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Syria on brink of final victory in Aleppo

With Jihadi counter offensives crushed, the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped, and the US out of options, the Syrian government backed by Russia is on the brink of winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ and restoring its full control over Syria’s biggest city.

Alexander Mercouris

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Whilst all the attention is focused on the diplomacy, the fighting in Aleppo progresses steadily towards what is now starting to look like an inevitable government victory.

A review of the key events in the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ – likely to be the decisive battle in the Syrian war – is in order. 

At the time of the start of the Russian intervention a year ago, Aleppo – which contrary to what the Western media says is mainly government controlled and overwhelmingly loyal to the government – had become almost completely surrounded by the Jihadi rebels who in 2012 had managed to capture its eastern suburbs.

The key to the crisis the government faced in Aleppo was the Jihadi capture in March 2015 of the provincial capital and most of the western province of Idlib. 

This enabled the Jihadis to threaten the government’s heartland of Latakia, and put them in a position where they could threaten the roads linking Aleppo to the government controlled areas in the south.  At the time of the Russians’ arrival the roads to the south of Aleppo had been cut, so that Aleppo could only be resupplied by air through the airport, which remained under government control.

In the months that followed the arrival of the Russians in September 2015, Russian air support enabled the Syrian army to take the offensive. 

By the time of the first ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February of this year the roads leading to Aleppo from the south had been reopened.  The Jihadis in eastern Aleppo however still retained control of the Castello road to the north of the city so that their supply routes to Turkey were still open.

It is now clear that both sides used the period following the ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February to resupply and reorganise. 

On the part of the US and its allies this involved combining the various Jihadi groups (including Jabhat Al-Nusra) and putting them under the command of a single headquarters (or “operations room”) whilst resupplying them with weapons including it seems heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery, allegedly drawn from ex-Libyan army stocks. 

Though the objective of this planned offensive was (naturally) never made public, it is clear that it was aimed at capturing (or “liberating”) Aleppo. 

Presumably if Aleppo had been captured an alternative Syrian government would have been set up there, which the US, the European powers, Turkey, and the Arab states of the Gulf, would have recognised as Syria’s true or legitimate government. 

With President Assad having lost control of what was once Syria’s largest city, and the area under the control of his government reduced to Damascus and a belt of territory to its north, that would have made the demand for his removal almost irresistible.

By May US Secretary of State Kerry was issuing threats that the Russians only had until August to agree to a “political transition” in Syria (ie. President Assad’s removal from office).  Though what would happen in August if this did not happen Kerry left unsaid, with hindsight it is clear that it was the Jihadi offensive that was in preparation that he had in mind.

As previously discussed by The Duran (see here and here) Kerry followed up this threat with negotiations with the Russians in which he appears to have offered the Russsians a junior place in the US coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement to President Assad’s removal from power. 

In the event the Russians rejected this offer, whose acceptance would have contradicted the fundamental principles of their whole foreign policy.

Before the Jihadis were in a position to start their offensive, the Syrian government and the Russians got their blow in first. 

Further advances by the Syrian army backed by the Russian air force resulted in the capture in July of the Castello road, cutting off the supply route to the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo from Turkey, and encircling them.

The result was that when the Jihadi offensive against Aleppo finally got started at the end of July it found the Syrian military and the Russians prepared and waiting for them. 

As a result, though the Jihadis were briefly able at the start of their offensive in August to punch a hole through the government lines by capturing the territory of what is sometimes called ‘the Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in Aleppo’s south western suburbs, their offensive – as The Duran predicted – quickly stalled, causing the Jihadis to suffer heavy losses at the hands of the Syrian army and the Russian air force. 

By the beginning of September the Jihadi force attacking Aleppo from the south west had spent itself, allowing the Syrian army – apparently with help from Russian Special Forces – to recapture the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district, thereby plugging the hole the Jihadis had punched through the government’s lines at the start of their offensive in August.

In passing I would say that this particular episode casts an interesting light over Western media coverage of the war. 

The brief Jihadi capture of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district were widely trumpeted by the Western media as a great victory in banner headlines that appeared on the front pages of Western newspapers.  There was much breathless talk of how ‘the siege of Aleppo’ had been “broken”, and of how this would open the way to the capture or “liberation” of the government controlled area of Aleppo.

The Western media has by contrast barely reported the Syrian army’s recapture of the grounds of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in September.  It would require very close reading of Western news reports to know it had happened. 

