Saturday, July 01, 2017

So, the NYT Can Climb Down (it just takes a long time)

NYT Finally Retracts Russia-gate Canard

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

June 29, 2017

Updated on July 1 (with new NYT deception)

The New York Times has finally admitted that one of the favorite Russia-gate canards – that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred on the assessment of Russian hacking of Democratic emails – is false.

New York Times building in New York City

On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.

In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

Clapper further acknowledged that the analysts who produced the Jan. 6 assessment on alleged Russian hacking were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.

Politicized Intelligence

In the history of U.S. intelligence, we have seen how this selective approach has worked, such as the phony determination of the Reagan administration pinning the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and other acts of terror on the Soviet Union.

CIA Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates shepherded the desired findings through the process by putting the assessment under the control of pliable analysts and sidelining those who objected to this politicization of intelligence.

The point of enlisting the broader intelligence community – and incorporating dissents into a final report – is to guard against such “stove-piping” of intelligence that delivers the politically desired result but ultimately distorts reality.

Another painful example of politicized intelligence was President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD that removed State Department and other dissents from the declassified version that was given to the public.

Since Clapper’s and Brennan’s testimony in May, the Times and other mainstream news outlets have avoided a direct contradiction of their earlier acceptance of the 17-intelligence-agencies canard by simply referring to a judgment by “the intelligence community.”

That finessing of their earlier errors has allowed Hillary Clinton and other senior Democrats to continue referencing this fictional consensus without challenge, at least in the mainstream media.

For instance, on May 31 at a technology conference in California, Clinton referred to the Jan. 6 report, asserting that “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election.”

The failure of the major news organizations to clarify this point about the 17 agencies may have contributed to Haberman’s mistake on June 25 as she simply repeated the groupthink that nearly all the Important People in Washington just knew to be true.

Even after the correction, the Times quickly returned to its pattern of deceiving its readers regarding the U.S. intelligence assessment. On June 30, a Times article reported: “Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the unanimous conclusion of United States intelligence agencies that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 race.”

The phrasing “unanimous conclusion” again suggests that all 17 intelligence agencies are in accord, albeit without specifically saying so, a journalistic sleight of hand that raises further doubts about the objectivity and honesty of the Times on this issue.

The Times’ belated correction — and its new deceptive formulation — underscore the growing sense that the U.S. mainstream media has joined in a political vendetta against Trump and has cast aside professional standards to the point of repeating false claims designed to denigrate him.

That, in turn, plays into Trump’s Twitter complaints that he and his administration are the targets of a “witch hunt” led by the “fake news” media, a grievance that appears to be energizing his supporters and could discredit whatever ongoing investigations eventually conclude.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Retrenchment or Retreat: What's Behind US Abandonment of al-Tanaf?

U.S. Retreats From Al-Tanf - Gives Up On Occupying South East Syria

by Moon of Alabama

June 29, 2017

The U.S. is giving up its hopeless position at the Syrian-Iraq border crossing near al-Tanf in south east Syria. The U.S. military had earlier bombed Syrian forces when they came near that position but it then found itself outmaneuvered, cut off from the north and enclosed in a useless area.

Al-Tanf is in the blue area with the two blue arrows at the bottom of the map. It will soon be painted red as liberated and under Syrian government control.

Source: Al Watan Online - bigger

A more expressive version of the map:

Source: Doloroso

To recap:
The U.S. plan was to move from al-Tanf north towards the Euphrates river and to thereby capture and control the whole south-east of Syria. But Syria and its allies made an unexpected move and prevented that plan. The invaders are now cut off from the Euphrates by a Syrian west-to-east line that ends at the Iraqi border. On the Iraqi side elements of the Popular Military Unites under the command of the Iraqi government are moving to meet the Syrian forces at the border.

The U.S. invaders are now sitting in the mid of a piece of rather useless desert around al-Tanf where their only option is to die of boredom or to move back to Jordan from where they came.

Syria Summary - The End Of The War Is Now In Sight - June 13

The U.S. military even moved a HIMARS missile launcher with 300 km reach from nearby Jordan to al-Tanf. That was a laughable stunt. It made no difference in capabilities from the earlier launcher position in Jordan just a few miles west. But someone the U.S. military believed that showing off such weapons in a doomed area would impress Syrian or Russian forces and change the facts of life. It didn't. It was clear that the U.S. would have to move out.

That now seems to happen. A knowledgeable source just posted:
TØM CΛT‏ @TomtheBasedCat - 3:38 PM - 29 Jun 2017

Evidently Tanf FSA really are being flown to Shaddadi. Plan C is in effect.

There were several rumors to this regard since yesterday and the above now confirms them. Lol indeed.

About 150 or so U.S. trained Arab fighters will be flown from al-Tanf to north-east Syria where they will join the (hated) Kurdish forces. They may later try to reach the ISIS besieged Deir Ezzor from the north or get pushed into some suicide mission against another ISIS position. The Syrian army will approach and liberate Deir Ezzor most likely from the south and east. It is unlikely that it will let U,S. proxy forces take part in that. The U.S. contingent will move west out of al-Tanf and back into Jordan. The Syrian and Iraqi forces will take over the Al Waleed border crossing at al-Tanf and the regular commercial traffic on the Damascus-Baghdad road will resume.

The various propagandists who argued for a big U.S. mission to occupy the whole Iraqi-Syrian border and all of east Syria have lost. The "Shia crescent" between Iran and Lebanon they claimed to prevent with such a move was never a physical road connection and certainly nothing the U.S could fight by any physical means. Their pushing for a U.S. occupation of east Syria and incitement of a larger conflict has for now failed.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Gagging the Messenger: Hersh's Syria Revelations Paint a Target on Him

Media’s propaganda war on Syria in full flow 

by Jonathan Cook

30 June 2017

If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and docile, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.

These two stories, given such prominence in the western media, are clearly intended to serve as “spoilers” to his revelations, even though none of these publications have actually informed their readers of his original investigation. We are firmly in looking-glass territory.

So what did Hersh’s investigation reveal? His sources in the US intelligence establishment – people who have helped him break some of the most important stories of the past few decades, from the Mai Lai massacre by American soldiers during the Vietnam war to US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 – told him the official narrative that Syria’s Bashar Assad had dropped deadly sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was incorrect. Instead, they said, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on a meeting of jihadi fighters that triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot, releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals that killed civilians nearby.

It is an alternative narrative of these events that one might have assumed would be of intense interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative. Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers.

But, in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag.

There are a couple of possible, even if highly improbable, reasons all English-language publications ignored Hersh’s story. Maybe they had evidence that his inside intelligence was wrong. If so, they have yet to provide it. A rebuttal would require acknowledging Hersh’s story, and none seem willing to do that.

Or maybe the media thought it was old news and would no longer interest their readers. It would be difficult to sustain such an interpretation, but at least it has an air of plausibility – except for everything that has happened since Hersh published last Sunday.

His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection. That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed.

The first spoiler, made in the immediate wake of Hersh’s story, were statements from the Pentagon and White House warning that the US had evidence Assad was planning yet another chemical attack on his people and that Washington would respond extremely harshly if he did so.

