TBR News January 24, 2018

Jan 24 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 24, 2018:”The so-called FISA abuse memo is typical of the way the government is run. Warring intelligence agencies, greedy military contractors, special interest groups and much more love to spend tax-payers dollars and give nothing in return. This memo, believed to be secret, is now up on the Internet, thanks to the all-seeing, all-wise Facebook. There are no secrets because anything sent by Internet can, and is, read by others. Hillary’s problem during the last Presidential election is that her camp paid out less in bribes than did the Trump camp so now screeching enemies are trying to even the score.”

Table of Contents

  • Secrecy News
  • Destroying Syria
  • Assad’s Victory: What Comes after War in Syria?
  • Facebook pretending to care about democracy now is the height of hypocrisy
  • Unveiled; What Exactly Is In the Memo, According to Intel Insiders
  • Classified FISA Abuse Memo
  • NSA Deletes “Honesty” and “Openness” From Core Values


Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 6

January 24, 2018


The new budget law that keeps the government open for the next three weeks includes a provision that would permit the transfer and spending of intelligence funds during that period without congressional authorization or approval.

“This language is troublesome for the [Senate intelligence] committee because it would authorize the intelligence community to spend funds ‘notwithstanding’ the law that requires prior authorization by the Senate Intelligence Committee or by the House Intelligence Committee,” said intelligence committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr on Monday.

“Effectively, the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit without an authorization bill in place.”

“Let me just say to my colleagues, a situation like this is untenable,” Sen. Burr said. “If you neuter the committee, you neuter our oversight.”

But efforts by Senator Burr and committee vice chairman Senator Mark Warner to modify the provision were blocked by Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Thad Cochran. He said the controversial language “is included exactly as requested by the administration” and with his support the budget measure was enacted into law.

The provision was first reported last week by Ryan Grim in The Intercept.

The override of normal oversight requirements was requested by the Office of Management and Budget at the urging of the Pentagon, the Washington Examiner reported. See “Provision in shutdown-ending bill stokes fear of oversight-free intelligence spending” by Steven Nelson, January 23, 2018,

An unnamed congressional staffer told the paper that the change mainly pertains to missile defense funds and “does not give the intelligence community a blank check at all.” The staffer also contended that it does not materially affect the role of the intelligence committees.

But the chairman and vice chairman disagree.

“For the next 3 weeks we will have an inability to exercise, in our estimation, the tools that we might need,” Senator Burr said.


The Marshall Plan, the program of U.S. financial assistance that helped spark the economic recovery of western Europe following World War II, is considered to be one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy initiatives ever and one that might have implications for today.

“Although the Marshall Plan has its critics and occurred during a unique point in history, many observers believe it offers lessons that may be applicable to contemporary foreign aid programs,” according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service that reviews its achievements. See The Marshall Plan: Design, Accomplishments, and Significance, January 18, 2018.

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

Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, updated January 17, 2018

Government Contract Bid Protests In Brief: Analysis of Legal Processes and Recent Developments, January 19, 2018

Highway Bridge Conditions: Issues for Congress, updated January 17, 2018

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States: Data Sources and Estimates, updated January 19, 2018

Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies, updated January 19, 2018

NLRB Rejects Former Standards Following Appointment of New Members, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 18, 2018


Destroying Syria

Why does Washington hate Bashar al-Assad?

January 23, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

The Donald Trump administration is planning to install a 30,000 strong armed “security force” in northern Syria along the borders with Turkey and Iraq. This presumably will tie together and support the remaining rag-tags of allegedly pro-democracy rebels and will fit in with existing and proposed U.S. bases. The maneuver is part of a broader plan to restructure Syria to suit the usual crop of neocon geniuses in Washington that have slithered their way back into the White House and National Security Council, to include renewed demands that the country’s President Bashar al-Assad “must go,” reiterated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday. He said “But let us be clear: The United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge.” Tillerson also claimed that remaining in Syria would prevent Iran from “reinforcing” its position inside Syria and would enable the eventual ouster of al-Assad, but he has also denied that Washington was creating a border force at all, yet another indication of the dysfunction in the White House.

A plan pulled together in Washington by people who should know better but seemingly don’t is hardly a blueprint for success, particularly as there is no path to anything approximating “victory” and no exit strategy. The Syrians have not been asked if they approve of an arrangement that will be put in place in their sovereign territory and the Turks have already bombed targets and sent troops and allied militias into the Afrin region, also a U.S. supported Kurdish enclave on the border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated clearly that Ankara will disrupt any U.S. devised border arrangement. From the Turkish point of view the border security force, which reportedly will largely consist of Kurdish militiamen, will inevitably work in cooperation with the Kurdish terrorist group PKK which is active on the Turkish side of the border, in seeking to create an autonomous Kurdish state, which Turkey reasonably enough regards as an existential threat.

And then there is one other little complication, which is that the United States presence in Syria is completely illegal both under international law and under the U.S. government’s War Powers Act. Syria is a sovereign state with a recognized government and there is no U.N. or Congressional mandate that permits Washington to station its soldiers, Marines and airmen within the country’s borders. The argument that the recent Authorizations to Use Military Force (AUMF) permitted the activity because groups linked to al-Qaeda were active there and the local government was unable to expel them is only thinly credible as the U.S. has also attacked Syrian Army forces and the militiamen linked to Syria’s ally Iran. That constitutes a war crime.

