CIA Director Pompeo Admits Convincing Trump Over Disproven Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

Global Research, July 16, 2017
Activist Post 15 July 2017

Ever since the tragic and stupid launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria by the United States took place in April, the entire incident has been represented as a one-man show by the corporate and even by the alternative media. The corporate press, which virtually never gives Trump a break on any issue real or imagined, was strangely approving of The Donald after his war crime while his detractors in the alternative media were presenting the act as that of a madman who is frighteningly close to the red button.

On June 25, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh released a bombshell article revealing a number of facets regarding the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria and the resulting volley of Tomahawk missiles fired by the United States at the al-Sha’aryat airbase in response. Hersh’s article provides the reader with what many of us already knew and wrote about at the time; i.e. that the Syrian military did not conduct a chemical weapons attack and that the United States was fully aware of that fact. Still, the U.S. government opted to use the attack as a justification for launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase that resulted in the deaths of Syrian soldiers, civilians, and children from the nearby village.

Hersh’s article shows that not all key personnel were on board with the decision to launch Tomahawk missiles at al-Sha’aryat or even of the whole Syria/Iraq mission. The article reveals real concerns amongst knowledgeable personnel that the Russians will not continue to act as the cooler heads and that Russia has long wanted peace in the region. Most notably, it reveals the fact that there is a “secret agenda” moving forward in regards to Syria, Iraq, and Russia. Hersh’s article also points to the President as the individual who made the decision to launch attacks in Syria, against the advice of the military and intelligence community. In fact, Hersh’s article makes the entire incident appear as if it were the Trump show from beginning to end.

While Hersh’s article provides valuable information, it is becoming more and more evident that what Hersh came across was either an intentional leak or, perhaps even more accurate, only part of the story.

I wrote at the time that what is most likely here is not the situation that Hersh presents. It is more likely that the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus colluded with their corporate media department and capitalized on this incident and Trump’s narcissism and perceived political necessity. It is more likely that “advisors” like Trump’s rabid Zionist son-in-law who has been given frightening levels of access to the President and the government in an official capacity as Trump’s senior advisor, simply told the President that launching missiles was what he was expected to do by the Deep State and Trump complied. Trump could also have been told by advisors that the story was already out and the narrative already accepted and therefore he had to do something to appease the pro-war leftists, Democrats, and Republicans.

In this regard, Hersh’s article is possibly a limited hangout operation, not on the part of Hersh, but on the part of the intelligence community who wish to do more damage to the President’s public support and his ability to act independently of the “deep state.” It is their ability to announce the tragic massive fraud of Khan Sheikhoun while looking like the level heads and the good guys of the situation. Trump, of course, comes off looking like the lone assassin, the lone madman so eaten up with narcissism that he is putting the country at risk. But while Trump is undeniably a narcissist and he is undeniably putting the country at risk, it is the fact that he is listening to and obeying the deep state apparatus that is the danger, not that he is ignoring them.

While most of the above is informed speculation, it is also put into proper historical context, not only in the Trump administration but also in the history of other administrations over the past several decades, most notably that of Kennedy and Nixon, neither of which point to a promising end for Trump.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo

Backing up my own suspicions is the current Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo. In a recent speech to the INSA Leadership Dinner on July 11, Pompeo was giving a typical dinner speech about the harrowing world of the intelligence community, how tough it is to have his position, the importance of it, etc. During the course of the speech, however, Pompeo let a very interesting tidbit slip. Pompeo said:

I got a call from the President one afternoon back in April. He wanted to talk about some disturbing images that were coming in from Syria. I’m sure you saw many of them yourselves—scenes of innocent civilians writhing in agony, the apparent victims of a chemical weapons attack.

The President had a very direct message for me: Find out what happened. So we immediately assembled a crack team of Agency experts. They began piecing together the evidence, working closely with some outstanding partners from across the Intelligence Community.

The next day the President called his cabinet together. As we sat down, he turned to me and asked what we had learned. I told him that the IC had concluded that a chemical weapon had indeed been used in the attack, and that it had been launched by the Syrian regime.

The President paused a moment and said: Pompeo, are you sure? I’ll admit that the question took my breath away. But I knew how solid the evidence was, and I was able to look him in the eye and say, Mr. President, we have high confidence in our assessment.

The President never looked back. Based on the Intelligence Community’s judgment, he made one of the most consequential decisions of his young administration, launching a strike against the very airfield where the attack originated.

So I can assure you that when it comes to having the confidence of the Commander in Chief, CIA and the Intelligence Community are in great shape.

In other words, Pompeo is directly contradicting Hersh’s sources, saying it was not Trump who led the show but the intelligence community. Of course, Trump, being President is ultimately responsible for making the wrong decision but notice that, according to Pompeo himself, Trump demanded answers as to whom committed the attack. It was the intelligence community that came back to the President with assurances Assad was responsible.

Obviously, given all of the evidence surrounding Khan Sheikhoun, the idea that Assad committed a chemical weapons attack is ludicrous. It simply did not happen. The United States has no evidence that the incident was what it claims and all of the evidence produced by the Syrians, Russians, and independent researchers points to the contrary, even toward the fact that the entire incident may have been planned to set up the Syrian government so as to provide justification for an attack on Syria by the United States.

