The Washington Post has this dramatic headline: Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the ocean with potentially dire consequences.
A new paper has been published that has the media talking about The Day After Tomorrow [link]. What is this new paper?
Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation
Stefan Rahmstorf, Jason E. Box, Georg Feulner, Michael E. Mann, Alexander Robinson, Scott Rutherford & Erik J. Schaffernicht
Abstract. Possible changes in Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) provide a key source of uncertainty regarding future climate change. Maps of temperature trends over the twentieth century show a conspicuous region of cooling in the northern Atlantic. Here we present multiple lines of evidence suggesting that this cooling may be due to a reduction in the AMOC over the twentieth century and particularly after 1970. Since 1990 the AMOC seems to have partly recovered. This time evolution is consistently suggested by an AMOC index based on sea surface temperatures, by the hemispheric temperature difference, by coral-based proxies and by oceanic measurements. We discuss a possible contribution of the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the slowdown. Using a multi-proxy temperature reconstruction for the AMOC index suggests that the AMOC weakness after 1975 is an unprecedented event in the past millennium (p > 0.99). Further melting of Greenland in the coming decades could contribute to further weakening of the AMOC.
Stefan Rahmstorf has a post at RealClimate Whats going on in the North Atlantic? Excerpt:
The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is practically the only region of the world that has defied global warming and even cooled. Last winter there even was the coldest on record – while globally it was the hottest on record. Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al. 2015) attributes this to a weakening of the Gulf Stream System, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years.
Climate models have long predicted such a slowdown – both the current 5th and the previous 4th IPCC report call a slowdown in this century “very likely”, which means at least 90% probability. When emissions continue unabated (RCP8.5 scenario), the IPCC expects 12% to 54% decline by 2100. But the actual past evolution of the flow is difficult to reconstruct owing to the scarcity of direct measurements.
What is new is that we have used proxy reconstructions of large-scale surface temperature (Mann et al, 2009) previously published by one of us that extend back to 900 AD to estimate the circulation (AMOC) intensity over the entire last 1100 years. This shows that despite the substantial uncertainties in the proxy reconstruction, the weakness of the flow after 1975 is unique in more than a thousand years, with at least 99 per cent probability. This strongly suggests that the weak overturning is not due to natural variability but rather a result of global warming.
Well, if there is anything I distrust more than climate model simulations of decadal to millennial scale ocean circulations and internal variability, it is Mannian proxy analysis of same. It seems like strip bark bristlecones and Tiljander sediments can tell us about Gulf Stream flow rates, as well as global temperatures. Remarkable.
So what do the actual ocean observations have to say? Anthony Watts has an extensive critique of the paper, pointing to a 2014 paper by oceanographer Thomas Rossby: On the long-term stability of Gulf Stream transport based on 20 years of direct measurements. The title pretty much speaks for itself, but Rossby had this to say in an interview:
“The ADCP measures currents at very high accuracy, and so through the repeat measurements we take year after year, we have a very powerful tool by which to monitor the strength of the current,” said Rossby. “There are variations of the current over time that are natural — and yes, we need to understand these better — but we find absolutely no evidence that suggests that the Gulf Stream is slowing down.”
In 2010, NASA issued a press release NASA Study Finds Atlantic Conveyor Belt Not Slowing, citing a paper published by Josh Willis of JPL using measurements from ocean-observing satellites and profiling floats. Punchline:
For now, however, there are no signs of a slowdown in the circulation. “The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,” said Willis. “The slight increase in overturning since 1993 coincides with a decades-long natural pattern of Atlantic heating and cooling.”
Pierre Gosselin cites additional critiques from German scientists. Notably:
Climate scientist Martin Visbeck of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel sees Rahmstorf’s assertion of the results critically: ‘The study’s focus on the sub-polar part of the Atlantic and the spectral analysis are interesting,’ he says. But there are other AMOC assessments that point to a completely other development. The paper does not offer any strong indication of the development of the AMOC during the past fifty years.”
So, who you gonna believe? Climate models and Mannian proxies, or direct and satellite observations of ocean circulation?
Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation
What is going on the high latitudes of the North Atlantic can’t be understood without the context of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. If you are unfamiliar with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), see this summary. For reference, the AMO figures prominently in the stadium wave. While the method to define the AMO is still debated, here I show the canonical analyses from NOAA.
The monthly values of the AMO are shown below.
A blow up of the more recent data (through Dec 2014) is shown below:
While the AMO index shows substantial variability, there are multi-decadal periods when the index is predominantly positive (warm) and negative (cool). To the extend that past behavior is any guide to the future, the current warm phase is expected to transition to the cool phase sometime in the 2020’s. While the the 1995 transition was sharp, the transition to the next cool phase might be sharp, or it might ‘flicker’ for a few years or even a decade. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
There is some evidence that the warm phase of the AMO has peaked circa 2007, see the upper ocean heat content data shown below.
What we are seeing in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic is natural variability, predominantly associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Based upon observational analyses, there is no sign of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
Now, I am very interested in the AMO, since it strongly influences Atlantic hurricanes, Arctic sea ice, and Greenland climate. We are already seeing a recovery of the Atlantic sector of the Arctic sea ice, and some hints of cooling in Greenland.
With regards to Atlantic hurricanes, Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach are looking at a new definition of the AMO that they feel relates better to Atlantic hurricane activity [link], and they are seeing a transition to negative values.
And finally, the AMO does not act in isolation (e.g. the stadium wave); there are very interesting things going on in the Pacific also – perhaps a topic for a future post.
The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not exactly known for truthfulness, U.S. neocons have been trying to reassure the American people that sinking a negotiated deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program would be a painless proposition, but at least one prominent neocon, Joshua Muravchik, acknowledges that the alternative will be war – and he likes the idea.
On Sunday, the neocon Washington Post allowed Muravchik to use its opinion section to advocate for an aggressive war against Iran – essentially a perpetual U.S. bombing campaign against the country – despite the fact that aggressive war is a violation of international law, condemned by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime.”
Given that the Post is very restrictive in the op-ed pieces that it prints, it is revealing that advocacy for an unprovoked bombing campaign against Iran is considered within the realm of acceptable opinion. But the truth is that the only difference between Muravchik’s view and the Post’s own editorial stance is that Muravchik lays out the almost certain consequences of sabotaging a diplomatic solution.
In his article headlined “War is the only way to stop Iran” in print editions and “War with Iran is probably our best option” online, Muravchik lets the bloody-thirsty neocon cat out of the bag as he agrees with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hysterical view of Iran but recognizes that killing international negotiations on limiting Iran’s nuclear program would leave open only one realistic option:
“What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. … Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations, but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons. Nor would the stiffer sanctions that Netanyahu advocates bring a different result. …
“Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does. … Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.”
Typical of the neocons, Muravchik foresees no problem with his endless bombing war against Iran, including the possibility that Iran, which Western intelligence agencies agree is not working on a bomb, might reverse its course if it faced repeated bombing assaults from the United States.
This neocon-advocated violation of international law also might further undermine hopes of curbing violence in the Middle East and establishing some form of meaningful order there and elsewhere. This neocon view that America can do whatever it wants to whomever it wants might actually push the rest of the world into a coalition against U.S. bullying that could provoke an existential escalation of violence with nuclear weapons coming into play.
Never Seeing Reality
Of course, neocons never foresee problems as they draw up these war plans at their think tanks and discuss them on their op-ed pages. Muravchik, by the way, is a fellow at the neocon-dominated School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and the Washington Post’s editorial page is run by neocons Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl.
But, as U.S. officialdom and the American people should have learned from the Iraq War, neocon schemes often don’t play out quite as well in the real world – not that the neocons seem to care about the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or the nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers who died fighting in the neocons’ Iraq debacle.
For the neocons, their true guiding star is to enlist the U.S. military as the enforcers of Netanyahu’s strategic vision. If Netanyahu says that Iran – not al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – is the more serious threat then the neocons line up behind that agenda, which also happens to dovetail with the interests of Israel’s new ally, Saudi Arabia.
So, Americans hear lots of scary stories about Iran “gobbling up” its neighbors – as Netanyahu described in his lecture to a joint session of the U.S. Congress this month – even though Iran has not invaded any country for centuries and, indeed, was the target of a Saudi-backed invasion by Iraq in 1980.
Not only did Netanyahu’s wildly exaggerate the danger from Iran but he ignored the fact that Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria has come at the invitation of those governments to help fight the terrorists of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Congress Cheers Netanyahu’s Hatred of Iran.”]
In other words, Iran is on the same side of those conflicts against Sunni terrorists as the United States is. But what we’re seeing now from Israel and the neocons is a determined effort to shift U.S. focus away from combating Sunni terrorists — some backed by Saudi Arabia — and toward essentially taking their side against Iran, Iraq and Syria.
