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TBR News September 19, 2016

Sep 19 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  September 19, 2016:” In the Ukrainian city of Lvov is a located a computer site nicknamed the ‘Daisy Chain.’ This is a terrible pedophile site that depicte sado-masochistic sexual attacks on very small children. It is a site that is very popular with many sick people and eventually, the Russians, who have superior internet proficiency, got wind of it. The Russians are not happy with such degeneracy and they broke into the site and extracted the names, email addresses and other material of the viewers. Since a large number of these are American, the Russians made no effort to shut the sick site down but they now have a great deal of potetentially explosive information of many prominent Americans including top government officials, figures in the CIA and the FBI, the Federal Reserve, leaders in the banking profession and many political and business figures. What will they do with this? If it were turned over to the government, it would vanish like the Panama offshore business. No wonder Hillary and her people are screaming about evil Russians. They have enough dirt on her and her supporters to get them lynched by disgusted Americans. Will these names and secret email addresses be released? Does the sun rise in the east? Someone recently told me some of the names and I advised them not to have any personal connection with any of this because when Kennedy threatened to break up the CIA, they killed him. What fits here is Galatians 6:7. Look it up.”

America, the Helpless ‘Superpower’

There is no security at the top of the world

September 19, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


The year was 1955, the dawn of the cold war, and an old prophet was writing what would be his last book. It was a volume of history – The American Story, he called it – in which he reviewed the cavalcade of twists and turns that had brought us to that moment when we stood “at the top of the world, “ as he put it. There was no terrorist threat back then – not counting the threat of global annihilation that hung over us during those years of “duck and cover” and backyard bomb shelters. Yet Garet Garrett – a former editor of the New York Times and the Saturday Evening Post, an Old Right “isolationist” who lived in exile on a New Jersey farm – foresaw our present age, and what we would become:

“How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?

“Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.

“To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?”

Garrett knew where we were going, and we are living that reality today, sixty years after he wrote those words.

On a late summer Saturday night in the Chelsea district of New York City an explosion caused by an IED that injured 29 people shook the nation: a second bomb was discovered a few blocks from the first site and disabled. This was preceded by a pipe bomb going off at the site of a benefit run for families of US Marines in Seaside, New Jersey, a mere ninety minutes away: multiple devices were found at the same location and were disabled. Injuries were prevented only because the event was delayed due to the size of the crowd; five thousand people would have been in proximity otherwise. To top it off, a person invoking Allah stabbed eight people at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota – albeit not before first asking them if they were Muslim. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the stabbing spree, dubbing the perpetrator a “soldier of Islam.”

Imagine you are a visitor from Mars, watching all this from a very great height. Surely two aspects of this are striking:

To begin with, we have the world’s sole superpower, which purports to be the defender of the “international order,” unable to ensure the security of its own citizens on its own soil. We send our fleet thousands of miles away, to the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea to “protect” the sea lanes – and yet we cannot protect Americans on the streets of New York City.

Secondly, the reactions to this amazing fact reveal a strange bifurcation: government officials and the national news media (or do I repeat myself?) are in denial, while ordinary Americans are on the cusp between anger and hysteria. The reaction of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was emblematic of the former: he said the explosion was “intentional” but not linked to terrorism. He went on to say:

“Now, I want to be clear: Whatever the cause, whatever the intention here, New Yorkers will not be intimidated. We are not going to let anyone change who we are or how we go about our lives.”

This is the very definition of terrorism, but apparently the policy of denial is supposed to keep people calm. What’s more likely is that it does just the opposite. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, apparently concerned that this was a bit too much cognitive dissonance for the public, weighed in by saying it was “obviously” terrorism, but that there’s no evidence it was linked to international terrorism.

One has to be remarkably obtuse to ignore the pattern: three attacks on the same day, one of which a terrorist group has claimed “credit” for, two of which are similar in their modes of operation – a bomb in a dumpster on a public thoroughfare. Authorities are now confirming that the Chelsea and Seaside explosive devices were put together by the same person. Put this in the context of continuing threats from Islamic terrorists that they will hit the homeland, and the only conclusion one can draw is that the events of September 17 were a coordinated attack – and the prime suspects aren’t Presbyterians.

It isn’t “Islamophobia” to acknowledge this – it’s realism. After all, the very “blowback” theory offered up by critics of US intervention in the Middle East has to lead us to this conclusion: it makes perfect sense that, having spent the greater part of the past twenty years leveling much of the Muslim world to the ground, some of the inhabitants would be coming after us.

What’s more, it’s an indisputable fact that the US government is now at war with one billion Muslims – at least, that’s how they perceive it. The origins of this war can be traced back to US foreign policy, yes, but that’s not the whole story. It’s gone way beyond that. Given the history of the post-9/11 era – the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria – a significant portion of the Muslim world has integrated this conflict into their religion. “Jihad” is a religious duty in mainstream Islam, and Muslims – unlike most Westerners – take their faith seriously.

So what’s the solution? Simply put, there is none. We cannot undo the history of the last fifteen years: the winds of blowback are unstoppable. The US government cannot possibly protect its citizens from random attacks on soft targets, such as the Chelsea district of New York City on a Saturday night, or a mall in Minnesota. Our vaunted system of universal surveillance hasn’t worked in the case of San Bernardino, Orlando, the Boston bombing, the Ft. Hood massacre – and it didn’t work on September 17.

We can no more stop the terrorist assault on the homeland than a child who puts his finger in an electric outlet can avoid a shock. This is the New Normal – and the consequences for our republic, our politics, and our everyday lives can only be painted in the darkest hues. This is why the first response of our elected “leaders” is kneejerk denial: an honest confession of their powerlessness would only inspire panic – and retribution.

Speaking of retribution: the response of ordinary Americans is quite different. Unlike our political class, they are realists who know what they see: given a choice between security and virtue-signaling they’ll take the former every time. What they don’t yet understand is that, as Garrett put it, “there is no security at the top of the world.”

Oh, they can go along with Donald Trump’s scheme of keeping all Muslims out of the country – but some will get through, not to mention those who are already here. We can build a wall, but can we inspect each and every ship that docks at our ports, and examine the cargo with a fine-toothed comb? We can blast ISIS to smithereens in the deserts of Syria – but this will merely disperse the contagion, spreading it to Europe, the steppes of Central Asia, and to the US itself.

What’s worse is that our own government has enabled the very enemies who plot our destruction. The US has openly allied with Islamist radicals in order to bring about regime change in Syria: the results of that policy are underscored by the recent incident in which US Special Forces were forced to flee from a village in the northern part of the country when the “moderate” Islamists we’ve been funding and arming threatened to slaughter them on the spot. The same thing happened in Libya, where we “liberated” the country from Ghaddafi and the very rebels we empowered with air strikes and aid murdered our Ambassador and three others at Benghazi. To go farther back in time, our aid to the Afghan mujahideen who were fighting the Soviets in the 1980s led to the consolidation of al-Qaeda and the rise of Osama bin Laden as the leader and symbol of a global terrorist insurgency.

