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June 2014

Jon Stewart – How Did Fox News Already Turn Bergdahl into a Muslim Terrorist?

Chris Hedges Interviews Noam Chomsky (1/3)



Part 2

“The Fog Machine of War” Chelsea Manning on the U.S. Military and Media Freedom

June 16, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network

Chelsea Manning’s first op-ed since her imprisonment was published last Saturday in the New York Times. Read the full text of her article below:

June 14, 2014 by Chelsea Manning

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — WHEN I chose to disclose classified information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. I’m now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated the law.

However, the concerns that motivated me have not been resolved. As Iraq erupts in civil war and America again contemplates intervention, that unfinished business should give new urgency to the question of how the United States military controlled the media coverage of its long involvement there and in Afghanistan. I believe that the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance.


If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.

Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more “anti-Iraqi” print shops.

I was shocked by our military’s complicity in the corruption of that election. Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American media’s radar.

It was not the first (or the last) time I felt compelled to question the way we conducted our mission in Iraq. We intelligence analysts, and the officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?

Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.

The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.

One clue to this disjunction lay in the public affairs reports. Near the top of each briefing was the number of embedded journalists attached to American military units in a combat zone. Throughout my deployment, I never saw that tally go above 12. In other words, in all of Iraq, which contained 31 million people and 117,000 United States troops, no more than a dozen American journalists were covering military operations.

The process of limiting press access to a conflict begins when a reporter applies for embed status. All reporters are carefully vetted by military public affairs officials. This system is far from unbiased. Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the military are more likely to be granted access.

Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce “favorable” coverage, based on their past reporting, also get preference. This outsourced “favorability” rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage.

Reporters who succeeded in obtaining embed status in Iraq were then required to sign a media “ground rules” agreement. Army public affairs officials said this was to protect operational security, but it also allowed them to terminate a reporter’s embed without appeal.

There have been numerous cases of reporters’ having their access terminated following controversial reporting. In 2010, the late Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings had his access pulled after reporting criticism of the Obama administration by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his staff in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said, “Embeds are a privilege, not a right.”

If a reporter’s embed status is terminated, typically she or he is blacklisted. This program of limiting press access was challenged in court in 2013 by a freelance reporter, Wayne Anderson, who claimed to have followed his agreement but to have been terminated after publishing adverse reports about the conflict in Afghanistan. The ruling on his case upheld the military’s position that there was no constitutionally protected right to be an embedded journalist.

The embedded reporter program, which continues in Afghanistan and wherever the United States sends troops, is deeply informed by the military’s experience of how media coverage shifted public opinion during the Vietnam War. The gatekeepers in public affairs have too much power: Reporters naturally fear having their access terminated, so they tend to avoid controversial reporting that could raise red flags.

The existing program forces journalists to compete against one another for “special access” to vital matters of foreign and domestic policy. Too often, this creates reporting that flatters senior decision makers. A result is that the American public’s access to the facts is gutted, which leaves them with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials.

Journalists have an important role to play in calling for reforms to the embedding system. The favorability of a journalist’s previous reporting should not be a factor. Transparency, guaranteed by a body not under the control of public affairs officials, should govern the credentialing process. An independent board made up of military staff members, veterans, Pentagon civilians and journalists could balance the public’s need for information with the military’s need for operational security.

Reporters should have timely access to information. The military could do far more to enable the rapid declassification of information that does not jeopardize military missions. The military’s Significant Activity Reports, for example, provide quick overviews of events like attacks and casualties. Often classified by default, these could help journalists report the facts accurately.

Opinion polls indicate that Americans’ confidence in their elected representatives is at a record low. Improving media access to this crucial aspect of our national life — where America has committed the men and women of its armed services — would be a powerful step toward re-establishing trust between voters and officials.


Mess O’Potamia – 2014 Edition

jon stewart

Two years after U.S. troops left Iraq, militant extremists sweep through the country, seizing American military equipment along the way.

