TBR News March 21, 2017

Mar 21 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 20, 2017: “We will be out of the country until March 22. Ed”

Table of Contents

  • NYT’s ‘Tinfoil Hat’ Conspiracy Theory
  • Snitching scandal: Denmark reprimands Turkish envoy over ‘hotline to report on Erdogan critics’
  • ‘Coup in Turkey Was Just a Welcome Pretext’
  • For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse
  • Roosevelt versus the Jews

NYT’s ‘Tinfoil Hat’ Conspiracy Theory

There is a “tinfoil-hat” quality to The New York Times’ pushing its “Donald Trump Is Russia’s Manchurian Candidate” conspiracy theory as the newspaper sinks deeper into a New McCarthyism

March 19, 2017

by Matthew Parry

consortium news

There are real reasons to worry about President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, including his casual belligerence toward Iran and North Korea and his failure to rethink U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, but The New York Times obsesses on Trump’s willingness to work with Russia.

On Saturday, the Times devoted most of its op-ed page to the Times’ favorite conspiracy theory, that Trump is Vladimir Putin’s “Manchurian candidate” though evidence continues to be lacking.

The op-ed package combined a “What to Ask About Russian Hacking” article by Louise Mensch, a former Conservative member of the British Parliament who now works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and a connect-the-dots graphic that when filled out shows the Kremlin sitting atop the White House. But the featured article actually revealed how flimsy and wacky the Times’ conspiracy theory is.

Usually, an investigation doesn’t begin until there is specific evidence of a crime. For instance, the investigative articles that I have written over the years have always had information from insiders about how the misconduct had occurred before a single word was published.

In the early 1990s, for the investigation that I conducted for PBS “Frontline” into the so-called “October Surprise” case – whether Ronald Reagan’s campaign colluded with Iranians and others to sabotage President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages in 1980 – we had some two dozen people providing information about those contacts from multiple perspectives – including from the U.S., Iran, Israel and Europe – before we aired the allegations.

We didn’t base our documentary on the suspicious circumstance that the Iranians held back the hostages until after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated President on Jan. 20, 1981, or on the point that Iran and the Republicans had motives to sandbag Carter. We didn’t casually throw out the names of a bunch of people who might have committed treason.

When we broadcast the documentary in April 1991, there was a strong evidentiary case of the Reagan’s campaign guilt – and even then we were highly circumspect in how we presented the story.

Ultimately, the 1980 “October Surprise” case came down to whether you believed the Republican denials or the two dozen or so witnesses who described how this operation was carried out with the help of the Israeli government, French intelligence, and former and current CIA officers – along with former CIA Director George H.W. Bush and future CIA Director William Casey.

In the end, Official Washington was never willing to accept that the beloved Ronald Reagan could have done something as dastardly as conspire with Iranians to delay the release of 52 American hostages. It didn’t matter what the evidence was or that Reagan quickly approved arms shipments to Iran via Israel in 1981, a prequel to the later Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of 1985-86.

No Direct Evidence

By contrast, what the current “Russia Owns Trump” allegations are completely lacking is an insider who describes any nefarious collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to arrange the Kremlin’s help in defeating Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump.

What we do have is President Barack Obama’s outgoing intelligence chiefs putting out evidence-free “assessments” that Russia was responsible for the “hacking” and the publicizing of two batches of Democratic emails, one from the Democratic National Committee and one from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

The DNC emails revealed that top Democratic Party officials had violated their duty to remain neutral during the primaries and instead tilted the playing field in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Podesta emails exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from voters, as well as some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

When published by WikiLeaks last year, the emails embarrassed the Clinton campaign but were not regarded as a major factor in her defeat, which she blamed primarily on FBI Director James Comey’s decision to briefly reopen the investigation into whether she endangered national security by using a private email server while Secretary of State.

However, after the shock of Donald Trump’s election, Clinton supporters looked for reasons to block Trump’s inauguration or to set the stage for his impeachment. That was when Obama’s intelligence chiefs began circulating claims that Russia was behind the leaking of the Democratic emails as part of a scheme to put their favored candidate, Trump, in the White House.

The New York Times and other mainstream news outlets, which were strongly hostile to Trump, seized on the allegations, making them front-page news for the past several months despite the paucity of actual evidence that any collusion occurred or that the Russians were even the ones who obtained and distributed the emails.

WikiLeaks denied getting the material from the Russians, suggesting instead that two different American insiders were the sources.

A Witch Hunt?

How thin the Russia-Trump case is becomes evident in reading the Times’ op-ed by Louise Mensch. After introducing herself as someone who has “followed the Russian hacking story closely,” she lists 25 people by name, including various Trump advisers as well as Internet moguls Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel, who should be hauled before the House Intelligence Committee for interrogation along with unnamed executives of several corporations and banks.

“There are many more who need to be called but these would be a first step,” Mensch wrote. In reviewing Mensch’s long article, it’s unclear if she’s proposing only a “fishing expedition” or would prefer a full-fledged “witch hunt.”

At one point earlier in this process, I wrote an article warning that the “investigation” could become something of a “did-you-talk-to-a-Russian” inquisition. Some readers probably felt I was going too far, but that now appears to be exactly what is happening.

Many of Mensch’s suggestions pertain to people associated with the Trump campaign who game speeches in Moscow or otherwise communicated with Russians. It appears any contact with a Russian, any discussion of disagreements between the U.S. and Russia, or any political comment that in any way echoes what some Russian may have said becomes “evidence” of collusion and treason.

The extremism of Mensch’s tendentious article is further illustrated by her suggestion that Trump should be impeached if there is any truth to his widely discredited tweet that Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower. She wrote:

“If … the president tweeted real news, he revealed the existence of intercepts that cover members of his team in a continuing investigation. That would be obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense.”

