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FTR #955 Syrian Chemical Weapons 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

6 comments for “FTR #955 Syrian Chemical Weapons 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
  3. Brad Fried­man just did an inter­view on The Brad Cast (avail­able here) of MIT pro­fes­sor Theodore Pos­tol on his analy­sis of the avail­able evi­dence of the sarin attack. It’s an hour long inter­view and very worth a lis­ten. And, *unnec­es­sary spoil­er alert*, Pos­tol isn’t sim­ply skep­ti­cal of the offi­cial account of what hap­pened. He’s say­ing there is no way the attack occurred the way we are being told:

    The Brad Blog

    MIT Rock­et Sci­en­tist Says White House Evi­dence of Alleged Syr­i­an Chem­i­cal Attack is ‘False’: ‘Brad­Cast’ 4/24/2017

    Guest: MIT’s Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, Theodore A. Pos­tol...

    By Brad Fried­man on 4/24/2017, 6:58pm PT

    On today’s Brad­Cast: Just days after the April 4 chem­i­cal attack in Syr­i­a’s rebel-held Idlib province, the U.S. launched 59 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles against the air base said to have been where Bashar al-Assad’s gov­ern­ment launched an alleged sarin attack that report­ed­ly killed some 80 civil­ians, includ­ing many chil­dren. But how much of the evi­dence of the chem­i­cal attack has actu­al­ly been inde­pen­dent­ly con­firmed? My guest today charges that the evi­dence offered by the U.S. to jus­ti­fy its mil­i­tary response is entire­ly false. [Audio link to com­plete show is post­ed at end of arti­cle below.]

    The hor­rif­ic after­math of the release of the nerve agent was seen in videos played around the world, and said to have been the impe­tus for Don­ald Trump revers­ing his posi­tion on Syr­ia, which he had, for years (and even just days ear­li­er), said we should stay out of. Nonethe­less, with­out debate or Con­sti­tu­tion­al approval by the U.S. Con­gress, we launched a mil­i­tary assault on yet anoth­er sov­er­eign nation and today the Admin­is­tra­tion announced a series of tough new sanc­tions against the regime. But there has yet to be any find­ings from an inter­na­tion­al inves­ti­ga­tion of the inci­dent, and evi­dence sup­port­ing the alle­ga­tions that it was Assad, not the rebels or ter­ror­ists he is fight­ing against, respon­si­ble for the attack, was laid out only in a brief, April 11 report issued by the White House — notably, not issued by the U.S. Intel­li­gence ser­vices.

    That report, charges my guest today, Theodore A. Pos­tol, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy(MIT), can­not pos­si­bly be accu­rate. Fur­ther­more, he says, the April 11 White House Report (WHR), as he details in now four sep­a­rate analy­ses he has issued since its release, “was not prop­er­ly vet­ted by the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.”

    “The report con­tains absolute­ly no evi­dence that this attack was the result of a muni­tion being dropped from an air­craft,” as the White House has claimed, Pos­tol finds in his ini­tial analy­sis [PDF], based on pho­graph­ic evi­dence of the crater said to have been caused when Syr­ia dropped a chem­i­cal muni­tion. “In fact, the report con­tains absolute­ly no evi­dence that would indi­cate who was the per­pe­tra­tor of this atroc­i­ty.”

    Pos­tol is a physi­cist and rock­et tra­jec­to­ry expert who for­mer­ly served as a sci­ence advi­sor to the chief of Naval oper­a­tions at the Pen­ta­gon, has been vin­di­cat­ed a num­ber of times over the years con­cern­ing sim­i­lar­ly skep­ti­cal analy­ses of claims con­cern­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary’s use of Patri­ot mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy in the first Gulf War (see Char­lie Pierce’s 2005 Boston Globe pro­file of Pos­tol here), as well as the Oba­ma White House claims about Assad’s alleged chem­i­cal weapons attack in 2013. He joins me today to explain his analy­ses and to speak to the remark­able lack of skep­ti­cal cov­er­age by the U.S. main­stream media regard­ing the WHR on the April nerve agent inci­dent.

    On the day of Trump’s retal­ia­to­ry attack on Syr­ia, Peter Ford, Britain’s for­mer Ambas­sador to Syr­ia expressed skep­ti­cism on BBC News about Assad being behind the chem­i­cal attack (“Assad may be cru­el, bru­tal, but he’s not mad. It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no mil­i­tary advan­tage,” he told BBC at the time.) But in the U.S. main­stream media, no such skep­ti­cism has been explored, despite well known mis­lead­ing intel­li­gence used to jus­ti­fy U.S. mil­i­tary action in the recent past, such as dur­ing the lead-up to the Iraq War (which, in turn, opened the door to so much of the vio­lence and war in the Mid­dle East ever since, includ­ing in Syr­ia.)

    “We again have a sit­u­a­tion where the White House has issued an obvi­ous­ly false, mis­lead­ing and ama­teur­ish intel­li­gence report,” Pos­tol argues in his first report on the April 4 inci­dent, issued after study­ing pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence pre­sent­ed by the White House or oth­er­wise pub­licly avail­able. “What I can say for sure here­in is that what the coun­try is now being told by the White House can­not be true [empha­sis in orig­i­nal] and the fact that this infor­ma­tion has been pro­vid­ed in this for­mat rais­es the most seri­ous ques­tions about the han­dling of our nation­al secu­ri­ty.”

    Even the New York Times, which, Pos­tol tells me today, used to cov­er his analy­ses in detail, have not both­ered to con­tact him this time — even to debunk his claims — for rea­sons that remain unknown, despite his past track record. In fact, I’ve been able to find lit­tle if any cov­er­age that attempts to debunk his asser­tions in response to the WHR.

    ...

    Writ­ing over the week­end, in his 4th report [PDF] on the mat­ter, Pos­tol charged: “With­out an inde­pen­dent media pro­vid­ing accu­rate and unbi­ased infor­ma­tion to the nation’s cit­i­zens, the gov­ern­ment can do what it choos­es with­out being con­cerned about the reac­tions of cit­i­zens who elect­ed it. The crit­i­cal func­tion of the main­stream media in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion should be to inves­ti­gate and report the facts that clear­ly and unam­bigu­ous­ly con­tra­dict the gov­ern­men­t’s claims on this mat­ter.”

    ...

    Down­load MP3 or lis­ten to com­plete show online below...

    Pos­tol’s reports on the April 4 chem­i­cal inci­dent, to date:

    1) “A Quick Turn­around Assess­ment of the White House Intel­li­gence Report” [PDF, 4/11/2017 (Note: Pos­tol con­firms his typo in the head­er date-stamp. His first report was issued on April 11, not April 17.)]
    2) Adden­dum to Report #1 [PDF, 4/13/2017]
    3) Video Evi­dence of False Claims Made in the White House Intel­li­gence Report of April 11, 2017 [PDF, 4/14/2017]
    4) Analy­sis of the Times and Loca­tions of Crit­i­cal Events in the Alleged Nerve Agent Attack on April 4, 2017 [PDF, 4/21/2017]

    “Pos­tol is a physi­cist and rock­et tra­jec­to­ry expert who for­mer­ly served as a sci­ence advi­sor to the chief of Naval oper­a­tions at the Pen­ta­gon, has been vin­di­cat­ed a num­ber of times over the years con­cern­ing sim­i­lar­ly skep­ti­cal analy­ses of claims con­cern­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary’s use of Patri­ot mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy in the first Gulf War (see Char­lie Pierce’s 2005 Boston Globe pro­file of Pos­tol here), as well as the Oba­ma White House claims about Assad’s alleged chem­i­cal weapons attack in 2013. He joins me today to explain his analy­ses and to speak to the remark­able lack of skep­ti­cal cov­er­age by the U.S. main­stream media regard­ing the WHR on the April nerve agent inci­dent.”

    And despite that resume that makes Pos­tol a go-to expert to con­sult dur­ing times like this, Pos­tol’s opin­ion is appar­ent­ly extreme­ly unwant­ed these days. It’s one of the those “the silent-treat­ment is deaf­en­ing” sit­u­a­tions.

    So is this how it’s going to be indef­i­nite­ly? Just a default assump­tion that the sarin attack hap­pened as we’re told as the US wades deep­er in the Syr­i­an con­flict? Hope­ful­ly not but it’s unclear what’s going to change the sit­u­a­tion. Although there is one option worth try­ing: As Pos­tol remarks in the fol­low­ing inter­view, if he’s cor­rect and the White House Report on the attack is a bunch of garbage that the White House knew was garbage, that’s an impeach­able offense. Or at least should be:

    The Nation

    The Chem­i­cal-Weapons Attack In Syr­ia: Is There a Place for Skep­ti­cism?
    The Amer­i­can media has exclud­ed dis­sent­ing expert opin­ions in its rush to embrace Trump’s war on Syr­ia.

    By James Car­den
    April 19, 2017

    In addi­tion to high­light­ing the embar­rass­ing degree to which the Amer­i­can media is seduced by dis­plays of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary might, its rush to embrace Pres­i­dent Trump’s deci­sion to launch a mil­i­tary attack against Syr­ia on April 6 has also crowd­ed out dis­sent­ing voic­es from the administration’s claim that it was the gov­ern­ment of Bashar al-Assad that was respon­si­ble for the chem­i­cal-weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, which killed over 80 peo­ple and injured hun­dreds.

    By fir­ing 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles at the Shayrat air base in Syr­ia, and killing five Syr­i­an sol­diers and nine civil­ians in the process, Pres­i­dent Trump was able to trans­form him­self in the eyes of the media from an object of deri­sion into, in the words of erst­while Trump crit­ic Elliot Abrams, “Leader of the Free World.”

    Dis­sent from what amounts to a new par­ty line has been notice­ably absent. As the inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Robert Par­ry recent­ly observed, “All the Impor­tant Peo­ple who appeared on the TV shows or who were quot­ed in the main­stream media trust­ed the images pro­vid­ed by Al Qaeda–related pro­pa­gan­dists and ignored doc­u­ment­ed pri­or cas­es in which the Syr­i­an rebels staged chem­i­cal weapons inci­dents to impli­cate the Assad gov­ern­ment.”

    For­mer British ambas­sador to Syr­ia Peter Ford told the BBC last week that he seri­ous­ly doubt­ed that Assad was the cul­prit. “Assad,” said Ford, “may be cru­el, bru­tal but he’s not mad. It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no mil­i­tary advan­tage.” Ford said he believes the accu­sa­tions against Syr­ia are “sim­ply not plau­si­ble.”

    And so, on what evi­dence and intel­li­gence was Trump’s deci­sion based upon?

