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Litvinenko and British “spy dust”

There is a very curious omission from the final report which the Litvinenko Inquiry released this morning. It relates to a key fact which all parties, Russian and British, appear to have deliberately ignored.

It has been common knowledge since the eighties that intelligence agencies – the old KGB in particular – used minute quantities of radioactive or otherwise carcinogenic materials as tracing agents. You would sprinkle a bit over a door handle or a car seat or a menu, your target would come into contact with it, and would then leave a chemical or radiological trail behind him for as long as the material remained viable. The Americans called it “spy dust”.

As anybody can see from this inquiry, Polonium 210 makes perfectly viable spy dust. Had Litvinenko not digested it in fatal quantity, the invisible trails the authorities subsequently picked up would have lain there for weeks, requiring only a swipe or close Geiger reading to expose them. It was a perfect cobweb, its strands extending to every meeting and journey its marked men conducted for ages afterwards. The detailed, intricate, and deeply incriminating pattern the Polonium 210 created is described in depth, but the report makes no mention whatsoever that this is exactly what spy dust is supposed to do. In the world of the Litvinenko Inquiry, spy dust doesn’t exist. These trails, which just so happen to connect a Russian defector to an exiled Russian oligarch to an MI6 sub-office to two more potential Russian defectors to a series of safe houses in Germany, are simply the accidental by-product of a deeply eccentric choice of poison.

The omission is particularly startling when you consider that radioactive spy dust was a British invention in the first place. Kristie Mackrackis, of Michigan State, has written about how British security services first settled on Scandium 46, a gamma emittor, as their first tracer of choice. Caesium 137, a deeply penetratative isotope, was later used by the Stasi on East Germany’s borders. The East German ‘Cloud’ programme experimented with dozens of isotopes. Polonium 210, in contrast a very weak alpha emittor, is actually far safer, unless it happens to be consumed in quantity, which is what happened to Litvinenko. As the report states, he collected a dangerous quantity on the cuff of his jacket first, then it made its way into a teapot, then into his stomach. That has the signs of something accidental and indirect.

I am often told, was repeatedly told, during the writing of Dark Actors, that cock-up is more common than conspiracy. I don’t see any reason to assume otherwise here. MI5 and MI6 hailed it as a deliberate Putin-sanctioned assasssination from the start, but that’s exactly what they would do. We pay them to do that. Vilifying Putin was something Litvinenko did for a living too, and he worked at that right up until the very end of his long and difficult death.  I know there are some in, or on the apron of, MI6 who have had to adapt the rationale that the reason Putin picked Polonium 210 is because he wanted everyone to know it was him. Well, perhaps. But it isn’t the most rational theory, is it?

Meanwhile, the idea that intelligence services expose sections of the public to dangerous substances on an operational basis is something every spymaster would probably like to keep quiet about. And make no mistake, it is the spymasters who have shaped this report.

Sir Robert Owen relies, inevitably, on secret evidence, which he cannot disclose, and which was supplied to him entirely by the ever-growing community on the other side of Britain’s Offical Secrets Act. Owen appears to have taken it all on faith. I find his blanket acceptance of the character and reliability of informant D2 to be entirely at odds with his skepticism over Bruce Burgess. Burgess administered a polygraph test to Lugovoy, which the Russian passed. Owen discounts this because Burgess has a criminal conviction for perverting the course of justice (Burgess tried to get out of a speeding ticket in 2009). Owen also opines that Lugovoy has probably been given expert training in how to beat lie detector tests by the FSB. But D2, by definition, lies for personal gain, and has been effectively trained in deception by his SIS handlers. If he’s anything like the average non-UK informant, he’ll have a rap sheet far worse than Burgess’. These facts, like the spy dust, have apparently eluded Sir Robert Owen.

Meanwhile the confederacy of dunces thunder on. Asset freezes occured within minutes of the report’s delivery. This isn’t justice. This is policy. It was the same with Hutton.

