Category Archives: Russia

Where could you get a nerve agent in Salisbury?

Conspiracy theorists, especially those in the mainstream media and political spheres, seem to have no real imagination these days. Just look at how they have responded to news of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and police Sergeant Nick Bailey in Salisbury, UK, last week.

Isn’t it just too easy to claim “Putin did it” these days? Yes, Skripal is a Russian and former spy for the UK MI6 who ended up in the UK as part of a spy exchange. And yes, there is a compulsion for western media and politicians to demonise the Russian Federation and their president every chance they get. But isn’t that particular conspiracy theory rather thoughtless – the conspiracy theory you automatically go with when you haven’t the energy or skills to actually look for something in the way of evidence.

As we would say in New Zealand – a “Clayton’s conspiracy theory.” The conspiracy theory you use when you don’t have a conspiracy theory! (For the uninformed, this comes from an old advertisement for alcohol-free drinks).

Why can’t the news media, seeing they are only speculating at this stage anyway, look at little closer to home for the source of the nerve agent used in the poisonings?

Only a short distance from Salisbury (8.1 km if you are a crow or an 18 min drive is Porton Down. This is the site of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – known for over 100 years as one of the UK’s most secretive and controversial military research facilities. And well-known for their secretive work on chemical and biological weapons.

The map above shows how quickly one would get to Porton Down from Salisbury and back

Even closer (only a 15 min drive, or 6 km for crows) is the Defence Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Centre (the Defence CBRN Centre or DCBRNC for short) at Winterbourne Gunner in Wiltshire. It is a tri-service site, with the Royal Air Force being the lead service. The centre is responsible for all training issues relating to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence and warfare for the UK’s armed forces.

The map below shows how short the trip is to this facility from Salisbury.

Porton Down has barely been mentioned in the media reports of this poisoning – except more recently because experts from Porton Down are participating in the inquiry. But it seems to me rather fanciful that Russophobe conspiracy theorist Luke Harding should rave on about a weapons lab in Moscow that might not even exist as a possible source of the nerve agent and ignore this other source much, much, closer to Salisbury (see Russia’s Lab X: poison factory that helped silence Soviets’ critics).

Hopefully, the current inquiry will be open and come to a satisfactory conclusion (unlike the Litvinenko inquiry) and, given the murky world of spies and ex-spies, nothing would surprise me.

However, I do wish our mainstream media could surprise me once in a while by refusing to follow the obligatory narratives and perhaps do some speculating using real evidence.

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The first casualty . .

Independent reporter Vanessa Beeley raises questions about the White Helmets and their propaganda videos.

It’s an old truism – the first casualty in war is the truth. But this has become even truer over the years as psychological propaganda has become more sophisticated. And the mainstream news media is playing a more active role in hiding the truth and promoting lies to support wars.

Just look at the current political and media propaganda around the war in Syria, and particularly around the battle in east Ghouta. You would think the UN politicians and the people who run our media would have a bit more of a conscience. Yet, no. They are repeating the same stories and lies they fed to us during the battle in east Aleppo just over a year ago.

Remember all those hospitals and schools that were allegedly bombed by the Syrians and Russians. Talk of “barrel bombs,” chemical weapons and Assad’s war against his people. Claims that civilians would not leave the battle area because they were scared of reprisals from government forces and, anyway, it was a form of ethnic cleansing – transferring people away from their homes into areas they did not know.

Yet the reality was that when the terrorist groups were on the verge of defeat over 90,000 civilians did leave and came under government protection and aid. Today several hundred thousand former residents of Aleppo are returning to their homes as reconstruction proceeds.

Yes, as part of their surrender the “rebel”/terrorist armed groups and their families were relocated to Idlib province. That is simply a sane way of protecting civilians who had formerly been used as human shields by the terrorists – and shot by terrorist snipers when they intended to leave.

I can only hope that one day these “rebels”/terrorist will get their just deserts as Idlib is liberated. But sadly, some of these terrorists will have made their way to Afghanistan or Libya – or to Europe where they will wait for the opportunity to renew their battle, even by carrying out terrorist acts in their new countries.

Now it is Ghouta’s turn

Every night I watch Al Jazeera as it presents its substantial coverage of the battle for Ghouta. But all their news sources used are local (in Ghouta) “activists” and “independent” reporters. These sources are simply fighters and propagandists in the “rebel”/terrorist forces.

One of their propaganda arms is the “White Helmets.” They are a well-funded (by countries like the UK, Holland, and USA) civil defense and propaganda group for Al Qaeda. Yet they fool a lot of people.

Nevertheless, their video propaganda has a sameness about it which sticks out as propaganda – or at least professionally-managed reporting and sometimes as fake acting. See the video above for some analysis of this propaganda.

