Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 19, 2019

Coincidence? - Chief Nurse Of British Army Was First Person To Arrive At Novichoked Skripal Scene

On March 4 2018 the British/Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found incapacitated on a bench in Salisbury. The British government asserts that they were affected by a chemical poison of the so called Novichok group. The case led to a diplomatic conflict as Britain accused Russia of an attempt to kill the Skripals. No evidence was provided by the British government to support those accusations. The Skripals have since been vanished.

Today an intriguing new detail of the case came to light. Spire FM, a local radio station in Salisbury, reports of a young woman, Abigail McCourt, who was given a 'Lifesaver Award' for her involvement in the Skripal case:

The 16 year old, from Larkhill, was the first to spot two people collapsed on a bench in the Maltings on March 4th and didn't hesitate to help. Abigail quickly alerted her mum, a qualified nurse, who was nearby and together they gave first aid to the victims until paramedics arrived.

It soon became clear this was no ordinary medical incident, but the poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, with Novichok.
...
Immediately following the incident and with the world's media focused on Salisbury, the pair didn't want any want press attention and kept their involvement quiet.

But Abby's mum now feels the time is right for her daughter to be recognised for the "incredible" way she dealt with the scenario. Alison nominated her for the Lifesaver Award at Spire FM's Local Hero Awards, and the judges were unanimous in their decision that Abigail was a very worthy winner.

Earlier reports mentioned that a 'military nurse' had attended to the Skripals. Following the above report Elena Evdokimova checked the name of the young women's mothers and found a curiosity:

Elena Evdokimova @elenaevdokimov7 - 10:50 utc - 19 Jan 2019

We were right, it was Alison McCourt who was that"unknown military nurse" who, absolutely randomly, happened to be near the bench where #Skripals collapsed . Spire FM alleges that it was her daughter Abigail alerted her, but no one mentioned her before ...

Here is the thing. Alison McCourt is not just one random 'military nurse'. She is the Chief Nursing Officer for the British Army in the rank of Colonel:

Colonel A L McCourt OBE ARRC QHN - Assistant Head Health Strategy / Chief Nursing Officer (Army) - Senior Health Advisor (Army) Department.

Colonel McCourt was appointed Chief Nursing Officer on February 1 2018, just one month before the Skripal incident happened. Colonel McCourt lives in Larkhill, a garrison town some 11 miles from Salisbury. She is known to visit elsewhere.


Colonel McCourt at Downing Street 10
via QARANAC Association - bigger

via QARANAC Association

Alison McCourt with her daughter Abigal receiving the Livesaver Award
Photo via Spire FM - bigger

There is a discrepancy between the Spire FM report and Alison McCourt's narrative of the event in the video posted with the Spire report. The written report only mentions Abigal McCourt and her mother. But in the video the mother speaks of "Abigal and the rest of our family" who were the first to arrive at the Skripal poisoning scene. She continues to contrast "Abigal" and "we" and later again "Abigal" and "the rest of us" meaning that there were more persons on the scene than just the mother and the daughter. In a recorded interview at the bottom of the Spire FM page Abigal says that it was her brothers birthday and that "we" were out celebrating it. (She also mentions that "the woman [Yulia Skripal] was not breathing at the time we found her.")

In 2014 the Daily Mail reported (video) on Colonel Alison McCourt's deployment as British mission leader to Sierra Leone where she helped to fight the highly infectious Ebola disease. According to that report McCourt is married and has two children. Her son must by now be fourteen. There is no further information available about her husband.


via Daily Mail - bigger

Neither Colonel McCourt nor her daughter were affected by the extremely dangerous Novichok with which the Skripals were allegedly poisoned. But what about the other persons, her son and her husband, who were also at the scene? What were they doing?

No additional information about the McCourt's has so far come to light.

Isn't it an extremely unlikely coincidence that the first person who 'by chance' attends to the Skripals is the top nurse of the British army? An experienced officer, highly connected, who is also know for handling highly infectious patients? Who wrote the script for this drama?

This is one of the many, many 'coincidences', curiosities and lies that make the official Skripal poisoning narrative so unbelievable.


There are also many indication that the case is related to other British government operations. Indeed the whole Skripal incident might well have been staged.

Pablo Miller, the MI6 agent who recruited, handled and befriended Sergei Skripal, also worked for Orbis Ltd. Orbis is the company of the 'former' MI6 agent Christopher Steele who was paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign to write the 'Dirty Dossier' about alleged Trump connections to Moscow. Soon after the Skripal incident happened, the British government released a D-Notice that prohibited British media from further mentioning Pablo Miller's name and thereby the relation of the two cases.


bigger

Long before the Skripal incident happened an experience Russia scholar asserted that the Steele dossier was written by someone trained by Soviet intelligence. It is thus quite possible that Sergej Skripal, the former Russian spy, was an informant or even author of the Steele dossier about Trump.

The recently exposed British military intelligence operation Integrity Initiative has shown extensive interest into the media echo the Skripal case had in various countries. Curiously one of its papers lists Pablo Miller, the Skripal handler, as a contact of the Integrity Initiative's leader Colonel Chris Nigel Donnelly.


bigger

There is additional suspicion that the Integrity Initiative, whose primary function is to stoke Russophobia, was one of the brains behind the Skripal incident.

The Initiative was also involved in the Steele dossier and the russophobic anti-Trump campaign. Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow, is employed by the Institute for Statecraft, the shadowy parent organization of the Integrity Initiative funded by the Ministry of Defense and Foreign Office. It was Andrew Wood who helped to disseminate the Steele dossier to U.S. Senator John McCain. McCain then gave the dossier to FBI Director James Comey. The FBI used the dossier first to get FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign, and, after Comey was fired, to launch a counter-intelligence investigation (section 3) against Trump himself.

Here is a theory how all this may come together. Back in 2015 the Institute of Statecraft and its russophobic director Colonel Donnelly discussed how to increase sanctions on Russia. In 2016 the Steele dossier was created in an attempt to connect Trump to Russia. Steele's collegue Pablo Miller and his spy Sergei Skripal were quite likely involved in creating the dossier. The dossier was disseminated with the help of Donelly's Institute of Statecraft.

For some reason, Skripal probably threatened to spill the beans about the dossier after it became public, the Skripals had to be taken out. The highly scripted 'Novichok' incident in Salisbury was staged to remove Skripal and to smear Russia with an alleged murder attempt. Colonel McCourt, the trusted army nurse, was asked to help on the scene. After the Skripal incident, and with no evidence show, Russia was blamed and massive sanctions followed. The Integrity Initiative, the propaganda arm of the Institute of Statecraft, analyzes the media results of the Skripal affair and continues to stoke the anti-Russia campaign.

It might be possible that Steele's 'dirty dossier', the Skripal case and the Integrity Initiative operation are unrelated. But that chance for that now tends towards zero.

Posted by b on January 19, 2019 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

January 18, 2019

Reagan Wannabe Relaunches Reagan's Star Wars

On December 12 2001 then President Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Under the 1972 ABM treaty the Soviet Union and the United States had agreed to deploy only one anti-ballistic missile system each. With that limit gone the U.S. started to build a global missile defense system in Alaska and California that was designed to defend against incoming Russian missiles. The Russian president warned about the illusion such a system would create:

“Starting from 2002, after the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is an absolute cornerstone of international security, the strategic balance of forces and stability, the creation of the US global missile defense system has been continued persistently,” said the Russian president. According to him, this poses a threat not only to Russia’s security, but also to the entire world — just because of the possible disruption of this strategic balance of forces.

“I think this is harmful for the United States as well, because it creates the dangerous illusion of invincibility,” Putin said.

Russia, like other countries, feared that the U.S. would come to believe that it could launch a large first strike against Russia's strategic weapons and use its missile defense to prevent being hit by a smaller Russian retaliation strike. This upset the balance of Mutual Assured Destruction that has prevented a large scale nuclear war.

The global missile defense system the U.S. installed proved to be largely incapable. Out of a total of ten carefully choreographed tests five failed completely, the others were largely unrealistic.

Still, the issue prevailed and the U.S. kept expanding its missile defense projects. In consequence Russia started research programs to create new weapon system that would be immune to any missile defense. President Putin introduced the new weapons in his state of the nation speech in March 2018. The systems include hypersonic weapons, nuclear propelled cruise missiles and extreme long range torpedoes. All experts agree that there is currently no possible defense against the new Russian systems.

Yesterday the Trump administration issued the Missile Defense Review (pdf) report as mandated by Congress. The MDR report is more hawkish than the last one (pdf) issued in 2010 under the Obama administration. The technical plans therein did not change much. The new review mostly foresees more research into some crazy projects, like space based lasers, that are unlikely to ever be deployed.

The report also proves that missile defense is a self-licking ice cream cone. It uses the new Russian systems, build as reaction to new U.S. missile defense systems, to justify more U.S. missile defense:

Potential adversaries are investing substantially in their missile capabilities. They are expanding their missile capabilities in three different directions simultaneously: increasing the capabilities of their existing missile systems; adding new and unprecedented types of missile capabilities to their arsenals; and, integrating offensive missiles ever more thoroughly into their coercive threats, military exercises, and war planning.

The review goes own to justify an expansion of missile defense even though it is clear that there is no defense against the new Russian and upcoming Chinese systems.

Trump used the occasion of the MDR launch to exaggerate the possibilities of new missile defense systems:

Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
...
We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States.
...
My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer. It’s new technology. It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and, obviously, of our offense. The system will be monitored, and we will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers, or even from powers that make a mistake. It won’t happen. Regardless of the missile type or the geographic origins of the attack, we will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above.

What Trump is aiming at is a replay of the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively nicknamed Star Wars. It included some crazy weapons like the "rods from god", telephone pole size tungsten projectiles thrown from space.

The cost to put 1 kilogram into low-earth orbit are some $5,000-$20,000. Those are just the transport costs, not the cost of the more expensive high tech load. A missile defense layer in space that would cover the full surface of the earth at any time would require thousands of systems, each weighing several tons. Low flying satellites require permanent replacements. They can be shot down by Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons. Any such program, if technically feasible which it is not, would ruin the United States.

Regular readers of this site will remember that we predicted that Trump will do this. On January 20, the day Trump was inaugurated, we wrote about the military support that helped Trump to win the elections:

The military will demand its due beyond the three generals now in Trump's cabinet. But soldiers do not like to go to war. That means that Trump will increase conflict rhetoric against some foreign countries but also that he will not start any serious war. Expect the announcement of some super nifty, new but useless military wonder weapon for which Trump will promise trillions (Reagan's star wars redux).

In August 2017 we predicted that Trump would use the case of North Korea to argue for his remake of Reagan's Star Wars:

The Reagan wannabe currently ruling in the White House may soon revive Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, aka "Star Wars", which was first launched in 1984. SDI was the expensive but unrealistic dream of lasers in space and other such gimmicks. Within the SDI the U.S. military threw out hundreds of billions for a Global Ballistic Missile Defense which supposedly would defend the continental U.S. from any incoming intercontinental missile. The program was buried in the early 1990s. One son of Star Wars survived. It is the National Missile Defense with 40 interceptors in Alaska and California. It has never worked well and likely never will. If NMD would function as promised there would be no reason to fear any North Korean ICBMs. Missile defense is largely a fraud to transfers billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to various weapon producing conglomerates.

