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The U.S. is adamant that its assassination of Qassem Soleimani and refusal to leave Iraq is about protecting Americans, but a little known Iraqi parliamentary session reveals how China increasingly strong ties to Baghdad may be shaping America’s new Mideast strategy.

Since the U.S. killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis earlier this month, the official narrative has held that their deaths were necessary to prevent a vague, yet allegedly imminent, threat of violence towards Americans, though President Trump has since claimed whether or not Soleimani or his Iraqi allies posed an imminent threat “doesn’t really matter.”

While the situation between Iran, Iraq and the U.S. appears to have de-escalated substantially, at least for now, it is worth revisiting the lead-up to the recent U.S.-Iraq/Iran tensions up to the Trump-mandated killing of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in order to understand one of the most overlooked yet relevant drivers behind Trump’s current policy with respect to Iraq: preventing China from expanding its foothold in the Middle East. Indeed, it has been alleged that even the timing of Soleimani’s assassination was directly related to his diplomatic role in Iraq and his push to help Iraq secure its oil independence, beginning with the implementation of a new massive oil deal with China.

While recent rhetoric in the media has dwelled on the extent of Iran’s influence in Iraq, China’s recent dealings with Iraq — particularly in its oil sector — are to blame for much of what has transpired in Iraq in recent months, at least according to Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who is currently serving in a caretaker role.

Much of the U.S. pressure exerted on Iraq’s government with respect to China has reportedly taken place covertly and behind closed doors, keeping the Trump administration’s concerns over China’s growing ties to Iraq largely out of public view, perhaps over concerns that a public scuffle could exacerbate the U.S.-China “trade war” and endanger efforts to resolve it. Yet, whatever the reasons may be, evidence strongly suggests that the U.S. is equally concerned about China’s presence in Iraq as it is with Iran’s. This is because China has the means and the ability to dramatically undermine not only the U.S.’ control over Iraq’s oil sector but the entire petrodollar system on which the U.S.’ status as both a financial and military superpower directly depends.

Behind the curtain, a different narrative for Iraq-US Tensions

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi gave a series of remarks on January 5, during a parliamentary session that received surprisingly little media attention. During the session, which also saw Iraq’s Parliament approve the removal of all foreign (including American) troops from the country, Abdul-Mahdi made a series of claims about the lead-up to the recent situation that placed Iraq at the heart of spiking U.S.-Iran tensions.

During that session, only part of Abdul-Mahdi’s statements were broadcast on television, after the Iraqi Speaker of the House — Mohammed Al-Halbousi, who has a close relationship with Washington — requested the video feed be cut. Al-Halbousi oddly attended the parliamentary session even though it was boycotted by his allied Sunni and Kurdish representatives.

Secretary of State Pompeo, left, walks alongside Al-Halbousi in Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 9, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | Reuters
Secretary of State Pompeo, left, walks alongside Al-Halbousi in Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 9, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | Reuters

After the feed was cut, MPs who were present wrote down Abdul-Mahdi’s remarks, which were then given to the Arabic news outlet Ida’at. Per that transcript, Abdul-Mahdi stated that:

The Americans are the ones who destroyed the country and wreaked havoc on it. They have refused to finish building the electrical system and infrastructure projects. They have bargained for the reconstruction of Iraq in exchange for Iraq giving up 50% of oil imports. So, I refused and decided to go to China and concluded an important and strategic agreement with it. Today, Trump is trying to cancel this important agreement.”

Abdul-Mahdi continued his remarks, noting that pressure from the Trump administration over his negotiations and subsequent dealings with China grew substantially over time, even resulting in death threats to himself and his defense minister:

After my return from China, Trump called me and asked me to cancel the agreement, so I also refused, and he threatened [that there would be] massive demonstrations to topple me. Indeed, the demonstrations started and then Trump called, threatening to escalate in the event of non-cooperation and responding to his wishes, whereby a third party [presumed to be mercenaries or U.S. soldiers] would target both the demonstrators and security forces and kill them from atop the highest buildings and the US embassy in an attempt to pressure me and submit to his wishes and cancel the China agreement.”

“I did not respond and submitted my resignation and the Americans still insist to this day on canceling the China agreement. When the defense minister said that those killing the demonstrators was a third party, Trump called me immediately and physically threatened myself and the defense minister in the event that there was more talk about this third party.”

Very few English language outlets reported on Abdul-Mahdi’s comments. Tom Luongo, a Florida-based Independent Analyst and publisher of The Gold Goats ‘n Guns Newsletter, told MintPress that the likely reasons for the “surprising” media silence over Abdul-Mahdi’s claims were because “It never really made it out into official channels…” due to the cutting of the video feed during Iraq’s Parliamentary session and due to the fact that “it’s very inconvenient and the media — since Trump is doing what they want him to do, be belligerent with Iran, protected Israel’s interests there.”

“They aren’t going to contradict him on that if he’s playing ball,” Luongo added, before continuing that the media would nonetheless “hold onto it for future reference….If this comes out for real, they’ll use it against him later if he tries to leave Iraq.” “Everything in Washington is used as leverage,” he added.

 
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Through its main investors, SoftBank and Lockheed Martin, Cybereason not only has ties to the Trump administration but has its software running on some of the U.S. government’s most classified and secretive networks.

If the networks of the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community and a slew of other U.S. federal agencies were running the software of a company with deep ties, not only to foreign companies with a history of espionage against the U.S. but also foreign military intelligence, it would — at the very least — garner substantial media attention. Yet, no media reports to date have noted that such a scenario exists on a massive scale and that the company making such software recently simulated the cancellation of the 2020 election and the declaration of martial law in the United States.

