TBR News October 14, 2018

Oct 14 2018

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

Washington, D.C. October 14, 2018:” We will be out of the office until October 15, Ed.”


The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 50
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • World War Two’s Covert Ops Are Failing in the Post-War World
  • The Syrian Chess Boar
  • The dark side of Saudi Arabia’s youthful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Saudi Arabia says will retaliate against any sanctions over Khashoggi case
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • World War Two’s Covert Ops Are Failing in the Post-War World
  • The Syrian Chess Board



Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 50

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

  • Jan 24, 2018

“So it’s going to be an interesting time. But they’re coming back to this country. You saw that we have Chrysler leaving Mexico — we like Mexico — and coming into Michigan. We like that? Nobody has seen in a long time.”

Source: Remarks at working session with mayors

in fact: Trump could have accurately said that Chrysler is “shifting some production from Mexico,” or something of the sort. It is not accurate, though, to say that Chrysler is “leaving” Mexico. The company announced that it is moving the production of its Ram truck from a plant in Saltillo, Mexico to a plant in Michigan — but it said there would be no layoffs in Mexico and that the Mexican plant would be “repurposed” to production of other vehicles.

Trump has repeated this claim 11 times

“And that’s what was happening. You take a look at your GDP then and take a look at what’s happened now. We’ll have three quarters in a row over 3 [per cent]. ”

Source: Remarks at working session with mayors

in fact: We usually do not fact-check predictions, but Trump’s declaration that there would be three straight quarters of 3 per cent growth came just two days before the release of the actual fourth-quarter data — which showed growth of 2.6 per cent, not 3 per cent. In other words, his streak of 3 per cent quarters ended at two quarters just two days after he assuredly told an audience that it would extend to three.

  • Jan 25, 2018

“I have to say, on the United Nations (vote on the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), we were pretty much out in the wilderness by ourselves — the United States. And we heard every country was going to be against us. And it was very interesting. I said, you know, we give billions and billions of dollars to these countries. It amounts to hundreds of millions, and sometimes into the billions for certain countries, and they vote against us. And I made a very simple statement that I’m watching. I’m watching. And we ended up getting 68 votes, either ‘yes’ or ‘we’ll take a neutral position,’ which was okay too.”

Source: Remarks at bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Switzerland

in fact: The result of the U.N. vote on Trump’s decision was 128 countries against, nine in favour. To get to his total in the 60s, Trump, like Ambassador Nikki Haley, included abstentions (35) and countries that were not present to vote at all (21). But that (9 plus 35 plus 21) adds to 65, not 68. Haley accurately tweeted after the vote: “The vote is in–65 countries refused to condemn the United States and 128 voted against us.”

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

  • Jan 26, 2018

“We had many companies — Chrysler’s coming in, leaving Mexico and coming back to Michigan. I mean, how good is that? When was the last time you heard that?”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: Trump could have accurately said that Chrysler is “shifting some production from Mexico,” or something of the sort. It is not accurate, though, to say that Chrysler is “leaving” Mexico. The company announced that it is moving the production of its Ram truck from a plant in Saltillo, Mexico to a plant in Michigan — but it said there would be no layoffs in Mexico and that the Mexican plant would be “repurposed” to production of other vehicles.

Trump has repeated this claim 11 times

“And by the way, the court — it wasn’t me. The courts were not upholding that executive order.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: It was Trump who cancelled the program. He is free to opine that the courts would eventually have declared Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program unconstitutional. But no court had done so yet, and it was far from clear that high courts would do so at a later date, so he cannot reasonably claim that “it wasn’t me” who did the cancelling.

“But they didn’t solve it (the issue of ‘DREAMer’ unauthorized immigrants), he (Obama) didn’t solve things. And he did something that he didn’t have the right to do. You understand, he did an executive order and that was no good.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: This is a common mistake, but DACA was not created by an Obama executive order. Rather, it was a policy change implemented through the Department of Homeland Security. Steve Doocy, one of the co-hosts of Trump’s favourite morning show, Fox and Friends, was more accurate in 2017 in explaining the process: “It was not an executive order by President Obama. The DHS simply changed the rules.”

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“We have a trade deficit with Canada of a substantial amount of money. I have a number but they keep arguing, they keep saying no — so I won’t say it. I won’t tell you it’s $17 (billion), OK? We have a trade deficit with Canada.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: Even though Trump did end up mentioning his imaginary “$17 billion” figure, he did so while acknowledging for the first time that it might not be correct, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment. We will not, however, allow him to claim that the U.S. has a substantial trade deficit with Canada. The Office of the U.S Trade Representative notes on its website that the U.S. had a trade surplus of $12.5 billion with Canada last year when services trade and goods trade are both counted. There was a deficit of $12.1 billion if you count goods alone, but Trump did not specify that he was excluding services trade.

Trump has repeated this claim 15 times

“Hey Joe, we have a trade deficit with Mexico. Mexico, $71 billion a year, right?” And: “We have a $71 billion a year trade deficit with Mexico.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico is not that large. When trade in services is included, the 2016 deficit was $56 billion. Counting trade in goods alone, the deficit was $64 billion in 2016, $60 billion in 2015, $55 billion in 2014 and $54 billion in 2013, according to U.S. government data; it had not exceeded $67 billion since 2007. The 2017 goods deficit appeared on track to finish around the $70 billion mark — it was $65.7 billion through November — but final figures were not yet available. Regardless, Trump did not specify that he was talking about goods alone and excluding services trade.

Trump has repeated this claim 34 times

“So on top of the biggest tax cuts, great reform and the money is coming in — I mean, the money is pouring in. We probably take in $4 trillion from overseas that would never have been able to be here because of regulation.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: Trump’s “$4 trillion” estimate is unsupported by any experts. The U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation released an estimate of $2.6 trillion in August 2016, and experts said they were not aware of a massive jump in the following 12 months. An October 2017 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) also pegged the number at $2.6 trillion, while Goldman Sachs pegged it at $3.1 trillion the same month. “There’s no world in which it’s $4 trillion,” ITEP senior policy analyst Richard Phillips said in November. “I do not know of anyone who increased the estimate so much recently,” Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said in August. “Like many things, I assume he made this up on the fly,” said another expert on the subject, who requested anonymity, when Trump made an estimate of $5 trillion in August.

