Tag Archives: propaganda

The big chemical lie

The wheel of history turns and turns, but we the people don’t seem to change too much, do we? It’s as if only the stage set occasionally changes a bit around us. We’ve replaced the carts and wagons with cars, instead of shacks we live in shiny buildings of glass and metal, and our brains we’ve trapped inside plastic boxes and connected them digitally. And that’s about it, as far as change goes. Everything else remains: wars, resources, politics, easily controllable masses, trade and consumption.

In the late 3rd century AD, Roman emperor Diocletian established a tetrarchy, and he appointed one Gaius Galerius to rule Egypt and Syria on his behalf. In 303, encouraged by Galerius, Diocletian burned his own imperial palace in Nicomedia, then accused the Christians for it and used the opportunity to demonize the Christian community based around Antioch. Terrible persecution ensued, torching, pogroms, beheadings, massacres of Christians (St. George and St. Panteleimon were among the more famous victims).

This propaganda tactic has been used for centuries. And for some unknown anthropogenic reason, it always works without fault. It worked for Hitler when he burned down the Reichstag and blamed the communists. It’s obviously working today for the US too, their main tool for well crafted blame being the “use of WMDs” and the “killing of innocent small children” (think about the children, you heartless automatons!) This worked flawlessly for both their wars in Iraq. First they brought a 15 year old girl to the international human rights committee, and she told the jury, with tears in her eyes and a touching trembling voice, how she had witnessed the murder of babies in incubators by blood-thirsty Iraqi soldiers. Years later it turned out she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and the whole story had been forged, but what does it matter. The case for Iraq War 1.0 had already been made, it was a done deal at this point.

Next up, Iraq War 2.0 and the “chemical weapons” that Saddam presumably had in his possession. Those were probably meant to be the same WMDs the US had supplied him with for his prior fight with the Iranians. At the end of the day, no such weapons were found and everything turned to have been mere propaganda. Too bad for the hundreds of thousands of killed Iraqi, their ruined country, and the chaos in the region that persists to this day. What does it matter? The ends justify the means. After all, who would’ve dared to question the testimony of a sobbing little girl about bad evil soldiers slaughtering little babies?

Oh, and how are we supposed to question and criticize the good intentions of the global spreader of democracy and all that is good in the world? Yeah, the only country in history to use nuclear WMDs for the mass murder of entire cities. Now this paragon of peace again seems utterly “concerned” with the presence of chemical weapons in a war-torn region. And sure, they should have a good reason to be worried about chemical weapons: traces of them are still affecting the biospheres in Vietnam, right? So, America must know a thing or two about chemical weapons. Therefore we should trust their judgment when they have to say something on the matter.

As much as we might be tempted to accuse the US administration (not just this one, all previous administrations too) in a lack of imagination and creativity, at the end of the day, the tasteless propaganda they’re so eager to employ over and over again, seems to be working just fine. Every single time. The accusations against Assad have been flowing in for more than 6 years now, maybe several times a month, every month. The first accusation was back in 2013, when chemical weapons were used in Khan Al-Assal, near Aleppo. But in that case something didn’t click right into place with the whole story, and the “moderate rebels” were exposed as the likeliest culprit. Things went as far as former UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte saying herself that it was most likely that the rebels had used the chemicals. She was fired the very next day for this sudden, unsolicited burst of sincerity. We can’t allow some narratives to be challenged now, can we?

Mind you, if you think this is some crazy-ass conspiracy theory, I’ll have to disappoint you. This is actually closer to fact than the stories the media had been spreading, at least initially (when it most mattered). The Syrian government invited international inspectors to investigate the case openly, but for “administrative reasons” they somehow came a few months late, on August 20, 2013. On August 21 (the next day), as the international delegation were already in their Damascus hotel, the next accusation came in: in Eastern Ghouta, a region in the Damascus suburbs, another chemical attack. The delegation instantly packed up and left Syria without even setting foot in Khan Al-Assal. And Obama started declaring left and right that Assad had crossed the imaginary “red line” the US had set for him.

