Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 30, 2019

Venezuela - Random Guyaidó's New Coup Attempt Turns Out to Be A Dangerous Joke

(This post was appended throughout the day. It is in chronological order.)
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The Random Guyaidó who the Trump administration tries to make president of Venezuela just launched another coup attempt against the government.

He announced his intent in a series of tweets around 6:00 am local time (machine translated):

Juan Guaidó @jguaido - 9:58 utc - 30 Apr 2019

People of Venezuela began the end of usurpation. At this moment I meet the main military units of our armed force initiating the final phase of Operation Freedom.

Venezuelan people we go to the street, national armed force to continue the deployment until we consolidate the end of the encroachment that is already irreversible.

The national armed forces have made the right decision, they have the support of the Venezuelan people, with the endorsement of our Constitution, with the guarantee of being on the right side of the story. To deploy the forces to achieve the cessation of usurpation.

People of Venezuela, we need to go out on the streets together, to support the democratic forces and to regain our freedom. Organized and together mocilícense the main military units. People of Caracas, all to La Carlota.

Guaido also posted a short video which shows talking into the camera with some 30 soldiers standing behind him.


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Some members of the armed forces released Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader under house arrest since he, in 2014, organized violent protests against the government. Guaidó and López went to the La Carlota airforce base near Caracas. Lopez tweeted (machine translated):

Leopoldo López @leopoldolopez - 10:17 utc - 30 Apr 2019

Venezuela: The final phase has begun for the cessation of usurpation, Operation Freedom. I have been released by the military to the order of the Constitution and of President Guaidó. I'm at the La Carlota Base. All to mobilize. It's time to conquer freedom. Strength and Faith


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López is, like Guaidó, a creature of the U.S. of A. He was also involved in the 2002 coup attempt against then President Chavez.

It is not clear if Guaido and Lopez entered the air base. A person from the government said they are only on a highway.

A video posted by some TV station shows a platoon of armed and masked soldiers at a road block.

The Venezuelan Minister for Communication Jorge Rodríguez says the coup will be defeated (machine translated):

Jorge Rodríguez @jorgerpsuv - 10:18 utc - 30 Apr 2019

We inform the Venezuelan people that we are currently confronting and deactivating a small group of military traitors who were positioned in the Altamira distributor to promote a coup against the constitution and Peace of the Republic ... 1/2

To this attempt was added the far-right coupe and assassin, who announced his violent agenda for months. We call on the people to stay on high alert, along with the glorious Bolivarian National armed forces, to defeat the coup attempt and preserve the peace. We will win 2/2

The Distibuidor Altamira is a highway exit near the affluent business and living district Altamira in eastern Caracas.

Some, but not all, Internet access from/to Venezuela is disabled.

The chief of the armed forces of Venezuela chimes in (machine translated):

Vladimir Padrino L. @vladimirpadrino - 10:51 utc - 30 Apr 2019

We reject this coup movement that seeks to fill the country with violence. The pseudo political leaders who have placed themselves at the forefront of this subversive movement, have employed troops and policemen with weapons of war in a public thoroughfare of the city to create chaos and terror

News of the coup comes shortly after Reuters reports that the Blackwater founder Erik Prince is looking for money to set up a mercenary army to attack Venezuela:

In private meetings in the United States and Europe, Prince sketched out a plan to field up to 5,000 soldiers-for-hire on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch.
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A person familiar with the administration’s thinking said the White House would not support such a plan.
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One of Prince’s key arguments, one source said, is that Venezuela needs what Prince calls a “dynamic event” to break the stalemate that has existed since January, ...

No "dynamic event" happened so far.

It has now been confirmed that Guadió and Lopez did not enter the La Carlota air base. It is under control of government forces. Some soldiers are said to have been "deceived".

The metro of Caracas was shut down by the government.

A short video and a photo show a few low rank soldiers on a highway bridge with a carton of bananas and a basket of machine gun ammunition. Besides one machine guns they are armed with normal rifles and pistols. They are marked with a blue armlet or masks as Guaidó supporters.


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Another short video shows Lopez, somewhat frustrated, on a highway bridge with a handful of soldiers and a few journos.

CNN diverts from the official U.S. government line and Marco Rubio isn't happy about it.


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Chavista supporters of President Maduro have surrounded the President's Miraflores Palace to prevent the coup plotters from capturing it.

President Nicolás Maduro tweeted (machine translated):

Nicolás Maduro @NicolasMaduro - 14:07 utc - 30 Apr 2019

Nerves of Steel! I have spoken with the commanders of all the REDIs and ZODI of the country, who have expressed their total loyalty to the people, to the Constitution and to the fatherland. I call for maximum popular mobilization to ensure the victory of peace. Venceremos!

Guaidó moved to the Plaza Altamira, a place of regular opposition protests in a wealthy quarter, and speaks to a minor crowd.

There are claims, including by Marco Rubio, that Guaidó supporters have taken the La Carlota Base. (La Carlota's official name is Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base.) These reports are false. The small gang of Guaidó soldiers and some Guaidó supporters are on a highway bridge near the entrance of the air base. The base is in the hand of government forces. The opposition never entered it.

There are no reliable reports that any additional military besides the 30 or so men on the bridge have switched to Guaidó.

15:00 utc

Someone points out that the soldiers supporting Guaidó carry M4 Colt assault rifles. The official assault rifle of the Venezuelan military is the Kalashnikov AK-103. Back in February there were a number of flights from Florida to Venezuela which delivered weapons to the opposition.

16:00 utc

It is becoming clear that this coup attempt is no more than a stupid PR campaign. Here is a map of the whole 'coup' scene which plays in a small area of the wealthy Altamira district of Caracas.


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At the bottom of the map is the La Calota air base, also known as Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Base, which Guaido supporters tried to enter. They threw rocks against the guards until tear gas drove them away. Directly north of it runs a highway east to west. The two highway bridges on which Guaidó's soldiers stand are crossing the highway right next to the base. Some 500 meters north of the highway bridges is Plaza Altamira (the upper blue point) where Guaidó spoke to some supporters.

The highway bridges can be seen in this video taken from north of the highway looking south across the bridges towards the airport. In the video some fireworks go off to which nervous Guaidó supporting soldiers on a bridge respond (1 2 vid) by firing a few shots into the air.

The whole coup attempt was run within a 500 x 200 meter corridor with nothing of significance happening outside of it. A dangerous propaganda stunt but so far nothing more than that.

This slight modification of the Guaidó/López picture above seems appropriate. These dudes are mere comic figures, wannabe fantasy heroes.


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17:00 utc

Video of some six alleged coup soldiers who loudly claim their innocence (machine translated):

Coup soldiers surrender in #Venezuela and claim they were brought to the uprising under deception by military deserters followers of John Guaidó

Quotes from a speech by Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino (machine translated):

A small group, tiny military and police officers decided to kidnap SOME GNB vehicles, armaments and ammunition. They broke in this morning and they bet on the Altamira dealer
Weapons of War, rifles and machine guns were placed, betting on the roads through which the citizens move. It is a coup attempt, no doubt, of a mediocre magnitude
80 percent of the troops who came to this call were deceived. He sought to bring chaos and death to a group of country soldiers who were deceived into committing a terrorist act
It is a coup attempt of a very small and negligible magnitude. We have given immediate response: all the commands of the #FANB, of the components, of the tactical units, operative, of the Redis, Zodi, of the militia were immediately reported
80 percent of those who were taken there, deceived, left on their own and reported with their natural controls.
The majority of the military with weapons have left the place and have gone to the Plaza Altamira, where they are reediting everything that we live in the year 2002
We will not allow any aggression against the law, institutionality, democracy and the Constitution. The Republic's weapons are to defend their sovereignty and independence.
Responsiblity for any bloodshed and violence to the fascist and anti-patriotic leadership, which does not deserve respect from Venezuelans or FANB, because they try to use military for their own purposes.
"Miraflores cannot be reached by violence. Who arrives in Miraflores for violence, will be overthrown by violence, "says Vladimir Godfather Lopez, Minister of Defense of #Venezuela

(FANB, GNB, Redis, Zodis are abbreviations for the Venezuelan army, National Guard and other security forces.)

18:00 utc

Opposition TV showed Guaidó and López talking in a crowd of maybe a thousand all white people in Altamira. There were six men in Army and National Guard uniforms with them plus four bulky bodyguards in civilian clothes (one of color). They drove away in four seemingly armored SUVs with darkened windows.

