George Best, 1946-2005: Why he was loved

[George Best died 10 years ago today. I wrote this the day after his funeral.]

They buried George Best in Belfast yesterday. Half-a-million people lined the streets to see him pass by. He was 59.

George Best was a footballer (for Americans, a ‘soccer’ player) who played for Manchester United at their peak.

His hey-day ran from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. There followed an alcohol-fueled descent, through a handful of lesser clubs, and then a career as a celebrity drunk.

His drinking destroyed his own liver. He died as a result of complications brought on by drugs intended to help his body to accept a transplanted liver.

He hadn’t played football for more than 25 years. Britain’s public morality draped itself over his alcoholism, killing him with pity. Why, then, did Britons mourn his death in such huge numbers, and why did Ireland bury him as if he was a returning prince?

In short, why was George Best loved by so many people, most of whom had never met him?

Football is known as the working man’s ballet.

It is a game of angles, of rival geometries; athleticism and skill. At the higher levels, it combines cerebral intrigue and animal passion.

Certainly, there’s a similarity between football and ballet. There’s more than a passing resemblance between George Best and Rudolph Nureyev.

But it is more accurate to say that ballet is the bourgeoisie’s football. Passion choreographed and tamed.

Most things of human beauty are crafted out of some kind of pain. But Best came fully-formed, a football genius. With him, the pain—his and ours—came afterwards, when the beauty disintegrated.

Best was a young god and he moved like one.

This was a game of skillful and hard men, playing flat-out for 90 minutes, with no substitutions.

He was fearless, fast and perfectly balanced, almost impossible to upend. His ankles seemed double-jointed, the ball always close to his feet.

The length and geometry of his limbs, the balance, grace and courage in their movement‚ everything was just right. To witness him play was an aesthetic experience.

He was one of the few men you could call beautiful, without feeling foolish.

Best is often compared to other great footballers, such as Pele, Pushkas, di Stefano, Maradonna and Cruyff. But, really, the more instructive comparison is with an animal: Best in motion resembled a wild mustang, or a sublime race horse at play.


Emotion, we should remind ourselves, is rooted in Latin words referring to action and movement. The noun emotion once had a social and physical referent: ‘a moving, stirring, agitation, perturbation (in physical sense), a political or social agitation; a tumult, popular disturbance’ (OED). Emotions are primarily social and political things with visceral manifestations. No one who saw Best play would question that statement.

He played before capacity crowds, wherever he went, up to 50-60,000 strong. They stood out in the open, in all weathers, on concrete terraces; tens of thousands of them, living and breathing as one, singing in perfect unison. Packed like sardines, when the crowd moved, you moved. It would pick you up one place and put you down in another. Kids would dangle, their feet off the ground.

Best could move them like no other player. He made their hearts skip in unison, their breath catch as one. With the slightest movement, he could bend time and space and overcome what seemed to us like insurmountable odds.

We postmodern monads know little of this experience.

True, there are plenty of sports that attract large crowds, the NHL playoffs come to mind, but they are collections of individuals, seated in rows and columns, carefully segregated from each other.

We construe emotions as personal, psychological things, as if they exist in our head. That they can be social and political things is a memory.

In George Best’s case, this memory is passed down by word-of-mouth, from the millions who saw him play in the flesh. (Little of his play is on tape.) As memories should be.

Even at the end, as he lay on his death bed, we half-expected a feint, a body swerve and a burst of speed to get him out of trouble.

But it was not to be. He has gone. And we are on our own.

One thing’s for sure: George Best will live on, for centuries to come, in the emotional memories of the millions of descendants of those who were moved by his play.

George Best is one man, who, in death, exchanged life for immortality.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s near death experience

Reblogged from November 16, 2014 in the light of Isis leader “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike'”

The Business of Emotions

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had a narrow brush with death a week ago, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was due for one. The best way of breathing life into a fictional character is to threaten it with death. The timing was right too. What better way for a President to sell an unpopular decision—the announcement of 1500 more US troops bound for Iraq—than by reminding Americans of the price of not doing so. The President spoke Friday evening, November 7, always a good time to say something you don’t want scrutinized too much. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nearly died from an American air strike only hours later. Or did he? No one really knew. Could be he was just injured. But that really didn’t matter. They almost got him and with this new ‘surge’ in troops they surely will. Al-Baghdadi’s role is to be always just one step ahead.

You will find no firm…

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Objective achieved: Anglo-America returns to the scene of the crime

[This post assumes you have read the preceding posts on Islamic State. The argument is cumulative.]

The argument I’m developing is that the ‘beheading’ videos that are attributed to ‘Islamic State’ are not what they seem. They are creations of a military deception (MILDEC) operation targeted at Western public opinion.

The immediate objective of this deception was to create the conditions in the US and UK for public support of military attacks in Iraq and Syria, or, at least, to minimize opposition. This is why two American and two British victims were selected for ‘beheading’. It outraged public opinion in those two countries and made public objection to renewed military involvement well neigh impossible. It’s a very clever move. A MILDEC check-mate.

The explanation of the narrator of these videos, (‘Jihadi John’), that British and American hostages were singled out for beheading because, unlike other nations, the UK and US did not pay ransoms for their citizens is a load of old nonsense. In MILDEC terminology, this pseudo explanation is part of the Deception Story. It was crafted to cater to British and American assumptions and prejudices. It portrays the ‘Islamic State’ as depraved and irrational, not to be reasoned or negotiated with. How else to describe someone who ‘beheads’ a man for something his government does or does not do? This storyline places the UK and US on the moral high ground where they can rest on their laurels, adamant in their refusal to negotiate with terrorists. Most people have little difficulty in accepting stories in which they are morally superior.

All this, I assure you, was by design, and it wasn’t the design of ‘Islamic State’. And what a brilliant design it was. The videos of ‘beheadings’, two British, two American, certainly did the trick. (As I argued in earlier posts, no one died in those videos.)

