US navy opens fire in Gulf as vessel nears ship

US navy opens fire in Gulf as vessel nears ship


DUBAI: A US navy ship fired on a boat off the United Arab Emirates on Monday in the southern Gulf where tension has been rising after it ignored warnings, the navy said.

It gave no details on the outcome of the incident, which was being investigated, but US media reports said one person was killed and three were wounded.

“An embarked security team aboard a US navy vessel fired upon a small motor vessel after it disregarded warnings and rapidly approached the US ship near Jebel Ali,” an Emirati port city, the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said in a statement.

“The USNS Rappahannock used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force,” it said.

“The US crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel’s operators to turn away from their deliberate approach. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-calibre machine gun.”

The US navy has been building up its forces in the oil-rich region since tensions spiked with Iran in December over its nuclear programme, with Tehran threatening to possibly close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the southern Gulf.

It has deployed two aircraft carriers to the region – the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Enterprise – and doubled its minesweeper fleet in the area from four to eight ships on June 23.

The deployment aims to send a clear message to Iran over its threats to mine the narrow Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world’s traded oil passes.

Ramifications of Saudi Duplicity

[Somehow, the Saudis have managed to work some form of primitive desert magic over us, effectively blinding us to what they have been doing, mostly in our name (CIA), obscuring the fact of their centrality in the realm of “Islamist” terror.  It is no coincidence that 15 of the 19 names which have been forever wedded to the 911 events were Saudis.  Using their dominance over other Muslim nations like Pakistan and Turkey, the Saudis have drawn together the force known as “al-Qaeda,” and dozens of other terrorist outfits that have been hiding behind constantly changing Arabic-sounding names, to exact revenge primarily upon the “unbelievers” and secondly upon “the infidels.”  The Pakistanis grew the Wahabbi virus right there upon their own soil, while the Turks toned down their rhetoric just a bit, so that they could export their “Wahabbi lite” extremist beliefs into the former Soviet Union and into other equally receptive Muslim nations, like Indonesia.

Around the world, we are doing the will of the Saudi royal family.  We are their enforcers, in the sense of “mob enforcers,” as we push the world around in the name of “fighting terrorism,” when it is the Saudis (and the others which they hold influence over) who are the authors of all global “Islamic terrorism.”  By making the Saudis partners in exporting CIA policy (to skirt the laws against arming terrorists), we have allowed US policy towards Muslims to become focused through this Wahabbi lens.  We have helped the Saudis export their terrorist beliefs to the entire Muslim world, so that their militant beliefs stood alongside True Islam, and understanding true believers.  We have helped them to infect millions with the false belief that The Living God has commissioned them with a duty to kill “non-believers,” as defined by them.  The world media reports this killing spree of the non-believers as acts of “terrorism,” committed by shadowy, unknown terrorists and nameless sponsors of that terror.  They call it “Al-Qaeda,” as if it really was that anonymous entity killing Muslims and the occasional Westerner around the world.  Sectarian ethnic killing is going on around the world under the protective umbrella of the US and NATO militaries.  The sad truth is, we are fighting the “war on terror” to extend Saudi power around the world and to create for them a “seat at the table” of “civilized” nations.  We are helping the tribal barbarians to use their enormous wealth to purchase respectability from the world.]

Ramifications of Saudi Duplicity

Center for Democracy and Human Rights In Saudi Arabia

By Ali Alyami

Coerced into living under the yoke of a monarchical tyranny since the formation of the Saudi state in 1932, many Saudis have been cowed into accepting this system of oppression as their divine fate, eradit Allah. Prior to WikiLeaks’ shocking publication of classified diplomatic cables between American diplomats in Saudi Arabia and their handlers in the State Department, the Saudi people may not have realized the full extent of their ruling family’s sinister nature. Via these documents the Saudi people learned that their “beloved” King Abdullah and his nephew Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal were covertly engaged in duplicitous schemes that would inexorably result in heavy loss of life and crippling damage to their oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia which provide the bulk of the country’s revenues. These dangerous Saudi schemes would also eventuate in far-reaching consequences.

The published WikiLeaks’ documents quoted King Abdullah pressuring President Obama to invade Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.” The dispatches also quoted Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, arguing for what would amount to US and other NATO forces invading Lebanon: “The U.S. and NATO would need to provide transport and logistical support, as well as naval and air cover,” ostensibly to help a coordinated Arab ground invasion of Lebanon to crush Hezbollah. The Saudi monarchs know that such Saudi-instigated attacks by the US, most likely from Saudi territory, would result in the killing of many fellow Arabs and Muslims and would generate punishing retaliation by Iran and its supporters against the Saudi people and their oil rich Eastern Province, located within the range of Iranian guns. The stark revelations by WikiLeaks exposed the Saudi monarchy for what it is, a regime that will not hesitate to sacrifice its citizens’ lives and livelihood to maintain its autocratic rule at home and influence abroad.

For the autocratic Saudi monarchy, maintaining control at home is inseparable from cultivating its influence abroad. The monarchy utilizes its exclusive domination over the nation’s oil wealth and over Muslims’ holy shrines as well as employing its extreme Wahhabi ideology to subdue Saudi citizens. As an extension of its domestic policies, the Saudi monarchy exports its lethal ideology, finances religious infrastructure projects and extremist groups for the purpose of establishing pro-Saudi Muslim regimes and communities which the monarchs use to influence decision-making in other countries and to extract favorable policies from Muslim and non-Muslim governments throughout the world.

While American Administrations, main stream media, some think tanks and prominent institutions of higher learning publicly hail Saudi monarchs as partners in the “War on Terror,” privately they concede that the Saudi government actively supports and encourages terrorism worldwide. What has been concealed from the Saudi and American peoples was publicly revealed in the released WikiLeaks documents. The documents quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complaining about the Saudi regime’s unwillingness to cut off support for terrorism; “It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” While cutting off financial support for extremist and terrorist groups is a priority for the US and the West, continuing it is a major element of the Saudi regime’s overall policy of global religious imperialism.

