America Under Siege: Soviet Islam

Published on Apr 28, 2017 by Capital Research Center

The war against terror begins at the Kremlin.

With President Trump executing missile strikes in Syria and radical Islamic terrorism being as big a threat as it ever has been, we need to understand how these oppressive regimes and extremist ideologies got started and empowered. Working with Dangerous Documentaries, director Judd Saul and conservative commentator have compiled a team of researchers who have uncovered the history of the Soviet Union’s meddling in Middle Eastern politics, creating a new enemy for the United States, and learned that Russia’s continuing alliance with Islamists is forwarding a radical domestic threat in America today.

“Soviet Islam” is the second episode in the five-part “America Under Siege” documentary web-series releasing over the course of 2017. Each episode profiles the influence of radical Marxists on various segments of American society.

Putin Applies MH17 False-Flag Template To Syria’s Gas Attack To Convince Russian Public

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East where the ongoing conflict in Syria was discussed on April 12, 2017 in New York City. It is expected that the Security Council will vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Forbes, by Paul Roderick Gregory, April 13, 2017:

It should be a piece of cake for the Kremlin to convince the Russian people that the massacre of civilians by sarin gas in Idlibe, Syria was a false-flag operation undertaken to discredit Putin and his client, Bashar al-Assad. The rest of the world will believe the findings of international investigators that Syrian jets dropped bombs on the Syrian town, killing some 80 men, women and children with chemical poison gas. Putin’s job, however, is not to convince the world– but the Russian people — that client Assad is a victim of a vast conspiracy mounted by a combination of agents from the U.S., ISIS, Turkey and hostile Sunni states.

The Kremlin has already demonstrated its ability to convince the Russian people that an open-and-shut case, backed by an air-tight international investigation, was in fact a sinister U.S., CIA, NATO, Ukrainian false-flag operation to blame the Kremlin for the murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines 17 flight over occupied Donetsk territory on July 17, 2014. This Syrian business should be easy to defuse compared to MH17.

Consider the MH17 evidence: Minutes after MH17 was downed, the rebel commander boasted on social media that his missiles had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. Insurgents on the crash scene reported with shock that it was a civilian plane. Phone intercepts captured communications as the missile crew was directed to the field from which it fired the missile. Social media posted pictures of the missile system fleeing back into Russia. Forensic evidence proved that the plane was downed by a missile (and not a trailing Ukrainian jet).

Within hours of MH17, the Kremlin mounted an incessant campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence. The Russian military staged a press conference with photoshopped images, false radar readings, reports of a Ukrainian pilot admitting he had shot down the plane, and fables that MH17 was loaded with dead bodies or that the attack was an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin. As Russian denials mounted, the Dutch-based international investigations team appealed to the UN to create an international MH17 criminal tribunal to charge those Russians and rebels responsible for crimes against humanity. Russia vetoed the proposal in the Security Council, thereby indirectly admitting its guilt.

Russia’s campaign to deny the obvious paid off. Per the latest opinion poll, only 5% of Russians blame Russia and its separatist allies for MH17. Half believe MH17 was downed by Ukrainian forces, and 14% say it was Western special services. On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile and 84% hold Russia directly or indirectly responsible.

Fast forward to the Syrian gas attack: Within hours, Putin’s press secretary floated the false-flag theory (backed by the Russian defense ministry) that the Syrian air force unwittingly exploded a local chemical weapons depot as it dropped conventional bombs. The chemical weapons, per the Russian spokesman, had been brought into Idlibe from Iraq. The Assad government took up this line of argument stating the poison gas was released after its military planes dropped conventional bombs on a local terrorist arms depot, which happened to contain chemical weapons.

An investigation of these competing claims could be conducted rather quickly. A storage facility full of sarin gas could presumably be identified and detected by technical experts, and the facility would have to be in a crater caused by a Syrian bomb. If there is no evidence of a local chemical weapons storage depot, then the Russian-Syrian false flag story falls apart. Although Syria has offered international inspectors access to its Shayrat air force base, presumably they have had time to remove traces of poison gas.

Despite this simple procedure for assigning responsibility, Putin will clearly be able to convince his people that his client is being framed and that Russia is not backing a monster. Putin can cite the support of the “Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD” crowd, who argue that President Trump acted too hastily without adequate evidence. “Manchurian candidate Trump” adherents will argue that the bombing was a diversion arranged between soul mates Trump and Putin to divert attention from their conspiracies. Putin will even find allies among U.S. isolationists upset by Trump’s intervention in a foreign war.