Reporters on Al Jazeera have been telling me that civilians refuse to use the humanitarian corridors to exit the area because the Syrian Army has snipers on the exits to kill any refugees. And, anyway, the people in Ghuota do not want to be forced to leave their homes. But, from other sources, I hear that the snipers are from the “rebel”/terrorist groups. These groups enforce a curfew during the hours the humanitarian corridor is open and civilians have been banned from leaving.  A humanitarian aid convoy that did manage to get into the area recently had to turn back because it was shelled by “rebel”/terrorist activists.

Two children have escaped

Yet there has been an escape – two young children who managed to get out, although the fate of their parents who were with them is not known. And the children reported that there were hundreds who were attempting the escape but were unsuccessful

But I didn’t learn this from Al Jazeera – and there is no excuse for that because videos of the escape and interviews with the children were available and screened by alternative media sources.

RT also screened these videos and provided some background to what is happening in Ghuota.

But people keep telling me I should never watch RT – it is just propaganda for the Kremlin. These people seem to keep insisting I wear blinkers or blinders to protect me from the truth. And that I should accept only media reports from “official” media like Al Jazeera.

Yes, the first casualty of war is the truth – we all accept that. Yet most of seem to fall victim the sophisticated propaganda being used to serve up these lies.

And worse, some people seem to be unthinkingly accepting demands from the establishment to cover our eyes and block our ears when it comes to information from war scenes. Even worse, these people attempt to demonise and attack anyone who refuses to go along with such self-imposed censorship.

I have been called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” for daring to mention RT. But perhaps the more relevant term when it comes to the Syrian war and the comments of politicians and mainstream media reporters is one of “Al Qaeda’s useful idiots.”

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RT election subversion – yet again?

The notorious intelligence document about Russian interference in the US election (see Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections) provided as evidence the work o the RT  news agency. For example:

“In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of democracy” in the United States, RT
broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates . . “

Actually, its description of the work of agencies like RT and Sputnik was the only concrete evidence provided for the claimed interference. But, if the political system in the US is seriously suggesting that the work of a news agency like RT, and especially their coverage of third-party candidates, is interference then what should we make of this – RT coverage of minority or “Third Party” candidates in the upcoming presidential election in the Russian Federation?

Does this interview of presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak provide evidence of some sort of illegal interference by RT in these presidential elections? Or should we see it as simply justified reporting of “third-party” candidates we should expect in coverage of elections? The sort of thing we should have expected from the US mainstream media in 2016  – but didn’t get. Except from agencies like RT which US citizens are being pressured to avoid watching at all costs.

Frankly, I am thankful for this coverage of a “third-party” candidate in Russia. I sincerely hope RT gives similar space to other “third-Party” and minority candidates. After all, there are now eight official candidates standing in these elections. We hear plenty about the current incumbent, President Putin, but I would really love to hear from the others.

The candidates

Pavel Grudinin (57) Communist Party

Vladimir Zhirinovsky (71) Liberal Democratic Party

Sergey Baburin Russian All-People’s Union

Ksenia Sobchak Civil Initiative

Maxim Suraykin Communists of Russia

Boris Titov Party of Growth

Grigory Yavlinsky Yabloko

Vladimir Putin Self Nominated (Independent)

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Select your conspiracy theory and connect the dots

I have never liked conspiracy theories.  The fact they are generally ideologically driven and not evidence-based simply turns me off and does nothing to encourage me to pursue the claims.

On the other hand, one must admit the truth of the common sense claim – “Just because it is conspiracy theory doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Perhaps the best approach is to try to look behind the publicly promoted claims of the conspiracy theorists and simply consider the credibility of the evidence to the extent it exists. That has been my approach to the heavily promoted conspiracy theory asserting Russian interference/collusion in the last US presidential elections.

Surely that is better than simply accepting the political claims and ignoring the evidence, or, as in this case, the lack of evidence. Particularly as Russophobia is endemic in the US and their politicians are well-known for using red herring tactics.

An alternative conspiracy?

But it is becoming obvious to me that there is more than one conspiracy theory circulating on this issue in the US. There is the well-promoted claim that state agencies of the Russian Federation interfered in the US presidential elections and that Donald Trump and his staff colluded in this interference.

There are a number of investigations of this claim and evidence is coming to light supporting a second conspiracy theory. It is relatively new but seems to be gaining power by the day.

This theory asserts that there was a conspiracy within some elements of the intelligence agencies and the FBI – and possibly even former president Obama. Initially, this aimed to support the Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton, by thwarting investigations of her illegal use of emails. But it then progressed to a search for and release of damaging material on the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, to prevent his election. And once elected to attempt his removal.

The video above gives the clearest and most detailed explanation of this “conspiracy” and the evidence for it I have seen so far. The speaker is Joe diGenova, a former federal prosecutor. The Daily Caller article, The Obama Administration’s ‘Brazen Plot To Exonerate Hillary Clinton’ Starting To Leak Out, According To Former Fed Prosecutor says:

“Joe diGenova . . . connects the dots on former Obama administration Justice Department and FBI officials who may have “violated the law, perhaps committed crimes” to politicize law enforcement and surveillance against political opponents.”

