TBR News March 10, 2015

Mar 10 2015

The Voice of the White House

        Washington, D.C. March 5, 2015: “Once, the American print media exerted a tremendous control over the perceptions of the American public and the CIA made certain, by establishing “working agrerements” with media ownership that only their views would be reported to the public. But as in all such matters, times have changed and the American print media is rapidly collapsing. Subscribers have deserted the press in huge numbers and advertisters have followed suit, as witness the flood of ads for useless and overpriced goods being shoved all over the Internet.”


Germany’s intel agency says MH17 downed by Ukraine militia – report

March !0, 2015


           Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency says a local militia shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July, Der Spiegel reports. The BND is said to possess “ample evidence,” though none of it has been made public.

The statement was made on October 8, when Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) president Gerhard Schindler was holding a secret meeting with members of the parliamentary control committee, the German daily reported on Sunday.

He claimed the militia fired a rocket from a BUK defense missile system which it had captured from a Ukrainian base. It then exploded next to the plane, according to the report.

“Schindler provided ample evidence to back up his case, including satellite images and diverse photo evidence,” the report added.

However, no “evidence” has yet been made public, and the BND has not made any official statements on the matter.

At the same meeting, Schindler reportedly said that certain intelligence on the crash provided by the Ukrainian side was false, adding that “this can be explained in detail.” However, he did not give much credit to Russia’s evidence either.

The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office told the newspaper that an investigation has been launched into unknown perpetrators under the possibility that the downing had been a war crime.

First deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrey Purgin, refuted claims made by the German intelligence agency. He told Interfax that Kiev forces could have downed the plane, mistaking it for a spy jet.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was downed over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Nearly two-thirds of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

The ongoing international probe led by the Dutch has not yet established who the perpetrators were. A preliminary report issued in September said only that the plane crashed as a result of structural damage caused by a “large number of high-energy objects” that struck from outside.


Political analyst Aleksandar Pavic told RT that he believes Berlin is trying to influence the Dutch investigation – the results of which are to be released next year.

“Germany has now the obligation to show the evidence to the official investigation,” he said. “This is like during trial: if you release bits and pieces of evidence before while the trial is still ongoing, you are trying to influence the outcome of the trial.”

Russia has been repeatedly denied accusations, mostly from the US, which claim that Moscow was connected to the tragedy in some way or another. The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Washington’s accusations “unsubstantiated innuendos.”

The US State Department has accused Russia of firing artillery across the border into Ukrainian territory after the plane crash.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters during a briefing in July. But she refused to provide any evidence when grilled by an Associated Press reporter.

Meanwhile, Moscow has posed a series of questions to the US that have been left unanswered. Russian military officials urged their US colleagues to release satellite images that prove their claims.

“If our US colleagues have imagery from this satellite, they should release it for the international community to examine it in detail. This may be a coincidence, but the US satellite flew over Ukraine at exactly the same time when the Malaysian airliner crashed,” a ministry spokesman said in a July statement.

The US has accused local militia forces of shooting down the plane. However, it has provided little to no evidence in support of such claims.

Following the crash, Harf was asked at a press briefing if the US could back up its claims regarding the role of such militias in the tragedy. Harf responded that she “can’t get into the sources and methods behind it” and “can’t tell you what the information is based on.”

In late July, the US State Department released satellite images via email, claiming the pictures acted as “evidence” that Russia was firing rockets at Ukrainian troops across the border. The images were posted on Twitter by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the authenticity of the images was impossible to prove.

Meanwhile, Russia has said that its military detected a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet gaining height towards the MH17 Boeing on the day of the catastrophe. No explanation was given by Kiev as to why the military plane was flying so close to a passenger aircraft.


The “Snowden is Ready to Come Home!” Story: a Case Study in Typical Media Deceit

March 4, 2015

by Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald

The Intercept

The “Snowden is Ready to Come Home!” Story: a Case Study in Typical Media Deceit

 Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

Snowden has also pointed out that legal protections for whistleblowers are explicitly inapplicable to those, like him, who are employed by private contractors (rendering President Obama’s argument about why Snowden should “come home” entirely false). One month after Snowden was revealed, Daniel Ellsberg wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post arguing that Snowden did the right thing in leaving the U.S. because he would not be treated fairly, and argued Snowden should not return until he is guaranteed a fully fair trial.

Snowden has said all of this over and over. In June 2013, when I asked him during the online Guardian chat why he left the U.S. for Hong Kong, he said: “the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home . . . That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.” In January 2014, AP reported about a new online chat Snowden gave: “Snowden said returning would be the best resolution. But Snowden said he can’t return because he wouldn’t be allowed to argue at trial that he acted in the public interest when he revealed the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.” In that chat, he said: “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself.”

In his May 2014 interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, Snowden said: “I don’t think there’s ever been any question that I’d like to go home.” That led to headlines like this one from CBS News — on May 29, 2014, more than nine months ago:

For many months, it has also been repeatedly reported there have been negotiations between the DOJ and Snowden’s lawyers for the terms of his return, though those negotiations have gone nowhere. In April 2014, the New York Times reported that Snowden “retained a well ­known Washington defense lawyer last summer in hopes of reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors that would allow him to return to the United States and spare him significant prison time.” In June 2014, Bill Gertz reported that “Federal prosecutors recently held discussions with representatives of renegade National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden on a possible deal involving his return to the United States.”

Snowden’s U.S. lawyers have repeatedly said the same thing. In April 2014, New York magazine — under the headline “Snowden Hired Lawyer to Negotiate a Plea Deal” — reported:

Government officials said negotiations with Snowden’s lawyers remained at an early stage, and it doesn’t appear that there’s any deal on the horizon. However, Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents Snowden, said he is still “interested in returning home” from Moscow, where he has temporary asylum. Wizner continued:

“He is and always has been on America’s side. He would cooperate in extraordinary ways in the right circumstances. But he does not believe that the ‘felon’ label is the right word for someone whose act of conscience has revitalized democratic oversight of the intelligence community and is leading to historic reforms.”

Yesterday, in Moscow, Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena held a press conference to promote his new book, was asked about Snowden’s case, and said exactly what has been known for almost two years: “He has a desire to go back, and we are doing everything possible to make that happen.” Kucherena added that lawyers in various countries have been working on Snowden’s behalf to negotiate terms for a fair trial.

Various media outlets then took these redundant, anodyne comments and distorted them into some brand new BREAKING!! event — as though Snowden suddenly decided for the first time he wants to Come Home — and then proceeded to extract from this fake narrative a series of utterly misleading, false and propagandistic claims about Snowden, Russia and the NSA. The first instance I saw of this was yesterday morning, from Politico’s digital editorial director Blake Hounshell, looking as always to generate Politico clicks by hyping empty garbage:

That was retweeted by dozens of journalists and others, treating it like some sort of new confession on Snowden’s part that he’s suddenly “ready to return” home. Over and over, print and television media outlets then spent the rest of the day screeching that Snowden has now decided he wants to come home!!! “Snowden Seeks to Return Home,” proclaimed the headline of the New York Times, while the article strongly suggested this was a new desire created by life in Moscow: Snowden “would like to return to the U.S. after nearly two years of exile in Russia.” The NSA-allied website Lawfare cited the article to claim: “Edward Snowden wants to come home.” ABC pronounced: “NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Wants to Return Home.” Reuters: “Fugitive ex-NSA contractor Snowden seeks to come home: lawyer.” And on and on and on.

