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Russiagate returns: another absurd conspiracy theory featuring Russia’s RISS

Reuters story of two RISS documents which supposedly ‘prove’ Russian meddling in the US election is absurd. From Reuters’ account of the documents they show the opposite.

Alexander Mercouris

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In the immediate aftermath of the US missile strike on Syria, I said that if it was intended to ease President Trump’s domestic political problems then it was a major blunder.

I said that on the contrary what the missile strike would do was dismay the President’s most vocal and intelligent supporters, whilst failing to appease his enemies.

Here is what I said

If the President believed when he launched his missiles that it would end criticism of him and obstruction of his administration by his opponents, then he will be quickly discover that it has done no such thing.  The President’s opponents have far too much invested in the narrative of Donald Trump the new Mussolini or Caligula to back off from it now.  I doubt they will even back off from the Russiagate allegations, absurd though those are.

Within a few days, once the plaudits for the missile strikes have faded, the President will quickly find that the view of him of his opponents in Washington is the same as always, and that if anything, by launching his missile strike without first consulting Congress, he has given them another stick with which to beat him with.  I note that Nancy Pelosi – one of the President’s most vehement critics – is already calling for a full debate in the House to discuss the issue of authorisation for the President’s action.

…….By contrast, if the President has not won over his critics, he has beyond question upset and demoralised the most intelligent and vocal part of his own political base.

One of the most interesting facts about the events of the last few days is that whilst Barack Obama’s liberal supporters continued to back him even as he went back entirely on the anti-war stance he appeared to hold before he was elected, Donald Trump’s supporters take their anti-war and anti-interventionist position extremely seriously, and are not prepared to compromise on it.  The result is that far from defending the President for what he has done, they have turned on him and feel betrayed.

As is clear from the above comment, unlike many people I did not expect the Russiagate allegations to go away simply because the President was launching missiles at Syria and was starting to adopt the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and of his opponents.  Hysteria and paranoia are never dispelled in that way.

Russiagate is not driven by rational considerations, and cannot just be switched on or off as it suits some people.  If it were it would have collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity long ago.  On the contrary the paranoia and hysteria which is driving the scandal is genuine, and there is a large community of people which believes in its truth.  This includes people working in the security services, in the media and in Congress.  Highly rational people who have seen through the absurdity of the scandal, and who explain it in purely functional terms – as a device to bring President Trump to heel –  seriously underestimate the lack of rationality of some of the people they are dealing with.

Beyond that there is the further fact that the officials of the previous Obama administration need to keep the scandal going in order to keep attention focused away from their own role in getting the security services to mount surveillance on the Trump campaign during the election period, despite the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing such as would justify it.

These thoughts have been triggered by the latest twist in the Russiagate scandal, a story from Reuters which has appeared today, sourced from our old friends “three current and four former (ie. Obama administration) U.S. officials”.  The story claims the following

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system,….

…two confidential documents from the think tank [provided] the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election…..

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The Reuters story then goes on to say that it was the ‘discovery’ of these two Russian strategy papers that played a central role in getting the Obama administration to conclude that the Russians had actively interfered in the US election.

There are so many problems with this story that it is difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, Reuters – or rather the former and current US officials – misrepresent or misunderstand what the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS) actually is.  It is an analytical centre carrying out foreign policy and intelligence analysis for the Russian government, not really a think tank, and it is directly subordinated to Russia’s chief foreign intelligence agency, the SVR. It website in English can be accessed here.

The RISS is not “controlled by Vladimir Putin” and the pictures of Putin meeting with its current chief Mikhail Fradkov and its former chief Reshetnikov which are mentioned in the Reuters article misconstrue the nature of the RISS’s relationship with the Russian President.

Since the RISS is directly subordinated to Russia’s chief foreign intelligence agency the SVR, its chiefs – previously Lieutenant General Reshetnikov, now former Prime Minister and SVR chief Mikhail Fradkov – are serving officials of the Russian government.   As such they are appointed to head the RISS by Putin himself in exercise of his power as Russia’s President.

That is why the Kremlin released pictures and details of the conversation between Putin and Fradkov and Reshetnikov, which took place on 31st January 2017 (see captioned picture).  As the Kremlin’s summary of the conversation shows, Putin congratulated Fradkov following his decision to appoint him chief of the RISS, whilst thanking Reshetnikov, the RISS’s outgoing chief, for his previous work, and wishing him well in his retirement.  This is Putin’s standard practice when he appoints and retires officials to an important post, and this case is no different.

The RISS’s nearest US equivalent is the Rand Corporation, though the RISS is more directly integrated into Russian state structures than is the nominally independent and in part privately funded Rand Corporation, and is far smaller.

