Friday, May 25, 2012

The Crusade for Syria: A Big Lie

The Neocon Propaganda Machine Pushing "Regime Change" In Syria: A Torrent of Disinformation
By Aisling Byrne
Originally published in Counterpunch
January 6-8, 2012
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics

“War with Iran is already here,” wrote a leading Israeli commentator recently, describing “the combination of covert warfare and international pressure” being applied to Iran.

Although not mentioned, the “strategic prize” of the first stage of this war on Iran is Syria; the first campaign in a much wider sectarian power-bid. “Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself,” Saudi King Abdullah was reported to have said last summer, “nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria.”

Click on map to enlarge
By December, senior United States officials were explicit about their regime change agenda for Syria: Tom Donilon, the US National Security Adviser, explained that the “end of the [President Bashar al-] Assad regime would constitute Iran’s greatest setback in the region yet – a strategic blow that will further shift the balance of power in the region against Iran.”

 Feltman servin' "regime change" 
Shortly before, a key official in terms of operationalizing this policy, Under Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman, had stated at a congressional hearing that the US would “relentlessly pursue our two-track strategy of supporting the opposition and diplomatically and financially strangling the [Syrian] regime until that outcome is achieved”.

What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime “more compatible” with US interests in the region.

Which Path to Persia? (PDF)
The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009. The report – “Which Path to Persia?”  - continues to be the generic strategic approach for US-led regime change in the region.

A rereading of it, together with the more recent “Towards a Post-Assad Syria” (which adopts the same language and perspective, but focuses on Syria, and was recently produced by two US neo-conservative think-tanks) illustrates how developments in Syria have been shaped according to the step-by-step approach detailed in the “Paths to Persia” report with the same key objective: regime change.

"Toward a Post-Assad Syria" (PDF)
The authors of these reports include, among others, John Hannah and Martin Indyk, both former senior neo-conservative officials from the George W Bush/Dick Cheney administration, and both advocates for regime change in Syria. Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show, some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an “enemy” state.

Arguably, the most important component in this struggle for the “strategic prize” has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a “killing machine”  led by the “monster” Assad.

Whereas in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) claimed it had “no confirmed reports of civilian casualties” because, as the New York Times wrote recently, “the alliance had created its own definition for ‘confirmed’: only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed”.

“But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations,” the Times wrote, “its casualty tally by definition could not budge – from zero”.

In Syria, we see the exact opposite: the majority of Western mainstream media outlets, along with the media of the US’s allies in the region, particularly al-Jazeera and the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channels, are effectively collaborating with the “regime change” narrative and agenda with a near-complete lack of questioning or investigation of statistics and information put out by organizations and media outlets that are either funded or owned by the US/European/Gulf alliance – the very same countries instigating the regime change project in the first place.

Claims of “massacres”, “campaigns of rape targeting women and girls in predominantly Sunni towns”  ”torture” and even “child-rape” are reported by the international press based largely on two sources – the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCCs) – with minimal additional checking or verification.

Hiding behind the rubric – “we are not able to verify these statistics” – the lack of integrity in reporting by the Western mainstream media has been starkly apparent since the onset of events in Syria. A decade after the Iraq war, it would seem that no lessons from 2003 – from the demonization of Saddam Hussein and his purported weapons of mass destruction – have been learnt.

Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the “regime change” alliance.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams  allocated US$130 billion to “palliate the masses” of the Arab Spring).

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the claims of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, “facts”, and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide”.

Although it claims to be based in its director’s house, the Observatory has been described as the “front office” of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers. The Russian Foreign Ministry  stated starkly:

At the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights headquarters: "No!  I told you, I don't eat pepperoni!  Give me 30 larges...all of them veggie...with artichoke, spinach, and tomato!  And get them here quick!  I've got a whole night of regime change ahead of me!"

The agenda of the [Syrian] transitional council [is] composed in London by the Syrian Observatory [for] Human Rights … It is also there where pictures of ‘horror’ in Syria are made to stir up hatred towards Assad’s regime.

The Observatory is not legally registered either as a company or charity in the United Kingdom, but operates informally; it has no office, no staff and its director is reportedly awash with funding.

It receives its information, it says, from a network of “activists” inside Syria; its English-language website is a single page with al-Jazeera instead hosting a minute-by-minute live blog page for it since the outset of protests.

Local Coordination Committees
The second, the LCCs, are a more overt part of the opposition’s media infrastructure, and their figures and reporting is similarly encompassed only [16] within the context of this main narrative: in an analysis of their daily reports, I couldn’t find a single reference to any armed insurgents being killed: reported deaths are of “martyrs”, “defector soldiers”, people killed in “peaceful demonstrations” and similar descriptions.

The third is al-Jazeera, whose biased role in “reporting” the Awakenings has been well documented. Described by one seasoned media analyst  as the “sophisticated mouthpiece of the state of Qatar and its ambitious emir”, al-Jazeera is integral to Qatar’s “foreign-policy aspirations”.

Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani
Al-Jazeera has, and continues,  to provide technical support, equipment, hosting and “credibility” to Syrian opposition activists and organizations. Reports show that as early as March 2011, al-Jazeera was providing messaging and technical support to exiled Syrian opposition activists , who even by January 2010 were co-ordinating their messaging activities from Doha.

Nearly 10 months on, however, and despite the daily international media onslaught, the project isn’t exactly going to plan: a YouGov poll commissioned by the Qatar Foundation  showed last week that 55 per cent of Syrians do not want Assad to resign and 68 per cent of Syrians disapprove of the Arab League sanctions imposed on their country.

According to the poll, Assad’s support has effectively increased since the onset of current events – 46 per cent of Syrians felt Assad was a “good” president for Syria prior to current events in the country – something that certainly doesn’t fit with the false narrative being peddled.

As if trumpeting the success of their own propaganda campaign, the poll summary concludes:

“The majority of Arabs believe Syria’s President Basher al-Assad should resign in the wake of the regime’s brutal treatment of protesters … 81% of Arabs [want] President Assad to step down. They believe Syria would be better off if free democratic elections were held under the supervision of a transitional government.”

One is left wondering who exactly is Assad accountable to – the Syrian people or the Arab public? A blurring of lines that might perhaps be useful as two main Syrian opposition groups have just announced that while they are against foreign military intervention, they do not consider “Arab intervention” to be foreign.

Unsurprisingly, not a single mainstream major newspaper or news outlet reported the YouGov poll results – it doesn’t fit their line.

In the UK, the volunteer-run Muslim News was the only newspaper to report the findings; yet only two weeks before in the immediate aftermath of the suicide explosions in Damascus, both the Guardian, like other outlets, within hours of the explosions were publishing sensational, unsubstantiated reports from bloggers, including one who was “sure that some of the bodies … were those of demonstrators”.

“They have planted bodies before,” he said; “they took dead people from Dera’a [in the south] and showed the media bodies in Jisr al-Shughour [near the Turkish border.]”

