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FTR #955 Syrian Chemical Attack? Not So Fast, Part 2

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This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Introduction: Supplementing FTR #954, this broadcast continues analysis of the alleged Assad government chemical weapons attack.

Key points of discussion include:

"Yo, al-Qaeda dudes! Where ARE the hazmat suits?"

“Yo, al-Qaeda dudes! Where ARE the hazmat suits?”

  1. Further analysis by MIT expert Theodore Postol, who sees the photographic evidence alleged to support the Trump administration’s allegations as questionable. ” . . . ‘This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report. . . .”
  2. Particularly suspicious (laughable?) is a picture showing personnel examining the purported sarin attack site with woefully inadequate protective clothing. ” . . . . ‘If there were any sarin present at this location when this photograph was taken everybody in the photograph would have received a lethal or debilitating dose of sarin. The fact that these people were dressed so inadequately either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures needed to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew that the site was not seriously contaminated. This is the crater that is the centerpiece evidence provided in the WHR for a sarin attack delivered by a Syrian aircraft.’ . . . . ”
  3. Questionable analysis in the alleged chlorine gas attacks also attributed to the al-Assad regime. ” . . . In one of the chlorine cases, however, Syrian eyewitnesses came forward to testify that the rebels had staged the alleged attack so it could be blamed on the government. In that incident, the U.N. team reached no conclusion as to what had really happened, but neither did the investigators – now alerted to the rebels’ tactic of staging chemical attacks – apply any additional skepticism to the other cases. In one case, the rebels and their supporters also claimed to know that an alleged ‘barrel bomb’ contained a canister of chlorine because of the sound that it made while descending. There was no explanation for how that sort of detection was even possible. . . .”
  4. A British doctor who was a focal point of PR coverage of the alleged sarin attack has a jihadist background. ” . . . . A British doctor who documented a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was considered a ‘committed jihadist’ by MI6 and was struck off the General Medical Council in 2016. Shajul Islam, 31, posted several videos on Twitter in the aftermath of the Tuesday’s (4 April) attack where he appeared to be treating patients in Khan Sheikhoun. He appeared on several television networks such as NBC to discuss what he saw, but it has now emerged Islam was previously charged on terror offences in the UK. . . .”
  5. The underlying strategic reason for some of the Trump/Russian interface, one that dovetails with the Syrian provocation/escalation: ” . . . . The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective . . . .”
  6. George W. Bush administration officials are confident another terrorist attack is coming appear to be concerned that the Trump could use terror to grab and abuse executive powers. We present some of their thoughts against the background of our discussion in FTR #953 about Bernie Sanders’ paving the way for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements: ” . . . . We can assume there will be another terrorist attack in the U.S. If the executive order is in place, he will point to the attack as support for the executive order and the need to expand it to other countries with bad dudes (Muslims). If the executive order has been struck down, Trump will blame judges and Democrats for the attack. . . .’We both wholly believe that Trump needs a bogeyman. But, more importantly, he needs distraction and a blame source. In terrorists, he has his bogeyman. In his control of the prevailing press narrative via tweet, he has distraction. And, in the judiciary, he has a source of blame for why his way was right from the beginning.’ . . . . ‘I am fully confident that an attack is exactly what he wants and needs.’ . . . .”

Sarin

Whereas the Syrian alleged sarin incident appears to have been effected by some of the West’s al-Qaeda surrogates in the conflict, past provocations have involved more direct involvement by elements of the intelligence community. In May of 1963, with then South Vietnamese president Diem pushing for a reduction in U.S. forces in Vietnam (against American wishes), a bombing occurred at a Hue radio station that was the focal point of Buddhist protests of the government’s policy toward Buddhists. The authorship of that attack and a 1952 Saigon bombing, was not the Vietcong

Key points of analysis:

  1. The May, 1963 attack in Hue: “ . . . . As Dang Sy and his security officers were approaching the area in armored cars about fifty meters away, two powerful explosions blasted the people on the veranda of the station, killing seven on the spot and fatally wounding a child. At least fifteen others were injured. . . .”
  2. jfkandtheunspeakableForensic analysis of the wounds of the victims: “ . . . Dr. Le Khac Quyen, the hospital director at Hue, said after examining the victims’ bodies that he had never seen such injuries. The bodies had been decapitated. He found no metal in the corpses, only holes. There were no wounds below the chest. In his official finding, Dr. Quyen ruled that ‘the death of the people was caused by an explosion which took place in mid-air, blowing off their heads and mutilating their bodies.’ . . . “
  3. Dr. Quyen’s conclusions about the source of the victims’ wounds in the 1963 attack: “ . . . . The absence of any metal in the bodies or on the radio station’s veranda pointed to powerful plastic bombs as the source of the explosions. . . .”
  4. Analysis of the 1952 bombing in Saigon: “ . . . . Who did possess such powerful plastic bombs? An answer is provided by Graham Greene’s prophetic novel The Quiet American, based on historical events that occurred in Saigon eleven years before the bombing in Hue. Greene was in Saigon on January 9, 1952, when two bombs exploded in the city’s center, killing ten and injuring many more. A picture of the scene, showing a man with his legs blown off, appeared in Life magazine as the ‘Picture of the Week.’ The Life caption said the Saigon bombs had been ‘planted by Viet Minh Communists’ and ‘signaled general intensification of the Viet Minh violence.’ In like manner, the New York Times headlined: ‘Reds’ Time Bombs Rip Saigon Center.’ . . .”
  5. In the 1952 bombing, the operational coordination between U.S. media outlets and the perpetrators of the attack is noteworthy for our purposes: “ . . . . General The’s bombing material, a U.S. plastic, had been supplied to him by his sponsor, the Central Intelligence Agency. Greene observed in his memoir, Ways of Escape, it was no coincidence that ‘the Life photographer at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off.’ The CIA had set the scene, alerting the Life photographer and Times reporter so they could convey the terrorist bombing as the work of ‘Viet Minh Communists’ to a mass audience. . . .”
  6. South Vietnamese investigation of the May, 1963 attack, arrived at a conclusion similar to Graham Greene’s discovery in the 1952 attack: “ . . . . According to an investigation carried by the Catholic newspaper Hoa Binh. . . . a Captain Scott . . . . had come to Hue from Da Nang on May 7, 1963. He admitted he was the American agent responsible for the bombing at the radio station the next day. He said he used ‘an explosive that was still secret and known only to certain people in the Central Intelligence Agency, a charge no larger than a matchbox with a timing device.’. . . .”

1. The program begins with further analysis by MIT expert Theodore Postol, who sees the photographic evidence alleged to support the Trump administration’s allegations as questionable. ” . . . ‘This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report. . . .”

Particularly suspicious (laughable?) is a picture showing personnel examining the purported sarin attack site with woefully inadequate protective clothing. ” . . . . ‘If there were any sarin present at this location when this photograph was taken everybody in the photograph would have received a lethal or debilitating dose of sarin. The fact that these people were dressed so inadequately either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures needed to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew that the site was not seriously contaminated. This is the crater that is the centerpiece evidence provided in the WHR for a sarin attack delivered by a Syrian aircraft.’ . . . . ”

“Did Al Qaeda Fool the White House Again” by Robert Parry; Consortium News; 4/14/2017.

. . . . With the U.S. intelligence community effectively silenced by the fact that the President has already acted, Theodore Postol, a technology and national security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, undertook his own review of the supposed evidence cited by Trump’s White House to issue a four-page “intelligence assessment” on April 11 asserting with “high confidence” that Assad’s military delivered a bomb filled with sarin on the town of Khan Sheikdoun on the morning of April 4.

Postol, whose analytical work helped debunk Official Washington’s groupthink regarding the 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus, expressed new shock at the shoddiness of the latest White House report (or WHR). Postol produced “a quick turnaround assessment” of the April 11 report that night and went into greater detail in an addendum on April 13, writing:

“This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.

“The WHR also makes claims about ‘communications intercepts’ which supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now verified false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater. … The evidence that unambiguously shows that the assumption that the sarin release crater was tampered with is contained in six photographs at the end of this document.”

Postol notes that one key photo “shows a man standing in the alleged sarin-release crater. He is wearing a honeycomb facemask that is designed to filter small particles from the air. Other apparel on him is an open necked cloth shirt and what appear to be medical exam gloves. Two other men are standing in front of him (on the left in the photograph) also wearing honeycomb facemask’s and medical exam gloves.

If there were any sarin present at this location when this photograph was taken everybody in the photograph would have received a lethal or debilitating dose of sarin. The fact that these people were dressed so inadequately either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures needed to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew that the site was not seriously contaminated.

“This is the crater that is the centerpiece evidence provided in the WHR for a sarin attack delivered by a Syrian aircraft.”

No ‘Competent’ Analyst

After reviewing other discrepancies in photos of the crater, Postol wrote: “It is hard for me to believe that anybody competent could have been involved in producing the WHR report and the implications of such an obviously predetermined result strongly suggests that this report was not motivated by a serious analysis of any kind.

“This finding is disturbing. It indicates that the WHR was probably a report purely aimed at justifying actions that were not supported by any legitimate intelligence. This is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush has argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial amount of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a US attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to a political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State.”

Postol continued: “On August 30, 2013, the White House [under President Obama] produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 in Damascus. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

“Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. …

“It is now obvious that a second incident similar to what happened in the Obama administration has now occurred in the Trump administration. In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State. …

“I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people seeking to force decisions that were not justified by the cited intelligence. This is a serious matter and should not be allowed to continue.”

2. Robert Parry has noted questionable analysis in the alleged chlorine gas attacks also attributed to the al-Assad regime. ” . . . In one of the chlorine cases, however, Syrian eyewitnesses came forward to testify that the rebels had staged the alleged attack so it could be blamed on the government. In that incident, the U.N. team reached no conclusion as to what had really happened, but neither did the investigators – now alerted to the rebels’ tactic of staging chemical attacks – apply any additional skepticism to the other cases. In one case, the rebels and their supporters also claimed to know that an alleged “barrel bomb” contained a canister of chlorine because of the sound that it made while descending. There was no explanation for how that sort of detection was even possible. . . .”

