Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another Intelligence Group Makes the Case: Assad's Responsibility Is Not Proved


The Great Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in which an imaginary native American asks the white population of England to "Come over and help us" (source). Imaginary natives have been asking that of us ever since, to their less-than-imaginary misfortunes.

by Gaius Publius

"Widen the discussion beyond those advisers clearly bent on war"
—Advice given to George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war. He didn't take it.

The quotation above is a shortened version of something written by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in their first memo to President Bush after Colin Powell's "aluminum tubes" testimony before the U.S. in 2003 (archived here).

At that time, the group included only five members, all ex-intelligence officers (links added for your convenience):
Richard Beske, San Diego
Kathleen McGrath Christison, Santa Fe
William Christison, Santa Fe
Patrick Eddington, Alexandria
Raymond McGovern, Arlington
Their 2003 self-description read like this:
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is a coast-to-coast enterprise; mostly intelligence officers from analysis side of CIA, but Operations side also represented.
This group has a long history and has since added many new members. It was actively anti-war in 2003, and its members, especially McGovern, have published copiously. They are who they say they are, ex-intelligence officers from all branches, with extensive insider contacts among their peers.

This group is still at it, now publishing at Robert Parry's site Consortium News. Here's the current make-up of their steering group:
Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)

Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat
That's quite a list.

I've highlighted a few names to note: William Binney, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Coleen Rowley are among the most important whistleblowers of the Bush-Obama era (a list that also includes former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, former NSA intelligence analyst Russell Tice, Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, and Edward Snowden). Scott Ritter was the Bush era U.N. weapons inspector who proved a considerable thorn in the pro-Cheney pro-war side. Click the links for more information.

Once Again: Assad's Responsibility for a "Chemical Attack" Is Not Proved

All of this introduction is to establish the credibility of the group itself, which has just published another memorandum — this time to President Trump — detailing and adding to the information contained in our own last piece on this subject: "The 'Assad Launched a Chemical Attack' Story Has Not Been Proved."

Their memorandum to President Trump begins (my emphasis):

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*

SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?

1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.

2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.

3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important –what they appear to believe happened.

4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?

5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD [in Iraq] were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.

6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”
The rest of the memo documents the "absolute mistrust" that has been engendered between the Russian government and the U.S. as a result of the push by many, in and out of our military, in and out of our government, for greater U.S. involvement in a larger war in Syria.

Needless to say, the only beneficiaries of that war, other than Raytheon and the rest of the "defense" industry, will be the bipartisan neocon pro-war consensus and their media enablers. I doubt many of us, or our children, will see any benefit at all. I'd be shocked if the average Syrian, like the average pre-war Iraqi, was not made a lot more miserable.

But the neocons and the "defense" establishment seems to still want war. They and their allies are more than determined to get it.

Suspending the Syrian Air Space De-Confliction Agreement

Note that one of the immediate consequences of the U.S. action has been Russia's suspension of the agreement to deconflict flight activity over Syria. In this atmosphere, mistakes are easy to make. More about that agreement:
Russia said it suspended an airspace deconfliction agreement with U.S. forces operating in and around Syria, in a statement deriding the U.S. for its Thursday night attack on a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from two destroyers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, but senior U.S. military officials said the deconfliction hotline is still open and Russians are answering their calls. [...]

Under the deconfliction agreement, set up in the fall of 2015, U.S. and Russian forces can communicate via a flight safety hotline run out of the Combined Air Operations Center at U.S. Central Command. Previous uses of the hotline include a Russian official alerting coalition forces in September 2016 that the targets they were attacking and believed to be Islamic State forces were, in fact, Syrian government-aligned forces, and U.S. officials alerting the Russians in March 2017 that Russian and Syrian fighters were bombing U.S.-backed fighters rather than Islamic State forces.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters in a statement Thursday night that the U.S. warned Russia about the strike before firing 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from USS Porter (DDG-78) and USS Ross (DDG-71) at the Western Syrian target.
Is the agreement really suspended? Or are the Russians just putting pressure on the U.S.? Can statements made by the U.S. military be believed? The answers could easily be yes, yes, and no, all at the same time. After all, we're well beyond Trump's entry into "spook world," where more is hidden (and lied about) than is revealed.

Did All 59 Tomahawks Reach the Target?

I've seen some articles that suggest deeper layers to what's hidden beneath this story. The Russians have the ability, as do we, of engaging in electronic warfare (EW) — signals jamming and electronics interference — against incoming missiles like the Tomahawk. The U.S claims that all 59 Tomahawks reached their target. The Russians claim otherwise — that only 23 Tomahawks struck the airfield.

From the New Zealand site Newshub:
Russia and the US are at odds over how much damage the US tomahawk missile strike had in Syria on Friday.

US officials claim the strike was a success, with "about 20" jet fighters destroyed at the Shayrat airfield in Homs, but the Russian ministry claims only six Mig-23 jet fighters were lost, and that only 23 out of 59 tomahawk missiles reached their target.