To top it off, we still regard the Saudis as “allies” in spite of the fact that they had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. Washington is openly colluding with our enemies while the nation sleeps.

Trump, to his credit, is critical of these policies, at least in part. Yet his alternative vision is inchoate, vague, and contradictory on those rare occasions when he gets down to specifics. He is, in short, the embodiment of the American zeitgeist at this historical moment: enraged, confused, and liable to lash out in any direction.

Yet Trump’s critique of the political class, and his diagnosis of the US as an empire in decline, is what gives his message resonance – and it’s one reason why the political class hates him with a passion. His success is the measure of their failure.

We are headed for some dark times. In spite of that, however, there will always be those who will uphold the original spirit of our old republic and fight to defend it against all comers. Out of this will come a renewal – that is, if there is to be one.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 78

September 19, 2016


Public discussion of the Edward Snowden case has mostly been a dialog of the deaf, with defenders and critics largely talking past each other at increasing volume. But the disagreements became sharper and more interesting over the past week.

“Mr. Snowden is not a patriot. He is not a whistleblower. He is a criminal,” wrote the members of the House Intelligence Committee in a startling September 15 letter to the President, urging him not to pardon Snowden, contrary to the urging of human rights groups.

“The public narrative popularized by Snowden and his allies is rife with falsehoods, exaggerations, and crucial omissions,” the House Intelligence Committee wrote in the executive summary of an otherwise classified report on Snowden’s disclosures.

Remarkably, however, the House Committee report itself included numerous false statements and misrepresentations, according to an analysis by Barton Gellman, who had reported on Snowden’s disclosures for the Washington Post.

“The report is not only one-sided, not only incurious, not only contemptuous of fact. It is trifling,” wrote Gellman, who identified several apparent errors and falsehoods in the House Committee summary.

What is perhaps worse than what’s contained in the House document, though, is what is missing from it: Congressional intelligence overseers missed the opportunity to perform any reflection or self-criticism concerning their own role in the Snowden matter.

The fact that U.S. intelligence surveillance policies had to be modified in response to the public controversy over Snowden’s disclosures was a tacit admission that intelligence oversight behind closed doors had failed to fulfill its role up to that point. But since the Committee has been unwilling to admit any such failure, it remains unable to take the initiative to rectify its procedures.

Last week, a coalition of non-governmental organizations proposed various changes to House rules that they said would help to improve the quality of intelligence oversight and make it more responsive to congressional needs and to the public interest.

Meanwhile, several human rights organizations launched a campaign to urge President Obama to pardon Snowden.

“Thanks to his act of conscience, America’s surveillance programs have been subjected to democratic scrutiny, the NSA’s surveillance powers were reined in for the first time in decades, and technology companies around the world are newly invigorated to protect their customers and strengthen our communications infrastructure,” the petition website said. “Snowden should be hailed as a hero. Instead, he is exiled in Moscow, and faces decades in prison under World War One-era charges that treat him like a spy.”

However, aside from that oblique reference to the Espionage Act of 1917, the petition campaign does not acknowledge any defect in Snowden’s conduct or weigh counterarguments. (A somewhat more nuanced defense of a pardon was presented by Tim Edgar in Lawfare. A substantial rebuttal to the pardon proposal was offered by Jack Goldsmith also in Lawfare.)

But of course what complicates the Snowden matter is that his disclosures exceeded the boundaries of “democratic scrutiny” and went well beyond any identifiable “act of conscience.”

“The fact is, many of Snowden’s documents bore no resemblance to whistleblowing as the phrase is broadly understood,” wrote Fred Kaplan in a review of the new Oliver Stone movie about Snowden in Slate. Rather, he said, they represented “an attempt to blow U.S. intelligence operations.”

Advocacy journalist Glenn Greenwald replied with a debater’s point that Snowden is innocent of any such offense since he (Snowden) did not directly disclose anything at all to the public! Instead, he gave documents to newspapers that reported on his material, and those papers are responsible for any inappropriate disclosures.

“Snowden himself never publicly disclosed a single document, so any programs that were revealed were the ultimate doing of news organizations,” according to Greenwald.

In an oddly mercenary argument, he also wrote that it was hypocritical of the Washington Post editorial board to oppose a pardon for Snowden, considering that the Post had gained “untold millions of clicks” from his disclosures, and therefore somehow owed him a debt of loyalty.

But an effort to shift responsibility away from Snowden on to news reporters and editors proves too much. It implies that Snowden is not a whistleblower at all, since he himself didn’t blow any whistles, his journalistic collaborators did.

It seems more sensible to conclude that Snowden is responsible for his own actions as well as for the directly foreseeable consequences of those actions.

In an interesting response to Jack Goldsmith, Marcy Wheeler wrote that it is possible to comprehend — if not to reconcile — the sharply opposing views of the Snowden case if they are understood as a clash between professed American values (such as openness, privacy, and internet freedom) and American interests and actions (such as global surveillance and projection of military power). The former, “cosmopolitan” view presumes, however, that the favored values transcend, and can be sustained apart from, their national and institutional roots.


The number of district court vacancies during the Obama presidency grew from 41 vacancies in January 2009 to 75 vacancies in September 2016 — an unusual 83% increase, according to a new assessment from the Congressional Research Service.

By contrast, the number of vacancies decreased over the course of the George W. Bush Administration from 58 to 32 (a 45% decrease) and over the course of the Clinton Administration from 93 to 42 (a 55% decrease).

See U.S. District Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, September 14, 2016

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

U.S. Circuit Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, September 14, 2016

How a National Infrastructure Bank Might Work, CRS Insight, September 15, 2016

International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues, updated September 14, 2016

FDA Regulation of Medical Devices, updated September 14, 2016

Prospects in Colombia: Cease-Fire, Peace Accord Vote, and Potential Disrupters, CRS Insight, September 14, 2016

Nicaragua: In Brief, September 14, 2016

Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress, updated September 14, 2016

The US and Russia Have Less Influence in Syria Than They Think

September 18, 2016

by Patrick Cockburn


At about 5pm on Saturday, two US F-16 fighter bombers and two A-10 specialised ground attack aircraft bombed what they believed was a concentration of Isis fighters besieging pro-government forces in the city of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.

