TBR News April 21, 2017

Apr 21 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 21, 2017:” At this point in time, it is highly doubtful if the Syrian government aircraft dropped any kind of a “poison chemical” bomb on anyone.

The public has seen this kind of prevarication many times before when the government decided it wanted to attack another country. Well-known examples of this would be Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Kuwait, “yellowcake uranium,” the fictional machinations of the evil Russians and on and on.

Most of these inventions no longer impress anyone except the inventors and their employers but they always result in violence and death. The current flaps are examples of mindless mendacity but because of the Internet, the public no longer believes what the major media is told to shove down their throats.

And because the public has alternative news sites that are free, the major media is collapsing.

Those who wish to control public opinion hate the Internet but can do nothing about it, other than to try to flood it with garbled and senseless nonsense in the hopes that a few citizens might actually believe it.”

Table of Contents

  • How the U.S. Government Spins the Story
  • NYT Mocks Skepticism on Syria-Sarin Claims
  • Why is US media ignoring all dissenting expert voices on the Khan Sheikhoun attack?
  • Syria moved aircraft out of US-bombed airstrip to Russian base
  • North Korea nuclear threat: should California start panicking?
  • Secrecy News
  • The coming of a universal American draft
  • The Great MERS Scam: Millions of Americans Defrauded
  • Zionist Organizations Operating in the United States
  • Exxon Mobil requests sanctions waiver for Russia projects
  • In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves

 How the U.S. Government Spins the Story

Did Syria actually use chemical weapons?

April 18, 2017

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

Sounds like we’ve heard it all before, because we have, back in August 2013, and that turned out to be less than convincing. Skepticism is likewise mounting over current White House claims that Damascus used a chemical weapon against civilians in the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4th. Shortly after the more recent incident, President Donald Trump, possibly deriving his information from television news reports, abruptly stated that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had ordered the attack. He also noted that the use of chemicals had “crossed many red lines” and hinted that Damascus would be held accountable. Twenty-four hours later retribution came in the form of the launch of 59 cruise missiles directed against the Syrian airbase at Sharyat. The number of casualties, if any, remains unclear and the base itself sustained only minor damage amidst allegations that many of the missiles had missed their target. The physical assault was followed by a verbal onslaught, with the Trump Administration blaming Russia for shielding al-Assad and demanding that Moscow end its alliance with Damascus if it wishes to reestablish good relations with Washington.

The media, led by the usual neoconservative cheerleaders, have applauded Trump’s brand of tough love with Syria, even though Damascus had no motive to stage such an attack while the so-called rebels had plenty to gain. The escalation to a war footing also serves no U.S. interest and actually damages prospects for eliminating ISIS any time soon. Democratic Party liberal interventionists have also joined with Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio to celebrate the cruise missile strike and hardening rhetoric. Principled and eminently sensible Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, has demanded evidence of Syrian culpability, saying “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia—which could lead to nuclear war. This Administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning.” For her pains, she has been vilified by members of her own party, who have called for her resignation.

Other congressmen, including Senators Rand Paul and Tim Kaine, who have asked for a vote in congress to authorize going to war, have likewise been ignored or deliberately marginalized. All of which means that the United States has committed a war crime against a country with which it is not at war and has done so by ignoring Article 2 of the Constitution, which grants to Congress the sole power to declare war. It has also failed to establish a casus belli that Syria represents some kind of threat to the United States.

What has become completely clear, as a result of the U.S. strike and its aftermath, is that any general reset with Russia has now become unimaginable, meaning among other things that a peace settlement for Syria is for now unattainable. It also has meant that the rebels against al-Assad’s regime will be empowered, possibly deliberately staging more chemical “incidents” and blaming the Damascus government to shift international opinion farther in their direction. ISIS, which was reeling prior to the attack and reprisal, has been given a reprieve by the same United States government that pledged to eradicate it. And Donald Trump has reneged on his two campaign pledges to avoid deeper involvement in Middle Eastern wars and mend fences with Moscow.

There have been two central documents relating to the alleged Syrian chemical weapon incidents in 2013 and 2017, both of which read like press releases. Both refer to a consensus within the U.S. intelligence community (IC)and express “confidence” and even “high confidence” regarding their conclusions but neither is actually a product of the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which would be appropriate if the IC had actually come to a consensus. Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the Director of CIA were present in a photo showing the White House team deliberating over what to do about Syria. Both documents supporting the U.S. cruise missile attack were, in fact, uncharacteristically put out by the White House, suggesting that the arguments were stitched together in haste to support a political decision to use force that had already been made.

The two documents provide plenty of circumstantial information but little in the way of actual evidence. The 2013 Obama version “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013,” was criticized almost immediately when it was determined that there were alternative explanations for the source of the chemical agents that might have killed more than a thousand people in and around the town of Ghouta. The 2017 Trump version “The Assad Regime’s Use of Chemical Weapons on April 4, 2017,” is likewise under fire from numerous quarters. Generally reliable journalist Robert Parry is reporting that the intelligence behind the White House claims comes largely from satellite surveillance, though nothing has been released to back-up the conclusion that the Syrian government was behind the attack, an odd omission as everyone knows about satellite capabilities and they are not generally considered to be a classified source or method. Parry also cites the fact that there are alternative theories on what took place and why, some of which appear to originate with the intelligence and national security community, which was in part concerned over the rush to judgment by the White House. MIT Professor Theodore Postol, considered to be an expert on munitions, has also questioned the government’s account of what took place in Khan Sheikhoun through a detailed analysis of the available evidence. He believes that the chemical agent was fired from the ground, not from an airplane, suggesting that it was an attack initiated by the rebels made to appear as if it was caused by the Syrian bomb.

In spite of the challenges, “Trust me,” says Donald Trump. The Russians and Syrians are demanding an international investigation of the alleged chemical weapons incident, but as time goes by the ability to discern what took place diminishes. All that is indisputably known at this point is that the Syrian Air Force attacked a target in Idlib and a cloud of toxic chemicals was somehow released. The al-Ansar terrorist group (affiliated with al-Qaeda) is in control of the area and benefits greatly from the prevailing narrative. If it was in fact the actual implementer of the attack, it is no doubt cleaning and reconfiguring the site to support the account that it is promoting and which is being uncritically accepted both by the mainstream media and by a number of governments. The United States will also do its best to disrupt any inquiry that challenges the assumptions that it has already come to. The Trump Administration is threatening to do more to remove Bashar al-Assad and every American should accept that the inhabitant of the White House, when he is actually in residence, will discover like many before him that war is good business. He will continue to ride the wave of jingoism that has turned out to be his salvation, reversing to an extent the negative publicity that has dogged the new administration.

