Monday, March 25, 2019

The Haiti Caper: A "Half-Baked Scheme" to "Liberate" Millions for Crooked President

American Mercenaries Arrested in Haiti Were Part of a Half-Baked Scheme to Move $80 Million on Behalf of Embattled President 

by Matthew Cole and Kim Ives - Haiti Liberté

(In partnership with The Intercept)

March 20, 2019

Most of the Americans arrived in Port-au-Prince from the U.S. by private jet early on the morning of Feb. 16.

They’d packed the eight-passenger charter plane with a stockpile of semi-automatic rifles, handguns, Kevlar bullet-proof vests, and knives.

Most had been paid already: $10,000 each up front, with another $20,000 promised to each man after they finished the job.

A trio of politically connected Haitians greeted the Americans when their plane landed around 5 a.m.

An aide to embattled Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and two other regime-friendly Haitians whisked them through the country’s biggest airport, avoiding customs and immigration agents, who had not yet reported for work.

The American team included two former Navy SEALs, a former Blackwater-trained contractor, and two Serbian mercenaries who lived in the U.S. Their leader, a 52-year-old former U.S. Marine C-130 pilot named Kent Kroeker, had told his men that this secret operation had been requested and approved by Moïse himself.

The Haitian president’s emissaries had told Kroeker that the mission would involve escorting the presidential aide, Fritz Jean-Louis, to the Haitian central bank, where he’d electronically transfer $80 million from a government oil fund to a second account controlled solely by the president. In the process, the Haitians told the Americans, they’d be preserving democracy in Haiti.

It was too good a deal for the band of semi-employed military veterans and security contractors to turn down.

But a day after the Americans landed in Haiti, they would find themselves in jail and at the center of a political uproar, with Haitians asking what a group of foreign mercenaries was doing at the central bank and who they were working for. Within three days, Kroeker and his team would be released and sent back to the U.S., having somehow managed to escape criminal charges in Haiti.

Many details of the operation remain murky, but based on interviews with Haitian law enforcement and government officials, as well as a person with direct knowledge of the plan, a picture of the clumsy effort emerges. What at first resembled a comedic plot about a group of down-on-their-luck ex-soldiers looking for a quick and easy mercenary score was in fact a poorly executed but serious effort by Moïse to consolidate his political power with American muscle.

Neither Moïse nor the Haitian Embassy in Washington, DC responded to requests for comment.

None of the Americans spoke directly with Moïse or received official paperwork from the Haitian government authorizing them to undertake the mission, according to the person with direct knowledge of the operation. Yet Jean-Louis and the plot’s other key organizer, Josué Leconte, a Haitian-American from Brooklyn and close friend of Moïse, do not appear to have been rogue operators.

The Americans arrived at a tumultuous political and economic moment in a country with a history of unrest. Since Feb. 7, Haiti had been “locked down” – as demonstrators said – by fierce street protests demanding Jovenel’s resignation. Since last July, when President Moïse tried to raise fuel prices by as much as 50%, intermittent protests have paralyzed Haiti.

From 2008 to 2017, Venezuela provided Haiti with about $4.3 billion in cheap oil under the PetroCaribe Accord, which Venezuela signed with Haiti and 16 other Caribbean and Central American neighbors. Haiti had a particularly favorable deal: 40% of the money owed to Venezuela was repayable over 25 years at a 1% annual interest rate. That portion of Haiti’s oil revenues went into the PetroCaribe Fund, which was supposed to support hospitals, clinics, schools, roads, and other social projects; it helped prop up the Haitian government after the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

From early on Sat., Feb. 16 until noon on Sun., Feb. 17, the mercenaries 
stayed at the Montana Hotel in Pétion-Ville. Credit: Kim Ives/Haiti Liberté

But Trump administration sanctions on Venezuela and financial mismanagement by the Haitian government led the Haitian central bank to halt payments to Venezuela in October 2017, and the PetroCaribe agreement effectively stumbled to an end by early 2018.

In November 2017, a Haitian Senate investigation found that nearly $2 billion of the fund had been largely misappropriated or embezzled primarily under Haitian President Michel Martelly’s administration between 2011 and 2016.

Jovenel Moïse came to power on Feb. 7, 2017, but the day before his inauguration the Port-au-Prince district attorney (commissaire du gouvernement) accused him of money laundering. The corruption allegations, combined with the end of cheap Venezuelan oil and credit and Moïse’s betrayal of Venezuela, created a perfect storm of popular outrage. In recent months, Moïse and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant have been vying for power, and Moïse’s decision to back the Trump administration’s recent efforts to undermine Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro set off a new round of popular street protests in Haiti, with protestors continuing to call for Moïse to step down. Under the Haitian Constitution, that would have made Céant the country’s president.

The Americans were told that the PetroCaribe fund is controlled by Moïse, Céant, and the central bank’s president, Jean Baden Dubois. Because of the widening political rift between the president and the prime minister, that arrangement left the $80 million effectively frozen, according to the person with direct knowledge of the operation.

The Banque de la République d’Haïti in downtown 
Port-au-Prince on March 8, 2019.
Credit: Kim Ives/Haïti Liberté

Leconte and Jean-Louis told the Americans that by moving the money into an account Céant and Dubois could not access, Moïse could more effectively lead the country, hence the promise that they would be supporting Haiti’s democracy. The fund was the government’s only significant economic instrument, and the move would secure Moïse’s position and freeze out his prime minister. It is unclear what Moïse intended to do with the money once he gained control of it.

Leconte paid the Americans for the operation, according to the source with direct knowledge. Leconte and his business partner, Gesner Champagne, who also met the Americans at the airport in Port-au-Prince, were acting as cut-outs, giving Moïse plausible deniability, the Americans were told.

In return for helping Moïse, the president promised Leconte and Champagne that he would give a nationwide telecom contract to Preble-Rish Haiti, the engineering and construction company the men co-own, Jean-Louis and Leconte told the Americans.

Jean-Louis, Kroeker, and his five teammates arrived the Banque de la République d’Haiti in downtown Port-au-Prince around 2 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 17, roughly 36 hours after the Americans had landed. In addition to being a presidential aide, Jean-Louis was the former director of the national lottery, which is run out of the central bank. It is unclear if his previous job was related to his having been selected to transfer the money.

