How the U.S. Concocted a Terror Threat to Justify Syria Strikes



…and the Corporate Media Went Along

According to writer Murtaza Hussain, anonymous officials say there was not any plan in the works to attack the United States.
 

As the U.S. expands military operations in Syria, we look at the Khorasan group, the shadowy militant organization the Obama administration has invoked to help justify the strikes. One month ago, no one had heard of Khorasan, but now U.S. officials say it poses an imminent threat to the United States. As the strikes on Syria began, U.S. officials said Khorasan was “nearing the execution phase” of an attack on the United States or Europe, most likely an attempt to blow up a commercial plane in flight. We are joined by Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept, whose new article with Glenn Greenwald is “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.”

Below is an interview with Hussain, followed by a transcript:

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2014/9/29/how_the_us_concocted_a_terror

AMY GOODMAN: The United States is continuing to expand its military operations in Iraq and Syria. Late last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel deployed a division headquarters unit to Iraq for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. The 200 soldiers from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division headquarters will joins 1,200 U.S. troops already inside Iraq. Overnight, U.S.-led warplanes hit grain silos and other targets in northern and eastern Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks killed a number of civilians working at the silos.

While the United States has been bombing areas in Syria controlled by the Islamic State, it has also struck targets connected to a separate militant group that U.S. officials are calling the Khorasan group. If you never heard of the group before this month, you’re not alone. The Associated Press first reported on this new entity on September 13th. In the article, unnamed U.S. officials warned of a shadowy, terrorist group that posed a more imminent threat than the Islamic State. The AP described the group as, quote, “a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.” It went on to say the group poses a, quote, “direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation.” Soon, major TV networks began echoing these claims about the Khorasan group.

FOX NEWS REPORTER: They say that they were facing a, quote, ‘imminent threat’ from the Khorasan group here in the United States.

JEFF GLOR: We are learning about a new and growing terror threat coming out of Syria. It’s an al-Qaeda cell you probably never heard of. Nearly everything about them is classified.

BARBARA STARR: The reason they struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group of al-Qaeda veterans was in the stages of planning an attack against the U.S. homeland.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Khorasan group, we’re going to go to Toronto, Canada, where we’ll be joined by Murtaza Hussain, a reporter with The Intercept. He wrote a piece with Glenn Greenwald called “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.” We’ll go to Murtaza Hussain after this break.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to Murtaza Hussain, a reporter at The Intercept who, together with Glenn Greenwald, wrote the piece “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.”

Murtaza, welcome to Democracy Now! Murtaza is joining us from Toronto. Can you talk about what you’ve learned about the so-called Khorasan group?

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: So, the Khorasan group is a group which first came up in the media around September 13th, roughly a week or so before the U.S. bombing campaign of Syria began. Heretofore, no one had heard of this group. It was not known in intelligence circles or among people who follow Syria. And suddenly we saw in the media that this was being described as the major terrorist threat emanating from that country and a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, unlike ISIS. So, this ended up being one of the main justifications for the war on Syria or the military airstrikes which are conducted on Syria, and it became the major media narrative justifying that action.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about, well, for example, where the Khorasan group got its name.

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: So, the Khorasan group, the name itself does not denote any group within Syria that anyone has familiarity with or has heard of before. It’s a name that was developed within the U.S. government to describe a certain set of groups—individuals within the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is one of the opposition factions fighting the Syrian government. Jabhat al-Nusra is also believed to be a franchise of al-Qaeda within Syria, but unlike al-Qaeda proper, it’s focused exclusively on fighting the government of Bashar Assad. So, in order to justify these strikes against this group, the U.S. had to create a new name to designate these few individuals within that group that they’re looking to target, so they developed this name, the Khorasan group, which identified several fighters who, they say, planned to wage attacks against the United States, as opposed to the government of Bashar Assad, and they conducted the strikes under that justification.

Now, within Syria, people view this group as being indistinguishable from the regular group of Jabhat al-Nusra, and it’s being viewed as an attack on that group, which is why yesterday you saw a statement from that group’s leader vowing revenge for the deaths of his commanders.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to CNN’s Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr talking about the Khorasan group.

BARBARA STARR: What we are hearing from a senior U.S. official is the reason they struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group of al-Qaeda veterans was in the stages of planning an attack against the U.S. homeland and/or an attack against a target in Europe. And the information indicated that Khorasan was well on its way, perhaps in the final stages, of planning that attack.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Starr of CNN. Your response?

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: So, in the days leading up to the attack, several anonymous sources suggested that an attack was imminent. They suggested that there were a threat against airliners using toothpaste bombs or flammable clothing. And they said that, like Barbara Starr mentioned, they were in the final stages of planning this attack. After the strikes were carried out, several U.S. officials started walking back that estimation quite far and saying that the definition of “imminent” is unclear, and when we’re saying is a strike about to happen, we’re not sure what that means exactly. So, in retrospect, this definition of a strike being imminent and this characterization of a threat coming from this group, which is very definable and very clear, became very unclear after the strikes, and they suggested through The New York Times the strikes were merely aspirational and there was no actual plot today existing against the United States. So, the actual justification for the strikes was completely negated after the strikes ended, which was something quite troubling.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean, negated right after the strikes began, right after the justification worked.

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: Right. So, after the strikes happened and there were statements saying that people were killed and the group had been scattered, James Comey and many others within the U.S. establishment started saying that, “Well, you know, we said the strikes were imminent from this group, but what does ‘imminent’ really mean? Could be six months, could be a year.’” And other anonymous officials started saying there was not any threat at all, there was not any plan in the works to attack the United States. And then, further it came to light that the Khorasan group itself, which we had been hearing about in the media was a new enemy and was a definable threat against the United States, did not really exist per se; it was simply a group of people whom the U.S. designated within a Syrian opposition faction as being ready to be struck. So, the entire narrative that had been developed, and within the media developed, was completely put to a lie after the strikes. And it was interesting that Ken Dilanian reported the story first in the Associated Press, saying that this was a new threat and a new group, and he was one of the first people to break the story afterwards saying that U.S. officials are now adding more “nuance,” is the word he used, to their previous warnings about the group. So, it was kind of a really egregious case of media spin, whereby the media had taken up this narrative of a threat from a new terrorist, and then, after the strikes had been conducted which justified this group, they immediately took the opposite tack, saying that in fact there was no threat that was imminent and the group itself did not exist per se. So, it was really quite a failure of the media, which we’ve seen several times in the past, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Ken Dilanian of AP. Now, Intercept just put out another story, “The CIA’s Mop-Up Man: L.A. Times Reporter Cleared Stories with Agency Before Publication.” Ken Silverstein writes, “A prominent national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times routinely submitted drafts and detailed summaries of his stories to CIA press handlers prior to publication, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.” He goes on to say, “Email exchanges between CIA public affairs officers and Ken Dilanian, now an Associated Press intelligence reporter who previously covered the CIA for the Times, show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication. In at least one instance, the CIA’s reaction appears to have led to significant changes in the story that was eventually published in the [Los Angeles] Times. Your response to that piece?