Most of us who have reported on Trump’s bizarre “tapp” tweet have criticized him for making a serious charge without evidence (as well as his poor spelling), but Mensch seems to believe that the more serious offense would be if Trump somehow were telling the truth. She wants any truth-telling on this issue to be grounds for Trump’s impeachment, even though he may have been referring, in part, to her November article reporting on the FISA warrant that supposedly granted permission for members of Trump’s team to be put under electronic surveillance.

A Tinfoil Hat

To dramatize her arguments further, Mensch then demonstrates a thorough lack of knowledge about recent American history. She claims, “Never in American history has a president been suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election.”

Whatever you want to think about the 1980 October Surprise case – and there is substantial evidence that it was real – it definitely constituted an example in American history when a president was “suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election.”

Another case in 1968, which now even The New York Times grudgingly accepts, involved Richard Nixon colluding with the South Vietnamese government to torpedo President Lyndon Johnson’s Paris peace talks to assure Nixon’s election. Although South Vietnam was then an ally, the allegations about Nixon also included outreach to North Vietnam, although Hanoi ended up sending a delegation to Paris while Saigon did not.

Yet, what is perhaps most shocking about Mensch’s op-ed and its prominent placement by the Times is that the story has all the elements of a “tinfoil-hat” conspiracy. It’s the sort of wild-eyed smearing of American citizens that the Times would normally deride as an offensive fantasy that would be mentioned only to mock the conspiracists.

But the Times is now so deep into its campaign to demonize Russia and to destroy Trump that all normal journalistic standards have long ago been tossed out the window.

While there are many valid reasons to protest Trump and his policies, this descent into a New McCarthyism is both grotesque (because it impugns the patriotism of Americans without evidence, only breathless questions) and dangerous (because it escalates the New Cold War with Russia, a confrontation that could stumble into a nuclear holocaust).

At such moments, supposedly serious newspapers like The New York Times should show extraordinary caution and care, not a reckless disregard for truth and fairness. But no one in Official Washington seems willing to play the role of attorney Joseph Welch when he finally stood up to Sen. Joe McCarthy with the famous question, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Snitching scandal: Denmark reprimands Turkish envoy over ‘hotline to report on Erdogan critics

March 21, 2017


Denmark has summoned Turkey’s charge d’affaires on the heels of a report that Danish citizens of Turkish origin might have been blacklisted and accused of treason on the basis of tips submitted by Turkish government sympathizers via a special hotline.

The Danish Foreign Ministry “made it clear that it saw with great concern reports alleging that citizens of Denmark report on the other citizens to the Turkish authorities in this manner because of a person’s political affiliation,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday, following a meeting between the Turkish charge d’affaires and the Danish ministry’s foreign policy director, Lone Dencker Wisborg.

It further pointed out that any request coming from Turkish authorities to Danish citizens to unveil the identities of fellow Danes would be deemed “unacceptable,” noting that an act of informing foreign governments, including that of Turkey, will be considered a criminal offense.

The reprimand follows the report in the Danish Berlingske newspaper on Sunday that at least 10 people contacted by the outlet, including former and current Danish MPs, have received online threats from apparent supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vowing to denounce them to the Turkish authorities as critics of his government.

Among those who have been served with such warnings are former Danish MP Özlem Cekic and Lars Aslan Rasmussen, an MP from the Social Democratic Party. Cekic told Berlingske she had received a comment on Facebook from an unknown person, who messaged her that he would “report [Cekic] to the authorities in Turkey and hope that you are put on their clean-up list, so you get blacklisted.”

Rasmussen, who was informed by some anonymous people through phone and Facebook, that his name had been reported to the Turkish authorities, now fears repercussions if he decides to visit his Turkish relatives.

“I take this very seriously. I would of course be very upset if I couldn’t go there anymore because my father is from there,” Rasmussen told the newspaper, as cited by AFP.

Politicians have appeared to be not the only victims targeted in online intimidation campaign by alleged Erdogan supporters. A high school teacher, Mustafa Gezen, who last year publicly blasted Erdogan’s policy on TV, has also been contacted by what he described “a man with a heavy Danish accent,” who told him that the recording of the show in question was forwarded to the Turkish embassy in Denmark.

The Berlingske report claims that a special hotline, which informants use to submit their reports, is going directly to the Turkish presidential office. As an experiment, the newspaper dialed the number, pretending it was going to report a supporter of the self-exiled preacher Fethulla Gulen, whom Turkey considers to be a terrorist and a mastermind behind the foiled coup of July 15, 2016. The person whom the paper spoke to seemingly made no distinction between Turkish nationals and foreign citizens of Turkish origin, saying that “when the person comes to Turkey, it does not matter what nationality the person has.”

The report has sparked outrage in the Foreign Ministry, with Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen calling the alleged conduct of the Turkish government “completely unacceptable,” adding that it has nothing to do with gathering information on Danish individuals as “in principle informing is the concern of the police.”

However, the Turkish charge d’affaires, who has been representing Turkey after the Turkish ambassador to Denmark who retired last week dismissed the report, insisting that the Turkish government does not have any special system in place to track or detect its critics, also denying the existence of a “blacklist” of Danish citizens who are barred from entering or exiting Turkey.

The special hotline, he argued, was only to be used to confer information that is terrorism-related.

Despite the Turkish government’s assertions, Samuelsen promised to “follow the case closely” after the meeting.

Tensions have been running high between the two countries since Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen asked his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yıldırım, to delay a scheduled visit due to then unfolding diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands, during which Erdogan accused Dutch authorities of “Nazi practices” for not allowing a rally of his supporters in the Netherlands. The Dutch responded by expelling Turkish minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya to Germany after barring her from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam to stage a pro-Erdogan rally.

“Such a visit could not take place in light of the current attacks by Turkey against the Netherlands. Therefore, I proposed to my Turkish colleague to postpone our meeting,” Rasmussen said at the time.