Trump can under the War Powers Act take military action to counter an imminent threat, which was never the case from Syria in any event, but after 60 days he has to cease or desist or go to Congress for authorization up to and possibly including a declaration of war. The military offensive against Syria began under President Barack Obama and it is far beyond that two-month window already, so egregiously in violation that some Congressmen are actually beginning to take notice. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia has demanded that no military initiatives in Syria be undertaken without a Senate vote. He said on Thursday that“I am deeply alarmed that yet again, the Trump administration continues to raise the risk of unnecessary war, disconnected from any firm policy objectives and core national security interests. To be clear, neither the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs provide authority to target Assad or Iranian proxies in Syria, and it is unacceptable for this action to be taken absent a vote and approval of Congress.”

The animus against Syria runs deep, to include questionable claims from generally hostile sources that al-Assad has deliberately massacred hundreds of thousands of his own people as well as dubious assertations about the use of chemical weapons that led to a U.S. cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase in Shayrat. A perfect example of how brain dead the western media is over the issue was provided by last week’s article by David Brunnstrom of Reuters on the Tillerson speech, where he wrote “U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions with Russia.” The uninformed reader would assume that Americans were the victims of an attack and aggression by Moscow whereas the reality is quite different. Iran and Russia are allies of the legitimate Syrian government that are in the country by invitation to help in its fight against groups that everyone acknowledges to be terrorists. The United States is there illegally and is as often as not using its proxies to fight the Syrian Army.

Syria-phobia goes back to the George W. Bush Administration in December 2003, when Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act, House Resolution 1828. Syria at that time was already in the cross-hairs of two principal American so-called allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both were actively working to destabilize the regime, though for different reasons. The Saudis were fearful of Iranian influence over Damascus but also had a religious agenda in that the secular Syrian regime was protective of religious minorities and was itself an offshoot of Shi’a Islam referred to as Alawites. The Saudis considered them to be heretics.

The Israelis for their part were enamored of the Yinon Plan of 1982 and the Clean Break proposals made in 1996 by a team of Jewish American neocons. Their intention was to transform most of Israel’s neighboring Arab states into warring tribes and ethnicities so they would no longer be a threat. Israeli leaders have stated openly that they would prefer continued chaos in Syria, which remains a prime target. Israel is, in fact, currently bombing Syrian Army positions, most recently near Damascus, while also supporting the ISIS and al-Nusra Front remnants.

The Syrian Accountability Act does indeed read at times like the completely bogus indictment of Saddam Hussein that had led to the invasion of Iraq earlier in 2003. It cites development of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, but its main focus is related to the alleged support of terrorist groups by Damascus. It “Declares the sense of Congress that the Government of Syria should immediately and unconditionally halt support for terrorism, permanently and openly declare its total renunciation of all forms of terrorism, and close all terrorist offices and facilities in Syria, including the offices of Hamas, Hizballah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.”

One might note that the groups cited by name are not identified as being a threat to the United States. Rather, they are organizations hostile to Israel, which suggests that the motivation for the bill was the usual dominant pro-Israeli sentiment in Congress. The bill’s sponsor was Eliot Engel of New York, a passionately pro-Israeli legislator.

Be that as it may, the drive to “get” Syria has remained a constant in American Foreign Policy to this day. When the U.S. still had an Embassy in Damascus, in December 2010 President Barack Obama maladroitly sent as Ambassador Robert Ford. Ford actively supported the large demonstrations by anti-regime Syrians inspired by the Arab Spring who were opposed to the al-Assad government and he might even have openly advocated an armed uprising, a bizarre interpretation of what Ambassadors are supposed to do in a foreign country. He once stated absurdly that if the U.S. had armed opponents of the regime, al-Qaeda groups would have been “unable to compete.” Ford was recalled a year later, after being pelted by tomatoes and eggs, over concerns that his remaining in country might not be safe, but the damage had been done and normal diplomatic relations between Damascus and Washington have never been restored.

The desire to bring about regime change in Damascus gathered considerable steam in 2011. Harsh government efforts to repress the demonstrations that did take place inevitably led to violence in both directions and the United States, Saudis and the Gulf States subsequently began to arm the rebels and support the formation of the Free Syrian Army, which Washington assured the American public consisted of only good people who wanted democracy and fundamental rights. To no one’s surprise many of the fledgling democrats accepted U.S. training and weapons before defecting to the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front or to ISIS.

Currently, the reconstruction of Syria is proceeding. The Syrian Arab Army is wiping out the last few enclaves controlled by ISIS in Idlib Province and the so-called Syrian Civil War will soon be over but for the mopping up. Many internal refugees have returned to their homes after the government reasserted control and also thousands who fled overseas have reportedly come back. Note that they are returning to areas where the al-Assad government is firmly in charge, perhaps suggesting that, while there were legitimate grievances among the Syrian people, the propaganda insisting that most Syrians were opposed to the regime was grossly overstated. There is considerable evidence that Bashar al-Assad is actually supported by a large majority of the Syrian people, even among those who would welcome more democracy, because they know the alternative to him is chaos.

One would like to think that Syria might again be Syria but Washington is baying for blood and clearly would like to see a solution that involves a fragmentation of the state enabling containment and rollback of Iranian influence there while also satisfying both its clients Israel and the Saudis as well as creating a possible mini-state for the Kurds. The destruction of Syria and the Syrian people will just be regarded as collateral damage while building a new Middle East. Hopefully the Syrians, backed by Iran, Russia and China will prevent that from happening and as the U.S. did not directly engage in much of the hard fighting that destroyed ISIS, it thankfully has little leverage over what comes next.

Whether it is the Riyadh or Tel Aviv leading Washington by the nose is somehow irrelevant as the blame for what is taking place is squarely on the White House. The United States has no coherent policy, nor any actual national interest in remaining in Syria, but the strange political alignments that appear to be playing out in and around the Oval Office have generated a desire to destroy a country and people that in no way threaten the U.S. Someone should remind the president that similar scenarios did not turn out very well in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. No one should expect that Syria will be any different.


