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Did Israel Play A Role In Targeting Iranian General For Assassination?

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Last October Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad, spoke openly about assassinating Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“He knows very well that his assassination is not impossible,” Cohen said in an interview. Soleimani had boasted that Israel tried to assassinate him in 2006 and failed.

“With all due respect to his bluster,” Cohen said, “he hasn’t necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets.”

Is Israel Targeting Iran’s Top General for Assassination?” I asked last October. On January 3, Soleimani was killed in an air strike ordered by President Trump.

Soleimani’s convoy was struck by U.S. missiles as he left a meeting at Baghdad’s airport amid anti-Iranian and anti-American demonstrations in Iraq. Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia had agreed to withdraw from the U.S. diplomatic compound in return for a promise that the government would allow a parliamentary vote on expelling 5,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Pentagon issued a statement confirming the military operation, which came “at the direction of the president” and was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The Pentagon claimed that Gen. Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, under indictment for criminal charges, was the first and only national leader to support Trump’s action, while claiming that Trump acted entirely on his own.

“Just as Israel has the right to self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right,” Netanyahu told reporters in Greece. “Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of American citizens and other innocents, and he was planning more attacks.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed retaliation for the general’s death, tweeting that “Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”

Soleimani was the most capable foe of the United States and Israel in the region. As chief of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a master of Iran’s asymmetric warfare strategy, using proxy forces to bleed Iran’s enemies, while preserving the government’s ability to plausibly deny involvement.

After the U.S. invasions of Iraq, he funded and trained anti-American militias that launched low-level attacks on U.S. occupation forces, killing hundreds of U.S. servicemen and generating pressure for U.S. withdrawal.

In recent years, Soleimani led two successful Iranian military operations: the campaign to drive ISIS out of western Iraq in 2015 and the campaign to crush the jihadist forces opposed to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Israel denounced Iran’s role in both operations but could not prevent Iran from claiming victory.

Soleimani had assumed a leading role in Iraqi politics in the past year. The anti-ISIS campaign relied on Iraqi militias, which the Iranians supported with money, weapons, and training. After ISIS was defeated, these militias maintained a prominent role in Iraq that many resented, leading to demonstrations and rioting. Soleimani was seeking to stabilize the government and channel the protests against the United States when he was killed.

In the same period, Israel pursued its program of targeted assassination. In an effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad assassinated at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman. Yossi Melman, another Israeli journalist, says that Mossad has assassinated 60-70 enemies outside of its borders since its founding in 1947, though none as prominent as Soleimani.

Israel also began striking at the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq last year. The United States did the same on December 29, killing 19 fighters and prompting anti-American demonstrations as big as the anti-Iranian demonstrations of a month ago.

Now the killing of Soleimani promises more unrest, if not open war. The idea that it will deter Iranian attacks may come to rank with George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” in the annals of American folly.

“This doesn’t mean war,” wrote former Defense Department official Andrew Exum, “it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war.”

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported two years ago that Washington had given Israel the green light to assassinate Soleimani, as Haaretz recounted:

Al-Jarida, which in recent years… [has] broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that ‘there is an American-Israeli agreement’ that Soleimani is a ‘threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.’ It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.”

Trump has now fulfilled the wishes of Mossad. After proclaiming his intention to end America’s “stupid endless wars,” the president has effectively declared war on the largest country in the region in solidarity with Israel, the most unpopular country in the Middle East.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Why Giuliani’s Ukraine Sources Are So Untrustworthy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and a former New York City mayor, recently teamed up with One America News (OAN) and its White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, for a so-called “investigative special” that promised to “destroy” the Democratic case for impeaching Trump.

But Sergii Leshchenko, a journalist and an ex-member of Ukraine’s parliament, argued in an op-ed for the Kyiv Post that most of the interviewees Giuliani used could not be trusted and had strong ties to the Russian government.

Leshchenko writes, “As a journalist who has been covering Ukrainian politics for 20 years, I maintain that (former prosecutor general Yuri) Lutsenko and the rest of Rudy Giuliani’s interlocutors in Ukraine are not in the least trustworthy. Moreover, most of them have long had contacts with Moscow, which seeks to shift responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections from Russia to Ukraine. This scenario is actively supported by part of the corrupt Ukrainian establishment.”

Watch a preview for the OAN report below:

Teaming up with OAN — the right-wing cable news outlet that is even more aggressively pro-Trump than Fox News — Giuliani pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the United States’ 2016 presidential election. And the main person Giuliani has used to promote that theory is Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch accused of bribery in the United States.