The Americans pulled up in three cars and got out. They were heavily armed and stood protectively around Jean-Louis. The bank was closed, but Jean-Louis told a security guard at the door that they were there on bank business, according to the source with direct knowledge. Suspicious of their intent, the security guard refused. Instead, someone alerted the police.

A two-hour stand-off ensued on Rue des Miracles. Penned in by the police, Kroeker called a seventh member of his team to help negotiate their release. Dustin Porte, an electrical services contractor and former member of the Louisiana National Guard who spoke French, showed up and spoke to the police on his team members’ behalf. The contractors eventually surrendered, telling the police it was all a big misunderstanding — and that they were there on a government mission, according to the Miami Herald.

The police asked the Americans why, if their mission was legitimate, they hadn’t gone through official channels, a senior Haitian law enforcement source told The Intercept.

“Because the president doesn’t trust you guys,” one of the contractors replied, according to the Haitian law enforcement official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about what happened.

Haitian police arrested Kroeker, the team leader; former Navy SEALs Christopher McKinley, 49, and Christopher Osman, 44; former Blackwater contractor Talon Burton, 51; and Porte, 43. They also detained the two Serbians, 36-year-old Danilo Bajagic and Vlade Jankovic, 40. Photos of their weapons and tactical gear, which included six semi-automatic assault rifles, six handguns, knives, and at least three satellite phones, soon surfaced on social media.

Haitian police sources say that some if not all of the mercenaries brought their arms with them and that the makes, models, and serial numbers of the weapons have been provided to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. U.S. authorities have so far failed to bring charges against the contractors for illegally traveling out of the United States with their weapons, which requires a license.

A list, created by Haitian police and acquired by Haïti Liberté, 
of the serial numbers of weapons the mercenaries had.

Fritz Jean-Louis had apparently managed to flee during the lengthy standoff. But after the Americans were booked into the jail, Michel-Ange Gédéon, the director general of Haiti’s National Police, fielded calls from Jean-Louis, senior presidential aide Ardouin Zéphirin, and Haitian Justice Minister Jean Roudy Aly, who claimed variously that the Americans were conducting “state business” and doing “work for the bank,” according to a well-placed police source. In each case, the callers conveyed that President Moïse had authorized the Americans and that they should be released. Gédéon refused.

Céant did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Shortly after the Americans were arrested, he took to the airwaves to call the team “terrorists” and “mercenaries” who had been trying to get to the bank’s roof so they could assassinate him and unspecified parliamentarians. He later walked back the statements, saying they were a “hypothesis.”

On Mon., Mar. 18, Haiti’s Deputies voted to oust Céant as prime minister, but Céant has remained defiant.

“There are MPs who have decided to do something illegal and unconstitutional and that goes against principles, Republican traditions, and parliamentary traditions,” he told the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste.
“I am still in office as Prime Minister.”

The caper might have been successful had any of the American participants had previous experience conducting a clandestine mercenary mission in a sovereign country. Instead, they were a mixed bag of mostly military veterans, including one former SEAL who had recently been charged with assault for a road rage incident in Southern California and another who was a body builder with a sideline as a country music singer. There was Kroeker, who among other ventures, ran a truck suspension business; a former Army military police officer and State Department security contractor; and the owner of a small electrical contracting firm that won a one-time $16,000 contract with the Department of Homeland Security.

Kroeker, according to a person with direct knowledge, had assured his colleagues that the mission would be easy. But while the Americans were well armed, they lacked other basic provisions of a secret security operation for hire: insurance coverage, a medical evacuation plan, legal authority to bring their weapons into Haiti, or an escape plan if things went bad.

“They had no idea what they were doing,” said the person with direct knowledge, who requested anonymity to speak publicly about the clandestine mission.

After the State Department secured the Americans’ release, everyone involved in the operation scattered. By the time the Americans were freed, Jean-Louis and Leconte had fled Haiti. Leconte flew back to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, according to the person with knowledge of the operation; a day after he landed in New York, his Facebook profile was taken down. On Feb. 24, Leconte fled from a reporter who asked for comment outside his Brooklyn home and hid in a parking garage.

Chris Osman, one the ex-Navy SEALs and the only member of the team to publicly discuss the Haiti operation so far, wrote on Instagram that he was in Haiti doing security work for “people who are directly connected to the current president.” Osman hinted at the Haitian political intrigue behind the scheme, posting that he and his colleagues “were being used as pawns in a public fight between [Moïse] and the current Prime Minister of Haiti.” Osman has since deleted his post.

Leconte and Champagne had discussed a possible follow-up contract with Kroeker if the money transfer was successful, according to the person with direct knowledge of the mission, but it is unclear what that assignment might have been.

Haiti Liberté would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance provided by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) during the course of this investigation.

Dog Wagging the Law: Can Netanyahu Outrun Corruption Clock to Election Win?

Will Corruption Scandal Sink Netanyahu Weeks Before Election?


March 25, 2019

New revelations about the arms deal between Israel and Germany is rocking the Israeli election campaign just two weeks before the elections. The state witness Mickey Ganor, who was the agent of the German Thyssenkrupp arms company in Israel, has been arrested by the police after he suddenly changed his story and violated the terms of the deal he made with Israeli police. At the same time, new evidence emerged that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has sold stocks in the GrafTech international company, which is a steel company providing components for the German company, making a profit of 400 percent, about four and a half million dollars.

The upcoming election in Israel is increasingly focused on the corrupt arms deals between Israel and Germany, from which Prime Minister Netanyahu personally profited millions of dollars. TRNN’s Shir Hever discusses the implications.

It was also revealed that the German government requested Netanyahu’s permission before selling similar submarines to Egypt. Netanyahu claimed before that he never gave such permission, but new evidence has shown that he lied and in fact authorized the German-Egypt arms deal, boosting the profits of GrafTech international, in which he was a stockholder. Major General Benny Gantz heads the party Blue and White, which is trying to unseat Netanyahu in the upcoming election. At a recent press conference, he had the following things to say.

The How To's of Shutting Down US Foreign Military Bases

Dear World, Here's How to Close Your U.S. Military Bases

by David Swanson - World Beyond War

March 24, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

If you live among the Other 96% — that portion of humanity that the U.S. government does not claim to represent, but where the U.S. military maintains some 1,000 major military bases, here are some helpful tips and past examples of success.

First of all, do everything you can to let people in the United States know how much they are paying financially for the bases in your country. While some of us in the United States primarily object to bases because of their use in creating and conducting campaigns of mass murder, many, including some who control U.S. media outlets, find the topic of financial cost far more acceptable.