Whoever it was in the US Air Force who had misidentified the target as Isis made a disastrous error; the US planes were attacking Syrian Army soldiers fighting Isis at a position called Jebel Tharda close to Deir Ezzor airport. The city has been besieged by Isis for over a year and 110,000 civilians are trapped inside. By the time the US bombing raid was over it had killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers and injured another 100, enabling Isis to overrun the survivors before being forced to retreat by a counter-attack backed by Russian airstrikes.

The mistake and heavy Syrian Army casualty list symbolises the continuing failure to implement the agreement reached between the US and Russia on 10 September. Its main points are a ceasefire in Syria, the unimpeded entry of UN aid convoys into besieged areas, and a joint US-Russian air campaign against Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria relabelled as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Of these requirements only an increasingly shaky ceasefire is in place so far.

Worse, the US and Russia are belabouring each other at the UN Security Council in New York, with the Russians accusing the US of complicity with Isis and the US claiming that Russia is opportunistically taking advantage of a targeting error for which the US has apologised. The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the whole ceasefire accord, agreed after 10 months of negotiations between the two biggest players in the Syrian conflict, is close to unravelling.

The strength of the agreement should be that it was put together by the US, as the world’s sole superpower, and Russia, which aspires to that status. Each should be able to influence allies and proxies into implementing the ceasefire, but so far this is not happening. There are many armed clashes and 40 trucks filled with supplies for the 250,000 to 275,000 people trapped in rebel-held East Aleppo are still stuck on the Turkish border. Supposedly moderate US-backed rebel groups are meant to be separating themselves geographically from al-Nusra, but they remain intermingled with it.

A weakness of the agreement is that it lacks any mechanism for its implementation other than the enforced assent or goodwill of the multitude of parties involved in the Syrian conflict. Goodwill has always been in notably short supply in Syria since many of the players, both regional and local, have an interest in the war continuing, even though they may hypocritically pretend otherwise. It is still unclear how far the US and Russia are able to force their allies into line and how far they are pulling their punches in doing so.

The US can put pressure on the Syrian rebels to abide by a ceasefire by leaning on their outside backers in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but will this pressure be enough? In less than two months the US presidential election will produce a different occupant of the White House, who may have a new Syria policy. Not only is the present administration the lamest of ducks during this period, but it is more or less openly divided on the merits of a deal with Russia.

It is much in the interests of Russia to make this deal work, but it has difficulty in getting President Bashar al-Assad to do what it wants, even if he is militarily reliant on it. In the longer term, nobody quite knows in the present day Middle East the real political and military strength of rival powers. Before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, there was excessive idea in the region of American omnipotence. Failure of the US to get its way in either war despite prolonged military engagement led to excessive idea of US weakness. Russia was likewise written off by the rulers of Gulf States up to the time it became the main foreign support of Assad and started behaving like a superpower again.

It is too early to write off the present ceasefire, if only because the conflict in Syria is so long-standing and intractable that it was always going to be extraordinarily difficult to de-escalate. A price has to be paid for the way in which it was misunderstood and mishandled in the years after 2011 so it will take time to put out the fires allowed to blaze out of control for five years. The US-Russian agreement is the first truly serious attempt to reduce the violence and, crucially, it is between the heaviest hitters in the crisis and the only ones capable of bringing it to an end.

Other peculiarities dog the present agreement. It is directed against al-Nusra and asks for the “moderate” armed opposition to separate themselves from the jihadis. It has always been centrepiece of Western policy in Syria that there is such a powerful group of armed moderates – despite much evidence to the contrary. If they did exist in any force then this agreement would be much in their interests and they – like the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Army – would find their firepower vastly increased by the help of the US Air Force. But if the moderates so-called are largely a myth, and the armed opposition is overwhelmingly dominated by Isis and al-Nusra, then the latter have every incentive to make sure that this ceasefire fails.

The outside world has a picture of developments in Syria much distorted by wishful and partisan sources of information. This masks the point forcibly and un-answerably made by US Secretary of State John Kerry that, if this agreement with Russia does not work, the only alternative is more death and destruction engulfing Syria and its neighbours.

President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party wins parliamentary election

Russia’s ruling United Russia and other parties that back the Kremlin have secured sweeping control over parliament. Low voter turnout suggested a lack of enthusiasm in the election.

September 19, 2016


Allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin comfortably gained control of the 450-seat State Duma in Sunday’s election.

The ruling United Russia party won 54.3 percent of the vote for 225 seats chosen from the nationwide party list, according to a partial tally of 90 percent of the votes.

Putin’s party also looked set to take 203 of 225 seats chosen directly at the district level. That would give Putin’s party 338 seats in the Duma in total, or nearly 100 more than in the 2011 parliamentary election.

“We can say with certainty that the party has achieved a very good result; it’s won,” Putin said at the United Russia headquarters, minutes after polling stations closed on Sunday evening.

The Communists won 13.5 percent and the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party pulled in 13.3 percent, while A Just Russia received 6.2 percent.

The four parties entering parliament are all close to the Kremlin, while none of the liberal opposition parties cleared the five percent threshold to gain any of half the seats up for grabs.

Economic turmoil

Putin said United Russia’s win showed that voters still trusted the leadership, despite an economic slowdown made worse by Western sanctions over Ukraine and low oil prices. Russia’s spluttering economy is forecast to shrink by at least 0.3 percent this year.

“We know that life is hard for people; there are lots of problems, lots of unresolved problems. Nevertheless, we have this result,” said Putin, whose approval ratings stand at around 80 percent.

United Russia, which was founded by Putin, will now be able to extend its dominance in Russia’s 450-seat lower house of parliament, or Duma.

The victory is also of personal interest to Putin, whose aides are likely to use the result as a springboard for his campaign for re-election in 2018. The President is yet to confirm, however, whether he will seek another term in office.

Low turnout

Despite the success of United Russia on Sunday, the election’s low turnout suggested a softening of enthusiasm for the ruling elite.

Only 47.8 percent of voters cast a ballot, marking a significant drop from the 60 percent turnout seen at the last parliamentary election.

In the Siberian region of Altai, Russian officials were investigating reports of vote-rigging. If the allegations are confirmed, the results from that region could be discounted.

The last parliamentary election in 2011 was marked by widespread allegations of vote fraud, prompting anti-government demonstrations.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was monitoring the elections throughout the country on Sunday – except in Crimea, which they consider an illegally seized part of Ukraine.

Voters in Crimea also cast their ballot for the first time since Moscow annexed the peninsula in 2014, sparking international condemnation.

Saudi Arabia appears to be using U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in its war in Yemen

September 19, 2016

by Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Washington Post

Saudi Arabia appears to be using U.S.-supplied white phosphorous munitions in its war in Yemen, based on images and videos posted to social media, raising concerns among human rights groups that the highly incendiary material could be used against civilians.

