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.

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.

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

Preamble

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.

The Deceptive Decapitation of Mr. James Foley

The video ‘Message to America’, in which the American journalist James Foley is separated from his head by an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) desperado with an English accent, tests the mettle of the serious student of emotions. Are you up for it? How good are your powers of observation? Is it what it claims to be?

If you weren’t paying attention when the video first appeared on Thursday, August 19, 2014, you’ll find that question difficult to answer, because, at the behest of the authorities, it has all but disappeared from the internet. Too gory for our own good, or too shoddy a deception to withstand serious scrutiny?

If you’re in the UK, it’s just as well really, for Scotland Yard warned that merely viewing this video, let alone downloading it, could be a criminal offence under terrorism legislation. You Tube and Twitter clicked their heels in compliance and removed all trace of the offending video. This is as disturbing as anything imagined to be in the video.

You will find the video here though, for this blog is attached to a graduate course at an open university based in Alberta, Canada. Here in cowboy country, we make up our own minds about things. So that you can too, for teaching purposes, I downloaded a copy of ‘Message to America’ and this post casts a critical eye in its direction.

‘Message to America’ has been remarkably effective. By beheading an American journalist as retribution for America’s ‘humanitarian bombing’ in Iraq and threatening to behead another one, at a stroke, the video disarms those who oppose further military interventions in Iraq and Syria. The English-sounding executioner has frightened Prime Minister David Cameron into proposing a tightening of the ratchet of security so as to stem the flow of British-born jihadis travelling to and from Syria and Iraq. ‘What we’re facing in Iraq now is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before’, said Mr. Cameron, adding he was ‘absolutely satisfied that ISIS … would make specific threats to the UK.’

Wouldn’t you think, then, that we should all have the opportunity to inspect this video and form our own opinion on it? Here you can. The movie begins with President Obama explaining why he authorized air strikes against ISIS. This is followed by an aerial view of one such strike. This sets the stage for the appearance of Foley and his executioner. Our analysis begins with them, at 1:48.

Scene 1: In which Foley blames the United States for his Death

Foley is dressed in an orange Guantanamo-like prison uniform, knelt on the sand, hands behind him as if restrained. A microphone is clipped onto his tunic at the neck. Foley’s head casts a shadow on his tunic, suggesting that the sun is behind, far to his left. A wind blows on to his loose-fitting tunic, creating ripples. The wind and the sun are at opposite sides of the compass. To Foley’s left, so close they are almost touching, stands a tall and imposing man dressed in black, a balaclava obscuring all but his eyes. Limbs loose, he is at ease with himself. He rocks on his feet, left to right and back, like a sailboat in a swell. A leather revolver holder hangs from his left shoulder. Behind them is nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. The sky seems cloudy-grey.

Our eyes tell us that they are outside, but our ears suggest something else. Foley’s speech is deadened, as if absorbed by close surroundings. There is no ambient sound. No birds or insects tweet or call. That wind blows strong enough to ripple Foley’s shirt but it’s not touching anything else that we can hear. No sound of wind on microphone, or wind on sand, wind in brush. Come to think of it, that wind on Foley’s shirt blows a little too regularly, in a repetitive pattern, for it to convince us that it is real. There is shadow, so there must be sun and in Iraq it’s hot, yet these characters convey no sense of heat. The soon-to-die Foley is not perspiring.

This scene is obviously edited. In some frames the man-in-black is slightly behind Foley. In others he is side-by-side.

The entire scene lacks depth. It has the feel of a backcloth, a green screen on to which this image has been superimposed.

We’ve seen this kind of video before haven’t we? The condemned hostage’s final humiliation. He is forced to speak a script that damns his government for his plight while giving voice to his captors’ propaganda. Knowing what is to come, energy deserts him. Defeated, he speaks without affect, a sorry, pitiful sight.

But Foley is not like this at all. On his knees, hands presumably secured behind his back, his executioner by his side, Foley seems almost chipper. Is it actually him, in fact? Here he is in 2011. Compare the two. He certainly looks remarkably well for a man who has spent the last two years in captivity. Nor is Foley’s voice what we expect of a man in this dire situation. He speaks with conviction, bordering on relish, as if he means what he says and takes bitter pleasure in saying it.

