Saturday, January 19, 2019

Putting the Real Vice in the Presidency

The Vice President’s Men

by Seymour M. Hersh - London Review of Books

Vol. 41 January 2019

When George H.W. Bush arrived in Washington as vice president in January 1981 he seemed little more than a sideshow to Ronald Reagan, the one-time leading man who had been overwhelmingly elected to the greatest stage in the world. Biography after inconclusive biography would be written about Reagan’s two terms, as their authors tried to square the many gaps in his knowledge with his seemingly acute political instincts and the ease with which he appeared to handle the presidency.

Bush was invariably written off as a cautious politician who followed the lead of his glamorous boss – perhaps because he assumed that his reward would be a clear shot at the presidency in 1988. He would be the first former CIA director to make it to the top.

There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues. Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. For them, Reagan was ‘a dimwit’ who didn’t get it, or even try to get it. A former senior official of the Office of Management and Budget described the president to me as ‘lazy, just lazy’. Reagan, the official explained, insisted on being presented with a three-line summary of significant budget decisions, and the OMB concluded that the easiest way to cope was to present him with three figures – one very high, one very low and one in the middle, which Reagan invariably signed off on. I was later told that the process was known inside the White House as the ‘Goldilocks option’.

He was also bored by complicated intelligence estimates. Forever courteous and gracious, he would doodle during national security briefings or simply not listen. It would have been natural to turn instead to the director of the CIA, but this was William Casey, a former businessman and Nixon aide who had been controversially appointed by Reagan as the reward for managing his 1980 election campaign. As the intelligence professionals working with the executive saw it, Casey was reckless, uninformed, and said far too much to the press.

Bush was different: he got it. At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight. It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’. He had most recently been involved, as deputy chief of naval operations, in developing the US’s new maritime strategy, aimed at restricting Soviet freedom of movement. In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

Moreau’s small, off-the-record team, primarily made up of navy officers, was tasked with foreign operations deemed necessary by the vice president. The group’s link to Bush was indirect. There were two go-betweens, known for their closeness to the vice president and their ability to keep secrets: Murphy, a retired admiral who had served as Bush's deputy director at the CIA; and, to a lesser extent, Donald Gregg, Bush’s national security adviser and another veteran of CIA covert operations. Moreau’s team mostly worked out of a room near the National Military Command Centre on the ground floor of the Pentagon.

They could also unobtrusively man a desk or two, when necessary, in a corner of Murphy’s office, which was near Bush’s, in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

The Reagan administration had been rattled by a wave of Soviet expansionism and international aggression that had begun before the president took office. In 1979, even before their incursion into Afghanistan, the Soviets had taken over the old airbase at Cam Ranh Bay in the former South Vietnam, which had been extensively rebuilt and updated by the US during its losing war.

It was a base heavy with symbolism for the American and British navies – in December 1941, three days after Pearl Harbor, Japanese dive bombers operating from Cam Ranh sank two of Britain’s premier battleships – and the Soviet decision to expand there was seen by some senior admirals as an alarming affront. And a revolutionary increase in America’s capacity to intercept and decode Soviet signal traffic in the year before Reagan came to power led to the discovery by analysts at the National Security Agency of a ring of Soviet sleeper agents inside the United States, many of them working in federal jobs with – the Carter White House feared – access to national security data.

A former military officer who worked closely with Moreau recalled the early tensions that prompted Bush to increase the targeting of Soviet operations. Moreau’s actions were aimed at limiting Soviet influence without provoking a confrontation. ‘We saw the Russians sorting out their internal politics and expanding economically,’ the officer recalled. ‘Its military had become much more competent, with advances in technology, nuclear engineering and in space. They were feeling good about their planned economy and believed that their state control of education from cradle to grave was working, and it seemed as if the Russians were expanding everywhere. We were in descent; our post-Vietnam army was in shambles; morale was at rock bottom, and the American people had an anti-militarist attitude. There was a sense of general weakness, and the Russians were taking advantage of it. They had developed the MIRV’ – the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle, a missile carrying several nuclear warheads – ‘and were putting ICBMs on wheels and hardening nuclear silos. This was at the time when it became clear that the president was drifting, and was not an effective leader.’

By 1983, it was plain to those who worked on national security for the White House that Reagan wouldn't or couldn't engage with intelligence or counterintelligence matters. Bush had emerged, by default and very much in private, as the most important decision-maker in America's intelligence world.

‘He controlled the strings,’ the officer said.

‘We ran small, limited operations that were discreet, with a military chain of command. These were not long-term programmes. We thought we could redouble our efforts against the Soviets and nobody would interfere. And do it in such a way that no one could see what we were doing – or realise that there was a masterplan. For example, the published stories about our Star Wars programme were replete with misinformation and forced the Russians to expose their sleeper agents inside the American government by ordering them to make a desperate attempt to find out what the US was doing. But we could not risk exposure of the administration’s role and take the chance of another McCarthy period. So there were no prosecutions. We dried up and eliminated their access and left the spies withering on the vine.’ 

Once identified, the Soviet sleepers who worked inside the federal bureaucracy were gradually dismissed or moved to less important jobs, in the hope that the low-key counterintelligence operation would mask the improvements in the US’s capacity to read sensitive Soviet communications. ‘Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff ever believed we were going to build Star Wars,’ the officer said, ‘but if we could convince the Russians that we could survive a first strike, we win the game.’ The aim of the game was to find a way to change the nuclear status quo of Mutual Assured Destruction, or seem to do so. ‘We wanted the Russians to believe that we had removed the M from MAD.’

In the beginning, the officer told me, ‘there was a great fear that the Russians were ten feet tall. What we found was total incompetence.’ Moreau’s team were amazed to find how easy it was to reverse Soviet influence – often with little more than generous offers of American dollars and American arms. Across the Third World – in countries such as Chad, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire – the offer of advanced American electronics and communications equipment was also invaluable. ‘The Russians simply were not liked abroad,’ the officer said.

‘They were boors with shoddy clothing and shoes made out of paper. Their weapons were inoperative. It was a Potemkin village. But every time we found total incompetence on the part of a Soviet mission, the American intelligence community would assume that it was Soviet “deception”. The only problem was that it was not deception. We came to realise that the American intelligence community needed the threat from Russia to get their money. Those of us who were running the operations were also amazed that the American press was so incompetent. You could do this kind of stuff all over the world and nobody would ask any questions.’

Congress, and the constitution, were at first no more of an obstacle to Bush and Moreau’s covert operations than the press. The one member of Congress who knew what was going on was Dick Cheney, a close friend and confidant of Bush’s from their days together in the Ford administration. In 1976, in the aftermath of the Church Committee’s inquiry into CIA abuses, standing intelligence committees had been set up in both the Senate and the House, charged with holding the CIA and other intelligence agencies to account. But it was understood by all those involved in the vice president’s secret team that these committees could be bypassed, even though the laws governing covert intelligence activities had been stiffened: there was now a legal requirement that all covert CIA and military intelligence operations had to be made known to the committees through a formal, written document known as a ‘finding’.

But there was a big loophole in the legislation, in the view of the vice president’s men.

‘There was no requirement for a finding for merely asking questions,’ the officer said, ‘and so we’d make routine requests for intelligence assessments from the CIA through the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Council. Our basic philosophy was that we were running military’ – not intelligence – ‘operations and therefore did not have to brief Congress. So we could legally operate without a finding.’ 

He was describing an ingenious procedure for getting around the law: one that would be put into use again after 9/11, when Cheney, by then vice president, triggered the unending war on terror. ‘The issue for Moreau was how do we take advantage of what the CIA has to offer – its people, with their language skills and its networks and assets overseas,’ the officer said.