NYT Mocks Skepticism on Syria-Sarin Claims

The New York Times and other major media have ruled out any further skepticism toward the U.S. government’s claim that Syrian President Assad dropped a sarin bomb on a town in Idlib province

April 18, 2017

by Robert Parry


In the old days of journalism, we were taught that there were almost always two sides to a story, if not more sides than that. Indeed, part of the professional challenge of journalism was to sort out conflicting facts on a complicated topic. Often we found that the initial impression of a story was wrong once we understood the more nuanced reality.

Today, however, particularly on foreign policy issues, the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.

Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.

So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.

A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.

Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.

To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.

Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”

Ergo, in Rutenberg’s sophistry, the “prevailing notion in the [U.S.] news” must be accepted as true, regardless of the checkered history of such confidence in the past, i.e., the “prevailing notion” that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in Iraq in 2003. Today, to shut down any serious evaluation of the latest WMD claims about Syria just say: “Alex Jones.”

Thus, any evidence that the April 4 incident might have been staged or might have resulted from an accidental release of Al Qaeda-controlled chemicals must be dismissed as something on par with believing the wildest of silly conspiracy theories. (Indeed, one of the reasons that I detest conspiracy theories is that they often reject hard evidence in favor of fanciful speculation, which then can be used, in exactly the way that Rutenberg did, to undermine serious efforts to sort through conflicting accounts and questionable evidence in other cases.)

Alternative Explanations

In the case of the April 4 incident, there were several alternative explanations that deserved serious attention, including the possibility that Al Qaeda had staged the event, possibly sacrificing innocent civilians in an attempt to trick President Trump into reversing his administration’s recent renunciation of the U.S. goal of “regime change” in Syria.

This notion is not as nutty as Rutenberg pretends. For instance, United Nations investigators received testimonies from Syrian eyewitnesses regarding another attempt by Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and their “rescue” teams to stage a chlorine attack in the town of Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then spread word of the bogus attack through social media.

“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 stated. “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.”

The rebels and their allies also made preposterous claims about how they knew canisters of chlorine were contained in “barrel bombs,” by citing the supposedly distinctive sound such chlorine-infused bombs made.

The U.N. report said, “The [rebel-connected] 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.”

Of course, the statement could not be corroborated because it was crazy to believe that people could discern the presence of a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by its “distinct whistling sound.”

Still, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack. The failure of the Syrian government to provide those records of flights that it said did not happen was then cited by the U.N. investigators as somehow evidence of Syrian guilt, another challenge to rationality, since it would be impossible to produce flight records for flights that didn’t happen.

Despite this evidence of a rebel fabrication – and the lack of a Syrian military purpose from using chlorine since it almost never kills anyone – the U.N. investigators succumbed to intense career pressure from the Western powers and accepted as true two other unverified rebel claims of chlorine attacks, leading the Western media to report as flat-fact that the Syrian government used chlorine bombs on civilians.

The Dubious Sarin Case

Besides the dubious chlorine cases – and the evidence of at least one attempted fabrication – there was the infamous sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, when there was a similar rush to judgment blaming the Syrian government although later evidence, including the maximum range of the sarin-carrying missile, pointed to the more likely guilt of Al Qaeda-connected extremists sacrificing the lives of civilians to advance their jihadist cause.

In all these cases, the Times and other Western news outlets behaved as if there was only one acceptable side to the story, the one that the U.S. government was pushing, i.e., blaming the Syrian government. It didn’t matter how implausible the claims were or how unreliable the sources.

In both the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin case and the current April 4, 2017 case, Western officials and media ignored the obvious motives for Al Qaeda to carry out a provocation, foist blame on the government and induce the U.S. to intervene on Al Qaeda’s side.

In August 2013, the Syrian government had just welcomed U.N. investigators who came to Damascus to investigate government allegations of rebels using chemical weapons against government troops. That the Syrian government would then conduct a poison-gas attack within miles of the hotel where the U.N. investigators were staying and thus divert their attention made no logical sense.

Similarly, in April 2017, the Syrian government was not only prevailing on the battlefield but had just received word that the Trump administration had reversed the U.S. policy demanding “regime change” in Damascus. So, the obvious motive to release chemical weapons was with Al Qaeda and its allies, not with the Syrian government.

Manufacturing a Motive

The West has struggled to explain why President Assad would pick that time – and a town of little military value – to drop a sarin bomb. The Times and other mainstream media have suggested that the answer lies in the barbarism and irrationality of Arabs. In that vaguely racist thinking, Assad was flaunting his impunity by dropping sarin in a victory celebration of sorts, even though the predicable consequence was a U.S. missile attack and Trump reversing again the U.S. policy to demand Assad’s ouster.

On April 11, five days after Trump’s decision to attack the Syrian airbase, Trump’s White House released a four-page “intelligence assessment” that offered another alleged motivation, Khan Sheikhoun’s supposed value as a staging area for a rebel offensive threatening government infrastructure. But that offensive had already been beaten back and the town was far from the frontlines.

In other words, there was no coherent motive for Assad to have dropped sarin on this remote town. There was, however, a very logical reason for Al Qaeda’s jihadists to stage a chemical attack and thus bring pressure on Assad’s government. (There’s also the possibility of an accidental release via a conventional government bombing of a rebel warehouse or from the rebels mishandling a chemical weapon – although some of the photographic evidence points more toward a staged event.)

But we’re not supposed to ask these questions – or doubt the “evidence” provided by Al Qaeda and its allies – because Alex Jones raised similar questions and Russian news outlets are reporting on this scenario, too.

There’s the additional problem with Rutenberg’s sophistry: Many of the April 4 sarin claims have been debunked by MIT national security and technology expert Theodore Postol, who has issued a series of reports shredding the claims from the White House’s “intelligence assessment.”