Recent reports have cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the false scenario peddled daily by the mainstream international press, in particular information put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the LCCs.

In December, the mainstream US intelligence group Stratfor cautioned:
Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.

Throughout the nine-month uprising, Stratfor has advised caution on accuracy of the mainstream story on Syria: in September it commented that “with two sides to every war … the war of perceptions in Syria is no exception”.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and LCC reports, “like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism”, argues Stratfor; “the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.”

Sergey Lavrov
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov observed: “It is clear that the purpose is to provoke a humanitarian catastrophe, to get a pretext to demand external interference into this conflict.” Similarly, in mid-December, American Conservative reported:
“CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] analysts are skeptical regarding the march to war. The frequently cited United Nations report that more than 3,500 civilians have been killed by Assad’s soldiers is based largely on rebel sources and is uncorroborated. The Agency has refused to sign off on the claims.
“Likewise, accounts of mass defections from the Syrian army and pitched battles between deserters and loyal soldiers appear to be a fabrication, with few defections being confirmed independently. Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false.”
As recently as November, the Free Syria Army implied their numbers would be larger, but, as they explained to one analyst, they are “advising sympathizers to delay their defection” until regional conditions improve.

A guide to regime change

In relation to Syria, section three of the “Paths to Persia” report is particularly relevant – it is essentially a step-by-step guide detailing options for instigating and supporting a popular uprising, inspiring an insurgency and/or instigating a coup. The report comes complete with a “Pros and Cons” section:
“An insurgency is often easier to instigate and support from abroad … Insurgencies are famously cheap to support … covert support to an insurgency would provide the United States with “plausibility deniability” … [with less] diplomatic and political backlash … than if the United States were to mount a direct military action … Once the regime suffers some major setback [this] provides an opportunity to act.”
Military action, the report argues, would only be taken once other options had been tried and shown to have failed as the “international community” would then conclude of any attack that the government “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.

Key aspects for instigating a popular uprising and building a “full-fledged insurgency” are evident in relation to developments in Syria.

These include:
“Funding and helping organize domestic rivals of the regime” including using “unhappy” ethnic groups;
“Building the capacity of ‘effective oppositions’ with whom to work” in order to “create an alternative leadership to seize power”;
Provision of equipment and covert backing to groups, including arms – either directly or indirectly, as well as “fax machines … Internet access, funds” (on Iran the report noted that the “CIA could take care of most of the supplies and training for these groups, as it has for decades all over the world”);
Training and facilitation of messaging by opposition activists;
Constructing a narrative “with the support of US-backed media outlets could highlight regime shortcomings and make otherwise obscure critics more prominent” – “having the regime discredited among key ‘opinion shapers’ is critical to its collapse”;
The creation of a large funding budget to fund a wide array of civil-society-led initiatives (a so-called “$75 million fund” created under former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice-funded civil society groups, including “a handful of Beltway-based think-tanks and institutions [which] announced new Iran desks)” ;
The need for an adjacent land corridor in a neighboring country “to help develop an infrastructure to support operations”.
“Beyond this,” continues the report, “US economic pressure (and perhaps military pressure as well) can discredit the regime, making the population hungry for a rival leadership.” 

The US and its allies, particularly Britain and France, have funded and helped “shape” the opposition from the outset – building both on attempts started by the US in 2006 to construct a unified front against the Assad government, and the perceived “success” of the Libyan Transitional National Council model.

Despite months of attempts – predominately by the West – at cajoling the various groups into a unified, proficient opposition movement, they remain “a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divides”. 

”There neither has been nor is [there] now any natural tendency towards unity between these groups, since they belong to totally different ideological backgrounds and have antagonistic political views,” one analyst concluded. 

At a recent meeting with the British foreign secretary, the different groups would not even meet with William Hague together, instead meeting him separately.

Nevertheless, despite a lack of cohesion, internal credibility and legitimacy, the opposition, predominately under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council (SNC), is being groomed for office. This includes capacity-building, as confirmed by the former Syrian ambassador to the US, Rafiq Juajati, now part of the opposition. 

At a closed briefing in Washington DC in mid-December 2011, he confirmed that the US State Department and the SWP-German Institute for International and Security Affairs (a think-tank that provides foreign policy analysis to the German government) were funding a project that is managed by the US Institute for Peace and SWP, working in partnership with the SNC, to prepare the SNC for the takeover and running of Syria.

Burhan Ghaliyoun: failed attempt at "unity"
In a recent interview, SNC leader Burhan Ghaliyoun disclosed (so as to “speed up the process” of Assad’s fall) the credentials expected of him: “There will be no special relationship with Iran,” he said. “Breaking the exceptional relationship means breaking the strategic, military alliance,” adding that “after the fall of the Syrian regime, [Hezbollah] won’t be the same.”  

Described in Slate magazine  as the “most liberal and Western-friendly of the Arab Spring uprisings”, Syrian opposition groups sound as compliant as their Libyan counterparts prior to the demise of Muammar Gaddafi, whom the New York Times described as “secular-minded professionals – lawyers, academics, businesspeople – who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law”; that was, until reality transitioned to former leader of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group Abdulhakim Belhaj and his jihadi colleagues. 

The import of weapons, equipment, manpower (predominantly from Libya)  and training by governments and other groups linked to the US, NATO and their regional allies began in April-May 2011,  according to various reports  and is co-ordinated out of the US air force base at Incirlik in southern Turkey. From Incirlik, an information warfare division also directs communications to Syria via the Free Syria Army. This covert support continues, as American Conservative reported in mid-December:
“Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons … as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council … Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and US Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.”
The Washington Post exposed in April 2011 that recent WikiLeaks showed that the US State Department had been giving millions of dollars to various Syrian exile groups (including the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement for Justice and Development in London) and individuals since 2006 via its “Middle East Partnership Initiative” administered by a US foundation, the Democracy Council.

WikiLeaks cables confirmed that well into 2010, this funding was continuing, a trend that not only continues today but which has expanded in light of the shift to the “soft power” option aimed at regime change in Syria. 

As this neo-con-led call for regime change in Syria gains strength within the US administration,  so too has this policy been institutionalized among leading US foreign policy think-tanks, many of whom have “Syria desks” or “Syria working groups” which collaborate closely with Syrian opposition groups and individuals (for example USIP  and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy)  and which have published a range of policy documents making the case for regime change. 

In the UK, the similarly neo-con Henry Jackson Society (which “supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach” and which believes that “only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate”) is similarly pushing the agenda for regime change in Syria. 

This is in partnership with Syrian opposition figures including Ausama Monajed, a former leader of the Syrian exile group, the Movement for Justice & Development, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was funded by the US State Department from 2006, as we know from WikiLeaks. 

Monajed, a member of the SNC, currently directs a public relations firm recently established in London and incidentally was the first to use the term “genocide” in relation to events in Syria in a recent SNC press release.