‘The disadvantage was if we used the CIA in an intelligence context, we had to get a finding. We decided to get around the law by using agency people in what we claimed was a “liaison capacity”.’ 

The next step was ‘to attach the CIA operators to military units as liaison who were working for Moreau. Casey knew his CIA was being cut out and so he became more active where he could – in Latin America.’ As a precaution, the team prepared written findings when CIA men or information were being made use of – but they were put ‘in a safe’, to be produced only if anyone in Congress found out what was going on.

Moreau was contemptuous of Casey and ‘thought the CIA was a crazy organisation that had no concern about the consequences of its covert actions’, according to the officer. He remembered Moreau telling his subordinates on the secret staff:

‘I’m accountable to the vice president and you motherfuckers are accountable to me. The agency is not accountable to anybody – not the president, not Congress, not the American people. They will do whatever they want to support their mission, which is defined by them.’ 

Cutting out the CIA leadership – though using their resources where needed, partly through the good offices of Dan Murphy, who had many connections inside the agency – was key to Moreau’s operations. ‘From the beginning our philosophy was no publicity,’ the officer said. Enlisting the agency formally would involve findings, and relying on ‘the CIA’s knuckle-draggers’ – paramilitary units – ‘who were seen as too dumb and too incompetent. But by using only the military we inadvertently laid the groundwork for what we have now – a Joint Special Operations Command essentially out of civilian control.’

One of Moreau’s confidants was Alfred Gray Jr, a marine who rose from enlisted private to general. He was someone who could be trusted to do the dirty jobs that were seen as inevitable in combating the spread of communism in the Third World. By the early 1980s, Gray was a two-star major general commanding a division of the marines; he would be made commandant of the Marine Corps in 1987. If there were people to hurt, he would get it done and leave no footprints.

‘Gray was profane and tough as nails,’ the officer said. ‘He tells us: “I can do that. We’ve got guys who can do stuff.” And the marines are organised, unlike the navy. Whenever there are two marines together, one is senior to the other.’ As the team’s activity stepped up, the officer told me, they began compiling ‘hit lists’. ‘The CIA would provide us with lists of bad guys from the files of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, much of it focused on the drug war and anti-communist operations. A lot of it was in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and of course Nicaragua. We were doing the same thing then that the administration is doing now – only now it’s institutionalised with JSOC. Back then we used the marines and Delta Force, and there was no reason, as today, to say anything to the Joint Chiefs. Moreau’s strategy was to act in advance to pre-empt terrorism. “Why wait for it to take place?”’

Moreau’s activities have remained secret, and, as I learned while reporting on this aspect of history, those who knew of his activities at the time remain sceptical that they can be written about today. ‘I’m aware of what you’re referring to,’ one senior defence official told me. ‘And Art Moreau was just like “M”. But you are working in an area that remains highly classified, and even today it may be too sensitive to reveal the rudiments of our intelligence networks. I doubt if any records still exist.’


Over the course of 1983, Moreau’s team was given a target that would prove much tougher than the Soviets – terrorism in the Middle East. Sixty-three American diplomats, intelligence experts and military personnel, along with civilian employees, were killed when the US embassy in Beirut was bombed in April 1983, and six months later 241 military personnel, most of them marines, were killed in an attack on a barracks at Beirut airport. The US embassy in Kuwait was bombed in December that year, and there was a wave of kidnappings of Westerners – among them William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, who would die in captivity.

A particular target was Muammar Gaddafi. ‘By 1981 Gaddafi was beginning to get more and more bizarre,’ the officer said. ‘He was making a lot of moves into our hemisphere: selling air-to-surface missiles to Argentina, selling Hind attack helicopters to Nicaragua, supplying aid to Peru, supporting the government in Venezuela, and even dealing with the Popular Front in Palestine. He also closed the Gulf of Sidra to our 6th Fleet. We had to take care of Libya. Gaddafi was a primary military and oil threat, and he became a strategic target.’

An assassination was planned, using Casey’s CIA assets in Libya, the officer said, and because of the CIA’s involvement the administration was required to inform the congressional leadership about aspects of the plan via a highly classified finding. This was promptly leaked by someone in Congress, so Moreau’s team thought, and the operation called off – allegedly. Moreau’s people continued to support the Libyan opposition.

In May 1984, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an opposition group that would later be clandestinely supported by the CIA, failed in an attempt on Gaddafi’s life. Eight rebels were killed along with eighty government soldiers, according to published reports. Gaddafi responded by executing three members of the Muslim Brotherhood and arresting and torturing thousands of others. One of the Americans involved in the plot was Major-General Richard Secord, who had resigned from the air force in 1983 after being accused of improper dealings with a former CIA officer. Secord, who had a long career in special operations, pleaded guilty in 1989 to a felony count for lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra affair, but never came close to spending a day in jail. His sentence of two years on probation was reversed the following year.

Moreau’s operations were described, indirectly, in The Reagan Imprint (2006) by John Arquilla, who teaches in the special operations programme at the United States Naval Postgraduate School. Arquilla wrote about a secret 1984 White House memorandum – NSDD 138 – that authorised ‘sabotage, killing … pre-emptive and retaliatory raids, deception and a significantly expanded [intelligence] collection programme, aimed at suspected radicals and people regarded as their sympathisers’.

Arquilla reported that the memorandum (which wasn’t declassified until 2009) triggered intense controversy inside the government, and the directive was never implemented in full. He added that Bush ‘was initially cool to the idea as well, though he eventually warmed to it’.

It seems likely, from the suggestive reference to Bush, that Arquilla knew more than he could write, or wanted to write. The officer remembered the bitter internal dispute over the memorandum, which was promulgated well after Moreau’s team began its activities. ‘The irony was, of course,’ the officer said, ‘that as we racked up some amazing successes, the administration took credit and defence and the agency each thought the other was responsible.’

There were a few hints of Moreau’s real authority in the early Reagan years. A 2010 US army history of the 1983 decision to invade the Caribbean island of Grenada includes a paper by Edgar Raines of the US Army Centre of Military History. It recounts a series of secret planning meetings in which Moreau, while junior to others present, ‘was in many ways the most influential person in the room … Moreau’s ideas thus had a way of reaching the very highest echelon of government. It made him a force with which to reckon.’ Raines notes that Moreau had managed to direct the most sensitive operational decision-making to the Special Situation Group, a committee of the most senior policymakers chaired by Bush. None of this was made public at the time.

A memorandum declassified in 2008, written in April 1984 by Richard Kerr, then deputy director of the CIA, noted that the agency’s ‘products’ – its intelligence reports and estimates – were being cut off by Moreau and his team, and not reaching the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ‘I have the feeling,’ Kerr wrote plaintively, ‘that if we are going to get something past Admiral Moreau we will need to send it via the briefer with a note . . . asking that it be called to the attention of the chairman.’ Moreau himself received the full range of CIA products. ‘Admiral Moreau’s interests,’ Kerr added, ‘are all subjects, worldwide.’

Another hint came in Colin Powell’s 1995 autobiography – he was military aide to the secretary of defence, Caspar Weinberger, at the time of the Grenada invasion. Powell wrote that Moreau came to me one morning with an odd revelation. The secretary’s office was not getting some of the most curious traffic that the NSA plucked out of the air. On his own hook, Art had decided to share this withheld material with me. What I read enraged me … The content of the messages was startling enough, but what troubled me just as much was why the secretary’s office should be cut out of the loop.

Powell, who shared his boss’s scepticism about the value of a war on terror, showed the intercepts to Weinberger. Weinberger – equally furious – asked where they had come from. ‘I explained,’ Powell wrote, ‘that they were bootlegged to us by Admiral Moreau, who got them from the NSA.’ ‘And don’t I control the National Security Agency?’ Weinberger asked. There was no suggestion in Powell’s book that either he or Weinberger challenged Moreau’s access to intercepts deemed too sensitive for the secretary of defence.


