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Congressional Democrats Demand FBI Probe Into Killing of Palestinian Journalist

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 6:40am in

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A pair of congressional Democrats are circulating a letter demanding an FBI investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, according to three sources with knowledge of the letter and a draft copy of the letter obtained by The Intercept.

“[G]iven the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation.”

Reps. André Carson, D-Ind., and Lou Correa, D-Calif., are in the process of gathering signatures to the letter, according to the three sources, who asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the letter before it was complete. After publication of this story, Copeland Tucker, a Carson spokesperson, confirmed the letter and the Indiana Democrat’s involvement. A spokesperson for Correa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the draft letter requests both an FBI investigation as well as a determination by the State Department about whether the killing of the American journalist in Israeli-occupied territory violated any U.S. laws.

“We welcome the actions and statements taken so far by the U.S. Department of State supporting a thorough investigation by the Israeli government,” a draft copy of the letter states, referencing U.S. statements of concern and calls for an investigation. “However, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. We also request the U.S. Department of State determines whether any U.S. laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated.”

Abu Akleh, a prominent Al Jazeera journalist, had been reporting on an Israeli military raid on a home in the city of Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, when she was shot and killed on Wednesday. Witnesses said she was killed by the Israeli military, which initially blamed the killing on Palestinian militants, citing footage of an armed gunman — who was later shown to not be responsible — before conceding that an Israeli soldier might have been responsible.

On Friday, during Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, Israeli police beat mourners, including the pallbearers, causing them to momentarily drop the casket and sparking international outrage. Israeli police justified the attack saying that mourners had been chanting nationalist slogans and waving Palestinian flags. (An official Twitter account for the Israeli police posted drone footage selectively edited to make it appear as though a funeral attendee waving his arms in frustration had thrown a rock.)

Israel, which has occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for more than half a century, has a history of attacking journalists. A year ago, during an assault on the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israeli airstrikes destroyed a tower that housed international press agencies, including the Associated Press. The Israeli government claimed the Palestinian group Hamas used the tower as an intelligence outpost — a claim the militant group vociferously denied.

Palestinian journalists without international passports or backing often fare worse under Israeli occupation. Little notice was taken when Israel destroyed the offices of Palestinian outlets during the same assault on Gaza. During the same period of unrest in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalists described being beaten and fired upon with rubber bullets by Israeli authorities. Under Israeli occupation, Palestinian journalists are frequently detained and charged with crimes for doing their reporting work.

Despite the letter’s praise of remarks out of the State Department, not everyone in Washington foreign policy circles was pleased. When Blinken issued a statement criticizing Israeli police for “intruding” into Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, Matt Duss, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took issue with the language. “‘Intruding’?” Duss tweeted. “They attacked them. They beat them. The Secretary of State should be able to say this clearly.”

“As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to U.S. citizens living abroad,” the letter closes. “We, the undersigned Members of Congress, urge you to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech. We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad. We look forward to your timely response.”

Update: May 16, 2022, 5:42 p.m. ET
This story has been updated to include confirmation from Carson’s office of the letter.

The post Congressional Democrats Demand FBI Probe Into Killing of Palestinian Journalist appeared first on The Intercept.

Gulf States Ran Highly Active D.C. Foreign Influence Operation Targeting Iran’s IRGC

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 8:00pm in

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In 2019, the Trump administration took the controversial step of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an ideological branch of the Iranian military, as a foreign terrorist organization. The designation, an apparent poison pill to block further diplomacy with Iran, has become a major obstacle in negotiations to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump abrogated in 2018.

Though the domestic political pressure on the Biden administration against delisting has been widely discussed — with fears of Republicans campaigning against the move and pro-Israel forces roundly opposing it — few have noted the effect and breadth of the campaign to place and keep the IRGC on the terror rolls.

Documents, including rafts of public disclosure filings and a hacked email from a Washington diplomat, reveal a highly active foreign influence operation over the past five years to blanket Washington with messages supporting confrontation with Iran and targeting the IRGC with sanctions and inclusion on the terrorist list.

Since at least 2015, a variety of communications consultants, law firms, and lobbyists working for foreign governments — primarily Iranian regional rivals Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — produced a steady stream of tweets, talking points, press releases, and reports warning about the dangers of the IRGC and supporting the foreign terrorist organization, or FTO, designation.

“We should not be allowing foreign government lobbyists to buy influence on important national security policies.”

“All you need to know about what a politicized cudgel the FTO list has become is seeing the UAE and Saudi Arabia — responsible for some of the most heinous terror against civilians in Yemen — lobbying to get the IRGC on the FTO and keep them listed,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now. “We should not be allowing foreign government lobbyists to buy influence on important national security policies, like the FTO designation of a government we want to reach a critical nuclear deal with.”

The previously unreported hacked email sent by a UAE diplomat lays bare an attempt by a foreign interest to influence the U.S. government’s approach to the IRGC. In the email, drawn from a trove released in 2017 by a group calling itself Global Leaks, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba, one of the most influential foreign diplomats in Washington, messages with a reporter about the listing. The email released by Global Leaks shows that then-Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon wrote to Otaiba on February 3, 2017, asking: “You hear anything about the [Trump] administration considering designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization?”

In the email chain, Otaiba responded within minutes: “No idea where they are on decision making, but I have made the suggestion to several people.”

The UAE Embassy did not respond to a request comment on the purported email, which Responsible Statecraft and The Intercept were unable to separately authenticate. Otaiba never specified in the exchange who he “made the suggestion to.”

In this Monday May 20, 2019 photo, Jim Mattis, former US Secretary of Defense, right, prepares to deliver a lecture "The Value of the UAE - US Strategic Relationship", at Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. and Mexico sits at left. Mattis told the audience that America "needs to engage more in the world and intervene militarily less." (Eissa Al Hammadi-Ministry of Presidential Affairs/WAM via AP)

UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, left, and former U.S. Secretary of DefenseJim Mattis, right, deliver a lecture at Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed, in Abu Dhabi, UAE on May, 20, 2019.

Photo: Eissa Al Hammadi-Ministry of Presidential Affairs/WAM via AP

At the same time as the Global Leaks exchange between Otaiba and Solomon, an army of paid agents for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Iranian dissident group Mojahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, were bombarding congressional staffers, think tanks, and the State Department with messages emphasizing the dangers of the IRGC.

On February 14, 2017, the National Council of Resistance of Iran — the political wing of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, a group with little support inside Iran but has close ties with Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies — held a press conference about the IRGC’s “terrorist training centers” and held a March 8, 2017 “panel discussion on the rise of the IRGC financial empire.”

Between February and May 2017, the group’s U.S. leadership acted as sources regarding the IRGC for a host of outlets mostly on the right but also including mainstream outlets like the Associated Press, according to National Council of Resistance of Iran’s disclosure under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a law requiring agents of foreign principals to periodically report on their activities.