 

 

 

Simon Danczuk

“I’m a great admirer of The Sun, over the years it has carried out the kind of investigations into corruption in politics, business and sport which have shown British journalism at its finest. That is the reason it is the best read newspaper in the country.

For a long time it has been popular in Labour circles to criticise the tabloid press and in particular The Sun newspaper. There are those who look down on the red tops as “low-brow” and “sensationalist” and refuse to co-operate with their journalists. But I’m not one of them.

I believe The Sun at its best is not only a great newspaper but a national treasure and provides MPs like me with the opportunity to get our messages across to a wide audience.” Simon Danczuk, 25 November 2015.

danczuksun

He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.

The British Government At War, 2015

Before our aircrew conducted their attacks, as is normal they used the aircraft’s advanced sensors to confirm that no civilians were in the proximity of the targets, who might be placed at risk.

Civilian proximity detectors. Yeah, sure.

I wonder if the Syrian government will ever get its oilfields back. I doubt it. The Iraqi government lost the oilfields of Kurdistan a couple of years ago. The former Shell CEO, the disgraced Tony Hayward, was entrusted to steal all of that. No doubt he has been briefed about Syria.

There will be British banks handling the financing.

Turning the airspace over the Syrian oil fields into a permanent bombing zone is obviously how the West hopes to lever Assad out. According to one MP the aerial campaign is expected to run for three years. Presumably that’s how long the Asfari Foundation has to groom some plausible-looking puppets.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Iraq survived having its oil exports commandeered by the UN. It took a ground invasion to bring down Saddam. In another five to ten years I suppose Damascus will be weak enough for Operation Syrian Freedom. Sometime after the 2020 election, say. It will be justified by a humanitarian catastrophe or a terrible terrorist incident, neither of which can actually be attributed to the Assad government. As usual, Western fatalities will mostly consist of friendly fire incidents and traffic accidents. The same suspects you saw braying for war yesterday will deliver the traditional rhetoric (Benn is obviously counting on still being around). It will prove just as disastrous as the invasions of Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan.

I can’t see how it can stopped. I suppose Syria might decide to abandon its sovereignty and prostate itself before wholly predatory forces, but countries can’t really do that any more than pigs can fly. They have to be crushed first, and only an escalation into global war or the complete collapse of the financial markets can now prevent this from happening. While both are ultimately inevitable at some point, they hardly constitute a preferable alternative.

Britain could perhaps delay things (and salvage some of its own conscience) if it developed a truly responsible government. This would require the widespread rejection of the mainstream media, and for enlarged party memberships to effectively control the political class. How likely do you think that is?

Ukrainian nationalism as a vehicle for racial identity

Those, like me, with an interest in the history of the Ukraine might be interested to discover (if they haven’t already) the words of Gary Luepp, Professor of History at Tufts University, himself a man of Ukrainian heritage…

There are all kinds of people of “Ukrainian heritage,” including the significant Russian, Tatar, Jewish, Polish and Hungarian minorities (whom are being disparaged in some official Kiev propaganda as “subhumans”). The DNA of people living in what now constitutes Ukraine includes contributions from Celts, Goths, Khazars (a Turkic people), the Mongols of the Golden Horde and many others.

And the whole region east of the Dnieper, the region described in the western media as “controlled by pro-Russian separatists” was in fact only incorporated into Ukraine in the twentieth century. The Russian language has been prevalent there for centuries.

Anyone positing the existence of a “pure” Ukrainian “race” requiring defense against outside inferiors is obviously attacking science and history. Mein Kampf is not a good model for ethnological thinking. Stephan Bandera is not a hero. Anyone demanding that there be just one official language in Ukraine is attacking millions of people at a fundamental level of identity, telling them they don’t belong.

The Doblers left Ukraine in 1884 because the tsar had reneged on the original promise to German settlers that they would be exempt from military conscription. They came to the U.S. seeking “freedom.”

Now the U.S. is firmly allied to a regime in Ukraine that includes in the most crucial positions people who oppose the mixing of “races” and even advocate—with shocking openness, met with shocking mainstream media indifference—the elimination of communities they call “vermin” and “filth.”

