TBR News September 18, 2017

Sep 18 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 18, 2017:”’Famous Russian scientist, Sorcha Faal’ turns out to be a nom de plume for David Booth, a retired computer programmer from New Hampshire who stirred up limited controversy in conspiracy circles  with the promotion of his book ‘Code Red: The Coming Destruction of the United States 2004.’

Booth claimed the book originated in a ‘consecutive ten day dream’ he alleged he experienced in 2003 in which he saw a large sized planetary body pass close to Earth causing an explosion.

This was then built up into the story about ‘Planet X’ a heretofore unknown planet in our solar system  on a very long, elliptical orbit. In May 2003, it was alleged by the lunatic fringe that the non-existant “Planet X” would pass close enough to the Earth to affect it in some way, causing it to flip over (what many call a “pole shift”) and spur many other huge disasters.

The end result was solemnly predicted be the deaths of many billions of people. There are a large number of web pages, chat rooms and books about Planet X and its horrible effects on the Earth.

So the question is, does this planet exist, and did it come close enough to Earth in May 2003 and cause great catastrophes?

Did an atomic bomb explode over downtown Houston, Texas, on December 25th, 2004 by orders of Paul Wolfowitz?

Many internet readers were breathlessly informed of this by a Canadian masquerading as the “German Guy,” a purported senior intelligence official in the German BND. Houston still stands, undamaged.”

Table of Contents

  • Fake Chinese gold and silver coins and bars
  • Hurricane Maria seen strengthening into major hurricane in next two days
  • Assad aide says Syria will fight any force, including U.S.-backed militias
  • The Trouble with Turkey: Erdogan, ISIS, and the Kurds
  • Israel’s Foreign Agents Don’t Register, Why Should Russia’s?
  • Pop Culture is Far Ahead of Washington When it Comes to Monopoly Politics
  • Top Trump officials signal US could stay in Paris climate agreement
  • Putin to watch parachute drop, part of war games that have rattled West
  • Faked Conspiracy Photos




From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 66

September 18, 2017


Last month, a resolution (H.Res. 496) was introduced in the House of Representatives to “condemn and censure” President Trump for “his inadequate response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.” No action has been taken on the resolution, which was sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler and 77 Democratic colleagues.

The history of such resolutions of censure was reviewed last week by the Congressional Research Service.

On only four occasions has a censure resolution ever been passed by the House or Senate, CRS found, though numerous attempts have been made since 1800 when the House proposed to charge President John Adams with interfering in judicial proceedings. All of the last three presidents prior to Trump have been targets of censure resolutions that were not adopted.

See Resolutions Censuring the President: History and Context, 1st-114th Congresses, CRS Insight, September 14, 2017.

And see, relatedly: Congressional Consideration of Resolutions to “Censure” Executive Branch Officials, CRS Insight, September 14, 2017.           *     *

The ranks of qualified US Air Force pilots are being depleted due in part to increasing demand for commercial airline pilots, another new CRS publication reported. “According to current Air Force statistics, the service is 1,947 pilots short of its authorized strength,” CRS said. See U.S. Air Force Pilot Shortage, CRS Insight, September 11, 2017.

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

Military Sexual Assault: A Framework for Congressional Oversight, September 12, 2017

Unauthorized Childhood Arrivals: Legislative Options, CRS Insight, September 14, 2017

Social Security: The Trust Funds, updated September 12, 2017

Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out?, updated September 12, 2017

NASA Appropriations and Authorizations: A Fact Sheet, updated September 11, 2017

Taylor Force Act: Palestinian Terrorism-Related Payments and U.S. Aid, CRS Insight, September 12, 2017

CRISPR Gene Editing Research in Embryos Generates Scientific and Ethics Debate, CRS Insight, September 12, 2017

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, updated September 14, 2017


Government oversight can take diverse forms even among Western democracies.

A new report from the Law Library of Congress surveys the mechanisms of parliamentary oversight of the executive branch in Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In Sweden, for example, “Any member of the public may ask the JO [Justitieombudsman, or parliamentary ombudsman] to investigate a breach of law committed by an agency or employee. The complaint must be made in writing and cannot be anonymous.”

The Law Library report does not provide comparative analysis, but simply presents a descriptive summary of each nation’s government oversight practices, with links to additional resources. Any policy conclusions to be drawn are left to the reader.

See Parliamentary Oversight of the Executive Branch, Law Library of Congress, August 2017.


Fake Chinese gold and silver coins and bars

September 18, 2017

by Christian Jürs

There appeared in the American media, a breathless story about the alleged “wreck of the SS New York” and coins she might have been carrying.

In point of fact, there was no such ship, no such storm and no such sinking.

The story had been invented out of whole cloth, based on ‘Issac’s Storm” book on the devastating 1900 Galveston hurricane and the finding of the SS Central America, to explain the appearance of coins now being minted in China.

These coins are: Morgan silver dollars of every year and mint, gold U.S. Indian head $2.50, $5.00 and $10 denominations

Chinese-based companies make these coins for the American gullible coin trade and  by doing so, they are counterfeiting American coinage

With the collapsing American economy, many Americans are rushing to invest in gold; either coins or bar, and also silver. One of the most popular forms of this investment are American coins. Where there is a need, there is always someone to fill it and in this case, the filling consists of the massive counterfeiting of gold coins, silver coins, and even Swiss gold bars in China.

Initially, it appeared they were only faking Morgan dollars, but then it turned out they were also making $20 Liberty, and Indian Head gold $2.50, $5, and $10 coins, of all dates. Evidently, this is extremely easy with today’s computer-and-laser-die-cutting technology, and the fakes are being die-struck in vast quantities, not cast, and visually at least, are superb copies.

On the financial scene, the rising price of gold is drawing a frenzied horde of investors and as more and more use the precious metal for investment, the price continues to rise.

There is one very serious flaw in this process, a flaw that has more to do with human nature than anything else. Once the hedge funds were the darling of those with extra money and they rushed to invest with the same zeal that the goldbugs are now grabbing gold but like the hedge funds, most of which were pure fraud, the gold market also has its flaws, the most serious one of which is the indisputable one that at least fourteen Chinese firms are pouring out an incredible flood of entirely faked coins, both bullion and numismatic.

Counterfeiting foreign gold or silver coins or bars is not illegal in China and, as usual, the Chinese government has turned a blind eye to illegal acts that enrich their economy. By laser-cutting dies from original pieces, the counterfeiters are able to produce coins that are visually almost perfect but because they are Chinese, the makers are determined to increase their profits by adulterating the contents of the coins.

The hundreds of examples of fakes, to include American and foreign coins and, most interesting, various gold bars supposedly coming from prestigious Swiss banks, are made of less than pure gold and silver and to offset the lighter color of adulterated gold, the fakes are then plated with 24k gold for the proper rich color.

It is estimated that there are millions of dollars in fakes now circulating in the United States, the Middle East and gold-hungry India.

It is also to be noted that the Chinese forgers are now making coins that show honest wear, that are not UNC but only VG+ so that a collector seeing what appears to be a used coin believes that it is genuine.

Fake Silver Dollars From China

China is the world’s capital of counterfeiting, with coins, antiquities, fossils, computer software, music CDs, movie DVDs, books, paintings, clothes, sneakers, jewelry, watches, handbags, toys, sporting goods, film, batteries, food, baby formula, pet food, medicine, cars, car parts, trucks, and much else.

15 to 20 percent of all goods in China are counterfeit.

The problem of Chinese counterfeiting has gone on for years and appears to just worsen over time. Fakery in China is official government policy or at least officially tolerated. Whenever major news of Chinese counterfeiting surfaces in the West, the Chinese government takes highly publicized and sometimes dramatic but ultimately superficial steps to try to stop it.

The true nature of official Chinese attitudes is more likely along the lines of statements from Chinese officials saying that counterfeiting is the cost that foreign companies must pay to be able to do business in China.

China is a developing country and doesn’t appear to recognize international law regarding intellectual property. To the Chinese, copying is entrepreneurship, with copyrights, trademarks, and patents being foreign concepts and largely ignored. Chinese society as a whole in its energetic drive toward economic prosperity seems to have chosen fakery as a shortcut, ignoring conventions in the rest of the civilized world.

The counterfeiting of general goods and infringement of intellectual rights (such as software piracy) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) comprises a significant portion of China’s overall economy.

