“I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA Today articles on them,” Chidiac said of USA Today reporters Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker in a statement released to the newspaper. “I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie.”
Vanden Brook and Locker wrote a highly critical story about Pentagon information operations in general, and Leonie Industries in particular, last February. As he was reporting the story, Vanden Brook realized that someone had registered TomVandenBrook.com, established a Twitter account in his name, and begun editing his Wikipedia page to highlight an erroneous report he filed about survivors of the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia in 2006—an error that virtually every other news outlet covering the incident made at the same time, since it was sourced to false information provided by the governor. Locker got similar treatment.
Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war.
The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.
In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.
How the Pentagon paid a British PR firm $500 million for top secret Iraq propaganda.
The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda programme during the Iraq war, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.
Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.
The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.
Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”
Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.
Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.
In the first media interview any Bell Pottinger employee has given about the work for the US military in Iraq, video editor Martin Wells – who no longer works for the company – told the Bureau his time in Camp Victory was “shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”
The firm’s output was signed off by former General David Petraeus – then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq – and on occasion by the White House, Wells said.
Bell Pottinger produced reams of material for the Pentagon, some of it going far beyond standard communications work.
The Bureau traced the firm’s Iraq work through US army contracting censuses, federal procurement transaction records and reports by the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General, as well as Bell Pottinger’s corporate filings and specialist publications on military propaganda. We interviewed half a dozen former officials and contractors involved in information operations in Iraq.
There were three types of media operations commonly used in Iraq at the time, said a military contractor familiar with Bell Pottinger’s work there.
“White is attributed, it says who produced it on the label,” the contractor said. “Grey is unattributed and black is falsely attributed. These types of black ops, used for tracking who is watching a certain thing, were a pretty standard part of the industry toolkit.”
Bell Pottinger changed ownership after a management buyout in 2012 and its current structure has no connections with the unit that operated in Iraq, which closed in 2011. It is understood the key people who worked in that unit deny any involvement with tracking software as described by Wells.
Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was a huge media operation which cost over a hundred million dollars a year on average. A document unearthed by the Bureau shows the company was employing almost 300 British and Iraqi staff at one point.
The London-based PR agency was brought into Iraq soon after the US invasion. In March 2004 it was tasked by the country’s temporary administration with the “promotion of democratic elections” – a “high-profile activity” which it trumpeted in its annual report.
The firm soon switched to less high-profile activities, however. The Bureau has identified transactions worth $540 million between the Pentagon and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations on a series of contracts issued from May 2007 to December 2011. A similar contract at around the same annual rate – $120 million – was in force in 2006, we have been told.
The bulk of the money was for costs such as production and distribution, Lord Bell told the Sunday Times, but the firm would have made around £15 million a year in fees.
From London to Baghdad
Martin Wells, the ex-employee, told the Bureau he had no idea what he was getting into when he was interviewed for the Bell Pottinger job in May 2006.
He had been working as a freelance video editor and got a call from his agency suggesting he go to London for an interview for a potential new gig. “You’ll be doing new stuff that’ll be coming out of the Middle East,” he was told.
“I thought ‘That sounds interesting’,” Wells recalled. “So I go along and go into this building, get escorted up to the sixth floor in a lift, come out and there’s guards up there. I thought what on earth is going on here? And it turns out it was a Navy post, basically. So from what I could work out it was a media intelligence gathering unit.”
After a brief chat Wells asked when he would find out about the job, and was surprised by the response.
“You’ve already got it,” he was told. “We’ve already done our background checks into you.”
He would be flying out on Monday, Wells learned. It was Friday afternoon. He asked where he would be going and got a surprising answer: Baghdad.
“So I literally had 48 hours to gather everything I needed to live in a desert,” Wells said.
Days later, Wells’s plane executed a corkscrew landing to avoid insurgent fire at Baghdad airport. He assumed he would be taken to somewhere in the Green Zone, from which coalition officials were administering Iraq. Instead he found himself in Camp Victory, a military base.
It turned out that the British PR firm which had hired him was working at the heart of a US military intelligence operation.
A highly classified area
A tide of violence was engulfing the Iraqi capital as Wells began his contract. The same month he arrived there were five suicide bomb attacks in the city, including a suicide car bomb attack near Camp Victory which killed 14 people and wounded six others.
