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TBR News August 1, 2018

Aug 01 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. August 1, 2018: “Our military is supposed to protect and defend the American people in theory but in practice, it sucks huge amounts of otherwise important tax-payer money to line their pockets and those of friendly military equipment suppliers. Ergo the many small wars against virtually defenseless countries, partially to justify the need for more and more money and partially to help friendly members of the American business community join them at the dinner table. And we are learning that members of the military, supposedly members of the defenders of the nation are selling the higest level of secrets to anyone with the money to assist their paltry life styles. Along with a vast amount of secret internet communication go a smaller amount of secrets about new weapons, military codes, deployments and many other factors that aid and assist others. Personal hands on experience with the upper levels of the military community leads only to the conclusion that patriotism is indeed not the last refuge of a scoundrel but the first.”

The Table of Contents

  • Trump says attorney general should stop Mueller probe ‘right now’
  • Deceased and still in debt: the student loans that don’t get forgiven
  • Chinese get top secret Navy codes through a whistle-blower.
  • American Islamophobia’s Fake Facts
  • Friends of Fat Donald the Groper  And you thought Pizzagate was nuts  What Is QAnon? The Craziest Theory of the Trump Era, Explained
  • Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire: And Ten Steps to Take to Do So
  • Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job.

 

Trump says attorney general should stop Mueller probe ‘right now’

August 1, 2018

by Doina Chiacu

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was any cooperation by his campaign with Moscow.

The Republican president, who has long complained about the criminal probe into his White House victory, said the idea that his campaign worked with Moscow was a “TOTAL HOAX” in a series of tweets aimed at undermining the integrity of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In what appeared to be his most direct call for shutting down the probe, Trump wrote on Twitter: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.

“Bob Mueller is totally conflicted,” Trump continued. He provided no evidence that the team led by Mueller, a Republican appointed by Republicans, is biased against him.

The first trial arising from the probe into Russia’s role in the election, began on Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, faces 18 counts of bank and tax fraud charges.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department had no immediate comment on Trump’s tweet about ending Mueller’s probe.

The Republican president has steadily attacked his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia probe in March 2017. Sessions cited his role as a senior adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the investigation.

Rosenstein in turn appointed Mueller and is the person with the authority to fire him.

An element of Mueller’s investigation includes whether Trump or anyone in the campaign tried to obstruct justice. The New York Times reported last week the Mueller team was examining negative tweets and statements by Trump about Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey.

The man heading Trump’s re-election campaign, Brad Parscale, has in recent months called on Trump to fire Sessions and end the Mueller probe.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign to try to tip the vote in Trump’s favor. Moscow has denied such interference, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign, or any obstruction of justice.

Trump also said the charges against Manafort have nothing to do with Russia collusion.

Manafort worked for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. While prosecutors have said they will not present evidence in this trial about possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, they may dig deeper into Manafort’s connections with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, legal experts have said.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Gregorio and Frances Kerry

 

Deceased and still in debt: the student loans that don’t get forgiven

It’s not clear how many deceased students Navient is chasing for money but the company has been riddled with controversy

August 1, 2018

by Mona Chalabi

The Guardian

In 2005, Sean Bennett took out a student loan with Sallie Mae, in 2010 he graduated from college and in 2011, when Sean was 23 years old, he died in a car accident.

At first, Sallie Mae sent out a letter of condolence to Sean’s parents explaining that they had a policy of forgiving debt if the recipient dies before they have repaid (they could afford to forgive – in the first quarter of this year alone, Sallie Mae made $333m in interest repayments from student loans).

Their policy of debt forgiveness is available on their website but it’s also in a file which Sean’s parents have meticulously maintained. It contains Sean’s loan application, his death certificate and the letters they received from Sean’s lenders when they decided to chase the debt after all.

Five years went by as Sean’s family tried to rebuild their lives without a son and a brother. Then, in 2017, the guarantors of Sean’s student loan (friends of the family who have asked not to be named here) received a bill for $48,824.82. At the bottom of the letter, a breakdown of the amount owed – $39,605.55 for for the principal plus $9,219.27 in unpaid interest and unpaid fees. At the top of the letter, there was a name neither Sean’s guarantors nor his family had ever heard of: Navient.

Sallie Mae split into two companies in 2014 – Sallie Mae and Navient – and the latter has lucrative contracts to collect payments on behalf of banks, government and other lenders. Navient became responsible for Sean’s student loan as well as 12m others but the company soon ran into trouble. In 2017, a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged that Navient “systematically and illegally [failed] borrowers at every stage of repayment”. The accusations were important for the one in four student loan borrowers with debt managed by Navient.