One of those many is a rather insignificant and dimwitted member of the U.S. population who nonetheless matters because he is the president of the country. We want to encourage him to demand of your country higher and higher fees for the “benefit” of being “served” by your occupation by the U.S. bases that endanger your lives and pollute your water. And then we want to encourage your government to reply with a hearty “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

Secondly, make sure that every liberal militarist in the United States understands, and that everyone in your country understands the motivation for the bases. It is not to colonize or to extract resources. It is not to be close to areas of the world where wars are likely to spontaneously erupt and require U.S. participation for the good of us all. The United States can fly its instruments of death to anywhere on earth quite rapidly from the U.S. mainland, not to mention actual U.S. colonies. The reason for keeping bases on your land is that you are, in the eyes of the U.S. government, inferior creatures incapable of properly determining your own fate. So, the superior and whiter and more divinely favored U.S. government has a duty to dominate everyone else, and that includes you. Remember that U.S. liberals like to think they aren’t bigoted, so you’ll have to explain this to them several times.

Third, study the examples of what has worked before.

Austria in 1955 created a Constitutional ban on foreign bases, removed Soviet and all other foreign bases and troops

Farmers in Japan prevented the construction of a U.S. base in 1957.

In 1963, the U.S. departed from bases in Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1963 and 1977, the United States left its bases in Morocco.

In 1967, France evicted U.S. troops from all bases.

In 1969, the Ogasawara Islands were returned to Japan.

In 1970, the U.S. departed from its base in Libya.

The people of Puerto Rico kicked the U.S. Navy out of Culebra in 1974, and after years of effort, out of Vieques in 2003.

In 1975, the U.S. departed from at least four air bases in Thailand.

A U.S. Army base in Eritrea closed in 1977.

Native Americans evicted a Canadian military base from their land in 2013.

People of the Marshall Islands shortened a U.S. base lease in 1983.

The people of the Philippines kicked out all U.S. bases in 1992 (though the U.S. later returned).

The U.S. left an air base in Zaragosa, Spain, in 1992.

A women’s peace camp helped get U.S. missiles out of England in 1993.

U.S. bases left Midway Island in 1993 and Bermuda in 1995.

Hawaiians won back an island in 2003.

In 2007 localities in the Czech Republic held referenda that matched national opinion polls and demonstrations; their opposition moved their government to refuse to host a U.S. base.

Saudi Arabia closed its U.S. bases in 2003 (later reopened), as did Uzbekistan in 2005, Kyrgyzstan in 2009.

The U.S. military decided it had done enough damage to Johnston/Kalama Atoll in 2004.

Activists compelled the United States to give up a firing range in South Korea in 2005.

Activism in Vicenza, Italy, (and around Italy and Europe and in Washington, D.C.) between 2005 and 2010 resulted in the United States getting only 50% of the land it wanted for its new bases.

In 2007, the President of Ecuador answered public demand, and exposed hypocrisy, by announcing that the United States would need to host an Ecuadorean base in Miami, Florida, or shut down its base in Ecuador.

In 2010, bases were blocked by the Colombian Supreme Court.

Iraq closed bases in 2011, reopened in 2013.

As ever so slightly touched on in the preceding list, there have been a great many partial and short-live successes. We need to study what has worked most often and most lastingly.

At World BEYOND War we are putting a major focus on this effort, and have helped to start up a D.C. insider coalition called Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, drawing heavily on the work of David Vine and his book Base Nation. We’ve also been part of launching a global activist coalition to educate and mobilize people for the closure of U.S. and NATO military bases. This effort has produced a conference in Baltimore, Md., in January 2018, and one in Dublin, Ireland, in November 2018.

Some of the angles finding traction and being shared around the world are environmental. U.S. bases are poisoning ground water, not just all over the United States, where the Pentagon is seeking to legalize such practices, but all over the world, where it needn’t bother.

The reasons the Pentagon needn’t bother legalizing destruction abroad ultimately depend on the last remaining widely accepted bigotry in U.S. culture, namely that against every non-U.S. culture. When the world figures that out, and when the people of the United States figure that out, who knows what could happen.


David Swanson, Director,
World BEYOND War

Sunday, March 24, 2019

French Resistance: Gilets Jaunes Defy Macron's Fascist Tactics in Acte 19

Yellow Vests Hold Protests Across France Despite Bans

by RT 

March 24, 2019

Note: Telesur reports on the use of the French military against the Yellow Vest protests in week 19, writing:

French “yellow vest” demonstrators began their 19th consecutive weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government Saturday as military units were deployed to assist police.

Police and demonstrators clashed sporadically in Paris and other French cities Saturday as “yellow vest” protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government took place.

The demonstration in the capital was largely peaceful for most of the day, but later in the afternoon police fired tear gas on protesters near Boulevard de Strasbourg, close to the capital’s Gare du Nord and Gare de L’Est railway stations.

Skirmishes also erupted in cities including Lille in northern France, and Toulouse and Montpellier in the south, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

KZ  - Popular Resistance

[Above photo: ‘Yellow Vest’ protesters stage their 19th round of protests in Nice, France. Photo Reuters.]

Yellow Vest protests continue in France for the 19th straight weekend. In Paris, they have been banned from demonstrating on the Champs-Elysees, and those daring to violate the ban face fines.

Following the previous violent weekend, French authorities have banned the Yellow Vests from the most popular protest locations, including the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Pey-Berland square in Bordeaux, and the Capitole in Toulouse.

According to the latest official figures from the Ministry of Interior, some 40,500 people demonstrated across France, including 5,000 in Paris.

The ban on protesting on the Champs-Elysees and the surrounding area was announced by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Monday. Those who violate the ban face fines of up to €135.

While the restrictions imposed by the authorities have seemingly scared off some protestors, many believe that it’s just a temporary setback and next week more people will take to the streets. Banning the Yellow Vests from certain locations won’t stop the protests, one of the main figures of the movement, Éric Drouet, told RT France.

“Last Saturday we’ve seen great activation and I think it will repeat during future demonstrations,” Drouet said. 

Yellow Vest protests blocked by a police convoy at the Champs-Elysees
avenue in Paris, France on March 23, 2019. Benoit Tessier for Reuters

“I am not disappointed at all, considering how much pressure they’ve put on us. There was this story with the military – even if it was misinterpreted, it is a little scary; a fine of 135 euros also scares, so you can understand why some people were quite restrained,” another protester stated.
“This weekend is a short break, after which people will come even more motivated next weekend.”