The well-paid Syrian exile community (clockwise from top left): Malik Al Abdah, Ammar Abdulhamid, Radwan Ziadeh, Anas Al Abdah, Ausama Monajed, and Najib Ghadbian.  We provide selected biographies of these individuals in an addendum below.

As one Wikileaks cable shows, the visits to Syria of Democracy Council founder James Prince (Left) and U.S. State Department Foreign Affairs Officer Joseph Barghout (Right) were of concern to the Syrian government, due in part to the financing of oppositional exile groups based in London and Washington and their development of organizational links within the country.
Syria In-Transition conference at the United States Congress, Washington D.C., April 25, 2008, sponsored by recipients of U.S. State Department (Middle East Partnership Initiative) grants, including the Democracy Council and the Movement for Justice and Development.  Click on image to enlarge.

Since the outset, significant pressure has been brought to bear on Turkey to establish a “humanitarian corridor” along its southern border with Syria. The main aim of this, as the “Paths to Persia” report outlines, is to provide a base from which the externally-backed insurgency can be launched and based. 

The objective of this “humanitarian corridor” is about as humanitarian as the four-week NATO bombing of Sirte when NATO exercised its “responsibility to protect” mandate, as approved by the UN Security Council.

More detailed instructions from "democracy activists" about what the "international community" needs to do.
All this is not to say that there isn’t a genuine popular demand for change in Syria against the repressive security-dominated infrastructure that dominates every aspect of people’s lives, nor that gross human-rights violations have not been committed, both by the Syrian security forces, armed opposition insurgents, as well as mysterious third force characters operating since the onset of the crisis in Syria, including insurgents, mostly jihadis from neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, as well as more recently Libya, among others.

Such abuses are inevitable in low-intensity conflict. Leading critics of this US-France-UK-Gulf-led regime change project have, from the outset, called for full accountability and punishment for any security or other official “however senior”, found to have committed any human-rights abuses.

Ibrahim al-Amine writes that some in the regime have conceded “that the security remedy was damaging in many cases and regions [and] that the response to the popular protests was mistaken … it would have been possible to contain the situation via clear and firm practical measures – such as arresting those responsible for torturing children in Deraa”. And it argues that the demand for political pluralism and an end to the all-encompassing repression is both vital and urgent.

But what may have began as popular protests, initially focused on local issues and incidents (including the case of the torture of young boys in Dera’a by security forces) were rapidly hijacked by this wider strategic plan for regime change. Five years ago, I worked in northern Syria with the United Nations managing a large community development project.

After evening community meetings, it wasn’t uncommon to find the mukhabarat (military intelligence) waiting for us to vacate the room so they could scan flipcharts posted on the walls. That almost every aspect of people’s daily lives was regulated by a sclerotic dysfunctional Ba’ath party/security bureaucracy, devoid of any ideology apart from the inevitable corruption and nepotism that comes with authoritarian power, was apparent in every feature of people’s lives.

Tuesday, December 20 was reportedly the “deadliest day of the nine-month [Syrian] uprising “with the “organized massacre” of a “mass defection” of army deserters widely reported by the international press in Idlib, northern Syria. Claiming that areas of Syria were now “exposed to large-scale genocide”, the SNC lamented the “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period”, citing figures provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  Quoting the same source, the Guardian reported that the Syrian army was:
“… hunt[ing] down deserters after troops … killed close to 150 men who had fled their base”. A picture has emerged … of a mass defection … that went badly wrong … with loyalist forces positioned to mow down large numbers of defectors as they fled a military base. Those who managed to escape were later hunted down in hideouts in nearby mountains, multiple sources have reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that 100 deserters were besieged, then killed or wounded. Regular troops allegedly also hunted down residents who had given shelter to the deserters.”
The Guardian’s live blog-quoted AVAAZ, the citizen political advocacy/public relations group, which “claimed 269 people had been killed in the clashes”, and cited AVAAZ’s precise breakdown of casualties: “163 armed revolutionaries, 97 government troops and 9 civilians”.  They noted that AVAAZ “provided nothing to corroborate the claim.”

The Washington Post reported only that they had spoken to “an activist with the rights group AVAAZ [who] said he had spoken to local activists and medical groups who put the death toll in that area Tuesday at 269.”
A day after initial reports of the massacre of fleeing deserters, however, the story had changed. On December 23, the Telegraph reported:
“At first they were said to be army deserters attempting to break into Turkey to join the FSA [Free Syrian Army], but they are now said to be unarmed civilians and activists attempting to escape the army’s attempts to bring the province back under control. They were surrounded by troops and tanks and gunned down until there were no survivors, according to reports.”
The New York Times had, on December 21, reported that the “massacre”, citing the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, was of “unarmed civilians and activists, with no armed military defectors among them, the rights groups said.”

It quoted the head of the Observatory who described it as “an organized massacre” and said his account corroborated a Kfar Owaid witness’ account: “The security forces had lists of names of those who organized massive anti-regime protests … the troops then opened fire with tanks, rockets and heavy machine guns [and], bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties.”

How do you say "procrastination" in Arabic?

The LA Times quoted an activist it had spoken to via satellite connection who, from his position “sheltering in the woods” commented: “The word ‘massacre’ seems like too small a word to describe what happened.” Meanwhile, the Syrian government reported that on December 19 and 20, it had killed “tens” of members of “armed terrorist gangs” in both Homs and Idlib, and had arrested many wanted individuals.

The truth of these two “deadly” days will probably never be known – the figures cited above (between 10-163 armed insurgents, 9-111 unarmed civilians and 0-97 government forces) differ so significantly in both numbers reported killed and who they were, that the “truth” is impossible to establish.

In relation to an earlier purported “massacre” in Homs, a Stratfor investigation found “no signs of a massacre”, concluding that “opposition forces have an interest in portraying an impending massacre, hoping to mimic the conditions that propelled a foreign military intervention in Libya”.

Nevertheless, the “massacre” of December 19-20 in Idlib was reported as fact, and was etched into the narrative of Assad’s “killing machine.”

Both the recent UN Human Rights Commissioner’s report and a recent data blog report on reported deaths in “Syria’s bloody uprising” by the Guardian (published December 13) – two examples of attempts to establish the truth about numbers killed in the Syrian conflict – rely almost exclusively on opposition-provided data: interviews with 233 alleged “army defectors” in the case of the UN report, and on reports from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, the LCCs and al-Jazeera in the case of the Guardian’s data blog.

The Guardian reports a total of 1,414.5 people (sic) killed – including 144 Syrian security personnel – between January and November 21, 2011. Based solely on press reports, the report contains a number of basic inaccuracies (eg sources not matching numbers killed with places cited in original sources): their total includes 23 Syrians killed by the Israeli army in June on the Golan Heights; 25 people reported “wounded” are included in total figures for those killed, as are many people reported shot.

The report makes no reference to any killings of armed insurgents during the entire 10-month period – all victims are “protesters”, “civilians” or “people” – apart from the 144 security personnel.