Some radical youngsters on motorcycles still play cat and mouse with riot police and national guard near the airbase. The number of people near the airbase and on the bridges shrunk considerably.

It seems that the whole event is over.

The conclusion below from our first entry today seem to have been correct.

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Guaidó seems to have neither a base nor large scale military support nor access to significant military equipment. If that does not change this coup attempt is likely to fail within a few hours.

Posted by b on April 30, 2019 at 11:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (297)

April 29, 2019

Baghdadi Is Back And Turkey Might Be His Next Target

Remember this dude?


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He is back.


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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self declared caliph of ISIS, appeared in new video published today. These are the first pictures of him since some three plus years ago. He mentions the defeat in Baghouz. A speaker in the video, not Baghdadi, mentions the recent attacks in Sri Lanka which killed over 250 people and the recent ouster of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. A short excerpt of the 18 minutes long video can be seen here.

There are three disguised people Baghdadi is talking to. The video is heavily edited and it appears that it was filmed in many takes. The visible walls are of drapery but do not seem to be the inside of a tent. The ground is flat. The light is artificial. The sound is solid but has no echos. This was probably filmed in a room of a larger house.

The gun to his right is a Kalashnikov AKS-74U with a large (45 rounds) magazine:

US journalist C. J. Chivers reported that the gun was nicknamed "the Osama" in jihadist circles, after Osama bin Laden was photographed next to an AKS-74U.

Pictures of the (now dead) leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi showed the same type of gun. It is not a very practical weapon but demonstrates Baghdadi's heritage.

Baghdadi accepts the oath of loyalty from groups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Written text in the video says that the attack in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for Baghouz in Syria where ISIS made its last stand. It claims that the ISIS jihadists did not hand over any area and died fighting to the end in Sirte, Mosul, Raqqa and Baghouz. At least the claim about Raqqa is wrong. When the U.S. destroyed Raqqa some 2-3,000 ISIS fighters negotiated their exit with the U.S. proxies on the ground and moved south-east to attack the Syrian army.

Baghdadi says that ISIS will eventually win in a war of attrition against the "Crusaders". This points to a continuous, geographically dispersed terror campaign after it no longer holds any ground. At one point one of the three other people gives him a folder with some plans. The folder is marked Wilayat Turkey. (Wilayat means province of the Islamic State).

 


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Baghdadi looks well fed. The reports of him ailing and thin are obviously wrong. His face and hands and those of his guests show no signs of harsh weather or even sun exposure.

One wonders whose guest he is.

Posted by b on April 29, 2019 at 18:34 UTC | Permalink | Comments (62)

April 28, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-24

I also wish a Happy Easter to those of you who, like the guys below, celebrate it today under Orthodox rites.

Joe Biden on May 8 2018 at Brookings Institute:

I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble. [...] [A]ll kidding aside, we have not seen this huge concentration of wealth. And the folks at the top aren’t bad guys. I get in trouble in my party when I say wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks. I found no distinction. I really haven’t.

The piece mentions that the U.S. is not-agreement-capable. Today National Security Advisor John Bolton again attested that:

National security adviser John Bolton confirmed on "Fox News Sunday" that a Trump administration official signed a document pledging to pay North Korea a $2 million hospital bill to release Otto Warmbier, though he said no money was ultimately transferred.

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Other issues:

Saudis citizens seem to be free to commit crimes within the United States:

Pro Publica - Saudi Fugitives Accused of Serious Crimes Get Help to Flee While U.S. Officials Look the Other Way

A six part investigation of Greta Thunberg and the powers behind her climate campaign:

Cory Morningstar (aka @elleprovocateur) - The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – A Decade of Social Manipulation for the Corporate Capture of Nature [ACT VI – Crescendo]

Similar powers are behind the New Green Deal (explained here (vid)) that some Democrats are pushing for. Cory ends her piece with a link to a highly recommendable 2004 talk by Arundhati Roy on The NGO-ization of resistance (vid).

On a quite similar note:

Jacob Levich (aka @cordeliers) - Bill Gates and the Myth of Overpopulation

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Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 28, 2019 at 17:41 UTC | Permalink | Comments (94)

New York Times Cartoons Influenced San Diego Synagogue Shooter?

Yesterday John Earnest, a 19 year old white supremacist, entered a synagogue in San Diego with an AR-15 style weapon. Inside the synagogue, filled with Sabbath worshipers, he open fire and killed one person and wounded three. He fled but later surrendered to police officers.

Before the attack Earnest uploaded "an open letter" with lots of anti-Semitic and homophobic tropes. He published the link to the letter on the radical right wing site 8ch.net. The open letter is in the question and answer style of an interview:

“How does killing Jews help the European race? The European race is doomed? What are you talking about? These Jews were innocent!”
Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race. They act as a unit, and every Jew plays his part to enslave the other races around him—whether consciously or subconsciously. Their crimes are endless. For lying and deceiving the public through their exorbitant role in news media; ...

The author claims that he set fire on nearby mosque last month and says that he drew inspiration from the terrorist who in March killed some 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand.

Earnest calls himself a Christian and quotes (evangelical) scripture. There are also a few Q&As about Trump and 'Conservatives' (emphasis added):

“Are you a Trump supporter?”
You mean that Zionist, Jew-loving, anti-White, traitorous cocksucker? Don’t make me laugh.

“Are you affiliated with any political ideology?”
Yes. It’s called not wanting to go extinct.

“Are you a conservative?”
I am not a useless, spineless coward so no—I am not a conservative. Conservative is a misnomer. They conserve nothing. They’ll complain all they want but they won’t take up arms and threaten their government with death (the only thing that works). Ever heard about the Battle of Athens (1946)? Find your balls again you insufferable faggots. If you do not defend your rights you deserve none.

Where did John Earnest get these antisemitic and homophobic ideas from?

It may well be that Earnest read the New York Times.

The caricature below appeared in Thursday's international print edition of the New York Times.


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The sentiment is easy to understand. Trump is blind about the political reality in the Middle East and is 'guided' by Netanyahoo who thereby gets everything he asks for.

But why is Trump depicted with a kippah or yarmulke? Trump is a Presbyterian with an Evangelical leaning, not an orthodox Jew. Was a more realistic depiction, Netanyahoo leading the goyim donkey Trump by the nose, too strong?

During the 1930s the Nazi weekly Der Stürmer published similar tropes. The "Hofjuden" were those Jews who were said to influence or secretly lead the royal courts.

After some uproar the Times apologized:

"The image was offensive, and it was an error of judgment to publish it."

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The homophobic 'cock-sucker' and 'faggots' slurs John Earnest uses may also originate from reading the Times.

In mid 2018 the NYT published and promoted an animation that depicted Trump and the Russian president Vladimir Putin as homosexual lovers.


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The 'paper of the record' is supposedly liberal and zionist. It is owned and led by a Jewish family. Despite that it publishes cartoons that are based on anti-semitic tropes and homophobic slurs.

The New York Times is openly hostile towards Trump as well as to Russia. Its hatred seems sufficient to permit the use of cliches it otherwise rejects. It is no wonder then that such sentiments gain in prominence in the wider society. Lunatics like John Earnest pick up on these and use them to justify their terrorism.

Posted by b on April 28, 2019 at 12:36 UTC | Permalink | Comments (65)

April 27, 2019

Russia Think Tank Study Shows How To Overextend And Unbalance The U.S. of A.

The Russian institute for Research and Analysis for National Defense (RAND) recently assessed how to further damage the United States:

Overextending and Unbalancing Russia - Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options

This brief summarizes a report that comprehensively examines nonviolent, cost-imposing options that the Russian Federation and its allies could pursue across economic, political, and military areas to stress —overextend and unbalance— the United States' economy and armed forces and the U.S. government's political standing at home and abroad. Some of the options examined are clearly more promising than others, but any would need to be evaluated in terms of the overall strategy for dealing with the United States, which neither the report nor this brief has attempted to do.

Today’s United States suffers from many vulnerabilities — the financial crisis has caused a drop in living standards,  regressive tax policies that have furthered that decline, a decreasing life expectancy, and increasing authoritarianism under Barack Obama's and now Donald Trump's rule. Such vulnerabilities are coupled with deep-seated (if exaggerated) anxieties about the possibility of Russia-inspired political manipulation, loss of great power status, and even military attack.