If this particular conspiracy theory pans out it may prove more dramatic, and more damaging, than the alternative theory alleging Russian collusion/interference.

Of course, readers have a right to question this theory too (and let’s be clear it is not one that I accept hook, line, and sinker as the world is never that simple). But it is early days. This particular conspiracy theory is just starting to get legs and coverage in the media (although only limited coverage in the mainstream or “official” media). The congressional investigations have only recently turned attention to what was going on in the FBI and are still collecting evidence.

Supporters of the Russian collusion/interference conspiracy theory often acknowledge that even after 18 months no credible evidence has been produced but appeal to people to wait until the investigations have finished. They seem to have faith that something explosive will be uncovered to support the claims. Well, what is good for the goose is good for the gander – and given the early days of the alternative conspiracy theory there is an even stronger argument not to dismiss it out of hand at this stage.

A secret society?

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page – FBI employees whose secret texts are feeding a new conspiracy theory.

I referred to the FBI Strzok-Page texts in my article Is “Russiagate” another deception like Iraqi WMDs? This is a developing story –  only last Friday the congressional committees received another larger batch of these texts but were informed that many of them have gone missing. (see More texts turned over from FBI agent taken off Mueller team). The FBI claims they were “accidentally” deleted – but the highly critical period covered by the deleted texts – from December 14 to May 17 – the period from soon after Trump’s election until the Mueller special investigation started, do cause suspicions.

Especially as a text exchange the day after Trump’s election contained the sentence: “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” Investigators are surely justified in asking what this “secret society” was and what was its purpose.

Another text message released, by Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, was sent two days after Mueller was named special counsel for the Russia Investigation (see In ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Text, Peter Strzok Expressed ‘Concern’ About Joining Mueller Team). Presumably in response to Page asking if he would participate:

“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern that there’s no big there there.“


However these two conspiracy theories pan out, whatever the evidence produced to support them, this whole adventure is turning out to be far more interesting to those of us who wish to dig below the surface than we would have thought 18 months ago.

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Whose who in the Russiagate affair – an infographic

The Epoch Times Managing Editor, Jasper Fakkert, takes viewers through the infographic prepared by his paper on the “Russiagate affair.” Unfortunately, I cannot embed the video but viewers can see it at this Facebook link

The Epoch Times recently published a very useful infographic for anyone interested in following the “Russian interference/collusion” story which US politicians are currently obsessed with. It is in the article Fusion GPS and the ‘Insurance Policy’ to Prevent Trump From Becoming President.

I have reproduced it below – but click on it to enlarge so you can read the individual entries. I actually printed off an enlarged form to keep as a reference.

Click on image to enlarge

While the infographic provides a good overview and some useful references worth following up there is also a Politico article which you will find useful if you want more detail.  The 270 people connected to the Russia probes provides brief detail and useful links.

The numbers are somewhat inflated – lawyers and contacts help build up the total number. The links are mostly to media articles (which are of course either extremely biased or the gospel truth depending on what biases you wish to confirm).  But some of the links are to documents, in particular, testimonies, which are of far more value.

Natalia Veselnitskaya – met with Trump Jr on June 9, 2016. Image Credit: CNN Poltics.

One testimony that is worth reading is that given by the Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was the lawyer described by the media as having a central role in the infamous Trump Towers meeting with Donald Trump Jr on June 9, 2016.

Despite its length and her preoccupation with the legal case she was working on, her testimony is very informative and worth downloading.  I always think it best to consult documents like this and not rely on news media reports. In this case, do not expect the media reports to confirm the evidence the lawyer presented to the Senate committee.

Sadly, this example of the wide deviation between evidence and media reports is probably typical of most aspects of this current US political preoccupation.

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Is “Russiagate” another deception like Iraqi WMDs?

Iraq: A Deadly Deception – strong parallels with current “Russiagate” affair

The alleged Russian collusion/interference investigations lumber on. Despite the media spin and intelligence leaks nothing of substance has yet been unearthed. Nothing to verify the claims originally made by Hillary Clinton when she attempted to divert attention from the Democratic National committee emails leaked by Wikileaks.

Politically partisan and Russophobic commentators still hold out hope. Admitting no credible evidence has yet emerged publicly (after 18 months) they call on critics to wait for the investigation final reports. They repeatedly use the phrase “where there is smoke there must be fire.”

But what if the investigations finally report that there is no evidence to support Clinton’s original claims? Worse, what if the investigations show that the claim itself was simply an attempt by the establishment to manipulate US politics? To prevent the election of Trump and then to discredit the election result and work to unseat the elected present?

What if the “fire” causing all this “smoke” actually took place, and still continues, but within the political establishment – and within the state agencies, the FBI and intelligence groups?

Well, that is the conclusion drawn by ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern in a recent report – The FBI Hand behind Russia-gate. His conclusions parallel strongly with what was done to justify the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq. The fact that he, with other intelligence agents, criticised the way intelligence was being selectively used by the Bush government is also another strong parallel (see the video Iraq: A Deadly Deception above where McGovern is interviewed).