Here is how the Guardian reported the US threats:

The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would ‘pay a heavy price’ for further use of the weapons.

And then on Friday, the second spoiler emerged. Two unnamed diplomats “confirmed” that a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had found that some of the victims from Khan Sheikhoun showed signs of poisoning by sarin or sarin-like substances.

There are obvious reasons to be mightily suspicious of these stories. The findings of the OPCW were already known and had been discussed for some time – there was absolutely nothing newsworthy about them.

There are also well-known problems with the findings. There was no “chain of custody” – neutral oversight – of the bodies that were presented to the organisation in Turkey. Any number of interested parties could have contaminated the bodies before they reached the OPCW. For that reason, the OPCW has not concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the traces of sarin. In the world of real news, only such a finding – that Assad was responsible – should have made the OPCW report interesting again to the media.

Similarly, by going public with their threats against Assad, the Pentagon and White House did not increase the deterrence on Assad, making it less likely he would use gas in the future. That could have been achieved much more effectively with private warnings to the Russians, who have massive leverage over Assad. These new warnings were meant not for Assad but for western publics, to bolster the official narrative that Hersh’s investigation had thrown into doubt.

In fact, the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.

But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.

No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.

Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.


For those who believe there are technical grounds for doubting Hersh’s account, I recommend this examination of the evidence (and the troubling lack of it) by Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq and an undoubted expert on chemical weapons.
Ex-Weapons Inspector: Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Trudeau Declares Open-Ended Cyberwar

Canada’s Liberal government expands spy agencies’ powers in “reform” of Harper’s Bill C-51

by Roger Jordan  - WSWS

23 June 2017

The Liberal government has tabled legislation to amend Bill C-51, the draconian law Stephen Harper’s Conservative government passed in 2015 in the name of fighting terrorism. 

Bill C-51 provoked widespread opposition, with even the Globe and Mail, the traditional voice of Canada’s financial elite, condemning it as a “police state” measure.

The Liberals promised to “reform” Bill C-51 during the 2015 election campaign. But, barring a few cosmetic changes, the Liberals’ “National Security Act, 2017” (Bill C-59) retains all of Bill C-51’s attacks on fundamental democratic rights, while handing Canada’s spy agencies significant new powers.

Bill C-59, like Bill C-51, empowers Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country’s primary domestic spy service, to actively “disrupt” alleged threats to national security and, if necessary, to use illegal means to do so.

Prior to 2015, CSIS’s mandate was limited to gathering information on targeted groups and individuals. The Liberals’ bill places slightly tighter restrictions on CSIS’s disruption powers, including by providing a list of “permitted” illegal acts. Permitted acts include: restricting people’s movements, disrupting communications and financial transactions, and damaging property, as long as the damage does not endanger life or cause bodily harm.

Bill C-59’s stipulation that CSIS obtain a judge’s approval for any action it plans to undertake that will violate a right contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is worthless. The approval process will take place in secret courts, with no ability for anyone, including so-called “special advocates,” to act on behalf of the targets. Moreover, the decisions of these courts, including even the names of those targeted for “disruption,” will be forever sealed.

Thus a body of secret national security law will be created to which the public will have no access, let alone the right and ability to challenge. Given the intelligence agencies’ record of systematically lying to the courts, Canadians should have little confidence that the judges engaged in such hearings will even be presented with all of the facts.

Bill C-59 grants new offensive capabilities to Canada’s signals intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE). CSE operatives will henceforth be authorized to wage offensive cyberwar attacks on foreign targets, including foreign states’ computer infrastructure and communications networks. This could include deleting or corrupting data, and planting malware on phones or other devices. CSE’s mandate has also been expanded so as to integrate its operations even more closely with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

The aggressive intent of these measures was made clear by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s presence at the press conference at which the government unveiled Bill C-59. Earlier this month, Sajjan announced new funding for CAF cyberwarfare capabilities as part of the Liberals’ new defence policy. Under that policy, the government will hike military spending by 70 percent over the next decade to $32.7 billion and will expand military-security cooperation with Washington, including through the US National Security Agency-led “Five Eyes” electronic spying and cyberwar alliance.

Even some bourgeois commentators, such as the Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark, admit that Bill C-59 does not reduce the powers or reach of the national-security apparatus. “Canadian spy agencies,” wrote Clark, “aren’t really seeing their powers trimmed, not even the new powers they obtained under the Conservative anti-terror law.”

Under the Liberals’ “reform” of Bill C-51, the security agencies will have virtually unrestricted access to personal information collected by other government agencies. Bill C-59 also upholds the “national security certificate” mechanism under which “named” non-Canadian citizens can be arrested and detained indefinitely without the right to see and contest any of the evidence against them. It also retains “peace bonds,” under which terrorism suspects can be detained or have restrictions imposed on their activities without being charged with any crime.

These moves are in keeping with the record of the Liberal Party, which was the chief architect of the antidemocratic measures, including unprecedented attacks on the presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent, adopted in the wake of 9/11.

In 2015, Trudeau’s Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-51, claiming that they would repeal some of its provisions when they took power. Bill C-59 makes clear that such pledges were nothing more than electoral posturing aimed at capitalizing on public opposition to Bill C-51.

Bill C-59 in fact expands CSIS’s power to store and analyze electronic data. Last year, a federal court ruled that the intelligence agency had broken the law by retaining data from Canadians who were not suspected of any crime. The new Liberal legislation specifically allows CSIS to make use of the information it obtains, in the course of its investigations, on people not suspected or accused of any wrongdoing. This outrageous attack on privacy rights is being justified as a necessary response to recent technological advances.

The corporate media and several security and legal experts who were prominent critics of Bill C-51 are lauding the new civilian review mechanisms the Liberals are creating, claiming that they can be relied on to ensure the security-intelligence agencies do not violate Canadians’ democratic rights.

In truth these mechanisms are nothing more than a fig leaf, aimed at providing the intelligence agencies with a legal-constitutional cover to spy on opponents of the government and big business—environmentalists, native organizations, leftist and antiwar groups, and above all the working class.

Like the CSIS Security and Intelligence Review Committee, which it will replace, the new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency will be staffed with carefully vetted representatives of the ruling class. They will review intelligence operations only after the fact and submit their findings to the government, not the public.

Bill C-59 also provides for a Security and Intelligence Commissioner, who will be drawn from the ranks of the judiciary. While the Commissioner is being publicly touted as a “watchdog,” in reality his task will be to work with the security agencies to establish legal cover for their operations, including CSIS “disruption” campaigns. One of the Commissioner’s chief functions will be to provide “pre-operation” approvals for their more intrusive and potentially politically contentious activities.

Under a separate piece of legislation, the Liberals are creating a parliamentary oversight committee, whose members will be barred from reporting to the public on any illegal activities they uncover. Moreover, the government has wide powers to withhold information from this committee, including on all ongoing security-intelligence operations.

These review structures will only bring Canadian practice more in line with that in the United States, Britain and Australia—all countries that, regardless of the parliamentary and other review mechanisms in place, have witnessed a massive onslaught on democratic rights over the past two decades in the name of the fraudulent “war on terror.”

