Syria’s Assad may be no angel, but something is fishy in Douma

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What happened in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7, 2018?

To find out, a team of UN inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Douma on April 17 to begin a thorough investigation.

What the OPCW is hoping to find out is whether claims of an alleged chemical weapons use are substantiated.

What is clear is that such a finding will either validate accusations made against the Assad regime, or significantly embarrass the US, UK and France (not to mention call into question their true motives for being involved in the war).

Still, according to a number of governments throughout the West, the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians in Douma on April 7, killing more than 70 people.

“Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians — this time, in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus,” Trump said on 13 April, as the missiles were being fired.

“This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”

Trump’s accusation came three days before the US, UK and France proposed an independent UN investigation to establish who was responsible for the attack, and four days before the OPCW arrived in Douma to carry out its fact-finding mission.

Whatever side one chooses to take in this dispute, it has been established that Trump’s decision to launch 105 cruise missiles (of which just 34 hit their targets) at Syria took place before any facts about the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma were known.

This has led many experts, including world-renowned investigative journalist Robert Fisk, independent American reporter, Pearson Sharp, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, UK Major-General, Jonathan Shaw and numerous others, to ask questions.

Even US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, said on February 2: “We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim [chemical weapons] have been used. We do not have evidence of it.”

A segment featuring UK Major-General Shaw on Sky News recently raised eyebrows after he was suddenly cut off by the anchor after pointing out several discrepancies in the “tripartate” coalition’s logic concerning Assad’s supposed guilt.

Shaw, like the other aforementioned dissenters, argues that not only do the charges leveled against Assad not pass the common sense test, there is no actual evidence to support them.

Some have drawn comparisons between the current narrative concerning Assad and the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, when the Bush Administration famously accused Saddam Hussein of purchasing uranium from Niger and hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction (two allegations that were later found to be false).

Perhaps the biggest concern is that, as in 2003, there will be an attempt at forceful regime change before the facts of what really happened in Douma reach the public.

In the meantime, independent investigative reporters, who went to Douma and personally interviewed the doctors, offer our best chance of objective analysis.

Robert Fisk from the Independent is one such journalist. In a well-circulated article titled: ‘The search for truth in the rubble of Douma’, Fisk recalls testimony from a doctor at the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack on April 7.

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened,” the doctor told Fisk.

“There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived.”

The doctor continued: “People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.”

This account, corroborated by interviews with others present in the building at that time, offers a sobering revelation.

“Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

The complexity of the war in Syria is undeniable, but a few glaring truisms stand out.

One is that Russia has a vested interest in backing Assad to retain its navy’s only warm-water port, located in Tartus. As such, they will do, or say, anything to ensure the regime remains in power.

And secondly, the Assad regime’s ties with the West’s arch-nemeses Iran and Hezbollah are well established, so it’s no secret that the US, UK and France want to deal with a different regime in Damascus other than that of Bashar al-Assad.

It comes as no shock that both the West and Russia are playing a tug-of-war with Syria for their own selfish geopolitical motivations while the ordinary citizens caught up in the seven-year conflict continue to suffer.

Some point out that the alternative to Assad lies in dangerous, obscure Jihadi groups well-known for setting fire to evacuation buses full of women and children, car bombings, beheadings and their increasingly close affiliations with terrorist groups ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

One concern is that even if one of these fanatical groups managed to overcome their intense infighting and establish some semblance of a government, it would be highly unlikely that the majority of Syrians, living in a secular country where they can vote, and where women can roam freely without veils or head-scarves, would ever accept an un-elected regime imposed by the US and its allies.

So the argument boils down to a valid question. As heavy-handed as Assad has been in suppressing the brutal terrorist insurgency in his country, is his secular government preferable to the total disintegration of law and order across Syria?

Would the US be willing to accept – like it did in 2003 – a flood of terrorist insurgents, capitalising on the fall of a long-standing regime, back into the country where they would ambush occupying US troops, bomb humanitarian convoys and potentially seize left-over chemical weapons?  

I would hedge a confident bet that even John Bolton – Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor who was pushing for the harshest of actions against Assad – would agree that does not serve Western interests in the Middle East.

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We are at a critical time in our history

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Tran Dai Quang

 

The world is on the brink of cataclysmic change.