The Kremlin had to fight the entire international community in convincing the Russian people that Russia was blameless in the shooting down of MH17. In the case of the Idlibe chemical weapons attack, Putin has a formidable army of Western skeptics on his side. Few understand that in such cases Putin’s primary objective is to keep the Russian people on his side. If he can convince the international community, so much the better. With anti-Trump supporters the world over potentially on his side, Putin has a chance of winning not only Russian minds but Western minds as well.

In their April 12 meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States agreed to a UN investigation of the Idlibe bombing. Russia will pressure its allies into a long and inconclusive exercise and will ignore results that point to blame of the Assad regime.

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Also see:

How to Oust Assad (If We Decide To)

Family Security Matters, by N. M. GUARIGLIA, April 12, 2017:

It would require cooperation from Russia.

Sean Davis, a co-founder of The Federalist, has written a very timely piece outlining the top fourteen questions America must ask itself should President Trump eventually expand on last week’s airstrikes and decide to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.  As Davis states: “We owe it to the American men and women whose blood was shed in Iraq, and their families, to not repeat the same mistakes we made there in Syria.  We owe it to the men and women who would be deployed overseas to have a clear understanding of our political goals in Syria, what military resources will be required to achieve them, and what risks we face, both militarily and politically, as a result of approving military action to remove Assad.”

Indeed.  Therefore, allow me to humbly address these concerns one by one.

Question 1: “What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?”

Answer: This presumes military power is necessary to depose Assad; a presumption America should not automatically make.  American foreign policy history is littered with examples of nonviolent regime change (the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes among the most prominent).  Regime change can be done through political means, not just military means.  In fact, nonviolent regime change can avoid a war.

As for our national security interest, the answer is straightforward: with the death of Saddam Hussein over a decade ago, Bashar al-Assad is among a handful of living men – perhaps the only living man – to have crossed the calamitous threshold of having used a weapon of mass destruction.  And he has done so multiple times.  Removing Assad from power would deny his ability to do so again.  It is not out of the realm of imagination for Syrian intelligence operatives – or terrorists employed by Syria – to release sarin gas in crowded American cities.  In short, those Syrian children we have seen grasping for air on television could very easily be American children.

The Assad dynasty has been an enemy of America for decades.  Assad remains one of the world’s leading state sponsors of jihadist terrorism.  Should Assad fall, the world’s primary state sponsor of jihadist terrorism, Iran, would lose its chief ally.  Terrorist groups like Hezbollah would lose their principle supporter.  A regime responsible for murdering hundreds of American soldiers and Marines would be brought to justice (if you consider this hyperbole, research the role that the “Syrian ratlines” played in Anbar Province during Gulf War II).

Assad is a genocidal monster and his longtime hostility toward the West should not be taken lightly simply because he is currently engaged in a turf war with ISIS. 

Question 2: “How will deposing Assad make America safer?”

Answer: This is similar to the first question and therefore contains the same answers.  If Assad were to vanish tomorrow and be replaced by a non-hostile strongman – someone like General Sisi in Egypt or King Abdullah in Jordan – the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria would be unified.  No longer would a large percentage of Syrian people feel obligated to fight both ISIS and the Syrian government, thereby dividing their efforts.  Instead, the new Syrian leader, if he were adequately benevolent and did not use chemical weapons on the Syrian people, could unite the Syrian military with the anti-ISIS rebels.  Rather than have a three-way regional war with Russia, Iran, and Syria’s leadership in one corner, America and ragtag Syrian rebels in another corner, and ISIS in the third corner, we could instead craft a three-on-one alliance with America, Russia, and Syria’s new leadership uniting together against ISIS, cutting the Iranians out entirely from their traditional sphere of influence along the Mediterranean.  That would expedite the defeat of ISIS and make America safer.  It would kill three strategic birds (Assad, Iran, ISIS) with one tactical stone. 

Question 3: “What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved?  Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?”

Answer: We do not need to turn Syria into a liberal democracy to achieve our political and strategic objectives.  Final political victory in Syria would probably look much like Jordan today; a relatively benign government at peace with its neighbors and within its own borders.  That means no Assad.  That means no ISIS.  Both of those objectives are entirely within our grasp, especially if we work in concert with Russia (or I should say, if Russia works in concert with us).

As for how long it will take: who knows?  As long as America is not taking casualties – and not throwing billions down a bottomless pit with no end in sight – does the length of our “involvement” really matter?  We have provided logistical support to the Jordanians and Egyptians for decades.  Nobody cares.  We have been conducting an air campaign over Yemen and Somalia for years.  Nobody cares.  We may require a similar posture toward Syria in a post-Assad environment.