Despite these vulnerabilities and anxieties, the United States remains a powerful country that still manages to be Russia's peer competitor in a few key domains. Recognizing that some level of competition with the United States is inevitable, RAND researchers conducted a qualitative assessment of “cost-imposing options” that could unbalance and overextend the United States. Such cost-imposing options could place new burdens on the United States, ideally heavier burdens than would be imposed on the Russian Federation for pursuing those options.

A team of RAND experts developed economic, geopolitical, ideological, informational, and military options and qualitatively assessed them in terms of their likelihood of success in extending the United States, their benefits, and their risks and costs.

The study so far had little echo in U.S. media. One might have thought that such a publication would raise a ruckus over the sinister plans the Kremlin has for the United States.

It didn't cause a ruckus because the above quote is faked. The study exists. It was published by RAND Corp, a U.S. think tank financed by the Pentagon. But the quote switched the role of Russia and the United States.

The original is headlined:

    Overextending and Unbalancing Russia - Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options

The study looks at measures in a number of fields that the U.S. could take to impose costs on Russia. Each measure is evaluated by the "Likelihood of Success in Extending Russia", by its "Benefits" and by the "Costs and Risk" for the U.S. should the measure be used. The evaluated fields include economic, geopolitical, military, and ideological and informational cost-imposing measures.

One "geopolitical cost-imposing option" is, for example, to "Provide lethal aid to Ukraine." The RAND assessment is that the likelihood of success for this measure in extending Russia is "moderate". The "Benefits" are seen as high. But "Cost and Risk" for the U.S. are also high.

In total the study evaluates 47 measures or options. Most of those are in military categories. The conclusions list the most promising measures:


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According to RAND the best option to overextend and unbalance is to produce more oil:

Expanding U.S. energy production would stress Russia’s economy, potentially constraining its government budget and, by extension, its defense spending. By adopting policies that expand world supply and depress global prices, the United States can limit Russian revenue. Doing so entails little cost or risk, produces second-order benefits for the U.S. economy, and does not need multilateral endorsement.

That evaluation is quite strange. The U.S. government does not produce oil. Private companies do so but only if they can make a profit. Increasing production beyond the global demand will decrease the oil price for all producers. All recent new U.S. production comes from shale oil. Optimistic estimates put the break even point for good shale oil fields at around $50 per barrel. Few fields can produce at lower costs. Most shale oil fields have a higher break even point. There is also a danger in suppressing oil prices. Many oil producing countries have U.S. friendly regimes. They need high oil prices to survive. Ruining them will not come cheap for the U.S. in geopolitical terms.

The second best option says RAND is to increase sanctions of Russia. This also doesn't make much sense. Russia can produce everything it needs and it has free access to the world's largest markets, China and India.

The best military options listed by RAND are all useless. All the new weapon systems Russia has revealed over the last two years are way more capable than anything the U.S. is able to field. If the U.S., as RAND advocates, invest more in certain fields, it will only be to catch up. That does not impose any new costs on Russia.

In all I find it a bit impertinent to publicly argue for "overextending and unbalancing Russia". Where is the need to do such?

The study demonstrates again that strategic analysis by U.S. think tanks is woefully shallow-minded. The "experts" writing these have no deep understanding of Russia, or even of the economic-political complexity of the real world.

Four of the eight best options the RAND study found start with the words "Invest more in ...". It is a sign that the foremost motive its writers had in mind is to grab more taxpayer money. Fine. Give it to them already. Overextending and unbalancing the U.S. by more abstruse expenditure for weapon systems that do not work will neither hurt me nor Russia.

Posted by b on April 27, 2019 at 18:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (62)

April 26, 2019

U.S. Citizens Who Raided North Korea's Embassy In Spain Are "Dissidents"?

Spanish authorities suspected the CIA of involvement in the February 22 raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid:

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but [Spanish] government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”

The CIA countered the Spanish reports of its involvement by exposing its 'regime change' proxy group that executed the raid:

The group behind the late February operation is known as Cheollima Civil Defense, a secretive dissident organization committed to overthrowing the Kim dynasty, people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission told The Washington Post.
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“This group is the first known resistance movement against North Korea, which makes its activities very newsworthy,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University.

Sung-Yoon Lee is "Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University." He seems to believe that a violent raid by CIA related Korean-Americans on a North Korean embassy in a third country is "resistance".

The raid came a few days before the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi. It was timed to blow up the negotiations.

In late March a Spanish judge named one Adrian Hong Chang as the leader of the embassy raid. Adrian Hong Chen is the head of the Cheollima Civil Defense/Free Joseon group. The judge demanded the extradition of Hong and his abettors from the United States. One of those persons has since been caught:

A U.S Marine veteran from Southern California was part of a group of dissidents wielding machetes and fake guns when they stormed North Korea's embassy in Madrid and tied up and beat officials inside, federal prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint released Tuesday.

Spain is seeking to extradite Christopher Philip Ahn on charges including robbery, illegal restraint and criminal organization. Judge Jean Rosenbluth denied bond for Ahn during a Los Angeles court hearing attended by his wife, mother and about two dozen other supporters.
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Prosecutors said Ahn was arrested during a raid last week on the Los Angeles apartment of a co-defendant, Adrian Hong Chang, a leader of the Free Joseon group. Hong Chang was not at home and has not been arrested.

One reason that bail was denied is the extraordinary violence the group used:

The group — armed with machetes, iron bars, knives and fake guns — beat some of the workers and then tied them up with shackles and cables, prosecutors alleged. They put bags over some of the workers' heads, beat them and threatened them with the metal bars and guns, according to the court papers.

Interestingly it was Adrian Hong Chang, the group's leader, who ratted out Christopher Philip Ahn:

After the attack, Hong Chang also met with FBI agents at the bureau's office in Los Angeles and told them that Christopher Ahn, a former Marine, had participated in the attack.

One of the embassy workers later identified Ahn as an attacker from his LinkedIn profile picture.


Christopher Philip Ahn, Adrian Hong Chang

It seems that the Spanish authorities made enough of a stink to push the U.S. to seriously act against the group. But the embassy raiders still have their defenders.

At NKNews.org Professor Sung Yong Lee says that the prosecutor's court memo (pdf) in the Christopher Philip Ahn case is trash:

One expert told NK News they believed the U.S. government’s case, as reflected in the documents unsealed on Tuesday, had “more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.”

“It shows the case was cobbled together in a rush when, after weeks of hedging, the DOJ, presumably upon orders from the White House and State, made the decision to quash Free Joseon,” Sung-Yoon Lee, an Assistant Professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, said.

“Sloppiness pervades the complaint,” he continued, pointing to what he said he was a number of inconsistencies in the account of the break-in.

“The criminal complaint is based entirely on implausible accounts by the DPRK staff, who had life-and-death incentives to claim having been overpowered by thugs,” he continued.

A statement carried on the website of Free Joseon last week, too, expressed “dismay” at the decision to arrest Ahn, saying the move derived from “criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime.”

Earlier reporting from Spain contradicts the Professor's assertions. The case is not "based entirely on implausible accounts by the DPRK staff". It was the Spanish police who confirmed the violence of the perpetrators:

Police found the eight victims inside. They had been held hostage for two hours, had had bags placed over their heads, had been beaten and were scared. Two of them required medical attention.

The Free Joseon claim about "criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime"  is also false. The prosecution of a violent crime is mandatory under Spanish law. North Korea did not even file a complain:

The North Korean Embassy hasn’t pressed charges in Spain, and officials in Pyongyang haven’t officially commented on the attack.

Professor Sung-Yoon Lee isn't finished yet. In an Los Angeles Times op-ed he argues against extraditing Ahn to Spain. The headline follows his earlier argument:

     Free Joseon is a North Korean resistance movement, not a criminal enterprise:

U.S. authorities have filed a criminal complaint alleging the dissidents used force and abused embassy staff during the Madrid action. Free Joseon denies the charges. For the U.S. to accept what is essentially a North Korean version of the events is to effectively defend the Kim regime. It sends the message to Pyongyang that its egregious crimes lie beyond the concern of the world’s presumptive champion of freedom and democracy.

The U.S. must not do Kim’s bidding. Our extradition treaty with Spain provides for a refusal to extradite if we regard the offense in question as political. The North Korean Embassy breach surely was that, and the U.S. should seek to protect the dissidents rather than hand them over to Spain.
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To stand up to tyranny in the name of freedom is not only not a crime, but also a right and duty. The United States should not quash this hallowed principle.

