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Detailed analysis of US white paper on Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack

The US government’s white paper fails to make a compelling case that the Syrian military was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack.

Alexander Mercouris

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In the days following the US missile strike on Al-Shayrat air base in Syria, the US National Security Council published a four page white paper purporting to set out the evidence that the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun – the reason for the missile strike – was carried out by the Syrian military.

Before discussing this document I am going to say something about the absurdity of this whole situation.

The chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun is alleged to have taken place on 4th April 2017.  The President of the United States declared within hours of that attack that the Syrian President and the Syrian military were responsible.  This was before any investigator had visited the site of the attack, and before any investigation could be carried out.

A missile strike on Al-Shayrat air base followed on 6th April 2017.

The US then produced – days after the missile attack – its white paper which it says is its evidence of the Syrian President’s and of the Syrian military’s responsibility.

It then agreed to an international investigation of the incident by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the OPCW).

That this completely reverses what in any sane world ought to be the proper order – an investigation first, the publication of the evidence, a finding of who is responsible, and then a decision by the appropriate body (the UN Security Council) of what to do – is obvious.  It reminds me of a passage from Alice

“No, No!” said the Queen.  Sentence first – verdict afterwards”.

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

It is barely conceivable that any analyst however brilliant in Langley or anywhere else in the US could have undertaken a proper and full assessment of what happened in a remote far away corner in Syria’s Idlib province within hours of the attack sufficient to say with absolute certainty who was responsible.   Such a rapid and conclusive assessment does not happen in crime investigations even when there are investigators actually on the scene gathering the forensic evidence and interviewing the witnesses.  Yet that is what we are asked to believe happened in this case.  I don’t believe it, and I doubt anyone else truly does.

In reality what probably happened is that the analysts in Langley rushed out a preliminary assessment based one suspects largely on subjective presumptions of President Assad’s guilt.   This was then treated by the President as a definitive assessment, and on the strength of it he launched his missile strike.

People with contacts in the US intelligence community such as the journalist Robert Parry and the former CIA official Philip Giraldi speak of the anger of US intelligence officers at the speed with which what can only have been a preliminary assessment was acted upon.  Though some of the details of what Robert Parry and Philip Giraldi say may be be open to challenge, of the anger of the US intelligence community’s field workers at the action taken in response to such a rushed assessment I have no doubt.

Having however now so publicly pronounced President Assad and the Syrian military guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack – and killed people on that basis – the US and the other Western Powers are now stuck with this claim, and this inevitably is going to prejudice the conduct of any future investigation carried out by the OPCW.

It is in this light that the claims in the four page white paper must be read.

The entirety of the information in the white paper is actually summed up in these two paragraphs

The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib province on April 4, 2017.  According to observers at the scene, the attack resulted in at least 50 and up to 100 fatalities (including many children), with hundreds of additional injuries.

We have confidence in our assessment because we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis of physiological samples collected from multiple victims, as well as a significant body of credible open source reporting, that tells a clear and consistent story.  We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods, but the following includes an unclassified summary of the US Intelligence Community’s analysis of this attack.

The rest of the white paper consists of an account of the attack as the US intelligence community has reconstructed it, and of a long and rather strange discussion seeking to rebut various alternative theories about what happened which have been floated by the Russians.

Briefly, the account is that a single bomb containing sarin was dropped by a Syrian air force SU-22 fighter bomber over the course of an air attack on Khan Sheikhoun commencing at 6:55 am local time on 4th April 2017 and continuing for around 20 minutes.

The supposed proof for this is a combination of videos and witness statements published on the day of the attack, scientific reports supposedly confirming that the cause of the fatalities was a nerve agent, and a small crater which is said to mark the impact point of the bomb which contained the sarin, whose location is pinpointed in the middle of a street in the northern part of the town.

Is this account and this evidence as open and shut as the white paper claims?

The first thing to say is that the US claims in the white paper to possess ‘proof’ of its assertions in the form of evidence it cannot disclose.

This is something which happens repeatedly in cases of this sort and at this point I repeat my longstanding objection to this practice.

The US and British governments said the same thing in connection with Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, during the Litvinenko affair, following the Ghouta chemical attack of 2013, after the MH17 shoot-down, and following the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Idlib province in September 2016.

On the occasions when the US and British governments were pressed to produce this ‘secret evidence’, they either refused to do so (as in the case of Litvinenko affair, the attack on the humanitarian convoy, and MH17), or when it was produced it turned out to be wrong (as in the case of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction).

In the case of the Ghouta chemical attack of 2013 we now know because no less a person than President Obama has told us that the evidence was actually inconclusive.

It is a gross abuse of intelligence to use it in this way.  If the US and British governments possess evidence which they cannot publish, then they should not disclose its existence.  All doing so does is hopelessly prejudice subsequent investigations of a case.

I would add that whenever this has become the practice in criminal cases, especially in terrorist cases, the result has been a chain of miscarriages with individuals found guilty on the strength of evidence which because it was withheld from them they could not challenge but which afterwards all too often turned out to be wrong.  There is no reason to think that in cases involving governments it is any different.

The second thing to say is that one must distinguish between two entirely separate facts which far too many people are conflating.  These are (1) the attack by the Syrian air force on Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April 2017; and (2) the alleged release of chemicals during the attack.