That’s why the neocons are downplaying the atrocities of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – or for that matter the chopping off of heads by Israel’s Saudi friends – while hyping every complaint they can about Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism.”]
Muravchik favors this reversal of priorities and doesn’t seem to care that a U.S. bombing campaign against Iran would have a destructive impact on Iran’s ability to blunt the advances of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. The neocons also have been hot for bombing Syria’s military, which along with Iran represents the greatest bulwark against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
The neocons and Netanyahu seem quite complacent about the prospect of the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front hoisting their black flags over Damascus or even Baghdad. Yet, such a move would almost surely force the U.S. president – whether Barack Obama or his successor – to return to a ground war in the Middle East at enormous cost to the American people.
The obvious alternative to this truly frightening scenario is to complete the international negotiations requiring Iran to accept intrusive inspections to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful – and then work with Iran on areas of mutual interests, such as rolling back the advances of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria.
This more rational approach holds out the prospect of achieving some stability in Iraq and – if accompanied by realistic negotiations between Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his political opponents – reducing the bloodletting in Syria if not ending it.
That pragmatic solution could well be the best result both for the people of the region and for U.S. national interests. But none of that would please Netanyahu and the neocons.
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).
Venezuelans are worried because US President Barack Obama declared a “national emergency” that called Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
But there’s no need for them to get upset, the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Karen DeYoung (3/11/15) reassure. The Obama administration explained that it just wanted to impose sanctions on some of Venezuela’s top officials because “it wanted to send a strong message in defense of human rights and democracy”:
The “emergency” declaration and labeling of Venezuela as a “security threat” are legal formalities used in many other instances when sanctions are applied, administration officials said. The language does not represent a more severe assessment of the Maduro government, they said.
Ah–the administration is just pretending there’s an “unusual and extraordinary threat” because it wants to invoke powers that it’s only legally allowed to use in an actual emergency. No biggie. Thanks for clearing that up, Washington Post !
Unfortunately, Venezuelans don’t have Washington-savvy publications like the Post to set them straight. Or, as Miroff and DeYoung put it:
Such nuances stood little chance in the meat grinder of Venezuela’s rough political culture, where state-financed and pro-government broadcasters dominate the airwaves.
Hmm–so we should be wary of “state-financed and pro-government” media outlets, huh?
The Washington Post, as it happens, is owned by Jeff Bezos, the 15th richest person in the world, who derives his fortune from his position as the main owner of Amazon.com, with an 18 percent share of the company.
You probably know Amazon as an online bookseller; less famously, they’re also in the online data storage business, and one of their top clients is the US intelligence community, which paid Amazon Web Services $600 million for a “cloud” to store and process information for the CIA, NSA and other US spy agencies. As the Atlantic (7/17/14) noted at the time, this is far from Amazon’s only government contract; other agencies they store data for include NASA, the FDA, the CDC and HealthCare.gov.
Amazon “is rapidly becoming the leading supplier of cloud services to the federal government,” the trade publication EnterpriseTech (8/22/14) reported. When the Defense Department looked to spend $10 billion on cloud services, Amazon didn’t bid directly for the contract–but it will partner with five of the 10 companies who won pieces of the contract, allowing it to get more than the $1 billion each direct contractor is limited to (FCW, 8/28/13).
Is this serious money for Bezos? Well, he paid $250 million for the entire Washington Post in 2013, so it’s more than walking-around money. Suffice it to say that it’s very unlikely any Venezuelan broadcaster gets as much state funding as the Bezos empire.
As for “pro-government”–the Post may be more or less friendly to any particular administration, but it’s never going to lose its allegiance to the DC’s permanent government. As Keane Bhatt (Extra!, 3/14) pointed out, it’s the Post’s proximity to Washington’s imperial power that makes it more than just another mid-size daily like the Denver Post.
And part of the job of being Washington’s official court paper, apparently, is explaining to the inhabitants of lesser nations that they shouldn’t take it personally when the US labels them “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”
An early skill learned by Official Washington’s neoconservatives, when they were cutting their teeth inside the U.S. government in the 1980s, was how to frame their arguments in the most propagandistic way, so anyone who dared to disagree with any aspect of the presentation seemed unpatriotic or crazy.
During my years at The Associated Press and Newsweek, I dealt with a number of now prominent neocons who were just starting out and mastering these techniques at the knee of top CIA psychological warfare specialist Walter Raymond Jr., who had been transferred to President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff where Raymond oversaw inter-agency task forces that pushed Reagan’s hard-line agenda in Central America and elsewhere. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of ‘Perception Management.’”]
One of those quick learners was Robert Kagan, who was then a protégé of Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams. Kagan got his first big chance when he became director of the State Department’s public diplomacy office for Latin America, a key outlet for Raymond’s propaganda schemes.
Though always personable in his dealings with me, Kagan grew frustrated when I wouldn’t swallow the propaganda that I was being fed. At one point, Kagan warned me that I might have to be “controversialized,” i.e. targeted for public attack by Reagan’s right-wing media allies and anti-journalism attack groups, like Accuracy in Media, a process that did indeed occur.
Years later, Kagan emerged as one of America’s top neocons, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, which opened in 1998 to advocate for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, ultimately gaining the backing of a large swath of the U.S. national security establishment in support of that bloody endeavor.
Despite the Iraq disaster, Kagan continued to rise in influence, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist at the Washington Post, and someone whose published criticism so alarmed President Barack Obama last year that he invited Kagan to a White House lunch. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy Weakness.”]
Kagan’s Wife’s Coup
But Kagan is perhaps best known these days as the husband of neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former advisers and a key architect of last year’s coup in Ukraine, a “regime change” that toppled an elected president and touched off a civil war, which now has become a proxy fight involving nuclear-armed United States and Russia.
In an interview last year with the New York Times, Nuland indicated that she shared her husband’s criticism of President Obama for his hesitancy to use American power more assertively. Referring to Kagan’s public attacks on Obama’s more restrained “realist” foreign policy, Nuland said, “suffice to say … that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”
But Nuland also seems to have mastered her husband’s skill with propaganda, presenting an extreme version of the situation in Ukraine, such that no one would dare quibble with the details. In prepared testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Nuland even slipped in an accusation blaming Russia for the July 17 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 though the U.S. government has not presented any proof.
Nuland testified, “In eastern Ukraine, Russia and its separatist puppets unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage; MH-17 was shot down.”
Now, it’s true that if one parses Nuland’s testimony, she’s not exactly saying the Russians or the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down the plane. There is a semi-colon between the “unspeakable violence and pillage” and the passive verb structure “MH-17 was shot down.” But anyone seeing her testimony would have understood that the Russians and their “puppets” shot down the plane, killing all 298 people onboard.
When I submitted a formal query to the State Department asking if Nuland’s testimony meant that the U.S. government had developed new evidence that the rebels shot down the plane and that the Russians shared complicity, I received no answer.
Perhaps significantly or perhaps not, Nuland presented similarly phrased testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday but made no reference to MH-17. So, I submitted a new inquiry asking whether the omission reflected second thoughts by Nuland about making the claim before the House. Again, I have not received a reply.
However, both of Nuland’s appearances place all the blame for the chaos in Ukraine on Russia, including the 6,000 or more deaths. Nuland offered not a single word of self-criticism about how she contributed to these violent events by encouraging last year’s coup, nor did she express the slightest concern about the actions of the coup regime in Kiev, including its dispatch of neo-Nazi militias to carry out “anti-terrorist” and “death squad” operations against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Nuclear War and Clashing Ukraine Narratives.”]
Everything was Russia’s fault – or as Nuland phrased it: “This manufactured conflict — controlled by the Kremlin; fueled by Russian tanks and heavy weapons; financed at Russian taxpayers’ expense — has cost the lives of more than 6,000 Ukrainians, but also of hundreds of young Russians sent to fight and die there by the Kremlin, in a war their government denies.”
Nuland was doing her husband proud. As every good propagandist knows, you don’t present events with any gray areas; your side is always perfect and the other side is the epitome of evil. And, today, Nuland faces almost no risk that some mainstream journalist will dare contradict this black-and-white storyline; they simply parrot it.
Besides heaping all the blame on the Russians, Nuland cited – in her Senate testimony – some of the new “reforms” that the Kiev authorities have just implemented as they build a “free-market state.” She said, “They made tough choices to reduce and cap pension benefits, increase work requirements and phase in a higher retirement age; … they passed laws cutting wasteful gas subsidies.”
In other words, many of the “free-market reforms” are aimed at making the hard lives of average Ukrainians even harder – by cutting pensions, removing work protections, forcing people to work into their old age and making them pay more for heat during the winter.
Nuland also hailed some of the regime’s stated commitments to fighting corruption. But Kiev seems to have simply installed a new cast of bureaucrats looking to enrich themselves. For instance, Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is an expatriate American who – before becoming an instant Ukrainian citizen last December – ran a U.S. taxpayer-financed investment fund for Ukraine that was drained of money as she engaged in lucrative insider deals, which she has fought to keep secret. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Finance Minister’s American ‘Values.’”]
