Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 28, 2018

It's 2002 Again - New York Times Makes Bogus WMD Claims

New York Times, September 8 2002
U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest For A-Bomb Parts

Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

The infamous aluminum tubes Iraq sought to buy from Italy were for short range rockets, not for uranium enrichment centrifuges as the Bush administration claimed. That was a fact well known to several U.S. agencies like the Energy and State Departments. But the claim, first propagandized by the NY Times, was repeated by then President Bush in a speech to the UN and became a main basis for the war on Iraq. The Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) Washington Bureau, but not the NY Times, reported about the many doubts experts had about such  Weapon of Mass Destruction claims.

New York Times, February 27 2018
U.N. Links North Korea to Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program

North Korea has been shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons, United Nations experts contend.
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The supplies from North Korea include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, according to a report by United Nations investigators.
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The possible chemical weapons components were part of at least 40 previously unreported shipments by North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017 of prohibited ballistic missile parts and materials that could be used for both military and civilian purposes, according to the report, which has not been publicly released but which was reviewed by The New York Times.

The valves, thermometers and acid resistance tiles Syria may have sought to acquire could be used for medical facilities, the production of candy or for dozens of other civilian purposes. They could be used to produce something for the military with chemical weapons probably being the most unlikely.

But like the discredited aluminum tube story, the current NYT piece, written by its UN reporter Michael Schwirtz, obfuscates the doubts about WMD connections of the issue. It makes false claims and is full of war-mongering assertions by hawkish figures. It is a scare story constructed to vilify various opponents to U.S. hegemony on meager factual grounds.

The reporter does not understand the issue he writes about. The "possible chemical weapons components" are not such. Chemical weapons obviously do not contain valves, thermometers or acid resistance tiles. To increase the "be afraid" effect of his piece the author mentions an alleged 2007 accident "in which several Syrian technicians, along with North Korean and Iranian advisers, were killed in the explosion of a warhead filled with sarin gas and the extremely toxic nerve agent VX." No weapon designer ever thought of "a warhead" that was filled with both - Sarin and VX. That would be lunacy and reports thereof are obviously bogus.

The "United Nations investigators" are a bunch of spooks selected by individual Security Council members who collect claims of North Korean breaches of sanctions. The group was set up in 2006 under the UN Security Council resolution 1718 as a "Committee of the Security Council consisting of all the members of the Council". The Committee is not part of the UN bureaucracy and they are not "UN experts" or "UN investigators". The reports of the committee list various claims made by single UN member countries without judging their veracity.

The Associated Press report on the issue makes this clear:

[The report] said, a visit by a technical delegation from North Korea in August 2016 “involved the transfer to Syria of special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons programmes”.

That information came from another member state, which also reported that North Korean technicians “continue to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzeh, Adra and Hama”, the report said.

The valve and thermometer point in the Committee report are based on the claims of one country alone. But the NY Times lists those claims as "the [UN] report says" giving them a false aura of neutrality. That one country also claims that Syria still has chemical weapons facility. In 2013 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) verified (pdf) that all Syrian production facilities for chemical weapons and under control of the government were rendered unusable or destroyed. The OPCW can request to inspect additional facilities it deems suspicious. It has not done so. The AP, but not the New York Times, notes that the Syrian government officially denied that any North Korean technicians are working there.

The New York Times discredited itself over its support for the false Bush administration claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It later issued a lame mea culpa and fired one reporter while the responsible editors and managers stayed on.

The paper has obviously not changed. It is again creating false pretexts for wars by publishing unobjective, one sided and intended-to-scare pieces about alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Posted by b on February 28, 2018 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (97)

February 26, 2018

State Department Troll Farm Receives Huge Cash Infusion

The U.S. State Department will increase its online trolling capabilities and up its support for meddling in other countries. The Hill reports:

The State Department is launching a $40 million initiative to crack down on foreign propaganda and disinformation amid widespread concerns about future Russian efforts to interfere in elections.

The department announced Monday that it signed a deal with the Pentagon to transfer $40 million from the Defense Department’s coffers to bolster the Global Engagement Center, an office set up at State during the Obama years to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.

The professed reason for the new funding is the alleged but unproven "Russian meddling" in the U.S. election campaign. U.S. Special Counsel Mueller indicted 13 Russians for what is claimed to be interference but which is likely mere commercial activity.

The announcement by the State Department explains that this new money will not only be used for measures against foreign trolling but to actively meddle in countries abroad:

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said the transfer of funds announced today reiterates the United States’ commitment to the fight.

“This funding is critical to ensuring that we continue an aggressive response to malign influence and disinformation and that we can leverage deeper partnerships with our allies, Silicon Valley, and other partners in this fight,” said Under Secretary Goldstein. “It is not merely a defensive posture that we should take, we also need to be on the offensive.

The mentioning of Silicon Valley is of interest. The big Silicon Valley companies Google, Facebook and Twitter were heavily involved in the U.S. election campaign. The companies embedded people within the campaigns to advise them how to reach a maximum trolling effect:

While the companies call it standard practice to work hand-in-hand with high-spending advertisers like political campaigns, the new research details how the staffers assigned to the 2016 candidates frequently acted more like political operatives, doing things like suggesting methods to target difficult-to-reach voters online, helping to tee up responses to likely lines of attack during debates, and scanning candidate calendars to recommend ad pushes around upcoming speeches.

In May 2016 the Hillary Clinton campaign even set up her own troll farm:

Hillary Clinton's well-heeled backers have opened a new frontier in digital campaigning, one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet's worst instincts. Correct the Record, a super PAC coordinating with Clinton's campaign, is spending some $1 million to find and confront social media users who post unflattering messages about the Democratic front-runner.

In effect, the effort aims to spend a large sum of money to increase the amount of trolling that already exists online.

Clinton is quite experienced in such issues. In 2009, during protests in Iran, then Secretary of State Clinton pushed Twitter to defer maintenance of its system to "help" the protesters. In 2010 USAid, under the State Department set up a Twitter-like service to meddle in Cuba.

The foreign policy advisor of Hillery Clinton's campaign, Laura Rosenberger, initiated and runs the Hamilton68 project which falsely explains any mentioning of issues disliked by its neo-conservative backers as the result of nefarious "Russian meddling".

The State Department can build on that and other experience.

Since at least 2011 the U.S. military is manipulating social media via sock puppets and trolls:

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
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The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

It was then wisely predicted that other countries would follow up:

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

Israel is long known for such information operations in which its paid trolls not only comment on issues on social media but actively manipulate Wikipedia entries. Such astroturfing has since become a common tool in commercial marketing campaigns.

With the new money the State Department will expand its Global Engagement Center (GEC) which is running "public diplomacy", aka propaganda, abroad:

The Fund will be a key part of the GEC’s partnerships with local civil society organizations, NGOs, media providers, and content creators to counter propaganda and disinformation. The Fund will also drive the use of innovative messaging and data science techniques.

Separately, the GEC will initiate a series of pilot projects developed with the Department of Defense that are designed to counter propaganda and disinformation. Those projects will be supported by Department of Defense funding.

This money will be in addition to the large funds the CIA traditionally spends on manipulating foreign media:

“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” said Mr. Johnson, now at the University of Georgia. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”
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C.I.A. officials told Mr. Johnson in the late 1980s that “insertions” of information into foreign news media, mostly accurate but sometimes false, were running at 70 to 80 a day.

Part of the new State Department money will be used to provide grants. If online trolling or sock puppetry is your thing, you may want to  apply now.

Posted by b on February 26, 2018 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

February 25, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-08

Feb 19 - Internet Marketing - Why Is This Smelly Fish Priceless?

Automated Twitter accounts, or trolls, repeated a tweet about a MoA piece on Muller's indictment of "Russian trolls". Funny but not really important. There is interesting news though related to the original Muller indictment. Mueller accused with little evidence 13 persons involved in the private Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) of meddling with the U.S. election campaign.

The Russian independent TV Rain, also known as Dozhd, found (Russian, machine translation) that one management person of the IRA was missing in the Mueller indictment. That women, Agata Burdonova, has recently moved with her husband to the United States. She had run the "translator" department of the IRA that created English language social marketing campaigns. She has now applied for a U.S. Social Security number.

According to a follow up:

On June 15, 2017, Dmitry Fyodorov says he received an employment offer from Facebook. On August 8, 2017 Fyodorov marries Burdonova. Employer (presumably, Facebook) sponsors both of their visas —prob. H1B.

On December 7 2017 both moved to Bellevue, Washington. Two month later Mueller indicts the alleged IRA owner and management, but not Burdonova. This smells of a deal made by some U.S. agency to get insight into the IRA. In return, an opportunity to move to the U.S. was offered.

Feb 20 - "Russian bots" - How An Anti-Russian Lobby Creates Fake News

On the farce of the "Hamilton 68" dashboard and how the media fall for it.

Feb 22 - The Rothschild Organ And Octoputin - Projection or Envy?

Feb 23 - Syria - The Two East-Ghouta Campaigns - One Is For Liberation, The Other To Save Terrorists

As Hadi Nasrallah smartly asks: "#SaveGhouta - From what exactly? And save who? ..."

Feb 24 - The White Helmet Singalong

See also: Professor for media studies Mark Miller analyses (vid) the war propaganda against Syria.

Feb 25 - Syria - The UNSC Mandated Ceasefire Will Not Hold

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 25, 2018 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (115)

Syria - The UNSC Mandated Ceasefire Will Not Hold

Last night the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2401 demanding a 30 day ceasefire in all of Syria. The text of the adopted resolution does not seem to be available yet. A copy of the original draft resolution is here. The Russian government had offered several amendments to it. It demanded that the U.S. side guarantees that the enemies of the Syrian state would stick to such a ceasefire.

The resolution was initiated by Sweden and Kuwait on behalf of the U.S. It follows after preparation by the Syrian army to liberate the east-Ghouta area next to the capital Damascus had reached a critical point. East-Ghouta is occupied by several terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and militant Salafist groups. Together they have for years been sponsored to harass the 7 million inhabitants of the capital with random mortar and missile attacks. The U.S. initiated a propaganda campaign to "save Ghouta" because it wants to keep the threat from Ghouta towards the Syrian capital alive.


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The ceasefire does not apply to Al-Qaeda, ISIS and associated terrorist groups. The war against them will continue. In east-Ghouta al-Qaeda (HTS) is allied with Failaq al-Rahman.


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The UN resolution is said to allow for the liberation of some significant areas of east-Ghouta including Harasta, Arbin, Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Kafar Batna. The Syrian Arab Army ground attack to liberate these and other parts of east-Ghouta began today, only hours after the resolution was adopted. It is already making good progress.

The huge propaganda campaign about east-Ghouta is certainly not over humanitarian concern or over adherence to some legal rules of war. Last year the U.S. destroyed Raqqa with more than 31,000 artillery rounds and a large air campaign and killed more than 3,200 civilians. It even destroyed the water pipeline to Raqqa that supplied the inhabitants of the city - a clear war crime. Back then the UN requested a ceasefire to evacuate civilians. The U.S. rejected that out of hand. It latter let the remaining Islamic State fighters escape from Raqqa and is now retraining them for further attacks on the Syrian state.

The campaigns around Ghouta are part of “cold” war between the USA and Russia which is dividing Syria. The current U.S. campaign to keep east-Ghouta under terrorist is in support of four goals:

  • to demonstrate to the word that the Syrian government is unable to keep Damascus safe
  • to show that Russia was wrong in claiming victory in Syria
  • to protect ISIS and al-Qaeda as they are still needed as U.S. proxy foot-soldiers
  • the justify the U.S. occupation of north-east Syria and its oil fields and to thus limit the financial resources of the Syrian state. (This also gives the U.S. and Israel an operational area for further attacks on the Syrian state.)

One interesting aspect of the UNSC ordered ceasefire is its application to the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish held Afrin area in north-west Syria. The Kurdish YPG, which is defending Afrin against the Turkish onslaught, is not an internationally recognized terrorist group. Thus Turkey is now under pressure to stop or end its campaign.

U.S. President Trump has again confused his private position with that of the ruling administration:

President Donald Trump appeared to contradict his own State Department during a press conference on Friday by saying that the US is in Syria to defeat ISIS and then leave. In January, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined five goals for the US in Syria — to defeat ISIS and al-Qaida, resolve the conflict between the Syrian regime and people, to curb Iranian influence, to create conditions so that refugees can safely return, and to create a Syria free of weapons of mass destruction. Tillerson also said that the US seeks to resolve the conflict between the Syrian regime and people. The Trump administration also decided this week that it could continue to maintain US troops in Syria indefinitely, even in areas where ISIS fighters have been cleared, without new Congressional authorization.

The is no basis in international law for a U.S. occupation of parts of Syria. The reasoning with which the administration tries to justify its military presence in Syria is laughable:

[It] said that the continued potential threat from the Islamic State provided a legal rationale for the Trump administration to keep American troops deployed there indefinitely.

