‘Soft Coup’ on Trump, Hiding in Plain Sight

Exclusive: Official Washington is abuzz about ex-FBI Director Comey’s testimony and excited about possibly impeaching President Trump, but that misses the underlying story of a “soft coup” by the Intelligence Community, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

So what were we watching in ex-FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Thursday: an upright public servant punished for resisting a power-mad President or a participant in a political scheme to use the law as a way to overturn a U.S. presidential election?

President Donald Trump being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

There was a general consensus in the mainstream media that it was the first, that Comey was the noble victim and President Trump the conniving villain. And, surely, Trump could be criticized for his clumsy firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and ensuing expression of “hope” to then-FBI Director Comey that Flynn would not be punished further.

But – outside the view of the MSM – there are other troubling aspects of what is now unfolding, including the scene of FBI Director Comey informing President-elect Trump on Jan. 6 about a defamatory annex to an intelligence report detailing unproven but salacious allegations and then seeing those details leaked almost immediately to humiliate Trump in the days before his Inauguration.

In his Thursday testimony, Comey defended his role in alerting Trump to the Intelligence Community’s publication of the allegations, which summarized opposition research done to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign and alleging that Trump had hired Russian prostitutes to urinate on him as he lay in a bed once used by President and Mrs. Obama at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow – while supposedly secretly videotaped by Russian intelligence.

In the testimony, Comey said that after he and other Obama’s intelligence chiefs briefed the President-elect at Trump Towers on Jan. 6 about their report on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, “I remained alone with the President-elect to brief him on some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment.

“The I.C. leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified. Among those reasons were: (1) we knew the media was about to publicly report the material and we believed the I.C. should not keep knowledge of the material and its imminent release from the President-elect; and (2) to the extent there was some effort to compromise an incoming President, we could blunt any such effort with a defensive briefing.

“The Director of National Intelligence asked that I personally do this portion of the briefing because I was staying in my position and because the material implicated the FBI’s counter-intelligence responsibilities. We also agreed I would do it alone to minimize potential embarrassment to the President-elect.”

Like J. Edgar Hoover

Given the mainstream media’s determined promotion of Russia-gate as a legitimate scandal, the extraordinary nature of this briefing incident has passed largely unnoticed.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

If, however, you substituted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for FBI Director Comey, the significance of the I.C.’s gratuitous inclusion of such an unsubstantiated smear might take on a different coloring. It was, after all, the decision to tack this classified annex onto the Jan. 6 report that gave the mainstream media the hook to disseminate the “golden shower” accusation across the country and around the world.

Rather than minimizing “potential embarrassment to the President-elect,” as Comey demurred, the classified annex was guaranteed to maximize Trump’s embarrassment, which it did.

In other words, just as Comey said he inferred an improper or illegal order when Trump expressed “hope” that Flynn’s legal ordeal might end, Trump might well have deduced that Comey’s elevation of the urination story amounted to coercion or blackmail from the Intelligence Community.

Trump, who surely knows the shadier corners of the construction trade, might have heard something like, “Gee, we’d hate for your wife and children (not to mention the rest of the world) to hear this story about prostitutes peeing on you” – and read the warning as a threat.

FBI Director Hoover was a master of just this sort of warning, conveyed as a sincere concern about some politician’s well-being. Trump, who has emphatically denied the salacious accusation, could well have seen Comey sending him a message from the leaders of the powerful Intelligence Community that they were determined to remove Trump or at least politically cripple him.

Just three days earlier, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Trump was “being really dumb” by taking on the Intelligence Community because “they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

In the five months since the Jan. 6 briefing, Trump has gotten a taste of how accurate Schumer’s observation was. Making sure that the public got to read the “dirty dossier” – compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele and financed by some still unknown Clinton supporter – was clearly one of those six ways.

On top of that, Obama’s intelligence chiefs, including Comey, have testified repeatedly before Congress while they or their allies have leaked derogatory information about Trump to The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets.