“NYT Retreats on 2013 Syria-Sarin Gas Claims” by Robert Parry; Consortiumnews; 4/6/2017.

. . . . The Chlorine Cases

The chlorine-gas cases have resulted in only a few fatalities, which also undercuts the claims that the Assad government was responsible for them. Why would Assad risk more outside military intervention against his government by using a chemical weapon that has almost no military value, at least as allegedly deployed in Syria?

U.N. investigators – under intense pressure from the West to find something that could be pinned on Assad – agreed to blame him for a couple of the chlorine allegations coming from rebel forces and their civilian allies. But the U.N. team did not inspect the sites directly, relying instead of the testimony of Assad’s enemies.

In one of the chlorine cases, however, Syrian eyewitnesses came forward to testify that the rebels had staged the alleged attack so it could be blamed on the government. In that incident, the U.N. team reached no conclusion as to what had really happened, but neither did the investigators – now alerted to the rebels’ tactic of staging chemical attacks – apply any additional skepticism to the other cases.

In one case, the rebels and their supporters also claimed to know that an alleged “barrel bomb” contained a canister of chlorine because of the sound that it made while descending. There was no explanation for how that sort of detection was even possible.

Yet, despite the flaws in the rebels’ chlorine claims – and the collapse of the 2013 sarin case – the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets report the chlorine allegations as flat-fact, without reference to sourcing from the U.N. investigators whose careers largely depended on them coming up with conclusions that pleased the majority of the five-member Security Council – the U.S., Great Britain and France.

If this fuller history were understood, much greater skepticism would be warranted by the new allegations about Assad ordering a new sarin attack. While it’s conceivable that Assad’s military is guilty – although why Assad would take this risk at this moment is hard to fathom – it’s also conceivable that Al Qaeda’s jihadists – finding themselves facing impending defeat – chose to stage a sarin attack even if that meant killing some innocent civilians.

Al Qaeda’s goal would be to draw in the U.S. or Israeli military against the Syrian government, creating space for a jihadist counteroffensive. And, as we should all recall, it’s not as if Al Qaeda hasn’t killed many innocent civilians before.

3. A British doctor who was a focal point of PR coverage of the alleged sarin attack has a jihadist background. ” . . . . A British doctor who documented a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was considered a “committed jihadist” by MI6 and was struck off the General Medical Council in 2016. Shajul Islam, 31, posted several videos on Twitter in the aftermath of the Tuesday’s (4 April) attack where he appeared to be treating patients in Khan Sheikhoun. He appeared on several television networks such as NBC to discuss what he saw, but it has now emerged Islam was previously charged on terror offences in the UK. . . .”

“British Doctor Who Documented Syria ‘Chemical Attack’ Previously Held on Terror Offences” by Tareq Haddad; International Business Times; 4/7/2017.

A British doctor who documented a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was considered a “committed jihadist” by MI6 and was struck off the General Medical Council in 2016.

Shajul Islam, 31, posted several videos on Twitter in the aftermath of the Tuesday’s (4 April) attack where he appeared to be treating patients in Khan Sheikhoun.

He appeared on several television networks such as NBC to discuss what he saw, but it has now emerged Islam was previously charged on terror offences in the UK.

Islam, from Stratford in east London, first travelled to Syria in 2012 and worked in opposition-held areas of the country such as Al Bab, close to the Turkish border.

But shortly after arriving, he was wanted by MI6 – Britain’s foreign intelligence agency – for his alleged role in the kidnapping of British photojournalist John Cantlie and his Dutch colleague Jeroen Oerlemans.

Cantlie and Oerlemans were held captive for nine days after they strayed into a jihadist camp in northern Syria where Islam was working.

Islam maintains he was simply a medic who was not affiliated to any terror groups, but when he returned to the UK in 2013, he was arrested at Heathrow Airport and held in Sussex Police’s specialist counter-terrorism units.

Islam was charged alongside his younger brother Najul Islam, who had worked in the Department for Work and Pensions before travelling to Syria, and Jubayer Chowdhury.

All three were held in the high security Belmarsh Prison until they were charged with terrorism offences to appear in Kingston Crown Court.

4. A back channel appears to have been set up for the purpose of quietly exploring what the US would have to offer Russia in order to get Moscow to drop its support for Tehran. This points towards a situation different different from the “Trump as Kremlin dupe”–one that has Trump as a pawn of the neocons and Gulf monarchies who really want to see a war with Iran:

“Blackwater Founder Held Secret Seychelles Meeting to Establish Trump-Putin Back Channel” by Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoungThe Washington Post; 4/3/2017.

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.

The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between Russia and Americans with ties to Trump — contacts that the White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain until they have been exposed by news organizations.

“We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

A Prince spokesman said in a statement: “Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”

Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which the company’s guards were accused — and later criminally convicted — of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently re-branded, but has continued building a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He now heads a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group.

Prince would probably have been seen as too controversial to serve in any official capacity in the Trump transition or administration. But his ties to Trump advisers, experience with clandestine work and relationship with the royal leaders of the Emirates — where he moved in 2010 amid mounting legal problems for his American business — would have positioned him as an ideal go-between.

The Seychelles meeting came after separate private discussions in New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump with both Moscow and the Emirates.

The White House has acknowledged that Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s original national security adviser, and Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in late November or early December in New York.

Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though officials found out because Zayed’s name appeared on a flight manifest.

Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.

Officials said Zayed wanted to be helpful to both leaders, who had talked about working more closely together, a policy objective long advocated by the crown prince. The UAE, which sees Iran as one of its main enemies, also shared the Trump team’s interest in finding ways to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran.

Zayed met twice with Putin in 2016, according to Western officials, and urged the Russian leader to work more closely with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia — an effort to isolate Iran.

At the time of the Seychelles meeting and for weeks afterward, the UAE believed that Prince had the blessing of the new administration to act as its unofficial representative. The Russian participant was a person whom Zayed knew was close to Putin from his interactions with both men, the officials said.

Scrutiny over Russia

When the Seychelles meeting took place, official contacts between members of the incoming Trump administration and the Russian government were under intense scrutiny, both from federal investigators and the press.

Less than a week before the Seychelles meeting, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report accusing Russia of intervening clandestinely during the 2016 election to help Trump win the White House.

The FBI was already investigating communications between Flynn and Kislyak. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius first disclosed those communications on Jan. 12, around the time of the Seychelles meeting. Flynn was subsequently fired by Trump for misleading Vice President Pence and others about his discussions with Kislyak.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, declined to comment.

The level of discretion surrounding the Seychelles meeting seems extraordinary given the frequency with which senior Trump advisers, including Flynn and Kushner, had interacted with Russian officials in the United States, including at the high-profile Trump Tower in New York.

Steven Simon, a National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama White House, said: “The idea of using business cutouts, or individuals perceived to be close to political leaders, as a tool of diplomacy is as old as the hills. These unofficial channels are desirable precisely because they are deniable; ideas can be tested without the risk of failure.”

Current and former U.S. officials said that while Prince refrained from playing a direct role in the Trump transition, his name surfaced so frequently in internal discussions that he seemed to function as an outside adviser whose opinions were valued on a range of issues, including plans for overhauling the U.S. intelligence community.

He appears to have particularly close ties to Bannon, appearing multiple times on the Breitbart satellite radio program and website that Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign.

In a July interview with Bannon, Prince said those seeking forceful U.S. leadership should “wait till January and hope Mr. Trump is elected.” And he lashed out at President Barack Obama, saying that because of his policies “the terrorists, the fascists, are winning.”

Days before the November election, Prince appeared on the Breitbart radio program, saying that he had “well-placed sources” in the New York City Police Department telling him they were preparing to make arrests in the investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) over allegations he exchanged sexually explicit texts with a minor. Flynn tweeted a link to the Breitbart report on the claim. No arrests occurred.

Prince went on to make unfounded assertions that damaging material recovered from Weiner’s computers would implicate Hillary Clinton and her close adviser, Huma Abedin, who was married to Weiner. He also called Abedin an “agent of influence very sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Prince and his family were major GOP donors in 2016. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the family gave more than $10 million to GOP candidates and super PACs, including about $2.7 million from his sister, DeVos, and her husband.

Prince’s father, Edgar Prince, built his fortune through an auto-parts company. Betsy married Richard DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune.

Erik Prince has had lucrative contracts with the UAE government, which at one point paid his firm a reported $529 million to help bring in foreign fighters to help assemble an internal paramilitary force capable of carrying out secret operations and protecting Emirati installations from terrorist attacks.

Focus on Iran

The Trump administration and the UAE appear to share a similar preoccupation with Iran. Current and former officials said that Trump advisers were focused throughout the transition period on exploring ways to get Moscow to break ranks with Tehran.

“Separating Russia from Iran was a common theme,” said a former intelligence official in the Obama administration who met with Trump transition officials. “It didn’t seem very well thought out. It seemed a little premature. They clearly had a very specific policy position, which I found odd given that they hadn’t even taken the reins and explored with experts in the U.S. government the pros and cons of that approach.”

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he also had discussions with people close to the Trump administration about the prospects of drawing Russia away from Iran. “When I would hear this, I would think, ‘Yeah that’s great for you guys, but why would Putin ever do that?’?” McFaul said. “There is no interest in Russia ever doing that. They have a long relationship with Iran. They’re allied with Iran in fighting in Syria. They sell weapons to Iran. Iran is an important strategic partner for Russia in the Middle East.”

Following the New York meeting between the Emiratis and Trump aides, Zayed was approached by Prince, who said he was authorized to act as an unofficial surrogate for the president-elect, according to the officials. He wanted Zayed to set up a meeting with a Putin associate. Zayed agreed and proposed the Seychelles as the meeting place because of the privacy it would afford both sides. “He wanted to be helpful,” one official said of Zayed.

Current and former U.S. officials who have worked closely with Zayed, who is often referred to as MBZ, say it would be out of character for him to arrange the Jan. 11 meeting without getting a green light in advance from top aides to Trump and Putin, if not the leaders themselves. “MBZ is very cautious,” said an American businessman who knows Zayed and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “There had to be a nod.”