On September 2nd, 2014, the British newspaper The Independent reported the results of a survey: only one in three people support Britain launching air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The apparent beheading of David Haines (British) was on September 13, 2014. On Friday, September 26, 2014, British parliament, supported by public opinion, approved air strikes against IS in Iraq. The apparent beheading of Alan Henning (British) was on October 3, 2014. On November 5th, 2014, The Telegraph announced ‘Britain prepares to send troops back to Iraq’, something unthinkable only a few months ago.

A similar transformation happened in the United States. As late as this summer there was little support for military intervention in Iraq. But then there were the ‘executions’ of James Foley (American) on August 19, 2014, and Steven Sotloff (American and Israeli) September 2, 2014. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published on September 9 revealed ‘wide support for striking ISIS’ in Iraq and Syria. On November 7th, President Obama announced that another 1500 more troops were heading to Iraq, to add to the 1400 already there. This was sold with the usual ‘training mission’ patter that hoodwinked so many over Vietnam, but, the principle of their presence conceded, no one seriously believes that this isn’t the beginning of a permanent Anglo-American presence in Iraq. Sure enough, today we learn that ‘US military considers sending combat troops to battle Isis forces in Iraq: General Martin Dempsey tells House committee that he would consider abandoning Obama’s pledge and send troops to fight Isis in Iraq’. Expect 10,000 troops there by the spring.

It’s all very simple. All it takes is a handful of people and a lot of unwitting participants. Once you know how military deception works it’s not too difficult to see it in action. All it takes is attention to detail, doggedness and patience. But most of the people who know how military deception works work for some military or other and they know the meaning of ‘operational security’ and keep their mouths shut. No one should forget that, for the architects of this deception, we are the adversary.

This is a much used strategy, certainly by the United States. Wherever it wants to be it identifies a terrorist group of its own creation. Some attack on US ‘interests’ is contrived and the whole world stays silent while the US invites itself into the villain’s host country. The apparent injustice it has suffered gives it the moral right to do what it wants and no one has the heart or the guts to challenge it. This is how the US gained entry to Yemen and Pakistan, but that’s for another time. It’s using the same technique to invite itself back into Iraq and to ignore the sovereignty of Syria. This time ‘Islamic State’ is to perform the role vacated by al-Qaeda. Britain is invited along to provide some Old World moral legitimacy. No one seriously suggests that it’s there for military reasons.

None of what I have written here or in other posts suggests or implies that there are not rebel forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria some of whom have committed atrocities. To my eyes ‘Islamic State’ looks like a bunch of mercenaries doing their best to impersonate rabid Islamists. I am suggesting that this ‘Islamic State’ propaganda conceals what they are actually up to and diverts attention from the legitimate struggles of the people living there. To which I will turn later.

Next: ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s’ near-death experience.

When the Enemy is Us: MILDEC and Islamic State

That ‘All warfare is based upon deception’ (Sun Tzu, The Art of War) is well known and accepted. Less well known and, no doubt, hotly disputed is that the same techniques used to deceive an external enemy can be turned upon the civilian population of the armed forces’ host country and ‘allied’ countries. A modern day Sun Tzu might write, ‘All warfare is based upon deception, but not all military deception targets an external enemy.’ For example, it can target domestic public opinion, to legitimate what would otherwise be illegitimate acts of aggression against other countries and to delegitimate resistance to those acts.

The Islamic State beheading videos bear the hallmarks of a campaign of military deception (MILDEC), by parties so far unnamed, in which we, Western public opinion, are the adversary. They ‘work’ by manipulating our emotions into supporting action we would not otherwise support. Military deception is the one type of conspiracy that cannot be denied. All armed forces do it. Of necessity, they do it secretly. To ensure realism and to avoid detection, deception operations are strictly limited to a tight group of people, who conspire to deceive others, to get many unwitting people to do what they otherwise would not do wittingly. This is as much true when the enemy is internal as when it is external.

‘False-flag’ or ‘inside job’ does not do justice to the subtleties of domestic military deception, for these labels infer the result (‘what’) from a motive (‘why’). As Sherlock Holmes might put it, they reason forward from an assumed motive. Without an understanding of the ‘how’ we are asked to accept false-flag charges on faith. To reveal the ‘how’, to detect military deception, one must know what to look for, i.e., we must know what it is and how it works. Military deception has its own terminology, rationale and techniques. Like a disease, military deception is seldom directly observed, but we can infer its existence from its identifying signs, provided we know what to look for.

Here I present a brief account of the basic concepts of Military Deception. What follows draws on Chapter 4 ‘Military Deception’ of the US Army’s Field Manual No. 3-13 Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 28 November 2003. Manuals of this kind tend to assume that deception hinges on information that misleads. They need updating to take account of deception by manipulating emotions for this is the predominant mode of deception aimed at civilian targets.

While this post describes MILDEC alone, in practice it works in conjunction with psychological operations (PSYOP), Information Operations (IO) and ‘Intelligence.’ MILDEC is planned right into a military operation and integrated with its every aspect.

Deception works only if it is not perceived as such. To ensure the appearance of authenticity and to prevent deception operations being revealed as such, their secrecy or ‘security’ is paramount. So much of ‘security’, it seems is of this kind. For this reason:

(a) The deception is always to be denied; and

(b) Knowledge of each aspect of a MILDEC operation is tightly restricted to only those personnel who meet strictly defined need-to-know criteria (4-8). Typically, each Deception Operation will be run by a Military Deception Group (MDG) or Cell. Outside of this MILDEC operations are carried out by the unwitting. Their authenticity is one reason the deception is undetected.

The audience the MDG wants to deceive is the Deception Target. One might suppose that this target is the enemy, but ‘enemy’ is a flexible term. ‘Not all adversaries are military’ (4-1). They may, for example, be civilians, and not only those of the opposing country. ‘Commanders may … want to deceive others who are not adversary host-nation civilians’(4-1).

