Four years ago today, on June 15, 2016, a shadowy Internet persona calling itself “Guccifer 2.0” appeared out of nowhere to claim credit for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee on behalf of WikiLeaks and implicate Russia by dropping “telltale” but synthetically produced Russian “breadcrumbs” in his metadata.
Thanks largely to the corporate media, the highly damaging story actually found in those DNC emails — namely, that the DNC had stacked the cards against Bernie Sanders in the party’s 2016 primary— was successfully obscured.
The media was the message; and the message was that Russia had used G-2.0 to hack into the DNC, interfering in the November 2016 election to help Donald Trump win.
Almost everybody still “knows” that — from the man or woman in the street to the forlorn super sleuth, Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III, who actually based indictments of Russian intelligence officers on Guccifer 2.0.
Blaming Russia was a magnificent distraction from the start and quickly became the vogue.
The soil had already been cultivated for “Russiagate” by Democratic PR gems like Donald Trump “kissing up” to former KGB officer Vladimir Putin and their “bromance” (bromides that former President Barack Obama is still using). Four years ago today, “Russian meddling” was off and running — on steroids — acquiring far more faux-reality than the evanescent Guccifer 2.0 persona is likely to get.
Here’s how it went down:
1 — June 12: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced he had “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”
2 — June 14: DNC contractor CrowdStrike tells the media that malware has been found on the DNC server and claims there is evidence it was injected by Russians.
3 — June 15: Guccifer 2.0 arises from nowhere; affirms the DNC/CrowdStrike allegations of the day before; claims responsibility for hacking the DNC; claims to be a WikiLeaks source; and posts a document that forensic examination shows was deliberately tainted with “Russian fingerprints.” This to “corroborate” claims made by CrowdStrike executives the day before.
Adding to other signs of fakery, there is hard evidence that G-2.0 was operating mostly in U.S. time zones and with local settings peculiar to a device configured for use within the U.S., as Tim Leonard reports here and here.)
Leonard is a software developer who started to catalog and archive evidence related to Guccifer 2.0 in 2017 and has issued detailed reports on digital forensic discoveries made by various independent researchers — as well as his own — over the past three years. Leonard points out that WikiLeaks said it did not use any of the emails G2.0 sent it, though it later published similar emails, opening the possibility that whoever created G2.0 knew what WikiLeaks had and sent it duplicates with the Russian fingerprints.
As Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) told President Trump in a memorandum of July 24, 2017, titled “Was the ‘Russian Hack’ an Inside Job?”:
“We do not think that the June 12, 14, & 15 timing was pure coincidence. Rather, it suggests the start of a pre-emptive move to associate Russia with anything WikiLeaks might have been ready to publish and to ‘show’ that it came from a Russian hack.”
“ The Turkish state has launched a wave of air raids in southern Kurdistan, northern Iraq tonight. The strikes targeted several positions in the regions of Qandil, Maxmur (Makhmour) and Shengal (Sinjar), including a refugee camp and hospital,” it said.
Makhmour camp hosts more than 12,000 Kurdish refugees who have fled persecution by the Turkish state, largely in the 1990s. The camp has a governing council and an armed force, the Makhmour Protection Units, established in 2014 when Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked the area. The units are believed to have ties to the PKK.
Bedran Pirani, co-mayor of the Makhmour Camp Municipality, told Rudaw
that strikes near the camp left several children unconscious, who were
then rushed to hospital.
"The airstrikes lasted an hour from 12:10am to 01:10am. They were a large number of unmanned drones and jets hovering overhead," Pirani said.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) condemned on Monday the Turkish airstrikes against suspected positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in several areas in northern Iraq.
A JOC statement said that 18 Turkish warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes late on Sunday night on refugee camps in Sinjar, some 100 km west of Nineveh's provincial capital Mosul, and Makhmour, about 60 km southeast of Mosul.
The Turkish warplanes also flew over the areas of al-Kuwayr, Erbil and al-Shirqat, with 193 km deep inside the Iraqi territories, the statement said.
The JOC described the Turkish airstrikes as "provocative act and is inconsistent with the good-neighborliness in accordance with international conventions and is a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
Iraq called on Turkey to stop the violation of Iraqi territories and said that it is "fully prepared for cooperation between the two countries to control the security situations on the common borders," the statement added.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday announced that it had summoned the ambassador of Turkey in Iraq and handed him a complaint memo condemning the violation of Iraqi sovereignty and its airspace after recent Turkish airstrikes in the Kurdistan Region.
A statement from the foreign ministry announced that Iraq had “summoned” Turkish Ambassador Fatih Yildiz “against the backdrop of the Turkish bombing that affected a number of regions in northern Iraq, causing terror to the population, and spreading panic among them.”
“Ambassador Abdul Karim Hashim met the Turkish ambassador and delivered him a protest note, which included the Iraqi government’s condemnation of violations of the sanctity, sovereignty, and Iraqi airspace.”
But nothing could prepare Mr. Kadhimi, 54, for the anger and grief that people called out to him every chance they got.
Among his first stops were the Mosul Museum, its collection hacked to pieces by ISIS, and the Al Nuri Grand Mosque, a renowned Iraqi landmark with an intricately carved leaning minaret.
The wind blows through the lower part of the mosque now, which was badly damaged in the fighting., During the Islamic State takeover of Syria and Iraq, the militant leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared himself the group’s caliph from its pulpit.
If ever there were a place where the stones have voices, it is Mosul. The destruction is almost audible. Whole blocks are piles of debris, chunks of concrete are massed three and four stories high, and clinging to them are shacks, tacked together out of scrap metal and canvas. This is what passes for homes today in Mosul.
The prime minister only glimpsed this chaos as he swept through the city in a motorcade of cars and army vehicles, tearing down streets emptied of people to ensure his safety.
