Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Limp(et) Explanation: The Blind-eyed Oil Tanker Attack Narrative

Veteran Navy Officer Exposes Flaws in US Version of Iran Oil Tanker Narrative 

by Nafeez Ahmed - MintPress News

June 20, 2019

According to Dr Gwynne Dyer who has served as a Reserve Naval Officer in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, US Naval Reserve, and British Royal Navy Reserve for a total of 17 years, alleged US intelligence about the incident does not add up.

InsurgeThe Trump administration has released a range of photographic and video evidence in support of its claim that proves how Iran attacked a Japanese-owned oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz.

But a Canadian military analyst and former Navy officer for nearly twenty years has called the evidence into question, highlighting unresolved anomalies in the US version of events. His reservations are backed by Japanese government sources.

A number of other states — the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel — as well as other jihadist groups and even a rogue hardline faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have been flagged as potential culprits in the attacks that could pave the way for a wider war fitting into the Trump administration’s new plan for ‘American Energy Dominance’.

The US government says that the evidence, including fragments of an exploded weapon and a magnet from an unexploded device, indicates that limpet mines were attached to the side of the oil tankers. The statement of a US Navy explosives expert that the mines bear “a striking resemblance” to similar mines used by Iran has been widely reported.

US intelligence: an incoherent story

But the claim is challenged by the analysis of another former Naval officer. According to Dr Gwynne Dyer who has served as a Reserve Naval Officer in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, US Naval Reserve, and British Royal Navy Reserve for a total of 17 years, alleged US intelligence about the incident does not add up. Dr Dyer, despite believing that on balance Iran is “probably” behind the series of Gulf oil tanker attacks, concedes that:

“The evidence is far from conclusive.”

His analysis coheres with that of the private US intelligence firm Stratfor, which notes of the spate of recent attacks that while Iran would have reason to “harass” vessels around its territory,

“to send a message of resolve in the face of Washington’s punishing economic and military pressure…. On the other hand, it doesn’t make strategic sense for Iran to target European vessels at a time when it is desperately seeking to retain the Continent’s political and economic support.”

Strafor suggests that other culprits might include al-Qaeda, other regional jihadist outfits that have a similar modus operandi of targeting oil tankers, or even a breakaway faction of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that is unhappy with official Iranian government diplomacy.

Writing in a local Canadian newspaper, Dr Dyer — who has taught military history and war studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, UK — observed that as limpet mines “cling to ships’ hulls by magnetic force but have to be placed by hand,” this means they were “probably placed while the ships were in port”, because it is:

“… almost impossible to place a limpet mine once a ship is underway. Other boats cannot come close enough without being spotted, and swimmers (including scuba divers) cannot keep up.”

This analysis contradicts the explanation initially put forward in a joint statement by the UAE, Norway, and Saudi Arabia at a UN briefing, alleging that limpet mines were placed by divers deployed by speed boats.

All six tankers that have been attacked sailed from ports in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. According to Dr Dyer, given the implausibility of the mines being deployed as suggested by the UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia, this suggests that the mines would have been planted on the tankers before departure. But this raises other questions. In Dr Dyer’s words:

“So is security in Saudi and UAE ports so lax, even after the first attacks in May, that foreign agents can plant limpet mines on tankers before they sail?”

US officials have also put forward aerial video of a small Iranian boat at one of the tankers as evidence of how the Revolutionary Guards removed an unexploded limpet mine, apparently demonstrating a botched effort to cover-up their complicity.

But this too makes little sense according to Dyer:

“Limpet mines are generally fitted with ‘anti-handling devices’ (i.e. they explode when you try to remove them), and yet everybody on that boat crowded onto the bow as if to get as close to the explosion as possible.”

Other potential state culprits?

Dyer raises the possibility that the mines could have been planted surreptitiously by Saudi Arabia or the UAE in order to generate a justification for a long-desired war on Iran. He mentions the potential role of Israel but argues that the former would be unlikely to consent to their regional dabbling:

“The leading candidates are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two Arab countries that are doing their best to push the United States into a war against Iran on their behalf. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would also love to see the US attack Iran, but one doubts that Israel’s de facto Arab allies would want Israeli special forces operating on their territory.”

Japanese government officials, however, appear to be even less convinced of the US position. “The US explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” one senior Japanese government official told Japan Today.

The newspaper quoted a government source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who responded to Pompeo’s claim that the US assessment was based on,

“intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

The Japanese source close to the prime minister commented:

“These are not definite proof that it’s Iran. Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it.”

A separate government source at the Japanese Foreign Ministry went further, suggesting that Pompeo’s own criteria of sophisticated expertise sufficient to conduct the attack might implicate both the US and Israel:

“That would apply to the United States and Israel as well.”

John Bolton’s advanced warning of the attacks

According to the Times of Israel, the US intelligence on Iran’s alleged role in earlier attacks on oil tankers came from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Other reports implied that Mossad had advanced warning of the attacks, and had passed on information to the US several weeks before the first incidents.

“Mossad had tipped off the United States on an impending Iranian attack on American interests in the Gulf, prompting Washington to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group to the region, in a sharp escalation of US President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign,” added the Times.
“Israeli officials conveyed information gathered largely by the Mossad on an Iranian plan to attack either a US or US-allied target, details of which were not provided to the network.”

The alleged intelligence was reportedly passed on by Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat to his counterpart, John Bolton, in April — a month prior to the first attacks. According to Bolton himself, the meeting with Ben Shabbat covered,

“our shared commitment to countering Iranian malign activity & other destabilizing actors in the Middle East & around the world.”

Yet the conclusions of the Bolton-Ben Shabbat intelligence coordination did not seem to match British intelligence assessments of the threat posed by Iran, even after the latest attack.

At a recent Pentagon press conference, a senior British military official, Major General Chris Ghika — a deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition conducting counter-terrorist operations against Isis in Iraq and Syria — contradicted the US position when he remarked that,

“No — there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces” in the region. “We monitor them along with a whole range of others because that’s the environment we’re in. If the threat level seems to go up then we’ll raise our force protection measures accordingly.”

Who wants a war?

Despite his reservations, military analyst Gwynne Dyer suggests that Iran may have wanted to carry out such attacks to prove to the US its capacity to easily shut down the Strait of Hormuz, in an effort to dissuade the US from attacking Iran. In most scenarios explored by Pentagon agencies, a shut down of the Strait would stop critical transport of a significant portion of the world’s oil supplies, which would likely trigger catastrophic price hikes and the collapse of major Western economies.

But Dyer points out that while President Donald Trump’s intentions are unclear, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton,

“probably do want a war with Iran. They would never say that, but they spin every bit of data in as anti-Iran a direction as possible. That includes, of course, their analysis of who is behind these attacks.”

During Bolton’s previous tenure in the US government, evidence emerged that the Bush administration had attempted to fabricate an incident which could be used to justify a long-planned military strike on Iran

According to a former senior US intelligence official, a meeting in Vice-President Cheney’s office occurred a few weeks after five Iranian patrol boats approached three US Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Press reports described Iranian ship-to-ship radio transmissions threatening to “explode” the warships.

