San Diego, CA — Even though the First Amendment of the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” one California reporter says she has been targeted by San Diego County for her investigative reports detailing extraordinary number of deaths of inmates in the county’s jails. Local journalist and Voice of San Diego (VOSD) contributor Kelly Davis has been pressured to reveal her sources and has been hauled in to court to defend her reporting.
In what is shaping out to be a clear violation of the Constitution, Davis’ report chronicled 60 inmate deaths in local jails from 2007 to 2012. The report should have been a wake-up call for jailers to work harder to keep people from getting killed or committing suicide while in custody, but VOSD said it was anything but a call to action.
Instead, the county’s attorney’s turned their attention and set their sights on one of the reporters covering the story. “They’ve upended her life, forcing her to do one of three things — expose sources by testifying about her work, agree to a deal that would protect her fragile health at the expense of harming the widow’s case or fight back,” writes VOSD.
In a blatant overreach of government, the attorneys issued several demands of the journalist:
The county demanded that Davis give testimony in a deposition and provide all the documents, notes and recordings that she used in her reporting about the county’s high jail mortality and suicide rates. It also demanded her communications with the widow’s attorneys regarding jail suicides.
Davis refused. Not only is she fighting to save her career and her independent rights to reporting without disclosing sources, she’s also fighting an advanced stage of breast cancer. She wonders openly if lawyers are trying to intimidate her.
I am just wondering if they are trying to intimidate me.
Davis got roped into a lawsuit brought about by Kris Nesmith’s widow. Nesmith, a veteran committed suicide while in jail, despite being warned by his widow he was suicidal. The county then named Davis as a party in the lawsuit and demanded Davis’ notes, statistics, interviewee’s names—everything she had on the deaths taking place in the jails. Her lawyers contended the data was a matter of public record and she would not turn over her private journalist files.
For the moment, the judge is on Davis’ side, telling the county the news stories should have been a wake-up call for the county to take action and implement a proper suicide-prevention policy.
It is plausible that if the County had reacted to the prior suicide incidents by implementing an appropriate suicide prevention policy or by remedying the alleged custom of indifference, Kris’s suicidal ideations would not have been ignored.
Earlier this month, the judge also ruled Davis would not have to disclose any information to the county’s lawyers. Davis was relieved and told reporters:
You want journalists to be free to do their stories and to gather their research, talk to their sources, without worrying that someone is looking over their shoulder.
While Davis’ case may seem like an isolated one, news media organizations all across the United States are under attack, particularly accused of being purveyors of “fake news” and threatened with censorship. Facebook, which used to be known for allowing freedom of speech from differing points of view, has recently implemented its new “algorithm” which supposedly chooses for its users what news they should see.
Predictably, alternative points of view have been weeded out to disallow the previously permitted free speech of its content creators. The measure has hurt the freedom of the press to disseminate the news. For now, Facebook is getting away with it. However, lawsuits will likely decide just how far, like San Diego County, Facebook can go to prevent the free exercise of the press.
As we enter the twilight of 2017 we should remember some of the events of the past year.
If we look at November, one event that stands out to me is Reporters Without Borders (RSF) trying to close down The Swiss Press Club panel discussion on the “true agenda” of the White Helmets.
Guy Mettan, the executive director of the Swiss Press Club met this intimidation head on, saying it was the type of bullying and threats you would expect of a despotic regime, not from a group purporting to champion freedom of the press and open and honest public discourse on events that matter.
RSF copped quite a hammering, not least from participants in the event, who were quite taken aback by the hostility of a media group who outright betrayed the principles of journalism with their unacceptable attacks on professionals who were exercising a desire and right to espouse their views.
It is deeply, deeply concerning that a body such as the Swiss Press Club, which should be championing accuracy and integrity in journalism, is helping to promote individuals working to muddy the truth on Syria.
There are countless journalists from reputable news organisations who have interviewed the @SyriaCivilDef, why is @genevapressclub not inviting them? Instead it is choosing to give a platform to a dangerous conspiracy theorist who has never spoken to anyone in the White Helmets.
The words of Muhaysini provide rich evidence to those who argue that the White Helmets are aligned with terrorist groups, and Muhaysini did not mince his words when he said they are the “Mujahideen of the civil defense.”
Muhaysini was aghast at being labeled a terrorist, perplexed that his vision for Syria as a sectarian hellhole is not shared by all. In an interview with the New York Times he said:
“Today, Syrians are shocked to find that the United States has put on the terror list a person whom they consider to be a national symbol,” Mr. Muhaysini said in a Skype interview with The New York Times last week. “It’s a very bizarre thing,”
“Abdallah al-Muhaysini is an independent figure,” he added. “How can the American State Department describe Abdallah al-Muhaysini as belonging to Fath al-Sham?” he said, using a version of the Nusra Front’s new name.
