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TBR News October 9, 2016

Oct 09 2016

The Voice of the White

The Voice of the White House


Washington, D.C.  October 9, 2016:”The American media, obedient to its master’s desires, has spent most of its time squealing about a ten year old satiric tape of Donald Trump making suggestive remarks about women. Hillary, on the other hand, would also make suggestive remarks about women and for the same reasons. The campaign has degeneraged into moronic mud throwing and from Hillary’s side, hysterical accusations that the evil Russians are responsible for digging out and releasing her less attractive internet comments. The question of whether or not Hillary actually said what it appears she said is not the media issue but the movitiations behind releasing the remarks are. And parallal with the accusations of tampering with the sacred elections in November, the US government is shaking its fist at Russia and making vague threats of military actions in order to increase public angst. This kind of game-playing led to the destructive first and second world wars and is the sort of moronic behavior that is a signature of the dim of wit.”

At Booz Allen, a Vast U.S. Spy Operation, Run for Private Profit

October 6, 2016

by Matthew Rosenberg

New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the six weeks since federal agents raided a suburban Maryland home and arrested Harold T. Martin III on suspicion of stealing classified information from the National Security Agency, another organization has quietly prepared to face the fallout: Booz Allen Hamilton, Mr. Martin’s employer.

Booz Allen, a consulting firm that earns billions of dollars by working for American intelligence agencies, has been called the world’s most profitable spy organization. News this week of Mr. Martin’s arrest in August could renew scrutiny of the firm’s operations and, more broadly, the lucrative contracting business that American intelligence now relies on to run its vast, global surveillance operations.

Mr. Martin’s arrest is the second time in three years that a Booz Allen contractor has been accused of stealing potentially damaging material from the N.S.A. The company also employed Edward J. Snowden, who spirited out a cache of documents that, in 2013, exposed the extent of American surveillance programs in the United States and around the world.

Booz Allen is one of a handful of defense and intelligence contractors that blur the line between the government’s intelligence work and private enterprise.

Tens of thousands of contractors are believed to work for American intelligence agencies (the exact number is not known). They do everything from helping secure the military against cyberattacks and plan intelligence operations, to training spies and running war games for NATO generals.

“What most people don’t realize is just the sheer scale of the intelligence work force that is outsourced,” said Peter W. Singer, a national security expert at New America, a think tank in Washington. “There will be meetings, and less than 10 percent of the people there are official U.S. government employees as opposed to contractors.”

Firms like Booz Allen provide a ready and potentially lucrative option for federal employees who are looking to cash in on their government experience.

Booz Allen, founded in 1914, has done especially well at building its government business. Its clients include every branch of the military and a long list of intelligence organizations, from the N.S.A. to lesser-known outfits, such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is essentially a high-tech mapping operation. Overseas, Booz Allen has helped the United Arab Emirates build its own high-tech spy agency.

The director of national intelligence during the George W. Bush administration, Mike McConnell, was an executive at Booz Allen; President Obama’s director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., worked for the firm before returning to government to oversee the nation’s spy agencies.

In its last fiscal year, which ended in March, Booz Allen earned $3.9 billion — about three quarters of its total revenue — from its defense and intelligence business. Once its work for other parts of the government is factored in, Booz Allen’s government contracting accounted for 97 percent of its revenue.

But as the two thefts have made clear, employing large numbers of contractors brings security risks, though experts point out that there have been many leaks in recent years that came from government employees, as well.

Booz Allen weathered the Snowden leaks, and it was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Air Force. It has so far had little to say about the Martin case, issuing a brief statement on Wednesday saying it had fired Mr. Martin and was cooperating with the investigation.

Unlike Mr. Snowden, some officials have said, Mr. Martin does not appear to have leaked any of the information he is suspected of stealing, which is believed to be highly classified computer code.

But the problem for Booz Allen is that at least some of the documents alleged to have been found in Mr. Martin’s possession date to 2014. That would call into question the effectiveness of reforms aimed at safeguarding the nation’s secrets announced in the wake of the Snowden affair.

“We have been and will continue to assess the proper role of contract employees in the intelligence community, many of whom play a vital role,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “We must be careful not to overcorrect or to draw the wrong lessons. This issue is fundamentally about preventing and detecting insider threats, both from contractors like Edward Snowden and this individual, and from government employees.”

The leak in 2013 of the materials stolen by Mr. Snowden prompted calls from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, then the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for contractors like Booz Allen to lose their access to highly sensitive intelligence. The Obama administration, meanwhile, tightened security measures at intelligence agencies, and slashed the number of employees with access to classified information by 17 percent.

The role of contractors has grown since the 1990s, when they were seen as a way to save money, and accelerated in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Proponents of using contractors say they allow the government to quickly bring in people with technical expertise, and allow government agencies to get around staffing and budgetary constraints set by Congress.

A glaring example of how contractors are used to get around staffing limits can be seen in Afghanistan. There, the Obama administration has set a hard limit on the number of troops that can be deployed — it currently stands at 9,800. The Defense Department and State Department have, as a result, brought in thousands of contractors to do everything from serve food to analyze secret intelligence. There are currently believed to be about six contractors for every American government employee in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the use of contractors has often failed to deliver on the promised savings. Critics also say that shifting sensitive work into the hands of private businesses, which are not subject to same disclosure rules as federal agencies, often limits the ability of Congress to provide oversight.

Jo Becker contributed reporting from New York.

Russia says U.S. actions threaten its national security: RIA

October 9, 2016


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the United States had been taking aggressive steps that threatened Russia’s national security, the RIA news agency reported.

“We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia,” it quoted Lavrov as saying.

“It’s not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security.”