A regime whose first legislative action last February was to repeal the law protecting minority linguistic rights.

 

It cannot be sheer coincidence that the parts of the world engulfed in war and conflict are those regions which have a shrouded and occluded history. History is a battlefield too.

The west has not brought peace, prosperity, or even democracy to the Ukraine.

Current MI5 rates: visit a mosque over six weeks, earn two grand.

I argued earlier in the month that MI5 is more than adaquately funded and must be running at least two to three thousand Muslim agents. Much Islamist activity in the UK is paid for by the Security Service, which is a way of making sure it is monitored, but this also means that the threat of Muslim terrorism will never go away, because it pays very well to pretend it exists. I was not in the least surprised to read in today’s papers that the going rate for reporting on a mosque is about two grand for six weeks.

Incidentally, there are at least a thousand working mosques in the UK. If MI5 has an agent in each one, the bill for mosque informers alone runs to over £17m per year, and that still leaves perhaps a further two thousand or so pseudo-Islamists on the payroll. But considering MI5’s annual budget must exceed five hundred million, that’s chicken feed.

Much, if not most, terrorist activity in Northern Ireland was funded by MI5 too. Of course the IRA, and its rivals, are capable of signing a ceasefire agreement. This is not the case with lone wolf domestic Islamism. There are thousands of Islamist agents who have carte blanche to distribute illegal copies of Inspire (which is probably written by spooks in the first place) and pretend they want to blow up the Stock Exchange/Buckingham Palace/Ministry of Sound etc. British anti-terrorism efforts have created and sustained a network of dangerous posers with no command structure. What happens when, like Adebolajo, some decide to turn on their masters? How does the Security Service expect to get the genie back in the bottle?

Answer: it doesn’t. It will run forever. The money is there, after all. This is how institutions work. They can accept anything, except that which undermines the institution. The RUC was not so different.

 

 

 

There Are No Cleanskins: running agents in the age of social media

For as long as humint as existed, agents have supplied it. Defectors and refugees provide human intelligence, sometimes for very long periods of time prior to their actual departure from theatre. Other human intelligence comes from what you might call infiltration, through men and women who are enticed to join target organisations, or occupy other designated areas, using real or assumed identities.

That used to be the model, anyway. Problematically, assumed identities in an age of social media are impossible. You will be found out. Somebody will see you, and remember you. State-level intelligence agencies already have some capability to run automated facial recognition programmes on all popular social media. Indeed, this is one of the key reasons why employees of MI5, SIS and GCHQ are specifically forbidden to post or update social media profiles. Direct infiltration under cover, like the Metropolitan Police were doing with protest groups in the nineties, is no longer a viable technique. You cannot live long under alias if you are on the internet.

With that in mind, let us consider the sheer volume of agents which the British intelligence community is likely to be handling. MI5 used to state in its own recruitment literature that its handling officers are expected to run between twenty and thirty agents a head (remember the vast majority of these will be using their real identities). That sort of workload is probably similar to that found in SIS. Budgets for running agents have increased dramatically since 9/11, so it is reasonable to assume that networks have been growing since then. MI5 employ around 4,000 people. Assuming it can task one thousand operational intelligence officers with Islamic extremism, the Security Service’s biggest concern, they could very easily be expected to be running somewhere between two and three thousand agents. Almost every one of these will be people using their own identities, pretending to be committed jihadis.

In 2007 Jonathan Evans, then Director General of MI5, publicly announced that his officers were monitoring two thousand potential Islamic terrorists (“potential”, nota bene). In February of this year, “highly placed MI5 sources” told the Financial Times there were now 3,000 on the “watchlist”. You will notice that both these figures bracket exactly the likely range of MI5’s Islamist agent population. And I do not think this is a coincidence.

Ponder the history of Northern Ireland, a field in which MI5 applied far less resources than it currently does to combating Islamic extremism. By the time of the Good Friday Agreement, British intelligence was collectively running not hundreds, but thousands, of agents and informers in Ulster. Military personnel I knew often complained to me that “we know who all the bad guys are, we could take them all out in one weekend” but politics made it impossible. This was partly true. We didn’t just know who all the bad guys were, we were paying them. They were agents, also known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS).

