Nick Turse: AFRICOM becomes a ‘war-fighting combatant command’

Let me explain why writing the introduction to today’s post by TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse is such a problem.  In these intros, I tend to riff off the ripples of news that regularly surround whatever subject an author might be focusing on.  So when it comes to the U.S. military, if you happen to be writing about the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” really, no problem.  Background pieces on that pile up daily.  How could you resist, for instance, saying something about the U.S. refusal to send an aircraft carrier to China for a parade of Pacific fleets (after the Chinese refused to allow Japanese ships to participate)?  It’s mean girls of the Pacific, no?  Have an interest in the Ukrainian crisis?  Piece of cake, top of the news any time — like those curious pro-Russian protestors in eastern Ukraine who tried to liberate an opera house in the city of Kharkiv, mistaking it for city hall, or the hints that U.S. troops might soon be stationed in former Soviet satellite states.  Or, say, you’re writing about threats in cyberspace — couldn’t be simpler!  Not when you have Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offering an amusing assurance that the country that launched the first cyberwar and is ramping up its new cybercommand at warp speed “does not seek to militarize cyberspace.” And, of course, any day of the week U.S.-Iranian relations are a walk in the park (in the dark).  At the moment, for instance, the Iranian nominee for U.N. ambassador — previously that country’s ambassador to Belgium, Italy, Australia, and the European Union, but once a translator for the group that took U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran in 1979 — has been declared “not viable” by the Obama administration.  In a remarkable act of congressional heroism, the U.S. Senate, led by that odd couple Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, has definitively banned him from setting foot in the country.  Mean girls of Washington?  Who could resist such material?

Unfortunately, there’s one place in that city’s global viewfinder that never seems to provides much of anything to riff off of, and so no fun whatsoever: Africa.  Yes, today and Tuesday, Nick Turse continues his remarkable coverage of the U.S. military pivot to that continent, which promises a lifetime of chaos and blowback to come.  Admittedly, what’s happening isn’t your typical, patented, early twenty-first-century-style U.S. invasion, but it certainly represents part of a new-style scramble for Africa — with the U.S. taking the military path and the Chinese the economic one.  By the time U.S. Africa Command is finished, however, one thing is essentially guaranteed: a terrible mess and a lifetime of hurt will be left behind. This particular pivot is happening on a startling scale and yet remains just below the American radar screen. Explain it as you will, with the rarest of exceptions the U.S. media, riveted by Obama’s so far exceedingly modest pivot to Asia, finds the African one hardly worth a moment’s notice, which is why, today, without the usual combustible mix of what’s recently in the news and what’s newsmaking in Turse’s two pieces, I have no choice but to skip the introduction. Tom Engelhardt 

AFRICOM goes to war on the sly
U.S. officials talk candidly (just not to reporters) about bases, winning hearts and minds, and the “war” in Africa
By Nick Turse

What the military will say to a reporter and what is said behind closed doors are two very different things — especially when it comes to the U.S. military in Africa.  For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil of secrecy about much of the command’s activities and mission locations, consistently downplaying the size, scale, and scope of its efforts.   At a recent Pentagon press conference, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez adhered to the typical mantra, assuring the assembled reporters that the United States “has little forward presence” on that continent.  Just days earlier, however, the men building the Pentagon’s presence there were telling a very different story — but they weren’t speaking with the media.  They were speaking to representatives of some of the biggest military engineering firms on the planet.  They were planning for the future and the talk was of war.  

I recently experienced this phenomenon myself during a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  When I asked the general to tell me just what his people were building for U.S. forces in Africa, he paused and said in a low voice to the man next to him, “Can you help me out with that?”  Lloyd Caldwell, the Corps’s director of military programs, whispered back, “Some of that would be close hold” — in other words, information too sensitive to reveal. 