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: Right. So, essentially, the administration will seek out reporters who are pliant and willing to work with them to leak stories like this. So, in the sense of those CIA stories, this reporter had his stories vetted. He promised favorable coverage in exchange for access. And again here, the Khorasan group stories first came out with this reporter. And, you know, the media’s role is to ask questions and to vet these claims quite thoroughly, but instead the claims were put out through reporters who were known to give favorable coverage and who were known to, you know, take the administration’s line in exchange for access. And it seems like this happened again, in the sense that here was a reporter who put out the story, they did not vet who the Khorasan group is, what the veracity of these claims are, but they put it out in the media, and it became a media story on its own. So I think that you’re seeing the same narrative replay as happened as we detailed in the previous story, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another piece that you wrote, Murtaza, “Why the Islamic State is Not Really Islamic,” which refers to a letter that has been signed by many Muslims. Can you explain who has written this letter and who it was sent to?

MURTAZA HUSSAIN: So, there was an open letter published to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from over 120 of the most prominent religious scholars among Muslim scholars in the world. And there was the mufti of Egypt, Bosnia, Nigeria and many other countries around the world, including the United States. And they published an open letter condemning point by point the practices of the so-called Islamic State. And it was purely from a theological standpoint, and they had given a very rigorous critique of the group and found it, by their standards, to be un-Islamic. Now, this goes back to the question of what is or is not Islamic. Islam is not a monolith; it’s subject to interpretations of the people who take part in it. And, you know, this group found them to be decidedly un-Islamic. I think most Muslims around the world would find them to be un-Islamic, despite their pretensions to the contrary.

So, the point I was making in the article is that when you identify them as being Islamic and you say that they are the definition of Islam, you’re playing to their narrative. That’s the legitimacy they want and which today they don’t have, and they’re rejected broadly by Muslims around the world. So it’s important to say that while, you know, they may partake in Islamic dialogue and they may use the symbols of Islam, we cannot let any one group of extremists anywhere define a faith or a civilization which is, you know, identified with by over a billion people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll link to your pieces at democracynow.org. I want to thank you for being with us. We’ve been talking to Murtaza Hussain, who is a reporter with The Intercept. His latest two pieces, “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria” and “Why the Islamic State is Not Really Islamic.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

http://www.alternet.org/world/how-us-concocted-terror-threat-justify-syria-strikes-and-corporate-media-went-along?akid=12308.265072.nH2MIk&rd=1&src=newsletter1021271&t=19&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

President Obama’s perfect example of D.C.’s warmongering con

“That’s how we roll”:

In a swaggering “60 Minutes” interview, the president shows how Washington defends its thirst for endless war VIDEO

"That's how we roll": President Obama's perfect example of D.C.'s warmongering con
President Barack Obama (Credit: Screen shot, CBS “60 Minutes”)

Among the many things that make the United States such an exceptional nation, its relative unwillingness to spend money on programs to better its citizens’ lives is especially notable. Ditto its utterly unrivaled enthusiasm for spending its money on programs to make it easier to end other citizens’ lives. But while it’s true that Americans work more for less, it’s also true that no other country’s political class is quite so festooned with top-of-the-line killing machines, or so unencumbered when it comes to deploying those killing machines wherever and whenever they please.

Assuming you’re not a defense contractor lobbyist or lifetime bureaucratic warrior in the Pentagon, it doesn’t sound like too good a deal for the vast majority of America’s 300-million-plus population. But as President Obama showed during Sunday night’s new interview with Steve Kroft for “60 Minutes,” there’s a tried and true way that U.S. leadership manages to square that circle: By telling Americans that the globe is in many ways like a big university — one where the United States is the undisputed big man on campus.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf



“It looks like once again we are leading the operation,” Kroft complained to the president, noting that despite Obama’s efforts to build a broad coalition for his war against ISIS, the United States found itself still in the role of first among equals when it came to shouldering the campaign’s burden. It was a pointed question to deliver to a president who was ushered into office in part on a promise to wield America’s military more wisely, more judiciously and with more of a mind on the problems unresolved at home.

Still, President Obama, that one-time candidate of change, had a quick and direct answer: “Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation; we have capacity no one else has; our military is the best in the history of the world.

“When trouble comes up anywhere in the world,” Obama continued, “they don’t call Beijing, they don’t call Moscow — they call us.”

Having reduced geopolitics to the level of “Ghostbusters” (because when there’s sectarian killing born from a centuries-long ethnic and cultural conflict in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?) Obama continued, “When there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge, making sure Haiti can rebuild.”

Obama then laid down the hammer, delivering the sound bite one imagines White House message mavens thought was terrifically badass when they came up with it during the waning hours of an all-night planning session some recent, godforsaken morning: “That’s how we roll,” the president of the United States said. “That’s what makes us America.” (“Bring ‘em on!” was already taken.)

So if in years ahead — perhaps during a time when the debate has shifted from whether to send troops back to Iraq to how many troops we should send; or perhaps during the next time when a temporary economic downturn persuades the most serious people in Washington that the welfare state is a luxury the United States cannot afford — you find yourself wondering why the debate in Washington is always between less welfare and more war now or less welfare and more war later, remember what Barack Obama told you.

That’s how we roll. Because we’re America.

Elias Isquith is staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at eisquith@salon.com.

Obama’s Bourgeois Presidency

When Words Fail
by Andrew Levine
http://thecollegepolitico.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Fall-Out-Obama.jpg

In the Age of Obama, inequality is on the rise and austerity politics rages on.

Obama could do more to improve the lot of those made worse off by these developments.  But he really can’t be blamed for them – much.

Enriching the “one percent” at everyone else’s expense is what late (overripe, irrational) capitalism does.  The main job of the state in capitalist societies — and therefore of those who lead states — is to make capitalism flourish.

Within the confines of “normal” politics in the early twenty-first century, it was therefore inevitable that Obama would preside over a regime in which inequality would become worse, and in which austerity would be the order of the day.

Increasing inequality is a worldwide phenomenon – afflicting all developed capitalist countries.  The labor movement and the welfare state are under attack everywhere; and everywhere people are worse off as a result.

Palliative measures are still possible within the confines of the present system, and they can sometimes do a lot to make peoples’ lives better.  But, until the basic economic structure is transformed, the underlying causes of the problems affecting us will remain – and so will the problems themselves.

To dig up the hackneyed slogan of James Carville, the Clinton family functionary: “it’s the economy, stupid.”  More precisely, it’s the entire regime contemporary capitalism sustains.

Therefore the only solution, as progressives used to say (but now seldom dare even to think), is revolution.

Or, since the solution need not  – and probably can no longer – resemble the revolutions of old, we might better say that the solution is “regime change.”  Too bad that neoconservatives and liberal imperialists have taken over and debased that otherwise useful expression.

This side of regime change, there is nothing to do but make the best of an increasingly bad situation.  Obama has done precious little of that, perhaps because he has internalized the values of the beneficiaries of the status quo.  But no one could have done a whole lot better; the constraints are too formidable.

