Posts Tagged ‘National Security’

 

A new bombshell joint report issued by two international weapons monitoring groups Tuesday confirms that the Pentagon continues to ship record breaking amounts of weaponry into Syria and that the Department of Defense is scrubbing its own paper trail. On Tuesday the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) produced conclusive evidence that not only is the Pentagon currently involved in shipping up to $2.2 billion worth of weapons from a shady network of private dealers to allied partners in Syria – mostly old Soviet weaponry – but is actually manipulating paperwork such as end-user certificates, presumably in order to hide US involvement.

The OCCRP and BIRN published internal US defense procurement files after an extensive investigation which found that the Pentagon is running a massive weapons trafficking pipeline which originates in the Balkans and Caucuses, and ends in Syria and Iraq. The program is ostensibly part of the US train, equip, and assist campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, a coalition of YPG/J and Arab FSA groups operating primarily in Syria’s east). The arms transfers are massive and the program looks to continue for years. According to Foreign Policy’s (FP) coverage of the report:

 

The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022. The total, $2.2 billion, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.

But perhaps more shocking is the following admission that Pentagon suppliers have links with known criminal networks, also from FP:

 

According to the report, many of the weapons suppliers — primarily in Eastern Europe but also in the former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Ukraine — have both links to organized crime throughout Eastern Europe and spotty business records.

The sheer amount of material necessary for the Pentagon program — one ammunition factory announced it planned to hire 1,000 new employees in 2016 to help cope with the demand — has reportedly stretched suppliers to the limit, forcing the Defense Department to relax standards on the materials it’s willing to accept.

It is likely that the organized crime association is the reason why the Pentagon has sought to alter its records. In addition, the sheer volume of weaponry continuing to ship to the Syrian battlefield and other parts of the Middle East means inevitable proliferation among unsavory terror groups – a phenomenon which has already been exhaustively documented in

connection with the now reportedly closed CIA program to topple the Syrian government. The associations and alliances among some of the Arab former FSA groups the DoD continues to support in the north and east remains fluid, which means means US-supplied weapons will continue to pass among groups with no accountability for where they end up.

One of the authors of the OCCRP/BIRN report, Ivan Angelovski, told Foreign Policy that, “The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition.” The report is based on internal US government memos which reveal that weapons shipment destination locations have been scrubbed from original documents.

Is an EUC (End User Certificate) still an EUC if it doesn’t include an end user?

Balkan insight, which is hosting the original investigative report: “Seven US procurement documents were whitewashed to remove reference to ‘Syria’ after reporters contacted the Pentagon to enquire about whether the exporting countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia – had been informed of the destination.”

The fact that Foreign Policy, which is the foremost establishment national security publication in the world, would admit that the Pentagon’s Syria weapons procurement program is tied to East European organized crime is itself hugely significant. At this point the evidence is simply so overwhelming that even establishment sources like FP – which itself has generally been pro-interventionist on Syria – can’t deny it.

FP further reports that the Pentagon program “appears to be turbocharging a shadowy world of Eastern European arms dealers.” And adds further that, “the Pentagon is reportedly removing documentary evidence about just who will ultimately be using the weapons, potentially weakening one of the bulwarks of international protocols against illicit arms dealing.”

Map/Infographic produced as part of the OCCRP/BIRN report, itself confirmed by Foreign Policy magazine. Notice the map denotes that prior CIA weapons went directly to Idlib province (northwest, section in green) and the Golan border region (south). Both of these areas were and continue to be occupied by al-Qaeda (in Idlib, AQ’s Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham). In Idlib specifically, analysts have confirmed genocidal cleansing of religious minorities conducted by AQ “rebels” directly assisted by CIA weapons.

Late last month we featured the story of Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who was fired from her job after being interrogated by national intelligence officials for exposing the same Pentagon arms network which is the subject of the latest OCCRP/BIRN investigation. At the time, Al Jazeera was the only major international outlet which covered the story, which confirmed that Bulgarian agents interrogated Gaytandzhieva and “tried to find out her sources.” An anonymous source had leaked a large trove of internal government files connected to the arms trafficking to the East European-based Trud Newspaper journalist, which was the basis of her reporting. The newest investigation released Tuesday appears to include some of the same documents, also confirmed by Gayandzhieva.