Seventy percent of the report’s data sources are from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the LCCs and “activists”; 38 per cent of press reports are from al-Jazeera, 3 per cent from Amnesty International and 1.5 per cent from official Syrian sources.

In response to the UN Commissioner’s report, Syria’s ambassador to the UN commented: “How could defectors give positive testimonies on the Syrian government? Of course they will give negative testimonies against the Syrian government. They are defectors.”

In the effort to inflate figures of casualties, the public relations-activist group AVAAZ has consistently outstripped even the UN. AVAAZ has publicly stated it is involved in “smuggling activists … out of the country”, running “secret safe houses to shelter … top activists from regime thugs” and that one “AVAAZ citizen journalist” “discover[ed] a mass grave”.

It states proudly that the BBC and CNN have said that AVAAZ data amounts to some 30 per cent of their news coverage of Syria. The Guardian reported AVAAZ’s latest claim to have “evidence” of killings of some 6,200 people (including security forces and including 400 children), claiming 617 of whom died under torture – their justification to have verified each single death with confirmation by three people, “including a relative and a cleric who handled the body” is improbable in the extreme.

The killing of one brigadier-general and his children in April last year in Homs illustrates how near impossible it is, particularly during sectarian conflict, to verify even one killing – in this case, a man and his children:

The general, believed to be Abdu Tallawi, was killed with his children and nephew while passing through an agitated neighborhood. There are two accounts of what happened to him and his family, and they differ about the victim’s sect.

Regime loyalists say that he was killed by takfiris – hardline Islamists who accuse other Muslims of apostasy – because he belonged to the Alawite sect. The protesters insist that he is a member of the Tallawi family from Homs and that he was killed by security forces to accuse the opposition and destroy their reputation. Some even claim that he was shot because he refused to fire at protesters.

The third account is ignored due to the extreme polarization of opinions in the city [Homs]. The brigadier-general was killed because he was in a military vehicle, even though he had his kids with him. Whoever killed him was not concerned with his sect but with directing a blow to the regime, thus provoking an even harsher crackdown, which, in turn, would drag the protest movement into a cycle of violence with the state.

Editors' Addendum (The Syrian Exiles):

 Ammar Abdulhamid (born 1966)
  • Currently lives in Washington D.C.
  • Formerly a Visiting Fellow at the Saban Center for Near East Policy at the Brookings Institution, 2004-2006
  • Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Co-founder, Tharwa Foundation
  • Co-founder, DarEmar
  • Co-founder, Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) 

Ausama Monajed (Born 1980)
  • Currently lives in London (UK)
  • Member, Syrian National Council (advisor to the Secretary General)
  • Founder and Director of UK-based opposition TV channel, Barada Television
  • Executive Board member of Movement for Justice and Development
  • Economist and Project Manager for the European Commission and the United Nations Development Program
  • Executive Director of London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre

Anas al-Abdeh (born 1967)
  • Currently lives in London (UK)
  • Founder of the Movement for Justice and Development
  • Member of "The Damascus Declaration"

Malik al-Abdeh 
  • Co-founder of the Movement for Justice and Development
  • Founder and director of Barada Television, a London-based satellite network
Najib Ghadbian (born 1962)
  • Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas
  • Founding member, Democratic Network in the Arab World
  • Author of Democratization and the Islamists Challenge in the Arab World (English 1997 & Arabic 2002) 
  • Author of The Second Asad Regime: Bashar of Lost Opportunities (2006)
  • Founding member of the Syrian Salvation Front (London, UK)

Radwan Ziadeh (born 1976)
  • Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) at Elliot School for International Affairs, George Washington University 
  • Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)
  • Director of foreign relations office for the Syrian National Council (SNC)
  • Formerly a Visiting Scholar at Dubai Initiative at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Former Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
  • Former Visiting Fellow at Chatham House (The Royal Institute for International Affairs)
  • Former Visiting Scholar at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University
  • Founder of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria
  • Co-founder and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Washington D.C.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Project Syria: The Science of Regime Change is Real (2006)

Syria in Bush's Cross Hairs
By Adam Zagorin
Originally published in TIME Magazine
December 19, 2006
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics

The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is "supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists" in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that "these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists."

The document says that Syria's legislative elections, scheduled for March 2007, "provide a potentially galvanizing issue for... critics of the Assad regime." To capitalize on that opportunity, the document proposes a secret "election monitoring" scheme, in which "internet accessible materials will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria] and neighboring countries." The proposal also calls for surreptitiously giving money to at least one Syrian politician who, according to the document, intends to run in the election. The effort would also include "voter education campaigns" and public opinion polling, with the first poll "tentatively scheduled in early 2007."

American officials say the U.S. government has had extensive contacts with a range of anti-Assad groups in Washington, Europe and inside Syria. To give momentum to that opposition, the U.S. is giving serious consideration to the election-monitoring scheme proposed in the document, according to several officials. The proposal has not yet been approved, in part because of questions over whether the Syrian elections will be delayed or even canceled. But one U.S. official familiar with the proposal said: "You are forced to wonder whether we are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government."

Responsibility to Protect: often sending a message that resonates with an English-speaking audience...
Some critics in Congress and the Administration say that such a plan, meant to secretly influence a foreign government, should be legally deemed a "covert action," which by law would then require that the White House inform the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill. Some in Congress would undoubtedly raise objections to this secret use of publicly appropriated funds to promote democracy.

Abdul Halim Khaddam
The proposal says part of the effort would be run through a foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF). The Front includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, but now says it seeks peaceful, democratic reform. (In Syria, however, membership in the Brotherhood is still punishable by death.) Another member of the NSF is Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former high-ranking Syrian official and Assad family loyalist who recently went into exile after a political clash with the regime. Representatives of the National Salvation Front, including Abdulhamid, were accorded at least two meetings earlier this year at the White House, which described the sessions as exploratory. Since then, the National Salvation Front has said it intends to open an office in Washington in the near future.

Here is Syrian exile Ammar Abdulhamid (L), just yesterday sitting next to noted humanitarian, former U.S. President George W. Bush.  Abdulhamid is co-founder of the Tharwa Foundation, and has for years been at the center of U.S.-funded regime change efforts against the Syrian government.
"Democracy promotion" has been a focus of both Democratic and Republican administrations, but the Bush White House has been a particular booster since 9/11. Iran contra figure Elliott Abrams was put in charge of the effort at the National Security Council. Until recently, Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the Vice President, oversaw such work at the State Department. In the past, the U.S. has used support for "democracy building" to topple unfriendly dictators, including Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Ukraine's Vladimir Kuchma.

In 2001, the Bush Administration appointed Elliot Abrams to be its "Global Democracy Czar."  This was a fitting position for a zionist, neo-conservative tool, a convicted felon, and a signatory of the infamous PNAC "Statement of Principles."  Fitting because these qualities are exactly what US-sponsored "democracy promotion" is (and has always been) about.  