The Liberals’ defence of Canada’s burgeoning national security apparatus is intimately bound up with their determination to pursue an aggressive, imperialist foreign policy. Bill C-59 was introduced just two weeks after Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a keynote foreign policy address in which she vowed that “hard power,” i.e. war, must be a central part of Canada’s foreign policy. She pledged that Canada will deepen its strategic partnership with US imperialism, while working to uphold multilateral imperialist alliances like NATO.

Freeland’s speech was followed the next day by Sajjan’s defence policy announcement, which included funds for an expanded fleet of fighter jets, fifteen new warships, the purchase of armed drones, and the recruitment of 5,000 additional military personnel.

Such policies, which go hand in hand with a never-ending assault on the social position of the working class, cannot be implemented democratically.

The Trudeau government is well aware of the deep-seated popular hostility to the Canadian ruling elite’s program of austerity and war. That is why it seeks to camouflage its true aims with phoney “human rights” rhetoric and claims it is pursuing a “feminist foreign policy.”

But as such propaganda increasingly falls flat, the Liberals will increasingly be forced to resort to outright state repression. Bill C-59 makes clear that the Liberals, no less than the Conservatives, are determined to expand the vast spying apparatus at the disposal of the Canadian capitalist state so as to suppress working-class opposition.

Criticism of the Liberals’ bill among the political establishment has been muted. Predictably, the Conservatives denounced the government for “disarming” the intelligence agencies. The New Democrats (NDP), who voted against Bill C-51, complained that the Liberals had broken their election promises and not gone far enough in repealing its antidemocratic provisions.

But the NDP has had nothing to say about the broader ruling-class assault on democratic rights since 9/11, of which Bill C-51 was only one element, or the Liberals’ determination to make aggression and war the centerpiece of Canada’s foreign policy. The New Democrats’ tepid opposition to Bill C-59 reflects their loyalty to the Canadian capitalist elite and its global imperialist interests.

"Reckless Exploit" - Mexico's Tech. Warfare Against Journalists (and their children)

Mexico Wages Cyber Warfare Against Journalists, and their minor children

by Ronald Deibert - Citizen Lab

June 19, 2017  

For years, Citizen Lab has been sounding alarms about the abuse of commercial spyware. We have produced extensive evidence showing how surveillance technology, allegedly restricted to government agencies for criminal, terrorism, and national security investigations, ends up being deployed against civil society.

Today’s report not only adds to the mountain of such evidence, it details perhaps the most flagrant and disturbing example of the abuse of commercial spyware we have yet encountered.

Working with Mexican civil society partners R3D, Social Tic, and Article 19, our team — led by John Scott Railton — identified more than 75 SMS messages sent to the phones of 12 individuals, most of whom are journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. 10 are Mexican, one was a minor child at the time of targeting, and one is a US citizen.

These SMS messages contained links to the exploit infrastructure of a secretive Israeli cyber warfare company, NSO Group. Had they been clicked on, the links would activate exploits of what were, at the time, undisclosed software vulnerabilities in the targets’ Android or iPhone devices. Known in NSO Group’s marketing as “Pegasus”, this exploit infrastructure allows operators to surreptitiously monitor every aspect of a target’s device: turn on the camera, capture ambient sounds, intercept or spoof emails and text messages, circumvent end-to-end encryption, and track movements.

We first encountered NSO Group in August 2016 when UAE human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor shared with Citizen Lab researchers suspicious SMS messages he received containing links to NSO infrastructure. When we published our report on Mansoor, we had some evidence of targeting in Mexico that subsequently led to a follow-up report earlier this year on the use of NSO’s surveillance technology to target Mexican health advocates and food scientists.

The targeting we outline in our latest report, which runs from January 2015 to August 2016, involves a much wider campaign. It includes 12 individuals who share a common trait: investigations into Mexican government corruption, forced disappearances, or other human rights abuses. All of the individuals who cooperated in our research consented to be named in the report. The August 2016 endpoint coincides with the time of our disclosure to Apple about NSO’s exploits, which led to the shutdown of NSO’s infrastructure (or at least that particular phase of it).

Among the noteworthy aspects of this latest case are the persistent and brazen attempts by the operators to trick recipients into clicking on links. Each of the targets received a barrage of SMS messages that included crude sexual taunts, alleged pictures of inappropriate, threatening, or suspicious behavior, and other ruses. Many received fake AMBER Alert notices about child abductions as well as fake communications from the US Embassy in Mexico.

What is most disturbing is that the minor child of one of the targets — Emilio Aristegui, son of journalist Carmen Aristegui — received at least 22 SMS messages from the operators while he was attending school in the United States. Presumably these attempts to infect Emilio’s phone were intended as a backdoor to his mother’s phone. But it is also possible the operators had a more sinister motivation. The attempts to infect both Carmen and Emilio took place at the same time Carmen Aristegui was investigating a major corruption scandal involving the President of Mexico.

Our report makes it clear that the NSO Group, like competitor companies Hacking Team and FinFisher, is unable or unwilling to control the abuse of its products. Time and again, companies like these, when presented with evidence of abuse, effectively pass the buck, claiming that they only sell to “government agencies” to use their products for criminal, counterintelligence, or anti-terrorism purposes. The problem is that many of those government clients are corrupt and lack proper oversight; what constitutes a “crime” for officials and powerful elites can include any activity that challenges their position of power — especially investigative journalism.

Mexico is a case in point. Ranked by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit as a “flawed democracy”, Mexico’s government agencies are riven with corruption. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist not only because of violence related to the drug cartels but also because of threats from government officials. As Reporters Without Borders notes,

“[w]hen journalists cover subjects linked to organized crime or political corruption (especially at the local level), they immediately become targets and are often executed in cold blood.”

In spite of these glaring insecurity and accountability issues, the NSO Group went ahead and sold its products to multiple Mexican government agencies, according to leaked documents reported on in the New York Times. Other leaked documents show that Mexico was at one time another commercial spyware company’s (Hacking Team) largest single country client. Should it come as any surprise that these powerful surveillance technologies would end up being deployed against those who aim to expose corrupt Mexican officials?

What is to be done about these abuses? In a recent publication, Citizen Lab senior researcher Sarah McKune and I outlined a “checklist of measures” that could be taken to hold the commercial spyware market accountable, including application of relevant criminal law. It is noteworthy in this regard that while in the United States, the minor child Emilio Arestigui received SMS messages purporting to be from the US Embassy. Impersonating the US Government is a violation of the US Criminal Code, and the targeting may very well constitute a violation of the US Wiretap Act. At the very least, it is a violation of diplomatic norms. How will the United States Government respond?

NSO Group is an Israeli company, and thus subject to Israeli law. In the past, Israel has prided itself on strict export controls around commercial surveillance technology. Yet this latest example shows yet again the ineffectiveness of those controls. Will Israeli lawmakers tighten regulations around NSO Group in response?

Among the checklist of measures McKune and I identified is the importance of evidence-based research on the commercial spyware market to help track abuses and raise awareness. It is important to underline that the work undertaken in this report could not have been done without the close collaboration between Citizen Lab researchers and Mexican civil society groups, R3D, SocialTic, and Article 19. Collaborations like these are essential to exposing the negative externalities of the commercial spyware market, documenting its harms, and shedding light on abuse.