In Russia, a fierce nationalist seeks his fourth term as the president presiding over a resurgent Superpower – one he helped rebuild after seeing the Soviet Union crumble before his bewildered eyes. The wounds run deep, but to Vladimir Putin, revenge is sweet. He is the world’s most powerful man, and Russia is calling the shots in every geopolitical arena it has stormed into since he came to power. Russia has annexed Georgia, seized Crimea and a large chunk of Eastern Ukraine; it is opening new military bases in Syria and Vietnam, and toying with the idea of reopening the Soviet-era bases in Havana that sent the US into a panic in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yes, we are in a new cold war – but this time Russia is taking steps to ensure it won’t lose again.

A little over 3,600 miles away in Beijing, Xi Xinping – the “New Mao” – has just had his term limits as president removed. And for Xi, it’s probably just as well. In 2018, China is presiding over the largest economy, military and political party on earth. This must continue at any cost. And this year, China completed its militarisation of the strategic South China Sea, where the world’s most critical trade route is located. The “New Silk Road” (otherwise known as One Belt, One Road) is being built, spanning the globe. And Xi knows that, as with the South China Sea, the roads, ports and airstrips can just as easily have a military dimension as a civilian one – should the circumstances permit.

And then we have Donald Trump – a beleaguered president who is being investigated by his own intelligence agencies. He presides over a nation that is, in many ways, strategically ‘on the ropes’. In the space of 12 months, America’s influence has declined as the Trump Administration continues to undermine the institutions (both domestic and international) that have helped America remain a Superpower. Perhaps this is why Trump’s promises to “make America great again” have been met with confusion and concern. This week, he slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and shrugged at the prospect of a trade war  with his country’s largest creditor – China. As it stands, America is shying away from global responsibilities and embracing protectionism as China steps in to fill the void. Making matters worse, Trump faces the real prospect of becoming a lame duck president after the mid-term elections in November.

So where does all of this leave us? 

The next generation will likely grow up watching a resurgent Russia and rapidly expanding China push ahead with their Masterplan for the 21st Century. But as the US formulates a plan to somehow reverse this process and get back on top, are there realistic solutions? Perhaps it’s better put like this: Can anything short of an all-out war help America regain the ability to act with such impunity around the world?

Some believe that by financially pressuring Russia and China, the two great competitors might collapse and become failed states, but there are two problems with that theory:

Firstly, China and Russia are establishing a new financial architecture to circumvent the almighty ‘Petrodollar’ and protect themselves from Western sanctions. Weaker nations that attempted to do this (notably Iraq in 2000 and Libya in 2009) were promptly bombed and invaded by US-led coalitions. But America can take no such action against Russia and China.

Secondly, Russia and China both wield significant power over much of the world’s economies. Russia is the world’s largest oil producer, while China is the world’s largest economy. Of course, the US could wage economic war against Russia and China, but it is unlikely that the US would emerge as the winner.

So, as Trump’s national security team are no doubt telling him, the determination by Russia and China to establish a new world order means that it is only a short matter of time before America’s position at the top of the geopolitical food chain is lost. In this scenario, America can certainly remain a formidable world power, but it can wave goodbye to the impunity it has enjoyed since WW2. Those days are truly gone. 

In the minds of the neo-conservative cabals walking the halls of power in Washington, the nightmare scenario will be all too real, and it will look something like this: America’s friends experiencing regime change; Russian and Chinese ships enforcing blockades, containing the rise of smaller powers. Russia and China slapping painful sanctions on NATO countries until they bend to the will of Beijing and Moscow. Russian or Chinese cruise missiles striking targets of smaller powers that defy them. All happening under international law, just as America’s operations in the Gulf War and Kosovo did. All by the books. Attempts to stop it will be vetoed. And the madness of the world order will go on, albeit under much different leadership.

It is visions like this that will have the most hawkish voices in Washington clamoring for Trump’s ear. While some of these voices are confined to think tanks and lobby groups, others have great influence – and this is where things get interesting.

In the early days of the George W Bush Administration, senior bureaucrats were introduced to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) – a document which laid out a plan for “Pax Americana” in the 21st Century. In many ways, it informed the Administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks, but it didn’t stop there. After all, PNAC was about “the long game”, and would span future Administrations, and wars. In this way, America didn’t need a dictator to see through the completion of global Pax Americana, it just required all US President’s, whoever they might be, to adhere to its chief goal.

One of PNAC’s strongest supporters has been former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who is tipped to become President Trump’s next National Security Adviser.

Should Bolton get the job, we can expect a much more aggressive US stance on the crises in Syria, Ukraine and the South China Sea. But as pointed out earlier, such a stance would ultimately not work in America’s favour. In China, Sun Tsu’s philosophy of winning the war without fighting it is well at work. Meanwhile in Russia, Putin is using the language of brute force and power projection to change realities. Effective ‘soft power’ on one side, head-spinning ‘hard power’ on the other. 

