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In Wake of HRW Apartheid Report, Israeli Propagandists Launch Global PR Offensive

NEW YORK — A recently released bombshell Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has made waves around the world. For the first time, the New York-based non-governmental organization has categorized Israel as an apartheid state guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

The 213-page study goes into detail about a range of racist laws and policies carried out by successive administrations, concluding that there is an “overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The report accuses the state of Israel of widespread “institutional discrimination” and of “denying millions of Palestinians their fundamental rights…solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish.” It further notes that, across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it has “sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers.”

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said the organization’s executive director, Kenneth Roth. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

Perhaps most importantly, Human Rights Watch is now openly calling for global action to end the repression. The report asks the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute those involved in Palestinian persecution. While not explicitly endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement, Human Rights Watch directly advocates that “[s]tates should impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against officials and individuals responsible for the continued commission of these serious crimes,” and for businesses to “cease business activities that directly contribute to the crimes of apartheid and persecution.”

 

A big splash

The report was widely covered across the world and has been heralded by Palestine solidarity activists, with experts seeing it as a potential turning point in the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty. “It was inevitable that Human Rights Watch would have to declare Israel an Apartheid state and, from what I hear, Amnesty International is going to be next to say it,” Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada told MintPress. “It puts Israel’s backers in a difficult spot because Human Rights Watch is really part of the establishment so they cannot just dismiss it and it makes it impossible to ignore… It is harder for them to say Human Rights Watch is anti-Semitic, but they’re trying it anyway,” he added.

Trying indeed. Michigan Congresswoman Lisa McClain tweeted that “Human Rights Watch has shown again how they have an anti-Israel agenda,” suggesting they instead focus their attention on China or Iran’s repressive governments. “Hostility and hypocrisy are HRW’s hallmarks when it comes to Israel,” wrote the American Jewish Committee. The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board was equally condemnatory, denouncing what they saw as the “cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.” Other Israeli journalists described the report as “a disgrace to the memory of the millions who suffered under that policy [apartheid] in South Africa.” The news even made enough waves to force a response from the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied that “[a]s to the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute apartheid, that is not the view of this administration.”

 

Organized spontaneity

Yet much of the online anger at the report was actually manufactured by an Israeli government-sponsored app, Act.IL, which organized supporters of the Jewish state to act in sync to create an artificial groundswell of opposition to it. The app, which reportedly has a budget of over $1 million per year, instructed users to leave combative comments on Facebook, Twitter, and popular news outlets, and to like and promote others who did the same.

Human Rights Watch’s Facebook post announcing the report’s release has received over 1,400 comments, hundreds of them written in a similar, scathingly negative tone. One that the app directly told users to signal boost, for instance, described Palestinians as a people “indoctrinated with hate for Israel and Jews for over 100 years,” and claimed they were paid salaries to murder Israelis. It also presented the 1967 war and occupation as a humanitarian effort to bring electricity and other infrastructure to Arabs.

Today, @hrw issued a report concluding that Israel is committing the crime of Apartheid.

In response, Israel's propaganda app has "missions" targeting news sources with talking points and graphics, including one image attacking lead author @OmarSShakir.#Courage2FightApartheid pic.twitter.com/EpKU44KamY

— Behind Israel's Troll Army (@AntiBDSApp) April 27, 2021

Another “mission” Act.IL gave its users was to promote a Facebook comment attacking the report as “nothing more than hate speech” and calling its lead author a “rabid anti-Zionist and Israel hater.”

One of the many images provided to Act.IL users for their astroturfing campaign against HRW

Act.IL is one of the chief tools in Israel’s online public relations enterprise. The app debuted in 2017 and is part of what Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan called an “Iron Dome of Truth.” “Our cell phones are the number one weapon against us,” he explained, noting that public opinion in the U.S. was beginning to turn against them. While most of the app’s nearly 20,000 users are volunteers, a core of them are paid operatives, with many students receiving scholarships as a reward for their work.

The app has been designed to feel like a game, with points assigned for completing “missions” such as sharing pro-Israel videos, reporting anti-Israel content, signing petitions, or attending online seminars. Users can track their progress on leaderboards, earn badges and prizes, and chat with other members of the community. While it might feel like Animal Crossing or World of Warcraft for some, its creators see this very much as a new front in the war against Palestine. Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked categorizes BDS as “another branch of terrorism in the modern age,” and has been an important voice in taking the fight to a new front.

An Act.IL mission encouraging astroturfing of online discussions. Source |
@AntiBDSApp

There is also an online toolkit full of folders of responses to typical questions and issues that arise. Users can, for instance, go to the BDS folder to find stock replies to their arguments. Or they can go to a specific folder to find articles, images and videos they can use to demonize Hamas.

The missions are organized by outlet, so users can, for instance, target only Facebook, Telegram, or other platforms they are most familiar with. At the time of writing, there are 10 missions each to complete on Facebook and YouTube, 30 on Instagram, 25 on Twitter.

One current challenge is to upvote an answer to a question on Quora that asks about the validity and purpose of checkpoints in the West Bank. The answer claims they are purely about protection from terror attacks, and claims that Red Crescent ambulances are used to ferry bombs around the area. Other missions include pressuring an online store to remove a bag with a message stating “Make Israel Palestine Again.”

An Act.IL “mission” encouraging users to demand the removal of products with pro-Palestinian messaging

“It is quite astounding how openly they do it. But, of course, when you see a comment online, you wouldn’t necessarily think that it was coming from the Israeli government, but this is essentially what is happening,” Winstanley said. “Israel is not the only state to do this, but they do it fairly successfully.”

For all this, however, it is clear that Act.IL has a serious problem with user retention and lacks the volunteer numbers for it to be truly game changing.

 

Controlling the message

In a time of heightened awareness about foreign government interference online, it is particularly surprising that these operations can be openly carried out across virtually every major platform. Big tech companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are constantly deleting tens of thousands of Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Cuban accounts belonging to what they claim are organized, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.

In an effort to gauge the legality of its operations, MintPress reached out to Facebook, YouTube, Quora, and other big platforms used by Act.IL. We received no response from any of them. While this is particularly noteworthy — as these companies have teams of public relations representatives and are extremely forthright and timely with responses on other issues — it is perhaps not surprising. Facebook especially has long been working closely with the Israeli government in deciding which voices to censor. As far back as 2016, Ayelet Shaked boasted that Facebook removed 95% of the posts her office asked them to. Yet when Shaked herself called for a genocidal war against Palestine and its women, who give birth to “little snakes,” not only did the post remain online, it received thousands of likes and was widely circulated.

“The concern is that Facebook is adopting Israeli policy and terminology when it comes to defining what incitement is,” said Nadim Nashif, co-founder of 7amleh, the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media. 7amleh was therefore dismayed when last year, Facebook appointed former Israeli Minister of Justice Emi Palmor to its Oversight Board, the council having the final say in the moderation of content on the platform used by 2.6 billion people worldwide. In her role as justice minister, Palmor was directly implicated in the persecution and subjugation of Palestinians.

Earlier this year, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier attempted to sue a Palestinian-American activist living in California over an allegedly slanderous Facebook post condemning her for participating in ethnic cleansing. Remarkably, the plaintiff attempted to convince a California judge to apply Israeli law to the incident, despite the fact that both she and the defendant are American citizens.

Inside the world of academia, professors critical of Israel have found themselves pushed out of the profession. In 2007, prominent critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University for political reasons. Seven years later, the University of Illinois “unhired” Steven Sailata for his comments denouncing Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza. Emails showed that wealthy donors put significant pressure on the university to pull the plug on him. More recently, Cornel West was blocked from a tenured job at Harvard this year, despite having previously held tenure at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. “Being the faculty advisor for the Palestinian student group was the one that probably went outside of the line for many Harvard staff,” West told Krystal Ball and Kyle Kulinski. “It’s a joke. It’s ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. It’s preposterous that it wouldn’t have something to do with politics.”

Top media figures have also paid the price for their support of BDS. CNN fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill after he made a speech at the United Nations calling for a free Palestine. Meanwhile, journalist Abby Martin was blocked from speaking at a conference at Georgia Southern University last year after she refused to sign a contract promising to renounce BDS. Georgia is one of dozens of U.S. states to have anti-BDS legislation, essentially forcing any would-be recipient of public contracts or funds, including government employees, to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Martin is currently suing the state of Georgia.

MintPress News · MintCast Interviews Abby Martin About Her Anti-BDS Lawsuit & The Israel Lobby

Perhaps the greatest PR victory for the Israel lobby in recent years was its defamation campaign against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The lifelong pacifist, anti-racist campaigner was transformed into a raging anti-Semite in the minds of many, thanks to a massive propaganda onslaught. In the three months before the 2019 election, there were 1,450 articles in national British newspapers linking Corbyn with anti-Semitism, chiefly because of his support for Palestinian liberation. Much of this was orchestrated by Israel and its lobby, which worked closely with journalists and politicians keen to see the socialist politician’s demise. The media blitz succeeded. When media researchers asked the public what percentage of Labour members faced official complaints over anti-Semitism, the average guess was 34%. The actual answer was less than 0.1%; and more than half of those complaints were made by one person. Corbyn lost the election and the U.K. chose Boris Johnson.

Winstanley, whose documentary “How they brought down Corbyn” premiered last week, told MintPress:

The most effective propaganda strategy against [Corbyn] was the fabrication that he was an anti-Semite on the basis of his past criticisms of Israel and his Palestinian solidarity. In my view, the maliciously fabricated anti-Semitism crisis against the Labour Party was the main factor in his [being deposed] as Labour Party leader. Without this factor, he would have made it to Number 10 Downing Street and become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”

 

Apartheid states

While Human Rights Watch’s report is new, the charge of apartheid is not. In 2017, a United Nations report “clearly and frankly concludes” that Israel is “a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.” Earlier this year, Israeli human rights organization B’TSelem also used the word “apartheid,” claiming that Israel had established “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

In the wake of World War Two and the Holocaust, Israel was created by the United Nations in 1947, cutting a section of territory from the British mandate of Palestine to form a new state. While it was immediately recognized by the international powers, Arabs who lived in the region were dead against it, leading to a war in 1948. David Ben Gurion and the founding fathers of Israel immediately began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local population, razing their villages and forcing them to flee. Today there are more than 5 million Palestinians registered as refugees.

While many defenders of Israel today balk at the comparison to apartheid South Africa, the two countries were close friends for much of the late 20th century, seeing themselves as similar settler colonial projects surrounded by hostile nations. Furthermore, leaders of the African liberation movement saw themselves as part of the same struggle as those in Palestine. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Nelson Mandela said in 1997. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a statement endorsing BDS. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government,” he added.

 

A turning tide

The Human Rights Watch report is the latest reference point showing Western public sympathies swaying towards Palestine. During the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race, a number of top-tier candidates very publicly shunned the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, refusing to attend the AIPAC conference. Last week, the Pilsbury family called for a global boycott of the food company that bears its name. “As long as General Mills [which owns the Pilsbury brand] continues to profit from the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people, we will not buy any Pillsbury products,” they stated, denouncing the building of a factory on illegal settlement land.

Advocates for Palestine hailed Human Rights Watch’s study. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote:

There can be little doubt that much of HRW’s decision to issue this report now was based on the recognition that not only is it no longer political suicide to call Israeli apartheid what it is, but that we are now at a tipping point whereby failing to call out apartheid risks losing credibility for a human rights organization. It’s a huge victory for our movement.”

The battle, however, is far from won, and it is clear that the Israel lobby will continue to fight to hold back the tide until it is insurmountable.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

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 In Wake of HRW Apartheid Report, Israeli Propagandists Launch Global PR Offensive appeared first on MintPress News.

Regavim: The Israeli Faux Environmental Org Converting US Donations into Palestinian Evictions

OCCUPIED WEST BANK — In the village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, dozens of Bedouin families are at risk of losing their homes and becoming refugees again by July. While it is the Israeli government and military that are enacting the demolitions and evacuations, their efforts are largely driven by a pro-settler nonprofit supported by American charities.

While it is masked as an environmental organization, Regavim’s work involves petitioning the Israeli government to demolish structures and pursue evictions for Palestinians and Bedouins under the guise of protecting “Israel’s most precious and scarce resources: land reserves, water, air quality” — though much of the organization’s focus is on occupied Palestinian territory. Regavim’s most recent targets have been the villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susya, located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under total Israeli military control. Israel rarely approves building permits for the indigenous people in Area C so the majority of Palestinian and Bedouin construction there is deemed illegal.

In collaboration with nearby Israeli settlements, Regavim has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to demolish hundreds of buildings in Khan al-Ahmar since 2009. The Israeli government has continuously delayed the displacement, causing Regavim to repeatedly file petitions in order to speed up the evacuation process, the most recent being filed in November 2020. In response to Regavim’s latest petition, the High Court gave the state until July to demolish Khan al-Ahmar. Regavim did not respond to a request for comment.

 

A settler organization funded by taxpayers

Regavim was founded in 2006 by Bezalel Smotrich, a former member of Israel’s parliament and head of the Religious Zionist Party.

“[Regavim has] managed to make serious inroads into the Israeli political system,” Cody O’Rourke of the Good Shepherd Collective, a nonviolent grassroots resistance movement in the West Bank, said, referring to how Smotrich’s political party was able to secure six seats in March’s election.

“The Israeli military has to respond to Israeli politics,” O’Rourke continued. “So, having their co-founder now in the Knesset, they’re able to put the sort of pressure on the Israeli military and on the Israeli civil administration to push these people off their land.”

Children watch as an Israeli army bulldozer prepares the ground for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Oren Ziv | ActiveStills

However, Regavim’s ties to government don’t stop with its founder. A 2018 Haaretz investigation found that the pro-settler group is financed by Israeli taxpayers through local settler councils, and it has collected taxpayer money from the United States. “[Regavim] also has been able to exploit the U.S. 501(3) system to receive charitable donations to really engage in essentially what is ethnic cleansing of the land,” O’Rourke said.

 

The U.S. charities behind Regavim

Regavim is backed by tax-deductible donations from three New York-based nonprofits: The Central Fund of Israel, One Israel Fund, and the Israel Independence Fund. According to the most recently available financial reports from Israel’s Registrar of Associations, the Central Fund of Israel gave Regavim 1,804,175 shekels ($553,000) in 2019.

Information on donations from the One Israel Fund and the Israel Independence Fund is not available for 2019. However, according to 2018 tax filings, the One Israel Fund made more than $2 million in grants to the Middle East, and the Israel Independence Fund said it distributed $580,00 to Keren Nahlat Atzmaut (the executive arm of the Israel Independence Fund). Tax-exempt charities do not have to list the names of the foreign organizations to which contribute.

Overall, Regavim received 319,603 shekels (almost $9,800) from abroad in 2019.  Their Israeli donations amounted to 3,748,584 shekels (approximately $115 million). Hagit Ofran from Israeli settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, said the lopsided ratio of donations could be because Regavim marks U.S.-based organizations’ donations as Israeli when these donors have offices in Israel. “So the money comes from U.S. donors, but it goes through the Israeli office, so they can call it an Israeli donation,” Ofran said.

In order to classify as a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt charity, an organization must be licensed at the federal and state levels. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. Treasury Department determine if a nonprofit is adhering to charitable guidelines at the federal level, while the state attorney general makes those conclusions at the state level.

With this in mind, the Good Shepherd Collective is currently campaigning online for New York’s attorney general to revoke the charitable status of the organizations involved in funding Regavim. “These organizations still have to follow charitable guidelines,” O’Rourke said. “And engaging in what the International Criminal Court said was war crimes, that doesn’t follow a charitable description.”

IRS regulations require American nonprofits to make what is called “an equivalency determination” when providing grants abroad, meaning they must assure that the foreign recipient functions under the same rules as a U.S. nonprofit. Charitable guidelines stipulate that tax-exempt donations are defined as “lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”

Additionally, tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from making contributions that counter American foreign policy or abet those engaged in illegal acts. Experts have long argued that supporting Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, fits squarely into that category.

When probed by Haaretz in 2015 over the tax-exempt status of organizations funding settlement activity, the White House responded that the “the policy of every administration since 1967, Democrat and Republican alike, has been to object to Israeli settlement beyond the 1967 borders.”

Nonprofit donations in the U.S. are often shrouded in secrecy and lack transparency. Halah Ahmad, a policy analyst at Palestinian thinktank Al-Shabaka noted that this is due to minimal governmental oversight. “If a nonprofit is given tax-exempt status by the U.S., you have organizations that could be complicit in human rights violations,” Ahmad said. “Regavim is just one organization among many that are party to this problem.”

The Central Fund of Israel and One Israel Fund did not respond to press inquiries, but the Israel Independence Fund denied that its involvement with Regavim violates international law and U.S. regulations and referred to the Jewish people as the indigenous population of the West Bank, telling MintPress, “The IIF was, is, and will remain a proud supporter of Regavim” (read their full statement here).

These three charities are not required to disclose where their donations come from. However, private foundations must inform the IRS of any domestic grants they make. Several notable philanthropists have made sizable donations to these organizations, including the late casino magnate and Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson and the controversial Irving Moskowitz, who sought to use his wealth to create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Below are the supporting foundations followed by the amount and year of their most recent donation. This information was gathered using ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer tool.

Edwin Soforenko Foundation: Unknown amount to One Israel Fund in 2018

 

Part of the ‘apartheid apparatus

Funding of Israel’s settler movement goes through a variety of channels and relies on a wide network of organizational and governmental support. Neve Gordon, an Israeli professor at the Queen Mary University of London, has conducted research on Regavim, concluding that the use of nonprofits is just one part of the larger “apartheid apparatus,” explaining:

In order to make a regime that is based on institutionalized discrimination and ethnic and racist identifications, you need to set in place a whole apparatus. Part of it is legal. Part of it is governmental. And part of it is the executive branch of the government. So, you have the three branches, but then part of it — and that’s what is often not discussed — is organs within civil society. And Regavim is an organ within civil society that enables apartheid.”

And whether these donors know what their money is being used for or not, Gordon emphasized that exposing them as “apartheid enablers” is crucial in dismantling this system.

Feature photo | Israel police guard a military bulldozer at it destroys a Palestinian home in the South Hebron Hills. Photo | International Solidarity Movement.

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 Regavim: The Israeli Faux Environmental Org Converting US Donations into Palestinian Evictions appeared first on MintPress News.

The Leaked Zarif Tape: What Western Media Heard and What He Actually Said

TEHRAN, IRAN — On April 25, the Saudi-funded and U.K.-backed “Iran International” released a leaked audio recording of Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, in conversation with Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz for what appeared to be an oral history project. Immediately, the three-hour-plus conversation generated a great deal of controversy in Iran and plenty of commentary abroad. In the course of the conversation, Zarif spoke about his diplomatic posts, before and during the Rouhani administration, and his future political ambitions (or lack thereof). He ruminated on his relationship with President Hassan Rouhani, the late General Qasim Soleimani, and the leader of the Islamic Republic, Sayyid Ali Khamenei. He also highlighted his political philosophy on Iranian sovereignty and on international relations, as he discussed relations with the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia, among other nations.

In the Anglo-American sphere, regime change evangelists, mainstream news, native informant media in Persian, and radlib analysts found their characteristic convergence: they distorted through an imperialist discourse redolent with confirmation bias what they had heard (or, in some cases, misheard). Two narratives emerged. The first advanced the tired trope of oriental despotism. Emerging out of colonial and liberal discourses and carrying into the present day, this trope imagines a dichotomous world between Western political agency and freedom on the one hand and an oriental or Muslim tyrant on the other, who rules through total control of his bureaucratics and subjects. The second narrative centered not so much on Russia’s despotism (although both the Soviet Union and Russia have received their fair share of such representations), but on the post-2016 obsession of the Democratic Party with Russia as the spoiler of “our democracy” — subject to a slight twist in this case, as the U.S. media represented Russia as the sole spoiler of the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

 

The tired trope of oriental despotism

The usual suspects, including The New York Times, ginned up these narratives. As regards to the first narrative of oriental despotism, with no traceable support from the tape’s transcript, the Times reported: “Decisions, [Zarif] said, are dictated by the supreme leader or, frequently, the Revolutionary Guards Corps.” The Times went on to quote an Atlantic Council pundit stating that “Iran’s foreign policy is dictated by theater policies of the military and Zarif is a nobody.”

Despite the sensationalist focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Zarif mentioned them only once during the entire interview. This was in reference to Iran’s National Security Council wherein the IRGC receives representation through a general with observation (nazir) status but without a right to vote on issues (18; this and subsequent page numbers refer to the transcript of the recording). The IRGC organization received a single reference, but its late general, Qasim Soleimani, was mentioned several times, along with the leader (rahbar), Khamenei.

Let’s start with Khamenei and test the “dictation” claim of the Times. Zarif mentioned Khamenei in 11 different segments of the interview, 10 times by the title of his office and once by an honorific. In none of them did Zarif indicate or imply that the leader (or the leader’s office) “dictated” the entirety of foreign policy. Rather, Zarif spoke of his relationship with the leader, in which the latter’s authority and revolutionary credentials stood out. Khamenei, Zarif claimed, despite his revolutionary function, “is one of the strongest diplomats of the nation,” evidenced in his interactions with foreign representatives in Tehran (18).

The New York Times | April 24, 2021

As the commander-in-chief, Khamenei does direct the country’s foreign policy. Khamenei’s general direction did not mean, however, that Zarif had no agency in diplomacy. One segment is particularly supportive of Zarif’s agency: Khamenei had reproached Zarif in response to a February 2021 interview Zarif had given to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on the return to the nuclear deal. According to Zarif, his comments were misinterpreted by BBC Persian to say that the U.S. and Iran must return to compliance with the nuclear deal simultaneously, which went against the official Iranian policy that the U.S., as the party that had abandoned the deal, must be first to return. Khamenei then wrote Zarif a “compassionate” but “firm” letter to express his concern over this apparent divergence from state policy. Zarif responded in a seven-page letter, explaining that his comments had been misinterpreted (17). Now former U.S. President Donald Trump might have fired his minister in such circumstances, but Khamenei simply responded that Zarif’s explanations were “beneficial” (17).

On other occasions, Zarif engaged in conduct that did not meet Khamenei’s expectations. For example, he was cleared to meet with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry but the meeting became much more formal and extended than the one Khamenei had expected (22-23). It should follow that Khamenei exercises authority and direction over foreign policy, and this reinforces, and at times conflicts with, Zarif’s diplomatic agency and judgment. The idea of dictation therefore as presented to us by the mainstream media simply reads oriental despotism into the content of the tape and is not supported by anything Zarif actually said.

 

Zarif and Soleimani

Next, we come to Zarif’s relationship with Soleimani. Soleimani was mentioned during the interview 52 times, but without any indication that the general’s role (or the organization of IRGC he represented) reduced Zarif to a “nobody.” Rather, Zarif spoke about his disagreements with Soleimani, despite his deep affection for the general, and the lack of reciprocity between him and the general, telling his interlocutor that “the general and I were not necessarily agreeable on all issues but we felt that we had to coordinate and we did this — and I can say this confidently, that I compromised on diplomatic objectives for military ones, but the reverse was not true” (25).

For example, Zarif requested that Soleimani not use Iran Air for flights between Tehran and Syria, which the general refused. Zarif, on the other hand, complied with Soleimani’s requests to put pressure on the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to “liberate” Al-Fu’ah and Kafriya in the Idlib province of Syria in exchange for the release of civilian prisoners in Aleppo (26). In the tape, Zarif faulted for this lack of reciprocity the policy of “the state as a whole” (kull-i nizam), where the military objective had primacy over diplomacy (27). Zarif differed from this official policy, he said and believed that primacy lay with preserving revolutionary values, all the while pushing for “the [diplomatic] management of difference” with the imperialist United States, in lieu of indefinite enmity and the securitization of national discourse and policy (13).