I expect that the North Korean "threat" will soon be used to launch "SDI - The Sequel", another attempt to militarize space with billions thrown into futuristic but useless "defense" projects. It will soothe the Pentagon's grief over the success North Korea had despite decades of U.S. attempts to subjugate that state.

The first country the new Missile Defense Review names under "Current and Emerging Missile Threats to the American Homeland" is of course North Korea. It is followed by Iran, Russia and China.

Why Iran is mentioned is unclear. It has regional missile capabilities but neither nukes, nor the technology, nor the intent to build intercontinental missile that could reach the United States:

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said ..

It is likely that National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in 2001 was behind Bush's pull out of the ABM treaty, pushed to include Iran in the Missile Defense Review.

Anyway. Little will come from Trump's dream of new toys except a stream of revenues for the research laboratories and weapon manufactures that will think up the most crazy systems, but will ultimately fail to achieve Trump's aim.

Russia has shown how even a working missile defense can be circumvented and others will follow its path.

The U.S.' "illusion of invincibility" is just that.

Posted by b on January 18, 2019 at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

January 17, 2019

Seymour Hersh: George H.W. Bush Team Leaked To Media To Reveal CIA's Iran-Contra Affair

A new piece by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books gives some insight into secret U.S. operations during the Reagan administration. The Vice President’s Men includes a quite sensational claim of who revealed the Iran-Contra affair.

According to the conventional wisdom, as reflected in Wikipedia, an Iranian operator revealed to a Lebanese paper that the U.S. was selling weapons to Iran in the hope to get hostages in Lebanon released:

After a leak by Mehdi Hashemi, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed the arrangement on 3 November 1986. This was the first public report of the weapons-for-hostages deal.

People is the National Security Council used profits from these weapon sales to illegally arm and finance CIA run anti-government gangs in Nicaragua. Both, the weapon sales to Iran and the weapon delivery to guerilla in Nicaragua, were illegal under U.S. law. The leak to Lebanese paper blew up both operations.

That Mehdi Hashemi, the Iranian operative, leaked the affair is only supported by second hand hearsay from a dubious source. Seymour Hersh reports of a very different culprit.

According to his sources former CIA director George H.W. Bush, who was then Reagan's vice president, ran his own secret operations through a special office in the Pentagon. It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau. The office and its operations were kept outside of congressional oversight. Neither the CIA nor the Joint Chief's of Staff were aware of its doing. During some 30 different operations the Bush team used small groups of U.S. marines to affect Soviet operations in foreign countries and to get rid of unwanted foreign politicians. Bush essentially ran the prequel of the 'war on/of terror' which today is run by the CIA and the Joint Special Forces Command.

Bush disliked William Casey, who Reagan had named as new CIA director. Casey was a business man who got the job after he managed Ronald Reagan's election campaign. Bush thought that he was too incompetent to run the clandestine service.

One of the operations run under Bush also involved Nicaragua, but had nothing to do with the later Iran-Contra scandal. At the same time the CIA director William Casey was drumming up support for the Contras in Nicaragua. The two operations collided when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver (Ollie) North at the National Security Council used the proceeds from the weapon sales to Iran to illegally finance the CIA's Contras in Nicaragua. While North was also a confidante of the Bush/Moreau's operations, he allegedly freelanced and eventually deserted to the CIA side.

According to a former officer involved in Bush's operations office, Bush and Moreau feared that the CIA's widely expanding Iran-Contra operation run by Oliver North would become a threat to their own operations. They decided to blow it up:

‘Ollie brings in Dick Secord and Iranian dissidents and money people in Texas to the scheme, and it’s gotten totally out of control,’ the officer said. ‘We’re going nuts. If we don’t manage this carefully, our whole structure will unravel. And so we’ – former members of Moreau’s team who were still working for Bush – ‘leaked the story to the magazine in Lebanon.’ He was referring to an article, published on 3 November 1986 by Ash-Shiraa magazine in Beirut, that described the arms for hostages agreement. He would not say how word was passed to the magazine, ...

According to Hersh's source the effect of the leak to the Lebanese paper was foreseen and intended:

The officer explained that it was understood by all that the scandal would unravel in public very quickly, and Congress would get involved. ‘Our goals were to protect the Moreau operation, to limit the vice president’s possible exposure, and to convince the Reagan administration to limit Bill Casey’s management of covert operations. It only took a match to light the fire. It was: “Oh my god. We were paying ransom for the hostages – to Iran.”’

If Hersh's anonymous source is correct, which I have no reason to doubt, the Iranian Mehdi Hashemi did not leak the issue. It was bureaucratic infighting between a former CIA director, who continued to run secret operations, and a sitting one, who was deemed incompetent by the former, that led to the disclosure of the Iran-Contra affair.

Seymour Hersh is known to have lots of contacts with former officials and officers. According to his on telling he is actively seeking them out as soon as they retire. Old men like to tell war stories, but dislike to damage their still living friends. George H.W. Bush died last November. Hersh likely knew the story long ago but is only now allowed to tell it.

The new Hersh/LRB piece is quite long and the details seems to have little relevance for current affairs. But his sources tell an interesting story about the backstage fights that went on between the various branches of the national security bureaucracy during the Reagan presidency. There is no doubt that similar fights, including intentional leaks to damage competing officials, continue today.

Posted by b on January 17, 2019 at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

January 16, 2019

A Turkish 'Security Zone' In Northeast Syria Is A Bad Idea

U.S. President Trump wants U.S. troops to leave northeast Syria. His National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to sabotage that move. Trump came up with idea to hand northeast Syria to Turkey, but soon was told that Turkey would fight the Kurdish YPK/PKK who the U.S. armed and used as proxy force against the Islamic State.

Turkey has no interest in fighting the Islamic State or in occupying Raqqa and other Arabic ethnic cities along the Euphrates. Its only interest is to prevent the formation of an armed Kurdish entity that could threaten its soft southern underbelly. It thus came up with the idea of a "security zone" in Syria that it would occupy to keep the Kurds away from its borders.


bigger

But that border strip is exactly where the major Kurdish settlements are. Ayn al-Arab, in Kurdish 'Kobane', and many other cities along the border all have largely Kurdish populations. These would certainly fight against a Turkish occupation. Turkey also wants to control the Manbij area west of the Euphrates.

Russia will not allow Turkish control of more Syrian land:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday the Syrian regime must take control of the country's north, after calls from the United States to set up a Turkish-controlled "security zone" in the area.

"We are convinced that the best and only solution is the transfer of these territories under the control of the Syrian government, and of Syrian security forces and administrative structures," Lavrov told reporters.

The Kurdish organizations and the Syrian government also also reject the Turkish plan:

“Syria affirms that any attempt to target its unity will be considered as a clear aggression and an occupation of its territories as well as a support and protection for the international terrorism by Turkey,” [an official source at Foreign and Expatriates Ministry] said.

Turkey moved enough troops to its border to launch an invasion but the risk for its economy is high. There are local elections in March and the Turkish President Erdogan does not want to upset them by jumping into a quagmire. Erdogan will soon visit Russia again and discuss the issue with President Putin. Most likely Erdogan will be convinced that Syrian government control over the Kurdish areas, and Russian guarantees for a mostly quiet border, are a better solution than a costly Turkish occupation of a hostile population.

Earlier today a suicide bomber killed 4 U.S. soldiers and wounded at least three in an attack in Manbij city (video). A number of YPK/PKK fighters and bystanders were also killed or wounded. The incident happened in front of a restaurant where the U.S. troops presumably were meeting someone. In March 2018 an IED attack in Manbij killed two U.S. soldiers.

Kurdish sources accused sleeper cells of Turkish supported terrorist groups of the incident. Ahmad Rahhal, a Turkish sponsored leader of the 'Free Syrian Army', accused 'Syrian government agents' within the Islamic State. A Turkish news service accused the YPG of responsibility. Others suspect the CIA initiated this to keep Trump in Syria. Neither is likely right. The Islamic State took credit through its regular outlets and even named the suicide bomber.

The killed and wounded U.S. troops were evacuated in a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

The S-92 is not flown by U.S., French or British forces in Syria. The armed helicopter is likely owned and operated by a private military company hired by the U.S. military for MedEvac services. This again proves that official U.S. numbers of 2,000 soldiers in northeast Syria do not paint the full picture. There are surely several thousands more, including more than 1,000 French troops, 200 British SAS and several hundreds if not thousands of U.S. contractors who are also involved in combat missions.

The suicide attack in Manbij also confirms that the Islamic State, even as it lost nearly all its territory, will continue to exist as an underground terrorist organization. One reason is that many of its fighters escape by bribing the U.S. proxy forces who evacuate civilians from the last Islamic State held territory:

[T]he Syrian Observatory learned that some of those who fled the enclave of the organization, and while being transported to Al-Omar Oilfield and before being sorted out into camps, pay large sums of money in order to get out to areas such as Al-Busayrah, Theban and Gharanij, where sums of money exceed $ 10,000 are paid for fear of being arrested when they reach the camps into which they are sorted out, and the sources suggested that in most cases, ISIS members and families of ISIS members are the ones who pay such sums of money, where they pay them to the parties that are responsible for the transport to the camps from Al-Omar Oilfield, ..

The Observatory also reports that the escaping ISIS elements often carry six digit dollar amounts that can be used for future attacks. It will take years, and a lot of cooperation from the local people, to completely root these elements out.

Those U.S. politicians who want to continue the U.S. occupation in Syria will use the Manbij incident to argue for an unlimited U.S. stay. ISIS would have won. Those who, like Trump, want the U.S. out will use the incident to argue for an urgent retreat from the area.

Trump is likely to win that argument.

Posted by b on January 16, 2019 at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (119)

January 15, 2019

Putin Asks And Trump Delivers - A List Of All The Good Things Trump Did For Russia

Slate's Fred Kaplan writes:

The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported Sunday that President Donald Trump’s confiscation of the translator’s notes from a one-on-one conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 was “unusual.” This is incorrect. It was unprecedented. There is nothing like it in the annals of presidential history.

Not really. Other U.S. leaders held long private meetings with their counterparts without notes being taken.

When Richard Nixon met Leonid Brezhnev he did not even bring his own interpreter:

George Szamuely @GeorgeSzamuely - 20:57 utc - 14 Jan 2019

Nixon would meet Brezhnev alone, the only other person in attendance being Viktor Sukhodrev, the Soviet interpreter. "Our first meeting in the Oval Office was private, except for Viktor Sukhodrev, who, as in 1972, acted as translator." Nixon on Brezhnev's 1973 visit. RN, p.878 . Therefore, the only "notes" that would exist would be those of the Soviet interpreter. Not sure he would have time to make notes and translate and, even if he did so, whether those notes would be housed in any US archive.

Nixon's White House office was bugged. There are probably tape recordings of the talks. There might also be recordings of the Trump-Putin talks.