Countless cable shows similarly treated this like some sort of breaking, revealing news about Snowden’s life in Russia and his desperation to return to the Land of the Free — all based on things that happened over and over during the last 20 months. The most hilariously inane was this CNN discussion of “BREAKING NOW” news hosted by Wolf Blitzer, involving his know-nothing panelists: CNN “counter-terrorism analyst” (i.e., former CIA counter-terrorism official) Phillip Mudd, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, and Newt Gingrich, all of whom put on their Serious Expert Faces to spout utter idiocy. Let’s look at some of what they said:

Mudd: “I don’t understand why someone who is one of the most remarkable leakers we’ve ever seen gets to flee overseas, and then talk to the Department of Justice about what he wants for his trial. Come home, son, and spend your 30 years in jail. He’s cooked.”

CNN’s “expert” is apparently unaware that the DOJ very frequently — almost always, in fact — negotiates with people charged with very serious felonies over plea agreements. He’s also apparently unaware of this thing called “asylum,” which the U.S. routinely grants to people charged by other countries with crimes on the ground that they’d be persecuted with imprisonment if they returned home.

Also, with this prevailing mentality being spewed by former government officials and current news network “experts” — “come home, son, and spend your 30 years in jail. He’s cooked” — does anyone have difficulty seeing why Snowden believes he would not get a fair trial?

Ignatius: “It must be very difficult to be Edward Snowden, living in the Moscow of Vladimir Putin, at a time when Putin’s opposition is being murdered in the streets, so I can’t help but think that Snowden wants out, and the fact that he’s willing to negotiate, which he said before he wouldn’t do, is interesting.”

It’s hard to overstate how false and misleading this is. Snowden had never said he wouldn’t negotiate for his return; as I’ve demonstrated, he’s been negotiating this through his lawyers informally for a long time, and his position has always been the same: he’d like to return home if he could be assured a fair trial. David Ignatitus just made all of this up, all based on this fake news item that Snowden has had some sort of sudden change of heart.

Then there’s the bit about living in the Russia “of Vladimir Putin.” For more than 60 years, U.S. elites have been eager to tell Americans that anyone living in Russia is inherently miserable. That’s particularly true of Western dissidents: the apocryphal stories of British defector Kim Philby being destroyed by a dark, lonely, miserable existence that culminated in his drinking himself to death are often invoked to suggest that a similar fate awaits Snowden (who doesn’t drink, who lives with his longtime girlfriend, who is regarded as a hero by millions and millions of people around the world, who receives awards and prestigious appointments, and who is incredibly gratified and fulfilled both by what he did and his current life).

That’s all Ignatius is up to with these claims, all based on the obvious media-created fiction that Snowden has suddenly realized how desperate he is to leave Russia. Again, this entire conversation — like the whole media blitz yesterday about this story — is all based on utter fiction.

This “everyone-in-Russia-is-miserable” line has been a staple of U.S propaganda since the end of World War II, and remarkably, nothing has changed. Indeed, the climate created by our New Cold Warriors is, in some respects, even more desperate than the “he’s-a-Soviet-shill” tactics pioneered in the 1950s (yesterday, BuzzFeed investigated a journalist for the Thought Crime of writing articles which BuzzFeed’s blogger Miriam Elder deemed to be “pro-Russia,” and thus smeared him with evidence-free innuendo as a likely paid Kremlin agent). Yes, many political rights are severely abridged in Russia, but there are over 140 million people living in Russia and some of them are fulfilled human beings living fulfilled human lives (BREAKING!) while there is substantial human misery in the U.S. as well.

Snowden did not choose to live in Russia. He was forced to remain there when trying to leave because the U.S. government revoked his passport and bullied the Cubans out of offering him safe passage on his way to Latin America. But whether jingoists like David Ignatius can comprehend this or not, Snowden (as most people would) actually considers living in Moscow with his girlfriend and freely participating in the vital global debate he provoked to be preferable to withering in a cage inside the repressive U.S. penal state.

Blitzer: “What do you think, Mr. Speaker? He could spend the rest of his life in Moscow — it might be chilly there in the winter — but it’s better, presumably, than jail?”

I can’t overstate how many times I’ve heard people say that Snowden must be miserable in Moscow because of how cold it gets in the winter. Leave aside the bizarre view that climate is the greatest factor in determining how happy and fulfilled someone’s life is, and further leave aside the notion that all 140 million Russians must have a horrible life because it’s cold during the winter. There are other places — such as Canada, North Dakota, Sweden, Boston — that are also extremely cold; do people believe that residents there are, as a result of the weather, inherently doomed to horrible lives?

Gingrich: “I think if we can find a way to get him home, get the rest of the documents that he has not leaked . . . it’s worth doing, but I think he’d have to serve jail time, and it’d probably be fairly lengthy. I don’t think the country would tolerate this level of betrayal, not having some very significant jail time —

Blitzer: “You say lengthy. What do you think?

Gingrich: “I’m not an expert in this, but I’d say more than 10 years.”

Where to start? First, Gingrich’s belief that it’s possible to “get the rest of the documents that he has not leaked” is simply adorable. Second, Gingrich is a fascinating choice for CNN to have pontificate on proper punishments given that he is the first House Speaker to ever be punished for ethics violations, for which he was fined $300,000. Third, David Petraeus was just allowed to plead guilty for leaking extremely sensitive secrets — not out of a whistleblowing desire to inform the public but simply to satisfy his mistress — and will almost certainly spend no time in jail; Gingrich, Blitzer, Ignatius and friends would never dare suggest that the General should go to prison (just as DC’s stern law-and-order advocates who demand Snowden’s imprisonment would never dare suggest the same for James Clapper for having lied to Congress).

Most important, if you were Snowden, and you constantly heard U.S. political and media elites consigning you to prison for a decade or longer before your trial started, would you remotely believe assurances that you’d get a fair trial? What rational person would ever willingly submit themselves to a penal state that imprisons more of its citizens than any other in the world, run by people with this mentality?

And when you examine case studies like this of what U.S. media is not just capable of doing but eager to do — concoct a completely false narrative based on fictitious events and then proceed to spend a full day drawing all sorts of self-serving and propagandistic lessons from it — why would anyone regard what comes spewing forth from them with anything other than extreme suspicion and contempt?

          Email the author: glenn.greenwald@theintercept.com


Just one ‘disastrous accident’ could set drone industry back, warn Lords

Drones have huge potential for growth and could create 150,000 jobs in the EU by 2050 – but there are serious concerns about safety

March 4, 2015

by Frances Perraudin

The Guardian 

          The drone industry could create 150,000 jobs across the European Union by 2050, but it would take “just one disastrous accident” to destroy public confidence and set the sector back, a group of peers has warned.