Under U.S. regulations, white phosphorous sold to other countries is to be used only for signaling to other troops and creating smoke screens. When the munition explodes, it releases white phosphorous that automatically ignites in the air and creates a thick white smoke. When used against soldiers or civilians, it can maim and kill by burning to the bone.

It is unclear exactly how the Saudis are using the munitions, but the government has already received widespread condemnation for its indiscriminate bombing in civilian areas since its campaign against rebel forces in Yemen began in 2015.

U.S. officials confirmed that the American government has supplied the Saudis white phosphorous in the past but declined to say how much had been transferred or when. After reviewing a social media image taken from the battlefield that showed a white phosphorous mortar shell, a U.S. official said it appeared to be American in origin but could not trace it to a particular sale because some of the markings were obscured.

“The United States expects any recipient of U.S. military assistance to use those items in accordance with international law and under the terms and conditions of any U.S. transfer or sale,” said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss politically sensitive issues.

The official said the department was looking into reports of Saudi forces’ improperly using U.S.-supplied white phosphorous munitions. “If a country is determined to have used U.S.-provided weapons for unauthorized purposes, the U.S. will take appropriate corrective action,” the official said.

The United States has grown increasingly wary of its material support to the Saudi military. In May, the Obama administration halted the sale of roughly 400 cluster bombs to the Saudis after human rights organizations documented the weapons’ use in civilian areas. This week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill moved to delay a $1 billion arms deal that would replace some of Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied tanks that have been damaged in the conflict.

Since coming to office in 2009, the Obama administration has facilitated more than $115 billion in 42 different arms sales to Saudi Arabia, more than any other U.S. administration, according to a report in the Security Assistance Monitor. Batches of the equipment are likely to be delivered for years to come.

International humanitarian law does not ban the use of white phosphorous outright, but there is a strict requirement that it be used only in areas clearly separated from civilians. Even using it against enemy combatants has raised concerns, given that the munitions can cause particularly horrific injuries.

“The United States must not provide or sell white phosphorous munitions to Saudi Arabia or any other military that would use them in the Yemen conflict,” said Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “As a major arms seller to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. risks being complicit in Saudi Arabia’s likely war crimes in Yemen.”

A spokesman from the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment for this article. The Saudi government has repeatedly denied claims about unlawful bombings and civilian casualties, pointing to its military’s Western support as validation of its practices.

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 3,700 civilians have been killed and 2.8 million have been displaced during the now nearly two-year-old war.

“The United States is concerned by the high number of casualties resulting from this war,” the State Department official said. “We are prepared to work with the Saudis to deter and confront any external threat to their territorial integrity, and we stand by that assurance. However, that does not mean we refrain from expressing our concerns about the war in Yemen and how it has been waged.”

The Pentagon provides midair refueling for Saudi aircraft and limited intelligence resources to Saudi forces. In addition to short-term military assistance, the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as other Western countries, have facilitated the sale of billions of dollars worth of arms to the Kingdom, everything from hand grenades to attack helicopters.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans, said that “as a matter of policy,” the Pentagon office responsible for overseeing foreign military sales “does not disclose specific deliverables or the details” of the final transfer agreements.

The United States has used white phosphorous against fighters, including in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, and sporadically in Afghanistan over the course of the war there. In 2009, Israel used the weapon in populated areas in the Gaza Strip.

Images on pro-Saudi Twitter and Instagram accounts show that Saudi forces are using several systems for firing white phosphorous munitions, including tank rounds, mortars, howitzers and rifle grenades.

Footage and images and social media posts showing the munition indicate that it is being used near the Saudi-Yemen border — in Najran province — and around the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The most recent footage — posted Sept. 9 — shows a U.S.-developed M198 155mm Saudi howitzer with the telltale sea-foam green white phosphorous rounds nearby ready to be loaded and fired.

Many of the images posted to social media show white phosphorous rounds from a distance, leaving any writing or identifying features blurry or ill-defined. The shell’s color pattern is the most telling, as the greenish-hue interrupted by yellow bands and red writing is internationally recognized as indicating white phosphorous munitions.

The picture reviewed by the U.S. official was first posted in November 2015 on a Saudi Instagram account and shows the shell with the words “Martyr Jamil Hadi” written on it.

The only company with the rights to sell to the U.S. government the white phosphorous round pictured in the image is General Dynamics Ordnance Tactical Systems, according to Marine Corps Systems Command documents distributed in 2015. The shell’s design is owned by TDA-Armaments of France. Both TDA-Armaments and General Dynamics manufacture the munition, although it is unclear which country manufactured the round pictured.

When asked about the image, General Dynamics spokeswoman Laurie VonBrocklin said “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment” and deferred further questions to the Pentagon and the State Department.

The House Intelligence Committee’s Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Snowden Report

September 16, 2016

by Barton Gellman


Late yesterday afternoon the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a three-page executive summary (four, if we count the splendid cover photo) of its two-year inquiry into Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency (NSA) disclosures. On first reading, I described it as an “aggressively dishonest” piece of work.

With a day or so to reflect on it, I believe it’s worse than that. The report is not only one-sided, not only incurious, not only contemptuous of fact.

It is trifling.

After twenty-five months of labor, the committee’s “comprehensive review” of an immensely complex subject weighs in at thirty-six pages. (None of which we may read, because it “must remain classified.”) I have graded college term papers that long. It is one more dispiriting commentary on the state of legislative oversight that the committee’s twenty-two members, Republican and Democratic, were unanimous in signing their names.

A reminder at the outset. I am one of four journalists (with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Ewen MacAskill) who received classified archives of NSA documents from Snowden. I am writing a book on the subject for Penguin Press. Feel free to consider, as you read this, that my stories in The Washington Post played a role in the disclosures that the committee is at pains to denounce.

The real burden of this report, released on the eve of the premiere of Oliver Stone’s Snowden film, is to offer a counter-narrative. An accompanying press release quotes committee members describing Snowden as “no hero,” “not a patriot,” and “a traitor.”

Since I’m on record claiming the report is dishonest, let’s skip straight to the fourth section. That’s the one that describes Snowden as “a serial exaggerator and fabricator,” with “a pattern of intentional lying.” Here is the evidence adduced for that finding, in its entirety.

“He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints.”

This is verifiably false for anyone who, as the committee asserts it did, performs a “close review of Snowden’s official employment records.” Snowden’s Army paperwork, some of which I have examined, says he met the demanding standards of an 18X Special Forces recruit and mustered into the Army on June 3, 2004. The diagnosis that led to his discharge, on crutches, was bilateral tibial stress fractures.

“He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did.”

I do not know how the committee could get this one wrong in good faith. According to the official Maryland State Department of Education test report, which I have reviewed, Snowden sat for the high school equivalency test on May 4, 2004. He needed a score of 2250 to pass. He scored 3550. His Diploma No. 269403 was dated June 2, 2004, the same month he would have graduated had he returned to Arundel High School after losing his sophomore year to mononucleosis. In the interim, he took courses at Anne Arundel Community College.

