It was bound to happen. The White Helmets were seriously promoted for a Nobel Peace prize. This failed, so I guess the Oscar counts as a sort of consolation prize.
The Oscar was awarded in the short documentary category but anyone who follows the White Helmets may appreciate the irony – they are well-known for their acting ability. There are strong suggestions that many of their ‘rescues’ are staged. And, at least, they always seem to make sure that they have expert cinematographers in attendance when they go into action.
I have written about the White Helmets before – see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria, Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White Helmets, White Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video.
In short, although presenting themselves as an independent, non-aligned NGO with only humanitarian interests they are known to have strong links with “rebel”/”terrorist” groups, some of their members seem to “moonlight” as active armed fighters, and they are heavily involved in propaganda – propaganda against the Syrian government and in favour of the “rebels”/”terrorists” they are embedded with.
The White Helmets is one of the groups our mainstream media seems to rely on for news reports from Syria -especially from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists.” They were very active in east Aleppo during that battle – but left with the fighters and their families when the surrender was arranged. Now they are most active in Idlib province.
An Official Information Act request
After the White Helmets managed to dupe $100,000 out of New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) I made an official information request. I specifically asked for information on:
- Any contact with the International Civil Defence Association or the Syrian Civil Defence Forces during the Ministry’s vetting of the White Helmets?
- Any checking of White Helmet’s operations and the messages promoted in their propaganda material?
- Correspondence with US authorities regarding the denial of entry to the US White Helmets leader Raed Saleh to the US.
- The contact the ministry had with independent reporters who have been investigating the activity of the White Helmets?
The Ministry could not give any information for queries 1, 3 or 4 – which is interesting. I interpret this to mean the Ministry has not checked with the International Civil Defence Association or the recognised Syrian Civil Defence body. If nothing else, this illustrates a bias – a willingness to ally with a “civil defence” group embedded with the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not provide unbiased and balanced help. After all, civilians in government-held area also need rescuing and perhaps we should provide support to the legitimate Syrian Defence body that does this.
But I did get copies of emails involved in internal (within the NZ Ministries and diplomats) checking out of the White Helmets. In fact, back in January 2016 a formal message about possible engagement of NZ with the White Helmets identified as a “key question” the “further due diligence on the Syrian Civil Defence and on Mayday rescue to ensure New Zealand comfort with supporting these organisations.”
[Point of clarification – the White Helmets have unilaterally co-opted the name (and much of the equipment) of the real Syrian Civil Defence force which is recognised by the International Civil Defence Association. Mayday Rescue is an organisation set up by a former mercenary which organised and helps fund the White Helmets].
And in January 2016 reports from the embassy in Ankara suggested: “given the security and political activities around Syria, it will be vital that we can demonstrate due diligence in this regard.”
But I cannot find any evidence of due diligence in the material I was given. There were personal declarations in the diplomatic community of admiration for the White Helmets work – based entirely on claims made by the White Helmets. There was an acknowledgment that the White helmets operated only in “rebel”/”terrorist” – held areas. That they did not work in government or Daesh-held areas. And complete silence about the fact that it operated in areas where Al Qaeda groups like Al Nusra (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) are active. In fact, testimony from citizens of east Aleppo after that area was liberated indicated that many saw the White Helmets as embedded with, and operating as a civil defence force for, the Al Qaeda-led groups.
Now I do not call that “due diligence.”
Last minute “due diligence”
The final recommendations to the Ministers on the issue of support for the White Helmets summarised the description of the organisation as a ” volunteer organisation working in opposition-controlled Syria to save lives through urban search and rescue (USAR), firefighting, medical evacuation, and other civil defence activities.” This was after last-minute checking with the Ankara embassy because of damaging critical reports about the organisation.
Those reports had surfaced in Al Jazeera – and the Ankara embassy dismissed them simply by referring to the Al Jazeera report – which simply noted the White Helmets’ rejection of critical reports by the investigate journalist Max Blumenthal. Al Jazeera made no effort to investigate or report on the criticisms – no did the Ankara embassy.
[You can read Max Blumenthal’s reports at Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria and How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria]
Below is the request from NZ for comments on those reports and response from the Embassy in Ankara on October 6, 2016
This exchange indicates an unwillingness to check out reports (beyond Al Jazzera’s rejection of them). I also find the redacted sections interesting
It refers to “the pro-Assad ??” What is the redacted part? Is this a derogatory phrase? Is it describing the Max Blumenthal in a derogatory way?
Who are these funders in “the West” that have been redacted? The CIA, British intelligence, etc.?
The White Helmets were certainly “shining a light” on alleged atrocities (and their claims were very questionable) but what were the specific “atrocities resulting from airstrikes in recent weeks ???” Were they the embarrassing attacks on the “last hospitals in Aleppo” which were reported by our media more than 27 times during 2016?
I really cannot see why these sections were redacted using the excuse “to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments.” Surely the issue is more important than that.
White Helmets is a propaganda group
The Ankara embassy was certainly sensitive to any possibility of the credibility of the White Helmets being questioned because it would “undermine the accounts they produce of war crimes being committed in Aleppo and elsewhere ??” What was redacted? Did someone raise a question about the credibility of those accounts? Or about the war crimes committed by the head choppers in east Aleppo? And if we are concerned about the credibility of the White Helmets as an anti-government propaganda source then we should not be pretending that we are considering them as just a civil defence group.
And the final sentences:
“Not to say, of course, that every member of the SCD is beyond all scrutiny. Some may have pasts (they are after all drafted from all areas of Syrian society). But as far as we are aware it is a non-political and neutral organisation directed at civil defence and USAR activities. So our comfort levels are in line with yours.”
This email underlines that White Helmets is much more than a civil defence organisation. It is also involved in dissemination of news and information – propaganda. the embassy acknowledged that and declared its appreciation of it.
So we have New Zealand diplomats unwilling to give proper due diligence, to check out the detailed reports of Max Blumenthal (or similar critical reporting about the White Helmets) and to be satisfied with an Al Jazeera report rejecting that research out of hand.
These diplomats also reveal an interest in the anti-government, pro-rebel propaganda of the White Helmets – despite continuing with the fiction that it is solely an independent rescue group.
The whole attitude towards the stinging criticism of the White Helmets is to protect the group’s credibility and value as a propaganda organisation,
So much for due diligence and the fiction that the White Helmets is a rescue organisation
And so much for Hollywood which is participating in a propaganda war by glorifying this propaganda group.