US Launches Cyber War Against the World (2011)

“It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilization. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs”. - British historian and aesthetician Sir Kenneth Clark
“A Two-Wave Experiment found that the way the news media presents the news can cause political cynicism" - Dutch study called, The Effects of Strategic News on Political Cynicism, Issue Evaluations, and Policy Support
“[The Dulles brothers] were able to succeed [at regime change] in Iran and Guatemala because those were democratic societies, they were open societies. They had free press; there were all kinds of independent organizations; there were professional groups; there were labor unions; there were student groups; there were religious organizations. When you have an open society, it’s very easy for covert operatives to penetrate that society and corrupt it”. - Author Stephen Kinzer
"A spirit of instability in government will cause [citizens] to lose confidence in public institutions. When citizens lose basic faith in their government, it leads to corrosive cynicism and the acceptance of conspiracy theories. Movements and individuals once considered fringe become mainstream, while previously responsible figures decamp to fever swamps. One result is  that the informal and unwritten rules of political and human interaction, which are at the  core of civilization, are undone. There is such a thing as democratic etiquette; when it is lost, the common assumptions that allow for compromise and progress erode. In short, chaotic leadership can inflict real trauma on political and civic culture". - Senior Fellow at Ethics and Public Policy center and served in three Republican administrations, Peter Wehner  
They have the tools to create chaos in targeted socialites. They have the tools to set the political mood of any given society. They have the tools to sow political unrest anywhere around the world. They first destroy the nation's spirit through an information war, after which they attempt to subdue or destroy the nation's body, either through an economic or financial blackmail or, if need be, a war. Using information and political activists as a tool to weaken targeted governments around the world is essentially what civic activism, propaganda and psy-ops is all about. Therefore, it can be said that for Western powers the notion of “free media” simply means: Information controlled by Western interests. This is not a theory of mine. More and more people around the world are beginning to talk about this serious problem. Please research the following to put it all in context -
Мода на революцию: как молодёжь учат совершать госперевороты на западные деньги
How Western money funds overthrow-your-government classes
Հայաստանում երիտասարդներին ամերիկյան փողերով սովորեցրել են հեղափոխություն անել. Մարգարիտա Սիմոնյան /տեսանյութ/
Սորոսականները՝ ՀՀ իշխանությունում.
Soros Foundation in Armenia – Independent Study of the Country’s System of External Governance:
NGOs, an extension of US foreign policy:
US NGO uncovered in Ukraine protest:
How foreign NGOs destroy Russia:
NGOs: Grassroots Empowerment or Tool of Information Warfare?
NGOs Are The Deep State's Trojan Horses:
Do Certain NGOs Play the Role of a ‘Trojan Horse’ in Armenia?:
Money Talks Through NGOs:
Council on Foreign Relations: Democracy-Promotion and U.S. NGOs:
US spent $585 million on ‘promoting democracy’ worldwide in past year:
The National Endowment for Democracy, NGOs and the Imperial Uses:
 A Distorted Media Mirror:
Methods and goals of anti-Russian media in Armenia:
Washington on the War Path: Civil Society as Battering-Ram:
Czechs open center for civil society activists from ex-Soviet countries:
Prague Civil Society Center workshop in Armenia
Does the US engineering revolutions?:
Revolution Engineering: US know-how and 'colourful' technology:
CIA on Facebook&Twitter: Wayne Madsen on info warfare:
Documents Leaked by WikiLeaks Show an Organization Training Opposition Around the World:

How to Start a Revolution:
Assange: Facebook, Google, Yahoo spying tools for US intelligence:
George Soros and his open society:
Soros hacked, thousands of Open Society Foundations files released online
US spy operation that manipulates social media:
US launches cyber spy operation:
Pentagon spent millions studying how to influence social media:
How British spies covertly shape the flow of information online to ‘discredit’ their targets:
New Snowden Docs Reveal British Spy Agency Tactic To Manipulate Social Media:
Spy Agencies Manipulate and Disrupt Web Discussions to Promote Propaganda and Discredit Government Critics:
The Globalization of Politics: American Foreign Policy for a New Century:
Former CIA agent tells: How US infiltrates "civil society" to overthrow governments:
CFR Meeting: Zbigniew Brzezinski Speech (2010): 
The US Empire, the CIA, and the NGOs:
Moscow Details Subversive NGO Activities in Russia and Around the World:
Inside America’s meddling machine: NED, the US-funded org interfering in elections around the globe:
And for historic context -
 Therefore, keep all this in mind next time you read news articles produced by Armenian news outlets based in the United States or come across news reports put out by Armenia’s Western-financed political opposition. Most of the news reports and political commentaries put out by such sources are specifically designed to convey outrage against the Armenian state and sow hopelessness among Armenians. They are therefore meant to breakdown the spirit and sow the seeds of sociopolitical unrest.

Now you know why Western powers have been encouraging Armenian opposition officials, "independent" journalists and political activists to disseminate negative news about Armenia on a persistent basis. Their constant “the sky is falling" rhetoric is how they have wounded the Armenian spirit and why growing numbers of Armenians want out of Armenia.

I reiterate: Much of the reason behind why Armenians have been demoralized in recent years and why there is political instability and a powerful sense of hopelessness in Armenia today is precisely due to the mass hysteria fomented by the Western-led forces in the country. Armenia is suffering from a persistent campaign of doom and gloom and every single growing pain in the country is getting co-opted and turned into a sociopolitical fiasco.

US Launches Cyber War Against the World

After geopolitics, the power of state-sponsored propaganda and psychological warfare operations (psy-op) is perhaps the least appreciated and least understood topic in political affairs. Even less understood is the government's exploitation of cyber technology in recent years. When people look at their computer screens they do not normally see a powerful tool for warfare. That, I'm afraid, is not the case when it comes to governments. With growing numbers of people getting "on-line" around the world in recent years, cyber technology is providing those in powers with historic new opportunities. What we have been experiencing in the Middle East lately is the sophisticated fusion of armed intervention, propaganda (psy-op) and cyber technology into one effective/lethal political tool.

With tens of millions of undereducated and underemployed and increasingly restless youth coming of age throughout the world, strategic planners of the Western alliance are exploiting this historic opportunity. Cyber-based psy-op and military might is being used to attain geopolitical goals - namely the remaking of the Middle East. The Anglo-American-Zionist alliance in conjunction with client states in the Arabian peninsula are currently working on the region's loose ends in preparation for their future attack on Iran. This is a long-term agenda and it will not simply end with Iran. They have bigger obstacles on the horizon such as Russia and China that they will have to negotiate as well. But all in due time.

Keep the following information in mind next time you hear talk about "Twitter" or "Facebook" in the context of revolutions taking place in the Middle East. These "online revolutions" are not as "spontaneous" or as "grassroots" as they are being portrayed - because they are being managed/coordinated by special units of Western intelligence services. As much as they would have liked to have kept it a secret, information is now beginning to leak out about Washington's involvement in some of the bloody revolutions currently plaguing the Middle East (there seem to be one or two counter revolts instigated by Iran as well). When truly confidential information is "leaked", it is primarily done for political purposes and it is usually done by opposing intelligence services and sometimes by disgruntled employees. Regardless of who released such information and why, what's clear here is that Washington is playing a major role in the unrest the Middle East is currently suffering. Therefore, as suspected (I didn't need to see to this information to know that it's occurring), the long tentacles of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance has been exploiting wide-spread public despair and the popularity of modern technology to do its dirty work overseas. The following are some reports on the topic by Russia's RT:

CIA on Facebook and Twitter: Wayne Madsen on info warfare:

NGOs, an extension of US foreign policy:

Assange: Facebook, Google, Yahoo spying tools for US intelligence:
When it comes to the manipulation of people's mindsets and carrying out politically driven propaganda, Washington has a great number of very powerful and highly sophisticated tools at its disposal, both conventional (a large army of activists, mainstream media, government funded NGOs, school curriculum and Hollywood) and unconventional (cyberspace technology, psychological warfare operations and internet activists). According to released information, the US government is apparently using Information Technology to spread pro-United States propaganda within nations where Washington is currently raping and pillaging the natives. In other words, they are putting on a "America is your friend" happy face as they molest vulnerable Third World nations with abundant natural wealth. And when the governments of nations being targeted resort to curbing internet usage in their countries as a countermeasure, they are quickly accused of being dictatorial and/or tyrannical. Thus, it's a no win situation for those targeted.
We must also take into consideration that what is known about what the US government does (even against its own citizens in the US) is merely the tip of the iceberg. If the US government can use the internet to covertly spread "America is your friend" propaganda throughout the world, don't you think it can also use the same medium to instigating violence in targeted nations such as Russia, Libya, Armenia, Iran, Syria, China, Serbia, Venezuela, Lebanon, [fill-in-the-blank]? Of course it can, and it does! And there is plenty of evidence at hand. All one needs to do is open their eyes. I have posted a number of relevant articles below this commentary.

As a matter of fact, the cyber-based psy-op against Libya and Syria have been frighteningly well organized and quite public in its implementation. As if over night, dozens of US-based Libyan and Syrian blogs and virtual organizations have mushroomed and they are all calling for regime change and revolution. Although they are naturally giving the Middle East all the priority currently, there are other targets as well.

Not a week goes these days by without a nasty report appearing in the controlled press about Russia. Virtually every single US news article or report that appears about the Russian Federation is either negative or down right hostile. Even the western world's blogosphere today is saturated by Russia-haters. Specially after the 2008 war in Georgia, Western Russophobia has been very intense and very organized. This is not merely a result of ignorance or chance. It is all government sanctioned. The long-term strategic goal of this agenda is to condition and manage the emotions of the general public. When a major nation that is viewed as a competitor is vilified and belittled in the minds of the masses, it becomes much easier for their politicians to carry out their dirty work.

Closer to home, there is a whole range of US-based blogs and organizations that primarily concern themselves with disseminating anti-Armenia propaganda. The following "online revolution", for instance, was attempted in Armenia during last February when the West was maintaining hope that Levon Petrosian would be able to stir trouble again. This particular program was being managed by Onnik Krikorian, a British-Armenian agent posing as an "independent journalist" and a "human-rights" activist. [During the 1960s, special operatives often posed as backpackers and aid workers. These days, they like to pose as journalists and social activists] A brief look at the following two websites is all that is needed to fully understand who Onnik Krikorian is working for and for what purpose:

Washington's large army of cyberspace activists (human and electronic) are saturating different Armenian blogs, news websites and chat-rooms (discussion forums) with Washingtonian inspired political rhetoric and poisonous commentaries concerning the Armenian republic. It's obvious that Armenia has recently become one of the main targets of Washington's sophisticated psyop campaign. Monitor any one of the major Armenian news websites and blogs and read the posted commentary at the bottom of the features news articles. The spirit of many of the commentaries in question range from the absurd to the surreal. The following blog entry is related to this topic. When visiting the sources from which the articles came, please pay attention to some of the commentaries posted at the bottom of the pages:

Washington's Media Blitz Against Armenia - February, 2011:
But much to the dismay of the Raffi Hovannisians, Paruyr Hayrikian, Richard Giragosians and Vartan Oskanians, officials in Washington are finding Armenians to be a bit more difficult to manipulate and coax than Third World natives they have been so accustomed to dealing with all these years. Armenians may be politically illiterate, but they see right through bullshit. Having Moscow constantly watching our back hasn't hurt either. In tandem with Armenia's interior ministry, the Russian FSB is most probably busying itself placing various countermeasures in Armenia. Naturally, Russian intelligence has had very deep roots in Armenia. This may ultimately save Armenia from a bloody revolution. Washington isn't the only political entity involved in this high-tech game of manipulation. Israel's intelligence services also carries out sophisticated operations aimed at conditioning the political sentiments of non-Jews. During the 2006 war in south Lebanon, the following curious piece of leaked information was being disseminated throughout the internet:

Israel's Government has thrown its weight behind efforts by supporters to counter what it believes to be negative bias and a tide of pro-Arab propaganda. The Foreign Ministry has ordered trainee diplomats to track websites and chatrooms so that networks of US and European groups with hundreds of thousands of Jewish activists can place supportive messages. In the past week nearly 5,000 members of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) have downloaded special “megaphone†software that alerts them to anti-Israeli chatrooms or internet polls to enable them to post contrary viewpoints. A student team in Jerusalem combs the web in a host of different languages to flag the sites so that those who have signed up can influence an opinion survey or the course of a debate.

Next time you find yourself on an online discussion forum and the topic of conversation is not to the Mossad's liking, expect some friendly Jew to show up and start claiming that Armenians and Jews brothers and that the real enemy of the world is Islam or Iranians or Hezbollah or Palestinians, etc. During the 2006, when the world community was basically cheering the heroic actions of Lebanon's Hezbollah, I personally observed this happen on several different occasions.

Nevertheless, what's obvious here is that Washington and friends are pulling the strings of the rebellions and revolutions we are currently seeing take place all across the Arab world. This, in a sense, reveals just how deeply compromised that region of the world has become. With the exception of Libya, Iran, Syria, segments of Lebanon and formerly Iraq, rest of the region's dictatorships/kingdoms (particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) are client states of the Western alliance. Thus, looking at the playing field as it currently exists, it is quite easy to see what nations will be violated and what nations will be supported - regardless of silly little things like democracy and freedom. The sheeple in this region of the world may be rebelling/protesting/demonstrating for legitimate reasons, their shepherds, however, are carrying out the orders of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. In fact, as many of us already know, wars that are raging in the Middle East and Central Asia today were planned by Western military planners many years ago. The following Democracy Now video clip of a 2007 interview by the soft-spoken war-criminal Wesley Clark is a very troubling revelation: 

The Plan - according to U.S. General Wesley Clark:
The geopolitical agenda of the Western alliance is commencing in full force throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Africa. This 21th century project to remake certain parts of the world was planned during the 1990s, when the Anglo-American-Zionist global order was 'the' hyperpower, at a time when Russia and China were no where to be seen. And the grandiose plan in question was fully commenced in late 2001 - in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks against the United States by unknown assailants. The following is a video clip of a speech neoconservative war criminal (and one of the masterminds of the wars we have raging today) Paul Wolfowitz gave West Point graduates shortly before the events of September 11, 2001. In hindsight, the tone of his "get ready to be surprised" speech is very curious: 
Wolfowitz chilling speech:
What's clear is that we are truly living in very troubling times. This is one of the pivotal points in human history. How humanity will come out of this period is anyone's guess. Never before had the global population been this large. Never before had food and energy production been this strained. Never before had so many regions of the world been simultaneously this explosive. Never before had a single political force held this much global power and this much sway over the global community. Only the rise of Russia and China and the political awakening of humanity can save the world from the next dark age. The words you will hear and read with the following posts are that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the main masterminds of the Western alliance. The first link is to a 2010 speech he gave in Montreal at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting. The text at the bottom of the video link are excepts from "The global political awakening", an article by Brzezinski that appeared in the New York Times in 2008. Please pay close attention to Brzezinski's choice of words:
CFR Meeting: Zbigniew Brzezinski Speech (2010):


The Global Political Awakening
For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive... The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination... The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening... That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing... The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches... The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well...

Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious "tertiary level" educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million "college" students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred...

[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.

Zbigniew Brzezinski
Former U.S. National Security Advisor
Member of Council on Foreign Relations
Co-Founder of the Trilateral Commission
Member, Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Well folks, there you have it; right from the source. But is anybody listening? Looking at the masses of undereducated, underfed and underemployed, Brzezinski said - "[the sheeple's] physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred". Isn't this exactly what's going on overseas today? It's also interesting to note that these people look at their native activists as coming from "often intellectually dubious tertiary level educational institutions of developing countries". In other words, the army of Armenian human rights activists and independent journalists that are enthusiastically serving Satan these days in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way (as well as a few dollars and round trip tickets to Armenia), are in reality looked at by their masters as nothing more than cannon-fodder.

We Armenians simply must not allow these demons to comfortably settle in Armenia like they have done elsewhere. We must not show Armenia's many Western operatives and activists any tolerance. As a matter of fact, all those in Armenia that maintain ties with the Western alliance, in any capacity, regardless of who they may be, should be placed under state surveillance - or simply exiled. Armenia does not have the resources, the strength, the expertise or the experience to effectively counter the machinations of the West. The only cure against the corrosive/destructive power of the political West in Armenia is better and closer relations with the East. Some foolishly think Armenia would be able to ward-off Western designs with higher standards of living. These people utterly fail to realize that despite our best efforts, due to Armenia's less-than ideal geographic location and geopolitical circumstances, attaining higher standards of living for the population will remain some years away. Libya had the highest standard of living in all of Africa, did that stop its mutilation by the Western alliance? At the end of the day, Russia and to some degree the Islamic Republic of Iran and China are Armenia's last hope for survival in what may yet become the bloodiest century we have had.

During the seconds half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union was an easy thing to hate and fear. Moscow's threatening posture at the time as well as the prospects of communism coming to a nation nearby helped conceal the true face of the political West. Since the Soviet collapse, the mask has come off. The modern version of Bolshevism, the Globalism that is being imposed upon us by the Anglo-American Zionist world - is the single most dangerous thing the global community faces. Being stupid during the Cold War was one thing... being stupid now, in this information age, after what we experienced during the past twenty years is totally inexcusable.

Don't believe the hype! There is a news media blitz against Armenia 

Because Armenia is an ally of Russia, Armenia has been a major target of Western psy-ops. Keep this in mind next time you read less-than flattering news articles about Armenia produced by a number of Western-financed news sources both in and out of Armenia. Most of the news reports and political commentaries put out by such news sources are specifically designed to convey outrage against the Armenian state and sow hopelessness among the Armenian population. Such news reports are meant to breakdown the spirit and sow the seeds of sociopolitical unrest. Now you know why Western powers have been encouraging Armenian opposition officials, "independent" journalists and political activists to disseminate negative news about Armenia on a persistent basis. Their political hysteria and their constant “the sky is falling" rhetoric is how they have wounded the Armenian spirit and why growing numbers of Armenians want out of Armenia.

I reiterate: Much of the reason behind why Armenians have been demoralized in recent years and why there is political instability and a powerful sense of hopelessness in Armenia today is precisely due to the mass hysteria fomented by the Western-led forces in the country. Armenia is suffering from a persistent campaign of doom and gloom and every single growing pain in the country is getting co-opted and turned into a sociopolitical fiasco.

Breaking news!!!
Kirk Kerkorian has decided he is done with Armenia... The Millennium Challenge fund is to end its lifesaving projects in Armenia... The White House is cutting aid to Armenia... The protocol is part of a secret plan to turn Armenia into Turkey's eastern most province... Armenia's servicemen are massacring one-another... Armenia's women are being brutally murdered throughout the country... Armenia's uber-corrupt government is driving all businesses out of the country at gunpoint… Armenia's news press is being edited by Serj Sargsyan himself… Armenia's leaders are unelected criminals seeking to sell Armenia to the highest bidder… Armenia's president is going sell Artsakh to the Azeris... Armenia is being re-colonized by Russia... Armenia is to be invaded any day now... Armenia's poor are starving to death in the streets... Armenia's women are turning to prostitution en-masse... Armenia is turning into a crime ridden third-world cesspool... Armenia's air, water and soil are toxic... Armenians gangs are running amok around the world… Armenia is a petty dictatorship, a banana republic without the bananas... Armenia is on the very verge of total and utter destruction... Armenia's population is merely one Armavia flight away from total and final extinction!!!
Listening to the Western press and its pathetic lackeys within our communities discuss Armenia these days, one would think that this is the very end of the road for our fledgling republic in the Caucasus; Armenia has finally reached its cul-de-sac. Some people in very high places would like our people to believe that if a Western inspired color revolution in Armenia does not succeed in putting into power a kabal of mercenaries that are willing to serve their Anglo-American-Zionist masters, the Armenian state will soon cease to exist. That is fundamentally what they want you and I to believe. And it is towards this aim that they are carefully preparing their field of play. Something must be going down behind the scenes in Washington. I hope that something is not a major regional war. But looking at the volatility of the political situation in the region today that may certainly be it. The very terms "Armenia" and "Armenian" are being turned into something negative; similar to what they did with Serbia ten years ago. They are trying to cause instability in the republic. I pray to God that the next stage, which usually is the start of hostilities, is averted somehow.
Alarmingly, the anti-Armenia media blitz carried out by various American funded media outlets and their affiliates in Armenia's so-called "opposition" is succeeding in convincing a significant portion of our compatriots that it's all a lost cause. The toxicity of their propaganda campaign has begun permeating all layers of Armenian society. Helplessness and hopelessness, despair and desperation is what one immediately feels when discussing Armenia these days. The divide between the homeland and the diaspora is growing and divisions within Armenia itself are deepening. Please read the various articles posted below this commentary to better acquaint yourselves to the kind of atmosphere/mood they are attempting to create, as well as their their long-term political intentions (comments posted below some of the featured articles are also quite interesting to read).  

The primary catalysts of apocalyptic news about Armenia, the vehicles upon which corrosive propaganda travels within the Armenian community are - ArmeniaNow, Asbarez, Armenian Weekly, Hraparak, Hetq, Lragir, Aravot, A1 Plus, Radio Liberty and their various affiliates in and out of Armenia.

Various Western measures to bring the fledgling Armenian state in the Caucasus to its knees have not bore fruit. Armenia won the war against a Western-backed Azerbaijan. Armenia has been bravely enduring an almost twenty year economic blockade by NATO - via Turkey, of course. And much to their dismay, Armenia has institutionalized its military alliance with the Russian Federation and it has established very warm relations with Iran. Equally to their dismay, Armenia's national infrastructure is slowly but surely developing - independent of the Western alliance. As a result of its close working alliance with the Russian Federation and its very healthy relationship with Iran, Armenia today has put itself in a strategic position to potentially become a major regional energy/trade hub - independent of the Western alliance. Yerevan's audacity in not playing ball with the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance is essentially what's driving the multi-pronged propaganda assault against the Armenian state today.
Because they cannot directly attack Armenia (similar to what they did with Serbia and Iraq) because of Armenia's significant Russian military presence, they are resorting to other measures. When economic and/or military measures fail to break a nation’s will, they will resort to psychological warfare - the war against the nation's spirit and its will to live.
What most Armenians do not know is that psychological warfare operations (psy-op) is an actual manner of combat and one that is employed by virtually all major powers on earth. It’s just that the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance's strategic psychological warfare operations are considered to be the world’s most sophisticated and most lethal. Most Armenians also fail to realize that Armenia has been a major target of these types of operations by the West for a very long time; it actually goes back to the Cold War period when elements within Armenia and the Armenian diaspora were employed by Western officials to undermine Soviet Armenia. The intensity of this Washington based psychological operations have been intensified lately. In my opinion, this is most probably as a result of the long-term military deal Yerevan struck with Moscow during last summer and due to Armenia's growing relations with Tehran. Nevertheless, make no mistake about it, even as I write this, there is a full-scale psychological warfare blitz taking place against the Armenian state.

What are their intentions? What is their end game? Why are they targeting the little, landlocked, blockaded and impoverished nation surrounded by so many enemies in the Caucasus?
Simply put: as mentioned above, Yerevan refuses to play the game with the Anglo-American-Zionist global order. The Armenian state has chosen Russia to be its military ally and its economic lifeline. I don’t need to explain why this is because reasons for it are self-explanatory. But Russia is not the only problem. Armenia also refuses to participate in the aggressive campaign against Iran. You see, had Armenia’s leadership been Washington’s puppets in the Caucasus, we would not have heard a single bad word about them in the Western press. Had Armenian officials been in bed with Washingtonian officials, despite any of its problems, Armenia would be portrayed as heaven on earth and Armenia’s leaders would have been described as - protectors of freedom and democracy. But the reality is, had Armenia's politicians been dancing to the tunes of the Western alliance, Armenia would eventually cease to exist, yet again.
For the West, Armenia is just an obstacle getting in the way of their regional oil/gas exploitation efforts. Armenia is also an obstacle getting in the way of Western efforts to push Russia out of the Caucasus. Armenia is also an obstacle getting in the way of Western efforts to establish a regional platform from which to attack Iran. For Russia, on the other hand, Armenia is a crucially important strategic ally that is actually keeping the region's Western, Islamic and Turkic agendas at bay with its presence. Therefore, what Yerevan and Moscow have is a tight convergence of long-term strategic interests. As a result, because Yerevan has gotten into a crucially important military alliance with the dreaded Russian Federation (a much envied political entity various Western and Islamic/Turkic powers have tried to undermine or destroy for centuries), Armenia will continue being targeted by Washington and its allies.
When was the last time any of you read or heard anything negative said about any one of Washington's numerous dictators and tyrants in South America, Central America, Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South-east Asia or in Central Asia? When we sometimes do hear some criticism of a corrupt leader that has close ties to Washington - like when they criticize Afghanistan's Hamid Kharzai from time-to-time - it simply means that American officials either had a falling out over some political/economic matter or it's simply a ploy/political theatrics. Concerning Hosni Mubarak: he was their nasty bastard for thirty years. However, since he was an octogenarian (in other words, almost dead), since he was severely hated by his people, since he had gotten far too complacent/lazy in office, his handlers in Washington reluctantly allowed him to be pushed out of power. And who took over the controls of government? The military that Mubarak ran! Eventually they will put into office yet another Western/Zionist lackey and they will call it a democracy! Anyway, listen to an important Washington insider, who also happens to be a well known billionaire, a media executive and a political commentator discuss democracy in the Middle East -
Mortimer Zuckerman: Muslim Brotherhood would be a disaster for Egypt:
And watch at this video clip: over twenty Egyptian protesters get run over by a van belonging to the American embassy in Egypt -
Diplomat's car runs over more than 20 people in Cairo:
Of course Washington denied any involvement, saying that the van in question was "stolen" just prior to the incident. But how many of you actually saw this incident in Cairo on your television screens? Just imagine what media executives and government officials in the United States would have done with this kind of video footage had the van belonged to Russian or Iranian officials: It would have been made into a movie or a book by now! It simply amazes me that there still are people on earth who believe Washingtonian propaganda. The kind of self-serving propaganda and double talk Washington puts out these days is more outlandish than any Hollywood film, yet a significant portion of humanity still accepts it as gospel.

Being stupid during the Cold War was one thing, being stupid in the post-Soviet world is NOT excusable.

As a result of the recent political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, Washington and its many assets in the Armenian community are smelling blood once again. Taking advantage of Armenia's lingering economic woes (which is in part due to the global economic downturn), they would like to use this opportunity to foment a popular uprising against the Armenian state. And they are using their diverse assets in Armenia and in the diaspora to push their geopolitical agenda and to break the Armenian people’s will/spirit.

ArmeniaNow, for instance, has more-or-less been lamenting that Armenia is not descending into a bloody mess. This Western propaganda outlet in Yerevan is run by John Hughes, a well known CIA asset from California that many of our self-destructive peasantry adores. With their very incendiary reporting, ArmeniaNow played a major role in trying to provoke violence against the state during Levon Ter Petrosian's attempted coup d'etat in early 2008. Since Georgia's defeat in the summer of 2008, however, the staff at ArmeniaNow had considerably toned-down their anti-state rhetoric. For the past three years, they had been very careful with their reporting. Now, with them smelling blood once again, they are gradually/subtly/carefully attempting to reenter the fray. Simply put: ArmeniaNow's intentions in Armenia are solely the intentions of Washington and Washington’s intentions in Armenia are solely to carryout a regime change in Yerevan. Again, it’s all about Armenia’s alliance with Russia and its good relations with Iran.
We even now have "social activists" like Onnik Krikorian, a British born Armenian agent that has close connections to ArmeniaNow and various other Western funded entities in Armenia, attempting to prepare the field of confrontation. The following are two web pages caught my attention -
I’m afraid their relentless psy-op campaign may be working. We now have a significant portion of our compatriots both in and out of the homeland demoralized and hopeless beyond help. For these Armenians, the Armenian sky is literally falling on their heads. The hopelessness, the anger, the hate, the helplessness, the despair, the pessimism, the morbidity, the cynicism, the willingness to abandon the nation, the willingness to dodge the military draft... The ubiquitous bad news being displayed is fast becoming a very convenient excuse for all those who want to spit on their homeland and abandon it to its fate. As usual, droves of Armenians are leaving or seeking to leave their homeland. And droves of Armenians in the diaspora are seeking a bloody revolution in Armenia.
The reality is that yes, Armenia is hurting today. But Armenia is hurting no more than most other countries in the world, countries that are even in much better circumstances than it. Perhaps this is news to Armenians today, but last I checked, virtually the entire world was reeling from an economic crisis. Perhaps this is news to Armenians today, but food prices, commodity prices and energy prices are going up all around the world. Perhaps this is news to Armenians today, but social/political turmoil has gripped the entire world. Perhaps this is news to Armenians today, but oligarchs, monopolist and corrupt officials saturate virtually all governments of the world (perhaps with the exception of Scandinavian nations and Germanic ones in Europe). Perhaps this is news to Armenians today, but the opulence of the past twenty somewhat years in the western world has all but ended. All of humanity is hurting today!
Underemployment, unemployment, higher energy costs, higher rates of poverty, riots, higher rates of crime, mass protests, shrinking middle class, higher food costs, numerous wars, ecological damage, disease, widespread political tensions... It's more-or-less the same story everywhere we look these days. We are seeing the rise of unrest in many places on earth. The situation around the globe has gotten so bad that I'm actually very worried about a world war breaking out in the near future. The reality is that Armenia is not uniquely or exceptionally in a bad situation. Another reality is that despite all the odds being stacked against our landlocked and blockaded nation in the Caucasus, Armenia has actually been able to keep its head above water and has recently begun to slowly move forward.
So, what’s with all the doom and gloom among Armenians?
I don't see this kind of irrationality, hysteria and/or destructive behavior elsewhere. I don't see civilized people willing to abandon their homelands en-masse. We Armenians have become demoralized to such an extent that we are more than willing to spit on our homeland. Why is it that many Armenians are more than ready to abandon their nation of birth as a result of economic hardship? Why do we Armenians turn and run when faced with a war? Why do we constantly talk negatively about our country of origin?

We no longer are able to see hope. We are unable to appreciate positive developments. We can no longer process good news. We are unable to see the big picture. And the strange part is that in reality good news from Armenia is not all that rare. The fundamental problem is that good news from Armenia has no recipients. It's as if we are actually SEEKING bad news to spread. It's as if we are actually SEEKING poison to spew. 

So, seeing all this, seeing how Armenians operate, they realize that all they need to do is simply give our dysfunctional people some ammunition and just stand back and watch as our self-destructive compatriots in and out of the homeland enthusiastically uses it against the Armenian state. As I mentioned above, Armenia is NOT the ONLY nation on earth with serious hardships. Start seeing the big picture and STOP participating in the spread of poisonous propaganda! Too many of us claim that the hopelessness and despair currently being felt in Armenia and in the diaspora is primarily and directly a result of the nation's gluttonous businessmen and its corrupt officials/oligarchs. In my opinion, this particularly popular take on the matter is only partially correct at best; it's a half truth that is actually keeping us blinded to what is occurring. I ask again: Is Armenia the only nation on earth with corrupt oligarchs?

The fact is even the nastiest of Armenia's oligarchs today pale in comparison to ones found in most other nations; including nations of the Western world. Is Armenia the only nation with a bad economy? The fact is most nations on earth today have serious economic problems. Is Armenia the only nation with enemies? The fact is most nations on earth have enemies.
So, what is our real problem concerning the situation in Armenia?
Could our people's problem simply be a matter of perception and/or mental conditioning? Could our people’s lack of spirit, the absence of objectivity or nationalism in our people simply be a consequence of the ruthlessly relentless psychological conditioning that has been directed against the Armenian nation for all these years - in addition to the unresolved crisis over Nagorno Karabakh, in addition to its nasty geographic location, in addition to the imposed economic blockade?

Could our problems be, at least in part, as a result of the assault against Armenian ethnocentrism and nationalism in Western academia? Could the problem be a result of the decades long propaganda assault the Armenian state has had to endure?
We need to learn to accept the harsh realities of life on earth. Let's also realize that Armenia is not a fairytale land of priests, scholars and warriors (it may have been once, but it definitely has not been one for the past one thousand years). After one thousand years of Islamic, Turkic, Persian and Bolshevik rule, Armenia today is a nation populated by a deeply scarred people. The damage caused by one thousand years of corrosive and destructive foreign rule will not be fixed in a few short years and it will DEFINITELY not be fixed by Washingtonian officials. 

Let's all be mature enough to accept the fact that Armenia will have its share of criminals, monopolists, drunks, murderers, prostitutes, drug addicts, traitors, homeless, transsexuals... as well as its meat eaters and animal haters. For a tiny and poor country stuck in the Caucasus and fully stocked with naturally talented and overly ambitious people, Armenia will also have more than its fair share of opportunistic or less-than trustworthy people.
As I have said in the past, Armenia is like a small pond containing many hungry sharks. The reality is these sharks are us. Our sharks are an accurate reflect of our societal character today. Let's recognize and accept our people's characteristics, both good and bad, and let's try working with it for the betterment of our homeland. What we are doing instead is we are allowing our enemies to exploit our people's cultural traits against Armenia.
As mentioned earlier, it is well known that Washington spends enormous sums of money on intelligence programs, politically driven propaganda campaigns and psychological warfare operations. It is also well known that Armenia has been one of Washington’s main targets for a long time. I personally believe that many of Armenia’s sociopolitical problems today have their roots precisely in this conditioning of the mindsets of our people. Unbeknownst to us, we are gradually being turned against our homeland. Even the terms "Armenia" and "Armenians" are now beginning to have a negative connotation in the Western press - similar to what they did with Serbians during the 1990s. Make no mistake about it, the poisonous propaganda in question is indeed having a major impact on our nation's collective psyche and our national cohesiveness. And the alarming thing here is that we Armenians are willingly or unwittingly participating in the spread of this lethal poison against Armenia.
Everywhere I look all I see is pessimism, negativity, destructive behaviors and ugliness. It's all doom and gloom. Just look at the type of news many of us Armenians these days choose to revel in - Hazings in the Armenian military… Violence women suffer in Armenia… Mafia… Genocide... Oligarchs… The evil Russians... The eviction of slum dwellers... Genocide... The protocols... Police brutality... Genocide... The dreaded Russians... The garbage... Government corruption… Prostitution… The beggars... Genocide... Smelly toilets in Yerevan… The flies… The nasty Russians...  

