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Offline the leveller

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« on: September 29, 2014, 08:00:05 PM »
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me 346 times, shame on me...

Begin forwarded message:


As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without
congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The
first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new
years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent
threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal
justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable
claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction
of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.”
After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat —
too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly
began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national
security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier
and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and
immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of
nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

The unveiling of this new group was performed in a September 13
article by the Associated Press, who cited unnamed U.S. officials
to warn of this new shadowy, worse-than-ISIS terror group:

While the Islamic State group [ISIS] is getting the most attention
now, another band of extremists in Syria — a mix of hardened
jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe — poses a more
direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with
Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.

At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of
veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who
traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the
Nusra Front.

But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight
the government of President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say.
Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to
recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board
a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

AP warned Americans that “the fear is that the Khorasan militants
will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western
recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights.” It
explained that although ISIS has received most of the attention,
the Khorasan Group “is considered the more immediate threat.”

The genesis of the name was itself scary: “Khorasan refers to a
province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old
that included parts of Afghanistan.” AP depicted the U.S. officials
who were feeding them the narrative as engaging in some sort of act
of brave, unauthorized truth-telling: “Many U.S. officials
interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking
about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”

On the morning of September 18, CBS News broadcast a segment that
is as pure war propaganda as it gets: directly linking the soon-to-
arrive U.S. bombing campaign in Syria to the need to protect
Americans from being exploded in civilian jets by Khorasan. With
ominous voice tones, the host narrated:

This morning we are learning of a new and growing terror threat
coming out of Syria. It’s an Al Qaeda cell you probably never heard
of. Nearly everything about them is classified. Bob Orr is in
Washington with new information on a group some consider more 
dangerous than ISIS.

Orr then announced that while ISIS is “dominating headlines and
terrorist propaganda,” Orr’s “sources” warn of “a more immediate
threat to the U.S. Homeland.” As Orr spoke, CBS flashed alternating
video showing scary Muslims in Syria and innocent westerners
waiting in line at airports, as he intoned that U.S. officials have
ordered “enhanced screening” for “hidden explosives.” This is all
coming, Orr explained, from  ”an emerging threat in Syria” where
“hardened terrorists” are building “hard to detect bombs.”

The U.S. government, Orr explained, is trying to keep this all a
secret; they won’t even mention the group’s name in public out of
security concerns! But Orr was there to reveal the truth, as his
“sources confirm the Al Qaeda cell goes by the name Khorasan.” And
they’re “developing fresh plots to attack U.S. aviation.”

Later that day, Obama administration officials began publicly
touting the group, when Director of National Intelligence James
Clapper warned starkly: “In terms of threat to the homeland,
Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.” Then
followed an avalanche of uncritical media reports detailing this
Supreme Threat, excitingly citing anonymous officials as though
they had uncovered a big secret the government was trying to

On September 20, The New York Times devoted a long article to
strongly hyping the Khorasan Group. Headlined “U.S. Suspects More
Direct Threats Beyond ISIS,” the article began by announcing that
U.S. officials believe a different group other than ISIS “posed a
more direct threat to America and Europe.” Specifically:

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged
in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent
on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a
terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin
al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State
Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small
group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before
they were launched.

Again, the threat they posed reached all the way to the U.S.:
“Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in
devising terror plots using concealed explosives.”

This Khorasan-attacking-Americans alarm spread quickly and
explosively in the landscape of U.S. national security reporting.
The Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake warned on September 23 — the day after
the first U.S. bombs fell in Syria — that “American analysts had
pieced together detailed information on a pending attack from an
outfit that informally called itself ‘the Khorasan Group’ to use
hard-to-detect explosives on American and European airliners.” He
added even more ominously: “The planning from the Khorasan Group …
suggests at least an aspiration to launch more-coordinated and
larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from
2001″ (days later, Lake, along with Josh Rogin, actually claimed
that “Iran has long been harboring senior al Qaeda, al Nusra, and
so-called Khorasan Group leaders as part of its complicated
strategy to influence the region”).

On the day of the bombing campaign, NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted

That tweet linked to an NBC Nightly News report in which anchor
Brian Williams introduced Khorasan with a graphic declaring it “The
New Enemy,” and Engel went on to explain that the group is
“considered a threat to the U.S. because, U.S. intelligence
officials say, it wants to bring down airplanes with explosives.”

