Category Archives: Current events

The Role the US Played in Reversing Latin America’s ‘Pink Tide’

9/12/07 Salon Blanco: Banco del Sur.A mere ten years ago almost all countries in South and Central America had left or center-left governments in office. Now only a handful remain. How did this happen? The Real News Network speaks to CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot about how Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon might have described to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the US effort to do help bring this change about

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Less than ten years ago, Central and South America’s pink tide was at its highest point. Most of the continent had leftists or center-left governments in power. However, since 2009, more or less, when Honduras’s president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a right-wing coup, the tide turned. And now, a conservative or center-right tide is firmly in place in the region except for the recent development of López-Obrador in Mexico. How did this undoing off the left tide happen? Of course, opponents of the pink tide say that these governments were elected or forced out of office because of their own policy failures. Another interpretation of all of this is that U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America under President George W. Bush and under President Barack Obama played a key role in reversing tide.

Now, this argument can be found in a letter from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon, who managed Latin America policy desk for both presidents. In truth, it is actually a fictional letter about the advice of Shannon, what he might have given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he resigned last month. This hypothetical letter was actually written by Mark Weisbrot, our next guest. Mark Weisbrot joins us now from Washington, D.C. to discuss U.S. Latin America policy managed under Latin American pink tide. Mark is the codirector of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of the book, Failed: What Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. Thanks for joining me, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for having me here, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Let’s start off with why you felt you had to pen this letter in order to draw attention to the undoing of the pink tide in Latin America.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I thought it would be more interesting and readable. Most people are not that interested in the recent history of Latin America. And also, I want to emphasize that everything in there is true except for the fact that he didn’t actually write the letter. But everything he says in there, the facts are all sourced and they’re all public information. And even where it refers to positions that he took within the State Department, those are positions that were documented in the media.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. In 2008, almost all of the South and Central American states had prgressive or center left governments in place. And this includes El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Brazil. Now only Bolivia, El Salvador and Venezuela and Nicaragua remain, with the last two of these, one could say Nicaragua and Venezuela, in a great deal of trouble and in crisis. So, give us a sense of what happened.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, some of it was due to the recessions that these countries experienced. So, for example in Brazil, they went into recession in 2014 and that’s when the opposition began to gain ground and eventually impeach Dilma, the president, Dilma Rousseff, who they impeached without ever actually accusing her of of a crime. And so, in all of these, countries there were various factors at play. But what I emphasize in this letter in the form of Thomas Shannon taking credit for it, is that the U.S. played a role in in most of these countries where there was a change of government.

Some of it is not well known. Obviously, some of it is. In the 2009 coup in Honduras, Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoirs that she helped ensure that the democratically elected president of Honduras did not come back to office after the coup. But in others, people don’t even know. So, for example, in Argentina the U.S. government under Obama opposed loans to the government and blocked some at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. And this was a time when Argentina was having a balance of payments problem. So, that was important. And they did run into some economic trouble. It wasn’t severe, but I think it contributed to a close election result where the right was able to win at the end of 2015.

And also, I should say that in that in the case of Argentina they were severely hurt by a decision of a New York judge to take ninety percent of their creditors hostage and say that the government could not pay them until they paid the vulture funds. And that was very much a political decision. In fact, the judge lifted his injunction as soon as the right-wing President Macri was elected, and said it was because there was a new government that he was lifting the injunction. So, that was a major thing from the United States as well. And you can go through all of the countries. And some of it I’ve already said here on The Real News. There was a U.S. role, and of course we only see the tip of the iceberg.

Lula was interviewed a few months ago and he said, “It took us fifty years before we found out about the U.S. role in the 1964 coup.” And so, he was saying that to answer a question about what the United States was doing in Brazil. But you can see things that they did there as well. In fact, Shannon himself, Thomas Shannon met with the leader of the coup effort, the parliamentary coup in Brazil in 2016, when the leader in the Senate in Brazil of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aloysio Nunes, came to the U.S. just a day after the vote to impeach Dilma took place in the House and met with Shannon. So, that was a signal to everyone in Brazil that the U.S. was behind this coup.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Now you argue that of course this kind of U.S. policy had a role to play in so many countries. Now, give us some examples, for example, Haiti and Honduras and Brazil, just remind people what the U.S. policy actually did in these countries.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, Haiti is a good example because they kind of did that in broad daylight. They took the president, the elected President, in 2004, flew them out of the country on one of those rendition planes, basically kidnapped him. And they didn’t even care. That was under George W. Bush, but the effort actually began under Clinton in 2000. There was an election there and the Organization of American States observers went there and they produced a report saying that everything was good. And then they changed that and they basically had a technical objection to some of the Senate elections. And they use that, and then the U.S. government under their first Clinton, then Bush, used that as a pretext to cut off almost all international aid to Haiti which was desperately poor.

And then, they by 2004, after four years of destabilization, they were funding opposition groups and they were also telling the President, Aristide, that he wouldn’t get aid restored until he reached an agreement with the opposition. And then at the same time, they were telling the opposition, don’t reach an agreement, don’t make any agreement with him because we’re going to get rid of him. And that’s how they did it. And they overthrew the government. And that was the second time they had overthrown the Haitian government since 1991. And so, that was just one example. Obviously, there was also the Honduran coup-.

SHARMINI PERIES: Before you go there, in Haiti’s case, they had the aid of a few other nations as well, France and Canada.

MARK WEISBROT: That’s right. And they got almost all the countries in the world to cut off their aid to Haiti between 2000 and 2004. And then, in 2011, there was an election in 2010, and in 2011, United States actually use the Organization of American States to overturn the results of the first round of the presidential election. And in that case, they also threatened Haiti to accept the results or they would cut off the post-earthquake aid, which was even more desperately needed. And so, they got to choose who made it into the second round and who became president there as well. And this really devastated Haiti in so many ways. I mean, you only had like a twenty percent turnout in the last presidential election in Haiti because the people have become so disenfranchised as a result primarily of U.S. intervention.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now one could argue having a poor country like Haiti, who was was so dependent on the U.S, the U.S. Can us can flex their muscles and make sure what they want takes place in Haiti. But what about a country like Brazil?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think they did. Like I said, I think that signal was important. The show of support for that coup I think helped. There was another show of support when John Kerry went down to Brazil on August 5 of the same year and he held a joint press conference with the acting Foreign Minister, Jose Serra and they said talked about how great their relationship was going to be going forward. And Dilma wasn’t even removed from office yet, she was still- the Senate hadn’t voted yet to remove her from office. So, that was another signal of support. Again, we don’t know what else they did.

Actually, we do know some other things. The Department of Justice was involved in the investigation, the big corruption investigation there. And so, we don’t know what they did, how it is that they managed to get Lula put in jail while the banks, who most of laundered the billions of dollars of corruption, there were no banks or financial institutions implicated in this whole investigation. So, that’s very odd. And of course, most Brazilians think that the Department of Justice intervention in the investigation was probably political and they have good reason to believe that.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Honduras, of course Argentina, Venezuela too, but let’s just dig into the Honduras case because I think that’s also left people’s memory.

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, well in 2009 there was a coup and the president was- in June of 2009, the president was flown out of the country in the middle of night. And he was overthrown, and the first statement that came out of the White House really foretold everything that was going to happen and showed what the real position of the United States was. Because it didn’t even condemn the coup. It just said all parties should work together and try and arrive at a solution. And when a military coup happens in the twenty-first century and you don’t even say anything bad about, and they knew it was coming as well. We found that out later. So clearly, they had time to prepare a statement. And they don’t even say anything’s wrong.

That was a massive signal to everyone that they supported it. And then, as the coup proceeded and the government needed to establish its legitimacy, the United States was practically alone in supporting the election that legitimated the coup later that year. And as I said, Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoirs that she helped make sure that the elected president didn’t go back, which was what almost all of Latin America wanted. And the U.S. manipulated the Organization of American States to prevent there from being stronger actions on their part to put Zelaya back in office. And in fact, out of that came the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which the left governments created because of the U.S. manipulation of the OAS, and that includes all of the countries of the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right Mark, there’s much more to talk about because Latin America is known as a laboratory of the United States, its policies, and I’m sure we are feeling those laboratory experiments and their are reverberations throughout the world. We don’t have time to get into all of that, and we also didn’t talk about the media strategies involved in these kinds of political policy maneuvers on the part of the U.S. and how the media is used in that way or how media complies with it. But we’ll have to leave that for another time. I thank you so much for joining us today, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

© The Real News Network

Lawfare: Justice’s way to neoliberalism

Justice

Published originally by CELAG | 23 Jan 2018 | Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador

The judgement of Lula has been carried out as part of the huge case known as “Lava Jato”, which was the apparently legal cover by which the coup against ex-President Dilma Rousseff was implemented [1]. This judgement is part of a strategy of Lawfare, as the specialists have called it [2], which implies: the undue use of legal mechanisms for political persecution, the use of the law as a weapon to destroy political adversaries by judicial means [3]. The above describes a process of judicialization of politics from the top down, where the judiciary apparatus is raised above the legislature and the executive powers in a dynamic which could lead to a “dictatorship of the judges”, and a complete loss of the balance between the powers [4]. In order to work, this legal warfare requires the articulation with the media and social networks, which operate to manufacture consent either against or in favour of certain personalities, groups or political sectors [5]. The acceptance or elimination and demoralization of the political adversary is carried out especially in the field of public opinion [6].