For instance, Postol cited the key photographs showing a supposed sarin canister crumpled inside a crater in a roadway. Postol noted that the canister appeared to be crushed, not exploded, and that the men in the photos inspecting the hole were not wearing protective gear that would have been required if there actually were sarin in the crater.

All of these anomalies and the problems with “evidence” generated by Al Qaeda and its allies should put the entire meme of the Syrian government using chemical weapons in doubt. But Rutenberg is not alone in treating this official groupthink as flat-fact.

Four Pinocchios

Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler awarded “four Pinocchios” – reserved for the most egregious lies – to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice for asserting last January that the Syrian government had surrendered all its chemical weapons as part of a 2013 agreement.

Kessler declared: “The reality is that there were confirmed chemical weapons attacks by Syria – and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration [regarding its surrendered chemicals], and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent …. and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement,” i.e., the chlorine cases.

But Kessler has no way of actually knowing what the truth is regarding Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use. He is simply repeating the propagandistic groupthink that has overwhelmed the Syrian crisis. Presumably he would have given four Pinocchios to anyone who had doubted the 2003 claims about Iraq hiding WMD because all the Important People “knew” that to be true at the time.

What neither Rutenberg nor Kessler seems willing or capable of addressing is the larger problem created by the U.S. government and its NATO allies investing heavily in information warfare or what is sometimes called “strategic communications,” claiming that they are defending themselves from Russian “active measures.” However, the impact of all these competing psychological operations is to trample reality.

The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for “our side” and reject anything coming from the “other side,” which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.

The American people and other news consumers have a right to expect that the Western media will recall the old adage that there are almost always two sides to a story. There’s also the truism that truth often resides not at the surface but is hidden beneath.

Why is US media ignoring all dissenting expert voices on the Khan Sheikhoun attack?

April 20, 2017

by Danielle Ryan


Nothing prompts abdication of journalistic responsibility on American TV more swiftly than “beautiful” images of bombs crashing down on Syria.

It must be assumed that while busy fawning over Donald Trump’s various military escapades, journalists simply haven’t had the time to give dissenting voices an opportunity to be heard.

Because when it comes to airing opinions on Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airbase two weeks ago, in response to an alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, it seems that only experts who agree with the White House may apply.

This is a highly ironic turn of events because before Trump learned the dangerous lesson that bombing was the key to unlocking his popularity among both liberals and conservatives, the media was jumping at any opportunity to make him look like a buffoon who should be impeached and thrown out of office.

Media blackout

Let’s take a look at some of the voices you won’t have heard on US news channels in the aftermath of the chemical incident and Trump’s subsequent attack on the Shayrat airbase:

  1. Theodore Postol, chemical weapons expert and professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Postol has authored a detailed 14-page report which calls into question claims made in the Trump administration’s declassified 4-page report which was used as ‘evidence’ that Bashar Assad was behind the chemical incident on April 4.

The US 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 wrote. What’s more, Postol’s own analysis of the incident in Idlib “indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it.”

Postol went so far as to tell The Nation he believes the White House “fabricated” its evidence and “certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ” in reaching the conclusion that Assad was responsible for dropping chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun. In his opinion, that 4-page report was a “clumsy” attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Assad’s air base with no real evidence.

He told The Nation that White House staff may be worried about this leaking and the bad optics of “a reckless president acting without regard to the nation’s security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia.”

Postol was cited by the New York Times in 2013 as a “leading weapons expert,” but the newspaper has ignored his 2017 report entirely.

  1. Jerry Smith led the UN-backed operation to remove Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013

Smith has appeared in UK media urging caution over the rush to judgment on the latest chemical incident. “We need to be very conscious of all playbooks that are being put out there at the moment. I think it’s very premature if we start dismissing one accusation or another,” he told Channel 4’s, Jon Snow.

When Snow asked if it was plausible that Syrian rebel groups had been storing chemical weapons, Smith said it was “not beyond the realms of possibility” particularly for some of the most extreme rebel groups.

Smith also poured cold water on suggestions made by others that sarin gas would have been entirely consumed and destroyed (making it impossible to spread) in the case of a conventional bomb being dropped on a chemical stockpile.

If that was the case, he said, “there is every possibility that those munitions were not consumed and that in fact the sarin liquid was ejected and could well have affected the outstanding population.”

  1. Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria

Ford has appeared on the BBC calling for a proper investigation into the chemical incident, and, like Smith, has urged that the media not jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence.

“There are two possibilities for what happened. One is the American version that Assad dropped chemical weapons on this locality. The other version is that an ordinary bomb was dropped and it hit a munitions dump, that jihadis were storing chemical weapons. We don’t know which of these two possibilities is the correct one,” he said.

Ford also recalled the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. At that time, he said “the experts, the intelligence agencies, the politicians were convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. They produced reams of evidence; photographs, diagrams. It was all wrong — and it’s possible that they’re wrong in this instance, as well”.

Later in the interview, when asked pointedly by the BBC interviewer, why he was a “relatively lone voice” straying from the mainstream narrative, Ford said: “We cannot take at face value what the so-called intelligence experts tell us, not when they have an agenda.”

Ford also took aim at the “gullible media” and argued that Trump has given jihadis “a thousand reasons” to now stage false flag attacks with chemical weapons in order to prompt more US military action.

Questioning the widely held assumption that Assad would use chemical weapons at this point in the war, Ford said Assad “may be cruel and brutal, but he’s not mad. It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no military advantage.”

  1. Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer

Giraldi is another skeptical voice who has been almost entirely ignored by US media. The former CIA officer claims his sources in the region are telling him the narrative the Trump administration used to sell his decision to bomb the Syrian air base is “a sham.”

He said his contacts were shocked at how the story was being spun by the Trump administration and media.

In a radio interview with Scott Horton, he said: “The intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving…which is that they [Syrian forces] hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, connected with Al-Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own, and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently, the intelligence on this is very clear.”

Selling war

It’s abundantly clear based on the above comments and expert analysis that responsibility for the deaths at Khan Sheikhoun has not been determined. Despite this, media reports continue to state as fact that blame lies with Assad.