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Russia blocks UN move to stop Aleppo bombing

Moscow has vetoed a French-drafted resolution to end air strikes on Aleppo, with Russia’s envoy dismissing the push as propagandist. France claims Russian air strikes have “nothing to do with combating terrorism.”

October 8, 2016


Syrian regime troops are battling to push rebels out of eastern Aleppo, where some 250,000 civilians are still under siege. The bombing was destroying hospitals and schools, and killing civilians, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said ahead of the Saturday vote.

“If we don’t so something this town (Aleppo) will soon just be in ruins and will remain in history as a town in which the inhabitants were abandoned to their executioners,” Ayrault told the UN Security Council.

“If the international community does not wake up it will share the responsibility.”

The draft resolution demanded an immediate end to fighting in Syria, including a halt on bombing Aleppo by Russia and the Syrian regime. It also requested unhindered humanitarian access across the war-torn country.

The air campaign “has nothing to do with combating terrorism,” Ayrault said. “It is the annihilation of Aleppo.”

Rival resolution a ‘sham’

The document was endorsed by France, the US, the UK, and eight other members of the 15-seat council. Russia, however, used its veto to block the initiative. Venezuela also voted against it, while China and Angola abstained.

In turn, Russia proposed its own resolution based on the French draft, but with no mention of the Aleppo air raids. This push also failed after garnering only three more votes in favor from China, Venezuela and Egypt.

British ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft called the Russian initiative a “sham” aimed at distracting from Moscow’s veto of the Western-backed resolution.

“Thanks to your actions today, Syrians will continue to lose their lives in Aleppo and beyond to Russian and Syrian bombing,” he said, addressing the Kremlin. “Please stop now.”

David Pressman, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, also slammed Russia as “one of the chief purveyors of terror in Aleppo, using tactics more commonly associated with thugs than governments.”

Moscow was “intent on allowing the killing to continue and, indeed, participating in carrying it out” the diplomat added, saying that “less talk and more action” was needed from Russia to stop the slaughter.

‘Waste of time’

At the same time, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed the French draft as unconstructive and aimed at achieving a propaganda effect. He also described the dual votes on Saturday as one of the “strangest spectacles in the history of the Security Council.”

“Given that the crisis in Syria is at a critical stage, when it is particularly important that there be a coordination of the political efforts of the international community, this waste of time is inadmissible,” Churkin told the UN body.

The Saturday vote marks the fifth time Russia has used its veto to stop a UN resolution on Syria. The previous four times Moscow was backed by China, also a veto-wielding member.

Steinmeier warns of deteriorating world order

Writing in the mass-market newspaper Bild, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that tensions between Washington and Moscow have created a situation that is “more dangerous” than the Cold War.

October 8, 2016


Steinmeier penned an opinion piece published Saturday warning that relations between the US and Russia have reached a new low.

“It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War. The current times are different and more dangerous,” Steinmeier wrote in a 214-word guest column published by Bild, Germany’s largest circulation newspaper.

The Ukrainian crisis, Syrian conflict and a lapse in nuclear material cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries are listed by Germany’s top diplomat as reasons for the dangerous environment. He laid the blame mostly on Russia for “provoking” a new Cold War but, unlike the Cold War-era, in which the US and Russia had “red lines and respected them” the new multi-polar environment has more regional conflict making geopolitics “more unpredictable.”

A plea for stronger diplomacy

“But in spite of all the frustration, disappointment and deep distrust on both sides,” he wrote. “We must continue to search for ways to put an end to the insanity in Syria. The US and Russia must continue to talk.”

He closed by urging Moscow to put pressure on Damascus to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Aleppo. “Russia can and must bring its weight to bear. And the regional players have to assert their influence on the fighters in Aleppo,” he concluded.

This comes as the UN Security Council is poised to vote on two rival resolutions on Syria on Saturday, one drafted by France calling for an end to air raids on Aleppo and a second by Russia that makes no mention of a halt to aerial bombardment.

Yemen funeral bombing: US to ‘immediately review’ support for Saudi-led coalition

October 9, 2016


The White House has announced an “immediate” review of US support for the Saudi-led coalition in wake of a funeral hall bombing in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, that left over 150 dead and hundreds injured.

Washington, which has been a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, appears to have distanced itself from Saturday’s devastating bombing that took place amid Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying it was “deeply disturbed” and promising to review its military support for Riyadh.

In a statement, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said that a “troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians” had prompted the US to rethink its position.

“We have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen’s tragic conflict,” the statement said.

Price warned Riyadh that US-Saudi security cooperation was “not a blank check.”

And according to AFP, the Arab coalition has agreed to join the US in investigating the strike.

The bombing took place less than three weeks after the US Senate greenlighted a $1.15 billion deal selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The Senate did so by blocking a bill opposing the controversial sale due to Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemeni conflict and Riyadh’s human rights record.

Washington also urged all parties to the conflict – the Houthi rebels, the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government it supports – to adhere to an April 10 ceasefire that has been broken repeatedly by all sides.

On Saturday, a Saudi-led coalition aircraft targeted a Houthi funeral ceremony, killing at least 140 people and injuring hundreds more. The missile launched by the aircraft tore the roof of the building hosting ceremony and killed scores of people. The ceremony was reportedly held to pay the last respects to the late father of the Houthi rebels’ interior minister.

For its part, Riyadh has denied there were any coalition aircraft in the area.

The Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab states has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen since March last year.

The Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab states has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen since March last year.

Police Unions Reject Charges of Bias, Find a Hero in Donald Trump

October 9, 2016

by Alice Speri

The Intercept

During the first presidential debate, Donald Trump answered a question about how to heal the country’s racial divide by boasting of his law enforcement endorsements.

