The world seems to be sleepwalking its way into a geopolitical maelstrom as the US, increasingly paranoid over Russia, said it is considering a cyber-attack against the Kremlin in retaliation for purported Russian meddling in the US election process.
NBC News, citing those conveniently omnipresent “anonymous sources,” reported that the CIA is preparing to deliver ideas to the White House for “a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership,” as if dragging the Kremlin through the mud of the 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t embarrassing enough.
The report went on to say that the covert action plan, which is certainly no longer covert, “is designed to protect the US election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote (…) Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line.”
Before continuing, it is important to note that America’s electronic voting machines have long been vulnerable to hackers and vote riggers. And with all due respect to Russian ingenuity and resourcefulness, it was not the Russians who revealed that information to the Americans. In 2006, a group of computer programmers from Princeton University said they successfully created “vote-stealing software” that could be easily installed on a Diebold AccuVote-TS (the programmers, incidentally, admitted they acquired the voting machine “at a party”).
NBC then interviewed former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell about Washington’s alleged plans to conduct a cyber-attack against Russia. Morell was against the covert cyber plan, but for all the wrong reasons.
“Physical attacks on networks is not something the US wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert – it should overt, for everybody to see.”
Incidentally, it was Morell who told Charlie Rose in August that“we need to make the Russians pay a price” – i.e. kill them – apparently for the Russian military’s actions in Syria, which came as a shock given its success in routing Islamic State forces in the war-stricken Arab Republic.
NBC, as well as every other media outlet that has reported on the “Russian hacks,” failed to provide any concrete evidence of Russia “tampering in the US election process.” The NBC article, however, did prove that the Democrats, in a desperate bid to keep their Oval Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, will do whatever it takes to ‘help’ Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump next month, even to the point of staging a zero-sum, take-no-prisoner poker game with Russia, the possible implications of which simply boggle the mind.
Political high stakes
Hunting season against the big, bad Russian bear opened in July this year, as WikiLeaks dumped a batch of incriminating emails showing that Hillary Clinton had received favorable treatment by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over other presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders. The scandal led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the now-disgraced DNC chair.
Before WikiLeaks gleefully dumped the emails, the FBI had just concluded an investigation against Clinton for using her private server while handling thousands of government documents, many of them stamped ‘classified.’ The FBI, admitting the former Secretary of State had been “extremely careless” with her computer, recommended that no charges be filed against her. At this point, the reader may be asking: Okay, what does any of this have to do with Russia? That’s a very good question, and one that Russia is asking as well.
In fact, the only evidence is circumstantial, via a remark uttered by Donald Trump, who suggested – sarcastically – that Russia might want to help US authorities locate thousands of Clinton emails that mysteriously vanished in the ether.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump quipped at a news conference in late July. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The Clinton campaign failed to see the irony of the comments, of course. Instead, it took Trump’s words quite literally, peddling to a gullible public the story of deep collaboration between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. From there, rumors of a budding ‘bromance’ between Putin and Trump provided the necessary diversion to distract attention away from the explosive content of Clinton’s emails, and to the fantasy land of “Russian aggression.”
The Clinton campaign’s readiness to do whatever it required to win the White House was brought out in stark relief with the latest batch of leaked emails. The Young Turks, for example, found that Clinton was actually tipped off regarding a question on the death penalty that would be asked at the CNN Town Hall Debate against Donald Trump. The email in question was sent by Donna Brazile, who was then employed at CNN before becoming interim DNC Chair.
When Brazile was confronted with the allegations, she reacted by casually dismissing them. “I refuse to open them,” she remarked, talking about the proof of the leaks that had been sent to her email, of all places. “And I’ve asked the staff at the DNC and all of our Democratic allies, don’t open up that crap, because it’s postmarked from Russia.”
Clinton officials echoed Brazile’s comments, dubbing the popular whistleblower website a “propaganda arm of the Russian government.”
So just like that, yet another case of Clinton political chicanery, worthy of a Watergate-style investigation, is swept under America’s carpet, while WikiLeaks and Russia are accused of working in tandem to stain the squeaky clean electoral process. And now here we are, with the Obama administration suggesting some sort of cyber-attack on Russia – a nuclear-armed country, by the way – over what really amounts to extreme misconduct at the highest levels of the Clinton campaign, with Russia being dragged in as scapegoat.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s dogged insistence that Russia is somehow responsible for the hacked emails, which even the media has admitted it cannot prove, is forcing the outgoing Obama administration to act as if it is doing something about it.
