Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab), a daily newspaper financed by the Qatari royal family, revealed that every one of at least ten “moderate” factions in the province supported by the CIA had joined the Nusra-run province command Fateh Halab (Conquest of Aleppo). Formally the command was run by Ahrar al Sham, and Nusra Front was excluded from it.
But as Al Araby’s reporter explained, that exclusion “means that the operation has a better chance of receiving regional and international support.” That was an indirect way of saying that Nusra’s supposed exclusion was a device aimed at facilitating the Obama administration’s approval of sending more TOW missiles to the “moderates” in the province, because the White House could not support groups working directly with a terrorist organization.
A further implication was that Nusra Front was allowing “moderate” groups to obtain those weapons from the United States and its Saudi and Turkish allies, because those groups were viewed as too weak to operate independently of the Salafist-jihadist forces — and because some of those arms would be shared with Nusra Front and Ahrar.
After Nusra Front was formally identified as a terrorist organization for the purposes of a Syrian ceasefire and negotiations, it virtually went underground in areas close to the Turkish border.
A journalist who lives in northern Aleppo province told Al Monitor that Nusra Front had stopped flying its own flag and was concealing its troops under those of Ahrar al Sham, which had been accepted by the United States as a participant in the talks. That maneuver was aimed at supporting the argument that “moderate” groups and not Al Qaeda were being targeted by Russian airstrikes.
But a review of the coverage of the targeting of Russian airstrikes and the role of U.S.-supported armed groups in the war during the first few weeks in the three most influential U.S. newspapers with the most resources for reporting accurately on the issue—the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal – reveals a pattern of stories that tilted strongly in the direction desired by the Obama administration, either ignoring the subordination of the “moderate” groups to Nusra Front entirely or giving it only the slightest mention.
In an Oct. 1, 2015 article, Washington Post Beirut correspondent Liz Sly wrote that the Russian airstrikes were being “conducted against one of the few areas in the country where moderate rebels still have a foothold and from which the Islamic State was ejected more than a year and a half ago.”
To her credit, Sly did report, “Some of the towns struck are strongholds of recently formed coalition Jaish al Fateh,” which she said included Nusra Front and “an assortment of Islamist and moderate factions.” What was missing, however, was the fact that Jaish al Fateh was not merely a “coalition” but a military command structure, meaning that a much tighter relationship existed between the U.S.-supported “moderates” and the Al Qaeda franchise.
Sly referred specifically to one strike that hit a training camp in the outskirts of a town in Idlib province belonging to Suquor al-Jabal, which had been armed by the CIA.
But readers could not evaluate that statement without the crucial fact, reported in the regional press, that Suquor al-Jabal was one of the many CIA-supported organizations that had joined the Fateh Halab (“Conquest of Aleppo”), the military command center in Aleppo ostensibly run by Ahrar al Sham, Nusra Front’s closest ally, but in fact under firm Nusra control. The report thus conveyed the false impression that the CIA-supported rebel group was still independent of Nusra Front.
An article by New York Times Beirut correspondent Anne Barnard (co-authored by the Times stringer in Syria Karam Shoumali — Oct. 13, 2015) appeared to veer off in the direction of treating the U.S.-supported opposition groups as part of a new U.S./Russian proxy war, thus drawing attention away from the issue of whether the Obama administration support for “moderate” groups was actually contributing to the political-military power of Al Qaeda in Syria.
Under the headline “US Weaponry Is Turning Syria Into Proxy War With Russia,” it reported that armed opposition groups had just received large shipments of TOW anti-tank missiles that had to be approved by the United States. Quoting the confident statements of rebel commanders about the effectiveness of the missiles and the high morale of rebel troops, the story suggested that arming the “moderates” was a way for the United States to make them the primary force on one side of a war pitting the United States against Russia in Syria.
Near the end of the story, however, Barnard effectively undermined that “proxy war” theme by citing the admission by commanders of U.S.-supported brigades of their “uncomfortable marriage of necessity” with the Al Qaeda franchise, “because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front.”
Referring to the capture of Idlib the previous spring by the opposition coalition, Barnard recalled that the TOW missiles had “played a major role in the insurgent advances that eventually endangered Mr. Assad’s rule.” But, she added:
“While that would seem like a welcome development for United States policy makers, in practice it presented another quandary, given that the Nusra Front was among the groups benefiting from the enhanced firepower.”
Unfortunately, Barnard’s point that U.S.-supported groups were deeply embedded in an Al Qaeda-controlled military structure was buried at the end of a long piece, and thus easily missed. The headline and lead ensured that, for the vast majority of readers, that point would be lost in the larger thrust of the article.
The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous approached the problem from a different angle but with the same result. He wrote a story on Oct. 5 reflecting what he said was anger on the part of U.S. officials that the Russians were deliberately targeting opposition groups that the CIA had supported.