Demonstrators steered clear of the iconic avenue itself, but gathered in central Paris, heading towards Montmartre. Upon reaching Montmartre, the Yellow Vests gathered at the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, waving flags and displaying banners.

One of the protesters said he was determined to demonstrate every Saturday as long as President Emmanuel Macron is in office – as of now, that’s 163 Saturdays to go, he calculated.

“We’re asking not that much,” he said. “I have less than €500 in my bank account right now. In the past, probably, I reached the end of the month with a zero balance, yet once a year I could get holidays for my daughter, a Christmas gift for her.
For several years already that’s impossible. Christmas is at her grandparents’ and the holidays on the couch at home. They [the government] are to blame for this.”

Protesters have draped the iconic Basilica with yellow cloth, a correspondent with RT France reported.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Russia's Red Line: Will Not Accept US-Led Coup in Venezuela

Russia Gives US Red Line on Venezuela 

by Finian Cunningham - SCF

March 22, 2019

At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied. Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Trump was again bragging the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement.

[US stooge, Wad Guano - Risible Claims
on Venezuelan presidency.]

The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly:

“We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand.

“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

Finian Cunningham - Former editor and writer for major news media organizations. He has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages.

France: "Rapidly Moving Towards Military-Police Dictatorship"

French army receives authorization to shoot “yellow vest” protesters

by Alex Lantier  - WSWS

23 March 2019  

Yesterday, the governor of the Paris military district told France Info that soldiers of the Operation Sentinel counter-terror mission had been authorized to fire today on the “yellow vests.”

[Breasts vs Guns protests.]

Asked about whether soldiers were capable of carrying out law enforcement duties, General Bruno Le Ray replied:

“Our orders are sufficiently clear that we do not need to be worried at all. The soldiers’ rules of engagement will be fixed very rigorously.”
“They will have different means for action faced with all types of threats,” he continued.
“That can go as far as opening fire.”

Le Ray added that soldiers will have the same rules of engagement for shooting protesters as those for gunning down terrorism suspects inside France:

“They will deliver warnings. This has happened in the past, as in (attacks at) the Louvre or at Orly. They are perfectly able to assess the nature of the threat and to respond proportionally.”

These threats against a protest movement against social inequality that is largely peaceful must be taken as a warning by workers and youth not only in France but internationally. As mass protests and strikes erupting outside the control of the union bureaucracies spread across the world, the military and security agencies of the financial aristocracy are preparing to carry out ruthless repression. Even in countries like France with long bourgeois-democratic traditions, they are rapidly moving towards military-police dictatorship.

 Soldiers from Opération Sentinelle on patrol in Strasbourg in 2015

Since the imposition of a state of emergency suspending basic democratic rights after the 2015 Paris attacks, the army’s Operation Sentinel has sent squads of soldiers marching in France’s streets, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles. The current crisis vindicates the WSWS’s longstanding warnings. In every country, the ruling class has used the “war on terror” as a pretext to reinforce state repression that is aimed above all at opposition in the working class.

Amid yesterday’s European Union summit in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to downplay the significance of sending the army against the “yellow vests.” The army is “in no way responsible for maintaining order and public order,” he claimed, mocking criticisms of his resort to the army as a “false debate” fueled by “those who play at scaring themselves and others.”

French Defense Minister Florence Parly followed Le Ray onto France Info and also trivialized the decision to send troops to police the protests. Without explicitly contradicting Le Ray’s report on the orders given to Operation Sentinel forces, she said:

“The soldiers of the French army never fire on protesters. … All those who play around with fantasies, who speak about opening fire, are only sowing confusion.”

It is impossible to know in advance whether or how many lives will be lost during army operations against the “yellow vests” today. But the soporific and historically inaccurate statements of Macron and Parly are being openly contradicted by certain soldiers, who are violating military discipline to tell the media about their anger and concern at the orders they are receiving.

“We have no business interfering in this ‘yellow vest’ business,” one soldier anonymously told France Info.

“We do not have the necessary equipment, we just have truncheons and little pepper spray bottles like what girls have in their purses. After that, the next thing we have is our assault rifles. … So, if we go up against too many protesters, unfortunately we will probably see fatalities.”

Another soldier stressed his anger at receiving orders from Macron to target the French people: “It is absurd, it’s arbitrary. We are not prepared for this. In technical terms, we fight military enemies. And the enemy cannot be the entire population, that is not possible. That is the situation they are trying to put soldiers in today.”

General Vincent Desportes, the former head of the War Academy, made clear his skepticism about claims from within the Macron government that riot police will always manage to get between protesters and the soldiers, to ensure that the latter do not fire on the former.

He said, “Until now the security forces have not shown themselves entirely capable of controlling large crowds of protesters. If violent protesters come into contact with the soldiers, there is a serious risk that blood will be spilt. …
The last time soldiers were used for law enforcement was in Algeria, more than 50 years ago. As you well know, at that point blood was spent, a lot of blood was spent.”

The result of the last intervention of the army against workers on what is currently French soil, in the insurrectionary strikes of 1947-8 against the bourgeois Republic established by the Gaullists and Stalinists after World War II and the fall of European fascism, was a massacre. As 350,000 miners went on strike, the army occupied the mines with an authorization to fire on the strikers. The resulting clashes led to six dead, thousands of wounded, and the firing of 3,000 miners, a decision legally recognized as discriminatory in 2011.

In Algeria, the use of the army to torture and kill Algerians rising up against French colonialism, barely more than a decade after these same methods were used in France itself by the Nazis and the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime, left over 300,000 dead in the 1954-1962 war.

These historical events are a warning as to the implications of mobilizing the army against the working class. They vindicate the strategy proposed by the Parti de l’égalité socialiste (PES) amid the “yellow vest” movement. Amid widespread hostility of workers internationally against the union bureaucracies and established political parties, the PES called for building independent committees of action and stressed the necessity of transferring state power in France and across Europe to such organizations of the working class.

This also requires building the PES as the political alternative to the petty bourgeois political parties, rejected by a broad majority of “yellow vests.” These parties try to tie the workers to Macron by proposing to negotiate a democratization of society with him and the trade unions.

Many of these parties—including the French Communist Party, the New Anticapitalist Party, the Greens, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France, and the Independent Democratic Workers Party—came together yesterday to issue a pathetic “united” appeal to Macron.