The only thing Bostick seemed eager to tell me about were vague plans to someday test a prototype “structural insulated panel-hut,” a new energy-efficient type of barracks being developed by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He also assured me that his people would get back to me with answers.  What I got instead was an “interview” with a spokesman for the Corps who offered little of substance when it came to construction on the African continent.  Not much information was available, he said, the projects were tiny, only small amounts of money had been spent so far this year, much of it funneled into humanitarian projects.  In short, it seemed as if Africa was a construction backwater, a sleepy place, a vast landmass on which little of interest was happening.

Fast forward a few weeks and Captain Rick Cook, the chief of U.S. Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than 50 representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet — and this reporter.  The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches.  “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them.  “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges.  Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”

[Read more...]

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Occupy was right: Capitalism has failed the world

Andrew Hussey writes: The École d’économie de Paris (the Paris School of Economics) is actually situated in the most un-Parisian part of the city. It is on the boulevard Jourdan in the lower end of the 14th arrondissement, bordered on one side by the Parc Montsouris. Unlike most French parks, there is a distinct lack of Gallic order here; in fact, with lakes, open spaces, and its greedy and inquisitive ducks, you could very easily be in a park in any British city. The campus of the Paris School of Economics, however, looks unmistakably and reassuringly like nearly all French university campuses. That is to say, it is grey, dull and broken down, the corridors smelling vaguely of cabbage. This is where I have arranged an interview with Professor Thomas Piketty, a modest young Frenchman (he is in his early 40s), who has spent most of his career in archives and collecting data, but is just about to emerge as the most important thinker of his generation – as the Yale academic Jacob Hacker put it, a free thinker and a democrat who is no less than “an Alexis de Tocqueville for the 21st century”.

This is on account of his latest work, which is called Capital in the Twenty-First Century. This is a huge book, more than 700 pages long, dense with footnotes, graphs and mathematical formulae. At first sight it is unashamedly an academic tome and seems both daunting and incomprehensible. In recent weeks and months the book has however set off fierce debates in the United States about the dynamics of capitalism, and especially the apparently unstoppable rise of the tiny elite that controls more and more of the world’s wealth. In non-specialist blogs and websites across America, it has ignited arguments about power and money, questioning the myth at the very heart of American life – that capitalism improves the quality of life for everyone. This is just not so, says Piketty, and he makes his case in a clear and rigorous manner that debunks everything that capitalists believe about the ethical status of making money.

The groundbreaking status of the book was recognised by a recent long essay in the New Yorker in which Branko Milanovic, a former senior economist at the World Bank, was quoted as describing Piketty’s volume as “one of the watershed books in economic thinking”. In the same vein, a writer in the Economist reported that Piketty’s work fundamentally rewrote 200 years of economic thinking on inequality. In short, the arguments have centred on two poles: the first is a tradition that begins with Karl Marx, who believed that capitalism would self-destruct in the endless pursuit of diminishing profit returns. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the work of Simon Kuznets, who won a Nobel prize in 1971 and who made the case that the inequality gap inevitably grows smaller as economies develop and become sophisticated.

Piketty says that neither of these arguments stand up to the evidence he has accumulated. More to the point, he demonstrates that there is no reason to believe that capitalism can ever solve the problem of inequality, which he insists is getting worse rather than better. From the banking crisis of 2008 to the Occupy movement of 2011, this much has been intuited by ordinary people. The singular significance of his book is that it proves “scientifically” that this intuition is correct. This is why his book has crossed over into the mainstream – it says what many people have already been thinking. [Continue reading...]

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NSA pretends it can increase national security while diminishing internet security

The New York Times reports: Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday.

But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

The White House has never publicly detailed Mr. Obama’s decision, which he made in January as he began a three-month review of recommendations by a presidential advisory committee on what to do in response to recent disclosures about the National Security Agency.

But elements of the decision became evident on Friday, when the White House denied that it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, a newly known hole in Internet security that sent Americans scrambling last week to change their online passwords. The White House statement said that when such flaws are discovered, there is now a “bias” in the government to share that knowledge with computer and software manufacturers so a remedy can be created and distributed to industry and consumers. [Continue reading...]

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Latakia: In Assad’s coastal heartland, Syria’s war creeps closer

Reuters reports: For three years, residents of Syria’s Mediterranean provinces have watched from their coastal sanctuary as civil war raging further inland tore the country apart, killing tens of thousands of people and devastating historic cities.