In the United States, with mid-term elections just two months away and a presidential election coming in another two years, liberals and others who are tempted to cast their lot with “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” should bear this in mind.

We can certainly do worse than, say, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders; just imagine Hillary Clinton back in the White House or some whacked-out Republican.

But no matter who is next elected President, the most those who care about equality and the wellbeing of the vast majority can hope for are a few woefully inadequate changes at the margins.

In becoming President, Obama stepped into a current that he could have done more to resist.   But he could not have turned the current back.   Only the great sleeping giant that “we, the people” have become can do that.

This is not to say, however, that our Commander-in-Chief gets a pass.  There are far too many other things for which he deserves all the blame we can muster.

Acquiescing to the demands of unreconstructed Cold Warriors who want the United States and Europe to court catastrophe by encircling and humiliating Russia, is a prime example.

So too is letting clueless imperialists take charge of American meddling in the Middle East.  His “humanitarian” interveners may seem kinder and gentler than Bush’s and Cheney’s neoconservatives, but they are just as dangerous.   They have already done incalculable harm, and are presently about to do much more.

Obama also deserves blame for not moving forward more aggressively to halt global warming, and for not putting world energy policy on a less insane footing.  Lately, even some billionaires have come around to the view that there is money to be made in “green” energy.   They are way ahead of Obama; all he can do is muster a few weasel words.

Not only has he done almost nothing to limit carbon emissions; his “all of the above” support for the nuclear power industry has put the world at ever-greater risk of potential catastrophes.

Obama deserves blame too for a host of other noxiously wrong-headed policies – for trashing privacy rights and due process, for example.

High on the list too is his grudging, but nevertheless steadfast, support for the great American tradition of enabling Israel to do whatever it wants to ethnically cleanse Gaza and the Occupied Territories of Palestinians, descendants of peoples who have lived from time immemorial on lands diehard Zionists covet.

In capitalist societies, nearly everything governments do has economic consequences.  But the constraints Obama, or any American President, has to contend with in these areas, and others like them, are primarily political.

The Obama way is to take the path of least resistance.  When the constraints are mainly economic, he cannot be blamed too much for this – there is not much else he could do.  But when they are mainly political, he has more freedom of action, at least in principle.  Then the more reprehensible what he actually does becomes.

A leader with more vision and backbone than Obama – one genuinely moved by “the audacity of hope” — could surely have done better.   Even after Obama, that prospect is not foreclosed.

But neither are the prospects encouraging.

Fans of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders should realize that the views that they advance that make them look good, compared to Obama, pertain to issues about which Presidents can do very little.  In areas where a President actually could do a lot of good, Warren and Sanders seem no better than the rest.

We no longer have a good way to account for, or even describe, the difference between those things for which Obama should not be severely blamed because no one, not even someone better at governance and more “progressive” than he, could have done much better, and those that a more able leader, operating within the confines of normal politics, could have much improved.

This was not always the case, but the words – and the thinking behind them — have fallen into disuse.

In the not too distant past, it would have been natural, for people on the left, to call Obama – along with other practitioners of what I have been calling normal politics – bourgeois politicians; and to call the politics they practice bourgeois politics.

This terminology nowadays seems irremediably quaint.

This is unfortunate, but it is also understandable; it is even justifiable.

For one thing, these words harken back to a time when it could be said, with some plausibility, that there really was a full-fledged bourgeoisie, and that it functioned as a ruling class.

To the extent this was ever the case, that time is long gone.

The word “bourgeois” has a complicated history.  At first, it designated town and city-dwellers, particularly those involved in commerce.  In early modern Europe, the bourgeoisie was a “middle class” – with aristocrats above them in wealth and influence, and with peasants, shopkeepers, tradesmen and others below.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, in socialist circles especially, the term came to denote owners of capital, “capitalists.”  The Marxist tradition adopted this usage.

Even in the Marxist view, however, bourgeois politics was more of an ideal type than an empirical reality.

Part of the problem was that aristocratic power proved more resilient in the face of capitalist development than most Marxists and other socialists expected.  It was not until well into the twentieth century that the old aristocracy’s hold over society definitively expired – thanks mainly to the declining economic importance of land ownership and the devastating effects of two World Wars.

By then, however, the bourgeoisie had largely disappeared as well.

Being bourgeois, in the fullest sense of the term, involved more than just occupying a defined niche in a capitalist economic structure.  There was a cultural component to it too.

Bourgeois culture developed in opposition both to the aristocracy above and the popular masses below, but there was nothing intermediate about it.  The bourgeoisie was the bearer of a new from of civilization.

Even so, it was seldom the case anywhere that a bourgeoisie, so conceived, genuinely ruled.  At most, there were periods in the history of post-Revolutionary France, and in a few other Western European countries, where this was very nearly the case.

Nevertheless, the broad contours of the civilization the bourgeoisie created are still with us.   The social class that gave rise to it is gone, but the civilization it produced survived its demise.   Indeed, bourgeois society – in many of its several aspects — has actually flourished in the decades since the last remnants of the classical bourgeoisie went missing.

In North America, there never was a real aristocracy (except perhaps in the pre-Civil War South), much less an aristocratic ruling class, and neither was there a genuine peasantry.  Much the same was true in Australia and New Zealand.

Therefore, in these places, a full-fledged bourgeoisie never emerged either – despite the nearly universal prevalence of capitalist economic relations.

The United States has had capitalists galore since even before its inception, and they have run the country to their advantage from the beginning.  But culturally they never quite comprised a genuine bourgeoisie; they never made the grade.

It is hardly the least of their shortcomings, but, compared to the genuine article, they never had enough couth.  This is even truer of the fraction of the one percent who nowadays own almost all there is to own; and truer still of the politicians who serve them.

Nevertheless, an attenuated approximation of bourgeois civilization became established in the United States and throughout Britain’s White Dominions – and, in due course, nearly everywhere else.

And now that American-style consumerism has become globally hegemonic, the process of worldwide embourgeoisement is nearly complete.

Thus, even in the absence of a real bourgeoisie, it still makes sense to speak of “bourgeois society” and “bourgeois culture” – and “bourgeois politics.”

Credit for keeping the notion alive must go to those who subscribed to the view of world history that Marxists and others took more or less as given.

For them, the French Revolution, though carried forward mainly by the popular classes, resulted in the demise (for a while) of the power of the old aristocracy and its assumption by a rising bourgeoisie.

In their view, in the next (all but inevitable) revolution, the working class, conceived as a proletariat – “in society but not of it,” and with “nothing to lose but its chains” – would do to society’s new masters what they had done to the aristocrats of old.

This idea provided yet another reason to keep on talking about bourgeois politics, even in the absence of a genuinely bourgeois ruling class.

But as it became increasingly clear that the proletariat of Marxist theory had long ago gone missing, this rationale eventually lost its appeal.