McGovern, together with other ex-intelligence officers in the organisation Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity,  is analysing and criticising the use of intelligence in the Russiagate affair. They have, for example, submitted to Congress forensic information on the leaked Democratic National Committee documents which indicate these documents were leaked and not hacked as the political and intelligence establishments  claim

McGovern summarises his report this way:

“In the Watergate era, liberals warned about U.S. intelligence agencies manipulating U.S. politics, but now Trump-hatred has blinded many of them to this danger becoming real.”

McGovern’s conclusion may still lack sufficient convincing evidence (although I think there is far more evidence than has yet appeared to support Clinton’s story). But important evidence has recently appeared and further investigation of that material is sure to be enlightening.

The Strzok-Page texts

McGovern discusses some of the evidence of political partisanship and Russiaphobia bias within the FBI revealed in the text messages between FBI Counterintelligence Section chief, Peter Strzok, and his FBI lawyer girlfriend,  Lisa Page. These reveal that they knew their discussions were damning – Strzok insisted their discussion only be in texts to avoid them being traced. Page actually wrote in one text: “So look, you say we text on that phone when we talk about Hillary because it can’t be traced, . .

So far only a fraction (375) of more than 10,000 of these texts have been released, and these only in the last few weeks. These show an almost childish and gleeful partisan support for Hilary Clinton and hatred for Donald Trump. They also show a belief that they could, maybe, play a role in preventing Trump’s elections. Page wrote:  “And maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace. “ Strsok replies: “of course I’ll try and approach it that way. I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels.”

McGovern points out:

“Another text message shows that other senior government officials – alarmed at the possibility of a Trump presidency – joined the discussion. In an apparent reference to an August 2016 meeting with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Strzok wrote to Page on Aug. 15, 2016, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”  Strzok added, “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event that you die before you’re 40.”

Strzok will be asked to explain the “insurance policy” comment when he is called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But one can’t help wondering if the so-called Trump Dossier (which has been largely discredited) and the DNC email hacking story were parts of this “insurance policy.”

Strzok a key player in investigations

Strzok and Page were removed from the Mueller investigation last August when these texts came to light, although this was not made public until December. McCabe has said he will retire early.

Partisan commenters have tried to play down these texts but we should not forget Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division and led the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. In this role:

” It is a safe bet that he took a strong hand in hand-picking the FBI contingent of analysts that joined “hand-picked” counterparts from CIA and NSA in preparing the evidence-free, Jan. 6, 2017 assessment accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in the election of 2016. “


“As the FBI’s chief of counterespionage during the investigation into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a personal email server for classified information, Strzok reportedly changed the words “grossly negligent” (which could have triggered legal prosecution) to the far less serious “extremely careless” in FBI Director James Comey’s depiction of Clinton’s actions. This semantic shift cleared the way for Comey to conclude just 20 days before the Democratic National Convention began in July 2016, that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Mrs. Clinton.”

Trump’s vindication a downside

While welcoming release of the FBI text messages which provide “documentary evidence that key FBI officials involved in the Russia-gate investigation were indeed deeply biased and out to get Trump,” McGovern warns that they also add  “hard proof to Trump’s longstanding lament that he was the subject of a “witch hunt.””

“Justified or not, Trump’s feeling of vindication could hardly be more dangerous — particularly at a time when the most urgent need is to drain some testosterone from the self-styled Stable-Genius-in-Chief and his martinet generals.

On the home front, Trump, his wealthy friends, and like-thinkers in Congress may now feel they have an even wider carte blanche to visit untold misery on the poor, the widow, the stranger and other vulnerable humans. That was always an underlying danger of the Resistance’s strategy to seize on whatever weapons were available – no matter how reckless or unfair – to “get Trump.””

He also warns it will be difficult for the Washington establishment to “turn back” or have “second thoughts” on all this. The Russophobia and its use in political campaigns are now ingrained. How often will it raise its ugly head in the upcoming elections? And what will that mean for the US political climate?

An example already at hand is its use to oppose whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s candidacy for a US Senate seat in the state of Maryland – see the tweets from Molly McKew who Glen Greenwald describes as “one of the media’s favorite Russia-obsessed “experts”” saying “she didn’t even wait an hour before depicting Chelsea Manning’s Senate candidacy as a dastardly Kremlin plot.”

No certainties

McGovern declares:

“The Donnybrook is now underway; the outcome uncertain.”

And he has good reason to doubt a satisfactory conclusion.

“At this point, the $64 question is whether the various congressional oversight committees will remain ensconced in their customarily cozy role as “overlook” committees, or whether they will have the courage to attempt to carry out their Constitutional duty. The latter course would mean confronting a powerful Deep State and its large toolbox of well-practiced retaliatory techniques, including J. Edgar Hoover-style blackmail on steroids, enabled by electronic surveillance of just about everything and everyone. Yes, today’s technology permits blanket collection, and “Collect Everything” has become the motto.”