In Northern Ireland, collusion between paramilitaries and the intelligence community was rife. British intelligence officers bloodied their hands. They protected informants even when they killed innocent civilians, and they continue to protect them today. As astonishing as it may seem, there are many cases where operational officers knew innocents would be killed, and they did nothing to stop it. They even actively helped facilitate it. According the De Silva Report, 85%  of UDA targeting was done by the British intelligence community. Although the BBC’s Panorama programme is often hyperbolic, asinine and biased, Darragh Macintyre’s Britain’s Secret Terror Deals was a superb recap of what we know.

Information about agent handling in Northern Ireland continues to drip into the public domain. The three reports of Lord Stevens are all still classified, but he has let slip some incredible revelations. During his investigations into collusion between terrorists and the British intelligence community, the former Met commissioner arrested 210 former paramilitaries.

“Of the 210 people we arrested,” Stevens told the press, “only three weren’t agents.”

Please, please ponder that statistic. Stevens’ sample shows an infiltration rate of 98.6%. At least half of the IRA were actually British informants. Now apply that ratio to the number of potential Islamist terrorist suspects mentioned above, bearing in mind that we are dedicating far more resources to this newer threat. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of jihadi suspects and jihadi agents, I suspect you would have two circles that almost exactly overlap.

The profile of Islamist terrorists supports this conclusion. There are no cleanskins. Every attempted act of terrorism, every terrorist sympathiser, everyone is already known and on file. But, we are told, the Security Services somehow overlooked them. Do you believe this? Do you believe the argument made by Evans and others, that “we simply don’t have the resources to follow everyone all of the time”? I believe the reverse is more likely. Our intelligence community is more than adequately resourced, and the vast majority of so-called jihadis have existing operational relationships with the police and/or the Security Service and/or some other branch of the intelligence community. Given the sheer scale of Britain’s agent network, mistakes in handling will be made, which explain instances like the murder of Lee Rigby (the Intelligence and Security Committee has yet to deliver its promised report on the mishandling of Michael Adebolajo).

Agents know their job requires that they break the law, and agents expect they will be protected from the consequences. This is the essence of the deal. In the words of one former Belfast agent, they “walked on water”. Some were effectively state-sponsored serial killers. Their successors exist today, paid recruits of SIS and MI5, in Iraq and Syria. I cannot and will not pretend I know that Jihadi John is a British agent, but he is the son of a former agent, and if I was a non-cleanskin Islamist agent in place I would behave exactly as he has done. Indeed, such behaviour may have been expected of me by my target, as a kind of test or induction. You could speculate on any number of reasons why Mohammed Emwazi became “radicalised”, but the most likely is surely that some intelligence agency was paying him. There is even a 2009 audio recording in circulation in which Emwazi claims he isn’t an extremist, and that MI5 are harassing him.

It is absolutely par for the course that Emwazi’s family is protected by the UK government. They have been given safe houses in Britain and Kuwait, where his father is voluntarily talking to Kuwaiti intelligence.

I think I know what will happen to the majority of UK Islamists who left to join ISIS. They will disappear, like all the Iraqi WMD scientists did. They will just vanish. They will be exfiltrated and offered new lives. It won’t be hard to get them out: the SAS are already driving around ISIS territory in fancy dress. Emwazi may already have left. Similarly, I am confident the bodies of Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin will never be found. Undoubtedly, their families have been or will be offered settlements by the government.

“We’re confident [Khan is] dead but not absolutely categoric,” tweeted Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. Of course you can’t be categoric. Very few agents can be accommodated on re-entry as comfortably as Majiid Nawaz or Tommy Robinson.

 

FOOTNOTE Agents who were recruited in the late nineties, before the dawn of social media, and who are still in place, will have been compelled to continue under their assumed identities. There are probably still a couple in the trade union movement. Indeed I can think of one very likely candidate, who is currently demonstrating a puzzling solidarity with Ukrainian nationalists. I doubt any of his communist/anarchist colleagues have ever met a single member of his family.