At their 1986 Reykjavik summit Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev talked without their notetakers:

Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev began their second day of talks with a private meeting that had been scheduled to last 15 minutes but ran for nearly 70 minutes, with only interpreters present. They met in a small room in the Soviet Mission, with the Soviet leader seated in a small armchair and Mr. Reagan on a sofa.

In the afternoon, they meet alone for a little over 20 minutes and then again for 90 minutes. All told, the two leaders have spent 4 hours and 51 minutes alone, except for interpreters, over the two days here.

The archives of the Reykjavik talks do not include any notes of those private talks.

But, who knows, maybe Nixon and Reagan where also on the Russian payroll, just like Donald Trump is today.


bigger

Only that Trump is controlled by Putin can explain why the FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation against Trump (see section three).

That the FBI agents involved in the decision were avid haters of Russia and of Trump has surely nothing to do with it. That the opening of a counter-intelligence investigation gave them the legal ability under Obama's EO12333 to use NSA signal intelligence against Trump is surely irrelevant.

What the FBI people really were concerned about is Trump's public record of favoring Russia at each and every corner.

Trump obviously wants better diplomatic relations with Russia. He is reluctant to counter its military might. He is doing his best to make it richer. Just consider the headlines below. With all those good things Trump did for Putin, intense suspicions of Russian influence over him is surely justified.

Trump deploys TANKS to Estonia as NATO builds up HUGE army on Russian border - Express, Feb 7 2017

Trump launches attack on Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles - CNBC, Apr 6 2017

U.S. Rejects Exxon Mobil Bid for Waiver on Russia Sanctions - NYT, Apr 21 2017

Trump to promote U.S. natgas exports in Russia's backyard - Reuters, Jul 3 2017

Trump Urges East Europe to Loosen Russia's Grip With U.S. Gas - Bloomberg, Jul 6 2017

Trump signs bill approving new sanctions against Russia - CNN, Aug 3, 2017

Justice Dept Asks Russia's RT to Register as Foreign Agent - Newsmax, Sep 13 2017

US 'to restrict Russian military flights over America' - Independent, Sep 26 2017

Trump signs into law U.S. government ban on Kaspersky Lab software - Reuters, Dec 12 2017

Trump gives green light to selling lethal arms to Ukraine - The Hill, Dec 20 2017

U.S. Punishes Chechen Leader in New Sanctions Against Russians - NYT, Dec 20 2017

Sputnik Partner 'Required To Register' Under U.S. Foreign-Agent Law - RFERL, Jan 10 2018

Trump says Russia is helping North Korea avoid sanctions - CBSNews, Jan 17 2018

Trump's 'energy dominance' strategy is undercutting Russia's influence and business in Europe - Reuters, Feb 9 2018

Trump looks to deter Russia, China with $686B ask for Pentagon - The Hill, Feb 12 2018

American General In Syria Confirms US Forces Killed Hundreds Of Russians In Massive Battle - The Drive, Mar 16 2018

Trump orders expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats, closure of Seattle consulate - CBS, Mar 26 2018

Trump vows periodical dispatch of US troops to Baltic states, step up air defense - Lithuania Tribune, Apr 3 2018

Trump opposes Nord Stream II, questions Germany - AA, Apr 4 2018

Trump just hit Russian oligarchs with the most aggressive sanctions yet - Vice, Apr 6 2018

Trump orders missile strike on Syria military targets - CBSNews, Apr 9 2018

Aluminum Stocks Jump As Trump Sanctions Target Putin Pal - Investors, Apr 9 2018

Russia ‘deeply disappointed’ at Trump’s withdrawal from Iran deal - Times of Israel, May 9 2018

Trump to NATO allies: Raise military spending to 4 percent of GDP - AlJazeerah, Jul 12 2018

Trump says U.S. ties to NATO ‘very strong’ - Politico, Jul 12 2018

U.S. to sanction Turkey for receiving S-400 missiles - Ahval, Jul 27 2018

Trump administration to hit Russia with new sanctions for Skripal poisoning - NBC News Aug 8 2018

Space Force Is Trump’s Answer to New Russian and Chinese Weapons - FP, Aug 10 2018

US Sanctions Chinese Entity Over Purchase of Russian Fighters, S-400s – Treasury - Sputnik, Sep 20 2018

Trump hints at punitive action against India for buying S-400 from Russia - India Today, Oct 11 2018

Trump Agrees to Boost Pentagon's Budget to $750 Bln in 2019 - Reports - Sputnik, Oct 12 2018

Trump says US will withdraw from nuclear arms treaty with Russia - Guardian, Oct 21 2018

Haley Condemns ‘Outrageous’ Russian Firing on Ukrainian Ships - Bloomberg, Nov 26 2018

2 Trump Moves Cost This Russian-American CEO $2.3B - Forbes, Jan 14 2019

When one adds up all those actions one can only find that Trump cares more about Russia, than about the U.S. and its NATO allies. Only with Trump being under Putin's influence, knowingly or unwittingly, could he end up doing Russia so many favors.

Not.

---
(Thanks to Erelis in comments for additions to the list.)

Posted by b on January 15, 2019 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (122)

January 13, 2019

The Moon of Alabama Week In Review - Open Thread 2019-03

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

We had the suspicion that Bolton was freelancing with the conditions and time table he set for a U.S. move out of Syria. A later Wall Street Journal piece confirmed that. It included this great line:

“Nothing has changed,” one defense official said. “We don’t take orders from Bolton.”

The piece is an attempt to stay up-to-date on the various Trump-Russia narratives. It is a quite long read. For the gist read the intro, section 3 and the conclusions.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on January 13, 2019 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (218)

The Trump-Russia Scam - How Obama Enabled The FBI To Spy On Trump

Despite the loss of major narratives, the war of the deep state against U.S. President Trump continues unabated. The main of tool in this  war are allegations of relations between Trump and anything Russia. The war runs along several parallel paths.

The narrative war in the media is most visible one. When any of the fake stories about Trump and Russia gets debunked and disposed, new ones are created or others intensified.

In parallel to these propaganda efforts the deep state created an investigation that Trump has no way to escape from. Enabled by one of the Obama administrations last acts the investigation is using signal intelligence to entrap and flip the people surrounding Trump (see section three below). The big price will be Trump himself. Here we take a look at what transpired during the last weeks.


One major anti-Trump narrative was that 'Russian influence' helped to put him into office. This was based on the alleged nefarious influence a Russian clickbait company, the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Peterburg, had on the U.S. electorate. That explanation never made sense. Little of the IRA activities had to do with the election. It used sockpuppets on Facebook and Twitter to attract people to websites filled with puppy pictures or similar nonsense. The IRA would then sell advertisement and promotions on these sites.

This was obvious for anyone following the factual content of the news instead of the 'opinions' a whole bunch of anti-Trump 'experts' and the media formed around them.

That the Mueller investigation finally indicted several of the IRA's officers over minor financial transactions was seen as a confirmation of the political aspects of the IRA activities. But nearly all the reporting left out that Mueller confirmed the commercial intent behind the IRA and its activities. There is nothing political in the accusations. Indeed point 95 of the Mueller indictment of the IRA says:

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

Part of the false narrative of a political influence campaign was the claim that the $100,000 the IRA spent for advertisement to promote its clickbait webpages through Facebook ads somehow moved people to vote for Trump. But 56% of the IRA ads ran after the election, 25% of all its ads were never seen by anyone. How a few $10,000 for ads only few saw moved an election that was fought with several billions spent by each candidate's campaign was left unexplained.

This week, only fifteen month after this site came to the conclusion that IRA was a commercial clickbait business, the Washington Post finally admitted that the alleged political targeting of voters by the IRA never happened:

[T]he common understanding is that Russia’s interference efforts included sophisticated targeting of specific voting groups on Facebook, which could have made the difference in states that Trump narrowly won on his way to an electoral-vote victory.

That understanding about Russia’s sophisticated targeting, though, is not supported by the evidence — if it’s not flat-out wrong.
...
Most of the ads purchased by the Russians didn’t specify a geographic target smaller than the United States on the whole, according to a Post review of the ads released by the House Intelligence Committee. Those that did target specific states heavily targeted those that weren’t really considered targets of the 2016 election, such as Missouri and Maryland. And of those ads that did target specific states, most happened well before or well after the final weeks of the campaign.

All the claims that some Russian sockpuppets influenced the 2016 elections were and are nonsense.The IRA sockpuppets never had any political intent.

Likewise the allegations that Russian intelligence hacked the DNC and Clinton crony Podesta's email are mere assertions for which no hard evidence was ever provided. The only known fact is that the emails and papers were real, and that there content revealed the shoddiness of Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and her campaign.


Now, as the 'Russian influence' narrative is dying down, the anti-Trump - anti-Russian campaign is moving to new grounds. Last week the New York Times claimed that Paul Manafort, who for some time ran the Trump election campaign, gave public and internal polling data to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska: Manafort Accused of Sharing Trump Polling Data With Russian Associate. A day after that sensational claim made a large splash throughout U.S. media the New York Times recanted:

Kenneth P. Vogel @kenvogel - 18:39 utc - 9 Jan 2019

CORRECTION: PAUL MANAFORT asked KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK to pass TRUMP polling to the Ukrainian oligarchs SERHIY LYOVOCHKIN & RINAT AKHMETOV, & not to OLEG DERIPASKA, as originally reported. We have corrected the story & I deleted a tweet repeating the error.

Duh. Manafort gave polling data to his Ukrainian fixer Konstantin Kilimnik with the request to pass it along to Ukrainian oligarchs for who he had worked before joining the Trump campaign. Kilimnik had long worked for the International Republican Institute office in Moscow. The IRI is a CIA offshot under Republican Party tutelage that is used to influence politics abroad. Its long time head was the deceased hawkish Senator John McCain. While he worked with Kilimnik in the Ukraine, Manafort concentrated on moving the Ukraine towards the European Union and away from Russia. His and Kilimnik efforts were always opposed to Russian interests. But the NYT and others falsely try to pass them off as the opposite with the sole purpose of feeding the anti-Trump/anti-Russia campaign.


Another anti-Trump/anti-Russian propaganda effort is a new sensational NYT piece on obvious misbehavior in the upper rows of the FBI:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The NYT lets it seem as if the decision to launch a counter-intelligence investigation related to Trump was as based on some reasonable suspicion the FBI had. It was not. This was an act of revenge by the upper anti-Trump echelons in the FBI with which they attempted to undermine Trump's presidency. Note what the claimed suspicion was based on:

Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.

Other factors fueled the F.B.I.’s concerns, according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked as an F.B.I. informant, had compiled memos in mid-2016 containing unsubstantiated claims that Russian officials tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him.

Trump made a joke during the election campaign asking Russia to release the 30,000 emails Hillary Clinton had deleted from her illegal private email server. There is no requirement, as far as I know, for any candidate to criticize this or that country. How can not following the non existing requirement to criticize Russia be suspicious? The Republican Party did not soften its convention platform on Ukraine. It rejected an amendment that would have further sharpened it. Overall the Republican platform was more hawkish than the Democratic one. The Steele dossier was of course from A to Z made up nonsense paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign.