    On April 11, the White House released a declas­si­fied four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belat­ed jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Tom­a­hawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.

    The report, which was authored not by US intel­li­gence agen­cies but by the White House under the super­vi­sion of nation­al-secu­ri­ty advis­er H.R. McMas­ter, says that “The Unit­ed States is con­fi­dent that the Syr­i­an regime con­duct­ed a chem­i­cal weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own peo­ple in the town of Khan Shaykhun in south­ern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.”

    The report relies on “open source” videos for proof of its claim that a “chem­i­cal muni­tion land­ed not on a facil­i­ty filled with weapons,” as the Rus­sians and Syr­i­ans have claimed, “but in the mid­dle of a street in the north­ern sec­tion of Khan Shaykhun. Com­mer­cial satel­lite imagery of that site from April 6, after the alle­ga­tion, shows a crater in the road that cor­re­sponds to the open source video.”

    Yet the administration’s report has come under with­er­ing scruti­ny from Dr. Theodore Pos­tol, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, and nation­al-secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, who once served as a sci­en­tif­ic advis­er to the chief of naval oper­a­tions at the Pen­ta­gon.

    Postol’s exhaus­tive cri­tique of the White House report notes that “The only undis­putable facts stat­ed in the White House report is the claim that a chem­i­cal attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syr­ia.” And yet, accord­ing to Pos­tol, “the report con­tains absolute­ly no evi­dence that this attack was the result of a muni­tion being dropped from an air­craft. In fact, the report con­tains absolute­ly no evi­dence that would indi­cate who was the per­pe­tra­tor of this atroc­i­ty.”

    Pos­tol writes that “The only source the doc­u­ment cites as evi­dence that the attack was by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment is the crater it claims to have iden­ti­fied on a road in the North of Khan Shaykhun.” Yet his analy­sis of the pho­tographs of the crater pro­vid­ed by the White House “clear­ly indi­cates that the muni­tion was almost cer­tain­ly placed on the ground with an exter­nal det­o­nat­ing explo­sive on top of it that crushed the con­tain­er so as to dis­perse the alleged load of sarin.”

    And so, “In order to cov­er up the lack of intel­li­gence to sup­port­ing the president’s action, the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil pro­duced a fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence report.” Pos­tol con­cludes that the “report is com­plete­ly under­mined by a sig­nif­i­cant body of video evi­dence tak­en after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise mis­sile attack that unam­bigu­ous­ly shows the claims in the WHR [White House Report] could not pos­si­bly be true.”

    The Nation spoke to Pos­tol over the week­end.

    “What I think is now crys­tal clear,” he said, “is that the White House report was fab­ri­cat­ed and it cer­tain­ly did not fol­low the pro­ce­dures it claimed to employ.”

    “My best guess at the moment is that this was an extreme­ly clum­sy and ill-con­ceived attempt to cov­er up the fact that Trump attacked Syr­ia with­out any intel­li­gence evi­dence that Syr­ia was in fact the per­pe­tra­tor of the attack…. It may be,” he con­tin­ued, “that the White House staff was wor­ried that this could even­tu­al­ly come out—a reck­less pres­i­dent act­ing with­out regard to the nation’s secu­ri­ty, risk­ing an inad­ver­tent esca­la­tion and con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia, and a break­down in coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia that would crip­ple our efforts to defeat the Islam­ic State.”

    “If that is not an impeach­able offense,” Pos­tol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”

    It is entire­ly pos­si­ble, of course, that dis­sent­ing voic­es like Postol’s and Ambas­sador Ford’s may ulti­mate­ly be proved wrong, and that Assad was indeed behind the chem­i­cal-weapons attack.

    Indeed, if it is true, as CNN report­ed on April 13, that the “US mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions fea­tur­ing Syr­i­an mil­i­tary and chem­i­cal experts talk­ing about prepa­ra­tions for the sarin attack in Idlib,” then that would be hard, if not impos­si­ble, to explain away. Mean­while, US offi­cials are not back­ing away from their claim that there is “no doubt” that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment ordered the attack.

    But at this ear­ly stage, ques­tions such as those posed by Pos­tol and Ford should be aired by the US media, not ignored. And, giv­en that the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has seem­ing­ly kept its dis­tance from the administration’s claims, a seri­ous inves­ti­ga­tion into what exact­ly took place is all the more nec­es­sary.

    Robert Par­ry writes, “it remains a mys­tery why this intel­li­gence assess­ment is not com­ing direct­ly from Pres­i­dent Trump’s intel­li­gence chiefs as is nor­mal­ly the case, either with an offi­cial Intel­li­gence Esti­mate or a report issued by the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence.”

    Philip Giral­di, a for­mer CIA case offi­cer and Army intel­li­gence offi­cer, told radio host Scott Hor­ton on April 6 that he was “hear­ing from sources on the ground in the Mid­dle East, peo­ple who are inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the intel­li­gence that is avail­able, who are say­ing the essen­tial nar­ra­tive we are hear­ing about the Syr­i­ans and Rus­sians using chem­i­cal weapons is a sham.”

    Giral­di also not­ed that “peo­ple in the both the agency [CIA] and in the mil­i­tary who are aware of the intel­li­gence are freak­ing out about this because essen­tial­ly Trump com­plete­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed” what had tak­en place in Khan Sheikhun. Giral­di reports that his sources in the mil­i­tary and the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty “are aston­ished by how this is being played by the admin­is­tra­tion and by the US media.”

    Giv­en the seri­ous­ness of the ques­tions raised by Giral­di, one can’t help but won­der if the administration’s motives for launch­ing the mis­sile strike were moti­vat­ed by con­sid­er­a­tions oth­er than those which they have aired thus far. What exact­ly was the rush? The find­ings of an inves­ti­ga­tion into the attack by the Organ­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons is expect­ed to be released in only two weeks’ time.

    In the mean­time, accord­ing to a report from the April 5 meet­ing of the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, the UN’s high rep­re­sen­ta­tive for dis­ar­ma­ment affairs, Kim Won-soo, informed the Coun­cil that “the infor­ma­tion on the report­ed 4 April use of chem­i­cal weapons in Khan Shaykhun, in Syria’s Idlib Gov­er­norate, was still com­ing in.” The high rep­re­sen­ta­tive could also not con­firm who car­ried out the attack, though both sides of the six-year-long Syr­i­an war have been repeat­ed­ly accused of using chem­i­cal weapons.

    Yet in spite of all this, Trump, per­haps sens­ing polit­i­cal advan­tage, rushed to exe­cute a uni­lat­er­al and ille­gal mil­i­tary response. The fact that he did so rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about his judg­ment, as well as the judg­ment of all the pun­dits who applaud­ed him.

    But per­haps the enthu­si­asm that greet­ed Trump’s mis­sile strike was mis­placed. Ambas­sador Ford warns that “Trump has just giv­en the jihadis a thou­sand rea­sons to stage fake flag oper­a­tions, see­ing how suc­cess­ful and how easy it is with a gullible media to pro­voke the West into intem­per­ate reac­tions.”

    ...

    “My best guess at the moment is that this was an extreme­ly clum­sy and ill-con­ceived attempt to cov­er up the fact that Trump attacked Syr­ia with­out any intel­li­gence evi­dence that Syr­ia was in fact the per­pe­tra­tor of the attack…. It may be,” he con­tin­ued, “that the White House staff was wor­ried that this could even­tu­al­ly come out—a reck­less pres­i­dent act­ing with­out regard to the nation’s secu­ri­ty, risk­ing an inad­ver­tent esca­la­tion and con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia, and a break­down in coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia that would crip­ple our efforts to defeat the Islam­ic State.””

    That’s how Pos­tol sees it at this point: that bizarre White House report, that did­n’t even come from one of Trump’s intel­li­gence chiefs, was whipped up after the fact to cov­er up for the fact that the White House did­n’t actu­al­ly have any evi­dence of who did the attack. And as Pos­tol sug­gests, if this is true, it’s one hel­lu­va impeach­able offense. Or at least should be:

    ...
    “If that is not an impeach­able offense,” Pos­tol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”
    ...

    Also keep in mind that, if Pos­tol is cor­rect and this attack real­ly was done by the rebels, there will prob­a­bly be plen­ty of future oppor­tu­ni­ties to raise these kinds of issues with media. Most­ly because it’s not like this is going to be the last attack of this nature giv­en how wild­ly suc­cess­ful this last one was:

    ...
    But per­haps the enthu­si­asm that greet­ed Trump’s mis­sile strike was mis­placed. Ambas­sador Ford warns that “Trump has just giv­en the jihadis a thou­sand rea­sons to stage fake flag oper­a­tions, see­ing how suc­cess­ful and how easy it is with a gullible media to pro­voke the West into intem­per­ate reac­tions.
    ...

    So who knows, if the poten­tial­ly impeach­able nature of this sit­u­a­tion was more wide­ly rec­og­nized maybe the media might final­ly give it the atten­tion it deserves. That prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen, but it could. We’ll see. But in the mean time, check out the inter­view.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 25, 2017, 3:01 pm
  4. Sey­mour Hersh has a piece in Die Welt about the intel­li­gence that went into the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s deci­sion to launch a cruise mis­sile strike against a Syr­i­an air­base fol­low­ing the alleged sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. So what did the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty know about the attack? Well, the Russ­ian and Syr­i­an air force had in fact informed the US in advance of that airstrike that they had intel­li­gence that top lev­el lead­ers of Ahrar al-Sham and Jab­hat al-Nus­ra were meet­ing in that build­ing and they informed of the US of the attack plan in advance of the attack and that it was on a “high-val­ue” tar­get. And the attack involved the unusu­al use of a guid­ed bomb and Syr­i­a’s top pilots. Fol­low­ing the attack, US intel­li­gence con­clud­ed that there was no sarin gas attack, Assad would­n’t have been that polit­i­cal­ly sui­ci­dal, and the symp­toms of chem­i­cal poi­son­ing fol­low­ing the bomb­ing was like­ly due to a mix­ture of chlo­rine, fer­til­iz­ers, and oth­er chem­i­cals stored in the build­ing that was tar­get­ed by the Syr­i­an air­force cre­at­ed by sec­ondary explo­sions from the ini­tial bomb­ing.

    All this was known by US intel­li­gence and explained to Trump. But he was­n’t inter­est­ed in that analy­sis because he already made up his mind about the nature of the attack after watch­ing cable news:

    Welt.de

    Trump‘s Red Line

    by Sey­mour M. Hersh
    25.06.2017

    On April 6, Unit­ed States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump autho­rized an ear­ly morn­ing Tom­a­hawk mis­sile strike on Shayrat Air Base in cen­tral Syr­ia in retal­i­a­tion for what he said was a dead­ly nerve agent attack car­ried out by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment two days ear­li­er in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite hav­ing been warned by the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty that it had found no evi­dence that the Syr­i­ans had used a chem­i­cal weapon.