There is no doubt that the Syrian air force did carry out an air attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April 2017.  After some contradictory statements – almost certainly the result of confusion and panic and almost certainly not made with any intention to deceive – the Syrian military admitted as much, and this has also been confirmed by the Russians.  There is also no doubt the air attack was launched from Al-Shayrat air base, and that SU-22 fighter bombers were involved.

It does not however follow that because the Syrian air force carried out an air attack on Khan Sheikhoun that it was responsible for the release of chemicals that allegedly took place during the attack.  One cannot say that conclusively until investigators have examined all the evidence.

I say this because there is a tendency to treat evidence of the air attack – the fact of which no-one disputes – as proof of the Syrian military’s responsibility for the chemical release.  The US government’s white paper does this very thing.

The one is not proof of the other, and should not be treated that way.

Turning to the unclassified evidence in the white paper, it appears to me to divide into two parts

(1) Evidence that there was a chemical attack

This is provided by (1) videos and witness accounts of the incident; and (2) forensic discovery of samples of nerve agent in some of the individuals allegedly affected; and

(2) Evidence the Syrian air force carried out the chemical attack

This is provided by (1) videos and witness accounts of the incident; (2) the bomb crater; and (3) the presence of Syrian army officers known to have been previously involved in Syria’s chemical weapons programme at Al-Shayrat air base on the eve of the attack (there is what looks like a subsequent attempt at confirmation that this evidence was obtained through signals intelligence).

The evidence can therefore be summed up as follows:

(1) videos and witness accounts of the incident’

(2) the samples of nerve agent found in some of the individuals allegedly affected;

(3) the bomb crater;

(4) the presence of certain Syrian army officers at Al-Shayrat air base before the raid.

What can we say about this evidence?

We now have the evidence of two authoritative expert witnesses who are challenging at least parts of this evidence, and who are casting doubt on the whole story. They are President Assad of Syria and Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

President Assad is the commander in chief of the Syrian armed forces and is quite possibly the single best informed and most knowledgeable expert in the world about the political and military situation in Syria.  Moreover since the US has declared him the prime suspect what he says carries particular weight.  In any remotely impartial inquiry of a incident like this what is said by the prime suspect should carry at least equal weight to what is being said against him by his accusers.  Any other approach is biased and wrong.

Professor Postol is a foremost forensic expert with a proven track record of correctly assessing technical evidence in incidents of this sort.  He played a key role in debunking some of the erroneous claims that were made at the time of the sarin attack on Ghouta in Syria in August 2013.

What I now propose to do is go through the evidence in the white paper, testing it whenever possible against the evidence provided by President Assad and Professor Postol,  and against any other evidence that is available.

(1) Motive

I will first consider the vexed question of motive because it has featured so much in discussions of the case.

I should say that this is a departure from the usual method followed by investigators.  The claim that investigators consider motive first and conduct their investigations on that basis (“cui bono”) though commonly made is actually wrong.  Investigators rarely concern themselves with motive simply because motive is so difficult to guess, and guesses can so easily lead an investigation astray.

However in this case it is possible to make an exception because the US government in its white paper is claiming that the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was intentional.  If so then the Syrian military must have had some motive to do it.

The US in the white paper claims the air attack was carried out in connection with the Jihadi offensive in Hama.

This is undoubtedly correct.  I have made this point myself previously.  What reason did the Syrian military however have to make this attack a chemical attack?

President Assad is the expert on this question and his answer is none.  This is what President Assad says

For example, less than two weeks, around ten days before that attack, the terrorists were advancing in many fronts, including the suburbs of Damascus and Hama which is not far from Khan Sheikhoun, let’s suppose we have this arsenal, and let’s suppose that we have the will to use it, why didn’t we use it when we were retreating and the terrorists were advancing? Actually, the timing of that attack or alleged attack was when the Syrian Army was advancing very fast, and actually the terrorists were collapsing. So, why to use it, if you have it and if you have the will, why to use it at that timing, not when you were in a difficult situation, logically? This is first.

Second, if you want to use it, if you have it and if you want to use it – again, this is if we suppose – why to use it against civilians, not to use it against the terrorists that we are fighting? Third, in that area, we don’t have army, we don’t have battles, we don’t have any, let’s say, object in Khan Sheikhoun, and it’s not a strategic area. Why to attack it? What’s the reason? Militarily, I’m talking from a military point of view. Of course, the foundation for us, morally, we wouldn’t do it if we have it, we wouldn’t have the will, because morally this is not acceptable. We won’t have the support of the public. So, every indication is against the whole story, so you can say that this play that they staged doesn’t hold together. The story is not convincing by any means.

It is difficult to argue either with the facts or with the logic of this, and interestingly no one has convincingly done so.  Instead we have nebulous claims that President Assad was looking to test President Trump’s resolve (why should he?) or that his army is ‘tired’ (unlikely, since it is on the offensive and winning the war) or that he is stupid (contradicted by the fluency of his comments) or that he is a barbarian (why would he carry out a purposeless attack even if he was one?).

Even Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has been forced to admit that President Assad had no discernible motive to carry out the attack

It is in some ways bizarre that Bashar al-Assad should be so reckless. It seems mystifying that he should now raise the stakes by so blatantly murdering so many of his own people with chemical weapons. Indeed, there is a sense in which it would frankly be more convenient for the outside world to pretend that it did not happen.