If the news is nasty (or perceived as such), Armenians today make sure it gets around via mouth, telephones, Facebook or emails - and sometimes all four! Although there are a lot of positive developments coming out of the nation, our self-destructive peasantry ONLY concerns itself with the bad news. Not a single positive thing. It's all scaremongering and fear-mongering. And it's all very infectious.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm NOT making excuses for the bad things that occur in Armenia nor am I attempting to whitewash the accesses of our oligarchs and corrupt officials. But can we act like @$%#ing adults and place all this in a proper perspective? Can we get real for once? Can we act like responsible/intelligent adults and look at Armenia's problems objectively and rationally? Our ignorant sheeple both in and out of the homeland seriously needs to better understand politics and history. 

As I have said in the past: we Armenians may be brilliant in business, sports, literature, sciences and the arts - but when it come to politics, we continue acting like a bunch of self-destructive peasants armed with clubs and pitchforks ready to burn down our village to save it from imaginary monsters.

You think this obvious national trait of ours has not been noticed by our antagonists? You think this glaringly obvious characteristic of our people is not being used against our homeland by Western intelligence agencies?
Regarding the violence or abuse women in Armenia suffer: being a father of daughters, I would love to see a LOT changed in Armenia with regards to the way women are treated or looked at. However, according to what I have personally observed in the country and according to various statistical data I have personally read, violence against women in Armenia is not a widespread problem.

Yes, there is a lot of Islamic/Asiatic mentalities in Armenia when it comes to women - but no widespread abuse and/or violence. 

Abuse rates in Armenia are actually on the level of many developed nations today. However, with such matters, there should always be more room for improvement. So, yes, let's talk about this serious problem, let's raise our voices in protest, let's try to improve the situation - but let's also not get hysterically and let's not start demanding a bloody revolution in the country over this issue.  

If its makes the reader feel any better about Armenia, allow me to just say that abuse of women is actually much worst in most other nations on earth today. Millions of women are abused and forced into prostitution, homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse - in the United States alone. 

Again, let try to put things in a proper perspective and look at Armenia's problems - rationally!
Regarding violence in the Armenian military: any time you put together thousands of hotblooded young men from poor families with mediocre education and overflowing "Armenian" hormones - you will have violence!!! And one doesn't need to be a genius to realize this. 

All armies on earth have these types of problems; some just happen to have more than others. Periodic violence in the Armenian military, although normal by international standards, will gradually improve with better education and order enforcement, which is beginning to happen. And as far as general societal crime is concerned - Armenia is actually a safe-haven compared to many developed nations today.

It is well established that there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. Although a large percentage of its population lives in utter poverty, Armenia is among a handful of nations on earth today where people do not fear walking the streets late at night and children continue to play unsupervised in their neighborhoods. With time and with healthy activism, I believe Armenia's various sociological problems will be taken care of. We simply need a healthy outlook and an objective/rational mindset. I'm fully convinced that Armenia’s problems today are not simply a result of its bad economic situation and government corruption. The real problem in Armenia today is its bad geographical location and the relentless psychological warfare being directed against it. 
This is all taking a major toll on the Armenian spirit. We are placing more than enough emphasis on criticizing and attacking our oligarchs and corrupt officials. I think now is the time we also need to start criticizing and attacking those who are using our internal problems against our state. It's time we call out those who are worsening our domestic problems through propaganda, manipulation, agitation, instigation and provocation.  This is what all self-respecting and responsible Armenians need to do. If we are able to somehow stop the psychological warfare being directed against Armenia, we can then and only then be able to better cope with our domestic problems.
No, the sky is NOT falling in Armenia! Armenia is NOT a dictatorship. Armenia is NOT on the verge of collapse, nor is it hell on earth.
Armenia is going through GROWING PAINS like all normal nations. And along the way, Armenia is being targeted by Western intelligence agencies similar to how Iran and Russia are being targeted by them. Yes, we have serious problems with our monopolists in Armenia - but our monopolists are our problem and we don't need monopolists of global proportions like Washington to help us in this regard. Yes, we have problems with criminals in Armenia - but our criminals are our problem and we don't need criminals of global proportions like Washingtonian officials helping us in this regard. Yes, we have serious problems with rampant corruption in Armenia, but these are our problems and we don't need by-far the world's most corrupt political entity helping us in this regard either.
When we Armenians pull our massive heads out of our behinds, we will realize that Armenia's numerous problems are very natural for a fledgling nation that has just woken up from nearly one thousand years of forced hibernation. Armenia's problems are very natural for a fledgling nation that is tiny, landlocked, blockaded, impoverished, resourceless and surrounded by enemies in one of the most remote and volatile locations on earth. Consequently, Armenia's growing pains WILL be more severe than those of others. At this point, some of our compatriots will begin comparing Armenia to Georgia and/or Israel...

Without getting into a detailed response, allow me to just say that even with all its tens of billions of dollars of politically driven investments from places like Saudi Arabia, Europe, Britain, United States, Israel and Turkey, Georgia is more-or-less in the same socioeconomic boat as Armenia. 

Despite its tens of billions of dollars of investments, despite its Western/Israeli/Turkish backing, despite its internationally coveted Back Sea beaches and ports, despite its bountiful country - the average Georgian in Georgia today has a similar living standard as his or her counterpart in the small, landlocked, blockaded and desolate Armenia. 

The modern or "progressive" face of Tbilisi is just that - a superficial facade made possible by billions of dollars of foreign investments. In short: despite its numerous financial and political advantages today, a majority of Georgians continue living in poverty and Georgia is mutilated. Saakashvili's dictatorial government, in true Western fashion, has simply become the nation's biggest oligarchic entity, but his time in office is numbered.

And as far as comparing Armenia/Armenians to Israel/Jews: Armenians would have to be seriously out of their minds to compare a small, poor and dispersed, near-eastern nation that has essentially just stepped out of the middle ages, to a relatively major ethno-religious group of western educated ethnocentric people that are firmly entrenched in the western world and armed with an immense collective wealth that has been acquired for centuries. Prior to the forced establishment of Israel in Palestine, Jews spent centuries accumulating wealth and infiltrating various western infrastructures, both financial and political. They are currently reaping significant benefits as a result. However, the Zionist State of Israel is also a fabrication, a Western experiment in the Middle East, and its time will also eventually come to an end. So, please, stop acting ignorant, do yourselves and our nation a big favor and stop comparing Armenians to this nation or to that nation and simply start seeing Armenians for who they are and, more importantly, what they can potentially be.

Armenia needs its citizens and its children around the world to be patient and understanding. Self-respecting Armenians need to be politically aware and constructive when it comes to sociological and political matters pertaining to Armenia. It is the duty of all self-respecting Armenians to partake in constructive criticism and healthy political activism. 

Armenians need to realize that Armenia needs a sociological and political EVOLUTION and not a Western funded revolution. 

I want Armenians to STOP participating in the spreading of poison and I want Armenians to finally wake up to political realities around them. Sadly, a significant portion of our people in and out of the homeland today are made up of ignorant chobans and self-serving egomaniacs. Where other nations stay and fight, our people have a tendency to cut and run. Where other nations stay put and participate in nation building, our people will sell anything for a visa. Where other nations rally around their flag to fight off foreign meddling, our people enthusiastically does the bidding of its enemies. This is due to our ignorant chobans and self-serving egomaniacs being manipulated against their homeland by foreign powers. 
I can't really blame our enemies for doing what they do. Armenia's enemies will do whatever happens to be in their best interests. What I don't understand is Armenians helping our enemies carryout their agenda against Armenia. Therefore, I particularly blame us Armenians for the plight Armenia is currently in. Again, being stupid during the Cold War was one thing, being stupid in the post-Soviet world is NOT excusable.
Although I acknowledge that we Armenians are victims of psychological conditioning, although I acknowledge that our corrupt and incompetent officials in Armenia are a problem for our republic, I also would like to point out that our sad plight is also the fault of every one of us that have participated in spreading negative news concerning Armenia

If you participated, willingly or unwittingly, directly or indirectly, in the spreading of poisonous propaganda about Armenia - you are a fundamental part of the problem Armenia has today! 

In my opinion, Armenians today shamelessly participate in the organized slander of our embattled nation simply due to their deep seated egotism, uncontrollable emotions and/or political ignorance/stupidity. Here again, we see the emergence of our ignorant chobans and self-serving egomaniacs in the overall equation. Sadly, our fledgling state is stuck between its political enemies, its corrupt officials and its destructive/problematic sons and daughters.

Looking at the seriousness of the global situation we are in currently, as much as I would not want to see it happen, perhaps the best thing for Armenia to do right now is to shed several hundred thousand more of its citizens to release some of its pressure. I say this with a heavy heart because I really don't see a quick end to the global mess we are in. I don’t see our numerous enemies stopping their assaults against our state. I don't see our peasantry engaging in healthy and/or constructive activism and I don't see our nation’s hungry sharks eating their fill and beginning to give a little back. Having dealt with all kinds of Armenians for most of my adult life, I have come to the following realization: Armenians are maximalists in all that they do, especially when it comes to screwing someone or something. Therefore, I don't expect our peasantry to snap out of their stupor until they have totally burned down their dilapidated village. I don't expect our hungry sharks to stop eating until they burst. And I don't expect our nation's mercenaries working for foreign governments to stop their work against Armenia until the nation is destroyed.
If this situation continues indefinitely, if we Armenians can't finally get our house into order and our act straight - it's better and perhaps much safer to simply handover the house keys to Moscow, once again.

Ideological template for all Armenian patriots

We must not lose sight of the fact that Armenia is a work in progress. Armenia is a nation that has suffered a thousand years of damage. This damage - material, cultural and genetic - won't be fixed overnight. Tiny, poor, landlocked, remote and surrounded by historic enemies and dubious friends in one of the nastiest of political environments in the world, our embattled homeland will naturally have many sociopolitical problems. But it is our duty as its loving children to be understanding, objective, rational, constructive, positive and patient. The following therefore needs to be branded within hearts-and-minds of all Armenian nationalists and used as a ideological template when it comes to sociological and political matters pertaining to Armenia -
  • Armenia's natural growing pains are being exploited by imperial powers (and their Armenian servants) to undermine the fledgling republic due to Armenia's strategic partnership with Russia and its good relations with Iran.

  • Had Armenia's "corrupt" leadership been comfortably in bed with the leadership in Washington, London or Brussels, none of our nation's doom and gloom activists today would have been given the opportunity to spew their poison against our embattled homeland. Since some farsighted leaders in Yerevan have courageously made the decision to remain firmly within Russia's political orbit, Washington has its lackeys running around Armenian society acting hysterical over every single sociopolitical matter in Armenia.

  • Our "rights activists" and "opozitsia" types need to shed their Western connections and funding if they want to be taken seriously; they need to keep their fight strictly in Armenia; they need to provide rational solutions and alternatives to the problems at hand; instead of calling for the whole government or the president to step down, they need to begin targeting select individuals known to be engaging in crime or corruption; they need to figure out a way to work with the government or within the government; they need to be clearer in their demands.

  • Armenians need to understand that if the current government is overthrown it wont be Armenian patriots that will be taking over. Those waiting on the political sidelines in Yerevan to exploit political unrest in the country are those who serve directly and indirectly Angle-American-Jewish and Turkish interests.

  • Armenians need to understand that Western financial aid is in fact a form of bribe and it comes with too many strings attached. Moreover, accepting money from Western institutions or governments is like accepting money for a loan-shark.

  • As bad as it may seem at times, the problems Armenia has been going through are natural growing pains. Historically speaking, twenty years is merely a blink of the eye. Due to Armenia's particular circumstances - bad geographic location, economic blockade by NATO member Turkey and warlike situation with Azerbaijan - its growing pains may at times be severe. We must not lose sight of this. We must also not lose sight of the fact that most nations on earth today (including nation in much better circumstances than Armenia) are in fact much worst-off than Armenia. Armenia has in fact made notable progress despite all the odds against it.

  • Who gave Washington the right to judge nations? Who says the political West is the standard all the rest have to follow? Why do we care what politically motivated Western organizations have to say about Armenia's ranking in anything? Was the Western world born this developed, this progressive or this wealthy, or did it have to travel a very long, bumpy path to get to where it is today?

  • The Western world, including the United States, took hundreds o years to reach where it is today. In fact, the Western world is where it is today due to genocide and mass scale human exploitation and wars of plunder.

  • A little over century ago America's robber barons (e.g. Carnegies, Rockefellers, Morgans, Speyers, Goulds, Vanderbilts, Du Ponts, etc.) used their immense fortunes to buy into the American political system, forever blurring the line between politics and business. These oligarchs used their powerful influences to impact the making of political legislation. The political system in the United States was manipulated by America's oligarchs to serve their businesses and to preserve their immense wealth. Although it has been in a decline in recent years, the American middle class essentially grew as a result of feeding on the crumbs that were falling off the lavish banquet tables of the nation's super wealthy.

  • The Western world has severe forms of corruption. It can be argued that corruption in the Western world is by-far the most egregious, albeit more nuanced and sophisticated. The main difference between corruption in the West and corruption in a place like Armenia is that corruption in the developed West is reserved for the political/financial elite, whereas in an underdeveloped place like Armenia it appears all layers of society. Moreover, Armenia is tiny, therefore any form of wrong doing can immediately be seen or felt. Through legislation, the practice of corruption has evolved to become fully institutionalized in the Western world. Therefore, in the West, corruption is not for the common folk. Corruption in the United States, for instance, is reserved for the empire's elite entities (e.g. military industrial complex, Zionist/Jewish groups, pentagon, oil industry, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals industry, etc).

  • Who gave the political West the right to criticize and attack nations that are not as developed? What right does the West have to impose its system upon others? Why do tyrannical nation that are allied to the West get a free pass while those who are not politically aligned to it cannot do anything right? What right does the West have to rate, label or categorize any nation? And how foolish are the rest of us to actually listen to what they say?

  • Similar to what imperial powers did in the past with religion the very notion of democracy and human-rights today have been weaponized by Washington. As a matter of fact, everything today is becoming weaponized by Washington. Money is weaponized. Religion and religious cults are weaponized. Energy is weaponized. Food is weaponized. Atheism is weaponized. Scientific research is weaponized. Gay rights is weaponized. Feminism is weaponized.The news is weaponized. Entertainment is weaponized. Humanitarian aid is weaponized. The English language has become weaponized. Globalism has become weaponized. Fighting corruption has become weaponized. Anything and everything that can in anyway be used against a targeted nation for a political and/or economic purpose is systematically becoming weaponized by Washington.

  • The thing called democracy for an immature nation like Armenia can very well prove fatal. As the events of early 2008 clearly revealed to us, Armenians are not yet politically mature enough to actually be given the responsibility of electing their leadership. We have seen the destruction "democracy" has visited upon undeveloped or underdeveloped nations throughout the world. Which may be why some vulnerable nations on Washington's black list are being prescribed a very heavy dose of democracy these days. A nation like Armenia, just coming out of under a thousand years or Asiatic/Islamic/authoritarian rule simply cannot have the proper national institutions with which to flirt with a liberal democratic process. For the foreseeable future, a Russian style - top heavy - democracy or a benevolent dictator is what Armenia desperately needs.

  • Similar to the situations in nations such as Greece and Italy, corruption and lawlessness in Armenia is firmly rooted in the people's mindset and the nation's culture. Therefore, toppling the Armenian government will not solve the problem of corruption in Armenia. Governments are an accurate reflection of their constituency. When we look at the Armenian leadership, what we see is an accurate reflection of the population's character and nature. Besides which, corruption in any society cannot be eliminated, it can only be managed.

  • Diasporan Armenians need to stop treating Armenia as their personal laboratory experiment or their exotic playground. Diasporan Armenians need to realize that those among them that have gotten into trouble in the country are the ones ones that have arrogantly or foolishly bitten more than they could chew. Due to Armenia small size, its growing pains (domestic problems that are normal in much of the world) seem magnified. The appearance of severe problems in Armenia are often times simply matter of perception, sometimes a matter of exaggeration and sometimes a matter of Western propaganda.

  • In the irrational/naive/utopian pursuits of building the Armenia of their fantasies, a significant portion of Armenians today are actually damaging the Armenia of our reality. Armenia's many natural growing pains need to be addressed rationally, responsibly, objectively, constructively, with patience and, more importantly - free of Western manipulation! What Armenians need to realize is that Armenia needs political and social evolution and not a Western sponsored revolution.
The Cold War is long over. It is time to wake-up from our deep sleep and see that Washington, the political West, the Anglo-American-Zionist global order has become a source of evil around the world. There are no rational excuses today for collaborating with the political West. Due to Western military interventions around the world the global community today stands on the brink of a major global catastrophe. Any Armenian that maintains any ties with the political West is ultimately a traitor to the Armenian homeland, regardless of their intentions. Therefore, such men and women need to be placed under constant surveillance by Armenian/Russian counter-terrorism units. Moreover, Yerevan needs to either shutdown or closely monitor any organization inside Armenia that is being funded by Western countries regardless of the nature of their activities.

Armenians must finally recognize that the last thing on the minds of Western officials is nature preservation, human rights, democracy, freedom or gay rights. Armenians must learn that the political West is simply interested in pushing Russia out of the region, defeating Iran and exploiting Central Asian energy. Russia, Iran and energy exploitation is what has brought the Western world into the Caucasus. Armenians must finally understand that the political West will always side with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan due to their strategic location, size and natural wealth. Armenians must understand that in the grand political scheme of the current world we all live in, Armenia is nothing but a nuisance for the political West. Armenians urgently need to stop participating in Washington's destructive games regardless of how well intentioned they may seem.

August, 2011
(Articles amended 2018)


US spy operation that manipulates social media

The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries". Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."

He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter.

Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command. Centcom's contract requires for each controller the provision of one "virtual private server" located in the United States and others appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world.

It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability". The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard". He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth". This month Petraeus's successor, General James Mattis, told the same committee that OEV "supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities".

Centcom confirmed that the $2.76m contract was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed corporation registered in Los Angeles. It would not disclose whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts. Nobody was available for comment at Ntrepid. In his evidence to the Senate committee, Gen Mattis said: "OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." He added that Centcom was working with "our coalition partners" to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use "to counter the adversary in the cyber domain".

According to a report by the inspector general of the US defence department in Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom. Asked whether any UK military personnel had been involved in OEV, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it could find "no evidence". The MoD refused to say whether it had been involved in the development of persona management programmes, saying: "We don't comment on cyber capability."

OEV was discussed last year at a gathering of electronic warfare specialists in Washington DC, where a senior Centcom officer told delegates that its purpose was to "communicate critical messages and to counter the propaganda of our adversaries". Persona management by the US military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens of the US, where a number of people engaged in sock puppetry have faced prosecution. Last year a New York lawyer who impersonated a scholar was sentenced to jail after being convicted of "criminal impersonation" and identity theft.

It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene UK law. Legal experts say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that "a person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". However, this would apply only if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered "prejudice" as a result.

• This article was amended on 18 March 2011 to remove references to Facebook and Twitter and add a comment from Centcom, received after publication, that it is not targeting those sites.


US launches cyber spy operation

In order to undertake the massive operation in cyberspace, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has purchased software designed to create and control false online personas from California-based company Ntrepid, The Huffington Post reported on Thursday. The software would allow each user to be in command of 10 personas. Each persona is "replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.”

The users controlling the false personas would be hidden in a variety of ways, including randomizing the IP addresses they accessed the software with, traffic mixing or blending web traffic with that outside of CENTCOM. The US cyber espionage operation will enable false online personas, also known as sock puppets, to seem like real people when they monitor online discussion blogs, message boards and more. The online persona project is thought to be completely under the sway of Operation Earnest Voice, which watches over CENTCOM's Information Operations.

According to CENTCOM commander James N. Mattis, the project "seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." Meanwhile, the spyware would not be used in America, or by American owned companies or major social network services such as Facebook and Twitter, the CENTCOM said. "We do not target US audiences, and we do not conduct these activities on sites owned by US companies," CENTCOM spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said.


How the US Establishment Lies Through Its Teeth, for War Against Russia

The same people, Republicans and Democrats, who lied through their teeth for an invasion of Iraq in 2003, are doing it again for an invasion of Russia, sometime soon, so as to ‘defend’ ‘democracy’. The US has by now swallowed up virtually all lands surrounding Russia, at least in Europe, the latest being Ukraine, and is placing its missiles now on and near Russia’s borders, which is to Russians like would be to Americans if Russia had swallowed up Canada and were placing its missiles there. But the lying holier-than-thou US Establishment accuses Russia of being ‘aggressive’ when Russia holds war-games on and near its borders in order to prepare for a US-NATO invasion, which actually looks increasingly likely to them every day — and not because of ‘Russian propaganda’, but because of the US Government’s actions.

Hillary Clinton clearly hated Russians and wanted to start a war against Russia by establishing a no-fly zone in Russia’s ally Syria (which Russia defends while the US invades and occupies Syria) so as to shoot down Russia's planes there, and then, when Russia shoots down US planes in retaliation, America would have its pretext for invading Russia itself ‘so as to defend democracy against Russian aggression’ — but instead, Donald Trump became elected, and he has now turned out to be almost as much of a neoconservative as she was. This displays how extreme the grip is that the neocons, the Establishment and its many minions who dominate both of the two Parties and the press, now have.

An example of the Establishment’s holier-than-thou lies, is an article that appeared on February 22nd at the magazine, The National Interest, whose article-title is itself a marvelous deception, “Averting the US-Russia Warpath” (while the subliminal message there is: reasons why we’ll probably have to invade Russia), and whose authors are three ‘defense’ hawks, including James Northey Miller, of Harvard. He had been an Under Secretary of Defense during the Administration of the merely moderately neoconservative President Barack Obama — the President who in 2014 grabbed Ukraine, and who used Al Qaeda in Syria to lead ’the rebels’ there in order to try to grab Syria. (Ukraine had been friendly toward Russia and is now rabid against Russia; and Syria was and is allied with Russia; so, both of these two lands were American grabs, and the neocon Trump continues both.) Anyone who trusts the US Government to represent in international affairs the interests of America’s public, instead of the interests of America's billionaires, has been deceived by the Establishment’s (the billionaires' and their agents') virtually all-pervasive propaganda in America, and therefore needs a lot of re-learning about US history before understanding anything about US foreign policies. There is very good and sound reason why around the world the United States is considered, by far, to be “the biggest threat to peace” — because it is. (The Peter Kuznick book and Oliver Stone documentary Untold History of the United States, are the best cleaner-away of ‘historical’ lies about US history from 1912 to 2012 that I know of — and the seeing or reading of that, will expose to anyone the mockery of historical truth which is represented in articles such as “Averting the US-Russia Warpath.”)

This ordinary, and profoundly deceptive, article starts:

FOR NEARLY twenty years following the end of the Cold War, military confrontation between the United States and the Russian Federation seemed implausible. Even during periods of tension, as during the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s, few believed that disagreement between Washington and Moscow could lead to a serious crisis, no less war. Before the first decade of the new century had passed, however, Russian officials were accusing the United States of working to isolate Russia. Such apprehensions have mounted steadily in Russia in the years since. At the same time, Russian behavior, including interventions in Ukraine and Syria, military posturing and harassment in Europe, and interference in Western elections, has led many in the United States to conclude that, while a US-Russian conflict is by no means inevitable, the risk of such a confrontation is growing.

The “Russian officials were accusing the United States,” while there was supposedly actual “Russian behavior, including interventions in Ukraine and Syria, military posturing and harassment in Europe, and interference in Western elections,” which pretexts the Establishment is now debating with itself whether that will be sufficient to ‘justify’ an American and NATO invasion, as response. This holier-than-thou and upside-down presumption, of Russian-government guilt and American-government innocence, is reeking throughout that pompous article; but what’s even worse is that the reality is exactly the opposite of the story-line that’s portrayed in it. The actual reality is: Ever since 24 February 1990, the US and its NATO allies have been pursuing secretly a continuation of the Cold War after the termination in 1991 of the Soviet Union, and of its communism, and of its counter-NATO military alliance, the Warsaw Pact; and the US plan has been to swallow up, first the former Warsaw Pact nations, and then the former nations (such as Ukraine itself) that were inside the Soviet Union itself, and then, any other foreign allies that Russia might still have (such as Syria); and, then, finally, to invade and conquer Russia itself. And, instead of helping those countries, the US Government has been destroying them.

Neoconservative, holier-than-thou, lying is so widespread in America’s ‘news’media, there’s practically nothing else than such deceptions about Russia, that’s “Fit to Print” (or broadcast) in today’s United States, and this is true in the media of both Parties, not merely the Republican media, or the Democratic media. This neoconservative consensus — the bipartisan ceaseless warmongering — is driven by the military-industrial complex (MIC) profiteers, whose companies’ main market is the American and allied governments (so that in order to increase their sales, more and costlier weapons must be purchased by those governments). It’s the MIC-sick current style of capitalism: capitalism that’s of, by, and for, the billionaires: a fascism that’s merely called ‘democracy’. (By contrast, one area of commerce that Russia refused to privatize was its weapons-manufacturers — there aren’t any stockholders who pay politicians to increase the ‘defense’ budget: instead, the Government itself is in control over that.) America’s billionaires, and their many agents, are giving hypocrisy a bad name.

How And Why U.S. Media Do Propaganda Against Russia

How & Why U.S. Media Do Propaganda Against Russia

The owners of U.S. newsmedia know that in order to serve their fellow U.S. aristocrats who want to kick out Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin, so as to enable them to buy Russia’s natural resources (and highly educated work-forces) cheap via “privatizations,” their PR campaign for their fellow aristocrats (their major advertisers) must be led by ‘respectable’ newsmedia, such as Foreign Policy magazine, and not by blatantly right-wing, obviously trashy, ones, such as Fox News. Overtly conservative, nationalistic, ‘news’ media wouldn’t be able to sell to anyone who isn’t already on-board with privatizations of government assets as being a fundamental “free market” principle (i.e, equating fascism — the actual originator of privatizations — with constituting ‘capitalism,’ confusing the two systems as being one-and-the-same). So: not only the fascist media are anti-Putin, but media that pretend not to be are also.

Also important, however, is to black out entirely from all U.S. reporting, the U.S. Government’s now very active campaign to conquer Russia by installing next door to Russia, in its former buffer states (the Warsaw Pact nations), new NATO nations, such as Obama hopes to achieve in Ukraine by his February 2014 coup e’etat, which violently overthrew that nation’s then-neutralist democratically elected President, whom U.S. newsmedia very prominently reported was corrupt (in order to fool Americans into thinking that this was somehow a justified overthrow), while they didn’t report that all previous leaders of Ukraine had also been corrupt, so that this U.S. excuse for overthrowing Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was entirely fake — not just illegitimate, but fake. Furthermore, they didn’t report that the reason why Yanukovych had turned down the EU’s offer (which the U.S. had backed, and which turndown by him was America’s other main excuse for overthrowing him) was that it would have cost Ukraine $160 billion. In fact, U.S. newsmedia didn’t even report that the coup was a coup, even though the head of Stratfor, the private-CIA firm, has acknowledged that it was “the most blatant coup in history,” and the President of the Czech Republic has said that “only poorly informed people” don’t know that it was a coup. He said of these “poorly informed people,” that, “They believe that there was something similar, to our Velvet Revolution ... Majdan was no democratic revolution.” And, on 20 June 2015, an obscure news-release from the Ukrainian Government itself headlined “Poroshenko asking Constitutional Court to recognize law stripping Yanukovych of presidential title as unconstitutional,” and reported, as I explained two days later:

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko requests the supreme court of Ukraine to declare that his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown by an illegal operation; in other words, that the post-Yanukovych government, including Poroshenko’s own Presidency, came into power from a coup, not from something democratic, not from any authentic constitutional process at all. In a remarkable document, which is not posted at the English version of the website of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, but which is widely reported outside the United States, including Russia, Poroshenko, in Ukrainian (not in English), has petitioned the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (as it is being widely quoted in English): “I ask the court to acknowledge that the law ‘on the removal of the presidential title from Viktor Yanukovych’ as [being] unconstitutional.”

It’s also interesting that when Stratfor’s founder admitted that it was “the most blatant coup in history,” he was saying this to a Russian publication, which published it only in Russian, whereas when his employee recently referred to it, in a video for an American audience, she said (at 4:43 on the video) “the United States helped support the revolution [though it was no revolution, just a coup] that took place in Ukraine this past year.” Stratfor doesn’t want to go overboard to the extent of losing its big-bucks clients, some of which are the people that Obama’s foreign policies represent, but even this employee was so bold as to admit that the United States and not Russia is the aggressor between the two — something the U.S. media won’t allow to be said.

(She expressed puzzlement there at why the U.S. public have come to believe the demonization of Putin, but she’s not so dumb as not to know the answer to that, and she later even said it on the video, at 4:43: “The way that the American media has put it out there is that Russia is being the aggressor.” The video itself was even posted to youtube as, “Conversation: The U.S. Media’s Misleading Portrayal of Russia.” But the video portrayed the newsmedia as merely reflecting American public opinion, instead of as shaping it and being paid by their sponsors to shape it their way, which everyone at Stratfor knows is the reality. The deception is all paid-for. America’s aristocrats are running both the U.S. Government, and the way it and the world-at-large are being portrayed to the public. They control the public, both coming and going.)

America’s aggression against Russia first became overt when the U.S. aristocracy’s President, Bill Clinton (who killed FDR’s Glass Steagall Act and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AFDC program, and so was one of the best fake ‘Democrats’ until Obama came along and turned Heritage Foundation ideas into U.S. national policies), rejected Russia’s request to join NATO, and he instead invited into NATO three former members of the Warsaw Pact: Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Clinton used the cooked-up excuse against Russia that Russia was then trying to retain Chechnya, though that’s a part of Russia which serves as an essential buffer against possible invasion by Islamic tribes to the south, from Georgia, Dagestan, and Azerbaijan; and so Chechnya’s breakaway movement actually did constitute a national security threat to the rest of Russia. Chechnya was none of the United States’s business, but Clinton needed an excuse, and it served that function for him. The Toledo Blade’s Mike Sigov even headlined on 7 November 1999, “Clinton’s Appeal to Halt fighting in Chechnya Falls on Deaf Ears,” and he wrote: “‘Why does the United States keep humiliating us?’ they often ask. My friends in Russia,… periodically ask me this question. It happened when the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies denied Russia’s request to join NATO and instead admitted Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.” The U.S. aristocracy had wanted, actually, to conquer Russia; they didn’t want merely for the Cold War to end — this was now clear. They want to keep it going until Russia itself is conquered. Obama is doing the same thing at the end of his Presidency that Clinton had done at the end of his, but maybe even worse, because Obama has placed Ukraine into control by rabidly anti-Russian nazis, who are also now teaching the children.

Despite the general blockade against truth, a few American newsmedia have reported, throughout this summer, that Ukraine’s far-right leaders (such as Dmitriy Yarosh) are threatening another “Maidan,” to overthrow the present President of Ukraine, but they don’t report that those same leaders (including Yarosh himself) were instrumental in Barack Obama’s coup in February 2014: the CIA had arranged payments for Yarosh and his people, and, without this U.S. organization and financial backing (including even the establishment of a major TV station to propagandize for overthrowing Yanukovych and for mass-murdering the people who had voted for him), there would have been no coup. None of this information appears in U.S. newsmedia. The American public are widely ignorant of the reality about Ukraine. There are plenty of reports that stenographically transcribe and transmit to the American public the official ‘facts’ about Ukraine, but nothing that exposes the reality, which would be to expose the U.S. aristocracy itself (and this extends all the way from George Soros on the left, to the Koch brothers on the right: virtually the entire aristocracy are committed to defeating the public, not only at home, but abroad).

Therefore, Poroshenko is, in effect, telling Yarosh and his supporters: If you do this again, this time to me, then there will already be a decision from our highest court saying that what you did last time was illegal. And, Poroshenko had already acknowledged, just as the coup was ending, when the EU’s investigator asked him how the overthrow had occurred: We did it, the snipers who shot both the demonstrators and the police were ours; it was a set-up job so as to appear that the violence had been initiated or perpetrated by Yanukovych’s forces, which were actually performing a defensive function, not offensive at all. So: he was already privately on record as having acknowledged this. But that, too, was not published in the American press, even though the evidence for it was first posted online on 5 March 2014, just a week after the coup. Basically, it has all been kept secret from the American people, just as the coup itself has been, and just as the ethnic cleansing to get rid of Yanukovych’s voters has been.

And this has been a thoroughly bipartisan operation of the U.S. Government, not merely Democrats, and not merely Republicans. Both Parties are in the aristocrats’ pockets. (The man whom Congress applauded there was then overseeing the nazi operation.) This has not always been the case; it certainly wasn’t so when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was America’s President; but it is today. So, some typical examples of their propaganda-operation are:

Bruce Stokes headlines in Foreign Policy on 6 August 2015, “NATO’s Rot from Within,” and concludes his analysis of polling in the 9 major NATO countries by noting a lack of public support for NATO in all countries except “the Americans (56 percent) and the Canadians (53 percent) stand ready to go to the defense of a NATO partner against Russia.” His implicit viewpoint is that all NATO countries need to tool-up for a war against Russia; Russia is surrounding NATO, NATO isn’t surrounding Russia.

The mainstream The Daily Beast headlines on 14 August 2015, “Pentagon Fears It’s Not Ready for a War With Putin,” and Nancy A. Youssef opens: “The U.S. military has run the numbers on a sustained fight with Moscow, and they do not look good for the American side. A series of classified exercises over the summer has raised concerns inside the Defense Department that its forces are not prepared for a sustained military campaign against Russia, two defense officials told The Daily Beast.” Again, the underlying assumption is that Russia is the biggest national security threat to the United States, and so there need to be increases in U.S. ‘defense’ spending, to counter Russia’s ‘aggression.’

U.S. News headlined on 23 June 2015, “Top GOP Lawmaker: US Must Consider Building New Nukes,” and Paul D. Shinkman opened: “America needs to replace a rotting arsenal of nuclear weapons and counteract an increasingly boisterous Russia, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday. For these reasons, it must consider the long-taboo prospect of building new nukes.”

The U.S. already spent 55.2% of its discretionary federal spending on its military. More money than that would transform the national economy into national impoverishment, because one can’t eat, nor live in, bombs and tanks, nor in any of the other machinery of destruction. Why even watch ‘the news’ on television, or read about it in magazines or newspapers?