One objective of Lawfare in the short and medium term is also to obtain the restoration of neoliberalism by judicial means.

The legitimacy given to the process of judicialization of politics derives from the consensus about corruption being the fundamental problem of Latin America [7]. This was manifested by the international financial institutions and US government agencies promoting the structural adjustment and modernization of the State in the 80’s and 90’s [8], but which in recent years has been presented as a problem endemic to progressive governments or so-called “left-wing populists” [9]. International analysts, think tanks and “experts” argue in favour of this vision, which tends to be reproduced by the hegemonic press, feeding a common feeling that, for example, corruption is the cause of poverty [10], above all in those countries under competing democratic, but allegedly authoritarian regimes (as in the cases of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador during the Correa government and Argentina during the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner government) [11].

The principal thesis of their argument is that these governments, in giving a greater role to the State, in particular in regulation of the economy, in repoliticizing and revaluing the public sector, prioritizing the use of influences and public funds for personal benefit and the use of the powers of the State to avoid any accountability. This is considered as the principal cause of the rise in poverty [12] and of the weakening of democracy to such a point, that according to the “experts”, people are willing to even support a military dictatorship so as to put an end to crime and corruption [13].

This basis of argument and the existence of processes of legal warfare against ex-members of progressive governments demonstrate that there are other interests behind the supposed impartial combating of corruption. One of the short and medium term objectives of Lawfare is also to obtain the restoration of neoliberalism by judicial means. A state of exception is used as a means of supposedly legal mechanisms, as defined by a judicial apparatus which is raised above the other powers, but which in deed lead to the omission of the law in favour of the violent imposition of a new order [14]. This order tries to show itself a legal, “naturally” predisposed to the rendering of accounts and to transparency, which is to say against corrupt practices, following the logic and the “correct” way of doing things of the private sector, in being restricted to and run by businessmen transformed into politicians.

The objective of bringing in the neoliberal order can be seen in greater clarity in those cases where the legal strategy is used for the opposite of what is supposed, that is, when the legal apparatus is raised above the other powers and the legal mechanisms are manipulated to guarantee the status quo, partnering with media to silence certain cases and to avoid the exposure of certain personalities to public opinion. In this way consent is manufactured in favour of these personalities or groups who have been raised as the guardians of neoliberalism.

BRAZIL

Undue use of legal mechanisms and selectivity

The case against Lula shows various judicial adulterations to the rule of Law used for political ends. The weakness of the legal arguments, the inconsistency, has been obvious in this case. There has been distortion in the sentencing and throughout the whole period of instruction and dealings: 1) the presumption of innocence; 2) the impartiality of the judge; 3) the doctrinaire motivations in the legal rulings; 4) the prohibition of non-legal evidence; 5) the principle of equality or citizenship [15]; 6) the publicising of procedural acts; 7) the disallowing of full defence; 8) the requirement of natural jurisdiction. Furthermore, questions are raised such as: a) the abuse of the coercitive arrest; b) preventive imprisonment; c) the use of selective and partial evidence; d) the use of confessions in extreme conditions. To summarize: the 238 page sentence of Judge Sergio Moro, as various jurists have suggested [16], shows how a conviction of “exception” was constructed, which is the mark of a state of exception [17]

By way of example: the principal charge in Lula’s Lava Jato case is linked to the triplex apartment in Guaruja for passive corruption [18]. None of the 73 witnesses testifying in the 23 hearings brought information that corroborated the charge [19]. Lula’s appeal hearing was scheduled for January 24 was brought forward in front of seven cases awaiting processing in relation to Lava Jato. The official bodies argue that it is not necessary to deal with the cases “in chronological order” [20], but the more obvious conclusion is that the objective pf the judgement is to eliminate the possibility of Lula standing in the presidential elections.

Furthermore, there is the favouring of businessmen. Marcelo Odebrecht, the leading executive and magnate implicated and responsible for the Odebrecht corruption, was transferred to house arrest after completing just two years in prison on 19 December 2017 [21]. Another example is the covering up the existence of kickbacks in various projects linked to Odebrecht, in which Admiral Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva was sentenced to 43 years imprisonment [22]. These four decades contrast with the fact that the businessmen implicated in the same case were able to reduce their penalties to six years in prison, although the less favoured will be imprisoned for 20 years [23].

Corruption: Brazil’s main problem

The discourse that legitimizes the elimination of the political enemy, Lula, the Worker’s Party etc., is that of corruption. Sergio Moro, the judge running Operation Lava Jato, is portrayed as the hero who can clean up Brazilian politics [24]. However, there is a lack of deep cleaning: “on the ground, we are fighting against organized crime, (if not) with institutionalized crime” [25]. The media emphasize “this decisive action against crime and corruption of the political class is in turn marked as a more global phenomenon of rejection of the establishment and the calling to account of politicians” [26]. Corruption is the truly guilty party, which does not give worth to democracy: “the scenario is so horrible, that some Brazilians ask whether democracy and the elections can offer the possibility of remaking the country again on a good path” [27].

Lawfare as a violent way to neoliberalism

Since his arrival in government via the coup against Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer has taken measures to substantially reduce social spending and to eliminate worker’s rights to benefit the business sector. A wave of privatizations has been implemented in a wide range of sectors: airports, ports, highways, electrical power and oil companies etc. [28] Among the long term objectives is the privatization of Petrobras, the state oil company which in large measure is the symbol and realization of sovereign policies in terms of economic, technological and defence policies during the Lula government [29].

The measures were accompanied by a restructuring of the laws in favour of the realignment, notably the labour and retirement system reforms hated by workers and celebrated by the business sector, as described in the hegemonic press [30]. The strikes and demonstrations against these neoliberal reforms were countered by the widespread repression of the security forces in the streets of the large cities [31].

ARGENTINA

Undue use of legal mechanisms and selectivity

The judicial persecution against members of the Cristina Kirchner government has been scaled up after the arrival of the Let’s Change policy of Mauricio Macri to the presidency. In recent months, in addition to the case against the ex-President, there have been judgements and preventive imprisonments against the ex-Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and ex-Vice President Armando Boudou.

The fact that those accused did not try to escape seems irrelevant given that the media spectacle is a fundamental part of this new form of warfare.

Abuse of the criteria for preventive arrest is notable as a mechanism to judicialize politics. In the abuse of this resource, various federal judges have ignored international conventions which the country has adhered to in its constitution, which explicitly state that the primary duty is the liberty of those accused during the process. In strictly juridical terms, at the instruction stage, the only reason for using preventive arrest is either the risk of escape or obstruction of the investigation by the accused person. Innocence or guilt comes at a later stage and has to be demonstrated at the court hearing.

There are various symptomatic cases in relation to the first premise. Peñafort and Rua, defence lawyers for the ex-Foreign Minister, Hector Timerman, argued in his appeal that the accused travelled frequently abroad for reasons of his medical treatment for liver cancer, and that he had always returned within the scheduled times as evidence of the lack of basis for his preventive imprisonment.

In the case of ex-Vice President Amado Boudou, the statement from the same expert highlighted that preventive imprisonment should be the exception rather than the rule, and that the accused always had rights. Nevertheless, the fact that those accused did not try to escape seems irrelevant given that the media spectacle is a fundamental part of this new form of warfare. By way of illustration, the government sent the police to the home of the ex-Minister of Planning, Julio De Vido, knowing that he was not at home, but the mass media used this photograph as if he had been arrested.

In relation to the second point, in cases of preventive imprisonment requested for members of the opposition, the judges did not describe the supposed influences, nor how justice might be obstructed. Furthermore, there is evident differential treatment for members of the Kirchner government, as in no case are the same measures taken for members of the current government.

As in the case of Brazil, in Argentina the businessmen involved are taken care of. At no time is business complicity examined, but only that of the government. One of the most scandalous cases is the granting of credit by President Mauricio Macri to his father in 2016, the businessman Franco Macri. The Macri Group acquired the Argentinean Post Office concession in the 1990’s until 2003, when Kirchner took it back into state ownership for lack of payment from March 2000. After 12 years of the Argentine government rejecting all the post-breakdown payment plans for excessive debts, with the arrival of Macri to the Presidency however, the State quickly accepted the receiving of just 1.18 % of the debt [32].

Corruption: the cancer of Kirchnerism

Ever since his taking office, President Macri has taken the opposite position in his administration to that of the Kirchners, with special emphasis on the combating of corruption. This was backed also by the like minded media, to such a point that the leading newspapers, Clarin and La Nación, introducing a specific tag “La corrupción K”. Mauricio Macri declared that now “there is less reporting and more truth”. In regard to the economic adjustment measures, he justified: “He came to the State devastated by corruption” [33], and, “…after a decade of pillage and corruption, we are normalizing the power service” [34]. In constructing the direction this government, every negative result of the application of its neoliberal policies uses the idea that this is the only possible way. A large part of the population has appropriated that idea thanks to the mass media which has imposed their agenda of persecution of the supposed ¨corruptos k¨ in our news every day.

The violent path to neoliberalism

In whitewashing his presidential aspirations, the Cambiemos alliance promised that if he were elected to the Casa Rosada “he would defend the institutions and republicanism”. Nevertheless, his arrival involved precisely the change activating the Judiciary that steamrollered the rule of law, to the point of rolling back basic guarantees in legitimate process and penalizing the political world, a state of exception. The Milagro Sala case is one of the most outstanding examples of this.