Either way, the losses are just a fraction of the airpower within the Syrian Arab Air Force.

Syria has at least 450 Russian-made jet fighters such as powerful Mig-23, Mig-25 and Mig-29 military aircraft.
The U.S. may be telling the truth, and the Russians lying in order to discredit U.S. military capabilities. But if the Russians are telling the truth and the U.S. is lying (in order to maintain faith in U.S. military capabilities), what happened to the remaining missiles? Russians claim to have developed the ability to electronically "fry" the guidance mechanisms of incoming missiles.

If that's indeed what happened, the Russians would be able to aid the Syrians without being guilty, technically at least, of the more overtly hostile act of shooting them down. And if they did that — knocked out the guidance control of more than half of these missiles — what an interesting and complex message it would send about their capabilities to the Pentagon.

Certainly something to think about. Wheels within wheels, and frightening ones at that.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is as it's always been — bipartisan assertions of Assad's "certain" guilt, even from pro-peace Democrats, are being presented as fact. Those assertions will lead to war, may in fact be deliberately manufactured by elite leaders to do just that. People have wanted war with countries like Iran and Syria since Cheney days. They still do.

And as if war lust weren't motive enough, there's this:

For more on the pipeline aspect of our animus toward Syria, see here. It never ends, the hubris of these people.

As the Veteran Intelligence Professionals said near the end of their memo to Trump (my emphasis):
A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.

We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:

No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.

Respectfully, we offer the same advice to you, President Trump.
The only way this stops is if people stop it. That requires, first, not playing the game on the enemy's playing field, the enemy's home ground. The enemy is the bipartisan neocon coalition. That "home ground" is fertilized and fortified with the assumption that Assad's guilt is a fact, that he's uniquely evil, and as a result, this New Hun must be taken down as a moral imperative.

That kind of "moral imperative" always points to war, profitable for a few, usually disastrous for most of us.

 This "war to end all wars" guaranteed the next one (click to enlarge).

The last half generation, the one that failed to stop Bush, was taken to war. As a result, we are all paying the price, at the airport, in our homes, whenever we log into the Internet, whenever our militarized police forces shout "keeping you safe" while ignoring the Bill of Rights.

This generation can't reverse that disaster, we're now doomed to live in it. But we can avoid the next one and an even worse fate. Another moral imperative, if you ask me.


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At 10:57 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

If anybody is behind it, as in 2013, it's likely to be Erdogan:

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As your previous piece pointed out, it clearly was NOT sarin, even though the orange-utang's spastic team trying to emulate Goebbels keeps saying so.

If it were a purposeful chem attack, it didn't really do much.

What it almost certainly was was just as you surmise: Assad bombing one (or more) rebel groups (which may or may not have included ISIS elements) which hit stores of chemicals (which might or might not have been stored for nefarious purposes) and those chemicals wafted with the breeze over populated areas. But it was not sarin.

That said, clearly the US admin, amidst total chaotic flailing, saw an opportunity and took it -- to "retaliate" (who cares if it was useful or whether many of the missiles got to the target) and gave der fuhrer instant credibility amongst the consensus torture/war-loving majority as our "war preznit".

Did Assad know about the store of chemicals and target it? Did Russia know and pass on the intel/targeting to Assad? Was it all a clever Russian plot to have Assad commit a war crime to give drumpf an excuse to commit a (harmless... the air base was back in use in just a few hours) war crime in order to make drumpf "preznitential" and create a mirage of us - Russian discord; all this just as special elections are being held -- letting drumpf keep his R house so he won't be impeached?

We assumed that the bushbaby was not aware of cheney/Rumsfeld's perfidy in ginning up their wars... I suppose because W is an imbecile. Do we also give the orange-utang a pass on such collaborative evil because he's also a dumbfucktard?

In both cases, they have plenty of horsepower working for them that know how to get such "gulf of Tonkin" and "andreadoria" things done. And the media is on board. And the us citizenry have NEVER been more unquestioning of... everything. So it should be trivial to pull this shit off.

IMO, that's exactly what they did.

Shame on us/US

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Amen, Gaius. Very interesting. Trump is an impulsive, brash, irresponsible, compromised individual who could never grasp the complexities and implications of his actions and has no desire to even try.

If only the military and Congress, as well as Trump, read Fog of War by Robert Mcnamara. He lays out what should be considered before going to war. Of course, most wars are fought for b.s. reasons to enrich or empower some asshole. That is the story of humanity.

I have read that Trump notified Putin in advance (but not Congress!) and that Assad moved some of the equipment out prior to the strike. And why did he do that? Isn't that consorting with the enemy or something?

I have been pondering the motivation of Putin/Assad to drop chemical weapons on a town of civilians - I do not see any gain for them for this action, other than the hypothesis floating around that maybe they were testing Trump to see what he would do. This does not really seem reasonable, but why else would Assad have done this? Hey, maybe he didn't. Who knows. But common sense would support Putin's explanation, I hate to say but I will.