“We have endorsements from, I think, almost every police group,” he said, before rephrasing to “a large percentage of them.” Later in the debate, in response to a question about cybersecurity, he boasted again: “I was just endorsed by ICE. They’ve never endorsed anybody before on immigration. I was just endorsed by ICE.”

As is often the case, the candidate’s statements were hyperbolic in the first claim and plain incorrect in the second. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency operating under the Department of Homeland Security, did not, of course, endorse anyone, even though the National ICE Council, the union representing 7,600 of ICE’s 20,000 employees, did endorse Trump. And while the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police association in the country, as well as some local police unions, also endorsed Trump, that’s hardly every police group in the country.

But Trump did have a point: At a time when law enforcement is perhaps the only issue that divides Americans more than the presidential election itself, a notable number of police and immigration officers are throwing their weight behind his candidacy — at least through their unions and associations.

In addition to the Fraternal Order of Police — which represents some 330,000 members, both active and retired, out of nearly 900,000 police officers nationwide — Trump won the endorsement of the New England Police Benevolent Association. Earlier this week, he also won the support of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association — a notable endorsement in a city under a federal decree to rein in its police department’s excessive use of force and struggling to restore relationships with black residents after a series of police killings.

On the immigration enforcement front, Trump, who launched his presidential race calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” earned the support of both the ICE union and the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 of 21,000 Border Patrol agents. He also earned the endorsement of some high-profile, if controversial, sheriffs — including Joe Arpaio in Arizona, David Clarke in Milwaukee, and several others who have “murky legal histories” and a reputation for racist and anti-immigrant views.

In a way, these endorsements should hardly surprise. The law enforcement profession has traditionally attracted a more conservative crowd, and Trump has billed himself the “law and order” candidate at a time when the broader public is clamoring for police accountability and oversight. But the fact that these endorsements come at a time when trust in police is at a historic low, and that Trump’s very response to questions on racial tensions was to position himself as the choice of police, reflects just how deeply the country’s fractures run on these issues, and how hard they will be to repair, regardless of the election’s outcome.

“There are some safe generalizations we can make about rank-and-file cops and Border Patrol agents and that’s that they are generally conservative politically, and generally coming from male-dominated cultures — and I think sexism does play a role in this election,” said Norm Stamper, a former chief of the Seattle Police Department and vocal advocate for police reform. “They’re also inclined towards tough talk and promise of action, whether it’s building a wall and kicking people out of the country or embracing a more aggressive stop-and-frisk policy in inner cities.”

Trump’s tough talk seemed to convince the Fraternal Order of Police, who in an endorsement statement marked by three exclamation points called Trump “a leader unafraid to make tough choices.” The group noted that the candidate responded to a questionnaire it had put out — while Clinton didn’t. In his responses, Trump indicated support, among other things, for a controversial federal bill known as the “Blue Lives Matter Act” that aims to expand the definition of hate crime to include law enforcement officers.

But critics, including some within the law enforcement community, say that Trump’s aggressive attitude on law enforcement is informed by flawed understanding of public safety challenges and risks doing more damage than good. Earlier this year, a coalition of police chiefs and prosecutors representing some 30,000 law enforcement professionals published an open letter, addressed to both candidates but responding directly to Trump’s calls for “zero tolerance” law and order. “Though this may sound counterintuitive, we know from our experience as law enforcement officials that over-relying on incarceration does not deter crime,” they wrote. “Too many resources go toward arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning low-level offenders.”

Stamper, the former Seattle police chief, put it more bluntly. “He does not know what he’s talking about, the man does not know police work,” he told The Intercept. “When he, without thinking, without researching, without developing facts, makes these assertions — for example about stop and frisk — not only is he fueling racism, he taps into a really ineffective and unconstitutional police tactic.”

“He makes it up on the fly, and not only is it offensive to professional police officers, it’s damaging to the community-police relationship,” he added, noting that while rank-and-file officers may embrace Trump, few police chiefs would agree, “because they realize how much harm his presidency would cause to public safety and sound community relations.”

Policing — whether the police reform and community-relations building advocated by liberals, or the return to tougher law and order clamored for by conservatives — has been a central issue in this election, propelled to the forefront of the national conversation by the grassroots movement for black lives that grew in response to a seemingly endless number of police killings. But for all the talk about police on the campaign trail, substantial discussion on how to address the crisis this country is facing has been lacking, said Stamper, who wishes candidates debated practical policies to end the war on drugs, set national operating standards to bring some conformity to the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, and developed “true” citizen-driven community policing.

Instead, discussion of policing has been either “too timid and too fearful,” or plain inflammatory, he said, as Trump has seized on the fears and frustrations of officers who have responded with vitriol to increased scrutiny of their profession. Stamper noted, for instance, that in the newsletters he receives daily from various police groups, activists for police accountability are invariably referred to as “BLM thugs.”

“That’s so demoralizing for those of us who are interested in progressive policing and helping cops understand what’s in it for them in treating everyone with dignity and respect,” he said.

A Slap in the Face for Black Cops

In fact, if the FOP’s endorsement of Trump has angered anyone, it’s not so much activists as black, Latino, and Muslim officers across the country, for whom Trump’s candidacy embodies not only a flawed approach to policing, but also a much broader problem with racism.

In Cleveland, for instance, a largely black and democratic city, the police union’s endorsement of Trump is bound to “further polarize us and the community and cause more problems,” said Lynn Hampton, president of the Black Shield union, which represents African-American officers. “You’re giving police more authority to operate on their biases,” he said, before warning, ahead of the announcement, “When the endorsement vote does come down, just know it’s not the sentiments of a lot of police officers on the force.”

That sentiment was echoed by black law enforcement officers across the country.

“The FOP endorsement is a slap in the face to both black cops and the black community,” said Damon Jones, the New York representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement in America, one of a number of black law enforcement associations that have condemned the Trump endorsement. “A lot of black officers disagree.”