Assad’s Victory: What Comes after War in Syria?

The regime has largely won the war against the insurgents and thoughts are slowly shifting to Syria’s future. But the country still has a long path ahead before it can find peace.

January 24, 2018

by Susanne Koelbl in Damascus, Syria


At 11:47 a.m. on a clear day in November, the air in the Bab Sharqi neighborhood doesn’t smell of victory but of dust and smoke, as a mortar shell strikes behind Jenney Loutfi’s office. “The terrorists are in Jobar,” says Loutfi, referring to a neighborhood only about a kilometer away from her desk in the welfare agency of the Syrian Catholic Church. “As the crow flies,” the 27-year-old says, stressing that this is what matters when it comes to mortar shells.

The shell slammed into the roof of the mosque behind the “Eastern Gate,” or Bab Sharqi, one of the seven entrances to the old city. “Why are they firing at us? There are only civilians left here,” asks Loutfi. What she doesn’t know is that the government is waging a campaign of heavy airstrikes on the rebels here in southeastern Syria, and that the attack on the old city represents the trapped rebels’ last gasp before their inevitable defeat.

In military terms, the war has already been decided — for Assad and the Syrian regime. Nevertheless, the country is still far from peace.

Jenney Loutfi is an Orthodox Christian, which makes her part of a minority in Syria most likely to find protection in areas controlled by the government. But that hasn’t stopped the bombing deaths in recent days in the narrow alleys of the Christian neighborhood.

Loutfi’s father was injured in the chest by shrapnel, and her mother was struck in the arm by a piece of it as she was walking to an ATM. In the previous five days alone, there had been 105 strikes.

The fighting in Damascus is worse than it has been in a long time. It’s as if the constant sound of the explosions were the drumfire for the newly announced peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition, negotiations that have failed repeatedly, as they did recently at a meeting in Geneva under the leadership of United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad in early December. The message he conveyed was that the military struggle will be over soon, and that some of the Russian troops will be withdrawn. Russia now wants to initiate its own peace process in the new year and persuade the West to provide reconstruction aid to help the country get back on its feet. Shortly after Putin’s visit, it was revealed that Russia wants to expand its air base in the country.

The Bombing Continues

Meanwhile, the bombs continue to fall on East Ghouta, the suburban belt in southeastern Damascus, one of the last rebel strongholds. There is also shooting in Jarmuk, a Palestinian enclave in the middle of the capital. In the northern city of Idlib, on the Turkish border, fighters with the extremist Al-Nusra front and other rebels are gathering for the final battle with pro-Assad forces.

The Americans, too, are now officially in the country with larger troop formations in the north and a confirmed presence of 2,000 soldiers. And the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah militia are also still in the country. The Israelis are bombing suspected Hezbollah positions in Damascus. So, what are we to make of the claim that Assad has won the war, militarily, and yet the fighting continues? What exactly is at stake here, who are the players and what are their interests and goals?

The people in Damascus are especially tired of the war, exhausted after more than six years of violence. And, like Jenney Loutfi, they wonder when the fighting will finally end and, most importantly, what peace could look like.

Residents still living in Damascus certainly don’t count among those who rebelled against President Assad at the time. Those people fled long ago, or they are in prison or dead. If elections were held tomorrow, most Damascus residents would probably vote for Assad. He’s omnipresent in the city, in the form of posters in every barbershop or at major intersections, as a grim officer in uniform and sunglasses or as a statesman in a suit in front of the supermarket.

In contrast to people in the city’s suburbs, in northern Syria and Aleppo, and in Daraa in the southwest, where they have always played by their own rules, most Damascus residents have always been loyal to the Assads.

Many say that while Assad may be a dictator, the alternative would be, literally, a regime of cutthroats. “I’d pack my bags if Assad left, if the rebels came to power, the Muslim Brotherhood,” says an architect. He’s 52, the same age as the president. His office, located in a well-protected street in central Damascus, is elegantly furnished with an oil painting of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra on the wall. The architect believes Assad is the lesser of all evils.

There is, of course, a longing for justice, he says, and for the end of the corruption and nepotism of the Assad family and its supporters. But he doesn’t believe that the armed opposition would offer Syrians a better life, more freedom or even a stable democracy.

Can There Be Peace with Assad?

Instead, the issue today is whether there can be peace with Assad, despite everything. Whether a negotiated solution exists that will ultimately lead to his resignation. Or whether the country remains a failed, pariah state, broken up into fragments controlled by different factions, destroyed and isolated.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad is one of Assad’s staunchest defenders. He has stayed the course over the years, even in the darkest hours in early 2013, when the West was convinced that Assad’s fall was certain.

Mekdad meets the reporter in the Foreign Ministry, wearing a white shirt, silver glasses and a gray suit. The senior diplomat himself has turned gray over time. Mekdad is satisfied that Syria has won the most important battles of this war. Assad, with the help of Iran and Russia, has recaptured the cities of Deir al-Zor and Palmyra from the Islamic State (IS), and Mekdad wants this fact to be duly acknowledged. He neglects to mention that it was the West as well that helped to bomb IS and drove it out of Raqqa with the support of the Kurds.

Mekdad asks whether the West and the Europeans are finally ready to “admit that they have failed” with their plan to overthrow the Syrian government and replace Assad with a “puppet of the West.” There is a wounded tone to his words. Here too, Mekdad says, people suffered, were displaced and killed.