I suspect it will not be the last collaboration of this sort.

Read the full report, “Reckless Exploit: Journalists, Lawyers, Children Targeted in Mexico with NSO Spyware,” authored by John Scott-Railton, Bill Marczak, Bahr Abdulrazzak, Masashi Crete-Nishihata, and me, here:

Al-Tanaf: US Stand at the Crossroads of Syria Conflict

Dispatch From the Middle East: U.S. Buildup All About Iran Requiring an American wedge between Syria and Iraq

by Sharmine Narwani  - American Conservative

June 28, 2017

DAMASCUSAs the drive to push ISIS out of its remaining territories in Syria and Iraq rapidly advances, the U.S. and its allied forces have entrenched themselves in the southeastern Syrian border town of al-Tanaf, cutting off a major highway linking Damascus to Baghdad. Defeating ISIS is Washington’s only stated military objective inside Syria. So what are those American troops doing there, blocking a vital artery connecting two Arab allied states in their own fight against terrorism?
The above map commissioned
by the author

“Our presence in al-Tanaf is temporary,” says Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve (CTFO-OIR), the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS, via phone from Baghdad.
“Our primary reason there is to train partner forces from that area for potential fights against ISIS elsewhere…and to maintain security in that border region.”
Dillon adds for emphasis: “Our fight is not with the (Syrian) regime.”

But since May 18, when U.S. airstrikes targeted Syrian forces and their vehicles approaching al-Tanaf, American forces have shot down two Syrian drones and fired on allied Syrian troops several times, each time citing “self-defense.” In that same period, however, it doesn’t appear that the al-Tanaf-based U.S.-backed militants have even once engaged in combat with ISIS.

Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is left bemused by that rhetoric: “When asked what they’re doing in the south of Syria, they say they’re there for their ‘national security,’ but then they object to the movements of the Syrian army – inside Syria?”

She has a point. Under international law, any foreign troop presence inside a sovereign state is illegal unless specifically invited by the recognized governing authority – in this case, Assad’s government, the only Syrian authority recognized by the UN Security Council. Uninvited armies try to circumvent the law by claiming that Syria is “unable or unwilling” to fight ISIS and the threat to international security it poses. But “unwilling and unable” is only a theory, and not law, and since the Russians entered the Syrian military theater to ostensibly fight ISIS with the Syrians, that argument thins considerably.

Colonel Dillon acknowledges the point but argues that the Syrian army “only just showed up recently in the area. If they can show that they are capable of fighting and defeating ISIS, then we don’t have to be there and that is less work for us and would be welcome.”

It’s not clear who made the U.S. arbiters of such a ruling. Syria’s fight against ISIS has picked up considerably in recent months, since four “de-escalation zones” were established during May negotiations in Astana among Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Reconciliation agreements among government forces and some militant groups in those zones – and the transfer of other militants to the northern governorate of Idlib – has meant that Syrian allied forces have been able to move their attention away from strategic areas in the west and concentrate on the ISIS fight in the east of the country.

An April 2017 report by IHS Markit, the leading UK security and defense information provider, asserts that the Islamic State fought Syrian government forces more than any other opponent over the past 12 months.

“Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017,” says the organization, “43 percent of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad’s forces, 17 against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40 percent involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups – in particular, those who formed part of the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield coalition.”

In other words, during the period when IS territorial losses were most significant, Syrian forces fought ISIS more than twice as often as U.S.-backed ones.

An American Wedge Between Syria and Iraq

So what’s with the continued U.S. presence in al-Tanaf, an area where there is no ISIS presence and where the Syrian army and its allies have been making huge progress against their militant Islamist opponents?

If you look at the map commissioned by the author above, there are approximately three main highway crossings from major Syrian centers into Iraq. The northern-most border highway is currently under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces who seek to carve out an independent statelet called Western Kurdistan.

The Homs-to-Baghdad highway in the middle of the map cuts through ISIS-besieged Deir ez-Zor, where up to 120,000 civilians have been protected by some 10,000 Syrian troops since ISIS stormed its environs in 2014. While that border point to Iraq is currently blocked by the terror group, Syrian forces are advancing rapidly from the west, north, and south to wrest the region back from ISIS control.

The Damascus-to-Baghdad highway in the south of the country, which allied Syrian forces have largely recaptured from militants, could have easily been the first unobstructed route between Syria and Iraq. Until, of course, U.S.-led forces entrenched themselves in al-Tanaf and blocked that path.

The Syrians cleared most of the highway this year, but have been inhibited from reaching the border by a unilaterally-declared “deconfliction zone” established by U.S.-led coalition forces.

“It was agreed upon with the Russians that this was a deconfliction zone,” says CJTF spokesman Dillon.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov begs to differ:

“I don’t know anything about such zones. This must be some territory, which the coalition unilaterally declared and where it probably believes to have a sole right to take action. We cannot recognize such zones.”

Since regime-change plans fell flat in Syria, Beltway hawks have been advocating for the partitioning of Syria into at least three zones of influence – a buffer zone for Israel and Jordan in the south, a pro-U.S. Kurdish entity along the north and north-east, and control over the Syrian-Iraqi border.

But clashes with Syrian forces along the road to al-Tanaf have now created an ‘unintended consequence’ for the U.S.’s border plans. Syrian allied troops circumvented the al-Tanaf problem a few weeks ago by establishing border contact with Iraqi forces further north, thereby blocking off access for U.S. allies in the south. And Iraqi security forces have now reached al-Waleed border crossing, on Iraq’s side of the border from al-Tanaf, which means U.S.-led forces are now pinned between Iraqis and Syrians on the Damascus-Baghdad road.

When Syrians and Iraqis bypassed the al-Tanaf area and headed northward to establish border contact, another important set of facts was created on the ground. U.S. coalition forces are now cut off – at least from the south of Syria – from fighting ISIS in the northeast. This is a real setback for Washington’s plans to block direct Syrian-Iraqi border flows and score its own dazzling victory against ISIS. As Syrian forces head toward Deir ez-Zor, U.S.-backed forces’ participation in the battle to liberate that strategic area will now be limited to the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the north, while Syrian forces have established safe passage from the north, south, west – and potentially from the east, with the aid of allied Iraqi forces.

Why Washington Wants That Border

Re-establishing Syrian control over the highway running from Deir ez-Zor to Albu Kamal and al-Qaim is also a priority for Syria’s allies in Iran. Dr. Masoud Asadollahi, a Damascus-based expert in Middle East affairs explains:

“The road through Albu Kamal is Iran’s favored option – it is a shorter path to Baghdad, safer, and runs through green, habitable areas. The M1 highway (Damascus-Baghdad) is more dangerous for Iran because it runs through Iraq’s Anbar province and areas that are mostly desert.”

If the U.S. objective in al-Tanaf was to block the southern highway between Syria and Iraq, thereby cutting off Iran’s land access to the borders of Palestine, they have been badly outmaneuvered. Syrian, Iraqi, and allied troops have now essentially trapped the U.S.-led forces in a fairly useless triangle down south, and created a new triangle (between Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor, and Albu Kamal) for their “final battle” against ISIS.