Interview with German Intelligence Chief

‘Coup in Turkey Was Just a Welcome Pretext’

German intelligence doesn’t buy Turkish President Erdogan’s claims that last year’s coup attempt was backed by the Gülen movement. BND chief Bruno Kahl, 54, speaks with SPIEGEL about Turkey, possible Russian interference in German elections and what to expect from Islamic State.

March 20, 2017

Interview Conducted by Martin Knobbe, Fidelius Schmid and Alfred Weinzierl


SPIEGEL: Mr. Kahl, are you an avid user of Twitter?

Kahl: Not at all.

SPIEGEL: As head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND, can you do without? U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be at risk of triggering a global crisis with just a single tweet.

Kahl: What the American president tweets can also be read elsewhere quickly enough. Plus, the U.S. is not one of our intelligence targets.

SPIEGEL: During the campaign, Trump said several times that torture tools such as waterboarding are acceptable. The BND cooperates closely with U.S. intelligence agencies. Does Trump’s position make you uncomfortable?

Kahl: Following the election, Trump’s advisors quickly countered much of what he said as a candidate. And regarding torture, Trump said: If my secretary of defense, my secretary of state and my security advisor are against it, then we’ll leave things as they are. Currently, we don’t have any indications that the legal situation in the United States is going to change.

SPIEGEL: Trump’s program is “America First.” Is there concern that America’s willingness to share information and terror warnings with German agencies will fade?

Kahl: Were “America First” to develop into a dogma in intelligence cooperation, that wouldn’t be particularly amusing. Thus far, though, there is no indication that such cooperation is being reduced. I have great faith in the American institutions and am confident that, in the areas that are relevant to our work, sufficient sense and expertise will be exhibited by the new administration as well.

SPIEGEL: The whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks recently published sensitive information from inside the CIA. Should we be worried that the BND also peers into the private lives of German citizens by way of all manner of hacked devices, such as mobile phones, televisions, cars and even smoke alarms?

Kahl: Germans don’t need to be worried about that. We have no interest in intruding on people’s private lives. The BND has a clear legal mandate: We must obtain information from abroad that is important for the security of our country. The private lives of German citizens are completely irrelevant.

SPIEGEL: Not necessarily. From 2008 to 2011, the BND listened in on the communications of Hansjörg Haber, head of the European Union monitoring mission in Georgia. He is a German citizen and husband of the state secretary in the Interior Ministry.

Kahl: That doesn’t contradict what I just said.

SPIEGEL: True. Only after someone becomes a politician, ambassador or employee of an NGO or a European institution might they end up as an intelligence target on the so-called selector list. You have conducted surveillance on many such people …

Kahl: … and have drawn the consequences from such incidents. We now have a new BND law, which defines more precisely the conditions under which we may conduct surveillance and when we cannot. These cases are now not only subject to stricter intelligence rules but also continue to be energetically monitored.

SPIEGEL: Will you continue to conduct surveillance on journalists?

Kahl: We will adhere to the rules that are now law. There are different levels for Germans, Europeans and those journalists who work and operate in non-European countries. If a foreigner in Raqqa claims to be a journalist, we are going to conduct surveillance anyway if he is affiliated with Islamic State.

SPIEGEL: Yet you apparently didn’t draw any distinction between such a person and reporters working for the BBC and the New York Times. Where is the boundary?

Kahl: That’s not so easy to answer from where we sit. But we have no interest in investigating journalists on the whole. Neither domestically nor abroad. We are searching for information that is relevant to our security and looking for people who are planning evil deeds. It can’t be avoided that these people sometimes communicate with others who are less suspicious.

SPIEGEL: What is your assessment of Islamic State’s current situation in Syria and Iraq?

Kahl: In contrast to other terror organizations, IS seeks to bring territory under its control. Currently, that is being taken from it; IS is losing territory. But that doesn’t mean that it is disappearing. IS will continue to play a role and make itself visible.

SPIEGEL: Is Islamic State moving to other countries, like Libya, for example?

Kahl: We see IS activities in Libya. And we are watching activists in Sub-Saharan Africa who used to be called Boko Haram but who now must be assigned to Islamic State. We are seeing IS in Afghanistan, we are seeing IS on the Sinai Peninsula.

SPIEGEL: Are those distinct cells or is there a larger network?

Kahl: There are repeated efforts to undertake operations on behalf of IS, but it then takes some time before they are recognized by IS headquarters. But that doesn’t mean that everything is controlled centrally. Some of the things that have taken place in Germany as well were not ordered by Raqqa or some other command post. The treacherous thing about this terrorist entity is that it can ignite itself largely on its own.

SPIEGEL: There is a theory which holds that the more pressure is placed on IS territory, the greater the risk of attack in Europe becomes. Is that true?

Kahl: I wouldn’t formulate it so deterministically. Of course IS will ensure that it remains visible and generates successes for its followers.

SPIEGEL: What is more dangerous, that IS fighters wander from one region to another or that people ignite themselves, as you put it?

Kahl: The dangers exist concurrently. First, there are the returnees, the trained jihadists. They are dangerous if they once led lives in the West and are familiar with it. Second, there are those who come as part of the migrant stream. They might not yet have been given a mission, but they radicalize here. Third are those who have lived here for a long time and have become radicalized. The number of Salafists has increased substantially in recent years to 9,700 — a large reservoir of people who could become violent at some point …

SPIEGEL: … because they become indoctrinated in mosques and training centers. Such sites are financed by Gulf states, with whom Germany has tight relations.

Kahl: We have noticed improvements in this regard. It also makes no sense to combat terrorism in the Middle East when missionaries in Germany are promoting it. That is why several members of the German government have traveled to the Gulf states. That has had visible results back home.

SPIEGEL: Since the NSA revelations from Edward Snowden, we have been talking almost exclusively about technical surveillance methods. Are there still classic spies of the type one meets in John Le Carré novels?

