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.  

One could argue that the United States is simply too busy policing the Korean Peninsula, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it is leaving itself frighteningly vulnerable to an even bigger crisis bubbling to the surface within its own borders. 

And that’s the kind of cancer that makes even the most powerful of empires collapse.

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The Korean Crisis: Who’s provoking who?

North Korea

 

It’s that time of year again. Soaring high on our news feed is The North Korean Threat.

We’re told that the Evil Kim Dynasty is on a warpath to rain nuclear missiles down on every Western capital, annihilating civilization as we know it and ushering in Armageddon.

At least, that’s what the mainstream media is reporting.

But what are the facts we’re missing amid this annual news cycle, broadcast ad nauseum until the viewers simply grow bored and switch off their TVs and computers?

FACT #1: North Korea has repeatedly requested the US sign a peace treaty (a request the US has turned down every time).

FACT #2: North Korea only began accelerating its nuclear program after watching Iraq get decimated in the (completely unprovoked and brutal) US-led invasion that killed half a million innocent Iraqis.

So does this mean we’ve got the North Korean regime all wrong?

Not entirely. Kim Jong-un is almost certainly a tyrant, and has ordered military action against his southern neighbour. However, he is not irrational and hell-bent on nuclear war as the White House, and mainstream media are making out.

When North Korea tests a missile, or a nuclear bomb, or conducts military exercises, it is for precisely the same reason that the US and USSR did so for more than 40 years: to send a message to the other side that it can defend itself from attack.

In Kim Jong-un’s case, that message is: ‘We saw what you did in Iraq, then in Libya and again in Syria. They couldn’t strike you with nuclear weapons. But we can. So don’t even think about preemptively attacking or invading us.’

So far, this has worked – but North Korea is nonetheless considered by many as a pariah and a global threat.

And this allows blatant double-standards to go totally unnoticed. 

On August 2, the US tested an ICBM for the fourth time this year. Following each of these four tests, there were no cries of condemnation. No media outrage. No sanctions. Because the US was simply exercising its right to defend itself.

North Korea has launched one war – in 1950 – which aimed to reunify the two Koreas. 

The United States has launched roughly 13 wars and military interventions since WW2 that were not even remotely related to defending its own mainland.

Indeed, the US had offensive military bases in East Asia long before North Korea was founded on 9 September 1948.

It is true that the US ‘nailed its colours to the mast’ in 1950 when it sided with South Korea in the Korean War. Apart from the existing ideological divide between the US and North Korea, the act of armed intervention clearly demonstrated who was friend and who was foe – and the North has not forgotten this.

Since the Armistice that was signed in 1953, the US has conducted numerous war-games with South Korea, simulating beach landings, bombing raids and pre-emptive strikes against the North’s nuclear facilities. 

Yet, when North Korea flexes its military muscle to show that it can, like all sovereign nations, defend itself, this is labelled “an unacceptable threat” and crippling sanctions are subsequently put in place.

Interestingly, the US claim that it wishes to have dialogue with North Korea and does not seek regime change is starkly at odds with America’s actual policy and overt preparations for such action.

So who is the bigger threat to the world? 

The United States spends $785 billion on defence to maintain more than 800 military bases in 70 countries. It has a prominent track record of invading and/or totally destabilising any nation state that proactively challenges its hegemony in any part of the world. The US Navy has 19 operational aircraft carriers and more than 6,800 nuclear weapons ready to fire at a moment’s notice. And the current US President’s mental health has been described as “unstable”.

North Korea is a tiny and impoverished nation state in far-flung East Asia, completely surrounded by a dangerous and omnipresent Hyperpower. 

Perhaps if a peace treaty was signed, sanctions were lifted and North Korea was able to extract the $6 trillion worth of mineral reserves (that the US knows North Korea is sitting on), the country could one day thrive as an economic powerhouse.

But here is where we return to the underlying plot of ‘The North Korea Show.’ The protagonist, Uncle Sam, is the brave symbol of freedom, fighting for democracy so you and I don’t have to. It’s all or nothing. North Korea are coming to get us, and have always been coming to get us.

Fortunately, this is utter nonsense, as North Korea has never “come to get us” or rained nuclear missiles down on our cities, or re-launched an invasion of the South, for that matter.

And the reason is simple. Kim Jong-un knows he will not win a war against a superior enemy. He also knows that as long as his country has even one nuclear missile capable of reaching the US, Uncle Sam is unlikely to make the first move.

This is why, amid its refusal to sign a peace treaty or end military drills with South Korea, the US continues to back the lion further into its corner; adding more crippling sanctions; sending nuclear-capable bombers near North Korean airspace; pushing Kim Jong-un to the brink.

Because so long as the “evil and aggressive” North Korea ends up being the one that lashes out and fires the first shot, the US and every mainstream media outlet along with it, can all say in smug unison: 

“We told you so”.