A "preventive" military presence in a foreign country because some terrorist group might evolve there could be used to occupy any piece of land on this planet. This is evidently bullshit but it is currently unlikely that Congress will get involved and stop this criminal behavior.

The UNSC mandated ceasefire will fail. The various groups in east-Ghouta are disunited but have a common interest in keeping the war going. It is their sole source of income and purpose. They will continue to harass Damascus which will then justify more attacks on them.

The U.S. campaign to "save Ghouta" will thus go down in the same way the earlier campaign to "save Aleppo" has failed. The Syrian government will liberate and secure the area by the appropriate means and with the least possible casualties and damage.

The U.S. will then move its propaganda campaign to some other area and will continue to use dirty tricks, but not an open battle, to prolong the war on Syria and to pursue its unrealistic aims.

Posted by b on February 25, 2018 at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (70)

February 24, 2018

The White Helmet Singalong

The white Helmet singalong

by Banjo Marla

h/t: Walid

 

Posted by b on February 24, 2018 at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

February 23, 2018

Syria - The Two East-Ghouta Campaigns - One Is For Liberation, The Other To Save Terrorists

Daily mortar and missile attacks against the Syrian capital Damascus have been ongoing for years but intensified in recent months. The often quoted Syrian Observatory notes:

... raising to 116 persons at least including 18 children and 14 citizen women, who were killed as a result of the fall of these shells since the beginning of escalation on the capital Damascus and its suburbs on the 16th of November, and the SOHR documented the injury of more than 563 persons who were injured in these daily targeting during 3 consecutive months.

Other accounts report higher casualty numbers.

Some of the attacks on Damascus city hit well designated targets. The Russian embassy in Damascus has been mortared several times. Earlier this month more well targeted projectiles hit other Russian interests:

Maxim A. Suchkov‏ @MSuchkov_ALM - 4:03 AM - 7 Feb 2018
#Russia's trade mission in #Damascus got hit by 120-mm bomb & is badly damaged. Earlier Rus aid delivery point in the city came under fire killing two local Syrians, Rus non-gov delegation (Christian & Muslim leaders who brought collected aid) had to be evacuated.

All these mortars and missiles were fired from east-Ghouta, a Takfiri held area consisting partly of densely urban blocks and partly of agricultural villages. Some 400,000 people originally lived in the area but the number of people living there now is likely less than half of that.


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The area is occupied by Takfiris from three groups. Jaish al-Islam is under control of the Salafi Alloush clan and is financed through Wahhabi "donations" from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Nusra Front) and its allied group Faylaq al-Rahman also have significant contingents in east-Ghouta.

In 2015 these terrorists published video which showed their attempts to shoot down a large airliner which had just taken off from was landing at Damascus airport. They drove caged civilians of Alawite belief around town to protect themselves from bombing. The three groups have fought each other again and again and the people in east-Ghouta are the ones who have suffered most from them.

There have been several ceasefire agreements between the government and the terrorist groups but each of them was broken by one or the other group on the terrorist side. Last week another aid convoy by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered the area and distributed food and other humanitarian goods. But like elsewhere the militant groups will surely take control of such supplies, hoard them and use them primarily for themselves.

The Syrian government and its allies decided to finally liberate east-Ghouta from the grip of the Takfiri terrorists. Some 25,000 government troops are assembling now and preparatory artillery fire and aerial bombing has begun. The Syrian air force dropped leaflets to point anyone who wants to leave the area to designated humanitarian crossing points.

The western propaganda is repeating its "save Aleppo" campaign to save the terrorists in Ghouta. In the process the western aligned countries are making a joke (vid) out of the UN Security Council. There is no mention in this campaign of any Takfiri and no picture of any of the sectarian militants who daily kill random people in Damascus. This rings hollow writes Robert Fisk.

During the siege and the liberation of east-Aleppo the seven year old Bana, a girl who did not (vid) understand or know any English, was tweeting her genuine feelings in best prosaic English to the world. She called for war against Russia. Her father turned out to be a henchman for al-Qaeda's sharia court in east-Aleppo. But the media just loved that story.

CNN now found itself a new "Bana": The 15-year-old documenting Eastern Ghouta massacre with selfie videos. But this time the lucrative position of a tearful media darling attracted competition:

Ruth Sherlock‏ @Rsherlock - 2:00 PM - 22 Feb 2018
We spoke with a mother, a former english schoolteacher in #Eastern #Ghouta. Now she teaches her daughter to make video appeals in English - the world has ignored this siege for so long, she said. She hopes people might listen to a desperate child.

There are also Noor and Alaa - a Twitter account which claims to be of two young girls in east-Ghouta who in their videos read out English language propaganda shown to them off camera to "save Ghouta". These two girls seem to be run by the same guy, Mr Alhmado, who organized the Bana scam in east-Aleppo.

During the 2016 Aleppo campaign the terrorist supporters ran an "Aleppo Media Center" which distributed propaganda products to the "western" media. Together with the "White Helmets" al-Qaeda support gang it created the "boy in the ambulance" picture that many "western" newspaper printed on their front pages. The AMC was financed by the French government. The same organization that ran the AMC is now running the Ghouta Media Center GMC. The English language twitter account of the AMC sent its last tweet on July 5 2017. The first tweet of the new GMC was sent on July 9 2017. Both use a similar logo design:

There are an estimated 15,000 men under arms in east-Ghouta. Despite that, not one armed person can be seen in any of dozens of "White Helmets" propaganda videos of pictures of allegedly rescued, wounded or killed persons in east-Ghouta.

During the east-Aleppo campaign between June 10 2016 and November 19 2016 the "last hospital of Aleppo" was reported as being  destroyed "just now" for at least 21 times (vid). The "last hospital of east-Ghouta" will soon follow a similar path to fame.

The Syrian government has offered to evacuate all militants and their families from east-Ghouta to Idleb governorate. They declined. With the help of Egypt negotiations are ongoing with the Takfiri sponsors in Saudi Arabia. But as there are several terrorist groups involved it is doubtful that much will come from these talks.

The real assault on east-Ghouta has not even started and the "western" governments and media are already waging a full fledged campaign against it. But neither Syria nor its allies will allow the further existence of this al-Qaeda enclave. Two UN Security Council resolutions, 2249 and 2254, literary "demand" "to eradicate the safe haven [al-Qaeda and ISIS] have established over significant parts of Syria". While others try to protect those terrorists, Syria, Russia and Iran will fulfill this demand.

Obama acolytes call for U.S. attacks on Russian forces to "convince" Putin" that the terrorists in Ghouta must be "saved". But Russia has flown ten additional fighter planes to Syria, including two of its brand new Su-57s (vid), and further upped its air defenses to prevent any surprises from the U.S. or any other side.

While the preliminary shelling is ongoing no starting date and no operational plans for the ground campaign to liberate east-Ghouta have been revealed. Those may depend on the situation on other fronts in Syria, especially the situation in Afrin where Kurdish forces and other Syrian groups are fighting off a Turkish invasion. A follow-up piece will look into that campaign.

Posted by b on February 23, 2018 at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (89)

February 22, 2018

The Rothschild Organ And Octoputin - Projection or Envy?

The title page of this weeks Economist:


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Now consider one of the earliest cartoons that used this image:


The Rothschild banking family of England, Coin’s Financial School, (1894) - bigger

At least 26% of the British Economist is owned by the Rothschild family. Lynn Forester de Rothschild and her spouse Evelyn de Rothschild are sitting on the board of the Economist Group.

Is the publishing of the Putin squid by the Rothschild organ some kind of psychological projection? Or is it envy?

The picture of Putin as meddling octopus attacking democracies is of course dumb nonsense. There is no evidence that the Russian government was in any way involved in the U.S. election. The French and the German government have repudiated claims of "Russian hacking" in their countries' elections. The one country that meddles everywhere and destroys democracies left and right is of course the United States.

The octopus in cartoons is often associated with antisemitic Nazi propaganda and therefore frowned upon. When the German Süddeutsche Zeitung depicted Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg as an octopus which sucks up all data, the usual suspects were up in arms.

But historically the octopus cartoons were most often used to represent a country or empire.

Last year the Atlantic Sentenial wrote about The Octopus in Political Cartoons. Russia has frequently been depict as such (1904, 1937 1948, 1950, ...). Britain, France, Prussia, Germany, Austria, Japan and the U.S. were likewise caricatured as tentacled dangers. Britain's Winston Churchill appeared as a bloodsucking sea monster.

In 1904 an octopus showed the Standard Oil company entangling the White House, Congress and the U.S. people. Today there are other companies, bankers and extremely rich families who have such undue influence. We should fear and fight their meddling and not the president of a comparably benign Eurasian country.

Posted by b on February 22, 2018 at 11:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

February 20, 2018

"Russian bots" - How An Anti-Russian Lobby Creates Fake News

The U.S. mainstream media are going nuts. They now make up and report stories based on the uncritical acceptance of an algorithm they do not want to understand and which is known to produce fake results.

See for example these three stories:

Russian bot with ancient regalia

From the last link:

SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.

The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. Earlier on Wednesday, before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In other words - the "Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia" were following the current news just as cable news networks do. When a new sensational event happened they immediately jumped onto it. But the NYT authors go to length to claim that there is some nefarious Russian scheme behind this that uses automated accounts to spread divisive issues.

Those claims are based on this propaganda project:

Last year, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, in conjunction with the German Marshall Fund, a public policy research group in Washington, created a website that tracks hundreds of Twitter accounts of human users and suspected bots that they have linked to a Russian influence campaign.

The "Alliance for Securing Democracy" is run by military lobbyists, CIA minions and neo-conservative propagandists. Its claimed task is:

... to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.

There is no evidence that Vladimir Putin ever made or makes such efforts.

The ASD "Hamilton 68" website shows graphics with rankings of "top items" and "trending items" allegedly used by Russian bots or influence agents. There is nothing complicate behind it. It simply tracks the tweets of 600 Twitter users and aggregates the hashtags they use. It does not say which Twitter accounts its algorithms follows. It claims that the 600 were selected by one of three criteria: 1. People who often tweet news that also appears on RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik News, two general news sites sponsored by the Russian government; 2. People who "openly profess to be pro-Russian"; 3. accounts that "appear to use automation" to boost the same themes that people in group 1 and 2 tweet about.

Nowhere does the group say how many of the 600 accounts it claims to track belong to which group. Are their 10 assumed bots or 590 in the surveyed 600 accounts? And how please does one "openly profess" to be pro-Russian? We don't know and the ASD won't say.

On December 25 2017 the "Russian influence" agents or bots who - according to NYT - want to sow divisiveness and subvert democracy, wished everyone a #MerryChristmas.


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The real method the Hamilton 68 group used to select the 600 accounts it tracks is unknown. The group does not say or show how it made it up. Despite that the NYT reporters, Sheera Frenkel and Daisuke Wakabayashi, continue with the false assumptions that most or all of these  accounts are automated, have something to do with Russia and are presumably nefarious:

Russian-linked bots have rallied around other divisive issues, often ones that President Trump has tweeted about. They promoted Twitter hashtags like #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee after some National Football League players started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

The automated Twitter accounts helped popularize the #releasethememo hashtag, ...

The Daily Beast reported earlier that the last claim is definitely false:

Twitter’s internal analysis has thus far found that authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, are driving #ReleaseTheMemo. There are no preliminary indications that the Twitter activity either driving the hashtag or engaging with it is either predominantly Russian.

The same is presumably true for the other hashtags.

The Dutch IT expert and blogger Marcel van den Berg was wondering how Dutch keywords and hashtags showed up on the Hamilton 68 "Russian bots" dashboard. He found (Dutch, English auto translation) that the dashboard is a total fraud:

In recent weeks, I have been keeping a close eye on Hamilton 68. Every time a Dutch hashtag was shown on the website, I made a screenshot. Then I noted what was playing at that moment and I watched the Tweets with this hashtag. Again I could not find any Tweet that seemed to be from a Russian troll.

In all cases, the hash tags that Hamilton 68 reported were trending topics in the Netherlands. In all cases there was much to do around the subject of the hashtag in the Netherlands. Many people were angry or shared their opinion on the subject on Twitter. And even if there were a few tweets with Russian connections between them, the effect is zero. Because they do not stand out among the many other, authentic Tweets.

Van den Berg lists a dozen examples he analyzed in depth.

The anti-Russian Bellingcat group around couch blogger Eliot Higgins is sponsored by the NATO propaganda shop Atlantic Council. It sniffs through open source stuff to blame Russia or Syria wherever possible. Bellingcat was recently a victim of the "Russian bots" - or rather of the ASD website. On February 10 the hashtag #bellingcat trended to rank 2 of the dashboard.


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Bellingcat was thus, according to the Hamilton 68 claims, under assault by hordes of nefarious Russian government sponsored bots.