‘Bush was petrified that the president would say the wrong thing to outsiders about what was going on, and he was hanging around the Oval Office,’ the officer said. ‘You never knew whether the president might start talking about an operation in China or into Vietnam.’​† Reagan was kept out of trouble at important national security meetings by being given a script.

‘My colleagues and I would write a talking paper for the president before meetings that resembled movie scripts, because the Old Man knew scripts as a reference. We were constantly updating the script, because if we made a dumb mistake, he would read it. We’d talk among ourselves about where to put the emphasis for certain words and phrases.’ 

In Deadly Gambits, his 1984 study of arms control, Strobe Talbott showed what happened when Reagan didn’t have a script. During a conversation about arms control with a group of congressmen, the president suddenly proclaimed: ‘Land-based missiles have nuclear warheads, while bombers and submarines don’t.’ ‘Even as he said these words,’ Talbott wrote, ‘his voice dropped and wavered, as though he had forgotten his lines and knew there was something not quite right about his attempt to improvise.’

Casey was another source of tension, the officer said. He ‘was going around giving the impression that he was a super spook, but nobody on the inside cared because he had no juice. We knew he was over the hill and living on his past glory with the OSS’ – the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s wartime predecessor. He may have run Reagan’s election campaign, he may have been controlling the US operation in Afghanistan, but the military men working with Moreau saw him as ‘bizarre, unpredictable, out of control and dishonest’.

Murphy made sure to be kept up to date on what Casey was up to. The CIA’s director got his chance of glory in Nicaragua, whose Sandinista government was inordinately feared by Reagan and Casey as a dire threat to the United States. Casey was able to get his way because of a rare error of judgment by Moreau, who had brought Marine Lieutenant Oliver North onto the secret team.

The Iran-Contra story, as seen from inside the Moreau operation, has little in common with the public record. Bush, known to his friends and aides as ‘Poppy’, was also worried about Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, and was instrumental in the decision to give clandestine American support to the Nicaraguan opposition force known as the Contras. Moreau’s team inevitably became involved: a high-risk proposition for the group because Congress had passed an amendment barring the use of American funds for support of the Nicaraguan opposition.

There was no question about Bush’s part in what would become the Iran-Contra scandal. ‘Dan Murphy and Poppy would sit down and work it out about the Contras,’ the officer said.

‘They saw Ortega as turning Nicaragua into a Russian puppet state. “We can’t have that. This is our turf. We have to protect Guatemala and Honduras and Panama.” So I and my colleagues on Moreau’s team wrote findings about covert actions going after Daniel Ortega.’

But it was important to keep Casey out of the way, the officer said, in order ‘to protect our real operations’. Unfortunately, the person charged with protecting the vice president’s inside team was Ollie North, then on the staff of the National Security Council. ‘We were in different parts of the White House’ – where conspiracy was a constant – and ‘North’s job was to keep Moreau up to date on all NSC operations. North was a plant.’It became clear to the Moreau team that the CIA’s Casey-led operations in support of the Contras were veering out of control. Casey had been busy illegally raising millions of dollars for the Contras from ‘concerned’ American citizens and foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia and Brunei, whose leaders were seeking favour with the White House.

‘Moreau thought that Casey’s actions in support of the Contras were stupid and a time bomb,’ the officer said.
‘What had begun as a quiet op designed by Moreau to influence public opinion inside Nicaragua was becoming a political football. So Moreau calls on his boy Ollie and tells him to get involved with the Contra issue and keep it from getting out of control. He picked the wrong guy. North was loyal and enthusiastic, but he was fucking dumb.’ 

North saw a career path through keeping in with Casey – but then the operation took a ludicrous turn after Buckley’s kidnapping in Beirut in March 1984 by members of the group that would soon call itself Hizbullah.

A plan developed to sell anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles to Iran, via the Israelis, in return for Iranian help in releasing Buckley and the other prisoners (the government of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had overthrown the shah in 1979, was viewed with great hostility by the Reagan administration). Profits from the arms sales would then be used to finance support for the Nicaraguan opposition – in direct violation of the congressional ban.

‘Ollie brings in Dick Secord and Iranian dissidents and money people in Texas to the scheme, and it’s gotten totally out of control,’ the officer said.
‘We’re going nuts. If we don’t manage this carefully, our whole structure will unravel. And so we’ – former members of Moreau’s team who were still working for Bush – ‘leaked the story to the magazine in Lebanon.’ 

He was referring to an article, published on 3 November 1986 by Ash-Shiraa magazine in Beirut, that described the arms for hostages agreement. He would not say how word was passed to the magazine, nor did he acknowledge that with this leak Moreau’s group was acting with as much self-interest, and as little regard for the consequences, as Moreau had accused the CIA of doing. The officer explained that it was understood by all that the scandal would unravel in public very quickly, and Congress would get involved.

‘Our goals were to protect the Moreau operation, to limit the vice president’s possible exposure, and to convince the Reagan administration to limit Bill Casey’s management of covert operations. It only took a match to light the fire. It was: “Oh my god. We were paying ransom for the hostages – to Iran.”’

Moreau was gone by the end of 1985: at the recommendation of Bush, he had received his fourth star and was rewarded for his high-pressure double duty in the White House by being appointed commander of US naval forces in Europe and Nato forces in southern Europe. There was another factor: on 1 October 1985, Admiral William Crowe replaced John Vessey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The formidable Crowe had been filled in, up to a point, on the clandestine operations inside the vice president’s office. ‘He got a whiff of what was going on,’ the officer said. Crowe quickly disbanded Moreau’s secret team and returned its officers to navy duty.

There would be no undeclared operations on his watch. The roof could have fallen in the following November, when the Iran-Contra scandal became public. The congressional inquiry that followed focused on Reagan, and what he did and didn’t know. Bush was mostly out of the line of fire, and so was Moreau. Casey, meanwhile, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 1986, and left office within days. He died five months later.

If Casey had not taken ill, the officer assured me, ‘he would have been the fall guy, and taken one for the Boss’ – the president. Bush, with his seemingly secure run for the presidency in 1988 under threat, flew into a panic about the burgeoning scandal. He had played a major role in the sure-to-fail scheme; a comprehensive inquiry might well discover the 35 or so earlier covert operations – many of them successful – that he and the Moreau group had conducted. The team’s carefully prepared findings, none of which had been given to Congress, were destroyed, as were any other records of the extraordinary operations unit. Moreau suffered a major heart attack in December 1986, while on duty, and died soon afterwards at a military hospital in Naples.

Secrecy, internal rivalries and illegality had doomed Moreau’s project but, for all its flaws, there were some in the defence establishment who felt, as Moreau did, that extraordinary efforts were needed to combat international terrorism. ‘How ironic it is,’ a senior defence official told me, ‘given all the interest now in waging covert warfare, that the very real opportunity to pre-empt al-Qaida, and launch a war decades before 9/11, was squandered by a mix of overzealous, sometimes misguided operators and bickering administration officials.’


In 1986, as the Iran-Contra scandal turned toxic, the immediate problem for Vice President Bush was political survival. Too many outsiders – men like Oliver North – knew too much. The vice president began keeping a diary – with notable fake elements – late in 1986, as the scandal was being investigated by the special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.

The diary wasn’t turned over to Walsh’s inquiry until after Bush’s defeat in the 1992 presidential election, despite relevant subpoenas dating back to 1987. It begins with the sentence:

‘This is November 1986, the beginning of what I hope will be an accurate diary, with at least five and maybe 15 minutes a day on observations about my run for the presidency in 1988.’ 