Other Gulf rivals of Iran were also paying communications firms and lobbyists to circulate reports and white papers denouncing the IRGC, according to disclosures. In May 2017, Qorvis Communications, working on behalf of Saudi Arabia, circulated a “summary: counterterrorism white paper” about “Saudi Arabia and counterterrorism” that repeatedly referred to the IRGC’s backing of Houthi rebels who the Saudis and UAE were fighting in Yemen. (None of the registered foreign agents in this article responded to requests for comment.)

Another communications firm representing Saudi Arabia, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, circulated a “fact sheet” defending the Saudi war effort in Yemen — which has been denounced by human rights advocates — as well as a report claiming that the “insurgency against Yemen’s central government has been aided by the financial and operational support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.”

The steady drumbeat of IRGC-related informational materials from UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia continued with the Trump administration’s 2017 imposition of sanctions on the IRGC, a move welcomed by foreign agents in Washington.

The MEK’s political wing celebrated the move in a press release. The UAE, for its part, celebrated the Trump administration’s new aggressive policy toward Iran in a press release circulated by Hagir Elawad & Associates, a law firm working for the UAE embassy, that endorsed the move.

 

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy put a particular emphasis on targeting the IRGC. The hawkish approach culminated in the 2018 U.S. abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, the 2019 listing of the IRGC as a terror group, and the early 2020 assassination of IRGC commander Qassim Suleimani. Throughout it all, “maximum pressure” won praise from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The federal filings that individuals and groups representing foreign interests made reflected the intensity of advocacy on the issue. The informational forms disclosing communications and materials distributed by foreign agents working for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the MEK’s political wing contained 325 mentions of the IRGC between 2017 and 2020.

The lucrative foreign influence campaign has continued into the post-Trump, post-“maximum pressure” era.

In June 2021, Saudi agents at Tripp Baird’s Off Hill Strategies sent 23 Hill staffers a tweet from Blinken declaring, “Today, we designated a network of front companies and intermediaries that support the Houthis in coordination with the IRGC-QF” — a reference to the Yemeni rebel group and the IRGC’s clandestine operations branch, the Quds Force.

Following the Biden administration’s February delisting of the Houthis from the foreign terror organization list, Emirati agents circulated a report by the UAE embassy on “Returning the Houthis to the U.S. terrorist list,” citing the rebels’ alleged close ties to the IRGC.

The pace of Foreign Agents Registration Act-disclosed activity by foreign agents for UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the MEK’s political wing appears to have slowed as the Biden administration pushed to reenter the nuclear deal. The shift came at the same time as tensions grew between the White House and Gulf states on a variety of issues ranging from OPEC oil output to sanctions against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

At least one entity with financial links to the UAE and Saudi Arabia — though not a registered foreign agent — is already pushing back on the potential delisting of the IRGC. The Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank “dedicated solely to the study of the Middle East,” whose largest donor is the UAE Embassy and also receives support from Saudi Aramco, published a report this month concluding:

As the U.S. administration assesses whether to delist the IRGC as an FTO, the nature of the Guard reveals that it is not a conventional state armed force and should not be treated as such. The IRGC is an ideological organization that shares key characteristics with other designated Islamist organizations, including its quest for an expansionist Islamic state, a global Islamic order, forceful imposition of sharia law (Shi’a interpretation), militaristic concept of jihad, and anti-American and anti-Semitic ideology.

In a statement, MEI media relations manager Rachel Dooley said donations do not affect the group’s work. “MEI retains full intellectual independence for itself and its scholars, and no funder has any editorial say, nor are any funders consulted in the authoring and/or publishing of any articles, including this one,” Dooley said. “The authors produced this article independently and pitched it to the Middle East Institute, which publishes a wide range of voices and perspectives on regional policy and affairs. The article was accepted after passing MEI’s internal review and fact-checking process. As is the case for all of MEI’s publications, the views in the piece are the authors’ own and do not represent a position of the Institute.”

MEI discloses its donors on its website but does not disclose the potential conflict of interests in MEI materials that touch on its foreign government funders.

For now, the pressure campaign against the IRGC in Washington appears to be winning out. The U.S. has so far ruled out delisting the group without further concessions from Iran. The Iranians say such a position is at odds with the agreement that was struck in 2015 because it asks for more concessions from Iran to win the economic relief the country already bargained to get.

Nonetheless, the very discussion of the potential delisting of the IRGC is a threat to a central achievement of the “maximum pressure” campaign praised by the Gulf states and the MEK. If a deal to delist the IRGC suddenly seems more likely, their registered agents in Washington are sure to ramp up their campaign again.

The post Gulf States Ran Highly Active D.C. Foreign Influence Operation Targeting Iran’s IRGC appeared first on The Intercept.

Does Elon Musk Know Trump Could Have Started Nuclear War via Twitter in 2018?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 9:00pm in

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Elon Musk said Tuesday at a Financial Times conference that if he does indeed purchase Twitter — Friday morning Musk tweeted that the deal was “temporarily on hold” — he will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account. After the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, Trump was permanently suspended by Twitter for using it to incite violence.

Musk added that under his ownership, if users say something “destructive to the world, then there should be perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible. … I think if there are tweets that are wrong and bad, those should be either deleted or made invisible, and a suspension, a temporary suspension, is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.”

This standard, of course, is incredibly vague — everything and nothing could be deemed “destructive to the world” or “wrong and bad.” As Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook, pointed out, Musk’s words suggest that he’s given no thought to why the question of content moderation on Twitter is so vexed:

The scary fact is that no one knows what to do about the dangerous chain reaction that can happen when Twitter collides with world leaders generally, and Trump specifically.

Given the fact that Trump could plausibly be elected president again in 2024, we have to hope that someone at Twitter will consider this, rather than, as Musk does now, just blithely advocate “free speech” with some ad hoc, unpredictable restrictions.

That’s particularly true because Mark Esper, Trump’s defense secretary toward the end of his term, has confirmed in his new book “A Sacred Oath” that Trump and Twitter could have combined to end human civilization in January 2018.

While it’s largely been forgotten now, there was a significant chance that the U.S. and North Korea would go to war during the first year of the Trump administration. Retired military and diplomatic experts at the time estimated the odds as being 20, 30, or even 50 percent.

Such a war might easily have become, as Trump ally Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said during the period of greatest danger, “one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization. It is going to be very, very brief. The end of it is going to see mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen. It will be of biblical proportions.”

When Trump took office in January 2017, U.S. intelligence believed that North Korea had manufactured dozens of nuclear devices. In July 2017, the North Korean government successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S.

It was this — the possibility that the U.S. was vulnerable to the nuclear sword of Damocles that we had dangled over North Korea’s head for decades — that caused Trump to proclaim in August that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next month at the United Nations, Trump similarly said the U.S. might be forced “to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man [i.e., North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] is on a suicide mission.”

Trump then jumped on Twitter that month to proclaim that Kim was “obviously a madman” who “will be tested like never before!” He followed it up the same day by tweeting, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U. N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Such berserk bellicosity from a U.S. president would be alarming under any circumstances but was especially so involving North Korea. Jeffrey Lewis, a longtime North Korea observer and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, was so worried about Trump’s behavior that he wrote an entire speculative novel imagining how the president might accidentally start a nuclear war via tweet.

