Snowden as Superman: The man behind the myth

 

Ken Silverstein used to write for The Intercept and has had a long career as an investigative journalist — he’s not an apologist for the security state. He started CounterPunch, but like anyone with a sincere interest in what’s true, has no political loyalties. He writes: Let’s pretend for a moment that the official story as told by Snowden and his admirers — with Glenn Greenwald, who’s been chasing a movie deal of his own for ages that depends on Snowden being the perfect hero, being his No. 1 cheerleader — is 100 percent true. Snowden was a loyal, patriotic American when he worked for the CIA and the NSA through private contractors but was outraged by what he discovered and felt compelled to expose U.S. government abuses to the world.

OK, there are still a few questions:

First, a lot of what Snowden released was damaging to U.S. foreign policy and NATO — and that’s in principle fine by me — but why didn’t he steal and reveal anything embarrassing to Russia and China, for example? There’s no way he didn’t have access to damaging information about those countries — both who have plenty of dirty secrets as well — so why, if he was just out to save the world, didn’t he think to expose that as well?

It’s reminiscent of Julian Assange of Wikileaks, which gave Snowden huge support, and raises questions about him as well. Whatever his relationship to Russia, Putin must be thrilled with his recent activities. And Assange and Wikileaks get all sorts of leaked and hacked information, but they don’t seem especially eager to expose much damaging to Russia.

Second, Snowden has recently made a few comments critical of Russia, but I’m pretty sure he’s not going to make it a habit. Nor is he in any position to do so. Some believe Snowden was played by Russian intelligence — and that is certainly a plausible theory though one his fawning fans refuse to even entertain — but there is no question that at the moment he effectively answers to Vladimir Putin. “I don’t know if Snowden understood the rules when he got there, but I’m sure he understands them now,” one former CIA case officer told me. “It’s pretty simple. Whether he was told directly or not, Putin let him know the deal: ‘You can live here and help us out or we can send you home. Do you have any questions’.”

And for Russia, Snowden is the gift that just keeps on giving. As noted above, he’s a global celebrity and a regular of the digital speaking network. He’s beloved by the left and civil liberties advocates and every time he makes an appearance he scores points for Russia. He may not be a witting propaganda tool of the Kremlin but he may as well be. Putin clearly wants Snowden in Moscow, otherwise it would be a simple matter for him to put him on a private plane and send him off to Cuba or any other country that will take him. He’s keeping him there because it serves Putin’s interests, not because the former KGB officer is a champion of free speech and civil liberties.

By the way, Yahoo has reported that Snowden has made about $200,000 in speaking fees and apparently pocketed most of it, even though he has claimed he gives much of it to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, where he, Greenwald and Poitras are board members. [Continue reading…]

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How Turkish ground forces, backed by NATO, could lead a humanitarian intervention in Syria

David Owen writes: The argument that diplomacy has failed in Syria and that the best thing to bring the suffering to an end in Aleppo would be a quick victory for Bashar al-Assad is too pessimistic. We need to recognise that the diplomacy has never faced up to the need for an initial partition or zones of influence involving neighbouring states on the path to an eventual unified settlement in Syria.

Between 2012 and 2014, Turkey was ready to create a protected area in Syria for refugees, but for various reasons this was never supported by Nato. Turkey was understandably very reluctant to move militarily across the border into Syria on its own. When Russia extended an airfield close to Latakia, not far from the naval port it has had in Syria since 1971, and put sophisticated aeroplanes in to protect Assad’s forces, everything changed. Turkey shot down a Russian plane and felt threatened by Kurdish forces pushing along its border with Syria. Turkish relations also became very strained within Nato, particularly with the US over strategies for dealing with Islamic State and the EU over refugee policies and human rights. Turkey responded perfectly reasonably by defusing tensions with Russia.

In this period the Russians militarily achieved their objective, reinforced by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and Iranian forces, of winning back control of the key roads linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea for Assad. These forces, as a consequence, are back in control of this area, including Hama, which has become a Russian zone of influence.

