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Here’s why Sean Spicer’s ‘warning’ to Assad really was just news management

Theories which have abounded since Sean Spicer the White House spokesman ‘warned’ Syria against launching a chemical attack are over complicated. All the facts point to the ‘warning’ being part of a successful campaign to bury reporting of Seymour Hersh’s story about the alleged Khan Sheikhoun attack.

Alexander Mercouris

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On Monday Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press officer, published a statement on the White House website purportedly ‘warning’ President Assad and the Syrian government against a chemical attempt which the US had supposedly detected the Syrian military preparing to carry out.

In the hours that followed it became clear that the statement had not been coordinated within the US government.  The State Department and CENTCOM were taken by surprise, and apart from the inconsequential Nikki Haley all the senior officials of the US government – Tillerson, Mattis, Coats, Pompeo, McMaster and President Trump himself – maintained a stony silence about it.

In the hours that followed reports dribbled out that US intelligence had supposedly detected the movement of something which might be a sarin gas container to a single aircraft at Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.

This is of course the same air base the US attacked in April, and from which according to the US the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack was carried out, and which the Russians and the Syrians ever since have been unsuccessfully trying to get the OPCW inspectors to inspect.

US officials speaking informally to the media have declined to say what level of confidence the US has in this latest ‘intelligence’.

Subsequently US Defense Secretary General James Mattis said that the US is seeking ‘de-escalation’ in Syria, and the fact that no chemical attack had taken place showed that the ‘warning’ had been ‘heeded’.

This has now been followed with reports – so far unconfirmed – that the US is preparing to evacuate the base it has established in Syria at Al-Tanf.

Ever since there have been any number of attempts to make sense of this strange episode, with speculations by those who do not believe the claims made in the ‘warning’ that some sort of ‘false flag’ attack is being prepared, either to justify another US military attack on Syria, or to wreck the coming meeting at the G20 summit between Presidents Putin and Trump, or for some other sinister purpose.

There is also a theory that the episode reveals some sort of conflict within the US government between conciliators, who would presumably include General Mattis, who wish to ‘de-escalate’ in Syria, and hardline interventionists, who want to escalate there.  In support of this theory some point to reports a week ago that some hardline officials in the US government were looking to stage a conflict in Syria with Iran.

The fundamental problem with all these theories is that if the US really were planning a ‘false flag’ chemical attack in Syria then there would be no need to announce it in advance by publishing a ‘warning’ about it.   On the contrary, all that announcing such a ‘warning’ is likely to do – especially when it is backed by ‘intelligence’ which is so unconvincing – is foster more doubts about it rather than reduce them.

As it happens there is no previous case of the US warning about a chemical attack in Syria before one happens, whether that be the chemical attack which happened in Ghouta in 2013, or the alleged chemical attack which happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April this year, or any of the many other chemical attacks which have also taken place in Syria over the course of the war there.

Since there is no sense in warning of a ‘false flag’ chemical attack in advance, and since the ‘intelligence’ that the Syrian military was preparing such a chemical attack is unconvincing to say the least, and since the State Department and CENTCOM appear to have been taken completely by surprise by a ‘warning’ issued not by a senior official of the US government but by the President’s press officer, what is the explanation for this bizarre affair?

My view that it was an over-the-top piece of news management, intended to discredit and bury Seymour Hersh’s story about the Khan Sheikhoun attack, has been received with predictably little enthusiasm, but I would submit that it is the only one that makes sense.  I notice that one other writer reviewing the same facts – Jonathan Cook writing for Counterpunch – has however now come to the same conclusion.

Moreover as Jonathan Cook also says, the OPCW report published today, which appears to support the Trump administration’s claims – that there was a deliberate sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, with the sarin spreading from the small hole in the ground where the alleged gas canister is supposed to have been found – also seems to have been rushed out for the same purpose.

As Cook rightly says, it has long been known that the OPCW would report that a sarin gas attack took place at Khan Sheikhoun, and as Cook and the Russians also say, since the OPCW inspectors have refused to carry out an on the spot inspection of the alleged crime scene at Khan Sheikhoun (allegedly for ‘security reasons’, though a local ceasefire is supposed to be in place), and as the provenance of the samples (supposedly taken from a Jihadi controlled town without any external check of the way they were collected) cannot therefore be fully trusted, this conclusion is unsafe.

I understand the reluctance to accept that an incendiary suggestion that the Syrian government might be planning a chemical attack can have been nothing more than a grossly disproportionate and incredibly dangerous way to bury Seymour Hersh’s story.  It is human nature to think that something greater and more sinister must be involved.  I would however point out that the Trump administration has form in this regard.  By way of example, it persisted for weeks in making the ridiculous claim that the crowds which turned out for Donald Trump’s inauguration were bigger than the crowds which had turned out for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, even though comparisons of the films of the two events show that this was obviously not the case.

There have been any number of other such cases, with the reflex reaction of this administration when it is caught saying something which turns out to be untrue being to double down and go on repeating it.  That I am sure is what has happened in this case.

There will however be serious consequences even if the cause of the ‘warning’ almost certainly was a trivial one.

Firstly, as I have said previously, the Trump administration’s ‘warning’ to the Syrian government not to stage a chemical attack is a green light to the various Jihadi groups in Syria to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical attack, even if that is not the Trump administration’s intention.  There are any number of dangerous people in Syria – and any number of unscrupulous agents of the various local intelligence agencies who support them – who must now be thinking and looking for ways to carry out such an attack in order to force Trump’s hand.  I should say that I interpret Maria Zakharova’s comments hinting that Russia knows where such attacks might take place first and foremost as a warning directed to these people.

Secondly, the Russians are utterly furious because of this episode, a fact made crystal clear by the angry words they have said about it.  Not only do they (of course) know the truth that the ‘intelligence’ upon which the ‘warning’ was based is fictional, but they almost certainly suspect the cause, and they must be completely exasperated that the Trump administration is acting in such a reckless way.

Beyond this it seems that the ‘warning’ contradicts assurances which were given to the Russians during US Secretary of State Tillerson’s visit to Moscow in April.  It seems that Tillerson may have told the Russians that incidents like the Al-Shayrat attack would never again recur.  If so then the threat contained in the ‘warning’ – that President Assad and his military would “pay a heavy price” if another chemical attack took place – has told them that Tillerson’s assurances are worthless.  Probably they already suspected the fact, but it must nonetheless be exasperating for the Russians to have the truth of this exposed to them so clearly.

Whatever else this episode has done, its effect will therefore be to make the Russians trust the US if possible even less, this at a time when US and Russian military officials have been working hard together in Syria to try to reduce tensions between their militaries there.

Last but not least, I can do no better than repeat and endorse these comments by Jonathan Cook about the total blackout in the US and British media which has been imposed on Seymour Hersh’s story.  To my knowledge not a single British newspaper has reported its existence, and nor has the BBC.  This in respect of a story put together by the single most famous US investigative journalist who has in the past exposed scandals like the My Lai massacre and the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.

But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories [the ‘warning’ and the OPCW report- AM]. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.

No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.

Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

These comments speak the whole truth, and I have nothing to add to them.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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