Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fake News Media Suppress Two Blockbuster Stories on Syria

By James George Jatras - June 29, 2017 at 02:25PM

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It has become the conventional wisdom that the information world has been forever changed by the advent of the Internet Age. Whereas in the past the established media were the only source of news and opinion, we are led to believe that now, with a virtually unlimited availability of independent voices, facts cannot be concealed and "the truth will out."

Unfortunately, that notion is far from reality, at least when issues of war and peace are concerned. While proliferation of first cable channels and then online publications means the establishment American networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, plus CNN) and newspapers (New York Times -- a/k/a, the "newspaper of record" -- Washington Post) have a smaller market share than in the past, they still have a near monopoly on the legitimacy and public significance of information. This means that while "alternative media" – itself a dismissive term relating to the presumed unreliability of contents – might report and document information contrary to the official line emanating from prestige media operating in symbiosis with their government sources, they can be ignored.

Despite the ubiquitous accessibility of online independent media, news and commentary about national security issues in the US and Western Europe displays an almost Soviet-style façade of uniformity. Unlike the practice of the totalitarian states of the 20th century, maintaining the credibility of official media does not require the physical repression of alternatives. Instead of suppressing dissent, is it sufficient to maintain major media's role as gatekeeper and certifier of reliability. Information originating in "alternative" circles becomes reliable and publicly actionable only when picked up and disseminated by the "mainstream media" (MSM), thus validating the information and its ostensibly "alternative" source. Unless and until that happens, alternative information and opinion, especially that which runs counter to the MSM/government/corporate narrative, is ignored and relegated to "conspiracy theory," "internet chatter," or even subjected to the dread label of "denier" of some established, obligatory truth, for example the "Bosnian genocide" and Serbian guilt.

Non-validated information and views thus become a kind of American samizdat, which is tolerated but has no impact on public affairs. For example, with respect to the 1990s Balkan conflicts (Markale, Srebrenica, Racak, organ-trafficking by leaders of the "Kosovo Liberation Army", etc.), information discrediting the official versions of the same events has long been available but has no ability to dislodge the established accounts, even in retrospect.

This week we have been given two startling examples of how this marginalization of factual reporting and analysis can take place in plain sight. Both relate to Syria, the hottest current danger of touching off a major global conflagration. One example is an exposé of the role the United States and its allies have played in turning Syria into a playground for jihadists groups aligned with al-Qaeda. The other debunks claims that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has "used chemical weapons against his own people."

"How America Armed Terrorists in Syria" (The American Conservative) by Gellhorn Prize award winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter is the definitive analysis of how US agencies – in particular the CIA – have been pumping money and weapons into the Syrian conflict for the past six years. They have been doing so in the full knowledge that the recipients of the assistance were not only Islamic terrorists but affiliates, allies, or offshoots of al-Qaeda. Writes Porter:
The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history. The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the US interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the 'Global War on Terrorism'—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. The United States has instead subordinated that US interest in counter-terrorism to the interests of its Sunni allies. In doing so it has helped create a new terrorist threat in the heart of the Middle East.
Porter further details how the CIA served as a conduit for weapons from the stocks of the deposed and murdered Muammar Kaddafi to ship them from Libya to their terrorist colleagues in Syria. Even more disturbing for those following the rise of Islamic radicalism in Europe is the participation of countries in Central Europe in the Balkans – including Serbia, which one would think has had enough experience with U.S.-supported jihadists not to get involved:
The CIA’s covert arms shipments from Libya came to an abrupt halt in September 2012 when Libyan militants attacked and burned the embassy annex in Benghazi that had been used to support the operation. By then, however, a much larger channel for arming anti-government forces was opening up. The CIA put the Saudis in touch with a senior Croatian official who had offered to sell large quantities of arms left over from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. And the CIA helped them shop for weapons from arms dealers and governments in several other former Soviet bloc countries.