Let us digress to the fact that the NYT, a Godfather in the US mainstream mafia media believed it fitting to grant an interview to Muhaysini. The NYT has no problem at all with talking to a non-Syrian who has come to Syria with an agenda to boost the financial and military might of Islamist groups intent on overthrowing the secular and popular government and returning the country to the dark ages where all those who don’t adhere to a medieval ideology are bound to perish. This is hardly surprising; as the NYT is merely a branch of the military industrial complex which long planned the overthrow of the Syrian government and resorted to using Islamist terrorists as its proxies to achieve this goal.
NYT bosses would not in their feeble minds lower their standards in order to give a platform to some of the journalists and activists targeted by the RSF and the military industrial complex media. The NYT is much like the UK media representative of the UK’s own military industrial complex, The Guardian,
Digressing further to The Guardian as the heir to the paper of record for British imperialism, the above mentioned article was riddled with errors from go to whoa, not to mention the fact it barely even addressed the central question of the article; are the White Helmets an Al-Qaeda connected organization or are they as claimed, a heroic and impartial group saving Syrian lives in a time of terrible and deadly war?
Olivia Solon in her article called them “volunteer rescue workers” yet The Guardian itself has previously stated that the “volunteers” receive “a monthly stipend of $150.” A stipend: just another way to say a wage, and if you are getting a wage, you are not a volunteer. It is also a wage that ranks above the Syrian national average which sits below $100 a month.
We can add this to the list of inaccurate and misleading statements made by The Guardian which includes their claim that even as of October 2016, 300,000 civilians in Aleppo —they don’t even bother to specify it is East Aleppo they refer to —were exposed to a “relentless barrage of airstrikes.” As could be seen upon the liberation of East Aleppo and the evacuation of terrorist fighters and their supporters to idlib, the real number was far lower, standing at around 100,000.
The Guardian sunk even deeper into the mire, swimming around in the fetid media swamp with the likes of NBC and The Daily Beast with claims of the cold-blooded slaughter of 82 civilians by Syrian government led forces, a massacre pulled out of thin air by propagandists despairing that their litany of lies had not stopped the long-awaited for liberation of all of Aleppo, a liberation which cost the lives of 11,000 civilians.
Returning to Muhaysini, some have called him the new Osama Bin Laden such is his attraction to Salafists imported into Syria. He has certainly made an impression on many suicide bombers, among them teens who smile gleefully, if not a bit nervously, as he sends them to their deaths; deaths which aim at murdering Syrian civilians and soldiers alike.
Muhaysini, when he left his homeland of Saudi Arabia to spread sectarianism and counsel and encourage terrorists in his role as a “spiritual leader” actually took on the challenge of reconciling differences between the emergent ISIS and Al-Nusra. He proposed setting up a common sharia court to adjudicate in disputes between the terrorist groups. Al-Nusra appeared to respond positively to the idea, and indeed some of their leaders were keen to build a powerful alliance against the Syrian government. However, ISIS, hardline in their own ideology, seeing infidels everywhere they looked and making rapid advances, rejected the overtures of Muhaysini.
We can’t finish an examination of Muhaysini without looking at the ultimate Al-Qaeda journalist, Bilal Abdul Kareem. Miri Wood has detailed the work of the media mercenary Kareem in Syria News previously.
Among his exploits we saw “Merc Bilalqaeda” interviewing the Islam-hating Wahhabist on the US terror list; none other than Muhaysini himself. Since that time, Muhaysini has been interviewed again by Kareem, this time explaining why he joined the Al-Qaeda dominated Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which dominates the Idlib province Kareem fled to along with his terrorist friends upon the liberation of Aleppo. Muhaysini in the interview went to great lengths to elaborate on the quest of HTS to liberate the “oppressed” people of Syria. From whom you might ask? In Muhaysini’s words, “Syrian people want Islam and the toppling of Bashar Al-Assad and that is why they (AQ) came to Syria.” We should all thank a Saudi cleric for telling us what Syrians want, contrary to the testimony of civilians liberated from numerous areas who tell us precisely the opposite; we don’t want Al-Qaeda or ISIS in Syria –or the US and Turkey for that matter—and we are overjoyed and relieved at being liberated.
Kareem caressed the suicide belt of a terrorist in Aleppo as they were preparing to leave for Idlib in a deal brokered to evacuate them from Aleppo to be able to regroup and fight another day. Kareem solemnly declared this was a move of necessity as the terrorists couldn’t trust the Syrian government to keep its word on the deal. One wonders if this terrorist was involved in the breaking of the deal to exchange civilians in Foua and Kefraya with civilians in Madaya and Zabadani. The civilians from the latter reached their destination unscathed. 126 civilians, including 68 children from Foua and Kefraya were viciously murdered when terrorists lured the children to the target area with the promise of chips to eat, only to be cut down by a car bomb which ended their young lives in the most horrific manner imaginable.
Kareem, like Muhaysini, has also managed to receive airtime on the mainstream media, discussing his “journalism” in Syria on CNN, something which obviously appealed to Clarissa “Ward of death” who tweeted her appreciation of his “brave” reporting. Would Ward also call the Nour al-Din al-Zenki terrorists who beheaded a 12-year-old Palestinian boy “brave,” which if so, she would have been delighted to see Kareem interviewing a member of this despicable terrorist group.