    The avail­able intel­li­gence made clear that the Syr­i­ans had tar­get­ed a jihadist meet­ing site on April 4 using a Russ­ian-sup­plied guid­ed bomb equipped with con­ven­tion­al explo­sives. Details of the attack, includ­ing infor­ma­tion on its so-called high-val­ue tar­gets, had been pro­vid­ed by the Rus­sians days in advance to Amer­i­can and allied mil­i­tary offi­cials in Doha, whose mis­sion is to coor­di­nate all U.S., allied, Syr­i­an and Russ­ian Air Force oper­a­tions in the region.

    Some Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials were espe­cial­ly dis­tressed by the pres­i­den­t’s deter­mi­na­tion to ignore the evi­dence. “None of this makes any sense,” one offi­cer told col­leagues upon learn­ing of the deci­sion to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chem­i­cal attack ... the Rus­sians are furi­ous. Claim­ing we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it did­n’t mat­ter whether we elect­ed Clin­ton or Trump.“

    With­in hours of the April 4 bomb­ing, the world’s media was sat­u­rat­ed with pho­tographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pic­tures of dead and dying vic­tims, alleged­ly suf­fer­ing from the symp­toms of nerve gas poi­son­ing, were uploaded to social media by local activists, includ­ing the White Hel­mets, a first respon­der group known for its close asso­ci­a­tion with the Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion.

    The prove­nance of the pho­tos was not clear and no inter­na­tion­al observers have yet inspect­ed the site, but the imme­di­ate pop­u­lar assump­tion world­wide was that this was a delib­er­ate use of the nerve agent sarin, autho­rized by Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad of Syr­ia. Trump endorsed that assump­tion by issu­ing a state­ment with­in hours of the attack, describ­ing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a con­se­quence of the Oba­ma administration’s “weak­ness and irres­o­lu­tion” in address­ing what he said was Syria’s past use of chem­i­cal weapons.

    To the dis­may of many senior mem­bers of his nation­al secu­ri­ty team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense brief­in­gs and deci­sion-mak­ing. In a series of inter­views, I learned of the total dis­con­nect between the pres­i­dent and many of his mil­i­tary advis­ers and intel­li­gence offi­cials, as well as offi­cers on the ground in the region who had an entire­ly dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was pro­vid­ed with evi­dence of that dis­con­nect, in the form of tran­scripts of real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tions, imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the Syr­i­an attack on April 4. In an impor­tant pre-strike process known as decon­flic­tion, U.S. and Russ­ian offi­cers rou­tine­ly sup­ply one anoth­er with advance details of planned flight paths and tar­get coor­di­nates, to ensure that there is no risk of col­li­sion or acci­den­tal encounter (the Rus­sians speak on behalf of the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary). This infor­ma­tion is sup­plied dai­ly to the Amer­i­can AWACS sur­veil­lance planes that mon­i­tor the flights once air­borne. Deconfliction’s suc­cess and impor­tance can be mea­sured by the fact that there has yet to be one col­li­sion, or even a near miss, among the high-pow­ered super­son­ic Amer­i­can, Allied, Russ­ian and Syr­i­an fight­er bombers.

    Russ­ian and Syr­i­an Air Force offi­cers gave details of the care­ful­ly planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 direct­ly, in Eng­lish, to the decon­flic­tion mon­i­tors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turk­ish bor­der, 60 miles or more to the north.

    The Syr­i­an tar­get at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Amer­i­cans at Doha, was depict­ed as a two-sto­ry cin­der-block build­ing in the north­ern part of town. Russ­ian intel­li­gence, which is shared when nec­es­sary with Syr­ia and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had estab­lished that a high-lev­el meet­ing of jihadist lead­ers was to take place in the build­ing, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qai­da-affil­i­at­ed group for­mer­ly known as Jab­hat al-Nus­ra. The two groups had recent­ly joined forces, and con­trolled the town and sur­round­ing area. Russ­ian intel­li­gence depict­ed the cin­der-block build­ing as a com­mand and con­trol cen­ter that housed a gro­cery and oth­er com­mer­cial premis­es on its ground floor with oth­er essen­tial shops near­by, includ­ing a fab­ric shop and an elec­tron­ics store.

    “The rebels con­trol the pop­u­la­tion by con­trol­ling the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods that peo­ple need to live – food, water, cook­ing oil, propane gas, fer­til­iz­ers for grow­ing their crops, and insec­ti­cides to pro­tect the crops,” a senior advis­er to the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, who has served in senior posi­tions in the Defense Depart­ment and Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, told me. The base­ment was used as stor­age for rock­ets, weapons and ammu­ni­tion, as well as prod­ucts that could be dis­trib­uted for free to the com­mu­ni­ty, among them med­i­cines and chlo­rine-based decon­t­a­m­i­nants for cleans­ing the bod­ies of the dead before bur­ial. The meet­ing place – a region­al head­quar­ters – was on the floor above. “It was an estab­lished meet­ing place,” the senior advis­er said. “A long-time facil­i­ty that would have had secu­ri­ty, weapons, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, files and a map cen­ter.” The Rus­sians were intent on con­firm­ing their intel­li­gence and deployed a drone for days above the site to mon­i­tor com­mu­ni­ca­tions and devel­op what is known in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as a POL – a pat­tern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the build­ing, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, includ­ing rock­ets and ammu­ni­tion.

    One rea­son for the Russ­ian mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton about the intend­ed tar­get was to ensure that any CIA asset or infor­mant who had man­aged to work his way into the jihadist lead­er­ship was fore­warned not to attend the meet­ing. I was told that the Rus­sians passed the warn­ing direct­ly to the CIA. “They were play­ing the game right,” the senior advis­er said. The Russ­ian guid­ance not­ed that the jihadist meet­ing was com­ing at a time of acute pres­sure for the insur­gents: Pre­sum­ably Jab­hat al-Nus­ra and Ahrar al-Sham were des­per­ate­ly seek­ing a path for­ward in the new polit­i­cal cli­mate. In the last few days of March, Trump and two of his key nation­al secu­ri­ty aides – Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and UN Ambas­sador Nik­ki Haley – had made state­ments acknowl­edg­ing that, as the New York Times put it, the White House “has aban­doned the goal” of pres­sur­ing Assad “to leave pow­er, mark­ing a sharp depar­ture from the Mid­dle East pol­i­cy that guid­ed the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion for more than five years.” White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer told a press brief­ing on March 31 that “there is a polit­i­cal real­i­ty that we have to accept,” imply­ing that Assad was there to stay.

    Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. “It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,” the senior advis­er told me. “Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.” The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

    The Exe­cute Order gov­ern­ing U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the­ater, which was issued by the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pro­vide instruc­tions that demar­cate the rela­tion­ship between the Amer­i­can and Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are autho­rized to do,’” the advis­er said. “We do not share oper­a­tional con­trol with the Rus­sians. We don’t do com­bined oper­a­tions with them, or activ­i­ties direct­ly in sup­port of one of their oper­a­tions. But coor­di­na­tion is per­mit­ted. We keep each oth­er apprised of what’s hap­pen­ing and with­in this pack­age is the mutu­al exchange of intel­li­gence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Rus­sians do their mis­sion, that’s coor­di­na­tion; and the Rus­sians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a com­mand and con­trol facil­i­ty,” the advis­er added, refer­ring to the tar­get in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?”

    The tar­get was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before mid­night in Wash­ing­ton. A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. Accord­ing to intel­li­gence esti­mates, the senior advis­er said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist lead­ers, and an unknown num­ber of dri­vers and secu­ri­ty aides. There is no con­firmed count of the num­ber of civil­ians killed by the poi­so­nous gas­es that were released by the sec­ondary explo­sions, although oppo­si­tion activists report­ed that there were more than 80 dead, and out­lets such as CNN have put the fig­ure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Fron­tières, treat­ing vic­tims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clin­ic 60 miles to the north, report­ed that “eight patients showed symp­toms – includ­ing con­strict­ed pupils, mus­cle spasms and invol­un­tary defe­ca­tion – which are con­sis­tent with expo­sure to a neu­ro­tox­ic agent such as sarin gas or sim­i­lar com­pounds.” MSF also vis­it­ed oth­er hos­pi­tals that had received vic­tims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, sug­gest­ing that they had been exposed to chlo­rine.” In oth­er words, evi­dence sug­gest­ed that there was more than one chem­i­cal respon­si­ble for the symp­toms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syr­i­an Air Force – as oppo­si­tion activists insist­ed – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no per­cus­sive or igni­tion pow­er to trig­ger sec­ondary explo­sions. The range of symp­toms is, how­ev­er, con­sis­tent with the release of a mix­ture of chem­i­cals, includ­ing chlo­rine and the organophos­phates used in many fer­til­iz­ers, which can cause neu­ro­tox­ic effects sim­i­lar to those of sarin.

    The inter­net swung into action with­in hours, and grue­some pho­tographs of the vic­tims flood­ed tele­vi­sion net­works and YouTube. U.S. intel­li­gence was tasked with estab­lish­ing what had hap­pened. Among the pieces of infor­ma­tion received was an inter­cept of Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ca­tions col­lect­ed before the attack by an allied nation. The inter­cept, which had a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong effect on some of Trump’s aides, did not men­tion nerve gas or sarin, but it did quote a Syr­i­an gen­er­al dis­cussing a “spe­cial” weapon and the need for a high­ly skilled pilot to man the attack plane. The ref­er­ence, as those in the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty under­stood, and many of the inex­pe­ri­enced aides and fam­i­ly mem­bers close to Trump may not have, was to a Russ­ian-sup­plied bomb with its built-in guid­ance sys­tem. “If you’ve already decid­ed it was a gas attack, you will then inevitably read the talk about a spe­cial weapon as involv­ing a sarin bomb,” the advis­er said. “Did the Syr­i­ans plan the attack on Khan Sheikhoun? Absolute­ly. Do we have inter­cepts to prove it? Absolute­ly. Did they plan to use sarin? No. But the pres­i­dent did not say: ‘We have a prob­lem and let’s look into it.’ He want­ed to bomb the shit out of Syr­ia.”