Flush with weapons acquired from both the CIA Libya program and from the Croatians, the Saudis and Qataris dramatically increased the number of flights by military cargo planes to Turkey in December 2012 and continued that intensive pace for the next two and a half months. The New York Times reported a total 160 such flights through mid-March 2013. The most common cargo plane in use in the Gulf, the Ilyushin IL-76, can carry roughly 50 tons of cargo on a flight, which would indicate that as much as 8,000 tons of weapons poured across the Turkish border into Syria just in late 2012 and in 2013.

One U.S. official called the new level of arms deliveries to Syrian rebels a "cataract of weaponry". And a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that the Saudis were intent on building up a powerful conventional army in Syria. The "end-use certificate" for weapons purchased from an arms company in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2013 includes 500 Soviet-designed PG-7VR rocket launchers that can penetrate even heavily-armored tanks, along with two million rounds; 50 Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers and 500 missiles, 50 anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, 10,000 fragmentation rounds for OG-7 rocket launchers capable of piercing heavy body armor; four truck-mounted BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers, each of which fires 40 rockets at a time with a range of 12 to 19 miles, along with 20,000 GRAD rockets.

The end user document for another Saudi order from the same Serbian company listed 300 tanks, 2,000 RPG launchers, and 16,500 other rocket launchers, one million rounds for ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns, and 315 million cartridges for various other guns.
The other "must-read" article ignored in official circles in Washington is "Trump‘s Red Line" in the German publication Die Welt, by prominent investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Without going into the details, Hersh confirms what independent observers said at the time: that the incident on April 4 in an al Qaeda-controlled town in Syria’s Idlib governorate was not a chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces. Worse, according to Hersh, US military and intelligence officials immediately informed President Donald Trump that that was the case. Nonetheless, before any examination of the facts could take place, on April 7 he ordered a retaliatory attack against the Syrian airbase supposedly responsible – to the applause of his detractors. For example, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, previously a harsh critic who had derided Mr. Trump’s "rocking horse presidency" as a "circus", intoned the next day: "I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night."

The blockbuster Die Welt article by Hersh has been ignored to the point of invisibility by the MSM. It should be noted that Hersh, a longtime contributor to prestigious MSM outlets like the New Yorker and the New York Times, had published an earlier exposure of a 2013 sarin gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, that was falsely blamed on the Syrian government, in the London Review of Books (LRB), since no US publication would take it. But this latest piece was refused by the LRB, according to Die Welt: "The [LRB] editors accepted it, paid for it, and prepared a fact checked article for publication, but decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in [Idlib]." The fact that the Syrian and Russian governments might be right evidently carried little weight with the editors.

Perhaps coincidently, perhaps not, less than two days after the appearance of the Hersh article, White House spokesman Sean Spicer put Damascus on notice that US intelligence had detected activity indicating preparation by Syrian forces of "another" (i.e, a repeat of the April non-attack in Idlib). If "Mr. Assad conducts another [sic] mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price", said Spicer. Piling on, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the US would respond harshly to "any" use of chemical weapons, not even qualifying whether the Syrian government were the responsible party – a dangerous invitation for the jihadists to stage a false flag chemical attack. Haley also threatened to hold Russia and Iran accountable.

Within two days of Spicer’s warning, Secretary of Defense James Mattis claimed the threat had been successful, and that Syria was not going to launch a chemical attack: "They didn’t do it." Or to put it in more accurate terms, Mattis was taking credit for the non-occurrence of something that wasn’t going to happen anyway, which would supposedly have been a repeat of a prior event that hadn’t happened either.

If this all sounds convoluted and bizarre, that’s because it is. Perhaps the whole Spicer threat and Mattis claim that it worked were contrived as what they call at the Pentagon a "Kabuki dance," an empty show and noise, possibly to look tough in advance of an anticipated Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the July G20 meeting. Or maybe this episode is part of an effort by Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to clean up Middle East messes created by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The fact is, no one knows for sure except those directly involved. But it’s certain that US fake news media, ever a reliable transmission belt for unnecessary wars, are small help in ascertaining the truth.

Reprinted with permission from the Strategic Culture Foundation.

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