He tells us that he is about to die as retribution for America’s ‘recent aerial campaign in Iraq’. Those who ordered and carried out those aerial attacks are his ‘real killers.’ ‘Who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and bomb those people whoever they may have been?’ he asks rhetorically. Answer: the US government, against which he urges his family, friends and loved ones to ‘rise up’. Rather cruelly, he blames his brother John for his imminent death, simply because he belongs to the USAF. ‘I died that day John when your colleagues dropped that bomb on those people they signed my death certificate.’ How is that his brother’s fault?

Who are these ‘those people’ anyway? The preceding clip of Obama authorizing air strikes against ISIS, and the executioner’s angry words in the next scene, suggests that ‘those people’ refers to ISIS warriors, for why else would he be killed as retribution? But Foley’s own words are imprecise as to who was killed and when. He blames those people ‘who bombed Iraq’ recently. He refers to a ‘recent aerial campaign in Iraq’. How recent is ‘recently’? Nor is he specific about who is bombed: ‘Those people whoever they may have been’. ‘That bomb on those people’. He pointedly does not say ‘Islamic State fighters’. Since he knows that he’s about to be decapitated by one of them, wouldn’t we expect him to be more specific?

One might argue that Foley is reading under duress what is written for him. If he is reading from a script, however, in this ‘Message to America’, why weren’t his ISIS captors more precise about ‘those people whoever they may have been’? And if he is reading from a script, what has he got to lose by resisting saying these things and why does he have to speak with such conviction? It is almost as if he takes pleasure in the pain his death will cause the United States and his family, especially his brother. His last words ‘I guess all in all I wish I wasn’t  American’ are a non sequitur. We can only imagine the terrible things they must have done to him for him to say that.

Just as our emotions are evident in our speech, so they are evident in our body, its gestures and movements. The video invites us to believe that Foley and the man standing next to and over him both know that a knife is going to be worked through the flesh, sinew and bone of Foley’s neck. But that thought is absent from their bodies. To the contrary, their body movements suggest a certain emotional closeness. They are at ease in each other’s company, almost as if they are co-conspirators.

Most of us in Foley’s situation would be all-too-aware of our executioner’s presence. Foley, however, makes no anxious glances in his direction. There is not even a glint of recognition in his peripheral vision. He looks straight ahead, looking at his cue cards, as if he were entirely alone.

Finally, lest it escape notice, there is not the slightest hint in Foley’s voice and body language of fear. This is unusual in a man who knows he is about to be beheaded.

Scene 2  In which the Man-in-Black Scolds Obama

In this scene the man-in-black, the executioner, speaks and a grim-faced (microphone-less) Foley listens and faces straight ahead. At the outset of this scene, the executioner’s right hand rests on Foley’s left shoulder. He shows no sign of feeling that hand. It is as if he is unaware of his executioner’s presence. The executioner looks directly into the camera and gesticulates with his knife towards the imagined Obama watching. He is relaxed in his body and passionate in his facial movements and his speech. He is disengaged from Foley because his emotional energy, his anger, is directed towards the evil Obama, President of the United States, the target audience of this video. But if he hates America so much, why is he wearing US Military Desert Boots? And if he’s such an ardent Jihadi, why is he known as ‘John’? Come to think of it, why is the executioner wearing a mask? What has he got to hide? He surely doesn’t fear death by American hands? The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does not hide behind a mask, so why should this underling? Since we can’t see his face we don’t know if that South London accent belongs to him or if it was added post-production.

Scene 3     In which Foley is not Beheaded

At the moment of an execution, forget thoughts and emotions: instinct takes over, the instinct to stay alive. Not here it doesn’t. In the first seconds of this scene, the executioner, knife in his left hand, moves behind Foley stealthily and takes his chin in his right. All this time, Foley’s expression does not change. His eyes look straight ahead. Would we not expect Foley’s body to twist and turn in resistance to the blade? Even though they are constrained, those arms would surely attempt to protect his throat with his hands. Even chickens suffer and struggle if they know they are about to be butchered. But Foley does no such thing. He simply leans back a little, rather stiffly, as if to better oblige his executioner. As the knife saws rapidly across his throat, there is no response from Foley’s body. It doesn’t even respond by bleeding. And yet, if only one of his carotid arteries was severed, blood would spray under pressure, far and wide. But not a drop is to be seen. Odd that.