Thus, we get to this month’s new accusation, the one from April 4. The whole thing looks like a belated April Fools prank when you look a bit closer at it. From Khan Sheikhoun, a town under the firm control of Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, a string of footage came of gassed dead children. Just a day earlier, Al Qaeda had kidnapped scores of people from nearby Khattab, their whereabouts still remaining a mystery now. Local news outlets report that these were the same people who were shown in the footage of the chemical attack. The Syrian and Russian military claims a weapons storage was hit, stuffed with ammo from Turkey. As we’ve mentioned here, any motivation of the Syrian military to use chemical weapons at a time they’ve almost won the battle in North Hama, remains a mystery too. It sounds illogical and absurd, stupid even. We should be asking ourselves, who actually wins from the whole story? Assad, who had his foes stuck into a corner and would’ve suffocated their resistance if he had kept the course for another few weeks without any sharp moves – or his desperate opponents who were near done and finished, unless something new and drastic happened (like a chemical attack, and the direct involvement of the world’s greatest military power)? Are there any critically-thinking people still around?

But let’s face it. None of this really matters. It’s quite telling that Israeli prime-minister Netanyahu seems so utterly concerned for the well-being of the Syrian people, and Turkish president Erdogan (this paragon of humility and humanity), and also Boris Johnson, Francois Hollande and a dozen other friendly US minions who’ve piled onto the bandwagon, and crawled into the media and social networks, as if prompted by command, to raise a chorus of condemnations to the evil Syrian government.

No direct and undeniable proof, no UN resolutions this time, no verifiable information. We don’t need them to start bombing someone at this point. So the US did just that. In a display of decisiveness, strong will and sympathy for the dead little children and their sobbing surviving siblings, Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian air base near Homs. The stated reason was the “chemical attack” that Assad had somehow done in an Al Qaeda controlled town, based on footage sent by the omnipresent White Helmets – the ones who probably deserve more Oscars than Meryl Streep for their artistic renderings of events (not that anti-Syrian propaganda wasn’t present at the Oscars). As some of us may be aware, the so called White Helmets are exclusively active in regions controlled by Ahrar Al Sham and Al Nusra. The reason for this I leave to your imagination to deduce.

Whether the world is standing at the precipice of WW3 or this is all just some re-shuffling of the chess pieces, the more important question is, why is all this needed? Who gains from it? Well, we’ve already talked about this part here already. As funny and simplistic as it may sound to some, it’s mostly about gas. Gas pipes, to be more precise. If you look at the map of Syria, you’d realize America’s main problem and that of their good buddies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan, is the advance of the Syrian military towards Palmyra and Deir Ez-Zor. If Assad takes these territories, he’d shut the gates to the Gulf pipes from Qatar to Turkey, and render the splitting up of Syria meaningless. Splitting Syria up has been America’s plan B since they realized nearly 3/4 of the Syrian population actually supports a secular government rather than the US-preferred Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamized metastases.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the newly-found fossil fuel deposits in the Levantine basin if we want the whole picture. Everyone knows the US and their minions want to put a friendly puppet in Damascus, and they’re using radical Islam as a tool for pressuring the current regime there. If they genuinely wanted democracy, they would’ve focused on the most obvious elephant in the room first, Saudi Arabia. After all, any dissident thought, especially in terms of religion, is punished by jail and even death there, and women have close to zero rights. It seems to me Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait, and Qatar, etc) are in urgent need of freedom and democracy, no? Or maybe having mindless, easily controllable consumers is more convenient to both sides of this awkward West/East symbiosis?

And to those ultra-nationalist neocon hawks on both sides of the aisle praising Trump’s sudden “presidential aura” and his unilateral actions in Syria, I’d just as this one question. You folks are very fond of Jesus, right? So why doesn’t anyone try to find a surviving Christian town or neighborhood in the “rebel”-controlled parts of Syria that still has population and is not completely destroyed? Come on, find me one!