The desired result of a deception operation is the Deception Objective: what the adversary is to do or not to do at the critical time and/or location (4-15). At the centre of military deception is a Deception Event, i.e.: ‘a deception means executed at a specific time and location in support of a deception operation’ (4-22). Some examples of Deception Events:

  • Hannibal’s use of the double-envelopment tactic or pincer movement against the Romans, at the Battle of Cannae, in 216 BC, was a deception event.
  • Schwarzkopf’s well publicized prewar amphibious exercises, in 1991, to convince Iraqis that the Americans were planning to mount a major seaborne assault was a deception event.
  • The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident was a Deception Event targeted at Americans, intended to justify US escalation of its war against the Vietnamese.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Operation Northwoods, in 1962, which envisaged CIA initiated terrorist attacks on fellow Americans, were also Deception Events. They were to be blamed on Cuba, to justify US military involvement.
  • The August, 1980, Bologna bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 200, was a Deception Event. It was caused by fascist paramilitaries, the Nuclei Armati Revoluzionari (NAR), part of Operation Gladio, but blamed on the left. It’s aim? To drive frightened people into the arms of the State.

It is not the Deception Event, in itself, that deceives, but the explanation of that event, or the Deception Story: ‘a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal.’ (4-18) Although ultimately false, ‘the deception story must be believable, verifiable, and consistent’ (4-21).

MILDEC planners must have fertile imaginations, ‘because the ability to create and execute an effective MILDEC often depends upon the creativity used to develop and maintain a story’. Deception Stories are consciously crafted, tailored to their audience’s beliefs about reality, for people tend to accept information conforming to their preconceptions. Such information must be disproved to become ineffective (4-10). ‘The influence of biases is very strong. In many instances, the target may believe a well-crafted deception story until it is too late to act effectively, even in the face of mounting contradictory evidence’ (4-44).

The Deception Story is dynamic, fed and developed in response to feed-back events, intelligence collection and analysis (4-109). This is done by means of Deception Indicators, items of information, some true, some false, designed to the Deception Target’s intention or capability to adopt or reject a course of action (4-20). The most effective way to convince the deception target of the deception story’s truth is to provide indicators in several different ways, each supported by different elements of truth. Wherever the target turns, there must be information that confirms his preconceptions, that makes any questionable parts of the deception story seem believable (4-8).

One way of developing the Deception Story is by allowing Indicators to ‘fall’ into adversary hands. For example: via Operation Fortitude, Allied forces deceived Nazi-occupied France into believing that the impending invasion would be at Pas de Calais, rather than the actual Normandy. The deception means included controlled leaks of misinformation through diplomatic channels, simulated wireless traffic, and British controlled German double-agents. Operation Rockingham, set up in 1991 and run by military and intelligence officers and civilian Ministry of Defence personnel, fed information in support of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Operation Mass Appeal later played a similar role. If Deception Indicators are well-crafted, the Deception Target develops the narrative of the Deception Story all by itself. A snippet of information is picked up by news media and woven into a plausible story.

Note that much of what we know about al-Qaeda came via fortuitously found laptops, letter, email, and audio-visual material. Remember the incriminating video in which Osama bin Laden ‘admitted guilt’ for 9/11, a video that was ‘found’ by U.S. forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in late November, 2001. Then there was the bizarre series of bin Laden audio and video tapes which always eluded the Intelligence we pay for. Lucky for us that the very private IntelCenter and SITE were there to discover them, no questions asked. The so-called al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, the precursor to Islamic State, were forever leaving laptops and letters around to be discovered by U.S. troops. Perhaps fortune favours aggressors. A book could be written on what we know about terrorism from misplaced laptops.

We should not be surprised that the narrative about Islamic State started to grow ‘legs’ in the August 28, 2014, issue of Foreign Policy: Found: The Islamic State’s Terror Laptop of Doom. Great title. Non-existent investigative journalism. Apparently this Dell laptop was found by the commander of a ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel group in northern Syria. They attacked an ISIS hideout. ISIS ‘all fled before he and his men attacked the building’. And there was the ‘terror laptop of doom’, with power cord, just waiting for them. Then there was the ISIS document ‘supposedly obtained in March [2014] by an Iraqi special forces unit during a raid on the home of an ISIS commander.’ This document—’which has been examined by western security officials – who believe it to be authentic’—tells of plans to get hold of nuclear weapons with the help of Russia in exchange for access to gas fields in Anbar province and the Kremlin giving up support for Iran and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. [Report: ISIS plots to seize Iran’s nuclear secrets] For an outfit supposedly bent of world domination, Islamic State is remarkably careless with its documents. In fact, that they feel the need to have ‘planning documents’ at all should alert our skepticism. Like al-Qaeda before it, Islamic State is organized on Western lines. Isn’t that odd?

Now I come to think of it, much of the narrative about Islamic State comes from the very same organization said to have discovered the beheading videos: Search for International Terrorist Entities (now the SITE Intelligence Group). Its INSITE blog on ‘Terrorism & Extremism’ is a veritable font of knowledge, not only about what Islamic State does, but also about what Islamic State does means. And then there is Islamic State’s in-house glossy propaganda magazine Dabiq. Very much like Inspire, of ‘al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’. (I wonder where these magazines are produced.) You can get into a lot of trouble by simply linking to the Inspire site, so I’m not going to. Strangely, Dabiq is readily available. See ‘Does Anyone Take These Al-Qaeda Magazines Seriously?’ The answer, unfortunately, is yes. This is true of Dabiq too. Not everyone can distinguish between authenticity and deception. The narrative carried in these magazines lures them to their doom.

It is easy to deny the existence of military conspiracies for the very nature of military deception makes them difficult to detect. It is, however, not impossible: what can be invented, can also be discovered. Discerning the deception and discovering how it is sustained, by whom and to what end, takes dogged detective work.