And somewhere in the middle is an Administration talking about “a new American moment” to reclaim America’s spot on the mantle. But with the mid-term elections, and a potential ‘lame duck’ presidency and impeachment fast approaching, that moment may never come. 

 

Could a second American Civil War really happen?

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To most, a second American civil war is unthinkable.

Yet, we see race riots in Charleston, a deeply divided Congress and an information war being fought between the President and major broadcasters such as CNN and CNBC. 

Add to that the growing secessionist movements in Texas and California and the “United States” in 2017 could hardly seem more divided.

But perhaps the most worrying factor that weighs in to this growing division is the burgeoning militia movement – a seldom discussed issue as North Korea and terrorism dominate the front pages.

This is because right now, the possibility of widespread conflict between US Government forces and militias is next to nil.

But could this change?

In 2008 there were 149 militia groups in the United States. In 2009, that number more than tripled to 512, and now there are nearly 600, a frightening statistic that Daryl Johnson points out in his book, Right-Wing Resurgence

Out of the aforementioned 600, there are thirteen well-organised militia groups, some of which have nationwide representation and tens of thousands of members, including battle-hardened war vets and National Guard troops.

The most well-known of these are the Oath Keepers and the 3 Percenters, which have a combined force of over 50,000 “troops”.

The growing popularity of these groups can largely be attributed to two main issues: ‘Big Government’ (and the subsequent erosion of state rights) and the perceived inability of the government to protect citizens from national security threats.

Ironically, the government considers the threat of right-wing militancy as a national security threat. And here is where it gets potentially messy.

When the sheer growth of the militia movement (at a time when trust in Congress stands at just 12%) is coupled with the real potential for a financial or constitutional crisis, one begins to see a ticking timebomb.

So what would it take to kick off another civil war in the United States?

Scenario 1

For the sake of morbid ‘future-gazing’ into this hypothetical, let’s say that a mass shooting occurs that involves members of a well-organised militia. In one scenario, the victims are civilians. In an alternate scenario, the victims are members of government. The death toll tops that of the Pulse nightclub shooting and Virginia Tech. Despite pressure from the NRA, the President signs an executive order banning assault rifles and officially designating the militia (and others like it) as “domestic terrorist organisations”. In the lead-up to DHS and FBI raids, a number of militias, fearing the imminent death of the Second Amendment, mobilize and flock to protect the targeted bases. Widespread clashes erupt.

Scenario 2

A serious financial crisis paralyzes the US economy, but the nation’s “too big to fail” banks are soon bailed out at the expense of the American people. Taxes rise sharply and many small businesses collapse. States such as Texas and California begin wondering whether they might be more prosperous outside what appears to be a giant sinking ship burdened by $18 trillion in debt. They hold snap referendums one year apart. The citizens of both states vote overwhelmingly in favour of secession, and the process begins. However, the US Government warns it will not recognise the outcome and sends troops to “safeguard vital assets” in both states. The National Guard of Texas and California, fully backed by their militias, close the border, but not before fighting breaks out.

When one remembers Waco, Ruby Ridge and the GFC, it becomes clear that these two scenarios are not outside the realm of possibility.

Many Americans feel that their government is “playing the fiddle while Rome burns”, ignoring systemic crises like widespread racism, runaway debt and the deep mistrust of public institutions.  

Is it possible that the United States is simply too busy policing the rest of the world while leaving itself frighteningly vulnerable to an even bigger crisis bubbling to the surface within its own borders?

Who gains from using chemical weapons in Syria?

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It’s the tragic Islamic insurgency that has internally and externally displaced more than 9.5 million Syrians in total and killed more than 400,000 others, and just last week, it took an even worse turn.

On April 4, 2017, extremely graphic video footage and photographs emerged of children suffering from what appeared to be a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Idlib, which has been under the total control of anti-Assad Islamist militants since 2015.

The footage and photographs were quickly spread around the world through social media and then by media outlets. Confronted with such heart-breaking scenes, objectivity and reason quickly dissipated as emotions ran high.

Donald Trump’s response was no exception.

Within 48 hours of learning of the attack, and with no investigation, UN approval or Congressional oversight, an impassioned decision was made to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base that had been used by Russia and Syria to fight ISIS.

Immediate military action was taken without any investigation, or consideration of the facts on the ground. This was unprecedented. Even after the 9/11 attacks – which killed nearly 3,000 American civilians – there was an investigation.