“He claimed to have worked for the CIA as a ‘senior advisor,’ which was a gross exaggeration of his entry-level duties as a computer technician.”

Judge for yourself. Here are the three main roles Snowden played at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (1) His entry level position, as a contractor, was system administrator (one among several) of the agency’s Washington metropolitan area network. (2) After that he was selected for and spent six months in training as a telecommunications information security officer, responsible for all classified technology in U.S. embassies overseas. The CIA deployed him to Geneva under diplomatic cover, complete with an alias identity and a badge describing him as a State Department attache. (3) In his third CIA job, the title on his Dell business card was “solutions consultant / cyber referent” for the intelligence community writ large—the company’s principal point of contact for cyber contracts and proposals. In that role, Snowden met regularly with the chiefs and deputy chiefs of the CIA’s technical branches to talk through their cutting edge computer needs.

“He also doctored his performance evaluations…”

Truly deceptive, this. I will tell the story in my book. Suffice to say that Snowden discovered and reported a security hole in the CIA’s human resources intranet page. With his supervisor’s permission, he made a benign demonstration of how a hostile actor could take control. He did not change the content of his performance evaluation. He changed the way it displayed on screen.

“… and obtained new positions at NSA by exaggerating his resume and stealing the answers to an employment test.”

The first clause is too vague to check. The second seems to be based on an unsubstantiated public statement from Booz Allen vice chairman Mike McConnell. I cannot purport to know for sure, but I do know this. The exam in question is routinely given to freshly enlisted Navy and Air Force recruits to determine their aptitude for entry level “computer network operations.” Snowden was a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer with years of experience under his belt by then. I can’t explain why anyone thinks he would have to steal the answers.

“In May 2013, Snowden informed his supervisor that he would be out of the office to receive treatment for worsening epilepsy. In reality, he was on his way to Hong Kong with stolen secrets.”

True! When Snowden decided to leave the NSA with a cache of documents for public release, he gave a false cover story for his absence.

That’s it. That’s the committee’s whole case for Snowden as big fat liar. I won’t belabor the irony, but let’s note in passing that four of the six claims are egregiously false, and a fifth is hard to credit. We can only hope the classified report, which boasts 230 footnotes, has better evidence. If you know whether or not that’s the case, feel free to let me know.

The report’s executive summary also has plenty of misleading claims on other subjects—a remarkable number, really, for just three pages. Most have been the stuff of tub-thumping denunciations for years. Snowden “fled to Russia.” Well, no. He tried to fly to Ecuador, and the U.S. government trapped him in the Moscow transit lounge by revoking his passport. Or … Snowden could have relied on whistleblower protections. The Washington Post examined that proposition and found it largely incorrect. Or … Snowden stole 1.5 million classified documents. In fact, the nation’s most senior intelligence officers, no admirers of Snowden, have repeatedly said they can only surmise the number. Then-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Michael T. Flynn, who is now advising Donald Trump, said “we assume that he took” every document he could reach. Then-NSA Director Keith Alexander said the agency could only count “what he touched, what he may have downloaded.”

Consider, next, the question of damage. I believe Snowden’s disclosures did a lot more good than harm, but I do not share the view of some of his fans that he did no damage at all. Even so, what are we to make of Subcommittee Chairman Lynn Westmoreland? In language largely echoed by the official report, Westmoreland said Snowden “did more damage to U.S. national security than any other individual in our nation’s history.” How about FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who helped the former Soviet Union roll up a whole U.S. espionage network and kill our agents? Or Julius Rosenberg, maybe, who only handed over plans for the atomic bomb? Or, as some would have it, George W. Bush, for the catastrophic choices he made in Iraq?

Another way to think on this is to ask, what counts as damage? Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others decided to encrypt the links between their data centers after my colleague Ashkan Soltani and I disclosed that the NSA was breaking into their private clouds. Now the NSA probably can’t do that any more, or not as easily. It has to use legal process and approach the companies through the front door. Is that damage? Is that disconnected, as the committee implies, from any legitimate question of “privacy or civil liberties”? Or are the new restrictions on surveillance a policy response to intelligence overreach?

Let me close with a dog that doesn’t bark at all. The committee states, in its press release, that this report is aimed at examining “post-Snowden reforms.” There is no discussion at all of reform when it comes to the powers, policies, and practices of surveillance. Only one reform is deemed worth mentioning, and here the committee judges the NSA harshly. There is “more work” to do, the committee says, to make sure its secrets are locked down tighter from now on.

Editor’s Note: Commentary has been updated as of September 18, 2016 changing “Or the Rosenbergs, maybe, who only handed over plans for the thermonuclear bomb?” to “Or Julius Rosenberg, maybe, who only handed over plans for the atomic bomb?”.

New York bombing suspect Ahmad Rahami arrested in Linden, NJ after shootout with police

September 19, 2016


Police have arrested Ahmad Rahami, wanted in connection with the bombings in Elizabeth, New Jersey and the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, after a shoot-out in Linden, New Jersey. Two police officers were reported injured.

Two officers were reported injured by gunfire, after they responded to a call in Linden, a city just south of Elizabeth.

The owner of a local bar spotted a man sleeping in his doorway and alerted the police, Linden Mayor Derek Armstead told NBC News. As officers approached the man, he opened fire and tried to escape.

Sources told NBC News the suspect was identified as Rahami, a 28-year-old Elizabeth, NJ resident suspected in a series of explosions in New Jersey and New York over the weekend.

Rahami was reported “alive but injured”. His injuries were not life-threatening, law enforcement officials told local media, who showed images of Rahami being loaded into an ambulance.

“We are very fortunate the suspect was apprehended,” the newly appointed New York police commissioner James O’Neill told reporters at a press conference Monday, adding that NYPD is very vigilant about terrorism because “we are the number one target in the world.”

While the authorities were looking into possible accomplices, the FBI said there was “no indication” a terror cell was operating in New York.

Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage confirmed Rahami’s arrest and clarified that two officers were actually shot during the encounter, one in the chest and another in the hand.

Officers also found a “suspicious package.” The bomb squad and explosive-sniffing dogs have been called in.

Police identified the Afghanistan-born Rahami on Monday as a person of interest in the series of bombing incidents over the weekend in New Jersey and New York City.

One improvised explosive device detonated just minutes before a US Marine Corps charity race on Saturday, in Seaside Park. Another bomb, also located in a trash bin, went off in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, injuring 29 people. An unexploded pressure-cooker bomb was found several blocks away. A fourth device detonated at the Elizabeth, New Jersey train station as police were trying to disarm it.