Less observant watchers of the Syrian war who take all their news from the Western media might be confused why a siege which was ‘broken’ in August is intact now.

Whilst the fighting continued around Aleppo, the diplomacy continued as well. 

The failure of the Jihadi offensive in August led to the US proposing a new plan whereby the Syrian military would withdraw from the Castello road purportedly to allow the movement of humanitarian convoys into the city. 

This was first proposed at a time when the Jihadis were still in control of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district and were thus in a position to threaten Aleppo’s communications to the government controlled areas to the south. 

The inducement the US this time offered the Russians was a US offer of joint operations against Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra.

As discussed before, this plan – had it ever been accepted – would have put the government’s communications and supply routes to Aleppo at grave risk, threatening its control of the city in the event of the (inevitable) collapse of the ceasefire. 

Unsurprisingly the Russians proved unreceptive to this plan, especially as they probably always doubted that the US would act on its offer of joint operations against Jabhat Al-Nusra – all the more so since Jabhat Al-Nusra actually constitutes the bulk of the Jihadi forces fighting the Syrian government in and around Aleppo. 

By the time the plan was formally presented by Obama to Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou the whole premise of the plan had however collapsed following the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and of the Ramousseh district, securing the government’s supply lines to Aleppo from the south. 

The result was that the meeting between Obama and Putin at the G20 summit ended in acrimony, with the US accusing the Russians of supposedly “backtracking” on things that had already been agreed upon (almost certainly this reflects US anger at the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district).

Following the defeat of the Jihadi offensive against south west Aleppo at the beginning of September, and the conclusive completion of the encirclement of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo, their fate was in all practical terms sealed.

The ceasefire plan that subsequently emerged was an attempt by the more realistically minded officials in Washington – who presumably include Obama and Kerry – to save the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo and to preserve them as a coherent fighting force by getting the Russians to agree to their withdrawal from eastern Aleppo via the Castello road

Though the opening of the Castello road as part of this ceasefire plan was presented as intended to make possible the delivery of humanitarian supplies to eastern Aleppo, in reality the agreement quite clearly refers to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters together with their equipment from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road.  The relevant term of the agreement reads as follows:

“Any Syrians can leave Aleppo via Castello Road, including armed opposition forces with their weapons, with the understanding that no harm will come to them and they can choose their destination. Opposition forces leaving Aleppo with weapons must coordinate ahead of time with UN representatives as to the time they will be using Castello Road and the number of personnel and weapons and military equipment departing.”

(bold italics added)

The ceasefire ultimately collapsed because the hardliners in Washington and the Jihadis on the ground in Syria could not in the end bring themselves to accept the surrender of eastern Aleppo to the government by agreeing to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road. 

The loss of a Jihadi presence in Syria’s biggest city – and with it the loss of any realistic prospect of the city’s eventual capture – would end the possibility of setting up an alternative government in Aleppo, and with it any realistic prospect of achieving regime change in Syria. 

Though there is now some talk of setting up an alternative government in Turkish controlled Jarablus, doing so in a small town on the Turkish border under the protection of the Turkish army five years after the war started is not a viable alternative, and cannot compare with the setting up of such a government in a Jihadi “liberated” Aleppo.

Since the surrender of eastern Aleppo means the abandonment of any realistic possibility of achieving regime change in Syria, the proposal to do so encountered bitter resistance from the hardliners in Washington and from the Jihadis on the ground in Syria.  That is why the ceasefire plan in the end failed.

The problem is that having ruled out a withdrawal from Aleppo the hardliners have no realistic alternative to offer. 

The Russians have made clear since the collapse of the ceasefire that any idea of sending ‘humanitarian supplies’ into eastern Aleppo via the Castello road must now be abandoned, ending any hope of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo being resupplied by that route.

Russian troops are apparently still located there, whilst the collapse of the ceasefire means that Syrian troops, who had briefly withdrawn from there, have reoccupied their former positions there, and are indeed carrying out further advances in the area.  That means that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo can no longer obtain reinforcements or fresh supplies by way of the Castello road.  

Since the Castello road was the last remaining resupply route of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo, that means they can no longer receive reinforcements or fresh supplies, and are reduced to trying to hold off the attacks of the Syrian army with only what they have.  By contrast the Syrian troops pressing in on them from the north and south can be resupplied and reinforced continuously, which is what is apparently actually happening.

The result of all of this, with the ceasefire having collapsed and with the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped and facing defeat, is that the US is left thrashing around looking for something it can do.

