Monday, 23 April 2018

Russian bots and disinformation

Russian bots are spreading disinformation, according to the government. The Guardian's Heather Stewart provides an analysis, which purportedly shows how Russian bots are spreading propaganda in the wake of the Skripal and Douma alleged chemical weapons attacks.

The report cites government claims regarding the alleged Russian disinformation campaign as though they are unchallengeable facts. According to her report, experts had identified a four thousand percent increase in Russian propaganda on social media following the Skripal poisonings. As is common with corporate media reports, she does not say what the actual figures are. It is therefore impossible to know (even if it were true) whether this increase is significant or not. A four thousand percent increase from next to nothing is still next to nothing, especially when, as with social media, one is dealing with numbers that are counted in the billions. This statistical illiteracy is far from accidental. It is common practice in the political media elite's propaganda.

However, Stewart does eventually cite some actual evidence. She cites two Russian bots. One is called Ian56 and the other is Partisangirl. These "Russian bots" are neither bots nor Russian. They are both real people, who just happen to express opinions that are critical of the official narratives. It seems that for the Guardian, being critical of the official political media elite narratives constitutes proof that one is a propagandist for Putin.

This attack on people for expressing a lack of credulity when it comes to the elite's narratives is clearly totalitarian. Heather Stewart's article is merely another example of the smearing of all criticism and dissent. Last year, the Washington Post published a piece that labelled two hundred news websites and bloggers as propagandists for Putin. The only thing they had in common was occasional criticism of US foreign policy positions, which given its constant violations of international law is perfectly understandable.

This dehumanisation (reducing people to the status of machines) and smearing (assertions of propagandising for a foreign power) of dissent has become normalised in the corporate media. The BBC's Annita McVeigh rebuked Admiral West for daring to cast doubt on the accusation that President Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Douma. She told him: "We are in an information war with Russia." The assertion is highly significant and revealing. It shows precisely who is engaged in disinformation and propaganda: the BBC and the rest of the political media elite. It is then ironic that they should choose to label anyone who questions their propaganda as a propagandist. But it is an irony they appear to be blissfully unaware of. As psychologists have long been aware, projection (the projecting on to others of one's own faults) is an unconscious process.

Heather Stewart's article has been criticised for its factual inaccuracies. Yet four days later, it has neither been corrected nor retracted. The fact that neither Ian56 nor Partisangirl are bots nor Russians does not seem to matter to the Guardian. Apparently, for the Guardian (and the rest) in the battle against so called fake news, it is more important to push the official line than publish accurate information.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

BBC asserts it is a propaganda organisation

Annita McVeigh revealed that the BBC sees itself as engaging in propaganda to support the British state. The astonishing admission came during an interview with Admiral West. He was making the point that the story that President Assad had conducted a chemical weapons attack was unlikely, when the BBC interviewer interrupted to rebuke the retired military officer. She said: "We're in an information war with Russia..."

McVeigh's assertion reveals that the BBC sees itself as a partisan in a war against Russia and is prepared to suppress the truth and propagate lies to win that war. In the particular context of the interview, this clearly indicates that McVeigh knows the British government's narrative is false - a narrative that was used as a justification for an act of aggression, the supreme war crime, as established by the Nuremberg Tribunal. The same tribunal also established, by its trial of Julius Streicher, that using the media to propagandise for war is a crime against humanity.

Even if knowing the history of the Nuremberg Tribunal is too esoteric for McVeigh, she must know that he BBC is required by its Charter, to "provide impartial news and information to help people to understand and engage with the world". This commitment to accuracy and impartiality is repeated throughout the charter, and the BBC constantly boasts of its commitment to accuracy and impartiality. The presentation of false news and information directly and clearly violates this purpose. Moreover, the BBC is funded by licence payers and the licence fee is a tax in all but name. It is outrageous that the British people are forced to fund an organisation that sees its role as lying to the British people. This adds injury to insult.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

No chemical weapons attack in Douma, says Fisk

The narrative of a chemical weapons attack in Douma on Saturday 4 March, which was used by the US, France and the United Kingdom to justify an attack on Syria, has been dealt a fatal blow. Robert Fisk, an award-winning journalist, with decades of experience of reporting on the Middle East, has visited Douma. There he sought evidence of the chemical weapons attack - and found none. He visited the hospital where the supposed victims were treated and interviewed the doctor, who informed him of what happened. The doctor told Fisk that the patients were suffering from a lack of oxygen, caused by dust. He said that White Helmets had arrived and shouted about a chemical weapons attack, causing panic, which they caught on video.