On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden met “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd for an interview that has raised serious concern in Russia.
Without bothering to question the validity of the claims, Todd took the allegations of Russian hacking at face value, opening his interview with a loaded question: “Why haven’t we sent a message yet to Putin?”
After a moment of deafening silence in which it was possible to hear the gears grinding in Biden’s brain, the VP responded: “We’re sending a message. We have the capacity to do it and it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
When Todd asked if the public will know a message was sent, Biden replied, “Hope not.”
Now just try and square that. Biden tells Todd on national television that the United States will “send a message” to Russia that has the “greatest impact,” yet he hopes the American public will not connect the dots and discover whodunnit.
The inherent danger of NBC News posting this story and interview is obvious. First, as has been said a hundred times already, there is zero proof to connect Russia to the alleged hacks; and if the Obama administration is sitting on evidence it defies logic not to provide that to the public. Furthermore, should Russia be hit one day by a cyber-attack in the near or distant future, the obvious temptation will be to pin the blame on the United States, and regardless of the state of bilateral relations at that time. So in that respect, the Obama administration is doing future US and Russian administrations a terrible disservice by uttering such mindless threats that will hang over US-Russia relations for as long as our technological societies are dependent on computer systems, i.e. a very long time.
In fact, this is not the first time that the brilliant idea of talking up a cyber strike on Russia has happened. In August, the influential Atlantic Council released a paper calling for Poland to ‘reserve the right’ to attack Russian infrastructure, including Moscow’s public transport and RT’s offices, via electronic warfare. One of the authors of that diabolical piece is an adviser to BAE Systems, Europe’s largest company in the Defence Sector. Go figure.
So whether Joe Biden is simply uttering election-year rhetoric to sway voter opinion no longer matters to Russia. Unsubstantiated claims of Russian hacking is one thing, but when the second-ranking US official not only joins the blame game, but asserts that Russia will be on the receiving end of a cyber-attack, well, we’ve clearly entered an entirely new dimension – a parallel reality, if you like.
On Sunday, Vladimir Putin emphasized that US threats of cyber-attacks do not correspond to the norms of international relations.
“The only novelty is that for the first time, on the highest level, the United States has admitted involvement in these activities, and to some extent threatened [us] – which of course does not meet the standards of international communication,” the Russian leader said.
“Apparently, they are nervous,” he added.
“One can expect just about anything from our American friends. After all, what did he (Biden) say that we didn’t already know? Didn’t we know that US authorities are spying and eavesdropping on everyone?”
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks expressed reservations over the seriousness of a covert cyberwar on Russia.
“If the US ‘clandestine’ pending cyberwar on Russia was serious: 1) it would not have been announced 2) it would be the NSA [National Security Agency] and not the CIA,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter.
Aside from the leaked emails from WikiLeaks, which are tossing a monkey wrench into the Democrat’s election plans, there are many other issues affecting the cantankerous American campaign. Donald Trump, for example, has promised to severely scale back America’s military footprint around the world, as well as end military campaigns that are drying up US finances. This is the very last thing the elite and the powerful military-industrial complex want, and they are willing to do anything – including lying through their teeth about Russian hacking – to ensure that Clinton gets into the White House and maintain the status quo.
Regarding the claims of a possible cyber-attack on Russia, there are also grounds for taking this report with a generous handful of salt. First, Barack Obama is presiding over the remaining lame-duck days of his 8 years in office. And lately there have been disturbing signs of a mutiny of sorts inside his administration.
In June, for example, dozens of State Department diplomats, apparently upset with Russian military’s successes in Syria, signed an internal memo calling the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which sounds curiously like the position many predict Clinton will take should she reach the White House.
Since the NBC News report of an alleged plan to conduct a cyber-attack on Russia contained not a single named source, not to mention the futility of publicly declaring a “covert” operation, this may be nothing more than a case of the US mainstream media unilaterally poking the hornets nest, agitating Russia, while creating a perfect smokescreen to conceal the misconduct of their obvious favorite candidate – Wall Street-approved, Neocon-supported, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Within hours of the mass shooting in Orlando, the corporate media backing neoconservative favorite Hillary Clinton began, almost unanimously, to exploit the opportunity to passively promote holocaust and genocide denial.