In addition to spreading its extreme brand of Sunni Islam worldwide, the Saudi monarchy seeks to eliminate Iran as a potential rival for leadership in the Muslim world. Furthermore, the Saudi rulers fear the possibility of rapprochement between the West and Iran which would drastically undermine the crumbling Saudi influence in the Gulf region. By pressuring the US and NATO to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and to invade Lebanon to neutralize Hezbollah, the Saudi monarchy hopes to eliminate its current remaining rivals in the region. As implied in King Abdullah’s phrase ‘cut off the head of the snake,’ an attack on Iran will not stop at taking out its nuclear facilities as publicly advocated, but would have to destroy Iran’s military and disrupt its political infrastructure if Iran’s threats to the Saudi monarchy and to other Arab Gulf regimes are to be removed. The Saudi monarchy knows that such an undertaking by the US and NATO will come at a high cost domestically, regionally and globally, but for the Saudi royals no price is too high to pay for their survival and regional dominance, including the lives of their populace.

The reason no one seems eager to embrace the warmongering Saudi schemes, including Israel which the Iranian leadership has vowed to “wipe from the surface of the earth”, is because the consequences of attacking Iran and Lebanon would be widespread and devastating. The would-be executors of the Saudi wishes realize that it would entail tremendous loss of lives and destruction of property in Iran, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States and Lebanon. Regardless of how hard Iran and Hezbollah are hit initially, Iran’s proximity to the Saudi oil facilities and a large portion of the Saudi population makes it seem inevitable that the Iranians will retaliate against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States from which attacks might be launched. In the unlikely event that the Iranians are unable to retaliate, their sympathizers (marginalized Arab Shi’a) who reside in Eastern Saudi Arabia and in other Gulf countries, would be expected to rise in support of Iran against their oppressive Sunni rulers. In such an event, the autocratic Sunni rulers of the Gulf States would use this opportunity to crush their vocal Shi’a minorities whom they consider threats to their exclusionary Sunni rule.

Likewise, if Hezbollah is attacked by a Saudi-instigated Arab force, the former would likely seek revenge on its Lebanese Sunni and Christian fellow citizens. Even though the Saudi royals employ the widely appealing rhetoric of crushing Hezbollah, an objective shared by many Arab and non-Arab states, the Saudi monarchy’s true intent is to ensure Sunni Muslim supremacy in Lebanon along the lines of Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine. Given Lebanon’s bloody history of civil strife, retaliation by Hezbollah on Sunni Muslims and Christians could lead to a prolonged Lebanese civil war that would guarantee interventions by Syria and Israel to protect their conflicting interests in Lebanon. Many Christians around the world would also pressure their governments to rescue their fellow Christians in Lebanon.

Given these likely scenarios, the regional and global consequences of the duplicitous ensnaring Saudi schemes exposed by the WikiLeaks’ documents would be more than the current fragile international political and economic environment can absorb.

Attacking Iran and Lebanon as the Saudi monarchy advocates will indubitably interrupt production, refining and shipping of oil from the Persian Gulf region to oil consuming nations worldwide. This would likely create global political, economic and psychological disorder that would make the 1973 Arab oil embargo look benign and would negatively impact national and international economies which are struggling to emerge from the recent protracted global financial downturn. In addition to global economic disorder, increased tension within Muslim communities and between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide would quickly boil over. Strife between the already antagonistic Sunni and Shi’a Muslims would intensify and spread to other communities regardless of beliefs.

Moreover, Saudi instigated military campaigns against Iran and Lebanon by the West would drastically increase extremism, terrorism and anti-Americanism in Arab and Muslim countries and communities. Even though the Saudi royals and other Arab regimes are pressuring the West to rid them of what they consider their mortal Persian Shi’a enemies, these regimes will use their controlled media, mosques, clerics, Arab American intellectuals, Muslim groups in the West, selected American universities and Western recipients of their largess to depict the West as modern day Crusaders intent on destroying Islam and Muslims.

Given the probable consequences discussed here, the only beneficiaries of the Saudi schemes as exposed in WikiLeaks would be the Saudi ruling family and other totalitarian Arab regimes. It appears that the Machiavellian Saudi strategy is designed to prove that the West is an aggressive villain determined to destroy Arabs and Muslims.

In the past, the Saudi ruling family successfully linked Western interest to the monarchs’ survival and dominance in Arab and Muslim countries despite the Saudi regime’s draconian domestic polices and its ideological threats to Western democracies. The Saudi monarchs achieved their objective by making sure that the only alternative to their rule at home would be the extremists and terrorists they helped create and by ensuring that their external political and military rivals, such as Nasser of Egypt and Saddam of Iraq, are removed from the regional landscape.

By urging the US and other NATO forces to invade Iran and Lebanon regardless of consequences the Saudi rulers aim to maintain the status quo which is being relentlessly punctured by events some of which they myopically created. In recent years, geopolitical shifts and the rise of formidable power players around the Gulf area, the region and globally are slowly eroding the Saudi royals’ domination over OPEC, the financing of extremist groups and projects and undermining the Saudi monarchs’ invented indispensability to the West. The rise of Iran to regional and global prominence, the creation of Hezbollah and Hamas, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the imbalance of power in OPEC and the global search for new sources of energy continue to diminish the usefulness of the Saudi monarchy to the West. In addition, Western democracies have wrenchingly discovered that a royal Saudi autocracy empowered and protected by the West has proved more harmful than useful as exemplified by the 9/11 attacks on the US, the spread of Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine and the financing of extremists and terrorists worldwide as described by Secretary Clinton in the WikiLeaks documents.

The US and other Western democracies are faced with one of their most grim challenges ever: a choice between protecting our individual liberties and democratic values or continuing to rely on the flow of oil and cash from an erratic, tyrannical system whose policies and practices promote destruction of democratic institutions and replace them with a totalitarian Islamic system.