    At the UN the next day, Ambas­sador Haley cre­at­ed a media sen­sa­tion when she dis­played pho­tographs of the dead and accused Rus­sia of being com­plic­it. “How many more chil­dren have to die before Rus­sia cares?” she asked. NBC News, in a typ­i­cal report that day, quot­ed Amer­i­can offi­cials as con­firm­ing that nerve gas had been used and Haley tied the attack direct­ly to Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Assad. “We know that yesterday’s attack was a new low even for the bar­bar­ic Assad regime,” she said. There was irony in Amer­i­ca’s rush to blame Syr­ia and crit­i­cize Rus­sia for its sup­port of Syr­i­a’s denial of any use of gas in Khan Sheikhoun, as Ambas­sador Haley and oth­ers in Wash­ing­ton did. “What does­n’t occur to most Amer­i­cans” the advis­er said, “is if there had been a Syr­i­an nerve gas attack autho­rized by Bashar, the Rus­sians would be 10 times as upset as any­one in the West. Russia’s strat­e­gy against ISIS, which involves get­ting Amer­i­can coop­er­a­tion, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be respon­si­ble for piss­ing off Rus­sia, with unknown con­se­quences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of win­ning the war? Are you kid­ding me?”

    Trump, a con­stant watch­er of tele­vi­sion news, said, while King Abdul­lah of Jor­dan was sit­ting next to him in the Oval Office, that what had hap­pened was “hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble” and a “ter­ri­ble affront to human­i­ty.” Asked if his admin­is­tra­tion would change its pol­i­cy toward the Assad gov­ern­ment, he said: “You will see.” He gave a hint of the response to come at the sub­se­quent news con­fer­ence with King Abdul­lah: “When you kill inno­cent chil­dren, inno­cent babies – babies, lit­tle babies – with a chem­i­cal gas that is so lethal ... that cross­es many, many lines, beyond a red line . ... That attack on chil­dren yes­ter­day had a big impact on me. Big impact ... It’s very, very pos­si­ble ... that my atti­tude toward Syr­ia and Assad has changed very much.”

    With­in hours of view­ing the pho­tos, the advis­er said, Trump instruct­ed the nation­al defense appa­ra­tus to plan for retal­i­a­tion against Syr­ia. “He did this before he talked to any­body about it. The plan­ners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evi­dence that Syr­ia had sarin stored at a near­by air­port or some­where in the area. Their mil­i­tary had to have it some­where in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evi­dence that Syr­ia had sarin or used it,’” the advis­er said. “The CIA also told them that there was no resid­ual deliv­ery for sarin at Sheyrat [the air­field from which the Syr­i­an SU-24 bombers had tak­en off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to com­mit polit­i­cal sui­cide.” Every­one involved, except per­haps the pres­i­dent, also under­stood that a high­ly skilled Unit­ed Nations team had spent more than a year in the after­math of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syr­ia, remov­ing what was said to be all chem­i­cal weapons from a dozen Syr­i­an chem­i­cal weapons depots.

    At this point, the advis­er said, the president’s nation­al secu­ri­ty plan­ners were more than a lit­tle rat­tled: “No one knew the prove­nance of the pho­tographs. We didn’t know who the chil­dren were or how they got hurt. Sarin actu­al­ly is very easy to detect because it pen­e­trates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sam­ple. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt peo­ple. But you can­not jump from there to cer­tain­ty that Assad had hid­den sarin from the UN because he want­ed to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intel­li­gence made clear that a Syr­i­an Air Force SU-24 fight­er bomber had used a con­ven­tion­al weapon to hit its tar­get: There had been no chem­i­cal war­head. And yet it was impos­si­ble for the experts to per­suade the pres­i­dent of this once he had made up his mind. “The pres­i­dent saw the pho­tographs of poi­soned lit­tle girls and said it was an Assad atroc­i­ty,” the senior advis­er said. “It’s typ­i­cal of human nature. You jump to the con­clu­sion you want. Intel­li­gence ana­lysts do not argue with a pres­i­dent. They’re not going to tell the pres­i­dent, ‘if you inter­pret the data this way, I quit.’”

    The nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­ers under­stood their dilem­ma: Trump want­ed to respond to the affront to human­i­ty com­mit­ted by Syr­ia and he did not want to be dis­suad­ed. They were deal­ing with a man they con­sid­ered to be not unkind and not stu­pid, but his lim­i­ta­tions when it came to nation­al secu­ri­ty deci­sions were severe. “Every­one close to him knows his pro­cliv­i­ty for act­ing pre­cip­i­tous­ly when he does not know the facts,” the advis­er said. “He doesn’t read any­thing and has no real his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge. He wants ver­bal brief­in­gs and pho­tographs. He’s a risk-tak­er. He can accept the con­se­quences of a bad deci­sion in the busi­ness world; he will just lose mon­ey. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term dam­age to our nation­al secu­ri­ty if he guess­es wrong. He was told we did not have evi­dence of Syr­i­an involve­ment and yet Trump says: ‘Do it.”’

    On April 6, Trump con­vened a meet­ing of nation­al secu­ri­ty offi­cials at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Flori­da. The meet­ing was not to decide what to do, but how best to do it – or, as some want­ed, how to do the least and keep Trump hap­py. “The boss knew before the meet­ing that they didn’t have the intel­li­gence, but that was not the issue,” the advis­er said. “The meet­ing was about, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do,’ and then he gets the options.”

    The avail­able intel­li­gence was not rel­e­vant. The most expe­ri­enced man at the table was Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis, a retired Marine Corps gen­er­al who had the president’s respect and under­stood, per­haps, how quick­ly that could evap­o­rate. Mike Pom­peo, the CIA direc­tor whose agency had con­sis­tent­ly report­ed that it had no evi­dence of a Syr­i­an chem­i­cal bomb, was not present. Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son was admired on the inside for his will­ing­ness to work long hours and his avid read­ing of diplo­mat­ic cables and reports, but he knew lit­tle about wag­ing war and the man­age­ment of a bomb­ing raid. Those present were in a bind, the advis­er said. “The pres­i­dent was emo­tion­al­ly ener­gized by the dis­as­ter and he want­ed options.” He got four of them, in order of extrem­i­ty. Option one was to do noth­ing. All involved, the advis­er said, under­stood that was a non-starter. Option two was a slap on the wrist: to bomb an air­field in Syr­ia, but only after alert­ing the Rus­sians and, through them, the Syr­i­ans, to avoid too many casu­al­ties. A few of the plan­ners called this the “goril­la option”: Amer­i­ca would glow­er and beat its chest to pro­voke fear and demon­strate resolve, but cause lit­tle sig­nif­i­cant dam­age. The third option was to adopt the strike pack­age that had been pre­sent­ed to Oba­ma in 2013, and which he ulti­mate­ly chose not to pur­sue. The plan called for the mas­sive bomb­ing of the main Syr­i­an air­fields and com­mand and con­trol cen­ters using B1 and B52 air­craft launched from their bases in the U.S. Option four was “decap­i­ta­tion”: to remove Assad by bomb­ing his palace in Dam­as­cus, as well as his com­mand and con­trol net­work and all of the under­ground bunkers he could pos­si­bly retreat to in a cri­sis.

    “Trump ruled out option one off the bat,” the senior advis­er said, and the assas­si­na­tion of Assad was nev­er con­sid­ered. “But he said, in essence: ‘You’re the mil­i­tary and I want mil­i­tary action.’” The pres­i­dent was also ini­tial­ly opposed to the idea of giv­ing the Rus­sians advance warn­ing before the strike, but reluc­tant­ly accept­ed it. “We gave him the Goldilocks option – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” The dis­cus­sion had its bizarre moments. Tiller­son won­dered at the Mar-a-Lago meet­ing why the pres­i­dent could not sim­ply call in the B52 bombers and pul­ver­ize the air base. He was told that B52s were very vul­ner­a­ble to sur­face-to-air mis­siles (SAMs) in the area and using such planes would require sup­pres­sion fire that could kill some Russ­ian defend­ers. “What is that?” Tiller­son asked. Well, sir, he was told, that means we would have to destroy the upgrad­ed SAM sites along the B52 flight path, and those are manned by Rus­sians, and we pos­si­bly would be con­front­ed with a much more dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. “The les­son here was: Thank God for the mil­i­tary men at the meet­ing,” the advis­er said. “They did the best they could when con­front­ed with a deci­sion that had already been made.”

    Fifty-nine Tom­a­hawk mis­siles were fired from two U.S. Navy destroy­ers on duty in the Mediter­ranean, the Ross and the Porter, at Shayrat Air Base near the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled city of Homs. The strike was as suc­cess­ful as hoped, in terms of doing min­i­mal dam­age. The mis­siles have a light pay­load – rough­ly 220 pounds of HBX, the military’s mod­ern ver­sion of TNT. The airfield’s gaso­line stor­age tanks, a pri­ma­ry tar­get, were pul­ver­ized, the senior advis­er said, trig­ger­ing a huge fire and clouds of smoke that inter­fered with the guid­ance sys­tem of fol­low­ing mis­siles. As many as 24 mis­siles missed their tar­gets and only a few of the Tom­a­hawks actu­al­ly pen­e­trat­ed into hangars, destroy­ing nine Syr­i­an air­craft, many few­er than claimed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. I was told that none of the nine was oper­a­tional: such dam­aged air­craft are what the Air Force calls hangar queens. “They were sac­ri­fi­cial lambs,” the senior advis­er said. Most of the impor­tant per­son­nel and oper­a­tional fight­er planes had been flown to near­by bases hours before the raid began. The two run­ways and park­ing places for air­craft, which had also been tar­get­ed, were repaired and back in oper­a­tion with­in eight hours or so. All in all, it was lit­tle more than an expen­sive fire­works dis­play.

    “It was a total­ly Trump show from begin­ning to end,” the senior advis­er said. “A few of the president’s senior nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­ers viewed the mis­sion as a min­i­mized bad pres­i­den­tial deci­sion, and one that they had an oblig­a­tion to car­ry out. But I don’t think our nation­al secu­ri­ty peo­ple are going to allow them­selves to be hus­tled into a bad deci­sion again. If Trump had gone for option three, there might have been some imme­di­ate res­ig­na­tions.”

    After the meet­ing, with the Tom­a­hawks on their way, Trump spoke to the nation from Mar-a-Lago, and accused Assad of using nerve gas to choke out “the lives of help­less men, women and chil­dren. It was a slow and bru­tal death for so many ... No child of God should ever suf­fer such hor­ror.” The next few days were his most suc­cess­ful as pres­i­dent. Amer­i­ca ral­lied around its com­man­der in chief, as it always does in times of war. Trump, who had cam­paigned as some­one who advo­cat­ed mak­ing peace with Assad, was bomb­ing Syr­ia 11 weeks after tak­ing office, and was hailed for doing so by Repub­li­cans, Democ­rats and the media alike. One promi­nent TV anchor­man, Bri­an Williams of MSNBC, used the word “beau­ti­ful” to describe the images of the Tom­a­hawks being launched at sea. Speak­ing on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said: “I think Don­ald Trump became pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.” A review of the top 100 Amer­i­can news­pa­pers showed that 39 of them pub­lished edi­to­ri­als sup­port­ing the bomb­ing in its after­math, includ­ing the New York Times, Wash­ing­ton Post and Wall Street Jour­nal.