A report from the Lords EU select committee has concluded that there is huge potential for growth in the sector, but that this potential can only be realised if the safety of drone operations is demonstrated to the public.

The report comes after a near miss between a passenger jet and a civilian drone near Heathrow airport in December sparked debate about how best to regulate the consumer drones market.

Commenting on the report, Civilian use of drones in the EU, the committee’s chair Lady O’Cathain described the growth in civilian drone use as “astonishing”, adding that they were “taking to the skies faster than anyone could have predicted”.

“We have a huge opportunity to make Europe a world leader in drone technology,” she said. “But there’s also a risk – public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people’s appetite to fly them. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back.”

O’Cathain said that authorities would need to find ways to manage and keep track of drone traffic. “That is why a key recommendation is that drone flights must be traceable, effectively through an online database, which the general public could access via an app. We need to use technology creatively, not just to manage the skies, but to help police them as well,” she said.

The report recommends the development of a shared manufacturing standard for drones – similar to the CE marking that exists for products that adhere to European Economic Area regulations – and that an online database to track and manage drone traffic be created.

The committee found that drones – formally known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) – are increasingly being used by small and medium-sized businesses across Europe for photography, filming and surveying, and that they can be used to carry out dirty or dangerous jobs, like cargo shipping and search and rescue.

The group of peers called for urgent public debate about the acceptable uses of civilian drones in light of evidence that the media and police use of drones will increase.

Earlier in 2014, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) demanded better protection for the public from the risks of drones. It called for drones to meet the  same safety standards as piloted aircraft, including that they are only flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training.


 Who killed Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov?

March 3, 2015

by Patrick Jackson

BBC News

          In the absence of any arrest or claim of responsibility, there are multiple theories for the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

Was he killed in order to cow opposition to President Vladimir Putin at a time of mounting economic problems? Or because he opposed Russia’s alleged covert war in Ukraine?

Or was he shot in full view of the Kremlin in an attempt to discredit Russia’s leaders or even intimidate them, or incite a rebellion against them? Perhaps it was an opportunistic attack by someone harbouring a grudge?

Here are some of the theories circulating about who might be behind the killing and why. Some of them stretch the imagination, possibly in an attempt to obscure more obvious truths.

President Vladimir Putin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has roundly dismissed the suggestion that the Russian leader could have ordered Nemtsov’s killing, telling the BBC it was “illogical” and “unacceptable”.

But Russia’s best-known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has accused the Kremlin or lower officials of his friend’s death.

Denied the right to attend Nemtsov’s funeral as he sat in custody doing a 15-day sentence for illegal pamphleteering, he put out a statement (in Russian): “I believe that Nemtsov was murdered by members of a government (special services) or pro-government organisation on the order of the country’s political leadership (including Vladimir Putin).”

The question, he added, was whether the order had been given to kill Nemtsov or to “stage an action that would have a high impact”.

One of the puzzles of the Nemtsov assassination was that, as a liberal politician from the Yeltsin era, he did not enjoy the kind of popular support given to younger figures like Mr Navalny.

But Mr Navalny argued in his statement that Russia’s leaders had decided to combat the country’s developing economic problems with a crackdown on the opposition. It was no longer enough for them to “fabricate criminal cases”, he said, in a clear reference to the cases brought against him since the mass election protests of 2011-12.

As for the perpetrators of the killing, he suggested they could have been members of informal militias allegedly used by the Kremlin as auxiliary police.

One argument that might counter his theory is that the security services already enjoy massive power under President Putin, whose own popularity rating increased last month to 86%, according to one poll.

Rogue elements in Russian security services

At the time of his death, Nemtsov was organising an anti-war rally in Moscow and there is some suggestion that the Kremlin or rogue elements in the security forces might have acted to stifle dissent about the war.

“If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino [a Moscow suburb] on 1 March,” Nemtsov wrote in a social media post, published hours before he was shot (in Russian).

According to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Nemtsov was also planning to publish “some persuasive evidence about the involvement of Russian armed forces in Ukraine”.

Although the anti-war rally was cancelled, Russia’s small independent media have pressed on with investigating allegations of covert warfare.

It is impossible to know how real a threat Nemtsov posed to the authorities. And a ceasefire President Putin personally helped to negotiate for eastern Ukraine last month finally seems to be taking hold.

Foreign intelligence services

Mr Putin publicly condemned Nemtsov’s murder, saying it was “entirely provocative in nature”.

“Provocation” is Kremlin code for an attack aimed at destabilising the Russian state. As to who might be behind such an attack, the Kremlin’s “chief spin doctor”, TV anchorman Dmitry Kiselev, made clear who he thought stood to benefit most.

“When he was alive, Nemtsov was no longer necessary to the West, he had no prospects,” he said. “But dead, he was a lot more interesting.”

It is a standard line on Russian state-run media that the CIA orchestrated the uprising in Ukraine last year and anti-Russian unrest in other ex-Soviet states in recent years.

However, in the absence of any evidence, few people would take seriously the idea that the CIA staged the killing of Nemtsov in the hope of sparking a violent opposition reaction to President Putin’s rule.

An alternative Russian theory, set out in the pro-government Izvestia newspaper (in Russian) which quoted an unnamed police source, is that the Ukrainian secret service had Nemtsov assassinated by Chechen hit men in order to destabilise Russia.

If this really was a genuine attempt to destabilise Russia, it may be too early to judge. So far opposition reaction has been largely muted, other than that of Mr Navalny in his jail cell.

Ultra-nationalists or Islamic extremists

Undoubtedly, there were Russians who hated Nemtsov for his liberal brand of politics and opposition to the war, seen as a sacred cause by many nationalists.

“So who’s Nemtsov?” asked one Moscow tweeter. “So much fuss while children and old people perish in Donetsk [eastern Ukraine] each day. Who remembers them?”

One common extreme reaction circulating on Russian-language social media was, “A dog’s death for a dog.”

One theory is that, rather than seeking mere revenge, Russian ultra-nationalists may have killed Nemtsov as a warning to Mr Putin not to back down in the conflict over Ukraine.

“It is no secret that there are some very radical characters among both sides in the conflict [over Ukraine], who are not subordinated to any authorities,” said Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee.

Another theory advanced by the Investigative Committee (often accused of political bias itself) is that the killers might have been Islamist extremists enraged by his condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Nemtsov, a famously outspoken politician, made no secret of his Jewish extraction though he was a baptised Christian. But again, where is the credible claim of responsibility?

Jealous lovers or crooks

Nemtsov had been involved in a well-publicised anti-corruption campaign in Yaroslavl, a provincial town not far from Moscow.

The one alternative theory for his murder given by Mr Navalny is that he had created deadly enemies in the region as a result.

Contract murders for commercial reasons have become less common in Moscow under Vladimir Putin but do still occur. However, the killers were taking a massive risk attacking Nemtsov in one of the most heavily guarded areas of Moscow.

What of the late politician’s love life? Even admirers used the epithet “womaniser” in regard to him.

However, the Ukrainian model less than half his age (he was 55) who was with him when he was shot on Friday night could say little about the attack.