Homeland Security Has Purchased Hundreds of Millions of Rounds To Deal with Uppity American Sheeple

Preparing for Civil War: Chart Shows DHS Has Bought Hundreds of Millions of Rounds of Ammo Since 2009

By Alex Thomas
July 15, 2012

In the last six months many articles and reports have been written that detailed the hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition that the Department of Homeland Security has purchased since Obama took office in 2009.

This astonishing amount of purchased ammunition has lead many to speculate and believe that homeland security is actively preparing for what they believe will be a bloody and extremely violent American uprising and or civil war.

When you couple this large scale buildup of ammo with bulletproof checkpoints, law enforcement bulletins labeling everyday Americans as possible terrorists, and a series of videos that painted middle class Americans as the new Al Qaeda you can clearly see that at least portions of DHS are planning for some sort of violent confrontation with the American people.

The chart below (broken up into three screen shots), put together by James Smith of thePrepper Podcast Radio Network, displays all the types of ammunition, the frequency of the purchases, the quantity, and the company that the ammo was purchased from.


Why is the Department of Homeland Security buying ammo as if they are about to go to war if that is not their exact plan?

It is also important to consider the fact that Obama has given DHS extraordinary powers in the event of an emergency regardless whether or not they created it in the first place.

Sadly, there is little to nothing standing in the way from rogue agents carrying out a false flag which in turn would give the entire agency dictator like powers, turning America into a full fledged Fascist police state.

Ex-police officer charged over reporter’s killing

Ex-police officer charged over reporter’s killing

OUTSPOKEN: Anna Politkovskaya, a sharp critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

OUTSPOKEN: Anna Politkovskaya, a sharp critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

Russian investigators have charged a retired police officer with helping organise the 2006 killing of an investigative reporter who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

The killing of Anna Politkovskaya, a sharp critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, caused widespread suspicions of government involvement.

Six men have been charged with the killing, but investigators still have not named the person who ordered the assassination.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on Monday that Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who was a lieutenant colonel at the time of the killing, has been formally charged 11 months after his arrest.

Investigators said earlier that Pavlyuchenkov tracked down Politkovskaya’s movements to help the suspected triggermen.

Pavlyuchenkov served as a witness during the 2009 aborted trial of two Chechen brothers and another ex-police officer.

Lackland AFB Drill Instructors Accused of Cadet Rape In Multiple Cases

[More evidence that girls do not belong in “this Man’s Military.”]

U.S. Air Force court-martial set in widening sex scandal

Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – U.S. Air Force Sergeant Luis Walker faces court-martial on Monday on multiple charges of rape and aggravated sexual assault of female recruits in his training squadron, the first of several such trials in the biggest military sex scandal in 16 years.

Walker was one of roughly 500 Military Training Instructors at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which conducts all of the Air Force’s basic military training. If found guilty, Walker could face life in prison and dishonorable discharge.

Since Walker’s arrest 13 months ago, five more training instructors have been charged with raping or having inappropriate sexual relations with female trainees, or improperly fraternizing with them.

Many are also facing lesser charges, including disobeying an order or adultery, which is a crime in the military. One of the six has pleaded guilty and told prosecutors he had inappropriate sexual relations with 10 women in his training squadron.

A total of 31 women have come forward to say they were victims of improper sexual conduct, and six more instructors have been formally told they are under investigation. An additional 35 instructors have been removed from their positions pending investigation.

The military has not seen such a large number of improper sexual conduct cases at one base since 1996, when a scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground Army base in Maryland resulted in a dozen officers being charged with sexual assault.

The Lackland scandal has sullied the reputation of the Air Force, where about one in five recruits are women, the highest of any military branch.

“This is taking away from what I’m supposed to be doing, which is training airmen warriors to defend our country,” said Lieutenant Colonel Tim Thurston, who commands a squadron conducting the 8-1/2-week basic training program at Lackland.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time to regain that trust, and we understand that,” he said.

Female trainee Duree Purcell said the Air Force had gone out of its way to allow women to speak out about improper behavior.

“We have some bad MTIs, yes, but that’s not how it is with the majority. There are steps to take so we can get out there if there is a problem and we can speak about it,” she said.


Female cadets said the Air Force has placed anonymous complaint boxes in inconspicuous places in the barracks stairwells and has briefed them multiple times on the chain of command.

“It is frustrating for all of us,” said Sarah Shaw, a trainee from Fayetteville, North Carolina. “We came into the Air Force because we knew how high their integrity is. Now they’re looking at us, and they think it’s all scandal.”

Air Force officials said all 31 women who came forward to report inappropriate conduct were still in the service and stressed that some reports have not been substantiated so the accused trainer has been placed back on duty.

The Air Force is considering drastic measures to deal with the scandal, including having female trainers in command of all-female units. About one in 10 training instructors is a woman.

But most Air Force personnel interviewed on the base were opposed to the idea of single-sex training units.

“I would hate to live in an America where we said that women aren’t capable of doing the same things that men do,” Thurston said. “There is absolutely no reason to think that women can’t do every job, so why in the world would we make basic training separate for them.”

Thurston said his observation is that men do better with female instructors and women do better with male drill sergeants.

“Males don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of a female instructor, and women look on a male MTI as somewhat of a father figure,” he said.

Colonel Eric Axelbank, commander of the 37th Flying Training Wing, said he was “disappointed” by the scandal but was doing all he could to deal with it.

“Within 72 hours of trainees getting here to Lackland, they know their values and they have been briefed on how to pursue allegations up the chain of command,” he said.

The scandal comes as the military is battling the problem of sexual assault in all the services, where women are playing increasing roles.

A recent U.S. Defense Department report said 4.4 percent of women in the military were the victims of unwanted sexual advances in the 12 months before the report. Women’s rights groups believe the figure is far higher.