Fisk's debunking of the chemical weapons narrative has been independently corroborated by an American journalist, working for One America News, who went to the alleged crime scene and randomly interviewed residents. He was told that there was no chemical weapons attack and that it had been staged by the White Helmets, who have left for Idlib with Jaysh al Islam (aka, moderate rebels).

For over a week, the political media elite have been either ignoring Russia's claim that there was no chemical weapons attack or dismissing it as Russian propaganda and disinformation. They have repeatedly claimed (albeit inconsistently) to have proof that Assad ordered the chemical weapons attack. They have smeared anyone who was in any way sceptical of the official narrative as an apologist for Assad or a Russian bot or Putin's stooge, etc. However, these independent reports by western corporate media journalists will not be so easy to dismiss. And what they imply is even more sensational that the mere explicit refutation of the Douma chemical weapons attack narrative.

These reports show that the governments of the US, France and the United Kingdom did not have proof that a chemical weapons attack had occurred in Douma (it did not happen, so how could they have proof?). They show that they were lying when they claimed to have such proof. The reports also show the White Helmets as a propaganda arm of the jihadists (which these governments must know, as the organisation was created by a "former" MI6 officer and is funded by these three governments - amongst others). This shows that the "attack" was a staged event designed to provide these governments with propaganda cover for launching an illegal attack on Syria in order to assist their jihadist proxies, conducted as a part of their regime change operation.

These reports also support the accounts provided by the Russian and Syrian governments, which claimed there had not been a chemical weapons attack and that the incident was staged.

Nevertheless, the political media elite are still pushing their narrative. In the British parliament, which is currently debating this, members are all asserting that Assad used chemical weapons as though it were a proven fact. The corporate media are pushing the line that Russia has tampered with the evidence at the site, in order to pre-emptively explain away the assumed findings of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspection. They are also suggesting that doctors and residents in Douma are being threatened to force them to say that there was no chemical weapons attack. It is worth noting that the authors of these corporate media reports are not content with trying to salvage the official narrative. They are also busily using twitter to personally defame Robert Fisk.

Monday, 16 April 2018

An attack on international law

On Saturday, 14 April, the United States, France and the United Kingdom launched over a hundred missiles at Syria. This attack was a blatant violation of international law. And it was intended as such.

The United States, via its hyperbolic, moralising ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had repeatedly informed the United Nations that the US will take any actions it sees fit, regardless of law or evidence or international support.

The attack on Syria supposedly targeted Syria's alleged chemical weapons facilities. The fact that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had overseen the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons programme and that the destruction of its existing chemical weapons was carried out by the US was simply ignored. Also ignored was the fact that bombing stocks of chemical weapons in residential areas would be incredibly reckless and dangerous. The perpetrators of, and cheerleaders for,  the attack also found it convenient to ignore the fact that after bombing these alleged stocks of chemical weapons, there were no chemical poisonings.

The attack on Syria was supposedly justified by the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on the previous Saturday. The only "evidence" for such an attack was the jihadist propaganda produced by the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society. Moreover, the Syrian Arab Army and their Russian ally had gained control over the alleged "crime scene" on the day after the attack and had found no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. They were unable to find any victims. They were unable to find any doctors who had treated anyone for chemical poisoning. They were unable to find any witnesses or even anyone who had heard of the alleged chemical weapons attack. They were, however, able to interview staff in the only functioning hospital in the area, who were clear that no one had been treated for chemical poisoning.

The claim that the attack on Syria was conducted as a retaliation for the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons is simply not credible. However, even if it were true, it would not provide a legal justification for the attack. There are only two legal justifications. The first is self defence, meaning that a country has a right to defend itself from a foreign attack (ironically, this defence would be open to Syria against the US, France and the United Kingdom, but it is not open to the US, France or the United Kingdom as Syria is not attacking them). The second is a resolution of the United Nations Security Council authorising the use of military force. The US, France and the United Kingdom, not only did not have such a resolution, they never even sought one.

The attack on Syria was, as the perpetrators have said, intended to send a message. But the message was not the one they publicly assert. The message was: "We are above the law." The military strike on Syria was a political statement, making it clear that the US and its allies will not be bound by the rules of international law. By this action (which is only the latest in a long list of violations), they have overthrown any plausible belief in the rule of international law and shown the United Nations to be impotent against such outlaw nations.