Let’s remember this warning given to Trump after the election when there were fears he may do a bit of “housecleaning:”

“Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, with almost four decades of membership in the House and Senate, openly warned incoming President Trump in January 2017 against criticizing the U.S. intelligence community because U.S. intelligence officials have “six ways from Sunday to get back at you” if you are “dumb” enough to take them on.”

Still, it is early days. There are many more of the Strzok-Page texts to be released and there is also talk of other, yet to be released,  evidence coming to light of partisan bias and prejudiced actions within the FBI and the investigation team.

Real progress may depend on at least some of the media abandoning their previously partisan attitudes and pressuring the investigations to declassify the evidence they have. As the Wall Street Journal recently said about the current arguments of the “Trump dossier:”

“You can bet that the dossier spin is going to get even crazier, which is why it is so urgent that Congress move quickly to declassify core documents and release them to the public.

So long as those documents remain secret, dossier proponents can concoct whatever story they choose. It’s time to end the season of silly spin and begin one of accountability.”

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“Fire and Fury” exposes the fundamental problems of the anti-Trump movement

Anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the new Michael Wolff book. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

I have long considered myself a “lefty,’ a “liberal” and a “progressive.” But I have despaired over the last 18 months at the behaviour of what I have often considered “my side.” The sinking of “fellow liberals” into a quagmire of political partisanship, political conspiracy theories, confirmation bias and hateful hostility to anyone daring to present an alternative viewpoint distresses me. I have personally been called pro-Nazi and pro-white supremacist for defending freedom of speech and daring to point out simple facts. And this by people from “my side.”

It all suggests the story of the emperor who had no clothes and I can sympathise with those people who have adapted to this atmosphere by simply shutting up. I have found myself also doing that at times as there no longer appears to be room for a reasoned discussion among “liberals” and people on the “left.”

I keep telling myself this will pass – and perhaps we are starting to see a glimmer of hope. A new opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times (which has unfortunately often fed the confirmation bias, political partisanship and conspiracy theories) is a hopeful sign. His article The Decline of Anti-Trumpism outlines many of the feelings I have had over the last year about the anti-Trump (and anti-Russian) hysteria in the US.

Lets’ be clear – Brooks’ article is not a defence of Trump – he declares himself  a “proud member” of “the anti-Trump movement.” That is also my position – but not in a party political partisan way. After all, I do not live in the US and if I did I would not have voted for either Trump or Clinton.

Reducing everything to a fairy tale

Brooks believes the anti-Trump movement seems to be “getting dumber:”

“It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.”

That’s what I noticed from early on – yet to challenge these fairy tales, particularly the dangerous conspiracy theory of “Russian collusion,” just means one gets called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” or pro-Trump, pro-Nazi and a white supremacist. And this is by people who I have considered in the past as rational – people who should know better.

Insularity and lowbrowism

The anti-Trump movement has all the marks of an internet silo – if a big one – which excludes any contrary viewpoint.

“The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.  . . .  So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.

The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism.[It] offers a steady diet of affirmation, focuses on simple topics that require little background information, and gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.”

“Fire and Fury”

Maybe Brooks has come to this position relatively recently as he writes  “anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the Wolff book.” He is, of course, referring to the latest “exposures” in the just-published book Fire and Fury.” it is selling like hot cakes. I even have my own copy but am unsure now whether to waste time reading it. Wile the mainstream media is promoting it more rational comments suggest the book is a disaster. Brooks says of the author:

“Wolff doesn’t pretend to adhere to normal journalistic standards. He happily admits that he’s just tossing out rumors that are too good to check. As Charlie Warzel wrote on BuzzFeed, “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”

The ultimate test of the lowbrow is not whether it challenges you, teaches you or captures the contours of reality; it’s whether you feel an urge to share it on social media.”

That description seems to me to describe the whole anti-Trump, Russian collusion story right from the beginning. Brooks points out this is not good:

“I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly.”

There is more to life than Trump

On the one hand, this sort of hysteria weakens the “anti-Trump movement,” or of more concern, it discredits serious attempts to fight against the harmful policy of the current US president and Congress. There are many harmful policies that need fighting against and it is silly to see the anti-Trump hysteria as contributing anything to those specific struggles.

More seriously, Brooks points out that this descent into a quagmire of irrational confirmation bias, political partisanship and political conspiracy theories is of wider concern – and more long-term concern:

“This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?

Or, are we going to restore the distinction between excellence and mediocrity, truth and a lie? Are we going to insist on the difference between a genuine expert and an ill-informed blowhard? Are we going to restore the distinction between those institutions like the Congressional Budget Office that operate by professional standards and speak with legitimate authority, and the propaganda mills that don’t?”


Another example of this low brow hysteria “bursting into full bloom,” in this case over the Russian collusion myth, is the book Collusion by former Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, Luke Harding. This interview with Harding illustrates again how the current narrative has become dominated by mediocrity and lies and not truth and excellence.

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Yet another way Russia is undermining our society

Are those horrible Russians cheating by getting their children to read? Image credit: Rosman

OK – must stress this is satire. Too many people seem to have adopted the slogan “Question Less” in their approach to the news media, particularly on reports. like this one.

Don’t want anyone to go away with the wrong idea.

I came across this piece on the Blogmire – Results of International Literacy Study Reveal Yet More Attempts by Russia to Meddle in Western Democracies and Undermine Our Way of Life. Written by the Blogmire’s resident Russia expert, Russ O’Phobe:

The recent news that Russia has topped the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS), has sent shockwaves through the civilised world, with analysts believing that this is yet more evidence of a mendacious scheme by the Kremlin to destroy our values and way of life.

The study, which is based on tests taken every five years, measures literacy rates amongst 10-year-olds around the world, with around 320,000 children across the globe sitting the tests. According to the most recent results, Russian children came in first, whilst children from more enlightened countries, such as the US, UK and Canada were much further down the list. Western analysts are in agreement that this simply cannot be the case, given the vast amounts of money pumped into the education systems of those countries every year.

According to a spokesperson for the British Government’s Department of Education, the results provide yet further evidence of Russian meddling and manipulation, this time using innocent children as pawns in a sinister game:

“As everyone knows, whilst Britain has a world class education system that is the envy of every nation, Russia is a poor country where nothing works and everyone is force-fed a constant diet of Kremlin propaganda. Given that this is the case, we simply refuse to believe that it is possible for Russian children to have better reading results than British children, and it is obvious to us that the explanation for these results must be a more sinister one.”

One theory put forward is that the Kremlin has been running a state-sponsored duping campaign, whereby the results from the reading tests have been manipulated and falsified to give Russian children higher marks than their Western counterparts. The theory has been put forward by Dr. Georgy Rodzyanko, who used to work in the Russian Department for Education, before fleeing the country after being arrested for corruption – a charge that is almost certainly trumped up.

According to Dr. Rodzyanko, who has recently been undergoing treatment for psychological problems, this is exactly what happened, and on the basis of his testimony there have been calls for Russia to be banned from future PIRLS tests.

Another explanation is that the results are actually real, but that they have come about only as the result of a nefarious plot to get children to learn their letters and develop an interest in reading from very early ages. According to some analysts, whilst many Western toddlers are being taught real life skills, such as learning how to use an iPhone and questioning their gender, Russian children are being forced to learn the alphabet. It is even thought that some Russian parents may even be reading books to them regularly from an early age.

According to one anonymous source in the US Department of Education, if this is the case it represents a systematic scheme to undermine the West by making its education systems and methods of parenting look shabby:

“The PIRLS study shows that Russia will stop at nothing to undermine our values, even if that means teaching their children in ways that the modern world long ago rejected. It is a clear attempt to meddle with our democratic system, by sowing the seeds of doubt in people’s minds that the huge sums of money we spend on education might be largely wasted. This is a clear threat to our way of life and you can be sure that we will not let them get away with it.”

To back up that threat, the Governments of the US, UK, Canada and the EU are considering placing more sanctions on Russia. This would include banning the export of exercise books and pens to the country. It could also see a ban on imports to Western countries of the works of authors such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, in order to try to prevent the spread of literacy.

In addition, a joint international inquiry has been set up to deal with the threat. Amongst other things, it will be looking into the claim that Kremlin trolls have been attempting to undermine literacy rates in Western countries by advertising the works of Russian authors on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.


Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias

A local reporter at the site of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun (Source: YouTube)

I fully accept almost all news reports we see are politically biased. It is up to the reader to recognise this and to critically analyse reports from all media. But I am still annoyed to find political bias in considered, and often scientifically and evidence-based, official reports from authoritative bodies.

The official reports on the  MH-17  commercial airliner tragedy in eastern Ukraine are an example of such political bias and I  discussed these in the past (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intactMH17 tragedy: 1 year on,  Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know? and But will it stand up in court?).

Unfortunately, I now draw the same conclusion of political bias in the recent report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint investigative Mechanism (JIM). Mind you, I have seen similar bias in earlier reports from the OPCW in the past. In particular, I am shocked by the fact these reports never relied on evidence collected on-site by inspection teams – they were simply desk-top studies. While reports of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups were usually found “not confirmed” because of lack of supporting evidence the reported of use by Syrian armed forces were often accepted as reliable – without supporting evidence. Indeed, a reason for accepting these unconfirmed reports often given by the OPCW was that the Syrian Air Force had not answered the requests for flight logs!

So why do I think the current JIM report is politically biased?

I won’t go into a detailed analysis here but will simply take a few issues which I think stand out. I am using the leaked copy of the report Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and readers can download this by clicking the link

No on-site inspection

This, together with the lack of proper identification and control of samples, is a huge problem with this report. I really think this approach of “desk studies” from a distance, and reliance on politically motivated non-state and militia reports underlies how unprofessional the chemical weapons investigation bodies have become.

At the time of the alleged attack in Khan Shaykhun last April, there were strong calls (including from the Syrian government) for the investigation groups to send teams to both Khan Shaykhun (where the chemical attack occurred) and the Al-Shaayrat airbase (which the US attacked within days claiming the chemical weapons had come from there). No team was ever sent to Khan Shaykhun but a JIM team did eventually visit the Al-Shaayrat airbase in October – months after the incident on April 4!

At the airbase, the JIM only collected information on flights from the base on the day of the attack and interviewed pilots but specifically excluded any sample collection. Their excuse:

“Collecting samples at the airbase was not an objective of the visit. The Mechanism had assessed that doing so would not advance the investigation. If a single chemical munition was flown from that base, the Mechanism considered that there was little chance of finding any trace of sarin or its degradation products in an airbase of that size without specific information as to where to sample.”

Why assume a “single chemical munition” – at an airbase where munitions are regularly stored? And why not make an effort to find out where such munition would have likely been stored on the base?

As for visiting the site of the explosion:

“While the Leadership Panel considered that a visit to these sites would have been of value, such value would diminish over time. Further, the Panel was
required to weigh the security risks against the possible benefits to the investigation.”

That seems very tame to me. As the Syrian government had offered what guarantees they could I am forced to ask what effort was made to get security guarantees from the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups in the area? After all, the media seemed to have no problem linking up with “activists” and others in that area at the time and the investigating agents had no trouble linking up with representatives of the militias when they collected samples from them in other countries.

I have since seen a report that the:

“Director of the UN Department for Safety and Security informed the Security Council on October 4, 2017 that in reality safety guarantees were duly received from the local field commanders but the OPCW Mission declined to use that opportunity and chose to conduct investigation remotely. “

In situations like this where investigating bodies are collecting evidence and where blame may be attributed I would have thought that it imperative for investigation teams to collect samples themselves and ensure the integrity of the samples during transport to a certified laboratory. But in this case, the investigators relied on samples collected by the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups and handed over on the territory of a neighbouring country!

The crater in Khan Shaykhun

Here are a couple of  very early photos (I think within a day) of the crater formed by the alleged chemical weapon in Khan Shaykhun

Credit: Aleppo Media Centre – a “rebel”/”terrorist” news agency in Syria

Credit: Syria Chemical Weapon Attack:  Truth Comes At A Cost

Now that does not look like the result of a bomb or missile launched by a warplane. It looks more like the explosion of a placed device – and that was the early conclusion of some independent investigators. For example, Dr. Theodore Postol concluded the sarin tube was placed on the ground and not dropped from an aeroplane. He presents this image of a likely mechanism in his own analytical report.

Yet the JIM did not properly consider that specific configuration. It did list an “improvised explosive device (IED)” as one possible explanation but discounted it because “No witnesses reported any activities related to the placing of an explosive charge on the ground at the location of the incident.”  That is hardly a good forensic approach – offenders placing such a device are not going to do this in full view of passers-by, are they? The JIM did have a witness statement “consistent with this scenario:”

“In an interview with the Mechanism, the witness reported waking up at around 0700 hours on 4 April 2017 to the sound of explosions. The witness stated that there had been no aircraft over Khan Shaykhun at the time and that aircraft had only started launching attacks at around 1100 hours.”

It also relied on interpretations from unnamed “experts” and “institutes.” (The lack of identification seems very unprofessional – we are asked to trust unnamed people!). But it all seems like straw-clutching to me. I have since read a report on the analysis of the JIT claims by Russian experts from the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This can be found in Additional Assessment of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism Seventh Reportwhich was made available to the Security Council by the Russian UN mission. This expert analysis relies on mathematical analysis and research describing the behaviour of stationary and air-launched explosive devices. Their conclusion that the evidence indicated the explosion of a stationary device, and not an aerial launched (from several km high!) missile or bomb seems pretty convincing to me.

Chemical fingerprint of “sarin-like” material

The JIM report describes the expert analysis of the chemical residues found at or near the Khan Shaykhun crater and samples from the stockpiles of precursors for chemical weapons previously held by the Syrian government.  While the Russian analysis questions some of the conclusions (eg. whether the sarin could be produced by “artisan” teams or required factory manufacture) I think the JIM conclusion that the chemical evidence supported their claim that the Syrian government was the guilty party is well off beam.

When chemical weapons and precursor stockpiles were removed from Syria in 2013 the final conclusion was that while all government held material had been removed nothing could have been done about stockpiles which had previously been captured by jihadists – “rebels” or “terrorists.” Jihadist seizure of chemical weapons and precursors is hardly unknown. For example, Foreign Policy reports on an example of the capture of chemical weapons stockpiles by opponents of the government (Al Nusra) in the article How the Islamic State Seized a Chemical Weapons Stockpile.

Jihadists looting the weapons stockpiles in the Syrian army base known as Regiment 111, shown here in a still shot taken from a video posted online. Source: Foreign Policy

Yet the JIM report does not even mention this possibility. I would have thought the chemical fingerprint of the sarin samples they had indicated the guilty party was more likely one of the jihadist groups than government forces.

An objective consideration may have considered the possibility that the government had secretly manufactured chemical weapons since 2013 but surely it would have also considered the far more likely possibility that the sarin used came from stocks in the hands of one or other of the armed militia fighting the government. (And fighting each other in the area as there are credible reports of chemical weapons use in those conflicts).

The refusal to even consider this possibility is one sign to me of the very poor professional standards of the JIM team and the unnamed experts it relied on.


The reports of the investigations of this use of chemical weapons could be analysed in far more detail. I only discussed what I think are the most obvious aspects here but I can only conclude that this report to the UN was politically biased. It was certainly of very low scientific standards and did not give proper identification of the “experts” and “institutes” it used for analysis and opinion.

While it did give some qualifications underlining that they could not draw  definite conclusions about who used the chemical weapons (despite its chemical fingerprint) and could not identify any Syrian plane sufficiently close to the area which could have carried out the attack it still, nevertheless, finishes by stating:

“the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017. “

An update: The mandate for this joint investigation mechanism was not renewed by the UN Security Council. The   US, the Russian Federation/Brazil and Japan submitted resolutions on its renewal but all were defeated. The stumbling blocks appeared to be:

  • The US wanted to declare the findings of guilt on the part of the Syrian government be accepted and opposed improvement of JIM’s procedures.
  • The Russian/Brazilian resolution insisted that the investigation team’s standards be improved and that, in particular, physical inspection of sites by the investigating teams themselves be obligatory.

Frankly, I think the Russian/Brazilian resolution identified a key problem and the US resolution was motivated by geopolitical interests and did not have proper evidence-based support.

As I said initially – we have come to expect political bias in news media reports but it is very disappointing to find such obvious bias in reports from bodies which are meant to carry out their investigations objectively.

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Political maturity in New Zealand – at least compared to the US

A moment of clarity in the NZ election negotiations. Credit: NZ Herald.

Maybe it is the social media silo effect but I think a lot of New Zealanders feel proud about the way our recent elections went.

Once again we are a world leader. A new impressive young female Prime Minister. An atmosphere of cooperation – or at least respect all around from (and towards) the winners and losers. And a feeling that our new Prime Minister may have the unifying skills necessary for the job at this time.

But what has impressed me is the beginning of some clarity about the nature and causes of our problems. We are talking about housing and child poverty as indicators of a failed economy and not low inflation, the balance of payments, etc., as indicators of a “successful economy.” No matter how good the “accepted” economic indicators appear to be an economy is not successful if it fails to protect its children and has the degree of homelessness we are seeing.

Winston Peters’ honesty about the causes of our problems being inherent in an economic system oriented towards the interests of dead money and not towards people is refreshing. It’s a long time since we have heard such economic honesty from a politician in our parliament. Also refreshing is the fact that our media (not known for admitting such basic problems) has repeated his statement.

And isn’t it heartening to have a Prime Minister flagging an interest in ministerial jobs aimed at helping children rather than something like finance?


Like many, I am cynical of the concept of “capitalism with a human face” but New Zealand at the moment should be seen as a glowing example of how democracy should work. Yet we have the US promoting itself as exceptional, a leader of the free world” and the best example of “democracy.” A self-belief so strong it wishes to impose their example on “less fortunate” countries. And, too often, even New Zealander commentators and journalists get captured by such silliness.

But come on!

Just imagine if Bill English threw his toys out of the cot because his “natural” assumption of power has been denied by the electoral system. Just imagine if he attempted to “explain” his failure by promoting the fiction that the “Russians did it,” or blamed President Putin for his problems. Just imagine if all sorts of attempts were now being made to produce “evidence” of collusion between our new leaders and those horrible Russians. I am sure we could, if we were that childish, find examples of meetings with diplomats, maybe even professional or financial links with someone indirectly connected to a firm which may exist in St Petersburg.

And what about all those pro-Labour and pro-Green”trolls” on social media? Hell, they were all over Facebook and Twitter! Surely that is evidence of manipulation by Russian “troll farms.” And what about the “fact” that the pro-Russian media heavily promoted Jacinda Adern and is glorying in her victory?

OK, perhaps not even Hillary Clinton would accuse the NZ Herald of being “pro-Russian” – but here is the “undeniable evidence” – this story run by Sputnik which, for this purpose, we could describe as being a propaganda arm of the Kremlin!

Oh dear. The “evidence is mounting up.” It’s becoming “undeniable!”

I am glad we live in a country with more political maturity but isn’t it sad that the most powerful (militarily) country in the world is so politically immature. And, also sad when even commentators in New Zealand buy into that immaturity.

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