Rahami was identified as a person of interest based on the fingerprint on the unexploded pressure-cooker, Bloomberg reported. For the first time ever, the authorities sent out a mobile alert to the general public with the description of Rahami and his vehicle.

On Monday, Federal agents searched Rahami’s apartment in Elizabeth, located above the First American Fried Chicken restaurant that is owned by his family. According to multiple reports, surveillance led the FBI to stop the car with Rahami’s relatives on Sunday night, while on their way to New York’s JFK airport. They were detained for questioning, but not arrested.

“No one in that car is under arrest,” the FBI clarified at a press conference on Monday afternoon. Speaking to the press, Special Agent William Sweeney would not disclose what sort of surveillance tools the Bureau used, but called them “fabulous.”

After the description of Rahami’s car was made public, one report placed it at West Point, some 50 miles north of New York City, prompting a brief lockdown of the US Military Academy. It turned out to be a false alarm.

Merkel suffers drubbing in Berlin vote due to migrant angst

September 18, 2016


Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives suffered their second electoral blow in two weeks on Sunday, with support for her Christian Democrats (CDU) plunging to a post-reunification low in a Berlin state vote due to unease with her migrant policy.

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) polled 11.5 percent, gaining from a popular backlash over Merkel’s decision a year ago to keep borders open for refugees, an exit poll by public broadcaster ARD showed. The result means the AfD will enter a 10th state assembly, out of 16 in total.

Merkel’s CDU polled 18 percent, down from 23.3 percent at the last election in 2011, with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) remaining the largest party on 23 percent. The SPD may now ditch the CDU from their coalition in the German capital.

The blow to the CDU came two weeks after they suffered heavy losses in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The setbacks have raised questions about whether Merkel will stand for a fourth term next year, but her party has few good alternatives so she still looks like the most likely candidate.

(Reporting by Paul Carrel and Michael Nienaber)

Why Obama Should Pardon All Leakers and Whistleblowers — Not Just Edward Snowden

September 19 2016

by Peter Maass

The Intercept

Of course President Obama should pardon Edward Snowden — and Chelsea Manning, too.

But this story is not about the excellent reasons for thanking rather than locking up the two most famous whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era. Plenty of people are already calling for that in powerful ways. A new petition on Snowden’s behalf has been signed by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey as well as Steve Wozniak, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aragorn (also known as Viggo Mortensen). Organizations coming out in support of a pardon for Snowden, who is currently a political refugee in Moscow, include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. And Oliver Stone has just released “Snowden,” a movie that emphasizes his good and patriotic intentions.

But the unfortunate truth of our times is that Obama is not going to pardon Snowden and Manning. His administration has invested too much capital in demonizing them to turn back now. However, there are other leakers and whistleblowers for whom the arguments in favor of pardons are not only compelling but politically palatable, too. Their names are Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou and Thomas Drake. All of them were government officials who talked with journalists and were charged under the Espionage Act for disclosures of information that were far less consequential than the classified emails that Hillary Clinton stored on her server at home or the top secret war diaries that David Petraeus shared with his biographer and girlfriend. Petraeus, a former general and CIA director, got a fine for his transgressions. Clinton got a presidential nomination.

Consider this: Kiriakou, a CIA agent who criticized the agency’s use of torture, was thrown into prison because he provided a journalist with the name of one covert officer, although the name was never published. Kim, a State Department official, pleaded guilty to talking to Fox News reporter James Rosen about a single classified report on North Korea that an official later described as a “nothing burger.” Sterling, a CIA officer, talked to New York Times reporter James Risen about a botched operation against Iran that went wrong because of bungling by the agency. Drake, who worked at the NSA, faced multiple felony charges after he talked to a Baltimore Sun reporter about fraud and abuse in a bloated surveillance program. All of them went to prison except Drake, who was able, in the end, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, though he lost his job and security clearance and now works at an Apple store.

There is an imperative to apologize to Kim, Sterling, Kiriakou and Drake that has nothing to do with justice (though justice should be sufficient incentive). It is possible that a crackpot grifter will be elected president of the United States in seven weeks time. Obama needs to start dramatically disavowing the excesses of his presidency, so that Donald Trump, if he wins in November, will not be able to use the continuity card to do even worse things with the excessive powers that Obama was able to arrogate for the Oval Office. (Trump would still do terrible things, of course, but he would at least have a harder time citing Obama as precedent.) One of the most insidious domestic legacies of Obama’s presidency is his unprecedented crackdown on officials who talked to journalists about embarrassing issues or policies the government wanted to keep secret — and this needs to be forsaken, now.

It wouldn’t be that out of character. The Obama administration has been admirable in the use of its powers to reverse or stop wrongful actions by state and municipal authorities. Earlier this month, the administration suspended construction on the North Dakota Access Pipeline because it violated the rights of Native Americans. In recent years, the Department of Justice has conducted scathing investigations into civil rights abuses by a number of police departments, and has extracted meaningful changes from many of them. Fairness for all has been a hallmark of these laudable moves, and the same standard should be applied to leakers and whistleblowers. If Petraeus and Clinton are allowed to get away with unauthorized sharing of classified information, it should be okay for lesser officials too, especially when their actions involved the exposure of government wrongdoing.

Instead of just correcting the errors of other branches of government, Obama should admit that his own administration made a terrible mistake by prosecuting good people who helped, rather than harmed, the cause of democracy. If pardoning Snowden and Manning requires more courage than the president possesses, he can at least show clemency for Kim, Kiriakou, Drake and Sterling, who have suffered catastrophically. Pardons would clear their names and release Sterling from prison (he remains behind bars to this day). The fact that Trump has the instincts of a dictator makes it all the more crucial that Obama not hand him the powers and policies of one.

Ahmad Rahami: From New Jersey fried chicken restaurant to Chelsea attack

September 19, 2016


Police in Linden, New Jersey have arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami, named as the suspect in the multiple explosions in New Jersey and New York over the weekend. Though no one was killed, police are treating the blasts as possible terrorism.

Rahami was identified in an unusual alert sent to the general public via mobile devices on Monday morning. The “Be on the lookout” (BOLO) notice described him as 5’6” tall, driving a 2003 blue Honda Civic with New Jersey license plates. It also identified him as a naturalized US citizen, born in Afghanistan in 1988.

Authorities have “directly linked” Rahami to the Saturday evening blast in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, as well as a Saturday morning explosion at Seaside Park, New Jersey, minutes before the start of a Marine Corps charity race.

He was also linked to the Sunday evening blast at the Elizabeth, NJ train station. The FBI declined to disclose the nature of the connection, citing an ongoing investigation.