But the “exceptionality” has been there from the start. The economic measures affecting a large part of the population, some imposed by decree, were rejected by mass union and civil society protests. Under such pressure, the government put their repressive measures to the test. One important event was the march in support of Santiago Maldonado being found alive [35], where the police actions were newsworthy: 31 people were arrested arbitrarily, spending up to 48 hours in police stations, including tourists, journalists and photographers. But more significant was that during the demonstration against changes to the retirement and pension law in December 2017, demonstrators suffered police brutality, and the use of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, once again being detained at random and having their homes broken into. Here again police were infiltrated among those starting the trouble.

ECUADOR

Undue use of legal mechanisms and selectivity

Judges in Ecuador have conducted a campaign against ex-Vice-President Jorge Glas, who was sentenced to six years in prison, the highest ranking public figure convicted in Latin America in the huge Odebrecht scandal, and against inner circle staff. Curiously, these “legal” suits have not touched the mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas, nor indicate investigating Guillermo Lasso, the candidate opposing Alianza País during the presidential elections, whom accusations point towards for receiving bribes from Odebrecht for the Quito metro contract [36], or for being immersed in the Panama Papers scandal –considering that most of the wealth of these politician businessmen is in offshore accounts [37].

It is important to remember that the legal case against ex-Vice-President Glas was begun after a message from the U.S. Justice Department notifying of payment of US$ 33.6 million from Odebrecht to corrupt public servants between 2007 and 2016 [38]. One message coinciding with the electoral campaign underway in December 2016 favoured the interests of the Guillermo Lasso and Andres Paez bid [39]. Both right-wing leaders were mentioned in numerous cables revealed by Wikileaks [40], placing them amongst the most privileged close informants in favour of United States interests [41].

Whilst ex-Vice-President Glas was convicted, those who provided most of the information to the U.S. Justice Department, were the Brazilian businessmen Jose C., Simoes P., Ricardo V. and Mauricio G., one time members of staff at Odebrecht and whose full names have not been published. No injunctions having been served against them, because the Ecuadorean prosecutors signed a cooperation agreement to provide information to gather evidence for investigations, and under article 494 of the Criminal Code, which states that injunctions must be suited to guarantee success of the investigations [42]. One fundamental detail to be taken into account is the expulsion of the Odebrecht company from Ecuador between 2008 and 2010, demanded by ex-President Rafael Correa, who took that decision for not Odebrecht not having complied with the engineering standards of the San Francisco hydroelectric dam, and due to indications of manipulation and corruption in the contracting processes, which the judge of the case did not take into account, and neither was this mentioned in the conventional media, which in due course criticized the expulsion measure of the Brazilian company as authoritarian [43].

Corruption: Correa’s “main problem”

From the beginning of his mandate, President Lenin Moreno initiated a set of actions to disassociate himself from his predecessor and party colleague, Rafael Correa. In an interview with a Spanish daily newspaper, he said he was “horrified, because (…) there had been rampant corruption, principally in the last period of the previous government (…) and apparently the President (Correa) had turned a blind eye on more than one occasion, because he was not thinking of the country, but rather of the next election” [44].

The interesting thing is that in Ecuador, the anti-corruption discourse has been transformed into a process of judicial persecution carried out by Lawfare, supported from the highest levels of the judiciary and with the backing of right-wing parties. The “problem of corruption” in Ecuador has taken on such a proportion for so many people, that it is to be included in the next referendum and plebiscite to be held in a fortnight.

The path to neoliberalism (with Lenin)

The process of judicialization of politics and persecution of members of the previous government has generated fertile ground for the “change”. Since he came to power, Lenin Moreno has put in place a series of neoliberal reforms, overturning Correa’s policies.

Moreno celebrated the visit from the IMF, and later said he would ask for their help, a warning message due to the implications of a change in direction of the country’s economic policy. He is disposed to hand over management of electronic money to a private bank, competing against the income generated by the Ecuador Central Bank in this area. Going against the recommendation by the National Assembly and the Economic Revitalization Law, this allows imports on a massive scale, leading to a significant reduction in the trading surplus in 2017, increasing imports by 21 % and weakening national production. Likewise, in the next plebiscite and referendum, the progressive value-added Law, which impedes land speculation in urban areas, is intended to be reversed [45]. It is no coincidence that in lockstep with this question in the plebiscite, the persecution of “corrupt” members of the previous government is included.

COLOMBIA

Little has been examined and even less published in the mass media about the way in which the Constitutional Court worked against the peace agreement, by making the discussion mechanism via FastTrack unsustainable, which impedes the advance in legislation towards the peace process and which has once again opened up the discussion on the key points of the agreement, placing the peace achieved thus far at risk.

Unlike the previous cases, in Colombia, the strategy of Lawfare is done inversely, using low intensity legal warfare, where the objective is the permanence and concealment, by over exposing certain cases, with the completely rotten from corruption justice system in collusion, impeding perception of the drivers and actors of a system that is now in crisis. The strategy of legal warfare is only of high intensity in the few cases where the left is able to occupy space in the formal political sphere, after combating paramilitary harassment and a merciless hostile media system. Only then are all the alarm bells set off and all the institutional and legal avenues activated to deal with the threat.

Undue use of legal mechanisms and selectivity

The so called judges cartel is an example of the use of justice for the benefit of the right-wing political caste linked to the corrupt and the criminal, which has been ensuring the guaranteeing of the well-being of neoliberalism. But this case is only the tip of the iceberg as there are many loose ends, and through the over exposure of some actors by the media ensures that people do not ask about the links between certain state and regional personalities with the heirs of the family dynasties that currently hold power. Santos, Lleras, Lopez, Gomez, Pastrana, are some of the most recurring names who have known how to handle political, judicial and communication institutions in their own interests.

This key role justice has played has been uncovered whereby certain judges worked in the Supreme Court of Justice in alliance with the Anti-corruption Prosecution Service, postponing and delaying legal processes against politicians linked to the paramilitaries or to cases of corruption, in exchange for spectacular amounts of money. That is not to mention the multiplicity of family businesses which have grown in the shadow of the illegal activity of the judges.

Corruption: the “problem with the left”

Corruption is presented as a disease of the left. This is the case of ex-mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, who is now a candidate for the Presidency, persecuted and turned out of office by the extreme right-wing prosecutor, Alejandro Ordoñez, whose rulings against the ex-mayor of the Progressive Movement were overturned by the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, allowing him to continue his mandate and by the State Council, which showed evidence three years later of the use of judicial warfare against the mayor.

Access to the Special Justice for Peace is denied to civilians committed to crimes against humanity, or to financiers or backers of the paramilitaries, and the political reform that promised a democratic opening was scuttled, with seats or blocks being denied to the victims in Congress, and the regulation of comprehensive land reform has not even been started, amongst other things [46].

On the other hand, the protection given by the judiciary and the media to certain people is quite clear in the case of Alvaro Uribe, who had more than 186 legal processes against him, including one about his use of the State-DAS intelligence apparatus to intimidate, persecute and spy on the opposition and neighbouring governments, or for the buying of votes in the Senate to enable his re-election in 2006. All the cases in the commission of inquiry remaining intact in the Chamber of Representatives have little possibility of being brought to any judgement due to it being made up of Uribe or ex-Uribe politicians [47].

Lawfare: part of the neoliberal status quo

Odebrecht has been documented to have financed the campaign of President Juan Manuel Santos when he was supported by Uribe in 2010, as well as having supported the campaigns of Santos and his main rival, the Uribe ally, Zuluaga in 2014 [48]. There are also investigations underway into the payment of bribes of at least US$ 31.5 million delivered to highly placed members of the Uribe and Santos governments in return for infra-structure contracts passed in 2006 and 2016 [49]. Nevertheless, not one of these members of the government has been charged, except for one deputy minister and three Senators, who are assisting inquiries and will be given light sentences, closing the Odebrecht mega-scandal with some mid-level leadership figures being convicted, but maintaining the status quo.

The use of the judicial apparatus to safeguard the instituted order of things has played a key role in a process where the responsibilities and miseries of neoliberal policies which has been operating for decades is evident [50], sustaining the same families in power and shielding political dynasties enjoying the benefits of the State despite being seen to have committed serious crimes [51]. The policy of reduction of the role of the State in its socio-economic dimension in favour of the historically marginalized, together with a growth in favour of the private sector is evident, which is well received by the mass media and is not investigated or questioned, considering that the corruption has two parties, those who give and those who receive, i.e. private companies and those associated with the State.

Corruption in the full neoliberal, privatized model, with the State reduced to the extreme, represents 4% of Colombian GDP, about US$ 17 billion a year according to data from the Colombian comptroller office [52]. This scheme depends on the impunity and on the connivance of the judicial system, the media and violence to repress critical voices, such as the 120 civil society movement leaders assassinated in 2017 [53]. This impunity associated with neoliberal policies in relation to the status quo is counselled by the United States, with reports of corruption cases involving “made in USA” companies as in the case of Reficar not being referred to public opinion [54]. The same applies to the Odebrecht case, both in Brazil and Ecuador. To the contrary, highly placed Colombian public servants convicted of corruption have been protected, as in the case of ex-Uribe minister Andres Felipe Arias [55].