Earlier this month, MintPress News reported on the simulations for the U.S. 2020 election organized by the company Cybereason, a firm led by former members of Israel’s military intelligence Unit 8200 and advised by former top and current officials in both Israeli military intelligence and the CIA. Those simulations, attended by federal officials from the FBI, DHS and the U.S. Secret Service, ended in disaster, with the elections ultimately canceled and martial law declared due to the chaos created by a group of hackers led by Cybereason employees.

The first installment of this three part series delved deeply into Cybereason’s ties to the intelligence community of Israel and also other agencies, including the CIA, as well as the fact that Cybereason stood to gain little financially from the simulations given that their software could not have prevented the attacks waged against the U.S.’ electoral infrastructure in the exercise.

Also noted was the fact that Cybereason software could be potentially used as a backdoor by unauthorized actors, a possibility strengthened by the fact that the company’s co-founders all previously worked for firms that have a history of placing backdoors into U.S. telecommunications and electronic infrastructure as well as aggressive espionage targeting U.S. federal agencies.

The latter issue is crucial in the context of this installment of this exclusive MintPress series, as Cybereason’s main investors turned partners have integrated Cybereason’s software into their product offerings. This means that the clients of these Cybereason partner companies, the U.S. intelligence community and military among them, are now part of Cybereason’s network of more than 6 million endpoints that this private company constantly monitors using a combination of staff comprised largely of former intelligence operatives and an AI algorithm first developed by Israeli military intelligence.

Cybereason, thus far, has disclosed the following groups as lead investors in the company: Charles River Ventures (CRV), Spark Capital, Lockheed Martin and SoftBank. Charles River Ventures (CRV) was among the first to invest in Cybereason and has been frequently investing in other Israeli tech start-ups that were founded by former members of the elite Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 over the last few years. Spark Capital, based in California, appears to have followed CRV’s interest in Cybereason since the venture capitalist who co-founded Spark and led its investment in Cybereason is a former CRV partner who still has close ties to the firm.

While CRV and Spark Capital seem like just the type of investors a company like Cybereason would attract given their clear interest in similar tech start-ups coming out of Israel’s cyber sector, Cybereason’s other lead investors — Lockheed Martin and SoftBank — deserve much more attention and scrutiny.

Cybereason widely used by US Government, thanks to Lockheed

“A match made in heaven,” trumpeted Forbes at the news of the Lockheed Martin-Cybereason partnership, first forged in 2015. The partnership involved not only Lockheed Martin becoming a major investor in the cybersecurity company but also in Lockheed Martin becoming the largest conduit providing Cybereason’s software to U.S. federal and military agencies.

Indeed, as Forbes noted at the time, not only did Lockheed invest in the company, it decided to integrate Cybereason’s software completely into its product portfolio, resulting in a “model of both using Cybereason internally, and selling it to both public and private customers.”

Cybereason CEO and former offensive hacker for Israeli military intelligence — Lior Div — said the following of the partnership:

Lockheed Martin invested in Cybereason’s protection system after they compared our solution against a dozen others from the top industry players. The US firm was so impressed with the results they got from Cybereason that they began offering it to their own customers – among them most of the top Fortune 100 companies, and the US federal government. Cybereason is now the security system recommended by LM to its customers for protection from a wide (sic) malware and hack attacks.”

Rich Mahler, then-director of Commercial Cyber Services at Lockheed Martin, told Defense Daily that the company’s decision to invest in Cybereason, internally use its software, and include the technology as part of Lockheed Martin’s cyber solutions portfolio were all “independent business decisions but were all coordinated and timed with the transaction.”

How independent each of those decisions actually was is unclear, especially given the timing of Lockheed Martin’s investment in Cybereason, whose close and troubling ties to Israeli intelligence as well as the CIA were noted in the previous installment of this investigative series. Indeed, about a year prior to their investment in the Israeli military intelligence-linked Cybereason, Lockheed Martin opened an office in Beersheba, Israel, where the IDF has its “cyberhub”. The office is focused not on the sales of armaments, but instead on technology.

Marilyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s CEO, said the following during her speech that inaugurated the company’s Beersheba office:

 
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Following Iran’s military response to the deaths of Soleimani and his Iraqi ally, Trump’s tone — at least publicly — was dramatically less bellicose than his recent tweets promising to strike Iranian territory should Tehran retaliate against the US.

WASHINGTON DC — In a statement delivered late Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump made it clear that the U.S. would not militarily respond to the missile strikes launched by Iran on U.S. military installations in Iraq on Tuesday, strikes that were themselves retaliation for the Trump administration’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and the leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Despite the ultimate de-escalation following several hours of tension after Iranian missiles struck the Ain al-Assad base in western Iraq, Trump struck a tough tone towards Iran and outlined few new policies to be pursued in his short speech. Among the policies outlined in Trump’s speech was the imminent imposition of “new punishing sanctions” against Iran, which is already heavily sanctioned by the U.S., and calls to increase NATO’s involvement in the Middle East, reflecting the president’s unwillingness to pursue a direct military approach to Iran without at least some international backing. This despite the fact that several NATO allies have already begun to withdraw their troops from the Middle East amid fears of a direct war between the U.S. and Iran.

Trump also called for a diplomatic solution with Iran, deriding the JCPOA, the binding deal signed during the Obama administration between Iran, China France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Trump’s offer is likely to be ill-received as the deal’s European signatories, China, Russia and the Iranian government have all sought to salvage the deal from which Trump unilaterally withdrew nearly two years ago.

Trump’s statement ultimately ended with an unexpected call for peace, a stark departure from his earlier threats to strike 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, should Iran retaliate militarily for the assassination of General Soleimani. “To the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve. One of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” the president said.