“North Korea,” Lewis told me recently via Twitter direct message, “has a nuclear strategy that relies on preemptively using nuclear weapons to repel a US invasion. If North Korean leaders think an invasion is imminent, their plan — at least on paper — is to use nuclear weapons against US forces in South Korea and Japan to destroy any invasion forces and shock the United States.”

And the North Korean government, Lewis said, doesn’t “have the kind of global hi-tech monitoring system the United States does. Instead they have to rely on signs and indicators. We don’t really know what indicators they use, but we think one of the most important indicators that the North Koreans rely on is the presence of military families in South Korea. The North Koreans think the U.S. would evacuate those families to safety before any invasion.”

This was the situation on January 3, 2018, when Trump tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ … I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Screen_Shot_2018_01_02_at_9.16.45_PM.png1

Then president-Donald Trump took to Twitter to threaten North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Jan. 2, 2018.

Screenshot: Twitter

Esper, then serving as secretary of the Army, learned later that month that Trump was about to order all U.S. military dependents out of South Korea — announcing it on Twitter. “Kim would probably view a U.S. evacuation as a prelude to a conflict,” Esper writes in his book, echoing Lewis’s fears. “Would he strike first, targeting Seoul? … Would this be like the beginning of World War I? … This was a dangerous game of chicken, and with nuclear roosters no less.”

Thankfully for all humanity, someone — Esper still has no idea who — “talked the president out of sending the tweet. … War averted.”

What Twitter should do if Trump is again president is an extraordinary conundrum.

Esper understandably remained anxious throughout the rest of his tenure in the Trump administration, with war with North Korea always at the top of his mind. “Who knew when another doomsday tweet might come?” he asks. “We had to be ready.”

However, Twitter was not and is not ready. What Twitter should do if Trump is again president is an extraordinary conundrum. World leaders obviously have many ways to communicate with the world and the right to do so. But Twitter is unique in that it allows them — at least those who want to — to issue proclamations with no intermediaries or counsel, just by getting their phone out of their pocket. And Trump is uniquely erratic and foolhardy.

It would be nice if there was a universal Twitter policy that dealt with the danger of Trump and Twitter — possibly no presidents and prime ministers, especially ones that lead nuclear powers, should be permitted to have Twitter accounts. They could still deal death and destruction upon the world on purpose, but this kind of circuit breaker might make them less likely to do so by accident.

Or perhaps Trump should be dealt with specifically, if he ever claws his way back to the Oval Office. That wouldn’t be ideal, but then again, neither is global thermonuclear war.

At the very least, it would be nice to imagine that the people running Twitter, whether that’s Musk or anyone else, have spent a great deal of time pondering the existential danger created by their bird app. But as of now, there’s little sign of this on the horizon. (Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he is aware of this history.)

The post Does Elon Musk Know Trump Could Have Started Nuclear War via Twitter in 2018? appeared first on The Intercept.

Israel Admits It Might Have Killed Journalist, Attacks Her Funeral

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 3:40am in

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Israeli police attacked the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday, nearly causing mourners to drop the casket of the renowned Palestinian American journalist.

Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Fellow journalists who witnessed the shooting said Israeli forces had fired on them. Israel’s prime minister and other senior officials initially said Palestinian militants were “likely” to blame, but the Israeli army admitted on Friday that one of its soldiers might have fired the fatal shot.

The assault on the mourners, who were beaten with clubs at a hospital in East Jerusalem, stunned viewers who watched it unfold on live television, further enraging Palestinians and the dead journalist’s colleagues and fans.

Israeli police said they attacked the procession because mourners waved Palestinian flags and chanted nationalist slogans. An official Israeli police account shared drone video to support the authorities’ claim that two of the mourners had thrown rocks at them. But a comparison of that video to ground-level news footage showed that the police video had been edited to remove the initial police charge and slowed down to make it seem as if a man who just waved his arms in frustration had thrown something at the officers.

The televised assault on the funeral of a beloved figure only intensified the outrage over her death and the images were quickly remixed and shared across social networks.

Thousands of people later joined the procession for a beloved national hero before a funeral at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The suppression of dissent continued throughout the day.

Later on Friday, Israel’s army said the results of an interim internal investigation suggested that its soldiers might have fired the shots that killed the Al Jazeera correspondent and wounded her colleague.

That admission marked a sharp retreat from the initial version of events offered by Israeli officials, who responded to anger over the killing of Abu Akleh on Wednesday by quickly distributing video of a Palestinian gunman firing down an alley during the raid. Officials also released statements calling it “likely” that the journalist was killed by a Palestinian militant, not an Israeli soldier.

Later the same day, however, a researcher for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Abdulkarim Sadi, recorded video showing that the Palestinian militant had been in a part of the camp that made it impossible for him to have shot Abu Akleh.

Israel’s military then released body camera video of its soldiers retreating from that part of the camp and emerging on a street where armored vehicles were waiting to extract them. Geolocation by the B’Tselem researcher and others showed that the Israeli armored vehicles were parked on the street where Abu Akleh was shot.

The interim Israeli investigation acknowledged that the Israeli vehicles were parked about 200 meters away from Abu Akleh, and said that if she was shot by an Israeli soldier, it must have been because the soldier “fired several bullets from a special slit in the jeep and through a telescopic site at a terrorist … and there’s a possibility that the reporter stood near the terrorist.”

That version of events was flatly contradicted by several other journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time and insisted that they were nowhere near any of the Palestinian militants in the camp.

Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, told me by phone on Friday that there is no reason to expect the Israeli army to release any more of the video it collected from soldiers after the incident. The Israel Defense Forces, El-Ad said, has a track record of only releasing video evidence “when it is beneficial to support the Army version of events.”

The rights activist also called it “grotesque” that the United States had called for Palestinian authorities to conduct a joint investigation with Israel, given that Israel had repeatedly used slow-moving investigations to “whitewash” the killing of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military rule.

The American pressure on Palestinian officials to allow Israel to take part in the investigation of itself shows the “U.S. complicity in what’s going on here,” El-Ad said, even when the victim is, like Abu Akleh, an American citizen.

Updated: May 14, 2022
This article was updated to add an analysis of Israeli police video that was posted online on Saturday night.

The post Israel Admits It Might Have Killed Journalist, Attacks Her Funeral appeared first on The Intercept.

Inside the Secret Meeting Between the CIA Director and Saudi Crown Prince

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 3:26am in

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Last month, as part of a regional tour, CIA Director William Burns quietly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, a port city in western Saudi Arabia. The unusual meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is the first known encounter between the United States’ top spy and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler — and, according to three sources familiar with the matter, the latest attempt by high-ranking U.S. officials to appeal to Saudi Arabia on oil amid rising U.S. gas prices. Also on the table, two of the sources told The Intercept, were Saudi weapons purchases from China.

President Joe Biden has so far refused to meet with MBS, as he is known, owing to the crown prince’s role in ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But in February, Biden made an effort to begin repairing the relationship with the kingdom, asking King Salman to increase the country’s oil production in return for U.S. military support for its “defense” against Yemen’s Houthis. According to a Saudi readout of the call, Biden was denied. Though Burns again asked for an oil production increase last month, Saudi Arabia announced last week that it would be sticking to its production plan, once more denying the U.S.’s request.