Putting Trump’s erratic nature aside, it’s important to note that his decision to take action quickly might have been motivated by the fact that a full investigation might have ended with the administration getting egg on its face.

April 4 was not the first time that Assad had been falsely blamed for using chemical weapons against his own people. In August 2013, civilians were killed by chemical gas in Ghouta.

Following that attack, Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that given the evidence, the culprits were the Islamist insurgents , who Bashar al-Assad’s army was fighting.

Nonetheless the nations with vested interests in seeing Assad removed from power persisted with their accusations. 

And so, on 10 September 2013, the Syrian government accepted a US–Russian negotiated deal to turn over “every single bit” of its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction and declared its intention to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles were subsequently recorded and verified in 2013 by the OPCW, a specialised UN body.

So if the UN verified as far back as 2013 that the Syrian Army/Bashar al-Assad did not have any chemical weapons, then who was responsible for the April 4 attack in Idlib?

Even before being pressed for answers, the Syrian Air Force admitted to carrying out an air strike in Idlib, and said a warehouse was targeted. Supposing that there were chemical weapons stored inside this warehouse in rebel-held Idlib, one must question not only what children were doing in its vicinity, but why the rebels did not declare these weapons to the United Nations.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no secret that among the 1,000 armed groups fighting in Syria, several of them, including ISIS, have used chemical weapons stolen from Assad’s stockpiles following their conquests over government-held towns and cities.

ISIS, for example, has used chemical weapons 52 times on the battlefield in both Syria and Iraq. Other Islamic insurgent groups, with equal disregard for innocent life, have shown no hesitation in using them.

This brings us to a disturbing question: who has the most to gain from using chemical weapons?

Certainly not Assad. He is winning on the battlefield, wresting control of his country back from the insurgents, who are crying out for direct Western military intervention against Assad. Perhaps it is this context of the Syrian tragedy that deserves the closest attention.

On 5 April, Charles Shoebridge, a British security analyst and counterterrorism expert, made a valid assertion that ties in perfectly with the inconvenient truth of this catastrophic war.

“The people who have benefited from this kind of attack are the rebels themselves, because they have gained a major political advantage at a time when they are struggling both strategically and geopolitically.” 

Questions linger as Pentagon releases new 9/11 photos

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In late March, the FBI re-released 27 photos showing the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon, which took place on September 11, 2001.

These photos, which the bureau said disappeared from its website due to a “technical glitch”, have reignited discussions about what really happened at the Pentagon on that day.

The reason this remains a mystery is that the 86 surveillance videos that the FBI confiscated immediately after the attack, contain the footage showing what really hit the Pentagon.

Should all of this footage in its entirety be released,  the theories, confusion, frustration and widespread scepticism regarding the many discrepancies about this dark chapter of 9/11 would disappear overnight.

Yet, the act of making this footage public is something the bureau is, 16 years later, inexplicably refusing to do.

While groups such as the “9/11 truthers” and the “9/11 conspiracy debunkers” remain at each other’s throats, more well-established and qualified experts debate over whether the physics of the official story adds up.

Perhaps the most compelling case is that of 29-year-old Hani Hanjour, who we were told piloted Flight 11, crashing it into the Pentagon.

The ‘amateur who could not fly’

Hanjour first came to the United States in 1991 to study English at the University of Arizona’s Centre for English as a Second Language. Despite wanting to become a flight attendant, he later pursued becoming a pilot – however he experienced a string of failures along the way to this journey.

Hanjour dropped out of his flight first school, the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics, located in Oakland, after attending only a few classes.

In late 1996, he enrolled at Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), a flight school in Scottsdale, Arizona. But his performance as a student at CRM was less than adequate. Duncan K.M. Hastie, owner of the school, described Hanjour as “slow learner who was “very emotional” and who often displayed “fear of flying”.

The instructor pointed out that [Hanjour] was “a pain in the rear”.

“We didn’t want him back at our school because he was not serious about becoming a good pilot,” Hastie said.

In late summer of 2001, Hanjour went to Maryland. Three times, he attempted to rent a plane. Each time, a different instructor took him on a test flight and deemed him incompetent to fly alone.

“We have a level of standards that we hold all our pilots to, and he couldn’t meet it,” the manager of the flight school was quoted as saying. He added that Hanjour could not handle even the most basic of air manoeuvres.

As for the type of aircraft that Hanjour was training in, it was a small single-engine Cessna.