Perhaps more telling than what President Trump did say is what he left out of his speech. He did not comment on the several disputed reports of U.S. troops withdrawing from bases in Iraq, Kuwait or Syria prior to and after the Iranian strike. If these claims are substantiated, they would explain Iran’s limited reprisal as Iranian officials have stated multiple times since the assassination of General Soleimani that their new policy, and ultimately their revenge, would be to force the U.S. to remove its military assets from the Middle East entirely. Trump also failed to address now confirmed reports that the U.S., as well as Iraq, received advanced warnings of the Iranian strike before it took place, which signaled that Iran had little desire to spill the blood of the American and Iraqi soldiers present at the bases targeted during the strikes.

A recent vote by Iraq’s Parliament to expel U.S. troops and claims made by Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi that Trump threatened his life and the life of Iraq’s Defense Minister if they pursued reports of a “third side” attacking both Iraqi protesters and Iraqi security forces near the U.S. embassy in the lead-up to the U.S.’ killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis were also left unaddressed. Adil Abdul-Mahdi has asserted that the motives behind these threats were the U.S. administration’s desire to see Iraq’s government rescind an “oil for reconstruction” deal with China.

Following Iran’s military response to the deaths of Soleimani and his Iraqi ally, Trump’s tone — at least publicly — was dramatically less bellicose than some of the president’s recent tweets promising to strike Iranian territory should Tehran retaliate against the United States. While the promised strikes on those sites did not materialize, they did signal a new era for the U.S. military in the Middle East and potentially the world, one in which U.S.’ hegemony is more dubious than ever. Indeed, the United States military has not been directly targeted by another government in recent memory, especially without being followed by an overwhelming U.S. military response.

 
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A shadowy tech firm with deep ties to Israeli intelligence and newly inked contracts to protect Pentagon computers is partnering with Lockheed Martin to gain unprecedented access to the heart of America’s democracy.

Election Day 2020: 32 Americans dead, over 200 injured, martial law declared and the election itself is canceled. While this horrific scenario seems more like the plot of a Hollywood film, such was the end result of a recent simulation examining the preparedness of U.S. officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Secret Service against “bad actors” seeking to undermine the upcoming presidential election.

Yet, this simulation was not a government-organized exercise but was instead orchestrated by a private company with deep ties to foreign and domestic intelligence services, a company that is also funded by investors with clear connections to individuals who would stand to benefit if such a catastrophic election outcome were to become reality.

Much of the rhetoric since the last presidential election in 2016 has focused on the issue of foreign meddling by U.S. rival states like Russia, while China has emerged as the new “meddler” of choice in American corporate media as the 2020 election approaches. Though time has revealed that many of the post-2016 election meddling claims were not as significant as initially claimed, the constant media discussion of foreign threats to U.S. democracy and electoral processes – whether real or imagined – has undeniably created a climate of fear.

Those fears have since been preyed upon by neoconservative groups and the U.S. military-industrial complex, both of which are hardly known for their love of demcratic processes, to offer a series of ready-made solutions to these threats that actually undermine key pillars of American democracy, including independent reporting and voting machine software.

However, many of the very same media outlets and groups that frequently fretted about Russia, China or another rival state meddling in U.S. democracy have largely ignored the role of other nation states, such as Israel, in efforts to sway the last U.S. election in 2016 and meddle in numerous elections in Africa, Latin America and Asia in the years since.

As a consequence of this climate of fear, it should be hardly surprising that the corporate media lauded the recent 2020 election simulation that ended in an abysmal failure for U.S. officials, the cancellation of the U.S. election and the imposition of martial law. Yet, none of those reports on the exercise noted that the company that hosted the simulation, called Cybereason, is led by ex-members of Israel’s military intelligence unit 8200, advised by former top and current officials in both Israeli military intelligence and the CIA. In addition, it is funded by and partnered with top U.S. weapons manufacturer and government contractor Lockheed Martin and financial institutions with clear and direct ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Also left unmentioned in media reports on Cybereason’s election simulations is the fact that Cybereason’s CEO, Lior Div, has openly admitted that he views his work at Cybereason as a “continuation” of his service to Israel’s intelligence apparatus.

With Cybereason planning to host more simulations in cooperation with federal agencies as the U.S. election inches closer, a deeper exploration of this company, its ties to intelligence and military contractors in the U.S. and Israel and its financial ties to key Trump allies both domestically and abroad warrants further investigation.

In this two part series, MintPress will not only explore these aspects but also how many of the technologies wielded by the “bad actors” in the Cybereason election simulation have been pioneered and perfected, not by U.S. rival states, but by Israeli companies and start-ups with clear ties to that country’s intelligence apparatus.

Also notable is the fact that Cybereason itself has covertly become a major software provider to the U.S. government and military through its direct partnership with Lockheed Martin, which followed the defense company’s decision to open an office at the Israeli military’s new cyber operations hub in the Negev desert. In examining all of these interlocking pieces, a picture emerges of a potentially sinister motive for Cybereason’s simulations aimed at gauging how U.S. federal officials respond to crisis situations on Election Day.

Understanding “Operation Blackout”

In early November, a team of “hackers” working for the private U.S.-based, Israeli-founded company Cybereason conducted a 2020 election simulation with members of various U.S. agencies, namely the DHS, FBI and the U.S. Secret Service. The simulation was organized by Cybereason and the law firm Venable and the U.S. agencies in attendance were invited and appear to not have been charged to participate.

The simulation, titled “Operation Blackout,” was set in a fictional swing state called “Adversaria” and pitted “ethical hackers” from Cybereason against a team of federal and local law enforcement officials. The opposing teams were supervised by a “white team” composed of members of Cybereason’s staff and Ari Schwartz — a former member of the White House’s National Security Council and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — who set the rules of the simulation and would ultimately decide its outcome. Schwartz also used to work for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a major backer of Microsoft’s ElectionGuard software.