Entous reported that U.S. officials believed the Syrian government wanted those groups targeted because of their possession of TOW missiles, which had been the key factor in the opposition’s capture of Idlib earlier in the year. But nowhere in the article was the role of CIA-supported groups within military command structures dominated by Nusra Front even acknowledged.
Still another angle on the problem was adopted in an Oct. 12 article by Journal Beirut correspondent Raja Abdulrahim, who described the Russian air offensive as having spurred U.S.-backed rebels and the Nusra Front to form a “more united front against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Adbulrahim thus acknowledged the close military collaboration with Nusra Front, but blamed it all on the Russian offensive.
And the story ignored the fact that those same opposition groups had already joined military command arrangements in Idlib and Aleppo earlier in 2015, in anticipation of victories across northeast Syria.
The image in the media of the U.S.-supported armed opposition as operating independently from Nusra Front, and as victims of Russian attacks, persisted into early 2016. But in February, the first cracks in that image appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times.
Reporting on the negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a partial ceasefire that began on Feb. 12, Washington Post associate editor and senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung wrote on Feb. 19 that an unresolved problem was how to decide which organizations were to be considered “terrorist groups” in the ceasefire agreement.
In that context, DeYoung wrote, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic.”
It was the first time any major news outlet had reported that U.S.-supported armed opposition and Nusra Front front troops were “intermingled” on the ground. And in the very next sentence DeYoung dropped what should have been a political bombshell: She reported that Kerry had proposed in the Munich negotiations to “leave Jabhat al Nusra off limits to bombing, as part of a ceasefire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”
At the same time, Kerry was publicly demanding in a speech at the Munich conference that Russia halt its attacks on “legitimate opposition groups” as a condition for a ceasefire. Kerry’s negotiating position reflected the fact that CIA groups were certain to be hit in strikes on areas controlled by Nusra Front, as well as the reality that Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham were central to the success of the U.S.-backed military effort against Assad.
In the end, however, Lavrov rejected the proposal to protect Nusra Front targets from Russian airstrikes, and Kerry dropped that demand, allowing the joint U.S./Russian announcement of the partial ceasefire on Feb. 22.
Up to that point, maps of the Syrian war in the Post and Times had identified zones of control only for “rebels” without showing where Nusra Front forces were in control. But on the same day as the announcement, the New York Times published an “updated” map, accompanied by text stating that Nusra Front “is embedded in the area of Aleppo and northwest toward the Turkish border.”
At the State Department briefing the next day, reporters grilled spokesman Mark Toner on whether U.S.-supported rebel forces were “commingled” with Nusra Front forces in Aleppo and northward. After a very long exchange on the subject, Toner said, “Yes, I believe there is some commingling of these groups.” And he went on to say, speaking on behalf of the International Syria Support Group, which comprises all the countries involved in the Syrian peace negotiations, including the U.S. and Russia:
“We, the ISSG, have been very clear in saying that Al Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] are not part of any kind of cease-fire or any kind of negotiated cessation of hostilities. So if you hang out with the wrong folks, then you make that decision. … You choose who hang out with, and that sends a signal.”
Although I pointed out the significance of the statement (Truthout, Feb. 24, 2016), no major news outlet saw fit to report that remarkable acknowledgement by the State Department spokesperson. Nevertheless, the State Department had clearly alerted the Washington Post and the New York Times to the fact that the relationships between the CIA-supported groups and Nusra Front were much closer than it had ever admitted in the past.
Kerry evidently calculated that the pretense that the “moderate” armed groups were independent of Al Nusra front would open him to a political attack from Republicans and the media if they were hit by Russian airstrikes. So it was no longer useful politically to try to obscure that reality from the media.
In fact, the State Department now seemed interested in inducing as many of those armed groups as possible to separate themselves more clearly from the Nusra Front.
The twists and turns in the three major newspapers’ coverage of the issue of relations between U.S.-supported opposition groups and Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria thus show how major news sources slighted or steered clear of the fact that U.S.-client armed groups were closely intertwined with a branch of Al Qaeda — until they were prompted by signals from U.S. officials to revise their line and provide a more honest portrayal of Syria’s armed opposition.
Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist and historian on US national security policy, is the winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014.
Dutch MPs have held a parliamentary debate on the ongoing investigation into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. The discussion focused on radar data and satellite imagery that US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the United States possessed and which it called strong evidence.
“We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing, and it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar,” Kerry said in a July 2014 interview.
Question 1. Why did not the US provide this information to the Dutch investigators?
The Dutch MPs and members of the Dutch Safety Board insisted that they had seen no evidence of what John Kerry described as “irrefutable proof.”
Question 2. Why is the investigation taking so long?