From ‘slow learner’ to world’s fastest

In her essay, called ‘The impossibility of Flying Heavy Aircraft Without Training’, Nila Sagadevan examined what Hanjour would have needed to do in order to gain control of the aircraft and fly it to his intended target. Below is a paraphrased version:

After Hanjour, frail and barely five-feet tall, managed to fight off the former Marine combat fighter pilot, Charles Burlingame, we’re told to believe that Hanjour quickly familiarised himself with the Boeing 757’s complex array of gadgets and devices (all of which he was totally unfamiliar with). Then, without the help of any ground control of air-traffic controllers providing him information and/or settings, Hanjour was supposedly able to quickly interpret his heading, ground track, altitude and airspeed information on the displays before he was able to figure out where in the world he was (much less where the Pentagon was located in relation to his position).

However, just weeks after his (failed) Cessna training, he piloted the massive twin-engine Boeing 757 commercial airliner, calmly performing a sophisticated 350mph descending corkscrew turn of 330 degrees, skilfully bringing the huge aircraft to ground level, clipping just 5 light posts along the way and smashing into the façade of the Pentagon.

What do the experts say?

This utterly perplexing event was scrutinised by several career fighter pilots and flight instructors.

One of them, Robin Hordon, a flight instructor of 11 years at Boston Centre, said:

“That is a really difficult manoeuvre. What I will say to you is that highly skilled and experienced pilot with thousands of hours would have to take between 10 and 20 attempts, before they would be able to pull off that manoeuvre. However, the 757 is not designed to do that. This plane is designed to basically be a cruise ship in the sky. It’s not acrobatic, so you just can do that with one of those big airplanes.”

Hordon pointed out that when air traffic controllers at the Dulles approach control, thought, upon seeing the target come in and make that turn, that it was a fighter plane.

“They thought it was a military fighter, because these types of planes can do that. These planes, with autopilots and which can be flown remote, have the capabilities and are designed to be that acrobatic.”

Hordon was referring to air traffic controller Danielle O’Brien, who said:

“The speed, the manoeuvrability, the way that it turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that it was a military plane.”

And O’Brien is not alone in her doubts about the aircraft being a commercial airliner.

Fred Fox, a retired US Navy pilot who has 33 years of experience flying for American Airlines, said:

“I know from my experience that it would have been highly improbable that even a seasoned military test pilot could have flown a T-category aircraft like the 757 into the first floor of the Pentagon because of a thing called ground effect.”

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the official trajectory had the plane skimming the ground at 500mph as it impacted with the Pentagon. However, this turns out to be aerodynamically impossible.

As researchers have pointed out, even a small plane such a Cessna at full-throttle would accumulate a packet of compressed gas (air beneath the fuselage) which would make it impossible for the plane to get closer than 15 feet to the ground.

Aeronautical engineers have said a Boeing 757, travelling at 500mph, could not get closer than 60 feet to the ground. This is because if the plane had been taking the official trajectory, its engines would have caused significant markings to the lawn. Another reason for this is weight turbulence, which would have torn up the grass on the surface, leaving massive damage. Instead, the lawn is perfectly green and smooth.

Former US Air Force pilot, Russ Wittemburg, who flew two aircraft that we were told were involved in the 9/11 attacks, referred to Hanjour’s blatant lack of skill in the following statement:

“I don’t believe it’s possible for a terrorist to train on a 172 then jump in the cockpit of a 757-767-class cockpit and vertical navigate the aircraft, lateral navigate the aircraft, and fly the airplane at speeds exceeding its designed limit speed by well over 100 knots, make high-speed and high-bank turns, exceeding five, six or seven Gs. The aircraft would literally fall out of the sky. I couldn’t do it, and I’m absolutely positive they couldn’t do it.”

Colonel George Nelson, an aircraft accident investigator with the US Air Force, said:

“With all the evidence readily available at the Pentagon crash site, any unbiased rational investigator could only conclude that a Boeing 757 did not fly into the Pentagon”.

Alleged phone calls from plane debunked

According to the US Solicitor General at the time, his wife, Barbara Olson, had “called him twice on a cell phone phone from American Airlines Flight 77,” adding that “all passengers and flight personnel, including the pilots, were herded to the back of the plane by armed hijackers,” who had “knives and cardboard cutters.”

Strangely, neither the telephone company records, nor the Department of Justice phone call records, nor Barbara Olson’s cell phone call records have ever been made public, in spite of the fact that there has been much discussion of the authenticity of the reported phone calls from her.