Criticizing “the government’s authoritarian excesses,” they begged Macron to cease ignoring them and negotiate more with them to try to calm the situation:

“The sidelining of the social, ecological and trade union movements, contempt for those who speak truth to power, is a way of preventing all dialog, all positive outcomes to the crises of our time. …
The calming of tensions we desire also requires the state power to respond concretely to the aspirations for social justice that are widely expressed in our country.”

But there is nothing to negotiate with Macron. By sending the army against the “yellow vests,” he is sending a clear signal that the financial aristocracy and the state authorities have no intention of realizing the social aspirations of the working class. They want to crush these aspirations, and if necessary to drown them in blood.

The current crisis exposes the utter bankruptcy of their strategy of tying the workers to capitalist politicians and the capitalist state. During the 2017 election, all these parties adapted themselves to the official propaganda presenting Macron as a lesser evil than neo-fascist candidate Marine Le Pen. Now that Macron has declared his admiration for fascist dictator Philippe Pétain and sent the army against the “yellow vests,” this propaganda is exposed as an utter fraud.

Faced with Macron’s historic threat against the workers, the turn is to the construction of independent organizations of the working class and of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International as their revolutionary vanguard.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Mein Gott! Mueller-Dämmerung


by CJ Hopkins - Consent Factory

March 21, 2019

If Nietzsche, (left) was right, and what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, we can thank the global capitalist ruling classes, the Democratic Party, and the corporate media for four more years of Donald Trump.

The long-awaited Mueller report is due any day now, or so they keep telling us. Once it is delivered, and does not prove that Trump is a Russian intelligence asset, or that he personally conspired with Vladimir Putin to steal the presidency from Hillary Clinton, well, things are liable to get a bit awkward.

Given the amount of goalpost-moving and focus-shifting that has been going on, clearly, this is what everyone’s expecting.

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised. I was sure they were going to go ahead and fabricate some kind of “smoking gun” evidence (like the pee-stained sheets from that Moscow hotel), or coerce one of his sleazy minions into testifying that he personally saw Trump down on his knees “colluding” Putin in the back room of a Russian sauna. After all, if you’re going to accuse a sitting president of being a Russian intelligence asset, you kind of need to be able to prove it, or (a) you defeat the whole purpose of the exercise, (b) you destroy your own credibility, and (c) you present that sitting president with a powerful weapon he can use to bury you.

This is not exactly rocket science. As any seasoned badass will tell you, when you’re resolving a conflict with another seasoned badass, you don’t take out a gun unless you’re going to use it. Taking a gun out, waving it around, and not shooting the other badass with it, is generally not a winning strategy. What often happens, if you’re dumb enough to do that, is that the other badass will take your gun from you and either shoot you or beat you senseless with it.

This is what Trump is about to do with Russiagate. When the Mueller report fails to present any evidence that he “colluded” with Russia to steal the election, Trump is going to reach over, grab that report, roll it up tightly into a makeshift cudgel, and then beat the snot out of his opponents with it. He is going to explain to the American people that the Democrats, the corporate media, Hollywood, the liberal intelligentsia, and elements of the intelligence agencies conspired to try to force him out of office with an unprecedented propaganda campaign and a groundless special investigation. He is going to explain to the American people that Russiagate, from start to finish, was, in his words, a ridiculous “witch hunt,” a childish story based on nothing. Then he’s going to tell them a different story.

That story goes a little something like this …

Back in November of 2016, the American people were so fed up with the neoliberal oligarchy that everyone knows really runs the country that they actually elected Donald Trump president. They did this fully aware that Trump was a repulsive, narcissistic ass clown who bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy” and jabbered about building “a big, beautiful wall” and making the Mexican government pay for it. They did this fully aware of the fact that Donald Trump had zero experience in any political office whatsoever, was a loudmouth bigot, and was possibly out of his gourd on amphetamines half the time. The American people did not care. They were so disgusted with being conned by arrogant, two-faced, establishment stooges like the Clintons, the Bushes, and Barack Obama that they chose to put Donald Trump in office, because, fuck it, what did they have to lose?

The oligarchy that runs the country responded to the American people’s decision by inventing a completely cock-and-bull story about Donald Trump being a Russian agent who the American people were tricked into voting for by nefarious Russian mind-control operatives, getting every organ of the liberal corporate media to disseminate and relentlessly promote this story on a daily basis for nearly three years, and appointing a special prosecutor to conduct an official investigation in order to lend it the appearance of legitimacy. Every component of the ruling establishment (i.e., the government, the media, the intelligence agencies, the liberal intelligentsia, et al.) collaborated in an unprecedented effort to remove an American president from office based on a bunch of made-up horseshit … which kind of amounts to an attempted soft coup.

This is the story Donald Trump is going to tell the American people.

A minority of ideological heretics on what passes for the American Left are going to help him tell this story, not because we support Donald Trump, but because we believe that the mass hysteria and authoritarian fanaticism that has been manufactured over the course of Russiagate represents a danger greater than Trump. It has reached some neo-Riefenstahlian level, this bug-eyed, spittle-flecked, cult-like behavior … worse even than the mass hysteria that gripped most Americans back in 2003, when they cheered on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the murder, rape, and torture of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children based on a bunch of made-up horseshit.

We are going to be vilified, we leftist heretics, for helping Trump tell Americans this story. We are going to be denounced as Trumpenleft traitors, Putin-sympathizers, and Nazi-adjacents (as we were denounced as terrorist-sympathizers and Saddam-loving traitors back in 2003). We are going to be denounced as all these things by liberals, and by other leftists. We are going to be warned that pointing out how the government, the media, and the intelligence agencies all worked together to sell people Russiagate will only get Trump reelected, and, if that happens, it will be the End of Everything.

It will not be the End of Everything.

What might, however, be the End of Everything, or might lead us down the road to the End of Everything, is if otherwise intelligent human beings continue to allow themselves to be whipped into fits of mass hysteria and run around behaving like a mindless herd of propaganda-regurgitating zombies whenever the global capitalist ruling classes tell them that “the Russians are coming!” or that “the Nazis are coming!” or that “the Terrorists are coming!”

The Russo-Nazi Terrorists are not coming. The global capitalist ruling classes are putting down a populist insurgency, delegitimizing any and all forms of dissent from their global capitalist ideology and resistance to the hegemony of global capitalism. In the process, they are conditioning people to completely abandon their critical faculties and behave like twitching Pavlovian idiots who will obediently respond to whatever stimuli or blatantly fabricated propaganda the corporate media bombards them with.