Why does your Jesus-loving government support (and in some occasions, indirectly sponsor) genocide against Christians? Why am I not hearing anything on the Trump-praising, airstrike-contemplating, “beautiful”-poetry-reciting media about the systematic exterminations of the Christian population in towns like Maharde by “moderate” monsters like Jaish al Izzah? Who funds those monsters? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the US supplying them with equipment and money? How did they end up in possession of brand new US weapons? In fact, when you’re attacking the Syrian government, who are you really attacking? Syrians, Christians, Alawites and Sunnis. In other words, to use the nationalist rhetoric you’re so accustomed to, “Real Syrians”.

Also, could you point me to a single square inch of rebel-controlled territory where a Wahhabi and Salafi Sharia quasi-caliphate hasn’t been imposed? Would you be so kind to explain to me how come Daesh has attacked the Syrian bases instantaneously after the US and Israeli strikes in Der Ez-Zor, Homs and Palmyra? Whom were those strikes meant to help really? Would you tell me how come Idlib is simultaneously the capital of Al Nusra controlled territory and of the Free Syrian Army territory? And why is Idlib full of signs banning women from walking outdoors without a niqab? Are these the people you want to replace Assad with?

Would someone tell me why we’re constantly seeing US weapons and TOW missiles in the hands of Al Nusra? And why isn’t anyone admitting that Ahrar al Sham is a terrorist organization, its founder is a former Al Qaeda member, and the current Al Nusra chief (or Tahrir al Sham chief if you like), the so called Abu Jaber is a former chief in Ahrar al Sham? Would you tell me why the cousin of the founder of the FSA is actively spreading radical Islam around the Balkans?

See, I can recall of a certain former great power that in a similar fashion liked surrounding itself with servile, docile, unscrupulous propagandists and manipulators. Well, that system came crumbling down and has been thrown to the scrapheap of history, being totalitarian and unsustainable. It’s a failed system. And it would be nice to consider raising your level a bit, and starting to give way to critically thinking, autonomous people who are prone to looking for actual facts rather than ones slavishly licking your… boots. Because those who surround themselves with sticky trash, sooner or later start reeking themselves.

How The EU Banned Orthodox Christianity… Except It Didn’t

We’ve all become perfectly aware by now that the EU has been under increasing pressure from hostile Russian propaganda, which threatens to undermine its relations with its partners, to block important decisions, and generally damage the credibility of the major European institutions by instilling fear and a sense of insecurity among the EU citizens. The purpose is to cause discord within the EU, and put its democratic values in question – and the means that the Russian government is using to achieve that are various, from think-tanks, to multilingual TV channels (RT), to pseudo information agencies and multimedia sources (Sputnik), trans-border social groups and religious organizations, to social media and internet trolls, and of course funding political parties (mostly Euroskeptic and right-wing) and populist movements.

That’s basically what the part about Russia in the EU’s recent report on Strategic Communication With A View To Counteracting Propaganda Against It By Third Countries says. This EU resolution only has an advisable character and doesn’t impose anything on anybody, instead it recommends urgent measures for countering hostile propaganda, without prescribing bans on free speech or any such thing. All it does is identify a problem, and propose possible solutions within the law.

And yet, the report has caused a hysterical reaction. Even from the highest ranks in the Kremlin, and of course the usual suspects among the Kremlin media puppets: “We are witnessing an obvious degradation in the notions of democracy of the Western society”. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report “a disgusting paper, proving the EU’s information crimes”. Some of the above-mentioned Russian “media” called for all international organizations, media groups and unions, to show solidarity and oppose the “creeping discrimination and censorship”. And our very own former prime-minister from the Socialist Party, now turned chairman of the European Socialist Party, Sergei Stanishev expressed formal indignation at the “absurd placing of Russia alongside ISIS in the same document”. From his entire expose, it transpires that Russian propaganda doesn’t exist as a problem in his mind, and the very mention of Russia in some sort of negative context is akin to a crime against humanity.

