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While we've carefully documented the dynamics in play behind Trump's decision to end the CIA's covert Syria program, as well as the corresponding fury this immediately unleashed among the usual hawkish DC policy wonks, new information on what specifically impacted the president's thinking has emerged.
Thomas Joscelyn, a Middle East analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains in the August edition of The Weekly Standard:
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program.
The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.
Trump pressed his most senior intelligence advisers, asking the basic question of how the CIA could have a relationship with a group that beheads a child and then uploads the video to the internet. He wasn't satisfied with any of the responses:
Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether.
At the time the beheading video surfaced (July 2016), many in the American public naturally wanted answers, but the story never really picked up much momentum in the media. As Joscelyn describes, it caused nothing more than "a minor stir in the press." The State Department seemed merely satisfied that the group responsible, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, claimed to have arrested the men that committed the gruesome crime, though nothing more was known. Absurdly, a US government spokesperson expressed hope that the child-beheading group would "comply with obligations under the law of armed conflict."
The only press agencies that publicly and consistently challenged the State Department at the time were RT News and the Associated Press, yet even these attempts didn't get picked up beyond the confines of the State Department's daily briefing. When the AP's Matt Lee initially questioned spokesman Mark Toner as to whether Zenki would continue to receive any level of US assistance, Toner casually replied "it would give us pause" - which left Lee taken aback.
Meanwhile, it wasn't just the US government which had aided Zenki, but as fighting in Aleppo raged it became a favored group among both the mainstream media and prominent think tank pundits. One of the UK's major broadcasters (Channel 4) even went so far as to attempt to delete and hide its prior online content which sought to normalize the beheaders as "moderate" and heroic once news of the video got out.
Controversial, but @AbuJamajem is largely right:
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) August 22, 2016
Among think tankers, Zenki's most prominent public supporter, frequently presenting the terror group as actually representative of Syria's "secular" and supposedly democracy-promoting armed opposition (even after the beheading video emerged), was Charles Lister. Lister was finally confronted not by mainstream media, but by AlterNet's Max Blumenthal at a DC event held by the (largely Gulf funded) Atlantic Council.
Only by the time of this January 2017 public forum, and after being persistently questioned, did Lister awkwardly back off his previous enthusiastic promotion of Zenki:
We can imagine that Trump saw other things beyond the shocking Zenki beheading video which made him fully realize the utter criminality of the CIA program (Thomas Joscelyn further emphasizes that Trump came to understand the full scope of CIA cooperation with al-Qaeda in Syria).
The only question that remains is who in the CIA or Obama-era State Department should be prosecuted first?
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Judge Napolitano: Awans Had Access To ‘Virtually Everything’ In House of Representatives, Sold Information
The rapidly unfolding case against Debbie Wasserman Schultz's apparent Pakistani IT spy ring already had huge implications for National Security. We now learn that the investigation into the the Awan family encompasses more than just the Democrats they were working directly for.
Judge Andrew Napolitano appeared on Fox Business Network on Monday where he dropped a new bombshell: not only did the Awans had access to the emails of every member of the House of Representatives, Imran Awan reportedly sold information to still unknown parties, which the FBI is currently investigating.
Napolitano: He was arrested for some financial crime - that's the tip of the iceberg. The real allegation against him is that he had access to the emails of every member of congress and he sold what he found in there. What did he sell, and to whom did he sell it? That's what the FBI wants to know. This may be a very, very serious national security situation.
Varney: Wait a second, he was the IT worker along with his two Pakistani brothers, for DWS, and other Democrats in the House - and the theory is that he got access to all of their secrets or whatever, and sold some?
Napolitano: Yes, and this was at the time that Congresswoman Schultz was also the chair of the Democratic National Committee. So at this point I don't believe they know what he sold, and to whom he sold it - but they do know what he had access to, which is virtually everything in the House of representatives, which would include classified material in the House intelligence committee.
And as The Gateway Pundit reported Thursday - the Awans were sending sensitive information to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Per Josh Caplan @ GWP:
The explosive claim is backed up by a report in Frontpage Magazine linking the Awan brothers to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Pakistani IT staffers worked for Democrat Congressmen Andre Carson as well.
The office of Andre Carson, the second Muslim in Congress, had employed Imran Awan. As did the offices of Jackie Speier and Debbie Wasserman Schultz; to whom the letter had been addressed.
Carson is the second Muslim in Congress and the first Muslim on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and, more critically, is the ranking member on its Emerging Threats Subcommittee. He is also a member of the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture Subcommittee.
The Emerging Threats Subcommittee, of which Carson is a ranking member, is responsible for much of counterterrorism oversight. It is the worst possible place for a man with Carson’s credentials.
Carson had inherited his grandmother’s seat and exploited it to promote a radical Islamist agenda. He has interfaced with a laundry list of Islamist groups from CAIR to ISNA to ICNA to MPAC. Islamists have funded Carson’s career to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. The Center for Security Policy has put together a dossier of Carson’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the parent organization of many key Islamic terror groups posing a threat to our national security including Al Qaeda and Hamas.
Andre Carson shared the stage at a CAIR banquet with Sirraj Wahaj: an unindicted co-conspirator in the World Trade Center bombing who had once declared,” You don’t get involved in politics because it’s the American thing to do. You get involved in politics because politics are a weapon to use in the cause of Islam.” CAIR itself had been named an unindicted co-conspirator in terror finance.
