Mint Press News

New documentary trailer: Gaza Fights Back

 

Filmed during the attack and in the days following the ceasefire, the documentary tells the story of how Gaza’s armed resistance groups outwitted the vastly superior Israeli military and established their ability to intervene against Israeli ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and provocations at the al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

“The Palestinian military capabilities are not highly sophisticated and destructive, but it becomes so effective when it’s used by Palestinian smart youths who believe in their rights and freedom,” a masked al-Qassam commander says.

The documentary features intimate interviews with survivors, many of whom lost family members in the Israeli bombardment.

Among them is Omar Abu al-Ouf, who lost 22 family members in the bombing of his family’s house in al-Remal, Gaza’s main thoroughfare.

“The first missile came down on us in the street with no prior warning or call,” he recounted.

Among those killed was Omar’s father, Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, one of the most senior physicians in all of Gaza.

Others, like 11-year-old Amal Ramzi Muhammed Nasir, fled amid the bombardment to take shelter in United Nations-run schools.

“We were trying to sleep. At exactly 1 a.m., there were sounds of explosions and airstrikes nearby. The house was shaking due to the intensity of the explosions.”

Men carry a child killed when Israeli airstrikes targeted an apartment complex in Gaza on May 16, 2021. Photo | AP

Having escaped to a school, Nasir and her family returned after the ceasefire to find their homes in ruin.

“We arrived and saw that our neighborhood that housed us our entire lives, our shelter, completely leveled to the ground,” she recalled. “Every single house was damaged and bombed.”

Jawad Mahdi, owner of the al-Jalaa tower, described Israel destroying the place he and his family lived for 25 years:

The building collapsed, and it took 25 years’ worth of memories, a place we lived in for 25 years, with my children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends. Imagine building a house brick by brick, piece by piece, living in your home with your knowledge and dreams. Suddenly, you find yourself out of this house. An indescribable tragedy – being kicked out of your own home in an instant, a matter of seconds, even a minute, under nonexistent, illogical, and unethical reasons.”

As for future confrontations with the Israeli military, the al-Qassam commander sees them as inevitable as long as the occupation remains: “The Israeli occupation experienced our military capabilities in the last aggression on the Gaza Strip and the whole world saw it. And we still have more important capabilities in the shadow.”

He believes that armed resistance presents a viable path to liberation:

The lessons learned from the last aggression on the Gaza Strip is that Israel is an occupation state that could be defeated. It’s not a firm state that has been depicted by the Israeli Zionist propaganda machine. Palestinians can get their liberation and retrieve their rights and freedom.”

Feature photo  | A Palestinian child sits atop the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, May 21, 2021. Khalil Hamra | AP

Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000.

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Censoring Palestine: Swarms of Israeli Bots Are Crippling Pro-Palestinian Twitter Accounts

OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM — On April 29, Inès Abdel Razek woke up to 80 new Twitter followers.

“These accounts were following the exact same people that were tweeting about Palestine, but from France or Francophone accounts that work on Palestine,” Razek said of her new followers.

The advocacy director of Rābet, the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy’s digital platform, became wary of the issue after Abier Khateb, a grants manager at Open Society Foundations, reported mass followings as well.

Razek told MintPress News that she began individually reporting each account as fake but kept her own account open — lest she let the alleged bots win. But after a few days, Razek made her profile private. At the peak of the mass following, Razek had accumulated 400 fake followers.

From the end of April through the first few weeks of May, more than 40 pro-Palestine Twitter accounts reported mass followings. Digital-rights experts say acquiring huge amounts of fake followers triggers Twitter’s algorithm and can lead to the tech giant suspending an account, effectively censoring users by forcing them to make their accounts private.

These accounts included those belonging to human rights and activist organizations Adalah, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. They also included news publications and journalists, like The Palestine Chronicle, Ali Abunimah and Hind Al-Eryani; and politicians, such as Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom. Twitter did not respond to MintPress inquiries on the source of the suspicious accounts.

Dr. Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University, conducted an analysis that found more than 1,150 fake accounts. Twitter deleted approximately 1,090 of these accounts, according to Jones. His analysis determined that the average account-creation time was one to three per minute, suggesting these accounts were created using an automated process.

The profiles were in various languages, including French, Spanish, English and German, but usually had Arabic bios. They often had strange names — like Noble Betty Thomas — and zero followers.

“They had clearly made-up names,” Sarah Leah Whitson, who also experienced a large influx of new followers, told MintPress. “The vast majority of them had Israeli names and Israeli addresses. Some of them had made-up Arab names, which were mangled. It’s clear that they’re [using] stolen images of people.”

In response to the bulk followings, software developer Daniel Easterman created a free script to automatically report and block hundreds of these bots for users.

Easterman said the spamming problem has a censorship effect by forcing users to make their accounts private. “This means they won’t be able to distribute their messages widely as they would normally,” Easterman told MintPress News.

Another area of particular concern is how a flood of fake followers may cause Twitter to shut down an account. “When you see such a dramatic increase in followers, it’s usually somebody manipulating the system for commercial gain,” Easterman said. “So that could trigger Twitter to automatically flag that as suspicious activity and suspend the activist’s account.”

Using Twitter to target human rights defenders and journalists isn’t unusual. In 2017, journalist Iona Craig and others who report on Yemen were spammed with thousands of fake followers. Many speculated the culprits were state entities belonging to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The reason behind this particular mass following campaign remains unknown. Jones hypothesized it’s acting as a form of social media suppression, writing on Twitter:

Some suggest it’s a means to degrade the algorithmic quality of a Twitter account so that it possibly gets suspended; some suggest it’s others trying to boost popularity of an account. When it’s unsolicited, as in this case, I tend to think it’s more of a targeting operation. I am naturally cynical, but most people who get a sudden influx of fake followers feel unnerved and uncomfortable. If that fact is widely known, it functions as a tool of surveillance and potentially intimidation (e.g., you are being watched). It also makes many people mute their accounts for a bit which has a censorship effect.”

Razek, Whitson, and others told MintPress that the flood of fake followers appears to be diminishing for them. However, a new operation has emerged.

In the past week, Jones found around 2,800 fake accounts following pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist accounts who have recently been tweeting on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh.

“This network is likely the same as the one found at [the] end of April, although now it is active,” Jones wrote on Twitter.

The accounts have between 0 to 20 followers, with the majority of bios written in English and simply stating the account location, which is Israel. Most accounts don’t have a banner picture and the profile pictures have purportedly been swiped from real people.

According to Jones, the accounts have begun liking and retweeting posts, without any real partisan regularity: they like both pro- and anti-Palestinian subject matter and follow both pro-Zionist and pro-Palestinian accounts but appear to target the pro-Palestinian side more. Accounts targeted include The Jerusalem Post; the government of Israel’s official state account; activist organization Jewish Voice for Peace; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; Israeli journalist Ilan Pappe; and former Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.

Again, the reason for the bulk followers remains unclear. “Those who get followed understandably find it intimidating, as if a form of surveillance or a technique to try and degrade [the] quality of an account with low-quality follows,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “The fact remains, these are clearly fake accounts and ruin the experience of Twitter.”

 

censorship of Palestine, an ongoing problem

Palestinian digital-rights experts have long decried the increasing censorship of Palestinian content online. During Israel’s assault on Gaza and the upticks in Israeli attacks at Al-Aqsa Compound and in Sheikh Jarrah in May 2021, Palestinian activists reported social media companies were removing their content on Israeli violence and ethnic cleansing for violating community guidelines.

The social media censorship didn’t stop when tensions died down over the summer, though. Last month, social media users in Jordan said their posts related to Israeli violence at Al-Aqsa were taken down and their accounts blocked. Additionally, accounts belonging to Palestinian news publications covering the violence in occupied East Jerusalem and at Al-Aqsa were deactivated by Facebook.

In their recent monthly report on social media violations, Palestinian NGO Sada Social stated the deletion of Palestinian content “is in line with and in response to Israeli requests to tighten the screws on Palestinians and their media.”

Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid also accused Instagram of shadow-banning (having content viewership limited) her pro-Palestinian content during Ramadan.

Razek suggested the swarm of fake followers on Twitter may be an extension of Instagram’s alleged shadow-banning. “The purpose is to pollute our algorithms and make our accounts less visible. So in the way that Instagram is shadow-banning some content, this could be a way that Twitter shadow-bans our content,” she said.

While the identities behind the fake followers haven’t been revealed, many have pointed to Israel. The Israeli government’s targeting of Palestinian digital content is well-documented. According to 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, the Israeli Ministry of Justice Cyber Unit sends content-removal requests aimed at Palestinian content to social media companies such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube. The Justice Ministry has boasted these corporations comply with 95% of their requests. And Israeli governmental organizations and NGOs also encourage their citizens to flag Palestinian content for removal.

 

Attacking free speech

Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s pending purchase of Twitter came with a promise of securing free speech on the digital platform. “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” the self-declared free-speech advocate said in a statement about his Twitter deal.

While digital-rights experts like Jones are wary of Musk’s potential Twitter takeover, Whitson, who’s experienced targeted attacks, harassment, and censorship threats for decades for speaking out against Israeli abuses, views the buyout positively.  For the executive director of nonprofit Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN), the risk of corporate censorship is a bigger issue than online hate speech. Whitson said:

I’m hopeful that Elon Musk will be true to his word to protect and promote free speech and to end concerted efforts to target and cancel speech that we don’t like. Seeing how Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have launched systematic efforts to silence pro-Palestine activist voices, I’m very wary of corporate moderators deciding what speech is and isn’t acceptable.”

Whitson doesn’t agree the bots are a form of censorship, but she does see them as an assault on free speech. “It’s a form of targeted harassment and bullying,” she said. “It’s a targeted attack on people who are speaking freely, including journalists and human rights activists.”

Feature photo | MintPress News | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy”

On May 16, the Biden administration announced new measures to “increase support for the Cuban people.” They included easing travel restrictions and helping Cuban-Americans support and connect with their families. They mark a step forward but a baby step, given that most U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Also in place is a ridiculous Biden administration policy of trying to isolate Cuba, as well as Nicaragua and Venezuela, from the rest of the hemisphere by excluding them from the upcoming Summit of the Americas that will take place in June in Los Angeles.

This is the first time since its inaugural gathering in 1994 that the event, which is held every three years, will take place on U.S. soil. But rather than bringing the Western Hemisphere together, the Biden administration seems intent on pulling it apart by threatening to exclude three nations that are certainly part of the Americas.

For months, the Biden administration has been hinting that these governments would be excluded. So far, they have not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings and the Summit itself is now less than a month away. While former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have repeated that “no decisions” have been made, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview on Colombian TV that countries that “do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.”

Biden’s plan to pick and choose which countries can attend the Summit has set off regional fireworks. Unlike in the past, when the U.S. had an easier time imposing its will on Latin America, nowadays there is a fierce sense of independence, especially with a resurgence of progressive governments. Another factor is China. While the U.S. still has a major economic presence, China has surpassed the U.S. as the number one trading partner, giving Latin American countries more freedom to defy the United States or at least stake out a middle ground between the two superpowers.

The hemispheric reaction to the exclusion of three regional states is a reflection of that independence, even among small Caribbean nations. In fact, the first words of defiance came from members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which threatened to boycott the Summit. Then came regional heavyweight, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, who stunned and delighted people around the continent when he announced that, if all countries were not invited, he would not attend. The presidents of Bolivia and Honduras soon followed with similar statements.

The Biden administration has put itself in a bind. Either it backs down and issues the invitations, tossing red meat to right-wing U.S. politicians like Senator Marco Rubio for being “soft on communism,” or it stands firm and risks sinking the Summit and U.S. influence in the region.

Biden’s failure at regional diplomacy is all the more inexplicable given the lesson he should have learned as vice president when Barack Obama faced a similar dilemma.

That was 2015, when, after two decades of excluding Cuba from these Summits, the countries of the region put down their collective feet and demanded that Cuba be invited. Obama had to decide whether to skip the meeting and lose influence in Latin America, or go and contend with the domestic fallout. He decided to go.

Cristobal Marquez, owner of “Cristobal’s,” the restaurant where Michelle and Barak Obama had lunch during their visit to Cuba in 2016, shows the book made by White House photographer Pete Souza, in Havana, Cuba. Ramon Espinosa | AP

I remember that Summit vividly because I was among the bevy of journalists jostling to get a front seat when President Barack Obama would be forced to greet Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who came into power after his brother Fidel Castro stepped down. The momentous handshake, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades, was the high point of the summit.

Obama was not only obligated to shake Castro’s hand, he also had to listen to a long history lesson. Raúl Castro’s speech was a no-holds-barred recounting of past U.S. attacks on Cuba—including the 1901 Platt Amendment that made Cuba a virtual U.S. protectorate, U.S. support for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the scandalous U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But Castro was also gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

The meeting marked a new era between the U.S. and Cuba, as the two nations began to normalize relations. It was a win-win, with more trade, more cultural exchanges, more resources for the Cuban people, and fewer Cubans migrating to the United States. The handshake led to an actual visit by Obama to Havana, a trip so memorable that it still brings big smiles to the faces of Cubans on the island.

Then came Donald Trump, who skipped the next Summit of the Americas and imposed draconian new sanctions that left the Cuban economy in tatters, especially once COVID hit and dried up the tourist industry.

Until recently, Biden has been following Trump’s slash-and-burn policies that have led to tremendous shortages and a new migration crisis, instead of reverting to Obama’s win-win policy of engagement. The May 16 measures to expand flights to Cuba and resume family reunifications are helpful, but not enough to mark a real change in policy—especially if Biden insists on making the Summit a “limited-invite only.”

Biden needs to move quickly. He should invite all the nations of the Americas to the Summit. He should shake the hands of every head of state and, more importantly, engage in serious discussions on burning hemispheric issues such as the brutal economic recession caused by the pandemic, climate change that is affecting food supplies, and the terrifying gun violence–all of which are fueling the migration crisis. Otherwise, Biden’s #RoadtotheSummit, which is the Summit’s Twitter handle, will only lead to a dead end.

Feature photo | President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK. She is the author of ten books, including three books on Cuba—No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba, The Greening of the Revolution, and Talking About Revolution. She is a member of the Steering Committee of ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect).

The post Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy” appeared first on MintPress News.

Will Shireen Abu Akleh’s Murder Mark a Turning Point in the Liberation of Palestine?

JERUSALEM – As I write these words, the world is trying to make sense of the brutal assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was targeted by Israeli forces while covering yet another Israeli assault on Jenin. Furthermore, Israeli forces have now attacked the funeral procession leading Shireen to her final resting place. One wonders why is anyone surprised.

How often have we seen innocent lives taken? How often have we seen the Israeli military attack funeral processions? And yet, for reasons that perhaps cannot be explained, awe, sadness, and despair have descended upon the world with this particular killing. This particular targeted killing of a journalist – not the first and sadly, probably not the last – touched us all. And the response of the Zionist establishment in occupied Jerusalem, as well as in Washington, is cold and full of excuses.

Israeli police attacks mourners carrying the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral, May 13, 2022. Maya Levin | AP

On the same day the funeral procession of Shireen was taking place in Jerusalem, a memorial procession was taking place in the ancient city of Lyd. This procession was to commemorate the murder of Musa Hassuna.  It was a year ago in Lyd, as settler gangs were assaulting Palestinians in Lyd, that Musa Hassuna was murdered. This procession, besides being a memorial to the killing, was also a reminder that the Israeli authorities decided to close the case against the only suspects who were on the scene and who fired their weapons at the same place and the same time as Musa was killed. Sources in Lyd say that the Israeli minister of interior called the local DA to demand that they close the case on grounds of self-defense.

Of course, we are all well aware that Musa and Shireen, who were murdered one year apart, were not the only victims of Zionist violence. They are joined by countless others who, without cause or trial, were taken from their loved ones, from their people, and turned into martyrs for the cause. Sure enough, once again we are forced to look at reality in the face and accept that no one will save Palestine but us. No one else can free Palestine, no one can save Palestinians from the long, violent, heartless arm of the Zionist apartheid regime. Only a unity of purpose and an uncompromising pro-Palestinian, pro-justice, pro-liberation agenda can save Palestine and its people from bloodshed and destruction.

As it happens, I had just witnessed precisely such unity, albeit on a small scale. Anyone looking for an agenda on Palestine that is both progressive and unifying should have been in New York City in early May of 2022. Al-Awda New York held its “Rising to Return” conference at the People’s Forum in New York City on Mother’s Day weekend this year. The energy, the speakers, the volunteers, and even the vendors all provided an atmosphere of unity of purpose and unity of cause – the cause being the liberation of Palestine as well as the total rejection of Zionism and the Zionist apartheid state.

 

Signs of unity

Sitting side by side under posters displaying Che Guevara and T-shirts displaying the image of Thomas Sankara, as well as other fighters for justice, were Palestinians, American Jews, communists, secular and religious people, women wearing hijab, and ultra-orthodox rabbis. All were there to speak and listen but mostly to demonstrate support for the liberation of Palestine and the end to the apartheid regime in Palestine.

Mourners gather at the hospital where the body Shireen Abu Akleh was taken to her final resting place, May 13, 2022. Mahmoud Illean | AP

Contrary to the common misconception regarding the pro-Palestinian camp, a clear and uncompromising message regarding Palestine does have the capacity to unite people of different backgrounds, faiths, and even political affiliations. One is hard-pressed to think of any other issue on which all of these groups could find common ground. Yet Al-Awda New York – with its message of a free, decolonized Palestine – managed to do just that.

The misconception is that in order to present the Palestinian case, in order to achieve the goals of those of seek to free Palestine, we must go slow. “We must first crawl before we walk and run,” we are told. In other words, in order to achieve the liberation of Palestine, we must tread lightly so as not to upset anyone. This was never true and it is not true today.

 

Who is a Jew?

Too many people think that Jewish people who are orthodox and dress as ultra-orthodox are associated with settlers and right-wing Israeli politics. However, at the Al-Awda conference and in many, many other pro-Palestinian spaces we see ultra-orthodox Jewish people carrying Palestinian flags and calling for the “peaceful dismantlement of the Zionist state.” So the question that needs to be asked is which one of these groups – the racist, violent Settlers or the peace- and tolerance-promoting Jews – represents Judaism?

Revered rabbis from Jerusalem, London and New York have for decades demanded an end to the Zionist state and the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Young Yeshiva students in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Me’a Sha’arim, as well as in cities around the world, proudly carry the Palestinian flag as they march side by side with Palestinians.

So, clearly, the Zionist Jewish settlers may dress as orthodox Jews but in fact, they are violating the most sacred tenets of the Jewish faith.

 

Opposition

The opposition to the cause of justice has always been fierce and, in the case of Palestine, the Zionists have learned from other oppressors and refined their methods. This means that the struggle for justice and liberation in Palestine is challenging and demanding, and we who stand on the side of justice and liberation have to work harder and smarter than those who had to fight in other arenas.

