U.S. Limits Aid To Syrian Rebels As Radicals Seize Base; Catholic Nun, Seymour Hersh Criticize U.S.

The United States and United Kingdom suspended aid to rebels in north Syria after Islamist radicals seized a base and weapons warehouse from Western-backed forces near the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, the prominent investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Syria-based Catholic Mother Superior Agnes-Mariam criticized Western officials, whom they say cherry-pick intelligence and media commentary to favor rebels.

The suspension of non-lethal aid "underlines a crisis" for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) leadership, Reuters reported, because the FSA needs international backing "to reinforce its credibility and to stop its fighters joining powerful al Qaida-backed Islamist militants who now dominate the war" against Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad.

More generally, Hersh, at left, a New Yorker columnist writing for the London Review of Books, said President Obama "cherry-picked" U.S. intelligence to create a case that Assad's government killed innocent civilians with a gas attack last August 21.

Mother Agnes MariamThe Obama administration's push to bomb Syria in September was halted only at the last moment by a last-minute deal brokered by Russia. Our Justice Integrity Project had reported problems with the administration narrative in a series of columns such as that Aug. 28 Show Proof To the Public on Syria and, the next month, Why Puppet Masters Need Presidents.

In a talk I attended Dec. 10 at the National Press Club, the Catholic mother superior, right, echoed Hersh's criticism. Now touring the United States, she reiterated her longstanding calls for foreign powers to stop encouraging war in Syria, thereby causing devastating harm to the populace.

"You put the American people into becoming a part of war crimes," she said of her message, "not just one or two or three times, but in ongoing war crimes." The abbess was based at the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Qara, which she fled in 2012 to a monastery in Damascus. Now 61, she was born in Lebanon, but has lived in Syria for 19 years.

Such critics of Western news coverage are rare following a coordinated push led by the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Arab monarchies to topple Assad, whose family has presided over a largely secular (non-religious), election-validated dictatorship for more than three decades. Hersh's column this week was rejected, for example, by his New Yorker and the Washington Post.

Barack ObamaHowever, the battlefield advances by Gulf-backed radical Muslims -- including at the expense of the so-called moderates at FSA backed by the United States and Europeans -- has led to increasing scrutiny in the West of both the Aug. 21 fatal gas attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, and of the overall civil war.

At the same time, President Obama, right, and his intelligence services are receiving criticism because of their global scandal over privacy violations by the National Security Agency and questions regarding the CIA's secret military activities.

Those activities include the administration's drone killings in the Mideast of civilians and what some allege is complicity in smuggling radical fighters and weapons into Syria, including from Benghazi. My new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, describes that illicit arms smuggling via Benghazi, which is almost never reported by the establishment media even though it has been a major theme of Frank Wolf, a senior Republican congressman from Virginia. Both parties in Washington have ignored Wolf's inquiries for the most part.

This week, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) spokesman, Loay al-Mikdad, said he hoped the United States and Britain would reconsider the decision, saying FSA commanders would contact them to clear up the "misunderstanding," according to wire reports that continued:

U.S. officials have reported that the Islamic Front's seizure of the headquarters forced FSA commander General Salim Idris to flee Syria. He reportedly traveled to Turkey and then flew to the Qatari capital of Doha.

Meanwhile, 13 international news organizations have written a letter urging Syrian opposition fighters to stop kidnapping journalists, and release those currently held. The organizations included the BBC, New York Times, and Associated Press. An estimated 30 journalists are currently being detained, with seven abductions in the past two months. The letter warned, "As long as kidnappings are permitted to continue unabated, journalists will not be willing to undertake assignments inside Syria, and they will no longer be able to serve as witnesses to the events taking place within Syria's borders."

The United States and Britain have in the past offered radios, body armor, medical supplies, money and food to rebels fighting Assad, shown at left in a file photo. A U.S. embassy spokesman in Turkey declined to give details of what supplies may have been halted this week, Reuters reported.