Contrary to the Atlantic Council’s confusion, then, Soleimani did not reduce Zarif to a nobody. Rather, with respect to military and diplomatic objectives, Zarif felt, contrary to his own preferences, that “the state as a whole” converged on the primacy of military objectives, which then led to a lack of reciprocity between him and Soleimani.

 

One lens for the West, another for the rest

Now, the double standards when it comes to the West and the rest are quite telling. If a U.S. official said they were unable to implement a policy because of resistance from the Pentagon and the military brass, it would not be taken as proof that this official was a nobody; but when an Iranian diplomat says the same, it is cynically portrayed as a smoking gun that can only be interpreted through the tired trope of oriental despotism. Indeed, I’d like to make the bold suggestion that the differences Zarif was grieved about indicate the relatively higher degree of pluralism in the Iranian political system when compared to the United States.

In the U.S., at the federal and mainstream levels, it is difficult to find variance within foreign policy discourse and objectives. Foreign policy is uniformly belligerent — there is no shame exhibited that the two bipartisan standing ovations at the 2020 State of the Union were in response to Trump’s promotion of Juan Guaido, and his even more repulsive celebration of Soleimani’s assassination. Compare this with Iran, where at the national and mainstream level, you have great disagreement.

On foreign policy, some (including, the so-called “hardliners”) want zero engagement with the West, as they think, based on colonial history, that their agreements are mere bad-faith theater; whereas others, such as officials in the Rouhani administration, view national progress as inevitably linked to the “management of difference” with the West and incorporation into the global markets. Foreign policy discourse is more plural and varied among the Iranian political elites (and one should add, the general public) than it is in mainstream U.S. politics. Much of the public consumes this politics through the mainstream media without self-reflection, and it is only the American anti-war movement that has endeavored to hold imperialism accountable.

 

A simplistic narrative for a complex set of relationships

This brings us to the mainstream media’s second narrative: the vilification of Russia as the agent against diplomacy. As with the U.K. and the U.S., Iranian politics approaches Russia with anxiety. Iran still holds collective memories of the Tsars, to whom Iran suffered territorial losses in the 19th century; followed by the Tsar-backed bombardment of the nascent Iranian parliament in 1908; and then the carving up of Iran into English and Russian “spheres of influence” during World War I. Speaking in this context, Zarif viewed Russia with caution, telling us that a crisis between the West and Iran was not in Russia’s interest but neither was normalization, and this was why Moscow opposed the nuclear deal (33).

When the JCPOA (the formal acronym for the nuclear deal) was signed, the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, was not in the collective picture, and he had put in his utmost effort to stop the deal, words that Zarif said to his interlocutor “you will never be able to publish” (31). Examples of these efforts included a later-discarded text of the agreement presented by the U.S. team to Iran, drafted by Russia but also France, specifying that Iran must seek a vote from the Security Council every six months for the renewal of JCPOA (34). Zarif added that Russia also attempted to obstruct the deal by raising tensions. It attempted to generate indefinite reliance on Russian industries and contractors for Bushehr’s nuclear power plant, whereas Iran wanted temporary Russian assistance after which it would become self-reliant.

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, left, and Iranian FM Javad Zarif during a meeting in Moscow, Jan. 26, 2021. Photo | Russian Foreign Ministry via AP

Russia also refused, Zarif added, to provide a license to Iran for the use of its own fuel in the plant. It appears from the tape that the two countries reached an agreement, however, according to which Iran would become self-reliant after a ten-year period (32).

According to Zarif, then, Russia attempted to obstruct the nuclear deal before its conclusion on July 14, 2015. However, the mainstream media omitted crucial parts of the transcript. Zarif also added that “Russia is our neighbor and it is important to maintain our relations” (33). In fact, when it came to the diplomatic realm, Zarif appeared more aggrieved with the Americans. What follows is not an exhaustive list of his grievances during the interview, but the most contemporary events that he mentioned.

 

Zarif’s nuanced views of Russian and American behaviors

Early on in the interview, Zarif expressed dismay regarding the Biden administration, saying that it is not much different from Trump in its treatment of the Iranian people: “What I see right now [early 2021] is that the people are still having problems in their purchase of medicine, food, and imports, and more than [$]10 billion of our money is frozen” (2). Moreover, Zarif expressed contempt at the controversial December 2015 H.R. 158 legislation, which he claimed was achieved through the advocacy of the Zionist lobby. H.R. 158 barred dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan, as well as foreigners who have traveled to these countries since March 2011, from eligibility in the U.S.’s visa waiver program. Zarif added that Barack Obama’s refusal to veto it, after his request to Kerry, went against the spirit of the nuclear deal concluded some five months earlier.

There were even more diplomatic grievances against the United States. Zarif alleged that the U.S. misrepresented the Yemen war to the public, shifting the blame from Saudi Arabia (and, one might add, itself) to Iran. According to Zarif, in the spring of 2015, shortly before the nuclear deal was concluded, a multilateral ceasefire was about to be concluded in Yemen. Even though Zarif never spoke to Kerry on Syria, he discussed Yemen with him, spending two precious days on the issue in Lausanne, Switzerland during the nuclear negotiations.

Kerry telephoned Zarif as the latter was traveling to an Islamic nation conference taking place in Indonesia. Kerry told Zarif that he and then-Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir had reached an agreement towards a ceasefire in Yemen. Zarif was delighted, as he knew the Houthis (Ansarullah) were already agreeable to a ceasefire. Zarif then contacted Hossein Amirabdollahian, the Iranian deputy foreign minister on Arab and African affairs at the time, who then communicated with Soleimani — who, Zarif said, was sincerely against the Yemen war because of its human cost. Soleimani then communicated with the Houthis to finalize the ceasefire.

Kerry, left, meets with Zarif in 2016 in New York. Frank Franklin II | AP

At this point, Zarif met Saudi representatives in Indonesia’s Islamic conference and inquired about the outcome of the ceasefire, and they told him it was off. Zarif called Kerry to inquire and he was told that “Ahmad bin Salman [sic] had backtracked,” thinking that the Saudis would win the war in three weeks. The timeline of the event points to Saudi Arabia’s uninterest in following up on their own ceasefire plans; yet, Zarif added, Obama gave a speech the next day, blaming Iran for the war’s continuation. Zarif ended this segment by adding that the U.S. repeated such behavior that undermined diplomacy many times (54-55).

Accordingly, Zarif presented us with a mixed picture of those who refused diplomacy. Russia was only one part of the story and on one particular issue (the nuclear deal). A careful assessment of the interview shows that the U.S. received more criticism. Moreover, Zarif’s opponents in Iran who gave primacy to military objectives over diplomatic ones received their fair share of criticisms; and, of course, the Saudis, who, Zarif told us, pursued continued assault on Yemen against the terms of a multilateral ceasefire (57). Indeed, the mainstream media’s singular obsession with Russia as the anti-diplomatic force shows more about internal American politics than it does about the Zarif interview or Iran-Russia relations. With Zarif’s tape, there is now new material to embellish and color anew the Russiagate hysteria.

 

Real consequences and propaganda campaigns

The source of the leak and the motivations for its release are still not clear, despite conspiratorial claims by some that the leak was a coordinated “inside job” (min 11:34-12:12) to create an illusion of difference within Iran’s political system in anticipation of the 2021 presidential elections. These conspiracies lack evidence thus far, but the U.S. and their proxies in the Iranian media give them visibility, as it appears that it is only concerning Western politics that one must produce evidence-based claims! If more information emerges, we can make better assessments on the source and motivations for the leak.

On May 2, Khamenei’s Twitter expressed “regret” over Zarif’s comments without naming him. For now, it remains to be seen whether the tape will impact Zarif’s political future in Iran. Khamenei, the IRGC, party and parliamentary politics, and the public will all play a role in how this future plays out.

A translated copy of Khamenei’s tweet

Moreover, it remains to be seen whether the tape will have any impact on the ongoing attempts to revive the nuclear deal that the Trump administration abandoned in May of 2018, after which the Western media engaged in a ludicrous gaslighting campaign against Iran for lack of compliance. One clear consequence is already here, however: the reading of the tape, not to evaluate American foreign policy, but to extend the propaganda campaigns against Iran and Russia.

Contrary to what the U.S. media tells us, in Iran intellectual opinion is generally critical of state power and of the information the public receives; but, in the United States, the state, the media, the pundits and intellectual opinion, with some exceptions, all converge to see the Zarif tape as they want to see it. They have plenty of time to tell tales about their invented villains, to project their own political flaws onto Iran and Russia; but then there is no space for self-reflection and reform.

Feature photo | Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif prepares to speak with journalists following a conference in Tehran, Feb. 23, 2021. Vahid Salemi | AP

Navid Zarrinnal is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University specializing in Iranian history. He is currently based in Tehran and can be reached at navid.zarrinnal@columbia.edu

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Houthi Advances and Secret Saudi-Iranian Talks Prompt New Conciliatory Tone from Saudis

SANA’A, YEMEN — Amin Jayyash, a laborer at Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport, is celebrating Labor Day (May Day) as an unemployed man. But, unlike many workers the world over, he did not lose his job due to Covid-19, but because Saudi Arabia has effectively put his employer out of business by restricting nearly all flights to it as part of a six-plus year campaign of total war on Yemen. Amin is among over 5 million Yemeni workers — 65% of the overall workforce — who have lost their jobs as a result of the ongoing war and blockade on the country, according to newly released data from the General Federation of Trade Unions of Yemen.

According to the Yemeni Workers Authority, more than 3,355 factories, 4,134 agricultural fields,  193 power stations, 793 water storage tanks and pieces of related infrastructure, 38 government-run universities, and 95 higher-education institutions and community colleges have been destroyed by Western weapons dropped on Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition. The organization added that at least 17,000 workers have been killed or injured on the job as a result of the war.

Despite the grim statistics, many Yemeni workers celebrated this year’s Labor Day with a renewed sense of optimism, as they see hope for an end to the war and blockade on the horizon as a result of the apparently impending defeat of Saudi-backed fighters in Yemen’s oil-rich Marib province. That and the escalation of Houthi attacks on Saudi targets, including oil facilities and airports, have provided the leverage needed to bolster international efforts, led by U.S. Special Envoy Timothy Lenderking in conjunction with the United Nations, to place enough pressure on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to force him to at least pay lip service to putting an end to the war he spearheaded over six years ago.

 

A new tone?

In a television interview broadcast across Saudi state-owned media outlets on Tuesday night, Salman flirted with the idea of reconciliation with the Houthis, using uncharacteristically endearing language to describe the group and acknowledging their Arab identity. While the latter description may seem trivial, it is a stark departure from the Kingdom’s efforts to portray the group as an outside force, an Iranian proxy bent on the destruction of ethnically Arab Yemen. This portrayal is, of course, demonstrably false, as Ansar Allah (the political wing of the Houthis) is comprised of a coalition of indigenous Yemeni tribes and the movement was active in the country long before Iran even existed in its current form, created as a stalwart against militant Sunni attackers backed by Saudi Arabia as far back as the 1960s.

“We still have our offer open to [have a] ceasefire and provide economic support and everything they need as long as the Houthis agree to a ceasefire and sitting at the negotiating table,” Salman said in the interview, in seemingly stark contrast to earlier Saudi ceasefire offers pegged on a Houthi withdrawal from Marib but without the concomitant lifting of the blockade and military occupation demanded by the Houthis nor the requirement that Saudi Arabia cease its support for the highly unpopular former president, Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi. Hadi was ousted during the Arab Spring but placed back into power to run a sort of parallel government in absentia ever since.

The Saudi offer allegedly included generous economic support, huge sums of cash for Ansar Allah political leaders, and compensation to rebuild the war-destroyed country. It also came with the promise that Saudi Arabia would “allow” the movement to rule the entirety of northern Yemen with international recognition. In return, however, the Kingdom demanded something that the Houthis were unwilling to cede, that they drop their alliance with Iran and abandon support for the Palestinian cause.

In fact, Salman’s half-hearted appeal for peace did little to convince Ansar Allah’s leadership to ease the pressure on the Kingdom. Mohammed Abdulsalam, the group’s chief negotiator, responded to Salman’s statement by saying:

Positive words about Yemen must be accompanied with action… Any positive discourse on Yemen hinges on practical application, like lifting the blockade and giving priority to humanitarian issues, as they are urgent and touch the needs of all Yemeni people. Such a step would be welcomed and prove the legitimacy of a trend towards peace in Yemen.”

 

What is behind Saudi shift?

Mohammed bin Salman’s change of course in Yemen came just days after Saudi officials held secret talks with Iranian officials in Iraq, which culminated in statements by Saudi officials hinting that they were ready to seek reconciliation with Iran. A high-ranking member of Ansar Allah told MintPress, on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, that the offer for reconciliation came tied to a demand that Tehran pressure Ansar Allah to halt its drone and ballistic missile attacks against Saudi oil facilities, abandon efforts to recapture the oil-rich Marib province, and accept a Saudi-brokered peace deal in the war-torn country.

Ostensibly, Salman’s statements come in the context of international efforts to rekindle the Iran nuclear deal. But the facts on the ground cannot be ignored. Namely, the economic repercussions of the missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities that have been launched by the Ansar Allah-backed Yemen Army and the group’s advances in the oil-rich Marib province, a lucrative source of income for the Saudi state-owned ARAMCO oil company. In fact, just two weeks ago, Ansar Allah launched more than 20 operations using dozens of drones and ballistic missiles against Saudi facilities in Riyadh, Jeddah, Jizan and Najran. Some of the operations were publicly announced and others were kept secret. Moreover, a high-ranking commander of Saudi forces — Saleh Dirham Ramadi of Brigade 129, who was rumored to be a ringleader of ISIS — was killed in clashes with Houthi forces west of Marib.

Feature photo | Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, accompanies Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 9, 2021. Photo | Saudi Press Agency via AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Between the Lines: Congressional Report Finds US Sanctions to Blame for Venezuela Crisis

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Venezuela was once one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America. The popular classes enjoyed major advances from the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chávez. Today Venezuela is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis with severe humanitarian consequences.

The U.S. government blames the crisis on the mismanagement and corruption of the Venezuelan government headed by Nicolás Maduro. The Venezuelan government faults the U.S. and its allies for imposing sanctions, unilateral coercive measures illegal under international law.

An official U.S. Congressional Research Service report entitled “Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations,” issued April 28, suggests the Venezuelan government has valid arguments that it is being strangled by U.S. sanctions. According to the report:

It is difficult to attribute precisely the extent of Venezuela’s economic collapse that is due to U.S. sanctions versus broad economic mismanagement. A February 2021 Government Accountability Office report asserted that ‘sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy.”’The Maduro government has defaulted on all its bonds, and U.S. sanctions prohibit debt restructuring with creditors.

 

Reverse-engineering history

The Congressional Research Service report provides a brief revision of history to fit an imperialist narrative produced to justify the hybrid war to achieve regime change in Venezuela. Hence the U.S.-backed coup in 2002, when the U.S. government welcomed a “return to democracy,” is euphemistically referred to as President Chávez’s “brief ouster from power.”

The subsequent employers’ lockout in 2002-2003, designed to economically cripple the government and cause its fall, is called an “oil workers’ strike.” The lethally violent guarimbas, calculated to overthrow the elected Maduro government, are called “student-led” protests.

While in all the above instances, the U.S. role in events is rendered invisible, the report describes how “Congress has provided funding to support democratic civil society in Venezuela,” which is Washington’s duplicitous shorthand for regime-change programs.

The report continues: “For more almost [sic] two decades, the U.S. has provided democracy-related assistance to Venezuelan civil society through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy (the former through its appropriately named Office of Transition Initiatives)…. For FY2021, the Administration requested…$200 million to support transition in Venezuela.”

In January 2019 the U.S. and its allies ceased to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president after then-National Assembly Leader Juan Guaidó, who had never run for national office, “announced he was willing to serve as interim president.” Guaidó’s coup attempts are euphemistically described as “high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to encourage security forces to abandon Maduro.”

Even the U.S. allies that have recognized Guaidó, “oppose military intervention in Venezuela and have expressed concerns about the humanitarian effects of broad sanctions,” according to the report, which laments: “The Venezuelan government has made it difficult for Venezuelans to obtain a valid passport and therefore legal status outside the country.” The difficulty, conveniently omitted from the report, is that when a foreign state expels the legitimate Maduro representatives and installs Guaidó’s, Caracas is left with no means of conducting normal embassy activities.

 

Economic crisis

Key in the hybrid war to achieve regime change in Venezuela are economic sanctions. The report forthrightly describes:

[the] multiyear economic crisis, one of the worst economic crises in the world since World War II: [Venezuela’s] economy has contracted by more than 75% since 2014, estimated as the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years and more than twice the magnitude of the Great Depression in the U.S.

Imports — which Venezuela relies on for most consumer goods — have fallen by almost 95% since 2013. The country faces shortages of critical food and medicine.

Contrary to the official narrative that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is the root cause of the country’s economic woes, the report admits: “The trigger for Venezuela’s economic crisis was the crash in world oil prices in 2014.” It goes on to explain how U.S. sanctions confounded the Venezuelan government’s efforts to address this crisis:

Piecemeal efforts to address the crisis, including price controls and the creation of a new digital currency, the petro, were ineffective [because they were blocked by the U.S. government]. Some initiatives, such as restructuring debt or bringing the government budget into balance, were pledged and then abandoned [again prevented by the U.S. government sanctions].

Subsequent rounds of U.S. sanctions targeting the government, central bank, and gold sectors, as well as limiting Venezuela’s access to the U.S. financial system, likely exacerbated economic pressures in Venezuela. With private creditors unwilling and unable (due to sanctions) to purchase new Venezuelan debt, the Maduro government routinely turned to its main international financial backers — China, Russia, and more recently, Iran — but China and Russia are increasingly reluctant to extend further assistance [due to secondary sanctions].

A man waits to unload bags of basic food staples provided by a government food assistance program in Caracas, April 10, 2021. Photo | AP

The sanctions are not just against Venezuela but affect other countries, amounting to a blockade:

The sanctions framework also prohibited non-U.S. entities from transacting with PdVSA [the Venezuelan state-owned oil company] in U.S. dollars and made non-U.S. entities subject to having their U.S. property blocked, should it be determined that they materially assisted PdVSA…

Under the sanctions framework, Treasury also has sanctioned numerous individuals, vessels, and companies involved in trading and shipping Venezuelan oil. This progressive application of sanctions — designed to prevent export and sale of oil produced in Venezuela — has made it more difficult, though not impossible, for PdVSA to complete petroleum sales and export transactions.

 

Venezuela’s dilemma: patria o muerte

The U.S. government imposes the choice on Venezuela – in the words of the Latin American revolutionary slogan – of patria o muerte (homeland or death). In the period 2017-2018 alone, some 40,000 deaths were attributed to the sanctions. And that was pre-COVID and before the most devastating sanctions fully took effect.

In a weaponization of the pandemic, the U.S. took advantage of the health vulnerability to make conditions even worse, according to the report:

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic challenges facing the Venezuelan government… Fuel shortages, exacerbated by the end of U.S.-licensed oil for diesel swaps in the fall of 2020, reportedly have made food distribution and humanitarian aid delivery more challenging. 

Noting that “it is unclear how Venezuela’s economy can rebuild in the absence of a significant reorientation of economic policies,” the report calls for the abandonment of the Bolivarian social project and adoption of an IMF structural adjustment program, which would remove price controls on vital necessities, privatize banks, and fully open the economy to the dictates of international finance.

“The economic crisis, now exacerbated by the pandemic,” the report coldly explains, “has been devastating for its citizens, with no clear or quick resolution on the horizon in the absence of a resolution to the concurrent political crisis.” The “political crisis” is the U.S. regime-change program designed to subjugate Venezuela.

“Although sanctions do not seem to be physical warfare weapons,” the Lancet (3/18/20 as quoted by FAIR) noted, “they are just as deadly, if not more so. Jeopardizing the health of populations for political ends is not only illegal but also barbaric.”

 

No good deed…

The findings in the congressional report are a recommended counterpoint to those of the corporate media, such as CNN, which anguish over the dire conditions in Venezuela but obscure the major perpetrator. Ditto for leftish analysts such as Chris Gilbert, who writes: “The silent event that shook Venezuela in 2015-16 involved an abrupt return to capitalist normality. At about that time Maduro’s government decided to step back from interventions in the economy.” Left out of Gilbert’s picture is the fact that U.S. sanctions were imposed on Venezuela at precisely that time.

If the U.S. government’s propaganda is correct that the current crisis is due to Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption, then illegal and inhumane sanctions would not be needed to dislodge the “regime.” Conversely, given that the sanctions and accompanying blockade are so overwhelming, the impacts of mismanagement and corruption would be difficult to parse out. In fact, the report says, “data suggest that production declines accelerated following sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector.”

The one sure conclusion is that the U.S. is punishing the Venezuelans for the good things (such as poverty reduction, documented in the report) and not the bad. Otherwise, demonstrable narco-states like Colombia and Honduras, which are guilty of manifest human rights violations, would be treated like Venezuela, and Venezuela would be the largest recipient of U.S. aid.

The Congressional Research Service report concludes:

The failure to dislodge Maduro from power demonstrated the limits of U.S. and other international efforts to prompt political change in Venezuela. Unilateral U.S. policies, such as oil sanctions, arguably worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country and caused divisions within the international coalition that once backed Guaidó.

In other words, despite inhumane sanctions by the U.S. and its allies, the Bolivarian Revolution has endured because of its popular support.

Feature photo | In this March 3, 2021 file photo, youths who cull through trash for items to resell ride on the back of a garbage truck entering the Pavia landfill on the outskirts of Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights organization Task Force on the Americas.

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Chris Hedges: Don’t Be Fooled By Joe Biden

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost Don’t be fooled by Joe Biden. He knows his infrastructure and education bills have as much chance at becoming law as the $15-dollar minimum wage or the $2,000 stimulus checks he promised us as a candidate. He knows his American Jobs Plan will never create “millions of good paying jobs – jobs Americans can raise their families on” any more than NAFTA, which he supported, would, as was also promised, create millions of good paying jobs. His mantra of “buy American” is worthless. He knows the vast majority of our consumer electronics, apparel, furniture and industrial supplies are made in China by workers who earn an average of one or two dollars an hour and lack unions and basic labor rights. He knows his call to lower deductibles and prescription drug costs in the Affordable Care Act will never be permitted by the corporations that profit from health care. He knows the corporate donors that fund the Democratic Party will ensure their lobbyists will continue to write the laws that guarantee they pay little or no taxes. He knows the corporate subsidies and tax incentives he proposes as a solution to the climate crisis will do nothing to halt oil and gas fracking, shut down coal-fired plants or halt the construction of new pipelines for gas-fired power plants.  His promises of reform have no more weight than those peddled by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who Biden slavishly served and who also promised social equality while betraying working men and women.

Biden is the epitome of the empty, amoral creature produced by our system of legalized bribery. His long political career in Congress was defined by representing the interests of big business, especially the credit card companies based in Delaware. He was nicknamed Senator Credit Card. He has always glibly told the public what it wants to hear and then sold them out. He was a prominent promoter and architect of a generation of federal “tough on crime” laws that helped militarize the nation’s police and more than doubled the population of the world’s largest prison system with harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and laws that put people in prison for life for nonviolent drug crimes, even as his son struggled with addiction. He was a principal author of the Patriot Act, which began the stripping away of our most basic civil liberties. And there has never been a weapons system, or a war, he did not support.

Nothing substantial will change under Biden, despite the hyperventilating about him being the next FDR. Biden’s request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion (1.6 percent) increase over 2021, will support the disastrous military provocations with China and Russia he embraces, the endless wars in the Middle East and the bloated defense industry. Wholesale government surveillance will not be curbed. Julian Assange will remain a target. The industries that were shipped overseas and the well-paying unionized jobs will not return. The grinding machinery of predatory capitalism, and the sadism that defines it, will poison the society as mercilessly under Biden as it did when Donald Trump was conducting his Twitter presidency.