We need to reclaim Palestine by teaching the world that what they wrongly refer to as Israel is Occupied Palestine. And that a glorious history was cut out from the curriculum and therefore they don’t know about the long impressive history of this land, which sits at a crucial crossroads uniting Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Palestinians carry pictures of Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 11, 2022. Nasser Nasser | AP

We need to teach the world that whatever the Zionists had told them was a lie, and then we must be there and in no uncertain terms provide the truth. I was asked once in an interview what I miss about Israel. “This is not Israel,” I replied, “It is Palestine.” The interviewer was astonished: “How can you say that?” he asked me. “It was Palestine, it is Palestine and it will always be Palestine,” I responded. If we act without compromise it will be liberated.

Feature photo | Protesters hold candles and a photo of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Haifa, Israel, May 11, 2022. Ariel Schalit | AP

Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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Cambridge Analytica Reborn? Private Spy Agency Weaponizes Facebook Again

DeMENLO PARK, CA — On April 4, plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Facebook over its data-sharing practices following the eruption of the Cambridge Analytica scandal filed a fresh motion, charging that the social media giant deliberately obstructed discovery of information revealing the scale of its malfeasance.

It’s the latest development in a wide-ranging controversy that began in the first months of 2017 and shows little sign of abating. In brief, Cambridge Analytica exploited a Facebook loophole to harvest the personal data of up to 50 million Americans, in order to manipulate voters on behalf of a number of right-wing candidates — potentially including Donald Trump — and political campaigns in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Since then, the company and its parent, SCL Group, have folded, with official investigations into their activities conducted in several countries, while Facebook has been fined a record $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for egregious breaches of user confidentiality. The entire dispute raised serious public concerns about online privacy and the malign influence of behavioral advertising and microtargeting, which endure to this day.

In September 2020, Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO, Alexander Nix, was disqualified from serving as a U.K. company director for seven years for offering unethical services, including “bribery or honey-trap stings, voter disengagement campaigns, obtaining information to discredit political opponents and spreading information anonymously in political campaigns.”

By contrast, one senior SCL staffer seemingly pivotal to many of those unethical practices – although they deny it — has been unaffected by the scandal’s fallout. In fact, they have profited and prospered immensely in its wake.

One week prior to Cambridge Analytica’s closure on May 1, 2018, Gaby van den Berg – who, among other things, created SCL’s patented, DARPA-approved “Behavioral Dynamics Methodology,” which analyzes and profiles particular target audiences in order to identify optimal strategies for influencing their perceptions and actions — founded a new company in London, Emic Consulting. Ever since, she has taught Cambridge Analytica-style information warfare techniques to militaries the world over.

This undated photo is one of the few published online believed to show Gaby van den Berg, center, in Muscat, Oman

For example, the Canadian armed forces spent vast sums on Emic’s services in 2019 and 2020. Its intelligence branch went on to be embroiled in a string of high-profile scandals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, harassing citizens with bizarre psychological operations and mining social media profiles for data without users’ approval, provoking outcry.

The findings of a subsequent inquiry into the unit’s cloak-and-dagger activities were absolutely damning. While Emic was unmentioned, it borders on inconceivable the tactics so contentiously deployed weren’t influenced by the firm’s tutelage.

 

“Advantage of positioning”

It appears that van den Berg is involved in other cloak-and-dagger efforts to surreptitiously influence unwitting target audiences. Leaked files reviewed by MintPress name her as a key staffer on a secret psychological warfare effort in Syria, funded by the British Foreign Office and delivered by shadowy communications firm Global Strategy Network.

The company was founded by MI6 veteran Richard Barrett, who led the agency’s counter-terror operations before and after 9/11, a period in which British intelligence became intimately implicated in Washington’s monstrous extraordinary-rendition program. Questions abound about his complicity in the CIA’s torture of terror suspects as a result.

According to its Foreign Office submissions, Global Strategy began operating in Syria from “the earliest days” of Western attempts to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad, by convincing Syrians, Western citizens and foreign states that the Free Syrian Army was a legitimate, moderate alternative, while flooding international media with pro-opposition propaganda.

The company boasted that its “wildly impactful” informational output had influenced perceptions the world over, having been seen by “many hundreds of millions of people and attracting comment as far as the UN Security Council.”

By Global Strategy’s reckoning, its success is attributable to “programming that is not designed on day one and delivered ‘come what may,’ but instead is rapidly iterated and re-deployed as the situation on-the-ground and our adversaries change.”

Referencing the military and intelligence concept of infiltrating an enemy’s “OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop,” Global Strategy spoke of “getting inside” the decision-making processes of the Assad government and extremist groups in Syria, “to make good decisions faster” than their opponents did, “be strategically proactive and tactically reactive,” and “achieve an advantage of positioning.”

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Key to this process is Global Strategy’s extensive use of innovative in-house technology. For example, it has created “Daeshboard,” which provides analysis of terrorist group communications, and draws heavily on the company’s “historical and ongoing access” to “closed communication groups” on Telegram, Rocket.Chat and other ostensibly encrypted platforms.

By tracking these groups’ public statements and the manner in which their “themes change over time and geographically,” Global Strategy pinpoints “emerging trends” in extremist propaganda, “and how to stifle them.” A cited example of this capability was northeast Nigeria in September 2019, after Boko Haram’s private chat channels indicated the terror group intended to target Christians.

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Daeshboard enabled Global Strategy “to identify and visualize how this threat was taking shape” before Boko Haram duly began executing Christians three months later, in turn altering its propaganda messaging “on a weekly basis” to promote religious tolerance, “thereby getting ahead of [Boko Haram’s] efforts to provoke sectarian conflict.”

All of which might be well and good, but as we shall soon see, the company has the avowed ability to do this with far less positive motivations in other contexts, and target innocent everyday people in the process.

Daeshboard operates in tandem with Murmurate, “social listening” software enabling Global Strategy to monitor online conversations “trending geographically,” which provides insight into how target audiences react to certain messaging, how responses and discussions diverge in different regions of a given country, and “how digital audiences are connected to each other.”

 

“Creative war approaches”

It would be entirely unsurprising if van den Berg played a role in the creation of these resources, and indeed ExTraca big data platform combining “real-time attack and communications data with artificial intelligence,” and providing “actionable insights” on the communications of violent extremist groups for use by counter-terror and “countering violent extremism” (CVE) “policymakers and practitioners” – launched by Global Strategy March 2021.

That same month, van den Berg was one of two “experts” who led an online discussion convened by NATO’s Riga-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Among the topics under consideration were, “What are the limitations of big data to understand [sic] our audiences?” and “Can social listening predict behaviors?”

Evidently, van den Berg has an intense professional interest in the precise disciplines Global Strategy has harnessed. The reference to social listening predicting behaviors is particularly tantalizing too, given this is precisely what Cambridge Analytica’s “psychographic” techniques attempted to achieve, although apparently with little success. Perhaps given the failure of the company’s methods, van den Berg is investigating new means of achieving the same intrusive objective.

In any event, what ExTrac’s classified client reports contain is anyone’s guess, although it’s likely highly sensitive: “Access is granted on a case-by-case basis via subscriptions,” its website’s footer notes, underlining the platform’s exclusivity and secrecy. Strikingly though, repeated reference to the Facebook activities of extremist actors, and their audiences, is made in ExTrac’s publicly-available threat assessments.

In one such report, extremist activity on the social network is mentioned in the same passage as private discussions conducted through Telegram and “illicit offline networks and covert communications,” strongly suggesting it’s not purely “open” Facebook content that ExTrac scrutinizes.

Furthering this interpretation, listed directly alongside van den Berg in the leaked Global Strategy files is Charlie Winter, ExTrac’s research director, who runs the initiative alongside nameless “former intelligence personnel.” A long-time academic investigator of extremist groups, his PhD – which examined how “contemporary militant groups cultivate creative approaches to governance and war” online – was directly funded by Facebook.

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The social network moreover financed his five-year spell as a research fellow at London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, through its Online Civil Courage Initiative, as did the U.K. Home Office and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Declassified emails reveal he has given in-person briefings on ISIS propaganda to representatives of the latter.

Winter’s tenure at the Centre led him to write a book, “The Terrorist Image,” which examined 20,000 images “collected from the Islamic State’s covert networks online.” Its content speaks to extensive knowledge of the internal workings of elite ISIS propaganda units and their private discussions via various chat platforms on the part of the author, including the Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

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All this raises the obvious question of whether Global Strategy directly or indirectly accesses Facebook user data, and weaponizes it in the exact manner of Cambridge Analytica, with the assistance of van den Berg, an individual centrally connected to that firm and its malicious methods of mass manipulation.

Notably, both companies, and Emic, have ignored repeated requests for clarity from MintPress.

 

“Aggressive commercial organization”

If private Facebook data is being exploited by Global Strategy for counter-terror purposes, one might argue the ends justify the means, as such intrusion undermines barbarous extremist groups, prevents further radicalization, and potentially averts future atrocities.

However, Global Strategy’s clandestine crosshairs aren’t solely trained on extremists and their supporters. Over the course of its Syrian operations, it avowedly used Murmurate to collect information on online discussions between target audiences in the U.K., including Syrian refugees, which was then fed back to the Foreign Office.

Such indiscriminate infringement highlights a wider failing of CVE programs: they are founded on the flawed, unsupported axiom that literally anyone exposed to extremist propaganda in any way represents a prospective terror threat, therefore effectively pre-criminalizing countless innocent people – overwhelmingly Muslims – and making them targets for manipulation and surveillance.

Given the ease and fluidity with which memes travel on social media, a great many users may inadvertently — and involuntarily — become part of an extremist group’s “audience,” and thus included in Global Strategy’s sweeping dragnet. Without elucidation on how ExTrac categorizes an extremist “audience”, or indeed even what constitutes “extremist”, we have no way of knowing how sweeping its data collection is.

It may be incumbent to note though that the UK government has previously designated distrust of the mainstream media, and belief in “conspiracy theories” and criticism of the government, particularly in the field of foreign policy, as signifiers of potential extremist radicalization. The Department of Homeland Security has also published official guidance leveling much the same charges.

Even if ExTrac is merely hoovering up their public information and communications, law-abiding individuals are unlikely to acquiesce to such data being secretly collected and analyzed by a sinister state-funded propaganda merchant run by intelligence operatives, let alone the fruits of this research being sold on to unknown actors for profit, then used for uncertain ends.

That techniques originally honed for use in war to effect “behavior change” in enemy targets were trained on citizens was a core component of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. ExTrac unambiguously represents a tool influenced by military and intelligence techniques adapted for commercial purposes, with unsuspecting civilians in the firing line.

In March 2020, the domain Daeshboard.net was registered using WhoisGuard, which shields a registrant’s identity. It expired one year later, although today a Google search for the website turns up ExTrac’s customer login page, implying the two are either one and the same, or that the latter is a technologically evolved version of the former, now opened up for wider usage by the private sector and state entities.

On top of its record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine, Facebook still faces further major penalties elsewhere due to its lackadaisical approach to protecting user data. Once harvested by Cambridge Analytica – among a great many others – the company had no way of knowing where that data ended up or the purposes to which it was put.

There is little indication Facebook takes privacy any more seriously today, but a hitherto unexplored question is whether controls are in place to prevent individuals such as Charlie Winter from sharing sensitive insights into its platform and users with others.

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Winter’s cloak-and-dagger operations in Syria, which placed him in such close quarters with van den Berg, were conducted concurrently to his researching extremists’ use of social media, at Facebook’s invitation and with its financial sponsorship. The social network is cited by Global Strategy as a key conduit for its anti-regime, anti-ISIS propaganda. During this time, Winter was also an “expert” adviser to another covert Foreign Office endeavor, which targeted Lebanon’s refugee camps with anti-extremist messaging.

Winter’s Facebook work, and resultant insider knowledge, may well have been one of the factors that led to his recruitment – particularly in the latter instance, given that one element of the campaign was the creation of a private Facebook group for camp inhabitants to discuss local issues, a group that was “closely monitored” by the contractor delivering the project, unbeknownst to those using it. At the very least, his multiple simultaneous roles represent a massive conflict of interest.

Both Foreign Office operations were conducted under the auspices of London’s Counter-Daesh Communications Cell. A scathing internal Whitehall review of the Cell’s efforts in Syria, not intended for public consumption, found they were “poorly planned, probably illegal and cost lives.”

Syrians employed by contractors, such as Global Strategy, were killed by the extremist groups they were targeting. The extent of the bloodshed was substantial. One operator “suffered losses of core staff that damaged the organization quite fundamentally.” Another was condemned as “an aggressive commercial organization,” which took “personal and political” risks, and endangered its employees by “[going] too far.”

It’s uncertain whether either description refers to Global Strategy, but that the firm was entangled at all in what was a clearly dangerous and possibly criminal conspiracy means it is particularly vital that Facebook clarify whether it was aware of Winter’s involvement in it, whether its relationship with him endures to this day, and of course whether their connection one way or another grants ExTrac admission to privileged private user information without user knowledge or consent.

What’s abundantly clear, though, is that – for all the public outcry, official probes and hearings, financial penalties, apologies and proposed regulation, Facebook remains the world’s foremost surveillance tool, weaponized in all manner of malevolent ways by any number of hostile elements, the extent of which the public will likely never know. And the same unaccountable individuals are using the same methods to do so, with the support and financial backing of Western governments, and the compliance of Facebook itself.

Feature photo | Noah Berger | AP

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.

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As the Midterms Approach, AIPAC Throws Its Weight – and Money – Around Washington

WASHINGTON Last week, Rep. Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner in an Ohio Democratic primary race for the second time in nine months. Turner had been endorsed by progressive Squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is a vocal critic of Israel. Her loss is largely seen as a win for the Israel lobby and specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In December, AIPAC launched two political action committees (PACs) as a way to be “more effective in fulfilling [their] mission in the current political environment,” according to a statement published by the group on social media.

In the less than six months since it was established, AIPAC’s PAC has delivered $6 million to hundreds of candidates, becoming the biggest pro-Israel PAC in the United States, while its super-PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), has raised nearly $16 million in contributions. Since AIPAC’s PAC operates as a traditional PAC, it can only spend $5,000 per candidate, but its super-PAC can spend unlimited amounts of money.

AIPAC said in a statement about its fundraising:

Our goal is to make America’s friendship with Israel so robust, so certain, so broadly based, and so dependable that even the deep divisions of American politics can never imperil that relationship and the ability of the Jewish state to defend itself.”

Flush with cash, AIPAC appears to be a heavyweight in this year’s midterm elections as it goes after progressives and floods its preferred candidates with millions.

 

AIPAC exposing itself

AIPAC congratulated Rep. Brown on her election victory, writing that it’s proud to stand with “pro-Israel progressive leaders running against anti-Israel candidates.”

Endorsed by AIPAC, Brown received significant financial backing from the organization. According to campaign tracker OpenSecrets, Brown received $83,171 from AIPAC’s super-PAC, UDP; and nearly $270,000 from its regular PAC, according to the Federal Election Commission. UDP also spent nearly $200,000 against Brown’s opponent, Turner.

UDP spokesman Patrick Dorton told Jewish Insider about the PAC’s election season plans:

We intend to be active in a significant number of races where there is a clear difference between a candidate who supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and a candidate that does not or who may seek to undermine that relationship.”

Turner was targeted by the lobby for supporting conditioning aid to Israel and standing in solidarity with Palestine on Twitter.

AIPAC has also had its hand in several other key races across the country. The group has been actively involved in the Texas race between Jessica Cisneros and Rep. Henry Cuellar, as well as Pennsylvania’s fight between Rep. Summer Lee and Steve Irwin. According to FEC filings, AIPAC has spent over $1 million against Rep. Lee and a combined total of more than $600,000 from both its PAC and super-PAC for Irwin.

“American politics, and to a great extent American society as a whole, has been taken over by big money,” historian Walter L. Hixson, told MintPress News. The author of “Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict” added, “The United States has really become a plutocracy.”

AIPAC’s regular PAC must disclose its donor list, but the super-PAC isn’t required to reveal contributors’ identities. Both PACs’ donors are a mix of real estate and finance moguls, but there are some notable contributors. Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban contributed the largest amount to UDP, with a donation of $1 million, but he isn’t the only company head funneling pro-Israel campaign contributions. The CEOs of several firms have also donated to the PACs.

Ballet-flat brand Tieks co-founder and CEO Kfir Gavrieli gave $5,000 to AIPAC’s PAC. The founder, CEO, and president of Tasty Brands, David Horowitz, pumped $50,000 into UDP. Jimmy Haber, CEO of BLT Restaurant Group, donated $5,000 to the regular PAC. Fernando Szew, CEO of MarVista Entertainment, which was acquired by Fox in December, contributed $3,500 to AIPAC’s PAC.

Grant F. Smith, the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), sees these donor disclosures as an opportunity for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to more strategically target the Israel lobby. “AIPAC has really exposed itself here and provided a fairly wide-open arena for people who don’t like their programs to start talking about their donors in ways that have never been possible before,” Smith said.

Yet with these significant political contributions comes significant political sway. Megadonor Saban has had a strong foothold in politics for decades. In 2002, he gave $13 million to the Brookings Institution to establish the Saban Center for Middle East Policy (now the Center for Middle East Policy). The center’s founding director, Martin Indyk, openly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Saban’s money has also kept former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in line with regard to Israel.

“The donations by Israel partisans have managed to keep almost every elected representative in Israel’s pocket with almost no exceptions,” Alison Weir, American journalist and founder of research institute If Americans Knew, told MintPress.

AIPAC’s list of Israel lobby backed candidates

AIPAC’s PACs aren’t backed just by CEO investors, but also by the organization itself. AIPAC’s own employees have channeled more than $80,000 into its regular PAC. Within that sum, AIPAC President Betsy Korn poured $10,000 into the regular PAC through her company, BVision Sportsmedia.

 

Where is Israel?

UDP has spent $1 million on campaign ads in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, so far. Yet while UDP’s stated mission is championing Israel, the PAC has left it out of its political advertising. Instead, they’ve focused their messaging in other ways — either painting progressives like Lee and Turner as the source of Democratic Party division or highlighting the political achievements of their selected candidates.

Smith suggested two possibilities for why Israel isn’t front and center despite clearly dictating the PACs’ agendas. “Israel is an increasingly unpopular brand,” Smith said of the Democratic Party’s priorities, emphasizing the recent swath of human rights organizations labeling Israel as an apartheid state.

The other reason is tradition. AIPAC has been advising pro-Israel PACs on their donations for decades and helped start these committees. A 1986 memo from AIPAC’s then-Assistant Director of Political Affairs Elizabeth Schrayer detailed AIPAC’s political scheming. In the document, Schrayer encouraged these PACs to donate to specific candidates outside of the PACs’ states. Additionally, out of the 30 PACs associated with AIPAC, only four mentioned Israel in their name — another covert tactic.

