Renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published a report detailing how President Trump ordered the Tomahawk missile strike in Syria this past April even though he received reporting from his intelligence and military advisers that stated there was no concrete evidence at the time that the Assad government was guilty of a sarin (or any intentional chemical) attack in the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun. Hersh wrote:
The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.
Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. “None of this makes any sense,” one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“
…..To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.
Read Hersh’s full article at Die Welt. While nothing in this article should be a surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time, it is nonetheless important to have the details and confirmation from a reputable journalistic source like Hersh. It’s a sad commentary that this kind of investigative reporting has become so rare in the U.S. One must ask themselves why, after the Bush administration ended, Hersh has had to publish at the London Review of Books and Die Welt.
Moving right along on the topic of pathetic mainstream (corporate) media in the U.S., Glenn Greenwald has written another great primer on the latest installment of horrible reporting on Russia and “Russiagate.” Since it never ends, the few good journalists have to keep track of the misinformation and counter it on a regular basis. In this latest piece, Greenwald discusses the larger context of the recent resignations of 3 journalists at CNN – one a Pulitzer Prize winner who was formerly a regular for the NYT – due to sloppy journalistic practices in writing an article that relied on one anonymous source with respect to allegations that Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci was tied to a Russian investment bank that was being probed by Congress. The story turned out to be bogus and, as I noted previously, the concept of due diligence in contemporary corporate reporting is apparently considered to be out of fashion, something only pedantic un-hip nerd types and old maids who purse their lips would insist on.
In announcing the resignation of the three journalists — Thomas Frank, who wrote the story (not the same Thomas Frank who wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”); Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Lichtblau, recently hired away from the New York Times; and Lex Haris, head of a new investigative unit — CNN said that “standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published.” The resignations follow CNN’s Friday night retraction of the story, in which it apologized to Scaramucci.
….BUT CNN IS hardly alone when it comes to embarrassing retractions regarding Russia. Over and over, major U.S. media outlets have published claims about the Russia Threat that turned out to be completely false — always in the direction of exaggerating the threat and/or inventing incriminating links between Moscow and the Trump circle. In virtually all cases, those stories involved evidence-free assertions from anonymous sources that these media outlets uncritically treated as fact, only for it to be revealed that they were entirely false.
Read Greenwald’s entire skewering of the corporate media’s reporting here.
But, as a producer at CNN admitted in a recent video, there is no proof of any of the Russiagate accusations but it is constantly hammered on at the media outlet because it gets great ratings. Watch the video here:
But CNN isn’t the only mainstream outlet that’s finally being forced to acknowledge it’s less than stellar journalistic record on “Russiagate.” As Robert Parry reports, the New York Times just issued a retraction of its repeated claim that all 17 intelligence agencies signed off on the “assessment” – note that an assessment is not at all the same thing as an intelligence estimate. In fact, only the CIA, NSA, FBI and the DNI signed off on the estimate earlier this year about Russia’s supposed hacking of the election. Furthermore, only a handful of cherry-picked analysts from those few agencies contributed to the assessment.
On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”
However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”
The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.
The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.
Parry has just been awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for his steady and astute reporting and analysis at Consortium News. He was awarded the prize in London on June 27th by another iconic journalist (whom I’ve admired since reading his book Heroes in college), John Pilger. Here is an excerpt of Pilger’s comments when he presented Parry with the award:
There are too many awards for journalism. Too many simply celebrate the status quo. The idea that journalists ought to challenge the status quo — what Orwell called Newspeak and Robert Parry calls “groupthink” — is becoming increasingly rare.
More than a generation ago, a space opened up for a journalism that dissented from the groupthink and flourished briefly and often tenuously in the press and broadcasting. Today, that space has almost closed in the so-called mainstream media. The best journalists have become – often against their will – dissidents.
The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism recognizes these honorable exceptions. It is very different from other prizes. Let me quote in full why we give this award:
“The Gellhorn Prize is in honor of one of the 20th century’s greatest reporters. It is awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth – a truth validated by powerful facts that expose what Martha Gellhorn called ‘official drivel.’ She meant establishment propaganda.”