Only Turkey is in a political and military position to intervene on the ground over Aleppo and it is demonstrating this at present by attacking Isis. Turkey can now, because of changed circumstances, create a crucial balancing factor in Syria by taking urgent humanitarian action with its troops and air power in relieving the siege of Aleppo. Under the UN charter, even if the security council is blocked by a Russian veto, Turkey has a regional locus and a measure of legitimacy, having taken large numbers of Syrian refugees. [Continue reading…]

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Russian jets pound Aleppo as U.S. clings to diplomacy

Reuters reports: Russian war planes struck rebel held areas north of Aleppo on Saturday as the army shelled the besieged old quarter in a major offensive, rebels and a monitoring group said.

Russia was reported on Friday to be sending more warplanes to Syria to ramp up its air campaign as the United States said it had not yet given up on finding a diplomatic resolution.

The latest strikes come 10 days into a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to capture rebel-held eastern Aleppo and crush the last urban stronghold of a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011.

Saturday’s air strikes focused on major supply lines into rebel-held areas – the Castello Road and Malah district – while fighting raged in the Suleiman al Halabi neighborhood, the front line to the north of Aleppo’s Old City.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone for a third day on Friday, with Russia’s top diplomat saying Moscow was ready to consider more ways to normalize the situation in Aleppo.

But Lavrov criticized Washington’s failure to separate moderate rebel groups from those the Russians call terrorists, which had allowed forces led by the group formerly known as the Nusra front to violate the U.S.-Russian truce agreed on Sept. 9.

The United States made clear it would not, at least for now, carry through a threat made on Wednesday to halt the diplomacy if Russia did not take immediate steps to end the violence. [Continue reading…]

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It’s been one year since Russia began bombing in Syria, and there may be no end in sight

The Los Angeles Times reports: One year ago, Russian planes started dropping bombs on war-torn Syria.

The airstrikes, which began Sept. 30, propped up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s collapsing government, which controlled an ever-shrinking area of the country after more than four years of civil war.

Dozens of warring groups opposed to Damascus — including moderates and jihadists such as Islamic State and the Al Qaeda-allied Nusra Front — were more concerned about fighting each other while government forces kept losing ground and morale. The area held by Assad’s forces had been reduced to territory along Syria’s west and the Mediterranean coast, with several tentacle-like strategic corridors in the central and northern parts of the country.

Russia’s involvement was a surprising game-changer. It reversed the momentum in the war and helped keep Assad in power. From the Russian perspective, it also put a spotlight on perceived American weakness — and certainly put the United States in an awkward position, since it shared the Russian goal of defeating Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but strongly opposed the larger goal of saving Assad.

One year in, however, the unanswered question is how long Russia will be bogged down in Syria — and whether it will achieve, at best, a hollow victory.

President Vladimir Putin explained Russia’s involvement in a nationally televised address the day after the strikes began.

“The best way to fight international terrorists … is to act preemptively, to fight and eliminate militants in the areas they have already occupied without waiting for them to enter our home,” he told his citizens.

Moscow deployed dozens of bombers and fighter jets and up to 4,000 military personnel. Within weeks, they were conducting up to 60 strikes a day, bombing Assad’s opponents of all stripes — and killing hundreds of civilians, human rights groups said.

A Syrian opposition monitoring group that tracks Syria’s civil war said a year of Russian airstrikes have killed 9,364 people in the war-torn country, the Associated Press reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead include 3,804 civilians, including 906 children. The dead also include 2,746 members of the Islamic State group and 2,814 from other rebel and militant groups, including Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Stories from inside Aleppo: ‘It feels like we are in prison’

The Guardian reports: Aleppo has become synonymous with destruction and death, barrel bombs, bunker busters and shattered hospitals. For the doctors and rescue workers racing to save lives around the clock, life has become a blur of blood, death and desperation.

But between the explosions and the street fights, there are more than 200,000 civilians trying to cling to a semblance of normal life in east Aleppo, a quarter of them children.

Taxis and bakeries, water plants and market stalls, schools and charities all operated in rebel-held east Aleppo. Until government forces began a siege in July, vital supplies filtered in and out, residents could visit friends or even leave if they wanted to. Some stayed out of loyalty, others for desperation or fear of life as a refugee in squalid camps.

Among the factions fighting in the city are hardline Islamists, including a group formerly linked to al-Qaida. But east Aleppo is also still home to artists and moderate activists, including women who work in its charities and schools.

A new term had been due to start on Saturday, but classes have been suspended indefinitely in the face of last week’s unprecedented bombing campaign on the city, which the UN’s chief humanitarian officer described as a “terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss”.