Thankfully, the Syrian army is preparing a large-scale offensive to liberate Idlib, with reports of major gains made by the Tiger Forces and the 4th Mechanized Division, which inflicted heavy losses on Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, Jaysh Al-‘Izza and the Free Idlib Army. It should be remembered that one of the major events when the Jaish al-Fatah coalition—an Islamist coalition—overran government forces in the battle for the province in 2015, was the bombing and siege of the hospital at Jisr Al-Shughour. As the liberation of Idlib is likely to gain ground in 2018, stand by for, as Miri Wood says; the western world is about to be deluged with a repeat of last year’s NATO MSM hysteria to Save Aleppo Terrorists.
A video by Clarity of Signal titled “Tapestry of Terror – White Helmets Exposed As FSA Terrorists Linked With ISIS” shows Hadi Abdullah “braved the dangers” of excitedly cavorting with terrorists from Jaish al-Fatah, Jund al-Aqsa, and Al-Nusra, congratulating them on victories in battle against government forces and smiling and shaking the hands of an Al-Nusra terrorist as they said “Syria will remain Sunni. Syria is Sunni, not Shiite.”
Further video footage shows that for Abdullah to have been “captured” by Islamist factions we would have to believe that for the Salafists big wide grins actually are threatening mannerisms, as Abdullah can be seen hugging each member of a group, all with big smiles for Abdullah, while he returns the favor with a grin from ear to ear.
More video footage shows Abdullah so overcome with joyous emotion after Al-Nusra gained a victory in Homs that he cries on the shoulder of a terrorist fighter.
When viewing footage we should always give some latitude for footage taken out of context, selective editing, unclear pictures and difficulty interpreting what explains a groups or individuals actions, but this footage of Abdullah is so unambiguous and frankly nauseating, that there is absolutely no excuse for RSF or any other organization to even contemplate awarding him any accolade. They have bestowed an award on a man who is clearly a supporter of terrorists, groups that can in no way be interpreted as “moderate” and should be fought and expelled from Syria. Yet RSF deigned to select him as a brave and fearless journalist. It would be beyond comprehension if we didn’t pause to remember that RSF is a regime change advocate, a member of an insidious NGO Military Industrial Complex that has played such a damaging role through its dissemination of propaganda hidden behind the veil of humanitarianism, championing of human rights and false claims of atrocities by the Syrian government.
Laredo, TX — If you report a story before the police department is scheduled to release it to local media, you can and will be arrested and charged with a felony. For those that seek proof that alternative media is under attack, one needn’t look any further than the case of Priscilla Villarreal.
Villarreal runs an alternative media platform out of Laredo and operates it on a news page on Facebook called LaGordiloca. Earlier this month, Villarreal was arrested and charged with two counts of “misuse of official information,” a third-degree felony for operating that page.
As Texas Monthly reports, Villarreal, 32, turned herself in to Laredo police on December 13 after being charged with two felony counts of “misuse of official information,” stemming from her reporting on a Border Patrol agent’s suicide last April. Villarreal denies that she did anything illegal, and her attorney says the police department is simply trying to silence her because it does not like the way she reports. She often swears while she narrates her live-streamed footage, and she sometimes captures graphic images. She has been known to verbally spar with police officers in public.
Villarreal did nothing illegal. She stole no secrets, was not some NSA whistleblower and the information she reported did not cause anyone harm nor place anyone in danger. Villarreal, who runs the Facebook page LaGordiloca—with nearly 84,000 fans—simply published the same information the police department published publicly—only before they did.
Yes, that is all she did and the police actually admit this is all she did.
“(Villarreal’s) access to this information and releasing it on ‘Lagordiloca News Laredo Tx’ before the official release by the Laredo Police Department Public Information Officer placed her ‘Facebook’ page ahead of the local official news media which in turn gained her popularity in ‘Facebook,’” states the criminal complaint filed against Villarreal.
According to the Laredo Morning Times, the Laredo police department began investigating the case July 10, when its Office of Professional Standards received information stating that Goodman had been communicating with Villarreal, the affidavit states. The document says that some of the information published by Villarreal on her Facebook page was not available to anyone outside of law enforcement.
Investigators obtained subpoenas for Goodman’s and Villarreal’s phone records. Police said they discovered that the two “contacted each other on a regular basis and on specific dates that coincide with law enforcement activities,” according to the Times.
In what appears to be an extreme case of butthurt, the LPD seemingly became enraged at the fact that someone would beat them to a press release, so they acted. Villarreal, after receiving information, would go live on Facebook to report details of an incident that were not public at the time, the arrest affidavit states.
To reiterate, the police department would later release this exact information to the ‘official’ local media who would then report it. However, because Villarreal was first, she is now facing felony charges.
Naturally, Villarreal’s case is garnering the attention of those worried about the implications of First Amendment rights in her case, and it should. This independent journalist is the first person in the history of Webb County to be facing misuse of information charges, according to the paper.
