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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Is memory corruption behind yet another un-FAIR Syria story?

It seems that Adam Johnson needs another lesson in Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting because in doubling down on his opportunist position on Syria in his latest piece on that question for FAIR, Down the Memory Hole: NYT Erases CIA’s Efforts to Overthrow Syria’s Government, today, he misrepresents his sources and links multiple times to indicate some substance behind his claims when there is no there there. If the title hasn't already made it clear, his basic thesis is that the CIA has been engaged in a massive, four year long, effort to overthrow the Syrian government and the New York Times is trying to re-write that history.

He starts by implying that a recent New York Times article denies "the fact that the CIA has been arming, training and funding rebels since 2012." I didn't read that in the article, but what is more important, that is such a low bar even a few rebels will do, so it is probably true at some level. I don't think anyone knowledgeable about the CIA doubts that they arm, train and fund agents that are involved in most conflicts around the globe. That's what they do. The question is, how much have they really done to support the struggle to overthrow the government of Bashar al- Assad? Here Adam Johnson and the other "anti-imperialists" are tasked with turning a mole hill into a mountain as they attempt to take what little evidence there is of CIA involvement in Syria and build it up into a mountain that can justify their view that the US is largely to blame for this one also.

As with most recent "anti-imperialist" ramblings, doubling-down on their discredited position, this one also displaces the demands for regime change and a no-fly zone from the Syria people in which they originated to Imperial Mouthpieces the "Left" loves to hate. As usual, it ignores the Syrian people. These "Leftists" become the kind of Baathist truthers that Louis Proyect recently critiqued and it is seeped in the American Isolationism the recent RAWR report talked about. As usual, Adam Johnson's work can be attacked from many angles.  As a political critic, I feel that the "anti-imperialists" provide what a warrior would call a "target rich environment."

But since we can't look at every piece from every angle in a reasonably long article, and especially since this is published in Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, I wish to focus this post on the very unfair way Adam Johnson uses claims and links purporting to backup those claims.

Shall we start with the reference to the recent Washington Post story that claims the CIA has trained and sent into Syria 10,000 fighters for the purpose of overthrowing the Syrian government? This one story from an anonymous intelligence official has spawned a whole cottage industry among the "anti-imperialists." A less desperate group would demand something like a shred of evidence or at least a second source before giving this story such wide play, but as the flood of recent events is more and more exposing the bankruptcy of their politics, they have a need to grasp at anything that can be used to shore up their crumbling position.

Johnson, to back his claim that "the Central Intelligence Agency set up a secret program of arming, funding and training anti-Assad forces" says
the Washington Post, which—partly thanks to the Snowden revelations—detailed a program that trained approximately 10,000 rebel fighters at a cost of $1 billion a year, or roughly 1/15th of the CIA’s official annual budget.
And so, without further comment, let's jump right to the details which Johnson says are provided by the Washington Post. Following the link, we find:
At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget, judging by spending levels revealed in documents The Washington Post obtained from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.
The first "detail" I notice is that the Washington Post story claims Edward Snowden as a source for the spending levels only, while the Johnson citation falsely implies he was the source on the number of fighters as well. It is the claim of these 10,000 CIA funded, armed and trained fighters that nobody can seem to locate in Syria, that is in dispute. I don't think anybody doubts that the CIA can fritter away a billion bucks under line-item "Syria" without having the least effect on the struggle in Syria. It is this claim of massive numbers of anti-Assad fighters trained by the CIA that has become the butt of jokes. And while not to doubt the veracity of anything coming from Edward Snowden, it would be well to remember that he is living in Moscow at the pleasure of Vladimir Putin.

Beyond that, I can't find any details about the secret CIA program in the Washington Post article that Johnson hasn't already given us. It is "a program that trained approximately 10,000 rebel fighters at a cost of $1 billion a year." And that's all we know about it. That's all the "detail" in the Washington Post article and after it has been cited in a half-dozen "anti-imperialist" publications, that's all the "detail" we know still. I asked 3 weeks ago "what units they are in or what name they are fighting under, what battles they made a difference in, how they are paid and supplied, how the US exercises command and control, etc." None of those details have accompanied the many repetitions of this story since.

In an earlier critique of Johnson's position, I compared what is known about the Pentagon rebel training program, which Johnson acknowledges was "an abysmal failure" with this illusionary CIA army of 10,000. About this he says:
There may only be “four or five American-trained fighters…fighting” expressly against ISIS, but there is no doubt thousands more American-trained fighters are fighting in Syria.
Yes, it is an article of faith with these guys. There may be no proof but there can be no doubt either.

While Johnson doesn't provide us with any evidence that the CIA has trained and sent anything like 10,000 fighters to Syria, he does attempt to make the case that "the US did get arms to Syrian rebels in 2012." To make this case he calls upon another New York Times article long cited by the "anti-imperialists" as proof that Obama's CIA has been arming anti-Assad fighters. The misuse of the NY Times article, CIA Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition also spawned a cottage-industry among the "anti-imperialists" when it was first published. It was widely criticized, by Linux Beach, among others at the time. I guess its comeback was inevitable given the current desperation among the anti-imperialists.