Trump has repeated this claim 32 times

“I got rid of the individual mandate, the most — the biggest part and the most unpopular thing in Obamacare, which really repeals Obamacare, because it can’t live without the mandate, because that’s where a lot of the money came.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: Trump’s repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate — the financial penalty for refusing to obtain health insurance — does not amount to him repealing Obamacare on the whole. Other key parts of Obamacare — including the rules governing how insurers must treat people with health conditions; the expansion of Medicaid; the federal and state marketplaces on which people can buy insurance; the federal subsidies for many people buying insurance — continue to function. Some analysts believe the death of the mandate will eventually lead to dire problems for the rest of Obamacare; a headline in left-leaning news website Vox read, “The tax bill is the start of Obamacare collapse.” However, even here, Trump has his facts wrong: the reason the repeal of the mandate may endanger the rest of Obamacare is not because “that’s where a lot of the money came.” In reality, only a fraction of Obamacare funding is generated by the mandate. As the Associated Press reported: “The fines on people who don’t carry health insurance only provide a small fraction of the financing for the program. Most of the money comes from higher taxes on upper-income people, cuts in Medicare payments to service providers, and other tax increases. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that fines from uninsured people would total $3 billion this year, while the government’s cost for the coverage provided under the health law would total about $117 billion.”

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“Now, we have the disadvantage of having spent, as of about a month ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East. Seven trillion. That’s a big disadvantage.”

Source: Interview with CNBC

in fact: There is no basis for the “$7 trillion” figure. During the 2016 campaign, Trump cited a $6 trillion estimate that appeared to be taken from a 2013 report from Brown University’s Costs of War Project. (That report estimated $2 trillion in costs up to that point but said the total could rise an additional $4 trillion by 2053.) Trump, however, used the $6 trillion as if it was a current 2016 figure. He later explained that since additional time has elapsed since the campaign, he believes the total is now $7 trillion. That is incorrect. The latest Brown report, issued in late 2017, put the current total at $4.3 trillion, and the total including estimated future costs at $5.6 trillion.

Trump has repeated this claim 17 times

“And in all fairness, that was done before we passed the tax cuts and tax reform. So what happened is really something special. Then, as you know, and as I just said, Apple came in with $350 billion.”

Source: Speech to World Economic Forum in Davos

in fact: In this very same speech, Trump had described Apple’s announcement accurately. He said the first time: “Their total investment into the United States economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years.” In this second instance, though, he inaccurately said that the company was “coming in with $350 billion,” as a result of his tax policy. In fact, Apple made clear that it was already spending or planning to spend much of the $350 billion, not “coming in” with this amount. Its January press release said: “Combining new investments and Apple’s current pace of spending with domestic suppliers and manufacturers — an estimated $55 billion for 2018 — Apple’s direct contribution to the US economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years, not including Apple’s ongoing tax payments, the tax revenues generated from employees’ wages and the sale of Apple products.”) The Associated Press reported: “Most of the $350 billion reflects money that Apple planned to spend with its suppliers and manufacturers in the U.S. anyway, even if corporate taxes had remained at the old 35 per cent rate.”

Trump has repeated this claim 20 times

“After years of stagnation, the United States is once again experiencing strong economic growth.”

Source: Speech to World Economic Forum in Davos

in fact: The U.S. economy grew 2.3 per cent in 2017. As CNN reported: “The average growth in GDP over former President Barack Obama’s second term? 2.2 per cent. The average over the last two decades? 2.2 per cent. The average back to 1970? 2.8 per cent. And the average back all the way to 1930? 3.3 per cent. The year 2017 will place 11th in GDP growth over the last 20 years.” Trump usually notes that 2017 growth was slowest (1.2 per cent) in the first quarter, which he shared with Obama, and that it picked up in subsequent quarters (3.1 per cent, 3.2 per cent, 2.6 per cent). Regardless, it is an exaggeration at best to claim the U.S. has gone from “stagnation” to strength; in reality, it has been experiencing steady-though-unspectacular growth since 2010, and it has accelerated in the last six months.

  • Jan 28, 2018

“Take a look at Paris, where you have very, very tough gun controls — take a look at that horrible slaughter that took place at the cafes where so many people were killed. And you had these thugs come in with guns, and one by one, for a long time, they just killed, and hundreds of people wounded, to this day, still in the hospitals.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: The Paris attack occurred in Nov. 2015, 26 months before Trump spoke. In Nov. 2016, on the one-year anniversary of the attack, news reports said nine survivors were still in the hospital. It is unlikely that all of them were still in the hospital 14 months later, when Trump made this remark; even if they were, that is far from “hundreds.” Trump has been making such claims, about people still in hospital, since his 2016 campaign.

Morgan: “It turned out, in your recent medical, that you are 30-30 in your cognitive tests…” Trump: “Which most people are not gonna do too well on.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: Anyone with normal cognitive functioning should get a perfect score or close on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment on which Trump scored a 30 out of 30. The assessment is used to test for signs of dementia and other conditions causing cognitive impairment. It asks patients to complete such simple tasks as identifying animals, repeating short sentences, stating their location, and copying drawings.

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records, OK? They’re at a record level.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: Trump could not be more incorrect in saying the ice caps were “going to melt” but are now setting positive records. The only records they are setting are for their…melting. A March 2017 headline on the website of NASA, an arm of the U.S. government, said: “Sea Ice Extent Sinks to Record Lows at Both Poles.” The article explained: “On Feb. 13, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers were at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979.”

“There is a cooling, and there’s a heating — I mean, look, it used to not be ‘climate change,’ it used to be ‘global warming,’ right? That wasn’t working too well, ’cause it was getting too cold all over the place.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: This is an entirely inaccurate explanation of the history of the term “climate change.” For one, it is not “getting too cold all over the place.” The Earth continues to get warmer; the same month Trump spoke, NASA scientists had ranked the previous year, 2017, as the second-warmest since 1880. Second, scientists did not start using the term “climate change” because they were embarrassed by the term “global warming.” “Climate change” and its variants have been used for decades; for example, a well-known 1956 study by (Canadian) scientist Gilbert Plass was titled “The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climactic Change,” while the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988. The two phrases describe different things.” Global warming, NASA explains, “refers to the upward temperature trend across the entire Earth since the early 20th century, and most notably since the late 1970s, due to the increase in fossil fuel emissions since the industrial revolution.” Climate change is broader. It is used to refer to various kinds of changes in the climate caused by human activity that alters the composition of the atmosphere — not only “the increased temperature trends described by global warming” but also “changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events.”