The parliamentarians also complained about the investigation into the MH17 disaster taking too long and obvious attempts to keep the public in the dark about its progress.
Question 3. Why haven’t the key documents related to the investigation been made available to the Dutch MPs?
Some important documents related to the probe have been classified indefinitely, which means that they will be kept under wraps for good.
The reason probably being that if these documents were released, they would compromise the method of how this intelligence was collected.
If the US has either secret ground based radar in Ukraine or satellites with unknown capabilities, they will not want to disclose their collection abilities to the public.
Question 4. What is being done to prevent such tragedies ever happening again?
The lawmakers also wanted to know what was being done to rule out such tragedies in future again and make sure that civilian aircraft never fly over war zones.
When asked during a daily briefing in Washington whether the US had provided Dutch investigators with the data that Secretary Kerry said the US had, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “I believe we have collaborated with the Dutch in their investigation. To what level of detail, I just don’t know.”
RT correspondent Gayane Chichakyan asked whether the Americans had shared vital radar information with the Dutch.
“I know we’ve collaborated with them; I just don’t know to what level we’ve shared information with them. I’d have to look into that,” Mark Toner said.
There is a lot more than meets the eye in the newly revealed Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence briefing of Sept. 5, 2002, which showed there was a lack of evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – just as President George W. Bush’s administration was launching its sales job for the Iraq War.
The briefing report and its quick demise amount to an indictment not only of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but also of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers, who is exposed once again as a Rumsfeld patsy who put politics ahead of his responsibility to American soldiers and to the nation as a whole.
In a Jan. 24 report at Politico entitled “What Donald Rumsfeld Knew We Didn’t Know About Iraq,” journalist John Walcott presents a wealth of detail about the JCS intelligence report of Sept. 5, 2002, offering additional corroboration that the Bush administration lied to the American people about the evidence of WMD in Iraq.
The JCS briefing noted, for example: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
Small wonder that the briefing report was dead on arrival in Rumsfeld’s in-box. After all, it proved that the intelligence evidence justifying war was, in Rumsfeldian terms, a “known unknown.” When he received it on Sept. 5 or 6, the Defense Secretary deep-sixed it – but not before sending it on Sept. 9 to Gen. Richard Myers (who he already knew had a copy) with a transparently disingenuous CYA note: “Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD. It is big. Thanks.”
Absent was any notation such as “I guess we should tell the White House to call off its pro-war sales campaign based on Iraq possessing WMD since we don’t got the goods.” Without such a direct instruction, Rumsfeld could be sure that Gen. Myers would not take the matter further.
Myers had already proven his “company man” mettle by scotching a legal inquiry that he had just authorized to provide the armed forces with guidance on permitted interrogation techniques. All that it took to ensure a hasty Myers retreat was a verbal slap-down from Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, as soon as Haynes got wind of the inquiry in November 2002. (More on that below.)
The more interesting story, in my view, is not that Rumsfeld was corrupt (yawn, yawn), but that so was his patsy, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the country’s top uniformed military officer at the time. Myers has sported a well-worn coat of blue Teflon up until now.
Even John Walcott, a member of the Knight-Ridder team that did the most responsible pre-Iraq-War reporting, lets the hapless Myers too easily off the hook in writing: “Myers, who knew as well as anyone the significance of the report, did not distribute it beyond his immediate military colleagues and civilian boss, which a former aide said was consistent with the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”
Principal Military Adviser to the President
That “former aide” is dead wrong on the last point, and this is key. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs works directly for two bosses: the President of the United States, whom he serves as the principal military adviser, and the Secretary of Defense. The JCS Chairman has the statutory authority – indeed, the duty – to seek direct access to the President to advise him in such circumstances, bearing on war or peace.
Indeed, in his 2009 memoir, Eyes on the Horizon, Gen. Myers himself writes, “I was legally obligated to provide the President my best military advice — not the best advice as approved by the Secretary of Defense.”
But in reality, Myers wouldn’t and he didn’t. And that – quite simply – is why Rumsfeld picked him and others like him for leading supporting roles in the Pentagon. And so the Iraq War came – and, with it, catastrophe for the Middle East (with related disorder now spreading into Europe).
Could Gen. Myers have headed off the war had he had the courage to assert his prerogative to go directly to President Bush and tell him the truth? Sad to say, with Bush onboard as an eager “war president” and with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld intimidating the timid Secretary of State Colin Powell and with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet fully compliant, it is not likely that Myers could have put the brakes on the rush to invade Iraq simply by appealing to the President.
After all, the JCS briefing coincided with the start of the big sales pitch for the Iraq War based on alarming claims about Iraq possessing WMD and possibly developing a nuclear bomb. As White House chief of staff Andrew Card explained the September timing of the ad campaign, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
Just three days after the date of the JCS intelligence report depicting the shallowness of the intelligence on the issue of WMD in Iraq, the White House, with the help of The New York Times and other “mainstream media,” launched a major propaganda offensive.