So what Pompeo is admitting to is, at best, providing the President with faulty intelligence. However, we know from the Hersh leaks that the intelligence community was already well aware of the fact that the Syrian government did not commit a chemical weapons attack. With that in mind, it appears that Pompeo has admitted to lying to Trump regarding the guilty party in Khan Sheikhoun and the existence of chemical weapons. At the very least, he managed to create a paper trail that leads right to the door of the CIA.

Is anyone surprised?

Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom7 Real ConspiraciesFive Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 andvolume 2The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President, and Resisting The Empire: The Plan To Destroy Syria And How The Future Of The World Depends On The OutcomeTurbeville has published over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST atUCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

Featured image from Activist Post

Too Much Exceptionalism Hath Made the US Elites Mad

Source

 What kind of person really wants to see relations between the world’s biggest nuclear armed countries deteriorate? Who wants to see the situation between the US and Russia, which has become at least as dangerous as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, get even worse? Or to put it another way, who would not welcome a genuine dialogue between the leaders of these two great countries? The answer to these questions is of course those who have completely lost their ability to reason.

Given the unprecedented propaganda and irrational absurdities coming out of the US over the past year or so, not even the most optimistic of people could have had very high hopes for the Trump-Putin meeting at the G20 Summit on Friday. The toxic atmosphere in the US, plus the fact that Donald Trump seemed to have capitulated to the Deep State within weeks of his inauguration, meant that any real thawing in relations was highly unlikely.

Yet as it turned out, the meeting was far better than even the biggest pessimist could have imagined. Scheduled to speak for just 30 minutes — which itself was a bad joke, given the urgent need for the leaders of these two nations to have serious and constant communication — they actually went on for over two hours and apparently cordially discussed a broad range of issues.

For any normal person, this would be seen as A VERY GOOD THING. But of course there are many who regard it as A VERY BAD THING.

For instance, on the idea of forming a joint Cyber Security unit so that each country could have a guarantee that the other would not “hack” the others’ election, the plan was met with derision in the US. Senator Marco Rubio, for instance, suggested that such an initiative would be like partnering with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons.

This is a particularly funny retort for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Syrian government’s stockpile of chemical weapons was destroyed by a team of US Army civilians and contractors aboard a US vessel, the Cape Ray, in 2013-14. Secondly, the US still has a stockpile of around 3,000 tons of chemical weapons, despite being a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which committed it to the destruction of their entire stockpile of chemical weapons within ten years. The complete destruction of the entire arsenal is now due to be completed around the year 2023. And thirdly, the country that leads the world in cyber-spying, monitoring, election interference and regime change by a wide margin is … none other than the country in which Mr Rubio is a senator. Let’s file his remarks in that fat ‘ole bin marked “Hypocrisy”.

Yet Mr Rubio’s remarks pale into insignificance to those uttered by Nikki Haley, the country’s second most important “diplomat”. Here’s what this “diplomat” had to say after her boss’s boss’s apparently cordial and constructive meeting with Mr Putin:

“We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.”

Think about that. Let it sink in. After a period of the worst relations between the two countries since — well since ever — the US President finally got to sit down and talk to his Russian counterpart, and by all accounts it went well. Which would be a cause for any normal person to be thankful. And yet just hours after it finished, the US’s second highest “diplomat” blabs her mouth off that the US will never trust Russia! I shudder to think that when looking for a diplomat, Mr Trump saw Mrs Haley as the best person to represent his country.

It would be pointless to go through all the inanities uttered by the stenographers in the so-called free media. Suffice it to say that predictably, rather than welcoming the potential for a relaxation of tensions, they spent their time chiding Mr Trump for “being soft”, for apparently “being played”, and of Mr Putin “winning”. What is WRONG with these people? Why does everything have to be about winning and losing? Can they not envisage discussions where grown-up people discuss differences and try to work towards resolution without it being about ‘who comes out on top’? Apparently they cannot, for reasons I’ll come to in a moment.

And of course they continued to display the effects of the debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder they’ve been suffering from for almost a year, which compels them to talk incessantly about “hacking” and “meddling”, but without ever asking a single challenging question, such as:

  • Did the 17 intelligence agencies really all agree with a high level of certainty that Russia hacked the election? (Answer: no)
  • Did the FBI actually examine the DNC servers? (Answer: no)
  • Who actually did examine the DNC servers (Crowdstrike) and do they have a reliable track record of such things? (Answer: no)
  • Was there any hard evidence presented of Russian hacking in the January 6th DIA report? (Answer: no)
  • Has the US ever interfered in the elections of other countries, including Russia’s? (Answer: yes — multiple times)

Words almost fail me. Faced with a choice between the two leaders striking up a rapport and finding some common ground, or the two of them squaring up to each other in a confrontation that would only increase tensions and push us closer to a potential nuclear confrontation, many (if not most) leading US politicians, plus their media lackeys, preferred the second option.

Last year, as the United States for the second time broke an agreement that they had signed with Russia to separate the so-called moderate rebels from groups like al-Nusra, the Russian Foreign Minister described the US administration using a word meaning “not agreement capable”. But it now looks far worse than that. It is not just that the US administration is “not capable” of agreement, it appears to be “not rational-thought capable”. Almost the entirety of Congress and the media seem to think that any détente between Mr Trump and Mr Putin, between the US and Russia, between the two biggest nuclear armed countries on the planet is tantamount to treason.