Student loans are the only form of consumer debt that continued to grow in the wake of the housing crisis – a report published earlier this year found that the US student debt appear to be heading towards a similar crisis. The report, published by the Brookings Institution analyzed data on the $1.3tn of US student loan debt and found that nearly 40% of borrowers could default on their student loans by 2023.

Accusations against Navient include abusive interest charges, hurting disabled military veterans by making inaccurate reports to credit companies about them and making repayments harder than necessary. But perhaps the firm’s future looks brighter. The Trump administration has repeatedly sought to curtail the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which filed the lawsuit against Navient, most recently in a proposal to cut the Bureau’s budget by a quarter. Such attacks were probably anticipated – immediately after the election, Navient’s stock jumped from $13 to $18.

The financial aid application that Sean filed in 2005 includes details of his family’s assets. Their household earned $45,000 per year, and had over $13,000 in debt. Sean needed guarantors and, believing that Sean was a reliable kid who would get a job and pay off the loan, two family friends stepped in. Just before he died, Sean had finally gotten his first big job working at a mobile phone network in Jamaica. His brother said he was “over the moon”.

It’s not clear how many other deceased students Navient is chasing for money but the company’s short history has been riddled with controversy. Last year alone, 6,708 federal complaints were filed about the company, in addition to 4,185 private complaints – more than any other student loan lender.

In response to questions about Sean’s case and the company’s practices regarding loan forgiveness in case of death, Navient responded: “We extend our sympathies to our customers experiencing a loss of a loved one and we work with them to offer assistance, which may include writing off or reducing the loan balance, lowering the interest rate and reducing the loan payments.”

 

Chinese get top secret Navy codes through a whistle-blower.

August 1, 2018

snb news service

Chinese government agents have obtained top secret U.S. Navy operational codes from an employee of the Naval Intelligence center at Suitland, Maryland and also have acquired an enormous quantity of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare — including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020.

The breaches occurred during the period May and June of 2018.

The data stolen was of a highly sensitive nature housed in what the Navy believed to be unbreakable and secure areas.

The breach is part of China’s long-running effort to blunt the U.S. advantage in military technology and become the preeminent power in East Asia. The news comes as the Trump administration is seeking to secure Beijing’s support in persuading North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, even as tensions persist between the United States and China over trade and defense matters.

The Navy is leading the investigation into the breach with the assistance of the FBI, officials said. Both U.S.Naval intelligence and the FBI declined to comment.

Altogether, details on hundreds of mechanical and software systems were compromised — a significant breach in a critical area of warfare that China has identified as a priority, both for building its own capabilities and challenging those of the United States.

Military experts fear that China has developed capabilities that could complicate the Navy’s ability to defend U.S. allies in Asia in the event of a conflict with China.

The Chinese are investing in a range of platforms, including ­quieter submarines armed with increasingly sophisticated weapons and new sensors. And what they cannot develop on their own, they steal — often through cyberspacem it has been reliably reported.

In recent years, the United States has been scrambling to develop new weapons or systems that can counter a Chinese naval buildup that has targeted perceived weaknesses in the U.S. fleet. Key to the American advantage in any faceoff with China on the high seas in Asia will be its submarine fleet.

China has made closing the gap in undersea warfare one of its three top military priorities, and although the United States still leads the field, China is making a concerted effort to diminish U.S. superiority.

“So anything that degrades our comparative advantage in undersea warfare is of extreme significance if we ever had to execute our war plans for dealing with China,” said James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a retired admiral who served as supreme allied commander at NATO.

The U.S. military let its anti-ship weaponry languish after the Cold War ended because with the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Navy no longer faced a peer competitor on the seas. But the rapid modernization and buildup of the Chinese navy in recent years, as well as Russia’s resurgent forces at sea, have prompted the Pentagon to renew heavy investment in technologies to sink enemy warships.

The introduction of a supersonic anti-ship missile on U.S. Navy submarines would make it more difficult for Chinese warships to maneuver. It also would augment a suite of other anti-ship weapons that the U.S. military has been developing in recent years.

The Chinese have stolen or been sold designs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the advanced Patriot PAC-3 missile system; the Army system for shooting down ballistic missiles known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense; and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship, a small surface vessel designed for near-shore operations, according to previous reports prepared for the Pentagon.

Chinese cyberspies stole a long list of U.S. weapons designs.

The Pentagon’s Damage Assessment Management Office is conducting an assessment of the damage, according to the U.S. officials. The Office of the Secretary of Defense declined to comment.

Signals and sensor data is also valuable in that it presents China with the opportunity to “know when we would know at what distance we would be able to detect their submarines,” he said — again a key factor in undersea battles.

Investigators say the theft was carried out by the Chinese Ministry of State Security, a civilian spy agency responsible for counterintelligence, foreign intelligence and domestic political security. The agents operated out of an MSS division in the province of Guangdong, which houses a major foreign hacking department.