Read the full OCCRP/BIRN investigation here.

Read Zero Hedge’s original coverage of the Pentagon’s Balkan arms pipeline here.

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For the better part of a year now Americans have speculated over precisely what pressing national security issue may have prompted the Obama administration to take the extreme measure of unmasking the names of Trump officials captured in foreign intelligence reports…you know, because bypassing the typical warrant process and violating an American citizen’s fourth amendment protections is kind of a big deal.

So what was it…intelligence concerning an imminent terrorist attack…concrete evidence that Putin stole Hillary’s emails? No, according to CNN, National Security Advisor Susan Rice ultimately made the call to unmask Trump officials because Obama was offended that the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates traveled to New York last December, after the election mind you, without giving him a heads up first.

 

Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.

The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.

Of course, CNN attempts to downplay the gravity of these new revelations but somehow we suspect that Obama getting his feelings hurt over a breach in travel protocol of a foreign dignitary is not a valid reason to spy on American citizens…though we’re not lawyers.

CNN noted that it’s unclear precisely which Trump officials Rice discussed at the House meeting, and thus which officials were ultimately unmasked, but multiple sources apparently confirmed to them that Zayed met at the time with Flynn, Kushner and Bannon. The three-hour discussion focused on a range of issues, including Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process, according to two of CNN’s sources who insisted that opening up a back-channel with Russia was not a topic of discussion.

 

A senior Middle East official told CNN that the UAE did not “mislead” the Obama administration about the crown prince’s visit, but acknowledged not telling the US government about it in advance. The meeting, which took place December 15, 2016, the official said, was simply an effort to build a relationship with senior members of the Trump team who would be working in the administration to share assessments of the region.

“The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team’s view of the region and sharing the UAE’s view of the region and what the US role should be,” the official said. “No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything.”

Meanwhile, Republican responses on the hearing have been mixed with Trey Gowdy saying it appears as if Rice did nothing illegal while White House press secretary Sarah Sanders simply deferred on the legality of her actions.

 

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who is helping lead the House investigation, told the Daily Caller “nothing that came up in her interview that led me to conclude” that she improperly unmasked the names of Trump associates or leaked it to the press.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, did not say explicitly whether Trump still believes Rice committed a crime but added the issue of leaking and unmasking needs to be investigated.

“We’ve seen illegal leaking of classified materials, including the identities of American citizens unmasked in intelligence reports,” Sanders told CNN. “That’s why the President called for Congress to investigate this matter and why the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community are doing all they can to stamp out this dangerous trend that undermines our national security.”

Just to summarize, Susan Rice unmasked the names of American citizens, which effectively means she spied on them without a warrant, because President Obama was offended that the crown prince of the UAE met with the newly elected administration without first giving him a heads up? Does that sound reasonable to everyone?

Then again, maybe this entire story from Rice/CNN is complete bullshit and was only concocted as a way to avoid admitting that the Obama White House was pissed they lost an election and basically turned the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus into a political weapon to dig up any dirt they could find on an adversary.

So, what say you?

 

In the days following the September 2012 terrorist attack on the Benghazi embassy in Libya, the Clinton State Department and Obama White House launched an all-out media propaganda blitz designed to convince Americans that the whole thing had been sparked by an ‘insensitive’ YouTube video that Muslims in Libya apparently found offensive. As you’ll undoubtedly recall, Susan Rice became the face of that propaganda blitz after appearing on every major TV network to blatantly lie to the American public.

As punishment for her lies, Rice was promptly promoted to National Security Advisor by the Obama administration.

Of course, for anyone capable of rational thought, the lies concocted by the State Department and White House were obvious attempts to coverup an inconvenient terrorist attack which occurred just weeks before the 2012 Presidential election as voters were considering whether the Obama administration had been too soft on terrorism. Apparently it worked.

That said, just in case you need more evidence that Hillary’s State Department lied about Benghazi from the start, Brad Owens and Jerry Torres, owners of the security contracting firm Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, told Fox News earlier that they were instructed by a State Department official to “stay silent and get on the same page” with regard to the security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.