Anna Durytska, who was unhurt, told Russian media she had not seen the killer, who had struck from behind. All she had seen, she said, was a light-coloured car which quickly drove off. Into the dark.

What do we know about killing?

Gunman fired into Nemtsov from behind with a pistol as he walked across a bridge below the Kremlin hand in hand with a young woman

Killer then jumped over the barrier into the road and got into a waiting car, which looked like a Russian vehicle, a witness called Viktor told pro-Kremlin Russian news website LifeNews (in Russian)

A police source told LifeNews the gunman was around 1.7m (five foot seven) tall with short dark hair, wearing blue jeans and a brown sweater

Nemtsov’s walking companion, Anna Durytska, saw a light-coloured car speeding off

A police source told Russian daily Kommersant old bullets were used, possibly fired from a homemade gun. “Participants in the investigation are only sure of one thing – that the killers were not professionals,” the source said


Benjamin Netanyahu’s Long History of Crying Wolf About Iran’s Nuclear Weapons

March 2, 2015

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the U.S. Congress tomorrow about the perils of striking a nuclear deal with Iran.  Netanyahu, not generally known for his measured rhetoric, has been vociferous in his public statements about the dangers of such compromise, warning that it will allow Iran to “rush to the bomb” and that it amounts to giving the country “a license” to develop nuclear weapons.

It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.

A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.”

In statements around this time made to journalists, Netanyahu continued to raise alarm about this supposedly imminent, apocalyptic threat. As he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2010 interview, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” adding, “that’s what is happening in Iran.”

In 2012 Netanyahu said in closed talks reported by Israeli media that Iran is just “a few months away” from attaining nuclear capabilities. Later that same year, he gave a widely-mocked address at the United Nations in which he alleged that Iran would have the ability to construct a weapon within roughly one year, while using a printout of a cartoon bomb to illustrate his point.

Despite this heady rhetoric, Netanyahu’s estimates of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb have consistently been at odds with analyses made by his own intelligence agency. In 2011, departing Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan said in his final intelligence summary that, contrary to Netanyahu’s repeated statements at the time, an Iranian nuclear weapon is in fact not imminent, and that any military action against the country could end up spurring the development of such a weapon.

Just last week, leaked intelligence cables reported by Al Jazeera revealed that at roughly the same time in 2012 that Netanyahu was brandishing his cartoon bomb and telling the United Nations that Iran was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, Israeli intelligence had actually determined the country was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”

The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.

When Netanyahu gives his address to Congress, he can likely be counted on to say much the same thing he’s been saying for the past two decades about an impending Iranian nuclear threat, and credulous pundits and politicians can be counted on to believe him.


Postwar Rape: Were Americans As Bad as the Soviets?

March 2, 2015

by Klaus Wiegrefe


          In the popular imagination, American GIs in postwar Germany were well-liked and well-behaved. But a new book claims that US soldiers raped up to 190,000 women at the end of World War II. Is there any truth to the controversial claim?

The soldiers arrived at dusk. They forced their way into the house and tried to drag the two women upstairs. But Katherine W. and her 18-year-old daughter Charlotte were able to escape

The soldiers didn’t give up easily though. They began searching all the houses in the area and ultimately found the two women in a neighbor’s closet shortly before midnight. The men pulled them out and threw them onto two beds. The crime the six soldiers ultimately committed took place in March, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II. The girl cried for help: “Mama. Mama.” But none arrived.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of German women experienced a similar fate at the time. Often, such gang rapes were blamed on Soviet troops in Germany’s east. But this case was different. The rapists were soldiers from the United States of America and the crime took place in Sprendlingen, a village near the Rhine River in the west.

By the end of the war, some 1.6 million American troops had advanced deep into Germany, ultimately meeting the advancing Soviets at the Elbe River. In the US, those who freed Europe from the plague of the Nazis came to be known as the “Greatest Generation.” And Germans too developed a positive image of their occupiers: cool soldiers who handed out chewing gum to the children and wowed the German fräuleins with jazz and nylons.

But is that image consistent with reality? German historian Miriam Gebhardt, well known in Germany for her book about leading feminist Alice Schwarzer and the feminist movement, has now published a new volume casting doubt on the accepted version of America’s role in German postwar history.

Reports from the Catholic Archive

The work, which came out in German on Monday, takes a closer look at the rape of German women by all four victorious powers at the end of World War II. In particular, though, her views on the behavior of American GIs are likely to raise eyebrows. Gebhardt believes that members of the US military raped as many as 190,000 German women by the time West Germany regained sovereignty in 1955, with most of the assaults taking place in the months immediately following the US invasion of Nazi Germany.

The author bases her claims in large part on reports kept by Bavarian priests in the summer of 1945. The Archbishop of Munich and Freising had asked Catholic clergy to keep records on the allied advance and the Archdiocese published excerpts from its archive a few years ago.

Michael Merxmüller, a priest in the village of Ramsau near Berchtesgaden, wrote on July 20, 1945, for example: “Eight girls and women raped, some of them in front of their parents.”

Father Andreas Weingand, from Haag an der Amper, a tiny village located just north of where the Munich airport is today, wrote on July 25, 1945: “The saddest event during the advance were three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half. They were committed by heavily drunken Americans.”

Father Alois Schiml from Moosburg wrote on Aug. 1, 1945: “By order of the military government, a list of all residents and their ages must be nailed to the door of each house. The results of this decree are not difficult to imagine. … Seventeen girls or women … were brought to the hospital, having been sexually abused once or several times.”

The youngest victim mentioned in the reports is a seven-year-old child. The oldest, a woman of 69.

Macho Fantasies

The reports led book author Gebhardt to compare the behavior of the US army with the violent excesses perpetrated by the Red Army in the eastern half of the country, where brutality, gang rapes and incidents of looting have dominated the public perception of the Soviet occupation. Gebhardt, however, says that the rapes committed in Upper Bavaria show that things weren’t much different in postwar Germany’s south and west.

The historian also believes that similar motives were at work. Just like their Red Army counterparts, the US soldiers, she believes, were horrified by the crimes committed by the Germans, embittered by their pointless and deadly efforts to defend the country to the very end, and furious at the relatively high degree of prosperity in the country. Furthermore, propaganda at the time conveyed the idea that German women were attracted to American GIs, further fueling macho fantasies.

Gebhardt’s ideas are firmly rooted in the current academic mainstream. In the wake of the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib and other war crimes committed by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, many historians are taking a more critical look at the behavior of the American military during the days immediately preceding and following the end of World War II in Germany. Studies in recent years have shed light on incidents involving GIs plundering churches, murdering Italian civilians, killing German prisoners of war and raping women, even as they advanced across France.

Despite such findings, the Americans are still considered to have been relatively disciplined compared to the Red Army and the French military — conventional wisdom that Gebhardt is hoping to challenge. Still, all of the reports compiled by the Catholic Church in Bavaria only add up to a few hundred cases. Furthermore, the clergymen often praised the “very correct and respectable” behavior of the US troops. Their reports make it seem as though sexual abuse committed by the Americans was more the exception than the rule.