Yet, none of these concerns were mentioned in Nuland’s propagandistic testimony to the House and Senate – not that any of the committee members or the mainstream press corps seemed to care that they were being spun and even misled. The hearings were mostly opportunities for members of Congress to engage in chest-beating as they demanded that President Obama send U.S. arms to Ukraine for a hot war with Russia.
Regarding the MH-17 disaster, one reason that I was inquisitive about Nuland’s insinuation in her House testimony that the Russians and the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible was that some U.S. intelligence analysts have reached a contrary conclusion, according to a source briefed on their findings. According to that information, the analysts found no proof that the Russians had delivered a BUK anti-aircraft system to the rebels and concluded that the attack was apparently carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military.
After I published that account last summer, the Obama administration went silent about the MH-17 shoot-down, letting stand some initial speculation that had blamed the Russians and the rebels. In the nearly eight months since the tragedy, the U.S. government has failed to make public any intelligence information on the crash. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of an MH-17 ‘Cold Case.’”]
So, Nuland may have been a bit duplicitous when she phrased her testimony so that anyone hearing it would jump to the conclusion that the Russians and the rebels were to blame. It’s true she didn’t exactly say so but she surely knew what impression she was leaving.
In that, Nuland appears to have taken a page from the playbook of her husband’s old mentor, Elliott Abrams, who provided misleading testimony to Congress on the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s – and even though he was convicted of that offense, Abrams was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush and thus was able to return to government last decade to oversee the selling of the Iraq War.
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).
There is only one reason that Netanyahu is received as a Viceroy overseeing and dictating strategic policy to what clearly is a servile colonial legislature
There have been times when history has played tricks with man and… has magnified the features of essentially small persons into a parody of greatness.
— Rabindranath Tagore (on Benito Mussolini)
How is it that the ruler (Benjamin Netanyahu) of a puny country (Israel) of 8.2 million (6.2 million Jews) with the 37th biggest economy (GDP in current prices) in the world dictates war policy and secures the willing submission of the legislature of the largest economy and most powerful military empire in the world?
What significance does Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress have, beyond the fact that he uses it as a platform to attack the elected President of the US, to denounce US peace negotiations, and to demand that Congress adopt policies designed to precipitate a war with Iran?
Netanyahu’s Dominant Presence in the US
There is only one reason that Netanyahu is received as a Viceroy overseeing and dictating strategic policy to what clearly is a servile colonial legislature: over the past quarter of a century, Israel’s proxy in the US, an entire panoply of Zionist political organizations, government officials, propaganda mills, media moguls, billionaires and millionaires, have deeply penetrated the legislature, executive and administrative centers of decision making. Netanyahu’s arrogance and “brazen” presumption (Financial Times, 3/4/15, p. 6) to dictate policy to the US Congress is rooted in the pre-existing power base created by the proxy Zionist power configuration.
Netanyahu can sneer, with a crooked smile, at the US President, because, after several decades of Zionist permeation of the US state, he knows that he comes not as an outside power but as a leader and spokesperson of an inside power.
His presence was hailed by all the mass media as a major event, as international news, for over a month in advance. With Napoleonic presumption he dared to announce in advance that he would advance a war thesis in the fashion of any head of state. He can act as an unelected dictator because the elected officials have been converted into docile and complicit subjects by his proxy power structure.
The crucial theoretical point is that the conditions, that enabled Netanyahu to come, to see and to conquer, were not of his doing. His presence in the US Congress and his message is derived from the power of his supporters, deeply embedded in the structure of political power in the US.
Otherwise, who would take serious his delusional military fantasies, his clinically paranoid vision of peaceful adversaries, conspiring to “nuke Israel” and then the world, without a single nuclear bomb!
Prominent among Netanyahu’s financial backers are a group of prominent Zionist lumpen-bourgeoisie, billionaires who lent to millions of borrowers at extortionate rates (between 1400 and 4000% ) and played a leading role in the fraudulent mortgage induced crises of 2009-forward. They include Al Goldstein co-founder of AvantCredit and CashNetUSA; Sasha Orloff and Jacob Rosenberg founders of Lendup; Daniel Gilbert founder of QuickenLoans — a predator subprime lender; Ronald Arnall owner of Ameriquest… They used part of their ill-gotten gains to ease their consciences by donating millions to Israeli and US Jewish causes. Being generous to Israel provides a sort of perverse “absolution” for screwing millions of Americans.
One does not need much imagination to envision them cheering Netanyahu’s AIPAC and Congressional diatribes. It is not surprising that the lumpen-bourgeoisie backs a lumpen-prime minister.
The best and the brightest among the Zionist phalanx of pundits, professors, lawyers, economists, and financiers have created an aura of gravitas and profundity around this vulgar beerhall brawler.
This raises a basic question: Why do upwardly mobile, prosperous and elite-educated Zionist majorities enthusiastically pledge unconditional loyalty to a crude authoritarian foreign ruler who humiliates their country of birth?
Why did ten thousand American-born Zionist professionals stand and cheer, as they did the day before his congressional speech, as Netanyahu dictated his rabid bellicose political line to them at the AIPAC conference?
Is it because they believe he is their Chosen Leader of their Chosen Fatherland?
Netanyahu, with all his vulgarity and mediocrity, strikes a deep and abiding chord in the soul of his Zionist followers. They believe they are the collective geniuses of a superior species, who need not abide by the legal norms of non-Zionist states and international laws which hinder his colonial rule over millions of Palestinians.
What else but that identity of superiority allows the educated and prosperous, the humane and the cruel, to bond and welcome Netanyahu, as a modern secular Moses crossing the Potomac, delivering “the Jews” (for the messianic Netanyahu claims to speak for “all Jews”) from the mortal threats (Iran) cultivated by gentile politicians. The great majority of Zionist activists are deaf, dumb, and blind to those who criticize and refute his infantile and grotesque lies, the scrofulous screeds about non-existing “existential threats” which infest his speeches. Worse they will terrorize and cow any critic, demand that their employers fire them, as they have done over the past two decades. They believe that the Palestinians, who Israel bombed into the Stone Age, are threats to Israel. They believe that nuclear weapon-less Iranians, facing hundreds of Israeli nuclear bombs, are a threat to Israel. They believe there is one “truth”: that all measures, speeches and actions, which enhance the power and glory of Israel, are virtuous. It is this “truth” that motivates hundreds of thousands of “virtuous” Zionists to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to buy and/or intimidate presidents and congresspeople, governors and mayors, university presidents and faculty, police informers and academic thugs. It is this Zionist power configuration, which allows a political low-life like Netanyahu to enter and dominate the legislative chamber and tell US citizens where and when their next war should take place. It is for this power configuration that Congressmen and women “perform” — applauding and jumping up on cue for each and every one of Netanyahu’s emotional ejaculations.
Broad sectors of the Israeli public were immensely impressed by Netanyahu’s capacity to humiliate the President, by his willingness to dictate policy to the US and by the hyperkinetic docility and submissiveness of US Congress people. But this is not surprising: After all, Israelis are used to dominating Palestinians and torturing them into submission and colonizing a whole people. Why shouldn’t they gloat and puff up with pride when Netanyahu speaks and acts as a colonial viceroy to the US? After all, their leader is dominating a so-called ‘world power’!
No doubt the Israeli empire loyalists will overwhelmingly vote for Netanyahu, even if the “opposition” claims they also denounce the US-Iranian peace negotiations. Opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni don’t have Netanyahu’s gangster look, that crooked smile that says to the US leaders: “We lead you by the nose and you love it!” What the rest of the world thinks of a braying donkey in Washington led by the nose is not hard to imagine: US world leadership certainly is not foremost in their minds…
There is much idle chatter from liberals, leftists and progressives, claiming that Netanyahu’s ‘brazen intervention’ would backfire; that it would damage relations with the US; that it would weaken and undermine US-Israeli relations and allow Iran to secure nuclear weapons. Liberal Zionists claim that Netanyahu’s speech would weaken support for Israel among Democratic congress people. Liberal Zionists claim that Netanyahu’s speech would weaken US support for Israel (God forbid!).
These lamentations have no substance; they are mendacious concoctions of minds which lack any capacity to understand power, especially the permanent power of the Zionist power configuration.
Even a cursory reading of the political facts which preceded, accompanied and followed Netanyahu’s Congressional dictates, demonstrates the exact opposite.
Immediately after Netanyahu’s intervention, Congressional leaders moved ahead to fast track legislation to heighten Iranian sanctions, to veto any Executive agreement. The Republication majority and over half of the Democrats chose to back the “foreign Viceroy” on policies of war and peace.