“Chrysler, they’re leaving Mexico and they’re going back to Michigan. You haven’t heard that in a long time.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: Trump could have accurately said that Chrysler is “shifting some production from Mexico,” or something of the sort. It is not accurate, though, to say that Chrysler is “leaving” Mexico. The company announced that it is moving the production of its Ram truck from a plant in Saltillo, Mexico to a plant in Michigan — but it said there would be no layoffs in Mexico and that the Mexican plant would be “repurposed” to production of other vehicles.

Trump has repeated this claim 11 times

“They’re (Apple) going to invest $350 billion, they’re going to build plants all over the place…it’s a $350 billion investment, which I guess is probably the largest or certainly right up there, the largest ever made by a company.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: Apple did not announce a $350 billion investment. Rather, it said the combination of new investments and prior spending would total $350 billion over five years. Here’s the wording from its January press release: “Combining new investments and Apple’s current pace of spending with domestic suppliers and manufacturers — an estimated $55 billion for 2018 — Apple’s direct contribution to the US economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years, not including Apple’s ongoing tax payments, the tax revenues generated from employees’ wages and the sale of Apple products.”) The Associated Press reported: “Most of the $350 billion reflects money that Apple planned to spend with its suppliers and manufacturers in the U.S. anyway, even if corporate taxes had remained at the old 35 per cent rate.”

Trump has repeated this claim 20 times

“It was a convincing win. It was an Electoral College — I guess it was like 223 to 306.”

Source: Interview with Piers Morgan

in fact: Hillary Clinton earned 232 electoral votes on Election Day, not 223.

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

“Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: This is a major exaggeration. Trump may deserve some credit for the record low Black unemployment rate: it fell from 7.8 per cent to a record low 6.8 per cent during his first year in office. However, this drop was merely the continuation of a sharp decline under Obama: it fell from 12.7 per cent to 7.8, close to the then-record 7.3 per cent, per cent during Obama’s tenure. In other words, the rate only had to fall 0.51 percentage points under Trump to set the record. In this case, then, Trump is kind of like a child who gets lifted up to a basketball hoop, drops the ball in, and then declares he is a world-class dunker. (Also, it is worth noting that Black unemployment has only been recorded by the government since the 1970s, so the “recorded low” isn’t necessarily the actual all-time low.)

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“Our economy is better than it has been in many decades. Businesses are coming back to America like never before. Chrysler, as an example, is leaving Mexico and coming back to the USA.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump could have accurately said that Chrysler is “shifting some production from Mexico,” or something of the sort. It is not accurate, though, to say that Chrysler is “leaving” Mexico. The company announced that it is moving the production of its Ram truck from a plant in Saltillo, Mexico to a plant in Michigan — but it said there would be no layoffs in Mexico and that the Mexican plant would be “repurposed” to production of other vehicles.

Trump has repeated this claim 11 times


The dark side of Saudi Arabia’s youthful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman

October 14, 2018

by Jon Gambrell

The Associated Press

In a kingdom once ruled by an ever-aging rotation of elderly monarchs, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stands out as the youthful face of a youthful nation. But behind the carefully calibrated public-relations campaign pushing images of the smiling prince meeting with the world’s top leaders and business executives lurks a darker side.

Last year, at age 31, Mohammed became the kingdom’s crown prince, next in line to the throne now held by his octogenarian father, King Salman. While pushing for women to drive, he has overseen the arrest of women’s rights activists.

While calling for foreign investment, he has imprisoned businessmen, royals and others in a crackdown on corruption that soon resembled a shakedown of the kingdom’s most powerful people.

As Saudi defense minister from the age of 29, he pursued a war in Yemen against Shiite rebels that began a month after he took the helm and wears on today.

What the crown prince chooses next likely will affect the world’s largest oil producer for decades to come. And as the disappearance and feared death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul may show, the young prince will brook no dissent in reshaping the kingdom in his image.

“I don’t want to waste my time,” he told Time Magazine in a cover story this year. “I am young.”

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote several columns for The Washington Post critical of Prince Mohammed, disappeared Oct. 2 on a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials have offered no evidence, but say they fear the writer was killed and dismembered by a Saudi team of 15 men — an operation that, if carried out, would have to have been authorized by the top of the Al Saud monarchy. The kingdom describes the allegation as “baseless,” but has provided no proof that Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

For decades in Saudi Arabia, succession passed down among the dozens of sons of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz. And, over time, the sons have grown older and older upon reaching the throne.

When King Salman took power in January of 2015 and quickly appointed Prince Mohammed as defense minister, it took the kingdom by surprise, especially given the importance of the position and the prince’s age.

He was little-known among the many grandchildren of Saudi Arabia’s patriarch, a young man educated only in the kingdom who stuck close to his father, who previously served as the governor of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

As defense minister, he entered office facing a crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, which lies south of the kingdom. Shiite rebels known as Houthis had overrun the country’s capital, Sanaa, unseating the deeply unpopular government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

When Hadi fled and it appeared the country’s port city of Aden would fall to the rebels, Saudi Arabia launched a coalition war against the Houthis — a conflict that soon became a stalemate.

The United Nations estimates 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s conflict, and activists say that number is likely far higher. It has exacerbated what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with hunger and cholera stalking civilians, worsened by the kingdom’s blockade of ports.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has faced widespread criticism for its airstrikes hitting clinics and marketplaces, which have killed civilians. The Houthis, as well, have indiscriminately used land mines and arrested political opponents.

The coalition says Iran has funneled weapons to the Houthis ranging from small arms to the ballistic missiles now regularly fired into the kingdom, which Iran denies.

For Prince Mohammed, the conflict remains part of what he sees as an existential struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for the future of the Middle East. Asked about Western concerns over civilian casualties, he offers this: “Mistakes happen in all wars.”

“We don’t need to have a new Hezbollah in the Arabian Peninsula. This is a red line not only for Saudi Arabia but for the whole world,” the prince recently told Bloomberg, referring to the Iran-allied Shiite militant group and political party dominant in Lebanon.

The prince also found himself involved in the bizarre resignation-by-television address of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who announced he would step down during a visit to the kingdom in November 2017, fueling suspicion he was coerced into doing so.

Prince Mohammed’s harsh rhetoric extends to likening Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler. He’s also hinted Saudi Arabia would be willing to fight Iran in other ways, leading Tehran to link the kingdom to an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz last month that killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 60. Both Arab separatists and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the assault.

“We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia,” the prince told the Saudi-owned broadcasting company MBC last year. “Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

His aggressive posture against Iran has won the support of U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration, which pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal struck by President Barack Obama, whom the kingdom deeply distrusted.