The rebels had no air force, so they could not inflict the same damage as the regime, which is responsible for by far the largest number of civilian deaths. But the rebels also did harm to people in the Assad-held territories. For instance, they kidnapped Mekdad’s 12-year-old nephew and his elderly father. The kidnappers’ goal was to secure the release of prisoners. Mekdad’s father died shortly after he was exchanged for rebel prisoners. The deputy foreign minister alleges that the mastermind behind the kidnapping is now in Germany, where he has been granted asylum. Mekdad asserts that many of the Syrians who fled to Germany are military draft dodgers, traitors or criminals.

He speaks as if the war were already over, as if the fighting in East Ghouta were merely a final glimmer. “Reconstruction” has already begun, says Mekdad. But with what funds or means?

A Fractured Nation

The Syria that the deputy minister wants to rebuild is a completely different country today than it was before the war. Divided into Assad supporters and Assad haters, it is a nation comprised of only small functioning islands, in a sea of destruction and dissolution.

The universities, schools and hospitals may be open in Damascus. But surrounding these islands, public order was replaced in many places by militias forced to defend their villages, towns and districts against the rebels and IS themselves, for lack of regular security personnel.

Local militia leaders turned into warlords who eventually plundered the houses of their own countrymen after they had recaptured their neighborhoods. They sold the spoils at flea markets and regarded the proceeds as their salary. Now the new warlords are touting themselves as liberators of the country, and they are unlikely to yield their newfound power.

Rather than addressing such problems, however, diplomat Mekdad prefers to speak of “victory” over what he calls the “international conspiracy.” “The United States, Turkey, the Gulf countries and Europe are responsible for every drop of blood shed here,” he says. According to Mekdad, they used their money to bring the brood of terror into Syria, feed it, send an army of extremists to the country and incite the Syrians against Assad.

There is a different truth on the other side of the front line. In fact, part of the Syrian tragedy is that each side can only accept one truth: its own.

“Do you also take pity on the victims on the other side, the thousands of opposition members tortured and killed in government intelligence dungeons?”

“They only exist in the minds of those who have made up these lies.”

“Do you seriously believe that?”

“There is no systematic torture here. We take care of our citizens.”

Most Western governments believe that it was legitimate to arm the opposition. From their point of view, the uprising was a consequence of the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstrations against Assad in early 2011. The government and the people of Damascus, on the other hand, say that the Gulf states, the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a few Europeans have wanted to get rid of Assad from the outset.

Pain Visible Everywhere

In all these times, Damascus remained a secure fortress. Still, this ancient city, a jewel of widely different cultures, has been wounded and the pain is visible everywhere. The state of emergency imposed on what is perhaps the most beautiful metropolis in the Middle East can be seen on every street corner — even though the destruction bears no comparison with what happened to Aleppo or Homs. The people of Damascus live with countless checkpoints, sandbag walls blocking alleys and men in uniform wielding Kalashnikovs. And yet the heart of this capital continues to beat.

The supply line from Lebanon has remained open at all times, as have the Mediterranean ports of Tartus and Latakia. Vendors continue to sell their goods in the old market, the Al-Hamidiyah Souk, where everything from the new iPhone X to designer clothes can be found. The luxurious Four Seasons Hotel looks like any other international venue for the rich and beautiful. Fine restaurants and exclusive shops line the streets, even though hotel guests are now almost exclusively members of international aid organizations.

In the Christian neighborhood of Bab Tuma, residents still drink wine and eat well — at least those who can afford it. The Syrian pound is worth less than a tenth of its prewar value.

Many of those still residing in Damascus are there because they couldn’t leave or didn’t want to or because they are still clinging to the nostalgic notion that perhaps life could return to the way it was, despite everything. They appear to be suppressing the memory of how Assad’s notorious security apparatus has always scrutinized everyone’s life and made his opponents disappear into notorious torture prisons. But many here see this as a relatively small evil compared to the threat from the Islamists.

This security apparatus existed before the war. It consists of four powerful intelligence services that rival each other and yet still cooperate, and on which everyone depends in the end. President Assad inherited the security apparatus from his father. Today, he is both the perpetrator and prisoner of this opaque patronage system, which he preserves but is also unable to dissolve without losing power.

Damascus these days is a capital city with almost no male youth, a place where young women cannot find men to start a family. The army releases no figures on how many soldiers died in the war and the number of men wounded.

In poorer parts of the city like Al-Dwilaa and Al-Maliha, thousands of Damascenes have lost their homes, supporters and opponents of Assad alike. They’re now crowded into emergency shelters in the Jaramana district, which also house tens of thousands of refugees from other parts of the country, from Idlib, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor and Abu Kamal. But there is no work to be found. The factories are destroyed. Most of those who lost their homes in the bombing survive on donations from charities. There are many beggars.

‘We Don’t Want To Look Back’

When Damascus residents sit at the breakfast table in the morning and watch state-controlled television, most believe that what they see there is positive. They believe that the victorious Syrian army liberated Abu Kamal, a terrorist stronghold on the Euphrates River, together with the Iranian Quds Force. Refugees in the region are returning to their villages, the old bazaar in Aleppo is being hastily reconstructed and a school in the destroyed city of Homs is being rebuilt. When Assad met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of November in the Russian city of Sochi, he said: “We don’t want to look back anymore.”

Those who look back will see hundreds of thousands of dead, sacrificed in a struggle that each side claims was just and for the good of the Syrian people. Those who look back can also see over 10 million displaced persons, almost half of all Syrians, of whom over 5 million were forced to leave the country. And they also see serious war crimes.

State television is now showing carefully staged interviews with rebel commanders who are ruefully admitting in front of the camera: “I made a mistake, and I am grateful to the regime for taking me in again.”