Nevertheless, as long as Marxist politics survived in one or another form, “bourgeois politics” remained in the political lexicon.  This was especially true in Maoist quarters, where the word “bourgeois” came to be used, with scant concern for its stricter meanings, as a general term of disapprobation.

Well into the twentieth century, this usage was common in the West as well, including the United States.  Remember Lead Belly’s “Bourgeois Blues,” written in 1937.   It indicts racial segregation in the nation’s capital.  Washington, Lead Belly famously sang, is a “bourgeois town.”   He got that right; more right than he probably realized.   He hit all the bases.

Politically disparaging words are like that – often, they have strict meanings that can expand into new domains without much regard for what they meant historically.

Then, as circumstances change, they sometimes retract back into more historically correct usages.

“Fascist” is an example.  It is like “bourgeois” in some respects, and different in others.  The similarities and differences are instructive.

Strictly speaking, “fascism” refers to a political tendency that emerged in Europe, and areas influenced by developments in Europe, during the inter-war years of the twentieth century.  Fascism arose in response to conditions peculiar to that historical period.

By the end of World War II, the fascist moments of the twenties, thirties, and forties had suffered an historic defeat.  The remnants that survived – in southern Europe and, more ambiguously, in Latin America — were pale shadows of what once had been.

However, in countries where fascism had been defeated, and in the countries that fought against fascism in the Second World War, the word lived on – mainly as an epithet, an insult.

Typically, public officials and the police bore the brunt.  Officials who were more than usually authoritarian, and police who were more than usually brutal called it upon themselves; often, they deserved the abuse.

But however reprehensible they were – and however much their behavior resembled behaviors characteristic of bona fide fascists — they were not themselves fascist in any significant respect.  The usage had become so expansive that the term’s original meaning was effectively lost.

However, fascist or, better, neo-fascist groups never entirely died out – neither in regions where genuine fascism once flourished nor in liberal democracies, where fascist movements had never thrived.

And so, they have remained at the ready to spring back to life.  The surge in anti-immigrant feeling in many European countries has had this effect.  So has the rise of Islamophobia.

Even more saliently, Western machinations in Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics and in regions close to the former Soviet Union have made the idea descriptively useful again.

These developments make the less careful uses that were once so common more than usually misleading.  Now that the term again has more legitimate referents, these uses, not surprisingly, have fallen off.

Careless uses of “bourgeois” have subsided too, though for different reasons.

“Fascist,” in something like its original meaning is back, because fascists are back.   The bourgeoisie is gone, and will not return.

But this is not why the word has passed out of general currency.

That happened because political traditions, Marxist and otherwise, that found the term useful have themselves passed into desuetude.

But the term is useful still.  In the Age of Obama, it is more useful than ever – because it calls attention to what normal politics does its best to obscure: the class character of the politics of our time.

When “bourgeois” was still in wide use, there was a class antagonist with which it contrasted.  For Marxists, that was the proletariat.

However, even before Marxism fully took shape, it was plain that the proletariat as such no longer existed.   What was left in its stead, the working class, was, however, a real world approximation.  Its existence was indisputable and, for decades, its power was on the rise.

In most capitalist countries, working class parties formed and sometimes even ruled.

Nevertheless, with the arguable exception of the Socialist Party in the years preceding World War I, the United States never had a working class party of any significance.

For many reasons – some structural, some not — the American labor movement backed Democrats instead.   They are still at it, despite a decades long legacy of betrayals.

Even in these coming elections, organized labor continues to offer the Democratic Party money and foot soldiers, demanding little or nothing in return.  When it is over, workers will find that, as usual, they will have gotten back even less.

In recent decades, it has even become rare for a Democrat to utter the words “working class.”  “Middle class” is the accepted euphemism.

How fitting that a bourgeois party would deny the very existence of the bourgeoisie’s historical antagonist!  And how ironic inasmuch as the bourgeoisie was once, genuinely, a middle class!

In having a party system that effectively excluded direct working class representation, the United States truly was, for many decades, “exceptional.”  It no longer is.  In other developed countries, political parties with historical ties to the socialist movements of the past and to the labor movements of their respective countries survive.  But, under the skin, they are all Democrats now.

Or what comes to the same thing, they are all bourgeois – in just the way that the Obama presidency is; not literally, but in effect.

Words fail; the language is inadequate.  But there is no concise way to say it better; and therefore no better way to grasp the nature of the constraints politicians today confront.  There is certainly no more illuminating way to mark the difference between those things Obama does for which he deserves a lot of blame, and those for which he deserves not so much.

Inevitably, Obama’s has been a bourgeois presidency.  As such, it could have been worse and it could have been better.   Indeed, it could have been much better, at least in principle, in areas that don’t directly impinge upon the functioning of the economic system as a whole.

But it could not have been fundamentally better, and neither can the presidencies of Obama’s successors, until the class character of American – and world – politics is radically transformed.

This is not a task that even the best (least bad) Democratic Party politicians currently vying for office are equipped to perform.   Like their counterparts in other countries, they cannot do much good – especially not with respect to inequality and austerity — because what needs to be done exceeds the practical and theoretical limitations of normal politics in our time.

They could do better in foreign and military affairs, and in countless other ways where the constraints are mainly political.  Perhaps they could even do more to keep impending ecological catastrophes at bay.

How much better off we then would be!  But one has to wonder whether even this is too much to expect from bourgeois politicians in bourgeois societies, superintending capitalist economies in which ever fewer numbers of people own ever more of all that there is.

Perhaps all we can reasonably expect, in these circumstances, is to be led by Obama-like dunces, pursuing Obama-like policies that edge us closer to disaster.

The only solution… well, we’ve known about that forever.  But how do we get from here to there?  That, not who wins this or that paltry electoral contest, is the basic question of our time.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/26/obamas-bourgeois-presidency/

 

 

The New War on ISIL Will Kill Spying Reform, and Reoccupy Iraq at Giant Costs

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There can be little doubt that the acceleration of western military intervention in Iraq and Syria is pitched to aggravate regional crisis.
 As the US, Britain and France are maneuvering to escalate military action in Iraq and Syria against the ‘Islamic State’ in an operation slated to last “years,” authorities are simultaneously calling for new measures to tighten security at home to fend off the danger of jihadists targeting western homelands. Intervention abroad, policymakers are arguing, must be tied to increased domestic surveillance and vigilance. But US and British military experts warn that officials have overlooked the extent to which western policies in the region have not just stoked the rise of IS, but will continue to inflame the current crisis. The consequences could be dire – while governments exploit the turmoil in the Middle East to justify an effective re-invasion of Iraq along with intensified powers of surveillance and control – the end result could well be accelerated regional violence and increasing criminalization of Muslims and activists.

Pre-empting ‘social contagions’

In a recent article in Defense One, technology editor Patrick Tucker interviewed Dr Erin Fitzgerald, the head of the Pentagon’s controversial Minerva Research Initiative, about how Big Data analytics could have predicted the emergence of the Islamic State.

