Jihadists Admit Defeat as Syrian Government Takes Effective Control of All Aleppo & Over 50,000 Civilians Evacuate East; Still No Evidence of Russian Interference in Election But Lots of Hot Air; Netherlands Likely to Thwart EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA)

(People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA))

Starting around December 8th, approximately 50,000 civilians fled eastern Aleppo via humanitarian corridors set up by the Syrian and Russian government forces as over 1200 “rebel” fighters laid down arms.  RT reported what the representative of the Russian Defense Ministry stated on this, in addition to some comments in which the spokesman vented his spleen in response to recent criticisms by the EU foreign policy chief about the Syrian and Russian government operations in the country:

Over the past 48 hours, up to 50,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov has reported. “More than 20,000 residents left eastern Aleppo in the first part of Saturday, and 1,217 militants laid down their weapons,” Konashenkov said.

“The Russian Center for Reconciliation, through humanitarian corridors near Karim El-Hun and Mahayar, has organized the evacuation of civilians from the eastern parts of Aleppo to the safe areas of the city,” Konashenkov added. “We warn terrorists and militants of the so-called ‘moderate opposition,’ and also their patrons: Do not attempt any provocations, especially attacks on civilians leaving through humanitarian corridors,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement says.

Konashenkov also addressed those who, over the past few months, have declared their readiness to send humanitarian aid to Aleppo. “Representatives of the US, UK, France, Canada, the European Union, and international organizations: Over the past two days, nearly 50,000 civilians have been evacuated by the Russian Reconciliation Center from the eastern parts of Aleppo. They are in need of the humanitarian assistance you promised. It is time to check the validity of your intentions.”

The statement added that the Syrian government now controls 93 percent of Aleppo, and the civilians who exited eastern Aleppo have been placed in special humanitarian centers where they are provided with hot food and medical help.

The Russian Reconciliation Center is monitoring the evacuation of civilians from the blocked districts round-the-clock with the use of drones.

Earlier this week, Moscow slammed a statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said the EU was the only party providing aid to Syria. “It’s outrageous twisting of facts which ignores what Russia has been doing for a long time,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that Russia, “unlike other international players, has been actively supplying thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to various regions across Syria, including the liberated areas in eastern Aleppo, at the risk of Russian military lives.

“If the high representative [Mogherini] means providing assistance to terrorists and extremists, then we don’t participate in this, indeed,” the statement added.

Further reports in the past 48 hours indicate that the jihadists are now confined to an area of eastern Aleppo that is less than a mile wide and are themselves admitting defeat.  Alexander Mercouris provides the following details:

Reports from the Jihadis themselves say that they are now confined to an area less than a mile wide between the River Aleppo and the Salaheddin district near the main sports stadium.  Even they now admit that their resistance is almost entirely at an end.  The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a monitoring group that has consistently sided with the Jihadis throughout the Syrian conflict, is reporting it in this way

“The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time . . . it’s a total collapse.”

If the Syrian authorities have indeed at this eleventh hour refused to let the Jihadis leave Aleppo, then this is a reflection of the bankruptcy of US diplomacy.  Earlier in the day Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made the following withering statement about US diplomatic actions 

“The problem is very simple.  We say – let us first of all agree on what corridors will be provided to militants, given the previous experience when gunmen used any pause for regrouping, receiving replenishment from abroad and terrorising the civilian population even more furiously.

We can coordinate this with Americans very quickly. We undertake commitments to guarantee that these corridors won’t be attacked by Syrian armed forces, while Americans undertake commitments together with their regional allies to get militants’ consent to leave eastern Aleppo via these safe corridors.

….As the “Great Battle of Aleppo’ approaches its end – which will probably come tomorrow – there could not be a sharper contrast between the way in which the news of the Syrian army’s victory is being celebrated in Syria, and the gloom and anger with which it is being received in the West.

In Aleppo itself film shows joyful Syrians flooding onto the streets to celebrate the Syrian army’s victory and the coming end of the fighting in their city.  Here is one such video published by the Russian news agency Sputnik:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmS9c0AmL8Y

According to a report from the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) of yesterday, 3,000 more civilians fled eastern Aleppo:

ALEPPO – Three thousand civilians who had been besieged by terrorist organizations have got out from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo city through humanitarian corridors set by the Syrian Army in cooperation with the Russian side. A SANA reporter in Aleppo said that the civilians’ exit started today at dawn and is continuous, adding that army units and concerned authorities are transferring them to makeshift centers in Jibrin and providing them with the requirements of residence in the centers.

….The statement clarified that since the beginning of the military operations, 110,000 civilians, including 44367 children, have been evacuated from the eastern neighborhoods, while more than 7000 people returned to their houses in the areas restored by the Army.

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Hoopla about Russia interfering in the recent U.S. presidential election continues.  Robert Parry over at Consortium News clarifies what the media and Democratic Party operatives are really talking about when they accuse Russia of having interfered in our elections – it’s not having hacked voting machines or stuffed ballot boxes for Trump, it is the fact that information was released, via Wikileaks and others, that exposed Clinton’s dubious political and financial relationships, putting her at a supposed disadvantage to Trump .  He also points out the hypocrisy of those now jumping up and down about the election results after having jumped up and down when Trump said during a campaign debate that he would wait and see if he accepted the election results:

 

His [Trump’s] refusal to commit to accepting the results was front-page news for days with leading editorialists declaring that his failure to announce that he would abide by the outcome disqualified him from the presidency.