But there are a few honest news reports even in the U.S. major newsmedia: On 24 February 2014, just as the U.S. coup in Ukraine was ending, NBC News bannered, “U.S. Military Spending Dwarfs Rest of World,” and they showed that “The U.S. spent more on defense in 2012 than the countries with the next 10 highest budgets combined.” It was about 8 times what Russia had spent, and this amount didn’t even include the additional spending by other NATO countries, all of which have mutual-defense treaties with the U.S. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Warsaw Pact, which was to Russia what NATO was to the U.S., simply terminated; Russia has since been all alone; and it should have been brought into NATO if NATO weren’t to disband as the Warsaw Pact had done. But the U.S. didn’t do likewise; instead, it rejected Russia. Instead, to the exact contrary, the U.S. invited and brought into NATO seven of the eight former Warsaw Pact countries. That’s aggression. But the U.S. calls “aggression” anything that Russia does to protect itself. Only suckers would believe that, but there’s a sucker born every minute — no, every second! (How could the aristocracy even survive, otherwise?)

In February, President Obama issued his “National Security Strategy 2015” and it used the word “aggression” 18 times, of which 17 referred to Russia as the alleged “aggressor.” If this is merely a mental illness that Obama has, then why are the U.S. ‘news’ media in lockstep behind it? But this strategy isn’t directed only against Russia, it’s directed also against the rest of Europe, even against other NATO countries.

A 2013 Gallup poll of 65 countries that was co-sponsored by the U.S. Government and thus never fully published, reportedly found that among people worldwide, “The US was the overwhelming choice (24% of respondents) for the country that represents the greatest threat to peace in the world today. This was followed by Pakistan (8%), China (6%), North Korea, Israel and Iran (5%).” (Russia wasn’t even there, in the top 5; and nothing below the top 5 was mentioned.) And Obama hadn’t yet perpetrated his coup and ethnic cleansing in Ukraine.

But there was no report of any such poll made afterwards, none at all. Perhaps the U.S. Government didn’t want another, because they now knew that they and their press would need to do a lot more work in order to get Russia to be #1 on that list. Maybe this is what they’ve been working on. However, it’s already clear that the Nobel Committee should abolish their ‘Peace Prize,’ after their having given it to Kissinger, and then to Obama. Maybe they should replace it with a Hypocrisy Prize. Obama would certainly qualify for that. Maybe they could get him to trade in his old prize for that new one, so as to reduce their embarrassment (if they’re not just psychopaths, anyway, like Kissinger and Obama).

Moscow Details Subversive NGO Activities in Russia and Around the World

It’s no secret that the CIA and some wealthy business magnates have been funding and using Non Governmental Organizations to alter the political landscapes inside nations all around the world, whether through meddling in elections or through plotting coups. A detailed report has come out the Russian Parliament about how these NGOs attempted to meddle in recent elections in Russia.

RT reports:

A special commission report on foreign meddling in the 2018 presidential election has been unveiled in Russia’s Upper House. The document highlighted the main methods of the elaborate campaign, spearheaded by the US.

The report, presented on Wednesday in Russia’s Upper House (the Senate), was prepared by the Commission for State Sovereignty Protection in cooperation with leading experts and analysts. The publicly available document was presented by the head of the commission, Senator Andrey Klimov.

The document pinned the blame for the meddling in Russia’s election directly on Washington, linking the ongoing surge in hostile activities with the domestic political struggle in the US. Attempts to interfere in internal Russian affairs, however, are not new, as they have been going on since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The US has been the “main violator of international law” since the founding of the United Nations, and has “interfered more than 120 times in the affairs of 60 countries on all continents.” Washington’s closest allies – the UK, Germany, France, NATO, and European countries – are also to blame, since they either participate directly or support US activities, according to the document.

“We tried to show… the areas in which the subversive work took place. We’ve named 10 such areas. We have concrete examples for all of them based on absolutely reliable facts. It’s not someone’s guess, it’s not ‘highly likely,’ it’s something we can prove anywhere, it is backed up by testimonies, documents and it is, by great margin, not disputed by the other side [the US],” Klimov said at a press conference, which followed the hearings in the Upper House.

The main purpose of the commission’s report, according to Klimov, is to show the public – both Russian, and international – the scale and systematic nature of the efforts to undermine Russia’s “electoral sovereignty.” The ultimate goal of these activities is to force changes of Russia’s political course, destroy its territorial and economic integrity, he said.

Direct election meddling & stirring dissent

The West has been trying to de-legitimize each and every election in Russia, routinely dismissing them as “undemocratic.” Ahead of the 2018 presidential election, both the US and EU condemned the barring of opposition figure Aleksey Navalny from the election. Ignoring his criminal conviction that bars Navalny from running for president, a US State Department representative called it a move to “suppress independent voices.”

The EU foreign office went even further and stated that barring the politician from the election due to “an alleged past conviction” casted “serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia and the prospect of democratic elections.” Such calls for “democracy” completely disregard Russian law and constitute a blatant attempt at election interference. While one may view Navalny’s conviction as they please, it is certainly not an “alleged” but a very real one, Klimov noted.

The election meddling also included wide-scale cyberattacks on government electronic resources, primarily the Central Election Commission. All in all, roughly one-third of such attacks are conducted from US territory, according to the report.

More discreet methods include stirring dissent by intensifying the activities of foreign-based Russian-language media outlets and “independent” bloggers. The use of modern technology and communication methods apparently yielded some results, since the latest protests, while much smaller than those of 2011-13, increasingly attracted younger and even underage activists into the streets.

Generous NGO funding

NGOs operating in Russia have enjoyed a steady flow of funding from abroad, which spiked following the failure to discredit the 2012 presidential election. In 2015, for instance, politically active NGOs received 80 billion rubles (around $1.3 billion) from the US alone, the report says.

Although Russia limited the activities of foreign NGOs within the country, requiring them to openly register as ‘foreign agents,’ the flow of funds did not stop. Various ‘grey’ schemes came into use, such as providing large sums in cash or transferring funds to private individuals. In the meantime, Russia-based subsidiaries of foreign NGOs flourished – their funding in 2017 almost doubled compared to 2016.

The total amount of NGO funding greatly surpasses the upper limit for a presidential candidate’s campaign in Russia. The scale is comparable to the entire budget for holding elections in the entire country, according to the report.

Apart from directly financing “civil activists” in Russia, the US and its allies spent money on more covert activities. Ahead of the election, several unsanctioned socio-political surveys were conducted in Russia, which were sponsored by foreign government structures – including the Pentagon – the report stated.

Targeting top Russian leadership, and Putin personally

A large part of the foreign efforts to interfere in domestic affairs targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin directly. This was observed as early as 2004, but spiked ahead of the 2012 election, according to the report. Then-US Vice President Joe Biden visited Russia and met with opposition figures, and told Putin that he should not run for a new term, since “Russia was tired” of him, the report says.

A similar pattern was seen in the following years, with Putin being portrayed as the only obstacle to the growth and prosperity of the Russian economy, and the man who “deprives the people of the democratic achievements of the 1980-90s.” Apart from smear campaigns, the report said some media also tried to demonize the Russian president in the eyes of the public by exaggerating certain problems to provoke Putin into making “unacceptable mistakes.”

Proposed countermeasures

The foreign activities outlined, however, failed to yield any tangible effect on the election, proving not their ineffectiveness, but the strength and stability of Russia’s socio-political system, the report concludes.

The commission prepared a set of recommendations on countermeasures against future foreign meddling, primarily by tightening up the laws. The proposed measures include prohibiting foreign-printed election campaign handouts, banning the participation of non-Russian citizens in the campaigns in any form, and barring dual-citizenship individuals from becoming trustees of candidates.

Other recommended measures include introducing a “special relationship” format with countries that impose sanctions or meddle in Russian affairs.

The recommended measures are not limited to restrictions. The report called for other countries and international organizations to become united in jointly opposing US meddling practices. On the home front, special attention will be given to education work, aimed primarily at young people, who are deliberately targeted with foreign propaganda, Senator Lyudmila Bokova told the press conference. The classified version of the report, according to Klimov, contains additional recommendations for countering foreign meddling.
Russia isn’t the only country to recognize the ways in which Western funded NGOs meddle in the affairs of other sovereign nations. Hungary has recently begun taking up legislation to crack down on NGOs funded by George Soros and those which relocate migrants into and within Hungary, potentially altering its demographic makeup, religious traditions, social homogeneity, and political environment.


Methods and goals of anti-Russian media in Armenia

It's no secret that the Armenian media space contains pro-Western, anti-Russian mass media. There are two ways to spread anti-Russian information, and the aforementioned media are divided into two categories. The first category includes the mass media which openly, strictly and even thoughtlessly criticize all things connected with Russia. That is why they are not taken seriously even in Armenia, and their work is like a proverb – the dog’s barking is for the wind to carry. The second category of the mass media treats its mission more seriously and is very dangerous. In such media projects, criticism of Russia is added to criticism of the native government, criminal stories and the gutter press. If we exclude the gutter press aspect, the Armenian radio “Freedom” belongs to the second category.

The Armenian media – Azatutyun – is financed directly, but unofficially, by the American embassy in Armenia. And the consequences are clear. The edition works solidly, steps are highly coordinated, and information is well-thought through. Almost all the correspondents of “Freedom” go to various conferences on one and the same day and ask one and the same question. Usually the question touches on Russia’s activities or reaction to a certain problem which often has nothing in common with Armenia. It means the edition fulfills a clear plan which hasn’t been developed by it. “Freedom” floods the Armenian media space with false information to promote an atmosphere of mistrust of Russia and all its projects in the region.

After Serge Sargsyan’s statement on intention to join the Eurasian projects of Moscow, the activity of the aforementioned media had improved. Most of the anti-Russian articles and reports are absurd. For example, the authors state that a possible Armenian-Azerbaijani military conflict will be beneficial for Russia. Information on Moscow’s plans to “give away Karabakh” can be seen in publications of the mass media in the last 20 years. In January 2014 there was information that a group came from Russia and jabbed residents of Yerevan with HIV-contaminated syringes. “We don’t comment on rubbish,” the police of Armenia told Vestnik Kavkaza.

Now the radio is very concerned about the situation surrounding the status of the Armenian language and violations of the country's Language Law. Among such violations, according to Freedom radio, is the fact that a number of Russian-language international conferences are being held in Armenia. According to the law, all public events should be held with simultaneous translation into Armenian. The radio station's official website is now full of anti-Russian comments concerning this topic provided by various experts. The same is happening on air.

The radio has also paid special attention to the Rossiya Segodnya's chief executive Dmitry Kiselyov's remarks made in the Armenian parliament. Kiselyov and Armenian lawmakers who were taking part in the event, are still being stigmatized and accused of all possible and impossible transgressions. This also promotes an atmosphere of distrust and fear.

The last event, which caused an immediate reaction in the pro-Western media, was the Armenian president's visit to Georgia. It's quite clear that the massive Russian Railways' project launched in the region is unfavorable to the United States. That is why such media could not hide their delight when the president failed to reach an agreement with the Georgian authorities. According to such authors, there is now no chance that the railway connection between Georgia and Abkhazia can be resumed since Georgia agreed to join the European customs space. It seems like no comment is necessary.


Hackers trace ISIS Twitter accounts back to internet addresses linked to Britain's Department of Work and Pensions

Hackers have claimed that a number of Islamic State supporters' social media accounts are being run from internet addresses linked to the Department of Work and Pensions. A group of four young computer experts who call themselves VandaSec have unearthed evidence indicating that at least three ISIS-supporting accounts can be traced back to the DWP's London offices. Every computer and mobile phone logs onto the internet using an IP address, which is a type of identification number. The hacking collective showed Mirror Online details of the IP addresses used by a trio of separate digital jihadis to access Twitter accounts, which were then used to carry out online recruitment and propaganda campaigns. At first glance, the IP addresses seem to be based in Saudi Arabia, but upon further inspection using specialist tools they appeared to link back to the DWP.

"Don't you think that's strange?" one of the hackers asked Mirror Online. "We traced these accounts back to London, the home of the British intelligence services."

VandaSec's work has sparked wild rumours suggesting someone inside the DWP is running ISIS-supporting accounts, or they were created by intelligence services as a honeypot to trap wannabe jihadis. However, when Mirror Online traced the IP addresses obtained by VandaSec, we found they actually pointed to a series of unpublicised transactions between Britain and Saudi Arabia.

We learned that the British government sold on a large number of IP addresses to two Saudi Arabian firms. After the sale completed in October of this year, they were used by extremists to spread their message of hate. Jamie Turner, an expert from a firm called PCA Predict, discovered a record of the sale of IP addresses, and found a large number were transferred to Saudi Arabia in October of this year.

He told us it was likely the IP addresses could still be traced back to the DWP because records of the addresses had not yet been fully updated. The Cabinet Office has now admitted to selling the IP addresses on to Saudi Telecom and the Saudi-based Mobile Telecommunications Company earlier this year as part of a wider drive to get rid of a large number of the DWP's IP addresses. It said the British government can have no control over how these addresses are used after the sale.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The government owns millions of unused IP addresses which we are selling to get a good return for hardworking taxpayers. "We have sold a number of these addresses to telecoms companies both in the UK and internationally to allow their customers to connect to the internet. "We think carefully about which companies we sell addresses to, but how their customers use this internet connection is beyond our control." The government did not reveal how much money was made from selling the IP addresses to the pair of Saudi firms, because it regards this information as commercially sensitive.

Julian Assange: Facebook Is 'Appalling Spy Machine'

In an interview with Russia Today (RT), Julian Assange called Facebook the "most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented." He told RT's Laura Emmett,
Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence.
It's not new ground for the Wikileaks founder. In March, Assange told Cambridge University students that the Internet is "the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen." During the Russia Today interview, Assange explained that Facebook, Google and Yahoo all provide automated interfaces for the U.S. intelligence (starts around 2:00 in the video below). "When they add their friends to Facebook," Assange said, "they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies." Unlike The Onion's prescient fake news piece that poked fun at Facebook's success as a CIA program earlier this year, Assange says that these Web sites aren't being run by the government. Instead, the intelligence community is able to "bring to bear legal and political pressure to them."

Rebels Hijack Gadhafi's Phone Network

A Group of Expatriate Executives and Engineers Furtively Restore Telecommunications for the Libyan Opposition

A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack Col. Moammar Gadhafi's cellphone network and re-establish their own communications. The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col. Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago. That March cutoff had rebels waving flags to communicate on the battlefield. The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the opposition's main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.

While cellphones haven't given rebel fighters the military strength to decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad. To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi's eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime's control. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone network, said he hadn't heard of it.

Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Abushagur and two childhood friends working as corporate managers in Dubai and Doha started fund-raising on Feb. 17 to support the political protests that were emerging in Libya. By Feb. 23, when fighting had erupted, his team delivered the first of multiple humanitarian aid convoys to eastern Libya. But while in Libya, they found their cellphones and Thuraya satellite phones jammed or out of commission, making planning and logistics challenging. Security was also an issue. Col. Gadhafi had built his telecommunications infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli—routing all calls through the capital and giving him and his intelligence agents full control over phones and Internet.

On March 6, during a flight back to the United Arab Emirates after organizing a naval convoy to the embattled city of Misrata, Mr. Abushagur says he drew up a diagram on the back of a napkin for a plan to infiltrate Libyana, pirate the signal and carve out a network free of Tripoli's control. What followed was a race against time to solve the technical, engineering and legal challenges before the nascent rebel-led governing authority was crushed under the weight of Col. Gadhafi's better-equipped forces. After a week of victories in which the rebels swept westward from Benghazi toward Col. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the rebel advance stalled and reversed on March 17, when the United Nations approved a no-fly zone and government forces kicked off a fierce counterattack.

In a sign of deepening ties between Arab governments and the Benghazi-based administration, the U.A.E. and Qatar provided diplomatic support and helped buy the several million dollars of telecommunications equipment needed in Benghazi, according to members of the Libyan transitional authority and people familiar with the situation. Meanwhile, rebel military commanders were using flags to signal with their troops, a throw-back that proved disastrous to their attempts at holding their front lines. "We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance," said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi. "Gadhafi forced us back to the stone age."

Renewed signal jamming also meant that rebel leaders and residents in Benghazi had little warning of the government forces' offensive across east Libya and the March 19 attempted invasion of Benghazi, which sparked panicked civilian evacuations of the city. Mr. Abushagur watched the government advances with alarm. His secret cellphone operation had also run into steep problems. The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original contractors for Libyana's cellular network backbone, refused to sell equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other companies' hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to comment on its customers or work in Libya. The Libyan expats in the project asked that their corporate affiliations be kept confidential so that their political activities don't interfere with their work responsibilities.

Without Huawei, the backing from the Persian Gulf nations became essential—otherwise it is unlikely that international telecom vendors would have sold the sophisticated machinery to an unrecognized rebel government or individual businessmen, according to people familiar with the situation. "The Emirates government and [its telecommunications company] Etisalat helped us by providing the equipment we needed to operate Libyana at full capacity," said Faisal al-Safi, a Benghazi official who oversees transportation and communications issues. U.A.E. and Qatari officials didn't respond to requests for comment. Emirates Telecommunications Corp., known as Etisalat, declined to comment.

By March 21, most of the main pieces of equipment had arrived in the U.A.E. and Mr. Abushagur was ready to ship them to Benghazi with three Libyan telecom engineers, four Western engineers and a team of bodyguards. But Col. Gadhafi's forces were still threatening to overrun the rebel capital and trying to bomb its airport. Mr. Abushagur diverted the team and their equipment to an Egyptian air base on the Libyan border. Customs bureaucracy cost them a week, though Egypt's eventual approval was another show of Arab support for rebels. Egypt's governing military council couldn't be reached for comment. Once in Libya, the team paired with Libyana engineers and executives based in Benghazi. Together, they fused the new equipment into the existing cellphone network, creating an independent data and routing system free from Tripoli's command.

The team also captured the Tripoli-based database of phone numbers, giving them information necessary to patch existing Libyana customers and phone numbers into their new system—which they dubbed "Free Libyana." The last piece of the puzzle was securing a satellite feed through which the Free Libyana calls could be routed—a solution provided by Etisalat, according to Benghazi officials.

On April 2, Mr. Abushagur placed a test call on the system to his wife back in Abu Dhabi. "She's the one who told me to go for it in the first place," he said. International calling from Libya is still limited to the few individuals and officials in eastern Libya who most need it. Incoming calls have to be paid for by prepaid calling cards, except for Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. Domestic calling works throughout eastern Libya up until the Ajdabiya, the last rebel-held town in the east. An added bonus of the new network: It is free for domestic calls, at least until Free Libyana gets a billing system up and running.

Syria's Twitter spambots

As demonstrations rage on Arab streets, a different battle is happening on Twitter. In Morocco, Syria, Bahrain and Iran, pro-revolution users of the site have found themselves locked in a battle of the hashtags as Twitter accounts with a pro-government message are quickly created to counter the prevailing narrative. Deemed a revolutionary tool in many of the region's uprisings, Twitter has been used to great acclaim for disseminating news and images, often from the ground. In Egypt, where Twitter users number in the tens of thousands, tweets using the hashtag #Jan25 from Tahrir Square helped paint a picture through weeks of demonstrations. Elsewhere across the region and beyond, observers and even journalists turn to Twitter to get a handle on what's happening in the streets.

Though often a tool for good, Twitter can be used by anyone for virtually any purpose. Journalist Nick Kristof incurred the wrath of the Twitter masses after covering stories of protesters in Bahrain being attacked by police forces. During Morocco's 20 February protests, pro-monarchy tweets targeted anyone using the #Feb20 hashtag. And back in 2009, reports abounded of Twitter being used to throw off supporters of Iran's green movement.

The latest news comes from Syria, where Twitter use remains low despite – until recently – a ban on certain other social networks, including Facebook. Nevertheless, Syria's dedicated Twitter users have taken to the microblogging site to post news, images and photos of the demonstrations taking place across the country. Using the hashtags #Syria, #Daraa and #Mar15, they've managed to bring attention to a movement – and ensuing crackdowns from security forces – that hasn't seen much global media attention.

Twitter users have to contend with competing interests as protests continue elsewhere in the region, but also with a cabal of pro-regime accounts, set up recently for the sole purpose of flooding the #Syria hashtag and overwhelming the pro-revolution narrative. As the Syrian blogger Anas Qtiesh writes, "These accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian mokhabarat (intelligence) agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bite and insults." These accounts, run by individuals, harassed users but had little effect on the hashtag search. Another set of accounts, however, managed to inundate the #Syria tag. Using a Bahraini company, EGHNA, bots are sending messages – sometimes several a minute – using various Syria-related search terms. Under the heading "Success stories", the EGNHA website says:
"LovelySyria is using EGHNA Media Server to promote interesting photography about Syria using their Twitter accounts. EGHNA Media Server helped LovelySyria get attention to the beauty of Syria, and build a community of people who love the country and admire its beauty. Some of their network members started translating photo descriptions and rebroadcasting them to give the Syrian beauty more exposure. LovelySyria is using their own installation of EGHNA Ad Center to generate the Twitter messages, their current schedule is two messages every five minutes."
Other accounts, such as @SyriaBeauty, @DNNUpdates and @SyLeague, perform similar functions. Their messages are sometimes political, sometimes not, but all were created recently and all serve the purpose of diverting attention from the Syrian protests. While often annoying to users, accounts set up to tweet links across a hashtag are not in violation of Twitter's terms of use. Twitter's help centre suggests blocking users to prevent seeing their content. But without third-party software, blocking doesn't remove a user from a search. Nevertheless, although Twitter shies away from moderating content and removing users, the search functionality favours users with a complete username, profile and photograph, and users who automate their tweets can be removed from search.

After numerous complaints, that's exactly what has happened to the #Syria bots. Though they can still be viewed by their followers and those who input the URL directly, Syrian hashtag searches – vital to many hoping to gain firsthand news from the country – are no longer flooded with links to photographs and football stats. Syrians still face numerous obstacles online – from the fear of security forces infiltrating their accounts, to the red lines placed on free speech – but this one small victory means that, in the battle for narrative at least, they've won.

Soros hacked, thousands of Open Society Foundations files released online

More than 2,500 files from the raft of organizations run by billionaire George Soros have been leaked by hackers. Saturday’s leak, published by DC leaks, includes hundreds of internal documents from multiple departments of Soros’ groups, predominantly the Open Society Foundations. The files are grouped into sections such as geographical region, the World Bank and the President’s Office, and cover the period from 2008 up until 2016, according to The Daily Caller. They reveal work plans, strategies, priorities and other activities by Soros, and include reports on European elections, migration and asylum in Europe. DC Leaks claims to be the work of American activists who want to present the truth about the “US decision-making process as well as about the key elements of American political life.” US security experts however are blaming the leak on Russian hackers, according to Bloomberg, in a similar reaction seen in the wake of the DNC leaks.

READ MORE: ‘Absurd’ election rhetoric: Kremlin, Assange slam Clinton for blaming DNC leaks on Russia

The DC Leaks hackers previously released data from the Open Society Foundations in June, a breach that was reported to the FBI, according to spokeswoman Laura Silber. She said an investigation by a security firm found the intrusion was limited to an intranet system used by board members, staff and foundation partners. DC Leaks also revealed emails from former NATO general Philip Breedlove which showed he tried to provoke President Obama to start US conflict against Russia. Breedlove claimed to CNN in July that the emails were stolen as part of a state-sponsored intelligence operation. An email leaked by WikiLeaks earlier this week showed Soros had advised Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State on how to handle unrest in Albania – advice she acted on.

READ MORE: US government, Soros funded Panama Papers to attack Putin – WikiLeaks

Soros’ Open Society Foundations provides funding to the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists, which came under the spotlight earlier this year after the release of the Panama Papers, which included millions of records from law firm Mossack Fonseca showing how the wealthy are using tax havens. The Panama Papers leak came under criticism from WikiLeaks, who claimed the US government and Soros funded the project to attack Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

How British spies covertly shape the flow of information online to 'discredit' their targets

UK police officer laughing with helmet

British spies build fake websites, impersonate people, and create "persuasive" YouTube videos to disrupt their targets' activities, according to documents obtained by The Intercept. JTRIG, or the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, is part of British spy agency GCHQ, and was first revealed publicly in documents leaked by exiled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. A newly published document dating from 2011, which Business Insider has been unable to independently verify, appears to shed more light on the secretive group's activities. In one section, the document lists a number of the tactics that JTRIG staff have employed. These include:

  • Uploading YouTube videos containing “persuasive” communications (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Setting up Facebook groups, forums, blogs and Twitter accounts that encourage and monitor discussion on a topic (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Establishing online aliases/personalities who support the communications or messages in YouTube videos, Facebook groups, forums, blogs etc
  • Establishing online aliases/personalities who support other aliases
  • Sending spoof e-mails and text messages from a fake person or mimicking a real person (to discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deceive, deter, delay or disrupt)
  • Providing spoof online resources such as magazines and books that provide inaccurate information (to disrupt, delay, deceive, discredit, promote distrust, dissuade, deter or denigrate/degrade)
  • Providing online access to uncensored material (to disrupt)
  • Sending instant messages to specific individuals giving them instructions for accessing uncensored websites
  • Setting up spoof trade sites (or sellers) that may take a customer’s money and/or send customers degraded or spoof products (to deny, disrupt, degrade/denigrate, delay, deceive, discredit, dissuade or deter)
  • Interrupting (i.e., filtering, deleting, creating or modifying) communications between real customers and traders (to deny, disrupt, delay, deceive, dissuade or deter)
  • Taking over control of online websites (to deny, disrupt, discredit or delay)
  • Denial of telephone and computer service (to deny, delay or disrupt)
  • Hosting targets’ online communications/websites for collecting SIGINT (to ;disrupt, delay, deter or deny)
  • Contacting host websites asking them to remove material (to deny, disrupt, delay, dissuade or deter)

These techniques are deployed against a number of law enforcement targets, including suspects believed to be engaged in "online credit card fraud and child exploitation." It also co-operates with other domestic British law enforcement agencies, and helps "[provide] evidence for judicial outcomes" and monitoring domestic terrorist groups. The documents also go into detail about psychological research that could be used to help promote JTRIG's goals. "Theories and research in the field of social psychology may prove particularly useful for informing JTRIG's effects and online HUMINT operations," one document says, identifying topics including "conformity," "obedience," and "psychological profiling" as "particularly relevant for social influence."

In short: The documents — if accurate — demonstrate how the British spy agency uses sophisticated psychological techniques to try and shape the flow of information online to achieve its strategic goals. When reached for comment, a GCHQ spokesperson provided Business Insider with the following statement:

It is longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the UK's interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.


Pentagon spent millions studying how to influence social media

The Pentagon’s research lab has funded dozens of studies concerning the use of social media, the Guardian reported on Tuesday, raising further questions about what kind of data is of interest to governments around the globe. Just days after a report published by researchers at Facebook revealed that users of the social media site had been manipulated for science, Ben Quinn and James Ball at the Guardian wrote this week that DARPA — the Pentagon-run Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — has in one way or another funded several studies recently that set out to explore that social networking site, as well as users of Twitter, Pinterest, Kickstarter and others. The journalists’ report stems from a list of publications that went live on DARPA’s site late last month concerning its Social Media in Strategic Communications, or SMISC, program.

“The general goal of the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program is to develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base,” a statement there reads. “Through the program, DARPA seeks to develop tools to support the efforts of human operators to counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information.”

From there, visitors to the site can view any of dozens of studies from researchers at the likes of the University of Southern California, IBM or Georgia Tech Research Institute who have relied either fully or partially on Pentagon money to conduct social media studies. According to the journalists, the projects funded by the federal agency run the gamut of social media and include a number of studies sure to raise a few eyebrows. Formed in 1958, DARPA has been instrumental in the Pentagon's development of drones, robotics and even the internet.

“While some elements of the multi-million dollar project might raise a wry smile – research has included analysis of the tweets of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, in an attempt to understand influence on Twitter – others have resulted in the buildup of massive datasets of tweets and additional types social media posts,” the Guardian reported.

“The project list includes a study of how activists with the Occupy movement used Twitter as well as a range of research on tracking internet memes and some about understanding how influence behavior (liking, following, retweeting) happens on a range of popular social media platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, Kickstarter, Digg and Reddit.”

Responding to the Guardian’s request for comment, DARPA defended the lengthy list of social media studies.

“Social media is changing the way people inform themselves, share ideas, and organize themselves into interest groups, including some that aim to harm the United States,” the Guardian quotes an agency spokesperson as saying. “DARPA supports academic research that seeks to understand some of these dynamics through analyses of publicly available discussions conducted on social media platforms.”

Revelations concerning DARPA’s role in these studies comes only days after the researchers involved in the controversial Facebook report publically apologized for manipulating the posts that appeared on users’ news feeds to see how emotions can carry across the web. “The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service,” Facebook staffer and researcher Adam Kramer wrote. On the Pentagon’s part, DARPA told the Guardian that the studies it has funded are essential to US defense interests.

Source: Revealed: Pentagon spent millions studying how to influence social media

How Western media largely ignored State Dept-Google-Al Jazeera plot against Assad

The Western media has quietly ignored an unexpected collaboration between Washington, Google, and “independent” Al Jazeera aimed at helping to overthrow Syria’s Bashar Assad. Would they be as oblivious to a similar cozy “partnership” involving Russia? Last Monday, WikiLeaks lifted the lid on a correspondence between Jared Cohen, the President of ‘Google Ideas,’ and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff in the summer of 2012. In his July 25, 2012 email to top State Department’s officials, Cohen pitched his about-to-be-launched “tool” to Clinton’s inner circle, asking it to “keep close hold” of it. The leak revealing the project, which would seem to be an outrageous scandal to some, has actually been quite difficult to spot in the news. Since WikiLeaks released the latest batch of Clinton’s emails on March 21, a Google news search spits back about 30 web sources related to the story.

Of those, only two – The Independent and Daily Mail – could arguably be considered major mainstream media outlets. That means there were slim chances that the eye of an average newsreader would catch wind of the State Department’s teamwork with the US’ biggest tech giant, Google, and Arab media outlet Al Jazeera. According to what Cohen wrote, it appears that Google’s innovative visualizer worked to “publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from.”

“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition,” he said.

Google also collaborated with Al Jazeera, which took primary ownership over the tool, because of “how hard” it was to get information out of Syria. At the State Department, the idea was lauded and passed on to Clinton via her private email by deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan as “a pretty cool idea.” RT asked media expert Lionel why the revelations failed to receive much attention in the Western media.

“I don’t expect a reaction from Western media because Western media hasn’t even read this, has no idea about this,” Lionel told RT. “But can you imagine if the same set of facts were involved with the different countries, different corporations around the world depending upon your frame of reference. This would either be an outrage or ‘well, maybe this is a delightful and benign cooperation, an independent tech giant…and all for the common good of liberty’ and whatever. It depends upon your perspective.”

Another curious aspect is the fact that the WikiLeaks release directly involved Clinton’s email, which has been a hot topic tainting her presidential campaign for a year now. Clinton’s opponents as well as the US media have been taking nearly every opportunity to poke her for her “careless” misdeed – with the notable exception of this story. The three parties in this collaboration did not end up together by chance, either. Funded by the Qatari government, Al Jazeera portrays itself as “the first independent news channel in the Arab world” and “one of the world’s most influential news networks,” whose main goal is it to give “a global audience an alternative voice.” Qatar has been largely supporting the rebels in the Syrian conflict, along with Washington and other anti-Assad powers that even mulled launching a direct military intervention on Syrian soil last October. It turned out that Google’s Syrian Defector Tracking was a good fit for Al Jazeera. It even ended up winning the channel a prestigious Online Media Award for “Best technical innovation.”

“This is going to show you very fascinating aspects of the new warfare – how media, and corporations and various platforms are merging together. We are not sure who the military is, who is the government,” Lionel said. He suggested that the State Department’s reluctance to release Clinton’s emails could be explained by the intention to hide “the conflation of allegedly private industry with the government.”

“We have this new world here. We have the government and we have the Pentagon, DAPRA and defense advanced research program agency, we have private industry, we have these various platforms. We have this new introduction of mercenary groups and private contacting teams. [But] our country [the US] has had a very strict barrier, Posse Comitatus, that separates private law enforcement from military," Lionel said. "There have always been distinctions and barriers and jurisdiction alliance. In this new world, these barriers are being eliminated, dissolved.”

As Lionel says, the collaboration between Google and the US government only seems to be “innocent” if there is a bias towards “who you like… and the information that’s being propagated.” When contacted by RT, Google declined to comment on the situation, yet did not hesitate to proudly stress Al Jazeera’s achievement. “No comment, but pointing out that this data visualization project was very public, Al Jazeera won a journalism award for it,” the tech giant said in an email. Given these circumstances, it would not hurt to wonder what the Western media’s reaction might have been if the same collaboration had occurred across the ocean and involved, let’s say, the Russian government, a well-known media outlet, and a Russian internet giant.

Since its inception in 2005, RT has often been labeled as anything ranging from a “Russian propaganda machine” to a “propaganda bullhorn” by high-profile Western officials and politicians. “If RT wanted PR in American media, this is exactly the move it should make. You would never hear the end of that on American media,” Ted Rall, a political cartoonist and author, told RT. “You really don’t have a right to call anyone a propaganda if you yourself is doing the same thing.” As for Al Jazeera’s prize winning tool, it appears to be currently defunct for unspecified reasons.