    Five days lat­er, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion gath­ered the nation­al media for a back­ground brief­ing on the Syr­i­an oper­a­tion that was con­duct­ed by a senior White House offi­cial who was not to be iden­ti­fied. The gist of the brief­ing was that Russia’s heat­ed and per­sis­tent denial of any sarin use in the Khan Sheikhoun bomb­ing was a lie because Pres­i­dent Trump had said sarin had been used. That asser­tion, which was not chal­lenged or dis­put­ed by any of the reporters present, became the basis for a series of fur­ther crit­i­cisms:

    — The con­tin­ued lying by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion about Syria’s use of sarin led to wide­spread belief in the Amer­i­can media and pub­lic that Rus­sia had cho­sen to be involved in a cor­rupt dis­in­for­ma­tion and cov­er-up cam­paign on the part of Syr­ia.

    — Russia’s mil­i­tary forces had been co-locat­ed with Syria’s at the Shayrat air­field (as they are through­out Syr­ia), rais­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Rus­sia had advance notice of Syria’s deter­mi­na­tion to use sarin at Khan Sheikhoun and did noth­ing to stop it.

    — Syria’s use of sarin and Russia’s defense of that use strong­ly sug­gest­ed that Syr­ia with­held stocks of the nerve agent from the UN dis­ar­ma­ment team that spent much of 2014 inspect­ing and remov­ing all declared chem­i­cal war­fare agents from 12 Syr­i­an chem­i­cal weapons depots, pur­suant to the agree­ment worked out by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion and Rus­sia after Syria’s alleged, but still unproven, use of sarin the year before against a rebel redoubt in a sub­urb of Dam­as­cus.

    The briefer, to his cred­it, was care­ful to use the words “think,” “sug­gest” and “believe” at least 10 times dur­ing the 30-minute event. But he also said that his brief­ing was based on data that had been declas­si­fied by “our col­leagues in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty.” What the briefer did not say, and may not have known, was that much of the clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion in the com­mu­ni­ty made the point that Syr­ia had not used sarin in the April 4 bomb­ing attack.

    ...

    The cri­sis slid into the back­ground by the end of April, as Rus­sia, Syr­ia and the Unit­ed States remained focused on anni­hi­lat­ing ISIS and the mili­tias of al-Qai­da. Some of those who had worked through the cri­sis, how­ev­er, were left with lin­ger­ing con­cerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got every­thing they want­ed out of their hyped-up Syr­i­an nerve gas ploy,” the senior advis­er to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty told me, refer­ring to the flare up of ten­sions between Syr­ia, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. “The issue is, what if there’s anoth­er false flag sarin attack cred­it­ed to hat­ed Syr­ia? Trump has upped the ante and paint­ed him­self into a cor­ner with his deci­sion to bomb. And do not think these guys are not plan­ning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and hard­er. He’s inca­pable of say­ing he made a mis­take.”

    ———-

    “Trump‘s Red Line” by Sey­mour M. Hersh; Welt.de; 06/25/2017

    The nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­ers under­stood their dilem­ma: Trump want­ed to respond to the affront to human­i­ty com­mit­ted by Syr­ia and he did not want to be dis­suad­ed. They were deal­ing with a man they con­sid­ered to be not unkind and not stu­pid, but his lim­i­ta­tions when it came to nation­al secu­ri­ty deci­sions were severe. “Every­one close to him knows his pro­cliv­i­ty for act­ing pre­cip­i­tous­ly when he does not know the facts,” the advis­er said. “He doesn’t read any­thing and has no real his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge. He wants ver­bal brief­in­gs and pho­tographs. He’s a risk-tak­er. He can accept the con­se­quences of a bad deci­sion in the busi­ness world; he will just lose mon­ey. But in our world, lives will be lost and there will be long-term dam­age to our nation­al secu­ri­ty if he guess­es wrong. He was told we did not have evi­dence of Syr­i­an involve­ment and yet Trump says: ‘Do it.”’”

    The Com­man­der in Chief of the most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary in his­to­ry has a “pro­cliv­i­ty for act­ing pre­cip­i­tous­ly when he does not know the facts,” cou­pled with an appar­ent­ly lack of inter­est in actu­al­ly learn­ing the facts. And in this case, the facts point­ed strong­ly towards sec­ondary explo­sions of stored chem­i­cals in the base­ment of the build­ing where the jihadist meet­ing was tak­ing place being the source of the chem­i­cal attack:

    ...
    The Syr­i­an tar­get at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Amer­i­cans at Doha, was depict­ed as a two-sto­ry cin­der-block build­ing in the north­ern part of town. Russ­ian intel­li­gence, which is shared when nec­es­sary with Syr­ia and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had estab­lished that a high-lev­el meet­ing of jihadist lead­ers was to take place in the build­ing, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qai­da-affil­i­at­ed group for­mer­ly known as Jab­hat al-Nus­ra. The two groups had recent­ly joined forces, and con­trolled the town and sur­round­ing area. Russ­ian intel­li­gence depict­ed the cin­der-block build­ing as a com­mand and con­trol cen­ter that housed a gro­cery and oth­er com­mer­cial premis­es on its ground floor with oth­er essen­tial shops near­by, includ­ing a fab­ric shop and an elec­tron­ics store.

    “The rebels con­trol the pop­u­la­tion by con­trol­ling the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods that peo­ple need to live – food, water, cook­ing oil, propane gas, fer­til­iz­ers for grow­ing their crops, and insec­ti­cides to pro­tect the crops,” a senior advis­er to the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, who has served in senior posi­tions in the Defense Depart­ment and Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, told me. The base­ment was used as stor­age for rock­ets, weapons and ammu­ni­tion, as well as prod­ucts that could be dis­trib­uted for free to the com­mu­ni­ty, among them med­i­cines and chlo­rine-based decon­t­a­m­i­nants for cleans­ing the bod­ies of the dead before bur­ial. The meet­ing place – a region­al head­quar­ters – was on the floor above. “It was an estab­lished meet­ing place,” the senior advis­er said. “A long-time facil­i­ty that would have had secu­ri­ty, weapons, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, files and a map cen­ter.” The Rus­sians were intent on con­firm­ing their intel­li­gence and deployed a drone for days above the site to mon­i­tor com­mu­ni­ca­tions and devel­op what is known in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as a POL – a pat­tern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the build­ing, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, includ­ing rock­ets and ammu­ni­tion.

    ...

    Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. “It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,” the senior advis­er told me. “Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.” The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

    The Exe­cute Order gov­ern­ing U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the­ater, which was issued by the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pro­vide instruc­tions that demar­cate the rela­tion­ship between the Amer­i­can and Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are autho­rized to do,’” the advis­er said. “We do not share oper­a­tional con­trol with the Rus­sians. We don’t do com­bined oper­a­tions with them, or activ­i­ties direct­ly in sup­port of one of their oper­a­tions. But coor­di­na­tion is per­mit­ted. We keep each oth­er apprised of what’s hap­pen­ing and with­in this pack­age is the mutu­al exchange of intel­li­gence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Rus­sians do their mis­sion, that’s coor­di­na­tion; and the Rus­sians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a com­mand and con­trol facil­i­ty,” the advis­er added, refer­ring to the tar­get in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?”

    The tar­get was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before mid­night in Wash­ing­ton. A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. Accord­ing to intel­li­gence esti­mates, the senior advis­er said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist lead­ers, and an unknown num­ber of dri­vers and secu­ri­ty aides. There is no con­firmed count of the num­ber of civil­ians killed by the poi­so­nous gas­es that were released by the sec­ondary explo­sions, although oppo­si­tion activists report­ed that there were more than 80 dead, and out­lets such as CNN have put the fig­ure as high as 92. A team from Médecins Sans Fron­tières, treat­ing vic­tims from Khan Sheikhoun at a clin­ic 60 miles to the north, report­ed that “eight patients showed symp­toms – includ­ing con­strict­ed pupils, mus­cle spasms and invol­un­tary defe­ca­tion – which are con­sis­tent with expo­sure to a neu­ro­tox­ic agent such as sarin gas or sim­i­lar com­pounds.” MSF also vis­it­ed oth­er hos­pi­tals that had received vic­tims and found that patients there “smelled of bleach, sug­gest­ing that they had been exposed to chlo­rine.” In oth­er words, evi­dence sug­gest­ed that there was more than one chem­i­cal respon­si­ble for the symp­toms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syr­i­an Air Force – as oppo­si­tion activists insist­ed – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no per­cus­sive or igni­tion pow­er to trig­ger sec­ondary explo­sions. The range of symp­toms is, how­ev­er, con­sis­tent with the release of a mix­ture of chem­i­cals, includ­ing chlo­rine and the organophos­phates used in many fer­til­iz­ers, which can cause neu­ro­tox­ic effects sim­i­lar to those of sarin.
    ...

    A Bomb Dam­age Assess­ment (BDA) by the U.S. mil­i­tary lat­er deter­mined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syr­i­an bomb trig­gered a series of sec­ondary explo­sions that could have gen­er­at­ed a huge tox­ic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fer­til­iz­ers, dis­in­fec­tants and oth­er goods stored in the base­ment, its effect mag­ni­fied by the dense morn­ing air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground

    That’s where the facts led it the US mil­i­tary’s analy­sis: sec­ondary explo­sions of chem­cials stored in that build­ing was the like­ly source of the chem­i­cal cloud. Facts that obvi­ous­ly did­n’t mat­ter.

    It’s hard to know what les­son to take from this although the jihadists no doubt learned the val­ue of hav­ing “high-val­ue tar­get” meet­ings in build­ings with large chem­i­cal stores in dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas. It cer­tain­ly worked out well for them:

    ...
    The cri­sis slid into the back­ground by the end of April, as Rus­sia, Syr­ia and the Unit­ed States remained focused on anni­hi­lat­ing ISIS and the mili­tias of al-Qai­da. Some of those who had worked through the cri­sis, how­ev­er, were left with lin­ger­ing con­cerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got every­thing they want­ed out of their hyped-up Syr­i­an nerve gas ploy,” the senior advis­er to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty told me, refer­ring to the flare up of ten­sions between Syr­ia, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. “The issue is, what if there’s anoth­er false flag sarin attack cred­it­ed to hat­ed Syr­ia? Trump has upped the ante and paint­ed him­self into a cor­ner with his deci­sion to bomb. And do not think these guys are not plan­ning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and hard­er. He’s inca­pable of say­ing he made a mis­take.”