A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment on Burns’s travels. The Intercept’s sources — a U.S. intelligence official, two sources with ties to the U.S. intelligence community, a source close to members of the Saudi royal family, and a think tank official — interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The meeting was also an opportunity to broach a subject of intense concern to Washington: Riyadh’s growing relationship with China. In addition to Burns’s ask on oil, the CIA director also requested that Saudi Arabia not pursue a purchase of arms from China, according to the two sources close to U.S. intelligence.

Saudi Arabia’s very public overtures to Beijing — most notably, exploring the possibility of selling its oil in the Chinese currency, yuan — have caused consternation in Washington. This week, in Senate testimony, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned of efforts by China and Russia to “to try to make inroads with partners of ours across the world,” mentioning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as examples.

What is not publicly known, however, is that the Saudi government is planning to import ballistic missiles later this month from China under a secret program code-named “Crocodile,” the source close to U.S. intelligence said. (The other source with ties to U.S. intelligence confirmed that the discussion pertained to arms sales with China.)

Burns also requested the release of numerous high-profile Saudi royals whom MBS has detained, including MBS’s cousin, former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the sources said. MBN, as he is known, was heir to the throne before his ouster by Crown Prince Mohammed in 2017. Because MBN is a close partner to U.S. intelligence, the Biden administration has reportedly pressured for his release amid allegations of torture.

Relying on a CIA director to conduct high-level diplomatic engagement of this sort is extremely unusual, although it does offer at least one big advantage: discretion. Burns’s presence also served as a means of attempting to mend the fraught relationship between MBS and other top Biden administration officials, the source close to U.S. intelligence said. Last year, when Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan brought up the Khashoggi murder, MBS shouted at him, remarking that the U.S. could forget about its request to increase oil production, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Burns’s meeting with MBS was one of several with leaders in the region, including in Qatar, the UAE, and Oman, the source also said. (A prominent think tank official close to the Biden administration confirmed that Burns had been traveling throughout the Middle East.) Burns’s meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed echoed the theme of his meeting with MBS, urging him to stop warming up to China, specifically referring to the construction of a Chinese military base in the UAE. Last year, the Biden administration reportedly warned the UAE that China had been building a military facility at an Emirati port and that its construction could imperil their relations. In the case of Saudi Arabia, U.S. intelligence has assessed that the country has been working with China to manufacture its own ballistic missiles domestically — raising concerns about touching off a regional arms race.

“What’s different about this is the Saudis are now looking to import completed missiles,” the source close to U.S. intelligence said.

“Burns has been doing a lot of the diplomatic heavy lifting, which is terrible.”

Burns has come under criticism for conducting diplomacy for the administration, which is supposed to be handled by diplomats at the State Department. Last year, as Kabul fell to the Taliban, Burns was reportedly in the Middle East, meeting with top Israeli and Palestinian government officials. Shortly thereafter, Burns secretly met in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. Just last week, Burns met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, urging him not to interfere with his country’s elections.

“Burns has been doing a lot of the diplomatic heavy lifting, which is terrible,” a U.S. intelligence official close to the administration told The Intercept, decrying what he called the “further castration of the Department of State.” This has rankled diplomats at Foggy Bottom, who had hoped that Biden would make good on his campaign pledge to empower diplomacy after years of neglect by the Trump administration.

Concerns about Burns’s role in diplomacy and sidelining the State Department have even come from figures like Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Intelligence professionals can coerce and threaten unencumbered by the restraints of diplomacy,” Rubin wrote in a recent article for the Washington Examiner. “They are not there to debate and formulate foreign policy.” The Biden administration is currently without an ambassador to Saudi Arabia, having only last month announced its intent to nominate diplomat Michael Ratney for the position.

The post Inside the Secret Meeting Between the CIA Director and Saudi Crown Prince appeared first on The Intercept.

Israel Tightens Restrictions on Travel to the Occupied Territories

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 9:00pm in

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Sandra Tamari was traveling to a family wedding in the West Bank when security officers at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport pulled her aside. For hours, they questioned her about her parents, grandparents, employer, and previous travels. They ordered her to write the names and contact details of everyone she planned to visit and made her list all her email addresses. Then, a security officer turned a computer screen toward her and ordered her to log into her Gmail account.

“That’s when I said, ‘No way,’” Tamari, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent, told The Intercept. When she refused, she was detained overnight and then deported back to the U.S. An officer told her she was denied entry because she posed a security threat.

While the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories and not part of Israel, Israeli officials control access to them, monitoring the movement of anyone traveling there — and regularly denying entry to foreigners who are visiting for personal, family, or professional reasons. For years, international travelers, and particularly those of Palestinian descent, have been at the whims of border officials. The process was often degrading, unpredictable, and arbitrary.

Now much of that process has been codified by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT, the unit of Israel’s Defense Ministry tasked with administering civilian issues in the Palestinian territories that Israel occupies. In a 97-page document issued earlier this spring, COGAT officials introduced a slate of severe restrictions on international travel to the occupied West Bank, which they refer to as “Judea and Samaria.”

“Before this, it was kind of like Russian roulette when you got to an Israeli border crossing if you’re a Palestinian foreign passport holder: You’d just never know, are you going to get in, are you not going to get in,” Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Intercept. “Now at least you know what the rules are, and they are all in one place. But the rules are pretty egregious.”

The new rules formalize invasive questioning that has long been the reality for those traveling to the territories. Some — like a requirement that those visiting Palestinian family members disclose a series of personal details about them — have always been the norm. But the rules also include a new slate of restrictions that Palestinians in the diaspora warn will drastically curtail their ability to visit their families and homeland. They include a condition that visitors disclose details about any land they might own or expect to inherit in the territories, a limit to the number of trips one can make, and a requirement that visitors apply for a permit 45 days before traveling — a measure introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, ostensibly for public health reasons, that Israel is now seeking to make permanent.

The rules also curtail the travel of non-Palestinian visitors to the territories, including caps on the number of visiting scholars and students. But they do not apply to those seeking to travel to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law but which Israel effectively treats as an extension of its territory. The rules were slated to kick in later this month, but a legal challenge raised by an Israeli group has temporarily delayed implementation to early this summer.

While they apply to Palestinians holding any foreign passports, as well as non-Palestinian foreigners visiting the territories from anywhere else in the world, the rules have raised particular concerns for Palestinian Americans, many of whom have long felt the U.S. government is doing far too little to address Israel’s discriminatory policies toward them. At least two draft letters are currently circulating among legislators, asking U.S. officials to address Israel’s new restrictions on travel to the West Bank.   A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department wrote in a statement to The Intercept that officials there “continue to study the new regulations and are engaging with Israeli authorities to understand their application and encourage additional consultation with stakeholders before implementation.” The spokesperson added, “We seek equal treatment and freedom to travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity.”