The siege is also biting hard. Food supplies are shrinking, fruit and vegetables have all but gone from people’s plates, and fuel is dwindling too, so most cars have vanished from the streets. They are hoarding supplies for generators that power not just hospitals but also the internet connections that are east Aleppo’s link with the world.

In other eras, cutting supply lines also cut communication, but smartphones and satellite internet routers mean the people of Aleppo can reach out online beyond the circumscribed world that one resident described as a “vast, open-air prison”. [Continue reading…]

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Newsweek suspects hackers crashed website because of negative Trump article

Politico reports: Newsweek suspects that hackers are to blame for the crash of its website on Thursday night, after it published an article about Donald Trump’s company secretly conducting business in Cuba in the 1990s.

“We don’t know everything. We’re still investigating,” Newsweek editor in chief Jim Impoco told POLITICO. “But it was a massive DDoS attack, and it took place in the early evening just as prominent cable news programs were discussing Kurt Eichenwald’s explosive investigation into how Donald Trump’s company broke the law by breaking the United States embargo against Cuba.”

A DDoS attack, or distributed denial of service attack, is when an attacker attempts to overwhelm a website or server with traffic, rendering it unable to function reliably.

As of Friday afternoon, Impoco told POLITICO that the main IP addresses involved in the hack were Russian, but that there was “nothing definitive” about the ongoing investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Sectarian fighters mass for battle to capture east Aleppo

The Guardian reports: As the most intensive air bombardment of the war has rained down on opposition-held east Aleppo this week, an army of some 6,000 pro-government fighters has gathered on its outskirts for what they plan will be an imminent, decisive advance.

Among those poised to attack are hundreds of Syrian troops who have eyed the city from distant fixed positions since it was seized by Syrian rebels in mid-2012.

But in far greater numbers are an estimated 5,000 foreign fighters who will play a defining role in the battle – and take a lead stake in what emerges from the ruins.

The coming showdown for Aleppo is a culmination of plans made far from the warrooms of Damascus. Shia Islamic fighters have converged on the area from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan to prepare for a clash that they see as a pre-ordained holy war that will determine the future of the region. [Continue reading…]

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Besieged Aleppo has descended into a ‘merciless abyss,’ UN warns

The Associated Press reports: Syrian government forces continued their push into rebel-held districts of Aleppo on Thursday as international officials issued dire warnings of an ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria’s largest city.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that the conditions in eastern Aleppo, which is besieged and assaulted by all sides by government forces, had descended into the “merciless abyss of humanitarian catastrophe.”

Speaking to the Security Council via video link from Geneva, O’Brien painted a grim picture of the conditions in the war-wracked eastern part of the city, where at least 320 civilians including 100 children have been killed in the past week. An additional 765 have been wounded.

O’Brien’s report noted that the U.N. now calculates that 861,200 Syrians are trapped in sieges — a nearly 50 percent increase from the last estimate of 586,200. The new figure reflects the government’s protracted blockade around eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 people or more live. [Continue reading…]

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GOP blocks probes into Trump-Russia ties

The Daily Beast reports: Suspicion is mounting about Donald Trump’s ties to Russian officials and business interests, as well as possible links between his campaign and the Russian hacking of U.S. political organizations. But GOP leaders have refused to support efforts by Democrats to investigate any possible Trump-Russia connections, which have been raised in news reports and closed-door intelligence briefings. And without their support, Democrats, as the minority in both chambers of Congress, cannot issue subpoenas to potential witnesses and have less leverage to probe Trump.

Privately, Republican congressional staff told The Daily Beast that Trump and his aides’ connections to Russian officials and businesses interests haven’t gone unnoticed and are concerning. And GOP lawmakers have reviewed Democrats’ written requests to the FBI that it investigate Trump before they were made public.

But the lawmakers in both chambers have declined to sign on to them. Republicans have no appetite to launch inquiries into their party’s presidential nominee, and they continue to believe the FBI flubbed its investigation into Clinton and her aides, who should have been charged with mishandling government secrets, the staffers said. [Continue reading…]

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Administration officials wonder: Why won’t Obama stand up to Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: Russia and Syria appeared to attack two more hospitals and a bakery in the already besieged eastern city of Aleppo on Wednesday, in an aggressive push to seize and starve the city — home to as many as 100,000 children — back into regime control.