Once the bombing campaign was underway, ISIS — the original theme
of the attack — largely faded into the background, as Obama
officials and media allies aggressively touted attacks on Khorasan
leaders and the disruption of its American-targeting plots. On the
first day of the bombing, The Washington Post announced that “the
United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-
Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct
threat to the United States.” It explained:

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United
States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell,
called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an
explosives and munitions production facility, a communications
building and command and control facilities.”

The same day, CNN claimed that “among the targets of U.S. strikes
across Syria early Tuesday was the Khorasan Group.” The bombing
campaign in Syria was thus magically transformed into an act of
pure self-defense, given that ”the group was actively plotting
against a U.S. homeland target and Western targets, a senior U.S.
official told CNN on Tuesday.” The bevy of anonymous sources cited
by CNN had a hard time keep their stories straight:

The official said the group posed an “imminent” threat. Another
U.S. official later said the threat was not imminent in the sense
that there were no known targets or attacks expected in the next
few weeks.

The plots were believed to be in an advanced stage, the second U.S.
official said. There were indications that the militants had
obtained materials and were working on new improvised explosive
devices that would be hard to detect, including common hand-held
electronic devices and airplane carry-on items such as toiletries.

Nonetheless, what was clear was that this group had to be bombed in
Syria to save American lives, as the terrorist group even planned
to conceal explosive devices in toothpaste or flammable clothing as
a means to target U.S. airliners. The day following the first
bombings, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed: “We hit them last
night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution
date of some of the plans that we have seen.”

CNN’s supremely stenographic Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, went
on air as videos of shiny new American fighter jets and the Syria
bombing were shown and explained that this was all necessary to
stop a Khorasan attack very close to being carried out against the

What we are hearing from a senior US official is the reason they
struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group —
of Al Qaeda veterans — was in the stages of planning an attack
against the US homeland and/or an attack against a target in
Europe, and the information indicated Khorasan was well on its way
— perhaps in its final stages — of planning that attack.

All of that laid the fear-producing groundwork for President Obama
to claim self-defense when he announced the bombing campaign on
September 23 with this boast: “Once again, it must be clear to
anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm
that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten
our people.”

The very next day, a Pentagon official claimed a U.S. airstrike

killed “the Khorasan leader,” and just a few days after that, U.S.
media outlets celebrated what they said was the admission by jihadi
social media accounts that “the leader of the al Qaeda-linked
Khorasan group was killed in a U.S. air strike in Syria.”

But once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the
bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated
as quickly as it materialized. Foreign Policy‘s Shane Harris, with
two other writers, was one of the first to question whether the
“threat” was anywhere near what it had been depicted to be:

But according to the top U.S. counterterrorism official, as well as
Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the
militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the
United States. Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism
threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would
be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,”
Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism
Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this
month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability
either, even if it’s working to develop it.

“Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their
capabilities match their desire,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism
official told Foreign Policy.

On September 25, The New York Times — just days after hyping the
Khorasan threat to the homeland — wrote that “the group’s evolution
from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the paper of record
began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually
existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to
the homeland:

American officials have given differing accounts about just how
close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance
any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday
described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that
there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.

Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its
final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as
‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan
in the works” (NYT).

Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian — the first to
unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September — published a new
story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in
Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their
previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined
“U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it
noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that
the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the
West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to
happen.” But now:

Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of
the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria
targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the
decision to attack the militants.

James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the
Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have
precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the
Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .

Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that
we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We
can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not,
or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t
think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are
bad dudes.”

Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I
don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather
consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the
justification for launching military action in the first place.

Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual
“Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American
government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S.
government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to
have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting:

Indeed, a Nexis search for the group found almost no mentions of
its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous
officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN
op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA
Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the
group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used
now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban
faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name
appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks,
referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based
group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”)

There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even
exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA
counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly
never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while
Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used
the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it
came from….All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” As
The Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal
prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group
was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there
isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with,
calculating that Khorosan … had sufficient connection to jihadist
lore that no one would call the president on it.”

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration
needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another
predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS
beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a
lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™,
they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse
Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the
endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they
were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,”
posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final
stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could
“launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the
style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.”"

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these
claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this.
Nonetheless, American media outlets — eager, as always, to justify
American wars — spewed all of this with very little skepticism.
Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. government was
trying not to talk about all of this — too secret! — but they, as
intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their
courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence
quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with
these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only
when it’s impotent.


Posted by: James Sanchez -Seattle

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