Far from “prejudicing” relations with the Obama regime, the Administration in the person of Secretary of State John Kerry vetoed a measure passed by the UN Human Right Commission condemning Israel’s savage war crimes against Palestinians. Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power did her usual belly crawl for Israel at the AIPAC conference following Netanyahu’s rousing diatribe. US-Iranian “negotiations” in Switzerland increasingly turned on exactly the issues Netanyahu demanded. US Secretary of State Kerry insisted on on-going intrusive inspections of Iran’s entire nuclear and military installations; retaining most sanctions for a decade; eliminating most enriched uranium … In a word disarming Iran, increasing its military vulnerability to an Israeli nuclear attack, without any deterrence or retaliatory capacity! Iran is formally negotiating with Kerry on behalf of the 5 plus 1, but the agenda and demands are set by the raucous over-voice of Netanyahu, who is the most influential invisible presence.
In other words, there is ample evidence that Netanyahu’s intervention, far from ‘damaging’ US-Israeli relations, further reinforced Israel’s power over the US. By securing the Administration’s declarations of unconditional loyalty while humiliating the President and seizing executive prerogatives, Israel demonstrates to the world that it can and will dictate US strategic policy and denounce its President with total impunity.
Netanyahu is far from being ostracized. He has a global platform from which to spew his rabid chauvinist diatribes against peace and negotiations. His speech, its content and style, received front page and extended prime time coverage. His war-mongering resonated with the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and US News and World Report.
Netanyahu’s political line inspired AIPAC’s ten thousand ultra-Zionists, who stormed Capital Hall and demanded Congress people and Congressional staff act on His message. Not a single dissenting voice emanated from the Presidents of the 52 Major American (sic) Jewish organizations whose first loyalty continued to be toward Israeli interests as defined by their Prime Minister.
The voices of dissent among the few dozen Jews on Capitol Hill, and outside the AIPAC conference hall, did not register in Congress or among the vast majority of Jewish community leaders or in the mass media.
Contrary to the lamentations and claims that Netanyahu has “weakened” Israel, the facts on the ground demonstrate that he has strengthened his “leadership” among the billionaires who buy US Congressional leaders. He has demonstrated that US officials, even ones who he insults and attacks, will continue to support Israeli war crimes in international forums; regale Israel with $3 billion a year in military aid to enhance its military supremacy in the Middle East; and incorporate its demands in any strategic negotiations with ‘Islamic’ countries like Iran, even if it undermines the basis of any negotiated agreement.
Clearly Netanyahu alienated a minority of US Congressional Democrats but mostly on procedural issues of protocol rather than on the more substantive issues of mongering for war and sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu’s messianic claim to speak for “all Jews” did arouse over 2,000 American Jews and non-Jews to sign a paid advertisement denying his status as the Second Coming of Moses.
But as the rousing welcome and conclusion to his speech by the Congressional majority and the unanimity of AIPAC’s thousands demonstrate, Israel’s formidable Zionist power configuration still dominates US policy in the Middle East.
The ‘debate’ over Netanyahu’s episodic presence in the US Congress and humiliation of the US President is misplaced. What really needs to be debated is the more fundamental question of the permanent presence, power and prerogatives of the Zionist power configuration in the making of US Middle East policy.
No other visiting Prime Minister or President will be received with so much media attention and political fanfare as Netanyahu because none possess the formidable, organized, well-financed and disciplined political apparatus which Israel possess. This is an apparatus which defends and promotes US wars on behalf of Israel, Israel’s war crimes, land seizures and torture of Palestinians. That they support Netanyahu’s gross humiliation of Obama is not surprising – it merely confirms the “Law of the Return”: that for American Zionists there is only one true state of the Jews – and that is Israel; and that their only “true” leaders are Israelis. As it happens, today he is called Benjamin Netanyahu. And that any US policy, negotiations or agreements in the Middle East have to be in accord with their leader.
Congress knows that.
The “52” know that.
Only the majority of the American electorate, who still believe they live in a free and independent country, is not privy to that reality, even though Netanyahu’s intervention in the US Congress and gross humiliation of the President should tell them otherwise.
But then we live in a peculiar sui generis ‘meritocracy’ in which the opinions of the 2%, the so-called chosen people, counts more than that of 98% of our citizens.
The critics, Jews and non-Jews, must realize that their problem with Netanyahu requires them to delve deeper, and that their opposition needs to become more systematic and more directly confrontational with the Zionist power configuration. Otherwise, there is no basis for believing that the US can end national humiliations and regain its status as a free and democratic republic.
Reading the lead stories on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress about Iran in five prominent US papers–the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today (all 3/3/15)–what was most striking was what was left out of these articles.
None of them mentioned, for example, that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Surely this is relevant when a foreign leader says that it needs the United States’ help to stop a rival state from obtaining nuclear weapons: The omission of the obvious phrase “of its own” changes the story entirely.
Another thing largely left out of the story is the fact that Iran has consistently maintained that it has no interest in building a nuclear weapon. There was one direct statement of this in the five stories–the New York Times‘ reference to “Iran’s nuclear program, which [Iranian] officials have insisted is only for civilian uses.” The Washington Post alluded to the fact that Iran denies that it has a nuclear weapons program, referring to “a program the West has long suspected is aimed at building weapons,” Iran’s “stated nuclear energy goals” and “the suspect Iranian program.” Elsewhere the military nature of Iran’s nuclear research was taken for granted, as when the LA Times said that the issue under discussion was “how to deal with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Entirely absent from these articles was the fact that not only does Iran deny wanting to make a nuclear bomb, the intelligence agencies of the United States (New York Times, 2/24/12) and Israel (Guardian, 2/23/15) also doubt that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. Surely this is relevant to a report on the Israeli prime minister engaging in a public debate with the US president on how best to stop this quite possibly nonexistent program.
Instead, these articles generally seemed content to cover the subject as a debate between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, perhaps with some congressmembers thrown in–as if these were the “both sides” that needed to be covered in order to give a complete picture of the controversy. When Iranian officials were quoted for a few lines in these pieces–which some neglected to do altogether–it seemed an afterthought, despite the fact that Netanyahu’s speech was mainly a long litany of allegations and threats against their country.
(Though I’m confining my analysis to what seemed to be the most prominent and comprehensive article on the speech on each paper’s website, it’s worth mentioning that the New York Times‘ website featured a piece by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo, rebutting Netanyahu’s speech. Reading it one is struck by how different the news pieces would read if Iran’s perspective on Iran’s nuclear program were given equal weight with Israel’s and the US’s views.)
None of these news articles mentioned the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by both the United States and Iran but not by Israel, which guarantees “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
The New York Times’ caption quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “This regime will always be an enemy of America.” That regime got 36 words of rebuttal in the nearly 1,500-word article.
One article–the New York Times’–had a reference to Netanyahu’s decades-long record of making false nuclear predictions about Israel’s enemies. And even that was framed in partisan terms: Netanyahu “did not succeed in mollifying all Democrats, who recalled a history of what they deemed doomsday messages by him.” A reporter, of course, could look up Netayahu’s previous projections to see if they came true or not–as Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept (3/2/15) did–but holding officials accountable for what they have said in the past is not something an “objective” journalist is likely to do.
Another striking omission from these articles, about a speech in which Netanyahu talked about Iran’s “aggression in the region and in the world,” were words like “Palestine,” “Palestinian,” “occupation” or “Gaza”; none of these came up in any of the five articles. USA Today headlined its piece “Netanyahu: Stop Iran’s ‘March of Conquest'”–as though it were Iran, not Israel, that has conquered, occupied and in some cases annexed its neighbors’ territory.
The New York Times is reporting that most Republican voters as well as quite a few Democrats are leaning in favor of American soldiers intervening directly in Syria and Iraq. Republican politicians are paying attention, sounding more bellicose than ever, demanding “boots on the ground” and even suggesting that a John Bolton presidential run is a real possibility.
Apparently the widely noted war fatigue resulting from all the unsuccessful military engagements after 9/11 has worn off. ISIS and Russia are, of course the enemies du jour, but there is also a frequently expressed hankering to go after the Mullahs in Iran if they don’t completely cede their sovereignty tout suite. And there is always the “Red Menace” from China if all else fails. So many enemies, so little time to defeat them all.
How did all this come about as the United States has almost no actual interests compelling getting involved in the Middle East or Eastern Europe yet again? It is not as if a new foray into realms that we Yanks know little or nothing about is likely to be any more successful than the last couple of misadventures. To be sure, a series of sickening atrocities by ISIS has gotten the juices flowing, but the White House’s desire to obtain blanket authority to initiate and deepen an open ended conflict that presumably will go on forever is just about as poorly defined and prone to failure as was the Bushite global war on terror that it replaces.