Operation Blackout did not involve hackers targeting election software or voting machines, instead, it focused on civilian infrastructure and psychological operations against the American citizens in the fictitious “Adversaria” on election day. The hacker team was led by Cybereason co-founder Yonathan Striem-Amit, a former contractor for Israeli government agencies and a former operative for the elite Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200, best known for its cyber offensives against other governments.

 
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Behind the official yet dubious justifications for the U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general on Friday lies a confluence of factors — some decades in the making, others more recent — that are pushing the U.S. towards yet another catastrophic war in the Middle East.

BAGHDAD — The recent assassination of Iran’s most popular and well-known general, Qassem Soleimani, has stoked fears that a new war pitting the U.S. and its allies against Iran could soon become a devastating and deadly reality. The airstrike that killed Soleimani, conducted by the U.S. in Baghdad, was conducted without the authorization or even prior notification of the U.S. Congress and without the approval of Iraq’s government or military, making the attack flagrantly illegal on multiple levels. The attack also killed Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was an advisor to Soleimani.

“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander who holds an official position is considered aggression on Iraq … and the liquidation of leading Iraqi figures or those from a brotherly country on Iraqi soil is a massive breach of sovereignty,” Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said of the attack, adding that the assassination was “a dangerous escalation that will light the fuse of a destructive war in Iraq, the region, and the world.”

Notably, the assassination of Soleimani comes just a few months after an alleged Israeli attempt to kill the Iranian general failed and amid a well-documented and decades-long push by U.S. neoconservatives and Israeli officials for a U.S.-led war with Iran.

While the illegality of the assassination has been noted by many since news of the attack first spread, less attention has been given to the oddities of the Trump administration’s official reasoning and justification for the attack that has brought with it renewed tension to the Middle East. Per administration officials, the attack was aimed at “deterring future Iranian attack plans” as well as a response to a rocket attack at the K1 military base near Kirkuk, Iraq on December 27. That attack killed one U.S. military contractor and lightly wounded several U.S. soldiers and Iraqi military personnel.

Yet, the details of that attack — even per mainstream U.S. sources that often support U.S. militarism — are incredibly murky, and the name of the American killed and the identity of the company he or she was working for have not been released. Some media reports have referred to the contractor as a “Pentagon contractor” while others have used the term “civilian contractor,” leading some to speculate that the contractor might have been a private mercenary in the employ of the Pentagon.

In addition, no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack and media reports have noted that the attack could just as easily have been conducted by remnants of the Islamic State as by the Iraqi Shia militia (Kataib Hezbollah) that was officially blamed by U.S. officials. An official investigation into the incident, being conducted by the Iraqi military, has yet to be concluded. Notably, the U.S. previously claimed it had compelling evidence to blame Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last June, only to have staunch U.S. allies in the region claim that alleged U.S. evidence of Iranian involvement was insufficient.

Furthermore, the U.S. had already responded to the death of the contractor, launching five different attacks in Iraq and Syria in late December, killing an estimated 25 and motivating Iraqi protesters to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as many of those killed by those airstrikes were Iraqis. The subsequent airstrike that killed Soleimani seems like overkill for the official justification of avenging the death of one American.

Given the above, the question then becomes — is the Trump administration basing its assassination of a top Iranian general in Iraqi sovereign territory in clear violation of international law on the death of a single individual that the government will not even name? Even when five strikes were already launched to allegedly avenge that same individual?

Risking a regional war to allegedly avenge the death of an individual who was already avenged raises questions, especially for a President standing for re-election. The United States claims that the assassination was also intended to act as a “deterrent” against potential, future Iranian attacks, yet it is hard to justify the murder of a top general of a foreign power on foreign soil as a preemptive and preventative measure as opposed to one that would invite escalation. This is particularly true given that those that have most often sought an escalation in tensions between Iran and the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies do not live in Tehran and Baghdad, but instead in Washington D.C. and Tel Aviv.

Failed assassination plots and domestic woes

Much has been written by MintPress and other outlets about the long-standing efforts by prominent neoconservatives in the U.S. as well as the Israel lobby and Israeli government to prod the U.S. into a major war with Iran. Neoconservative efforts at regime change in Iran have been decades in the making and the current presidential administration has several notable Iran hawks in prominent positions. Furthermore, both President Trump and his foremost ally in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are facing domestic efforts aimed at removing them from office and are facing fresh elections, giving both leaders incentive to ratchet up tensions abroad to distract from their own domestic conflicts.

 
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After an election dogged by the weaponization of anti-Semitism, the victorious UK conservative party has announced a new legislative push that would prevent the public sector from working with any individual or organization that supports a boycott of Israel’s government.

JERUSALEM — Following the results of the recent UK election, the victorious Conservative party has now declared their intention to make it illegal for public institutions in the country to support non-violent boycotts of the state of Israel in any capacity.

On Sunday, the UK Special Envoy for post-Holocaust matters, Lord Eric Pickles, gave a speech in Jerusalem at the International Institute for Strategic Dialogue conference, where he made the Conservatives’ motives clear. Pickles, whose speech garnered “rapturous applause” from conference attendees, stated that the public sector would soon be banned from associating in any way with the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement, which uses non-violent means to pressure Israel to follow international law with regards to its military occupation of Palestine and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The coming ban, as described by Pickles, is set to prohibit government bodies and organizations from supporting BDS in any fashion, which would also prevent them from employing or working with anyone who supports boycotting the Israeli state. Pickles went on to say the reason for the ban is that BDS itself is anti-Semitic (despite BDS having numerous Jewish supporters), stating:

BDS is anti-Semitic, and should be treated as such. Anti-Semitism is an attack on the British way of life and British identity. Without our Jewish citizens, we would be a lesser nation.”