Syria’s Assad accused of boosting al-Qaeda with secret oil deals

Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad, left, and Syria's Preisdent Bashar al-Assad

Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad, left, and Syria’s Preisdent Bashar al-Assad Photo: REUTERS/AFP

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has funded and co-operated with al-Qaeda in a complex double game even as the terrorists fight Damascus, according to new allegations by Western intelligence agencies, rebels and al-Qaeda defectors.

Jabhat al-Nusra, and the even more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), the two al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, have both been financed by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

Rebels and defectors say the regime also deliberately released militant prisoners to strengthen jihadist ranks at the expense of moderate rebel forces. The aim was to persuade the West that the uprising was sponsored by Islamist militants including al-Qaeda as a way of stopping Western support for it.

The allegations by Western intelligence sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are in part a public response to demands by Assad that the focus of peace talks due to begin in Switzerland tomorrow be switched from replacing his government to co-operating against al-Qaeda in the “war on terrorism”.

“Assad’s vow to strike terrorism with an iron fist is nothing more than bare-faced hypocrisy,” an intelligence source said. “At the same time as peddling a triumphant narrative about the fight against terrorism, his regime has made deals to serve its own interests and ensure its survival.”

Intelligence gathered by Western secret services suggested the regime began collaborating actively with these groups again in the spring of 2013. When Jabhat al-Nusra seized control of Syria’s most lucrative oil fields in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, it began funding its operations in Syria by selling crude oil, with sums raised in the millions of dollars.

“The regime is paying al-Nusra to protect oil and gas pipelines under al-Nusra’s control in the north and east of the country, and is also allowing the transport of oil to regime-held areas,” the source said. “We are also now starting to see evidence of oil and gas facilities under ISIS control.”

The source accepted that the regime and the al-Qaeda affiliates were still hostile to each other and the relationship was opportunistic, but added that the deals confirmed that “despite Assad’s finger-pointing” his regime was to blame for the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria.

Western diplomats were furious at recent claims that delegations of officials led by a retired MI6 officer had visited Damascus to re-open contact with the Assad regime. There is no doubt that the West is alarmed at the rise of al-Qaeda within the rebel ranks, which played a major role in decisions by Washington and London to back off from sending arms to the opposition.

But the fury is also an indication that they suspect they have been outmanoeuvred by Assad, who has during his rule alternated between waging war on Islamist militants and working with them.

After September 11, he co-operated with the United States’ rendition programme for militant suspects; after the invasion of Iraq, he helped al-Qaeda to establish itself in Western Iraq as part of an axis of resistance to the West; then when the group turned violently against the Iraqi Shias who were backed by Assad’s key ally, Iran, he began to arrest them again.

As the uprising against his rule began, Assad switched again, releasing al-Qaeda prisoners. It happened as part of an amnesty, said one Syrian activist who was released from Sednaya prison near Damascus at the same time.

“There was no explanation for the release of the jihadis,” the activist, called Mazen, said. “I saw some of them being paraded on Syrian state television, accused of being Jabhat al-Nusra and planting car bombs. This was impossible, as they had been in prison with me at the time the regime said the bombs were planted. He was using them to promote his argument that the revolution was made of extremists.”

Other activists and former Sednaya inmates corroborated his account, and analysts have identified a number of former prisoners now at the head of militant groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and a third group, Ahrar al-Sham, which fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra but has now turned against ISIS.

One former inmate said he had been in prison with “Abu Ali” who is now the head of the ISIS Sharia court in the north-eastern al-Qaeda-run city of Raqqa. Another said he knew leaders in Raqqa and Aleppo who were prisoners in Sednaya until early 2012.

These men then spearheaded the gradual takeover of the revolution from secular activists, defected army officers and more moderate Islamist rebels.

Syrian intelligence has historically had close connections with extremist groups. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph after he defected, Nawaf al-Fares, a Syrian security chief, told how he was part of an operation to smuggle jihadist volunteers into Iraq from Syria after the 2003 invasion.