Jones, a corrections officer, said that Trump’s nostalgia for Reagan-era “tough on crime” rhetoric is “dangerous,” and the racist atmosphere his candidacy has helped fuel is already doing damage. At the Westchester county jail where Jones works, for example, a white officer was recently suspended after posting a series of racist messages on social media, mocking the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Now everybody’s able to see what black law enforcement officers have been saying since we’ve been in this institution, that it’s based on racism,” Jones told The Intercept. Trump built on resentment among officers that was already on the rise in recent years, he acknowledged, but he’s polarized the issue even further.

“What Donald Trump has raised up with is candidacy is something that’s going to last and we are going to have to deal with long beyond this election,” he said. “People are now emboldened to attack other people because of their race, or show a racial bias that was silent and now they’re bold enough to share.”

Jones added that while police unions don’t speak for the departments themselves, they represent a large number of their members. He also noted that many of the officers endorsing Trump are closely aligned with the NRA — which also endorsed him, and whose pro-gun advocacy is damaging to both public safety and black communities.

But while slamming his colleagues’ endorsement of Trump, Jones was no less critical of the alternative. “The Clintons established the base for the mass incarceration we see in America today, a lot of black people haven’t forgotten that,” he said. “But against Trump she’s an angel now, because that’s what we’ve got to choose from at this point.”

“Will she make the necessary changes after her husband laid the foundations to disrupt the black family and the black community? I really don’t know,” he added. “But right now, the only thing is no Trump.”

Claims vs. Facts

Trump’s endorsement by the two leading immigration enforcement unions in the country was also unsurprising, even though neither group had endorsed a presidential candidate before. But those endorsements suggest that immigration reform, like police reform, will continue to be a hard sell for many of the nation’s law enforcement officers.

Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said his group’s endorsement was “really no brainer.”

“He was the only candidate that was talking about taking a stronger stance on border security,” he told The Intercept, criticizing what he saw as liberal asylum policies, including for the thousands of children and families that crossed the border in recent years. “We just see more and more areas of immigration law not being enforced and basically being carved out to the point that our agents feel like they’re glorified greeters, as the vast majority of people they encounter are released into the country.”

But that claim — like many of Trump’s own — is simply not true. Illegal immigration continues to decline, and Border Patrol agents apprehended 337,117 people in fiscal year 2015, according to the agency’s own numbers — down 30 percent from the previous year. At the same time, officers turned back 225,342 inadmissible individuals from ports of entry and arrested another 8,246 wanted for serious crimes. In total, the Department of Homeland Security reported 406,595 apprehensions for immigration violations that year, with 462,463 removals and returns.

Criminal prosecutions for illegal entry are up 182 percent from 10 years ago. As for asylum seekers, the U.S. is bound by international law to review their cases.

“The U.S. has obligations under international treaties to ensure people with valid claims are able to seek refuge,” Grace Meng, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher focusing on immigration issues, told The Intercept. “It’s really unfortunate that Border Patrol thinks its job is to deport people. Its job is to enforce U.S. immigration laws.”

Trump has made some pretty boisterous claims on how to secure the border — and how to pay for that — but he has also been inconsistent on his stance on immigration. But the Border Patrol union dismissed those concerns. “Mr. Trump is correct when he says immigration wouldn’t be at the forefront of this presidential campaign if months ago he hadn’t made some bold and necessary statements,” the union said in a brash statement that at times felt like it was written by the candidate himself. “When the withering media storm ensued, he did not back down one iota.”

Moran said that Trump’s repeated offenses directed at the Latino community “haven’t been an issue” for the union, even though some 52 percent of Border Patrol agents are Latino, as are many in the communities they patrol. In fact, the council has faced criticism even from within the agency’s decidedly conservative ranks. In El Paso, for instance, the union’s local chapter narrowly failed to disavow the national endorsement. “One of the reasons that El Paso is the safest city in the United States is because of the trust developed between law enforcement and the El Paso community,” a group of local agents wrote in a statement. “This trust is undermined by the endorsement of a candidate for president who demeans and degrades immigrants.”

The endorsement was also harshly criticized by immigration advocates and some border residents. “Border Patrol’s excess and tactics have transformed our communities into theaters of war,” Astrid Dominguez, an advocacy coordinator with the ACLU of Texas, wrote in a scathing response to the council’s statement, refuting several of their claims.

Dominguez referenced the Border Patrol’s history of misconduct, excessive force, and corruption — which earned it a reputation as the “most out-of-control law enforcement agency” in the country — and cited a former head of the agency’s internal affairs operations who found that thousands of its own agents were “potentially unfit” to serve. Dominguez also criticized the immigration record of President Obama — whom the Border Patrol union essentially accused of “betraying this country” — by recalling the record number of deportations under his watch and the massive jump in Border Patrol funding that continued under his administration.

Moran dismissed that criticism and cited statistics claiming that Border Patrol agents resort to deadly force “seven percent less” than other agencies. “It is an extremely rare event for a police officer in this country to shoot and kill someone,” he said. “It’s going to be seven times more rare that it’s going to be a Border Patrol agent.”

At least 46 people have died in encounters with Border Patrol agents since 2010, and many more have been brutalized. And while that’s undoubtedly far fewer than the 824 people killed by police in 2016 alone, it’s hardly an achievement to boast about. If anything, it’s further testimony to the depth of the disconnect that divides the country on law enforcement issues — a divide this election is not promising to close.