“The Americans always plan for one outcome and then get another one that is unintended,” observes Iran’s new envoy to Syria, Ambassador Javad Turk Abadi.

He and others in Damascus remain optimistic that the border routes long been denied to regional states will re-open in short order.

“Through the era of the Silk Road, the pathway between Syria, Iran, and Iraq was always active – until colonialism came to the region,” explains Turk Abadi.

In the same way that Western great powers have always sought to keep Russia and China apart, in the Middle East, that same divide-and-rule doctrine has been applied for decades to maintaining a wedge between Syria and Iraq.

“In the history of the last half century, it was always prevented for Syria and Iraq to get close, to coordinate. When (former Syrian president) Hafez al-Assad and (former Iraqi president) Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr almost reached a comprehensive agreement, Saddam Hussein made a coup d’etat and hung all the officers who wanted rapprochement with Syria,”says Shaaban, who has just published a book on Hafez Assad’s dealings with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Saddam then launched an eight-year war against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the latter lost road access through Iraq for more than two decades. In early 2003, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, and occupied the country for the next nine years. During that era, Iranian airplanes were often ordered down for inspections, instigated by U.S. occupation forces interested in thwarting Iran’s transfer of weapons and supplies to the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah and other allies.

By the time U.S. troops exited Iraq in late 2011, the Syrian conflict was already under way, fully armed, financed, and supported by several NATO states and their Persian Gulf allies.

“When those borders are re-opened,” says Asadollahi, “this will be the first time Iran will have a land route to Syria and Palestine” – though others point out that the Iranians have always found ways to transport goods undetected.

“Our army is now almost at the border and Iraqis are at their border – and we are not going to stop,” insists Shaaban.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have not yet checkmated American forces operating in their military theaters. There is still talk of an escalation that may pit the United States against Syria’s powerful Russian ally, a dangerous development that could precipitate a regional or global war.

But in Baghdad, the U.S.-led coalition spokesman Colonel Dillon struck a slightly more nuanced tone from the more belligerent threats sounded in Washington:

“We’re not in Syria to grab land. If the Syrian regime can show they can defeat ISIS, then we’re fine with that. The Waleed border crossing is a good sign that shows these capabilities. We are open to secure borders both on the Syrian and Iraqi side. We’re not there with the intent to block anything, we’re there to defeat ISIS and train forces for that.”

The fact is, US-trained militants in the al-Tanaf garrison are not fighting ISIS today, and they suffered a “crippling defeat” in June 2016 when they last launched a major offensive against the terror group, 200 miles from al-Tanaf. Factoring in geography, balance of field forces and momentum, it is implausible that US troops and their proxies on the southern Syrian-Iraqi border can achieve their stated objectives. It is time for them to surrender their positions to the Syrian state.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics, based in Beirut.

Supreme Court Turns Deaf Ear to First Nations Objections to Site C Dam

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear B.C. First Nations' Site C dam appeal

by CBC News 

Jun 29, 2017

Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations argued approval of project violated treaty rights

Ottawa - The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear two appeals that sought to delay the Site C dam project in British Columbia. Two First Nations — the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations — had sought a judicial review of the mega-project, citing problems with how it was approved by the provincial and federal governments.
The Site C dam is a controversial 
$8.5-billion hydroelectric project on the 
Peace River near Fort St. John in 
northeastern British Columbia.

Part of the Peace River valley will be flooded in order to build the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia and two First Nations argue their treaty rights will be infringed if the project goes ahead. (BC Hydro) 
Once completed, the dam will flood an 83-kilometre-long river valley. BC Hydro say it will provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of around 450,000 homes

The two First Nations say proper consultations were not carried out during the approval process and that adverse affects from flooding would significantly impair how they exercise their treaty rights.

The applications were dismissed with costs today.

As usual, the Supreme Court of Canada gave no reasons for its decision not to hear the cases.

The claims have been previously dismissed by the provincial Supreme Court of B.C. and the Federal Court of Appeal.

In their decision, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the federal government is allowed to issue permits for projects like Site C without first discovering if the project violates treaty rights.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau accused of 'bulldozing Aboriginal rights' with Site C

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gellhorn for Robert Parry

Robert Parry Wins 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism 

by John Pilger

28 June 2017 
John Pilger made the following remarks in presenting the 15th Martha Gellhorn Prize to the American journalist Robert Parry at a dinner in London on 27 June 2017...

There are too many awards for journalism. Too many simply celebrate the status quo. The idea that journalists ought to challenge the status quo - what Orwell called Newspeak and Robert Parry calls 'groupthink' - is becoming increasingly rare.

More than a generation ago, a space opened up for a journalism that dissented from the groupthink and flourished briefly and often tenuously in the press and broadcasting.

Today, that space has almost closed in the so-called mainstream media. The best journalists have become - often against their will - dissidents.

The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism recognises these honourable exceptions. It is very different from other prizes. Let me quote in full why we give this award:

'The Gellhorn Prize is in honour of one of the 20th century's greatest reporters. It is awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth - a truth validated by powerful facts that expose what Martha Gellhorn called "official drivel". She meant establishment propaganda.'

Martha was renowned as a war reporter. Her dispatches from Spain in the 1930s and D-Day in 1944 are classics. But she was more than that. As both a reporter and a committed humanitarian, she was a pioneer: one of the first in Vietnam to report what she called 'a new kind of war against civilians': a precursor to the wars of today.

She was the reason I was sent to Vietnam as a reporter. My editor had spread across his desk her articles that had run in the Guardian and the St Louis Post-Dispatch. A headline read, 'Targeting the people.' For that series, she was placed on a black-list by the US military and never allowed to return to South Vietnam.

She and I became good friends. Indeed, all my fellow judges of the Martha Gellhorn Prize - Sandy and Shirlee Matthews, James Fox, Jeremy Harding - have that in common. We keep her memory.

She was indefatigable. She would call very early in the morning and open up the conversation with one of her favourite expressions - 'I smell a rat'.

When, in 1990, President George Bush Senior invaded Panama on the pretext of nabbing his old CIA buddy General Noriega, the embedded media made almost no mention of civilian suffering.

My phone rang. 'I smell a rat', said a familiar voice.

Within 24 hours Martha was on a plane to Panama. She was then in her 80s. She went straight to the barrios of Panama City, and walked from door to door, interviewing ordinary people. That was the way she worked - in apartheid South Africa, in the favelas of Brazil, in the villages of Vietnam.

She estimated that the American bombing and invasion of Panama had killed at least 6,000 people.

She flew to Washington and stood up at a press conference at the Pentagon and asked a general: 
'Why did you kill so many people then lie about it?'

Imagine that question being asked today. And that is what we are honouring this evening. Truth-telling, and the courage to find out, to ask the forbidden question.

Robert Parry is a very distinguished honourable exception.

I first heard of Bob Parry in the 1980s when he broke the Iran-Contra scandal as an Associated Press reporter. This was a story as important as Watergate. Some would say it was more important.

The administration of Ronald Reagan had secretly and illegally sold weapons to Iran in order to secretly and illegally bankroll a bloodthirsty group known as the Contras, which was then trying to crush Nicaragua's Sandinista government - on behalf of the CIA. You could barely make it up.