The Bellingcat folks looked into the issue and found that only six people on Twitter, none of them an automated account, had used the #bellingcat hashtag in the last 48 hours. Some of the six may have opinions that may be "pro-Russian", but as Higgins himself says:

[I]n my opinion, it's extremely unlikely the people listed are Russian agents

The pro-NATO propaganda shop Bellingcat thus debunked the pro-NATO propaganda shop Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The fraudsters who created the Hamilton 68 crap seem to have filled their database with rather normal people from all over the world who's opinions they personally dislike. Those then are the "Russian bots" who spread "Russian influence" and divisiveness.

Moreover - what is the value of its information when six normal people out of millions of active Twitter users can push a hashtag with a handful of tweets to the top of the dashboard?

But the U.S. media writes long gushing stories about the dashboard and how it somehow shows automated Russian propaganda. They go to length to explain that this shows "Russian influence" and a "Russian" attempt to sow "divisiveness" into people's minds.

This is nuts.

Last August, when the Hamilton 68 project was first released, the Nation was the only site critical of it. It predicted:

The import of GMF's project is clear: Reporting on anything that might put the US in a bad light is now tantamount to spreading Russian propaganda.

It is now even worse than that. The top ranking of the #merrychristmas hashtag shows that the algorithm does not even care about good or bad news. The tracked twitter accounts are normal people.

The whole project is just a means to push fake stories about alleged "Russian influence" into U.S. media. Whenever some issue creeps up on its dashboard that somehow fits its false "Russian bots" and "divisiveness" narrative the Alliance for Securing Democracy contacts the media to spread its poison. The U.S. media, - CNN, Wired, the New York Times -  are by now obviously devoid of thinking journalists and fact checkers. They simple re-package the venom and spread it to the public.

How long will it take until people die from it?

Posted by b on February 20, 2018 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)

February 19, 2018

Internet Marketing - Why Is This Smelly Fish Priceless? (updated)

[Updated below]

After I promoted Saturday's piece about the Mueller indictment on Twitter some seemingly automated accounts retweeted my promotion.

The original piece is about an internet marketing scheme that is supposed to have influenced U.S. elections. It is thus amusing that the retweeting bots are part of an internet marketing scheme that is supposed to influence U.S. elections.

But why do they use the line "Omg. Fish is priceless"?

My original tweet:


source - bigger

The automated(?) retweets:


source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

source - bigger

[Update - 12:50 EST]

Commentators pointed out:

1. The first retweet shown above, which introduced the 'fish' line, is from a real person. Debbie Lusigman, the @saneprogessive, who has her own video channel with lots of legit content. The other tweets though are copies (not regular retweets) of the first retweet.
(h/t oldandyoung and integer)

2. The other personalities are likely bots that may well be run by one Scott Dworkin, a grifter who runs the fundraising campaign Democratic Coalition and channels most of the funds to a company he owns. Geoff Miami found the connection and reported on it at Progressive Army.
(h/t Demeter)

Posted by b on February 19, 2018 at 07:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (67)

February 18, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-07

Feb 12 - On Sending Troops And Bombs At Times Square

The U.S. bombs Afghanistan to prevent bombs from going off in Times Square. Meanwhile bombs go off in Times Square to stop the U.S. from bombing Afghanistan. A perpetual motion machine ... profitable for some.

Feb 14 - Consolation Post

On various interesting issues ...

Feb 15 - Syria - New 'Chemical Weapons' Fake Planned - Chlorine Though Will Not Do

Touches on the reasons why chlorine is not a battlefield weapon ...

Feb 16 - White House: "Iraq Has Anthrax Virus" "Russia Launched NotPetya"

Computer viruses and malware are very difficult to attribute. The U.S. has shown zero evidence for its attribution of the NotPetya malware to Russia.

Feb 17 - Mueller Indictment - The "Russian Influence" Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme

No Russian activity had any influence on the election. Nowhere did Russia collude with Trump or his campaign. But Cold War 2.0 is needed to sell more weapons ...

 Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 18, 2018 at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (69)

February 17, 2018

Mueller Indictment - The "Russian Influence" Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme

Yesterday the U.S. Justice Department indicted the Russian Internet Research Agency on some dubious legal grounds. It covers thirteen Russian people and three Russian legal entities. The main count of the indictment is an alleged "Conspiracy to Defraud the United States".

The published indictment gives support to our long held believe that there was no "Russian influence" campaign during the U.S. election. What is described and denounced as such was instead a commercial marketing scheme which ran click-bait websites to generate advertisement revenue and created online crowds around virtual persona to promote whatever its commercial customers wanted to promote. The size of the operation was tiny when compared to the hundreds of millions in campaign expenditures. It had no influence on the election outcome.

The indictment is fodder for the public to prove that the Mueller investigation is "doing something". It distracts from further questioning  the origin of the Steele dossier. It is full of unproven assertions and assumptions. It is a sham in that none of the Russian persons or companies indicted will ever come in front of a U.S. court. That is bad because the indictment is build on the theory of a new crime which, unless a court throws it out, can be used to incriminate other people in other cases and might even apply to this blog. The later part of this post will refer to that.

In the early 1990s some dude in St.Petersburg made a good business selling hot dogs. He opened a colorful restaurant. Local celebrities and politicians were invited to gain notoriety while the restaurant served cheap food for too high prices. It was a good business. A few years later he moved to Moscow and gained contracts to cater to schools and to the military. The food he served was still substandard.

But catering bad food as school lunches gave him, by chance, the idea for a new business:

Parents were soon up in arms. Their children wouldn’t eat the food, saying it smelled rotten.

As the bad publicity mounted, Mr. Prigozhin’s company, Concord Catering, launched a counterattack, a former colleague said. He hired young men and women to overwhelm the internet with comments and blog posts praising the food and dismissing the parents’ protests.

“In five minutes, pages were drowning in comments,” said Andrei Ilin, whose website serves as a discussion board about public schools. “And all the trolls were supporting Concord.”

The trick worked beyond expectations. Prigozhin had found a new business. He hired some IT staff and low paid temps to populate various message boards, social networks and the general internet with whatever his customers asked him for.

You have a bad online reputation? Prigozhin can help. His internet company will fill the net with positive stories and remarks about you. Your old and bad reputation will be drowned by the new and good one. Want to promote a product or service? Prigozhin's online marketeers can address the right crowds.


Pic: A Russian influencer

To achieve those results the few temps who worked on such projects needed to multiply their online personalities. It is better to have fifty people vouch for you online than just five. No one cares if these are real people or just virtual ones. The internet makes it easy to create such sock-puppets. The virtual crowd can then be used to push personalities, products or political opinions. Such schemes are nothing new or special. Every decent "western" public relations and marketing company will offer a similar service and has done so for years.

While it is relatively easy to have sock-puppets swamp the comment threads of such sites as this blog, it is more difficult to have a real effect on social networks. These depend on multiplier effects. To gain many real "likes", "re-tweets" or "followers" an online persona needs a certain history and reputation. Real people need to feel attached to it. It takes some time and effort to build such a multiplier personality, be it real or virtual.

At some point Prigozhin, or whoever by then owned the internet marketing company, decided to expand into the lucrative English speaking market. This would require to build many English language online persona and to give those some history and time to gain crowds of followers and a credible reputation. The company sent a few of its staff to the U.S. to gain some impressions, pictures and experience of the surroundings. They would later use these to impersonate as U.S. locals. It was a medium size, long-term investment of maybe a hundred-thousand bucks over two or three years.

The U.S. election provided an excellent environment to build reputable online persona with large followings of people with discriminable mindsets. The political affinity was not important. The personalities only had to be very engaged and stick to their issue - be it left or right or whatever. The sole point was to gain as many followers as possible who could be segmented along social-political lines and marketed to the companies customers.

Again - there is nothing new to this. It is something hundreds, if not thousands of companies are doing as their daily business. The Russian company hoped to enter the business with a cost advantage. Even its mid-ranking managers were paid as little as $1,200 per month. The students and other temporary workers who would 'work' the virtual personas as puppeteers would earn even less. Any U.S. company in a similar business would have higher costs.

In parallel to building virtual online persona the company also built some click-bait websites and groups and promoted these through mini Facebook advertisements. These were the "Russian influence ads" on Facebook the U.S. media were so enraged about. They included the promotion of a Facebook page about cute puppies. Back in October we described how those "Russian influence" ads (most of which were shown after the election or were not seen at all) were simply part of a commercial scheme:

The pages described and the ads leading to them are typical click-bait, not part of a political influence op.
...
One builds pages with "hot" stuff that hopefully attracts lots of viewers. One creates ad-space on these pages and fills it with Google ads. One attracts viewers and promotes the spiked pages by buying $3 Facebook mini-ads for them. The mini-ads are targeted at the most susceptible groups.

A few thousand users will come and look at such pages. Some will 'like' the puppy pictures or the rant for or against LGBT and further spread them. Some will click the Google ads. Money then flows into the pockets of the page creator. One can rinse and repeat this scheme forever. Each such page is a small effort for a small revenue. But the scheme is highly scaleable and parts of it can be automatized.

Because of the myriad of U.S. sanctions against Russia the monetization of these business schemes required some creativity. One can easily find the name of a real U.S. person together with the assigned social security number and its date of birth. Those data are enough to open, for example, a Paypal account under a U.S. name. A U.S. customer of the cloaked Russian Internet company could then pay to the Paypal account and the money could be transferred from there to Moscow. These accounts could also be used to buy advertisement on Facebook. The person who's data was used to create the account would never learn of it and would have no loss or other damage. Another scheme is to simply pay some U.S. person to open a U.S. bank account and to then hand over the 'keys' to that account.

The Justice Department indictment is quite long and detailed. It must have been expensive. If you read it do so with the above in mind. Skip over the assumptions and claims of political interference and digest only the facts. All that is left is, as explained, a commercial marketing scheme.

I will not go into all its detail of the indictment but here are some points that support the above description.

Point 4:

Defendants, posing as US. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and pages, which addressed divisive US. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by US. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants. Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on social media accounts. Over time, these social media accounts became Defendants' means to reach significant numbers of Americans ...

Point 10d:

By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the "translator project." This project focused on the US. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.

(Some U.S. media today made the false claim that $1.25 million per month were spend by the company for its U.S. campaign. But Point 11 of the indictment says that the company ran a number of such projects directed at a Russian audience while only the one described in 10d above is aimed at an U.S. audience. All these projects together had a monthly budget of $1.25 million.)

(Point 17, 18 and 19 indict individual persons who have worked for the "translator" project" "to at least in and around [some month] 2014". It is completely unclear how these persons, who seem to have left the company two years before the U.S. election, are supposed to have anything to do with the claimed "Russian influence" on the U.S. election and the indictment.)

Point 32:

Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into "leader[s] of public opinion" in the United States.

The indictment then goes on and on describing the "political activities" of the sock-puppet personas. Some posted pro-Hillary slogans, some anti-Hillary stuff, some were pro-Trump, some anti-everyone, some urged not to vote, others to vote for third party candidates. The sock-puppets did not create or post fake news. They posted mainstream media stories.

Some of the persona called for going to anti-Islam rallies while others promoted pro-Islam rallies. The Mueller indictment lists a total of eight rallies. Most of these did not take place at all. No one joined the "Miners For Trump" rallies in Philly and Pittsburgh. A "Charlotte against Trump" march on November 19 - after the election - was attended by one hundred people. Eight people came for a pro-Trump rally in Fort Myers. 

The sock-puppets called for rallies to establish themselves as  'activist' and 'leadership' persona, to generated more online traffic and additional followers. There was in fact no overall political trend in what the sock-puppets did. The sole point of all such activities was to create a large total following by having multiple personas which together covered all potential social-political strata.

At Point 86 the indictment turns to Count Two - "Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Bank Fraud". The puppeteers opened, as explained above, various Paypal accounts using 'borrowed' data.

Then comes the point which confirms the commercial marketing story as laid out above:

Point 95:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

There you have it. There was no political point to what the Russian company did. Whatever political slogans one of the company's sock-puppets posted had only one aim: to increase the number of followers for that sock-puppet. The sole point of creating a diverse army of sock-puppets with large following crowds was to sell the 'eyeballs' of the followers to the paying customers of the marketing company.

There were, according to the indictment, eighty people working on the "translator project". These controlled "hundreds" of sock-puppets online accounts each with a distinct "political" personality. Each of these sock-puppets had a large number of followers - in total several hundred-thousands. Now let's assume that one to five promotional posts can be sold per day on each of the sock-puppets content stream. The scheme generates several thousand dollars per day ($25 per promo, hundreds of sock-puppets, 1-5 promos per day per sock-puppet). The costs for this were limited to the wages of up to eighty persons in Moscow, many of them temps, of which the highest paid received some $1,000 per month. While the upfront multiyear investment to create and establish the virtual personas was probably significant, this likely was, over all, a profitable business.