“[AIPAC] has always been deceptive about the true nature of the political action committees they helped form in the eighties,” Smith said.

 

AIPAC’s growing disconnect

AIPAC received widespread criticism for endorsing 109 of the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results following the Jan. 6 insurrection at Capitol Hill.

For Hixson, this development is telling because it underscores the growing divide among American Jews. “AIPAC is becoming increasingly viewed as the Republican wing of the lobby,” he said.

Since its creation, a core tenet of AIPAC has been its bipartisanship, but Hixson believes AIPAC is moving farther and farther away from its original doctrine explaining:

AIPAC hasn’t cut off funding to Democrats who will take a pro-Israel line, but the fact that they support the far right and have identified so closely with [former President Donald] Trump is a significant change because it encourages these splits in a liberal, Jewish so-called community.”

Hillary Clinton feasts with media mogul, and Israel lobby mega donor, Haim Saban, left.

Polling suggests American Jews are becoming more critical of Israel, with a quarter considering it an apartheid state. Democratic voters are also taking a harsher position on Israel, with a majority supporting sanctions over Israel’s settlement activity and more than 40% believing the U.S. should withhold aid to Israel.  A University of Maryland poll also found that fewer than one percent of Democratic respondents view Israel as the U.S.’ first or second most important ally.

According to Smith, AIPAC has always purported to be the unified voice of the American Jewish community, but that self-proclaimed title isn’t true. During the joint IRmep and American Educational Institute “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” 2016 conference, Smith debunked the lobby’s false narrative “that Americans who are Jewish are all Israel affinity organization members who support lobbying from these groups.”

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey on Jewish identity, 82% of American Jews aren’t members of Israel lobbying organizations. Smith accordingly asked at the conference:

So who does the lobby really represent? Well, the views and concerns of mega donors, for sure; the views and concerns of a relatively small group of boards of directors and top officials; and of course the Israeli government, with which many are in direct and ongoing consultation.”

With Jewish and Democratic voters becoming less concerned with the alliance between the U.S. and Israel, the gap between representative and constituent appears to be widening. As Weir put it:

It’s a contest between the elites that fund candidates and the grassroots that often want something different. So we’re seeing that the elites — almost all of whom are pro-Israel — will continue giving huge amounts of money to candidates and buying a lot of candidates that way.”

Feature photo | MintPress News | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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Chris Hedges: Jesus, Endless War, and the Rise of American Fascism

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — The Democratic Party – which had 50 years to write Roe v Wade into law with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama in full control of the White House and Congress at the inception of their presidencies – is banking its electoral strategy around the expected Supreme Court decision to lift the judicial prohibition on the ability of states to enact laws restricting or banning abortions.

I doubt it will work.

The Democratic Party’s hypocrisy and duplicity is the fertilizer for Christian fascism. Its exclusive focus on the culture wars and identity politics at the expense of economic, political, and social justice fueled a right-wing backlash and stoked the bigotry, racism, and sexism it sought to curtail. Its opting for image over substance, including its repeated failure to secure the right to abortion, left the Democrats distrusted and reviled.

The Biden administration invited Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls and union workers from Starbucks and other organizations to the White House at the same time it re-awarded a $10 billion contract to the union-busting Amazon and the National Security Agency (NSA) for cloud computing. The NSA contract is one of 26 federal cloud computing contracts Amazon has with the U.S. Army and Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, and the Census Bureau. Withholding the federal contracts until Amazon permitted free and open union organizing would be a powerful stand on behalf of workers, still waiting for the $15 minimum wage Joe Biden promised as a candidate. But behind the walls of the Democratic Party’s Potemkin village stands the billionaire class. Democrats have failed to address the structural injustices that turned America into an oligarchic state, where the obscenely rich squabble like children in a sandbox over multibillion-dollar toys. The longer this game of political theater continues, the worse things will get.

The Christian fascists have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump. They are bankrolled by the most retrograde forces of capitalism. The capitalists permit the stupidities of the Christian fascists and their self-destructive social and cultural wars. In exchange, the billionaire class gets corporate monopolies, union busting, privatized state, and municipal services, including public education, revoked government regulations, especially environmental regulation, and can engage in a virtual tax boycott.

The war industry loves the Christian fascists who turn every conflict from Iraq to Ukraine into a holy crusade to crush the latest iteration of Satan. The Christian fascists believe military power, and the “manly” virtues that come with it, are blessed by God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. No military budget is too big. No war waged by America is evil.

These Christian fascists make up perhaps 30 percent of the electorate, roughly equivalent to the percentage of Americans who believe abortion is murder. They are organized, committed to a vision, however perverse, and awash in money. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, mediocre jurists and Federalist Society ideologues who carry the banner of Christian fascism, control the Supreme Court.

Establishment Republicans and Democrats, like George Armstrong Custer on Last Stand Hill, have circled the wagons around the Democratic Party in a desperate bid to prevent Trump, or a Trump mini-me, from returning to the White House. They, and their allies in Silicon Valley, are using algorithms and overt de-platforming to censor critics from the left and the right, foolishly turning figures like Trump, Alex Jones, and Marjorie Taylor Greene into martyrs. This is not a battle over democracy, but the spoils of power waged by billionaires against billionaires. No one intends to dismantle the corporate state.

The ruling class in both parties told lies about NAFTA, trade deals, “reforming” welfare, abolishing financial regulations, austerity, the Iraq war, and neoliberalism that did far more damage to the American public than any lie told by Trump. The reptilian slime oozes out of every pore of these politicians, from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to Biden, who backed the 1976 Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortions and in 1982 voted to support a constitutional amendment that would allow states to overturn Roe v Wade. Their hypocrisy is not lost on the public, even with their armies of consultants, pollsters, courtiers in the press, public relations teams and advertising agencies.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is clueless and unhinged. She claims Hillary Clinton was involved in a child mutilation and a pedophilia ring and several high-profile school shootings were staged. But weaponized, like Trump, she is a political cruise missile aimed straight at the heart of the discredited centers of traditional power.

Hate is the fuel of American politics. No one votes for who they want. They vote against those they hate. Black and brown marginal communities have suffered worse assaults than the white working class, but they have been defanged politically with militarized police that function as internal armies of occupation. The erosion of due process, the world’s largest prison system and the stripping away of all rights, including often voting rights because of felony convictions, as well as a loss of access to most social services and jobs, reduced them to a subsistence level on the lowest rung of America’s caste system. They are also the primary targets of Republican-sponsored voter suppression and redistricting.

The glue holding this Christianized fascism together is not prayer, although we will get a lot of that, but war. War is the raison d’être of all systems of totalitarianism. War justifies a constant search for internal enemies. It is used to revoke basic civil liberties and impose censorship. War demonizes those in the Middle East, Russia, or China, who are blamed for the economic and social debacles that inevitably get worse. War diverts the rage engendered by a dysfunctional state towards immigrants, people of color, feminists, liberals, artists, anyone who does not identify as a heterosexual, the press, antifa, Jews, Muslims, Russians, or Asians. Take your pick. It is a bigot’s smorgasbord. Every item on the menu is fair game.

I spent two years with the Christian right reporting and researching my book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. These Christian fascists have never hidden their agenda or their desire to create a “Christian” nation, any more than Adolf Hitler hid his demented vision for Germany in Mein Kampf. They prey, like all fascists, on the despair of their followers. They paint gruesome portraits of the end times when the longed-for obliteration of non-believers presages the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The battle at Armageddon, they believe, will be launched from the Antichrist’s worldwide headquarters in Babylon once the Jews again have control of Israel. The closer we get to Armageddon, the giddier they become.

These people believe this stuff, as they believe in QAnon or the election fraud that supposedly put Biden in office. They are convinced that a demonic, secular-humanist ideology propagated by the media, the United Nations, elite universities, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission along with the US State Department and major foundations are seeking to destroy them.

Violence is embraced as a cleansing agent, a key component of any fascist movement. The Christian fascists do not fear nuclear war. They welcome it. The insane provocations of Russia by the Biden administration, including the decision to provide $33 billion in assistance to Ukraine, target ten Russian generals for assassination and pass on to Ukraine the intelligence to sink the Moskva, the guided missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, supercharges the ideology of the Christian right. The marriage of the war industry, determined to make war forever, with the Christian fascists yearning for the apocalypse is terrifying.  Biden is sleepwalking us into a war with Russia and perhaps China. The Christian fascists will accelerate the bloodlust.

The political deformities we have spawned are not unique. They are the product of a society and government that no longer functions on behalf of the citizenry, one that has been seized by a tiny cabal, in our case corporate, to serve its exclusive interests. The airy promises politicians make, including the announcement by candidate Barack Obama that the first thing he would do in office was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which during his eight years as president he never got around to doing, are worthless. The scheduled vote next week in the Senate on a bill asserting that abortions are legal in the United States, which is expected to be blocked by the Republican’s use of the filibuster, a Senate procedural rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation in the 100-member chamber, is another empty gesture.

We saw the consequences of this dysfunction in Weimar Germany and Yugoslavia, a conflict I covered for The New York Times. Political stagnation and economic misery breeds rage, despair, and cynicism. It gives rise to demagogues, charlatans, and con artists. Hatred drives political discourse. Violence is the primary form of communication. Vengeance is the highest good. War is the chief occupation of the state. It is the vulnerable and weak who pay.

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.

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General Dynamics Calls Critics “Radical Skeptics” for “Undermining” US Foreign Policy

RESTON, VIRGINIA (CODEPINK) On May 4th, General Dynamics held its annual shareholder meeting. This meeting took place virtually, possibly in response to last year when shareholders were able to directly engage with the General Dynamics Board and ask how they justify the destruction and death their weapons cause.

CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin was able to use her shareholder question last year to ask CEO Phoebe Novakovic how she justifies making $21 million a year while, years earlier, a 2,000 lb. General Dynamics bomb hit a Yemeni marketplace and killed 97 civilians (including 25 children).

This year’s shareholder meeting was completely online, with only audio broadcasted and no video shared, no chat function, and a question submission box that was disabled halfway through the meeting. This platform allowed General Dynamics to speed through the 24-minute meeting with no pushback, criticism, or engagement from the shareholder attendees – and this approach extended to the proposals section.

During this section, there was a very notable proposal introduced by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, NY requesting that the General Dynamics Board of Directors prepare a human rights report. The proposal points out that General Dynamics’ products and services are used by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, and U.S. government agencies at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As General Dynamics’ weapons are used in war crimes and human rights violations against Yemenis, Palestinians, asylum-seekers, and beyond, this proposal rightfully calls for General Dynamics to develop and provide transparency on their process to address and remedy the “actual and potential human rights impacts associated with high-risk products and services.”

General Dynamics roundly rejected this proposal and unanimously recommended a vote against it. They stated that they already have a “rational and principled” human rights strategy – never mind that their strategy includes no commitment to addressing the human rights impacts of their lethal weapons. As Danaka Katovich lays out in her recent Jacobin Article, a 2019 Amnesty International report found that General Dynamics did not even measure up to its human rights due diligence responsibilities.

General Dynamics added that not only was this proposal unnecessary, but it was also harmful and would “undermine shareholder value” by attempting to “embed radical skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy.” In the shareholder meeting itself, CEO Novakovic stated that “we have supported the U.S. government’s foreign policy, and we will continue to do that – if that is at odds with anyone else’s view, that is something you should take up with your Representative. But that is not appropriate to ask at this meeting.”

General Dynamics’ response to this human rights proposal painted a clear picture: a corporation that is just doing its job by supporting the policies and needs of the U.S. government. However, the lobbying practices of General Dynamics and other top defense contractors paint a different picture.

General Dynamics is part of a proud defense contractor tradition of spending millions of dollars each year on lobbying to shape U.S. policy. And, as Open Secrets points out, this strategy pays off. Weapons manufacturers have spent more than $2.6 billion on lobbying in the past two decades, and have been rewarded with “half of the $14 trillion allocated to the Department of Defense (DOD) during that time.” For every $1 Lockheed Martin spent on lobbying in 2020, they received $5,803 from DOD contracts.

General Dynamics’ claim that their “North Star is the law and policy of the U.S. government” fails to mention that they spend millions annually to shape U.S. law and policy to their benefit. While defense contractors like General Dynamics hide behind the guise of supposedly impenetrable U.S. foreign policy, they have already spent almost $2.9 million on lobbying efforts in the first quarter of this year alone.

It’s time to stop buying the lie that corporate accountability for war crimes and human rights violations is really an attempt to “embed radical skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy.” Defense contractors like General Dynamics may hide behind the veneer of serving the U.S. government, but they ultimately only care about selling weapons and making substantial profits – and they shape our legislation towards that goal. It is against their self-interest to provide transparency around their human rights practices, because the more weapons they sell, the better – and they don’t care who they sell them to.

That is why now is a critical time to focus on pulling money away from these weapon-manufacturing corporate behemoths. Divesting money from weapons manufacturers, whether that is through divesting your church, university, or city budget, not only pulls financial resources from these death-dealing corporations but also demonstrates to them that there are dissenting communities across the U.S. who do not believe their lies about “just doing their jobs.” Pushing your Congressional representative to divest from war by refusing to take campaign contributions from weapons manufacturers is another powerful way to disrupt weapon manufacturers’ manipulation of U.S. policy for their own profit.

Militarized violence across the world in Ukraine, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia and beyond is overwhelming – and so is the immense profit that weapons manufacturers are making from this violence. But we all have more power than we think, and an important first step for building a demilitarized future is pulling away money – and power – from these weapons manufacturers.

Feature photo | Upriseri

Shea Leibow is passionate about anti-war, anti-imperialist, and climate justice movement-building. They received their bachelor’s degree in the Study of Women & Gender and Environmental Science & Policy from Smith College in 2020. Shea has worked on campaigns related to environmental justice, food access, and nuclear weapons abolition. They also have a background in research, and were a Next Leader with the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies prior to coming to CODEPINK. Shea is based in Chicago, IL and is a National Organizer with the Divest from the War Machine and CODEPINK Congress campaigns.

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My Nelson Mandela is Dead

JERUSALEM, OCCUPIED PALESTINE – On the wall of the courtyard at “The Citadel” in Beit Sahour is a mural of great Palestinian figures, both women and men. Many of them are dead; those who still live spent time in prison and are prohibited from living in their homeland. And yet Palestinians are constantly demanded to answer the question, “Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?”

“My Nelson Mandela is dead,” my long-time friend Baha Hilo answered, as this question was posed to him by visitors at the “Citadel.” The Palestinian Mandelas are dead and buried, or sometimes buried alive in Israeli prisons with long sentences that in some ways are like a death sentence.

The figures on the mural at the citadel include women who were part of the armed struggle, like Dalal Al-Mughrabi, Laila Khaled, Zakia Shamout. There are cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, who created Handala and was assassinated; the great writer Ghassan Kanafani, brutally murderd by Israel; the poet Ibrahim Touqan; the poet Abdel Raheem Mahmoud, who was also assasinated; Nizar El-Banat, who was murdered by the Palestinian Authority, an arm of the Zionist occupation; and Basel Al-Araj, a writer and fighter who was killed by Israeli forces. All Palestinians who are part of a long story of struggle.

If we insist on bringing up the South African struggle against aparthied, then we would be better to ask Israelis, and perhaps even some Jewish people around the world, “Where is your Ruth First?” Ruth First was a major figure in the fight to bring down the South African apartheid regime and on the 17th of August, 1982 she was killed by a letter bomb. Her assasination is believed to have been the work of the South African security agencies. 

One would also ask, “Where is the Israeli Albie Sachs?” His work to free South Africans from aparthied brought the South African security agents to place a bomb in his car on April 7, 1988. The explosion blew up his car and he lost an arm and the sight of one eye. After Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, he appointed Sachs to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court. As a Constitutional Court judge, Justice Sachs was the chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996.

We should also ask, “Where is the Israeli Joe Slovo?” Slovo was chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He served on the revolutionary council of the ANC and was the first white member of the ANC’s national executive. All three were Jewish and white and they paid heavily for their commitment to justice and their fight for a free South Africa. 

Still people never ask this of Israelis and other Jewish Zionists, because it is much easier to demand an explanation from the victims than to hold the perpetrators accountable. 

A strategy

“What is your strategy for liberation?” is another question posed to Palestinians. This is a lot like asking the prisoners in a maximum security prison what their strategy is for escape. One may assume that prisoners think of little else and strategize on ways to escape or at least get a parole, but the question remains ridiculous because the power of the system that holds them is immense and its control over them and their actions is practically absolute. Palestinians live in a sophisticated prison called “Israel” and, like inmates in a prison, they dream of liberation, even as they do their best to live and exist under the brutal regime imposed upon them.

Rarely, if ever, do we hear people ask Israelis, “What is your strategy for peace, equality and justice?” If the question were posed, the answer would be: “There is none.” This is because Israel is interested in neither peace, justice nor equality. Destruction of Palestine was the strategy all along and from the very beginning the rest of the world was either complicit or just standing by and allowing the destruction to take place.

Keeping the hope

The way to liberate the Palestinians from Israel requires replacing the aparthied regime known as “Israel” with a free, democratic Palestine – and not expecting that Israel itself will allow Palestinians to be free. Israel isn’t just the perpetrator of the crime, it is, in and of itself, the crime. The existence of Apartheid Israel is the crime. So it is up to those of us on the outside, who are not bound by the rules of apartheid, to make every effort to dismantle this system of oppression known as “Israel.” The possibility of this taking place, however, is not something that necessarily inspires hope, because it demands a struggle against forces that seem to be invincible.

People like to “find hope” in the most absurd places. Representations of normalization, the “peace and dialogue industry,” have been instrumental in creating the ridiculous sense of hope that is based not on a realistic understanding of what must be done, but on a myth of an Israel that will allow the Palestinian people to estblish a state one day – a state that will be governed by “good Palestinians” who refrain from violence and “unrealistic demands” like the return of the refugees, full equality, and the dismantling of the Zionist colonialist system.

Israel and its allies know that they have to be vigilant and that even the slightest crack in their wall of lies and misinformation can lead to the collaps of the Zionist regime. This is why in the U.S. they have a presence in every town and city, in school boards and small city councils; they have a presence in the churches and they have a presence on college campuses. 

 

The Zionist campaign is vicious and relentless becasue the Zionists know that once a crack is made in their line of defense — a line that is made of deception, falsehoods and fabrication – they will fall, never to rise again. Forcing that wall of deception to fall is the task that must be undertaken by people of conscience working for justice and peace. We must formulate a strategy to dismantle the wall and the system that built it.

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Institute for Curriculum Services: How an Israel Lobby Group Infiltrated US Education

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA  — In 2018, the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) successfully stopped the state from adopting textbook edits made by the Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS), a pro-Israel “educational” institution.

The ICS promotes itself as improving the accuracy of K-12 instruction on Judaism and Jewish history in the United States. Yet, backed by the Israel lobby, its strategy appears more in line with advocating a Zionist narrative than enhancing education.