But a three-week-old offensive by rebel fighters in the north of Latakia province, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority, has brought the battle ever closer and shattered that sense of relative security.

Rebels are now fighting in the hills overlooking the sea, bringing the country’s main port of Latakia within their range – rocket-fire killed eight people in one barrage on the city a month ago – and Syria’s coast feels under real threat.

“They can erase us, even those of us who support them,” said a young Alawite woman as she drank coffee with her fiance in a Latakia cafe, 50 km (30 miles) south of where have rebels seized their first toehold on Syria’s coast, by the Turkish border.

While many Alawites, roughly 10 percent of Syria’s 23 million people, have actively supported Assad, others sympathized with the popular revolt against him in 2011 but now fear reprisals from his mainly Sunni Muslim enemies.

Memories of a rebel offensive in August, when scores of Alawite villagers near Latakia were killed by radical Sunni Islamists and foreign jihadists, heighten tensions in the bustling streets of the city of 400,000. [Continue reading...]

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Libya remains in the grip of rivalrous rebel factions

The Los Angeles Times reports: Dragging deeply on a cigarette and swirling his espresso dregs, the curly-haired young militiaman offered up a vivid account of the battles he and fellow rebels waged to bring down dictator Moammar Kadafi — days of blazing bombardment, thirsty desert nights.

Then he voiced his dismay at the chokehold those same armed groups now maintain on Libya.

“We fought so hard to make a new country,” said the 28-year-old of Libyan extraction who left Britain to join the revolution that swept this North African nation in 2011. “Now it’s all about money. Money and guns.”

The rebel groups that worked together to oust Kadafi have fragmented into rivalrous factions whose outsized collective power has sapped Libya’s oil wealth, turned a nascent government structure to tatters and ushered in a grim cycle of assassinations, abductions and firefights in the streets. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Dhafer Youssef — ‘Eleventh Stone’

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Ukraine tension turns deadly in ‘worst case scenario’

Bloomberg reports: Ukrainian security forces battled pro-Russian gunmen in the eastern town of Slovyansk, with both sides suffering casualties, in what European Union member Poland called “the worst-case scenario” for the country.

A day after Ukrainian officials accused Russia of “external aggression,” camouflaged gunmen fired on units deployed by the government in Kiev in an anti-terror operation near Slovyansk, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the Russian frontier, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said today on Facebook. One serviceman was killed and five were wounded, with an unknown number of dead on the separatist side, he said.

It followed the takeover of a regional police station in Donetsk yesterday and gun battles in which police stopped separatists from seizing buildings in other towns. The events echoed those that preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rattling Ukraine’s industrial heartland and raising concern that Russia may carve off more of Ukraine with what NATO has estimated are 40,000 combat-ready troops massed on the border.

“Over the past few hours we’ve witnessed the worst-case scenario playing out in Ukraine,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has advocated a strong response to Russia, said in an interview with Radio Zet in Warsaw.

The anti-terror operation began after acting President Oleksandr Turchynov called an emergency meeting of the country’s National Defense and Security Council last night.

“Please let all civilians know to vacate the center of town, to not leave their apartments and to stay away from windows,” Avakov posted on his Facebook account. “Separatists have opened fire on approaching special-forces units.”

One person was killed an nine were wounded, news service Interfax reported, without giving details on which side the casualties came from. Russian state-run Rossiya 24 TV said Ukrainian “self-defense” forces led by an Afghan War veteran had spread across Slovyansk and troops allied to the government in Kiev arrived in armored personnel carriers and by helicopter.