Again - this had nothing to do with political influence on the election. The sole point of political posts was to create 'engagement' and a larger number of followers in each potential social-political segment. People who buy promotional posts want these to be targeted at a specific audience. The Russian company could offer whatever audience was needed. It had sock-puppets with pro-LGBT view and a large following and sock-puppets with anti-LGBT views and a large following. It could provide pro-2nd amendment crowds as well as Jill Stein followers. Each of the sock-puppets had over time generated a group of followers that were like minded. The entity buying the promotion simply had to choose which group it preferred to address.

The panic of the U.S. establishment over the loss of their preferred candidate created an artificial storm over "Russian influence" and assumed "collusion" with the Trump campaign. (Certain Democrats though, like Adam Schiff, profit from creating a new Cold War through their sponsoring armament companies.)

The Mueller investigation found no "collusion" between anything Russia and the Trump campaign. The indictment does not mentions any. The whole "Russian influence" storm is based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in U.S. social networks.

There is a danger in this. The indictment sets up a new theory of nefarious foreign influence that could be applied to even this blog. As U.S. lawyer Robert Barns explains:

The only thing frightening about this indictment is the dangerous and dumb precedent it could set: foreign nationals criminally prohibited from public expression in the US during elections unless registered as foreign agents and reporting their expenditures to the FEC.
...
Mueller's new crime only requires 3 elements: 1) a foreign national; 2) outspoken on US social media during US election; and 3) failed to register as a foreign agent or failed to report receipts/expenditures of speech activity. Could indict millions under that theory.
...
The legal theory of the indictment for most of the defendants and most of the charges alleges that the "fraud" was simply not registering as a foreign agent or not reporting expenses to the FEC because they were a foreign national expressing views in a US election.

Author Leonid Bershidsky, who prominently writes for Bloomberg, remarks:

I'm actually surprised I haven't been indicted. I'm Russian, I was in the U.S. in 2016 and I published columns critical of both Clinton and Trump w/o registering as a foreign agent.

As most of you will know your author writing this is German. I write pseudo-anonymously for a mostly U.S. audience. My postings are political and during the U.S. election campaign expressed an anti-Hillary view. The blog is hosted on U.S, infrastructure paid for by me. I am not registered as Foreign Agent or with the Federal Election Commission.

Under the theory on which the indictment is based I could also be indicted for a similar "Conspiracy to Defraud the United States".

(Are those of you who kindly donate for this blog co-conspiractors?)

When Yevgeni Prigozhin, the hot dog caterer who allegedly owns the internet promotion business, was asked about the indictment he responded:

"The Americans are really impressionable people, they see what they want to see. [...] If they want to see the devil, let them see him."

Posted by b on February 17, 2018 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (149)

February 16, 2018

White House: "Iraq Has Anthrax Virus" "Russia Launched NotPetya"

Late last night the White House accused the Russian military of having launched the destructive "NotPetya" malware which in June 2017 hit many global companies:

Statement from the Press Secretary

In June 2017, the Russian military launched the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history.

The attack, dubbed “NotPetya,” quickly spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict. This was also a reckless and indiscriminate cyber-attack that will be met with international consequences.

The statement has the same quality as earlier statements about Spain sinking the Maine or about Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction had.

Neither the U.S. nor anyone else has presented ANY evidence of ANY Russian involvement in the creation or distribution of the NotPetya malware. The U.S. is simply asserting this while presenting nothing to back it up.

There is, in general, no attribution possible for any such cyber attack. As John McAfee, founder of an anti-virus firm, said:

“When the FBI or when any other agency says the Russians did it or the Chinese did something or the Iranians did something – that's a fallacy,” said McAfee.
...
Any hacker capable of breaking into something is extraordinarily capable of hiding their tracks. If I were the Chinese and I wanted to make it look like the Russians did it I would use Russian language within the code. “I would use Russian techniques of breaking into organisations so there is simply no way to assign a source for any attack – this is a fallacy.”
...
I can promise you – if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians.”

I agree with McAfee's statement. The CIA must likewise agree. Wikileaks has released a number of CIA cyber tools it had obtained. These included software specifically designed to create false attributions:

The CIA's Remote Devices Branch's UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques 'stolen' from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.

With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the "fingerprints" of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.

Nearly all "attributes" used for attributing a cyber attack can be easily faked to accuse a party not involved in the attack.

The British National Cyber Security Center, part of the British computer spying organisation GCHQ, also claims that the Russian military is "almost certainly" responsible for the NotPetya attack. Canada and the Australians also chipped in.

But note - these are NOT independent sources. They are, together with New Zealand, part of the of the "Five Eyes" spying alliance. From NSA files released by Edward Snowden we know that the Five Eyes are practically led by the U.S. National Security Agency:

One internal document quotes the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, on a visit to Menwith Hill in June 2008, asking: "Why can't we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith."

Menwith Hill is a Royal Airforce spying station and part of the GCHQ infrastructure. That the head of the NSA can assign "summer projects" to it shows where the real power lies.

The Russian government strongly rejects the accusations.

NotPetya was a destructive virus that masked as ransomware. It was based on attacking tools which originally had been developed by the NSA but were later anonymously published by someone calling himself Shadow-Broker. One of several attack vectors NotPetya used was the update mechanism of some tax accounting software which is common in Ukraine and Russia. But the attack soon spread globally:

The attack hit Ukraine central bank, government computers, airports, the Kiev metro, the state power distributor Ukrenergo, Chernobyl’s radiation monitoring system, and other machines in the country. It also affected Russian oil giant Rosneft, DLA Piper law firm, U.S. biopharmaceutical giant Merck, British advertiser WPP, and Danish shipping and energy company Maersk, among others.

The biggest damaged through NotPetya occurred at the Danish shipping company Maersk which had to completely reboot its entire infrastructure and lost some $250-300 million due to the attack.

The question one must always ask when such accusations are made is: Why would the accused do this?

In January the U.S. attribution claims about the NotPetya malware were prelaunched through the Washington Post:

The CIA has attributed to Russian military hackers a cyberattack that crippled computers in Ukraine last year, an effort to disrupt that country’s financial system amid its ongoing war with separatists loyal to the Kremlin.
...
The GRU military spy agency created NotPetya, the CIA concluded with “high confidence” in November, according to classified reports cited by U.S. intelligence officials.
...
The hackers worked for the military spy service’s GTsST, or Main Center for Special Technology, the CIA reported. That unit is highly involved in the GRU’s cyberattack program, including the enabling of influence operations.

What could have been the motive of the "Russian military" to release a (badly written) malware that destroys computer-files of random companies all over the world including at the all important Russian oil-giant Rosneft. To assume that Ukraine's financial system was the target is almost certainly wrong. There is also no evidence that this was the case. Ukraine's Central Bank was just one of thousands of victims of the attack.

Only some 50% of the affected companies were in Ukraine. Most of them were not financial firms. The attack was initiated through an update mechanism of an accounting software that is also used in Russia. That original attack vector was probably chosen simply because it was easy to use. The accounting software company had a lousy security protection. The first infected computers then applied a different mechanism to spread the malware to other machines. The attack was launched on a Ukrainian national holiday which is not optimal if one wants to spread it as wide as possible throughout the Ukraine.

That the Ukraine and Russia were hit first by the malware was also likely just a time-of-day question. The timeline shows that the U.S. and most of western-Europe were still asleep when the virus started to proliferate. The anti-virus organizations, the Russian company Kaspersky among them, took only a few hours to diagnose the attacking software. A solution to prevent further damage was found within some twelve hours. By the time the U.S. working day started anti-virus companies were already releasing advise and protective code against it. If the attack had not been stopped by protective software it would have effected many more computers. Most of these would not have been in the Ukraine.

The U.S. attribution of the NotPetya attack to some Russian organization is extremely doubtful. In general a certain attribution of any such cyber attack is impossible. It is easy for any sophisticated virus writer to modify the code so that it looks as if it was written by some third party. The CIA even develops tools to do exactly that.

The attacking software seemed to be of relatively low quality. It was a badly designed mishmash created from earlier known malware and spy tools. It was not confined to a certain country or target. It can at best be described as an act of random vandalism on a global scale. There is no discernible motive for any Russian state organizations to release such nonsense.

In 2009 Russia offered an international treaty to prohibit cyber attacks. It was the U.S. under Obama which rejected it as "unnecessary" while it was expanding its own attack capabilities.

The U.S. government has launched a Cold War 2.0 against Russia. The motive for that seems to be mostly monetary. Hunting a few 'terrorists' does not justify big military budgets, opposing a nuclear power does.

The now released accusations against Russia have as much foundation in reality as the claims of alleged Iraqi WMDs. We can only hope that these new accusations will have less severe consequences.

Posted by b on February 16, 2018 at 04:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (121)

February 15, 2018

Syria - New 'Chemical Weapons' Fake Planned - Chlorine Though Will Not Do

During the seven years of the war on Syria several accusations were made that the government that it had used 'chemical weapons' against the attacking extremists. The Syrian government denied to have ever released any chemicals. The implausible to murky 'evidence' of such incidents always came from foreign paid  propaganda groups and extremists on the ground. They were likely staged to incriminate the government and to thereby induce military attacks by foreign states.

We currently see several reports which in their combination look like preparations for of another fake 'chemical weapon' incident.

On February 13 the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria noted a warning of an upcoming false-flag 'chemical attack' incident:

"On the evening of February 12, a resident from the Serakab settlement located in the Idlib province called the Russian Center for Reconciliaition to notify (the center) about a chemical weapons attack that could be staged to provide footage for a foreign TV channel," the statement reads. "The caller said that earlier on February 12, Jabhat al-Nusra members travelling in three cars had brought more than 20 chlorine gas cylinders and personal protective equipment to Serakab," the Center added.

"According to the caller, members of the local While Helmets branch wore personal protective equipment while rehearsing first aid provision to civilians suffering from chemical poisoning," the Russian Center said.
...
"The caller pointed out that all the proceedings had been filmed by professional reporters who used a mic with the CNN logo, while commenting on the actions being taken by the White Helmets," the statement said, adding that in between takes, the reporters had consulted with some people over a satellite telephone in English.

The White Helmets are a mostly British funded propaganda organization embedded with Hayat Tahreer Al-Sham, the current incarnation of al-Qaeda in Syria which rules Idleb governorate. The head of al-Qaeda in Syria, Abu Jaber Al-Sheikh, lauded (video, alternative) the White Helmets as the "hidden soldiers of our revolution".

CNN is currently embedded with al-Qaeda and is producing White Helmets propaganda in Idleb governorate:

CNN Today‏ @cnntoday - 12:23 AM - 14 Feb 2018
EXCLUSIVE report from @arwaCNN in #Idlib Syria and @holmescnn has #TheBreakdown on more fighting in #Ghouta #Afrin #DeirEzzor

The Russian warning is not the only sign that another fake chemical weapon attack is coming up.

The Israeli government is pushing "top secret" disinformation into the public which preemptively blames the Syrian government for any upcoming incident. It is also attempts to influence foreign governments on the issue:

According to a "Top secret" cable sent to Israeli ambassadors earlier this week, Israel fears that the Assad regime will use the chemical weapons it still has left in a way which might spill over to Israeli territory. The contents of the cable were shared with me by senior Israeli officials.
...
[T]he strategic division in the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs sent the 'Top Secret" cable to 15 Israeli embassies around the world, including in Washington.
...
One of the more unusual instructions in the cable was to pass a strong message regarding the Israeli concern that the chemical weapons left at the disposal of the Assad regime might be used against rebel forces ...

On Tuesday the White Helmets were again trying to get more foreign powers involved in fighting the Syrian government:

France should stop talking about red lines and focus on real action to persuade the main actors in Syria’s conflict to agree a ceasefire, [Abdulrahman Almawwas], the vice-president of the Syria Civil Defence, or “White Helmets”, said on Tuesday.
...
Speaking after meeting senior French officials, including Macron’s chief diplomatic adviser, Almawwas said France needed to put pressure on the main protagonists, such as pushing for a no-fly zone, even though he acknowledged France had few options.

Only hours after Abdulrahman Almawwas spoke with Macron’s chief diplomatic adviser, the French president issued a statement which set up a 'red line' trap:

“On chemical weapons, I set a red line and I reaffirm that red line,” Macron told reporters. “If we have proven evidence that chemical weapons proscribed in treaties are used, we will strike the place where they are made.”

“Today, our agencies, our armed forces have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population.”