The US media has opted, unquestioningly, to trust unverified information that has come from the same intelligence agencies that led them into the war in Iraq based on lies. They have chosen to swallow, hook, line and sinker, information supplied by Al-Qaeda-linked rebel factions who possess the clear motivation to lie in an effort to prompt the kind of shock and awe Western military intervention they’ve been after for years.

What’s really amazing, though, is that journalists continue to follow this narrative despite evidence anti-Assad rebels have already been implicated — by a UN report — in staging a false chemical attack to pin the blame on the Assad government.

But none of that matters when you’ve got a war to sell. So, in their rush to support new military action, the American mainstream media opts to give voice only to those who will echo their own narrative.

One man, they have been keen to listen to is Dr. Shajul Islam. In 2012, Islam was arrested in the UK and charged with kidnapping journalists in Syria. The case against him fell apart, and the charges dropped because the witnesses were unable to testify. John Cantlie, one of the journalists, is still in captivity.

Islam is now back in Idlib, an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Syria, and is a go-to source on the Khan Sheikhoun incident for Western media. To make this all the more strange, the media has also ignored reports that Islam’s brother Razul is believed to have entered Syria to fight as a volunteer for ISIS.

None of this is to say that Postol, Smith, Ford, Giraldi and others are necessarily correct in their assessments either. Nor is the point to ‘absolve’ Assad of all blame for civilian deaths in Syria — a common insult lobbed at anyone who questions the mainstream narratives of this war.

The simple truth is that the facts have not been fully determined. US journalists, in an effort to promote their own version of events, have completely relinquished their responsibility to offer the full spectrum of analysis and expert opinion needed for viewers to make informed judgments on their country’s latest military action.

Syria moved aircraft out of US-bombed airstrip to Russian base

April 19, 2017

by Luis Martinez and Ryan Struyk

abc news

Syria has moved its aircraft from a base struck by the United States two weeks ago to a separate airbase in the port city of Latakia used by Russia’s military, a U.S. official tells ABC News. Most of Syria’s operational fixed wing military aircraft have been moved to the base, according to the official.

The tactical move to the base Russia uses for its fixed wing aircraft missions inside Syria is likely for protection from additional American strikes, since Russian aircraft will be nearby.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said last week that the Tomahawk cruise missile strike on April 7 had destroyed about 20 percent of the Syria’s operational aircraft. That number implied that Syria has less than 100 operational military aircraft in its inventory.

After the U.S. strike, Russia said it would suspend its participation in a hotline with the United States military to “deconflict” or minimize the risk of mid-air collisions in Syrian airspace, but U.S. officials said this week that the two militaries continued to communicate.

“We are deconflicting with the Russians … and we will continue to deconflict,” Secretary of Defense Mattis said on Tuesday, kicking off his trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The United States launched 59 cruise missiles in a strike intended to damage the infrastructure of the airstrip from which the U.S. believes the chemical weapons attack was launched. It was the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government’s facilities.

North Korea nuclear threat: should California start panicking?

As rhetoric between North Korea and the US ratchets up, should major cities on the west coast be worried about a missile strike? Experts say the answer is tricky

April 20, 2017

by Alan Yuhas

The Guardian

San Francisco-In test blasts, military parades and propaganda videos that show San Francisco and Washington DC in ruins, North Korea has broadcast its intention to be a world nuclear power. Less clear, experts say, is how close the secretive nation is to realizing its ambitions to threaten the mainland of the United States.

As rhetoric between the two nations has ratcheted up in recent weeks, residents of major West Coast cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Seattle have begun to ask out loud: should they be worriedAfter five nuclear tests in a decade, North Korea has already shown that it poses a nuclear threat to South Korea and Japan, roughly 80,000 American soldiers stationed in those countries, and to China, its nominal ally. But although Kim Jong-un has dramatically increased missile testing since he took power in 2011, North Korea has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could cross nearly 5,500 miles of the Pacific.

North Korea would need to overcome two feats of engineering to threaten the American mainland: a working ICBM system and a warhead for one of those missiles. Unlike shorter-range missiles, long-range missiles have multiple engines and flight stages, meaning North Korean engineers have to make rockets – and bombs – that can survive the violent vibrations of launch, the wrenching g-forces of flight, and the temperature changes of takeoff and re-entry from space.

“Producing a warhead that can handle all that is a challenge,” said Joseph Bermudez, an analyst for 38 North, a thinktank affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Although Kim has said he wants to test an ICBM later this year, Bermudez doubted the test would be a success.

In February, North Korea fired a medium-range missile into the Sea of Japan, travelling about 300 miles. North Korea has also developed a missile with an estimated range of 2,200 miles, almost halfway to Hawaii, but so far struggled to launch it.

Until North Korea begins ICBM tests, it will be difficult to gauge the country’s capabilities, said Joshua Pollock, a senior researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

“If they do get to the point where they decide to start a campaign of ICBM flight testing, that will allow them to work through the usual technical difficulties,” he said, noting that they had an “impressive” record of problems. “It will allow them in time, I’m confident, to create a reliable weapon.”

But Pollock was wary about any timeline. “They could flight test an ICBM today and it could work or it could take them a year or two,” he said. “I really hesitate to say anything about it.”

Other experts have offered cautious estimates, based on the rate of testing in the last six years. “If everything proceeds as is, it’s likely by 2020 that they could have a system reaching the United States,” Bermudez said. “It should be viewed as an emerging threat.”

After the fifth test last fall, Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Lab, the cradle of the first atomic bomb, gave a similar assessment. “Left unchecked, Pyongyang will likely develop the capability to reach the continental United States with a nuclear tipped missile in a decade or so,” he wrote in a post for 38 North.

While North Korea cannot hide its missile tests – even short-range tests are usually visible to satellites – it has performed nuclear tests in a tunnel system beneath a mile-high mountain. The secrecy means experts know relatively little about how small or sophisticated North Korea’s bombs are, or how many exist. Experts agreed, however, that North Korea likely has the means to fit a warhead to an ICBM.

“It’s within the range of their technical capabilities and competence,” Bermudez said. “That doesn’t mean they could easily or successfully do it.”