Christopher Ahn has U.S. citizenship. Adrian Hong has a Mexican passport. Neither is from North Korea. How can they be 'dissidents'? If North Korean citizens who want to regime change the United States would violently raid a U.S. embassy in a third country would that also be a "political" act committed by "dissidents"? The argument is obviously nonsense.

But to depict the criminals as "political", "resistance" and "dissidents" serves a purpose. This week Kim Jong-un visited Russia and met President Vladimir Putin. They talked about the nuclear negotiations. The Washington Post headlined:

    Putin: Kim Jong Un needs international security guarantees to give up nuclear arsenal

Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from his first summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday saying that North Korea needs international security guarantees, not just U.S. pledges, to consider giving up its nuclear arsenal.
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“They [North Koreans] only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after the talks with Kim.

Security guarantees make of course sense. Without them North Korea will not disarm at all. But the U.S. is not-agreement-capable, say the Washington Post authors:

North Korea has pushed for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953, without a peace treaty. Kim also has denounced past U.S.-South Korea military exercises as a provocation.

Trump called off some war games and dangled the possibility of an end-of-war declaration in the future, but direct U.S. pledges of support for the Kim regime’s hold on power are highly improbable, experts say.

“Nobody is in a position to give them the security guarantees they would like to have,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “They want a guarantee not only against an outside attack but also against possible internal discontent. . . . On balance, it’s a non-starter.”

Kim Jong-un would not demand guarantees against genuine internal discontent. North Korea's security forces surely know how to handle such. What he likely wants is that the U.S. re-commits itself to international law and refrains from interference in the internal affairs of his country.

The creation and manipulation of "resistance" movements, like the Free Joseon group, is a typical U.S. 'regime change' instrument. Such a "resistance" is then used as a pretext for violent regime change by military force. It was the expat 'Iraqi National Congress' of Ahmed Chalabi that played a large role in the build up to the war on Iraq. Similar "resistance" support was and is used to argue for war on Libya, on Syria and -coming soon- on Venezuela.

Professor Sung-Yoon Lee asks to recognize the embassy raiders as "political resistance". Free Joseon already declared itself to be the "government in exile" of North Korea. What happens when the U.S. recognizes it as such?

It seems that what the Professor is really aiming at is 'regime change' in North Korea, if necessary by U.S. force.

Sung-Yoon Lee's professorship is named after Kim Koo, "a leader of the Korean independence movement against the Japanese Empire, and a reunification activist after 1945". Kim Koo was fiercely opposed to U.S. plans to establish a separate government in South Korea. He was assassinated in 1949 by Lieutenant Ahn Doo-hee, an agent of the U.S. Counter-Intelligence Corps in Korea and member of a far right extremist group.

One seriously doubts that Kim Koo would have lend his support to the scheme that Professor Sung-Yoon Lee peddles under his name.

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Earlier Moon of Alabama pieces on the issue:

Posted by b on April 26, 2019 at 18:05 UTC | Permalink | Comments (71)

April 25, 2019

Joe Biden Joins Crowded Primaries

Today we learned that this dude is again running for president.


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In his campaign launch video Joe Biden waxes about the "core values of America" but makes zero political proposals. He claims:

Our very democracy, everything that has made America, America, is at stake. That's why today I'm announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.

The last time Joe Biden attempted to run, he claimed that he was motivated by his son Beau's dying wish for him to become president. Biden 'leaked' that 'dying wish' himself and the details of the 'dying wish' story changed over time.

There are now 20 Democrats running in the primaries for the 2020 presidential election. Only a few of them have the potential to beat Trump.

Biden is not one of them. His biggest strength is that his well known. It is also his biggest weakness. Biden is beholden to Wall Street, supported the Iraq war resolution (vid) and the Ukrainian fascists. His speeches are full of platitudes and balderdash. Biden has no new political program. His sole point is get rid of President Trump.

There are number of 'new' Obama like Democrats running, Robert Francis O'Rourke, aka Beto, and Pete Buttigieg of whom we are warned. Another type are the known 'centrists' - Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar. There are also a number of nonames with no chances to win. Most of them fall into the centrist/bipartisan category.

Unfortunately the Democrats handed Trump the gift of Russiagate. For more than two years they fought him on those grounds. They lost the fight when the Mueller investigation absolved Trump. The false accusations against him will become a major campaign issue. Trump will use the issue to enrage his base. He will say that it was unjust to accuse him of being a Russian stooge. Many people will agree with him if only on that point.

The fight against Trump can not be won in the center. Turnout will be the key factor. Without strong progressive positions the turnout in the general election for any Democratic candidate will be too low to win.

Three candidates fit that corner.

Elizabeth Warren has good progressive ideas. Unfortunately her personality is as likable as Hillary Clinton's. She does not connect emotionally and is difficult to sell.

Bernie Sanders may well have the best chance to beat Trump on domestic policies. But he is no progressive on foreign policy issues.

Tulsi Gabbard has the best overall program but the media ignore her and the Democratic Party establishment is strongly against her. She has no chance to win the primaries.

A Sanders/Gabbard ticket in the general election is one I probably could support. Would it be strong enough to beat Trump?

Posted by b on April 25, 2019 at 18:04 UTC | Permalink | Comments (209)

April 24, 2019

End Of Sanction Waivers For Iran's Oil Will Hurt Trump's Voter Support

The U.S. is waging a total economic war on Iran:

The United States announced on April 22 it will no longer grant sanctions exemptions to eight countries, including Turkey.
...
"This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," the White House said in a statement.

"The Trump administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime's destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies and security in the Middle East," it said.
...
Eight governments were initially given six-month reprieves from the unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran. They were China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Iran currently exports about 1 million barrels of oil per day. The current exemptions from unilateral U.S. sanctions end on April 30. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are U.S. protectorates. They will do as told. Italy and Greece are less dependent and may show signs of resistance. India's reaction depends on the outcome of its current election. China will probably not adhere to the U.S. command. Turkey needs Iranian oil and gas. It can not without it within a reasonable time frame. Iraq is most dependent on Iranian oil and gas which it needs to generate electricity. No electricity during the hot summer would likely lead to riots.

The U.S. Secretary of State, "we lie, we cheat, we steal" (vid) Mike Pompeo, set out 12 demands to Iran which sum up to demanding a total capitulation. Iran will of course not fulfill any of them. It is the U.S. which, without reason, again raised hostility against the country. Given its geography and capabilities Iran has no reason to fear any U.S. aggression.

Iran's leader Ali Khamenei was not impressed by the sanction issue:

Speaking at a meeting with a large group of Iranian workers on Wednesday, Leader played down Washington’s recent decision to end exemptions from sanctions for countries buying oil from Tehran.

“In the first place, such attempts will lead nowhere, and we are capable of exporting as much oil as we need and want,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

The Leader warned that “this act of hostility will not go unanswered,” emphasizing that the Iranian nation “will not sit idly by” in the face of its enemies.

After it withdrew from the international nuclear deal with Iran, the Trump administration made eight requests to start new negotiations. All of these were rejected. As the Russian government says, the U.S. is "not-agreement-capable". The Iranian president has a similar view:

President Hassan Rouhani says Washington’s claims of seeking negotiations with Iran are “mere lies” and that the United States, in fact, intends to force the Iranian nation to its knees.

Contrary to what some are trying to promote, “the US does not possess the willingness for negotiations at all,” the president told a cabinet session in Tehran on Wednesday.
..
Rouhani said the US subversive measures against Iran have all failed on international, regional, and political arenas, and that its propagandist attempts targeting the Islamic Republic have all been defeated.

Washington has been and will likewise be frustrated in its anti-Iran economic drive, he added.

Some fear that the U.S. is preparing for war on Iran:

The Trump administration is laying siege to Iran. Taking pages from the Iraq War playbook, senior officials paint a picture of a rogue, outlaw, terrorist regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and whose “malign activities” are the cause of all the chaos in the Middle East. They know what they are doing. They have done it before. They are building a case for war.

The neoconservatives in the Trump administration may want to that. But it is not possible to wage war on Iran without causing a global depression.


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As the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy rightly points out, the Hormuz Strait, through which most Middle East energy exports flows, is under Iranian control:

"According to international law, the Strait of Hormuz is [an Iranian] waterway and we will close it [to other countries] in case we are banned from using it," the Iranian military commander said.