Describing his first impressions, Wells said he was struck by a working environment very unlike what he was used to. “It was a very secure building,” he recalled, with “signs outside saying ‘Do not come in, it’s a classified area, if you’re not cleared, you can’t come in.’”
Inside were two or three rooms with lots of desks in, said Wells, with one section for Bell Pottinger staff and the other for the US military.
“I made the mistake of walking into one of the [US military] areas, and having a very stern American military guy basically drag me out saying you are not allowed in here under any circumstances, this is highly classified, get out – whilst his hand was on his gun, which was a nice introduction,” said Wells.
It soon became apparent he would be doing much more than just editing news footage….
(ANTIMEDIAOp-Ed) A new study conducted by members of the U.S. military establishment has concluded that the U.S.-led international global order established after World War II is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing” as the U.S. continues to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs.
“In brief, the status quo that was hatched and nurtured by U.S. strategists after World War II and has for decades been the principal ‘beat’ for DoD is not merely fraying but may, in fact, be collapsing,” the report states.
The report, published in June by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, evaluated the Department of Defense’s (DOD) approach to risk assessment at all levels of Pentagon policy planning. The study was supported and sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate; the Joint Staff, J5 (Strategy and Policy Branch); the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development; and the Army Study Program Management Office.
As explained by Nathan Freier, the project director and principal author of the report, the U.S. and its defense establishment “are stumbling through a period of hypercompetition.” From Freier’s point of view, the current era is marred with furious battles for positional advantage at a number of levels, whether national, transnational, or extra-national. Freier explains that America’s failure to cope is the result of “hubris,” which is reminiscent of Imperial Hubris, a book by Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Imperial Hubris also warned the U.S. about the very controversial and hubristic reasons it was losing the war on terror (hubris means “exaggerated pride or self-confidence,” according to Merriam-Webster).
Technically, the report does not officially represent the Pentagon, though it does represent the “collective wisdom” of those consulted – including a number of Pentagon officials and prominent think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the RAND Corporation, and the Institute for the Study of War.
Nevertheless, the report involved consultation with key agencies across the DoD and the Armed Forces and encouraged the U.S. government to invest more heavily in surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” U.S. military. The report states:
“While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, the post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate advantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unacceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.”
The year-long study concluded that the DoD should discard its outdated risk conventions and change how it describes, identifies, assesses, and communicates strategic-level and risk-based choices. As investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed observed, these are the very strategies that have led to the U.S.’ declining power in the first place. Further enacting these failed strategies will only exacerbate the problem and demonstrates America’s refusal to go down without a fight.
The blame lies with resistant states
According to Freier and his team, the dangers currently challenging the U.S. don’t just come from countries like Russia and China (and even North Korea and Iran), but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events that could potentially erupt all over the world. One might wonder, then, why the U.S. decided to support a number of these events, even to the great benefit of known jihadist movements that already existed within them.
Ahmed also astutely points out that the report doesn’t actually substantiate its claims that countries like Russia are a genuine threat to America’s national security, aside from the fact that these countries seek to pursue their own core interests – as most countries should be free to do (within reason).
According to the report, Iran and North Korea are “… neither the products of, nor are they satisfied with, the contemporary order… At a minimum, they intend to destroy the reach of the U.S.-led order into what they perceive to be their legitimate sphere of influence. They are also resolved to replace that order locally with a new rule set dictated by them.”
It is notable that the report does not list Iran and North Korea as nuclear threats — as traditional neoconservative propaganda often asserts — but simply as perceived threats to the American-led world order.
The report also found that the international framework has been restructured in ways that are “inhospitable” and often “hostile” to U.S. leadership. For example, “proliferation, diversification, and atomization of effective counter-U.S. resistance,” as well as “resurgent but transformed great power competition” are seen to be at the heart of this new international restructuring. According to the report, the U.S. is not prepared for these circumstances, and the report seeks to provide the U.S. with guidance to deal with these emerging scenarios.
In all seriousness, hostility to the U.S. military did not develop in a vacuum – it is quite clearly the sheer arrogance of America’s leadership and its incessant meddling in foreign affairs that have created a number of adversaries who are no longer willing to bow to American interests….