 

 

On The Bombing Of Markets

Forget about the brokers in Shanghai.

On Sunday the 16th of August the market in Douma, an outer suburb of Damascus, was bombed. The news was first reported by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in a series of escalating bulletins until it finally arrived at the headline “more than 330 civilians killed and wounded in the genocide committed by the regime warplanes in Duma”.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

The “international community”, as the West and its satellites are fond of calling themselves, was quick to voice its outrage, as it has been throughout its five year campaign for Syrian regime change.

The UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien (ex-Cambridge, ex-Conservative MP), said he was “particularly appalled” at this “unlawful, unacceptable” targeting of non-combatants. The US State Department formally “condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent deadly airstrikes… on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds, including innocent women and children.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said: “This latest tragedy is just another reminder of the inhumane acts perpetrated daily by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.  The regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Syrian civilians and destroying entire towns and cities, historical sites, schools, mosques, markets, and hospitals.  These abhorrent actions underscore that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, the “airstrikes, following its other recent market bombings and attacks on medical facilities, demonstrate the regime’s disregard for human life. As we have said, Assad has no legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. The United States is working with our partners toward a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Assad that brings an end to such attacks and leads to a future that fulfils Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, inevitably chipped in. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ex-Harrow, ex-Cambridge, son of Jock Colville, undisclosed relationship with the Foreign Office, wink wink), whose office has maintained since 2012 that they have “enough evidence of war crimes to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court”, was equally keen to voice his concern over “the outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace.”

And so on, and so on.

Then the Douma Co-ordinating Committee, one of a network of committees set up on or before 2011, and funded by the US State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released a list of the dead (although it requires translation). It has 102 names on it. Ninety nine of them are men. Does that sound like a normal gender spread for an Arabic market? The Syrian government maintain they actually targeted a rebel HQ near the market. Given the fatalities, and Douma’s long-standing status as a rebel bastion, doesn’t that sound more plausible than the idea Assad’s air force are targeting Sunday markets?

For those keen to pore over pictures of this and other bombed markets, and ponder the damage and corpses therein, or lack therof, Eric Draitser has a compendium of links in this very relevant article. Draitser is of the opinion that the extant footage from Douma is far less gruesome than might be expected. What makes things murkier still is that soon afterwards all the bodies were buried in mass graves, so no identification or inquest is possible.What footage we do have reveals no sign at all of how the men were killed. They’re wrapped in blankets, and most do seem to be of fighting age. Draitser even speculates they might just as easily have been brought in from fighting elsewhere. Unsurprisingly it turns out that at least one of the Douma market victims miraculously survived.

Get into character Mohammad: you've just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

Mohammad has just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

In 2013 Douma was also the scene of another alleged war crime: a chemical weapons attack, one of several such attacks across Syria, attacks which were extensively recorded and reported. However, as with the market bombing, I’m not quite sure the evidence for these stacks up either (the UN feels the same way, so does Stratfor, and so does Gareth Porter, to name but a very few, while Mossad, the JIC and The Sun thought otherwise).

The story reminded me that despite the fact markets have no military value, they’re bombed all the time. Sometimes we presume it is simply an accident, like when the RAF bombed the market at Fallujah, killing between 50 people (the MoD’s figure, when they eventually admitted responsibility) and 200.  But in almost every case, with the exception of four or five relatively minor incidents in Israel, whenever markets have been bombed over the last twenty years or so, the victims have been Muslim (I have started to compile a spreadsheet). These bombings occur with incredible frequency, and an astonishing number of them are never claimed by any terrorist group. Isn’t that bizarre? It suggests a strategy of tension, or perhaps several of them. Certainly it warrants further study.

