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March 31, 2018

Hillary Clinton Ordered Diplomats To Suppress 'Novichok' Discussions

While the last act of the 'Novichok' drama, the seasonally appropriate resurrection of the Skripals, proceeds, some additional details of the history of 'Novichok' nerve agents come to light.

Details on 'Novichok' nerve agents were published in a 2007 book by Vil Mirzayanaov, a Soviet scientist offered asylum in the United States.

After the publication the U.S. and the UK actively suppressed international discussions about the book and the 'Novichok' chemical weapon agents. Documents from the U.S. State Department published by Wikileaks show that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed her diplomats to not talk about Novichok and to play down the matter should it arise in chemical weapon control talks.


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The so called 'Novichok' group of nerve agents were developed in the 1970s and 80s by Pyotr Kirpichev and Vladimir Uglev under a Soviet program codenamed 'Foilant'.

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Later on the development group handed the project off to Professor Leonid Rink for further developments of the substances into binary agents which would make them usable as military weapons. But the Soviet Union broke down and stopped paying its scientists. Rink secretly produced a small dosage of one of the Novichok agents and sold it to a Latvian mafia contact. In 1995 the poison was used to kill a Russian mobster kingpin/banker and his secretary in Moscow. Rink produced several more doses and sold them. Their whereabouts are unknown but such substances are supposedly unstable and they will likely have lost their effect.

Another scientist at those laboratories, the chemical analyst Vil Mirzayanov was tasked with detecting environmental and security leaks from the laboratories. He knew of the 'Foliant' program and the developed 'Novichok' agents. In the early 1990s he blew the whistle about them, was harassed by the state and in 1996 was allowed to go to the United States. There he spilled his beans (pdf) and told the U.S. whatever he knew.

In 1997 the Russian Federation and other states of the former Soviet Union joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroyed their chemical weapon stocks and production facilities. One production and test facility for the 'Novichok' agents was in Nukus, Uzbekistan. In 1999 the U.S. helped to dismantle that facility. It surely acquired additional knowledge about everything that was produced there.

In 2008 Mirzayanov published a book about his story and the chemical agents developed under the 'Foilant' program. The book included the chemical formulas of the agents.


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Today Mirzayanov lives in a million dollar home in Princeton, New Jersey.

The book created new interest in the international community of chemical weapon scientists. People involved with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were highly interested in this. Was there really a new '4th generation' of chemical weapons that could be easily made from freely available industrial precursors? Naturally the U.S. diplomats involved in the arms control efforts and in the OPCW were asked about this.

U.S. State Department documents published by Wikileaks provide that the U.S. and the UK tried to suppress any discussion of the book. (A big thank you to Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit who found these cables.)

From these U.S. State Department cables we learn of several meetings in March and April 2009, shortly after Mirzayanov's 'Novichok' book came out, where the issue was discussed. U.S. diplomats at The Hague asked the CIA, the National Security Council and the State Department how to react to questions about Mirzayanov's book:

CWC: INQUIRIES IN THE HAGUE ABOUT MIRZAYANOV "STATE SECRETS" BOOK

2. (S) On March 25, in a private conversation, Canadian delegate asked U.S. and UK Delreps whether they had heard of the Mirzayanov book "State Secrets: An Insider's View of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program." Canadian Rep added that Mirzayanov now appeared on YouTube. UK Rep acknowledged she had heard of it, but said this was the first time she had heard of "novichoks" and thought the entire discussion was best left to experts in capital. U.S. Delrep indicated a lack of familiarity with the subject matter and indicated no interest in pursuing the discussion further.

3. (S) On March 4, Delrep met with U.S. Rep to the OPCW Data Validation Group. In addition to a routine report on the activities of the Validation Group the week of March 2, U.S. Rep informed Delrep that representatives of several countries (Finland, Netherlands, UK) had begun discussing the Mirzayanov book on the margins of the meeting. All participants in the discussion seemed to be simply gauging the level of awareness; these same individuals also expressed some doubt as to the credibility/accuracy of the information in the book. U.S. Rep to the Validation Group confirmed that no other members of the group took part in or were listening to this conversation.

4. (S) Del Note: U.S. Del understands from OSD that the UK Ministry of Defense has spoken to its counterparts in the Netherlands and Finland, apprised them of the conversation, and asked each country to provide guidance to its del members not/not to raise this issue in the future. End Note.

(The (S) denote these paragraphs as "Secret".)

On March 2 delegates from Finland, the Netherlands and the UK discussed the book. Afterwards the UK Ministry of Defense asked the other governments to "shut the f*** up" about it. In a March 25 meeting a Canadian delegate came up with questions about the book. The U.S. and the UK delegate played dumb. The U.S. delegate then asks how to handle the issue in future meetings:

5. (S) Action Request: As the implications of this book for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are likely to come up at future OPCW meetings (particularly technical meetings like the upcoming Scientific Advisory Board meeting 30 March - 1 April 2009), Del requests guidance as to how this issue is to be handled if raised by others. U.S. members of OPCW technical advisory bodies do not necessarily have contact with the U.S. delegation during their time in The Hague; guidance will need to be provided directly to these individuals.

The requested guidance came in a message from the State Department on April 3:

AUSTRALIA GROUP: GUIDANCE FOR INFORMAL INTERSESSIONAL MEETING IN LONDON, APRIL 6-7, 2009

(The Australia Group is an informal U.S. led group of 'western' countries which harmonizes export controls of materials related to weapons of mass destruction.)

1. (U) This message provides guidance for the U.S. delegation to the Australia Group's informal intersessional meeting in London on April 6-7, 2009.

The guidance lists five "objectives" for the meeting. The fifth one is:

-- Avoid any substantive discussion of the Mirazayanov book "State Secrets: An Insider's View of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program" or so-called 'Fourth Generation Agents.'

Further down it details:

7. (C) If AG participants raise the issue of Vils Mirazayonov's book "State Secrets: An Insider's View of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program," the Del should:

-- Report any instances in which the book is raised.

-- Not/not start or provoke conversations about the book or engage substantively if it comes up in conversation.

-- Express a lack of familiarity with the issue.

-- Quietly discourage substantive discussions by suggesting that the issue is 'best left to experts in capitals.'

CLINTON

The follow-up U.S. delegation report after the meeting of the Australia Group does not mention 'Novichok' or the book. The issue was kept off the table.

The above is not the only involvement of "CLINTON" in the 'Novichok' and Skripal affair. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign paid the British company Orbis to create the 'dirty dossier' about Trump and his alleged connections to Russia. Christopher Steele, a former(?) MI6 agent, and his former(?) MI6 colleague Pablo Miller wrote the dossier, claiming that its information came from Russian sources. Pablo Miller was the MI6 agent who had recruited Sergej Skripal as a spy for the UK. Miller lives in Salisbury where Sergej Skripal lives and where he and his daughter were allegedly attacked with a 'Novichok' nerve agent. Miller was a friend of Sergej Skripal and regularly met him. It is quite possible that some of the shoddy rumors in the Steele dossier were sourced from Skripal or from his daughter Yulia. The incident in Salisbury could well be related to the dossier or other dubiously alleged campaign issues.

It is intriguing that the U.S. and the UK tried to downplay any discussion of 'Novichoks' and the book. Why did they do so?

Until 2016 the OPCW's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) as well as scientists at the UK weapon laboratory in Porton Down sowed doubts about the very existence of 'Novichoks'. We fell for this when we asked if 'Novichocks' exist at all. Until late 2016 the OPCW did not list the substances and their precursors. This was no oversight but intent.  Active U.S. suppression efforts against any mentioning of 'Novichoks' in the OPCW already occurred in 2006:

7. (C) Drawing on the points provided in reftel, del rep met with delegates from the UK (Mark Matthews), Switzerland (Ruth flint), Austria (Hans Schramml) and Czech Republic (Jitka Brodska) to discuss the recent ill-considered comments made by Scientific Advisory Board Chairman Matousek to the Western Group. All of the delegates appreciated the clarification that the U.S. did not develop or weaponize NGA, including "Novichoks." They also agreed with the U.S. that it is a bad idea to have a discussion on whether to add NGAs to the CWC Schedules of Chemicals. Finally, they all also stated that they had not heard of any interest by any delegation in pursuing such an effort, and the issue has not/not resurfaced in WEOG.

Jiri Matousek, a Czech scientist leading the SAB, was told to shut up. A U.S. diplomat contacted the Czech government and later reported his success. The headline of his cable is telling: MTAG: CZECHS MUZZLE ADVISORY BOARD CHAIRMAN ON NEXT GENERATION AGENTS.

It is clear now that the professed ignorance of the OPCW about 'Novichocks' was a consequences of U.S. and British pressure to discourage any discussion of the issue.

In 2016 a group of Iranian scientists synthesized five 'Novichok' substances. It devised ways to detect them. The results were published and added to the OPCW database.

The British government insinuates that Russia is the only country that could make 'Novichok' agents and must therefore have attacked the Skripals. This is obviously nonsense. The U.S. and the UK were deeply involved in the 'Novichok' issue. They certainly tried and succeeded to re-create these substances. After the formulas of the nerve agents were published by Mirzayanov the U.S. and the UK suppressed discussion of the issue. The OPCW professed to know nothing about them. Only after Iranian scientists independently re-created the agents and published about them were they added to the OPCW database.

Three questions come to mind which the U.S. and British government should be pressed to answer:

  • Why did the Clinton State Department and the British government suppress international talks about the 'Novichok' agents?
  • Why did they try, successfully it seems, to keep the issue out of the OPCW's Scientific Advisory Board?
  • Why were the substances kept out of the OPCW database until independent Iranian scientists finally re-created them?
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Previous Moon of Alabama reports on the Skripal case:

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Sidenote:

There is another Wikileaks document that mentions Vil Mirzanayov. It includes (point 20) the translation of a December 2009 report by the Russian daily paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, owned by the Berezovsky Media Group, about U.S. attempts to split the tiny Republic of Tatarstan from the Russian Federation. With less than four million inhabitants Tatarstan in the Volga region is a rather irrelevant sub-state of Russia. But even president Obama was involved in the scheme and in October 2009 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Tatar capital Kazan. Vil Mirazayanov played a prominent role in the rather stupid game:

As though in confirmation, the so called "government of Tatarstan in exile" was formed in the United States in December 2008. It is headed by US citizen Vil Mirzayanov, a Russian scientist granted political asylum in the United States. Along with Mirzayanov himself, the alleged government includes two Germans and a Turk. This self-proclaimed government already appealed to the UN to recognize independence of Tatarstan in the manner sovereignty of Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia had been.

Vil Mirzayanaov signed the bombastic Declaration of Independence of Tatarstan. But as far as I can tell nothing significant came out of the 'Independent Tatarstan' project. In 2014 the U.S. and Turkey used groups of jihadist Tatars they had trained in their unsuccessful attempts to gain control of Crimea. These issues could be related.

Posted by b on March 31, 2018 at 07:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (170)

March 29, 2018

Last Act Of 'Novichok' Drama Revealed - "The Skripals' Resurrection"

It seems that the 'Novichok' fairy-tale the British government plays to us provides for a happy ending - the astonishing and mysterious resurrection of the victims of a "military grade" "five to eight times more deadly than VX gas" "nerve agent" "of a type developed by" Hollywood.

Happy Easter!

Yulia Skripal no longer in critical condition, say Salisbury doctors

The condition of Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury along with her father, is improving rapidly, doctors have said.

Salisbury NHS foundation trust said on Thursday the 33-year-old was no longer in a critical condition, describing her medical state as stable.

Christine Blanshard, medical director for Salisbury district hospital, said: “I’m pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day."
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Her father’s condition is still described by the hospital as critical but stable.

Only yesterday the Skripals chances to survive was claimed to be 1 out of 99. Nerve agents are deadly weapons. A dose of ten milligram of the U.S. developed VX nerve agent will kill 50% of those exposed to it. The 'Novichok' agents are said to be several times more deadly than VX.

It seems less and less likely that the British government claim about 'Novichok' poisoning is actually true. Way more likely are other explanations, for example food poisoning or an allergic shock soon after eating out at a fish restaurant.

The claims of a nerve agent and 'Novichok' seem to have been taken from the script of the British-American spy drama Strike Back (clip) which recently ran on British and U.S. TV. The sole purpose of the 'Novichok' drama is to implicate and damage Russia.

As the former MI6 spook Alastair Crooke writes:

The evidence is beside the point: here was the opportunity to close-off Trump’s ‘illusion’ of a possible détente with Russia. The narrative is all. We will likely never know the full story.

Yulia and Sergej Skripal were found unconscious on the afternoon of March 4.

The U.S. State Department says that its campaign to use the Skripal incident as a tool against Russia started on March 6, only two days after the incident and six full days before the British government raised accusations against Russia.

In her press briefing on March 27 the U.S. State Department spokeswomen Heather Nauert talked about the coordinated ousting of Russian diplomats by some "western" countries:

Our Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell, and many others in the building across the interagency process have worked tirelessly over the past three weeks to achieve this unprecedented level of cooperation and also coordination. The end result – 151 Russian intelligence personnel sent home to Moscow – is a testimony of how seriously the world takes Russia’s ongoing global campaign to undermine international peace and stability, to threaten the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and to subvert and discredit Western institutions.

The above quote is from Nauert's prepared remarks, not the more free wheeling Q&A section.

The British prime minister made her allegations against Russia only on March 12:

"It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as 'Novichok'."

(See our earlier pieces, linked below, for many details on 'Novichok' and its history.)

May's announcement was similar to Tony Blair's "45 minutes" claim. A lie, concocted in a common propaganda operation with the U.S. government. As the Downing Street Memos said of the preparations for the war on Iraq:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

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There are several details that debunk the 'Novichok' thesis.

The specialists in the British chemical weapon laboratory in Porton Down, which gets millions of U.S. military research dollars, did not agree with the 'Novichok' claim for whatever effected the Skripals. May's phrase "of a type developed by Russia' was politically negotiated. As ambassador Craig Murray provided:

I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation.

But was there really a nerve agent involved?

A doctor who administered first aid to Yulia Skripal for 30 minutes was not effected at all. The emergency services suspected the victims had received on overdose of fentanyl.

Doctor Steven Davies, who leads the emergency service of the Salisbury District Hospital, wrote in a letter to the London Times:

Sir, Further to your report "Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment", (Mar 14), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only been ever been three patients with significant poisoning.

A Court of Protection judgment about the Skripals issued on March 22 quotes as witness a Porton Down chemical and biological analyst:

Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent.

"Indicated exposure" is a rather weak formulation. It means that no 'novichok' was found but decomposition products of something that may have been a nerve agent or not. A blood sample may "test positive" for all kinds of stuff but that does not say anything about the amount or about the lethality of any of the "positive tested" elements. The 'Novichok' nerve agents are organophosphates like many of the usual insecticides are. These break down relatively fast. A walk through a field freshly sprayed with some insecticide or the domestic use of such a product might leave similar decomposition products in the bloodstream as a nerve agent attack.

The Court of Protection also said that no relative or friend contacted the authorities about the Skripals. That was evidently false (ru).

Today, 25 days after the incident, the police say they suspect that the Skripals were poisoned from the front door of their home. Today, 25 days after the incident, they removed the front door. I believe that this decision was based on a "most plausible story" guess and not on material evidence. If the door had tested positive for a nerve agent it would have been removed weeks ago. This is, like those people in high protection suits roaming around Salisbury, just theater.

The Skripals were said to have left their home at 9:00am in the morning. They collapsed relatively sudden at 4:00pm in the afternoon. Is this seven hour delay consistent with being severely affected by a "military grade" highly toxic nerve agent? I doubt it.

But even if a nerve agent of the 'novichok' type was involved the jump to allegations against Russia is completely baseless. David B. Collum is Professor for Organic Chemistry at Cornell University. He really, really knows this stuff:

Dave Collum @DavidBCollum - 12:54 AM - 27 Mar 2018
I will say it again: Anybody who tells you this nerve agent must have come from Russia is a liar--a complete and utter liar. They are simple compounds.

The Skripals are getting better. Good for them. But their resurrection from certain death is a further dint in the British government's claim of 'nerve agent' 'of a type developed by Russia'.

The whole anti-Russian campaign constructed out of it is just ridiculous and deeply dishonest. The five page propaganda handout the British provided to other governments is a joke. It provided no solid facts on the case. To respond to it rationally, as Russia tries to do, makes little sense.