The manufacture of counterfeits is primarily centered in the two southern Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

While many of the fake coins made in China are widely advertised in the American print and television media and in coin collector publications, many are also sold on eBay

These single-coin auctions are usually listed with a starting price of 5 or 10 cents, and they usually close around those prices when the swindler gets a buyer. These fake coins cost the Chinese about 50 cents to make but the swindlers make most of their profit from the shipping expense they collect from their victims.

This is a common practice with China-based sellers on eBay. They sell the counterfeit item very cheaply, but then charge as much as $70 or more for shipping. Doing this serves two useful functions.

First, their Final Value Fee expense is minimal, since eBay bases this fee on the auction’s closing price.

Secondly, if an item is returned to the seller for some reason, the buyer can only recover that minimal bid amount since shipping and handling is typically nonrefundable.

It is a violation of United States federal law to sell unmarked replicas. The U.S. Hobby Protection Act, first enacted in 1973 (Public Law 93-167 15 US Code 2101 et seq) requires manufacturers and importers of imitation numismatic items to mark them plainly and permanently with the word, “COPY” in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations (16 CFR part 304).

Big Tree Coin Temple Coin Shop is located in the Fujian (also known as Fukien) province in the southeast portion of the People’s Republic of China.

This area is well known to be a hotbed of counterfeiting activity and there are approximately 100 competitors who are manufacturing fake coins. This firm buys genuine coins and genuine PCGS slabs to use as models from which to make counterfeit coins.

The Big Tree Coin Factory is the largest of its type in China. It produces in excess of 100,000 fake coins per month for Chinese coin types alone and they sell about 11,000 counterfeit U.S. coins per month, mostly on eBay or through dishonest coin dealers.

Big Tree Coin Factory produces complete sets of counterfeit Morgan dollars as well as fake Dansco albums to house the collections.

Counterfeit U.S. coins cost on an average of 50 cents each – because the copper and nickel planchet alloys cost the firm more to make.

Big Tree also counterfeits Indian Head and large cents.

Dates on the fake Coronet cents are 1854 and 1857.

Dates on the counterfeit Indian Head cents display a wider range: 1869, 1870, 1871, 1872, 1877, 1908-S and 1909-S.

It should be noted the coins struck by the U.S. Mint, regardless of date, are all still legal tender, and thus subject to U.S. coin counterfeiting laws. It is illegal for Chinese firms to sell these coins in the United States, even via eBay.

Big Tree Coin Factory’s 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent is the most deceptive.

Their counterfeit coins are processed in a rock tumbler and then dipped in weak acids, to “age” them and take the sharpness off the edges.

The average collector now accepts these coins without question.

Big Tree Coin Factory’s uses genuine examples for his models, and produce nearly undetectable counterfeits of certain U.S. coin types because he is producing them on the same types of machines from which the genuine coins were struck.

U.S. Coins being counterfeited in China

  • Seated Liberty Half Dollar 1861-O “S.S. Republic”
  • 1857 “S” Shipwreck Gold Coins “S.S. Central America”
  • 1858 “S” $20 Liberty Shipwreck Gold “S.S. Republic”
  • $10 Gold Eagles, as well as the $2.50 and $5.00 pieces issued by the Southern Mints of New Orleans, Charlotte, NC and Dahlonega, GA. These coins bear the mint marks of O, C, and D
  • $10 Eagles were minted in New Orleans and others in Philadelphia. (Coins from the Mother Mint bear no mint mark.)
  • The U.S .Morgan silver dollar. All dates and all mint marks
  • The U.S. gold coins viz the $2.50, $5.00 and $10.00 Indian head issues
  • The U.S. copper penny viz 1909 S vdb
  • Three gold Imperial Russian roubles from the reign of Nicholas II
  • A gold 20 franc coin with the head of Napoleon I on the obverse
  • The South African Krugerrand
  • British sovereigns and half sovereigns of different monarchs and dates
  • The 1853 United States Assay Office proof gold $20

Ancient coins being counterfeited in China

  • Athenian Owls
  • Alexander the Great Coins
  • Medusa Coins
  • Thracian Tetradrachms
  • House of Constantine
  • Carthage North Africa AR Tetradrachm 270-260 B.C.
  • Arsinoe II 316-270 B.C. AV Octadrachm
  • Siris and Pyxos 560-510 BC AR Stater
  • Alexander the Great AR Tetradrachm
  • Sicily, Syracuse Silver Decadrachm 479 B.C. , B.M.C. #63
  • Syracuse , Sicily AR Decadrachm by engraver Kimon 405-400 B.C.
  • Julius Caesar (45-44 BC) Roman Gold Aureus
  • Titus 79 – 81 AD Roman Gold Aureus
  • Caligula/Germanicus Gold Aureus Emperor 37 – 41 AD
  • Commodus Roman Imperial Gold Aureus 177-192 A.D
  • Shekel of Bar Kochba War 132-135 C.E
  • 1921 Mascot mexico snake 50 pesos gold
  • Russia 50 rouble
  • ‘CREDIT SUISSE’ 1oz 24ct gold bar serial numbered
  • Draped Bust Coins
  • Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Modern World Gold Coins Being Counterfeited in China

  • Australian Kangaroo Gold 1 oz.
  • Australian Kangaroo Gold 1/2 oz.
  • Australian Kangaroo Gold 1/4 oz.
  • Australian Kangaroo Gold 1/10 oz.
  • Australian Kangaroo Gold 1/20 oz.
  • Austrian Gold Philharmonic 1 oz
  • Austrian Gold Philharmonic 1/2 oz
  • Austrian Gold Philharmonic 1/4 oz
  • Austrian Gold Philharmonic 1/10 oz
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1 oz.
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1/2 oz.
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1/4 oz
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1/10 oz.
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1/15 oz
  • Canadian Maple Leaf Gold 1/20 oz
  • China Gold Pandas 1 oz.
  • China Gold Pandas 1/2 oz.
  • China Gold Pandas 1/4 oz.
  • China Gold Pandas 1/10 oz.
  • China Gold Pandas 1/20 oz.
  • Germany 20 Marks
  • Great Britain Britannia I oz.
  • Great Britain Britannia 1/2 oz.
  • Great Britain Britannia 1/4 oz.
  • Great Britain Britannia I /10 oz.
  • Great Britain Gold Sovereign 1 Sovereign
  • Great Britain Gold Sovereign ½ Sovereign
  • Netherlands 10 Guilders
  • Switzerland 20 Francs
  • Isle of Man Cat Coin I oz.
  • Isle of Man Cat 1/2 oz.
  • Isle of Man Cat 1/5 oz.
  • Isle of Man Cat 1/ 10 oz.
  • Isle of Man Cat 1/25 oz.
  • Mexico 50 Pesos
  • Mexico 1 Onza
  • South Africa Krugerrand 1 oz.
  • South Africa Krugerrand 1/2 oz.
  • South Africa Krugerrand 1/4 oz.
  • South Africa Krugerrand 1/10 oz.
  • U.S. American Eagles 1 oz.
  • U.S. American Eagles 1/2 oz.
  • U.S. American Eagles 1/4 oz.
  • U.S. American Eagles 1/10 oz.


Hurricane Maria seen strengthening into major hurricane in next two days

September 17, 2017

by Frank McGurty and Jessica Resnick-Ault


(Reuters) – A second powerful storm in as many weeks was bearing down on a string of battered Caribbean islands, with forecasters saying Maria would strengthen rapidly into a major hurricane as it ripped into the Leeward Islands on Monday night.

Maria’s strength was building as it approached the Lesser Antilles, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, estimating its winds near 90 miles per hour (145 kph).

“Maria is expected to become a major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands,” the forecaster said, marked by “rapid strengthening” during the next 48 hours.

Maria is approaching the eastern Caribbean less than two weeks after Irma hammered the region before overrunning Florida.

That storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic with winds up to 185 miles per hour (298 kph), killed at least 84 people, more than half of them in the Caribbean.

As of 2 a.m. (0600 GMT Monday), the center of the storm was about 90 miles (145 km) north-northeast of Barbados and about 170 miles (270 km) east-southeast of the Leeward island of Dominica, moving to the west-northwest at about 13 mph (20 kph).