The Joint US-Saudi Guilt for 9/11

As guilty as Saudi Arabia may be over 9/11, the broader guilt is shared by generations of U.S. officials who coddled Saudi extremism and cooperated in building a jihadist movement for geo-political gain

October 6, 2016

by Daniel Lazare


In a stunning repudiation of Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, Congress has overridden a presidential veto and confirmed that 9/11 survivors can sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

The vote was a rare victory in a global political system in which the major powers routinely roll over ordinary civilians the way a tank rolls over a daisy. Whether it’s a Yemeni wedding party pulverized by an errant bomb or a terrified office worker plummeting through space to escape the fire on 9/11, these are the sorts of people whom drone operators call “bug splats,” individuals whose bloody remnants must be wiped away as quickly as possible so that the war machine can continue on its way. But now it looks like some of their surviving families may finally get their day in court.

As wonderful as this is, there’s a problem. JASTA, as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is universally known, goes after the wrong people. Yes, Saudi hands are all over 9/11. As the inestimable Kristen Breitweiser has pointed out the long-suppressed 28-page chapter (actually 29) of the Joint Congressional Report dealing with the Saudi role in 9/11 was a bombshell no matter how Washington and Riyadh try to deny it.

It described one link after another between Saudi officials and the 19 hijackers, 15 of them Saudi subjects. It notes, for instance, that the FBI received “numerous reports from individuals in the Muslim community” that Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who helped two of the hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., was a Saudi intelligence officer.

It says that Osama Bassnan, whom it describes as a supporter of Osama bin Laden, may have “received funding and possibly a fake passport from Saudi Government officials”; that he and his wife may also have received financial support from Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, and that he received “a significant amount of cash” from another member of the royal family as well.

The report cites FBI documents saying that a phone book owned by Abu Zubaida, a senior Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan, contained the unlisted number of the company that manages Bin Sultan’s vacation home in Aspen, Colorado.

Such links are remarkable, and if JASTA enables 9/11 survivors to pursue them further, then it’s all to the good. Still, the legislation overlooks one all-important fact: 9/11 in the final analysis was less a Saudi job than an American one.

This doesn’t mean that the CIA wired the Twin Towers with explosives or that Mossad somehow engineered the hijacking. What it means, rather, is that Washington has shaped the U.S.-Saudi relationship from the start and that it therefore must take responsibility for the horrors that have followed.

Made in the USA

The degree to which Saudi Arabia was made in the USA is often overlooked. But before the United States happened on the scene in the early 1930s, the kingdom was a great empty zone consisting of goats, flies, sand dunes, and a few thousand fanatical jihadis whom the British had no trouble taking care of when they threatened their holdings in neighboring Iraq and Jordan.

King Ibn Saud, whose stronghold was a desolate plateau known as Najd, was himself virtually a U.K. prisoner. Indeed, this is why he brought in American geologists when it appeared that significant oil deposits might lie beneath his country’s shifting sands. An alliance with the U.S. was his only hope of getting out from under Britain’s thumb.

Ibn Saud was a wily operator who eventually figured out how to use his oil wealth to gain leverage over U.S. oil companies as well. But leverage doesn’t mean independence. To the contrary, it meant a deepening partnership with the U.S. that the Americans encouraged at every turn.

So durable was the relationship that events that should have torn it apart only made it stronger. The most obvious is the 1973 Yom Kippur War when America’s pro-Israel policies led the Saudis to impose an oil embargo that quickly brought capitalism to its knees. Although President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger briefly considered seizing Saudi oil fields in retaliation, they eventually opted for an opposite policy based on ever closer economic integration.

With oil prices jumping six-fold in real terms by 1980, Saudi Arabia blossomed into an economic powerhouse, a mass consumer of everything from oil equipment to refrigerators, air conditioners, and cars. American anger soon dissipated. The country was the new El Dorado.

The Iranian Revolution in February 1979 might also have undermined the budding new relationship by sending a clear message that the Persian Gulf was deeply unstable and that the U.S. would be foolish to grow overly reliant on energy from such a dangerous source. The same goes for the seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by ultra-Wahhabist militants the following November. It also highlighted the political fault lines coursing through the region, which might also have caused the U.S. to back off.

But instead, the U.S. responded by embracing the Saudis ever more tightly. Although Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already begun sponsoring an Islamic fundamentalist revolt in Afghanistan, the Soviet incursion that followed in late December 1979 sealed the deal on what was to become one of the most durable marriages in modern diplomatic history.

Soon, under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. and Saudis would be partners not only in fomenting Afghan jihad, but in other ventures as well such as channeling funds to the Nicaraguan Contras or to the South African-backed guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

This was an age of off-shoring when Wall Street moved its financial operations overseas in order to escape the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Reagan administration did the same with covert operations in order to escape an increasingly intrusive Congress.

But just as one shouldn’t blame the Cayman Islands for the consequences, one shouldn’t blame the Saudis either. To be sure, the latter reaped enormous benefits in the form of economic and military security, not to mention trillions in oil revenue. But the U.S. benefited even more.

Bleeding the Soviets

Not only did Saudi-fueled jihad bleed the Soviets dry in Afghanistan, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia acquired sufficient leverage to manipulate the energy markets to Soviet disadvantage. U.S. control should not be exaggerated; America was having as hard a time as everyone else maintaining its balance amid economic turbulence of the day.

But the combination of steep price hikes in the 1970s and an equally dizzying plunge in the 1980s had the effect of first encouraging Russia’s dependence on international oil revenues and then slamming it to the ground when those revenues suddenly vanished. It was a one-two punch from which the Soviet economy never recovered.

Combined with the punishing war in Afghanistan, the results soon proved fatal. When the Nouvel Observateur caught up with Brzezinski in 1998 and asked him if he regretted stirring up Islamic fundamentalism, he shot back:

“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet Empire….

“What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?  Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

And, for these American global chess players, the benefits kept on coming. The Saudis also helped the U.S. roll back leftwing influence across the Third World and then deal Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a punishing blow in the 1990-91 Gulf War, an awesome military display that doubled as a shot over the bow of neighboring Iran.