Bob Parry's career has been devoted to finding out, lifting rocks - and supporting others who do the same.

In the 1990s, he supported Gary Webb, who revealed that the Reagan administration had allowed the Contras to traffic cocaine in the US. For this, Webb was crucified by the so-called mainstream media, and took his own life. Lifting the big rocks can be as dangerous as a war zone.

In 1995, Parry founded his own news service, the Consortium for Independent Journalism. But, really, there was just him. Today, his website reflects the authority and dissidence that marks Parry's career.

What he does is make sense of the news - why Saudi Arabia should be held accountable; why the invasion of Libya was a folly and a crime; why the New York Times is an apologist for great power; why Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have much in common; why Russia is not our enemy; why history is critical to understanding.

For his journalism, Robert Parry is the winner of the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize. He joins the likes of Robert Fisk, Iona Craig, Patrick Cockburn, Mohammed Omer, Dahr Jamail, Marie Colvin, Julian Assange, Gareth Porter and other honourable exceptions.

Syria Gas: First the Bald Accusation, Then the Missile Strike, Then the Investigation (maybe)

US Targets Syria, Iran and Russia Using Same Debunked “Chemical Weapons” Narrative

by Whitney Webb - MintPress News 

June 28, 2017

Monday, award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the U.S.’ justification for bombing the Syrian government in April as having been based on a lie. But the U.S. is still using the same debunked justification to target not only the Syrian government, but also Russia and Iran.

On Monday, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh – best known for breaking some of the biggest stories of the Vietnam and Iraq wars – managed to prove the Trump administration’s decision to bomb Syrian government territory was based on false pretenses, entirely unsupported by U.S. military intelligence.

The bombing, which saw 49 Tomahawk missiles hit a largely defunct Syrian airbase, was a response to the Trump administration’s claim that the Syrian government had carried out a sarin gas attack on civilians in the al-Nusra Front-controlled town of Khan Sheikoun in Syria’s Idlib Province last April. But as Hersh revealed, Trump issued the order to target the airbase even though the entire U.S. intelligence community had already told him that they had no evidence that the Syrian government had used a chemical weapon in Idlib.

In addition, a senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told Hersh that he is concerned that Trump will respond with military force every time there is even an accusation of the Syrian government using chemical weapons, regardless of the presence of evidence.

“The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack,” the adviser told Hersh.
“Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

The Trump administration proved the adviser’s concerns to be correct less than a day after Hersh’s exposé was published. On Monday night, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that the U.S. had “identified potential preparation for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

Spicer also noted that the alleged activity taking place was “similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.” The White House also warned that the Syrian government will pay a “heavy price” if another similar attack takes place.

The Trump administration’s claims regarding these “preparations” lack credibility, as no evidence to support its claims about the April gas attack has been presented to date. In addition, according to The Associated Press, numerous state department officials who are normally involved in coordinating such statements were apparently unaware of the White House’s warning.

The Associated Press also noted that the warning did not appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies, even though the Pentagon, U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department are typically consulted before the White House issues any declarations that could have a major impact on U.S. foreign policy.

The Syrian government has denied the White House’s latest accusations, suggesting that they foreshadow a coming diplomatic campaign against Syria at the United Nations. Russia also responded by calling the U.S. threats to Syria’s government “unacceptable.”

Recent statements by Nikki Haley, the U.S. representative at the United Nations, paint a worrisome picture for the likely outcome of the situation. In a Monday night tweet, Haley stated that “any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Haley’s tweet suggests that any attack in which Syrian civilians are killed, whether it is committed by the Islamic State or the U.S. itself, could be blamed on Assad. The U.S. recently used chemical weapons in Syria and killed over 400 Syrian civilians just last month with no international outcry.

Her tweet also suggests that Russia and Iran could be targeted in the aftermath of such an attack as well. According to Hersh’s sources, this is part of the plan. In a conversation obtained by Hersh, a U.S. security adviser revealed that the U.S. has long had ulterior motives in Syria that go far beyond the borders of that country: “There has been a hidden agenda all along. This is about trying to ultimately go after Iran.”

It seems that the possibility of a false flag chemical weapons attack taking place in Syria is no longer an “if,” but a “when.” With intense U.S. military reconnaissance already taking place along the Syrian coast and U.S. allies falling into place to support any action the U.S. may take, existing tensions in Syria are about to become even more heated.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress contributor who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, 21st Century Wire, and True Activist among others - she currently resides in Southern Chile.
More articles by Whitney Webb

Are Trump's "Chemical Attack" Charges Another Prelude to Broadened Syria War?

Is Trump's 'Warning' to Syria a Prelude to Another Strike?


June 28, 2017

The US has issued a new threat to Syria over chemical weapons. On Monday, the White House said it believes Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, is preparing a new chemical weapons attack and that he would pay a heavy price if one takes place. That statement appeared to catch the Pentagon off guard, but on Tuesday, military officials said the US had picked up chemical weapons activity at the same airbase that the US bombed in April. Syria and Russia have rejected the claim and call it a provocation. The US has been ramping up military operations inside Syria, recently shooting down a Syrian warplane and increasingly targeting Iranian-backed forces. The Washington Post reports that Senior White House Officials are "focused as much on Iran as on the Islamic state."

Award-winning author and journalist Max Blumenthal says that with its recent military escalation in Syria and its backing of Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration might be de-prioritizing the fight against ISIS in order to confront Iran.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. 

Understanding Without a TV Guide: Watching the Forever War

America at War Since 9/11: Reality or Reality TV?

by Rebecca Gordon - TomDispatch

June 27, 2017

The headlines arrive in my inbox day after day: “U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria killed hundreds of civilians, U.N. panel says.” “Pentagon wants to declare more parts of world as temporary battlefields.” “The U.S. was supposed to leave Afghanistan by 2017. Now it might take decades.” There are so many wars and rumors of war involving our country these days that it starts to feel a little unreal, even for the most devoted of news watchers. And for many Americans, it’s long been that way. For them, the meaning of war is closer to reality TV than it is to reality.

On a June day, you could, for instance, open the New York Times and read that “airstrikes by the American-led coalition against Islamic State targets have killed hundreds of civilians around Raqqa, the militant group’s last Syrian stronghold, and left 160,000 people displaced.”

Or you could come across statistics two orders of magnitude larger in learning from a variety of sources that famine is stalking 17 million people in Yemen. That is the predictable result of a Saudi Arabian proxy war against Iran, a campaign supported by the U.S. with weaponry and logistical assistance, in which, according to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. may well be complicit in torture.

You could contemplate the fact that in Iraq, a country the United States destabilized with its 2003 invasion and occupation, there are still at least three million internally displaced people, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees; or that more than 411,000 Iraqis remain displaced from their homes in Mosul alone since the Iraqi army launched a U.S.-backed offensive to drive ISIS out of that city last October.

Yes, it’s possible to click on those links or to catch so many other Internet or TV news reports about how such American or American-backed wars are damaging infrastructure, destroying entire health care systems, uprooting millions, and putting at risk the education of whole generations thousands of miles away. But none of it is real for most of us in this country.