The Seychelles meeting was deemed productive by the UAE and Russia, but the idea of arranging additional meetings between Prince and Putin’s associates was dropped, officials said. Even unofficial contacts between Trump and Putin associates had become too politically risky, officials said. . . .

 5. George W. Bush administration officials are confident another terrorist attack is coming appear to be concerned that the Trump could use terror to grab and abuse executive powers. ‘We can assume there will be another terrorist attack in the U.S. If the executive order is in place, he will point to the attack as support for the executive order and the need to expand it to other countries with bad dudes (Muslims). If the executive order has been struck down, Trump will blame judges and Democrats for the attack. . . .’We both wholly believe that Trump needs a bogeyman. But, more importantly, he needs distraction and a blame source. In terrorists, he has his bogeyman. In his control of the prevailing press narrative via tweet, he has distraction. And, in the judiciary, he has a source of blame for why his way was right from the beginning.’ . . . . ‘I am fully confident that an attack is exactly what he wants and needs.’ . . . .”

“How President Trump Could Seize More Power After a Terrorist Attack” by Ryan Lizza; The New Yorker; 2/7/2017.

. . . . I talked to several counterterrorism experts this week, and they all believe that there will be another attack.

“I do believe the world faces a serious and growing terrorist threat,” Evan McMullin, the former C.I.A. officer and Republican who ran for President as an independent candidate against Trump, said. “But Trump, either by ignorance or malice, is distorting the nature of that threat by targeting very well-vetted immigrants, including legal permanent residents and refugees. He simply does not have a strong national-security case to make against these people, which is why it is reasonable to wonder if he has some ulterior motive for taking such extreme steps against them.”

Yesterday, Trump’s campaign to highlight this threat took a bizarre turn when he accused the media of burying coverage of terror attacks. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he said in remarks to troops at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa. “In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons.” The White House later released a list of attacks since 2014 that it insisted had not received enough attention.

This is the second time in a week that Trump has accused others of not understanding the threat posed by terrorism. Over the weekend, he used Twitter to attack the federal judge who put a halt to Trump’s immigration ban. He called James L. Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, a “so-called judge,” and later added, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

One of the questions raised by Trump’s claims that the media and the courts have endangered the country is what he would do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Jack Goldsmith, a former senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush Administration, who helped design the post-9/11 anti-terror legal architecture, recently suggested that Trump might actually want his travel ban to be overturned. That way, in the wake of an attack, he can use the judiciary as a bogeyman and justify any new efforts to push through more extreme measures.

I asked Goldsmith and others what the menu of options might be for a President Trump empowered by the justifiable fears Americans would have in the aftermath of a serious attack. “If it is a large and grim attack, he might ask for more surveillance powers inside the U.S. (including fewer restrictions on data mingling and storage and queries), more immigration control power at the border, an exception to Posse Comitatus (which prohibits the military from law enforcement in the homeland), and perhaps more immigration-related detention powers,” Goldsmith wrote in an e-mail. “In the extreme scenario Trump could ask Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which would cut off the kind of access to courts you are seeing right now for everyone (or for every class of persons for which the writ is suspended).”

He pointed out that President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored courts that insisted he didn’t have such power. “The point of the example is that the only question is not what powers Trump might ‘ask for,’ ” Goldsmith said, “but also what powers he might assert or assume or grab, and what he can get away with.”

John Yoo, who as a lawyer for the George W. Bush Administration was the fiercest defender of its most extreme post-9/11 policies, including the use of torture, recently wrote an Op-Ed in which he said he was alarmed by Trump’s attempt to expand the powers of the executive branch. (This was as if Trump had written an essay arguing that he was concerned about developers adding their names to buildings in lettering that was too large.) Yoo told me, “If there is another terrorist attack, I could see Trump seeking all of the powers that the President can exercise during wartime. The domestic powers would have to be approved by Congress, such as limitations on habeas, domestic warrantless surveillance, and an internal security act. We really haven’t had a system like that since the Second World War or the Communist cases of the nineteen-fifties.”

Matt Olsen, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, told me that he didn’t agree with Goldsmith’s suggestion that Trump actually wants the executive order overturned, but he said that he thought Trump was laying the groundwork for arguments he might make after an attack. “This is a win-win for Trump,” Olsen said. “We can assume there will be another terrorist attack in the U.S. If the executive order is in place, he will point to the attack as support for the executive order and the need to expand it to other countries with bad dudes (Muslims). If the executive order has been struck down, Trump will blame judges and Democrats for the attack.”

Olsen was also concerned that Trump might undo many of the changes that Barack Obama put in place to rein in the excesses of the Bush era. “As for other options in a post-attack scenario, just look back to 9/11,” he said. “C.I.A. black sites, enhanced interrogations, Gitmo, and warrantless surveillance will all be on the table. In addition, regardless of nationality, there will be changes to immigration and refugee policies.” He added that he could also imagine an effort to loosen restrictions on surveillance inside the United States.

Todd Breasseale, the former assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, was also alarmed. “I had a very similar discussion with a former senior intel official on this very issue, before Jack’s column,” he told me. “We both wholly believe that Trump needs a bogeyman. But, more importantly, he needs distraction and a blame source. In terrorists, he has his bogeyman. In his control of the prevailing press narrative via tweet, he has distraction. And, in the judiciary, he has a source of blame for why his way was right from the beginning.” Breasseale added, “I am fully confident that an attack is exactly what he wants and needs.”

Trump’s efforts to hype the threat from terrorism during a period of domestic calm should be regarded with extreme skepticism. As McMullin noted, “Trump’s strange focus on the terrorist threat” was “out of step with reality at the moment” and was “a telltale sign of a leader contemplating policies that would otherwise be unacceptable.”

6. For historical perspective, we detail two provocations in Vietnam roughly a decade apart. Whereas the actions in Syria were apparently performed by the Islamist/al-Aqaeda proxy warriors employed by CIA and the other combatant elements in the Syrian conflict, elements of CIA engineered two bloody bombings using plastic explosives.

In 1954, a bombing in Saigon was arranged and blamed on the Viet Minh as grounds for increasing U.S. aid to the ultimately unsuccessful French counter-insurgency war in what was then French Indochina.

Ten years later, a similar bombing was arranged in Hue and blamed on the Diem government, at that time at loggerheads with the U.S. over his desire to reduce the U.S. military profile in Vietnam. At the same time, Diem was at odds with the Buddhist majority in his country over their desire for greater religious and civic freedom.

Of particular interest is the strategic placing of the media in the 1954 incident, priming them to process the event in the manner designated for successful propaganda effect.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass; Touchstone Books [SC]; Copyright 2008 by James W. Douglas; ISBN 978-1-4391-9388-4; pp. 129-131.

. . . . On the evening of May 8, encouraged by [dissident Buddhist monk Thich] Tri Quang and other Buddhist leaders, a crowd gathered outside the government radio station in Hue. At about 8:00 p.m., Tri Quang arrived carrying a tape recording of his morning speech. He and the people demanded that the tape be broadcast that night. When the station director refused, the crowd became insistent, pushing against the station’s doors and windows. Firefighters used water hoses to drive them back. The station director put in a call for help to the province security chief Major Dang Sy. As Dang Sy and his security officers were approaching the area in armored cars about fifty meters away, two powerful explosions blasted the people on the veranda of the station, killing seven on the spot and fatally wounding a child. At least fifteen others were injured.

Major Dang Sy claimed later that he thought the explosions were the beginning of a Viet Cong attack. He ordered his men to disperse the crowd with percussion grenades, crowd-control weapons that were described by a U.S. Army Field Manual as nonlethal. However, from the moment the armored cars drove up and the percussion grenades were thrown, Major Dang Sy and the South Vietnamese government were blamed for the night’s casualties by Thich Tri Quang and the Buddhist movement. The Buddhists’ interpretation of the event was adopted quickly by the U.S. media and government.

Dr. Le Khac Quyen, the hospital director at Hue, said after examining the victims’ bodies that he had never seen such injuries. The bodies had been decapitated. He found no metal in the corpses, only holes. There were no wounds below the chest. In his official finding, Dr. Quyen ruled that “the death of the people was caused by an explosion which took place in mid-air, blowing off their heads and mutilating their bodies.”

Neither the Buddhists nor the government liked his verdict. Although Dr. Quyen was a disciple of Thich Tri Quang and a government opposition leader, his finding frustrated his Buddhist friends because it tended to exonerate Diem’s security police. They were apparently incapable of inflicting the kinds of wounds he described. On the other hand, the government imprisoned Dr. Quyen for refusing to sign a medical certificate it had drawn up that claimed the victims’ wounds came from a type of bomb made by the Viet Cong—something Quyen didn’t know and wouldn’t certify.

The absence of any metal in the bodies or on the radio station’s veranda pointed to powerful plastic bombs as the source of the explosions. However, the Saigon government’s eagerness to identify plastic bombs with its enemy, the Viet Cong, was questionable. As Ellen Hammer pointed out in her investigation of the incident, “In later years, men who had served with the Viet Cong at that time denied they had any plastic could have produced such destruction.”

Who did possess such powerful plastic bombs?

An answer is provided by Graham Greene’s prophetic novel The Quiet American, based on historical events that occurred in Saigon eleven years before the bombing in Hue. Greene was in Saigon on January 9, 1952, when two bombs exploded in the city’s center, killing ten and injuring many more. A picture of the scene, showing a man with his legs blown off, appeared in Life magazine as the “Picture of the Week.” The Life caption said the Saigon bombs had been “planted by Viet Minh Communists” and “signaled general intensification of the Viet Minh violence.” In like manner, the New York Times headlined: “Reds’ Time Bombs Rip Saigon Center.”

In Saigon, Graham Greene knew the bombs had been planted and claimed proudly not by the Viet Minh but by a warlord, General The, whom Greene knew.

General The’s bombing material, a U.S. plastic, had been supplied to him by his sponsor, the Central Intelligence Agency. Greene observed in his memoir, Ways of Escape, it was no coincidence that “the Life photographer at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off.” The CIA had set the scene, alerting the Life photographer and Times reporter so they could convey the terrorist bombing as the work of “Viet Minh Communists” to a mass audience.