The MSS hacks all forms of intelligence: foreign, military and commercial and is suspected of significant bribery of U.S. military technical support people.

 

American Islamophobia’s Fake Facts

Their “Proof” Is Not What They Say

by Arnold R. Isaacs

Tom Dispatch

Anti-Muslim activists in the United States were operating in a “post-truth era” and putting out “alternative facts” long before those phrases entered the language. For the last decade they have been spreading provable falsehoods through their well-organized network of publications and websites.

A major theme of those falsehoods is telling the U.S. public that Islam is inherently dangerous and that American Muslims, even if they do not embrace extremist religious beliefs or violent actions, are still a threat to national security. To back up that conclusion, the well-funded Islamophobia publicity machine incessantly repeats two specific assertions.

The first is that Muslims in this country have been engaged in a “stealth” or “civilizational jihad” — a long-term, far-reaching conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. legal system and other public institutions and bring America under Islamic law. The companion claim is that mainstream Muslim-American organizations are effectively “fronts” for the Muslim Brotherhood and so secretly controlled by international terrorists. In fact, the Brotherhood has not been designated as a terror organization by the U.S. government, and there are not the slightest grounds for thinking it, or any other secret force, controls any national Muslim-American group.

The Islamophobes offer only two pieces of supporting “evidence,” one for each of those claims. Exhibit A is a document falsely called the Brotherhood’s “master plan” for the clandestine effort to establish Muslim dominance in the United States. Exhibit B is a list of several hundred “unindicted co-conspirators,” including the Council on American Islamic Relations and other mainstream national Muslim organizations, that federal prosecutors put into the record during a 2007 terrorism-financing trial in Texas.

If you look at the exhibits themselves, instead of the descriptions of them by anti-Muslim groups, it’s obvious that neither is what the Islamophobes say it is or proves what they allege it proves.

The Secret Plan That Wasn’t

Let’s start with the so-called master plan, a memorandum written nearly three decades ago that is not just the centerpiece but essentially the sole source for the tale of a “civilizational jihad” conspiracy.

The Islamophobia network unfailingly refers to the memorandum as an official declaration of Muslim Brotherhood strategy. Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy and perhaps the country’s most prominent Islamophobe, called it “the Muslim Brotherhood secret plan for taking down our country.” Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, two other leading voices in the anti-Muslim chorus, have written that “the Brotherhood lays out a plan [in the document] to do nothing less than conquer and Islamize the United States.”

Those statements are, however, unsupported by facts of any sort. The document, dated May 1991 and titled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America,” is real, but there is no evidence that it represents the views of anyone other than the single Brotherhood member who wrote it. For that matter, no one has ever found any indication that anyone other than the author even saw the text, written in Arabic, until 13 years after it was completed, when it was coincidentally unearthed in a storage box during an FBI search of a home in Annandale, Virginia. No other copy is known to exist. Its wording makes it unmistakably clear that the writer was proposing a strategy to the Brotherhood’s leadership, not presenting a plan approved by any authority. No evidence has come to light that suggests his proposals were ever considered, let alone adopted, by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

Gaffney and the many other Islamophobes who cite it as proof of a “stealth jihad” threat against the United States have never presented additional documentation of any kind. No known Muslim Brotherhood correspondence or records refer to the memorandum, as one would expect if there had been a formal discussion of it or even an exchange between the author and any Brotherhood governing body.

After a careful search of available Brotherhood records, researchers at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which combats Islamophobia, determined that neither the memorandum nor its specific proposals appear in any documents they found. That includes records from the Brotherhood Shura Council’s 1991 meeting, where the memorandum’s author had specifically asked to have it put on the agenda. Other investigators have similarly failed to find any trace of the memorandum in other records. David Shipler, who wrote about it at length in his book Freedom of Speech, calls it an “orphan document” — and a childless orphan at that.

Taking Down Our Country? Not Exactly…

As well as falsely representing the memorandum’s status, the Islamophobes are also notably less than accurate in describing its contents.

They regularly quote a single sentence that refers to “destroying the Western civilization from within” so that “God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” But that’s the only line in 18 pages of text that even comes close to suggesting the idea of “taking down our country,” as Gaffney puts it. Aside from that single reference there is no other mention of destroying Western civilization, no discussion of when that downfall might come about or how it might be achieved “from within.” There’s not a word about penetrating government structures or the legal system, nothing about clandestine action or a secret plot to take power.

Instead, the plan’s dominant concept — similar to the evangelical vision preached in many religions — is achieving Islamic supremacy through proselytizing and conversion. Virtually the entire text focuses on believers, not non-believers, and how to organize and strengthen the Muslim community in the U.S. so that it will be better able to carry out that effort.