It is non sensible to claim that these were reasonable suspicions sufficient to open a counter-intelligence investigation. The hasty FBI move to launch a counter-intelligence operation obviously had a different motive and aim.

After Trump fired FBI director Comey, the FBI was led by Andrew McCabe, later also fired for leaking to the media and lying about it. His legal council was Lisa Page who exchange tons of anti-Trump SMS messages with her lover, the FBI agent Peter Strozk. These are the people who initiated the counter-intelligence investigation:

Strzok and Page sent other text messages that raise the possibility they were discussing opening up a counterintelligence investigation against Trump before Comey’s firing.

“And we need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting,” Strzok wrote to Page on the day of Comey’s ouster.

Andy is Andrew McCabe, who served as deputy FBI director.

Page gave some indication in her congressional testimony in July 2018 that the text message was a reference to an investigation separate from the obstruction probe that has already been reported.

Normally the FBI needs to clear such counter-intelligence investigations with the Justice Department. In this case it did not do so at all:

In the case of the investigation into Trump, the FBI’s decision to open a file on the president so quickly after Comey’s firing in May 2017 was a source of concern for some officials at the Justice Department because the FBI acted without first consulting leadership at the department. But those worries were allayed when, days later, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to oversee the Russia probe ...

After Comey was fired, the FBI made a very hasty move, without reasonable suspicion and without informing the Justice Department, to launch a counter-intelligence operation involving the sitting president and his administration. What was the real purpose of this move?

Initiating a counter-intelligence investigation, for which there was no basis, gave the FBI, and later the Mueller investigation, unfettered access to NSA 'signals intelligence' that could then possibly be used to incriminate Trump or his associates.

It was the Obama administration which had given the FBI access to this tool:

The Hoarse Whisperer @HoarseWisperer - 4:05 utc - 12 Jan 2019

On his way out the door, we all were wallowing in our winter of discontent, Obama signed an executive order...
...
The order revised the rules around intelligence sharing among our intel community. Specifically, it made the firehose of raw intelligence collected by the NSA directly accessible to the FBI and CIA. Instead of having to ask for intel and getting what they filtered down the FBI and CIA could directly access the unfiltered “SigInt” or signals intelligence. Intercepted phone calls, emails, raw intel from human sources. Everything our vast intelligence vacuum hoovers up, available directly... but only for counterintel and foreign intel purposes.

The NSA can sit on virtually every communication into and out of the U.S. that takes place over networks. Obama made it possible for the FBI to directly access everything they had on Trump, et al. Obama supercharged the FBI’s ability to investigate Trump.

The Obama administration enacted the changed executive order EO 12333 in early January 2017, shortly before Trump took over:

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.
...
[T]he 12333 sharing procedures allow analysts, including those at the F.B.I., to search the raw data using an American’s identifying information only for the purpose of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence investigations, not for ordinary criminal cases. And they may do so only if one of several other conditions are met, such as a finding that the American is an agent of a foreign power.

However, under the rules, if analysts stumble across evidence that an American has committed any crime, they will send it to the Justice Department.

At that time Peter Lee, aka Chinahand, already had the suspicion that Obama was behind the FBI campaign against Trump.

With the changes in EO 12333 Obama gave the FBI the ability to launch a world wide snooping operation against the incoming Trump administration under the guise of a 'counter-intelligence' operation. The hasty FBI move after Comey was fired activated this instrument. The Mueller investigation has since used it extensively. 'Crimes' revealed through the snooping operation are turned over to the Justice Department.

The NYT claim that the counter-intelligence investigation was initiated because of reasonable suspicion of Russian influence over Trump is nonsense. It was initiated to get access to a set of tools that would allow unlimited access to communication of Trump and anyone related to him. It was Obama who on his way out of the door gave the FBI these capabilities.

There are signs that the unlimited access the FBI and Mueller investigation have to signal intelligence is used to create prosecutions via 'parallel construction':

The Hoarse Whisperer @HoarseWisperer - 18:50 utc - 12 Jan 2019

An active counterintel investigation means the Trump Administration’s crimes were only as secure as the weakest link in their weakest moment. We got hints of this early. Our intelligence folks picked up “signals intelligence” or SigInt from Russians talking to Russians.
Those “signals” aren’t the kind of evidence that finds its way into a courtroom. In fact, it’s important that it doesn’t. It would burn sources and methods. It lays out the crimes and the players though... and then prosecutors find ways to make triable cases other ways.
The public sees cases for specific charges carrying significant prison time without ever knowing that the NSA and prosecutors knew so much more than they ever revealed. Now, apply those principles to the cases we’ve seen Mueller bring forward so far.

Mike Flynn: pleaded out to a minor charge, rolled over in full and then produced five rounds of documents. Likely: Flynn was confronted with the intel they had on him and knew he was cooked. They knew the crimes. They heard and saw everything. There’d be no escape.

By flipping and pleading out Flynn, all of that secret intel stays secret. Our intelligence efforts are protected. And Flynn goes down. And he cooks a bunch of other gooses. He’s savvy enough to know that once they have the intel, all that’s left to do is make the case.
...

The 'crime' that di Flynn in was misremembering a phone call he had with the Russian ambassador. Similar happened with Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s righthand man and a member of Trump’s transition team. Then it happened to Paul Manafort himself and to George Papadopoulos.

The Mueller investigation, thanks to the snooping Obama and the FBI enabled, knows the content of every phonecall, chat and email any member of the Trump administration made and make to someone abroad (and likely also within the U.S.). It invites people as witnesses and asks them about the content of a specific calls they made. If they misremember or lie - bang - Mueller has the transcript ready. A crime has been created and an indictment for lying to the FBI will follow. This is what happened to Flynn and the others the Mueller investigation entrapped and convicted.

Because of the counter-intelligence investigation the anti-Trump gang in the FBI hastened to initiate, the investigators got hands on signal intelligence - phone calls, chats and emails - that allowed them to indict minor people for petty crimes and to flip them to talk to the investigation.

The aim, in the end, was and is to build a prosecution case against President Trump for whatever minor and petty half-backed illegal doing there may be.


To make such a prosecution and an indictment publicly palpable the media is assigned with launching story after story about nefarious relations between Trump and anything Russia.

As we have seen above with the IRA story, the retracted NYT's Manafort bang, and the NYT's false claims about the motive of the FBI's counter-intelligence investigation, none of these stories hold up to diligent scrutiny. Today's Washington Post adds another example of no-beef stories that insinuate mystic 'Russian influence' over Trump:

Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration.

The first graph claims:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

The rest of the story largely refutes the claim made in its headline and very first sentence:

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
...
Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin ..
...
In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,”...

After Trump had a first White House meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Washington, lots of leaks about the talk appeared in the DC media. Trump was accused of giving information about an ISIS plot to the Russians that was allegedly secret. It was not. Since then Trump clamped down on the number of participants, briefings and readouts for such talks. That is simply a necessary and laudable behavior. Now the media try to construct that into 'Trump is concealing details' about talks with Russia even when the U.S. Secretary of State and others are present in these.


Ever since Trump won the Republican primaries, the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the U.S. and British intelligence services prepared to prevent a successful Trump presidency. The Steele dossier, created by 'former' British intelligence agents and paid for by the Clinton campaign, was the basis for an FBI investigation that was seen as an insurance against a Trump win. Any possible Russia relations Trump might have came under scrutiny. This prevented him from fulfilling his campaign promise of coming to better relations with Russia.

Shortly before Obama left the office he created the tool the FBI needed to put its investigation on steroids. When Trump fired Comey for his handling of the Clinton email affair, the FBI put that tool into action. With unfettered access to signal intelligence the Mueller investigation was able to entrap a number of Trump related people and to flip them to its side. It will use any information they give up to find some angle under which Trump can be prosecuted and eventually impeached. Even if nothing comes off this investigations, the media reports and slander all this created may well be enough to prevent an election of Trump for a second term.

I very much dislike most of Trump's domestic and foreign policy. But he was duly elected under the existing rules. The campaign the media and the intelligence services have since run against him undermines the will of the people. Unfortunately I see no way that Trump could escape from the hold it has gained over him. Exposing it as much as possible might well be his best defense.

Posted by b on January 13, 2019 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (90)

January 12, 2019

NYT Laments U.S. Disengagement Even As There Is None

On its frontpage the New York Times delivers an utterly deranged 'News Analysis' of the possible end of the illegal occupation of east Syria by the United States military:

As U.S. Exits Syria, Mideast Faces a Post-American Era

When Turkey, Iran and Russia meet to talk about the end of the war in Syria, they do so without the United States.

Peace talks to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been frozen for years, but the long-awaited Trump plan to break the impasse has yet to arrive.

And now, despite conflicting messages about how and when it will happen, the United States is set to withdraw from Syria.

The withdrawal, which the military said began with equipment removal on Friday, is just the latest instance of a broader American disengagement from the Middle East that could have lasting effects on one of the world’s most volatile regions.

The U.S. has not, and likely will not, "disengage" from the Middle East. Its military has some 53,000 soldiers stationed in at last 27 bases in 12 Middle Eastern countries (not counting those in Syria).

Estimated US troop numbers stationed in the Middle East in 2017

bigger

Besides the troops there are a large number of civil personal supporting or replacing them:

As of July 2018 – again, excluding Afghanistan – there were 22,323 Pentagon contractors working in the CENTCOM area of operations in the Middle East including 9,762 US citizens, 12,020 third-country nationals and 541 host-country nationals. This represents a 15 per cent year-on-year increase in Pentagon contractors utilized in the region. The deployment of contractors to fulfill missions that 15 to 20 years ago would have been conducted by US troops gives the impression of a smaller American military footprint in the region.

The U.S. has large economic interests in the Middle East. The U.S. weapon sales in the region add up to more than $5 billion per year. Some 17% of U.S. oil imports, 1.75 million barrels per day, come from the Middle East. The control of the hydrocarbon fuels found in the Middle East is the official reason the U.S. imposes itself over the region. That will not change.

U.S. media coverage and foreign policy discussion is more occupied with the Middle East than with any other part of the planet:

The combined population of the 15 Middle East countries covered by this paper (414.3 million) represents slightly more than 5 per cent of the world’s total population (7.6 billion). Yet, in American political and media circles, the region is the subject of vastly more than just 5 per cent of US foreign policy discussions. Indeed, outside of North Korea, China and country-specific trade issues, an American watching the national evening news, or reading a major media outlet, might imagine that the Middle East is the entirety of US foreign policy.

To call the move of some 2 to 5,000 troops and their supporting civilian contractors from Syria and into new bases in Iraq a "disengagement" from the whole Middle East is obviously bollocks.

The Trump administration did not change the 'regime change' policy the hapless Obama administration (recommended) waged against Syria. Nor has it stopped the war on Yemen the Obama administration helped the Saudis to launch. In Syria the Trump administration is only adapting the old policy to evolving geopolitical circumstances. The small military engagement in Syria's east is ineffective for its 'regime change' aim and damages its relations with Turkey.

