TBR News January 9, 2018

Jan 09 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 9, 2018:” Here we have an interesting historical excerpt from the Washington Journals of one Heinrich Mueller.This individual had once been the head of Hitler’s Gestapo and after the war, worked first for Colonel James Critchfield’s Gehlan Org and then at Langley as an expert on Communism

‘Friday, 5. January, 1951

I had an important visitor today down here. (Colonel John Valentine, ed.) Grombach, whom I have only casually met, wanted to see me and we spent a good deal of time going over various matters. He is terribly anti-communist and was very important during the war when he was a chief of intelligence at the Pentagon. In this position, he conducted a savage war against the communists in the OSS and I must say, he is terribly hated in the CIA because of his persecutions of their friends.

Grombach is a large, very muscular man with a gruff way about him and one gets the feeling that he would cheerfully punch an opponent in the face. This is not surprising because Grombach boxed in the Olympics and still goes to the gymnasium.

He is very sympathetic to Germans, and others, and has been in very close touch with friends of mine. He hates some of my CIA friends, especially Carmel Offie who is a screaming fairy and a friend of Wisner’s. I cannot abide Offie who is America’s answer to the Burgess creature but he seems to be able to ply his activities with impunity.

Grombach is a valuable man with the right attitude and we managed to get on with each other famously. He spoke very highly of Skorzeny, by the way, and was upset because he could not get in touch with him when he was here.

One of the things he told me, and I admit to being shocked, was that the CIA is embezzling millions of dollars from the government! I know about the stolen art business, of course. None of that money I get in goes to the government and after I have taken out my share, the rest is given over by me in cash to Angleton and Wisner. I know they do not put this money into the official funds and I also know from talks with Angleton that they keep it for themselves.

Angleton has started buying up income property in Washington and who knows what Wisner is doing with it. Sending a donation to the Ku Klux Klan, no doubt, considering how much he hates what he calls “nigras.” His family were New York aristocrats but he seems to have picked up local habits very quickly.

How does he justify his black boyfriend? I don’t suppose he does. Maybe he can call him a Cuban (they are all partly black down there but not unattractive people).

What would Polly the parrot (Wisner’s wife, ed.) do if she ever found out? Probably write a terrible poem about it. God save us all from women who write bad poetry. They usually can’t find a publisher so they have to be SPAs. (Self-publishing authors, ed.) Well, it makes money for the vanity presses, I suppose.

If this high level thievery had happened in Germany, I would have put them into a nice, comfortable cell and sent them off to the recreation camp on the next bus.

This is simply stealing and I was surprised that they seem to be doing it on a larger and larger scale. After all, they are well placed to do it. Everything is very secret and no one accounts to anyone else for huge sums of money.

Mr. Grombach is French by background and is called “Frenchy” or the “Frog” and when I told him a branch of my family was from Alsace, he brightened up somewhat. He likes the kitchen here and other amenities so we agreed to agree and to show him my good intentions, I gave him copies of some interesting material and he opened his briefcase and shoved stacks of paper onto my side of the desk. Of course no one kept anything but it made for very interesting reading.

Colonel John Valentine Grombach had been chief of espionage for the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service during the Second World War. Grombach, who was known as “Frenchy”, was a champion athlete. He was a bitter enemy of the OSS and was instrumental in supplying the background data to break them up after the end of the war.  Grombach contended, correctly, that the OSS was heavily salted with Communists and pro-Communists and their wartime activities were, if not anti-American, at the least devotedly pro-Russian.

His major battle, while in uniform, was with the OSS’s Research and Analysis (R&A) branch. They claimed Grombach was pro-Fascist and he claimed they were pro-Communist and in this case, both were correct. Grombach, however, was a ferocious and determined adversary and in the end, he was successful. He leaked sensitive information to Congress which resulted in the R&A being broken up. Its director, Colonel Alfred McCormack was forced to resign and Grombach established himself as a power to reckon with in official Washington and in the American intelligence community.

He supported the drive to remove pro-Soviet personnel from government service and eventually joined forces with other anti-Communists, leaking very embarrassing material to Senator McCarthy’s committee. Both Grombach and Müller singled out Carmel Offie, Wisner’s chief deputy in the CIA, for special attention. Offie, a well-known homosexual, had been intimately connected with William Bullett while he was U.S. Ambassador to Russia and was strongly suspected of giving information to Soviet Intelligence.

Offie was subsequently apprehended in a public lavatory by Washington police and in the ensuing scandal, forced to quit his high post in the CIA. Offie always claimed that he had been set up for the arrest and Müller’s later journals bear this contention out.

Neither Grombach, who appears with some frequency in Müller’s journals, nor Müller had any liking for the CIA. Both believed that its upper echelons were filled with ex-OSS men who were very left wing in their beliefs although stridently anti-Communist in their public personas. Müller and Grombach shared detestation towards the burgeoning corruption that was becoming evident to them at the top levels of the CIA.

Under cover of high-level secrecy, many of the operating funds supplied to the CIA by a trusting Congress were diverted for personal usage and the objections raised by some in 1948 that the CIA was a rogue organization with absolutely no oversight whatsoever are equally valid fifty years later.

Unlike Grombach, Müller had long ago ceased being an idealist and while in Washington was a ruthless realist. One of his real objections to the high level thefts was that, in the beginning at least, he was not included in their benefits.

Friday, 23. March, 1951.

I had my dinner with the Harveys at a small restaurant that specializes in Spanish food. I met Frau Harvey for the first time. Her name is Libby (for Elizabeth no doubt) and she is rather thin and dark-haired. She also drinks like her fat husband. Both of them loathe Burgess and, because of him, Philby. Harvey said Burgess insulted his wife and that he suspected both of them of being spies. I tried to dismiss the Philby suspicion by saying that Philby was no doubt reporting on Washington affairs to Whitehall but Harvey thinks to Moscow as well. He has no proof but is certainly persistent and this, coupled with his vindictiveness and position in the CIA does not look that good for P.

The wife is obviously encouraging his attacks. Women love to stir up disharmony and the Chinese ideogram for trouble is two women under one roof. One can assume from his actions that Burgess would fall into the female category although what Philby sees in him is something I would prefer not to contemplate. Himself, probably.

Both the Harveys poured down the martinis ( a filthy concoction that tastes like cleaning fluid) until finally, dear Libby slipped off her shoe and stuffed her wriggling foot into my crotch. Under the table of course, but in the condition her husband was, she could have ripped off her dress and scrambled up onto the table and he would have gone on talking to his plate. After her contortions, accompanied by her entertaining act of sticking her tongue out and wiggling it like a pink flannel necktie, she put her shoe back on (God be praised!) and wrote her telephone number on a piece of paper and stuck it into my jacket pocket.

