Saturday, January 07, 2017

Weapons of Mass Delusion: Deploying the Human Rights Propaganda Bomb in Syria and Iraq

Politicizing Victimhood: Human Rights as a Propaganda Weapon in Aleppo and Mosul

by Anthony DiMaggio - CounterPunch

January 6, 2017

Despite continued clashes between the government and rebel forces, the ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia appears to have significantly reduced the violence in Syria. Following the fall of Aleppo to Assad’s forces, we should be reflecting upon what lessons can be drawn from Syria. I would offer a few.

Photo by United States Agency for 
International Development | Public Domain 

First, in wars that involve officially designated enemies of state, such as Syria and Russia, there is little reason to think that one will be exposed to reasoned, sensible discourse in the U.S. media. Similarly, on “the other side” – Russia in this case – one sees a similar effort to exonerate the government from responsibility for human rights violations. A second, broader lesson from Syria is that “human rights” inevitably serve as a rhetorical weapon, used on “both sides” by powerful societal actors, including officialdom and the press, to advance their own strategic interests.

When writing about the politicization of human rights, I find it impossible to ignore Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s important distinction between “worthy” and “unworthy victims,” with individuals fitting in one of the categories or the other based on nationalistic and strategic considerations. If the human rights abuses are committed by an “enemy” state, they will be endlessly highlighted and condemned to create a polarization and dichotomy between the “righteous” home country and the “evil” enemy. If, on the other hand, the abuses are committed by an ally or by the home country itself, the abuses will be downplayed or completely swept under the rug, since they endanger romantic myths that the power in question acts heroically and selflessly, and merely to help others.

In Manufacturing Consent, Herman and Chomsky established a “propaganda model,” which argues that U.S. media consistently fall in line behind official propaganda, failing to question governmental narratives portraying U.S. foreign policy in a noble, humanitarian light. Little appears to have changed since Chomsky and Herman wrote their book nearly three decades ago.

In the case of Syria, Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin are widely reviled by U.S. political elites. Due to the heavy nationalistic and official source bias among American journalists, it would be expected that the Syrian and Russian bombings would be subject to heavy attention in the news. On the other hand, the bombings of the United States, coordinated with its ally Iraq – while also producing a humanitarian crisis in Mosul – cannot be laid at the feet of an enemy country. Considering the propagandistic nature of the American press, one would expect that these bombings would receive far less attention in the news.

I won’t rehash the criticisms that are made against the Russian and Syrian governments regarding their aerial bombing campaign against Aleppo, which has resulted in significant civilian casualties and mass urban destruction. I spent considerable time documenting these charges in my previous piece (Counterpunch, “Pathologies of War,” 12/28/2016). But for those who embrace the romantic narrative of the Assad and Putin regimes as fighting for “the people” of Syria and against repression, terrorism, and tyranny, available public opinion data suggest this is not the case.

Most Syrians polled appear to share strong distrust of most-all the actors involved in destabilizing their country, and this includes the United States, Assad’s government, rebel, and jihadi forces. Quality polling data is hard to come by, but what information is available is revealing. For example, one national poll of Syrians by ORB International completed in 2014 found that just 35 percent of respondents agreed Bashar Assad “best represents the interests and aspirations of the Syrian people” (ORB, 2014). But distrust was also evident for jihadi groups. Just 4 percent agreed that ISIS represented “the interests and aspirations” of Syrians, while just 9 percent feeling the same about al-Nusra, and only 21 percent felt this way about the political opposition to Assad in general.

Even when opposition to Assad was reframed by ORB in reference to “moderated armed groups,” just 14 percent of Syrians indicated support for opponents of the regime. This finding is not meant to delegitimize the non-violent protests of the Assad regime, particularly those in the early days of the rebellion (2011). These protests represented a meaningful grassroots condemnation of a regime that was notorious for human rights abuses and kleptocracy in an era of growing Syrian poverty and inequality (Cole, 4/6/16). And the rebellion against Assad predictably shifted from non-violent to violent as the Assad regime showered artillery rounds and bombs on Syrian cities in a scorched earth assault that intentionally targeted civilians, even when rebel groups were nowhere to be seen.

The “Either Assad or We’ll Burn the Country” threat, made by government allied militiamen, was not an idle threat (Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami, 2016). Despite the Assad regime’s radicalization of protests in the shift to violent insurgency, it appears that the Syrian public has had enough of the violence on all sides. The ORB poll findings are instructive, at least in terms of pointing out that violent rebellion, even if pursued by non-Jihadi “moderate” groups, is not seen as helping the average Syrian, who has been victimized by years of war, death, and destruction.

A more recent ORB poll from late 2015 found mass public disenchantment with the war and the actors involved in it (ORB, 2015). Fifty-seven percent of Syrians agreed that their country “is going in the wrong direction,” compared to 37 percent who felt it was heading in the “right direction.” while just 21 percent agreed that they “prefer[ed] life now compared to before the war.” Furthermore, a minority of Syrians – 48 percent – supported “international coalition airstrikes” in Syria that are being pursued in the name of destroying al-Nusra and ISIS-style jihadi groups.

When asked about whether various groups have had a “positive influence” on Syria, just 47 percent of the public agreed that Assad had played such a role, although there was even less support for al-Nusra and ISIS, with 35 percent and 21 percent respectively agreeing each group played a positive role. Most Syrians – 51 percent – indicated support for a “political solution” to the fighting, compared to just 37 percent who supported the continuation of the military conflict. Revealingly, skepticism of the United States was pronounced. When asked to “explain the presence of ISIL in Iraq/Syria,” 38 percent of Syrians agreed that it is a “U.S.-foreign manufactured group,” while the second most common explanation, held by 34 percent, was that its rise was a motivated by opposition to “widespread sectarian politics in Arab countries.”

Whether Syrians viewed ISIS/ISIL as actively created by the U.S. intelligence community and CIA, or merely a product of a radicalized climate in the region that materialized in response to U.S. wars and destabilization, was not made clear in the survey. But the results do suggest a profound distrust of the United States as a power that contributes to instability and social conflict in the region, rather than a force working for good.

Syrian public distrust of all the major parties involved in war is well documented. All the political actors involved in the war are viewed as worsening the crisis. But one should not allow the events in Syria to direct our attention away from another humanitarian crisis that has emerged in Mosul, which has received much less attention in the U.S. media.

The Mosul offensive began in mid-October, 2016, and was undertaken by the Iraqi government, in coordination with Shiite, Kurdish, and other ethnic militias, and with the help of a U.S. aerial bombing campaign. The stated goal of the offensive against Iraq’s second largest city, as with Russia and Syria’s attack on Aleppo, was to root out jihadi fundamentalist groups. While Aleppo has recently fallen to Syrian government forces, the siege on, and humanitarian crisis in Mosul is ongoing. Reuters reported on January 4 that thousands of Iraqis were fleeing Mosul, as “U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State,” and despite warnings from the United Nations that “many more civilian casualties” are being recorded amidst intensified fighting (Reuters, 1/2/17).

Amnesty International reports on charges of revenge killings against civilians fleeing Mosul, committed by Iraq-government backed militias such as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and Tribal Moblizations (TM) – both Sunni militias – based on the assumption that the internally displaced were somehow responsible for participating in or enabling ISIS executions (AI, 11/2/16).

Reports of the humanitarian crisis have not been totally absent from the U.S. press. CNN reporting from October, 2016 warned of a looming “humanitarian crisis” in Mosul, with the United Nations warning that the conflict between government-backed forces and ISIS could create “one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times” (Culinane, 10/18/16). CNN also reported in December that, under the U.S.-led siege, “at least half a million people [were] caught in the crossfire inside Mosul” with “no access to running water” (Mohammed and Abdelaz, 12/2/16).