But as the Obama administration and Clinton’s team struggled to answer questions about the attacks, Visintainer apparently took it one step further — summoning Jerry Torres from overseas to attend a meeting at her government office in Rosslyn, Va., in early 2013.

Torres took Fox News back to the Virginia office building where he recalled that day’s events.

“[Visintainer] said that I and people from Torres should not speak to the media, should not speak to any officials with respect to the Benghazi program,” he said.

Torres said he was afraid for his company – and hasn’t spoken publicly until now.

“We had about 8,000 employees at the time. You know, we just didn’t need that level of damage because these guys, their livelihood relies on the company,” he said. “I trust that our U.S. government is going to follow chain of command, follow procedures, follow protocols and do the right thing.”

Another part of that conversation stuck out to Torres. He said Visintainer told him “in her opinion, that guards should not be armed at U.S. embassies. She just made that blanket statement. … And she said that they weren’t required in Benghazi. So I was kind of confused about that. And she said that she would like my support in saying that if that came up. And I looked at her. I just didn’t respond.”

Meanwhile, and perhaps even more disturbing, Owens and Torres say they know for a fact the State Department knew the Benghazi attack wasn’t a spontaneous event because their firm was contacted on 8/31/12, 11 days before the attack, with regards to providing additional staffing in response to a “deteriorating” environment at the embassy.

Problems soon arose. One month before the attack — in August 2012, with The Blue Mountain Group still in charge of compound security — Ambassador Stevens and his team alerted the State Department via diplomatic cable that radical Islamic groups were everywhere and that the temporary mission compound could not withstand a “coordinated attack.” The classified cable was first reported by Fox News.

By Aug. 31, 2012, the situation had deteriorated to the point that Owens and Torres said the State Department asked them to intervene – as Owens put it, an “admission of the mistake of choosing the wrong company.”

“They came back to us and said, ‘Can you guys come in and take over security?’ Owens said. “So we were ready.”

But Torres emphasized that time was against them, saying it would have taken two-to-three weeks to get set up.

Twelve days later, the ambassador was killed. Torres learned of the attacks by watching television. He called the circumstances leading up to the tragedy “bad decision-making from top to bottom.”

“There was nothing we could’ve done about it. If we’d had one month warning … who knows what might’ve happened,” Owens said.

And, worst yet, Torres notes that all of the Obama lackeys responsible for the bad security decisions leading up to the Benghazi attack are still performing their duties under the Trump administration today.

Jerry Torres remains haunted by the fact that specific bureaucrats and policies remain in the State Department after the Benghazi attack despite tAsked if there was a specific effort by a senior State Department contracting officer to silence them, Torres said, “Absolutely, absolutely.”he change in administrations. “A U.S. ambassador is dead and nobody is held accountable for it. And three guys … all died trying to defend him,” said Torres, the company’s CEO and a former Green Beret.

Asked if there was a specific effort by a senior State Department contracting officer to silence them, Torres said, “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Owens, a former Army intelligence officer, echoed his colleague, saying those “who made the poor choices that actually, I would say, were more responsible for the Benghazi attacks than anyone else, they’re still in the same positions, making security choices for our embassies overseas now.”

Here are Owens and Torres confirming that Obama led a “scandal-free” administration:

 

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.”

Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?”

 

The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank. That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.”

In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded.

Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter. So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt.

Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

Separately, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Republican Chairman Ed Royce said the U.S. should target major Chinese banks, including Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. and China Merchants Bank Co., for aiding Kim’s regime. Russia also came in for criticism. Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea said in prepared remarks to the committee that North Korean bank representatives “operate in Russia in flagrant disregard of the very resolutions adopted by Russia at the UN.”

While China and Russia supported the latest UN sanctions, officials made clear they were troubled by Haley’s comments in the Security Council that the U.S. would act alone if Kim’s regime didn’t stop testing missiles and bombs. They emphasized the world body’s resolution also emphasized the importance of resolving the crisis through negotiations. “The Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement on Tuesday.