Today, ICS boasts that it has helped better public education in all 50 states and impacted 11 million students across the country. With this in mind, MintPress News uncovered how ICS is twisting the truth about Israel in U.S. schools.

 

The fight in Virginia

In January 2018, Virginia activist Jeanne Trabulsi attended a Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) webinar featuring ICS. During the event, ICS Director Aliza Craimer Elias spoke about the nonprofit’s activity, specifically how it works with Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) to send revision requests to textbook review committees.

Following the webcast, the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) sent a request to Virginia’s Department of Education, under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, for all documents submitted by ICS, JCPA and JCRCs. IRmep found that ICS-proposed edits were sent to the Virginia Department of Education on behalf of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and the JCRCs of Greater Washington, Richmond, and Tidewater.

Requested ICS changes to public school textbooks included:

  • Replace “settlers” with “communities,” “occupation” with “control of,” “wall” with “security fence,” “occupied territories” with “captured areas,” and “militant” with “terrorist.”
  • Discourage students from conducting open internet research, and instead recommend the Anti-Defamation League’s website and the JewishVirtualLibrary.org.
  • Delete all references to “Palestinian Territories.”
  • Change maps to recognize Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, instead of classifying these areas as occupied.

An excerpt from an ICS Review of “Pearson World History and Geography 1500 to Present”

An excerpt from an ICS Review of “National Geographic World Cultures and Geography”

ICS targeted 12 textbooks published by the National Geographic Society, Prentice Hall, Five Ponds Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill for revision.

With these revelations, VCHR sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Education and the above publishers requesting that they not incorporate ICS edits. To VCHR’s knowledge, no ICS-sought changes were made to the textbooks during the 2018 review cycle.

 

ICS tactics

In March, Trabulsi presented VCHR’s victory against ICS at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and IRmep’s annual Israel Lobby Conference.

“VCHR is of the opinion that ICS is not a true education outfit. It’s a public affairs and advocacy group,” Trabulsi said during her talk.

ICS operates as a nonproft under the 501(c)(3) status of San Francisco’s JCRC and is a grantee of the Schusterman Family Foundation, which also supports the American Israel Education Foundation, an American Israel Public Affairs Committee charity organizing congressional visits to Israel.

In addition to textbook revisions, ICS also hosts teacher training. Currently, 90 U.S. cities have hosted ICS workshops with over 6,000 teachers have participated. Trabulsi attended their flagship course entitled “Teaching the History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Using Primary Sources.” She described their teaching methods during the conference:

[T]hey are highly selective about what documents they do include in their teaching modules. If you didn’t know the story of the Arab world and Israel, you’d think they’re pretty good. I remember one student remarking that the Israelis have offered peace to the Arabs so many times, what else could the Arabs possibly want?”

The ICS boasts of reaching school districts in all 50 states

The primary sources ICS uses for this module include The Jewish State (1896), The First Arab Congress (1913), Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (1915), and The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), and The Balfour Declaration (1917).

Trabulsi told MintPress that ICS doesn’t use primary sources that may alter the narrative they wish to set, such as the White Paper of 1939, a policy paper by the British government rejecting the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine.

“VCHR believes that ICS is enmeshed with and funded by Israel affinity groups that drive their pro-Israel advocacy. We believe that this results in biased and inaccurate textbooks and teacher training,” Trabulsi said at the conference.

 

ICS involvement in textbooks across the US

MintPress sent freedom of information requests to the education departments or boards of all 50 states and the District of Columbia asking for all materials sent by ICS, JCPA, JCRCs, or Jewish federations during curriculum and textbook review processes.

Nineteen states responded that textbook and curriculum decisions are made at the local district level, so information on recommended changes is not available. Fourteen states said none of the aforementioned organizations contacted them regarding proposing textbook edits. Eleven states and D.C. did not respond by the time of writing. However, the states of California, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kentucky provided information on correspondence they had with ICS, their state Jewish federations, and JCRCs.

ICS revisions in Kentucky focused on adding references to ancient Israel and the Holocaust in the content. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico sent their state’s education department an ICS review of social studies standards — advocating “Nation of Israel” be changed to “State of Israel.” In South Carolina, ICS reviews of a textbook from National Geographic Learning and Cengage Learning detailed adding references to acts of Palestinian terrorism.

In California, where ICS is based, JPAC, JCRCs of San Francisco and Sacramento, and the Jewish Federations of Greater Los Angeles and the Desert sent the state’s education department proposed revisions made by ICS. In their cover letter, the organizations commended California for accepting previous ICS edits.

ICS reviewed the textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson Scott Foresman and Prentice-Hall, McGraw-Hill, Teachers Curriculum Institute, Studies Weekly, National Geographic Learning, Discovery Education, Pearson Prentice Hall, and First Choice Educational Publishing. ICS proposed edits include:

  • Delete mentions of “Palestine” and the “West Bank.”
  • Change “Palestine” to “Judah,” the ancient Israelite kingdom.
  • Add “Mandate” and “Region” to references of Palestine.
  • Delete reference to “Palestinian cultural heritage.”
  • Change “Jews settled there” to “Jews joined those [Jews] already there.”
  • Delete reference to Israel capturing the West Bank in 1967.

In Louisiana, the North Louisiana Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge sent a letter to the state’s Department of Education on behalf of ICS recommending ICS revisions to content published by the American Book Company, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Studies Weekly, Edmentum, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Brown University’s The Choices Program. ICS changes to these texts include:

  • Delete “rightfully” from sentence “The Arabs believed Israel had stolen land that rightfully belonged to Palestinian Arabs.”
  • Delete mentions of Israel “seizing territory” from Arab nations.
  • Add information describing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as “directing countless terrorist attacks against Israelis.”
  • Delete student exercise to “[w]rite an unbiased essay that explores all sides of the issue of West Bank settlements.”
  • Delete mentions of “The Green Line,” “The wall,” and “Land lost by the wall” on maps.
  • Delete reason for Arab states rejecting the UN partition plan.
  • Add “Mandate” to references of Palestine
  • Delete mentions of “historic Palestine” and mentions of Palestine as a “land” or “country.”
  • Add references to acts of Palestinian terrorism
  • Place liberation of Palestine in quotes
  • Delete “natives of Palestine” in definition of Palestinians
  • Delete references to Palestinians inhabiting the land for thousands of years.
  • Add information describing Zionism as a movement for Jewish self-determination.
  • Add Israel retaliates in “self-defense” to Palestinian attacks.
  • Delete sentence “Israel disproportionately uses the bulk of the water from those aquifers [in the Occupied West Bank] for its population.”
  • Mention “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”
  • Delete mention of Israel being” accused of many human rights abuses against Palestinians in the territories it occupies…[and] treating its Arab-Israeli citizens as inferior to its Jewish citizens” and replace it with “Israeli Arabs, who are Israeli citizens, have the same full legal rights as Israeli Jews.”

Erasing the existence of Palestine and the indigenous identity of Palestinians was a common theme in ICS revisions. “They relabeled maps and they deleted all references to Palestine. You can call it Mandatory Palestine, but you can never call it Palestine,” Trabulsi said during the Israel Lobby conference. “They want to change the word Palestine to Palestinian. The reasoning is there is no state of Palestine, nor has there ever been.”

ICS, JCPA, and the Jewish Federations of North America did not respond to MintPress’ requests for comment.

 

The Israel agenda in schools – and progressive pushback

ICS isn’t the only pro-Israel organization attempting to shape the narrative on Israel-Palestine in American education. Left-wing activists accused the final adoption of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum of being “white-washed” and “watered down” following opposition by pro-Israel groups.

The Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate initiative is involved in thousands of schools across the U.S. and encourages these institutions to use ADL resources. Pro-Israel groups also continuously go after Palestinian and solidarity activists on college campuses across the country.

Yet progressive movements are fighting back. In 2018, the Texas Coalition for Human Rights (TCHR) successfully got the state’s board of education to change curriculum standards related to Palestine-Israel.

The following main changes were approved:

  • “[E]xplain how Arab rejection of the state of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” changed to “discuss factors contributing to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the rejection of the existence of the state of Israel by the Arab League and a majority of Arab nations.”
  • “[E]xplain how developments in Islam influenced law and government in the Muslim world such as secularism, nationalism, and fundamentalism” changed to “explain how geopolitical and religious influences have impacted law and government in the Muslim world.”

A factsheet released by the VCHR pushing back against some of the ICS’ more egregious demands

In November 2018, the Texas Board of Education heard public comments on its decision to update the school curriculum. TCHR testified in favor of changing the curriculum while Jewish community center Shalom Austin, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federations in Texas, B’nai B’rith International, and Truth in Texas Textbooks all testified in favor of keeping the current standards.

TCHR activist Alex McDonald understands that more needs to be done in fixing the U.S.’ faulty school curriculum and ensuring accuracy, especially when it comes to Palestine. “The goal is to stifle the conversation and the criticism,” McDonald told MintPress News. “And ICS is just one small part of the brainwashing.”

Feature photo | Children from the Greater MetroWest Day School hold Israeli flags during a march in a New York parade. Craig Ruttle | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Institute for Curriculum Services: How an Israel Lobby Group Infiltrated US Education appeared first on MintPress News.

Jerusalem: Al-Aqsa in the Sniper’s Scope, with Lowkey and Dr. Ramzy Baroud



Israel is once again attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Israeli forces storming the ancient religious complex fired tear gas and rubber bullets, seriously injuring hundreds and killing at least one person.

The latest series of attacks is the most consequential since those in May last year, events that led to the Israeli military killing hundreds of Palestinians, injuring thousands, and forcing tens of thousands to flee their houses.

“What is happening at Al-Aqsa right now is more dangerous than at any other time in the past,” Dr. Ramzy Baroud told Lowkey today. Dr. Baroud is a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle, as well as a non-resident senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs. He is the author of six books, including “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out,” co-written with Professor Ilan Pappé.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Israel’s latest attack – timed as it was to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan – has drawn opprobrium from across the world. Yet most Western corporate media have whitewashed the violence as mere “clashes,” rather than the systematic destruction of an ancient place of worship.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted that his nation was acting in good faith and that he was trying to preserve peace and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. Baroud was far from convinced, telling Lowkey:

The fact is Bennett himself is a liar. He speaks about Palestinian dignity, and yet a few years ago, he would take part in killing many Arabs and have no problem with that. Where is the dignity of killing people and having no problem with that? Where is the dignity in stealing Palestinian land, annexing their territories, and depriving them of basic medications, access to hospitals, food and schools?”

Baroud noted that a majority of Israelis now consider themselves to be “right-wing” – a position that would be analogous to “far-right” or “ultranationalist” in other countries. Support for the extremist Temple Mount Movement – a group that advocates for the destruction of Muslim sites of worship and their replacement with Jewish ones – is at an all-time high.

On the other hand, there is some reason to think positively. Israeli actions at the al-Aqsa Mosque have united Palestinians as never before, Baroud claims. Divisions among classes, political parties and religious sects have lessened, and the nation is more determined than ever to resist.

The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post Jerusalem: Al-Aqsa in the Sniper’s Scope, with Lowkey and Dr. Ramzy Baroud appeared first on MintPress News.

Fire from the Mountain: In Search of Omar Cabezas



When I was in college in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1980s, radical students such as myself became quickly acquainted with the book Fire from the Mountain by Omar Cabezas. This book was in fact a bible of sorts for young people excited about the story of rag-tag guerillas in Central America fighting at impossible odds against U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads. In the case of Nicaragua, the Sandinista guerillas actually triumphed in 1979, ousting the infamous dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza – a regime the U.S. Marines had helped install by force in 1934. David had slain Goliath, and Omar Cabezas, a leading Sandinista fighter, told the exhilarating story in a manner that was entertaining, relatable, and often humorous.

By the time I came across Fire from the Mountain, first published in 1982, the Sandinistas were fighting again – this time against Somoza’s former National Guardsmen, whom the CIA had organized into a counter-revolutionary terrorist group known as the Contras. Meanwhile, guerillas in both El Salvador and Guatemala were facing off with brutal death squads that the U.S. was backing to keep those countries’ right-wing dictatorships in place. Cabezas’s book was just as relevant as the day it was written, and my friends and I loved it. Bored with college and my buttoned-up life, I dreamed of being a guerilla like Omar Cabezas.

While I never really pursued this dream, I did take a month off from college in 1987 to go to Ocotal, Nicaragua to do reforestation work with the Nicaragua Network. That experience was enough to get me hooked on the high of revolution and in particular the Sandinista Revolution. I was not alone. Thousands of North Americans and Europeans flocked to Nicaragua in the 1980s to support the Revolution against Reagan’s brutal Contra War, and to live vicariously through the Nicaraguans who were living a romantic life of struggle we could only dream of.

But with the change of decades from the 1980s to the 1990s, many of those whose lives were changed by their experiences in Nicaragua quickly forgot what they had learned. By 1990, the guerillas in El Salvador and Guatemala, weary from years of struggle, put down their arms in exchange for peace accords that brought little change to these terribly inequitable societies. In Nicaragua, voters were coerced by the U.S. government’s explicit threats of more war and economic sanctions into reluctantly voting the Sandinistas out of office.

And then, the unthinkable happened. The Soviet Union, without a shot being fired, fell. On Christmas day, l991, the crimson flag with the golden hammer and sickle was brought down from the Kremlin for the last time, never to be raised again. The age of Revolution was over, or so many of us thought.

Meanwhile, my cohort graduated from college, and, for the most part, went about our humdrum lives working for the man, raising families, and forgetting about the glories of armed insurrection. Thousands of copies of Fire from the Mountain were put away, gathering dust on bookshelves or ending up in the bargain section of used bookstores.

Having been raised a devout Roman Catholic, I am hard-wired to be a true believer. For me, therefore, it was not easy to put away my loyalty to Nicaragua and the Sandinistas. I continued to travel to Nicaragua and hope for a Sandinista return. And – after 16 long years in which one corrupt, neo-liberal government after another took office in Nicaragua, bleeding the country by a thousand cuts – the Sandinistas, and their leader Daniel Ortega were voted back into office. The Revolution had risen again!

Omar Cabezas, pictured right, is shown in an FSLN uniform circa the 1980s

However, by this time, many in the U.S. didn’t care anymore. To the extent people still paid any attention at all to Nicaragua, they simply couldn’t get excited about the boring things to which the Sandinistas — now down from the mountains without the fatigues and AK-47s that had made our collective hearts pound — now turned their attention. Instead of fighting dictators or counterrevolutionaries, the Sandinistas just built roads and hospitals and bridges; electrified a country left half in the dark by their predecessors; reinstated the free education and health care they had instituted in the 1980s but the neo-liberal governments had destroyed. In other words, they just made the lives of average Nicaraguans much better, and much happier. Yawn.

To the extent Nicaraguans are now interviewed, even on programs like DemocracyNow!, they are always people critical of the Sandinista government. Many times, they are disgruntled Sandinistas, like Dora Maria Telles, who now make a career bad-mouthing their former comrades like Daniel Ortega.

For years, I wondered about Omar Cabezas, the Sandinista guerilla who turned us on to the dream of revolution in the first place. Where was he now? Did he still support the Sandinistas and Daniel? Why aren’t the media talking to people like him?

Upon every trip to Nicaragua, I inquired about Cabezas and asked whether I could meet him. For whatever reason, no one was able to help me. Then, in the fall of 2021, my query finally received a positive response. While at a late dinner with some comrades, I again inquired about Omar Cabezas, fully expecting a non-committal answer at best. But no. Quickly, a young Nicaraguan named Sergio spoke up and said that he knows Cabezas and that he could arrange for me to meet him. The very next day, I was off in the bed of a pick-up truck (just like the ones we rode around in the Nicaragua of the 1980s) to see him with Ben Rubinstein and a small MintPress News video crew.

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is the author of “The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela: How the US is Orchestrating a Coup for Oil.”

The post Fire from the Mountain: In Search of Omar Cabezas appeared first on MintPress News.

The Non-Independence of Western-Funded “Independent Media” in Ukraine with Alan MacLeod



In this edition of The Watchdog Podcast, Lowkey talks to Alan MacLeod about Ukraine, how the media is covering the conflict, and the promotion of supposedly “independent” Ukrainian media outlets that are quietly being funded by Western governments.

Chief among these is The Kyiv Independent, a newspaper that was barely three months old at the time of the Russian invasion but has shot to prominence in the West, being relentlessly promoted on television and radio and in print. As a result, it has managed to garner over two million followers on Twitter and raise millions of dollars in crowdfunding.

However, far less known is that The Kyiv Independent was born thanks to a grant of over CA$200,000 from the Canadian government, which made the donation through the European Endowment for Democracy. Furthermore, virtually all of The Kyiv Independent’s staff came from The Kyiv Post, an outlet that has long been financially supported by NATO, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and Western governments, meaning that for years they were directly in the pay of the national security state. Perhaps, then, The Kyiv Independent is not quite as independent as it makes itself out to be.

Furthermore, as MacLeod explained, many Kyiv Independent journalists come from suspect backgrounds, including individuals who previously worked for NATO think tank The Atlantic Council, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, or for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer and Podcast Producer at MintPress News. Before joining MintPress in 2019, Alan was an academic whose work focused on propaganda, media and power. He has published a number of peer-reviewed academic papers on the subject, as well as two books: “Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting” and “Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent.” His article “Kyiv Independent Deep Dive: The West’s In-Kind Answer to Putin’s Propaganda” can be read here.

From the coverage of Ukraine, the pair pivoted to talking about wars the media is ignoring. Chief among them is the seven-year conflict in Yemen, where Western nations continue to supply the Saudi-led Coalition with arms and assistance. By the end of 2021, an estimated 377,000 people had been killed.

Despite this, media coverage of Yemen has been virtually non-existent, especially in comparison to Ukraine. A study MacLeod published last month found that in one week, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC collectively published nearly 1300 articles on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but only two on Israel’s attack on Syria, one on the U.S. bombing campaign in Somalia, and none at all on the Saudi attack on Yemen.

This, for MacLeod, was a function of who the victims and the perpetrators in these cases were. Media is happy to focus on the crimes of official enemies. But when the perpetrator is the U.S. or its close allies, their media’s principled stand against violence dissipates and interest in covering the story drops to nearly zero.

Join us for a free-flowing and extremely informative discussion on war, propaganda, and how the media works.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post The Non-Independence of Western-Funded “Independent Media” in Ukraine with Alan MacLeod appeared first on MintPress News.

As Ramadan Ends, Israeli Provocations Seem Aimed at a Religious War

OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — On the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at least 42 Palestinians were injured when Israeli police raided al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said. With nearly 300 Palestininians injured in the last two weeks at al-Aqsa compound, this year’s Ramadan in Palestine has been marked by bloodshed once again. 

Since the start of Ramadan on April 2, human rights organizations have monitored a significant increase in violence against Palestinians. Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq has documented a worrying trend “in killings, excessive use of force, settler colonial violence, attacks on holy sites and worshippers, and collective punishment measures against Palestinians, including widespread raids, arbitrary arrests, and movement restrictions.” 