At this time, it appears President Trump has no interest in using military action to overthrow Assad from power.  Very well.  But if events in Syria lead to that outcome, given the emphasis with which Secretary of Defense Mattis has placed on speed and operational tempo, I suspect any overt U.S. military intervention in Syria would be overwhelming, devastating, and swift – taking days and weeks, not months and years.

Question 4: “What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?”

Answer: This is a great question to which I do not have the answer.  And it certainly must be answered.  It would depend upon how we go about it strategically.  In the event that overt military force is used – even if conventional ground forces were used – there is no reason to believe that would necessitate a years-long military occupation and nation-building effort.  President Trump is famously averse to nation-building (and for good reason).  He wants the U.S. military to be the SWAT team that kicks the door down; not the meter-maid handing out parking tickets.  This is to his credit.

In fact, Trump’s view of how the military should be used has always been the traditional American view.  It has only been since the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II that we decided to tie our hands to long-term reconstruction efforts in all postbellum environments.  Before going into Iraq, Colin Powell famously warned George W. Bush of the Pottery Barn rule: “If you break it, you own it.”  Lame.  I suspect Trump’s view of war is to break things without taking on the contemporary obligation of making them nicer after doing so.  Cheers to that.  Breaking things is fast, easy, and cheap.

Question 5: “How long will it take to achieve political victory?”

Answer: This is similar to Question 3.  Military force and political victory are admittedly two separate concepts.  Syria has been in a state of civil war for the better part of six years.  I believe “political victory” would take less than that.  Much less.  Indeed, militarily speaking, ISIS in Syria already seems to be on the ropes.  Removing Assad from office could take days or weeks.  The final destruction of ISIS may take another six months.  In short, the length of any regime change effort is completely unknowable, and would entirely depend upon the nature of our strategy.  If America and Russia were to work together, I do not see why Assad should last more than a few hours.  Perhaps Putin will eventually offer the Assads an asylum package?

Question 6: “What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?”

Answer: This is a question for the U.S. Congress.  America is a constitutional republic that requires the will of the people to go to war.  Therefore, in order for our national wars to be politically sustainable, they should be won as quickly as possible.  Our strategic and political objectives must be clearly defined and limited enough so that they are obtainable through military operations.  If an American war takes longer than 90 days, results in more than 300 dead Americans, and costs more than 5% of the annual defense budget, we’re probably doing it wrong.

Question 7: “What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?”

Answer: England and France would join.  As would Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others Sunni Arab states fearful of both ISIS and the Iranians.  Israel would join too, of course, although we may want them to sit on the sidelines for geopolitical reasons.

But the real key would be to obtain Russian support.  Russia has upwards of 4,000 troops in Syria, all of whom are currently supporting the Assad regime.  So it seems at the moment almost preposterous to seek Russian support in the removal of Assad, does it not?  However, I believe this is where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – who has known Vladimir Putin for many years – could work his diplomacy.  In fact, the presence of Russia within Syria may even accelerate the speed with which Assad could be overthrown.

For starters, America does not want to inadvertently kill Russian soldiers in Syria.  Such an event could potentially lead to World War III.  Therefore, since neither America nor Russia want nuclear apocalypse, I believe both countries are likely to deepen coordination efforts in Syria so as to avoid unintentional friendly-fire.

Secondly, we should not forget that Russia was supposed to disarm Assad of his chemical weapons in 2013 as a precondition for President Obama not enforcing his feckless “red line.”  Whether intentional or not, Russia clearly did not fully disarm Assad.  The international community has every right to hold Russia to account for such negligence; the mere threat of doing so may force Moscow to cut ties with Assad.  Why should Moscow expend enormous geopolitical capital defending a man they could easily replace?

Of course, enlisting the support of Russia would come at a price.  Putin would likely demand something significant from America in exchange for turning his back on Assad.  The question is: what would that be?  Therein lies the foundation of negotiations that one could reasonably conclude are about to take place.

Question 8: “Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?”

Answer: Many lawyers believe the War Powers Resolution gives President Trump 60 days to conduct military operations before needing congressional authority.  Many lawyers and constitutional experts disagree.  It’s a moot point if we pursue regime change non-militarily in coordination with Russia.

Question 9: “What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?”

Answer: The entire premise of deposing Assad non-militarily is that it should incorporate Russian assistance so as to avoid precisely this risk.

Question 10: “If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?”

Answer: A war with Russia would be TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it).  There would be no political victory.  Those of us that survive the fallout would spend the rest of our days eating squirrels in the woods.  That’s why it likely won’t happen.  A half-century of nuclear deterrence and the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” has proven that the Russians prefer their own existence to the annihilation of America.  We feel the same way.  One must believe that rational minds will yet again prevail before tensions begin to even approach this point.