    And, of course, we also learned that Trump needs to be kept far away from cable news fol­low­ing a major event for how­ev­er long it takes for his advi­sors to assess the sit­u­a­tion and deliv­er a sober ini­tial analy­sis. Far, far away.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 26, 2017, 2:53 pm
  5. That’s omi­nous: So you know that poten­tial bomb­shell report by Sy Hersh in Die Welt about how Don­ald Trump’s intel­li­gence and mil­i­tary advi­sors has con­clud­ed that Bashar Assad’s regime was not in fact respon­si­ble for a sarin gas attack but instead the cloud of chem­i­cals was a con­se­quence of sec­ondary explo­sions of stored chlo­rine and fer­til­iz­er in build­ing by the Syr­i­an air force? You and you know that report has been almost entire­ly ignored by Amer­i­can news out­lets? Well, it’s going to be a lot hard­er to ignore that report now that the White House just issued an omi­nous mes­sage indi­cat­ing it has evi­dence that Assad’s forces were plan­ning a chem­i­cal attack and if that hap­pens the con­se­quences will be severe and Russ­ian and Iran will be held respon­si­ble:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    White House says Syria’s Assad prepar­ing anoth­er chem­i­cal attack, warns of ‘heavy’ penal­ty

    By Abby Phillip and Dan Lamothe
    June 26, 2017 at 10:20 PM

    The White House issued an omi­nous warn­ing to Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad on Mon­day night, pledg­ing that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it car­ried out anoth­er chem­i­cal attack this year.

    In a state­ment, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said that the Unit­ed States had detect­ed evi­dence of prepa­ra­tions for a chem­i­cal attack, sim­i­lar to the prepa­ra­tions that occurred before an attack in April.

    “The Unit­ed States has iden­ti­fied poten­tial prepa­ra­tions for anoth­er chem­i­cal weapons attack by the Assad regime that would like­ly result in the mass mur­der of civil­ians, includ­ing inno­cent chil­dren,” Spicer said in the state­ment. “The activ­i­ties are sim­i­lar to prepa­ra­tions the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chem­i­cal weapons attack.

    “As we have pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed, the Unit­ed States is in Syr­ia to elim­i­nate the Islam­ic State of Iraq and Syr­ia,” he con­tin­ued. “If, how­ev­er, Mr. Assad con­ducts anoth­er mass mur­der attack using chem­i­cal weapons, he and his mil­i­tary will pay a heavy price.”

    Fol­low­ing the April attack, Pres­i­dent Trump ordered an air strike against the Assad-con­trolled air field where the attack was believed to have been car­ried out.

    At the time, Trump said that Assad’s use of chem­i­cal weapons against inno­cent women and chil­dren made action inevitable.

    “When you kill inno­cent chil­dren, inno­cent babies, babies, lit­tle babies, with a chem­i­cal gas that is so lethal — peo­ple were shocked to hear what gas it was,” Trump said after the attack. “That cross­es many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”

    Fol­low­ing Spicer’s state­ment on Mon­day night, Nik­ki Haley, the U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations said Assad and its allies would be square­ly blamed if such an attack occurred.

    “Any fur­ther attacks done to the peo­ple of Syr­ia will be blamed on Assad, but also on Rus­sia & Iran who sup­port him killing his own peo­ple,” Haley wrote.

    Any fur­ther attacks done to the peo­ple of Syr­ia will be blamed on Assad, but also on Rus­sia & Iran who sup­port him killing his own peo­ple.— Nik­ki Haley (@nikkihaley) June 27, 2017

    The U.S. mil­i­tary main­tains a vari­ety of weapons in the region that could be used in the event of anoth­er strike, includ­ing manned and unmanned air­craft in sev­er­al Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries. But the most like­ly sce­nario is prob­a­bly a strike using naval assets, which can be launched with few­er diplo­mat­ic issues than using bases in allied coun­tries such as Turkey or the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates.

    The Navy launched Tom­a­hawk mis­siles at a Syr­i­an mil­i­tary air­field April 6 in response to a pre­vi­ous alleged chem­i­cal weapons attack, using two guid­ed-mis­sile destroy­ers in the east­ern Mediter­ranean Sea, the USS Ross and USS Porter, to do so.

    ...

    A point of con­tention for the Pen­ta­gon after the last strike was the Syr­i­an regime’s alleged use of a nerve agent, like sarin. It is far dead­lier than some oth­er chem­i­cals that U.S. mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials say that the regime has used, such as chlo­rine.

    ———-

    “White House says Syria’s Assad prepar­ing anoth­er chem­i­cal attack, warns of ‘heavy’ penal­ty” by Abby Phillip and Dan Lamothe; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 06/26/2017

    ““The Unit­ed States has iden­ti­fied poten­tial prepa­ra­tions for anoth­er chem­i­cal weapons attack by the Assad regime that would like­ly result in the mass mur­der of civil­ians, includ­ing inno­cent chil­dren,” Spicer said in the state­ment. “The activ­i­ties are sim­i­lar to prepa­ra­tions the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chem­i­cal weapons attack.”

    That was the mes­sage from Sean Spicer, fol­lowed by this warn­ing to Iran and Rus­sia from UN Ambas­sador Nik­ki Haley:

    ...
    Fol­low­ing Spicer’s state­ment on Mon­day night, Nik­ki Haley, the U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations said Assad and its allies would be square­ly blamed if such an attack occurred.

    “Any fur­ther attacks done to the peo­ple of Syr­ia will be blamed on Assad, but also on Rus­sia & Iran who sup­port him killing his own peo­ple,” Haley wrote.
    ...

    So a day after Sy Her­sh’s report about how Trump’s mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence advi­sors were unable to con­vince Trump that the ear­li­er attack was­n’t actu­al­ly a chmi­cal attack, the White House issues a state­ment about how it has once again detect­ed signs of the Syr­i­ans prepar­ing for a chem­i­cal attack. So it’s prob­a­bly worth not­ing that one of the indi­ca­tions the ear­li­er attack was­n’t a chem­i­cal attack, accord­ing to one of the Trump advi­sors cit­ed in Her­sh’s report, was how the Syr­i­an and Russ­ian forces did­n’t look at all like they were prepar­ing for a chem­i­cal attack:

    Welt.de

    Trump‘s Red Line

    by Sey­mour M. Hersh
    25.06.2017

    On April 6, Unit­ed States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump autho­rized an ear­ly morn­ing Tom­a­hawk mis­sile strike on Shayrat Air Base in cen­tral Syr­ia in retal­i­a­tion for what he said was a dead­ly nerve agent attack car­ried out by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment two days ear­li­er in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite hav­ing been warned by the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty that it had found no evi­dence that the Syr­i­ans had used a chem­i­cal weapon.

    The avail­able intel­li­gence made clear that the Syr­i­ans had tar­get­ed a jihadist meet­ing site on April 4 using a Russ­ian-sup­plied guid­ed bomb equipped with con­ven­tion­al explo­sives. Details of the attack, includ­ing infor­ma­tion on its so-called high-val­ue tar­gets, had been pro­vid­ed by the Rus­sians days in advance to Amer­i­can and allied mil­i­tary offi­cials in Doha, whose mis­sion is to coor­di­nate all U.S., allied, Syr­i­an and Russ­ian Air Force oper­a­tions in the region.

    Some Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials were espe­cial­ly dis­tressed by the pres­i­den­t’s deter­mi­na­tion to ignore the evi­dence. “None of this makes any sense,” one offi­cer told col­leagues upon learn­ing of the deci­sion to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chem­i­cal attack ... the Rus­sians are furi­ous. Claim­ing we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it did­n’t mat­ter whether we elect­ed Clin­ton or Trump.“
    ...

    Russ­ian and Syr­i­an intel­li­gence offi­cials, who coor­di­nate oper­a­tions close­ly with the Amer­i­can com­mand posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was spe­cial because of the high-val­ue tar­get. “It was a red-hot change. The mis­sion was out of the ordi­nary – scrub the sked,” the senior advis­er told me. “Every oper­a­tions offi­cer in the region” – in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, CIA and NSA – “had to know there was some­thing going on. The Rus­sians gave the Syr­i­an Air Force a guid­ed bomb and that was a rar­i­ty. They’re skimpy with their guid­ed bombs and rarely share them with the Syr­i­an Air Force. And the Syr­i­ans assigned their best pilot to the mis­sion, with the best wing­man.” The advance intel­li­gence on the tar­get, as sup­plied by the Rus­sians, was giv­en the high­est pos­si­ble score inside the Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

    The Exe­cute Order gov­ern­ing U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the­ater, which was issued by the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pro­vide instruc­tions that demar­cate the rela­tion­ship between the Amer­i­can and Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing in Syr­ia. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are autho­rized to do,’” the advis­er said. “We do not share oper­a­tional con­trol with the Rus­sians. We don’t do com­bined oper­a­tions with them, or activ­i­ties direct­ly in sup­port of one of their oper­a­tions. But coor­di­na­tion is per­mit­ted. We keep each oth­er apprised of what’s hap­pen­ing and with­in this pack­age is the mutu­al exchange of intel­li­gence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Rus­sians do their mis­sion, that’s coor­di­na­tion; and the Rus­sians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a com­mand and con­trol facil­i­ty,” the advis­er added, refer­ring to the tar­get in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it.” “This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?”

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump‘s Red Line” by Sey­mour M. Hersh; Welt.de; 06/25/2017

    ““This was not a chem­i­cal weapons strike,” the advis­er said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, every­one involved in trans­fer­ring, load­ing and arm­ing the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a reg­u­lar 500-pound con­ven­tion­al bomb – would be wear­ing Haz­mat pro­tec­tive cloth­ing in case of a leak. There would be very lit­tle chance of sur­vival with­out such gear. Mil­i­tary grade sarin includes addi­tives designed to increase tox­i­c­i­ty and lethal­i­ty. Every batch that comes out is max­i­mized for death. That is why it is made. It is odor­less and invis­i­ble and death can come with­in a minute. No cloud. Why pro­duce a weapon that peo­ple can run away from?””

    That was the depic­tion of the intel­li­gence the US had on the prepa­ra­tions of the April 4th Syr­i­an airstrike in Her­sh’s report. A report that’s large­ly being ignored. And now we have the White House issu­ing omi­nous new threats about how the US has intel­li­gence that the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary is plan­ning anoth­er chem­i­cal attack. With a sec­ondary threat to Rus­sia and Iran if that hap­pens. All short­ly after Her­sh’s large­ly ignored report.