According to Al-Haq’s information, the Israeli army has killed 17 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in April. Since Al-Haq’s publication, Israeli forces fatally shot 18-year-old Ahmad Fathi Masad in the head during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp this week. 

 

Uptick in religious violations

Israeli police raids on al-Aqsa compound have become routine this month, with the PRCS noting the majority of injuries were to the upper areas of the body. Israeli forces have used rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades against Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa

In recent weeks, Israeli forces have also broken the iconic stained-glass windows of al-Qibli Mosque, the main mosque in the compound, and have attacked Palestinian journalists, children, women and the elderly at the holy site.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister for Religious Endowments Sheikh Hatem al-Bakri told MintPress News that Israel’s actions at al-Aqsa compound are in violation of international regulations, UNESCO resolutions and religious traditions. 

In 2016, UNESCO, the UN’s world heritage organization, adopted a resolution decrying Israeli violations at al-Aqsa including restricting access to Muslim worship and storming of the compound by Israeli forces and extremists. 

“Israel is not respecting religious treaties at all, instead using their privilege of power to enact these policies,” al-Bakri said, emphasizing how the Jordanian Ministry of Waqf has full jurisdiction over the holy site. “And because of our weaknesses, we cannot run any military confrontation with Israel. We have to just witness what’s happening.”

Israeli police are not the only ones violating the sanctity of al-Aqsa. This month, the Jewish festival of Passover coincided with Ramadan. Jewish extremists used the holiday season to storm the compound and pray at the site more frequently. On April 17, Israeli forces shut Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron to Muslim worshippers for two days. That following Tuesday, hundreds of Jewish settlers stormed the mosque to perform Talmudic rituals in celebration of Passover. The Israeli army also erected military barricades surrounding the area of the mosque to facilitate the settlers’ movement. The director of the mosque, Ghassan Al-Rajabi, said the closure was a continuation of “Zionist authorities’ attempts to dominate and occupy the mosque.”

In 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers at Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan. Following the massacre, Israel divided the holy site into Muslim and Jewish sections, with Muslim access cut to 40%.

Last year, Israel authorities initiated excavation works at the mosque in order to install an elevator there. A Palestinian petition against the settler project was rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court on the grounds the elevator’s purpose is to ensure greater disability access. However, Palestinans stress the plan isn’t humanitarian in its purpose, instead giving cover for an attempt to confiscate land and further Judaize the mosque. 

Sheikh al-Bakri, who is also a preacher at Ibrahimi Mosque, said Israel’s tightened security measures around the religious site suggest a more sinister intention. “Israel has been trying to control that site through converting it from a place for worshipers to a military zone,” al-Bakri said. “All of the events that have been happening around that site make us believe that Israel is trying to turn the Muslim praying side into a synagogue.”

April saw an escalation against Palestinian Muslim and Christian worship as well. According to documentation from the Jerusalem Governorate, on April 23 Israeli forces prevented hundreds of Palestinian Christians from reaching the Church of Holy Sepulcher to celebrate the “Holy Fire” ceremony on the eve of Orthodox Easter.

Minister al-Bakri said Israeli violations against some mosques in Jerusalem have occurred this Ramadan, but emphasized the main offenses against Islam have been at the al-Aqsa and Ibrahimi mosques. 

“If Israel is violating these two big sites, then they can violate every site in the country,” al-Bakri said. “And we keep saying that if Israel is violating al-Aqsa, it’s violating every single Palestinian.”

 

Israel seeking a religious war 

As the end of Ramadan nears, Israeli police have banned non-Muslims from entering al-Aqsa compound for the last ten days of Ramadan. According to Jerusalem Governorate statistics, about 3,670 Jewish settlers invaded al-Aqsa Compound during the Passover holiday.

Amid the spike in Jews praying at the site, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid asserted Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo at al-Aqsa Compound. 

“Muslims pray on the Temple Mount [what Israel calls al-Aqsa Compound], non-Muslims only visit. There is no change, there will be no change,” Lapid said during a press conference

Yet Jordan, which has custodianship over the site, disagreed. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that Israel is taking “targeted steps to change the historical and legal situation in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” specifically condemning Israeli forces for raiding the area and allowing Jews to pray at al-Aqsa Compound. 

Jewish extremists often argue that denying Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa Compound is an obstruction of freedom of worship, given the area is deemed the holiest site in Judaism.  

“Al-Aqsa is only for Muslims,” PA Deputy Governor of Jerusalem Abdullah Siam told MintPress News, in response to accusations of religious discrimination. He suggested the current status quo has pushed Israel to take the site through force. 

Al-Bakri also agreed that al-Aqsa is strictly for Muslim worship. 

But Jewish extremists who spout claims of religious discrimination ignore the stark political element at play, Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Matar said. “[T]here are no equals in Israel-Palestine,” Matar wrote in +972 Magazine. “[I]t is Israel that has created a system of apartheid wherein … Jewish supremacy over Palestinians is guaranteed, maintained, and entrenched by law and by force.”

Just before the start of Ramadan, Israeli parliament member and leader of the far-right Jewish Power Party Itamar Ben-Gvir toured al-Aqsa Compound, escorted by police. This wasn’t his first incursion, and Minister al-Bakri said such provocative, politically-charged tours are how the Israeli government attempts to stabilize its fragile coalition. “Through these practices, [the government is] trying to get political acquisitions,” al-Bakri said. “The government of [Prime Minister] Naftali Bennett is weak, and in order for them to keep going, they have to encourage settlers to do more raids so as to win from that situation.”

Yet ultimately, Israel’s ongoing violations against Muslim worship, al-Bakri said, are “leading the area to a religious war between Islam and Judaism.” “We always say that our main problem is not with Judaism as a religion, but with the occupation,” al-Bakri said. “Although Israel has been using Judaism to shape its occupation.”

 

Ramadan violence on repeat

As they were last year, tensions in Palestine have been at a maximum high during Ramadan. 

In May 2021, violence erupted into a war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic faction governing Gaza. Israel’s 10-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip left 256 Palestinians dead, including 66 children. Media pundits and experts have feared this Ramadan may reach last year’s deadly levels. 

For Minister al-Bakri, the atmosphere in Palestine is always volatile during Ramadan because Israel encourages a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. “Three months ago, Israel started talking in the media about a potential escalation, while the Palestinians hoped for a quiet month,” al-Bakri said, highlighting the number of Palestinians killed recently as meeting Israeli predictions. “Israel has been preparing the area for a potential problem by repeating these crisis slogans.”

Younes Arar, director of international and public relations and media for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, suggested the large number of Palestinians flocking to Jerusalem during Ramadan is part of why the holy month is a tense time — emphasizing how the restrictions on freedom of movement add to the provocations. “Israel uses this month to humiliate Palestinians, as much as they can,” Arar said. “Especially at the doors of al-Aqsa Mosque, knowing how much this situation is sensitive for Palestinians.”

 

The post As Ramadan Ends, Israeli Provocations Seem Aimed at a Religious War appeared first on MintPress News.

The NATO to TikTok Pipeline: Why is TikTok Employing So Many National Security Agents?

CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA – As the bloody conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate, so does the online propaganda war between Russia and the West. A prime example of this is the White House directly briefing influencers on popular social media app TikTok about the war and how to cover it. As the crisis spirals out of control, Americans have turned to TikTok to view real time videos and analysis of the invasion. With the app estimated to have around 70 million U.S. users, the White House is keenly aware of its impact. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest … so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source,” President Joe Biden’s director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, told 30 top TikTok influencers.

TikTok itself has taken steps to align itself with U.S. government policy, deleting more than 320,000 Russian accounts and removing at least 41,000 videos peddling misinformation about the war. In addition to this, it has placed warning labels marked “Russia state-controlled media” on 49 accounts linked to the Russian government. Like other big social media platforms, it has not done the same to Western state-owned outlets such as the BBC, RTÉ, or the CBC.

All this is a far cry from 2020, when President Donald Trump signed an order that would shut down TikTok within 45 days unless it was sold to an American buyer. The Chinese-owned platform, the U.S. government alleged, posed a severe national security threat to the United States. Although TikTok is a Chinese company, it is, ironically, completely blocked inside China, their domestic market being served by a sister app, Douyin, which functions in a similar way but is separated by the Great Firewall. Thus, there is no contact or overlap between the two. After Douyin’s success in China, its parent company ByteDance launched a global platform.

ByteDance first reached a deal to sell TikTok to Microsoft, then to Oracle and Walmart. Yet the new Biden administration, without explanation, quietly dropped the sale requirement indefinitely in early 2021, saying in a court filing that it had begun a review of security concerns cited by the Trump administration.

That decision left buyers and onlookers alike perplexed. Yet studying the backgrounds of dozens of key TikTok employees brought on since the 2020 scare suggests that, instead of destroying TikTok, perhaps the U.S. national security state has co-opted it instead.

 

High-placed NATO recruits

Since 2020, there has been a wave of former spooks, spies and mandarins appointed to influential positions within TikTok, particularly around content and policy – some of whom, on paper at least, appear unqualified for such roles.

For example, while simultaneously being the Content Policy Lead for TikTok Canada, Alexander Corbeil is also the vice president of the NATO Association of Canada, a NATO-funded organization chaired by former Canadian Minister of Defense David Collenette. In order to join TikTok, Corbeil left his job at the SecDev Foundation, a U.S. State Department-funded security think tank. Corbeil’s work focused on Middle Eastern security and in particular on the war in Syria and what NATO’s role should be.

Another NATO-linked new recruit is Ayse Koçak, a Global Product Policy manager at the company. Before joining TikTok last year, she spent three years at NATO. Like Corbeil, Koçak had special expertise in Middle Eastern politics, including a year’s tour in Iraq as the organization’s deputy senior civilian representative.

Foard Copeland, who works on TikTok’s trust and safety policy, is also an ex-NATO man. Copeland previously worked as a desk officer for NATO, as well as for the Department of Defense. Between 2011 and 2021, he also worked for U.S. contractor Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), spending much of that time in Afghanistan. DAI has long been accused of being a CIA front group, perhaps with some justification. In 2009, for example, DAI agent Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba and sentenced to 15 years in prison for spying, espionage, and his part in efforts to destabilize the government.

Perhaps the most worrying NATO alumnus, from a public perspective, is new Feature Policy Manager Greg Andersen. According to his own LinkedIn profile, until 2019, Andersen worked on “psychological operations” for NATO. This fact, according to MintPress contributor Lowkey, was removed after his tweet raising concerns about the relationship between big tech and the national security state went viral. Lowkey wrote:

Andersen’s profile continues to identify him as a former NATO employee, but there is no reference to “psychological operations” or “soldier-system lethality.” Lowkey provided MintPress with a screenshot of what he said was Andersen’s pre-tweet profile, which has been included below.

 

Not just NATO

NATO, however, is far from the only organization newly connected to TikTok. The company’s new Global Lead of Integrity and Authenticity, Chris Roberts, is a former senior director of Technology Policy at the Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG), a powerhouse strategy and consulting firm started by late-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The ASG has been perhaps the major staffing source for President Biden’s administration, with at least 10 ASG employees appointed to key positions in national security, state and foreign policy positions.

Before ASG, Roberts worked, in his own words, on “special projects” for the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NDI was founded by the Reagan administration after a series of CIA scandals necessitated the creation of a network of front groups to take the heat off the agency. The NDI exists to channel U.S. government money, training and support to political and social groups around the world. This could charitably be described as “democracy promotion,” although cynics might label it “overthrowing governments.” As Roberts himself said, “The nature of democracy promotion is that the most important countries to work in are also the ones where the government may not want your ‘help.’”

At TikTok, Roberts’ role is to “Lead the Integrity and Authenticity policy team. This team covers misinformation, synthetic and manipulated media, covert influence activity, and spam and inauthentic engagement.”

One group infamous for peddling misinformation and carrying out covert operations is the CIA. Yet rather than identifying operations, they might be conducting, TikTok has instead recruited a former agent to serve in an important position. Since January, Beau Patteson has been working as a threat analyst for TikTok’s Trust and Safety Division. Between 2017 and 2020, however, Patteson was a targeting analyst for the CIA, after which he joined the State Department to become a foreign service officer. In addition to his role at TikTok, Patteson is also, according to his social media profile, a military intelligence officer in the United States Army.

One step closer to the halls of power is Victoria McCullough, who previously worked for the Department of Homeland Security and for the White House itself. Like Patteson, McCullough now works on trust and safety at TikTok. Another trust-and-safety TikTok staff member, Christian Cardona, spent nearly 13 years in senior roles at the State Department across the Middle East and Europe before seamlessly moving to the social media giant.

Virtually every former spook or state official this investigation found works in very specific (and highly politically sensitive) fields such as trust, safety and content moderation, rather than in banal areas like marketing, customer service or sales. Yet TikTok’s new recruits come from some of the least trustworthy organizations anywhere in the world – organizations that should not be anywhere near the levers of power of such a popular platform.

The national security state has been the source of some of the most outlandish and damaging fake news claims in recent years. This includes lurid allegations about so-called “Havana Syndrome” and the “BountyGate” hoax. Going further back, falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction or an immiment genocide helped push the U.S. to war in Iraq and Libya, respectively. Yet individuals from many of these institutions are now in charge of deciding what is real and what is fake, and which content to promote or suppress.

In this light, the 2020 pandemonium about TikTok being a national security threat looks increasingly like a power play from the national security state. These dire warnings, and even the threat to completely shut down its platform, subsided only after TikTok began appointing Western officials to important positions within its organization, thereby giving the state considerable influence over the content and direction of the app.

 

Serious business

Readers who consider TikTok little more than a fun app to watch short videos of people dancing are behind the times. From a modest beginning, it has exploded in popularity, growing exponentially from 85 million global users in early 2018 to 1.2 billion by late 2021 (with a similar monstrous growth in revenue to boot).

It is exceptionally popular among the younger generations. The 2021 Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that 9% of people aged between 18 and 24 worldwide had gone to TikTok to get news over the past week, while 31% of that age group used the app in that period (and therefore likely passively consumed news to some extent). Furthermore, it has a very loyal user base, with the tens of millions of U.S. TikTok users spending an average of 68 minutes per day on the platform.

Thus, TikTok has become an enormously influential medium that reaches over one billion people worldwide. Having control over its algorithm or content moderation means the ability to set the terms of global debate and decide what people see and do not see. MintPress invited TikTok to comment on its relationship with the government, but has not received a response.

 

Surveillance Valley

This is far from the first time the national security state has pulled this trick, however. In 2018, Facebook came under enormous pressure from the U.S. government, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself being hauled in front of both the House and the Senate to face hours of grilling over the platform’s role in privacy, content moderation and spreading Russian disinformation. Only weeks after this, Facebook announced a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, whereby the group would serve as Facebook’s “eyes and ears,” taking considerable control over its content moderation, supposedly in an effort to weed out fake news and disinformation. The Atlantic Council, however, is NATO’s think tank and serves as its brain trust, with no fewer than seven former CIA directors on its board. Since then, Facebook (or Meta, as it is officially known), appointed former NATO Press Officer and current Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Ben Nimmo to serve as its head of intelligence. In addition, Facebook’s new global director of content policy, Mark Smith, was formerly employed by NATO as an advisor to its deputy commander.

The Atlantic Council has also found its way into Reddit’s management. In 2017, Jessica Ashooh went straight from being deputy director of Middle East strategy at The Atlantic Council to director of policy at the popular news aggregation service – an unusual career move that drew few remarks at the time. Like Corbeil, Koçak and others, Ashooh was a Middle East specialist and was intimately involved in the West’s war in Syria. For years, Reddit took a free-speech absolutist position, even defending hosting clearly illegal sexual content. However, Ashooh’s arrival coincided with a new era of far more forceful moderation. Reddit recently took the decision to not only ban links from Russian state media outlets, but all websites with a Russian (.ru) domain.

Likewise, a number of key Twitter personnel raise eyebrows. Chief among them is Head of Editorial for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Gordon MacMillan, who, in addition to his duties at Twitter, is an officer in the British Army’s 77th Brigade – a notorious unit dedicated to online warfare and psychological operations. Like Facebook, Twitter has partnered with some highly questionable state-linked organizations, giving them considerable influence over its content moderation.

Meanwhile, Google’s current global head of Developer Product Policy, Ben Renda, was formerly a strategic planner and information management officer for NATO, before working for both U.S. Cyber Command and the Department of Defense.

 

Big Tech a big weapon

The U.S. government, it appears, refuses to allow any competition to its hegemony over the digital realm. Huawei has effectively been banned throughout much of the West, with the United States refusing to allow the Chinese giant to control the new network of 5G communications. U.S. attempts to convince other nations to block Huawei have elicited significant pushback in the Global South. “If you are ahead, I will ban you, I will send warships to your country…That is not competition, that is threatening people,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, commenting on U.S. actions. Decades earlier, the U.S. government effectively destroyed the Japanese semiconductor industry, forcing Japan to sign a one-sided trade deal while imposing a 100% tariff on Japanese electronics – a power play that led to a decades-long recession from which the island nation has never recovered.

In 2020, the U.S. government even forced Chinese-owned Grindr to be sold to a U.S. company, deeming the LGBT dating app to be a “national security threat.”

In every accusation, it is said, there is a confession. That Washington considers even frivolous hookup apps to be too important to be outside of U.S. control, lest they be used to influence the public, suggests they know exactly what they are doing, infiltrating big tech companies. Indeed, this was more or less confirmed earlier this month by a letter written by a host of top natsec officials, including former CIA Directors Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Frances Townsend (all of whom also sit on the Atlantic Council’s board of directors).

The officials advised that breaking up Silicon Valley giants, as many have advocated, would “inadvertently hamper the ability of U.S. technology platforms to … push back on the Kremlin.” “The United States will need to rely on the power of its technology sector to ensure [that] the narrative of events” globally is shaped by the U.S. and “not by foreign adversaries,” they explain, concluding that Google, Facebook, Twitter are “increasingly integral to U.S. diplomatic and national security efforts.” In other words, they see big-tech as a key weapon of the U.S. empire.

 

Mockingbird 2.0

In the 1970s, the Church Committee unearthed the existence of Operation Mockingbird, a secret CIA project to infiltrate newsrooms across America and place agents masquerading as journalists inside. Investigative reporter Carl Bernstein’s work found that the CIA had cultivated a network of over 400 individuals it considered assets, including the owner of The New York Times.

Today, it appears that the links between big media and big government are, if anything, closer than they were in the 1970s. The monopolistic power of big social media platforms gives them – whether they like it or not – extraordinary influence over public opinion. And within their opaque Silicon Valley offices, a small cadre of individuals set the algorithms and decide the moderation policies that shape what billions of us see every day. With a host of former officials taking positions in these companies, the U.S. national security state is acquiring some measure of influence over the means of communication. It’s Operation Mockingbird for the 21st century – and on a global scale.