The progressive-left media outlet Common Dreams reported in early November on the “hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Mosul…with U.S.-led forces refusing to create safe escape routes and urging residents instead to ‘shelter in place’ as the military assault on ISIS fighters swiftly move[d] into the Iraqi city” (Knight, 11/1/16). Reporting from the Guardian draws attention to mounting civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes, which have “deepen[ed] fears for civilians” and may be imposing a “high humanitarian cost” (Hawramy and Graham-Harrison, 11/1/16).

An analysis of news reporting on Aleppo and Mosul demonstrates just how politicized coverage has become. In the case of Russian reporting on Aleppo, there was a blackout on state-funded television in terms of recognizing government responsibility for civilian deaths. Since the U.S. scholarly news database Lexis Nexis does not archive daily newscasts from Russia Today, I instead looked to RT’s own online search function to seek out reports of civilian casualties that were attributed to Russian or Syrian bombing. Using the search term “Aleppo,” I found not a single news report that even acknowledged that civilian deaths from Russian and Syrian bombings occurred. To the contrary, there were numerous reports – I found nearly a dozen stories in RT in the last few months of 2016 – that covered reports of U.S. airstrikes targeting Syrian civilians or Syrian government forces.

The concentration on the U.S. demonstrates the tremendous cynicism and propaganda at work in RT reporting. The outlet draws on numerous reports from western human rights groups to condemn U.S. bombings, while ignoring reports from the very same human rights organizations that spotlight Assad’s and Putin’s responsibility for aerial strikes that kill civilians. It is difficult to find a starker example of the dichotomy between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims at work than this. RT readers are expected to believe that when the U.S. bombs targets from the air, civilians die, but when the Russian and Syrian governments do the same, casualties are miraculously avoided. All this, despite evidence of Assad’s use of indiscriminate weapons of war (such as barrel bombs) over urban areas, which are intentionally built to cause maximum destruction and death, and without regard to civilians in harm’s way.

Those looking for a fair or even-handed account of the destructiveness of war will not do much better in the American media. The coverage of human rights in the Middle East is heavily politicized in mass media outlets, in line with the government’s narrative that the U.S. plays a stabilizing, humanitarian role in the region, compared to its “enemies,” which seek merely to dominate and destroy for their own selfish motives. With American journalists, there is an intense focus on the crimes committed by the Assad and Putin regimes, with far less interest in the humanitarian disaster caused by U.S. bombs. Again, the dichotomy between “worthy victims” – those killed by “enemy” countries – and “unworthy victims” – those killed by the U.S. and its allies – is abundantly clear.

Looking at the U.S. “paper of record” – the New York Times – news coverage in late 2016 was heavily propagandistic. On the one hand, a massive amount of attention was devoted to the humanitarian crisis and destruction in Aleppo. On the other hand, much less attention was sustained on the emerging humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul. A review of the Lexis Nexis news database finds that, between November 15 and December 15, 2016 – during the height of Assad’s and Putin’s attack on Aleppo, the New York Times devoted 138 stories to the topic. This translates into a sizable 4.6 stories per day during that month. Within that same period, 33 stories, or more than one per day, referenced “humanitarian” concerns while also referencing Aleppo.

This humanitarian narrative played into the politicization of human rights, with the victims of “enemy” countries placed front-and-center in U.S. media reporting and popular discourse. Contrast the coverage of Aleppo with the dramatically reduced attention toward Mosul. During the two-month period from October 17 (when the U.S.-led assault began) through December 17, the New York Times reported 115 stories referencing Mosul. This translates into just 1.9 stories per day, less than half of the stories dedicated to Aleppo. One also sees the de-emphasizing of human rights in the paper. Just 21 stories in the Times included a discussion of “humanitarian” concerns, while also discussing Mosul, from mid-October to mid-December. This translates into just 10.5 stories per month, or less than a third of a story on average per day. This means less than a third as many stories covering human rights concerns in Mosul, in comparison to in Aleppo.

The discrepancy between coverage of “worthy victims” in Aleppo and “unworthy victims” in Mosul is most certainly driven by the commonly held view among American elites that the U.S. holds valiant, noble goals in the Middle East, compared to the nefarious, pernicious motivations of Assad and Putin. As I discussed in my last Counterpunch piece on Aleppo, New York Times editorials reflexively assume that American motives are pure, with the Obama administration simply motivated by defeating terrorism, protecting human rights, and empowering the people of the region.

In contrast, the Putinists and Assadists are dastardly figures who seek merely to destroy the region for their own self-aggrandizement and to enrich their own power. One can take this narrative and reverse it in the case of Russian media commentary on RT, which predictably frames Russia and Syria as driven by pure motives and out to protect human rights, against the big, bad, imperialist aggression of the United States.

That the “worthy” and “unworthy victims” dichotomy operates in both corporate-owned U.S. media and in state-funded Russian media suggests that the power of nationalistic pressures transcend countries and borders, especially when the goal is to whitewash one’s own atrocities and crimes, while publicizing those of others. One thing seems clear – neither “side” – be it U.S. or Russian media – appear interested in addressing the victims of war in any serious or credible way.


Amnesty International, “Iraq: Tribal Militia Tortured Detainees in Revenge Attacks During Mosul Offensive,” Amnesty International, November 2, 2016,

Cole, Juan, “Syria: Al-Assad Family’s Massive Stolen Wealth in Panama Papers Helps Explain Revolution,” Informed Comment, April 6, 2016,

Cullinane, Susannah, “Humanitarian Crisis Looms Amid Mosul Offensive,”, October 18, 2016,

Hawramy, Fazel, and Emma Graham-Harrison, “Mosul: U.S. Airstrike that Killed Iraqi Family Deepens Fears for Civilians,” Guardian, November 1, 2016,

Knight, Nika, “No Help for Civilians Trapped in Mosul as Deaths from U.S.-Led Bombing Reported,” Common Dreams, November 1, 2016,

ORB International, “Face-to-Face National Opinion Poll in Syria,” ORB International, May 6-29, 2014,

ORB International, “Syria Public Opinion,” ORB International, July 2015,

Reuters, “More Than 2,000 Iraqis a Day Flee Mosul as Military Advances,” Reuters, January 2, 2017,

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, and Salma Abdelaz, “Iraq: Death Toll Climbs as Urban Warfare Slows Battle for Mosul,”, December 2, 2016,

Yassin-Kasab, Robin, and Leila al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2016).

Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2015). He can be reached at:
More articles by:Anthony DiMaggio

Where's the Borscht? "Intelligence Community" Report Fails to Provide Evidence of Russia Election Interference

US Report Still Lacks Proof on Russia ‘Hack’

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

January 7, 2017  

Repeating an accusation over and over again is not evidence that the accused is guilty, no matter how much “confidence” the accuser asserts about the conclusion. Nor is it evidence just to suggest that someone has a motive for doing something. Many conspiracy theories are built on the notion of “cui bono” – who benefits – without following up the supposed motive with facts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, following address
to UN General Assembly -Sept. 28, 2015. (UN Photo)

But that is essentially what the U.S. intelligence community has done regarding the dangerous accusation that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a covert information campaign to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.

Just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper vowed to go to the greatest possible lengths to supply the public with the evidence behind the accusations, his office released a 25-page report that contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.

The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information – built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump.

But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses” – as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”

The DNI report admits as much, saying, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

But the report’s assessment is more than just a reasonable judgment based on a body of incomplete information. It is tendentious in that it only lays out the case for believing in Russia’s guilt, not reasons for doubting that guilt.

A Risky Bet

For instance, while it is true that many Russian officials, including President Putin, considered Clinton to be a threat to worsen the already frayed relationship between the two nuclear superpowers, the report ignores the downside for Russia trying to interfere with the U.S. election campaign and then failing to stop Clinton, which looked like the most likely outcome until Election Night.