But Bush was unable to restrain himself, repeatedly wondering whether North and his close associate on the National Security Council, Admiral John Poindexter, would ‘do the right thing’ when testifying before Congress. The ‘right thing’, of course, was for North and Poindexter to lie and not say what they knew about Bush’s involvement. At one point, Bush refers to allegations in the media that he has not come clean on his part in the scandal, and adds: ‘The implication being that I was some way linked in to the diversion of funds to the Contras or that I was running a secret war’ – which, of course, was precisely what he had been doing. Later, writing about the arms for hostage agreement, he says:

‘I’m one of the few people that know fully the details, and there is a lot of flack and misinformation out there. It is not a subject we can talk about.’

Bush’s unconscious seemed to spin out of control again when he was summoned in December 1986 by the Tower Commission, a three-member investigating group put together by the White House in a failed attempt to head off the Walsh inquiry. ‘The testimony before the Tower Commission, I think went well,’ Bush wrote.

‘I made several suggestions to them … [and] they include no more operations by the NSC; CIA to conduct covert operations; formalise process of the NSC staff; clearly [no more] oral findings, and failure to follow up on these covert operations was wrong. Nobody had any dream that these kinds of things were going on.’ 

He was once again describing what Moreau’s group had been doing. The diary, had it been turned over earlier, as Bush’s team of lawyers certainly understood, would have led to a great deal of further questioning, and possibly to an indictment.

Walsh reluctantly ended his far from satisfactory inquiry in 1993. Convictions his staff won at trial were later overturned or suspended, as in North’s case; others were pardoned by Bush before he left office. One of Walsh’s last acts was to determine whether there was a case against Bush for his initial refusal to turn over the diary. He decided against it after concluding that there was little likelihood of a successful prosecution.

The same general conclusion had been reached two years earlier, before the existence of the diary became known, by Christian Mixter, a senior attorney on Walsh’s staff. While there was much evidence that Bush had attended most of the important meetings on Iran-Contra, Mixter wrote, his role as ‘a secondary officer’ to the president made him less likely to be criminally liable for the actions he took. Mixter’s analysis was not made public until 2011.

There is no evidence that Walsh or any of the lawyers on his staff found out about the existence of Moreau’s special operations group, though it was clear to some that there was more to know. John Barrett, who now teaches at St John’s University School of Law in New York, spent five years working for Walsh and came away, as he told me, with ‘a very strong sense that the water was way deeper than we could see. And who knew what was below. I concluded that we were at the mercy of the executive branch.’ He added that Archibald Cox, the Harvard law professor who was in charge of the Watergate investigation in 1973, had been able to turn for help to John Dean – the White House counsel who testified in public about the presidential cover-up. Unlike Cox, ‘we didn’t have an intelligence insider.’

The Washington press corps was equally in the dark. Scott Armstrong, a Washington journalist who spent years researching US policy on Iran, recalled a pleasant lunch he had long after the Iran-Contra inquiry with Don Gregg, Bush’s national security adviser.

The conversation inevitably turned to the Iran-Contra days and Armstrong told Gregg that he and other journalists had always been interested in his role. Gregg’s answer, as Armstrong recalled it, was crude and mysterious:

‘You guys [in the press] were always sniffing around my ass, and Dan Murphy passed right by you.’

The Decimation & Dismantling of Venezuela's Economy & Independence

Trump Sanctions Against Venezuela Have Decimated Oil Production


January 18, 2019

The Trump administration is evaluating oil sanctions on Venezuela now. The sanctions that are already in place lead to many deaths and make an economic recovery practically impossible, says CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot.

Is the U.S. government getting ready to impose further and harsher sanctions on Venezuela? Reuters reported on Thursday that the Trump administration recently met with oil company executives to explore the possibility of imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela. Approximately half of Venezuela’s oil exports continue to go to the United States.

This is despite various financial sanctions that the U.S. already has in place against Venezuela, and against the Venezuelan government officials. Oil sanctions have often been considered against Venezuela, but so far haven’t happened, presumably because of the effect it would have on the U.S. oil market and on U.S. refiners. Reuters quotes one executive as saying that “the new oil sanctions are more serious than I’ve heard before.” Related to the possibility of new sanctions on Venezuela is that President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated for a second presidential term last week, and the U.S. and many other countries refused to recognize him as the legitimately elected president.

To discuss the economic impact of sanctions on Venezuela is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and he is also a longtime observer of Venezuela’s economy. 

US Welcomes Australian "Assistance Package" for Pacific "Backyard" Island States

Australian prime minister’s Pacific visit reinforces militarist line up against China

by Mike Head  - WSWS

19 January 2019  

Scott Morrison this week became the first Australian prime minister to visit neighbouring Vanuatu since 1990 or near-neighbour Fiji since 2006—and the previous trips were only to attend annual Pacific forums dominated by Australia and New Zealand.

This fact demonstrates the contempt that the Australian capitalist class has for the people of the small Pacific island states. It also points to the bullying nature of Canberra’s turn to reassert its predatory interests, and that of Washington, against the rising influence of China.

The three-day trip was intended to reassure the military and corporate establishments of both the US and Australia that the government in Canberra is intent on militarily and strategically blocking China’s activities across the Pacific.

At last November’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea (PNG), US Vice President Mike Pence launched a blunt attack on China and its policies throughout the region, including its “militarisation” of islets in the South China Sea and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure plans for the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia.

In a lengthy private discussion with Morrison, Pence welcomed the Australian government’s “assistance package” for the Pacific island states, announced ahead of the APEC meeting. The “step up” plan included $1 billion to support Australian business operations in the region, $2 billion in infrastructure loans, closer military ties, five new diplomatic missions and a push to get Australian broadcast media into the Pacific.

To boost the US and Australian military presence in the region, the US announced it would join Australia and PNG in establishing a naval base on Manus Island, off the PNG northern coast—blocking a Chinese proposal to build a port there. That followed the announcement last August by Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, just before he was ousted, that Australia had outbid China in order to fund a major regional military base, Blackrock Camp, in Fiji.

Successive US administrations have regarded the southwest Pacific as Australia’s “patch” to police, as an integral part of the US dominance over the Pacific, established by its defeat of Japan in World War II. Washington has been increasingly concerned, however, that Australian governments have allowed China to gain financial and diplomatic influence in the region.

These concerns became more forceful under the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” to counter China, and intensified under Donald Trump, whose 2018 National Defense Strategy labelled China a “strategic competitor” that had to be combated, along with Russia.

There has been mounting agitation among Australia’s strategic and corporate think tanks for the government to combat China’s program of aid and loans in the southwest Pacific, which began to displace Australia’s hegemony over the small states, which were mostly granted formal independence by Australia and New Zealand four decades ago.

Last November, a Lowy Institute report, entitled “Australia versus China in the South Pacific,” declared:

“Australia, which is already trying to balance its relations with China as an economic partner, and the US as a military ally, now finds itself contending with Beijing’s ambitions on its doorstep.”

Before embarking on this week’s trip, Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it was part of “our refocusing of our international efforts on our own region, in our own backyard.” In Vanuatu and Fiji, Morrison arrogantly claimed that the region was a “family” that included Australia.

Morrison was accompanied by Australia’s top intelligence chief, Office of National Intelligence director-general Nick Warner. Last year, Warner was central in insisting that Australia would build undersea internet cables to PNG and Solomon Islands, effectively vetoing competing proposals from Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.

Warner has a long record of service to Australian imperialism, including as initial chief of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) military-police intervention, which effectively took over that state from 2003 to 2017. Later, he headed the Defence Department and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), the overseas spy agency.