Colonel Polly Kenney, the leader of the prosecution team in the courts-martial starting on Monday, said that as a woman she has never felt uncomfortable in her 23 years in the Air Force.

“As more and more cases came forward, we became more and more concerned,” she said. “It is unfortunate, but we have to deal with it.”

(Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Beech)

Copyright © 2012, Reuters

Russia accuses West of blackmail on Syria plans

Russia accuses West of blackmail on Syria plans

MOSCOW — Russia says that Western nations are using blackmail to secure a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force in Syria.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the Western threats to discontinue the 300-strong U.N. unarmed observer mission to Syria if Russia does not agree to allow the West to use force in Syria amounts to blackmail.

The U.N. authorized the 90 day mission to oversee the cessation of violence and monitor implementation of the U.N. peace plan.

The team, whose mandate expires on July 20, had to withdraw from key conflict areas because of escalating fighting.

Russia said last week it will oppose any new U.N. resolution on Syria that would include the use of force.

The Corporate Vultures Line-Up To Pick the Afghan Carcass

Blocks on offer in the Amu Darya Basin Oil Tender 2011

Blocks on offer in the Amu Darya Basin Oil Tender 2011 (blue outline). Source: PetroView®

Afghanistan may attract more energy firms as Exxon shows interest

Amie Ferris-Rotman and Ramya Venugopal
KABUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – More top-tier energy companies are likely to join the race to explore for oil and gas in Afghanistan after the world’s biggest publicly traded firm, Exxon Mobil , changed perceptions of what the country may hold by showing interest in drilling.

Energy majors are exploring new frontiers in pursuit of fresh reserves as they exhaust existing fields and Afghanistan, after decades of conflict, remains little explored.

While the U.S. government estimates the country holds a fraction of the reserves of surrounding giant Middle East producers, its potential is enough to attract Exxon Mobil and that factor, by itself, is likely to lure more.

Kabul, which has long depended on international donations to finance its economy, now hopes revenue from raw materials will help the country stand alone, especially as an impending pullout of most foreign troops by the end of 2014 is creating donor fatigue.

“Exxon would not go into an area unless the areas are very promising. They are not looking for potatoes,” said Chakib Khelil, former Algerian oil minister, now an energy consultant in Paris.

The search for fresh assets by big companies such as Exxon, which produce a lot could mean “going to the Arctic, going deep off-shore and going into new areas like Afghanistan,” he added.

Eight firms including Exxon this month expressed interest in an oil and gas auction of six blocks in the Afghan-Tajik basin, after a tender was won by China National Petroleum Co (CNPC) late last year.

Afghanistan has about 1.9 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable crude reserves, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said in 2011, although it didn’t say how much of it was economically recoverable.

That compares to Equatorial Guinea, which has proven reserves of 1.7 billion barrels and produces about 250,000 barrels of crude a day, according to BP’s latest annual statistical review.

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel, an output of 250,000 bpd would earn Afghanistan about $9.1 billion a year. That would be roughly half the country’s gross domestic product of $20 billion in 2011, according to the World Bank.

The country also has an estimated 59 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, about half that of the proven reserves in neighboring Iraq, according to BP.

The Tajik basin, for which Kabul invited bids earlier this month, has about 946 million barrels of crude and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, the survey found.

The Amu Darya basin, which CNPC, China’s biggest oil and gas producer, is exploring after it won the tender last year, has 962 million barrels of crude and 52 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to USGS.


However, drilling in Afghanistan is fraught with risks, most notably those related to security, and sovereign risk is a serious concern.

Violence in Afghanistan was at its worst this year since the Taliban regime was toppled 10 years ago, United Nations said.

Besides violence, companies operating in the country also have to deal with the still prevalent infighting between groups, which could disrupt their operations.

For instance, CNPC’s Amu Darya project has met with severe interference from militia loyal to former warlord and army chief of staff General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the government says.

Dostum’s supporters have been allegedly demanding a share of the proceeds, a claim the general’s National Front party denied.

Still, for the oil companies, which operate in some of the world’s most conflict-ridden areas, including Iraq, Nigeria and Sudan, this is just an occupational hazard.

“Security is an issue but it’s not an issue that will bar them from being involved in the country,” said Khalil, citing cases such as Iraq, where companies continue to operate and provide their own protection, with the help of the government. “But you need to have a good return to justify the risk.”


The country, among the world’s poorest, will need around $6 billion to $7 billion of aid a year to grow its economy, on top of a $4.1 billion bill for security forces to maintain peace after foreign combat troops leave, the head of Afghanistan’s central bank said last month.

Mining reserves “is not a magic solution. And we’re going to have to see this develop over the longer term. Many of these are very large projects… so it will take time before you see those benefits,” said a U.S. embassy official in Kabul.

Still, exploration in the country will be an uphill task as the geology has not been closely studied or well understood, said Alan Troner, head of the Houston-based Asia-Pacific Energy Consulting.

And Kabul has still to put its own house in order before it becomes a destination for more energy companies.

“Looking at the lack of transparency, widespread corruption and no security, I am not optimistic that other powerful companies in the world would invest in Afghanistan,” said Yama Torabi, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a civil organization promoting transparency.

(Additional reporting by Luke Pachymuthu; Editing by Manash Goswami and Clarence Fernandez)

Copyright © 2012, Reuters

The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?

The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?

The media have been too passive when it comes to Syrian opposition sources, without scrutinising their backgrounds and their political connections. Time for a closer look …

Rami Abdulrahman

The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, speaks on the phone in his home in Coventry on December 6, 2011. Photograph: Reuters

A nightmare is unfolding across Syria, in the homes of al-Heffa and the streets of Houla. And we all know how the story ends: with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, towns and families destroyed, and President Assad beaten to death in a ditch.