It is abundantly clear that the political and media elites in the United States are out of control. They have long since left the land of rationality, and have driven over the cliff where they are now floundering in the air of unreason before going splat on the rock of total insanity. They have so imbibed the heresy that the United States is “Exceptional” and “Indispensable” that they are now “not rational-thought capable”. They are incapable of conceiving of an agreement which does not either maintain or increase US hegemony. They are incapable of conceiving of talks with another country where their opposite numbers are treated as anything other than subservient. They are incapable of welcoming a thawing of relations between the leaders of two countries that have enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the lives of millions.

And because of their madness, they are driving the US and Russia towards confrontation. Don’t believe it? The Russians do. Here’s what one of their top generals, Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir, said back in April:

“The [US] missile defense system considerably shifts the balance of offensive weapons, allowing the planning of a more efficient pre-emptive strike. Russian military experts believe that the US hopes to gain the capability to strike any region of the world, including Russia and China, with nuclear-tipped missiles with impunity.”

Do you understand what he’s saying and how serious this all is? Unless the leaders of these countries talk to each other, as equals, with a view to reaching tangible agreements, and without their own bureaucracies and media back at home doing all they can to prevent this from happening, then the Russians will continue to view US plans as heading inexorably towards having the capability to launch a pre-emptive strike, with any response neutralised. Only someone that has let the ideology of exceptionalism blind them to what this really means, could fail to welcome the baby steps towards détente that were seen in Hamburg.

In short, too much exceptionalism hath made the US elites mad. They must be stopped.

The Fraud of the White Helmets

Hollywood buys into yet another lie

By Philip Giraldi

July 09, 2017 “Information Clearing House” – I actually forced myself to watch the documentary The White Helmets, which is available on Netflix. It is 40 minutes long, is of high quality cinematographically speaking, and tells a very convincing tale that was promoted as “the story of real-life heroes and impossible hope.” It is overall a very impressive piece of propaganda, so much so that it has won numerous awards including the Oscar for Best Documentary Short this year and the White Helmets themselves were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. More to the point, however, is the undeniable fact that the documentary has helped shape the public understanding of what is going on in Syria, delivering a Manichean tale that depicts the “rebels” as always good and Bashar al-Assad and his government as un-redeemably evil.

It has been reliably reported that celebrities like George Clooney, Justin Timberlake and Hillary Clinton really like the White Helmets documentary and have promoted it with the understanding that it represents the truth about Syria, but it is, of course, not the whole story. The film, which was made by the White Helmets themselves without any external verification of what it depicts, portrays the group as “heroic,” an “impartial, life-saving rescue organization” of first responders. Excluded from the scenes of heroism under fire is the White Helmets’ relationship with the al-Qaeda affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra and its participation in the torture and execution of “rebel” opponents. Indeed, the White Helmets only operate in rebel held territory, which enables them to shape the narrative both regarding who they are and what is occurring on the ground. Because of increasing awareness of the back story, there is now a growing movement to petition the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to revoke the Oscar based on the complete and deliberate misrepresentation of what the White Helmets are all about.

Exploiting their access to the western media, the White Helmets have de facto become a major source of “eyewitness” news regarding what has been going on in those many parts of Syria where European and American journalists are quite rightly afraid to go. It is all part of a broader largely successful “rebel” effort to manufacture fake news that depicts the Damascus government as engaging in war crimes directed against civilians.

The White Helmets have certainly saved some lives under dangerous circumstances but they have also exaggerated their humanitarian role as they travel to bombing sites with their film crews trailing behind them. Once at the sites, with no independent observers, they are able to arrange or even stage what is filmed to conform to their selected narrative. They have consistently promoted tales of government atrocities against civilians to encourage outside military intervention in Syria and bring about regime change in Damascus. The White Helmets were, for example, the propagators of the totally false but propagandistically effective claims regarding the government use of so-called “barrel bombs” against civilians.

The White Helmets were a largely foreign creation that came into prominence in the aftermath of the unrest in Syria that developed as a result of the Arab Spring in 2012. They are currently largely funded by a number of non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as governments, including Britain and some European Union member states. The United States has directly provided $23 million through the USAID (US Agency for International Development) as of 2016 and almost certainly considerably more indirectly. Max Blumenthal has explored in some detail the various funding resources and relationships that the organization draws on, mostly in Europe and the United States.

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter has described how the White Helmets are not actually trained to do the complicated rescue work that they depict in their self-made videos, which have established their reputation by ostensibly showing them in action inside Syria, rescuing civilians from bombed out structures, and providing life-saving emergency medical care. As an expert in Hazardous Materials handling with New York Task Force 2 USAR team, Ritter reports that “these videos represent de facto evidence of dangerous incompetence or, worse, fraud… The bread and butter of the White Helmet’s self-made reputation is the rescue of a victim—usually a small child—from beneath a pile of rubble, usually heavy reinforced concrete… The techniques used by the White Helmets are not only technically wrong, but dangerous to anyone who might actually be trapped… In my opinion, the videos are pure theater, either staged to impress an unwitting audience, or actually conducted with total disregard for the wellbeing of any real victims.”