"In case of any threat, we will not hesitate to support and defend Iran's waters. We will defend our honor and will take reciprocal measures when it comes to protecting Iran's rights," he added.

While Iran will continue to sell some oil, the U.S. sanction threat will certainly reduce its customer base. Iran's economy will suffer, but the country will, as always, muddle through. It will also keep up its relations to the other members of its 'axis of resistance'. Hizbullah, Syria (and Iraq) will continue to receive support from Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are supposed to make up for the shortfall of oil in international markets. The Saudis were prepared for this when, a year ago, the Trump administration reintroduced oil sanctions on Iran. When it then announced that several countires would receive waivers,  the Saudis suddenly produced more than the market needed and the oil price dropped. They wowed at that time to not repeat that error. The Saudis also have to consider the OPEC quotas to which they and Russia agreed. Will they brake their quota or let the price rise? Trump is betting on the first. My guess is that he will lose that bet.

Gas prices in California are already at $4,70 per gallon. They will likely rise to $6,00 when the full sanctions against Iran set in while the Saudis sit back and appreciate their rising income.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the world’s biggest oil exporter sees no need to take immediate action in the crude market, signaling a cautious response to the U.S. decision to tighten sanctions on Iran.

Any unforeseen event, in Libya or elsewhere, that further constrains the global oil output, will make the costs unbearable for the U.S. consumer. The U.S. economy does not do well under high oil prices.

What is Trump going to do when he finds out that the rising prices, caused by the Zionist demand to subdue Iran, endanger his reelection?

Posted by b on April 24, 2019 at 12:47 UTC | Permalink | Comments (162)

April 21, 2019

Happy Easter

Easter echoes the older human festivities that celebrate the arrival of spring. The dark and cold days of winter are gone. The bright time of fertility has come.

Today's fertility symbols of Easter, the egg and the hare, relate to the old Germanic fertility goddess Eostre (Ostara).

The Christian resurrection of Jesus is probably a transformation of the story of Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess of love who stepped down into the underworld of death but was revived.

When the Christian belief spread from its eastern Mediterranean origin, the incorporation of old local gods and fables helped to convert the old multi-theistic societies to the new believe. The gods of the pre-Christian religions were not completely discarded, but their tales transformed to support the message the Christian preachers were spreading.

 


Faberge egg with spring flowers and music box - bigger - detail

A personal Easter ritual, inherited from my father, is to read out loud the Easter Walk from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's, Faust, Part I:

Look from this height whereon we find us
Back to the town we have left behind us,

Where from the dark and narrow door
Forth a motley multitude pour.

They sun themselves gladly and all are gay,
They celebrate Christ's resurrection to-day.

For have not they themselves arisen?
From smoky huts and hovels and stables,
From labor's bonds and traffic's prison,
From the confinement of roofs and gables,
From many a cramping street and alley,
From churches full of the old world's night,
All have come out to the day's broad light.
...
How it hums o'er the fields and clangs from the steeple!
This is the real heaven of the people,
Both great and little are merry and gay,
I am a man, too, I can be, to-day.

Happy Easter!

Posted by b on April 21, 2019 at 12:14 UTC | Permalink | Comments (99)

April 20, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-23

Note: Your host is traveling and visiting family. Posting throughout Easter will be light.

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

The piece and issue was picked up by several other blogs and outlets:

No children or ducks harmed by novichok, say health officials - Guardian

Wiltshire council clarification follows claims Donald Trump was shown images to contrary

New York Times Accidentally Unravels UK Government's Official Skripal Narrative - Sputnik
The Official Skripal Story is a Dead Duck - Craig Murray
Trump in Dumps as Spook Picks Sick Kids’n’Dead Duck Trick Pics - The Blogmire
Wie Großbritannien und CIA Donald Trump gegen Russland manipulierten - RT Deutsch
Hospitalized children & dead ducks? The ‘official’ Skripal narrative goes completely quackers - RT English

  • April 18 - First Thoughts On The Mueller Report Release
  • Still reading it. Mueller left out many important issues. The genesis of Russiagate is missing from the report as is any word on the falsehoods in the Steele dossier. The DNC "hack" is taken as fact even though the allegation of Russian involvement is solely based on the word of Crowdstrike, a company with well known anti-Russian bias hired by the DNC.

See also: Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators - The Hill
and Interview with George Papadopoulos (audio) - Michael Tracey

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A handy reference to counter the dozens of smears against Julian Assange:

Debunking All The Assange Smears - Caitlin Johnstone

Syria:

The war isn't over. Over the last days Syrian troops were attacked by ISIS remnants in desert and by Al-Qaeda fighters around Idleb. Dozens of soldiers died. There is also a fuel scarcety as U.S. sanctions interrupted oil and fuel supplies from Iran.

Two pieces on how the U.S. and its allies nurtured al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria:

A Brief History of the Destruction of Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria - William Van Wagenen
EXCLUSIVE: How CIA & allies helped jihadists in Syria - Interview with Maxime Chaix (Recommended)

Maxime Chaix, an expert on clandestine operations, intelligence and US foreign policy, is a journalist and regular contributor to GlobalGeoNews.com. He has written La guerre de l’ombre en Syrie (The Shadow War in Syria, published in French by Éditions Erick Bonnier), a shocker of a book in which he reveals insightful information on the support which several Western intelligence services provided to jihadist militias in Syria, starting with the CIA. His investigation reveals a multi-faceted state scandal and points out the murky game played by the Western powers and their Middle Eastern allies in the Levant.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 20, 2019 at 18:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (245)

April 19, 2019

Libya - U.S. Reveals Support For Hafter's Side

The situation on the ground in Libya has changed little since we last looked at it two weeks ago.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) troops of General Hafter attack the militias which support the UN recognized government in Tripoli from the south. The LNA still lacks forces for a larger break through. Several objects at the front changed hands several times. There are bloody skirmishes but no big fights. Those are still to come.


Map by South Front - bigger

Some people doubt that Hafter can be successful:

Analysts believe that Haftar over-estimates the strength of his LNA.

They say the controversial field marshal, who backs an administration rival to the GNA based in eastern Libya, was counting on a quick collapse of Tripoli militias.

But pro-GNA reinforcements from around Tripoli rushed to assist in driving back his forces.

It was never clear if Hafter really hoped that a lightning attack on Tripoli would achieve a fast victory, or if his sudden move was intended to rally support from outside. He is now certainly getting such support and that will be to his decisive advantage in the longer play.

As we described it:

Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.

The Muslim Brothers, supported by Turkey and Qatar, are still in play in Misrata but have otherwise lost their influence on the ground.

Since then the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia pledged tens of millions of dollars to support Hafter's move on Tripoli. During the last week Hafter visited President Sisi of Egypt.

Europe is disunited over the issue. Italy wants to keep its influence in its former colony Libya and its historical position in the Libyan oil industry. It is also concerned about a new wave of refugees. It supports the government in Tripoli. France is supporting Hafter with an eye on taking over some oil business. It is also concerned about Islamist activities in former French colonies west and south of Libya. With Italy and France in a clinch, the European Union only issued a weak statement that called for a stop of fighting without naming any side.

Concern over the militias which support the Tripoli government increased too. They not as harmless as many seem to have thought:

A week after an aspiring strongman launched a surprise attack on the Libyan capital, an assortment of criminal gangs and extremists are rushing into the fight against him, raising new questions for the United States and other Western powers that have condemned his attack.
...
But an increasingly unsavory cast has joined the coalition against him, including a group closely tied to a militia sanctioned as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations; an extremist warlord sanctioned for undermining Libya’s stability; and other militia leaders sanctioned for migrant trafficking. That mix so alarms Western powers that some may deem General Hifter the lesser evil.

Yesterday the U.S., which had said little when Hafter launched his assault on Tripoli, came out of the closet:

The United States and Russia both said Thursday they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time, diplomats said, as mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States gave no reason for its position on the draft resolution ...

Today we learn that Trump spoke with Hafter several days ago:

President Donald Trump spoke on Monday with a Libyan strongman whose forces are advancing on the nation’s capital, the White House said, in a move that may undermine support for the country’s internationally recognized government.
...
Trump discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya” with Haftar, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. Gidley called Haftar by the title “field marshal.”

“The president recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” Gidley said.