A spokesperson for Israel’s Ministry of Defense deferred questions to COGAT, which did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. critics of the rules note that they come at a time when U.S. officials can exercise particular leverage, as Israel is currently seeking to join the U.S. visa waiver program, which allows visitors from participating countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism without a visa. In March, the U.S. and Israel signed an information exchange agreement bringing Israel closer to approval for the program. The State Department spokesperson said that officials are “reviewing the regulations in detail in order to determine if there is any linkage to the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.” He added, “The U.S. government continues to work with Israel towards fulfilling all program requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals upon arrival — including Palestinian Americans.”

Participation in the visa waiver initiative is predicated on reciprocal treatment — meaning Palestinian Americans seeking to enter Israel and the West Bank should expect the same guarantees as Israeli citizens traveling to the U.S. That’s hardly the case currently: For instance, U.S. citizens who also hold Palestinian IDs are denied access to Ben Gurion Airport altogether and must travel through Jordan, while other U.S. citizens can travel through Israel.

“In the past, American citizens have complained to the State Department about discrimination, and the U.S. response has always been that Israel has sovereign right to exclude people it doesn’t want,” Hassan said. “But the problem here is that Israel is not sovereign over the West Bank. It’s occupied territory.” She added, “This is actually a moment in which the U.S. could very well help to change policies that are impacting Americans attempting to work, study, and visit in the West Bank.”

Passing through Qalandiya checkpoint for the last Friday prayer of Ramadan

Palestinian passes through an Israeli security checkpoint from Ramallah into Jerusalem on April 29, 2022, in Ramallah, West Bank.

Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Surveillance Project

The new COGAT rules appear to serve multiple purposes: by discouraging travel to the West Bank, they further isolate Palestinians and seek to undercut growing global solidarity with them. They limit the ability of foreigners of Palestinian descent to maintain ties with their families and homeland. And they enable the large-scale collection of personal data on anyone traveling to the territories, feeding into a sprawling surveillance effort already underway that some have dubbed Israel’s “Facebook for Palestinians.”

“Israel is in the process of creating this massive data project, mapping Palestinian relationships, property holdings, and all kinds of other information,” said Hassan. “This is something they have always done. But now they want you to proactively give them that information.”

“Israel is in the process of creating this massive data project, mapping Palestinian relationships, property holdings.”

The requirement that those applying for permits to visit the West Bank disclose details about land they might own or inherit has caused particular alarm, raising echoes of the “Absentee Property Law” by which Israel has justified expropriating the land of countless Palestinians who left, fled, or were forcibly expelled during its founding. The provision in the new rules is especially concerning to those owning property in “Area C,” a large swath of the West Bank where illegal Israeli settlements are fast growing.

“Maybe if you have property in Area C you don’t get in, and maybe under Israeli military law, if a property is abandoned, then the state can take it,” said Hassan, in reference to the new travel requirement. “The issue is that Israel is extending its sovereignty over the West Bank. And these COGAT rules are just an expression of that.” 

Palestinian Americans and others critical of Israeli policies have long denounced treatment like the one now codified by COGAT — to little avail.

A car drives past a road signal indicating the Allenby crossing point to Jordan (background), in the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, on January 28, 2021. - The Allenby (King Hussein) bridge crossing is due to be closed in the evening as part of restrictions to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

A car drives past a sign for the Allenby (King Hussein) crossing point to Jordan, in the city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, on Jan. 28, 2021.

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

When Tamari was detained at Ben Gurion Airport, she was allowed to call the U.S. Embassy. She recalled that the staffer who responded on the citizen services’ line immediately asked her, “Are you Jewish?” When she said that she was Palestinian, the staffer told her, “There’s really nothing we can do for you,” she says.

“The issue is that Israel is extending its sovereignty over the West Bank. And these COGAT rules are just an expression of that.”

Back in the U.S., Tamari spoke with her congressional representative, and she and her supporters delivered a petition to the State Department and met with officials involved with consular services in Israel. “None of the information we presented was surprising to them,” she told The Intercept. “I don’t think there’s any motivation on the part of the U.S. to protect Palestinians.”

The failed trip was Tamari’s last attempt to visit her family’s homeland: “I have missed out on a whole generation of cousins that I haven’t met,” she said.

Her ordeal was hardly unheard of for Palestinian holders of foreign passports who are regularly turned away by Israeli officials. “There are hundreds and hundreds of stories of Palestinians with U.S. passports who have been denied entry,” Tamari said. “The separation of families is part of the Israeli weaponry against Palestinians, and it’s unfortunately very painful and traumatic.”

So far, few U.S. legislators have been willing to criticize Israel’s treatment even of U.S. citizens.

“We know that Congress has the capacity to really influence these sorts of decisions, especially because at this point, there’s a large population of Palestinians in the United States who would be directly impacted by this,” Iman Abid-Thompson, national director of advocacy and organizing at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The Intercept.

“If there’s a silver lining to be looked at upon here, it’s the fact that we are now able to see, verbatim, what it is that we have been saying,” she added. “The United States can look past it, if it so chooses, as it already does, or it can actually see what Palestinians have been saying for decades.”

The post Israel Tightens Restrictions on Travel to the Occupied Territories appeared first on The Intercept.

Video Shared by Israel Shows Palestinian Gunman Was Not Firing at Journalist Killed During Israeli Raid

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 4:42am in

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World

An effort by Israeli officials to use social media evidence to blame Palestinian militants for the fatal shooting of a journalist in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday unraveled within hours, as a close analysis of video shared by Israel showed that a Palestinian gunman was shooting in the direction of Israeli soldiers, not the reporter.

Immediately after the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a renowned Palestinian American journalist who was gunned down while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in Jenin, three other journalists who were with her, including one colleague who was shot and another who tried to save her, said that the group had come under fire from Israeli soldiers.

In response, a chorus of senior Israeli officials insisted that it was “likely” the reporter had been killed by Palestinian militants, who exchanged fire with Israeli soldiers during the raid.

To support that case, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington all shared video on social networks that showed a Palestinian gunman opening fire during the raid.

The edited and subtitled video, which was originally released by Palestinian militants, included a comment from an unseen person who said, in Arabic, that the militants had shot a soldier who was “laying on the ground.”

Israeli officials called this evidence that the Palestinian militants might have mistaken Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for Al Jazeera who was wearing a blue helmet and flak jacket labeled “press,” for an Israeli soldier.

However, an investigation of the video by a local researcher for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem showed that the militant had been firing down an alley in the densely populated refugee camp that was nowhere near the entrance to the camp where Abu Akleh and other journalists had been pinned down by gunfire.

Working with visual clues from the harrowing video of Abu Akleh’s colleagues and bystanders attempting to rescue her, and a tip from an Agence France-Presse correspondent on the scene, geolocation experts confirmed that the Al Jazeera correspondent was at the edge of the camp, about a six-minute walk away from where the militant was recorded firing down an alley.

B’Tselem confirmed the geolocation of Abu Akleh’s position, and that of the militant, and plotted them on a map of the camp. Together with the video recorded by the B’Tselem researcher, the map shows that it was impossible for the bullets fired by that gunman to have struck the journalist, since he fired into an alley in a built-up area of the camp that was around two corners from the street where Abu Akleh was standing when she was shot.