How, then, did the historian arrive at her shocking figure of 190,000 rapes?

Sufficient Evidence?

The total is not the result of deep research in archives across the country. Rather, it is an extrapolation. Gebhardt makes the assumption that 5 percent of the “war children” born to unmarried women in West Germany and West Berlin by the mid-1950s were the product of rape. That makes for a total of 1,900 children of American fathers. Gebhardt further assumes that on average, there are 100 incidents of rape for each birth. The result she arrives at is thus 190,000 victims.

Such a total, though, hardly seems plausible. Were the number really that high, it is almost certain that there would be more reports on rape in the files of hospitals or health authorities, or that there would be more eyewitness reports. Gebhardt is unable to present such evidence in sufficient quantity.

Another estimate, stemming from US criminology professor Robert Lilly, who examined rape cases prosecuted by American military courts, arrived at a number of 11,000 serious sexual assaults committed by November, 1945 — a disgusting number in its own right.

But Gebhardt is certainly correct on one point: For far too long, historical research has been dominated by the idea that rapes committed by GIs were implausible because German women wanted to jump into bed with them anyway.

How, though, is one to interpret the complaint filed by a hotelier in Munich on May 31, 1945? She reports that US soldiers had commandeered a few rooms and that four women were “running around completely naked” and were “exchanged several times.” Was it really voluntary?Even if it isn’t likely that the Americans committed 190,000 sexual crimes, it remains true that for postwar victims of rape — which was undeniably a mass phenomenon at the end of World War II, there is “no culture of memory, no public recognition, much less an apology” from the perpetrators, Gebhardt notes. And today, 70 years after the end of the war, it unfortunately doesn’t look as though that situation will soon changetorical research has been dominated by the idea that rapes committed by GIs were implausible because German women wanted to jump into bed with them anyway.

How, though, is one to interpret the complaint filed by a hotelier in Munich on May 31, 1945? She reports that US soldiers had commandeered a few rooms and that four women were “running around completely naked” and were “exchanged several times.” Was it really voluntary?

Even if it isn’t likely that the Americans committed 190,000 sexual crimes, it remains true that for postwar victims of rape — which was undeniably a mass phenomenon at the end of World War II, there is “no culture of memory, no public recognition, much less an apology” from the perpetrators, Gebhardt notes. And today, 70 years after the end of the war, it unfortunately doesn’t look as though that situation will soon change


Currency Wars – Russia Buys 20.7 Tonnes Of Gold In December

GoldCore Research

De Nederlandsche Bank, the Dutch central bank has denied reports in Reuters, Bloomberg and picked up by GoldCore, that the bank had increased its gold holdings for the first time in sixteen years. IMF data had shown that the Dutch had increased their holdings to 622.08 tonnes.

“De Nederlandsche Bank has not increased its gold holdings. Several media reported this Tuesday that based on IMF figures, DNB’s gold stock increased in December 2014. This is incorrect,” it said on its website.

The DNB’s correct and current gold holdings consist of 19.691 million troy ounces (612.5 tonnes), the tenth largest holder of the metal in the world, according to the World Gold Council’s January data.

We believe that it is only a matter of time before a European or other central bank begins to emulate China and Russia and starts accumulating gold. Today’s error may portend tomorrow’s reality. It is important to note that while Dutch central bank gold accumulation would have been a very significant development, Russia’s steady and robust accumulation of gold is very important. It came at a time when some analysts were suggesting and there was much chatter that Russia would sell gold reserves. 

Russia and surprisingly the Netherlands were the largest central bank buyers in December – accumulating a significant 30.34 tonnes between them as currency wars intensify.

Demand for gold as a diversification and monetary asset continues to be very robust and central banks remain net buyers of gold which should be supportive of prices.

The Netherlands, which has the ninth-biggest gold reserves,  raised its bullion holdings for the first time in 16 years. It added  9.61 tonnes to bring total gold reserves to 622.08 tonnes.

Russia raised its gold reserves for a ninth straight month in December as the country continued its multi month gold buying spree, adding to the fifth-biggest gold holdings in the world, data from the IMF showed yesterday.

Russia continues to dollar cost average into gold and increased its bullion holdings by another hefty 20.73 tonnes to 1,208.23 tonnes in December.

The December figure for Russia, who have the fifth largest reserves in the world, brings their officially stated reserves to 1208.23 tonnes. If this trend were to continue their officially stated reserves would increase 20.6% this year.

Given that Russia perceives itself to be under financial and economic attack from the West, there is the possibility that they are accumulating more gold than they are declaring officially to the IMF.

This is what the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has been doing in recent years and there is little reason why Russia may not adopt the Chinese practice of not being transparent in this regard.

The Chinese government have been surreptitiously accumulating vast quantities of the metal in recent years and there is no reason to believe this buying will end in the coming months as geopolitical and monetary risks intensify.

Western central banks seem to be balking at what will be seen as the disastrous policy of dumping the gold owned by their populations onto the market. The Gold Anti Trust Action Committee (GATA) have documented how this was done in order to suppress gold prices, in a bid to support and maintain faith in the dollar as reserve currency.

Already there are strong movements across Europe to have sovereign gold stored domestically. The German and Dutch central banks have recently reported the repatriation of large volumes of their gold being held by central banks of foreign nations.

It is worth bearing in mind that both these countries are on the record as having drawn up contingency plans in the event of the failure of the Euro.

          The Netherlands added 9.61 tonnes to it’s official holdings in December, on top of the 122 tonnes of gold they shipped home from New York in November. This represents the first increase in their official reserves since 1998. The Dutch central bank’s holdings have been unchanged since late 2008.

This further undermines the notion that the gold repatriation was simply a “routine measure to instill public confidence in the ability of the central bank to manage crises.”

It would appear the Dutch central bank has greater concerns than public confidence and may be actively preparing for the fall out from the ECB’s QE programme – a programme to which they were opposed – and or a default by Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy.

Among the many factors that may have motivated the Dutch central bank to buy gold may have been  a shot across the bows to the ECB to remind them that the Netherlands is equipped and prepared to revert to the guilder, should Mario Draghi in the ECB go too far in terms of QE and the debasement of the euro.

It may also signal that they are concerned as to whether they will be able to repatriate the rest of their gold reserves.

This is an important development as it is the first time to our knowledge that a western central bank has actually purchased gold in volume since before the launch of the Euro. While the central banks of China, Russia and ex Soviet states have been acquiring the precious metal hand over fist since the dress rehearsal crisis of 2008, western central banks gold reserves have remain unchanged – officially any way.

The gold repatriation movement represents a turning of the tide with regards to attitudes towards central bank omnipotence in managing paper currencies.

The Dutch purchase is noteworthy and it will be important to keep an eye on their demand in the coming months to see if this was a once off or the start of a trend of the Dutch central bank and other western central banks buying gold.

The announcement will likely spur other central banks to take precautions and acquire gold.

Richard Russell – the godfather of financial newsletter writers – has recently made a stunning assertion about the gold markets. The 91 year-old, who lived through the great depression and fought in World War II, is very gentle and humane in his writing. He is not given to bouts of sensationalism.