But within a week, an internal Pentagon inquiry concluded that there was no evidence that the Iranian boats were the source of the transmissions, and that they originated from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region.

Regarding the meeting with Cheney, the former US official said that:

“The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington.”

Eyewitnesses contradict alleged US intelligence

The story of the latest incident is further complicated by the testimony of the Japanese owner of the tanker, who said that sailors on board the ship had seen something flying toward it just before the explosion above the waterline.

“We received reports that something flew towards the ship,” said Yutaka Katada, president of Kokaku Sangyo Co. at a press conference.
“The place where the projectile landed was significantly higher than the water level, so we are absolutely sure that this wasn’t a torpedo. I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”

The Trump administration has not dealt with the contradictory eyewitness accounts, but instead has doubled-down on the evidence it says proves the use of limpet mines which solely implicate Iran.

Trump’s energy plan

US hostility toward Iran comes in the context of the escalation of the Trump administration’s plan for “American Energy Dominance”. In May, the White House issued a triumphant statement on Trump’s efforts to “open up new export opportunities for American energy producers…We are exporting more and more energy as production soars and President Trump negotiates better market access for our producers.”

The White House statement also trumpeted the government’s success in rolling back environmental regulations and climate change commitments.

While oil exports have nearly doubled, and US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports have increased by 272 percent, they are nowhere near where the US administration wants them to be. In the New York Times late last year, Bethany McLean — who famously reported on the Enron scandal — warned that the shale boom driving Trump’s export ambitions could be about to grind to a halt as the industry’s mounting debts, declining profits and dwindling production rates come home to roost.

US shale is still expensive and over the last decade Iran had successfully captured much of America’s hoped for export market despite sanctions. Iran is a major oil and gas supplier to China, India, Korea and Turkey. It also supplies European markets, namely Italy, Spain, France and Greece, along with Japan and the UAE. Asian buyers in particular have explored the possibility of purchasing Iranian oil in currencies other than the dollar to bypass US sanctions.

Iran is thus a major geopolitical competitor to the Trump administration’s export plans, as well as to the role of the dollar as the de facto reserve currency for the global oil trade. The Trump administration has made no secret of its ambition to take Iranian oil exports down to zero with a view to provoke internal regime change.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is the founding editor of the 100% reader-funded investigative journalism project INSURGE intelligence. His latest book is Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (Springer, 2017). He is an 18-year investigative journalist, formerly of The Guardian where he reported on the geopolitics of social, economic and environmental crises. He now reports on ‘global system change’ for VICE’s Motherboard. He has bylines in The Times, Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, New York Observer, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, among other places. He has twice won the Project Censored Award for his investigative reporting; twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 list of most influential Londoners; and won the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by the President of the Republic. Nafeez is also a widely-published and cited interdisciplinary academic applying complex systems analysis to ecological and political violence. He is a Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.

Source | Insurge Intelligence

Republish our stories! MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Good News! They Still Must Lie to US

The Fact That Americans Need To Be Deceived Into War Proves Their Underlying Goodness

by Caitlin Johnstone - Rogue Journalist

June 22, 2019

Friday Fox’s Tucker Carlson praised Trump’s decision not to go forward with a planned attack against Iran which the president claims would have killed 150 people in response to a downed drone, which if true would have been a profoundly barbaric response to a broken toy plane and would have led to retaliations from Iran, followed by a chain of military actions which could have escalated God knows how far.

Carlson, who has been credited with persuading Trump against further military escalations with Iran, lit into the neoconservative elements of Trump’s cabinet with unprecedented viciousness.

He called National Security Advisor John Bolton a “bureaucratic tapeworm” who never suffers any consequences for his relentless warmongering, accusing him and his collaborators of deliberately engineering a provocation to lead to military confrontation.

Carlson urged Trump to expunge the influencers who are pushing for a war with Iran, and cautioned that it would cost him re-election.

“Bombing Iran would have ended [Trump’s] political career in a minute,” Carlson said.
“There’d be no chance of re-election after that.”

Carlson’s first guest, The American Conservative‘s Robert Merry, plainly stated the likely reason for Bolton’s deceitful manipulations, saying that Americans are typically reluctant to go to war and citing a few of the historical instances in which they were tricked into consenting to it by those who desire mass military violence.

“So, you’re saying that there is a long, almost unbroken history of lying our way into war?” Carlson asked his guest rhetorically.

“Lying sometimes, not always lying, sometimes it’s manipulations, but yeah,” Merry replied.
“America’s warmaking history indicates that there’s been significant instances of that kind of maneuvering, manipulations, and in some instances lying–Vietnam is a great example–to get us into wars that the American people weren’t clamoring for.”

Both men are correct. The US empire does indeed have an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, manipulations and distortions to manufacture consent for war from a populace that would otherwise choose peace, and a Reuters poll released last month found that only 12 percent of Americans favor attacking Iranian military interests without having been attacked first.

Watching Americans react online to the jarring report about how close they may have just come to a war which would have impacted most of the world to varying degrees, I’ve been experiencing a deep appreciation for what truly, sincerely good people they are underneath all the propaganda and deceit.

The fact that Americans have had to be tricked into every major military action since the Spanish-American War is telling in itself. If Americans were truly a war-hungry mob, the hawks wouldn’t need to do that. Notice too how these tricks almost always hinge on manipulating Americans’ desire to help others. The manipulators literally have to use people’s goodness to manufacture consent for war by making it all about a “dictator” who is harming his people or some variation of this theme. The hawks could try to play off of hatred or fear, but they know it wouldn’t work nearly as effectively as manipulating the already-installed “Save the day!” helping desire that most Americans live and breathe.

Now, these tricks are becoming more and more conscious for an increasing number of Americans. For instance, on the day of the Gulf of Oman incident, “Gulf of Tonkin” briefly trended on Twitter. As it becomes more apparent that they’ve been lied to, you could expect people to compartmentalize away from the bloodshed by arguing for exceptionalism and for strengthening the petrodollar and US geostrategic interests no matter the cost. They could simply switch gears and take their cues from Bolton and the neocons. But the large majority don’t. They are horrified. There is shame and there is palpable grief. They hate the thought that they might be the baddies, and they want to do what they can to stop the next senseless military bloodbath.

And then something like this near-miss happens in Iran and the responses on social media make it very clear that the will for war with Iran is almost non-existent everywhere except DC. On the contrary, Americans came out in force over the last two days to mock, deride, argue and demand that Trump cease this madness immediately. I’ve been reading all day and just swelling with so much love.

I’ve often had the thought that American culture creates the kind of people we need to save the world, but they’re also subject to the most sophisticated propaganda in the world, so so far they’ve put all that get-up-and-go goodwill into fighting shadows and each other. If the veil of the propaganda gets too thin, these guys might really end up being the superheroes, but for real this time.

And that gives me so much hope. If the US-centralized empire were built upon a foundation of cold, uncaring people, I’d probably pack it in right now and seek out a low-effort job so I can buy chips and booze to take the edge off while I wait for armageddon. But it’s not. All that’s holding our world back from health is a thin, wispy leash made of propaganda.