TatukGIS Viewer -

The relative positions of a Palestinian gunman and the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin, plotted on a map by B’Tselem, an Israel human rights group that works with Palestinian researchers to document abuses in the Israeli-occupied territories.

As the Al Jazeera English producer Linah Alsaafin noted, video clip of the effort to rescue Abu Akleh seemed to show that anyone who approached her was fired on, which suggests that the group of journalists was under deliberate attack and not just subject to indiscriminate fire.

Later on Wednesday, after the B’Tselem investigation showed that the bullets fired by the Palestinian militant in the video Israel circulated could not have struck Abu Akleh, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said in a statement that it was not yet possible to be sure who had shot Abu Akleh, expressed regret for her death, and ordered an investigation. That, several activists noted, was quite different from an earlier statement from an Israeli military spokesperson who said that the journalists who were shot had been “armed with cameras.”

The Israeli army later released body camera footage shot during the raid, apparently to illustrate that its forces had come under fire from Palestinian militants in the camp.

But when that body camera video, recorded during the raid, is compared to the video recorded by the B’Tselem researcher later in the day, the Israeli footage also serves to confirm that Israeli soldiers were at the end of the alley the Palestinian militant had been filmed firing down. Looking at the two clips side-by-side also reveals that when the Israeli soldiers retreated from that alley, they emerged onto the very same street that Abu Akleh was standing on when she was shot.

Updated: May 13, 2022
This article was updated to add a map and a side-by-side video comparison of footage recorded by an Israeli soldier during a raid on a refugee camp in Jenin on May 11, and footage recorded just after the raid by a human rights activist.

The post Video Shared by Israel Shows Palestinian Gunman Was Not Firing at Journalist Killed During Israeli Raid appeared first on The Intercept.

Until Ukraine, Russia Lobbyists Successfully Blunted U.S. Sanctions After Foreign Adventurism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/05/2022 - 9:36pm in

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Politics, World

The invasion of Ukraine is not the first time in recent memory that Russian foreign policy has given rise to harsh criticisms in Washington. But it does mark the first time that the Kremlin has been hobbled in its ability to respond through normal D.C. channels — namely, through high-powered K Street lobbyists.

Before its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin poured hefty sums of money into lobbying in Washington, D.C. The Kremlin itself, state-run companies, and other firms linked to Russia’s leadership frequently used K Street lobbyists in the 21st century to soften the fallout from Russia’s foreign misadventures — often to spare Russian entities from the worst punishments. Now sanctions on the Russian government and Kremlin-linked firms have meant that kind of spending isn’t possible.

Many Russian interests have shifted their lobbying goals to just trying to manage the breakup of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it became clear that we don’t need lobbyists, we need really good divorce lawyers,” said Julie Newton, a research fellow at the Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College. “Lobbying today is a dialogue of the deaf.”

That wasn’t always the case. The Russian government and Kremlin-connected firms successfully garnered considerable influence in the U.S. prior to the recent invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s high-dollar lobbying approach kicked off in August 2008, when it tried to pacify U.S. responses to Russian aggression following the country’s invasion of Georgia. Washington placed blame for the five-day war squarely on Russia, particularly given the Kremlin’s recognition of independence for the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the expulsion of Georgian forces from the two territories. Led by the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., many Washington power brokers called for punishing Russian aggression.

With punitive actions on the table, Russia nearly doubled its spending on lobbyists. In total, the amount of money reported by firms receiving from Russian interests soared from just over $5 million in 2007, prior to the invasion, to more than $9 million in 2009, an analysis of Foreign Agents Registration Act records shows.

Ketchum, a public relations firm representing the Russian Federation, went into overdrive to flip the narrative and blame Georgia for the conflict. Ketchum facilitated interviews for the New York Times with Russian military officials, distributed briefing notes on the war to the Washington Post, and arranged a CNN interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Ketchum also helped place an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on August 20, 2008, which said that Russia “remains committed to a peaceful resolution in the Caucasus.” In early 2009, the Russian government hired another firm, Alston & Bird, amid a multimillion-dollar surge in lobbying spending by Russian interests.

This Russian rehabilitation campaign largely worked, and the Kremlin successfully weathered the storm wrought by its invasion of Georgia. The George W. Bush administration did little to punish Putin’s aggression in 2008, and Russia was an afterthought in the Obama administration — or, sometimes, literally a punchline.

Russia would again face down consequences from Washington following its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. With President Barack Obama joining in on the criticisms, Washington was less forgiving than after the war in Georgia. Though Obama was clear to rule out any military conflict with Russia, the U.S. announced a visa ban, canceled military consultations with Russia, expanded military flights over former Soviet states, sanctioned several Russian firms, and expanded security assistance to Ukraine.

In response to its newfound pariah status in D.C., the Russian government called a halt to its public relations campaign. The Kremlin severed its ties with Ketchum. “We decided not to renew the contract because of the anti-Russian hysteria, the information war that is going on,” Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov explained at the time.

Though the Russian government decided not to directly lobby in Washington, Kremlin-connected firms and government interests facing punitive measures would begin spending millions to win influence.

The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, a bill that offered a host of punishments for the invasion of Crimea, including seizing the assets of major Russian firms, named in particular Gazprombank, a bank founded by the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. The bank hired Squire Patton Boggs and paid the firm $1.5 million between 2014 and 2017 to “lobby on issues related to banking laws and regulations including applicable sanctions,” according to public filings.

Gas company Novatek, whose ownership includes Putin allies like Gennady Timchenko and Leonid Mikhelson, was also listed in the sanctions law. In response, the company paid the public relations firm Qorvis Communications $740,000 between 2014 and 2015 to advocate against its passage, among other things. Between Qorvis and Squire Patton Boggs, several top former government officials worked to shore up interests of Kremlin-connected firms: two Republican former U.S. senators, Trent Lott of Mississippi and Louisiana’s John Breaux, as well a former acting general counsel of the Treasury Department. The bill threatening their Russian clients never became law.

Lobbyists for these Russian firms weren’t always so successful. Qorvis worked to overturn a White House executive order that authorized the seizure of some Russian oligarchs’ assets in the U.S., but the sanctions remained in place, costing Timchenko and Mikhelson an estimated $16.5 billion combined.

Following the Crimea invasion, the Russian Direct Investment Fund also came under scrutiny from the U.S. The Russian sovereign wealth fund hired two lobbying firms, signing contracts with Capitol Counsel and Goldin Solutions worth $45,000 and $30,000 per month to lobby the Department of Treasury and improve the RDIFs image, respectively. Capitol Counsel submitted a letter to David Cohen, a Treasury Department undersecretary that worked to implement sanctions, explaining the RDIF’s business with U.S. entities. The Treasury Department ultimately did issue sanctions on the RDIF, but not for more than a year after the invasion of Crimea and long after both Capitol Counsel and Goldin Solutions stopped working for the fund.