Hurricane conditions were expected for Guadalupe, Dominica, Martinique and St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat, and the hurricane center warned Puerto Rico to monitor the storm.

The British Virgin Islands and St. Martin, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma, were under a hurricane watch, as were the U.S. Virgin Islands and Anguilla.

More than 1,700 residents of Barbuda, where Irma damaged nearly every building, braced for Maria on neighboring Antigua, now under a tropical storm watch, said Ronald Sanders, the country’s ambassador to the United States.

Puerto Rico has already begun preparations for Maria, which by Tuesday was expected to unleash powerful winds on the U.S. territory, already dealing with a weakened economy and fragile power grid.

Damage to Puerto Rico could also disrupt the disaster relief supply chain to other islands that were hit by Irma.

“Puerto Rico is our lifeline,” said Judson Burdon, a permanent resident of Anguilla who has helped coordinate supply shipments to the island. “We had two volunteer flights cancel because of the weather that is coming.”

The planned deliveries consisted of plywood, power tools and screws to close up windows and doors that remain open on the island, where 90 percent of structures were damaged.

The hurricane center also issued a tropical storm watch for portions of the U.S. mid-Atlantic and New England coast by Tuesday as a second hurricane, Jose, moved slowly north from its position in the Atlantic Ocean about 315 miles (510 km) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The eye of Jose, with top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (145 kph), should remain off the U.S. East Coast, the NHS said.

Even so, by Tuesday it could bring tropical storm conditions from Fenwick Island, Delaware, to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and from East Rockaway Inlet on New York’s Long Island to the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.

Up to five inches (13 cm) of rain could fall over parts of the area, and the storm could bring dangerous surf and rip currents as well.

Reporting by Frank McGurty, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Chris Michaud; Editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Pullin


Assad aide says Syria will fight any force, including U.S.-backed militias

September 15, 2017


BEIRUT (Reuters) – A top aide to President Bashar al-Assad said on Friday the Syrian government would fight any force, including U.S.-backed forces also battling Islamic State militants, in its drive to recapture the whole of the country.

Assad has previously vowed to recapture the whole of Syria. The government controls the main urban centres in the west of the country and has taken back much of the eastern desert from Islamic State in recent months.

“Whether it’s the Syrian Democratic Forces, or Daesh (Islamic State) or any illegitimate foreign force in the country … we will fight and work against them so our land is freed completely from any aggressor,” Bouthaina Shaaban said in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV.

Shaaban said the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had captured areas from Islamic State “without any fighting”, apparently accusing them of collusion with the jihadists.

The SDF “are trying to get areas (where there is) oil … but they will not get what they want,” she said.

Shaaban also said plans to “divide” Syria had failed, without elaborating.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which dominates the SDF, has for years controlled large parts of northeastern Syria.

Advances against Islamic State in its Raqqa stronghold and a new offensive in Deir al-Zor are bringing more territory under the control of the SDF

Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Gareth Jones


The Trouble with Turkey: Erdogan, ISIS, and the Kurds

by Michael J. Totten

World Affairs

Turkey, a key member of NATO, has so far chosen to sit out the war against ISIS. Instead, it is at war with Kurdish militias in Syria, the only ground forces so far that have managed to take on ISIS and win.

Turkey fears and loathes Kurdish independence anywhere in the world more than it fears and loathes anything else. Kurdish independence in Syria, from Ankara’s point of view, could at a minimum escalate a three-decades-long conflict and at worst threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity.

Kurds make up between 15 and 25 percent of Turkey’s population, but no one knows for sure because the government outlaws ethnic classification. Most live in the southeast near the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Many would like to secede and form an independent state of their own.

They could conceivably do it with enough help from the outside. They have a model in the Kurds in Iraq, who liberated themselves from Saddam Hussein after the first Persian Gulf War and have been independent in all but name ever since. The civil war in Syria has allowed the Kurds there to carve out a space of their own between ISIS and the Assad regime, which is what worries the Turks.

Turkey is a powerful state, but so was Saddam Hussein’s government. So was Bashar al-Assad’s before the rebellion broke out a few years ago.

ISIS is still the JV squad as far as Turkey is concerned, to use President Obama’s unfortunate formulation, but Kurdish armed forces have been trying to rip apart the country for decades and therefore Ankara has called in the varsity to deal with them.

Turkish nationalists insist everyone in their country is a Turk whether they like it and admit it or not. The Kurds, according to them, are not a separate people. Rather, they are “mountain Turks who lost their language.” But Turkish nationalism, like Arab nationalism, scarcely existed until the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, which expired at the end of World War I. And the truth is that Turkey, as the rump state of that multi-ethnic empire, is a mélange of different identities. With its Kurdish, Arab, Zaza, and Alevi minorities, it’s no more homogeneous than the rump state of the Soviet empire with the Tatars, Ingush, Sakha, Chechens, and other large numbers of non-Russian peoples on its periphery.

When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern republic in the ashes of World War I, Turkish nationalists attempted to unite everybody under a single identity for the sake of national unity and to prevent any more territorial loss, but the Kurds refused to join up because the Western powers had promised them a state of their own. To this day, they remain the largest stateless people on earth. Many feel far more kinship with their fellow Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria than with their nominal countrymen in Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire was loosely confederated, with a space for the Kurds, but modern Turkey was founded as a strong Western-style republic with a powerful center, and the Kurds were forcibly conquered, colonized, and integrated.

The government’s response to Kurdish nationalism was tantamount to attempted cultural genocide. Ethnic Kurds were forcibly relocated from the eastern parts of the country, while European Turks were moved to the Kurdish region in the farthest reaches of Anatolia. Even speaking the Kurdish language was forbidden in schools, government offices, and in public places until 1991. Simply saying “I am a Kurd” in Kurdish was a crime, and it’s still considered scandalous in official settings. In 2009, a Kurdish politician created a huge controversy by speaking just a few words of Kurdish in the nation’s Parliament building.

Despite the fervor of this repression, Turkey’s problem with its Kurdish minority is more political than ethnic. As Erik Meyersson at the Stockholm School of Economics put it, “It is less an inherent dislike for Kurds that drives state repression of this minority than the state’s fear for the institutional consequences and loss of centralized power.”

Beginning in 1984, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK—initially backed by the Soviet Union—has waged an on-again, off-again guerrilla and terrorist war against the Turkish state that has killed more than 45,000 people, according to government figures. That’s almost as many as Americans killed during the Vietnam War.

Most of the dead are Kurdish. The Turkish military dished out unspeakable punishment in the east of the country. Nine years ago, I drove from Istanbul to northern Iraq and was shocked to discover that Iraqi Kurdistan is a vastly more prosperous and pleasant place than bombed-out and repressed Turkish Kurdistan. Turkey was once seen as a semi-plausible candidate for the European Union, yet the Kurdish parts of Iraq—one of the most dysfunctional and broken countries on earth—were and are doing much better than the Kurdish region of Turkey.

From mid-2013 to mid-2015, the Turkish state and the PKK enjoyed a period of relative calm under a cease-fire, but in late July the army bombed PKK positions in northern Iraq, and the PKK in Turkey declared the cease-fire void. A wave of attacks against police stations swept over the country in August. An enduring peace between the two sides now seems as elusive as ever.

The Turkish establishment has been alarmed by the existence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq since the day it was founded and has repeatedly threatened to invade if it declares independence from Baghdad. (That may be the only reason the Iraqi Kurds haven’t yet done it.) And it’s doubly alarmed now that the Kurds of Syria have cobbled together their own autonomous region, which they call Rojava, while the Arabs of Syria fight a devastating civil war with each other. And the Turkish establishment is triply alarmed because the Kurdish militias in Syria—the YPG, or People’s Protection Units—are aligned with the PKK.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—like most of his ethnic Turkish countrymen—is terrified that an independent Syrian Kurdistan will help Turkish Kurdistan wage a revolutionary war against Ankara. Fairly or not, Erdogan sees Rojava much the way the Israelis see Hezbollah-occupied southern Lebanon.

Ideally the Syrian Kurds wouldn’t side with the PKK. The PKK has committed crimes in Turkey and is a willing belligerent in a long and terrible war. The Turks are not imagining this or making it up, and there is no shortage of Kurds elsewhere in the region who share Erdogan’s dim view of the PKK and its allies.