Sadism now defines nearly every cultural, social and political experience in the United States. It is expressed in the greed of an oligarchic elite that has seen its wealth increase during the pandemic by $1.1 trillion while the country has suffered the sharpest rise in its poverty rate in more than 50 years.  It is expressed in extra-judicial killings by police in cities such as Minneapolis. It is expressed in our complicity in Israel’s wholesale killing of unarmed Palestinians, the humanitarian crisis engendered by the war in Yemen and our reigns of terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It is expressed in the torture in our prisons and black sites. It is expressed in the separation of children from their undocumented parents, where they are held as if they were dogs in a kennel.

The historian Johan Huizinga, writing about the twilight of the middle ages, argued that as things fall apart sadism is embraced as a way to cope with the hostility of an indifferent universe. No longer bound to a common purpose, a ruptured society retreats into the cult of the self. It celebrates, as do corporations on Wall Street or mass culture through reality television shows, the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Get what you can, as fast as you can, before someone else gets it. This is the state of nature, the “war of all against all,” Thomas Hobbes saw as the consequence of social collapse, a world in which life becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And this sadism, as Friedrich Nietzsche understood, fuels a perverted, sadistic pleasure.

The only way out for most Americans is to serve, as Biden does, the sadistic machine. The impoverishment of the working class has conditioned tens of millions of Americans to accept being recruited into the service of the militarized police that function as lethal armies of internal occupation; a military that carries out reigns of terror in foreign occupations; intelligence agencies that torture in global black sites; the government’s vast network of spying on the citizenry; the theft of personal information by credit agencies and digital media; the largest prison system in the world; an immigration service that hunts down people who have never committed a crime and separates children from their parents to pack them in warehouses; a court system that condemns the poor to decades of incarceration, often for nonviolent crimes, and denies them a jury trial; companies that carry out the dirty work of evictions, shutting off utilities, including water, collecting usurious debts that force people into bankruptcy and denying health services to those that cannot pay; banks and payday lenders that burden the destitute with predatory, high-interest loans; and a financial system designed to keep most of the country locked in a crippling debt peonage as the wealth of the oligarchic elite swells to levels unseen in American history.

These are some of the few jobs that are well compensated. They bring with them feelings of omnipotence, for the victims are largely powerless. In service to the state or corporations, employees can abuse, humiliate and even kill with impunity, as the near daily murder of unarmed civilians by the police illustrates. This service to monolithic centers of power absolves people of moral choice. It imparts a God-like omnipotence.

We know what this sadism looks like. It looks like Derek Chauvin nonchalantly choking to death George Floyd as his police colleagues watch impassively. It looks like Andrew Brown Jr. shot five times by police in North Carolina, including once in the back of the head. It looks like Abner Louima, who had a broomstick pushed up his rectum by police in a bathroom at the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn, requiring three major operations to repair the internal injuries. It looks like Navy Seal Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher randomly shooting to death unarmed civilians and using a hunting knife to repeatedly stab to death an injured, sedated 17-year-old Iraqi prisoner and then photographing himself with the corpse. It looks like Iraqi civilians, few of whom had anything to do with the insurgency, naked, bound, beaten and sexually humiliated and raped, and at times murdered, by army guards and private contractors in Abu Ghraib. Prisoners in Abu Ghraib were routinely dragged across the prison floor by a rope tied to their penises and chemical lights were used to sodomize them or snapped open so the phosphoric liquid could be poured over their naked bodies. It looks like women who are tortured, beaten, degraded and sexually violated, often by numerous men, in porn films, who are then discarded after a few weeks or months with severe trauma, along with sexually transmitted diseases and vaginal and anal tears that must be repaired surgically.

Sadistic societies condemn segments of the population – in America these are poor Blacks, Muslims, the undocumented, the LGBTQ community, radical anti-capitalists, intellectuals – as human refuse. They are viewed as social contaminants. Laws, institutions and bureaucratic structures are built in sadistic societies that function, in the words of Max Weber, as an “inanimate machine.” The machine forces most people into the mass, but it allows some willing to do its dirty work to rise above the multitude. Those that carry out the sadism on behalf of the power elite fear being pushed back into the mass. For this reason, they energetically carry out the degradation, cruelty and sadism the machine demands. The more they insult, persecute, torture, humiliate and kill, the more they seem to magically widen the divide between themselves and their victims.  This is why Black police and corrections officers can be as cruel, and sometimes crueler, than their white counterparts.

The sadism eradicates, at least momentarily, the sadist’s feelings of worthlessness, vulnerability and susceptibility to pain and death. It imparts pleasure. I was beaten by Saudi military police and later by Saddam Hussein’s secret police when I was taken prisoner after the first Gulf War. The goons carrying out my beatings clearly enjoyed them. Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians, the assaults of Muslims and girls and women in India and the denigration of Muslims in the countries we occupy are part of a global breakdown that extends beyond the United States. Wilhelm Reich in “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” and Klaus Theweleit in “Male Fantasies” argue that sadism, along with a grotesque hyper-masculinity, rather than any coherent belief system, is the core of fascism, although communist regimes in China and the Soviet Union could be as murderous and sadistic as their fascist counterparts.

Jean Amery, who was in the Belgian resistance in World War II and who was captured and tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, defines sadism “as the radical negation of the other, the simultaneous denial of both the social principle and the reality principle. In the sadist’s world, torture, destruction, and death are triumphant: and such a world clearly has no hope of survival. On the contrary, he desires to transcend the world, to achieve total sovereignty by negating fellow human beings – which he sees as representing a particular kind of ‘hell.’”

Amery’s point is important. A sadistic society is about collective self-destruction. It is the apotheosis of a society deformed by overwhelming experiences of loss, alienation and stasis. The only way left to affirm yourself in failed societies is to destroy. Johan Huizinga in his book “Waning of the Middle Ages” noted that that the dissolution of medieval society provoked “the violent tenor of life.” Today, this “violent tenor of life” drives people to carry out police murders, evictions of families, court-ordered bankruptcies, the denial of medical care to the sick, suicide bombings and mass shootings. As the sociologist Emil Durkheim understood, those who seek the annihilation of others are driven by desires for self-annihilation. Sadism imparts the rush and pleasure, often with heavy sexual overtones, which lures us towards what Sigmund Freud called the death instinct, the instinct to destroy all forms of life, including our own. When enveloped by a death-saturated world death, ironically, is embraced as the cure.

Corporate capitalism, which has perverted the values of American society to commodify its every aspect, including human beings and the natural world, and teaching us that the dictates of the market should govern our existence, is infused with sadism. It is about the pleasure derived from exploiting others, as Frederick Nietzsche wrote in “On the Genealogy of Morals:”

[T]he creditor is given a kind of pleasure as repayment and compensation – the pleasure of being allowed to discharge his power on a powerless person … the delight in ‘de fair le mal pour le plaisir de le faire’ [doing wrong for the pleasure of it], the enjoyment of violation. This enjoyment is more highly prized the lower and baser the debtor stands in the social order, and it can easily seem to the creditor a delicious mouthful, even a foretaste of a higher rank. By means of the ‘punishment’ of the debtor, the creditor participates in a right belonging to the masters. … The compensation thus consist of a permission for and right to crueltyEnron energy traders, in a dialogue that could have come from any large corporation, were caught on tape in 2000 discussing “stealing” from California, sticking it to “Grandma Millie.” Two traders, identified as Kevin and Bob, dismissed demands by California regulators for refunds because of the company’s constant price-gouging.

Kevin: So the rumor's true? They're fucking takin' all the money back from you guys? All those money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California? Bob: Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she's the one who couldn't figure out how to fucking vote on the butterfly ballot. Kevin: Yeah, now she wants her fucking money back for all the power you've charged for fucking $250 a megawatt hour. Bob: You know – you know – you know, Grandma Millie, she's the one that Al Gore's fightin' for, you know? Later in the same conversation, Kevin and Bob denigrate Californians. Kevin: Oh, best thing that could happen is fucking an earthquake, let that thing float out to the Pacific and put 'em fucking candles. Bob: I know. Those guys – just cut 'em off. Kevin: They're so fucked and they're so like totally – – Bob: They are so fucked.

We will not extract ourselves from predatory capitalism and its culture of sadism with meager government handouts. We will not extract ourselves because Biden’s slick speech writers and public relations specialists, who use polls and focus groups to feed back to us what we want to hear, can make us feel the administration is on our side. There is no good will in the Biden White House, the Congress, the courts, the media – which has become an echo chamber of the privileged classes – or corporate boardrooms. They are the enemy.

We will extract ourselves from this culture of sadism the way the dispossessed extracted themselves from the stranglehold of crony capitalism during the Great Depression, by organizing, protesting and disrupting the system until the ruling elites are forced to grant a measure of social and economic justice. The Bonus Army, World War I veterans who had been denied pension payments, set up huge encampments in Washington, which were violently dispersed by the army. Neighborhood groups, many of them members of the Wobblies or the Communist Party, in the 1930s physically prevented sheriff departments from evicting families. In 1936 and 1937, the United Auto Workers union carried out a sit-down strike inside factories that crippled General Motors, forcing the company to recognize the union, raise wages and meet union demands for job protection and safe working conditions. It was one of the most important labor victories in American history and led to the entire automobile industry in the United States becoming unionized. Farmers, forced into bankruptcy and foreclosures by the big banks and Wall Street, founded the Farmer’s Holiday Association to protest the seizure of family farms, one of the reasons bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barker Gang were folk heroes. The farmers blocked roads and destroyed mountains of farm products, reducing supply and raising prices. The farmers, like unionized auto workers, endured widespread government surveillance and violent attacks from the FBI, company goons, hired gun thugs, militias and sheriff’s departments. But the militancy worked. The farmers forced the state to accept a de facto moratorium on farm foreclosures. Mass demonstrations outside state capitals at the same time pressured state legislatures to block the collection of overdue mortgage payments. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the south unionized. The Department of Labor called their collective action a “miniature civil war.” The unemployed and the hungry throughout the country squatted in vacant homes and on vacant land forming shantytowns that were known as Hoovervilles. The destitute took over public buildings and public utilities. This constant pressure, not the good will of FDR, created the New Deal. He and his fellow oligarchs eventually understood that if there was not reform there would be revolution, something Roosevelt acknowledged in his private correspondence.

It is not until people are reintegrated into the society, not until corporate and oligarchic control over our educational, political and media systems are removed, not until we recover the ethic of the common good, that we have any hope of rebuilding the positive social bonds that foster a healthy society. History has amply illustrated how this process works. It is a game of fear. And until we make them afraid, until a terrified Joe Biden and the oligarchs he serves look out on a sea of pitchforks, we will not blunt the culture of sadism they have engineered.

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 the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: Don’t Be Fooled By Joe Biden appeared first on MintPress News.

The Squad & Co: Unite as a Block to Downsize Biden’s Military Budget

Imagine this scenario: A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declared, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.”

Now that would be a show stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of NO votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10-30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction in Henoko, Okinawa, be reduced by a third because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.”

“Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the President wants for the arms-escalating US Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19, and, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.”

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power reminiscent of how the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden may not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then green light the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, emerged with 22 members on board.

Meet the members of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus:

Barbara Lee (CA-13); Mark Pocan (WI-2); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12); Ilhan Omar (MN-5); Raùl Grijalva (AZ-3); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Jan Schakowsky(IL-9); Pramila Jayapal (WA-7); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Alan Lowenthal (CA-47); James P. McGovern (MA-2); Peter Welch (VT-at large); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr (NJ-6).;  Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Lori Trahan (MA-3); Steve Cohen (TN-9); Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Anna Eshoo (CA-18).

We also have the Progressive Caucus, the largest Caucus in Congress with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent, and bills. But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget,” she said. “Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it—and invest that money into our communities.”

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. President Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent State of the Union address. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next ten years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded healthcare coverage and paid family medical leave.

President Biden, in the spirit of FDR, also wants to put America back to work in a $2-trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a light Green New Deal to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, without Congress first passing a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.

Easy.

Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how’s it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin from West VA, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two-to-one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Senator Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget, but if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee may hold his fire.

That leaves anti-war activists wondering if Senator Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential holdout could be California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees the budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the US nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large.”

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July, but what if he couldn’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no—or even just threatened to vote no—because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” nuclear land-based missiles to replace 450 Minute Man missiles.

The polls show most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization”—a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern given that 50 countries have signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making nuclear weapons illegal and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the US pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional atomic holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, as well as Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to put their feet down and stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda?

Odds improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails, and visible protests. Tell them that in the time of a pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tell that that the billions saved from “right sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Tell them that just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, so, too, we support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending.

Call your representative, especially If you live in a congressional district represented by one of the members of the Progressive Caucus or the House Spending Reduction Caucus. Don’t wait for marching orders from someone else. No time to wait.  In the quiet of the COVID hour, our Congress toils away on appropriations bills and a budget resolution. The showdown is coming soon.

Get organized. Ask for meetings with your representatives or their foreign policy staffers. Be fierce; be relentless. Channel the grit of a Pentagon lobbyist.

This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in military spending that defunds new nuclear weapons.

Feature photo | Congressional Progressive Caucus members Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center accompanied by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Rep. Rashida Tlaib D-Mich., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Jan. 8, 2020. Jose Luis Magana | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of CODEPINK and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Her new book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.

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In 2018 the US Was at War With Uyghur Terrorists. Now It Claims They Don’t Even Exist

WASHINGTON — In the dying months of his administration, President Donald Trump removed from the United States terrorist list a little-known paramilitary organization called ETIM, an acronym that stands for either the East Turkestan Independence Movement or the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, depending on whom one asks. The group is also sometimes known as the [East] Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP or ETIP).

Explaining the decision, the State Department said that “ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” The move was hailed by a wide range of Uyghur groups in the United States, who saw it as a step towards blocking China’s actions against Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province.

Yet the decision will have confused anyone with a long memory or who closely followed the War on Terror. Only two years previously, the U.S. was actively at war with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, with Trump himself ordering an escalation of a bombing campaign against them.

In 2018, Major General James Hecker, the commander of NATO Air Command-Afghanistan, gave a press conference in which he noted that not only was ETIM real but they were working hand in hand with the Taliban and boasted that his forces were destroying their training bases, thereby reducing their terrorist activities both in the Afghanistan/Pakistan/China border region and inside China itself.

Major General Hecker via Teleconference from Kabul, speaking about/showing their preferred approach to dealing with radicalized Chinese Uyghurs, on February 7th, 2018. https://t.co/0pIeMGviJ6 pic.twitter.com/lakT50OLp1

— Daniel Dumbrill (@DanielDumbrill) August 6, 2020

“Anybody that is an enemy of Afghanistan, we’re going to target them,” Brigadier General Lance Bunch told the The Washington Post, also announcing that “[w]e’ve got new authorities now that allow us to be able to . . . target the Taliban and the ETIM where they previously thought they were safe.”

Why then was the government suddenly insisting that ETIM/TIP did not exist? And who is this shadowy organization?

 

Who are the ETIM/TIP?

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a jihadist group led since 2003 by Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, a Xinjiang-born Uyghur. Its goal is to set up a Muslim-only ethnostate (East Turkestan) in Xinjiang. A dry and mountainous region at the western edge of China, Xinjiang is about the size of Alaska and is home to around 25 million people.

“This land is for Muslims alone,” Haq explains in an al-Qaeda PR film; “the mere presence of the disbelievers on this land should be a sufficient reason for Muslims to set out for jihad.” ETIM is still considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations, European Union, United Kingdom, and Russia, among others.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government also classifies it as such. When asked for comment, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told MintPress that “ETIM has long been engaging in terrorist and violent activities, causing heavy casualties and property losses, and posing serious threats to security and stability in China, the region and beyond.” Wenbin also criticized the U.S. “flip flop” on ETIM, something that, in his words, “once again exposes the current U.S. administration’s double standard on counter-terrorism and its repulsive practice of condoning terrorist groups as it sees fit.” MintPress also reached out to a range of Uyghur organizations for comment, but all declined to do so.

Some of the most high-profile of these attacks inside China, cited by Wenbin, were ETIM’s attempts to sabotage the 2008 Beijing Olympics by carrying out bomb attacks on host cities. Just before the games, ETIM released a video featuring a burning Olympic flag and warning all Muslims to stay away from the venues. There has also been a string of deadly attacks attributed to ETIM in which terrorists drive vehicles into crowds of pedestrians then proceed to carry out stabbing rampages.

Tweets from a pro-ETIM account show the myriad enemies of the terror group, including American soldiers

In 2009, tensions between Uyghurs and ethnic Han Chinese spilled over into deadly riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, where nearly 200 people, mostly Han, were killed. As a result of the unrest, Beijing ordered a massive increase in surveillance and security across the region, flooding the province with cameras, armed police, and spies. To this day, it retains an extremely high-security presence.

Of course, the large majority of those killed by ETIM around the world have been non-Salafist Muslims, and considering ETIM to be representatives of the Uyghur population as a whole would be extremely misleading. In fact, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang have been caught in the crossfire between the ETIM and the Chinese government. To this day, the Afghan government also considers the group to be a serious threat to peace and security in Afghanistan.

 

Al-Qaeda, Taliban ties, Chinese target

ETIM units have trained and fought in what seems like virtually every single conflict involving Muslims over the past 20 years, but always with an eye to bringing their skills back home. A 2017 Associated Press exclusive titled “Uyghurs fighting in Syria take aim at China” found that at least 5,000 Xinjiang Uyghurs had traveled to Syria to train and fight alongside both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. “We didn’t care how the fighting went or who Assad was,” one ETIM fighter told the AP; “We just wanted to learn how to use the weapons and then go back to China.” For many, Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in the wake of the Urumqi riots was the catalyst. “We’ll avenge our relatives being tortured in Chinese jail,” another fighter told the AP. A 2015 New York Times report also notes that one Chinese Muslim had been trained in Libya before going to Syria to fight against government forces.

The United Nations states that ETIM “has maintained close ties with the Taliban, Al-Qaida and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Indeed, since 2005, ETIM leader Haq has been a member of al-Qaeda’s council of elders, a group of about two dozen individuals who control the organization’s direction. The UN notes that the ETIM’s major source of funding was Osama Bin Laden himself, who directly employed and paid Haq.

“The organization is clearly a part of al-Qaeda’s network — there is no real question about this fact. Al-Qaeda doesn’t hide its sponsorship of the TIP [ETIM]. And the TIP [ETIM] doesn’t hide its allegiance to al-Qaeda,” wrote Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a hawkish think tank located in Washington. “But the Chinese Communist Party’s detestable policies in Xinjiang have led some democracy and human rights activists to downplay or dismiss the TIP’s overt jihadism,” he added.

In 2002, U.S. forces captured and detained 22 Uyghur militants at an ETIM camp in Afghanistan. They were sent to Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and were accused of traveling from China to join the ETIM jihad, something many admitted to. However, all insisted that they were uninterested in harming the United States and instead saw China as their major enemy. Considering them no direct threat to itself, the United States began releasing them to third countries and by 2013 all had been freed.

A Uyghur fighter in Syria affiliated with ETIM is shown in an al-Qaeda propaganda video

The training camp was located in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan and run by Haq himself. U.S. intelligence actually concluded that many of the trainees acted as a “blocking force” for Bin Laden in 2001, when American forces came very close to capturing him. This allowed him to evade the U.S. for a further ten years. The U.S. carried out an assassination attempt on Haq in 2010, with media reporting that he had been killed by an unmanned drone. However, he was merely seriously injured and escaped with his life.

The State Department designated the ETIM as a terrorist group, adding them to its list in September 2002. At that point, the Bush administration had declared a war on terror, was battling the Taliban in Afghanistan and was about to invade Iraq. Furthermore, relations with China were good at the time and the Bush administration wished to secure Chinese co-operation or at least dampen Chinese resistance to its campaigns.

“Designating ETIM/TIP as a terrorist organization does seem appropriate,” Daniel Dumbrill — a Canadian YouTuber currently in Xinjiang, and an outspoken critic of U.S. policy towards China — told MintPress, adding:

I don’t believe they suddenly and abruptly cease to exist and I don’t believe the U.S. government believes this either. Even if they did, the Tamil Tigers have been inactive for over 10 years since their defeat, but they remain on the U.S. government list of terrorist organizations. Therefore, it doesn’t seem like clearing off inactive terror groups has ever been a matter of priority. There is of course, I believe, an ulterior motive to [their removal from the terrorist list].”

 

A fight for global supremacy

Today, however, relations with China have definitely soured. The country’s rapid economic rise has alarmed and preoccupied many planners in the West, who now see China as America’s “unparalleled priority” for the 21st century. President Trump placed sanctions on the country and attempted to block the growth of Chinese tech companies like Huawei, TikTok, and Xiaomi. Along with the trade war has come a war of words, with top brass in Washington suggesting that the new Cold War with Beijing will be less about tanks and missiles and more “kicking each other under the table.” Others have advised that the U.S. should wage a widespread culture war, including commissioning what they call “Taiwanese Tom Clancy novels” meant to demonize and demoralize China.

The prospect of a hot war cannot be overlooked, however. And U.S. actions are making the threat all the more likely. In 2013, the Obama administration announced a “Pivot to Asia,” meaning a draw-down from the Middle East and an escalation of tensions in the Pacific. Today, over 400 American military bases encircle China. American ships and aircraft continue to probe the Chinese coastline, testing their defenses. In July, U.S.S. Rafael Peralta sailed within 41 nautical miles of the coastal megacity of Shanghai. Earlier this year, the head of Strategic Command stated that there was a “very real possibility” of war against Beijing in the near future.

 

Uyghur repression

It is in this context that the United States has begun to denounce China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. Xinjiang has been under serious security measures for more than a decade, and the internment of Uyghurs has been going on since at least 2014. Yet the U.S. was largely silent about their treatment until recently. Today, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) accuses China of imprisoning between one and three million Uyghur Muslims, describing it as a genocide. The NED has given nearly $9 million to Uyghur groups and has condemned what it sees as a “deafening silence in the Muslim world” about their plight.

Amnesty International has largely agreed, labeling what China calls re-education facilities, meant to deradicalize the population, as “detention camps for torture and brainwashing of anyone suspected of disloyalty.” Uyghurs have alleged that they have been forcibly sterilized, that their places of worship have been demolished, and that they were made to eat pork and separated from their families while interned.

Others have rejected this interpretation. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, head of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, recently wrote:

There are credible charges of human rights abuses against Uyghurs, but those do not per se constitute genocide. And we must understand the context of the Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang, which had essentially the same motivation as America’s foray into the Middle East and Central Asia after the September 2001 attacks: to stop the terrorism of militant Islamic groups.”

Dumbrill seemed to agree, noting that many Uyghurs in Xinjiang see the extremist jihadists as their primary worry, not government forces, of whom some Uyghurs speak fondly. “The police presence aside, people lead fairly ordinary lives here with the same kinds of hopes and dreams that people anywhere else would have as well,” he told MintPress, criticizing the foreign coverage.

Wenbin was, unsurprisingly, even more dismissive of the charges. “Western politicians and media are frantically spreading lies on Xinjiang,” he said, adding that “the allegation of ‘genocide’ is more than preposterous.”

 

The politics of terror

At the same time as it was delisting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for apparently not existing, the Trump administration added Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terror. Without a hint of irony, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to the island’s “malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere” as the reason for the designation. A report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services outlined what such malign influence was: offering doctors and other medical teams to other needy countries during a global pandemic.

Yet the politics of the terror list has always been highly suspect. In an attempt to dampen worldwide support for his cause and shore up the Apartheid government, the Reagan administration placed South African leader Nelson Mandela on the terrorist list in 1988. Mandela was not pulled off it until 2008 — 14 years after he became president.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration also recently removed Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror, in what was an openly transactional event. Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel and give the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars. As usual, Trump was unable not to say the quiet part out loud: “GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan,” he tweeted.