Question 11: “Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?”

Answer: Assuming U.S. ground forces are used – a bold assumption that I do not believe will come to fruition – we will be faced with the same question we were forced to address prior to invading Iraq in 2003: what do we do if the regime we are overthrowing uses WMD on our troops?  The answer, as far as I can tell, is the same as it was then, and two-fold: protect U.S. ground forces with CBRN Hazmat suits and retaliate against any WMD usage with the wrath of an angry psychotic god.

It is worth recalling the reason Assad does not today have nuclear weapons (by way of North Korean scientists): because the Israelis took aggressive military action on a secret Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

Question 12: “Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?”

Answer: If America and Russia both agree to replace Assad together, then the new leader would be someone that has the backing of both America and Russia.  This person could be found within the existing Syrian polity or from the outside.  So long as the new leader sufficiently breaks with the Iranians and continues to fight ISIS, America’s interests are met.  Once the insurgency is squashed and the civil war has ended, then Syria’s political future would belong to the Syrian people.  The goal must be to find someone that: a) won’t use WMD against innocent people; b) won’t support terrorist organizations; and c) won’t be a stooge of the Iranian government.

Question 13: “Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?” 

Answer: This question presumes Republican losses in 2018 and 2020.  Nevertheless, given his “America First” rhetoric and campaign pledges, I cannot envision a scenario whereby President Trump agrees to a Syria strategy that ties America’s hands for years to come.

Question 14: “What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?”

Answer: The primary lesson from Iraq and Libya is to have a political alternative ready to assume control once we have ousted the regime in question.  It only makes logical sense to pursue regime change in Syria if such a political alternative is identified prior to removing Assad.  This would require enlisting Russian support.

Putin turning his back on Assad might seem improbable.  But it certainly isn’t impossible.  When Trump and Putin put their dalliance aside and get down to truly negotiating about the future of the world, it is not unreasonable for the American side of table to bring up the replacement of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.

Frank Gaffney: ‘If Assad Must Go, What Do We Want There Next?’

Associated Press

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 12, 2017:

Frank Gaffney, Center for Security Policy president, joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Wednesday’sBreitbart News Daily to discuss Gaffney’s warning that things can get worse in Syria.

“The Syria situation is one that is fraught with peril, as I see it, for the United States at this particular moment in time,” Gaffney explained. “Because President Trump seems sorely tempted – and I think that tempting is not simply a function of the usual suspects, people who have been horrified by the humanitarian crisis there, the people there who think that it will be resolved, or at least diminished, by bringing Heaven knows how many refugees from Syria here and the like – but now from his own national security team that we must get involved, we must inject ourselves into the crisis in Syria.”

“I think that’s folly,” he said. “It’s not because I’m indifferent to the suffering of the people there. It’s that I don’t see a good solution for, frankly, either the people of Syria or their neighbors or for us by making America part of this civil war.”

Gaffney said his specific concern is that “the idea that Assad is Hitler or something akin to him and must go, and Russia must help with that, raises, inevitably, the question: so what do we want there next?”

“The choices, unfortunately, seem to be more of the same. At best, it’s an Assad-Lite, supported by the Russians, supported presumably by the Iranians, supported by Hezbollah. Or, alternatively, it’s sharia supremacists of the Sunni stripe supported by the Saudis, supported by the Turks, supported by perhaps al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, or simply the Muslim Brotherhood. All very bad choices, in my judgment,” he said.

Gaffney noted Russia has some concrete interests in Syria, including a warm-water port in the Mediterranean.

“They have had the use of an airfield there as well. It’s been sort of a foothold for most of this period, certainly since ’67,” he said. “That’s been pretty much it for the Russians. They kind of lost their client relationship with the Egyptians. The United States became the dominant power in the Middle East. That base was important, and it remains so today. I think it’s been an incredibly critical vehicle for Putin to re-insert himself, not just into Syria, but into the Middle East more generally during the Obama years. So it’s a big deal, certainly, for the Russians.”

“It’s been the difference between holding on to power, perhaps even re-establishing his claim to much of Syria, and either death at the hands of the mob, as Qaddafi experienced, or exile for Bashar Assad,” he added.

Marlow noted the lack of consistency in comments from various Trump administration sources about Syria, making it difficult to judge if removing Assad from power is an active goal of the United States or how much military involvement with Syria might be on the horizon.

“Putting the best face on it, Alex, as you know, Donald Trump indicated that he was going to be unpredictable to our allies, and most especially to our enemies overseas,” Gaffney replied. “He thought that that was a virtue. And arguably it is, at least in a tactical sense.”