Kahl: They still exist too. We cannot forego human intelligence, the classic surveillance techniques with informants. We even want to expand the technique. But of course I don’t like talking much about it.

SPIEGEL: But we should. Currently, one of your informants is being tried in court. Ali R. spent months supplying information about IS from Syria to the BND and other German agencies. Now he is facing a long prison term for membership in a terrorist group. What is your view of BND informants being convicted?

Kahl: Wait until there has been a verdict in the case! Generally speaking, though, we have to make sure that people who provide us information aren’t punished for doing so.

SPIEGEL: How can you? A human informant in IS has automatically broken the law because he is a member of IS.

Kahl: You have to make a distinction here between a real membership and a membership that is a kind of cover. As a matter of practicality, however, that is a difficult distinction to make because members are forced to prove their loyalty and courage, which could result in the commission of crimes. It is an extremely difficult situation.

SPIEGEL: Islamic State is allegedly running low on money. Can you confirm this?

Kahl: It won’t go bankrupt and lose its ability to act in the foreseeable future. But income from oil production is dropping, we can see that much. So too are the taxes and fees, because each loss of territory means a loss of population that can be extorted.

SPIEGEL: What are the consequences?

Kahl: The fighters are no longer able to arm and equip themselves as well as they used to. At some point, the coffers will be empty.

SPIEGEL: In the fight against IS, Turkey is one of Germany’s most important allies. Given those ties, what is your view of the recent friction between the German government and the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

Kahl: It isn’t my job to comment on relations between the German government and foreign governments. From the perspective of the rule of law, there have been developments in Turkey that are anything but reassuring. The question is: will the country remain a partner in the security alliance?

SPIEGEL: At the moment, Erdogan seems intent on worsening his relationship with the West.

Kahl: There are always better and worse phases. Intelligence agencies must also work together with states that don’t conform to our constitutional principles. Because of its geographic location, we don’t want to destroy these channels.

SPIEGEL: Erdogan has claimed that the cleric Fetullah Gülen was behind the coup attempt last July. More than 100,000 civil servants lost their jobs in the aftermath and thousands have been imprisoned. Was Gülen really behind the coup?

Kahl: Turkey has tried to convince us on a number of different levels. But they haven’t yet been successful.

SPIEGEL: What is your explanation for the coup attempt against Erdogan? Was it staged by the government?

Kahl: The coup attempt wasn’t staged by the state. Even before July 15, the government had launched a large wave of purges. That is why elements within the military thought they should quickly launch a coup before they too were purged. But it was too late and they were purged as well.

SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound like the kind of vast conspiracy of the kind that President Erdogan always claims.

Kahl: The consequences of the putsch that we have seen would have happened anyway, if perhaps not as deep and radical. The coup was likely just a welcome pretext.

SPIEGEL: Is the Gülen movement an extremist-Islamist movement? Is it perhaps even a terrorist group?

Kahl: The Gülen movement is a civilian association for religious and secular education. For years, it was a collection of tutoring centers and training facilities that worked together with Erdogan.

SPIEGEL: Would you call the movement a sect?

Kahl: I wouldn’t say that. That’s an explanation that is more prevalent in Western societies. One can, though, say that the Gülen movement wasn’t a meaningless minority.

SPIEGEL: Loosely translated, Erdogan said that he wanted to shake up the world.

Kahl: Yes, that was a rhetorically interesting formulation. I wouldn’t attach too much importance to his words, which were intended more for a domestic audience.

SPIEGEL: One could also interpret them as saying that Turkey has an interest in influencing German parliamentary elections in September.

Kahl: No. Turkey merely wants to influence the Turkish citizens who live in Germany with an eye toward the upcoming referendum on the constitutional amendment. Thus far, we have no indications that Turkey is seeking to interfere in the German elections. Others are doing so.

SPIEGEL: You mean Russia. America has accused Russia of significant interference in the presidential election there last November. Could the same thing happen here?

Kahl: We should at least plan for the possibility that it could happen here. In the past, we haven’t just experienced it in Germany, but also in other regions of Europe where elections are approaching. Putin’s goal hasn’t changed: Despite Brexit and the new president in the U.S., Germany continues to support sanctions against Russia. This is something Putin would like to change. As such, it would make sense for him to make a small investment in the hope that the German election leads to change. That would be a motive.

SPIEGEL: A motive doesn’t necessarily mean that any crime has been committed.

Kahl: We have to prepare for phenomena like those in Lithuania …

SPIEGEL: … where there were accusations of rape leveled at German soldiers …

Kahl: … small bits of fake news that find their way through the Russian media before making waves in social networks here. We have observed the pattern often enough. By making it transparent, we are of course hoping that Russia will be more careful. Putin doesn’t have an interest in being caught red-handed.

SPIEGEL: What you are describing are just propaganda activities. But the Russians demonstrated years ago that they are capable of paralyzing an entire country. Estonia.

Kahl: There are reasons to believe that the attacks against the server in the German parliament were influenced by Russia. It followed the same pattern that was observed in operations targeting neighboring states.

SPIEGEL: Then it must frustrate you when the German government says that there isn’t conclusive evidence for Russian participation. The relevant report written by the BND and the German domestic intelligence agency wasn’t made public, despite initial promises to do so.

Kahl: That doesn’t frustrate me. On the one hand, there is the small gap between evidence and proof that will hold up in court. On the other, our mission remains that of getting to the bottom of the incident.

SPIEGEL: How could Russia influence the German elections, aside from the standard propaganda?

Kahl: Think for a moment about the hacking attack on German parliament. There are many possibilities for how one could influence the German campaign.

SPIEGEL: Some say that WikiLeaks is also partially controlled by the Russians. Do you have any evidence of that?

Kahl: It is, at the very least, rather conspicuous that the propaganda I have just described reaches the public through three channels: the television channel RT, the website Sputnik and the whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks.