All this time, Harvey himself was muttering about Hoover and what an asshole he is. Apparently, H. worked for the FBI and Hoover sacked him with some nasty comments about being a drunk.

The food was interesting for a change but the evening was a total waste except for the foot action and the wagging tongue. The Harvey woman certainly gets heated up with a few drinks. One or two more, and I have no doubt she would have crawled under the table and fellated me before the dessert!

On the way out of the restaurant, she fell down and when her drunken husband tried to lift her up, he fell down. I had the manager call a taxicab as they were obviously too drunk to drive, either one of them, and I didn’t want to give them a ride in my new Cadillac because one or both of them would have spewed all over the seats.

William King Harvey was thirty-five when he encountered Müller. A native of Indiana, Harvey had been an FBI agent stationed in New York until he was fired by Hoover for being a chronic alcoholic. Harvey, who had considerable knowledge of Soviet espionage, then took his knowledge, and his drinking habits, to the CIA where he soon became chief of counterintelligence. His wife, Libby, a native of Kentucky, was a woman of little sophistication and was not able to function in Washington society without resort to an extensive ration of dry martinis. Harvey, known as the Pear because of his short, fat body, disliked Hoover and engaged in open warfare with his former superior. He was a loud, aggressive man who developed a strong personal dislike for Harold Philby and attacked him constantly, eventually eroding Philby’s standing with British intelligence and leading to his defection to Russia in 1963. Ten years earlier, his nemesis, Harvey, was transferred to Berlin to head the CIA office there.

In 1952, Harvey had divorced his wife, Libby, and obtained custody of their young son. He never discovered that Müller had a brief but steamy affair with his wife, who eventually committed suicide, but blamed her fall from grace to a connection with “some German bastard.” Other problems were the official cause of their breakup but the Teuton who so encrusted him with horns remained his friend and the two of them ended up in BOB or Berlin Operations Base, the CIA nerve center in Berlin.

Harvey indeed was a man with a considerable knowledge of Soviet intelligence operations but Müller had an infinitely greater knowledge and Harvey depended heavily on his Swiss friend for information and assistance with German. Harvey, like so many other CIA specialists in Germany, was unable to read, write or speak a word of German.

There is a very strong reason to believe that Harvey, far from being an enemy of Hoover, was in fact still in contact with his former chief and passed along inside information to him about the working of the CIA, an organization that was feared and disliked by the FBI chief.

After Harvey returned from his duty in Berlin, he became involved in other serious matters for the CIA and in 1963, became involved under James Angleton, in the assassination of John Kennedy. Harvey was in charge of the assassination squad and later dealt with Mary Pinchot Meyer, Kennedy’s mistress and former wife of Cord Meyer, a senior CIA official.

Wednesday, April 25 1951

Robert came by my office today with an aide who brought several boxes of intercepted Soviet documents. These are from the TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee, ed.) This comes to me because I have had dealings with (Dr. Erich, ed.) Hüttenhain in the past. He has been the best insofar as the decryption of Soviet messages are concerned. Now, we are using German machines to spy on not only the Russians but our delightful allies as well! This department here is full of Germans…a mixed bag of Abwehr, SD, Gestapo and Reichspost plus some Luftwaffe boys. Most of the SS people are on the “automatic arrest” and “forbidden entry” level but no one pays any attention to that here and, thank God, the Jews have shut up now that we are charging many of them with being Soviet spies. If we did not do this, they would wail and howl about “evil Nazis” running around Washington. As Smith said, ‘Better to have professional German intelligence people here than that damned pack of communist Jews that Roosevelt shoved off on us!’

TICOM material is vital to us now and I am highly entertained when the Americans discovered that we were breaking many of their codes. Of course now there is much talk about the Enigma (German military encryption machine, ed.) victories. Of course we knew that they had the capacity to break this. We knew they had broken the Japanese code machine patterns and we tried to warn them but they wouldn’t believe us. When Hitler planned the Ardennes attack in December of 1944, Hitler gave specific orders that no messages concerning this attack were to be processed through Enigma and we took the Amis completely by surprise. Now we know what Comrade Josef and DeGaulle are saying, not to mention the highest level governmental and military British message traffic!

One of the fellows I lunch with regularly was with the Einsatzkommando and was a specialist in Soviet bandit groups. He was the overseer of a radio interception unit for the SD and took part in many an action against the bandits. They took only a few prisoners and executed the rest. Since the leadership of these groups and many of the members were Jews, I shudder to think what Hollywood would do with all this! Still, we are in the midst of a de facto war with the Soviets and since the Jews run that murderous state, they can’t complain if they get fried. And they couldn’t complain earlier when we wiped out their bandit groups. Of course they couldn’t because we wiped them off the map. The friendly Poles liked to chase such rodents into barns and then burn them down but we are more correct and only hung them up in the trees or shot them.

We have a Pole here, one Juliuz Kowalski, who works in the clandestine services and who is the worst enemy of the Jews I have ever seen. I try to keep away from him as much as possible because he sounds worse than Streicher!

We see that Comrade Josef is not happy about the Zionists in Prague giving all the weapons to Israel and the end of the Slansky murder gang will no doubt improve the standard of living in Prague.

I will have Robert bring me these intercepts as often as he can and will analyze them as soon as I can.

Having trouble with one of my teeth and will have to go to a dentist. We have one on the payroll as the bosses are worried that someone might say something indiscreet while under the gas. ‘

The ‘Robert’ mentioned in Müller’s journals was Robert Trumbull Crowley, a very early member of the CIA and later the Deputy Director of Clandestine Activities. He basically “ran” Müller, who was technically an employee of the U.S. Army. Müller’s other control was Walter Bedell Smith, once Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff and later head of the CIA.”

 Table of Content

Why the Korean ‘Crisis’ Is Completely Phony

Relax, peace is breaking out

January 9, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


I’ve been busy these days, and my shoulders hurt from all that digging, so I’m taking a break and I figured, hey, what the heck, why not write a column: because, you see, I’m digging a bomb shelter. Oh yes I am! After all, I’ve heard – on the internet, where else?! – that the Orange-Haired Monster is about to start World War III, and I’m not about to be taken by surprise, no sirree! Of course, the locale and cause of this impending disaster shifts about quite considerably, depending on what’s on CNN’s “Trump-is-a-monster” agenda that day: sometimes it’s Iran, when Iran is in the news. Other times it’s a generic fear, attached to no particular geography: it’s just that the Orange-Haired Monster is a mad monster, and so it could happen at any time, anywhere.

Yikes! Gotta keep digging!

In recent weeks, the focus of the carefully sustained panic has been on the Korean peninsula, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been launching increasingly sophisticated missiles and displaying his crude-but-seemingly-effective nuclear technology in order to show that he won’t be Gaddaffied.