In his most recent Dow Theory Letters he suggests that physical gold may not be available to buy at anywhere near current prices within the next year.

“There is a giant secret stirring under today’s market. China, India, Russia and almost every central bank is buying physical gold. I’m guessing that within another year, physical gold will be swept off the market.”

We have long contended that this would likely materialise given the scale of the current crisis and the very small size of the physical gold market globally.  The purchase of 30 metric tonnes of gold in one month is a lot of physical gold as there is only some 170,000 metric tonnes of above ground gold.

However, in dollar, pound or euro terms it is tiny. 30 metric tonnes of gold is only worth some $1.24 billion or less than one day of ECB QE and a tiny fraction of the value of stock and bond markets today and indeed of global foreign exchange reserves.

The smart money will continue to follow the Russian central bank example of gradually accumulating gold and dollar, euro or pound cost averaging into an allocated and segregated physical gold position.

Further turmoil in markets, sluggish global growth, ECB QE and the risk of a new Eurozone debt crisis are all bullish for gold and silver’s outlook.

Gold bullion shipments from Hong Kong to China dropped 32 percent in 2014. Chinese imports from Hong Kong were 750 metric tons last year down from  1,108.8 tons in 2013, data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department showed.

Hong Kong gold export data to China gets less relevant by the month and a better benchmark for Chinese demand is now SGE withdrawals which are running at a healthy clip – both in 2014 – and so far in 2015

Chinese demand remains very robust as seen in the more than 130 tonnes of SGE withdrawals in the first two weeks of the year.

The World Gold Council said in April that its long-term Chinese demand outlook remains intact as store of wealth demand is expected to expand to at least 1,350 tons by 2017 amid rising wealth. Mainland demand was a record 1,275.1 tons in 2013, the council said in November.

China’s central bank cut interest rates for the first time in two years in November and the government accelerated the approval of infrastructure projects to spur growth, fueling a 53 percent gain in the Shanghai Composite Index last year. Gold may benefit if investors pull back from the world’s best-performing stock market in 2014, according to UBS.

While the world’s second-largest economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, the slowest pace since 1990, the global flow of gold from West to East will probably last for as long as two decades, the China Gold Association (CGA)  said in June.


Stingray’ surveillance devices can degrade service for any cell phone in vicinity – report

March 5, 2015


Surveillance technology known as ‘Stingray’ — used to trick phones into connecting to them by mimicking cell towers — can block or drop phone calls and disrupt other mobile devices that use the same cell network, according to a recent court disclosure.

As RT reported last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently disclosed that law enforcement officials in Florida used ‘Stingray’ surveillance to track cell phone locations on more than 1,800 occasions, all without court search warrants.

The Harris Corporation’s ‘Stingray’ is the most well known of the controversial spying technology, used by the FBI, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and many state and local police agencies. By impersonating cell towers, the devices force phones in the area to broadcast information that can be used to identify and locate users.

The ACLU’s recent disclosure included a court filing that uncovered the ability of ‘Stingray’ to negate cell phone calls by either downgrading mobile devices from 3G and 4G connectivity to 2G — enabling them to access identification and location information — or by the devices’ “catch-and-release” operations.

“As each phone tries to connect, [the stingray device] will say, ‘I’m really busy right now so go use a different tower. So rather than catching the phone, it will release it,” Chris Soghoian, the ACLU’s chief technologist, told WIRED of the “catch-and-release” theory.

The court filing made by FBI Special Agent Michael A. Scimeca did not specify how a ‘Stingray’ would disrupt calls, only that they had the ability to do so.

“The moment it tries to connect, [the stingray] can reject every single phone” that is not the targeted phone, Soghoian added.

‘Stingray’ devices are small enough to fit in a police vehicle and can even be carried by hand. They can identify telephone numbers, unique identifying numbers, and the locations of all cell phones in range. They can also log the phone numbers called and texted by a connected phone.

There has been much secrecy surrounding their use, as law enforcement agencies adhere to non-disclosure agreements made with the manufacturers of the devices.

“We think the fact that stingrays block or drop calls of cell phone users in the vicinity should be of concern to cell service providers, the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], and ordinary people,” Nathan Wessler, staff attorney at the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, told WIRED.

“If an emergency or important/urgent call (to a doctor, a loved one, etc.) is blocked or dropped by this technology, that’s a serious problem.”

As WIRED noted, law enforcement have been caught using deception to justify the use of ‘Stingray’ devices, or they have just used the tools without a warrant.

An official with the Federal Communications Commission, the regulating body of radio-frequency tools like ‘Stingray,’ told WIRED that she could not comment on specific capabilities of the devices.

“We can’t comment on how the devices operate because that information is confidential in accordance with the FCC’s application process,” she said, adding that the Harris Corporation had “requested confidentiality in the application process.”

If “wireless customers experiencing unexplained service disruptions or interference” report problems to the agency, she said, the FCC would “investigate the causes.”

The ACLU’s disclosure last month came amid a growing awareness of unchecked surveillance being conducted with ‘Stingray’ tools by local police departments around the country.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) was also in court recently, seeking the release of information about the Erie County Sheriff’s Office’s use of surveillance technology.

“Stingrays are not highly secret military equipment as the sheriff would have this court believe,” the NYCLU wrote in its legal brief. “They are tools used by many local civilian agencies in everyday investigations against American citizens.”

The NYCLU took legal action after the sheriff’s office denied part of the group’s request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Sheriff’s office attorney Andrea Schillaci said disclosing the information would give away confidential law enforcement investigative techniques.

“The issue of the capabilities of the equipment is of paramount importance, not just to the local law enforcement, but to the FBI and to other national agencies,” Schillaci told the Associated Press.

The judge in the case has not yet made a ruling.

Congress is also concerned. In December, a US Senate committee sent a letter to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security seeking answers about the use of Stingray by federal law enforcement.

As WIRED reported, Senator Bill Nelson recently said on the Senate floor that ‘Stingray’ technology “poses a grave threat to consumers’ cell phone and internet privacy,” a speech that marked a new tenor on Capitol Hill regarding the devices. Yet Nelson’s invective may have been political cover for the ‘Stingray’ industry, as his second-biggest campaign contributor is the Harris Corporation.


Rationalizing Lunacy: The Intellectual as Servant of the State

by Andrew J. Bacevich


            Policy intellectuals — eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office — are a blight on the republic. Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance — well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch — belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.

It all began innocently enough.  Back in 1933, with the country in the throes of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first imported a handful of eager academics to join the ranks of his New Deal.  An unprecedented economic crisis required some fresh thinking, FDR believed. Whether the contributions of this “Brains Trust” made a positive impact or served to retard economic recovery (or ended up being a wash) remains a subject for debate even today.   At the very least, however, the arrival of Adolph Berle, Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and others elevated Washington’s bourbon-and-cigars social scene. As bona fide members of the intelligentsia, they possessed a sort of cachet.