"Fighters from the Islamic Front, which groups six major rebel brigades and which said last week it had quit the FSA, seized headquarters of the Syrian Military Council, nominally in charge of the FSA, and weapons warehouses at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey," Reuters said. "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based anti-Assad monitoring group, said the Islamic Front had seized dozens of 'Shilka' anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tank rockets from the SMC arms stores in fighting on Friday and Saturday. The Islamic Front's battlefield success in capturing the weapons stores could undermine SMC assurances to the United States that no supplies sent to their fighters would fall into the hands of Islamist brigades."

One of her previous such talks, on the Irish national network RTE in 2012, is provided below via YouTube.

John Edward Hurley, chairman of the McClendon Group that has hosted news-makers at the National Press Club for a quarter century, provided this introduction to this week's guest:

Mother Agnes-Mariam is a leading spokeswoman for peace, reconciliation, religious tolerance, and human rights in Syria and the neighboring countries, and has provided briefings on Syria to the Vatican Secretariat of State and the United Nations Human Rights Authorities in Geneva. She is completing a very successful North American tour which has taken her to Arizona, California, Ohio, Colorado, Nebraska, and several Canadian cities. She was also recently in Poland and Great Britain. Her work has been cited by governments and media across the world, ranging from the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation to the New York Times.

Hurley, a former White House correspondent working for the McClendon News Service and a founding director of our Justice Integrity Project, continued:

As a leading member of the Christian community in the Syria, she brings an unusual perspective on the nature of the military conflict in that country, including many startling facts about the influence of foreign extremists (the so-called Takfiris) among the anti-Assad opposition. At the same time, she in no way represents the Assad government, which she criticizes on a number of points. In 2011, she called attention to the presence of unidentified armed gangs in Homs and elsewhere which were provoking clashes between government forces and pro-democracy demonstrators.

Most notably, she is the author of a 50-page dossier analyzing the video evidence purporting to show the use of poison gas against civilians in the Ghouta incident of August 21, which almost triggered a larger conflagration. Her conclusion is that some of the videos cited by proponents of military action were fabricated with deceptive intent, and may be linked to the disappearance of Alawite and other children kidnapped in the coastal city of Latakia earlier in August.

Mother Agnes Mary of the Cross is spokesperson for the Catholic Media Centre of the Diocese of Homs, Hama and Yabroud in Syria. In this capacity, she has hosted many foreign journalists seeking reliable first-hand knowledge of the situation there. She is also one of the main organizers of Mussalaha ("Reconciliation"), a popular movement in Syria and among Syrians worldwide that mediates disputes and promotes ceasefires between opposing forces.

On the humanitarian front, she is seeking support for five mobile hospitals to be sent to war-stricken areas starting with Homs and Aleppo to provide emergency assistance to all religious and ethnic groups where existing hospitals have been destroyed.

In September, the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz profiled the Carmelite nun and her allegations of a faked gas attack here in columned headlined On visit to Israel, Syrian-based nun backs beleaguered President Assad.

Hareetz quoted her as saying, "There are today 150,000 well-trained jihadist fighters from 80 countries in Syria, with arms they have received from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and even from the United States."

"The nun argues that these jihadi fighters control 60 percent of the populated areas of Syria," Hareetz reported. "She claims that Islamic-Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which the United States has designated a terrorist group, is responsible for the acts of mass murder, rape and looting that have been committed in Syria. She also claims the Chechen fighters are exceptionally cruel and that, among the foreign fighters, there are a fairly large number of released prisoners and citizens of western countries. In her opinion, most of Syria’s citizens support the regime of President Bashar Assad because they fear a takeover of the country by Islamic extremists."

"Sister Agnes-Mariam moved to Syria 19 years ago and, together with two other nuns, rebuilt the ruins of a monastery on the main road between Damascus and Homs," the Israeli newspaper continued. "She was forced to leave the monastery in June 2012, after the threats on her life increased because she was suspected of being an agent of the Assad regime."

Bashar and Asma AssadTo the McClendon group and elsewhere, she denies backing Assad, shown with his wife in a file photo at right. She says she opposed Assad repression long before protests erupted against him in 2011 and now advocates a peaceful "Third Way."