If you want a glimpse of the dystopian future … it isn’t an Orwellian boot in your face. It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Study the Russiagate believers’ reactions to the Mueller report when it is finally delivered. Observe the bizarre intellectual contortions their minds perform to rationalize their behavior over the last three years. Trust me, it will not be pretty. Cognitive dissonance never is.

Or, who knows, maybe the Russiagate gang will pull a fast one at the eleventh hour, and accuse Robert Mueller of Putinist sympathies (or appearing in that FSB video of Trump’s notorious Moscow pee-party), and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the special prosecutor. That should get them through to 2020!

DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our in-house satirist and self-appointed political pundit, CJ Hopkins, and does not reflect the views and opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns. If, for whatever inexplicable reason, you appreciate Mr. Hopkins’ work and would like to support it, please go to his Patreon page (where you can contribute as little $1 per month), or send your contribution to his PayPal account, so that maybe he’ll stop coming around our offices trying to hit our staff up for money. Alternatively, you could purchase his satirical dystopian novel, Zone 23, which we understand is pretty gosh darn funny, or any of his subversive stage plays, which won some awards in Great Britain and Australia. If you do not appreciate Mr. Hopkins’ work and would like to write him an abusive email, please feel free to contact him directly.

Can the Crises of Science Be Solved?

Solutions: Open Science

by James Corbett - The Corbett Report

March 22, 2019

In the face of the crisis of science, it is easy to throw our hands up and watch as the old guard of the scientific establishment circles the wagons and goes back to business as usual. But there are real solutions to these problems, and we all—scientists and non-scientists alike—have a part to play in implementing them.

  The Corbett Report explores Solutions: Open Science

For those with limited bandwidth, CLICK HERE to download a smaller, lower file size version of this episode.

For those interested in audio quality, CLICK HERE for the highest-quality version of this episode (WARNING: very large download).

Britain's Blacklist: How Security Services and Big Business Neutralize 'Subversives'

How UK Security Services and Big Business Blacklisted 'Subversives'

by Kit Klarenberg - Sputnik

March 22, 2019

One cold morning in February 2009, investigators from the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK data watchdog, rapped loudly on the front door of a decrepit building secreted down an alley in Droitwich, Worcestershire. It was opened by a man named Ian Kerr - the ICO team informed him they were armed with a search warrant, and were coming in.

The premises was the headquarters of The Consulting Association. While one would never have guessed from its run-down facade or determinedly anodyne name, it served as the nucleus of a ruthless, monolithic conspiracy between big business and British security agencies to identify and monitor the activities of ‘subversives' and ‘troublemakers' — for instance, manual labourers who raised health and safety concerns on-site and/or engaged in political activism, and trade unionists — and ‘blacklist' them from employment. The connivance was equally insidious and unsophisticated in the extreme.

Kerr would be provided the details of bothersome individuals by a number of sources both within and without the industry, then when people applied for work on a building project the firm(s) in charge would discretely forward their names on to him to determine whether they were blacklisted.

Peter Francis, former undercover Special
Demonstration Squad (SDS) police officer
turned whistleblower speaks to the
Support Group about spying on trade unions.
Admits providing intelligence on over 300 people

Over the course of the Association's 16-year existence, 40 of the sector's biggest and richest firms had made use of its services at one time or another.

Once inside the tatty office, where staff still relied on fax machines and typewriters, the team quickly found what they were looking for — card indexes resembling police station intelligence filing systems, and corresponding alphabetised ring-binders of documents on blacklisted workers.

The files contained their National Insurance numbers, home addresses, vehicle registrations, and clippings from pamphlets, underground left-wing publications and newspaper articles mentioning them — in some cases, there was even information about an individual's spouse. Also included were cautionary comments — "strike instigator", "trouble-stirrer", "Communist party member", "wears anti-Nazi League badges", "good worker but very militant", "Irish ex-army, bad egg", "talks like a young Alf Garnett", and "do not touch!" were just a few of the more salacious observations.

David Clancy, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) chief investigator, said the discovery was "like Christmas" — Kerr's take was rather different. "You realise you're about to destroy a very effective network in the industry?" he despaired. The previous year, he'd conducted around 40,000 checks on individuals at the behest of construction giants.

The raid put a permanent end to the organisation, produced several official investigations into its activities and the wider issue of workplace blacklisting, and resulted in millions being paid out to affected workers. However, many serious questions about the affair linger a decade later — and the practice of blacklisting, and collusion between state security services and major corporations, endures to this day.

Case Building

For years, rumours had widely circulated among labourers that the construction industry operated some kind of blacklisting structure. A great many skilled workers with extensive resumes, strong references and impressive attendance and/or punctuality records on-site had found themselves abruptly and inexplicably unable to find work literally anywhere. The impact on the psychological well-being, personal lives and finances of those impacted by this unspoken employment embargo was absolutely devastating.

Many were forced to spend their remaining years unemployed and living extremely modestly off state benefits and whatever savings they had, while others either emigrated or retrained at great personal and financial cost — often though, they were unable to secure work in their new-found fields too. Some were driven to suicide.

"It's a form of house arrest…you have nothing, you don't have the means to actually get out and socialise and enjoy yourself and lead a life most people take for granted," blacklisted bricklayer Brian Higgins has lamented.

A number of people who suspected they'd fallen victim to this spectral subterfuge attempted to ascertain the truth by taking their former employers — or companies that had unaccountably rejected them — to employment tribunals, but none were able to prove the structure existed.

That was until 2007, when three electricians won a case for unfair dismissal they'd brought following their unaccountable sacking from a construction project mere weeks after being hired. In its landmark summation, the tribunal concluded a "disgraceful" blacklisting system was in place in the construction industry.

Key to the trio's success was the testimony of industry whistleblower Alan Wainwright. In 1997, while national labour manager at Crown House — a subsidiary of the since-collapsed Carillion — he was told by senior management many major sector players paid Kerr for intelligence on potentially problematic applicants. As Crown House was due to make use of his services, Wainwright was instructed to meet with him and discuss how the relationship would work in practice. It was made clear to Wainwright by both his employers and Kerr not to discuss the system or their arrangement with anyone.