What of the argument that is also sometimes made that this was a rogue operation ordered by some Syrian commander on his own initiative?  Here is what President Assad has to say about that

Even if you have a rogue element, the army doesn’t have chemical materials. This is first. Second, a rogue army cannot send an airplane at their will, even if they want. It’s an airplane, it’s not a small car to take it from place to place or a small machine gun to use it. You can talk about somebody who has been using his pistol on his behalf the way he wants and break the law, that could happen anywhere in the world, but not an airplane. This is second.

Third, the Syrian Army is a regular army, it’s not a militia. It’s a regular army, it has hierarchy, it has very clear way of orders, so this kind of “rough personnel tried to do something against the will of the leadership of the army” never happened during the last six years of the war in Syria.

In other words this was not and could not have been a rogue operation, and President Assad not only denies ordering a chemical attack but says he had no logical reason to do so.

Here it is also fair to point out that President Assad also categorically denies that Syria is any longer in possession of chemical weapons since it gave up its chemical weapons arsenal following the Ghouta chemical weapons attack in August 2013.

This claim is now being bitterly contested, but here is what President Assad had to say about it

We don’t have an arsenal, we’re not going to use it.

(2) Videos and witness accounts of the incident

Since the videos and witness statements were made in Syria, more often than not by people who are Syrians, President Assad is again the undisputed expert on their reliability and provenance.  Moreover since he is the prime suspect and the videos and the witness statements make accusations against him, what he says about them deserves particular attention

As you know, Khan Sheikhoun is under the control of al-Nusra Front, which is a branch of Al Qaeda, so the only information the world have had till this moment is published by Al Qaeda branch. No-one has any other information. We don’t know if the whole pictures or videos that we’ve been seeing are true or fabricated. That’s why we asked for investigation to what happened in Khan Sheikhoun. This is first….

As I said, the only source is Al Qaeda, we cannot take it seriously. But our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand in glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack, It wasn’t an attack because of what happened in khan Sheikhoun. It’s one event, its stage one is the play that we saw on the social networking and on TVs, and the propaganda, and the stage two is the military attack. That’s what we believe is happening because it’s only few days – two days, 48 hours – between the play and the attacks, and no investigations, no concrete evidence about anything, the only thing were allegations and propaganda, and then strike…..

The allegation itself was by Al Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, so we don’t have to investigate who, they announced it, it’s under their control, no-one else. About the attack, as I said, it’s not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now, and you have the proof that those videos were fake, like the White Helmets for example, they are Al Qaeda, they are al-Nusra Front who shaved their beards, wore white hats, and appeared as humanitarian heroes, which is not the case. The same people were killing Syrian soldiers, and you have the proof on the internet anyway. So, the same thing for that chemical attack, we don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun? Were they dead at all? Who committed the attack if there was an attack? What’s the material? You have no information at all, nothing at all, no-one investigated.

We can contrast this with what the US government’s white paper has to say about these videos and witness statements

We are certain that the opposition could not have fabricated all of the videos and other reporting of chemical attacks.  Doing so would have required a highly organized campaign to deceive multiple media outlets and human rights organizations while evading detection.  In addition, we have independently confirmed that some of the videos were shot at the approximate times and locations described in the footage.

This is far from being a comprehensive refutation of President Assad’s points.  On the contrary the words “we are certain that the opposition could not have fabricated all of the videos” seem to at least concede the possibility that “the opposition” might have fabricated some of the videos.

The most worrying point however is that the white paper falsifies who was actually in control of Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the attack, and who was therefore in control of the territory where the videos and the witness statements were produced.  As President Assad says, it was Al-Qaeda operating through one of the kaleidoscope of names it uses to conceal its identity, with the name it is now using in Syria being “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham”.

Al-Qaeda’s current name “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” replaces its previous name “Jabhat Al-Nusra”.  However it remains the same organisation, which continues to be classified by the US as a terrorist group.  It is “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” – ie. Al-Qaeda – which launched the recent offensives in Damascus and in northern Hama, the latter being the cause as the US white paper admits of the Syrian air force attack on Khan Sheikhoun.  It is this same group – Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham ie. Al-Qaeda – which controls Khan Sheikhoun.

The fact the white paper falsifies Al-Qaeda’s involvement by referring to the group in control of Khan Sheikhoun merely as “the opposition” must inevitably cast doubt on this part of the white paper.

Would Al-Qaeda be capable of organising “a highly organized campaign to deceive multiple media outlets and human rights organizations while evading detection”?  I suspect that most people – if they knew Al-Qaeda was involved – would answer yes.

In this case there is also the further factor that “the multiple media outlets and human rights organizations” are strongly biased against the Syrian government, which might make them all too easy to deceive.

As it happens any number of people have studied the videos and have cast doubt on what they purport to show.  A good example is the independent investigation carried out by the Lebanese journalist Abdel Karim previously published by The Duran.

In conclusion though the videos and the witness evidence make a circumstantial case, the way the white paper treats them shows that they are far from conclusive, and the fact that the white paper both falsifies their provenance and concedes at least the possibility of some fabrication is a sign that even the US has doubts about them.