The ‘Soft Coup’

In other words, what we may have witnessed in Comey’s ballyhooed testimony on Thursday was just the latest chapter in a “soft coup” to remove Trump – either through a forced resignation or impeachment. The thinking is that Trump is so incompetent that “wise men” must step in to “correct a mistake” made by the U.S. electorate and made possible by the Constitution’s Electoral College system, which enabled Trump to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote,

FBI Director James Comey

But the American people are not supposed to see it that way. After all, the realization that U.S. intelligence chieftains might be conspiring to overturn a constitutional election of a U.S. president could be most upsetting and unsettling, even if one assumes that they are sincerely doing what they think is “best for the country.”

So, this side of the story remains unspoken, a silence made possible by the fact that most of the nation’s top news executives and much of its political elite share the opinion that Trump’s presidency must be ended and a more traditional chief executive installed.

But no one in authority wants to acknowledge that a “soft coup” is in the works because that would make America look like a banana republic to the world. It also could infuriate Trump’s 63 million voters who might take exception to this sort of “deep state” veto of a duly certified election.

So, what that means is that the planned removal of Trump will be a deliberate process cloaked in high-minded legal principles and much talk about the rule of law.

Of course, Trump would not be the only loser in this process. His sinking presidency would drag down many of those around him – and, in the case of Michael Flynn, might well lead to criminal charges.

Indeed, if civil libertarians were not largely committed to the anti-Trump #Resistance, they might pause for a moment and consider the disturbing picture of what was done to retired Lt. Gen. Flynn.

Trapping Flynn

To engineer the ouster of Flynn as Trump’s first National Security Adviser, President Obama’s Justice Department holdovers used the archaic 1799 Logan Act as a predicate to justify an FBI interrogation of Flynn about the details of a phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016, while Flynn was vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

Green Party leader Jill Stein and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn attending a dinner marking the RT network’s 10-year anniversary in Moscow, December 2015, sitting at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since the FBI agents had a transcript of the intercepted phone call and Flynn was working from memory – possibly a bit hazy from a Pina Colada or two – Flynn was an easy mark for a perjury trap. Leaving out some detail, whether intentionally or not, would open him to an obstruction case – and Comey reportedly has indicated that the ongoing criminal investigation of Flynn indeed relates to whether he withheld information from investigators.

Every American who is concerned about the future political use of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ powerful surveillance tools should have shuddered a bit over what was done to Flynn. But many on the Left so desperately want Trump removed from office that they have joined the Russia-gate stampede as the best way to trample Trump.

So, few tears have been shed for Flynn even as he was ambushed based on transcripts of National Security Agency intercepts, a precedent that could be replicated in many other circumstances against American citizens who get on the Intelligence Community’s “six ways from Sunday” black list.

The use of the Logan Act predicate should have set off other alarm bells. The law, which was enacted during the Alien and Sedition Act period, was meant to stop private citizens from trying to conduct U.S. foreign policy on their own, but its constitutionality was always suspect and it has never led to a prosecution, not one in 218 years.

It was also never intended to apply to incoming foreign policy officials of a new presidential administration after the election, when they are understandably beginning to make contacts with foreign officials. So, for then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates to have dusted it off as a predicate for going after Flynn suggests additional entrapment problems.

True, Flynn may have used poor judgment in how he handled a 2015 paid speaking engagement in Moscow, how he reported on his consulting work for a Dutch company owned by a wealthy Turk with high-level political connections, and what he might have said to Kislyak (although we still don’t know the details of that conversation).

Islamic State Warning

But Flynn also had been an Army lieutenant general who led the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 when it produced the U.S. government’s most perceptive critique of President Obama’s proxy war in Syria, even predicting the emergence of an “Islamic state,” a judgment that annoyed other intelligence leaders who were participating in the covert war to overthrow the Syrian government.

Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn speaks at the Defense Intelligence Agency change of directorship at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, July 24, 2012. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

The DIA report embarrassed the advocates for an escalation of the war in Syria and the ouster of secular President Bashar al-Assad. Journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Flynn’s DIA “had sent a constant stream of classified warnings … about the dire consequences of toppling Assad.” Flynn told Hersh that these reports “got enormous pushback from the Obama administration.”

After being forced out of his DIA job and retiring from the Army in 2014, Flynn went even further in a 2015 interview when he said the intelligence was “very clear” that the Obama administration made a “willful decision” to back these jihadists in league with Middle East allies, a choice that looked particularly stupid when Islamic State militants started beheading American hostages and capturing cities in Iraq, forcing the reintroduction of U.S. military troops.

However, out of a job, Flynn scrambled around for additional income, including signing up with a speakers’ bureau and forming a consulting company, as many other national security veterans have done.

In perhaps Flynn’s most controversial decision, he accepted a speaking fee of about $45,000 to address the tenth anniversary dinner for Russia’s RT network in Moscow, sitting next to President Vladimir Putin for part of the evening. Given the Obama administration’s heightened hostility toward Russia, Flynn’s appearance drew some high-level criticism.

Flynn further antagonized Obama’s team by signing up with the Trump campaign and then joining the “lock her up” chant at the Republican National Convention directed toward Hillary Clinton.

In the wake of Clinton’s shocking defeat and amid the Intelligence Community’s claims about Russian interference in the election, Flynn’s friendly relations with Russian leaders made him an obvious target.

Still, the notion of Obama holdovers taking Flynn out via dubious legal tactics – and their fueling of a McCarthyistic hysteria over Russia – normally might have raised more objections if not for the widespread disdain for Trump, his narcissistic behavior and his offensive policies, such as the “Muslim travel ban.”

However, amid the mainstream media’s increasingly frenzied talk about Trump’s potential impeachment, this other remarkable story – how the U.S. Intelligence Community is moving to reverse the outcome of a presidential election – is getting ignored in plain sight.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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The US Hand in the Libyan/Syrian Tragedies

Exclusive: The Obama administration’s “regime change” debacles in Libya and Syria are spreading terrorist violence into Europe, but they have inflicted vastly more bloodshed in those two tragic nations, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Police investigations and media reports have confirmed that two of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Western Europe — the coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris in November 2015, which killed 130 people, and the May 2017 bombing of the arena in Manchester, England, which killed 23 — trace back to an Islamic State unit based in Libya known as Katibat al-Battar.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at a United Nations Security Council Session on the situation in Syria at the United Nations in New York on Jan. 31, 2012. [State Department Photo]

Since those attacks, a number of analysts, myself included, have characterized them as a form of “blowback” from NATO’s disastrous campaign to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. By turning Libya into an anarchic staging ground for radical Islamist militants, that intervention set in motion the deadly export of terror back into Western Europe.But such a Eurocentric critique of NATO’s intervention misses the far greater damage it wreaked on Syria, where nearly half a million people have died and at least 5 million refugees have had to flee their country since 2011. U.S., British and French leaders helped trigger one of the world’s great modern catastrophes through their act of hubris in seeking another “regime change” – the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad – in Syria.

A decade ago, Libya was a leading foe of radical jihadis, not a sanctuary for their international operations. A 2008 State Department memo noted that “Libya has been a strong partner in the war against terrorism.” It gave the Gaddafi regime credit for “aggressively pursuing operations to disrupt foreign fighter flows,” particularly by veterans of jihadist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

All that came to an end in 2011, when armed rebels, including disciplined members of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, enlisted NATO’s help to topple Gaddafi’s regime.

Western leaders ignored the prescient warnings of Gaddafi’s son Seif that “Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean. . . .You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door.” Gaddafi himself similarly predicted that once the jihadis “control the Mediterranean . . . then they will attack Europe.”

Subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe certainly vindicated those warnings, while discrediting the so-called “humanitarian” case for waging an illegal war in Libya. But the predicted jihadi efforts to “control the Mediterranean” have had far graver repercussions, at least in the case of Syria.

A recent story in the New York Times on the genesis of recent terror attacks on France and Britain noted in passing that the Islamic State in Libya, composed of “seasoned veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan,” was “among the first foreign jihadist contingent to arrive in Syria in 2012, as the country’s popular revolt was sliding into a broader civil war and Islamist insurgency.”

A former British counter-terrorism analyst told the newspaper, “some of the baddest dudes in Al Qaeda were Libyan. When I looked at the Islamic State, the same thing was happening. They were the most hard-core, the most violent — the ones always willing to go to extremes when others were not. The Libyans represented the elite troops, and clearly ISIS capitalized on this.”

These Libyan jihadists leveraged their numbers, resources, and fanaticism to help escalate Syria’s conflict into the tragedy we know today. The mass murder we now take for granted was not inevitable.

Extremist Violence in Syria

Although Syria’s anti-government protests in the spring of 2011 turned violent almost from the start, many reformers and government officials strove to prevent an all-out civil war. In August 2011, leaders of Syria’s opposition wisely declared that calls to arms were “unacceptable politically, nationally, and ethically. Militarizing the revolution would . . . undermine the gravity of the humanitarian catastrophe involved in a confrontation with the regime. Militarization would put the revolution in an arena where the regime has a distinct advantage and would erode the moral superiority that has characterized the revolution since its beginning.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 30, 2013, claims to have proof that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, 2013, but that evidence failed to materialize or was later discredited. [State Department photo]

Largely forgotten today, the Assad regime also took serious steps to deescalate the violence, including lifting the country’s state of emergency, disbanding the unpopular National Security Court, appointing a new government, and hosting a national dialogue with protest leaders.But on August 18, 2011, the same Western leaders who were bombing Gaddafi announced to the world that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Further energizing Syrian militants, Libyan rebels were just then in the midst of conquering Tripoli with NATO’s help.

“That is an ominous sign for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Already there are signs Libya is giving inspiration to the rebels trying to oust Mr. Assad. . . . Syrian protesters took to the streets chanting ‘Gadhafi tonight, Bashar tomorrow.’ . . . The Libyan episode may serve simply to sharpen the conflict in Syria: both spurring on the dissidents and strengthening Mr. Assad’s resolve to hold on.”

Stoking war in Syria was not an unintended consequence of the Libyan campaign, but a conscious part of the longstanding neoconservative ambition to “remake the map of the Middle East” by toppling radical, nationalist and anti-American regimes. The same Journal article described the grandiose aims of some Washington interventionists:

“Beyond Syria, a new dose of energy provided by Libya’s uprising could ripple out to other nations in the region. In particular, U.S. officials hope it will reinvigorate a protest movement that arose inside Iran in 2009 to challenge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election. . . Syria has served for 30 years as Iran’s closest strategic ally in the region. U.S. officials believe the growing challenge to Mr. Assad’s regime could motivate Iran’s democratic forces.”

Instead of motivating Iran’s democrats, of course, the Syrian conflict motivated Iran’s hardliners to send Revolutionary Guard units and Hezbollah proxy forces into the country, further destabilizing the region.

Following the gruesome murder of Gaddafi in the fall of 2011, Libyan zealots quickly began fueling other terrorist conflicts, ranging from Mali to the Middle East, with arms looted from Gaddafi’s vast stocks.

“The weapons proliferation that we saw coming out of the Libyan conflict was of a scale greater than any previous conflict — probably 10 times more weapons than we saw going on the loose in places like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan,” observed an expert at Human Rights Watch.

A United Nations investigation determined that “Transfers of arms and ammunition from Libya were among the first batches of weapons and ammunition to reach the Syrian opposition.” It also stressed that Libyan weapons were arming primarily “extremist elements,” allowing them to gain territory and influence at the expense of more moderate rebel groups.