Ultimately, the drastic change in U.S. policy on the ETIM has nothing to do with the movement itself — which remains the same jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban — but rather to a changing American stance towards China. For years, the U.S. ignored human rights issues in Xinjiang, as China was seen as a useful workshop for American capitalism. But the PRC’s rapid rise has frightened many in Washington; hence the sudden fascination with the plight of the Uyghurs. The designation of the ETIM as a terrorist group was likely seen as getting in the way of longstanding U.S. attempts to provoke unrest in China. With China now in the crosshairs, the group has moved from being an adversary to being a potential asset. It appears that the government decided that insisting they no longer exist was an easier sell than pretending they are no longer a terrorist group.

While the change in status might seem inconsequential, it could be a harbinger of a dangerous future. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement was placed on the list because of the War on Terror. Now it has been taken off because of the coming war on China.

Feature photo | Uighur fighters from the TIP pose during a proganda video later published online.

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 In 2018 the US Was at War With Uyghur Terrorists. Now It Claims They Don’t Even Exist appeared first on MintPress News.

West Africa is the Latest Testing Ground for US Military Artificial Intelligence

NIAMI, NIGER (Africa is a Country) — One striking feature of US military involvement in West Africa is the absence of an observable strategic vision for a desired end state. Nominally, US presence in the region’s multilayered conflicts revolves around building “security cooperation” with state partners to improve counterterrorism capabilities, ostensibly providing protection to communities that states cannot. Concurrently, the US military is typically the prime diplomatic entity for high-level bilateral engagements. The result is that the US military is propping up the public authority of weak states, albeit in an ad hoc fashion that lurches from crisis to crisis.Regardless of the reasons for US presence, there is hardly any deep public support for these operations; about 60% of US citizens do not view these kinds of conflicts as a security threat, and more than 90% oppose US invasions, even if weapons of mass destruction were in use. “For the first time in recent memory,” US international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write, “large numbers of Americans are openly questioning their country’s grand strategy.” Even within the Department of Defense, these doubts continue to periodically arise. As former Defense Secretary Mark Esper testified in February 2020 to the House Armed Services Committee, conventional forces in Niger, Chad, and Mali “[need] to go back to home so they can prepare for great power competition.”Due to war fatigue, the US has resorted to “externalizing the strategic and operational burden of war to human and technological surrogates,” creating what some scholars call a form of “surrogate warfare.” One example of “externalizing the burden of war to the machine” is a tool created by the Defense Innovation Unit and deployed at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in 2017. Throughout its deployment, this tool monitored and rapidly combined social media feeds in Syria before relaying that information to pilots and ground troops, who then used it to identify, track, and strike targets in that area of operations. General Joseph Votel, then-commander of US Central Command, boasted of the model’s success and indicated that it would be replicated “in future operations.”

The Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Joshua Strang | US Air Force

In its preparation for great power competition, the US military is modernizing its joint airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities by exploring the uses of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques for target identification. The final goal is to “connect ISR sensors across all warfighting domains (space, air, land, sea, and cyber) directly with commanders and weapon systems, sharing data at an accelerated speed.” In Niger, this project has materialized as the deployment of the new Block 5 variant of the MQ-9 Reaper, a drone first used in Syria in 2017. The Block 5’s major upgrades include the ability to integrate and combine multiple data feeds, as well as to process this data more quickly. Since 2018, the US has similarly armed their drones in Niger. In this fashion, West Africa joins Syria as a place that has become a test bed for this new wave of ISR technologies.

The ISR modernization program follows prior US military investment in the region with projects like the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a military aid package of $353 million. Currently, H.R. 192, or the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act, is a bipartisan bill seeking to codify that partnership. In 2015, the US military began construction of an airbase at Agadez, Niger, next to a Nigerien military facility. Costing $110 million, Agadez “presents an attractive option from which to base ISR … assets given its proximity to the threats in the region and the complexity of operating with the vast distance of African geography,” writes Nick Turse, a leading watchdog journalist of US-Africa military affairs. US forces are not supposed to have a direct combat mission in Niger, but their ISR role means they support local troops undertaking counterterrorism operations against Boko Haram and similar groups. This support has led to one publicly known US tactical engagement and combat casualties.

These military initiatives contribute to the African continent’s status as a longstanding field site for experimentation that traverses the colonial and postcolonial eras. More recently, since the publication of the Berg Report, Africa has been a proving ground for the neoliberal thought that permeates development economics, advocating for structural adjustment policies while most foreign direct investment is concentrated in resource extraction economies. This thinking tended to stop well short of acknowledging the enduring damage done by colonialism on the continent. Niger’s colonial experience was particularly vicious, with French military violence used to “pacify” the territory. This trend continued in the lead-up to Niger’s 1960 independence, as French military forces suppressed opposition so the French state could consolidate control over uranium deposits discovered between 1957 and 1967 and other minerals useful for high-technology industries. Today, uranium from French mines accounts for about 70% of Niger’s exports, but tax exemptions mean that little of that value flows to the state or its citizens.

It is against this background that Niger provides a good case study of the intersection between the rural poor’s land struggles and US military presence. Most Nigeriens are subsistence farmers whose land tenure rights are insecure. The country is susceptible to frequent drought and severe food shortages, conditions which have been exacerbated by climate change. As of 2004, 9% of Nigeriens (about 870,000 people) were enslaved or lived as bonded laborers. As there are few formal political channels or avenues for dispute resolution, conditions are ripe for rural rebellions. Mediated through religion, these rebellions are antagonistic toward a state that is unable to consistently provide services; indeed, rebel groups present themselves as a viable counter governing authority to  the weak Nigerien state. But for the US, assisting the Nigerien state in putting down these rebellions is coded as counterterrorism, a rhetorical move that misunderstands the basic drivers of local conflict while also supporting the very forces that cause these rebellions.

One way of thinking about the US military’s Niger operations is to see them as laboratories for warfare, testing new forms of observability and lethality guided by the US state’s algorithmic gaze, the components of which are built from the kinds of metals and minerals that are extracted from Niger’s mines. Arguably, because of strategic non-oversight, West Africa is conducive for testing these weapons systems and assessing how they form a kind of “predatory formation” that spans from the borders to the hinterlands of the world.

Feature photo | Two soldiers from the Forces de Armees de Niger at a US military training facility. Robert Timmons | DVIDS

Scott Timcke studies issues of race, class, and social inequality. His second book, Algorithms and The End of Politics (Bristol UP) was released in February 2021.

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“The Present” — A Painful Short Film Tells the Whole Story of What It Means to be Palestinian

OCCUPIED PALESTINE — The Present” — a Palestinian film directed by Farah Nabulsi, with Saleh Bakri in the main role — was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Live Action Short Film. In the end it did not win an Oscar, although it was deserving of one. In his acceptance speech, Travon Free, who won the award for his movie “Two Distant Strangers,” quoted James Baldwin, who said that “the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain.”

“The Present” is only about 23 minutes long, yet it encomapses the totality of Palestine and the Palestinian experience. It also shows the indifference that is so prevalent to the pain of Palestinians.

The story is simple; in fact, it could not be more simple. A father, Yusef, played convincingly by Saleh Bakri, wakes up in the morning and takes his daughter Yasmin, played beautifully by Mariam Kanj, to buy a gift for his wife on the day of their anniversary. The gift is a surprise and the two set out happily planning to return and surprise the mother. But they are Palestinians living in Palestine and as such they are not permitted to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures.

The short trip to the store and back is filled with the indignities and humiliation that are part of a Palestinian’s daily life. These indignities are imposed on men, women, and even children. Even a father wanting to spend a special day with his daughter is denied that pleasure because Palestine is occupied and governed by a ruthless militant regime that is not only indifferent to the suffering and the feelings of Palestinians; it humiliates them and makes their life unliveable as a matter of policy.

 

An alternate path

Anyone who has been to Palestine has seen the checkpoints placed on roads where one part of the road, usually the wider part, provides free and easy access to Jews while Palestinians have to go through a narrow path and a checkpoint. Jews walk or drive freely and Palestinians are stopped; they must show their ID cards and quite often are randomly held for hours. Some are killed.

Humiliation, degradation and fear are built into the part of the road through which Palestinians must pass. Israeli soldiers and contractors who operate the checkpoints have long known that security is not their purpose, but rather humiliation and a show of power, such as it may be.

In “The Present,” the father and daughter leave their home, which is walking distance from the checkpoint, to go to the store. As they stand and wait, a car with Israelis drives by and the soldiers wave them through with a smile. I’ve seen and experienced this countless times as I drove through checkpoints. “Shalom, ma nishma,”  Hello, how are things, they say; and I answer back “Yofi hakol beseder,” Great, all is well.

Scenes from “The Present.” Credit | Native Liberty

For reasons beyond understanding, the soldier at this checkpoint decides to pull Yusef out of the line and make him sit and wait in a cage built next to the road. The young daughter has to sit outside the cage and wait as well. There are no facilities, and no one cares what happens to the Palestinians, be they children or adults.

At last they leave the checkpoint and the daughter straggles behind her father as they walk to the bus stop. Yusef turns to see why his daughter is walking so slowly and he realizes she is embarrassed and uncomfortable because she has wet her pants. Yusef cuddles his daughter and tries to comfort her in this moment of shame and discomfort. They must board the bus like that until they reach a store, where he is able to buy her new clothes and eventually the gift they had gone to buy for Yasmin’s mother.

 

Back pain

Anyone who has suffered from severe chronic back pain, to the point where pain medication is needed constantly, can relate to this movie. In a brilliant aside, Yusef suffers from terrible back pain. In fact, in the very first scene we see him take his meds. Then his wife asks him how his back is doing and he replies, “same as always.”

On top of the indignities, the humiliation, the constant fear of the soldiers, and the ease with which they use their weapons on Palestinians, Yusef is struggling with this constant pain. He had not anticipated that their journey would last as long as it did and therefore he did not have his meds with him when the pain hit. He says nothing but his face says it all.

Scenes from “The Present.” Credit | Native Liberty

At the store, Yusef asks why the pharmacy next door is closed — a death in the family, he is told. “Have you any painkillers?” he asks, “We did but we are sold out,” the lady at the register tells him. Now he knows the pain will remain with him and the day is not yet over.

Yusef and Yasmin proceed to purchase the gift, and return home. But on the way they must still go through the checkpoint, the same checkpoint where they had both already suffered humiliation. Now it is evening, the memories come back; the soldiers remember Yusef and harass him again for no reason; his pain, both physical and emotional, are severe and reach a boiling point.

 

An eerie resemblance

One of the soldiers at the checkpoint bears an eerie resemblance to a solider I had encountered once while traveling with a Palestinian friend. We were traveling in the West Bank to visit a mutual friend and a checkpoint was placed on the road for no explicable reason. The young soldier in charge was white — as in European white — with a beard. He wasn’t tall and he wore his helmet and gun in a clumsy manner. Like the soldier in the movie, he had no reason to stop us from proceeding but he had the power and the gun and so he was king.

Scenes from “The Present.” Credit | Native Liberty

As these words are written, Jerusalem is burning and Israelis are in the streets calling for the killing and forced expulsion of Palestinians. In “The Present,” as throughout all of Palestine, soldiers, police officers, secret police, or Shabak agents, have the power — indeed they are instructed — to harass, humiliate, and take the lives of Palestinians in the most arbitrary fashion. Farah Nabulsi with Saleh Bakri gave the world a glimpse into a day in the life of a Palestinian. How long will the world remain indifferent?

Feature photo | A scene from the 2020 short film, “The Present.” Credit | Native Liberty

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.”

The post “The Present” — A Painful Short Film Tells the Whole Story of What It Means to be Palestinian appeared first on MintPress News.

The MH17 Trial: The Dangers of Presuming the Fairness of a Geopolitically-Driven Enterprise

AMSTERDAM — November 2020 saw the conclusion in Schiphol, the Dutch airport near Amsterdam, to the pre-trial hearings in the case being brought by the Dutch Prosecution Service against three Russians (Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov) and one Ukrainian (Leonid Kharchenko), former military leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic. They were charged with the delivery of a Russian Buk-Telar missile launcher that was allegedly used by separatists in eastern Donbass to shoot down civilian Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, with the ensuing loss of 298 lives.

Following the Court’s consideration in March and April 2021 of defense requests for further investigation, which it would allow, the main trial itself was scheduled to begin on June 7, 2021, in the District Court of The Hague. Regardless of its outcome, I shall argue that this trial and all the major stages that preceded it – notably, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) investigation of the “facts” (see final report here) and the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) determination of criminal responsibility (see final report here) – remain a very troubling basis for the pursuit of justice.

In the unlikely event that the court should find in favor of the defense, it would in effect concede deep processual flaws of the system that brought it into being. In addition to the propaganda functions of a show trial, commitment to the procedure has the attraction of (falsely?)  identifying a culpable party from whom reparation may be sought on behalf of victims and, if judgment of reparation be made, establishing a pretext for later aggression or a negotiation chip, as was the case in the Libyan Lockerbie incident.

 

A stacked deck

Only one of the four men charged – Oleg Pulatov – will be represented in court, although he himself will remain in Russia. At the time of writing, it is not certain that his attorneys will have had an opportunity to visit him. Russian law does not allow the extradition of its citizens for hearings outside of Russia. Russia’s offer to hold the trial in Russia was rejected, predictably. But there are far more significant flaws to the proceedings as currently constituted. One member of the JIT — Malaysia, headquarters of the owner of MH17, the flag carrier Malaysia Airlines — was not admitted to the JIT until 2015, months after it had been constituted, and has rejected the findings of the JIT.

The prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, professed considerable skepticism about the proceedings and the trial, arguing that from the start Russia’s guilt has been presumed while never proven. Western mainstream media coverage of the incident — fed with a narrative prepared within six hours of the crash by the Ukrainian intelligence service (SBU), whose business is the protection of Ukrainian national interests — presumed Russian guilt from day one, best exemplified by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the headline of its most popular British newspaper, The Sun: “Putin’s Missile,” on the morning after the crash.

Murdoch’s The Sun, wasted no time determining who was to blame for the downing of MH17

Western mainstream consensus corrupts the popular historical record, as is evident in dubiously verified Wikipedia accounts that generally emerge at the top of related Google searches. Within eight days of the crash, the Dutch foreign minister said that the European Union (EU) would increase existing sanctions against Russia, blaming the separatists for the crash, and the EU piled on further sanctions in 2019. Continuing in similar vein six years later on April 1, 2020, the Dutch minister of justice and security declared his support and that of his ministry for the conviction of the Russians standing trial — an announcement he made during a ceremony honoring senior Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, who had led the DSB’s inquiry into MH17

 

Setting up the false narrative context

The persistence of Western mainstream presumption had contaminated public opinion on top of its already pervasive anti-Russian sentiment in media coverage of the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev against the government of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, earlier that year in February 2014, and the questionable Western media presumption that the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in March 2014 was an aggressive invasion of Ukrainian territory.

The facts were different. Russia had a right, by treaty with Ukraine, to maintain up to 25,000 troops in Crimea to serve its naval base in Sevastopol, which it leased from Ukraine. In other words, Russian forces were already present in Crimea; they did not need to invade or occupy it. With significant exceptions (notably, the Cossacks) the province was predominantly Russian speaking and Russophile.

The coup regime that came to power in Kiev had indicated its intentions to introduce provocative measures hostile to Russian speakers and to pro-Russian sentiment and culture in Ukraine. The Crimean Parliament voted in favor of independence from Ukraine, to whose administration it had been entrusted by Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 when both Ukraine and Crimea formed parts of the Soviet Union. Following a public referendum, Crimea then requested that it be annexed to the Russian Federation.

Subsequent reliable opinion polls have indicated continuing popular support for this outcome. In the heavily pro-Russian regions of eastern Donbass, on the other hand, people reacted to the threat of a coup regime in Kiev that was hostile to their interests by establishing the separate republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in April 2014. Neither the republics nor the Russian Federation have shown interest in annexation, although the Russian Federation is a protector of their autonomy within Ukraine but in opposition to the Kiev government.

 

Two glaring conflicts of national interest

The presumption of Russian guilt in the shooting down of MH17 on July 17, 2014 is extremely convenient to the government of Ukraine. Which is why it is so very problematic that Ukraine, which suffered no loss of life in MH17, has been one of the five nations represented on the Dutch-led JIT while Russia is not a member, and that most of the evidence collected by the JIT has come from Ukrainian intelligence (SBU), a body that exists solely to serve the interests of Ukraine and that has been implicated by MH17 blogger and analyst Hector Reban in theft, torture and murder. Much of the information most sensitive to the case — notably concerning the “Buk route” (the route it is alleged a Buk unit followed to travel from Russia to Donbass and back), intercepted communications, text and visual postings on social media, and the supply of witnesses — comes from the SBU and much of it, by its very nature, is highly susceptible to malpractice or other forms of contamination. The JIT has warmly thanked the SBU for its collaboration and for many months the JIT worked in close proximity to the SBU in Kiev.

It is far from self-evident that Ukraine is not itself a culprit. In the first place, Ukraine failed to shut down the airspace over the combat zone in eastern Donbass for aircraft flying above 30,000 feet, even though many military planes had been shot down, even within hours or days of the MH17 crash, and even though the presence of Ukrainian Buks in at least eight locations in the Donbass, and of Russian Buks in at least three locations in nearby Russia, was a direct threat to civilian airlines flying above 30,000 feet, given the Buk range of 70,000 feet or more. Additionally, there were other Ukrainian air defenses.

Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko, right, speaks at a briefs journalists on thier investigation into the downing of MH17. Sergei Chuzavkov | AP

Further, there were plausible reasons to suspect that Ukrainian fighters might have been in proximity of MH17, that either they fired on it — for whatever reason — or that they were using the civilian airliner as camouflage to deter enemy ground crews from targeting them with ground-to-air missiles of any kind. Some separatists believe that Kiev kept airspace open precisely because it wanted to retain the option of using civilian airliners for camouflage and because it wanted to provoke an incident of the kind that happened, so as to smear Russia and incite Western intervention. While the likelihood of some of these possibilities has diminished over time (but not completely disappeared), there was far greater uncertainty at the time that the JIT was established in August 2014 (one month after formation of the DSB, which reported 15 months later).

Further, any possible Russian involvement was at best indirect since it stood accused merely of supplying the Buk launcher and missiles used in the attack, not of determining what should be shot down or by whom.

Dutch leadership of the DSB, JIT and subsequent court prosecutions may be justified on the grounds that the Netherlands suffered the largest loss of life (193) of all the countries impacted by MH17. On the other hand, the Netherlands is a highly problematic actor in this context. It is a member of both NATO and the European Union, whose relations with Russia are hostile. The Netherlands was involved in the setting up “civil society” movements in Ukraine in the run-up to the 2014 coup in Kiev. The constitution of the DSB, which investigated the MH17 crash prior to the JIT criminal report, prescribes that it will not report on matters affecting Netherlands security or that prejudice the country’s relations with other states or international organizations, or harm its economic or financial interests. The DSB has a bilateral agreement with its Ukrainian counterpart that includes a non-disclosure agreement.

 

Dubious forensics

As Eric van de Beek has reported, the defense argued in the pre-trial phase that the crash site was unsupervised for months, so evidence could have been lost, tampered with or planted. Only 30% of the crashed plane, initially, was recovered, and that wreckage could not be collected in a forensically sound fashion. The prosecution was unable to order telephone intercepts on its own authority but was fully dependent on the SBU for this function. The prosecution was unable to carry out network measurements to determine the location of telephones of the accused shortly after the disaster. It was difficult to find witnesses and interview them until many months after the crash.

Soil samples from the alleged launch site could not be taken until long after the event (a year in fact, although some journalists had managed to find the alleged site within days); and the samples were not even investigated, on the grounds that Ukraine had declared that all traces of a Buk launch would have been lost after so long an interval. Motivation for the launch had not been established. No witnesses were interviewed who saw exactly what happened at an altitude of ten kilometers. It was not clear how long Buk missile components had lain at the crash site or how they had arrived there. Autopsies were reportedly performed on 27 bodies, but no reports could be found, or why Ukraine had performed them, or which persons were involved.

Ukrainian Emergency workers carry a body at the crash site of MH17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Evgeniy Maloletka | AP

Critical to (dis)informational strategies in support of the Dutch-led JIT narrative has been the use of open-source intelligence (OSINT) as a new tool in the armory of propagandists — including, in this instance, the SBU and Bellingcat.com (whose appearance as a ‘citizen journalist’ site debuted two days before the MH17 crash, but is now known to have links with and to be funded by pro-NATO organizations, and to have become a sort of school for spies).

Within hours of the crash, for example, the SBU published wiretaps of separatists discussing a downed plane and images that its agents had “found” on social media (many of them probably originating, according to Reban, from SBU “spotters”), showing the alleged plume of a missile launch and the transport of a Buk ground-to-air missile system. This kind of “evidence” is supremely susceptible to fabrication, manipulation, mistranslation, and misinterpretation in efforts to construct apparently linear narratives from isolated bits of context-free information whose sources are often highly contestable. For example, blogger Van der Werff — who, with Yana Yerlashova of Bonanza Media, produced a critical documentary MH17 – Call for Justice (2019) — spoke to dozens of people in Pervomayskiy, none of whom had seen the plume of smoke in the photo circulated by the SBU.

Bellingcat invested considerable energy in attempts to discredit Ven der Werff, Yerlashova, Bonanza Media (which Bellingcat has claimed to be linked to the GRU), and a local witness, Artyom, who testified against Bellingcat’s preferred narrative of where the missile launch occurred, near the village of Snizhne (see Bonanza Media responses here). Bellingcat claimed that Artyom had retracted his statement, but Artyom denied this in an interview with Yerlashova. Snizhne is preferred by the official account because that account would place it under the control of separatists on the day of the crash, although alternative accounts allege that, in the context of a quickly shifting war drama, the Ukrainian army had wrested temporary control over this area at that time. Opposition narratives, such as that of Russian Buk manufacturer Almaz-Antey, estimate that the launch site was actually Zarosh Henske, 20 kilometers west of Snizhne.

John Helmer, an Australian-born foreign correspondent based in Moscow and a regular commentator on the MH17 case, has identified five methods of witness tampering that had at the very least been discussed in the progression of the official narrative: bribes; offer of early release from prison; threats to kill; covert operations inside Russia, including rendition; and intimidation of relatives. Others have noted that the SBU was the main supplier of witnesses. Some had been arrested by the SBU in investigations into other crimes. Helmer cited Bonanza Media as the source for documentation of a secret conference of JIT-related police and prosecutors at Driebergen in January 2018 (to which Malaysia had not been invited), which discussed approaches to the finding of witnesses. For example, Helmer reported that in focusing on the 53rd Brigade Buk Telar, which they suspected was the source of the missile, participants considered whether to enter Russia secretly to find appropriate witnesses and persuade them to testify to Russian culpability, perhaps bribing or even forcing witnesses out of the country.

One participant was using Russian social media like Vkontakte to reach his Russian targets (a tactic that could incriminate them in the eyes of Russian authorities). There appeared to be consensus that the SBU was well suited to such methods. Writing in March 2020, Helmer claimed that the JIT had not challenged the authenticity of the leaked documents, and that the Australian Federal Police had confirmed them as genuine.

 

Confirmation bias?

Defense lawyers in the pre-trial phase were concerned, in effect, about a “confirmation bias” that persisted throughout the entire investigation, rooted in initial presumptions of Russian guilt, Russia’s exclusion from the JIT, and the significant and influential presence in the JIT of a party that its critics suspect might itself be culpable: Ukraine. Russia had requested admittance to the JIT in June 2015, arguing that it had noted many times that information and suggestions it had submitted were wrongly interpreted. The JIT had agreed to adopt consensus as its method for making decisions – thus giving Ukraine, the most substantial source of evidence, the power of veto – even though the Dutch retained the final say.