Part of the problem is undoubtedly an ignorant public. Foreign news coverage is superficial and tends to follow a preordained groupthink that is set by the engaged punditry in Washington and New York City. Putin is always evil and the Iranians are always perfidious. Americans remain ignorant because they are fed a steady diet of untruths and are rarely allowed to hear or read alternative viewpoints. The journalists who write the lies for the leading newspapers and who interview Senator John McCain repeatedly on Sunday mornings are far worse than Brian Williams, who only embellished his stories. The Judy Millers of this world go far beyond that in selling a complete set of bogus goods carefully packaged into prefabricated arguments, which, in the case of Iraq, led to an unnecessary and ultimately disastrous war.
The media has a responsibility to challenge such dishonesty but it rarely does so. A recent puff piece in the Washington Post on Republican President wannabe Mike Huckabee’s acting as a tour guide to Israel was astonishing in terms of what it forgot to mention. Huckabee clearly thumped his belief that God and Israel and the United States are all joined at the hip, but along the way he also revealed that he believes that the Palestinian people do not actually exist, denying them any kind of historical claim to their own land. The article also quoted Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who was accompanying Huckabee, as saying “there’s really no such thing as the ‘Palestinians’.”
The author of the piece, the Post’s Israel correspondent William Booth, did not point out that the claim is ridiculous and un-historical, that Palestine has been settled for thousands of years with an indigenous population that was initially pagan and Jewish, then mostly Christian, and finally mostly Muslim. If roots define national legitimacy then the Palestinian Arabs have more claim to the land that now makes up Israel than do the recent Jewish settlers who came from Europe, America and elsewhere in the Middle East. But a casual reader knowing none of that would not be enlightened by Mr. Booth and might quite possibly leave the article with the impression that there are no Palestinians.
The Post’s editorial policy is relentlessly neocon under the tutelage of Fred Hiatt, whom, hopefully, Jeff Bezos will be firing when he finally gets around to shaking up the paper’s senior staff. There has been a steady drumbeat to take military action against Russia and Syria while sniping relentlessly against any possible agreement with Iran.
Gems that have appeared recently in connection with the upcoming visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu include Dennis Ross’s February 22 nd op-ed on “How to ease Israel’s concerns.” Ross, once described as “Israel’s lawyer,” is inevitably most concerned with making Israel comfortable and proposes legislation mandating a military strike by the U.S. if Iran were perceived to be moving towards weapons grade production of uranium. Of course Ross ignores the evidence that such a perception can be engineered through fake intelligence or by political interests seeking to start a war. The IAEA recently determined that much of the case for Iran having an alleged weapons program in the first place was derived from intelligence fabricated by the United States and also Israel. Ross’s advice would create a trip wire and place the decision whether the U.S. should go to war with Iran in Israel’s hands.
A day later there was a triple whammy. The Post printed a letter from one Robert Tropp claiming that Iran is “developing a nuclear weapon” and “wants to destroy Israel.” Neither assertion is true but the editorial staff apparently felt the letter made a significant contribution to the discussion. On the facing page appeared two articles, one by Hiatt himself, entitled “A credibility gap: Obama’s challenge in selling and Iran deal” and the second by former Senator Joe Lieberman entitled “Hear out Israel’s leader.”
Hiatt argues that President Barack Obama should have sought to “eradicate[e] Iran’s nuclear weapons potential” and points out that the president has backed off from previous foreign policy commitments, including what to do about Iraq, Syria, and Russia. One might note that Hiatt’s desire to “eradicate” a “potential” could be interpreted to mean almost anything that Iran does that the Washington Post does not like.
Because Iran is a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory whose facilities are open to inspection it has a perfect right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. All of which means that Hiatt is essentially saying that Iran’s rights under international law should be abrogated because they make Israel nervous, though he does not, of course, mention Israel. Nor for that matter does he bother to explain exactly how Iran threatens the United States.
Israel, of course, is central to Hiatt’s argument. It has an estimated secret arsenal that includes two hundred nuclear weapons and multiple delivery systems, which Hiatt does not find disturbing, presumably because Benjamin Netanyahu is such a solid individual. Hiatt concludes by expressing his desire to see Congress as a partner in any agreement with Iran. As the Republican majority in Congress is hostile to any deal he is basically calling for a solution that can only fail.
Lieberman on the other hand does not hide his deep regard for Israel and all its works. He encourages all Congressmen to attend the Netanyahu speech on March 3 rd. For Joe, the former “conscience of the Senate,” it is all about hearing Bibi explain how “best to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons” and also because everyone should be a “strong supporter of America’s alliance with Israel.” In addition Congressmen have to be informed by experts like Netanyahu because some day down the road they might have to raise armies and declare war as Iran is not just threatening Israel. Those mad Mullahs are developing nukes and long range missiles that can strike America. And nuclear proliferation by Iran is particularly bad because it might encourage Arab neighbors to do the same.
Joe then returns to his oft repeated meme that “Israel is one of our closest and most steadfast allies” before concluding that Iran “remains the greatest threat to the security of America and the world.” The op-ed is so bad that one suspects Joe wrote it himself, though possibly with a little help from AIPAC. Every single point made is wrong or misleading, most particularly the double assertion that Israel is a wonderful ally. It is not an ally at all and never has been. And if there is an out of control secret nuclear proliferator in the Middle East whose paranoid behavior might well produce a nuclear World War 3 it is Israel, which ex-Senator Lieberman fails to grasp.
If I could I would like to send a message to the mainstream media. It might go something like this: “Please tell your readers the truth for a change. The only thing exceptional about America at the present time is our hubris. We helped create al-Qaeda by attacking the Soviets in Afghanistan. Iraq is a basket case because we invaded it without cause. Syria is in chaos because we have never seriously sought a peaceful solution with Bashar al-Assad. What we have done in Iraq and Syria taken together has produced ISIS. Libya is a toxic mess because we overthrew its government on phony humanitarian grounds. Afghanistan is about to copy Iraq because we have occupied it for thirteen years without a clue how to get out. We started the troubles in Ukraine and with Russia when we broke our promise by expanding NATO and then worked to overthrow an elected government. And finally there is Israel. Israel is not an ally and is the source of many of the problems in the Middle East. American and Israeli interests do not coincide, frequently quite the contrary.”
FOIA Documents Reveal Massive DEA Program to Record American’s Whereabouts With License Plate Readers
The Drug Enforcement Administration has initiated a massive national license plate reader program with major civil liberties concerns but disclosed very few details, according to new DEA documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.
The DEA is currently operating a National License Plate Recognition initiative that connects DEA license plate readers with those of other law enforcement agencies around the country. A Washington Post headline proclaimed in February 2014 that the Department of Homeland Security had cancelled its “national license-plate tracking plan,” but all that was ended was one Immigrations and Customs Enforcement solicitation for proposals. In fact, a government-run national license plate tracking program already exists, housed within the DEA. (That’s in addition to the corporate license plate tracking database run by Vigilant Solutions, holding billions of records about our movements.) Since its inception in 2008, the DEA has provided limited information to the public on the program’s goals, capabilities and policies. Information has trickled out over the years, in testimony here or there. But far too little is still known about this program.
In 2012, the ACLU filed public records requests in 38 states and Washington, D.C. seeking information about the use of automatic license plate readers. Our July 2013 report, You Are Being Tracked, summarized our findings with regard to state and local law enforcement agencies, finding that the technology was being rapidly adopted, all too often with little attention paid to the privacy risks of this powerful technology. But in addition to filing public records requests with state agencies, the ACLU also filed FOIA requests with federal agencies, including the DEA.
The new DEA records that we received are heavily redacted and incomplete, but they provide the most complete documentation of the DEA’s database to date. For example, the DEA has previously testified that its license plate reader program began at the southwest border crossings, and that the agency planned to gradually increase its reach; we now know more about to where it has grown. The DEA had previously suggested that “other sources” would be able to feed data into the database; we now know about some of the types of agencies collaborating with the DEA.
The documents uncovered by our FOIA request provide additional details, but their usefulness is limited by the DEA’s decision to provide only documents that are undated or years old. If the DEA’s collection of location information is as extensive as the agency has suggested in its limited comments to legislatures, the public deserves a more complete and comprehensive explanation than the smattering of records we have obtained can provide.
These records do, however, offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that. If license plate readers continue to proliferate without restriction and the DEA holds license plate reader data for extended periods of time, the agency will soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of our lives (particularly if combined with other data about individuals collected by the government, such as the DEA’s recently revealed bulk phone records program, or cell phone information gleaned from U.S. Marshals Service’s cell site simulator-equipped aircraft ). Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process.
Some major findings from the documents
The National License Plate Recognition Initiative includes a massive database containing data from both DEA-owned automatic license plate readers and other readers. Among the findings from the FOIA documents:
- At the time of an undated slideshow, the DEA had deployed at least 100 license plate readers across the United States (eight states are identified: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey). A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.