Social Media and the Destabilization of Cuba: USAID’s Secret “Cuban Twitter” Intended to Stir Unrest

Reported by the Associated Press, Washington has created a “Cuban Twitter” with a view to creating social unrest. The ultimate objective of this and other initiatives is to demonize and weaken the Cuban Communist government. This program should be seen as part of Washington’s Worldwide actions to implement regime change in countries which do not abide by U.S. diktats. The social media program entitled ZunZuneo was part of a secret plan under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID):
In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government. McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.
The project was financed by USAID as part of a “democracy” building agenda. USAID is known to have routine contacts with the CIA. The U.S. Agency for International Development was essentially a front for a carefully planned intelligence operation:

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

The Cuban media reacted to the ZunZuneo twitter project by pointing to a continuous process of covert operations directed against Cuba since the 1961 Bay of Pigs failed invasion. It is worth noting that Cuba has been under a US sanctions regime since 1962. The ZunZuneo initiative is viewed by the Cuba government as part of a process of non-conventional warfare (including cyber warfare) waged against countries (e.g. Venezuela, Ukraine) which do not abide by Washington’s demands. The destabilization of Cuba has been on drawing board of the US State Department and the CIA since the 1960s. Actions directed against Cuba are undertaken through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Economic Support Fund (ESF) of the US State Department. Other organizations providing funding and operating in tandem with USAID and the NED are Freedom House, The Center for a Free Cuba, The Institute for Democracy in Cuba, the Cuban Dissidence Task Group, the International Republican Institute (IRI). Documented by Eva Golinger, USAID channels these destabilizing programs through an “Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) for Cuba with a view to engaging “in work with youths” and in the “independent initiatives of the mass media,” According to Golinger:

The OTI handles liquid funds in dollars “in very large quantities, without having to go through a lot of review or accountability at the US Congress.” There are two major points of difference between traditional warfare and irregular warfare: objectives and tactics, she pointed out. Irregular warfare is aimed at controlling the civilian population and neutralizing the State, and its main tactic is ‘counterinsurgency,’ which is the use of indirect and asymmetric techniques, such as subversion, infiltration, psychological operations, cultural penetration and military deceit.” (Voltaire Net, August 9, 2009)
According to Prensa Latina, “Zun Zuneo joins an extensive list of secret anti-Cuban operations” as well as numerous plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. The Cuban government of Raul Castro has requested the US to cease these actions:
Prensa Latina recalled a 1 January speech in which President Raúl Castro warned of “attempts to subtly introduce platforms for neoliberal thought and for the restoration of neocolonial capitalism”. “Castro’s denunciations of the US government’s destabilizing attempts against Cuba were corroborated by today’s revelation of a plan to push Cuban youth toward the counterrevolution, with the participation of a US agency,” Prensa Latina said. (Guardian, April 4, 2014)
The existence of this program was known to the Cuban authorities prior to the publication of the AP report. According to Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, in a official statement, the ZunZuneo program:
“shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba, which have as their aim the creation of situations of destabilization in our country to create changes in the public order and toward which it continues to devote multimillion-dollar budgets each year. The government of the United States must respect international law and the goals and principles of the United Nations charter and, therefore, cease its illegal and clandestine actions against Cuba, which are rejected by the Cuban people and international public opinion”
The secret Cuba twitter will be the object of debate at the US Congress in a session of the House Oversight Subcommittee.

Western Spy Agencies Manipulate Web Discussions to Promote Government Propaganda
The alternative media has documented for 5 years that the government uses disinformation and disruption (and here) on the web to discredit activists and manipulate public opinion, just like it smears traditional television and print reporters who question the government too acutely. We’ve long reported that the government censors and manipulates social media. More proof here. New Edward Snowden documents confirm that Britain’s spy agency is doing so. As Glenn Greenwald writes today:

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.


These agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself. Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.


Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends. The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats, and indeed, centrally involves law enforcement agents who investigate ordinary crimes….


It is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption. There is a strong argument to make, as Jay Leiderman demonstrated in the Guardian in the context of the Paypal 14 hacktivist persecution, that the “denial of service” tactics used by hacktivists result in (at most) trivial damage (far less than the cyber-warfare tactics favored by the US and UK) and are far more akin to the type of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

The broader point is that, far beyond hacktivists, these surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats. As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist/violent in their actions.”

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups. [Background on Sunstein here and here.] Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government.


Former Newspaper Editor Who Exposed CIA Found Dead

Dr Udo Ulfkotte, the former German newspaper editor whose bestselling book exposed how the CIA controls German media, has been found dead.

Former editor of largest newspaper in Germany revealed the CIA pays journalists in Germany, France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand to plant fake stories - and the CIA is trying to bring war to Russia

Dr Udo Ulfkotte, the former German newspaper editor whose bestselling book exposed how the CIA controls German media, has been found dead. He was 56. Ulfkotte was an editor at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the largest newspapers in Germany, when he published Bought Journalists, the bestselling book that cost him his job and perhaps his life.

German media, who were banned from reporting on his work in recent years, are reporting he died of “heart failure”. Acknowledging that his life was under threat, Ulfkotte explained that he was in a better position than most journalists to expose the truth because he didn’t have any children who could be threatened.

Speaking to the Russian newspaper Russian Insider, Ulkfotte said: “When I told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Ulfkotte’s newspaper) that I would publish the book, their lawyers sent me a letter threatening with all legal consequences if I would publish any names or secrets – but I don’t mind. You see, I don’t have children to take care of.“

His fears for a war in Europe, lead him to his decision to tell the truth about corporate media being controlled by intelligence services on behalf of the financial class.

“I’ve been a journalist for about 25 years, and I’ve been educated to lie, to betray, and not to tell the truth to the public,” Ulfkotte told Russia Today. “I was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. Why? Because I am pro-American.”

“The German and American media tries to bring war to the people in Europe, to bring war to Russia. This is a point of no return, and I am going to stand up and say… it is not right what I have done in the past, to manipulate people, to make propaganda against Russia.”

Ulfkotte said most corporate media journalists in the United States and Europe are “so-called non-official cover,” meaning that they work for an intelligence agency. “I think it is especially the case with British journalists, because they have a much closer relationship. It is especially the case with Israeli journalists. Of course with French journalists. … It is the case for Australians, [with] journalists from New Zealand, from Taiwan, well, there is many countries,” he said.

Ulfkotte’s book Bought Journalists became a bestseller in Germany but, in a bizarre twist which Ulfkotte says characterizes the disconnect caused by CIA control of the western media, the book cannot be reported on by the German press.

Ulfkotte said: “No German mainstream journalist is allowed to report about [my] book. Otherwise he or she will be sacked. So we have a bestseller now that no German journalist is allowed to write or talk about.”

Among the stories Ulfkotte says he was ordered by the CIA to plant in his newspaper was a fake story that Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi was building poison gas factories in 2011. “The German and American media tries to bring war to the people in Europe, to bring war to Russia,” he told RT.

“This is a point of no return, and I am going to stand up and say … it is not right what I have done in the past, to manipulate people, to make propaganda against Russia, and it is not right what my colleagues do, and have done in the past, because they are bribed to betray the people not only in Germany, all over Europe. … I am very fearful of a new war in Europe, and I don’t like to have this situation again, because war is never coming from itself, there is always people who push for war, and this is not only politicians, it is journalists too. … We have betrayed our readers, just to push for war. … I don’t want this anymore; I’m fed up with this propaganda. We live in a banana republic, and not in a democratic country where we have press freedom.”



Do We Live in a Police State? The latest WikiLeaks revelations tell us the answer is yes

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange would have gone down in history as the greatest enemies of government oppression of all kinds in any case, but their latest release – a comprehensive exposé of the US intelligence community’s cyberwar tools and techniques – is truly the capstone of their career. And given that this release – dubbed “Vault 7” – amounts to just one percent of the documents they intend to publish, one can only look forward to the coming days with a mixture of joyful anticipation and ominous fear.

Fear because the power of the Deep State is even more forbidding – and seemingly invincible – than anyone knew. Joyful anticipation because, for the first time, it is dawning on the most unlikely people that we are, for all intents and purposes, living in a police state. I was struck by this while watching Sean Hannity’s show last [Wednesday] night – yes, Fox is my go-to news channel – and listening to both Hannity and his guests, including the ultra-conservative Laura Ingraham, inveigh against the “Deep State.” For people like Hannity, Ingraham, and Newt Gingrich (of all people!) to be talking about the Surveillance State with fear – and outrage – in their voices says two things about our current predicament: 1) Due to the heroic efforts of Julian Assange in exposing the power and ruthlessness of the Deep State, the political landscape in this country is undergoing a major realignment, with conservatives returning to their historic role as the greatest defenders of civil liberties, and 2) American “liberalism” – which now champions the Deep State as the savior of the country – has become a toxic brew that is fundamentally totalitarian.

On the first point: yes, there are more than a few holdouts, like Bill O’Reilly and the neocons, but the latter are increasingly isolated, and the former is increasingly irrelevant. What we are seeing, as the role of the “intelligence community” in basically leading a seditious conspiracy against a sitting President is revealed, is a complete switch in the political polarities in this country: what passes for the “left” has become the biggest advocate of the Surveillance State, and the rising populist right is coming to the hard-won conclusion that we are rapidly becoming a police state.

Ah, but wait! That’s not the whole story: bear with me for a while.

The material in “Vault 7” is extensive: it ranges from examining the ways in which a Samsung television set that is seemingly turned off can be– and no doubt has been – used to spy on the conversations and activities of a room’s occupants, to the various ways in which our spooks infiltrate and subvert common electronic devices, such as the I-Phone, in order to gather information. “Infected phones,” we are told in the introduction to the material, “can be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.” The CIA is even working on remotely controlling the electronic steering systems installed in cars – a perfect route to pulling off an assassination that looks like an “accident.” Not that the intelligence services of the “leader of the Free World” would ever consider such an act.

The massive infection of commonly used software and electronic devices leads to a major problem: proliferation. As these viruses and other invasive programs are unleashed on an unsuspecting public, they fall into the hands of a variety of bad actors: foreign governments, criminals, and teenagers on a lark (not necessarily in descending order of malevolence). This plague is being spread over the Internet by a veritable army of CIA hackers: “By the end of 2016,” WikiLeaks tells us, “the CIA’s hacking division, which formally falls under the agency’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other ‘weaponized’ malware.” The inevitable end result: a world infected with so much malware that computers become almost useless – and this parlous condition is paid for by you, the American taxpayer.

This is, in effect, the cybernetic equivalent of the Iraq war – an invasion that led to such unintended consequences as the rise of ISIS, the devastation of Syria, and the empowerment of Iran. In short, a war that made us less safe.

One aspect of the Vault 7 data dump that’s drawing particular attention is the CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s “Umbrage group,” which, we are told, “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.” The idea is to mask the Agency’s cyberwar operations by attempting to hide the unique forensic attributes of its techniques. The process of attribution, WikiLeaks explains, is “analogous to finding the same distinctive knife wound on multiple separate murder victims. The unique wounding style creates suspicion that a single murderer is responsible. As soon one murder in the set is solved then the other murders also find likely attribution.”

So how does the CIA hide its “fingerprints”?

It simply draws on computer code used by its adversaries – and not only Russia – and inserts it into its own handcrafted malware and other invasive programs, thus leaving Russian (or Chinese, or North Korean) fingerprints on the handiwork of CIA hackers.

Now you’ll recall that the attribution of the DNC/Podesta email hacks was “proved” by the DNC’s hired hands on the basis of the supposedlyunique characteristics of the programs used by the supposed Russian hackers. One of these alleged Russians even left behind the name of Felix Dzerzhinsky – founder of the Soviet KGB – embedded in the code, hardly the height of subtlety. So now we learn that the CIA has perfected the art of imitating its rivals, mimicking the Russians – or whomever – in a perfect setup for a “false flag” scenario.

After months of the nonstop campaign to demonize the Russians as “subverting our democracy” and supposedly throwing the election to Donald Trump by hacking the DNC and Podesta, a new possibility begins to emerge. I say “possibility” because, despite the craziness that is fast becoming the norm, there has got to be a limit to it – or does there? No, I’m not suggesting the CIA hacked the DNC and poor hapless John Podesta. Yet others are suggesting something even more explosive.

In an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News television program, retired Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a former senior intelligence officer, told the audience that he had heard from his intelligence contacts that retired NSA officials were responsible for hacking the DNC and Podesta, and then releasing the materials to WikiLeaks His co-guest, William Binney, a former NSA insider who was among the first to expose the extent of that agency’s surveillance of American citizens, agreed. This is nothing new: Judge Andrew Napolitano said the same thing months ago. The alleged motivation was animus toward Mrs. Clinton.

Although “the Russians did it” is now the accepted conventional wisdom, which hardly anyone bothers to question anymore, the level of evidence proffered to support this conclusion has been laughably inadequate. And you’ll note that, although the CIA and the FBI, along with other intelligence agencies, advanced this hypothesis with “high confidence,” the NSA demurred, awarding it with only “moderate” confidence.

And one more thing: I found it extremely odd that, when the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s email was discovered, party officials refused to let the FBI and other law enforcement agencies examine either their server or Podesta’s devices. Instead, they gave it over to CrowdStrike, a private firm that regularly does business with the DNC. CrowdStrike then came out with the now-accepted analysis that it was a Russian job. Could it be that the “explanation” for the hacking was determined in advance? I don’t know the answer to that question. Nor do I necessarily buy Col. Shaffer’s thesis. What I’m saying is that it’s entirely possible – indeed, it is just as likely, given what we know now, as pinning the blame Vladimir Putin.



This is everything Edward Snowden revealed in one year of unprecedented top-secret leaks

nsa computer spying

In June 2013, The Guardian reported the first leak based on top-secret documents that then 29-year-old Edward Snowden stole from the National Security Agency. At the time, Snowden worked as an intelligence contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. That leak would certainly not be the last. In the years since, journalists have released more than 7,000 top-secret documents that Snowden entrusted them with, which some believe is less than 1% of the entire archive. Now, with the film "Snowden" premiering Friday, it's worth taking a look back at what secrets Snowden actually revealed. We've compiled every single leak that came out in the first year of the Snowden saga, though there were many more that came later. Snowden downloaded up to 1.5 million files, according to national intelligence officials, before jetting from Hawaii to Hong Kong to meet with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. After he handed off his treasure trove of documents, he flew from Hong Kong and later became stranded in Moscow. His future was far from certain, as the journalists he trusted started revealing his secrets. Here is everything that Snowden's leaks revealed between 2013 and 2014:

• With a top-secret court order, the NSA collected the telephone records from millions of Verizon customers. — June 6, 2013

• The NSA accessed and collected data through back doors into US internet companies such as Google and Facebook with a program called Prism. — June 7, 2013

• An 18-page presidential memo shows Obama ordering intelligence officials to draw up a list of overseas targets for cyberattacks. — June 7, 2013

• Documents reveal the NSA's Boundless Informant program, which gives the agency near real-time ability to understand how much intelligence coverage there is on certain areas through use of a "heat map." — June 8, 2013

• The NSA was hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China, few of which were military systems. — June 13, 2013

• Britain's GCHQ (its intelligence agency) intercepted phone and internet communications of foreign politicians attending two G-20 meetings in London in 2009. — June 16, 2013

• Top-secret procedures show steps the NSA must take to target and collect data from "non-US persons" and how it must minimize data collected on US citizens. — June 20, 2013

• Britain's GCHQ taps fiber-optic cables to collect and store global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories, and calls, and then shares the data with the NSA. — June 21, 2013

• The NSA has a program codenamed EvilOlive that collects and stores large quantities of Americans' internet metadata, which contains only certain information about online content. Email metadata, for example, reveals the sender and recipient addresses and time but not content or subject. — June 27, 2013

• Until 2011, the Obama administration permitted the NSA's continued collection of vast amounts of Americans' email and internet metadata under a Bush-era program called Stellar Wind. — June 27, 2013

• The US government bugged the offices of the European Union in New York, Washington, and Brussels. — June 29, 2013

• The US government spies on at least 38 foreign embassies and missions, using a variety of electronic surveillance methods. — June 30, 2013

• The NSA spies on millions of phone calls, emails, and text messages of ordinary German citizens. — June 30, 2013

• Using a program called Fairview, the NSA intercepts internet and phone-call data of Brazilian citizens. — July 6, 2013

• Monitoring stations set up in Australia and New Zealand help feed data back to NSA's XKeyscore program. — July 6, 2013

• The NSA conducts surveillance on citizens in a number of Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and others. The agency also sought information on oil, energy, and trade. — July 9, 2013

• The Washington Post publishes a new slide detailing NSA's "Upstream" program of collecting communications from tech companies through fiber-optic cables to then feed into its Prism database. — July 10, 2013

• Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, BND, helps contribute data to the NSA's XKeyscore program. — July 20, 2013

• NSA analysts, using the XKeyscore program, can search through enormous databases of emails, online chats, and browsing histories of targets. — July 31, 2013

• The US government paid Britain's GCHQ roughly $155 million over three years to gain access and influence over its spying programs. — August 1, 2013

• Seven of the world's leading telecommunications companies provide GCHQ with secret, unlimited access to their network of undersea cables. — August 2, 2013

• The NSA provided surveillance to US diplomats in order to give them the upper hand in negotiations at the UN Summit of the Americas. — August 2, 2013

• The NSA sifts through vast amounts of Americans' email and text communications going in and out of the country. — August 8, 2013

• Internal NSA document reveals an agency "loophole" that allows a secret backdoor for the agency to search its databases for US citizens' emails and phone calls without a warrant. — August 9, 2013

• NSA collection on Japan is reportedly maintained at the same priority as France and Germany. — August 12, 2013

• The NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, according to an internal audit. — August 15, 2013

• NSA analysts revealed to have sometimes spied on love interests, with the practice common enough to have coined the term LOVEINT, or love intercepts. (It was unclear whether this report came from Snowden docs.) — August 23, 2013

• Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept emails, phone calls, and web traffic, The Independent reports, citing Snowden documents. Snowden denies giving The Independent any documents, alleging the UK government leaked them in an attempt to discredit him. — August 23, 2013

• The top-secret US intelligence "black budget" is revealed for 2013, with 16 spy agencies having a budget of $52.6 billion. — August 29, 2013

• Expanding upon data gleaned from the "black budget," the NSA is found to be paying hundreds of millions of dollars each year to US companies for access to their networks. — August 29, 2013

• The US carried out 231 offensive cyberattacks in 2011. — August 30, 2013

• The NSA hacked into Qatar-based media network Al Jazeera's internal communications system. — August 31, 2013

• The NSA spied on former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (then a candidate). — September 1, 2013

• Using a "man in the middle" attack, NSA spied on Google, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras. — September 2, 2013

• A US intelligence "black budget" reveals Al Qaeda's effort to jam, hack, and/or shoot down US surveillance drones. — September 3, 2013

• A joint investigation by ProPublica, The New York Times, and The Guardian finds the NSA is winning its war against internet encryption with supercomputers, technical know-how, and court orders. — September 5, 2013

• The NSA has the ability to access user data for most major smartphones on the market, including Apple iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Google Android phones. — September 7, 2013

• The NSA shares raw intelligence data (with information about American citizens) to Israel with an information-sharing agreement. — September 11, 2013

• The NSA monitors banks and credit institutions for a comprehensive database that can track the global flow of money. — September 16, 2013

• Britain's GCHQ launched a cyberattack against Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecommunications company. — September 20, 2013

• The NSA spies on Indian diplomats and other officials in an effort to gain insight into the country's nuclear and space programs. — September 23, 2013

• The NSA's internal "wiki" website characterizes political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of "propaganda campaigns" from America's "adversaries." — September 25, 2013

• Since 2010, the NSA has used metadata augmented with other data from public, commercial, and other sources to create sophisticated graphs that map Americans' social connections. — September 28, 2013

• The NSA stores a massive amount of internet metadata from internet users, regardless of whether they are being targeted, for up to one year in a database called Marina. — September 30, 2013

• The NSA and GCHQ worked together to compromise the anonymous web-browsing Tor network. — October 4, 2013

• Canada's signals intelligence agency, CSEC, spied on phone and computer networks of Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy and shared the information with the "Five Eyes" intelligence services of the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. — October 7, 2013

• The NSA collected more than 250 million email contact lists from services such as Yahoo and Gmail. — October 14, 2013

• NSA surveillance was revealed to play a key role in targeting for overseas drone strikes. — October 16, 2013

• The NSA spied on French citizens, companies, and diplomats, and monitored communications at France's embassy in Washington and its UN office in New York. — October 21, 2013

• The NSA tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. — October 23, 2013

• The NSA spied on Italian citizens, companies, and government officials. — October 24, 2013

• The NSA monitored the phone calls of 35 world leaders and encouraged other government agencies to share their "Rolodexes" of foreign politicians so it could monitor them. — October 25, 2013

• The NSA spied on Spanish leaders and citizens. — October 25, 2013

• The NSA stations surveillance teams at 80 locations around the world. — October 27, 2013

• A joint program between the NSA and Britain's GCHQ called Muscular infiltrates and copies data flowing out of Yahoo and Google's overseas data centers. One slide boasted of "SSL added and removed here!" with a smiley face. — October 30, 2013

• The NSA spied on the Vatican. (The Panorama website did not cite Snowden as the source.) — October 30, 2013
One slide boasted of "SSL added and removed here!" with a smiley face.

• Australia's intelligence service has surveillance teams stationed in Australian embassies around Asia and the Pacific. — October 31, 2013

• One document reveals tech companies play a key role in NSA intelligence reports and data collection. — November 1, 2013

• Britain's GCHQ and other European spy agencies work together to conduct mass surveillance. — November 1, 2013

• Strategic missions of the NSA are revealed, which include combatting terrorism and nuclear proliferation, as well as pursuing US diplomatic and economic advantage. — November 2, 2013

• Australia's Defense Signals Directorate and the NSA worked together to spy on Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in 2007. — November 2, 2013

• The NSA spied on OPEC. — November 11, 2013

• GCHQ monitored the booking systems of 350 high-end hotels with a program called Royal Concierge, which sniffed for booking confirmations sent to diplomatic email addresses that would be flagged for further surveillance. — November 17, 2013

• Australia's DSD spied on the cellphones of top Indonesian officials, including the president, first lady, and several cabinet ministers. — November 18, 2013

• The NSA spied on millions of cellphone calls in Norway in one 30-day period. — November 19, 2013

• The British government struck a secret deal with the NSA to share phone, internet, and email records of UK citizens. — November 20, 2013

• A NSA strategy document reveals the agency's goal to acquire data from "anyone, anytime, anywhere" and expand its already broad legal powers. — November 22, 2013

• The NSA infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malware designed to steal sensitive information. — November 23, 2013

• The NSA gathers evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a plan to discredit Muslim jihadists. — November 26, 2013

• Working with Canadian intelligence, the NSA spied on foreign diplomats at the G-8 and G-20 summits in Toronto in 2010. — November 28, 2013

• The Netherlands' intelligence service gathers data on web-forum users and shares it with the NSA. — November 30, 2013

• A draft document reveals Australia offered to share information collected on ordinary Australian citizens with the NSA and other "Five Eyes" partners. — December 1, 2013

• The NSA siphons billions of foreign cellphone location records into its database. — December 4, 2013

• Widespread spying is revealed in Italy, with the NSA spying on ordinary Italians as well as diplomats and political leaders. — December 5, 2013

• Swedish intelligence was revealed to be spying on Russian leaders, then passing it on to the NSA. — December 5, 2013

• A document reveals the extent of the relationship between NSA and Canadian counterparts, which includes information-sharing and Canada allowing NSA analysts access to covert sites it sets up. — December 9, 2013

• Intelligence operatives with NSA and GCHQ infiltrate online video games such as "World of Warcraft" in an effort to catch and stop terrorist plots. — December 9, 2013

• Piggybacking on online "cookies" acquired by Google that advertisers use to track consumer preferences, the NSA is able to locate new targets for hacking. — December 10, 2013

• The NSA has the ability to decrypt the common A5/1 cellphone encryption cipher. — December 13, 2013

• The NSA secretly paid the computer security firm RSA $10 million to implement a "back door" into its encryption. — December 20, 2013

• A document reveals how Britain's GCHQ spied on Germany, Israel, the European Union, and several nongovernmental organizations. — December 20, 2013

• With a $79.7 million research program, the NSA is working on a quantum computer that would be able to crack most types of encryption. — January 2, 2014

• Using radio transmitters on tiny circuit boards or USB drives, the NSA can gain access to computers not connected to the internet. — January 14, 2014

• The NSA scoops "pretty much everything it can" in untargeted collection of foreign text messages for its Dishfire database. — January 16, 2014

• The NSA scoops up personal data mined from smartphone apps such as Angry Birds. — January 27, 2014

• A GCHQ program called Squeaky Dolphin monitors YouTube, Facebook, and Blogger for "broad real-time monitoring of online activity." — January 27, 2014
The NSA scoops "pretty much everything it can" in untargeted collection of foreign text messages.

• The NSA spied on negotiators during the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. — January 29, 2014

• CSEC, Canada's national cryptologic agency, tested a pilot program with the NSA that captured metadata from users who had logged into free airport Wi-Fi. — January 30, 2014

• Britain's GCHQ waged war on hacker groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec, mounting Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks and infiltrating their chat rooms. — February 5, 2014

• The NSA reportedly monitored former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the run-up to the Iraq war. — February 5, 2014

• Britain's GCHQ used "dirty tricks" such as computer viruses and sexual "honey traps" to target adversaries. — February 7, 2014

• The US's "targeted killing" program of drone strikes relies mostly on cellphone metadata and geolocation, rather than on-the-ground human intelligence. — February 10, 2014

• An American law firm was monitored by the Australian Signals Directorate while representing the government of Indonesia during a trade dispute. — February 15, 2014

• The NSA and Britain's GCHQ reportedly monitored traffic to the WikiLeaks website and considered a move to monitor communications going to or from WikiLeaks and the Pirate Bay. — February 18, 2014

• Britain's GCHQ conducts covert operations to disrupt and shape online discourse. — February 24, 2014

• Britain's GCHQ, using a program called Optic Nerve, intercepted and stored webcam images from millions of Yahoo users, then passed them on to the NSA's XKeyscore database. — February 28, 2014

• The NSA shared intelligence that helped the Dutch navy capture a ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia, and the Netherlands regularly shares information with the NSA regarding Somalia and Afghanistan. — March 5, 2014

• The NSA has an advice columnist similar to "Dear Abby" who writes an "Ask Zelda" column distributed on the agency's internal network. — March 7, 2014

• NSA developed sophisticated malware "implants" to infect millions of computers worldwide. In one example, the NSA posed as a fake Facebook server to infect a target's computer and steal files. — March 12, 2014

• Document reveals that, while many foreign governments share information with NSA, few senior officials outside of the intelligence or defense sphere have any knowledge of it. — March 13, 2014

• The NSA built a system capable of recording "100%" of a foreign country's phone calls with a voice intercept program called Mystic. The Washington Post did not name the countries where the program was used. — March 18, 2014

• The NSA specifically targets foreign systems administrators to gain access to their networks. — March 20, 2014

• The NSA closely monitored the Chinese technology firm Huawei in attempt to reveal ties between the company and the Chinese military. The agency also spied on Chinese banks and other companies, as well as former President Hu Jintao. — March 22, 2014

• Malaysia's political leadership is a high-priority intelligence target for the US and Australia — March 30, 2014

• NSA and Britain's GCHQ discussed various methods of deception, use of propaganda, mass messaging, and pushing stories on social media sites — April 4, 2014

• The Norwegian Intelligence Service is developing a supercomputer, called Steel Winter, to decrypt and analyze data from Afghanistan, Russia, and elsewhere. — April 26, 2013

• Britain's GCHQ asked the NSA for "unsupervised access" to the NSA's vast databases. It was unclear whether the request was granted. — April 30, 2014

• The NSA physically intercepts routers, servers, and other computer networking equipment before it's exported outside the US, implants "back door" surveillance tools, then repackages them with a factory seal and ships them out. — May 12, 2014

• The NSA is intercepting, recording, and archiving virtually every cellphone call in the Bahamas and one other country, which The Intercept redacted. It also reveals metadata collection on Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines. — May 19, 2014

• After giving journalist Glenn Greenwald a 72-hour warning to reveal the nation redacted from his previous report on mass surveillance of an entire country, WikLeaks reveals the country in question is Afghanistan. — May 23, 2014

• The NSA harvests millions of faces from web images for use in a previously undisclosed facial recognition database. — May 31, 2014

New study: Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying had a scary effect on free speech

In June 2013, reporters at The Washington Post and the Guardian ran a series of stories about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency was harvesting huge swaths of online traffic — far beyond what had been disclosed — and was working directly with top Internet companies to spy on certain people. Glenn Greenwald, one of the Guardian journalists who reported the disclosures and a surveillance skeptic, argued in a 2014 TED talk that privacy is a critical feature of open society. People act differently when they know they're being watched. “Essential to what it means to be a free and fulfilled human being is to have a place that we can go and be free of the judgmental eyes of other people,” he said.

Privacy advocates have argued that widespread government surveillance has had a “chilling effect” — it encourages meekness and conformity. If we think that authorities are watching our online actions, we might stop visiting certain websites or not say certain things just to avoid seeming suspicious. The problem, though, is that it's difficult to judge the effect of government-spying programs. How do you collect all the utterances that people stopped themselves from saying? How do you count all the conversations that weren’t had?
A new study provides some insight into the repercussions of the Snowden revelations, arguing that they happened so swiftly and were so high-profile that they triggered a measurable shift in the way people used the Internet. Jonathon Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after the NSA’s spying became big news in 2013. Penney found a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned “al-Qaeda,” “car bomb” or “Taliban.”

"You want to have informed citizens," Penney said. "If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate."

Even though the NSA was supposed to target only foreigners, the immense scale of its operations caused many to worry that innocent Americans were getting caught in the dragnet. A Pew survey in 2015 showed that about 40 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the government was spying on their online activities. The same survey showed that about 87 percent of American adults were aware of the Snowden news stories. Of those people, about a third said they had changed their Internet or phone habits as a result. For instance, 13 percent said they “avoided using certain terms” online; and 14 percent said they were having more conversations face to face instead of over the phone. The sudden, new knowledge about the surveillance programs had increased their concerns about their privacy.

Penney’s research, which is forthcoming in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, echoes the results of a similar study conducted last year on Google Search data. Alex Marthews, a privacy activist, and Catherine Tucker, a professor at MIT’s business school, found that Google activity for certain keywords fell after the Snowden stories were splashed on every front page. Both in the United States and in other countries, people became reluctant to search for terrorism-related words such as “dirty bomb” or “pandemic.”

Penney focused on Wikipedia pages related to sensitive topics specifically flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. In a document provided to its analysts in 2011, the DHS listed 48 terrorism terms that they should use when “monitoring social media sites.” Penney collected traffic data on the English Wikipedia pages most closely related to those terms. This chart from the paper shows how the number of views dropped after the June 2013 news articles. The amount of traffic immediately dropped and stayed low for the subsequent 14 months.



 Facespook! Social media giant becomes arm of US intel

Facespook! Social media giant becomes arm of US intel

Facebook, the world’s top social media platform, is reportedly seeking to hire hundreds of employees with US national security clearance licenses. Purportedly with the aim of weeding out “fake news” and “foreign meddling” in elections. If that plan, reported by Bloomberg, sounds sinister, that’s because it is. For what it means is that people who share the same worldview as US intelligence agencies, the agencies who formulate classified information, will have a direct bearing on what millions of consumers on Facebook are permitted to access. It’s as close to outright US government censorship on the internet as one can dare to imagine, and this on a nominally independent global communication network. Your fun-loving place “where friends meet.”

Welcome to Facespook!

As Bloomberg reports: “Workers with such [national security] clearances can access information classified by the US government. Facebook plans to use these people – and their ability to receive government information about potential threats – in the company’s attempt to search more proactively for questionable social media campaigns ahead of elections.” A Facebook spokesman declined to comment, but the report sounds credible, especially given the context of anti-Russia hysteria. Over the past year, since the election of Donald Trump as US president, the political discourse has been dominated by “Russia-gate” – the notion that somehow Kremlin-controlled hackers and news media meddled in the election. The media angst in the US is comparable to the Red Scare paranoia of the 1950s during the Cold War.

Facebook and other US internet companies have been hauled in front of Congressional committees to declare what they know about alleged “Russian influence campaigns.” Chief executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are due to be questioned again next month by the same panels. Mark Zuckerberg, the 33-year-old CEO of Facebook, initially rebuffed claims his company had unwittingly assisted Russian interference in the last US in November. But after months of non-stop allegations by politicians and prominent news media outlets vilifying Russia, Zuckerberg and the other social media giants are buckling. Led, perhaps unwittingly, by US intelligence fingering of Russian meddling, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are now saying they have discovered postings and advertisements “linked to the Russian government.” Notably, the sources impugning the “offending ads” are the intelligence agencies and members of Congress who are hawkish on the Russia-gate narrative.

One glaring weakness in this narrative is that the alleged “Russian ads” involved a spend of $100,000 on Facebook. Twitter identified $274,000 worth of “Russian-linked ads.” Some of the information being promoted appears to be entirely innocuous, such as pet-lovers sharing cute photos of puppies. It is far from clear how these ads are connected to Russian state agencies allegedly attempting to subvert the US elections. Moscow has dismissed the allegations. Much of it is assumed and taken on face value from claims made by American intelligence and their political and media associates. But what is clear – albeit overlooked in much US media coverage – is the sheer implausibility that the Russian government intended to warp the US presidential election with a few hundred thousand dollars. Facebook alone earns billions of dollars from advertising. The alleged Russian ads represent a drop in the bucket. The expenditure and presumed impact on public opinion is also negligible compared to the billions of dollars American corporations donated to the election campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook are among the top 50 biggest US corporate donors in lobbying the Federal government and Congress. Last year, the top 50 corporations reportedly spent over $700 million, of which Alphabet and Facebook contributed $15 million and $8.7 million, respectively. This expenditure is explicitly intended to influence policy and legislation. So, what’s that about Russia allegedly swaying the presidential election with a fraction of the financial muscle? Despite the irrational focus on Russian meddling, internet companies like Facebook have become willing participants in the official efforts to clamp down on this illusory “enemy of democracy.” What’s more is the complete oversight on how the US media environment is increasingly dominated and controlled by vested powerful corporate interests.

While the mainstream media and politicians fret over alleged Russian influence on American citizens, there is an absurd absence in the public debate about the disproportionate power of just six US media conglomerates dominating all major American news services. Social media and internet companies are vying with the traditional news channels. In a recent article, New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote about the “Frightful Five” – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet (Google). He writes: “The Five elicit worries of total social control.” The influence these US-owned media giants exert cuts across all cultural sectors, from the news received, to books, film and other entertainment. In effect, these companies are molding citizens into the consumers that they want to maximize their profits.

Facebook’s reported plans to employ US government-validated people who can use their intelligence contacts and prejudices to control what millions of ordinary people will read, watch or listen to is another manifestation of the larger drift into a corporate matrix. Under the preposterous guise of “protecting” from “fake news” and “foreign meddling in elections,” Facebook is turning into a government censor. This disturbing trend has accelerated over the last year. Far from Russia or some other foreign impostor tampering with freedom of information and free speech – supposed bedrocks of democracy – it is increasingly American companies that are the very real and formidable constraint. Robert Bridge, a fellow Op-Edge contributor, said Facebook appears to be deliberately blocking links disseminating particular news stories carried by the channel. Bridge concurs with the experience of many other ordinary people around the world who also have noticed how US internet companies have substantially curbed the search freedom previously enjoyed on the internet.