The US has reportedly made it more difficult for North Korea to get missiles off the ground, with a series of cyberattacks begun by Barack Obama. But government hackers alone probably cannot stop North Korea’s ambitions, Bermudez said. “It’s likely that any cyberwarfare campaign would not be able to stop either the nuclear program or the ballistic program, only delay it.”

Donald Trump vowed on Twitter earlier this year that Kim would not test an ICBM, and his advisers have not ruled out pre-emptive military action.

Last weekend’s parade, the experts said, showed a natural arc in North Korea’s progress: a mix of propaganda, aspirations and actual progress, to take with a grain of salt. In the parade North Korea showcased two apparently new ICBMs, larger even than existing models already designed to reach the east coast of the US.

“That does not mean it’s ready, that also does not mean it’s fake,” Pollock said. “You see a mix of old and new, some things not quite ready for primetime, others tried and true.”

Hecker and Pollock have urged diplomacy to stall North Korea’s program, saying that Obama’s non-negotiating policy of “strategic patience” gave Kim time to develop ICBMs as leverage.

“The good news, if you’re worried, is first of all the North Koreans are not suicidal, they’re not going to just start a war,” Pollock said, noting that the US had co-existed for decades with other nuclear rivals, Russia and China. “So this is a familiar condition for us and I don’t think we need to get too worked up.”


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 28

April 20, 2017


“The Nation must prepare to mitigate an unpredictable global security and national emergency environment,” the White House said in a report to Congress this month.

The report, transmitted by President Trump on April 3, provided principles for reform of the selective service process by which young Americans enter the military. The report was required by section 555 of the 2017 defense authorization act.

“The Nation must be ever mindful of the unpredictable global security environment that requires an effective and efficient means to provide manpower to the national security community, including military and non-military support in a national emergency,” the President’s report said.

How to prepare in practice for the unpredictable is not clear, except that it involves flexibility.

“Any system, process, or program used to identify, recruit, and employ additional skill sets should be effective in times of peace, war, and other levels of conflict or emergency response. Associated initiatives, systems, and processes must be seamless, robust, and able to expand and contract as needed,” the report said.

Congress established a new National Commission to consider changes to the selective service system, and to develop “the means by which to foster a greater attitude, ethos, and propensity for military services among United States youth.”


Public debate over the legal authority for the April 6 U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airbase is reviewed in a new brief from the Congressional Research Service, which stops short of proposing a conclusion of its own.

“It remains to be seen whether the Trump Administration will release a statement explaining its legal basis for the missile strike under international law, but even if such a statement is forthcoming, it seems unlikely that it would put an end to this debate,” the CRS brief said. See U.S. Strike on Syrian Airbase: Legal under International Law?, CRS Legal Sidebar, April 17, 2017.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The Marshall Plan: 70th Anniversary, CRS Insight, April 18, 2017

U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement: Prospects and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2017

France’s 2017 Presidential Election: In Brief, April 13, 2017

Border-Adjusted Consumption Taxes and Exchange Rate Movements: Theory and Evidence, April 18, 2017

The Revenue Baseline for Tax Reform, CRS Insight, April 14, 2017

Congressional News Media and the House and Senate Press Galleries, April 13, 2017

NASS and U.S. Crop Production Forecasts: Methods and Issues, April 13, 2017

Dressed to the Nines: What’s Next for the Nine-Justice Supreme Court, CRS Legal Sidebar, April 10, 2017

Westinghouse Bankruptcy Filing Could Put New U.S. Nuclear Projects at Risk, CRS Insight, April 19, 2017

The coming of a universal American draft

April 21, 2017

by Harry von Johnston PhD

A proposed key issue for young Americans and their families to consider is whether the President supports a military draft.

Here is the evidence that makes a draft likely:

  • The U.S. Army has acknowledged that they are stretched thin and that finding new recruits is challenging. They recently placed 300 new recruiters in the field. Bonuses for new recruits to the Army have risen by 67 percent to a maximum of $10,000 and $15,000 for hard-to-fill specialties.
  • The extended tours of duty have made service less attractive for both the regular armed forces, and particularly for the National Guard and Reserves. To meet this year’s quota for enlistees, the Army has sped up the induction of “delayed entry” recruits, meaning they are already borrowing from next year’s quotas in order to meet this year’s numbers.
  • Reservists are now being called away for longer periods. In 2003, President Bush dramatically extended the length of time for the Guard and Reserves deployment in Iraq. Extended tours of up to a year have become common.
  • In a further sign of a lack of adequate staffing, the armed forces are now in the process of calling up members of the Individual Ready Reserves. These are often older reservists usually waiting retirement. They are typically in their mid-to-late forties, and have not been on active duty and have not trained for some time. Traditionally, they are only supposed to be called up during a time of national emergency. In 2001, President Bush authorized their call up but never rescinded this order even after he declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq in May of 2003.
  • The Armed Forces are already chronically understaffed. In 2003, General Eric Shinseki testified before Congress that an additional 50,000 troops would be needed beyond what the Bush administration said would be necessary to stabilize Iraq after the invasion. The President ignored him. We do not have enough troops in Afghanistan to be able to stabilize the country, as shown by the continual putting off of elections well past their announced date. In an effort to free up yet more troops in the coming years, we are moving troops away from the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and reducing the number of troops on the Korean Peninsula at a time when North Korea poses more of a danger to the U.S. – not less. Because of the government’s rampant military adventurism, our Armed Forces are under enormous pressure. The only place to go for more troops is a draft.
  • Selective service boards have already been notified that 20-year-olds and medical personnel will be called up first.

President Trump will be forced to decide whether we can continue the current course in the Middle East and Afghanistan, which will clearly require the reinstatement of the draft. The Pentagon has objected to a draft but, the Presidents have ignored other Pentagon recommendations in the past.

American families and young people are owed an explanation about the President’s plans. Will the President withdraw from some of our military commitments or will he reinstate the draft? We need to know that before we vote, not afterwards.

Frantic to expand US military forces for pending military actions, the Obama Administration organized and prepared for a new Universal Draft. All of the components for this new draft are now in place, awaiting only the current President’s signature on the implementing order. Because this is such an emotive issue, the current Administration has made every effort to pretend that while such plans are on the books, there will be no draft and that these plans are only an “upgrading” of previous laws.