Following the Chelsea blast, an unexploded pressure cooker was found several blocks away. It had been left behind in a rolling suitcase, which was picked up by two “well-dressed young men,” local media reported. They opened the bag and threw out the pressure cooker bomb, which investigators believe “inadvertently” disabled it. A cell phone detonator attached to the bomb led the authorities to Rahami’s family.

By cross-referencing social media pictures, police found surveillance footage showing Rahami at the scene of the Chelsea bombing. That device had been placed inside a metal garbage container, so the force of the blast was channeled upward. There were no fatalities, though 29 people were injured.

Prior to announcing Rahami’s identity to the public, the authorities had been hunting for him for 12 hours, according to NBC’s Pete Williams.

Before this weekend, Rahami was not on any terror watch lists or terrorism databases, Reuters reported. He studied criminal justice at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey between 2010 and 2012, but never graduated, the school told NBC. After that, he apparently began working full-time at First American Fried Chicken, a restaurant in Elizabeth owned by his father, Muhammad.

At the time, the restaurant’s late hours were causing trouble with the authorities, and the city had ordered it to close no later than 10 p.m. every day, due to noise complaints by the neighbors. One of Rahami’s brothers got into a fight with the police after refusing to comply with the order, and left for Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.

In 2011, the family sued the city, local police and a neighbor, alleging harassment and religious discrimination. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012.

“It was neighbor complaints, it had nothing to do with his ethnicity or religion,” Elizabeth Mayor Christ Bollwage told the Times.

Five of Rahami’s family members were detained Sunday night and taken to the FBI headquarters in Manhattan for questioning. None of them were arrested. The family was pulled over near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn, leading to speculation that they were headed for the JFK International Airport.

Meanwhile, two men rummaging through the garbage outside the Elizabeth, NJ train station found a bag with explosives and alerted the police. The bag contained several pipe bombs, and exploded while the bomb robot was trying to defuse the devices.

After the descriptions of Rahami and his car were made public, someone called to report seeing the vehicle on the grounds of the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, on Monday morning. After a brief lockdown, New York State Police established that the car was not Rahami’s.

Less than an hour later, there was a report from Linden, New Jersey of two officers injured in a firefight with a suspect who turned out to be Rahami. He was reportedly found sleeping in the doorway of a bar by the owner, who alerted the police.

When police showed up, Rahami opened fire and tried to flee. One officer was injured, while another was saved by his body armor. Rahami was arrested and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Global banking watchdog warns over Chinese banks

September 18, 2016

BBC News

Risks of a Chinese banking crisis are mounting, according to a warning indicator from the banking industry’s global watchdog.

A key gauge of stress in the banking sector is now more than three times above the danger level, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in its latest quarterly review.

China’s credit-to-GDP gap hit 30.1 in the first quarter of 2016, it said.

The BIS considers a credit-to-GDP gap of 10 to be a sign of potential danger.

A year ago the BIS quarterly review put the figure for China at 25.4.

Karishma Vaswani: Just how bad is China’s debt crisis?

The BIS calculates the gap by looking at borrowing in relation to the size of the economy, and comparing that with the long-term trend of that ratio.

When the two start to diverge, the BIS argues, a banking crisis could be on the way.

The BIS has a central position in global finance as it provides banking services to central banks and monitors the international flow of money and credit.

The health of China’s banking sector has long been a source of concern for financial markets.

Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008 there has been a boom in credit as the Chinese government has attempted to spur flagging growth.

But some of that lending has not been productive and the IMF estimates that loans worth $1.3 trillion are at risk of default.

However, as the Chinese banking system is largely owned or controlled by the government, analysts say the government would bail out the banking sector if necessary.

Brexit recovery

In its latest quarterly review, the BIS also said the markets has shown resilience following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

“The speed of the recovery took many by surprise, given the political and economic uncertainty that the vote had triggered,” said Claudio Borio, head of the Monetary and Economic Department at the BIS.

But he warned that, despite recent gains, global financial markets are in a sensitive state.

“There has been a distinctly mixed feel to the recent rally – more stick than carrot, more push than pull, more frustration than joy.

“This explains the nagging question of whether market prices fully reflect the risks ahead. Doubts about valuations seem to have taken hold in recent days. Only time will tell,” Mr Borio said.

Why The Cease-Fire in Syria Won’t Help

The cease-fire agreed to by Russia and the United States in Syria means that Aleppo and other devastated cities have been given a chance to breathe. But the temporary calm is unlikely to bring us any closer to the end of the war.

September 17, 2016

by Christoph Reuter


First came two quiet nights. Then another 48 hours without bombs, a few days in which the people trapped in Aleppo and elsewhere could live without the constant fear of approaching jets. So great is the yearning for peace that people everywhere rejoiced in the peace this week — despite coming just a short time after markets and hospitals had been bombed, leaving dozens dead.

The cease-fire that went into effect on Monday night in Syria is fueling the wish around the world for an end to this war. The desire is so great that each additional day of calm is being commented on as if it were a break in the weather, a natural dynamic trending toward peace. But it’s not.

In contrast to the three previously announced agreements, the American and Russian negotiating partners have limited the duration of this cease-fire to seven days. Not with the intention of immediately beginning further negotiations, but instead to conduct joint air strikes against all groups they will have by then identified as terror groups.

Starting at the beginning of next week, the plan calls for Russian and American military leaders to meet in the Joint Implementation Center to exchange target coordinates, voice objections and then deploy warplanes from both air forces to conduct strikes. As such, the agreement represents a reversal of Western policy. If implemented, the US will be flying sorties together with Russia against Assad’s enemies.

Dual Targets

Islamic State (IS) is the one undisputed target. But there is a second one as well: the radical Islamist group that began as the Nusra Front and whose leaders swore allegiance in 2013 to al-Qaida. In July, the group split off from al-Qaida again and renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), or Front for the Conquest of Syria.

“We must go after these terrorists,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva on Sept. 9, “so that they cannot continue to use the regime’s indiscriminate bombing in order to rally people to their hateful crimes.”

But Kerry seems to have overlooked one thing: It was the former Nusra Front that ended the blockade against eastern Aleppo at the beginning of August and, in a joint advance involving several other rebel groups, temporarily broke the seige that had been established by Assad’s troops. It was largely due to JFS that food could be brought into the city again, resulting in sudden popularity for the group in Aleppo and other rebel-held areas. The United States, the United Nations and European governments had called for an end to the blockade, but they never went beyond making appeals.

“How can I not appreciate what Fatah al-Sham achieved?” Modar al-Najjar, one of the most prominent rebel commanders to have stayed in Aleppo, told SPIEGEL. “The people in eastern Aleppo were all facing slow death by starvation. They didn’t care who broke through the siege. They want to survive.”