Outlets including the NY Times, CBS News, NBC News, CNN, Newsweek, USA Today, and so on, all referred to the Orlando massacre unequivocally as the worst shooting and/or worst act of gun violence in US history. (CBS News, at the time it was accessed for this piece, was running a large “I’m With Her” ad for Hillary Clinton at the top of its page.) A useful comparison to the corporate assessment might be to imagine if a German civilian gassed a group of people to death and the German press reported it as the worst gassing in German history. After the Paris shooting, the Western press likewise reported that as the worst shooting in recent Parisian history, despite that the Parisian police not long ago massacred some 300 peaceful marchers protesting the French dictatorship in Algeria and dumped their bodies in the river that runs through the city (more info in previous piece).
Native News Online quickly pointed out that the corporate media was almost completely whitewashing “mass killings of American Indians in its reporting” on Orlando. It gave two well-known (as far as these go) examples of worse gun-violence and mass-shootings: some 300 Native men, women, and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee, and 70 to 180 were massacred at Sand Creek.
One commenter on the Native News piece shared that she “wrote to every single news outlet yesterday from the New York Times, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, and Salon to CNN, NBC, and the BBC. I have yet to receive a reply from any of them with the exception of the Oregonian, who changed its language immediately. They also informed me that the Associated Press has just begun to change its language. I’m hoping the Guardian and BBC begin to do the same too.”
Another commenter on the Native News piece gave a short list of some acts of gun-violence, mass-shootings, or mass killings perpetrated in US history, by US forces:
1864 – 300 Yana in California
1863 – 280 Shoshone in Idaho
1861 – 240 Wilakis in California
1860 – 250 Wiyot in California
1859 – 150 Yuki in California
1853 – 450 Tolowa in California
1852 – 150 Wintu in California
1851 – 300 Wintu in California
1850 – 100 Pomo in California
1840 – 140 Comanches in Colorado
1833 – 150 Kiowa in Oklahoma
1813 – 200 Creek in Alabama
1813 – 200 Creek in Alabama
1782 – 100 Lanape in Pennsylvania
1730 – 500 Fox in Illinois
1713 – 1000 Tuscarora in North Carolina
1712 – 1000 Fox in Michigan
1712 – 300 Tuscarora in North Carolina
1704 – 1000 Apalachee killed & 2000 sold into slavery in North Carolina
1676 – 100 Algonquian and Nipmuc in Massachusetts.
1676 – 100 Occaneechi in Virginia
1675 – 340 Narragansett in Rhode Island
1644 – 500 Lanape in New York
1640 – 129 Massapeag in New York
1637 – 700 Pequot in Connecticut
1623 – 200 Powhatan & Pamunkey in Virginia with “poison wine”
Professor David E. Stannard describes one such massacre, wherein US forces weakened a Delaware group of Native men, women, children, and elders through starvation, convinced them it would be in their best interest to disarm, then tied them up and exterminated them and mutilated their dead bodies. Stannard notes that such massacres by US forces “were so numerous and routine that recording them eventually becomes numbing”. (American Holocaust, pp. 125/6)
A couple of corporate news outlets used somewhat more precise language to describe the Orlando massacre, editorializing (while again presenting it as fact) that it was the ‘worst shooting in modern US history’.
However, this still leaves unstated the writer’s opinion of what constitutes ‘modern’. The wounded knee massacre took place in 1898, and the Black Wall Street massacre, for example, in which 55-400 people were murdered and a wealthy black community in Oklahoma ethnically cleansed, took place in 1921. (More examples.)
And, of course, the US has massacred millions of people, many of them with rifles and other types of guns, but also in far worse ways, outside the territory it officially claims, and continues to do so. Obama recently massacred almost a hundred people at one time with what could be viewed as an AR-15 on steroids. Is any of this part of ‘modern US history’? Why or why not? The qualifications are unstated and thus subjective. The vague language from the neoliberal, government-linked corporate outlets may lead readers to believe that all of US history is included in their ‘factual’ statements, and that the US has never massacred more than fifty people anywhere.
In some cases, this impression will have been intentional on the part of the oligarch mouthpiece outlets, which have an interest in fostering a benevolent image of the US to help elites further capture global markets . In others, it will have been a result of conveniently self-aggrandizing ignorance on behalf of the writers and editors – an ignorance that makes an important contribution to their job security.