SPIEGEL: Who represents the greater threat: Russia or IS?

Kahl: I see terrorism at the very top of the danger list. That is the worry that is greatest among the population. Our agency has to get results. The Russian threat has become greater, which is why we are taking it extremely seriously. It isn’t just the propaganda threat. Conventional issues are likewise returning to the agenda.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Kahl: The things that are taking place militarily and with armaments. Russia has doubled its forces on its western border — and we aren’t just talking about Iskander missiles. There are also a lot of missiles in the Crimea region. And conventional armed forces. You can’t interpret all that as being part of a defensive stance against the West. It also must be seen as a potential threat.

SPIEGEL: Particularly when you look at Russia’s so-called Zapad military maneuvers, which will take place in cooperation with Belarus again this year. Are we soon going to be witness to a Russian invasion of the Baltics?

Kahl: There is a tank army based in western Russia. If it advances into Belarus as part of these maneuvers, I’ll be interested to see if anyone will seek to justify it as a defensive tactic.

SPIEGEL: Edward Snowden, who made the tactics of intelligence agencies more transparent than ever before, is still in Russia. Looking back, were the revelations he made public exclusively negative from an intelligence perspective or was there a positive side to them as well?

Kahl: By the time I took office, the Snowden issue was basically over. But from my perspective, nobody can welcome a situation in which new security risks arise because secret information is made public. I think the damage is greater than the benefits.

SPIEGEL: Without Snowden, we never would have held the debate over the role of intelligence in our society. And you wouldn’t be president of the BND.

Kahl: Leaving aside my personal career, the cost-benefit analysis of the Snowden discussion should be undertaken after more time has passed. In issues relating to state protection, prioritizing transparence above the working conditions intelligence agencies need to ensure the country’s safety is a Pyrrhic victory from my perspective. Not to mention the impression that many now have that our trade is somehow distasteful. Things will be seen differently with a bit more distance.

SPIEGEL: We will have a more skeptical view of Snowden 10 years from now?

Kahl: I certainly hope so. There is an imbalance in the debate leading to the inability to call an act of treason by name. And which glorifies criminal offenses.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kahl, we thank you for this interview.


For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse

March 19, 2017

by Peter Maass

The Intercept

Can we breathe a sigh of relief after federal judges blocked President Donald Trump’s discriminatory executive orders? For a moment we can, but we are just a terrorism attack away from the White House gaining a new pretext for its wrathful crackdown against Muslims and immigrants.

Among the alterations in American politics since Trump’s inauguration, this may be the most frightening one: a terror attack on U.S. soil will be used by the White House as an excuse for implementing an extra-legal agenda that could only be pushed through in a time of crisis. What the courts will not allow today, what protesters will hit the streets to defend tomorrow, what even the pliant Congress would have a hard time backing — the White House is almost certainly counting on all of this changing in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack.

This macabre turn, in which terrorism becomes an opportunity rather than a curse, has ample precedents that tell us one thing: be prepared.

It wasn’t long ago that 9/11 was used as a pretext for invading Iraq. Although it was almost immediately clear that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told President George W. Bush on the evening of September 11, “Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.” Just a few years earlier, Rumsfeld, along with Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, had signed a now-infamous letter calling for the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The with-us-or-against-us atmosphere after 9/11 enabled them to carry out the task.

It has happened overseas, too. Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in Russia was accelerated by a series of mysterious bombings against apartment buildings across the country, and the bombings were so essential to consolidating Putin’s rule that he was suspected of organizing them. There was also, most famously, the Reichstag fire in 1933, in which the German Parliament burned to the ground, leading Adolf Hitler, the new chancellor, to warn that “there will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”

The Trump administration has already begun laying the groundwork for extreme initiatives if — or more likely when — a terror attack occurs on U.S. soil and is tied to ISIS, al Qaeda or another Muslim group, according to civil liberties lawyers and activists. Under the guise of protecting national security, a blitz of presidential actions could target not just immigrants and Muslims but other minority groups as well as the media and the judiciary. These initiatives will be “more dire and much more severe” than Trump’s first executive order in late January against the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, according to Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

While the bad news is stark — expect the worst from Trump when an attack happens on U.S. soil — the better news is that people are already organizing to prevent the worst from happening. There is, it turns out, quite a bit that can be done to prepare for the nearly inevitable moment when the Trump administration tries to take advantage of the tragedy of a man or a woman using a bomb, a gun, a knife or a truck to kill Americans in the name of an Islamic terror group.

The first thing to understand is that attacks by foreign-born terrorists are rare. From 1975 through 2015, a total of 3,024 Americans were killed in such attacks, with most of those occurring on 9/11, according to a recent Cato Institute report. In other words, the annual odds of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist are 1 in 3,609,709. Each of these deaths is a tragedy, of course, but they represent a fraction of the preventable fatalities from any number of causes, including spouse-on-spouse violence, traffic accidents, and even toddlers with unsecured guns.

Trump’s eagerness to exploit only a particular type of terror attack — by Muslims — was reflected in his selective reaction to two incidents in his first month in office. In late January, he remained silent when a white Christian shot dead six Muslims in a Canadian mosque. A few days later, an Egyptian with a machete attacked French soldiers at the Louvre while shouting “Allahu Akhbar.” Nobody was killed, not even the attacker — one soldier was slightly injured before the Egyptian was shot four times. Yet within hours, Trump tweeted, “A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.”

His disingenuity exposes a glaring fallacy in his executive orders. The handful of Muslim-majority countries named in the orders represent a negligible threat for domestic terrorism. The few attacks in America that have involved Muslims, including 9/11, drew largely on people from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt — but those countries were not included in either order from the Oval Office. A ruling by Judge Theodore Chuang that blocked the second order noted “strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose of the travel ban.”