She alleges, however, that the Western press has consistently distorted the rebellion. She says that agents provocateurs of unknown origin began bloodletting in 2011 by firing both at protesters and at government security forces, thereby starting war and the current humanitarian crisis.

Regarding the widely reported figure of 120,000 estimated dead during the rebellion, she said that the foreign media typically imply that the vast majority are rebels and civilians.

But she estimated that 45 percent of the dead have been were government security forces, many killed in ambushes, and that about 20 to 25 percent have been rebels and an equal amount civilians, with between 3,000 and 5,000 Christians total among the dead. She says about 70 percent of Assad's security forces are Sunni, which she says undercuts arguments that the civil war is necessarily religious.

Amy Goodman of the liberal Democracy Now! show interviewed Hersh this week, as follows:

Goodman began:

On Tuesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo as its staff prepare to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. According to a U.S.-Russia deal that stopped possible U.S. military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Syria is to disperse -- Syria will be dispersing its arsenal of almost 1,300 tons of chemical weapons by mid-2014.The head of the mission overseeing the destruction of the country's chemical arms said last week fighting on the ground poses a major obstacle to implementing the agreement. This is Sigrid Kaag [head of the OPCW mission to Syria].

She asked Hersh, "Lay out your case for what it is that the Obama administration did or didn't tell us."

SEYMOUR HERSH: Actually, Amy, it's really not my case; it's the case of people in the administration who believe when they -- when they take the oath, they take the oath of office to the Constitution and not to their immediate general or admiral or not to the -- or not to the president even. It's about truth. And there are an awful lot of people in the government who just were really very, very upset with the way the information about the gas attack took place. And that's not to say that I have -- I certainly don't know who did what, but there's no question my government does not. And there's also no question that the American president that we now have -- a guy I voted for, who has a lot of good things about him -- was willing to go to war, wanted to throw missiles at Syria, without really having a case and knowing he didn't have much of a case. And that, to me, is very troubling. We're talking about a major war crime here, because certainly hundreds, if not more, of innocent civilians -- and some bad guys, too, rebels and others -- were killed by sarin, which is a gross violation.

Hersh continued:

It got to the point where the American government, the military, the Pentagon, looked into the whole prospect of let's go in and clean out all the -- all the nerve gas on both sides. And they did what they call an ops study, operations study. It's an ops order, really, it's called. It's a major, major study, 60 or 70 various sub-parts to it. You're going to send -- they concluded 70,000 American soldiers would have to go into Syria to clean out the chemical weapons on both sides. And that's a big deal. You know, you've got to feed them. You've got to protect them. You've got to find out how much toilet paper you're going to need. A major, major study was done over this summer. I think -- I've been told it was supposed to -- there was supposed to be what they call an NIE, a National Intelligence Estimate, on the capability of the opposition, the rebels, to manufacture sarin, but that never happened. And there we are. These reports were there. They were certainly known to the community.

I can't tell you that the president himself read those documents; I don't know. But clearly, whether or not -- if he didn't, he should have.

"And the point was," Hersh said, "that at no time did the United States ever consider al-Nusra to be a potential target of investigation. They were simply excluded from the conversation. And the narrative was Bashar did it. And it was bought by the mainstream press, as we all know, and by most people in the world. And this is why, you know, creepy troublemakers like me stay in business."

Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Related News Coverage

United States Policy

Barack Obama and Congressional Leaders 93-3-13

Update: Consortium News via OpEdNews, UN Investigator Undercuts NYT on Syria, Robert Parry, Dec. 23, 2013. Ake Sellstrom, the head of the United Nations mission investigating chemical weapons use in Syria, agrees that the vector analysis -- at the heart of the New York Times' indictment of the Syrian government for the deadly Aug. 21 Sarin gas attack -- doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In a little-noticed comment at a UN press conference on Dec. 13, Sellstrom disputed claims that the launching point for the two missiles, which were recovered after the Aug. 21 attack, could be traced back following the angles of their final descent until they intersected at a Syrian military base about 9.5 kilometers away. In other words, the lead author of the UN report on the Aug. 21 incident has contradicted the much-touted "vectoring" claims of a New York Times front-page story and Human Rights Watch, which has been pushing for a U.S. military intervention in Syria. Rather than serving as honest brokers -- evaluating the Syrian evidence fairly and openly -- the Times and most of the mainstream U.S. media have simply reprised their propaganda roles played so disastrously a decade ago in the run-up to the Iraq War. At the press conference, Sellstrom admitted, "I don't have information that would stand in court." He also told Wall Street Journal writer Joe Lauria that both sides in the conflict had the "opportunity" and the "capability" to carry out chemical weapons attacks. Sellstrom's statements further undermine the outward certainty of U.S. officials who have claimed that only the Assad regime could be responsible for the Sarin attack.

Agonist, Erdogan cornered in Turkey – Did the USA say time to go?  Michael Collins, Dec. 27, 2013. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan faces major challenges from the opposition and within his own party, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party). Through his rash actions and compulsive need for control, the PM has paved the road to his political demise. He may fall as a result of the current scandal or his exit may be somewhat delayed. In either case, things will be very ugly in Turkey before PM’s not so long good-bye is over. This will be at the expense of the Turkish people, who have done nothing to deserve this.

Reuters, U.S., Britain suspend aid to north Syria after Islamists seize weapons store, Dasha Afanasieva and Humeyra Pamuk, Dec. 11, 2013. The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in the wrong hands and the general chaos engulfing the nation. The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting President Bashar al-Assad said the U.S. and British moves were rushed and mistaken. "We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

John KerryAt left, President Barack Obama meets with Members of Congress to discuss Syria in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Sept. 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). Secretary of State John Kerry is at right.

Washington Post, Woman who inspired Syria’s peaceful revolt goes missing, Liz Sly, Dec. 10, 2013. One of the most prominent figures in the peaceful protest movement that swept Syria early in the country’s uprising was reported missing Tuesday from a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus, prompting suspicions that she is among the scores of civilian activists and journalists who have been detained by Islamist extremists in recent months. Razan Zaitouneh, 36, a human rights lawyer, disappeared from her apartment with her husband and two other activists overnight Monday after threats were received from Islamist groups, according to the opposition group of which she was a founder, the Local Coordination Committees.

Washington Post, Al-Qaeda-linked group gaining ground in Iraq, Ben Van Heuvelen, Dec. 7, 2013. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is using attacks in both countries to show off its growing clout.

Washington Post, House leaders back Obama on Syria strike, Karen Tumulty, David Nakamura and William Branigin, Sept. 3, 2013. House Speaker Boehner says he will support the president and encourage colleagues to do the same.

OpEdNews, 'Good' Syrian rebels on run, Saudis ask Putin for help, Michael Collins, Dec. 16, 2013. Will there be any 'good' Syrian rebels left to provide credible representation at the January United States - Russia sponsored Geneva II peace conference? The U.S. favored rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), experienced major setbacks in December. On the first, the Syrian Arab Army killed a key FSA commander in Daraa Province in southern Syria.  On the eighth, "the top Western-backed rebel commander in Syria," General Salim Idris, head of the FSA, fled Syria after an Al Qaeda aligned rebel faction took over FSA weapons warehouses north of Aleppo near the Syria-Turkey border.  On December 15, an Al Qaeda affiliated rebel group killed another FSA regional commander in a town near Aleppo. General Idris ended up in Doha, Qatar. The United States is urging him to return to his command in Syria. As a result of the weapons warehouse falling into the hands of Islamist Syrian rebels, the U.S. announced the suspension of nonlethal aid to northern Syria. The brought complaints from FSA fighters and an admission from Syrian war effort supporter John McCain (R-AZ) that "parts of the northern Syrian border have been taken over by the al-Nusra and other extremist Islamist groups."

Guardian, Obama, Congress and Syria, Glenn Greenwald, Sept. 3, 2013. The president is celebrated for seeking a vote on his latest war even as his aides make clear it has no binding effect. It's a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century.