After shuttering its legal influence operation, in 2015 the Russian government itself began a multiyear illicit influence operation. Eventually, that campaign would result in the now-notorious cases of Russian interference in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Thirteen Russians and three Russian companies were indicted for their roles in meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

From 2016 to 2021, while Russia’s illicit influence operation was making headlines, the legal Russian influence operation was quietly humming along. As the fallout from the 2014 invasion of Ukraine lingered, more than a dozen former members of Congress, congressional staff, and high-ranking sanctions officials registered to lobby on behalf of banks tied to the Kremlin, Russian oligarchs, and the company behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a recent analysis by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft found. This included former Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and former Rep. Toby Moffett, D-Conn., who both represented the now-sanctioned Russian bank Sovcombank in a $90,000-a-month contract signed with Mercury Public Affairs just before the recent invasion.

Despite most Americans holding an unfavorable opinion of Putin’s Russia, this cadre of former government officials helped ensure that their clients largely dodged the brunt of U.S. retaliation for Putin’s meddling in America and elsewhere. The Biden administration lifted sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in May 2021, and construction of the pipeline that would greatly enhance Russian energy flows to Europe was completed last September.

If history is any indication, Russia’s influence operation will likely attempt to reform itself.

The sanctions on Russian oligarchs were arguably ineffective, and in some cases they were even lifted. For example, sanctions on Russian energy and metals giant En+ Group, linked to oligarch and Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, were lifted after Vitter lobbied against them.

When Putin made the disastrous decision to invade Ukraine earlier this year, all of this came crashing down. Most D.C. lobbying and public relations firms severed ties with their Russian clients. Many of the sanctions these lobbyists had long acted as a bulwark against were suddenly put into force, including those that have affected Russia’s financial sector, members of the Russian elite, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Previous attempts from Russian entities such as Sovcombank, VTB Bank, and the RDIF to evade punitive action were unraveled as they too were either sanctioned or restricted in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If history is any indication, however, Russia’s influence operation will likely attempt to reform itself. With sanctions limiting its legal lobbying operation, it’s possible that Russia will expand its illicit influence operations.

Correction: May 8, 2022
This story has been corrected to reflect that Goldin Solutions was hired by the Russian Direct Investment Fund to do communications work aimed at improving the fund’s image. The story was also updated with the specific reported content of Capitol Counsel’s letter to the Treasury Department.

The post Until Ukraine, Russia Lobbyists Successfully Blunted U.S. Sanctions After Foreign Adventurism appeared first on The Intercept.

The Left in Europe Confronts NATO’s Resurgence After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 8:00pm in

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On a single day in the fall of 1983, some 400,000 people took to the streets across Belgium to protest nuclear proliferation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The protest was one of scores of mass demonstrations in Western Europe amid an escalating Cold War, as citizens of NATO member countries called for an end to the military alliance and U.S. dominance in it. Twenty years later, when the U.S. invaded Iraq over the objections of several NATO allies, protesters in Europe and across the world numbered in the millions — one of the largest anti-war protests ever.

But when peace activists in Belgium called for a mobilization last month in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and of the military aid that U.S. and European countries sent to Kyiv, the numbers were far smaller. It was the same elsewhere in Europe. While anti-war demonstrations in some countries were larger, they hardly compared to the mass mobilizations against the Iraq invasion.

“We had maybe three, 4,000 people, which is not many,” Ludo De Brabander, a member of Belgian peace group Vrede vzw, told The Intercept. “It was difficult to mobilize.”

“Iraq was very clear: It was an aggressive war based on false arguments,” he added. In Ukraine, by contrast, it was Russia that had staged an illegal, unprovoked invasion, and U.S.-led support to Ukraine was understood by many as crucial to stave off even worse atrocities than those the Russian military had already committed. That has left peace activists scrambling, said De Brabander, “because we don’t want to support NATO. And of course, we also oppose what Russia is doing. And a position in between, with alternatives to war, is very difficult to sell.”

As a result, the messaging at the European protests in March was at times confused and inconsistent: Some were filled with Ukrainian flags and explicitly in support of the Ukrainian people and their resistance. Others displayed the rainbow “peace” flag ubiquitous in Europe during the Iraq War and featured calls against increased military spending and the prospect of NATO expansion.

The uncertain response of Europe’s peace activists is both a reflection of a brutal, unprovoked invasion that stunned the world and of an anti-war movement that has grown smaller and more marginalized over the years. The left in both Europe and the U.S. have struggled to respond to a wave of support for Ukraine that is at cross purposes with a decadeslong effort to untangle Europe from a U.S.-led military alliance. They also fear that short-term expediency — supporting Ukraine through increased European defense spending and a strengthening of NATO — will prolong the conflict and potentially widen it, but they have struggled to identify concrete alternatives as feeble diplomatic efforts have so far faltered.

The idea is that solidarity and even military support for Ukraine should be aimed at ending the war, not expanding it indefinitely. Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek economist and former finance minister and a prominent figure on the European left, warned in a recent interview against putting “the theoretical right of Ukrainians to be members of NATO above the life of people in Ukraine.”

“It’s important that we band together to bring a modicum of rationality back to the debate and to focus on the only thing that matters at the moment,” he said. “It’s not money. It’s not trade. It’s not natural gas. It is human lives in Ukraine. How can we stop people from dying?” He added, “The whole point of resisting is to come to the point where we sue for peace.”

Opposition to NATO from within member countries — at the grassroots and political levels — has accompanied the alliance through its existence. At different points, critics have lamented the outsize role of U.S. interests in shaping NATO’s policy; the post-Cold War expansionist push to extend membership to a growing number of former Eastern bloc countries; NATO’s intervention in wars from the Balkans to Libya; and its undermining of the multilateralism of the United Nations. Many critics in Europe have questioned the very need for the alliance’s existence following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of its military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.

But with Finland and Sweden likely set to join the alliance in direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as U.S. officials call on their allies to step up their response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, voices critical of NATO have been cautious and at times hesitant. As the war enters a third month and the prospect of a negotiated end to it grows more distant, those hoping for de-escalation have been left scrambling.

“There is a whole segment of the population that rejects the logic of war, of taking sides, of sending weapons, but it hasn’t figured out … how to directly intervene in the discourse around this war.”

“I’m not convinced that there is a consensus around a series of choices, like delegating to Washington and NATO the decisions on how to respond to this war, and there isn’t consensus around the armament of Ukraine,” said Antonio Mazzeo, an Italian journalist and peace activist. “But it’s true that a majority of political voices and pundits have become uniform.” He added, “There is a whole segment of the population that rejects the logic of war, of taking sides, of sending weapons, but it hasn’t figured out how to take a position, how to directly intervene in the discourse around this war.”

In part, that’s because those critical of escalation and a militarized response have been quickly dismissed, accused of carrying Putin’s water or being apologists for Russian imperialism. (It hasn’t helped, of course, that some have done just that.) That fear has led many to choose silence instead.