The NYT calls the Middle East the "the world’s most volatile regions." That may well be right. But a lack of U.S. engagement is certainly not the cause of that volatility. In fact, it is the U.S. presence and meddling on behalf of its Zionist protectorate Israel that causes the never ending wars, pain and sorrow:

I have dealt with the ME in government and business for 45 years and I have to delve deeply in my memories to find instance in which our well-meaning but clumsy efforts have not damaged the ME and the people who live there. USAID comes to mind. I remember the great re-build of the Alexandria, Egypt sewer and water system. That was a very good thing. On the other hand, think of the damage caused endlessly by the US's unquestioning support for Israel's aggressive policies and unwillingness to make any deal that is not completely weighted in their favor. Think of the death and destruction we have wrought in Iraq.

The NYT's 'analysis', and its supporting quotes, demonstrates again that the day-to-day foreign policy discussion in U.S. media has little top do with the actual observable policy, the real presence of U.S. troops and bases, with real economic relations or political commitments.

The people in the Middle East would mostly love the see a 'Post-American Era'. Unfortunately there is no sign of that. The move of some 5% of the U.S. forces in the Middle East from one Middle Eastern country into another does not indicate a new geopolitical trend.

Why is it presented as such?

Posted by b on January 12, 2019 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (119)

January 10, 2019

Pompeo's Middle East Speech - A Blustering Promise Of Less U.S. Involvement

Today Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, visited Egypt. He held a somewhat delusional speech at the American University in Cairo. It is headlined:

A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East:

There is little in the speech that supports the headline. It starts with blustering:

[B]ecause I’m a military man by training, I’ll be very blunt and direct today: America is a force for good in the Middle East.

We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don’t, we make bad choices – now and in the future.

Pompeo blames Obama for the trouble the "force of good" caused:

Remember: It was here, here in this city, that another American stood before you.

He told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from an ideology. He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed, quote, “a new beginning,” end of quote. The results of these misjudgments have been dire.

In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid in asserting ourselves when the times – and our partners – demanded it.
...
The good news. The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning.

It follows a list of false claims and fake history:

For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force, not an occupying power. We’ve never dreamed of domination in the Middle East.

Pompeo ignores the still valid Carter doctrine which demands exclusive U.S. domination of the Middle East: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."

When the mission is over, when the job is complete, America leaves. Today in Iraq, at the government’s invitation, we have approximately 5,000 troops where there were once 166,000. We once had tens of thousands of U.S. military stationed – personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia. Now that number is a tiny fraction.

In 2011 the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected to sign a Status of Force agreement that would have given U.S. troops in Iraq special rights. In consequence the U.S. had to retreat from Iraq. A few troops came back to fight the Islamic State which Obama let grow to eject Maliki. Those troops will too have to leave. After the 1991 war against Iraq, Saudi Arabia came under pressure from radical Islamists to kick the many U.S. troops out of the country. Several thousand sill stayed. After the Kohbar tower bombing in 1996 the rest had to go too. In both cases the retreat was not voluntarily.

The speech goes on with a long passage of bashing Iran and lauding Israel. Pompeo says that the Trump administration wishes to establish the 'Middle East Strategic Alliance', an Arab NATO that allies with Israel. A pipe dream born out of sheer ignorance that is destined to fail.

We’re also seeing remarkable change. New bonds are taking root that were unimaginable until very recently. Who could’ve believed a few years ago that an Israeli prime minister would visit Muscat?

Israel's then Prime Minister Rabin visited Oman in 1994. Two years later then Prime Minister Shimon Peres followed. So yeah, a lot of people could have believed that. None of them though believes that a 'Middle East Strategic Alliance' will ever be more than a talking point.

The speech then comes to the core of Trump's thinking and policy:

Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. [...] But as President Trump has said, we’re looking to our partners to do more, and in this effort we will do so going forward together.

For our part, airstrikes in the region will continue as targets arise.
...
And as the fighting continues, we will continue to assist our partners in efforts to guard borders, prosecute terrorists, screen travelers, assist refugees, and more. But “assist” is the key phrase.

Those who want to fight Iran down to the last U.S. soldier, i.e. Israel and Saudi Arabia, will not like to hear that. Under Trump the U.S. will not do the bleeding in their fight.

On Syria:

Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. [...] President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria. We always do and now is the time, but this isn’t a change of mission.
...
In Syria, the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people. There will be no U.S. reconstruction assistance for areas of Syria held by Assad until Iran and its proxy forces withdraw and until we see irreversible progress towards a political resolution.

That is a revocation of John Bolton's plan to stay in Syria to defend the Kurds from a Turkish invasion or for whatever other reason. Indeed the Syrian Kurds are not mentioned at all in Pompeo's speech. They will surely take note of that.

There is also no mention of human rights, Khashoggi, freedom, or Palestinian statehood.

The speech ends as it started, with praising "America’s innate goodness".

Daniel Larison calls the speech Pompeo’s Exercise in Arrogant Self-Congratulation. That fits well.

For the people and the rulers in the Middle East the speech offers nothing. They are told that they are on their own. The U.S. will not longer play the "shinning city upon a hill" and it will no longer do the fighting for other interests. It wants purely transactional relations but with as little physical involvement as possible.

There is a lot of support for Israel in the speech and an equal amount of bashing Iran. But there is no promise that the U.S. is willing to do more than verbal grandstanding and to keep up the ineffective 'squeezing' of Iran.

Overall Pompeo's speech was directed more at a U.S. audience that to a Middle Eastern public. Iran hawks, evangelicals and President Trump will love it. Liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives will criticize it. 

While the speech points into a direction that more isolationist forces in the U.S. will support, it does not guarantee that the real policies will follow it. Even if Trump wants to go into a direction of less U.S. involvement, there are other forces in his administration which try to push him into new conflicts.

Under these circumstances it is nothing more that one data point that shows what might be.

Posted by b on January 10, 2019 at 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (194)

January 09, 2019

Stuff To Read: Integrity Initiative, Skripal, Kaspersky ...

The is no original piece ready to post today, but here are some interesting links:

  • The Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky was contacted by someone who it found to be related to the U.S. National Security Agency. Kaspersky immediately told the NSA about the contact. Following that tip the FBI arrested Harold T. Martin, a NSA contractor who had collected the NSA entire arsenal of digital weapon at is home. Despite that very helpful tip by Kaspersky the U.S. government continues to harass the company and to claim that it was working as an agent of the Russian government.
    Exclusive: How a Russian firm helped catch an alleged NSA data thief, Kim Zettler, Politico

bigger

There are several new stories about the Integrity Initiative though still none in any mainstream media.

Apropos Skripal

  • Over several months Rob Slane at The Blogmire did a detailed analysis of the Skripal case and the often contradictory information that officials and media have published. Rob has the advantage of living in Salisbury, where the Skripals were allegedly poisoned. Today he published the summation of his series about the case:
    Summing up the Official Claims in the Salisbury Poisonings: Weighed in the Balances and Found Wanting
    Neither Rob nor I have a sound theory of what really happened in Salisbury. There are many possible explanations, but none for which there is sufficient evidence. What we do know is that the British government lied and lies about the case from A to Z.
  • Last but not least a 20 minute video by Prolekult about the (geo-)politics of Brexit and the Skripal mess in Britain. Interestingly Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to be pushing the 'blame Russia' racket just as much as the Conservatives. (Disclaimer - I do not endorse the views of the authors.):
    History is Marching | Part five: The Fall of the British Empire (vid)

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on January 9, 2019 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

January 08, 2019

Turkey Rejects New U.S. Syria Plan - Humiliates John Bolton

On Sunday National Security Advisor John Bolton tried to set conditions for a U.S. retreat from Syria:

Bolton, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress in talks with Turkish officials, including President Tayyip Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected.
...
Asked whether a U.S. withdrawal would not take place in Syria until Turkey guaranteed the Kurdish fighters would be safe, Bolton said: “Basically, that’s right.”
...
"We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum,” Bolton said, “so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Turkey was not amused. The YPG Kurds, which the U.S. uses in Syria as cannon fodder to fight the Islamic State, are the same organization as the PKK which acts as a terrorist group in Turkey. Turkey can not allow that group to exist on its border as an organized military force.

When Bolton landed in Turkey today he received a very cold welcome. The planned meeting with the Turkish President Erdogan did not take place. The meeting John Bolton, Joint Chief of Staff Joe Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey held with the Turkish National Security Advisor Ibrahim Kalin was downgraded and took less than two hours. A planned joint press conference was canceled.

The U.S. delegation did not look happy, or even united, when it left the presidential compound in Ankara.


via Vivian Salaman - bigger

Shortly after Bolton's meeting Erdogan held a speech to his parliament group. It was a slap in Bolton's face. Via Raqip Solyu:

Erdogan says he cannot accept or swallow the messages given by US National Security Advisor Bolton in Israel.

Erdoğan, “YPG/PKK are terrorists. Some say ‘don’t touch them because they are Kurds’. This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist. They could be Turkmans. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements”

Erdogan on the Syria policy chaos in Washington: "As it happened in the past, despite our clear agreement with Trump on US withdrawal from Syria, different voices started to come out from different levels of the American administration."

Erdogan says Turkey continues to rely on Trump’s view on Syria and his decisiveness on the pullout. "We, largely, completed our military preparations against ISIS in accordance with our agreement with Trump"

"Saying that Turkey targets Syrian Kurds, which is a lie itself, is the lowest, most dishonorable, ugliest, most banal slander ever" Erdogan added.

Erdogan's communication director gave the last kick:

Fahrettin Altun @fahrettinaltun - 14:17 utc - 8 Jan 2019
U.S. National Security Adviser @AmbJohnBolton held talks with his Turkish counterpart @ikalin1 at the Presidential Complex in Ankara today.

I hope that he got a taste of the world famous Turkish hospitality during his visit.

An editorial in the Erdogan aligned Daily Sabah called Bolton's ideas a soft coup against Trump.

And with that, Bolton was humiliated and the issue of the U.S. retreat from Syria kicked back to Trump.

We have seen a similar scheme in U.S. negotiations with North Korea. Trump made a four step deal with Kim Jong Un. Then the borg in form of Secretary of State Pompeo tried to change the deal, and demanded that North Korea fulfills step four before the U.S. will take step one, two and three. When he then flew to North Korea he was ignored by Kim Jong Un and only met with lower level staff. It required Trump's intervention to keep the talks alive.

Erdogan likewise had a deal with Trump about the U.S. retreat from Syria. Bolton tried to change the deal, to add conditions and to prolong the timeline. When he arrived in Ankara he was not only ignored by Erdogan, but scolded. It will require Trumps intervention to bring the issue back onto its tracks.

If Trump does not move, Erdogan is likely to seek a military escalation. His army will probably fire artillery on this or that Kurdish position near the Turkish border. It may even invade a few towns. Not necessarily to hold them, but to increase the pressure on the U.S. occupation force.