“It's really incredible how Google and YouTube have earnestly started manipulating their algorithms and censoring news, ” says Bridge. “I was researching a story recently, and it was so difficult to pull up any relevant information that was not critical of Putin or Russia.”

A similar finding was reported by the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), which carried out a study on how search traffic to that site and other left-wing, anti-war online journals has plummeted by over 50 percent since Google announced new search engines to curtail “fake news” back in April. Facebook and the other big US internet companies are instead directing users to what they call “authoritative” news organizations, which by and large are corporate-controlled entities aligned with government interests. Ironically, these news outlets have peddled some of the biggest fake news stories, such as the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which launched a decade-long US war killing over a million Iraqis. “Russia-gate” is another fabricated narrative which is being used to crush critical alternative sources. The infernal paradox is that genuinely alternative, critical news sources are now at risk of being censored by internet companies working in league with nefarious US government intelligence.


Nonstop media lies in drive to war against Syria

Popular opposition to the Obama administration’s drive to war against Syria is mounting, with a recent Pew Research poll showing only 29 percent of Americans favoring air strikes “in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.” This figure would be even smaller if the government’s unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons use by the Bashar al-Assad regime were not taken as the starting point.
The outrage felt by millions in the US and internationally over the prospect of dragging the American people into another war of aggression has been met by a mounting drumbeat for war by the Obama administration, accompanied by a non-stop media barrage of pro-war propaganda and lies.
Nowhere is this propaganda more crude than on US network and cable television. For the talking heads, former government officials, retired military officers and other hacks who populate these TV newsrooms, no lie is too big, whether told with a straight face or a smirk. Not since the Nazis has a war propaganda machine been ramped up to such heights of intensity and depths of dishonesty.
Having spent much of the previous week flicking through the news channels, this reporter can relay to the reader only a fraction of the misinformation that is presented as “fact” on US television. If one over-arching characteristic of this coverage is to be singled out, it is the degree to which the media uncritically accepts the government lies used to fan the flames of war—lies that the media personalities dutifully seek to shove down the throats of an increasingly distrustful public.
Chief among these lies is the Obama administration’s unsubstantiated claim that the Assad regime has “gassed its own people,” accompanied by footage of dead children, which, we are at times reminded, “cannot be independently verified.” Reports that the US-backed “rebel” forces may be responsible are dismissed out of hand. TV correspondents, who pass over in silence US war crimes and the mass repression carried out by Washington’s Middle East allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt) join in with the government’s professed moral outrage over the alleged atrocities committed by the “enemy.”
Last Tuesday afternoon (September 3), CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour attacked Bashar Jaafari, Syrian United Nations ambassador, during an interview. “Nobody believes what your regime has said over the last two-and-a-half years,” she declared, “because everything has been swatted away by the facts. You’ve simply escalated the war using conventional and now unconventional weapons.”
She continued her rant: “How do you sleep at night, Mr. Jaafari, defending a government that is responsible for so much bloodshed, and has really crossed the line from any kind of civil war into weapons of mass destruction? The greatest crime under international law?”
The media trundles out various military “experts” with advice on the best weapons and strategies to be employed in the US government’s military pursuits. Later in the afternoon last Tuesday, CNN reporter Tom Foreman joined Lt. Col. Rick Francona atop a giant map of Syria to discuss options for an effective “limited” military action against Syria.

Foreman: This notion of Senator [John] McCain’s that attacking the air assets of Syria could really make a difference.
Francona: Although they have 20 airfields, these six air bases constitute the bulk of the combat power of the Syrian air force. You want to go after things that would make a difference. You want to go after the fuel supplies and the fueling points. You also want to hit their maintenance points; limit their ability to generate sorties. You also want to go after any command control resident on the base. And of course, if you can, take out their runways.
Foreman: This sort of attack would allow the White House to say, yes, it punished the chemical weapons capability in a limited way. It would allow opponents of it to say at least it was a limited attack on truly military targets. And it would allow people like John McCain to say, yes, it was a diminishing of the basic capacity of the Assad government. (Addressing anchor Wolf Blitzer), Whether it will overcome the public’s doubts, Wolf, we’ll have to see.
One of the more despicable media practices is to exploit the conditions of the Syrian refugees to boost the war drive. The devastation of Syria, which is forcing thousands of people to flee the country on a daily basis, is the responsibility of the imperialist powers that have plunged the country into sectarian warfare. But the media obscenely twists this reality to obtain isolated sound bites from desperate refugees calling for a US intervention that would rain bombs on Syria and increase the misery of the civilian population.
On Tuesday evening’s “NBC Nightly News,” NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reported from Turkey, not far from the CIA station that coordinates the flow of billions of dollars in money and arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fuel the slaughter across the Syrian border. Engel interviewed a 17-year-old girl, a refugee from Syria who hadn’t been to school in a year. “We are waiting for help from the United States,” she said, “from any country.”
Engel then spoke with refugee Abdullah Hamadi, a cotton farmer who is now homeless. “We want America to attack,” Abdullah said. “Today, not tomorrow.” He spoke of his three-year-old daughter, suffering from dysentery. “Nobody is helping. We have no hope left, but for America.” Engel ended his segment, telling NBC Anchor Brian Williams: “These people are putting so much hope in the United States, not because it is the country that can help, but they see Russia against them, the Syrian government bombing them and Europe and the Arab world just talking.”
The taking heads also interview the war criminals of present and past administrations, seeking their insight into diplomatic and military policy and promoting their books and other endeavors. These individuals are presented as reasonable and legitimate sources of the truth, as TV anchors engage in repartee over the plusses and minuses of military engagement. On Thursday morning’s “Today Show” on NBC, co-host Savannah Guthrie interviewed Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary in both the George W. Bush and Gerald Ford administrations, and one of the chief architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guthrie: You had some tough words for President Obama at an event yesterday. You said this plan for sort of a shot across the bow, limited strikes, would be ineffective and an embarrassment for the United States. My question to you is, would it be better to do something limited or do nothing at all?
Rumsfeld: Well, it seems to me that’s a false choice. I think either you do something that’s worth doing or you do nothing at all. The danger of doing something that’s not worth anything, that results in nothing, that leaves Assad standing, it seems to me, is that it makes the United States look like that’s what we prefer…
Guthrie: Do you think it was a mistake for the president to consult Congress? Do you think it gave Assad the gift of time?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I think that if he gets support of Congress that’s probably a useful thing. On the other hand, he did not need to go to Congress. President after president has recognized that the authorities they have as commander-in-chief enable them to use force, within reason, and then at some point go to the Congress. More often than not, the various television presenters do not even make a pretense of being objective, and cannot restrain themselves from expressing their ignorant, anti-democratic views. The following exchange took place last Wednesday morning between CNN’s Carol Costello and Rep. Matt Salmon, Republican of Arizona, who is planning to vote against authorization for a Syrian strike.

Costello: The president said there’s no immediate threat to the United States, but if you let people like Assad get away with this kind of thing, in the future what’s to stop Assad and other dictators who have chemical weapons from unleashing them on the United States? What could convince you to open your mind to the thought of a military strike against Syria?
Salmon: It’s going to be very difficult to convince me that this is one that the United States should be involved in.
Costello: What if the president goes ahead with a military strike no matter what Congress does… Sometimes we have to disregard public opinion and do what’s right for the country.
Another role of the television news personalities is to advise Obama on the best way to sell the war against Syria to the American people. Several days ago, the call went out from various news sources for the president to “take it to the American people” in a prime time television address. On Friday morning’s “Today Show,” co-anchor Willie Geist spoke with David Gregory, moderator of the “Meet the Press” Sunday talk show. Geist asked, “How can [Obama] change the opinions of Americans? Does he have to do an Oval Office address, as some have reported he might consider?”
Gregory responded, “Yes, and Secretary of State John Kerry has said that he will address the American people in a few days. So I think the White House has had to shift their strategy here. Nothing to announce officially, but clearly they’ve got to make the case. The president has been told internally by advisers and by outside advisers that he’s got to take the public to school a little bit here—explain what’s at stake in Syria and make a broader case.
“Initially, they wanted to do this quickly. They wanted to not make as big of a deal out of this. They didn’t want to raise the specter that they were going to war like the United States was in Iraq. I think he’s got to shift gears here and really make the case that this is do or die here for the United States, that there is something really serious at risk.”
Gregory added, “The irony, Willie, is that the president has created a situation where you have to ask, how does he not strike Syria—making comparisons to Adolf Hitler, talking about US credibility on the line—even if Congress doesn’t give him the authority.” Gregory’s reference to Adolf Hitler was not in relation to the war policy of the Obama administration, but rather to Assad. And he suggested that the president should proceed with an illegal attack on Syria, in contravention of international law, with or without the authorization of Congress.


Syria Detains Egyptian-American Blogger

An image of Muhammed Radwan, an Egyptian-American who was detained in Syria on Friday, on Syrian television on Saturday.<br />“/><span class=

In an apparent attempt to bolster the Syrian government’s claim that this week’s protests were the result of a foreign plot, Syrian state television has broadcast what it called a “confession” by an Egyptian-American who was detained in Damascus on Friday. The official Syrian state news agency reported that Muhammed Radwan, an Egyptian-America engineer who has worked in Syria for about a year, “said that he visited Israel in secret and confessed to receiving money from abroad in exchange for sending photos and videos about Syria.” The report also claimed that “a Spanish-speaking person from Columbia” had contacted Mr. Radwan “because he lived in Syria and carries a camera-equipped mobile phone” and offered to pay him 100 Egyptian pounds (about $16) in return for photographs and video. One of Mr. Radwan’s cousins in Egypt, Nora Shalaby, told The Lede by e-mail on Saturday that the Syrian report is “all lies. He has never been to Israel, and he does not speak Spanish.” Ms. Shalaby added that Mr. Radwan, who was educated in the United States and took part in protests in Cairo last month, posted an update on his @battutta Twitter feed from his phone on Friday suggesting that he was observing a protest at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. As The Lede reported on Friday, another American, Tik Root, a college student from Vermont studying Arabic in Damascus, was arrested by the Syrian government during a previous protest on March 18 in the Umayyad Mosque. The State Department told The Associated Press on Saturday that it was looking into the reported arrests. In recent weeks, Mr. Radwan had posted a small number of updates on Twitter about the growing unrest in Syria.

Exiles Shaping World’s Image of Syria Revolt

On the bloodiest day of Syria’s uprising, Rami Nakhle’s fingers drifted over the keyboard in a room silent but for the news bulletins of Al Jazeera, yet filled with the commotion on his computer screen. As the events unfolded Friday, user names flashed and faded. Twitter flickered with agitprop and trash talk. And Facebook glided past Gmail and Skype as Mr. Nakhle joined a coterie of exiled Syrians fomenting, reporting and, most remarkably, shaping the greatest challenge to four decades of the Assad family’s rule in Syria. “Can you hear it?” Mr. Nakhle cried, showing a video of chants for the government’s fall. “This is Syria, man! Unbelievable.” 

Unlike the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and even Libya, which were televised to the world, Syria’s revolt is distinguished by the power of a self-styled vanguard abroad to ferry out images and news that are anarchic and illuminating, if incomplete. For weeks now, the small number of activists, spanning the Middle East, Europe and the United States, have coordinated across almost every time zone and managed to smuggle hundreds of satellite and mobile phones, modems, laptops and cameras into Syria. There, compatriots elude surveillance with e-mailed software and upload videos on dial-up connections. Their work has ensured what was once impossible. 

In 1982, Syria’s government managed to hide, for a time, its massacre of at least 10,000 people in Hama in a brutal crackdown of an Islamist revolt. But Saturday, the world could witness, in almost real time, the chants of anger and cries for the fallen as security forces fired on the funerals for Friday’s dead. The activists have staggered the government of President Bashar al-Assad, forcing it to face the reality that it has almost entirely ceded the narrative of the revolt to its opponents at home and abroad. “The government’s paranoid style has become obvious,” said Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. “These activists have completely flipped the balance of power on the regime, and that’s all due to social media.”

Still, though few question the breadth of the uprising, there are differences on its depth in towns and cities. Cyberactivists outside of Syria fashion slogans of unity for a revolt that the government insists is inspired by militant Islamists. The voices of protesters smuggled abroad have drowned out the sentiments of the president’s supporters, who include the prosperous elite and frightened minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslim sects. 

Mr. Nakhle, 28, finds himself in an unlikely locale to wage that contest. Imbued with youthful idealism, he left his hometown in 2006 for Damascus, where he discovered the Internet. “A completely new world for me,” he called it, and he soon broadened his activism with Internet campaigns to free political prisoners and, more dramatically, end Syria’s equivalent of martial law. He came up with a pseudonym, Malath Aumran — an inside joke based on family nicknames — and came up with a portrait for Twitter and Facebook that was a composite photograph of 32 men.

By last December, the secret police were pursuing him. “That’s all they need — suspicions,” he said. In a harrowing journey the next month, smugglers on motorcycles carried him to the border, where he narrowly escaped the police and spent the night in a rocky valley before making his way to a working-class neighborhood here. Frills are few; in a sparse apartment, cigarettes, tea, Nescafé, sugar and a drink from boiled leaves of yerba maté crowd his coffee table. “I’m a cyberactivist,” he said. “As long as I have the Internet, that’s it.”

Gaunt and with bloodshot blue-green eyes, Mr. Nakhle navigated a cascade of information Friday — a frenetic conversation on Skype with 15 people in Syria, a snippet of video from Tartus, a phone call from a friend in Damascus, and queries from journalists for contacts in remote towns. Someone he believed to be a secret police officer flashed him a taunting message: “There is news that a member of your family has been taken by security services.” Mr. Nakhle changed the sim card on his phone and called home, without taking his eyes off his computer screen. The news proved false. A message came in via Skype that a protest was dispersed in Aleppo. “I won’t publish this one,” he said knowingly. 

Mr. Nakhle is part of a network that literally spans the globe, whose members include a Syrian-American woman in Chicago who said she grew tired of simply watching Al Jazeera and Ausama Monajed, a Damascus-born activist in London who drives with his Internet-enabled laptop open in the passenger seat, running speech-to-text software. Mr. Monajed estimates that 18 to 20 people are engaged in helping coordinate and cover the protests full time, though he boasts that he can find someone in his broader community to translate English to French at 4 a.m. He has a contact in every Syrian province, who in turn have their networks of 10 people. “And the regime can’t do anything about it,” he said. 

Several say they relied on Syrian businessmen — abroad or in Syria — to finance one of their most impressive feats. After witnessing the Egyptian government’s success in shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks in January, they made a concerted attempt to circumvent a similar move by delivering satellite phones and modems across Syria. Ammar Abdulhamid, an activist in Maryland, estimated that they delivered 100 satellite phones, along with hundreds of cameras and laptops. 

The impromptu network has been allowed to guide events against a government that hews to the Soviet-era notion of Information Ministries and communiqués. A Facebook page called Syria Revolution, administered from abroad, has become the pulpit for the revolt — its statements de facto policy of the uprising. Mr. Nakhle said he had urged people to use slogans that are free of the sectarian or religious bent popular with Islamic activists. “We have to worry about these people,” he admitted. 

The unprecedented power of the long-distance activists to shape the message troubled Camille Otrakji, a Damascus-born political blogger who lives in Montreal. Where others see coordination, he sees manipulation, arguing that the activists’ mastery of image belies a revolt more sectarian than national, and deaf to the fears of minorities. “I call it deception,” said Mr. Otrakji, a somewhat lonely voice in the Internet tumult. “It’s like putting something on the wrapping of a product which has nothing to do with what’s inside. This is all being manipulated.”

Katherine Zoepf contributed reporting from New York, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.

Cyber activist: Syria still needs regime change

A presidential decree on Thursday ending emergency rule will "change nothing" in Syria, prominent cyber activist Malath Omran said, insisting the people want the fall of the regime. "Lifting emergency rule will change nothing because the security services are not bound by any law," Omran told AFP in a telephone interview from Beirut. "The Syrian people has no faith whatsoever in the regime," said Omran, who under the Internet identity of Rami Nakhleh has been a key player behind the unprecedented protests which have shaken Syria since March 15.

Omran, 28, fled to Lebanon a few months ago, after learning that orders for his arrest had been issued by the Syrian security services which had questioned him on several occasions over his Internet activities. "From the first day people took to the streets with one goal in mind, the fall of the regime... but because there were few protesters at first they were afraid of announcing it openly," he told AFP. "But as the numbers grew the fear factor was broken and the fall of the regime became the slogan and the demand" of demonstrators, according to the activist. His comments came just hours after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed decrees ending nearly five decades of emergency law, abolishing state security courts and allowing citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

The moves are aimed at placating more than a month of unprecedented protests across Syria. Amnesty International says about 220 people have been killed in a crackdown on the protests, which first broke out in the capital on March 15. But for Omran, 28, who has more than 2,800 friends on the social network Facebook and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter, Assad's decrees and the unveiling of a new government tasked with promoting reforms are "useless." "How will the new government be of any use, when we all know that governments in Syria only implement the orders of the intelligence services?" he asked.

Omran, who studied political sciences at Damascus University, said the intelligence services had linked him to his cyber identity of Rami Nakhleh after he was interviewed by phone on an Arab television. "They discovered that I (Omran) am Rami Nakhleh and they threatened to arrest my sister (in Syria) if I don't pull out of the revolution," the activist said. Two prominent human rights activists said earlier in Damascus that Assad's decrees were good steps forward but did not go far enough.
Iranian blogger: 'Hell' and 'hopelessness' in his country


Recent protests in Iran have failed to gain traction -- despite growing demonstrations in neighboring countries and Iran's own 2009 massive protest movement. What's the status of the Iranian opposition movement, what challenges does it face and could a regime change ever happen peacefully? A blogger from Iran weighs in. Peyman Bagheri is a blogger whose articles against the Iranian government have prompted him to flee his native land for fear of being arrested and imprisoned. He recently spoke via phone from Europe with CNN's Asieh Namdar.

Are you surprised the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt failed to galvanize Iranian activists to take to the streets on levels similar to what we saw in 2009? What's the status of the opposition movement in Iran?

The bitter reality is Iranians are more worried about the economy, jobs and putting food on the table for their families. The economy is in shambles. It's difficult for Iranians to think about protesting and putting their lives at risk, when they are just trying to survive. Many are barely making it. Simply put, the events seen around the world are taking a back burner to real issues at home. The opposition movement is alive but underground. People are afraid of violence, of getting thrown in jail. Activists are spreading their messages through social networks. Lately, they've started writing anti-government slogans on the walls. So to answer your question, the opposition movement is there, just not visible to your eyes.

What's the biggest problem with Iran's opposition movement?

The biggest problem is that there is no clear leader who can unite and please everyone. Even among activists, there's no consensus on how to move forward. No unity, no organization. But the movement has been successful in some ways. The regime has weakened, and facing political, social and economic crisis. I think it's just a matter of time that this regime will collapse.

When do you think that could happen?

Nobody knows for sure. Right now it's going downhill. Internally, there's a lot of division and infighting among high-ranking leaders. The system is starting to fall apart from within. In my opinion, when it happens, regime change in Iran will not happen peacefully. In most cases, autocratic regimes and dictators can't share power with anyone. They are paranoid, and paranoia leads to more repression.

Why did you flee from Iran this year?

I've written more than 50 articles against the government in the past two years. Somebody didn't like my blogs. I was threatened on the phone. The person who called said he'd report me to the government if I continued my writing. I don't know who it was. My home was under surveillance, I felt I was a target. I said to myself, "It's time to go."

Tell us about the open letter you wrote on one of your blogs to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It was one of the most visited blog posts I've ever written. I questioned the legitimacy of his leadership, and the human rights abuses. I asked him "what kind of leader are you?" I wrote about how, while he might be able to rule with terror and fear, that won't last forever because he doesn't have people's hearts on his side.

Do you know any bloggers who are in jail now?

I know of two. [One] was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2009. [Another] vanished a month ago; no one has heard of him. He's probably in jail. Bloggers, if caught, normally get up to 20 years. Between 60 and 70 bloggers are currently in jail awaiting trials.

Iranian media covered events in Egypt with praise -- but no mention of the protests in Syria why?

Iran and Syria are powerful allies. Iran will not condemn the crackdown, and in this case even acknowledge them. The two countries have deep roots, are very close. You won't find news about Syria on state-run TV, since it's all filtered. Egypt had very close ties with the U.S. so no surprise for Iran to call government critics and protesters there "heroes."

What needs to happen for us to see a peaceful change towards secular democracy in Iran?

In my opinion, change in Iran can't happen peacefully. Dictators fight till the end. The only peaceful option is reform within the system. But real reform could mean the beginning of the end for this regime. This is why the government can't accept any kind of genuine reform. It would open the door to bigger things, maybe another revolt.

Do you want to return to Iran someday?

Yes, but not now. They'll arrest and throw me in jail. The regime is threatened by bloggers like me, who're spreading the message through words and blogs. They are afraid of their intellectual influence on people. They see us as a huge threat. ... As long as this government is in power, I will not see my homeland. I should add four of my blogs are completely shutdown --- I can't access any of them. For the government, this is absolute proof of my guilt.

In one sentence, can you give us a glimpse of life in Iran for the younger generation?

I can describe it in two words: "hell" and "hopelessness."

The First Twitter Revolution?

Friday evening, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali boarded a jet for Malta, leaving his prime minister to face streets filled with protesters demanding a change of government in the North African country. The protests began weeks earlier in the central city of Sidi Bouzid, sparked by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate whose informal vegetable stall was shuttered by the police. His despair exemplified the frustration that many Tunisians felt with their contracting economy, high levels of unemployment and inequality, censored media and Internet, and widespread corruption. Protests spread from city to city, with trade unions, lawyers, and countless unemployed Tunisian youth demanding a change to an economic system that appeared to benefit a small number of families close to power and leave ordinary citizens behind.

As the protests intensified, Ben Ali offered concessions to his people: 23 years into his reign, he agreed to step down in 2014. He ordered the security police to stop using live ammunition on protesters after nearly 70 had been killed, cut the price of basic foodstuffs, and promised to allow a freer media and end Internet censorship. This morning, as pressures increased, he offered new elections within six months. But all that failed to placate the crowds, who finally got what they wanted later in the day: a Tunisia sans Ben Ali.

While the future of Tunisia's governance is extremely uncertain at present, it seems we've witnessed the rarest of phenomena, a popular revolt toppling an Arab dictator. Audiences in the Arab world have been glued to Al Jazeera, which has covered the protests closely. Many states in the region suffer from the same problems -- unemployment, slow growth, corrupt government, aging dictators -- that brought Tunisians into the streets. Protesters have taken to the streets in Algeria and Jordan, demanding jobs and affordable food. Whether these protests erupt into the revolution Tunisia is experiencing is impossible to know. What's clear is that the actions taken by Tunisians are reverberating around the region.

Outside the Middle East and the Francophone media sphere, the events in Tunisia have gotten little attention, certainly not the breathless, 24-hour coverage devoted to 2009's Iranian election protests. When the protests began in Sidi Bouzid, much of the English-speaking world was focused on the Christmas and New Year's holidays. As protests in Tunis heated up, U.S. eyeballs were focused on the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Had the Tunisian protests hit during a slow news month, it's still unlikely they would have been followed as closely as events in Iran, which is larger, of greater international security concern, and has a large, media-savvy diaspora who helped promote the 2009 protests to an international audience.

Iran's diaspora was especially effective at promoting the Green Movement to an online audience that followed tweets, Facebook posts, and web videos avidly, hungry for news from the front lines of the struggle. Tens of thousands of Twitter users turned their profile pictures green in solidarity with the activists, and hundreds set up proxy servers to help Iranians evade Internet filters. For users of social media, the protests in Iran were an inescapable, global story. Tunisia, by contrast, hasn't seen nearly the attention or support from the online community.

The irony is that social media likely played a significant role in the events that have unfolded in the past month in Tunisia, and that the revolution appears far more likely to lead to lasting political change. Ben Ali's government tightly controlled all forms of media, on and offline. Reporters were prevented from traveling to cover protests in Sidi Bouzid, and the reports from official media characterized events as either vandalism or terrorism. Tunisians got an alternative picture from Facebook, which remained uncensored through the protests, and they communicated events to the rest of the world by posting videos to YouTube and Dailymotion. As unrest spread from Sidi Bouzid to Sfax, from Hammamet and ultimately to Tunis, Tunisians documented events on Facebook. As others followed their updates, it's likely that news of demonstrations in other parts of the country disseminated online helped others conclude that it was time to take to the streets. And the videos and accounts published to social media sites offered an ongoing picture of the protests to those around the world savvy enough to be paying attention.

One way to understand the significance of social media in Tunisia is to examine the government's attempts to control and silence it. Tunisia has aggressively censored the Internet since 2005, blocking not just explicitly political sites, but social media sites like video-sharing service Dailymotion. Video-sharing sites were a special target of government censors because Tunisian activists are extremely tech-savvy and had released provocative videos online, including one that documented the first lady's frequent shopping trips to Europe using the presidential jet.

Not content just to filter content, last summer Tunisian authorities began "phishing" attacks on activists' Gmail and Facebook accounts. By injecting malicious computer code into the login page of those services through the government-controlled Internet service provider, Ben Ali's monitors were able to obtain passwords to these accounts, locking out the activists and harvesting email lists of presumed activists. When the riots intensified last week, the government began arresting prominent Internet activists, including my Global Voices colleague Slim Amamou, who had broken the story of the government's password phishing. (Amamou was released, apparently unharmed, Thursday night.)

But if the web was such a threat to the government's authority, why did the regime not block Facebook or shut down the Internet entirely? It's critical to understand that Ben Ali was, first and foremost, a pragmatist. As late as Friday morning, he was looking for a solution that would allow him to remain in power, offering concessions in the hope of placating protesters. Internet censorship was already one of the grievances protesters had aired -- when Ben Ali offered concessions to protesters Thursday, loosening the reins was one of the promises that were warmly, if skeptically received.

Pundits will likely start celebrating a "Twitter revolution" in Tunisia, even if they missed watching it unfold; the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan already revived the dreaded phrase Thursday. Others are seeking connections between unfolding events and a WikiLeaks cable that showed U.S. diplomats' frustration with Ben Ali, and with denial-of-service attacks by online activist group Anonymous, which has been targeting entities that have tried to stop the dissemination of WikiLeaks cables, like the Tunisian government. But any attempt to credit a massive political shift to a single factor -- technological, economic, or otherwise -- is simply untrue. Tunisians took to the streets due to decades of frustration, not in reaction to a WikiLeaks cable, a denial-of-service attack, or a Facebook update.


Egypt's Facebook Revolution: Wael Ghonim Thanks The Social Network

Egypt Facebook Revolution

Shortly after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power on Friday, activist Wael Ghonim spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and credited Facebook with the success of the Egyptian people's uprising. Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, played a key role in organizing the January 25 protest by reaching out to Egyptian youths on Facebook. Shortly after that first protest, Ghonim was arrested in Cairo and imprisoned for 12 days. Since his release, Ghonim has become a symbol for the Egyptian movement, although he has rejected this notion. "I'm not a hero. I was writing on a keyboard on the Internet and I wasn't exposing my life to danger," he said in an interview immediately after his release. "The heroes are the one who are in the street." On Friday, Ghonim told CNN that Facebook and the Internet were responsible for the uprising in Egypt. From the interview:
I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him [...] I'm talking on behalf of Egypt. [...] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. [...]
Listen to the rest of the interview (below), which is played over video of rejoicing in Tahrir Square. For the latest updates from Egypt, visit our live blog. WATCH: [via All Facebook]


Media Lies Used to Provide a Pretext for Another “Humanitarian War”: Protest in Syria: Who Counts the Dead?

According to numerous reports from the Western media, human rights organisations, as well as the UN, countless peaceful civilians have been killed by the Syrian forces since the beginning of the unrest in the country in mid March. But where do the numbers come from? Many media reports on the alleged deadly repression by the Syrian government fail to mention the sources of their information, which are very often referred to solely as “human rights groups” or “activists”:

“Rights groups said Sunday that troops cracking down on pro-democracy protesters killed eight people in northern Idlib province and four more in central areas near Hama. (Syrian Forces Kill 12 as ICRC Head Visits Damascus, Voice of America, September 4, 2011.)

These protests are an unprecedented challenge to President Bashar al-Assad — and his family, which has ruled the country for more than 40 years. The cost has been high: at least 200 dead, according to human rights groups, and many cyber activists have been jailed. (Deborah Amos, Syrian Activist In Hiding Presses Mission From Abroad, NPR, April 22, 2011.)

At least 75 people have been killed today in Syria during mass protests, local human rights activists told Amnesty International […] 

Thirty were killed in the southern town of Izzra’, 22 in Damascus, 18 in the Homs area and the rest in other towns and villages, activists said […] (Scores killed in Syria as ‘Great Friday’ protests are attacked, Amnesty International, April 22, 2011.)

Although the necessity to remain “anonymous” where dissent is said to be life threatening may under certain circumnstances be understandable, this stance inevitably raises suspicions: The “‘numbers” can be used to demonize the government, as part of  covert operations by any state or organisation looking for regime change in Damascus. It is no secret that the overthrow of the Syrian regime has been a long-sought goal by several foreign powers, including the U.S. and Israel. The reliance of the mainstream media on information emanating from anonymous groups provides a biased understanding of the Syrian protests, which in turn supports the broader objective of destabilizing the Syrian regime.

When information from unknown sources pertaining to the death toll is published either by a mainstream media or a recognized human rights group, it is invariably picked up and considered as “factual evidence” by other news sources or think tanks, without further verification. Moreover, in the process the information is subject to further distortion. Here is an example of this phenomenon:

Rights group Amnesty International said on Friday that it has recorded the names of 171 people killed since the first protesters died in Daraa on March 18. The group based its tally on information received from rights activists, lawyers and other sources and said the majority appeared to have been killed by live ammunition fired by the security forces. (Protesters killed in southern Syria, Al Jazeera, April 9, 2011.)The above news article is based on the following statement by Amnesty International: 

At least 171 people are believed to have been killed during three weeks of unrest in Syria, Amnesty International said today after at least eight more fatalities during protests. The death toll from today’s clashes could rise significantly, according to reports from human rights activists in the country. Amnesty International has recorded the names, via information received from sources including human rights activists and lawyers, of 171 people killed. (Death toll rises amid fresh Syrian protests, Amnesty International, April 8, 2011.)

The original information from Amnesty international (AI) is that “171 people are believed to have been killed”, a statement showing that although “it has recorded the names of 171 people killed”, this information could not be confirmed. Al Jazeera fails to report this “uncertainty” and by doing so makes it a fact rather than an assumption, that 171 people were killed. Here is another example of blatant distortion:

Despite a pledge to end its crackdown, Syrian security forces continued to suppress anti-regime protestors, killing at least eighteen on Thursday in the city of Homs (al-Jazeera). (Jonathan Masters, Assad’s Broken Promises, Council on Foreign Relations, November 3, 2011.) This is an analysis from the Council on Foreign Relations, the famous and extremely powerful U.S. foreign policy think tank. It is based on the following article from Al Jazeera where the information related to the killing is markedly different:

“Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in the flashpoint city of Homs, as Syrian security forces bombarded residential areas with tanks.
The reported deaths occurred in the Bab Amro district of Homs on Thursday, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist group monitoring the country’s uprising, said. (Syria “violence defies peace deal”,” Al Jazeera, November 4, 2011.)

Al Jazeera’s wording “reportedly been killed” and “reported deaths” shows the deaths have not been confirmed. The Qatari media also mentions that these claims come from one source only, namely from an activist group called Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC). The article from the CFR changed Al Jazeera’s allegations into concrete facts. When it comes to counting the dead, the LCC is very often cited in the mainstream media as a source for reports on killings committed by the Syrian authorities, as we can see in the examples below:

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said it could not corroborate the Syrian Observatory’s account of the military casualties, though it also called Monday one of the uprising’s bloodier days, with at least 51 civilians killed. “We don’t have any confirmation of what they’re claiming,” said Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees. (Nada Bakri and Rick Gladstone, Syria Faces New Threats as Opposition Seeks Allies, The New York Times, November 15, 2011.)

According to the opposition network, the Local Coordination Committees, at least five people were killed during the military offensives — three in the central province of Homs, one in the eastern border town of Tal Kalakh and one in Idleb along the Syrian-Turkish border. (Roula Hajjar, Syria: Activists report manhunt for defectors and protesters, Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2011.)

Secret police opened fire and shot teargas to disperse more than 10,000 protesters in Deir Ezzour, in Syria’s tribal east, an activist from the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union (SRCU) told Al Jazeera. Ten protesters were wounded and around 40 were arrested, he said. The SRCU is the name given this week to one of Syria’s grassroots opposition networks. The SRCU works alongside the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC), another grassroots opposition network. (Al Jazeera Live Blog – Syria, June 3, 2011.)

At least 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the unrest, by the United Nations’ count. An activist group, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, said on Tuesday that 551 people were killed during Ramadan alone. The group said 130 others were killed on July 31, the eve of Ramadan, in an attack on the city of Hama, which was also the scene of a ferocious crackdown in 1982. On Tuesday, four people were killed in Hara and two others in Inkil, two towns in Dara’a Province, according to the Local Coordination Committees, another group of activists who document demonstrations. (Nada Bakri, Syrian Security Forces Fire on Worshipers as Ramadan Ends, The New York Times, August 30, 2011.)

The above article mentions a “UN count” as if it were an independent source of information. However, according to one of its reports, the UN also relies on the same sources of information, the LCC, and it mentions in a note that it is unable to confirm if the information given by the LCC is true:

“At the time of writing, the mission had received more than 1,900 names and details of persons killed in the Syrian Arab Republic since mid-March 2011; all are said to be civilians [26]

26. This information is compiled by local coordinating committees active within the Syrian Arab Republic in documenting the names and details of victims. The mission is unable to verify independently this information.” (United Nations, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic – A/HRC/18/53, September 15, 2011.)

What are the Local Coordination Committees (LCC)?