“People are scared to speak out because they don’t have the answers; they want to stop the war without weapons, and there is no organized movement to tell them that they are right,” said a European Parliament official, who requested anonymity precisely because the position has become so contentious. “There is an intuition that we can end this war without escalation, but people don’t know how to express it and therefore, they are silent.”

Officials participate to the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in Foreign Ministers session at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, on March 4, 2022. - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO allies arrived in Belgium for a meeting of NATO, G7 and EU counterparts on the response to Russias invasion of Ukraine and the growing refugee situation. After meetings in Brussels Blinken will travel to Poland, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia from March 3 to 8 to reassure them of US support.

Officials participate in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers session at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on March 4, 2022.

Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

No Room for Nuance

The contrast between the relatively timid response to the Ukraine war and anti-war movements of the past is complex. On the one hand, the horror at Russia’s actions, the massacre of civilians, and the reports of widespread war crimes shocked many people in Europe, including in the peace movement. Those who have contested NATO intervention in the past have usually done so in response to aggressive actions by the alliance; the fact that member countries in this case have come to the aid of an invaded nation has presented them with a conundrum they have not quite resolved.

“Many are in despair,” said De Brabander. “They no longer believe in diplomatic solutions because Putin has gone too far. And they don’t believe in arming the conflict either.”

Even before the invasion of Ukraine, the landscape in Western Europe had profoundly changed, with several countries moving politically to the right and traditionally leftist causes like opposition to NATO becoming increasingly marginalized. Parties long associated with the anti-war movement, like Germany’s Greens and Social Democrats, have switched course, and younger generations that grew up without the fear of regional nuclear conflict — a major catalyst for the mass mobilizations of the 1980s — have reoriented their priorities toward issues like climate justice. In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and Georgia in recent years has stoked legitimate fears that have largely eclipsed skepticism of NATO.

“Many are in despair. They no longer believe in diplomatic solutions because Putin has gone too far. And they don’t believe in arming the conflict either.”

In such a context, according to people critical of both Russia’s invasion and NATO’s actions leading up to it, room for nuance has all but disappeared. “Displaying anti-war activism in the circumstances can unfortunately be seen as a sign of support for Putin,” an adviser to the European Parliament who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue told The Intercept. “You either have to be 100 percent on one side or on the other side. Any variation becomes suspect and raises questions about your loyalty and your motivations. That’s another terrible outcome of this war because in my opinion, this kind of vulgarization, primitivization of discourse is highly damaging to the quality not only of foreign policy, but also of our democracy.”

De Brabander noted that it did not help that some on the radical left of the peace movement “see only U.S. responsibilities or EU responsibilities.” That has exposed more moderate voices to the accusation that they are apologists for Putin. “There’s this very black-and-white vision that if you’re not with us, then you’re against us,” he added, noting that those calling for the dissolution of NATO were regularly accused of defending Russian interests.

Still, even as a fragment of what it once was, grassroots opposition to increased militarization and NATO has not disappeared altogether. “We have been calling for the delegitimization of NATO, and there is really no reason to change that,” said Reiner Braun, a German activist and executive director of the International Peace Bureau. Braun noted that a coalition of dozens of groups calling for NATO’s dissolution are planning a peace summit in Madrid in June, to counter the alliance’s official gathering in the same city. “The main reasons why we are against NATO, the militarization, the military spending, the aggressive attitude, NATO’s expansion — these are all criticisms that are still valid.”

“We are definitely in opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but without excusing Putin, we are also explaining that one of the reasons for the current situation is NATO’s expansion over the last 25 or so years,” he added. “It is not an excuse for the invasion, but it helps to understand how such a situation could happen.”

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (L) welcomes Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin prior to a meeting on whether to seek NATO membership in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 13, 2022. - Rattled by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Finland will kickstart a debate that could lead to seeking NATO membership, a move that would infuriate Moscow. - Sweden OUT (Photo by Paul WENNERHOLM / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by PAUL WENNERHOLM/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, left, welcomes Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin prior to a meeting on whether to seek NATO membership in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 13, 2022.

TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Ima

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

While NATO expanded its membership a few times during the Cold War, the real push to bring more countries into the fold began in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the dissolution of the Eastern bloc alliance, reaching a peak in the 1990s under the Clinton administration. That’s when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined the alliance.

“It’s a moment in time when the U.S. looks like it’s going to be No. 1 forever, and so taking on new alliances is actually a very cheap thing for the U.S. to do,” said Joshua Shifrinson, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University. “You have this narrative of this alliance that makes decisions collectively, but the U.S. kind of ramrodded the expansion through the alliance as a whole.”

Many at the time were critical of NATO taking in more members, yet expansion has remained NATO’s policy since then. In 2008, former President George W. Bush pledged that Ukraine and Georgia would one day join the alliance — a miscalculation that many analysts believe precipitated Russia’s aggression toward both countries in the following years. In the current climate, there seems to be little willingness on the part of U.S. officials to review that history or ask questions about how the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO might have played a role in what remains an unprovoked act of aggression on the part of Russia.

“You have this narrative of this alliance that makes decisions collectively, but the U.S. kind of ramrodded the expansion through the alliance as a whole.”

“Let’s try to be a little more objective and ask the question, why might Russia be fearful of NATO?” said Shifrinson. “That doesn’t mean the response is a war. You can blame Putin for the war. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for any Russian leader to be concerned over the prospect of Ukraine being in NATO. Most big powers don’t like their neighbors being part of hostile foreign alliances.”

In any event, the invasion has reinvigorated NATO’s own rationale for its continued role in containing Russia. If the collapse of the Warsaw Pact seemed to make NATO unnecessary back in the 1990s, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has appeared to give it a renewed reason to exist. It’s what De Brandeber describes as a “policy of self-fulfilling prophecy”: NATO taking a provocative action (expanding to Russia’s border) that contributes to a crisis that, in turn, justifies the existence of NATO. “Putin has become the best defender of NATO policy,” he added. “He made NATO very strong with this war.”

The rush to expand NATO and increase military spending throughout Europe, however, will likely come at the expense of social and environmental programs, health care, social security, and a more rational energy policy — all of which have been priorities for many countries in the alliance. Once that trade-off becomes clear, activists say, the anti-war movement might grow again.

“The social and environmental consequences are tremendously uncertain,” said Braun, the German activist. “This will create suffering for millions more people. But it will also create a new dimension of protest.”

The post The Left in Europe Confronts NATO’s Resurgence After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.

USA announces plans to invade extremist theocratic state ‘USA’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 10:21am in

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Following similar incursions in other parts of the world, the USA has confirmed it will begin military operations to overthrow the archaic extremist regime in the North American nation of ‘USA’.

Announcing the operation today, a US military spokesperson said the ‘medieval’ regime was controlled by religious zealots who denied basic rights to their citizens.

“This is a barbarous, archaic nation state that is using extremist religious rhetoric to control the lives of its people. As a champion of freedom throughout the world, we believe it is our duty to intervene”.

The backward nation, which fails to provide basic healthcare to many of its citizens, is also believed to regularly execute its own people. Worryingly, analysts believe it has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The invasion could begin as early as next week, with civilians advised to seek cover in nearby safe haven Canada.

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