Then came World War II, followed in short order by the onset of the Cold War. These events brought to Washington a second wave of deep thinkers, their agenda now focused on “national security.”  This eminently elastic concept — more properly, “national insecurity” — encompassed just about anything related to preparing for, fighting, or surviving wars, including economics, technology, weapons design, decision-making, the structure of the armed forces, and other matters said to be of vital importance to the nation’s survival.  National insecurity became, and remains today, the policy world’s equivalent of the gift that just keeps on giving.

People who specialized in thinking about national insecurity came to be known as “defense intellectuals.”  Pioneers in this endeavor back in the 1950s were as likely to collect their paychecks from think tanks like the prototypical RAND Corporation as from more traditional academic institutions.  Their ranks included creepy figures like Herman Kahn, who took pride in “thinking about the unthinkable,” and Albert Wohlstetter, who tutored Washington in the complexities of maintaining “the delicate balance of terror.”

In this wonky world, the coin of the realm has been and remains “policy relevance.”  This means devising products that convey a sense of novelty, while serving chiefly to perpetuate the ongoing enterprise. The ultimate example of a policy-relevant insight is Dr. Strangelove’s discovery of a “mineshaft gap” — successor to the “bomber gap” and the “missile gap” that, in the 1950s, had found America allegedly lagging behind the Soviets in weaponry and desperately needing to catch up.  Now, with a thermonuclear exchange about to destroy the planet, the United States is once more falling behind, Strangelove claims, this time in digging underground shelters enabling some small proportion of the population to survive.

In a single, brilliant stroke, Strangelove posits a new raison d’être for the entire national insecurity apparatus, thereby ensuring that the game will continue more or less forever.  A sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s movie would have shown General “Buck” Turgidson and the other brass huddled in the War Room, developing plans to close the mineshaft gap as if nothing untoward had occurred.

          The Rise of the National Insecurity State

            Yet only in the 1960s, right around the time that Dr. Strangelove first appeared in movie theaters, did policy intellectuals really come into their own.  The press now referred to them as “action intellectuals,” suggesting energy and impatience.  Action intellectuals were thinkers, but also doers, members of a “large and growing body of men who choose to leave their quiet and secure niches on the university campus and involve themselves instead in the perplexing problems that face the nation,” as LIFE Magazine put it in 1967. Among the most perplexing of those problems was what to do about Vietnam, just the sort of challenge an action intellectual could sink his teeth into.

Over the previous century-and-a-half, the United States had gone to war for many reasons, including greed, fear, panic, righteous anger, and legitimate self-defense.  On various occasions, each of these, alone or in combination, had prompted Americans to fight.  Vietnam marked the first time that the United States went to war, at least in considerable part, in response to a bunch of really dumb ideas floated by ostensibly smart people occupying positions of influence.  More surprising still, action intellectuals persisted in waging that war well past the point where it had become self-evident, even to members of Congress, that the cause was a misbegotten one doomed to end in failure.

          In his fine new book American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian Appy, a historian who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, reminds us of just how dumb those ideas were.

As Exhibit A, Professor Appy presents McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser first for President John F. Kennedy and then for Lyndon Johnson.  Bundy was a product of Groton and Yale, who famously became the youngest-ever dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, having gained tenure there without even bothering to get a graduate degree.

For Exhibit B, there is Walt Whitman Rostow, Bundy’s successor as national security adviser.  Rostow was another Yalie, earning his undergraduate degree there along with a PhD.  While taking a break of sorts, he spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.  As a professor of economic history at MIT, Rostow captured JFK’s attention with his modestly subtitled 1960 book The Stages of Economic Growth:  A Non-Communist Manifesto, which offered a grand theory of development with ostensibly universal applicability.  Kennedy brought Rostow to Washington to test his theories of “modernization” in places like Southeast Asia.

Finally, as Exhibit C, Appy briefly discusses Professor Samuel P. Huntington’s contributions to the Vietnam War.  Huntington also attended Yale, before earning his PhD at Harvard and then returning to teach there, becoming one of the most renowned political scientists of the post-World War II era.

What the three shared in common, apart from a suspect education acquired in New Haven, was an unwavering commitment to the reigning verities of the Cold War.  Foremost among those verities was this: that a monolith called Communism, controlled by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden behind the walls of the Kremlin, posed an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but to the very idea of freedom itself.  The claim came with this essential corollary: the only hope of avoiding such a cataclysmic outcome was for the United States to vigorously resist the Communist threat wherever it reared its ugly head.

Buy those twin propositions and you accept the imperative of the U.S. preventing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. North Vietnam, from absorbing the Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. South Vietnam, into a single unified country; in other words, that South Vietnam was a cause worth fighting and dying for.  Bundy, Rostow, and Huntington not only bought that argument hook, line, and sinker, but then exerted themselves mightily to persuade others in Washington to buy it as well.

Yet even as he was urging the “Americanization” of the Vietnam War in 1965, Bundy already entertained doubts about whether it was winnable.  But not to worry:  even if the effort ended in failure, he counseled President Johnson, “the policy will be worth it.”

How so?  “At a minimum,” Bundy wrote, “it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own.”  If the United States ultimately lost South Vietnam, at least Americans would have died trying to prevent that result — and through some perverted logic this, in the estimation of Harvard’s youngest-ever dean, was a redeeming prospect.  The essential point, Bundy believed, was to prevent others from seeing the United States as a “paper tiger.”  To avoid a fight, even a losing one, was to forfeit credibility.  “Not to have it thought that when we commit ourselves we really mean no major risk” — that was the problem to be avoided at all cost.

Rostow outdid even Bundy in hawkishness.  Apart from his relentless advocacy of coercive bombing to influence North Vietnamese policymakers, Rostow was a chief architect of something called the Strategic Hamlet Program.  The idea was to jumpstart the Rostovian process of modernization by forcibly relocating Vietnamese peasants from their ancestral villages into armed camps where the Saigon government would provide security, education, medical care, and agricultural assistance.  By winning hearts-and-minds in this manner, the defeat of the communist insurgency was sure to follow, with the people of South Vietnam vaulted into the “age of high mass consumption,” where Rostow believed all humankind was destined to end up.

That was the theory.  Reality differed somewhat.  Actual Strategic Hamlets were indistinguishable from concentration camps.  The government in Saigon proved too weak, too incompetent, and too corrupt to hold up its end of the bargain.  Rather than winning hearts-and-minds, the program induced alienation, even as it essentially destabilized peasant society.  One result: an increasingly rootless rural population flooded into South Vietnam’s cities where there was little work apart from servicing the needs of the ever-growing U.S. military population — hardly the sort of activity conducive to self-sustaining development.

Yet even when the Vietnam War ended in complete and utter defeat, Rostow still claimed vindication for his theory.  “We and the Southeast Asians,” he wrote, had used the war years “so well that there wasn’t the panic [when Saigon fell] that there would have been if we had failed to intervene.”  Indeed, regionally Rostow spied plenty of good news, all of it attributable to the American war.

”Since 1975 there has been a general expansion of trade by the other countries of that region with Japan and the West.  In Thailand we have seen the rise of a new class of entrepreneurs.  Malaysia and Singapore have become countries of diverse manufactured exports.  We can see the emergence of a much thicker layer of technocrats in Indonesia.”