Martha was renowned as a war reporter. Her dispatches from Spain in the 1930s and D-Day in 1944 are classics. But she was more than that. As both a reporter and a committed humanitarian, she was a pioneer: one of the first in Vietnam to report what she called “a new kind of war against civilians”: a precursor to the wars of today.
She was the reason I was sent to Vietnam as a reporter. My editor had spread across his desk her articles that had run in the Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A headline read, “Targeting the people.” For that series, she was placed on a blacklist by the U.S. military and never allowed to return to South Vietnam.
She and I became good friends. Indeed, all my fellow judges of the Martha Gellhorn Prize – Sandy and Shirlee Matthews, James Fox, Jeremy Harding — have that in common. We keep her memory.
She was indefatigable. She would call very early in the morning and open up the conversation with one of her favourite expressions – “I smell a rat.”
Read the full speech here.
Speaking of war reporting. Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has written a great piece on how corporate media outlets all characterize the U.S. as being the hapless humanitarian that is constantly being “sucked into” or “stumbling into” wars against its will. They are mediasplaining to us rubes how the political class in Washington consists of a bunch of well-meaning clowns who bumble around not knowing what to do with all that humanitarian concern welling out of them so they are slipping and sliding around and if others get hurt, well, gee shucks, we’re just a great big well-meaning dufus.
“Sliding,” “stumbling,” ”sucked into,” “dragged into,” ”drawn into”: The US is always reluctantly—and without a plan—falling backward into bombing and occupying. The US didn’t enter the conflict in Syria in September 2014 deliberately; it was forced into it by outside actors. The US didn’t arm and fund anti-Assad rebels for four years to the tune of $1 billion a year as part of a broader strategy for the region; it did so as a result of some unknown geopolitical dark matter.When US empire isn’t reluctant, it’s benevolent. “Initially motivated by humanitarian impulse,” Foreign Policy‘s Emile Simpson (6/21/17) insisted, “the United States and its Western allies achieved regime change in Libya and attempted it in Syria, by backing rebels in each case.”
“At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy,” the New York Times editorial board (2/7/17) swooned.
“Every American president since at least the 1970s,” Washington Post’s Philip Rucker (5/2/17) declared, “has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” Interpreting US policymakers’ motives is permitted, so long as the conclusion is never critical.
Johnson goes on to contrast this with how other nations’ actions are characterized, like Russia.
Russia isn’t “drawn into” Crimea; it has a secret “Crimea takeover plot” (BBC, 3/9/15). Putin doesn’t “stumble into” Syria; he has a “Long-Term Strategy” there (Foreign Affairs, 3/15/16). Military adventurism by other countries is part of a well-planned agenda, while US intervention is at best reluctant, and at worst bumfuzzled—Barney Fife with 8,000 Abrams tanks and 19 aircraft carriers.
I’ve noted a lot of polls, surveys and statistics that have come my way recently that readers may find interesting or enlightening about the Russian economy or Russian attitudes toward various things.
1) According to Russia’s Finance Ministry, Russians’ real incomes rose by 3% in May;
2) Despite that increase – and Russia’s official exit from recession this year – many Russians still worry about wages, the economy overall, and health care – which is undergoing a process of streamlining and reform that has prompted dissatisfaction in some quarters;
3) After suffering one of the worst mortality crises of any nation in peacetime during the 1990’s, Russia is enjoying its 3rd year in a row of natural population growth;
4) The vast majority of Russians – 86% – have no desire to leave Russia and relocate to another country;
5) Russians view the U.S. and Ukraine as the most hostile nations toward them and just over half see no sign of improvement in U.S.-Russia relations on the horizon.
At the close of Ramadan recently, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, declared that the main obstacle to peace in his country was the U.S. occupation:
“Americans should understand that continuation of war in Afghanistan, upsurge of bombardment … will never usher in success for them. The Afghans are not a people to kowtow to someone,” he said.
The fact is, all occupiers eventually pack up their tents and go home. The only variable is how long the occupier continues his folly and how much death and destruction he is going to be responsible for before the light bulb goes on.