Seymour Hersh Views

OpEdNews, Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike, Amy Goodman, Dec. 10, 2013. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration's claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration "cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad." The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

London Review of Books, Whose sarin? Seymour M. Hersh, Dec. 8, 2013. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

FireDoglake, Seymour Hersh: Obama Administration Cherry-Picked Syria Intelligence, Avoided Al-Qaeda Connection, DS Wright, Dec. 9, 2013. In a piece that was rejected by both the New Yorker and Washington Post, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, right, writes that the Obama Administration cherry-picked Syria intelligence and that President Barack Obama misled the American public on the case that the Assad regime were the ones guilty of using sarin gas. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

Above left in a file photo from the summer of 2013, President Obama and key implementers of his Syria policy confer in the Oval Office (White House Photo). With him are, from left, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Chief of Staff Denis McDonaugh, and Naational Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Mother Superior Agnes-Mariam and Pope Francis

Haaretz (Israel),The slinging nun, On visit to Israel, Syrian-based nun backs beleaguered President Assad, Gideon Levy, Sept. 1, 2013. Why a Carmelite nun believes the chemical attack in Damascus was faked. Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix feared that the United States would attack Syria on Saturday night. She expected the attack to be massive and would bring disaster to Syria and the entire region.

RTE (Ireland), Christians being targeted in Syria violence: Mother Agnes Mariam, Aug. 9, 2012 (Radio, 6 min. 28 sec.). See also, RTE (Ireland) via YouTube, Mother Agnes Mariam to Outside Powers: Leave Syrian Alone!! Aug. 12, 2012 (9 min. 52 sec.). RTE Interview of Mother Agnes Mariam.

Justice Integrity Project Backgrounders

Barack Obama, Bin Laden killing photo at White HouseJustice Integrity Project, New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh harshly attacked President Obama and fellow journalists in an interview Sept. 27, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 28, 2013. The Pulitizer-winning Hersh, left, said of official accounts about the death of Osama bin Laden: ‘It’s one big lie, not one word of it is true.’' The White House released a now-iconic photo at right showing Obama and cabinet reaction to a video of the 2011 raid. Hersh also said during his outspoken interview with Guardian reporter Lisa O'Carroll that most network broadcasters should be immediately fired to improve news coverage. The acerbic Hersh, born in 1937, is best known for breaking the story of the My Lai Massacre by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

Justice Integrity Project, Why Puppet Masters Need Presidents, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 12, 2013.  President Obama did Americans a favor by bungling his recent attempt to please his powerful backers who have long wanted the United States to overthrow the Assad dynasty in Syria. Global and domestic critics thwarted the U.S. military action, at least for the time being. Obama and his team were not able to prove that U.S. and global interests required a bombing attack -- or even that fatal gas deaths of civilians in Syria were caused beyond a reasonable doubt by the ruling government. In fact, rebels just released a Belgian hostage who blames his captors for the fatal Aug. 21 gas attacks.

Justice Integrity Project, Show Proof To the Public on Syria, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 28, 2013. The public deserves from the White House far more hard evidence before the country takes military action to punish the Syrian government for last week's civilian deaths in Damascus from chemical weapons. We are seeing a rush to judgment that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad committed the atrocity.

Syrian Suffering, Invaders, and Chemical Attacks

Update: Al-Monitor, Syrian opposition groups fail to capture Aleppo prison, Alaa Halabi, Feb. 7, 2014. Contrary to media reports, opposition gunmen failed to capture the Aleppo Central Prison. Gunmen from the Islamic Front and Jabhat al-Nusra had declared the start of a battle to “liberate the prison.” The prison was the heaviest so far. From the attackers’ side, a jihadist paper announced the killing of Saifullah al-Chichani, who led the unit that stormed the prison. He had led an army of about 500 Chechen fighters until the end of 2013, when he pledged allegiance with his force to Jabhat al-Nusra.