Founded in 2008, the year of the global financial crash, the Minerva initiative is a multi-million dollar programme funding social science research at universities around the world to support US defense policy. As I reported exclusively in The Guardian and Occupy.com, Minerva-funded projects have focused on studying and modeling the origins and trajectories of “social contagions” to track the propensity for civil unrest and insurgencies that could undermine US strategic interests at home and abroad.

This has included developing powerful new data-mining tools capable of in-depth analysis and automated threat-assessment of social media posts of nonviolent social movements, civil society networks, NGOs, and political activists, alongside potentially violent or extreme groups and organisations. Those algorithms, according to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, could be used to fine-tune CIA kill lists for drone warfare at a time when the US defense industry is actively (and successfully) lobbying federal and local government to militarise the homeland with drone technology.

A major deficiency even according to academic specialists who advised the Pentagon research programme is its use of fluid and imprecise definitions of “nonviolent activism” and “political radicalism,” which tend to equate even peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence.” Official Pentagon responses to my repeated questions about how they would safeguard against demonizing or criminalizing innocent activists consistently ignored this issue.

Pentagon spokesperson: Minerva research needed to predict groups like ISIS

According to Tucker, the US Department of Defense’s Minerva “program managers feel that the rise of IS, and the intelligence community’s inability to anticipate it, imbues their work with a timely importance.” He quotes Fitzgerald who tells him: “Recent security issues such as the emergence of terror groups like ISIS… highlight the type of critical knowledge gaps that Minerva research aims to address.”

Big Data, writes Tucker, has provided an ideal opportunity to innovate new ways of predicting the future. “It’s an excellent time for data-driven social science research,” he observes. “But is the military the best outfit to fund it at its most innovative?”

Citing a speech last week by CIA director John Brennan, Tucker points out that the sort of research being supported by Minerva is about closing “a big gap” in “intent intelligence” – the capacity to predict human intent.

The elephant in the room, however, is that the US intelligence community did anticipate the rise of IS. There is now mounting evidence in the public record that President Obama had been warned of a major attack on Iraq by IS extremists.

US intelligence long anticipated the rise of ISIS

According to an unidentified former Pentagon official, President Obama “was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year”, containing “strong and ‘granular’” data on the emergence of ISIS. The source said “[we] were ready to fire, on a moment’s notice, on a couple hundred targets,” but no order was given. In some cases, targets were tracked for a “long period of time” but then slipped away, reported Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge. The White House neither confirmed nor denied this report.

Similarly, the Daily Beast confirmed via “interviews with a dozen US and Iraqi intelligence officials, diplomats, and policy makers” that “A catastrophe like the fall of Mosul wasn’t just predictable… They repeatedly warned the Obama administration that something like this was going to happen.”

In February, then Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, delivered the annual DIA threat assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He predicted that “al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) also known as Iraq and Levant (ISIL)… probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah.” Gen. Flynn also noted that “some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups appear willing to work tactically with AQI as they share common anti-government goals.” He criticized Baghdad for its “refusal to address long-standing Sunni grievances” and “heavy-handed approach to counter-terror operations” which has “led some Sunni tribes in Anbar to be more permissive of AQI’s presence.” ISIL has “exploited” this permissive security environment “to increase its operations and presence in many locations” in Iraq, as well as “into Syria and Lebanon,” which is inflaming “tensions throughout the region.” US intelligence also appears to have been fully cognizant of Iraq’s inability to repel a prospective ISIS attack on Iraq. Gen. Flynn added that the Iraqi army has “been unable to stem rising violence” and would be unable “to suppress AQI or other internal threats” particularly in Sunni areas like Ramada, Falluja, or mixed areas like Anbar and Ninewa provinces. As Iraq’s forces “lack cohesion, are undermanned, and are poorly trained, equipped and supplied,” they are “vulnerable to terrorist attack, infiltration and corruption.”

A senior figure in Iraq’s governing party, the Islamic Dawah Party, told me on condition of anonymity that Iraqi and American intelligence had anticipated an ISIS attack on Iraq, and specifically on Mosul, as early as August 2013. Although intelligence was not precise on the exact timing of the assault, the source said, “It was well known at the time that ISIS were beginning serious plans to attack Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey played a key role in supporting ISIS at this time, but the UAE played a bigger role in financial support than the others, which is not widely recognised.”

Yet when asked whether the Americans had attempted to coordinate with Iraq on preparations for the expected ISIS assault this year, particularly due to the recognized inability of the Iraqi army to withstand such an attack, the Iraqi government source said that nothing of the sort had happened. “Perhaps they screwed up, the same way they screwed up over WMD,” he speculated.

Algorithms ‘for the field’

If Minerva research is not really about addressing a non-existent gap in assessing threats in the Middle East, what is it about? According to Fitzgerald, as reported by Tucker: “In contrast to data-mining system development or intelligence analysis, Minerva-funded basic research uses rigorous methodology to investigate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of phenomena such as influence, conflict escalation and societal resilience.”

The reality is different. As my detailed investigation showed, including my interviews with senior US intelligence experts, Minerva is attempting to develop new tools capable of assessing social movements through a wide range of variables many of which can be derived from data-mining of social media posts, as well as from analysis of private metadata – all informed by sociological modeling with input from subject-area social science experts.

Contrary to Fitzgerald’s statement to Tucker, and to information on the Minerva website, private Minerva email communications I disclosed in the Guardian showed that the data-mining research pursued at Arizona State University would be used by the Pentagon “to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly” in the form of “models and tools that can be integrated with operations.” Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the ASU project on ‘radical and counter radical Muslim discourses’, told his ASU research staff that the Pentagon is looking to “feed results” into “applications.” He advised them to shape research results “so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field.”

Corman himself has a longstanding relationship with the Pentagon. In 2003, his ASU-spin off company, Crawdad Technologies, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research to analyse text streams using the company’s unique analytical methods which “transform text into networks that represent author intent.”

“We’re very happy that the United States Air Force sees potential in our technology”, said Corman at the time. “The product we’re developing will help intelligence and business analysts find information and patterns in large volumes of streaming text.”

In 2005, Corman’s company in association with ASU won a $750,000 Pentagon grant to further develop its Centering Resonance Analysis (CRA) technology – a “superior data-mining algorithm” which “had up to five times better precision than ones based on existing technologies.” The new grant was for Crawdad to advance the incorporation of “deep analytics” capable of mimicking “expert analysis” when combined with “domain knowledge.” This would create actionable insight from a range of streaming texts, including “news media, email, and even human conversation.” The project was completed in 2007.

ASU, Minerva and the NSA

For the period 2009 to 2014, ASU won its major award from the Pentagon’s Minerva initiative to continue developing new data-mining algorithms to monitor ‘radical and counter radical Muslim discourses.’ Regional and subject-area academic specialists were asked to rate and scale the threat-level to US interests posed by purportedly Muslim civil society organisations and networks in Britain, Western Europe and Southeast Asia, in order to feed into the fine-tuning of algorithms that could automate the threat-assessment classification process in a way that mimicked expert input. When I obtained access to these scaling tools, it turned out that a significant number of organisations being threat-assessed were simply antiwar, human rights and pro-democracy groups that were not remotely Islamic organisations.