Exemplifying confirmation bias, the defense lawyers who substantiated the preferred “Buk scenario” were often left unchecked, whereas findings that did not fit that scenario were systematically scoured, especially when presented by Russia. And when a Russian source was repudiated (as in the case of the Almaz-Antey report to the Dutch Forensic NFI), there was no further consultation with the source. Even before the wreckage was secure, Ukraine had identified only two types of missile it claimed could be responsible and demonstrated only these two to JIT. The defense was unclear as to why the Ukrainian authorities worked from the Buk scenario from such an early stage of their investigations and why only two missiles (of a much larger potential range) were investigated.

Mikhail Malyshevsky of Almaz-Antei presents evidence at a news conference that MH17 was downed by a model of Buk that is no longer in service with the Russian military but that was part of the Ukrainian military arsenal. Pavel Golovkin | AP

It took Ukraine 18 months to submit logbooks and flight plans that apparently showed that there were no Ukrainian military flights in close proximity to MH17. Yet Ukrainian Sukho Su-25 fighter jets were commonly spotted in eastern Ukraine. The JIT did not investigate the alleged use of civilian flights as human shields. While the prosecution had collected intercepted calls between rebels, it had not collected intercepts between members of the armed forces of Ukraine.

Clearly, Ukraine benefited from the Buk scenario (which allegedly traced the route of a Russian Buk as it traveled from Russia, across the border to Donetsk and onward towards Snizhne and, after the crash, back into Russia). Things that did not support this narrative were not always further investigated or they were explained away, whereas Russian information was examined very carefully and usually discredited. The defense argued that information from Ukraine must be as thoroughly investigated as Russian findings. There remained staggering omissions.

Erik van de Beek saw no evidence that radar or satellite data had been presented to the court in which a Buk or other missile could be spotted. In the pre-trial phase the judge called on the prosecution one more time to request access to U.S. satellite images, but did not call on them to ask Ukraine to deliver military radar data. A former Ukrainian army commander had debunked the claim of the Ministry of Defense that military primary radio stations were not operational on the day of the crash. No intercepted calls convincingly demonstrated the involvement of rebels. (Indeed, on June 26, the prosecution presented an intercept of a conversation between Girkin and Dubinskiy in which Dubinksy told Girkin that a Ukrainian fighter had just downed MH17 and that the rebels had then hit the fighter with a Buk. This had been confirmed by Kharchenko and Pulatov in different conversations.) Eyewitnesses had not come forward to testify against the accused.

These are but a few of the major controversies surrounding the MH17 case. Among other important issues is the shape of metal fragments found in corpses, since this related to which of two possible Buk missile series could have been responsible. This consideration also raised questions about the discovery and handling of bodies and the conduct of autopsies, as well as calculations of missile origin, trajectory and point of impact.

 

Narrative inconsistencies

Additionally, one might talk of conflicts within the mainstream narrative, discussed by Hector Reban in great detail. For example, there were at least three conflicting hypotheses for the Buk scenario, with some sources claiming that the Buk missile launch trailer traveled with only two vehicles, while others claimed it was part of a much larger armed convoy – the “Vostok convoy” (a difference that had implications for the interpretation of witnesses whose testimony was based on what they heard) — and yet others claimed that the Vostok convoy had been augmented on the route by the Buk launcher. The alleged route, unnecessarily tortuous, has itself invited speculation.

There are several anomalies as to sources of journalistic accounts of sightings of the Buk, and apparent efforts by journalists to remain anonymous. Reban has determined that such journalistic sightings were not direct but based on textual or visual evidence handed to them by anonymous, and possibly intelligence, sources. Other sightings are highly likely to have originated from SBU “spotters” (who were spying on separatist movements, for the benefit of the Interior Ministry and Ukrainian Army), often known to one another, some in direct contact with the Ministry of the Interior and with right-wing affiliates. Images they posted may have been handed to them. Several key images were sent to the JIT without first being posted on social media. Original postings were usually removed within hours, and in some instances the channels on which they were posted were established solely for that purpose before being taken down. There were no pro-separatist sources of such sightings. Only one image was collected of the alleged return of the Buk to Russia.

Most alleged sightings or reports were limited to two critical moments of the Buk route: its crossing of the border and arrival near the launch site. Pre-crash accounts of the Buk presence (i.e., ones that were posted prior to the crash) are meager, and first-hand accounts posted before the crash are non-existent. After the crash, all original images posted on the evening of the 17th were quickly deleted after publication, except for the “launch plume” photo. Some analysts have found it strange that a Buk on a supposedly secretive operation should pass through a highly-populated area in broad daylight, with sirens blaring, its crew sporting suspicious Muscovite accents and dressed in “unfamiliar” gear, while admonishing would-be photographers. This raises suspicion of a false-flag operation and strikes at the very credibility of allegations of a Buk that was shipped from Russia.

 

A dangerous presumption

Inspection of the MH17 saga teaches us, in the first instance, never simply to presume that an enterprise that appears to have the status of an officially supported and endorsed international legal proceeding must on that account be above reproach. All such institutions are embedded in structures of power in which national interests coalesce and compete in the pursuit of overt and covert agendas, which become ever more complex in situations of war and conflict. In fact to continue with such a procedure may be counter-productive, even from a propaganda point of view, as it may well encounter insurmountable problems of evidence and spur distrust rather than consensus.

Feature photo | Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hurst speaks as she stands near to part of a Buk missile recovered from the site of the MH17 crash, during a press conference regarding the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in Bunnik, Central Netherlands, May 24, 2018. Michael Corder | AP

Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio and at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is an expert on international media, news, and propaganda. His writings can be accessed by subscription at https://oliverboydbarrett.substack.com

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Lee Camp: The CIA Has Been Taking Over for Decades — Even Former Presidents Tried to Warn Us

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost December 22, 1963 — exactly one month after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, former President Harry S. Truman published an op-ed in the Washington Post that most people, especially our perfumed ruling elite, wanted to ignore.

Truman, who signed the CIA into existence just after World War II, wrote:

I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency—the CIA. […] For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas. …There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”

Not only did that adorn the pages of the Washington Post one month after JFK’s death, Truman hand wrote the first draft just one week after JFK met up with a bunch of bullets in Dallas. Sure, one may wish Harry had sent his thoughts to John a month before the President’s televised execution. Maybe he could’ve sent a singing telegram or something. But let’s at least give Truman partial credit for the belated message.

Before his death, President Kennedy also held no love for the Central Intelligence Agency. Following the calamitous Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy said he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”

Point being, clearly Truman, who created the CIA, and Kennedy, who met a mysterious untimely end by professional killers, knew the agency had run amok.

Yet the CIA is still here, bigger and filled with more Bond villains than ever, and now they have a whole cavalcade of other intelligence agencies working with them. The Intelligence Community just recently put out a report that showed that their component agencies are indeed working to surveil, harass, and attack an assortment of U.S. citizens.

This particular report from the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was written in consultation with the CIA, the FBI, the DIA, the DHS, and a partridge in a pear tree. (An evil, kinda dastardly partridge. Not a good partridge at all. Like the kind of partridge that would eat the last pickle and then put the jar back in the fridge, so that later when you’re excited to grab a delicious crispy pickle, there’s nothin’ there but a jar full of pickle urine. So yeah, the worst partridge.)

The new report stated, “The Intelligence Community assesses that domestic violent extremists who are motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by recent political and societal events in the U.S. pose an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021.”

Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote of the report, “It makes clear that its target encompasses a wide range of groups from the left (Antifa, animal rights and environmental activists, pro-choice extremists and anarchists: those who oppose capitalism and all forms of globalization) to those on the right (sovereign citizen movements, anti-abortion activists and those deemed motivated by racial or ethnic hatreds).”

Leave it to our stellar Intelligence Community to group together animal rights activists — who have killed essentially no one ever — with racial hatred extremists — the perpetrators of just about every mass shooting or American terror attack this century. Such a comparison is like saying the 15-year-old who puts a thumb tack on his teacher’s chair is the same as a U.S. military drone aircraft in that they’re both trying to cause harm. Ummm, I think one may cause slightly more harm than the other.

And freeing animals isn’t harm to begin with. What kind of person sees someone release a cow and yells, “Whoa! That’s just like a bomb going off in an elementary school!”

On top of that, the CIA and their wannabes are surveilling and grouping alongside domestic terrorists anyone who points out capitalism causes a lot of problems. Such an analysis is just, well, fact. Capitalism is an economic system requiring infinite growth on a planet with finite resources — so at the end of the day, it can only result in epic collapse. That’s not an opinion. That’s just how it is. (Sidenote: It would be totally cool, FBI, if you could stop watching me through my iPhone camera. …How about at least not when I’m on the toilet? …Please?)

A handy visual from the DNI’s report on violent extremism

Greenwald said, “To the Department of Homeland Security, an ‘extremist’ is anyone who opposes the current prevailing ruling class and system for distributing power. Anyone they believe is prepared to use violence, intimidation or coercion in pursuit of these causes then becomes a ‘domestic violent extremist,’ subject to a vast array of surveillance, monitoring and other forms of legal restrictions.”

Coercion? Well, shit — I’m willing to use coercion to change our class structure! I think I almost named my TV show Coercion to Bring Down the Class Structure with Lee Camp. I guess that makes me a domestic violent extremist?! How’s this for irony: you could be named a domestic violent extremist for non-violently protesting to end war. That’s like being called an addict for watching too many “Say No To Drugs” commercials.

But the larger point here — which the mainstream media intentionally avoids discussing — is that the CIA is expressly forbidden from operating domestically. It’s not supposed to be in our living rooms. It’s supposed to be in their living rooms! (You can’t see it, but I’m pointing furiously in the other direction, clearly implying the living rooms of other countries. If you were in my living room as I type this, you’d understand. …I don’t know why you’d be here. That would be weird since I don’t know you. But, as long as you’re here, can you take out the trash?)

The only people in Congress voicing concerns about this latest report are ten Republicans, which is pathetic for many reasons, not least of which being that Republicans haven’t gotten anything right since before… ummm… Wow, this is their first time. Good for you guys. Even a blind squirrel finds your nuts sometimes! …Or wait, not your nuts. Someone else’s nuts. …Don’t quote me on that.

Greenwald pointed out how nefarious things are getting. “The Biden administration, along with leading Democrats such as Adam Schiff, have been stating explicitly that one of their top priorities is the adoption of new laws designed to import the Bush/Cheney/Obama War on Terror onto U.S. soil for domestic purposes. As recently as February 14, The Washington Post published an article titled ‘The agency founded because of 9/11 is shifting to face the threat of domestic terrorism.’”

I know it might be easy to read that and think, “Good! They’re going to arrest those damn domestic terrorists.” But — and I can’t stress this enough — we need another “war on terror” about as much as we need a hole in the head, or a venereal disease, or another Sarah Palin. The War on Terror has been an utter disaster for any country on the ass end of it. So why would any American want our own citizens to be on the ass end of the next one?

There’s nothing like bringing overseas disasters back home. While we’re at it, let’s build some Fukushima-style nuclear plants on the coast of California.

Point being, violence is already illegal. Planning to harm people is already illegal. Hence, domestic terrorism is already illegal. The Intelligence Community already has loads of power and money and weapons and people. They don’t need more. They already violate our rights and our privacy and our freedom on a regular basis. They don’t need to do it more.

Remember, fascism will come to America wrapped in an American flag, holding a cross, dressed in a skimpy outfit, cradling a bucket of KFC fried chicken, and giving out free handies. Or, as Greenwald put it, “There are few dangers more acute than the weaponization of these security-state-instruments against U.S. citizens for political ends.”

For generations the Intelligence Community has been a runaway truck — crushing everything in its path, creating coups around the world, killing thousands, and intruding on the lives of average citizens. As I already mentioned, even the president who created the CIA and dropped atomic bombs on people — even that guy felt the CIA was a grave danger to the American experiment. Those concerns started just after he saw a president get whacked live on prime time. I wonder why.

Feature photo | The heads of the DBI, CIA, NSA, and ODNI appear before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on extermism on Capitol Hill, April 15, 2021. Al Drago | Pool via AP

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

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Ecuadorian Election: US Secures Another Neoliberal Champion Without Intervening (Overtly)

QUITO, ECUADOR — The U.S. role in the defeat of leftist Andrés Arauz in Ecuador’s presidential contest on April 11 was not overt because it did not need to be, according to a high-ranking Latin American diplomat. We met with the diplomat and others on an official election observation delegation with CODEPINK. Names of some sources remain anonymous due to a hostile political environment towards progressives.

This setback for the Citizens Revolution movement, founded by Rafael Correa, will have profound implications for Ecuador and beyond, fortifying the U.S.-allied reactionary bloc in Latin America.

Former President Correa left office with a 60% approval rating. He had been twice elected president on the first round; unprecedented for Ecuador, which had a turnover of seven presidents in the previous decade. His Alianza País Party had won 14 elections, reflecting the popularity of their wealth redistributive programs, including reducing extreme poverty by half.

Correa’s chosen successor, Lenín Moreno, will exit on May 24 with a single-digit approval rating. Much happened in the ensuing four years. Correa went from being the most popular democratically elected president in the country’s history to having his party rejected by an electoral majority.

 

¿Qué pasó? – What happened?

In 2017, Correa had campaigned for his former vice president to carry on their Citizens Revolution. However once in office, sitting President Moreno turned sharply right against his former colleagues, employing lawfare to decapitate the leadership of the Citizens Revolution. His own vice-president, Jorge Glas, is now in prison and other top officials have been forced to flee Ecuador. Correa, accused of using “psychic influence,” was convicted in absentia in an evidence-weak corruption trial that prevented him from returning to Ecuador.

According to Correa’s attorney, Fausto Jarrín, Moreno was assisted by the U.S. in this legal dismantling of his own party. Casting pretenses aside, Moreno was in Washington on the day of the first round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections. Just before the second round, Moreno and his top officials flew to the Galapagos to meet with the U.S. ambassador.

Moreno handed the shop over to the U.S. He revoked Julian Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship, allowing Assange to be arrested in the U.K.. He recognized Juan Guaidó’s bogus claim to the presidency of Venezuela. After U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Ecuador, the FBI was welcomed back. Even a U.S. military base in the Galapagos (part of Ecuador) was gifted to Washington.

Moreno expelled Ecudaor’s Cuban doctors and withdrew from key regional alliances: UNASUR, CELAC, and ALBA. At a time of COVID, these actions had lethal consequences. Had Ecuador instead maintained its membership in the regional organizations, their collective power could have been used to obtain vaccines and other resources to fight the pandemic.

Moreno imposed an IMF austerity package on Ecuador, only to be partly withdrawn in the face of a massive indigenous-led protest in October 2019. Then, under the cover of the presidential election campaign and pandemic, Moreno reinstated the unpopular measures.

The turncoat Moreno adopted a full-throated neoliberal program and is scrambling to enact additional “economic reforms” before his term is over, to prevent the next administration from “putting the toothpaste back in the tube.” But he needn’t worry. Not only does incoming President Guillermo Lasso pursue the same neoliberal program, but members of Lasso’s rightwing political party collaborated with Moreno in the National Assembly.

This has been a brilliant strategy for the right. Ecuador is in economic crisis, with the impacts of austerity measures exacerbated by the pandemic. By putting in place a full neoliberal program before leaving office, Moreno spares Lasso the onus of the unpopular measures while serving international finance represented by Lasso and the U.S.

 

Lawfare used to rig the electoral playing field

Ecuador’s electoral authority, the CNE, did not recognize the Arauz campaign until December for a February 7 first-round election. Arauz, who was sick with COVID in December, had spent the last four months battling for party certification while the other campaigns were gaining momentum.

Unlike its rich banker opponent, the Arauz campaign was strapped for funds to build an on-the-ground campaign infrastructure. More important, lawfare measures prevented them from even using their party’s name, forcing them to cobble together UNES as their new party.

Further, Correa, with his considerable name recognition and popularity, was banned from running as Arauz’s vice president. Worse, the party was prohibited from using Correa’s image, name, or voice in its campaign materials. Yet other parties could invoke Correa to smear the Arauz campaign by falsely accusing Correa of corruption and associating Arauz with Correa as also corrupt.

Despite all these hurdles, Arauz won the first-round election with a 32% vote share, giving him a 13-point lead over second-place Lasso, but short of the 40% needed to avoid a second-round contest. Arauz also was leading in the polls, but that was to change with a massive disinformation campaign.

 

Rightwing propaganda campaign

The rightwing mobilized its near monopoly of mass media to spin sworn enemies Moreno and the Citizens Revolution as allied, in what an Arauz campaign leader characterized as the “TikTok and meme-ification” of political discourse.

Arauz, an energetic 36-year-old economic wiz, was portrayed as stupid and lethargic. In contrast, the 65-year-old conservative Lasso put on a pair of red shoes and was marketed as hip.

A four-year rightist media campaign portrayed Correa and associates as corrupt.  A Citizens Revolution militant explained, “if you repeat a lie ten times, it becomes a truth.” The “NGO left,” funded by the U.S. and its European allies, contributed to this inversion of reality.

Lasso, third from left, his wife Maria, second from left, and VP Alfredo Borrero, far left, pose with Moreno in Quito, April 19, 2021. Dolores Ochoa | AP

 

Struggle ahead in Ecuador

Guillermo Lasso, owner of the second largest bank in Ecuador, won with a 5-point margin. Arauz said in his concession speech: “This is an electoral setback but by no means a political or moral defeat.”

With 49 out of 137 seats in the National Assembly, his party remains the single largest bloc. The task of the Citizens Revolution politicians, according to party leaders, will be to maintain unity within their own ranks while forging coalitions with potential allies.

Meanwhile, they will have to fend off continued lawfare attacks and repression from the right. Some militants have already left the country.

The second largest bloc in the assembly with 27 seats is the ideologically diverse and indigenous Pachakutik. The Citizens Revolution’s relationships with the leadership of some indigenous organizations and, for that matter, certain labor unions have at times been contentious.

Correa opposed the clientelism of the past and shunned “selling” ministries and other positions to politically influential leaders in return for their support. Correa concentrated instead on serving the interests of their constituents with infrastructure projects for underserved indigenous regions, granting water rights, and promoting multicultural education and health policies. Likewise, workers got wage gains.

In retrospect, the Citizens Revolution is now openly self-critical about running roughshod over some indigenous and labor leaders. Amends will have to be made, according to a former Correa minister.

 

“Promoting democracy” in service of the U.S. empire

Ruling elites hold elections to legitimize their rule, not because they believe in democracy. By the time of the 2021 presidential election in Ecuador, the playing field had been rendered so precipitously unlevel that the U.S. had little need to overtly intervene as it did in Bolivia in 2019.

But that did not mean that the U.S. was not actively intervening. The websites of USAID, NED, NDI, and IRI make no secret of the imperial hubris of pretending to “promote democracy” in Ecuador. The U.S. laid the groundwork, according to a high-level diplomat, to unify the right and rig the contest against the left.

As William Blum revealed, U.S. intelligence had, prior to Correa and likely since, “infiltrated, often at the highest levels, almost all political organizations of significance, from the far left to the far right… In virtually every department of the Ecuadorian government could be found men occupying positions high and low who collaborated with the CIA for money.”

Commenting on the new Biden administration, Correa’s former Ambassador Ricardo Ulcuango observed that U.S. foreign policy is the same with Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats, he added, are more dangerous because they are better at speaking about cooperation when they are in fact intervening.

Feature photo | A boy walks past election posters promoting presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, representing the Creating Opportunities party or CREO, in Quito, Ecuador, April 9, 2021. Dolores Ochoa | AP

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights organization Task Force on the Americas.

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The Best Intentions of Sir Ronald Cohen: Building the Crypto-Corrals of Social Investment

LONDON — Who is Sir Ronald Cohen and why should you care? To answer the first part of that question it might be useful to start with someone else – the person he is most often compared to and the original “Father of Venture Capital.” Answering the second part involves asking more difficult questions, such as what is the monetary value of a human life?

After World War II, the U.S. Military promoted George Frederic Doriot to the rank of Brigadier General and awarded him the highest award it gives to noncombatants for his notable development of venture capitalism, a concept that would revolutionize a key part of the emerging superpower’s war machine.

As part of the U.S. Army’s Military Planning Division, Doriot is credited with bringing scientifically-driven innovation to its R&D unit. So successful were his methods that, in addition to being tapped by U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower to lead a “new” Department of Research and Development at war’s end, Doriot was also given a French Legion of Honor and decorated as a Commander of the British Empire.

The French émigré demurred and turned down the future president’s offer, reportedly to return to Harvard Business School where he had maintained an appointment since 1926. However, the famous professor had a different answer for a virtually identical proposal from a crew comprised of MIT President Karl Compton, Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders, Harvard Business School Dean Donald K. David, and financier Merrill Griswold.

The group of men recruited Doriot to head their pioneering venture capital start-up, American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC). Post-war economists derided the very concept of a venture capital company and one even told Doriot personally that it would go bust within a year.

Perhaps unaware of his unofficial ties to Washington, they turned out to be wrong in their predictions and in the span of the three decades Doriot ran the firm, ARDC opened the floodgates for the most predatory form of capitalism the world had ever seen. It was nothing less than the start of what Eisenhower himself would warn Americans about in his farewell address more than ten years later.

After usurping Doriot’s title as the “father of [British] venture capital” for a time, the professor’s protégé has come into his own as the father of social investment, using all the tricks his Harvard Business School teacher imparted. Of the didactic maxims attributed to Doriot, perhaps none other fits Sir Ronald Cohen better than “An auditor is like a tailor; he can make a fat man look thinner or taller or younger.”

 

Exodus

“Military industrial complex” was a succinct way of phrasing the de facto merger of the academic, federal, and military spheres of the United States in a parallel economy that would fuel the war-driven technological boom of the following decades. It was Doriot, through ARDC and in his legendary course at Harvard called “Machinery,” who spread the gospel of venture capitalism and cemented it as a permanent feature of the American financial landscape.

Silicon Valley is today the center of the venture capital universe and many of the same academic, federal, and military associations remain in place. It is where the Pentagon and its partners joined to create the Internet and all the other military technology that is presently seeping into mainstream civilian society through social media, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

Nevertheless, there are few other similarities between their respective life journeys besides being born into money. Ronald Mourad Cohen was delivered in an Egyptian hospital, the son of a Syrian banker and an English mother. The 1956 Suez crisis jettisoned the family from the ancient city, settling in London when Ronnie was just 11 years of age.

Many online biographies make much of the Cohen family’s ‘refugee’ status at this time. Details are scarce, but we know they settled in London’s Jewish Quarter in a northern suburb of the city called Golders Green with a unique and little-known history that is intimately tied to the role Ronald Cohen is currently playing on the world stage.

 

Birth of the Smart City

At the turn of the twentieth century, Golders Green in the northwest corner of London became the experimental ground for leading financial institutions, city planners, and self-appointed social theorists of the day, who employed new urban design schemes based on the ideas of social reformist Ebenezer Howard and his “garden city movement.”

Howard’s work has been touted as a “model for an ecologically sustainable society” and his notions about reorganizing the “social world” around nature-integrated cities are considered seminal in the world of urban planning. The less talked about aspect of Howard’s vision revolves around the organization of society itself in his population-capped urban utopia.

The highly planned neighborhood of Golden Greer, once home to the UK’s financial elite. Source | Barnet

Social reform, in Howard’s view, consisted of merging capitalism and socialism to produce the ideal society. Fellow social reformists like Samuel Barnett, his wife Henrietta, and “social administration” pioneer Charles Booth all saw the opportunity to put their ideas of “practicable socialism” to the test by creating a variation on Howard’s vision in Golders Green with the paupers of the decrepit East End of London in mind.