It is not normal for NATO officials or CIA agents to suddenly be put in charge of TikTok content policy. This did not happen purely by accident, just as it did not occur by chance at the other big tech platforms. One might reasonably argue that some of the only people who have the skills to highlight, spot and counter disinformation campaigns are those who have done similar work in the military or secret services. However, these organizations are the last ones that many would want in control of big-tech platforms, given their history of subterfuge and deceit.

Put another way, if these were Russian-based social media companies filled to the brim with former FSB, KGB or Kremlin officials, we would immediately recognize them as blatant government-controlled platforms. Yet many of the most popular apps are heading in the same way.

There is certainly a huge problem with fake news and disinformation online. And a fair chunk of it emanates from Russia. But while some might argue that poachers can become gamekeepers and use their skills for good, this situation feels far more like foxes being in charge of the digital henhouse.

Feature photo | MintPress News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post The NATO to TikTok Pipeline: Why is TikTok Employing So Many National Security Agents? appeared first on MintPress News.

Bennett Must Tread Carefully: The ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ Could Be Unleashed Again

Starting on April 15, the Israeli occupation army and police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem on a daily basis. Under the pretense of providing protection to provocative ‘visits’ by thousands of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers and right-wing fanatics, the Israeli army has wounded hundreds of Palestinians, including journalists, and arrested hundreds more.

Palestinians understand that the current attacks on Al-Aqsa carry deeper political and strategic meanings for Israel than previous raids.

Al-Aqsa has experienced routine raids by Israeli forces under various guises in the past. However, the significance of the Mosque has acquired additional meanings in recent years, especially following the popular Palestinian rebellion, mass protests, clashes, and a war on Gaza last May, which Palestinians tellingly refer to as Saif Al Quds – Operation Sword of Jerusalem.

Historically, Haram Al-Sharif – or the Noble Sanctuary – has been at the heart of popular struggle in Palestine, as well as at the center of Israeli policies. Located in the Old City of Occupied East Jerusalem, the Sanctuary is considered one of the holiest sites for all Muslims. It has a special place in Islam, as it has been mentioned in the Holy Quran and frequently in the Hadith – the Sayings of Prophet Mohammed. The compound contains several historic mosques and 17 gates, along with other important Islamic sites. Al-Aqsa is one of these mosques.

Israeli security forces carry out a Ramadhan raid in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 17, 2022. Mahmoud Illean | AP

But for Palestinians, the significance of Al-Aqsa has gained additional meaning due to the Israeli occupation which, throughout the years, has targeted Palestinian mosques, churches, and other holy sites. For example, during the 2014 Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs said that 203 mosques were damaged by Israeli bombs, with 73 being completely destroyed.

Therefore, Palestinian Muslims, but also Christians, consider Al-Aqsa, the Sanctuary, and other Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, a red line that must not be crossed by Israel. Generation after generation, they have mobilized to protect the sites though, at times, they could not, including in 1969 when Australian Jewish extremist, Denis Michael Rohan carried out an arson attack in Al-Aqsa.

Even the recent raids on the Mosque were not confined to the bodily harm and mass arrest of worshippers. On April 15, the second Friday of Ramadan, much destruction took place at Al-Aqsa, where the Mosque’s famous stained-glass windows were shattered and furniture inside was left broken.

The raids on the Haram Al-Sharif continue, at the time of writing this article. The Jewish extremists are feeling increasingly empowered by the protection they are receiving from the Israeli military, and the blank check provided to them by influential Israeli politicians. Many of the raids are often led by far-right Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, Likud politician Yehuda Glick and former government minister Uri Ariel.

Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is undoubtedly using the raids on Al-Aqsa as a way to keep his often rebellious far-right and religious constituency in line. The sudden resignation on April 6 of Idit Silman, a member of the Yamina right-wing party, left Bennett even more desperate in his attempt to breathe life in his fractious coalition. Once a leader of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of West Bank illegal settlements, Bennett rose to power on the back of religious zealots, whether in Israel or in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Losing the support of settlers could simply cost him his post.

Bennett’s behavior is consistent with those of previous Israeli leaders, who have escalated violence in Al-Aqsa as a way to distract from their own political woes, or to appeal to Israel’s powerful constituency of right-wing and religious extremists. In September 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raided the Mosque with thousands of Israeli soldiers, police, and like-minded extremists. He did so to provoke a Palestinian response, and to topple the government of his archenemy Ehud Barak. Sharon succeeded, but at a high price, as his ‘visit’ unleashed the five-year-long Second Palestinian Intifada, also known as Al-Aqsa Intifada.

In 2017, thousands of Palestinians protested an Israeli attempt at installing ‘security cameras’ at the entrances of the holy shrine. The measure was also an attempt by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease his right-wing supporters. But the mass protests in Jerusalem and the subsequent Palestinian unity at the time forced Israel to cancel its plans.

This time around, however, Palestinians fear that Israel aims at more than just mere provocations. Israel plans to “impose a temporal and spatial division of Al-Aqsa Mosque”, according to Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian Authority’s top representative in East Jerusalem. This particular phrase, ‘temporal and spatial division’, is also used by many Palestinians, as they fear a repeat of the Ibrahimi Mosque scenario.

Following the killing of 29 worshippers in 1994 at the hands of an Israeli Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein, and the subsequent killing of many more Palestinians by the Israeli army at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (Al-Khalil), Israel partitioned the mosque. It allocated a larger space to the Jewish settlers while restricting access to Palestinians, who are allowed to pray at certain times and barred at others. This is precisely what Palestinians mean by temporal and spatial division, which has been at the heart of Israeli strategy for many years.

Prayer mats covered in blood at the Ibrahimi mosque in the aftermath of the massacre carried out by Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, February 25, 1994. (Photo: Al-Khalil)

Bennett, however, must tread carefully. Palestinians today are more united in their resistance and awareness of the Israeli designs than at any other time in the past. An important component of this unity is the Palestinian Arab population in historic Palestine, who are now championing a similar political discourse as that of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. In fact, many of the defenders of Al-Aqsa come from these very communities. If Israel continues with its provocations in Al-Aqsa, it risks another Palestinian revolt as that of May, which tellingly started in East Jerusalem.

Appealing to right-wing voters by attacking, humiliating, and provoking Palestinians is no longer an easy task, as was often the case. As the ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ has taught us, Palestinians are now capable of responding in a unified fashion and, despite their limited means, even putting pressure on Israel to reverse its policies. Bennett must remember this before carrying out any more violent provocations.

Feature photo | A protester uses a slingshot against Israeli security forces in Burqa, north of Nablus, April 19, 2022. Nasser Nasser | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Bennett Must Tread Carefully: The ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ Could Be Unleashed Again appeared first on MintPress News.

Elon Musk Isn’t a Threat to Society’s Health. All Billionaires Are

SAN FRANCISCO – The most dangerous thing about Elon Musk buying Twitter outright for $44 billion is the rapidly spreading notion that his controlling an influential social media platform is dangerous. It is, but not for any of the reasons his critics assert.

The current furor is dangerously misguided for two reasons. First, it assumes that one billionaire owning Twitter is significantly more harmful than a bunch of them owning it. And second, it worries that Musk is committed to an anarchic version of free speech that will undermine the health of our societies.

This is the equivalent of staring resolutely at a single tree to avoid noticing the forest all around it. The fact that so many of us now do this routinely suggests how far we already are from a healthy society.

Money is power. The fact that our societies have allowed a small number of individuals to accumulate untold riches means we have also allowed them to gain untold power over us. Debates, like the current one about the future of Twitter, are now rarely about what is in the interests of wider society. Instead, they are about what is in the interests of billionaires, as well as the corporations and institutions that enrich and protect this tiny, pampered elite.

Musk, as the richest person alive, may have a marginally stronger hand than other billionaires to push things in his direction. But more significantly, all billionaires ultimately subscribe to the same ideological assumption that society benefits from having a class of the super-rich. They are all on Team Billionaire.

Yesss!!! pic.twitter.com/0T9HzUHuh6

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2022

Some are more “philanthropic” than others, using the wealth they have plundered from the common good to buy themselves today’s equivalent of an indulgence – a ticket to heaven once sold by the Catholic Church for a princely sum. These “philanthropists” very publicly recycle their riches, while quietly claiming tax exemptions, to make it look as if they deserve their fortunes or as if the planet would be worse off without them.

And some billionaires are more committed to free speech than others, if only – as with the rest of us – by temperament. Certainly, it would be beneficial to have Twitter run using a transparent, open-source algorithm, as Musk says he wants, rather than the secretive algorithms increasingly preferred by the billionaires behind Google, Youtube, and Facebook.

Starlink has been told by some governments (not Ukraine) to block Russian news sources. We will not do so unless at gunpoint.

Sorry to be a free speech absolutist.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 5, 2022

 

Meritocracy race

But one thing the super-rich are not open to is the idea that billionaires should be a thing of the past, like slavery or the divine right of kings. Instead, they are all equally committed to their own ongoing power – and whatever planet-destroying economic model is required to sustain it.

And they are committed, too, to the idea that they should have much more power than the general population because they are supposedly the winners in a global meritocracy race. They believe they are better than the rest of us – that natural selection has selected them.

My latest: The super rich, pondering where to build their bunkers to escape climate collapse, are spreading their derangement to the rest of us, with new studies assessing which countries will best ride out a disaster the billionaires helped to engineer https://t.co/WJSVog9dUE

— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) August 13, 2021

Musk appears more open than some billionaires to allowing the expression of a wide range of views on social media. After all, someone who believes he should face no consequences for vilifying a rescue worker as a “pedo guy” for having a better idea than himself about how to save children trapped in a cave probably prefers to see free speech defined as broadly as possible.

“Controversy” is Musk’s shtick, and being a “free speech absolutist” serves his aim of winning popular consent for his billionairedom in exactly the same way profiteering from vaccines does for Bill Gates. While they are busy raking in billions more at our expense, we are busy dividing into Team Musk or Team Gates. We cheer from the sidelines at our own irrelevance.

in case u need to lose a boner fast pic.twitter.com/fcHiaXKCJi

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2022

But one thing that Musk and Gates most assuredly agree on is that they and their ilk must never be swept into the dustbin of history. If we could ever harness Twitter to that end, we would quickly find out just how much of a “free speech absolutist” Musk really is.

 

‘King of trolls’

This brings us to the second misguided “row” about Musk buying Twitter and its 217 million users: that his supposed commitment to free speech will further tear apart the health of our democracies. Put bluntly; the fear is that allowing Donald Trump and his followers back into the Twitterverse will unleash the forces of darkness we have been struggling to keep at bay.

Environmentalist George Monbiot, a columnist at the liberal establishment newspaper The Guardian, calls Musk’s influence “lethal.”

Elon Musk's "free speech absolutism" is lethal.
Persuasion is the primary determinant of human action.
Hate speech leads to acts of hate.
Lies destroy democracy.
Curbing hatred and lies preserves other, essential freedoms.
Musk's vision for Twitter is not a promise but a threat

— George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) April 24, 2022

His colleague Aditya Chakrabortty visibly quivers with anxiety at the prospect of a Twitter molded in Musk’s image, calling him the “king of trolls.” Democracy, Chakrabortty avers, must defend itself not only from the Trumps but from those who enable them through their “free speech absolutism.”

As is expected in such articles, Chakrabortty bolsters his argument with a statistic or two. For example, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finds that false stories on Twitter are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. Putting Musk in charge of this lie factory will bring civilization crashing down, we are warned.

Let us set aside for a moment how MIT defines truth and falsehood, and assume it is capable of divining such things correctly. Again the study’s logic is compelling only so long as we stare at a single tree and ignore the forest all around.

The reason billionaires and corporations – as well as states – want to control the media is precisely that a lie is more likely to fly than the truth. Our societies have been engineered on this principle since we divided into leaders and followers.

If truth reigned supreme, and media platforms could do little to sway us from seeing reality clearly, the richest people on the planet would not be investing their money in buying their own bit of real estate in the media landscape.

But then again, if we could all see reality clearly – unclouded by corporate media interference – there wouldn’t be any billionaires. We would have understood that their extreme wealth was too much of a threat to be allowed, that their fortunes could too easily be turned against us, buying our politicians and turning our democracies into increasingly hollow shells, stripped of the good things we intended.

If billionaires weren’t making fortunes from weapons sales, we surely wouldn’t be endlessly cheering on wars.

It's disturbing how many people are peddling the idea that Nato is a 'defensive alliance'. It *claims* to be defensive. Actually, Nato is a central pillar of the highly lucrative war industries. This may help clarify: https://t.co/SL2MA1ASMh

— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 26, 2022

If billionaires didn’t demand the right to buy politicians, we might be more ready to address our dysfunctional political and media systems.

If billionaires weren’t profiting from the destruction of the natural world, we might be having a more realistic conversation about the impending extinction of our species.

 

Censorship as panacea

But, unable to maintain their attention on the structural deformations caused by the rule of the billionaires, left-liberals like Monbiot and Chakrabortty keep deflecting to the cause of censorship. They speak of unspecified “curbs” and approve of blocking “Russian news sources” as though this is the panacea for society’s ills.

The quote is his. It's what he calls himself. https://t.co/e1ngIC1H4v

— George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) April 24, 2022

The point they have obscured is that misinformation spread by Twitter users pales in comparison to the disinformation that constantly batters us from corporate news outlets, like The Guardian newspaper they work for. (Disinformation is misinformation with deception or manipulation as its intent.)

Disinformation such as making us believe that the West’s many illegal wars of aggression, like the one against Iraq, were defensive, or mistakes, or to promote democracy. Or that such illegal wars cannot be compared to the wars of aggression committed by “enemy” states.

Disinformation such as persuading us that we have Trump voting “deplorables” because of social media “fake news” rather than growing disenchantment with liberal political systems in thrall to billionaires – systems that serve the super-rich while imposing austerity on the rest of us.

Disinformation that for decades has allowed climate denial lobbies – secretly but handsomely funded by billionaires – to conceal from us the findings of the billionaires’ own scientists, which show we are hurtling towards a climate breakdown tipping point.

This @exxonmobile chart from 1982 predicted that in 2019 our atmospheric CO2 level would reach about 415 parts per million, raising the global temperature roughly 0.9 degrees C.

Update: The world crossed the 415 ppm threshold this week and broke 0.9 degrees C in 2017 1/ pic.twitter.com/sLpOVkwzTF

— Tom Randall (@tsrandall) May 14, 2019

And the continuing disinformation that makes us believe the Green New Deals we have been offered are designed to save us, rather than the billionaires’ profits, from extinction.

 

Latest Darth Vader

But significantly, the reason Twitter users spread more trivial forms of misinformation is that, after a lifetime spent in the billionaires’ bubbles of disinformation, we struggle to anchor ourselves to reality.

Awash in corporate disinformation, we are credulous in the face of simple, easily digestible stories: ones that require us to cheer either for Team Musk or for Team Gates, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, the Rebel Alliance, or the latest Darth Vader. We cannot make sense of a world so corrupt, so divided, so harsh. Instead, we are drawn to simplistic narratives of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong.

And the most simplistic of all these narratives are the ones that undergird the sense of collective virtue of our society and our tribe.

If our wars are different from their wars, then the difference must be that Putin is a madman or a megalomaniac. And before we know it, we are starting to imagine that there is something inherently backward or bloodthirsty about the Russian psyche. The arms dealers – and behind them the billionaires – can once again lick their lips in delight.

A few of you have taken issue with me saying Russians may look European they’re not European.

Let me explain.

1. 77% of Russia is in Asia, not Europe. Some people don’t seem to know that.

— Florence of Arabia (@FlorenceGaub) April 13, 2022

Or if people are too stupid to see through a Trump, it must mean we need more censorship, more of those undefined “curbs.”

The unstated logic is that, if we can blank out some types of information, the “deplorables” who are susceptible to the wrong kind will gradually be won back to the status quo. Like victims of a cult, they can be deprogrammed through an absence of exposure. Deprived of a Trump, they will become standard-bearers for a Biden.

And if that fails … well, these same liberals will be cheering on whatever other forms of authoritarianism are needed to “curb” the threat.

But Monbiot and Chakrabortty’s veiled advocacy for censorship will not save our thread-bare democracies. It is exactly where the most powerful forces in our society want things heading: not towards a more pluralistic, open, and transparent media, but towards a more tightly controlled and policed one.

The quote is his. It's what he calls himself. https://t.co/e1ngIC1H4v

— George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) April 24, 2022

We know where this leads because we are already firmly on this path. Anyone not backing the flow of arms to Ukraine must have been influenced by Russian disinformation. Anyone critical of Big Pharma’s profiteering is colluding in vaccine hesitancy. Anyone supporting socialism and criticizing the wealthy elite must harbor antisemitic tendencies.

 

Footsoldiers for the rich

The debate has been polarized yet again into one in which we must pick one of two unappealing sides. Either a Twitter ruled by a shadowy cabal of billionaires limiting our exposure to information by manipulating the algorithms in secret, or one ruled by a single, outsize, fickle ego who promises a bigger information marketplace and a little more transparency – until he doesn’t.

In mainstream liberal culture, there is not even a pretense any longer of believing in "free speech," not even lip service paid to it.

It's increasingly vilified as an inherently fascist and racist concept, which is why — as laughable as this is — it's drearily common. https://t.co/1xdxdlvWTo

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 26, 2022

Liberals, because they distrust the deplorables, want to stamp out the chaos of populism and ensure that nice, philanthropic billionaires like Gates decide what is best for us.

And conservatives, because they distrust liberals, want to let a maverick, more brashly self-aggrandizing billionaire like Musk decide what should be allowed.

Team Musk vs. Team Gates.

We are now deep in the trenches of an information war. Who should be allowed to speak? Whatever we might imagine, the victors will once again be the billionaires – until we stop recruiting ourselves to be their footsoldiers.

Feature photo | MintPress News

Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

The post Elon Musk Isn’t a Threat to Society’s Health. All Billionaires Are appeared first on MintPress News.

An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent Is Becoming the New Norm

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – Google has sent a warning shot across the world, ominously informing media outlets, bloggers, and content creators that it will no longer tolerate certain opinions when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Google AdSense sent a message to a myriad of publishers, including MintPress News, informing us that, “Due to the war in Ukraine, we will pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war.” This content, it went on to say, “includes, but is not limited to, claims that imply victims are responsible for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim-blaming, such as claims that Ukraine is committing genocide or deliberately attacking its own citizens.”

This builds on a similar message Google’s subsidiary YouTube released last month, stating, “Our Community Guidelines prohibit content denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events. We are now removing content about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that violates this policy.” YouTube went on to say that it had already permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos on these grounds.

Journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin was deeply troubled by the news. “It is really disturbing that this is the trend that we are on,” she told MintPress, adding:

It is a preposterous declaration considering that the victim is whoever we are told by our foreign policy establishment. It really is outrageous to be told by these tech giants that taking the wrong side of a conflict that is quite complicated will now hurt your views, derank you on social media or limit your ability to fund your work. So you have to toe the line in order to survive as a journalist in alternative media today.”