A comment on Alan Henning and ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’

This post examines the video ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’ which purports to show the decapitation of the British taxi driver Alan Henning. As with previous videos in this series I look for evidence of emotional authenticity and emotional deception. Is this video what it claims to be?

This video is suspended due to terms of service violation

The video follows a now standard format. It begins with a short news report on the British parliament’s 26 September decision to authorize British air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, earlier that very day Friday October 3, 2014. This is ‘why’ Henning ‘has’ to die.

After the title shot, we see Alan Henning in an orange Guantanamo-like ‘detainee’ uniform. He is knelt on the ground, hands behind back. Henning looks noticeably thinner than in his pre-captivity photographs. He looks up at the camera. This gives his face an especially plaintive and poignant expression. He is the very image of sorrow. I suspect that he’s the only innocent and honest man in this gallery of rogues. An original among counterfeits. He lacks the guile to comprehend the evil he has stumbled into (and by ‘evil’ I don’t mean the obvious contender for this label).

To his left, our right, stands the familiar man-in-black, the would-be decapitator ‘Jihadi John.’ This Jihadi John is not the same man who appeared in the earlier videos. His build is slighter, less athletic, less powerful. His gesticulations with his knife are less forceful and menacing. What we can see of his face looks different too. The hooded eyes of the ‘real’ Jihadi John are missing. These eyes are closer together. His voice, of course, is exactly the same but I believe the voice is dubbed. The emotions of the voice do not match the gestures of the body.

The familiar blowing wind is absent from this video.

Henning looks into the camera and speaks for a fraction over ten seconds, just long enough to say this:

I am Alan Henning. [pause] Because of our Parliament’s decision to attack the Islamic State [ISIS], I, as a member of the British public, will now pay the price for that decision.

About the only thing he seems sure about is his name. Hence the slight pause before reading words prepared for him, the implications of which he does not comprehend. He’s a long way from Eccles and Salford, Lancashire. He might as well be on another planet for all the sense it makes to him.

Henning’s 12 second contribution ends with a fade to black. Then his apparent executioner speaks:

The blood of [fellow slain captive] David Haines was on your hands, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron, Alan Henning will also be slaughtered but his blood is on the hands of the British Parliament.

Henning continues to look to the camera. He looks haggard and drawn. Fade to black.

This decapitation scene is different to the others in that it begins with Jihadi John’s right hand over Hennings face. We must assume that it’s him. He saws away at that neck, again with no evidence that the knife is doing what we imagine it is. A muffled cry is heard, but not from the direction of the victim. It sounds like something added post-production. Fade to black.

Then the evidence of the beheading. The camera pans left to right, from the feet to the shoulders. The severed head, which doesn’t particularly resemble Henning, is in the small of the torso’s back. As I argued earlier, severed heads are not difficult to simulate and only those who have suspended disbelief would accept this as proof of a decapitation.

Finally, in the final scene, a message to Obama. Another prisoner appears, the screen text tells us it is Peter Edward Kassig (American). Jihadi John:

Obama you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham (Syria), which keeps on striking our people, so it is only right we keep on striking the necks of your people.

As far as we know, Peter Kassig lives on.

Serena Shim sees behind the Islamic State deception and is killed

This fine map is courtesy of Akhil Kadidal of Hermes' Wings. Click to enlarge.

This fine map is courtesy of Akhil Kadidal of Hermes’ Wings. Click to enlarge.

A week ago, the Lebanese-American journalist Serena Shim reported that she had evidence that Islamic State combatants were being smuggled back and forth to the besieged town of Kobane from Turkey in the back of convoys of vehicles of the World Food Organization and other aid organizations.

If true, the implications of this news for how we understand the Islamic State and the war against it are enormous. It questions the neutrality of humanitarian organizations and it implies that the government of Turkey (a NATO member and ally of the United States) is covertly supporting the organization widely regarded as evil personified.

Shortly after breaking this news, Serena Shim was harassed by the Turkish intelligence agency and accused of being a spy. She feared the consequences, as is plain in this interview with her Friday October 17. Listen to the fear in her voice:

Two days later, on Sunday, she was dead—the car in which she was travelling with her photographer was hit by a ‘large vehicle’, so far unidentified. Accident or assassination? I doubt if many journalists working on this topic in this area believe it was an accident. Certainly, I do not. It silenced forever a courageous and tenacious journalist and it warned those remaining that they would pay for future revelations with their lives. As did this young man: Treachery works both ways: the life of Edward Snowden and the death of Michael Hastings.

Serena Shim was an American citizen (from Tennessee) but not a word from the United States on the death of this brave young woman. Compare her tragic death with the honours feted upon two rather dubious journalists, with even more dubious deaths, James Foley and Stephen Sotloff. There is so much more to the ‘Islamic State’ than first meets the eye—as I hope to show.

A lot of the best reporting in this dangerous part of the world comes from women like Serena Shim. She was buried in Beirut, Lebanon Wednesday, October 22. Serena leaves two young children, Ali, age 4, and Ajmal, 2.

Islamic State is not the Iraq Resistance: A comment on ‘A Message to the Allies of America’

This post examines the video ‘A Message to the Allies of America’ which features the apparent beheading of David Cawthorne Haines, a British citizen, by the Islamic State. The video was ‘discovered’ by the SITE Intelligence Group on September 2, 2014, who released it ahead of the media wing of Islamic State. Imagine that. Rita Katz explains how here.

As with previous posts on this topic, I focus on what is in front of us—the video itself—rather than what we have been told the videos ‘mean’. Are there any signs to help us separate emotional authenticity from emotional deception? Are these videos what they seem? This is a question we should each ask of these videos, and it’s a question that has effectively been silenced by the self-censorship of corporate news media and the virtual disappearance of these videos from the Internet. Two things are for sure: no one dies in these ‘beheading’ videos and an image of headless torso is not evidence of a death. They are easy to simulate. This is not to say that these ‘detainees’ are not dead by other means, but I suspect not.