Ah, but now it seems the panic-mongers just might’ve been wrong: despite the fiery rhetoric coming from both Washington and Pyongyang: the theatrics both Kim and Trump are so fond of succeeded in obscuring the objective reality beneath the brouhaha: the fact that neither the North Koreans nor the Americans have any interest in taking the “crisis” to the melting point. That’s why the Demilitarized Zone has stood there every since the armistice, with only a few brave defectors crossing every once in a while. The North Koreans fought us to a standstill, and the conflict has remained frozen to this day – because neither side has any interest in resuming it.

Yes, yes, I know: both Trump and Kim are supposed to be lunatics bent on death and destruction, and yet somehow they aren’t acting that way. Kim made the overture to Seoul and the South Koreans quickly accepted: the two will meet at Panmunjom “Peace Village,” in the DMZ, a relic of the last “Sunshine Policy” in the Jimmy Carter era, when the two sides seemed on the brink of an actual agreement. This was nixed by the administration of George W. Bush, however, who characterized the North Koreans as a spoke on the “axis of evil,” as then Bush speechwriter David Frum – now a leading opponent of President Trump – put it.

Our clueless Secretary of Defense thinks he’s in charge of the negotiations. The Washington Examiner reports:

“’‘The discussion that’s going to go on here shortly … is about the Olympics only,’ Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday. ‘That is the sum total of subjects that are going to be discussed.’ And if North Korea’s Kim Jong UN thinks that by talking to South Korea while threatening the U.S. he can drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, he’s sadly mistaken, Mattis told reporters at another one of his informal availabilities in the press pen. ‘I will tell you, there is not a one degree of difference on where we stand vis-à-vis the long-term defense of ROK, our ally, about the denuclearization,’ Mattis said. ‘There’s nothing where they can drive a wedge at all.’”

This is nonsense: there is much more than “one degree of difference” between the interests of Seoul and Washington as the game of nuclear brinkmanship plays out on the Korean peninsula. The US and South Korea have different and even colliding interests because, for all Seoul’s kowtowing to Washington, they are separate countries.

Washington’s interest is to contain or eliminate Kim, while maintaining relations with the new South Korean government of liberal President Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on making peace with Pyongyang. Now Moon is following up on his campaign promises, and there isn’t a single thing Tillerson can do about it.

South Korea’s interest is to a) avoid war with the North, and b) restart peace negotiations with Pyongyang and move toward fulfilling the promise of reunification. Both countries have ministries devoted to reunification and there is much political capital to be gained if progress can be made along this path.

The fact is that Washington is the third man out on this date. The Americans have zero cards to play, while Kim has one card of inestimable value: the nuclear card. The United States cannot attack Kim, because the result would be the instant vaporization of Seoul and environs. The 30,000 US troops on the peninsula would share a similar fate.

Nikki Haley is telling the world that “we won’t take any of this seriously,” but the reality is that no one is taking her seriously: President Trump himself has kept up the belligerent tweeting, but has also said “Perhaps something good may come of this – we’ll see!”

Well, yes we will see. Pyongyang clearly wants to talk, and it looks like the nuclear war #TheResistance was certain Trump was about to start is being postponed, at the very least. I hope our self-regarding “experts” and Beltway policy wonks can contain their disappointment: after all, it would be in poor taste to bemoan the postponement of World War III.

As I’ve said all along: there will be no Korean War II. The ultimate solution to the Korean conundrum – the denuclearization of the peninsula and the reunification of the Hermit Kingdom – can only come about once the Korean people throw off the chains of foreign domination and decide their own fate. That seems to be what is happening today – if only Washington policymakers will step out of the way.

So maybe I should put down my shovel: the hole I’ve dug is pretty deep, big enough for a small bomb shelter. But wait – could it be that #TheResistance is wrong and that all those smarty-pants policy analysts at places like the Cato Institute – which has been truly unhinged on the subject of Trump — are wrong about Trump, Korea, and the likelihood of imminent war?

While it may be in bad taste to say I told you so, that never stopped me before, did it?



NYT Trumpwashes 70 Years of US Crimes

December 30, 2017

by Adam Johnson


Trumpwashing—defined as whitewashing, obscuring or rewriting the broader US record by presenting Donald Trump as an aberration (FAIR.org, 6/3/16)—was on full display Thursday in a nominally straight news report from the New York Times’ Mark Landler (12/28/17) on how Trump has reshaped US foreign policy. Buried in the otherwise banal analysis was this gem of US imperial agitprop:

Above all, Mr. Trump has transformed the world’s view of the United States from a reliable anchor of the liberal, rules-based international order into something more inward-looking and unpredictable. That is a seminal change from the role the country has played for 70 years, under presidents from both parties, and it has lasting implications for how other countries chart their futures.

There’s lots of ideology to unpack here, but let’s start with the empirically false assertion that the “world” viewed the United States as a “reliable anchor of the liberal, rules-based international order.” Poll (Guardian, 6/15/06) after poll (Pew, 3/14/07) after poll (PRI, 1/3/14) throughout the years has shown that much of the world views the United States as threat to peace, often taking the top spot as the single greatest threat. What evidence Landler has for the world viewing the US as a sort of good-natured global babysitter is unclear, as he cites nothing to support this hugely important claim (since if Trump’s cynical disregard for “human rights” is nothing new, then there’s no real story here). It’s just thrown out with the assumption the Times readership is sufficiently nationalistic and/or amnesiac to either not notice or not care. It’s designed to flatter, not to elucidate.

The second dubious assertion is the idea that the US is “viewed” as being (or, by implication, objectively is) concerned with “liberal, rules-based international order.” Perhaps Landler missed the part where the US runs offshore penal colonies for untried political prisoners, and a decade-long drone war that’s killed thousands—both entirely outside the scope of international law. Or the time the US invaded and destroyed Iraq without any international authorization, killing hundreds of thousands. Or perhaps he missed the part where the United States refuses to sign “liberal, rules-based international order” treaties such as the International Criminal Court or the ban on bombs and or a prohibition on nuclear weapons. Or the part where the US not only doesn’t recognize the International Criminal Court, but has a law on its books (dubbed “the Hague Invasion Act,” passed in 2002) that if an American is ever held by the ICC for committing war crimes, the US is obligated to literally invade the Hague and free them.

And this is just in the past 15 years. Landler, even more laughably, starts the clock in 1947, which would include dozens of non-“liberal,” non-“rules-based” coups, invasions, bombing campaigns, assassinations, extrajudicial murders and so forth. The number of actions carried out by the US not sanctioned by even the thinnest pretext of “international order” is too long to list.

What exactly is this “liberal, rules-based international order,” and when did “the world” view the United States as its most reliable anchor? Landler doesn’t say, he simply asserts this highly contestable and ideological claim, and moves on to pearl-clutch about Trump ruining the US’s hard-won moral authority. He has some 100 percent uncut pro-US ideology to push under the guise of criticizing Trump, and no amount of basic historical facts will get in his way.