“It is not a plot. It is a missionary strategy,” Edward Curtis IV, professor of religious studies and editor of the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History, told me in an email after reading the memorandum. The document comes much closer to that description than to Gaffney’s. At its heart is a long list of specific ideas for establishing — openly, not secretly — Muslim structures in many areas of public life: education, law, media, financial institutions, art and culture, social and charitable work, and so on. A recommendation to create “clubs for training and learning self-defense techniques” is the only item on the list that even glancingly touches on any sort of violent action.

The purpose of such an organizing effort, the author explains, is to pursue the Brotherhood’s declared goal of “enablement of Islam in North America,” which he says has these components: “establishing an effective and a stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood which adopts Muslims’ causes domestically and globally, and which works to expand the observant Muslim base, aims at unifying and directing Muslims’ efforts, presents Islam as a civilization alternative, and supports the global Islamic State wherever it is.”

When those aims are achieved, the writer argues, Muslims will be more united, politically and economically stronger, truer to their faith, and more committed to dawa (proselytizing), which will eventually realize the Prophet’s vision and establish Islam as the universally accepted one true religion. For many believers, dawa (also spelled dawah) has political as well as spiritual goals, including the ultimate establishment of an Islamic state. But the Brotherhood has traditionally conceived of it as a nonviolent process, conducted through persuasion and grassroots organizing, not a violent one carried out through acts of terror or sabotage.

The memorandum’s message is consistent with the Brotherhood’s conservative theology and its dream of an Islamized world. But it is not the sinister conspiracy the Islamophobes keep talking about without providing any evidence that it exists.

The Co-Conspiracy Theory Is Missing Any Facts

The other main thread in the anti-Muslim narrative — the charge that mainstream Muslim-American organizations generally, and CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) in particular, have “terror ties” — is similarly based on a single piece of “evidence.” Like the Brotherhood’s “master plan,” it, too, is misleadingly presented and does not prove the Islamophobes’ allegations.

The document that supposedly verifies the claim that CAIR and other groups are linked to Islamist terrorism is a list of “unindicted co-conspirators” attached to a pre-trial brief submitted by prosecutors in 2007 in the Holy Land Foundation case. (By the way, that’s the same trial where the “explanatory memorandum” first surfaced.) In that case, five leaders of a Texas-based Islamic charity were eventually convicted of donating to charitable programs linked with Hamas, the group that now controls the Gaza Strip and is a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization.

That list was not submitted as evidence and, despite the ominous sound of that label “co-conspirator,” it was not accompanied by any specific allegations of terrorist involvement or of an explicit conspiratorial act by any of the organizations or individuals named on the list. Rather, the prosecutors filed the brief for purely tactical reasons. Their aim: getting around the usual ban on hearsay testimony, which can be introduced when an out-of-court statement comes from someone officially named as a co-conspirator.

In the Holy Land case itself, the defendants were not accused of directly aiding any terrorist activity, and no specific violent act is mentioned anywhere in the charges. The U.S. government itself acknowledged that some of the donated funds supported legitimate humanitarian projects.

The connection with CAIR is even more tenuous. The only link: that CAIR’s founder, Omar Ahmad, was associated with the U.S. Palestine Committee, an umbrella group for Holy Land and other organizations. Ahmad’s activities, however, took place in the early 1990s before Hamas was declared a terrorist group.

In a 2009 ruling on a motion from CAIR and two other organizations seeking to be removed from the list, a U.S. district judge held that the co-conspirator designation was “unaccompanied by any facts” indicating possible terrorist connections. Strongly criticizing the prosecutors for putting it into the open record in the first place, he ordered the list sealed. It had, however, already been so widely circulated that no order could keep it from public view. Meanwhile, after reviewing the list, the Justice Department concluded that no criminal investigation of any sort was warranted.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the two other organizations named on the list — the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) — prosecutors made no claim that the “co-conspirators” had actually conspired in any way to help terrorists or engaged in any other criminal activity. In a press release accompanying one of its court filings, the ACLU noted that “the government conceded… that it had absolutely no evidence proving that either ISNA or NAIT had engaged in a criminal conspiracy.” The lead prosecutor in the Holy Land case, the ACLU statement went on, told the organizations’ lawyers that they “were not subjects or targets in the HLF prosecution or in any other pending investigation.”