Whenever I try to talk about this I get a lot of pushback, not from outsiders like myself but from Americans themselves. When you’re in the thick of a society that keeps seeing itself manipulated into war after war after war, it can feel like being in the middle of an endless zombie apocalypse, and it’s easy to grow impatient with one’s countrymen.

But it’s so important that the blame be placed in the right place. We must be vigilant in directing our anger at the manipulators and not the manipulated. It’s always the conman’s fault, never the victim. That’s how it works in fraud law and how it works in life. Blaming people for being “stupid” is not only victim blaming, it’s also unlikely to be true. Being susceptible to propaganda has very little to do with intelligence. You will notice that some of the smartest people you know not only fervently believe the propaganda, they are able to gaslight themselves and others more effectively than most with their own clever arguments. A high IQ does not inoculate you against propaganda, in fact it can work against you because agile minds are able to create the most convincing kinds of reframes.

They’re not stupid, they’re trusting. And is being trusting something we really want to mock? Aside from mocking a beautiful attribute that we should be trying to protect, it also is a bad strategy if you want to help someone into seeing that they’ve been duped. Our brains are very adept at avoiding the feeling of shame, and people will use many strategies to avoid feeling the shame of being duped. So when you mock people as “stupid” you’re literally just strengthening their shame cage by making them defend it. Get angry at their abusers instead and encourage them to get angry at them too. It’s the manipulators who we should be staring down right now, not their victims.

What we are watching with Iran is a war propaganda narrative failing to get airborne. It was all set up and ready to go, they had the whole marketing team working on it, and then it faceplanted right on the linoleum. This is what a failed narrative management campaign looks like. It is possible for us to see this more and more.

Today I have a lot more hope. It’s becoming clear that the manipulations of the US war machine are becoming more and more obvious to more and more people and that everyday, regular Americans are reacting with a healthy amount of horror and revulsion. There was always the risk that the US population would already be sufficiently paced ahead of these revelations and there would be little to no reaction, but that didn’t happen. Americans are seeing what they’re doing, and they don’t like it, and they don’t want it.

And that makes me so happy.

Come on Captain America. Save the day. The world is counting on you.


The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for my website, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone, or my previous book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish or use any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

Bitcoin donations:

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Remembering the True Spirit of World Refugee Day

‘World Refugee Day’: Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive Through Hope, Resistance

by Ramzy Baroud -

June 19, 2019

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day, observed annually on June 20, should not merely represent a reminder of “the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”

It should also be an opportunity for the international community to truly understand and actively work towards finding a sustainable remedy to forced displacement.

For no woman, man or child should be forced to endure such a grueling, shattering and humiliating experience in the first place.

Palestinians who have withstood the degradation of exile for over 70 years embody the harshness of this collective experience more than any other group.

To be a refugee means living perpetually in limbo - unable to reclaim what has been lost, the beloved homeland, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom, justice and dignity.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 68.5 million people around the world who have been forced out from their homes, with 25.4 million of them classified as refugees.

Of the officially listed refugees, 5.4 million are Palestinians, registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

For Palestinians, the grim reality of being a refugee is compounded through the absence of any political horizon, enough to convey a sense of hope that, 70 years after the genesis of the Palestinian refugee crisis, a remedy is at hand.

Abandoned in this seemingly eternal quest for a homeland, Palestinians hold tighter onto hope, because it is hope alone that feeds their own sense of determination, which neither time nor distance will stand between them and their Right of Return. This internationally-honored right is etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians everywhere.

The archetypal image of a refugee - a man, a woman, a child holding on to the pole of a tent, charting a path of exile to no specific place, imploring UN officials for help, and the world for mercy – is, by itself, not enough to deconstruct the complexity of that identity. To belong to a place that has ejected you, yet to seek an alternative home in places to which you do not belong, culturally and in every other way, confuses one’s sense of being. The psychological trauma alone is shattering.

While Palestinians continue to hold on to a sense of identity in their various spaces of exile - refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East - their prolonged odyssey is seen as a ‘problem’ to be haphazardly fixed, or entirely dismissed, in order for Israeli Jews to maintain their demographic majority.

The mere fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a "demographic threat" to Israel, a ‘demographic bomb,’ even. This unmistakably racist notion is wholly embraced by Israel’s allies in Washington and elsewhere.

When Israel and its friends argue that the Palestinians are an "invented people", not only are they aiming to annihilate the Palestinian collective identity, but they are also justifying in their own minds the continued killing and maiming of Palestinians, unhindered by any moral or ethical consideration.

Israel and the US will do anything in their power to trivialize the centrality of the Palestinian refugee question and its relevance to any future just peace in Palestine.

Nearly a million Palestinian were made refugees following the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Hundreds of thousands more acquired that dismal status in subsequent years, especially during the Israeli war and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

The 5.4 million refugees registered with UNRWA are those original refugees and their descendants.

Israel has never agreed to take responsibility for the consequences of its violent inception - the ethnic cleansing, the untold destruction of towns and villages and the very erasure of historic Palestine.

Even during the Oslo Peace Process, Israel refused to discuss the core issue of refugees, relegating it to the ‘final status negotiations’, which have never taken place and will, most likely, never actualize.

In the meantime, Palestinian refugees have been sentenced to subsist in this unfair status - neither here nor there. If there was such a status as second, third and fourth time refugees, Palestinians would have acquired that, as well.

Indeed, millions of Palestinian refugees have been exiled more than once, from Palestine to Jordan or Lebanon; from there to Syria, and back and forth.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current war in Syria have taught us that Palestinian refugees with relatively better living conditions are not safe, either.

The small Palestinian refugee community in Iraq was persecuted after the invasion, to the point that they were forced to leave, en masse, to any country willing to take them. Many of them ended up as refugees in South America.

The same sordid scenario was repeated in Syria and will, tragically, be replayed elsewhere in the future.

Instead of remedying the crisis with a degree of moral and legal accountability, successive US administrations have tried to marginalize the importance of the Right of Return.

Israel, on the other hand, has targeted refugee communities through wars and massacres, most notably during the 1982 war and invasion of Lebanon, and the subsequent Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September of that same year.

Now, with the help of the Donald Trump’s administration, Israel and the US are orchestrating even more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish through the very destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

By denying UNRWA urgently needed funds, Washington wants to enforce a new reality, one in which neither human rights, nor international law or morality are of any consequence.

What will become of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no importance to Trump, his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and other US officials. The Americans are now watching, hoping that their callous strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government's dictates.

The Israelis want the Palestinians to give up their Right of Return in order to get "peace". The joint Israeli-American "vision" for the Palestinians basically means the imposition of apartheid and keeping Palestinian exiles in a never-ending ordeal.

The Palestinian people will never accept this injustice.

The Right of Return remains a driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Great March of Return demonstrated in Gaza, starting March of last year.