Russian army repels attack by 13 militant drones on its Syrian compounds – MoD

January 8, 2018


Russian military have repelled a massive drone attack on its bases in Syria, which was carried out by militants, Moscow said. The extremists may have been aided by a “technologically advanced state,” it added.

The militants launched their assault during the night on Saturday, the ministry said in a statement. The Russian Kheimim Airbase in the Syrian Latakia province was attacked by 10 unmanned combat aerial vehicles, while three more attempted a strike against the Russian maritime logistics base located in the city of Tartus.

All of the drones were detected by anti-aircraft defense systems “at a considerable distance from the Russian military objects,” the ministry said. Seven of them were then successfully shot down by the Russian Panzir-S air-defense system.

The Russian radio electronic warfare specialists also managed to override the operating systems of six more drones, and eventually gained control over the UAVs. Three of them were destroyed when they hit the ground, while another three were landed intact outside the base controlled by Russian forces.

The ministry also confirmed that the attack had resulted in no casualties among Russian military personnel, and the two bases “continue to operate as normal.”

It was the “first time that terrorists massively used unmanned combat aerial vehicles of an aircraft type that were launched from a distance of more than 50 kilometers, and operated using GPS satellite navigation coordinates,” the ministry said in a statement.

The country’s specialists are now examining the seized unmanned aircraft and the recovered data has already allowed the specialists to pinpoint the exact location from which the drones were launched. The examination also showed that advanced technologies were used in the drones’ construction. They “could have been obtained only from a country possessing state-of-the-art technologies, including satellite navigation and remote control of … explosive devices [for] release at certain coordinates.”

It further added that detonators used in the militants’ Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were “of foreign manufacture.” These facts indicate that the extremists were supplied with technologies allowing them to carry out terrorist attacks using UAVs in any country, the ministry warned.

The ministry also said that the attack caused no casualties among the Russian military personnel and that the two bases “continue to operate as normal.” The incident comes about a week after the Kheimim air base was subjected to mortar shelling on December 31, 2017, an attack that claimed lives of two military personnel.

Russia has been flying sorties from Khmeimim since 2015, when its Syria anti-terrorist campaign began. The site in Tartus has been operating since the 1970s, as a small facility meant for resupplying Soviet and later Russian ships.

In 2017, Russia and Syria finalized an agreement regulating the presence of Russian troops in Syria. Khmeimim Airbase, located near Latakia, and the naval site in the port city of Tartus have both been handed over, lease-free, to Russia for 49 years, and with an option of automatic extension unless either country chooses to terminate the deal. The Russian parliament ratified the Khmeimim deal in July and the Tartus deal on Tuesday.

Last month, the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, adding that a smaller presence of the Russian forces would be required in the area following the defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).


What Is America’s Mission Now?

January 9, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Informing Iran, “The U.S. is watching what you do,” Amb. Nikki Haley called an emergency meeting Friday of the Security Council regarding the riots in Iran. The session left her and us looking ridiculous.

France’s ambassador tutored Haley that how nations deal with internal disorders is not the council’s concern. Russia’s ambassador suggested the United Nations should have looked into our Occupy Wall Street clashes and how the Missouri cops handled Ferguson.

Fifty years ago, 100 U.S. cities erupted in flames after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Federal troops were called in. In 1992, Los Angeles suffered the worst U.S. riot of the 20th century, after the LA cops who pummeled Rodney King were acquitted in Simi Valley.

Was our handling of these riots any business of the U.N.?

Conservatives have demanded that the U.N. keep its nose out of our sovereign affairs since its birth in 1946. Do we now accept that the U.N. has authority to oversee internal disturbances inside member countries?

Friday’s session fizzled out after Iran’s ambassador suggested the Security Council might take up the Israeli-Palestinian question or the humanitarian crisis produced by the U.S.-backed Saudi war on Yemen.

The episode exposes a malady of American foreign policy. It lacks consistency, coherence and moral clarity, treats friends and adversaries by separate standards, and is reflexively interventionist.

Thus has America lost much of the near-universal admiration and respect she enjoyed at the close of the Cold War.

This hubristic generation has kicked it all away.

Consider. Is Iran’s handling of these disorders more damnable than the thousands of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers attributed to our Filipino ally Rodrigo Duterte, whom the president says is doing an “unbelievable job”?

And how does it compare with Gen. Abdel el-Sissi’s 2012 violent overthrow of the elected president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, and Sissi’s imprisonment of scores of thousands of followers of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Is Iran really the worst situation in the Middle East today?

Hassan Rouhani is president after winning an election with 57 percent of the vote. Who elected Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and future king of Saudi Arabia?

Vladimir Putin, too, is denounced for crimes against democracy for which our allies get a pass.

In Russia, Christianity is flourishing and candidates are declaring against Putin. Some in the Russian press regularly criticize him.

How is Christianity faring in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan?

It is alleged that Putin’s regime is responsible for the death of several journalists. But there are more journalists behind bars in the jails of our NATO ally Turkey than in any other country in the world.

When does the Magnitsky Act get applied to Turkey?

What the world too often sees is an America that berates its adversaries for sins against our “values,” while giving allies a general absolution if they follow our lead.

A day has not gone by in 18 months that we have not read or heard of elite outrage over the Kremlin attack on “our democracy,” with the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta emails.

How many even recall the revelation in 2015 that China hacked the personnel files of millions of U.S. government employees, past, present and prospective?

While China persecutes Christians, Russia supports a restoration of Christianity after 70 years of Leninist rule.

In Putin’s Russia, the Communist Party is running a candidate against him. In China, the Communist Party exercises an absolute monopoly of political power and nobody runs against Xi Jinping.

China’s annexation of the Paracel and Spratly Islands and the entire South China Sea is meekly protested, while Russia is endlessly castigated for its bloodless retrieval of a Crimean peninsula that was recognized as Russian territory under the Romanovs.

China, with several times Russia’s economy and 10 times her population, is far the greater challenger to America’s standing as lone superpower. Why, then, this tilt toward China?

Among the reasons U.S. foreign policy lacks consistency and moral clarity is that we Americans no longer agree on what our vital interests are, who our real adversaries are, what our values are, or what a good and Godly country looks like.

Was JFK’s America a better country than Obama’s America?

World War II and the Cold War gave us moral clarity. If you stood against Hitler, even if you were a moral monster like Joseph Stalin, we partnered with you.

From Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 to the end of the Cold War, if you stood with us against the “Evil Empire” of Reagan’s depiction, even if you were a dictator like Gen. Pinochet or the Shah, you were welcome in the camp of the saints.

But now that a worldwide conversion to democracy is no longer America’s mission in the world, what exactly is our mission?

“Great Britain has lost an empire,” said Dean Acheson in 1962, “but not yet found a role.”