Villarreal, who turned herself in voluntarily last Wednesday, says that the department is trying to silence her for criticizing its officers and beating the public relations department to the punch.
“All this is just a personal vendetta,” she told The Washington Post on Friday. “And I have all the proof I need to prove it.”
According to the Post, department spokesman Joe Baeza didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment early Friday. In comments to the Morning Times this week, he said: “We have no personal vendetta or ax to grind with anybody.”
However, if you look closely at the facts of the case, it becomes hard to believe Mr. Baeza.
As Reason noted, Texas law says a person can be guilty of misuse of official information if they solicit or receive information from a public servant, the official “has access to [that information] by means of his office or employment,” the info “has not been made public” yet, and the person receiving it does so “with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another” (emphasis mine). Villarreal was clearly not trying to harm or defraud anyone by publishing local news to LaGordiloca, so police must show that she did so “with intent to obtain a benefit” in order to make the misuse-of-information charge stick.
The “intent to obtain a benefit” part of the law is why the LPD is claiming Villarreal released the information to garner Facebook likes—a stretch, indeed—especially considering all the news she’s put out in the past.
“I strongly believe that censorship only hinders the advancement of a society,” writes Villarreal on a GoFundMe page she started since the arrest to pay for legal help. “I strongly believe in freedom of information and freedom of speech. I am in NO way a scholar of a higher learning institute but I am in my own way a graduate of the school of life most importantly the curriculum of what is right and what is wrong. … I continue to be adamant that transparency in the political and law enforcement theater is the base for trust.”
Sergio Lozano, Villarreal’s attorney, says that he’s confident the state will be exposed as the aggressor in this case and noted, “We anxiously await for the case to go to court for her name to be cleared.”
In the land of the free, reporting on information before obtaining permission from armed agents of the state can result in your persecution and subsequent loss of freedom. Hopefully, for the sake of the freedom of the press, Villarreal’s case garners enough attention to expose the LPD as the tyrants they are and this face of modern media is allowed to walk free.
“The key is that people want lower taxes, and I don’t think that many people are going to get lower taxes,” Lindorff said. Instead, “they’re going to see other people on the high end of the income scale getting their taxes cut significantly.”
The claim that lower corporate taxes will boost wages and salaries is the “big lie,” underlining the Republican effort to change the tax code, the reporter told Loud & Clear.
Writing in a December 20 Counterpunch article, Lindorff explained that “at no point” in the process of bringing a good or service to market “does management say, ‘Hey, we’re paying lower taxes this year. We should cut the price on our widgets and pass the benefits along.’ Why would they?”
Instead, it’s “far better to pocket that extra money for the benefit of management or for the shareholders,” according to Lindorff.
Nevertheless, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said Wednesday “I don’t know” why polls show the tax bill is unpopular among the American people. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday found only 24 percent of Americans think the tax code reform is a good idea.
Furthermore, Cohn said that US President Donald Trump and the White House attempted “25 times” to eliminate a loophole known as the carried interest provision that mostly benefits wealthy investors on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. The administration “hit opposition… every time we tried” from Congress, which is led by more establishment politicians in House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
With Amazon in the middle of its busiest season, Radio Sputnik’s Fault Lines spoke with investigative reporter Alan Selby about the frequent allegations that the shipping giant mistreats its workers around the world.
Selby, who worked undercover at Amazon, writes for the Sunday Mirror and has authored four pieces on Amazon and the working conditions within the company. He told Fault Lines hosts Garland Nixon and Lee Stranahan that he contacted delivery drivers from various parts of the UK and discovered that, like Amazon’s warehouse workers, they were given production goals that were virtually impossible to meet. In trying to achieve those goals, drivers have to drive dangerously — otherwise they just won’t make enough money.
In accordance with Amazon’s employment contracts, it is the drivers who have to pay vehicle rent and insurance, as well as a number of other related fees. This sum is eventually deducted from their pay, Selby explains.
“At the end of the week, the drivers might earn less than minimum wage,” he says.
“If the driver does not get enough shifts, at the end of the week they end up owing Amazon money to work for them,” one of Selby’s reports reads.
Drivers told Selby that to save time making deliveries, they often don’t even turn their engines off when leaving their vehicle, which has, on a number of occasions, led to the vehicles being stolen.
Many drivers don’t wear seatbelts, either, because unfastening them also takes up valuable time. Considering the amount of deliveries a driver has to make per day, “those seconds add up,” Selby says.
The conditions that the drivers are working in have been described by one lawyer as “almost Dickensian,” referring to the Victorian era when laborers worked under “absolutely terrible” conditions, Selby notes.
Selby’s reports on the treatment of workers at Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse in Scotland required direct intervention from the Scottish Parliament and the economy secretary of Scotland to be corrected.
Selby believes that the reports he and his colleagues have done have “broken the barrier” between Amazon and consumers, who now understand the human costs behind Amazon’s deals, making them vote with their money.
“Consumers and politicians alike are unhappy with [working conditions],” he said.