The new draft will include everyone from 18 through 26, including all women of that age group, and in cases of those with “special skills” such as linguistic abilities, computer expertise and so on, up until 35!

Americans living abroad will be threatened by government order to immediately register with the nearest US embassy or consulate, although foreign countries are under no obligation to force young Americans to return to the US if drafted.

The Great MERS Scam: Millions of Americans Defrauded

MERS = Mortgage Electronic Registration Inc.holds approximately 75 million American mortgages and is a Delaware corporation whose sole shareholder is MersCorp. MersCorp and its specified members have agreed to include the MERS corporate name on any mortgage that was executed in conjunction with any mortgage loan made by any member of MersCorp. Thus in place of the original lender being named as the mortgagee on the mortgage that is supposed to secure their loan, MERS is named as the “nominee” for the lender who actually loaned the money to the borrower. In other words MERS is really nothing more than a name that is used on the mortgage instrument in place of the actual lender.

MERS’ primary function, therefore, is to act as a document custodian. MERS was created solely to simplify the process of transferring mortgages by avoiding the need to re-record liens – and pay county recorder filing fees – each time a loan is assigned. Instead, servicers record loans only once and MERS’ electronic system monitors transfers and facilitates the trading of notes. It has very conserbatively estimated that as of February, 2010, over half of all new residential mortgage loans in the United States are registered with MERS and recorded in county recording offices in MERS’ name

MersCorp was the created in the early 1990’s by the former C.E.O.’s of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Indy Mac, Countrywide, Stewart Title Insurance and the American Land Title Association. The executives of these companies lined their pockets with billions of dollars of unearned bonuses and free stock by creating so-called mortgage backed securities using bogus mortgage loans to unqualified borrowers thereby creating a huge false demand for residential homes and thereby falsely inflating the value of those homes. MERS marketing claims that its “paperless systems fit within the legal framework of the laws of all fifty states” are now being vetted by courts and legal commentators throughout the country.

The MERS paperless system is the type of crooked rip-off scheme that is has been seen for generations past in the crooked financial world. In this present case, MERS was created in the boardrooms of the most powerful and controlling members of the American financial institutions. This gigantic scheme completely ignored long standing law of commerce relating to mortgage lending and did so for its own prsonal gain.

That the inevitable collapse of the crooked mortgage swindles would lead to terrible national reprecussions was a matter of little or no interest to the upper levels of America’s banking and financial world because the only interest of these entities was to grab the money of suckers, keep it in the form of ficticious bonuses, real estate and very large accounts in foreign banks.. The effect of this system has led to catastrophic metldown on both the American and global economy.

MERS, it has clearly been proven in many civil cases, does not hold any promissory notes of any kind.. A party must have possession of a promissory note in order to have standing to enforce and/or otherwise collect a debt that is owed to another party. Given this clear-cut legal definition, MERS does not have legal standing to enforce or collect on the over 60 million mortgages it controls and no member of MERS has any standing in an American civil court.

MERS has been taken to civil courts across the country and charged with a lack of standing in reprossion issues. When the mortgage debacle initially, and invevitably, began, MERS always rotinely broght actions against defauilting mortgage holders purporting to represent the owners of the defaulted mortgages but once the courts discovered that MERS was only a front organization that did not hold any deed nor was aware of who or what agencies might hold a deed, they have been routinely been denied in their attempts to force foreclosure.

In the past, persons alleging they were officials of MERS in foreclosure motions, purported to be the holders of the mortgage, when, in fact, they nor only were not the holder of the mortgage but, under a court order, could not produce the identity of the actual holder. These so-called MERS officers have usually been just employees of entities who are servicing the loan for the actual lender. MERS, it is now widely acknowledged by the courts, has no legal right to foreclose or otherwise collect debt which are evidenced by promissory notes held by someone else.

The American media routinely identifies MERS as a mortgage lender, creditor, and mortgage company, when in point of fact MERS has never loaned so much as a dollar to anyone, is not a creditor and is not a mortgage company. MERS is merely a name that is printed on mortgages, purporting to give MERS some sort of legal status, in the matter of a loan made by a completely different and almost always,a totally unknown enitity.

The infamous collapse of the American housing bubble originated, in the main, with one Angelo Mozilo, CEO of the later failed Countrywide Mortgage.

Mozilo started working in his father’s butcher shop, in the Bronx, when he was ten years old. He graduated from Fordham in 1960, and that year he met David Loeb.. In 1968, Mozilo and Loeb created a new mortgage company, Countrywide, together. Mozilo believed the company should make special efforts to lower the barrier for minorities and others who had been excluded from homeownership. Loeb died in 2003

In 1996, Countrywide created a new subsidiary for subprime loans.

The standard Countrywide procedure was to openly solicit persons who either had no credit or could not obtain it, and, by the use of false credit reports drawn up in their offices, arrange mortgages. The new home owners were barely able to meet the minimum interest-only payments and when, as always happens, the mortgage payments are increased to far, far more than could be paid, defaults and repossessions were inevitable.

Countrywide sold these mortgages to lower-tier banks which in turn, put them together in packages and sold them to the large American banks. These so-called “bundled mortgages” were quickly sold these major banking houses to many foreign investors with the comments that when the payments increased, so also would the income from the original mortgage. In 1996, Countrywide created a new subsidiary for subprime loans..

At one point in time, Countrywide Financial Corporation was regarded with awe in the business world. In 2003, Fortune observed that Countrywide was expected to write $400 billion in home loans and earn $1.9 billion. Countrywide’s chairman and C.E.O., Angelo Mozilo, did rather well himself. In 2003, he received nearly $33 million in compensation. By that same year, Wall Street had become addicted to home loans, which bankers used to create immensely lucrative mortgage-backed securities and, later, collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.s—and Countrywide was their biggest supplier. Under Mozilo’s leadership, Countrywide’s growth had been astonishing.

He was aiming to achieve a market share—thirty to forty per cent—that was far greater than anyone in the financial-services industry had ever attained. For several years, Countrywide continued to thrive. Then, inevitably, in 2007, subprime defaults began to rocket upwards, forcing the top American bankers to abandon the mortgage-backed securities they had previously prized.