Ritter also cites the lack of training in hazardous chemicals, best observed in the videos provided by the White Helmets regarding their activity at Khan Sheikhun on April 4th. He notes “As was the case with their ‘rescues’ of victims in collapsed structures, I believe the rescue efforts of the White Helmets at Khan Sheikhun were a theatrical performance designed to impress the ignorant and ill-informed… Through their actions…the White Helmets were able to breathe life into the overall narrative of a chemical weapons attack, distracting from the fact that no actual weapon existed….”

But perhaps the most serious charge against the White Helmets consists of the evidence that they actively participated in the atrocities, to include torture and murder, carried out by their al-Nusra hosts. There have been numerous photos of the White Helmets operating directly with armed terrorists and also celebrating over the bodies of execution victims and murdered Iraqi soldiers. The group has an excellent working relationship with a number of jihadi affiliates and is regarded by them as fellow “mujahideen” and “soldiers of the revolution.”

So by all means let’s organize to revoke the White Helmets’ Oscar due to misrepresentation and fraud. It might even serve as a wake-up call to George Clooney and his fellow Hollywood snowflakes. But the bigger take-away from the tale of the White Helmets would appear to be how it is an unfortunate repeat of the bumbling by a gullible U.S. government that has wrecked the Middle East while making Americans poorer and less safe. A group of “moderates,” in this case their propagandists, is supported with weapons and money to overthrow a government with which Washington has no real quarrel but it turns out the moderates are really extremists. If they succeed in changing regime in Damascus, that is when the real nightmare will begin for minorities within Syria and for the entire region, including both Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which seem intent on bringing Bashar al-Assad down. And the truly unfortunate fact is that the Israelis and Saudis apparently have convinced an ignorant Donald Trump that that is the way to go so the situation in Syria will only get worse and, unless there is a course correction, Washington will again richly deserve most of the blame.

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London

This article was first published by Unz Review 

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.

 

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3 videos to better understand the false chemical weapons accusations made by western powers against Syrian government

The Debate: “Syria Chemical Claims”


Journalist Alaa Ibrahim: “US claim that Assad preparing chemical attack is inventing excuse to go against Syrian Army”


Maria Zakharova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “US is preparing fake chemical attack in order to bomb the legitimate Syrian government forces”

Related

When Will Russia Challenge US and Israeli Aggression in Syria?

Global Research, July 03, 2017

Featured image: Sergey Shoigu – the virtuoso manager who is Russia’s Defense Minister (Source: Russia Insider)

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Washington, Israel and their rogue allies are at war on Syria – naked aggression against a sovereign independent state threatening no one.

Both countries supply ISIS and other terrorists with arms, munitions and other material support – supported by terror-bombing, daily by US warplanes, Israel at its discretion, its sixth attack in the last 10 days occurring Saturday, an unjustifiably pretext cited like all previous incidents, saying:

“In response to projectiles launched earlier today at Israel from Syria, Israeli forces targeted the Syrian military artillery position that was the source of the previous fire.”

No casualties or damage was reported. So-called errant mortar fire or other projectiles almost certainly came from US and Israeli-supported terrorists – providing unjustifiable justification for IDF aggression.

Why would Syrian forces risk it by any live fire aimed in the direction of Israel’s border? Why would they use toxic agents of any kind when they’re smashing US-supported terrorists by conventional warfare?

US and Israeli aggression aim solely to support ISIS and other terrorists used as imperial foot soldiers – notably now in the face of their heavy losses.

On June 30, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said repeated

“(p)rovocations by the coalition forces led by the United States contribute to the growing activity of terrorist organizations in Syria.”

On June 29, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said US propaganda, falsely claiming Syrian preparations for another CW attack appears a likely pretext for further US aggression.

It followed earlier provocations.

“The current information campaign (from America) is a precursor (for) new (US) intervention in Syria,” said Zakharova. All known facts indicate it.

“The scenario will be the same.”

Damascus will be falsely blamed for a CW attack carried out by US-supported terrorists.

Separately, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said

“it is necessary to warn (America) against further irresponsible steps in violation of the United Nations Charter and the generally recognized norms of the international law as was the case during the April 7 missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase.”

It cited “Washington’s bellicose rhetoric” as evidence of something planned, likely more US aggression against Syrian forces – following an “invitation” for terrorists it supports to launch another large-scale CW attack.

Russia’s rhetorical responses to US, Israeli and so-called coalition aggression against Syria accomplish nothing. Action backing up tough talk is needed – short of all-out war, but enough to show Moscow no longer will tolerate US-led escalated hostilities, undermining efforts to resolve things diplomatically.

According to Syrian lawmaker Muhammed Kheir al-Akkam, if the US-led “coalition continues to push with the issue of chemical weapons to justify its aggression against Syria, Damascus in coordination with Russia and Iran will deliver an unexpected response to this aggression” – without further elaboration.

A Final Comment

The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) comprised of US-supported terrorists falsely accused government forces of attacking the Ayn Tarma, Damascus district with chlorine gas on Friday.

Syria’s General Command of the Army and Armed Forces denounced the accusation as false and baseless – another fabricated attempt to prompt further US aggression.