Setting red lines is a trap for oneself as it includes an invitation to others to break them. Anyone can release 'chemical weapons' in insurgent controlled areas in Syria and blame the Syrian government - thus potentially triggering the French 'red line'. So far though France has "not established" that a real chemical weapon incident ever happened. Of note in Macron's statement was also the threat to strike at "the place where they are made". That place would likely be outside of Syria. The French Foreign Ministry noted Macorn's inconvenient choice of words, intervened and today "clarified" his remarks:

France's foreign minister on Wednesday sought to clarify his government's position on the use of chemical weapons in Syria saying that Paris would only strike if the attacks were lethal and carried out by government forces.
...
"(The president) confirmed that he would proceed to military strikes against regime installations if there was a new use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's forces when these attacks are lethal and regime's responsibility is proven," Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers.

Al-Qaeda will have no problem to create a "lethal" chemical weapon attack. They have killed ten-thousands of Syrian without any remorse. To "prove" that the Syrian government did it will be the task of the White Helmets and its CNN and Atlantic Council collaborators.

Chlorine though will not do.


Source: Chlorine - Properties (vid) - bigger

In their last attempt to smear the Syrian government for using 'chemical weapons' those organizations hyped the remains of a few 107mmm rockets which allegedly carried chlorine gas and were fired against the Takfiri held areas of east-Ghouta. (Unmentioned were the thousands of grenades fired by east-Ghouta Takfiris against civilians in Damascus.)

If those rockets had held chlorine they would have had no effect on anyone.

Chlorine gas is hardly ever deadly. It is 2.5 times heavier than air with a distinct yellow-green color and a strong bleach odor. Chlorine gas will only kill those submerged in a high concentration cloud. If one sees or smells it one simply walks away from the cloud and thereby stays safe. Chlorine was used as the first chemical weapon in World War I because it would creep downwards into deep enemy ditches. Even then it was soon found to be ineffective as a weapon and replaced with other chemicals.

That a few rockets with a few pounds of chlorine would have no 'lethal' effect is also obvious from official reports during the U.S. occupation of Iraq:

The first documented chlorine attack was Oct. 21, 2006, in Ramadi, a Multinational Force Iraq spokeswoman said. In that attack, terrorists drove a car bomb with 12 120 mm mortar shells and two 100-pound chlorine tanks. The attack wounded three Iraqi policemen and a civilian.

The first attack that received media attention was at Taji, where terrorists remotely detonated a 5-ton truck packed with 100 pounds of high explosives and two 1-ton chlorine tanks. The attack killed one civilian and wounded 114 others.
...
The most recent attack was June 3 against Forward Operating Base Warhorse, in Diyala province. Again, a suicide car bomber launched the attack, and officials estimate it included two tanks of chlorine and 1,000 pounds of explosive. The cloud from the attack blew over Warhorse and sickened 65 servicemembers, Multinational Force Iraq officials said. All were examined and returned to duty.
...
A Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said there are anecdotal reports that while the blasts from the attacks have killed, few have died solely from the gas. “We hear that an old man and some babies may have been killed, but we can’t pin that down,” the spokesman said.

If literally tons of chlorine were used in attacks in Iraq with no deadly effect how could a few pounds on top of some small rockets kill anyone?

On February 2 the U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis acknowledge the practical uselessness of chlorine by putting it into a "separate category" than other chemical weapons. He also noted that he has no evidence of any such weapon use:

Q: Is there evidence of chlorine gas weapons used -- evidence of chlorine gas weapons?

SEC. MATTIS: I think that's, yes --

Q: No, I know, I heard you.

SEC. MATTIS: I think it's been used repeatedly. And that's, as you know, a somewhat separate category, which is why I broke out the sarin as another -- yeah.

Q: So there's credible evidence out there that both sarin and chlorine --

SEC. MATTIS: No, I have not got the evidence, not specifically. I don't have the evidence.

What I'm saying is that other -- that groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that sarin has been used. So we are looking for evidence. I don't have evidence, credible or uncredible.

NGOs and "fighters on the ground" claimed to have evidence of chemical weapon attacks. But just like the French agencies and armed forces Macron mentioned, Mattis and the DoD have none.

The Takfiris of al-Qaeda, the White Helmets propaganda shop and its media acolytes may well prepare, as the Russians report, another fake chemical attack stunt. The Israeli government is busy preparing the public relations ground. But the French government, having trapped itself with 'red line' nonsense, then set the mark higher at 'lethal' attacks.

Chlorine is, as shown above, hardly ever lethal. But al-Qaeda will have no qualms about coming up with a few corpses to prove the 'lethality' of a fake incident.

We also have seen how, with some outside help, a harmless chlorine release can be faked in an allegedly deadly sarin attack. Such happened in April 2017 in the Khan Sheikhun incident.

Multiple early on-the-ground reports by local witnesses and Turkish officials spoke of chlorine release and chlorine affected patients. Only a day later were these claims turned into an alleged "sarin attack". Real evidence was never obtained from the al-Qaeda ruled grounds where that incident happened. A discredited investigation was inconclusive. It claimed some "sarin-like substance" may have been involved but it could not even explain why more than 50 casualties of the claimed incident arrived at far away hospitals BEFORE it had happened at all:

The admission times of the [hospital] records range between 0600 and 1600 hours. Analysis of the aforementioned medical records revealed that in 57 cases, patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun (at 0600, 0620 and 0640 hours).

One has to agree with Secretary of Defense Mattis on this - some corpses shown to CNN by "NGOs" and "fighters on the ground" are not real evidence. Neither are discredited investigations. If the al-Qaeda Takfiris and its supporters want to come up with some believable fake they must set their standard much higher.

Posted by b on February 15, 2018 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (185)

February 14, 2018

Consolation Post

[Some private issues are currently impeding my time for this site. Please bear with me.]

- It was long obvious that the U.S. was moving further to the right, but I still did not expect this. A rather main stream outlet, Politico, is arguing for the reintroduction of slavery (though they name it differently). Neither the economic logic nor the numbers hold up. But we should not let that, or any ethics, get in the way of a high dose of neoliberal extremism:

Under this new system, all citizens would have the right to sponsor a migrant for economic purposes.
...
Mary goes online—to a new kind of international gig economy website, a Fiverr for immigrants—and applies to sponsor a migrant. She enters information about what she needs: someone with rudimentary English skills, no criminal record and an affection for animals. She offers a room in her basement, meals and $5 an hour. (Sponsors under this program would be exempt from paying minimum wage.)
...
According to our calculations, a typical family of four could boost its income by $10,000 to 20,000 by hosting migrants. The reason is that migrants to the United States usually increase their wages many times, allowing them to pay as much as $6,000 to hosts for sponsorships (and our average family could sponsor up to four visas, one for each member).

- Netanyahoo may finally get indicted for taking bribes. The man has of course no shame. He will not step down but become more extreme:

Netanyahu’s supporters won’t turn on him, and his party colleagues won’t find the courage to demand his resignation. He’ll be able to continue portraying himself as the heroic victim of a sinister conspiracy. His aiders and abettors in Likud will continue to spin wild tales of coup d’états and putsches. His base will grow even angrier at the alleged plot hatched by the media, the left and the police – George Soros is waiting in the wings, of course – which will spur Likud politicians to go even harsher and more delusional.

- The Taliban are sending peace feelers and offer negotiations with the U.S. government. Interesting, but they will be ignored.

- Peter Lee, aka @chinahand, gives a good lecture on the history of Korea's testy relations with the U.S.-Japanese alliance - At the Olympics, South Korea Says “Enough” to a Century of Japanese and U.S. Betrayal

- Lots of outlets claim that dozens if not hundreds Russian contractors died in the recent U.S. attack in east Syria. I stand by my take on the issue. There was some kind of local deal made to hand over an oil field in which the Russian contractor Wagner was involved. The U.S. blew up the deal, literally, when it was about to happen. It wants to keep the issue under its sole control. Few, if any, Russians were hurt.

Posted by b on February 14, 2018 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (104)

February 12, 2018

On Sending Troops And Bombs At Times Square

“You guys want me to send troops everywhere,” Trump said, according to officials in the Situation Room meeting. “What’s the justification?”

“Sir, we’re doing it to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square,” Mattis replied.
Trump’s favorite general: Can Mattis check an impulsive president and still retain his trust? - WaPo - Feb 7 2018

---
Faisal Shahzad, the naturalized American citizen who recently pled guilty after attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square, was a troubled fellow ...

During his court hearing Shahzad said: “until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S.
Terrorism: Why They Want to Kill Us - Cato, Jul 1 2010

Posted by b on February 12, 2018 at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (79)

February 11, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-06

Feb 5 - Some People Are Fun ...

Iran's Rouhani wins the papal sympathy race against Turkey's Erdogan.

Feb 6 - Syria - Is The Turkish Attack On Afrin Intended To Split The U.S.-Kurdish Alliance?

NSA McMaster is supposed to visit Turkey this weekend, SecState Tillerson next week. Will Turkey finally opt for the Russian or the U.S. side? I likely depends on what Washington can and will offer.

Feb 8 - Syria - U.S. May Have Arranged "Self Defense" Attack On Syrian Government Forces

The U.S. attack on pro-Syrian forces killed some 20 Syrian fighters, not the 100 plus the U.S. announced. Several of those killed were Christians from west-Syria who belonged to a group called "ISIS-hunters". These were trained by the Russian private military company Wagner. This supports my suggestion that some oil-well transfer between local Syrian groups was the real reason for this incident.

Feb 10 - WaPo's Ignatius: "ISIS Is There - When The U.S. Needs It"

Whenever the U.S. needs a reason to put its military somewhere it pulls the al-Qaeda/ISIS rabbit out of its hat. Others are not allowed to copy that trick.

Feb 11 - A Book On Hizbullah That Deserves Your Attention

If you can please help Elijah so he can write and publish his book.

Feb 11 - Syria - Is War With Israel Imminent (Updated)?

Israel's jet was hit within Israeli airspace after having bombed a target in Syria. Netanyahoo had for some time tried to get a Russian green light for a more bellicose posture towards Hizbullah and Syria. The answer was "nyet". When he tried to simply go forward by bombing the T-4 base near Palmyra, Russian officers helped the Syrian air defense with the proper response. The rules of engagement have thus changed. After yesterdays imbroglio Putin told Netanyahoo to "avoid any steps that could lead to a new round of confrontation." That was an advice to keep his planes on the ground or lose more of them to a well equipped and unrestricted Syrian air defense.

A piece missing last week should have been about the opening of the Winter Olympics in Korea. The North and the South started with a united team and emphasized the peacefulness of the games. U.S. Vive President Pence made an ass out of himself when he tried, and failed, to party-poop the opening festivities with the South Korean president Moon and the well represented North Korean delegation. Kim Yo Jong, the polite sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, made an excellent impression.

Before Pence came to South Korea he was in Japan to visit the militaristic Prime Minister Abe, a figure widely despised in South Korea. Abe promptly suggested to immediately restart U.S.-South Korean maneuvers which would lead to a restart of nuclear and missile testing in the North.

But the South under President Moon wants -like the North- peace and not a war that would again devastate the country. By now Kim Yo Jong and the North Korean cheerleader squad have gained more sympathy points in South Korea than Pence and Abe combined. How long will it take for the U.S. to decide to "regime change" Moon for some more compliant and belligerent person?

I am no longer fond of Olympic games. There are too many sport disciplines, too much cheating, too much money and too many politics involved in the Olympics. The Norwegian team was rumored to have brought some 6,000 doses of asthma medicine for its athletes. That rumor is likely false, but it makes a good point. Such drugs are exempted by the anti-doping agency if some doctor simply certifies that an athlete needs them. That such drugs are performance enhancing is then just a 'side effect'. At least 15 U.S. athletes in the Rio Olympics took such 'medicine'. Russian athletes though, who never used these exemptions, were banned or restricted for alleged doping on quite murky grounds.

Here is a winter sport, guaranteed doping free, that I'd enjoy to watch more - cat curling (vid).

Please use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 11, 2018 at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (78)

February 10, 2018

Syria - Is War With Israel Imminent (Updated)?

Around 6 am GMT the Syrian air defense shot downed an Israeli fighter jet that was attacking the country. There is now the chance that a larger war will ensue. (The whole story behind this will surely be covered in Elijah Magnier's upcoming book on Hizbullah.)

[This is a developing story that will be updated below as new information comes in. - The latest update (below) is a video interview with Elijah Magnier on the implications of today's developments.]

This escalation comes after a series of recent provocations against the Russian forces in Syria, yesterday's U.S. attack on Syrian forces, last week's Israeli threats against Lebanon and dozens of Israeli air attacks on alleged Hizbullah or Iranian installations in Syria.

Tonight's events developed after Israel shot down what it called an "Iranian drone" allegedly in air space over the Israel occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Syria denies that its drone violated Israeli air space. Israel then attacked ground targets in Syria. One attacking Israeli F-16 fighter jet was taken down by Syrian air defense. The pilot ejected and parachuted into Israeli territory. He is wounded but survived. It is the first downing of an Israeli jet by Syrian air defense since 1982!  Further Israeli "retaliation" followed. This is another paragraph in the long history of Israeli aggression against Syria.