In the more than 11 years since the list was made public, no new information has emerged that corroborates the inflammatory assertion that CAIR or the other Muslim-American groups are terrorist organizations or fronts for Hamas. Nor have researchers who track homegrown terror cases turned up any known link between a national Muslim-American organization and any violent incident. David Sterman, who manages the think tank New America’s extensive Terrorism in America database, says flatly, “Neither CAIR nor any other major American Muslim organization has played a role in jihadist terrorist plotting in the United States.” (That’s true of the Muslim Brotherhood, too. Internationally, some Brotherhood offshoots have engaged in terrorism. But despite overwrought claims from the anti-Muslim set, the Brotherhood has never been implicated in any violent act of terror in the United States. Even the Trump administration has decided not to add it to the list of officially designated terror organizations.)

Proving a negative is always a hard proposition, but one strong backup for this one is what the Islamophobes themselves say — or, more precisely, don’t say. While they unceasingly slam CAIR’s alleged terrorism ties, Gaffney, Geller, and their cohorts have not offered a single plausible example of an incident of Islamist terrorism in which CAIR or one of the other organizations on their smear list was involved.

If the Islamophobes had even one actual case, they would certainly have proclaimed it nonstop, at top volume. So its absence from their rhetoric is a clear sign that they have no such evidence — in all likelihood because, like the Muslim Brotherhood’s “civilizational jihad,” it doesn’t exist.

Inventing Make-Believe Enemies Helps the Real Ones

Those untruths are not just bigoted and dishonest but dangerous. In the struggle against the real threat from violent Islamic extremism, the Islamophobes’ false statements and overall message help the terrorists, not the security of Americans.

Falsely demonizing all Muslims, their beliefs, and their institutions is exactly the wrong way to make Americans safer, because the more we scare ourselves with imaginary enemies, the harder it will be to find and protect ourselves from real ones. As New America’s David Sterman points out, “The vast majority of jihadist activity today is not even organized by radical clerics, returned fighters, or militant operatives but instead is mediated online or via small peer groups of friends.” Those threats will not be detected by pursuing nonexistent conspiracies. The surest way to find them will be through information from relatives, neighbors, religious teachers, fellow worshippers — that is, in the great majority of cases, fellow Muslims.

The vast majority of American Muslims oppose extremism and violence by Muslims or anyone else and have no wish to live under the brutal rule practiced by jihadist fanatics. As a religious minority in a country where their faith makes them potential victims of hate crimes, Muslims have stronger reasons than most Americans for believing in and practicing religious tolerance, not holy war. Keeping Muslim Americans as allies and maintaining their trust in our common values and political and legal institutions will be critical in successfully opposing extremist violence. Losing that trust and driving them away, as the Islamophobes’ ugly falsehoods inevitably will, can only help the terrorists.

 

Friends of Fat Donald the Groper

AND YOU THOUGHT PIZZAGATE WAS NUTS

What Is QAnon? The Craziest Theory of the Trump Era, Explained

From celebrities to the grassroots, the right is obsessed with the idea there is a secret conspiracy where Hillary is headed for Gitmo. Here’s everything you need to know.

July 6, 2018

by Will Sommer

The Daily Beast

Plotters in the deep state tried to shoot down Air Force One and foil President Trump’s North Korea summit. A cabal of global elites, including top figures in Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and the intelligence agencies, are responsible for nearly all the evil in the world. And now Trump is going to fix it all with thousands of sealed indictments, sending the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama straight to Guantanamo Bay.

Or at least that’s how the world is going for the believers of QAnon, the complex pro-Trump conspiracy theory that’s starting to having unpredictable effects in real life. The real  news can be bad for Trump, but in QAnon-world, the president and his supporters really are getting sick of winning.

Who Is “Q”?

QAnon springs from a series of cryptic clues that started to be posted online in October 2017. Starting on 4Chan before migrating to the even more fringe 8Chan, the anonymous person behind the clues  goes by “Q,” a reference to a high-level government security clearance. The “Anon” in “QAnon” refers to both Q himself, and to Q’s nameless supporters, the “anons.”

Q is supposed to be revealing this top-secret information via the clues, which QAnon fans have dubbed “breadcrumbs.” They’re written in a short bursts, in a reference-heavy style that’s part poem, part ransom note. Here’s one example from June:

Think SC vote to confirm (coming).

No Name action.

Every dog has its day.

Enjoy the show.

Q

“No Name” is Q’s nickname for John McCain, and “SC” is obviously the Supreme Court. As for “every dog has its day” — that’s the kind of cryptic Q remark that has spawned a cottage industry of PDFs and 24/7 livestreams analyzing the crumbs.

Since Q could be anyone with internet access and a working knowledge of conspiracy theories, there’s no reason to think that Q is a member of the Trump administration rather than, say, a troll or YouTube huckster. But incredibly, lots of people believe it.