Both the island state governments felt obliged to extend Morrison an officially warm welcome, but his efforts to tighten relations met resistance. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu publicly dismissed an Australian request for a security treaty, saying there was no prospect of changing Vanuatu’s “non-aligned” status.

Vanuatu’s Daily Post reported that Australian officials had explicitly asked for a treaty during Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai’s visit to Canberra last year. On that visit, Salwai, who heads a shaky multi-party coalition, was forced by Turnbull to deny unsubstantiated reports that Vanuatu had been negotiating with China for the construction of a naval port.

Despite Reganvanu’s statement, Morrison refused to back down. He told reporters such a treaty was a “live option” that “we’re progressing.”

Morrison offered nothing by way of economic assistance, except to lift restrictions on exports of kava, a mild narcotic commonly used in the Pacific, from Vanuatu. Apart from that, Morrison reiterated a 2018 announcement that Australia would train 300 Vanuatu police recruits.

In Fiji, Morrison and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, a former military coup leader, put on a show of friendship. Bainimarama described the visit as an “historic step up” in the countries’ relationship, which was ruptured in 2006 when Australia imposed sanctions on Fiji after the former naval commander seized power. Bainimarama countered with a “Look North” policy, seeking aid from China, Russia and elsewhere.

Morrison proclaimed a vuvale (“family”) partnership, which the two prime ministers vaguely described as a,

“broad-ranging and comprehensive agreement that will pave the way for deeper security, economic and people-to-people links.”

Morrison dismissed journalists’ questions about the authoritarian nature of Bainimarama’s government. But he offered Bainimarama little economically, except a “scoping study to identify ways to capitalise on the many economic opportunities between our countries.” Fiji will be granted entry into Australia’s Pacific Labour Scheme, which permits agribusinesses to exploit Pacific islanders on temporary visas.

Bainimarama’s hold on power is fragile. His Fiji First Party barely retained office with a 51.8 percent majority in elections last November, the results of which were subject to a legal challenge that was eventually dropped last month.

Anxious to display some independence, Bainimarama continued to refuse to join Pacer Plus, an Australian and New Zealand-dominated regional economic pact. He also urged Australia to shift away from coal and other fossil fuels in order to curb the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the low-lying Pacific islands. Morrison flatly dismissed the call.

One striking feature of Morrison’s trip was that the language he used closely matched that of Labor Party leader Bill Shorten in delivering a speech to the Lowy Institute last November. Shorten said Australia had to “turn up” in the Pacific, and strengthen military ties, to avoid “forfeiting” what he called “the Blue Continent” underscoring its global geo-strategic significance.

Shorten said this orientation was essential as part of Labor’s “anchor” commitment to the US alliance, with the Trump administration wanting America’s allies to “contribute more” to the “global order.”

Whichever party heads the next Australian government after elections due by mid-May, there is a bipartisan agreement that the Australia must be on the frontline of the US confrontation with China, including across the Pacific, and that the Pacific states must be subordinated to that assignment.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Creating Personal Clarity to Fight the Mindfog

Fight The Establishment’s Narratives By Getting Clear On Your Own

by Caitlin Johnstone - Rogue Journalist

January 18, 2019

Anti-establishment movements are a mess. Whether they’re left-wing or right-wing, whether they’re statist or anarchist, whether they’re organized or decentralized, whether they place emphasis on official or unofficial narratives, any circle of people who are interested in opposing the status quo on a deep, meaningful level almost invariably find themselves significantly bogged down by confusion, paranoia, infighting, and misdirected use of energy.

Every day, for example, I get people in my inbox and social media notifications telling me I shouldn’t quote or share anything from this or that lefty journalist or anti-establishment figure because they’ve said something “problematic” at some point or have some kind of association with some aspect of the establishment.

Rather than simply using narrative-disrupting tools wherever they come from to fight the establishment narrative control machine, I’m encouraged to isolate myself to the extremely narrow spectrum of voices which agree with my exact worldview perfectly. This kind of paranoid, self-cannibalizing mentality is rife throughout most anti-establishment circles.

This happens for a number of reasons, including the fact that the ruling power establishment will infiltrate dissident movements that it perceives as a threat with the intent of sowing confusion and division. But the underlying reason anti-establishment circles so often find themselves getting crushed by their own weight is ultimately because life itself is confusing and difficult to understand.

Hardly anyone holds a lucid and steady awareness of just how much of society is comprised of mental narrative. Most people live their lives under the unquestioned assumption that when they are moving around in the world, speaking, acting, forming opinions, having ideas etc, they are interacting with something that resembles objective reality. The truth of the matter is that most of the things which draw people’s attention in their day-to-day experience, whether it’s names, titles, news stories, political parties, economics, history, philosophy, religion or what have you, consist entirely of mental noises firing off inside human skulls.

You might think it’s a big jump to go from chatting about the sociopolitical dynamics within dissident movements to making vaguely Buddhist-sounding observations about human thought, but it’s really not. The reason our species is in a mess right now, and thus the reason movements exist which seek to change the status quo, is because so much of life is dictated entirely by made-up mental narratives which can be easily controlled by the powerful, and hardly anyone fully grasps this. If they did, the revolution against the establishment would very smoothly and quickly succeed.

Scientific research has found that astronauts suffer problems with coordination, perception and cognition when they are unable to determine which way is up in space. 

There is no “up” or “down” when you’re outside the gravitational pull that our bodies are adapted to, so its absence sends our whole system out of whack. Navigating a society that is made of mental narrative is very much the same; if you don’t know which way’s up, you’ll get lost and confused. Before you can see the narrative matrix clearly, you might be aware that some narratives serve power and swat at them while you’re spinning through space, but you won’t have any solid ground on which to orient yourself for the purpose of forming a clear path forward toward a healthy and harmonious world.

Your first and foremost task as a revolutionary, therefore, is to find solid ground on which to plant your feet while operating within a swirling sea of narratives and counter-narratives. Without this you’ll find yourself expending energy on ineffectual agendas, chasing shadows, attacking friends and advancing the interests of the enemy as you stumble around trying to fight a threat you can’t even see clearly. You’ve got to figure out for yourself which way’s up.

The only way to do this is to turn inward and sort out your own mental narratives in your own experience. This takes a lot of dedicated work, because there are many layers of tightly believed narratives which dictate one’s perception of the world that most people aren’t even aware of.

As soon as we’re born we are given a name which has nothing to do with the nature of the slimy, screaming naked creature which came roaring thunderously alive out of the womb. We spend our childhood being told who we are in various ways by our family, then we go to school to get taught how to think like everyone else and get labeled good/smart or bad/stupid for the rest of our lives based on how well we dance that dance. Along the ride we pick up coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of this whole unnatural ordeal, many of which become extremely counterproductive unconscious habits in later years. We pick up likes and dislikes, interests and aversions, life philosophies, religious beliefs, societal beliefs, political beliefs, all of which come together to form our worldview.

Because the foundations of our entire worldview are formed in early childhood long before we’re mature enough to decide for ourselves what a useful foundation might look like, we wind up interfacing with life through this muddled, inefficient network of mostly unconscious mental and perceptual habits which don’t serve us very well. It is with this warped, endarkened tool that we interact with the vast sea of official and unofficial narratives we are presented with in our attempts to decipher what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it.

The path, then, is to unwind this whole confused, unconscious muddle of mental and perceptual habits until we get to the untarnished blank canvass of that powerful screaming baby who first met this wild world, and inhabit it consciously. That right there is our solid ground.

Who are you? Underneath the mental narratives about who you are? Underneath all the stories, labels and beliefs? Underneath the field of consciousness full of thoughts, sensory impressions and feelings? This is the most important inquiry that anyone can possibly engage in, and it is worthy of the entirety of your focus until it’s resolved.