It’s ironic the Awan brothers cry Islamophobia, when in all actuality, the religion they practice deserves all the scrutiny it receives. Simply put, the Awan brothers are of the Muslim faith sending sensitive information to Islamic fundamentalist group, Muslim Brotherhood.
I wonder what's on that laptop Debbie Wasserman Schultz threatened the chief of DC Capitol Police over?
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The decision to launch nuclear weapons is political, not military.
As North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un declares that "The Entire US Territory Is Now Within Our ICBM Range", somewhere in the Pentagon, operational plans to neutralize North Korean nuclear and long-range missile capabilities are being refined.
There are undoubtedly two sets of operational plans: one deploying conventional weapons, and the second for deployment of nuclear weapons.
Nothing personal, Mr. Kim Jong Un, it's just business. A core duty of planners in the Pentagon is to ask "What if" and draw up a range of scenarios and operational plans to carry out the civilian leadership's policies and decisions.
One such scenario is "what if North Korea launches a ballistic missile that is tracking to strike U.S. territory?"
One response option in this scenario would be to wait and see if the North Korean missile hits the U.S. and if it is armed with a nuclear weapon, and if so, if the warhead detonates.
Another option is to respond immediately with a nuclear strike that neutralizes North Korea's ability to launch any more nuclear-armed missiles.
The U.S. Armed Forces does not declare war or make the decision to launch a nuclear strike--that is the perogative and responsibility of the nation's civilian elected leadership. The duty of the U.S. Armed Forces is to be prepared to execute the decisions and policies of the elected civilian leadership.
The ethical considerations of such a decision are not the Pentagon's purview--those considerations rest with the elected civilian leadership. If North Korea is poised to kill 2 million Americans, South Koreans, Japanese, etc., then isn't erasing North Korea's capability to kill millions at the cost of 50,000 North Korean lives in a limited nuclear strike the more ethical choice?
Those considerations are not part of operational plans. The purpose of operational plans is to get the assigned job done. Limiting civilian casualties might well be part of the assigned mission. But it's not the Pentagon planners' job to make those mission decisions.
There are no small nuclear explosions, but there are smaller explosions and variations that have profoundly different consequences. Ground-burst detonations carve out craters and send shock waves through the earth that crumple tunnels, bunkers, elevator shafts, etc. Ground-burst detonations generate vast quantities of radioactive particles. Since it's well known that North Korea has buried its most precious nuclear resources deep underground, ground-burst detonations would be the only way to disrupt the access routes to bunkers deep underground.
Air-burst nuclear detonations generate field effects, i.e. electromagnetic pulses across the spectrum. These can be "tuned" to some degree. Thus a neutron-type weapon is designed to sicken and kill enemy soldiers while leaving buildings and equipment intact. This might be the weapon of choice to neutralize any attempt by the North Korean Army to launch a devastating artillery attack on South Korea in retaliation for the destruction of North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities.
Air-burst field effects often include massive disruption of electronic equipment. This might limit the operational plans for air-burst nuclear detonations near ther DMZ, as technologically advanced South Korea might well suffer significant economic losses from an air burst near the border with North Korea.
By the same token, an air-burst nuclear detonation over North Korean military communications headquarters might be considered essential to distrupt the North Koreans' command and control capabilities.
My point here is that operational plans to decapitate North Korean nuclear and ICBM capabilities exist and are constantly being revised and refined in light of new intelligence. It's not the planners' job to make the geopolitical or ethical calculations that inform such a drastic decision. It's the planners' job to make sure a strike ordered by the elected civilian leadership of the nation achieves its goal, i.e. eliminates North Korea's nuclear and missile delivery capabilities completely.
It's easy to say nuclear weapons should never be used, but what if conventional weapons can't do the job, or create greater risks? Would you consider it a good ethical trade-off to wait for millions to die before killing thousands? That's a political choice, and one that will always be second-guessed or disputed. But making such decisions is the purpose of elected civilian government.
The planners job is much more direct. If the elected civilian government orders the neutralization of North Korea's ability to kill millions of civilians in South Korea, Japan or the U.S., then the job boils down to aligning existing resources and reckoning how many resources will be needed to get the job done in the most effective way available.
A conventional-weapons strike would likely require hundreds (and possibly thousands) of aircraft sorties, and all that such a monumental effort entails. It would also requires a significant amount of time to execute. A nuclear strike requires far fewer resources but has consequences far beyond those of conventional weapons.
There have been no nuclear weapons detonated with the express intention of destroying civilians since 1945. The stakes are high, and nobody wants to launch a nuclear attack unless it is in retaliation for a nuclear attack. But by then it's too late to save the millions killed by the initial attack.
We all hope deterrence works. But deterrence very nearly failed a number of times in the Cold War between the USSR and the US. Given the possibility that deterrence might fail--over-ridden by a commander with launch authority, or a dozen other possibilities of miscalculation or impulse-- plans must be made for a first-strike designed to neutralize a nuclear missile capability.
The decision to launch nuclear weapons is political, not military - but achieving the goal is the duty of the military.
It's nothing personal, folks--it's just a peculiar business.
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