For the same period from 2009 to 2014, the ASU received its National Security Agency (NSA) designation as a ‘National Center of Academic Excellence [CAE] in Information Assurance Research’ under the intelligence community’s CAE programme run by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

According to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the ideal use for the ASU’s algorithms would be to feed into the US intelligence community’s capacity to conduct wide-ranging predictive behavioral analysis of groups and individuals in the homeland and abroad – with an inherent danger of categorizing activists as potential terror suspects, and at worst, identifying potential targets for the CIA’s drone warfare kill lists.

Given the problematic nature of the Pentagon’s understanding of political violence, though, rather than fine-tuning the intelligence community’s capacity to meaningfully identify threats, this instead maximizes the capacity to see threats where none exist.

According to a former NSA mathematician, scientists at the agency are employed on condition that they would not be told how their mathematical or scientific research would be used. “The intelligence community has a dearth in the kind of scientific expertise necessary to understand and analyse much of the data that is collected,” he said:

“Even most of the mathematicians at the NSA are ex-military. They’re already comfortable with the intelligence community using their work as it sees fit. That’s why the NSA and other agencies require mechanisms to harness the expertise in the academic community. It’s not so easy to convince independent academics whose specialized knowledge is needed to inform intelligence analysis of complex societies and foreign regions that they don’t need to know how their research will be used. But an external funding programme like Minerva makes it easier to overcome this hurdle. All academics need to know is that they’re aiding the fight against terrorists who want to kill American citizens.”

Islamic State paves the way to kill surveillance reform

No wonder then that Western governments have moved fast on the back of the IS threat to justify the need for mass surveillance and Big Data analysis, while neutering calls for surveillance reform due to systemic violations of privacy.

The USA Freedom Act, which was supposed to restrict the NSA’s authority to spy on American citizens, has now been stalled in the Senate due to IS. Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University, toldForeign Policy: “There was a lot of movement on surveillance reform in Congress… but it has been totally overtaken by ISIS. The Senate will still have to pass something, but the urgency is gone.”

Now the UN Security Council is about to endorse a new resolution granting unprecedented powers to government law-enforcement agencies to monitor and suppress the travel of terror suspects, including stripping people of their passports. The resolution does not require any criminal conduct as a precondition for the use of such enforcement powers.

The problem is that neither of the main approaches to dealing with IS – mass surveillance and military bombardment – are likely to work. The New America Foundation’s detailed report released at the beginning of this year found that surveillance “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism”; while military action and dubious alliances with regional powers is precisely what led to the current crisis.

Unfortunately, as anthropologist Prof David Price told Defense One’s Patrick Tucker about the Pentagon’s regressive approach to the appropriation of social science: “I just don’t see Minerva funding a study of how American civilian, military, and intelligence activities in the Middle East contributed to the rise of the Islamic State.”

The elephant in the room is foreign policy

According to security analyst Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter terrorism intelligence officer, the crisis across Iraq and Syria cannot be resolved without first addressing the extent to which western policies created the crisis in the first place.

“The US, UK and France contributed to the collapse of governance [in Syria]… by funding, training and equipping ‘moderate’ rebels with little realistic consideration of with whom such funds, trained fighters and ‘non lethal’ aid (such as armoured vehicles, body armour, secure military radios and weapon sights) would end up,” said Shoebridge. “Similarly, the West did nothing to discourage vast flows of funds and arms from their allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others towards rebel groups irrespective of, or perhaps because of, their extreme interpretations of Sunni Islam.”

Shoebridge pointed out that the US and UK in particular, “through the covert work of MI6 and the CIA,” appear to have “played a key role in facilitating the flow of arms and jihadist fighters to Syria from such places as Libya, the Caucuses and Balkans, with the aim of militarily boosting those fighting Assad.”

Currently, the success of the new US-led strategy in Iraq and Syria is premised on the notion of a clear and discernable distinction between the ‘moderate’ rebels and extremists linked to al-Qaeda or IS. But according to Shoebridge, this distinction then and now is virtually meaningless: “It should also be noted in this respect that the ‘moderate’ rebels the US and UK support themselves openly welcomed the arrival of such extremists. Indeed, the Free Syria Army backed by the West was allied with ISIS, until ISIS attacked them at the end of 2013. Still today, ‘moderate’ rebels backed by the US and UK are allied with Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra, despite the US and UK having banned this group at home.”

Turning a blind eye

By some estimates up to 500 Britons are suspected of having gone to fight in Syria. With reports that many of them are planning to return to the UK, some of them due to being disillusioned with IS, the government is exploring new powers to prevent British terror suspects from traveling abroad or re-entering the country. But Shoebridge remarked that since 2006, UK authorities have tacitly allowed this terror-funnel to consolidate and expand, until it began to grow out of control last year. Britain, he told me, “turned a blind eye to the travelling of its own jihadists to Syria, notwithstanding ample video etc evidence of their crimes there. Despite such overseas terrorism having been illegal in the UK since 2006, it’s notable that only towards the end of 2013 when ISIS turned against the West’s preferred rebels, and perhaps also when the tipping point between foreign policy usefulness and MI5 fears of domestic terrorist blowback was reached, did the UK authorities begin to take serious steps to tackle the flow of UK jihadists.”

The US-UK direct and tacit support for jihadists, he said, had made Syria the safest place for regional terrorists fearing drone strikes “for more than two years.” Syria was “the only place British jihadists could fight without fear of US drones or arrest back home… likely because, unlike if similar numbers of UK jihadists had been travelling to for example Yemen or Afghanistan, this suited the US and UK’s anti Assad foreign policy.”

Air strikes will fail, could pave way for ground war

I also talked to a senior US Army official familiar with Iraq who had deep reservations about the current course of military action. “It was almost 100% certain that airstrikes alone could never ‘defeat’ ISIS. The absolute automatic, certain reaction ISIS would take has been taken: they changed the way they operate, move, and where they live. They are now more deeply embedded in the civilian infrastructure so that continued striking is going to build up more and more civilian casualties – which ISIS and other organizations will certainly publicize, making us look very bad. So it should have been known, 100%, that airpower alone wouldn’t succeed.”

The failure of air strikes to quell IS could pave the way for an inevitable ground invasion, he speculated, which however would only result in a deeper quagmire: “What do you do next?  Stop bombing? Bomb more?  What more targets do you engage; which additional targets will you engage?  Or will you bring in Western ground troops to fight?  That has been tried and conclusively failed.”

In much the same way that the devastation of Iraq in the context of the 2003 Iraq War, and the US-backed imposition of a repressive, sectarian regime there, have acted as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist extremists, further air strikes are likely to have a similar counterproductive impact now.

Civilians in Iraq and Syria, the US official said, “were first victimized and brutalized by ISIS, and now many of them have already been killed and wounded by the airstrikes. Their homes, business, and schools have been turned to rubble; their economy almost eliminated. What do we think all these people will think of the West now? Even if we eventually defeated ISIS – highly unlikely – the devastation against these innocents will engender such animosity towards us the results might be worse than what we have now.”

Any solution to the crisis, he said, would require a dramatic change of approach to the region, including serious introspection on the west’s contribution to the conditions which have fed the grievances of groups like al-Qaeda and IS. “Neither the US or UK have been willing to even consider, much less admit, that a good chunk of the causality for this current mess originated with our actions in 2003 and ever since. In effect, the very bad policy and military actions we’ve taken in the past decade to help inflame this region – through considerable kinetic action and the funneling in of huge amounts of weapons and ammunition – will be deepened and expanded… So long as we don’t concede our actions have contributed greatly to this instability (not all, but a significant portion), we will be doomed to deepening the situation.”

For British counter terrorism expert Shoebridge, the sheer incompetence of the US-UK’s reactionary response raises probing questions about whether their strategies have been willingly compromised by commitments to their allies, many of whom played key roles with US and UK support in supporting Islamist extremists in Syria.

“For the US and UK, to find an answer as to a way out of the mess that is now the Islamic State one must first ask whether for their foreign policy it’s actually a mess at all,” he said. “Certainly ISIS remains a potent and useful tool for key US and UK allies such as Saudi Arabia, and perhaps also Israel, which seek the destabilization of enemies Syria and Iraq, as well as a means for applying pressure on more friendly states such as Lebanon and Jordan. It’s understandable therefore that many question the seriousness of US and UK resolve to destroy ISIS, particularly given that for years their horrific crimes against civilians, particularly minorities, in Syria were expediently largely unmentioned by the West’s governments or media.”

Whether or not the west is serious about defeating IS, there can be little doubt that the acceleration of western military intervention in Iraq and Syria is pitched to aggravate regional crisis, while permitting policymakers to dramatically extend the unaccountable powers of the surveillance state.

 

The discovery of the “Khorasan Group”

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By Niles Williamson
27 September 2014

As the United States opened up its bombing campaign in Syria this week, the so-called Khorasan Group was suddenly declared the newest and gravest threat to the United States and its European allies, overshadowing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to US intelligence, Khorasan is a group of high-ranking foreign Al Qaeda members based in Syria that is seeking to launch a terrorist attack on US or European airlines.

The alleged existence of the Khorasan group was only made public a few days before the US began its campaign in Syria. Prior to last week, no one in the US government had ever publicly uttered the words “Khorasan group.” US President Barack Obama referred to it last Tuesday in his perfunctory statement announcing the new campaign in Syria.

Terrorism experts in the United States have stated that Khorasan is an outright invention of US intelligence. What the US government terms the Khorasan Group is in fact a small number of foreign Al Qaeda members fighting with the al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, against the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

According to US intelligence, the Khorasan group is currently composed of several dozen Al Qaeda members who have traveled from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya and Chechnya. While the US government portrays them as a new and dangerous grouping in Syria, Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated that the fighters singled out by US intelligence do not identify as the Khorasan Group.

The moniker invented by the Obama administration is derived from the nickname given to the fighters from the geographic area known as Khorasan, which includes western Afghanistan and eastern Iran, as well as parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The supposedly looming threat of an attack by Khorasan has not only been deployed to browbeat the public into supporting the war in Syria, but also to justify the imposition of further antidemocratic measures in the United States, Europe and Australia. The mainstream media has latched onto the supposed threat from the Khorasan Group—darkly repeating the invented phrase as if it were a household word—to demand an escalation of the war in Syria and Iraq.

The intelligence community’s sudden discovery of Khorasan is also being used to mask the fact that those being targeted are actually elements fighting with the Al Nusra Front, which is in an alliance with the so-called “moderates” in the Free Syria Army that Washington is backing with hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment, arms, and training.

Members of the US-supported Free Syrian Army have expressed their opposition to the targeting of Al Nusra’s foreign fighters in last week’s air strikes. Ali Bakran, a commander of an FSA brigade in Idlib, expressed his frustration over the recent attacks. “If they hit [ISIS] and the regime, it’s okay, but why are they striking Nusra? Nusra are from the people—they are the people.”

While air attacks in Syria have focused primarily on ISIS, a barrage of missiles was launched against so-called Khorasan targets west of Aleppo on Tuesday. American officials claimed that the strikes were necessary because the previously unknown group was preparing to carry out an “imminent” attack on the US or Europe. The strikes reportedly killed top members of the group, including Musin al-Fadhli, who is accused of masterminding these plans.

FBI director James Comey and Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, speaking individually to reporters on Thursday, both admitted that the US government did not have precise intelligence about where or when Khorasan was planning to strike.

Comey told reporters that the FBI had been tracking the Khorasan group for the last two years. He said that Syria was a place where the FBI didn’t have “complete visibility” but “what I could see concerned me very much that they were working toward an attack.” Despite the lack of solid intelligence, he declared that it was correct to launch air strikes against the group inside Syria.

“It’s hard to say whether [an attack will occur] tomorrow, three weeks from now or three months from now. But it’s the kind of threat you have to operate under the assumption that it is tomorrow,” Comey added.

At the Pentagon’s daily press conference, Kirby said that it did not matter that the government lacked concrete details on the attacks that were said to be imminent. “We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late,” he said. Kirby added, “We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”

The “bad dudes,” including Fadhli, a close confidant of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan prior to the 9/11 attacks, have been closely tracked by the US government for more than a decade.

In 2005, the State Department identified Fadhli as an “Iran-based senior Al Qaeda facilitator and financier” and placed a $7 million bounty on his head. He was accused at that time of providing support to Abu Musad Al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that would later develop into ISIS. Fadhli was also accused of participating in an attack on a French oil tanker in 2002 that killed one crew-member and spilled 50,000 barrels of crude oil.

In 2012, the Treasury Department singled out Fadhli as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iran and blamed the Iranian government for allowing him to funnel money and fighters into Syria and South Asia. Then last year, American intelligence officials claim, Fadhli was dispatched to Syria by the current leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, to establish a cell within the Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, that would plan attacks on US and European targets.

Khorasan’s other alleged members include leading Al Qaeda sniper and trainer Abu Yusef al-Turki, and Al Qaeda’s main strategist and policy maker Sanafi al-Nasr.

US officials claim that cruise missiles launched from US warships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea hit training camps, a bomb factory, a communications building and a command-and-control center. US intelligence has alleged the group was using its Syrian headquarters for testing non-metallic explosives that could make it past airport security. This supposed threat from Khorasan was the motivation for the imposition in July of a ban on uncharged cell phones and laptops on flights from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It has also been claimed that the group is working to develop a toothpaste tube bomb, leading to the banning of toothpaste tubes on all flights to Russia in February.

Like the name itself, which is an invention of the US intelligence apparatus, none of these allegations or claims can be taken at face value. What is revealed to the public about these murky groups is only what furthers US war propaganda. Carefully concealed are their ties to US imperialism and its regional allies.