[1]http://www.celag.org/lawfare-la-judicializacion-de-la-politica-en-america-latina/

[2]http://lawfareinstitute.com/publications/

[3] https://thelawfareproject.org/lawfare/what-is-lawfare-1/

[4]https://www.cidob.org/content/download/58165/1509781/…/1/…/domingo_85-86.pdf

[5]Herman, Edward and Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing consent. The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon, 1988

[6]http://www.celag.org/lawfare-la-judicializacion-de-la-politica-en-america-latina/

[7]http://www.celag.org/la-corrupcion-problema-america-latina-2/

[8]https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/international-support-for-justice-reform-latin-america-worthwhile-or-worthless

[9]https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/11/economist-explains-12

[10]https://blogs.imf.org/2017/09/21/corruption-in-latin-america-taking-stock/

[11] https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/latin-america%E2%80%99s-authoritarian-drift-threat-populist-left

[12]https://blogs.imf.org/2017/09/21/corruption-in-latin-america-taking-stock/

[13]http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/23/populism-is-coming-for-latin-america-in-2018/

[14]Sotelo Felipe, M. (2018) “Lawfare, this crime call justice”. In Proner, C., Citadino, G., Ricobom, G. and Dornelles, J. Comments on a notorious verdict. The Trial of Lula. CLACSO https://www.clacso.org.ar/libreria-latinoamericana/libro_detalle.php?id_libro=1338&orden=&pageNum_rs_libros=0&totalRows_rs_libros=1256

[15] Equality is the concept of equal civil and political rights if citizens.

[16] Carol Proner et al. (orgs.) Comentarios a uma sentença anunciada: o Processo Lula. Bauru: Canal 6, 2017.

[17]Sotelo Felipe, M. (2018) “Lawfare, this crime call justice”. In Proner, C.; Citadino, G.; Ricobom, G. and Dornelles, J. Comments on a notorious verdict. The trial of Lula. CLACSO.

[18] http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-40589237

[19] https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/190468

[20] https://www.telesurtv.net/news/Brasil-Caso-de-Lula-pasa-por-delante-de-otras-7-actions-de-Lava-Jato-20180108-0034.html

[21] http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/12/19/marcelo-odebrecht-sale-de-la-carcel-para-cumplir-prision-domiciliaria/

[22]https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/835/brazils-nuclear-power-program-undone-corruption

[23] http://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,justica-condena-ex-presidente-da-eletronuclear-a-43-anos-de-prisao,10000066863

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/es/2017/08/30/juez-sergio-moro-java-lato-lula-brasil/?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Findex

[25] http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2014/12/141209_brasil_juez_escandalo_petrobras_perfil_gl

[26] http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2016/11/corruption-charges-and-the-decline-of-populism-latin-americas-rejection-of-its-political-class/

[27] http://themercury.com/endless-corruption-is-a-cancer-in-brazil/article_c2c826b7-75c8-526a-8c6a-862c956cb32f.html

[28] https://www.telesurtv.net/telesuragenda/Privatizations-en-Brasil-20170906-0038.html

[29] http://www.celag.org/brasil-and-el-cono-sur-en-la-geopolitica-estadounidense/

[30] http://www.eleconomista.es/economia/noticias/8737826/11/17/Brasil-estrena-una-reforma-laboral-odiada-por-los-sindicatos-and-festejada-por-las-empresas.html

[31] https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2017/04/28/barricadas-protestas-and-huelga-general-contra-las-reformas-impulsadas-por-michel-temer-en-brasil/

[32]http://www.lanoticiaweb.com.ar/noticia/47193/mauricio-es-fue-and-sera-siempre-macri

[33]http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1920318-encontre-un-estado-devastado-por-la-corrupcion-and-otras-frases-destacadas-de-mauricio-macri

[34]https://www.clarin.com/politica/apertura-sesiones-ordinarias-mauricio-macri-dijo-ahora-relato-verdad_0_H1Nd98E5g.html

[35]http://www.celag.org/santiago-maldonado-desdibujando-al-estado-derecho/

[36]https://www.telesurtv.net/telesuragenda/Lasso-and-Rodas-apellidos-del-escandalo-Odebrecht-en-Ecuador-20170316-0034.html

[37]https://www.pagina12.com.ar/27029-lasso-en-jaque-por-los-negocios-en-panama

[38] https://www.nacion.com/el-mundo/politica/corte-constitucional-de-ecuador-acepta-judge/J2G7EIQVU5GSDCZGM443NLBJDE/story/

[39]http://www.vistazo.com/seccion/country-politica-nacional/politica-nacional/paez-analiza-ir-eeuu-por-informacion-de-caso

[40]https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07QUITO768_a.html

[41] http://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/politica/2/investigacion-revela-presunto-vinculo-de-paez-con-stanford

[42] http://www.celag.org/la-corrupcion-problema-america-latina-2/

[43] http://www.ecuadorinmediato.com/index.php?module=Noticias&func=news_user_view&id=2818813271

[44] http://www.abc.es/internacional/abci-lenin-moreno-estoy-espeluznado-corrupcion-galopante-government-correa-201712140224_noticia.html

[45] http://www.celag.org/ecuador-regreso-una-economia-tutelada/

[46]http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/fast-track-corte-constitucional-tumba-voto-en-bloque/525563

[47]http://www.elcountry.com.co/colombia/alvaro-uribe-velez-tiene-mas-de-186-procesos-en-la-comision-de-acusacion.html

[48] http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/07/13/fiscalia-de-colombia-asegura-que-odebrecht-asumio-gastos-de-campanas-de-santos-and-zuluaga/ and http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/fiscal-hay-evidencia-certera-del-ingreso-de-dinero-de-odebrecht-a-campana-de-oscar-ivan-zuluaga/544784

[49]http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/la-ruta-de-los-sobornos-de-odebrecht-en-colombia-113000

[50] http://www.celag.org/la-crisis-neoliberal-and-la-paz-en-colombia-por-javier-calderon-castillo/

[51] https://www.elespectador.com/elections-2018/noticias/politica/los-candidatos-mal-rodeados-articulo-727973

[52] http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/delitos/precio-de-la-corrupcion-en-colombia-61749

[53] https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/mas-de-120-lideres-comunales-han-sido-asesinados-en-2017-articulo-724083

[54] http://caracol.com.co/programa/2016/01/28/6am_hoy_por_hoy/1453984041_656591.html

[55] http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/vinculacion-de-andres-felipe-arias-con-caso-odebrecht-esta-en-manos-de-la-fiscalia-119426

How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of Russia Hacking US Voter Sites

DHS hacking.png

The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites.  And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well. 

But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive.

DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story. When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable.

The National Security Agency and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigating team have also claimed evidence that Russian military intelligence was behind election infrastructure hacking, but on closer examination, those claims turn out to be speculative and misleading as well. Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU military intelligence officers does not cite any violations of U.S. election laws though it claims Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

A Sensational Story 

On Sept. 29, 2016, a few weeks after the hacking of election-related websites in Illinois and Arizona, ABC News carried a sensational headline: “Russian Hackers Targeted Nearly Half of States’ Voter Registration Systems, Successfully Infiltrated 4.” The story itself reported that “more than 20 state election systems” had been hacked, and four states had been “breached” by hackers suspected of working for the Russian government. The story cited only sources “knowledgeable” about the matter, indicating that those who were pushing the story were eager to hide the institutional origins of the information.

Behind that sensational story was a federal agency seeking to establish its leadership within the national security state apparatus on cybersecurity, despite its limited resources for such responsibility. In late summer and fall 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was maneuvering politically to designate state and local voter registration databases and voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” Such a designation would make voter-related networks and websites under the protection a “priority sub-sector” in the DHS “National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which already included 16 such sub-sectors.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other senior DHS officials consulted with many state election officials in the hope of getting their approval for such a designation. Meanwhile, the DHS was finishing an intelligence report that would both highlight the Russian threat to U.S. election infrastructure and the role DHS could play in protecting it, thus creating political impetus to the designation. But several secretaries of state—the officials in charge of the election infrastructure in their state—strongly opposed the designation that Johnson wanted.

On Jan. 6, 2017—the same day three intelligence agencies released a joint “assessment” on Russian interference in the election—Johnson announced the designation anyway.

Media stories continued to reflect the official assumption that cyber attacks on state election websites were Russian-sponsored. Stunningly, The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that DHS was itself behind hacking attempts of Georgia’s election database.

The facts surrounding the two actual breaches of state websites in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the broader context of cyberattacks on state websites, didn’t support that premise at all.

In July, Illinois discovered an intrusion into its voter registration website and the theft of personal information on as many as 200,000 registered voters. (The 2018 Mueller indictments of GRU officers would unaccountably put the figure at 500,000.) Significantly, however, the hackers only had copied the information and had left it unchanged in the database.

That was a crucial clue to the motive behind the hack. DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Andy Ozment told a Congressional committee in late September 2016 that the fact hackers hadn’t tampered with the voter data indicated that the aim of the theft was not to influence the electoral process. Instead, it was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information.” Ozment was contradicting the line that already was being taken on the Illinois and Arizona hacks by the National Protection and Programs Directorate and other senior DHS officials.

In an interview with me last year, Ken Menzel, the legal adviser to the Illinois secretary of state, confirmed what Ozment had testified.