The RISS’s chiefs – previously Reshetnikov, now Fradkov – are intelligence service professionals because since the RISS is directly subordinated to the SVR and uses classified information provided by Russia’s intelligence agencies to carry out its analyses it is a part of the Russian intelligence community.

This misunderstanding of what the RISS is probably reflects the poor state of knowledge of today’s Russia in the US and the West more than it does any deliberate intention to deceive.  Reuters interestingly seems genuinely uninformed about it.

Since there is so much uncertainty in the US as to what the RISS actually is and what it does, it regularly features in Western conspiracy theories about President Putin and Russia.  For example back in 2014 it was credited with planning Russia’s ‘takeover’ of Crimea before the Maidan coup took place, even though it is an analytical not a planning agency, and even though it appears that all it was doing was researching scenarios in case the Yanukovych government fell, which is what as the analytical agency of a Great Power’s major intelligence service it is supposed to do.

That the RISS should be carrying out analyses of US politics and of the likely outcome of the US election is not therefore surprising or sinister.  It is its job, which it was set up to do.  The same sort of analyses of the internal politics and elections of other countries – including Russia – is routinely carried out in the US by the plethora of analytical bodies and agencies that exist there, which dwarf in size and number anything which exists in Russia.

Secondly, even the Reuters story gives no indication that the RISS documents ‘prove’ Russian meddling in the US election, as regularly alleged throughout the Russiagate scandal.

All that the RISS documents are alleged to do is provide guidance to the Kremlin on how Russian media coverage of the US election should be steered in Russia’s best interests.  That suggests nothing more than a media campaign of the sort that regularly happens during elections, and which the US itself does all the time.

There is nothing surprising or sinister about this.  Nor is it illegal.

Frankly, it is bizarre – and shows how detached from reality some people have become – that it is considered sinister and dangerous that a Russian agency like the RISS should recommend to the Russian government that the Russian media put to the American people the case for electing a candidate less hostile to Russia, or that the Russian media cast doubt on the integrity of the US election process, something the US media itself regularly does.

In June 2016, when the RISS document allegedly recommending the Russian media promote candidates sympathetic to better relations with Russia that might equally well have meant Bernie Sanders as Donald Trump.

As for concerns about the integrity of the US electoral system, they are a regular topic of discussion in US politics without needing Russia to encourage them, and there is nothing sinister or surprising about the fact that a Russian analytical centre should advise the Russian government to encourage discussion of the subject.

I would add that the US government regularly comments on the supposed lack of integrity of the Russian electoral system, and encourages the US media to do the same, and that this routinely happens whenever there are elections in Russia.

There is no word here of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, or of Donald Trump being blackmailed by the Russians as alleged in the Trump Dossier, or of Donald Trump being the ‘Siberian candidate’ – all things that are said during the Russiagate scandal – and Reuters admits that the two RISS documents make no reference to Russia leaking the emails of John Podesta and the DNC

Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

As it happens, since the RISS is a part of the Russian intelligence community carrying out analyses on the basis of classified information provided by Russia’s intelligence agencies – and is therefore presumably well-informed about what Russia’s intelligence agencies are doing – the absence of any reference in the RISS documents to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, to Donald Trump being blackmailed by Russia, and to Russia leaking the emails of John Podesta and the DNC, is if anything evidence that none of those things happened.

Thirdly and lastly, both the former and the current chiefs of the RISS – Reshetnikov and Fradkov – say that the documents are being misrepresented.

Here is what Fradkov, the RISS’s current chief, says

Apparently, the authors of this idea failed to correspond the actual reality with the fantasies that their conspiracy theory minds covet in order to draw back the public perception to the issue of alleged Russian ‘participation’ in the US election, which has been fading away lately

Fradkov is also reported to have denied that the RISS possesses either the remit or the means to plan a large-scale disinformation campaign.

And here is what Reshetnikov, the RISS’s former chief who was in charge of the RISS when the RISS documents were allegedly written, says

Of course it’s another piece of fake news, lunacy. RISS never prepared such documents or plans and I doubt it is doing such a thing now.  this is not our job.

In summary, this is not exactly a case of ‘fake news’ since the two RISS documents almost certainly exist.  Rather it is a case of ‘no news’: an attempt to use the existence of documents that say nothing important to further the Russiagate scandal despite their apparently failing to provide any support for it.

It is characteristic of paranoia that it links together unrelated facts and that it twists facts to correspond with its pre-formed view.  The case of the RISS documents is a case in point.

The fact that the Russians were monitoring the US election closely is not surprising or even news.  Yet it is taken as proof that the Russians were meddling in the election.  Of course it is nothing of the sort.