The reason for this is because no cell phone call could have been made from an altitude of over 8,000 feet. At the time the call was made, the plane was purported to be cruising at 35,000 feet.

However, the editors of Popular Mechanics said that cell phones do work from cruising airplanes, even at maximum altitudes.

Putting this claim to the test, Japanese television conducted an on-camera experiment – Project Achilles – near Ontario Canada in 2003 to verify the actual reach of cell phones used at different altitudes. The cellular phone system used in the experiment was the same one used in the United States. It revealed:

Three cell phones, each from different telephone companies, were used, and were referred to company A, B and C. The experiment began at 1,000 feet, and showed fairly good reception. The same was the case with the other two. Next, they went up to 4,000 feet, when company B’s phone stopped working. When the altitude reached 6,000 feet, company A’s phone also became useless. At 8,000 feet, none of the cell phones worked.

In other words, at an altitude of 35,000 feet, cell phones would have been totally useless.

Another factor in this equation is speed.

The connection of cell phone towers need to be continuously transferred from one receiving station to the next, and then to the next, and so on. This transfer procedure between two receiving stations is called “hand off” and relies on continuous triangulations between receiving towers in order to establish the exact position of the caller. But the speed by which an aircraft approaches and crosses over the “hand off zone” is so high that the towers wouldn’t have the time to complete the hand off procedure. The call would be dropped and the person would need to dial the number from scratch. Even after 2001, both altitude and speed problems remain with making such calls. In 2005, the Washington Post wrote: most cell phones cannot reach a station from beyond 10,000 feet.

As it became clear that the passengers could not have placed their calls from the cell phones on the airplanes, the official narrative on this issue became more ambiguous and non-committal. Ted Olson, who had initially told the press he had received the two cell phone calls from his wife Barbara, changed his story to “calls made from an air phone”. By the time the 9/11 Commission published their final report, only one mention on the cell phone calls remained.

However, for the sake of debate, let’s assume Olson used one of the onboard phones on the plane, and not a cell phone.

According to a Boeing 757 Aircraft Maintenance Manual (757 AMM), dated January 28, 2001:

“The passenger telephone system was deactivated by ECO FO878.” (ECO F1463 and F1532 were later orders to remove the phones.) This page indicates, in other words, that by January 28, 2001, the passenger phone system for the AA 757 fleet had been deactivated.”

After being a fighter pilot, and having attended the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, Captain Ralph Kolstad served as an airline pilot for 27 years, during 13 of which he flew Boeing 757s and 767s for American Airlines. He wrote: “[T]he ‘air phones,’ as they were called, were … deactivated in early or mid-2001. They had been deactivated for quite some time prior to September 2001.”

Flight attendant Ginger Gainer, after reporting that the Boeing 757s prepared for international flights had stickers on the seatback phones “indicating that they were inoperative,” added: “I asked several current and former Flight Attendants for American … who flew domestic … and they all said that they recalled the phones as having been disabled at the time, or gone.”

So, having ruled out the possibility of cell phone calls and focusing now on the onboard telephone system, how could have Barbara Olson made a call from a phone that the plane did not have?

FBI still refuses to release surveillance tapes, but why?

Barbara Honegger, a senior journalist at the US Department of Defence, recalled a request by Major General Larry Arnold, who was commander of aviation at NORAD, to one of his fighter pilots.

“General [Larry] Arnold, that very morning, immediately after that alleged impact, ordered one of his fighter pilots to fly over and down to the Pentagon to look and see what he saw, and report back to General Arnold himself,” she said.

“His fighter pilot reported back to him that there was zero evidence of an impact of a plane at the Pentagon.”

There were 86 separate and complete video recordings of the incident

However, the FBI was immediately at the scene and confiscated all 86 video tapes, including tapes in the Pentagon, the building’s parking lot, the gas station, in a nearby hotel and other buildings that had their cameras trained in that general area.

Considering everything above – the amateur pilot who could barely fly a Cessna; the “impossible” aerodynamics of the plane’s approach; ongoing questions about the total lack of visible wreckage on the Pentagon’s lawn, and so much more, the only question one is compelled to ask is this.

What is it, exactly, that the FBI does not want us to see?

The double-edged sword of mass surveillance

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If you’re reading this, then it’s a given that you have either a laptop, tablet, PC and/or smartphone.

At least one of these devices are in almost every home in the world, and by the end of this century it is likely that there will not be a home on earth that does not have one.

While digital and mobile devices have helped connect the world in ways never thought possible, this modern hi-tech revolution presents as many challenges as it does solutions. And according to the facts, the ones turning them into problems are our own governments.