When I have worked my way through these videos I will explain what is going on—and it is something far more diabolical than anything we have been told of ‘Islamic State’.

The Opening News Clip: Cameron on ‘this appalling organization’ IS

The video opens with a statement by David Cameron the British prime minister. He is being interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson in what looks like Downing Street. A video of the complete interview, with transcript, is here.

Prime Minister Cameron is being asked to respond to news of the beheading of an American citizen by a British citizen. As with other IS videos, the opening clip is Exhibit A. It is evidence of the ‘crime’ IS is about to punish with the death of a citizen of the offending country. So let’s look at the relevant part of the transcript.

Q: Will it [A British citizen beheading an American citizen] change the government’s policy, specifically foreign policy. Do you still rule out military action in Iraq to target Islamic State?

CAMERON: “We will stick to the very clear foreign policy and strategy that we have, which is to work with the new Iraqi government to help make sure the Kurds get the arms they need to fight off these brutal extremist militants, to work with our allies, and as I’ve said to use everything we have – our aid, our diplomacy and our military prowess – to make sure with allies we do everything we can to put pressure on Islamic State – this appalling organisation …”

Here the clip ends abruptly (just after ‘this appalling organization’). Cameron looks and sounds serious, measured and determined. He is in control of himself. He is diplomatic. He sees the existence of ‘these brutal extremist militants’ as due to the sectarian politics of the recently deposed Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, who, it is said, persecuted the Sunnis and provoked them into the present revolt. Working with ‘the new Iraqi government’ will end the sectarianism and deflate support for Islamic State according to Cameron. It is, of course, purely incidental that al-Maliki refused to give American troops immunity from prosecution, forcing their withdrawal (to Kuwait) in December 2011; and that his replacement Haider al-Abadi is happy to sign a Status of Forces Agreement which grants such immunity and opens the way for their return on a permanent basis. The sudden appearance of the evil Islamic State, which provides an irresistible motive for their return, is entirely coincidental.

Act One: In which Haines mistakenly equates IS with the Iraq resistance

Next we are presented with a by now familiar scene: a prisoner in orange attire kneels, his hands behind his back, as if tied. To his left, our right, is the man-in-black, brandishing a knife in his left hand. We now know that this tableau was lifted root and branch from a Turkish television series (see The Secret of Islamic State’s Beheading Videos Revealed). They are situated at the bottom of a stony desert slope which stretches upward to the horizon. Beyond is a brilliant blue sky. Haines’s tunic billows in the wind: the executioner’s does not, but we scarcely notice this. There is no vegetation this time, so we do not see that the wind does not trouble it.

The prisoner introduces himself:

“My name is David Cawthorne Haines. I would like to declare that I hold you, David Cameron, entirely responsible for my execution. You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State, just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst our British prime ministers who can’t find the courage to say no to the Americans. Unfortunately, it is we, the British public that, in the end, will pay the price for our Parliament’s selfish decisions.”

Haines speaks with a pained voice, but the pain is social, not physical. He sounds like a member of the gentry who has been dragged before a revolutionary court and cannot quite believe how he has been reduced to his present plight. Haines sounds as if he is speaking more quickly than he ordinarily would. There is an impression of barely suppressed anger. But did a genuine anger cause his speech to quicken or did his quickened speech give an illusion of anger? I suspect the last.

Let’s pay attention to what he says.

  • He equates Cameron with Blair, who is widely hated in the UK. ‘Do you want to be hated too?’
  • He equates the Islamic State with the resistance to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq. (This, of course, is nonsense). ‘And doesn’t the whole world know that was a monstrous disaster and crime? You want to repeat that!’
  • This sleight of hand converts Islamic State into freedom fighters and the Kurds as their oppressors. Cameron is about to arm oppressors and crush freedom.
  • To this conceptual slipperiness is joined a basic truth, as if to make the entire package more palatable: prime ministers and their cabinets cannot find the courage to say ‘no’ to the Americans. Many in Britain would agree with that. I suspect that Haines would agree with that. What he would not agree with is his depiction of the Islamic State.

If one accepts these premises then one must also accept the conclusion they entail, i.e., the beheading of David Haines must logically follow. This is Jihadi John as Reason. It’s bad reasoning though. The only people who would accept these premises are those who are ignorant of the causes and effects of the Anglo-American occupation.

Act Two: In which Jihadi John chides Cameron ‘the obedient lapdog’

Jihadi John is in his usual form: dark ebullience. He is full of himself. It must be a lot of fun to call Cameron an ‘obedient lapdog.’ He addresses the canine Cameron with these words:

“This British man has to pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State. Ironically, he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force responsible for delivering those arms. Your evil alliance with America which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction, and playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only draw you and your people into another bloody and un-winnable war.”

The ‘bloody and un-winnable war’ refers to Iraq. ‘Peshmerga’ is a Kurdish word meaning ‘those who confront death’. They are Kurdish fighters and it is these Cameron has promised to arm. This promise is why Haines ‘has’ to die.

Haines is grim-faced throughout.

Act Three: In which Haines’ beheading is simulated

Haines’ face wears a look of resignation as the executioner goes through the motions. If we try real hard we can imagine that this is how a man behaves when he’s about to be beheaded—it’s not how I would behave though. You? His eye lids flutter and his mouth opens briefly. He looks stoic and brave. His head tilts back at the touch of the right hand on his chin. After several bloodless cuts of the knife, the scene fades to black.

Act Four: In which we view the lack of evidence of Haines’ death

The camera pans right to left, from the feet to the bloody mess where his head should be. That head has been placed in the small of the torso’s back, where it is almost cradled by fingers of the two constrained hands. A nice touch that. You will notice that the crime scenes are responding to their critics. It’s nice to see that those fingers and their nails are spotlessly clean and relaxed. How do hands and fingers behave when forcibly separated from the head that moves them? They do not resist? The scene is impressively gory and the shock of seeing the head we have recently seen talking now in an improbably location is dramatic. But, as I have explained before, the special effects department of any professional theatre or opera company can create something similar. Even personalized beheaded heads can be made to order. The production company behind the television series from which this scene is stolen could do the same. Incidentally, have the authorities interviewed them yet?