The Khmeimim-based Russian Coordination Center issued a similar comment – stressing no use of any type toxic agents by Syrian forces against anyone, anywhere, at any time.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Washington Purposely Unleashes Fake News to Launch New Attack on Syria, Says Spencerová

Sunday, 02 July 2017 22:09

The White House purposely unleashes fake news about the use of chemical weapons in Syria in order to change the current situation for the interest of American plans, Tereza Spencerová  told the Czech ‘Parliamentary Papers’ website.

The Czech Journalist, who is specialized in Middle East Affairs, said:

“The U.S. threat to launch a new attack against Syria under the pretext of the use of chemical weapons comes despite Washington’s previous attack on the Syrian airfield was launched with no evidence about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian Arab army in Khan Sheikhon area in Idlib countryside.”

 She affirmed that the new U.S. threat aims to compensate for the recent defeats suffered by the US-backed terrorist groups in the east and the south of Syria.

“Launching a new attack on Syria by the United States will be a childish behavior,” Spencerová  stressed,  mocking the acts of the new US Administration.

“No one can know what is going on in the heads of Donald Trump and his close advisors,”  she said.

Last month, the Czech journalist underlined that  both Saudi and Qatari regimes hired terrorist organizations as tools to implement destructive policies in the region in accordance with foreign agendas.

She said:

” The Saudi Arabia’s recent escalation against Qatar is caused by tension of Saudi regime that has financial, social, religious and military problems.”

The crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar erupted following US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, marked by the signing of a record $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the visit was aimed at getting Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations in the region to stand in “unity” with Israel and confront Iran.

Basma Qaddour

The History of Fake News

The History of Fake News

EDITOR’S CHOICE | 03.07.2017

The History of Fake News

Why can’t America reliably separate out fact, falsehood, opinion and reasoned analysis?

David V. GIOE

It was a clear autumn day in Washington, DC on October 27, 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his Navy Day speech to the American people. Halloween was later that week, but Adolf Hitler and his Wehrmacht war machine were scaring the administration. Roosevelt used his address to highlight the threat posed to the Western Hemisphere—America’s hemisphere—per the longstanding Monroe Doctrine. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was six weeks hence, and Americans were leery of getting involved again in Europe’s perennially bloody wars. Charles Lindbergh and the “America First” movement, which represented America’s isolationist current, objected to greater involvement. Roosevelt needed to make the case that the Nazi threat to America was real. He noted, earlier that month, that a German U-boat had attacked an American destroyer, the USS Kearny, causing eleven American combat fatalities. “America has been attacked,” Roosevelt declared. “The USS Kearny is not just a navy ship. She belongs to every man, woman and child in this nation… Hitler’s torpedo was directed at every American.”

Roosevelt left out the minor detail that the Kearny was busy raining down depth charges on a German U-boat when she was torpedoed. In case the attack on the Kearny wasn’t enough to convince skeptical Americans of Hitler’s devious transatlantic designs, Roosevelt pressed his point with further evidence: “Hitler has often protested,” Roosevelt continued, “that his plans for conquest do not extend across the Atlantic Ocean. But his submarines and raiders prove otherwise. So does the entire design of his new world order,” Roosevelt stated ominously. “For example, I have in my possession a secret map made in Germany by Hitler’s government… of the new world order.”

“It is a map of South America and a part of Central America, as Hitler proposes to reorganize it… into five vassal states, bringing the whole continent under their domination… [including] our great lifeline—the Panama Canal… This map,” Roosevelt thundered, “makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States itself.”

In addition to millions of Americans tuning their radios in to Roosevelt’s revelations of Nazi treachery, the Germans were listening too. They vociferously denied the authenticity of Roosevelt’s map, but then again, it was marked “Geheim,” (Secret), so of course they would disown it, wouldn’t they? German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels rejected FDR’s “absurd accusations.” In his estimation, this was a “grand swindle” intended to “whip up American public opinion.” The problem is that Goebbels was right. The map was a forgery. He didn’t know who the real authors were, but British intelligence did—because it was they.

Operating out of the forty-fourth floor of New York’s Rockefeller Center, the remit of the vanilla sounding British Security Coordination office was, in part, to get America into the war. The Roosevelt administration was already reaching across the Atlantic with all sorts of civilian and military aid, but it wasn’t coming fast enough during the dark days of the Blitz, and each new initiative to support the British was met with howls of indignation by the isolationists in Congress. Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that the Americans would eventually get around to doing the right thing; they just needed a prod in the right direction—a prod in which the ends justified the means.

British intelligence recalled their previous success at stoking America’s ire for war when, in February 1917, desperately seeking American entry into the Great War, they passed the Americans the infamous Zimmermann Telegram, albeit with a phony cover story to hide the fact that they were routinely breaking American diplomatic codes. The Zimmermann Telegram, intercepted and decrypted by British codebreakers, offered a secret deal in which the Germans promised to return New Mexico, Arizona and Texas to Mexico if the latter would declare war on the United States in the event that Washington declared war on Germany.

In that instance, the British artfully used the telegram, authored by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann, to overcome characteristic American concern about foreign entanglements. President Woodrow Wilson was in a pickle. Just a year earlier, in the election of 1916, correctly sensing the national mood of nonintervention, he had run and won on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Now he felt that war might be inevitable, but how to reverse himself? A week after Wilson received the telegram from the British he authorized its publication in (or, in today’s vernacular, “leaked it to”) the media. It made the front page on March 1, 1917.