All of these swirling, babbling thought stories have dictated our lives for as long as we can remember, but rarely does anyone sit down and start sorting out where they come from and if they’re useful. We lug around ancient mental narratives about life, about how we should be, about how other people should be, about the best ways to find happiness, about the best ways to avoid unhappiness, and we rarely consider the possibility that we can interact with life unencumbered by that heavy load.

If you want to find solid ground beneath your feet so that you can push effectively for a healthy world, you’ve got to question every assumption you’ve ever made about yourself and the nature of the world, even your very most fundamental assumptions, because it’s all narrative. As you turn your attention toward your essential nature and away from your churning, babbling mental habits, interest and attention will move away from mental narratives and toward the solid ground upon which they appear. The mind will relax and mental narrative will take on its proper role as a tool that can be used when it’s useful and set down when it isn’t, rather than the dominating feature of every minute of waking existence. Unhelpful mental habits can be discarded, and all attempts at narrative manipulation will stand out like a black fly on a white sheet of paper.

I can’t tell you how to do this. Everyone’s path to the heart of the fundamental matter is unique, and you can only travel it on your own. I can tell you that the answer does not exist in the realm of thought, and that it is closer to you than your own breath. Sincere, dedicated inquiry into your own true nature, on your own and in your own way, will lead you to the ground on which you must take your stand in order to fight the establishment narrative machine effectively.


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Back to the Backyard: Venezuela & Bringing Regime Change Wars Home

A Coup in Progress? Venezuela Foreign Minister Decries U.S. & Brazil-Backed Effort to Oust Maduro

by Democracy Now!

18 Jan 2019

The United States and allied nations in Latin America are ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela in what appears to be a coordinated effort to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from office. Maduro was sworn in last week to a second 6-year term following his victory in last May’s election, which was boycotted by the opposition.

Days before Maduro was sworn in, opposition figure Juan Guaidó became head of the National Assembly, which soon voted to declare Maduro a “usurper” in an effort to remove him from office. The United States, Brazil and other nations have welcomed the effort. As the political crisis intensifies, Maduro has reached out to the United Nations to help establish a peace dialogue in Venezuela.

We speak with Jorge Arreaza, Venezuelan foreign minister. He met with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres this week.

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Of Bullets and Their Triggers

Of Triggers and Bullets

by David Rovics - CounterPunch

January 18, 2019

This commentary is dedicated to all of my friends who don’t know the difference between a trigger and a bullet. I apologize in advance if I sound condescending. I’m 51 years old and I’ve been through this nonsense too many times – and every time it gets more surreal.

It’s an imperfect metaphor — that’s the nature of metaphors. But you don’t need to be an anarchist to understand it – you don’t even need to have fired a gun in your life, either.

Facebeast loves our arguments – their algorithms only show us arguments and baby pictures, nothing else is relevant to their business model. I really don’t understand why anyone bothers arguing with someone on Facebeast, unless they’re just trying to encourage the further stratification of society. I assume they find it therapeutic to dump on other people. It’s the social media equivalent of yelling out your car window at another driver who’s doing something you don’t approve of.

The theme that tends to get a rise out of people the most, from my experience, is any criticism of Democratic Party politicians. There is an actual fascist in the White House, they say. We must have a unified opposition against him – a united front, a glorious resistance.

I don’t bother arguing on Facebeast with anyone, well-intentioned though they may be. It’s a pointless exercise, by design. But yes, of course, there is a bona fide fascist in the White House. (For more on the similarities between Germany in 1933 and the US today, listen to episode 22 of my podcast, This Week with David Rovics.)

The Orangeman in the White House is the bullet, in my metaphor of the week. What to do with that bullet, which is already speeding through the air towards its metaphorical destination, is an important question. But figuring that out absolutely requires understanding how the bullet left the chamber of the gun, and what made it fire – we know what the bullet is, but what is the trigger.

The deplorables, I can hear someone say. The unreconstructed white American racists, says another. The misogynists, says someone else.

I would say that no, while overt racism is in fact what the Democratic Party was founded on and the platform on which it ran for most of a century, I’d say that racism, sexism, xenophobia are not the triggers, they are just the casing of the gun. They are the stuff America was built on.

The trigger that fired the bullet, what got us to where we are now in this current situation – that is, those who had the power to make the changes necessary to prevent it but failed to do so — is actually the Democratic Party. The trigger is made of false hope, and change that never comes. We’re running on a platform of affordable housing, jobs, opportunity, fairness, yada yada.

The party of hope and change and fairness and jobs now has a super-majority in the Oregon legislature – they’re in the perfect place to show us all exactly what their party is made of.

Are they going to deliver affordable housing in Oregon? Is my rent going to be cut in half? Are they going to deliver prosperity and opportunity?

Are their counterparts in the Congress going to question our immense military budget, or take radical action to save the planet? Are they going to ban all disposable packaging, invest in a bullet train network, confiscate the property of the oligarchs, imprison the torturers and carpet-bombers and other war criminals living among us?

No. They’ve been one of the two ruling parties forever, they’ve been running on these false promises forever, and they don’t deliver. They rarely even talk about the things that need to be done, let alone begin to take on the task of accomplishing them. They will not deliver this time, either.

The Yellow Vest movement in France is still going strong, though every week the media, on the rare occasion they mention the French protests anymore, predict the movement’s imminent end. In the first few weeks of its existence, it won more concessions from the French government than any of the many strikes organized by the French labor movement over the past several decades. I believe in hope and change, because I know it can happen. And when it does happen, it will take a form similar to that of the Yellow Vests. It will be a movement in the street. It will not be on a podium, making false promises.

I admit, I’m angry. These people telling me to unify with the trigger to combat the bullet infuriate me. People ignorant of history ask why anyone would criticize the Social Democrats who led the Weimar Republic in Germany up until Hitler took power. Hitler was so terrible, why couldn’t more people in Germany just grit their teeth, join together and support the Social Democrats in the face of what we can say in hindsight was the rise of an unspeakably horrific totalitarian government? Why were they fighting with each other while this fascist movement was taking over?

Because they were starving. This is not political theory, this is reality. The historical revisionists then blame the Treaty of Versailles for the suffering of the German people, and the Great Depression. But other countries were able to feed their people during this period – not Germany’s government. Because the Social Democratic-led government couldn’t rise to the occasion and implement the kind of land reform and wealth redistribution that would have been necessary for people to eat. And to prevent the rise of fascism.

Today, people can blame modernity, automation, and China for the poverty and inequality that is all around us. But they are just blowing smoke. This is just what the gun is made of – guns are made by machines now, too. We’ll never get all those jobs back, and we don’t want them. Do we? I don’t. I just want the owners of the factories and the owners of the cities and the mines and the container ships to share the wealth that the workers of the world have unwillingly gifted them with. I don’t want equality of opportunity. I want equality. I don’t want false promises, I want real change.

It’s January, 2019. The campaign season for the 2020 presidential election is already underway, I’m nauseated to say.

The Democratic Party candidates are lining up and making their false promises. Some of them can act well, most of them suck at it, and sound obviously disingenuous, such as the governor of Oregon, Kate Brown.

They sound like wealthy landlords trying to pretend they understand what it’s like to be a tenant, but their act is totally unconvincing to me. Mainly because I know their record. They have made these promises before. For decades. For centuries.

Ten years ago this month, our first African-American president came to power, a Democrat who inspired millions to come hear him speak all over the country and the world during his campaign. He mobilized masses of people who had never voted before to campaign for his vague brand of hope and change. By the time his reign was over, some of us had health care, but most of us were paying so much more for housing that anything we saved on health care was more than taken up by rents and mortgages.