It was obvious to them that the fraudulent mortgages engendered by Countrywide had been highly suceessful as a marketinig program but it was obvious to eveyone concerned, at all levels, that the mortgages based entirely on false and misleading credit information were bound to eventually default. In August of 2007, the top American bankers cut off

Countrywide’s short-term funding, which seriously hindered its ability to operate, and in just a few months following this abandonment, Mozilo was forced to choose between bankruptcy orselling out to the best bidder.In January, 2008, Bank of America announced that it would buy the company for a fraction of what Countrywide was worth at its peak. Mozilo was subsequently named a defendant in more than a hundred civil lawsuits and a target of a criminal investigation.

On June 4th, 2007 the S.E.C., in a civil suit, charged Mozilo, David Sambol, and Eric Sieracki with securities fraud; Mozilo was also charged with insider trading. The complaint formalized a public indictment of Mozilo as an icon of corporate malfeasance and greed.

In essence, not only bad credit risks were used to create and sell mortgages on American homes that were essentially worthless. By grouping all of these together and selling them abroad, the banks all made huge profits. When the kissing had to stop, there were two major groups holding the financial bag. The first were the investors and the second were, not those with weak credit, but those who had excellent credit and who were able, and willing to pay off their mortgages.

Unfortunately, as no one knows who owns the title to any home, when the legitimate mortgage holder finally pays off his mortgage, or tries to sell his house, a clear title to said house or property cannot ever be found so, in essence, the innocent mortgage payer can never own or sell his house.

This is a terrible economic time bomb quietly ticking away under the feet of the Bank of America and if, and when, it explodes, another bank is but a fond memory.

Zionist Organizations Operating in the United States

  • Amcha


Amcha is supported with funds from the Claims Conference.

  • AMCHA-CJC, The Coalition for Jewish Concerns


  • AMCHA – The Coalition for Jewish Concerns is an independent grassroots organization dedicated to raising a voice of conscience on behalf of endangered Jews around the world. This global effort includes countering anti-Semitism, advocating for Israel , preserving Holocaust memory, and other pro-Jewish activism.
  • Ameinu


  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI)


  • American Friends of Likud


  • American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
  • American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants


  • America-Israel Friendship League
  • American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)


  • American Jewish Committee


  • American Jewish Congress

http://www.ajcongress.org/site/PageServ … name=about

  • American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)


  • American Sephardi Federation
  • American Zionist Movement
  • Americans for Peace Now
  • AMIT
  • Anti-Defamation League (ADL)


  • Association of Holocaust Organizations (AHO)


  • Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA)


  • Azure


  • Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA)


  • B’nai B’rith International


  • Bnai Zion Foundation


  • Bnei Akiva of the United States and Canada


  • CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)


  • Center for Security Policy


  • Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel (CSPS)


  • Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)


  • Chabad on Campus Foundation


  • Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany)


  • Committee on the Present Danger (CPD)


  • Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations


  • Emunah of America
  • Friends of Israel Defense Forces
  • Ethics and Public Policy Center


  • Generations of the Shoah International (GSI)


  • Habonim Dror


  • Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America


  • Hashomer Hatzair


  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society


  • Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life


  • Holocaust/Genocide Project


  • Holocaust Teacher Resource Center

  • Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR)


  • Institute for Research: Middle Easter Policy


  • International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews


  • International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)


  • International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)


  • International Relations and Security Network


  • Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs (JCPA)


  • Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies


  • Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)


  • Jewish Community Centers Association


  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Frontpage- Don’t Change

  • Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)


  • Jewish Labor Committee


  • Jewish National Fund


  • Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA)


  • Jewish Reconstructionist Federation


  • Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)


  • Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS)


  • Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV)


  • Jewish Women International (JWI)


  • Jews in the Woods (JITW or JitW) also referred to as Fruity Jews or Fruity Jews in the Woods



  • Kulanu


  • Magshimey Herut


  • Manhattan Institute


  • MERCAZ USA, Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement


  • Middle East Forum


  • Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)


  • Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House


  • Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies




  • National Center for Jewish Film


  • National Council of Jewish Women


  • National Council of Young Israel


  • NCSJ, Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia


  • North American Federation of Temple Youth


  • One Jerusalem


  • Rabbinical Assembly (RA)


  • Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)


  • Religious Zionists of America (RZA or Mizrahi)

Homepage 3

  • Set America Free

A new coalition of neo-con, Jewish, and green groups to reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports


  • Shalem Center


  • Shalom Center


  • Simon Wiesenthal Center

http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c … H&b=242023

  • State of Israel Bonds/Development Corporation for Israel


  • Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research



  • Tehilla: The Union for Religious Aliyah


  • Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)


  • Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (Orthodox Union or OU)


  • United Jewish Communities (UJC)


The UJC was formed from the 1999 merger of United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), and United Israel Appeal (UIA).

  • United Jewish Peoples’ Order


  • United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)


  • USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education


  • Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)


  • Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO)


  • Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (WLCJ)


  • Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ)


  • Workmen’s Circle (Arbeter Ring)


  • World Council of Jewish Communal Service (WCJCS)


  • World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust (WFJCSH)


  • World ORT


  • World Union of Jewish Students


  • World Zionist Executive, US
  • World Zionist Organization

http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgenc … Sites/WZO/



  • Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority


  • Yavneh Olami


  • Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)


Exxon Mobil requests sanctions waiver for Russia projects

The Texas-based oil giant has projects lined up in the Black Sea alongside Russian state-owned Rosneft. A previous partnership in 2014 was broken over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ensuing Western sanctions.

April 20, 2017


American oil giant Exxon Mobil is seeking the green light from President Trump’s administration in order to resume drilling around the Black Sea with a state-owned Russian corporation.

Sanctions were placed on Russia after the country’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, but in general, the US Treasury Department has allowed Exxon to do business with Rosneft. According to people familiar with the case, Exxon made a request to the US government to secure a sanctions waiver.

Trump has been keen to improve ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin, but the relationship has soured since the US attacks on Syria last month, and the investigation into Trump’s connections to the Kremlin during the election campaign.

Conflict of interest?

There are suspicions from Congress about the role Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played in the process, Tillerson worked at Exxon Mobile for four decades. The 65-year-old built strong relations with Russia and Putin, completing several deals with Rosneft.