Amazon has clever schemes to avoid responsibility for some of its exploitative practices. For example, drivers don’t pay fees to Amazon directly, but instead send their rent and insurance money to the third parties.
This creates a kind of “plausible deniability,” enabling Amazon to hide behind the pretense of not knowing if the third party contractors are giving the drivers a hard time, Selby says.
“They can say they are acting ethically, morally, legally and try to blame everything on someone else,” he said.
The actual conditions that Amazon imposes on third parties are a topic of Selby’s ongoing investigation.
“The conditions are set by Amazon. There are no two ways about it,” Selby insists.
Amazon’s record of labor exploitation abuses is lengthy.
Currently, Amazon is under legal processing for another practice that emerged back in 2016: demanding that the employees be available seven days a week and — wait for it — fining employees who call in sick $150.
Arguably the most shocking report comes from earlier this December, when a 13-year old Manchester girl found a note in an Amazon parcel literally saying “Help me.”
“Help me please, PMP staff are evil,” the note read, according to MSN, referring to Amazon’s recruitment agency.
“That’s when we saw it. I thought ‘this isn’t right.’ Then I thought it must be a prank and I was overreacting, but then people pointed out all the stories about Amazon lately,” the girl’s parents told reporters.
“Staff also said their toilet breaks were monitored and they weren’t allowed to go outside of scheduled break times,” the MSN report on the issue read.
The shocking discovery of the note happened just in a month after another of Selby’s reports was run by the Mirror. This story described workers falling asleep on their feet trying to reach impossible goals at a warehouse in Tilbury, Essex.
Interestingly, Amazon reacted to the Mirror’s December publication by giving two tiny, 7-pence chocolates to every employee at the warehouse.
“This week our managers started coming round with a box of Celebrations for the first part of the shift, and gave us a chocolate each,” one employee told the Mirror.
“Then they did the same at the second part of the shift. Me and my colleagues were saying this was down to the Sunday Mirror. We all thought it was an insult.”
In a bitter joke, Selby said that while people working for Amazon have not yet attempted to ship themselves in a box, but “give the company a couple of months and we might start seeing that.”
“You just need to start with finding a box big enough,” he said. And hey, “at least you will be delivered in two days.”
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This week the Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a London-based organization partly funded by the European Union, has published a 200-page report that summarizes three years of work done by its field teams in Iraq. CAR experts were documenting what weapons Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group used on battlefields and how exactly it acquired them. In a story published by Wired, writer Brian Castner, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer and veteran of the Iraq War, reports his experience following CAR field expert, Damien Spleeters, as he gathered evidence in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar.
CAR field research is about finding weapons and weapon components, documenting markings and tell-tale signs like particular shades of paint indicating country of origin and tracing the weapons back to their origin. Serial numbers allowed the group to confirm numerous cases, in which weapons produced by EU members like Romania and Bulgaria and purchased by the US and Saudi Arabia ended up in the hands of IS.
Spleeters was the one who discovered in Tal Afar a batch of dismantled Romanian PG-9 73mm rocket-propelled grenades. The batch was sold to the US in 2014 and later apparently sent to Syria to arm a group called Jaysh Suriyah al-Jadid in violation of clauses forbidding re-export of the weapons. The Romanian government has provided CAR with documents confirming the delivery and the fact that the US signed an end-use certificate. This case along with several others is detailed in the CAR report.
The CAR investigation has also uncovered the scale and ingenuity of IS arms manufacturers, who managed to organize production of “a nation-state’s worth of weapons”, according to Castner. The terrorist group did not simply grab whatever weapons they could, but spurred a complex production network, which repurposed components of weapons made in other countries and complemented them with domestically-produced components to create a range of arms tailored for IS own needs.
“Iraq’s oil fields provided the industrial base–tool-and-die sets, high-end saws, injection-molding machines–and skilled workers who knew how to quickly fashion intricate parts to spec. Raw materials came from cannibalizing steel pipe and melting down scrap. ISIS engineers forged new fuzes, new rockets and launchers, and new bomblets to be dropped by drones, all assembled using instruction plans drawn up by ISIS officials,” Castner writes.
The military defeat of IS does not mean the loss of all the know-how – weapon designs, solved engineering problems, industrial processes, blueprints and schematics – which the self-proclaimed caliphate generated over three years. The effort needed to mass-produce arms will only become smaller as technologies like metal 3D-printing are becoming more accessible, he warned.
CAR’s field expert Spleeters has become fascinated with tracing supply chains in modern conflicts started in 2011 in his native Belgium. Working as a reporter, he wanted to understand and report to the public how Belgian-made weapons came into possession of Libyan rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. He discovered that the only way to get to the bottom of the story was to travel to Libya, which he did in his spare time. Spleeters became a freelance journalist after returning, reporting on arms trafficking for newspapers and think-tanks specializing in tracing arms and joined CAR as a fulltime investigator in 2014.
The expert says field trips are the only way to properly collect evidence necessary to establish the truth. The data collected this way cannot be replicated by analyzing online videos, a method favored by some investigative groups like Bellingcat.