Intelligence reports from the U.S. and its allies indicate that some of the pro-Russian demonstrators infiltrated cities in eastern and southern Ukraine during the past month or even earlier as part of a Russian plan to divide Ukraine into federated regions, some of which may hold referendums to rejoin Russia, as Crimea did, two U.S. officials said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the reports, which they stressed aren’t conclusive, the officials said that the assessment continues to be that Russian President Vladimir Putin prefers using a campaign of provocation, propaganda, bribery and subversion — rather than an outright invasion by Russian troops — to take over some of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. [Continue reading...]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the appearance of heavily armed men in unmarked uniforms drew alarming parallels to the takeover of Crimea by Russian troops last month ahead of a referendum for the region to secede from Ukraine and Russia’s annexing the territory.

“The reappearance of men with specialized Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Russian troops during Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea, is a grave development,” he said. “I call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis and pull back its large number of troops, including special forces, from the area around Ukraine’s border.”

On Saturday, the White House said it warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using the clashes in Ukraine’s east as a pretext for seizing more territory. Moscow says it reserves the right to send troops into eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians there from an alleged threat of violence against them from nationalists in the Ukrainian government, although Russia has presented little concrete evidence such a threat exists. [Continue reading...]

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Few in Ukraine — including in the East — support separatism or joining Russia, poll shows

Paul Goble writes: Vladimir Putin insists that his moves in Ukraine are motivated by a desire to protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and, Moscow’s latest category, “pro-Russian people” who do not want to live under Kyiv, a view that has been uncritically accepted by large numbers of Russians in the Russian Federation and by many in the West.

But a new poll shows that few of the people on whose behalf Putin claims to be acting are interested in separatism from Ukraine or in having their regions become part of the Russian Federation. Instead, even in the eastern portions of Ukraine where Russian speakers form a large share of the population, overwhelming majorities want to remain in Ukraine.

According to the results of a poll by the Democratic Initiative of Ukraine released today and discussed by Andrey Illarionov in an Ekho Moskvy blog post, 89 percent of the residents of Ukraine consider that country their Motherland. [Continue reading...]

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How Seymour Hersh helped cover up the American holocaust in Vietnam

Clay Claiborne writes: I made a documentary about the Vietnam War five years ago, Vietnam: American Holocaust. Since I wanted it to be the ultimate Vietnam War documentary, I got the guy who narrated and starred in Apocalypse Now to do the voice-over. I made it because too many educated Americans will tell you 58,000 people died in the Vietnam War, when the real number is closer to three million, give or take 50,000. The tag line I have used to promote the film has been “The Vietnam War was a Mỹ Lai every week.” Since most people know about the Mỹ Lai massacre, it is an easy way to say what the film’s message is. The month after I released the film, Nick Turse published an article in The Nation titled “A Mỹ Lai a Month” about Operation Speedy Express, in which 10,889 Vietnamese were killed at the cost of only 267 American lives, which made much the same point.

That point, already known to the Vietnamese, most serious students of the Vietnam War, and certainly most combat vets, is that the only thing really outstanding about the Mỹ Lai massacre is the amount of attention it received.

Consider this relatively unknown massacre related by, Scott Camil, a decorated Vietnam combat Marine who testifies in my film. Why is it any less deserving to be known to the world and remembered throughout history?

In Operation Stone we were sitting up on the rail road trestle with a river on each side. There’s another company behind each river. And like the people were running around inside. And we were just shooting them and the newspaper said Operation Stone like World War Two movie. We just sat up there and wiped them out, women, children, everything. Two hundred nine-one of them.

Was this not worthy of Pulitzer Prize winning reportage? Certainly Operation Speedy Express was because it clearly wasn’t a simple case of a Lieutenant and his company going off the reservation.

I have long been of the opinion that the US imperialists, even in their limited wisdom, understood they could never obliterate the people’s memory of the many atrocities of the Vietnam War, so they allowed one to become famous, they allowed one to be publicized and prosecuted, in the hopes that the public memory of the generalized and pervasive massacres that was the Vietnam War, would be resolved down to the memory of this one atrocity, and in this they have been largely successful. I believe this is the proper context to view Seymour Hersh’s Pulitzer Prizing winning reporting on the Mỹ Lai Massacre. [Continue reading...]

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Former intelligence officials and false flags

In May 2008 I received an email from a former senior intelligence officer who I was working with at that time. The subject line: “same senario like in iraq/big lies.”