An editorial (recommended) in the Chinese Global Times captures the utter disgust such behavior creates elsewhere:

The fact that major Western powers can gang up and "sentence" a foreign country without following the same procedures other countries abide by and according to the basic tenets of international law is chilling.
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Over the past few years the international standard has been falsified and manipulated in ways never seen before.
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It is beyond outrageous how the US and Europe have treated Russia. Their actions represent a frivolity and recklessness that has grown to characterize Western hegemony that only knows how to contaminate international relations. Right now is the perfect time for non-Western nations to strengthen unity and collaborative efforts among one another.

Resurrection or not - the result of the 'Novichok' nonsense will not be to our 'western' favor.

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Previous Moon of Alabama reports on the Skripal case:

Posted by b on March 29, 2018 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (232)

March 28, 2018

Elijah Magnier - How Syria Challenges The Unipolar Order

Today Elijah Magnier published a three part piece on the war on Syria and its role in the much the global political confrontation.

Will America accept its defeat or will it challenge the Russian Bear and the Chinese Dragon? - Part 1, 2, 3

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The first part describes the current situation at the various fronts in Syria and the most likely next operations. The Syrian government is winning the conflict. U.S. CentCom General Votel admitted that the U.S. strategy in Syria has failed. Magnier concludes:

The US has lost the « extremist battle »- they were incapable of achieving the “regime change” objective in Syria. That was the awakening of the Russian bear from its long hibernation who realised how the US was trying to corner it. Moscow also relied on the Chinese dragon, which shares Russia’s goals to eliminate all extremists and jihadist terrorists in Syria.

Both Russia and China are now working closely to put an end to the uni-polar superpower and thus end US world dominance.

The second part looks at the development of U.S.-Russian relations over the last decade and the role U.S. 'regime change' policies in the eastern Europe and Middle East played in it. The U.S. attack on Syria was part of the wider challenging of Russia. It brought up a new coalition which is now countering U.S. moves:

Obama saw the “Islamic State” growing in Iraq, moving to Syria, watched it occupying Iraq, allowed Jihadists to travel to the Middle East, opened all Saudi jails on condition jihadist extremists imprisoned are shipped to Syria. For one entire year, with “70 countries in a coalition fighting against ISIS” in Syria, the group was in fact expanding and increasing its wealth by selling increasing quantities of oil. All that to stop Iran and Russia, and create failed states (as in Libya) and fight Muslims with Muslims.

But Moscow, Beijing and Tehran knew that Jihadists must be stopped in the Levant before they had the chance to move to their own countries.
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Syria is not going to be another Libya and Russia and China agreed, along with Iran, to stop once and for all the US unilateral dominance at the gates of the Levant.

Part 3 takes an even wider view and describes how China, and the Russian-Chinese cooperation, succeeds in challenging U.S. unilateral domination of the globe:

While the United States is selling for $110 billions weapons to Saudi Arabia to kill more Yemenis and threaten its neighbours (Qatar, Syria and Iran), Russia has signed 10 year contracts with China worth 600 billion dollars, and with Iran worth 400 billion dollars. Also, China has signed contracts with Iran worth 400 billion dollars. These contracts are aimed at economic cooperation, energy exchange; they promise an advanced economic future for these countries away from US dominance.

The US believes it can corner Russia, China and Iran: Russia has a 7,000 kilometre border with China, Iran is not Iraq and Syria is not Afghanistan. In Syria, the destiny of that a world be ruled by unilateralism is over. The world is heading toward pluralism.

The question remains: Is Washington prepared to accept its defeat and acknowledge that it has lost control of the world and pull out of Syria?

With the recent visit of the North Korean leader Kim Yong-un in Beijing, China has challenged the dominating U.S. role in the discussions over North Korea. There will be no uni-polar U.S. solution in the conflict - neither by talks nor by war. A conflict over Korea could soon supersede the conflict in Syria in size and potential consequences. In the global context the war on Syria is just a starting point. It will likely be in Korea, and maybe in Taiwan, where the real battle between unilateral and multilateral order will be fought.

Posted by b on March 28, 2018 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

March 27, 2018

Arms Research "Watchdog Group" Lobbies For War On Yemen And Iran

This Associated Press story has quite a slant.


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Looking into the AP report we find that the "watchdog group" is actually a for-profit company with an anti-Iran agenda and paid by the United Arab Emirates. The UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Britain, is waging war on Yemen and sees Iran as an enemy:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Roadside bombs disguised as rocks in Yemen bear similarities to others used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and by insurgents in Iraq and Bahrain, suggesting at the least an Iranian influence in their manufacture, a watchdog group said on Monday.

The report by Conflict Armament Research comes as the West and United Nations researchers accuse Iran of supplying arms to Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held the country’s capital since September 2014.
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What we’re hoping this does is make plausible deniability not very plausible,” said Tim Michetti, head of regional operations for Conflict Armament Research. “You can’t really deny this anymore once the components these things are made with are traced to Iranian distributors.”

Michetti’s organization, an independent watchdog group that receives funding from the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the European Union to research weaponry recovered in Yemen, said it examined a fake rock bomb in January near Mokha, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of the capital, Sanaa.

Conflict Armament Research is not an "independent watchdog group" but a dully established British for-profit company registered at the British government's Companies House under company number 07762809. The sole owner is James Bevan, a British national born in 1977.

In 2002 James Bevan started to work for the well regarded Swiss NGO Small Arms Survey. He then worked for the UN and in other publicly financed arms research projects.

His own company started to grow around 2015, right when the war on Yemen started. It runs some arms research under public grants but is also a for-profit consultancy. In the business year ending March 31 2017 the company had a turnover of £1.4 million from grant funded projects and £710,000 from consultancy projects. Seven people were working for the company including the owner, James Bevan. That year Bevan, besides his unknown salary as director, took out £177,593 in dividends.

The CAR researcher Tim Michetti, quoted by AP, is also a co-author of the "Pushback - Exposing and countering Iran" report by the Atlantic Council. The United Arab Emirates is at the top of the Atlantic Council's Honor Roll of Contributors with more than $1,000,000 in yearly donations.

The UAE is at war in Yemen and is regularly accusing Iran of supporting the Houthi resistance against the invaders. Yemen is under blockade and there is little evidence that any Iranian help reaches the Houthis.

The actual CAR report is titled Radio controlled, Passive Infrared-inititiated IEDs - Iran’s latest technological contributions to the war in Yemen (pdf):

This report presents comparative findings on explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) documented by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) in Yemen and similar devices documented by CAR field investigation teams elsewhere in the Middle East.

The IEDs recovered in Yemen feature EFPs, which have been camouflaged to resemble natural rocks. These devices are armed by radio control (RC) and initiated using passive infrared (PIR) switches. They can be classed as radio-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs).

Garage door openers and light-barrier triggers are obviously sophisticated high-tech that no Yemeni could use for bomb building without intensive Iranian help. (Not!)

The easiest way to learn how to build improvised explosive devices with EFPs and various arming and triggering devices is to read declassified CIA manuals. I recommend to start with "Explosives For Sabotage" available at archive.org.

 


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To find the inspiration for hiding stuff in 'rocks' made out of fiberglass and foam one can read British newspapers:

Britain was behind a plot to spy on Russians with a device hidden in a fake plastic rock, a former key UK government official has admitted.
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A diplomatic row was sparked six years ago after Russian state television broadcast a film claiming British agents had hidden a sophisticated transmitter inside a fake rock left on a Moscow street.

The CAR report shows some similarities between the trigger of an IEDs found in Yemen and another one allegedly found in Bahrain. But how does that lead back to Iran? Why not reasonably assume that various groups simply work from the same set of ideas and use the same manuals?

The report never investigates that thesis. Instead we get this claptrap:

The electronics kits used in the RCIEDs feature heatshrink wire coverings, which are manufactured by the Chinese company WOER. WOER-brand heatshrink wire covering is a constant feature of Iranian origin materiel recovered in Yemen and Bahrain, including RCIEDs, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and dual-use equipment suspected to be used in the production of rocket propellant.

WOER is one of the bigger global producers of heatshrink wire coverings. According to its website it has 3,000 dealers and 40 official sales offices including in:

Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Palestine, Qatar

Some WOER products are available on Amazon. This brand is well known and so widely available in the Middle East that it is outright laughable to attribute WOER material to Iran.

The report lists some similarities between IEDs found in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere. But the IED types it describes have also differences. Hizbullah is the only group using aiming devices in its IEDs. At a first glance the trigger electronics from Bahrain, pictured in the report, look similar to those in Yemen but they use slightly different components and wiring.

By empathizing the similarities CAR makes it look as if the bombs come from the same source. It is more plausible that they were locally build from widely available materials by following the same manual or instruction set. A search in Arabic language forums will probably turn up an equivalent of the old CIA manual with blueprints for the such bombs and their trigger electronics.

An earlier report by CAR about Maritime Interdiction of Weapon Supplies to Somalia and Yemen (pdf) was likewise slanted. It insinuated that Iran was smuggling arms to Yemen but did not analyze alternative explanations. It provided that some private dhows were smuggling small arms from maybe(!) Iran to Somalia. There is some murky evidence to support that conclusion. But the report then went on to claim that those weapons were transported further and shipped from Somalia to Yemen. No evidence was provided for that claim. There are several ongoing wars in Somalia. Many parties there will purchase any weapon they can get. The Houthi in Yemen though have all the small arms they need. They simply capture or buy from the large stashes the Saudis and the UAE provide to their own local proxy forces.

But aside from all those details is it really newsworthy that a UAE lobbyist harps about some IEDs and AK machine guns used by the Yemeni people when Saudi Arabia and the UAE invade the country with heavily armed forces and for three long years bomb the s*** out of its starving people?

The [Yemeni Data Project]’s data shows the Saudi-led coalition carried out an average of 15 air raids* per day. A total of 16,749 air raids were recorded from 26 March 2015 to 25 March 2018. Nearly one third of all air raids (31%) targeted non-military sites.

The vital Yemeni port of Hodeida is still not functioning:

Fuel deliveries amounted to only 24 percent of Yemen's needs in February, while food met 51 percent, causing sharp price rises of both.

"For whatever reason, the amount of food and fuel required to meet needs in Yemen is not coming in through Hodeida and it is likely there are some deliberate actions being taken to cause it," said van Meegen, [an adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council.]

"We can't say the blockade is in place. The de facto blockade is still in place." and people are starving because ships with aid can not be unloaded.

I for one would not mind if Iran would provide the Yeminis with everything they need to shoot down the attacking Saudi bombers and to kick the invaders out of their country. Unfortunately Yemen is under a tight blockade and Iran seems unable to break it.

To then point the fingers to Iran with little evidence and slanted reports, as the UAE paid CAR and other lobby shops do, has only one purpose: to widen the war and to prepare the peoples' minds for illegal aggression against yet another nation.


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h/t: Sam Tamiz

Posted by b on March 27, 2018 at 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

March 26, 2018

Two Failures In One Day - Missile Defense Is An Embarrassment - It Won't Work

Within the new $700 billion defense budget the U.S. Congress allocated more money for U.S. missile defense:

The Pentagon would spend an additional $1 billion on two of Lockheed’s missile defense systems, bringing total appropriations for the Missile Defense Agency to $11.5 billion.

More U.S. taxpayer money will also be given to missile defense contractors in Israel:

Congress has dramatically increased its budget for the Israeli missile defense programs by $148 million to include ongoing Iron Dome and Arrow 3 development.

“I am pleased and excited to announce that the US Congress has approved a record sum for Israel’s missile defense program: $705m. in 2018!” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Monday.

Two incidents last night provide again that missile defense is a waste of money. It hardly ever works. Strategic missile defense, which the U.S. builds to take down intercontinental missiles, will not protect against the new weapons Russia and others are now pursuing. The U.S. military acknowledges this. After Putin announced the new weapon systems the Trump administration raised the white flag and suddenly asked for new arms control talks.

Last night the Yemeni army launched (vid) seven ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia. Three of those targeted the capital Riyadh, four were aimed at military and infrastructure targets. In Riyadh the Saudi forces fired a a number of Patriot surface-to-air missiles and claimed that those successfully intercepted the Yemeni missiles. The Saudis Patriot Advanced Capabilities-2 system (PAC-2) are made by the U.S. company Raytheon which also hires former U.S. soldiers as 'Patriot Battery Systems Technician Field Engineers' to man and maintain the Saudi systems.

Earlier Saudi claims of successful intercepts turned out to be false. The small warheads of the Yemeni missiles separate from the larger missile body and are difficult to detect. The U.S. provided systems inevitably aims at the bigger empty missile body.

This time various videos from Riyadh show that at least seven interceptors were fired against the three incoming missiles. At least two of the interceptors failed catastrophically. The other five seem to have self-destruct at height. There is no sign of any real interception.

One of the Patriot interceptors prematurely exploded during its boost phase. Its burning debris showered the ground with hot parts.


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Another Patriot interceptor made a u-turn and struck the ground some hundred meters away from random onlookers:


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Inevitably some snarky comments followed:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk
When your PAC2 gets radicalized and turns on you ...
---
Haykal Bafana @BaFana3
Even #Saudi Patriot missiles know who the real enemy is: They boomerang back to earth and bomb Saudi Arabia.
---
agitpapa @agitpapa
How a real Patriot should function, killing the guys who did 9/11 instead of serving them.

The other defense missiles seem to have self-destruct presumably after they lost contact with the target. Each of these Patriot MIM-104C missiles cost some $2-3 million.

The Saudis say that one man was killed and two were wounded in the Yemeni attack. It is more likely that these people were victims of the missile defense fire than of the attacking missiles.

In another late night missile defense incident Israel fired some twenty of its U.S. paid Iron Dome interceptors against presumed missiles coming from the Gaza strip:

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile shield intercepted a number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on Sunday, Israeli media reported, after warning sirens sounded around the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

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That first report turned out to be fake news. Several videos show the defense missiles explode in a flash high up in the air. Such explosions are often interpreted as successful intercept but are usually just the programmed self-destruction which prevents that whole missile carcasses fall down on the people below. Indeed none of a missiles the Israeli army fired destroyed any targets as none were there:

Multiple Code Red false alarms were blasted in the Hof Ashkelon and Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Councils and in the southern city of Sderot Sunday evening as the Iron Dome missile-defense mistook bullets from the Gaza Strip for a fusillade of rockets.

The regional councils originally reported that the Iron Dome anti-missile system was said to have intercepted every rocket rocket. However, the IDF later confirmed that no salvo had been fired at Israel.

“No salvo was fired at territory in the State of Israel. The situation in the Gaza region is usual. The interceptions by the Iron Dome system were activated because of the firing of bullets from the strip. Nothing fell in Israeli territory. It is being checked whether mortars or rockets were even fired at all,” the statement read.

Before the IDF clarification, the regional councils instructed the southern residents to remain in sheltered rooms.

Each Iron Dome missile costs at least $50,000. The IDF just spent $1,000,000 of U.S. taxpayer money because some 'oversensitive' system  mistook random gun fire not aimed at Israel for incoming missiles.

The U.S. strategic missile defense is against incoming long range missiles. The Patriot systems in Saudi Arabia are supposed to defend against medium range ballistic missiles. The Israeli Iron Dome systems should defend against short range missile attacks.

All three systems are obviously incapable of fulfilling their task. All three demonstrate that missile defense is prohibitively costly. The cost of each missile defense interceptor is a multitude of the costs of the attacking missile. The number of interceptors is limited and the systems can be exhausted and overwhelmed by swarm attacks of cheap dummies followed by a real attack.

Last year the Saudis were pushed by the Trump administration to buy the new Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system:

The package that cleared Friday would include 44 THAAD launchers, 360 interceptors, 16 THAAD Fire Control and Communications Mobile Tactical Station Groups and seven AN/TPY-2 THAAD radars, along with associated support equipment and training.

This new system is supposed to defend Saudi Arabia against Iranian ballistic missiles. But according to a South-Korean analysis the THAAD missile defense system has the same problem the Patriot system has. It can easily be deceived by cheap decoys and it tends to hit the incoming missile body while missing the separate warhead which simply continues its attack on the target.

When the Saudi clown prince visited Washington last week The U.S. president made an embarrassing show (vid) out of such sales. The Saudis will have to pay some $15 billion for the basically useless THAAD system. "That’s peanuts to you," said Trump. But Saudi citizens may not agree with such banter. The clown prince was, apparently, not amused.


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But what can he do? If he stops buying useless U.S. weapons the borg in Washington will 'regime change' him in no time.

Current missile defense is economically not viable. The limits of physics make it easy to overcome. But the systems still have their purpose.