“But what you’re describing is part of what worries me,” he continued. “I’m afraid that in the absence of clarity about what we’re doing, you may well see the president do what he did last week – which is on the basis, it seems as much as anything, of the horrific imagery on television of children being gassed, he decided he was going to depart from what he said repeatedly was going to be his policy and inject himself at least in that very tactical way, in retaliation against the gas attack.”

“Here’s the kicker: the president is perilously close in some of these comments, particularly by some subordinates, to embracing what the Obama administration actually formally embraced, which is the so-called ‘duty to protect’ that is a formula for having the United States essentially become, if not the policeman of the world, the punisher of bad people around the world, without regard for the vital interests of the United States and the other demands on our resources – military and economic and so on,” he said.

“This is a moment for real care to be exercised,” Gaffney advised. “I think, as usual, I find myself much more sympathetic to the views that we’re hearing attributed to Steve Bannon, who seems to be kinda holding back on some of this stuff. But let’s face it, pressure is on from General McMaster, the national security adviser; General Mattis, the secretary of defense, and others – certainly the whole coterie of Obama holdovers who would love to see this president become embroiled in Syria. I think that would be a very serious mistake.”

Marlow asked about rumors that President Trump’s decision to strike the Syrian airbase was influenced by emotional responses to pictures of suffering Syrian children from members of his family.

“It’s not to say that that’s not a perfectly responsible and even humane reaction to the horrors that we’re seeing,” Gaffney said. “It’s just to say, is it consistent with our national interests? I think keeping people from using weapons of mass destruction is consistent with our national interests, and I think that’s sort of the underlying rationale beyond that humanitarian response. But we’ve got to be thinking more strategically.”

“Let me just throw one idea out that I think it’s high time we begin to address,” he offered. “There is in this mix that I mentioned mostly bad actors. There’s a group that has generally been very responsible, very helpful to us and I think a force for good in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. And that’s the Kurds.”

“I think one of the things that, as the administration thinks strategically about what the end state is that they’d like to see, everything ought to be on the table, as they say. One is redrawing the maps to recognize reality. There is no homeland for the ethnic population that is arguably the largest dispossessed people in that part of the world, namely the Kurds,” he elaborated.

“I personally think the President of the United States ought to be thinking about a Kurdistan in at least the parts of Syria – and maybe even Iraq or Iran for that matter – that are Kurdish, that have the opportunity or the basis for being safe havens for minorities that are currently very much at risk and are being helped by the Kurds,” he suggested. “This is a place where some creative thinking is warranted and might actually have a strategic value, whereas just responding willy-nilly to the humanitarian crisis du jour is a formula for squandering resources and lives, probably American ones.”

“If we wind up embracing the Obama and U.N. idea of a ‘responsibility to protect,’ all bets are off on an America First sort of approach, either to national security or to rebuilding on the home front because there is no end of need-to-protect people in all kinds of places,” Gaffney warned.

“I think the president is now being buffeted by individuals who have come in who apparently do not agree with his priority of defeating radical Islamic terrorism, as he calls it, and who have, instead, have the view that we should align ourselves with people who are the prime movers behind radical Islamic terrorism. That would include, by the way, the Saudis. It would include the Turks. It would include the Qataris and others in the region. I think that’s a grave concern,” he said.

“I think the idea that the president is going to transform the Chinese, the Russians, the North Koreans into benign actors through the force of our diplomacy or through our various emissaries going there and telling them what to do, is unlikely as well,” he judged.

“His planned and, I think, necessary focus on rebuilding what he called ‘peace through strength’ – my old boss Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of how to protect the United States – is the way forward. You can begin to perhaps moderate others’ behavior by demonstrating that you have the will, you have the capacity to be a formidable adversary, and not have to use that force or that coercive pressure on the ground,” Gaffney said.

He added a prediction that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow would be “an early indicator of: is he going to be approaching that job as he did his last one, which is, essentially, as a guy who’s going to figure out how to do the bidding of the Russians – or is he going to be helping the President of the United States really institute this notion that America is a formidable force, and Putin is best advised not to be screwing around with us?”

“Again, the philosophy of peace through strength in practice – watch for it, hopefully, in Moscow,” Gaffney concluded.