“They are very fanatic in their nationalism,” Abdullah Mohtadi told me in Iraqi Kurdistan years ago. He’s the head of the Komala Party, a formerly Communist left-liberal Iranian Kurdish group living in exile in Iraq. “They are very undemocratic in nature. They have no principles, no friendship, no contracts, no values. In the name of the Kurdish movement, they eliminate everybody.”

The United States, though, is backing the Syrian Kurds. We have to. They’re the only ground force capable of fighting ISIS and winning. The only other options in Syria are the repulsive Assad regime, Hezbollah, Sunni Islamists that will inevitably turn on the United States, the al-Qaeda–linked Nusra Front, and a handful of relatively moderate but irrelevant Sunni groups that have already effectively lost.

The Kurds are all that’s left.

And the Kurds are the most pro-American people in the entire Middle East. They’re more pro-American than the Israelis. Ideologically, yes, the PKK-aligned groups are a bit iffy. They were once Soviet proxies and they’re at war with a member of NATO. But the Turks share at least half of the blame for that conflict. Nowhere in the region will Kurdish people accept cultural genocide lying down. Surely they would have accepted help from the United States had it been offered during the Cold War, but it wasn’t, so they took largesse and ideology from the Russians instead.

For what it’s worth, though, the PKK is not what it used to be. The Soviet Union is dead, and a lot of the ideological Marxism its leaders once mouthed has been diluted over time to standard-issue leftism with a culturally conservative twist. The Kurds of Turkey and Syria are not struggling for the collectivization of agriculture. They are not interested in liquidating landlords or “the kulaks.” They certainly aren’t interested in imposing a police state in Ankara. First and foremost, they’re fighting against the fascists of ISIS, and second for Kurdish independence, a secular system of government, and equality between men and women. They detest the Islamic religion as much as far-right “Islamophobes” in America. Compared with just about everyone else in the region, they’re liberals.

Not in any alternate universe would the United States oppose these people right now. The Kurds of Iran and Iraq are more politically palatable, but you fight a proxy war with the proxies you have, and Americans will never find a better proxy in Syria against ISIS than the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.

Turkey, however, sees everything differently. Early this summer, Erdogan was enraged when Kurdish forces in Syria liberated the town of Tel Abyad from ISIS, and the Turkish military drew up a plan to invade Syria, not to fight ISIS but to set up a 30-kilometer-deep buffer zone to prevent the Syrian Kurds from controlling their own home country.

“We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.”

Ponder the ramifications of that hard-line assertion for a moment. Our NATO ally was enraged because ISIS lost territory and says it’s willing to invade Syria, not to fight ISIS, but to suppress American allies.

American foreign policy makers and analysts have been arguing for years which is worse, the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis or ISIS. Obviously they are both awful. ISIS is more likely to kill Americans at home and abroad, but Iran is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism. In Turkey, however, the argument is over whether ISIS or the Kurds is the greater evil.

Ankara doesn’t like ISIS. It has nothing in common with ISIS. But unlike the Kurds, ISIS hasn’t been at war with the Turkish government for the last 30 years. In that respect, ISIS is, from the Turks’ point of view, the lesser of two evils.

“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all [from Turkey],” a former ISIS communications technician told Newsweek, “because there was full cooperation with the Turks and they reassured us that nothing will happen . . . ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey.”

President Obama has complained that Turkey could do “more” to stop the influx of “militants” into Syria. Turkey certainly could! Turkey has a long border with Syria, but it’s sealed. I’ve driven alongside it. In some areas, there are minefields everywhere.

Turkey has a world-class army—the second-largest in NATO—and could obliterate ISIS from the face of the earth if it wanted. If the Kurdish People’s Protection Units can make headway into ISIS-held territory with just a ragtag militia, Turkey could liberate the Syrian population from Assad, Hezbollah, and ISIS simultaneously.

But for years Erdogan has been reluctant even to shore up that border.

“You should understand something,” a Turkish smuggler said to Jamie Dettmer of the Daily Beast. “It isn’t hard to cross into the caliphate [ISIS-held territory], but go further west or east into Kurdish territory, then it gets much harder to evade the Turkish military and cross the border. Even the birds can’t come from there; and our birds can’t go there.”

Turkey is not Iraq. It is 1,000 years ahead of Iraq. It is a serious and capable nation, the opposite of incompetent. It’s not an accident or a coincidence that ISIS has been able to replenish its ranks over the Turkish border while the Kurds couldn’t. If Erdogan can stop Kurds from crossing that border, he can stop ISIS from crossing that border. Refusing to do so was a choice.

He is not a state sponsor of terrorism. He is not championing ISIS, nor is he on side with them ideologically. He is not their patron or armorer. But he has spent years letting one of our worst enemies grow stronger while stomping on one of our best regional allies.

The United States has forged ugly alliances too, first in aligning itself with the Soviet Union against the Nazis and then by backing Latin American military dictatorships to prevent Communism from spreading in the Western Hemisphere beyond Cuba and Nicaragua. The United States also sided with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.

Later, however, we reversed every one of these odious alliances.

President Truman collaborated with Stalin against Hitler, but he immediately shifted into a Cold War stance against Russia after the Nazis were finished. Washington’s support for Latin America’s generalissimos collapsed completely after the crack-up of the Soviet Union. The American invasion of Panama to topple Manuel Noriega was planned mere days after the Berlin Wall fell and executed the following month. South America’s oppressive regimes then fell like dominoes. In 2002, the United States demolished Saddam Hussein’s government entirely.

Turkey could likewise reverse itself on ISIS. Turkey doesn’t have to like the PKK or any other Kurdish independence movement. That is impossible. All that needs to happen is a recognition in Ankara that ISIS threatens Turkey’s interests and security more than the PKK does.

Optimism is rarely rewarded in this region, but there are some indications that an attitude adjustment in Turkey may be under way.

In July, the government finally rounded up hundreds of ISIS members and sent them to prison. It’s hard to say for sure what went through Ankara’s collective head. Maybe the government only arrested ISIS members to get Western critics off its back. Or perhaps the government finally woke up to the fact that ISIS, unlike the Kurds, is a threat to the entire human race. Maybe Turkey figured it could fight both at once.

Just a few days later, a suicide bomber killed 28 people at a meeting of pro-Kurdish groups in the Turkish city of Suruc, just across the Syrian border from the Kurdish city of Kobane, which ISIS fought for and lost last year. No one claimed responsibility, but it was almost certainly ISIS. Who else would want to strike Turkey and the Kurds simultaneously?

The Kurdish militias are the toughest foes ISIS has yet faced anywhere. Attacking them in Suruc was its way of telling the Kurds that they’re unsafe even outside Syria and Iraq. At the same time, ISIS sent a message to Turkey. “We don’t want to fight you at the moment. Our war is in Syria. But we can strike inside your country whenever we want, so back off.”

Turkey would have united against ISIS if ethnic Turks had been killed, but killing Kurds in Turkey did not inspire an immediate response.

“Witnessing the controversy in Turkish public opinion after the attack,” Turkish analyst Metin Gurcan wrote in Al-Monitor, “and seeing that the political elites could not even come up with a message of unity against such an attack—one has to admit that the attack has served its purpose.”

A few days later, the Turkish government finally allowed the United States to use Incirlik Air Base, just 70 miles from the Syrian border, to launch airstrikes over ISIS-held territory—but only if US airpower is not used to support Kurdish militias. So Turkey is sort of coming around, but not really.

Ankara’s only long-term solution to this conundrum is peace with the Kurds. They aren’t going anywhere. They will want out of Turkey, out of Syria, out of Iraq, and out of Iran as long as those countries treat them like second-class citizens or worse.

The good news for Turkey—if the Turks ever wise up enough to figure this out—is that the Kurds are the easiest people in the entire Middle East to make friends with. Americans have managed to do so almost effortlessly. So have the Israelis. That’s saying something in that part of the world. The PKK may be intransigent, but if reasonable Kurdish grievances were addressed—including Turkey’s hostility toward besieged Kurds in Syria—then support for the PKK in Turkey would likely evaporate.

Making friends with ISIS, however, is impossible.

In their book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan make a compelling case that “the army of terror will be with us indefinitely.” President Obama agrees. The war against ISIS, he said at the Pentagon in early July, could take decades. President George W. Bush said more or less the same thing about al-Qaeda, and ISIS is simply al-Qaeda in Iraq under new management.