The most prominent victim of the recent banning spate has been Russian state media such as RT America, whose entire catalog has been blocked throughout most of the world. RT America was also blocked from broadcasting across the U.S., leading to the network’s sudden closure.

“Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make a crisis go away. It comforts the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, one fed back to them by courtiers in the media, government agencies, think tanks, and academia,” wrote journalist Chris Hedges, adding:

YouTube disappeared six years of my RT show, “On Contact,” although not one episode dealt with Russia. It is not a secret as to why my show vanished. It gave a voice to writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third parties and the prison abolitionist movement.”

Smaller, independent creators have also been purged. “My stream last night on RBN was censored on Youtube after debunking the Bucha Massacre narrative… Unreal censorship going on right now,” wrote Nick from the Revolutionary Black Network. “My video ‘Bucha: More Lies’ has been deleted by YouTube’s censors. The Official Narrative is now: ‘Bucha was a Russian atrocity! No dissent allowed!’” Chilean-American journalist Gonzalo Lira added.

Other social media platforms have pursued similar policies. Twitter permanently suspended the account of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter over his comments on Bucha and journalist Pepe Escobar for his support for Russia’s invasion.

A notice to MintPress from Google threatening demonetization

Those views are certainly currently in the minority, with testimonies from locals pointing the finger at Russian forces, who have carried out similar acts during other conflicts. Yet even the Pentagon has refused to categorically conclude Russian culpability without a full investigation.

Beyond Bucha, where the line is in terms of accepted speech is being kept vague, leading to confusion and consternation among independent media outlets and content creators. “This is going to limit reporting on the Ukraine crisis because people are going to be scared,” Martin said. “People [in alternative media] are going to opt to not publish or not report on something because of fear of retaliation. And once you start to get demonetized, the next fear is that your videos are going to get blanket banned,” she added.

While support for Russia has essentially been prohibited, glorification of even the most unsavory elements of Ukrainian society on social media is now all-but-promoted. In February, Facebook announced that it would not only reverse its ban on discussing the Azov Battalion, a Nazi paramilitary now formally incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, but also allow content praising and promoting the group – as long as it was in the context of killing Russians.

Facebook and Instagram also instituted a change in policy that allows users to call for harm or even the death of Russian and Belarussian soldiers and politicians. This rare allowance was also given in 2021 to those calling for the death of Iranian leaders. Needless to say, violent content directed at governments friendly to the U.S., such as Ukraine, is still strictly forbidden.

 

The media demands more censorship

Leading the campaign for more intense censorship has been corporate media itself. The Financial Times successfully lobbied Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch to delete a number of pro-Russian streamers. The Daily Beast attacked Gonzalo Lira, going so far as to contact the Ukrainian government to make them aware of Lira’s work. Lira confirmed that, after The Daily Beast’s article, he was arrested by the Ukrainian secret police.

Meanwhile, The New York Times published a hit piece on anti-war journalist Ben Norton, accusing him of spreading a “conspiracy theory” that the U.S. was involved in a coup in Ukraine in 2014, while claiming that he was helping promulgate Russian disinformation. This, despite the fact that the Times itself reported on the 2014 coup at the time in a not-too-dissimilar fashion, thereby incriminating its own previous reporting as Russian propaganda. If referencing The New York Times’s own previous reporting becomes grounds for suppression, then meaningful online discourse is under threat. As journalist Matt Taibbi wrote last week, the West is in danger of establishing an “intellectual no-fly zone,” where deviating from orthodoxy will no longer be tolerated.

An image shared in the NYT hit against Norton. Credit | Multipolarista

The invasion of Ukraine has also raised a number of troubling questions for Western anti-war figures: How to oppose Russian aggression without providing more political ammunition to NATO governments to further escalate the conflict? And how to critique and highlight our own governments’ roles in creating the crisis without appearing to justify the Kremlin’s actions? Yet this new perilous media environment raises a further quandary: How to express views online without being censored?

Google’s new updated rules are vaguely worded and open to interpretation. What constitutes “exploiting” or “condoning” the war? Does discussing NATO’s eastward expansion or Ukraine’s aggressive campaign against Russian-speaking minorities constitute victim blaming? And is referencing the seven-year-long civil war in the Donbas region, where the UN estimates that over 14,000 people have been killed, now illegal under Google’s policy of not allowing content about Ukraine attacking its own citizens?

For some, the answer to at least some of these questions should be an emphatic “yes.” On Thursday, journalist Hubert Smeets attacked longtime anti-war activist Noam Chomsky, explicitly accusing him of blaming President Zelensky and Ukraine for its fate. Chomsky has previously described Russian actions as incontestably “a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939.” Yet he has also for years warned that NATO actions in the region were likely to provoke a Russian response. If Google and other big-tech monopolies decide an intellectual giant like Chomsky’s voice must be suppressed, it will mark a new era of official censorship not seen since the decline of McCarthyism.

 

Old propaganda, new Cold War

The United States was allied with the Soviet Union during World War II. However, as the Cold War began to set in, so did attacks on dissenting voices. The postwar anti-communist push began in earnest in 1947, after President Harry S. Truman mandated a loyalty oath for all federal employees. As a result, the political beliefs of two million people were investigated, with authorities attempting to ascertain whether they belonged to any “subversive” political organizations.

Those in positions of influence were most aggressively vetted, leading to purges of academics, educators, and journalists. Many of the most celebrated individuals from the world of entertainment – including actor Charlie Chaplain, singer Paul Robeson, and writer Orson Welles – had their careers destroyed because of their political beliefs. “Socialism was canceled, dissent was canceled after World War Two,” Breakthrough News host Brian Becker recently said, warning that this new Cold War with Russia and China could usher in a new McCarthyist era.

The old Cold War against Russia ended in 1991. However, the new Cold War arguably started 25 years later with the electoral victory of Donald Trump. On November 8, 2016, the Clinton campaign alleged that the Kremlin had used social media to spread fake news and misleading information, leading to Trump’s victory. Despite the lack of hard evidence, corporate media immediately took up Clinton’s message. Only two weeks after the election, The Washington Post published a report claiming that hundreds of fake news websites had pushed Trump over the line and that a credible group of nonpartisan expert researchers had created an organization called “PropOrNot” to track this effort.

Using what it called sophisticated “internet analytics tools,” PropOrNot published a list of over 200 websites that they claimed were “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” Included on the list were publisher WikiLeaks, Trump-supporting websites like The Drudge Report, libertarian ventures such as The Ron Paul Institute and Antiwar.com, as well as a host of left-wing websites like Truthout, Truthdig, and The Black Agenda Report. MintPress News was also featured on the list. While there were some obviously fake-news websites included, the political orientation of the list was obvious for all to see: this was a catalog of outlets – right- and left-wing – that was consistently critical of the centrist Washington establishment.

A sure sign that you are reading Russian propaganda, PropOrNot claimed, was if the source criticizes Obama, Clinton, NATO, the “mainstream media,” or expresses worry about a nuclear war with Russia. As PropOrNot explained, “Russian propaganda never suggests [conflict with Russia] would just result in a Cold War 2 and Russia’s eventual peaceful defeat, like the last time.”

Despite the blatantly shoddy list, one that even included the websites of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, The Washington Post’s article went viral, being shared millions of times. PropOrNot’s list was subsequently signal-boosted by hundreds of other outlets. And despite calling for McCarthyist investigation into and suppression of hundreds of outlets, PropOrNot categorically refused to reveal who they were, how they were funded, or any methodology whatsoever.

It is now almost certain that it was not a neutral, well-meaning independent organization but the creation of Michael Weiss, a non-resident senior fellow of NATO think tank The Atlantic Council. A scan of PropOrNot’s website showed that it was controlled by The Interpreter, a magazine of which Weiss is editor-in-chief. Furthermore, one investigator found dozens of examples of the Twitter accounts of PropOrNot and Weiss using the identical and very unusual turn of phrase, strongly suggesting they were one and the same. Thus, claims of a huge [foreign] state propaganda campaign were themselves state propaganda.

The reaction to this crude “propaganda about propaganda” campaign was both swift and wide-ranging. In early 2017, Google launched Project Owl, a massive overhaul of its algorithm. It claimed that it was purely a measure to stop foreign fake news from taking over the internet. The main outcome, however, was a catastrophic, overnight collapse in search traffic to high-quality alternative media outlets – drops from which they have never recovered. MintPress News lost nearly 90% of its organic Google search traffic and Truthout lost 25%. Websites that were not on PropOrNot’s list also suffered devastating losses. AlterNet experienced a 63% reduction, Common Dreams 37% and Democracy Now! 36%. Even liberal sources only moderately critical of the status quo, such as The Nation and Mother Jones, were penalized by the algorithm. Google search traffic to alternative media has never recovered and has, in many cases, gotten worse.

Credit | WSWS

This, for Martin, is a sign of the increasingly close relationship between Silicon Valley and the national security state. “Google willingly changed their algorithm to backpage all alternative media without even a law in place to mandate them to do so,” she said. Other social media juggernauts, such as Facebook and YouTube rolled out similar changes. All penalized alternative media and drove people back towards establishment sources like The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News.

The consequence of all this was to retighten the elite’s grip over the means of communication, a grip that had slipped owing to the rise of the internet as an alternative model.

 

The “nationalization” of social media

Since 2016, a number of other measures have been taken to bring social media under the wing of the national security state. This was foreseen by Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who wrote in 2013, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.” Since then, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have become integral parts of the state apparatus, signing multibillion-dollar contracts with the CIA and other organizations to provide them with intelligence, logistics and computing services. Schmidt himself was chairman of both the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, bodies created to help Silicon Valley assist the U.S. military with cyberweapons, further blurring the lines between big tech and big government.

Google’s current Global Head of Developer Product Policy, Ben Renda, has an even closer relationship with the national security state. From being a strategic planner and information management officer for NATO, he then moved to Google in 2008. In 2013, he began working for U.S. Cybercommand and in 2015 for the Defense Innovation Unit (both divisions of the Department of Defense). At the same time, he became a YouTube executive, rising to the rank of Director of Operations.

Jeff Bezo meets with Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis during a visit to west coast tech and defense companies. Jeff Bezos | Twitter

Other platforms have similar relationships with Washington. In 2018, Facebook announced that it had entered a partnership with The Atlantic Council whereby the latter would help curate the news feeds of billions of users worldwide, deciding what was credible, trustworthy information, and what was fake news. As noted previously, The Atlantic Council is NATO’s brain-trust and is directly funded by the military alliance. Last year, Facebook also hired Atlantic Council senior fellow and former NATO spokesperson Ben Nimmo as its head of intelligence, thereby giving an enormous amount of control over its empire to current and former national security state officials.

The Atlantic Council has also worked its way into Reddit’s management. Jessica Ashooh went straight from being Deputy Director of Middle East Strategy at The Atlantic Council to Director of Policy at the popular news aggregation service – a surprising career move that drew few remarks at the time.

Also eliciting little comment was the unmasking of a senior Twitter executive as an active-duty officer in the British Army’s notorious 77th Brigade – a unit dedicated to online warfare and psychological operations. Twitter has since partnered with the U.S. government and weapons manufacturer-sponsored think tank ASPI to help police its platform. On ASPI’s orders, the social media platform has purged hundreds of thousands of accounts based out of China, Russia, and other countries that draw Washington’s ire.

Last year, Twitter also announced that it had deleted hundreds of user accounts for “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability” – a statement that drew widespread incredulity from those not closely following the company’s progression from one that championed open discussion to one closely controlled by the government.

 

The first casualty

Those in the halls of power well understand how important a weapon big-tech is in a global information war. This can be seen in a letter published last Monday written by a host of national security state officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA directors Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former director of the NSA Admiral Michael Rogers.

Together, they warn that regulating or breaking up the big-tech monopolies would “inadvertently hamper the ability of U.S. technology platforms to … push back on the Kremlin.” “The United States will need to rely on the power of its technology sector to ensure” that “the narrative of events” globally is shaped by the U.S. and “not by foreign adversaries,” they explain, concluding that Google, Facebook, Twitter are “increasingly integral to U.S. diplomatic and national security efforts.”

Commenting on the letter, journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote:

[B]y maintaining all power in the hands of the small coterie of tech monopolies which control the internet and which have long proven their loyalty to the U.S. security state, the ability of the U.S. national security state to maintain a closed propaganda system around questions of war and militarism is guaranteed.”

The U.S. has frequently leaned on social media in order to control the message and promote regime change in target countries. Just days before the Nicaraguan presidential election in November, Facebook deleted the accounts of hundreds of the country’s top news outlets, journalists and activists, all of whom supported the left-wing Sandinista government.

When those figures poured onto Twitter to protest the ban, recording videos of themselves and proving that they were not bots or “inauthentic” accounts, as Facebook Intelligence Chief Nimmo had claimed, their Twitter accounts were systematically banned as well, in what observers coined as a “double-tap strike.”

Meanwhile, in 2009, Twitter acquiesced to a U.S. request to delay scheduled maintenance of its app (which would have required taking it offline) because pro-U.S. activists in Iran were using the platform to foment anti-government demonstrations.

More than 10 years later, Facebook announced that it would be deleting all praise of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani from its many platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp. Soleimani – the most popular political figure in Iran – had recently been assassinated in a U.S. drone strike. The event sparked uproar and massive protests across the region. Yet because the Trump administration had declared Soleimani and his military group to be terrorists, Facebook explained, “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leadership.” This meant that Iranians could not share a majority viewpoint inside their own country – even in their own language – because of a decision made in Washington by a hostile government.

War has come to alternative media.

We must say NO to censorship.

Help us rebuild alternative media!https://t.co/gKGTJu5bLZ pic.twitter.com/nGqTv5EbRs

— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) April 20, 2022

In this light, then, Google’s message to creators about victim-blaming Ukraine or trivializing and condoning violence is a threat: toe the line or face the consequences. While we continue to consider tech monopolies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook to be private companies, their overwhelming size and their increasing proximity to the national security state means that their actions are tantamount to state censorship.

While fake news – including that emanating from Russia – continues to be a genuine problem, these new actions have far less to do with combatting disinformation or denial of war crimes and far more to do with reestablishing elite control over the field of communication. These new rules will not be applied to corporate media downplaying or justifying U.S. aggression abroad, denying American war crimes, or blaming oppressed peoples – such as Palestinians or Yemenis – for their own condition, but instead will be used as excuses to derank, demote, delist or even delete voices critical of war and imperialism. In war, they say, truth is always the first casualty.

Feature photo | Image by MintPresss News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent Is Becoming the New Norm appeared first on MintPress News.

Cycle of Violence: Israeli Authorities Prod Extremist Militias into Seeking “Vigilante Justice”

BE’ER SHEVA/LYDD, OCCUPIED PALESTINE — In cities across 1948-occupied Palestine (modern-day Israel), Israelis are taking up arms to defend against so-called Palestinian terror.

A wave of Palestinian-initiated attacks against Israelis occurred just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in March, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to call on civilians to arm themselves. “Whoever has a gun license, this is the time to carry a gun,” Bennett said in a video statement following the violence.

His request was met, as Israeli settlers in the Naqab, Lydd, and the Occupied West Bank have organized armed vigilante groups and are training in what they’ve called “self-defense” or to “protect” other settlers.

WATCH: There are reports of settler militias training in order to violently wrest and maintain control over the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. They suggest that their purpose is to protect local settlers during the month of Ramadan. pic.twitter.com/ypYmQbsYWy

— Good Shepherd Collective (@Shepherds4Good) March 28, 2022

Eran Nissan — chief operating officer at Mehazkim, an Israeli progressive digital movement — explained the sentiment behind these militias’ formation. “Israelis were saying, ‘Arabs were trying to kill us and we called the police and the police didn’t come,’” Nissan said of the public’s feelings following the Gaza war last May. “This is the trauma, and on top of this, we see the rise of these militias — these private, armed gangs of Jewish Israelis that took to the streets to either bring back safety and security or reclaim Jewish honor.”

 

Sayeret Barel, a Jewish-supremacist militia in disguise

In December, a vigilante group called Sayeret Barel (Hebrew for Barel Patrol) was established in the Naqab, a southern desert region in 1948-occupied Palestine. The group was started by Almog Cohen, the Southern coordinator for the Kahanist Jewish Power political party — the same party far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir belongs to. Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment from MintPress News.

On its website, Sayeret Barel describes itself as a “civilian force of volunteers” that “will strengthen the enforcement agencies and increase the circle of security.” “Unfortunately, at the moment, the Negev [Naqab] is in constant decline, and the scale of crime is growing rapidly,” the group’s website reads. “If we do not take control and act, the situation will not get any better — it will get much worse.”

Condemnation of Sayeret Barel has been swift. On March 31, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), an Israeli organization advocating for Bedouin communities in the Naqab, sent a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr. Fernand de Varennes, notifying him of the group’s establishment. “There is no room for private militias seeking to ostensibly operate within a legal framework and actually take the law into their own hands,” NCF wrote, noting that such militias typically form in proto-fascist regimes.

The group held its initiation ceremony in March, describing it as an opportunity to sign up for the Civil Guard, a volunteer unit within the Israeli police force. Civil Guard volunteers operate alongside the police and cannot work without a police officer present. Initially supportive, the police withdrew their support of Sayeret Barel after the group launched a crowdfunding campaign that the police said is in violation of the Civil Service Law, which prohibits law enforcement from raising and receiving funds.

While Sayeret Barel’s launch event described it as cooperating with the police, Mehazkim’s research highlighted how the group’s rhetoric characterizes it as an entity acting outside police authority. Specifically, Cohen, the group’s leader, said in an October interview with Israeli news channel Now 14 that, “We will set up an armed volunteer body that will protect the residents of the south. We have not received a permit yet and we do not intend to wait for any bureaucracy.” The group’s website also distinguishes itself from the Civil Guard, writing, “We are an independent force and there are several advantages: A fighter will receive authority even when he is not close to a policeman. We are not dependent on any political factors.”

Mehazkim’s Nissan described Sayeret Barel’s claims it’s working with the police as a façade. “It’s not about helping the police. It’s about substituting [for] the police,” Nissan said.

According to NCF, Sayeret Barel has recruited around 200 volunteers. The group says each volunteer will be given the power to search, detain and arrest, and that the force is divided into three squads: Quick-Response, where members will undergo anti-terror training; Patrol, where members will receive shooting training; and Technical, which manages administrative operations. Training is already underway as evidenced by Facebook posts from the Negev Rescue Committee, another organization Cohen runs.

The organization states it works with the police and the municipality of Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Naqab. The Be’er Sheva Municipality did not respond to MintPress News’ inquiries requesting confirmation or denial of its collaboration with Sayeret Barel.