“With all the social media things, when you see ordnance or small arms from afar, you might think, ‘Oh, that’s an M16.’ But if you see it close up, you figure out it’s a CQ-556 rifle from China, a copy of the M16. But you need to be close by to see it,” Castner cites him as saying. Spleeters believes that the camera conceals more than it reveals.
He said the situation in Iraq and Syria was a mess. “Nobody knows what’s going on, and there’s all these conspiracy theories. We live in a post-truth era, where facts don’t matter anymore. And with this work, it’s like you can finally grab onto something that’s true.”
These days the de facto expat mostly communicates to the public through Twitter.
Journalists writing up the VEP plan today: most important revelation was enormous loophole permitting digital arms brokers to exempt (via routine NDAs used when proliferating bugs to >1 buyer) critical flaws in US infrastructure from disclosure no matter the cost to our security.
Soldatov noted that while Snowden has criticized new Russian internet laws, the Kremlin has exploited his revelations to introduce increasingly repressive internet laws.
“The most sensitive thing about him in Russia is how his revelations were used and exploited by the Russian government promoting some crazy ideas about offensives on internet freedoms,” Soldatov said. “For example, we got this data localization law forcing global platforms to move their servers into Russia on the pretext of protecting Russian personal data from, say, NSA spying. So they’ve obviously exploited Snowden revelations.”
Furthermore, Soldatov noted, Snowden has not acknowledged that his revelations are being used by the Russian government to further oppress domestic internet users.
“The problem is that Snowden never tried to comment on … how his revelations were used by the Russian authorities,” Soldatov said. “So he is in a very strange situation, in a kind of limbo: He’s not part of the Russian political landscape, he’s still there, and nobody knows what might happen to him.”
‘He still lives and works in Russia’
Much of what we know about Snowden’s life in Russia has come from Kucherena.
“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job,” Kucherena, who is close to Putin’s government, announced in July 2013. “And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in.”
Kucherena mentioned Snowden’s job multiple times over the years.
“Edward Snowden will start working at a big Russian company on Friday, Nov. 1,” Kucherena said on Oct. 31, 2013. “His job will be to support and develop a major Russian website.”
In February 2015, Kucherena told reporters that Snowden “has long worked for a Russian company. He is a unique specialist, the company won’t let him go.” The lawyer noted that Snowden’s salary allowed him to live a comfortable life.
“Today he has now — if one can put it like this — settled in,” Kucherena said on June 23, 2015, the two-year anniversary of Snowden’s arrival in Moscow. “He is working in an IT company. We are not revealing this information, and it is understandable on what grounds. So today, I thank God, everything is fine. He is working. He is satisfied by the work he is doing.”
Asked in April 2017 if the administration of President Trump had reached out to Snowden, Kucherena toldTass that “no one tried to contact him. … Nothing has changed actually, he still lives and works in Russia.”
Snowden’s primary American lawyer, Ben Wizner, has told journalists that Snowden does not have a job in Russia (besides paid speaking appearances via video chat). Wizner did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the topic, including an email on Saturday morning.
‘He could get Russian citizenship’
Ever since Snowden publicly asked the country for asylum on July 12, 2013, Kucherena has signaled that Snowden could receive Russian citizenship
“In line with the law, he may become a citizen of Russia, but this can happen in some time,” Kucherena said after attending the restricted event. “Suppose that he could enjoy … a kind of residence permit, then he could get Russian citizenship in five years.”
The Kremlin-linked lawyer has reiterated over the years that Snowden may be eligible for citizenship, most recently after Russia renewed Snowden’s residence permit in early 2017.
“Essentially, he now has every reason to apply for [Russian] citizenship in the future, in a while, as the law [states] that one needs to spend no less than 5 years on the territory of Russia [to be granted citizenship],” Kucherena said in January, as reported by RT.
“He has now lived in Russia for almost four years, has not violated any laws, and there are no [legal] claims against him — this is one of the reasons his residence permit was extended.”
Soldatov, who recently updated his new book to include Russian meddling in the U.S. election, noted that Snowden hasn’t been used directly by Russian propaganda through appearances on RT or Sputnik.
Nevertheless, Soldatov concluded, the former NSA contractor’s life in Russia is largely dictated by the FSB, Russia’s state security organization.
“He’s trapped in this situation,” he said. “And given the fact that [he] lives surrounded by these people with almost no option to get out, well, it’s tough.”
Philippe Dulbecco, a French journalist who worked for an NGO in a number of cities in Syria. He returned to France in May 2017 and has shared his experience online in a forum post in August 2017 in a reply to someone who asked how is the life currently in Syria and whether possible to visit as a tourist, we are re-sharing it here.
I just came back from Syria 3 months ago. I was working there with a French NGO as a communication manager. This allowed me to travel around many parts of the country, from Daraa to Aleppo.
Conditions of life:
They vary from place to place, so I will describe daily facts about some of the cities I have had the opportunity to stay in.