In October 2019, a massive protest movement hit the country, with millions of people in the streets. Young people in the center and south of the country came together through a non-sectarian lens to call for basic human rights for all Iraqis, regardless of ethnicity, language, or belief. Their demands and the wave of protests they sparked forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign in November, marking the first time popular protests in Iraq led to a change in power.
In May, a new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, took over. Al-Kadhimi is a former journalist and went into exile under Saddam Hussein. When he came back to Iraq, he became the head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service. Since becoming prime minister, he has been vocal about tackling some of the most difficult and sensitive human rights issues in Iraq, which is quite incredible. So with this new leadership, there is an opportunity to realize one of the loudest demands of protesters: that authorities reengage with the public.
This is also one of the first times since 2003 where the violence in
the country has diminished to the point that Iraqis can start talking
about things not related to war. The country has endured years of
conflict, through the United States-led invasion and occupation, a civil
war, and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Now Iraqis can finally
demand politicians engage in issues affecting their human rights not
through the lens of national security.
But there is another story taking place alongside this. What does your report describe?
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, those he oppressed have been interested in opening the country in terms of elections and free speech. But things took a turn in the opposite direction over the last decade. Authorities have dealt with critics not only through violence, which we have seen when protesters were beaten and killed, but also through campaigns using laws to prosecute speech they don’t like, intimidating people into silence.
Who is being targeted in this campaign? Why?
In the autonomous Kurdistan Region in the north, like in Baghdad-controlled areas, there is almost no money for independent media, so most of the outlets are funded by one of the two main Kurdish political parties, or smaller groups. Journalists working for the outlet of one party are often sent to cover protests instigated by that party in territory controlled by another and are sometimes arrested or beaten by Kurdish security forces, or even killed. And prosecutions against journalists are also happening in Kurdistan along political lines.
In Baghdad, the penal code has provisions that broadly deal with defamation. You could be prosecuted if you say anything that “insults” an Arab country or someone in power, for example. But there is no definition of what constitutes an insult, so these provisions are extremely opaque. Another set of provisions deals with incitement, and authorities use these against people they claim posted something online that could either incite someone to carry out a criminal act or threaten national security. But there is no standard for what this means in practice.
And in addition to being arrested, a lot of these people are getting threatening messages on their phones saying, “You’re next. We’ll kill you if you keep writing about this [topic].” And there is a systemic problem in Iraq where if those receiving threats go to the police, the police do nothing to protect them.
What penalties do people face if found guilty of these vague charges?
Depending on the provision someone is charged under, they could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to about US$800, or both. And some say security forces beat them while interrogating them. But what is interesting is that we documented very few cases where someone is forced to serve an actual prison sentence. Authorities are clearly not interested in filling prisons with these people. I suspect that the point of these prosecutions is to intimidate people so much that the next time they want to post something critical of the government on Facebook, they don’t. It’s about harassment and silencing.
In the course of your research, were there any cases that particularly stood out to you?
One man, Haitham Sulaiman, is a 48-year-old protest organizer based near Baghdad, who got involved taking on corruption in Iraq. In early April, after hearing that the local health department might be making exorbitant profits off the cost of paper masks amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he posted the allegation on Facebook and called on authorities to investigate. The next day, intelligence officers from the Ministry of the Interior came to his house and left a warning that he had to stop writing about corruption. A few days later, four men in plain clothes arrested him and took him to the intelligence office, where they beat him and forced him to sign a document saying the Iraqi protest movement of 2019 had been bankrolled by the US. They then charged him under the penal code for willfully sharing false or biased information that “endangered public security.”
Another woman, “Amal” (not her real name), has protested corruption
in Basra for years, been openly critical of different political parties
online, and had posted videos of herself protesting in 2018, at the time
of large-scale protests in southern Iraq. Around that time, while at
home one night, she saw three masked men open gunfire on her house. She
fled the city with her children but came back three weeks later. A few
days after returning, an armed man came to her house and threatened that
if she didn’t leave with her family, they’d all be killed. She has
since fled the country.
What hope does the new government offer to address these issues?
The first thing the government should do is institute legal reforms and amend the penal code and other problematic laws to limit the abusive impact of these vague provisions. Security forces should investigate threats and acts of violence against journalists, activists, and social media critics.
But the prime minister, having seen the power of the country’s protests firsthand, should send the message down through Iraq’s government structure that he will no longer put up with those who abuse their powers to go after people who said something they don’t like, and will punish them. And maybe for the first time in Iraq’s history it’s possible this could happen.
We'll close with this from US House Rep Tulsi Gabbard:
More than a million of our brothers and sisters who served in the military are suffering every day as a result of being exposed to toxic burn pits during their time overseas. This is the Agent Orange of our post-9/11 generation of veterans. Yet, the Department of Defense and the VA have so far failed to ensure every veteran and servicemember dealing with health issues related to their exposure to these toxins gets the care and benefits they deserve.
This is why I’ve introduced H.R.7072 — the SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act — and other legislation to prevent another generation of veterans from suffering in the way that our brothers who served in Vietnam did.
|LEARN MORE ABOUT H.R. 7072|
Heath Robinson was one of too many servicemembers who deployed to the Middle East, only to come home and fight another battle — for Heath, a 3-year battle with lung cancer. A father, husband, and patriot, he recently lost that battle with cancer and died as our nation's leaders failed to acknowledge the link between his diagnosis and his toxic burn pit exposure.
Photo source: Heath Robinson's GoFundMe
This is an egregious failure to those who serve. Our veterans deserve better. Their families deserve better. Our veterans deserve care, compensation, and disability benefits.
It is too late for some like Heath, but more are suffering and more need help. Congress must act now.
|LEARN MORE ABOUT H.R. 7072|
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