Before becoming crown prince, Prince Mohammed visited the White House and forged a close relationship with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The two are believed to be working on the administration’s peace plans for Israel and the Palestinians

Trump made Riyadh his first stop overseas as president, a visit complete with Arab pageantry and opulence. Behind the scenes, many analysts believe Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates saw a greenlight to move ahead with the ongoing boycott of Qatar, a small Arabian Peninsula nation, over a political dispute.

Trump initially seemed to favor the boycott of Qatar, which is home to al-Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command.

Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, sought in vain to pressure the Saudis into resolving the spat and complained privately that the ties between the White House and Prince Mohammed were hurting the effort, officials said at the time.

Tillerson’s dismissal in March and the arrival of Mike Pompeo as Trump’s top diplomat markedly reduced the State Department’s heat on Saudi Arabia about the detentions of human rights activists, including women, and the conflict in Yemen.

Despite the mounting civilian casualties in Yemen, Pompeo certified to Congress in September that Saudi Arabia was taking steps to reduce and limit them, drawing severe condemnations from lawmakers and human rights groups.

Saudi Arabia soon embarked on the prince’s ambitious proposal to allow women in the ultraconservative Wahhabi nation to drive. The resulting pictures of women in long black abayas behind the wheel represented a public-relations coup for the image-shaping firms employed by the kingdom, as did footage of women attending soccer matches and movie theaters for the first time in decades.

But before women started their engines, a new crackdown emerged: The kingdom rounded up and imprisoned women’s rights activists, including reportedly grabbing one woman who was in the neighboring United Arab Emirates.

Prince Mohammed has wowed the business world with promises of an initial public offering for the state oil behemoth Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, suggesting it would have a $2 trillion valuation. Stocks markets around the world have pitched having the IPO on their exchanges, but it has been repeatedly delayed.

The young prince has traveled across the U.S. as part of his business pitch, meeting leaders like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.

Prince Mohammed also hosted a major business summit at Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton, complete with a humanoid robot named Sophia being awarded Saudi citizenship.

Only weeks later, the hotel turned into a luxury prison as part of a mass arrest of businessmen, royals and others orchestrated by Prince Mohammed in a move described as targeting corruption. Those released agreed to sign over some of their assets, however, giving it the feel of a shakedown.

“If I have the power and the king has the power to take action against influential people, then you are already fundamentally strong,” Prince Mohammed told CBS earlier this year.

For now, the anger over Khashoggi’s disappearance appears to have galvanized international criticism of the young prince, about whom the columnist wrote critically for the Post.

Trump, already angry over rising global oil prices, has said he wants answers from Saudi Arabia and suggested Khashoggi’s fiancee could visit the White House.

Prominent American lawmakers also are indignant — though U.S.-Saudi relations have survived even the 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers being from the kingdom.

The opaqueness of the Al Saud royal family makes it difficult to see what effect the controversy is having on support for Prince Mohammed at home. State television continues to air footage of him attending meetings and greeting officials as if all is normal.

And as the son of the king, analysts say he has the full protection of the throne’s powers.

Once asked if anything could stop him, the prince gave a two-word reply: “Only death.”


Saudi Arabia says will retaliate against any sanctions over Khashoggi case

October 14, 2018

by Andrew Torchia and Arshad Mohammed


DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia on Sunday warned against threats to punish it over last week’s disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as European and U.S. allies piled on pressure.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Riyadh’s policies, disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey believes he was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has denied that.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, though he said Washington would be “punishing” itself if it halted military sales to Riyadh.

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusations,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted an unnamed official as saying.

“The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the Kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy,” the official added, without elaborating.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington later tweeted what it called a clarification, thanking countries including the United States “for refraining from jumping to conclusions” over the case.

Europe’s largest economies — Britain, France and Germany — said on Sunday they were treating the case with “the utmost seriousness”.

“There needs to be a credible investigation to establish the truth about what happened, and – if relevant – to identify those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account,” the countries said in a joint statement.

“We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard, and expect the Saudi Government to provide a complete and detailed response. We have conveyed this message directly to the Saudi authorities.”

The statement, by Britain’s Jeremy Hunt, France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas, made no mention of potential actions the countries might take. Hunt later said that if Saudi Arabia were proved to be guilty, “we would have to think about the appropriate way to react in that situation.”


U.S. senators called for reactions ranging from boycotting an upcoming economic summit in Riyadh to ending support for Saudi military operations in Yemen.

“If they lured this man into that consulate, they went medieval on him, and he was killed and he was chopped up and they sent a death crew down there to kill him and do all of this, that would be an outrage,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio told CNN’s State of the Union.

“Just because they are an ally in an important mission, which is containing Iranian expansion in the region, cannot allow us to overlook or walk away from that.”

Fellow Republican, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, appearing on ABC’s “This Week”, called for “severe action” which he said would affect arms sales and involvement in Yemen.

The Saudi stock market fell as much as 7 percent in early trade on Sunday, one of the first signs of economic pain Riyadh could suffer over the affair. By close, it had recovered some losses, ending down 3.5 percent and losing $16.5 billion of market value.

Senators have triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for a gross human rights violation. The act has in the past imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials.

Anti-Saudi sentiment in the Congress could conceivably raise pressure to pass the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, which would end sovereign immunity shielding OPEC members from U.S. legal action.


In a column published just after the SPA statement, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s General Manager Turki Aldakhil warned that imposing sanctions on the world’s largest oil exporter could spark global economic disaster.

“It would lead to Saudi Arabia’s failure to commit to producing 7.5 million barrels. If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure,” he wrote.

Investor concern is growing that Khashoggi’s disappearance could add to a sense that Saudi policy has become more unpredictable under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is pushing social and economic reforms but has also presided over a rise in tensions between with several countries.

A Gulf banker said the Khashoggi case, combined with other events, had become a significant factor for some potential investors.

“It’s cumulative – the Yemen war, the dispute with Qatar, the tensions with Canada and Germany, the arrests of women activists. They add up to an impression of impulsive policy-making, and that worries investors,” the banker said.

Foreign capital is key to Saudi plans for economic diversification and job creation. But in response to Khashoggi’s disappearance, media organisations and some technology executives pulled out of the Riyadh investment conference scheduled for next week.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin still plans to attend, but that could change, Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said on “This Week”.


The crisis has polarised Saudis, with some blaming the nation’s enemies and others concerned about the direction the country is heading under Prince Mohammed.

Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said there had been a “frenzied campaign” to spread lies over the affair and that it was “known” who was behind that, wording used in the past to refer to Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdulrahman bin Abdullah al-Sanad, head of the body overseeing the Saudi religious police, called for unity.

“Defending the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and standing for it and its leaders is a religious duty and a national demand,” he tweeted, without referring specifically to the Khashoggi case.

Prince Khaled al-Faisal, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and senior advisor to King Salman, has met Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters without providing details.

A Turkish official told Reuters on Sunday that the Saudis had said they would allow the consulate to be searched, and that this would happen by the end of the weekend, though he conceded to “flexibility on this date.”

“But Turkey is determined on the subject of entering the consulate and carrying out a criminal inspection. There is no alternative to carrying out this inspection. Time is important in terms of evidence,” the official said.

Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Asma Alsharif in Dubai, Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Elizabeth Piper in London, Christopher Bing and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by Jason Neely/Robin Pomeroy



The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

October 14, 2018

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.


Conversation No. 62

Date: Tuesday, February 4, 1997

Commenced:  8:45 AM CST

Concluded:  9:30 AM CST

GD: Feeling a little better, Robert?

RTC: Much, thank you. By the way, Gregory, I dug up the information on this Landreth person you asked me about. He used to work for CBS News and his father ran our offices in Havana. Edward Landreth. Used Sterling Chemical Company as a front. I wouldn’t trust this one, if I were you.

GD: No, I didn’t like him at first sight. And he got some hack named Willwirth at Time Magazine to promise to put me on the cover of their trashy rag if I cooperated.

RTC: What do they want?

GD: Anything and everything relating to Mueller’s CIA employment. Anything with his new name, that is. I have an old Virginia driver’s license, a pilot’s license, an old CIA ID card and things like that.

RTC: Don’t even show them to them and keep the new name to yourself. The first thing they will do, and the Army as well, will be to get out the burn bags and totally obliterate any trace of him. You see, Mueller came in at such a high level and so early that his name is not known. Once your book came out, there were frantic searches of the files but they ran up against the dismal fact that they could not identify his new personality. Beetle Smith knew it, but he’s dead. Critchfield is foaming at the mouth over all of this, but he doesn’t have the name either. Wonderful. But take my advice and don’t give out the name. They would obliterate any trace of it and then piously deny they knew anything about it. Why not try the Army records in Missouri? List five or six names plus the Mueller pseudonym and get a researcher to get the copies of the files. Don’t use your name because you are on the no-no list now. Then, you can take the real Mueller out and toss the rest.

GD: Robert, how brilliant of you. I did this a year ago but I’m glad to see you’re right up on things.

RTC: Well, I know the name, you know the name, but Tom Kimmel and Bill Corson do not know the name. I assume both of them have asked you?

GD: Of course they have.

RTC: Not surprising. I like Bill but he had gone over to the other side, lock, stock and barrel, so use discretion with him. And you can be polite to Kimmel but shut up around him. Anything either one of them get would go straight to Langley.

GD: And the burning would commence.

RTC: Clouds of smoke would blanket the eastern seaboard, Gregory. Help keep America pollution free and keep your mouth closed. No, that’s not what I meant. Your mouth is not a source of pollution. The smoke from the burning CIA records is what I had in mind. What kind of approaches do they use?

GD: Kindergarten level. ‘We are going to make you famous,’ is the main one followed by such stupidity as ‘you can tell me because I’m your friend.’ With friends like that, who needs any enemies? I wouldn’t let any of them into my house. My grandfather would have had them use the tradesman’s entrance. They don’t do that anymore. One great homogenous melting pot of proletariat idiots, ill-educated twits, liars and chronic violators of deceased prostitutes.

RTC: (Laughter) Such an accurate portrayal, Gregory.

GD: It’s been quite an unwanted education, Robert, listening to all the foolishness coming out of these creeps. But, good humored banter aside, I wanted to discuss the Kennedy thing with you.

RTC: Go ahead.

GD: I have been reading through all the major books on the subject, and here and there I find something interesting. Mostly, only personal opinion without facts. But in looking through my notes, I am positive that your collective motives were based on what you thought was good for the country and the CIA, in opposite order.

RTC: Passing secrets to the enemy is very serious, Gregory.

GD: Yes, but Kennedy sacked your top people and was going to break the agency up. Self-preservation is a powerful motive for action.

RTC: Yes, it is. We had a similar problem with Nixon, as I recall.

GD: You weren’t planning to off him, were you?

RTC: No, but we did get him out of the Oval Office.

GD: I met Nixon once and I rather liked him. You? What about Watergate?

RTC: Watergate was our method of getting him out. It wasn’t as final as the Zipper business but he played right into it.

GD: What did Nixon do to you?

RTC: Now, that’s a long and involved story, Gregory.

GD: Well, since you didn’t have him killed, can you tell me?

RTC: I suppose so. Nixon was no specific threat to us, understand. We worked with him rather well. But he was getting squirrelly the second time around. And the China business was no good. China was our enemy and we had the best relations with Taipei….Taiwan. The very best relations, and very profitable. Nixon threw the entire thing out of balance and then the war in Vietnam was another factor. Very complex.

GD: I have plenty of time.

RTC: It was the drug business in the final analysis.

GD: There have been stories around about that.

RTC: Can’t be proven. We get curious reporters fired for even hinting at that. Anyway, it started in ’44-’45 with Jim’s Italian connections in Naples and Palermo.

GD: Angleton?

RTC: Yes, of course. Jim had lived in Italy as a child and spoke the language fluently. He knew the Mafia people in Sicily and the gangs in Naples, not to mention the Union Corse people in Corsica. I mean it was to get their assistance in intelligence matters. First against the Germans and then against the local Communists. Jim was very effective but I don’t think he realized that by asking for favors, he put himself in the position of having to give favors back again. That’s how they are, you know.

GD: I’ve known one or two. Yes, very much that way. Didn’t he realize he was making a bargain with the Devil?

RTC: No, Jim did not. The Italians he grew up with were not that way. I knew a few of those people through my father. He was involved in politics in Chicago in the old days and that means a guaranteed association with the Mob.

GD: And they called in their markers?