Horrified and inspired by what he knew, Graham Greene wrote the truth in his novel, portraying a quiet American CIA agent as the primary source of the Saigon bombing. In The Quiet American, Greene used the CIA’s plastic as a mysterious motif, specifically mentioned in ten passages, whose deadly meaning was revealed finally in the Saigon explosions blamed falsely on the communists.

A decade later, plastic bombs were still a weapon valued in covert US. Plots designed to scapegoat an unsuspecting target. In March 1962, as we have seen, General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proposed “exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots” in the United States, then arresting and blaming Cuban agents for the terrorist acts.

In May 1963, Diem’s younger brother, Ngo Dinh Can, who ruled Hue, thought from the beginning that the Viet Cong had nothing to do with the explosions at the radio station. According to an investigation carried by the Catholic newspaper Hoa Binh, Ngo Dinh Can and his advisers were “convinced the explosions had to be the work of an American agent who wanted to make trouble for Diem.” In 1970 Hoa Binh located such a man, a Captain Scott, who in later years became a U.S. military adviser in the Mekong Delta. Scott had come to Hue from Da Nang on May 7, 1963. He admitted he was the American agent responsible for the bombing at the radio station the next day. He said he used “an explosive that was still secret and known only to certain people in the Central Intelligence Agency, a charge no larger than a matchbox with a timing device.” . . . .

Discussion

2 comments for “FTR #955 Syrian Chemical Attack? Not So Fast, Part 2”

  1. Donald Trump just basically endorsed Marine Le Pen a day after a terror attack that comes right before the French head to the polls. He wasn’t supposed to given general presidential etiquette but he did anyway. Because of course. That’s how the global far-right operates. The only rule is the promotion of far-right domination (and also Trump doesn’t do etiquette well):

    Politico

    Trump wades into French elections

    The president expresses support for presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, but stops short of a full endorsement.

    By Michael Crowley

    04/21/17 05:05 AM EDT

    Updated 04/21/17 06:05 PM EDT

    President Donald Trump stepped into Europe’s volatile nationalist politics on Friday, expressing support for the far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen—an immigration hard-liner who is aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Speaking to the Associated Press, Trump called Le Pen the “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

    Trump told the AP he was not making a formal endorsement ahead of Sunday’s vote in France, expected to produce two finalists for a May 7 runoff vote to replace outgoing President Francois Hollande.

    But the comments reignited alarms in Europe and the U.S. about Trump’s commitment to the continent’s key institutions—including the European Union and the NATO alliance—after several weeks of reassuring signals from Trump and his top officials.

    They followed a Friday morning tweet in which Trump said that a Thursday shooting on Paris’s Champs Elysees, believed to be an act of terrorism, would “have a big effect” on the country’s election.

    “He can’t help himself,” said Thomas Wright, an expert on U.S.-European relations at the Brookings Institution. “It shows that he’s never going to normalize. He’s been told to behave, he’s gotten briefings and met [European] leaders. But now something’s happened”—in the form of a suspected terror attack—“and he can’t restrain himself.”

    Many European officials and experts believe that Trump’s senior strategist Steve Bannon, who has applauded the continent’s nationalist movements, may be influencing Trump’s view.

    “He has Bannon telling him that Le Pen’s not such a bad person,” Wright added.

    But Trump had said little about the French campaign until Friday. At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni just the day before, Trump he dodged a question about the French vote. And he answered a question about the European Union with a clear show of support.

    “A strong Europe is very, very important to me,” Trump said.

    Yet Le Pen is a leading skeptic of European integration. She has dubbed herself “Madame Frexit” and wants a referendum on whether France should follow Britain’s “Brexit” from the EU.

    “If France is out of the EU, it’s the end of the EU,” France’s ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, recently told CNN.

    Le Pen has also called for France to at least partially withdraw from NATO. And she has the support of Putin, who received her at the Kremlin last month. Western officials believe Russian intelligence has sought to influence France’s election in Le Pen’s favor, and Le Pen’s party has taken nearly $10 million in loans from a Russian bank with Kremlin ties.

    “It’s now the world of Putin, the world of Donald Trump,” Le Pen declared after the meeting.

    “The stakes for Europe are tremendous – this is a historic election,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

    A Le Pen victory, which many French analysts consider plausible though unlikely, could mean “the end of Europe as we’ve known it since World War II,” he added.

    Le Pen is among four candidates running neck-and-neck ahead of Sunday vote’s. If no candidate wins a majority, as is expected, the top two vote getters will compete for France’s presidency on May 7.

    In a sign of the French election’s perceived importance to the United States, former President Barack Obama fielded a call Thursday from one of Le Pen’s two centrist rivals, Emmanuel Macron. A spokesman said Obama was not making an endorsement but added that he supports France’s role as “a leader on behalf of liberal values in Europe and around the world.”

    Le Pen has made the terrorist threat— particularly from Muslim immigrants to France—a top campaign issue. But it is unclear whether Thursday’s Paris attack, in which a man with an AK-47 killed one police officer before he was shot dead, will influence Sunday’s vote.

    Nor is it clear that words of support from Trump, who is deeply unpopular in France, will benefit Le Pen’s candidacy. Her rivals have criticized Trump’s positions on foreign policy, climate change and immigration.

    Trump and Le Pen have channeled the same a western populist movement fueled by resentment over wealth in equality and the perceived cultural and economic effects of immigration.

    As a candidate, Trump branded NATO as an “obsolete“ sinkhole for U.S. taxpayer dollars. He also described the EU as a bureaucratic drag on the Continent’s economic growth and an unfair trading partner.

    Bannon, a major Brexit cheerleader, was even more zealous in his criticism of the EU. The Trump adviser has said the 28-member union, with its shared currency and open internal borders, erodes the identity and sovereignty of its member states.

    After Trump’s election, the EU’s top official publicly warned that the U.S., a supporter of European Unity for more than 70 years, now posed an outside “threat” to the union.

    Those concerns were stoked when Le Pen paid a December visit to Trump Tower. Trump officials say she was only in the building’s public lobby and never met with Trump or Bannon. (“I don’t know her. I haven’t met her,” Trump told the Financial Times in early April.)

    Since his inauguration, however, Trump and his top officials have repeatedly signaled their support for the EU and NATO. On a February trip to Brussels, Vice President Mike Pence offered “strong commitment … to continue cooperation and partnership with the European Union.”

    And in a February 23 interview with the Financial Times, Trump called the EU “wonderful” and pronounced himself “totally in favor of it.”

    Trump officials have similarly reassured NATO, and last week Trump declared that the alliance is “no longer obsolete.”

    Bannon’s influence has diminished, meanwhile, comforting European officials who see him as an anti-EU bogeyman in the West Wing.

    Trump’s foreign policy had defied expectations in recent weeks enough to make Le Pen criticize his shift to the center.

    “Undeniably he is in contradiction with the commitments he had made” as a candidate she said after his endorsement of NATO last week, adding: “I am coherent, I don’t change my mind in a few days.”

    She also bashed his April 6 missile strike on Syria, complaining that Trump “had said he would not be the policeman of the world … but it seems today that he has changed his mind.”

    If Le Pen emerges from Sunday’s runoff vote as a finalist, establishment European leaders will be alarmed but not panicked, so long as she faces the center-left Macron or the center-right Francois Fillon. Both are considered likely bets to defeat her.

    “It would be a disaster for the West if either one of them is elected,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a former assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia in the Obama administration now at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

    A Le Pen defeat would deflate a western populist movement already disappointed by the poor showing in March election of the Netherlands’ right-wing Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, and which has seen its support in Germany wane ahead of summer elections there that will decide the fate of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    Some experts believe that the twin surprises of Trump’s election and the Brexit vote have sparked a centrist backlash against Europe’s populist movements.

    Voters who one year ago may have cast what they thought was an anti-establishment protest vote may now act more cautiously – particularly given the disarray following both outcomes, Wright said.

    “The various ‘exit’ and populist camps were damaged by Trump and Brexit because people saw that this could actually happen—and this is what it looks like,” Wright said.

    “The various ‘exit’ and populist camps were damaged by Trump and Brexit because people saw that this could actually happen—and this is what it looks like,” Wright said.

    Yep, the biggest thing standing in the way of the current far-right ‘populist’ backlash against ‘the Establishment’ in the West is seeing what a disaster the people leading that backlash actually are when they’re handed the reigns of power and seeing how little they actually care about average people including their base supporters. And in Trump’s case the world is getting to find out that his campaign bafoonery wasn’t an act he could just turn ‘on’ and ‘off’. It’s who he is.

    So who knows if Trump’s endorsement will end up helping or hurting Le Pen. But it’s a big reminder that, as opposed to the ‘Russia vs the liberal West’ framing of the major tensions in global affairs today, a far more accurate framing is ‘the global far-right vs everyone else’. Sure, the far-right sometimes squabbles with itself, but that unifying goal of preventing the kind of social progress that might allow us to reach that ‘Star Trek’ world where people in general aren’t held back back traditional irrational bigotries and myths that dominated their local cultures in the past is the glue that holds together the global far-right resurgence and it’s that resurgence that should be seen as the primary threat to world peace and progress today. If Russia suddenly became a progressive utopia tomorrow, that far-right global resurgence would still be happening.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that the Trump/Bannon Western far-right, or Russian far-right, is far from the only far-right that is cheering for Le Pen’s electoral success. ISIS and al Qaeda and far-right Islamists in general would really like to see a “Christianity vs Islam” global conflagration that makes a diverse non-far-right society impossible:

    The Daily Beast

    ISIS Terror Attack in Paris Could Put Far-Right Le Pen in Power
    A cop shooting on the Champs-Élysées is claimed by ISIS, which hopes to tilt French elections in favor of anti-immigrant extremist Le Pen. Objective: civil war.
    Christopher Dickey
    Erin Zaleski
    04.20.17 7:25 PM ET

    PARIS—The scene of the crime was well chosen: the most famous boulevard in Paris, the Champs-Élysées, the prestigious address of Cartier and Louis Vuitton, the Lido nightclub, even the Disney store. On a balmy Thursday night, it was mobbed with tourists shopping and strolling. But they were not the target of the man who stepped out of a car and opened fire with an automatic weapon. He was shooting at police, and shooting to kill.