The Syrian Minister for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, says it is now a matter of “saving Syria” and that this must be done “together.” Haidar is actually a doctor, a tall, lanky, broad-faced man who wears glasses and smiles a lot. He attaches great importance to the fact that he actually belongs to the “opposition,” which is of course a very relative term in Syria. He may have disagreed with the president at some point, but of course he was far from questioning the system or taking up arms against Assad.

When asked what he is prepared to offer to the rebels, the 55-year-old mentions a “magic formula.” “We have no money, but we can give the fighters their lives back, and their families.” For Haidar, it’s a matter of uplifting “souls” once again.

In Haidar’s office in Damascus, a typical Middle Eastern government office, with voluminous armchairs, small crystal bowls with sweets and a large wooden desk, negotiators are constantly coming and going. Their job is to negotiate the terms of the return of military commanders.

But what about political opponents who are now abroad? Minister Haidar avoids the question, saying he doesn’t want to talk about refugees in Europe, in Germany. He’d rather focus his attention on those in neighboring countries Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. He says that more than 530,000 Syrian children are on the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) list there and that millions of dollars are being paid for their education. This could, of course, be done much more inexpensively in Syria, he notes.

One of the West’s Few Bargaining Chips

So, when it comes to the return of refugees, it will always be a a question of how much money is needed for how many people. It will also be a question of who pays what for the possible reconstruction of Syria. It is already clear that this reconstruction will be extremely expensive and will take decades, if it takes place at all.

This could also be one of the West’s few bargaining chips. The West can set conditions for what Syria could look like in the future, and for how much international support is to be provided in return for what level of openness, and for Assad’s future role. It is clear that the regime does not expect its allies, Russia and Iran, to be its financial backers in the future.

But the fighting needs to stop before anyone can even think about a new Syria. One man who has decided to lay down his arms is Abdul Aziz Shodab from Al-Kuswa, two hours from Damascus. He’s 41 years old, almost 6 feet, five inches tall, has a bald head and a long beard, and wears jeans and a black T-shirt. He arrives at our meeting driving a Hummer with tinted windows. He seems to have money. He has been in the government’s reconciliation program for a year now.

The former militia leader says that he last commanded 7,000 men of the Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist combat group in the Al-Kuswa region. Now, Shodab is sitting in a hotel in downtown Damascus, drinking orange juice. It is not possible to verify all the details of Shodab’s story, and sometimes his portrayal seems too predictable, as if he had been briefed for the meeting. The fact is that the man needed approval from Military Security, a division of Syrian intelligence.

But it is also a fact that Shodab can be seen in Ahrar al-Sham propaganda films on the internet, raging against the regime and calling on supporters to fight Assad. They attacked checkpoints and army forces, he says. But the convert doesn’t want to go into the details of his time with Ahrar al-Sham. Today, Shodab works for the Syrian government, trying to persuade former fellow rebels to switch sides. According to a Syrian insider, the program is officially led by Reconciliation Minister Haidar, but it is actually managed by Ali Mamlouk, Syria’s intelligence chief.

There aren’t many opportunities left in the country for the insurgents. Numerous hardliners have gone to Idlib, where more than 100,000 fighters have already gathered, according to Shodab. Elsewhere, the rebels have surrendered, sometimes after months of siege. When that happens, they are driven to places agreed to by the negotiators on both sides, almost always in the green buses normally used for public transport. The remaining fighters, in turn, surrender their weapons, are registered by the regime and return to their towns or village, provided they still exist.

The Uncertain Road To Peace

“The war is gradually coming to an end. Assad has won, and he is going to stay,” Robert Ford, the last U.S. ambassador in Damascus says, summing up the situation. He now works at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Assad owes his political survival to the Iranians and the Russians. The Russian air force was responsible for turning things around. Both nations are likely to establish lasting military presences in Syria in the near future, and President Putin is probably the one who can exert the most influence in Damascus. However, Assad’s allies disagree on how to proceed. Putin wants a peace settlement supported by international institutions like the United Nations, which may also include the opposition’s participation in the government. Tehran, on the other hand, has no interest in a solution that would weaken Assad’s power. They also disagree on the future role of the Kurds in the country. Russia considers their right to self-administration justified, while Iran does not.

It will be a long time before this war is truly over. Until then, many more green buses filled with rebel fighters will emerge from battle zones, and possibly a few thousand more mortar shells will be launched into the old town of Bab Sharqi.

And, as always, when a projectile strikes and the impact echoes through the old city, Jenney Loutfi’s mother will call her daughter on her mobile phone and ask: “Jenney, are you all right?”

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Facebook pretending to care about democracy now is the height of hypocrisy

January 24, 2018

by Danielle Ryan


Facebook has admitted that sometimes, it might actually be bad for democracy. Facebook is right about that. However, I’m not sure that the social media platform really understands why this is the case.

The admission comes in a series of official blog posts by Facebook insiders about what effect social media can have on democracy. “I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can‘t,”wrote Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager. He continued: “….we have a moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”

First off, it’s important to understand the political and media context in which Facebook has felt forced to make these comments. That context is alleged ‘Russian interference’ in the 2016 election through the promotion of political ads designed to take advantage of social division. Facebook is responding to a not small cohort of Americans who genuinely believe that Russian Facebook ads are destroying democracy. The second thing to understand is that while Facebook’s admission may sound like noble self-reflection, the truth is that what Facebook says and what it means are two very different things.

There is a temptation among some to believe that the social media giant is a neutral actor that cares about fairness and democracy and that it is doing its very best to ensure it has a positive effect on democracy. This could not be further from the truth.