- The DEA is also inviting federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country to contribute location information to the database. For example, the documents show that local and regional law enforcement systems in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey all provide data to the DEA. The program was “officially opened” to these partners in May 2009. Other agencies are surely partnering with the DEA to share information, but these agreements are still secret, leaving the public unable to know who has their location information and how it is being used.
- Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies that has shared information with the DEA. An undated Memorandum of Understanding explains that the agencies will, “at regular intervals,” provide each other license plate reader data. It also authorizes the two agencies to further share each other’s data with other federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutors as well as to “intelligence, operations, and fusion centers.” This is a lot of location points. CBP collects “nearly 100 percent of land border traffic,” which amounts to over 793.5 million license plates between May 2009 and May 2013, according to CBP’s response to our FOIA request.
- Additionally, any federal, state, or local law enforcement agent vetted by the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center can conduct queries of the database, located in Merrifield, Va.
- The same undated slideshow suggests that there were over 343 million records in the database at the date of the slide’s publication (due to redactions, it is impossible to confirm that date from this document).
- The unredacted parts of the documents and news reports suggest that the DEA recently changed its retention policy to six months for non-hit data. While this is an improvement from previous statements of DEA retention policy, it is still far too long. The government should not collect or retain information revealing the movements of millions of people accused of no crime. But even that long retention period is only meaningful if it comes with strict rules limiting data use, sharing, and access. Like its retention policy, the DEA should make these policies public.
- The DEA says that the National License Plate Recognition Initiative targets roadways that the agency believes are commonly used for contraband transport. But it’s not clear what this means or what it is based on. Every highway in the United States must be regularly used for contraband transport. Is the DEA using this undefined mandate to target people of color? Without more information from the DEA, we have no idea.
- One DEA document references steps needed to ensure the program meets its goals, “of which asset forfeiture is primary.” Asset forfeiture has been in the news a lot lately, criticized as a widely abused law enforcement tactic that doesn’t advance public safety but simply enriches police and federal agencies.
- The program also apparently data mines license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.” The extent of this data mining is unknown. Is the DEA running all of our license plate reads through a program to predict our likelihood of committing a crime? Are we all suspects if we drive on a certain road? What else does the DEA think it knows about us just from the collection and analysis of our locations via license plate reader data?
More answers are needed
The DEA’s license plate reader programs raise serious civil liberties concerns, and the agency should be open about what it is doing so that those activities can be subject to public debate. Among other questions, the agency should answer these:
- How many license plate readers does DEA currently own and operate? In which states? And, how much did it spend on these license plate readers?
- Which policies govern the use of the license plate readers? Which policies govern the use of the license plate reader database? Has the agency done a Privacy Impact Assessment on these programs?
- How many license plate reader hits have resulted in arrest and prosecution of a serious crime? How many license plate reader hits have not correlated to an alert upon further investigation (a “mis-hit”)?
- From which local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies does the DEA receive license plate reader data?
- Which additional agencies does the DEA partner with? How many people have been approved to conduct queries of the DEA database?
- Has the DEA used or attempted to use Vigilant Solution’s National Vehicle Location Service or a similar privately-run license plate reader database? Does DEA combine information from its own database with records in Vigilant’s, creating a mega-database in a public-private surveillance partnership?
As is the case with most police and federal law enforcement spy technologies, license plate tracking programs have flown under the radar of courts and legislators for far too long, silently collecting records about ordinary Americans in the cover of secrecy. When programs are secret, we have no way of challenging them or ensuring they conform with our values and the law. Before accountability comes transparency. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to release records documenting the federal government’s significant investment in automatic license plate readers and its unregulated and largely unseen location tracking programs.
During my years at Newsweek in the late 1980s, when I would propose correcting some misguided conventional wisdom, I’d often be told, “let’s leave that one for the historians,” with the magazine not wanting to challenge an erroneous storyline that all the important people “knew” to be true. And if false narratives only affected the past, one might argue my editors had a point. There’s always a lot of current news to cover.
But most false narratives are not really about the past; they are about how the public perceives the present and addresses the future. And it should fall to journalists to do their best to explain this background information even if it embarrasses powerful people and institutions, including the news organizations themselves.
Yet, rather than take on that difficult task, most major news outlets prefer to embroider onto their existing tapestry of misinformation, fitting today’s reporting onto the misshapen fabric of yesterday’s. They rarely start from scratch and admit the earlier work was wrong.
So, how does the mainstream U.S. news media explain the Ukraine crisis after essentially falsifying the historical record for the past year? Well, if you’re the New York Times, you keep on spinning the old storyline, albeit with a few adjustments.
For instance, on Sunday, the Times published a lengthy article that sought to sustain the West’s insistence that the coup overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych wasn’t really a coup – just the crumbling of his government in the face of paramilitary violence from the street with rumors of worse violence to come – though that may sound to you pretty much like a coup. Still, the Times does make some modifications to Yanukovych’s image.
In the article, Yanukovych is recast from a brutal autocrat willfully having his police slaughter peaceful protesters into a frightened loser whose hand was “shaking” as he signed a Feb. 21 agreement with European diplomats, agreeing to reduce his powers and hold early elections, a deal that was cast aside on Feb. 22 when armed neo-Nazi militias overran presidential and parliamentary offices.
Defining a Coup
One might wonder what the New York Times thinks a coup looks like. Indeed, the Ukrainian coup had many of the same earmarks as such classics as the CIA-engineered regime changes in Iran in 1953 and in Guatemala in 1954.
The way those coups played out is now historically well known. Secret U.S. government operatives planted nasty propaganda about the targeted leader, stirred up political and economic chaos, conspired with rival political leaders, spread rumors of worse violence to come and then – as political institutions collapsed – chased away the duly elected leader before welcoming the new “legitimate” order.
In Iran, that meant reinstalling the autocratic Shah who then ruled with a heavy hand for the next quarter century; in Guatemala, the coup led to more than three decades of brutal military regimes and the killing of some 200,000 Guatemalans.
Coups don’t have to involve army tanks occupying the public squares, although that is an alternative model which follows many of the same initial steps except that the military is brought in at the end. The military coup was a common approach especially in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the preferred method in more recent years has been the “color revolution,” which operates behind the façade of a “peaceful” popular uprising and international pressure on the targeted leader to show restraint until it’s too late to stop the coup. Despite the restraint, the leader is still accused of gross human rights violations, all the better to justify his removal.
Later, the ousted leader may get an image makeover; instead of a cruel bully, he is ridiculed for not showing sufficient resolve and letting his base of support melt away, as happened with Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.
The Ukraine Reality
The reality of what happened in Ukraine was never hard to figure out. George Friedman, the founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, called the overthrow of Yanukovych “the most blatant coup in history.” It’s just that the major U.S. news organizations were either complicit in the events or incompetent in describing them to the American people.
The first step in this process was to obscure that the motive for the coup – pulling Ukraine out of Russia’s economic orbit and capturing it in the European Union’s gravity field – was actually announced by influential American neocons in 2013.
On Sept. 26, 2013, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, who has become a major neocon paymaster, took to the op-ed page of the neocon Washington Post and called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important interim step toward toppling Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the time, Gershman, whose NED is funded by the U.S. Congress to the tune of about $100 million a year, was financing scores of projects inside Ukraine – training activists, paying for journalists and organizing business groups.
As for that even bigger prize – Putin – Gershman wrote: “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
At that time, in early fall 2013, Ukraine’s President Yanukovych was exploring the idea of reaching out to Europe with an association agreement. But he got cold feet in November 2013 when economic experts in Kiev advised him that the Ukrainian economy would suffer a $160 billion hit if it separated from Russia, its eastern neighbor and major trading partner. There was also the West’s demand that Ukraine accept a harsh austerity plan from the International Monetary Fund.
Yanukovych wanted more time for the EU negotiations, but his decision angered many western Ukrainians who saw their future more attached to Europe than Russia. Tens of thousands of protesters began camping out at Maidan Square in Kiev, with Yanukovych ordering the police to show restraint.
Meanwhile, with Yanukovych shifting back toward Russia, which was offering a more generous $15 billion loan and discounted natural gas, he soon became the target of American neocons and the U.S. media, which portrayed Ukraine’s political unrest as a black-and-white case of a brutal and corrupt Yanukovych opposed by a saintly “pro-democracy” movement.
The Maidan uprising was urged on by American neocons, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who passed out cookies at the Maidan and told Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.”
In the weeks before the coup, according to an intercepted phone call, Nuland discussed with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who should lead the future regime. Nuland said her choice was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “Yats is the guy,” she told Pyatt as he pondered how to “midwife this thing.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, also showed up, standing on stage with right-wing extremists from the Svoboda Party and telling the crowd that the United States was with them in their challenge to the Ukrainian government.