Something of the same may fairly be said of us today.


Koreas agree military talks to defuse border tension

January 9, 2018

BBC News

North and South Korea have agreed to hold military talks to defuse border tension, after their first high-level meeting in two years.

The North will also send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in South Korea in February.

Agreement was also reached to reinstate a military hotline suspended two years ago, the South’s government said.

However, the North’s delegation was negative on the subject of denuclearisation, the South added.

What happened at the talks?

After a day of negotiations, the two sides issued a joint statement which confirmed they had agreed to hold military talks on defusing military tension.

The North also agreed to send a National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheerleaders, art performers, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team and media to the games, while the South would provide the necessary amenities and facilities.

The statement also referred to exchanges in other, unspecified areas and other high-level talks to improve relations, the South’s Yonhap news agency reports.

The South asked the North to end any hostile acts that might raise tension, while the North agreed there was a need to guarantee a peaceful environment on the peninsula, a statement from the South’s government said.

Other details had been released throughout the day by officials from the South:

  • The South proposed that athletes from both Koreas march together at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang as they did at the 2006 Winter Olympics
  • The South pushed for the reunion of family members separated by the Korean War – a highly emotional issue for both countries – to take place during the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in the middle of the Games
  • The South said it would consider temporarily lifting relevant sanctions, in co-ordination with the UN, to facilitate the North’s participation in the Olympics

The North’s reaction to these proposals is not known.

In his opening remarks, the head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son-gwon, was fairly neutral. He said he hoped the talks would bring a “good gift” for the new year and that the North had a “serious and sincere stance”.

Where are the talks and how did they come about?

They were held in the Panmunjom “peace village” in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the border.

Five senior officials on each side attended and the leaders of both were said to have watched the talks via a CCTV feed.

In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics. South Korea’s Olympics chief had said last year that the North’s athletes would be welcome.

Following Mr Kim’s overture, the South then proposed high-level talks to discuss the North’s participation, but the North only agreed to the talks after the US and South Korea agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics. The North sees the annual drills as a rehearsal for war.

Some critics in the US see the North’s move as an attempt to divide the US-South Korea alliance.

Dramatic change

Analysis: BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Seoul

A little over a week ago North Korea was threatening nuclear war – this morning a delegation from Pyongyang strode across the demarcation line that divides North and South Korea and agreed a North Korean delegation would attend the Pyeongchang Games.

It is a sudden and dramatic change after months of tension but few in the South believe any of this demonstrates a fundamental shift in Pyongyang’s position.

Experts say North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has become increasingly fearful that the US is planning a military strike against him, and has decided he must do something to de-escalate tensions.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has been put in the delicate position of trying to engage the North in genuine dialogue, while not upsetting his very sceptical American ally.

North, South Korea agree to discuss military following Olympics talks

The two Koreas have agreed to hold military talks after their first official talks in two years, where they discussed the upcoming Winter Olympics. They also agreed to reopen a military hotline linking the countries.

January 9, 2018


North and South Korea have agreed to hold talks on reducing military tensions and “actively cooperate” in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday, South Korean media reported.

The decision to hold the military talks comes after the two countries concluded their first talks in two years to discuss the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

But a discussion of North Korea’s nuclear program and its weapons arsenal would negatively impact inter-Korean ties, a North Korean official said.

“North Korea’s weapons are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, China or Russia,” said Ri Son Gwon, head of North Korea’s delegation, adding that Pyongyang’s nuclear program was not an issue between North and South Korea.

A ‘great step forward’

North Korea offered to send athletes and a high-level delegation to the games, as well as journalists, a cheering squad, a team of performing artists and a taekwondo demonstration team, according to South Korean officials.

The International Olympic Commitee said North Korea’s participation was a “great step forward” for the Olympics.

Delegations of five senior officials from each side met at the “peace house” on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village as the two countries officially held talks for the first time in two years.

South Korea proposed that the athletes from both countries march together at the opening and closing ceremonies, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters. He also said his country proposed resuming family reunions and military discussions to prevent “accidental clashes” in frontline areas.

During the talks, North and South agreed to restore a military hotline, less than a week after an civilian cross-border phone link was reopened. The hotline is due to be fully operational by Wednesday.

“Accordingly, our side decided to start using the military telephone line, starting 8 a.m. tomorrow,” Hae-sung said.

‘A New Year’s gift’

Entering the talks, officials from both countries made positive statements about discussions concerning the Winter Olympics.

“I think we should be engaged in these talks with an earnest, sincere manner to give a New Year’s first gift — precious results to the Korean nation,” Ri said.

Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s Unification Minister, believed the Pyeongchang Olympics “will become a peace Olympics as most valuable guests from the North are going to join many others from around the world.”

Ri and Cho shook hands as they entered the peace house and again across the table where the talks took place.

“The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation,” Cho said.

China, Russia, US welcome talks

China said it welcomed the high-level talks between the North and South Korea representatives ahead of the Olympics.

“We are very pleased that the high-level talks between the two Koreas could be held,” said spokesman Lu Kang. “As a neighbour of the Korean peninsula, China welcomes and supports the recent positive actions taken by the two Koreas to ease their mutual relations.”

Russia also welcomed the conversation between the two. “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary,” a Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump, who has taken repeated jabs at Kim on his Twitter account, had also called the talks “a good thing.” But the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, later said the administration was not changing its conditions regarding US talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

Tuesday’s summit was arranged after North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently called for improved relations with South Korea.

North Korea’s push to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions had stoked tensions with the South


Welcome to Law Enforcement’s “Dark Side”: Secret Evidence, Illegal Searches, and Dubious Traffic Stops

January 9, 2018

by Trevor Aaronson

The Intercept

Federal agents at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration speak in veiled terms about the secret DEA unit that shares intelligence from the National Security Agency and other organizations with law enforcement for use in criminal investigations. They call it the “Dark Side.”

The Special Operations Division receives raw intelligence from the NSA’s surveillance programs, including from the mass surveillance programs revealed in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. DEA agents in this unit then analyze the surveillance data and disseminate leads to federal and local police nationwide. But the information comes with a catch. Law enforcement can’t use it to secure search warrants or in any way reveal the intelligence community as the source of their leads. Instead, they must find another way to justify their searches and broader investigations.

An egregious example of this law enforcement tactic occurred in 2004 when, through intercepted phone calls and their own subsequent surveillance, the DEA discovered that Ascension Alverez-Tejeda was transporting drugs from Los Angeles to Washington state in his car. To search the vehicle without revealing the phone calls as their original source, DEA agents set up an elaborate ruse.

Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend were stopped at a traffic light. As the light turned green, the car in front of them started to move and then stopped quickly. Alverez-Tejeda braked in time, but a truck rear-ended him. As Alverez-Tejeda inspected the damage, police arrived and arrested the truck driver for drunken driving. Officers instructed Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend to drive their car to a parking lot, leave the keys in the car, and sit in the police cruiser for processing. Just then, a car thief jumped into Alverez-Tejeda’s car and drove off. Police recovered the car, obtained a search warrant, and found cocaine and methamphetamine.

Other than Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend, every person involved in this piece of theater was a DEA agent or local police officer: the person driving the car in front of Alverez-Tejeda’s, the “drunk” truck driver, even the supposed car thief. While a federal judge ruled that the DEA hoax violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, an appeals court overturned the ruling and described this abuse of Alverez-Tejeda’s constitutional rights as “relatively mild.”

The convoluted and secretive process of building a case to obscure the use of underlying intelligence, known as “parallel construction,” is meant to protect the intelligence community’s sources and methods, according to internal DEA documents. It also often deprives the accused of a fair shot at defending themselves in court because some of the evidence against them is not made public.

The DEA’s Special Operations Division is one of several tools the government uses to hide the origins of criminal investigations nationwide, in potential violation of constitutional protections. In a report released today, “Dark Side: Secret Origins of Evidence in U.S. Criminal Cases,” Human Rights Watch documents the use of parallel construction by federal and local police agencies, finding the practice is used in the United States “frequently and possibly even daily.”

“A growing body of evidence suggests that the federal government is deliberately concealing methods used by intelligence or law enforcement agencies to identify or investigate suspects — including methods that may be illegal,” the report states. “It does so by creating a different story about how agents discovered the information, and as a result, people may be imprisoned without ever knowing enough to challenge the potentially rights-violating origins of the cases against them.”

Among Human Rights Watch’s findings:

  • Traffic stops and vehicle searches are commonly used as the pretext for investigations in order to protect the true source.
  • Government agents use parallel construction to conceal both high-tech methods, such as the NSA’s surveillance programs, as well as crude ones, such as illegal searches of vehicles and bags.
  • Prosecutors assist law enforcement agents in concealing the origin of investigations by telling judges and defense lawyers that they are not required to find out if certain agencies, including the NSA, were involved in the case.

As Human Rights Watch has documented, parallel construction, and the internal government debate about its efficacy and legality, extend back at least to the mid-1970s. A panel of intelligence officials in 1976 lamented that if prosecutors disclosed the use of intelligence information to defendants and judges, secret surveillance “methods could be publicly revealed.” A 1983 CIA document suggested that drug agencies use intelligence information to power their investigations but that they protect that information by building “a firebreak in the evidentiary [trail] leading to sources and methods.”

Indeed, the pioneers of parallel construction appear to be drug agents. Not all federal law enforcement agencies were on board at first. The FBI was skeptical that the methods the DEA used were legal, Michael Horn, the first special agent-in-charge of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, said during a 2015 DEA panel. “When [the FBI] started seeing some success, they … kind of changed their mind,” Horn said.

In a sophisticated form, parallel construction may involve the use of information from the NSA’s mass surveillance programs that is then re-obtained through the less controversial powers granted by the 1976 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When prosecutors present the information in court, they source it to traditional FISA, rather than the more controversial mass surveillance program. The Intercept reported in November 2017 that this occurred in the case of Fazliddin Kurbanov, who was convicted in Idaho on terrorism-related charges. Although classified NSA documents revealed that Kurbanov’s communications had been intercepted through PRISM, a warrantless mass surveillance program, the Justice Department claimed in court that he had only been subjected to warrant-based surveillance under traditional FISA powers.

In its cruder and likely more common form, parallel construction may involve information from mass surveillance, a highly sensitive informant, or an illegal search that is then disguised. In a case Human Rights Watch discovered, security video at a New Mexico bus station showed a DEA agent illegally searching luggage left on a Greyhound bus during a layover. When passengers returned, the DEA agent asked for consent to search a passenger’s bag, already knowing that it contained methamphetamine.

“Under human rights law, everybody has the right to a fair trial,” said Human Right Watch investigator Sarah St. Vincent. “And that means what it says, so when you have the government deliberately concealing investigative actions that may have been illegal, defendants have no way of knowing their rights have been violated.”

Even DEA employees seem to know something untoward is afoot in the Special Operations Division, the unit that passes intelligence to law enforcement. As Arthur Rizer, a former federal prosecutor who worked in the unit, told St. Vincent: “When we all left, we got little keychains of Darth Vader.”

Correction: Jan. 9, 2018

An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote from DEA official to an interview with Human Rights Watch. The quote, which appeared in an HRW report, was from a 2015 DEA panel.


FBI chief calls unbreakable encryption ‘urgent public safety issue’

January 9, 2018

by Dustin Volz


NEW YORK (Reuters) – The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an “urgent public safety issue,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency’s work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York.

The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added.

“This is an urgent public safety issue,” Wray added, while saying that a solution is “not so clear cut.”

Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI’s attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect’s cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant.

Wray’s comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August.

The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires “significant innovation,” Wray said, “but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible.”

Wray’s remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption.

Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone.

U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals.

The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama’s administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham


How Israel hopes to make Palestinian refugees disappear

January 8,2018

by Ali Abunimah

Electronic Intifada

Israel has confirmed that it aims to destroy UNRWA, the UN agency that provides basic health, education and other humanitarian services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

This comes days after the Trump administration suggested it planned to cut funding to the agency in retaliation for the Palestinian Authority’s objections to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The US is UNRWA’s largest single donor and a funding cut off could have disastrous humanitarian consequences. In Gaza alone, one million Palestinians – half the population there – rely on UNRWA emergency rations, a number that has soared from just 80,000 in 2000 after years of Israeli siege and military assaults.

But for Israel, UNRWA is part of a problem to be eliminated: the existence of international institutions and agencies that support Palestinians and their rights.

UNRWA “needs to pass from the world”

Israel has long targeted the agency, politically and literally: during its assaults on Gaza, Israel has repeatedly bombed UNRWA schools and facilities, killing dozens.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right of return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting.

The Israeli prime minister urged that UNRWA support funds be gradually shifted to UNHCR – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “This is how to rid the world of UNRWA and deal with genuine refugee problems, to the extent that such remain,” Netanyahu added, calling most Palestinian refugees “fictitious refugees.”

Netanyahu is toeing a well-trodden line of the Israeli far-right that Palestinian refugees only exist because a special UN agency – UNRWA – was created to care for them, and not because Israel denies their internationally recognized right to return home.

Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return home solely because they are not Jews and therefore views them as a “demographic threat” to its continued existence as a Jewish supremacist state that denies equal rights to all its residents.

Far-right anti-Palestinian media in Israel and the US quickly began echoing Netanyahu’s message, giving new life to a years-long smear campaign against UNRWA.