(3) Nerve gas samples

The evidence for this is sketchy, and relies on corroboration from tests supposedly made in Turkish hospitals and from samples obtained by British scientists.  Until more details of this evidence are provided it is impossible to say much about it.  However I would make two points:

(1) though the video and witness statements cannot be treated as conclusive as to who carried out the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, they do provide at least a circumstantial case that a chemical attack of some sort happened.  However one should not fall into the error of treating proof of the one (the fact of the chemical attack indicated by the videos and the witness statements and allegedly confirmed by the samples) as proof of something else (that the Syrian military was responsible for the attack).

(2) The Russian Defence Ministry is now saying that no one has asked for antidotes or medicines around the location of the attack, which suggests that if an attack did take place it was not particularly severe and may have been staged.  This would of course support criticism of the video evidence made by Abdel Karim and others.  However it might also point to disorganisation and to a relatively small attack by the Syrian air force, consistent with only one chemical bomb being dropped.

(4) The bomb crater

The US government’s white paper refers to ‘geospatial intelligence’ amongst the evidence which cannot be disclosed, and it is a reasonable guess that this includes satellite evidence of the crater.  If so then that is surprising because numerous photographs of this crater have now been released.

This evidence has now been strongly challenged by Professor Postol.  His conclusion is as follows

I have located this crater using Google Earth and there is absolutely no evidence that the crater was created by a munition designed to disperse sarin after it is dropped from an aircraft. The Google Earth map shown in Figure 1 at the end of this text section shows the location of that crater on the road in the north of Khan Shaykhun, as described in the White House statement. The data cited by the White House is more consistent with the possibility that the munition was placed on the ground rather than dropped from a plane. This conclusion assumes that the crater was not tampered with prior to the photographs. However, by referring to the munition in this crater, the White House is indicating that this is the erroneous source of the data it used to conclude that the munition came from a Syrian aircraft. Assessment of White House April 17, 2017 Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017 Page 2 of 14 Pages Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive.

This is consistent with the current claim of the Russian and Syrian governments that the chemical attack was deliberately staged as a ‘false flag’.

The white paper discusses at great length an early Russian claim that the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by an escape of gas from a warehouse where gas canisters were being stored by the Jihadis, which was targeted by the Syrian air force during the air strike.  That initially appeared to me and to many other people to be the most likely explanation of what happened.  The white paper does not say such a thing was technically impossible; only that it did not happen that way.

What the writers of the white paper do not seem to know is that the Russians themselves – almost certainly as a result of their own assessments of the evidence – have come to the same conclusion.  This became clear on 11th April 2017 when President Putin said that the chemical release at Khan Sheikhoun was a ‘false flag’ ie. not an accidental release of gas from a bombed warehouse.

On a number of occasions the fact that the Russians have floated different theories about particular incidents (eg. the MH17 shoot-down) is taken as proof of their guilty knowledge of what happened.  It is far more likely that it is simply the product of ignorance.

This is the most likely explanation in this case.  Initially the Russians believed the incident happened because they knew a warehouse was the target of the Syrian air strike.  Later, as more information came to light, they changed their assessment.

I am not in a position to say whether Professor Postol is right or wrong.  That is something for the OPCW investigators to decide.  All that can be said for now is that one of the foremost forensic experts in the world is disputing the white paper’s claims about this evidence.

(5) the presence of the Syrian officers at Al-Shayrat air base

This evidence has to be considered in combination with evidence provided by our old friend the ‘anonymous senior US official’ to CNN in a report dated 12th April 2017.  Here is what this report says

The US military and intelligence community has intercepted communications featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week, a senior US official tells CNN.

The intercepts were part of an immediate review of all intelligence in the hours after the attack to confirm responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in an attack in northwestern Syria, which killed at least 70 people. US officials have said that there is “no doubt” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the attack.

The US did not know prior to the attack it was going to happen, the official emphasized. The US scoops up such a large volume of communications intercepts in areas like Syria and Iraq, the material often is not processed unless there is a particular event that requires analysts to go back and look for supporting intelligence material.

This almost certainly is the signals intelligence the white paper mentions but which it says cannot be disclosed.

Since this evidence has not been disclosed it is impossible to assess it fully.  All I would say is that signals intelligence depends heavily on interpretation, which has often proved to be mistaken.

For example in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq the US claimed to have signals intelligence of Iraqi officers bragging to each about how they had managed to fool the UN inspectors, and following the August 2013 Ghouta attack it claimed to have signals intelligence of a senior Syrian military officer confirming the attack.

On both occasions the interpretation of the signals intelligence is now admitted to have been wrong.

It is not in itself surprising that Syrian military officers should be present at a Syrian air force base.  If the US intercepted messages from them confirming that a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was about to occur, then it is strange that this fact is not mentioned in the white paper but has instead been leaked anonymously to CNN.  That may suggest that there are some doubts about it.

Summary

In summary the white paper claims the Syrian military carried out a chemical weapons attack on the strength of (1) certain videos and witness statements of which – in part because of their provenance with people associated with Al-Qaeda – it clearly has doubts, (2) a crater one of the world’s foremost forensic experts says it misrepresents, and (3) the presence of certain Syrian military officers at a Syrian air base who an anonymous US official says the US overheard discussing the attack before it happened, something which the white paper however does not itself say.

The white paper claims the attack was intentional but provides no coherent explanation of what precisely it was intended to achieve, and the person who it says was responsible – President Assad – has forcefully challenged this logic.

This is not a compelling case.  Certainly it is not one that should be used to justify a missile attack on a Syrian air force base made without Congressional approval and without permission from the UN Security Council, especially when that missile attack has caused people to die.

It is not impossible that the Syrian air force did for some unfathomable reason known only to itself carry out a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun.  Though the evidence is circumstantial and open to challenge, it cannot be said that there is no evidence at all for such an attack.

However the case is far from proved, and the possibility that this was a staged attack certainly exists, and has received strong backing from the claims about the crater made by Professor Postol

If the question is of whether the Syrian government committed a crime on 4th April 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun, then on the strength of the contents of the white paper that claim is open to challenge.

The same cannot however be said about the US government’s subsequent action.  That the US government committed a crime when it launched a missile attack on Al-Sharyat air base on 6th April 2017 without lawful permission which killed people on the strength of what is by any measure a shaky and incomplete case is not open to doubt.

As of now, that is all that can be said about this case.  A more complete assessment depends on the results of the OPCW’s investigation.

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Ukraine President Poroshenko moves to steal Russian Orthodox Church property

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 84.

Dmitry Babich

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The press service of the Patriarch of All Russias announced that the first person in the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, will visit Istanbul on August 31, 2018, for a “very important talk” with his colleague, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

All Russia and all of Ukraine will be watching this meeting with their hearts beating. Bartholomew, even though not playing in the Orthodox world the same role as the Pope plays in the Catholic one, is in a “make or break” position now. Bartholomew has been asked by the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to separate the Ukrainian “sister church” from the Moscow Patriarchate. The problem is that Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox believers belonged to the same church since Russia’s baptism in 988 AD, which makes it more than 1000 years. (Kirill is traditionally called the Patriarch of All Russias, meaning the White Russia, i.e. Belarus, and Small Russia, i.e. Ukraine.)

The head of the un-recognized pro-Poroshenko “alternative” Ukrainian church, Filaret Denisenko, said that Bartholomew’s agreement will mean an immediate confiscation of all the temples, chapels and monasteries in the country from the “pro-Moscow” church to the newly formed Unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which president Poroshenko announced would be founded right after getting Bartholomew’s eventual permission. Bartholomew’s response is awaited in September, so the visit of the Russian Patriarch to Bartholomew’s office in Istanbul has an urgent character. In Ukraine, several deputies warned of “bloody consequences” if the buildings of prayer start to be taken away from the traditional church.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Political Analyst with Sputnik International, Dmitry Babich, discuss the move by Ukraine President Poroshenko to divide the Russian Orthodox Church and execute a massive land grab against the Russian Church that would be historic in size and scope.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.


TURMOIL AROUND THE ANNIVERSARY

In The end of July 2018, on the eve of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus, an Eastern Slavic proto-state, on whose territory the three modern states of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are located today, the events of that long past epoch were suddenly echoed by some very modern pains. The authorities in Kiev, the site of baptism performed by prince Vladimir in 988 AD and currently the capital of Ukraine, spread fears among believers. Fears unheard of since Christianity was de facto “rehabilitated” in the former Soviet Union during the celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism – under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

The heads of Ukrainian transportation companies said in their many conversations with Ukrainian priests that they got “recommendations” from the authorities not to provide buses at the request of  peripheral parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP in the local abbreviation). The aim of the authorities was to prevent UPTsMP from busing the believers into Kiev and holding a mass march there. Since UPTsMP openly condemns the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, refusing to call it a “Russian aggression” and retaining the word “Moscow” in its name, the authorities’ concerns are easy to explain. They were afraid that the march could be seen as a sign of the believers’ opposition to certain policies of the ruling regime in Ukraine. Namely, the policies aimed at total cut of ties to Moscow, advocated by the ruling regime in Ukraine.

PROBLEMS OF TRANSPORTATION

“We called dozens of various [transportation] companies and everywhere we heard total refusal. In the end, one of the heads of these companies confessed: they were unofficially prohibited to transport the believers to Kiev under threat of a physical violence,” the official site of the Ukrainian church quoted archpriest Oleg Dominsky as saying. Dominsky represented the Ovruch diocese of UPTsMP. https://ria.ru/religion/20180726/1525416709.html

Ovruch is located in the north-west of Ukraine, a few hundreds of miles away from Kiev. Similar complaints came from the Odessa, Nezhin and Chernovtsy regions of Ukraine. The metropolitan of the Ovruch diocese Vissarion said in an interview to the Kiev-based Ukrainian television channel  112UA: “Not only the transportation companies, but even simple believers face obstacles [on their way to Kiev]. People are… intimidated, some of them face threats of having problems with their jobs,” Vissarion said on 112UA channel. https://ria.ru/religion/20180726/1525416709.html

“SEPARATISTS” IN THE MAJORITY

However, on July 27, the UPTsMP’s  march in honor of the 1030th anniversary did take place, with about 250 thousand people attending it, according to the church’s own estimates. The deputy of Ukraine’s interior minister, Sergei Yarovoi, came with a much more modest estimate, telling the journalists that “about 20 thousand people took part” in the march of the church which the pro-government Ukrainian nationalist organizations often accuse of being “a pro-Moscow group of separatists in priests’ attire.”