In April, hundreds of QAnon believers staged a march in downtown Washington, D.C. with a vague demand for “transparency” from the Justice Department. “Q” shirts have become frequent sites at Trump rallies, with one QAnon believer scoring VIP access. In June, an armed man in an homemade armored truck shut down a highway near the Hoover Dam and held up signs referencing QAnon. And celebrities like comedian Roseanne Barr and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling have signed on.

QAnon is unusual, according to University of Miami professor Joseph Uscinski, because it offers Republicans an alternate view of the world when they already control nearly the entire government. Usually, “conspiracy theories are for losers,” Uscinski said,

“Normally you don’t expect the winning party to use them, except when they’re in trouble,” Uscinski said.

The Origin Story

Since Q’s “breadcrumbs” are so vague, it’s impossible to nail down exactly what the storyline is supposed to be. But the general story, outlined in a pro-QAnon video endorsed by Schilling, is that every president before Trump was a “criminal president” in league with all the nefarious groups of conspiracy theories past: the global banking elite, death squads operating on orders from Hillary Clinton, deep-state intelligence operatives, and Pizzagate-style pedophile rings. In an effort to break this cabal’s grip, according to Q, the military convinced Trump to run for president.

Now Trump and his allies in the military are poised to arrest all these wrongdoers, shipping many of them off to Guantanamo Bay. That coming purge has been dubbed “The Storm” by QAnon fans, who claim Trump referenced it when he referenced “the calm before the storm” in October.

While the Storm is at the center of the QAnon narrative, it’s also flexible enough to fold in just anything that makes the news. Q is fond of hinting that each mass shooting is a false-flag attack organized by the cabal, and he used a blurry webcam picture of a flash of light near the Puget Sound to claim that the deep state had tried to shoot down Trump’s plane.

QAnon fans are obsessed with finding proof that whoever is behind Q is actually connected to the Trump administration. During one Trump trip to Asia, Q posted some pictures of islands, which supporters seized on as proof that Q was on Air Force One. Q is also fond of predicting Trump tweets that, in retrospect, don’t exactly require top-secret clearance  — that Trump will tweet “Saturday” on Small Business Saturday, or “Juneteenth” on June 19th.

Fans also point to Trump using phrases “predicted” by Q as proof of the story’s legitimacy. After one supporter requested that Trump used the phrase “tip top” in the State of the Union Address, While Trump never said “tip top” in that speech, QAnon supporters felt vindicated three months later when Trump said it instead at the White House Easter Egg Roll. QAnon supporters have even claimed Trump uses his hands to make a “Q” sign as a signal to them.

QAnon supporters love to speculate about Q’s identity, predicting that it’s either a highly placed White House staffer or even Trump himself. Other, more mundane theories about Q’s identity abound, but there’s not much compelling evidence pointing in any direction.

Even when Q’s predictions disappoint, the QAnon community keeps going. Q hyped up the release of the Justice Department’s inspector general report on the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email investigation, for example, promising that it would contain the promised “Storm” of revelations about top Democrats and the deep state. When the report fizzled, however, Q promised that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a frequent target of QAnon jabs, had tampered with the report. Trump had the real report, Q claimed, and that report’s release would solve everything.

Decoding It All

While QAnon has been the breakout conspiracy theory of the Trump era, not everyone on the right is on board. The farcical nature of QAnon’s clues has tended to alienate many younger, more internet-savvy people on the right, including members of the alt-right. QAnon also alienated a swathe of the right-wing conspiracy theory internet after Q denounced other internet personalities who had been speculating about the clues, accusing them of trying to profit off the movement. But QAnon has been a hit with older Trump supporters, leading to tech-illiterate baby boomers looking to spread the QAnon gospel asking for help in internet forums on “how to meme.”

Nine months after it started, QAnon world has accumulated an internal language of its own. The moderators of the QAnon forums and the interpreters of the clues call themselves “bakers,” a reference to the “breadcrumbs.” QAnon followers are fixated on which public officials are “white hats” or “black hats,” meaning whether they’re really working for Trump or are agents of the cabal. They urge one another to “follow the white rabbit,” which made Trump delivering his “tip top” speech next to the Easter Bunny all the more portentous.

QAnon believers even have a slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” which they often abbreviate to “WWG1WGA.” It’s become a rallying cry for QAnon fans that Q has attributed to President John F. Kennedy, although it actually appears to come from the 1996 action movie White Squall.

That community of people deciphering the clues seems to be as important to QAnon believers as Q’s message itself. On QAnon forums, believers talk about the idea that the cabal they believe is responsible for most of the trouble in the United States will soon be swept away has given them hope. Despite obviously being fake, then, it doesn’t look like QAnon is going to go away anytime soon.

 

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire: And Ten Steps to Take to Do So

by Chalmers Johnson

Tom Dispatch

However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there — 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony — that is, control or dominance — over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past — including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

  1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that “[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., the president again insisted, “Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world.” And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that “[w]e will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.