Spreading the War

As early as November 2011, Islamist warlords in Libya began offering “money and weapons to the growing insurgency against Bashar al-Assad,” according to the Daily Telegraph. Abdulhakim Belhadj, commander of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate, met secretly with Syrian rebel leaders in Turkey to discuss training their troops. (In 2004, he had been the victim of a CIA kidnap plot and rendition from Malaysia to Libya.)
The commander of one armed Libyan gang told the newspaper, “Everyone wants to go (to Syria). We have liberated our country, now we should help others. . . This is Arab unity.”

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

In April 2012, Lebanese authorities confiscated a ship carrying more than 150 tons of arms and ammunition originating in Misrata, Libya. A U.N.-authorized panel inspected the weapons and reported finding SA-24 and SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, and a variety of other light and heavy weapons.
By that August, according to Time magazine, “hundreds of Libyans” had flocked to Syria to “export their revolution,” bringing with them weapons, expertise in making bombs, and experience in battlefield tactics.

“Within weeks of the successful conclusion of their revolution, Libyan fighters began trickling into Syria,” the magazine noted. “But in recent months, that trickle has allegedly become a torrent, as many more have traveled to the mountains straddling Syria and Turkey, where the rebels have established their bases.”

A Syrian rebel told the newsweekly, “They have heavier weapons than we do,” including surface-to-air missiles. “They brought these weapons to Syria, and they are being used on the front lines.”

A month later, the London Times reported that a Libyan ship carrying more than 400 tons of weapons bound for Syria, including SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, had docked in Turkey. Such weapons particularly compounded the suffering of civilians caught up in the war. As France’s foreign minister told reporters that October, rebel-held anti-aircraft missiles were “forcing (Syrian government) planes to fly extremely high, and so the strikes are less accurate.”

According to later reporting by Seymour Hersh, most such Libyan weapons made their way to Syria via covert routes supervised by the CIA, under a program authorized by the Obama administration in early 2012. Funding and logistics support came from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The CIA supposedly avoided disclosing the program to Congress by classifying it as a liaison operation with a foreign intelligence partner, Britain’s MI6.

Word of the operation began leaking to the London media by December 2012. The CIA was said to be sending in more advisers to help ensure that the Libyan weapons did not reach radical Islamist forces.

Of course, their efforts came too late; U.S. intelligence officials knew by that time that “the Salafist(s), the Muslim Brotherhood, and (al-Qaeda)” were “the major forces driving the insurgency.” The influx of new arms simply compounded Syria’s suffering and raised its profile as a dangerous arena of international power competition.

Libya’s arms and fighters helped transform the Syrian conflict from a nasty struggle into a bloodbath. As Middle East scholar Omar Dahi noted, “the year 2012 was decisive in creating the present catastrophe. There were foreign elements embroiled in Syria before that date . . . but until early 2012 the dynamics of the Syrian conflict were largely internal. . . . Partly in . . . appropriation of weapons pumped in from the outside and partly in anticipation of still greater military assistance, namely from the West, the opposition decided to take up arms.

“The decision — militarization — had three main effects. First, it dramatically increased the rate of death and destruction throughout the country. . . . By mid-2012, the monthly casualties were almost in excess of the total in the entire first year of the uprising. Militarization gave the Syrian regime a free hand to unleash its full arsenal of indiscriminate weaponry. . . Perhaps most fatefully, the advent of armed rebellion placed much of the opposition’s chances in the hands of those who would fund and arm the fighters. . . . It was then that the jihadi groups were unleashed.”

The collateral victims of NATO’s intervention in Libya now include 6 million Libyans attempting to survive in a failed state, millions of people across North Africa afflicted by Islamist terrorism, 20 million Syrians yearning for an end to war, and millions of innocent Europeans who wonder when they might become targets of suicidal terrorists. There is nothing “humanitarian” about wars that unleash such killing and chaos, with no end in sight.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to Consortiumnews.com.

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