By the time the Cohens arrived, the Jewish community had grown to a quarter of the suburb’s population, in large part as a result of the influx of German Ashkenazi Jews who had fled Nazism. But young Ronald had been born three months after the war ended and was unencumbered by the weight of the past.

Aside from some tense moments during the Second Arab-Israeli War that forced the Cohens to England, Ronnie would soon start excelling at the best schools in the city, eventually landing in Massachusetts with Doriot and catapulting himself into a lucrative career in venture capital where he was welcomed into elite financier and government circles.

 

Information is power

“Cohen will go where the power is.”

The blunt testimonial was given to The Guardian by a City (of London) associate in 2007 when Sir Ronald Cohen published a “personal manifesto-cum-business autobiography” titled “The Second Bounce of the Ball: Turning Risk into Opportunity.”

Two years earlier, Cohen’s remarkably prescient push to turn his venture capital firm, Apax Partners, into a hedge fund hadn’t sat well with his board of directors, who considered the move too risky. But Cohen had been running with the world’s biggest hedge funds for some time, partnering with Blackstone, KKR, Carlyle Group and others in numerous mergers and acquisitions throughout the early 2000s.

During this period, Apax Partners LLP began a furious buyout of media companies, acquiring “specialty press” assets around the world. Important publications like Vidal, Daily Physician, The Daily Pharmacist and Decision Health, among others in the technical and medical publication sector, were bought up in a massive media restructuring operation that kicked into high gear while coverage of the September 11 attacks was still reverberating in the news.

Bill and Hillary Clinton and Cohen arrive at a special screening of the Israeli film “Incitement” in New York City, February 2020. Robert Kim | GNA

In November 2001, Cohen was staking out his position in a deal with French private equity firm Cinven and The Carlyle Group to acquire the “No. 1 provider of consumer health-care information in the U.S.” from the Vivendi corporation. The French media giant’s technical and medical publishing unit had been purchased only a few years earlier as part of its 1998 takeover of Havas SA, which owned San Francisco-based Staywell Co., a provider of “information materials, programs, and services to health-care professionals,” as well as “the exclusive publisher of educational and training materials for the American Red Cross.”

Cohen’s deal closed 12 days before the Twin Towers in New York collapsed on their own footprint. After the acquisition, all of Cohen’s medical and technical publication assets were merged into MediMedia USA and quickly sold off in 2003 to London-based B2B media conglomerate United Business Media, now part of Informa.

Informa CEO Stephen A. Carter is the architect of Britain’s Digital Economy Act of 2010 (which established the first comprehensive digital policy framework for the U.K.) and founded the U.K.’s media and communications regulator Ofcom, serving as chief of strategy for then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and as his minister for telecommunications and media.

Brown’s administration lasted only three years, from 2007 to 2010. But, they were three very significant ones for the global financial sector, as it morphed into the hedge fund-driven monster it is today. Cohen knew which way the wind was blowing when he tried to tweak Apax’s mission in 2005 and it is attributable to such uncanny discernment that Brown considered no one’s counsel more important than that offered by Sir Ronald Cohen.

 

Bond, Social Bond

For the next decade, culminating with Brown’s years as head of government, the two worked closely together in order to establish policy around social finance, also known as “socially responsible investing,” and create vehicles for the sector’s development — like Big Society Capital (BSC), the world’s first “social investment bank,” co-founded by Cohen, who had been on Brown’s Social Investment Task Force since 2000.

After Brown’s victory, Cohen started a non-profit consultancy called Social Finance and began work on the first “social impact bond” (SIB) run by the U.K. Ministry of Justice and his new organization.

The Peterborough Prison Pilot project was a social finance experiment that created an ad hoc recidivism reduction program – operated by the stakeholders and funded through a social bond issue, which, like any other bond, is simply a financing mechanism to attract private capital by promising a return on investment. The only difference is the nature of the underlying asset.

The scheme centered on privatizing a part of the parole system, offering a service to prisoners on their way out of jail funded by private investors who would receive a return depending on whether or not the service, which in this case was also run by the bondholders, would change the behavior of the inmate to the point that he or she wouldn’t re-offend.

The SIB’s dividend payout was conditioned on a 10% drop in recidivism rates, which was not reached in the first phase of the experiment, according to an independent study. Nevertheless, interested parties like the Rockefeller Foundation gushed at the data, asserting that social finance could provide “meaningful improvement in life outcomes for ex-offenders.”

This graphic from a RAND study shows how social impact bonds can be sold to private investors. Source | Rand

Marketing hyperbole aside, the pilot actually failed miserably and was cut short two years earlier than anticipated. RAND Europe, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to write up the pilot’s final report, blamed the elimination of the “payment-by-results element” from the project on reforms to probation laws.

Despite these significant shortcomings, Gordon Brown declared the SIB experiment to be a total success in 2017. In an op-ed, Brown takes partial credit for the creation of the SIB as he well should. It was his task force, after all, created during his tenure as chancellor of the exchequer, that got the ball rolling on social impact investment schemes and set the stage for Sir Ronald Cohen to want to aim higher and “address the financial problems of the Middle East” by investing in Palestinian businesses.

 

Moses’ forgotten son 

Sir Ronald’s Zionist credentials are impeccable. Marrying into Israeli royalty on his third go in 1987, Cohen found himself in the center of Israel’s foundational mythologies and its darkest intelligence apparatus. His wife’s late father, Yossi Harel, started out bombing Palestine for the Royal British Airforce during World War II before reserving a place in history as the organizer of a clandestine human trafficking operation in 1947 when he “personally delivered” 24,000 refugees from the Holocaust to Palestine.

Coined as the “Exodus” in honor of the biblical tale, Harel was a field asset of the incipient Israeli intelligence networks, then in gestation on the banks of the Hudson River in New York and elsewhere. He would later become a top commander for Mossad, along with his fellow Haganah operatives who had been working to settle European and Russian Jews in Palestine, an effort that began in 1934 and followed a secret pact between Nazi Germany and the Zionist Congress a year earlier.

A portrait of Yossi Harel after his enlistment in the British Air Force donated by Cohen to the US Holocaust Museum

Cohen’s links to the most elite circles of Israel’s power structure are undeniable. Just as he was finally moving out of his office at Apax Partners and turning his full attention to “social investment, among other things,” as he told The Guardian at the time, Cohen co-founded a hedge fund called Portland Capital with Lord Jacob Rothschild and Sir Henry Solomon and together took significant stakes in other hedge funds, such as currency specialist Millennium Global.

In 2005, Solomon and Cohen opened an office in Tel Aviv for their Portland Trust, a non-profit organization promoting “peace and stability” in Palestine through “economic development.” By 2013, Portland Trust was “increasingly active in the Palestinian Territories,” designing the “financial infrastructure of the West Bank” through “micro-finance, loan guarantees, and other credit facilities,” according to The National.

 

Return to Eden

Cohen founded Social Finance Israel (SFI) that same year to start bringing the $1 trillion social finance market to the Middle East in earnest. Social impact bonds for all sorts of community projects are being deployed in and around Israel by SFI and its partners, with SIBs now attached to matters such as “loneliness of the elderly,” math scores of Bedouin children, and preventing diabetes in partnership with UBS.

SFI board member Chemi Peres — founder of Israel’s largest venture capital firm, Pitango, and chairman of his father Shimon Peres’ Center for Peace and Innovation — joined Cohen for a Zoom chat in October 2020 in which they discussed “the magic 10%” or the tipping point at which the percentage of “companies [that] are actively measuring and managing their impact” begins to shift the world economy into a social finance paradigm or “SDG market.”

Israel is a key node in the operation to overhaul the global financial system, as the so-called “Start-up Nation” rolls out one cybersecurity and backdoor tech start-up company after another, many of which are incubated in the IDF’s notorious Unit 8200, which features its own social impact technology accelerator lab known simply as 8200 Impact.

8200 Impact was described as a “market builder” in a country profile of Israel prepared by Sir Ronald Cohen’s Global Steering Group, which was established in 2015 to “continue the work of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce.”

Peres’ Pitango has funded several Unit 8200 companies over the years and is working with Cohen to bring the “magic” number to fruition. “In order for these startups to migrate into the SDG market,” writes Peres in the blog post, “they must blend an impact framework and measurement system within their core business.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addresses Cohen, center, Rothschild, right, and other heads of the impact funds in London in 2019. Photo | Israeli GPO

In other words, surveillance and intelligence signals have to be consolidated into the broader economic system they call “social finance” through technologies like 5G and other telecommunications ICT (information communication technology) upgrades. 8200 Impact partner Isaac Benbenisti from Israeli telecom Partner Communications Company Ltd, describes the nature of the opportunity — known colloquially as the “Great Reset” — in a recent interview with CTech:

The basis for the reset concept is the realization that the world is in a financial crisis due to the pandemic, and needs to incorporate equality, empathy, mutual responsibility, and support of weaker populations, not in the name of fairness or to have a clear conscience, but as a necessary condition in order to emerge from the financial crisis.”

 

Parting of the Revenue Stream

At the core of social finance lies the “smart city” — a technologically connected permanent surveillance and data-analysis hub, which feeds into the ‘trustless’ transaction frameworks like blockchain in order to execute the work of human society.

Cohen is building ten of these cities in Israel, perhaps inspired by the prototypical smart city he lived in as a child in North London, but guided by the same rationalizations expressed by his colleague Benbenisti.

In a recent interview with Yale SOM’s Impact Lab, Cohen sensed that “the winds of change [are] blowing quite strongly now,” adding that the “final piece of the puzzle” was the consumer, arguing for a “radical reimagining of consumers’ right to transparency,” which boils down to little more than advertising.

“Twinings Tea delivers more environmental damage than it does profit,” he states as an example of a consumer’s right to know and how they would use that information to drive the market. But that is at best a simplistic take on the real financial schemes behind social impact bonds and other so-called sustainable development models.

A more apt appraisal would feature The Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana or CAPL for references of social impact investment’s ties to American slavery, which are firm and direct.

The CAPL was a bank formed by Southern plantation owners, who leveraged the “value” of their slaves to create mortgage-backed securities issued by their bank, in order to borrow against them. The scheme would only have worked as a fancy bartering operation for CAPL stakeholders had the state of Louisiana not backed CAPL bonds with $2.5 million worth of public funds, making the slave bank-issued certificates available for trade in the open market.

In the case of Sir Ronald Cohen’s social impact bonds, the slaves are free to roam as long as they heed the prompts and cues emitting from their hyper-connected 5G wearables and other devices all smart-city dwellers will interact with one day.

For Sir Ronald Cohen, that day is coming soon: “The Covid-19 economic crisis appears to be much more serious than the 2008 financial crisis,” he told Global Capital in June 2020, predicting that governments were “going to be very heavily indebted” and that this “crisis has shaken our long-standing habits and beliefs and is opening the door to potentially very important changes.”

Feature photo | Ronald Cohen, chair of a global steering group on social impact investing, attends a news conference in Tel Aviv on March 14, 2016. Baz Ratner | Alamy

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post The Best Intentions of Sir Ronald Cohen: Building the Crypto-Corrals of Social Investment appeared first on MintPress News.

Tanks and Think Tanks: How Taiwanese Cash is Funding the Push to War with China

TAIPEI — At MintPress, we have been at the forefront of exposing how Middle Eastern dictatorships and weapons contractors have been funneling money into think tanks and political action committees, keeping up a steady drumbeat for more war and conflict around the world. Yet one little-discussed nation that punches well above its weight in spending cash in Washington is Taiwan.

By studying Taiwan’s financial reports, MintPress has ascertained that the semi-autonomous island of 23 million people has, in recent years, given out millions of dollars to many of the largest and most influential think tanks in the United States. This has coincided with a strong upsurge in anti-China rhetoric in Washington, with report after report warning of China’s economic rise and demanding that the U.S. intervene more in China-Taiwan disputes.

These think tanks are filled with prominent figures from both parties and have the ears of the most powerful politicians in Washington. It is in their offices that specialists draw up papers and incubate ideas that become tomorrow’s policies. They also churn out experts who appear in agenda-setting media, helping to shape and control the public debate on political and economic issues.

Twenty years ago, a group of neoconservative think tanks like the Project for a New American Century, funded by foreign governments and weapons manufacturers, used their power to push for disastrous wars in the Middle East. Now, a new set of think tanks, staffed with many of those same experts who provided the intellectual basis for those invasions, is working hard to convince Americans that there is a new existential threat: China.

 

A fistful of dollars

In 2019, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) — for all intents and purposes, the Taiwanese embassy — donated between $250,000 and $499,999 to the Brookings Institute, commonly identified as the world’s most influential think tank. Taiwanese tech companies have also given large sums to the organization. In turn, Brookings Institute staff like Richard C. Bush (a former member of the National Intelligence Council and a U.S. national intelligence officer for East Asia) vociferously champion the cause of Taiwanese nationalists and routinely condemn Beijing’s attempts to bring the island more closely under control.

TECRO featured prominently among myriad defense interests on the donor rolls for both the Atlantic Council, left, and Brookings Institute

Last week, Brookings held an event called “Taiwan’s quest for security and the good life,” which began with the statement that “Taiwan is rightly praised for its democracy. Elections are free, fair, and competitive; civil and political rights are protected.” It went on to warn that the “most consequential” challenge to the island’s liberty and prosperity is “China’s ambition to end Taiwan’s separate existence.”

According to another organization’s latest financial disclosure, TECRO also gave a six-figure sum to the Atlantic Council, a think tank closely associated with NATO. It is unclear what the Atlantic Council did with that money, but what is certain is that they gave a senior fellowship to Chang-Ching Tu, an academic employed by the Taiwanese military to teach at the country’s National Defense University. In turn, Tu authored Atlantic Council reports describing his country as a “champion [of] global democracy,” and stating that “democracy, freedom and human rights are Taiwan’s core values.” A menacing China, however, is increasing its military threats, so Taiwan must “accelerate its deterrence forces and strengthen its self-defense capabilities.” Thus he advises that the U.S. must work far more closely with Taiwan’s military, conducting joint exercises and moving towards a more formal military alliance. In 2020, the U.S. sold $5.9 billion worth of arms to the island, making it the fifth-largest recipient of American weaponry last year.

Other Taiwan-employed academics have chided the West on the pages of the Council’s website for its insufficient zeal in “deter[ring] Chinese aggression” against the island. “A decision by the United States to back down” — wrote Philip Anstrén, a Swedish recipient of a fellowship from the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs — “could damage the credibility of U.S. defense guarantees and signal that Washington’s will to defend its allies is weak.” Anstrén also insisted that “Europe’s future is on the line in the Taiwan Strait.” “Western democratic nations have moral obligations vis-à-vis Taiwan,” he added on his blog, “and Western democracies have a duty to ensure that [Taiwan] not only survives but also thrives.”

The reason this is important is that the Atlantic Council is an enormously influential think tank. Its board of directors is a who’s-who in foreign policy statecraft, featuring no fewer than seven former CIA directors. Also on the board are many of the architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and James Baker. When organizations like this begin beating the war drums, everybody should take note.

Perhaps the most strongly anti-Beijing think tank in Washington is the conservative Hudson Institute, an organization frequented by many of the Republican Party’s most influential figures, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Vice-President Mike Pence and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. The words “China” or “Chinese” appear 137 times in Hudson’s latest annual report, so focused on the Asian nation are they. Indeed, reading their output, it often appears they care about little else but ramping up tensions with Beijing, condemning it for its treatment of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Uyghur Muslims, and warning of the economic and military threat of a rising China.

An excerpt from a 2020 Hudson Institue report on existential threats to the United States

Over the years, Hudson’s efforts have been sustained by huge donations from TECRO. The Hudson Institute does not disclose the exact donations any sources give, but their annual reports show that TECRO has been on the highest tier of donors ($100,000+) every year since they began divulging their sponsors in 2015. In February, Hudson Senior Fellow Thomas J. Duesterberg wrote an op-ed for Forbes entitled “The Economic Case for Prioritizing a U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement,” in which he extolled Taiwan’s economy as modern and dynamic and portrayed securing closer economic ties with it as a no-brainer. Hudson employees have also traveled to Taiwan to meet and hold events with leading foreign ministry officials there.

The Hudson Institute also recently partnered with the more liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) to host an event with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who took the opportunity to make a great number of inflammatory statements about the “ever more challenging threats to free and democratic societies” China poses; applaud the U.S.’ actions on Hong Kong; and talk about how Taiwan honors and celebrates those who died at the Tiananmen Square massacre. TECRO gave the CAP between $50,000 and $100,000 last year.

It is the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), however, that appears to receive the most Taiwanese money. According to its donor list, Taiwan gives as much money to it as the United States does — at least $500,000 last year alone. Yet all of the Taiwanese government money is put into CSIS’s regional studies (i.e., Asia) program. Like Hudson employees, the CSIS calls for a free trade agreement with Taiwan and has lavished praise on the nation for its approach to tackling disinformation, describing it as a “thriving democracy and a cultural powerhouse.” Although acknowledging that the reports were paid for by TECRO, CSIS insists that “all opinions expressed herein should be understood to be solely those of the authors and are not influenced in any way by any donation.” In December, the CSIS also held a debate suggesting that “[w]ithin the next five years, China will use significant military force against a country on its periphery,” exploring what the U.S. response to such an action should be.

Like the Atlantic Council, the CSIS organization is stacked with senior officials from the national security state. Its president and CEO is former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, while Henry Kissinger — former secretary of state and the architect of the Vietnam War — also serves on its council.

The CSIS accepts money from the Global Taiwan Institute and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) as well. The former is a rather shadowy pro-Taiwanese group that appears not to disclose its funding sources. The latter is a government-funded organization headed by former Taiwanese President You Si-kun. Every year, the TFD publishes a human rights report on China, the latest of which claims that “the Chinese Communist Party knows no bounds when it comes to committing serious human rights violations” — accusing it of “taking the initiative” in “promoting a new Cold War over the issue of human rights” and trying to “replace the universal standing of human rights values around the world.” Ultimately, the report concludes, China “constitutes a major challenge to democracy and freedom in the world.”

Joseph Hwang of The War College in Taiwan speaks at a CSIS about how Taiwan acts a buffer to protect US data infrustructure from China

The TFD has also been a major funder of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a far-right pressure group that insists that Communism has killed over 100 million people worldwide. Last year, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation added all global COVID-19 fatalities to the list of Communist-caused deaths on the basis that the virus started in China. The Foundation also employs Adrian Zenz, a German evangelical theologian who is the unlikely source of many of the most controversial and contested claims about Chinese repression in Xinjiang province.

In the past 12 months, TECRO has also donated six-figure sums to many other prominent think tanks, including the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Center for a New American Security, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. MintPress reached out to a number of these think tanks for comment but has not received any response.

“It would be naive to believe that Taiwan’s funding of think tanks is not pushing them to take pro-Taiwan or anti-China positions,” Ben Freeman, the director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, told MintPress, adding:

After all, why would Taiwan keep funding think tanks that are critical of Taiwan? There’s a Darwinian element to foreign funding of think tanks that pushes foreign government funding to think tanks that write what that foreign government wants them to write. Taiwan is no exception to this rule.”

TECRO is not just sponsoring American think tanks, however. It has also given funds to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a hawkish and controversial group described as “the think tank behind Australia’s changing view of China.” The country’s former ambassador in Beijing described ASPI as “the architect of the China threat theory in Australia” while Senator Kim Carr of Victoria denounced them as working hand-in-hand with Washington to push “a new Cold War with China.” ASPI was behind Twitter’s decision last year to purge more than 170,000 accounts sympathetic to Beijing from its platform.

“We must be ready to fight our corner as Taiwan tensions rise,” ASPI wrote in January, having previously castigated the West for being “no longer willing to defend Taiwan.”

ASPI — like Brookings, the Atlantic Council and others — are directly funded by weapons manufacturers, all of whom also have a direct interest in promoting more wars around the world. Thus, if the public is not careful, certain special interests might be helping move the United States towards yet another international conflict.

While the situation outlined above is concerning enough, the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative’s research has shown that around one-third of think tanks still do not provide any information whatsoever about their funding, and very few are completely open about their finances. Freeman maintains that, while there is nothing inherently wrong with foreign governments funding Western think tanks, the lack of transparency is seriously problematic, explaining:

This raises a lot of questions about the work they’re doing. Are their secret funders saying what the think tank can do in a pay-for-play scheme? Are the funders buying the think tanks silence on sensitive issues? Without knowing the think tank’s funders, policymakers and the public have no idea if the think tank’s work is objective research or simply the talking points of a foreign government.”

Freeman’s study of the Taiwanese lobby found that seven organizations registered as Taiwan’s foreign agents in the U.S. Those organizations, in turn, contacted 476 Members of Congress (including almost 90% of the House), as well as five congressional committees. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was their most frequent contact, the Californian being contacted 34 times by Taiwanese agents. Pelosi has been a great supporter of Taiwanese nationalists, successfully promoting pro-Taiwan legislation and proudly announcing that the U.S. “stands with Taiwan.”

Foreign agents working on behalf of Taiwan also made 143 political contributions to U.S. politicians, with former Alabama Senator Doug Jones the lead recipient (Pelosi was third).

 

Losing China, regaining Taiwan?

The reports listed above understand the dispute as purely a matter of Chinese belligerence against Taiwan and certainly do not consider U.S. military actions in the South China Sea as aggressive in themselves. That is because the world of think tanks and war planners sees the United States as owning the planet and having a remit to act anywhere on the globe at any time.

To this day, U.S. planners bemoan the “loss of China” in 1949 (a phrase that presupposes the United States owned the country). After a long and bloody Second World War, Communist resistance forces under Mao Tse-tung managed to both expel the Japanese occupation and overcome the U.S.-backed Kuomintang (nationalist) force led by Chang Kai-shek. The United States actually invaded China in 1945, with 50,000 troops working with the Kuomintang and even Japanese forces in an attempt to suppress the Communists. However, by 1949, Mao’s army was victorious; the United States evacuated and Chang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan.

The Kuomintang ruled the island for 40 years as a one-party state and remains one of the two major political groups to this day. The war between the Communists and the Kuomintang never formally ended, and Taiwan has now lived through 70 years of estrangement from the mainland. Polls show a majority of Taiwanese now favor full independence, although a large majority still personally identify as Chinese.

While many Taiwanese welcome an increased U.S. presence in the region, Beijing certainly does not. In 2012, President Barack Obama announced the U.S.’ new “Pivot to Asia” strategy, moving forces from the Middle East towards China. Today, over 400 American military bases encircle it.

In recent months, the United States has also taken a number of provocative military actions on China’s doorstep. In July, it conducted naval exercises in the South China Sea, with warships and naval aircraft spotted just 41 nautical miles from the coastal megacity of Shanghai, intent on probing China’s coastal defenses. And in December, it flew nuclear bombers over Chinese vessels close to Hainan Island. Earlier this year, the head of Strategic Command made his intentions clear, stating that there was a “very real possibility” of war against China over a regional conflict like Taiwan. China, for its part, has also increased its forces in the region, carrying out military exercises and staking claims to a number of disputed islands.

A new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) report notes that China is the U.S.’ “unparalleled priority,” claiming that Beijing is making a “push for global power.” “We expect that friction will grow as Beijing steps up attempts to portray Taipei as internationally isolated and dependent on the mainland for economic prosperity, and as China continues to increase military activity around the island,” it concludes.

In an effort to stop this, Washington has recruited allies into the conflict. Australian media are reporting that their military is currently readying for war in an effort to force China to back down, while last week President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to shore up a united front against Beijing vis-a-vis Taiwan.

In February, the Atlantic Council penned an anonymous 26,000-word report advising Biden to draw a number of red lines around China, beyond which a response — presumably military — is necessary. These included any military action or even a cyber attack against Taiwan. Any backing down from this stance, the council states, would result in national “humiliation” for the United States.