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, All War All the Time, or War American-Style

At 36% to 37% in the latest polls, Donald Trump’s approval rating is in a ditch in what should still be the “honeymoon” period of his presidency. And yet, compared to Congress (25%), he’s a maestro of popularity. In fact, there’s just one institution in American society that gets uniformly staggeringly positive votes of “confidence” from Americans in polls and that’s the U.S. military (83%). And this should be the greatest mystery of them all.

That military, keep in mind, hasn’t won a significant conflict since World War II. (In retrospect, the First Gulf War, which once seemed like a triumph beyond compare for the globe’s highest-tech force, turned out to be just the first step into the never-ending quagmire of Iraq.) In this century, the U.S. military has, in fact, stumbled from one “successful” invasion to another, one terror-spreading conflict to the next, without ever coming up for air. Meanwhile, the American taxpayer has poured money into the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state in amounts that should boggle the mind. And yet, the U.S. hasn’t been able to truly extricate itself from a single country it's gotten involved in across the Greater Middle East for decades. In the wake of its ministrations, nations have crumbled, allies have been crippled, and tens of millions of people across a vast region of the planet have been uprooted from their homes and swept into the maelstrom. In other words, Washington’s version of imperial war fighting should be seen as the record from hell for a force regularly hailed here as the “finest” in history. The question is: finest at what?

All of this is on the record. All of this should be reasonably apparent to anyone half-paying attention and yet the American public’s confidence in the force fighting what Rebecca Gordon has termed “forever wars” is almost off the charts. For that, you can undoubtedly blame, in part, the urge of the military high command never again to experience a citizen’s army roiled by antiwar protests and in near revolt as in the Vietnam era. As a result, in 1973, the draft was ended and in the decades that followed the public was successfully demobilized when it came to American war. George W. Bush’s classic post-9/11 suggestion that Americans respond to the horror of those falling towers by visiting Disney World and enjoying “life the way we want it to be enjoyed” caught that mood exactly. But the explanation undoubtedly goes deeper yet, as TomDispatch regular Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, suggests today. Tom 

America at War Since 9/11: Reality or Reality TV?

by Rebecca Gordon

How could it be real? Most of us no longer have any idea what war is like for the people who live through it. No major war has been fought on U.S. territory since the Civil War ended in 1865, and the last people who remembered that terrible time died decades before the turn of this century. There is no one around to give us a taste of that reality -- except of course for the refugees that the Trump administration is now doing its best to keep out.

In addition, Americans who once were mobilized to support their country’s wars in distant lands (remember Victory Gardens or war bond drives?) are simply told to carry on with their lives as if it were peacetime. And the possibility of going to war in an army of citizen draftees has long been put to rest by America’s “all-volunteer” military.

As the U.S. battlefield expands, the need becomes ever greater for people in this country to understand the reality of war, especially now that we have a president from the world of “reality” TV. During the second half of the twentieth century, Congress repeatedly ceded its constitutional power to declare war to successive executive administrations. At the moment, however, we have in Donald Trump a president who appears to be bored with those purloined powers (and with the very idea of civilian control over the military). In fact, our feckless commander-in-chief seems to be handing over directly to that military all power to decide when and where this country sends its troops or launches its missiles from drones.

Now that our democratic connection to the wars fought in our name has receded yet one more step from our real lives and any civilian role in war (except praising and thanking “the warriors”) is fading into the history books, isn’t it about time to ask some questions about the very nature of reality and of those wars?

War From the Civilian Point of View

We think of wars, reasonably enough, as primarily affecting the soldiers engaged in them. The young men and women who fight -- some as volunteers and some who choose military service over unemployment and poverty -- do sometimes die in “our” wars. And even if they survive, as we now know, their bodies and psyches often bear the lifelong scars of the experience.

Indeed, I’ve met some of these former soldiers in the college philosophy classes I teach. There was the erstwhile Army sniper who sat in the very back of the classroom, his left leg constantly bouncing up and down. The explosion of a roadside bomb had broken his back and left him in constant pain, but the greatest source of his suffering, as he told me, was the constant anxiety that forced him on many days to walk out halfway through the class. Then there was the young man who’d served in Baghdad and assured me, “If anyone fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and they say they came back whole, they’re either lying or they just haven’t realized yet what happened to them.”

And there were the young women who told the class that, in fear, they’d had to move out of their homes because their boyfriends came back from the wars as dangerous young men they no longer recognized. If we in this country know anything real about war, it’s from people like these -- from members of the military or those close to them.

But we only get the most partial understanding of war from veterans and their families. In fact, most people affected by modern wars are not soldiers at all. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died during World War II, and more than 60% of them were civilians. They died as victims of the usual horrific acts of war, or outright war crimes, or crimes against humanity. A similar number succumbed to war-related disease and famine, including millions in places most Americans don’t even think of as major sites of that war’s horrors: China, India, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. And, of course, close to six million Poles, most of them Jews, along with at least 16 million Soviet civilians died in the brutal Nazi invasion and attempted occupation of major parts of the Soviet Union.

And that hardly ends the tally of civilians devastated by that war. Another 60 million people became displaced or refugees in its wake, many forever torn from their homes.

So what is war like for the people who live where it happens? We can find out a reasonable amount about that if we want to. It’s not hard to dig up personal accounts of such experiences in past wars. But what can we know about the civilians living through our country’s current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen? There, too, personal accounts are available, but you have to go searching.

Certainly, it’s possible, for instance, to learn something about the deaths of 200 people in a school hit by a single U.S. airstrike in the Syrian city of Raqqa. But that can’t make us feel the unendurable, inescapable pain of a human body being crushed in the collapse of that one school. It can’t make us hear the screams at that moment or later smell the stench of the decomposing dead. You have to be there to know that reality.

Still, daily life in a country at war isn’t all screams and stench. A lot of the time it’s just ordinary existence, but experienced with a kind of double awareness. On the one hand, you send your children to school, walk to the market to do your shopping, go out to your fields to plow or plant. On the other, you know that at any moment your ordinary life can be interrupted -- ended, in fact -- by forces over which you have no control.

That’s what it was like for me during the months I spent, as my partner likes to say, trying to get myself killed in somebody else’s country. In 1984, I worked for six months in the war zones of Nicaragua as a volunteer for Witness for Peace (WFP). In 1979, the Sandinista movement had led a national insurrection, overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. In response, the U.S. had funded counterrevolutionaries, or “contras,” who, by the time I arrived, had launched a major military campaign against the Sandinistas. Under CIA direction, they had adopted a military strategy of sabotaging government services, including rural health clinics, schools, and phone lines, and terrorizing the civilian population with murders, kidnappings, torture, and mutilation.

My job was simple: to visit the towns and villages that they had attacked and record the testimony of the survivors. In the process, for instance, I talked to a man whose son had been hacked into so many pieces he had to bury him in the field where he had been left. I met the children of a 70-year-old man a week after the contras flayed him alive, slicing the skin off his face. I talked to the mayor of a town in northern Nicaragua, whose parents were kidnapped and tortured to death by the contras.