If Russia had accessed the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication, Putin would have to think that the National Security Agency, with its exceptional ability to track electronic communications around the world, might well have detected the maneuver and would have informed Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

So, on top of Clinton’s well-known hawkishness, Putin would have risked handing the expected incoming president a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. Historically, Russia has been very circumspect in such situations, usually holding its intelligence collections for internal purposes only, not sharing them with the public.

While it is conceivable that Putin decided to take this extraordinary risk in this case – despite the widely held view that Clinton was a shoo-in to defeat Trump – an objective report would have examined this counter argument for him not doing so.

But the DNI report was not driven by a desire to be evenhanded; it is, in effect, a prosecutor’s brief, albeit one that lacks any real evidence that the accused is guilty.

Further undercutting the credibility of the DNI report is that it includes a seven-page appendix, dating from 2012, that is an argumentative attack on RT, the Russian government-backed television network, which is accused of portraying “the US electoral process as undemocratic.”

The proof for that accusation includes RT’s articles on “voting machine vulnerabilities” although virtually every major U.S. news organizations has run similar stories, including some during the last campaign on the feasibility of Russia hacking into the actual voting process, something that even U.S. intelligence says didn’t happen.

The reports adds that further undermining Americans’ faith in the U.S. democratic process, “RT broadcast, hosted and advertised third-party candidate debates.” Apparently, the DNI’s point is that showing Americans that there are choices beyond the two big parties is somehow seditious.

“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham,’” the report said. Yet, polls have shown that large numbers of Americans would prefer more choices than the usual two candidates and, indeed, most Western democracies have multiple parties, So, the implicit RT criticism of the U.S. political process is certainly not out of the ordinary.

The report also takes RT to task for covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reporting on the environmental dangers from “fracking,” topics cited as further proof that the Russian government was using RT to weaken U.S. public support for Washington’s policies (although, again, these are topics of genuine public interest).

Behind the Curtain

Though it’s impossible for an average U.S. citizen to know precisely what the U.S. intelligence community may have in its secret files, some former NSA officials who are familiar with the agency’s eavesdropping capabilities say Washington’s lack of certainty suggests that the NSA does not possess such evidence.

For instance, that’s the view of William Binney, who retired as NSA’s technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and who created many of the collection systems still used by NSA.

Binney, in an article co-written with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, said, “With respect to the alleged interference by Russia and WikiLeaks in the U.S. election, it is a major mystery why U.S. intelligence feels it must rely on ‘circumstantial evidence,’ when it has NSA’s vacuum cleaner sucking up hard evidence galore. What we know of NSA’s capabilities shows that the email disclosures were from leaking, not hacking.”

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence

There is also the fact that both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have denied that the purloined emails came from the Russian government. Going further, Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.

In response, Clapper and other U.S. government officials have sought to disparage Assange’s credibility, including Clapper’s Senate testimony on Thursday gratuitously alluding to sexual assault allegations against Assange in Sweden.

However, Clapper’s own credibility is suspect in a more relevant way. In 2013, he gave false testimony to Congress regarding the extent of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans. Clapper’s deception was revealed only when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the NSA program to the press, causing Clapper to apologize for his “clearly erroneous” testimony.

A History of Politicization

The U.S. intelligence community’s handling of the Russian “hack” story also must be viewed in the historical context of the CIA’s “politicization” over the past several decades.

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and CIA Director William Casey 
in the White House Feb. 11, 1981. (Photo: Reagan Library)

U.S. intelligence analysts, such as senior Russia expert Melvin A. Goodman, have described in detail both in books and in congressional testimony how the old tradition of objective CIA analysis was broken down in the 1980s.

At the time, the Reagan administration wanted to justify a massive arms buildup, so CIA Director William Casey and his pliant deputy, Robert Gates, oversaw the creation of inflammatory assessments on Soviet intentions and Moscow’s alleged role in international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

Besides representing “politicized” intelligence at its worst, these analyses became the bureaucratic battleground on which old-line analysts who still insisted on presenting the facts to the president whether he liked them or not were routed and replaced by a new generation of yes men.

The relevant point is that the U.S. intelligence community has never been repaired, in part because the yes men gave presidents of both parties what they wanted. Rather than challenging a president’s policies, this new generation mostly fashioned their reports to support those policies.

The bipartisan nature of this corruption is best illustrated by the role played by CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton but stayed on and helped President George W. Bush arrange his “slam dunk” case for convincing the American people that Iraq possessed caches of WMD, thus justifying Bush’s 2003 invasion.

There was the one notable case of intelligence analysts standing up to Bush in a 2007 assessment that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, but that was more an anomaly – resulting from the acute embarrassment over the Iraq WMD fiasco – than a change in pattern.

Presidents of both parties have learned that it makes their lives easier if the U.S. intelligence community is generating “intelligence” that supports what they want to do, rather than letting the facts get in the way.

The current case of the alleged Russian “hack” should be viewed in this context: President Obama considers Trump’s election a threat to his policies, both foreign and domestic. So, it’s only logical that Obama would want to weaken and discredit Trump before he takes office.

That doesn’t mean that the Russians are innocent, but it does justify a healthy dose of skepticism to the assessments by Obama’s senior intelligence officials.

[For more on this topic, see’s “Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia” and “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Friday, January 06, 2017

Breaking Away: Super Iceberg Calving Off Antarctica

Massive iceberg expected to crack off Antarctica

by AJE

January 6, 2017

A huge iceberg expected to be one of the biggest ever recorded is poised to break off Antarctica, changing the landscape of the frozen continent, scientists say. The massive sheet of ice with an area of almost the size of the US state of Delaware has been developing a crack across the most northern ice shelf, Larsen C on the Antarctic Peninsula, over the past few years.

Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will 
result in rise of world sea levels [EPA/NASA]

Ice shelves are areas of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the end of glaciers.

According to scientists at the Project Midas at the University of Swansea in Wales, the iceberg expanded abruptly last month, growing by about 18km on top of its existing 80km length. It is expected to snap if it expands a further 20km.

"The Larsen C Ice shelf in Antarctica is primed to shed an area of more than 5,000sq km following further substantial rift growth," the scientists said in a statement on Friday.

The iceberg "will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula" and could herald a wider break-up of the Larsen C ice shelf, the statement said.

Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves around the frozen continent will allow glaciers inland to slide faster towards the sea as temperatures rise owing to global warming, resulting in the rise of world sea levels.

The European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Thursday that last year was the warmest on record by a wide margin, stoked by greenhouse gases and an El Nino weather event that released heat from the Pacific Ocean.

READ MORE: Now the Antarctic is melting too

Several ice shelves have cracked around northern parts of Antarctica in recent years, including the Larsen B which disintegrated in 2002.

Andrew Fleming, remote sensing manager at the British Antarctic Survey, who also tracks Larsen C, said the ice was being melted both by warmer air above and by warmer waters below.

In some cases, big icebergs simply float around Antarctica for years, causing little threat to shipping lanes as they melt. More rarely, icebergs drift as far north as South America.

"The Larsen B shattered like car safety glass into thousands and thousands of pieces. It disappeared in the space of about a week," said Fleming.

In November 2015, almost 200 nations reaffirmed plans to combat climate change as an "urgent duty". There has been concern that US President-elect Donald Trump will try to undo a hard-won global accord for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Clapp-Trap 2.0: Confessed Perjurer Testifies on "Russia Election Hack"

More Clapp-trap: Senate Hearing on Russian Election Mischief Again Fails to Prove Anything

by Dave Lindorff - This Can't Be Happening

January 6, 2017

The Russian hacking hysteria in the US media, and among parts of the public -- especially liberal Democrats -- is becoming increasingly embarrassing.

National Security Director James Clapper(l): Would you 
trust this man to house-sit (or fix your computer)?