As some of them partially or belatedly demonstrated, all of the corporate outlets could have easily avoided any holocaust/genocide-denial by calling the shooting the worst by a single civilian on US territory in at least the last thirty years, or any number of other obvious, simple, direct phrasings, which are supposed to be integral to journalism, anyway.
But as John Ralston Saul points out, the neoliberal/neoconservative ideology relies on the ‘whitewashing of memory’. That doesn’t always work, though, especially on survivors of US and Western genocides, which is why, as Ralston Saul further notes, the West and its proxies are behind most of the global murders of writers, who may try to expose facts and evidence that interfere with the West’s historical whitewashing.
Since the Orlando massacre, both Clinton and Trump have called for further escalation of Western aggression in the Middle East.
Robert Barsocchini is an internationally published author who focuses on force dynamics, national and global, and also writes professionally for the film industry. Updates on Twitter.
Law Enforcement Misrepresentation of Orlando Killer’s 911 Call Ignores U.S. Foreign Policy Motivation
In the aftermath of the horrific mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando over the weekend in which 50 people were killed, media including CNN, USA Today, NPR, NBC News, and CBS News, all reported that the gunman called 911 during his murderous rampage and pledged allegiance to ISIS. None of the journalists writing for any of these news outlets heard the call themselves; they all cite the FBI as their source.
The U.S. government has been engaged in a war against the self-professed Islamic State for the last two years. Their military intervention consists of a bombing campaign against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Hyping the threat members connected to the terror group – or spiritually loyal to it – pose to American citizens is supportive of U.S. foreign policy. If ISIS, or people claiming to act on behalf of ISIS, are a real danger to Americans, it bolsters the notion that the group is a threat to national security and helps justify the government’s military response.
The FBI seems eager to show itself as disrupting ISIS plots in the States. As Adam Johnson has written in FAIR, the FBI has put Americans in contact with informants who claim to represent ISIS and then led the targets to believe they would help the targets join the terrorist organization. The media have then conflated this with an “ISIS Plot” and “ISIS Support,” when no members of ISIS were ever involved in any way.
The FBI’s motivation to portray events in a way that supports U.S. foreign policy, and its history of portraying its actions in a way that has served to hype an ISIS threat should make journalists cautious about taking officials’ words at face value. Especially in the case of a 911 call, which is a public record in Florida, proper journalistic due diligence would be to consult the actual source of the claims being disseminated.
Instead, not a single journalist appears to have done this with Orlando killer Omar Mateen’s 911 call.
On Tuesday, CNN aired interviews of eyewitnesses to the shooting spree who described their harrowing encounters with the gunman inside the club. Patience Carter, who was inside a bathroom stall feet from the gunman when he called 911, said he told the dispatcher that “the reason why he was doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country.” (Mateen is a native of the United States, but he was presumably referring to Afghanistan, where both of his parents are from.) She said he then declared that “from now on he pledges his loyalty to ISIS.”
This demonstrates that his primary motive for his terror attack was retaliation for the U.S. aggression in Afghanistan, where nearly 100,000 people have been killed since the illegal U.S. invasion in 2001. His mention of ISIS seems merely adjunct to what he admits was his justification for the attack. His motivation precedes his ideological alignment with ISIS, not the other way around.
Anti-war activists have long argued that overseas military operations endanger not only the populations whose countries are invaded, occupied and bombed, but Americans in the United States who are at risk of terrorist retaliation from people outraged by the death and destruction war inevitably produces to the point of being willing to resort to violence themselves.
Carter’s version of the 911 call reveals a very different picture than the partial one revealed by the FBI and reprinted by each of the largest news organizations. The complete conversation depicts Mateen as indicating that he considered his actions a response to U.S. foreign policy. Of course, the murder of innocent civilians is always reprehensible and can never be justified by claiming they are a response to a state’s military aggression, regardless of how deadly and devastating such military operations are. But it should be predictable that some people will use this rationalization regardless and seek out soft targets in the country whose government they claim to be retaliating against.
The FBI chose to omit Mateen’s professed motive entirely when recounting the 911 call to the media, and merely state that he professed allegiance to ISIS. Perhaps they recognized how putting Mateen’s call in context may lead people to question whether U.S. wars in Afghanistan (and Iraq) raise the terrorist threat at home.
After all, this is not the first time this has happened. The surviving Boston Marathon bomber cited the U.S. wars abroad as his motivation for committing the attack that killed three people and maimed dozens more.