Turkey originally planned to first take Manbij on the western side of the Euphrates. But Manbij is blocked by Syrian troops, now reinforced by Russian military police patrols. Erdogan will not dare to attack them.

Erdogan wants the U.S. to leave Syria and to take with it the arms it handed to the YPG to fight ISIS. He wants the Syrian government to retake northeast Syria and to bring the Kurds under control. That would eliminate the danger to Turkey.


Since Trump announced that U.S. troops would soon leave Syria the fight against the remaining ISIS forces near the Iraqi border increased in pace. ISIS' territorial hold is now down to two or three villages. Sunday night it used another spat of bad weather due to which the U.S. air force could not provide air support to the Kurdish led proxy force that fights ISIS. An ISIS counter attack ensued and killed some 25 of the U.S. supported forces. This was likely the last significant battle for ISIS. The Islamic State is down to a few hundred fighters who have no way to escape. They will be bombed to smithereens.

In Idleb governorate al-Qaeda aka Hayat Tahrir al Sham continues to consolidate its hold. It issued several ultimatums to Ahrar al-Sham and other 'moderate rebel' groups that still hold parts of the area. When it is finished with the elimination of its competition it will likely shell Aleppo city and attack the Syrian government lines. That will restart the war over Idleb.


bigger

The last time the Syrian government planned to cleanse Idleb of the Jihadis, the U.S. intervened and threatened to attack the Syrian army. Russia forged the Astana agreement under which Turkey agreed to eliminate HTS. It failed to fulfill its promise. The Syrian army is thus free to solve the problem.

But what will the White House do? Will Bolton (should he still be NSA by then) press for defending al-Qaeda? Will Trump agree to that?

Posted by b on January 8, 2019 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (152)

January 07, 2019

Fake News Reports Blamed Cuba, Russia And China Of 'Sonic Attack' On U.S. Diplomats - The Culprits Were Crickets

In the autumn of 2016 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba started to complain about being affected by some mysterious noise. Twenty four embassy staff and family claimed a bizarre list of symptoms - from headaches, dizziness and sleeping difficulties to problems with balance, vision and hearing. Doctors were not sure what affected these people. There were all kinds of speculations about a mysterious 'sonic weapons' with which the diplomats were 'attacked', but no convincing evidence was found.

Cuba fully cooperated with an FBI investigation into the mystery. Scientist dispelled the idea of a 'sonic weapon' attack. The medical evidence turned out to be dubious. Nevertheless anti-Cuban politicians in the U.S. successfully used the issue to pressure the White House to penalize the country. The Trump administration recalled 60% of its embassy personal in Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from the embassy in Washington. It issued a travel warning for its citizens going to Cuba and stopped issuing visas for Cubans in Havana.

The investigation continued. Some recordings of the mysterious noise were made and doctors played various of these to the affected persons. The patients confirmed that the sound was like the noise that had bothered them. On October 17 2017 those sound files were given to the Associated Press and published (vid). In its report on the files the AP noted that:

It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets.

The Cuban government and its scientist analyzed those sound files and compared them with known sound sources in Cuba. On October 27 2017 they published their conclusions. The results were also handed to U.S. investigators. The AP reported the Cuban finding:

Cuba on Thursday presented its most detailed defense to date against U.S. accusations that American diplomats in Havana were subjected to mysterious sonic attacks that left them with a variety of ailments including headaches, hearing problems and concussions.

In a half-hour, prime-time special titled “Alleged Sonic Attacks,” Cuban officials attempted to undermine the Trump administration’s assertion that 24 U.S. officials or their relatives had been subjected to deliberate attacks by a still-undetermined culprit.
...
Officials with Cuba’s Interior Ministry said that U.S. investigators had presented them with three recordings made by presumed victims of sonic attacks and that analysis of the sounds showed them to be extremely similar to those of crickets and cicadas that live along the northern coast of Cuba.

“It’s the same bandwidth and it’s audibly very similar,” said Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Molina, a telecommunications specialist with the Interior Ministry. “We compared the spectrums of the sounds and evidently this common sound is very similar to the sound of a cicada.”

Base on the AP report this site mocked the U.S. diplomats over their retreat from cricket noise.

The Havana incident was probably based on some innocent fear of some weapon. Or it may have been a ploy by anti-Cuban forces to sabotage the recovering relations with Cuba. Most likely though the whole issue was a mass psychosis over an unfamiliar natural noise - crickets.

The AP wire story ran on many news sites but only few looked further into it. The report should have closed the issue, but it was soon forgotten.

Even after the Cuban scientist delivered their very plausible explanation, U.S. government fear mongering over the 'sonic attack' did not die down. Only the target changed.

In May 2018 the U.S. suddenly accused China of a similar 'attack' as the ones that allegedly happened in Cuba:

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that an incident involving a US government employee stationed in China who reported "abnormal sensations of sound and pressure" suggesting a mild brain injury has medical indications that are "very similar" and "entirely consistent" to those experienced by American diplomats posted in Havana.

But by mid 2018 a special task force set up by the State Department was still clueless of what caused the sickness of the diplomats affected in Cuba and later also in China. There are serious questions if the 'brain damage' that the sound allegedly caused even exists. None of the diplomats was examined before the incidents happened. The minor 'damage' some doctors saw in the brain scan pictures of some of their patients may well have been there way before they joined the State Department.

The China track went nowhere. But in September 2018 Russia was suddenly accused as being the cause of the menacing noise. NBC News reported:

Intelligence agencies investigating mysterious "attacks" that led to brain injuries in U.S. personnel in Cuba and China consider Russia to be the main suspect, three U.S. officials and two others briefed on the investigation tell NBC News.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.

The evidence is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow for incidents that started in late 2016 and have continued in 2018, causing a major rupture in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The NBC story came with a red flag. One of its authors was the CIA's mop-up man Ken Dilanian who lets the CIA rewrite his stories before they get published. Whenever one sees that author's name one must presume to read disinformation.

But it did not matter. Based on the vague NBC report the Daily Beast headlined: Russia Is No. 1 Suspect in Mystery Brain Attacks in Cuba and China: Report. The Guardian joined in with: Russia main suspect behind illnesses of US staff in Cuba and China – report. The Russophobe MSNBC aired a whole segment about the issue.

None of the reports mention the year old Cuban finding of cicada noise the AP had previously published.

Last Friday the New York Times reported that U.S. scientists found that the mysterious noise identified by the diplomats was indeed from crickets:

Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Z of the University of Lincoln in England studied a recording of the sounds made by diplomats and published by The Associated Press.

“There’s plenty of debate in the medical community over what, if any, physical damage there is to these individuals,” said Mr. Stubbs in a phone interview. “All I can say fairly definitively is that the A.P.-released recording is of a cricket, and we think we know what species it is.”
...
The song of the Indies short-tailed cricket “matches, in nuanced detail, the A.P. recording in duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse,” the scientists wrote in their analysis.

The published noise is indeed extremely similar to the noise of the (west-)Indies short-tailed cricket recorded in this scientific database.

The New York Times does not even mention that Cuban scientists had come to the same result as the U.S. scientists. Nor does it dispel the "Russia did it" nonsense NBC News and other were spewing.

The issue is now probably buried, but the damage it did will not be rectified.

Diplomatic relations with Cuba are still reduced. The State Department still has a travel warning for Cuba "due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees". In the public record Russia is still accused of causing this non-issue in which it was never involved.

Not one of the 'journalists' involved in the fear campaign will be punished for ignoring the earlier AP report of the Cuban finding. None of the media that smeared Russia over the issue will retract those reports or expose the officials who initiated them.

Cricket noise can be as loud as 100 decibel. It is extremely irritating to anyone not used to it. Some diplomats new to Cuba felt affected by it. Other joined them in their fear of being attacked by some mysterious weapon. But the medical effects were very minor. Some doctors claimed to have found minor brain damage, others refuted those results as too vague.

Anti-Cuban politicians used the issue to press for penalties and the White House delivered to them. Those deep-state forces who want to portrait China and Russia as enemies hooked onto the issue. The media willingly followed them while ignoring the science that refuted the 'sonic weapon' thesis and the very plausible explanation the Cuban scientists had found.

The whole story reminds us again to be wary of all news that accuses this or that person, group or country of doing something bad to perceived 'U.S. interests'. Most of such stories are fake news, based on false claims and assertions.

Then again - maybe Putin indeed weaponized those Indie short tail crickets. His aim, sources say, was to create doubt over the truthfulness of the news in 'western' media. Officials say that his ploy was very effective. They ask for more money to counter it.

Posted by b on January 7, 2019 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (79)

January 06, 2019

The Moon of Alabama Week In Review - Open Thread 2019-01

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The war on Yemen continues despite the ceasefire agreement in Sweden:

    Ceasefire in Al Hudaydah with the Taste of Saudi Bombs!
Since the World Food Program issued its threat, Saudi propaganda claims that the Houthi steal more WFP goods. These claims are false.

Al Arabiya English: Houthi attacks target warehouses storing Yemen food aid

Campbell MacDiarmid @CampbellMacD - 9:06 utc - 6 Jan 2019
A spokesperson for @WFP_MENA told me that the warehouse hasn't been under their contract for three months, they have no access to the area it is in, and it didn't contain any WFP foodstocks

Arab News: Houthis seize dozens of relief trucks: Yemen minister

Campbell MacDiarmid @CampbellMacD - 9:07 utc - 6 Jan 2019
A @WFP_MENA spokeswoman told me that the trucks haven't been seized, they have been delayed for inspection for one day longer than usual.

Forgot to link this: The Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson is the most complete analysis of the Integrity Initiative papers.

The British Private Eye finds a relation between the Integrity Initiative and the Rendon Group which drove the propaganda for the Iraq invasion.

I'll have to say more on the issue. For some fun, check the attachment to this tweet. (Klarenberg writes for Sputnik.)

Kit Klarenberg @KitKlarenberg - 19:51 utc - 5 Jan 2019
Head of @InitIntegrity's German cluster says he's going to bring criminal charges against me for accessing II internal files. In the process helpfully confirming many of the people I contacted in the cluster for comment ARE collaborating with the organization!! Cheers pal!

Bolton is coming up with new pie-in-the-sky conditions for the U.S. retreat from Syria:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Sunday that the U.S. military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is conditioned on defeating the remnants of the Islamic State group, and on Turkey assuring the safety of Kurdish fighters allied with the United States.

Bolton, who traveled to Israel to reassure the U.S. ally of the Trump-ordered withdrawal, said there is no timetable for the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria, but insisted it’s not an unlimited commitment.
...
Bolton said U.S. troops would remain at the critical area of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region. He defended the legal basis for the deployment, saying it’s justified by the president’s Constitutional authority, adding “I’m a strong believer in Article II.”

Sure, Turkey will guarantee not to attack the U.S. armed YPG/PKK that is daily fighting its troops within Turkey. Not!

See also this thread by Aaron Stein:

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 - 20:17 utc - 5 Jan 2019

On Tanf, think Bolton is - once again - over his ski tips and not speaking for POTUS. This is how we got into this mess in the 1st place. It is very disconcerting
...