Most of all, the reports from Douma reminded me of the market bombings in Sarajevo, or the Markale massacres, as they are sometimes known. The market in Sarajevo was bombed three times: once in 1992, once in 1994, and again in 1995. Or perhaps more accurately, it was hit by 120mm mortar shells. On each occasion there was ambiguity about whether the Bosnian Serbs were actually responsible. General Michael Rose believed the shells actually came from the Bosnian side. Multiple sources (such as Michael Rose, David Owen, Boutros Boutros Ghali, President Mitterand, and Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Envoy for Bosnia) refer to a secret UN investigation which found exactly that. A second, non-secret UN report (the one intended for publication) confined itself to saying the attack could not be confidently attributed to any particular faction.

I have visited the market in Sarajevo. An arc of attack was not apparent. Sightlines were few and very narrow. It would take exceptional skill, I think, to accurately and reliably hit it with the groupings and timings we are asked to believe in. I do not seek to exonerate the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to have sniped and shelled Sarajevo at will, but the mortar attacks in question reveal what you might call a tradition of unattributed, misreported, propagandistic attacks on Muslim markets. And the CIA and the Saudi-funded Islamists were present then just as they are today.

Sarajevo market bombed. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

The bombing of Sarajevo market. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

In memoriam.

 

 

Further evidence of the Israeli-Saudi Alliance: Pinkwashing Yemen

This piece, by an American undergraduate intern at The Tower magazine, was picked up by the Irish Times on the weekend, and it is the most cynical bit of “pro-intervention” journalism I have seen for some time. Someone on Tara Street should get their knuckles rapped for running it, and not lightly.

Yemen threw off its Saudi-US puppet, the “internationally backed” Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in a popular uprising in January (Hadi come to power during the Arab Spring in a deal which meant his predecessor could step down without facing criminal charges; Hadi was the sole election candidate and he claimed to have won over 99% of the vote). The uprising had been conducted under the aegis of the Houthis, a Shia-orientated power bloc which represented huge swathes of the country. Naturally, the Saudi royalty and other Emirati were terrified, as their brittle monarchies are particularly susceptible to popular revolution. As they are wont to do (see Bahrain), they blamed Iranian subterfuge for the fall of Hadi, rather than admit to their own inherent, undemocratic weaknesses, and thus the Houthi are portrayed not as any kind of national movement but simply as the agents of Tehran.

Consequently, a military alliance has been formed, to take back the country for the ousted placeman (he resigned, actually, but the details are convoluted). The Saudis and the UAE have ground troops inside the country. The UAE would appear to be working in loose conjunction with Al Qaeda, also an active force inside southern Yemen. Egypt, under Sisi, has also allied itself with Riyadh, although only in so far ( I believe) as offering to deploy some friendly warships. The US and the UK, both long-term opponents of popular government in the Middle East, are helping with intelligence-sharing and targeting (and they’ve been atrocious at it). I wouldn’t be surprised if some spec ops were involved too.

Formally, Israel and Saudi Arabia are sworn enemies, but it’s long been speculated they formed a secret alliance after “the redirection” of 2007, a theory supported by Gladstone’s article. The Tower magazine is the house publication of The Israel Project, an organisation described (by its supporters) as “Israel’s most effective nongovernmental public relations agency”, being “a private initiative funded by wealthy backers that [engages] journalists (and others) with information targeting their working needs.”

Founded in 2002, The Israel Project quickly became “one of the Jewish community’s fastest-growing organizations”, and is noted (again, by its supporters) for its “aggressive, in-your-face, style of operation”. It is headed by a guy who used to work as communications director at AIPAC. Everything The Tower publishers serves to advance Israeli interests. By its own admission, the magazine and the body behind it serve no other purpose. Surely the Irish Times must know this? It explains the article is an extract from a longer Tower piece in the footer.

Gladstone’s article is an example of pinkwashing, which is not a uniquely Israeli technique by any means, but the country does have a reputation for doing rather a lot of it. Homophobia is a major problem inside Israel itself, of course, but it would much rather use LGBT rights as an excuse to bomb countries it sees as geopolitical threats than attend to its own domestic problems.