U.S. and European Leaders Pressure Russia to Back Away from Syria

The Associated Pres

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 11, 2017:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the highly symbolic opportunity of a visit to the Sant’Anna di Stazzema memorial in Italy – a memorial to the victims of a Nazi massacre – to declare Americans would “rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

From there, Tillerson went on to the G7 summit, which CNN notes is “the first meeting of US allies since President Donald Trump ordered the bombardment on the Shayrat airbase in western Syria last week.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the Trump administration’s strongest voices against the Syrian regime, described regime change in Syria as a high priority on CNN’s State of the Union.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government,” Haley reiterated on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The BBC describes G7 ministers as seeking to “hammer out a unified approach to the Syria conflict.” This remains as elusive a goal as ever, although creating some distance between Russia and Syria looks like the top item on the agenda.

Even though Tillerson is generally less aggressive about regime change in Syria than Haley, and insists defeating the Islamic State is still the Trump administration’s top regional priority, he has criticized Russia for not keeping its promises to eliminate Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s This Week.

“I will tell you, I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said. “And so the failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack, in large measure, was a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”

Tillerson said he would discuss Russia’s “obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons” when he meets with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson more directly advised Russian President Vladimir Putin to sever ties with Assad, warning that Putin was “toxifying the reputation of Russia” by associating with “a guy who has flagrantly poisoned his own people.”

“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone. He must understand that Assad is now toxic in every sense,” Johnson urged

Johnson also suggested the G7 would consider further sanctions, not only against Syria but against Russian military officials deemed accomplices to the Syrian government’s atrocities. The BBC notes that if Johnson’s threat is realized, it would bring the first sanctions against Russians over their Syria policy.

Haley had similar ideas about calling Russia out for enabling Assad’s crimes. “You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people,” she said on Meet the Press.

“Look, when you have a violation of the chemical weapons issue, and you’ve got a violation of Security Council resolutions over and over again, and you vetoed, seven times, to protect this war criminal, we’re going to call you out on it. We’re going to call you out for the fact that you’re covering up,” she added.

“I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Assad is in power,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday, echoing Haley almost word for word.

Spicer stressed that Russia “stands with Syria, North Korea, and Iran,” which is not the sort of company a respectable nation ought to be keeping.

Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull joined in as well, denouncing Assad’s “criminal horrendous action” of “gassing his own people, women and children and babies.”

“What we await now is leadership from Russia, which is the sponsor of the Syrian regime, to work with other powers to bring this shocking conflict to an end,” said Turnbull.

The UK Independent doubts Russia will give up on Assad, no matter how hard the G7 nations push because Russia “owes its return to great power status in the eyes of much of the world to its military intervention in Syria and will not want to change its previous stance.”

Also, with the tide of the Syrian civil war so clearly turned by Russian and Iranian intervention, it’s not certain the Russians could unseat Assad if they wanted to, and if they did, the resulting power vacuum could easily be filled by something worse.

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Also see:

U.S. Ill-Prepared to Stop Widespread Russian Information Warfare

Clint Watts testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee March 30 / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, April 4, 2017:

Russia is engaged in wide-ranging information warfare operations aimed at undermining the United States, and the federal government has few defenses against the attacks, information specialists told a Senate hearing last week.

Moscow’s large-scale operations include the covert attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election and dissemination of false news reports to sow confusion and weaken American democracy, according to testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday.

The committee hearing was called as part of an investigation into the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election.

In addition to the hacking and leaking campaign during the election, Russian intelligence agencies engaged in covert influence operations that falsely reported terrorist attacks in the United States and against the key U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey.

The Russian government also backed the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and trumpeted racially charged news to sow social unrest.

The federal government has been unable to stop Moscow’s propaganda and influence operations. Likewise, it has failed to counter cyber attacks aimed at stealing data or sabotaging critical networks.

“Americans should be concerned because right now a foreign country, whether they realize it or not, is pitting them against their neighbor, other political parties, ramping up divisions based on things that aren’t true,” said Clint Watts, a cyber security expert and former FBI special agent.

Russian information warfare operations seek to erode Americans’ trust in the government.

“If they can do that, if Americans don’t believe that their vote counts, they’re not going to show up to participate in democracy,” said Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, said the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with information warfare and adequate defenses for protecting private sector infrastructure from attacks.

“The consequence is if there were a massive attack, we’d have to go back and get authority to act,” Alexander said. “Where, if it were missiles coming in, we already have rules of engagement. So, I think we need to step that up as well.”

Alexander, who once led the military’s Cyber Command, lamented that the military “wouldn’t have the right people set up to react” to a major cyber attack.

“The American public, indeed all democratic societies, need to understand that malign actors are using old techniques with new platforms to undermine our democratic institutions,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), the committee chairman.

“We’re all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary and we must engage in a whole of government approach to combat Russian active measures,” Burr added.