Over and over we have been told that the government, whether in the form of the departing President Obama or unidentified “intelligence sources” cited in news reports, or statements by private security contractors with their vested interest in trying to show how vulnerable America’s (and the Democratic Party’s!) servers are, that they have solid evidence that the Russians hacked DNC emails and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, only for it to turn out to be more of the same innuendos, circumstantial “evidence,” suspicions, and inevitably ridiculous and embarrassing errors (like the Washington Post’s breathless and false story [1] that the Russians had hacked the Vermont power grid and could shut off the heat during a cold snap).

The latest example is yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, which featured the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who is the boss of the CIA, the NSA and the rest of the whole vast US intelligence apparatus. Clapper told the committee that he stands “more resolutely” than ever behind the CIA’s initial assessment of Oct. 7 that Russian leaders at the “senior-most levels” had orchestrated a campaign of interference in the presidential election.

Clapper testified ominously about a vast campaign of interference which he claimed involved everything from hacking the DNC to spreading disinformation and what he called “fake news.” He said, “Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry...they would exploit.” Why, he said in outrage, their state-owned English-language television station RT-TV (available in about 15% of American home cable packages) even “disparaged our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights.”

Gee, how evil can an empire be?

Seriously, if an American citizen is ignorant enough not to at least be skeptical about a report about American politics that is being aired by a news organization called Russia TV, we’re in serious trouble. But I guess that’s another issue for another day.

Meanwhile, is it really that unreasonable that a Russian news organization (or a Chinese news organization, or even a German one for that matter) might air a report about American hypocrisy on human rights, when ours is a country, after all, that routinely criticizes other countries for such violations while at the same time is itself still holding people without charge in a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba 14 years after they were captured and rendered to that hell-hole, that boasts the largest prison population in the world, both in absolute numbers and as a percent of population, that as a matter of policy holds some 25,000 of its 2 million incarcerated prisoners in long-term solitary confinement which global norms and the psychological profession insist is cruel and unusual punishment, that still has over 2250 people serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors, and that still produces and uses antipersonnel weapons that most of the rest of the world has banned?

All of these things are viewed as human rights atrocities by most of the civilized world, including the democracies of Europe -- our closest allies.

Amid all that verbiage, which had nothing at all to do with Russian evil-doing, Clapper never did offer any of the promised proof that Russia had “hacked the US election.” Indeed, under questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Clapper conceded that “imprecise language” had been used in claiming that the Russians had “hacked the election,” as there is no evidence that Russia had hacked voting machines. The claim is that Russia hacked the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails and provided them to Wikileaks, which released the damaging information that the DNC had sabotaged the Democratic primary to help Clinton defeat her opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and also copies of her embarrassing secret and highly compensated speeches to Wall Street banks.

But when it came to proving the Russians guilty of this alleged hack, again Clapper came up with nothing. Instead, he promised the missing proof would be made available next week with release of a report.

Don’t hold your breath though. Clapper also said this new report, to be provided to president-elect Donald Trump, the administration and perhaps the Senate committee, will be secret, though he promised to “push the envelope” to include as much detail as possible in the publicly available redacted version. Remember though, Clapper is a career Washington intelligence bureaucrat who helped put over the WMD fraud that led the country into the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and who lied to Congress when asked about whether the NSA he directed was spying on Americans’ communications [2].

This man's word is not exactly his bond.

Another sign that next week’s report will be yet another dud is word that “US officials” say it will contain “no major new bombshell disclosures” [3] regarding Russian hacking. Does anyone besides me hear the sound of lowering expectations?

Already the outline of a climb-down is starting to take shape. After for months insisting that the intelligence agencies had “all the evidence” to prove a Russian hack of the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails, despite Wikileaks’ and founder Julian Assange’s insistence that their source was a leaker, not a hacker, and was someone not connected with Russia or the Russian government in any way, the story now has become that the Russians hacked the DNC and Podesta, but then used a “third party” to funnel the purloined emails to Wikileaks, perhaps without Wikileaks knowing the Russians’ role.

Clearly the first version of the CIA’s and Clapper’s story has collapsed.

We’ll have to see now whether this Russian hacking story 2.0 holds up better than a typical Microsoft Word update.

My view on all this is that it is a tempest in a teapot. It's not that Russia is a fine upstanding example of a country that minds its own business, any more than the US is such a nation. Maybe there will even be proof sometime showing there was a Russian hack of the DNC. But I'd say if Russia can so easily undermine a presidential election in what we’re always told is the world’s oldest, greatest and strongest democracy, we have bigger problems than just getting hacked. If Americans can be suckered by fake news that, as Sen. Tim Kaine (Clinton’s running mate in November), said, “most fourth graders would find incredible,” we’re in big trouble too. Besides, recall that peddling fake news and meddling in elections is the US government’s stock-in-trade around the world, and has been for decades -- including inside of post-Communist Russia.

The big story to me is that the DNC “hacked the election” by subverting the democratic process of nominating a candidate to run as the party’s nominee for president, even to the extent of using friendly news organizations to publish trashy hit pieces on Clinton’s dogged opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (a form of peddling fake news). Polls consistently showed through the primary months beginning in January (and right through Nov. for that matter) that Sanders was more popular than Hillary Clinton and more importantly, that he had a better chance than she did of trouncing any of the potential Republican candidates, including Trump. Clinton was already under investigation by the FBI for her violation of the Freedom of Information Act and of State Department secrecy rules regarding classified information with her use of a home server to handle her State Department communications, and she was also being battered by pressures to reveal what she had said for $250,000 a pop to private groups of Wall Street bank executives. All of this made her a very dangerous person to put at the top of the party’s ticket, but the party establishment didn’t want a firebrand critic of the corpratocracy like Sanders, so they went down and dirty for the hugely compromised and politically tin-eared Clinton.

The emails that blew all that corruption into the public’s awareness were accurate and they were devastating. How they became public is not the important issue, though. It is the reality that the DNC destroyed the integrity of the party’s primaries, and that Clinton gave those obscenely obsequious banker speeches that should outrage us.

Instead of facing up to that reality and resigning wholesale from the DNC, or being forced out, Democratic Party leaders, with the help of the outgoing Obama administration and its political appointees in the intelligence agencies (all of whom are about to be swept out of office by the new Trump administration in a few weeks), have been working desperately to change the narrative to one of Russian perfidy, Trump illegitimacy, and their own blamelessness in blowing the election so disastrously.

The sad thing is that unless the Democratic Party is thoroughly purged of the Clintonites, neo-liberals and neo-cons who have infested it for the past quarter century or more, turning it into a pale imitation of the Republican party that vies not for progressive votes but for the financial backing of corporate America, there is little hope that the wholesale Republican takeover of Washington last November 8 will be undone, either in 2018 or in 2020.

For those of us on the left and for those genuine liberals and progressives who really worry about the future of US politics and society, not to mention world peace and the survival of humanity on a globe that is rapidly heating up past the point of no return, the alternative to a fullsome ousting of the Democratic Party’s corrupted leadership and of the sell-out Democratic senators and representatives currently padding their wallets in Washington while pretending to be an opposition party, is to return to the streets as we did in the 1960s and early ‘70s


Gitmo Outlasts Obama, Will It Bury Trump Too?

Rights Groups, Including Close Guantánamo, Issue Statement in the Run-Up to the 15th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo

by Andy Worthington


Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my annual visit to the US to call for the closure of Guantánamo (from Jan. 9-21).

Dear friends and supporters: It’s horrible to realize that, next Wednesday, January 11, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 15 years, and will begin its 16th year of operations with just a week left under President Obama’s control, prior to Donald Trump taking it over. Trump, notoriously, promised on the campaign trail to “load it up with bad dudes,” and, just two days ago, tweeted, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

As I have done every January since 2011, I will be in Washington, D.C. next Wednesday to call for the prison’s closure— a call aimed at the outgoing president, but, more specifically, now, aimed at Donald Trump.