In Idleb governorate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has taken the town of Al Atareb without resistance. Atareb was the last somewhat neutral ground in Idleb with a local administration. A video shows a Zenki convoy of some 25 cars and two tanks that got stuck while fleeing al-Nusra. The Zenki fighters fled on foot towards Afrin and left the convoy and its load for Nusra to take.

Last night Turkey moved "moderate rebel" fighters it earlier sent to the Euphrates to fight the Kurds back to Afrin. It seems to prepare for a campaign to regain the ground Nusra took over last week from Turkish proxy rebels in Idelb. I'll prepare a large bowl of popcorn for watching that fight.

Other issues:

The New York Times once had the famous slogan "All the news that's fit to print." Nearer to reality is the slogan "All the news that fits our agenda." For a prime example see this: The Sounds That Haunted U.S. Diplomats in Cuba? Lovelorn Crickets, Scientists Say:

Diplomatic officials may have been targeted with an unknown weapon in Havana. But a recording of one “sonic attack” actually is the singing of a very loud cricket, a new analysis concludes.

Unmentioned in the NYT piece on 'new' U.S. research on the noise is the fact that in October 2017 Cuban scientist had already come to the same conclusion. Back then Moon of Alabama mocked the U.S. over the issue: Cuba - U.S. Diplomats Retreat In Horror ... Because ... 'Crickets'

Recommended:

John Pilger Special-A Look Back at 2018, Look Forward to 2019 - Video

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on January 6, 2019 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (231)

January 05, 2019

Syria - Turkey Fails In Idleb, Is Unwilling To Take The Northeast

The neoconservatives in the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and the Syria envoy James Jeffery, are scrambling to save their plans for Syria that President Trump disposed of when he ordered a complete retreat.

Those plans were for a permanent U.S. occupation of northeast Syria, the reduction of Iranian influence within the government held parts of Syria and an eventual disposal of the Syrian government under President Assad through negotiations. These were unicorn aims that had no chance to ever be achieved.

Moreover Trump had never signed off on these ideas. Back in April he had announced that he wanted U.S. troops out of Syria. He gave his staff six month to achieve that. But instead of following those orders Pompeo and Bolton tried to implement their own plans:

Late last year, some of the president’s hawkish advisers drafted a memo committing the United States to a longer-term presence in Syria that included goals of an enduring defeat of the Islamic State, a political transition and the expulsion of Iran, officials said. The president has not signed the memo, which was presented to him weeks ago.

In fact, Trump had warned his aides for months that he wanted out of Syria in short order.
...
Bolton’s Iran plan never really took effect at the Pentagon, where officials were not officially tasked with any new mission in addition to the operation against the Islamic State. Military officials likewise viewed Iran’s expansion into Syria as problematic, but they were skeptical about the lack of a clear legal justification that would be required for offensive military action against Iranian-backed forces.

Trump recognized that those plans were nonsense and ordered to end them. In that process he came up with a likewise unicorn idea - to hand northeast Syria to Turkey to fight the already defeated Islamic State. Turkey does not want northeast Syria. It does not want to risk a bloody war against the Kurds that would be required to sustain such an occupation.


bigger

The only appropriate solution is to hand control of northeast Syria (yellow) back to the Syrian government (red). Damascus would disarm the Kurds or integrate them within its national army. They would be under control and no longer a threat to Turkey. Everyone could live with such an easy solution.

Everyone but the neocons.

Today National Security Advisor Bolton is on his way to Israel to cook up new plans:

A Trump administration official told reporters traveling with Bolton that Bolton intended to discuss the pace of the drawdown, as well as American troop levels in the region. Bolton was expected to explain that some U.S. troops based in Syria to fight IS will shift to Iraq with the same mission and that some American forces may remain at a key military outpost in al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region.

Bolton’s also was to convey the message that the United States will be “very supportive” of Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, ...

I bet that neither of those points was signed off by Trump. The publication of these ideas is another attempt by Bolton to push his personal policies to the front.

Erdogan, asked by Trump to take northeast Syria but unwilling to do so, raised demands that the U.S. is unlikely to fulfill:

Turkey is asking the U.S. to provide substantial military support, including airstrikes, transport and logistics, to allow Turkish forces to assume the main responsibility for fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, senior U.S. officials say.

The Turkish requests are so extensive that, if fully met, the American military might be deepening its involvement in Syria instead of reducing it, the officials added.

Bolton will later fly to Ankara and discuss the Turkish plans:

Participants will include White House national security adviser John Bolton; Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and James Jeffrey, the State Department envoy for Syria.

One U.S. official said the administration is unlikely to provide all of the military support the Turks are seeking, especially on air support.

Without U.S. air support Erdogan can not attack northeast Syria. The Turkish air force is weak. Many of its experienced pilots were fired for alleged support and involvement in the coup against Erdogan. The airforce is unable to provide the necessary 24/7 support its soldiers would need. There is also strife within the Turkish army command. If he would order an attack, Erdogan would only go for the Kurdish areas along the northern border, not for the Islamic State. That again is something the U.S. does not want at all:

Many experts and officials also fear the Turks may target Kurdish fighters who have long provided the U.S. with solid support in the campaign against Islamic State militants and endured considerable loss of life.

To try to mitigate these risks, Mr. Jeffrey, the State Department envoy, is seeking to forge an arrangement with the Turks that would allow them to enter northern Syria while avoiding largely Kurdish areas, say U.S. officials familiar with the plans.

Mr. Jeffrey and his State Department team have created a color-coded map of northeastern Syria in an attempt to negotiate a power-sharing plan that could avert a costly Turkish-Kurdish fight in the area.  ... One former U.S. official described the map as “Sykes-Picot on acid,” ...

The idea is delusional. There are no borders between Kurds, Arabs and other ethnicities in northwest Syria. The populations is mixed. Only the ethnic percentages vary from town to town. Implementing the idea would lead to ethic cleansing and an everlasting war.

The Kurds are no longer willing to follow the U.S. lead.

Mr. Jeffrey has asked Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the Kurdish commander of Syrian fighters, to hold off on making any deals with President Bashar al-Assad’s government while the Trump administration tries to develop its strategy.

"F*ck you," said General Abdi, as the Kurds continue to negotiate:

Syrian Kurdish leaders aim to secure a Russian-mediated political deal with President Bashar Assad's government regardless of U.S. plans to withdraw from their region, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters.

The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria presented a road map for an agreement with Assad during recent meetings in Russia and is awaiting Moscow's response, Badran Jia Kurd, who attended, said.

A deal between the Kurds and the Syrian government "is inevitable" says a senior Kurdish military official. The U.S. proved again to be unreliable and the Kurds have nowhere else to go.

None of the new plans and ideas Bolton presents make any sense. They are unlikely to have Trump's blessing. While the U.S. retreat from northeast Syria may be delayed another month or two, it will likely proceed.


The last week saw new developments in Idleb governorate. Idelb is largely ruled by the al-Qaeda organization Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS),  the former Jabhat al-Nusra. There are also many other groups under Turkish control. But Turkey had recently transferred many of those fighters to attack the U.S.-Kurdish held Manbij at the Euphrates. That attack was stopped when the Syrian army took control of the area.

While the Turkish supported groups in Idleb were weakened, HTS used the occasion to reinforce its control. On Monday HTS (grey) attack the areas west of Aleppo which were held by Nour al-Din al-Zenki. The once CIA supported Zenki became 'famous' when in 2016 some of its fighters published a video in which they beheaded a sick ten year old boy for no discernible reason.


bigger

During the last five days at least 130 people were killed in the Idleb fighting. Zenki was eliminated from the area it held (stripped grey) and its remaining fighters fled to the northern Afrin canton which is under Turkish army control. HTS took control of Zenki's heavy weapons including four tanks.

HTS now controls all areas next to Turkey and the Turkish controlled Afrin. It sent ultimatums to other groups in Idleb and demanded additional control over the towns Maarat al-Nu’man and Ariha in the south of the governorate. As none of the other groups can withstand HTS it will likely soon control these towns. Taking them gives HTS full control over the M4 and M5 highways. Control of the highways can be used to generate money and as an asset in future negotiations.

The Astana agreement between Russia and Turkey over Idleb stipulated that HTS would be pushed back 15 miles from the government held areas. The M4 and M5 highways would be reopened to traffic for government traffic. Turkey was supposed to implement and guarantee those points. Not one of these points has been achieved. The Turkish soldiers stationed in six observation posts around Idleb governorate are hostages to HTS. As Turkey failed to deliver on its promises Syria and Russia have all rights to ignore the agreement, attack HTS and to liberate Idleb.

That Turkey failed in Idleb makes it more likely that it will refrain from invading northeast Syria. Its army positions in Syria are already in trouble. Why add new ones to the mess?

Posted by b on January 5, 2019 at 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (128)

January 04, 2019

'Integrity Initiative' - New Documents From Shady NGO Released

The British Government runs an anti-Russian smear campaign through the pseudo non-government-organization Integrity Initiative. Some person, operating under the 'Anonymous' label, obtained internal papers of the Initiative and publishes those in several batches. Moon of Alabama was one of the first sites that analyzed the released papers.

Our last piece on the Initiative concluded:

After reading through all the released Initiative papers and lists one gets the impression of a secret military intelligence operation, disguised as a public NGO. Financed by millions of government money the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative work under a charity label to create and disseminate disinformation to the global public and back into the government and military itself.

Today the Anonymous account released a new batch of some 50 internal Integrity Initiative documents at the Cyber Guerrilla website.

With the new release Anonymous lays out a timeline that connects the Skripal affair in Britain with the activities and personal of the Integrity Initiative. Our last piece had already drawn the Skripal connection to the Initiative, but some of the new documents add to the trail.

The trail starts with a document (pdf), written in January 2015(!), that lays out a plan and options for sanctioning Russia.


bigger

bigger

We have since seen that several of these planned sanctions have been realized after this or that curious event, like the alleged use of doping by Russian athletes and during the Skripal affair.

It will take some time to analyze the newly released papers and to draw conclusions. If you opt to read them yourself please leave notes on them in the comments.

Previously published:

Tim Hayward provides a complete list (scroll down) of all articles written so far here and elsewhere about the Integrity Initiative .

Posted by b on January 4, 2019 at 11:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

January 03, 2019

The Goddess, The Jade Rabbit And The Magpie Bridge - Chinese Culture On The Far Side Of The Moon

An extraordinary mission by the China National Space Administration helps us to learn a bit of ancient and modern Chinese culture.