Notably, Pickles is also the parliamentary chairman of the U.K. pro-Israel lobby group, Conservative Friends of Israel.

Pickles also made it clear that he conflates Judaism with Zionism, a move that was recently made law in the United States through an executive order signed by President Trump that reclassifies Judaism as a race and nationality as opposed to a religion. Regarding his personal support for Israel, Pickles did not mention Judaism at all, instead championing Zionism and Israel’s ability to “defend its borders.” He referred to himself as “an unapologetic, unreformed Zionist,” before adding that “Israel exists because it can defend its borders, and its people. It is the only place in this region in which governments are elected. It is a civilized, decent place and I’m very proud it exists.” Pickles has previously called Israel a “bastion of democracy.”

The planned ban on BDS is only the latest attempt by the Conservative party to inhibit non-violent efforts aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law. The first such attempt took place in 2016 when Conservative MP Matthew Hancock traveled to Jerusalem and announced the Conservatives’ intention to ban boycotts of Israel at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, those attempts failed largely thanks to the U.K. Supreme Court, which prevented an attempted ban in 2016. Since that ruling, the fight to force a nationwide BDS ban has been the subject of ongoing court cases.

Yet, with the Conservatives now set to have a sizable Parliamentary majority, legislative changes that would enable such a ban and circumvent the ongoing court battles to do so appear to be just over the horizon. Indeed, in their manifesto for this past election, the Conservatives’ promised to ban “boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries” if elected, although the manifesto did not mention any foreign country by name.

In his speech, Pickles also attempted to justify the coming legislative push to outlaw BDS by claiming that it was what UK voters had sought by choosing the Conservatives over the Labour Party. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time activist for Palestinian rights, had been targeted by a massive and relentless smear campaign in the UK, Israel and U.S. media as anti-Semitic for his criticisms of Israel’s government. Pickles’ speech alluded to this effort by asserting that the recent election was essentially a national referendum on anti-Semitism. He specifically stated that, “at 10pm last Thursday, the British people said that you can be an anti-Semite but you will NOT be elected and you will NOT be in government,” before adding that “anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish concern, it is a concern for all of us.”

While Pickles implied that UK voters had abandoned Labour over charges related to alleged antisemitism in the party, most political analysts have noted that the reason for Labour’s resounding defeat was related to its position on Brexit, as opposed to its other policies and concern over bigotry within the Labour party. However, the smear campaign against Corbyn — even if it was not the deciding factor in the UK election — has now laid the foundation for what appears to be a litany of partisan, pro-Israel legislation that will soon be pushed through the coming Conservative-dominated Parliament. Indeed, Israeli media outlets have reported that the Conservatives’ post-Brexit policies will, among other things, involve stronger efforts by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “tighten trade ties with Israel” as well as cooperation with the Israeli state on other matters.

 
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MintPress speaks with Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli spy who worked closely with Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell’s father, as part of their work with Israeli military intelligence and had frequent encounters with Jeffrey Epstein.

MONTREAL — In recent weeks, renewed attention has been brought to the allegations that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking and sexual blackmail operation was run on behalf of Israeli military intelligence. Those claims revolve around statements made by a former Israeli military intelligence official turned public relations consultant Ari Ben-Menashe, whose allegations regarding the Epstein scandal were reported by MintPress this past October.

Ben-Menashe’s claims related to Epstein first surfaced in an interview between Ben-Menashe and Zev Shalev of the independent news outlet, Narativ. As detailed in a MintPress summary and commentary of that interview, Ben-Menashe claimed to have seen Jeffrey Epstein in the office of Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell’s father, several times in the 1980s.

At the time, Ben-Menashe was in close contact with Robert Maxwell regarding their mutual work with Israeli military intelligence. Maxwell, in addition to heading a media empire and being a one-time member of U.K. parliament, was a longtime operative for Israeli intelligence, so much so that his 1991 funeral was attended by no less than six serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence as well as several high-ranking Israeli politicians and prime ministers.

Maxwell is alleged to have recruited Jeffrey Epstein for Israeli intelligence and later introduced Epstein to Ben-Menashe and another operative, Nicholas Davies. Epstein was introduced to Ben-Menashe as having been pre-approved by leading figures in Israel’s military intelligence directorate, known as Aman.

MintPress recently conducted its own interview with Mr. Ben-Menashe as part of an ongoing investigation on the life and connections of the now-infamous Jeffrey Epstein.

Part of that interview is provided below with relevant commentary, particularly regarding claims related to the relationship between Epstein and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Epstein’s trip to Tel Aviv immediately prior to his first arrest, and the reasons for Israeli military intelligence’s interest in orchestrating and financing a major sexual blackmail operation targeting top U.S. politicians.

“Israel Requested that Epstein Target Clinton”

MintPress News first asked Ben-Menashe about Robert Maxwell, a known asset and operative for Israeli intelligence, having recruited Jeffrey Epstein. Ben-Menashe confirmed this to MintPress and also noted that, after their initial meeting, Epstein was frequently present in Maxwell’s office in London.

During the 1980s, as MintPress previously reported, Epstein claimed to have been an intelligence operative and so-called “bounty hunter” in the world of shadow finance. During this time, he was known to have developed close relationships with several British arms dealers, particularly Sir Douglas Leese. Thus, Epstein appeared to frequently be traveling between the Middle East and London, which is also supported by Epstein’s now-infamous Austrian passport which he was believed to have carried during this period of time.

Ben-Menashe told MintPress that he had not only met Epstein after Epstein had been recently recruited by Israeli military intelligence, but had seen him on several occasions thereafter as Epstein “used to be in [Robert Maxwell’s] office [in London] quite often” and would arrive there between trips to and from Israel.