All the money in Washington's coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

Palestinian refugees may not top the political agenda of the Middle East at the moment, but it is their persistence, determination and undying hope that will keep their cause alive until international law is respected and human rights are truly honored.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter, and is a former Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

Dutch JIT Court Release on MH17 Big on Allegation, Small on Facts

MH17 Prosecution - The Dutch Fire Their Big Guns, The Subjunctive and Conditional Tenses, Plus Ukrainian Secret Service Tapes

by John Helmer - Dances with Bears

June 19, 2019

Moscow - Dutch prosecutors have announced international arrest warrants and criminal charges against three Russians and a Ukrainian whom they accuse of being part of a chain of Russian military and political command leading to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

The four are accused of acting in the Ukrainian civil war “to gain ground at the expense of the Ukrainian State and its armed forces”; of cooperating together in actions “which ultimately led to the shooting down of the MH17… Although they did not press the button themselves, it is alleged they worked closely together to get the BUK TELAR [anti-aircraft missile] to the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft. They are therefore suspected to be held jointly responsible for shooting down flight MH17.”

In the anonymous voiceover of a video clip, presented during the June 19 press conference in The Netherlands, the allegation is reported that there was a Russian chain of command for the deployment of a Buk Telar anti-aircraft missile battery of the Russian Army.

“It was through this chain that the suspects were able to get heavy military equipment from Russia to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. And in this way the BUK-Telar of the 53rd brigade could be transported to the agricultural field in Pervomaiskiy and its missile could be fired with terrible consequences.”

Could isn’t the same as did.

The Australian police official at the presentation expressed “faith in the Dutch legal system”. He made no commitment to the Dutch allegations or to the specific claims against the named suspects. He added: “we will also continue the investigation. The step we have taken today gives us the energy to continue. We will not let go. To progress, we are again appealing for witnesses today.”

The Malaysian government representative refused to endorse the allegations which were announced by the Dutch.

To understand how much, and also how little, has been presented by the Dutch and Australian-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), start by reading this official summary of the press conference on Wednesday at Nieuwegein.

Four suspects were accused; they were named as Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov, and Leonid Kharchenko. Girkin was identified as a former colonel of the Federal Security Service (FSB); Dubinskyiy and Pulatov were reported as serving officers of the military intelligence GRU. Kharchenko has been reported by the Dutch as having “no military background. He received his orders directly from Dubinskiy and in July 2014 he was commander of a combat unit in the Donetsk region.

At that time, there was an armed conflict in that area between pro-Russian fighters and the Ukrainian armed forces.”

The criminal charge and allegation against the four is that they “cooperated to obtain and deploy the BUK TELAR at the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft.”

No evidence was presented of their location at the time of the MH17 crash, nor evidence of their intention, as charged, of “causing the crash of flight MH17” and of “the murder of the 298 persons on board of flight MH17”. The Dutch law cited as the legal basis for the arrest warrants and a trial in court are Articles 168 and 289 of the Dutch Criminal Code. The trial of the allegations has been scheduled for March 9, 2020.

Here is the Dutch law. Note that the two articles require evidence of intention and premeditation to destroy and to kill. The conventional court standard for this evidence in Europe is proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Listen slowly and carefully to the speeches which were made at the JIT presentation. No claim can be found in the transcript and recording of evidence of the accused men’s intention and premeditation to attack the MH17.

Fred Westerbeke (right) is the Chief Public Prosecutor of the National Public Prosecution Service in the Netherlands.

Westerbeke has been the principal accuser in the JIT process, and his earlier claims have been analysed here.

This is what he now claims in his testimony: 

“Today we will not comment on all the facts that led to the suspicion against these individuals. When it comes to the concrete actions of and our evidence against individuals, the courtroom is the only place where we as the Public Prosecution Service want to speak openly. But we can tell you the following:

“In July 2014, Girkin, Dubinskiy, Pulatov and Kharchenko were active in the armed conflict in Donetsk province. Their common goal during this period was to gain ground at the expense of the Ukrainian State and its armed forces. Anti-aircraft was also used during the fighting. The Public Prosecution Service believes the cooperation between suspects Girkin, Dubinskiy, Pulatov and Kharchenko, their plans and their actions on and around 17 July 2014, ultimately led to the shooting down of flight MH17.

“Although they did not press the button themselves, it is alleged they worked closely together to get the BUK TELAR to the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft. They are therefore suspected to be held jointly responsible for shooting down flight MH17.”

“It is possible the suspects wanted to shoot down a military aircraft instead of a passenger aircraft. Even if that is the case, we still hold them accountable for downing MH17. What the suspects actually knew, wanted and ultimately did must be determined by the court in criminal proceedings.

“We realise this brief summary of the accusations does not yet provide answers to many questions, for example about the available evidence. I emphasise that today we only disclose the accusations against these suspects. It is up to the district court of The Hague to pass judgement on these accusations. The suspects have the opportunity to explain their side of the story at the court hearing.”

“We are still waiting for an answer to the question of where the BUK-TELAR, filmed in June 2014 in a convoy of the 53rd brigade in the Russian Federation, was located on and around 17 July 2014. We asked this question more than a year ago. Other questions the Russian Federation refuses to answer. For example, whether suspect Dubinskiy worked for the Russian government in July 2014. These are simple questions that can be answered quickly. We invite the Russian Federation to swiftly answer these and other questions from the requests for legal assistance.”

JIT has also issued an official version of Westerbeke’s evidence in the form of video clips. The second of these presentations alleges there was a chain of command running from the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, where MH17 came down, through each of the four suspects to Moscow. According to Video-2, “it was through this chain that the suspects were able to get heavy military equipment from Russia to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. And in this way the BUK-Telar of the 53rd brigade could be transported to the agricultural field in pervomaisky and its missile could be fired with terrible consequences.”

In the clip, there is no identification of what “heavy military equipment” the four names were directly engaged in deploying and operating, nor where. Note that the term “could”, used twice over, is conditional and subjunctive. It doesn’t qualify as a crime in the Dutch Criminal Code, Articles 168 and 289.

Peter Crozier (right) is an assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. This is what he testified at the JIT presentation.

“Just like Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, these representatives of Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and have expressed their faith in the Dutch legal system. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has gratefully accepted that faith in the knowledge that a complex international criminal case such as this one will demand a lot from us all in the coming years.

As a JIT, we will also continue the investigation. The step we have taken today gives us the energy to continue. We will not let go. To progress, we are again appealing for witnesses today. My colleague Wilbert Paulissen will tell more about that.”

The most detailed presentation of the Dutch evidence of a crime against the four accused came from Wilbert Paulissen (right), Head of the National Criminal Investigation Service of the Netherlands.

Paulissen omitted to say where the recorded telephone conversations he presented as evidence came from, or what chain of custody for that evidence has protected it from tampering or fabrication, before it reached the JIT.

“The call for witnesses I’m about to make,” Paulissen announced, “is intended to achieve maximum clarity about the entire chain of responsible parties. The message we give today is therefore twofold: we’re going to prosecute four suspects, but the investigation into the involvement of other people continues.

“Last year we asked questions about the BUK TELAR and its crew in a witness call. Of course we also put those questions to the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation has indicated that it sees no reason to answer these questions. Even without that cooperation, we made progress in the investigation. Partly for this reason we turn to the public again with questions to which we would like to receive answers.