But the very reactions that followed this resolution in themselves are evidence in support for the statements contained inside, and proof for its conclusions about the methods and tools of Russia’s propaganda war. Or “hybrid war” as we call it nowadays.

You want examples? Fine. Just days before the resolution was voted in Strasbourg, Russia Today cited “trusted sources” to spread the “news” that a sinister amendment had been added to the draft document, stating that “Orthodox Christianity is dangerous because it strives to spread its Christian values and expand its influence in the world”. The article also claimed that the EU was “starting a war against Orthodox Christian propaganda in Europe and around the world”. Then the “news” was instantaneously transmitted by various known and unknown “media” in East Europe, my country included, all of them raising a hue and cry that the European Parliament was planning to adopt a bill to authorize a war against ideological enemies from outside, its main target being Orthodox Christian propaganda. They also claimed that “even at the time of the Ottoman yoke, Orthodox Christianity had enjoyed a protected status and was preserved, while now the EU wants to destroy it and ban it”.

Then a chorus of “analysts” joined in, explaining how “the West always needs an external enemy”, and in order to counter Russia, it’s now planning to attack Orthodox Christianity “as the last paragon of freedom in the world” (which it most emphatically isn’t). Which, for countries defined by their Orthodox heritage (like my country) was “a sucker-punch on their primary historical, cultural and religious identity”. Meanwhile, the discussion was joined by the thousands of payroll trolls and useful idiots on the Internet, and amplified many-fold around various forums and media whose professional standards are somewhere around zero. It became the primary topic on our blogosphere for a few days, people sharing indignation against the “rotten West that is coming to take our values and freedoms”.

Meanwhile back in the real world, even a cursory check would’ve showed that nowhere in that resolution even a word had been mentioned about any such thing: there was nothing about a “dangerous” Orthodox Christianity, no “war on Orthodox Christian propaganda”, and neither even a hint of any “ban”. All in all, the document didn’t even speak of religious convictions, values or priorities. It only said that “the regime in Moscow attempts to present itself as the sole protector of traditional Christian values” – which is the truth, as we’ve mentioned here before.

Such examples (slightly adjusted to each country’s specifics, of course) can be seen all around the EU these days: from the “innocent” blurring of the line between real fact, arbitrary interpretation, and outright lie about the “banned Orthodox Christianity” and those evil Westerners’ plans to “take our dearest things away from us” (as if anyone in the West cares that much about our “things”, whatever those might be), to instilling distrust, insecurity, fear and hostility among ourselves. Granted, our society has always been split between Russophiles and Russophobes (which is a civilizational divide between East and West really), so we only need a little spark to ignite the whole keg over and over again.

In turn, this propaganda is just one among an array of tools in Moscow’s hybrid war against the West, now openly described by its key ideologists as “a strategy for influence, not brute force“, whose pupose is not to destroy the enemy but to “disrupt the inner coherence of its governance systems”.

Of course, EU’s problems and those of its separate members are not entirely and solely caused by the Russian hybrid war – it’s not central to them. They’re structural and societal, i.e. much deeper than that. But still, in pursuit of its own interests, Russia is actively working to deepen them by using all sorts of means to stimulate the disintegration processes in the EU, wherever they may occur. Russia is trying to stimulate and catalyze the undermining of its fundamental values and principles, and is playing a long game in that respect. Patiently and methodically. And we’re now seeing that Russia has become so bold in this, it’s already spreading its arms across the ocean, and actively influencing American politics as well – a process that is only bound to continue and deepen from here on, now that their Manchurian Candidate has successfully been installed in office.

Putin has become so bold that by asserting its “right” to spread lies and disinformation, Russia is cynically citing exactly one of the most important European values (which is not respected in Russia itself), the freedom of expression, of the media, and of speech, as an argument in its favor. For instance, this EU resolution was commented with the argument that “the most criminal way to counter an opponent is by banning something, which is a violation of the democratic norms” (Putin’s words); or “these methods are no different from the perceived threats that the report describes, and are thus in conflict with Europe’s democratic values” (our Socialist guy Stanishev, who curiously pretends to know a thing or two about democracy). These guys are speaking of “information crimes” and “stark discrimination and censorship”, while at the same time actively practicing them at home.