    In a terrifying exchange of gunfire, one policeman lost his life, two were wounded, a passer-by was wounded, and the shooter was “neutralized,” as the authorities put it. The entire area was shut down by authorities, with well-armed soldiers stationed at the top of the boulevard in front of the Arc de Triomphe, even as the lights on the Eiffel Tower twinkled in the background to mark the top of the hour. Puzzled tourists lingered outside the crime scene tape, some excitedly telling their stories on their phones’ live-streaming aps.

    Tragic and horrifying as the incident was, the question that looms in the days and hours ahead is how it will affect presidential elections that could change the history of France, of Europe, and of NATO, the most important of America’s international alliances.

    “It is going to be a big thing,” says Gilles Kepel, author of Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West,”because the big question is how much it will boost Marine Le Pen.”

    The leader of the far-right National Front, who is anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, pro-Russian, anti-American, and pro-Trump, has been the leader in the polls going into the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday among a field of 11 candidates. Conventional wisdom and most polls have raised the expectation that in the run-off two weeks later her extremism would be rejected by a massive majority of the voters. But that is far from certain in the wake of a highly publicized terrorist incident.

    As Kepel and others have pointed out, based on the ideological writings of jihadists such as Abu Musab al-Suri, the terrorists’ goal is to create violent divisions in Europe’s population, pitting Christians—“crusaders”—against Muslim immigrants and their descendants, to the point where eventually there is civil war.

    In that context, from the jihadist point of view, a Le Pen victory is something devoutly to be wished. And the terrorist incident that could be the tipping point was all too easy to execute.

    The attacker drove up beside one of the many police vehicles patrolling the Champs Élysées, got out and started firing with an assault rifle, according to French officials, before other police on the scene shot him dead. Typically the great tourist venues of Paris are patrolled by soldiers in full battle gear armed with FAS automatic rifles, as the result of a string of terrorist attacks. The include the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killings in January 2015, and a coordinated attack on the Bataclan concet hall, a sports stadium, and sidewalk cafes in November the same year, which killed 130 people. Last July, a man in Nice, on the Mediterranean Coast, used a heavy truck to kill 86 people and injure more than 400 during Bastille Day celebrations.

    The gunman on the Champs Élysées Thursday night was identified by French authorities as a French citizen, 39 years old, from a suburb east of Paris, who was known to intelligence services. He reportedly had been imprisoned before for attacking police officers, but details have been closely held as searches are carried out for evidence of possible accomplices.

    The so-called Islamic State claimed credit for the attack, naming the shooter as Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki, suggesting that ISIS, at least, thought he was Belgian, and heightening suspicions more than one jihadist may have been involved.

    Although less widely reported than some of the other atrocities with huge death tolls, the targeting of police officers and soldiers has become a recurrent feature of jihadist attacks in France, where just a month ago a deranged 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, drunk and on drugs, was killed after holding a gun to a female soldier’s head at Orly Airport.

    The attack at Orly followed an incident in February, when a machete-wielding man attacked soldiers on patrol at the Louvre before they shot him dead.

    And last July, less than a year after the terror attacks on bars and a concert hall in Paris, Larossi Abballa, who claimed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, murdered a senior police officer and his partner and his partner, who was also with the police, in front of their 3-year-old son in Magnanville, west of Paris. Abballa the described his crime in detail on Facebook Live before armed police arrived on the scene and killed him.

    While most people in France associate terrorist Amedy Coulibaly with the horrific attack on a kosher supermarket in January 2015 shortly after the Charlie Hebdo murders, Coulibaly’s first victim was a female police officer whom he gunned down in Montrouge, south of Paris.

    In 2012, in a killing spree in southern France a lone gunman named Mohammed Merah murdered three French soldiers, two of whom were Muslims, before attacking a Jewish school where three children were among his victims. Eventually Merah was cornered and killed, and for some time the incident was regarded as an isolated atrocity. But Kepel and others now cite it as the beginning of the resurgence of jihadist terrorism in France. In the 1980s and early 1990s there had been a series of assassinations and attacks backed by Iran, or carried out by Sunni radicals connected to a failed revolution in Algeria, a former French colony. After years of quiet, Kepel says, the French services had grown complacent. But that clearly is not the case anymore.

    The latest shooting comes a day after police arrested two young men on suspicion of planning a terror attack.

    They were detained in the southern port city of Marseille, where a subsequent search of an apartment yielded three kilos of explosives, several guns, and an ISIS flag. As with most of the other terrorists killed or apprehended in Europe in recent years, the two had been imprisoned previously. One of them, a French citizen named Clément Baur, had claimed to be a Chechen jihadist, and is believed to have radicalized his former cellmate, 29-year-old Mahiedine Merabet, who was in jail for various petty criminal offensives. Both are now in custody.

    “They were aiming to commit in the very short term, in other words in the next few days, an attack on French soil,” Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said Wednesday. Certainly their arsenal suggests the ferocity of their intent.

    Even before the Champs-Élysées attack Thursday night, the Marseille arrests had put the country on edge and heightened fears that extremists could target the election in the final days of the campaign or during Sunday’s vote.

    “The leader of the far-right National Front, who is anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, pro-Russian, anti-American, and pro-Trump, has been the leader in the polls going into the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday among a field of 11 candidates. Conventional wisdom and most polls have raised the expectation that in the run-off two weeks later her extremism would be rejected by a massive majority of the voters. But that is far from certain in the wake of a highly publicized terrorist incident.

    Yep, the biggest incentive to carry out a terrorist attack is the predictable reactionary manner societies have following a terrorist attack. Hopefully humanity will figure that out one of these millennia. And hopefully much sooner. Otherwise, it looks like ISIS and their far-right “Crusader” counterparts are going to get their wish:


    As Kepel and others have pointed out, based on the ideological writings of jihadists such as Abu Musab al-Suri, the terrorists’ goal is to create violent divisions in Europe’s population, pitting Christians—“crusaders”—against Muslim immigrants and their descendants, to the point where eventually there is civil war.

    In that context, from the jihadist point of view, a Le Pen victory is something devoutly to be wished. And the terrorist incident that could be the tipping point was all too easy to execute.

    “In that context, from the jihadist point of view, a Le Pen victory is something devoutly to be wished. And the terrorist incident that could be the tipping point was all too easy to execute.”

    Way too easy to execute. All they have to do is start a fight and people rally to their sides! The global far-right must be pinching themselves.

    But let’s also not forget that the worldview promoted by Le Pen is a dream for its far-right reactionary Islamist counterparts for more than just their shared desire to divide up the world between different “us vs them” groups. They also love her for her ideas of “diversity”. Specifically, a vision for world where there’s a diversity of far-right dominated countries, each of which stamps out local diversity in the name of the traditional far-right uni-culture:

    Foreign Policy

    Marine Le Pen’s Bait-and-Switch Foreign Policy

    The far-right leader is using traditional language to mask her ideas for a radical shift in France’s role in the world.

    By Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, Jeremy Shapiro
    April 19, 2017

    Marine Le Pen may well be the next president of France. Or maybe she won’t. But after the twin shocks of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, it would be foolish not to at least prepare for the possibility of a Le Pen presidency. For those outside of France, preparation includes understanding what a President Le Pen foreign policy would look like. The short answer: While cloaking itself in familiar rhetoric, it would mark a sharp, and frightening, shift in France’s role in the world.

    Le Pen, in contrast with candidate Trump, is far from a blank slate on foreign policy. Her vision for France’s role on the world stage is consistent and long-standing, and was again recently presented in a a campaign speech that was even translated into English. Le Pen has engaged in the same rebranding effort for the National Front’s foreign policy that has so successfully distanced her party’s domestic policies from those of her predecessor and father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In international affairs, Le Pen père was obsessed with the old demons of French history — disputes about the Vichy regime, the fault lines over anti-Semitism, the Cold War fight against communism, and the bitter feuds over Algeria and France’s imperial past.

    Le Pen fille studiously ignores that history of division and instead seeks to reassure voters by recasting her foreign policy in terms that French voters have long embraced. She even claims to be the ideological heir of Gen. Charles De Gaulle, the founder of the French Fifth Republic. She has sold her foreign policy as one born out of deeply ingrained French political traditions — grandeur, independence, and the identity and history of the French nation.

    But filtered through the ideology of the far-right National Front, her three pillars for a French foreign policy — independence, identity, and order — yield something new and very different for France and its partners. Le Pen explicitly rejects the notion of a Western camp to which France should belong, or of a universal model that the West should impose on the rest of the world. She insists that she is the only “realist” in the presidential race — that is, she alone seeks to promote French interests as opposed to the “delusional” politically correct visions of previous governments on issues such as Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, free trade, or humanitarian intervention in the Middle East. In terms similar to Trump, she advocates a foreign policy for the common man against the betrayals of an elite class that cares little for the “real” France.

    In other words, Le Pen has taken traditional French ideas about the country’s place and role in the world and flipped them on their heads. She presents her ideas in rhetoric that sounds very French in its seeming adherence to classical legalism, but the details reveal a clear departure from the pro-U.N., pro-Europe, Germany-friendly position France has stuck to for decades. By selling her foreign policy in terms familiar to voters, she obscures just how radical a change it would be.

    Le Pen’s worldview is built around three principal pillars — all of them ideas that French voters have been comfortable with for a long time.

    The first is France’s independence: the idea that France not only can and should run its own foreign policy, but also that this is essential in order for France to follow the domestic policies of its choice. In Le Pen’s view, France stands among the great nations of the world. She remains capable of protecting her interests, alone if necessary. France’s capacity for independence rests not only on its storied history, but also on its strength on the international stage — strength built, first and foremost, on its military, to which Le Pen wants to dedicate 3 percent of its gross domestic product, including funds for modernizing France’s nuclear deterrent.

    But the “independence” that Le Pen advocates is much narrower than the traditional postwar French understanding, and goes even further than the independent footing France has sought to adhere to since the end of the Cold War. Le Pen, for instance, rejects the notion that France needs the EU, NATO, Germany, or the United States to defend itself and its interests. Indeed, she believes the NATO alliance “increasingly diminishes France’s strategic autonomy” and thus weakens France.