Aron Lund, editor of a website, Syria in Crisis, used by the Carnegie Endowment to monitor the war, said: “The regime has done a good job in trying to turn the revolution Islamist. The releases from Sednaya prison are a good example of this. The regime claims that it released the prisoners because Assad had shortened their sentences as part of a general amnesty. But it seems to have gone beyond that. There are no random acts of kindness from this regime.”

Rebels both inside and outside ISIS also say they believe the regime targeted its attacks on non-militant groups, leaving ISIS alone. “We were confident that the regime would not bomb us,” an ISIS defector, who called himself Murad, said. “We always slept soundly in our bases.”

Syria frees horse rider who rivalled Assad brother


Egypt to fight ‘destructive ideas’ through surveillance

Web privacy advocates concerned, students and activists alter strategies, as foreign companies offer Egypt advanced surveillance technology

Egyptian blogger Michael Nabil, was jailed for insulting Egypt’s armed forces but eventually pardoned (AFP)
Tom Rollins's picture

“A guy logs on to Facebook or Twitter, finds something that agrees with his politics, and if he can’t find anything, he just expresses himself,” says 23-year-old Mostafa from Giza. For young Egyptians pitted against the state, social media can provide a lively, irreverent and democratic political space away from the increasingly familiar spectre of the riot van or prison cell.

However, now Egypt’s Ministry of Interior is preparing an offensive against “destructive ideas” through a stepped-up surveillance programme, aimed at social media and private communications. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim recently told Egyptian media that the system was “necessary to combat terrorism and protect national security…similar to that used in the US or the UK to protect their national security.”

According to the ministry, a new surveillance programme – the so-called Social Networks Security Hazard Monitoring (SNSHM) system – will combat terrorism and defend national security. However, web freedom and privacy advocates, as well as Egyptians online, are concerned that monitoring will go much further than that.

Indeed, digital rights and security researcher Ramy Raoof claims that Egyptian surveillance will effectively mirror the National Security Agency’s hugely controversial surveillance programme (PRISM)  – by trawling public and private communications and storing reams of information, all in the name of security, stability and President-Elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s war on terror.

“They want to be able to monitor all public content and private content and avoid any kind of surprises…or avoid any sort of positions or opinions that they’re not aware of,” explains Raoof. “Technically speaking, it’s almost copying PRISM in its functionality.” The Ministry of Interior will collect masses of content, dredging the Egyptian internet and storing and analysing the findings, a tactic Raoof calls “expansion on the tools they already have.”

And yet the aims of Egypt’s SNSHM system are apparently more far-reaching than that. While the new tactics have largely been presented as part of the ongoing crackdown against any form of dissent, the ministry is also setting its sights on online activity deemed immoral and disrespectful. One of the online vices the government named in an official document was “sarcasm”.

According to ministry tender guidelines leaked to the press on 1 June, surveillance through SNSHM will combat “destructive ideas” dangerous to Egyptian society, warning of the “strong effects the networks [have] on users, particularly juveniles and youths” – an indication as to the sorts of Egyptians who may be targeted according to the new law.

This includes standard security-minded concerns such as “encouraging extremism, violence and dissent” and “educating methods of making explosives and assault, chaos and riot tactics.” However, ‘ideas’ more open to interpretation are also named – “sarcasm; using inappropriate words; calling for the departure of societal pillars” and “taking statements out of context.” Online activity seen as insulting to religion, public morality and highly coveted political stability is highlighted.

The guidelines also suggest that monitoring communications on WhatsApp and Viber “will be a plus” for the future.

On Monday, ministry officials announced seven foreign companies had offered proposals to the Egyptian government to assist with surveillance of social media websites. They did not name the companies involved.

In the past, Egypt’s security apparatus were in contact with British tech firm Gamma International, responsible for Trojan-style surveillance software known as Finfisher. The programme allows authorities to inhabit computers and then monitor exactly how that computer is used, albeit on a targeted basis.