Decades is an awfully long time for a genocidal terrorist state to exist anywhere, and decades is an awfully long time for a NATO ally to support it even indirectly by refusing to act. Turkey cannot continue to do so indefinitely. ISIS probably won’t let it: it is violently opposed to everyone in the human race aside from itself—but at the same time we should never underestimate the stubborn refusal of the Turks to work out their differences with the Kurds.

NATO was formed as an anti-Russian bulwark during the Cold War, and ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union many have wondered if the alliance has outlived its usefulness. That question has been put to bed to an extent with Russian malfeasance in Georgia and Ukraine, but if Turkey doesn’t fully reverse itself on ISIS at some point, its membership in NATO will clearly become a vestige of an era that expired a long time ago.

Diplomats and heads of state are often the last to notice tectonic geopolitical shifts. They’ve spent years, even decades, forming relationships with their foreign counterparts. Institutions are cumbersome, bureaucratic, and slow. They cruise on inertia. They have invested so much for so long. But we are where we are.

If the Turks don’t eventually reverse themselves fully, the White House, Congress, the State Department, and our genuine allies in NATO will have little choice but to ensure that Turkey is treated accordingly.


Israel’s Foreign Agents Don’t Register, Why Should Russia’s?

Can Russia Use Israel Lobby Tactics To Skirt FARA Order?

September 16, 2017

by Grant Smith


The Department of Justice has ordered Russia’s U.S.-based RT news network to begin registering as Russian foreign agents under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law requires US-based agents of foreign principals to disclose financial information and activities in regular public filings overseen by a designated DOJ office. Over the years FARA has been amended to exclude bona fide news organizations. The Department of Justice order breaks a long period of unfettered access to the U.S. by foreign press agencies, many directly and indirectly financed by foreign governments.

Although RTs viewership in the United States is minuscule compared to major domestic broadcast and cable news outlets, over the years RT has made many enemies in Washington. The network’s slogan, “Question More,” and financial resources allowed it to televise stories that US networks, under the perpetual threat of loss of “access” to newsmakers, boycotts and organized pressure campaigns, cannot. Nowhere was this more evident than RT’s relentless coverage of Israel and its US lobby. RT covered Benjamin Netanyahu’s connection to the Arnon Milchan nuclear trigger smuggling ring, the diversion of weapons grade uranium from a toxic plant in Pennsylvania to Israel, and details of a massive Israeli-lobby orchestrated propaganda campaign in the United States. A FARA order could mean RT’s departure from the American scene. This could reduce the number of news packages on topics prohibited in America – located in the triple-digit channel nether-region of the cable lineup, but archived and well-viewed online with 2.2 million YouTube subscribers – to zero.

With new scrutiny of Russian activities following allegations of meddling in the U.S. electoral process, the FARA order should come as no surprise. The Department of Justice can be expected to deploy resources far in excess of the meager 9-person team working in the FARA department in order to finally “get Russia.” However, RT could attempt to use the tactics of another FARA target – the Israel lobby – to avoid registering.

  1. Delay, delay, delay The American Zionist Council (and AIPAC, which was AZC’s unincorporated lobbying committee) were ordered by the Kennedy administration to register in 1962. This followed a massive propaganda campaign targeting congress and the American public funded with foreign money aimed at winning unconditional foreign aid and diplomatic support for Israel. AZC strung along the Department of Justice until 1965, long enough to orchestrate a paper “restructuring” of its operations that led to the incorporation of AIPAC as a separate entity.

2.Politically pressure DOJ and political elites into a special exemption Whether trying to avoid an espionage prosecution (like the Anti-Defamation League) or ignoring seven separate orders to register under FARA (like the Zionist Organization of America), sometimes it takes a visit with the Attorney General himself (or in the case of Janet Reno, herself). ZOA was ordered to register in 1938 as a subsidiary and “subject to the direction” of the World Zionist Organization. Like AIPAC, it strung along the enforcement process, in its case until 1960. The registration effort was serious. An internal DOJ memo ten years into the lengthy effort noted, “…if ZOA is to be exempted from registration, DOJ might as well forget its entire campaign…” However, Justice Department employees began detecting political push-back, (PDF) “..the pressure was on somewhere in the government… it would be unwise to do anything further…under the circumstances do not desire for the moment to write to the Zionist Organization of America…” Multiple Israel affinity organizations ordered to register simultaneously refused to comply with FARA orders, citing a “certain high official in the Department of Justice” had assured them that (PDF) “the Department would not require any Zionist group to register and need not fear prosecution.”

3.Clarify that Russia is not the Soviet Union Early in the drive to register AZC/AIPAC as foreign agents, their lead lawyer made an appeal for “prosecutorial discretion.” Maurice Boukstein argued that the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act had been crafted to target and expose Nazi and Soviet propaganda efforts in the United States. “While the language, of course, comprehends everybody,” lobbying for Israel should not be treated the same, he argued. RT, like advocates coordinating with and on behalf of Israel, could similarly argue that the Soviet Union is dead and gone, and that Russia now only wants to be friends.

4.Reconstitute The Jewish Agency’s American Section, which had funneled millions of foreign funds into AZC/AIPAC, faced a FARA order that seemed unbeatable. The Jewish Agency’s direct ties to the Israeli government and Knesset were exposed in 1969 when the Jewish Agency was ordered by the DOJ to file its secret 1953 covenant agreement. After a 1970 Justice Department review, the American Section of the Jewish Agency filed its final FARA disclosure in 1971. It then “reemerged” three months later, claiming to be the American Section of the World Zionist Organization, an entity with no Israeli government covenant. The Department of Justice, noting that the physical address, leadership, staff, and functions of the “new” entity had not changed, labeled the reconstitution “sketchy,” but did nothing. Meanwhile, overseas, the Jewish Agency continued to funnel support to its US agents. Dennis Ross served as Chairman of the Jewish Agency’s “Jewish People Planning Institute” in Jerusalem until entering the Obama administration to head-up the fatally flawed “peace process” in 2009.

  1. Volunteer to spy for the CIA and FBI In the 1940s and 1950s the Jewish Telegraphic Agency came under heavy scrutiny to file as a foreign agent by the FBI and Department of Justice. An internal 1950s DOJ report found that, “The Israeli Government, which is seriously short of dollar credits, is supposed to be underwriting the operations of JTA to the extent of $5,000 per month…” The JTA was never ordered to register, and it is unclear whether it was JTA’s intense efforts to ingratiate itself with the FBI that finally provided the leniency it needed. In 1942 the head of JTA proposed the FBI pay $540 per month to leverage JTA’s network of correspondents in Latin America as an intelligence gathering service. To bolster the appeal of the offer, the proposal noted that the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) was already paying $300 per month for similar services. In 1950 JTA’s Milton Friedman volunteered to spy on the Soviet Union using his JTA press credential as non-official cover. JTA also offered to spy on Ukrainians residing in the United States.

Ultimately, RT may find it does not have the required number of sympathizers inside and outside the US government, the requisite moral character, or enough money to pull off such FARA avoidance shenanigans. However, the RT FARA order may reignite broader American interest in the selectivity with which FARA is enforced. The key question has long been, “if Israel’s foreign agents working tirelessly to influence the government and public opinion aren’t registering, why should anyone?”


Pop Culture is Far Ahead of Washington When it Comes to Monopoly Politics

September 16 2017

by David Dayen

The Intercept

In best-selling author James Patterson’s latest novel The Store, a writer and his family go undercover to write the exposé of the century, about a dominant corporation that insinuates its way into people’s lives, homogenizing society under its vision. It’s a website that initially sold books and then branched out to providing other goods and services.

Patterson calls it TheStore.com. But we all know what he’s referring to.

“I think people are interested because everybody is using these sites, including Amazon,” said Patterson in an interview. “Most people find them interesting and some find them troubling.”

Often, people hold both views at the same time, and that internal conflict makes them ripe for pop-culture interrogation. Popular entertainment habitually reflects the preoccupations of society. After the financial crisis, a wave of books and films presented financiers as amoral villains: The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street, George Clooney’s Money Monster, even Oliver Stone’s long-awaited follow-up to Wall Street. But the national mood has shifted. America has become more wary of Silicon Valley, and political movements on the left and right have turned against it. And these concerns have propelled a diverse set of narratives, from thrillers to comedies to animated features.