As the winter progressed, the protests grew more violent. Neo-Nazi and other extremist elements from Lviv and western Ukrainian cities began arriving in well-organized brigades or “sotins” of 100 trained street fighters. Police were attacked with firebombs and other weapons as the violent protesters began seizing government buildings and unfurling Nazi banners and even a Confederate flag.
Though Yanukovych continued to order his police to show restraint, he was still depicted in the major U.S. news media as a brutal thug who was callously murdering his own people. The chaos reached a climax on Feb. 20 when mysterious snipers opened fire on police and some protesters, killing scores. As police retreated, the militants advanced brandishing firearms and other weapons. The confrontation led to significant loss of life, pushing the death toll to around 80 including more than a dozen police.
U.S. diplomats and the mainstream U.S. press immediately blamed Yanukovych for the sniper attack, though the circumstances remain murky to this day and some investigations have suggested that the lethal sniper fire came from buildings controlled by Right Sektor extremists.
To tamp down the worsening violence, a shaken Yanukovych signed a European-brokered deal on Feb. 21, in which he accepted reduced powers and an early election so he could be voted out of office. He also agreed to requests from Vice President Joe Biden to pull back the police.
The precipitous police withdrawal then opened the path for the neo-Nazis and other street fighters to seize presidential offices and force Yanukovych’s people to flee for their lives. Yanukovych traveled to eastern Ukraine and the new coup regime that took power – and was immediately declared “legitimate” by the U.S. State Department – sought Yanukovych’s arrest for murder. Nuland’s favorite, Yatsenyuk, became the new prime minister.
Throughout the crisis, the mainstream U.S. press hammered home the theme of white-hatted protesters versus a black-hatted president. The police were portrayed as brutal killers who fired on unarmed supporters of “democracy.” The good-guy/bad-guy narrative was all the American people heard from the major media.
The New York Times went so far as to delete the slain policemen from the narrative and simply report that the police had killed all those who died in the Maidan. A typical Times report on March 5, 2014, summed up the storyline: “More than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February.”
The mainstream U.S. media also sought to discredit anyone who observed the obvious fact that an unconstitutional coup had just occurred. A new theme emerged that portrayed Yanukovych as simply deciding to abandon his government because of the moral pressure from the noble and peaceful Maidan protests.
Any reference to a “coup” was dismissed as “Russian propaganda.” There was a parallel determination in the U.S. media to discredit or ignore evidence that neo-Nazi militias had played an important role in ousting Yanukovych and in the subsequent suppression of anti-coup resistance in eastern and southern Ukraine. That opposition among ethnic-Russian Ukrainians simply became “Russian aggression.”
This refusal to notice what was actually a remarkable story – the willful unleashing of Nazi storm troopers on a European population for the first time since World War II – reached absurd levels as the New York Times and the Washington Post buried references to the neo-Nazis at the end of stories, almost as afterthoughts.
The Washington Post went to the extreme of rationalizing Swastikas and other Nazi symbols by quoting one militia commander as calling them “romantic” gestures by impressionable young men. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s ‘Romantic’ Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]
Yet, despite the best efforts of the Times, the Post and other mainstream outlets to conceal this ugly reality from the American people, alternative news sources – presenting a more realistic account of what was happening in Ukraine – began to chip away at the preferred narrative.
Instead of buying the big media’s storyline, many Americans were coming to realize that the reality was much more complicated and that they were again being sold a bill of propaganda goods.
Denying a Coup
To the rescue rode the New York Times on Sunday, presenting what was portrayed as a detailed, granular “investigation” of how there was no coup in Ukraine and reaffirming the insistence that only Moscow stooges would think such a thing.
“Russia has attributed Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster to what it portrays as a violent, ‘neo-fascist’ coup supported and even choreographed by the West and dressed up as a popular uprising,” wrote Andrew Higgins and Andrew E. Kramer. “Few outside the Russian propaganda bubble ever seriously entertained the Kremlin’s line. But almost a year after the fall of Mr. Yanukovych’s government, questions remain about how and why it collapsed so quickly and completely.”
The Times’ article concluded that Yanukovych “was not so much overthrown as cast adrift by his own allies, and that Western officials were just as surprised by the meltdown as anyone else. The allies’ desertion, fueled in large part by fear, was accelerated by the seizing by protesters of a large stock of weapons in the west of the country. But just as important, the review of the final hours shows, was the panic in government ranks created by Mr. Yanukovych’s own efforts to make peace.”
Yet, what is particularly curious about this article is that it ignores the substantial body of evidence that the U.S. officials were instrumental in priming the crisis and fueling the ultimate ouster of Yanukovych. For instance, the Times makes no reference to the multitude of U.S.-financed political projects in Ukraine including scores by Gershman’s NED, nor the extraordinary intervention by Assistant Secretary of State Nuland.
Nuland’s encouragement to those challenging the elected government of Ukraine would surely merit mentioning, one would think. But it disappears from the Times’ version of history. Perhaps even more amazing there is no reference to the Nuland-Pyatt phone call, though Pyatt was interviewed for the article.
Even if the Times wanted to make excuses for the Nuland-Pyatt scheming – claiming perhaps it didn’t prove that they were coup-plotting – you would think the infamous phone call would deserve at least a mention. But Nuland isn’t referenced anywhere. Nor is Gershman. Nor is McCain.
The most useful part of the Times’ article is its description of the impact from a raid by anti-Yanukovych militias in the western city of Lviv on a military arsenal and the belief that the guns were headed to Kiev to give the uprising greater firepower.
The Times reports that “European envoys met at the German Embassy with Andriy Parubiy, the chief of the protesters’ security forces, and told him to keep the Lviv guns away from Kiev. ‘We told him: “Don’t let these guns come to Kiev. If they come, that will change the whole situation,”’ Mr. Pyatt recalled telling Mr. Parubiy, who turned up for the meeting wearing a black balaclava.
“In a recent interview in Kiev, Mr. Parubiy denied that the guns taken in Lviv ever got to Kiev, but added that the prospect that they might have provided a powerful lever to pressure both Mr. Yanukovych’s camp and Western governments. ‘I warned them that if Western governments did not take firmer action against Yanukovych, the whole process could gain a very threatening dimension,’ he said.
“Andriy Tereschenko, a Berkut [police] commander from Donetsk who was holed up with his men in the Cabinet Ministry, the government headquarters in Kiev, said that 16 of his men had already been shot on Feb. 18 and that he was terrified by the rumors of an armory of automatic weapons on its way from Lviv. ‘It was already an armed uprising, and it was going to get worse,’ he said. ‘We understood why the weapons were taken, to bring them to Kiev.’”
The Times leaves out a fuller identification of Parubiy. Beyond serving as the chief of the Maidan “self-defense forces,” Parubiy was a notorious neo-Nazi, the founder of the Social-National Party of Ukraine (and the national security chief for the post-coup regime). But “seeing no neo-Nazis” in Ukraine had become a pattern for the New York Times.
Still, the journalistic question remains: what does the New York Times think a coup looks like? You have foreign money, including from the U.S. government, pouring into Ukraine to finance political and propaganda operations. You have open encouragement to the coup-makers from senior American officials.
You have hundreds of trained and armed paramilitary fighters dispatched to Kiev from Lviv and other western cities. You have the seizure of an arsenal amid rumors that these more powerful weapons are being distributed to these paramilitaries. You have international pressure on the elected president to pull back his security forces, even as Western propaganda portrays him as a mass murderer.
Anyone who knows about the 1954 Guatemala coup would remember that a major element of that CIA operation was a disinformation campaign, broadcast over CIA-financed radio stations, about a sizeable anti-government force marching on Guatemala City, thus spooking the Arbenz government to collapse and Arbenz to flee.
But the Times article is not a serious attempt to study the Ukraine coup. If it had been, it would have looked seriously at the substantial evidence of Western interference and into other key facts, such as the identity of the Feb. 20 snipers. Instead, the article was just the latest attempt to pretend that the coup really wasn’t a coup.
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).
Nothing solidifies the establishment more than a seemingly raging debate between two wings of it in which they are both wrong. Not only wrong, but in their wrongness, helping to cover their joint iniquities, all the while engaging in simultaneous embrace and finger-pointing to convey the illusion of debate and choice.
Such is the case with the “debate” on whether torture “worked” following the release of the Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s “Detention and Interrogation Program.”
On the one side, we have among others Dianne Feinstein: “The big finding is that torture doesn’t work and shouldn’t be employed by our country” she told PBS. Similarly, a headline in the Hill tells us: “McCain: ‘I know from personal experience’ torture doesn’t work.”
Then, we have six former directors and deputy directors of the CIA claiming the “interrogation program” “saved thousands of lives” by helping to capture al-Qaeda members. On this score, the Intelligence Committee report seems to have the goods, quoting CIA emails. While the former CIA directors claim a string successes based on torture: “KSM [Khalid Sheik Muhammed] then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia’s chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia — in which more than 200 people perished.” But the report quotes CIA officials internal emails: “Frankly, we stumbled onto Hambali.”