    Le Pen doesn’t just exclude tight alignment with allies, as every French leader since De Gaulle has — she also rules out any permanent foreign entanglement. Since the 1970s, France’s vision of its independence has been artfully reconciled with NATO, the EU, and the United Nations by asserting that membership in these organizations enhances French leverage without hampering its freedom of action. But Le Pen rejects the first two institutions, and speaks only rarely and often disparagingly of the U.N. She will accept international cooperation only on the basis of strict sovereign equality and when such cooperation directly serves French interests. France thus need not accept legal obligations that limit French independence, nor does it need to participate in other powers’ wars to satisfy alliance commitments or for any other reason.

    The second pillar of Le Pen’s foreign policy is France’s identity: the idea that the country’s greatest strength is its distinctive history and culture as a nation. French presidential candidates typically extol French grandeur and evoke France’s glorious past to inspire their voters. So when Le Pen talks about “what France must bring to the world, because it is France, and because we are French,” she speaks a familiar language. Le Pen’s uniqueness, however, lies in her belief that French identity is under severe threat and will be salvaged by retrenchment. For her, the single-greatest threat to France is the loss of its identity. The global environment today is filled with dangers that could transform or even obliterate French identity, from migration, to free trade, to the European Union, to terrorism, to “de-nationalized elites.”

    Thus, Le Pen’s brand of universalism — a long French tradition — is “that of differences,” as she put it in her key foreign-policy speech earlier this year. Le Pen claims that she “defends a multicultural conception of the world,” but within that world nations have to be “uni-cultural.” In the foreign-policy arena, Le Pen’s determination to defend and protect France’s uniqueness implies a deep aversion to passing moral judgment on other countries. Le Pen wants to, so to speak, “enhance” the concept of human rights with “the rights of peoples” — by which she means nations. Le Pen holds that one of the most fundamental rights for a country is the right to decide how to deal with critical issues like religion, political systems, and border control. There can, in this view, be no universal approach to human rights. Human rights have to be defined — and will be limited — within national contexts, and those definitions cannot be questioned from the outside.

    The third pillar is order. The history of France is one of civil wars and foreign invasions; thus, an essential and explicit role of French governments is to provide domestic order and protect against foreign threats. Since World War II, French efforts to inject order in the international realm have included establishing and joining international institutions, which French governments have traditionally seen as promoting an international order that serves as a first layer of defense against sources of internal chaos.

    In Le Pen’s view, however, those international institutions now threaten France by removing from the French people the right to decide how to organize their domestic life. She thus rejects the current international architecture. She insists that order depends not only on a strong national defense, but also on protecting the nation from foreign influences. Instead of the current international order, she sees France as an integral part of a new “multipolar world order” based on “dialogue” and “respect” among nations.

    Accordingly, Le Pen’s platform largely consists of a list of international regimes and institutions from which she wants to withdraw: NATO’s integrated command, the Schengen Area, the eurozone, the EU, and various free trade agreements. She has a principled objection to multilateral groups such as the World Trade Organization and the G-20, because in her view only the people of a nation “are able to decide what is right for them.”

    These withdrawals do not amount to isolationism. Le Pen fully accepts that order will at times require military operations overseas as French interests can be threatened from abroad. She claims, in fact, that Africa will be her No. 1 international priority. But her desire for a multipolar world order means that she would rather cooperate abroad with allies like Russia, which respects the need to protect identity, than those such as Germany and the United States (until Trump), which demand openness. Those demands threaten both independence and identity. So unlike those in Britain who advocated leaving the European Union, Le Pen does not see a post-EU France pursuing its interests through bilateral free trade or multilateral cooperation.

    The use of the traditional French narratives of independence, identity, and order are meant, in part, to counter the National Front’s long-standing credibility problem. Many in the French electorate have long believed that the party is unprepared for government or even dangerous. This updated framing allows Le Pen to speak about “what France has to bring to the world,” about “the role that was hers, and the role I will give back to her.” Even though presidential elections are not won on foreign policy, her new narrative is built on concepts that resonate deeply with large segments of the French population. In using them, Le Pen attempts to cast herself as a credible stateswoman.

    But the reality of her positions, when laid out clearly, is startling. A President Le Pen would seek to disengage France from most of its international commitments. Beyond NATO’s integrated command and the EU, other international regimes such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Criminal Court would probably be added to the list. Although she has been less clear on climate change, she has criticized the Paris deal not just for being “wobbly and impractical,” but also because, regardless of the effects on others, each nation has the right and can afford to decide for itself how to deal with the climate.

    President Le Pen, with a sufficient parliamentary majority, would also be able to seek a more flexible alliance posture, preferring to cooperate with countries and institutions that value sovereignty over interdependence. Her positive reaction to Trump’s election was based on hopes that “America would break with the absurd idea of subjugation of its allies.” Her support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in the name of the fight against terrorist groups, is consistent with this approach. The priority she gives to Africa — focused on Francophone countries and built around the principles of sovereignty and noninterference — is mostly meant to produce migration agreements that offer countries of transit and origin financial incentives to reduce migration, as detailed in her recent speech in Chad.

    All three pillars of her worldview come together in her desire for closer relations with Moscow. If achieved, better relations with Russia would signal French foreign-policy independence, bring it closer with a country that also believes in the pre-eminence of identity and conservative values, and point to a desire to prioritize the fight against both terrorism and U.S.-led globalization.

    “Thus, Le Pen’s brand of universalism — a long French tradition — is “that of differences,” as she put it in her key foreign-policy speech earlier this year. Le Pen claims that she “defends a multicultural conception of the world,” but within that world nations have to be “uni-cultural.” In the foreign-policy arena, Le Pen’s determination to defend and protect France’s uniqueness implies a deep aversion to passing moral judgment on other countries. Le Pen wants to, so to speak, “enhance” the concept of human rights with “the rights of peoples” — by which she means nations. Le Pen holds that one of the most fundamental rights for a country is the right to decide how to deal with critical issues like religion, political systems, and border control. There can, in this view, be no universal approach to human rights. Human rights have to be defined — and will be limited — within national contexts, and those definitions cannot be questioned from the outside.”

    Dominating far-right moral relativism. Everywhere. That’s the vision and the goal. Of Le Pen, al Qaeda, and the far-right basically everywhere. As long as a society is operating under that generic far-right hyper-macho, hyper-paternalistic hierarchical model that you find in far-right worldviews everywhere it’s ok and should be imposed on the local populace as the tradition ‘uni-culture’. If you want diversity, move around to a bunch of different far-right dominated uni-cultures.

    And don’t forget that if you listen to the responses of, for instance, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in response to questions about why Saudi Arabia’s official state-enforced ideology is so close to ISIS’s, you basically get the same response: how can other society’s judge any other society’s mores. That is wrong, according to Saudi Arabia’s foreign minster:

    Der Spiegel

    Saudi Foreign Minister
    ‘I Don’t Think World War III Is Going To Happen in Syria’

    In an interview, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir expresses his continued support for regime change in Syria and his desire for rebels to be supplied with anti-aircraft missiles that could shift the balance of power in the war.

    Interview Conducted By Samiha Shafy and Bernhard Zand

    February 19, 2016 06:32 PM

    The wait for the interview with the minister takes six hours, but then he greets the journalists in a large conference room in a grand hotel in Munich. Adel al-Jubeir, 54, a slim, amiable man, wears a traditional robe and looks a bit fatigued. He and his counterparts spent the previous evening negotiating a cease-fire in Syria well into the night. And since early this morning, they have been busily discussing current global events. Al-Jubeir is the embodiment of a new breed of top Saudi Arabian leaders: He went to school in Germany and college in the United States and then served as the Saudi ambassador to Washington. In contrast to his longtime predecessor Prince Saud al-Faisal, who served as the country’s top diplomat for decades stretching from the oil crisis in the 1970s until early 2015, al-Jubeir is not a member of the royal family. At the time of his appointment as foreign minister last April, Saudi Arabia had just gone to war with neighboring Yemen and the situation in Syria was escalating. Al-Jubeir is now responsible for representing his country’s controversial foreign policy. And he allowed himself plenty of time to do so in this interview with SPIEGEL. When his staff sought to end the interview after 45 minutes because he had a speech to give at the Munich Security Conference, al-Jubeir suggested we continue the discussion in his limousine — both on the way to his talk and back to the hotel afterward.

    SPIEGEL: How do you explain the ideological closeness between the Wahhabi faith in Saudi Arabia and Islamic State’s ideology? How do you explain that Daesh applies, with slight differences, the same draconian punishments that the Saudi judiciary does?

    Al-Jubeir: This is an oversimplification which doesn’t make sense. Daesh is attacking us. Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wants to destroy the Saudi state. These people are criminals. They’re psychopaths. Daesh members wear shoes. Does this mean everybody who wears shoes is Daesh?

    SPIEGEL: Are you contesting the similarities between the extremely conservative interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia and Islamic State’s religious ideology?

    Al-Jubeir: ISIS is as much an Islamic organization as the KKK in America is a Christian organization. They burned people of African descent on the cross, and they said they’re doing it in the name of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, in every religion there are people who pervert the faith. We should not take the actions of psychopaths and paint them as being representative of the whole religion.

    SPIEGEL: Doesn’t Saudi Arabia have to do a lot more to distance itself from ISIS and its ideology?

    Al-Jubeir: It seems people don’t read or listen. Our scholars and our media have been very outspoken. We were the first country in the world to hold a national public awareness campaign against extremism and terrorism. Why would we not want to fight an ideology whose objective is to kill us?

    SPIEGEL: At the same time, your judges mete out sentences that shock the world. The blogger Raif Badawi has been sentenced to prison and 1,000 lashes. On Jan. 2, 47 men were beheaded, among them Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. His nephew Ali has been sentenced to death as well and his body is to be crucified after the execution.

    Al-Jubeir: We have a legal system, and we have a penal code. We have the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, and people should respect this. You don’t have the death penalty, and we respect that.