RTC: Oh, yes, they did. And that’s how the drug connections got started. The Italian gangsters helped Angleton when he was there with the OSS and then later, they called their markers in with him. Not much at first but much more later. Opium makes morphine and refined morphine makes heroin. You must know that. Turkey has opium fields and so do a number of places in SEA. Burma, for example. Once you get into that sort of thing, Gregory, you can’t get out again. And we comforted ourselves that the actual movers and shakers were doing the dirty work and, at the same time, assisting us with intelligence matters. Killing off enemies, securing sensitive areas and that sort of thing. Naples and Palermo to begin with and later Corsica. And then in Asia, Burma first. We were big supporters of Chiang and when the Commies forced him out of mainland China, he went to Taiwan and one of his top generals, Li Mi, went south with his military command and got into former French Indochina and then into Burma. He had a large contingent of troops, thousands, and both us and the French supplied him with weapons and he, in turn, set up opium farms and we, but not the French, flew out the raw products to be refined in the Mediterranean. The weapons were often surplus World War Two pieces out of Sea Supply in Florida. As a note for your interest, we shipped tons of former Nazi weapons from Poland to Guatemala when we kicked out Guzman there. You have to understand that the Company was huge and compartmented, so most of the people knew nothing about the drugs. Of course the various DCIs did and Colby, who later was DCI, ran the drug business out of Cambodia.

GD: The Air American thing?

RTC: Among others. We actually used official military aircraft to ship when we couldn’t use our own proprietary people. Angleton had mob connections and they used him far more than he used them, but he did not dare try to back out. It got way out of hand but none of us wanted to bell that cat, believe me. And we finally flew out Li Mi with thirteen millions in gold bars. Flew him to safety in Switzerland.

GD: That stopped the drugs?

RTC: No, it all came under new management. Colby was very efficient.

GD: As a point of interest here, Robert, is that why they snuffed him?

RTC: Partially. He knew too much and no one dared to gig him too hard over the civilian killings he ran in Vietnam. There was always the danger he would break down. He was getting along in years and that’s when we have to watch these boys carefully. A heart attack here, an accidental drowning there. After we drowned Colby, we tore his summer place to bits and then ransacked his Dent Place address. Not to mention getting our friendly bankers to let us go through his safe deposit boxes. After hours, of course.

GD: Of course. You weren’t involved, were you?

RTC: In what? Removing these dangerous people? In some cases. I had nothing directly to do with the drugs. That was mostly Angleton.

GD: He muse have gotten rich.

RTC: Not really.

GD: But Nixon….was he in the drug business too?

RTC: No. Nixon was a nut, Gregory. A poor boy elevated on high and couldn’t handle the upper levels. Very smart but got to believe his own power. The second election, a landslide, convinced him that he was invulnerable. He wasn’t and he began to play games with China. By playing nice with them, he outraged Taiwan and we all do much business with those people. Drugs and other things. Never mind all that, because it’s still going on. Anyway, they bitched to us, louder and louder, that Nixon would listen to Mao and dump them. If they got dumped, they would tell all and none of us could stand that, so we decided to get Nixon removed. No point of doing a Kennedy on him, but he had to go. After Spiro got the boot, Jerry Ford took over and we knew we would never have any problem with good old Jerry. Hell, during the Warren Commission, good old Jerry ran to Hoover every night with the latest information, so we knew he was a loyal player.

GD: And now did you do it?

RTC: Get rid of Tricky Dick? He did it to himself. We supplied him with a team of our men after we convinced him that everyone was plotting against him. I told you he was getting strange. I think paranoid is a better word. Anyway, we convinced him that McGovern was getting money from Castro and he sent our people to break into the Democrat offices in the Watergate. To get the proof that didn’t exist. They went there to get caught. They taped open the door and one of our people called local security. You know the rest, I am sure. Nixon did it to himself in the end. We just supplied the push. And Ford did what he was told and everyone was happy again.

GD: No wonder they call the stuff powdered happiness.

RTC: (Laughter) I haven’t heard that but it’s fitting. I remember we were afraid Nixon might call out the military, so we stuck Alex Haig in there to keep him isolated. Haig was a real nut but he did his job very well. And another government change, but this time there were no inconvenient questions about Oswald and Ruby types for the nut fringe to babble about. No, Nixon did it to himself.

GD: It didn’t do the country any good, this drawn-out death agony.

RTC: It would not have been a good idea to shoot him, not after the fuss after Kennedy. And Formosa is happy and we are happy and the drugs are still moving around, making everyone money. Just think what we were able to do with our share of mystery cash. No Congress to badger us about our budgets at all. We got billions from them and more billions in cash from the other stuff, so we were all sitting in the catbird seat. Nixon was one man and he had served his usefulness. Notice he’s had a nice retirement.

GD: And so has Ford.

RTC: Ford was a classic pawn. Washington is full of them, Gregory. And I strongly urge you to keep away from this subject if and when you decide to write about things. The Company is not as keen on killing everyone like it used to be, but I don’t think you want to run up against the Mob.

GD: No, of course not.

RTC: That’s a smart fellow, Gregory. Go after dead CIA people but keep away from the Mob. Got it?

GD: Got it loud and clear.

(Concluded at 9:30 AM CST)


World War Two’s Covert Ops Are Failing in the Post-War World

October 12, 2018

by Charles Glass


Before President Barack Obama authorized clandestine operations to defeat Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2013, he asked the CIA to write the history of its secret wars. The classified document, say those who have read it, is a record of failure from Albania to Cuba to Angola to Nicaragua. Yet Obama went ahead with the covert program for Syria, which the CIA ran from Turkey and Jordan. Like its predecessors, Operation Timber Sycamore failed. It neither toppled Assad nor prevented Salafi jihadi fanatics from dominating the Syrian opposition. President Trump cancelled the program in July last year, but he is not immune to the siren call of another secret war – in his case, against Iran with as much chance of a positive outcome as Syria.

Why the fascination with arming foreign insurgents and proxy armies to fight wars that the US won’t fight itself? “We’re busily training, you know, local troops to fight local militants, why do we think we have this aptitude for creating armies?” Andrew Bacevich, a retired army colonel and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, once told me. “I don’t know. It sure as hell didn’t work in Vietnam.” Two reasons stand out. One is that, as Bacevich explained, insurgencies are wars “on the cheap,” not only in dollars but in assuring the public that American soldiers’ lives are not in danger. It is also a midway point between invasion and doing nothing. And most American presidents, faced with an opportunity to undermine rival states, want to do something.

It all started in Syria, where Britain conducted a successful insurgency against Ottoman Turkey from 1916 to 1918. The famed leader of the Arab rebels was Lawrence of Arabia, whose Seven Pillars of Wisdom remains required reading for any operative embarking on clandestine warfare. Lawrence became the inspiration for Britain’s first secret warfare organization, Special Operations Executive (SOE).