An appropriate example to start with is the United States Government, which happen to oversee the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – both of which are charged with protecting the United States government against network warfare and overseas intelligence gathering.

What they are not charged with, however, is the wholesale collection and storage of citizens’ personal information, such as sensitive banking information, medial records, private interactions on social media, telephone calls and even offline activities at home.

But, according to leaked information from its former employees and Wikileaks, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Let’s start with the CIA.

In perhaps the most significant data dump against a government agency in history, Wikileaks released the Vault 7 files, revealing a CIA program called “Weeping Angel”. In short, this program allowed CIA hackers to remotely activate Samsung Smart TVs’ built-in voice control microphone, even when it appears to be switched off. The documents also showed extensive hacking of smartphones, including iPhones.

To some, this story might sound familiar, and that is because another agency has already been carrying out this very same Orwellian Big Brother-esque activity for years.

Enter the NSA.

According to a report in The Washington Post in July 2014, relying on information provided by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, 90% of those placed under surveillance in the US are ordinary Americans, and are not the intended targets. The newspaper said it had examined documents including emails, text messages, and online accounts that support the claim.

But wait a minute…didn’t the NSA end its bulk collection of phone call data in November 2015?

Yes, but other “initiatives” serving the same purpose (and worse) are alive and well, snooping on just about everyone. Here are a few of them.

PRISM: the clandestine internet-spying program where the NSA bulk collects internet communications from companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook).

Section 702 of the Patriot Act: used by the NSA to justify mass collection of phone calls and emails by collecting huge quantities of data directly from the physical infrastructure of communications providers).

Executive Order 12333: used to authorise foreign intelligence investigations. The beauty of 12333 is in its empty, flexible language: As Gizmodo explains: “Any information “incidentally” collected during an intelligence gathering mission focused outside the US – even if it’s the entire email history of a Minnesota teen or every iCloud photo from a Chicagoan’s iPhone – is fair game.”

 

Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand

In countries like Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – all of which work very closely with US intelligence via the CSEC, GCHQ, ASIO and NZSIS respectively – similar programs are also working overtime.

If you doubt it, just take a look at the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, which comprises of the give intelligence agencies you see above. That some of them have been caught spying on the average Joe is disturbing enough, but it’s evident that the cornerstone of democracy and free speech – journalism – has also been a target.

According to FBI documents published by The Intercept last year, the bureau’s “secret rules” allow it to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted.

In Australia, as far back as 2012, law enforcement and government departments are accessing vast quantities of phone and internet usage data without warrants. Meanwhile, Australian security agencies employ private contractors like the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (NOSIC) to monitor, collate, and report on publicly accessible information about individuals and organisations. Given the close working relationship that ASIO has with the NSA, it’s conceivable that the pistons of PRISM-type programs are spinning also.

The UK is not alone in these Orwellian practices, either. In November 29, 2016, royal assent was given to The Investigatory Powers Bill, passing it into law. This effectively legalised the UK’s global surveillance program, which scoops up communications data from around the world, but also introduces new domestic powers, including a government database that stores the web history of every citizen in the country. UK spies will be empowered to hack individuals, internet infrastructure, and even whole towns – if the government deems it necessary.

In 2013, referring to Canada’s intelligence agency CSEC spying on ordinary Canadians, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald told Canada’s CBC: “There’s a lot of other documents, about [CSEC] spying on ordinary citizens, on allied governments, on the world, and their co-operation with the U.S. government, and the nature of that co-operation… I think most Canadian citizens will find [this] quite surprising, if not shocking, because it’s all done in secret and Canadians are not aware of it.”

This is not only still going on, but accelerating.

In 2015, VICE Canada reported that: “Canada’s signals intelligence agency will gain, for the first time, the authority to spy on Canadian citizens if Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is elected prime minister this month.” Perhaps the biggest concern was that the kind, mildly-mannered Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, was promising to give even more powers to an agency that already possessed unprecedented surveillance powers.

 

Are Western democracies becoming totalitarian?

All of this brings us to a sobering reality.

We know that people living under regimes in North Korea, China, Russia and Iran are very careful when it comes to speaking out against their governments publicly. We know this because dissidents, activists, journalists and protesters are sometimes killed when they do.

But surely that doesn’t happen on the soil of the Land of the Free, or the True Patriot North? And what about the Land of Hope and Glory? Well, it certainly couldn’t happen in Australia, for we are Young and Free.