“We will let you listen to parts from recorded telephone conversations and show you parts from a chat. In this presentation these are shown in English translation. The complete audio files of these wiretapped conversations and the partial text of the chat will be made available on the JIT website.”

“We also previously posted the following conversation of 17 July 2014 at 21.32 hours online. It is a conversation between the suspect Kharchenko and a man, whom he calls ‘Ryazan’ and who addresses Kharchenko as ‘commander’. Apparently, one of the crew members of the BUK TELAR who had just shot down MH17 lost contact with the rest of the crew. Kharchenko orders the crew member to be brought to him. The JIT would like to know who that crew member was.

“This telephone conversation does not demonstrate to which Brigade this crew belongs. The JIT does have evidence from other sources that at that time, Russian soldiers of the 53rd Brigade were present near the border with Eastern Ukraine.

“Many soldiers were active on social media. We now show you a passage from a chat of 2015 in which a soldier of the second battalion of the 53rd Brigade looks back on the summer of 2014.”

“In the months prior to 17 July 2014, the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic requested military support from the Russian Federation on several occasions. These requests were made both by the so-called ‘Prime Minister’ Aleksander Borodai, as well as by the suspect Igor Girkin, the so-called ‘Minister of Defence’.

“We know from our investigation the suspect Girkin was in contact about this matter with Sergej Aksyonov, the Russian leader of Crimea appointed by the Russian government. The Ukrainian peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation in the spring of 2014.

“Girkin spoke with one of the staff members of Aksyonov on 8 June 2014. In that conversation Girkin asks for military support from Russia, including a good anti-aircraft system with trained personnel. Please listen with us.”

“This conversation of 11 July 2014 shows that there were indeed talks about military support between ‘the prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Peoples Republic and a high government official of the Russian Federation. The anti-aircraft system that was already requested as from June 2014, was actually delivered after 11 July. We would like to know who was involved in the decision-making in the Russian Federation and with what mission the anti-aircraft system was sent to Ukraine.

“The JIT has the following questions: Who decided to send a Russian anti-aircraft system, specifically the TELAR with the 3 and the 2 on the side, to Ukraine? Who decided which persons should be members of the crew? What instruction was given to that crew? Who gave that instruction? Do you have information? Our contact details are listed on the JIT website ( Here you will also find information about our comprehensive witness protection program. Thank you for your attention. We will now proceed with the questions.”

Video-3 was presented to illustrate Paulissen’s allegations. It purports to be a conversation between a Russian soldier and his girlfriend. Watch and listen.

The voiceover, an official of the JIT, says: “This chat indicates that member of the 3rd battalion [of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade] went west to eastern Ukraine.” The soldier doesn’t say so; his girlfriend is guessing; the soldier replies the guess means she is “not only beautiful but also smart”. 

The Dutch have presented this conversation to the world as evidence that the Kremlin ordered the shooting-down of MH17.

In this excerpt the voiceover claims: “The JIT has documents regarding the 53rd brigade which show exactly which members were present in July 2014 in the area near the Ukrainian border…Members of the 53rd brigade might know the identity of that specific Telar crew. Those members, and perhaps also people from their immediate environment form an important group of witnesses.”

In English, as in Dutch, the word “might” signifies the subjunctive mood of a verb. The dictionary meaning of subjunctive is that it is a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible.

Toward the end of the press conference the Malaysian representative present, Mohammed Hanafiah Bin Al Zakaria (right), Solicitor General of the Malaysian Attorney General’s Chambers, was asked how he responded to Prime Minister Mahathir’s criticism of the JIT claims. A report of Mahathir’s criticism can be read here.

Zakaria replied:

“Malaysia would like to reiterate our commitment to the JIT seeking justice for the victims…The objective of the JIT is to complete the investigations and gathering of evidence of all witnesses for the purpose of prosecuting the wrongdoers and Malaysia stands by the rule of law and the due process.” [Question: do you support the conclusions?] “Part of the conclusions [inaudible] – do not change our positions.”


Talking to Noam: Still Manufacturing Consent After All These Years

Still Manufacturing Consent: An Interview with Noam Chomsky

by Alan MacLeod - FAIR

June 19, 2019

Alan MacLeod interviewed Noam Chomsky via Skype on March 13, 2018, for MacLeod’s new book Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. They discussed the origins of the classic work of media criticism (co-authored with Edward Herman) Manufacturing Consent, the role of that book’s “propaganda model” today, Google and Facebook, Donald Trump and Russia, fake news and Syria. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Alan MacLeod: I would first like to ask you about how Manufacturing Consent came about. How did you know Edward Herman? What was the division of labour with the book? What parts did you write and what parts did he write? 

Noam Chomsky: Ed wrote the basic framework, the institutional analysis, the corporate structure, the relations to government programs and the fundamental institutional structure of the media—that was basically him. He also did parts on some of the specific studies, like on the coverage comparison of a hundred religious martyrs in Latin America with one Polish priest.

Edward Herman, co-author of
Manufacturing Consent

He did the comparison of the elections, which was partly drawn from a book that he had already done on demonstration elections.

I did all the parts on Vietnam and on the Freedom House attack on the media. Of course, we interacted on all the chapters, but the main division of labor was that.

AM: And what was the reaction to it when it came out? Was it celebrated? Ignored? Attacked?

NC: The reaction was quite interesting. Mostly the journalists and the media did not like it at all, of course. And, interestingly, they did not like the defense of the integrity of journalism: the last part, which investigated Peter Braestrup’s major, two-volume Freedom House attack on the media for having been treacherous, for having lost the Vietnam war, and so on (which turned out to be a total fraud).

I was probably the only person who read the actual document, both of the two volumes. One, the attack on the media, [the other] the documentary basis. Hardly any correlation between them! It was just literally total fraud!

And what the results showed was that the journalists were courageous, honorable; they had integrity, they did their work seriously—but, of course, all within the framework of US government ideology. Like all the coverage of the war, like, say, David Halberstam. It was honest, serious, but, almost without exception, within the framework of the assumption that the United States is making a mistake by trying to save democracy in South Vietnam from Communist aggression. That is the picture. The idea that the United States was carrying out a major war crime by invading another country and destroying the indigenous resistance…. the facts were there, but not the framework of discussion.

And they did not like that. Journalists would much prefer to be regarded as aggressive, independent, thinking for themselves, and if they were treacherous, well, OK, maybe they went overboard attacking the US government—that they much preferred. So as far as the journalists themselves were concerned, aside from a few exceptions, they did not like that picture of journalism as being honest, courageous and with integrity.

There were very few reviews of the book, but there was one critical discussion that I wrote about later, by Nicholas Lehmann [New Republic, 1/9/89], a well-known scholar of journalism, who wrote a review in which he disparaged it, saying, “This doesn’t mean anything.”

For example, he discussed the chapter comparing the assassinations of a hundred religious martyrs in Central America, including an archbishop, American nuns and leading Latin American intellectuals—where there was virtually no coverage—with the coverage of the assassination of one Polish priest, where the assassins were immediately apprehended, tried, sentenced to jail—where there was vast reportage. This was one of our many examples of the way in which “worthy victims” are treated, as compared with “unworthy victims.”

Assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero 

He said, “Well, this doesn’t mean anything, it is just because the media focused on one thing at a time, and they happened to be focusing on Poland, not El Salvador.” So, out of curiosity, I went to the New York Times index, and it turned out there was more coverage of El Salvador than of Poland during that period. But it does not matter, because this is a world of alternative facts. The media commentary is mostly propaganda and ideology. There were a few other critiques rather like that…but in the mainstream, it was basically ignored.

The first book that Ed and I wrote together, Counterrevolutionary Violence, was published by a small publisher that was doing quite well. They published 20,000 copies of it, and were ready to distribute it. The publisher was owned by a big conglomerate, Warner Brothers, now part of Time Warner. One of the Warner executives saw the advertising for the book, and did not like it. He asked to see the book, and when he saw it, he went berserk and ordered them to stop distributing it immediately.

The publisher at first did not agree. They said they would publish a critical volume with contrary views, but that was not enough. To prevent it from being published, in the course of the discussion, he just put the whole publisher out of business, destroying all their stock—not only our book, but all their books.

We brought this to the attention to some civil libertarians at the American Civil Liberties Union. They did not see any problem. It is not government censorship; it is just a corporation deciding to destroy a publisher to prevent them distributing a book.

We immediately started working on an expansion of the book: The Political Economy of Human Rights. The reaction to that was quite interesting. Many things were discussed, but there were two major chapters where we compared two huge atrocities going on at the same time in the same place, in South East Asia: one in Cambodia under Pol Pot; the other in East Timor, after the Indonesian invasion.

They were very similar. Per capita, the East Timor atrocities were worse, as they killed a larger portion of the population; but they were comparable. The fundamental difference between them was that in one case, you could blame it on an official enemy and there was absolutely nothing to do about it—nobody had a proposal as to how to stop it.

In the other case, we were responsible. The United States and its allies were crucially responsible. The US blocked action at the United Nations, provided the arms for Indonesia. The more the atrocities increased, the more the arms flowed. And there was everything you could do about it: You could just call it off.

The reaction was, not a word on our chapter about East Timor; that disappeared. But there was a huge attack on our discussion of Cambodia. There was a huge literature on this, trying to show that we were apologists for Pol Pot. The reason for this was that we went through the media and said, “We don’t know what the facts are, we can’t know, but we will compare the facts available with what came out of the media filter,” and it was grotesque: There was lying at a level that would have astonished Stalin. So we went through that record. That led to total hysteria. Look it up, you will find a ton of literature about it. We recently published a new edition of the book, and we didn’t change a comma, because there was nothing wrong with it. But that is the kind of reaction you get with Manufacturing Consent.

AM: It’s now been almost 30 years since its publication, and the media landscape has, in many ways, changed greatly since 1988. I think perhaps the largest difference is the arrival of the internet and social media. One 2016 study showed that half of all British people get their news online now, with online news having overtaken television in its reach, and having far superseded it among those under 45 years old. Twenty-five percent of the UK receives its news primarily through social media like Facebook or Twitter. In the United States, two-thirds of the adult population get news through social media, and that figure is growing at nearly 10 percent a year. Even the majority of over-50s use social media for news. Could you speak about the internet and social media, its usage and the evolving media landscape with regard to the propaganda model?

NC: I don’t think the internet and social media changes the propaganda model at all. The propaganda model was about the major media institutions and they remain, with all the social media and everything else, the primary source of news, information and commentary. The news that appears in social media is drawn from them. So, if you look at the news on Facebook, it comes straight from the major media. They don’t do their own investigations.

As far as the major media are concerned, there is no fundamental difference. In fact, in some ways, they are a little more independent than they were back in the 1980s, partly because of changes in the society, which have opened things up to an extent. But fundamentally, they are the same. In fact, Ed and I did a second edition of Manufacturing Consent about 16 years ago, and we talked about the internet and whether to write anything about it, and we decided just to leave it alone.

As far as social media are concerned, they are interesting in themselves. There has been a certain amount of study of them. What they have done is create bubbles. If you read the New York Times—which, incidentally, young people did not read much in the 1980s, either—but if you read the New York Times or the Washington Post, or even if you watch television news, you get a certain range of opinion, not very broad—it goes from center to far-right, but at least there is some discussion, and occasionally you get a critical voice here and there.

On social media, that has declined. People tend to go to things that just reinforce their own opinions, so you end up with bubbles. And it is all across the spectrum. The people on what is called the left see the left media, the people on the right see the right media. And the level of material is, of course, much more shallow.

The mainstream media, as we wrote in Manufacturing Consent, are a very significant source of news and information, and provide very valuable material. The first thing I do every day is read the New York Times, as it is the most comprehensive journal. You have to critically analyze what you read and understand the framework, what is left out and so forth, but that is not quantum physics; it is not hard to do. But it is a source of news.

On social media, you do not find that. There are exceptions; there are internet journals that are very good—for example, The Intercept—but most of it [internet and social media] is pretty shallow, and has led to a decline in understanding of the world in many ways.

AM: And, of course, there is the increasingly close relationship between these massive online monopolies and the US state. For instance, Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post and Amazon, received a $600 million contract with the CIA. Meanwhile, Google has something of a revolving door with the State Department, and shares enormous amounts of data about us with it, and are constantly listening to us through products like Siri and Alexa. Its former CEO, Eric Schmidt’s book about technological imperialism came heartily endorsed by Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair—and the former head of the NSA, who called Google part of the “defense industrial base.” Julian Assange has called some of Google’s projects “Orwellian horrors.”

NC: To a certain extent, that is true. They do things that are connected with state power, but I think Google and Facebook and the other few conglomerates that monopolize the system are basically connected with advertisers. They are part of the business world.

So they are essentially selling you to advertisers, just as the major old media do; they are also selling audiences to advertisers, but in a different way. Google and Facebook are doing it by monitoring everything about you, so that somehow advertisers will be able to make more money approaching you. And that is very dangerous. And some of the things that are done and are not reported are quite interesting.

So take the last German elections, for example. There was a lot of talk about potential Russian interference, that the Russians would undermine the election and so on. It turns out there was interference in the election. It was not Russian. It was from the United States. A media company that works for nice guys like Trump, Le Pen and Netanyahu got together with Facebook, and the Facebook office of Berlin provided them with extensive details of the kind they have on German voters, so then the media company could microtarget ads to specific voters to try to influence them to vote in a certain way. For whom? For Alternative für Deutschland, the neo-fascist party! Which probably is a factor in their surprisingly high vote.
Bloomberg Businessweek

This was reported in the business press, so you can read about it in Bloomberg Businessweek. But try to find a report in the mainstream press. It is not the kind of electoral manipulation we like to talk about. That is typical of the kind of things we discussed in Manufacturing Consent. So, yes, there is interference in elections, this is a good example. But the main thing is the way in which people are individually tracked to monitor the environment in which they live, so as to control them for the benefit of advertisers and business.