Perhaps most notably, however, the report also envisages what a successful American China policy would look like by 2050:

[T]he United States and its major allies continue to dominate the regional and global balance of power across all the major indices of power;… [and head of state Xi Jinping] has been replaced by a more moderate party leadership; and … the Chinese people themselves have come to question and challenge the Communist Party’s century-long proposition that China’s ancient civilization is forever destined to an authoritarian future.”

In other words, that China has been broken and that some sort of regime change has occurred.

Throughout all this, the United States has been careful to stress that it still does not recognize Taiwan and that their relationship is entirely “unofficial,” despite claiming that its commitment to the island remains “rock solid.” Indeed, only 14 countries formally recognize Taiwan, the largest and most powerful of which is Paraguay.

Along with a military conflict brewing, Washington has also been prosecuting an information and trade war against China on the world stage. Attempts to block the rise of major Chinese companies like Huawei, TikTok and Xiaomi are examples of this. Others in Washington have advised the Pentagon to carry out an under-the-table culture war against Beijing. This would include commissioning “Taiwanese Tom Clancy” novels that would “weaponize” China’s one-child policy against it, bombarding citizens with stories about how their only children will die in a war over Taiwan.

Republicans and Democrats constantly accuse each other of being in President Xi’s pocket, attempting to outdo each other in their jingoistic fervor. Last year, Florida Senator Rick Scott went so far as to announce that every Chinese national in the U.S. was a Communist spy and should be treated with extreme suspicion. As a result, the American public’s view of China has crashed to an all-time low. Only three years ago, the majority of Americans held a positive opinion of China. But today, that number is only 20%. Asian-Americans of all backgrounds have reported a rise in hate crimes against them.

 

Cash rules everything around me

How much of the United States’ aggressive stance towards China can be attributed to Taiwanese money influencing politics? It is difficult to say. Certainly, the United States has its own policy goals in East Asia outside of Taiwan. But Freeman believes that the answer is not zero. The Taiwan lobby “absolutely has an impact on U.S. foreign policy,” he said, adding:

At one level, it creates an echo-chamber in D.C. that makes it taboo to question U.S. military ties with Taiwan. While I, personally, think there are good strategic reasons for the U.S. to support this democratic ally — and it’s clearly in Taiwan’s interest to keep the U.S. fully entangled in their security — it’s troubling that the D.C. policy community can’t have an honest conversation about what U.S. interests are. But, Taiwan’s lobby in D.C. and their funding of think tanks both work to stifle this conversation and, frankly, they’ve been highly effective.”

Other national lobbies affect U.S. policy. The Cuban lobby helps ensure that the American stance towards its southern neighbor remains as antagonistic as possible. Meanwhile, the Israel lobby helps ensure continuing U.S. support for Israeli actions in the Middle East. Yet more ominously with Taiwan, its representatives are helping push the U.S. closer towards a confrontation with a nuclear power.

While Taiwanese money appears to have convinced many in Washington, it is doubtful that ordinary Americans will be willing to risk a war over an island barely larger than Hawaii, only 80 miles off the coast of mainland China.

Feature photo | Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (second from left) inspects a naval destroyer during miliotary drills off the port of Su’ao ahead of planned war games by China. Photo | Military News Agency via AP

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 Tanks and Think Tanks: How Taiwanese Cash is Funding the Push to War with China appeared first on MintPress News.

Ramadan Brings No Relief for Yemen as Saudis Block Chairties and Turks Unleash Foreign Mercanaries

SANA’A, YEMEN — Adel al-Hajajji is a proud man but, with a pregnant wife and three young mouths to feed, he can’t afford to wait around for a miracle. Instead, he has taken to wandering the streets of Sana’a, gathering discarded plastic water bottles to sell to the recycling center near his home in al-Rawdah. The meager earnings net him just enough to provide his family with a modest iftar, the evening meal that marks the end of the day’s fast during the month of Ramadan. The meal usually consists of bread and water but on occasion neighbors will bring by Saltah, Yemen’s national dish made of rice and potatoes, with meat blended in during more prosperous times.

Before the war, Adel was relatively well off, with a stable government job. He fasted during Ramadan without a passing thought about where his next meal would come from. In 2015, when the Saudis invaded and food become harder to find, he began to receive Ramadan meals courtesy of Muslim charities from wealthy patrons in the Gulf. This year, though, Adel says those charities have told him they could no longer donate to Yemen due to the blockade and subsequent crackdown from Saudi authorities, who claim that charity could fall into Houthi hands.

The Kingdom has ramped up efforts during Ramadan to stem the tide of charitable giving under the pretext of unifying relief efforts under the umbrella of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. Of course, any aid that does arrive does not reach the most populated areas of Yemen, which are under Houthi control, leaving most of the country effectively cut off from aid.

 

No Ramadan return

To make matters worse, the Saudi government has banned thousands of Yemeni expatriates from returning to Yemen to reunite with their families during Ramadan and bringing with them the money they’ve earned working low-wage construction and other hard-labor jobs for the Kingdom’s wealthy. The Kingdom has kept hundreds of Yemeni expatriates trying to return home detained at the al-Wadiah crossing since March 24, under the pretext that their SUVs are banned from crossing the border as they could potentially be used in battle. Videos shared on social media show massive lines of pickups and SUVs unable to move and reports are surfacing that Covid-19 is quickly spreading through the hundreds of families detained at the border.

*بخصوص الدفع الرباعي*
للأسف لا جديد يذكر وغير صحيح اي اخبار في صفحات فيس بك كلها اخبار تضليل لطمس معانات العالقين

اخوكم صالح العقيلي #عالقين_منفذ_الوديعه pic.twitter.com/2IdtKFVom1

— منفذ الوديعة الجمارك اليمنية (@salehshgran1) April 11, 2021

The Sana’a-based Land Transportation Regulatory Authority said in a statement on Saturday that nearly 2,000 vehicles owned by families trying to return home from Saudi Arabia have been held at al-Wadiah for over 20 days. Reports have also surfaced of widespread abuse by Saudi authorities, who are accused of beating stranded motorists with electrified batons when they tried to hold a vigil on April 5 to protest their detainment.

Rows of SUVs lined up for miles at the al-Wadiah crossing between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Photo | Yazan

Even the Geneva-based human rights organization SAM, which is often quite light-handed in its criticism of Saudi Arabia, spoke out about the situation. The organization claimed that Saudi authorities have been blackmailing families detained at al-Wadiah, forcing them to sell their SUVs for pennies on the dollar before they can reunite with their families in Yemen.

 

Oil gets the world’s attention

Despite the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster in the country, the primary focus of the international community, including the UN, has been the impending Houthi takeover of the oil-rich Marib province. As Adel al-Hajajji put it, “the lives of Yemenis suddenly become the concern of the international community, particularly America and its allies, when it comes to oil, as usual.”

On March 18, the UN Security Council condemned the Houthis for trying to dislodge the Saudi-led coalition from Marib, claiming they violated a ceasefire that the Coalition never even began to observe, according to local reports. Linda Thomas Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to ​the UN, claimed that “the Houthi offensive in Marib continues to take Yemeni lives — including those of internally displaced persons.” The Houthis issued their own statement in response, saying, in part, “the Security Council and the United States need to condemn the killers of Yemeni people, not exalt them.”

The battle for control over Marib still rages, even during Ramadan. Saudi forces have successfully slowed the advance of the Houthis and their allies in the province’s eastern al-Zour region, home to a sprawling camp for internally displaced people. Ali Mohammed Ta’iman, Marib’s provincial governor, has accused Saudi forces of using the refugees as human shields, adding that they have refused all attempts to allow the refugees to move to safer areas. The media bureau of Yemen’s army, loyal to the Houthis, released a video showing Saudi Coalition military vehicles inside the camp.

As the Houthis close in, Saudi forces are increasingly showing their desperation. In a move that mirrors accusations against the Kingdom in places like Syria and Libya, local reports indicate that Saudi Arabia recently reinforced its ranks in Marib with Salafist mercenaries brought in from the battlefields of Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria, combatants known for their effective use of armed Turkish drones.

 

Turkey, Muslim Brotherhood weigh in

The foreign fighters, long a staple of proxy conflicts across the Middle East, fight under the banner of the Al-Islah Party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Just before Ramadan, a large group of Syrian mercenaries is reported to have arrived in Marib. A Houthi official told MintPress that most of the fighters crossed the sea from ports in Somalia, while others crossed the border into Yemen from Saudi Arabia. “Many of them were killed and injured in direct confrontation, by ballistic missiles and by drone attacks.” The official went on to say that Turkish-built drones have already been spotted participating in the fighting. In March, a Turkish Karayel armed drone was downed in al-Jawf, an area adjoining Marib.

Just as it transferred Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zones in Libya and Azerbaijan, Turkey — the financial and spiritual capital of the Muslim Brotherhood — is now doing the same in Yemen’s oil-rich Marib. Both Islah and Houthi sources told MintPress that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are cooperating in Marib, the last major stronghold in Yemen of both Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood. Usually at political loggerheads, sources say Islah Party leaders have worked with Qatar, another Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, using their shared desire to retain influence in Yemen as a carrot for rapprochement. In a recent statement uncharacteristic of the Turkish government, the Turkish foreign ministry said “Turkey stands with Saudi Arabia and its people against the Houthi attacks that target Saudi oil facilities.”

The Houthis, for their part, are not concerned with the prospect of Turkish intervention. Abdul Wahab al-Mahbashi, a member of the Ansar Allah Political Council, said that Turkey will likely rely on mercenaries, similar to their interventions in Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan). “Invading Yemen will not have a happy ending for Erdogan himself as well as the country’s government and military,” he insisted.

Last June, MintPress revealed that Ankara had begun to send Turkish advisors, experts and weapons to Marib and was recruiting Libyan and Syrian mercenaries for the fight, promising high salaries and an easy win. Now, nearly one year later, the Turkish intervention has increased in the wake of  President Recep Erdogan and King Salman’s reconciliation last November ahead of the G20 Summit.

 

Mercenaries, drones, and bombs

The Violations Documentation Center in Northern Syria, a local group that tracks and reports human rights violations, released a report stating that Turkish intelligence services had assigned Syrian jihadist leader Kamal Taha Al-Faihan, nicknamed Abu Faisal Al-Mujahid, to recruit Syrian fighters to send to Yemen. According to the report, the fighters were offered $2,500 monthly; $100 of this amount would be deducted for document expenses, fighters would receive $400 in cash initially, and the remaining $2,000 would be paid to their families after the move to Yemen.

Local reports and leaked audio indicate that Turkey is pursuing the same recruitment strategy in Marib. The Syrian news outlet Shaam Times reported that 300 Syrian fighters have already joined the ranks of the al-Islah militia; and Yemen’s North Press Agency, citing a source inside the Syrian armed extremist group Sultan Suleiman Shah, reported that the Syrian National Army, another armed militant group backed by Turkey, “has been working for weeks to prepare dozens of militants to send to Yemen.”

Meanwhile, neither Ramadan nor hopes that U.S. President Joe Biden will reverse course have offered a reprieve from the onslaught of Saudi Coalition warplanes. Multiple civilians, including two children, were killed last Wednesday in a Saudi bombing in Saada just one day after Biden announced he would proceed with over $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, a key player in the war on Yemen.  Human Rights Watch described the move as the U.S. “backing out of President Joe’s pledge.”

Feature photo | Tribesmen allied with the Houthis patrol a frontline near Al-Jadafer village in Marib, along the governorate’s border with Al-Jawf, on September 6, 2020. Ali Owidha | Sana’a Center

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Xinjiang Native Speaks Out: “Western Media Jeopardizing Uyghurs Interests”

WASHINGTON — Dan Cohen speaks with Gordon Gao, Director of Strategic Research at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a native of Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Gao discusses growing up as a Mongolian ethnic minority in XUAR, and how the propaganda war against China hurts Uyghur interests, but will ultimately backfire on the United States. Gao and Coden also discuss the U.S.-China artificial intelligence arms race as well as the comparative strengths of the two countries.

Feature photo | A Uyghur woman uses an electric-scooter to pick up her school children as they ride past a picture showing China’s President Xi Jinping joining hands with a group of Uighur elders in Hotan, Xinjiang. Andy Wong | 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.

The post Xinjiang Native Speaks Out: “Western Media Jeopardizing Uyghurs Interests” appeared first on MintPress News.

Chris Hedges: The Unraveling of the American Empire

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost— America’s defeat in Afghanistan is one in a string of catastrophic military blunders that herald the death of the American empire. With the exception of the first Gulf War, fought largely by mechanized units in the open desert that did not – wisely – attempt to occupy Iraq, the United States political and military leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another. Korea. Vietnam. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. The trajectory of military fiascos mirrors the sad finales of the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Russian, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires. While each of these empires decayed with their own peculiarities, they all exhibited patterns of dissolution that characterize the American experiment.

Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, lead the country into a cul-de-sac. Rulers and military leaders, driven by venal self-interest, are often buffoonish characters in a grand comic operetta. How else to think of Allen Dulles, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Trump or the hapless Joe Biden? While their intellectual and moral vacuity is often darkly amusing, it is murderous and savage when directed towards their victims.

There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government. The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.

War, when it is waged to serve utopian absurdities, such as implanting a client government in Baghdad that will flip the region, including Iran, into U.S. protectorates, or when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire. The massive allocation of money and resources to the U.S. military, which includes Biden’s request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent increase, over 2021, is not in the end about national defense. The bloated military budget is designed, as Seymour Melman explained in his book, “The Permanent War Economy,” primarily to keep the American economy from collapsing. All we really make anymore are weapons. Once this is understood, perpetual war makes sense, at least for those who profit from it.

The idea that America is a defender of democracy, liberty and human rights would come as a huge surprise to those who saw their democratically elected governments subverted and overthrown by the United States in Panama (1941), Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Egypt (2013). And this list does not include a host of other governments that, however despotic, as was the case in South Vietnam, Indonesia or Iraq, were viewed as inimical to American interests and destroyed, in each case making life for the inhabitants of these countries even more miserable.

I spent two decades on the outer reaches of empire as a foreign correspondent. The flowery rhetoric used to justify the subjugation of other nations so corporations can plunder natural resources and exploit cheap labor is solely for domestic consumption. The generals, intelligence operatives, diplomats, bankers and corporate executives that manage empire find this idealistic talk risible. They despise, with good reason, naïve liberals who call for “humanitarian intervention” and believe the ideals used to justify empire are real, that empire can be a force for good. These liberal interventionists, the useful idiots of imperialism, attempt to civilize a process that was created and designed to repress, intimidate, plunder and dominate.

The liberal interventionists, because they wrap themselves in high ideals, are responsible for numerous military and foreign policy debacles. The call by liberal interventionists such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to fund jihadists in Syria and depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya rent these countries — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — into warring fiefdoms. The liberal interventionists are also the tip of the spear in the campaign to rachet up tensions with China and Russia.

Russia is blamed for interfering in the last two presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Russia, whose economy is roughly the size of Italy’s, is also attacked for destabilizing the Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, funding France’s National Front party and hacking into German computers. Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia – including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt – in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and worked to thwart his candidacy.

At the same time, the liberal interventionists are orchestrating a new cold war with China, justifying this cold war because the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against its Uyghur minority, repressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and stealing U.S. patents. As with Russia, sanctions have been imposed targeting the country’s ruling elite. The U.S. is also carrying out provocative military maneuvers along the Russian border and in the South China Sea.

The core belief of imperialists, whether they come in the form of a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush, is racism and ethnic chauvinism, the notion that Americans are permitted, because of superior attributes, to impose their “values” on lesser races and peoples by force. This racism, carried out in the name of Western civilization and its corollary white supremacy, unites the rabid imperialists and liberal interventionists in the Republican and Democratic parties. It is the fatal disease of empire, captured in Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American” and Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient.”

A young boy watches a US Marine scan the area during a patrol south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 3, 2010. Dusan Vranic | AP

The crimes of empire always spawn counter-violence that is then used to justify harsher forms of imperial repression. For example, the United States routinely kidnapped Islamic jihadists fighting in the Balkans between 1995 and 1998. They were sent to Egypt — many were Egyptian — where they were savagely tortured and usually executed. In 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad said it would carry out a strike against the United States after jihadists were kidnapped and transferred to black sites from Albania. They made good on their threat igniting massive truck bombs at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead. Of course, the “extraordinary renditions” by the CIA did not end and neither did the attacks by jihadists.

Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian empire. The Roman empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome’s military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome’s anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption. The British empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power”: “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

The worse it gets at home the more the empire needs to fabricate enemies within and without. This is the real reason for the increase in tensions with Russia and China. The poverty of half the nation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchic cabal, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians by militarized police, the rage at the ruling elites, expressed with nearly half the electorate voting for a con artist and demagogue and a mob of his supporters storming the capital, are the internal signs of disintegration. The inability of the for-profit national health services to cope with the pandemic, the passage of a Covid relief bill and the proposal of an infrastructure bill that would hand the bulk of some $5 trillion dollars to corporations while tossing crumbs — one-time checks of $1,400 to a citizenry in deep financial distress — will only fuel the decline.

Because of the loss of unionized jobs, the real decline of wages, de-industrialization, chronic underemployment and unemployment, and punishing austerity programs, the country is plagued by a plethora of diseases of despair including opioid addictions, alcoholism, suicides, gambling, depression, morbid obesity and mass shootings — since March 16 the United States has had at least 45 mass shootings, including eight people killed in an Indiana FedEx facility on Friday, three dead and three injured in a shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday, and another three dead in a shooting in Austin on Sunday. These are the consequences of a deeply troubled society.

The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will probably mark the final chapter of the American empire. In 2015, the dollar accounted for 90 percent of bilateral transactions between China and Russia, a percentage that has since fallen to about 50 percent. The use of sanctions as a weapon against China and Russia pushes these countries to replace the dollar with their own national currencies. Russia, as part of this move away from the dollar, has begun accumulating yuan reserves.

The loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will instantly raise the cost of imports. It will result in unemployment of Depression-era levels. It will force the empire to dramatically contract. It will, as the economy worsens, fuel a hyper-nationalism that will most likely be expressed through a Christianized fascism. The mechanisms, already in place, for total social control, militarized police, a suspension of civil liberties, wholesale government surveillance, enhanced “terrorism” laws that railroad people into the world’s largest prison system and censorship overseen by the digital media monopolies will seamlessly cement into place a police state. Nations that descend into crises these severe seek to deflect the rage of a betrayed population on foreign scapegoats. China and Russia will be used to fill these roles.

The defeat in Afghanistan is a familiar and sad story, one all those blinded by imperial hubris endure. The tragedy, however, is not the collapse of the American empire, but that, lacking the ability to engage in self-critique and self-correction, as it dies it will lash out in a blind, inchoate fury at innocents at home and abroad.

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 the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: The Unraveling of the American Empire appeared first on MintPress News.

A School for Spooks: The London University Department Churning Out NATO Spies

LONDON — Last week, MintPress exposed how the supposedly independent investigative collective Bellingcat is, in fact, funded by a CIA cutout organization and filled with former spies and state intelligence operatives. However, one part of the story that has remained untold until now is Bellingcat’s close ties to the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, an institution with deep links to the British security state and one that trains a large number of British, American and European agents and defense analysts.

 

A school for spooks

A prestigious university located in the heart of London, King’s College has, in its own words, “a number of contracts and agreements with various departments within government, including the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Ministry of Defence.” Some of those contracts are up to 10 years long. The university has so far refused to elaborate on the agreements, telling investigative news outlet Declassified UK that doing so could undermine U.K. security services.

A 2009 study published by the CIA spoke approvingly of how beneficial it can be to “use universities as a means of intelligence training,” noting that, “exposure to an academic environment, such as the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, can add several elements that may be harder to provide within the government system.” The paper, written by two King’s College staffers, is essentially a request to the agency to send more of its recruits there, and boasts about how the department’s staff have “extensive and well-rounded intelligence experience” and how their programs “offer a containing space in which analysts from every part of the community can explore with each other the interplay of ideas about their profession.”

In 2013, former CIA Director Leon Panetta took time out of his schedule as then-secretary of defense to visit the Department of War Studies, where he expressed his profound gratitude to the unit. “I deeply appreciate the work that you do to train and to educate our future national security leaders, many of whom are in this audience,” he said, before adding that it was those young leaders who must ensure that NATO had the creativity, innovation and the commitment to develop and share capabilities in order to meet future security threats, citing the need to expand into tech, surveillance and cyberwarfare.

Former CIA head Leon Panetta exits King’s College after giving a speech in 2013. Photo | DVIDS

It was this department that Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins joined in 2018 as visiting research associate, with Bellingcat maintaining a close relationship with it to this day.

After studying their writers’ backgrounds, MintPress can confirm that no fewer than six Bellingcat employees or contributors — including Cameron Colquhoun, Jacob Beeders, Lincoln Pigman, Aliaume Leroy, Christiaan Triebert and senior investigator Nick Waters — all pursued postgraduate studies within the department, the most popular being the “Conflict, Security and Development” degree overseen by Professor Mats Berdal.

For 13 years, Professor Berdal was employed by the Norwegian Defence University College, Norway’s version of West Point. Berdal is one of a host of King’s College War Studies academics who previously taught there, including one who continues to be an officer in the Norwegian Armed Forces, serving in multiple NATO conflicts in the Middle East.

While many in the West picture Norway as a peaceful, enlightened nation, the country is actually a key driving force within NATO; former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is the organization’s current secretary general. Sending troops and other assistance, it was the U.S.’ partner in attacks on Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. Norway has among the highest per capita military spending in Europe and is one of the minority of NATO members to exceed the defense spending benchmark of 2% of GDP.

 

A network of pro-war think tanks

Before joining King’s College, Professor Berdal was Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), one of the world’s most influential think tanks. Also situated in central London, the organization is directly funded by NATO and its member states, as well as by major weapons manufacturers such as Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing and Raytheon. In 2016, the IISS was the subject of a major scandal after it was found to have secretly accepted £25 million — around $34 million — from the government of Bahrain.

Founded in 1958, the IISS provided much of the intellectual basis behind the Cold War scaremongering around Soviet military capacity, thereby pushing NATO members to spend more on arms. On its advisory board are a former NATO secretary general, the former chief of defense intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, and, until recently, the CEO of Lockheed Martin. Today, the think tank is a major driver in the increasing hostility towards China, Russia and North Korea. A number of other current Department of War Studies academics have held positions at the IISS as well. Indeed, King’s College boasts that one of the “key benefits” of studying there is its “established links” with the IISS.

A second pro-war think tank with which King’s College prides itself on working closely is the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). RUSI’s funding comes from many of the same sources as the IISS’s. Its senior vice president is retired American General David Petraeus and its chairman is Lord Hague, Britain’s secretary of state from 2010 to 2015.

A host of King’s College academics — including Jack Spence, Benedict Wilkinson, Brian Holden-Reid, Walter Ladwig, Thomas Maguire and Neil Melvin — have also held positions at RUSI. Perhaps the most notable King’s College-RUSI crossover is Professor Sir David Omand, who was formerly the think tank’s vice president, as well as the head of GCHQ, Britain’s version of the NSA.

Source | RUSI

Bellingcat writer Dan Kaszeta is an associate fellow at the organization. Bellingcat, RUSI and King’s College often cite each other in papers and reports, providing something of a united front on controversial issues of statecraft.

One man who links the IISS and RUSI together is Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, a key member of the Department of War Studies who went on to become King College’s vice principal. A powerful figure in British politics, Freedman contributed to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 1999 speech in which he established the Blair Doctrine, a maxim that NATO could and should militarily intervene anywhere in the world to stop human rights violations.