I arrive in New York City on January 9, and travel to Washington, D.C. the day after, and I’ll soon be posting a more detailed itinerary — although I can tell you that at 2.30pm on January 11 I’ll be at New America to discuss Guantánamo at 15, and what we can expect from Donald Trump, with the attorney Tom Wilner, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign five years ago, Jim Moran, former congressional representative for Virginia’s 8th district and one of the representatives who led opposition to Guantánamo Bay, and New America fellow Rosa Brooks, who was Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy in the Pentagon from 2009-2011. If you want to attend this free event, please RSVP here.

I will also be taking part in an event in New York City looking at Guantánamo, torture and Donald Trump, and I’m also looking for TV and radio interviews, other speaking events, and opportunities to sing and play a few protest songs, so if you can help with any of this, do please get in touch.

In the meantime, please find below the statement — a call to action — from the rights groups involved in the protest against the continued existence of Guantánamo in Washington, D.C. next Wednesday. A full list of groups is listed at the end, but they include Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, World Can’t Wait, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Thanks in particular to Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture for his work drafting this statement, which then bounced around through various edits. Witness Against Torture are already in Washington, D.C., for their annual ten days of fasting and daily protests, and I encourage you to check out their progress here.

This is my quote for the forthcoming press release:

“Sadly, this year we have to send messages to both a president and a president-elect about the reasons why Guantánamo must be closed. President Obama knows all the reasons, as he has eloquently explained throughout his presidency, but now he needs to find the courage to do something extraordinary in his last week in office, and close the prison once and for all. This is necessary not just to fulfill his own promise to close it, made eight long years ago, but also to prevent Donald Trump from sending new prisoners there, and refusing to release any others, as he has threatened, as recently as this week. Mr. Obama, close it now!” 

  • No More Guantánamo
  • No Torture Presidency
  • No Indefinite Detention

President Obama has failed in his pledge of eight years ago to close the US detention camp at Guantánamo. Congressional obstacles, misinformation perpetuated in the media, and the president’s own lack of will are all responsible for this policy disaster. Guantánamo remains a living symbol of US torture and other human rights abuses, and a place of misery for the 55 men it still houses. Most of them have never been charged with, let alone tried for, any crime.

In the remaining weeks before he leaves office, President Obama must do what he still can: expedite the release of cleared men and release the full 2014 Senate Torture Report documenting CIA abuses.

Human rights and the United States’ standing in the world face a new danger: the possibility that President-elect Donald Trump will adopt the use of torture. He has also called for increasing the prison population at Guantánamo.

Statements by Mr. Trump and members of his incoming administration to moderate his past positions offer little assurance that a Trump presidency will reject torture and respect the rule of law. Trump’s blatantly Islamophobic campaign stokes fear of a new era of religious discrimination and other abuses of civil and human rights.

Human rights activists are gathering in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2017 to mark 15 years since the prison at Guantánamo opened. We come to state, in one loud voice, to President-elect Trump:

Torture, discrimination, and indefinite detention are wrong. There is no exception. Any attempt to bring back torture or to send new people to Guantánamo will be strongly opposed in the United States and throughout the world. Any effort to persecute Muslims — or any other religious, racial, or ethnic group — through special immigration or surveillance measures is unacceptable.

Mr. Trump must:

• make clear the absolute rejection of torture, as banned by US and international law

• continue handling domestic terrorism suspects within the civilian criminal justice system and in accord with the US Constitution

• continue the policy of transferring men from Guantánamo and work toward the closure of the prison, with its steep moral and financial cost to the United States

We hope Trump will listen to those at all levels of the US government and those around the world who reject torture and want to end the blight of Guantánamo. We also have no illusions about the role that human rights violations and the persecution of Muslims could play in a Trump presidency. More than ever, our vigilance is required.

We also stand together with a plea to the public — to those who have been part of longstanding efforts to oppose torture and close Guantánamo, as well as those new to this cause. We must hold the next administration accountable to the US Constitution, to human rights standards, and to the common-sense decency that guides us.

Please join us for a rally and march to close Guantánamo and end torture and indefinite detention. The rally — at which I’ll be speaking — is outside the Supreme Court at 11.30am, because our normal rallying point, in front of the White House, is off-limits prior to a presidential inauguration. Please keep an eye on Witness Against Torture’s website for details of the subsequent march.

Sponsors: Amnesty International USA, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Close Guantánamo, Code Pink, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ray McGovern with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Torture Abolition and Survivor and Support Coalition, Veterans for Peace, We Stand with Shaker, Witness Against Torture, Women Against Military Madness, World Can’t Wait, and others.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

A Mad Pageant of American Politics Precedes Trump Inaugural

Langley Literalists, Economic Brutalists, Torture Protectors and More: A Month in the Madhouse

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

January 5, 2017

Various factors have kept long-form writing at a minimum lately, but shorter blasts on Facebook have been possible from time to time. Below is a edited selection of a few rants from a month of madness - cf

Progressives Convert to Langley Literalism

"The CIA said it. I believe it. That settles it." This is apparently the new progressive version of the old Bible Belt bumper sticker. Below, the Washington Post, after five days, walks back its Friday fake news scare story, which was wrong on virtually every assertion of "fact" in the original. Meanwhile, Trump hobnobs with mobsters and his business partners (a tautology, I know) to little notice, while the extremists in Congress prepare their neofeudal blitzkreig.

But by all means, let's keep looking for reds under the bed while homegrown, all-American brigands set the house on fire in broad daylight.

Cloud Cover

Almost half of the nefarious IP addresses in the government's Russian hacking report are actually Tor nodes that are open to anyone to use. (Yes, Russians included. And your little brother.) Another fun fact: the Tor network was developed by the US government so its agents could hide in its giant haystack while collecting intelligence and conducting cyber-espionage. Another fun (and weird) fact: Wikileaks and other dissidents encourage whistleblowers and leakers to use Tor, despite its connection to the US military and intelligence services. So who is watching whom leak to whom and from where and why? In how many layers and on how many levels are we being gamed? The "cloud of unknowing" cultivated by spies at home and abroad leaves us all in the dark -- and that's the way the Great Gamers like it.

The Apotheosis of Economic Brutalism

After appointing yet another Goldman-Sachs man as head of the SEC (fox in charge of henhouse), Trump is preparing an 'unpresidented' tax 'holiday' that will allow the biggest corporations to bring home billions of dollars they've been stashing off-shore to avoid supporting the infrastructure, education, security, opportunity and well-being of American communities. Like the last such "holiday," it will be used by the super-rich to stuff their own gobs and game the markets – not create jobs.

By the way, this "holiday" was the main concern of the super-cool, progressive techno-barons from Facebook, Google, Apple, etc., who eagerly joined Trump's "technology summit" in his golden tower after the election. Like the railroad tycoons and oil barons of old, we are all reliant on their products and services, but let's be clear about one thing, and keep it always in mind: today's techlords -- Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and the rest -- are one huge stinking basket of deplorables. And they will cozy up to Trump just as quickly and ardently as the most cretinous neo-nazi or Fox News zombie out there.

Exile on Main Street

This brief, factual story is a harsh indictment of a society that has needlessly condemned huge swathes of its people to lives of hardship, decay, fear and division. Millions have been sacrificed on the altar of the extremist cult of market fundamentalism: the fanatical belief, fervently embraced by both parties, that the bloated profits of a privileged few far outweigh any and all consideration of the common good. Future generations will look back in astonished horror at how a country could degrade its own people in this way.

Office Party

Why wasn't Trump's Treasury pick prosecuted for more than 1,000 foreclosure violations, illegally kicking families out of their homes? Apparently the desk – or maybe it was a chair – in the California attorney general's office decided to let Trump's crook go free. That's what the state's former AG – now a new 'progressive' US senator – tells us. Letting the Trump crook loose was "a decision my office made." Not her, apparently; the office. Hey, maybe it was her computer that made the decision! I'll bet Putin got hold of it and told it to tell her to shut down the investigation.