On Sept. 8, 2002, a New York Times front-pager – headlined “US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts” by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon – got the juggernaut rolling downhill to war. Their piece featured some aluminum tubes that they mistakenly thought could be used only for nuclear centrifuges (when they were actually for conventional artillery). Iraq’s provocative behavior, wrote the Times, has “brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.”
Or as NSC Advisor Rice summed it up on the Sunday talk shows later that day, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
But it was clear the fix was in even earlier. The British “Downing Street Minutes” of July 23, 2002, show that Tenet told his British counterpart, Richard Dearlove, that – as Dearlove described the message to Prime Minister Tony Blair – that “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
However, despite the obstacles, Richard Myers, like so many of us, took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. For many of us who wore the uniform and took “duty, honor, country” seriously, it is hard to give Myers a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to blame for the Iraq War.
No matter the odds against success, his duty was to go directly to the President and make the case. If he was rebuffed, he should have quit and gone public, in my view. (How long has it been since anyone of high rank has quit on principle?)
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs quitting over plans for an unnecessary war? Not even The New York Times and The Washington Post – as fully in the tank as they were for the Iraq War – would have been able to suppress that story in 2002. And, had Myers gone public he might have succeeded in injecting slippery grease under the rollout of Card’s “new product.”
Imagine what might have happened had Myers gone public at that point. It is all too easy to assume that Bush and Cheney would have gotten their war anyway. But who can tell for sure? Sometimes it takes just one senior official with integrity to spark a hemorrhage of honesty. However the outcome would have turned out at least Myers would been spared the pain of looking into the mirror every morning – and thinking back on what might have been.
A Modern Rumsfeld General
This was not the first time that Myers, who served as JCS chairman from 2001 to 2005, was derelict in duty by playing the toady. He had acquiesced in Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s approval of torture in February 2002, even before going along with a gross violation of international law – launching the attack on Iraq absent any imminent threat and without the required approval by the UN Security Council.
On torture, the seldom mentioned smoking gun was a two-page executive memorandum signed by George W. Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, in which the President declared that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Instead, they would be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva,” the memo said, using vague and permissive language that, in effect, opened the door to torture and other abuses. Gen. Myers was one of eight addressees.
On May 11, 2009 Myers was in Washington peddling his memoir Eyes on the Horizon and spoke at a Harvard Business School Alumni dinner. I seldom go to such affairs, but in this case I was glad I had paid my dues, for here was a unique opportunity to quiz Myers. I began by thanking him for acknowledging in his book “the Geneva Conventions were a fundamental part of our military culture.” Then I asked what he had done when he received Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002 memorandum unilaterally creating exceptions to Geneva.
“Just read my book,” Myers said. I told him I had, and cited a couple of sentences from my copy: “You write that you told a senior Pentagon official, Douglas Feith, ‘I feel very strongly about this. And if Rumsfeld doesn’t defend the Geneva Conventions, I’ll contradict him in front of the President.’ Did you?”
Myers claimed that he had fought the good fight before the President decided. But there was no tinge of regret. The sense the general left with us was this: if the President wanted to bend Geneva out of shape, what was a mere Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to do?
Pushing my luck, I noted that a Senate Armed Services Committee report, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody,” had been issued just two weeks earlier (on April 23, 2009). It found that Myers had abruptly aborted an in-depth legal review of interrogation techniques that all four armed services had urgently requested and that he authorized in the fall of 2002. They were eager to get an authoritative ruling on the lawfulness of various interrogation techniques – some of which were already being used at Guantanamo.
Accordingly, Myers’s legal counsel, Navy Captain Jane Dalton, had directed her staff to initiate a thorough legal and policy review of interrogation techniques. It had just gotten under way in November 2002 when Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, ordered Myers to stop the review.
Haynes “wanted to keep it much more close-hold,” Dalton told the Senate committee, so she ordered her staff to stop the legal analysis. She testified that this was the only time in her career that she had been asked to stop working on a request that came to her for review.
I asked Gen. Myers why he halted the in-depth legal review. “I stopped the broad review,” Myers replied, “but I asked Dalton to do her personal review and keep me advised.” When Senate committee members asked him about stopping the review, Myers could not remember.
On Nov. 27, 2002, shortly after Haynes told Myers to stop Dalton’s review despite persisting legal concerns in the military services – Haynes sent Rumsfeld a one-page memo recommending that he approve all but three of 18 techniques requested by the interrogators in Guantanamo.