 

A rogues’ gallery

For an institution that prides itself on cultivating independent thought, there exists a remarkable overlap between the staff of the Department of War Studies and the innermost halls of power of the British state. Professor John Gearson, for example, was principal defence policy adviser to the Defense Select Committee at the House of Commons, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Defense, and taught terrorism and asymetric warfare to military officers at the U.K. Defense Academy.

Another professor, Michael Goodman, is a current British Army reservist and formerly the Official Historian of the Joint Intelligence Committee (a body that oversees Britain’s intelligence organizations).

Visiting professors include Paul Rimmer, who was deputy chief of defence intelligence until last year; Lord Robertson, who was secretary general of NATO at the time of the Afghanistan invasion; and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former minister of defense. The longtime cabinet member was the creator of the Rifkind Doctrine — the controversial British policy on nuclear weapons. Rifkind rejected the idea that the country should use atomic missiles only as a last resort after being attacked, insisting that he could also use them simply to “deliver an unmistakable message of Britain’s willingness to defend her vital interests.”

King’s College visiting fellow Vera Michlin-Shapir moderates a panel in Tel Aviv on the future of post-war Syria. Photo | INSS

It is not just British officials who teach King’s College students, however. Christopher Kolenda, for instance, was commander of an 800-man strong U.S. task force in Afghanistan, where he “pioneered innovative approaches to counterinsurgency” according to his bio at the hawkish think tank the Center for New American Security (CNAS), where he is a senior fellow. CNAS recently released a report calling for more “innovative” use of what it called “coercive economic statecraft,” (i.e., sanctions) and continues to saber rattle against China and Russia.

Between 2009 and 2010, Kolenda was a strategic advisor to COMISAF, the Commander of International Security Assistance Force. In plain English, he provided some of the brains behind the occupation of Afghanistan. Before pursuing a role in academia, he was also a senior advisor to Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and three 4-star generals. Flournoy was President Joe Biden’s first choice to run the Pentagon.

The department also contains a number of Israeli academics, including Vera Michlin-Shapir, a former official in her country’s National Security Council who worked in the prime minister’s office. Meanwhile Ofer Fridman served as an officer in the IDF between 1999 and 2011, during which time it was carrying out some of its worst war crimes against Palestine and Lebanon. After leaving the IDF, Fridman became an arms dealer, becoming the head of non-lethal weapons at LHB Ltd., which describes itself as “the leading company in Israel for security and defense advanced solutions.” In 2016, King’s College also hosted a lecture by the former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police force.

The department has links to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well, with one senior research fellow, Nawaf Obaid, a former special advisor to the Saudi Ambassador in the U.K. and Ireland and a consultant at the Royal Court in Riyadh.

 

Weapons spending good, Russia bad.

While the department’s staff are concerning enough, much of King’s College academic output is even more troubling, and appears to be completely in line with that of NATO and weapons contractors. One study named “A benefit, not a burden: The security, economic and strategic value of Britain’s defence industry,” for instance, reads like a press release from Raytheon, extolling how many people the industry employs. The report claimed that remaining one of the world’s top arms manufacturers was crucial in “build[ing] a secure and resilient U.K. and to help shape a stable world.” “Without a vibrant and thriving domestic defence industrial base,” it warned, “there is a risk that the U.K. will jeopardise its freedom to act in an unstable, fast-changing world,” concluding that the government should protect or “ideally expand” its defense spending budget.

A report from last August also lobbied the government to invest in making the United Kingdom a “leading nation for space.” “Investment in space surveillance capacity is key to seizing the commercial and diplomatic opportunities offered by space while defending U.K. economic and security interests,” it concludes. Surprisingly, the report insists that it would take only a “modest investment” from the government to turn Great Britain into a leading force in a rapidly expanding market.

King’s College also published a study, titled “The future strategic direction of NATO,” advising that the organization “urgently needs a coherent policy on China” and that it must re-up its commitment to countering Russia. It recommends that the majority of member states increase their military budgets and that they must “share the burden of responsibility on nuclear weapons” by allowing the U.S. to store missiles inside their territories.

Meanwhile, their 2018 report “Weaponizing news: RT, Sputnik and targeted disinformation” analyzes Russian state-backed media outlets and accuses them of carrying out a campaign of “information-psychological warfare” over its coverage of contentious events such as the alleged Skripal poisoning and the wars in Ukraine and Syria. The report claims Russian media is turning news into a weapon by projecting an image of strength and stability while highlighting flaws in Western democracies. While praising the work of Bellingcat and disinfo outlet “Prop or Not,” it concludes by advising that the West must “use technical means to prevent propaganda.”

King’s College professor Thomas Rid testifies before a Senate committee on Russian meddling. Photo | CSPAN

These technical solutions, we now know, have largely entailed NATO indirectly taking control of social media. In 2018, Facebook announced that NATO’s cutout organization, the Atlantic Council, was becoming its “eyes and ears,” giving it significant control over curating its news feed, supposedly in an attempt to limit disinformation. Yet many of the most lurid stories around RussiaGate were started by the Council itself, which pumped out report after report accusing virtually every political movement in Europe outside the establishment beltway as being the “Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.”

King’s College staff have also been crucial in propagating the idea of Russian interference in American politics, with Professor Thomas Rid testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the “dark art” of Russian meddling, and condemning WikiLeaks and alternative media journalists as unwitting agents of disinformation. Rid previously described 2016 as the “biggest election hack in U.S. history.”

Earlier this year, Facebook also hired former NATO press officer and Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Ben Nimmo as head of its intelligence team. Meanwhile Reddit appointed former Atlantic Council Deputy Director of Middle Eastern Strategy Jessica Ashooh as its head of policy. And Eliot Higgins, of course, was a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council as well. In recent years, social media giants like Facebook and Google have radically altered their algorithms, demoting content from adversarial nations, but also attacking alternative media that challenge the power of NATO and the national security state.

Today, the Department of War Studies hosted an online seminar with two senior NATO officials who discussed what they saw as Russia and China’s increasingly aggressive actions, as well as new ways in which NATO can secure its control over the internet.

 

A military-academic-journalistic nexus

What is being described is a network of military, think-tank and media units all working towards furthering the goals of the national security state. Bellingcat regularly holds seminars and courses at King’s College, teaching the next generation of state officials how to use big-data and surveillance tools.

While King’s College provides an academic veneer for the national security state, Bellingcat provides a journalistic one. This cluster of think tanks, academic reports, and newsy investigative articles all cite one another as credible, independent sources when, in reality, they are all part of the same network furthering an agenda. It should be noted that this was an investigation into just one department in one school in one college of the University of London. The links to the highest levels of power were so profound and so manifold that it often seemed harder to find someone in the department who was not linked to military or intelligence communities. Thus, one could be forgiven for mistaking the Department of War Studies for a department of war mongers.

Feature photo | Photo by King’s College. Editing by 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 Consentas well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazineand Common Dreams.

The post A School for Spooks: The London University Department Churning Out NATO Spies appeared first on MintPress News.

The Eruption of the Refugee Crisis and the Global Push for Vaccine Passports

SAINT VINCENT, GRENADINE ISLANDS — The controversy erupted on Twitter even as the 32,000-foot-high plume of smoke from Saint Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano was still rising in the sky. The firestorm on American social media platforms over reports that only those vaccinated against COVID-19 would be allowed to evacuate the eastern Caribbean island sheds light on the architects of the biosecurity state who have descended on Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) to explore the limits of mandatory public health protocols in the midst of a natural disaster now projected to “last months.”

Global organizations, NGOs, and members of the scientific community are coordinating emergency response efforts in Saint Vincent. Power outages, no clean water, and continued volcanic eruptions have rendered parts of the island virtually uninhabitable, plunging Vincentians who have managed to escape into a condition of quasi-statelessness where notions of human rights and civil liberties become malleable.

“Refugees are in a position of complete vulnerability,” says Dr. Diego Garcia Ricci, from the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, speaking to MintPress. The constitutional law professor and data privacy expert addressed some of the issues surrounding the plight of refugees as biometric data like retinal scans, fingerprinting and even gender, become a pillar of identity documentation and incipient travel requirements in the wake of the pandemic. “While biometrics can be useful for identification purposes, mistakes do happen,” Garcia Ricci warns.

Most at risk from these mistakes, abuse and racial profiling arising out of biometric digital identity systems are those whose need for the ‘state’ is made indispensable by virtue of being rendered stateless. Free agents with no agency are prime targets for global entities like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which claims to speak for close to 80 million forcibly displaced people.

Vincentians who are unable or refuse to leave the island are likely to be reclassified as “internally displaced persons” or IDPs, another kind of refugee as defined by the UNHCR. Such classifications are part of a vast structure of laws and guidelines enshrined in the archives of supranational state entities like the European Commission and the United Nations, based on the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which establishes international rules governing the treatment and rights of refugees, whose numbers have nearly doubled since 2012, ballooning from 45.2 million “displaced” to 79.5 million as of the last count.

Source | UNHCR

Economic sanctions, the war on terror, and other policies imposed by the very interests represented in New York and Brussels are causing a human tsunami emanating from places like Venezuela and Yemen, to name just two of the most salient examples. A natural disaster has conferred instant refugee status on the citizens of Saint Vincent, who join their number as the incipient biosecurity apparatus secures its grip on border control technology and as health-based digital identity systems can be glimpsed on the horizon.

 

A roadmap

In the spring of 2018, the European Commission (EC) revealed its intention to create a “vaccination card/passport” in a proposal titled “Strengthened Cooperation Against Vaccine-Preventable Diseases,” which touches on many of the topics making the rounds today, such as ways to address vaccine hesitancy and “the safety and potential side effects of different vaccines.”

A year later, the EC unveiled a “roadmap” that projected the “common EU vaccination card” to be fully implemented by 2021. As a result, the EU is right on schedule to become the first region of the world to adopt a full-fledged medical credentialing border policy for its 27 member states.

#COVAX has now delivered vaccines to 100 countries.

This is a real milestone. I'm proud of #TeamEurope's contribution to this global effort of solidarity.

Our common fight against #COVID19 continues, to make sure no one is left behind. pic.twitter.com/Xz9qqkC3aw

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) April 8, 2021

With the EU’s 27 member states launched on this trajectory, leading health credentialing developers like The Commons Project, Pathcheck and IBM’s Digital Health Pass have formed their own policy recommendation club, with the bioinformatics and life sciences industries finding a nexus under one roof created by the ID2020 Digital Identity Alliance called the Good Health Pass Collaborative (GHPC)

GHPC seeks to influence policy decisions around the technology’s implementation in border control situations specifically. While many of its members offer credentialing apps for uses outside of these scenarios, GHPC makes clear that its mission is exclusively to establish the correct border policy frameworks that will maximize the return for its “core partners” as they go about developing “an interoperable, trusted framework and ecosystem for the issuance, use, and management of COVID-19 test and vaccination credentials for international travel,” per the GHPC whitepaper.

Garcia Ricci describes the problem. “We don’t really know how they’re going to work,” he states, adding that as mechanisms to control border entry, “the policies regarding their use are still not very clear or defined. Every country is implementing its own policy.”

Dakota Gruener, GHPC executive director and executive officer for private sector engagement of Bill Gates’s GAVI (officially “Gavi – The Vaccine Alliance”), is tasked with making sure such policies bend to the will of the broader biosecurity state in order to overcome the risk of “fragmentation” and keep their options open while the smart infrastructure required to scale up is put in place.

Gruener even doesn’t rule out using paper in the meantime, insisting that “to be valuable to users, credentials need to be accepted at check-in, upon arrival by border control agencies, and more,” adding that eventually a “common governance framework” would solve the problems presented by the surfeit of vaccine credential apps and cards in development.

 

The Queen’s Subject

The eruption of La Soufrière (Sulphur) has provided a unique opportunity to push the envelope in matters of mandatory public health policy, which Saint Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had taken the initiative to begin implementing in March, ordering mandatory vaccinations for the island’s minibus operators and calling for teachers to get the jab in a radio interview the day before the volcanic disaster hit.

Mandatory vaccination protocols have now been extended for anyone wishing to leave the island, breaking with standard procedures that place the onus of status verification on the port of entry. Gonsalves issued the directive at a press conference the day before the eruption, calling for mandatory vaccinations for those living near the volcano. In February, Gonsalves signed emergency legislation authorizing the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine along with Pfizer’s, Johnson & Johnson’s, Moderna’s and three others.

The first shipment of vaccines arrived just two days before the volcanic eruption, courtesy of COVAX – a global consortium distributing vaccines throughout global south countries comprised of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI); Bill & Melinda Gates-funded GAVI; UNICEF; the World Health Organization (WHO); and its credit vehicle, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which operates a revolving fund comprised of more than 200 donor partners to purchase vaccines for COVAX.

WHO personell stationed on St. Vincent and the Grenadines pose next to one the first COVAX shipments to arrive on the islands. Photo | WHO

Some 24,000 doses of the highly problematic AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the Caribbean nation as part of a larger vaccine distribution operation in the region by COVAX, which commenced delivery of 728,000 doses to five countries in the region in March. The so-called “Oxford” vaccine has been discontinued in many countries due to serious blood clotting issues, which in some cases have led to death.

By virtue of their newfound refugee status, Vincentians are left with little protection against the emergency measures currently enforced by their prime minister, who is a subject of the Crown serving under the Queen’s representative, Governor-General Susan Dougan.

 

Fish in a barrel

The nexus between Big Pharma, Big Tech, and the national security state is revealed in the health-credentialing industry, where major players from each sector and their partners tackle the different tasks required to build the biosecurity state. Vaccinating even half of the 80 million forcibly displaced people protected under the UNHCR’s official charter, collecting their biometric data, and creating digital identity cards or apps to store and retrieve that data would be a significant step in that direction

The UNHCR has assumed the role of a diplomatic outreach operation on behalf of COVAX to persuade countries to include refugees in their national inoculation strategies. Serbia, Nepal and Rwanda are among the countries that have vaccinated asylum seekers and refugees as a result of UNHCR’s campaigns, which touts refugee vaccination against COVID-19 as “key” to ending the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is building the largest biometric and biographical database of foreigners and citizens in the U.S., called the Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program, or BITMAP, as reported by MintPress in March. Operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 14 countries, including the three Central American countries whose drug war refugees are currently flooding the border, BITMAP is only one of several biometric capture operations targeting refugees.

“The extraction of any type of biometric data represents an intrusion into your privacy,” explains Garcia Ricci, adding that, though such intrusions are not necessarily prohibited, they must not be “arbitrary or illegal. In other words, there must be a legal basis for the collection of such data and that the legal basis itself be in pursuit of a legitimate purpose.”

It’s unclear if the purposes of the GHPC’s core partners, like Mastercard, fit this juridical framework. The credit card behemoth has been working with the UNHCR and tech companies, who are also part of GHPC, to test their novel biometric ID cards on refugee populations such as the Rohingya. Described as ID2020’s most ambitious project yet, GHPC is focused on “delivering a global, interoperable health pass system can only happen if we come together in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved,” asserts Ajay Bhalla, president of Cyber & Intelligence at Mastercard.

Ann Cavoukian, executive director of the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre, poses as the organization’s watchdog but seems to have capitulated early to the idea of health passports, which she claims to personally oppose. However, “having acknowledged that they will be used,” as she told Biometric Update, Cavoukian concedes that “biometric technology seems likely to be a necessary component of Good Health Passes to bind the credential to the individual.”

‘Binding’ people to credentials can prove problematic. Garcia Ricci uncovers the principle of proportionality in the question of biometric data collection, citing fingerprints, which “are a biometric marker that has been used to identify people and can be said to exhibit an adequate level of proportionality,” in terms of invasiveness.

But what happens, he asks, “when the United States or any other country” crosses the line from ink on the fingers to DNA extraction? “That’s where the questions arise regarding legitimate purposes,” Garcia Ricci contends, “since DNA contains the most intimate information about a human being and can be used to derive many other kinds of information, such as a propensity for certain diseases or genetic defects.

“While biometrics can be useful for identification purposes,” he continues, “mistakes do happen and we must be vigilant to make sure that any errors that might lead to the misidentification of an individual through faulty biometric data are able to be corrected in the system.”

If the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre is the designated protector of civil liberties and human rights at the dawn of vaccine passports, a closer look at the organization does not inspire much confidence. Sitting on its board of directors is none other than former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who is also on the advisory board of Carbyne – a cybersecurity “emergency management” company with ties to Israel’s notorious human rights-abusing Unit 8200. Carbyne also has direct business ties with Peter Thiel, who runs his own health data management and pre-crime analytics company called Palantir and has operated a joint research center with Carbyne in Israel since 2013.

Despite her questionable alliances, Cavoukian is confident that her “endorsement” of Global Health Pass and health credentialing, in general, will assuage the fears of privacy and data-integrity advocates. In March, the newly-formed non-profit “urged” the White House to “establish official guidance on the development and deployment of health passes” in a letter signed by its 80 signatories.

Refugees are the “first-to-market,” so to speak, for the digital identification cards with biometric features. But, as so-called vaccine passports and similar health data apps get closer to becoming a reality for regular, already-documented citizens, it should be clear to those willing to look beyond the façade of public health that the implementation of the biosecurity state is only part of a longer-term project intended to reshape the global economy to run on data.

 

Early warning

Vincentians were given relatively ample warning after scientists at the Seismic Research Center at the University of the West Indies (UWI-SRC) made a 3 a.m. phone call on April 8 to the prime minister’s office alerting officials to a pending volcanic event.

The island had been under an “Orange Level” alert since December 2020. The color-coded volcanic activity monitoring system is managed by the regional Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDMEA), headquartered in Barbados, with data provided by the UWI-SRC in coordination with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on St. Vincent, seen from Chateaubelair, April 9, 2021. Orvil Samuel | AP

NEMO came into existence in 2002, one year after USAID organized a workshop at the University of the West Indies (UWI) on Volcanic and Seismic Hazards in the Eastern Caribbean, which produced the “Volcanic Hazard Atlas,” designed “to provide an essential blueprint for planners and public officials with responsibility for managing the economic infrastructure of Eastern Caribbean islands.”

The original Early Warning System (EWS) project was funded by Brussels through the office of the General Directorate of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid of the EU and its European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) financing vehicle. Original program partners in Saint Vincent included the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and The Red Cross.

 

The volcanologist

On April 7, the same day COVAX delivered the first batch of vaccines to Saint Vincent, an article appeared in the Hawaii Tribune Herald showcasing a “new” study to predict the impact of future volcanic eruptions. Led by Prof. Bruce F. Houghton from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the researchers posited that the damage caused by volcanic eruptions could be predicted “weeks” in advance through careful analysis of lava-flow geologic “signatures.”

Comparing census data to the median cost of land and household income among three areas located in Hawaii’s lava hazard zones, Houghton marries economic indicators to maps of geological disruptions caused by the Kilauea event of 2018 in order to produce what is, in essence, a financial projection tool masquerading as a scientific paper.

Houghton’s idea to mitigate damage from volcanic eruptions is to curb population growth in lava hazard zones. The Malthusian focus is striking and perhaps tacitly admitted by the author himself when he chose to include the words “social dilemma” as part of the study’s title.

While Houghton’s work shows that seismic traces and lava flows leave enough scorching data of its own behind to allow for a detailed analysis of the social and economic implications of a volcanic event, that information may or may not help to prevent any actual damage from a volcanic eruption. But it will suit just fine the needs of World Bank and IMF reps, who often carry studies like these in their leather briefcases when they pitch the latest debt-financing scheme to a “developing” country, like Saint Vincent.

 

The bankers

As the Covid crisis raged on in the summer of 2020, SVG Prime Minister Gonsalves was confronted over a Facebook post in which he stated quite clearly that he’d secured financing from the World Bank to build “a 140-bed modern acute referral hospital.” After denying he had ever made such a claim, political opponents tore into the man who has ruled Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for almost half of its independent existence.

“The World Bank advises that the funding they provided is only for the design,” Gonsalves countered his critics, asserting that the global financing organization “provided no funds for the construction of that hospital.” The issue remains in the hands of his finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves — also his son.

SVG Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves arrives for a summit in Brussels aimed at relations with Europe. Francois Walschaerts | AP

It is a recurring game throughout Latin America and the Caribbean when international debt-peddling consortiums like the World Bank approach governments in the region to propose all kinds of infrastructure projects, which they offer to finance and then pay the foreign contractors to build while collecting interest and fees from the target country’s taxpayers in set-ups that allow creatures like Gonsalves to take all the credit.

Saint Vincent’s emergency warning system (EWS) was one of these types of projects brought to the shores of the “exotic” Caribbean island nation by large foreign agencies like the UNDP and the EC. The “Sulphur’s” first volcanic eruption since the year SVG ceased to be a Royal colony in 1979 provided a rare chance to put recent changes made to the EWS to the test.

New York, Brussels and NGOs proffered their advice on population crisis management and other SDG-based recommendations to upgrade the system after an 18-month-long reappraisal, carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners, in line with its Strategic Plan 2018-2021 to “help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The resulting reports identified failures and suggested corrective action, as well as multiple changes and additions to the system itself. Some of the details are laid out in “Roadmap to Strengthening Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems for Saint Vincent & the Grenadines,” published in 2018. The report focuses heavily on gender-differentiated risk analysis and the creation of databases for this purpose.

Disaster simulations are also encouraged in the report and, despite a paltry budget allocation of $40,000 dollars, implementation of NEWS got going with workshops organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), to assure the incorporation of “gender considerations” into all aspects of the EWS, according to NEMO Director Michelle Forbes.

The question of where all this gender and any other such biometric data collected during the project is going and who will have access to those databases is not addressed directly in any of the materials examined by MintPress. Most countries have laws that govern who can access private data but, as Garcia Ricci explained:

Even within national data privacy laws, certain kinds of cooperation between countries is typically embedded in the legislation itself. This is what’s known as data transfer and obliges nation states to share the data with other countries in cases where it is deemed necessary.”

SVG’s current data privacy laws were fashioned by many of the same global organizations cited in the preceding paragraphs, organizing workshops and seminars that would eventually lead to the Harmonization of ICT Policies, Legislation and Regulatory Procedures in the Caribbean HIPCAR, governed by the Caribbean Community CARICOM and enforced through the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

UNDRR Caribbean Advisor Maria Kontro clarifies the use for all this data by framing it in her terms: “Every dollar invested in risk reduction and prevention can save anywhere up to 15 dollars in post-disaster recovery,” Kontro said during a consultation and training session for Gender and Vulnerable In Early Warning Systems in SVG back in 2019.

 

Black Caribs

Vincentians come from a long line of people forced to resettle, move and escape. Nearly seven-tenths of the island’s population are directly descended from West African slaves. Before their arrival, the native Ciboney, Arawak and Caribs spent generations fighting a protracted war against the Western European invaders and found common ground with self-liberated Africans.

Centuries later, Vincentians must call on the strength of their forcibly displaced and enslaved ancestors to endure another colonial assault on their freedom as they suddenly find themselves in a de facto testing ground for mandatory vaccination procedures, health status documentation, and pandemic evacuation protocols.

A UN spokesman has declared that the eruptive crisis will “last more than six months” and looks for it to extend to Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda. Most Vincentians are choosing to stick close to home and forgo the even more uncertain scenario of evacuation, that requires an injection that just might kill them anyway.

Either way, Vincentians are in the eye of the biosecurity storm that is traversing the world in search of easy data to plug into its burgeoning human capital market toys. Chances of escape from the encroaching health surveillance and data mining operations currently unfolding around the world are getting slimmer.

But — just like the Dutch slave ship that sank off the coast of Saint Vincent in 1635, freeing hundreds of Africans who swam ashore and made new families with the native Carib people — the fate of this new form of digital servitude is foreshadowed by the resilience of the Saint Vincentians.

“They said they want to stay at home,” Gonsalves told the BBC. “I have been around several of the camps and that’s the message.”

Feature photo | A healthcare worker helps an evacuee with his luggage as British, Canadian and U.S. tourists flee St. Vincent, April 16, 2021. Orvil Samuel | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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