This is the story of the Syrian war, but there is another story to be told. A tale less bloody, but nevertheless important. This is a story about the storytellers: the spokespeople, the “experts on Syria”, the “democracy activists”. The statement makers. The people who “urge” and “warn” and “call for action”.

It’s a tale about some of the most quoted members of the Syrian opposition and their connection to the Anglo-American opposition creation business. The mainstream news media have, in the main, been remarkably passive when it comes to Syrian sources: billing them simply as “official spokesmen” or “pro-democracy campaigners” without, for the most part, scrutinising their statements, their backgrounds or their political connections.

It’s important to stress: to investigate the background of a Syrian spokesperson is not to doubt the sincerity of his or her opposition to Assad. But a passionate hatred of the Assad regime is no guarantee of independence. Indeed, a number of key figures in the Syrian opposition movement are long-term exiles who were receiving US government funding to undermine the Assad government long before the Arab spring broke out.

Though it is not yet stated US government policy to oust Assad by force, these spokespeople are vocal advocates of foreign military intervention in Syria and thus natural allies of well-known US neoconservatives who supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq and are now pressuring the Obama administration to intervene. As we will see, several of these spokespeople have found support, and in some cases developed long and lucrative relationships with advocates of military intervention on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The sand is running out of the hour glass,” said Hillary Clinton on Sunday. So, as the fighting in Syria intensifies, and Russian warships set sail for Tartus, it’s high time to take a closer look at those who are speaking out on behalf of the Syrian people.

The Syrian National Council

The most quoted of the opposition spokespeople are the official representatives of the Syrian National Council. The SNC is not the only Syrian opposition group – but it is generally recognised as “the main opposition coalition” (BBC). The Washington Times describes it as “an umbrella group of rival factions based outside Syria”. Certainly the SNC is the opposition group that’s had the closest dealings with western powers – and has called for foreign intervention from the early stages of the uprising. In February of this year, at the opening of the Friends of Syria summit in Tunisia, William Hague declared: “I will meet leaders of the Syrian National Council in a few minutes’ time … We, in common with other nations, will now treat them and recognise them as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

The most senior of the SNC’s official spokespeople is the Paris-based Syrian academic Bassma Kodmani.

Bassma Kodmani

Bassma Kodmani at BilderbergBassma Kodmani of the Syrian National Council. Photograph: Carter OsmarHere is Bassma Kodmani, seen leaving this year’s Bilderberg conferencein Chantilly, Virginia.

Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs, Syrian National Council. Kodmani is close to the centre of the SNC power structure, and one of the council’s most vocal spokespeople. “No dialogue with the ruling regime is possible. We can only discuss how to move on to a different political system,” she declared this week. And here she is, quoted by the newswire AFP: “The next step needs to be a resolution under Chapter VII, which allows for the use of all legitimate means, coercive means, embargo on arms, as well as the use of force to oblige the regime to comply.”

This statement translates into the headline “Syrians call for armed peacekeepers” (Australia’s Herald Sun). When large-scale international military action is being called for, it seems only reasonable to ask: who exactly is calling for it? We can say, simply, “an official SNC spokesperson,” or we can look a little closer.

This year was Kodmani’s second Bilderberg. At the 2008 conference, Kodmani was listed as French; by 2012, her Frenchness had fallen away and she was listed simply as “international” – her homeland had become the world of international relations.

Back a few years, in 2005, Kodmani was working for the Ford Foundationin Cairo, where she was director of their governance and international co-operation programme. The Ford Foundation is a vast organisation, headquartered in New York, and Kodmani was already fairly senior. But she was about to jump up a league.

Around this time, in February 2005, US-Syrian relations collapsed, and President Bush recalled his ambassador from Damascus. A lot of opposition projects date from this period. “The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005,” says the Washington Post.

In September 2005, Kodmani was made the executive director of theArab Reform Initiative (ARI) – a research programme initiated by the powerful US lobby group, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The CFR is an elite US foreign policy thinktank, and the Arab Reform Initiative is described on its website as a “CFR Project” . More specifically, the ARI was initiated by a group within the CFR called the “US/Middle East Project” – a body of senior diplomats, intelligence officers and financiers, the stated aim of which is to undertake regional “policy analysis” in order “to prevent conflict and promote stability”. The US/Middle East Project pursues these goals under the guidance of an international board chaired by General (Ret.) Brent Scowcroft.

Peter SutherlandPeter Sutherland pictured at the Bilderberg conference. Photograph: Hannah BornoBrent Scowcroft (chairman emeritus) is a former national security adviser to the US president – he took over the role from Henry Kissinger. Sitting alongside Scowcroft of the international board is his fellow geo-strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who succeeded him as the national security adviser, and Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International. So, as early as 2005, we’ve got a senior wing of the western intelligence/banking establishment selecting Kodmani to run a Middle East research project. In September of that year, Kodmani was made full-time director of the programme. Earlier in 2005, the CFR assigned“financial oversight” of the project to the Centre for European Reform (CER). In come the British.

The CER is overseen by Lord Kerr, the deputy chairman of Royal Dutch Shell. Kerr is a former head of the diplomatic service and is a senior adviser at Chatham House (a thinktank showcasing the best brains of the British diplomatic establishment).

In charge of the CER on a day-to-day basis is Charles Grant, former defence editor of the Economist, and these days a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a “pan-European thinktank” packed with diplomats, industrialists, professors and prime ministers. On its list of members you’ll find the name: “Bassma Kodmani (France/Syria) – Executive Director, Arab Reform Initiative”.

Another name on the list: George Soros – the financier whose non-profit “Open Society Foundations” is a primary funding source of the ECFR. At this level, the worlds of banking, diplomacy, industry, intelligence and the various policy institutes and foundations all mesh together, and there, in the middle of it all, is Kodmani.