The original dream of WFP was somewhat more grandiose than collecting horror stories. American volunteers were to provide a “shield of love” for Nicaraguans threatened by the U.S.-supported contras. The theory was that they might be less inclined to attack a town if they knew that U.S. citizens were in the area, lest they bite the hand that was (however clandestinely) feeding them. In reality, the Sandinistas were unwilling to put guests like me at risk that way, and -- far from being a shield -- in times of danger we were sometimes an extra liability. In fact, the night the contras surrounded Jalapa, where I was staying for a few weeks, the town’s mayor sent a couple of soldiers with guns to guard the house of “the American pacifists.” So much for who was shielding whom. (On that particular night, the Nicaraguan army confronted the contras before they made it to Jalapa. We could hear a battle in the distance, but it never threatened the town itself.)

All that day, we’d been digging to help build Jalapa’s refugio, an underground shelter to protect children and old people in case of an aerial attack. Other town residents had been planting trees on the denuded hillsides where Somoza had allowed U.S. and Canadian lumber companies to clear-cut old-growth forest. This was dangerous work; tree planters were favorite contra targets. But most people in town were simply going about their ordinary lives -- working in the market, washing clothes, fixing cars -- while the loudspeakers on the edge of town blared news about the latest contra kidnappings.

This is what living in a war zone can be like: you plant trees that might take 20 years to mature, knowing at the same time that you might not survive the night.

Keep in mind that my experience was limited. I wasn’t a Nicaraguan. I could leave whenever I chose. And after those six months, I did go home. The Nicaraguans were home. In addition, the scale of that war was modest compared to the present U.S. wars across the Greater Middle East. And Nicaraguans were fortunate to escape some of the worst effects of a conflict fought in an agricultural society. So often, war makes planting and harvesting too dangerous to undertake and when the agricultural cycle is interrupted people begin to starve. In addition, it was short enough that, although the contras intentionally targeted schools and teachers, an entire generation did not lose their educations, as is happening now in parts of the Greater Middle East.

Many rural Nicaraguans lacked electricity and running water, so there was no great harm done when “se fue la luz” -- the electricity was cut off, as often happened when the contras attacked a power generator. Worse was when “se fue el agua” -- the water in people’s homes or at communal pumps stopped running, often as a result of a contra attack on a pumping station or their destruction of water pipes. Still, for the most part, these were unpleasant inconveniences in a rural society where electricity and running water were not yet all that common, and where people knew how to make do without.

Imagine instead that you live (or lived) in a major Middle Eastern city -- say, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, or Aleppo (all now partially or nearly totally reduced to rubble), or even a city like Baghdad that, despite constant suicide bombings, is still functioning. Your life, of course, is organized around the modern infrastructure that brings light, power, and water into your home. In the United States, unless you live in Flint, Michigan, it’s hard to grasp what it might be like not to have potable water dependably spilling out of the faucet.

Suppose you got up one morning and your phone hadn’t charged overnight, the light switches had all stopped working, you couldn’t toast your Pop-Tarts, and there was no hope of a cup of coffee, because there was no water. No water all that day, or the next day, or the one after. What would you do after the bottled water was gone from the stores? What would you do as you watched your kids grow weak from thirst? Where would you go, when you knew you would die if you remained in the familiar place that had so long been your home? What, in fact, would you do if opposing armed forces (as in most of the cities mentioned above) fought it out in your very neighborhood?

Reality or Reality TV?

I’ve been teaching college students for over a decade. I now face students who have lived their entire conscious lives in a country we are told is “at war.” They’ve never known anything else, since the moment in 2001 when George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. But their experience of this war, like my own, is less reality, and more reality TV. Their iPhones work; the water and light in their homes are fine; their screens are on day and night. No one bombs their neighborhoods. They have no citizenly duty to go into the military. Their lives are no different due to the “war” (or rather wars) their country is fighting in their name in distant lands.

Theirs, then, is the strangest of “wars,” one without sacrifice. It lacks the ration books, the blackouts, the shortages my parents’ generation experienced during World War II. It lacks the fear that an enemy army will land on our coasts or descend from our skies. None of us fears that war will take away our food, electricity, water, or most precious of all, our Wi-Fi. For us, if we think about them at all, that set of distant conflicts is only an endless make-believe war, one that might as well be taking place on another planet in another universe.

Of course, in a sense, it’s inaccurate to say we’ve sacrificed nothing. The poorest among us have, in fact, sacrificed the most, living in a country willing to put almost any sum into the Pentagon and its wars, but “unable” to afford to provide the basic entitlements enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: life, food, clothing, housing, education, not to speak, these days, of infrastructure. What could a U.S. government do for the health, education, and general wellbeing of its people, if it weren’t devoting more than half the country’s discretionary spending to the military?

There’s something else we haven’t had to sacrifice, though: peace of mind. We don’t have to carry in our consciousness the effects of those wars on our soldiers, on our military adversaries, or on the millions of civilians whose bodies or lives have been mangled in them. Those effects have been largely airbrushed out of our mental portrait of a Pax Americana world. Our understanding of our country’s endless wars has been sanitized, manipulated, and packaged for our consumption the way producers manipulate and package the relationships of participants on reality TV shows like The Bachelor.

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the first video-game-style war. Who could forget the haunting green images of explosions over Baghdad on that first night (even if they've forgotten the 50 “decapitation” strikes against the Iraqi leadership that killed not one of them but dozens of civilians)? Who could forget the live broadcasts streamed from video cameras attached to “smart” bombs -- or the time two of them demolished what turned out to be a civilian air raid shelter, killing more than 200 people hiding inside? Who could forget those live reports from CNN that gave us the illusion that we were almost there ourselves and understood just what was seemingly unfolding before our eyes?

In fact, a University of Massachusetts study later found that “the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war.” And even if we did understand the “underlying issues,” did we understand what it’s like to find yourself trapped under the rubble of your own house?

During almost 16 years of war since the attacks of 9/11, the mystification on the “home front” has only grown, as attention has wandered and some of our ongoing wars (as in Afghanistan) have been largely forgotten. Our enemies change regularly. Who even remembers al-Qaeda in Iraq or that it became the Islamic State? Who remembers when we were fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Nusra Front (or even that we were ever fighting them) instead of welcoming its militants into an alliance against Bashir al-Assad in Syria? The enemies may rotate, but the wars only continue and spread like so many metastasizing cancer cells.

Even as the number of our wars expands, however, they seem to grow less real to us here in the United States. So it becomes ever more important that we, in whose name those wars are being pursued, make the effort to grasp their grim reality. It’s important to remind ourselves that war is the worst possible way of settling human disagreements, focused as it is upon injuring human flesh (and ravaging the basics of human life) until one side can no longer withstand the pain. Worse yet, as those almost 16 years since 9/11 show, our wars have caused endless pain and settled no disagreements at all.

In this country, we don’t have to know that in American wars real people’s bodies are torn apart, real people die, and real cities are turned to rubble. We can watch interviews with survivors of the latest airstrikes on the nightly news and then catch the latest episode of ersatz suffering on Survivor. After a while, it becomes hard for many of us to tell (or even to care) which is real, and which is only reality TV.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

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Copyright 2017 Rebecca Gordon