For U.S. politicians they are a salable way to move taxpayer money towards the owners of the defense industry. For the Israeli government they are a (U.S. paid) psychological tool to prevent its people from protesting against the consequences of Zionist land robbery. The Saudis see them as inevitable ransom payment.

Yesterday's public failures of missile defense endanger those purposes. If the general public comes to believe that missile defense can not work the whole scam falls apart. Any future sale should thus be conditioned on a promise to never use the acquired system. 

Posted by b on March 26, 2018 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (111)

March 25, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-13

The last week at Moon of Alabama was again dominated by the Skripal incident. Another long piece about a different issue is still on hold. This week thus saw less posts than desirable.

Mar 19 - NHS Doctor: "No Patients Have Experienced Symptoms Of Nerve Agent Poisoning In Salisbury" and
Mar 21 - Russian Scientists Explain 'Novichok' - High Time For Britain To Come Clean (Updated)

I had added additional historic information on the chemical agents in question in a comment to the March 21 piece.

The British government is milking the incident to push russophobia and to divert from its failure in the Brexit negotiations and all its other problems. But the diversion will only succeed so long. The NHS doctor as well as court testimony by scientists from Proton Down contradict the claims made by the British government. Let's hope that the British opposition picks up on that.

Mar 20 - Cambridge Analytica And The Manipulation Of People by Debs is Dead

Mar 23 - John Bolton - The Man With A Hammer Is Looking For Nails

The one man now seen as the most 'moderate' on war issues in the Trump administration is a retired four star marine general with the nickname "mad dog" who was fired by the Obama administration for being too aggressive towards Iran.

Mar 25 - Syria - The East-Ghouta-Afrin Exchange Is Complete - Where Will The SAA Go Next?

Use the comments as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 25, 2018 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (134)

Syria - The East-Ghouta-Afrin Exchange Is Complete - Where Will The SAA Go Next?

After the Syrian army had taken all rural parts of east-Ghouta three pockets of densely upbuild areas were left in terrorist hands. Negotiations had started about transfer of the armed men to Idleb governorate in the north. Some 100,000 people moved from the besieged areas to the Syrian government side. Surrounded by widely superior forces, devoid of human shields and without any chance of relief the terrorist groups are now giving up one by one.


Source: Maxim Mansour/ Syria Digital Map - bigger

First to surrender were Ahrar al-Sham fighters who held the Harasta suburb. 1,500 of them and their families, in total 4,500 people were transferred to Idleb by government buses. They had to give up all heavy weapons and were only allowed to carry one hand-weapons and no ammunition.

Next to give up were Faylaq al-Rahman who held the southern pocket. While the leadership of the group was negotiating with the government side some of the group fired barrages of missiles into Damascus city and killed dozens of people. Shortly thereafter two dozen of foreigners who had been fighting with Faylaq al-Rahman turned up dead. Having eliminated those irreconcilable elements Faylaq al-Rahman burned its headquarter and agreed to be transferred. The men and their families are now being evacuated to Afrin, a formerly Kurdish area in the north-west which Turkish supported gangs recently captured. The total of this transfer were some 7,000 people.

The last area in to be taken in east-Ghouta is Douma. It is held by Jaish al-Islam, a group of Wahhabi Islamists with intense support from Saudi Arabia. But Jaish al Islam will not want to go to Idleb. They have long fought with other Islamists and especially with HTS, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, which now rules in most of Idleb. Jaish al-Islam still tries to negotiate some autonomy for Douma but the Syrian government will not have any of that. It can not and will not allow a pocket of 'autonomous' Saudi financed Jihadis a few miles from the capital. The group will have to give up completely or agree to be transferred elsewhere. The only alternative is imminent death by Syrian artillery and bombardment. News today is that an agreement has been found but details are not yet available.

The Syrian Arab Army has cleaned the east-Ghouta pocket in a less than a month. This was only possible because Turkey had a great incentive to keep other areas, especially in Idleb, reasonably quiet. To allow Turkey to take the Afrin canton from unruly Kurdish forces was thus in exchange for east-Ghouta.

The U.S. had plans to attack Syria during the east-Ghouta operation. The Russian military sent intense warnings that it would retaliate against U.S. ships and other platforms if those would fire cruise missiles against Syria. The warnings were successful in deterring the Pentagon but not the White House hawks:

According to two National Security Council officials, Mattis has ignored McMaster’s requests for military options that would have allowed the U.S. to strike Eastern Gouta, in Syria, ...

With the east-Ghouta pocket removed the Syrian army can move towards the next target. There is one pocket left near the capital that is still held by terrorists. Yarmouk, originally an improvised camp for Palestinian refugees but now part of Damascus city, is held by an Islamic State aligned group and by some Palestinian Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood followers who also fight the government. These groups often fight each other. Every once in a while their fighting spills over and affects the wider city. The Syrian government gave Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood organization, a chance to clean up the area but Hamas failed to do so. It should not take long for the Syrian forces to eliminate both of the threats.

There have also been signs that the southern area around Daraa, near the Jordanian border, will be the place of the next large operation. Negotiations with some 'rebel' groups in Daraa and with the Jordanian government are ongoing. But while Jordan would probably like the war on Syria to end, its Saudi, Israeli and U.S. allies, who's money it needs to survive, may not agree to such plans and prepare for a new fight.

During the recent visit by the Saudi clown prince in Washington the Saudis bought 6,600 TOW anti tank missiles. Their purchase is obviously not for defense against Yemeni tank divisions storming towards Riyadh. In 2013 the Saudis bought 15,600 TOWs which the CIA then distributed to its Takfiris in Syria. The new Saudi purchase will have a similar purpose. Will those TOWs be distributed to 'rebels' in Daraa or to the new Arab 'rebel' army the U.S. forces in east-Syria are building out of remnants of ISIS?

Posted by b on March 25, 2018 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (57)

March 23, 2018

John Bolton - The Man With A Hammer Is Looking For Nails

President Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin to his reelection as president of the Russian Federation. It was a matter of simply courtesy to do so. The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (aka the National Security Advisor), three star general McMaster, had advised him to not congratulate Putin. (McMaster now claims differently.) That was bad advice. But it became even worse when McMaster, or someone in his shop, promptly leaked this to the press. The usual Republican nutters like John McCain grumbled and Trump was furious.

Trump decided to fire McMaster the very next day. He had it coming. Both the White House Chief of Staff Kelly as well as the Secretary of Defense Mattis wanted McMaster out. Unfortunately for them Trump chose a replacement that they did not want and will find difficult to live with.


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John Bolton is not a neo-conservative. He does not dream of 'spreading democracy' or 'nation building'. He is a 'smash, burn and leave' libertarian hawk. He is also an exceptionally avid bureaucrat who knows how to get the things he wants done. That quality is what makes him truly dangerous. Bolton is known for sweet-talking to his superiors, being ruthless against competitors and for kicking down on everyone below him.

Soon Netanyahoo will have the cabinet in place in DC he always dreamed of. A hawkish Pompeo at State, a real torturer as head of the CIA and now Bolton are already sufficient to protect Israel's further expansion. Kelly and, only later on Mattis will likely be the next to get fired. That will eliminate the last people with access to Trump who have some marginal sanity on war and peace issues. Trump will be completely isolated and easy to manipulate.

Bolton has a hammer and he will find lots of nails. Like Hillary Clinton he will want to fight with Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and others in no particular order. He will want to destroy Syria. He is cozy with the Kurds and the Iranian terror cult MEK. He addressed (vid) their congress eight years in a row and made lots of money for saying things like this:

"[B]efore 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran.”

Bolton has little concern for U.S. allies except, maybe, for Israel.

His first priority will be to prevent the announced summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un. He will want more sanctions on North Korea and may argue for a 'preventive' strike against it. He does not care that such a strike will certainly kill tens of thousands of Koreans in the north and south and several thousand U.S. soldiers and civilians.

New sanctions on North Korea are problematic as Trump has just put additional tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. imports of Chinese goods. (The Chinese response is smart: Tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods from states that Trump won.) Why should China and Russia (and South Korea) help the U.S. to strangulate North Korea when they themselves are under fire? To prevent a U.S. strike that may come anyway the very next day?

The Europeans who were part of the nuclear agreement with Iran have to answer a similar question. Why offer Trump a 'compromise' over the JCPOA when the chances are now high that he will destroy it anyway?

What will Bolton do on Syria? Will he try to find a new agreement with Erdogan and drag Turkey away from endorsing Russia's polices in Syria? If he manages to do so, Syria's north will become a shared Turkish-U.S. entity and will be lost for a long time. New attacks on the Syrian government, from the north, south and east, where the U.S. re-trains ISIS into a new 'moderate rebel' army, would then open the next phase of the war.

So far the mean time of survival for Trump appointees is some six to eight months. Let us hope that John Bolton's appointment will - in the end - lower that average.

Posted by b on March 23, 2018 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (114)

March 22, 2018

Open Thread 2018-12

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 22, 2018 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (159)

March 21, 2018

Russian Scientists Explain 'Novichok' - High Time For Britain To Come Clean (Updated)

A week ago we asked if 'Novichok' poisons are real. The answer is now in: It is 'yes' and 'no'. Several Russian scientist now say that they once researched and developed lethal poisons but they assert that other countries can and have copied these. 'Novichok', they say,  is a just western propaganda invention. They see the British accusations as a cynical plot against Russia. The people who push the 'Novichok' accusations have political and commercial interests.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May insinuated that the British-Russian double agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who collapsed on March 4 on a public bench in Salisbury, were affected by a 'Russian' nerve agent:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

Theresa May's claims are highly questionable. 


Maria Zakharova, spokeswomen of the Russian Foreign Ministry: "'Novichok' has never been used
in the USSR or in Russia as something related to the chemical weapon research" - bigger

A highly potent nerve agent would hurt anyone who comes in contact with it. But the BBC reported that a doctor who administered first aid to the collapsed Yulia Skripal for 30 minutes was not affected at all. Another doctor, Steven Davies who heads the emergence room of the Salisbury District Hospital, wrote in a letter the London Times:

"... no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only been ever been three patients with significant poisoning."

The name 'Novichok' comes from a book written by Vil Mirzanyanov, a 1990s immigrant to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union. It describes his work at Soviet chemical weapon laboratories and lists the chemical formulas of a new group of lethal substances.

AFP interviewed the author of the 'Novichok' book about the Salisbury incident:

Mirzayanov, speaking at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, said he is convinced Russia carried it out as a way of intimidating opponents of President Vladimir Putin.
...
The only other possibility, he said, would be that someone used the formulas in his book to make such a weapon.

"Russia did it", says Mirzanyanov, "OR SOMEONE WHO READ MY BOOK".


1, 2

A 'Novichok' nerve agent plays a role in the current season of the British-American spy drama Strike Back which broadcasts on British TV. Theresa May might have watched this clip (vid) from the series. Is it a source of her allegations?

The Russian government rejects the British allegations and demands evidence which Britain has not provided. Russia joined the Chemical Weapon Convention in 1997. By 2017 it had destroyed all its chemical weapons and chemical weapon production facilities. Under the convention only very limited amounts of chemical weapon agents are allowed to be held in certified laboratories for defense research and testing purposes. The U.S. has such laboratories at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, the British lab is in Porton Down, a few miles from Salisbury. The Russian lab is in Shikhany in the southern Saratov Oblast. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) audits these laboratories and their declared stocks "down to the milligram level".

The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry and famous high heels folk dancer (vid) Maria Zakharova explains in a TV interview (vid, English subtitles) that 'Novichok' was not and is not the name of any Soviet or Russian program. The word was introduced in the "west" simply because it sounded Russian.

Western media claimed that Vil Miranzayanov is the developer of the 'Novichok' chemicals. It turns out that this is not the case. Interviews with two retired Russian chemists, both published only yesterday, tell the real story. The Russia news agency RIA Novostni talked with Professor Leonid Rink (machine translation):

Did you have anything to do with creating what the British authorities call the "Novice"?

- Yes. This was the basis of my doctoral dissertation.

At that time I worked in Shikhany, in the branch of GosNIIOKhT (State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, during Soviet times was engaged in the development of chemical weapons), was a leading researcher and head of the laboratory.

Professor Rink says that:

  • 'Novichok' or 'novice' was never used as a program name. New Soviet formulas had alphanumeric codes.
  • Several new nerve agents were developed in Shikhany in the 1970s and 80s.
  • These new substances can cause immediate deadly reactions when applied to humans.
  • Vil Mirzayanov was head of the chromatographer group, chemists who deals with the separation and analysis of various mixtures of substances. He was responsible for environmental control and not a developer of any new substances.

The Associated Press summarizes other parts of the interview with Professor Rink:

Rink told Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency Tuesday that Britain and other western nations easily could have synthesized the nerve agent after chemical expert Vil Mirzayanov emigrated to the United States and revealed the formula.

Echoing Russian government statements, Rink says it wouldn’t make sense for Moscow to poison Sergei Skripal, a military intelligence officer who spied for Britain, because he was a used asset “drained” by both Russia and Britain.

He claims Britain’s use of the name Novichok for the nerve agent is intended to convince the public that Russia is to blame.

The English-Russian magazine The Bell interviews another Russian scientists involved in the issue:

The Bell was able to find and speak with Vladimir Uglev, one of the scientists who was involved in developing the nerve agent referred to as “Novichok”. [...] Vladimir Uglev, formerly a scientist with Volsk branch of GOSNIIOKHT (“State Scientific-Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology”), which developed and tested production of new lethal substances since 1972, spoke for the first time about his work as early as the 1990s. He left the institute in 1994 and is now retired.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists that there was no research nor development of any substance called “Novichok”, not in Russia, nor in the USSR. Is that true?

– In order to make it easier to understand the subject matter, I will not use the name “Novichok” which has is now commonly used by everyone to describe those four substances which were conditionally assigned to me to develop over a period of several years. Three of these substances are part of the “Foliant” program, which was led by Pyotr Kirpichev, a scientist with GOSNIIOKHT (State Scientific-Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology). The first substance of a new class of organophosphorous chemical agents, I will call it “A-1972”, was developed by Kirpichev in 1972. In 1976, I developed two substances: “B-1976” and “C-1976”. The fourth substance, “D-1980”, was developed by Kirpichev in the early 1980s. All of these substances fall under the group referred to as “Novichkov”, but that name wasn’t given to the substances by GOSNIIOKHT.

All four chemical agents are “FOS” or organophosphorous compounds which have a nerve paralyzing effect, but they differ in their precursors, how they were discovered and in their usage as agents of chemical warfare.

The four substances were developed by Pyotr Kirpichev and Vladimir Uglev. These substances were not readily usable by the military as they could not be safely transported and used in the field like binary chemical weapons can. Once synthesized they were extremely dangerous. Professor Leonid Rink, working later in a different group, tackled the problem but did not succeed. Uglev confirms that Vil Miranzayanov was not involved in the development at all. His group was responsible for chemical analysis and for environmental control around the laboratory.


Vladimir Uglev, via The Bell - bigger

Vladimir Uglev, like Renk and Miranzayanov, notes that these agents "of a type developed by Russia" can now be produced by any sufficiently equipped laboratory, including private ones.

Uglev mentions a criminal use of one of the agents in the 1990s:

One of these substances was used to poison the banker, Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary in 1995. A cotton ball, soaked in this agent, was rubbed over the microphone in the handset of Kivelidi’s telephone. That specific dose was developed by my group, where we produced all of the chemical agents, and each dose which we developed was given its own complete physical-chemical passport. It was therefore not difficult to determine who had prepared that dose and when it was developed. Naturally, the investigators also suspected me. I was questioned several times about this incident.

Journalist Mark Ames, who worked in Moscow at that time, remarks:

This muddles the narrative a bit —"novichok" used in 1995 Moscow mafia poison hit on top mobster Ivan Kivelidi. So:
1) novichok [is] in mob hands too
2) used during reign of #1 Mobfather Boris Yeltsin, Washington's vassal

Uglev further notes that blood samples from the Salisbury victims, which Moscow demands but Britain has not handed over, can show what agent (if any) were involved and "where the specific dose was produced and by whom."

A new article in the New Scientists confirms the claims by the Russian scientists that the 'Novichok' agents which may have affected the Skripals may have been produced elsewhere:

Weapons experts have told New Scientist that a number of countries legally created small amounts of Novichok after it was revealed in 1992 and a production method was later published.

In 2016 Iranian scientists, in cooperation with the OPCW, published production and detection methods for such agents. It is likely that the various government labs secretly re-developed and produced these chemicals for their own purposes even prior to the Iranian publication.