Techniques like stress positions, nudity, exploitation of phobias (like fear of dogs), deprivation of light, and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval. On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld signed Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note referring to the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
A Different JCS Chairman
Other JCS chairmen have not been as compliant as Myers was. For instance, a decade after Myers acceded to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq, JSC Chairman Martin Dempsey smelled a rat when Secretary of State John Kerry – along with neocons, liberal hawks and the mainstream media – rushed toward full-scale war on Syria by pinning the blame on President Bashar al-Assad for the fatal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
Comparisons can be invidious, but Dempsey is bright, principled, and no one’s patsy. It did not take him long to realize that another “regime change” scheme was in play with plans to get the U.S. directly involved in a shooting war with Syria. As more intelligence came in, the sarin attack increasingly looked like a false-flag attack carried out by radical jihadists to draw the U.S. military in on their side.
This new war could have started by syllogism: (a) get President Barack Obama to draw a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria; (b) stage a chemical attack that would be quickly blamed on Assad for violating the red line; and (c) mousetrapping Obama into making good on his threat of “enormous consequences.”
That Obama pulled back at the last minute was a shock to those who felt sure they had found a way to destroy the Syrian army and clear the way for Assad’s violent removal – even if the result would have been a likely victory for Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State. After all, neocon/liberal-hawk thinking has long favored “regime change” whatever the consequences, as the wars in Iraq and Libya have demonstrated.
But Gen. Dempsey became a fly in the regime-changers’ ointment. In contrast to Myers, Dempsey apparently saw the need to go directly to the President to head off another unnecessary war. The evidence suggests that this is precisely what he did and that he probably bypassed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the process since time was of the essence.
Dempsey had already told Congress that a major attack on Syria should require congressional authorization and he was aware that the “evidence” adduced to implicate the Syrian government was shaky at best. Besides, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, British intelligence told the JCS that they had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the Aug. 21 attack and it did not match the sarin known to be in Syrian army stocks.
Actually, it is no secret that Dempsey helped change President Obama’s mind between when Kerry spoke on the afternoon of Aug. 30, accusing Damascus of responsibility and all but promising an imminent U.S. attack on Syria, and when Obama announced less than a day later that he would not attack but rather would seek authorization from Congress.
On the early afternoon of Aug. 31, Obama was unusually explicit in citing Dempsey as indicating why there was no need to rush into another war. Obama said, “the [JCS] Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive: it will be effective tomorrow, next week, or one month from now.”
The failure to stampede Obama and the U.S. military into a bombing campaign against Syria was a major defeat for those who wanted another shot at a Mideast “regime change,” primarily the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies who still hold sway inside the State Department as well as Washington’s top think tanks and the mainstream U.S. news media – not to mention the Israelis, Saudis, Turks and others who insist that “Assad must go.”
Not surprisingly, on Sept. 1, 2013, as the plans to bomb, bomb, bomb Syria were shoved into a drawer at the Pentagon, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in high dudgeon – particularly at Dempsey’s audacity in putting the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
(By happenstance, I was given a personal window into the widespread distress over the outbreak of peace, when I found myself sharing a “green room” with some of the most senior neocons at CNN’s main studio in Washington. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing ministry of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the Sixties and then for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed his support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, a conflict that has killed over 2,400 civilians. As justification, the secretary reiterated false claims that Riyadh is battling al-Qaeda.
Over the weekend, the White House stated its concern over the rising civilian death toll in the Yemen conflict.
“We are deeply concerned about recent reports of escalating violence in Yemen and resulting deaths of civilians…” White House National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said in statement on Saturday.
But while the Obama administration is ostensibly worried about the amount of violence, it also fully supports the Saudi campaign that is creating the chaos. One day after the release of Price’s statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated his full support for Riyadh’s actions.
“Let me assure everybody that the relationship between the United States and the GCC nations ([Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council) is one that is built on mutual interest, on mutual defense and I think there is no doubt whatsoever in the minds of the countries that make up the GCC that the United States will stand with them against any external threat,” Kerry told reporters.
Kerry claimed that the war was necessary since it is partially aimed at targeting “al-Qaeda operatives.” Those motivations are highly suspect, however, given that Riyadh failed to go after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during the first nine months of fighting.
In April, the Saudi government also looked the other way as AQAP seized the port city of al Mukalla. By gaining control of the central bank, the terrorist group gained over $17 billion from the city’s capture.
In addition, Kerry cited the need to combat Iranian “interference.”
“The United States remains concerned about some of the activities that Iran is engaged in other countries,” he told reporters.
Riyadh has provided little evidence to suggest that Tehran is providing any assistance to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Riyadh’s intervention began last March, and the Saudi naval blockade of Yemen has left approximately 1 million people internally displaced, and as many as 20 million people in need of food, water, and medical supplies.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 2,400 Yemeni civilians have been killed by coalition bombing. Most airstrikes have utilized cluster munitions sold by the United States. Worth an estimated $1.2 billion, this could partially explain Kerry’s support, but it also implicates Washington in Yemen’s civilian deaths.