In fact, the measures proposed by the report are the exact opposite to all that. These include making people more informed and raising the information literacy of the EU citizens, reinforcing media pluralism, freedom of the press, and encouraging high-quality journalism, with an emphasis on investigative journalism. The EU MPs recommend to foster an understanding of the distinction between propaganda and criticism, and they remind that it’s counter-productive to try to counter someone else’s propaganda with propaganda of your own.

So the response they’re proposing to hostile propaganda is entirely consistent with the democratic values and principles. Still, two questions remain. First, would this response be productive and efficient enough, since it’s clear we’re not dealing with a normal, conventional “opponent”, and neither with normal “media”, or a constructive “alternative standpoint”, but a powerful disruptive machine instead, whose main output is blatant and indiscriminate disinformation? And secondly, isn’t that response coming a bit too late?

Peculiarities Of The Hybrid Warfare

Scared of the little green men in green uniforms without any signs on them, are we? Don’t know where they’re coming from and what they want from us, eh? East Europe trembles with the shaking ground under their boots, and prepares to eat the dust from under their heels. The angry bear is stirring, and is preparing for a predator leap: RRRAWR! But this time it’s masked, it has no insignia, and it uses RT to convince the world that it’s actually not a bear, but a mere lamb. You gotta believe it, or else!

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“War is merely the continuation of policy by other means”, Carl von Clausewitz’s famous “bottom-line” says. For those unaware, that was one of the preeminent military theoreticians of the 19th century. Now almost 2 centuries later, when we’re seeing direct stand-offs between standing armies belonging to nation-states more seldom than ever, the Prussian general’s argument is, paradoxically, more valid than back then. Even if it’s somewhat tilted upside down. Today, the boundary between war and peace is painfully smeared. The Anschluss of Crimea and the stirring of a separatist uprising in East Ukraine for the last few months is the best example of that.

Naturally, the various smartheads in the security & defense genre already have a name for that sort of conflict: hybrid warfare. The term gained traction in my country only recently, with the infamous “2020 strategy for European defense” memorandum, where Russia was initially painted as the epitome of evil, only to then be watered down to milder definitions, lest we anger Big Bear too much.

The new hybrid warfare, combining conventional methods and means of guerrilla, cyber and information warfare with actions contradicting international law, is putting an immense political, military and economic challenge to the region“, the initial draft version of the concept said. Eventually, the part about “information warfare” was tossed out of the document, and substituted with the somewhat more PC term, “propaganda”. And the nature of hybrid warfare was narrowed down to a single sentence. How sad. It would’ve made for a great action-movie script.

But what is this hybrid menace, after all? Many people have hastened to put an equation mark between this new beast and the already familiar asymmetric warfare. In practice, though, the hybrid approach is the next stage in the evolution of armed conflict. It came into the public focus somewhere in the mid 2000s with the Second Lebanese War between Israel and Hezbollah. That sort of conflict, on the one side, combines conventional with guerrilla methods, and on the other, it uses both military and non-military means for achieving its objectives.

The partial application of hybrid tactics is not that new, though. Granted, it did start to gain popularity after the end of the Cold War, when in most cases the protracted and aggressive conventional warfare in most cases would lead to catastrophic results for the aggressor. America has been learning that lesson time and time again since then. That’s why in many cases, non-government formations like guerrilla groups, terrorist organizations, revolutionaries, separatists, would be used around the zone of operation. Using anonymous troops without national uniforms, the so-called “little green men”, plus an aggressive information blitzkrieg of unprecedented proportions in the history of information warfare, has become part of the Russian operations in Ukraine. So, if anyone is to counter such action, they should probably be adapting to dealing with that sort of paramilitary formations, while preparing themselves to adequately counter possible cyber attacks as well.