Fake news is pushed back and forth so much that it is hard to determine the facts. Trump was certainly under no pressure to respond immediately. He could have waited, but of course he does not wait for anyone or anything. He charges ahead like a bull in a china shop. Facts and reality are out there somewhere and it would behoove us to look before launching WW III.

I have said this many times: Obama made a HUGE mistake not going after Bush et al. for their criminal activities that led to the useless, costly and destructive Iraq War, and one that made terrorism even more of a threat. If Obama had done so, perhaps the Republicans would not be in power and Trump would not be President. Obama set an awful precedent - that the President can do whatever he wants without consequences. Trump's stupidity is deep and wide, just like Bush's, but he is much worse. His ego is as large as the universe and his need for power and to "win" at all costs is of great concern and risk to us all. Bush did not attempt to destroy our government, but Trump does not care about it or about democracy and he will destroy us along with whoever else he goes after. He is the epitome of evil.

It is disgusting that so many Congressmen and the media are supporting Trump's knee-jerk bombing. Do we never learn? I have lost considerable respect for Nicholas Kristof - what the hell is he thinking? - whereas my respect for Eugene Robinson only grows. And many of the Dems - what the hell is wrong with them?

Where will all of this lead us? Frightening to think about.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Ten Bears said...

The fly in the ointment: if only twenty three tomahawks were on target what happened to the remaining thirty six? I don't think the scale of daily bombing is such that thirty six million dollars worth of cruise missiles could slip through the cracks. Yes, they may be on the seabed, armed and dangerous, which would indicate the Russians counter measures are much more sophesticated they we had indicated. But lacking more data...

Otherwise, as ever spot on. I called Wag the Dog on day one, just viewing the videos, clearly professional grade productions not at all unlike what we saw twenty five years ago.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, ALLEGEDLY seeking influence on our presidential elections in one thing.

However, interfering with the flight paths of exceptional, freedom/compassion/democracy imparting US missiles is simply unconscionable!

Perhaps we should get current on our UN membership fees? Someone must defend us from the unmitigated nerve of them damn Russkis to neutralize our murderous national essence!!!

John Puma

At 1:02 PM, Blogger VG said...

And, Bernie Sanders... nothing laudable in his remarks.

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correct, Hone. Obamanation should go down as one of our very worst presidents precisely because he NORMALIZED the evil of the previous admins rather than even attempt to fix *ANY* of it. Well said.

JP, brings up another hypocrisy by the orange-utang. He drops an invoice on Merkel's lap for billions for NATO while we are far in arrears on our UN dues. But americans don't care. We're morons.

TTB, presumably the missing 36, if there actually were 59 fired, were prolly dropped in sand somewhere along the way or detonated mid-air. They are also sub-sonic and can be shot down.

Surprising they didn't claim one went off course and blew up a Coptic orphanage or something. Maybe the lack of such a claim is another hint at what the purpose of all this was all about.

At 9:22 PM, Blogger sglover said...

Good post. Now, if you can employ the same force of argument to steer Dems from their infantile hysteria/blame-shifting over Russia, they might actually begin to respond to external reality. But probably not. I mean, these are Dems we're talking about...

Hone says:

I have said this many times: Obama made a HUGE mistake not going after Bush et al. for their criminal activities that led to the useless, costly and destructive Iraq War, and one that made terrorism even more of a threat. If Obama had done so, perhaps the Republicans would not be in power and Trump would not be President.

I agree overall, but with two caveats:

1) Only a few months ago Obama & wife were having a lovefest with Bush the Lesser on stage. What an inspiring occasion that was! We're all friends here; what's a little war criminality? That was years ago! All part of that genius Clintonite drive to recruit neocons and Republicans.

But that was just Obama's final, public "fuck you" to his followers. In fact his entire term was devoted to cementing and even extending the worst of Bush's policies.

So from Obama's perspective, everything's turned out perfectly. Now he can windsurf with Branson! Soon he can schmooze at Davos! Obama never gave a goddam about anything but himself.

2) That said, it was Pelosi who set the real precedent involving Bush. After the '06 Congressional sweeps, which Dems not through their own merits, but because the Republicans had fucked up everything they touched, practically the first words out of Pelosi's mouth were, Impeachment is off the table. It's a little hard to pretend we're a nation of law when a "leader" unilaterally forswears Constitutional remedies for presidential law-breaking and incompetence.

At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Samuel, right on. But I believe Pelosi forswore her constitutional duty BEFORE the election... to assuage any possible warmongering "lefties" and "moderate Rs" unease with electing that years' lesser evils.

And, of course, we saw john conyers, under orders from the "party" (Pelosi) as chairman of the relevant house committee, spike articles of impeachment authored by Dennis Kucinich against dick cheney and , later, alberto Gonzales. So Pelosi wasn't alone in violating her oath of office. The democrap party, even then, was very much together in their perfidy.

The other effect of her pre-emptive vow was to assuage the concerns of the big donors, which is likely far more important to her than any other concern. Those big donors, assuaged, were very generous... and they were repaid thousands of times over.


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