Naturally, I was eager to see the details in what turned out to be an analysis of the photographic evidence on the alleged Israeli strike on an alleged nuclear facility in Syria in September 2007.

I had followed this story closely since it was first reported and initially had been very skeptical about the idea that Syria would take the risk of attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

By late April 2008, however, it seemed to me (and many other independent observers) that the evidence supporting most of the allegations was thoroughly convincing. At that time I wrote:

As someone who voiced great skepticism about the initial claims that Israel destroyed a nuclear facility in the Syrian desert on September 6, 2007, I’ll be the first to admit that the evidence provided in the DNI background briefing presents proof that Syria was in fact close to completing the construction of a Calder-Hall type of nuclear reactor producing plutonium.

Even if one was to have dismissed all the intelligence as having been misinterpreted or fabricated, the fact remained that when Syria had the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that it was the innocent victim of an unprovoked act of aggression by its neighbor, Israel — IAEA inspectors could have immediately been called in to certify that the recently bombed site was “clean,” showing no evidence of nuclear materials or construction of a reactor — instead of calling in inspectors, Assad sent in the bulldozers to cover up the remains.

Nevertheless, athough in my mind it seemed like the case was closed, then as always, I was open to consider new evidence — especially if it was being passed on to me by someone who had served and advised at the most senior levels of government and been privy to the highest levels of classified information.

So what kind of “intelligence” did this email contain?

It was an article from a website and the first red flag jumped straight out: Rense.com.

For those who have never come across this site, it’s run by an American radio talk-show host called Jeff Rense. It is notorious for promoting conspiracy theories and the article in question, “Another Fake Syria Nuclear Site Photo?”, was no exception.

The article’s author was a man called Ted Teietmeyer. My immediate reaction to his method of analysis was that he seemed to be approaching this subject in the way someone might argue that the moon landings were faked. Sure enough, Teietmeyer believes that NASA faked the 1969 lunar landing.

Had the former intelligence official been taken in by what to my eye was transparently a bogus piece of analysis, or did he think that I could easily be duped? I’ll never know, because as soon as I told him this was a piece of nonsense he dropped the subject.

What I have observed over the intervening years is that this former intelligence official’s allegiances have become increasingly transparent and this perhaps explains why he sent me that article. He can at this point be fairly described as a loyal supporter of Bashar al-Assad. That’s not a slur — it’s an objective assessment.

Now let’s consider another former intelligence official. This one left a comment here on Tuesday evening. I recognized his name. He used to be a CIA analyst, now has his own blog and based on his style of writing comments, I think he can reasonably also be described as a “troll.”

His comment appeared under the post “Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray,” where I had written that had such a thinly-sourced report as Hersh’s latest been written by anyone else, the London Review of Books (LBR) wouldn’t have touched it.

Since I have no intention of feeding this troll, his comment will remain in moderation — why should I or anyone else approve being addressed in this way? I did however write directly to the author using the email address he provides on his blog and he swiftly confirmed that he had indeed left the comment. The former intelligence official had commented:

You are a moron. Thinly sourced? Quoting from an actual Top Secret document, which the LRB thoroughly fact checked, is quite a distance from thinly sourced. Further evidence that you are a frigging tool is to assert that Hersh’s article is somehow pandering to the left and Obama supporters. Really? If you had actually read the article you would understand why the left hates him — it is a devastating indictment of Obama as a liar and a fraud.

The first thing I would say to anyone who wants to sustain the brand value of “former intelligence official” is this: It’s probably better to refrain from throwing around insults in public. It detracts from the authoritative voice most people associate or want to associate with those who have been entrusted to maintain national security.

I’ll break down what this former CIA analyst said both in order to address the specifics, but perhaps more importantly to show that when assessing the credibility of what someone says, we should never allow ourselves to be dazzled by their credentials.

I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I’m a moron and move on to the question of sourcing. Hersh, the former CIA analyst says, is “Quoting from an actual Top Secret document, which the LRB thoroughly fact checked” — that’s “quite a distance from thinly sourced.” Right? Not really. Here’s why.