The unique dynamic is that the White House has made clear its wish to impose an array of extreme and unconstitutional policies that are nearly impossible to carry out in ordinary times. Trump has previously said, for instance, that he wants to ban all Muslim immigration — “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” as he famously stated during the presidential campaign. His top adviser, Steve Bannon, has even complained about the proportion of legal immigrants already in America — which he described as 20 percent of the population, though it’s actually just over 13 percent. “Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, not illegal immigration?” Bannon asked on a radio show in 2016. “We’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country.”

In a way, the White House is like a pistol cocked to go off at the first touch. Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, described the president’s early use of anti-Muslim executive orders as “a precursor, a mirror into what we’re going to be looking at” after a significant terror attack. Warren added, “I think the Trump administration will move by executive fiat for everything. It will create what’s essentially a constitutional crisis in the country.”

But Trump is not the pre-ordained winner of the crisis he will initiate.

Michael Walzer, a political theorist who has been around long enough to have chronicled, in real time, the social movements of the 1960s, wrote in an essay earlier this month that there are two types of necessary politics against Trump. “Resistance is defensive politics, but we also need a politics of offense — a politics aimed at winning elections and, as we used to say, seizing power,” Walzer wrote. He pointed to a particularly hopeful development that others have also noted after Trump’s inauguration: local organizing against the federal government.

The women’s march the day after the inauguration was a nearly immediate example. In cities across the country, large crowds turned out to protest the new president and his far-right agenda. The sanctuary city movement has also taken root, with local leaders vowing to oppose federal orders that are unconstitutional or immoral, especially ones that involve undocumented immigrants. And key legal challenges to Trump’s executive orders have come from attorneys’ general in a variety of states who have vowed to continue their war of legal writs.

Warren describes the popular reaction to a post-terrorism crackdown as an “X factor.” In the wake of the president’s first executive order, which led to Muslims being turned away at America’s borders, airports across the country were besieged by spontaneous protests that involved thousands of people and a small army of lawyers to help immigrants and refugees who were detained by customs authorities. Boots on the ground will be crucial after the next attack, argues Ben Wizner, a prominent ACLU lawyer who earlier this month tweeted, “If/when there is an attack, we’ll need millions in the streets with a message of courage and resilience.”

Another X factor is the judiciary, which bears a larger share of responsibility than usual because both houses of Congress are controlled by the Republican Party and have shied away from fulfilling their constitutional role as a check on the executive branch. So far, federal courts have stood up to the White House. Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, believes the judicial response to Trump’s executive orders marks a notable break from the post 9/11 era, when courts generally did not support legal challenges to government policies on terrorism, torture, surveillance and drone warfare.

“I’m a real critic of how the courts handled national security,” Greenberg said. “I think they punted entirely. But if you look at the immigration ban and some of the pushback from the courts on ISIS prosecutions and how they are being handled, the courts have woken up from their ‘I want to be asleep on national security’ stage. I think the courts may rise to the occasion.”

Trump has provided confirmation, via Twitter, of the judicial branch’s new spine and key role. After the courts shot down his first executive order, he lashed out in a series of tweets against federal Judge James Robart. The sharpest one, tweeted by Trump from his Mar A Lago estate, warned: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

The writer Mark Danner noted in a recent essay that the controversy over the first executive order may have served “the desire of the president and his advisers to stage a fight with a major institutional force not yet recumbent before him: the judiciary.” As Danner went on to explain, “the president’s assertion of his ‘unreviewable’ powers in the face of ‘so-called’ judges was not just absurd or ignorant but a bit of bait, establishing the basis for blaming the judiciary for any terrorist attack that was to come. On this he tweeted indefatigably and repeatedly.”

Another X factor is the media, which Trump has defined as a public enemy (though of course he means only the outlets that criticize him). Portions of the media, such as Breitbart, Infowars and probably Fox News, will likely support whatever crackdown the president proposes in the wake of a terrorist attack. Other parts of the media will hopefully do the work they are supposed to do. As Greenberg notes, the press will “need to be on the ground and report information before it is misrepresented.” That work can begin now, before an attack, with reporting that explains the rarity of Muslim-related terrorism in the United States and the constitutional as well as moral pitfalls of letting a demagogue turn tragedy to his own advantage.

Roosevelt versus the Jews

March 21, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD


The institution of the Nuremberg racial laws in 1936 and the pogroms that swept Germany in November of 1938, made it clearly evident to the world that Hitler was determined to drive the Jews out of Germany. There was no program or intention in Germany then to put them into concentration camps because these camps were designed solely for political dissidents and common criminals. The addition of the 500,000 Jews living in Germany at that time would have put an intolerable strain on the camp system.

It was the general idea that there should be a new diaspora, a dispersing of the Jews. But the problem facing the Germans, aside from international outrage engendered by their program of harassment and expulsion, was that no other country wanted to accept the Jewish refugees. Many of these originated in Russia and had fled into what was then the Grand Duchy of Poland when the Imperial Russian government started its great pogroms at the end of the nineteenth century.

When Poland gained its independence from Russia after the First World War, the new Polish head of state, Marshal Pilsudski, strongly encouraged as many of the five million Jewish residents of his country to leave it as quickly as possible. The great bulk of these escaped into what was then a very tolerant Germany only to encounter, after 1933. the political programs of Adolf Hitler.

Once it became evident to the Jewish community of Germany that the persecutions would nor cease, many fled the country, some legally and some illegally. A number went to Switzerland, which took in about fifty thousand, and many others went to France, Belgium and Holland, while a very few managed to go to England and America. The British initially permitted immigration to Palestine, a territory they had controlled since the end of the First World War, but in 1939, when Müller took over the Jewish diaspora, the Arabs of that territory were in a state of open revolt against the British, in part because of the influx of Jews. The British then curtailed any Jewish immigration and threatened to sink any refugee boats full of Jewish refugees headed for Palestine.