In a soundbite late on Tuesday, Japan’s Nikkei quoted prime minister Shinzo Abe who said that “in the end, [the North Korean] problems should be solved through diplomatic dialogue,” adding that Japan will “work together with the international community to apply maximum pressure, so that North Korea commits to perfect, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.” For Japan to engage with the regime, he stressed it would have to be “on the condition that North Korea commits to” this complete denuclearization.”

Which, of course, won’t happen: “sanctions of any kind are useless and ineffective,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters earlier this month at a summit in Xiamen, China. “They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their [nuclear] program unless they feel secure.”

Predictably, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry slammed the sanctions saying it “condemns in the strongest terms and categorically rejects” the United Nations adding more sanctions, North Korea’s state-run KCNA reported on Wednesday morning. Instead, North Korea warned it “will redouble efforts to increase its strength” as it seeks to establish “practical equilibrium” with U.S.

And so, not only is the entire geopolitical circle jerk back at square one, but the ball is again back in North Korea’s court, while the decision on whether or not to launch another ICBM really depends on whether China will give it the quiet go ahead; a China which responds notoriously poorly to being threatened in the global financial arena, like for example when the US threatens to kick it out of the global dollar system…

As the US slams Russian bombing in Aleppo, accusing Putin of “crimes against humanity” and in the process sending US-Russian relations to levels not seen since the Cold War, it quietly sells billions in weapons and equipment to Saudi Arabia, a nation which as Hillary Clinton revealed in a “private setting” to the 2014 Jewish United Fund Advance & Major Gifts Dinner, has “exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years.” It also happens to be one of the biggest state donors to the Clinton Foundation. Which may explain why as Reuters reported in an exclusive story today, the Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite misgivings and warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Citing government documents and the accounts of current and former officials, Reuters reveals that while the Obama administration and the Pentagon rail against Russian bombing in Syria, State Department officials have been skeptical – in private of course – of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover.

However, and this may be where Saudi funding for Hillary’s campaign – according to a recent report, Saudi Arabia funded 20% of Hillary’s presidential campaign – and her election came into play, government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether U.S. support for the campaign would make the United States a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, Reuters said citing four current and former officials. Such a finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that U.S. military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.

The findings emerge days after an air strike on a wake in Yemen on Saturday that killed more than 140 people renewed focus on the heavy civilian toll of the conflict. The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility, but the attack drew the strongest rebuke yet from Washington, which said it would review its support for the campaign to “better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”

What Reuters’ report reveals is that instead of Russia being the war criminal, as the US has now alleged, the real aggressor would be Saudi Arabia, and the US – whose actions have enabled Saudi war crimes – would be a “co-belligerent” participant.

Reuters notes that a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes. The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the U.N.-backed court found.

Ironically, and exposing the unabashed hypocrisy behind the US political system, the U.S. government already had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to bolster its case that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were complicit in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The previously undisclosed material sheds light on the closed-door debate that shaped U.S. President Barack Obama’s response to what officials described as an agonizing foreign policy dilemma: how to allay Saudi concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran – Riyadh’s arch-rival – without exacerbating a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands.

Exposing the selective morality of the US government, the documents, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, date from mid-May 2015 to February 2016, a period during which State Department officials reviewed and approved the sale of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia to replenish bombs dropped in Yemen. The documents were heavily redacted to withhold classified information and some details of meetings and discussion.

It gets better. While the US would take even the slightest opportunity to slam Russia for allegations of civilian deaths, State Department lawyers “had their hair on fire” as reports of civilian casualties in Yemen multiplied in 2015, and prominent human rights groups charged that Washington could be complicit in war crimes, one U.S. official said. That official and the others requested anonymity. During an October 2015 meeting with private human rights groups, a State Department specialist on protecting civilians in conflict acknowledged Saudi strikes were going awry.

The strikes are not intentionally indiscriminate but rather result from a lack of Saudi experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles,” the specialist said, according to a Department account of the meeting.

Ah, the old, they are not bloodthirsty murderers (whom we are supplying), they are just incompetent, defense. At least the US did not blame Putin’s crack team of hackers for this fiasco as well.