[UPDATE] In an interview with Deutsche Welle British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson admits that Porton Down had (illegal?)  'Novichok' agents when the incident in Salisbury happened:

DW: You argue that the source of this nerve agent, Novichok, is Russia. How did you manage to find it out so quickly? Does Britain possess samples of it?

Boris Johnson: Let me be clear with you … When I look at the evidence, I mean the people from Porton Down, the laboratory …

DW: So they have the samples …

Boris Johnson: They do. And they were absolutely categorical and I asked the guy myself, I said, "Are you sure?" And he said there's no doubt.

But Porton Down did not agree with the British government to claim that the supposed nerve agent was "made by Russia." It only agreed to the compromise formulation "of a type developed by Russia" i.e. it could have been made anywhere. [End Update]

The claims by the British government that a. the Skripals were affected by a nerve agent and that b. Russia was involved in the Skripal incident because it has some exclusive access to these agents seem both baseless. Unless there is significant further evidence the British incrimination of Russia looks like a cynical plot invented for political and/or commercial purposes.

As usual in the military-industrial complex the people who push such scares, are the ones who profit from them.

The British Morning Star points to one former British military intelligence officer, Colonel (rtd) Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, as a common protagonist in the Skripal case, in the claims of Syrian chemical weapon use and in commercial interests around chemical weapon defense:

Quoted daily by multiple media outlets on the Skripal case, de Bretton-Gordon has become a very public expert, relied upon for unbiased comment and analysis by the British and foreign media on chemical weapon threats from Salisbury to Syria.

He is a former assistant director of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Land Forces with the Ministry of Defence. Before that de Bretton-Gordon was commanding officer of Britain’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment and Nato’s Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion.

While his CBRN background is often mentioned, his military intelligence links are rarely referred to publicly.

Long before the Salisbury event, de Bretton-Gordon was urging greater government expenditure on chemical protection counter-measures and equipment.
...
de Bretton-Gordon is managing director CBRN of Avon Protection Systems, based in Melksham, Wiltshire.
...
In 2017, the company made £50m from its US military contracts and a further £63.3m from other “protection and defence” revenue.

The former(?) army intelligence officer is also deeply involved in the "moderate rebels" chemical weapon scams in Syria:

On April 29 2014, the [Daily Telegraph] reported that it “obtained soil samples collected from sites of chemical attacks inside Syria by Dr Ahmad — a medic whose real identity cannot be revealed for his own protection — who had previously received training in sample collection by western chemical weapons experts.

“Mr de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert and director of Secure Bio, a private company, was one of the trainers.”

And who carried out the tests? None other than de Bretton-Gordon himself.

The "White Helmets" propaganda group in Syria was founded and is run by the former(?) British army intelligence officer James Le Mesurier with British and U.S. government money. His former(?) colleague de Bretton-Gordon is running the parallel Syria chemical weapon scam. Both profit from their government financed operations.

Other British agents involved in the Skripal case are Pablo Miller who recruited Skripal for the MI6. He was a friend of Skripal, also lived in Salisbury and worked for Christopher Steele, the former(?) MI6 agent who produced the 'dirty dossier' about Donald Trump for the Clinton campaign. Both are involved with Russian mafia emigres in Britain like Boris Berezovski and the deceased Alexander Litvinenko who's father says that he was killed by an MI6 or CIA guy.

While the British government blamed the Russians just a week after the incident in Salisbury happened it now seems interested in delaying any further investigations. It took more than two weeks after the incident for the British government to invite the OPCW to help with the case. The head of the OPCW says it will take another three weeks for the organization to analyze the samples the British laboratory now handed over. The British police requires several months to find out what happened to the Skripals.

How could the British government be sure of "Russian" involvement within a week and even expel Russian diplomats when the primary chemical experts on the issue will need three weeks for their first analyses and the British police predicts a several months long investigation?

The Russian scientist and their government have explained their history and position in relation to 'Novichoks' and the Skripal incident. It is high time now for the British government, its scientists at Porton Down and its greedy mafia of former(?) British intelligence officer and their criminal Russian emigres to come clean about their own roles in it.

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Previous Moon of Alabama reports on the Skripal case:

Posted by b on March 21, 2018 at 08:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (204)

March 20, 2018

Cambridge Analytica And The Manipulation Of People

by Debs is Dead
lifted from a comment

MoA-ites correctly distrust every word emanating from the mealy mouthed Guardian because it has been used in a vicious campaign to advance the interests of Zionists to the point where the well being of Guardian readers has been relegated below the interests of apartheid Israel.

Nevertheless having a bit of a shufti at the loudly trumpeted Facebook-Cambridge Analytica expose is an essential act for anyone who wants to try to get a grip on how populations are being deliberately manipulated.

There is a relatively easy to digest video here where Christopher Wyllie, a computer scientist, outlines the birth of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, the CEO and the method used to sell the development of the corporation to Steve Bannon, CA's first customer and Robert Mercer, the Wall Street financier who underwrote the cost of setting up the corporation.

I recommend spending the 13 minutes required to watch the video because Wyllie's summation of what they did and why is horrifying. Lines such as "If you want to change the way a person votes you have to change the culture the person lives within." and "to change a culture, first you have to smash the existing one then grab the pieces and mold it into the shape you want the culture to be".

A computer scientist at Cambridge University, Aleksandr Kogan had been given privileged access by Facebook to conduct 'academic research' he had access to the entire range of any Facebook user's account and that of all their Facebook friends. America was targeted first as that was what both Bannon and Mercer wanted - all set for the '16 beauty contest' aka 'the presidential election'. Over a period of three months back in 2014 CA conned around 200,000 Facebook users into installing their app, 200,000 provided enough connection through Facebook friends to gather the profiles including private messages, of more than 50 million American Facebook users.

Nix went into the British parliament and told the puppets that CA have no Facebook data. This is the angle of attack the silly Grauniard is using and one which they will come unstuck on because CA have moved far beyond that initial scrape in 2014 where they gathered everything about every Facebook user. That was the 'foundation' and it has been built upon by nudging users down hand crafted rabbit holes for the last 4 years. The data has been re-categorised and reshaped, so that finding any traces of Facebook in it will probably be impossible.

CA has teams of psychologists, web site builders and videographers tasked with creating content which the users whose profiles have been mined will find 'interesting'. Websites, Youtube videos and blogs were built to cater to each particular category of human the psychologists had identified.

Facebook doesn't even really matter any more as the 'clay' has been shifted into their own special grouping and CA propagandists are whispering in each mug's ear telling him/her exactly what will cause them to slightly alter their point of view about a product service, TV show or politician. Gently edging people onto a conveyor belt of predetermined values, encouraging them to only interact with other humans who share that outlook, the aim is to split social cohesion leaving the mug's reliant on their category's self reinforcing groupthink as the absolute truth. Iphone 57 users will only hang with people who agree Iphone 57 is the best.

Thomas Cook travel agency customers will plan their holidays with other Thomas Cook customers and supporters of the dem or rethug branch of the American empire party will no longer be discomfited by hearing alternative points of view.

That happened to 50 million American voters in 2016 and everyone is worrying about a couple of hundred grand spent long before the primaries on a handful of badly worded urges to buy some now defunct product which was responded to by only a handful of Americans?

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Added: Channel 4 collaborated with the Guardian/Observer on the Cambridge Analytica story. Their report, ‘Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks’ includes undercover video of Cambridge Analytica's sales pitch:

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Added:

b here: In my opinion, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL do nothing else than the powers-that-be have done for ages. They only privatize and commercialize the tools that have been used all along. During the Cold War (and likely continuing today) the CIA ran up to 400 journalists and editors in "western" media. It promoted abstract art and 'progressive' counter culture, financed the publishing of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and so on. The Pentagon rewrites movie scripts and helps financing many Hollywood blockbusters and TV series. They did not need Facebook to 'sell' the war on Iraq.

Yasha Levine's new book Surveillance Valley describes how the Internet grew out of the Pentagon's Vietnam War era counterinsurgency projects as a tool for surveillance and manipulation. It was privatized but all the big Internet companies, Google, Amazon, Facebook etc, are now Pentagon and CIA contractors who help to expand the original project. SCL and Cambridge Analytica are part of this.

But the real question is how well these new projects work. Yes, advertising can sell a product. 'News' can change opinions. But they can only do so to a certain degree or for a limited time. Eskimos do not need refrigerators. Counterinsurgency campaigns usually fail. The Internet companies claim that advertising on their channels works extraordinary well because they can categorize the 'eyeballs' they attract by the data their users 'voluntarily' supply. Cambridge Analytica claims it can efficiently manipulate whole nations on a similar base. These companies sell snake-oil. Their claims are made out of self-interest. I for one doubt them.

Posted by b on March 20, 2018 at 05:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (113)

March 19, 2018

NHS Doctor: "No Patients Have Experienced Symptoms Of Nerve Agent Poisoning In Salisbury"

There have been some interesting developments in the alleged poisoning case of the British-Russian double-agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The British governments standing on the issue is getting worse as more inconsistencies and doubts on its statements come to light. The international support for its claims is weakening.

On March 4 the Skripals collapsed on a public bench in Salisbury in England after they had visited a pub and a restaurant. They were brought to the local hospital. A local policemen was probably also affected. (See our previous posts, liked at the end, for many additional details.) A week later, on March 12, the British government said that a nerve agent was the cause of the incident and accused Russia of being responsible for the act:

Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok—a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia. Based on this capability, combined with Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations—including against former intelligence officers whom it regards as legitimate targets—the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act.

Novichok is not a nerve agent but supposedly a group of chemical substances investigated in the Soviet Union for their nerve agent potential. Only recently have some of these substances been synthesized.

Former ambassador Craig Murray reported that the formulation "... a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, ..." was a compromise negotiated between the British government and its chemical weapon specialists in its Porton Down laboratory. Note that the statement does not implicate at all that Russia is involved in the current case.

The British government demanded a Russian response within 24 hours without presenting any evidence of Russian involvement. Russia rightly pointed out that such a demand is in breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) procedures as supervised by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and rejected it.

The U.S, Britain, France and Germany issued a common supporting statement which repeated the British formulation:

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.
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We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.

Since then many questions and doubts about the British government's Noviochok drama have been raised. Bit by bit the case is falling apart.

Consider for example this picture which shows Mr. Skripal and his daughter Yulia presumably in the pub or the restaurant they visited before they collapsed. Who is the third person, visible in the mirror between them, who took the picture?


Via Maxim A. Suchkov and Дмитрий Стешин - bigger
Is this third person the MI6 agent Pablo Miller who in 1995 recruited Skripal as British double agent. Miller who was also involved in handling the MI6 assets Boris Berezovski and Alexander Litvinenko. Pablo Miller who lives close to Sergej Skripal in Salisbury and is considered to be his friend? The same Pablo Miller who worked with former MI6 agent Christopher Steele's Orbis Business Intelligence which created the 'dirty dossier' about Donald Trump? How deep were the Skripals involved in making up the fake stories in the anti-Trump dossier for which the Clinton campaign paid more than $168,000 dollars. Did the Skripals threaten to talk about the issue? Is that why the incident happened?

So far no information about the third person which took the above picture has come to light.

On March 16 the British government was still pleased with the success of the drama it constructed from a movie script (video) around the Skripal incident.

The headline and intro of the BBC story are telling: Russian spy: UK government response going to plan so far

Among senior ministers and officials, there's quiet satisfaction that the Russia crisis seems to be going according to plan. Maybe even better.

According to one senior government source, "it's gone at least as well as we'd hoped".

That may end soon.

The London Times reported on March 14th that 40 people in Salisbury needed treatment because of poisoning. A reader's letter to the paper written by "Steven Davies - Consultant in emergency medicine, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust" disputes that report. (The NHS database lists Davies, GMC membership number 4122151, as specialist in accident and emergency services at the Salisbury District Hospital.) The letter seems to say that none of the hospital's patients were effected by "nerve agents" at all:

Sir, Further to your report "Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment", Mar 14), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only been ever been three patients with significant poisoning.

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The wording of the letter is not 100% clear. Does the "no patients" refer to only the 40 the Times mentioned or to all patents including the Skripals? Are the three patients with "significant poisoning" the Skripals and the affected policeman? Commentator Noirette had suggested here that the Skripal case was about food poisoning or a food allergy, not nerve agents. The Skripals had visited a fish restaurant one hour before they were found. The letter points into a similar direction. Food poisoning would also explain why a doctor who gave emergency help  to the unconscious Yulia Skripal for over 30 minutes was not effected at all.

I have yet to see a follow up on the letter by any media. Why is there no interview with the doctor? All medical personal involved are astonishingly silent. Since day one there has been no medical update on the health status of the Skripals. Has the government issued a gag order in from of a DA-Notice which prohibits reporting? Why? By writing the above letter Steven Davies, the Salisbury emergency consultant, probably circumvented it. (Several British media ignored a 2017 DA-notice prohibiting the reporting of Christopher Steele's name.)

The UK has since folded on its unilateral demand outside of the OPCW procedures. It has now, as Russia demanded, involved the OPCW and OPCW specialist are expected to visit the British chemical weapon laboratory in Porton Down, which is near Salisbury, to investigate the case.

But the British Foreign office also raised a new accusation against Russia:

The Foreign Secretary revealed this morning that we have information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination. And part of this programme has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of Novichok. This is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson used a less hedged wording:

"We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok," Johnson told the BBC.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - bigger

Craig Murray took the Johnson statement apart. If the UK really had or has such information why did it not, as the CWC demands, inform the OPCW of Russia's potential breach of its obligations? Why is this coming out only now?

The British allies seem to be unimpressed by Boris Johnson's show.

Today the German Foreign Minister tracked back from the common position issued last week:

Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, has described Russia as a "difficult partner", but said the UK poisoning was a "bilateral" issue, indicating that Britain can count on little support from the EU.

Maas spoke ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (19 March)

A common statement after the EU foreign ministers meeting did not blame Russia. It repeated the carefully negotiated wording of the original British accusation but did not endorse the British position:

The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.

The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years.
...
The EU welcomes the commitment of the UK to work closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in supporting the investigation into the attack.

The statement is false in that nerve agents have actually been used on European soil over the last 70 years. During the Cold War Britain tested various types of chemical and biological weapons, including nerve agents, on its own population as well as in its colonies and in other countries. Why should we exclude an even more recent use?

The Skripal poisoning case stinks. The British government is obviously not telling the truth about it. It uses the script of a recent spy drama to allege a 'Novichok' attack to implicate Russia and to raise anti-Russian sentiment. Information about the case is evidently held back. The media is mostly complicit.

Foreign countries have noticed that the story stinks and are tracking back on their support.

The people and the British opposition should urgently demand more and better answer from May's failing government.

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Previous Moon of Alabama reports on the Skripal case:

Posted by b on March 19, 2018 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (143)

March 18, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-11

The last week at Moon of Alabama was heavy on 'Novichok'. But that story it is only one act in a much larger play.

Mar 11 - Syria - The Fall Of Two Cities

This morning Afrin fell to the Turkish supported Takfiris. Over the last days civilians and YPG fighters fled the area. The Kurdish YPG made no serious attempt to defend the city. They left large stacks of ammunition behind. The Turkish government will now 'settle' its own people in Afrin and, in two to five years, will let them vote to be annexed by Turkey. This chanin of events was easy to see but the political stupidity of the Kurdish leadership is immeasurable.

The Syrian army continues to split Takfiri held areas of east-Ghouta into tiny pieces. Ten thousands of civilians have fled from the Takfiri to the government's side. Negotiations over the evacuation of the 'rebel' fanatics are ongoing. In a week or two the whole area will be liberated and under government control. A 'chemical factory', likely used to prepare chemical weapons, was found in the already librated area.

The Russian Defense Ministry loudly warns that U.S. paid provocateurs plan a "chemical incident" to then accuse the Syrian government. The U.S. has sortied ships, say the Russians, to 'respond' to such an incident with a swarm of cruise missiles on Syrian government targets. If that happens, Russia said, it will attack any detected missile launching platform.

Mar 12 - Theresa May's "45 Minutes" Moment

The British government again lies about chemical weapons.

Mar 13 - Trump Orders Rexit - Torture Woman To Head CIA - (Updated)

Who is the next to be fired by Trump? Mattis or McMaster?

Mar 14 - Are 'Novichok' Poisons Real? - May's Claims Fall Apart

The 'Novichok' story, as told by the British government, can not be true.

Mar 16 - The British Government's 'Novichok' Drama Was Written By Whom?

The piece was updated quite often with additional facts and supporting links. Early readers may want to reread it.

A big thank you to all commentators for the extensive and very disciplined discussion of our 'Novichok' posts. These could not be published without your support.