Bipartisan Bomb Berserkery

A deliberate attempt by Congressional Republicans to re-stoke the nuclear arms race and weaponize space has been overwhelmingly approved with virtually no opposition from Democrats. According to a top expert from an actual manufacturer of actual missile systems, the proposal "defies the laws of physics and is not based on science of any kind. [It is] insanity, pure and simple." But the GOP extremist behind the proposal says his fantasy is "worth any price" for the (non-existent) "security" it will (not) give us. Apparently, our staunch progressive Democrats agree: and so a new nuclear arms race will begin. We seem to be living in a civilization that, for whatever reason or reasons, has decided to eat itself alive.

Putin-crazed Progressives Ignore Genuine Vote Rigging Scandal

(Dec. 22) Like everyone else, I don't know the truth about the charges of Russian interference in the election. I do know that the overwhelming focus on this issue has led to a near-total neglect of the scandal that ACTUALLY cost Clinton the Electoral College vote: the hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters in key swing states who were disenfranchised by the vote-suppression laws that GOP-controlled states have passed. (Along with the deliberate neglect of voting machines in minority precincts, leading to breakdowns and "lost" votes, not to mention the arbitrary closing of hundreds of polling stations in minority precincts.) This is a blazing smoking gun, lying there in plain sight, a wanton act of "interference" carried out in broad daylight by red-blooded Americans, over the course of many years.

Now it may be that Putin somehow took over the Republican Party 20 years ago and began passing all these laws, and that he also took over the Democratic Party at the same time and stopped them from fighting these laws with all their might. Maybe the CIA has a "swell of circumstantial evidence" to prove this. Otherwise, I find it remarkable and frightening how the media/political class is ignoring this glaring, roaring, years-long scandal of the systematic disenfranchisement of millions of American citizens across the country. Even the Democrats are ignoring it, although it cost them the presidency (and perhaps some state offices as well) and is clearly aimed at people who overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party.

It's true that those being disenfranchised can never be major donors to the party, or provide officials and office-holders with cushy jobs after or in between their government service. But it's odd that even now -- or especially now -- the Democrats are ignoring this plain, provable, indisputable fact that led to Trump's Electoral College victory, and are instead focusing on an issue that they know will never be conclusively proved one way or another. Meanwhile, GOP-controlled states are putting in even MORE restrictions on voting, as in Michigan just a few days ago. The work of restricting the vote goes on and on, without any outcry, any scandal, any opposition.

Full Circle: Obama Ends Term by Protecting CIA Torturers

Gutless to the very end. He began his presidency with a visit to CIA headquarters and a public pledge not to prosecute anyone there for the torture they carried out; and now, in his last weeks in office, he has buried a Senate report detailing horrific CIA tortures. (Last year, the CIA confessed to hacking the computers of the US Senate in an attempt to derail the report.) I have never seen any of Obama's admirers explain why he has protected the CIA's torturers so diligently, but it is a shameful blot on his record, one he might have redeemed, in part, at the end, when it would have cost him nothing politically and would have made it more difficult for Trump to follow through with his plan to bring back torture as a core policy. Now, the torturers will go unpunished, their evil deeds will remain hidden and they can get back to work under Trump. Obama knows this, but he deliberately chose not to do anything about it.

Art Becomes Life

I don’t think anyone who’s read Dostoevsky — particularly “Demons” and “Notes From Underground” — can be too surprised at the eruption of the irrational we are seeing in political systems and societies across the world. He laid out vividly the particular nature of this irrationality: frenzied, fevered, self-destructive — and even gleeful in its self-destruction, its self-laceration (as well as in its rabid lashing-out at demonized “others”). Odd that this intrinsic element of our human nature could have been forgotten or dismissed for so long; even odder when you consider that some of history’s most savage and unbridled eruptions of this nature have occurred within living memory, during the course of the god-awful twentieth century. — I was just jotting down these thoughts when I ran across the article below by Pankaj Mishra, who makes some of these same points and many more, much better than I can, in an excellent piece of analysis. Worth a read.

The Usual: War Criminal Reaps New Rewards

I wrote many stories about Fallujah back in the day – the wanton destruction, the US use of chemical weapons, the deliberate and openly admitted attacks on hospitals and clinics, the fact that Bush's military (including "Mad Dog" Mattis) gave the real terrorists weeks to get away then slaughtered the civilians left behind. Nobody cared then, nobody cares now. But Dahr Jamail, one of the great war correspondents of our time, remembers.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Ghost Commandos: America's Other Army

The Year of the Commando: U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries

by Nick Turse - TomDispatch

January 5, 2017
They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates. At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group al-Shabab. Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul. And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have every year since 2001.

For America, 2016 may have been the year of the commando
In one conflict zone after another across the northern tier of Africa and the Greater Middle East, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) waged their particular brand of low-profile warfare. “Winning the current fight, including against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other areas where SOF is engaged in conflict and instability, is an immediate challenge,” the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), General Raymond Thomas, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year. 
Tomgram: Nick Turse, Special Ops, Shadow Wars, and the Golden Age of the Gray Zone
Don’t think the fad for “draining the swamp” began on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. It didn’t, although the “swamp” to be drained in the days after the 9/11 attacks wasn’t in Washington; it was a global one. Of course, that’s ancient history, more than 15 years old. Who even remembers that moment, though we still live with its fallout -- with the hundreds of thousands dead and the millions of refugees, with Islamophobia and ISIS, with President-elect Trump, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, and so much more?

In the never-ending wake of one of the most disastrous wars in American history, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, it’s hard to imagine any world but the one we have, which makes it easy to forget what the top officials of the Bush administration thought they would accomplish with their “Global War on Terror.” Who remembers now just how quickly and enthusiastically they leapt into the project of draining that global swamp of terror groups (while taking out the Taliban and then “decapitating” the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein)? Their grandiose goal: an American imperium in the Greater Middle East (and later assumedly a global Pax Americana). They were, in other words, geopolitical dreamers of the first order.

Barely a week after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already swearing that the global campaign to come would "drain the swamp they live in." Only a week later, at a NATO meeting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that, "while we'll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp [itself]." By the following June, in a commencement address at West Point, President George W. Bush would speak proudly of his administration’s desire to drain that swamp of “terror cells” in a staggering “60 or more countries.”

Like Washington for Donald Trump, it proved the most convenient of swamps to imagine draining. For the top officials of the Bush administration launching a global war on terror seemed like the perfect way to change the nature of our world -- and, in a sense, they weren’t wrong. As it happened, however, instead of draining swamps with their invasions and occupations, they waded into one. Their war on terror would prove an unending disaster, producing failed or failing states galore and helping to create the perfect atmosphere of chaos and resentment in which Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS, could thrive.

It also changed the nature of the U.S. military in a way that most Americans have yet to come to grips with. Thanks to that permanent war across the Greater Middle East and later Africa, a secretive second military of startling proportions would essentially be fostered inside the existing U.S. military, the still-growing elite forces of Special Operations Command. They were the ones who, at least theoretically, would be the swamp drainers. TomDispatch regular Nick Turse has long been following their development and their increasingly frenetic deployment globally -- from, as he reports today, an already impressive 60 countries a year in 2009 to a staggering 138 countries in 2016. Those special operators would train and advise allied armed forces, while launching raids and drone strikes against terrorists across a significant part of the planet (including, of course, taking out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011). In the process, they would be institutionalized in ever more ways, even as the terror groups they were fighting continued to spread.