Today at 2:26 utc the lunar lander module Chang'e-4 and its six wheel rover Yutu-2 landed on the far side of the moon. They used the Queqiao relay satellite to send us the first ever close range pictures (see below) of the far side of the moon.


bigger

The names Chang'e, Yutu and Quegiao have no meaning for people who grew up in 'western' cultures but are well known throughout Asia:

In a very distant past, ten suns had risen together into the skies and scorched the earth, thus causing hardship for the people. The archer Yi shot down nine of them, leaving just one sun, and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. He did not consume it straight away, but hid it at home, as he did not want to gain immortality without his beloved wife Chang'e. However, while Yi went out hunting, his apprentice Fengmeng broke into his house and tried to force Chang'e to give him the elixir; she refused and drank it herself. Chang'e then flew upwards towards the heavens, choosing the moon as residence. Yi discovered what had transpired and felt sad, so he displayed the fruits and cakes that Chang'e had liked, and gave sacrifices to her.
...
On mid-autumn day, the full moon night of the eighth lunar month, an open-air altar is set up facing the moon for the worship of Chang'e. New pastries are put on the altar for her to bless. She is said to endow her worshipers with beauty.
Wikipedia, Chang'e

There are classic drawings of Chang'e, but she also plays a prominent role in modern anime.


by phsueh - bigger

Yutu, the jade rabbit, is the companion of Chang'e. He and his mortar can been seen in the full moon. Yutu is pounding the ingredients of the elixir of life for Chang'e.
Wikipedia, Moon rabbit

The Chinese lunar exploration program uses the names of Chang'e and Yutu for its lunar landing modules and the exploration rovers that comes with them. Chang'e-3 and her Yutu-1 rover landed on the near side of the moon on December 14 2013. It was the first lunar landing since 1976.

Earlier today Chang'e-4 autonomously landed on the far site of the moon. This is the first mission ever that touched down on the half of the moon that can not be seen from earth. (The far side of the moon is not dark, but gets the same amount of sunshine as the near side. The "Dark Site of the Moon" is an allusion to lunacy. Pink Floyd mentions do not fit the event.)

Being on the far side of the moon Chang'e-4 can not directly communicate with her lover on earth. A special relay satellite was stationed in the halo orbit some 75,000 kilometer beyond the moon where it can see the far site of the moon as well as earth. Its name is Queqiao or Magpie bridge:

Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the goddess of heaven, fell in love with the cow herder Niu Lang. They lived happily for many years. Both were sad when Ziu Nu had to return back to heaven. But the goddess of heaven took pity with the sweethearts and allowed them to be reunited once every year. On this seventh night of the seventh moon, magpies form a bridge with their wings in order that Zhi Nu might cross and meet with her beloved husband. That day (during August) is the Chinese equivalent of Valentines day.
The legend of magpie bridge


bigger

After she landed early today Cheng'e-4 took this picture and sent it over the magpie bridge back to her lovers on earth.


bigger

The two metal structures at the top of the picture are the ramps the Yutu-2 rover later used to roll down onto the moon's surface.

One of the six wheels of the Yutu-2 rover.


via Andrew Jones - bigger

Yutu-2 on the surface of the moon.


via Cosmic Penguin - bigger

Due to the distance of the communication the delay between a control signal from earth and feedback from the far side of the moon is some 6 seconds. Let's hope jade rabbit will 'mind the gap', i.e. the crater in front of it.

Later on Yutu-2, the jade rabbit, will drill into the surface and collect stones. He will pound them in his mortar and check if they contain the elixir of life.

The elixir of life is of course water. If mankind is ever to colonize the moon it will have to find ways to produce it right there. It is likely that some form of water is available somewhere below the surface of the moon. The geology of the surface will give hints where deeper drilling might be justified. 

Congratulations to China and its space engineers. This is an exceptional mission, the first of its kind, and a great success. It is also a interesting lecture in Chinese culture.

Posted by b on January 3, 2019 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

January 02, 2019

The War On Syria Strengthened The Anti-Zionist 'Resistance'

Veteran Middle East correspondent Elijah Magnier predicts the further development of the war on Syria. The U.S. is leaving and the Arab Gulf states are coming back to Damascus to balance against Turkey. The Kurds will stay with Syria and Idleb will be liberated. His largely positive view rhymes with the recent analysis presented here.

Magnier though adds an important point which I did not make. The war on Syria has led to new relations that will soon haunt its main instigator:

Indeed the Levant is returning to the centre of Middle East and world attention in a stronger position than in 2011. Syria has advanced precision missiles that can hit any building in Israel. Assad also has an air defence system he would have never dreamed of before 2011 thanks to Israel’s continuous violation of its airspace and its defiance of Russian authority. Hezbollah has constructed bases for its long and medium range precision missiles in the mountains and has created a bond with Syria that it could never have established if not for the war. Iran has established a strategic brotherhood with Syria thanks to its role in defeating the regime change plan. NATO’s support for the growth of ISIS has created a bond between Syria and Iraq that no Muslim or Baathist link could ever have created: Iraq has a “carte blanche” to bomb ISIS locations in Syria without the consent of the Syrian leadership, and the Iraqi security forces can walk into Syria anytime they see fit to fight ISIS. The anti-Israel axis has never been stronger than it is today. That is the result of 2011-2018 war imposed on Syria.

How long will it take for Israel to gasp this new reality?

Posted by b on January 2, 2019 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (195)

January 01, 2019

World Food Program, Bribed By Saudis, Threatens Yemenis With More Famine

The United Nation's World Food Program is supposed to relief populations in urgent need of food supplies. It is not supposed to be a partisan organization. But in the war on Yemen it has now taken one side of the conflict and is threatening the other side with starvation.

The slow famine in Yemen continues unabated. Not only the people in north Yemen, under control of the Houthi and besieged by the Saudi coalition, are starving. Those living in the government controlled areas in the south have similar problems. There are many conflicting parties which makes aid distribution difficult. There is food in the markets but the people have no money to pay for it.

Many poor local men, even children, get recruited to fight on either side. The coalition of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States have few of their own soldiers on the ground. The hire others to wage their war.

The U.S. is essentially running the Saudi air war against Yemen:

When a Saudi F-15 warplane takes off from King Khalid air base in southern Saudi Arabia for a bombing run over Yemen, it is not just the plane and the bombs that are American.

American mechanics service the jet and carry out repairs on the ground. American technicians upgrade the targeting software and other classified technology, which Saudis are not allowed to touch. The pilot has likely been trained by the United States Air Force.

And at a flight operations room in the capital, Riyadh, Saudi commanders sit near American military officials who provide intelligence and tactical advice, ...

While the U.S. military claims that it intends to prevent attacks on civilian targets the results show no such influence. The war against the Houthi and their allies in Yemen has been a siege war from its very beginning. It was designed to use famine as a weapon against the population of the Houthi controlled areas.

The Saudis do not only bomb water wells and food production facilities on land but the also kill Yemeni fishermen who dare to take to the sea. The Saudi coalition also hired mercenaries from Sudan and elsewhere to bleed as its foot soldiers. Some of them are as young as 12 years old. The Houthi are likewise recruiting youth.

The UAE, which is profiting most from the war, hired al-Qaeda leaders and fighters to do its bidding. A prominent one is Abu al-Abbas who commands some 3,000 local fighters. Last year the Trump administration put sanction on al-Abbas for financing al-Qaeda. But its ally UAE is paying him millions per month to fight on its side.


bigger

On December 9 the warring parties held first direct talks in a U.N.-led peace efforts in Sweden. While the UN claimed that several agreements were found, none was published and both sides seemed to disagree over the outcome. The most important issue is the control over the port of Hodeidah through which most of the food aid to Yemen is shipped. The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have for month tried to take the port while the Houthis defend it by all means because their lifeline depends on it.

The new agreement allegedly gave the UN control over the port. The Houthi as well as the Saudi/UAE controlled forces would retreat from the port and the city and let an unarmed UN force run the harbor. But the Houthi say that the UN would only monitor the harbor while their forces would stay.

On December 29 Associated Press first reported that the Houthi handed control over the port to the government controlled coast guard. After some laughter from Yemenis, it revised the record:

Yemen’s Shiite rebels on Saturday said they handed over control of the main port in the Red Sea city of Hodeida to the coast guard and local administrators, but the government denied that, calling it a ploy by the Iran-aligned rebels to maintain control of the strategic facility.
...
“It’s a stage play in which the Houthis handed over the port to their fighters after they put on coast guard uniforms,” said the Hodeida governor, al-Hassan Taher.

Indeed, one published picture showed a "brigade general" in coast guard uniform "taking control of the port". Yemen's coast guard does not have any generals. Up to a day before the "general" was Houthi commander.

The UN very much disliked the ploy and now tries to penalize the Houthi just like the Saudis do, by threatening to starve more of them.

Just yesterday AP and the Pulitzer Center published an investigative report on how food supplies delivered by aid agencies gets pilfered during its distribution in Yemen:

Documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with al-Hakimi and other officials and aid workers show that thousands of families in Taiz are not getting international food aid intended for them — often because it has been seized by armed units that are allied with the Saudi-led, American-backed military coalition fighting in Yemen.

“The army that should protect the aid is looting the aid,” al-Hakimi told the AP.

The investigation founds similar theft and pilfering of aid that is delivered to the Houthi side. Instead of being handed to people in need, much of the food aid is sold in local markets. This is not really astonishing. Any larger aid program in a conflict area has similar problems. Some share of the supplies always falls off the truck.

But the UN ignored the AP report that both sides are looting food aid. Just hours after it was published the UN's World Food Program exclusively accused the Houthi side of diverting aid:

[WFP Executive Director David] Beasley warned the Houthi authorities in Sanaa that unless they took immediate action to end the diversion of aid the WFP would "have no option but to cease working with those who have been conspiring to deprive large numbers of vulnerable people of the food on which they depend".

Just like the Saudis, the UN's WFP threatens to starve the people who live in Houthi controlled area:

"If you don't act within 10 days, WFP will have no choice but to suspend the assistance ... that goes to nearly three million people," the letter said.

The Houthi protest against such a partisan ultimatum:

Yemen's Houthi rebels on Tuesday said they were "surprised" by accusations from the United Nations food agency that they are stealing humanitarian aid and accused it of taking sides in the nearly four-year-old war.

The World Food Program on Monday threatened to suspend some aid shipments to Yemen if the rebels did not investigate and stop theft and fraud in food distribution, warning that the suspension would affect some 3 million people.

The threat from the WFP is outrageous. "We will let 3 million people die unless you do this or that" is not the way the UN should talk to the weaker side of a conflict. (Curiously the @WFP_Yemen twitter account has now been shut down.)

The Saudis and the UAE use their purse string to influence the WFP. Two month ago they pledge another $500 million:

“What Yemen needs most is peace because that would make the greatest amount of difference in every Yemeni life,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “In the meantime, this important donation will help us save children on the brink of death. I thank the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a contribution that will truly save lives.”

I find it inconceivable the that UN or its sub-organizations take large amounts of Saudi money to prevent a famine that the Saudis willingly cause in the first place. The UN should reject such bribery. To then threaten the starving side of the conflict to withhold aid over distribution problems is reckless.

WFP Director David Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina nominated for the WFP job by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, should be suspended from his job. His partisan behavior is exactly the reason why the Houthi can not and will not give the UN or any of its organizations full control over Hodeidah. It is the only port through which they can receive food supplies for the people living in their area. If UN organizations that are obviously influenced by Saudi money and issues partisan threats get control over the port, the siege on the Houthi areas would be complete.

Sooner or later they would have to concede their defeat. By then millions more would have died.

Posted by b on January 1, 2019 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (58)