Guardian, Evidence of 'industrial-scale killing' by Syria spurs call for war crimes charges, Ian Black, Jan. 20, 2014. Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide 'clear evidence' of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees.  Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the "systematic killing" of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers. The three, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of Syrian government photographs and files recording deaths in the custody of regime security forces from March 2011 to last August. Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution. The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups. Its publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week's UN-organised Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government.

Washington Post, For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, winter storm brings snow, rain and new misery, Loveday Morris, Dec. 11, 2013. The United Nations said Wednesday that it is “extremely concerned” for Syria’s refugees as snow and freezing temperatures descended on the region.

Washington Post, Islamists seize Syrian rebels’ U.S.-supplied warehouses, Liz Sly, Dec. 11, 2013. U.S. government suspended aid after Saudi-backed faction took moderate rebels’ supply route into Syria. The cluster of warehouses in the northern Syrian border town of Atmeh served as the main conduit for supplies into northern Syria for the Western- backed Supreme Military Council headed by General Salim Idriss, which was tapped last June by Secretary of State John F. Kerry as the chief recipient for U.S. aid.   More important than the relatively meager contents of the warehouses was the international legitimacy they conferred on the military council ahead of peace talks due to begin in Geneva in January. That may explain why the newly formed Islamic Front decided to target the warehouses last Friday.

Washington Post, Refugee: Stories from the Syrian Exodus, Kevin Sullivan, Dec. 14, 2013. Refugees from Syria’s civil war are remaking the political, economic and religious landscape in the Mideast.

Washington Post, Foreign extremists increasingly dominate Syria fight, Liz Sly, Oct. 1, 2013. Syrian resentment at the role of the jihadi volunteers is growing. Conservative estimates put the number of foreign fighters who have entered Syria in the past two years at 6,000 to 10,000, a range that exceeds the number who volunteered to fight U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

AP via Washington Post, Syria rebel groups reject Western-backed opposition, Staff report, Sept. 24, 2013. Several Syrian rebel groups, including a powerful al-Qaida-linked faction, said Wednesday they reject the authority of the Western-backed opposition coalition, as U.N. inspectors returned to the country to continue their probe into chemical weapons attacks. In a joint statement, 13 rebel groups led by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front slammed the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, saying it no longer represents their interests.

New York Times, Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas, Rick Gladstone and C.J. Chivers, Sept. 16, 2013. A United Nations report released on Monday confirmed that a deadly chemical arms attack caused a mass killing in Syria last month and for the first time provided extensive forensic details of the weapons used, which strongly implicated the Syrian government. While the report’s authors did not assign blame for the attack on the outskirts of Damascus, the details it documented included the large size and particular shape of the munitions and the precise direction from which two of them had been fired. Taken together, that information appeared to undercut arguments by President Bashar al-Assad, left, of Syria that rebel forces, who are not known to possess such weapons or the training or ability to use them, had been responsible.

New York Times, Russia Denounces U.N. Chemical Report on Syria, Steven Lee Myers and Rick Gladstone, Sept. 18, 2013. Russia sharply criticized the new United Nations report on Syria’s chemical arms use on Wednesday as biased and incomplete, hardening the Kremlin’s defense of the Syrian government even while pressing ahead with a plan to disarm its arsenal of the internationally banned weapons. The Russians also escalated their critiques of Western governments’ interpretations of the United Nations report, which offered the first independent confirmation of a large chemical weapons assault on Aug. 21 on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, that asphyxiated hundreds of civilians. 

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & National Security Issues

McClatchy, Lawsuit seeks to unlock CIA’s secret history of Bay of Pigs invasion, Michael Doyle, Dec. 12, 2013. The Obama administration on Thursday fought to keep secret a CIA account of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle. Half a century after the failed invasion of Cuba, and three decades after a CIA historian completed his draft study, an administration lawyer told a top appellate court that the time still isn’t right to make the document public. “The passage of time has not made it releasable,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell P. Zeff told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. See also, National Security Archive, National Security Archive Lawsuit Seeks Last Volume of CIA "Official History," Tom Blanton, Dec. 13, 2013. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard the National Security Archive's arguments yesterday for public release of the last secret volume of the CIA's internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster. The Archive rebutted the CIA's claims that the 30-year-old draft history of 50-year-old events deserved any protection under the "deliberative process" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. It is a polemic against the CIA Inspector General whose devastating report on CIA responsibility for the Bay of Pigs was obtained through the FOIA and published by the National Security Archive in 1998. T

AP via Huffington Post, Robert Levinson, American Missing In Iran, Was Working For CIA, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, Dec. 12, 2013. In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business. But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.