Mar 17 - Guardian Rips-Off Goebbels - Fascist Propaganda For Better Anti-Russian Smears

The post was somewhat updated with this comment.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 18, 2018 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (116)

March 17, 2018

Guardian Rips-Off Goebbels - Fascist Propaganda For Better Anti-Russian Smears

Just recently the Rothschild organ The Economist depicted the Russian president Putin as a dangerous octopus.


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The idea was not original at all. Russia has been the favored target of this denigrating comparison for more than a century.

The Guardian, no less anti-Russian than the Economist, now follows suit.


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The Steve Bell Guardian cartoon, just like the Economist cover, demonstrates a lack of creativity and originality. The spider cartoon is an obvious rip-off from a anti-Russian Nazi campaign:


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The archive description of the poster notes:

In early 1935, the Nazis unleashed an anti-Bolshevik campaign which it initiated with a series of traveling exhibits on the dangers of world Communism. This poster comes from the exhibit in Karlsruhe, the capital city of the German state of Baden. But its imagery is found in almost all of the posters of this exhibit.

Here Bolshevism is represented as a huge red spider, whose head is the familiar grinning skull topped with the red star. Sitting in the Soviet Union, the legs of the spider can still reach out to threaten the entire world.

The Guardian rip-off of Josef Goebbels' Nazi propaganda even copied the red star associated with communist ideology. How stupid - Putin and today's Russia are as capitalistic as it gets.

Plagiarizing others to foment anti-Russian sentiment is standard Guardian business. Its most fervent and stupid anti-Russian writer, Luke Harding, had to publicly apologize for stealing whole passages from the Exile, a Russian magazine in English language edited by Mark Ames, Yasha Levine and Matt Taibbi. For a good laugh watch this Real News interview on Harding's book "Collusion" in which Aaron Maté takes Harding apart.

One wonders how much the Economist, the Guardian and other anti-Russian outlets, writers and cartoon artists get from the $160 million fund the Obama administration budgeted to "counter an uptick in Russian propaganda". Taking such money would not be unusual. This 2015 Guardian report on a European Union anti-Russian propaganda fund was, for example, written by the U.S. government's RFE/RL propaganda outlet. A U.S. government propaganda write-up about a EU propaganda fund ends up as content on the Guardian site. Hey - why not? Even original Guardian content rarely ventures off from the official line.

Who by the way might have financed the anti-Russian spy series Strike Back which now replays on live TV as the Skripal Novichok drama?

The enormous amount of money from the dozens of officials and unofficial slush funds surely creates a lot of the anti-Russian noise. But for all the taxpayer money spent on the issue can we please ask for better than a warmed up Nazi campaign?

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h/t Nina Byzantina

Posted by b on March 17, 2018 at 03:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (92)

March 16, 2018

The British Government's 'Novichok' Drama Was Written By Whom?

The Skripal incident is now, by chance or by design, part of a much larger campaign about 'western' dominance over 'the east'. Russia, which ended the unilateral moment of U.S. nuclear primacy, is currently the main target. The situation is extremely dangerous as any further escalation, in the Middle East, the Ukraine ore elsewhere, might lead to a war between nuclear armed powers.

The government decreed 'truth' about the Skripal case has many discrepancies. The connection of the case to Russia is much weaker than the propaganda claims. But doubt and dissent about it are not allowed to prevail.

The political response to the incident around the British-Russian double-agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter started slowly. On Sunday, the 4th of March, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury, England. The local police and emergency services took care of them.

Only on March 8 did the case start to make larger waves. The BBC reported:

Addressing the House of Commons, the home secretary [Rudd] said the attack was "attempted murder in the most cruel and public way".
...
She refused to speculate on whether the Russian state might have been involved in the attack, saying the police investigation should be based on "facts, not rumour".

Besides Skripal and his daughter one police officer was affected:

A police officer, who was in intensive care, is now "stable and conscious", Wiltshire's chief constable said.

It is unclear where the officer is thought to have contacted the alleged poison. Some reports said it was at Skripal's house, others say that it was at the bench where the Skripal's collapsed.

But a doctor and others who administered first aid were not affected at all:

Meanwhile, a doctor who was one of the first people at the scene has described how she found Ms Skripal slumped unconscious on a bench, vomiting and fitting. She had also lost control of her bodily functions.

The woman, who asked not to be named, told the BBC she moved Ms Skripal into the recovery position and opened her airway, as others tended to her father.

She said she treated her for almost 30 minutes, saying there was no sign of any chemical agent on Ms Skripal's face or body.

The doctor said she had been worried she would be affected by the nerve agent, but added that she "feels fine".

This seems to exclude a highly toxic poison or a substance that is taken up through the skin. But how then was the police officer affected?

The Salisbury Journal noted on March 5:

Emergency services at the scene suspected the substance may have been a powerful drug called fentanyl, ...

In November 2017 the Salisbury Journal reported on an unrelated heroin and carfentanyl overdose case. (Carfentanyl is a strong analog of fentanyl.) The local emergency services are surely acquainted with such drugs.

The Skripal's are said to be still alive. No details about the alleged poison were published and no medical bulletin about their current state.

After a slow start the British government is now making an immense show out of the case by involving the army and by sending out lots of people in obviously unnecessary high protection gear.


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It also planted lots of rumors. On March 9 it was said that the poison likely came from inside Mr. Skripal's house. Three days ago claims were made that it was smeared on the door handle of Skripal's car, today it is supposed to have come out of the suitcase of Skripal's daughter. All these claims are based on leaks from anonymous official sources. It is likely that none of them is true.

Today, twelve days after the incident, it is still unknown what chemical substance the alleged poison exactly is and where and how it was administered.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray reports that the British chemical weapon laboratory at Porton Down, just 8 miles from where the incident happened, is unsure about what substance (if any) was actually involved:

I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation.

Blaming Russia for the use of a poison "of a type developed by Russia" (i.e. the Soviet Union) is like blaming Germany for all current Heroin addicts because the Deutsche Reich company Bayer developed the mass-production of Heroin as a sedative for coughs.

In her "45 minutes" speech on March 12 Theresa May used this wording:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

"Of a type developed by Russia” is now the standard formulation that the British government and its allies are using. This is supposed to refer to a zoo of chemical substances, the Novichoks, that back in the 1980s a Soviet laboratory in today's Uzbekistan may have researched as potential chemical weapons. There are serious doubts, including from a leading Porton Down scientist, that these Novichoks actually exist.

So where is the 'Novichok' talk coming from? Well, someone in the British government propaganda staff watched the current seasons of the British-American spy drama Strike Back. Nina Byzantina points to the summaries of recent episodes:

Episode 50 ran in the U.K on November 21 2017 and in the U.S. on February 23 2018:

Meanwhile, General Lázsló shuts down Section 20, forcing Donovan to work in secret. She discovers that Zaryn is in fact Karim Markov, a Russian scientist who allegedly killed his colleagues with Novichok, a nerve agent they invented.

Episodes 51 ran in the U.K on November 28 2017 and in the U.S. on March 2 2018:

Section 20 track Berisovich's meth lab in Turov where Markov is making more Novichok and destroy it, though Berisovich escapes with Markov.

Episodes 52 ran in the U.K on January 31 2018 and in the U.S. on March 9 2018:

Section 20 track down Maya, a local Muslim woman Lowry radicalised, to a local airport. When she attempts to release the Novichok, Reynolds shoots her. The Novichok is fake however, as Berisovich does not want an attack committed in his country. ... By the time Section 20 arrives, Berisovich had already called in the FSB to extract Markov and confiscate the Novichok. Yuri resurfaces to kill McAllister and Wyatt. However they turn the tables and strangle him to death. They then manage to engage the FSB and contain the gas. But in the process Reynolds is exposed. Markov works on an antidote but is killed by the Russians before he can complete. McAllister improvises and saves Reynolds, before Novin blows up the lab. Lowry uses the remainder of the gas to kill Berisovich for trying to betray her.

Here is a clip from the series (h/t @Syricide).

Isn't it astonishing how 'life' follows the course of last week's TV drama? Or did the TV drama follow a larger pre-written script? (Remember the X-Files pilot episode (vid) in March 2001 which 'predicted' 9/11?) Who really gave the British government the idea to blame Russia and Novichoks for the incident that involved the Skripals? Were it the experts at Porton Down, some spy drama on current TV or a propaganda agency?

The Soviet chemist Vil Mirzanyanov, who now lives in the U.S., is the only person who claims that Novichocks were real chemical weapons. Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW have accepted that claim. In 2007 Mirzanyanov wrote a still available book about his work at the Soviet laboratory in Uzbekistan and published the chemical formulas of some alleged Novichok substances. But, as Mirzanyanov concedes, such Novichok substances, if these were involved at all, are by no means an exclusively Russian issue. Vil Mirzanyanov's much publicized book made sure of that. As today's Wall Street Journal explains:

That publicity led its chemical structure to be leaked, making it readily available for reproduction elsewhere, said Ralf Trapp, a France-based consultant on the control of chemical and biological weapons.

“The chemical formula has been publicized and we know from publications from then-Czechoslovakia that they had worked on similar agents for defense in the 1980s,” he said. “I’m sure other countries with developed programs would have as well.
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“The understanding at the time was that even though Russia was working on it and developing it, they didn’t actually stockpile Novichok agents or precursors,” said Mr. Trapp.

The formulas are known and several other countries have worked on similar stuff. Anyone with a decent laboratory and some expert knowledge can make such poisons. (Update-March 18) In 2016 Iranian chemists synthesized five types of 'novichok' nerve agents in minuscule amounts and added their spectral signatures to the OPCW's chemical weapons database. (end-update)  This explains why the experts in Porton Down would not blame Russia and why the British government, eager to blame Russia, can only talk about "a type developed by Russia”.

The WSJ piece also explains why it will be difficult to find out from where, when and how the alleged poisons came to Salisbury:

The components used to make Novichok are readily available, but their short lifespan and the risks involved in using it demand professional expertise, scientific and arms experts said.
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Finding a trail of Novichok would be more difficult because it is carried in two parts that are combined to create a viscous liquid only shortly before use, said Mr. Trapp.

Mr. Trapp is a serious expert on the issue. He says that the Novichok agents are binary agents made from readily available substances and have a short live span. These characteristics will make it practically impossible to find a real culprit.

Russia, which the British government and now also its allies blame without presenting evidence, had no reason to attack the Skripal's. Mr. Skripal, the British double agent, was released from a Russian jail in a 2010 spy-swap. He has lived openly in Britain for eight years. If this was an act of Russian revenge why wait so long? Killing him would also endanger those Russian spies who came back to Russia in exchange for Skripal's freedom. It would impede any future exchange. There is no plausible reason for Russia to do such, especially not in the current atmosphere.

There must be other reasons why Skripal was attacked, if he was, with some more recent motive than the one attributed to Russia.

Elijah Magnier, with decades of experience as war correspondent, tries to fit the incident into the larger picture of the U.S.-Russian proxy war in the Middle East:

The US and the International community tried to stop the battles of al-Ghouta to no avail. This prompted Washington to exercise its favourite hobby of imposing sanctions on Russia, without succeeding in stopping the Syrian army (fighting without its allies – except Russia) from recovering its control over Ghouta. The answer came immediately from Moscow by bombing Daraa and hitting al-Qaeda’s area of influence in an indication as to where the future theatre of military operations is expected to be.

Again, events are moving very fast: the US response came quickly through its UK ally when Britain took advantage of the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal in London to accuse Moscow of being behind his assassination. The message here is clear: all means are legitimate for the control of the Middle East, specifically Syria.

I am not sure that this claim fits the timeline. The British already hinted at Russian culpability on March 8. Reuters reported the March 12 Deraa bombing at 1:16 PM. The British prime minister May raised her accusations against Russia only a few hours later. To prepare and negotiate her statement with Porton Down likely took longer than that.

The Skripal incident has its origin in something different, likely in his supposed involvement in the dirty Steele dossier which targeted Donald Trump. (More interesting background to the Skripal-Steele connection can be found at UKColumn.) May's statement was not prompted by the Syrian-Russian bombing in Deraa governorate but is a part of the general anti-Russian campaign.

Magnier is right though to point out that a further escalation is quite possible:

The Syrian war is far from being a normal one. It is THE war between two superpowers and their allies, where US and Russian soldiers are directly involved on the ground in a war of domination and power. The lack of victory in the US eyes is worse than losing a battle. Even more, the victory of Russia and its allies on Syrian soil in any battle is therefore a direct blow to the heart of Washington and its allies.
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The superpowers are on the verge of the abyss, so the danger of falling into a war of cosmic proposition is no longer confined to the imagination or merely a sensational part of unrealistic calculations.

The immense media scare and publicity of the Skripal drama is likely centrally directed. Someone is pressing NATO countries as well as thoughtful politicians to get on the side of the aggressive anti-Russian campaign. The French government spokesperson first rejected the accusations Theresa May made against Russia. It demanded proof:

We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made,” Griveaux told a news conference shortly after May said she was expelling Russian diplomats and suspending bilateral talks.

A day later and without further evidence coming to light France folded and joined others in accusing Russia because someone allegedly used a poison "of a type developed by Russia".

The British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned of taking steps against Russia without first presenting evidence. He was immediately assaulted in a vicious propaganda campaign.


Even the hat of British opposition leader Corbyn was photoshopped by BBC Newsnight to make him look "Russian".
(If RT would do similar it would immediately lose its UK license.) - bigger

Corbyn too folded and now even makes claims that May has never made:

Theresa May was right on Monday to identify two possibilities for the source of the attack in Salisbury, given that the nerve agent used has been identified as of original Russian manufacture.

Theresa May's careful wording "of a type developed by Russia” does not imply a specific agent nor Russian manufacturing. Corbyn fell into the trap.

What we are seeing here with the Skripal incident and the "Novichok" claims is a gigantic propaganda campaign comparable to the 2001 Anthrax scare in the U.S. and the whole "weapons of mass destruction" campaign that heralded the U.S./UK war on Iraq.

Provoking Russia further will not end well. Rattlesnakes are shy, but at some point they have no other way out than to bite.

If we want to prevent a unpredictable clash between nuclear armed powers, which could kill millions within just a few moments, we must all publicly voice our doubts and expose the false accusations made against Russia and other countries.

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Previous Moon of Alabama pieces on the Skripal case:

Posted by b on March 16, 2018 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (267)

March 14, 2018

Are 'Novichok' Poisons Real? - May's Claims Fall Apart

The British government claims that 'Novichok' poisons, developed 30 years ago in the Soviet Union, affected a British double agent. But such substances may not exist at all. The British government further says that the Russian government is responsible for the incident and has announced penalties against the country.

A comparable incidents happened in 2001 in the United States. Envelopes with Anthrax spores were sent to various politicians. Some people died. The White House told the FBI to blame al-Qaeda but the Anthrax turned out to be from a U.S. chemical-biological weapon laboratory.  The case is still unsolved.

The 'whistle-blower' Vil Mirzayanov who 'revealed' the 'Novichok' program and its poisons published chemical formulas that should enable any decent laboratory to reproduce them. But neither the existence of the claimed program nor the existence of the alleged substances were ever accepted by the scientific community. The Russian government says it does not know the program nor the alleged poisons.

The highly constructed drama around the alleged poisoning of a British double agent Skripal and his daughter has thus turned into a surreal play. The British government has so far given no evidence that the Skripal's were poisoned at all, or that they were poisoned by someone else. No detailed medical bulletin was published. The British accusations against Russia lets one assume that a suicide attempt has been excluded. Why?

There is no independent evaluation of the alleged poison. The British government claims that its own chemical weapon laboratory at Porton Down, only a few miles from where the incident happened, has identified the poison as one of the 'Novichok' chemicals.

But in 2016 a leading chemist at Porton Down had doubts that such chemicals exist. (Paul McKeigue, Professor of Statistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology at Edinburgh University, Piers Robinson, Professor of Politics, Society and Political Journalism at Sheffield University and the former British Ambassador Craig Murray point this out):

As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.

In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry

The Scientific Advisory Board of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has not recognized Novichoks as chemical weapons because it found scant evidence that they exist at all. The U.S. and the UK are both part of the organization and both agreed with this evaluation:

[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)

The former Soviet scientist, Vil Mirzayanov, who 'blew the whistle' and wrote about the 'Novichoks', now lives in a $1 million home in the United States. The AFP news agency just interviewed him about the recent incident:

Mirzayanov, speaking at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, said he is convinced Russia carried it out as a way of intimidating opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

"Only the Russians" developed this class of nerve agents, said the chemist. "They kept it and are still keeping it in secrecy."