If Facebook’s recent history is anything to go by, the California-based company is not actually a big fan of democracy at all. Even before Facebook decided to become selectively outraged about the ubiquitousness of propaganda and ‘fake news’ on its platform, it was already engaging in political censorship. Take this 2016 story in which Facebook employees admit to suppressing conservative news on the platform, for example. Not only that, but employees were told to artificially “inject” Facebook-approved stories into the trending news module when they weren’t popular enough to make it there organically. The employees were also told not to include news about Facebook itself into the trending category.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Michael Nunez wrote for Gizmodo. With that kind of ability and willingness to manipulate, Facebook itself possesses huge potential to affect political outcomes, far more than some Russian ads.

Facebook has said it believes that simply adding the ability to click an “I voted” sticker can increase actual voter turnout significantly through a combination of simply seeing the sticker and feeling the peer pressure to vote if your friends have done so. This is supposed to be one of the good things Facebook has done for democracy, but there are so many ways that Facebook could use this kind of thing to surreptitiously promote its own political agenda.

What if Facebook were to artificially push certain news stories in specific locations – say, where an election was taking place – and then add the “I voted” button for users in that area. Or alternatively chose not to add that button for certain races where a lower turnout might be deemed a good thing.

What Facebook means when it says it is worried about how its platform is being used is that it’s not entirely comfortable with the fact that it can’t fully control the political narrative. Even Facebook believes it has created a monster. It would like to control what our impressionable minds might see and read – lest we fall victim to unapproved opinions or ideologies. But Facebook also knows that such control is not entirely possible – and therein lies their true crisis.

Even the steps Facebook has taken to address alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election are questionable. In his blog post, Chakrabarti writes that the platform has “made it easier to report false news” and has “taken steps in partnership with third-party fact checkers to rank these stories lower” in the news feed. Once the fact-checkers identify a story as fake, Facebook can reduce impressions of that story by 80%, he says. But who are these third-party fact checkers? Facebook doesn’t tell us.

“We’re also working to make it harder for bad actors to profit from false news,” he writes. But again, we don’t get a definition of bad actor, either. One assumes Russia is the bad actor referred to – but if Facebook was truly concerned about government propaganda and its effect on election outcomes, the crackdown would surely not be limited to one government. Are some governments bad actors and other governments good actors? Is some propaganda good and some bad? Are some sock-puppet accounts acceptable and others not? Can we get a breakdown?

Facebook has also been kind enough to help users figure out whether they were unfortunate enough to have come into contact with any Russian-linked posts. It’s part of their “action plan against foreign interference”. Again, we might benefit from a definition here of “foreign interference.” Facebook is an international platform, thus the potential exists for elections to be ‘interfered’ with through Facebook all over the world, not just in the United States. Does Facebook’s fight against foreign interference incorporate all those efforts equally? This kind of information would be really helpful, if Facebook would be kind enough to provide it.

Facebook is not alone in its mission to rid the world of nasty Russian propaganda. Twitter is at it, too. Last week, the company sent out emails to users warning them that they may have come into contact with Russian propaganda on the microblogging platform. Curiously, no similar warnings have been sent to users who came into contact with American propaganda online – despite the fact that we’ve known for years that the US government has been using sock-puppet accounts to spread its own propaganda and misinformation online.

Google has also dipped its toes in the water. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., said recently that Google was trying to create special algorithms and “engineer the systems” to make RT’s content less visible on the search engine.

Media coverage of Facebook’s comments was fairly uniform. Most outlets have been treating the blog posts as a ‘see, we told you!’ moment, focusing entirely on the Russia angle but ignoring the many other ways in which Facebook has itself attempted to corrupt the free flow of information and manipulated its users. The reporting is almost sympathetic: Poor innocent Facebook is coming to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen online.

The Washington Post called Facebook blog posts the “most critical self-assessment yet.” Another piece in the Post opines on Facebook’s “year of reckoning.” Reuters reported that the sharing of “misleading headlines” became a “global issue” after accusations that Russia had used Facebook to interfere in the 2016 election. The implication is almost that misleading headlines are some kind of new phenomenon and Facebook is out there on the frontlines of the battle.

Facebook wants you to stay mad about Russian ads. It wants you to believe that its democracy-loving executives are truly sorry and doing all they can to make the platform as good for democracy as possible. What they don’t want is for us to examine their own practices too closely. But that’s exactly what we should be doing – instead of congratulating them on their disingenuous foray into self-reflection.


Unveiled; What Exactly Is In the Memo, According to Intel Insiders

January 22, 2018

True Pundit

From the beginning it was a set up to find dirt on Trump campaign insiders and if possible to topple Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations.

Before and after the 2016 election. And while this operation had many moving parts and alternating players, the mission to unseat Trump never changed. And it remains ongoing.

Paul Manafort was wiretapped. Cater Page was wiretapped. Donald Trump Jr. was wiretapped. Jared Kushner was wiretapped. Gen. Michael Flynn was wiretapped. And likely there were others.

And none of it was very legal.

In fact, most of it was very illegal, according to federal law enforcement sources who are blowing the whistle on a sweeping scheme to undermine the Executive branch and the electorate’s choice for president of the United States.

And according to high ranking FBI sources, the Bureau played a definitive role in plotting this sweeping privacy breach. But the FBI had much help from the NSA, CIA, the Office of of the Director of National Intelligence, Treasury financial crimes division under DHS, and the Justice Department, federal law enforcement sources confirmed.

The Deep State caretakers involved are familiar names: James Comey (FBI), John Brennan (CIA), James Clapper (ODNI), Loretta Lynch (DOJ), Jeh Johnson (DHS), Admiral Michael Rogers (NSA). And then-director of GCHQ Robert Hannigan who has since resigned from the esteemed British spy agency.

President Barack Obama’s White House too could be implicated, sources said. But while evidence certainly points to involvement of the Obama administration, sources said they did not have access to definitive intelligence proving such a link.