    SPIEGEL: Should we respect the flogging of people?

    Al-Jubeir: Just like we respect your legal system, you should respect our legal system. You cannot impose your values on us, otherwise the world will become the law of the jungle. Every society decides what its laws are, and it’s the people who make decisions with regards to these laws. You cannot lecture another people about what you think is right or wrong based on your value system unless you’re willing to accept others imposing their value system on you.

    SPIEGEL: Is it even compatible with human rights to display the body of an executed person?

    Al-Jubeir: This is a judgment call. We have a legal system, and this is not something that happens all the time. We have capital punishment. America has capital punishment. Iran has capital punishment. Iran hangs people and leaves their bodies hanging on cranes. Iran put to death more than a thousand people last year. I don’t see you reporting on it.

    SPIEGEL: We have reported on it.

    Al-Jubeir: Just like we respect your legal system, you should respect our legal system. You cannot impose your values on us, otherwise the world will become the law of the jungle. Every society decides what its laws are, and it’s the people who make decisions with regards to these laws. You cannot lecture another people about what you think is right or wrong based on your value system unless you’re willing to accept others imposing their value system on you.

    That sure sounds a lot like Le Pen. Because when you break down most far-right ideologies one of the underlying demands is the freedom to engage in the kinds of repressive social models you find in far-right movements without criticism. It’s an attitude that is pervasive in the American far-right victim culture (rallying against ‘political correctness’ as repression) and is a basic demand of oppressive regimes everywhere: stop persecuting our persecution by criticizing it.

    At the same time, let’s also not forget that much of the appeal for groups like the National Front and Trump does come from the real and understandable frustrations with over economic paradigms that really have screwed over large swathes of society – primarily to the benefit of the super-rich who are the primary financiers, backers, and beneficiaries of far-right movements – and left people with a sense of desperation and despair. It’s all a reminder of what a massive historic disaster it’s been over the last generation to fuse of liberal values to emerge from the Enlightenment – openness, empathy, tolerance, equality, rights for women and minorities, and an overarching culture that respects diversity and is primarily only intolerant of intolerance and not abiding by the Golden Rule – to the far-right pro-rich economic theories (and wars) that have come to dominate both the US and European policy-making circles in recent decades (Reaganomics + the eurozone austerity-Ordoliberalism) that has helped pave the way for exactly the kind of situation we find ourselves in today.

    But let’s also not forget that if there is a “WWIII” being fought, it’s a battle between the global far-right and everyone else to create a world that is safe for far-right domination everyone. You know, like how it was before the Enlightenment. It’s a “WWIII” that’s really always been waged and the global far-right has almost always been winning. And thanks the cooperation of the far-rightists like Trump, far-right Islamist fundamentalists like ISIS and the Saudi monarchy, and the European far-right like the National Front all working together to foment tensions and keep people division they just might score another massive victory in France. And if Russia magically became a liberal utopia tomorrow, ‘WWIII’ would still be on because it’s ‘WW-always. That’s how dominating reactionary repressive ideologies work. It’s why a uni-cultural of tolerant, nice, and understanding multi-culturalism is such an important goal and constantly under attack. Let’s not forget that.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 22, 2017, 3:32 pm
  2. Here’s something to keep in mind regarding the potential role Erik Prince might be playing in the Trump administration and its international negotiations, especially negotiations involving China (like the stand off with North Korea): Prince’s newest firm, Frontier Services Group (FSG), is already providing services for the government of China on its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a modern day land-based ‘Silk Road’ paired with a maritime ‘Silk Road’ to protect and promote Chinese trade. And deep ties between FSG and China’s state-owned conglomerate CITIC Group appear to be part of what’s facilitating FSG’s access to such lucrative contracts, with the FSG poised to get even more contracts as the “One Belt, One Road” program expands more into China’s neighboring countries. Especially in areas where the locals have a strong anti-Chinese sentiment and having a bunch of Erik Prince’s employees might be preferable, including Xinjiang province.

    Yes, Erik Prince is positioning himself to be the Chinese government’s non-Chinese private security force of choice. Except, curiously, Prince claims that all FSG services will be unarmed and the company merely intends to “provide an operations facility where we can integrate ground and air logistics together with a training facility”. Who knows what exactly the services are that they’re offering (like a mercenary-run school for teaching mercenaries, perhaps?) but it looks like Erik Prince and the Chinese government are growing increasingly close. So if Prince was the kind of person the Trump team was willing to tap to negotiate on Trump’s behalf with the Russians during a secret meeting in the Seychelles you have to wonder what kind of secret negotiations Prince gets to engage in now that he’s known as both a viable Trump back channel and the Chinese government’s Western mercenary-of-choice:

    Quartz

    The American mercenary behind Blackwater is helping China establish the new Silk Road

    Written by Chris Horton
    April 18, 2017

    For years, China has groomed landlocked Yunnan province in its southwest to be the country’s strategic bridgehead into Southeast Asia, building highways and rail lines to its borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar to one day weave them into a regional, and eventually, transcontinental transport network.

    As China pushes ahead with president Xi Jinping’s ambitious $1 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative—which reimagines a historic trade network as an overland Silk Road Economic “Belt” and a Maritime Silk “Road”—protecting Chinese business executives and other personnel and their rapidly growing investments in the region is more important than ever.

    Enter Erik Prince.

    He is now chairman of Frontier Services Group (FSG), which announced in December that it is setting up a “forward operating base” in Yunnan to provide logistics and unarmed security training services to facilitate OBOR-related projects in Southeast Asia. Just as he positioned himself to profit from George W. Bush’s military adventurism in Iraq more than a decade ago, he is poised to benefit from this decade’s dominant theme: a global realignment around China’s economy.

    Yunnan is a natural link between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors. Located on the fringe of imperial China until its absorption by the Ming Dynasty in the late 14th century, the mountainous province, roughly the size of California, was historically home to kingdoms and trade networks that extended deep into these countries’ present territories. Many of Yunnan’s two-dozen ethnic groups, such as the Jingpo, Dai, Wa, and Miao, can be found in the highlands of its neighbors, and it is the source of the headwaters of Southeast Asia’s most important rivers, the Mekong and Salween.

    Powerful partners

    Prince’s Washington connections, cultivated via his time in the military and his wealthy, well-connected family—he is the brother of US education secretary Betsy DeVos—were helpful to Blackwater in securing an estimated $2 billion in contracts, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, through FSG, he is tightly connected to China’s state-owned conglomerate CITIC Group, which owns 20% of the company and was ranked 156th on Fortune’s Global 500 list last year. CITIC has major subsidiaries involved in banking, securities, construction, real estate, technology, and more. Prince has denied that he’s gone from being Washington’s favorite mercenary to a Chinese gun-for-hire.

    “We’re not serving Chinese foreign policy goals,” Prince told the Financial Times (paywall) in a March interview. “We’re helping increase trade.” FSG told Quartz. Prince was unavailable to comment for this piece.

    CITIC has a major presence on FSG’s board of directors too. Both FSG chairman Hu Qinggang and deputy chairman Luo Ning have close ties to CITIC Group—Hu was previously its financial director and Luo is currently an assistant president at CITIC Group and sits on the boards of several of its subsidiaries. CITIC is also one of the biggest players in the OBOR initiative; less than two years ago, the group said it would invest more than $100 billion in OBOR-related projects.

    CITIC did not respond to a request for comment.

    Incorporated in Bermuda and listed in Hong Kong, FSG first began working with Chinese corporate clients in Africa—another OBOR destination—where Chinese investment has ballooned in the past decade.

    The fact that FSG is being allowed to set up a “base” in Yunnan suggests a strong degree of trust in the company from the highest levels of Chinese leadership. What’s more, the company is also planning on expanding into the highly militarized region of Xinjiang afterward to facilitate OBOR projects in Central Asia.

    Resource-rich Xinjiang, which is majority Muslim, has been on the receiving end of increasingly repressive Chinese rule in recent years, including months of blocked or limited internet service, and more recently, a ban on beards and veils. Beijing says such measures are necessary to counter growing Islamic extremism in the vast region, while critics contend that Beijing is fueling extremism through its repression.

    Location, location, location

    Continental Southeast Asia has natural resources, low labor costs, and growing consumer markets, but it also has something that China lacks: access to the Indian Ocean. By building up Yunnan’s connectivity to this region, it effectively creates a backdoor for goods leaving and entering China’s west, saving time and money.

    “A top priority for OBOR is to establish linkages to ports in Myanmar and Thailand that significantly cut costs of shipping goods to Europe and Africa,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Washington DC-based think tank Stimson Center, who lived in Yunnan for five years and has been researching its relationship with neighboring countries for more than a decade.

    The Indian Ocean also offers strategic value as a corridor that bypasses the Malacca Strait, which China fears could be closed off by the US during a conflict.

    An oil pipeline connecting the Myanmar coast with a new refinery in Yunnan’s capital, Kunming, went into operation last week, after Xi met with Myanmar president Htin Kyaw in Beijing. The pipeline allows crude oil from the Middle East and Africa to flow directly into China’s energy-thirsty southwest provinces. A parallel gas pipeline has been operating since 2013, and last year delivered 5% of China’s imported natural gas.

    How big a role FSG will play in China’s OBOR plans for Southeast Asia is still unclear, but its partner CITIC is already heavily involved in the region. CITIC leads two consortia developing a deep sea port and a special economic zone in Myanmar, at the western end of the pipelines. The twin pipelines show how OBOR-related projects can reshape the region, but they also highlight the risks in China’s growing investments in its Southeast Asian neighbors.

    One bumpy road

    Anti-Chinese sentiment in Southeast Asia is one potential flashpoint. In Myanmar, the aforementioned pipelines, as well as the stalled $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project and a controversial copper mine allegedly linked to human rights abuses—all Chinese projects inked with the junta that once ruled the country—are deeply unpopular. The pipelines and proposed dam are especially unwelcome to many Myanmar people because they almost exclusively benefit China.

    Nor are protests over environmentally destructive Chinese-built infrastructure projects, and Chinese investment more broadly, confined to Myanmar. Local populations from Vientiane to Phnom Penh (paywall) to Bangkok increasingly worry that their countries are becoming Chinese vassal states.