Neither asymmetric nor hybrid warfare has a clearly defined frontline. It’s being conducted with all military and non-military means available, and the battlefields are actually several: in the conflict zone itself, among the ranks of the population (which is often being used as a human shield), and among the population back home (the constant struggle for gaining public support for the military campaign through propaganda, and inciting hatred for the enemy, dehumanizing the other side, eliminating internal opposition, silencing dissent, etc). The other battlefield is the international community, where the struggle is for gaining legitimacy.

A hybrid war involves one country or non-state “actor” who’s prone to using the whole palette of means and methods simultaneously, including regular armies, guerrilla actions, and tools for psychological influence on people’s perceptions on both sides. As of now, we’re at an intermediary point between the era of conventional warfare and asymmetric warfare, organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah simultaneously seeking political representation without even being a state, and conducting conventional operations. These are using all sorts of means to gain political legitimacy, while trying to maintain something resembling state organization in their controlled territories (as ISIL is doing), they have formations very much resembling regular army, but they also use their typical guerrilla tactics as well. On the other hand, they’re still giving priority to covert tactics and tools, which is a feature of asymmetric warfare. What we’ve seen in the recent months, shows that even some countries like Russia are prone to using a larger specter of instruments to achieve their goals.

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But perhaps the most important characteristic of hybrid warfare is the combination of military and non-military methods. Thus the country that’s the recipient of the aggression finds it hard till the very last moment to clearly tell whether it’s being subject to a coordinated assault or not. And even if that’s somewhat clear, the covert character of the hybrid tactics wouldn’t allow it to have a sufficiently legitimate justification for retaliating with open force without becoming the evil one, or seek military help from its allies without being accused of open aggression. In the case with Ukraine, NATO has been very hesitant to activate its collective defense, because that would be interpreted as a direct act of aggression. We should also note that using non-military means of pressure like (propaganda, appeal to emotion or outright lies), and imposing one’s political will upon another country doesn’t necessarily mean that these actions are explicitly aiming to provoke some sort of armed conflict, as opposed to merely being yet another tool for conducting aggressive diplomacy and gaining a more favorable position for possible future negotiations. Again, the borderline here is uncomfortably smeared.

bo4czbicaaaqtud(But won’t someone think of the children!?!)

This unclear line between war and peace is actually the most dangerous consequence of hybrid warfare. The tricky part here is to refrain from using the term “war” too arbitrarily. If we take the case with Russia, it does have its interests regarding both the EU and NATO. Generally speaking, the idea is to provoke dissent within both organizations. But if we’re to conclude outright that pursuing those interests constitutes war, that would mean falling into the realm of constant paranoia, and no longer being able to make a rational distinction between diplomacy and warfare. There should be a clear line between potential threat and real conflict. One tends to evolve into the other, but when we’re talking of hybrid warfare, we’re seeing the use of regular armies.

Espionage, for example, does not necessarily mean war. On the other hand, when we’re talking of cyber security, the problem is that when we see such attacks, we should clearly establish to what extent they pursue military objectives, thus constituting a form of military action. For the time being, the premise is that the final assessment depends on the end result of the attack: when there’s a destruction of physical infrastructure and/or human life, that’s an act of war. So, when we’re talking of economic, financial or political influence, or funding of political parties and political engineering, or nation-building by a foreign state, that’s hardly an act of war. It doesn’t make it any less hostile an act, though. It’s just that the state and the national security services should be doing their job accordingly.

The usual escalation of hybrid threats and their evolution into real armed conflicts logically brings the conclusion that the key element for countering them is the adequate work of the secret services, particularly counter-espionage. It’s their job to get information about the intentions of other countries, and intercept any foreign attempts to meddle into domestic matters by infiltrating their agents at key positions of political and economic life, and thus manipulate the decision-making at a state level. When shit hits the fan, though, especially when external factors prove overwhelming, then there’s nothing else to do but to either submit to the pressure, or succumb to endless conflict, and go down to the level of the aggressor, starting to use their own tools against them. Something that’ll eventually come haunting ya afterwards.