In addition, Ben-Menashe revealed his understanding of why Epstein was eventually shepherded into acting as a professional sexual blackmailer on behalf of Israeli military intelligence. Per Ben-Menashe, there were concerns among Israeli intelligence figures that, following the Reagan Era, a new president would push for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, something those officials sought to avoid by any means necessary.

ABM | Here’s the thing… Mr. Carter… as in President Carter… the Israelis feared that Mr. Clinton, when he was campaigning for President, will be a repeat of Mr. Carter. He wanted to press them for peace with the Palestinians and all that stuff. They feared… Clinton wasn’t that… but they feared he was that… And I think Mr. Epstein was sent early on to catch up with President Clinton.

MintPress News (MPN) | Well, that’s interesting because the first year Clinton was in office, Epstein was already attending donor dinners at the White House and making White House visits as well.

ABM | Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. I believe his biggest client was Mr. Clinton catch, or catch, or whatever, and he had a few other congressmen and what not but Clinton was, was his biggest catch.

Thus, Ben-Menashe argues, when Bill Clinton’s candidacy in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election became clear, efforts were made to target him via sexual blackmail and Jeffrey Epstein was chosen for that purpose. Bill Clinton was eventually blackmailed by the state of Israel and his administration was also targeted by Israeli espionage as part of the “Mega” spy scandal. Epstein’s involvement in the Clinton administration and his visits to the White House date back to Clinton’s first year in office. More information on the Epstein-Clinton relationship can be found in this MintPress report.

In addition, MintPress also asked Ben-Menashe if he was aware of Ghislaine Maxwell being directly involved with her father’s intelligence-related activities prior to his death in 1991. Ben-Menashe noted that Ghislaine accompanied her father so frequently, including on a now-infamous 1989 party on Maxwell’s yacht where Donald Trump and several key figures in the PROMIS software scandal were in attendance, that she was involved in his intelligence-related activities to some extent. However, he stopped short of saying how involved she was or what she has specifically been involved in prior to her father’s death.

When did Epstein really meet Ehud Barak?

 
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The outsized role of U.S. Israel lobby operatives in abetting the theft of Syrian and Iraqi oil reveals how this powerful lobby also facilitates more covert aspects of U.S.-Israeli cooperation and the implementation of policies that favor Israel.

Kirkuk, Iraq “We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil,” President Trump stated on November 3, before adding, “I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.”

Though he had promised a withdrawal of U.S. troops from their illegal occupation of Syria, Trump shocked many with his blunt admission that troops were being left behind to prevent Syrian oil resources from being developed by the Syrian government and, instead, kept in the hands of whomever the U.S. deemed fit to control them, in this case, the U.S.-backed Kurdish-majority militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Though Trump himself received all of the credit — and the scorn — for this controversial new policy, what has been left out of the media coverage is the fact that key players in the U.S.’ pro-Israel lobby played a major role in its creation with the purpose of selling Syrian oil to the state of Israel. While recent developments in the Syrian conflict may have hindered such a plan from becoming reality, it nonetheless offers a telling example of the covert role often played by the U.S.’ pro-Israel lobby in shaping key elements of U.S. foreign policy and closed-door deals with major regional implications.

Indeed, the Israel lobby-led effort to have the U.S. facilitate the sale of Syrian oil to Israel is not an isolated incident given that, just a few years ago, other individuals connected to the same pro-Israel lobby groups and Zionist neoconservatives manipulated both U.S. policy and Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in order to allow Iraqi oil to be sold to Israel without the approval of the Iraqi government. These designs, not unlike those that continue to unfold in Syria, were in service to longstanding neoconservative and Zionist efforts to balkanize Iraq by strengthening the KRG and weakening Baghdad.

After the occupation of Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate by ISIS (June 2014-October 2015), the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took advantage of the Iraqi military’s retreat and, amidst the chaos, illegally seized Kirkuk on June 12. Their claim to the city was supported by both the U.S. and Israel and, later, the U.S.-led coalition targeting ISIS. This gave the KRG control, not only of Iraq’s export pipeline to Turkey’s Ceyhan port, but also to Iraq’s largest oil fields.

Israel imported massive amounts of oil from the Kurds during this period, all without the consent of Baghdad. Israel was also the largest customer of oil sold by ISIS, who used Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk to sell oil in areas of Iraq and Syria under its control. To do this in ISIS-controlled territories of Iraq, the oil was sent first to the Kurdish city of Zakho near the Turkey border and then into Turkey, deceptively labeled as oil that originated from Iraqi Kurdistan. ISIS did nothing to impede the KRG’s own oil exports even though they easily could have given that the Kirkuk-Ceyhan export pipeline passed through areas that ISIS had occupied for years.

In retrospect, and following revelations from Wikileaks and new information regarding the background of relevant actors, it has been revealed that much of the covert maneuvering behind the scenes that enabled this scenario intimately involved the United States’ powerful pro-Israel lobby. Now, with a similar scenario unfolding in Syria, efforts by the U.S.’ Israel lobby to manipulate U.S. foreign policy in order to shift the flow of hydrocarbons for Israel’s benefit can instead be seen as a pattern of behavior, not an isolated incident.

“Keep the oil” for Israel

After recent shifts in the Trump administration in its Syria policy, U.S. troops have controversially been kept in Syria to “keep the oil,” with U.S. military officials subsequently claiming that doing so was “a subset of the counter-ISIS mission.” However, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper later claimed that another factor behind U.S. insistence on guarding Syrian oil fields was to prevent the extraction and subsequent sale of Syrian oil by either the Syrian government or Russia.