Scene 4     In which we imagine Foley beheaded

Before we can quite take this in, the video cuts to a still of a headless, prostrate body, on which is placed its missing head. Not having witnessed the decapitation, we are asked to make a leap of imagination and regard both the body and the head as Foley’s. British and American ‘intelligence’ seem to have done just that. But why should we? There are several grounds for suspicion. The head looks as if it has been guillotined cleanly, not rived off with a small knife. The knife next to the body is not the knife in the decapitation scene. There is blood on the back of his legs, as if someone has smeared it there, just for good measure. The orange shirt worn by the corpse is shorter than that worn by the living Foley. Remember those billowing long sleeves from scene 1? Compare them with the sleeves in this scene. (Where’s continuity!?) The left arm, still secured at the wrist, looks pasty white and puny. In fact, the entire body looks very mannequin-like. The head looks like something from special effects, and it may well be. If this were some television show, who gives a damn? We can imagine what happened. But this is real life. Isn’t it?

Scene 4: In which Mr. Steven Sotloff is introduced as a trailer for the next episode

A well-fed Steven Joel Sotloff is held by the scruff of his neck by the man-in-black, who tells us that his life depends on Obama’s ‘next decision’.

Comment

‘The US Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing US citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic.’

Good for them, and their consciences. I do not believe this video is authentic. In military terms, ‘Message to America’ looks very much like an instance of Military Deception (MILDEC), what is referred to as a Deception Event.

Foley may well be dead and that may be his severed head, but he was not killed by the incident depicted in the video. More likely, in my opinion, he was a willing participant in this deception and lives on under deep cover. Why? is something you have to figure out on your own.

The beheading was omitted because it is difficult to simulate, not to protect us from the gore. Why would ISIS want to spare us that? Gore is their thing, isn’t it? Despite the warnings, the video is not gory at all. The appropriate response to this simulation isn’t fear and panic, it’s ridicule and laughter.

More disturbing than anything imagined in ‘Message to America’ is the rapid disappearance of the video from the internet. If you wanted to make up your own mind, you can’t. We must take the word of our betters, US military ‘intelligence’. You got a problem with that? In this sense, it’s a ‘Message to the Rest of Us’ and the message is Wake-up!

To put this disappearance in perspective, compare the efficiency with which this video was made to disappear with the apparent inability of the US ‘intelligence community’ to locate and force the closure of the website which publishes al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine. (On WordPress no less). It has lured many urban Muslims to their doom, for that is its purpose and that, I suggest, is why it is left alone.

That ‘Message to America’ is a staged deception is obvious. A child can figure this out. The purpose of the deception is less obvious. Its purpose is to discredit Islam and to further demonize ISIS so as to create an unimpeachable emotional case for the Anglo-American alliance to make an armed intervention in Iraq and Syria. Obama can say: ‘You see what evil monsters these Iraqis and Kurds are up against? They’ve murdered one of our own. He was a journalist as well. We’re America, we’ve got to help them! I tell you what—we’ll attack them in Syria too!’ It will, you understand, be a compassionate, humanitarian campaign. To oppose it is to support Foley’s murderer and those like him. So no one opposes it. Cameron’s risible response —‘What we’re facing in Iraq now is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before’—is a bonus (my emphasis). That kind of foolish talk is capable of getting a lot of people killed and curtailing the rights of a nation. All from this video.

Every Deception Event is backed by an ongoing Deception Story, a narrative fed by anonymous sources and tailored to the beliefs and assumptions of those it wants to deceive. Watch it develop.

Lessons in Trust from the United States

331555_Obama Merkel

When trust is betrayed, it’s difficult to repair.

That’s the problem facing the United States and those nation states in Europe (United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain) and Latin and South America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela) whose citizens, businesses and politicians it has surveilled or monitored.

What can this scandal teach us about emotions?

1. It’s difficult to make an abstraction mad, but when you offend individuals they get angry and anger can be contagious.

It took news that the personal phones of Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil) and Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany) were monitored to galvanize simmering opposition to the United States. 

Only when Merkel discovered that her own calls had been monitored (for up to a year, with the knowledge of President Obama) did she voice her opposition to the mass surveillance of Germans. A month before, when news of this first broke, her response was muted.

2. When we trust we make ourselves vulnerable to the agent who is trusted. We give them power over us. We give them the means of harming us. To protect ourselves, when we trust we imposed a moral obligation upon the trusted party not to betray that trust. Trusting, then, forms a bond. If and when that bond is broken and trust is betrayed we can claim the right to impose sanctions on the offending party. This is the situation now.

3. These revelations make clear that this trust was based on an asymmetry of power. Those countries placed under surveillance regarded themselves as ‘friends and allies’ of the United States. They trusted the US not to do what it has done. The United States did not trust these States not to monitor the ‘homeland’ because they knew they were incapable of it.