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the LCC is part of the non-elected Syrian National Council (SNC). Even though most of its members are in exile and its members in Syria are unknown, the SNC is presented as the legitimate Syrian authority, and has been recognized by the National Transitional Council of Libya, another non-elected body recognized by Western powers as a “pro-democracy” representative of the Libyan people.

“Syrian opposition leaders meeting Sunday in Turkey formally created the Syrian National Council, bringing together most of the disparate groups seeking to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The council includes the Local Coordination Committees, which has organized most of the protests across the country; the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood; and Kurdish groups; among others, the Associated Press reports. Almost half the members are from inside the country, according to the Washington Post, overcoming a key concern that the council would rely to (sic) heavily on exiles. (Ariel Zirulnick, Syrian oppositon groups formally unify, overcoming key hurdle, October 3, 2011.)

The LCC are somewhat “anonymous”. They refused a telephone interview, but agreed to answer some questions by email. They stated that for security reasons they could not reveal how many members the LCC includes, but claim 13 members of the LCC are in the SNC. “We have enough people to run demonstrations on ground, for media and relief action.” The members allegedly come from different backgrounds and are from all age groups; some are active inside Syria, the others outside the country. The LCC says that their members, in and outside Syria, have been threatened, arrested and tortured by the Syrian authorities. When asked how they became a source of information for the foreign media, the LCC says it is because they provide credible facts. 

And what is the ultimate goal of the LCC? “Our goal is to change the regime in Syria, and as the first step, to end the mandate of the current President, who is now politically and legally responsible for the crimes committed by his regime against the Syrian people and a safe transfer of power in the country.”

Basically, the LCC wants regime change in Syria and it seems to be the major source of information for the western mainstream media and human rights organizations. This opposition group claims to provide “credible facts”, however there is no way to verify these facts. The so-called facts could well be propaganda intended to discredit the actual regime and galvanize public opinion in favour of the regime change the group aspires to implement. Although the LCC spokesperson refused to disclose the names of its members, some have appeared in the mainstream media. One of their members, or collaborator, is Rami Nakhle, a cyberactivist living in exile in Beirut, Lebanon.

“Today, after 98 days of protests, he is living in denial,” says Rami Nakhle, a Syrian working in Beirut with the Local Coordination Committees, a clearinghouse for Syrian opposition protests and activities “It has become clear to everybody that Bashar al-Assad cannot change. He doesn’t realize that Syria has changed forever but he’s still the same president we heard last time, in April.” (Nicholas Blanford, Assad’s speech may buy time, but not survival, The Christian Science Monitor, June 20, 2011)

The activist has a privileged relationship with Al Jazeera, according to NPR:

When the Arabic channel Al-Jazeera broadcasts the latest news, the images come from Nakhle’s network. (Deborah Amos, Syrian Activist In Hiding Presses Mission From Abroad, April 22, 2011.)

It should be noted that Al Jazeera played a key role in promoting the regime change in Libya., a website presented by the Bush Center as a “Voice of Freedom Online”, offers a brief portrait of Nakhle, which is not unlike the other portraits found in the mainstream press, which describe him solely as a cyber-dissident, as if he never had any other occupation: 
“Rami Nakhle is a 27 year cyber-dissident. His use of social media to spread information about the Syrian Revolution caught the attention of Syrian authorities, causing him to flee to Lebanon in January 2011. For the past three years, he has been working under the pseudonym Malath Aumran. Although the Syrian secret police have discovered his real identity, he continues to use this pseudonym to retain recognition from his online followers.

Despite these threats from the Syrian government, Nakhle continues to work in hiding, continuing his campaign for freedom through Facebook, Twitter, and full-access interviews with prominent news sources like BBC and The New York Times. (CyberDissident Database)
The U.S. government and NGOs doing CIA work, such as Freedom House, are major sponsors of cyber-dissidence:

“Political dissidents from China, Iran, Russia, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba will travel to Dallas to join with Fellows of the George W. Bush Institute, experts from Freedom House, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the U.S. Government and other leaders in the field to discuss the successes and challenges of Internet-based political dissident movements around the world.

The George W. Bush Institute today [March 30, 2010] announced it will co-host a conference on cyber dissidents with the human rights organization Freedom House on April 19, 2010. (George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House to Convene Freedom Activists, Human Rights and Internet Experts to Assess Global Cyber Dissident Movement,” Business Wire, March 30, 2011)

Rami Nakhle doesn’t hide his interests in American organisations. On his Facebook page, he lists the following as “interests”: National Democratic Institute (NDI), chaired by Madeleine Albright, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Embassy Damascus. Nakhle’s interest in these organisations clearly shows which side he’s on, just like SCN member Radwan Ziadeh, former fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy, another organization well-known for its links with the CIA.

In an interview with the Guardian, the cyberactivist claims to be harassed by the Syrian secret police, on his Facebook wall. It might be true, but it would be a rather unusual tactic for a secret police, which usually, as its name says, acts secretly. Such harassment is more likely to be black propaganda — people opposed to the regime trying to make the Syrian authorities look bad. A kind of “cyber false flag” on Facebook, for everyone to see.

The “Syrian uprising” seems to be a copy and paste of the “protest movement” in Libya, which was conducive to a NATO invasion and regime change. The mainstream press has once again one principal source of information – the opposition groups. The media neglects military casualties and fails to report that armed gunmen, 17 000 according to a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, are among the protesters. A non-elected body, the SNC, ironically is upheld as a democratic movement and is offered “credibility” as well as extensive mainstream media coverage.



Arab uprising prompts search for differences and similarities in Armenia

Egypt fallout: Arab uprising prompts search for differences and similarities in Armenia

The shockwaves of the Egyptian revolution completed late last week through a lasting popular uprising have lightly reached Armenia in the form of talk and speculation and wishful thinking on the part of Armenia’s frail opposition. But pro-establishment forces in Armenia as well as some international experts see little reasons to expect developments in the country according to the Egypt or Tunisia scenarios. Anti-government protests in Egypt began on January 25 and snowballed into a popular push to remove the government through demonstrations in the streets of capital Cairo and elsewhere in this major Arab country, forcing the veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak to step down after nearly 30 years in power.

While the situation in post-Mubarak Egypt is far from being calm, with continued looting and violence reported even after the dismantling of the Mubarak reign, the significance of the developments in the country for a possible chain reaction elsewhere in the region and beyond can hardly be overestimated. The Armenian opposition, which unsuccessfully attempted to achieve a government change through similar nonstop street protests this month three years ago, is convinced that sooner or later the wave of revolutions will reach this region as well. But its representatives say that unlike in Egypt where hundreds of people were reportedly killed and thousands were injured in street violence, they can lead a revolution without victims and festruction.

Local pro-government parliamentarians however believe at this time Armenia is immune to any sort of revolution or social riot. After Mubarak’s resignation on Friday, Armenia’s main opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) issued a statement hailing the “victory of the people of Egypt”, which, according to the Armenian opposition, proved that “any tyrant in the world is powerless in the face of a peaceful popular mobilization.”

According to former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanyan, who was imprisoned in the wake of the 2008 post-election clashes in Yerevan on charges of organizing the riots, says that “if a tyrant like Mubarak who has ruled for 30 years gets toppled, it won’t be difficult to topple the petty tyrants here.” While, according to Arzumanyan, the slogans of the Egyptian revolution, such as “bread, freedom, dignity”, are fully applicable in Armenia as well, the ANC, which will launch a series of public rallies on February 18, excludes a revolution according to the Egypt scenario in Armenia.

ANC coordinator Levon Zurabyan welcomes “the victory of the people of Egypt”, but at the same time he stresses that it is not acceptable for their movement. “We must exclude bloodshed and similar disturbances, we need a smooth political process, we need to reach a velvet revolution,” Zurabyan tells ArmeniaNow, adding, though, that all prerequisites for a revolution according to the Egypt or Tunisia scenarios do exist in Armenia. “Of course, there are major prerequisites [for such a revolution], such as the social and political crisis, and mounting social protest,” says Zurabyan. Many analysts in Armenia believe that the stirred wave of revolutions will rather have an indirect effect on Armenia, but it is possible that it will become “a catalyst in conditions of the started social riot.”

Meanwhile, a leading American research center, Stratfor, published a report last week, concluding that an Egypt scenario was unlikely to occur in Armenia. “Armenia is not typically prone to large-scale unrest and protests, though recently the country’s opposition has called for a large rally February 18 in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, citing Egypt as an inspiration,” the Stratfor report said. Zurabyan dismissed the report as a superficial attempt at analysis.

While banned street trade in Yerevan, a row over customs clearance for car owners and individual entrepreneurs importing goods from Turkey continues to fuel protest moods in Yerevan and elsewhere in the country government representatives in Armenia insist that “social riots in the country are impossible.” “There are no such prerequisites, because our government is doing everything and is taking serious steps to carry out reform,” Deputy Parliament Speaker Samvel Nikoyan, representing the ruling Republican Party, tells ArmeniaNow. Meanwhile, chairman of the Armenian Sociological Association Gevorg Poghosyan warns that “events in the Arab world also threaten Armenia”, which “may lead to self-destruction.”

According to the sociologist, regression has been observed in all the areas examined by his center, namely in education, military, and health. “This regression poses more danger than the tragic events of March 1 (2008), moreover, emigration looms large again, one of the reasons for this [increasing] emigration is the growing threat of war on the Karabakh front. These are serious prerequisites,” says Poghosyan, warning that unless curbed, this self-destructive trend may even result in the loss of statehood.


Don’t Tread on Me: Little Armenia’s Bottom Line at 20

Nice Guys, Bad Politics: The need for reform as Armenia turns 20

Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan might be a nice guy, but he came to power by force of failed elections. He should step down and finally oversee the conduct of post-Soviet Armenia’s first free polls since 1991, the year it declared independence. The nation he aspires to represent deserves no less. Democracy must become an Armenian benchmark, not a motto thrown about to Western “partners” and other interlocutors who toast that best of systems, but then kill it with their duplicitous policies.

Sargsyan’s Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul is also a nice man, but he continues to represent a denialist regime that sponsors the killing of journalists such as Hrant Dink, strangles its minorities, and is the legal heir of the Ottoman Empire, which committed genocide against the Armenian people and dispossessed it of its ancestral homeland. Gul’s and his just-too-sly foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent addresses at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg—and the outlandish bluster of EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis at Auschwitz—beg the point. Modern-day Turkey must face history and itself, recognize the great genocide, and cease its unlawful and inhuman occupation of Western Armenia.

Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliev is not so nice, but he is more honest in his authoritarian and occupationist demeanor. Mountainous Karabagh, or Artsakh, is Armenian land, his predecessors lost what they never had in a war of aggression they unleashed two decades ago, and they will never see it again except as good neighbors. He would do himself and humanity a necessary favor by respecting the rights of his own citizens, by returning the Armenian heartlands, including Shahumyan and Nakhichevan, still under Azerbaijani occupation to their rightful owners, and by making full redress to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Lezgins, Talishes, Tats, and other minorities which he and his have attempted to destroy.

If international law, self-determination, decolonization, and basic liberty are to carry true, not rhetorical import in the life and development of the contemporary world, then it must be ruled by rights equally guaranteed. Mountainous Karabagh, like Kosovo and Abkhazia, is the cutting-edge litmus test and must be recognized de jure and without discrimination by the community of nations. Who will be the first to recognize all three at once and to demonstrate that law and rights are worth more than a dollar in global affairs today? Georgia’s man Mikheil Saakashvili is revered occidentally but ridiculed in the east. He has brought some truly meaningful changes to his homeland and enjoys due credit. At the same time, he continues to trample the ethnic, religious, and linguistic rights of the Armenian region known to all as Javakhk. He ought to rediscover his democratic edge and renounce the xenophobic side of policies and prejudices.

Russia’s leaders, too, must get with the game and finally recognize the fundamental rights of their “strategic ally.” It’s time to end the imperialistic, even if soft, design to control Armenia as its traditional, God-given “forepost.” Either accept Armenia’s sovereignty and stand in true partnership with it—internationally, nationally, democratically—or let it go and face a new day. We all need that new day, and there is no need to blame the other: All persons and peoples have been mentioned herein without offense and with deference to their predicaments and interests. But this is Armenia’s last stand—and ultimate responsibility.

Leaked US Cables Criticize Mafia Lifestyle of Armenia’s Ruling Class

The U.S. State Department has refused to comment on the veracity of newly published documents that show top American diplomats in Yerevan criticizing the state of affairs in Armenia. A Russian whistle-blowing website, which claims to be a partner of WikiLeaks, published this week what it called cables sent to Washington by U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her former deputy, Joseph Pennington. Yovanovitch purportedly analyzed a spate of high-profile killings and other violent incidents that happened in Armenia in October 2009. In one of those incidents, a nephew of President Serzh Sarkisian reportedly beat up and badly injured a man at a Yerevan nightclub.

The cable attributed to Yovanovitch says violence perpetrated by senior Armenian officials, government-linked businessmen and their relatives appears to have become the norm in the country. There is a widespread sense of impunity among such individuals, she allegedly wrote. Another purported cable was sent to Washington by Pennington in April 2008 and focused on emigration from Armenia. The diplomat, who was the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan at the time, allegedly suggested that the process accelerated after the February 2008 presidential election and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition. More and more middle-class Armenians are losing faith in their country’s future, he said, according to the Russian website.

The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday declined to say whether the documents are authentic. In a statement sent to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, it said only that U.S. diplomatic cables often carry “tentative and incomplete” assessments of the situation in a particular country and do not necessarily reflect U.S. foreign policy. The statement also reiterated the State Department’s strong condemnation of the disclosure by WikiLeaks and other news sources of its secret diplomatic correspondence.


Freedom House: Human rights watchdog defines Karabakh as not free

The annual report of Freedom House, released on Thursday, again put Armenia on the list of ‘partly free’ countries, whereas Nagorno-Karabakh has registered regress, being defined as a ‘not free’ territory instead of the previous ‘partly free’. Freedom in the World 2011: The Authoritarian Challenge to Democracy Report’s estimation given to Karabakh causes concerns, as Karabakh previously got a higher estimation than Azerbaijan, whereas now both are considered to be authoritarian.

Since 2002, Washington-based ‘Freedom House’ global human rights watchdog has considered Armenia to be a ‘partly free’ country along with its neighboring Georgia, whereas Azerbaijan was a ‘not free’ country during the recent years. According to the methodology of the report, a ‘partly free’ country is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly Free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a political landscape in which a single party enjoys dominance despite a certain degree of pluralism.

A ‘not free’ country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied. (One point is the best index in this table, and seven points is the worst.) This year’s report, as the previous one, gave six points to the expression of a political right and its defense, and four points went to the defense of civil freedom. As compared to the previous five points Armenia has registered regress since 2009, after the controversial elections in 2008 and the post-election clashes.

According to the methodology of the report, six points goes to those countries where “systems are ruled by military juntas, one-party dictatorships, religious hierarchies, or autocrats. These regimes may allow only a minimal manifestation of political rights, such as some degree of representation or autonomy for minorities.” The decline of Nagorno-Karabakh’s index in the report is explained by the absence of an opposition at the Parliamentary elections 2010.

Meanwhile, Karabakh and Armenia do not agree with such a definition. According to Spokesperson of President of Nagorno-Karabakh Davit Babayan, “the report is imperfect, and not deeply studied.” “It is necessary to hold a deep examination for making such a conclusion, something which has not been done in Karabakh; and I believe this estimation is given for some geopolitical purposes,” Babayan told ArmeniaNow.


CPJ: New York-based watchdog criticizes Armenian authorities for pressure on media
An international media watchdog criticized Armenian authorities for maintaining pressure on the country’s media and for harassing local journalists. The annual “Attack on the Press” report” released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday singled out the new broadcast law that gives regulators broad powers to revoke TV licenses and also mentions Gyumri-based Gala TV, a rare critical broadcaster, which faces an array of government pressures. “As his government strengthened ties with Russia, President Serzh Sargsyan had to quell lingering domestic discontent over electoral fraud and economic woes, particularly in the construction and mining industries. New legislation granted regulators broad new powers to award and revoke licenses, while putting severe limits on the number of provincial broadcast licenses. Self-censorship remained widespread in the media, as lawlessness curbed the activities of journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition leaders,” the report says.

The report says the most drastic step occurred in June when the president signed into law amendments to the Law on Television and Radio that tightened control of the country's influential broadcast media. The government tried to deflect attention from the restrictive amendments by embedding them into a package of measures meant to move radio and television stations from analog to digital signals. Sargsyan ignored domestic and international protests over the restrictions, which are seen as benefiting his Republican Party as it approaches parliamentary elections set for 2012.

The amendments enable government regulators to grant or revoke licenses without explanation, as well as impose programming restrictions that would confine some stations to narrow themes such as culture, education, and sports, according to news reports. Analysts said the changes would provide the government legal cover to keep the popular news outlet A1+ off the air. The amendments positioned Sargsyan to maintain control over the country's docile television and radio stations, most of which were owned by pro-government politicians and businessmen. Propagandistic state media retained important financial subsidies from various government budgets and privileged access to official information. While print and online media were more pluralistic, their reach was limited to a primarily urban and educated audience.

Throughout the year, police officers routinely harassed, assaulted, and arrested journalists, according to local press reports and media analysts. Prosecutors regularly colluded in this practice by failing to investigate police officers, even filing charges on occasion against journalists who protested abuses, CPJ research showed.


Raising professionalism through Russification?: Yerevan City Hall launched Russian language courses

Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan

The activities of the new mayor of Yerevan Karen Karapetyan started with very unpopular steps that have stirred a lot of talk among the public. Karapetyan, who had for years headed ArmRosGazprom, an 80-percent Russian Gazprom-owned company, began his tenure with a requirement for his employees to take Russian language courses. Reports in the media on this decision have made lots of Yerevan residents wonder why a municipality in Armenia needs the Russian language so urgently. Many also wondered why Russian Embassy advisor Viktor Krivopuskov, who is also head of the Armenia affiliate of Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian agency for international humanitarian cooperation, was present at the opening of the courses.

Lessons for 26 employees in 11 divisions of the City Hall will be held for three months by Tereza Mirjiferjyan and Armen Aghulyan, the two leading Russian language educators of the Russian Educational-Methodical Center of the Russian Language (REMCRL) of the Rossotrudnichestvo representation in Armenia. Opening the courses, Krivopuskov noted that knowledge of the Russian language will increase the quality of managerial decision making, interaction with the Russian-speaking population of the city, as well as facilitate work in “developing and strengthening friendly relations with cities and regions of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States as a whole, where Russian still remains a working language.”

A summary of critical Armenian media writing in this regard is as follows: Krivopuskov’s objective is to spread the Russian language and influence in Armenia. Does the mayor of Yerevan also consider this to be his objective? Apparently, he is still closely associated with ArmRosGazprom and feels like a representative of the interests of the Russian company, more than of Yerevan citizens. On the day of the launch of the courses, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan signed the law on introducing amendments and additions into the laws “On the Language” and “On General Education”, which effectively removes the ban on the functioning of school in Armenia with curricula taught in a language other than Armenian.

In accordance with these amendments, 11 schools with foreign-language curricula will operate in Armenia - two of them will be private schools (in Jermuk and Dilijan) and nine will work on the basis of international treaties. A considerable part of the country’s intelligentsia has been opposing the legislation. A civil initiative “We Are Against the Reopening of Foreign-Language Schools” held a series of public protests. Under the pressure of those demonstrations of protest the number of foreign-language schools allowed to be opened by law was reduced, and some other changes were introduced in the original bill. It also became clear that the Armenian society is unwilling to return to the days when the Russian language was considered to be the state language.

Representatives of the public pressure group have already called the decision by the Yerevan mayor “unconstitutional”.


No Nike Brand Social Movement: “Just do it” is not the Armenian way

No Nike Brand Social Movement: “Just do it” is not the Armenian way

Could the “Tunisia Syndrome” happen in Armenia?

It is a question in the thoughts of observers and participants of socio-political life here (which in fact is all of us), as unrest has spread into Algeria, Yemen and others places, and has turned Egypt inside out. Yesterday, even Jordan – a monarchy – saw its government fired, a pre-emptive move by King Abdullah II in the face of citizen discontent at leadership which the king himself said “had sometimes put their own interests ahead of those of the public.” It started when a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire December 28 (and later died) in protest of a law banning sales of goods in the street. The next week, the Mayor of Yerevan began a crackdown on the Armenian capital’s street vendors.

The cancer that finally ate its way into the brain of public conscience in Tunisia started as a tumor of unemployment, lack of opportunities for youth, inflation, and a growing gap between the ultra-rich and the hopeless poor – all conditions that define Armenia in 2011. In Egypt, where yesterday a crowd measured by the New York Times as “hundreds of thousands” filled Cairo’s main square, protestors railed against “an illegitimate president” in hateful solidarity against a regime under which, CNN reported, “Egypt’s economy was stagnant for decades, but in the past 10 years started to grow, creating bigger differences between rich and poor”.

Again, the similarities are compelling. An Al Jazeera reporter called the movement (estimated by the Arabic network at more than a million) “people power”. And there is the answer to why such a revolt will not (even if some think it should) occur in Armenia. Here, there is no “people power”. There are 10s of thousands – as proved in 2008 – who are willing to follow a leader, but none who are willing to lead themselves. There are no grass-roots movements here, where the soil of democratic will remains infertile even two decades after the toxic waste of communism should have been cleaned.

When a man, sadly and quite literally, sparked a social movement in Tunisia, his countrymen recognized themselves in his tortured desperation. In Armenia, those who have valid grievance are waiting for an authority figure to voice it for them. That a populist, Tigran Karapetyan, with a message no deeper than bumper sticker slogans, could rally 6,000 or more followers – as many, in fact, as the major opposition bloc – indicates how low the bar has dropped on social movement in Armenia.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a leader of the Republican Party of Armenia, says that there will be no copy-cat rebellion in Armenia. “Of course, there is discontent, but any country that saw dramatic economic crisis, has it. Nonetheless, Armenian authorities are determined to carry on the reforms designed to improve our fellow countrymen’s living standards,” he said. He is right. His reasoning as to why the public is submissive, however, is debatable. The reforms that the current regime has implemented are indeed laudable. Progress, depending on definition, can surely be seen in some realms, particularly in quality of life for Armenia’s nascent middle class (in Yerevan).

It is, though, more likely that Armenia’s apparent general passivity is brought on by lack of choice, rather than by public confidence that the government is working for the people. It may also be argued that those with the intellectual capacity and professional resource to seek an improved life in Armenia, are instead spending that energy on finding ways to leave the country. (A 2009 Gallup report found that 39 percent of Armenians said they aspired to move from the country.)

And, into any discussion of whether things in Armenia are getting better or worse under this leadership – and there’s some of each – arises the phrase that is on protest placards in Cairo: “illegitimate government”. Sadly for Armenia’s hopes of becoming democratic, this “illegitimate government” may very well be better than the alternative that would have emerged had elections three years ago been held fairly. Lacking a movement that grew organically, Armenians at both political polarities were willing to follow dubious leaders in that ill-fated election. "There is no political group leading the people,” a human rights activist in Cairo told media. “There is no one leading the people. People are just doing it.”

I am in a friend’s car and he is behind the wheel. We are at a Yerevan intersection, and the street we need to reach is just ahead of us, across this street and about 30 meters to the left. Instead of going directly across the street and turning to enter our intended passageway, my friend turns right, goes nearly one kilometer and, under a blue sign indicating “U” he turns back, drives to the destined street and carries on. “Why didn’t you just go across the street and turn left?” I ask him. “Because there was no sign saying I could do that,” he replied. And there, anecdotally, is why Armenia is not Tunisia. Or Egypt. Or whatever fill-in-the-blank country is next to launch a popular movement to exert the will of its people. These Armenians won't turn unless somebody says they can.


Perspective on media: Civilitas organizes discussion about state of television, newspapers and internet

Perspective on media: Civilitas organizes discussion about state of television, newspapers and internet

Under an amended law and by the regulatory body’s decision only 18 television companies late last year got licenses for digital broadcasts in supposedly competitive tenders, and this narrowing of the field, according to experts, first of all hits freedom of speech in Armenia. Some specialists urge the television companies that lost or could not renew their licenses as a result of the competitions to unite and battle together over this matter. “The television companies that were deprived of the air have not united yet, but I still believe that time will come and they will join their hands together. Employees, founders, directors of TV companies must understand that we can fight and not give in,” said Gyumri GALA TV Executive Director Karine Harutyunyan at a Wednesday discussion organized by the Civilitas Foundation.

(GALA, based in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, is a rare television company giving voice to the opposition. It will go out of the air in 2015 after losing its license in the December contest administered by the National Commission on Television and Radio. A1+, off the air since 2002, also failed to regain its license, while ALM lost one and is off the air since January 21. Another three companies had not even made a bid to renew their licenses from the very beginning.)

Experts also say that unlike television companies, which are largely controlled by the authorities, there is a certain variety among the print media, but this area also has drawbacks. “The problem is that in Armenia newspapers still do not depend on their readerships, if they have money, they go into print, if they don’t, they don’t come out. It is not the readership that decides the orientation and style of a given newspaper, and as long as there is no link between media and the public, media cannot be independent,” says editor-in-chief of the Karabakh-based Analitikon magazine Gegham Baghdasaryan.

The number of internet users in Armenia grows from year to year. While websites have seen more visitors recently and some believe it is possible that in the near future the internet will completely replace television, most specialists at the Civiltas-moderated discussion did not agree that it will happen soon. “The internet provides ample opportunities, but it is still too early to say that it will soon replace television, but, of course, there is such a prospect. The thing is that journalists do not yet manage this field,” says co-founder of the Epress internet magazine Armen Melikbekyan. Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian, too, does not see any essential impact of the internet on the political field in the next few years.

“I agree that the internet is rapidly developing in Armenia, but it will still take 5-10 years for the internet to be able to make an essential change in our political field,” said Oskanian, who served as Armenia’s foreign minister in 1998-2008. “So, one shouldn’t pin too much hope on it at this moment.”

Specialists are also concerned that there is no independent media institution in Armenia. According to the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, nine cases of physical violence against journalists were reported in Armenia in 2010, as compared to 11 in 2009. Instead, the number of reported cases of exerting pressure on journalists increased. The Committee’s report also notes that very often no criminal cases are instituted in connection with violence against journalists.


Lost Opportunity?: Lincy closure seen by some as indictment

Lost Opportunity?: Lincy closure seen by some as indictment

In 2011 Armenia is losing the current or potential support of two major foundations. It became known on Tuesday that the Lincy Foundation shuts down after 22 years of work during which it has made major gifts of over $1.1 billion to schools, hospitals, scientific research projects and other charitable endeavors. More than $200 million in Lincy money has been spent on Armenia. This coming September will see the completion of the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Account program, which since 2006 had planned to assist with a total of $236 million to projects in irrigation and agricultural areas. But in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence in Armenia, the programs were curtailed to $180 million.

The charitable organization founded by Armenian-American businessman Kirk Kerkorian will transfer all of its assets, currently valued at $200 million, to the UCLA Foundation. Before its shutdown, in early February, Lincy donated $10.5 million to the United Armenian Fund and a major portion of this grant will be used by the UAF to renovate and reconstruct six schools in northern Armenia. The start of major Lincy projects in Armenia was in 2001 with the three-year $150-million project targeting road construction, housing construction in the earthquake zone, construction of cultural centers and schools.

In 2006-2008, the foundation implemented its second major program in Armenia with $60 million. The means were equally divided into three programs -- Yerevan streets repairs, school building and road construction. Reasons for Lincy’s closure of the Fund are still unclear and those potentially privy to its affairs have mostly stopped short of providing any commentary or interpretation. Prominent Diaspora commentator, editor of the California Courier and former Lincy vice president Harut Sassounian declined ArmeniaNow’s request for comment, but cautioned against “unwarranted and erroneous sweeping generalizations” as to the Lincy decision.

While saying that the reasons are unknown, several representatives of the Armenian opposition, however, say Armenian authorities who, to put it mildly, were guilty of “mismanaging the funds,” have caused the 93-year old billionaire to close his hand on handouts to Armenia. “It is not a coincidence that the funds for repairing schools were given not to an Armenia-based fund, but to the United Armenian Fund,” opposition Heritage Party MP Anahit Bakhshyan told ArmeniaNow. (The United Armenian Fund is the collective effort of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Relief Society, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the Lincy Foundation, and Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America.)

In the past several years (at least three) Kirk Kerkorian and his Lincy Foundation has not made any major donation to the All-Armenian Fund Hayastan either. Still during the first phase of the Lincy Foundation’s programs in Armenia, in 2001-2003, when restoration work worth $150 million was carried out, 17 cultural centers were renovated, about 3,600 homes were built, the activities were dogged by allegations that it was “a big wash” and that the money was not being used purposefully. After the end of this phase of the project it was intended to solve the housing problem in the earthquake zone.

As then president Robert Kocharyan said during the ceremony opening one of the buildings constructed with the foundation’s allocations “due to this serious investment in 2003 we solve the housing problem.” But still today up to 4,000 families remain in makeshift housing in the earthquake area despite further serious allocations from the foundation for housing construction in northern Armenia. In 2006, the President’s audit service began to conduct checks at the Foundation’s Armenia office whose coordinator was President Kocharyan’s staff manager Artashes Tumanyan. While reports surfaced (though unconfirmed) that Tumanyan was being questioned by the National Security Service (KGB) department combating organized crime, he was relieved from the foundation post, replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan.

The last controversy surrounding the Foundation was in June 2010, during the discussion of the report on the fulfillment of the 2009 state budget when in the report of the Lincy Foundation presented to the lawmakers it was stated that the $17.8-million project had been fulfilled completely, by 100 percent. “It was mentioned in that performance report that 17 schools had been renovated and about $19 million had been spent on the work. However, as a person who is from this sphere (a long time educator) and is very well aware in which schools actual work was done, I saw in the list the names of schools that had not been repaired,” says Bakhshyan, who had worked as school principal before becoming a lawmaker. In response to the question raised by Bakhshyan, Deputy Prime Minister Gevorgyan explained that no work had been done in seven schools because of the budget reducing due to the dollar-dram fluctuations.

“First, this answer did not satisfy me, because in the agreement there is a point that the government is committed to bridge the gap that originates because of such exchange rate fluctuations to make sure the program is fulfilled by 100 percent. Why didn’t the government close that difference and was that difference really equivalent to the price of repairs at seven schools?” the lawmaker said. No clear answers have yet been provided, but like many other Armenians, the lawmaker feels sorry that Armenia is deprived of very serious funds that would give a unique opportunity to develop the country. “I regret it very much. Our authorities once again should think carefully about what they are doing and how much love and confidence of their homeland they lose because of their interests,” Bakhshyan told ArmeniaNow.


The Coalition of Doom

By signing an agreement to endorse President Serzh Sarkisian in the 2013 elections, Armenia’s ruling coalition parties attempted to reinforce their positions for the upcoming 2012 parliamentary elections and the subsequent presidential race. For the Republican Party of Armenia, Prosperous Armenia and the Country of Law parties, the announcement was a way to assert their rule and block opposition forces from gaining ground or, for that matter, having a voice in government. The declaration will set Armenia back with grave consequences for its future and any hope for advancement of democratic norms in the country.

In their declaration, the parties claimed to have protected Armenia and its citizens from dangers to national security, economic collapse as a result of the global crisis and ridding the government of corruption and bribery. Yet a quick glance at their rule, since the 2007 parliamentary elections, only shows that there have been no tangible advances in Armenia, and in some cases, there have been gross violations of human rights and an effort to endanger Armenia’s national security.

“Today the coalition forces have more than 100 deputies,” Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia chairman Rustamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday. “Can their presence get any bigger? At whose expense? Must there be no opposition at all in this country?” The coalition has vowed that its campaign for the parliamentary elections will yield even more seats in parliament.

ARF Bureau chairman, Hrant Markarian said: “In effect, a dictatorship, a totalitarian system is thus being formed in the government camp.” If anything, the signing of the declaration should send a clear signal to Armenia’s electorate that the fate of the country and its government is in the hands of the people. For 20 years, successive regimes have used coercion, intimidation and vote rigging to assume power and amass incomprehensible wealth at the expense of the country’s well-being.

The ruling elite must not be allowed to bulldoze through yet another set of elections, through which it aims to cement its hold on both the legislative and executive—and as a result judicial—branches of the government and without the checks and balances continue to govern with impunity and reckless disregard toward the aspirations of its citizens and the Armenian nation.

The people must rise up and learn their rights, empower themselves and take part in elections as informed voters and concerned citizens. The ARF’s campaign, announced earlier this week and officially launched on Friday, aims to bring together all facets of society under one tent and engage all voters to take party in a massive electoral reform campaign. The people of Armenia must come together and defeat the ruling coalition’s effort to further solidify its hold on Armenia.


Oskanian Fears ‘Absolute Rule’ In Armenia

Armenia -- Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian speaks at an event organized by his Civiltas Foundation, undated.

Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accused President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday of seeking to tighten his grip on power in utter disregard of democratic principles and the popular will. In a written statement, Oskanian expressed serious concern about key points of a joint declaration issued by Armenia’s three governing parties on Thursday. “The ruling coalition’s announcement highlights the authorities’ disregard of democracy, elections and the public will,” he said.

“The ruling coalition has openly declared that in the upcoming parliamentary elections they are not prepared to do what political forces are fundamentally meant to do: that is, to enter into open competition.” The declaration says, among other things, that Sarkisian’s ruling coalition will gain an “amplified” presence in the Armenian parliament as a result of elections expected in May 2012. It already controls the overwhelming majority of seats in the current National Assembly.

“The coalition, which already enjoys absolute majority, intends to push out of the parliament those in opposition who, as it is, constitute an extremely small minority,” said Oskanian. “This does not help alleviate the already complex social, economic and political situation in the country; instead, it further exacerbates the situation. Rather than securing the continuity of those forces which are themselves the main obstacle to improving conditions, the coalition should have worked to secure a balance within the government, as an alternative to absolute rule,” he added.

Oskanian, who served as foreign minister in former President Robert Kocharian’s administration from 1998-2008, has been increasingly critical of the current Armenian government since leaving office. His criticism has until now focused on Sarkisian’s foreign policy and, in particular, Armenia’s rapprochement with Turkey.


What’s Wrong with Armenia?