Act Five: In which an innocent man, Alan Henning, is collared

If you Cameron persist in fighting the Islamic State then you like your master Obama will have the blood of your people on your hands.

We scarcely notice that Henning seems not to notice his would-be executioner’s presence. This is the case with all of these execution videos. He blinks twice but does not act as if he is effected by these words. He stares straight at the camera. He looks as if he can’t quite fathom what he has got mixed up in. He is the most innocent of these ‘innocent victims’. Those who meekly submitted to the censorship of these videos—they too are innocent. Nor do they understand what they have got mixed up in.

The Secret of Islamic State’s beheading videos revealed

ADo these two characters remind you of anyone? At first glance, you might think that the two images above document the gruesome death of the latest victim of Islamic State. But you’d be wrong. They are screen shots I took of an episode of the Turkish TV action drama Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu (Valley of the Wolves Ambush), episode 230. The show focuses on the adventures of a Turkish agent working under an assumed identity to infiltrate the Turkish mafia. This episode was filmed earlier this year, certainly before the dramatized beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, et. al. by ‘Jihadi John’.

Let’s note some apparent similarities and differences between this television drama and the ‘Jihadi John’ show:

  • The characters are arranged in the same way. The orange-suited prisoner is on his knees to the left and the dark-clad would-be executioner is to his left. The lead characters are always frame-right on television and in movies (the 180 degree rule).
  • Their body language is the same. Stoic prisoner looking his death straight in the face (forgoing a blindfold); menacing  executioner, gleaming knife in his left hand.
  • Let’s look at that executioner more closely.
    • The same American style boots as Jihadi John.
    • The knife, of course, held in much the same way. It appears as if both executioners are left-handed, but there is a reason for that. Since the knife takes the lead role in these scenes it has to be frame-right and that means they must hold it in their left hand. They don’t actually have to be left-handed because the hand does no actual beheading.
    • The gun is positioned on the left in both cases (see above explanation re the knife). Both guns are held in very similar shoulder-harnesses (over both shoulders).
    • Their face coverings are very similar. We can see the eyes but not the mouth.
    • His apparel is a shade lighter than that of Jihadi John.
    • The skin colour of the Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu executioner looks pretty similar to that of ‘Jihadi John’, although he is a little more portly and less athletic looking than JJ.
  • The wind is different. This is a real wind. The IS wind came from a wind machine. This real wind effects their clothing as real winds do—in different ways at different times.
  • The camera angles are similar. Full frontal and from the side.
  • The Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu back ground has depth. The eye senses that these characters could walk into the distance. The IS videos lack this quality.
  • and so on.

All in all, the made-for-television beheading scene looks more real than the ‘real’ ones of the Islamic State.

Well, what an amazing coincidence—talk about life imitating art! Perhaps it’s an example of the infinite monkey theorem: give a monkey a typewriter and enough time, its random keystrokes will eventually create the entire works of Shakespeare. Some times random events coalesce in recognizable forms. There are a lot of actors, Guantanamo-style prisoner uniforms and scary Jihadi costumes out there just waiting for chance to come along.

Or perhaps the IS director is a devotee of Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu (for devout Islamic State stalwarts have to relax sometime) and took the view that imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism. And since these beheading videos are mini-works of art, what’s the harm in borrowing a few ideas from Turkish television? How was the director to know that someone in the West would actually watch that stuff?

If only there were scope for humour here, but there isn’t. People are maimed, killed and rendered homeless because of this sort of deception. Let us recall that the US ‘intelligence community’ has vouched for the authenticity of these IS beheading videos. (No one would be foolish enough to put their name to this vouching).

Well we don’t have to prostrate ourselves before ‘intelligence’. University professors, their students and tax-paying citizens get to have a say on this too. This one vouches that:

  • no one is beheaded in these videos (they may have been killed in other ways, but I suspect not)
  • these videos are works of military deception aimed not at some external enemy but at public opinion—me and you (an internal enemy)
  • they work through emotional manipulation of those consuming them
  • they are designed to get ‘us’ to do something we would not otherwise do, such as supporting particular forms of military intervention in the Middle East, in the first instance, in Iraq and Syria.
  • they are also intended to disguise what is actually happening ‘on the ground’, by whom and why (I will return to this in a future post)

The close working relationship between the Pentagon and Hollywood is well documented (see, for example, David L. Robb, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, 2004), but all militaries use what help they can get and where one military ends and another begins these days is not always easy to say. It’s all smoke and mirrors, deceit and treachery.

All the above suggests that any serious investigators wanting to know what actually happened to Foley, Sotloff, Haines, Henning, Cantlie and company would focus their attention on the people involved in creating this scene from Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu.

Dr. Richard Marsden


I took the above screen shots from the following episode of Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu, between 1:01:30 – 1:02:30. Check for yourself and see the context of these shots.

The Stephen Sotloff and Jihadi John Morality Play: A comment on ‘A Second Message to America’


This post examines ‘A Second Message to America’ from, we are told, Islamic State. The video features the testimony and apparent death by beheading of Steven Joel Sotloff, a citizen of both the United States and Israel, who plied his trade as a journalist most recently in Syria where he was captured a little over a year ago.

The video is said to have been discovered on September 2, 2014. By whom? I will address at the end of this post.

Like its predecessor, ‘A Second Message to America’ begins with a clip of President Obama. In this case, it’s his 20 August press conference in which the he responds to the beheading of Foley, another American citizen. Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Harm any one of them, and America will avenge them. In more diplomatic terms, ’We act against ISIL, standing alongside others’. The remainder of the video essentially mocks Obama’s words.

It’s worth mentioning that President Obama looks noticeably less upbeat than in his appearance in A Message to America, i.e., before he knew of these videos. He is tie-less. He looks down at his notes, not side-to-side at his teleprompter as is usual.