Tillerson opposed the sanctions in 2014, two years after agreeing a landmark deal with Rosneft to explore the potentially lucrative Arctic, Siberia and Black Sea, collectively believed to be worth over $3 billion (2.8 billion euros).

Critics of the oil giant’s plan told Trump’s administration, that if it approved the request, then Congress should block it on environmental and national-interest grounds, AFP news agency reported.

Exxon Mobil declined to comment on the progress of its negotiations with Washington.

In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves

May 17, 2014

by William J. Broad

New York Times

When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars.

Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence.

Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier.

“It’s a big deal,” said Carol R. Saivetz, a Eurasian expert in the Security Studies Program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It deprives Ukraine of the possibility of developing these resources and gives them to Russia. It makes Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian pressure.”

Gilles Lericolais, the director of European and international affairs at France’s state oceanographic group, called Russia’s annexation of Crimea “so obvious” as a play for offshore riches.

In Moscow, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin said there was “no connection” between the annexation and energy resources, adding that Russia did not even care about the oil and gas. “Compared to all the potential Russia has got, there was no interest there,” the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Saturday.

Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other major oil companies have already explored the Black Sea, and some petroleum analysts say its potential may rival that of the North Sea. That rush, which began in the 1970s, lifted the economies of Britain, Norway and other European countries.

William B. F. Ryan, a marine geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said Russia’s Black Sea acquisition gave it what are potentially “the best” of that body’s deep oil reserves.

Oil analysts said that mounting economic sanctions could slow Russia’s exploitation of its Black and Azov Sea annexations by reducing access to Western financing and technology. But they noted that Russia had already taken over the Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company, instantly giving Russia exploratory gear on the Black Sea.

“Russia’s in a mood to behave aggressively,” said Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a research group in Washington that follows Eurasian affairs. “It’s already seized two drilling rigs.”

The global hunt for fossil fuels has increasingly gone offshore, to places like the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea. Hundreds of oil rigs dot the Caspian, a few hundred miles east of the Black Sea.

Nations divide up the world’s potentially lucrative waters according to guidelines set forth by the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty. The agreement lets coastal nations claim what are known as exclusive economic zones that can extend up to 200 nautical miles (or 230 statute miles) from their shores. Inside these zones, countries can explore, exploit, conserve and manage deep natural resources, living and nonliving.

The countries with shores along the Black Sea have long seen its floor as a potential energy source, mainly because of modest oil successes in shallow waters.

Just over two years ago, the prospects for huge payoffs soared when a giant ship drilling through deep bedrock off Romania found a large gas field in waters more than half a mile deep.

Russia moved fast.

In April 2012, Mr. Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, presided over the signing of an accord with Eni, the Italian energy giant, to explore Russia’s economic zone in the northeastern Black Sea. Dr. Ryan of Columbia estimated that the size of the zone before the Crimean annexation was roughly 26,000 square miles, about the size of Lithuania.

“I want to assure you that the Russian government will do everything to support projects of this kind,” Mr. Putin said at the signing, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

A month later, oil exploration specialists at a European petroleum conference made a lengthy presentation, the title of which asked: “Is the Black Sea the Next North Sea?” The paper cited geological studies that judged the waters off Ukraine as having “tremendous exploration potential” but saw the Russian zone as less attractive.

In August 2012, Ukraine announced an accord with an Exxon-led group to extract oil and gas from the depths of Ukraine’s Black Sea waters. The Exxon team had outbid Lukoil, a Russian company. Ukraine’s state geology bureau said development of the field would cost up to $12 billion.

“The Black Sea Hots Up,” read a 2013 headline in GEO ExPro, an industry magazine published in Britain. “Elevated levels of activity have become apparent throughout the Black Sea region,” the article said, “particularly in deepwater.”

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine on March 18, it issued a treaty of annexation between the newly declared Republic of Crimea and the Russian Federation. Buried in the document — in Article 4, Section 3 — a single bland sentence said international law would govern the drawing of boundaries through the adjacent Black and Azov Seas.

Dr. Ryan estimates that the newly claimed maritime zone around Crimea added about 36,000 square miles to Russia’s existing holdings. The addition is more than three times the size of the Crimean landmass, and about the size of Maine.

At the time, few observers noted Russia’s annexation of Crimea in those terms. An exception was Romania, whose Black Sea zone had been adjacent to Ukraine’s before Russia stepped in.

“Romania and Russia will be neighbors,” Romania Libera, a newspaper in Bucharest, observed on March 24. The article’s headline said the new maritime border could become a “potential source of conflict.”

Many nations have challenged Russia’s seizing of Crimea and thus the legality of its Black and Azov Sea claims. But the Romanian newspaper quoted analysts as judging that the other countries bordering the Black Sea — Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania — would tacitly recognize the annexation “in order to avoid an open conflict.”

Most immediately, analysts say, Russia’s seizing may alter the route along which the South Stream pipeline would be built, saving Russia money, time and engineering challenges. The planned pipeline, meant to run through the deepest parts of the Black Sea, is to pump Russian gas to Europe.

Originally, to avoid Ukraine’s maritime zone, Russia drew the route for the costly pipeline in a circuitous jog southward through Turkey’s waters. But now it can take a far more direct path through its newly acquired Black Sea territory, if the project moves forward. The Ukraine crisis has thrown its future into doubt.

As for oil extraction in the newly claimed maritime zones, companies say their old deals with Ukraine are in limbo, and analysts say new contracts are unlikely to be signed anytime soon, given the continuing turmoil in the region and the United States’ efforts to ratchet up pressure on Russia.

“There are huge issues at stake,” noted Dr. Saivetz of M.I.T. “I can’t see them jumping into new deals right now.”

The United States is using its wherewithal to block Russian moves in the maritime zones. Last month, it imposed trade restrictions on Chernomorneftegaz, the breakaway Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national gas company.

Eric L. Hirschhorn, the United States under secretary of commerce for industry and security, said sanctions against the Crimean business would send “a strong message” of condemnation for Russia’s “incursion into Ukraine and expropriation of Ukrainian assets.”

Alexandra Odynova contributed reporting from Moscow.



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