Riyadh sent mujahedeen to Bosnia where the U.S. was anxious to reduce Russian influence and to Chechnya where the threat to Russian interests was even more direct.

But then the relationship unraveled when Osama bin Laden began striking at Western targets, most notably U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya where more than 200 people died in simultaneous bombings in August 1998 and then the USS Cole in October 2000. The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 months later was of course the final straw.

An Enduring Bond

So why didn’t the U.S. cut its losses by severing the Saudi partnership? Didn’t it realize that the costs were beginning to outweigh the benefits? The reason is that it knew that it was complicit in the Saudi terror campaign and that the Saudis knew it too. The two countries were in it together. Both had shown staggering recklessness and duplicity in their dealings with Al Qaeda, and both therefore had too much to lose in the event of a mutual falling out.

The George W. Bush administration, moreover, was especially vulnerable. After the stolen election of 2000, Republicans knew that they faced mass destruction at the polls in 2004 if the full news about Bush’s incompetence got out. So a cover-up was even more essential for Washington than it was for Riyadh.

This is why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began pushing for an invasion of Iraq the morning after the Twin Towers attack. Although all evidence pointed to the Saudis, he wanted to deflect attention from Riyadh and place it on Baghdad instead. The same goes for Vice President Dick Cheney who, as Breitweiser notes, opposed a special investigation into 9/11 on the grounds that it would somehow interfere with efforts to ward off incidents that were undoubtedly on the way.

As Cheney put it in May 2002: “An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists.  The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion.”

An investigation into 9/11 would divert attention from the more immediate task of taking out Iraq. Yet the reality was quite the other way around. Taking out Iraq would divert attention from an investigation into 9/11. The 2003 invasion can thus be seen as a vast diversionary effort.

Its goal was to deflect attention from the real culprits, which is to say the U.S. and its Saudi partners, and shift it onto a country, Iraq, that, as former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke would later complain, had no more to do with 9/11 than Mexico did with Pearl Harbor. It was an exercise in mass deception that ended up costing an estimated $3 trillion and perhaps half a million lives.

To the degree that JASTA will help shift attention back to the Saudis, it is welcome. But if it takes aim at only one party in this grotesque pas-de-deux, and the less guilty one at that, then it could actually end up compounding the cover-up.

With oil down to $50 a barrel or so, Congress figures that the U.S. no longer has much need of Saudi Arabia and can therefore kick it while it’s down. Voting to allow the survivors’ lawsuit to go forward meant allowing it to take the fall, which is why it passed so overwhelmingly. But Riyadh should not accept the outcome without protest. Rather, it should do everything it can to take Washington down with it.

IS ‘loses more than a quarter of its territory’ in Syria and Iraq

October 8, 2016


So-called Islamic State (IS) has lost more than a quarter of the territory it once controlled, new data shows.

Security and defence analysts IHS say the group’s control has shrunk by 28% since its height in January 2015.

In the first nine months of this year, IS’ territory fell from 78,000 sq km (30,115 sq miles) to 65,500 sq km – an area equivalent to the size of Sri Lanka – IHS analysts said.

However, IS losses have slowed in the three months to October.

IS has lost just 2,800 sq km (1,080 sq miles) since July.

The slowdown appears to coincide with Russia reducing the number of air strikes against IS targets, IHS has observed.

At the start of the year, some 26% targeted IS, but by the summer it had dropped to just 17%.

“Last September, President Putin said it was Russia’s mission to fight international terrorism and specifically the Islamic State,” said Alex Kokcharov, principal Russia analyst at IHS. “Our data suggests that is not the case.

“Russia’s priority is to provide military support to the Assad government and, most likely, transform the Syrian civil war from a multi-party conflict into a binary one between the Syrian government and jihadist groups like the Islamic State; thereby undermining the case for providing international support to the opposition.”

Yet the losses the group has sustained are still significant, experts say. IS has been pushed back 10km from the Turkish border, while Iraqi forces have secured Qayyarah Airbase, a key strategic facility 60km south of the IS stronghold of Mosul.

It also lost the Syrian city of Manbij and its surrounding roads, which linked the Turkish border to IS’ de-facto capital Raqqa, to US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters in August.

“The Islamic State’s territorial losses since July are relatively modest in scale, but unprecedented in their strategic significance,” said Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor.

“The loss of direct road access to cross-border smuggling routes into Turkey severely restricts the group’s ability to recruit new fighters from abroad, while the Iraqi government is poised to launch its offensive on Mosul.”

Should the long-promised and much-delayed offensive against Mosul – expected to begin later this month – be successful, it would be a huge blow the extremists.

Mosul – Iraq’s second city, under the control of the extremists since 2014 – is described as the “last bastion” for IS in Iraq, with authorities in Baghdad saying it would spell the end for the group in their country.

Matthew washes away sand dunes, dreams along strip of Florida coast

October 8, 2016

by Arelis R. Hernández and Renae Merle

Washington Post

FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. — Hurricane Matthew reduced Florida’s scenic Atlantic Coast Highway — the economic lifeline of the state’s small beach towns — to an impassable pile of concrete and asphalt rubble after the powerful storm surge washed away sand dunes and earth supporting the roadway.

Large chunks of the northbound lanes tumbled and caved into the beach below, causing local law enforcement to shut access to about six miles of A1A. While most of the state, which reported four storm-related deaths, escaped the most dire predictions of the hurricane’s potential wreckage, it left many communities along a 35-mile strip of the northeast coast in shambles.

“It looks like a war-torn area,” said Patti King, whose home is just a few blocks from one damaged stretch of the highway. “It’s shocking. Entire parts of the road buckled and fell into the sand. Most of the homes survived, but the road didn’t.”