    The 2011 suspension of the Myitsone dam project by Myanmar’s then-president Thein Sein may have been a turning point for China’s leadership. Beijing, which previously only cared about government-to-government relations, started building schools and hospitals. China also reshuffled Yunnan’s political leadership in the following years, with those who supported policies and projects that left a poor environmental or social record in neighboring countries sidelined, said Eyler. “The new leadership seeks to implement protocols to promote higher degrees of inclusiveness and more sustainable environmental approaches,” he added.

    Risky business

    Within this context, it is understandable that security would be a growing concern for Beijing. FSG’s first move in Yunnan will be to open a Kunming office this year, with the possibility of additional facilities elsewhere in the province, according to a company spokesman.

    The company intends to “provide an operations facility where we can integrate ground and air logistics together with a training facility,” the spokesman said, adding that all services will be unarmed and that “details of the training services are still under discussion.”

    FSG will not hire or train any active duty military personnel, but also “does not discriminate based on a potential applicant’s background,” he said.

    Setting up in Yunnan could leave FSG and Prince well-positioned to benefit from China’s numerous big deals in neighboring countries—more of which may be unveiled at next month’s two-day OBOR forum in Beijing. Announced by president Xi at the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos, the gathering is likely to be viewed as yet another globalist feather in Xi’s cap, while the Trump administration confounds Europe, bombs the Middle East, and sends tremors of uncertainty down East Asia’s political fault lines.

    It remains to be seen if Prince will replicate Blackwater’s financial success with FSG in China, but the main ingredients of connections, money, and policy appear to be in place, as does demand. As Eyler sees it, “Yunnan continues to be a critical conduit for outbound Chinese investment and power projection to the region.”

    “The fact that FSG is being allowed to set up a “base” in Yunnan suggests a strong degree of trust in the company from the highest levels of Chinese leadership. What’s more, the company is also planning on expanding into the highly militarized region of Xinjiang afterward to facilitate OBOR projects in Central Asia.

    That sounds like a controversial plan, although it’s unclear how controversial it is since it’s so unclear what the actual plan is. At least it’s unclear if we solely listen to what Prince and FSG representatives tell us the plan is. But if we listen to what insiders tell reporters in the articles below it become much clearer. And is still pretty controversial: the plan is apparently for FSG to train ex-PLA soldiers in how to be private contractors so they can operate all over the world in the countries that are part of the “One Belt, One Road” giant trade route to get around the prohibition so many countries have against the Chinese military operating in their country. So, yes, the plan really is to have FSG teach the Chinese how to set up their own Blackwaters:

    Buzzfeed

    Betsy DeVos’s Brother, The Founder Of Blackwater, Is Setting Up A Private Army For China, Sources Say

    The controversial Blackwater founder says he is setting up two bases in China, but his company says “this does not involve armed personnel.”

    Aram Roston
    Posted on February 16, 2017, at 5:22 p.m.

    Erik Prince — founder of the private military company Blackwater, financial backer of President Donald Trump, brother to the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and frequent Breitbart radio guest of White House power broker Stephen Bannon — has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives and setting up two Blackwater-style training camps in China, according to sources and his own company statements.

    The move could put him at odds with Trump, who has often taken a hard line against China, and could also risk violating US law, which prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China.

    Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

    In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

    “He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate. “He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

    In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

    “Mr. Prince and Mr. Trump know each other and share mutual respect,” the statement added.

    White House spokespersons did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story.

    Frontier Services Group trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its largest shareholder is an investment fund owned and controlled by the People’s Republic of China, CITIC. Until last year Frontier claimed to be merely a logistics and transportation company, steering clear of Prince’s specialty of providing private military capabilities for operations — though last March The Intercept news organization ran a story saying that Prince, that Prince, sometimes using his role at Frontier, was pitching security and paramilitary services. In the story, Frontier denied the company was involved.

    When Frontier later told its board it was shifting into security services — largely to assist China’s international development policy — the development disgusted two American executives at Prince’s Hong Kong company.

    Gregg Smith, the former CEO of Frontier, said he was ready to quit last March if Erik Prince was not removed from the company. Then, at a board meeting late that month, he said a company official made clear that Frontier would be providing security services in support of Chinese government objectives. “That was the final straw,” he told BuzzFeed News.

    Retired US Admiral William Fallon, a Frontier board member, was at the same board meeting. He resigned too when he heard that the firm was providing security services. “That wasn’t what I signed up for,” he said in an interview.

    President Donald Trump has talked tough about China. To be sure, he recently reaffirmed that the United States will formally recognize only mainland China and not Taiwan, a crucial point for Beijing. But Trump has installed a sharply anti-China critic as the head of his National Trade Council. Before winning the presidency, Trump called China an “enemy.” Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who interviewed Prince on Breitbart frequently,, predicted last year that the US will be at war with China “in the South China Sea in five to 10 years.” And even if no hot war breaks out, many experts believe Trump is gearing up for a trade war with the country that manufactures much of the world’s goods (including some Trump brand products.)

    During the campaign, Prince donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, which supported both Trump’s election bid and the Republican Party. Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has long covered Prince, recently wrote that the businessman is advising the Trump Administration.

    Just four days before the election, Prince gave an interview to Breitbart radio, part of the media empire that Bannon used to run, in which Prince pushed an unfounded theory that the NYPD had been about to announce arrest warrants in the Clinton investigation but was blocked by the Justice Department, and that Hillary Clinton had been to a “sex island” with a convicted pedophile “at least six times.” Prince’s bizarre claims were prominently displayed on Breitbart’s website leading up to the election and were widely distributed on right wing websites.

    Now, however, Prince’s new business foray could put him at odds with Trump.

    Former executives said that Frontier’s “forward operating bases” will be training former People’s Liberation Army soldiers to work as discreet non-uniformed soldiers for hire.

    The former associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince “is making Frontier Services a full-on private military company.”

    As of the summer, this person continued, “the plan was to set up Blackwater-like training facilities specifically to train the Chinese.”

    Another former ally of Prince said: “The idea is to train former PLA soldiers in the art of being private military contractor. That way the actual Red Army doesn’t have to go into these remote areas.”

    Asked about Frontier’s claim that Prince was planning “unarmed” security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is “ridiculous,” said one.

    “Are they using sonic weapons,” joked the other. “Is it psychic powers?”

    Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a private military company — Prince objects to the term “mercenary” — that did phenomenal business during the war on terror. The firm was frequently embroiled in scandal: Four of its employees were killed in Fallujah in 2004, leading to a Marine Corps onslaught on the city; several former employees pleaded guilty to arms violations in a lengthy investigation; and still others were convicted in a wild shooting spree in Baghdad in which 17 civilians were slaughtered.

    Typically, Prince has been involved in ventures that he claims are in line with US foreign policy goals. He has reportedly helped the United Arab Emirates set up a military unit of former Colombian soldiers; pushed for an anti-piracy operation in the Puntland region of Somalia; and tried to sell a mercenary operation in Nigeria.

    The current China plan appears to be different. China is widely understood to have interests that are adversarial to the US, and the two powers compete for world influence. And US law bans US citizens from exporting defense-related services or equipment to the country.

    Frontier’s December press release said the Yunnan base would “allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia..” The Uighur region, which would be home to the company’s second base, abuts Afghanistan.

    According to the press release “these bases will provide training, communications, risk mitigation, risk assessments, information gathering, medevac and joint operations centers that coordinate security, logistics and aviation.”

    The press release said the company was “expanding its security offerings” to include “training for personnel,” as well as “Personnel Protection” services, which is industry jargon for providing bodyguards. The December press release did not state that the security offerings would be unarmed.

    China expert Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said US regulators would likely take a dim view of security operations in China’s Uighur areas. “It’s at odds with the American government view that we don’t want to help the Chinese oppress the Uighurs in Xinjiang.”

    “In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.””

    That’s the official line from FSG: everything they’re doing is unarmed, so therefore it’s not regulated. And somehow FSG is going to be teaching all thse non-military personnel how to provide close protection security without the use of arms. So, like, really, really bad ass kung fu? Psychic weapons? Let’s hope psychic weapons because that would be pretty cool. But, alas, it’s probably just regular weapons and FSG is simply lying:


    Former executives said that Frontier’s “forward operating bases” will be training former People’s Liberation Army soldiers to work as discreet non-uniformed soldiers for hire.

    The former associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince “is making Frontier Services a full-on private military company.”

    As of the summer, this person continued, “the plan was to set up Blackwater-like training facilities specifically to train the Chinese.”

    Another former ally of Prince said: “The idea is to train former PLA soldiers in the art of being private military contractor. That way the actual Red Army doesn’t have to go into these remote areas.”

    Asked about Frontier’s claim that Prince was planning “unarmed” security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is “ridiculous,” said one.

    “Are they using sonic weapons,” joked the other. “Is it psychic powers?”

    “Asked about Frontier’s claim that Prince was planning “unarmed” security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is “ridiculous,” said one.”

    So at least based on those sources is sounds like FSG’s claim of “unarmed” training is a giant pile of BS. Which makes a lot more sense than the pretense that they were telling the truth because, really, what on earth would they be doing unarmed? At the same time, it’s not inconceivable that FSG’s personnel really are going to be dedicated primary to armed training of ex-PLA ‘private contractors-in-training’ and never actually engage in direct combat themselves. And by using this fiction FSG can operate legally in China (maybe) and act like a private contractor factory that the Chinese can use to for security along the “One Belt, One Ride” giant trade route. And presumably anywhere else where the Chinese government or companies might want a mercenary force. Or any other government of company potentially as long as this new Chinese mercenary force is will to take international clients. In other words, it looks like Americans ex-Mercenary king might be in the process setting up an ‘armed mercenaries’ industry in China. Potentially for export.

    Worst. example. of. offshoring. jobs. ever. But it’s happening. And as a consequence, Prince is probably a pretty hot commodity in China these days. Just imagine all the uses they might have for a private mercenary industry. Or informal back channels….assuming the formal back channels aren’t available for some reason.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 24, 2017, 3:29 pm

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