But now the defeated Democrats and some anti-Trump neoconservatives in the Republican Party are jumping up and down about how Russia supposedly tainted the election by revealing information about the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Though there appears to be no hard evidence that the Russians did any such thing, the Obama administration’s CIA has thrown its weight behind the suspicions, basing its conclusions on “circumstantial evidence,” according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times reported: “The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday. Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

In other words, the CIA apparently lacks direct reporting from a source inside the Kremlin or an electronic intercept in which Russian President Vladimir Putin or another senior official orders Russian operatives to tilt the U.S. election in favor of Trump.

The absence of such hard evidence opens the door to what is called “confirmation bias” or analytical “group think” in which the CIA’s institutional animosity toward Russia and Trump could influence how analysts read otherwise innocent developments.

For instance, Russian news agencies RT or Sputnik reported critically at times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in U.S. press accounts arguing that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But that charge assumes two things: that Clinton did not deserve critical coverage and that Americans – in any significant numbers – watch Russian networks.

Similarly, the yet-unproven charge that Russia organized the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the private email account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta assumes that the Russian government was responsible and that it then selectively leaked the material to WikiLeaks while withholding damaging information from hacked Republican accounts.

Here the suspicions also seem to extend far beyond what the CIA actually knows. First, the Republican National Committee denies that its email accounts were hacked, and even if they were hacked, there’s no evidence that they contained any information that was particularly newsworthy. Nor is there any evidence that – if the GOP accounts were hacked – they were hacked by the same group that hacked the Democratic Party emails, i.e., that the two hacks were part of the same operation.

That suspicion assumes a tightly controlled operation at the highest levels of the Russian government, but the CIA – with its intensive electronic surveillance of the Russian government and human sources inside the Kremlin – appears to lack any evidence of such a top-down operation.

Second, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.

Murray said, “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

But even if Assange did get the data from the Russians, it’s important to remember that nothing in the material has been identified as false. It all appears to be truthful and none of it represented an egregious violation of privacy with some salacious or sensational angle.

The only reason the emails were newsworthy at all was that the documents revealed information that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were trying to keep secret from the American voters.

….So, how does giving the American people truthful and relevant information undermine American democracy, which is the claim that is reverberating throughout the mainstream media and across Official Washington?

Presumably, the thinking is that it would have been better for the American people to have been kept in the dark about these secret maneuverings by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and, by keeping the public ignorant, that would have ensured Clinton’s election, the preferred outcome of the major U.S. news media.

There’s another double standard here. For instance, when a hack of — or a leak from — a Panamanian law firm exposed the personal finances of thousands of clients, including political figures in Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other nations, there was widespread applause across the Western media for this example of journalism at its best.

The applause was deafening despite the fact that at least one of the principal “news agencies” involved was partly funded by the U.S. government. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a USAID-backed non-governmental organization, also was earlier involved in efforts to destabilize and delegitimize the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Read the complete article here

Glenn Greenwald contributed his own scathing analysis of what’s wrong with the Washington Post’s latest reporting of unsubstantiated claims by the CIA:

THE WASHINGTON POST late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.

A second leak from last night, this one given to the New York Times, cites other anonymous officials as asserting that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” But that NYT story says that “it is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.”

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Given the obvious significance of this story — it is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come — it is critical to keep in mind some basic facts about what is known and, more importantly, what is not known:

Read the rest of Greenwald’s breakdown here

Moreover, it is being reported in more than one major outlet that both the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 intelligence agencies, and the FBI, have not endorsed the CIA’s assessment.  Additionally, VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) has now published its own memorandum challenging the reported claims of the CIA.  The VIPS memorandum is authored by, among others, William Binney who had served as the NSA’s technical director for years and is one of the foremost experts who could weigh in on this:

 

In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience – with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security – to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit – given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is – without fear or favor.

We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here’s the difference between leaking and hacking:

Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.

Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.

All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.

In short, since leaking requires physically removing data – on a thumb drive, for example – the only way such data can be copied and removed, with no electronic trace of what has left the server, is via a physical storage device.

Again, NSA is able to identify both the sender and recipient when hacking is involved. Thanks largely to the material released by Edward Snowden, we can provide a full picture of NSA’s extensive domestic data-collection network including Upstream programs like FairviewStormbrew and Blarney. These include at least 30 companies in the U.S. operating the fiber networks that carry the Public Switched Telephone Network as well as the World Wide Web. This gives NSA unparalleled access to data flowing within the U.S. and data going out to the rest of the world, as well as data transiting the U.S.

In other words, any data that is passed from the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or of Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) – or any other server in the U.S. – is collected by the NSA.  These data transfers carry destination addresses in what are called packets, which enable the transfer to be traced and followed through the network.

….The bottom line is that the NSA would know where and how any “hacked” emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network. This process can sometimes require a closer look into the routing to sort out intermediate clients, but in the end sender and recipient can be traced across the network.

The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network. Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked.

The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods. Thus, we conclude that the emails were leaked by an insider – as was the case with Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Such an insider could be anyone in a government department or agency with access to NSA databases, or perhaps someone within the DNC.

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The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is seeking assurances from the other EU members that Ukraine will not be granted EU membership or included in any security commitments, if he facilitates the override of the Dutch public vote against the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement earlier this year, through a parliamentary endorsement.  Reuters reports:

Rutte is trying to free himself from a political bind after Dutch voters, concerned about the costs, rejected the so-called association agreement in a referendum in April. If his demands are met, he plans to go back to his parliament to win an endorsement that would overwrite the negative vote.

The Dutch are therefore seeking a legally binding decision by the 28 EU leaders that the association agreement is “not a stepping stone” to EU membership for Kiev, one source said. This is not to the liking of Poland, a key supporter of Ukraine.

….A draft document for the EU leaders to approve, prepared by the Dutch and seen by Reuters, also rules out financial or security guarantees for Ukraine and spells out that Ukrainians are not being given the right to live and work in the bloc.

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