Dick Cheney loves Arabs.  Dick Cheney loves "democracy!"  So, too, does his daughter Elizabeth.  This is perhaps why Elizabeth was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in 2002, where she administered the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), purportedly designed to bring Western-style democracy to the Arab world.  Furthermore, she also co-chaired the Bush administration's senior level Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group (ISOG) with Elliot Abrams.  According to Wikipedia "the secretive group met weekly for about a order to encourage regime change."
However, in order to make the "election monitoring" plan for Syria effective, the proposal makes clear that the U.S. effort will have to be concealed: "Any information regarding funding for domestic [Syrian] politicians for elections monitoring would have to be protected from public dissemination," the document says. But American experts on "democracy promotion" consulted by TIME say it would be unwise to give financial support to a specific candidate in the election, because of the perceived conflict of interest. More ominously, an official familiar with the document explained that secrecy is necessary in part because Syria's government might retaliate against anyone inside the country who was seen as supporting the U.S.-backed election effort. The official added that because the Syrian government fields a broad network of internal spies, it would almost certainly find out about the U.S. effort, if it hasn't already. That could lead to the imprisonment of still more opposition figures.

Any American-orchestrated attempt to conduct such an election-monitoring effort could make a dialogue between Washington and Damascus — as proposed by the Iraq Study Group and several U.S. allies — difficult or impossible. The entire proposal could also be a waste of effort; Edward P. Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who worked on the Iraq Study Group report, says that Syria's opposition is so fractured and weak that there is little to be gained by such a venture. "To fund opposition parties on the margins is a distraction at best," he told TIME. "It will only impede the better option of engaging Syria on much more important, fundamental issues like Iraq, peace with Israel, and the dangerous situation in Lebanon."

Others detect another goal for the proposed policy. "Ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which Syria opposed, the Bush Administration has been looking for ways to squeeze the government in Damascus," notes Joshua Landis, a Syria expert who is co-director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "Syria has appeared to be next on the Administration's agenda to reform the greater Middle East." Landis adds: "This is apparently an effort to gin up the Syrian opposition under the rubric of 'democracy promotion' and 'election monitoring,' but it's really just an attempt to pressure the Syrian government" into doing what the U.S. wants. That would include blocking Syria's border with Iraq so insurgents do not cross into Iraq to kill U.S. troops; ending funding of Hizballah and interference in Lebanese politics; and cooperating with the U.N. in the investigation of the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Senior Syrian government officials are considered prime suspects in Hariri case.

Money for the election-monitoring proposal would be channeled through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. According to MEPI's website, the program passes out funds ranging between $100,000 and $1 million to promote education and women's empowerment, as well as economic and political reform, part of a total allocation of $5 million for Syria that Congress supported earlier this year.

MEPI helps funnel millions of dollars every year to groups around the Middle East intent on promoting reforms. In the vast majority of cases, beneficiaries are publicly identified, as financial support is distributed through channels including the National Democratic Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the Democratic Party, and the International Republican Institute (IRI), which is linked to the G.O.P. In the Syrian case, the election-monitoring proposal identifies IRI as a "partner" — although the IRI website, replete with information about its democracy promotion elsewhere in the world, does not mention Syria. A spokesperson for IRI had no comment on what the organization might have planned or under way in Syria, describing the subject as "sensitive."

2012: TIME Magazine covers are usually a good place to detect which secret and expensive  government programs have come to fruition. The images above demonstrate, in part, how the money was spent and why. Looking at these heart-rendering images, it is easy to forget that Western power-brokers decided long ago that Assad must go.
U.S. foreign policy experts familiar with the proposal say it was developed by a "democracy and public diplomacy" working group that meets weekly at the State department to discuss Iran and Syria. Along with related working groups, it prepares proposals for the higher-level Iran Syria Operations Group, or ISOG, an inter-agency body that, several officials said, has had input from Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, deputy National Security Council advisor Elliott Abrams and representatives from the Pentagon, Treasury and U.S. intelligence. The State Department's deputy spokesman, Thomas Casey, said the election-monitoring proposal had already been through several classified drafts, but that "the basic concept is very much still valid."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Internews: "These Morons Don't Even Know We Exist" (2005)

Editors' Introduction: In his revealing 2006 study on the role of the media and Western funding during Georgia's Rose Revolution, Harvard scholar David Anable wrote:

In the months and years that lead up to Milosevic's defeat in the election of October 2000, Serbia's media was a complex mix of independent newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and an array of outlets that had been co-opted by the regime...But B-92's Veran Matic set up a regional broadcast, print and news agency network, ANEM, which continued to provide critical coverage of the regime, as well as encouragement for those who opposed it.  ANEM and other independent media were the recipients of substantial Western--U.S., European, and Scandinavian--development assistance.  In 1999, the year before Milosevic was ousted, the U.S. spent more than $1 per Serb on media assistance programs, for a population of roughly 10 million.  And this was matched by significant European funding.
B-92 itself was kept alive, with Western support, on the Internet.  When silenced at home, it fed its news back into Serbia via rebroadcasts on Voice of America and the BBC...

This issue of Western support of media in pursuit of "regime change" was taken up more recently by Shadi Hamid in his Brookings Institution 2011 report, The Struggle for Middle East Democracy.  He wrote:
Rustavi-2 logo
"During the Colored Revolutions, the West...[offered] critical support not just for change but regime change. In both the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the trigger was stolen elections. Independent media played a key role in publicizing the fraud. The founder of Rustavi–2, one of Georgia’s most watched channels and the voice of the opposition, had set up the station with the assistance of a USAID-funded nonprofit called Internews. On November 2, 2003, the day of the contested polls, and during the vote count, Rustavi–2 ran a scroll on the screen comparing the official results to the parallel vote count and exit polling, which was funded in part by Western governments and NGOs. 

David Anable's 2005 report was more explicit:
Rustavi-2 was founded in 1994 in the town of Rustavi, not far from Tblisi...It's main founder, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, with help and advice from the U.S. media assistance nonprofit Internews, set the station on a course of professionalism and independence...

...Internews not only provided Rustavi-2 with training and guidance but also mobilized local and international support to fend off attempts to close it down.

In the ten days before the November 2 [2003] parliamentary election, the station broadcast several times the documentary "Bringing Down a Dictator."  Made by director/producer Steve York, it portrays in detail how the Serbs had carried out their nonviolent revolution against Slobodan Milosevic...


The documentary's lessons did indeed sink in.  "Most important was the film," Ivane Merabishvili. general secretary of the National Movement party that led the revolt, told the Washington Post.  "All the demonstrators knew the tactics of the revolution in Belgrade by heart because they showed...the film on their revolution.  Everyone knew what to do.  This was a copy of that revolution, only louder."

In "The Causes of the Rose Revolution," Cory Welt, a fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., refers to Rustavi-2 embracing "an activist platform" during the November 2003 election crisis, and "openly siding with the opposition and encouraging public involvement in protests."