“We should be culpable for the crime of killing civilians as well, as we produce and sell the weapons when we know the use they will be put to,” retired US Army Major Todd Pierce told Sputnik.
“Our indivisibility with our ‘allies’ inculpates us in their crimes…”
The father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die in the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry cited in claiming precise knowledge of where the suspected anti-aircraft missile was fired.
One of the mysteries of the MH-17 case has become why the United States – after asserting that it possessed information implicating ethnic Russian rebels and the Russian government – has failed to make the data public or apparently even share it with Dutch investigators who are leading the inquiry into how the plane was shot down and who was responsible.
Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Malaysia.
In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman, Quinn’s father, noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
Yet, where the missile launch occurred has remained a mystery in the MH-17 investigation. Last October, when the Dutch Safety Board issued its final report on the crash, it could only place the launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area in eastern Ukraine, covering territory then controlled by both Ukrainian and rebel forces. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile).
Meanwhile, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.
In the days immediately after the shoot-down, Kerry and other senior U.S. officials pointed the finger of blame at ethnic Russian rebels who were resisting a military offensive by the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. The Russian government was faulted for supposedly giving the rebels a powerful Buk anti-aircraft system capable of downing a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet.
But – in more than 18 months since the tragedy – the U.S. government has never made public its alleged evidence, while Russia has denied supplying the rebels a Buk system and the rebels have asserted that they did not possess functioning Buk missiles.
An Anguished Father
Thomas Schansman, who lives in The Netherlands, wrote to Kerry, noting that “celebrating Christmas and New Year without my son Quinn Schansman, was difficult for my family and myself” and then pressing the Secretary of State to release U.S. information about the case.
“It is my understanding, that neither the Dutch government nor the Dutch Safety Board [DSB] have officially received the radar information from the US that you referred to. It is not included in the [DSB] report and it is not in the public domain,” Schansman wrote.
“On behalf of the bereaved parents and to assist in the pursuit of justice, I would like to request that the United States provides the DSB with the radar data you referred to at the press conference and all other available and relevant information (like satellite data and infrared satellite data) that is in your government’s possession.
“I would be most grateful if the United States either directly or through NATO would publicly hand over to the Dutch Safety Board radar and satellite data of the minutes before and after the crash. … This would enable the DSB to reopen the investigation and include a chapter with this information, which is essential for a successful criminal prosecution. I count on the support of the government of the United States to find and prosecute those responsible for my son and your citizen’s death.”
Kerry has yet to reply although a U.S. consular official, Pamela J. Hack, sent Schansman a letter dated Jan. 14, expressing condolences for his son’s death and saying “We expect that you will receive a separate response … from Washington.”
A Rush to Judgment
In the days after the shoot-down, Kerry took the lead in accusing the ethnic Russian rebels (and implicitly their supporters in Moscow) of shooting down MH-17. Just three days after the tragedy, Kerry made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to leave little doubt that the rebels and Russians were at fault.
After mentioning information gleaned from “social media,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
Two days later, on July 22, 2014, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a “Government Assessment,” also citing “social media” seeming to implicate the rebels. Then, this white paper listed military equipment allegedly supplied by Russia to the rebels. But the list did not include a Buk missile battery or other high-powered anti-aircraft missiles.
The DNI also had U.S. intelligence analysts brief a few select mainstream reporters, but the analysts conveyed much less conviction than their superiors may have wished, indicating that there was still great uncertainty about who was responsible.
The Los Angeles Times article said: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [the designation for a Russian-made anti-aircraft Buk missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”
The analysts’ uncertainty meshed somewhat with what I had been told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts shortly after the shoot-down about what they had seen in high-resolution satellite photos, which they said showed what looked like Ukrainian military personnel manning the battery believed to have fired the missile.
The source who spoke to me several times after receiving additional briefings about advances in the investigation said that as the U.S. analysts gained more insights into the MH-17 shoot-down from technical and other sources, they came to believe the attack was carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military with ties to a hard-line Ukrainian oligarch. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]
Creating a Pariah
But, officially, the U.S. government never retracted or refined its initial claims. It simply went silent, leaving in place the widespread belief that the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible for the atrocity and that the Russian government had been highly irresponsible in supplying a powerful Buk system to the rebels.
That Western conventional wisdom convinced the European Union to join the U.S. government in imposing economic sanctions on Russia and treating President Vladimir Putin as an international pariah.
As the U.S. government clammed up and hid the evidence that it claimed to possess, it became clear that U.S. intelligence agencies lacked evidence to support Kerry’s initial rush to judgment blaming the rebels and the Russians.