The defeat of Islamic State in Syria is reliant on a questionable supply-line, funnelling unprecedented quantities of weapons and ammunition from Eastern Europe to some 30,000 anti-ISIS rebel fighters.
Armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades fresh from state-owned production lines and stockpiles of the Balkans, Central Europe and increasingly the former Soviet Union, these US-backed troops are spearheading the battle to reclaim Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate, and liberate other areas of Syria held by ISIS.
But the flow of weapons to these Pentagon-backed militia depends on misleading official paperwork, an investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, has uncovered.
Reporters have pinpointed more than $700 million of spending on weapons and ammunition likely destined for Syrian rebels since September 2015, when the Pentagon’s anti-ISIS train and equip program shifted strategy.
The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022.
The total, $2.2 billion, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.
The weapons and ammunition that the Pentagon is supplying to Syria are dispatched through a sprawling logistical network, including an army of arms dealers, shipping companies, cargo airlines, German military bases and Balkan airports and ports.
The purchases are routed through two channels. One is run by the US military’s Special Operations Command, SOCOM, and the other is operated by Picatinny Arsenal, a little-known New Jersey weapons depot.
Trump has pledged to “wipe out” ISIS and has allocated increased funding for the Pentagon campaign, which now has many former anti-regime groups on its pay-roll.
With vast quantities of weapons continuing to pour into Syria, concerns abound about a wider conflict emerging once the common enemy of ISIS is defeated.
Asked about the unprecedented purchase of Soviet-style arms for Syrian rebels, the Pentagon said that it had carefully vetted the recipients and was releasing equipment incrementally.
Train and equip: A Major Shift in Strategy
As ISIS swept across Syria in 2014, the Pentagon hastily launched a $500 million train and equip program that December to build up a new force of Syrian rebels, armed with modern US weapons, in an attempt to counter the threat.
But nine months later, the program had collapsed, with only a handful of recruits having made it onto the battlefield.
Amid a flurry of negative headlines, the Pentagon needed a new plan: Starting in September 2015, and largely unnoticed by the media, it quietly shifted focus to arming Syrian rebels already on the ground with the Eastern Bloc arms and ammunition they were already using, according to a previously unreported Pentagon document from February 2016.
Read the documents behind the investigation here at:
This Soviet-type equipment, both newly produced and sourced from stockpiles, is available from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries, as well as China and Russia. The latter two large suppliers are out of bounds, as their military equipment falls under US sanctions.
The first Pentagon delivery, which included 50 tonnes of ammunition, arrived in October 2015, just a month after the shift in policy. The munitions were airdropped to Arab units within the then recently formed Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, a Kurdish-led coalition currently spearheading the fight to reclaim Raqqa, and the Pentagon’s main ally in Syria.
The shipment was far from a one-time event and the SDF was not the only group to receive support – a changing coalition of rebel fighters in Syria’s south east is also being armed by the Pentagon.
Special Operations Command, SOCOM, has not previously acknowledged its role in the Syria train and equip program, but in a written statement to BIRN and OCCRP, the Pentagon confirmed that it had been charged with procuring weapons and ammunition for Syrian rebels.
From the swift in strategy to May 2017, it has purchased weapons and ammunition worth $240 million from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Poland and Romania, according to an analysis of thousands of procurement records by BIRN and OCCRP. Prior to the start of the programme, its spending on Eastern Bloc weaponry had been negligible.
While SOCOM is known to covertly supply US partners in other conflicts, documentary evidence, expert analysis, and the testimony of a contractor involved in the supply-line confirmed that Syria is the main destination for these purchases.
Between December 2015 and September 2016, SOCOM also chartered four cargo ships from Romanian and Bulgarian Black Sea ports, laden with 6,300 tonnes of the purchased munitions to be delivered to military bases in Turkey and Jordan, the main logistics bases for supplying Syrian rebels, according to procurement documents, packing lists and ship tracking data…
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Tom Secker and Matthew Alford report on their astonishing findings from trawling through thousands of new US military and intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents reveal for the first time the vast scale of US government control in Hollywood, including the ability to manipulate scripts or even prevent films too critical of the Pentagon from being made — not to mention influencing some of the most popular film franchises in recent years.
This raises new questions not only about the way censorship works in the modern entertainment industry, but also about Hollywood’s little known role as a propaganda machine for the US national security apparatus.