Unfortunately, it’s happening in all of these nations. To you and I, and probably to everyone else we know. The bittersweet gift that Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and others have given us – and in doing so, painted a target on their own backs – we are watched 24/7 too.

In light of the recent Vault 7 revelations, which revealed that the CIA was able to hack ‘smart cars’ and potentially cause “fatal accidents”, this adds another disturbing factor to the reality of mass surveillance.

For the investigative Journalists, political figures and activists in Western capitals, their untimely deaths could easily be labelled as just that – “fatal accidents” (particularly if there was little evidence to suggest otherwise).

One Journalist, Michael Hastings, who worked for Rolling Stone, was investigating CIA director, John Brennan for a major exposé. Hastings told his colleagues that the exposé would be “the biggest story yet”, and that he had received death threats. Hastings had also been working on an article, titled:Why Democrats love to spy on Americans“, which he published on Buzzfeed.

On June 18, 2013, Hastings was driving in his car in Los Angeles when it crashed into a tree at over 100mph. The car exploded and his body was so badly charred he had to be identified by fingerprints. 

Let’s go full “conspiracy theorist” and say the CIA did it. No hit man was needed. No bloody gloves or unregistered gun to dispose of. Just a laptop. Nice, clean and untraceable.

Perhaps we will never know whether Hastings was assassinated by the CIA. For now, we’ll just have to put it down as a strangely timed accident. After all, with nothing left of the car and the in-built technology that might have exposed foul play, there is little evidence to suggest otherwise.

Yes, many of our governments are most definitely spying on us. All of the evidence above shows this very clearly.

How they intend to use the information they’re collecting is anyone’s guess, but it will mean that if more investigative journalists die under unusual circumstances, others will be looking over their shoulders.

And that’s something a journalist in a free country should never have to do.

Why ISIS are claiming responsibility for attacks they are not doing

isis

One day following the 2016 Nice attack in France, a firework display went awry, causing a small fire at the Eiffel Tower.

Almost immediately, the Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility, adding that they were also behind the Nice attack itself.

However, French police soon released a statement saying that the claims were false and that the fire was the result of a minor pyrotechnic accident.

While ISIS are no doubt responsibility for some attacks, when they make a claim of responsibility following a mass casualty event, it must be taken with a (very large) pinch of salt.

As Walkley Award-winning Journalist Waleed Aly correctly points out:

“ISIS takes credit for any act of terrorism on Western soil so that they appear bigger and tougher than they actually are. They did the same thing last year with the shooting at Canada’s parliament and when a bloke ran around New York with a hatchet, attacking people.”

Aly continues: “ISIS didn’t control these guys. They were DIY terrorists who recruited themselves, but ISIS doesn’t want you to know what.”

And ISIS admits this.

In October 2016, the group’s monthly magazine stated:

“It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the Islamic State who have obeyed its leadership. This can easily be done with anonymity. Otherwise, crusader media makes such attacks appear to be random killings”.

Regardless of this, many mainstream news media organisations print the claims of responsibility on their front pages at every opportunity, even though the claims themselves are unverified or – in the initial example – outright false.

Associate professor of counter-terrorism, Nick O’Brien, from Charles Sturt University, told The Project: “Every time that an attack happens and they do claim it, they’re headline news around the world,” O’Brien said.

For print newspaper, such alarming headlines mean increased sales. Similarly, for online media, it means a greater number of clicks, and thus revenue. For news media in general, it means that this inflated and seemingly omnipresent threat keeps people hanging off their every report on the “all-powerful global terrorist organisation”.

Fortunately, the threat is in fact minimal. The group known as ISIS has been dramatically marginalised.

In 2016, it was revealed that ISIS has lost more than 10,000 of its fighters and a quarter of the territory that they held. Since these reports, the anti-ISIS coalition has dealt further blows, moving on Aleppo and Mosul. Now, they are preparing to recapture ISIS’ last remaining stronghold of Raqqa.

We now begin to see the reason why ISIS are claiming responsibility for attacks they did not do. Without any semblance of a real army left to use on the battlefield, they are resorting to the one weapon they do have: social media-driven fear.

Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of this is that it’s difficult to verify whether the person online claiming responsibility for these random attacks around the world on ISIS’ behalf has any real ties to the group at all.

For example, if there is an axe attack in Berlin and the perpetrator is shot dead, someone using an account set up in the group’s name can claim responsibility. As for the axe-wielding attacker, he is dead and cannot prove otherwise.

So the next time there is an act of mass murder somewhere in the world, you can bet that ISIS will be the first to claim responsibility – even if someone has beat them to it.