Firstly, to say that this document was thoroughly fact-checked by the LRB implies that the fact checkers were able to confirm that the document was what Hersh claims it to be: a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd.

All that the fact checkers appear to have been able to establish is that the DNI says: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’

Moreover, as the CIA analyst may not be aware but as Hersh revealed in an interview on Tuesday, the LRB did not use its own fact checkers — it relied on fact checkers who came with Hersh from The New Yorker.

However celebrated the latter publication’s fact checking process might be, for the LRB to outsource fact checking in this way seems to defeat its purpose.

During the interview, Hersh brandished the “actual Top Secret document” but since he’s only revealed 134 words from its five pages, I don’t believe that he has in fact advanced much distance from thinly sourced. Wafting around a few sheets of paper hardly compares to reading their contents.

Whoever provided the veteran investigative journalist with this intelligence should be perfectly capable of determining how it might need to be redacted in order to preserve his own anonymity while also protecting national security.

Hersh’s choice to act as an intelligence gatekeeper raises reasonable doubts about whether he’s withholding information that might undermine his own narrative. Only by being able to review the document will we be able to determine whether he cherry-picked his quotations or used the information in a misleading way. Likewise, information he left out including dates, could turn out to be significant. Moreover, only by putting the document in the public domain will it be possible to determine whether it is genuine.

As for the former CIA analyst’s reference to “the left and Obama supporters,” anyone who has read my posts would know that I have not spoken once about Obama supporters. The former analyst’s comment seems to emanate from someone firmly stuck inside the Beltway who imagines that all of politics revolves around Democrats and Republicans.

Finally and significantly, the former analyst who jumped in here belongs to a group that has been promoting a false-flag narrative about the chemical attacks since soon after they occurred.

Like many former officials, they seem to engage in a practice commonplace among people who find it difficult to reconcile themselves with their own diminished status once outside government. They would have their audience believe that even if they no longer hold any positions in any government agency, their informal ties to the intelligence community and the Pentagon, provide them with a level of access and insight into the current workings of government, to which others are not privileged.

The secret that the former whatevers are often most reluctant to reveal is that the former commonly says much more than the whatever.

Those who were once inside the loop but are now stuck on the outside, can contrive all sorts of ways of resuscitating their insider status.

Consider for instance the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), the group I alluded to above.

On September 6, this group of former intelligence officials took it upon themselves to offer President Obama a briefing about what really happened on August 21 near Damascus.

In several interviews Hersh has portrayed the president as a victim of his own power. Which is to say, everyone around the president only tells him what he wants to hear.

It would appear that VIPS were assuming a role as what might be called intel elders, who hoped they could break through the bubble and inform Obama about what was really going on.

We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”

Now here’s the strangest element in this appeal for sanity. The members of this group supposedly alerting the president, also apparently believed that the United States was implicated in the false flag operation about which they were alerting him.

In their September 6 memorandum to the president, VIPS wrote:

[O]n August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

Although these former intelligence officials say they wrote this, it would appear to be more accurate to say they repeated it.

The original author was Yossef Bodansky. In “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” published on August 28, he wrote:

On August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and US Intelligence [“Mukhabarat Amriki”] took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

It turns out that Bodansky, an Israeli-American who has served as a Defense Department consultant (as did one of Hersh’s sources) also has links to the Assad family.

Foreign Policy reported last September:

Yossef Bodansky

Yossef Bodansky

Bodansky is an ally of Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad — he pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family — a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, “will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East.”

While for Hersh, his narrative may seem to go back no further than one or two seemingly well-informed former intelligence officials, the story may in fact trace all the way back to Damascus, not as the center of events but to a factory of a kind; not one in which sarin is produced but one in which “intelligence” gets fabricated.

(Thanks to Clay Claiborne and Scott Lucas.)

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New evidence that the NSA poses a major threat to global security

When it comes to intelligence officials, past or present, it seems much safer to assume that they are not acting in national interests than to assume otherwise. It doesn’t matter which nation or which agency, the business of intelligence is deception.