That deal-in-the-making came to light after activists got hold of paperwork of a tech proposal – not unlike the seven supposedly received this year – from inside Cairo’s State Security Investigations (SSI) service headquarters. Alongside police batons and torture equipment, activists found papers detailing a free trial offered by Gamma International to the Egyptian security apparatus to introduce Finfisher. This “high-level security system” would give authorities “full control” of the computers of “targeted elements.”

Egypt is known to have used other surveillance software: Bluecoat ProxySG, introduced in August 2012; and Remote Control System (or “RSC“) surveillance between March 2012 and October 2013.

“They have already been practising different scopes of surveillance,” says Raoof. “They might punish me or you for online content, they might not; but what they want to know is what you’re saying, what you’re doing, what you’re friends are doing. Whenever they need to punish you, they then have all this to do it.”

Others suggest the ministry may not have the capability to employ blanket surveillance over the internet.

“When you read the tender…they mention Google as a social network,” says Eva Blum Dumontet from Privacy International. “What that kind of reflects is that they have no idea what they’re talking about.” The same could apply to intended surveillance of privation communications. “Monitoring something like Viber and WhatsApp would require a completely different infrastructure.”

Still, the threat is real – perhaps most of all for young Egyptians, like Mostafa and Abdel Aziz, who are turning to the internet more for politics at a time when street protests can quickly attract violent responses from the police.

“If [someone] goes on an April 6 page, or whatever movement he’s into, and he likes that page, that’s exactly the kind of data that’s going to mark him,” explains Blum Dumontet. “Typically for these people this is very problematic,” as opposed to leading activists, who may well be on the state’s radar already. “The followers who are liking and sharing, they’re the ones who are really going to be exposed by this.”

The Interior Ministry’s own guidelines suggest this is not just about activism, however. Recent Egyptian social media highlights – including the anti-Sisi “Vote for the pimp” hashtag or the mockery of an apparently over-tanned addressing the nation after this month’s presidential elections – could potentially fall under the category of “dangerous ideas.” In the age of military chief-turned-president, Sisi, this kind of irreverent and satirical online activity could now be more problematic.

And so Egypt’s new internet restrictions could potentially put people like Abdel Aziz, another Egyptian in his 20s from Giza, at risk.

“We are criticizing more and more online,” he says. Abdel Aziz, who does not identify with any group or political movement, describes social media as a place to withdraw, now that street-level dissent is so risky. He is not ready to give up that space.

“Those of us who still believe in our ideas, we are always talking to each other about politics online, and the streets remain the same.”

“They want us to be afraid…But they will not stop us.”

– See more at:

A historic opportunity for Kurds in Iraq chaos

ERBIL // An offensive by an Al Qaeda splinter group that threatens to divide Iraq has presented a long sought after prize to the country’s Kurdish minority: Kirkuk.

Forces from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish area to the north on Thursday seized control of Kirkuk, which they claim as their historical capital.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the Peshmerga, say they took over to defend Kirkuk after Baghdad’s military crumbled in the face of a lightning assault by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and fellow Sunni militants. Iraqi soldiers say the Kurds ordered them to leave.

Kirkuk’s governor, Najmaldin Karim, said on Thursday that he asked the Peshmerga to “come and defend most of Kirkuk from the insurgents” because “the army fled”. The rapid collapse of the country’s military against the ISIL offensive, driven by Sunni-Arab anger at the Shiite-led government of the prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, has allowed militants to capture vast swathes of territory including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.

Whatever the case, analysts say Kurdish control of Kirkuk risks angering Iraq’s neighbours and aggravating domestic sectarian feuds.

The move may inflame separatist sentiment among Kurds who form large minorities in adjoining areas of Turkey, Syria and Iran. That would likely make it far more difficult for Kurdish leaders to cede Kirkuk and its large oil deposits to the government in Baghdad – that is, if it survives the ISIL onslaught, said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an expert on Iraq’s Kurds and columnist for the US-based Al Monitor website.