Despite intensive overhead surveillance of eastern Ukraine in summer 2014, U.S. and other Western intelligence services could find no proof that Russia had ever given a Buk system to the rebels or introduced one into the area. Satellite intelligence – reviewed both before and after the shoot-down – only detected Ukrainian miltary Buk missile systems in the conflict zone.
One could infer this finding from the fact that the DNI on July 22, 2014, did not allege that Buks were among the weapons systems that Russia had provided. If Russian-supplied Buks had been spotted – and the batteries of four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks are hard to miss – their presence surely would have been noted.
But one doesn’t need to infer this lack of evidence. It was spelled out in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report from last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). Dutch intelligence, which as part of NATO would have access to sensitive overhead surveillance and other relevant data, reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine – capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet – belonged to the Ukrainian government.
MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”
But the intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capacity, having only short-range anti-aircraft missiles and a few inoperable Buk missiles that had been captured from a Ukrainian military base. “During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational,” MIVD said. “Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”
In other words, it is fair to say – based on the affirmative comments from the Dutch MIVD and the omissions from the U.S. “Government Assessment” – that the Western powers had no evidence that the ethnic Russian rebels or their Russian allies had operational Buk missiles in eastern Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government did have several batteries of such missiles.
It also would have made sense that Ukraine would be moving additional anti-aircraft systems close to the border because of a feared Russian invasion as the Ukrainian military pressed its “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russians fighters, who were resisting the U.S.-backed coup of Feb. 22, 2014, which had ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east.
According to the Dutch Safety Board report, a Ukrainian warplane had been shot down by a suspected air-to-air missile (presumably from a Russian fighter) on July 16, 2014, meaning that Ukrainian defenses were probably on high alert. The Russian military also claimed that Ukraine had activated a radar system that is used to guide Buk missiles.
I was told by the intelligence source that U.S. analysts looked seriously at the possibility that the intended target was President Putin’s official plane returning from a state visit to South America. His aircraft and MH-17 had similar red-white-and-blue markings, but Putin took a more northerly route and arrived safely in Moscow.
Other possible scenarios were that a poorly trained and undisciplined Ukrainian squad mistook MH-17 for a Russian plane that had penetrated Ukrainian airspace or that the attack was willful provocation designed to be blamed on the Russians.
Whoever the culprits and whatever their motive, one point that should not have remained in doubt was where the missile launch occurred. Kerry said repeatedly in the days after the tragedy that U.S. intelligence had detected the launch and knew where it came from.
So, why did the Dutch Safety Board have to scratch its head about the missile coming from somewhere in a 320-square-kilometer area, with the Russian manufacturer placing the launch site about 20 kilometers further west? With the firing location a key point in dispute, why would the U.S. government withhold from a NATO ally (and investigators into a major airline disaster) the launch point for the missile?
Presumably, if the Obama administration had solid evidence showing that the launch came from rebel territory, which was Kerry’s insinuation, U.S. officials would have been only too happy to provide the data. That data also could be the only precise radar evidence available. Ukraine claimed that its principal radar systems were down at the time of the attack, and the Russians — while they asserted that their radar screens showed another plane closing on MH-17 — did not save the raw data.
Thomas Schansman noted in his letter to Kerry: “the DSB [Dutch Safety Board] stated that it did not receive the (raw) primary radar data from any State. …. The UN Security Council Resolution 2166 explicit[ly] requested Member States to provide any requested assistance and cooperate fully with the investigation. The (raw) primary radar data is crucial for determining cause, and for identifying and prosecuting those responsible for this heinous act.”
Despite the strange evidentiary gaps and the U.S. failure to present the proof that it claims to possess, the West’s “conventional wisdom” remains that either the ethnic Russian rebels or the Russians themselves shot down MH-17 and have sought to cover up their guilt. Some of this certainty comes from the simpleminded game of repeating that Buk missiles are “Russian-made,” which is true but irrelevant to the issue of who fired the missiles, since the Ukrainian military possesses Russian-made Buks.
Despite the lack of U.S. cooperation in the investigation – and the failure of Western intelligence to detect Russians or ethnic Russian rebels with a Buk battery in eastern Ukraine – the Dutch criminal prosecutors who are working closely with the Ukrainian government say they are taking seriously allegations by bloggers at a British Web site called Bellingcat who have identified Russian soldiers assigned to a Buk missile battery as prime suspects in the shoot-down.
So, the possibility remains that this Dutch-led investigation – in coordination with the Ukrainian government – will indict some Russian soldiers even as the U.S. government withholds its data that could resolve such key questions as where the fateful missile was fired.
An indictment of Russian soldiers would make for more useful anti-Putin propaganda and would be sure to produce another chorus of denunciations against Moscow from the mainstream Western media. But such a development might do little to resolve the mystery of who really shot down MH-17, killing Quinn Schansman and 297 other people aboard MH-17.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
No other country, with the exception of maybe China, gets as much of a look in as Russia does from the Washington Post’s editorial board.