But that doesn’t mean Feinstein and McCain are right and that’s the end of story. The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report — or one should say, it’s buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA rendered him to the brutal Mubarak regime in Egypt, in effect outsourcing their torture. From the footnote:
“Ibn Shaykh al-Libi reported while in [censored: ‘Egyptian’] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa’ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely ‘Egyptians’], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. For more more details, see Volume III.” Of course, Volume III has not been made public.
So, while CIA head John Brennan now says it’s “unknowable” if torture lead to information that actually saved lives, it’s provable that torture lead to information that helped lead to war and destroyed lives.
Nor was al-Libi the only one tortured to try to make the case for war. Many have reported that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaeda detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times — but few give the exact timing and context: They were so tortured in August 2002 and March 2003 respectively — the beginning and end of the Bush administrations push for the invasion of Iraq.
This was somewhat acknowledged in the other Senate report on torture, released by the Armed Services Committee in 2008. It quoted Maj. Paul Burney, who worked as a psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay prison: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” The GTMO Interrogation Control Element Chief, David Becker told the Armed Services Committee he was urged to use more aggressive techniques, being told at one point “the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO.”
McClatchy reported Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, said at that time: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq) … They made out links where they didn’t exist.” But now, Levin seems more muted, saying, in response to the release of the recent report, that false information leads to “time-consuming wild goose chases” — which is quite an understatement given the human horrors that have resulted from the invasion of Iraq.
So, contrary to the claim that torture helped save lives, torture helped build the case of lies for war that took thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, helping to plunge the region into astounding violence, bringing al-Qaeda into Iraq, leading to the rise of ISIS and further bloody wars. As Arianna Huffington noted: “A perfect circle: Torture helps start Iraq War, which in turn gives us more people to torture. #happyhumanrightsday”
This oversight perhaps shouldn’t come as too big a shock given who’s calling the shots in Washington: Feinstein and McCain both voted for the Iraq war authorization in 2002, as did virtually everyone running foreign policy atop the Obama administration: VP Joe Biden, Pentagon heads Bill Gates and Chuck Hagel and Secs. of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.
Some have made an issue of videos of torture being destroyed — but it’s been widely assumed that they were destroyed simply because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse. But there’s another distinct possibility: They were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: “Is there another terrorist attack?” Or do they compel: “Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together.”? The video evidence to answer that question has apparently been destroyed — with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason.
Exploiting false information has been well understood within the government. Here’s a 2002 memo from the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to the Pentagon’s top lawyer — it debunks the “ticking time bomb” scenario and acknowledged how false information derived from torture can be useful:
“The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible — in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life — has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. … The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.” The document concludes: “The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject’s environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject’s environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns.” [PDF]
So torture can result in the subject being “exploited” for various propaganda and strategic concerns. This memo should be well known but isn’t, largely because the two reporters for the Washington Post, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, who wrote about in 2009 it managed to avoid the most crucial part of it in their story, as Jeff Kaye, a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, has noted.
One reporter who has highlighted critical issues along these lines is Marcy Wheeler — noting as the recent report was being released: “The Debate about Torture We’re Not Having: Exploitation,” where she writes: “Some other things exploitation is used for — indeed the very things the torture we reverse-engineered for our own torture program was used for — are to help recruit double agents and to produce propaganda.” Her reporting also raises questions about how torture was used to push a whole host of policies, which would make us a virtual tortureocracy: CIA director “John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare [FISA judge] Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.” (Disclosure: Wheeler writes a column for ExposeFacts.org, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work.)
Many presumed critics of torture have been either intentionally or not obscured its connection to war making and other agendas. Teju Cole notes in an interview with the New York Times on Dec. 10 about that outlet: “The paper’s fabrications and support for the Iraq war is a generational shame that shouldn’t be too quickly forgotten. It should haunt us for a long time.” But his comments on the torture report betray a total lack of understanding of the connection between torture and the invasion of Iraq, ascribing to it the very human emotions of revenge rather than the more Machiavellian realities of policy making: “Let’s acknowledge torture for what it is: It is punishment, vengeance. It’s the kind of havoc you wreak on an enemy or bystander merely because your rage needs an outlet. It has vanishingly little to do with intelligence-gathering. It spreads grief, and though it intends to do so, it spreads even much more than it intends. It destroys the perpetrators too. Rage is not a precision weapon.”
But the rage of the general public — steered in large measure by major media — might have been useful in increased public acceptance of torture in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but that’s not what makes decisions in the U.S. It’s decided by the machinations of a narrow set of elites who act in their interests as the utility of torture shows. The coverups for how war was made have grown so complex that critics like Teju Cole have been sucked into it.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch have done some good work in getting information on the al-Libi case, but Ken Roth, the head of the group doesn’t seem to take to heart the lessons of that case, writing that the CIA “forgot its own conclusions from 1989: inhumane interrogation was ‘counterproductive,’ yielded false answers’ in reference to a recent New York Times piece: “Report Portrays a Broken C.I.A. Devoted to a Failed Approach.” But it’s not that the CIA “forgot”– the torture regime is actually designed to produce false but useful information that can be used to justify hideous polices. Pretending it’s a “failed approach” is to exactly avoid telling the truth about the torture program just as everyone is claiming that they are telling the truth about it.
And there are arguably other utilities of torture for war makers, often portrayed only as costs to the society as a whole: It’s profitable to a few. It helps stifle dissent as a method of social control. It was likely especially effective at silencing the Arab and Muslim American community just as the U.S. was gearing up to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
The recent report highlights a CIA memo that relayed instructions from the White House to apparently hide the program from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell could “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on,” the email said. But when I questioned Powell on the connection between torture and war, he was remarkably defensive. His former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson wrote in 2009 that the Bush administration’s “principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.” Shortly after he wrote that, I questioned Colin Powell at the “media stakeout” as he left the CBS studios in DC:
Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.
SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?
CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.
SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
CP: So what? [inaudible]
SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.
CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.
But my questioning was based on statements by Wilkerson, who was in the room. Presumably Powell has been waiting for the CIA to call him and tell him directly that torture was used to extract some of the information he used. See my piece “How Colin Powell Showed That Torture Works” and video.
This problem of torture yielding useful but false information was not unforeseeable. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil appeared on a news release for the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work, the day after Powell’s notorious UN speech: “The Arab media is reporting that the Zakawi story was provided by Jordanian intelligence, which has a record of torture and inaccuracy.” Indeed, the utility of torture might also help further explain U.S. government ties to brutal regimes. Part of what the U.S. government derives from them is capacity to torture and kill. As professor Lisa Hajjar has noted, it was the Egyptian “Torturer in Chief” Omar Suiliman who got al-Libi to talk about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda — the U.S. torturers in Gitmo had apparently failed. Bob Woodward quotes former CIA head George Tenet: “We created the Jordanian intelligence service and now we own it.”
Of course such regimes sometimes fall in an out of favor, there can be little honor among thieves. Al-Libi himself was eventually turned over to Muammar Qaddafi, at a time when — to the bewilderment of many — the U.S. government was rather cordial with the former Libyan dictator. In 2009, a newspaper run by one of Qaddafi’s son’s claimed al-Libi committed suicide in his Libyan jail cell. Juan Cole wrote at the time: “The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison.”
But only if we insist on forgetting this case and the evidence that lies for war and torture are joined at the hip.
Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. He also founded VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Demorats and Republicans to team up. His website is: husseini.posthaven.com He’s on twitter: @samhusseini.
By Dean Baker | Beat the Press | December 3, 2014
Wow, some things are really hard for elite media types to understand. In his column in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen struggles with how we should punish bankers who commit crimes like manipulating foreign exchange rates (or Libor rates, or pass on fraudulent mortgages in mortgage backed securities, or don’t follow the law in foreclosing on homes etc.).
Cohen calmly tells readers that criminal prosecutions of public companies are not the answer, pointing out that the prosecution of Arthur Andersen over its role in perpetuating Enron left 30,000 people on the street, most of whom had nothing to do with Enron. Cohen’s understanding of economics is a bit weak (most of these people quickly found other jobs), but more importantly he is utterly clueless about the issue at hand.
Individuals are profiting by breaking the law. The point is make sure that these individuals pay a steep personal price. This is especially important for this sort of white collar crime because it is so difficult to detect and prosecute. For every case of price manipulation that gets exposed, there are almost certainly dozens that go undetected.
This means that when you get the goods on a perp, you go for the gold — or the jail cell. We want bankers to know that if they break the law to make themselves even richer than they would otherwise be, they will spend lots of time behind bars if they get caught. This would be a real deterrent, unlike the risk that their employer might face some sort of penalty.
Why is it so hard for elite types to understand putting bankers in jail?