Perhaps you could say that they didn’t so much drain the swamp as swamp the drain. Today, as we approach the new era of Donald Trump, Turse offers his latest report on their rise and possible future. Tom

The Year of the Commando: U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries

by Nick Turse

SOCOM’s shadow wars against terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (also known as ISIL) may, ironically, be its most visible operations. Shrouded in even more secrecy are its activities -- from counterinsurgency and counterdrug efforts to seemingly endless training and advising missions -- outside acknowledged conflict zones across the globe. These are conducted with little fanfare, press coverage, or oversight in scores of nations every single day. 
From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them -- were deployed to 138 countries in 2016, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command. 
This total, one of the highest of Barack Obama’s presidency, typifies what has become the golden age of, in SOF-speak, the “gray zone” -- a phrase used to describe the murky twilight between war and peace. The coming year is likely to signal whether this era ends with Obama or continues under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. 

America’s most elite troops deployed to 138 nations in 2016, according to U.S. Special Operations Command. The map above displays the locations of 132 of those countries; 129 locations (blue) were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command; 3 locations (red) -- Syria, Yemen and Somalia -- were derived from open-source information. (Nick Turse)

“In just the past few years, we have witnessed a varied and evolving threat environment consisting of: the emergence of a militarily expansionist China; an increasingly unpredictable North Korea; a revanchist Russia threatening our interests in both Europe and Asia; and an Iran which continues to expand its influence across the Middle East, fueling the Sunni-Shia conflict,” General Thomas wrote last month in PRISM, the official journal of the Pentagon’s Center for Complex Operations. 
“Nonstate actors further confuse this landscape by employing terrorist, criminal, and insurgent networks that erode governance in all but the strongest states... Special operations forces provide asymmetric capability and responses to these challenges.”

In 2016, according to data provided to TomDispatch by SOCOM, the U.S. deployed special operators to China (specifically Hong Kong), in addition to eleven countries surrounding it -- Taiwan (which China considers a breakaway province), Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Laos, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. Special Operations Command does not acknowledge sending commandos into Iran, North Korea, or Russia, but it does deploy troops to many nations that ring them.

SOCOM is willing to name only 129 of the 138 countries its forces deployed to in 2016. “Almost all Special Operations forces 
deployments are classified,” spokesman Ken McGraw told TomDispatch. “If a deployment to a specific country has not been declassified, we do not release information about the deployment.”

SOCOM does not, for instance, acknowledge sending troops to the war zones of Somalia, Syria, or Yemen, despite overwhelming evidence of a U.S. special ops presence in all three countries, as well as a White House report, issued last month, that notes “the United States is currently using military force in” Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, and specifically states that “U.S. special operations forces have deployed to Syria.”

According to Special Operations Command, 55.29% of special operators deployed overseas in 2016 were sent to the Greater Middle East, a drop of 35% since 2006. Over the same span, deployments to Africa skyrocketed by more than 1600% -- from just 1% of special operators dispatched outside the U.S. in 2006 to 17.26% last year. Those two regions were followed by areas served by European Command (12.67%), Pacific Command (9.19%), Southern Command (4.89%), and Northern Command (0.69%), which is in charge of “homeland defense.” On any given day, around 8,000 of Thomas’s commandos can be found in more than 90 countries worldwide. 

U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to 138 nations in 2016. Locations in blue were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command. Those in red were derived from open-source information. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia are not among those nations named or identified, but all are at least partially surrounded by nations visited by America’s most elite troops last year. (Nick Turse)

The Manhunters

“Special Operations forces are playing a critical role in gathering intelligence -- intelligence that’s supporting operations against ISIL and helping to combat the flow of foreign fighters to and from Syria and Iraq,” said Lisa Monaco, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, in remarks at the International Special Operations Forces Convention last year. Such intelligence operations are “conducted in direct support of special operations missions,” SOCOM’s Thomas explained in 2016. 
 “The preponderance of special operations intelligence assets are dedicated to locating individuals, illuminating enemy networks, understanding environments, and supporting partners.”

Signals intelligence from computers and cellphones supplied by foreign allies or intercepted by surveillance drones and manned aircraft, as well as human intelligence provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been integral to targeting individuals for kill/capture missions by SOCOM’s most elite forces. The highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), for example, carries out such counterterrorism operations, including drone strikes, raids, and assassinations in places like Iraq and Libya. Last year, before he exchanged command of JSOC for that of its parent, SOCOM, General Thomas noted that members of Joint Special Operations Command were operating in “all the countries where ISIL currently resides.” (This may indicate a special ops deployment to Pakistan, another country absent from SOCOM’s 2016 list.)

“[W]e have put our Joint Special Operations Command in the lead of countering ISIL's external operations. And we have already achieved very significant results both in reducing the flow of foreign fighters and removing ISIL leaders from the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter noted in a relatively rare official mention of JSOC’s operations at an October press conference.

A month earlier, he offered even more detail in a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“We’re systematically eliminating ISIL’s leadership: the coalition has taken out seven members of the ISIL Senior Shura... We also removed key ISIL leaders in both Libya and Afghanistan... And we’ve removed from the battlefield more than 20 of ISIL’s external operators and plotters... We have entrusted this aspect of our campaign to one of [the Department of Defense’s] most lethal, capable, and experienced commands, our Joint Special Operations Command, which helped deliver justice not only to Osama Bin Laden, but also to the man who founded the organization that became ISIL, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.”

Asked for details on exactly how many ISIL “external operators” were targeted and how many were “removed” from the battlefield by JSOC in 2016, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw replied: “We do not and will not have anything for you.”

When he was commander of JSOC in 2015, General Thomas spoke of his and his unit’s “frustrations” with limitations placed on them. “I’m told ‘no’ more than ‘go’ on a magnitude of about ten to one on almost a daily basis,” he said. Last November, however, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration was granting a JSOC task force “expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe.” That Counter-External Operations Task Force (also known as “Ex-Ops”) has been “designed to take JSOC’s targeting model... and export it globally to go after terrorist networks plotting attacks against the West.”

SOCOM disputes portions of the Post story. “Neither SOCOM nor any of its subordinate elements have... been given any expanded powers (authorities),” SOCOM’s Ken McGraw told TomDispatch by email. “Any potential operation must still be approved by the GCC [Geographic Combatant Command] commander [and], if required, approved by the Secretary of Defense or [the president].”

“U.S. officials” (who spoke only on the condition that they be identified in that vague way) explained that SOCOM’s response was a matter of perspective. Its powers weren’t recently expanded as much as institutionalized and put “in writing,” TomDispatch was told. “Frankly, the decision made months ago was to codify current practice, not create something new.” Special Operations Command refused to confirm this but Colonel Thomas Davis, another SOCOM spokesman, noted: “Nowhere did we say that there was no codification.”

With Ex-Ops, General Thomas is a “decision-maker when it comes to going after threats under the task force’s purview,” according to the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe. “The task force would essentially turn Thomas into the leading authority when it comes to sending Special Operations units after threats.” Others claim Thomas has only expanded influence, allowing him to directly recommend a plan of action, such as striking a target, to the Secretary of Defense, allowing for shortened approval time. (SOCOM’s McGraw says that Thomas “will not be commanding forces or be the decision maker for SOF operating in any GCC's [area of operations].”)

Last November, Defense Secretary Carter offered an indication of the frequency of offensive operations following a visit to Florida’s Hurlburt Field, the headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command. He noted that “today we were looking at a number of the Special Operations forces’ assault capabilities. This is a kind of capability that we use nearly every day somewhere in the world... And it's particularly relevant to the counter-ISIL campaign that we're conducting today.”

In Afghanistan, alone, Special Operations forces conducted 350 raids targeting al-Qaeda and Islamic State operatives last year, averaging about one per day, and capturing or killing nearly 50 “leaders” as well as 200 “members” of the terror groups, according to General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in that country. Some sources also suggest that while JSOC and CIA drones flew roughly the same number of missions in 2016, the military launched more than 20,000 strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria, compared to less than a dozen by the Agency. This may reflect an Obama administration decision to implement a long-considered plan to put JSOC in charge of lethal operations and shift the CIA back to its traditional intelligence duties.