You may have read that there are recent studies showing that automobile manufacturers are now so flooded with data from drivers of cars, that they have not yet worked out a way on how to get a business model, to allow advertisers to follow you every moment of your life. There are already apps that you can get where they give you some free device, and in return you agree to have advertisements posted on the car dashboard the whole time you are driving. So if you are approaching an area where there is a certain restaurant, there will be an ad for that restaurant, things like that. This is really insidious, and it can be used in very dangerous ways, and sooner or later will be, I am sure.

AM: Are companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon too big to exist privately and in their current form?

NC: Any kind of near-monopoly as these companies are is extremely dangerous. They have enormous power and outreach. I do not think that any organization at all should have that kind of power. Their ability to collect information and to devise means of controlling what you see and do is very dangerous. Even at the level of you looking up on a search engine, Google deciding what you are going to see first, second and so on is quite dangerous. And they can be quite insidious, like what happened in the German election.

AM: In chapter four, I suggest that the anti-Communist filter that you wrote about in the 1980s, as one of the five crucial filters that affect news, is being drawn upon to create a new “anti-Russian” filter, where journalists and political figures who do not toe the establishment line on war and foreign policy will be chided as “Russian agents” or “Putin’s puppets.” You mentioned The Intercept; its co-founder Glenn Greenwald is an archetypal example of this. Another would be Jeremy Corbyn. [Note: The day after this interview took place, the Sun, Britain’s largest newspaper by circulation, ran with the front-page headline, “Putin’s Puppet: Corbyn Refuses to Blast Russia on Spy Attack,” as the leader of the Labour Party did not unreservedly endorse sanctions on Russia.] What is your opinion about the #Russiagate allegations, and the general political climate with regards to Russia?

NC: As you probably know, in the United Kingdom right now, there are moves to remove people’s access to RT, which is another television outlet. When I am overseas, I look at that and BBC, and they give a lot of information and news from different perspectives. But you have to protect people in the UK from an alternative point of view. In the United States, it is not a problem, because practically nobody has heard of RT. And Al-Jazeera, for example, had to cancel its efforts to reach an American audience, because practically no station would allow them to appear. So there is no state censorship, it is just Counterrevolutionary Violence business censorship again.

Let’s take the Russia business. Let’s say all the claims are true. Suppose Russia tried to interfere in the American elections. That ought to make people laugh hysterically. There is huge interference in American elections. It comes from the corporate sector. They practically buy the elections. In fact, there is extensive work in mainstream academic political science that demonstrates very convincingly that you can predict the electability, hence largely the votes, of people in Congress on major issues just by looking at their campaign funding. That is one factor, let alone lobbying and everything else. That is massive interference in elections.

About 70 per cent of the population of the US is not even represented, meaning that their own representatives pay no attention to their views, and follow the views of the major funders. This is manipulation on an enormous level! Whatever the Russians might have done is not even a toothpick on a mountain compared to that, quite apart from the fact that the US not only intervenes in elections (including in Russia), but overthrows governments. The whole thing is a bad joke, and a sign of the collapse of the Democratic Party as a serious institution. They are focusing on this marginal phenomenon as a way to discredit Trump, and almost totally ignoring the really devastating things carried out by the Trump administration.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting did a study a little while ago of interviews with Trump by the major media since his election. It turns out that climate change was not mentioned. That is the most serious thing that he is doing!

It should be a major headline every day that, alone in the world, the most powerful country in human history is not only refusing to participate in the efforts to deal with an existential crisis, but, in fact, is acting to exacerbate the crisis, pouring funds and money into more use of fossil fuels. Try and find an example in history of any political organization that was dedicated with passion to trying to destroy the prospect for organized human life. Even the Nazis were not doing that!
(photo: White House) 

And that is the Republican Party under Trump. It is the most dangerous organization in human history, for this reason alone. It is not asked about, not discussed. It is hard to find words to describe it. Instead of that, and plenty of other things that they are doing, what the media is trying to do is find some Russian interference in the election. It is hard to know what to say about it!

AM: Of course, these actions are not happening in a vacuum. There is a huge geopolitical backdrop, where Western and Russian forces are conducting a silent war in places like Ukraine and Syria. Could I get you to comment on the coverage of the Syria situation, and ask how we critique our own media without undermining genuine aspirations of Syrians struggling for a better society?

NC: I think the media should cover Syria accurately and seriously, as a number of journalists—Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Charles Glass, Jonathan Randall—do. Those journalists cover it very accurately, that’s what they should be doing. Incidentally, you will notice that I mentioned journalists who write in England, not the United States. Serious coverage is much harder to find here. There is some, but not much. So the media should cover what is happening.

As far as critical discussion is concerned, what Assad has been doing with Russian support is vicious and criminal. Right now, what is happening in Eastern Ghouta is a major atrocity. But as Patrick Cockburn pointed out in the Independent, what is happening in Afrin is about the same.

AM: Happening where, sorry?

NC: Afrin. Turkish forces and their allies are carrying out the attack in a mostly Kurdish area. Patrick Cockburn has covered it, but almost nobody else. The fact that you ask is itself revealing. The Turkish invasion of Syria is quite serious, and it is threatening to destroy the Kurdish independent areas. It is not a joke. But it is barely covered, apart from people like Patrick Cockburn and Charlie Glass that cover it, but not many.

AM: I wanted to ask about clickbait and fake news as well. In the context of decreased revenues, we have seen an increase in inflammatory and often simply false reporting. Even organizations that do not rely on the traditional financing structure, like the BBC, have told their staff to “emulate Buzzfeed.” What is your opinion on fake news today, its uses and abuses? 

NC: The use of just invented news—Breitbart, for example—is not new, but it used to be on supermarket shelves. You would see the National Enquirer, that would tell you Obama had an affair with whomever. That is fake news. But now it has spread quite widely, but not really in the major media. I think they do pretty much what they did before. It is true that advertising revenues had declined for a time, but they increased with Trump. The television media in particular are delighted with the Trump phenomenon—you cannot turn on the television set without seeing something about Trump. And it is bringing in many more viewers. One of the CEOs of CBS said during the presidential campaign that “for us, economically, Trump’s place in this election is a good thing,” that he has “never seen anything like it” and it is “going to be a very good year for us.”
CBS CEO Les Moonves
(cc photo: David Shankbone)

I happened to be overseas when the election took place, and I watched BBC for several days. It was 100 percent Trump! Nothing else in the world! Actually, the election was important, but it was important for quite different reasons that were not reported. For example, November 8, the day of the election, was an extremely important day in history. The World Meteorological Organization was meeting in Morocco and trying to put some teeth in the Paris negotiations. It had presented a dire picture of the impact of climate change on the world. As soon as the election results came in, the meeting basically stopped, and the question was, “Can we even continue when the most powerful country in human history is deciding to destroy our efforts?” That was the major news of the day, not the fact that some half-mad billionaire with huge media support managed to win an election. But it was not even mentioned. A couple of weeks later, I found some mentions in the back pages.