• Take Latakia or Tartus for example:
Even if they indirectly suffered from war (electricity and such), they didn’t experience it first hand as badly as in Aleppo or Homs. They have seaside resorts where you can swim on a white sanded beach cornered by palm trees after breakfast, and spend the rest of your day jet skying. Crazy right? (that doesn’t mean that the Syrian people have enough money to enjoy those luxuries though, of course).
But cities like Homs or Aleppo have heavily suffered from war. Aleppo was just liberated in December 2016. I was based there for a time, and every day I was shocked (in a good way) to see how quickly the city began it’s “usual” life again. Shops that used to be closed due to heavy bombings from the East were opening at an increasing pace. The mine-sweeping process was done swiftly so that a lot of areas were safe to live in again.
Aleppo, “No Mines” – This is written over all the areas that were swept by the Russian military. They are in charge of clearing the cities and they also teach the Syrian Arab Army in mine-sweeping techniques.
Discussing with civilians from the East, and visiting the Eastern parts of the city was heartbreaking. The food supplies sent by humanitarian convoys to the different factions that occupied the East were never distributed to them. Hospitals were for militants only, and civilians were shot at when trying to reach the government-controlled part of the city. There are cases where they even got used as human shields to prevent government forces to fire at those so-called “freedom fighters”.
When the East was liberated late December, food and medicine supplies were discovered in the various headquarters of the East: there were enough stocks for the terrorists to hold a siege during 2 to 3 more years (while the civilians were starving).
If you walk around the Eastern part of the city, you will find many ISIS flags painted other the walls, with graffs inciting on hate toward Iran and the USA).
This alone discredits the claims that East Aleppo was occupied by moderate groups.
We did a toy donation for young kids in Jibreen, a camp for people that used to leave in the Eastern part of Aleppo during the war. 80% are children in this camp (visual estimation, it’s really difficult to have precise numbers in those conditions). The atrocities they suffered are unimaginable, and the first time we did a donation there, a front line was still under 1 mile of the camp. They didn’t even care as they were used to it (at first, we were more intimidating to them than all the firing that took place).
In the western part of Aleppo, things are different. Some parts of the city are standing like nothing happened, but walk 200 meters in one direction and you get yourself in an apocalyptic zone, with not even one building standing.
The most noticeable thing there for a first timer is the electric cables web that was created in order to distribute the power created by electric generators through the city.
In Aleppo as a whole, only one hospital has been destroyed. But the 3 biggest ones in the Eastern part of the city (out of 7 over there) were transformed into headquarters for the different terrorist groups (I know that this may be shocking after seeing all the big headlines telling you that the regime destroyed the last standing hospitals in Aleppo). I actually had the opportunity to conduct interviews with different doctors around Aleppo’s because of an Italian journalist I was hanging with and who did a short video to showcase the truth on that matter.
A problem that also arose was the kids’ education. Due to the scarcity of resources, especially like water, families sent their kids to the nearest water supply during the day (since then, the water barrage covering Aleppo was rebuilt, so the situation got better, but many kids, instead of going to school were sent on “water missions”).
But the most impressive thing, in my opinion, is how quick the reconstruction process began. The NGO I was with was part of this program, and, in total, several hundred houses were planned to be rebuilt (no much later than 1 month after the liberation). Several dozens were already well underway.
While I was working with an architect in Aleppo, a little event changed my way of thinking forever. We were making house measurements all day long and finally arrived at the last building of the day. We went to the roof and met this guy that apologized for not being able to offer us coffee (this is a big deal other there). I was not believing any of this when I realized that the roof I was standing on used to be this guy’s flat and that the building was 5-story high before the conflict. The guy actually apologized for not welcoming us properly even though there nothing left of his house. This sums up the mind of the Syrian people. Even after 7 years of war against extremists raping their daughters and killing their sons, they feel sorry for not being able to offer me, a privileged European, some coffee.
Apart from that, you could spend a pretty “normal” day in Aleppo if you wished (talking from a foreigner point of view of course). I still get the movie theatre’s schedule on my WhatsApp, they get all the latest movies. All the shops in the areas that were not destroyed are now open. But the sad thing to see is how much the 20+ generation is in despair, with no jobs.
• Deir Ez Zor: (I didn’t go there myself, it’s too dangerous. The only people that went there and that are not Syrian are Russian journalists).
This city is worth mentioning as it has been under siege for over 4 years now. ISIS is surrounding 150.000 civilians living in 4.7 square kilometers (there were 250.000 civilians there before the war, some could flee before the siege, but many died).
Conditions there are so dramatic that a friend of mine (a Syrian journalist who covered the conflict since the beginning) got hepatitis after spending only 10 days in the city.
People survive there because of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Syrian Arab Army helicopters that parachute food over the city on a daily basis.
This is the place where the US “accidentally” bombed the government last year (killing several dozen soldiers in a couple of hours). The US initially blamed the Russian for this bombing. But when they were exposed a few hours later, they said they did a mistake, and that, confused by how many factions were on the ground, they targeted the wrong positions (this would be a very plausible explanation, except that this is the only place in all Syria were only 2 factions are present: the government and ISIS).
The sad thing about it is that ISIS used this opportunity to launch a massive assault, that allowed them to claim a strategic position they couldn’t get for 3+ years (how are the chances right?).
Last but not least, let’s speak about Damascus. As the different extremist factions are losing ground all over the country, they began to use suicide bombing more often. Several of them happened in Damascus while I was in Syria, targeting Shia pilgrimage sites, official buildings or anything.
Moreover, some parts of the city are still occupied by terrorist factions. They take advantage of those positions to send mortars over the capital. The main way government forces and those factions are fighting there is by digging tunnels and putting explosives under buildings at the end of the tunnels. Nobody is fighting on the ground, everything happens under or over it.
But if you were dropped off in the middle of the old city, while having no idea you were in Syria, chances are that you wouldn’t guess right away that you are in the middle of a war-torn country. Everybody is living as in any capital of the world. Sure there are restrictions on electricity and such, but it doesn’t stop daily life. People meet in coffees, go the restaurant (or even go to the Opera for those few who have money)… just like anywhere in the world.
Yes, there are bombs falling, but that doesn’t stop life, and that’s humbling to see.
I tried to show the differences between the main cities so you can get a better grasp of the situation for civilians. Don’t hesitate if you have any questions, or wish to get more info on the daily life other there, there is much to say and this was not a complete description at all!
Regarding tourism, a lot of hidden (or not) gems are still standing (while still being in “safe” areas). Sadly, other spots like the old city of Aleppo (that can’t be described by a Syrian without shedding a small tear) are totally destroyed.
But, even if anything is possible, I doubt you will get a visa just for tourism if you don’t know anyone there that can vouch for you. The risks are too high and if anything happened, this would be bad press for the government. This is sad in my opinion because people would realize what’s what if they were hearing it from the Syrian people by themselves!
There are legal ways that may work, of course, but you wouldn’t ask this question if you had the ability to do it.
One option would be to volunteer with an NGO, but only one of them sends volunteers on the ground (and it’s French). Plus, tourism is not a valid enough reason to apply, I am sorry 🙂
Hold on to your wish, one day you will be able to go!
PS1: I can’t put any more pictures in my post sorry!
PS2: I met people from all over the country, with extremely diverse backgrounds (economic, religious, social). All the opinions that I share in this post are the result of evidence-based facts, and long hours of coffee drinking around a shisha with those people!
Editor’s note: We have taken the liberty to re-share the post for its importance to shed some light on the suffering of the people in Syria due to the Western ‘regime change’ plan that over 80 countries contributed in, with 2 countries alone Qatar and Saudi spending over $130 Billion on it not to count the others spearheaded by the USA, with more than 350,000 anti-Islamic Wahhabi Sex Jihadists coming from all sides of the planet n a kill, loot, rape and destroy mission. The above post appeared on Quora in August 2017 as an answer by Philippe Dulbecco to a question about the current situation in Syria and whether possible to visit as a tourist.
A prominent BBC journalist has deleted a tweet in which a senior Conservative MP can be seen complaining about the British media turning a blind eye to the corrupt relationship that has allowed Israel to “buy access” in Westminster.
The tweet was posted by the BBC‘s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg on Wednesday while the Scottish journalist was covering the build up to the resignation of Priti Patel. The Secretary of State for International Development had taken part in undisclosed meetings in Israel organised by the powerful Conservative Friends of Israel lobby (CFI) last summer.
Kuenssberg’s Twitter posts on the day were full of tweets on the Patel story including comments about Number 10 denying the allegation made by the Jewish Chronicle that Prime Minster Theresa May had been made aware of the 12 meetings Patel had had during her “family holiday” in Israel.
In her deleted tweet, which MEMO has been able to grab as a screenshot, Kuenssberg reported a comment made by a “senior” Tory MP who, enraged by the debacle, called for Lord Polak, honorary president of CFI and the person thought to be behind Patel’s Israel trip, to be sacked.
“Strong words,” tweeted Kuenssberg, “Senior Tory says Lord Polak should be chucked out of the party, claiming ‘the entire apparatus has turned a blind eye to a corrupt relationship that allows a country to buy access’.”
MEMO contacted Kuenssberg to ask why she had deleted the tweet but has not received a reply from the journalist.
The BBC has often been accused of pro-Israel bias and it would appear that this was yet another example of the broadcaster censoring criticism of Israel or senior BBC journalists enforcing self-censorship when it comes to Israel.
While it’s not absolutely clear what the senior Tory meant by the “entire apparatus”, it would appear that the concerns raised by the Conservative politician echo similar complaints made by Israel’s critics over the influence of CFI and other pro-Israeli lobby groups on the entire British establishment including the media.
Kuenssberg’s decision to delete the tweet it seems is further proof that the “entire apparatus” is reluctant to shed light on the “corrupt relationship” between the UK and Israel, which critics say is the reason why the BBC and other media corporations have turned a blind eye, and allowed Israel through the CFI and organisations like the Labour Friends of Israel to “buy access”.