SOE came into being in the summer of 1940, because Britain lacked resources to fight on alone after the German conquest of Belgium, Holland and France. Winston Churchill created the office of “ungentlemanly warfare” on 19 July “to coordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas.” The British would train, arm and finance local insurgents to harass the Germans, as well as their Italian and Japanese allies, in all countries under Axis occupation. SOE’s first director of operations, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins, who became overall chief in 1943, wrote the Art of Guerrilla Warfare and the Partisan Leader’s Handbook, based on what he called “Lawrence’s epic campaign.” What he instigated was, by SOE’s admission, “terrorism” on the Axis.

SOE mobilized mountain tribes in Burma, communist and royalist rebels in Yugoslavia, and disparate anti-Nazis in France. It also encouraged the US to establish its own covert operations unit, which became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Gubbins assigned Major Bill Brooker to train the Americans at top-secret Camp X in the Canadian woods, telling him, “We think the Americans are going to come into the war and they have to learn all about this stuff.” One American official wondered, “What type of training was required to make an American un-American enough to stick the enemy in the back?” Camp X, which opened three days after Pearl Harbor, instructed more than 500 inexperienced Americans in the dark arts of partisan recruitment, sabotage, assassination, secrecy and communications.

The entrance of the Soviet Union and the US into the war against Germany altered the balance in Britain’s favor and changed SOE’s covert mission in Europe from harassment to support for an Allied invasion of the Continent. When Britain and the US invaded Italy and then France, SOE-backed guerrilla units diverted German resources away from advancing Allied armies. Resistance was not decisive, but it saved Allied troops’ lives and shortened the war.

SOE and OSS claimed numerous achievements, due to effective leadership by men and women who knew the countries they worked in, spoke the language, lived among their fighters and observed strict security. One of the best was George Starr, who set up operations in southwest France and slowly grew his WHEELWRIGHT resistance network from one small district to the entire region. His forces helped to impede Germany’s Second SS Panzer Division from reaching the Normandy landing beaches by seventeen crucial days. The beachhead was secure when the battered division arrived. SOE critics, including George’s brother and fellow SOE operative John Starr, recorded fatal errors. The most famous was succumbing to false German radio signals, supposedly from SOE operators, that lured scores of British agents to their deaths.

In World War II, SOE was a partial success. Although the British shut it down when the Americans dismantled OSS right after the war, the seductiveness of special operations à la SOE and OSS lingered. In the post-war world, it has been a disaster. The British absorbed former SOE agents into its traditional spy agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) also known as MI-6. OSS veterans formed the backbone of the CIA that President Harry Truman established in 1947. Both organizations existed to collect intelligence, but they nonetheless conducted operations that included assassination and clandestine war. Historian of espionage Phillip Knightley wrote that mixing the two “made it inevitable that intelligence also involved covert action, and covert action now meant American intervention in countries with which the United States was not at war.”

Intervention never stopped. The British and Americans infiltrated guerrilla bands into the Soviet Union and its satellites, in Truman’s words, to roll back communism. They sometimes employed former Nazis, notably in the Ukraine where they armed fascist nationalists against the Russians in a disastrous campaign that left most of its participants dead, wounded or captured. The joint Anglo-American Operation Valuable infiltrated rebels into Albania to overthrow dictator Enver Hoxha, a former SOE ally during World War II. Most of them were immediately killed or taken prisoner. Frank Wisner, the CIA point man in Albania, told Kim Philby, the SIS operative secretly working for the Soviets, “We’ll get it right next time.” They didn’t.

Attempts to use insurgents in the three Soviet-occupied Baltic nations led not only to failure but to 75,000 civilian casualties. The infiltration of thousands of guerrillas into North Korea likely affected the North’s decision to invade South Korea in June 1950. CIA support of rebellious colonels in Indonesia five years later did not prevent their total defeat by the Indonesian Army. The 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba is well known, as is the clandestine Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. CIA director and OSS veteran William Casey ran the illegal war over Congressional objections using Saudi money and funds from the illegal sale of arms to Iran. The CIA covert war in Afghanistan led to a mujahideen victory over the Soviets, but it produced the chaos and civil war that led to the creation of the Taliban, the hosting of Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and the longest war in American history.

In 2011, a revolt erupted in Syria. The US, which was witnessing the tragic consequences of its intervention in Libya, was reluctant to use its military again. The halfway house between quick victory by Assad, backed by allies Russia and Iran, and American invasion was a covert operation. This was supposed to be different from the failed missions catalogued in the CIA study Obama commissioned. It wasn’t. The CIA’s bid to emulate Lawrence on the master’s old terrain failed. Why?

Lawrence had advantages that the CIA lacked. First, the British Army under General Edmund Allenby invaded Palestine and Syria from Egypt. Lawrence’s ill-equipped tribesmen, who on their own could not have defeated the Ottomans, served as Allenby’s right flank as his forces advance north. The CIA had no invading American army to support in Syria, denying their rebels a clear objective. Second, Lawrence fought alongside his men, while most CIA operatives remained at base in Turkey and Jordan. Third, Lawrence’s strategy was not to hold territory that his irregulars could not defend. Syria’s rebels did that again and again.

Lawrence, writing the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1929, explained that a guerrilla force had to be “an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like gas … never giving the enemy a target.” He felt that “battles were a mistake,” a lesson the CIA neglected to teach the Syrian rebels. The next edition of the CIA’s covert ops history will have to include the $1 billion disaster in Syria.

Does that mean an end to secret wars? Rudy Giuliani’s recent calls for regime change in Iran, combined with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of an Iran Action Group, indicate that lessons remain unlearned. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is funding the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK), a Shiite mirror image of Al Qaeda, that seeks to overthrow the Iranian regime. The MeK was an ally of Saddam in the Iran-Iraq War, massacred Kurds in 1991 and was until recently on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. If Syria was a disaster, Iran could be a catastrophe.

A century before Britain sent Lawrence into Syria, Wellington’s army supported Spanish partisans against Napoleon’s occupation of their country. The Spaniards won in 1814, returning King Ferdinand VII to his throne in Madrid. One of the monarch’s first acts was to restore the Inquisition. As the Syria war heads towards a conclusion in Idlib, the US can take solace that its jihadis did not conquer Syria and turn it into a base of the global holy war.

The Syrian Chess Board

October 12, 2018

by Conn Hallinan


The Syrian civil war has always been devilishly complex, with multiple actors following different scripts, but in the past few months it appeared to be winding down.