By 2004, he'd become a manager for Haden Young, a subsidiary of Balfour Beatty. There, Wainwright not only found the blacklisting system also in operation, but identified potentially fraudulent activities by other employees — he alerted higher-ups, but in response they merely "shunned" him, making him feel "isolated, lonely and alienated".

He eventually launched a grievance complaint against the company, even though knowing what he knew, he worried he'd end up blacklisted too. He quit in 2006, then launched and lost an employment tribunal claim against the firm — Wainwright's search for a new job was also fruitless, having over 150 applications rejected.

His fears confirmed, he started publishing information about Kerr and The Consulting Association online, in the process naming hundreds of workers he believed had been blacklisted on his blog.

Wainwright's whistleblowing was ignored by the industry and media alike, but eventually caught the attention of affected workers, and he began assisting them in their legal actions, leading to the electricians' watershed victory.

In June 2008, investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain wrote an article about the case for The Guardian — no other mainstream news outlet seemed interested in the story, but it was noticed by an ICO employee, who passed it to David Clancy's desk. Recognising the grave data protection implications, he immediately set about tracking down the individuals named in the piece to get their side of the story in full.

Wainwright's bombshell insight was sufficient for the ICO to secure a search warrant for Haden Young's offices, which were raided in September that year, yielding a trove of compromising information about blacklisting, and the name and fax number of The Consulting Association.

​The obvious next step was to raid the Association's offices, but locating them proved problematic — the organisation wasn't registered as a company, charity or other commercial entity and appeared in no official records of any kind. It would take the ICO threatening British Telecom with a court order to learn its address, and Kerr's name — after securing yet another search warrant, the blacklist bust was finally on, eight months after the investigation began.

See No Evil

The operation was hailed as a major coup by the ICO — but if it was a victory, it was pyrrhic in the absolute extreme. For one, as blacklisting wasn't illegal, Kerr could only be charged with breaking the data protection act — in May 2009 he pleaded guilty in absentia, and received a £5,000 fine.

Companies that'd utilised the Association got off even more lightly — none were prosecuted, and the ICO served just 14 of them with enforcement notices, in effect warnings to comply with data protection laws in future. Alan Ritchie, then-general secretary of construction union UCATT, alleged that "some of the worst offenders", which had reaped hundreds of millions of pounds from government contracts, escaped the ICO's flaccid rebuke — including one firm that submitted 13,000 requests to Kerr in 2008 alone.

Moreover, many of the names contained in the files raised major questions about the full extent, and true scope, of The Consulting Association's activities — several individuals with detailed profiles had no professional history in or even connections to the construction industry whatsoever, such as Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan, and noted activist Helen Steel, one of the defendants in the notorious ‘McLibel' trial.

That Kerr's remit extended far beyond construction was all but confirmed in October 2012 when Clancy shockingly revealed to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee his investigators only seized "between 5 and 10 percent" of the documentation stored in the Association's offices.

David Clancy Testifies to the Scottish Affairs Committee

"We didn't search every item within the office because our warrant specifically said ‘the existence of a blacklist'. Once we found that, our search, in theory, should stop because we had found the evidence we were looking for…
"There were lots of other files within the office…filing cabinets full of stuff…What the other 90 or 95 percent was I can't comment on…We just took the information relevant to our inquiry…We didn't go through all the other information.
"We looked and said, ‘we are satisfied that that is the information, that is the blacklist that operates within the construction industry'," he said.

The understandably incredulous and dumbfounded panel of parliamentarians duly interrogated the ICO's Investigations Manager with some intensity. What information did he and his team see but not seize? Why didn't they inspect more material? How did they know there weren't more blacklists? How did they know the other files weren't relevant if they didn't inspect them?

To these extremely obvious queries Clancy had no real answer, but he did provide intriguing insight into what was taken — as a former police officer, he was confident some of the material had been provided to Kerr by law enforcement and/or security services. He based his judgement on both the language contained in certain reports, and the nature of the information held on particular blacklistees — for instance, one file was replete with "in-depth analysis of an individual's home circumstances and what his neighbours thought about him", which Clancy concluded was drawn from an official "intelligence record".

Puzzle Pieces

What the remaining 90 — 95 percent of the files contained will literally never be known, for as Kerr told the same Committee the next month, not long after the ICO raid he "burned the whole damned lot, everything", so thoroughly there was "no chance of any of it remaining" — although he acknowledged having maintained files on around 200 environmental activists.

When asked whether he'd ever conducted ‘security clearances' for job applicants — a role which would connect him directly to the security services — Kerr asked if he could answer "in private", and wasn't pressed further.

Again, the precise nature of Kerr's relationship with the security state will forever remain a mystery, as two weeks after his Committee appearance he died from reported heart failure — although before his passing he told The Times he attended a meeting between construction firm directors and a National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit officer in 2008, at which workers of interest to Special Branch were discussed.

Moreover, in March 2018 the Metropolitan Police confirmed its officers had extensively surveilled and infiltrated trade unions — to the extent Special Branch maintained a dedicated ‘Industrial Intelligence Section' — and provided information which ended up in Kerr's files.

In July that year, the 2016 Creedon Report into Operation Reuben, an internal police investigation into blacklisting, was released to lawyers representing the Blacklist Support Group, whose members are ‘core participants' in the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry — to mark the 10th anniversary of the Droitwich raid, the Group provided me with a copy. While heavy on redaction and self-exculpation, the document offers many tantalising indications of clandestine collaboration between the British state and big business, and the role undercover operatives played in ruining the lives of so many innocent people.

Creedon Report Excerpt

For one, it's clear blacklists operated in a vast number of professional fields — Special Branch's aforementioned ‘Industrial Intelligence Unit' is said to have "used various methods to report on the whole range of working life, from teaching to the docks", including "collating reports from other units, from uniform officers to SDS, attending conferences and protests personally, and developing well-placed confidential contacts from within the different sectors".

The SDS was the Special Demonstration Squad, a now-notorious and defunct Special Branch division set up in 1968 specifically to penetrate protest groups in the UK. Its operatives — often using identities stolen from dead children — would embed themselves in political movements for years at a time, frequently deceiving women into sexual relationships along the way. At least one SDS officer — Bob Lambert, who later headed the unit — fathered a child with an activist.

A dedicated section of the Report deals with allegations SDS officer Mark Jenner, who as ‘Mark Cassidy' infiltrated left-wing groups — and construction union UCATT — in North London 1995 — 2000 provided information to The Consulting Association.