“It will mean that the Iraqi state has lost Kirkuk forever,” he said.

Ethnically and linguistically distinct from Iraq’s primarily Arab communities of Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds form close to 20 per cent of the country’s population of more than 32 million people.

The Kurds’ long-standing desire for independence has been fuelled by a history of repression, particularly in Iraq, where they have faced military assaults and chemical weapons attacks under the former dictator Saddam Hussein that rights groups have called acts of genocide. Under a policy of Arabisation, Saddam drove scores of Kurds from their homes in such strategic areas as Kirkuk.

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) became a federal entity after the 2003 US invasion that deposed Saddam, with its seat in Erbil and authority over a mountainous homeland with an estimated 45 billion barrels of oil. But its remit does not officially include Kirkuk, which is the capital of the Kirkuk governorate that has an oilfield with about 10 billion barrels of proven reserves.

“If things unfold with the disintegration and partitioning of Iraq, you can bet that the Kurds will do their best to make Kirkuk part of their homeland,” said Labib Kamhawi, an independent political analyst in Amman.

With Iraq’s future territorial integrity increasingly in question, Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University in Beirut, said the Kurd’s seizure of the city augurs more ambitious steps.

“This is a prelude to declaring statehood.”

In an attempt to reverse Saddam’s policies, the Kurds have over the past decade pushed for de facto political and economic control in Kirkuk and are believed to form a majority of the city’s population, which is estimated to be more than 500,000. That has raised tension with Arab and Turkmen residents, while a referendum on the area’s status that was planned after 2003 was never held.

Mr Khashan said the Kurdish move on Kirkuk also had irked Turkey, which has faced a domestic insurgency by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatists. Turks also have historical claims to the city and surrounding areas that came under British control after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Although the 1920 Treaty of Sevres on the division of the empire after the war included a provision for a Kurdish state, this was dropped in the 1923 Tretay of Lausanne that superseded it.

Despite growing ties with the KRG since 2003, including huge investments in everything from luxury stores to construction as well as deal to receive oil piped in from the area, Ankara would not hesitate to oppose Kurdish moves to claim Kirkuk, Mr Khashan said.

“The Turks have interests in Iraqi Kurdistan, yet they can’t accept the takeover of Kirkuk by Peshmerga,” he said.

Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said the seizure of Kirkuk was largely meant to shore up Kurdish defences against ISIL attacks. But that could change.

“As the rest of Iraq faces the serious prospect of disintegration, Kurds feel the need to hold their areas and may well eventually push for independence from what might become a failing Iraqi state, or at least, a state without legitimacy in the eyes of a large proportion of its population – the Sunnis,” she said.

Riad Kahwaji, the chief executive of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said ISIL militants would likely think twice before attempting to invade Kurdish areas. Kurdish fighters are well trained in mountain-guerrilla warfare after waging years of uprisings, and they are heavily armed with Soviet-made weaponry, including tanks and Grad rockets.

He estimated the Peshmerga could mobilise a force of 200,000.

“They are definitely much better organised and structured than the Iraqi army and they would pose a significant foe to ISIL,” Mr Kahwaji said.


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Nicholas Shaxson on Tax Havens, the Banking system & UK Uncut

Nicholas Shaxson


Nicholas Shaxson (born 1966) is a British author, journalist, and an Associate Fellow of Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London). He is best known for his investigative books Poisoned Wells(2007) and Treasure Islands (2011). He is a full-time writer and researcher for the Tax Justice Network, an expert-led group focused on the harmful impacts of tax avoidancetax competition and tax havens.


Shaxson was born in Malawi and has lived at various times in IndiaBrazilEnglandLesothoSpainAngola,South AfricaGermany and the Netherlands. Since 1993 he has written on global business and politics for theFinancial TimesReutersthe Economist and its sister publication the Economist Intelligence UnitInternational AffairsForeign AffairsAmerican Interest, the BBCAfrica Confidential, African Energy, and others.

Shaxson currently lives with his partner and their two children in ZürichSwitzerland.

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