France was overwhelmed with a quarter million refugees from the recently ended Spanish Civil War and declared that they would accept no more refugees. The desperate Jews trickled in small numbers to South America and such remote places as Shanghai, the foreign business center of a China that was engaged in a major war with the Japanese. When that city fell to the Japanese Army, Shanghai was cut off as a haven for any further refugees.

‘The United States had a reputation as a haven for the persecuted of Europe, but this reputation was about to be irremediably tarnished through the actions of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Breckenridge Long, one of the highest officials of the U.S. Department of State.

When confronted with a mass of frightened German (and Austrian) Jews seeking entrance into the United States, Roosevelt at first attempted to find some other area in the world that would accept a large number of them. The President, through the Department of State, suggested Ethiopia as a country into which “refugees could be admitted in almost unlimited numbers,” while the Germans recommended Madagascar. Mussolini felt that Siberia had its attractions and Roosevelt then decided that central Africa might be a better choice. The British suggested the jungle areas of South America or perhaps Venezuela could be an “excellent settlement area for unwanted German Jews.” Needless to say, the German Jews had no great interest in the jungles and unpopulated, remote areas of the world, and as middle-class professionals and businessmen, preferred to go to the United States since the rest of civilized Europe plainly did not want anything to do with them.

In 1938, the immigration quota from Germany was 25,957. This figure reflected German immigrants, not Jewish, and the question put to the State Department was how many of the German quota would be Jews. This matter was never officially resolved because it suited the Department of State not to do so.

Breckenridge Long, the official in the State Department who oversaw immigration, was strongly xenophobic, disliked immigrants from countries that were not Northern European Protestant in origin, and most especially detested Jews. In these attitudes, Long was entirely in harmony with the American East Coast establishment which felt exactly as he did.

The United States was still suffering from the effects of the Depression that had begun in 1929 and had erupted again in 1938. In times of economic travail, the minorities always suffer and this maxim was certainly true from 1938 onwards. While Roosevelt had opened his administration to Jews, something that had never happened before, he nevertheless had no interest in assisting the Jews of Europe in entering the United States. The President was a man of his age and of his milieu, and anti-Semitism in America was not violent as it was in Germany, but was certainly evident and very persistent in American society.

After the pogroms of Crystal Night, Roosevelt publicly expressed outrage to the German government about the blatant mistreatment of the Jews. But in private, he agreed with the stringent boycott of Germany and her exports by his friend Samuel Untermeyer and powerful members of the American Jewish community, who had expressed their anger against Hitler for a number of years before the 1938 incidents. But when it became evident that the United States was the intended goal of the Jews of Germany, Roosevelt balked. Verbal outrage and high-sounding morality was one thing, but an influx of Jews was quite something else. Even after Crystal Night, American public opinion was strongly opposed to any loosening of the very restrictive 1924 immigration act, and, in fact this opposition rose from 70 percent to 83 percent following the German pogroms.

If nothing else, Roosevelt was a thoroughly pragmatic and coldly realistic politician. Even though he personally enjoyed considerable support from America‘s Jewish community, he realized that the Jews alone could not keep him in office so he quickly pandered to the exclusionist view of the overwhelming bulk of his electorate.

His personal views were certainly reflected in the elitist attitudes of his career diplomats. In 1938, after Mussolini had promulgated some anti-Semitic laws. Roosevelt wrote to his Ambassador in Rome, “What a plight the unfortunate Jews are in. It gives them little comfort to remind them that they have been ‘on the run’ for about four thousand years.”

In 1942, after the war had been raging for three years and there was no doubt that all of Europe’s Jews were being rounded up and put into detention camps, Roosevelt remarked to Leo Crowley, an Irish-American Catholic who was his Custodian of Alien Property, and Henry Morgenthau, Jr., his Secretary of the Treasury, “Leo, you know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here on sufferance. It is up to both of you to go along with anything that I want at this time.”

In a 1943 trans-Atlantic scrambled telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Roosevelt said. “Of course I have pity on the Jews, but we simply don’t want them over here. No one wants them here. You don’t want them in Palestine and neither do the Arabs. Could we not send them to some place like South America?” to which Churchill replied, “Certainly that could be done, but I cannot countenance shipping hundreds of thousands of perfectly obnoxious Polish Jews to our territories.”

In May of 1939, SS- Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, head of the German Gestapo, had arranged with the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line to charter one of their passenger ships, the SS St. Louis, to transport a group of 936 German Jews to Cuba. Müller had purchased landing permits from the Cuban government and secured passports for the Jews, but shortly after the ship sailed on May 13, the U.S. Department of State, in the person of Breckenridge Long, who was acting on the specific orders of President Roosevelt, requested that the Cuban government immediately cancel all of these landing permits. Neither he nor the President wanted that many unwelcome Jews so close to America, a country which, they reasoned, the refugees would then wish to move to. Never adverse to making money, the Cubans, in defiance of the American President, claimed they would permit the Jews to land if they would renegotiate their fees and pay an additional $500, plus Cuban legal fees per person. Since the homeless refugees had spent all their money on the voyage and on their original landing fees, only twenty two of them were able to raise the necessary cash. The others, and the Captain of the St. Louis, were ordered out of Cuban waters at once. The Captain, Gustav Schröder, knowing that taking his passengers back to Germany guaranteed that they would be imprisoned, made every effort to land them at an American port. But Roosevelt ordered out the American Coast Guard which followed the ship to prevent any of the refugees from attempting to swim ashore.

In America, many Jewish groups, including the influential Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, petitioned official Washington, and the President, to relent. They pointed out that of the 936 passengers, 734 had U.S. immigration-quota permits, but Roosevelt and Long would not move an inch and the St. Louis had to sail hack to Europe. They would not even accept the children among the passengers.

Most of the passengers were landed in countries other than Germany, which only postponed their fate by a few months. When the 1940 campaign in France ended, the refugees there were in the same situation again.