There is an inherent conflict between the declared need of such agencies to operate in secrecy and the need to provide those operations with the oversight they require in order to prevent the abuse of power.

After the latest revelations about the CIA’s torture programs and NSA operations which undermine the security of the internet, are we not already far past the point where it must be faced that the U.S. intelligence community has systemic flaws? These should not just be patched over. It’s time to ask fundamental questions about the function of the intelligence agencies.

Bloomberg reports: The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.

The NSA’s decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts.

Heartbleed appears to be one of the biggest glitches in the Internet’s history, a flaw in the basic security of as many as two-thirds of the world’s websites. Its discovery and the creation of a fix by researchers five days ago prompted consumers to change their passwords, the Canadian government to suspend electronic tax filing and computer companies including Cisco Systems Inc. to Juniper Networks Inc. to provide patches for their systems.

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

“It flies in the face of the agency’s comments that defense comes first,” said Jason Healey, director of the cyber statecraft initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former Air Force cyber officer. “They are going to be completely shredded by the computer security community for this.” [Continue reading...]

Update — DNI states: NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private sector cybersecurity report. Reports that say otherwise are wrong.

The problem for the DNI, NSA, CIA, and the rest of the intelligence community, is that they can’t restore trust simply by issuing statements or through cosmetic reform. It’s no good saying, we wouldn’t do something like that, when we already know they already have.

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Narendra Modi: A threat to the world’s largest democracy?

The Guardian reports: More than a dozen of India’s most respected artists and academics – including the novelist Salman Rushdie and the sculptor Anish Kapoor – have written to the Guardian to express their “acute worry” at the prospect of Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, becoming the country’s prime minister.

Modi, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently leading all opinion surveys and many analysts believe he is assured of victory when results of the six-week phased poll are announced next month.

Tens of millions of Indians voted on Thursday in Delhi, the capital, and in volatile areas in the centre and east of the country where Maoist insurgents are active. Turnout has so far been high in one of the most bitterly fought elections for many decades. The Congress party, in power since 2004, currently appears headed for a historic defeat.

The letter to the Guardian, also signed by British lawyers, activists and three members of parliament, says that Modi becoming prime minister would “bode ill for India’s future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities”. [Continue reading...]

Jason Burke writes: India has long been prone to periodic bouts of communal violence, and political opponents, cynically or otherwise, repeatedly cite the 2002 rioting [in Gujarat] to highlight the threat of sectarian conflict if Modi wins the coming elections. Though Modi has not been convicted, they point out, associates have been sent to prison for their role in the violence. There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India’s Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India and who believe Modi would divide and damage their country.

Others see things differently. For tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people across India, what happened in 2002, or at least what they believe happened, does not so much raise doubts about Modi’s claim to lead the country, but reinforce it.

In a school run by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] close to the Meerut rally site, on the eve of the meeting, members of the organisation gathered for a conference on encouraging traditional sports. Their worldview is nationalist and conservative. Incidents such as the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi are a result of “moral decadence” and western culture, they say, while the boundaries of “Bharat”, the Sanskrit-origin word they use to describe their country, should encompass Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Bangladesh and Burma. One veteran claims India faces three problems: “corruption, inflation and Muslims”. Modi has an answer to all three, he insists. Rajendra Agrawal, the BJP member of parliament representing Meerut’s 1.4 million voters, stresses that Hinduism’s message is one of peace and tolerance but “one day … Islamic aggression will have to be dealt with”.

A key question is how far Modi has moved from the hardline vision of the organisation he joined at the age of 10. In recent years, there have been tensions between the politician and the RSS. The candidate’s pragmatic, business-friendly, globalised outlook is at odds with the traditional self-reliance of the nationalist movement. The RSS did not take it well, either, when Modi suggested that India needed to build toilets before temples.

Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist who specialises in extremism in south Asia, says Modi has effectively “emancipated himself” from the RSS high command, who traditionally outrank even senior BJP figures. Yet, he adds, Modi may well “do anyway what the RSS has wanted to do for decades because he is perfectly in tune with their ideology.” [Continue reading...]