Re-investigation: Armenian Special Investigative Service launches fresh probe on 03/08

Every year, efforts by the Armenian Diaspora in the United States to win formal Congressional and Presidential recognition of the Armenian Genocide culminate on April 24, the date Armenians mark as their Genocide Remembrance Day. It’s a hot-button issue which historians still debate. Genocide scholars and Armenian historians declare that deliberate genocide occurred, while many Turkish historians and Ottoman specialists question argue that Ottoman officials did not conduct premeditated genocide, but rather that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in the fog of war. Regardless, the deaths of so many are a tragedy, and one that should not be forgotten. Still, questions and aspersions of denial and negation will only be settled when both the Turks and Armenians open their archives to everyone without regard to nationality or ethnicity.

I do not deny the sensitivity of the genocide issue, but Armenian American organizations are doing both themselves and U.S. national security a disservice by making the genocide issue the community’s marquee issue. History must be respected, but the future is as important as the past—if not more so. To the present day, Turkey and Armenia remain adversaries. Traditionally, the American alliance with Turkey has driven a wedge between Washington and Yerevan. Sadly, Armenia remains largely antagonistic to the United States. In 2009, Armenia voted with the United States on important issues at the United Nations less than half the time; In contrast, Israel voted with the United States 100% of the time.

Armenia has also embraced Iran to the detriment of U.S. interests and security. Armenia has even reportedly supplied Iran with weapons, which the Islamic Republic used to kill Americans.

It is long past time for Armenian organizations in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them to demand change in Armenian behavior. By ignoring Armenia’s orientation, the Armenian American community squanders an unprecedented opportunity to build a true partnership. Turkey has transformed from an ally into an adversary. From a strictly realist perspective, never before have the constellations oriented in such a favorable way to make the United States receptive to Armenia, should Armenia seize the opportunity.

Yet the Armenian community in the United States appears asleep at the switch. It need not drop its interest in the genocide resolution, but it might nevertheless prioritize strengthening the diplomatic and strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan. That partnership, however, will not develop if the Armenian Diaspora cannot convince its cousins in the Armenian homeland that a successful Armenian state could be a military, security, economic, and diplomatic partner to the United States—not a proxy for Iran or a puppet to Russia. Perhaps it’s time for the good Congressmen and Congresswomen from California and New Jersey to push back the next time Armenian lobbyists come knocking on their doors.


Will the US Punish Armenia?

The warped State Department-hatched Turkey-Armenia Protocols did not yield the necessary results for the US, nor have efforts to strong-arm Armenia into making dangerous concessions on the Karabakh front, so the US has renewed an old “concern” by alleging that Iran is using Armenia to for financial transactions that might violate international sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

An exclusive report by Reuters Tuesday, citing a nebulous “Western intelligence report” and quoting anonymous diplomatic sources, claimed that Iran is seeking financial alternatives “in countries that do not work according to the dictates of the West” is looking to expand its banking foothold in Armenia to allegedly deceive Western governments that have been attempting to curtail Iranian banking activities worldwide to thwart Iran’s nuclear 

The so-called “Western intelligence report,” according to Reuters, has singled out the Yerevan-based ACBA Credit Agricole Bank, one of the largest in Armenia, as one of Iran’s principal targets. Reuters also spoke to an anonymous Western UN diplomat who confirmed that ACBA was “a bank that has come up in connection with Iran.” He declined to provide details of any potentially illicit ACBA transactions linked to Iran, said Reuters.

This fracas has prompted the Armenian Central Bank to issue a blunt denial, echoing earlier statements by ACBA officials, who in the Reuters report, vehemently denied the allegations that the financial institution is being used by Iran for illicit activities.

“The Central Bank of Armenia obligates all banks and financial institutions in the Republic of Armenia to scrutinize their transactions, in order to avoid any possible involvement in transactions considered unacceptable by the international community,” said a statement issued by the CBA. “We don’t have any relationship with Iran,” The ACBA chief executive Stepan Gishian told Reuters. “We never have, we don’t now and furthermore we don’t plan on becoming a channel for financing Iran. What you’re saying is complete nonsense.”

Furthermore, recent news reports indicate that Armenia has been following the mandates set forth by the sanctions imposed both on Iran and Syria, since Syrian and Iranian nationals of Armenian descent have experienced difficulty opening bank accounts in Armenia, because of their citizenship. This is especially disheartening to Armenians who are leaving Syria due to the crisis there and are experiencing hurdles in establishing themselves in Armenia.

The Reuters reports does state that Turkey and the United Arab Emirates remain Iran’s largest banking connections, but claims that due to US pressure, especially the government of Turkey has become more vigilant in its business with Iran. Reportedly, President Serzh Sarkisian was cautioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit in June to Armenia about US concerns over the Iran’s interests in Armenia.

Iran remains one of Armenia’s largest trading partners with a reported $1 billion in trade. Asbarez has extensively reported about the intense desire by Armenia and Iran to strengthen their strategic partnership through varied projects, including the construction of an oil pipeline and a highway that would connect Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas with Batumi in Georgia, thus providing a direct link for Armenia to a seaport.

Evidently, this organic neighborly and centuries-old relationship between Armenia and Iran does not sit well with the US and its Western allies, who are keen on tightening the noose around Iran’s neck because of concerns over its nuclear program and be damned whatever stands in their way. However justified those concerns might be, Armenia should not be penalized by the US, which in its efforts to police the world, is bullying nations to conform to its standards.

If the US scrutinized its own domestic financial system as meticulously as it does other nations’ perhaps the loopholes that allowed for the collapse of the banking system and wide-spread corruption in this country would have been avoided.

Moreover, if the US went as far as to caution Armenia, it has not lifted a finger to force Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift their blockade of Armenia, which has been in place since 1993 and in international legal circles is considered an act of aggression or war. Instead the US has concocted convoluted schemes—the Protocols and policy on Karabakh—that abets Turkey to continue its denial of the Genocide and face history and diminishes the sacred principle of self-determination.

The Reuter report is a harbinger of things to come. The failed approaches by the US to address concerns in the South Caucasus have now taken on a worrisome tone. How far will the US go to force its misplaced policies on other nations, especially Armenia?


Is Armenia a Weak Link in Iran Sanctions?

Yesterday, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasian Subcommittee, which was investigating Iranian strategy, influence, and interests in the Caucasus. As always, there’s good news and bad news from the region. Azerbaijan remains a stalwart U.S. ally intolerant of Iranian approaches. Georgia is as well, but after its October election remains very much in play. Turkey’s efforts to subvert sanctions are well known. The greater problem today is Armenia:
  • According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, in 2008, U.S. diplomats concluded that Armenia shipped Iran weaponry, which Iran then used to kill Americans.
  • Bank Mellat, a sanctioned Iranian bank, operates in Yerevan, and Iranian businesses dot the city.
  • In October 2011, a member of Armenia’s Nuclear Energy Organization told the Iranian press that Tehran had enticed several Armenian nuclear scientists to work in Iran’s nuclear program.
The Armenian community in the United States is fortunate to be both vibrant and organized. It is unfortunate that organizations representing the Armenian Diaspora in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them do not do more to encourage change in the Armenian government’s geopolitical behavior. Certainly, Armenia is between a rock and a hard place. Russia looms large, both culturally and politically, and Armenians are loathe to unravel that relationship in an age when no one believes U.S. guarantees of continued commitment.

Cultural links are also strong to Iran; when I first studied in the Islamic Republic in the mid-1990s, my apartment was in Julfa, Isfahan’s chief Armenian neighborhood. The Armenian community need not drop its advocacy for recognition of the Armenian genocide, but by ignoring Armenia’s pro-Iranian orientation, the Armenian-American community squanders an opportunity to build a true strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan, a partnership which would certainly be to both countries’ benefit.


Forbes: Armenia is the World’s Second Worst Economy

On Tuesday, the prestigious Forbes magazine published a list of the world’s ten worst economies in which Armenia occupies the second place next to Madagascar. Forbes has selected the worst ten economies from among 117 countries according to three-year average statistics for gross domestic product growth and inflation (including the International Monetary Fund’s 2012 estimates), plus GDP per capita and the current account balance, a measure of whether the country is importing more than it exports.

Compared with the list for 2010, significant changes have taken place this year. While the previous release included mostly African nations, this year the list also includes Ukraine (4th position), Kyrgyzstan (7th) and Iran (10th). The authors of the research consider not only the economic crisis, but also mismanagement, corruption as causes of the decline of economies.

“Onetime losers like Ghana and Zimbabwe got their economic acts together and moved off the list while some countries, including Armenia and Jamaica, marched into the lower ranks primarily because of the global financial crisis. Others, like Madagascar and Nicaragua, earned their positions almost entirely due to the ineptitude of their rulers. It should come as no surprise that eight of the 10 worst economies also were in the bottom quartile of countries in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perceptions Index, with Guinea, Kyrgyzstan and Venezuela scoring close to the bottom,” says the report.

“Beyond income, (corruption) extends to economic development,” it quotes Transparency International’s Robin Hodess, group director for research and knowledge, as saying. “All of the indices that reflect human development suffer. Where government doesn’t work, economies don’t grow.”

According to Forbes, Armenia mainly suffered because of the financial crisis: “Armenia’s economy shrank by 15% in 2009 as an expatriate-financed construction boom fizzled along with the world economy. With a mediocre growth forecast for the next few years, this landlocked former Soviet republic, dependent upon Russia and Iran for virtually all of its energy supplies, is struggling to keep up with the rest of the world. Per-capita GDP of $3,000 is less than a third of neighboring Turkey, and inflation is running at 7%. On top of that, Russia cut back on supplies of diamonds, hurting Armenia’s once-thriving diamond-processing industry.”

Armenia’s well-known economist, head of the “Alternative” Research Center Tatul Manaseryan tends to trust the kind of assessment made by Forbes. “Usually, the Forbes surveys are well grounded and our researches also show that Armenia’s economy, to put it mildly, is not in a good condition. In this sense, I can share this opinion. But I am confident that possibilities of redressing the situation are not exhausted,” Manaseryan told ArmeniaNow.


Wrong Path in Armenia

Rally Do-Over: Officially denied, ANC again leads rally in Liberty Square

All Armenians in the diaspora are quite familiar with the sadness, grief, suffering, exile and relocation of those who escaped the Genocide. Here in the US, drawing from lessons and experiences from our past, we developed a value system, making us obedient to law and order, love of education, rewards of hard work and blessings of freedom. As a consequence, we have been extremely proud citizens of America. Next to the Holy Bible, the greatest treasure we possess is the document that proclaims us American citizens.

We also forgot our homeland of Armenia and by all accounts and means, have always helped her. Long before Turkish occupation and the Genocide, the Soviet regime and the great earthquake of 1988, every Diasporan Armenian gave support, love, talent, time and treasure to the precious homeland. When Armenia declared independence some 20 years ago, it was a most thankful moment of prayer, pride and joy for us all. With foremost and firmest promise, we determined to help the homeland in every way possible to ensure her security, health and progress.

The people of Armenia, in turn, were deeply appreciative of our help. They demonstrated honest appreciation, deep love and heartfelt admiration for all that we did and still do, to improve their lot. Diasporan Armenians who visited the homeland experienced greatest warmth, deep love and fellowship and never forgot this most unique experience.

Since the election of Serge Sargisian as president of Armenia, unprecedented and somewhat questionable practices were sought by him and his cabinet to further solidify relations with Diasporan Armenians. The government started to shower some leaders, philanthropists and wealthy Armenians in the diaspora with royal banquets, citations, honors and medals. His government even created a new position of Commissioner For Armenia-Diaspora Relations, who traveled across the Armenian world, extolling us to love Armenia more, give more, care more and promise never to forget the homeland. Not satisfied with all these and to further offer gloss and flattery to diaspora, the president of Armenia is offering dual citizenship to certain Diasporan Armenians of his choosing. The who and why is still obscure and highly questionable. The very idea of dual citizenship is divisive, misguided and totally absurd. This idea, or practice, should be buried in the deepest pit in Armenian soil and never see daylight again.

Unfortunately, this is not all. Lo and behold, the president of Armenia is considering restructuring the constitution of Armenia to include a number of Diasporan Armenians as members of parliament. This misbegotten and misguided concept seems not only unprecedented, but ridiculous. Is it to satisfy the ego of some Diasporan Armenians, who receive this honor? There must be a thousand-and-one questions regarding this scheme and before any more time is spent on it, it should join the same pit and never see sunrise or sunset again. President Serge Sargisian and his governing body are rushing from the ridiculous to the sublime and spending precious time to seduce Diasporan Armenians.

It is tragic, disturbing and sad to read or hear of demonstrations, protests, hunger strikes, discord and chaos in Armenia. Are we to assume that our beloved homeland is becoming like a kite whose line has been cut off? Truth, stark naked truth, demands that good government work for the governed and abandon all schemes, pretense and misrule.

As sure as I am that God’s sun breaks into a hundred million sapphires over Armenian Lakes, and that any Diasporan Armenian visiting Armenia feels he or she has stepped on the earth of God’s Eden of Genesis, that sure I am that all Diasporan Armenians — some eight million of us — will love more, do more, sacrifice more for homeland Armenia, if the president of Armenia and his governing body make more effort, put more passion, zeal and dedication and eliminate disunity, discord and especially, all dramatics.


Who will decide Armenia's destiny -- patriots or tyrants?

Across an ocean and a continent, on a sliver of land tucked between two seas, a little republic today enters its 20th year of independence. I know a man there, an American by birth – except that 20 years ago, he quit his law firm in Los Angeles, decided he had no further business in the United States, and went to search for his destiny in Armenia. It was a romantic time. One by one, the 15 Soviet satellites were breaking from the Kremlin’s orbit, and exiled sons were returning to their homelands to share in the creation of new republics. As for my father, Raffi K. Hovannisian, once the football star of the Pali High Dolphins, he left a promising legal career and moved with wife and children to Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. After independence was officially declared on Sept. 21, 1991, my father was handed a fax machine and a first month’s paycheck of 600 rubles – $143. He was told he was the republic’s first minister of foreign affairs.

Post-Soviet seeds of democracy

All across the Soviet plains, the seeds of democracy were being sown into soil tyrannized for generations, but no one doubted that they would grow. My father certainly didn’t. Within a year, he had established diplomatic relations with every major democracy in the world. At United Nations headquarters in New York, he had raised the red, blue, and orange Armenian flag. That was nearly 20 years ago. Everything was possible then. But the shadow of history soon closed in on the Armenians. The capital went dark. Faucets dried up. Grain shipments stopped coming in. And suddenly, as if for the first time, the Armenians realized where they were. To the west: a history of horror with Turkey, the memory of an unrequited genocide in 1915. To the east: the anticipation of war with Azerbaijan, occupant of the ancient American enclave of Artsakh, or Mountainous Karabagh. It is a dangerous thing, when survival becomes the sole ambition of a people. But that is what happened to the Armenians in the years after independence. They lost their hope, their cause, their conviction. They were not as generous as they used to be. And the old Soviet symptoms reappeared.

Corruption and failure

On the streets of Yerevan, a generation of child beggars emerged. Policemen waved batons for two-dollar bribes. Teachers worked for bribes, too. The presidents came to control every judge, prosecutor, and public defendant who wanted to keep his job. Fair trials and free elections became failed promises. Incumbents almost always “won” – while losers almost never went home without first leading a mob of a hundred thousand citizens through the capital. In 1999, during a session of parliament, all the president’s key adversaries were assassinated. My father long ago resigned from the Yerevan government, but he, at least, never gave up the dream. Instead, in 2001, he gave up his American passport once and for all. The following year, he founded Heritage, a national-liberal party, which now represents the opposition in the Yerevan parliament. To this day, my father is admired by his people. In a recent poll, Gallup pegged his popularity at 82 percent – but not for the obvious reasons. “Achke kusht e,” the people say of him, “His eye is full.” In other words: the man has seen the world, and he’s not in politics for the money. In Armenia, that is enough. Today the Yerevan government is linked to a group of powerful businessmen called “oligarchs,” who invest in and control the political game. One of them has the monopoly on gas, another the monopoly on sugar and flour. All of them have nicknames, armies of bodyguards, and fleets of luxury cars escorting them ostentatiously through the city.

Power-hungry tycoons

The rulers are multimillionaires, the lot of them, though they have incurred great debts to the original power tycoons surrounding the Kremlin in Moscow, to whom they have been selling the country’s gold mines and electricity plants. And they are ready to sell much more than that. Last month, Armenia hosted a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet alliance including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – republics unclaimed by the West, republics that are now following an ancient gravity to its source in mother Russia. During the August meeting, Russia secured a 24-year extension of its lease on a key military base in Armenia. Actually, lease isn’t the word. The base is funded and sustained entirely by the Armenian state. Now you see why today, in Yerevan, there is not much independence or democracy left to celebrate. And by now my father, too, must see what his romanticism has long prevented him from seeing: Armenia is not free, not independent, not united. The Soviet soil has spit out the seeds of democracy.

Hope foreshadows freedom

Of course my father still keeps the faith, and there is some evidence to support it. For the first time in Armenia, a civil society is taking shape to bridge a government and a people, so far disenfranchised from each other. Denied television airwaves, opposition media are now transmitting their protest through the Internet. And that little party in parliament, though it has not realized a revolution, can at least symbolize – and foreshadow – a free and independent Armenia. And so we hope, and we even know, that the tree of liberty will grow from Armenian soil one day. But not today, not until, in the words of another founding father, “it is refreshed by the blood of patriots and tyrants” – both of which, I’m afraid, Armenia has plenty.


Armenia No Longer Eligible For U.S. Aid Program

Armenia is currently not eligible for receiving additional U.S. economic assistance under a program designed to reward good governance and reforms around the world, U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said on Friday. She said the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections in the country will be an opportunity for the Armenian government to improve its democracy and human rights record and thus again qualify for the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.

The U.S. government approved $236 million worth of MCA assistance to Armenia in 2006 to finance a rural development plan submitted by Yerevan. In June 2008, Washington scrapped a $67 million segment of the aid package, which envisaged the reconstruction of hundreds of kilometers of rural roads. The decision was widely attributed to a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 and a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition that followed it.

The aid cut did not affect the rest of the MCA funding which is being mainly channeled into Armenia’s battered irrigation networks. Their ongoing refurbishment is due to be completed this September. Yovanovitch and Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited on Friday the central Aragatsotn province to inspect local irrigation canals that have been rehabilitated with MCA funds. They also met with farmers that have received training as part of the same scheme.

“We hope that this program has made and will continue to make a real impact on the rural community in terms of increased wealth,” Yovanovitch told journalists there. The U.S. diplomat made clear that Yerevan can not apply for more MCA aid for the time being. “Perhaps at some point in the future, there might be a possibility,” she said. “Every year, every country is reviewed for eligibility. At this point, Armenia is not eligible for a second compact due to where it stands on the [MCA] indicators.”

Yovanovitch specified that President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration should, among other things, hold more democratic elections. “As Armenia enters into an election cycle, with parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections the year after, there is an opportunity to boost these indicators,” she said. “Obviously, conduct on the day of elections is an important thing but so is freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the many other things that go into general good governance,” she added.

Yovanovitch urged the Armenian authorities to hold free elections, respect civil liberties and embark on other “deep and difficult” reforms in a recent speech at Yerevan State University. In particular, she stressed the importance of “ensuring that peaceful, lawful assemblies will not be harassed or broken up.”


Little Hope of More Democracy

Although there is still more than a year to go until the next parliamentary election, opposition parties in Armenia are already calling their followers onto the streets. There is plenty of popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, driven by rising prices and widespread poverty. But experts say the scope for channelling that into real change is limited by Armenia’s difficult relationships abroad, which its current leaders can always cite as justification for tough controls at home.

Armenia is still officially at war with Azerbaijan, and its troops garrison the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorny Karabakh, so ruling politicians can play the national security card if their authority is threatened. This has allowed them to fend off demands for democratic reforms. The government’s authoritarian tendencies, and its insistence on supporting Karabakh, has won support from big businesses keen to keep their monopolies safe from the Azerbaijani and Turkish competitors who might flood in if a peace deal was signed.

Opposition parties seeking to harness popular resentment of the government believe there is a limit to what people will put up with in the name of national security. “One fine day, a people who have nothing to lose and who have been driven to extreme suffering, might cease to care about the views of opinion of parliament, and even about Karabakh,” Armenian National Congress, ANC, leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan told a rally of supporters last month.

Experts say, however, that most people are not prepared to abandon their fellow-Armenians in Karabakh, and fear a possible repeat of the conflict with Azerbaijan. This plays into the government’s hands. “It’s clear the Armenian public has a keen sense of the danger of new war with Azerbaijan. That means that both the public and the opposition are more restrained than they might be], and that citizens have to opt for political stability over democratisation in many areas,” Garik Keryan, head of politics in Yerevan State University’s international relations faculty, said.

Commentators say the government tolerates political freedoms as long as they do not interfere with its grip on power, while the opposition movement remains divided among competing personalities. People who attend opposition protests are often there because they are against the government rather than actively drawn to the opposition. Ter-Petrosyan’s ANC fails to make much ground because he alienated many people in his time as Armenian president in the 1990s.

“Look what this government has driven me to. I have a law degree and I’m driving a taxi. They’re forcing people to team up with Levon,” Artur, a 29-year-old Yerevan resident said. “I remember the days of Levon’s government – it was terrible then. But what else can you do? These politicians are just humiliating us.”

Ter-Petrosyan has ruled out a swift attempt to win power, comparing his political strategy to a game of chess. That has led many analysts to argue that he is not interested in changing the political set-up radically, just in putting himself and his followers at the head of it. Political battles in Armenia are often more about competing individuals than different ideologies.

“The ANC probably a few tens of thousands of supporters, and the Heritage party has fewer, since it isn’t as well-organised,” public relations expert Samvel Martirosyan said. “Heritage more closely resembles a collection of individuals.”

The divisions among opposition groups were graphically evident on March 17, when Ter-Petrosyan was taking part in a protest meeting in central Yerevan and went past Heritage leader Raffi Hovhannisyan without acknowledging the fact that the latter had been staging a hunger strike for the past two days. Arman Vardanyan, chairman of the Union of Young Politicians of Armenia, said recent remarks made by Ter-Petrosyan, 66, might indicate he was considering stepping down as ANC leader. But finding a replacement of similar standing would be difficult.

“Ter-Petrosyan was making it plain he didn’t intend to stand in the next [2013] presidential election. But in my opinion, no newcomer is going to be able to present a serious challenge to the current president, Serzh Sargsyan,” Vardanyan said.

He predicted that the ANC would win around 25 per cent of the seats in parliament in the May 2012 election, while the Heritage Party and Dashnakutsyun, a party now in opposition but formerly part of the ruling coalition, would probably struggle to surpass the five per cent threshold needed to gain any seats at all. The result, Vardanyan said, would be that the ruling coalition would maintain its grip on power, and there would be little progress towards a more democratic system.
Keryan ascribes Armenia’s failure to build a more open political system in the two decades since independence to economic problems, the Karabakh war and its legacy of isolation in the region, and the continuing influence of Russia. “For 20 years, Armenia has seen its security as depending on its strategic partnership with Russia,” he said. “This could change only if there were major geopolitical changes in the region, and those changes haven’t happened.”

Last year, the two countries agreed to extend the stay of Russian troops in Armenia. An official strategy paper on national security reaffirms that a continued Russian presence in the South Caucasus is crucial for Armenia. While the document also talks about greater cooperation with NATO members, most analysts say the authorities would never stray too far from Moscow.

Meanwhile, a rapprochement with Turkey which has emerged over recent years appears to have ground to a halt. With no change to the external environment, observers say there is little impetus to move away from the current system dominated by a small political elite and by oligarchs with vested economic interests. “There is a privileged caste which is not only able to bypass the law but which uses the state to pursue its own ends,” Arman Rustamyan, a member of parliament from the opposition Dashnakutsyun party, said.

Hovsep Khurshudyan, an expert from the Armenian Centre for National and International Studies, said that despite the government’s declared intention of pursuing reforms, “the economy remains in the hands of a few families which also have political influence”. “The government is unable to force the big oligarchs to pay taxes, so it’s forced to place the whole tax burden on small and medium-sized businesses and on ordinary citizens, who will soon refuse to put up with this, or will emigrate,” Khurshudyan added.

Vazgen Manoukyan, who heads of the Public Council, a government advisory body set up by President Sargsyan in 2009, told IWPR that while Armenia had a democratic constitution, there were problems in practice with elections, freedom of speech and the judicial system. “The parliamentary and presidential elections of 1990 and 1991 were democratic, but 1995 and 1996 saw a huge step backwards, and the tradition of electoral fraud has continued since then, albeit with some modification,” he said.

Manoukyan said free speech was marred by the removal of the A1+ TV channel from the airwaves some years ago, the judicial system was far from perfect, and economic domination by the oligarchs had curbed both market competition and the growth of democratic institutions. 


Democracy Derailed: How Armenia Has Become the Post-Soviet Region's Model Dictatorship

On December 7, 2015, Armenia held a landmark referendum on constitutional reform. The results were resounding. Over 63% of Armenians voted in favor of reforms that would greatly increase the power wielded by the Prime Minister and render the president's role in the Armenian political process ceremonial. Even though decreased presidential power in CIS countries is typically associated with democratic consolidation, liberal Armenians expressed severe discontent with the referendum's outcome. Opposition MPs in Armenia and European politicians accused regime officials of electoral fraud and criticized the lack of meaningful open political debate on constitutional reform prior to holding the vote. Four thousand Armenians protested the government's handling of the referendum in the streets of Yerevan immediately after the results were announced, confirming the predictions of Armenia experts that the regime would be destabilized yet again by mass unrest.

Despite these protests and the fierce rhetoric emanating from established opposition groups in Armenia, it is intriguing that the current wave of demonstrations have not escalated to the levels witnessed in the summer 2015 Electric Yerevan protests. This failure is a testament to the success of Serzh Sargsyan regime's authoritarian consolidation efforts. Even though the July protests were largely motivated by popular discontent with Armenia's relationship with Russia, Sargsyan successfully deflected these concerns to benefit of his regime security. The Armenian regime has effectively addressed the domestic undercurrents of the protests while simultaneously exploiting crises in Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh to receive more extensive support from the Kremlin.

Why Sargsyan's Response to Electric Yerevan was Effective

Even though Armenia has a long tradition of popular protests forged from the transition experience and the instabilities associated with authoritarian consolidation in the post-1991 period, the summer 2015 protests in Yerevan posed a distinct challenge to Sargsyan's regime security. Unrest occurred outside the context of an election cycle and the extensive participation of previously apolitical youth and urban professionals in the protests highlighted the extent to which civil society in Armenia had matured in recent years. The anti-Russian undercurrents of the Electric Yerevan movement fueled many comparisons with the Euro-Maidan revolution in Ukraine, especially amongst Russian observers. At points, Sargsyan's long-term future appeared uncertain, with chorus of premature political obituaries drumming louder as unrest worsened day-by-day.

Sargsyan effectively defied these naysayers by demonstrating that he had learnt the lessons from Viktor Yanukovych's ignominious demise in Ukraine. Instead of resorting to mass violence to restore order, Sargsyan attempted to appease the protesters with concessions demonstrating his ostensible concern for their economic plight and demands for a less corrupt judicial process.

Six days after the protests began, Sargsyan made a public statement insisting that the 17% hike in electricity costs was necessary to ensure Armenia's power grid was operational. But to alleviate the financial burden, he announced that the government not households would cover the excess costs until an independent audit of the price hike was completed. To prevent opposition movements from snowballing in retaliation to gratuitous police brutality, Sargsyan launched a police investigation into officers involved in the June 23 crackdown. A senior regime-affiliated member of the police force was demoted and police officers involved in the repression were reprimanded.

Sargasyan's deft accommodation of the Yerevan protesters' grievances prevented the electricity protests from escalating into a national popular revolution. The absence of unified leadership amongst the Armenian opposition and the increasingly abstract nature of their agenda following the government's concession on the electricity issue ultimately defused the protests completely. To prevent a more cohesive challenge to the Republican Party's 16 year long hegemony over Armenian politics from emerging, Sargasyan has attempted to stimulate the economy by borrowing from international lenders and by presenting Armenia as an economic bridge between China and Europe. He also launched an ambitious constitutional reform agenda weakening presidential power to present a more credible façade of democracy to the international community, while providing a gateway to a potential run for a third presidential term.

When opposition movements resisted these measures by claiming that Republican Party was trying to institutionalize a one-party system in Armenia, Sargsyan devised a divide-and-conquer strategy to marginalize the opposition and exploit its disunity. Amidst allegations of bribery and by courting Russian assistance, the Prosperous Armenia bloc supported the regime's proposed reforms, dissolving the opposition troika formed several months earlier. As a result, opposition blocs like the Heritage Party who opposed the Sargsyan reforms became increasingly hostile towards those who acquiesced and experienced defections amongst their own ranks. The regime's clever political machinations ensured that the December 7 referendum was met with much more muted opposition than one would have expected on the heels of Electric Yerevan.

Armenia and Russia: A Tightening Partnership

The second prong of Sargsyan's authoritarian consolidation strategy is a counter-intuitive one: deepening Armenia's partnership with Russia. The Electric Yerevan protests highlighted Russia's eroding soft power in Armenia and diminished popular support for integration with Putin's Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) during a period of economic recession. Sargsyan's channeling of public anger away from Russia and towards Armenian domestic policy by appearing to crack down on government mismanagement and police brutality was a risky move. But in the long run, it has crystallized Russia's support for Armenia, at a time when Azerbaijan has been attempting to thaw relations with the Kremlin.

Russia's increased support for Armenia once again upholds its reputation as the leading guardian of authoritarianism in the CIS region. The head of the Federation Council's Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev described the summer 2015 protests in Armenia as bearing "all the hallmarks of a colored revolution." Elites close to Kremlin insinuated that Western-backed NGOs had a hand in fomenting instability in Yerevan. Sargasyan's new found sense of vulnerability implored Russia to tighten its alliance with Armenia. In late October, the Russian government proposed the creation of a joint air defense mechanism with Armenia as part of a broader plan to create a CSTO aerial umbrella extending to Central Asia. Armenia also received a $200 million loan from Russia, which would be used to purchase long-range weapons and military hardware vital for the modernization of its military.

The sale of arms at discounted prices during a period of economic crisis in Russia and a brewing debt crisis in Armenia is a telling sign of Putin's commitment to preserving the bilateral relationship. It also repaired the strains created by the January slaying of an Armenian family by a Russian soldier, an event that caused Regional Studies Center director Richard Giragosian to speculate that an end to Armenia's security dependence on Russia was near. In addition to stoking fears of uncontrolled popular revolutions that could diffuse to Russia, Armenia has curried Russian patronage by exploiting regional crises. The recent inflammation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been at least partially attributed to Armenian provocation. Azerbaijan's defense ministry on October 1 accused Armenia of violating the ceasefire 80 times a day by using heavy machine guns and mortar shells.

In tandem with these escalations, Russia has become increasingly confrontational in its rhetoric about the Karabakh conflict. Russian ambassador to the OSCE Aleksandr Lukashevich recently described Turkey's unconditional support for Azerbaijan as detrimental to long-term prospects of peace and an infringement on OSCE responsibilities. The economic aid and coercive capabilities the Armenian regime has received from Russia depend in part on Armenia facing credible security threats. Creating an atmosphere of perpetual crisis in the South Caucasus therefore plays right into Sargsyan's hands.

Armenia's scathing condemnation of Turkey's recent downing of a Russian jet over its airspace, and solidarity with Russia's counter-terrorism campaign has also strengthened the Sargasyan regime's ties to Russia. Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the upper house of the Russian parliament, submitted a bill on "holding to account" deniers of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The prospect of a major Russian military buildup on the Turkey-Armenia border has also become more realistic.

Yet unlike Yanukovych who made integration with Russia or the acceptance of the EU association agreement a mutually exclusive choice, Armenia has been able to balance increased Russian support with a multi-vector foreign economic policy. Armenia has actively co-opted Chinese investment, received 30 million euros from the EU to improve fiscal governance, and has reopened negotiations on a broad-based bilateral framework agreement with Europe. Sargsyan's successful free-riding off regional crises has given him flexibility and leverage that Ukraine's elites lacked in 2013, and has put Putin in a position in which escalating support for the Armenian regime is the only way for Russia to maintain its leverage in the South Caucasus

Sargasyan's mixture of shrewd concessions, deflection of blame away from Russia to domestic institutions and exploitation of international crises to curry Russian support demonstrates that he has learnt the lessons of Maidan. His successful experience could also provide a powerful role model for other authoritarian Russian allies like Belarus or Kazakhstan, in combatting future mass protests and neutralize the effects of liberal civil society development.


Paul Goble: Armenia Facing Demographic Collapse

All progressive humanity’ is concerned by the periodic reports about the disappearance of this or that type of plant or animal, [but] we are much less concerned about the disappearance of nations and nationalities,” Armenian expert Gevork Pogosyan says. Yet, as the post-Soviet period demonstrates, that can happen even to larger nations that have lost population numbers as a result of declining birthrates and increasing outmigration and assimilation (see EDM, December 11). One such country now facing a demographic collapse is Armenia, whose population has dropped by nearly 1.5 million since 1991 and is projected to decline by that much again over the next several decades (, December 6).

Such declines call into question the long-term survival of Armenians as a nation, the director of the Yerevan Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Law suggests. But more immediately, they have significant security implications given that those leaving Armenia are the most educated portion of the population rather than the working class. And furthermore, Armenia remains locked in a conflict with its neighbor, Azerbaijan, over Karabakh and the other Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan. But like the other Muslim republics of the former Soviet space, Azerbaijan is experiencing rapid population growth and is predicted to continue to do so for some time to come.

Between 1920 and 1991, Pogosyan says, Armenia’s population rose from 880,000 to approximately five million; but after 1991, it began to lose population and will continue to do so. In part, this reflects the decline in the birthrate by 50 percent over that period; but to a greater extent, it is the product of outmigration, something many Armenians thought might be temporary but which is proving to be permanent. “Hundreds of thousands have left, but only a handful have returned,” Pogosyan notes. And because it is the young who are leaving most often, the number of women in prime childbearing age groups is falling, which will push the population down even more, perhaps to only 1.5 million by mid-century. Moreover, that population will be far “grayer” than the current one.

Some of this reflects the real absence of opportunities in Armenia, the Yerevan scholar argues. But part of it signifies a spiritual crisis in which Armenians increasingly feel that they and their children have no future in a country that is locked in what appears to be a permanent, if undeclared, war and whose government has done little to fight domestic corruption or crime. The authorities, meanwhile, have often reacted with indifference to this trend or even welcomed it: One former prime minister said that if Armenians were not leaving the country in massive numbers, there would be a revolt at home.