The point is, Kodmani is not some random “pro-democracy activist” who happens to have found herself in front of a microphone. She has impeccable international diplomacy credentials: she holds the position ofresearch director at the Académie Diplomatique Internationale – “an independent and neutral institution dedicated to promoting modern diplomacy”. The Académie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former head of the DGSE – the French foreign intelligence service.

A picture is emerging of Kodmani as a trusted lieutenant of the Anglo-American democracy-promotion industry. Her “province of origin” (according to the SNC website) is Damascus, but she has close and long-standing professional relationships with precisely those powers she’s calling upon to intervene in Syria.

And many of her spokesmen colleagues are equally well-connected.

Radwan Ziadeh

Another often quoted SNC representative is Radwan Ziadeh – director of foreign relations at the Syrian National Council. Ziadeh has an impressive CV: he’s a senior fellow at the federally funded Washington thinktank, the US Institute of Peace (the USIP Board of Directors is packed with alumni of the defence department and the national security council; its president is Richard Solomon, former adviser to Kissinger at the NSC).

In February this year, Ziadeh joined an elite bunch of Washington hawks to sign a letter calling upon Obama to intervene in Syria: his fellow signatories include James Woolsey (former CIA chief), Karl Rove (Bush Jr’s handler), Clifford May (Committee on the Present Danger) and Elizabeth Cheney, former head of the Pentagon’s Iran-Syria Operations Group.

Ziadeh is a relentless organiser, a blue-chip Washington insider with links to some of the most powerful establishment thinktanks. Ziadeh’s connections extend all the way to London. In 2009 he became a visiting fellow at Chatham House, and in June of last year he featured on the panel at one of their events – “Envisioning Syria’s Political Future” – sharing a platform with fellow SNC spokesman Ausama Monajed (more on Monajed below) and SNC member Najib Ghadbian.

Ghadbian was identified by the Wall Street Journal as an early intermediary between the US government and the Syrian opposition in exile: “An initial contact between the White House and NSF [National Salvation Front] was forged by Najib Ghadbian, a University of Arkansas political scientist.” This was back in 2005. The watershed year.

These days, Ghadbian is a member of the general secretariat of the SNC, and is on the advisory board of a Washington-based policy body called the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) – an organisation co-founded by Ziadeh.

Ziadeh has been making connections like this for years. Back in 2008, Ziadeh took part in a meeting of opposition figures in a Washington government building: a mini-conference called “Syria In-Transition”. The meeting was co-sponsored by a US-based body called the Democracy Council and a UK-based organisation called the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). It was a big day for the MJD – their chairman, Anas Al-Abdah, had travelled to Washington from Britain for the event, along with their director of public relations. Here, from the MJD’s website, is a description of the day: “The conference saw an exceptional turn out as the allocated hall was packed with guests from the House of Representatives and the Senate, representatives of studies centres, journalists and Syrian expatriats [sic] in the USA.”

The day opened with a keynote speech by James Prince, head of the Democracy Council. Ziadeh was on a panel chaired by Joshua Muravchik (the ultra-interventionist author of the 2006 op-ed “Bomb Iran”). The topic of the discussion was “The Emergence of Organized Opposition”. Sitting beside Ziadeh on the panel was the public relations director of the MJD – a man who would later become his fellow SNC spokesperson – Ausama Monajed.

Ausama Monajed

Along with Kodmani and Ziadeh, Ausama (or sometimes Osama) Monajed is one of the most important SNC spokespeople. There are others, of course – the SNC is a big beast and includes the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition to Assad is wide-ranging, but these are some of the key voices. There are other official spokespeople with long political careers, like George Sabra of the Syrian Democratic People’s party – Sabra has suffered arrest and lengthy imprisonment in his fight against the “repressive and totalitarian regime in Syria”. And there are other opposition voices outside the SNC, such as the writer Michel Kilo, who speaks eloquently of the violence tearing apart his country: “Syria is being destroyed – street after street, city after city, village after village. What kind of solution is that? In order for a small group of people to remain in power, the whole country is being destroyed.”

Ausuma MonajedAusuma Monajed. Photograph: BBCBut there’s no doubt that the primary opposition body is the SNC, and Kodmani, Ziadeh and Monajed are often to be found representing it. Monajed frequently crops up as a commentator on TV news channels.Here he is on the BBC, speaking from their Washington bureau. Monajed doesn’t sugar-coat his message: “We are watching civilians being slaughtered and kids being slaughtered and killed and women being raped on the TV screens every day.”

Meanwhile, over on Al Jazeera, Monajed talks about “what’s really happening, in reality, on the ground” – about “the militiamen of Assad” who “come and rape their women, slaughter their children, and kill their elderly”.

Monajed turned up, just a few days ago, as a blogger on Huffington Post UK, where he explained, at length: “Why the World Must Intervene in Syria” – calling for “direct military assistance” and “foreign military aid”. So, again, a fair question might be: who is this spokesman calling for military intervention?

Monajed is a member of the SNC, adviser to its president, and according to his SNC biography, “the Founder and Director of Barada Television”, a pro-opposition satellite channel based in Vauxhall, south London. In 2008, a few months after attending Syria In-Transition conference, Monajed was back in Washington, invited to lunch with George W Bush, along with a handful of other favoured dissidents (you can see Monajed in the souvenir photo, third from the right, in the red tie, near Condoleezza Rice – up the other end from Garry Kasparov).

At this time, in 2008, the US state department knew Monajed as “director of public relations for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), which leads the struggle for peaceful and democratic change in Syria”.

Let’s look closer at the MJD. Last year, the Washington Post picked up a story from WikiLeaks, which had published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables. These cables appear to show a remarkable flow of money from the US state department to the British-based Movement for Justice and Development. According to the Washington Post’s report: “Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified US diplomatic cables show that the state department has funnelled as much as $6m to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria.”

A state department spokesman responded to this story by saying: “Trying to promote a transformation to a more democratic process in this society is not undermining necessarily the existing government.” And they’re right, it’s not “necessarily” that.