Here is what we now know, per intelligence gleaned form federal law enforcement sources with insider knowledge of what amounts to a plot by U.S. intelligence agencies to secure back door and illegal wiretaps of President Trump’s associates:

  • Six U.S. agencies created a stealth task force, spearhead by CIA’s Brennan, to run domestic surveillance on Trump associates and possibly Trump himself.
  • To feign ignorance and to seemingly operate within U.S. laws, the agencies freelanced the wiretapping of Trump associates to the British spy agency GCHQ.
  • The decision to insert GCHQ as a back door to eavesdrop was sparked by the denial of two FISA Court warrant applications filed by the FBI to seek wiretaps of Trump associates.
  • GCHQ did not work from London or the UK. In fact the spy agency worked from NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, MD with direct NSA supervision and guidance to conduct sweeping surveillance on Trump associates.
  • The illegal wiretaps were initiated months before the controversial Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
  • The Justice Department and FBI set up the meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner with controversial Russian officials to make Trump’s associates appear compromised.
  • Following the Trump Tower sit down, GCHQ began digitally wiretapping Manafort, Trump Jr., and Kushner.
  • After the concocted meeting by the Deep State, the British spy agency could officially justify wiretapping Trump associates as an intelligence front for NSA because the Russian lawyer at the meeting Natalia Veselnitskaya was considered an international security risk and prior to the June sit down was not even allowed entry into the United States or the UK, federal sources said.
  • By using GCHQ, the NSA and its intelligence partners had carved out a loophole to wiretap Trump without a warrant. While it is illegal for U.S. agencies to monitor phones and emails of U.S. citizens inside the United States absent a warrant, it is not illegal for British intelligence to do so. Even if the GCHQ was tapping Trump on U.S. soil at Fort Meade.
  • The wiretaps, secured through illicit scheming, have been used by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election, even though the evidence is considered “poisoned fruit.”

Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who spearheaded the Trump Tower meeting with the Trump campaign trio, was previously barred from entering the United Sates due to her alleged connections to the Russian FSB (the modern replacement of the cold-war-era KGB).

Yet mere days before the June meeting, Veselnitskaya was granted a rare visa to enter the United States from Preet Bharara, the then U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York. Bharara could not be reached for comment and did not respond the a Twitter inquiry on the Russian’s visa by True Pundit.

Federal law enforcement sources said Bharara was simply following the orders of Attorney General Lynch, who lobbied the State Department to issue the disavowed Russian a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa. This permitted Veselnitskaya entry into the United States for the sole purpose of entrapping Trump associates to use as fuel to commission wiretaps, federal sources said.

Veselnitskaya may have been paid as well by the U.S. government, FBI sources said. It was reported last week that Steele, who compiled the Trump dossier was paid at least $100,000 from FBI funds as well. But that came later, after the wiretapping was well underway.

The illegal eavesdropping started long before Steele’s dossier. Federal sources said the wiretaps on Trump insiders began in late 2015, almost a year before the 2016 election. The targets then were Flynn and Page, sources confirmed. When no smoking gun was recovered from those initial taps, U.S. intelligence agencies moved to broaden the scope through their newly-formed alliance.

Intelligence garnered from the British eavesdropping, which again was merely a front for the NSA, was then used in August 2016 to secure a legitimate FISA warrant on Manafort, Trump Jr. and Kushner. That warrant was issued on or about September, 2016, federal sources confirm.

It was the third time the cabal of U.S. intelligence agencies sought a FISA warrant for the Trump associates and this time it was approved.

FBI sources said finally obtaining the FISA warrant was important because it provided the agencies cover for previous illegal wiretapping which they believed would never be discovered.

“This would make for an incredible string of Senate hearings,” one federal law enforcement source said. “I don’t think they ever thought he (Trump) would win and information would come out about how they manipulated evidence.”


Classified FISA Abuse Memo

As posted on Facebook

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 2339A, whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of section 32, 37, 81, 175, 229, 351, 831, 842(m) or (n), 844(f) or (i), 930(c), 956, 1091, 1114, 1116, 1203, 1361, 1362, 1363, 1366, 1751, 1992, 2155, 2156, 2280, 2281, 2332, 2332a, 2332b, 2332f, 2340A, or 2442 of this title, section 236 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2284), section 46502 or 60123(b) of title 49, or any offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) (except for sections 2339A and 2339B) or in preparation for, or in carrying out, the concealment of an escape from the commission of any such violation, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby serviced notice that, in fact, “the death of a person (s) has resulted” from this terrorist financing violation, and therefore satisfies the legal requirement for “imprisonment for any term of years or for life” in this instant matter.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that through this letter we are respectfully requesting a debriefing with the President to 1) more fully and completely inform him and his legal team about these national security violations and crimes; 2) be issued a subpoena to testify (with immunity) and provide additional evidence to the DOJ-FBI, Inspector General, and Congressional investigations.


BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that although not anticipated, due to the gravity of the national security implications, failure by your office to acknowledge or respond to this email/letter/ notice, or any attempt to “bury” or conceal or cause harm to it or this report or its author and agents, will be interpreted and prosecuted (civilly and criminally) as follows:

1) A flagrantly treasonous and conspiratorial attempt to “conceal the nature, location, source, and ownership of material support and resources” to terrorist individuals, networks, and operations, and as such an intentional violation of national and global security policies and laws; and

2) a willful and reckless disregard and violation of your government oath to “support and defend the Constitution”; and

3) an intentional act of misprision of a felony and misprision of treason against the United States of America and a violation of United Nations policies and statutes.