Gladstone is fairly simple in his approach. Essentially, he argues that the Houthi are terrible because they have made it more difficult for middle class homosexuals to have house parties. You might think the Saudi bombs posed a bigger danger, and to Yemeni of all sexualities, but that’s not how pinkwashing works.

Bombing for gay rights!

Bombing for gay rights!

Irish Times readers might be interested to know that the article was originally titled ‘Will Yemen’s Gay Community Survive the Iran-Backed Militias Trying to Take Over?’ However, the article offers absolutely no evidence for any increased jeopardy whatsoever, and omits the fact that in Yemen, as in many Arabic countries, homosexuality has long been punishable by death. In short, it forgoes all context in order to construe a Houthi-related human rights emergency. It also repeats unqualified claims that the Houthi are Iranian-backed, and falsely asserts that Hadi is Yemen’s legitimate leader.

I have contacted Gladstone’s sole named interviewee for his opinion on the article but he has not yet responded. I understand he left the Yemen when he was three.

For those who are interested, I blogged about pinkwashing here.

Media reportage of events in Yemen has been appalling, so I will endeavour to construct a reliable timeline sometime over the next few days. If this is possible I will blog it, but if you know where to find one, please say.

The Syrian Civil War and the UN five years in

It’s been a while since we heard anything about the evils of the Syrian government. There is only so much media bandwidth for moral condemnation, and much of that has been taken up by Russia and ISIS (and in America, Iran). Although a lot of money has been spent vilifying Syria, usually in very discreet ways, it has slipped from the limelight as Washington becomes increasingly persuaded that the way to break-up Syria is to drop Assad as a casus belli and adopt ISIS instead.

The most official body charged with investigating Syrian war crimes is the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. That the UN feels the need to include the words ‘independent’ and ‘international’ in the Commissions’s formal title shows how sensitive it is to accusations of Western influence, but these fears cannot be allayed by nomenclature. It doesn’t help that of the five founding Commissioners one was a Turk who had completed a PhD in America (and who even spun her resignation into anti-Assad propaganda), another is an American whose employment history prior to joining the UN is unknown, while a third commissioner and the chairman have both held positions at American universities. Turkey and America, of course, are two long-standing belligerents in Syria’s proxy war.

The Commission itself was born out of a UN resolution, but not one derived from neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly. It was a consequence of S-17/1, passed by the UN Human Rights Council, which currently counts amongst its rotating members Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two notorious and systematic human rights abusers who comprise the two key backers of the Islamist paramilitaries inside Syria (and also Iraq, and also Yemen). This was not an auspicious start.

The resolution, and by obligation the Commission, took as read that there were “continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, [and the] torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including of children.” This followed on from an earlier fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, a man who was previously Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States (Jordan being yet another opponent of the Syrian government). It’s worth pointing out the Human Rights Council could have made the same condemnation, almost word-for-word, as regards the US inside Iraq, or Saudi Arabia generally, of Qatar, or of Bahrain, of Israel, or any number of Western proxies. That it didn’t is another suggestion of institutional bias.

The Syrian Civil War is now in its fifth year, and the Commission has grown quiet. Its communications have been few. Nevertheless, its chair continues to present the crimes of the insurgents as lesser in scale, intent, and effect than that of the government, even going so far as to refute the idea that anti-government forces have any strategy to indiscriminately shell or bomb civilian areas. At the same time, the Commission has highlighted the use of “barrel bombs” by the Syrian Air Force. Barrel bombs are a crude aerial munition “increasingly employed… to reduce the cost of the protracted aerial campaigns while increasing its ability to extend them over more restive areas. It also allowed them to expand the fleet of aircraft used in assault operations to include transport helicopters.”

After Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was officially destroyed (as well as the architecture which housed them) barrel bombs were adopted by the opponents of the Syrian government as a new and media-friendly way to emphasise Assad’s immorality. All news outlets have carried the story (here’s the BBC). Yet while the Commission’s report accepts these weapons are the consequence of a shortage of materiel, its Chairman continues to maintain that Damascus retains a “proven ability to conduct information led and precise attacks on military objectives.” How, exactly? If Paulo Pinheiro is referring to ground operations, I would dearly like to know how keen he’d be to see his son pick up an assault rifle and storm an apartment block.