The only solution to this lawlessness is for the people of the US, France and the United Kingdom to hold their leaders, who were responsible for this violation, to account. All these countries are democracies, yet in none of them were the elected representatives of the people consulted. Here in England, Prime Minister Theresa May made it plain in a press briefing on Saturday that it was her decision to authorise the attack and to do so without parliamentary approval. In this context, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Opposition, should, as a matter of conscience, table a motion of no confidence, as a means of bringing down May's government. This afternoon, he has an opportunity to do so. I hope he does, but I fear he won't.

Friday, 13 April 2018

How US and allies uphold international law

President Macron has stated that he has proof that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in Douma last Saturday. However, he did not present any evidence to support his claim. It is worth contrasting Macron's claim with the fact that the US Defence Secretary, General Mattis, informed Congress that the US does not have any evidence to support the allegation, and admitted that the US is relying on social media reports: a direct reference to the White Helmets' video. Similarly, the government of the United Kingdom is convinced, without any evidence, that the Syrian government is to blame. Regardless of their conflicting claims about the evidence, all three countries are agreed that the Syrian government must be punished for the war crime of using chemical weapons.

When the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the alleged chemical weapons attack, the US put forward a draft which would have enabled an "investigation" to be conducted remotely; presumably by looking at social media and accepting the claims of the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society. The Russian Federation had an alternative draft. The Russian draft called for an on site investigation to be conducted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. France, the US and the UK voted against the Russian call for a proper investigation. Russia voted against the US call for a faux investigation.

The same three countries, France, the US and the UK, are all certain that the Syrian government is guilty. They are so certain, they are opposed to a proper, forensic investigation being conducted by the appropriate body. (No one in the corporate media appears to be able see any contradiction here.)

The disregard for evidence and due process and international law is further seen by the dismissal out of hand of the fact that the Syrian Arab Army and the Russians secured the alleged crime scene on Sunday (the day after the alleged attack) and the Russian Ministry of Defence has clearly stated that there is no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. No people were treated for chemical poisoning. The residents of the area were unaware of anyone suffering from a chemical weapons attack. The Russian army chemical weapons experts were unable to find any traces of chemical substances.

Today, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has stated that the alleged chemical weapons attack was staged with the assistance of an external intelligence service. He did not say which, and there are a number of countries this could refer to, but the United Kingdom would be high on the list of potential suspects, as the White Helmets was created by a "former" MI6 officer and is funded by the UK Foreign Office (amongst others). Another obvious suspect is, of course, the US as the Syrian American Medical Society is an oft cited source of the claim that a chemical weapons attack occurred. The Syrian American Medical Service is funded by USAID, and is part of its (that is the US government's) democracy promotion operations, which are more accurately described as US regime change operations. Macron's claimed proof also suggests that the French intelligence service might be involved. It is, of course, all of a piece that these three countries are the major suspects, as they are the three western countries that have been pursuing regime change in Syria since 2011, at least. They have been funding, arming, training, and providing military, diplomatic and propaganda support for the jihadists.

Using jihadists as fighters to bring about regime change is, of course, a tried and tested tactic for western regime change operations. It was under President Carter that the tactic was first deployed in Afghanistan, when the US supported the jihadists as way overthrowing the government and in order to weaken its ally, the Soviet Union. It was Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor, who devised the tactic, one which the US and its allies have used over and over again.

The fact that France, the US and the United Kingdom are all agreed that military action must be taken against the Syrian government in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons should be of serious concern to everyone. These countries are behaving as outlaw nations. They are threatening aggression, which is a war crime. They are doing so, by their own rationale, for the purpose of retaliation, which is a war crime. They are doing so, not only without evidence to support their allegation, but whilst actively trying to prevent a proper, forensic, on site investigation, which is contrary to international law. And with straight faces, they claim they are doing so in order to uphold international law and protect civilians. These are the same people who have caused the deaths hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and the displacement of millions by their regime change operation (contrary to international law), and now we are supposed to believe that they are motivated by a desire to protect the people of Syria and uphold international law. And they propose to do this by killing more people in Syria.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Propagandising for war

The supposed chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta on Saturday is a blatant jihadist propaganda stunt. Yet the western politicians and the corporate media are all treating it as though it is an unquestionable fact. The war drums are beating.

The allegations are based on claims made by the jihadist groups, the White Helmets and Jaysh al Islam. The video released by the White Helmets, which allegedly shows the victims of the attack, is simply incredible on its face - and the politicians and corporate journalists who are jumping up and down with moral indignation must know this. It simply is not credible that they believe first responders and medical staff rescue and treat victims of a chemical weapons attack without protective clothing.