The fact that Russia’s chief analytical agency recommended that the Kremlin encourage the Russian media to report about the election in a certain way is again taken as corroboration of Russiagate’s outlandish claims of collusion, blackmail etc.  In reality it shows if anything the opposite.

Paranoia this strong is not going to be dispelled by a few missiles lobbed at Syria.  If closing down Russiagate was indeed the reason for the missile strike, then the sooner President Trump realises that the better.

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European Court of Justice rules Britain free to revoke Brexit unilaterally

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Britain can reverse Article 50.

RT

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Via RT…


The UK is free to unilaterally revoke a notification to depart from the EU, the European Court has ruled. The judicial body said this could be done without changing the terms of London’s membership in the bloc.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) opined in a document issued on Monday that Britain can reverse Article 50, which stipulates the way a member state leaves the bloc. The potentially important ruling comes only one day before the House of Commons votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU.

“When a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification,” the court’s decision reads.

By doing so, the respective state “reflects a sovereign decision to retain its status as a Member State of the European Union.”

That said, this possibility remains in place “as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force.” Another condition is: “If no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU.”

The case was opened when a cross-party group of British politicians asked the court whether an EU member such as the UK can decide on its own to revoke the withdrawal process. It included Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, Scottish MPs Joanna Cherry Alyn Smith, along with Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer.

They argued that unilateral revocation is possible and believe it could provide an opening to an alternative to Brexit, namely holding another popular vote to allow the UK to remain in the EU.

“If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms,” Smith, the SNP member, was quoted by Reuters.

However, May’s environment minister, Michael Gove, a staunch Brexit supporter, denounced the ECJ ruling, insisting the cabinet will not reverse its decision to leave. “We will leave on March 29, [2019]” he said, referring to the date set out in the UK-EU Brexit deal.

In the wake of the landmark vote on the Brexit deal, a group of senior ministers threatened to step down en masse if May does not try to negotiate a better deal in Brussels, according to the Telegraph. The ministers demanded that an alternative deal does not leave the UK trapped within the EU customs union indefinitely.

On Sunday, Will Quince resigned as parliamentary private secretary in the Ministry of Defense, saying in a Telegraph editorial that “I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond.”

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Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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Is Silicon Valley Morphing Into The Morality Police?

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

The Duran

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Authored by Adrian Cohen via Creators.com:


Silicon Valley used to be technology companies. But it has become the “morality police,” controlling free speech on its platforms.

What could go wrong?

In a speech Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world. At Apple, we believe that technology needs to have a clear point of view on this challenge. There is no time to get tied up in knots. That’s why we only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms.”

Here’s the goliath problem:

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

Will Christians who don’t support abortion rights or having their tax dollars go toward Planned Parenthood be considered purveyors of hate for denying women the right to choose? Will millions of Americans who support legal immigration, as opposed to illegal immigration, be labeled xenophobes or racists and be banned from the digital world?

Yes and yes. How do we know? It’s already happening, as scores of conservatives nationwide are being shadow banned and/or censored on social media, YouTube, Google and beyond.

Their crime?

Running afoul of leftist Silicon Valley executives who demand conformity of thought and simply won’t tolerate any viewpoint that strays from their rigid political orthodoxy.

For context, consider that in oppressive Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East, the “morality police” take it upon themselves to judge women’s appearance, and if a woman doesn’t conform with their mandatory and highly restrictive dress code — e.g., wearing an identity-cloaking burqa — she could be publicly shamed, arrested or even stoned in the town square.

In modern-day America, powerful technology companies are actively taking the role of the de facto morality police — not when it comes to dress but when it comes to speech — affecting millions. Yes, to date, those affected are not getting stoned, but they are being blocked in the digital town square, where billions around the globe do their business, cultivate their livelihoods, connect with others and get news.

That is a powerful cudgel to levy against individuals and groups of people. Wouldn’t you say?

Right now, unelected tech billionaires living in a bubble in Palo Alto — when they’re not flying private to cushy climate summits in Davos — are deciding who gets to enjoy the freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and who does not based on whether they agree with people’s political views and opinions or not.

You see how dangerous this can get — real fast — as partisan liberal elites running Twitter, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Apple and the like are now dictating to Americans what they can and cannot say online.

In communist regimes, these types of folks are known as central planners.

The election of Donald Trump was supposed to safeguard our freedoms, especially regarding speech — a foundational pillar of a democracy. It’s disappointing that hasn’t happened, as the censorship of conservative thought online has gotten so extreme and out of control many are simply logging off for good.

A failure to address this mammoth issue could cost Trump in 2020. If his supporters are blocked online — where most voters get their news — he’ll be a one-term president.

It’s time for Congress to act before the morality police use political correctness as a Trojan horse to decide our next election.

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