Prior to this, immediately after the Crystal Night pogroms, the British government had agreed to relinquish their own quota of 65,000 British immigrants to America in favor of the Jews, but again Long rejected this out of hand. Tired of the complaints of the American Jewish community, Roosevelt discussed the possibility of “establishing Jewish colonies on uninhabited or sparsely inhabited good agricultural land,” hut of course, not in the United States. This idea came to nothing because no country possessing such land had any interest in permitting the creation of Jewish colonies.

A year later, the ship SS Quanza from Portugal with a manifest of eighty Jewish refugees landed at Norfolk, Virginia. The passengers had no valid papers and had been summarily rejected by both Mexico and Nicaragua. Mrs. Roosevelt exerted her influence and sent down the head of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees to see that the refugees would be accepted. This act incurred the wrath of Long who in this case, at least, had been overruled by higher authority.

A few months before the outbreak of war in Europe, Roosevelt blocked a plan to permit the $50 million Congressional appropriation for the American Red Cross to spend $1 million of it to aid for the transportation of refugee children from Europe. Although some of his closest aides supported this bill, Roosevelt blocked it and it died. However, he did donate $250 to a U.S. charity to assist in the emigration of the children of one Jewish family, a matter that had been pressed on him by a cousin.

Roosevelt’s man in the State Department, Breckenridge Long, did everything in his power to prevent the entrance of any “undesirable” refugees into the United States, and this term encompassed almost anyone from Eastern Europe. He detested Jews and did not wish this country to be contaminated by a group of people whom he viewed as impossible to assimilate.

Long instructed U.S. Embassies and consulates throughout Europe to block any attempt at emigration by European Jews to America, stalling the process by erecting as many bureaucratic barriers as possible. When Interior Secretary Harold Ickes attempted to issue permits for 12,000 refugees to land in the Virgin Islands, which his agency controlled, and then permit them to immigrate to the United States, Long went to the President and quickly convinced him to block the Ickes program, which Roosevelt promptly did.

In 1944, after the collapse of the Horthy regime in Hungary and the installation of a right-wing government, the SS was asked to deport all the Jews from Budapest. A year before, a group was formed in Hungary called Waadah, short for Waddat Ezra Vö-Hazzalah Bo-Budapest or Jewish Rescue Committee, Budapest. The purpose of this group was to facilitate the escape of Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe to Palestine.

With the fall of Horthy, who was not viewed as an enemy of the Jews, and the arrival of the SS in the capital, the leaders of Waadah commenced negotiations with Himmler’s representatives with a view to buying the freedom for many Jews. They played on Himmler’s increasing interest in establishing his credentials with the Allies and finally got him to agree to abandon his deportation plans for Hungarian Jews in return for 10,000 military trucks and other supplies, including tea and coffee. Adolf Eichmann, head of Muller’s deportation department, asked Joel Brand, a Budapest businessman and founding member of Waadah, to take these proposals to Istanbul in neutral Turkey and commence negotiations with the World Jewish Organization.

As a token of good faith, Eichmann stated that if the Allies were willing to even consider this exchange, they would at once release 100,000 Jewish prisoners from the concentration camps. Armed with this information, Brand took a train to Istanbul where he was unable to convince the Jewish groups to support the trade. On his way to address the British officials in Palestine, he was arrested in Syria by British military police and flown eventually to Cairo, Egypt, where he was put in jail and held incommunicado.

Brand eventually was brought before Lord Moyne, the British Resident Minister in the Middle East. He was informed by Moyne that neither the Jewish groups nor the Allies would consider negotiating with Himmler, and that the “Jews-for Trucks” program was impossible to implement. When the frantic Brand told Moyne that all the Allies had to do was, at least, agree in principle and talk with German representatives in neutral Switzerland, Moyne refused.

Brand said that if the Allies agreed to meet with Himmler’s representatives, even if it was understood that nothing would come of the meetings, 100,000 Jews would be released from the concentration camps and sent to whatever country the Allies wished. Moyne declined to even consider this saying, “Whatever would we do with a hundred thousand Jews?”

Following the collapse of his project, Himmler ordered the deportation of all the Jews of Budapest. Instead of releasing what Himmler expected would be all the Jews in his camps, the camps increased their Jewish populations by 300,000.

In addition to refusing to permit refugee Jews into the United States, Roosevelt had earlier enriched the national coffers by ordering all Swiss assets held in their American branches frozen. On June 14, 1941, all such assets were taken over by the American government. The prudent Swiss had moved deposits to what they felt was the safety of the United States when war broke out in 1939. These deposits were put into Swiss hanks by anti-Nazi and Jewish individuals prior to the war, and the Swiss felt with some justification, that these funds could be taken if and when the Germans invaded Switzerland.

The foresight of the Swiss in protecting vulnerable monies was negated by Roosevelt‘s order, and over $229 million of Jewish assets disappeared into U.S. custody along with millions more from other sources. Some of this money, approximately $500,000 was eventually returned after the war. The rest was kept by the U.S. Treasury on the grounds that, as accounts which had been dormant for five years, they were deemed abandoned, hence passing irrevocably to the U.S. government. A significant number of confiscated bonds ended up in the hands of Roosevelt Administration official, Jesse Jones and a smaller number in the hands of one of Roosevelt’s sons.

One would ask the question that if no one was able to access his accounts during the five years the Treasury Department held them, how could they ethically be considered abandoned? The answer, quire obviously, lies in the amount of money, coupled with what obviously was a total lack of official U.S. interest in the welfare of European Jews. While there was disinterest in assisting these unfortunate Jews, there was no lack of interest in acquiring their money

After the war, Swiss accounts which could be proved not to be of “Nazi origins” was returned, but none of the Jewish funds seized by Roosevelt, with small exceptions, ever surfaced again.

Except in the bank accounts of top Roosevelt officials and Roosevelt himself.







No responses yet

Leave a Reply