Notably, many Americans suspected the dark arts at play, assessing the telegram as a forgery. The wind was taken out of their conspiratorial sails when, two days later, none other than Arthur Zimmermann himself helpfully confirmed that his telegram was genuine. By the next month, America was at war. Not only did the British weaponize the explosive content of Zimmermann’s telegram, but Wilson used it to change tack as well, each to their own political ends.

The Zimmermann Telegram was but one of several factors, including German unrestricted submarine warfare, which led to American entry into World War I. The Americans tipped the balance in favor of the Entente powers and Germany was forced to sign the punitive Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but such a peace could not last, and exactly two decades later the European powers were again at war.

The sequel to the Great War in Europe had been raging since 1939, the German Blitzkrieg seemed unstoppable, and Britain stood alone against it. By late 1941, America had made itself the “arsenal of democracy,” but, as the Kearny incident showed, it actually went much further than that. In addition to Lend-Lease and similar arrangements, American warships and planes patrolled much of the Atlantic convoy route, guarding ships packed with millions of tons of American products—Britain’s tenuous lifeline for survival.

Still, the lost tonnage projections for transatlantic shipping were unsustainable. In a war of material, Britain was going to lose, whereas America’s population and industrial potential were still largely untapped. The supplies sent by America were critical, but if Britain was going to do more than lose slowly, America needed to go all in. But where was the next Zimmermann telegram to help this president lead his country to war? It seemed that, although Britain had affixed keys to every kite it had, lighting was not going to strike twice, but just maybe, this time they could put lightning in a bottle for FDR.

Britain’s senior intelligence official in the United States, Sir William Stephenson, sat atop the British Security Coordination office and became fast friends with Roosevelt’s decorated protointelligence chief, William J. Donovan, acting as coordinator of information, the forerunner of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, itself subsequently reassembled in 1947 as the Central Intelligence Agency. Donovan and Stephenson were birds of a feather. Self-made wealthy men, internationalist in outlook, and both combat heroes of World War I. Stephenson referred to the avuncular and paunchy Donovan as “Big Bill,” and Donovan affectionately labeled the smaller and trimmer Stephenson as “Little Bill.” Years later, Donovan opined, “Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence”—although perhaps some lessons were learned the hard way.

Despite the bonhomie between the “Bills,” Stephenson was using his friendship with Donovan to run unilateral propaganda operations against the isolationists in American chattering classes. It was in this context that Little Bill handed the fake map (amongst other forgeries) to Big Bill, who presented it to FDR as a cat brings a mouse to its master, perhaps, reminiscent of contemporary news media, not lingering over questions of authenticity because it was a scoop that Donovan had over his rivals in the military branches and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI.

The State Department, on the other hand, assessed British “intelligence” relating to Latin America as forgeries, even complaining to the British Embassy about it. Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, a man for who his intelligence portfolio was a bothersome sideshow, was on the right track with his skepticism about the British intelligence that Donovan was feeding to Roosevelt. He had concerns regarding reliability and veracity of the volumes of British intelligence that was finding its way to the Oval Office. Berle told his boss, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, “British intelligence has been very active in making things appear dangerous [in Latin America] . . . I think we have to be a little on our guard against false scares.”

Despite Berle’s suspicions, Roosevelt was not informed of the differing analytical lines in his bureaucracy. In fact, after the Germans cried foul, responding to a question about the map’s authenticity, Roosevelt claimed the source was “undoubtedly reliable.” One scholar pronounced “the most striking feature of the episode was the complicity of the President of the United States in perpetuating the fraud.” Another historian commented that British forgeries like the map were “truly a frontal assault on the rules of evidence.” Yet, like the Zimmermann Telegram twenty-four years earlier, the map served both the author and recipient’s intended political purpose.

Roosevelt died, in all probability, ignorant of the map’s true provenance, but whether or not he, like Assistant Secretary Berle in Foggy Bottom, personally harbored any suspicions about the map’s authenticity, on that sunny day in October 1941, Roosevelt needed it to be true, and that was what mattered. Thus, although the British put forward the fake news, Roosevelt was a willing political vessel for it. Several commentators have observed that fake news is not a fraud perpetrated on the unsuspecting, but rather willful belief. A shrewd political operator, Roosevelt was no novice to narrative shaping, but was likely willing to suspend disbelief for his policy goals. Indeed, the mud of deception often slides into self-deception.

One commentator asserted that the purpose of fake news “is not to pose an alternative truth . . . but to destroy truth altogether, to set us adrift in a world of belief without facts, a world where there is no defense against lies.” Actually, the purpose of fake news isn’t to destroy truth; it is to manipulate, to weaponize information, made out of whole cloth at times, to achieve political or societal goals. America is no more “post-truth” than it is “post-gravity”; it’s just that the terrible repercussions will take longer to drop. Information alchemy is about weaving straw into golden political outcomes. Several commentators have suggested that, during the 2016 presidential election, Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to engender a general crisis of civic confidence in the American electoral system. That’s a nice byproduct from his point of view, but even he knows full well that he can’t destroy American democracy—he just wanted to manipulate it toward his own ends.

Likewise, the saga of the fake map wasn’t a British assault on truth as such; it wasn’t intended to cloud the American people in an epistemological fog in which it was unclear who were the aggressors in Europe. The British needed a political—and by extension military—outcome and they assessed that the best way to do this was through bespoke disinformation.