“Hackers have been trying constantly to get into it since 2006,” Menzel said, adding that they had been probing every other official Illinois database with such personal data for vulnerabilities as well.  “Every governmental database—driver’s licenses, health care, you name it—has people trying to get into it,” said Menzel.

In the other successful cyberattack on an electoral website, hackers had acquired the username and password for the voter database Arizona used during the summer, as Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan learned from the FBI. But the reason that it had become known, according to Reagan in an interview with Mother Jones, was that the login and password had shown up for sale on the dark web—the network of websites used by cyber criminals to sell stolen data and other illicit wares.

Furthermore, the FBI had told her that the effort to penetrate the database was the work of a “known hacker” whom the FBI had monitored “frequently” in the past. Thus, there were reasons to believe that both Illinois and Arizona hacking incidents were linked to criminal hackers seeking information they could sell for profit.

Meanwhile, the FBI was unable to come up with any theory about what Russia might have intended to do with voter registration data such as what was taken in the Illinois hack.  When FBI Counterintelligence official Bill Priestap was asked in a June 2017 hearing how Moscow might use such data, his answer revealed that he had no clue:

“They took the data to understand what it consisted of,” said the struggling Priestap, “so they can affect better understanding and plan accordingly in regards to possibly impacting future elections by knowing what is there and studying it.”

The inability to think of any plausible way for the Russian government to use such data explains why DHS and the intelligence community adopted the argument, as senior DHS officials Samuel Liles and Jeanette Manfra (image on the right) put it, that the hacks “could be intended or used to undermine public confidence in electoral processes and potentially the outcome.” But such a strategy could not have had any effect without a decision by DHS and the U.S. intelligence community to assert publicly that the intrusions and other scanning and probing were Russian operations, despite the absence of hard evidence. So DHS and other agencies were consciously sowing public doubts about U.S. elections that they were attributing to Russia.

DHS Reveals Its Self-Serving Methodology

In June 2017, Liles and Manfra testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that an October 2016 DHS intelligence report had listed election systems in 21 states that were “potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”  They revealed that the sensational story leaked to the press in late September 2016 had been based on a draft of the DHS report. And more importantly, their use of the phrase “potentially targeted” showed that they were arguing only that the cyber incidents it listed were possible indications of a Russian attack on election infrastructure.

Furthermore, Liles and Manfra said the DHS report had “catalogued suspicious activity we observed on state government networks across the country,” which had been “largely based on suspected malicious tactics and infrastructure.” They were referring to a list of eight IP addresses an August 2016 FBI “flash alert” had obtained from the Illinois and Arizona intrusions, which DHS and FBI had not been able to  attribute to the Russian government.

The DHS officials recalled that the DHS began to “receive reports of cyber-enabled scanning and probing of election-related infrastructure in some states, some of which appeared to originate from servers operated by a Russian company.” Six of the eight IP addresses in the FBI alert were indeed traced to King Servers, owned by a young Russian living in Siberia. But as DHS cyber specialists knew well, the country of ownership of the server doesn’t prove anything about who was responsible for hacking: As cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr pointed out, the Russian hackers who coordinated the Russian attack on Georgian government websites in 2008 used a Texas-based company as the hosting provider.

The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect noted in 2016 that one of the other two IP addresses had hosted a Russian criminal market for five months in 2015. But that was not a serious indicator, either. Private IP addresses are reassigned frequently by server companies, so there is not a necessary connection between users of the same IP address at different times.

The DHS methodology of selecting reports of cyber incidents involving election-related websites as “potentially targeted” by Russian government-sponsored hackers was based on no objective evidence whatever. The resulting list appears to have included any one of the eight addresses as well as any attack or “scan” on a public website that could be linked in any way to elections.

This methodology conveniently ignored the fact that criminal hackers were constantly trying to get access to every database in those same state, country and municipal systems. Not only for Illinois and Arizona officials, but state electoral officials.

In fact, 14 of the 21 states on the list experienced nothing more than the routine scanning that occurs every day, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Only six involved what was referred to as a “malicious access attempt,” meaning an effort to penetrate the site. One of them was in Ohio, where the attempt to find a weakness lasted less than a second and was considered by DHS’s internet security contractor a “non-event” at the time.

State Officials Force DHS to Tell the Truth

For a year, DHS did not inform the 21 states on its list that their election boards or other election-related sites had been attacked in a presumed Russian-sponsored operation. The excuse DHS officials cited was that it could not reveal such sensitive intelligence to state officials without security clearances. But the reluctance to reveal the details about each case was certainly related to the reasonable expectation that states would publicly challenge their claims, creating a potential serious embarrassment.

On Sept. 22, 2017, DHS notified 21 states about the cyber incidents that had been included in the October 2016 report. The public announcement of the notifications said DHS had notified each chief election officer of “any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election.” The phrase “potential targeting” again telegraphed the broad and vague criterion DHS had adopted, but it was ignored in media stories.

But the notifications, which took the form of phone calls lasting only a few minutes, provided a minimum of information and failed to convey the significant qualification that DHS was only suggesting targeting as a possibility. “It was a couple of guys from DHS reading from a script,” recalled one state election official who asked not to be identified. “They said [our state] was targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”

A number of state election officials recognized that this information conflicted with what they knew. And if they complained, they got a more accurate picture from DHS. After Wisconsin Secretary of State Michael Haas demanded further clarification, he got an email response from a DHS official  with a different account.

“[B]ased on our external analysis,” the official wrote, “the WI [Wisconsin] IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said DHS initially had notified his office “that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites.” But under further questioning, DHS admitted to Padilla that what the hackers had targeted was the California Department of Technology’s network.

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Byron Dean also denied that any state website with voter- or election-related information had been targeted, and Pablos demanded that DHS “correct its erroneous notification.”

Despite these embarrassing admissions, a statement issued by DHS spokesman Scott McConnell on Sept. 28, 2017 said the DHS “stood by” its assessment that 21 states “were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.” The statement retreated from the previous admission that the notifications involved “potential targeting,” but it also revealed for the first time that DHS had defined “targeting” very broadly indeed.

It said the category included “some cases” involving “direct scanning of targeted systems” but also cases in which “malicious actors scanned for vulnerabilities in networks that may be connected to those systems or have similar characteristics in order to gain information about how to later penetrate their target.”

It is true that hackers may scan one website in the hope of learning something that could be useful for penetrating another website, as cybersecurity expert Prof. Herbert S. Lin of Stanford University explained to me in an interview. But including any incident in which that motive was theoretical meant that any state website could be included on the DHS list, without any evidence it was related to a political motive.

Arizona’s further exchanges with DHS revealed just how far DHS had gone in exploiting that escape clause in order to add more states to its “targeted” list. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan tweeted that DHS had informed her that “the Russian government targeted our voter registration systems in 2016.” After meeting with DHS officials in early October 2017, however, Reagan wrote in a blog post that DHS “could not confirm that any attempted Russian government hack occurred whatsoever to any election-related system in Arizona, much less the statewide voter registration database.”

What the DHS said in that meeting, as Reagan’s spokesman Matt Roberts recounted to me, is even more shocking.

“When we pressed DHS on what exactly was actually targeted, they said it was the Phoenix public library’s computers system,” Roberts recalled.

Image below: National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. (Wikimedia)

In April 2018, a CBS News “60 Minutes” segment reported that the October 2016 DHS intelligence report had included the Russian government hacking of a “county database in Arizona.” Responding to that CBS report, an unidentified “senior Trump administration official” who was well-briefed on the DHS report told Reuters that “media reports” on the issue had sometimes “conflated criminal hacking with Russian government activity,” and that the cyberattack on the target in Arizona “was not perpetrated by the Russian government.”

NSA Finds a GRU Election Plot

NSA intelligence analysts claimed in a May 2017 analysis to have documented an effort by Russian military intelligence (GRU) to hack into U.S. electoral institutions. In an intelligence analysis obtained by The Intercept and reported in June 2017, NSA analysts wrote that the GRU had sent a spear-phishing email—one with an attachment designed to look exactly like one from a trusted institution but that contains malware design to get control of the computer—to a vendor of voting machine technology in Florida. The hackers then designed a fake web page that looked like that of the vendor. They sent it to a list of 122 email addresses NSA believed to be local government organizations that probably were “involved in the management of voter registration systems.” The objective of the new spear-phishing campaign, the NSA suggested, was to get control of their computers through malware to carry out the exfiltration of voter-related data.

But the authors of The Intercept story failed to notice crucial details in the NSA report that should have tipped them off that the attribution of the spear-phishing campaign to the GRU was based merely on the analysts’ own judgment—and that their judgment was faulty.

The Intercept article included a color-coded chart from the original NSA report that provides crucial information missing from the text of the NSA analysis itself as well as The Intercept’s account. The chart clearly distinguishes between the elements of the NSA’s account of the alleged Russian scheme that were based on “Confirmed Information” (shown in green) and those that were based on “Analyst Judgment” (shown in yellow). The connection between the “operator” of the spear-phishing campaign the report describes and an unidentified entity confirmed to be under the authority of the GRU is shown as a yellow line, meaning that it is based on “Analyst Judgment” and labeled “probably.”

A major criterion for any attribution of a hacking incident is whether there are strong similarities to previous hacks identified with a specific actor. But the chart concedes that “several characteristics” of the campaign depicted in the report distinguish it from “another major GRU spear-phishing program,” the identity of which has been redacted from the report.