When asked about the state department money, Monajed himself said that he “could not confirm” US state department funding for Barada TV, but said: “I didn’t receive a penny myself.” Malik al -Abdeh, until very recently Barada TV’s editor-in-chief insisted: “we have had no direct dealings with the US state department”. The meaning of the sentence turns on that word “direct”. It is worth noting that Malik al Abdeh also happens to be one of the founders of the Movement for Justice and Development (the recipient of the state department $6m, according to the leaked cable). And he’s the brother of the chairman, Anas Al-Abdah. He’s also the co-holder of the MJD trademark: What Malik al Abdeh does admit is that Barada TV gets a large chunk of its funding from an American non-profit organisation: the Democracy Council. One of the co-sponsors (with the MJD) of Syria In-Transition mini-conference. So what we see, in 2008, at the same meeting, are the leaders of precisely those organisations identified in the Wiki:eaks cables as the conduit (the Democracy Council) and recipient (the MJD) of large amounts of state department money.

The Democracy Council (a US-based grant distributor) lists the state department as one of its sources of funding. How it works is this: the Democracy Council serves as a grant-administering intermediary between the state department’s “Middle East Partnership Initiative” and “local partners” (such as Barada TV). As the Washington Post reports:

“Several US diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. According to the cables, the State Department funnelled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.”

The same report highlights a 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Syria that says that the Democracy Council received $6.3m from the state department to run a Syria-related programme, the “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative”. The cable describes this as “a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners” aimed at producing, amongst other things, “various broadcast concepts.” According to the Washington Post: “Other cables make clear that one of those concepts was Barada TV.”

Until a few months ago, the state department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative was overseen by Tamara Cofman Wittes (she’s now at theBrookings Institution – an influential Washington thinktank). Of MEPI, she said that it “created a positive ‘brand’ for US democracy promotion efforts”. While working there she declared: “There are a lot of organizations in Syria and other countries that are seeking changes from their government … That’s an agenda that we believe in and we’re going to support.” And by support, she means bankroll.

The money

This is nothing new. Go back a while to early 2006, and you have the state department announcing a new “funding opportunity” called the “Syria Democracy Program“. On offer, grants worth “$5m in Federal Fiscal Year 2006”. The aim of the grants? “To accelerate the work of reformers in Syria.”

These days, the cash is flowing in faster than ever. At the beginning of June 2012, the Syrian Business Forum was launched in Doha by opposition leaders including Wael Merza (SNC secretary general). “This fund has been established to support all components of the revolution in Syria,” said Merza. The size of the fund? Some $300m. It’s by no means clear where the money has come from, although Merza “hinted at strong financial support from Gulf Arab states for the new fund” (Al Jazeera). At the launch, Merza said that about $150m had already been spent, in part on the Free Syrian Army.

Merza’s group of Syrian businessmen made an appearance at a World Economic Forum conference titled the “Platform for International Co-operation” held in Istanbul in November 2011. All part of the process whereby the SNC has grown in reputation, to become, in the words of William Hague, “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people” – and able, openly, to handle this much funding.

Building legitimacy – of opposition, of representation, of intervention – is the essential propaganda battle.

In a USA Today op-ed written in February this year, Ambassador Dennis Ross declared: “It is time to raise the status of the Syrian National Council”. What he wanted, urgently, is “to create an aura of inevitability about the SNC as the alternative to Assad.” The aura of inevitability. Winning the battle in advance.

A key combatant in this battle for hearts and minds is the American journalist and Daily Telegraph blogger, Michael Weiss.

Michael Weiss

One of the most widely quoted western experts on Syria – and an enthusiast for western intervention – Michael Weiss echoes Ambassador Ross when he says: “Military intervention in Syria isn’t so much a matter of preference as an inevitability.”

Some of Weiss’s interventionist writings can be found on a Beirut-based, Washington-friendly website called “NOW Lebanon” – whose “NOW Syria” section is an important source of Syrian updates. NOW Lebanon was set up in 2007 by Saatchi & Saatchi executive Eli Khoury. Khoury has been described by the advertising industry as a “strategic communications specialist, specialising in corporate and government image and brand development”.

Weiss told NOW Lebanon, back in May, that thanks to the influx of weapons to Syrian rebels “we’ve already begun to see some results.” He showed a similar approval of military developments a few months earlier, in a piece for the New Republic: “In the past several weeks, the Free Syrian Army and other independent rebel brigades have made great strides” – whereupon, as any blogger might, he laid out his “Blueprint for a Military Intervention in Syria”.

But Weiss is not only a blogger. He’s also the director of communications and public relations at the Henry Jackson Society, an ultra-ultra-hawkish foreign policy thinktank.

The Henry Jackson Society’s international patrons include: James “ex-CIA boss” Woolsey, Michael “homeland security” Chertoff, William “PNAC” Kristol, Robert “PNAC” Kagan’, Joshua “Bomb Iran” Muravchick, and Richard “Prince of Darkness” Perle. The Society is run by Alan Mendoza, chief adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on transatlantic and international security.

The Henry Jackson Society is uncompromising in its “forward strategy” towards democracy. And Weiss is in charge of the message. The Henry Jackson Society is proud of its PR chief’s far-reaching influence: “He is the author of the influential report “Intervention in Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards”, which was repurposed and endorsed by the Syrian National Council.”

Weiss’s original report was re-named “Safe Area for Syria” – and ended up on the official website, as part of their military bureau’s strategic literature. The repurposing of the HJS report was undertaken by the founder and executive director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC) – one Ausama Monajed.

So, the founder of Barada TV, Ausama Monajed, edited Weiss’s report, published it through his own organisation (the SRCC) and passed it on to the Syrian National Council, with the support of the Henry Jackson Society.