If the problem is to be addressed, Pogosyan says, the government must first admit that the problem exists, something it has not been willing to do; and it must then adopt policies intended to change the existing national psychology. At the same time, it must recognize that some of the things it is doing to save the Armenian economy may be destroying the country’s demographic future. Entering the Eurasian Economic Union, for example, will make it even easier for Armenians to leave their country and never return. It is already the case, he says, that there are almost as many ethnic Armenians in Russia as there are in Armenia.

Moreover, he continues, it is not just a question of gross numbers. If many international guest workers from Muslim republics are low-skilled people, between 55 and 60 percent of Armenians leaving to work elsewhere are highly trained professionals. That further depresses the future of Armenia. And this trend gives no sign of easing. According to research his institute has done, Pogosyan says, “up to 40 percent of young people are set on leaving the country, either to study, for to work, or to live there and marry. This is a very bad symptom.”

Yerevan cannot hope to stop outmigration, Pogosyan asserts, but what it must do if the nation is to have a future is to promote “circular migration,” in which Armenians go abroad for part of their lives and then return to Armenia. That is the pattern in Europe, and Yerevan must take steps to make it the pattern in Armenia as well. At the same time, it must do more to attract Armenians from the eight-million-strong Armenian diaspora. To date, however, Yerevan has not been doing that. For example, he says, it has taken in only 7,000 Armenians from Syria out of an Armenian community there of 150,000.

But the situation is even worse than those figures suggest, Pogosyan states, because many of the Syrian Armenians who have come to Armenia are using it as a way station until they can move to Europe or the United States. He says he has a neighbor from Syria, a doctor with his own clinic in Armenia. But now that neighbor is selling his clinic and apartment and planning to move to France. He and his family “lived in Armenia only a year, and you already cannot keep him” there. “That is the reality” of Armenian life now; as a result, the scholar says, “depopulation continues.”


‘Russia has de facto occupied Armenia,’ Yerevan expert Paul Goble says

Russian soldiers stationed at a military base in Armenia (Image:

Moscow has taken control of Armenia’s economy and restricted its domestic and foreign policy options to the point that one Yerevan commentator says it has “de facto” occupied that south Caucasus country, a possible indication of just what Vladimir Putin may hope to do in other post-Soviet states if he has the chance. Ruben Mergrabyan, the editor of the Russian Service of the internet portal, says that Moscow has moved to establish its control over Armenia by “cleverly playing” on the Karabakh issue and by exploiting Armenia’s dependence on energy supplies from abroad.

The first, he says, helps the Russian government to silence any objections to what it is doing inside Armenia while the second excludes from his country all foreign firms and especially energy suppliers like neighboring Iran that might allow Yerevan to take a more balanced approach. Moscow used both the fear of Azerbaijani attacks and of the loss of energy supplies to force Yerevan to join the Eurasian Economic Union when in Mehrabyan’s words, the Russian side “made a proposal that [Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan] could not refuse.”

What has occurred in Armenia is something “unnatural,” the Armenian commentator continues. It is next to Iran, a major exporter of gas, but it imports its gas from Siberia, as the result of agreements that do little more than “legalize [Armenia’s] occupation.” Indeed, under the terms of those accords, Yerevan can’t make a deal with Tehran unless Moscow agrees. Russia’s goal, he says, “is to liquidate any chance for Armenia to establish economic ties with Iran.” Without such ties, Armenia must seek to go through one of its three other neighbors, with one of which (Azerbaijan) it is at war, with a second (Turkey) longstanding hostility, and with the third (Georgia) it has difficulties precisely because of Yerevan’s Russian orientation.

Moscow has then used this situation to take control of Armenia’s domestic energy infrastructure, acquiring ownership in “property for debt” swaps that Yerevan has little choice but to accept, given that its own economy is in a shambles. But Russian control imposes new and heavy costs. Mehrabyan says that in Armenia “Russian government companies now are involved in activities which resemble the methods of organized criminal groups” bringing with them the illegalities characteristic of their branches in Russia itself, including massive corruption and direct involvement in Armenian politics on behalf of Moscow.

At the same time, Moscow has done everything it can to “undermine the work of the OSCE Minsk Group,” claiming it supports a resolution but in fact providing offensive arms to Azerbaijan and looking the other way when Baku officials make statements suggesting they are about to launch an attack on Armenian-controlled portions of Azerbaijan. That has allowed Moscow to issue statements suggesting that it alone “can defend Armenia” not only from Azerbaijan but also “from its historic enemy.” All this, Mehrabyan says, has left Armenia “a hostage of the imperial policy of Russia,” one whose dimensions are obscured by massive Kremlin-backed propaganda about a possible war with Azerbaijan.

Now it appears Moscow is about to take the next step in this neo-imperialist game, inserting its own “pocket” candidate for president of Armenia, Ara Abramyan, the chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia, who recently returned to Yerevan to signal his political plans. Mehrabyan says that Abramyan’s involvement in Armenian politics not only threatens to turn Armenia into something Russia can trade but also represents “the final degradation of the [Armenian] political system.” Indeed, the commentator says, for Vladimir Putin, Abramyan is “the Armenian Yanukovych.” One can only hope that that Russian project in Armenia will suffer the same fate the analogous Russian project met in Ukraine. But if Mehrabyan is correct, the chances of that unless there are serious changes in Yerevan’s relations with its own people and the outside world are significantly less.


Armenia, Karabakh Remain "Partly Free" According to Freedom House


Nagorno-Karabakh remains a “partly free” territory governed by a less repressive administration than Azerbaijan, the U.S. human rights group Freedom House said in an annual survey released this week. Freedom House evaluated “political rights” and “civil liberties” in 195 countries and 15 territories, including Karabakh, on a 7-point scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free. It again rated both Karabakh and Armenia “partly free” and kept Azerbaijan in the “not free” category of nations surveyed. What is more, the “Freedom in the World 2016” survey further downgraded Azerbaijan’s ratings, giving the authorities in Baku a median score of 6.5.

“Azerbaijan’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to an intensified crackdown on dissent, widespread irregularities surrounding the November parliamentary elections, and serious violations of the right to a fair trial in cases against journalists, opposition activists, and human rights defenders,” it explained. “President Ilham Aliyev’s government used the polls to show its teeth to the democratic world, barring several foreign journalists from covering the process and imposing restrictions on international observer groups that led some to suspend their monitoring missions,” adds the report.

By comparison, Karabakh’s political rights and civil liberties ratings remained unchanged at 5. Freedom House upgraded the status of the Armenian-populated unrecognized republic, which broke away from Azerbaijani rule in the early 1990s, from “not free” to “partly free” in 2013. The watchdog attributed that to Karabakh’s “competitive” July 2012 presidential election which it said featured a “genuine opposition.”

The Azerbaijani government on Thursday condemned the U.S. watchdog’s latest evaluations of Azerbaijan and especially Karabakh. “Setting aside the separatist regime created in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan in the latest annual report is yet another instance of bias shown by Freedom House,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev said, according to the APA news agency. Hajiyev said that previous reports also exposed “Freedom House’s biased attitude towards Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Like other Western human rights groups, Freedom House has repeatedly decried the arrests and imprisonment of dozens of Aliyev critics in recent years. In 2014, it urged the United States and the European Union to consider imposing sanctions on Azerbaijani officials involved in human rights abuses.

Why Armenians are successful everywhere except Armenia

One of my American colleagues who lives in Boston and always keeps in touch with the local Armenians, last year visited Armenia as a volunteer firmly intending to assist in fixing some social problems in Armenia. After working for more than a month in Armenia we finally met just before his departure to the USA. He was sad and perplexed. “I know many Armenians living in Boston, New York and New Jersey,” he said, “they are very successful in their respective fields and live safe and prosperous lives. Many of them emigrated from Armenia during the last 15–20 years; and I treat the Armenians with admiration. 

Now, when I have visited various towns and villages in Armenia, met people, listened to them about their and the country's problems, I'm just stunned. How is it possible that a country with such a talented and hard-working people, and such a diverse diaspora that sends billions of dollars to Armenia every year, can remain so underdeveloped and poor?”

Indeed, Armenia was well-known in the Soviet Union for its highly skilled population, its industrial, scientific and educational potential, and its healthcare. Now Armenia has become one of the poorest countries in the world. The average monthly salary in Armenia is $370 (USD), the average monthly pension is $90, and 20% of children under five years old have health problems caused by undernourishment. The economy is suffering under the yoke of the local oligarchs and Russian monopolies. The authorities have signed many disgraceful agreements with Russia, which force Armenians to buy gas and oil exclusively from Russia at the highest price possible, when oil and gas prices have fallen elsewhere in the world.  

There is no serious local or foreign investment in Armenia not only because of the unfavourable economic conditions (some patriotic Armenians from the diaspora are ready to make substantial investments even in these conditions), but also because of the unwritten laws of systemic corruption. Every investor planning a significant project in the country is obliged to donate a substantial portion of its investment to the current president's family in order to be able to operate without obstruction. For example, the current president’s brother, Sashik Sargsyan, is known in Armenia as Mr. “50%.” 

The systemic injustices and illegalities in Armenia, as well as the alienation of ordinary citizens from their own country's government, have led to widespread apathy and despair. People, who could develop Armenia, are leaving the country for Russia, Europe, USA, Ukraine, Canada and Australia. The current emigration rate of 4–5% of the whole population annually is the highest in the world and is simply disastrous. During the 25 years of Armenia's independence, more than 2 million people left the country, almost the same number of people who remain there today. Moreover, half of those emigrants left Armenia in the last 8 years, during Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency.

The government, through sophisticated and unlawful practices, has left the country’s citizens bare-handed in face of a mighty criminal gang that has seized power in Armenia. The people cannot affect this situation in any way and their participation in the elections serves as a smokescreen for the ruling clan to demonstrate formal conformity with the democratic standards imposed in Armenia by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is difficult to find another country in the world, where the ruling party has so many members with mafia-style nicknames

On February 2013 the West turned a blind eye to the reproduction of Serzh Sargsyan’s power through massive electoral fraud, as Sargsyan had promised to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. But the previous four years of successful negotiation process with the EU was not a classic episode of the Eastern Partnership but rather a vivid example of eastern cunning aimed at getting support from the West during upcoming presidential elections.

The post-election protest campaign, organized by Raffi K. Hovannisian, who was actually elected as a president by absolute majority, was denied any political support from the West and gradually faded away. Just four months after the demise of this powerful anti-governmental movement, Serzh Sargsyan not only refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, but during his meeting with Putin in the Kremlin made a solemn pledge to integrate Armenia into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

It is noteworthy that Raffi Hovannisian’s "Heritage" party was the only one, whose faction in the Parliament voted against Armenia's integration to the EEU. As a result the authorities worked incessantly to exacerbate the rivalries within the party and its parliamentary faction and eventually to eviscerate it. Now the parliamentary faction of the "Heritage" party essentially has only one member instead of its previous five. Today the authorities promote puppet “pro-western” parties, which are fully under its control.   

On December 6, 2015, Serzh Sargsyan called a referendum on constitutional "reforms" and laid the groundwork to reinforce and perpetuate his power in a weakened Armenia. Currently in his second and final term as President, these changes are designed to enable him to retain power as Prime Minister or Speaker of the Parliament. No wonder that the results of the referendum were rigged. Thanks to the opposition and civil society efforts, the law enforcement authorities have had to file dozens of criminal cases on numerous electoral frauds during the referendum.

None of these criminal proceedings have been initiated as a result of the intervention by the Police or National Security Service. And this all happened despite the fact that the opposition parties are not funded from any sources, except the annual state financial subsidy of a mere 7–10 thousand dollars, which is provided by law (other sources of opposition financing, such as financial backing from business sector, are strictly forbidden, and carry penalties for the sponsors that can lead to their bankruptcy: we have such examples).

But even the court cases of the criminals who rigged the results of the referendum bring no results as they are released one-by-one after simply paying small fines; in fact the maximum punishment for such an offense as state capture in Armenia is a fine of $ 1000. And even if some will be imprisoned, certainly very soon they will be released under amnesty, granted by their main customer, the president, as has happened during the last years of independent Armenia.

Thus, in Armenia catching criminals and handing them over to be tried and punished is the direct responsibility of the opposition and civil society, while the absolute right of the authorities is to release those criminals, who will continue to falsify elections, capture the state, plunder the state budget, and simply sending to prison those who actively resist these electoral crimes. There are 13 political prisoners in Armenia today. This fact has been unanimously accepted not only by the opposition and human rights organizations, but also in Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which has urged Armenia’s authorities to release them many times.

The reaction of the West to the rigged referendum last December compared to the 2013 presidential election was tougher. The West, through  the US Ambassador and the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia have demanded the punishment all the criminals, who committed electoral fraud, and prepare an electoral code with the  involvement of civil society and the opposition, and thus take steps to restore public trust towards the electoral system.

But these statements have made little difference. Recently the Government of Armenia received a “yellow card”: on March 18, a few days after the publication of authorities’ anti-democratic draft of the Electoral Code, "Moody's" downgraded Armenia's long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings from Ba3 to B1. But the debate on the Electoral Code in Armenia shows that, even with pressure from the West the authorities will not be pushed to accept any real reform of the Electoral Code for one simple reason - election laws, which guarantee free and legitimate elections, will be the end of their power.

And any government elected by the people will uncover a long series of the economic and criminal offences, such as the mass shooting at the Parliament in 1999, the murder of 10 peaceful demonstrators in 2008, the falsification of at least 5 presidential elections, the extradition of a huge section of Armenia's economy to Russia for a low, sometimes symbolic, price, and the continual looting of the state treasury.

But if until recently Armenia’s democratic society has had no hope of a regime change in the country, now, in the light of economic and geopolitical weakening of the Serzh Sargsyan's main sponsor Kremlin, such hopes are beginning to revive. The opposition, supported by the civil society, will try to change the government for the first time in the history of Armenia and to establish a democratic regime.  In this regard, the situation has a number of similarities with that of Ukraine, and the current president of Armenia resembles President Yanukovych, the former ruler of Ukraine. Serzh Sargsyan enjoys the support of only 7–8% of the population and is widely mistrusted by the general public.

The Yanukovych precedent is instructive, particularly since many people in Armenia have been excited about the popular revolution in Maidan, as they were in 2011 about the Arab Spring. In Armenia the more or less positive attitude towards Russia that has existed for 20 years is taking some sharp turns. The only factor that still keeps Armenia in Kremlin's orbit is the Turkish-Azerbaijani threat, expressed, on one hand, through the ongoing illegal blockade of Armenia by Turkey as well as the refusal by Ankara to ratify the Armenian-Turkish protocols, signed under the auspices of the USA, EU and Russia. 

On the other hand, there are the statements by the leadership of Azerbaijan about the possibility of conquering the self-determined Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (the last one, by the way, according to the Freedom House index “Freedom in the world”, has much more democratic political system and more liberal economy than Azerbaijan). But even these factors will be unlikely to hold back the people when the last drop will overflow their cup of patience. "It is enough to establish legitimate government in Armenia based on the people’s choice, and I am sure, that Armenia will blossom in a short time," said my American friend before leaving. Armenians hope that this day is not so far.

Armenia Has the Highest Cancer Death Rate in the World


Armenia has been placed first in a ranking of countries with highest rate of deaths caused by cancer. The list has been compiled by the World Life Expectancy research center. Zimbabwe and Hungary are ranked second and third respectively.  According to the study, the death rate in Armenia is 229.84 per 100 thousand people.  Armenia’s partners in the Eurasian Economic Union are ranked as follows: Kazakhstan – 14th, Russia – 15th, Belarus – 56th, Kyrgyzstan – 99th.  Neighboring Georgia is placed 85th, Azerbaijan is 72nd, Turkey is 40th and Iran is 113th.  The research shows that the deaths caused by cancer are in no way related to the level of development of the country or the weather conditions. The United States is ranked 43rd in the list, while France and Germany are placed 22nd and 41st.


Armenia’s Russia problem

In Armenia’s post-independence period, debt-for-asset swaps, many of which were negotiated personally by now-President Serzh Sargsyan, turned over critical assets to Russian SOEs in exchange for debt relief. Many top Armenian government officials, not to mention the Armenian public, were left in the dark as these backroom deals were executed. Since, Russian companies have used various tactics, including debt-for-asset swaps, or the offer of discounts on natural gas prices, to gain economic concessions. As recently as August, Armenia was reportedly mulling the sale of the Yerevan Power Plant to Gazprom (indebted to the company for $52.3 million).

Breaking it down sector by sector, the level of control by Russian state-owned companies is staggering. The country’s energy sector, in particular, is inordinately dependent on Russian state owned, or state linked, enterprises. These companies own or operate an array of power generating assets and chemical plants in the country. Those such assets that remain in Armenian government hands, like the Metsamor nuclear power plant, often still depend entirely on Russian fuel. Many of Armenia’s thermal power plants, for example, are powered with natural gas, the majority (80%) of which comes from Russia and passes through a distribution system fully controlled by Gazprom (via Gazprom Armenia). While the country’s sources of oil imports are more diversified, all oil products are moved via the country’s railway system, which is managed and operated Russian Railways. This Russian economic dominance extends to other of Armenia’s strategic sectors, including mining, banking and telecommunications.

Even in the more traditional soft power realm, Russia holds significant sway over the Armenian public. Roughly 49% rely on Russian television as their daily news source, and just 16% of Armenians watch no Russian television news at all. Outside of Armenia proper is a diaspora community of roughly 2.3 million, the majority of which resides in Russia. Keeping in mind that Armenia itself is home to just 2.9 million - one-third of whom live in poverty - the country’s inordinate dependence on remittances is blatant. Between 2010 and 2014, remittances constituted roughly 19% of Armenia’s total GDP, and those originating from Russia comprise some 70% of the total.

The question of how exactly this economic dominance translates into political control is not easy to answer, but it starts with the presence of oligarchs friendly to Moscow, who themselves control certain of the country’s most lucrative businesses. Made up of a circle of roughly forty individuals, included amongst the country’s oligarchs are members of the major political parties and Armenian presidents. The deals struck with Russian companies operating in the country serve often to enrich the oligarchs who facilitate the deals or partner with these firms. Thus, Moscow is often able to force Yerevan to make political or economic decisions that fall in line with Moscow’s broader agenda (for example the country’s joining of the Eurasian Economic Union).

There is no clearer recent example of Moscow’s close ties to the Armenian oligarchic class than that of newly appointed Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who led Gazprom Armenia for some time and was later Vice President of Gazprombank. Even if Karapetyan’s appointment is simply a placeholder until the April 2017 elections, it speaks volumes symbolically. The Prime Minister’s brother, Samvel Karapetyan, heads Tashir Group, which purchased Armenian Electric Networks, which controls the country’s power grid, from Russia’s Inter RAO following the Electric Yerevan protests.

Due in large part to these strong economic ties, Armenia is, in effect, trapped in Moscow’s strategic orbit, despite growing public frustration with Russia. Moscow’s continued defense sales to Azerbaijan continue to be a thorn in the side of Armenia, though the government has found itself able to do little about it. Likewise, Western assistance dedicated to enhancing the country’s democratic institutions, including the recently publicized effort to provide financial support for a new voting process, will not be enough to counter Moscow’s interest in maintaining the status quo. Without accounting for the economic role of Russia in Armenia, any efforts to enhance the country’s democratic institutions will largely fall flat.


US Ambassador: Putin's Newest Satellite State: Armenia

Two days before Christmas, as American policymakers were settling into the holidays, Russia quietly signed a sweeping air defense agreement with Armenia, accelerating a growing Russian military buildup that has unfolded largely under the radar. It was the most tangible sign yet that Putin is creating a new satellite state on NATO’s border and threatening an indispensable U.S. ally. The buildup in Armenia has been glossed over in Washington, despite being a key piece of Vladimir Putin’s plan to dominate the region — along with its proxy Syria and growing military ties with Iran. Most importantly, Armenia shares an approximately 165 mile border with Turkey, a NATO member and the alliance’s southern flank.  Over the last six months — as Russia’s war in Syria and pressure on Turkey has intensified — the flow of its arms and personnel into Armenia has escalated to include advanced Navodchik-2 and Takhion UAV drone aircrafts, Mi-24 helicopter gunships and Iskander-M ballistic missiles. Last July, Putin ordered snap combat readiness checks in Armenia to test the ability of his forces to react to threats to Russia’s interests abroad. Earlier this month on orders of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, Russia began a massive military exercise in its “southwestern strategic direction,” which includes Armenia. The total strength of the regional operation included approximately 8,500 troops, 900 ground artillery pieces, 200 warplanes and 50 warships. The growing Russian military presence in Armenia is but the latest indicator of a worrisome trend: Putin’s threat to NATO and America’s interests in Europe. 

The Armenian-Russian alliance is gaining strength

The Armenian-Russian alliance is gaining strength. Armenia currently hosts an estimated 5,000 Russian military personnel and two Russian bases. In 2010, both countries signed an agreement that extended Russia’s basing rights in Armenia by 24 years, until 2044, and committed Moscow to supply the Armenian armed forces with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware,” according to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, Armenia — nearly 120 kilometers from the capital (and less than 10 kilometers from the Turkish border) — has become a crucial Russian beachhead. A similar Russian deployment on the borders of any other NATO member state would produce an outcry of outrage. Why are we staying silent in the face of this thinly veiled aggression against Turkey? And why are we not speaking up against Armenia for rolling out the red carpet for Putin’s shock troops? Turkey, after all, is a critical ally in the global fight against ISIS and is among the only members of the U.S.-led coalition with bases near strategic ISIS strongholds. In July 2015, Turkey and the U.S. finalized an agreement to work cooperatively to combat Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq, allowing the U.S. to launch air attacks from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey against Islamic State terrorist networks in northern Syria.

In international diplomacy, geography is everything

We ignore this threat at our peril. And in international diplomacy, geography is everything. Armenia borders three critical U.S. allies: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Russian forces currently occupy Georgian territory. Azerbaijan steadfastly resists intimidation from Moscow and is the linchpin in our efforts to wean Europe from dependence on Russian energy supplies. Make no mistake: The Russian military presence in Armenia represents a dagger pointed at the heart of NATO as the Armenia-Russian alliance strengthens. But while Moscow is rattling its sabers, Washington remains silent. Last August, The Moscow Times reported that President Putin told Turkey’s Ambassador to Moscow to “tell your dictator President he can go to hell along with his ISIS terrorists and I shall make Syria to nothing but a ‘Big Stalingrad.’” Histrionics aside, the intent is clear. Russia views Turkey as a hostile state and it will not back down. The picture that has emerged is unsettling: Armenia is enabling a bad actor, while Russia is using it to threaten our vital interests. America’s leaders must negotiate from a position of strength. Instead, we are acquiescing to Putin’s naked show of force. The history of the 20th century shows us that this will not end well. 

The Russia-Armenia alliance is threatening Turkey, a critical U.S. ally

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) speaks with US President Barack Obama (R) (File)

The Feb. 21 front-page article “For Turkey, high stakes as troubles intensify” highlighted a critical development: The growing military alliance between Russia and Armenia is threatening Turkey, an indispensable U.S. ally and partner in the fight against the Islamic State. The announcement that Russia is sending a new set of fighter jets and combat helicopters to an air base only 25 miles from the Turkish border is just the latest example of this alliance. The two countries’ economic and military ties run deep, bolstered by economic and security agreements and two military bases — including one just outside the Armenian capital. Most significant, Armenia is the only country in the region that shares a border with Turkey and has Russian troops permanently stationed. Although Armenia has welcomed thousands of Russian troops and advanced weaponry, these developments seemed to have escaped the notice of U.S. officials, who were settling in for the holidays while Russia and Armenia signed a sweeping air defense agreement two days before Christmas. It’s time for Washington to assess who our real allies in the region are. Andrew Bowen, Washington: The writer is senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

Nuclear trouble in Azerbaijan: Russian missiles in Armenia threaten western energy interests

Russian Iskander Missiles in Armenia Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Caucasus Mountains that run between the Black and Caspian Seas could soon turn into a nuclear flash point because of dangerous saber-rattling by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Armenia has illegally claimed territory in western Azerbaijan, an assertion backed by military offensives against Azerbaijan, including a massacre of 600 citizens in 1992. Sadly now, Armenia may be taking the region to the brink of nuclear war.

Armenia received the Iskander missile system from Russia last autumn, a major provocation meant to send a message to Azerbaijan and NATO ally Turkey. This is consistent with Moscow’s policy of using missile deployments in Eurasia and the Middle East to threaten western interests. The Iskander short-range ballistic missile system is designed to destroy small targets at up to 300 miles. This means that Iskander missiles deployed in eastern Armenia could reach targets all over Azerbaijan, including the capital of Baku. Alarmingly, Iskander missiles are capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads.

As if the presence of the missiles were not a clear enough menace, Mr. Sargsyan visited the improperly held territories and bragged that his government possessed a “state-of-the-art, powerful striking force.” He went on to identify potential targets in Azerbaijan — “the most important infrastructure” — and followed up with a chilling pronouncement about his intentions as head of the Armenian military. “If needed, the commander in chief of the Armenian forces will without batting an eyelid order volley fire by Iskander,” he said.

This new round of warmongering is troubling in several respects and raises tensions in Baku and throughout the region. In addition to unnerving Armenia’s neighbors, Mr. Sargsyan’s statements raised concerns in Washington, D.C. The Jamestown Foundation recently held a panel discussion on Capitol Hill to address the danger posed by Armenia’s deployment of the Iskander missiles, writing that the new weapons “threaten European stability, put U.S. allies at risk and potentially violate the 1988 [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty.”

Mr. Sargsyan’s inflammatory rhetoric destroys the myth propagated by separatists that the Armenian-seized Azerbaijani territory is an independent republic. Rather, the region occupied Azerbaijan and is now a staging area for missiles pointed at the rest of Azerbaijan. It is also clear that Mr. Sargsyan is using the missiles as a political weapon. Armenia’s president is seeking to stir his nationalistic supporters against Azerbaijan to increase voter turnout in elections. He is rejecting bids from more sober leaders in Armenia, including former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, for a plan that would reduce tensions between the two nations.

And then there’s the Russia question. Armenia is the only nation that has received the Iskander system from Russia. Why Armenia? Possibly because “the most important infrastructure” in Azerbaijan that could be targeted by the missiles includes companies owned and operated by Western entities, including American ones, that ensure Europe’s energy security. Natural gas from Azerbaijan flows by pipeline from the Caspian Sea west through Georgia and into Turkey and Europe. Should that flow be disrupted by military conflict, Europe would be at the mercy of Russia for its energy needs.

Another possibility: Russia might be attempting to rebuild its Soviet-era footprint in the Lesser Caucuses as it has done in Crimea and is attempting in Eastern Ukraine. It’s no secret that Russia and Armenia recently established a joint air defense pact. If Mr. Sargsyan’s troubling boasts about his willingness to deploy his new Iskander missile system were the only such noise coming from Armenia, it would be worrisome enough. But in the past six months, top members of his administration have made more than a dozen similar statements.

Azerbaijan has more than twice as many people as Armenia yet its Gross Domestic Product is nearly seven times greater. While Armenians have watched their leaders diminish their economy, Azerbaijan has prospered. Much like North Korea, military posturing is all Armenia has left. This is a dangerous time for Azerbaijan and the entire region because of Armenia’s reckless pursuit of offensive weapons and incendiary rhetoric. Azerbaijanis at home and in the United States have depended on America as a good friend and strong ally. The world can only hope that that will continue under the new Trump administration.


If You Love A Country, Set It Free: The Case For Cutting Aid To Armenia

Protesters gather during a rally against a recent decision to raise public electricity prices in Yerevan, Armenia, June 22, 2015. REUTERS/Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo

Much ado is made by some members of the U.S. government about what is in fact an inaccurately perceived partnership with Armenia. However, the facts belie the rhetoric versus the seemingly blind support given to Armenia. Just last week, it is important to note that the European Court of Human Rights declared that Armenia controls the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan. The essence of a longer judgment is that Armenia occupies part of another sovereign nation and has left more than a million refugees. This is a long understood fact that some in government seem to gloss over.

In addition, at the recent Riga Summit of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, the EU confirmed that Armenia remains out of step with Europe and the United States. Unlike the other two countries from the South Caucasus, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia remained loyal to its Russian patron and failed to support the West’s condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Armenia’s actions confirmed its complete dependence on Russia for its foreign policy. This patron-client relationship leaves Armenia in a rut and further isolates this small country.

This unequal relationship, in which Russia serves the sole guarantor of Armenia’s security and economy, leaves the smaller country no choice but to blindly follow dictates from Moscow and continue its dependence on energy supplies from another international pariah — Iran. Because of the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan, the largest regional oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, runs from Azerbaijan to Georgia and terminates in Turkey, purposefully bypassing Armenia. Thus, due to Armenia’s intractability over Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia is excluded from a lucrative share of Caspian oil to Europe. Instead of benefitting from the bountiful energy and transportation projects supported by the European Union, Armenia persists on its “go with Russia and Iran” policy. In the meantime, Azerbaijan and Georgia are building for the future with the West.

Armenia even joined the Organization of the Treaty of Collective Security (OTSC), the anti-EU, NATO, and U.S., Russian-sponsored military and political alliance. Armenia compromised its sovereignty by allowing Russian troops to be stationed on its territory, the last of the former-Soviet Republics to allow such an infringement … even sanctioning the Russians to patrol its borders and airspace. This agreement was recently extended to 2044.

Armenia also participates in the Russian-dominated military structure that provides air defense for the OTSC member states called the Commonwealth of Independent States United Air Defense System. Armenia seems to constantly seek expansion of its military ties with Russia, despite Russia’s growing international isolation. Russian diplomat, A. 

Dvinyaninov in 2007 advised the Armenian politicians. “That is the Armenian approach to Russia’s security is selective, and Russia seems ready for any eventualities of development of relations with Armenia.” In the meantime, Armenia provides a bridgehead for Russia’s power projection not only in the Caucasus, but also in the Near East. Another aspect of this “close cooperation” is that Russia executes effective military control in this South Caucasian republic.

Economically, Armenian leadership showed a criminal abrogation of responsibility in its relations with Russia. Without putting up any resistance, Armenia’s precious few enterprises were transferred to Russia’s ownership. The current president, Serzh Sargsyan, was directly involved in the so-called 2003 Equity-for-Debt deal. Five major assets traded in the deal include key energy, research and development, and manufacturing facilities, such as the Metzamor nuclear power plant, which supplies about 40 percent of its domestic energy. Russia also controls Armenia’s energy sector and is dominant in its transportation, banking, and telecommunications.

With Russia strengthening its alliance with Armenia, it's time to cut off foreign aid to Armenia

Just weeks ago, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan announced that his nation and Russia will discuss the creation of a joint military-industrial complex in the city of Gyumri, Armenia. This should raise alarms on the Capitol Hill and throughout Washington, as this is just the next step in a Russian military buildup utilizing its vassal Armenia as a proxy and launching point for operations against NATO. While the group of congressmen who form the Congressional Armenian Issues Caucus continue their unflinching, if not brazen, financial and military support to this South Caucasus nation, it serves as a military outpost for saber-rattling Russia — Armenia even brands itself as one of Russia's important military outposts.

In an interview with Izvestia, a Russian daily, Sargsyan declared that Armenia is consistently building up its defense capability in the framework of military-technical cooperation with Russia. Also, he stressed the role of the 102nd Russian military base located in Armenian territory. And in November 2016, Armenia joined the anti-aircraft defense system of the Russian Federation.

The deepening Armenian military alliance with Russia poses a direct threat to NATO. According to Adam Ereli, former deputy spokesman at the State Department, speaking to Veterans Today, the agreement's reinforcement of the Russian troops in this region can threaten countries of NATO and their Western allies. Ereli noted specifically, "Over the last six months – as Russia's war in Syria and pressure on Turkey has intensified – the flow of its arms and personnel into Armenia has escalated to include advanced Navodchik-2 and Takhion UAV drone aircrafts, Mi-24 helicopter gunships and Iskander-M ballistic missiles."

The deployment of Iskander-M missiles significantly changes the military balance in the region. Iskander-M carries a warhead of 710–800 kg and has a range of 500 km. In February 2017, the Russians moved Iskander ballistic missile systems within strike range of anywhere in Turkey, Israel or Azerbaijan, some of the United States' closest allies. These developments are in sharp dissonance with the continued financial support for Armenia approved by Congress and President Barack Obama's administration. The main lobbying effort on behalf of Armenia is conducted by the Armenian Caucus. This caucus is currently co-chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Rep. David Trott, R-Mich., and Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.

The official mission of the caucus runs counter to U.S. interests, as it advocates for increased trade and assistance to Armenia, self-determination for Nagorno Karabakh, and supporting U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Caucus requested $40 million in aid for 2016. The Obama administration proposed $18.4 million in Economic Support Funds for Armenia in 2016. The Obama administration also approved a continued "parity policy" with Azerbaijan, an American partner in the strategically-important Caspian region, in terms of appropriated military aid, with International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance set at $600,000 and Foreign Military Finance (FMF) at $1.7 million. USAID has annually allocated $2,000,000 for the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh, the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan under the military occupation by the Armenian forces.

Adam Ereli pointed to a very weak, even non-existent, response by the West to the beefing up of the Russian-Armenian military alliance. Western experts concur that Russia is preparing a new military alliance with Armenia, which may serve a launching point to unexpectedly hit at the interests of the U.S. and NATO in the region.

In light of the strengthening military alliance of Armenia with Russia, the wisdom of continued support for Armenia needs to be not questioned, but openly condemned. Armenian "political" organizations such as the Armenian National Committee of America and others are, in fact, Russian puppets. They are completely dedicated to perpetuating within Congress the old and corrupt idea that relations with Russia are good for Armenia and that is, in turn, good for the U.S. This, while existing pro-Russia organizations do all in their power to sideline new Armenian organizations that are decidedly anti-Russian.

This unwarranted support by the Armenian national organizations in the U.S. for the anti-Western policies carried out by the Kremlin and Yerevan should be exposed. The new stage in Armenian-Russian strategic cooperation represents a military threat to the Western alliance. Members of the Armenian Caucus should be reprimanded and financial aid to Armenia must cease, especially when the post-war American allies in NATO are asked to increase their contributions in order to beef up Western defense against Russia.