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Washington prepares to sanction ‘un-sanctionable’ actors in Myanmar

The US has its sights set on Myanmar, just as conflict begins to slowly de-escalate.

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In September of this year, Myanmar instigated a programme to repatriate Rohingya Muslims, after many fled to Bangladesh during the course of the latest phase of a decades long, multifaceted conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The programme pursued by the government, has met with some opposition from local Rakhine Buddhists. However, it nevertheless represents a meaningful, however incomplete de-escalation of the conflict, which is part of a wider civil war in Myanmar, one that has raged since 1948 in what was then Burma.

As soon as the conflict started to slowly de-escalate, the US predictably withdrew material aid to Myanmar, along with issuing a threat of sanctions, in a move that confirms the underlying US modus operandi in Myanmar and South East Asia more widely.

Like with many other countries, the US has been desirous to upset the progress of Chinese and Russian economic cooperation with Myanmar. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor seeks to integrate Myanmar into China’s One Belt–One Road network, something which would clearly enhance the relationship between Beijing and Naypyidaw. The US is all too aware of this and therefore, they have resorted to exploiting the ongoing conflict in Rakhine in an attempt to do what the US tends to do on all sides of One Belt–One Road: stir conflicts in order to delay China’s economic progress with current and future partners.

US troops in Europe and the Middle East are there to provoke China more than Russia or Iran

To hammer this point home, the US has devised a scheme to target individuals and groups allegedly responsible for violence against civilians with what amounts to individual sanctions. A spokeswoman for the US State Department has stated,

“We express our gravest concern over recent events in Rakhine State and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured. It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable”.

This statement not only affirms Washington’s desire to effectively impose a sanctions regime on Myanmar, but it furthermore affirms the disjointed nature of the process (assuming the statement can be taken at face value).

Unlike many global conflicts which are proxy wars masquerading as civil wars, the Civil War(s) in Myanmar are genuine civil conflicts. If anything, the military is actually left with no clear options in Rakhine. One the one hand, if the military fired on one, some or all of the various armed factions, it could result in a bloodbath which would be followed by a more prolonged and wider ranging conflict. On the other hand, if the military did nothing, localised violence would ostensibly continue for the foreseeable future.

The military therefore has taken a role wherein it has attempted to target the most prominent armed factions and the success of this method has been mixed, although in recent weeks, things have in fact, improved.

Beyond this, it is not clear which individuals the US would sanction? Would it be an impoverished Buddhist armed with torches of fire and daggers? Would it be a Rohingya militant with a ramshackle machine gun and 10 loyal followers? In a conflict fought by anonymous, local and in many cases crudely armed individuals, methods such as sanctions simply don’t work. Even if such individuals could be identified, they are sanction-proof because of their poverty.

Thus, the only logical conclusion to such American schemes would either be an admission that they simply cannot be implemented, or otherwise, Washington will simply sanction Myanmar’s military leaders, effectively blaming them for the carnage caused by ‘un-sanctionable’ locals.

Given Washington’s appetite for sanctions, particularly when it comes to a country pivoting ever closer to China and Russia, the answer is self-evident. The unthinking narrative on the Rohingya crisis, has indeed been one where the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) and/or State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi are uniformly blamed for all of the ills in Rakhine and elsewhere in the country.

This narrative is as false as it is simplistic. The Tatmadaw and Aung San Suu Kyi are by no means heroes, but nor are they villains. If anything, they are guilty of not being able to clearly communicate the genuinely complex nature of the conflict, one which differs considerably from the straightforward  Syrian conflict where a secular, modern, tolerant government is at war with a myriad of savage jihadist groups and in the case of certain Kurdish factions, heavily armed ethno-nationalists with ties to Syria’s long-time state enemies.

Furthermore, the Tatmadaw and Aung San Suu Kyi are guilty of not being able to come up with a concrete plan to end the complex web of violence. To be fair though, no other international body has been able to come up with a plan either and judging by the remarks from the US State Department, Washington doesn’t even understand the nature of the conflict. The US merely understands that there is a burgeoning Chinese and Russian economic partner in the midst of conflicts that are ripe for exploitation.

Below are my earlier remarks on the nature of the conflict, reproduced in full: 

Understanding the Myanmar/Rohingya conflict is best achieved through understanding international non-alignment

It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war and while the Civil War in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has raged since 1948, recent flare ups of the conflict have given rise to the death of truths that pertain both to Myanmar specifically and to countries in Myanmar’s geo-political position more broadly. This is especially true of the present phase of the so-called Rohingya conflict.

In order to understand Myanmar’s present geo-political position and how various disinformation campaigns were inevitable in this context, it is first necessary to understand the prevailing narratives, many of which are mutually exclusive to one another.

  1. The Persecution of Muslims

Over the last four decades and since 9/11 in particular, many observers (irrespective of their faith or background) have come to feel that Muslims are being aggressively targeted the world over. According to this narrative, numerous acts of injustice against Muslims, often at the hands of the same actors, have led to an aggregate reality in which Muslims are brutally victimised throughout the world.

This theory when applied to the world as a whole is often true, although there are exceptions as there would be to any overly broad theory.

In Yugoslavia for example, extremist Sunni Muslims (among Bosnians and ethnic Albanians) as well as extremist Roman Catholics (primarily Croats) aggressively turned a political struggle to preserve secular Yugoslav statehood into a sectarian war of aggression against Orthodox Serbs.

In many ways however, Yugoslavia is an exception that has proved the rule, both in terms of factual realties and in terms of perception.

Far from this being a ‘Zionist conspiracy’, this is a phenomenon that Israeli leaders have openly exploited by their own admission. In 2008, Benjamin Netanyahu was reported as saying, “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq”.

He went on to say that the aforementioned events helped sway public opinion in Israel’s direction. While Netanyahu’s thesis is certainly true in respect of the feelings of many in the west, the opposite is equally true. Many people in the west have inversely come to resent Israel for its callous exploitation of events, even while remaining unmoved by the Palestinian cause.

In this sense, it is easy to see why many feel that the Rohingya conflict is part of a wider neo-imperialist war against Muslims. This is a sentiment which for totally different reasons has been exploited both by those whose sympathies lie with Muslims and those whose sympathies lie with anyone but Muslims.

  1. The US backed Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power and therefore she is a tyrant

Like the previous narrative, this theory, if one had to rely on precedent alone, would be a safe bet. The US has a history of backing objectively tyrannical leaders from Pinochet in 1973 to the present regimes in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine (post 2014 coup). These are but a few such examples of America backing tyrannical regimes.

However, America’s precedent for backing dangerous regimes does not automatically make this the case in respect of present day Myanmar, as shall be explained subsequently.

  1. A pro-China/pro-Russia regime is fighting ‘backward Muslims’

This narrative is not only the most deceptive, but it is the most dangerous. By all accounts, China and Russia have better relations with Muslim countries than most western powers could hope for. Russia has a substantial Muslim minority who are generally patriotic members of society whose faith is respected and cherished by the Russian state.

China’s alliance with Pakistan, its growing ties with Turkey and its good relations with Iran and the Arab world are proof positive that China, like Russia, does not for a moment share the western vendetta against certain Muslim societies. By the same token, both countries have good relations with non-Muslim countries. This is just an obvious reality of the pragmatic and realistic approach of Russian diplomacy and the non-ideological nature of Chinese commercial and geo-strategic interests.

  1. Innocent Buddhists are defending themselves from ISIS style militant Muslims

This narrative is not only simplistic, but is related to the view which is alternatively ‘alt-right’ or ‘Zionist’ which seeks to claim that in any conflict, Muslims, no matter who they are, are to blame. In the context of Myanmar, it is overly simplistic and if taken seriously, could only add fuel to a long  burning fire.

The realities:

In reality, the Rohingya conflict is part of a Civil War which began in 1948 as a legacy of the colonial map of what was then called Burma. This deeply flawed map was drawn by the British imperialists. Many Asian conflicts including the Jammu and Kashmir conflict, Sino-Indian border disputes, Afghan-Pakistan border disputes and the border disputes between Indonesia and Malaysia, can all trace their origin back to primarily British drawn colonial maps.

The conflicts in Myanmar are no different. It is also the case that in respect of the Rohingya conflict, there are armed factions on all sides and there are innocent civilians who have been dying for years over the course of the on and off conflicts, on all sides.

Geo-political expert Andrew Korbyko has introduced the nature of the conflict in the following way,

“The immediate post-independence period in Myanmar, called Burma until 1989, saw the many ethno-religious minorities of the country’s resource-rich periphery rebel against the central authorities in favor of federalization or, as the Rohingyas wanted, unification with the neighboring state that they more closely identified with (East Pakistan, but Bangladesh since 1971), thereby setting off the world’s longest-running and still-unresolved civil war.

Pertaining to Rakhine State, this conflict has ebbed and flowed throughout the decades, most recently climaxing in 2012, 2015 and just recently this summer, with the latest three escalations seeing reprisal violence by some of the hyper-nationalist Buddhist majority against the minority Muslim population. In response, the more impoverished Rohingya, who don’t have citizenship rights because most of them don’t qualify for such under the country’s pertinent laws, had little to leave behind in Rakhine State and would flee en mass to Bangladesh for safety.

It’s worthwhile here to point out that the Myanmarese military, known as the Tatmadaw, claims that its operations in their locales are triggered by the deadly attacks that Rohingya rebels — seen as terrorists by Naypyidaw and accused of having links to al-Qaeda and other such notorious groups — carried out against them and Buddhist villagers. The fog of war is such that civilians are obviously getting killed as a result, but it’s unclear whether this constitutes genocide, or who’s actually behind it all”.

Korbyko has further proffered possible solutions to the conflict in the following piece. My own view is that a cohesive model of deep and broad federalisation is the best resolution to the present conflict.

But while this explains the background and present realities of the conflict in Myanmar, it is equally important to understand why so many are susceptible to falling for the various false or simplistic narratives about the conflict which in no way correspond to the reality.

Much of the misunderstanding comes from a simplistic view of geo-strategic alliances shaped by an understanding of the Soviet Union’s relationship to fellow Warsaw Pact members, as well as America’s present relationship to its most subservient NATO dependants.

Instead, to better grasp the conflict in Myanmar, one ought to examine the history of Non-Aligned countries, both as it pertains to members of the Non-Aligned Movement of which Burma (as Myanmar was then known) was a founding member,  as well as among those who de-facto exercise a non-aligned geo-political position.

Non-Aligned Countries were/are technically neutral in respect of relations between leaders of the large geo-political blocs. During the Cold War, this meant neutrality in respect of the US bloc, Soviet Bloc and Chinese Bloc.

While the Non-Aligned Movement as an official bloc has less relevance than it did during the Cold War, the nature of being non-aligned is vastly more important than it has ever been in modern history. This is due to the fact that as old blocs and empires collapse, many nations find themselves in a de-facto non-aligned position.

 In this sense, attaining influence in a non-aligned nation is a kind of golden ticket for the super-powers and their client states.

But while many see the clearly advantageous position that super-powers have in attempting to woo, bribe or blackmail partnerships with non-aligned nations, analysts frequently ignore that the non-aligned states themselves are also looking to capitalise on opportunities by exploiting the potential and actual partnerships that all super-powers generally present to non-aligned nations over time. This is indeed one of the clearly implied advantages of being non-aligned.

In 1956 for example, the old/dying empires of France and Britain along with the neo-colonial Israeli power invaded Nasser’s Egypt. Here, both the USSR and USA told the invaders to withdraw as both were eager to compete for influence in Egypt. For the rest of the Cold War, Egypt maintained normal relations with both the US and USSR. In the 1960s and 1970s for example, Egypt was generally closer to the USSR while in the 1980s and 1990s, Egypt was closer to the US. Today, Egypt while maintaining good ties to both Moscow and Washington, appears to be slowly pivoting closer to Russia.

Like Egypt, Indonesia co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement and remains a member to this day. When Indonesia joined, it was ruled by the staunchly anti-imperialist President Suharto. Suharto was wooed equally by China, the Soviet Union and the United States, in spite of his left-wing ideology. In 1956, Suharto famously visited the United States and Soviet Union within a short period.

In 1965, the increasingly left-leaning Suharto was overthrown by Muhammad Suharto who embarked on an intense period of cooperation with the United States. However, during this period Indonesia still remained stridently non-aligned, a position it retains to this day even after normalisation following the resignation of Suharto in 1999.

While Philippines was not a member of the Non-Aligned Movement until 1993, President Ferdinand Marcos was also skilled at making sure her personally got much of what we wanted from the United States in return for guarantees that the US would retain its presence in Philippines. Marcos, for all his faults, was as skilled at manipulating the US as the US was at manipulating him. His dramatic fall from power owed much to the fact that the US became worried about his increasingly confident position. Marcos in this sense is an example of how great powers can discard a leader who has outlived his political usefulness, but usually not before various concessions are made on both sides.

India was an important co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, but was considered by many to be something of a de-facto part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. In spite of this, India maintained relations with the US, which overtime had mixed results.

India’s long time Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was once described by Richard Nixon as someone who was “suckering us”. That is certainly one way to describe the nature of the mutual-opportunism which underlies non-aligned relations. In reality, Nixon understood the non-aligned movement better than any other US President. The fact that under Nixon, the US attempted and in many cases succeeded in extending its influence in non-aligned countries, is a testament to the fact that Nixon was as knowledgeable about the situation implicit in non-alignment, as he was doubtlessly ruthless in his exploitation of these realities.

India’s present day pivot towards the US as an attempt to gain economic/geo-strategic leverage against China, is a legacy of non-alignment. The fact that India continues to offer warm words towards Russia while threatening Russia’s partners China and Pakistan, is proof positive that non-aligned politics is not a game of choosing sides but a game of attempting to extract advantage from all sides whenever possible. Some do it better than others it must be said and in the case of India, Prime Minsiter Modi is an example of someone overplaying his hand.

Iraq which joined the Non-Aligned Movement upon the bloc’s inception in 1961, had an even more colourful relationship with various international blocs. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ba’athist Iraq was a Soviet ally while maintaining generally acceptable relations with the west.

In the 1980s, while Baghdad retained ties to Moscow, it became increasingly close to the United States and its European allies, all of whom encouraged and handsomely armed Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran (another non-aligned member state beginning in 1979).

In 1990, the US turned against Saddam and maintained an anti-Iraq stance which lasted until the US/UK invasion of the country in 2003.

In his expert analysis, Andrew Korybro warns that Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Councillor of Myanmar, might become a “South East Asian Saddam”. He is of course referring to the fact that she may violently fall from the graces of the US and wider US controlled west if Washington feels it can attain a specific advantage in doing so.

Extrapolating the Iraq analogy further, one could easily say that the Rohingya might become a South East Asian equivalent of the Kurds.

In Iraq, the US was happy to back Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran. Paradoxically, shortly after that war ended, one of the justifications the US employed for the first Gulf War was Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Kurds.

In 1988, during the course of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi planes dropped chemical weapons on Kurdish militants in the city of Halabja. There is no doubt that innocent civilians did perish in the attack, but what is often untold in pro-American academia and media is that Kurdish militants actively fought against Iraqi during the course of the war with Iran, in a calculated move to attempt to take advantage of Iraq’s distraction with Iran in order to engage in acts of illegal separatism.

By the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein made many concessions to Kurds in northern Iraq, so much so that they were enjoyed large amounts of autonomy long before the 2003 US/UK invasion.

Today, the US has expressed a desire to delay a Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq because of US vested interests in post-2003 Iraq. By contrast, the US was all too happy to covertly back Kurdish separatism against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and early 2000s.

At the same time, the US has often been weary and consequently inconstant in respect of backing Kurdish independence for fear of angering a fellow NATO ally Turkey. Now that Turkey is moving closer to Russia, China and Iran, America is backing the Kurds most strongly in Syria, a country in which America has no chance of gaining vested interests, except for in Kurdish regions. For similar reasons, the US also looks with intrigue towards Kurdish separatists in Iran.

It must also be said that the Kurds maintained good relations to both the Soviet Union and Israel at a time when the two countries were generally at odds. In this sense, Aung San Suu Kyi is as much the new Saddam as the Rohingya are the new Kurds.

The similarities are vast between the Kurdish issue in the Middle East and the Rohingya conflict in Myanmar are vast and telling, in terms of attempting to foresee a possible outcome.

In both cases, a semi-stateless group that has historic connections to the region are engaged in a conflict with the government as well as local non-Muslims. Throughout all of this, all sides are armed against one another and sadly, civilians are being killed on all sides, something which is not a new phenomenon in Myanmar nor in the Middle East.

The Rohingya seek autonomy and in some cases a form of separatism, something that the central government finds unacceptable as is generally the case with most governments.

Into this cauldron of violence with historical antecedents that are often dangerously brushed over, observers on all ideological sides are growing increasingly angry, distraught and confused.

The confusion stems not only from the complexities of Myanmar’s internal situation, but from something much simpler. Non-aligned states can quickly turn from heroes to villains in the eyes of an agenda driven press (both mainstream and alternative) depending on who such states are leaning towards at any given moment.

Right now, Myanmar is caught in a web which sees China and Russia on one side who offer economic opportunity and neutral but non-antagonistic political guidance, India which seeks to exploit a pro-government agenda/narrative in order to attain economic advantage over China and to a lesser degree Russia and finally there is the west, observing the entire thing while waiting to see whether it is in the west’s interest to describe the Rohingya crisis as an ethnic cleansing, a Muslim insurgency or what former UK Prime Minister Harold MacMillan may well have called “a little local difficulty”.

The US is now officially trying to exploit the local difficultly, just as it is on the verge of an uneasy de-escalation. Everything is not right, yet for the US, everything is going according to plan.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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