Washington Post, Obama the oblivious, Charles Krauthammer, Dec. 12, 2013. In explaining the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, President Obama told Chris Matthews he had discovered that “we have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly.” An interesting discovery to make. Obama’s late discovery is especially remarkable considering that he built his entire political philosophy on the rock of Big Government, on the fervent belief in the state as the very engine of collective action and the ultimate source of national greatness. (Indeed, of individual success as well, as in “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”)

Washington Post, NSA uses Internet cookies to pinpoint targets for hacking, Ashkan Soltani, Andrea Peterson and and Barton Gellman, Dec. 10, 2013. It secretly piggybacks on the tools that advertisers use to track consumers online, making particular use of part of a Google-specific tracking file. The National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using "cookies" and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance. The agency's internal presentation slides, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, right, show that when companies follow consumers on the Internet to better serve them advertising, the technique opens the door for similar tracking by the government. The slides also suggest that the agency is using these tracking techniques to help identify targets for offensive hacking operations.

Keith AlexanderWashington Post, Agencies collected data on Americans’ cellphone use in thousands of ‘tower dumps,'  Ellen Nakashima, Dec. 8, 2013. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations collected data on cellphone activity thousands of times last year, with each request to a phone company yielding hundreds or thousands of phone numbers of innocent Americans along with those of potential suspects. Law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests last year for what are called “tower dumps,” information on all the calls that bounced off a cellphone tower within a certain period of time, usually two or more hours, a congressional inquiry has revealed. NSA Director Keith Alexander is shown at right.

Washington Post, NSA morale low after Snowden revelations, ex-officials say, Ellen Nakashima, Dec. 7, 2013. NSA morale down after Edward Snowden revelations, former U.S. officials say They add that they are surprised President Obama has not visited the agency to show his support.

Moyers and Company, The Criminalization of Everyday Life, Chase Madar and Tom Engelhardt, Dec. 9, 2013. Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know. In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story.  Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the war in Afghanistan and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs and nuclear, biological and chemical environments.”  Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans. That MRAP came, like so much other equipment police departments are stocking up on — from tactical military vests, assault rifles and grenade launchers to actual tanks and helicopters – as a freebie via a Pentagon-organized surplus military equipment program. As it happens, police departments across the country are getting MRAPs like OSU’s, including the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota. It’s received one of 18 such decommissioned military vehicles already being distributed around that state. So has Warren County which, like a number of counties in New York state, some quite rural, is now deploying Afghan War-grade vehicles.

Guardian, An open letter from Carl Bernstein to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, Carl Bernstein, Dec. 3, 2013. Watergate scandal journalist's letter comes as Guardian editor prepares to appear before MPs over Edward Snowden leaks.

FireDogLake, NSA Sent Home Talking Points for Employees to Use in Conversations with Family & Friends During Holidays, Kevin Gosztola, Dec. 2, 2013. A sheet of talking points for employees of the National Security Agency and Central Security Services, was sent out ahead of Thanksgiving to help guide conversations with family and friends during the holiday season. Firedoglake obtained a copy of a two-page document that was sent out on November 22. It was clearly put together for rebutting statements about the NSA from news stories on documents disclosed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, and it encouraged employees to “share the following points with family members and close friends.” The “talking points” sheet suggests that employees make five key points: (1) NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation”; (2) NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy; (3) NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world; (4) The people who work for NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills who make sacrifices to help protect the freedoms we all cherish; (5) NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers. (No emphasis added. Underlines appear in the document.)