“Active measures” is the term used to describe asymmetric warfare activities that combine propaganda and media disinformation with cyber operations to achieve foreign policy objectives.

The Russian election campaign hacked key political figures and institutions, notably the Democratic National Committee. A U.S. intelligence community assessment of the influence campaign concluded in January that the Russians sought to discredit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and assist Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber attacks were carried out by the FSB civilian security service backed by hackers working for the GRU military spy agency.

Information obtained from the cyber attacks was leaked to Russian-affiliated news outlets DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks using a Russian online persona called Guccifer 2.0. Russian intelligence also exploited state-linked propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik to spread false information aimed at sowing discord in America.

The Russian government was able to manipulate key social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to cause topics favorable to Moscow’s policies to trend on the Internet. Russia employs thousands of Internet trolls and botnet computers to tilt social media trends in its favor.

Cyber security expert Thomas Rid said the Russians use Internet trolls and botnets to flood the zone with disinformation during influence operations.

“The Russians were able to flood the zone, actually not in a broad-based [way] across the whole country, but literally target it down to precinct levels in certain states,” he said.

The operations succeeded in fooling major mainstream media outlets into parroting Russian disinformation against the United States.

Russia is using many of the same tactics against American allies in Europe and is expected to resume its disinformation campaign in the United States ahead of future elections.

FBI Director James Comey disclosed to Congress on March 20 that bureau counterintelligence agents are investigating links between Trump campaign aides and the Russian government. So far, no evidence of such links has surfaced.

Eugene Rumer, former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia between 2010 and 2014, testified that it is not necessary to publicly disclose technical evidence of Russian election meddling.

“It is the totality of Russian efforts in plain sight to mislead, to misinform, to exaggerate that is more convincing than any cyber evidence,” Rumer said. “RT, Russia Today, broadcasts, internet trolls, fake news and so on are an integral part of Russian foreign policy to date.”

Rumer said Russia remains weak militarily despite modernization and a growing nuclear arsenal. However, he noted that “Russian leaders have embraced a different toolkit, information warfare, intimidation, espionage, economic tools, and so on.”

The Russian influence campaign is viewed by Moscow as an unqualified success, he added.

“The payoffs include but are not limited to, one, a major distraction to the United States, for the United States, damage to U.S. leadership in the world, and perhaps most importantly the demonstration effect: If the Kremlin can do this to the world’s sole remaining global superpower imagine how other countries see it,” Rumer said.

Other Russian influence campaigns have included efforts to skew online White House petitions, such as a petition calling for Alaska to be returned to Russia, spread false claims the military is preparing for martial law in the United States, and sow hatred and discord by backing the Black Lives Matter protests and land disputes in the western United States.

“Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of politics, as opposed to the politics of forces,” Watts said.

He added that Russia’s goal is to topple democracies by undermining governments, fostering social division, and creating confusion about information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Russian disinformation has included political messages and propaganda aimed at tarnishing leaders and institutions, especially financial markets and capitalist economies.

The Russians also have used “gray” propaganda outlets that promote conspiracy theories and are financed and led by Russians.

Russian propaganda promoted a false story on July 30 that the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey, which stores nuclear weapons, had been overrun by terrorists. More than 4,000 tweets were used to promote the false Russian disinformation.

Watts said the U.S. intelligence community has failed to deal with disinformation and is overly focused on terrorism and counterintelligence.

“The U.S., in failing to respond to active measures, will surrender its position as the world’s leader, forgo its role as chief promoter and defender of democracy, and give up on over 70 years of collective action to preserve freedom and civil liberties around the world,” Watts said.

“The intel community in the United States is very biased against open source information,” he said. “And has been surprised repeatedly.”

Social media companies and journalists also are failing to deal with foreign disinformation.

“The media needs to improve. Our U.S. government institutions need to improve and we got to help Americans understand what the facts are, because if we don’t, we are lost,” Watt said.

“We’ll become two separate, maybe three separate worlds in the United States just because of this little bitty pinprick that was put in by a foreign country.”

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security need to create mechanisms capable of rapidly refuting disinformation, he said.

Watts said the Russians are winning at cyber and information warfare because they have “great propagandists” and hackers.

“We, on the other hand, worry a lot about who we’re going to bring into the cyber field because they might have smoked weed one day or they can’t pass a security clearance,” he said.

Kevin Mandia, head of the cyber security firm FireEye, said technical analysis of the Russian cyber intrusions revealed sophisticated malware and techniques used by Moscow in its cyber attacks.