Mandate to return

Ironically, Netanyahu’s proposal to dissolve UNRWA and hand over the mandate for looking after Palestinian refugees to UNHCR could actually strengthen the right of return.

UNHCR has a specific mandate not just to protect refugees while they are refugees but to work to facilitate the exercise of their right to return to their home countries.

UNRWA, by contrast, has no mandate to repatriate Palestinian refugees to the homes from which Israel expelled them, but only to provide relief until a political “solution” is found.

“What perpetuates the refugee crisis is the failure of the parties to deal with the issue,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told The Electronic Intifada in reaction to Netanyahu’s comments. “This needs to be resolved by the parties to the conflict in the context of peace talks, based on UN resolutions and international law, and requires the active engagement by the international community.”

Until then, Gunness explained, “UNRWA is mandated by the General Assembly to continue with its services until a just and lasting solution is found for the Palestine refugees.”

Cut already made?

Last week, President Donald Trump and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley threatened to cut US aid to the Palestinians, but it was unclear if this included UNRWA or just the Palestinian Authority.

A media report Friday claimed that the US had already withheld a $125 million payment to UNRWA due this month.

Gunness said UNRWA had seen the reports, but had “not been informed directly of a formal decision either way by the US administration.”

It would appear nonetheless that Israel is seeking to use the additional leeway given to it by the Trump administration to strike what it hopes will be decisive blows to end international support for the Palestinians.


Special Ops at War

From Afghanistan to Somalia, Special Ops Achieves Less with More

by Nick Turse


At around 11 o’clock that night, four Lockheed MC-130 Combat Talons, turboprop Special Operations aircraft, were flying through a moonless sky from Pakistani into Afghan airspace. On board were 199 Army Rangers with orders to seize an airstrip.  One hundred miles to the northeast, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters cruised through the darkness toward Kandahar, carrying Army Delta Force operators and yet more Rangers, heading for a second site.  It was October 19, 2001.  The war in Afghanistan had just begun and U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) were the tip of the American spear.

Those Rangers parachuted into and then swarmed the airfield, engaging the enemy — a single armed fighter, as it turned out — and killing him.  At that second site, the residence of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the special operators apparently encountered no resistance at all, even though several Americans were wounded due to friendly fire and a helicopter crash.

In 2001, U.S. special operators were targeting just two enemy forces: al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  In 2010, his first full year in office, President Barack Obama informed Congress that U.S. forces were still “actively pursuing and engaging remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.”  According to a recent Pentagon report to Congress, American troops are battling more than 10 times that number of militant groups, including the still-undefeated Taliban, the Haqqani network, an Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, and various “other insurgent networks.”

After more than 16 years of combat, U.S. Special Operations forces remain the tip of the spear in Afghanistan, where they continue to carry out counterterrorism missions.  In fact, from June 1st to November 24th last year, according to that Pentagon report, members of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan conducted 2,175 ground operations “in which they enabled or advised” Afghan commandos.

“During the Obama administration the use of Special Operations forces increased dramatically, as if their use was a sort of magical, all-purpose solution for fighting terrorism,” William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, pointed out.  “The ensuing years have proven this assumption to be false.  There are many impressive, highly skilled personnel involved in special operations on behalf of the United States, but the problems they are being asked to solve often do not have military solutions.  Despite this fact, the Trump administration is doubling down on this approach in Afghanistan, even though the strategy has not prevented the spread of terrorist organizations and may in fact be counterproductive.”

Global Commandos

Since U.S. commandos went to war in 2001, the size of Special Operations Command has doubled from about 33,000 personnel to 70,000 today.  As their numbers have grown, so has their global reach.  As TomDispatch revealed last month, they were deployed to 149 nations in 2017, or about 75% of the countries on the planet, a record-setting year.  It topped 2016’s 138 nations under the Obama administration and dwarfed the numbers from the final years of the Bush administration.  As the scope of deployments has expanded, special operators also came to be spread ever more equally across the planet.

In October 2001, Afghanistan was the sole focus of commando combat missions.  On March 19, 2003, special operators fired the first shots in the invasion of Iraq as their helicopter teams attacked Iraqi border posts near Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  By 2006, as the war in Afghanistan ground on and the conflict in Iraq continued to morph into a raging set of insurgencies, 85% of U.S. commandos were being deployed to the Greater Middle East.

As this decade dawned in 2010, the numbers hadn’t changed appreciably: 81% of all special operators abroad were still in that region.

Eight years later, however, the situation is markedly different, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  Despite claims that the Islamic State has been defeated, the U.S. remains embroiled in wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as in Afghanistan and Yemen, yet only 54% of special operators deployed overseas were sent to the Greater Middle East in 2017.  In fact, since 2006, deployments have been on the rise across the rest of the world.  In Latin America, the figure crept up from 3% to 4.39%.  In the Pacific region, from 7% to 7.99%.  But the striking increases have been in Europe and Africa.

In 2006, just 3% of all commandos deployed overseas were operating in Europe.  Last year, that number was just north of 16%.  “Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events,” Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, told TomDispatch.  “The persistent presence of U.S. SOF alongside our allies sends a clear message of U.S. commitment to our allies and the defense of our NATO alliance.”  For the past two years, in fact, the U.S. has maintained a Special Operations contingent in almost every nation on Russia’s western border.  As Special Operations Command chief General Raymond Thomas put it last year, “[W]e’ve had persistent presence in every country — every NATO country and others on the border with Russia doing phenomenal things with our allies, helping them prepare for their threats.”

Africa, however, has seen the most significant increase in special ops deployments.  In 2006, the figure for that continent was just 1%; as 2017 ended, it stood at 16.61%.  In other words, more commandos are operating there than in any region except the Middle East. As I recently reported at Vice News, Special Operations forces were active in at least 33 nations across that continent last year.

The situation in one of those nations, Somalia, in many ways mirrors in microcosm the 16-plus years of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.  Not long after the 9/11 attacks, a senior Pentagon official suggested that the Afghan invasion might drive militants out of that country and into African nations.  “Terrorists associated with al-Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be a presence in this region,” he said. “These terrorists will, of course, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities.”

When pressed about actual transnational dangers, that official pointed to Somali militants, only to eventually admit that even the most extreme Islamists there “really have not engaged in acts of terrorism outside Somalia.”  Similarly, when questioned about connections between Osama bin Laden’s core al-Qaeda group and African extremists, he offered only the most tenuous links, like bin Laden’s “salute” to Somali militants who killed U.S. troops during the infamous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident.

Nonetheless, U.S. commandos reportedly began operating in Somalia in 2001, air attacks by AC-130 gunships followed in 2007, and 2011 saw the beginning of U.S. drone strikes aimed at militants from al-Shabaab, a terror group that didn’t even exist until 2006.  According to figures compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the U.S. carried out between 32 and 36 drone strikes and at least 9 to 13 ground attacks in Somalia between 2001 and 2016.