If only he and the last Democratic administration before his had delivered something other than falling living standards, if only they had had a strategy for dealing with the real estate barons and their property speculation other than “whatever the market will bear,” if only their policies had represented any kind of a break from the neoliberal policies that destroyed any hope for change decades ago, if only both of their cabinets weren’t packed full of elderly white male former Goldman Sachs executives, we might have fewer disenchanted former Obama voters voting for Trump eight years later. If only. But in reality, Obama, his former Secretary of State, her former husband and the “new” Democratic Party were, in the end, nothing more than Trump’s delivery mechanism.

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon.
More articles by:David Rovics

What Does Trudeau Attack on Venezuela Auger?

Trudeau takes tough stance on Maduro in town hall


January 16, 2019

Trudeau reserved some of his harshest words of the evening for Nicolas Maduro, the 56-year-old Venezuelan president since 2013 who is presiding over a country in increasing crisis.

He slammed what he called the dictatorship of Venezuela as he tackled audience questions ranging from Canada's approach to Indigenous issues to immigration and foreign policy. Anyone who claims to be a friend of Venezuela or its people, Trudeau said, should stand up and condemn the Maduro government, which he said has been responsible for "terrible oppression" and a humanitarian crisis unseen in South America for decades.

"All because of an illegitimate dictator named Maduro, who is continuing to not respect their constitution (and) the rule of law," Trudeau said.

Watch: Trudeau takes tough stance on Maduro in town hall

Trudeau Damns BDS Movement as "Antisemitic"

Justin Trudeau’s Description of BDS: ‘A Pack of Lies’


January 18, 2019

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated his belief that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement is anti-Semitic. 

During a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was given the opportunity to explain his position opposing the Boycott Sanctions and Divestment, or BDS, movement which aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and end their discrimination against Palestinians more generally. He used the opportunity, though, to double down on his position, suggesting that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.

We speak to Ali Abunimah, who says Trudeau has adopted Netanyahu’s talking points

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Taking the Initiative: The Empire's (Mouthpieces) Strike Back

Integrity Initiative And Affiliates Behind Multiple Attacks On Disobedient Media

by Elizabeth Vos - Disobedient Media

January 15, 2019

Last month, an anonymous hacking group published a slew of documents that revealed a vast operation by the Integrity Initiative and its parent group, the Institute for Statecraft.

The organizations and their slew of affiliates sought to propagandize a Western audience by crafting false narratives, creating smears out of whole cloth, and in all of these efforts, backed by the UK intelligence community.

In other words, make psychological warfare sound like journalism, while accusing Russia of the same.

The influence of the group and its contacts stretches from news outlets in Europe to Washington DC insiders to Silicon Valley. Multiple reports published by Grayzone, the World Socialist Website and others map this infinite array of relationships, which we will not endeavor to outline in full here.

The revelation is not merely an embarrassment to some factions within the British intelligence community, but represents a glimpse into the inner workings of the propaganda machine that keeps the plutocratic class in control of the public.

John Pilger once wrote of Edward Bernays, the founder of modern propaganda: “Bernays’ influence extended far beyond advertising. His greatest success was his role in convincing the American public to join the slaughter of the First World War. The secret, he said, was “engineering the consent” of people in order to “control and regiment [them] according to our will without their knowing about it. He described this as “the true ruling power in our society” and called it an “invisible government.”

It is this same invisible controlling force that has been exposed at work in the anonymous hack of the Integrity Initiative.

Grayzone’s Mohamed Elmaazi and Max Blumenthal summarized the scandal, writing:

“Recent hacked documents have revealed an international network of politicians, journalists, academics, researchers and military officers, all engaged in highly deceptive covert propaganda campaigns funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), NATO, Facebook and hardline national security institutions…
The whole operation appears to be run by, and in conjunction with, members of British military intelligence… The exposing of the Integrity Initiative has just scratched the surface of what appears to be a much more sophisticated, insidious, and extremely online version of Operation Mockingbird.”

In the weeks following the hack, major narratives pushed by the legacy press in the last two years have been exposed as state-friendly propaganda, including but not limited to: Russiagate, the Skripal poisoning, the smearing of Jeremy Corbyn, and the pushback against the Catalan independence movement. Grayzone also illustrated the group’s ties to Trump-insiders Katharine and Sebastian Gorka and neoconservative interests, detailing the direct involvement of the State Department’s Todd Leventhal.

The Integrity Initiative was not only involved with propagandizing against Russia. The group also interfered in American politics, according to Grayzone:

“It is clear that the influence operation has already been activated in the US. Hacked documents reveal that the Integrity Initiative is cultivating powerful allies inside the State Department, top DC think tanks, the FBI and the DHS, where it has gained access to Katharine Gorka and her husband, the fascist-linked cable news pundit Sebastian Gorka.”

As commented on by Jimmy Dore, the leaked documents reveal the identity of a probable British intelligence asset, Bracey-Lane, who worked for the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. Again, this suggests that the group was not simply aimed at scare-mongering against Russia, but also actively worked to interfere in American politics while blaming Russia for the same thing.

The World Socialist Website described the sources of funding for the Initiative, writing:

… with £1.96 million from the FCO and the rest from the US State Department, NATO and the American neoconservative Smith Richardson Foundation. Facebook, which plays an integral role in imposing censorship on behalf of US imperialism, donated £100,000.”

The larger-than-life quality of the story included in Grayzone’s discovery of a fake, derelict location and real offices located in an area known as “the Temple,” that is filled with “barristers’ chambers and used to serve as the precinct for the Knights of Templar.” Grayzone also cites UK Parliament Member Chris Williamson, who directly compared the machinations of the Integrity Initiative with the CIA’s cold-war Operation Mockingbird:

“These tactics resemble those deployed by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird that was launched at the height of the cold war in the early 1950s. Its aims included using the mainstream news media as a propaganda tool.”

Despite the story’s historic significance of the scandal, Western corporate media’s glaring refusal to cover the story requires little explanation. Disobedient Media’s William Craddick noted last year that Robert Stengel, a former Editor of Time Magazine revealed in the leak to be tied to the Integrity Initiative via the Global Engagement Center and Todd Leventhal, had publicly advocated for the use of domestic propaganda.

That the Integrity Initiative would be unmasked as a front for state-backed propaganda is not without precedent. In the series Decipher You, this writer and President of the Internet Party of New Zealand Suzie Dawson noted the use of NGOs as proxy organizations used by intelligence agencies.

Virtually simultaneous to the revelations stemming from the anonymously hacked documents, Disobedient Media‘s William Craddick also reported allegations that a British intelligence asset had infiltrated right-wing outlets including the Voice of Europe. The report was not the first time that British influence has been noted interfering in various US affairs.

In April last year, Disobedient Media reported on Joseph Mifsud’s ties to UK intelligence figures, and other connections suggesting British influence at the heart of the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, concluding:

“Is British intelligence involvement in RussiaGate, as outlined above, the international version of CrowdStrike and former FBI figures manufacturing the Guccifer 2.0 persona specifically to smear WikiLeaks via false allegations of a Russian hack of the DNC? Have we been looking in the wrong place – at the wrong country – to unearth the so-called ‘foreign meddling’ in the 2016 US election all along?”