The staging of the "chemical weapons attack" does, however, make perfect sense from the point of view of the jihadists and their allies. The Syrian Arab Army and its allies have almost completely defeated the jihadists in East Ghouta. President Trump had publicly announced that he would be removing the US from Syria "very soon". The only hope for the jihadists in East Ghouta was to create an incident that resulted in western military intervention - and the west has repeatedly told the jihadists that if Assad uses chemical weapons, they will take action.

A year ago (4 April) the jihadists in Idlib were in danger of being defeated by the Syrian Arab Army. A "chemical weapons attack" was staged and the corporate media played the jihadi produced videos and demanded that something be done. Two days later, Donald Trump obliged and contrary to international law launched tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian Arab Army air base.

As the corporate media play the jihadi produced videos of the current "chemical weapons attack" Donald Trump claims we have all "witnessed" (if it is on television, it must be true) a terrible atrocity and promises (with John Bolton, an inveterate warmonger, as his National Security Advisor, at his side) to make Syria pay.

The west's political media elite are dangerously out of control. The failure of the electorates of western democracies to hold the lying warmongers, who illegally bombed Yugoslavia, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, destroyed Libya, promoted a fascist coup d'etat in the Ukraine and have pursued a murderous regime change operation in Syria (to mention only the highlights) to account has endowed with them with the belief that they can act with complete impunity. That arrogance has resulted in them pursuing a course of action that potentially risks an armed conflict with a nuclear power.

Russia has informed the United Nations Security Council that the alleged chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta did not happen - and the Syrian Arab Army and Russia are in control of the alleged crime scene. They have interviewed residents and doctors. They have searched for evidence of chemicals. They have invited the UN to send investigators to the site to verify their assertions. Yet, the US and its allies are clearly not interested in evidence (vide the Skripal case, for example). Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council that the US is prepared to "slap" Russia. She told the Council that the US is prepared to act unilaterally. These assertions are effectively a renunciation of international law and an ultimatum: accept US hegemony or face the consequences.

Indeed, by its own words, the US has made it perfectly clear that it sees Russia as a threat because Russia sees the world in terms of sovereign nation states, bound by the rule of international law, working to promote their own interests. This is a threat because it challenges US global dominance and the very idea that the US is exceptional.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Skripal reporting descends to the surreal

The case of the poisonings of Sergei Skripal and his daughter has been a focus of constant attention in the corporate media. From the outset, the reporting has been reckless, irresponsible and hyperbolic. As the weeks have past, it has become increasingly absurd.

Last week, the head of Porton Down, the British state's biological and chemical weapons organisation, flatly contradicted Boris Johnson's assertion that Porton Down had confirmed that Russia was the source of the military grade nerve agent that was used to poison the Skripals. This immediately resulted in the media resorting to anonymous sources in an attempt to bolster the official narrative. The anonymous sources were able to prove that Johnson was right after all. The poison was produced in Russia, according to anonymous sources. How fortunate for Boris - no need to resign for lying.

Well, once the media has access to anonymous sources, it is open season. Anonymous sources suddenly had lots of stories. According to anonymous sources, Russia had a secret programme for the production of the military grade nerve agent and had practised using it for assassinations. They even have the manual where the Russians had written it all down. (No, you cannot see the manual: it's secret.)

The anonymous sources also revealed that the Skripals are still in serious danger from Russia, so MI6 and the CIA are going to provide them with new identities and move them to America for their safety. Conveniently away from any pesky questions; much as "Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey" has conveniently disappeared.

The anonymous sources further revealed that the British had intercepted a message from Syria to Moscow on 4 March, which said that "the package has been delivered" and added that two people had made their "egress". You can read this second rate spy fiction here.

The Skripal case never made any sense. But the longer it has gone on, the less sense it has made. It is a narrative that has no basic facts. It is full of lacunae. It is characterised by inconsistencies and contradictions. The alleged facts change by the day. And yet one is supposed to believe that every claim and representation, is fully consistent with every changing claim and representation. This surreal nonsense looks like nothing so much as a dramatisation of Orwell's Minitruth. We even had the Foreign Office delete its own tweet in order to hide its earlier lies and defend its deletion with new lies.

You're not supposed to be able to remember what they said yesterday. You're just supposed to accept what they say today.