In today’s deluge of information and disinformation, enabled in part by social media as news propagation outlets, the solution most proffered is “consider the source” as a way to separate wheat from chaff. Media outlets are trying to outcompete each other to earn their reputational halo. But, in the case of the fake map, Little Bill a was usually reliable source, and, if the British couldn’t be trusted, who could be? Indeed, the fall comes hardest when betrayed by trusted friends, and whom we admire. CIA’s own webpage homage dedicated to Stephenson is notably silent on the specifics of his greatest deception.

CIA has matured immeasurably from the heady and freewheeling days of the OSS, partly through the progression of intelligence officers from glorious amateurs to seasoned professionals, and partly in response to lessons learned from mistakes. Professional intelligence analysts are put through a rigorous analytical training pipeline that includes how to structure analysis, how to weigh sources, and how to consider competing hypotheses. They are taught that one analytical conclusion isn’t equally as valid as another, and that nuances matter. They are taught to figuratively interrogate sources and to consider the source’s purpose in providing information, and who was the intended audience? On the operational side, most raw intelligence generated by CIA’s case officers bears a health warning, a sort of caveat emptor, reminding analysts of what they should already know: “The source of the following information knew their remarks could reach the U.S. Government and may have intended to influence as well as inform.”

And in fact, many tools that intelligence analysts use every day are those that are borrowed from the practice of history, with critical thinking and a skeptical mind at the top of the list. The analytical cadre of Donovan’s nascent intelligence bureaucracy was staffed with the best minds from leading universities, raising questions about whether Donovan, in his haste to please his intelligence consumer in chief and scoop his rivals, even stopped for any analytical on what would be considered raw-liaison intelligence.

Not everyone needs to be professionally trained as an intelligence officer or historian to wade through sources, but Hugh Trevor-Roper was both. To apply his craft to approaching a primary source, he listed three questions that should be asked about every document: Is it genuine? Was the author in a position to know what he was writing about? And, why does this document exist? Answers to these questions are the handmaidens of trusting information and halting the malign influence of fake news. Perhaps, before passing the map to Roosevelt, Donovan should have heeded the wise counsel of a different British subject, the historian E.H. Carr, who commanded: “interrogate documents and . . . display a due skepticism as regards their writer’s motives.” Indeed, what intelligence analysts have in common with historians is that the best of the bunch are skeptics.

One practical way that skepticism ought to manifest itself in considering the source was offered by historian and strategist B. H. Liddell Hart: “On every occasion that a particular recommendation is made, ask yourself first in what way the author’s career may be affected.” Or, as the Romans may have inquired, “cui bono?” Who benefits? Maybe this level of skepticism sounds paranoid, but as the aphorism goes, you’re only paranoid if there is no plot. Or applied to the twenty-first century information wars, deception.

While considering the source is necessary, it is not sufficient—it’s a shortcut that too often turns into a handicap. Fact-based and objective reporting and analysis is surely the gold standard, but information consumers also have a role, even a civic obligation as citizens to take some responsibility for what they allow themselves to consider as truth. It is the manifestation of this shortcut crossed over to handicap that demands Facebook or Twitter do a better job of curating information on their platforms. It elides society’s individual responsibility for skepticism and critical thought in the evaluation of evidence and argument. For the same reason that diet pills don’t work, it’s just not that easy. Seeing results is going to take some discipline. Social-media sites, amongst others, are appropriately required to weed out extremist or illegal content, but filtering information is a more challenging feat. It would be convenient if they can run an algorithm and block bots and trolls, but disingenuous information and especially fraudulent analysis of facts would still remain. There is no Internet filter or setting that can remove conspiracy theory from the digital public square. Moreover, that might not be desirable in any case. It may be worth considering whether technological convenience, rapidly morphing into dependence past the point of no return, may have a causal relationship to America’s contemporary intellectual helplessness.

Perhaps technology companies will develop a genius algorithm to filter out Russian bots and disable some troll accounts, but this will not stop overly credulous people from retweeting, sharing and reposting “news” that bears as much semblance to reality as CheezWhiz does to cheese. Despite significant strides in artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence remains ineffective against intellectually dishonest analysis, non sequitur conclusions and ideological spin. It is therefore dubious to hope social-media sites will become guardian curators of fact-based knowledge and objective journalism. But there is no reason to rely on technology companies to solve the problem of fake news. The do-it-yourself tools are readily available.

How to begin to learn how to discern fake news? By rediscovering the broad civic applicability of the historical method. It starts with modifying the national epistemological approach to acquiring knowledge, and, applied across the population of the United States, the impact could be profound.

Quite when America started deviating from critical thinking is unclear, but a test of American college students, the College Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+) shows that, in over half of the universities studied, there is no increase in critical thinking skills over a four-year degree. The reasons for this are far from clear, but the pursuit of knowledge has become more argumentative, opinion-based and adversarial than illuminating. Research papers are reminiscent of watching the prosecutor layout a criminal case on Law and Order.