The only other possibility, he said, would be that someone used the formulas in his book to make such a weapon.

"Russia did it", says Mirzayanov, "OR SOMEONE WHO READ MY BOOK".


1, 2

The book was published in 2008 and is available as hardcover, paperback or for $8.16 as an electronic file. It includes a number of formulas which, Mirzayanov says, could be used to produce those chemical agents. But neither Porton Down nor the OPCW seem convinced that this is possible. They may believe that Mirzayanov is just full of it.

One customer reviewing Mirzayanov's book remarked:

[Needs] an editor to throttle back his epic "i'm an epic awesome martyr" stuff and stick to the science.

Another reviewer wrote:

State secrets is by far the most long winded and painfully slow novel on chemical weapons written by a disgruntled defected scientist from Russia I have ever read! If you want to hear an employ with delusions of grandeur moan about every person he ever worked with then this is the book for you, otherwise don't waste your sweet time. Seriously! Nothing happens except Vil somethingkov helps make things that kill people for 30 years, gets a (sort of) conscience, defects, and constantly whinges about.....everything.

Vil Mirzayanov promoted his book in a 2009 video. Shortly after he published his book he blogged an explanation why he included formulas in it:

While I was writing my book “State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program”, some people from Washington persistently advised me not to include the formulas of the chemical agents of the Novichok series in my book.
...
I asked why it would be a bad idea to publish this information, since it would be for the safety of all people. Then the governments would work to have those chemical agents and their precursors included into the Control List. They responded, “Terrorists could use them for their criminal actions.” This kind of reasoning is used all the time now to scare people and prevent any discussion. We are already used to ignoring a lot of real problems thanks to that.

Mirzayanov further points out that experienced personal in well equipped laboratories would be able to use his formulas. State actors have such laboratories, like the British Porton Down, but terrorists do not have such capabilities.

Mirzayanov urged to included the substances he described into the OPCW list of controlled material. But the OPCW, as seen above, rejected that. Neither its scientific board nor the head of the Porton Down detection laboratory were convinced that these substances or the Soviet program Mirzayanov described existed at all.

The Soviet chemical weapon laboratory in which Mirzayanov had worked was in Uzbekistan, not in Russia as Theresa May falsely claims. The laboratory was dismantled with the active help of the United States.

Theresa's May claims that the Skripals were poisoned with 'Novichok' agents is highly questionable. Her claim that only Russia could be responsible for the Skripal incident is obviously bollocks.

The existence of the substances as described by Vil Mirzayanov is in serious doubt. But if he is right then any state or company with a decent laboratory and competent personal can produce these substances from the formulas and descriptions he provides in his book. That is at least what Mirzayanov himself says.

But most disturbing about the case are not the false claims Theresa May makes. She is in deep political trouble over the Brexit negotiations and other issues and needs any political diversion that she can get. Blaming Russia for 'something' is en vogue and might help her for a while.

No, the most troubling issue is the behavior of the media who fail to point out that May's claims are bluster and that there is no evidence at all that supports her claims. The only paper that is somewhat skeptical is the Irish Times which finds it highly unlikely that the Russian government is behind the poisoning.

May demanded and got a NATO meeting on the case. But the statement NATO issued afterwards was extremely weak. It only offered support in conducting the British investigation and it asked Russia to respond to the British questions. Neither did it support the claims May made, nor did it take any measures against Russia. A French spokesperson said "We don’t do fantasy politics" and demanded 'definite conclusions' on the case before deciding anything. No support was given to May by the Trump administration (Update: U.S. ambassador to the UN Nick Haley has now jumped to May's aid.)

The story May wants to tell has way too much holes to be sustainable. The involvement of the British double agent Skripal in the fake Steele dossier about Trump is likely the real story behind the incident. No international support is coming for May. The British opposition leader Corbyn was right today when he demanded that she produces evidence for her claims. A few more pushes and her house of cards will surely come down.

Posted by b on March 14, 2018 at 03:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (209)

March 13, 2018

Trump Orders Rexit - Torture Woman To Head CIA - (Updated)

U.S. President Donald Trump just fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 12:44 PM - 13 Mar 2018
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!

According to the anti Russian propagandists (vid) Tillerson got the job because Trump loves Russia and Tillerson was in good standing with Putin. The same people now claim that Tillerson was fired from his job because Trump loves Russia and Tillerson was not in good standing with Putin.

Neither is correct. The plan to oust Tillerson and elevate Pompeo to State has been rumored and written about for several month. The plan was "developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff". It had nothing to do with Russia. 

Tillerson never got traction as Secretary of State. Congress disliked him for cutting down some State Department programs. Trump overruled him publicly several times.

There is some contradiction in the statements coming from the White House and the State Department. According to the Washington Post:

Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.

Last Friday Tillerson suddenly fell ill while traveling in Africa and canceled several scheduled events.

But a statement by Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein contradicts the Friday claim:

"The Secretary had every intention of staying, because of critical progress made in national security. [...] The Secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason.”

Tillerson knew he was fired but did not tell his staff?

[UPDATE:]
From the Associated Press White House correspondent:

Zeke Miller @ZekeJMiller - 3:49 PM - 13 Mar 2018
WH official says chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson Friday and again on Saturday. Both calls to Tillerson, the official says, warned that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not step aside. When Tillerson didn't act, Trump fired him.

And shortly thereafter:

NBC Politics @NBCPolitics - 4:22 PM - 13 Mar 2018
JUST IN: Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein is being fired for contradicting the account of Rex Tillerson’s dismissal, White House official tells @PeterAlexander

Thus ends the 2018 insurrection at State.

[End-Update]

With Tillerson leaving Secretary of Defense Mattis is losing an ally in the cabinet:

[I]t starts with me having breakfast every week with Secretary of State Tillerson. And we talk two, three times a day, sometimes. We settle all of our issues between he and I, and then we walk together into the White House meetings. That way, State and Defense are together.

Mattis sometimes calming influence over Trump on military issues will now become less effective.

CIA head Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, is a neoconservative with a racist anti-Muslim attitude and a special hate for Iran which he compared to ISIS. That he will now become Secretary of State is a bad sign for the nuclear agreement with Iran. The Europeans especially should take note of that and should stop to look for a compromise with Trump on the issue. The deal is now dead. There is no chance that a compromise will happen.

The new CIA director Gina Haspel is well known for actively directing and participating in the torture of prisoners at 'black sites':

Beyond all that, she played a vital role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of detainees both at the black site she ran and other secret agency locations. The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as “obstruction” by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane.

Haspel would be in jail if former president Barack Obama had not decided against prosecuting the CIA torture crimes. Torturing prisoners is a war crime. Obstruction of courts and destruction of evidence are likewise crimes.

Both, Pompeo and Haspel, will need to be confirmed by Congress. Both will receive a significant number of 'yes'-votes from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Posted by b on March 13, 2018 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (134)

March 12, 2018

Theresa May's "45 Minutes" Moment

Today the British government made some dubious assertions about Saddam's chemical weapons the poisoning of its double agent Sergej Skripal.

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The British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed (saved tweet) in Parliament that:

  • Sergej Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.
  • The nerve agent was part of a group of agents known as 'Novichok'.
  • Russia has previously produced the agent and would still be capable of doing so.
  • Russia has a record of conducting state sponsored assassinations.
  • The British government assesses that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets.
  • The British government concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergej and Yulia Skripal.

May went on to claim that:

  • This was either a direct act by the Russian State against the United Kingdom or
  • the Russian government lost control of the nerve agent and let it fall into the hands of others.

I find all of the above claims not only dubious but laughable. Here are some facts:

Novichok, 'newcomers' in English, are a zoo of chemical warfare agents that were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s. Some of the 'newcomers' are said to be highly toxic.

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The existence of these chemical agents was disclosed in 1992. Russia joined the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction in 1997. It has since (unlike the U.S.) destroyed all left over stocks from the Soviet Union's chemical weapon program. It does not produce chemical weapons.

These agents and their formulas are not an exclusively Russian knowledge or product:

One of the key manufacturing sites was the Soviet State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) in Nukus, Uzbekistan. Small, experimental batches of the weapons may have been tested on the nearby Ustyurt plateau. It may also have been tested in a research centre in Krasnoarmeysk near Moscow. Since its independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been working with the government of the United States to dismantle and decontaminate the sites where the Novichok agents and other chemical weapons were tested and developed.

The formulas for the various Novichok agents are not a Russian secret. The U.S. and the UK surely know how to make these. The agents are said to be made from simply components used in civil industrial processes. (To qualify any agent as "military grade" is by the way nonsense. Many chemical agents used in civil process are also incredibly deadly.) The Porton Down chemical weapon laboratory of the British military is only some 8 miles away from Salisbury where the Skripals were allegedly poisoned.  The British government claims that Porton Down identified the agent allegedly used on the Skripals. The laboratory is surely also capable of producing such stuff, just like similar laboratories in other countries are able to do.

Now lets counter May's claims:

  • Novichok agents are claimed to be up to 10 times as toxic as VX. One drop of VX can kill a person. If the Skripals were poisoned with such an highly effective agent how come they are still alive?
  • The Soviet Union, not Russia, developed such agents. The main work was done in Uzbekistan. The U.S. helped to dismantled the laboratory.
  • Russia is likely able to re-produce such agents but so are many, many other countries.
  • What is Russia's "record of state sponsored assassinations"? The British investigation which claimed that "Russia" was somehow involved in the death of MI6 agent Litvinenko is highly dubious. I am not aware of any other cases. There is a long standing protocol to never bother spies that have been exchanged in a spy-swap.
  • If Russia sees "some defectors" as legitimate targets why does it not immediately kill them? Skripal was living openly in the UK since 2010. Why would Russia kill him at all and why now?

Given the above it is absurd to conclude that it is "highly likely" that Russia was responsible. If someone is run-over by a BMW is it"highly likely" that the German government is responsible for it?

The real likeliness for that is just as high as the likeliness that Saddam could hit the UK with a chemical weapon missile within 45 minutes. That was a fraudulent claim another British government once made.

May's claims today are just as believable as the all nonsense Tony Blair said about Saddam or as the show U.S. Secretary of State Powell delivered in front of the UN Security Council.

via @Propagandaschau - bigger

More likely is an involvement of Skripal in the Steele dossier and the CIA/MI6 operation against Donald Trump. Was he assailed because he threatened to talk about it?

Posted by b on March 12, 2018 at 03:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (183)

March 11, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-10

Mar 6 - The New Yorker Attempts But Fails To Boost The Steele Dossier

This hyping of Steele as an honest man who only did his duty is pretty disgusting. What was Jane Mayer paid for writing such an inaccurate and unobjective portrait?

Mar 7 - No, Russians Do Not Hack The FCC's Public Comments

In which a federal communication commissioner proves that she has zero understanding of basic web communication.

Mar 8 - Poisoned British-Russian Double-Agent Has Links To Clinton Campaign

The British government and its media are trying their best to make a big scare out of the alleged poisoning of a turned Russian spy. They are blaming Russia without providing any evidence. The Russian government had nothing to win from killing him. Meanwhile the quite direct connection between the poisoned double-agent and the fake Steele dossier is swept under the carpet.

Mar 9 - Trump Threatens Peace In Korea

Lots of powerful entities, including the government of Japan, conservatives in South Korea, the U.S. miliary, the military industry and its hundreds of lobby shops are all interested in making the talks fail. The want war or at least the perception of imminent war. If Trump can get to some agreement with North Korea he deserves some laurels.

Mar 11 - Syria - The Fall Of Two Cities

Anna video footage of the fight in east-Ghouta.

Other issues (I should have written about):

The Russian President Putin was interviewed by the very 'blond' NBC talking head Megan Kelly. Here are a full unedited video of the two part interview and the official English language transcript.

Megyn Kelly: How important do you think it is to project strength as a President?

Vladimir Putin: It is important not to project strength, but to show it. It is also important how we understand power. It does not mean banging the table with a fist or yelling. I think power has several dimensions. Firstly, one should be confident that he is doing the right thing. Secondly, he must be ready to go all the way to achieve the goals.

In Winston Churchill, Hollywood rewards a mass murderer - To my astonishment Shashi Tharoor, a famous Indian politician, was allowed to publish this in the Washington Post op-ed pages. His son Ishaan, who writes for the Post news site, must have smuggled it past the editors. An important read for those who believe that Hitler's racism and brutality were exceptional.

He Wouldn’t Become an Informant. Now He’s Headed for Prison. The FBI entraps a U.S. citizen from Iran to press him to spy on Iran. The next time someone laments about U.S. citizens of Iranian heritage getting jailed for espionage while visiting Iran, point them to the above.

 

Posted by b on March 11, 2018 at 01:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (54)

Syria - The Fall Of Two Cities

The Turkish proxy Takfiris have nearly encircled the Kurdish held city of Afrin. The water supply to the city is cut off. It will fall within a few days.


Map by Syrian Civil War Map - bigger

This is the direct result of gigantic miscalculations by the YPG Kurds who controlled the Afrin area. They had a clear offer from the Syrian and Russian government: Hand over the administration to the legitimate Syrian government and the Syrian army will come and defend your land.

They rejected that offer multiple times. They thought they could withstand an attack by a numerical superior enemy which has abundant air and artillery support. Hizbullah can do that but the Kurds are not Hizbullah. Their defense network was mediocre with bunkers easily visible (vid) from the air and ground and without any water supply and other necessities. These medieval fortifications were built over years but fell within hours. There was apparently no second line to fall back to. The tactical military abilities the YPG Kurds have shown were rather amateurish. The announced reinforcements from east Syria made no difference. Now their 'canton' is lost to a very hostile forces. Can it ever be regained?

Meanwhile the U.S. is on the verge of giving away the Kurdish held Manbij to the Turks.

In 2016 the Kurdish PKK attempted to hold onto 'autonomous' city-centers in eastern Turkey. The Turkish army simply shelled those areas into rubble. There insurrection ended with a catastrophic loss of Kurdish fighters. The Kurdish attempts to expand their lands in Iraq by stealing the oil fields of Kirkuk were thoroughly defeated. Now Afrin is lost too.

Why does anyone believe that the Kurds deserve their own state? Their leaders are corrupt and have zero statesmanship. They hang onto illusory aims and ignore the realities of life. Will the Kurds ever learn?

The Syrian Arab Army has split east-Ghouta next to Damascus into two and soon three parts.


Map by Peto Lucem - bigger

Some 70% of the whole east-Ghouta area that the Takfirs held for six years is now liberated. The Syrian army will continue to take the more rural parts and will then keep the upbuild areas (Harasta, Duma, Arbin, Jobar) under fire until the various Takfiri groups agree to give up or to be moved to Idleb governorate. The fall of these Saudi and Turkish proxy forces from their fake 'revolution' throne is another huge victory for the Syrian people. Negotiations about a transfers are ongoing. In Idleb they can join the ongoing Takfiri against Takfiri war between the Turkish supported head-choppers and al-Qaeda aligned hangmen.

Is there a deal between Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey about an 'exchange' of east-Ghouta for Afrin? The parties are very tightlipped about the issue which lets me assume that something of that kind has been agreed upon.

Eliminating the east-Ghouta enclave will free the large number of Syrian soldiers that were necessary to keep the area surrounded. Those troops will likely move south to liberate Deraa city and all land up to the Jordan border. There are  strong economic reasons for freeing up the Damascus-Amman highway and the border station in-between.

Posted by b on March 11, 2018 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

March 09, 2018

Trump Threatens Peace In Korea

The mainstream commentariat:

Then: Trump is a madman who wants to lead us into war against North Korea.

Now: Trump is a madman who wants to lead us towards peace with North Korea.

Rory Yeomans

I welcome the announced meeting of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.

The imperial military-industrial complex will do its best to sabotage it. Billions of dollars of planned revenue may soon evaporate.

Kim Jong Un has so far shown himself as an excellent strategist. He offered direct talks at the exactly right moment. Trump blindsided all the hawks, worrywards and bureaucrats in his staff by suddenly agreeing to them. If this brinkmanship succeeds the South Korean President Moon deserves a peace price for arranging it.

The best venue for the meeting is?

Posted by b on March 9, 2018 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (125)

March 08, 2018

Poisioned British-Russian Double-Agent Has Links To Clinton Campaign

On Sunday a former British-Russian double agent and his daughter were seriously injured in a mysterious incident in Salisbury, England. The British government says that both were hurt due to "exposure to a nerve agent". Speculative media reports talk of Sarin and VX, two deadly nerve-agents used in military chemical weapons. Anonymous officials strongly hint that 'Russia did it'.