Act One: In which Sotloff mocks Obama

Act One features Sotloff himself. Outfitted in orange Guantanamo-like attire, he is knelt on desert terrain, hands behind his back as if tied. To his left is the man in black, his would-be executioner, who we have come to know as ‘Jihadi John’. His knife glistens in the sun, full of menace.

Sotloff looks square into the camera and does not flinch. For all the notice he takes of him, the man in black might as well not be there.

Sotloff speaks thus:

I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing before you. And now this is the time for my message: Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen? We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so what are the people’s interests in reigniting war?

From what little I know about foreign policy, I remember a time when you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantanamo. Here you are now, Obama, nearing the end of your term, and having achieved none of the above and deceivingly marching us the American people into the blazing fire.

Some preliminaries.

Sotloff seems in good shape considering he’s been a prisoner of the sadistic Islamic State for just over a year. His face reveals no signs of stress or trauma. He looks well-fed. His teeth look clean and well cared for. He doesn’t look nor does he sound like a man about to be  beheaded. There are people living on the streets of most cities who look a lot worse than this after just one night of sleeping rough.

Note how his tunic ripples in the breeze, very much as Foley’s did, from exactly the same direction, although this is supposed to be a different location. That same wind, then as now, is there to persuade us that these figures are outside and not in a studio and that the depthless panorama behind them is not an image superimposed on a green screen. It doesn’t persuade me. As with Foley, this stiff breeze does not trouble the shrubs dotted around this tableau. Curiously, at several points in the video, Sotloff’s body casts no shadow, while that of his executioner does.

Sotloff speaks deliberately and with feeling. There is something in his tone of voice when he says, ‘I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now’ that strikes me as odd. It is accusatory. ‘Exactly’ is a word we would use when addressing someone who feigns ignorance of some misdemeanour. As in ‘don’t pretend you don’t know who I am. You know exactly who I am’. Presumably, this accusatory tone of voice is aimed at Obama, the man he blames for his death.

Sotloff speaks as if these are his words. He sounds as if he believes in what he is saying. This is surprising, for they are patently dishonest words and as a journalist working in the Middle East  he must know this.

He is not ‘paying the price with his life’ for Obama’s ‘interference’ in Iraq. If there is any price to be paid it is for Sotloff’s foolishness in choosing to go to the hellhole that is Syria, journalist or no. He must have known that as a Jew and an Israeli citizen he was taking a big risk. Obama cannot be blamed for his predicament.

As for ‘We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State’ this is not true. Thousands of American troops died fighting the Iraqi resistance to the invasion and occupation—ordinary men and women doing what anyone would do when a foreign power invades their country.   There was no ‘Islamic State’ until a few months ago. Sotloff’s  words are a means of giving the Islamic State a pedigree that it does not have. Claims made elsewhere that it is the successor to ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’ led by the infamous al-Zarqawi are true only in the sense that all have the same characteristics of a deception operation. Neither actually existed except as deceptions. I will show how in a later post.

What do Sotloff’s words on his plight hope to achieve?

First, to weaken Obama by making him seem ineffectual. In the opening clip, Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Sotloff essentially says ‘You promised to look after Americans and aren’t I an American citizen?’ (yes, and an Israel citizen as well so what about having a go at Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu). It’s a foolish, dishonest argument.

Second, to shift responsibility for his immanent death away from the man with the knife at his side and towards the distant Obama’s ‘interference’ with Islamic State. ‘When you avenge the deaths of Americans you make things worse, so stop doing it.’ This heaps guilt on Obama with the intention of weakening him.

Sotloff’s, patently dishonest, argument relates to his complete emotional detachment from his executioner. All his emotions are directed at his audience, especially Obama, on the other side of the camera lens. It’s as if he really believes that Obama is killing him. In other words, Sotloff is acting.

One might argue that these words were written for him to speak under duress. Since he is about to die, however, what has he got to lose by refusing, and why does he have to speak them with such authenticity? It’s an odd and dishonourable way for a journalist to depart this world.

Act Two: In which ‘Jihadi John’ is ‘Back’

I’m back Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [unclear] on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You Obama, through your actions, have yet again killed another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.

‘I’m back’! is something a character in a horror movie might say. And a horror movie is exactly what this is. He’s like Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or Heath Ledger as the Joker, but, unlike them, JJ lacks irony, an awareness of his own ridiculousness. With this humourless attitude he wouldn’t last long in South London, if that’s where he’s from, however shiny his knife. In this series of morality plays, he plays Death, in this case to Sotloff’s Innocence. He’s a modern day Mephistopheles of the Faust legend, trapped in his own hell, collecting the souls of the damned. What he isn’t is himself.

He can be accused of many things, but not of bad manners. He complains of America’s ‘arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State.’ For its critics, especially in the Middle East, it’s not ‘policy’ that’s objectionable; it’s what America actually does that’s beyond the pale. ‘Policy’ is a euphemism for death and destruction, but this character is too polite to say so. He may (or may not) decapitate people, but he doesn’t want to offend anyone. This is aimed at America and American politicians speak in euphemisms so JJ does too. In Act Five he says ‘we take this opportunity’ as if he were attending one of the Queen’s garden parties.

With lines like these, it’s no wonder he’s angry. As he accuses Obama of this, that and the other, he punctuates his words with knife jabs in the direction of the camera operators. If he carries on like this he’s going to have someone’s eye out.

We can usually understand what angry people say because the emotion expels the words cleanly. But Mr. Prickly Bear here slurs his words. He sounds like Darth Vader with a cold. If he’s got A Second Message to America he should speak clearly so we know what it is. But this is not the Dark One’s real voice. He wears a mask, in part, to disguise this deceit. It’s a dubbed voice and there is a trade-off between clarity and scariness. In some places they got that balance wrong.