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The driving role of Pakistan in the Afghan War

Seth G. Jones writes: On July 7, 2008, insurgents detonated a huge suicide car bomb outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 54 people, including an Indian defense attaché. The attack destroyed the embassy’s protective blast walls and front gates, and tore into civilians waiting outside for visas.


On one level, the attack was merely one among many that occur across this war-torn country, terribly unfortunate but numbingly frequent. But there was something particularly insidious about this one. According to United States intelligence assessments, agents from Pakistan’s chief spy organization, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were involved in planning the attack. After being briefed by American intelligence officials, President George W. Bush dispatched Stephen R. Kappes, the C.I.A.’s deputy director, to Pakistan.

The involvement of the ISI in such a high-profile attack illustrates one of the most ignominious undercurrents of the war in Afghanistan and the subject of Carlotta Gall’s new book, “The Wrong Enemy”: the role of Pakistan. Ms. Gall, a reporter for The New York Times in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, beginning shortly after Sept. 11, is in an extraordinary position to write this important and long overdue book.

At its core, “The Wrong Enemy” is a searing exposé of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war, which Ms. Gall drives home in the book’s opening salvo. “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy,” she pointedly writes. [Continue reading...]

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Britain increasingly invokes power to disown its citizens

The New York Times reports: The letter informing Mohamed Sakr that he had been stripped of his British citizenship arrived at his family’s house in London in September 2010. Mr. Sakr, born and raised here by British-Egyptian parents, was in Somalia at the time and was suspected by Western intelligence agencies of being a senior figure in the Shabab, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda.

Seventeen months later, an American drone streaked out of the sky in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia and killed Mr. Sakr. An intelligence official quoted in news reports called him a “very senior Egyptian,” though he never held an Egyptian passport. A childhood friend of Mr. Sakr, Bilal al-Berjawi, a Lebanese-Briton also stripped of his citizenship by the British government, was killed in a drone strike a month earlier, after having escaped an attack in June 2011.

Senior American and British officials said there was no link between the British government’s decision to strip the men of their citizenship and the subsequent drone strikes against them, though they said the same intelligence may have led to both actions.

But the sequence of events effectively allowed the British authorities to sidestep questions about due process under British law, mirroring the debate in the United States over the rights of American citizens who are deemed terrorist threats. The United States and Britain have a long history of intelligence sharing and cooperation in fighting terrorist threats. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Arve Henriksen — ‘Opening Image’

Arve Henriksen, voice and trumpet, from his album, Chiaroscuro, with an excerpt from Labyrinth of Dreams.

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How to stop the next Heartbleed bug: Pay open-source coders to protect us

Dan Gillmor writes: Yes, it is beyond worrisome that a bug this big existed for so long. But the discovery of Heartbleed – a truly mind-boggling flaw in OpenSSL, the widely used web security technology run on open-source code – led to one of the most rapid responses I’ve ever seen in the encryption world.

We’re not nearly finished repairing this gaping hole in our online safety, with potentially hundreds of thousands of email accounts and sites relying on a secure connection exposed to Heartbleed. And, yes, the National Security Agency probably knew about it before you did. But still, thousands of sites have moved quickly to mitigate at least some of the immediate damage.

So why is everyone pointing fingers at the beleaguered developers of OpenSSL? Because someone should have found this programming error two years ago? Sure, but don’t blame this tiny team of volunteers; go change your password (but only if your favorite sites have been updated). These aren’t just some lazy coders letting your bank account login leak into the online slipstream; they’re heroes, who have worked tirelessly during the past few years on software that can be freely downloaded and modified, that brings online safety, at a low cost, to all of us. And, seriously, there are only like 17 of them.

The last thing we want to do, as some fear-mongers have suggested this week amidst ‘the worst thing to happen to the internet‘, is turn over our communications infrastructure from open-source software to for-profit companies that want to extract cash from the ecosystem. The more eyes we have on open programming instructions, the more likely someone will find a bug. [Continue reading...]

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