Older map with an approximate timeline of events - Source: LeBeck- bigger

There are some unconfirmed vague reports of a second damaged F-16 and a destroyed Israeli Apache helicopter.

Today's development as covered in Eljiah Magnier's timeline (emphasis added):

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 5:06 AM - 10 Feb 2018
Missiles launched over #Damascus; Rockets over the Golan Heights and a drone downed over #Israel: all in the last hour.
Israel said it is "an #Iranian drone". If that is the case, it is a "forced reconnaissance" to exhaust the Israeli defence system, #Hezbollah's style.

#Breakingnews:
#Israel F-16 downed by what seems to be #Syria air defence system

#BreakingNews: Private source
All Syrian military and intelligence and their allies (#Hezbollah) positions in #Syria and #Lebanon on full alert

Source: #Israel recognition of downing an F-16 means Syria is on alert waiting for any Israeli violation, as is #Hezbolah and #Iran. Would Israel be dragged to war? How #Russia will react in #Syria? The front is very hot now.

#Israel changing version from "an #Iranian drone" to admit the downing of an F-16 was a first attempt to accuse #Tehran but later had to admit the reality showing a confusion in decision makers in the first hour.

#Syria is used to war as its leadership has been engaged in it fully for the last 6-7 years. Therefore #Damascus's Gov is ready for another front following the liberation of #ISIS last pocket in the north (except the one under #USA control).

Level of escalation in #Damascus response was a warning to #Israel that #TelAviv didn't take onboard. #Israel may limit itself bombing few Syrian positions from afar (flying over #Lebanon) or be dragged into escalation on a front from #Lebanon to #Syria

#Israel can't ignore the downing of its F-16, never happen in the last decades over #Syria and #Lebanon. Therefore what is important is the level of response: will the response bring a retaliation? If so, the long waited war may began.

This is a new Rule of Engagement and a new situation where #Israel is finding itself incapable of dominating the #Syria/n air space. It also shows #Damascus freedom (unlike many analysts believed) to respond regardless what #Russia's position is.

#Syria/n officials believe more than 1 F-16 were hit by its anti-Air missiles, showing the Syrian air-defence capability and the challenging attitude of #Damascus towards #Israel (not accepting the Israeli version of only 1 F-16 downed).

One conclusion: The Sky over #Syria is no longer an #Israeli/i promenade and the Syrian Army is now ready for another confrontation. This blows up all (ridiculous) assessment by analysts that "the Syrian Army stretched..., skinny..., few thousands only...)

#Israel admitted, indirectly, of the efficiency of the #Syrian Air-defence system by saying:"We study a retaliation". The question is and remain: How #Russia will behave? Allow #Israel to hit its Syrian ally and remain on the side? Or stop the escalation?

It is in the disadvantage of #Russia to see another war in #Syria on the southern front, with a #USA intervention, #Hezbollah #Iran the #Palestinians... all that may lead to a general war unless the Israeli response is limited.

#Hezbollah, on full alert in #Syria and #Lebanon, expected the reaction. Its leader Said Hasan Nasrallah warned to open a general war from Naqoura to the Golan Heights in the forthcoming war.

This escalation coincide with the approval of #Lebanon to start its oil exploration in Block 9.

Just a thought: If this is a #Russian tit-for-tat, we could say that it is #Russia response to the downing of the Russian jet over #Idlib. Russia accused the #USA of providing anti-air missiles to #AQ allies.

It is likely that #Damascus issues a communiqué to confirm its air defence fired the missiles against the F-16 hitting more than one jet to counter the #Israeli version claiming that #Iran is directly involved in this event.

It seems #Israel warning Sirens blare in Northern #Israel over the Golan, the Galilee and the northern of Israel, closing the airspace over the north of Israel.

7:35 AM - 10 Feb 2018
#BreakingNews: A second #Israel/i air bombing against #Syria. #Damascus open fire again against Israel Jets and Golan Heights positions. Siren over Israel continue. Escalation (for now).

Should Israel escalate to a bigger war it will be covered with hundreds of missiles per hour. Hizbullah has enough reserves to submit Israel to weeks of uninterrupted fire. Normal civil life will come to a stand still. Lebanon and Syria would also be under severe attacks but they are better positioned to endure such a situation.

A downed F-16 is already a bloody nose for Israel. It is not in its interest to further escalate.

Russia as well as the U.S. could become involved and into direct conflict. This must be avoided at all cost. But the current personal in White House, especially the military triumvirate behind the president, is of dubious quality. Moscow is hopefully aware of this.

[Update 12 am GMT]

The parties are now deescalating. In the last round Israel claimed to have hit several Syrian air-defense positions and "Hizbullah depots" while Syria claimed to have shot down more incoming missiles. Israel signaled that it is not interested in further escalation and Russia called for both sides to calm down. There has been no statement from Washington.

If this outcome persists we can state that there are now new "rules of engagement" and new "red lines". Further Israeli attacks on Syria will be responded to by effective means. The Russian officers who are co-located with the Syrian air defense will not intervene to Israel's advantage. That fact is in itself a message from Moscow to Israel to stop its open and its clandestine provocations.

[Update: 1:30 pm GMT]

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 1:03 PM - 10 Feb 2018
This is the end of it guys: #Israel decided to stand down and de-escalate. #Russia received an Israeli request to mediate to stop the escalation. Israel has lost the first battle against #Damascus when Syria was ready, after eliminating ISIS in central Syria

#BreakingNews:
Commander in #Syria confirmed to me: It was not an S-200 that hit the F-16. "It was a prepared ambushed". Read more tomorrow via @AlraiMediaGroup

[Update: 7:00 pm GMT]

Elijah just gave an interview (video) to 108morris about the implications of today's development.

Posted by b on February 10, 2018 at 04:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (188)

A Book On Hizbullah That Deserves Your Attention

We have often quoted Elijah J. Magnier's reports from Syria and Iraq. His insight and access to the various actors on the ground is unique. Yesterday he posted this request:

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 7:06 PM - 9 Feb 2018
I'm raising money for Writing My Book on Hezbollah. Every contribution helps, whatever the amount. Be my partner in this project! I can't do it without you. Click to Donate

Originally from Brussels Magnier reported from Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. During the U.S. war on Iraq and the following occupation he lived in Baghdad and Najaf. Over the last years he has covered the war on Syria and against the Islamic State.

While other writers sit in tinker tanks far away from the front, Elijah is there and talks with the relevant people.


Elijah Magnier on his way to an interview with the marājiʿa
Iman Ali Shrine, Najaf, Iraq, 2017- bigger

From his book description:

Hezbollah: The Unlikely Peacemakers
From Domestic Resistance To A Regional Army

Hezbollah’s very existence arouses passion, and it is criticised as much for its alleged faults as for its achievements. As a war zone correspondent, I am privileged to have watched in person the creation and development of Hezbollah since 1982. I have met and interacted with many of its commanders during the last decades from Lebanon, to Bosnia, Iran, Syria and Iraq, and shared aspects of its activities on the ground, its weakness and strength. My unique experience (1982-2017), my inside information are of vital importance and need to be shared - through my book. Now I am ready to start writing but I can't do it without your donation. Whatever your views or allegiances, understanding this organisation has huge and surprising implications.

The book is expected – hopefully - to be published first in English and later in two more languages: Arabic and French.

Magnier's insight of Hizbullah will become an indispensable source for anyone interested in the modern history of the Middle East.


Elijah Magnier interviewing various leaders and authorities, 1980s/90s - bigger

I usually do not promote other projects or products on this site. This book project though deserves your attention.

Posted by b on February 10, 2018 at 03:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

February 09, 2018

WaPo's Ignatius: "ISIS Is There - When The U.S. Needs It"

David Ignatius, a CIA and Pentagon mouthpiece writing at Jeff Bezos's blog, stenographs the U.S. claims about yesterday's massacre against local pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor.

There is a funny contradiction in his tale.

In a first step Ignatius must justify the U.S. presence and action in the area. He does so by pointing to "remnants" of the Islamic State:

The rout ended at about 5:30 a.m. When we arrived about seven hours later, the Kurdish commander was still flush with victory. He took us on a tour later of the SDF’s front-line positions against scattered Islamic State remnants east of Shaddadi.

See, there is ISIS and that's why the U.S. and the Kurds are there.

But in the next step Ignatius must deny the Russian justification for its presence in Syria and he must reject the legitimacy of action by Syrian government forces. He does so by denying any ISIS presence. The U.S., he writes, has eliminated them all:

The Russian Defense Ministry issued a lame statement Thursday, claiming that the attackers were chasing Islamic State fighters. That’s nonsense, as the Russians surely knew. There are no Islamic State fighters left in that area, thanks to the U.S.-led coalition.

Shaddadi is just a short ride from where the incident happened. It is the same operational area. So ISIS is there when the U.S. needs it for its argument, but has completely vanished when the other side makes claims about attacking it.

Contradictions like the above make it difficult to sell such propaganda to anyone but the most dull people. Ignatius is highly paid. His sponsors should look for better value for their money.

Posted by b on February 9, 2018 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (65)

February 08, 2018

Syria - U.S. May Have Arranged "Self Defense" Attack On Syrian Government Forces

Last night the illegal U.S. occupation force in north-east Syria attacked a group of Syrian government aligned troops and their Russian support. The incident happened north-east of Deir Ezzor city on the east side of the Euphrates. The U.S. claims that it killed some 100 Syrian soldiers that were allegedly attacking its proxy forces in an attempt to recover oil fields.

There is a factual separation of areas south-west of the Euphrates under Syrian government control and north-east of the Euphrates under U.S. occupation. But several locations around Manbij, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor contradict that and are under control of the respective other side. The U.S. claims that a "de-confliction line" along the Euphrates is agreed upon. The Syrian government says that no such agreement exists.

A small area across the Euphrates north-east of Deir Ezzor had been taken by Syrian government forces months ago. It is near some oilfields which the U.S. wants to keep away from the Syrian government.


bigger

"The U.S. wants to keep Syria weak and poor," says Prof. Joshua Landis. According to Landis the U.S. is keeping the north-east of Syria under occupation to deny Syria access to its oil and its best agricultural land. It wants to turn Syria into a swamp for Russia and Iran to the benefit of mostly Israel.

The valuable oil and gas fields are currently in the hands of local Arab tribes who earlier worked with the Islamic State and are now, the U.S. claims, allied with the YPG/PKK Kurds under the name Syrian Democratic Forces. The SDF is the U.S. local proxy force for its occupation.

On the Syrian government side in Deir Ezzor are a few Syrian troops, local militia from the area, as well as members of Russian private military contractor named Wagner Group. Wagner allegedly has a contract with the Syrian government that will give it some 25% of all revenues from oil-fields it recovers and protects.

Last night the U.S. military announced that it had "self defended" against an attack by Syrian government troops on Syrian ground:

Syrian pro-regime forces initiated an unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters Feb. 7.

Coalition service members in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity were co-located with SDF partners during the attack eight kilometers east of the agreed-upon Euphrates River de-confliction line.

In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh mission.

Reuters reports:

More than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were killed overnight when U.S. coalition and coalition-backed local forces repelled their attack in eastern Syria, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

The heavy death toll underscored the large size of the attack, which the U.S. official said included about 500 opposing forces, backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars. The official spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
...
No American troops were killed or wounded in the incident, officials said.

Some U.S. troops had been embedded at the time with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose headquarters in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province had been a target of the attack.

One SDF fighter was wounded, the official said.

The U.S.also claims that it had seen preparations for the Syrian move and had warned the Russian command in Syria in advance:

The U.S.-led coalition had alerted Russian officials about the presence of SDF forces in the area far in advance of the thwarted attack, the U.S. official said.

Other sources say that there have been talks between Wagner and locals Arabs guarding the currently unproductive "Conoco" oil and gas field operation near the town of Khisham.

Hassan Hassan @hxhassan - 12:17 AM - 8 Feb 2018
5. Interesting, about a week ago, local reports also suggested an imminent deal to hand over the plant to the regime through an Arab faction within the SDF.

A translation of an earlier report from the opposition Al-Etihad media seems to confirm that some deal had been made:

Activists said Assad forces and Shiite militias have gathered near the villages of Bakkara Akidat, Dahla and Sabah in the eastern suburbs of Deir-ez-Zor (east of the Euphrates) near the Conoco gas field, which is controlled by Kurdish forces.

The sources added that the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces informed the U.S.-led coalition forces of these developments. The coalition urged SDF fighters not to resist the regime forces and surrender the area.

The activists added that the SDF has already withdrawn heavy weapons from their areas held by Arab and Turkmen factions.

Might this whole operation have been a trap? The U.S. military clearly knew that something was going to happen in the area. Local deals were made between the Syrian government side and locals Arabs holding the oil fields. The U.S. told the SDF to move out of the way. When the government aligned groups started to take over the field, as presumably agreed upon, the U.S. bombed them.