One key, yet often overlooked, player behind the push to prevent a full U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria in order to “keep the oil” was current U.S. ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield. Satterfield was previously the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, where he yielded great influence over U.S. policy in both Iraq and Syria and worked closely with Brett McGurk, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran and later special presidential envoy for the U.S.-led “anti-ISIS” coalition.

Over the course of his long diplomatic career, Satterfield has been known to the U.S. government as an Israeli intelligence asset embedded in the U.S. State Department. Indeed, Satterfield was named as a major player in what is now known as the AIPAC espionage scandal, also known as the Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal, although he was oddly never charged for his role after the intervention of his superiors at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration.

David Satterfield, left, arrives in Baghdad with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Joey Hood, May 7, 2019. Mandel Ngan | AP
David Satterfield, left, arrives in Baghdad with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Joey Hood, May 7, 2019. Mandel Ngan | AP

In 2005, federal prosecutors cited a U.S. government official as having illegally passed classified information to Steve Rosen, then working for AIPAC, who then passed that information to the Israeli government. That classified information included intelligence on Iran and the nature of U.S.-Israeli intelligence sharing. Subsequent media reports from the New York Times and other outlets revealed that this government official was none other than David Satterfield, who was then serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs.

 
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A recent memorandum authored by Attorney General William Barr announced a new “pre-crime” program inspired by “War on Terror” tactics and is set to be implemented next year.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys, law enforcement agencies and top ranking Justice Department officials announcing the imminent implementation of a new “national disruption and early engagement program” aimed at detecting potential mass shooters before they commit any crime.

Per the memorandum, Barr has “directed the Department [of Justice] and the FBI to lead an effort to refine our ability to identify, assess and engage potential mass shooters before they strike.” The Attorney General further described the coming initiative, slated to be implemented early next year, as “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.” More specific information about the program is set to follow the recent memorandum, according to Barr, though it is unclear if that forthcoming document will be made public.

Barr also requested that those who received the memorandum send their “best and brightest” to a training conference at FBI headquarters this coming December where the DOJ, FBI and “private sector partners” will prepare for the full implementation of the new policy and will also be able to provide “new ideas” for inclusion in the program.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the memorandum is Barr’s frank admission that many of the “early engagement” tactics that the new program would utilize were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats.” In other words, the foundation for many of the policies utilized following the post-9/11 “war on terror” are also the foundation for the “early engagement” tactics that Barr seeks to use to identify potential criminals as part of this new policy. Though those “war on terror” policies have largely targeted individuals abroad, Barr’s memorandum makes it clear that some of those same controversial tactics will soon be used domestically.

Barr’s memorandum also alludes to current practices by the FBI and DOJ that will shape the new plan. Though more specifics of the new policy will be provided in the forthcoming notice, Barr notes that “newly developed tactics” used by the Joint Terrorist Task Forces “include the use of clinical psychologists, threat assessment professionals, intervention teams and community groups” to detect risk and suggests that the new “early engagement program” will work along similar lines. Barr also alludes to this “community” approach in a separate instance, when he writes that “when the public ‘says something’ to alert us to a potential threat, we must do something.”

However, the memorandum differentiates suspected terrorists from the individuals this new program is set to pursue. Barr states that, unlike many historical terrorism cases, “many of today’s public safety threats appear abruptly and with sometimes only ambiguous indications of intent” and that many of these individuals “exhibit symptoms of mental illness and/or have substance abuse problems.”

Thus, the goal of the program is ostensibly to circumvent these issues by finding new and likely controversial ways to determine intent. As will be shown later in this report, Barr’s recent actions suggest that the way this will be accomplished is through increased mass surveillance of everyday Americans and the use of algorithms to analyze that bulk data for vaguely defined symptoms of “mental illness.”

Barr also suggested the likely courses of action that would follow the identification of a given individual as a “potential mass shooter.” The Attorney General notes that in past cases individuals deemed a violent or terroristic threat before they commit a crime are subject to “detention, court-ordered mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, electronic monitoring”, among other measures. Ostensibly, the new program would then apply these same practices to individuals in the U.S. that federal authorities believe are “mobilizing towards violence,” as Barr put it.

Bill Barr’s been busy

The memorandum, despite heralding a new era of Orwellian surveillance and “pre-crime” on a national level, has been sparsely covered by the mainstream media. One of the few reports that did cover the new Justice Department policy, published Wednesday by the Huffington Post, framed the new Barr-led initiative as largely positive and asserted that the “anti-terror tactics” to which Barr alluded could “help thwart mass shooters.” No mention was made in the piece of the threat such a program is likely to pose to civil liberties.

Furthermore, no mention was made of Barr’s clear push over the past few months to lay the groundwork for this recently announced program. Indeed, since becoming Attorney General under President Trump, Barr has spearheaded numerous efforts to this end, including pushing for a government backdoor into consumer apps or devices that utilize encryption and for a dramatic increase of long-standing yet controversial warrantless electronic surveillance programs.

On July 23rd, Barr gave the keynote address at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) and mainly focused on the need for consumer electronic products and applications that use encryption to offer a “backdoor” for the government, specifically law enforcement, in order to obtain access to encrypted communications as a matter of public safety.

Barr went onto say that “warrant-proof encryption is also seriously impairing our ability to monitor and combat domestic and foreign terrorists.” Barr stated that “smaller terrorist groups and ‘lone wolf’ actors” — such as those involved in the series of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that occurred in the weeks after his speech — “have turned increasingly to encryption.” Barr later noted that he was specifically referencing encryption used by “consumer products and services such as messaging, smartphones, email, and voice and data applications.”