Creedon Report Excerpt

"A review of the reporting linked to DC Jenner shows during his tenure, he reported on over 300 individuals…by cross-referencing the names with the blacklist, [we] found 16 individuals from the blacklist are mentioned Jenner, some of which entailed detailed reporting," it states.

However, in just one of many examples of contradictory doublespeak littered throughout the document, the author goes on to suggest there's no evidence "any of the intelligence provided by Jenner appeared on the blacklist" or "SDS information was passed to blacklisting organisations directly" — while conceding "it is of course possible some information gathered by the SDS was passed to industry contacts on a personal basis by Special Branch officers from other departments".

"For example, [redacted] claims to have had a reciprocal relationship with Special Branches around the country until [redacted]. However, there is no method for identifying whether this happened," the report continues.

Royston Bentham of the Blacklist Support Group thinks such equivocation laughable.

"It must've came from the top. You don't have this level of collusion without those calling the shots knowing," he tells me.

Whatever the truth of the matter, even if information on just 16 individuals spied on by Jenner ended up in blacklisting files by some means or other, he was one of several SDS officers who collected intelligence on trade unionists, directly or indirectly. Another was Peter Francis, who as ‘Pete Black' infiltrated a variety of groups 1993 — 1997, including the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign.

He turned whistleblower in 2010, and has confirmed he opened a file on bricklayer Frank Smith, who was involved in both union campaigns for better wages and conditions and anti-fascist activism. Smith was eventually blacklisted, his Association file noting his presence at various protests, and that he was "under constant watch (officially) and seen as politically dangerous". Francis believes he was responsible for this — after all, how else would a construction manager know Smith attended an anti-BNP rally?

​Speaking at an event in Parliament 7 March this year, Francis expressed remorse for his actions, and indicated Smith was one of potentially many workers whose careers he effectively ended.

"I did wrong. I will personally will meet anyone I blacklisted or spied on. Many years later I have problems justifying what I did. I must've spied on more than 300 people. I know lives were damaged," he said.

Neverending Story

Troublingly, the Creedon Report makes clear police continue to share information on workers with big business today, via the ‘Industrial Liaison Section' of the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU). The Unit's official purview is to "directly combat domestic extremism in society", including "acts of terrorism motivated by extremism" — indicating the British state categorises spying on trade unionists as ‘counter-terrorism'.

How this information is used by its corporate recipients is unclear, but what's certain is blacklisting very much remains in operation today. For instance, in 2017 Unite — the UK's second-largest trade union — exposed compelling evidence of the practice being employed in the state-funded Crossrail project, with emails from the previous year detailing surveillance of workers on the initiative taking part in peaceful protests being circulated between the project's contractors and employee relations department.

A number of protesters were closely monitored, and much sensitive personal data was collected in the process — several found themselves summarily dismissed from Crossrail not long afterwards. A worker who launched a resultant grievance complaint has had hundreds of job applications turned down since.

In December that year, the trade union giant launched new legal action against a host of firms, including Skanska UK, Laing Limited, John Laing Construction, Kier, Balfour Beatty, Crown House and Carillion will be in the dock.

The trial commences at the High Court 4 June, and Unite boasted in February this year it was "closing in" on Cullum McAlpine, a director of Sir Robert McAlpine and one of the "key architects" of The Consulting Association. By Kerr's own admission, the company paid his £5,000 fine as a reward for him taking "the flak for it all…so they wouldn't be drawn into all of this [and] remain hidden".

However, Royston of the Blacklist Support Group — himself blacklisted by Laing O'Rourke in 2015 — tells me there are unanswered questions about the trade union giant's own potential role in the blacklisting of workers.

"We need a full standalone public inquiry into all strands of the scandal, including the ‘spycops' operations, along with how far up this went politically — and legislation to ensure this can never happen again.
"Only a Labour government will do that, and hopefully bring criminal proceedings against the perpetrators of these heinous abuses of our human rights. Compensation can never equate to justice, only prison sentences for those guilty can. Being in pen three at Hillsborough 30 years ago taught me that," he says.

​For his part, Alan Wainwright says he's absolutely certain Unite is guilty of both complicity in the practice, and attempting to cover up the scandal. He provided the union — then-named Amicus — with extensive dossiers of evidence relating to blacklisting in January 2006, but despite writing to then-General Secretary Derek Simpson on three occasions subsequently, the information was never acted upon. He claims the documentation was "buried" in order to protect the millions of pounds Amicus received from construction companies at the time.

"Were it not for my persistence, The Consulting Association would most certainly still exist today. I've also publicised evidence of blacklisting involving veteran labour manager David Craggs, documenting how he was creating and sharing blacklists as late as 2013 — some workers have told me he'd threaten people with blacklisting to their faces — to no avail.
"A Unite regional official even threatened me with legal action for writing blog posts about him — you couldn't make it up," he tells me.

He nonetheless remains a Unite member, and has repeatedly raised his various concerns with General Secretary Len McCluskey and Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, but he says both have a strong vested interest in ignoring him.

"McDonnell doesn't want to rock the boat as Unite are the Labour party's main funding stream, and McCluskey doesn't want to get to the bottom of the union's complicity and cover up as it implicates senior officials. The supposed good guys are not really the good guys, and anyone caught in the crossfire just gets trodden all over," he concludes.

Whether Cullum McAlpine will eventually have his day in court is uncertain. In the meantime, his firm — a major donor to the Conservative party — continues its renovation of London's Big Ben, a project that could take until 2021 to complete and will cost the British public at least £61 million. All the while, the internationally renowned landmark will remain enmeshed in unsightly scaffolding, only chiming on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Mantra for a New Arms Race: "Blame China"

China the Target of Pentagon’s Massive Military Budget – Horne and Jay


March 20, 2019

The military budget that’s been presented by the Trump administration and the Pentagon, which raises military spending to a pretty much unheard of over 760 billion dollars–and that’s actually, in reality, much more than that because there are certain parts of the defense structure that don’t show up within the Pentagon budget. Many people estimate that even before this rise in military budget, the real military spending was over a trillion dollars. But in any case, this is a significant rise.

Patrick Shanahan, who’s the acting Secretary of Defense, has been quoted as telling his staff that when you’re defending the military budget and the logic behind this budget, you only need three words, “China, China, and China.”

Acting Secretary of Defense justifies the increase in military spending with three words: China, China, China – Historian Gerald Horne joins Paul Jay.