New reports though point to a deep connection between the case and the anti-Trump/anti-Russia propaganda drive run by the Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton election campaign.

Sergei Skripal once was a colonel in a Russian military intelligence service. In the early 1990s he was recruited by the MI6 agent Pablo Miller. He continued to spy for the Brits after his 1999 retirement. The Russian FSB claims that the British MI6 paid him $100,000 for his service. At that time a Russian officer would only make a few hundred bucks per month. Skripal was finally uncovered in 2004 and two years later convicted for spying for Britain. He was sentenced to 18 years and in 2010 he and other agents ware exchanged in a large spy swap between the United States and Russia. Skripal was granted refuge in Britain and has since lived openly under his own name in Salisbury. His wife and his son died over the last years of natural causes. The only near relative he has left is his daughter who continued to live in Russia.

Last week his daughter flew to Britain and met him in Salisbury. On Sunday they went to a pub and a restaurant. At some point they were poisoned or poisoned themselves. They collapsed on a public bench and are now in intensive care. A policeman on the scene was also seriously effected.

Authorities have declined to name the substance to which the pair is suspected to have been exposed, but:

Local media had on Monday reported the substance found at the scene to be similar to fentanyl: a lethally strong opioid available even on Salisbury's soporific streets.

The British government is hinting at Russian involvement:

The attempted murder of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, using a nerve agent was a "brazen and reckless" act, [home secretary] Amber Rudd has said.

Mr Skripal and his daughter are still critically ill after being found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury city centre on Sunday.
...
Ms Rudd told MPs it was an "outrageous crime", adding that the government would "act without hesitation as the facts become clearer".

She refused to speculate on whether the Russian state might have been involved in the attack, saying the police investigation should be based on "facts, not rumour".

While the British government is preparing the facts as it needs them, let us ask the ever important question of motive.

It was not Russian vengeance for Skripal's earlier spying. He had been in Russian jails for four years and lived openly in Salisbury for eight. There was plenty of time to off him. Russia certainly does not need any more anti-Russian propaganda in "western" media. If a Russian service would want to kill someone it would do so without making such noise.

The former British ambassador Craig Murray suspects a different motive and culprit:

Craig Murray @CraigMurrayOrg - 10:21 AM - 8 Mar 2018
Russophobia is extremely profitable to the armaments, security and spying industries and Russophobia reinforces intellectually challenged voters in their Tory loyalty. Ramping Russophobia is the most convincing motive for the Skripal attack.

Ambassador Murray also points out that Salisbury, where the incident took place, is just 8 miles away from Porton Down, a chemical weapon test site run by the British government. As the BBC noted in a report about the place:

... chemical agents such as VX and mustard gas are still manufactured on site ...

I believe that Craig Murray is wrong. Russophobia can be stoked without attempting to publicly kill a retired spy and his daughter.

More likely motives can be found in the tight connection to another important affair. The British Telegraph reports today:

A security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent poisoned last weekend, it has been claimed.

The consultant, who The Telegraph is declining to identify, lived close to Col Skripal and is understood to have known him for some time.
...
The Telegraph understands that Col Skripal moved to Salisbury in 2010 in a spy swap and became close to a security consultant employed by Christopher Steele, who compiled the Trump dossier.

The British security consultant, according to a LinkedIn social network account that was removed from the internet in the past few days, is also based in Salisbury.

On the same LinkedIn account, the man listed consultancy work with Orbis Business Intelligence, according to reports.

Meduza named the man the Telegraph declines to identify as:

Pablo Miller, who at the time was posing as Antonio Alvarez de Hidalgo and working in Britain’s embassy in Tallinn. Russia’s Federal Security Service says Miller was actually an undercover MI6 agent tasked with recruiting Russians.

Orbis is Christopher Steele's company which was paid by the Clinton campaign to make up or find 'dirt' about Trump. Sergei Skripal was an agent Steele himself was likely involved with:

Steele had spent more than twenty years in M.I.6, most of it focussing on Russia. For three years, in the nineties, he spied in Moscow under diplomatic cover. Between 2006 and 2009, he ran the service’s Russia desk, at its headquarters, in London. He was fluent in Russian, and widely considered to be an expert on the country.

Steele was an MI6 undercover agent in Moscow around the time when Skripal was recruited and handed over Russian secrets to the MI6. He also ran the MI6 Russia desk so anything about Skripal will have passed through him. It is very likely that they personally knew each other. Pablo Miller, who worked for Steele's private company, lived in the same town as Skripal and they seems to have been friends since Miller had recruited him. Miller or someone else attempted to cover up the connection to Steele by editing his LinkedIn entry.

Here are some question:

  • Did Skripal help Steele to make up the "dossier" about Trump?
  • Were Skripal's old connections used to contact other people in Russia to ask about Trump dirt?
  • Did Skripal threaten to talk about this?

If there is a connection between the dossier and Skripal, which seems very likely to me, then there are a number of people and organizations with potential motives to kill him. Lots of shady folks and officials on both sides of the Atlantic were involved in creating and running the anti-Trump/anti-Russia campaign. There are several investigations and some very dirty laundry might one day come to light. Removing Skripal while putting the blame on Russia looks like a convenient way to get rid of a potential witness.

Update: Steele's company issued a weak denial of Skripal's involvement in the dossier:

Sources close to Orbis, the business intelligence firm run by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who was behind a dossier of compromising allegations against Donald Trump, said Mr Skripal did not contribute to the file. But they could not say whether Mr Skripal was involved in different investigations into the US President for other interested parties.

The most curious point in the affair though is the visit of the daughter. She had just come from Moscow to visit her lonely father when both were poisoned in a rather sensational way. There must be some reason why she was involved in this.

  • Did she have a bad message for him?
  • Did they both decide that suicide was the only way out?
  • Was locally bought Fentanyl involved as the local press had reported?

or

  • Was the lonely old man Sergej Skripal preparing to go back to his homeland Russia?
  • Did he offer a some kind of "gift" as apology to the Russian government that his trusted daughter would take to Moscow?
  • Did someone find out and stop the transfer?

The above questions are all highly speculative. But the connection between Steele and Skripal is way too deep to be irrelevant here. It certainly deserves more digging.

Unfortunately it is likely that the British government, and its U.S. cousin, will come up with some "blame Russia" story for the gullible people and leave it at that. That story will involve some "brazen and reckless" Russian plot and an "outrageous" attempt by Putin himself to publicly kill a friend of Britain with some with highly dangerous weapon of mass destruction. This will then be used to throw up new tensions, to put more sanctions on Russia and to sell more weapons.

That official story though is unlikely to be the true one.

---
h/t to commenter yoffa for providing the Meduza link.

Posted by b on March 8, 2018 at 04:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (86)

March 07, 2018

No, Russians Do Not Hack The FCC's Public Comments

A member of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post.


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It is unlikely that the headline was chosen by the author of the op-ed. The editors of the Washington Post opinion page wrote it. I also doubt that she would have chosen a picture of the FCC head to decorate her piece.

For the record: The headline is false.

The op-ed is about a request for comments the Federal Communications Commission issued last year in preparation of its net-neutrality decision. Anyone, and anything, could comment multiple times. Various lobbying firms, political action groups and hacks abused the public comment system to send copy-paste comments via single-use email accounts or even without giving any email address.

But this had and has nothing to with Russia or Russians.

Here are the top graphs of the the WaPo op-ed with the "Russia-did-it" headline:

What do Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), deceased actress Patty Duke, a 13-year-old from upstate New York and a 96-year-old veteran from Southern California have in common?

They appear to have filed comments in the net neutrality record at the Federal Communications Commission. That ought to mean they went online, submitted their names and addresses, and typed out their thoughts about Internet regulatory policy. But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, each of these individuals — along with 2 million others — had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments.

These fake comments were not the only unnerving thing in the FCC net neutrality record. In the course of its deliberations on the future of Internet openness, the agency logged about half a million comments sent from Russian email addresses. It received nearly 8 million comments from email domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com with almost identical wording.

I have emphasized the only words in the whole op-ed that are related to Russia. They are wrong. The author of that op-ed does not understand the FCC public comment system. Public comments are made by filling out a form on the FCC website leaving ones comment, some address data and an email address. Public comments are not "send" by email. Thus the FCC did not log any comments "sent from Russian email". It logged comments made in a web form where the human (or program) making the comment provided a Russian email address as a means of contact. (It is obviously not expertise on communication issues that qualifies Jessica Rosenworcel for her position as FCC commissioner.)

At least 12-13 million of the 21.7 million comments to the FCC were fake. 8 million email addresses entered in the form the FCC had set up were generated with www.fakemailgenerator.com, half a million were entered with *.ru Internet domains.

FakeMailGenerator can use foreign domains for generating throw-away email addresses. In the screenshot below it generated an Hungarian one for me.


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If I would comment at the FCC and enter Reephy@fleckens.hu into the FCC form I would be counted as Hungarian. I would not have "send" that comment from an Hungarian email address. Nor would entering the comment make me Hungarian. Neither do *.ru email domains mean that the people (ab-)using them have anything to do with Russia.

The Pew Research Center analyzed the 21.7 million comments the FCC received:

Fully 57% of comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses, and seven popular comments accounted for 38% of all submissions

The FCC and other agencies are required by law to accept public comments. But, as the op-ed says, it is utterly useless to request such public comments on the Internet without having some authentication system in place. The FCC had some email address verification system in place, but it did not use it. As the Pew Center writes:

[T]he Center’s analysis shows that the FCC site does not appear to have utilized this email verification process on a consistent basis. According to this analysis of the data from the FCC, only 3% of the comments definitively went through this validation process. In the vast majority of cases, it is unclear whether any attempt was made to validate the email address provided.

As a result, in many cases commenters were able to use generic or bogus email addresses and still have their comments accepted by the FCC and posted online.

It is obvious that the FCC had no interest at all in receiving legitimate public comments. But the FCC at least did not blame Russia. The Washington Post editors do that when they chose a headline that has no factual basis in the piece below it. They abuse the op-ed which has the presumed authority of an FCC commissioner to reinforce their anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

C. J. Hopkins notes that the cult of authority is systematically used to make the lunatic claims of Russiagate believable.

Matt Taibbi writes that the aim of the Russiagate campaign was and is to target all dissent:

If you don't think that the endgame to all of this lunacy is a world where every America-critical movement from Black Lives Matter to Our Revolution to the Green Party is ultimately swept up in the collusion narrative along with Donald Trump and his alt-right minions, you haven't been paying attention.

That's because #Russiagate, from the start, was framed as an indictment not just of one potentially traitorous Trump, but all alternative politics in general. The story has evolved to seem less like a single focused investigation and more like the broad institutional response to a spate of shocking election results, targeting the beliefs of discontented Americans across the political spectrum.

Some commenters here lamented about my posts about the Steele dossier and or Russiagate issues. "It's enough already." But the issue is, as Taibbi points out, much bigger. In November 2016 the Washington Post pushed the ProPornOT campaign which denounced some 200 non-mainstream websites as "Russian propaganda". This website is an "primary initial" target of that campaign.

If the campaign succeeds to its full intent, Moon of Alabama will no longer be accessible.

The Russiagate nonsense has do be debunked at each and every corner to prevent its further abuse against dissent on everything else.

Posted by b on March 7, 2018 at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (50)

March 06, 2018

The New Yorker Attempts But Fails To Boost The Steele Dossier

Updated below
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Yesterday The New Yorker published a 15,000 word piece about Christopher Steele, the former British spook who created the "dossier" about alleged Russian interference with Trump. Written by Jane Mayer the piece is designed to let Steele shine in the very best light. A civil servant who only followed his conscience when he peddled his made-up dirt to the FBI, the media and Congress.

That a private investigator, highly paid by the Clinton campaign to find dirt about Trump, was acting out of decency, would be unbelievable in the best case. But the piece is way worse. There are at least six factual errors in it which anyone who has followed the affair can easily detect. Some new allegations in the piece are so thinly sourced that any decent editor would have thrown them out.

The first graph is already a mess:

In January, after a long day at his London office, Christopher Steele, the former spy turned private investigator, was stepping off a commuter train in Farnham, where he lives, when one of his two phones rang. He’d been looking forward to dinner at home with his wife, and perhaps a glass of wine. It had been their dream to live in Farnham, a town in Surrey with a beautiful Georgian high street, where they could afford a house big enough to accommodate their four children, on nearly an acre of land. Steele, who is fifty-three, looked much like the other businessmen heading home, except for the fact that he kept his phones in a Faraday bag—a pouch, of military-tested double-grade fabric, designed to block signal detection.

A friend in Washington, D.C., was calling with bad news: ...

A phone, kept in a Faraday bag designed to block signals, rings? How please can a phone that can not send or receive signals, take a call? That is impossible. How can a fact-checker and/or editor at The New Yorker let such nonsense slip into the opening graph of such a large piece?

Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel, with whom I have exchanged views on this, details several of the factual errors in the piece:

  • The piece misleads the reader by insinuating that Steele was original paid by Republican money. GPS Fusion was paid by a Republican opponent of Trump to find dirt on him. That job ended after Trump had won the primaries. GPS Fusion then started to work for the Clinton campaign. Steele was hired by GPS only after the GPS client had changed. He was then tasked with finding something "Russian" on Trump.
  • Mayer claims that the Democrats were only alarmed about the "hacking" of the DNC emails after, in late July 2016, Wikileaks started to publish those. That is wrong. Marcy points out that one month earlier the Guccifer 2.0 figure had already published internal details from the DNC "hack". That, at the latest, set off the alarm bells.
  • Mayer also claims that none of reporters who were briefed by Steele then wrote about the dossier. But Michael Isikoff did write about it without revealing that Steele was his source. His report was used by the FBI as a confirmation of the Steele claims.

Later the piece comes up with this unfounded assertion to further polish the dossier:

It’s too early to make a final judgment about how much of Steele’s dossier will be proved wrong, but a number of Steele’s major claims have been backed up by subsequent disclosures.

That the Steele dossier was backed up by subsequent disclosures would be news to me. What evidence does Mayer have to support that?

His allegation that the Kremlin favored Trump in 2016 and was offering his campaign dirt on Hillary has been borne out.

No, it has not. Dirt on Clinton was offered to the Trump campaign by one Rob Goldstone, a British lobbyist who tried get a date with the campaign for a Russian lobbyist hired by some oligarch who wanted to get rid of sanctions enacted against him. A meeting with both lobbyists was held in the Trump Tower but cut short when it became obvious that they could not provide any dirt on Clinton. This had nothing to do with Steele or the content of his dossier.

So has his claim that the Kremlin and WikiLeaks were working together to release the D.N.C.’s e-mails.

No evidence exists to support that claim. Wikileaks, Craig Murrey and Kim Dotcom have consistently said that the DNC emails Wikileaks published did not come from a "hack" or from Russian sources and that Russia was not involved in their release. This again has nothing to do with the dossier.

Indeed, it’s getting harder every day to claim that Steele was simply spreading lies, now that three former Trump campaign officials—Flynn, Papadopoulos, and Rick Gates, who served as deputy campaign chairman—have all pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and appear to be cooperating with the investigation.

And again: None of the cases against those persons had anything to do with Steele or his dossier. They pleaded guilty on unrelated issues.

None of these three points Jane Mayer makes is supporting the claimed veracity of the Steele dossier or any part of it. She is evidently misleading the readers by claiming that they do so.

There are some details in the Mayer piece that could be news and would normally deserve some discussion. But the piece is full of obvious errors, unreliable arguments and its sourcing is very thin. Thus nothing in it can be taken at face value.

The famous fact checking of The New Yorker completely failed with this piece. It is sad that the once venerable magazine and the admirable Jane Mayer have become willing propagandists for this lost cause.

Update:

Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller (yes, I know it is not deemed reputable) looked into some claims Mayer makes in her piece which, if true, contain new morsels on the issue. They support the standpoint that the whole dossier is fake. These points are:

  1. Steele likely knew who funded the dossier
  2. Steele used dozens of paid confidential ‘collectors’, not unpaid ones
  3. Steele may have earlier worked for a Kremlin-connected oligarch
  4. The salacious claims in the dossier were based on secondhand information
  5. Steele briefed Jane Mayer during the campaign
  6. A John McCain associate wanted to use dossier to force Trump to resign

Another new point in the Mayer piece, not in the above list, is an alleged meeting between the head of the British spy service GCHQ and the head of the CIA John Brennan in which GCHQ briefs Brennan about alleged interceptions of communication between Trump campaign associates and Russia. This is curious because the usual contact for such a case should have been the FBI, not the CIA.