Former U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, says Rustavi-2 was, "almost over the top in trying to promote Shevardnadze's overthrow."  The TV station was "important" in the revolution, and certainly played a "role in the opposition's ability to keep people's attention on what was going on and in keeping people on the streets" despite the bad November weather.  "In that sense, it was instrumental," he concludes.

Internews 2011 Egypt PDF
Unsurprisingly, a detailed study of the history of Western "democracy promotion" reveals a massive, multi-faceted, well-funded organizational infrastructure that has had as its main purpose to wage ideological and cultural warfare against indigenous power structures in countries that have been targeted for "regime change."

Unfortunately, few critical researchers have yet opted to delve into this area of research.  As such, critical treatment of even general features of this topic has been shallow, monopolized entirely by sycophantic journalists, official regime change practitioners, and those self-interested organizations that finance and support their activities.

Internews 2011 Russia PDF
To underline our point, consider the case of Internews.  Since its founding in 1982, Internews has operated in dozens of countries around the world (including almost all of the political hot spots), wielding an annual budget in the tens of millions of dollars, providing crucial technical and material support toward the building of oppositional media culture in many countries that have boasted (or aim to boast) "regime change" successes.  So far as their historic role in "regime change," one can find evidence of Internews on the ground providing a tactical and strategic function in the months and years before a "regime change" operation has gone live; and for years afterward, playing a leading role in the building of the newly established media environment, helping cement a new political and commercial status quo.  And yet, despite this overwhelming power and presence, outside of think tank documents, financial disclosures and governmental reports, Internews is virtually invisible to researchers, it simply does not exist.

The following article, published in 2005, was one journalist's attempt to raise questions pertaining to this little-known international media outfit.  As the author himself concludes, plenty more work needs to be done.        


What is Internews?
By Jeremy Baker aka Darkprints
Originally published on his blog
May 2005
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics

Internews is a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) based in the tiny, remote northern California coastal community of Arcata, its “world headquarters.” Their mission—to “foster independent media in emerging democracies, produce innovative television and radio programming and internet content, and use the media to reduce conflict within and between countries”—is made possible with a yearly budget of $20 million, money Internews has used to set up outposts in 46 countries around the world. But even a cursory examination of their website (and a brief glance at their books) paints a different, somewhat less altruistic picture.

Few would argue that, of all the products and services that the United States exports, a U.S. based entity aggressively promoting the advance of western-style media network building (TV, radio and internet) into politically hot areas of the world (the Mideast, South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia) is, at the outset, a suspicious sounding phenomenon fraught with conflict of interest issues and the potential for abuse. The possibility that opportunists might commandeer such an organization to exploit foreign airwaves for propaganda purposes—not to mention vast profit—is, understandably, a very relevant concern.

So it makes sense to begin the Internews story on the money trail. The $20 million Internews annual budget is in part supplied by some of the most familiar names in philanthropy: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Kellogg Foundation, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and almost a hundred other agencies, funds, businesses, even foreign governments, all listed on the Internews donors page on their website []. Corporate funding includes a who’s who of western big media concerns like AOL/TimeWarner, GE, Microsoft, even Dow Jones and Company. Many of these corporations have, at one point or another, written one-time checks for various projects that may have been completed years ago. But these donors combined yield only about 20% of the total Internews budget. This “non-governmental organization” goes straight to the U. S. State Department for the other 80% (plus) of its working capitol.

Most of this State Department money is funneled through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), a foreign “aid” agency infamous for its CIA ties. “The only thing developed by [USAID] was U.S. corporate control…” says David Ross, an Arcata writer and talk radio host: “AID worked hand in glove with the [CIA] to subvert national movements for democracy.” Under the aegis of USAID was the Department of Public Safety that “trained hundreds of thousands of military, police and paramilitary soldiers in over 17 countries in Latin America.” According to Penny Lernoux in her book “Cry of the People,” the USAID Public Safety Program “encouraged the use of torture and assassination by Latin American police and paramilitary organizations.”

John Joyce Gilligan
“Many [USAID] field offices were infiltrated from top to bottom with CIA people” adds a former director of USAID, John Gilligan. George Soros has taken an interest in Internews as well. According to Covert Action Quarterly, Soros funded NGOs train legions of “influence agents” and sends them to targeted regions to “philosophically smooth the inroads for Western multinational corporations.”[my emphasis]

“Millions of dollars of AID money was used to subvert elections in Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile and recently in Yugoslavia…” adds Ross; chilling confirmation of what was told to me by a source who claims that “Internews has a virtual stranglehold on media in Afghanistan… if it wasn’t for [Internews] stations blasting out pro-Karzai election propaganda the man would [not have been able to] avoid a runoff against a stronger candidate.” This same source also made the following stunning statement: “…the head of Karzai’s Presidential office was paid his monthly salary directly by Internews,” a man who is now the Afghani ambassador to the U.S.

But Internews’ “non-profit” status is equally suspect. Listen to this from a 1995 Wired magazine article: “The IBS (Independant Broadcasting System), a prized project of Internews [Russia]…that’s linked 120 independent stations…[is] taking a 180 degree turn to make a profit…attracting heavyweight advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson, Revlon, Cadbury, Schweppes and Proctor and Gamble…this anomalous collection of idealists are exploiting every angle it can find to steer the course of TV in Russia.”

Internews trainers teaching Russians how to make TV ads has raised more eyebrows than mine. The same Wired article put it best; “…many might look at [Internews president and co-founder David] Hoffman’s history of absconding with U.S. public monies to infiltrate Russia’s airwaves and to establish mega-advertising nodes among millions of new consumers as suspicious and ethically complex.” More than one journalist has commented on Internews’ “secretive, incognito status,” hardly the demeanor you’d expect from a philanthropic outfit on such a noble mission—particularly one touting media ethics. In all the years that I lived in Arcata, I rarely heard a word about Internews. I’ve spent years on the web researching political and media related issues and have never stumbled upon a single word about Internews. Only a tiny fraction of the media professionals I’ve approached on the subject have heard of them either, an odd thing considering the fact that Internews is apparently a major player in the establishment of global media policy.

Internews co-founder, David Hoffman
I asked Internews’ VP for communications about their claim that its president, David Hoffman, had “written widely” on issues involving “media and democracy, the internet and the importance of supporting pluralistic media around the world.” I asked because I’d found little evidence of this, and no wonder. Hoffman had, in fact, only written a handful of op-eds and one article appearing in, of all places, Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, the governments foreign policy think tank.

I also asked her about another claim made in Hoffman’s Internews bio—that he had “completed doctoral work in the Social and Intellectual History of the US at the University of Colorado.” But no. According to this official Internews spokeswoman, he hadn’t actually completed his doctorate after all. Repeated phone inquiries to the registrar’s office at UC confirmed that Hoffman had apparently been enrolled in the doctoral program but had in fact not completed his doctorate.