The Damascus government now controls 60 percent of the country and the major population centers, the Islamic State has been routed, and the rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are largely cornered in Idilb Province in the country’s northwest. But suddenly the Americans moved the goal posts and – maybe – the Russians have fallen out with the Israelis, the Iranians are digging in their heels, and the Turks are trying to multitask with a home front in disarray.

So the devil is still very much at work in a war that’s lasted more than seven years, claimed up to 500,000 lives, displaced millions of people, destabilized an already fragile Middle East, and is far from over.

There are at least three theaters in the Syrian war, each with its own complexities: Idilb in the north, the territory east of the Euphrates River, and the region that abuts the southern section of the Golan Heights.

Just sorting out the antagonists is daunting. Turks, Iranians, Americans, and Kurds are the key actors in the east. Russians, Turks, Kurds, and Assad are in a temporary standoff in the north. And Iran, Assad, and Israel are in a faceoff near Golan, a conflict that has suddenly drawn in Moscow.


Assad’s goals are straightforward: Reunite the country under the rule of Damascus and begin rebuilding Syria’s shattered cities. The major roadblock to this is Idilb, the last large concentration of anti-Assad groups, jihadists linked with al-Qaeda, and a modest Turkish occupation force representing Operation Olive Branch. The province, which borders Turkey in the north, is mountainous, and retaking it promises to be difficult.

For the time being there is a stand down. The Russians cut a deal with Turkey to demilitarize the area around Idilb city, neutralize the jihadist groups, and reopen major roads. The agreement holds off a joint Assad-Russian assault on Idilb, which would have driven hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkey and likely have resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties.

But the agreement is temporary – about a month – because Russia is impatient to end the fighting and begin the reconstruction. However, it is hard to see how the Turks are going to get a handle on the bewildering number of groups packed into the province, some of which they have actively aided for years.

Ankara could bring in more soldiers, but Turkey already has troops east of the Euphrates and is teetering on the edge of a major economic crisis. Pouring more wealth into what has become a quagmire may not sit well with the Turkish public, which has seen inflation eat up their paychecks and pensions – the Turkish lira fell nearly 40 percent in value in the past year. Local elections will be held in 2019, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party’s power is built on improving the economy.

The East

In Syria’s east, Turkish troops – part of Operation Euphrates Shield – are pushing up against the Americans and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the Islamic State (IS). Erdogan is far more worried about the Syrian Kurds, and the effect they might have on Turkey’s Kurdish population, than he is about the IS.

Ankara’s ally in this case is Iran, which is not overly concerned about the Kurds, but quite concerned about the 2,200 Americans. “We need to resolve the difficulty east of the Euphrates and force America out,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in early September.

That latter goal just got more complex.

The U.S. Special Forces were originally charged with helping the Kurdish and Arab allies drive out the IS. President Donald Trump told a meeting in March, “we’ll be coming out of Syria like very soon.” But that policy appears to have changed.

National Security Advisor John Bolton now says US troops will remain in Syria until Iran leaves. Since there’s little chance of that happening, the US commitment suddenly sounds open-ended. Bolton’s comment has stirred up some opposition in the US Congress to “mission creep,” although Trump has yet to directly address the situation.

The Kurds are caught in the middle. The US has made no commitment to defend them from Turkey, and the Assad regime is pressing to bring the region under Damascus’ control. However, the Syrian government has made overtures to the Kurds for talks about more regional autonomy, and one suspects the Kurds will try to cut a deal to protect them from Ankara. The Russians have been pushing for an Assad-Kurdish détente.

Turkey may want to stay in eastern Syria, but it’s hard to see how Ankara will be able to do that, especially if the Turks are stretched between Idlib and Euphrates Shield in the east. The simple fact is that Erdogan misjudged the resiliency of the Assad regime, and dangerously overreached when he thought shooting down a Russian fighter-bomber in 2015 would bring NATO to his rescue and intimidate Moscow. Instead, the Russians now control the skies over Idlib, and Turkey is estranged from NATO.

The Russians have been careful in Syria. Their main concerns are keeping their naval base at Latakia, beating up on al-Qaeda and the IS, and supporting their longtime ally Assad. Instead of responding directly to Erdogan’s 2015 provocation, Moscow brought in their dangerous S-400 antiaircraft system, a wing of advanced fighter aircraft, and beefed up their naval presence with its advanced radar systems. The message was clear: Don’t try that again.

Israel’s Standoff With Iran

But the Russians held off the attack on Idlib, and have been trying to keep the Israelis and Iranians from tangling with one another in the region around the Golan Heights. Moscow proposed keeping Iran and its allies at least 60 miles from the Israeli border, but Israel – and now the US – is demanding Iran fully withdraw from Syria.

The Assad regime wants Tehran to stay, but also wants to avoid any major shootout between Iran and Israel that would catch Damascus in the middle. In spite of hundreds of Israeli air attacks in Syria, there have been no counter attacks by the Syrians or the Iranians, suggesting that Assad had ruled out any violent reaction.

That all came to end on September 17, when Israeli aircraft apparently used a Russian Ilyushin-M20 electronic reconnaissance plane to mask an attack on Damascus. Syrian antiaircraft responded and ending up shooting down the Russian plane and killing all aboard.

Russia blamed the Israelis and a few days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow was sending its S-300 antiaircraft system to Syria, along with a series of upgrades in Damascus’ radar network. Syria currently uses the S-200 system that goes back to the 1960s.

The upgrade won’t really threaten Israeli aircraft – the S-300 is dated and the Israelis likely have the electronics to overcome it – but suddenly the skies over Syria are no longer uncontested. And, if Tel Aviv decides to go after the Syrian radar grid, the Russians have their S-400 in the wings. Not checkmate, but check.

Glimmers of a Solution

How all of this shakes down is hardly clear, but there are glimmers of solution out there.

Turkey will have to eventually withdraw from Syria, but will probably get some concessions over how much autonomy Syria’s Kurds will end up with. The Kurds can cut a deal with Assad because the regime needs peace. The Iranians want to keep their influence in Syria and a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but don’t want a serious dustup with Israel.

An upcoming Istanbul summit on Syria of Russia, France, Turkey, and Germany will talk about a political solution to the civil war and postwar reconstruction.

Israel will eventually have to come to terms with Iran as a major player in the Middle East and recognize that the great “united front” against Tehran of Washington, Tel Aviv, and the Gulf monarchies is mostly illusion. The Saudis are in serious economic trouble, the Gulf Cooperation Council is divided, and Israel and the US are increasingly isolated over in hostility to Tehran.








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