While lacking coherence, this trend may prove more impactful than the recent political focus on giant tech platforms. When Slate’s Franklin Foer or USC’s Jonathan Taplin write well-received books warning about tech monopolies, it serves an important public policy function. When conservative voices call for Google to be regulated as a public utility, it creates space for a trans-partisan alliance on weakening the power of the tech titans. When a Google-funded think tank fires researchers critical of Google, it raises questions about who truly controls the flow of information in our democracy.

But when a transparent facsimile of Amazon or Facebook or Google pops up in the movie you’ve devoted Friday night to watching, it attracts a wider audience and can distill more recognizable fears.

Take Storks, the 2016 animated comedy about what happens after Internet retailer Cornerstore.com transforms the legend of storks manufacturing and delivering babies into a package-delivery service headquartered at a giant fulfillment center atop a mountain. The Amazon warehouse worker drudgery sits in the background of a larger narrative about parenthood and following your destiny, but in the end the protagonist, a stork named Junior, rallies his comrades to free themselves from the mildly oppressive Cornerstore, and return storks to their true mission in life.

“It just seemed culturally like what would resonate,” said writer and co-director Nicholas Stoller, best known for Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the Neighbors films. “When I thought of big business, eight years ago I would be making fun of Walmart. Now it’s Amazon.”

Stoller’s brother Matt was actually one of the monopoly policy researchers fired by the Google-funded New America Foundation. Nick Stoller uses Amazon “constantly” and Storks isn’t really a biting commentary. But just the fact that Amazon has such a dominant position culturally that something resembling it can easily slide into a kids’ movie is a commentary in itself.

In Patterson’s The Store, a modern horror/suspense story, an all-knowing corporation monitors its workers and customers so completely that nobody can escape its grip. In another age, a law office served as the faceless panopticon in John Grisham’s similarly constructed The Firm. Today the stock villain is clearly an Amazon stand-in.

Author James Patterson has been outspoken about Amazon in the past; his publisher Hachette waged a high-profile battle with the website over e-book pricing. Patterson believes that Amazon wants to control shopping in America, and publishers’ need to grab attention in the only book marketplace that matters has narrowed what the public sees in print. “With the squeeze on publishers, they have less time and inclination to say, I have this big whale Infinite Jest,” Patterson said. “Ten years ago they would have bought it, but who’s going to buy it now?”

The Store, whose hero is knowingly named Jacob Brandeis (Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was one of the biggest critics of monopolies in the Progressive Era), envisions a paternalistic online retailer that controls what people desire and how they live. Some become so addicted to the convenience that they drop out of society, just sitting at home waiting for drone deliveries. Executives connive with lawmakers to shutter libraries, supply free tablets for schools (with software that can only access The Store), and abolish sales tax for Internet purchases. Warehouse workers are afraid to speak out, and those that do get transferred to a high-tech version of a re-education camp.

The dangers of a dominant Internet platform that exploits endless surveillance also overlays The Circle, a Tom Hanks-helmed thriller based on the book by David Eggers, about a company that’s a kind of hybrid of Facebook and Amazon. Silicon Valley, HBO’s lacerating satire of tech business culture, mines the industry’s utopian self-image for absurdity. The downsides of the openness of social media come forward in the black comedy Ingrid Goes West and the schlock horror film Friend Request.

Ultimately, artists are trying to entertain. And tech leaders’ ambition to transform human behavior, and their uncritical belief in the benefits of their radical interventions, lends itself to satirical or even skeptical treatment. “This is the era of megalomaniacs, people who think they know better than all of us about everything,” said Patterson.

But The Store’s narrative culminates with a lesson that artistic output can create awareness and even social change. Perhaps that’s one reason tech giants have felt compelled to try to control that as well, by dumping billions into creating video content. Sure, must-see programs can capture user attention, and websites can charge more for video advertising. But Apple and Amazon wouldn’t be fighting over the James Bond franchise if they didn’t recognize the importance of popular culture.

In the modern age fiction doesn’t often make such overt political appeals; the muckraking of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle has given way to comedy talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. “What entertainment can do is open people’s eyes to a different experience,” said Nick Stoller. “It’s very hard to do that with business. The show Transparent changed the entire dialogue about transgendered people. Something like income inequality, it’s harder because it becomes more impersonal.”

The constant presence of Silicon Valley as a foil in so many different narrative treatments, however, reveals common concerns. “The notion of monopolies in this country, I think people are frightened by that idea,” Patterson said. “They’re frightened by all of us getting controlled by the machine someday.” If you can mark a country by its popular culture, then today the culture is practically shouting that we need to tackle the tech industry’s concentrated power.


Top Trump officials signal US could stay in Paris climate agreement

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster both indicated the US is open to negotiations on staying in the accord

September 17,  2017

by Joanna Walters in New York

The Guardian

Senior Trump administration officials on Sunday signalled a further softening of America’s resolve to leave the Paris climate accord, amid signs that the issue will be discussed at the United Nations general assembly in New York this week.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster both indicated that the US is open to negotiations on staying in the landmark international agreement to limit mankind’s role in global warming.

Donald Trump announced the withdrawal from the deal in June, leaving the US with only Syria and Nicaragua for company outside the global agreement. A US withdrawal from a deal made under the Obama administration was a Trump campaign pledge. The rules of the pact do not, however, allow the US to physically pull out until 2020.

On Saturday the White House denied reports that it planned to remain in the agreement, saying its position on leaving was unchanged and that it would only stay in if it got more “favourable” terms.

Although Tillerson and McMaster reiterated that the US wants a better deal, their willingness to talk about potential discussions on remaining in the accord was in striking contrast to the hostile tone taken by Trump on the issue and America’s previous position: that it planned to leave first and negotiate later.

“The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” Tillerson told CBS’s Face the Nation.

Tillerson said Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, was overseeing policy discussions for the White House.

“So I think the plan is for Director Cohn to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris climate accord. We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”

The Trump administration was forced to issue its statement on Saturday after reports emerged from ministerial talks in Montreal, involving more than 30 countries and held in preparation for the next UN climate summit, in Bonn in November.

Citing the European Union climate commissioner, Miguel Cañete, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump officials had said they would not pull out of the Paris accord and were offering to re-engage.

Jochen Flasbarth, the German environment ministry state secretary who attended the Montreal meeting, disputed the accuracy of the report, saying in a statement emailed to the Guardian: “This is obviously a misunderstanding. The head of the US delegation did not imply that the US would reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

“However, the Montreal talks were constructive and showed that the US administration does not want to cut all ties with the international climate community.”

McMaster said on ABC’s This Week it was possible the US would stay in the accord “if there’s an agreement that benefits the American people, certainly”.

“The president is open to any discussions that will help us improve the environment,” he said, “that will help ensure our energy security and will advance out prosperity and the prosperity of American businesses and American workers.”

Flasbarth said: “The Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated. National pledges can be updated but not weakened. After all, current pledges are not sufficient to limit global warming to 2C, let alone 1.5C.”

The accord was reached in 2015, after many years of trying. Negotiators cheered and wept as more than 200 countries including the US and China pledged to limit emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Tillerson said that according to Trump, “we are willing to work with partners if we can construct a set of terms that we believe is fair and balanced for the American people.” He said the accord gave too much favour to China, but said the president was open to “finding the right conditions”.

The apparent switch to diplomacy from such prominent White House officials could signal that Trump is retreating from his hardline course on climate change, which he famously called “a hoax”.

Staying in the Paris would deal would also be another reversal on a signature policy issue. In recent weeks, Trump has secured a deal with Democratic leaders over the debt ceiling and government funding and indicated he is open to working across the aisle on immigration. Such moves are not popular with the hard-right Republican base that sustains a president with historically low approval ratings.

McMaster, who said the Paris accord “gave the biggest polluters a free ride”, said Trump had said the US would pull out of the accord but could re-enter if conditions were favourable.


Putin to watch parachute drop, part of war games that have rattled West

September 18, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin arrived at a remote army training ground on Monday to watch a military parachute drop, part of Russia’s biggest war games since 2013 that have the West looking on nervously.

NATO officials say they are watching the “Zapad-2017” (“West-2017”) war games with “calm and confidence”, but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West. Russia says the exercise is rehearsing a purely defensive scenario.