Meanwhile, truly pleading stupidity, the Saudi government called allegations of civilian casualties fabricated or exaggerated and has resisted calls for an independent investigation – considering the civilian death toll is estimated to be over 10,000 one can see why. The humor continued when the Saudi-led coalition has said it takes its responsibilities under international humanitarian law seriously, and is committed to the protection of civilians in Yemen. The Saudi embassy in Washington declined further comment.

In a statement issued to Reuters before Saturday’s attack, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said, “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. … We have repeatedly expressed our deep concern about airstrikes that allegedly killed and injured civilians and also the heavy humanitarian toll paid by the Yemeni people.”

The Saudi “cooperation” with the US most certainly is not a blank check: since March 2015, Washington has authorized more than $22.2 billion in weapons sales to Riyadh, much of it yet to be delivered. That includes a $1.29 billion sale of quote-unquote precision munitions announced in November 2015 and specifically meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen.

The billions in recycled petrodollars may explain why the Pentagon and the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau leaned toward preserving good relations with Riyadh “at a time when friction was increasing because of the nuclear deal with Iran.” That’s the pretext: the real reason why it was critical to preserve good relations with Riyadh despite risks of being branded a war criminal, is to keep the money rolling in.

Still, not everyone was corrupt: the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, backed by government human rights specialists, expressed concern over U.S. complicity in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war. As Reuters adds, U.S. refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force – even more than the arms sales – risked making the United States a party to the Yemen conflict under international law, three officials said.

The estimate of Yemeni casualties range from 3,800 to over 10,000, with Saudi-led airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools accounting for 60 percent of the death toll, the United Nations human rights office said in August. However, unlike the Syria campaign, there is hardly a mention of US support of Saudi Arabia anywhere in the prime time media.

Still, in a surprising move, the UN just stopped short of accusing  accusing either side of war crimes, saying that was for a national or international court to decide. No international court has decided yet.

Reuters also reports that in August 2015, the White House convened a meeting on how best to engage the Saudis over rising civilian casualties in a sign of mounting concern over the issue. That same month, State Department officials gathered to discuss how to track those casualties. What Obama decided on was not to halt arms sales but to provide Saud Arabia with… no strike lists.

While preserving military ties with Riyadh, the Obama administration has tried to reduce civilian casualties by providing the Saudis with “no-strike lists” of targets to avoid, dispatching to Saudi Arabia a U.S. expert on mitigating civilian casualties and pressing for peace talks, the officials said.

“If we’re going to be supporting the coalition, then we have to accept a degree of responsibility for what’s happening in Yemen and exercise it appropriately,” a senior administration official said.

Did Saudi Arabia follow the no strike lists? Nope

 After ceasefire talks collapsed in August and airstrikes resumed, coalition bombs destroyed the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa, a main supply route for humanitarian food aid, Oxfam International said.

Another U.S. official said the bridge was on a U.S. no-strike list

Meanwhile, the sales go on. As we reported previously, despite demands to halt it, the Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year. More than 60 U.S. House of Representatives members urged Obama not to do the deal, but the push to block that sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 21.

Some critics say the administration’s approach has failed.

In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation,” said Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and former military prosecutor.

Of course, if and when the evidence becomes too big to ignore, whoever is the prosecutor will simply be replaced, bought out or silenced by other more unconventional means, because if there is anything the past few months of Clinton scandals have shown us, it is that US foreign policy goes to the highest bidder, a list topped by – you guessed it – Saudi Arabia.

Twelve years ago, John Perkins published his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and it rapidly rose up The New York Times’ best-seller list. In it, Perkins describes his career convincing heads of state to adopt economic policies that impoverished their countries and undermined democratic institutions. These policies helped to enrich tiny, local elite groups while padding the pockets of U.S.-based transnational corporations.

Perkins was recruited, he says, by the National Security Agency (NSA), but he worked for a private consulting company. His job as an undertrained, overpaid economist was to generate reports that justified lucrative contracts for U.S. corporations, while plunging vulnerable nations into debt. Countries that didn’t cooperate saw the screws tightened on their economies. In Chile, for example, President Richard Nixon famously called on the CIA to “make the economy scream” to undermine the prospects of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.