While Sayeret Barel calls itself an apolitical organization, Nissan described Cohen as a political activist whose Jewish Power Party agenda is very much a feature of Sayeret Barel. “Almog Cohen is very racist, nationalistic, right-wing in his statements — talking about Arabs as potential terrorists, calling for revenge, talking about herding non-combatants or bystanders, calling soldiers that fight orders to stop shooting heroes,” Nissan said.

Sayeret Barel is named after Barel Hadaria Shmueli, a border police officer who was killed near the Gaza Border in August. His death triggered a political campaign criticizing Prime Minister Bennett and the Israeli army’s policy of use of force as too lenient. In the wake of this political initiative, Sayeret Barel was born. “This is a political, organized attempt to weaken the support in the current government. This is a very political campaign that is masked as something from the bottom up, but it’s organized by a political party,” Nissan said.

Far-right groups like My Israel, Im Tirtzu, and Regavim have all collaborated with Sayeret Barel in such activities as political demonstrations and bill amendment proposals.

“All of this is part of the Jewish-supremacy ecosystem — the pro-occupation, pro-settlement, xenophobic hate, and violent right wing in Israel,” Nissan said.

 

Settlers patrolling the streets

The Naqab isn’t the only area in Palestine dealing with the emergence of armed militias. As it did last year, the city of Lydd is again facing threats from armed settler groups.

The Guardians of Lod (Lydd), an armed militia group, was formed following the recent attacks against Israelis. The group held an inaugural conference in March. Fida ​​Shehadeh, a Palestinian city council member, registered for the conference as a way to notify the organizers that the Palestinian residents are aware of these armed Jewish groups. “The conference was held to have Jewish residents be armed and use weapons whenever they see suitable, whenever they see there’s a threat on their lives,” Shehadeh said, emphasizing that municipal members are part of this group.

Despite police logos on the conference’s promotional material, the Israel Police told MintPress News it did not attend the conference and it was held contrary to their position. Lydd Mayor Yair Revivo did not respond to press inquiries on the establishment of armed militias in his city.

Shehadeh described the militia as broken down into various committees: the neighborhood committee, marching committee and parenting committee. “They’re trying to integrate these committees into the educational system, in a sense that they want the police to support them in making these committees official, so they can create what they call safety and security for the neighborhoods,” Shehadeh said. Shehadeh also said the group is inviting Jewish Israelis from other areas on social media to join their cause in Lydd.

Attacks against Palestinians haven’t occurred yet in Lydd, but elsewhere in Palestine Jewish violence against Palestinians has already erupted. Settler violence escalated after the attacks against Israelis, with settlers vandalizing Palestinian property with racist graffiti, setting cars ablaze, and throwing rocks at Palestinian homes and vehicles across the West Bank.

This month, members of the violent, right-wing settler movement Hilltop Youth posted a disturbing image of a man pinned to the ground, claiming he had entered an illegal settlement outpost and attacked them. As revealed by +972 magazine, the man in the photo is 63-year-old Nasif Abdel Jaber, a Palestinian-American with brain cancer. Abdel Jaber told +972 he was on his private agricultural land when the group attacked him.

Reports have also emerged of Hilltop Youth members in the West Bank organizing armed militias to patrol the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Occupied East Jerusalem during Ramadan. Hilltop Youth did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Israeli gun culture

Requests for gun licenses by Israelis have spiked in recent weeks as well, with more than 1,500 firearm applications submitted in one day in March compared to the daily average of 60. But armed Israelis are nothing new, especially within the West Bank settler population, which is heavily armed, Nissan detailed. Likening the current mood among Israelis to that of American gun enthusiasts’ rhetoric, Nissan said, “Israeli Jewish society is packing up guns now, and it’s really easy to arm a society, but it’s really complicated to disarm a society.”

Amid ongoing violence, Israeli settlers are leading provocative, flag-waving marches across Palestine — including through Jerusalem’s Old City — in a fashion reminiscent of last year’s tensions. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if we have armed Jews patrolling the streets, because an argument might escalate into a shoot-out and someone is going to lose their life. And then we’ll see violence erupt again, like we’ve seen just a year ago,” Nissan said.

From Nissan’s vantage point, these armed militias are doing the opposite of aiding the police, and instead are looking for points of friction between Jews and Palestinians at which to agitate. “They want to promote their narrative that Jews and Arabs are in this infinite religious war,” Nissan said. “And they’re there to escalate when the police’s main role is to de-escalate a situation.”

Feature photo | Israeli forces search for assailants near the scene of a shooting attack in Tel Aviv, April 7, 2022. Ariel Schalit | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Cycle of Violence: Israeli Authorities Prod Extremist Militias into Seeking “Vigilante Justice” appeared first on MintPress News.

CIA Files Confirm Guantanamo Bay Torture Program’s MKULTRA Roots

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — In March the CIA declassified a 2008 CIA Inspector General report on the agency’s treatment of 9/11 suspect Ammar al-Baluchi at overseas ‘black sites’ and Guantanamo Bay. The report was released as a result of legal submissions and its shocking contents offer an unprecedentedly candid snapshot of the brutal physical and psychological torment to which he and hundreds of others were subjected by the agency over many years, under its global torture program.

The nephew of purported 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Baluchi was arrested in Pakistan in April 2003. He was accused of serving as a “key lieutenant” within al-Qaeda and its chief “bagman,” having provided pivotal financial and logistical support to the 9/11 hijackers. U.S. officials declared his capture would offer crucial information on the plot, prevent future attacks by the terrorist group, and potentially even lead to the apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Despite years of incarceration, interrogation and torture, none of this proved to be true.

Quoting contemporary cables, the Inspector General’s report tracks Baluchi’s induction at the “Salt Pit,” a CIA black site in Afghanistan, in detail. New arrivals were physically examined, their beards and heads shaved, and then put through a “non-enhanced” psychological assessment to determine their “willingness to cooperate without enhanced techniques…displace their expectations and begin the conditioning of subjects.”

The cable’s nameless author stated that, depending on his “resistance level,” staff did not intend to employ enhanced techniques against Baluchi “unless directed by headquarters.”

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The distinction between enhanced and non-enhanced interrogation methods was evidently something of a misnomer. If initially uncooperative, Baluchi would be “immediately” placed in the “standing sleep deprivation position” for up to 12 hours; this agonizing technique was considered “non-enhanced” if applied for less than three days.

In response to the cable, CIA HQ at Langley signed off on a welter of enhanced techniques to be used on Baluchi, including “the facial attention grasp,” facial and abdominal slaps, numerous excruciating stress positions, “cramped confinement,” sleep deprivation lasting up to 180 hours, dousing with freezing water, starvation, “loud music or white noise” 24 hours a day, cessation of access to reading material, and “walling” – slamming his head against a flat surface.

Based on his initial psychological evaluation, it was ruled that none of these unspeakable horrors would inflict “permanent psychological or emotional harm” on Baluchi. This was the universal approach to using “enhanced techniques,” based on the assumption that their use in U.S. military SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training did not cause lasting harm. But, while in SERE training the subject is typically confined for only a couple of days, and knows it is training and they will soon be released, the black site prisoners had to endure months or years of brutalizing treatment, with little to no prospect of escape.

 

“Severe brain damage”

The Inspector General notes that CIA superiors offered little to no clarity on “how many times or for how long interrogators could perform a particular measure or combination of measures.” This may well account for why Salt Pit interrogators “applied some of the measures exuberantly.”

Their ‘exuberance’ was no doubt also influenced by Baluchi’s disobliging response to torture techniques. One CIA operative at the site recorded how the inmate’s “presentation” had “elicited the strongest reactions from interrogators.” His attitude was considered “dismissive, condescending, and arrogant,” typified by “obvious stonewalling, minimizing, and denying,” which served to “frustrate” his captors “and make a difficult task even harder.”

Still, some interrogators seemingly sympathized with Baluchi. One, with whom he spent a “significant amount of time,” described him as “one of the more intelligent or ‘bookish’ of the detainees.” Another regretted the monstrous methods to which they’d subjected Baluchi, stating “I wished I’d never been asked” to do so, and “wouldn’t do them again.”

Likewise, when Baluchi was submerged in a bath of “excessively cold” icy water, on at least one occasion an interrogator was “so uncomfortable with the technique he sat outside the dousing room” to avoid witnessing it first-hand. Another admitted to the Inspector General that this practice was “probably…outside the bounds of what we were supposed to be doing.” A similar strategy killed Salt Pit inmate Gul Rahman in November 2002.

By contrast, CIA torturers had no reservations whatsoever about using Baluchi as a “training prop.” Several new interrogators at the site, “who had only two weeks of classroom instruction,” needed “on-the-job practice for certification”: Baluchi represented “an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of techniques,” in particular “walling.”

After he was stripped naked, interrogators “lined up” one-by-one to slam Baluchi’s head into plywood – and, on occasion, concrete – walls over and over again, until they became “fatigued,” whereupon another would take their place, in sessions lasting up to two hours. A CIA operative interviewed by the Inspector General claimed this method was “meant more for ‘sensation’ than to hurt the detainee,” and “simply made a big noise.”

Unclassified documents in which al-Baluchi recounts the torture he endured

Baluchi’s account of the abuse is rather different. After undergoing an MRI scan in 2018 that found “abnormalities indicating moderate to severe brain damage…consistent with traumatic brain injury,” he described how each time his head struck the wall, “I would see sparks of lights in my eyes.” He further attested:

The intensity of the sparks was increasing as a result of repeated hitting. All of a sudden I felt a strong jolt of electricity in my head; then I couldn’t see anything and everything went dark and I passed out. I wasn’t just suspended to the ceiling, I was naked, starved, dehydrated, cold, hooded, verbally threatened, in pain from the beating and water-drowning, as my head was smashed against the wall dozens and dozens of times.”

Upon the Inspector General report’s release, Baluchi’s attorney Alka Pradhan likened his treatment to “human experimentation.” This categorization was even more apt than likely intended. A rarely acknowledged, sinister truth is that prisoners of the CIA throughout the War on Terror served as guinea pigs in an extension of a grand, macabre Agency experiment that began decades earlier, named MKULTRA.

In the process, these unwitting and unwilling test subjects provided living demonstrations of the efficacy of Langley’s long-patented secret torture and brainwashing techniques, while granting the CIA a wealth of fresh insight into how best to tear human minds apart and put them together again in shapes of its own choosing.

 

“No force or coercion”

MKULTRA itself represented a continuation of bloodcurdling human experimentation undertaken in Nazi concentration camps and by Japan’s infamous Unit 731 during World War II. Under its auspices, the CIA sought to develop “chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior,” and “increase the effectiveness of interrogation of hostile subjects.”

Sensory deprivation was a key tactic – and objective — of these efforts. Its efficacy as a psychological torture method was amply established by MKULTRA’s precursor, Project ARTICHOKE. In 1951, the CIA covertly sponsored an experiment in which 22 student volunteers at McGill University were placed in cubicles, wearing blackened goggles, earmuffs playing constant white noise, mittens, and cardboard tubes over their forearms.

It took just 48 hours for participants to experience intense hallucinations comparable to the effects of the psychedelic drug mescaline, and exhibit psychosis. One student suffered a complete, enduring mental breakdown. The academic who conducted the study later remarked that the results “scared the hell out of us.”

By contrast, the CIA was thrilled: Agency doctor Lawrence Hinkle, of Cornell University, said the technique was “the ideal way of ‘breaking down’ a prisoner…it seems to create precisely the state the interrogator desires: malleability and the desire to talk, with the added advantage that one can delude himself that he is using no force or coercion.”

Fast forward to 2002, and word that the CIA was torturing terror suspects began to proliferate among Western journalists and NGOs in Afghanistan, courtesy of Red Cross investigators who visited interrogation sites within and outside the country.

No mention of this surfaced in the mainstream media at the time, not least owing to the difficulty of corroborating the incendiary charge – although incontrovertible supporting evidence lurked in plain sight, plastered on newspaper front pages the world over.

Widely circulated photos of Guantanamo Bay’s first inductees, taken in January that year by an in-house U.S. Navy photographer, showed them to be gagged, outfitted with blackened goggles, ear defenders and thick gloves, in the precise manner of the McGill students.

Detainees sit in a holding at Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray. Photo | AP

These measures were applied to inmates whenever they were taken outside their cell for any reason – even dentist visits. The 2008 Inspector General report refers to Baluchi being blindfolded, hands and feet shackled, mouth covered “to prevent him from communicating,” and noise suppressors placed over his ears “to prevent him from hearing ambient sounds,” as “standard rendition procedure.”

The review also notes that on at least one occasion, Baluchi was forced to drink a nameless medicine – he subsequently “went crazy.” This highlights another fundamental synergy between MKULTRA and the CIA’s torture program: the widespread doping of targets with psychedelic drugs, without their consent.

Dozens of current and former CIA prisoners have testified that they were given pills, or injected with substances, without any clarity on what they contained. If an inmate refused, Guantanamo’s notorious “Immediate Reaction Force,” responsible for pacifying combative detainees, was summoned to administer the medication via brute coercion.

These drugs often had absolutely ravaging consequences for other recipients too. Excessive, unnecessary dosing of antimalarial drug mefloquine – five times the recommended amount — led to inmates swelling like balloons, with “swollen heads, swollen hands.” Known side effects include anxiety, paranoia, depression, hallucinations and psychotic behavior, and its use by U.S. soldiers has been linked to suicides and murders.

Adnan Latif, who died in Guantamo Bay – purportedly by suicide — in 2012, told his lawyers that he was subject to injections in his sleep, and frequently plied with pills, which made him feel like “a zombie.” An autopsy found a bizarre, extremely dangerous cocktail of prescription drugs and morphine in his system.

A 2009 internal Pentagon review failed to conclusively determine whether mind-altering drugs were used to make prisoners more cooperative; yet a 2003 Justice Department memo, declassified the previous year, showed that a decades-old ban on the use of such substances in interrogations was shredded for the purposes of the CIA’s torture program.

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In any event, given the wide-ranging physical and psychological torture to which inmates were subjected, it’s impossible to quantify what if any role mind-altering substances may have played in making detainees talk – but talk they nearly all did, eventually.

 

“I said anything”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the torture program concluded that enhanced techniques did not produce a single shred of useful, unique intelligence that hadn’t already been gleaned from other sources and methods.

Instead, CIA prisoners almost universally told their interrogators what they thought the Agency wanted to hear, provided false confessions and admitted to impossible crimes, in order to curtail their suffering. The Inspector General report further underlines that the CIA itself was well aware of this, finding that Baluchi provided no worthwhile intelligence of any kind, and “fabricated the information he provided” while being tortured.

The Committee’s findings were widely portrayed in the media as a testament to the program’s failure, but such analysis overlooks the obvious question of whether the Agency deliberately sought false testimony in order to achieve preordained results. Were they trying to get information out of prisoners, or trying to get information into them to substantiate and justify what the Agency was saying and doing?

Following 9/11, the U.S. government was in urgent need of fast, actionable intelligence to justify long-planned imperial interventions in the Middle East, and draconian, civil liberty-busting surveillance measures at home. As such, it was necessary to identify – or even concoct — a global terror threat to fight, as rapidly as possible.

One of the core foundations of the Iraq War — the oft-cited claim that Baghdad had tutored al-Qaeda in the use of chemical and biological weapons – was based on the testimony of a suspected al-Qaeda operative whom the CIA knew to be “likely intentionally misleading” his interrogators in Egypt, a country well known for widespread use of torture.

Along the way, countless people were falsely fingered as al-Qaeda operatives by other detainees, as a result of CIA coercion. Accordingly, of the 800 men imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002, most were released without charge, in many cases years after the CIA determined they were innocent. Permanent psychological scars from the experience are common.

Baluchi may himself be an example of a guiltless party incarcerated on baseless charges. He claims to have had no idea the individuals he was assisting were terrorists, and acting as a courier, frequently delivered support to Muslims overseas on behalf of wealthy benefactors in order to supplement his income. The Inspector General report could identify no reasonable grounds for his imprisonment, judging the CIA’s rationale to be “fuzzy and circular.”

Interrogators at first merely “assumed” he was withholding information about “imminent threats” to the U.S., based on what they felt he “could [emphasis added] have known,” and statements from other inmates – themselves obtained via torture.

As the brutality ratcheted up, Baluchi became “compliant” in order “to try to end the techniques,” and for fear he would be killed if he didn’t cooperate, offering “tidbits” to his interrogators, which then served as justification for his continued imprisonment and abuse. In his own words, “I said anything when being tortured.”

“He was afraid to tell a lie and was afraid to tell the truth, because he did not know how either would be received,” the report noted.

 

Psychic driving

One of the most infamous MKULTRA experiments was known as psychic driving, through which psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron gave patients incapacitating drug cocktails and electric shocks while they listened to hours of recorded audio messages, in order to render their mind a “blank slate” onto which new behaviors, thoughts, memories, and personalities could be implanted.

Just like the CIA’s torture program, received wisdom holds that this effort was a failure. While it did create “blank slates,” in that test subjects suffered wide-ranging memory loss, Cameron was unable to effectively “reprogram” them thereafter.

Artwork made by Ammar Al Baluchi in his Guantanamo cell. Seth Wenig | AP

Still, he considered the “primary values” of psychic driving to be “penetration of defenses [and] elicitation of hitherto inaccessible material” – and, given the similarities between his techniques and what was practiced on CIA prisoners, it’s clear the Agency considers them worthwhile to this day.

By psychologically destroying inmates, Langley could transform them into whomever and whatever it wanted and needed them to be at any given time. And in distorting their minds, the Agency corrupted global perceptions.

What’s more, there’s every reason to think the strategies honed by the CIA over the course of the program endure today. Researcher Jeff Kaye, who has conducted pioneering work on U.S. torture and biological warfare, tells MintPress that Langely’s “torture enterprise” was also codified in the 2006 Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogations, “which Democrats pushed as an alternative to the CIA’s own torture program.”

This was effectively MKULTRA “reduced to its essentials, relying on isolation, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation, along with so-called legal techniques like ‘fear up,’ ‘emotional ego down’ and ‘emotional futility’ to break down individuals by creating feelings of degradation, dependency and dread within them,” Kaye says.

Similarly, in the Army’s Manual, which 2016 Congressional legislation enshrined as the approved way to interrogate prisoners held by the CIA and military, the “futility” technique is used to engender “a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in prisoners.” Kaye chillingly concludes:

The manual’s “Field Expedient Interrogation” method (found in the AFM’s Appendix M) includes the placing of earmuffs and blackout goggles or blindfolds on prisoners, in order to “prolong the shock of capture” and “foster a feeling of futility.” The poison of the MKULTRA program has spread to infect the entire U.S. military and CIA, which now “legally” can torture, while the political establishment withholds prosecution of anyone accused of torture.”

Feature photo | MintPress News

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.

The post CIA Files Confirm Guantanamo Bay Torture Program’s MKULTRA Roots appeared first on MintPress News.

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