Last spring, President Donald Trump loosened Obama-era restrictions on offensive operations in that country.  Allowing U.S. forces more discretion in conducting missions there, he opened up the possibility of more frequent airstrikes and commando raids.  The 2017 numbers reflect just that.  The U.S. carried out 34 drone strikes, at least equaling if not exceeding the cumulative number of attacks over the previous 15 years.  (And it took the United States only a day to resume such strikes this year.)

“President Trump’s decision to make parts of southern Somalia an ‘area of active hostilities’ gave [U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM] the leeway to carry out strikes at an increased rate because it no longer had to run their proposed operations through the White House national security bureaucratic process,” said Jack Serle, an expert on U.S. counterterrorism operations in Somalia.  He was quick to point out that AFRICOM claims the uptick in operations is due to more targets presenting themselves, but he suspects that AFRICOM may be attempting to cripple al-Shabaab before an African Union peacekeeping force is withdrawn and Somalia’s untested military is left to fight the militants without thousands of additional African troops.

In addition to the 30-plus airstrikes in 2017, there were at least three U.S. ground attacks.  In one of the latter, described by AFRICOM as “an advise-and-assist operation alongside members of the Somali National Army,” Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two U.S. personnel were injured during a firefight with al-Shabaab militants.  In another ground operation in August, according to an investigation by the Daily Beast, Special Operations forces took part in a massacre of 10 Somali civilians.  (The U.S. military is now investigating.)

As in Afghanistan, the U.S. has been militarily engaged in Somalia since 2001 and, as in Afghanistan, despite more than a decade and a half of operations, the number of militant groups being targeted has only increased.  U.S. commandos are now battling at least two terror groups — al-Shabaab and a local Islamic State affiliate — as drone strikes spiked in the last year and Somalia became an ever-hotter war zone.  Today, according to AFRICOM, militants operate “training camps” and possess “safe havens throughout Somalia [and] the region.”

“The under-reported, 16-year U.S. intervention in Somalia has followed a similar pattern to the larger U.S. war in Afghanistan: an influx of special forces and a steady increase in air strikes has not only failed to stop terrorism, but both al-Shabaab and a local affiliate of ISIS have grown during this time period,” said William Hartung of the Center for International Policy.  “It’s another case of failing to learn the lessons of the United States’ policy of endless war: that military action is as likely or more likely to spark terrorist action as to reduce or prevent it.”

Somalia is no anomaly.  Across the continent, despite escalating operations by commandos as well as conventional American forces and their local allies and proxies, Washington’s enemies continue to proliferate.  As Vice News reported, a 2012 Special Operations Command strategic planning document listed five prime terror groups on the continent. An October 2016 update counted seven by name — the Islamic State, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab — in addition to “other violent extremist organizations.”  The Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies now offers a tally of 21 “active militant Islamist groups” on the continent.  In fact, as reported at The Intercept, the full number of terrorist organizations and other “illicit groups” may already have been closer to 50 by 2015.

Saving SOF through Proxy War?

As wars and interventions have multiplied, as U.S. commandos have spread across the planet, and as terror groups have proliferated, the tempo of operations has jumped dramatically.  This, in turn, has raised fears among think-tank experts, special ops supporters, and members of Congress about the effects on those elite troops of such constant deployments and growing pressure for more of them.  “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas told members of Congress last spring. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.”  Yet the number of countries with special ops deployments hit a new record last year.

At a November 2017 conference on special operations held in Washington, influential members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees acknowledged growing strains on the force. For Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the solution is, as he put it, “to increase numbers and resources.”

While Republican Senator Joni Ernst did not foreclose the possibility of adding to already war-swollen levels of commandos, she much prefers to farm out some operations to other forces: “A lot of the missions we see, especially if you… look at Afghanistan, where we have the train, advise, and assist missions, if we can move some of those into conventional forces and away from SOF, I think that’s what we need to do.”  Secretary of Defense James Mattis has already indicated that such moves are planned.  Leigh Claffey, Ernst’s press secretary, told TomDispatch that the senator also favors “turning over operations to capable indigenous forces.”

Ernst’s proxies approach has, in fact, already been applied across the planet, perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in Syria in 2017.  There, SOCOM’s Thomas noted, U.S. proxies, including both Syrian Arabs and Kurds, “a surrogate force of 50,000 people… are working for us and doing our bidding.” They were indeed the ones who carried out the bulk of the fighting and dying during the campaign against the Islamic State and the capture of its capital, Raqqa.

However, that campaign, which took back almost all the territory ISIS held in Syria, was exceptional.  U.S. proxies elsewhere have fared far worse in recent years.  That 50,000-strong Syrian surrogate army had to be raised, in fact, after the U.S.-trained Iraqi army, built during the 2003-2011 American occupation of that country, collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of Islamic State militants in 2014.  In Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Honduras, and elsewhere, U.S.-trained officers have carried out coups, overthrowing their respective governments.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where special ops forces have been working with local allies for more than 15 years, even elite security forces are still largely incapable of operating on their own.  According to the Pentagon’s 2017 semi-annual report to Congress, Afghan commandos needed U.S. support for an overwhelming number of their missions, independently carrying out only 17% of their 2,628 operations between June 1, 2017, and November 24, 2017.

Indeed, with Special Operations forces acting, in the words of SOCOM’s Thomas, as “the main effort, or major supporting effort for U.S. [violent extremist organization]-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America,” it’s unlikely that foreign proxies or conventional American forces will shoulder enough of the load to relieve the strain on the commandos.

Bulking up Special Operations Command is not, however, a solution, according to the Center for International Policy’s Hartung.  “There is no persuasive security rationale for having U.S. Special Operations forces involved in an astonishing 149 countries, given that the results of these missions are just as likely to provoke greater conflict as they are to reduce it, in large part because a U.S. military presence is too often used as a recruiting tool by local terrorist organizations,” he told TomDispatch.  “The solution to the problem of the high operational tempo of U.S. Special Operations forces is not to recruit and train more Special Operations forces. It is to rethink why they are being used so intensively in the first place.”

Roman Polanski will not face criminal charges for allegations of 1975 molesting

Prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against director because they say allegations that woman was molested during a photo shoot are too old

January 9, 2018


Los Angeles prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski after a woman said he molested her in 1975 – when she was 10 years old – because the allegations are too old.

A district attorney’s office memo obtained by the Associated Press on Monday says prosecutors were declining to bring charges in the case because the statute of limitations had expired.

The 84-year-old Polanski has been a fugitive since fleeing to France in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old.

The latest allegations were reported to police in October. The woman said she was molested during a photo shoot in 1975 after Polanski had her pose nude.

Polanski’s attorney, Harland Braun, has said the allegations are untrue.


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