The CLA+ findings track with an informal survey of professors’ experience at over a dozens American (and some international) universities. In the main, here is how a research paper usually unfolds: Students set out a thesis, about which they know very little at the outset, but about which they already seem to have well-developed or even passionate opinions as if they have skin in the game, as if their thesis is personal and deeply held. They spend the rest of the paper proving the validity of these opinions, like a court case, beyond a reasonable doubt. They comb through material, hunting for those key nuggets of evidence that support their thesis, and ignoring those equally important discoveries that don’t support their narrative. In the worst cases, logical fallacies are waived away because a conclusion “feels right” or “should be true.” Once enough similarly suggestive nuggets are accumulated, they are listed like items entered into evidence, often devoid of argumentation or theoretical framework. Moving onto their conclusions, they again restate their strongest bits of evidence, and pronounce their thesis proved; case closed. Rediscovering the historical method and teaching the difference between argument and assertion offers promise.

The starting point is to have a research question in mind. It is not a thesis at the outset; it is a question to be answered, ideally with bias explicitly stripped out of it. Working on the research question itself takes a great deal of time, phrasing and rephrasing, testing and reformulating it for just the right construction. The net difference may be only a carefully excised word, but the effect on the rest of the project can be significant. It might be the difference between, “When did Saddam Hussein restart his WMD program?” and “Did Saddam Hussein restart his WMD program?” One is an important question for national security. The other contains a presupposition that led a country to war. Likewise, “Why is Kim Jong-un an irrational actor?” is a separate question from “Is Kim Jong-un an irrational actor?” American policy toward an international pariah with nuclear weapons hinges on the answer.

Once the research question is established, a method of inquiry is needed, a process by which the question might be answered. Research is a voyage of intellectual discovery where unexpected information is not unwelcome because there is no initial thesis to prove as yet. Most questions, of course, don’t have easy answers and there are usually good arguments and reliable sources on both sides. The important thing is to grapple with all of the information and not cherry-pick supporting evidence or selectively exclude contradictory evidence. Historian J. H. Hexter has argued that, rather than seeking evidence to bolster an initial thesis, one should actively seek out evidence that challenges or even disproves it. This is the heart of research and analysis, and again calls on the craft of the historian to weigh the credibility of sources, to consider the original purpose of documents, and to test whether a conclusion makes sense based on other knowledge.

Finally, before a thesis is published as news or breathlessly retweeted, it would be better to pause and consider on what basis the arguments might be criticized, and in light of these weaknesses, shore up analytical flanks. Intellectual “stress testing” is as important to public discourse as financial stress testing is to banking, yet seems to be as a lost tradition on college campuses as in American politics.

If the method just outlined seems like a foreign land for students, information consumers, politicians and an uncomfortable plurality of media outlets, then what went wrong? Why can’t America reliably separate out fact, falsehood, opinion and reasoned analysis? As the CLA+ test suggests, the American educational system is responsible to some degree for not exposing students to critical thinking—or maybe demanding some mastery of it before awarding a degree, but what happened, at a national level, to skepticism of claims, to questions without baked-in bias, to critical thinking?

It seems that in polarized America, political and ideological precommitments have superseded a skeptical mindset and even the desire, if not capacity, for critical thought, thus leaving America frightfully vulnerable to fake news. Consider a scenario in which, upon proper methodological inspection, one was to discover new information or arguments that demonstrate an error in a personal stance. Would one swallow his pride and update his views, especially on social media—the platform of personal record. What would one’s political tribe say after such an admission? Would they, following the scientific method, attempt to replicate the experiment to verify the results and update their own thinking? Or would there instead be a feeling of political or social betrayal? Princeton Professor Jonathan Haslam considered it is a sign of intellectual immaturity to read only those thinkers who reinforce preexisting beliefs. If that is the case, is American society intellectually regressing in a closed echo chamber of self-reinforcement? In an age of fake news, considering whether information is true is less important than whether it is useful for supporting a worldview, or discounting that of others. Thus, the utility of information is now more important than its veracity.

Professors don’t help matters when their syllabus requires that students only use certain pre-vetted source material for research projects. These well meaning professors are trying to help students avoid relying on fake news or highly biased books, journal articles and websites, but this is actually harming students because it doesn’t require the students to critically evaluate sources or material. Instead, it is the equivalent of intellectual training wheels for students well past their primary education. Students with helicopter professors learn that they just need to color inside the safe lines and they can’t go too far astray. Yet by circumscribing the known world of pre-vetted material our universities are failing to live up to their mandate to prepare students for the real world, where there won’t be anyone to screen what information these newly minted alumni are consuming. It would be better to let students make—and then learn from—their mistakes in the structured halfway house of being an adult than protect them until graduation and then push them out of the nest into a world of fake news and disinformation, of which they have had no previous experience. This increasingly widespread practice of benevolence in university courses probably also directly contributes to the increasing helplessness, thus vulnerability, of post-university civic life.

This is more than one elbow-patched curmudgeon’s complaint about American education and society; suggested here is a timeless strategy for defense from fake news. It is not foreordained that America is doomed to a virtual future of reflexive retweeting and conspiracy theories parading as news. Encouraging a different approach to discovering knowledge is part of the solution to an overly credulous population. As was demonstrated during the 2016 election, Americans seem particularly vulnerable to information war, and it appears that Putin’s minions will be back again in 2020 and beyond. Yet rediscovering the tools of the historian—skepticism and critical thinking—can help develop a more resilient national character as a key pillar of future American security.

nationalinterest.org

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