He is so angry it is almost as if the real Obama was there in person. But he’s waving this knife at the camera operators and—who knows—costume, make-up and catering. Since he’s not angry at them and Obama isn’t there, we must conclude that he’s acting.

Act Three: In which Sotloff simulates his own Death

So this is it. The time has come. Having bad-mouthed his President, Sotloff is at peace with himself and awaits his fate with no complaint. For the man about to decapitate him, Sotloff has no words at all, not even glances. But why should he? It’s not the man with the knife who is to blame. That’s right, it’s Obama’s ‘interventions’.

Death moves behind the passive Innocence, seizes his chin in his right hand and makes the now familiar cutting motions with the knife in his left. Sotloff’s eyes are closed. His mouth responds slightly to the presence of the hand on his chin and then the knife on his throat. His body leans, or is drawn, back a little.  As his torso reclines darkness descends, but if we look carefully and quickly we can just make out that Sotloff’s left knee moves up off the ground and then his right. He is about to fall over and if that head is going to come off the Dark One is going to have to get his pristine clothes dirty and wrestle Sotloff on the ground like a cow hand with a loose steer. It’s a sight I find difficult to imagine. The Islamic State does not secure their victims before beheading them? It just assumes they’ll stay there like well-trained Labradors, that they’re not going to make a run for it? How very unprofessional.

I have two observations here. First, as with Foley there is no blood and, especially in that part of the human body, if there is no blood there has been no cutting and if there was no cutting there was no pain. There was certainly no sign on Sotloff’s face that he was in the process of being decapitated. Compare with actual, real-life beheadings, all too common and available on the Internet. Second, Sotloff’s clumsy and unconvincing knee-jerk was a response to critics who spotted Foley’s lack of response to the knife. The people producing these videos are professionals. They note criticisms of their productions and make the necessary changes. Sotloff is acting, but not very well.

Act Four: In which we view the evidence of Sotloff’s death

The camera pans left to right revealing human legs and torso. That ever constant wind blows with the same rhythm and from the same direction to ripple the prostrate tunic. Continuity. Sure enough, on its back is a severed head looking very much like that of Sotloff. Before we can inspect that which it is severed from, his neck and shoulders, the considerate director fades to black and we are spared this agony. But we have already seen enough.

What more proof do we need that the poor man’s dead? Well his body for one thing, and not just an image of it. Murder investigations normally require the production of an actual dead body, for otherwise we cannot be sure that a crime has been committed. Corpus delicti. Not in these cases apparently, but, then, there have been no investigations either. We’re prepared to take Islamic State’s word for it.

This is an age of simulation in which just about anything can be faked, even authenticity. The props department of most major theatre and opera companies can produce a severed head on demand, even of a specific individual. Here the Royal Shakespeare Company shows how it is done. Props departments have their counterparts in film, they’re called digital artists. We see their work in most movies these days. With digital technology, they can produce a realistic looking image of a severed head too.

For these reasons, I am unmoved by these images of torsos and severed heads. If these were common murders, here at home, the police would want a body and they would set their digital forensics people to work on these videos to deconstruct how and where they were created. Instead we are expected to suspend our disbelief as if this were just a movie.

Act Five: In which David Haines is introduced

Death holds David Cawthorne Haines by the scruff of his neck and speaks thus:

We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.

Now this man looks like a prisoner. He is grim faced and haggard. He looks like he could do with a good meal and a shower. The backcloth is slightly different but that same wind blows.

The Emotional Dynamics of ‘A Second Message to America’

This video is a vehicle of emotional marketing. The brand being marketed is War With Islamic State. As with all emotional marketing, the video attempts to stimulate certain emotions among its target market, in this case it’s the United States. Sotloff’s bitter words against Obama attempt to stir feelings of compassion among Americans for their doomed fellow citizen and to isolate Obama by heaping guilt on his doorstep for failing to protect him. These feelings are compounded by anger at seeing Sotloff’s severed head and the cruel act of beheading. America’s righteous (and fearsome) anger maneuvres Obama towards putting ‘boots on the ground’ to destroy Islamic State. It’s digital goading. The overall effect is to say one thing and stimulate emotions that will lead to its opposite. It says both ‘don’t interfere’ and ‘interfere with a vengeance’. It’s clever, dishonest and effective.

 Where and how was this ‘message to America’ delivered?

Finally, any serious forensic examination would want to know where and how this video was acquired. One might assume that the billion dollar US intelligence community earned its keep by spotting this. But we’d be disappointed. It didn’t. Just as well then that Search for Terrorist Entities or SITE was on the ball. SITE apparently discovered this and the video featuring John Cantlie in some Jihadi chat room. Perhaps all of these videos were discovered in this way.

In fact, just about every dubious looking video and audio tape related to terrorism aquired over the ten years that I’ve been researching this has been discovered by either SITE or IntelCentre—never by the US military and intelligence apparatus. Both are highly secretive organizations with apparent Zionist credentials. They exist in the shadow of the Pentagon and the White House but at arm’s length from both. They maintain just enough distance from the political and military wings to sustain plausible deniability.

The only forensic examination (in 2007) of one of these videos (one discovered by IntelCentre) that I’m aware of found evidence that suggests that the same organization that discovered the video had a hand in creating it in the first place. [See Kim Zetter, Researcher Analysis of al Qaeda Images Reveals Surprises. Wired. 08.02.07.]

All videos of this nature should be forensically examined by an impartial and qualified person and the results made public.

As for the credibility of SITE, this is best researched on your own.

On the trail of Islamic State

Between my last post and this I’ve been away and busy with other things. In the interim, here in Hyperborea, migration is well underway and the icy claw of winter beckons.

Further afield, Good declared war on Evil in the Middle East.

This war is not to be missed. It is, as they say, a teachable moment. To better understand this war, then, I’m going to resume my analysis of the series of videos supposedly put out by ‘Islamic State’. Can we use an understanding of emotions to shed new light on this new, dark presence in Iraq and Syria. I believe we can.