To overcome the resistance by some private companies — who do not want to renege on their right to privacy by giving the government backdoor access to their devices — and American consumers, Barr tellingly anticipated “a major incident may occur at any time that will galvanize public opinion on these issues.” Shortly after this speech, several mass shootings, including one at an El Paso Walmart took place, which again brought the issue to the forefront of political discourse.

 
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Several now-censored reports from the 1990s and early 2000s reveal that Prince Andrew’s involvement with the minors exploited by Jeffrey Epstein is greater than previously believed.

While the Jeffrey Epstein scandal has largely faded from media coverage in the United States, it has continued to attract attention abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom in connection with Epstein’s long-standing association with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and the Queen’s son.

The Epstein-Prince Andrew relationship has long been a fascination of the U.K. press, with numerous articles dating back to the early 2000s detailing the most outrageous aspects of their relationship. Prior to that, Epstein had also garnered attention from U.K. newspapers regarding his association with Ghislaine Maxwell, whose reputation in the U.K. is rather notorious, as was that of her father, Robert Maxwell.

Yet, since Epstein’s arrest in July, many of these older articles on Epstein and Maxwell, as well as those focusing on the Epstein-Prince Andrew relationship, have disappeared from the archives of several prominent U.K. media outlets that reported on these relationships years ago.

Several of these articles, though largely scrubbed from the internet, were recently obtained by MintPress and a review of their contents makes the likely motive behind their disappearance clear: several articles not only reference Epstein’s connection to both U.S. and Israeli intelligence years before the first investigation into Epstein’s exploitation of minors had even begun, but also reveal surprising aspects of Prince Andrew’s involvement with Epstein that strongly suggest that the Prince partook in illicit sexual activities with minors to a much greater extent than has previously been reported.

New, disturbing details of Prince Andrew’s early links to Epstein

Since Epstein was arrested the first time in 2006 and even more so after he was arrested again this past July, those named in press reports as his associates have made every effort to distance themselves from the accused pedophile and sex trafficker. For this reason, press reports that discuss Epstein long before there was any hint of the larger scandal are particularly important for understanding the true nature of Epstein’s past associations with the rich and powerful.

In light of what is now known about Epstein’s sexual blackmail operation and sex trafficking activities, several reports from the late 1990s and early 2000s contain details long since forgotten regarding Epstein’s relationship with Prince Andrew.

One particularly censored article that appeared in London’s Evening Standard in January 2001, for instance, gives several indications regarding the apparent entrapment of Prince Andrew as part of Epstein’s sexual blackmail operation, which is now known to have been connected to intelligence — specifically Israeli military intelligence, according to recent revelations in the case.

The article, written by Evening Standard journalist Nigel Rosser, quotes a personal friend of both Ghislaine Maxwell and Epstein as saying the following about their friendship with Prince Andrew:

A screenshot from a now-deleted 2001 Evening Standard article
A screenshot from a now-deleted 2001 Evening Standard article

Another friend of Maxwell and Epstein made similar claims that appear in the same article:

A screenshot from the same Evening Standard article
A screenshot from the same Evening Standard article

The article further describes Epstein and Prince Andrew as having a “curious symbiotic relationship,” adding that “wherever Ghislaine is seen with Prince Andrew, Epstein isn’t far behind.”

These quotes are particularly telling now that it is a matter of record that Epstein was seeking out rich and powerful individuals and entrapping them with minors for the purpose of blackmail. The fact that personal friends of Epstein and Maxwell at the time openly stated that their “manipulative” relationship with Prince Andrew was “very premeditated” and “probably being done for Epstein” strongly suggests that not only was the Prince entrapped, but that this type of entrapment activity was known to occur among those who were close to Epstein and Maxwell at the time.

Prince Andrew — as a member of the Royal Family, which is very protective of its social reputation, as well as the U.K. envoy for investment and trade — certainly fits into the category of people that Epstein entrapped on behalf of intelligence: rich, politically powerful, wary of damaging their social reputation, and thus susceptible to blackmail.

Notably, the year this article was published (2001), is the same year that Epstein’s most well-known accuser and victim, Virginia Giuffre (then Virginia Roberts), claims that she was introduced to Prince Andrew by Maxwell and Epstein and forced to have sex with the Prince on at least three occasions. She has also claimed that Epstein would subsequently instruct her to describe the encounters in order to learn compromising information about the Prince’s sexual habits and preferences. Her claims regarding Epstein’s trafficking of her, specifically to Prince Andrew, have since been largely corroborated by photographic evidence, flight logs, and public records.

This undated photo released by Virginia Giuffre shows Prince Andrew posing with a young Giuffre, Ghislaine Maxwell is shown standing in the background
This undated photo released by Virginia Giuffre shows Prince Andrew posing with a young Giuffre, Ghislaine Maxwell is shown standing in the background

While it appears that Prince Andrew was deliberately entrapped as part of Epstein’s intelligence-linked sexual blackmail operation, the article further suggests that Andrew’s involvement with the minors exploited by Epstein went far beyond his alleged three encounters with Giuffre.

Rosser quotes a friend of Prince Andrew’s ex-wife Sara Ferguson as saying that Andrew “used to be smart when he came back from abroad…He’s started having a girl massage him…He even travels abroad with his own massage mattress.”

During this same time period, Epstein and Maxwell also introduced Prince Andrew to “sex aid entrepreneur” Christine Drangsholt during a trip to Mar-a-Lago and describes Andrew traveling to Los Angeles, where he was seen “flirting…with a group of young girls,” and to Phuket, Thailand where he “wandered around the sex bars in the area’s red light district.” The Los Angeles trip saw Andrew accompanied by artist and close friend of Michael Jackson, Brett Livingstone Strong, and Ghislaine Maxwell accompanied Andrew to Thailand.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, Jeffrey Epstein, Mossad 
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