The Wired magazine article quoted above also included this; “Few former peaceniks carry the clout and budget Hoffman now commands, and probably even fewer would take up the government banner as avidly.”[my emphasis] And how many former peaceniks, anti-nukers and union organizers would boast of this: “I even [organized a union] at [the top secret] Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The first union of nuclear weapons scientists.”[my emphasis]

David Hoffman (L) with former President Ronald Reagan

As strange as these words may sound coming from a peacenik anti-nuker, Hoffman also apparently believes that: “Conservatives are right on some things…I’ve become much more of a hawk.” Apparently his peacenik days are over. In response to questions about Internews’ dependence on government monies, he responds, “I don’t get much pressure.” Why would he? Hoffman’s and the State Department’s rhetoric seem one and the same. And when Andrew Meier, the journalist from Wired magazine flew to Arcata and first sat down with Internews’ enigmatic President, Hoffman apparently began the interview by saying “I hate that word—peace.”

“It seemed an odd opener” said Meier, author of “The Russian Media Revolution.” According to Meier, Hoffman was apparently referring to the media bigwigs from whom he solicits funding. They are the ones who really hate the word. But he didn’t say that they hate the word peace; he said that he hates the word peace. The best you can say about this offensive statement is that it was a shockingly careless and irresponsible thing for the president of an aid agency to blurt out in an interview, on the record. If it was meant as a joke, it was a bad one. It’s like the president of the NAACP stating publicly that he’s uncomfortable around black people.

Propaganda issues mount as we see the State Department’s history of decidedly pro-Israel conduct expressed in the rhetoric and behavior of this overwhelmingly government funded “NGO.” In addition to Hoffman’s predilection for scolding Arabs for inflammatory hate-speech, listen to this baffling statement included in another of Hoffman’s op-eds: “The State Department has been complicit in turning a blind eye to racist, anti-semitic propaganda that regularly flows over government run media in [Arabic] countries.” Does this sound right to you? When has the State Department ever turned a blind eye to Muslim effrontery? Typically it’s been Israel’s propaganda and bigotry that this government has turned a blind eye to while Muslim shortcomings rarely go uncensored. Hoffman’s rhetoric seems to violate the impartiality you’d expect to see in a man at the helm of a philanthropic group expounding “free and open” media abroad.

Covert operations not infrequently make use of shell organizations that effectively conceal shady, unscrupulous behavior. Often these store fronts are mysteriously dormant and quiet. Internews’ original “world headquarters” (a small, old house in downtown Arcata) was always shut up tight every time I walked by on my daily walks through town. The mini-blinds and windows (upstairs, downstairs, front, sides and rear) were always, without exception, completely drawn and shut, no one going in or out, ever. I walked by that house literally hundreds of times over the years, at all times of the day, and it was always the same—total lockdown, complete inactivity, every single time.

Arcata, California: little-known international media powerhouse (and asset of the U.S. foreign policy complex) for years wielded its multi-million dollar budget from this tiny house?? 

A covert operation masquerading as an aid agency might also showcase various accomplishments in order to legitimize its image; the “good work” they do is an essential ingredient in the deception. In this light, whatever accomplishments Internews can boast, they unfortunately exist side by side with a host of alarming revelations. If indeed Internews is serving as a Trojan Horse for various propagandists and multi-nationals bent on the “Americanization” of the planet, not to mention profits in the many hundreds of billions of dollars from programming and advertisements, would these “idealists” blink at the cost of, for example, broadcasting the trials of Rwandans accused of genocide or springing the occasional dissident from jail?

One of the most geopolitically strategic and resource laden regions in the world today is Central Asia. The Caspian Basin countries of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan have long been acknowledged as objectives for American foreign policy—and Internews is, quite literally, obsessed with the “Stans.” Internews workers focus their attentions on four major activities in the areas they have targeted; training, production, media law and internet policy. In many regions they conduct perhaps one or two of these training exercises. But in the “Stans” (all profoundly Muslim states) they are unusually busy and work hard to accomplish all four objectives.

We also see the perennial ‘problem, reaction, solution’ shell-game at work in these regions. If a government reaches out to foreigners to offer help and the aid is honestly proffered, that may be one thing. But if a government aided and abetted the very illnesses that it’s offering to cure, that’s another thing altogether. For years, the U.S. was Saddam Hussein’s most ardent supporter, another in a long line of Washington-subsidized thugs installed by our “democracy” in coveted areas of the planet. But when Saddam’s usefulness had come to an end, we, under the rubric of “regime change,” bravely took him out and added Iraq to our portfolio. In Uzbekistan, the U.S. has supported the dictator, Islam Karimov, for years. Washington has contributed $500 million to the regime and has, despite their abysmal record on human rights (Karimov is infamous for actually boiling dissidents in oil), quietly removed Uzbekistan from the official list of countries that stifle freedom of religion. Of course, this State Department sponsored persecution sets the stage for the work of State Department sponsored Internews, an “NGO” that would like to have us believe is making better use of its Washington money than Uzbekistan’s junta!

“When any political system implodes, frequencies become available” says Evelyn Messinger, one of three co-founders of Internews, in The Nation Magazine. But with all the evidence we have of U.S. complicity in the looting and implosion of the Russian economy after the cold war, are we really to believe that State Department fueled, corporate sponsored, Soros mentored Internews is really riding to the rescue?

Nowhere is the Internews schizophrenia more neatly illustrated than in a Toronto Globe and Mail article entitled “The Dream Merchants.” This upbeat, jingoistic story leads a cheer for U.S. “aid” work in Central Asia and spouts points of view that exemplify the heavy handed encroachment of western culture in these regions. “We pick them up by the scruffs of the neck and show them how to do this stuff…We create them.” “Americans care about this whole democracy thing, far more than the Europeans or Canadians do.” “But today, it is the Americans who buzz importantly around this city [Baku, Azerbaijan]…and they struggle to…import American ideas and implant an American-style democracy in a long hostile land.” You may find this article’s tenor and blind support for anything American a little disturbing. Judge for yourself. You can find it posted on the Internews website (“Articles about Internews.”).

The odd thing is that Internews is only briefly mentioned in the piece , so mustn’t the Internews people have approved of its smug, racist tone, enough to include it on their website? Would you post an article on your website that so distorted your intentions and corroborated your worst critic’s most damning suspicions, just because the author mentioned you in passing—unless, of course, the article didn’t distort your intentions at all but, rather, expressed them all too well?

Is this the home of a small town newspaper like, say, "The Arcata Advertiser"?  No.  This is actually the WORLD HEADQUARTERS for (what appears to be) the largest and most clandestine media operation in the Western hemisphere.  Take a look at the board of directors (listed below) and feel free to ask the obvious question: what the heck are these super-high-powered suits all doing meeting in a ramshackle dump like the one above?!? Yeah we're only guessing....(although we're pretty good at it)....but this looks like a Spook Farm to us!