If economic pressure and threats didn’t work, Perkins says, the jackals were called to either overthrow or assassinate the noncompliant heads of state. That is, indeed, what happened to Allende, with the backing of the CIA.

Perkins’ book has been controversial, and some have disputed some of his claims, including, for example, that the NSA was involved in activities beyond code making and breaking.

Perkins has just reissued his book with major updates. The basic premise of the book remains the same, but the update shows how the economic hit man approach has evolved in the last 12 years. Among other things, U.S. cities are now on the target list. The combination of debt, enforced austerity, underinvestment, privatization, and the undermining of democratically elected governments is now happening here.

I couldn’t help but think about Flint, Michigan, under emergency management as I read The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

I interviewed Perkins at his home in the Seattle area. In addition to being a recovering economic hit man, he is a grandfather and a founder and board member of Dream Change and The Pachamama Alliance, organizations that work for “a world that future generations will want to inherit.”

Sarah van Gelder: What’s changed in our world since you wrote the first Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?

John Perkins: Things have just gotten so much worse in the last 12 years since the first Confessions was written. Economic hit men and jackals have expanded tremendously, including the United States and Europe.

Back in my day we were pretty much limited to what we called the third world, or economically developing countries, but now it’s everywhere.

And in fact, the cancer of the corporate empire has metastasized into what I would call a failed global death economy. This is an economy that’s based on destroying the very resources upon which it depends, and upon the military. It’s become totally global, and it’s a failure.

van Gelder: So how has this switched from us being the beneficiaries of this hit-man economy, perhaps in the past, to us now being more of the victims of it?

Perkins: It’s been interesting because, in the past, the economic hit man economy was being propagated in order to make America wealthier and presumably to make people here better off, but as this whole process has expanded in the U.S. and Europe, what we’ve seen is a tremendous growth in the very wealthy at the expense of everybody else.

On a global basis we now know that 62 individuals have as many assets as half the world’s population.

We of course in the U.S. have seen how our government is frozen, it’s just not working. It’s controlled by the big corporations and they’ve really taken over. They’ve understood that the new market, the new resource, is the U.S. and Europe, and the incredibly awful things that have happened to Greece and Ireland and Iceland, are now happening here in the U.S.

We’re seeing this situation where we can have what statistically shows economic growth, and at the same time increased foreclosures on homes and unemployment.

van Gelder: Is this the same kind of dynamic about debt that leads to emergency managers who then turn over the reins of the economy to private enterprises? The same thing that you are seeing in third-world countries?

Perkins: Yes, when I was an economic hit man, one of the things that we did, we raised these huge loans for these countries, but the money never actually went to the countries, it went to our own corporations to build infrastructure in those countries. And when the countries could not pay off their debt, we insisted that they privatize their water systems, their sewage systems, their electric systems.

Now we’re seeing that same thing happen in the United States. Flint, Michigan, is a very good example of that. This is not a U.S. empire, it’s a corporate empire protected and supported by the U.S. military and the CIA. But it is not an American empire, it’s not helping Americans. It’s exploiting us in the same way that we used to exploit all these other countries around the world.

van Gelder: So it seems like Americans are starting to get this. What is your sense about where the American public is in terms of readiness to do something?

Perkins: As I travel around the U.S., as I travel around the world, I see that people are really waking up. We’re getting it. We’re understanding that we live on a very fragile space station, and it’s got no shuttles; we can’t get off. We’ve got to fix it, we’ve got to take care of it, and we’re in the process of destroying it. The big corporations are destroying it, but the big corporations are just run by people, and they’re vulnerable to us. If we really consider it, the market place is a democracy, if we just use it as such.

van Gelder: I want to push back on that one a little bit because so many corporations don’t sell to ordinary consumers, they sell to other companies or to governments, and so many corporations have such an entrenched reward system where if one person doesn’t perform by exploiting the earth they’ll simply get replaced with somebody else who does.

Perkins: I’ve recently been speaking at a number of corporate conferences. I hear time after time after time that many of them want to leave a green legacy. They’ve got children, they’ve got grandchildren, they understand we can’t go on like this.