    So, yeah, that’s omi­nous.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 26, 2017, 7:48 pm
  6. Now that Sau­di Ara­bia appears to be gear­ing up for some sort of war with Lebanon and per­haps even Iran, in addi­tion to its ongo­ing bru­tal war on the Shia pop­u­la­tion of Yemen, there are obvi­ous ques­tions about where war might break out next. But anoth­er ques­tion raised by this alarm­ing devel­op­ment is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that we’re going to see some of the same Sun­ni extrem­ist mil­i­tant groups oper­at­ing in Syr­ia and Yemen — which were armed and encour­aged by the Sau­di gov­ern­ment — mov­ing into oth­er the­aters of con­flict. And are these groups going to get an array of covert Gulf State mil­i­tary sup­port like the sup­port they’ve received for the con­flicts in Syr­ia and Yemen? If so, that’s pret­ty omi­nous.

    So with that in mind, it’s worth not­ing the the UN just issued a new report on the alleged chem­i­cal attack in Idlib, a ter­ri­to­ry under al Nus­ra’s con­trol.

    And while the report unsur­pris­ing­ly blames the Assad gov­ern­ment for car­ry­ing out the attack, it does include quite a few “dis­crep­an­cies” to that con­clu­sion in the Annex of the report which was a lit­tle sur­pris­ing. Dis­crep­an­cies like the fact that records show vic­tims of the attack were show­ing up at mul­ti­ple hos­pi­tals in the region before the attack. And not just a few vic­tims. More than 100 vic­tims at five dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals. The UN put the tim­ing of the attack at some point because 0630 and 0700 hours based on the meta­da­ta of a video that was used as evi­dence of the attack. And yet five hos­pi­tal reports were show­ing sarin vic­tims show­ing up at hos­pi­tals before the attack, as ear­ly as the 0600 hour.

    And don’t for­get that these patients weren’t going to mag­i­cal­ly appear at these hos­pi­tals right after the attack. It takes time to get there which would put the tim­ing of the poi­son­ing of these ear­ly vic­tims well before 0600. One of the hos­pi­tal that report­ed vic­tims before the alleged aer­i­al bomb­ing would have tak­en an hour to reach.

    So how did the UN report address this dis­crep­an­cy? By not inves­ti­gat­ing it and ignor­ing it. Seri­ous­ly, that’s what the report says: “The [JIM] did not inves­ti­gate these dis­crep­an­cies and can­not deter­mine whether they are linked to any pos­si­ble stag­ing sce­nario, or to poor record-keep­ing in chaot­ic con­di­tions”:

    Con­sor­tium News

    Did Al Qae­da Dupe Trump on Syr­i­an Attack?

    Spe­cial Report: Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evi­dence that could exon­er­ate the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment in the April 4 sarin atroc­i­ty and make Pres­i­dent Trump look like an Al Qae­da dupe, reports Robert Par­ry.

    By Robert Par­ry
    Novem­ber 9, 2017

    A new Unit­ed Nations-spon­sored report on the April 4 sarin inci­dent in an Al Qae­da-con­trolled town in Syr­ia blames Bashar al-Assad’s gov­ern­ment for the atroc­i­ty, but the report con­tains evi­dence deep inside its “Annex II” that would prove Assad’s inno­cence.

    If you read that far, you would find that more than 100 vic­tims of sarin expo­sure were tak­en to sev­er­al area hos­pi­tals before the alleged Syr­i­an war­plane could have struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

    Still, the Joint Inves­tiga­tive Mech­a­nism [JIM], a joint project of the U.N. and the Orga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons [OPCW], brushed aside this star­tling evi­dence and deliv­ered the Assad guilty ver­dict that the Unit­ed States and its allies want­ed.

    The JIM con­signed the evi­dence of a staged atroc­i­ty, in which Al Qae­da oper­a­tives would have used sarin to kill inno­cent civil­ians and pin the blame on Assad, to a spot 14 pages into the report’s Annex II. The sen­si­tiv­i­ty of this evi­dence of a staged “attack” is height­ened by the fact that Pres­i­dent Trump rushed to judg­ment and ordered a “retal­ia­to­ry” strike with 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles on a Syr­i­an air­base on the night of April 6–7. That U.S. attack report­ed­ly killed sev­er­al sol­diers at the base and nine civil­ians, includ­ing four chil­dren, in near­by neigh­bor­hoods.

    So, if it becomes clear that Al Qae­da tricked Pres­i­dent Trump not only would he be respon­si­ble for vio­lat­ing inter­na­tion­al law and killing inno­cent peo­ple, but he and vir­tu­al­ly the entire West­ern polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment along with the major news media would look like Al Qaeda’s “use­ful idiots.”

    Cur­rent­ly, the West and its main­stream media are lam­bast­ing the Rus­sians for not accept­ing the JIM’s “assess­ment,” which blames Assad for the sarin attack. Rus­sia is also tak­ing flak for ques­tion­ing con­tin­u­a­tion of the JIM’s man­date. There has been vir­tu­al­ly no main­stream skep­ti­cism about the JIM’s report and almost no men­tion in the main­stream of the hos­pi­tal-tim­ing dis­crep­an­cy.

    Tim­ing Trou­bles

    To estab­lish when the sup­posed sarin attack occurred on April 4, the JIM report relied on wit­ness­es in the Al Qae­da-con­trolled town and a curi­ous video show­ing three plumes of smoke but no air­planes. Based on the video’s meta­da­ta, the JIM said the scene was record­ed between 0642 and 0652 hours. The JIM thus puts the tim­ing of the sarin release at between 0630 and 0700 hours.

    But the first admis­sions of vic­tims to area hos­pi­tals began as ear­ly as 0600 hours, the JIM found, mean­ing that these vic­tims could not have been poi­soned by the alleged aer­i­al bomb­ing (even if the airstrike real­ly did occur).

    Accord­ing to the report’s Annex II, “The admis­sion times of the records range between 0600 and 1600 hours.” And these ear­ly cas­es – arriv­ing before the alleged airstrike – were not iso­lat­ed ones.

    “Analy­sis of the … med­ical records revealed that in 57 cas­es, patients were admit­ted in five hos­pi­tals before the inci­dent in Khan Shaykhun,” Annex II said.

    Plus, this tim­ing dis­crep­an­cy was not lim­it­ed to a few hos­pi­tals in and around Khan Sheikhoun, but was record­ed as well at hos­pi­tals that were scat­tered across the area and includ­ed one hos­pi­tal that would have tak­en an hour or so to reach.

    Annex II stat­ed: “In 10 such cas­es, patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while anoth­er 42 patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

    In oth­er words, more than 100 patients would appear to have been exposed to sarin before the alleged Syr­i­an war­plane could have dropped the alleged bomb and the vic­tims could be evac­u­at­ed, a find­ing that alone would have destroyed the JIM’s case against the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment.

    But the JIM seemed more inter­est­ed in bury­ing this evi­dence of Al Qae­da stag­ing the inci­dent — and killing some expend­able civil­ians — than in fol­low­ing up this tim­ing prob­lem.

    “The [JIM] did not inves­ti­gate these dis­crep­an­cies and can­not deter­mine whether they are linked to any pos­si­ble stag­ing sce­nario, or to poor record-keep­ing in chaot­ic con­di­tions,” the report said. But the prof­fered excuse about poor record-keep­ing would have to apply to mul­ti­ple hos­pi­tals over a wide area all false­ly record­ing the arrival time of more than 100 patients.

    The video of the plumes of smoke also has come under skep­ti­cism from Theodore Pos­tol, a weapons expert at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, who not­ed that none of the three plumes matched up with dam­age to build­ings (as viewed from satel­lite images) that would have result­ed from aer­i­al bombs of that pow­er.

    Postol’s find­ing sug­gests that the smoke could have been anoth­er part of a stag­ing event rather than debris kicked up by aer­i­al bombs.

    The JIM also could find no con­clu­sive evi­dence that a Syr­i­an war­plane was over Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the video although the report claims that a plane could have come with­in about 5 kilo­me­ters of the town.

    A His­to­ry of Decep­tion

    Per­haps even more sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the JIM report ignored the con­text of the April 4 case and the past his­to­ry of Al Qaeda’s Nus­ra Front stag­ing chem­i­cal weapons attacks with the goal of foist­ing blame on the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and trick­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary into an inter­ven­tion on the side of Nus­ra and its Islam­ic-mil­i­tant allies.

    On April 4, there was a strong motive for Al Qae­da and its region­al allies to mount a staged event. Just days ear­li­er, Pres­i­dent Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion had shocked the Syr­i­an rebels and their back­ers by declar­ing “regime change” was no longer the U.S. goal in Syr­ia.

    So, Al Qae­da and its region­al enablers were fran­tic to reverse Trump’s deci­sion, which was accom­plished by his emo­tion­al reac­tion to videos on cable news show­ing chil­dren and oth­er civil­ians suf­fer­ing and dying in Khan Sheikhoun.

    On the night of April 6–7, before any thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion could be con­duct­ed, Trump ordered 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles fired at the Syr­i­an air base that sup­pos­ed­ly had launched the sarin attack.

    At the time, I was told by an intel­li­gence source that at least some CIA ana­lysts believed that the sarin inci­dent indeed had been staged with sarin pos­si­bly flown in by drone from a Sau­di-Israeli spe­cial oper­a­tions base in Jor­dan.

    This source said the on-the-ground stag­ing for the inci­dent had been hasty because of the sur­prise announce­ment that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion was no longer seek­ing regime change in Dam­as­cus. The haste led to some slop­pi­ness in tying down all the nec­es­sary details to pin the atroc­i­ty on Assad, the source said.

    But the few slip-ups, such as the appar­ent fail­ure to coor­di­nate the tim­ing of the hos­pi­tal admis­sions to after the pur­port­ed airstrike, didn’t deter the JIM inves­ti­ga­tors from back­ing the West’s desire to blame Assad and also cre­ate anoth­er attack line against the Rus­sians.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, oth­er U.N.-connected inves­ti­ga­tors down­played ear­li­er evi­dence that Al Qaeda’s Nus­ra was stag­ing chem­i­cal weapons inci­dents after Pres­i­dent Oba­ma laid down his “red line” on chem­i­cal weapons. The mil­i­tants appar­ent­ly hoped that the U.S. mil­i­tary would take out the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary and pave the way for an Al Qae­da vic­to­ry.