The Russian Defence Ministry said Monday’s parachute drop, at a military facility in the Leningrad region, would see 450 paratroopers and nine armored vehicles dropped from military transport planes, a show of military might that is likely to be heavily covered on state TV.

Putin, commander-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces, has often appeared at such events in the past, using them to bolster his image among Russians as a robust defender of the country’s national interests on the world stage.

The Russian leader, 64, has not yet said whether he will run for what would be a fourth presidential term in March, but is widely expected to do so.

Once the paratroopers and their vehicles have landed behind the lines of their simulated enemy, their task will be to wage war against what the defense ministry in a statement called “illegal armed formations” and to destroy their opponents’ vital infrastructure and command centers.

The over-arching Zapad war games run to Sept. 20 and are taking place in Belarus, western Russia and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad.

Moscow says almost 13,000 Russian and Belarussian service personnel are taking part, as well as around 70 planes and helicopters. Almost 700 pieces of military hardware are being deployed, including almost 250 tanks, 10 ships and various artillery and rocket systems.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Janet Lawrence


Faked Conspiracy Photos

by Robert D. Fiete, ITT Industries


Like it or not, fake images are everywhere and have become a part of today’s culture. Thanks to the popularity of digital cameras and the availability of desktop imaging software that allows users to easily manipulate images, fake images have become commonplace, especially on the Internet. We see many images that defy common sense and it is natural for us to question the authenticity of these images. Most of have seen images that are obvious fakes, such as the 80-foot grasshopper climbing the Empire State Building, but we naturally assume that these images are fake and know that they were created simply for our amusement. Unfortunately there are too many times when a fake image has been created but it is advertised as real, challenging us to decide for ourselves whether the image is real of fake.

A fake image can be defined as an image of an object or scene that wasn’t captured as the image would imply. In general, fake images are created to generate a deception, but not all fake images are bad. The motivation may be simply for harmless entertainment, which accounts for most fake images generated today. Fake images can be generated for research and development purposes, e.g. to understand image quality issues with different camera designs. The fake images that concern us most are those that are created to perpetuate a lie. Some people will generate fake images for profit, such as a picture of an alien, a ghost, or an alien ghost of Elvis that they can then sell to a tabloid. Probably the most dangerous motive for generating fake images is to alter the public’s perception of truth for political reasons. It would be nice a reliable method existed for determining if an image is real or fake, but unfortunately none exists. We can hope to catch most of the fake images, however, if we understand how fake image are made and what characteristics to look for.

Creating Fake Images

Although generating fake images historically originated with darkroom tricks, today almost every fake image is made using a computer. Even though it is getting more difficult to discern a real image from a fake image as image processing software improves, image analysis can still be used to detect traits that can expose many of them as fakes. To understand how fake images can be detected we must first understand how they can be made on computers. The two most common methods today for generating fake images are to “paint” a new image outright or to alter an existing image that has be

A digital image is essentially a grid of numbers, where each number represents the brightness of each picture element, or pixel, in the image (An 8-bit image can have 28=256 gray-level values, with a value of 0 representing black and a value of 255 representing white. A color image is made by combining a red image, a green image, and a blue image. Adding together different gray-level values from the red, green, and blue image produces the various color values.

Since a digital image is simply a grid of numbers, it is conceivable for an artist to create a computer-generated image by “painting” a grid of numbers to represent any object or scene that could be captured with a digital camera. For a 24-bit color image composed of an 8-bit red, green, and blue image, there are almost 17 million possible colors for each pixel. A 4″x6″ image at 300 dpi (dots per inch) will have over 2 million pixels, thus there are over 36 thousand billion numbers that can be considered to make the color digital image. Realistically all of the possible numbers do not need to be considered by the artist, but serious thought does need to be put into the values that will be used, especially when illumination and edges are considered. If the computer generated image is to look like a real photograph, then the image must be consistent with all of the laws of physics applicable to generating a real image.

Many of the classic painters, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, had an amazing talent to incorporate the proper shading, texture, tone, and color into their paintings that were consistent with the real world thus adding an amazing amount of realism to their work. However, their paintings do not look like modern photographs because they do not contain sufficient detail to match all of the physical properties associated with photographic imaging. (Actually, most artists probably would have been quite unhappy if their works of art looked like a modern photograph.)

In order to create a digital image that looks like a real photograph, the correct brightness values must be determined on a pixel-by-pixel basis to match the physical imaging properties, which could take months to years, depending on the image size, without the aid of computer software to perform the calculation. This problem was solved with the development of computer graphics software, designed to generate images of 3D objects with realistic illumination conditions. A rendering operation adds lighting, shading, colors, and texture to a mesh form of the object that is created by the artist. Ray tracing models produce the best quality by projecting many rays of light and modeling all of the physical qualities between the light and the objects in the scene, including reflection, refraction, transmission, scattering, absorption, and diffraction. The artist must simulate enough rays of light to cover every pixel in the image, which can be very time consuming if many rays of light are used. We have all seen the impressive results of computer animation in many feature films, creating dinosaurs or aliens that come to life on the screen. However, generating impressive detail in fake images using computer graphics, especially in a movie sequence, is still very difficult due to the complex calculations that need to be performed and the software is not accessible to the average PC user.

The most common method of generating a fake image, due to its simplicity, is to alter an existing image that was captured by a camera. The image can be altered by changing the context of the image, such as claiming that an actual image of a lampshade is actually an image of alien spaceship, or the image can be altered by changing the content of the image, such as superimposing an image of a cow onto an image of the moon

Creating a fake image by altering the context of an image has historically been the preferred method for creating hoaxes because it requires no alterations and the image is an actual image captured by a camera; hence the image, and the film negative if it exists, will pass the scrutiny of scientific tests. A famous example of a faked image by altering the context is the “Surgeon’s Photo” taken in 1934 by Robert Wilson who claimed it was a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster The image fooled many experts until an accomplice confessed in 1994 that the monster was nothing more than a toy submarine with the model of a serpent head attached.

The Cottingley Hoax is another example of fake images created by altering the context In 1917 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths took photographs of winged fairies near their home in England. Inspection of the images showed no alterations and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for creating the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, deemed them authentic. Sixty years later the girls admitted that the fairies were paper cutouts held in place with hat pins.

Altering the content of an existing image most likely originated when early photographers were compelled to touch up the photographs of their paying customers to remove wrinkles and blemishes. Many people in the 19th century were accustomed to having flattering portraits painted of them and were not very tolerant at seeing the way they looked to the camera, which could not tell a lie. As dark room processes advanced, adding and removing people from images became a standard trick. When photographers were unable to get an entire family together for a family portrait, they would set up the subjects such that the missing individuals could be added at a later time (see Figure 5). Altering images became routine for many political regimes in the 20th century, especially for propaganda. It was not uncommon for some governments to remove people from historic photographs when these people fell out of favor with the ruling party.

Today, altering the content of an image does not require dark room tricks but merely a PC with image editing software. Desktop software is readily available and easy to use, allowing anyone to quickly and creatively alter images. The easiest approach is to simply cut a section from one image and embed it into another image (see Figure 6). The desktop software allows the creator to modify the extracted image to the appropriate size and rotation. The software on the market today is so easy to use that that pre-school children have little difficulty creating impressive altered images.

Identifying Fake Images

If an image is deemed suspicious, then we can first look for clues by visual inspection and then proceed with scientific inspection if necessary. The first line of defense for detecting a possible fake image is our own perception. We have a keen ability to sense that something is wrong with an image and trusting our common sense works most of the time. If an image looks unbelievable, then it probably is unbelievable and is a fake If an image looks real and similar images are easily obtained, then it probably is real since there would be no motive to warrant the time and effort to create the fake image. Unfortunately life isn’t that simple. There are examples of fake images that we believe are real because they do not draw suspicion (see Figure 8) and there are examples of unbelievable images that are in fact real images. These real but unbelievable images are the ones that fascinate us but also make it harder to discount the images that we suspect are fake. Images that we believe to be real but are in fact fake are bothersome because they unfairly manipulate our sense of truth.