Whatever the aims of the Syrian Air Force, in the hands of the UN HRC (as with Amnesty International and countless other organisations) the barrel bomb was another attempt at a “red line” triggering Western intervention. Its opinion that “area bombardment is prohibited by international humanitarian law” is a gross simplification (see Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, added 1977), but even if it were not, it’s hopelessly one-sided to indict Syria while ignoring the historical and ongoing bombardments committed by other countries.

The only other comment recently offered by the Commission has been to welcome the release of three “human rights defenders”, Hussein Ghrer, Maen Darwish, and Hani Al-Zaytani, who worked for the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus. They were arrested in February 2012 on charges of “publicizing terrorist attacks” and “promoting terrorist activities”. They were released this summer. I have no knowledge of the facts of the case, or of the provenance of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus, but it is worth pointing out the law in our own country (and many others) is even more draconian, as the number of putative jihadis inside HMP Belmarsh testifies. Again, this has not met with any interest from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission’s most significant communication this year was the 64-page report it delivered this February. The report was originally expected to deal with allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, allegations which Western media had reported as fact for a number of years, in broadcasts which sometimes resembled blatant propaganda. As regards these alleged CW attacks, most notably the attacks at Al Ghouta and Khan Al Assan, the Commission confined itself to two paragraphs and the following conclusion:

“The Commission’s evidentiary threshold was not met with regard to the perpetrator for these incidents.”

That was it. All those news reports, all those column inches, those hours of tv reportage and political debate, the rise from anonymity of bloggers like Brown Moses, have been swept under the carpet by a single sentence. Events, dear boy, events.

For those, like me, who believed the CW attacks were never anything more than anti-Syrian propaganda, the report is as close to vindication as we are ever likely to get, at least until the victims turn up in later life as unscathed survivors. I haven’t seen a UN chemical weapons report as deliberately equivocal since the Iran-Iraq War. If the Commission cannot bring itself to account for these incidents, at least its most neutral Commissioner has gone off-message to hint at the truth.  For now, the villain de jour is ISIS, and ironically it is ISIS which the West has seized on to justify its long-awaited bombing of the Syrian army – which in turn is the chief opponent of the Islamic State. I haven’t seen foreign policy as perverse as this since the Cold War.

More EMP nonsense about Iran

In my last blog I mentioned that US Senator Ron Johnson (a former plastics executive) was concerned Iran had developed an Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb, or EMP. The chief problem with this ridiculous claim is that no EMP has ever been developed, as far as we know. It is the stuff of science fiction, although Boeing recently announced it was attempting to produce one for the USAF. Whether this turns out to be a feasible weapon remains to be seen, but I’m sure they will spend a lot of tax dollars finding out.

Johnson’s EMP claims, while wildly unfounded, are now being echoed by other American hawks. Senator Ted Cruz is now also adamant that “the single greatest threat to the United States if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon is an Electromagnetic Pulse. A nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere over the Eastern seaboard could kill tens of millions of Americans.”

Not content with how the earlier Johnson-Moniz exchange ended (Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was being grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the dangers of Iranian WMD), Cruz went on the offensive from the get-go, claiming Moniz had no idea what EMPs were, and that he hadn’t read the relevant briefing papers.

Moniz is a nuclear physicist and long-time MIT professor with a PhD from Stanford in theoretical physics, and is considered one of the foremost scientific experts in his field. Cruz got quite cross when Moniz felt unable to share his fears, because an EMP weapon remains a speculative what-if even for America’s military, which is the most lavishly funded in human history. Which makes the recent Boeing leak appear rather timely for the military industrial complex, doesn’t it?

It seems some thought and planning has gone into sinking Obama’s deal with Iran, and that an Iranian EMP was settled on as the line to take. Whoever decided that deeply implausiable angle must have had a lot of money on the table. Little wonder that this same week former President Jimmy Carter called the US “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”