It’s hardly strange that the newspaper would focus some of its attention on Russia, an increasingly influential global player, but it does seem to have a bit of a bee in its bonnet about the old enemy.
Reading the Post’s editorials on matters of global affairs is like an exercise in understanding the very worst imaginable interpretation of American exceptionalism — and the latest dispatch on Syria is a perfect example. The headline reads: “A UN resolution on Syria is shattered – and Russia is to blame.”
The UN resolution referred to by the Post stated that all parties must “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects” as well as “any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.” Leaving aside the laughable notion that the US itself would adhere to such a resolution and “immediately cease” anything whatsoever, let’s take a look at what concerned the Post.
Two days after the resolution was passed, the editorial says, Russia carried out strikes in the northern Syrian provincial capital of Idlib “killing scores of civilians”. It is not for this writer to judge the authenticity of that claim or to question the word of the Post’s reporter in Beirut — and it would be ludicrous to claim Russia’s strikes have killed not one civilian, but it is at least worth noting that one of the newspaper’s original sources for the story was The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an ‘organization’ run out of a home in Coventry by one man who hasn’t visited Syria in 15 years, has received “small subsidies” from the European Union, and whose reports are at best, unreliable. Nevertheless, SOHR has become one of the single-most important “sources” of information on Syria in the Western press.
The Post continues on, unabashed. Secretary of State John Kerry, they chide, should be embarrassed by “this outrage” which “shattered” the UN resolution. They say this without so much of a hint of irony as the US continues to wage its illegal bombing campaign in the country they purport to care so very deeply about. They always care, you see. The more they care, the more bombs they want to drop.
And in the Post’s world, the UN is important and should be respected. Unless you’re the United States, in which case, go ahead and do whatever you want. Ever the pen-wielding champions for the spreading of good old freedom and democracy, they are always there, on the frontlines, cheering on America’s wars. It’s awfully easy to be in favor of ‘humanitarian’ military interventions when you comfort yourself with the knowledge that it’s okay, because you’re the good guys — always. But still, the board likes to be outraged (!) — and it needs to get its outrage fix from somewhere.
At least they’re consistent
Enter Russia. You have to at least hand it to the Post for its consistency. Russia and Putin continue to be the scapegoats for all seasons. There is nothing Moscow can’t be blamed for and nothing it can do right. If the Kremlin produced a cure for cancer tomorrow, the Post would re-imagine it as a sinister plot devised by Putin to put Western oncologists out of jobs.
In early October, the board warned Obama: Don’t green light Mr. Putin’s Syria project. That piece argued that the “moderate” opposition to Assad — which in the real world includes Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Al Nusra, should be given more US anti-tank missiles and that Putin should be given “red lines”.
In November, after the Paris attacks, sensing that things were moving in Putin’s favor, and that an international anti-ISIS coalition might be in the making, they jumped in to ensure no one thought that was a good idea with a piece headlined: Teaming up with Russia in Syria could be a dangerous.
And of course, when Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border after claiming that it had violated Turkish airspace, the Post did its bit to make sure no one was left with the wrong impression about who exactly was responsible for the incident: Russian “provocations” and “dangerous behavior of Vladimir Putin’s regime.” Reading that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was Russia recklessly shooting planes out of the sky. One wonders would the Post’s reaction have been the same if an American warplane had been shot down in Syria? It’s certainly unlikely (to say the least) that the Post would be calling the US’s illegal flights over the war-torn country “provocations” and demanding accountability.
Occasionally, the newspaper likes to dabble in wishful thinking. Not the editorial board, but an opinion piece published by the Post in late November asked: Is Syria the beginning of the end of Putinism?
It’s our world. Everyone else just lives in it.
The Post’s penchant for US exceptionalism extends far beyond Syria. Here, they lament, Obama just “doesn’t understand” Putin’s “Eurasian ambitions”. Apparently it’s not worth noting that Russia is in fact a massive Eurasian country, unlike say, the US.
And God forbid any other countries might think they could act independently of Washington in any arena. Obama was “right to order a sail-by” in the South China Sea because “failure to respond” to the “aggression” of other countries is always the greatest sin. Meanwhile, Iran “steps up its aggression” in the Middle East. The list goes on and the Washington Post’s editorial board fails, time and again, to see the irony.
That’s the kind of world the Post’s editors live in: Black and white. Good and evil. We’re always right, you’re always wrong. Do what we say, not as we do. The destruction this kind of thinking leaves in its wake is always someone else’s problem to solve.
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist and media analyst. She has lived in the US and Germany and is currently based in Moscow. She previously worked as a digital desk reporter for the Sunday Business Post in Dublin. She studied political reporting at the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism in Washington, DC and also has a degree in business and German. She focuses on US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias.