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The risks of speculation: Turkey’s coup that wasn’t

More than two weeks after Turkey’s dramatic failed coup, what exactly happened remains shrouded in mystery leaving only speculation that has hardened into “fact” in the absence of convincing evidence.

Joe Lauria

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Two main theories have emerged: The first is that this was yet another in a long line of CIA-backed coups. The other is that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan either staged or let the coup happen to give him the opportunity to consolidate his rule through a vicious and ongoing purge of his perceived enemies.

The first theory has now passed into the realm of “fact” because some commentators unquestioningly accept that the CIA tried to remove Erdogan for suddenly seeking to repair relations with Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad is a man Erdogan has squandered substantial political capital trying to overthrow for five years.

This theory asserts the failed coup was a “victory against the U.S. empire” because Erdogan has defied Washington by suddenly moving Turkey into the multipolar camp with a view towards Eurasian union, rather than the European Union.

“Suddenly” is the key word. What led to Erdogan’s apparent about-face? His Syria policy of supporting ISIS and opposing Damascus, Moscow and Teheran completely blew up in his face. He failed to overthrow Assad. Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane damaged Turkey’s economy. ISIS turned on him, attacking Ataturk Airport. He was on the ropes. Erdogan is a supreme survivor. He’ll switch enemies and friends on a dime if need be. He’s proven no loyalty but to himself.

Tactical or Strategic?

For the moment, Erdogan’s shift instead appears to be a short-term, tactical, move, to ensure his survival. Time will tell whether it is also strategic. It’s too early to declare he’s turned his back on the U.S., NATO and the EU and joined the multipolar world. I doubt Moscow, Tehran and Damascus fully trust Erdogan’s overtures as a long-term commitment, willing as they are to feel him out.

The Turkish government, though not Erdogan himself, has blamed the U.S. for the coup. A hardline conservative newspaper that backs Erdogan, Yeni Şafak, has even named U.S. General John F. Campbell as “one of the top figures who organized and managed the soldiers behind the failed coup attempt,” citing “sources close to ongoing legal process” against those arrested for the coup. It said Campbell “managed’ more than $2 billion to pay for the coup through CIA links with UBA Bank in Nigeria.

Without named sources or documentary evidence, which covert operations by their nature rarely yield, it’s easy to blame the CIA. In this case, the speculation rests on two assumptions, the first is the supposed U.S. reaction to Erdogan’s pivot East. But as Phil Giraldi, a former CIA agent stationed in Turkey, has pointed out the coup plotters and other Erdogan opponents hated his Syria policy and would welcome his rapprochement with Assad and a move East.

The coup’s motive may have instead been to stop Erdogan, who sees a Sultan in the mirror, from continuing his march to one-man rule. The coup leaders called themselves the Peace Council, claiming they wanted to restore democracy and overthrow a tyrant who is ruling unconstitutionally. (Erdogan is already ruling as though Turkey has changed to presidential system, though the referendum he wants hasn’t yet been held.)

The “Terrorists”

The second assumption is that Erdogan’s arch-enemy, the Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gülen who Erdogan blames for masterminding the coup, is a CIA asset running a “terrorist” organization. Erdogan calls anyone who disagrees with him a “terrorist”: academics, journalists, Kurdish members of the Turkish parliament. I’m surprised he hasn’t called Pope Francis a terrorist for calling Armenia a genocide.

The only evidence offered connecting Gülen with the CIA is a letter written by Graham Fuller, a former CIA agent once posted in Turkey, in support of Gülen’s 2006 U.S. green card application. Fuller himself has condemned the coup and his blog is often highly critical of U.S. Middle East policy.

Gülen communicates daily to his followers around the world in sermons viewed over the internet. These as well as his other communications must be monitored by the Turkish government. Evidence that would stand up in a U.S. court of Gülen ordering the coup is what Washington would need in Erdogan’s frantic extradition request for Gülen. The quality of that evidence could determine whether Gülen was behind the coup. Of course, if you already believe the CIA did it, you won’t believe what a U.S. court says.

Even without proof, it can’t be ruled out that military men inspired by Gülen may have been involved (with secular Kemalists). But Gülenists have been more numerous in the police than the military.