Why was the Ukrainian government so much against the march commemorating something that happened 1030 years ago? “It had been clear long before the anniversary that this march would reveal the spiritual bonds between Ukrainians and Russians, since prince Vladimir during the baptism did not make any difference between these two nations. So, the authorities tried to prevent the march, while giving maximum support to an alternative event, organized by the so called Ukrainian church of Kiev Patriarchate, which is loyal to the authorities and calls the war in Ukraine a ‘Russian aggression,” said Vladimir Sinelnikov, the Ukrainian-born correspondent of the Russian Vesti FM radio station in Kiev. https://radiovesti.ru/brand/61178/episode/1860284/

According to Sinelnikov and several Ukrainian media outlets, the authorities are giving a clear preference to an “alternative” Ukrainian Orthodox church, the so called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (UPTs KP), not recognized by any of the world’s Orthodox Patriarchates. This so called “church” is headed by “patriarch” Filaret Denisenko, an excommunicated former member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church who founded UPTsKP on the basis of Ukrainian nationalism and total rejection of any “spiritual communion” with Russia in 1992.

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION

“We know that participants in the march organized by citizen Denisenko and his followers were bused in to Kiev by none other than the local administrations and other government bodies,” said Alexander Shchipkov, deputy head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for relations with society and media. “However, experience shows that excommunicated Denisenko and his so called church never attain the same numbers of supporters as the canonical Ukrainian church, which is officially a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, sharing its apostolic tradition and many hundreds of years of history. For every true believer, this is more important than the government’s graces.”

According to historical records, Kievan Rus was officially baptized by prince Vladimir in the tenth century AD with the support and participation of the Greek Church in Constantinople, then the official church of the East Roman Empire, later referred to by historians as Byzantine. (In reality, the Byzantine emperors and their subjects called themselves Romans and considered their empire the same state as the legendary Roman empire of Julius Caesar. It is from Caesar that the word “tsar” emerged in the Russian language to designate the monarch, while Roman history became the root of the theory of “Moscow as the third Rome,” which presumed Moscow’s succession to the imperial city of Rome and its previous successor of Constantinople, the second Rome, that fell to Turkish hands in the fifteenth century.)

The first Orthodox bishops and metropolitans in Russia were Greeks from Constantinople, who got their “apostolic succession” from Christ’s own disciples, which visited Rome and Greece on many occasions, starting the tradition of “ordaining” new bishops and priests, which lasts to this day. Today, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are in fact celebrating the 1030th anniversary of this unbroken tradition.

UNWANTED SEPARATION

“The strength of the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister UPTs MP lies in the apostolic succession, which the current Ukrainian government can neither provide nor imitate,” Moscow Patriarchate’s Shchipkov said. “The state cannot “create” a church, nor should it aspire to do it. But this is exactly what the Ukrainian authorities are trying to do, urging the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to merge with Denisenko’s entity and asking from the ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople an autocephalous status for this new “united” Ukrainian church of their own invention.” In April this year, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko and the country’s parliament did ask the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew to give “patriarch” Denisenko and his church an “autocephalous” status, thus breaking the more than 1000 years old link to Russia. Bartholomew is still considering that request. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate protested, saying that it did not empower Poroshenko and Rada to ask Constantinople for any special new status for it. “This initiative is an abuse of power, an interference of state into church affairs,” the Church’s statement said. http://news.church.ua/2018/04/21/zayavlenie-ovcs-ukrainskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-po-povodu-obrashheniya-prezidenta-ukrainy-k-vselenskomu-patriarxu-varfolomeyu-otnositelno-predostavleniya-tomosa-ob-avtokefalii-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-v-ukr/?lang=ru

SPIRITUAL LINK

However, besides a purely religious significance, today’s anniversary has an important humanitarian element, which goes far beyond the sphere of religion alone. Joint celebration of the Eastern Slavs’ baptism provides an enduring spiritual link between tens of millions of people, who in the 1990s suddenly became divided by newly emerged borders. Ukraine again gives the most vivid – and dramatic – example of this.

After the Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent crackdown by the new authorities on all things Russian in that country, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP) remained the only public organization in Ukraine which still legally has the word “Moscow” in its name. For millions of Ukrainian citizens, ethnic Russians or not, any kind of legal linkage to Russia is valuable and important. Besides the Cyrillic alphabet, which was given to both Russians and Ukrainians by the saintly teachers Cyril and Method in the 9th century, there are few non-Internet links that remain between the two countries. Already in the beginning of its rule in 2014, the new regime in Kiev terminated air flights between the two countries and banished Russian television and radio from Ukraine’s cable networks. Constant attempts to shut down the Russian embassy and to introduce a visa regime or just to close the borders are made from the Ukrainian side.

CHURCH SUCCEEDS WHERE GORBACHEV FAILS

But why does the church endure where diplomacy does not?

In the period of collapse of the Soviet Union as a successor to the Russian empire, which culminated in the country’s dissolution in 1991, the Russian church proved to be much wiser and more flexible than the Soviet state. It succeeded where the last president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev failed.

“Russian Orthodox Church then gave its “periphery” so much autonomy, that this prevented the collapse of the whole structure. The unified state might collapse in tears, but the church did not follow it. It remained alive and did not give up its right to cater to believers on all sides of the newly emerged borders,” explains Yevgeny Nikiforov, the head of the Orthodox-oriented radio station Radonezh and a specialist in Russian church’s history.

Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow Patriarchate allowed the sister churches in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova to have their own budgets, to appoint their own bishops and to run all of their “earthly” activities (education, production of church items, etc.) without consulting anyone in Moscow. In return, the Russian Orthodox Church remained in “eucharistic union” with them, with representatives of these churches participating in the election of the Russian Patriarch of ROC. But what is most important, all believers in these countries and Russia can satisfy their religious needs on equal footing in any of these sister churches.

PATRIARCH IN DREAM OF KIEV

After his election in 2009, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill became much more active than his predecessors in propagating the idea of the “Russian world,” a free spiritual community of the individuals sharing Christian Orthodox values, anchored in Russian culture and having some knowledge (not necessarily proficiency) of the Russian language.

The tragic wars in Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, when Christian Orthodox believers killed each other on both sides of the fronts, led to innumerable losses for both the church and its Orthodox parishioners. Dozens of Orthodox priests had to emigrate from Ukraine to Russia because of accusations of being “Moscow stooges.” But this suffering did not shatter the belief of Patriarch Kirill in the feasibility of Russian world and its benign nature.

For Kirill, there is a personal side to these conflicts: the tradition to celebrate the anniversaries of Prince Vladimir’s Baptism of Rus in Kiev, established by Kirill’s predecessors back in 2008, can no longer be continued because of the Ukrainian government’s negative stance towards him personally.

“The Patriarch feels very badly about the fact that the Ukrainian authorities do not let him visit Kiev, the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy,” explained Vladimir Legoyda, ROC’s representative in the Holy Synod’s department on public affairs. “For many centuries, this is the first time that the head of the Russian orthodox Church is facing such a constraint on his movement. But the Patriarch is sure that sooner or later such a visit will be possible again. We don’t support any sides in Ukraine’s war. We just want this war to end as soon as possible.”

Speaking to a convention of the world’s Orthodox churches’ representatives in Moscow on July 27, Patriarch Kirill denounced the attempts to divide and subdue the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he condemned its discrimination and the attempts to disown it of its most famous  Pochayiv monastery and Kiev-Pechersk one. “For our church, Kiev is the same kind of a holy place as Jerusalem is for Christians of all creeds or Kosovo is for the Serb Orthodox church,” Kirill explained. He also asked the Ukrainian authorities not to “cut away” the Ukrainian church from the Moscow Patriarchate.

But will the official Kiev hear the Patriarch?  It may not, but after all, the link between the Russian and Ukrainian believers is really not of an earthly nature. And what God has tied together, will the governments be able to severe? Every true believer knows the answer to this question.

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Judicial Watch Calls for Re-Opening of Hillary Email Investigation After More Classified Info Found

Judicial Watching is calling for a re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after finding more classified information on the former Secretary of State’s non-“state.gov” email system.

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Authored by Joseph Jankowski via PlanetFreeWill.com,


On Thursday, the watchdog revealed that it had received two batches, 184 pages and 45 pagesof newly uncovered emails belonging to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Department of State sent and received over her unsecured server.

The emails were uncovered by a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2015, after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015 FOIA request seeking all emails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Clinton regarding her non-“state.gov” email address.

Judicial Watch broke down what they found:

  • On June 7, 2011, Clinton received classified information on her non-secure email account from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which Blair also forwarded to Jake Sullivan, about Blair’s Middle East negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians and the French
  • On January 26, 2010, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan sent classified information via his unsecure Blackberry to Huma Abedin’s State Department email account that he’d earlier sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s non-secure @clintonemail.com email accounts about U.K. negotiations with Northern Ireland.
  • On October 28, 2010, Clinton exchanges information with her friend Marty Torrey – a congressional aide – who asks Clinton in an email if she would advise that Torrey meet with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton responds through her non-secure email account approving the meeting and notes that she is emailing him from Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • An email chain dated April 8, 2010, which contains a memo from Sid Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton related to the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, contains information classified “confidential” and is redacted as “foreign government information” and “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Blumenthal urges Clinton to “develop relations” with the new government in Kyrgyzstan.

These emails caused Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton to call for the Department of Justice to re-open the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office.

“These emails were undercovered from the emails that Hillary Clinton tried to delete or otherwise hide from the American people,” Fitton said in a video posted Thursday. “These new emails once again show why the Clinton email investigation needs to be re-opened by the Justice Department.”

The batch of emails also disclosed a January 26, 2010, email to Hillary Clinton’s private server from her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, that is classified “confidential” and contains a “call sheet” that Clinton received prior to a call with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Interesting, but not surprising, is also an email that shows a meeting scheduled between Hillary Clinton and leftwing billionaire George Soros.

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Doug Casey on Social Media: “Facebook enshrines stupidity”

“Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook.”

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Authored by Joel Bowman via InternationalMan.com:


Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. Thanks for speaking with us today.

Doug Casey: No problem, Joel. It’s a pleasure to hear your Australian accent come across the ether from Mexico.

Joel: Let’s dive right in. A week or two ago, Facebook registered the largest single day loss for any one company in stock market history – roughly $122 billion. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost around $15 billion himself, as much as the annual GDP of several resource-rich, West African nations.

Looking back to 2000, during the go-go days of the dot.com boom, Intel and Microsoft both registered staggering single-day losses, too… $90 billion and $80 billion, respectively. And we know what happened next in that case…

So, investors want to know… is past prologue? What’s next for Silicon Valley’s tech darlings?