The key point for Trump is the oil price. His administration put sanctions on sales of Iranian and Venezuelan oil. Since the beginning of the year crude oil prices rallied from the low $50 per barrel to over $70 per barrel. Trump plans to reduce waivers he gave to some of the countries that continue to buy Iranian oil. That would further decrease Iran's output. Any additional disruption of Libya's oil production would increase the oil price and harm the U.S. economy. It would thereby make Trump's plan for total sanctions on Iranian oil impossible.

Hafter controls most of Libya's oil supplies. With open backing from the U.S., Russia and France, support from the military in Egypt, and with enough Saudi cash to finance his army, he surely has all the needed support to sustain a longer fight.

His next move will likely be against the small air force the Misrata gangs assembled. The U.S. might give him a helping hand in that. Hafter could then close down the airspace for flights from Turkey and Qatar. That would cut into the resupply Misrata and Tripoli need for a longer fight.

Those who say that "there is no military solution" to the situation in Libya will likely be proven wrong. Hafter has all he needs to win the fight.

Posted by b on April 19, 2019 at 17:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (84)

April 18, 2019

Security Breach At U.S. Embassies In Tunisia And Kuwait Almost Caused A Disaster

by L. W.

A U.S. security intelligence officer at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait said: "Kuwaiti authorities discovered 200 gram of C4 high explosive packed in a hole inside a book in a rucksack belonging to a U.S. Marine, minutes before the bag was to be placed on a U.S. civilian carrier flight with destination the U.S.  The airline and passengers were spared a real catastrophe."  This took place several days ago but US authorities declined to reveal the breach in security at two U.S. embassies, one in Tunisia and the other in Kuwait.

According to the source, who requested anonymity, an "investigation by U.S. intelligence personnel was carried out to find out the origins of the explosive and the responsibility of the soldier involved."

"The soldier, on duty in Tunisia, was supposed to be posted to a U.S. base in Kuwait. His belongings were sent from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, following the usual inspection, to the embassy in Kuwait. On the same day that his luggage was sent to Kuwait, he was asked to depart from Tunisia to the U.S. because the post in Kuwait was no longer available. By the time the transfer of the U.S. soldier to Kuwait was revoked his belongings were already in Kuwait and certainly had already been inspected by U.S. personnel", said the source.

When the US soldier’s posting was revoked, his belongings were supposed to follow back home. The U.S. embassy in Kuwait contacted a contracted private company to send the package to the U.S. on board of an American airline. A rapid inspection was carried out by the U.S. carrier during which the content was cleared for shipment.

The source confirmed that the belongings of the U.S. soldier were sealed in Tunisia and sent to Kuwait. The seal remained and the luggage was delivered as such to the contracted carrier who accepted it, among other goods, for shipping to the Kuwait airport on a scheduled day.

"At the airport, Kuwaiti security officers were doing their routine check for explosives when a bag set the monitor’s red-light beeping, signaling suspicious content.  Personnel from the U.S. embassy were called upon and asked to open the package. After meticulous inspection, 200 gram of highly explosive material, C4, were found encased in a book", said the source.

The source revealed that the soldier is not a Muslim. An interrogation carried out by U.S. authorities determined that the soldier was apparently not aware of the content of his package. The source refused to deliver further information about the investigation but said the breach is very serious and could have ended in disaster had the explosive been triggered.

No further information was disclosed. However, the source confirmed that 200 gram of C4 are enough to blow up an entire airplane in the air with all its passengers. According to the source, the US embassies in Tunisia and Kuwait have taken further security measures following this incident.

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Note by b:

L.W., the writer of the above, is a person I trust. S/he has the connections and sources needed for such a story. It is however difficult to verify.

Assuming that it is correct, who might be the most likely culprit?

Posted by b on April 18, 2019 at 20:14 UTC | Permalink | Comments (53)

First Thoughts On The Mueller Report Release

The report (pdf) by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is out. Russiagaters will now try to find any word in there that they could use to contradict the report's conclusion. While I intend to read the full report and to write about it, that will require more time.

For now we are left with the remarks of Attorney General William P. Barr on the release of the report:

As you know, one of the primary purposes of the Special Counsel’s investigation was to determine whether members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, or any individuals associated with that campaign, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. [..] As you will see, the Special Counsel’s report states that his “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Barr says that the Mueller report insists that Russia attempted to interfere in U.S. elections:

First, the report details efforts by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with close ties to the Russian government, to sow social discord among American voters through disinformation and social media operations.

How exactly was it established that the IRA intended to "sow social discord". Is there any IRA witness that said so? Any documents? No. It is a made up reasoning. The IRA activities were driven by commercial interests. To get as many page-views as possible IRA personnel posted memes on both sides of the political spectrum simply because that is where the viewership is. Just ask Foxnews or CNN. There was no political intent in the IRA's activity. To claim that it intended to "sow social discord" is baseless nonsense.

The claims by social networks that "Russians" did this or that are dubious. Twitter for example recently revised its count of "Russian trolls":

On Feb. 8, Twitter removed 228 accounts from the Russian IRA dataset because the social-media company now believes these accounts were operated by a different trolling network located in Venezuela. “We initially misidentified 228 accounts as connected to Russia,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, wrote in an online post. “As our investigations into their activity continued, we uncovered additional information allowing us to more confidently associate them with Venezuela.”
...
Twitter’s change to its data undercuts all of these analyses of the troll farm’s 2017 activity, Clemson researchers said. There was no surge in IRA Twitter activity in mid-2017, and the high-volume accounts that churned out links to ReportSecret were, in fact, being operated by a different, unknown group operating out of Venezuela, according to the updated data.

Twitter is reluctant to discuss how it connects accounts to trolling networks.

Twitter "is reluctant" because the company has simply no way to find that some real person driven account is a "troll". It is a completely subjective judgement.

Barr continues:

Second, the report details efforts by Russian military officials associated with the GRU to hack into computers and steal documents and emails from individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party and the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton for the purpose of eventually publicizing those emails.

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray as well as Julian Assange of Wikileaks were involved in the transfer and publishing of the DNC emails. They both publicly insisted that "Russia" was not involved in the recovering and transfer of these. Neither of them was questioned by the Mueller investigation.

The emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager Podesta were obtained via password fishing. Russian intelligence might have had a hand in that as might have other intelligence services. No proof has been presented yet to make that case. It may well be that the Mueller report provides some.

As for Wikileaks or Assange being culpable for publishing the pilfered emails Barr remarks:

Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.

Barr summarizes the Mueller finding on 'collusion':

After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.

Barr then talks about the Mueller finding about obstruction:

[T]he report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.

After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Trump said a lot on Twitter and elsewhere that led people to believe that he was obstructing the Mueller investigation. But as always with Trump (and other politicians) one has to differentiate between what Trump says and what action he takes. Publicly musing about firing Mueller or someone else is different from actually doing it. The first is free speech, the second might be obstruction.

As Barr points out:

[A]s the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

The case is closed. Neither was there a Trump campaign 'collusion' with anything Russia nor was there obstruction by the Trump administration.

Unfortunately Russiagaters will not give up on their conspiracy theories anytime soon.

They should. Trump's policies are bad. It is high time to get back to real politics and fight him were its is worth to do so.

Posted by b on April 18, 2019 at 16:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (107)

April 17, 2019

Open Thread 2019-22

News & views ...

Posted by b on April 17, 2019 at 17:06 UTC | Permalink | Comments (183)

April 16, 2019

CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump

CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump

An ass kissing portrait of Gina Haspel, torture queen and director of the CIA, reveals that she lied to Trump to push for more aggression against Russia.

In March 2018 the British government asserted, without providing any evidence, that the alleged 'Novichok' poisoning of Sergej and Yulia Skripal was the fault of Russia. It urged its allies to expel Russian officials from their countries.

The U.S. alone expelled 60 Russian officials. Trump was furious when he learned that EU countries expelled less than 60 in total. A year ago the Washington Post described the scene:

President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration’s plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.

The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies — part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

“We’ll match their numbers,” Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.”

The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.

The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.