    For instance, U.N. inves­ti­ga­tors learned from a num­ber of towns­peo­ple of Al-Tamanah about how the rebels and allied “activists” staged a chlo­rine gas attack on the night of April 29–30, 2014, and then sold the false sto­ry to a cred­u­lous West­ern media and, ini­tial­ly, to a U.N. inves­tiga­tive team.

    “Sev­en wit­ness­es stat­ed that fre­quent alerts [about an immi­nent chlo­rine weapons attack by the gov­ern­ment] had been issued, but in fact no inci­dents with chem­i­cals took place,” the U.N. report said. “While peo­ple sought safe­ty after the warn­ings, their homes were loot­ed and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these wit­ness­es] had come for­ward to con­test the wide-spread false media reports.”

    Dubi­ous Evi­dence

    Oth­er peo­ple, who did allege that there had been a gov­ern­ment chem­i­cal attack on Al-Tamanah, pro­vid­ed sus­pect evi­dence, includ­ing data from ques­tion­able sources, accord­ing to the report.

    The report said, “Three wit­ness­es, who did not give any descrip­tion of the inci­dent on 29–30 April 2014, pro­vid­ed mate­r­i­al of unknown source. One wit­ness had sec­ond-hand knowl­edge of two of the five inci­dents in Al-Tamanah, but did not remem­ber the exact dates. Lat­er that wit­ness pro­vid­ed a USB-stick with infor­ma­tion of unknown ori­gin, which was saved in sep­a­rate fold­ers accord­ing to the dates of all the five inci­dents men­tioned by the FFM [the U.N.’s Fact-Find­ing Mis­sion].

    “Anoth­er wit­ness pro­vid­ed the dates of all five inci­dents read­ing it from a piece of paper, but did not pro­vide any tes­ti­mo­ny on the inci­dent on 29–30 April 2014. The lat­ter also pro­vid­ed a video titled ‘site where sec­ond bar­rel con­tain­ing tox­ic chlo­rine gas was dropped tamanaa 30 April 14’”

    Some oth­er wit­ness­es alleg­ing a Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment attack offered curi­ous claims about detect­ing the chlo­rine-infused “bar­rel bombs” based on how the device sound­ed in its descent.

    The U.N. report said, “The eye­wit­ness, who stat­ed to have been on the roof, said to have heard a heli­copter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling bar­rel. Some inter­vie­wees had referred to a dis­tinct whistling sound of bar­rels that con­tain chlo­rine as they fall. The wit­ness state­ment could not be cor­rob­o­rat­ed with any fur­ther infor­ma­tion.”

    How­ev­er, the claim itself is absurd since it is incon­ceiv­able that any­one could detect a chlo­rine can­is­ter inside a “bar­rel bomb” by “a dis­tinct whistling sound.”

    The larg­er point, how­ev­er, is that the jihadist rebels in Al-Tamanah and their pro­pa­gan­da teams, includ­ing relief work­ers and activists, appear to have orga­nized a coor­di­nat­ed effort at decep­tion com­plete with a fake video sup­plied to U.N. inves­ti­ga­tors and West­ern media out­lets.

    For instance, the Tele­graph in Lon­don report­ed that “Videos alleged­ly tak­en in Al-Tamanah … pur­port to show the impact sites of two chem­i­cal bombs. Activists said that one per­son had been killed and anoth­er 70 injured.”

    The Tele­graph quot­ed sup­posed weapons expert Eliot Hig­gins, the founder of Belling­cat and a senior fel­low at the fierce­ly anti-Russ­ian Atlantic Coun­cil, as endors­ing the Al-Tamanah claims.

    “Wit­ness­es have con­sis­tent­ly report­ed the use of heli­copters to drop the chem­i­cal bar­rel bombs used,” said Hig­gins. “As it stands, around a dozen chem­i­cal bar­rel bomb attacks have been alleged in that region in the last three weeks.”

    The Al-Tamanah debunk­ing in the U.N. report received no main­stream media atten­tion when the U.N. find­ings were issued in Sep­tem­ber 2016 because the U.N. report relied on rebel infor­ma­tion to blame two oth­er alleged chlo­rine attacks on the gov­ern­ment and that got all the cov­er­age. But the case should have raised red flags giv­en the extent of the appar­ent decep­tion.

    If the sev­en towns­peo­ple were telling the truth, that would mean that the rebels and their allies issued fake attack warn­ings, pro­duced pro­pa­gan­da videos to fool the West, and prepped “wit­ness­es” with “evi­dence” to deceive inves­ti­ga­tors. Yet, no alarms went off about oth­er rebel claims.

    The Ghou­ta Inci­dent

    A more famous attack – with sarin gas on the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of Ghou­ta on Aug. 21, 2013, killing hun­dreds – was also eager­ly blamed on the Assad regime, as The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Higgins’s Belling­cat and many oth­er West­ern out­lets jumped to that con­clu­sion despite the unlike­ly cir­cum­stances. Assad had just wel­comed U.N. inves­ti­ga­tors to Dam­as­cus to exam­ine chem­i­cal attacks that he was blam­ing on the rebels.

    Assad also was fac­ing the “red line” threat from Pres­i­dent Oba­ma warn­ing him of pos­si­ble U.S. mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion if the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment deployed chem­i­cal weapons. Why Assad and his mil­i­tary would choose such a moment to launch a dead­ly sarin attack out­side Dam­as­cus, killing most­ly civil­ians, made lit­tle sense.

    But this became anoth­er rush to judg­ment in the West that brought the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to the verge of launch­ing a dev­as­tat­ing air attack on the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary that might have helped Al Qaeda’s Syr­i­an affil­i­ate and/or the Islam­ic State win the war.

    Even­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, the case blam­ing Assad for the 2013 sarin attack col­lapsed.

    An analy­sis by gen­uine weapons experts – such as Theodore Pos­tol, an MIT pro­fes­sor of sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy and nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy, and Richard M. Lloyd, an ana­lyst at the mil­i­tary con­trac­tor Tes­la Lab­o­ra­to­ries – found that the mis­sile that deliv­ered the sarin had a very short range plac­ing its like­ly fir­ing posi­tion in rebel ter­ri­to­ry.

    Lat­er, report­ing by jour­nal­ist Sey­mour Hersh impli­cat­ed Turk­ish intel­li­gence work­ing with jihadist rebels as the like­ly source of the sarin.

    We also learned in 2016 that a mes­sage from the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty had warned Oba­ma how weak the evi­dence against Assad was. There was no “slam-dunk” proof, said Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence James Clap­per. And Oba­ma cit­ed his rejec­tion of the Wash­ing­ton mil­i­taris­tic “play­book” to bomb Syr­ia as one of his proud­est moments as Pres­i­dent.

    With this back­ground, there should have been extreme skep­ti­cism when jihadists and their allies made new claims about the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment engag­ing in chem­i­cal weapons attacks. But there wasn’t.

    The broad­er con­text for these biased inves­ti­ga­tions is that U.N. and OPCW inves­ti­ga­tors have been under intense pres­sure to con­firm accu­sa­tions against Syr­ia and oth­er tar­get­ed states.

    ...

    ———-

    “Did Al Qae­da Dupe Trump on Syr­i­an Attack?” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 11/09/2017

    ““The [JIM] did not inves­ti­gate these dis­crep­an­cies and can­not deter­mine whether they are linked to any pos­si­ble stag­ing sce­nario, or to poor record-keep­ing in chaot­ic con­di­tions,” the report said. But the prof­fered excuse about poor record-keep­ing would have to apply to mul­ti­ple hos­pi­tals over a wide area all false­ly record­ing the arrival time of more than 100 patients.”

    Did five hos­pi­tals in Idlib have the same record keep­ing prob­lem involv­ing more than 100 patients? That’s what we’re told to assume:

    ...
    To estab­lish when the sup­posed sarin attack occurred on April 4, the JIM report relied on wit­ness­es in the Al Qae­da-con­trolled town and a curi­ous video show­ing three plumes of smoke but no air­planes. Based on the video’s meta­da­ta, the JIM said the scene was record­ed between 0642 and 0652 hours. The JIM thus puts the tim­ing of the sarin release at between 0630 and 0700 hours.

    But the first admis­sions of vic­tims to area hos­pi­tals began as ear­ly as 0600 hours, the JIM found, mean­ing that these vic­tims could not have been poi­soned by the alleged aer­i­al bomb­ing (even if the airstrike real­ly did occur).

    Accord­ing to the report’s Annex II, “The admis­sion times of the records range between 0600 and 1600 hours.” And these ear­ly cas­es – arriv­ing before the alleged airstrike – were not iso­lat­ed ones.

    “Analy­sis of the … med­ical records revealed that in 57 cas­es, patients were admit­ted in five hos­pi­tals before the inci­dent in Khan Shaykhun,” Annex II said.
    ...

    So we have 57 patients show­ing up before the attack. But then there’s 52 patients that showed up at hos­pi­tals short­ly after attack. But they showed up at hos­pi­tals that were 30 and 125 km away from the attack site! Short­ly after the attack!

    ...
    Plus, this tim­ing dis­crep­an­cy was not lim­it­ed to a few hos­pi­tals in and around Khan Sheikhoun, but was record­ed as well at hos­pi­tals that were scat­tered across the area and includ­ed one hos­pi­tal that would have tak­en an hour or so to reach.

    Annex II stat­ed: “In 10 such cas­es, patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while anoth­er 42 patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

    In oth­er words, more than 100 patients would appear to have been exposed to sarin before the alleged Syr­i­an war­plane could have dropped the alleged bomb and the vic­tims could be evac­u­at­ed, a find­ing that alone would have destroyed the JIM’s case against the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment.
    ...

    “In 10 such cas­es, patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while anoth­er 42 patients appear to have been admit­ted to a hos­pi­tal 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

    Again, how the UN address these dis­crep­an­cies? But con­scious­ly ignor­ing it:

    ...
    “The [JIM] did not inves­ti­gate these dis­crep­an­cies and can­not deter­mine whether they are linked to any pos­si­ble stag­ing sce­nario, or to poor record-keep­ing in chaot­ic con­di­tions
    ...

    And don’t for­get that this is just the lat­est piece evi­dence that al Nus­ra was behind that attack in an attempt to goad the US into a war to oust Assad (to the immense ben­e­fit of al Nus­ra).

    Only al Nus­ra knows for sure if it was behind this. And if it was behind this they also know that they can got away with it. It’s some­thing to keep in mind now that Sau­di Ara­bia appears to be gear­ing up for more wars that will like­ly involve a lot more al Qae­da off­shoots.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 13, 2017, 4:46 pm

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