The "attack on coalition forces" the U.S. claimed as justification for its bombing seems not to have taken place at all. How else does one explain that sole casualty of the claimed battalion size attack with strong artillery support is "one wounded SDF" fighter? A later U.S. military statement to a journalist seems to be vague about the reality of an attack:

After 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF headquarters location, Syrian Democratic Forces supported by the Coalition targeted the aggressors with a combination of air and artillery strikes.

Is the U.S. military emphasizing the "SDF headquarters location" because the headquarter was no longer there as the SDF had already withdrawn from it? And why is a tank round landing some 500 meters away seen as a direct attack? Tanks rounds may deviate from the targeted point by a meter or two. There is no chance that rounds landing some 500 meters away were intended to hit the headquarter location. Whatever the Syrian forces have been hitting at, if they hit at all, was not the SDF headquarter location.

The story the U.S. military is trying to sell here stinks.

The incident seems comparable to the unprovoked U.S. attack on Syrian troops in September 2016. That air attack killed 100 Syrian troops who were then encircled and holding out against Islamic State forces. At that time it nearly enabled the Takfiris to eliminate that last Syrian government position in the east.

There has recently been a chain of provocations against Russian and Syrian forces in Syria. Two massive drone swarm attacks were directed  against the Russian air-port in Hememim and its naval base in Tartus. This week well targeted mortar rounds from east-Ghouta have hit the Russian trade mission in Damascus and severely damaged it. A Russian aid-distribution point in Damascus was similarly attacked just while leaders of some Russian non-government organizations were visiting it. Over Idleb a Russian jet was shot down with a rare MANPADS. All three were beyond the material and intelligence capabilities of the "rebel" forces.

The ludicrous "chlorine gas attack" propaganda against Syria is back in full force. Despite a Russian-Turkish-Iranian de-escalation agreement with Turkey, al-Qaeda and other "rebel" forces in Idleb governorate still seem to receive unlimited supplies through Turkish borders. Israel is attacking targets in Syria and tries to extend its occupation of the Golan heights.

The U.S. war against Syria and its allies continues with full force even while the U.S. pretends that no such war is happening at all. The intend to create the swamp Prof. Landis talks about is hidden behind clandestine operations, "self defense" action and "humanitarian" blubber.

The U.S. should be careful. More than one side can play dirty games. Its troops in north-east Syria have thin supply lines and are not well protected. They, as well as U.S. forces in Iraq, are vulnerable to clandestine activities of the other side. I would not be surprised at all should they suddenly receive some unwanted and very bloody attention.

Posted by b on February 8, 2018 at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (134)

February 06, 2018

Syria - Is The Turkish Attack On Afrin Intended To Split The U.S.-Kurdish Alliance?

The successful Syrian army operation to liberate Abu-Duhur airbase left a large enclave (pink) controlled by al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters in east-Hama. Further advances towards Idleb have been halted for now to clean up the cauldron that could otherwise create future troubles behind the lines.


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Most of the al-Qaeda/HTS aligned Takfiris are though to have fled the now enclosed area before it was encircled by the Syrian government forces. A few hundred ISIS fighters who had earlier slipped into there then claimed to have occupied dozens of empty local villages. But these forces are in fact too small to hold onto anything. They will now be sought out and destroyed. In just one day some 20 hamlets were liberated. It will take a week or two to bring the total area under control.

A Turkish military convoy came from Turkey and went to Al-Eis, an important high point south-west of Aleppo. The convoy was protected by al-Qaeda forces. A similar convoy had earlier been attacked and had to retreat. This time the Turkish troops were attacked by missiles as soon as they had reached their positions. According to Turkish media at least five of the soldiers were wounded and one killed.

The Turks claim that the "observation point" comes as part of its responsibilities under the Astana agreement about a de-escalation zone in Idleb. The Russian's seem to agree with that, at least for now, but Iranian and Syrian forces in the area see the Turks (rightly) as their enemies intended to hamper their further moves against Idleb city. The Turks in Al-Eis are quite isolated and have no air support. Their positions is more endangered that Turkey seems to appreciate.

Al-Qaeda or a group aligned with it shot down a Russian ground attack air plane by using a man portable missile (MANPADS). There are various speculation where that missile came from but it has long been known that there are warehouses in Turkey and Jordan filled with such missiles ready to be distributed to anti-Syrian forces. The Wall Street Journal reported in February 2014:

Washington's Arab allies, disappointed with Syria peace talks, have agreed to provide rebels there with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles that can take down jets, according to Western and Arab diplomats and opposition figures.
...
Rebel commanders and leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don't know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get. But they have been told it is a significant amount. The weapons are already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.

The weapons were held back over concerns that they would probably be used against civilian air-liners in other than the intended country.

Now the Washington Examiner speculates about the recent missile attack:

My theory is that President Trump has just shot a lethal warning across Russia’s bow in the Middle East.

Someone provided these ManPADs to the Syrian rebels. And it seems to have only been done recently.

I think it was the Americans. Maybe it was deliberately by President Trump, or maybe it was by the Deep State who want a war with Russia. Russia has been publicly declaring for months that the U.S. is protecting and training Islamist forces in the Syrian theater.

Maybe Trump wanted to send a message. Maybe these ManPADS were more “defensive lethal weapons” like what is being supplied to Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass.

If that was a U.S. move it was a stupid one. Two, or three, or four can play such a game. What happens if Kurds in Afrin suddenly find a stash of MANPADS. Iran aligned forces in Iraq? How about Houthis in Yemen? Or Taliban in Afghanistan?

The Syrian army has deployed new air defenses in north-west Syrian that can cover Afrin canton which is under Turkish attack. Turkish air raids on Afrin have since ceased and even Turkish drones are now avoiding Syrian airspace. Turkey has thus lost a significant part of its reconnaissance and attack capabilities in the area.


Source: The Maghreb and Orient Courier - bigger

The Turkish progress against the YPG Kurds in Afrin is extremely slow. Villages and hills that are taken by day are often lost again at night. Kurdish forces have so far destroyed at least 20 Turkish tanks and other vehicles with antitank missiles of which they seem to have plenty. The Turks are using the Takfiri "Syrian rebels" they have sponsored all these years as their foot soldiers. Why are they willing to die for a cause that presumably isn't theirs?

The answer may be in this piece about the rise of the major religious organization in Turkey, the Diyanet, which is government sponsored and has control over nearly all religious institutions. It seems more heavily involved in the war on Syria than one might assume:

Having learned of the planned coup during a dinner with intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Moaz al Khatib (a leading member of the Syrian opposition and ulema), then Diyanet chief Mehmet Görmez (2010–July 2017) rallied the body’s 112,725—strong religious corps, including the imams of some 82,381 mosques controlled by the body.
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The Diyanet has been active in Syria, revealed by the former chief’s meeting on the evening of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt with Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib—the same individual who caused controversy in 2012 by calling on the United States to reconsider its decision to list Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organisation. Al-Khatib is also the former president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, former imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, and a member of the League of the Ulema of Sham (Rabitat Ulama al-Sham, established in 2012 by opposition ulema from Damascus and Homs, and member of the umbrella group, the Syrian Islamic Council, Al-Majlis al-Islami al-Suri), which is ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Kurds fighting the Turkish supported religious-extremists have some support from the Syrian government. Their wounded are transported to government hospitals. The government controlled corridor between the Kurdish held areas in eastern Syria and in Afrin is open for Kurdish resupplies. Last night a large convoy of fresh fighters and ammunition from eastern Syria arrived in Afrin. These are the forces the U.S. occupation in north-east Syria has allied with under the label SDF. At least parts of the arms they carry were provided by the U.S. military.

Turkey has the second biggest army in NATO. If it really wanted to take Afrin it could surely do so. But so far it has only send company size forces where brigades are need. My suspicion is that the current Turkish operation against Afrin canton is not intended to really capture and control the area. That would require way more professional Turkish army forces and cost thousands of Turkish casualties. What the operation does, and is probable intended to do, is to demonstrate to its NATO partner in Washington that it is indeed aligning with Kurdish YPG/PKK forces that are, from a Turkish perspective, outright terrorists. The attack on Afrin is designed to split the U.S. alliance with the YPG/PKK. (That may well be the reason why it has tacit Russian support.) If it succeeds in doing that it will make a further U.S. occupation of north-east Syria, which is in alliance with the Kurds, extremely difficult.

The U.S. has to decide between the NATO partner Turkey and its Kurdish YPG allies. To deliver weapons to the later who then fight the former is not sustainable. U.S. National Security Advisor McMaster is expected to visit Turkey over the coming weekend. Secretary of State Tillerson will touch down a few days later. What deal will they offer?

Meanwhile little is heard of the remaining ISIS forces near the Iraqi border north of the Euphrates. Many of the thousands of ISIS fighters the U.S. let intentionally escape from Raqqa and who from there traveled east are still at large. The border area is supposed to be U.S./SDF controlled but there seem to be no more efforts ongoing to destroy the ISIS remands there. If the U.S. can not defeat them why does it hinder Syrian forces from crossing the Euphrates to destroy that menace?

One well founded speculation is that the U.S. directs those ISIS fighters to attack the Syrian forces in the border city Abu Kamal just south of the Euphrates. The intend is to disrupt the road that connects Syria and Iraq and thus Beirut and Tehran. There have recently been some serious hit-and-run incidents against the Syrian positions there.

The war on Syria will continue and all the U.S. and Turkish scheming is only prolonging it. Neither of them have learned and decided to either giver up on their aims or to risk all the means that are needed to achieve them.

Posted by b on February 6, 2018 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (117)

February 05, 2018

Some People Are Fun ...

And the Pope said, "Some people are fun, others though ..."


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Posted by b on February 5, 2018 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

February 04, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-05

Jan 28 - Robert Parry Has Died

I am really, really sad about this.

Jan 29 - Syria - Neo-Conservatives Demand "Action" - Hope For A Larger War

The crazies won't let go. They are not alone. U.S. media is solidly supporting them. See for example this screenshot from today's New York Times. The actual piece is about cooperation of Israel and Egypt against ISIS in the Sinai. Nothing in the report has to do with Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or Iran. But it is headed by a picture of Netanyahoo pointing at the mystic 'Shia Crescent'. What for?


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Jan 30 - U.S. Runs Headscarf Campaign Against Iran

Voice of America and similar U.S. government entities are obviously instruments of 'regime change' which is why they initiated the fake headscarf campaign. The University of Maryland just published a new poll it made in Iran: Iranian Public Opinion After the Protests (pdf). Large majorities in Iran support their system of governance. While they see demonstrations about economic problems as justified they are against the aims of those who hijacked them. They favor the Iranian support for Syria and Iraq and want to uphold their somewhat conservative, religion based values.

Jan 31 - Sleuthhound Puppy Takes 'Deep Dive' Into MoA - (Funny)

Some nutty kid tried to dox Moon of Alabama and gloriously failed ...

Feb 1 - Syria - Erdogan's Bashibazouk Want To Ravage Afrin

There is some weird dealing behind the Afrin campaign between the Russians and Turkey. The Syrian army has temporarily halted parts of its campaign in east Idleb and Turkey has promptly transported a large number of its Takfiri 'rebels' from Idleb across the border into Turkey to intensify the attack on the Kurdish enclave Afrin from there. I am not sure who is playing whom in this.

Feb 2 - Memo: Democrats Made Up Evidence Enabled Eavesdropping On Trump Campaign

The turn of the anti-Trump campaign from "Publishing the memo is treason!" to "The published memo is a nothing-burger." was quite amusing to watch. It demonstrated that there is some panic that more might be revealed. David Habakukk at Sic Temper Tyrannis puts the anti-Trump anti-Russia campaign into its much larger context.

Feb 3 - Freelancer Despairs: "My Lies About Hizbullah Can't Compete With Trump" - (Updated)

A dissection of a quite devious way to smuggle anti-Hizbullah lies into the record ...

A request to my readers: Help this blog to become better. Which of the posts this weeks were good, which were not so good? What other themes should I post about?

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 4, 2018 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

February 03, 2018

Freelancer Despairs: "My Lies About Hizbullah Can't Compete With Trump" - (Updated)

[Updated throughout - Feb 3, 2:30pm EST]
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There is a special class of young, enterprising journalists and 'experts' who claim to have access to the inner thinking of the Lebanese resistance organization Hizbullah. Journalists with decades of on the ground experience in Lebanon like to mock them:

Elijah J. Magnier‏ @ejmalrai - 6:49 AM - 3 Feb 2018
"Hezbollah experts": "I was walking in "Hezbollah stronghold" & bumped into a man who turned out to be a "High commander". As a sign of courtesy of our 1st encounter, revealed to me Hezbollah will attack 7 countries. He delivers all plans to me & went off". U have to believe me.

The story below touches on that phenomenon. But there is more to it. Such journalists and experts are tools for planting Israel's propaganda into the minds of their readers. That is the real plot behind this curious story.