It is not clear whether any journalist even asked to hear the 911 call themselves. But it is clear that they chose to disseminate second-hand information when the primary source should have been easily accessible. If it was not made available (as required by law), the public deserves to know that it was suppressed and be given an explanation why.
Media stenographers parroted government officials’ descriptions of the call, which left out the killer’s professed motivation for his politically motivated attack and failed to put the ISIS claim in any context. Unsurprisingly, their misrepresentation served the government’s policy agenda and avoided having the incident serve as an example of a negative consequence of U.S. foreign policy – one that anti-war dissenters have used in arguing against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since the War on Terror was launched more than a decade and a half ago.
If you were concerned that the Syria WMD stories didn’t already feel enough like the Iraq WMD reports, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius had one just for you (12/19/12). Ignatius reports that according to a Syrian defector, the Assad government’s chemical weapons are indeed on the move. Ignatius tells readers that, according to his source,
technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that appeared, from the outside, to be similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.
The defector estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed. An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs.
Now it’s not that Ignatius doesn’t know that this story sounds, well, familiar. He places that giant caveat right near the beginning of his piece:
For some historical context, readers should recall the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who made allegations about Iraqi chemical weapons a decade ago that bolstered the case for war–but turned out to be fabrications.
So there’s reason to be skeptical. But evidently not too skeptical. Ignatius goes on:
Seeking corroboration for the Syrian report, I checked it with knowledgeable, independent sources, who confirmed some of the details. With that support, I want to share it with readers.
Ignatius has confidence in at least some of this story, as evinced by his lead:
Reports from inside two Syrian chemical weapons facilities offer chilling new evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime developed special vehicles last year for moving and mixing the weapons–and an unconfirmed allegation that Lebanese allies of the regime, presumably in Hezbollah, may have been trained 11 months ago in the weapons’ use.
What he’s saying, in other words, is that the mobile labs exist; the more frightening allegation–that the labs might be headed to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah–is “unconfirmed.” How solid is the sourcing? He writes:
A Syrian source provided a detailed account in a telephone conversation over the weekend, drawing on intelligence provided to him by a Syrian defector who worked inside the chemical weapons network.
So we have what would appear to be a secondhand account, delivered by phone, thanks to arrangements made by a Syrian opposition group. And how do we know the weapons were headed for Hezbollah? Ignatius tells us that his source says, “The officers placed the chemicals in a civilian vehicle and were seen driving across a bridge in the direction of the highway toward Lebanon.”
What does all of this mean? That’s impossible to say–though the idea that mobile chemical weapons labs were put together last year, after the revolt started, in order to coordinate transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah is, on its face, a little far-fetched.
Ignatius gives the Iraq stories all but one paragraph, but it’s important to recall more of the journalism from that period. As Seth Ackerman wrote in Extra! (7-8/03), one of the most embarrassing–and largely forgotten–episodes of the Iraq War came when NBC breathlessly reported the discovery of Iraq’s feared mobile bio-weapons labs:
On May 12, NBC News correspondent Jim Avila, reporting from Baghdad, declared that the labs “may be the most significant WMD findings of the war.” Joining him was hawkish former U.N. nuclear inspector David Kay (now an “NBC News analyst”), who was flown to Iraq to perform an impromptu inspection for the cameras. Armed with a pointer, he rattled off the trailer ‘s parts: “This is a compressor. You want to keep the fermentation process under pressure so it goes faster. This vessel is the fermenter….”
Kay’s explanation–”think of it as sort of the chicken soup for biological weapons. You mixed it with the seed stock, which came from this gravity flow tank up here into the fermenter. And under pressure with heat, it fermented”–was convincing enough for television news. Kay stated: “Literally, there’s nothing else you would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.”
Well, except for one problem: What they found was actually equipment to make hydrogen for weather balloons. But what they were looking for was what defectors told various officials they would find–and part of what Colin Powell told the world about Iraq’s WMD program on February 5, 2003. The old saying that when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail comes to mind.
Is “intelligence” on Syria any better? It’s unclear why we should think so. But for columnists like Ignatius, what someone told him on the phone based on what someone else may have seen is apparently good enough. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. As Ignatius once explained (Washington Post, 4/25/03):
Personally, I don’t much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein’s regime was still right.
Does he care this time whether or not the WMD stories he’s reporting as fact are imaginary or not? Or would toppling Assad’s regime be right no matter what?
- Obama’s War on Syria and its Implications (alethonews.wordpress.com)