4) a conspiracy to commit racketeering, fraud, abuse of government authority, and other crimes.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that failure by your office to respond to this notice and report will be interpreted and prosecuted as a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 2382 – Misprision of treason, which reads:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States and having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor or to some judge or justice of a particular State, is guilty of misprision of treason and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than seven years, or both.”

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(H), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that this formal notification of crimes, evidence, witnesses, and testimony confirming these crimes, and request for subpoena is hereby submitted FOR THE RECORD to the White House through the Congressional office of Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), and was originally recorded as an affidavit in his office on August 1, 2016. This material and witness identity and security clearance can also be confirmed by Senator Richard Black (R-VA), and other members of Congress and Department of Defense and State Department officials upon request.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that your sworn Constitutional OATH as an employee, agent, or representative of government is hereby accepted FOR THE RECORD, and as such you are hereby notified of an urgent national security matter which requires your immediate official capacity action


BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that this material was also shared with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and the video of this can be reviewed upon your request.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that in a response to this material, Senator Bill Nelson did write a letter to Diane Feinstein conspiring with her to use the Intelligence Committee to cover-up this terrorist financing report. This letter by Senator Nelson should be submitted by the White House to the Congressional investigators as evidence of “concealing or disguising the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of 18 USC § 2339A.” See Exhibit 1. Also available here: https://books.google.com/books…

A more detailed version of the affidavit may be reviewed at:https://youtu.be/8MZNbcS3A-g

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that we also request you share this letter and enclosed materials with appropriate Inspector General Offices and Congressional Committees, and immediately provide us with a subpoena to testify about this matter.


BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that this communication and debriefing is required to execute the President’s Executive Order issued on December 21, 2017: Executive Order Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption. Specifically, these sections of the Order apply:

“…. corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; (B) to be a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in:

(1) corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery; or

(2) the transfer or the facilitation of the transfer of the proceeds of corruption;

(C) to be or have been a leader or official of:

(1) an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, any of the activities described in subsections (ii)(A), (ii)(B)(1), or (ii)(B)(2) of this section relating to the leader’s or official’s tenure;….”


BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that for legal purposes, this communication serves as both “official notice” and “request for subpoena” given to you in your official and personal capacity as an employee or representative of the United States government about urgent U.S. national security information.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that this letter hereby communicates to your office actionable intelligence which must be immediately investigated, and is a “Request for Action” in a national security matter. BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that all rights are reserved for FOIA and legal purposes, and is privileged communication under international whistleblower, military, and intelligence community protections, and no

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that all rights are reserved for FOIA and legal purposes, and is privileged communication under international whistleblower, military, and intelligence community protections, and not to be shared without our express permission.


BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that this report contains names of present and former government officials, military and intelligence agency personnel, and analyzes their various illegal—and potentially treasonous—activities which must be investigated by authorities from the Congress, the White House, the Department of Defense Inspector General, the State Department Inspector General, and the Department of Justice Inspector General, as well as certain international law enforcement agencies.

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that government agencies and persons directly implicated in criminal activities in this report include:

  • State Department: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
  • Central Intelligence Agency, Director John Brennan
  • Department of Treasury (terrorist finance): Former Secretary of Treasury Tim Geitner
  • U.S. Central Command, Terrorist Financing, MacDill Air Force Base
  • Department of Justice: Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
  • Clinton Foundation attorney and member of Robert Mueller investigation team, Jeannie Rhee

BE ADVISED, you are hereby served notice that on July 27, 2016, Mr. XXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, received phone and email communications concerning terrorist financing intelligence involving international banks and Libyan terrorist intelligence confirmed by Michael Flynn, former national security advisor.

These communications were illegally surveilled by Obama administration officials at the FBI-CIA-NSA, and prompted them to fabricate false Russian collusion stories as propaganda countermeasures to these communications.

(To be continued….)


NSA Deletes “Honesty” and “Openness” From Core Values

January 24 2018

by Jean Marc Manach

The Intercept

The National Security Agency maintains a page on its website that outlines its mission statement. But earlier this month, the agency made a discreet change: It removed “honesty” as its top priority.

Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four “core values” listed on NSA.gov, alongside “respect for the law,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” The agency vowed on the site to “be truthful with each other.”

On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page – which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive – and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency’s new top value is “commitment to service,” which it says means “excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission.”

Those are not the only striking alterations. In its old core values, the NSA explained that it would strive to be deserving of the “great trust” placed in it by national leaders and American citizens. It said that it would “honor the public’s need for openness.” But those phrases are now gone; all references to “trust,” “honor,” and “openness” have disappeared.

The agency previously stated on its website that it embraced transparency and claimed that all of its activities were aimed at “ensuring the safety, security, and liberty of our fellow citizens.” That has also been discarded. The agency still says it is committed to transparency on the updated website, but the transparency is now described as being for the benefit of “those who authorize and oversee NSA’s work on behalf of the American people.” The definition of “integrity” has been edited, too. The agency formerly said its commitment to integrity meant it would “behave honorably and apply good judgment.” The phrase “behave honorably” has now been dropped in favor of “communicating honestly and directly, acting ethically and fairly and carrying out our mission efficiently and effectively.”

The new list of values includes the additions “respect for people” and “accountability.” But the section on respecting people is a reference to diversity within the NSA workforce, not a general commitment to members of the public. Accountability is defined as taking “responsibility for our decisions.” The one core value that remains essentially unchanged is “respect for the law,” which the agency says means it is “grounded in our adherence to the U.S. Constitution and compliance with the U.S. laws, regulations and policies that govern our activities.”

In response to questions from The Intercept on Tuesday, the NSA played down the alterations. Thomas Groves, a spokesperson for the agency, said: “It’s nothing more than a website update, that’s all it is.”








No responses yet

Leave a Reply