But some have suggested that the Brennan came up with the idea or at least directed the campaign of smearing Trump over made-up connections with Russia. For legal reasons and deniability the affair the creation of "evidence" was outsourced to the British partners. As Pat Lang, who has led large intelligence spying and counter-intelligence operations, opines:

IMO there was a criminal conspiracy among various parts of the government, the Clinton Campaign and the MSM to rig the election against Trump, and it continues. pl

Posted by b on March 6, 2018 at 05:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (120)

March 04, 2018

Weekly Review And Open Thread 2018-09

Feb 26 - State Department Troll Farm Receives Huge Cash Infusion

The above is one 'success' of the neo-conservatives and Clinton apparatchiks who created the idiotic Hamilton 68 project which U.S. media extensively used to make up bullshit stories about Russian bots. But it has become too obvious that the whole thing is based on fakery. The alleged Russian bots are just normal people who do not agree with some U.S. policies and tweet and use hashtags to express themselves. The proprietors and salesmen of that outlet finally admit as much:

“I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative “overdone.”

Will any of the media now retract their fake-news stories about "Russian bots"?

Feb 28 - It's 2002 Again - New York Times Makes Bogus WMD Claims

The NY Times is implicating the new "axis of evil" - North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia - in nonsensical WMD claims for which there is no evidence at all.

Mar 1 - Russia Shows Off New Weapons - Tells U.S. To "Come Down To Earth"

The new weapons Russia presented are designed to overcome any strategic missile defense. The reflexive reaction of the U.S. military- industrial complex to this is of course a push for an expansion of missile defense.

Mar 2 - Afghanistan - A Pipeline, Peace And Many Spoilers

There is no response yet from the Taliban to the Afghan government's offer of unconditional talks. Simply saying "no" is unlikely to take this long.

Mar 3 - Syria Sitrep - Afrin, Idlib and East-Ghouta

Here are two additional pieces on the war on Syria which I highly recommend.

The first delves into the early days of the war and documents well how the uprising was Islamist and foreign directed from its very first day:
Did Assad Deliberately Release Islamist Prisoners to Militarize and Radicalize the Syrian Uprising?.

The second is published in Military Review, the professional journal of the U.S. Army. It is a extensive assessment of the Russian political and military execution of its Syria intervention. The authors appear to feel a certain envy:
What Kind of Victory for Russia in Syria?

In sum, Russia appears to have won at least a partial victory in Syria, and done so with impressive efficiency, flexibility, and coordination between military and political action. ... Russia’s “lean” strategy, adaptable tactics, and coordination of military and diplomatic initiatives offer important lessons for the conduct of any military intervention in as complex and volatile an environment as the Middle East. 

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 4, 2018 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (136)

March 03, 2018

Syria Sitrep - Afrin, Idlib and East-Ghouta

After a slow start the Turkish and Jihadi attack on the Afrin canton in north-west Syria is making some progress. Despite intimate knowledge of the terrain and years of preparation the local Kurdish forces of the YPK have little chance to withstand.


Map by syriancivilwarmap.com - bigger

Turkish air and artillery support for the attacking force opponents is overwhelming the Kurds. The ground troops Turkey is using are mostly Islamist Free Syrian Army fighters directed by Turkish officers. A few Turkish special forces are acting as forward observers to call in artillery and airstrikes. Only yesterday the Turkish air force flew more than 30 bombing missions on a rather small front. Today some 36 fighters were killed by Turkish air strikes.

Last week the local Kurdish forces were reinforced by other Kurdish forces and Syrian government paramilitaries. Some of the Kurdish groups had split off from the U.S. supported SDF in east Syria, crossed through Syrian government held land and reached Afrin. Kurdish groups in Aleppo city gave control of two of the three districts they held to the Syrian government to join their brethren in Afrin. A contingent of 500 Syrian paramilitary fighters from two Shiite towns near Afrin also joined the fight. The Turkish army tried to interdict the convoys reinforcing Afrin but most of the fighters reached the front lines. The Syrian Red Cross sent a convoy with humanitarian goods for the about one million inhabitants of the canton.

The Kurdish YPG forces in control of Afrin have a choice. The Russian and the Syrian government have offered their full support if the Kurds submit to Syrian government control just like any citizen of Syria is supposed to do. If they agree, the Turkish planes will immediately vanish from the skies over Afrin. But the Kurds insist on keeping their own military and police forces as well as their unelected local administration. If they keep doing so the Turkish forces will role them up and all will be lost. It is a simple and obvious choice to make.

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Idleb governorate and Idleb city are held by various groups aligned with Turkey. The biggest of these groups are al-Qaeda (aka Nusra Front aka HTS), Ahrar al Sham and Zinki. All of these are Islamist extremists but only al-Qaeda/Nusra is designated as an international terrorist group. A Russian-Turkish agreement marks Idleb as a deescalation zone which will no longer be attacked by the Syrian government forces if Turkey can get the groups there under control and if it eliminates the al-Qaeda/HTS terrorists. Regular Turkish troops set up a few observer posts in the area.

But Turkey had supported al-Qaeda/HTS all along and the group, if attacked by regular Turkish forces, is likely to hit back within Turkey itself. After much prodding by Russia Turkey finally pressed the other groups it controls to evict al-Qaeda/HTS from the various towns it held.

The operation started a week ago. Ahrar al Sham and Zinki united with some smaller groups under the common label JTS. They attacked HTS positions and were able to immediately capture a number of them. HTS simply retreated. For three days it looked as if the Turkish ordered operation would be successful. Some 30 towns and villages fell to JTS. Then came the counterattack. Ahrar al-Sham's main weapon depot, with several tanks and artillery guns, fell to HTS. JTS was attacked from the rear and town after town fell back to HTS. Just a week after the  whole operation against HTS started it is in better position than ever before.


Map by Tomasz Rolbiecki - bigger

HTS has kept control of the city of Idleb. It is now in complete control of the border with Turkey. All Turkish observer posts in Idleb governorate are now surrounded by HTS forces. The Turkish soldiers have become hostages. Will Erdogan have to call on the Syrian government to bail them out?

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The large Syrian government operation against the east-Ghouta enclave east of the capital Damascus is progressing well. The area is held by various Salafist and Wahabbi groups including an al-Qaeda contingent of several hundred fighters. The defense line of Jaish al-Islam on the eastern border of the 10 square kilometer area have been breached. Wide ditches dug to prevent any Syrian army attack were crossed with the help of military bridges. The area is rural and flat and can be easily captured by a mechanized force. One third of east-Ghouta is already back in government hands. The western side of the enclave is upbuild city terrain and will be much more difficult to take.


Map by Peto Lucem - bigger

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In east-Syria north of the Euphrates and along the Syrian-Iraqi border there is still a significant ISIS enclave with several thousand ISIS fighters which the U.S. supported SDF seems uninterested in. The Syrian and Russian governments believe that the U.S. is protecting these terrorists and will eventually use them against the Syrian government. The Russian defense ministry claims that the U.S. has build some 20 garrisons in north-east Syria for several thousands of its troops. Another U.S. contingent holds the Syrian-Iraqi border station al-Tanf in south-east Syria. It has recently been reinforced with additional U.S. soldiers. Nearby is a large refugee camp controlled by ISIS aligned fighters. This again seems to be an area where the U.S. is coddling ISIS to later reuse it as a "rebel" force against the Syrian government.

 

Posted by b on March 3, 2018 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

March 02, 2018

Afghanistan - A Pipeline, Peace And Many Spoilers

Peace negotiations in Afghanistan had long stalled. But that recently changed in a surprising way. Secret negotiations between many parties must have taken place to suddenly achieve these two results:

Both, the Taliban support for TAPI as well as President Ghani's offer are new. Just two weeks ago Ghani still rejected unconditional talks.


bigger

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline has been negotiated about since the early 1990s. It is supposed to bring gas from Central Asia to Pakistan and India. Only Russian pipelines are currently connecting Turkmenistan and its large gas reserves to its export markets. This is one reason why the U.S. always pushed for the project. The U.S. company Unocal was heavily involved. One of its consultants was Zalmay Khalilzad who later became U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and then Iraq.

The pipeline project has a long unruly history. It was a major reason why the U.S. wanted to topple the Taliban. 9/11 gave it a pretext to invade Afghanistan and by late 2001 the Taliban government had ended.

But the $10 billion TAPI project took another 14 years before the first pipes were laid. After its Taliban client government in Afghanistan had been toppled Pakistan became hostile to the project. There were also disputes about prices and Indian-Pakistani hostilities. Pakistan then negotiated over gas supplies from Iran. But the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline was never finished. The U.S. had pressed on India to not commit to buying from Iran. Pakistan is now back at supporting TAPI. It is probably the reason why the Taliban have agreed to protect the project within the areas they control. But I suspect that there is more behind the move. Some wider agreement must have been found about future of Afghanistan. How many cabinet seats can the Taliban claim? How much influence is Pakistan allowed to have?

Construction for the TAPI pipeline in Turkmenistan began in 2015. Construction in Afghanistan started this year on February 24. The U.S. is in control of the financing of the whole project.

One should not bet on any date for the final commissioning of the pipeline. The U.S. support for the pipeline is aimed at diminishing Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia. An analysis of the larger markets points at additional potential spoilers of the project:

TAPI is in direct competition not only to the Iranian IPI project, but also to LNG exporters, among which are such countries as Qatar, Australia, USA, Canada and Russia, together they export an estimated 30bn m³/yr to India.

By pursuing the TAPI pipeline the U.S. is trying to dominate in an area that is far from its shores and where it has little control. More than 25 years after the project was first envisioned it will still require tons of money, years of work and a lot of luck to succeed. There are many parties who might want to interfere with the project and who know the area much better than the U.S. ever will.

The biggest risk though is the aggressive militant approach the U.S. is still taking towards the Taliban. The intense U.S. air campaign against their interests and operations continues with little gain. Meanwhile the Taliban control nearly half of the country. A series of attacks against the central government in Kabul has undermined the public confidence in the Ghani government. Just today another suicide bomb hit the capital.

The recent announcements show that the peace negotiations and the pipeline are intimately connected. If the talks fail, the Taliban support for the pipeline will end too. If the pipeline does not become operable, the U.S. may finally leave. Many people may want to achieve that.

Posted by b on March 2, 2018 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

March 01, 2018

Russia Shows Off New Weapons - Tells U.S. To "Come Down To Earth"

In his yearly address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation President Putin spoke about the progress his country has made and about future aims of Russian policies. Most of the address was devoted to internal Russian economic and social developments.

The last part of the two hour long speech (video, English simultaneous translation) was a presentation of Russia's new military posture in response to U.S. encroachment on Russia's borders and the global U.S. missile defense system. Putin announced the development and fielding of new types of strategic weapons which together will make the U.S. global missile defense systems useless. The thirty minutes section starts at 1h:18m.

In 2007 Putin spoke at the Munich Security Conference and warned of U.S. attempts to create a unipolar world:

[W]hat is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making.

It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

In 2002 the U.S. unilaterally ended the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. In 2004 the U.S. and NATO included global missile defense into their strategic nuclear forces’ drills. Since then Russia has continuously warned that it will have to respond to such a development.  

When the ABM treaty had come into force it created stability by guaranteeing Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). If one side would fire its nuclear armed intercontinental missiles onto the other side that side would respond by firing its own missiles. Thus both states would be destroyed. MAD guaranteed that neither had any interest in starting such a war in the first place.

With a missile defense shield the balance changes. A first strike becomes possible because the missile shield can defeat the retaliating strike. Since the U.S. terminated the ABM agreement it has constantly built up its missile defense and thus threatens Russia's survival:

“The global US anti-ballistic missile system includes a naval group. These are five cruisers and 30 destroyers, as far as we know, deployed in areas in the immediate vicinity of the territory of Russia,” Putin said in an address to Russian parliamentarians on Thursday.

The president also warned that the range of missiles will only increase, while further deployment is planned in Japan and South Korea.

Additionally the U.S. has shown no interest in renewing the only two strategic weapon control agreements still in force. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) will end in 2019 and the New START Treaty, which limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, expires by 2021.

Last week the Trump administration published its Nuclear Posture Review which includes several new elements that threaten early escalation into a new nuclear war:

In sum, the United States is building a new generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, will deploy more usable nuclear weapons in “forward” areas, remains committed to possible “first use” of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear attacks in defense of 30 countries, retains missiles on active alert ready to launch, is skeptical of the possibility of any progress in arms control and is hostile to the global movement to make nuclear weapons illegal.

Noteworthy for its destabilizing effect is the new doctrine of responding to a non-nuclear attack on U.S. early warning, command and control elements with nuclear force.

President Putin responded to these plans with a strong warning and a renewed offer to talk:

"I believe it as my duty to say this: any use of nuclear weapons of any yield - small, medium or whatever - against Russia or its allies will be regarded as a nuclear attack against our country. Retaliation will be instant with all the ensuing consequences," Putin said to draw loud applause from the audience.

He warned that "nobody should have any doubts on that score." At the same time Putin cautioned against creating new threats to the world, "but on the contrary to come to the negotiating table to give thought to an updated, future system of international security and the civilization’s sustainable development."

The purpose of the new weapons Putin announced is to make the U.S. anti-ballistic missile shield useless and to thereby restore the stable state of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Shown during the speech were short videos demonstrating the new weapons.

Russia has already changed its existing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to defeat some ABM features but it can not make them invulnerable.

Now Putin has announced a new intercontinental missile SARMAT with unprecedented reach. Launched from Russia it can reach the continental U.S. from any direction, even flying over the south pole, and thus renders any concentrated missile defense like the one in Alaska useless. The missile is huge, with allegedly 200 ton payload(?) total weight, and its multiple warheads are maneuverable.

The next system introduced is a cruise missile with a nuclear power plant which makes any anti-missile system practically useless. Cold air that enters the missile at the front is superheated by a special nuclear reactor, exits at the rear and gives the missile an enormous thrust. (In the early 1960s the U.S. had a development program for such a nuclear driven Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile (SLAM) but it did not succeed.)

The new weapon described in Putin's speech:

"A low-flying low-visibility cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead and possessing a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path and the capability to impregnate practically all interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future anti-missile and air defense weapons," Putin said.

At the end of 2017 Russia successfully launched the newest nuclear-powered cruise missile at the central proving ground, he went on.

Interestingly there had not been a peep about this system or its test from the U.S. military or any spying services. No other country but Russia has such a system.

Another weapon with a nuclear drive system is the new super fast submarine drone Status 6 or Kanyon. Its development was (intentionally?) leaked in 2015. Its purpose is to destroy aircraft carrier groups and/or whole harbors.

The new torpedo and the new cruise missiles will both carry nuclear warheads.

The fourth system Putin announced is a hypersonic air launched cruise missile named Kinzhal which, he said, has been successfully tested and is already in combat duty in the southern Russian defense sector. The missile is maneuverable and flies at ten times the speed of sound with a range of 2,000 kilometers. It can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads. U.S. forces in the Middle East should take note of this.

Putin spoke of two other weapon systems which are still in development. One is the maneuverable hypersonic glider "Avangard" which flies beyond the stratosphere at twenty times the speed of sound and comes down onto its targets "like a meteor". Another weapon shown in a short spot is a ground based laser system for air defense. The U.S. and several other countries are currently developing similar weapons.

Putin repeated the point that these weapons are designed to repel the U.S. attempt to act as the unilateral and dominant force against Russia. With the fielding of these weapons U.S. missile defense becomes a useless endeavor:

Putin noted that such unfriendly steps against Russia as deploying the missile defense system, bringing NATO’s infrastructure close to Russia’s borders had become ineffective from a military perspective and unreasonably costly from a financial point of view. "All that ultimately (becomes) just pointless for those who initiate and do that," he concluded.

The "western" media will call Putin's speech and the announcement of new weapons a sign of "Russian aggression" and that he "threatens to start an arms race". But that is not what it was. This was the Russian response to 20 years of U.S. aggression and unilateral arms deployment. It is the response to NATO encroachment on Russia's border and to the attempted destruction of the balance of power that MAD ensured. This is the response that Putin had announced eleven years ago in Munich.

It will take some time for "Washington" to understand what Putin means.

Get real, he says. There is no longer a point in trying to achieve a unipolar world. Missile defense has become useless. It is time to talk and to find new agreements on strategic weapons and other issues. In his words:

"I hope that everything that was said today will bring any potential aggressor down to earth."

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Update:
The official English translation of the speech is now available.

Posted by b on March 1, 2018 at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (137)