In 2003, Internews moved to upscale new offices [pictured above] next to the Post Office in rural, downtown Arcata. Once, during a brief visit, I couldn’t help but notice that, at a time when most social programs have their backs against the wall financially, Internews seems oddly well endowed. One of the few things I ever heard from anyone locally about Internews was from a friend who did some bookkeeping for them. He mentioned to me one day: “you know, they’re all republicans.” To whatever extent this may be true, they certainly do seem to have blossomed since the Bush administration took charge, a presidency that’s not exactly known for its magnanimous foreign policy and media openness. Given this administration’s “secretive, incognito” status and renowned attempts to control and manipulate the news media, Internews’ recent unthwarted ascension and overwhelming State Department funding become increasingly at issue.

The question begs itself: Why did Internews choose tiny, remote Arcata California for its “world headquarters”? (I once called their Washington D.C. offices with some questions, but they told me I had to call Arcata!) Well, besides the obvious point that a secretive organization might want to hide out, safely cloistered behind the “redwood curtain,” consider this: if one was to shine some light on this enigmatic outfit (as I attempted to do with my original article Internews: Friend or Foe, published in a small local weekly) how would one go about it? My story, followed two weeks later with an eloquent piece by David Ross (who echoed my concerns and elaborated on the history of USAID’s ties to the CIA), generated almost no feedback of any kind. Rural areas often have few if any influential newspapers or magazines.

But certainly setting up shop in a nationally recognized liberal oasis like Arcata, California—home of the anti-patriot act resolution, the recommendation to impeach the president and the recent “safe haven” measure for Iraqi war resistors—does much to enhance Internews’ radical, do-gooder facade and, of course, enhance its “cover.”

Internews may very well technically meet the requirements needed to legitimize its “non-profit” status, but what does that matter if they are in fact covertly operating as an agent for various billion dollar multi-nationals? Wouldn’t an activist outfit committed to media reform find no better place to focus his or her attentions than right here at home in the U.S., a culture that has raised news media manipulation to a high art? Certainly the overwhelming support this “NGO” receives from the State Department must confuse foreign trainees when Internews workers advise them about the necessity of working independently from governmental influence.

As revealed by the images above (published in Internews' report from MAY-JUNE, 2011) Internews started building alternative (oppositional) communications infrastructure IMMEDIATELY after NATO-backed rebel forces took control of eastern Libya, only two short months after the rebellion even began.  It follows that Internews' role in Libya was PROACTIVE...not REACTIVE...   
Do you remember Bush’s pre-Iraq invasion speech to the UN in which he warned us about the dangers of “outrageous conspiracy theories” in relation to 9/11? To many, it seemed like an odd, out-of-the-blue kind of remark. But listen to this from David Hoffman in a “Letter from the President [of Internews]:” “Terrorism and war feed on propaganda, conspiracy theories and messages of hate.” Terrorism and war feed on conspiracy theories? This is the first I’ve heard of this obscure phenomenon. This pre-emptive strike on those of us who are asking the pesky questions creates more doubt than it dispels and makes me want to keep these “free speechers” under the microscope all the more.

Certainly Internews requires continued scrutiny, not blind trust.

Editors' Addendum: So who's behind this outfit?

Internews Officers:

Jeanne Bourgault Corporate Secretary/President
  • Former strategic advisor for media development programs in post-war Kosovo
  • Former manager of USAID "democracy assistance" portfolio in Moscow
  • Former consultant for Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Research Triangle Institute, the United Nations' Centre for Human Rights 

David Creekmore Treasurer/Chief Operating Officer
  • Former Chief Financial Officer, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Former consultant/director of IT implementation and strategy at the Council on Foreign Relations and Citizen Exchange Council

David Hoffman Co-founder/Chief Executive Officer/Board Member
  • Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Global Forum for Media Development
  • Organized first union of nuclear weapons scientists, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory

Internews Board of Directors: 

Chris Boskin
  • Currently on the Board of Directors for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Former advertising director and publisher for Countryside
  • San Francisco, Pacific Northwest, and Asia Manager for Hearst Magazines
  • Pacific and Asia manager for New Yorker Magazine

Simone Otus Coxe
  • Currently on the Board of Directors for the World Affairs Council
  • Former CEO (and co-founder) of Blanc & Otis, a public relations firm (since acquired by Hill and Knowlton)

Kathy Bushkin Calvin
  • Currently the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation
  • Former President of the AOL Time Warner Foundation
  • Former Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer of America Online
  • Former Senior Managing Director at Hill and Knowlton
  • Former Director of Editorial Administration for U.S. News and World Report
  • Former press secretary for Senator Gary Hart's 1984 Presidential campaign

Douglas Carlston
  • Currently the Chief Executive Officer (and co-founder) of Tawala Systems
  • Current member of the Board of Directors of Salzburg Global Seminar, the Albanian American Enterprise Fund, the Ploughshares Fund, MoveOn PAC, and others.
  • Member of the Board of Advisors of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Former member of the Board of Directors of the American Bank of Albania

Greg Carr
  • Currently the Director of the Carr Foundation
  • Co-founder (with Samantha Power) of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University

Lorne Craner
  • Currently the President of the International Republican Institute (IRI)
  • Current member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Formerly the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for the United States Department of State (under Colin Powell)
  • Former Director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (under Brent Scowcroft)
  • Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs

Larry Irving
  • Currently the President of The Irving Group
  • Former Vice President for Global Government Affairs at Hewlett-Packard Company
  • Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information (under President Clinton)

Jillian Manus
  • Currently the President of Manus Media and Literary Agency
  • Former director of development at Warner Brothers and Universal Studios
  • Served for seven years as Chair for The Women's Conference (under Maria Shriver)
  • Married to Alan E. Salzman, founding partner of VantagePoint Venture Partners

Maureen Orth
  • Currently a Journalist, Author and Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair
  •  Former Senior Editor for New York Magazine
  • Former writer for Newsweek and New York Woman
  • Former NBC-TV Correspondent

James H. Rosenfield, Sr.
  • Currently the President JHR and Associates
  • Formerly President of CBS Television Network
  • Former Chairman and CEO of John Blair Communications
  • Currently a Board member of the Advertising Council
  • Past President of International Radio and Television Society (IRTS)

Sanford Socolow
  • Currently the Vice Chair and Executive Producer of Cronkite Productions, Inc.
  • Founding executive producer of "World Monitor," a production of the Christian Science Monitor
  • Former executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite
  • Former executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather
  • Former CBS London Bureau Chief and supervisor of news gathering activities in Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Soviet Union
  • Former producer for CBS "60 Minutes"

Cristiana Falcone Sorrell
  • Currently the Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the World Economic Forum USA Inc.
  • Strategy and business development for global corporations (SONY, Shell), international organizations (ILO, IFAD, FAO, UNDCCP), and media (RAI, Gruppo Espresso)

John Walsh
  • Currently the Executive VP and the Executive Director of ESPN, Inc. 
  • Founding editor of Inside Sports magazine
  • Former managing editor of U.S. News and World Report
  • Former managing editor of Rolling Stone magazine
  • At ESPN, Walsh oversaw the founding of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Radio