So there you have it. If you want to know what 58,000 Americans (not to mention vastly larger numbers of Vietnamese) died for, it was to encourage entrepreneurship, exports, and the emergence of technocrats elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Appy describes Professor Huntington as another action intellectual with an unfailing facility for seeing the upside of catastrophe.  In Huntington’s view, the internal displacement of South Vietnamese caused by the excessive use of American firepower, along with the failure of Rostow’s Strategic Hamlets, was actually good news.  It promised, he insisted, to give the Americans an edge over the insurgents.

The key to final victory, Huntington wrote, was “forced-draft urbanization and modernization which rapidly brings the country in question out of the phase in which a rural revolutionary movement can hope to generate sufficient strength to come to power.”  By emptying out the countryside, the U.S. could win the war in the cities.  “The urban slum, which seems so horrible to middle-class Americans, often becomes for the poor peasant a gateway to a new and better way of life.”  The language may be a tad antiseptic, but the point is clear enough: the challenges of city life in a state of utter immiseration would miraculously transform those same peasants into go-getters more interested in making a buck than in signing up for social revolution.

Revisited decades later, claims once made with a straight face by the likes of Bundy, Rostow, and Huntington — action intellectuals of the very first rank — seem beyond preposterous.  They insult our intelligence, leaving us to wonder how such judgments or the people who promoted them were ever taken seriously.

How was it that during Vietnam bad ideas exerted such a perverse influence?  Why were those ideas so impervious to challenge?  Why, in short, was it so difficult for Americans to recognize bullshit for what it was?

Creating a Twenty-First-Century Slow-Motion Vietnam

These questions are by no means of mere historical interest. They are no less relevant when applied to the handiwork of the twenty-first-century version of policy intellectuals, specializing in national insecurity, whose bullshit underpins policies hardly more coherent than those used to justify and prosecute the Vietnam War.

The present-day successors to Bundy, Rostow, and Huntington subscribe to their own reigning verities.  Chief among them is this: that a phenomenon called terrorism or Islamic radicalism, inspired by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden away in various quarters of the Greater Middle East, poses an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but — yes, it’s still with us — to the very idea of freedom itself.  That assertion comes with an essential corollary dusted off and imported from the Cold War: the only hope of avoiding this cataclysmic outcome is for the United States to vigorously resist the terrorist/Islamist threat wherever it rears its ugly head.

At least since September 11, 2001, and arguably for at least two decades prior to that date, U.S. policymakers have taken these propositions for granted.  They have done so at least in part because few of the policy intellectuals specializing in national insecurity have bothered to question them.

Indeed, those specialists insulate the state from having to address such questions.  Think of them as intellectuals devoted to averting genuine intellectual activity.  More or less like Herman Kahn and Albert Wohlstetter (or Dr. Strangelove), their function is to perpetuate the ongoing enterprise.

The fact that the enterprise itself has become utterly amorphous may actually facilitate such efforts.  Once widely known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT, it has been transformed into the War with No Name.  A little bit like the famous Supreme Court opinion on pornography: we can’t define it, we just know it when we see it, with ISIS the latest manifestation to capture Washington’s attention.

All that we can say for sure about this nameless undertaking is that it continues with no end in sight.  It has become a sort of slow-motion Vietnam, stimulating remarkably little honest reflection regarding its course thus far or prospects for the future.  If there is an actual Brains Trust at work in Washington, it operates on autopilot.  Today, the second- and third-generation bastard offspring of RAND that clutter northwest Washington — the Center for this, the Institute for that — spin their wheels debating latter day equivalents of Strategic Hamlets, with nary a thought given to more fundamental concerns.

What prompts these observations is Ashton Carter’s return to the Pentagon as President Obama’s fourth secretary of defense.  Carter himself is an action intellectual in the Bundy, Rostow, Huntington mold, having made a career of rotating between positions at Harvard and in “the Building.”  He, too, is a Yalie and a Rhodes scholar, with a PhD. from Oxford.  “Ash” — in Washington, a first-name-only identifier (“Henry,” “Zbig,” “Hillary”) signifies that you have truly arrived — is the author of books and articles galore, including one op-ed co-written with former Secretary of Defense William Perry back in 2006 calling for preventive war against North Korea.  Military action “undoubtedly carries risk,” he bravely acknowledged at the time. “But the risk of continuing inaction in the face of North Korea’s race to threaten this country would be greater” — just the sort of logic periodically trotted out by the likes of Herman Kahn and Albert Wohlstetter.

As Carter has taken the Pentagon’s reins, he also has taken pains to convey the impression of being a big thinker.  As one Wall Street Journal headline enthused, “Ash Carter Seeks Fresh Eyes on Global Threats.”  That multiple global threats exist and that America’s defense secretary has a mandate to address each of them are, of course, givens.  His predecessor Chuck Hagel (no Yale degree) was a bit of a plodder.  By way of contrast, Carter has made clear his intention to shake things up.

So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack, Michael O’Hanlon, and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals and old Washington hands one and all.  Besides all being employees of the Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against ISIS today.  For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is sound — we just need to try harder — who better to consult than Pollack, O’Hanlon, and Kagan (any Kagan)?

Was Carter hoping to gain some fresh insight from his dinner companions?  Or was he letting Washington’s clubby network of fellows, senior fellows, and distinguished fellows know that, on his watch, the prevailing verities of national insecurity would remain sacrosanct?  You decide.

Soon thereafter, Carter’s first trip overseas provided another opportunity to signal his intentions.  In Kuwait, he convened a war council of senior military and civilian officials to take stock of the campaign against ISIS.  In a daring departure from standard practice, the new defense secretary prohibited PowerPoint briefings.  One participant described the ensuing event as “a five-hour-long college seminar” — candid and freewheeling.  “This is reversing the paradigm,” one awed senior Pentagon official remarked.  Carter was said to be challenging his subordinates to “look at this problem differently.”

Of course, Carter might have said, “Let’s look at a different problem.” That, however, was far too radical to contemplate — the equivalent of suggesting back in the 1960s that assumptions landing the United States in Vietnam should be reexamined.

In any event — and to no one’s surprise — the different look did not produce a different conclusion.  Instead of reversing the paradigm, Carter affirmed it: the existing U.S. approach to dealing with ISIS is sound, he announced.  It only needs a bit of tweaking — just the result to give the Pollacks, O’Hanlons, and Kagans something to write about as they keep up the chatter that substitutes for serious debate.

Do we really need that chatter? Does it enhance the quality of U.S. policy? If policy/defense/action intellectuals fell silent would America be less secure?

Let me propose an experiment. Put them on furlough. Not permanently — just until the last of the winter snow finally melts in New England. Send them back to Yale for reeducation. Let’s see if we are able to make do without them even for a month or two.

In the meantime, invite Iraq and Afghanistan War vets to consider how best to deal with ISIS.  Turn the op-ed pages of major newspapers over to high school social studies teachers. Book English majors from the Big Ten on the Sunday talk shows. Who knows what tidbits of wisdom might turn up?


           Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.  He is writing a military history of America’s War for the Greater Middle East. His most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.

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