According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:

“America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today’s world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony.”

There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:

“Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases.”

In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.

Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.

Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, “Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe.” According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.

In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush’s imperial adventures — if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.

Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.

  1. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us

One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan’s modern history — to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories — the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain’s foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.

Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): “Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland.” An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which — just as British imperial officials did — has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own “political agent” who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.

According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

“If Washington’s bureaucrats don’t remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world’s sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States.”

In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: “We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers” (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.

The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of “collateral damage,” or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts, among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.

When in May 2009 General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)

Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service’s focus on Afghanistan, “Pakistan has always been the problem.” They add:

“Pakistan’s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch… from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s] and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan’s army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government.” (p. 322-324)

The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train “freedom fighters” throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan’s consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.

Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: “Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India.”

Obama’s mid-2009 “surge” of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland’s continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.

Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union’s, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

  1. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases

In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, “Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.” He continued:

“New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults — 2,923 — and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them.”

The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.

That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.

The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. “The military’s record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it’s atrocious,” writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called “Status of Forces Agreements” (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.

This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.

In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret “understanding” as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of “national importance to Japan.” The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.

Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.

Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the “culture of unpunished sexual assaults” and the “shockingly low numbers of courts martial” for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.

It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior.  I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.

10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire

Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:

  1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.
  2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the “opportunity costs” that go with them — the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can’t or won’t.
  3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.
  4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters — along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth — that follow our military enclaves around the world.
  5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.
  6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world’s largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army’s infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)
  7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.
  8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.
  9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.
  10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.

 

Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job.

August 1 2018

by Alex Emmons

The Intercept

Thirteen hours before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned from the presidential Twitter feed that he was being fired, he did something that President Donald Trump had been unwilling to do. Following a phone call with his British counterpart, Tillerson condemned a deadly nerve agent attack in the U.K., saying that he had “full confidence in the U.K.’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had called the attack “reckless, indiscriminate, and irresponsible,” but stopped short of blaming Russia, leading numerous media outlets to speculate that Tillerson was fired for criticizing Russia.

But in the months that followed his departure, press reports strongly suggested that the countries lobbying hardest for Tillerson’s removal were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were frustrated by Tillerson’s attempts to mediate and end their blockade of Qatar. One report in the New York Times even suggested that the UAE ambassador to Washington knew that Tillerson would be forced out three months before he was fired in March.

The Intercept has learned of a previously unreported episode that stoked the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s anger at Tillerson and that may have played a key role in his removal. In the summer of 2017, several months before the Gulf allies started pushing for his ouster, Tillerson intervened to stop a secret Saudi-led, UAE-backed plan to invade and essentially conquer Qatar, according to one current member of the U.S. intelligence community and two former State Department officials, all of whom declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

In the days and weeks after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed down their land, sea, and air borders with the country, Tillerson made a series of phone calls urging Saudi officials not to take military action against the country. The flurry of calls in June 2017 has been reported, but State Department and press accounts at the time described them as part of a broad-strokes effort to resolve tensions in the Gulf, not as an attempt by Tillerson to avert a Saudi-led military operation.

In the calls, Tillerson, who dealt extensively with the Qatari government as the CEO of Exxon Mobil, urged Saudi King Salman, then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir not to attack Qatar or otherwise escalate hostilities, the sources told The Intercept. Tillerson also encouraged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to call his counterparts in Saudi Arabia to explain the dangers of such an invasion. Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar’s capital city, is the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and home to some 10,000 American troops.

Pressure from Tillerson caused Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, to back down, concerned that the invasion would damage Saudi Arabia’s long-term relationship with the U.S. But Tillerson’s intervention enraged Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and effective ruler of that country, according to the U.S. intelligence official and a source close to the Emirati royal family, who declined to be identified, citing concerns about his safety.

Later that June, Mohammed bin Salman would be named crown prince, leapfrogging over his cousin to become next in line for the throne after his elderly father. His ascension signaled his growing influence over the kingdom’s affairs.

Qatari intelligence agents working inside Saudi Arabia discovered the plan in the early summer of 2017, according to the U.S. intelligence official. Tillerson acted after the Qatari government notified him and the U.S. embassy in Doha. Several months later, intelligence reporting by the U.S. and U.K. confirmed the existence of the plan.

The plan, which was largely devised by the Saudi and UAE crown princes and was likely some weeks away from being implemented, involved Saudi ground troops crossing the land border into Qatar, and, with military support from the UAE, advancing roughly 70 miles toward Doha. Circumventing the U.S. air base, Saudi forces would then seize the capital.