The expulsion marked a turn in the Trump administration's relation with Russia:

The incident reflects a tension at the core of the Trump administration’s increasingly hard-nosed stance on Russia: The president instinctually opposes many of the punitive measures pushed by his Cabinet that have crippled his ability to forge a close relationship with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

The past month, in particular, has marked a major turning point in the administration’s stance, according to senior administration officials. There have been mass expulsions of Russian diplomats, sanctions on oligarchs that have bled billions of dollars from Russia’s already weak economy and, for the first time, a presidential tweet that criticized Putin by name for backing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Today the New York Times portraits Gina Haspel's relation with Trump. The writers seem sympathetic to her and the CIA's position. They include an anecdote of the Skripal expulsion decision that is supposed to let her shine in a good light. But it only proves that the CIA manipulated the president for its own purpose:

Last March, top national security officials gathered inside the White House to discuss with Mr. Trump how to respond to the nerve agent attack in Britain on Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian intelligence agent.

London was pushing for the White House to expel dozens of suspected Russian operatives, but Mr. Trump was skeptical.
...
During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the “strong option” was to expel 60 diplomats.

To persuade Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the conversation, officials including Ms. Haspel also tried to show him that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were not the only victims of Russia’s attack.

Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives.

Ms Haspel was not the first to use emotional images to appeal to the president, but pairing it with her hard-nosed realism proved effective: Mr. Trump fixated on the pictures of the sickened children and the dead ducks. At the end of the briefing, he embraced the strong option.

The Skripal case was widely covered and we followed it diligently (scroll down). There were no reports of any children affected by 'Novichok' nor were their any reports of dead ducks. In the official storyline the Skripals, before visiting a restaurant, fed bread to ducks at a pond in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury. They also gave duck-bread to three children to do the same. The children were examined and their blood was tested. No poison was found and none of them fell ill. No duck died. (The duck feeding episode also disproves the claim that the Skripals were poisoned by touching a door handle.)

If the NYT piece is correct, the CIA director, in cooperation with the British government, lied to Trump about the incident. Their aim was to sabotage Trump's announced policy of better relations with Russia. The ruse worked.

The NYT piece does not mention that the pictures Gina Haspel showed Trump were fake. It pretends that her lies were "new information" and that she was not out to manipulate him:

The outcome was an example, officials said, of how Ms. Haspel is one of the few people who can get Mr. Trump to shift position based on new information.

Co-workers and friends of Ms. Haspel push back on any notion that she is manipulating the president. She is instead trying to get him to listen and to protect the agency, according to former intelligence officials who know her.

The job of the CIA director is to serve the president, not to protect the agencies own policies. Hopefully Trump will hear about the anecdote, recognize how he was had, and fire Haspel. He should not stop there but also get rid of her protector who likely had a role in the game:

Ms. Haspel won the trust of Mr. Pompeo, however, and has stayed loyal to him. As a result, Mr. Trump sees Ms. Haspel as an extension of Mr. Pompeo, a view that has helped protect her, current and former intelligence officials said.

Posted by b on April 16, 2019 at 12:37 UTC | Permalink | Comments (137)

April 15, 2019

Notre Dame On Fire - Updated

Notre Dame, the 800 years old central cathedral of Paris, is on fire.


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Here are two short videos at the beginning of the fire 1 2. The second one shows scaffolding around the 90 meter high spire above the middle of the church.

The fire began at about 19:00 local time (17:00 utc , 1:00 PM blogtime).

Church roof fires are notorious for being uncontrollable. The whole roof is likely to come down into the church and burn whatever flammable it finds inside.

Let's hope that the beautiful windows survive.


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My sincere condolences to France over this huge loss.

(Update 1:30 PM)

This video was shot some 15 minutes after the pictures and videos above. Half of the roof is already burning.


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(end update)

(update 2:00 PM) Video of the spire falling down. (end update)

(update April 16, 5:00 AM)

The fire during the night. Firefighters prevented the fire from extending into the towers.


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Despite the large fire above and the immense load only two smaller parts of the vault came down. The fire extension within the church was limited.


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At least one of the beautiful windows (diameter 12.5 meters) survived.


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The large organ is also said to be intact.

For long years the French state which owns the cathredal and the church which leases it haggled about the costs to renovate the crumbling cathedral. Now donations of hundreds of millions are flowing in. This fire may - end the end - have done something for the church that other powers cold not do.

(end update)

Some joker on Wikipedia changed the "Functional Status" of the church to "On Fire".

(We probably can't blame the neocon Géraud Araud for this but how about Macron?)

Posted by b on April 15, 2019 at 17:28 UTC | Permalink | Comments (196)

April 14, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-21

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

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The Washington Post again laments that the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela failed:

Venezuela’s military, despite U.S. expectations, has not turned on Maduro

Nearly three months later, Venezuela’s top-heavy military remains largely intact under President Nicolás Maduro. The once-brisk pace of defections to neighboring Colombia has slowed to a trickle. Fewer than 1,500 Venezuelan soldiers, relieved by the Colombian government of their weapons and uniforms and housed in sparsely furnished hotel rooms near the border, now sit waiting for something to happen.

The idea that the Venezuelan army would defect was always crazy. Anyone with a bit of knowledge of Venezuela could predict that it would never do so. Reports of lonely soldiers isolated in fourth class hotels in Columbia will not incite any further defections. While the random opposition guy promised amnesty for any soldier moving to his site, the U.S. seeks to arrest one of the few who did:

Venezuela’s ex-spy chief arrested in Madrid on US warrant

Venezuela’s longtime spy chief was arrested Friday in Madrid by Spanish police acting on a U.S. drug warrant a few weeks after he threw his support behind opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.
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The opposition saw Carvajal’s criticism of Venezuela’s socialist government as a stimulus to prod other military figures to defect, but the country’s armed forces have remained largely loyal to current Maduro.

With the situaton stalled the U.S. is ramping up talk of a military attack on Venezuela:

US Military Attack on Venezuela Mulled by Top Trump Advisors and Latin American Officials at Private DC Meeting

EXCLUSIVE: Away from the public eye, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank hosted a top-level, off-the-record meeting to explore US military options against Venezuela.

Such talks are poor attempts to create some psychological pressure. There are no sound military options. The U.S. is not going to invade Venezuela. It will ramp up sanctions and press its 'allies' to do the same. Venezuela and its people will suffer but they will not give up on resisting U.S. pressure. The current situation will only resolve itself when the regime in Washington or in one of Venezuela's neighboring countries changes.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on April 14, 2019 at 17:00 UTC | Permalink | Comments (151)

Why Is Europe Trying To Sabotage Iran's Nuclear Deal? - (Updated)

Updated below
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The Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), limits Iran's nuclear activities for 15 years. After that period Iran would still be bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Additional Protocol. But Iran would be free to produce enriched Uranium for its nuclear reactors.

In October 2017 the U.S. left the treaty and reintroduced economic sanctions against Iran. But the European signatories, France, Britain and Germany, said they would stick to the deal. Gérard Araud, France's ambassador to the United States, tweeted around that time:

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:25 utc - 8 Sep 2017

France doesn't support any reopening of JCPOA which should be implemented as it is.

France and Germany created a complicate structure to allow some commercial dealing with Iran while escaping secondary U.S. sanction threats. Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei called the construct "a joke" as it will hardly allow any serious trade.

Last week Germany, Britain and France also stepped up nagging Iran about its ballistic missile programs. Iran harshly rejects (vid, recommended) any such criticism. It has long voluntarily limited the range of its missiles to 2,000 kilometer. As it has no modern air force, missiles are its only means to hold its enemies' assets in the Middle East at risk. It will never give up on them.

Iran sticks to its side of the JCPOA deal. It limits its nuclear activities while allowing the IAEA full access to inspect the country. With U.S. sanctions piling up while the Europeans are unwilling to support regular commercial exchange and waffle about Iran's ballistic missiles, it becomes more and more difficult for Iranian politicians to justify the deal. If the U.S. and the EU do not stick to their side of the deal why should Iran do so?

The Europeans continue to drag their feet. Last week the Royal Mail in Britain said that it would no longer accept parcels to Iran. No sound reason was given. Yesterday Gérard Araud, who in 2017 defended the nuclear deal, set out to put it under doubt:

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:10 utc - 13 Apr 2019

It’s false to say that at the expiration of the JCPOA, Iran will be allowed to enriching uranium. Under the NPT and its additional protocol, it will have to prove, under strict monitoring, that its nuclear activities are civilian.

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:17 utc - 13 Apr 2019

As we said in 2002 that enriching uranium without a credible civilian program was illegal under the NPT, we’ll be able to react likewise in 2025 if necessary. Sanctions were imposed. Sanctions could be reimposed. There is no “sunset” after the JCPOA.