While invoking the alleged existence of an Al Qaeda cell in Syria to terrorize the public, Washington is simultaneously arming and funding Al Qaeda-linked “rebels” to further its aim of regime change in Syria.

UN debate dominated by “terror,” war

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By Bill Van Auken
26 September 2014

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s brazen speech Wednesday before the United Nations General Assembly demanding that the world line up behind his war in Iraq and Syria, the subsequent UN debate has seen the leaders of major allies solidarize themselves with US militarism.

Leaders of other regimes have sought to capitalize on the “terror” hysteria to justify their own crimes and repression. And a few, for their own reasons, rose to challenge Obama’s cynical and borderline delusional characterization of the world situation, indicting Washington itself for the crisis in the Middle East.

President Hassan Rouhani was one of the first speakers Thursday morning. Rouhani coupled his indictment of the US role in the region with expressions of hope that his government can reach an accommodation with US and European imperialism through the ongoing negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Iranian president stated that “extremism” in the region is “the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism” and a “reaction to yesterday’s racism.” He indicted unnamed “intelligence agencies” for having “put blades in the hands of madmen.”

He pointed directly to the decade of US wars in the region as the source of the present crisis. “The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle-East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists,” he told the General Assembly.

“Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East,” he said. “As non-peaceful approach, aggression, and occupation target the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people, they result in different adverse psychological and behavioral consequences that are today manifested in the form of violence and murder in the Middle East and North Africa, even attracting some citizens from other parts of the world.”

The terms “strategic blunders” and “erroneous strategic approach” to describe the historic crimes of imperialism in the region, which are being continued and deepened with the present intervention into Iraq and Syria, are revealing. Rouhani’s government, representing the interests of the Iranian bourgeoisie, is seeking to reach a deal with the US and its allies that would lift the sanctions imposed on the pretext of punishing Tehran for its nuclear program.

Similarly, he described the sanctions as a “strategic mistake.” He declared, “A final accord regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program can serve as the beginning of multilateral collaboration aimed at promoting security, peace and development,” and that such a deal would represent an “historic opportunity” for the West, presumably to pursue its interests with the Iranian regime as its ally.

In pursuit of such aims, Rouhani met on the sidelines of the General Assembly with British Prime Minister David Cameron—the first such Anglo-Iranian talks since the toppling of the Shah in 1979—as well as with French President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Both Cameron and Hollande echoed Obama’s bellicose speech, affirming their determination to participate fully in the US-led imperialist intervention. The leaders of the two powers that formerly colonized Iraq and Syria, as well as most of the region, cast themselves as the champions of universal values of freedom, democracy and civilization.

Hollande began his speech by reporting that France was “going through a tragedy” as the result of the beheading of a French tourist, Herve Gourdel, at the hands of an Algerian Islamist group. He charged that the killing was directed against the French people because they “defend human dignity against barbarism.” France was the first major power to join the US in bombing Iraq. While it had refrained from carrying out strikes in Syria, French officials have indicated that that too is now being considered.

Hollande invoked “the force of military action” in a war “against terrorism that knows no borders.” He also boasted of French imperialism’s role in Mali, where it has carried out a protracted intervention without UN sanction to pursue its neocolonial ambitions in Africa under the cover of a struggle “against terrorism.”

He concluded with the cynical and demagogic declaration that “France will never give in to terrorism because it is our duty, and, more than that, because it is our honor.”

Similarly, Cameron insisted on the determination of his government to join the US-led war, declaring the need to “be uncompromising, using all the means at our disposal—including military force—to hunt down these terrorists.”

He insisted, “We must not allow past mistakes to become an excuse for indifference or inaction.” Whether these “mistakes” include the decimation of Iraqi society in the predatory US war launched with British participation in 2003, the US-NATO war that left Libya in a state of civil war and chaos or the Western arming, and support for Islamist militias against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, Cameron failed to make clear.

The British prime minister also used his remarks to argue for the “war against terror” to be stepped up on a far wider arena, including in Nigeria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Speaking Thursday afternoon, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott made it clear that he was on the same page as Obama, denouncing the “murderous rage” of ISIS as well as Russian “aggression” in Ukraine. Earlier, in a special Security Council session that passed a sweeping resolution on “foreign terrorist fighters,” Abbott pledged his government’s “utterly unflinching” support for the US-led “war on terrorism.”

Egypt’s military strongman President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, one of the erstwhile American allies that Washington is attempting to line up behind the war in Iraq and Syria, used his remarks to turn the Western “war on terrorism” into a cover and justification for the coup that brought him to power and the brutal repression he has carried out since.

“The world has started to grasp the reality and understand why Egyptians revolted against extremism that wanted to break the unity of the nation,” said El-Sisi. He was referring to the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Mursi that was overthrown by the army in July of last year, equating it with ISIS.

He claimed that since the coup, the Egyptian regime—which has sentenced thousands to death or lengthy prison terms for political offenses and holds tens of thousands more detainees—is building a “civil democratic state” with respect for law and human rights.

Other regional allies of Washington used the General Assembly debate to lash out at each other. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, speaking barely two hours after General Sisi, declared, “The elected president of Egypt was overthrown by a coup,” adding, “The United Nations and democratic countries have done nothing and the person conducting the coup is legitimized.”

Also challenging Obama’s delusional claims that America’s role in the world was to oppose those who would “bully” smaller nations were two Latin American heads of state, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Both governments have faced repeated US attempts at subversion and destabilization. Both also are confronting mounting unrest in the working class and no doubt saw the UN speeches as an opportunity to deflect opposition from the left.

Maduro told the Assembly, “Venezuela has had to endure bullying, a permanent conspiracy on the part of the imperialist forces and the forces allied with the US empire which have attempted again and again to undermine democracy.” He charged Washington with responsibility for the abortive coup of 2002 as well as the recent upheavals in the country provoked by right-wing protests demanding the fall of his government.

He also blamed Washington for the violence in the Middle East, condemning the “terrorist attack carried out by NATO and its allies against Syria for a year and a half for regime change.”

For his part, Morales said, “Bolivia condemns and rejects the intervention of the United States of America in Iraq, which has provoked the present crisis in that country.” He recalled that Washington had “said that Iraq possessed large quantities of weapons of mass destruction, and this ploy turned out to be one of the biggest lies in the history of imperialism.”

The lesson of the Iraq war, Morales added, was that “wherever the United States of America intervenes it leaves behind destruction, hatred, misery and death, but it also leaves wealth in the hands of those who profit from wars, the transnationals of the arms and petroleum industries.”

The Bolivian president concluded, “Every year here we hear Mr. Obama give a speech of war, of arrogance and of threats to the people of the world. This is also a speech of extremist fanaticism.”

Most of the speeches are given to a General Assembly hall that is at least half empty, a graphic expression of the impotence of the UN, whose founding charter has been turned into a dead letter as US imperialism pursues an openly stated policy of “preventive,” i.e., aggressive, war.