On June 20, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that Tillerson had “more than 20 calls and meetings with Gulf and other regional and intermediate actors,” including three phone calls and two meetings with Jubeir. “The more time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” she said.

A spokesperson for the State Department told The Intercept last week that “throughout the dispute, all parties have explicitly committed to not resort to violence or military action.” Tillerson, reached through a personal assistant, did not respond to interview requests.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told The Intercept that although Mattis meets regularly with the secretary of state, the “details and frequency of those meetings are confidential.”

“The Department of Defense has made clear that the persistent Gulf rift puts at risk mutual regional security priorities and has encouraged all parties seek resolution,” Rebarich said. “It is critical that the [Gulf Cooperation Council] recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution that provides for enhanced regional stability and prosperity.”

Spokespeople for the Saudi and UAE embassies did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Qatari embassy in D.C. also did not respond to interview requests from The Intercept. None of the information in this story was provided by Qatari government officials or the country’s paid public relations consultants.

The invasion plan raises questions about interventionist tendencies on the part of two of the U.S.’s closest allies and largest weapons clients. In recent years, both countries have demonstrated a willingness to use military force to reshape politics in the Gulf, intervening in Bahrain to suppress an Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and waging a three-year, U.S.-backed war that has devastated Yemen.

Robert Malley, president and CEO of Crisis Group and a former top Middle East adviser to President Barack Obama, said that since the summer of 2017, Qatari officials have consistently told him that their country had been threatened with invasion.

“There is little doubt that senior Qatari officials with whom I spoke were convinced — or at least acted as if they were convinced — that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been planning a military attack on their country that was halted as a result of U.S. intervention,” Malley told The Intercept.

Tillerson’s attempts to de-escalate the conflict in the Gulf diverged from the signals sent by the White House. Trump offered a full-throated public endorsement of the blockade, tweeting that “perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.” As Tillerson called on the Gulf countries to lift their embargo, Trump told reporters that “the nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

According to one news report, Tillerson was frustrated with the White House for undercutting him, and his aides suspected that the line in Trump’s prepared Rose Garden remarks had been written by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a powerful D.C. player who maintained “almost constant phone and email contact” with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to Politico.

At the time, Kushner was personally handling much of the administration’s diplomacy with the Gulf states, and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were choosing to go through him instead of the U.S. defense or intelligence establishments. Kushner communicated directly with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE using the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.

Some Gulf watchers speculate that the incentive for the planned invasion may have been partly financial. Saudi Arabia’s “cradle to grave” welfare system relies on high oil prices, which plummeted in 2014 and have not fully recovered. Since the current king came to power in 2015, the country has spent more than a third of its $737 billion in reserves, and last year, the Saudi economy entered a painful recession. In response, the government has looked for ways to raise money, including by selling shares in the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco.

“It’s unsustainable,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and 30-year CIA officer, in a lecture last November. “In the three years since [King Salman] ascended to the throne, one third of Saudi Arabia’s reserves have already been spent. You don’t need to have an MBA from the Wharton school to figure out what that means six years from now.”

If the Saudis had succeeded in seizing Doha, they would potentially have been able to gain access to the country’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund. In November of last year, months after the plan collapsed, the Saudi crown prince rounded up and detained dozens of his relatives in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, forcing them to sign over billions in privately held assets. The government justified the detentions as a corruption crackdown, but it allowed the state to recoup billions in assets for government use.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, the crown princes in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi began lobbying the White House for Tillerson’s removal, according to the source close to the Emirati royal family and another source who is close to the Saudi royal family.

None of the current or former officials interviewed by The Intercept had direct insight into why Trump decided to fire Tillerson. But one source told The Intercept that the timing — a week before the Saudi crown prince arrived for a much-publicized visit to Washington — was significant. During that visit, MBS, as the crown prince is known, was set to discuss the Qatar crisis and future arms sales with the administration.

Four of the sources interviewed by The Intercept also pointed to an ongoing campaign by the UAE to try to provoke Qatar into escalating the crisis. Qatar has continued to complain about violations of its airspace by UAE aircraft, detailing its accusations in a letter to the U.N. earlier this year.

The UAE’s harassment of Qatar also includes crude public insults lodged by UAE leadership against the Qatari royal family. The jibes frequently emanate from the verified Twitter account of Hamad al Mazrouei, a high-level Emirati intelligence official and righthand man to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Mazrouei’s account frequently tweets sexually suggestive content directed at Mozah bint Nasser, the mother of the emir of Qatar. Just last week, Mazrouei tweeted a video of a man and woman – with Mazrouei and Sheikha Mozah’s faces photoshopped onto their bodies – doing a raunchy bump-and-grind.

The content and audacity of Mazrouei’s tweets have led to speculation in Qatari media that the account is actually controlled by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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