World of Warcraft

“[I]t is important to understand why SOF has risen from footnote and supporting player to main effort, because its use also highlights why the U.S. continues to have difficulty in its most recent campaigns -- Afghanistan, Iraq, against ISIS and AQ and its affiliates, Libya, Yemen, etc. and in the undeclared campaigns in the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine -- none of which fits the U.S. model for traditional war,” said retired Lieutenant General Charles Cleveland, chief of U.S. Army Special Operations Command from 2012 to 2015 and now a senior mentor to the chief of staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group. Asserting that, amid the larger problems of these conflicts, the ability of America's elite forces to conduct kill/capture missions and train local allies has proven especially useful, he added, “SOF is at its best when its indigenous and direct-action capabilities work in support of each other. Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq and ongoing CT [counterterrrorism] efforts elsewhere, SOF continues to work with partner nations in counterinsurgency and counterdrug efforts in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.”

SOCOM acknowledges deployments to approximately 70% of the world’s nations, including all but three Central and South American countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela being the exceptions). Its operatives also blanket Asia, while conducting missions in about 60% of the countries in Africa.

A SOF overseas deployment can be as small as one special operator participating in a language immersion program or a three-person team conducting a “survey” for the U.S. embassy. It may also have nothing to do with a host nation’s government or military. Most Special Operations forces, however, work with local partners, conducting training exercises and engaging in what the military calls “building partner capacity” (BPC) and “security cooperation” (SC). Often, this means America’s most elite troops are sent to countries with security forces that are regularly cited for human rights abuses by the U.S. State Department. Last year in Africa, where Special Operations forces utilize nearly 20 different programs and activities -- from training exercises to security cooperation engagements -- these included Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, among others.

In 2014, for example, more than 4,800 elite troops took part in just one type of such activities -- Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions -- around the world. At a cost of more than $56 million, Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operators carried out 176 individual JCETs in 87 countries. A 2013 RAND Corporation study of the areas covered by Africa Command, Pacific Command, and Southern Command found “moderately low” effectiveness for JCETs in all three regions. A 2014 RAND analysis of U.S. security cooperation, which also examined the implications of “low-footprint Special Operations forces efforts,” found that there “was no statistically significant correlation between SC and change in countries’ fragility in Africa or the Middle East.” And in a 2015 report for Joint Special Operations University, Harry Yarger, a senior fellow at the school, noted that “BPC has in the past consumed vast resources for little return.”

Despite these results and larger strategic failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, the Obama years have been the golden age of the gray zone. The 138 nations visited by U.S. special operators in 2016, for example, represent a jump of 130% since the waning days of the Bush administration. Although they also represent a 6% drop compared to last year’s total, 2016 remains in the upper range of the Obama years, which saw deployments to 75 nations in 2010, 120 in 2011, 134 in 2013, and 133 in 2014, before peaking at 147 countries in 2015. Asked about the reason for the modest decline, SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw replied, “We provide SOF to meet the geographic combatant commands’ requirements for support to their theater security cooperation plans. Apparently, there were nine fewer countries [where] the GCCs had a requirement for SOF to deploy to in [Fiscal Year 20]16.”

The increase in deployments between 2009 and 2016 -- from about 60 countries to more than double that -- mirrors a similar rise in SOCOM’s total personnel (from approximately 56,000 to about 70,000) and in its baseline budget (from $9 billion to $11 billion). It’s no secret that the tempo of operations has also increased dramatically, although the command refused to address questions from TomDispatch on the subject.

“SOF have shouldered a heavy burden in carrying out these missions, suffering a high number of casualties over the last eight years and maintaining a high operational tempo (OPTEMPO) that has increasingly strained special operators and their families,” reads an October 2016 report released by the Virginia-based think tank CNA. (That report emerged from a conference attended by six former special operations commanders, a former assistant secretary of defense, and dozens of active-duty special operators.) 

A closer look at the areas of the “undeclared campaigns in the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine” mentioned by retired Lieutenant General Charles Cleveland. Locations in blue were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command. The one in red was derived from open-source information. (Nick Turse)

The American Age of the Commando

Last month, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shawn Brimley, former director for strategic planning on the National Security Council staff and now an executive vice president at the Center for a New American Security, echoed the worried conclusions of the CNA report. At a hearing on “emerging U.S. defense challenges and worldwide threats,” Brimley said “SOF have been deployed at unprecedented rates, placing immense strain on the force” and called on the Trump administration to “craft a more sustainable long-term counterterrorism strategy.” In a paper published in December, Kristen Hajduk, a former adviser for Special Operations and Irregular Warfare in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called for a decrease in the deployment rates for Special Operations forces.

While Donald Trump has claimed that the U.S. military as a whole is “depleted” and has called for increasing the size of the Army and Marines, he has offered no indication about whether he plans to support a further increase in the size of special ops forces. And while he did recently nominate a former Navy SEAL to serve as his secretary of the interior, Trump has offered few indications of how he might employ special operators who are currently serving.

“Drone strikes,” he announced in one of his rare detailed references to special ops missions, “will remain part of our strategy, but we will also seek to capture high-value targets to gain needed information to dismantle their organizations.” More recently, at a North Carolina victory rally, Trump made specific references to the elite troops soon to be under his command. 
“Our Special Forces at Fort Bragg have been the tip of the spear in fighting terrorism. The motto of our Army Special Forces is ‘to free the oppressed,’ and that is exactly what they have been doing and will continue to do. At this very moment, soldiers from Fort Bragg are deployed in 90 countries around the world,” he told the crowd.

After seeming to signal his support for continued wide-ranging, free-the-oppressed special ops missions, Trump appeared to change course, adding, “We don't want to have a depleted military because we're all over the place fighting in areas that just we shouldn't be fighting in... This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally, folks, come to an end.” At the same time, however, he pledged that the U.S. would soon “defeat the forces of terrorism.” To that end, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a former director of intelligence for JSOC whom the president-elect tapped to serve as his national security adviser, has promised that the new administration would reassess the military’s powers to battle the Islamic State -- potentially providing more latitude in battlefield decision-making. To this end, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is crafting proposals to reduce “White House oversight of operational decisions” while “moving some tactical authority back to the Pentagon.”

Last month, President Obama traveled to Florida’s MacDill Air Force Base, the home of Special Operations Command, to deliver his capstone counterterrorism speech. “For eight years that I've been in office, there has not been a day when a terrorist organization or some radicalized individual was not plotting to kill Americans,” he told a crowd packed with troops. At the same time, there likely wasn’t a day when the most elite forces under his command were not deployed in 60 or more countries around the world.

“I will become the first president of the United States to serve two full terms during a time of war,” Obama added. 
“Democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war. That’s not good for our military, it’s not good for our democracy.” 
The results of his permanent-war presidency have, in fact, been dismal, according to Special Operations Command. Of eight conflicts waged during the Obama years, according to a 2015 briefing slide from the command’s intelligence directorate, America’s record stands at zero wins, two losses, and six ties.

The Obama era has indeed proven to be the “age of the commando.” However, as Special Operations forces have kept up a frenetic operational tempo, waging war in and out of acknowledged conflict zones, training local allies, advising indigenous proxies, kicking down doors, and carrying out assassinations, terror movements have spread across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

President-elect Donald Trump appears poised to obliterate much of the Obama legacy, from the president’s signature healthcare law to his environmental regulations, not to mention changing course when it comes to foreign policy, including in relations with China, Iran, Israel, and Russia. Whether he will heed advice to decrease Obama-level SOF deployment rates remains to be seen. The year ahead will, however, offer clues as to whether Obama’s long war in the shadows, the golden age of the gray zone, survives.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa received an American Book Award in 2016. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Nick Turse