The relationship couldn’t be closer. Monajed even ends up handling inquiries for “press interviews with Michael Weiss“. Weiss is not the only strategist to have sketched out the roadmap to this war (many thinktanks have thought it out, many hawks have talked it up), but some of the sharpest detailing is his.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

The justification for the “inevitable” military intervention is the savagery of President Assad’s regime: the atrocities, the shelling, the human rights abuses. Information is crucial here, and one source above all has been providing us with data about Syria. It is quoted at every turn: “The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA [Voice of America]that fighting and shelling killed at least 12 people in Homs province.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is commonly used as a standalone source for news and statistics. Just this week, news agency AFP carried this story: “Syrian forces pounded Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at least 35 people were killed on Sunday across the country, among them 17 civilians, a watchdog reported.” Various atrocities and casualty numbers are listed, all from a single source: “Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone.”

Statistic after horrific statistic pours from “the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (AP). It’s hard to find a news report about Syria that doesn’t cite them. But who are they? “They” are Rami Abdulrahman (or Rami Abdel Rahman), who lives in Coventry.

According to a Reuters report in December of last year: “When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.”

When the Guardian’s Middle East live blog cited “Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” it also linked to a sceptical article in the Modern Tokyo Times – an article which suggested news outlets could be a bit “more objective about their sources” when quoting “this so-called entity”, the SOHR.

That name, the “Syrian Observatory of Human Rights”, sound so grand, so unimpeachable, so objective. And yet when Abdulrahman and his “Britain-based NGO” (AFP/NOW Lebanon) are the sole source for so many news stories about such an important subject, it would seem reasonable to submit this body to a little more scrutiny than it’s had to date.

The Observatory is by no means the only Syrian news source to be quoted freely with little or no scrutiny …

Hamza Fakher

The relationship between Ausama Monajed, the SNC, the Henry Jackson hawks and an unquestioning media can be seen in the case of Hamza Fakher. On 1 January, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer: “To grasp the scale of the barbarism, listen to Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, who is one of the most reliable sources on the crimes the regime’s news blackout hides.”

He goes on to recount Fakher’s horrific tales of torture and mass murder. Fakher tells Cohen of a new hot-plate torture technique that he’s heard about: “imagine all the melting flesh reaching the bone before the detainee falls on the plate”. The following day, Shamik Das, writing on “evidence-based” progressive blog Left Foot Forward, quotes the same source: “Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, describes the sickening reality …” – and the account of atrocities given to Cohen is repeated.

So, who exactly is this “pro-democracy activist”, Hamza Fakher?

Fakher, it turns out, is the co-author of Revolution in Danger , a “Henry Jackson Society Strategic Briefing”, published in February of this year. He co-wrote this briefing paper with the Henry Jackson Society’s communications director, Michael Weiss. And when he’s not co-writing Henry Jackson Society strategic briefings, Fakher is the communication manager of the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC). According to their website, “He joined the centre in 2011 and has been in charge of the centre’s communication strategy and products.”

As you may recall, the SRCC is run by one Ausama Monajed: “Mr Monajed founded the centre in 2010. He is widely quoted and interviewed in international press and media outlets. He previously worked as communication consultant in Europe and the US and formerly served as the director of Barada Television …”.

Monajed is Fakher’s boss.

If this wasn’t enough, for a final Washington twist, on the board of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre sits Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defence University in DC – “the premier center for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME)” which is “under the direction of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

If you happen to be planning a trip to Monajed’s “Strategic Research and Communication Centre”, you’ll find it here: Strategic Research & Communication Centre, Office 36, 88-90 Hatton Garden, Holborn, London EC1N 8PN.

Office 36 at 88-90 Hatton Garden is also where you’ll find the London headquarters of The Fake Tan Company, Supercar 4 U Limited, Moola loans (a “trusted loans company”), Ultimate Screeding (for all your screeding needs), and The London School of Attraction – “a London-based training company which helps men develop the skills and confidence to meet and attract women.” And about a hundred other businesses besides. It’s a virtual office. There’s something oddly appropriate about this. A “communication centre” that doesn’t even have a centre – a grand name but no physical substance.

That’s the reality of Hamza Fakher. On 27 May, Shamik Das of Left Foot Forward quotes again from Fakher’s account of atrocities, which he now describes as an “eyewitness account” (which Cohen never said it was) and which by now has hardened into “the record of the Assad regime”.

So, a report of atrocities given by a Henry Jackson Society strategist, who is the communications manager of Mosafed’s PR department, has acquired the gravitas of a historical “record”.

This is not to suggest that the account of atrocities must be untrue, but how many of those who give it currency are scrutinising its origins?

And let’s not forget, whatever destabilisation has been done in the realm of news and public opinion is being carried out twofold on the ground. We already know that (at the very least) “the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department … are helping the opposition Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into Syria and providing communications training.”

The bombs doors are open. The plans have been drawn up.

This has been brewing for a time. The sheer energy and meticulous planning that’s gone into this change of regime – it’s breathtaking. The soft power and political reach of the big foundations and policy bodies is vast, but scrutiny is no respecter of fancy titles and fellowships and “strategy briefings”. Executive director of what, it asks. Having “democracy” or “human rights” in your job title doesn’t give you a free pass.

And if you’re a “communications director” it means your words should be weighed extra carefully. Weiss and Fakher, both communications directors – PR professionals. At the Chatham House event in June 2011, Monajed is listed as: “Ausama Monajed, director of communications, National Initiative for Change” and he was head of PR for the MJD. The creator of the news website NOW Lebanon, Eli Khoury, is a Saatchi advertising executive. These communications directors are working hard to create what Tamara Wittes called a “positive brand”.

They’re selling the idea of military intervention and regime change, and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the “activists” and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn’t necessarily pure news – it’s a sales pitch, a PR campaign.

But it’s never too late to ask questions, to scrutinise sources. Asking questions doesn’t make you a cheerleader for Assad – that’s a false argument. It just makes you less susceptible to spin. The good news is, there’s a sceptic born every minute.