So what they say is, “Go out there, start consumer movements. What I want is to receive a hundred thousand emails from my customers saying, ’Hey, I love your product but I’m not going to buy it anymore until you pay your workers a fair wage in Indonesia, or wherever, or clean up the environment, or do something.’ And then I can take that to my board of directors and my big stockholders, to the people who really control whether I get hired or fired.”

van Gelder: I agree, and those campaigns, as you know, have been going on for decades now, and sometimes they have little incremental changes around the edge. But then we look back on it later and we see that there’s enormous resistance because of the profits to be made in continuing the system.

Perkins: I think we’ve seen tremendous changes, though. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen organic foods become very big. Twenty years ago they couldn’t make a go of it. We’ve seen women having bigger positions in corporations, and minorities, and we need to get better at this.

We’ve seen the labeling of many foods. GMOs aren’t included yet, but nutrition and calories and so forth are. And what we really need to do is convince corporations that they’ve got to have a new goal.

We’ve got to let corporations know what their job is: It’s to serve a public interest, and make a decent rate of return for investors. We need investors, but beyond that, every corporation should serve a public interest, should serve the earth, should serve future generations.

van Gelder: I want to ask you about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and other trade deals. Is there any way that we can beat these things back so they don’t continue supercharging the corporate sphere at the expense of local democracies?

Perkins: They’re devastating; they give sovereignty to corporations over governments. It’s ridiculous.

We’re seeing terrible desperation from people in Central America trying to get away from a system that’s broken, primarily because our trade agreements and our policies toward Latin America have broken them. And we’re seeing, of course, those similar things in the Middle East and in Africa, these waves of immigrants that are swarming into Europe from the Middle East. These terrible problems that have been created because of the greed of big corporations.

I was just in Central America and what we talk about in the U.S. as being an immigration problem is really a trade agreement problem.

They’re not allowed to impose tariffs under the trade agreements—NAFTA and CAFTA—but the U.S. is allowed to subsidize its farmers. Those governments can’t afford to subsidize their farmers. So our farmers can undercut theirs, and that’s destroyed the economies, and a number of other things, and that’s why we’ve got immigration problems.

van Gelder: Can you talk about the violence that people are fleeing in Central America, and how that links back to the role the U.S. has had there?

Perkins: Three or four years ago the CIA orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, President Zelaya, because he stood up to Dole and Chiquita and some other big, global, basically U.S.-based corporations.

He wanted to raise the minimum wage to a reasonable level, and he wanted some land reform that would make sure that his own people were able to make money off their own land, rather than having big international corporations do it.

The big corporations couldn’t stand for this. He wasn’t assassinated but he was overthrown in a coup and sent to another country, and replaced by a terribly brutal dictator, and today Honduras is one of the most violent, homicidal countries in the hemisphere.

It’s frightening what we’ve done. And when that happens to a president, it sends a message to every other president throughout the hemisphere, and in fact throughout the world: Don’t mess with us. Don’t mess with the big corporations. Either cooperate and get rich in the process, and have all your friends and family get rich in the process, or go get overthrown or assassinated. It’s a very strong message.

van Gelder: I wanted to ask about your time spent in Ecuador with indigenous people. I’m wondering if you could talk about how that experience has changed you?

Perkins: Many years ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon with the Shuar indigenous people there, I was dying. I got very ill, and my life was saved in one night by a shaman. I’d come out of business school this is 1968, ’69, and I had no idea what a shaman was, but it changed my life by helping me understand that what was killing me was a mindset—what they would call the dream.

I spent many years studying all this, and working with many different indigenous groups, and what I saw was the power of the mindset.

The shamans teach us—the indigenous people teach us—once you change the mindset, then it’s pretty easy to have the objective reality change around it. So, instead of the kind of economy we have now, a death economy, if we can change the mindset we can very quickly move into a life economy.

van Gelder: So what are the mechanisms by which a change in consciousness actually shifts things on the ground?

Perkins: Well, in my opinion the biggest catalyst that needs to go forward to change this is we’ve got to change the corporations. We’ve got to move from that goal that was stated by Milton Friedman in the 1970s, that the only responsibility of corporations is to maximize profits regardless of social and environmental costs.