The NSA chart refers to evidence that the same operator also had launched spear-phishing campaigns on other web-based mail applications, including the Russian company “Mail.ru.”  Those targets suggest that the actors were more likely Russian criminal hackers rather than Russian military intelligence.

Even more damaging to its case, the NSA reports that the same operator who had sent the spear-phishing emails also had sent a test email to the “American Samoa Election Office.” Criminal hackers could have been interested in personal information from the database associated with that office. But the idea that Russian military intelligence was planning to hack the voter rolls in American Samoa, an unincorporated U.S. territory with 56,000 inhabitants who can’t even vote in U.S. presidential elections, is plainly risible.

The Mueller Indictment’s Sleight of Hand

The Mueller indictment of GRU officers released on July 13 appeared at first reading to offer new evidence of Russian government responsibility for the hacking of Illinois and other state voter-related websites. A close analysis of the relevant paragraphs, however, confirms the lack of any real intelligence supporting that claim.

Mueller accused two GRU officers of working with unidentified “co-conspirators” on those hacks. But the only alleged evidence linking the GRU to the operators in the hacking incidents is the claim that a GRU official named Anatoly Kovalev and “co-conspirators” deleted search history related to the preparation for the hack after the FBI issued its alert on the hacking identifying the IP address associated with it in August 2016.

A careful reading of the relevant paragraphs shows that the claim is spurious. The first sentence in Paragraph 71 says that both Kovalev and his “co-conspirators” researched domains used by U.S. state boards of elections and other entities “for website vulnerabilities.”  The second says Kovalev and “co-conspirators” had searched for “state political party email addresses, including filtered queries for email addresses listed on state Republican Party websites.”

Searching for website vulnerabilities would be evidence of intent to hack them, of course, but searching Republican Party websites for email addresses is hardly evidence of any hacking plan. And Paragraph 74 states that Kovalev “deleted his search history”—not the search histories of any “co-conspirator”—thus revealing that there were no joint searches and suggesting that the subject Kovalev had searched was Republican Party emails. So any deletion by Kovalev of his search history after the FBI alert would not be evidence of his involvement in the hacking of the Illinois election board website.

With this rhetorical misdirection unraveled, it becomes clear that the repetition in every paragraph of the section of the phrase “Kovalev and his co-conspirators” was aimed at giving the reader the impression the accusation is based on hard intelligence about possible collusion that doesn’t exist.

The Need for Critical Scrutiny of DHS Cyberattack Claims

The DHS campaign to establish its role as the protector of U.S. electoral institutions is not the only case in which that agency has used a devious means to sow fear of Russian cyberattacks. In December 2016, DHS and the FBI published a long list of IP addresses as indicators of possible Russian cyberattacks. But most of the addresses on the list had no connection with Russian intelligence, as former U.S. government cyber-warfare officer Rob Lee found on close examination.

When someone at the Burlington, Vt., Electric Company spotted one of those IP addresses on one of its computers, the company reported it to DHS. But instead of quietly investigating the address to verify that it was indeed an indicator of Russian intrusion, DHS immediately informed The Washington Post. The result was a sensational story that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. power grid. In fact, the IP address in question was merely Yahoo’s email server, as Rob Lee told me, and the computer had not even been connected to the power grid. The threat to the power grid was a tall tale created by a DHS official, which the Post had to embarrassingly retract.

Since May 2017, DHS, in partnership with the FBI, has begun an even more ambitious campaign to focus public attention on what it says are Russian “targeting” and “intrusions” into “major, high value assets that operate components of our Nation’s critical infrastructure”, including energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.  Any evidence of such an intrusion must be taken seriously by the U.S. government and reported by news media. But in light of the DHS record on alleged threats to election infrastructure and the Burlington power grid, and its well-known ambition to assume leadership over cyber protection, the public interest demands that the news media examine DHS claims about Russian cyber threats far more critically than they have up to now.

*

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

The Real Russian Interference in US Politics

If Russia were trying to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, it wouldn’t be attempting to change the U.S. system but to prevent it from trying to change Russia’s, argues Diana Johnstone.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was ostensibly a conflict between two ideologies and two socio-economic systems.

All that seems to be over. The day of a new socialism may dawn unexpectedly, but today capitalism rules the world. At first glance, it may seem to be a classic clash between rival capitalists. And yet, once again an ideological conflict is emerging, one which divides capitalists themselves, even in Russia and in the United States itself. It is the conflict between American unipolar dominance and a multipolar world.

The defeat of communism was brutally announced in a certain “capitalist manifesto” dating from the early 1990s that actually proclaimed: “Our guiding light is Profit, acquired in a strictly legal way. Our Lord is His Majesty, Money, for it is only He who can lead us to wealth as the norm in life.” The authors of this bold tract were Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who went on to become the richest man in Russia (before spending ten years in a Russian jail) and his business partner at the time, Leonid Nevzlin, who has since retired comfortably to Israel.

Loans for Shares

Those were the good old days in the 1990s when the Clinton administration was propping up Yeltsin as he let Russia be ripped off by the joint efforts of such ambitious well-placed Russians and their Western sponsors, notably using the “loans for shares” trick.

In a 2012 Vanity Fair article on her hero, Khodorkovsky, the vehemently anti-Putin journalist Masha Gessen frankly summed up how this worked:

The new oligarchs—a dozen men who had begun to exercise the power that money brought—concocted a scheme. They would lend the government money, which it badly needed, and in return the government would put up as collateral blocks of stock amounting to a controlling interest in the major state-owned companies. When the government defaulted, as both the oligarchs and the government knew it would, the oligarchs would take them over. By this maneuver the Yeltsin administration privatized oil, gas, minerals, and other enterprises without parliamentary approval.”

This worked so well that from his position in the Communist youth organization, Khodorkovsky used his connections to get control of Russia’s petroleum company Yukos and become the richest oligarch in Russia, worth some $15 billion, of which he still controls a chunk despite his years in jail (2003-2013).

His arrest made him a hero of democracy in the United States, where he had many friends, especially those business partners who were helping him sell pieces of Yukos to Chevron and Exxon. Khodorkovsky (image below), a charming and generous young man, easily convinced his American partners that he was Russia’s number one champion of democracy and the rule of law, especially of those laws which allow domestic capital to flee to foreign banks, and foreign capital to take control of Russian resources.

Vladimir Putin didn’t see it that way. Without restoring socialism, he dispossessed Khodorkovsky of Yukos and essentially transformed the oil and gas industry from the “open society” model tolerated by Yeltsin to a national capitalist industry. Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were accused of having stolen all the oil that Yukos had produced in the years 1998 to 2003, tried, convicted and sentenced to 14 years of prison each. This shift ruined U.S. plans, already underway, to “balkanize” Russia between its many provinces, thereby allowing Western capital to pursue its capture of the Russian economy.

The dispossession of Khodorkovsky was certainly a major milestone in the conflict between President Putin and Washington. On November 18, 2005, the Senate unanimously adopted Resolution 322 introduced by Senator Joe Biden denouncing the treatment of the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as politically motivated.

Who Influences Whom?

There is an alternative view of the history of Russian influence in the United States to the one now getting constant attention. It is obvious that a Russian who can get the Senate to adopt a resolution in his favor has a certain influence. But when the “deep state” and the corporate media today growl about Russian influence, they aren’t talking about Khodorkovsky. They are talking about alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. They are seizing, for example, on a joking response Trump made to a reporter’s snide question during the presidential campaign. In a variation of the classic “when did you stop beating your wife?” the reporter asked if he would call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stay out” of the election.

Since a stupid question does not deserve a serious answer, Trump said he had “nothing to do with Putin” before adding, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Many Trump opponents think this proves collusion. Irony appears to be almost as unwelcome in American politics as honesty.

When Trump revoked his security clearance earlier this month, former CIA chief John Brennan got his chance to spew his hatred in the complacent pages of The New York Times. Someone supposed to be smart enough to head an intelligence agency actually took Trump’s joking invitation as a genuine request. “By issuing such a statement,” Brennan wrote, “Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.”

As America’s former top intelligence officer, Brennan had to know that (even if it were true that Trump was somehow involved) it is ludicrous to suggest that Trump would have launched a covert intelligence operation on national television. If this were a Russian operation to hack Clinton’s private server it would have been on a need-to-know basis and there is no evident need for Trump or his campaign team to have known.

Besides, Clinton’s private server on the day Trump uttered this joke, July 27, 2016, had already been about nine months in possession of the Department of Justice, and presumably offline as it was being examined.

Since Brennan knows all this he could only have been lying in The New York Times.

The Russians, Brennan went on, “troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters.”

But which Russians do that? And who are those “individuals?”

‘The Fixer-in-Chief’

To understand the way Washington works, one can focus on the career of lawyer Jonathan M. Winer, who proudly says that in early 2017 the head of the Carnegie Endowment, Bill Burns, referred to him as “The Fixer-in-Chief.” Let’s see what the fixer has fixed.

Winer served in the Clinton State Department as its first Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Law Enforcement from 1994-1999. One may question the selectivity of Bill Clinton’s concern for international law enforcement, which certainly did not cover violating international law by bombing defenseless countries.

In any case, in 1999 Winer received the State Department’s second highest award for having “created the capacity of the Department and the U.S. government to deal with international crime and criminal justice as important foreign policy functions.” The award stated that “the scope and significance of his achievements are virtually unprecedented for any single official.”

After the Clinton administration, from 2008 to 2013, Winer worked as a high-up consultant at one of the world’s most powerful PR and lobbying firms, APCO Worldwide. As well as the tobacco industry and the Clinton Foundation, APCO also works for Khodorkovsky. To be precise, according to public listings, the fourth biggest of APCO’s many clients is the Corbiere Trust, owned by Khodorkovsky and registered in Guernsey. The trust tends and distributes some of the billions that the oligarch got out of Russia before he was jailed.

Corbiere money was spent to lobby both for Resolution 322 (supporting Khodorkovsky after his arrest in Russia) and for the Magnitsky Act. APCO president Margery Kraus is a member of the Institute of Modern Russia, which is headed by Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel, with the ostensible purpose of “promoting democratic values” – in other words, of building political opposition to Putin.

When John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, allowing Hillary to prepare her presidential campaign, Winer went back to the State Department. Winer’s extracurricular activities at State brought him into the public spotlight early this year when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) named him as part of a network promoting the notorious “Steele Dossier,” which accused Trump of illicit financial dealing and compromising sexual activities in Russia, in a word, “collusion” with Moscow.

By Winer’s own account, he had been friends with former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele since his days at APCO. Back at State, he regularly channeled Steele reports, ostensibly drawn from contacts with friendly Russian intelligence agents, to Victoria Nuland, in charge of Russian affairs, as well as to top Russia experts. Among these reports was the infamous “Steele dossier,” opposition research on Trump financed by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

But dirt seemed to pass the other way too. According to a Feb. 6 Washington Post story, Winer passed on to Steele the story of Trump being urinated on by prostitutes in a Moscow hotel with Russian agents allegedly filming it for blackmail material. The Post says the story was written by Cody Shearer, a Clinton confidante. A lawyer for Winer told the paper that Winer “was concerned in 2016 about information that a candidate for the presidency may have been compromised by a hostile foreign power. Any actions he took were grounded in those concerns.” Shearer did not respond to a request for comment from Consortium News. (Full disclosure: Cody Shearer is a member of the advisory board of the Consortium for Independent Journalism, which publishes Consortium News, and has been asked to resign.)

All this Democrat paid-for and created dirt was spread through government agencies and mainstream media before being revealed publicly just before Trump’s inauguration. The Steele dossier was used by the Obama Justice Department to get a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign. 

Winer and the Magnitsky Act

Winer played a major role in Congress’s adoption of the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” (the Magnitsky Act), a measure that effectively ended post-Cold War hopes for normal relations between Washington and Moscow. This act was based on a highly contentious version of the November 16, 2009 death in prison of accountant Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky as told to Congress by hedge fund manager Bill Browder.  According to Browder, Magnitsky was a lawyer beaten to death in prison as a result of his crusade for human rights.

However, as convincingly established by dissident Russian film-maker Andrei Nekrasov’s investigative documentary (blacklisted in the U.S.), Magnitsky was neither a human rights crusader, nor a lawyer, nor beaten to death. He was an accountant jailed for his role in Browder’s business dealings, who died of natural causes as a result of inadequate prison care. The case was hyped as a major human rights drama by Browder in order to discredit Russian tax fraud charges against himself.

By adopting a law punishing Magnitsky’s alleged persecutors, the U.S. Congress acted as a supreme court judging internal Russian legal issues.

The Magnitsky Act also condemns legal prosecution of Khodorkovsky. Browder, on a much smaller scale, also made a fortune ripping off Russians during the Yeltsin years, and later got into trouble with Russian tax collectors. Since Browder had given up his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes, he had reason to fear Russian efforts to extradite him for tax evasion and other financial misdeeds.

It was Winer who found a solution to Browder’s predicament. As Winer wrote in The Daily Beast:

When Browder consulted me, he wanted to know what he could do to hold those involved in the case accountable. As Browder describes in his bookRed Notice, I suggested creating a new law to impose economic and travel sanctions on human-rights violators involved in grand corruption. Browder decided this could secure a measure of justice for Magnitsky. He initiated a campaign that led to the enactment of the Magnitsky Act. Soon other countries enacted their own Magnitsky Acts, including Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and most recently, the United Kingdom.”

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have been trying for years to pursue their case against Browder (image on the right). Putin brought up the case in his press conference following the Helsinki meeting with Trump. Putin suggested allowing U.S. authorities to question the 12 Russian GRU military intelligence agents named in the Mueller indictment in exchange for allowing Russian officials to question individuals involved in the Browder case, including Winer and former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, among others. Putin observed that such an exchange was possible under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed between the two countries in 1999, back in the Yeltsin days when America was posing as Russia’s best friend.

But the naïve Russians underestimated the craftiness of American lawyers.

As Winer wrote, “Under that treaty, Russia’s procurator general can ask the U.S. attorney general … to arrange for Americans to be ordered to testify to assist in a criminal case. But there is a fundamental exception: The attorney general can provide no such assistance in a politically motivated case (my emphasis). I know this because I was among those who helped put it there. Back in 1999, when we were negotiating the agreement with Russia, I was the senior State Department official managing U.S.-Russia law-enforcement relations.”

The clever treaty is a perfect Catch-22. It doesn’t apply to a case if it is politically motivated, and if it is Russian, it must be politically motivated. (The irony is that Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU Russian military intelligence agents appears to be more a political than a legal document. For one thing, it accused the agents of interfering in a U.S. election but never charges them under U.S. electoral law.)

On July 15, 2016, Browder’s Heritage Capital Management firm registered a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice accusing both American and Russian opponents of the Magnitsky Act of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA); adopted in 1938 with Nazis in mind.

As for Russian lawyers attempting to bring their case against the Act to the U.S., the Heritage Capital Management brief declared:

While lawyers representing foreign principals are exempt from filing under FARA, this is only true if the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client. By disseminating anti-Magnitsky material to Congress, [lawyer Natalia] Veselnitskaya is clearly trying to influence policy and is therefore in violation of her filing requirements under FARA.”

Veselnitskaya was at the infamous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016 to lobby a possible incoming Trump administration to oppose the Magnitsky Act. A British music promoter, not a spokesman for the Russian government, offered dirt on Clinton in an email to Donald Trump Jr. No dirt was apparently produced and Don Jr. saw it as a lure to get him to the meeting on Magnitsky. Democrats are furiously trying to prove that this meeting was “collusion” between the Trump camp and Russia, though it was the Clinton campaign that paid for opposition research and received it from foreigners, while the Trump campaign neither solicited nor apparently received any at that meeting.

The Ideological Conflict Today

Needless to say, Khodorkovsky’s Corbiere Trust lobbied hard to get Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act. This type of “Russian interference intended to influence policy” goes unnoticed while U.S. authorities scour cyberspace for evidence of trolls.

The basic ideological conflict here is between Unipolar America and Multipolar Russia. Russia’s position, as Putin made clear in his historic speech at the Munich security conference in 2007, is to allow countries to enjoy national sovereignty and develop in their own way. The current Russian government is against interference in other countries’ politics on principle. It would naturally prefer an American government willing to do the same.

The United States, in contrast, is in favor of interference in other countries on principle: because it seeks a Unipolar world, with a single “democratic” system, and considers itself the final authority as to which regime a country should have and how it should run its affairs.

So, if Putin were trying to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, he would not be trying to change the U.S. system but to prevent it from trying to change his own.

U.S. policy-makers practice interference every day. And they are perfectly willing to allow Russians to interfere in American politics – so long as those Russians like Khodorkovsky, who aspire to precisely the same unipolar world sought by the State Department. Indeed, the American empire depends on such interference from Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, Russians, Cubans – all those who come to Washington to try to get U.S. power to settle old scores or overthrow the government in the country they came from and put themselves in power. All those are perfectly welcome to lobby for a world ruled by America.

Russian interference in American politics is totally welcome so long as it helps turn public opinion against “multipolar” Putin, glorifies American democracy, serves U.S. interests, including the military industries, helps break down national borders (except those of the United States and Israel) and puts money in appropriate pockets in the halls of Congress.

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This article was originally published on Consortiumnews.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. The memoirs of Diana Johnstone’s father Paul H. Johnstone, From MAD to Madness, was published by Clarity Press, with her commentary. She can be reached at diana.johnstone@wanadoo.fr. She is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization  (CRG). 

Russia Is Buying Gold: Will It Save Russia From Dollar Sanctions? End of Dollar Hegemony?

Interview with Peter Koenig


Putin-gold

REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn

The German newspaper “Die Welt” announced that Russia actively seeks to get rid of dependency on the US dollar by purchasing gold and selling the bulk of the Moscow-owned US Treasury bonds.

According to political advisor and author James Rickards, cited by the newspaper, the Russian government pursues “a strategic plan” aimed at protecting the country from “dollar sanctions” by building up Russia’s gold reserves.

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Sputnik: The author of the article for “Die Welt” called gold ‘a perfect investment’ for Russia in the face of US sanctions. How much does this assessment correspond to reality? If it is true, why?

Peter Koenig: Yes, Mr. Zschäpitz, from the German “Die Welt“, quoting James Rickards, makes some good points.

The fact that Russia is stocking up on gold is not new. They have been doing this for years, especially during Mr. Putin’s leadership and more so since the imposition of the totally illegal sanctions that are based on falsehood and fabricated reasons in the first place – and continue on fabricated reasons, mostly by the US and the UK.

And to add injury to insult, the Swiss bank Crédit Swiss has just frozen roughly 5 billion dollars of money linked to Russia to avoid falling out of favors with Washington and risking sanctions. This is of course further increasing pressure on Moscow to de-dollarize as quickly as possible. Washington must know, of course, what these “sanctions” do. They are talking to Russian Atlantists – or Fifth Columnists – of whom there are still too many in Russia. And the sanctions against Russia are also propaganda-speak “we still command the world”.

These sanctions call for de-dollarization – which is already happening, and this on a rapidly increasing scale, as Mr. Zschäpitz points out. At the same time as Russia is buying gold, Russian dollar reserves have been reduced drastically over the past years.

They were replaced by gold and the Chinese Yuan (Renminbi) – since about two years the Yuan has been an officially recognized reserve currency by the IMF. The accumulation of gold, has made Russia the world’s fifth largest gold owner. They have increased their gold holdings from less than 500 tons in 2008 to almost 2000 tons in July 2018, including the latest purchase of 26 tons in July 2918.

The Russian Ruble today is covered twice by the value of gold. The ruble is no fiat currency like the dollar-based western monetary system, including the euro. The ruble is a solid currency, despite contrary western propaganda. When the western media demonizes the Russian currency as having lost 50% of its value due to sanctions – it is a manipulated half-truth. The 50% loss of value as compared to what? – Compared to the US dollar and other western currencies? With a western de-linked economy – a 50% devaluation, or any devaluation is irrelevant.

Being decoupled from the dollar, Russia will no longer be vulnerable to western sanctions – and no longer needs the western economy – which is already almost the case today. Russia has embarked on an effective “Economy of Resistance”.

As President Putin pointed out already years ago, the sanctions are the best thing that happened to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They forced Russia to rehabilitate and boost her agricultural production for food self-sufficiency, and likewise with the industrial sector. Today Russia is not only food-autonomous, but is by far the world’s largest wheat exporter; and Russia has developed a cutting-edge industrial park, no longer dependent on ‘sanctioned’ imports from the west.

And take this – as Mr. Putin pointed out, Russia will be supplying the world exclusively with organic food!

All of this confirms that investing in gold as a reserve currency and in Yuan, is a move away from the western dollar economy – and towards economic sovereignty. Besides, Russia has had for years a Yuan-Ruble swap agreement with the Central Bank of China, a sign of close economic and trade relations.

By the way – China has also been on a gold-buying spree for years. The Chinese Yuan is also covered by gold, plus by a solid national economy. Therefore, sanctions or ‘Trump’s tariff war’ have also only limited effect on China, if any. They serve more western anti-Yuan propaganda, alleging that tariffs and sanctions may weaken the yuan, thereby discouraging countries to buy yuans for their reserve coffers. It is a fact that the Yuan is rapidly replacing the dollar as a reserve currency.

Besides, both Russia and China are part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – the so-called SCO – and along with 6 other countries the SCO encompasses already close to 50% of the world population and controls about a third of the globes GDP. – Dependence on the west is no longer necessary.

Sputnik: The author also speaks about the growing importance of gold. What effect could its increased role have in the international financial system?

PK: It is half-secretly speculated that as a last-ditch effort to save the dollar, the US may return to some kind of a gold standard, thereby massively devaluing the dollar – and the US international debt – all those dollars currently still in many countries’ treasuries as reserves.

Having alternatives to dollars in a country’s reserve coffers, like gold and yuans, is of course a great defense mechanism. On the other hand, if such a move back to a kind of gold-standard by Washington, introduced by the FED and the US Treasury-controlled IMF, would take place – it would most likely boost the market value of gold – a good thing for those who have converted their reserves into gold.

Those who would suffer from such a move are as always, the poor countries, those that are highly indebted by IMF and World Bank loans, and may now be asked to pay back their debt in gold-convertible dollars.

Sputnik: What will happen to the dominance of dollar? What impact could it have on the US position on the world arena?

PK: It would most likely accelerate the fall of the dollar, meaning the end of US-dollar hegemony. It would probably also trigger the fall of the US economy which depends so much on the dollar hegemony – on being able to pressure countries into their following by ‘sanctions’.

I’m not a believer in gold as a sustainable ‘currency-alike’ in the long-run – because gold is also vulnerable to high-stakes manipulation and speculation. I more believe in a country’s economy as the true backing of a country’s currency. This is already happening in China, where the currency in circulation is backed by its strong economy. It may be soon, or is already, the case in Russia.

The use of gold, in my view, is but a temporary measure, and will last as long as the world still believes in the godly and historic and ancient powers of this precious metal. Today only about 10% of the available gold is for industrial use, the rest is “reserve money” and for pure speculation. If the world discovers that there is about 100 times more paper gold – gold derivatives – in circulation than physical gold – this miracle perception of gold may disappear. If all the derivative-paper gold would be cashed in at once – guess what would happen?

So, gold is good for now, but a temporary solution, in the longer run to be replaced by the actual strength of a country’s economy.

Sputnik: Amid US sanction policy, there have been calls for switching to national currencies in trade and ditch dollar. How efficient is this approach?

PK: Very efficient.

This is already happening. Russia and China are for years no longer trading in dollars but in local currencies, or even in gold, or in the case of China in gold-convertible yuan, especially for trading hydrocarbons, oil and gas. So are largely India, Iran, Venezuela and other countries that are eager to escape the dollar- hegemony with sanctions.

I think one of the ways out of the nefarious neoliberal globalization, is returning to sovereign country economies, with local currencies and satisfying local market needs. External trade with friendly nations, that share similar cultural and ideological values.

This is what China has done. China opened its borders to the west gradually in the mid-eighties, when she was self-sufficient in alimentation, health, education and shelter. And this practice is paying off until today. It is very difficult – if not impossible – to pressure China into anything – political or monetary – as Trump may soon find out – or knows already. China is fully autonomous and controls the Asian market, doesn’t really need the west in the long.

What Mr. Putin said, about the sanctions being the best thing that happened to Russia – for achieving economic sovereignty – which is really the key, goes in the same direction.

So yes, local production for local markets wit local currencies and trading with friendly nations – i.e. the SCO nations and nations participating in President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the future.

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Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a water resources and environmental specialist. He worked for over 30 years with the World Bank and the World Health Organization around the world in the fields of environment and water. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for Global Research; ICH; RT; Sputnik; PressTV; The 21st Century; TeleSUR; The Vineyard of The Saker Blog, the New Eastern Outlook (NEO); and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance.

What is called post-Truth is in fact lies

Post-Truth is a concept invented for these times, which is a euphemism for something which is uncomfortable for us to accept, a lie. This is uncomfortable because it means we have to perhaps put aside everything we think we know or have been taught and question what we hear every day through the media and from all those who repeat their incantations.

This stage we are going through, in that awful phrase of post-Truth, is the filtration of what is good or otherwise and what is Truth or otherwise.

This involves examining of our assumptions of what we are and of what is valuable, and is evident in the distaste of getting into political questions, such as equality between human beings, tolerance or its inverse, as well as the eternal questions of the absolute and what we are doing here.

Getting your head around this involves some mental flexibility which does not come easily to us. We have been fed all kinds of things, including things of varying value.

The mechanism used in furthering the idea of post-Truth is essentially one of laziness. Those who push this idea, not just those who use the words alone, but who actively advocate such ideas, are using their laziness to think, in order to say “Do not question our truths, because these simple answers are all you need. Why bother to think through the implications if we have already come up with the answers?”

Such people have rejected the idea, for whatever reason, that there is such a thing as Truth or anything real, using words which exist to communicate something of Truth to do the opposite, to lie. The most archetypal examples of this are in the mainstream media and some outlets of the social media.

Anyone who does question their simplistic truths is labelled crazy, idealistic, unrealistic, stupid, a Communist, a Russian bot, just plain weak, or any other convenient epithet available to hand.

However, not everyone who uses their ideas or words is necessarily a liar. Their ideas have percolated through society and become widespread, so just because someone uses the phrase does not mean they have swallowed the concept wholesale.

What it comes down to is that we are finally doing our laundry in public, finding both horrors and treasures, and though it may be uncomfortable to look in the mirror, the corrective measures, of truthfulness, must be applied. We are being forced to face and to adjust ourselves to what we see.

Post-Truthers are often believers in neo-liberalism. To cite a recent article by Henry A. Giroux, “Neo-liberal Fascism and the Echoes of History”:

At work here is a neo-liberal project to reduce people to human capital and redefine human agency beyond the bonds of sociality, equality, belonging and obligation. All problems and their solutions are now defined exclusively within the purview of the individual. This is a depoliticizing discourse that champions mythic notions of self-reliance and individual character to promote the tearing up of social solidarities and the public spheres that support them.

[…]

Neo-liberal fascism thrives on producing subjects that internalize its values, corroding their ability to imagine an alternative world. Under such conditions, not only is agency depoliticized, but the political is emptied of any real substance and unable to challenge neo-liberalism’s belief in extreme inequality and social abandonment. This fosters fascism’s deep-rooted investment ultra-nationalism, racial purity and the politics of terminal exclusion.

At its heart, neo-liberalism is based on lies.

Taibbi: Censorship Does Not End Well

How America learned to stop worrying and put Mark Zuckerberg in charge of everything