A few days ago the Columbia Journalism Review published a whiny piece about dwindling foreign reporting in U.S. media:

Freelancing abroad in a world obsessed with Trump

The story is build around one U.S. freelance reporter in Lebanon, Sulome Anderson, who laments that her work is no longer requested or published. Like all other miserable issue in this world Anderson's lack of income is caused by one Donald Trump:

Sulome blames a news cycle dominated by Donald Trump. Newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs simply have less space for freelance international stories than before—unless, of course, they directly involve Trump.

It that really the problem Anderson has?

Before the 2016 election cycle, Sulome would pitch a story once, maybe twice, before finding a home for it. Now she pitches anywhere from three to 10 editors before a story gets the green light, if it gets picked up at all.

Maybe it is not Trump but the crude propaganda, and abysmal sourcing Anderson tries to sell:

In October 2017, Sulome thought she had landed the story of her career. The US had just announced a $7 million reward for a Hezbollah operative believed to be scouting locations for terror attacks on American soil—something it had never done before. Having interviewed Hezbollah fighters for the last six years, Sulome had unique access to the upper echelons of its militants, including that specific operative’s family members. Over the course of her reporting, Hezbollah members told her they had contingency plans to strike government and military targets on US soil and that they had surface-to-air missiles, which had not been reported before.

Why didn't she offer that story to The Onion - they would have had fun with it. Consider:

  • Hizbullah is known for its extremely tight media control. There is no such media access, zero, none, to the "upper echelons" of Hizbullah - certainly not for some U.S. freelancer with a dubious background (see below).
  • Hizbullah does not talk about its weapons to this or that journalist. If it wants to make a specific capability known, it will make a public announcements about it. That is what Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah did when he said that Hizbullah could attack Haifa’s ammonia storage tanks. It was the announcement that Hizbullah had acquired a new, precise, mid-range missile.
  • Will Hizbullah operatives talk to their family members about their secret business? Would those family members relate those secrets to some American freelancer? No and no.
  • Hizbullah's surface-to-air missiles have never been reported on? What about the 2006(!) IHS Janes report? MoA, this very site, wrote about them in 2008! Hizbullah leader Nasrallah publicly talked about them and Israel's intelligence service confirmed the capability. Hizbollah is known to have MANPADS (see pic), SA-22 Pantsyr-1 systems and at least access to S-200 surface to air missiles including the necessary radar systems.

The CJR piece continues:

Convinced she had struck gold, she was elated when the piece was commissioned by a dream publication she’d never written for before. But days later, that publication rescinded its decision, saying that Sulome had done too much of the reporting before she was commissioned. Sulome was in shock. She went on to pitch the story to eight other publications, and no one was interested.

Obsessive Trump coverage let the editors turn that story down?

Or could it be that no one was interested in Sulome Anderson's story because it was obvious propaganda crap? Could it be that no one was interested because Anderson's claimed access to Hizbullah has for years been laughed about? Could it be that that no one was interested because her July 2017 story for Newsweek (scroll to its end) needed five(!) factual corrections and had additional serious problems? Because the video she made for Newsweek of alleged Hizbullah fighters she interviewed showed fighters with the insignia of Fatah al-Intifada, a Syrian-Palestinian group? Could it be because the fighting scenes in that video seemed staged? (In her rebuttal of those accusations Anderson admits some errors, obfuscates others, but also claims to have interviewed "a Hezbollah division leader". Hizbullah is not organized like a conventional army. Its armed resistance does do not have "divisions" - nor does it have "division leaders".)

No editor likes to publish pieces which will get flogged by experts and the public. Editors hate to publish corrections. It is the disaster of Anderson's Newsweek story, not Donald Trump coverage, that prevents other editors from commissioning her with a similar piece.

Sulome Anderson has been duped for years by some enterprising Lebanese stringers who sell her "access to Hizbullah officials" by introducing her to their barber or some local thugs. An alternative explanation is that she is knowingly selling fairy-tales and propaganda. She certainly isn't the only journalist with such a problem. In 2012 Vice published a widely shared - and ridiculed - story about Paintballing with Hezbollah in which four western journalist competed with four local dudes who falsely claimed to be "Hizbullah fighters".

The CJR story about Sulome Anderson's sales problem was written by Yardena Schwartz, a freelancer in Tel Aviv. Schwartz discloses that "Sulome was a classmate of mine at Columbia Journalism School from 2010 to 2011." Having friends in Tel Aviv increases the chance that "upper echelons" of Hizbullah will trust you  with knowledge about their plans and air-defense capabilities? Bragging about ones orthodox Jewish and Zionist boyfriend, as Anderson does, helps to pass through Hizbullah's strict media controls?

Thinking this over one comes to see the propaganda plan behind this whole affair.

Consider: The U.S. puts some high reward on someone's head for allegedly being Hizbullah and planning something nefarious within the United States. Next comes Sulome Anderson, who just by chance has access to the family of the dude. She also learns from "upper echelon" Hizbullah commanders that, yes, what the U.S. alleges is exactly what Hizbullah wants to do. Moreover - Hizbullah confesses to Anderson that it has all these scary MANPADS. Might it want to smuggle those into the States? Does it want to down Air Force One or a commuter flight out of New York?

That surely would have been a perfect scare story, an 'independent' confirmation of the U.S. allegations and another reason to put more sanctions on Hizbullah.

But no one in the U.S. was willing to publish that crap. After the Newsweek disaster Anderson's claims of Hizbullah access had been seriously burned. The story would not stand.

Is there another way to plant the meme into American minds? How about a whiny story in the CJR, written by her friend in Tel Aviv, that simply repeats these claims? Not as good as 'original' reporting published in the New York Times but surely enough to put those claims on the record.

It is disappointing that CJR published this sorry excuse for the unreliable reporting of Sulome Anderson. Excessive Trump coverage in U.S. media may be a reason for less foreign reporting. Costs are certainly another one.

This case though is about factual errors, unreliable sourcing, planting pro-Israel propaganda or, at best, about getting duped by some local jokers.

Posted by b on February 3, 2018 at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (46)

February 02, 2018

Memo: Democrats Made Up Evidence Enabled Eavesdropping On Trump Campaign

Over the last month political enemies of U.S. President Trump and the FBI and Justice Department have desperately tried to prevent the publishing of a memo written by the Republican controlled House Intelligence Committee.

The memo (pdf) describes parts of the process that let to court sanctioned spying on the Trump campaign. The key points of the memo that was just published:

* The Steele dossier formed an essential part of the initial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page.

* Andrew McCabe confirmed that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.

* The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.

* DOJ official Bruce Ohr met with Steele beginning in the summer of 2016 and relayed to DOJ information about Steele's bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.

If the above memo proves to be correct one can conclude that a Democratic front organization created "evidence" that was then used by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department to get FISA warrants to spy on someone with intimate contacts into the Trump campaign.

The Democrats as well as the FBI have done their utmost to keep this secret.

Carter Page was a relative low ranking volunteer advisor of the Trump campaign with some business contacts to Russia. He had officially left the campaign shortly before the above FISA warrant was requested.

Andrew McCabe was an FBI assistant director. A few month earlier his wife ran for a Virginia State Senate seat with the help of $700,000 she had received from Clinton allies.

The wife of DOJ official Bruce Ohr worked for Fusion GPS, the outlet hired by the Democrats to find Trump dirt. Fusion GPS hired the former British agent Steele.

The former British spy Steele had been hired by the Democratic Party via Fusion GPS to dig up dirt about Donald Trump. He came back with a package of "reports" which alleged that Trump was "colluding" with Russia or even a puppet of Putin. The content of the reports is hilarious and so obviously made up that one wonders how anyone could have treated it seriously.

Getting a FISA warrant on Carter Page meant that all his communication with the Trump campaign was effectively under surveillance of the Obama administration. While Page was no longer an official member of the campaign at the time of the warrant it is likely that he had kept contact. All internal communication that Page had access to was thereby also accessible for at least some people who tried to prevent a Trump election victory.

One must wonder if the FISA warrant and eavesdropping on Page was the only one related to the Trump campaign.

One may (like me) dislike Trump and the Republican party and all they stand for. But this looks like an extremely dirty play by the Democrats and by the Obama administration far outside of any decency and fairness. The Steele dossier is obviously made up partisan nonsense. To the use it for such a FISA warrant was against the most basic rules of a democratic system. It probably broke several laws.

There are still many questions: What was, exactly, the result of the surveillance of Carter Page and the Trump campaign? Who was getting these results - officially and unofficially?  How were they used?

I am pretty sure now that more heads of those involved will role. Some of the people who arranged the scheme, and some of those who tried to cover it up, may go to jail.

If Trump and the Republicans play this right they have practically won the next elections.

Posted by b on February 2, 2018 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (141)

February 01, 2018

Syria - Erdogan's Bashibazouk Want To Ravage Afrin

The map shows the situation in Afrin canton in north-west Syria. The Turkish army and associated Takfiri militia (green) are trying to push the Syrian Kurds (yellow) out of the area.


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What is claimed as newly Turkish conquered (light green arrows) on the map may overnight change back into Kurdish hands. This has happened several times over the last week. The fighting is quite intense (vid). The Kurds seem to have many anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and the Turks have all the tools of a professional army plus a fanatic militia that serves as their infantry. These (vid) Turkish sponsored Takfiris in the Afrin area seem to come from various countries. One sings a Nasheed:

"...
We were steadfast in Grozny,
We were steadfast in Dagestan.
And we took Tora Bora as our den,
And we took Tora Bora as our den.
We made glory in Afrin and in sad Aleppo.
And Afrin is calling for us: 'Oh welcome good people.' "

Grozny and Dagestan, both in the Russian Federation, were devastated in wars against Takfiris. The Tora Bora caves in east-Afghanistan were al-Qaeda's stronghold before the U.S. waged war on the country. 

Here is another video of Erdogan's henchmen:

SURA‏ @AlSuraEnglish - 4:26 PM - 1 Feb 2018
#BREAKING - (Graphic Warning) #Turkish-backed #Syrian rebels strip and mutilate dead female #Kurdish #YPG (YPJ) fighter in #Afrin as offensive against #Afrin continues.

The graphic video, available through the tweet above (or on request through me), shows a dead young woman, partially clothed in military attire, who's breasts have been cut off. Some ten men in mixed military-civil cloth are standing around her in the 13 seconds video. They can not be identified.

SURA @AlSuraEnglish
Laughter is heard before #Syrian rebel pushes her chest with his boot, another says "No don't do things like this guys". The next fighter says "Bring the other one" referring to the female #Kurdish #YPG (YPJ) fighters corpse. #Turkey has not commented on rebel behavior yet.

I am not sure these are "Syrian militia" or "Syrian rebel" as SURA says - see first video above.

These marauding groups are Erdogan's neo-ottoman version of the Bashibazouk:

A bashi-bazouk (Turkish: başıbozuk, lit. "damaged head", roughly "leaderless" or "disorderly") was an irregular soldier of the Ottoman army. Bashi-bazouk could be ethnic Turks or from other peoples of the empire such as Circassians, Arabs, Albanians, or Bosniaks.
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They were armed and maintained by the government, but did not receive pay and did not wear uniforms or distinctive badges. They were motivated to fight mostly by expectations of plunder.
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The bashi-bazouk were notorious for being brutal and undisciplined, thus giving the term its second, colloquial meaning of "undisciplined bandit" in many languages.

After the Syrian Army had re-taken the Al Dahur airbase last week it made a short pause. Some secondary units are cleaning up the black cauldron that is held by a few al-Qaeda and ISIS remnants. The plan for the main Syrian army force is to proceed west-north-west towards Idelb. Idleb governorate is held by al-Qaeda and an assortment of other "rebels". Their lines are currently thin as Turkey had pulled many of these out to support  its operation in Afrin.


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Three days ago Turkey sent a battalion of its regular army, protected by al-Qaeda, to set up a blocking position west of the current Syrian army line. It was an unexpected surprise move. The convoy stopped before reaching its planned destination when Syrian artillery and some aerial bombing hit its vicinity. The next day, maneuvering aimlessly in al-Qaeda country, the convoy was hit by an IED which killed one driver and wounded several soldiers. It is likely that some elements of al-Qaeda, or of other Takfiri groups, disliked the Turkish presence. The convoy then pulled back to its starting point in Turkey.

Today the main Syrian army force started to move again and took several villages north and west of its line. Its next targets are Saraqib and Maarat Al-Numan, both about 15 kilometers away from the current positions,  and then a clean-up of the whole are east of the M5 highway between Hama and Aleppo.

PS: Vanessa Beeley just published her excellent research on the highly professional propaganda support for al-Qaeda's "White Helmets": WHITE HELMETS: Channel 4, BBC, The Guardian – Architects of War

Posted by b on February 1, 2018 at 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (132)