Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 16, 2018

The Government's 'Novochok' 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 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.


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:


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 2011 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.
“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. 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.
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 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.
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.


 Previous Moon of Alabama pieces on the Skripal case:

Posted by b on March 16, 2018 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (159)

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 Mirzanyanov 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 Mirzanyanov, 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 Mirzanyanov, "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, Mirzanyanov 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 Mirzanyanov is just full of it.

One customer reviewing Mirzanyanov'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 Mirzanyanov 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.

Mirzanyanov 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.

Mirzanyanov 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 Mirzanyanov described existed at all.

The Soviet chemical weapon laboratory in which Mirzanyanov 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 Mirzanyanov 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 Mirzanyanov 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 (198)

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?

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.


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.


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.


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 (181)

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 (47)

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?


  • 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 (85)

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.


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 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, 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.


If I would comment at the FCC and enter 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 (51)

March 06, 2018

The New Yorker Attempts But Fails To Boost The Steele Dossier

Updated below

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.


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 - 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.


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?


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


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.


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 (37)

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."

The official English translation of the speech is now available.

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