To reiterate again, what the CIA was doing in Southern Turkey was filtering weapons to the rebels not providing them. If Johnson thinks the coffee comes from the filter, I now understand why his coffee doesn't wake him up. The coffee comes from the ground up beans, Johnson. We use the filter to keep the grounds out of the coffee because we like it better that way. That filter works for us. The CIA didn't provide weapons to the rebels in this program, they filtered weapons others were providing. This filter didn't work for the rebels. It wasn't designed to help them avoid weapons they didn't want. From the NY Times article cited by Johnson:
The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.
So Johnson makes the claim that "the US did get arms to Syrian rebels" and to back that claim, he cites an article, that if you bothered to read it, that tells you the CIA mission was to "keep weapons out of the hands of fighters." Is that fair?

This is then followed by what Johnson calls "a rather detailed New York Times infographic" that illustrates an arms pipeline of 160 military cargo flights from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Johnson cuts off the credit at the bottom of the original, which read:
Sources: Plane spotters in Cyprus and Turkey; regional air traffic control officials; Hugh Griffiths of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Does he feel it carries more weight without these "details?" He then follows that with a link to more proof:
Note that this map accompanied an article headlined “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From CIA.”
This is the fun part for me because to make my point and show that Adam Johnson is falsely crediting sources, all I have to do is quote extensively from his own provided and approved source. I don't even need to bring into the discussion anything but the material he himself has provided. From his link we read this:
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
So the weapons were coming from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Turkey, not from the US. Johnson might argue that the US was "really" behind the weapons supplies but there's no proof of that. What niether the NY Times nor FAIR say is that support for the Syrian rebels was very popular among the Arab masses. The Libyan General National Congress voted $100 million in aid to the rebels in response to popular demand and even in the Arab monarchies, the decision to provide weapons to the anti-Assad rebels is one of the most popular made by these governments. The NY Times piece continues:
And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
So, according to the article cited by Johnson, the CIA was involved "mostly in a consultative role" in any arms shipments. So was it fair to use this article to prove the CIA is supplying arms to the rebels? The article goes on to say they:
[H]ave vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But what about those 10,000 that have been trained, armed, funded and fighting in Syria, according to a now much beloved Washington Post quote? Why aren't they even hinted at in this very extensive New York Times article about CIA activities in Syria? The veracity of this piece has been certified by a "fair" minded author. Were these 10,000 CIA fighters so secret that they didn't come up even in extensive discussions about the CIA's secret involvement in the arms shipments?

The NY Times article then goes into some of the complaints rebel commanders had about their American "support." Please remember while reading these that this is not material I have brought into the conversation to prove that the CIA role was to hold back the struggle against Assad. All of this material is from the New York Times article that Adam Johnson cited to back his point that the CIA was the chief sponsor of the struggle to overthrow Assad. This is state's evidence turned against the state:
Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt.

“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.

He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said.

Two other commanders, Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham and Abu Ayman of Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group, said that whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job.

“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Mr. Aboud said.
Was it accident and incompetence that some weapons were "filtered" to fake FSA brigades, or was it something else? Do any of these rebel commanders sound like they are part of the CIA's lost 10,000? Do they sound happy with the "regime change" efforts of the US government. Was it fair to cite this New York Times article to back the claim that the CIA is the main force trying to overthrow the government of Syria? If the answer to that isn't already clear, the NY Times article continues:
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.

“These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us."
As any close observer of the Syrian civil war can testify, the Obama administration has been very successful at keeping MANPADS, portable anti-aircraft missiles, out of the hands of the people Assad is bombing. The CIA even managed to keep warehoused SA-7 MANPADS the FSA had already purchased from Libya. I'm willing to wager even money that the CIA efforts to keep MANPADS out of rebel hands has cost the Syria people a hundred thousand lives alone. That's how the US has supported the overthrow of the Syria government. Again from the very article Adam Johnson cited to prove the Obama administration was behind expanding arms supplies to the Syrian rebels:
Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.
This is the reality of Obama's CIA involvement in Syria. Obama has been playing "Good Cop" to Putin's "Bad Cop" in Syria all along. This is how the "Good Cop" role is played on an imperial scale. Anyone familiar with the "Good Cop, Bad Cop" game knows that the supposed "Good Cop" always reveals himself in the end. When that happens, the naive convict is left sitting in his jail cell wondering just when his "Good Cop" turned bad. When this starts to happen to our "anti-imperialists," they revert to chanting their old "proofs" and publishing articles about "U-Turns" and "Memory Holes." Johnson sums up:
The CIA’s program, when discussing a fraught foreign policy issue like Syria, is simply thrown down the memory hole.
Which bring us to the fundamental flaw in this article. It attempts to remember a CIA program that only existed in their dreams. But to "prove" their point they are forced to resort to exactly the type of corrupt journalistic practices that FAIR has been so good at combating in the past.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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