I was the first American reporter to interview Gülen, when I visited him in his Pennsylvania compound in 2010. I’ve studied the group the past six years, getting to know dozens of his followers, visiting schools in the U.S, Turkey and elsewhere. In my research, I have been on the inside living with his followers while teaching English at one of the schools. Religion is not taught. It is not in the curriculum. The idea that these are jihadist madrases, or that Gülenists are extremists or terrorists is beyond absurd as anyone who knows them will attest. One such person is John Esposito of Georgetown University, one of America’s leading experts on Islam. In this video interview, Esposito calls Gülen’s a “pluralistic” movement “unique” to Islam.

Though I disagree with Gülen on certain things, notably his lack of criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians, it is ludicrous to accept Erdogan’s branding of his followers as terrorists. The Gülenists have no political party. It is a social movement that does however seek to influence Turkey’s political direction. They were almost certainly behind the leaked audio of Erdogan telephone calls exposing his corruption in a real estate deal. The New York Times reported that my interview with Gülen, in which he took Israel’s side in the Mavi Marmara incident, led to the first open breech in the uneasy alliance between Gülen and Erdogan. The leaked telephone calls were the last straw. Erdogan fired and arrested policemen and judges who dared investigate the corruption allegations.

In response to the coup attempt, Erdogan has shut down every Gülen-affiliated institution in Turkey by decree, including thousands of schools, foundations and charities. He finished the job of shutting down all of its media properties.

“A Gift From God”

In all, 60,000 people in the military, civil service, judiciary and academia, who couldn’t possibly have all been involved with the coup, have either lost their jobs or been arrested in Erdogan’s ruthless retaliation. Amnesty International says some have been tortured. Worse for the coup plotters, their gambit has fortified his mounting absolute rule, which brings us to the other theory: that Erdogan either staged or allowed the coup to happen. Gülen himself alleges it was staged. His followers name an Erdogan-loyal general, Mehmet Disli, who they claim gave the order to start the coup.

Because Erdogan knew of the coup hours before, there is a stronger possibility that he let it happen to smoke out disloyal officers, confident his handpicked brass would crush it. They may have played along with the coup and then double-crossed the coup leaders once it was underway. It would be a seriously amateurish attempt to go ahead without the consent of the top military leadership.

Erdogan seized the chance the coup afforded him, which he himself called “a gift from God,” to solidify his rule over Turkey like a Gulf monarch, while accruing international support and even sympathy.

Erdogan’s Rise to Power

At this point we need to step back a moment and look at Erdogan’s slow rise to power and how he took control of a hostile, secular military. Erdogan deceived plenty of people in Turkey, but especially in the West. He was seen as the leader of a model Islamic democracy who would put the military under civilian control.

Erdogan’s AKP party is essentially part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammad Morsi named his Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party after Erdogan’s—The Justice and Development Party. The Brotherhood’s strategy is to gain power through elections and then gradually implement an Islamist agenda, as opposed to attempting to seize power violently like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State—like the Mensheviks, rather than the Bolsheviks.

I took part with a small group of reporters interviewing Erdogan at the United Nations in New York in 2009. At the time his strategy of getting the Turkish military out of politics, in which they had intervened in four coups seemed convincing. He sought to root out the Ergenekon underground network of organized crime, military and intelligence officers in the Turkish Deep State in a move that appeared to be in favor of civilian-led democracy.

But as the Turkish opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the People’s Republican Party (CHP), told me in a one-on-one interview in Washington in 2014, Erdogan arrested the wrong people supposedly involved in the Ergenekon conspiracy. Many innocent people were falsely charged at a time the Gülenists supported the move to get the military out of politics.

In fact Erdogan was cleverly replacing the brass with his own military men and seized control of the Deep State. His actions, especially after the failed coup, show that democracy has not been his motive.

Would the CIA have organized a coup without the support of the top brass? Would the CIA have moved so quickly on what might just be a short-term tactical shift by Erdogan? Were Gülenists involved in the coup or was it Erdogan’s version of the Reichstag fire? These are questions that may never be answered leaving us mired in speculation—a poor substitute for the facts.

Joe Lauria is a freelance journalist who has been published extensively in some the top media outlets over the past 25 years.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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