4. Because they trusted, they did not ‘expect’ this kind of behaviour. It is something one does to adversaries, enemies. Surveillance of this kind is to obtain an advantage (personal, commercial, political) over the surveilled. Because they did not expect it, they did not defend themselves against it. They supported the United States and acted openly.

5. These nation states trusted a party which is untrustworthy. They were deceived. They made themselves vulnerable and were taken advantage of. The United States used this information to gain commercial and political advantage.

6. Betrayal of trust is a violation of the emotive-moralistic disposition inherent in relations of trust that hold it together. Betrayal is trauma. It forces us to rethink our moral expectations we once regarded as inviolable. If relations between the United States and these countries are to be restored they will have to be under specific conditions and safe-guards.

7. Why did these countries need to trust the United States? Why did they volunteer to place themselves in a position of vulnerability? It was a response to America’s emotional trauma over 9/11 and the subsequent need to avenge and assuage it via the ‘war-on-terror’. This was the core of their emotive-moral disposition towards the United States. They may want to rethink this.

VIDEO: Was Journalist Michael Hastings Murdered? Police and Firefighters on the Scene Told not to Comment | Global Research

For those who are following this story. For a recap see my TREACHERY WORKS BOTH WAYS: THE LIFE OF EDWARD SNOWDEN AND THE DEATH OF MICHAEL HASTINGS.

The emotion here is FEAR (among investigative reporters).

VIDEO: Was Journalist Michael Hastings Murdered? Police and Firefighters on the Scene Told not to Comment | Global Research.

Compliance

via Compliance Official Trailer #1 (2012) Independent Movie HD – YouTube.

For the context, see Glenn Greenwald’s Film highlights the temptations and perils of blind obedience to authority: Indie film Compliance recalls notions that the past decade’s worst events are explained by failures to oppose authority.guardian.co.uk, Sunday 26 August 2012

Treachery works both ways: The life of Edward Snowden and the death of Michael Hastings

At a time when one man is accused of treason for revealing secrets of the American state, I want to consider another form of treachery, i.e., political assassination (‘death by treacherous violence’) by that very same state.

I allude here to the contrasting fates of two young American men, Edward Snowden, and Michael Hastings. The first revealed American state secrets and is in exile, hunted by the very forces he revealed; the second, a journalist, had seriously embarrassed the U.S. military and is now dead, a casualty of a mysterious car crash.

Might these two events be connected?

Political assassinations—death by secret service—happen. Fortunately for us, they happen only in countries other than our own. An African head of state’s plane crashes for no obvious reason. What do you expect? A Russian dissident dies of a mysterious illness in London. Communists! Benazir Bhutto is blown to smithereens in front of her supporters. Savages.

But we would never do such a thing. ‘It’s not who we are.’ All the same, just for curiosity’s sake you understand, let’s pause to reflect on the life and death of this young man, Michael Hastings.

We know of him largely because his indiscrete 2010 article in Rolling Stone‘The Runaway General’, led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This was followed by ‘The Sins of General David Petraeus‘ in December 2012 (‘Petraeus seduced America. We should never have trusted him.’) Then there was his book  The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. But there was more to him than that; he got his hands dirty reporting on the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This time he was the news.

On June 18th, around 4:30 a.m. he was driving his new Mercedes C250 in the vicinity of Hancock Park, Los Angeles; travelling south from Santa Monica Boulevard along Melrose. According to a police witness, he ran a red light at the junction of Melrose and Highland (caught on a police car’s dash cam) at a high rate of speed.

An eye witness reports that the car then accelerated to what seemed like its maximum velocity, before veering sharp left and hitting a tree at right-angles.

The Mercedes immediately burst into flames. The violence of the impact was such that the engine and gear box of the Mercedes were thrown an extraordinary distance from the rest of the car. (See second image below.)

Hastings was incinerated.

1451074_me_hollywood_crash_ALS_

Distance between Mercedes and its engine and gearbox.

Distance between Mercedes and its engine and gearbox.

Almost immediately, the innocence of this accident was doubted, and not just by his friends. Friends and colleagues received emails from him not a day before informing all that he was on to a big story, feared that he was being followed, and suspected that he was under investigation by the FBI. There was the motive. That his car ran a red light and accelerated madly suggests to some that Hastings lost control of his vehicle because it was hacked. There was the means.

The LAPD do not suspect foul play. They are there and we are not. Who are we to question them?