As far as the election itself was concerned, the most striking feature was the Sanders campaign. The Sanders campaign was the first time in over a century of American political history that a candidate was able to get to where he did. Sanders probably would have been nominated if it had not been for the machinations of the Obama/Clinton party managers. But he did this with no name recognition, no funding from wealth or corporate power, and no media support or recognition—that is astonishing! That has never happened in American political history. In the United States, elections are basically bought, as I mentioned previously. This was a really striking phenomenon, but was barely mentioned in the media.

By now, he is by far the most popular political figure in the country, but you hardly see a mention of him anywhere. He and his movement are doing lots of things, but they cannot get any reporting on it. Those are the really important things. And the BBC is the same; it is “Trump did this,” “Trump did that.”

What Trump actually is doing is pretty clever. It is a dual program underway; Trump carries out one ridiculous antic after another. The media focus on it, the factcheckers start, and a couple of days later they say, “Well, this and that fact were wrong,” but by then, everyone has forgotten about it, and he is on to some new antics.

Meanwhile, while media attention is focused on the megalomaniac conman who is working to attract their attention, the really savage wing of the Republican Party, the Paul Ryan wing, is busy dismantling every element of government that might help the general population, and dedicating themselves to their real constituency: the super wealthy and corporate power. That is happening in the background, while everyone is focusing on Trump’s latest antics. It is a good system and is working very well.

Meanwhile, he is maintaining his base, who are under the illusion that somehow he is going to bring back jobs or that he is standing up for America. It is working quite well, and the media and the Democrats are in particular responsible for allowing it to continue.

AM: As many old media companies struggle to maintain advertising incomes due to increased competition from online marketing companies, like Google AdSense, does this make the second filter of the propaganda model weaker, or, perversely, stronger, as media are more desperate than ever to appease their remaining sponsors? Furthermore, journalism appears to be becoming a less professionalized field, with fewer and fewer full-time staff journalists employed by newspapers and TV, and more freelancers and citizen journalists. In this context, what is journalism’s future?

NC: Media coverage is shrinking, but the part that is there is still professionalized. There are very good, professional correspondents in the field, analysts and so on, but there are much fewer of them. Take Boston, where I have lived for many years. The Boston Globe was a major, leading newspaper. It had international bureaus; it did the best coverage of Central America during Reagan’s wars. Now there are a few things apart from local news in it, and the rest is what they pick up from wire services. It is essentially hardly a newspaper anymore.

That kind of thing is happening around the country, but it is not deprofessionalization, it is just a decline in the model of the media that had functioned. In part, it is being undermined by social media. If people can turn on the computer and get a couple of headlines, then go on with their lives, it is a lot easier than reading a newspaper and trying to figure out what is happening. So there is a general cheapening of the culture that is affecting the media. But I see no evidence that the media are more influenced in their news coverage and analysis by advertisers than was the case before. It may be so, but I do not have any evidence for it.

AM: Are the five explanatory filters more than an arbitrary list of possible causes for the declawing of media? Are they all even “filters,” given that at least one of them, flak, requires conscious activity (more like an injection of poison than a filter), and the fifth is more a very broad idea about ideology?

NC: The fifth one, the anti-Communist filter, was too narrow. In our [2002] edition of Manufacturing Consent, we expanded it to invented threats to try to control opinion and discussion. Iran is a good example; the war on terror is another. It is not just anti-Communism.

Aside from that, I do not understand what is arbitrary. We looked at the institutional structures of the [mainstream] media. What are they? They are major corporations, that are often parts of bigger, mega-corporations. They have a product that they sell to a market. The product is readers of newspapers, or viewers on television, and the market is advertisers.

So they are corporate institutions that sell readers to advertisers. They are all closely linked to government. There is a lot of flow, in and out, of personnel, with a lot of influence.

And we asked a simple question, that anyone who believes in free markets would ask at once: Do the structure of the producer, of the market, and the links to other power structures, does that affect the media content? That is the propaganda model. There is nothing arbitrary about it. That is just elementary. And if you believe in free markets, that is exactly what you would look at.

AM: It is 30 years since Manufacturing Consent was published. Today, what would you have added or subtracted to the book if you were writing it today? Or do you think the propaganda model still holds very strongly? 

NC: The model is about the same today as it was in the 1980s. I would just use new examples. Take, say, Iran. There is a lot to say about that. There is a lot of concern about the potential threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. A couple of questions arise: Suppose Iran was developing nuclear weapons. Who would be threatened?

Actually, we have an analysis of this, by a US intelligence report to Congress on the nature of the strategic issues of the world. This is before the P5+1 agreement. What they point out is that if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, which we do not know, the reason would be as part of their deterrent strategy. As they point out, Iran has very low military expenditure, even by the standards of the region, and, of course, by the standards of the West.
Iranian President Hassan Rouani 

Their strategic doctrine is defensive; they want to defend themselves from any attack. And if they are developing nuclear weapons, it would be part of their deterrent strategy.

Who is that a threat to? It is very simple: It is a threat to the rogue states that want to rampage in the region without any deterrent. There are two of them. They are called the United States and Israel. It is a threat to them if anyone has a deterrent. That is the potential “threat” of Iran.

Is there a way of dealing with that potential threat? There is one very simple way: move to establish a nuclear weapons–free zone in the area. Is there a barrier to that? Not from Iran. Iran has been calling for that for years. Not the Arab states, they have been pressing for it almost forever. In fact, they initiated the effort. Not the rest of the world, which is strongly in favor of it.

There is one barrier. It is called the United States. The US, over a long period of time, has refused to allow this to proceed, most recently Obama in 2015. The US and Britain have a special commitment to this. Here is what ought to be the headlines on Iran: The United States and Britain have a particular commitment to a nuclear weapons–free zone in the region. When the US and Britain invaded Iraq, they had to concoct some sort of pretext. What they did was refer to a 1991 Security Council resolution that called on Saddam Hussein to stop his production of weapons of mass destruction. That very same Security Council resolution calls on “all parties,” meaning the US and Britain, to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons–free zone in the region.

So the US and Britain have a special commitment to move towards the one measure that could end any possible threat that anyone believes Iran poses. Why aren’t they doing it? There is a simple reason. They have to prevent any inspection or control of Israel’s nuclear facilities. That is the story. Do you see it discussed? No. And I would give many other examples in a new edition.

AM: And in terms of the future of journalism, what do you think? Is it bleak? 

NC: Well, there is an audience that is interesting. Let’s go back to the Sanders campaign that I mentioned earlier. The fact is that Sanders is by far the most popular political figure in the country. Journalism could try to respond to that. It could try to reach the people who are really interested in doing something about the hard problems of the world, and engage with them.

I.F. Stone 

There are plenty of such people. But the media are not reaching them. They can and they should. That would be the future of really independent media.

Take something like I.F. Stone’s Weekly. One person working on his own was able to reach a large number of people. Furthermore, it was magnified by the fact that the professional, mainstream media pretended he did not exist, but the journalists were reading his stuff all the time and cannibalizing it. That could be done by the media themselves.

Featured image: Noam Chomsky (cc photo: Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina)