Category Archives: Russia

Russian sports doping scandal looking like an illusion?

Image credit: RussiangateDOPING SCANDALS IN RUSSIAN SPORTS

There is often a difference, sometimes a big difference between public perception, even media reports, and the facts. Recent news from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) illustrate this for sport.

The belief that Russian sportsmen and women indulge in doping to a much higher degree than for other nations is widespread. Our media reinforces that belief – and, true, the International Olympic Committee and WADA certainly provide plenty of information to support it. Bans on Russian athletes have been common lately and there is widespread media coverage any time there is even a suspicion that a Russian athlete may have violated doping rules.

But what are the facts?

Well, we can check as WADA periodically publishes data for athlete doping violations. In my article  Quantifying the problem of international sports doping I discussed the data for 2014 This showed that when the number of tests taken for each country’s athletes is considered,  Russian athlete’s ranked 19th on the list of positive doping tests. The high number of positive tests for that nation can be explained by the much higher number of tests actually taken.

WADA has now published its data for 2016 (see WADA publishes Anti-Doping Rule Violations Report for 2016). Yes, a few years old, but there is quite a time between taking the test samples, declaring a possible violation, considering the factors involved and finally declaring a violation. The WADA report (2016 Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) Report) includes all the data up until the end of 1017.

So what are the facts?

Contrary to public perception, athletes from the Russian Federation do not top the table for the number of doping violations – they actually rank 6th  (together with India) with 69 violations (ADRVs – anti-doping rule violations). After Italy (147 violations), France (86), USA (76), Australia (75) and Belgium (73).

Unfortunately, the current report does not give data for the total number of tests according to the country – only for the national sporting federations. This is not the same thing.

I suspect, given the international furore over doping violations by Russian athletes, and the extra testing imposed by the IOC, Russian athletes may have again undergone a higher frequency of testing. It could be that the Russian Federation actually ranks lower than 6th when considered on a proportional basis.

New Zealand ranks 44th on the WADA list with 7 violations. Good news, I guess. But I wonder what our ranking would be if proven violations were reported as a percentage of tests taken.

Good news also is that the percentage of confirmed violations worldwide is relatively low overall. There were a total 1,326 ADRVs from 229,514 samples taken -0 a rate of only 0.6%. Perhaps sports doping is not as bad as we are led to think. Or perhaps it shows that the huge investment in anti-doping measures has been paying off.

The Russian doping scandal

Finally, I should mention this is not the only current news on the issue of doping by athletes from the Russian Federation. Over the last few years, our media has often covered this issue, apparently exposing a scandal involving the official Russian testing laboratory in Moscow and a state-sponsored scheme to hide doping of athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This scandal has helped keep the problem of doping by Russian athletes in the public mind – and Russian leaders themselves have not denied there was a problem – although they rejected the claims of state-sponsored schemes.

Many people think the Russian athletes have been treated badly. I queried the reliability of the McLaren report which was used for IOC banning of a large number of Russian athletes. (see Ethics and the doping scandal – a response to Guest Work). The banned athletes have also taken legal action to get their names cleared.

A very significant ruling has recently been made public on these bans. The Court of Arbitration for Sport have released their ruling on the case of  Alexander Legkov (see CAS delivers two reasoned awards in the matter of 39 Russian athletes v. the IOC). This ruling found that the case against Legkov had not been proved (see the ARBITRAL AWARD). The evidence of the main witness (“whistleblower”/criminal Grigori Rodchenkov), and hence by implication the McLaren report relying on that evidence, was found unreliable.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and only one of the 39 decisions made public last February 1st which upheld the appeals of 27 Russian athletes and partly upheld the appeals of 12 others.

I guess, better late than never. However, public perception is strongly influenced by first impressions and first allegations (especially when supported by bodies like the IOC). It is going to take some time before the public perception of the problem of sports doping with Russian athletes will become more realistic.

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Mainstream media-political alliance gets vindictive

Hala Jaber, highly Respected Middle East correspondent and author of  The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans.” Image Credit: Goodreads.

Several things have come together in the last few months – centred around news about the war in Syria, chemical weapons, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the ongoing geopolitical information war:

  • Government propaganda and claims have become more aggressive – particularly from the UK and USA;
  • Syria and chemical weapons have become central to the Russophobic arguments of these governments;
  • The mainstream media has enthusiastically and unquestioningly promoted these claims;
  • Alternative media, journalists and critics of this propaganda and government policies are being singled out for personal attack, and
  • Readers and viewers are aggressively being directed away from alternative news sources.

OK,  readers here will have picked up on the tone of some of my recent posts so will not be surprised that I think this way. But, let’s be clear, it is not only me.

Journalists also concerned

The highly respected Middle East correspondent, Hala Jaber, who used to work for the London Times wrote in a series of Tweets last week (see @HalaJaber – 18:36 UTC – 19 Apr 2018):

“In my entire career, spanning more than three decades of professional journalism, I have never seen MSM resolve to such ugly smear campaigns & hit pieces against those questioning mainstream narratives, with a different view point, as I have seen on Syria, recently.

This is a dangerous manoeuvre a witch hunt in fact, aimed not only at character assassination, but at attempting to silence those who think differently or even sway from mainstream & state narrative.

It would have been more productive, to actually question the reason why more & more people are indeed turning to alternative voices for information & news, than to dish out ad hominem smears aimed at intimidating by labelling alternative voices as conspirators or apologists.

The journalists, activists, professors & citizens under attack are presenting an alternative view point. Surely, people are entitled to hear those and are intelligent enough to make their own judgments. 

Or is there an assumption, (patronizing, if so), that the tens of thousands of people collectively following these alternative voices are too dumb & unintelligent to reach their own conclusions by sifting through the mass information being dished at them daily from all sides? 

Like it or hate it, agree or disagree with them, the bottom line is that the people under attack do present an alternative view pointLeast we forget, no one has a monopoly on truth. Are all those currently launching this witch hunt suggesting they do?”

Moon of Alabama provides an excellent summary of recent events – far better than what I tried to do with the same material. So I will just quote from their article – The Media War On Truthful Reporting And Legitimate Opinions – A Documentary.

The media smears begin

Remember PropOrNot?

“In fall 2016 a smear campaign was launched against 200 websites which did not conform to NATO propaganda.”

They even provided a browser add-on which would warn you that you were reading material from a website they classified as a “Russian propaganda outlet.” Despite being promoted by some of the mainstream media it was considered a bit of a joke –  independent writers and sources who missed out on the classification were somewhat pissed off.

It still exists as a promoter of extreme Russophobic views on Twitter ().

Government propaganda gets childish and journalists become stenographers

Then came the infamous “dashboard’ which the UK and US governments appear to be using as a source of claims for increased activity of “Russian bots.”

“The neoconservative Alliance For Securing Democracy declared that any doubt of the veracity of U.S. propaganda stories discussed on Twitter was part of a “Russian influence campaign”. Their ‘dashboard‘ shows the most prominent hashtags and themes tweeted and retweeted by some 600 hand-selected but undisclosed accounts. (I have reason to believe that @MoonofA is among them.) The dashboard gave rise to an endless line of main-stream stories faking concern over alleged “Russian influence”. The New York Times published several such stories including this recent one:”

This is from that NYT article  (Trump Declines to Add Sanctions Against Russians, Contradicting Haley) discussing the recent illegal FUKUS missile attack on Syria:

“Russia did not respond militarily to the Friday strike, but American officials noted a sharp spike in Russian online activity around the time it was launched.

A snapshot on Friday night recorded a 2,000 percent increase in citing the hashtag #isupportsyria on Russian troll networks, according to a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security who was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. Additionally, the official said, the known Russian hashtag #SyriaStrikes had a 4,443 percent increase in activity while another, #Damsucs, saw a 2,800 percent jump.”

The use of such “dashboard” data is, of course, disingenuous. The Times attributed the “bot” claims to Tyler Q. Holton. the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security:

“One suspects that Holton used the bizzare statistic of the infamous ‘Dashboard‘ created by the neoconservative, anti-Russian lobby. The dashboard creators asserted that the use of certain hashtags is a sign of ‘Russian bots’. On December 25 the dashboard showed that Russian trolls and bots made extensive use of the hashtag #MerryChristmas to undermine America’s moral.


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One of the creators of the dashboard, Clint Watts, has since confessed that it is mere bullshit:

“I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative “overdone.”

But, worse still – not only do we get governments making such stupid statements, we are now getting journalist reporting them without any questions:

As government spokesperson Holton is supposed to spout propaganda that supports the government’s policies. But propaganda is ineffective when it does not adhere to basic realities. Holton is bad at his job. Baker, the NYT author, did even worse. He repeated the government’s propaganda bullshit without pointing out and explaining that it obviously did not make any sense. He  used it to further his own opinionated, false narrative. It took a day for the Times to issue a partial correction of the fact free tale.”

This as a concern – these days the media is simply repeating government propaganda without any of the questioning we should expect from journalists. Some media critics are now describing these “journalists” as “stenographers.”

Personal attacks

“Last December the Guardian commissioned a hatchet job against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. Beeley and Bartlett extensively reported (vid) from the ground in Syria on the British propaganda racket “White Helmets”. The Guardian piece defended the ‘heros’ of the White Helmets and insinuated that both journalists were Russian paid stooges.”

Both these independent reporters have provided important eye-witness reports from Syria and done much to expose how our mainstream media misrepresents the situation. I referred to Vanessa Beeley’s reports in my articles Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and The first casualty . .

“In March the self proclaimed whistle-blower and blowhard Sibel Edmonds of Newsbud launched a lunatic broadside smear attack(vid) against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. The Corbett Report debunked (vid) the nonsense. (The debunking received 59,000 views. Edmonds public wanking was seen by less than 23,000 people.)”

Recently government and media apologists have used the “fact-checking” site Polygraph.info. (a project of the CIA propaganda outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe):

“On April 4 the Polygraph wrote a smear piece about the Twitter account Ian56 (@Ian56789). Its headline: Disinfo News: Doing the Kremlin’s Work: A Fake Twitter Troll Pushes Many Opinions:
“Ben Nimmo, the Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, studies the exploits of “Ian56” and similar accounts on Twitter. His recent article in the online publication Medium profiles such fake pro-Kremlin accounts and demonstrates how they operate.”

…Nimmo, and several other dimwits quoted in the piece, came to the conclusion that Ian56 is a Kremlin paid troll, not a real person. Next to Ian56 Nimmo ‘identified’ other ‘Russian troll’ accounts:

“Ben Nimmo @benimmo – 10:50 UTC – 24 Mar 2018 One particularly influential retweeter (judging by the number of accounts which then retweeted it) was @ValLisitsa, which posts in English and Russian. Last year, this account joined the troll-factory #StopMorganLie campaign.”

Nimmo’s employer, the Atlantic Council, is a lobby of companies who profit from war.”

The crude level of these claims is indicated by the fact that @ValLisitsa is the twitter account of  Valentina Lisitsa, a famous American-Ukrainian pianist.

“Yes, she sometimes tweets in Russian language to her many fans in Russia and the Ukraine. Is that now a crime? The videos of her performances on Youtube have more than 170 million views. It is absurd to claim that she is a ‘Russian troll’ and to insinuate that she is taking Kremlin money to push ‘Russian troll’ opinions.”

Polygraph.info wrote:

““Ian56,” it seems, is not a real person. He (or she) does seem to be the creation of a flesh and blood Russian, experts say, not a “bot” but a “troll.””

But  is, in fact, the Twitter account of a very real British Pensioner, Ian Shilling. He was interviewed by Sky News:

I should point out this definition of a bot:

“A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API. The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts.”

Yet these interviewers ask a flesh and blood person if he is a bot! Also, they had the hypocrisy to suggest he may not be carefully checking out the veracity of the stories he retweets – a question they never put to the government spokespersons and media journalists who make these unverified and stupid claims all the time.

Academics in the frame

“On April 14 Murdoch’s London Times took personal aim at the members of a group of British academics who assembled to scientifically investigate dubious claims against Syria. Their first investigation report though, was about the Skripal incident in Salisbury. The London Times also targeted Bartlett and Beeley. The piece was leading on page one with the headline: “Apologists for Assad working in universities”. A page two splash and an editorial complemented the full fledged attack on the livelihood of the scientists.


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Tim Hayward, who initiated the academic group, published a (too) mild response.”

The Guardian channels UK government propaganda

A Guardian article, Russia spread fake news via Twitter bots after Salisbury poisoning – analysis, uncritically repeated UK government claims and in the process smeared Ian Shilling (see video above) and Maram Susil, a Syrian-born Australian scientist, as “Russian bots” claiming:

“Russia used trolls and bots to unleash disinformation on to social media in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, according to fresh Whitehall analysis. Government sources said experts had uncovered an increase of up to 4,000% in the spread of propaganda from Russia-based accounts since the attack,– many of which were identifiable as automated bots.

But civil servants identified a sharp increase in the flow of fake news after the Salisbury poisoning, which continued in the runup to the airstrikes on Syria.

One bot, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.”

The Guardian journalist who authored this story responded to criticism of her article with the tweet:

“As I make very clear in the story, that’s the analysis of British government cyber experts – with whom you are quite welcome to disagree.”

I think that sums up the complete abandonment of their job by many mainstream media and why the term “stenographer” to describe them is so justified.

The Sky News interview of one of these “Russian Bots” Ian Shilling is shown above. He also published a written response:

“I have been campaigning against the Neocons and the Neocon Wars since January 2002, when I first realised Dick Cheney and the PNAC crowd were going to use 9/11 as the pretext to launch a disastrous invasion of Iraq. This has nothing to do with Russia. It has EVERYTHING to do with the massive lies constantly told by the UK & US governments about their illegal Wars of Aggression. “

The other “Russian bot” in the Guardian story, Maram Susli (@Partisangirl) posted her own video debunking the Guardian:

Partisangirl also showed that the government analysts and the Guardian couldn’t even get their figures right – again illustrating how journalists simply do not do any checking:

Ian Shilling (@Ian56789) posted a similar tweet illustrating how the figures given for his tweets were also highly inflated.

The take-home message

The Moon of Alabama article started with this quote about the Spanish civil war from George Orwell:

“Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.
George Orwell, Looking back on the Spanish War, Chapter 4″

So it is fitting that Moon of Alabama finished this excellent article with the comments:

“The governments and media would like to handle the war on Syria like they handled the war in Spain. They want reports without “any relation to the facts”. The media want to “retail the lies” and eager propagandists want to “build emotional superstructures over events that never happened.”

The new communication networks allow everyone to follow the war on Syria as diligently as George Orwell followed the war in Spain in which he took part. We no longer have to travel to see the differences of what really happens and what gets reported in the main stream press. We can debunk false government claims with freely available knowledge.

The governments, media and their stenographers would love to go back to the old times when they were not plagued by reports and tweets from Eva, Vanessa, Ian, Maram and Sarah or by blogposts like this one. The vicious campaign against any dissenting report or opinion is a sorry attempt to go back in time and to again gain the monopoly on ‘truth’.

It is on us to not let them succeed.”

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Novichock – a marketing ploy?

A new line of sunflower oil on Russian supermarket shelves.
Image credit: 

I came across this on twitter – a new line of sunflower oil launched on the Russian market. The labels claim the product is conducive to a long life and has a special flavour.

Perhaps the events in Salisbury are simply a marketing trick. Perhaps some old hacks from the KGB (prominently displayed on the label) have gone into the (sunflower) oil business.

Given the lack of transparency in the investigation and the confusing information we do have, I simply have not been able to make head nor tail of this whole event. None of the conspiracy theories seem at all credible

At this stage, this is the best explanation for the Salisbury poisoning I can find.

If nothing else it shows the Russian people certainly aren’t panicking and have not lost their sense of humour.

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The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?

There were no chemical weapons in Damascus. The French, UK and US (FUKUS) surely knew that. So, their missile attack in the weekend had nothing to chemical weapons.

We all know the first casualty of war is the truth. However, it seems that the time truth really gets a flogging is after a highly publicised military operation. All the levels of patriotism, nationalism and bravado are used. No faults can be admitted. And the “enemy” always suffers a horrible defeat.

Then, of course, dissident voices get suppressed or vilified. That is until everyone calms down and the truth starts to sink in.

It has happened before, (remember Iraq). It will happen again. And, although it may be too early to completely burst the bubble of self-declared victory, it happened again in the weekend with the missile attack on Syria by the French, UK and US (the FUKUS team).

The Barzah Scientific Research Centre, Damascus, before the weekend attack

But the truth is already coming out. The whole attack was based on a lie. The constant reference to proof from classified evidence is complete nonsense. We can see this clearly in the case of the main target – the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.

This centre was completely destroyed. Most of the missiles launched (76 out of about 105) targeted this centre. But why?

Pentagon Spokesperson U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie declared “We believe that by hitting Barzah, in particular, we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.”

A Syrian soldier films the damage at the site of the Barzah Scientific Research Center in Damascus on Saturday morning after it was annihilated by 76 missiles. Image source: Daily Mail: Pentagon celebrates airstrikes which ‘crippled’ Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal 

So there you have it. This is maybe the key “fact” that the FUKUS military action centred on. The claim that the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre was the “heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.” That’s where most of the destruction occurred, where most of the missiles were targeted. And US spokespersons claim they have successfully destroyed the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

What does the OPCW say about this centre?

While the FUKUS team has not supplied a single verifiable fact to support their action the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has supplied plenty of evidence to show the attack was based on a lie. And that evidence was surely known by the intelligence communities in France, UK and USA.

That OPCW evidence is in official reports from their investigators who regularly monitor possible chemical weapons sites in Syria (and other countries). The OPCW regularly monitor the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre. Here is an extract from one of the latest OPCW reports (23 March 2018) which refers specifically to the Barezeh Scientific Research Centre (see OPCW Document EC-88/DG.1 “PROGRESS IN THE ELIMINATION OF THE SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMME”).

France, the UK and the USA are, together with Syria, signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). They have access to all these documents. In fact, they have members on the OPCW Executive Council who actively peruse these documents. The permanent representatives are Mr Philippe Lalliot for France, Mr Peter Wilson for the UK and Mr Kenneth D. Ward for the USA. FUKUS must have known that regular inspections did not show the presence of any chemical weapons or relevant chemicals at the Barezh Scientific Research Centre.

OK – they may well argue that these weapons had arrived since the last inspection (last November) or are hidden from the inspectors. If they honestly believed that then they should have used the “‘challenge inspection’ provisions” of the Convention:

“A unique feature of the CWC is its incorporation of the ‘challenge inspection’, whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party’s compliance can request the Director-General to send an inspection team. Under the CWC’s ‘challenge inspection’ procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal.”

Comments from a worker at the centre

The morning after the attack, France 24 interviewed Said Said, an engineer who is head of the centre’s paint and plastics department (see At destroyed Syria lab, workers deny producing toxic weapons):

“The building had three storeys: a basement, ground floor, and second floor. It had labs and departments that were unfortunately completely destroyed, with all their equipment and furniture. Thank God, no one was here. As we work in civilian pharmaceutical and chemical research, we did not expect that we would be hit.”

According to Said Said only non-lethal research and development occurred at the centre. It had been producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys.

“If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health — I’m not coughing.”

The OPCW had visited the site in Barzah in recent years and had declared it free of any toxic weapons.

“The OPCW used to stay in the two upper rooms, and use the labs, and we would cooperate with them completely. The OPCW has proven in two reports that this building and the centre as a whole are empty and do not produce any chemical weapons.”

Update

Here is a video of the interview referred to by France24:

To summarise

The FUKUS group clearly knew there were no chemical weapons at the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.  They had access to all the OPCW information on that centre. They claim to have relied on classified intelligence to make a different assessment. But that is clearly a lie – not only because “classified’ is the oldest trick in the book to hide the fact there is no evidence. But because any such evidence should have triggered a request by them for a “challenge inspection” – a request which could not have been refused by Syria.

Of course, we are still in the in the propaganda phase of this operation. Patriotism and jingoism are still driving the narrative of officials and politicians. The mainstream media suffers from this too and most real informaiton is coming from alternative media.

But these warmongers have an answer for that. According to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White:

“The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”

I expect to be labelled one of “Putin’s useful idiots” (again) or – and this is a new one – one of “Assad’s useful idiots,” any day now for daring to look at the real facts behind this missile attack.

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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.“

Interesting!

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. “

Previously:

“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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