Perhaps he was fiddling with his cell phone when he should have been paying attention to the road ahead. That happens a lot you know. Maybe he was impaired through drink or drugs. That’s an occupational hazard for journalists, and he was under pressure. Could be that he was suicidal. He’s only human. What was he doing out at that time of the morning anyway, when decent people are in bed?

And yet …

Being free people in possession of all our faculties, let’s explore this matter for ourselves.

Here are some video reports of what happened. If you care about journalism you’ll watch them. The first shows Hastings’ Mercedes running the red light at speed (from the dash cam of a police car). The second shows the immediate aftermath of the car crash. The third is a most informative interview with a man who witnessed the whole thing.

In that part of LA it’s all straight lines and right angles: a grid. Even the trees are planted in straight lines, just like the one he crashed into. Highland Avenue stretched before him like a straight line, for as far as he could see. It’s a residential area; just a few lights to navigate; no obvious hazards.

So why would he have speeded through a red light and put his foot to the floor like that? Well, perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps someone did it for him. If you think this is science fiction, think again. It is entirely possible for a remote adversary with malicious motives to seize digital control of today’s highly computerized car. This is beyond doubt.

Consider, for example, the findings of Koscher et al’s

Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile, published in the proceedings of the 201
0 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Symposium on Security and Privacy. Here is the problem they address:

Taken together, ubiquitous computer control, distributed internal connectivity, and telematics interfaces increasingly combine to provide an application software platform with external network access. There are thus ample reasons to reconsider the state of vehicular computer security.

So how much resilience does a typical automobile have against a digital attack? ‘Our findings suggest that, unfortunately, the answer is “little”’.

We demonstrate that an attacker who is able to infiltrate virtually any Electronic Control Unit (ECU) can leverage this ability to completely circumvent a broad array of safety-critical systems. Over a range of experiments, both in the lab and in road tests, we demonstrate the ability to adversarially control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input — including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on. We find that it is possible to bypass rudimentary network security protections within the car, such as maliciously bridging between our car’s two internal subnets. We also present composite attacks that leverage individual weaknesses, including an attack that embeds malicious code in a car’s telematics unit and that will completely erase any evidence of its presence after a crash. (my emphasis)

In this research study, the experimented-on car was controlled via a laptop running CARSHARK and connected to the CAN bus via the OBD-II port. A fairly unsophisticated set up. If a handful of university researchers are able to achieve this degree of remote control over a car, one wonders what professional assassins are capable of achieving. Well, perhaps now we know.

It had to be at a time when the roads would be empty of innocent bystanders. An invitation to a rendezvous. ‘Take the Santa Monica Boulevard. Turn onto North Highland Avenue and keep heading south’. Just before the junction with Melrose the safety-laden Mercedes (‘For the collision-prone, the C-class is now offered with the brand’s latest safety equipment’) speeds up just when he wants to slow down and stop at the red light. The car keeps accelerating as if it’s got a life of its own, as if he’s put the pedal to the metal. Desperately he jumps on the brakes, but they don’t respond. This is terror. He tries to turn off the ignition, but it’s stuck. It’s too late anyway. Suddenly the car brakes, violently and unevenly as if the left front locked, and the Mercedes slams into the tree. A life ended.

Incidentally, did America’s Supreme Leader and Narrator-in-Chief offer any words on the death of this fine young man? He’s quite fond of that sort of thing.

I think there are reasonable grounds for believing that Michael Hastings was assassinated by agents of the American state, but not for the obvious reasons. These emailed claims of being under surveillance because he was ‘on to something big’ sound a little too convenient for my liking. E-mail can be faked and if he was that worried he’d pick up the phone.

It’s the old question of knowing the difference between deception and an authentic act. In an age of simulation—he was killed a stone’s throw from Hollywood—it’s becoming a rare skill.

Michael Hastings was not a threat to the American state. At most he was an irritant. He was simply a good journalist, which is to say he spoke the truth and defended it. That should be a good enough epitaph for any journalist. But Hastings was well known and his death would be widely reported. If he was assassinated it was as a warning to those who are a threat to the American state, for what they already know rather than what they might yet learn. Few of these are likely to be in any doubt about how Hastings died.

Edward Snowden’s revelations were first disclosed on June 10th. Something had to be done, before others dared to come forward. Michael Hastings was killed a little over a week later, on June 18th, as a warning to would-be dissidents and whistleblowers, to silence them with fear.

Treachery works both ways.