Using computer animation software to create a fake image works well in movies but generally does not fool the public when used to pass off a fake image as real. Our perception is very sensitive to subtle details in the composure and texture of objects in an image, especially when viewing images of people. Most computer-generated scenes, especially those involving people or animals, have a “cartoon look” about them when scrutinized. People generally look like mannequins and subtle details are missing. Images that circulated on the Internet claiming to be actual satellite images of the space shuttle Columbia exploding in space could easily be recognized as the work of computer animation when viewed closely (see Figure 9). The ability to generate realistic computer generated people is improving dramatically over time as software technology and mathematical models progress.

A fake image created by altering the context is the hardest to positively identify as fake since the image is real and will pass scientific tests on the validity of the image itself. Most fake UFO images cannot be immediately discounted as fake because they are indeed real photographs of objects that the viewer cannot properly identify, leaving the image subject to interpretation. The key to identifying a fake image when the context is altered is to identify aspects of the image that are inconsistent with the image description, i.e. catch the perpetrator in a lie. For example, the time and date claimed may be inconsistent with the sun’s position or the known weather conditions for that date.

Photographs published in 1932 reportedly showing scenes from WWI dogfights were amazing due to their sharpness and clarity. But the amazing clarity was a clue that the images were probably fake because they appeared too sharp given the relatively long exposures required from cameras at the time and the amount of motion and vibration on the airplane. The images were not proven to be fakes until 1984 when the model airplanes used in the images were discovered.

When the image content has been altered, we focus on the aspect of the image that makes the image unbelievable. Images that have had their content altered will usually have physical inconsistencies in the image that may be apparent under visual inspection. Unfortunately, these inconsistencies are not always apparent in the image and the image may not be proven to be fake until the original unaltered image is discovered

The physical traits of the image that can be assessed include the illumination conditions, edge sharpness, resolution, tone, relative scale, and noise characteristics. Many of the computer animated scenes created for movies and electronic games do not adhere to the laws of physics, but this is usually intentional to save cost and to make the scenes more entertaining.

A common inconsistency found when the image content is altered is the mismatch of radiometric or illumination conditions between the altered part and the rest of the image. The altered part of the image may have shadowing that is not consistent; indicating that is was illuminated under different conditions from rest of the image. This is commonly seen when an object captured at one time of the day is added to an image that was captured at a different time of the day. Also, the light illuminating the altered part may not be consistent with the diffuse or specular light illuminating the rest of the scene. This effect is commonly seen when an object captured with a photographic flash is added to an image that was acquired with outdoor or studio lighting. Color, contrast, and tone will also vary for different illumination conditions, thus creating a mismatch of these characteristics between different images

An image claiming to be a satellite image of the Northeast blackout in 2003 circulated on the Internet shortly after the blackout occurred The image was quickly identified as a fake because the blackout area is pure black compared to the other areas with no light sources. Other clues to this deception include the false satellite name, the unlikely lack of clouds anywhere over North and Central America, and the fact that the blackout was not total over the Northeast. The original image is a composite of many DMSP satellite images acquired between 1994 and 1995

One must be very careful when analyzing the illumination characteristics of the scene. The shadows and illumination conditions can be misleading, especially if the three-dimensional aspects of the scene are not taken into account. The Apollo 11 moon landing images appear to contain “anomalies” that some people use to argue that the moon landing was staged in a studio. These “anomalies” include shadows on the lunar surface that are not parallel and objects that appear illuminated even though they are in the shadows, both suggesting that there were light sources other than the sun, as well as the lack of stars in the black sky, suggesting that a black back-drop was used on a studio set. Of course, all of these so-called anomalies are exactly what we expect to see in the images if we truly understand the imaging conditions on the lunar surface. The shadows are not parallel as seen in the images because the lunar surface is not flat and the objects are not necessarily parallel to one another in height, the shadows are illuminated from the light scattering off of the lunar surface, and the stars do not appear in the images because the camera exposure was set for the brightness of the lunar surface.

Creators of fake images usually ignore the known physical properties of creating an image with a camera. The most significant camera effects are edge sharpness, influenced by the lens diffraction, focus, and motion blur; perspective geometry; and noise properties, usually from the detector and compression. Computer animated images are usually created without any camera effects since this will degrade the image quality and make the images less appealing to the audience. This, however, results in images that are physically impossible to capture with a camera in the real world.

When an object is added or deleted from an image, an edge is usually created that has a sharpness that is inconsistent with the rest of the image. Even an in-focus image will exhibit some blurring due to the diffraction of light from the camera aperture. The behavior of the blurring in the image is well understood and can be mathematically modeled if the camera design is known. Even if the camera design is not known, measurements within the image can produce a relatively accurate mathematical model of the camera that can provide reasonable predictions. Cutting an object from one image and inserting it into another image will create a sharp edge at the boundary of the inserted object that is sharper than physically possible. This sharpness is easily seen and creates an obvious sign that the image has been altered, so smudging tools in image processing software are usually used to reduce the visibility of these edges This smudging, however, will usually produce blurred edges around the object that are inconsistent with the rest of the image.

Most images will exhibit some amount of noise, primarily from the detector or from the image compression that was applied. The noise characteristics of an altered portion of an image can be inconsistent with the rest of the image. Magnifying digital images will generally exhibit graininess due to the detector noise and artifacts from the compression algorithm, depending on the level of compression. When images have been altered, the creator usually blurs the edges or other portions of the image to blend in the object, but this changes the noise characteristics, allowing the alteration to be detected

Finally, an understanding of how image processing alters the image characteristics can lead to signs of alteration. For example, when the image contrast is enhanced, the resulting gray-level histogram of the image will usually display “holes” or gray-level values that contain are no longer present in the image. An object from one image that is inserted into a second image may exhibit a different histogram that will indicate that it was not originally part of the second image. However, if an image has been enhanced using an adaptive processing algorithm, then the image characteristics, such as the gray-level histogram or the edge sharpness, can change locally even though no other alteration have been made. Adaptive processing should not be used on real images if the integrity of the image is to be preserved. Unfortunately, if the image is processed after the alteration has been made, such as compressing the image, then the holes in the histogram may be filled in and the histogram will no longer look suspicious

The Difficulty of Detecting Fake Images

Most of the people generating fake images know little or nothing about the physics of the image chain, yet lots of fake images fool us because they seem to have properties that are consistent with real images. How is this possible? Images with altered context are actual images; hence image analysis will not show that the image itself is inconsistent with physics, only that the perpetrator is being untruthful. Images with altered content will usually show signs of alteration if the image is created quickly and carelessly. The anomalies created in an altered image can be reduced by having an understanding of the imaging chain properties and taking the time and effort to ensure that the entire image is consistent at the pixel level, but this is rarely performed due to the knowledge and time required.

The simplest method to reduce the detection of the anomalies in an altered image is to degrade the quality of the image of the alteration. The most common methods are blurring the edges, adding random noise, reducing the size of the image, or compressing the image, all of which will cover up telltale signs of the manipulation. Many fake images have such poor quality that accurate measurements cannot be made to determine if inconsistencies exist. Admittedly, most creators of fake images do not reduce the quality with the intent of making image analysis more difficult, but instead reduce the quality by resizing and compressing the image simply to reduce the file size. However, reducing the image quality to hide the inconsistencies may reduce the impact that the creator of the altered image had hoped for. For example, inconsistent edge blurring can be reduced in altered images if the image is sub-sampled to a smaller size, but this could lead to unsatisfactory aliasing artifacts.

Image steganography offers a method for embedding hidden information into an image. Information pertaining to the unaltered image can be encoded and embedded into the image such that it is not visible. The information can also be encrypted, requiring a key to decode the embedded information so that unauthorized users cannot alter the information. The embedded information can withstand most alterations and processing such as scale, rotation, compression, and cropping. As an example, an edge map of the image can be created, encoded, and embedded into the image itself. If an image is suspected of being altered, then the embedded information can be extracted using the key and compared to the image. Any differences between the edge map of the current image and the edge map embedded in the image can prove if the image was altered

Although image analysis tools can help detect many fake images, currently there is no way to stop somebody from spending the time and resources to make a fake image that is not detectible. All one can do is hope that an inconsistency can be found, thus indicating that the image is fake. Methods currently being developed, such as image stenography and control coding in printers, can aid in the prevention and detection of altered images that are passed off as real images. Two great references for checking the authenticity of images being distributed on the Internet are The Museum of Hoaxes and Urban Legends Reference Pages. For further reading on fake images, a good reference is Photo Fakery, by Dino Brugioni.


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