Gérard Araud @GerardAraud - 19:20 utc - 13 Apr 2019

Russia is providing enriched uranium to the Busheer nuclear power plant. So there won’t be any conceivable reason for Iran to massively enriching uranium after the JCPOA.

Germany should stop to build the Nord Stream II pipeline because it is supposedly dangerous to depend on gas imports from Russia. But Iran should trust Russia with providing Uranium for its nuclear plants? Why is Germany allowed to enrich Uranium for its nuclear plants? Russia could surely provide that too.

After the 15 year moratorium under the JCPOA ends, Iran is of course free to produce its own Uranium for its own nuclear plants. There is nothing in international laws that demands that Iran continues to buy it from Russia. Araud's statement makes no sense.

This morning Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister replied to Araud:

Seyed Abbas Araghchi @araghchi - 9:02 utc - 14 Apr 2019

If tweets by @GerardAraud represent French position, we're facing a major violation of the object and purpose of the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231. Needs immediate clarification by Paris, or we act accordingly.

It seems that Germany, Britain and France are inclined to make it increasingly difficult for Iran to stick to the JCPOA deal. They are playing into the hands of the neoconservative hawks in the U.S. who want Iran to exit the deal to then claim to have reason to attack it.

Like with the war on Syria it would be the Europeans that would suffer from any U.S. conflict with Iran. Why are they playing this game?

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Update 1:20 PM EST

It seems that Gérard Araud got an urgent call fome the Quai d'Orsay or Palace Elysée and was told to delete his tweets:

Mohammad Ali Shabani @mashabani - 15:46 utc - 14 Apr 2019

French ambo to US (recently retired) removed tweets reneging on pillars of JCPOA and implying reimposition of sanctions if Iran expands enrichment (as permitted under JCPOA) post-2025.

Here's to hoping for a new French approach to Iran. Current one is a sinking ship.

Unbeknownst to me Araud indeed retired. His far-well party was on April 3. His twitter bio though still has him as current ambassador.

Why then would he tweet that? Was the content correct but published prematurely? Or were those tweets his application to some well paid position in this or that hawkish think tank?

Posted by b on April 14, 2019 at 14:04 UTC | Permalink | Comments (53)

April 13, 2019

CIA's Vault 7 Files Launched New Case Against Assange - Attack Intends To Prevent Further Leaks

After the arrest of Julian Assange by British police and the unsealing of the U.S. indictment against him, the question is why is the U.S. doing this and why now?

The indictment alleges that Assange 'conspired' with Chelsea Manning by giving support to her attempt to find a password to an account that would have allowed her to conceal her pilfering of U.S. documents. Glenn Greenwald argues that the case is quite thin and clearly an attack on press freedom. That a reporter or editor has to help a source to conceal its identity is part of the job description.

The Obama administration, not known for reluctance to go after whistleblowers, had already weighed the 'conspired' case and decided against prosecuting it.

It is thus likely that the case, as unsealed now, is only a pretext to extradite Assange from Britain. The real case will only get unsealed if and when Assange is in U.S. custody.

National security reporter William Arkin, who left NBC News over its warmongering, is likely right when he writes that the issue behind this is Wikileaks' publishing of the CIA's hacking tools known as Vault 7.

While the publishing of the Vault 7 files received little coverage in the media, it seriously damaged the CIA's capabilities. Arkin wrote on April 11 about the Vault 7 connection. The Guardian and the Daily Beast were offered the piece but declined to publish it:

The American case, which shifted completely in March 2017, is based up WikiLeaks’ publications of the so-called “Vault 7” documents, an extensive set of cyber espionage secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Vault 7 was little noticed in the emerging Russian collusion scandal of the new Trump administration, but the nearly 10,000 CIA documents that WikiLeaks started publishing that March constituted an unprecedented breach, far more potentially damaging than anything the anti-secrecy website had ever done, according to numerous U.S. officials.

“There have been serious compromises – Manning and Snowden included – but until 2017, no one had laid a glove on the Agency in decades,” says a senior intelligence official who has been directly involved in the damage assessments.

“Then came Vault 7, almost the entire archive of the CIA’s own hacking group,” the official says. “The CIA went ballistic at the breach.” The official is referring to a little known CIA organization called the Center for Cyber Intelligence, a then unknown counterpart to the National Security Agency, and one that conducts and oversees the covert hacking efforts of the U.S. government.

Wikileaks acquired the Vault 7 files in late 2016 or early 2017. In January 2017 a lawyer for Julian Assange tried to make a deal with the U.S. government. Assange would refrain from publishing some critical content of the Vault 7 files in exchange for limited immunity and safe passage to talk with U.S. officials. One issue to be talked about was the sourcing of the DNC files which Wikileaks published. U.S. officials in the anti-Trump camp claimed that Russia had hacked the DNC servers. Assange consistently said that Russia was not the source of the published files. He offered technical evidence to prove that.

On March 23 2017 Wikileaks published some Vault 7 files of minor interest.

The Justice Department wanted a deal and made on offer to Assange. But intervention from then FBI director Comey sabotaged it:

Multiple sources tell me the FBI’s counterintelligence team was aware and engaged in the Justice Department’s strategy but could not explain what motivated Comey to send a different message around the negotiations ...

With the deal seemingly in jeopardy Wikileaks published the CIA's Vault 7 files of "Marble Framework" and "Grasshopper". These CIA tools systematically changed its sniffing tools to make them look "Russian" or "Iranian" by inserting foreign language strings into their source code. The publication proved that the attribution of the DNC pilfering and other "hacks" to Russia was nonsense. The publishing of these files ended all negotiations:

On April 7, 2017, Assange released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks. It had immediate impact: A furious U.S. government backed out of the negotiations, and then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo slammed WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

The alleged leaker of the Vault 7 files, one Joshua Schulte, is in U.S. custody but still has not had his day in court. It is likely that the U.S. wants to offer him a deal should he agree to testify against Assange.

In another piece Arkin expands on his first take by setting the case into a wider context:

[C]oming on the heels of massive leaks by Edward Snowden and a group called the Shadow Brokers just months earlier, and given the notoriety WikiLeaks had earned, Vault 7 was the straw that broke the governmental back. Not only was it an unprecedented penetration of the CIA, an organization that had evaded any breach of this type since the 1970’s, but it showed that all of the efforts of the U.S. government after Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden had failed to either deter or catch “millennial leakers.”

The targeting of Assange is not only for revenge, though revenge is surely part of the motive. The wider aim is to shut down on leaking:

The thinking of government officials – current and former – that I’ve talked to is that shutting down WikiLeaks once and for all – or at least separating it from the mainstream media to make it less attractive as a recipient of U.S. government secrets, will at least be one step towards greater internal security.

Assange will first be sentenced in Britain for jumping bail. He will be convicted to some six months of jail. Only after that time will the legal fight about the extradition to the States begin. It may take up to three years.

Assange's greatest hope to escape an extradition is a change of government in Britain:

Jeremy Corbyn @jeremycorbyn - 19:34 utc - 11 Apr 2019

The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.

The time it will take for the extradition case to move through British and EU courts is likely long enough for Labour to win a general election. With Jeremy Corbyn in charge Assange would likely be safe. It is one more reason for the transatlantic establishment to prevent a Corbyn win by all means available to it.

Posted by b on April 13, 2019 at 18:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (121)

April 11, 2019

Met Police Arrests Julian Assange

An hour ago the Metropolitan Police arrested Julian Assange, the publisher and editor of Wikileaks, in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. RT has video of the arrest from outside the embassy.

A police statement said:

Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Met Police (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador, Hans Crescent, SW1 on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court.

The MPS had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster Magistrates' Court, and was invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum.

He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible.

This was inevitable.

Ecuador has a new government that asked to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. conditioned its agreement to the loan on the lifting of the asylum for Assange which the previous Ecuadorian government had granted to him.

After some legal hustle in the Britain, which will take time, Assange will likely be extradited to the United States where the Justice Department holds at least one warrant against him.

Wikileaks was the media outlet for several embarrassing leaks of secret U.S. government papers. It is unclear for which of these publications the Justice Department will indict him.

But the case against Assange is not about justice. His publication of state secrets was obviously an act of journalism and free speech. But the deep state was embarrassed and demands revenge.

The best Assange can hope for, after the judicial process ran its course, is a pardon by the president of the United States.

Posted by b on April 11, 2019 at 10:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (408)