“So there is a huge infrastructure, comprised of machines or false fronts or organizations that are used for these attacks,” he said. “And we found over 500 of those. We’ve analyzed over 70 lure documents written in many different languages. And these are the documents that you receive during a spear phishing [attack], and they’re armed documents.”

Alexander said the United States needs to engage Russia diplomatically while confronting it using intelligence capabilities.

“We have to come up with a way of sharing threat intelligence information at network speed and practicing what our government and industry do together and work that with our allies,” Alexander said.

“I believe we can do this and protect civil liberties and privacy,” he said. “I think we often convolve those two, but we can actually separate and show that you can do both.”

6 Ways Russia May Respond to St. Petersburg Bombing

The aftermath of the subway bombing in St. Petersburg on April 3, 2017. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, April 4, 2017:

Russia says that the suspect behind a subway bombing in St. Petersburg that killed at least 11 people is from Central Asia and has links to radical Islamic terrorist groups. Here are six ways the Russian government may respond to the attack.

  1. Blame the West
    Why? Because that’s what the Russian government-controlled, conspiratorial media always does. In fact, Pravda almost immediately published this interview with the heading, “CIA Involved in St. Petersburg Terror Act?” The source was an individual with the background of “government and business consultant.”
  2. Double-Down on Alliances with Shiite Wing of Radical Islam
     Russia is a long-standing ally of the Shiite wing of radical Islam represented by the Iranian and Syrian regimes and their Hezbollah terrorist proxy. The civil war in Syria has tightened this alliance, making Russia a direct ally on the battlefield.If ISIS or any other jihadist group based in Syria is behind the bombing, Russia’s resolve to keep Assad in power and expand the regime’s territorial holdings will only stiffen. The bombing makes it less likely Russia will pressure Assad and his inner circle out of power (even if a pro-Russian regime remains), as that’ll give the appearance that Russia caved in to the jihadists.Expect Putin to tempt the West into a laxer policy towards Iran and Hezbollah, claiming that their anti-American hostility is a byproduct of U.S. aggression that will disappear when the U.S. changes its tune and abides by Russia’s strategy for the region.
  3. Use It as a Pretext for Action Against a Neighbor
    Putin has a dual strategy conquering neighboring territory under the guise of protecting and unifying Russian minorities while depicting Russia as the best hope of the civilized world as America declines.Putin has been setting the stage to once again seize Georgian territory ever since he had Russian forces rip away Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. Russia has been slowly taking more land, eliciting a condemnation from the European Union and a complaint from Georgia about “creeping annexation.”In March 2015, Vasil Rukhadze of the Jamestown Foundation warned that Russia “might be preparing for a final assault on Georgia.”Russia consistently accuses the pro-U.S. government of Georgia of responsibility for Islamist terrorist attacks on its soil. The Russian foreign minister said in January 2016 that ISIS has a training base in the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia.The region is indeed a hotspot for ISIS recruitment, but the accusation that ISIS has a training base implies Georgian acquiescence.There are other neighbors that could be in Russia’s sights, but Georgia is most likely to be blamed for the bombing of the subway.
  4. Retaliate with Syrian Kurds
    Russia has been arming Syrian Kurdish forces that have a Marxist orientation and are accused of being part of the PKK terrorist group. Increased assistance and coordinated action with them is a likely form of retaliation.The Turkish government, which views PKK as a terrorist threat of the highest order, is furious about this but eager to grow its military ties with Russia.
  5. Increased Support to the Taliban in Afghanistan
    Senior U.S. military leaders say that Russia is backing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran is likewise helping the Taliban fight ISIS in Afghanistan.Increased support to the Taliban is an option for retaliating against ISIS (if ISIS is deemed responsible for orchestrating or inspiring the bombing) and also serves other interests.The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan believes Russia wants to undermine the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan.  Russia has also sided politically with the Taliban in opposing long-term agreements for U.S. and NATO involvement and demanding the departure of foreign forces from the country.
  6. Suppress Massive Protests
    Putin has been facing the biggest protests in five years with demonstrators fueled over frustration over corruption. The U.S. State Department condemned the arrests of hundreds of protestors, including a major opposition leader.Putin warned the protestors that they risked making Russia follow in the footsteps of the Arab Spring, referring to mass violence and chaos. He obviously wants to use national security as a justification for shutting down the opposition.

Both Russia and the West are threatened by Islamist terrorism and should be natural, full-fledged partners in this struggle against both Sunni and Shiite extremism. Unfortunately, Putin is—and always will be—a former KGB spymaster.

Not withstanding Russia’s pledge to join forces with Trump to fight terror, Putin’s intense desire to challenge the West means opportunities for international cooperation that would otherwise be obvious will be missed.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak please contact us.

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