There is again talk of supplying Jihadi troops, presumably in the area around Aleppo, with shoulder held surface to air missiles (‘MANPADS’) (the Saker has explained why this would not be effective) and of the US pulling out of negotiations with the Russians (it is not obvious why the US thinks that would scare or impress the Russians) but the truth is that with a head on clash with the Russian military in Syria categorically ruled out by the US military, the US has no real cards left to play.

This is the reason for all the overblown rhetoric of Russian “barbarism”, of Russia becoming a “pariah nation”, of the death threats against Russian servicemen and civilians in Syria and elsewhere, of the talk of the US bombing of Syrian military bases in eastern Syria (this clearly refers to Deir Ezzor), and of the hints of imposing further sanctions (“coercive measures”) on Russia (a non-starter), and of expelling Russia from the UN Security Council or diluting its power of veto there (ditto). 

In the absence of any viable alternative strategy this talk is intended to embarrass or scare the Russians into calling a stop on the Syrian military’s offensive in Aleppo, or – if that doesn’t work – in concealing behind a smokescreen of angry words the extent of the US’s humiliation in Aleppo .  The Russians however are obviously unimpressed and are paying no attention, and are pressing on.

None of this talk can change the military situation in Aleppo.  Though the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo are – as is to be expected – putting up a fierce fight, as they are now cut off from any hope of reinforcement or resupply in what continues to be a battle of attrition, their strength every day dwindles.  The result is that with every day that passes news comes of further Syrian army advances in the city

Unless the Jihadis’ foreign sponsors are prepared to escalate beyond anything we have seen up to now – which since it would risk a head on clash with the Russians seems very unlikely – the eventual outcome of the fighting in Aleppo is no longer in doubt.

The Syrian army’s eventual recapture of eastern Aleppo would not end the war in Syria. 

Jabhat Al-Nusra would still be in control of Idlib province.  ISIS would still be in control of Raqqah and of much of the desert region in Syria’s east.  In addition the Turkish military has been busy over the last few weeks carving out its “safe zone” for the Jihadis in north east Syria. 

It is not impossible – indeed it is highly likely – that the fall-back plan is to regroup the Jihadi forces in this Turkish controlled “safe zone” so as to launch fresh attacks on Aleppo from there in the future. 

Another option apparently once again being discussed is the old one of partitioning Syria by carving out a Sunni Jihadi state in eastern Syria.

In my opinion neither of these options is realistic or sustainable over the long term.

Having failed in the course of four years of war to capture the whole of Aleppo before the Russians arrived, and having been comprehensively defeated there since, I cannot see the Jihadis succeeding in capturing Aleppo in the future against a revitalised Syrian army that has the backing of Russia.

Nor do I think it sustainable to preserve indefinitely what would in effect be Jihadi emirates in poor peripheral regions of Syria like Idlib or Raqqah, or in a Turkish occupied “safe zone” in north east Syria, against the opposition of Syria, Iran, Iraq, the Kurdish militia, and Russia.  Not only would that be politically difficult, but with the Syrian government securely in control of Damascus and Aleppo, and with regime change in Syria definitely off the agenda, there would seem to be no point in doing so.  

In saying this I should say that I know of the talk of Western plans to build pipelines from Qatar to Europe through this area in order to bypasss Russia.  However I cannot imagine that happening whilst this area remains a fought over contested zone, which with neither the Syrian government in Damascus nor the Kurds accepting the existence of these emirates is what it would be. 

Moreover following the capture of eastern Aleppo the Syrian government’s priority is likely to be the recapture of Idlib.  Though Idlib is in difficult country and will doubtless be fanatically defended (as Raqqah will be) the US can no more prevent its recapture by the Syrian army than it can prevent the Syrian army backed by Russia from recapturing eastern Aleppo.

If the Syrian army recaptures Idlib after it recaptures Aleppo then the Syrian government will have finally secured control of the whole of Syria’s populous western regions, all its main cities, and of its Mediterranean coast.  At that point the preservation of the remaining pockets of Jihadi control in the poor and unpopulated areas of eastern Syria would seem to have even less point.

It is unwise to underestimate the fanaticism and bloody-mindedness of some people in Washington.  Unfortunately that always leaves open the possibility of some sort of dramatic escalation in Syria.  However with the Syrian army close to winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ it is increasingly looking as if Syria has finally turned the corner.

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

The Duran

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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