Doug: Talking about losing multiple billions in a single day, it’s really a sign of the times. I remember when the only billionaires in the world were Howard Hughes, John Paul Getty and John Beresford Tipton– the mythical billionaire on a 1950’s-era show called “The Millionaire.”

These days, however, it seems everyone’s a billionaire. In fact, there are several thousand billionaires roaming the planet today, with new ones being minted almost every day.

Of course, much of this so-called wealth is just paper. It’s not real. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that we’re in a stock market bubble. Which is being driven by the bond market hyper-bubble. And that, in turn, is fueling a real estate bubble, which I believe is just now beginning to deflate in major cities around the world.

None of this augurs well for the stock market. You’ve got bubbles all over the place. Except in the resource market. That’s the one place that hasn’t inflated. In fact, it’s been going down since it’s last peak in 2011.

Getting back to Facebook, I hope it goes bankrupt. I hate it as an institution. I hate what it does. I don’t like its policies. I don’t like its management. I don’t like the fact that it’s causing people to destroy whatever privacy they have left. While turning their brains to mush sending out selfies all day.

Joel: You’ve put a lot on the table there, Doug. Let’s unpack a bit of that, starting with the general tendency toward cerebral rot…

Many younger readers may not remember this, but there actually existed a time before everybody knew everything, when people had to read books and discuss them, engage in healthy debate and rigorous dialectic in order to learn and develop intellectually.

Now that everyone apparently has plenty of time to Instagram their kale salads and “like” one and other’s cat pictures, are we to assume mankind has finally reached the End of Learning…some new Age of Enlightenment?

Or might Facebook and its (anti)social media cousins represent – in addition to the potential fallout for investors – another, hidden cost to society?

Doug: Perhaps humanity is bifurcating into the Morlocks and the Eloi at this point. It’s true that people used to go to libraries. But even the Library of Congress has only a tiny fraction the world’s data available; libraries are quaint and delightful, but they’re dinosaurs.

All the knowledge in the world is now at our fingertips on the Internet. The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in history, on a par with moveable type and the Gutenburg printing press. A few people are using it to educate and better themselves—but relatively few.

Most people just use it for trivial amusement, as you mentioned. Facebook adds very little value to the equation. In fact, I can’t see that it does much that’s productive. It’s basically a vehicle for gossip and watching cat videos.

Joel: And it’s less than that. Aside from the general degradation of public discourse, social media also represents a kind of unalterable historical record of bad jokes and regrettable moments, accessible to anyone who may wish to besmirch one’s character or skittle one’s reputation.

We’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t. To err is to be human, after all. What do you make of a world in which everyone’s worst moments are readily available to everyone else – including potential enemies – at the click of a mouse?

Doug: Facebook enshrines stupidity. A heavy Facebook user is, in effect, saying: “Look at me! I’m a thoughtless person who doesn’t have anything better to do with his time”. That’s on top of the fact that users are exposing their thoughts, actions, and whereabouts to the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and any of a hundred other nefarious agencies. In fact, there are credible allegations that Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, are willing tools of these intelligence agencies. No good can come of being a Facebookista.

But that’s about whether you should use Facebook. Whether you should own Facebook stock is a different question. Even after the recent selloff, Facebook still has a market cap of about $500 billion, which impresses me as a lot for a chat site cum advertising vehicle. Especially one where most of its growth is behind it. A lot of users are getting hip to the fact they’re not customers, they’re the product.

Facebook was a clever innovation ten years ago. But you know, there’s an old saying in the stock market: High Tech, Big Wreck!

Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook. My understanding is that kids now see Facebook as something used by old people– people over 21 years of age. So if it’s going nowhere with the younger generation, where’s it’s future? Maybe it picks up a billion new users in the Third World. Ultimately, what’s that worth?

Facebook may not be a terminal short sale, but I certainly won’t be putting any of my own money into the stock.

Joel: Assuming you’re correct and Facebook 2.0 does displace the current market leader, are you hopeful that such a platform may serve to promote a heightened level of discourse? Perhaps people might find their way into “phyles,” that is, subgroups based on commonly shared values that actually have real world meaning?

Doug: I hope that, in a year or two, International Man itself grows into a community of likeminded people with above average I.Q.s, libertarian values, and real world experience. IM might, itself, even branch off to become its own kind of Facebook. A private version.

I know there’s a lot of talk about regulating FB, or breaking it up. That’s a bad idea; the government should have zero to do with business in general—and areas related to free speech in particular. I’m disgusted by the fact FB has kicked Alex Jones and others off their platform. But they have a right to do so, as a private company. Although, on the other hand, they’re almost a creature of the State.

But that’s not an excuse for the government to “step in”. What will happen is that a newer, better Facebook lookalike—or a dozen of them—will replace them. FB will self-destruct. It’s a non-problem.

To be frank, you and I don’t really have that much in common with most of the 7.3 billion people on this planet. In fact, while I like many individual humans, I despise humanity in general. The more people you put together in a group, the more they act like chimpanzees. Big groups force down the lowest common denominator.

There’s some cause for optimism, but only on a person-to-person basis. I prefer the company of people who value free minds and free markets—and I suspect most people who are reading this now feel the same way.

Joel: That’s probably a very good note to end this conversation on, Doug. Thanks, as always, for taking the time.

Doug: Meanwhile, we’ll look for something with the potential of Facebook in 2008… and stay away from Facebook today.

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