Assad and chemical weapons: a logical analysis

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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.”

After Friday’s cruise missile attacks by the US against the Syrian Air Force, and with talk of further military action against Assad to come, it seems that their plan worked perfectly.

 

Does the official 9/11 Pentagon attack story pass the credibility test? Experts say ‘No’

Pentagon

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?

How the ‘Nanny State’ became the ‘Surveillance State’

NSA

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.

But let’s be realistic. Our security agencies don’t go around killing people who speak out against the government. Surely not. Impossible.

The blood that runs through the veins of our shadowy clandestine intelligence agents is surely more benevolent than their counterparts in Pyongyang and Moscow…right?

When it comes to the murder of journalists and dissidents, Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin might like to refer my readers to the random poisoner in Kuala Lumpur international airport, or the random poisoner of Alexander Litvinenko. After all, where’s the definitive proof? Who are we to say that the Russian and North Korean governments were responsible.

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 raises some disturbing questions.

For the investigative Journalists, political figures and activists in Western capitals, their untimely deaths could just as easily be labelled such (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.

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

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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.

Does mainstream media report ‘fake news’?

Media

We all look to the mainstream media to be truthful and professional when reporting the news that we need to know.

Unfortunately, some of the world’s most reputable media organisations are guilty of the same sort of fakery they accuse some of their non-mainstream counterparts of.

There have been dozens of cases, including where they have photoshopped images, doctored the audio of their interviewees and aired entire documentaries based on completely unsubstantiated claims.

Dubious Photoshopping

In 2012, one of Austria’s most trusted newspapers, the Kronon Zeitung, used the Photoshop program to fake an image of a family fleeing the war-torn city of Aleppo. The motive for this was likely to arouse public anger towards the Assad regime. 

Deceptive editing of audio

In this BBC video from 2013, a medic being interviewed told the reporter that an influx of wounded Syrians appeared to have burns associated with “napalm, or something similar”. However, in this version, the word “napalm” has been replaced with “chemical weapon”. Like the previous example, it is likely a ploy to boost public support for regime change in Syria.

In another example, from March 27, 2012, NBC News broadcast an edited segment from a 911 call placed by George Zimmerman before he shot Trayvon Martin. The editing made it appear that Zimmerman volunteered that Martin was black, rather than merely responding to the dispatcher’s inquiry, which would support a view that the shooting was racially motivated. A media watchdog organization accused NBC News of engaging in “an all-out falsehood.”

Citing unsubstantiated documents as facts 

The Killian documents controversy involved six purported documents critical of US President, George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard in 1972–73. Four of these documents were presented as authentic in a 60 Minutes II broadcast aired by CBS on September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, but it was later found that CBS had failed to authenticate the documents. Subsequently, several typewriter and typography experts concluded the documents were forgeries.

Deliberate misquoting to serve an agenda

In 2005, rather than verifying the correct translation, mainstream news outlets grossly misquoted former Iranian President, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, as saying Iran would “wipe Israel off the map”. However, specialists such as Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Arash Norouzi of the Mossadegh Project, pointed out that the original statement in Persian did not say that Israel should be wiped from the map, but instead that it would collapse.

Ahmadinejad’s statement, when translated from Farsi, reads:  “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”. To this day, media outlets and politicians wrongly attribute the incorrect translation as evidence that Iran wishes to attack Israel with nuclear weapons.

‘Top-down’ deception

But what about instances where the mainstream media simply reports on false data or intelligence they’ve been given by governmental or scientific bodies? Can they still be blamed for spreading fake news?

This can be complicated, but the primary responsibility of journalists is to investigate the facts before reporting the story, and so they – and the media organisations they work for – should not escape blame when the story turns out to be completely false.

While truth is of course significant casualty of this malpractice, so too can be millions of innocent lives. 

Some examples of this include the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident (which led to US involvement in the Vietnam War), the Nayirah Testimony (which led to direct US involvement in the First Gulf War) and the faked intelligence on Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction, which led to US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In another example, from 2016, it was revealed that the Pentagon gave a British PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda program during the Iraq war. The work included “creating short news segments made to look like Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos”. Subsequently, these videos were circulated by the mainstream media.

The combined death toll from the above three wars currently stands at around 1.4 million, as a conservative figure.

The War on ‘Fake News’

These examples raise an important point. While certain blogs, online forums and small-time radio stations certainly also engage in the practice of fake news, they do not wield the immense influence that the mainstream networks do when it comes to shaping public perceptions on the big issues.

For the foreseeable future, governments and technology giants will continue to mobilise and shut down blogs and forums that they accuse of spreading such fake news. They are likely to succeed, narrowing the scope of news the public sees, considers and acts on. 

Let’s just hope that when the dust settles, the investigate journalists among us will continue to expose the mainstream news fakery when it happens at every turn – because as all of the above examples (and many more) show, they are often guilty of the same crime.