In light of evidence showing that Mifsud’s real ties are to British intelligence, not the Russian government, the possibility arises that the UK made efforts to subvert the Presidency of Donald Trump by creating false evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. In this vein, former Reagan NSC staff-member Richard Levine discussed the role of the GCHQ in the evolution of the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, explaining the context in which Trump’s election to the US Presidency would have been seen as totally unacceptable in British establishment and intelligence circles:

“As perceived throughout 2016, Donald Trump and his enunciated views on Muslims constituted a threat to cohesion within the United Kingdom as well as to its external affairs, for if Trump became President, a continuance of the special relationship between Britain and America could undercut Britain’s position vis-à-vis the nation’s burgeoning Muslim population as well as its relations with Muslim-majority nations.
If Britain were to suspend its special relationship with America in the wake of a Trump presidency, the island nation’s economy and security could suffer grievous harm. Further, the next British monarch might be precluded from becoming the head of the Commonwealth of Nations due to friction with Muslim-majority members incensed by Washington. Thus, both courses appeared unacceptable.”
Levine added: “It may therefore be contended that former or current operatives, with decades-long associations with American and British intelligence, took part in activities, which one of these individuals alleged was penetrated by Russia. Of course, these persons were not part of the Trump campaign or presidency: rather they are connected to the CIA, the FBI, and MI6.

Grayzone writes of the Integrity Initiative’s focus on drumming up specifically neo-mccarthyist fervor: “The Integrity Initiative has sought to organize journalists across the West into an international echo chamber hyping up the supposed threat of Russian disinformation—and to defame politicians and journalists critical of this new Cold War campaign.”

Small independent outlets including Disobedient Media were among those targeted by proxies and partners of the Integrity Initiative and its parent organization, the Institute for Statecraft. One of the earliest attacks on Disobedient Media came from the Atlantic Council’s controversial DFRLab, which infamously partnered with Facebook to help shape the social media giant’s censorship policy. The Atlantic Council was also revealed to be a partner of the Integrity Initiative. Disobedient Media co-founder William Craddick wrote of the Council’s attack on this outlet:

“On February 10th, 2017, an article distributed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab attacked research published by Disobedient Media concerning the EU and added the Atlantic Council to a line of media houses and other outlets who deny the Wikileaks and Harvard Human Rights Journal supported research collected and published by Disobedient Media exposing the role that the Clintons and Department of State played in helping Laura Silsby and her co-conspirators off the hook after they were caught smuggling children illegally out of Haiti.”

Disobedient Media’s coverage of the EU Army in particular noted the role of NATO in supplying the new fighting force with equipment and weaponry that was being shipped to Europe under the auspices of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Atlantic Resolve is an ongoing NATO operation intended to counteract Russia, a major geostrategic opponent of the United Kingdom. It should be of little surprise to anyone that British government propaganda programs would attack Disobedient Media’s coverage of operations that have allowed them to use the United States as a proxy in their centuries-long competition with Russia for political dominance both in Europe and around the globe.

An even closer proxy of the Integrity Initiative attacked this writer in 2017, shortly after Disobedient Media covered the violent suppression of the Catalan independence movement by authorities in Spain. The Spanish paper of record El Pais then published a hit piece against this outlet, representing our coverage as a Russian disinformation front. Never mind that all individuals associated with Disobedient Media are US or UK citizens with no ties, financial or otherwise, to Russia. We are proud to accept zero financial incentive from anyone, Russian or not. We decline to so much as include Google advertising on our site, to maintain total independence.

After being translated electronically from Spanish to English, the passage reads:

“The digital armies of the Kremlin operate with the same pattern: viralize exaggerated or false messages and news to exacerbate a crisis and encourage division in the US or Europe, something that ends up benefiting the position of Moscow. For that, these guerrillas use websites that look like serious diaries that create or host the news that is later shared.
One of the most popular is, which is presented under the guise of a research journalism website, but which has been dedicated to promoting all sorts of false conspiracy theories such as the one that linked Hillary Clinton to a pedophile network. According to the Atlantic Council think tank, the employees of that supposed newspaper have also spread false news in the German campaign, as Angela Merkel allowed the entrance of ISIS jihadists in Europe to achieve greater military power.” [Emphasis added]
The smear attempt continued: “Now that same medium and those same employees have launched to disseminate information about the Catalan crisis, often interacting with Assange himself. On September 15 they published a new in which they made false claims that the cancellation of the referendum has cast doubt on the permanence of Spain in the EU, that the Spanish government has restricted press freedom or that Amnesty International has condemned the illegal vote on the independence. The news ends with a photo of Francisco Franco on horseback and its author refers to “the enduring influence of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco in Spanish politics.” That same author, Elizabeth Lea Vos (@ElizabethleaVos) shared his information in Twitter seven days ago with messages like “Where is the EU’s response to Spanish authoritarianism?”

Unsurprisingly, Grayzone has described El Pais as a specifically “friendly host” to the Integrity Initiative, and the World Socialist Website reported that a key focusing of the Integrity Initiative included meddling in Spanish affairs, specifically regarding Catalan independence:

“By showing the real sources of information on which they rely, newspapers like El País or El Mundo are exposed as conduits of the intelligence services to support the suppression of maverick political viewpoints… Last year, El País carried out a frenzied and paranoid campaign claiming that the Catalan crisis was not sparked by the Popular Party government’s violent repression of the secessionists, but was the result of Moscow and its “fake news.”
It quoted experts and specialists working for Spanish think tanks like Instituto Elcano and Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the European Council on Foreign Relations. The leaked documents show that many members of these think tanks are members of the “Spanish Cluster” of the Integrity Initiative.”

It appears that El Pais’s attack on this author and Disobedient Media was likely a part of the now-unmasked efforts of the Integrity Initiative’s to propagandize against anyone critical of the West or their allies. El Pais’s attempt to tie this author and Disobedient Media to the so-called “digital army of the Kremlin” didn’t so much as attempt to provide a single tie between this author or Disobedient Media and Russia, much less the Russian government. However, it would not be the last time that this outlet would be accused of acting on behalf of Russia despite all evidence to the contrary.

Last year, Disobedient Media’s technical correspondent was shamelessly doxxed and attacked in a hit-piece authored by Duncan Campbell. Campbell, much like the Atlantic Council, similarly attacked Disobedient Media’s coverage of the EU Army and ties between certain British officials and organizations linked to terrorist networks. While multiple writers have since thoroughly debunked the claims made in Campbell’s farce of an article, Carter informed this writer that shortly before the piece was published, a photographer and journalist from the Sunday Times appeared at his residence unannounced. This would suggest that the journalists in question had been tipped off as to Carter’s real identity and address, as well as the imminent publication of Campbell’s report. Carter added that shortly after Campbell’s article was published, he received a follow-up email from Sunday Times reporter Ian Williams.

Fascinatingly, Ian Williams is part of the ‘Russian Outer Core group of II‘ described in the Integrity Initiative scandal. While Carter cannot confirm that Ian Williams was the same reporter who appeared on his doorstep just prior to the publication of Campbell’s article, it is nonetheless relatively predictable that a reporter associated with the Integrity Initiative’s efforts to propagandize against Russia would seize on Campbell’s ad-hominem-drenched hysteria.

It goes without saying that Disobedient Media is far from the only outlet targeted by organizations and individuals associated with the Integrity Initiative. However, by discussing the targeting of this single, minor independent outlet, one realizes the gravity of state-backed resources devoting to smearing domestic, independent voices. It provides a piece of a larger pattern seen repetitively across the independent media sphere, wherein critical thinkers are attacked viciously under the guise of “protecting democracy” and “countering pro-Russia talking-points.”

These groundbreaking revelations documented meticulously by Grazyone and others form the latest in a series of reports linking British intelligence to meddling in US political affairs, a twisted reflection of the reality deflected from in the Russiagate saga. That state-sponsored organizations targeted the leader of a political party is a revelation whose shockwaves should reverberate for a long time to come.

If the incestuous relationship between the State and corporate world hadn’t already been proven, the revelation of this nefarious project should put the final nail in the coffin of the separation between technocracy, plutocracy and governance.

Disobedient Media will continue to report on this story as it develops.