From Flagler Beach, a tiny town known for its pristine, unobstructed views of the ocean, to St. Augustine, which claims the distinction of being America’s oldest city, Matthew ripped power lines and large oak trees out of the ground and flooded neighborhoods. On Vilano Beach, houses collapsed onto the beach, according to a city official.

No community may have been more affected than Flagler Beach. The close-knit town of classic cinder-block houses has successfully fought commercial development to preserve the mom-and-pop restaurants and shops that give it the “Old-Florida vibe” lost in other places. But developers are not a Category 4 hurricane, which this part of Florida had not seen in decades.

Structurally, most of the town’s homes and businesses fared well, save a few roof shingles and toppled fences. The beach, however, was destroyed. The dunes, the walkways, the right of way and nearly half of the roadway — gone.

After the storm passed, authorities soon realized the highway was gone, too. The state had recently reinforced parts of the roadway, but they were swept away by the force of wind and water.

It’s going to be a lot of work,” said Jim Troiano, spokesman for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, as he surveyed the damage along A1A on Saturday.

Florida National Guardsmen were stationed at the border of Flagler and Volusia counties to keep traffic from trying to navigate the unstable road. Frustrated residents attempted to negotiate their way home only to be devastated by what they saw.

“This is pure heartbreak,” Flagler Beach resident Amy Glenn said. “The ocean can wash away our beaches and roads but not our memories.”

Nurse Terri Brendle said she had “never seen anything like it.”

Next weekend is Biketoberfest, a huge motorcycle rally in Florida’s coastal towns that typically draws tens of thousands of bikers. With the A1A closed through this stretch, traffic will have to be diverted.

We are going to lose a lot of business,” said Tony Lulgjuraj, who owns a local business with his brother. State officials said repairing and fortifying the roadway could take months.

Farther north along A1A is Crescent Beach, which sits on a narrow strip of land with the ocean on one side and the Mantanzas River on the other. Some homes there flooded with more than three feet of water. On one lot, only the stilts remained.

In the Summer Haven neighborhood, the hurricane tossed around heavy boulders put in place a few years ago to reinforce an old road in the area. Some ended up in residents’ yards.

“It was a solid mass of water and foam and debris. I saw pieces of the old highway float by,” said Bill Meeler, who watched the storm from his beachside home.

Then there was the Hut, a popular beach house that dates to the 1800s. The storm ripped away parts of its front, toppling a coquina stone fireplace and fully exposing the claw-foot tub.

“My heart is breaking. This was my childhood stomping ground,” said Liz Bennett, who had come to check on her mother’s property nearby.

Still farther north, in St. Augustine, four National Guard troopers in camouflage and with rifles slung over their shoulders blocked cars from driving across the Bridge of Lions from the historic downtown to the barrier islands there. Some residents walked or biked across the bridge, surfboards under their arms.

As of Saturday evening, there was no power or sewage service, and some parts of the city lacked water service, Mayor Nancy Shaver said. The city suffered significant damage, but it would have been worse if not for a 20-mile shift in Matthew’s path out to sea as it neared St. Augustine, she said.

“We will make them shine again,” she said of the City Hall building and a historic church. “We are 451 years old. We expect to get to 452.”

Meanwhile, just a few miles away, there was another kind of damage assessment underway.

First United Methodist Church ships hundreds of pumpkins in from New Mexico every year for its annual youth-group fundraiser. But the storm scattered the stockpile over several blocks. Some pumpkins rested in the parking lot of the burger restaurant down the street, while others were discovered badly scabbed and broken at a nearby gas station.

“They just floated away,” said Lauren Birkhimer, 17.

About a quarter of the pumpkins are believed to be lost forever, while others may be too damaged to be sold, group members said. “We’re still assessing the damage,” said Birkhimer, the co-president of the youth group. “It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Susan Cooper Eastman in St. Augustine and Lacey McLaughlin in Daytona Beach contributed to this report.

 Syria no-fly zone would mean ‘killing a lot of Syrians’ – leaked Clinton speech

October 9, 2016


Amid the increasingly hawkish approach the US government has taken towards the Syrian government, it has been clear for its strategists that a no-fly zone over Syria would mean mass civilian casualties, leaked quotes from a 2013 Hillary Clinton speech have shown.

One of the problems with the no-fly zone, which Western hawks have long insisted should be imposed over Syria, would be the need to “take out” the country’s “very sophisticated” air defenses, Hillary Clinton noted in a Wall Street speech posted by WikiLeaks in the latest trove of classified emails.

“To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk— you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians,” Clinton admitted.

She then expressed concern that would make that “intervention that people talk about so glibly” a full-fledged “American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.”

WikiLeaks on Friday opened a Pandora’s box of emails leaked from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, unleashing thousands of messages with excerpts of her paid speeches for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and others in between her job as secretary of state and the current presidential campaign.

Syria proved to be a hot topic for Clinton in 2013. During her speech for Deutsche Bank, she was asked by an audience member whether she would support US airstrike or boots on the ground in Syria, and if there was indisputable evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its people.

“Well, you’ve asked a very, very difficult question,” Clinton replied, “because we obviously talked about this at great length, and both the United States and Europe, as well as Israel, have said that’s a red line. And if there is indisputable evidence, then there is the stated commitment to take action.”

“What that action is and what would work is extremely difficult to plan and execute,” she added.

Clinton asserted the US had some “potential” interests in Syria, the leaked document shows.

“It depends upon how you define national interest. We certainly do with chemical weapons,” she said during her October 2013 speech at the Jewish United Fund Advance & Major Gifts Dinner.