We change the big corporations by telling them we’re not going to buy from you anymore unless you change your goal. No longer should your goal be to maximize profits regardless of social and environmental costs. Make a decent rate of return for your investors, but serve us, we the people, or we’re not buying from you.

van Gelder : You quote Tom Paine in your book: “If there must be trouble let it be in my day that my child may have peace.” Why did you decide to use that quote?

Perkins : Well, I think Tom Paine was brilliant in that statement. He understood how that would impact people. And he wrote that statement in December 1776.

Washington had lost just about every battle he ever fought; he wasn’t getting any support from the Continental Congress; they weren’t giving his men guns or ammunition or even blankets and shoes, and he was bogged down at Valley Forge. Paine realizes that he’s got to somehow write something that will rally people, and there’s nothing that rallies people more than to think about their children

That to me is where we’re at right now. I’ve got a daughter and I’ve got an 8-year-old grandson. Bring on the trouble for me, OK, but let’s create a world they’re going to want to live in. And let’s understand that my 8-year-old grandson cannot have an environmentally sustainable and regenerative, socially just, fulfilling world unless every child on the planet has that.

And this is new. It used to be all we had to worry about was our local community, maybe our country. But we didn’t have to worry about the world. But what we know now is that we can’t have peace anywhere in the world, we can’t have peace in the U.S., unless everybody has peace.

 

 

The Invisible American

I’ve been reading a lot about a “recovering” economy. It was even trumpeted on Page 1 of The New York Times and Financial Times last week.

I don’t think it’s true.

The percentage of Americans who say they are in the middle or upper-middle class has fallen 10 percentage points, from a 61% average between 2000 and 2008 to 51% today.

 

Ten percent of 250 million adults in the U.S. is 25 million people whose economic lives have crashed.

What the media is missing is that these 25 million people are invisible in the widely reported 4.9% official U.S. unemployment rate.

Let’s say someone has a good middle-class job that pays $65,000 a year. That job goes away in a changing, disrupted world, and his new full-time job pays $14 per hour — or about $28,000 per year. That devastated American remains counted as “full-time employed” because he still has full-time work — although with drastically reduced pay and benefits. He has fallen out of the middle class and is invisible in current reporting.

More disastrous is the emotional toll on the person — the sudden loss of household income can cause a crash of self-esteem and dignity, leading to an environment of desperation that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

Millions of Americans, even if they themselves are gainfully employed in good jobs, are just one degree away from someone who is experiencing either unemployment, underemployment or falling wages. We know them all.

There are three serious metrics that need to be turned around or we’ll lose the whole middle class.

  1. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of the total U.S. adult population that has a full-time job has been hovering around 48% since 2010this is the lowest full-time employment level since 1983.
  2. The number of publicly listed companies trading on U.S. exchanges has been cut almost in half in the past 20 years — from about 7,300 to 3,700. Because firms can’t grow organically — that is, build more business from new and existing customers — they give up and pay high prices to acquire their competitors, thus drastically shrinking the number of U.S. public companies. This seriously contributes to the massive loss of U.S. middle-class jobs.
  3. New business startups are at historical lows. Americans have stopped starting businesses. And the businesses that do start are growing at historically slow rates.

Free enterprise is in free fall — but it is fixable. Small business can save America and restore the middle class.

Gallup finds that small businesses — startups plus “shootups,” those that grow big — are the engine of new economic energy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 65% of all new jobs are created by small businesses, not large ones.

Here’s the crisis: The deaths of small businesses recently outnumbered the births of small businesses. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the total number of business startups and business closures per year crossed for the first time in 2008. In the nearly 30 years before that, the U.S. consistently averaged a surplus of almost 120,000 more business births than deaths each year. But from 2008 to 2011, an average of 420,000 businesses were born annually, while an average of 450,000 per year were dying.

Bottom line: The two most trusted institutions in the U.S. are the military and small business. Most people know about our military’s importance, but not as many appreciate the role small business plays in creating the majority of new jobs and in national security itself.

America needs small business to boom again. Small businesses are our best hope for badly needed economic growth, great jobs and ultimately accelerated human development. When we get small business to boom, we can save America, restore our middle class and once again lead the world.