So how will the Obama administration respond to an increasingly provocative Russia? For now, it won’t.

There is an unspoken understanding within the administration that despite the many provocations Russia has carried out in Syria, there will be no major American response, a position that increasingly is drawing the ire of top national security officials, three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast.

Adding to these officials’ frustration is that Russia’s aggression isn’t just contained to Syria. There is mounting evidence that Russia has been behind a series of computer hacks that intelligence officials believe are designed to meddle with U.S. elections in November.

Officials said they feared that the White House’s inaction could devolve into acquiescence in Syria, in Ukraine, and in cyberspace. On Wednesday, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations reportedly laughed when asked about the hospital attack.

“Of course we are concerned about how far Russia will go,” one U.S. official explained to The Daily Beast. “And just as worrisome is what this is doing to U.S. credibility.”

Even members of the president’s party are speaking out on Capitol Hill about Russia’s seemingly unchecked aggression. [Continue reading…]

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Is the U.S. weighing a tougher response to Russia over Syria crisis?

Reuters reports: Obama administration officials have begun considering tougher responses to the Russian-backed Syrian government assault on Aleppo, including military options, as rising tensions with Moscow diminish hopes for diplomatic solutions from the Middle East to Ukraine and cyberspace, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The new discussions were being held at “staff level,” and have yet to produce any recommendations to President Barack Obama, who has resisted ordering military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s multisided civil war.

But the deliberations coincide with Secretary of State John Kerry threatening to halt diplomacy with Russia on Syria and holding Moscow responsible for dropping incendiary bombs on rebel areas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. It was the stiffest U.S. warning to the Russians since the Sept. 19 collapse of a truce they jointly brokered.

Even administration advocates of a more muscular U.S. response said on Wednesday that it was not clear what, if anything, the president would do, and that his options “begin at tougher talk,” as one official put it.

One official said that before any action could be taken, Washington would first have “follow through on Kerry’s threat and break off talks with the Russians” on Syria.

But the heavy use of Russian airpower in Syria has compounded U.S. distrust of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical intentions, not only in the 5-1/2 year civil war, but also in the Ukraine conflict and in what U.S. officials say are Russian-backed cyber attacks on U.S. political targets.

The U.S. officials said the failure of diplomacy in Syria has left the Obama administration no choice but to consider alternatives, most of which involve some use of force and have been examined before but held in abeyance. [Continue reading…]

The basis for this reporting appears to be an exchange in Tuesday’s State Department press briefing. The suggestion that the administration is now seriously considering its military options sounds like a bit of a stretch. Much more likely is that it is merely restating every administration’s fallback position as it struggles to craft policy: we are keeping all options on the table.

Even if Kerry or Obama was to say, diplomacy has failed, they remain doctrinally wedded to the view that there is no military solution to this conflict.

So, if diplomacy has indeed reached a dead end, I don’t expect to see a tougher response from Obama, but instead, no response at all. All he’s doing now is counting the days until his departure from the Oval Office.

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Russia’s brutal bombing of Aleppo may be calculated, and it may be working

Max Fisher writes: The effects of Russia’s bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo — destroying hospitals and schools, choking off basic supplies, and killing aid workers and hundreds of civilians over just days — raise a question: What could possibly motivate such brutality?

Observers attribute Russia’s bombing to recklessness, cruelty or Moscow’s desperate thrashing in what the White House has called a “quagmire.”

But many analysts take a different view: Russia and its Syrian government allies, they say, could be massacring Aleppo’s civilians as part of a calculated strategy, aimed beyond this one city.

The strategy, more about politics than advancing the battle lines, appears to be designed to pressure rebels to ally themselves with extremists, eroding the rebels’ legitimacy; give Russia veto power over any high-level diplomacy; and exhaust Syrian civilians who might otherwise support the opposition.

This approach could succeed even if pro-government forces never retake Aleppo. A yearlong siege of the city has not brought President Bashar al-Assad’s forces closer to victory. Too weak to win outright, they appear instead to be hedging, trying to weaken the rebels so that they cannot win either, and to ensure any final settlement would be more favorable for Moscow and its allies.

Though killing civilians often backfires in war, in this case it may be all too effective. [Continue reading…]

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