Clinton then justified Syria being “a national interest” by what she claimed was a possibility of it becoming “a training ground for extremists, a launching pad for attacks on Turkey, Jordan, the non-tetarian[sic] elements in Lebanon and, eventually, even in Israel.”

Another challenge mentioned by Clinton was for the West to “develop covert connections with the Syrian opposition to gain insight,” she said during the 2013 speech to Goldman Sachs.

“So the problem for the US and the Europeans has been from the very beginning: What is it you – who is it you are going to try to arm? And you probably read in the papers my view was we should try to find some of the groups that were there that we thought we could build relationships with and develop some covert connections that might then at least give us some insight into what is going on inside Syria.”

Clinton said she actually favored “more robust, covert action trying to vet, identify, train and arm cadres of rebels” in Syria, adding that things have been “complicated by the fact that the Saudis and others are shipping large amounts of weapons—and pretty indiscriminately.”

Clinton also said she has heard advice about Syria to “let them kill themselves until they get exhausted, and then we’ll figure out how to deal with what the remnants are,” according to another quote from the Jewish United Fund Advance & Major Gifts Dinner in 2013. She called it “a very hands-off approach.”

While journalists may still be combing through hundreds of the leaked emails, Clinton’s Republican rivals have already used leaks to hit out at her for hiding the transcripts of Wall Street speeches and running a “fraud” campaign.

“With today’s WikiLeaks revelations we are finding out who Hillary Clinton really is, and it’s not hard to see why she fought so hard to keep her transcripts of speeches to Wall Street banks paying her millions of dollars secret,” the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said in a statement. “The truth that has been exposed here is that the persona Hillary Clinton has adopted for her campaign is a complete and utter fraud. How can Bernie Sanders and many like-minded Democrats continue to support her candidacy in light of these revelations?”

Meanwhile, on Friday the Obama administration accused Moscow of being behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) computers in June.

“Earlier today the US government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized WikiLeaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy,” Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin said. “We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange, who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the US allegations “nonsense.”

“This whipping up of emotions regarding ‘Russian hackers’ is used in the US election campaign, and the current [US] administration taking part in this fight is not averse to using dirty tricks,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Saturday in comments posted on the ministry’s website.

“There is no proof whatsoever for such grave accusations,” Ryabkov said. “They are fabricated by those who are now serving an obvious political order in Washington, continuing to whip up unprecedented anti-Russian hysteria,” he added.

Sanders supporters seethe over Clinton’s leaked remarks to Wall St.

October 8, 2016

by Luciana Lopez and Jeff Mason


NEW YORK-Supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday expressed anger and vindication over leaked comments made by Hillary Clinton to banks and big business that appeared to confirm their fears about her support for global trade and tendency to cozy up to Wall Street.

Clinton, who needs Sanders’ coalition of young and left-leaning voters to propel her to the presidency, pushes for open trade and open borders in one of the speeches, and takes a conciliatory approach to Wall Street, both positions she later backed away from in an effort to capture the popular appeal of Sanders’ attacks on trade deals and powerful banks.

The excerpts of remarks by the former secretary of state, made in 2013 and 2014 in closed-door meetings where audiences paid to attend, were published online on Friday by WikiLeaks, which sourced them to the email account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the speech transcripts. Clinton has previously declined to release any such transcripts.

“This is a very clear illustration of why there is a fundamental lack of trust from progressives for Hillary Clinton,” said Tobita Chow, chair of the People’s Lobby in Chicago, which endorsed Sanders in the primary election.

“The progressive movement needs to make a call to Secretary Clinton to clarify where she stands really on these issues and that’s got to involve very clear renunciations of the positions that are revealed in these transcripts,” Chow said.

The revelations were quickly overshadowed by the release of an 11-year-old recording of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, making lewd comments about women.


Clinton has worked hard to build trust with so-called progressives, adopting several of Sanders’ positions after she bested him in the primary race. The U.S. senator from Vermont now supports his former rival in the Nov. 8 general election against Trump.

Still, Clinton has struggled to win support from young “millennials” who were crucial to Sanders’ success, and some Democrats expressed concern that the leaks would discourage those supporters from showing up to vote.

“That is a big concern and this certainly doesn’t help,” said Larry Cohen, chair of the board of Our Revolution, a progressive organization formed in the wake of Sanders’ bid for the presidency, which aims to keep pushing the former candidate’s ideas at a grassroots level. “It matters in terms of turnout, energy, volunteering, all those things.”

The Clinton campaign said it would not confirm the accuracy of the documents released by WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

“We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange, who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton,” said Glen Caplin, a campaign spokesman.

“Guccifer 2.0 has already proven the warnings of top national security officials that documents can be faked as part of a sophisticated Russian misinformation campaign,” he said, referring to the hacker or hacking group that altered some data stolen from the Democratic National Committee before making it public earlier this year.

The U.S. government on Friday formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations ahead of the election.


The origin of the leaks did not dampen social media criticism of the speeches by some.

“Bernie was right about Hillary,” wrote Facebook user Grace Tilly, “she’s a tool for Wall Street.”

“Clinton is the politicians’ politician – exactly the Wall Street insider Bernie described,” wrote Facebook user Brian Leach.

Spokesmen for Sanders did not respond to requests for comment. NBC News quoted a statement from Sanders saying he would work to advance the Democrats’ policy platform.

“Whatever Secretary Clinton may or may not have said behind closed doors on Wall Street, I am determined to implement the agenda of the Democratic Party platform which was agreed to by her campaign,” the statement said.

Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf said progressive voters would still choose the former first lady, even with misgivings.

“I’d like to meet the Bernie Sanders supporter who is going to say, ‘Well I’m a little worried about her on international trade, so I’m going to vote for Donald Trump’,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Amy Tennery and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Rigby)










































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