Washington and Moscow have now given all rebel groups one week to cut their contacts with JFS and to leave jointly held sections of the front. Otherwise they risk getting bombed. Just who the Joint Implementation Center will define as “terrorists,” how decisions will be made and what the review process will look like, remains vague. “We’re going to have Russians and Americans sitting down in a room together” to select mutually agreed targets, a senior US defense official told Foreign Policy magazine. But the intelligence-gathering methods, sources and why a particular target might be important “will not be exchanged,” the official told the magazine. “Just the lists of targets.” That won’t be a loophole — it will open the barn door for attempts at deception.

That helps explain the considerable opposition to the plan within the Pentagon. The Russians have “had about a year to demonstrate to us” whether they would do what they say, Evelyn Farkas, a former senior Defense Department official told Foreign Policy. But “the Russians have consistently lied to us.” US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for his part, warned in July against exaggerating the threat posed by the former Nusra Front.

The question as to whose fighter jets will be deployed starting next week still hasn’t been clarified. Assad’s air force could continue to attack JFS in “strikes that are agreed upon with Russia and the United States,” Secretary of State Kerry said on Monday. Hours later, his spokesman issued a correction, saying there were no provisions in the cease-fire to authorize new air strikes by the Syrian regime. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for his part, said that Syrian aircraft would carry out operations in areas where neither the Russians nor the Americans were bombing.

No End to the Suffering

There is very little to suggest that the new agreement will lead to an end to the Syrians’ suffering. It repeats the mistake of previous efforts in that it doesn’t envision any kind of sanctions in the event that Assad’s air force blocks humanitarian relief deliveries or continues to bomb residential areas, markets and hospitals with barrel bombs and chlorine gas. The territorial gains made by Assad’s troops since February also won’t be called into question, but will instead be accepted as the status quo. Furthermore, the joint airstrikes — agreed to without any control mechanism and with a US government that will be leaving office in several months’ time — will further escalate the situation.

In talks with the US, Russia prevailed on all its core demands. There is no demand to lift the sieges with which the regime’s troops are starving up to a million people. The fate of the 200,000 prisoners being detained under murderous conditions by the regime was also omitted. So too was the role played by foreign Shiite militias in Syria. Only Sunni militia groups were named in the US-Russia agreement. The Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbohllah — groups which, with their thousands of Shiite fighters, form the backbone of Assad’s ground forces — all go unmentioned. Yet these very groups have been listed by the US Treasury as terrorist organizations for years now.

Is Washington without a Plan?

It’s difficult to determine whether Secretary of State John Kerry failed in efforts to obtain his country’s key demands. The real question is whether Washington still even has any. In a memorandum sent in June, over 50 diplomats warned in vain that “failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh (the Arab word for Islamic State), even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield.”

In contrast to Washington, Moscow appears to plan its intervention in Syria several steps in advance. “When Russia intervened on Sept. 30, 2015, it had three aims,” Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst at the Henry Jackson Society in London, wrote on his blog earlier this week. “Rescue a tottering Assad regime, eliminate all possible workable oppositionists, and thereby rehabilitate Assad, converting military successes into political achievement by subverting the political process that was supposed to transition Assad into one that set the terms of his remaining. It has proceeded more or less to script.”

When Russia’s air force began airstrikes in the fall under the pretense of battling Islamic State but instead bombed those rebels doing battle against IS and the Assad regime, Washington did nothing. Rather than continuing to provide assistance to the non-Islamist groups that make up the Free Syrian Army, the United States gave them less and less support and soon none at all. Even when from the fall of 2014 to March of 2015 the Nusra Front became a threat to secular rebel groups like Division 13 or the Hazzm Movement, the US did nothing to protect these moderate groups.

This allowed Nusra Front to continue to expand, simply because the other groups had shrunk. Or, as one rebel commander in Aleppo put it just days ago, “They’re here, it’s true. But why? Because no one else is here. Where were the US and Russia? The US was nowhere and the Russians bombed us. And now both are saying: ‘Trust us!'”

The remaining rebel groups aren’t rejecting the Russian-American plan — they are maneuvering. They are doing so for the same reason they cooperate militarily with former Nusra fighters: pragmatism born out of necessity.

The following scenario could develop over the next few months: More moderate rebels will neither decouple themselves from the radical groups nor will they go up against them. Doing so would be tantamount to military suicide.

Charles Lister, an Anglo-American author and likely the most knowledgeable person out there about Syrian rebel groups, wrote recently on his Facebook page: “Having spoken with leadership figures from several dozen armed factions in recent weeks, I can say that not a single one suggested any willingness to withdraw from front-lines on which JFS is present. To them, doing so means ceding territory to the regime.” One way or another, Assad stands only to profit from the deal. If the rebels split, then even what is left of his army, weakened or not, could retake their areas. If they don’t split, then they will be bombed by the imminent Russian-American air alliance.

Falling Short

But if the stated goal of this agreement is to negotiate a solution making an end to the war possible and, moreover, to prevent a radicalization of the rebels, then it is promoting precisely the opposite on both points. It creates absolutely no pressure whatsoever for Assad to agree to negotiations. For as long as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard continues to provide it with a supply of fighters and Russia guarantees the long-term deployment of its air force, the Syrian dictator can continue to pursue military victory. Without them, however, he would go under pretty quickly.

In a recent report, former Russian colonel Mikhail Khodarenok gave the Syrian forces devastating marks. “Assad’s soldiers busy themselves with collecting bribes at checkpoints,” the report reads. “The Syrian forces have not conducted a single successful offensive in the past year.”

He writes that much of the fighting is conducted by foreign units, mercenaries and Syrian militias. “Assad’s generals do not believe their troops can bring the country to order without military aid from foreign states.” He says a dramatic dearth of men, morale and supplies is responsible. “It is impossible to win the war with such an ally as Assad’s army.” That’s why “a drastic decision” is needed to end the Syria campaign in 2016, involving the withdrawal of troops and leaving only the military bases, he writes.

Playing Into the Propagandists’s Hands

The desolate situation of its protégé is one of the primary reasons that Russia intervened in Syria one year ago. But since September, Russian air force squadrons have also shown that they are perfectly capable of destroying Syria all on their own. It was nevertheless important to Moscow that it join forces with the US for the Joint Implementation Center, because it means the Americans will also be politically liable for the bombings, the targets of which they aren’t even certain of. Radicals will die, as will moderate rebels and civilians. On the ground, it will look as though the Americans have taken over the task of killing from Assad.

And it all plays right into the hands of all the jihadist propagandists. They have long been spreading the idea that the American government ultimately wants to keep Assad in power and that all of the political talk has been nothing but a smoke screen. Kerry’s statements, the plans for next week and the targeted US attacks in Idlib and Aleppo all fit disturbingly well together













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