“Firtash is useful for Giuliani in helping him advance the conspiracy theory,” Leshchenko asserted in his op-ed. “For example, lawmakers Oleh Voloshyn and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, both of whom are close to Firtash, are trying to start a ‘parliamentary inquiry’ into ex-Vice President Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine.”

Another Giuliani source Leshchenko considers problematic is Viktor Shokin, a former prosecutor general in Ukraine. Giuliani used Shokin on Firtash’s recommendation.

“Giuliani’s strategy to promote his conspiracy theory looks like political schizophrenia,” Leshchenko writes. “But his actions also gave Russia great opportunities to advance its interests.”

Giuliani has previously accused Leshchenko himself of working with the Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election, and allegations the journalist vehemently denies.

Report: Russian 2016 Election Hacking Flashes Warning For 2020

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new report from Politico on Thursday highlighted the persistent and troubling concerns about the security of U.S. elections, diving deep into some of the still unresolved mysteries about Russia’s efforts to hack the 2016 election.

Much of the discussion of Russian election interference has focused on two separate prongs of the 2016 interference: the social media troll farms pushing propaganda and disinformation, and the hacking and dumping of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. But journalist Kim Zetter focused in Politico on the third, less-discussed and yet even more disturbing tactic — the hacking of U.S. election infrastructure.

We’ve known for years that U.S. intelligence believes Russian agents tried to — and in some cases were successful — hack into key aspects of the decentralized American voting infrastructure in the run-up to the 2016 Election Day. But there hasn’t been any solid evidence that Russia was actually able to affect the election result in any way at this vector. Some have speculated that they were just poking around, seeing what they could access, without risking a truly thunderous response from the U.S. by literally tampering with voter tallies.

Because it’s unclear whether this interference tactic actually produced any tangible consequences — unlike social media propaganda and hacked emails, which reached many millions of voters — it hasn’t garnered as much attention. But Zetter’s piece highlights that the risks posed by these kinds of cyberattacks are extreme, and many unanswered questions from 2016 leave open the possibility that the hacking influenced who ended up voting.

She recounts an incident in Durham County, North Carolina — a swing state — that pushed some people away from the polls on Election Day. County officials struggled to load voter roll data onto the necessary laptops ahead of the vote, data that confirms the voters who show up are registered. Officials contacted the Florida company VR Systems that managed the software, and they tried to help fix the problem. While the data was eventually loaded, problems emerged on Election Day:

Almost immediately, though, a number of [the county laptops] exhibited problems. Some crashed or froze. Others indicated that voters had already voted when they hadn’t. Others displayed an alert saying voters had to show ID before they could vote, even though a recent court case in North Carolina had made that unnecessary.

State officials immediately ordered Durham County to abandon the laptops in favor of paper printouts of the voter list to check in voters. But the switch caused extensive delays at some precincts, leading an unknown number of frustrated voters to leave without casting ballots.

To this day, no one knows definitively what happened with Durham’s poll books. And one important fact about the incident still worries election integrity activists three years later: VR Systems had been targeted by Russian hackers in a phishing campaign three months before the election. The hackers had sent malicious emails both to VR Systems and to some of its election customers, attempting to trick the recipients into revealing usernames and passwords for their email accounts. The Russians had also visited VR Systems’ website, presumably looking for vulnerabilities they could use to get into the company’s network, as the hackers had done with Illinois’ state voter registration system months earlier.

As has previously been reported, Zetter noted that hackers also successfully penetrated to country voters systems in Florida in 2016 — another swing state — though it’s unclear what they achieved.

The unanswered questions should disturb us. It’s more than three years on from that monumental election, and we still don’t have a comprehensive accounting of what happened. This is particularly problematic because, whatever happened in 2016, we’re heading for yet another high-stakes election in 2020. The results of the election are highly important, and so is the public’s confidence in the results, no matter who wins.

But under President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, election security has been grossly neglected. Republicans have blocked Democratic efforts to implement a robust response to the 2016 hacking and fortify U.S. voting infrastructure. Not only that, but Trump has been so obsessed with defending his shaky 2016 win and Russian President Vladimir Putin that he consistently casts doubt on the fact of the election interference. This means both that his supporters are less willing to do what it takes to counter the threat and, that should a repeat performance take place to swing the election in his favor, they’ll be predisposed to dismiss any allegations about the corruption of the election out of hand.

John Solomon Named 2019 ‘Misinformer Of The Year’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

All sorts of frauds, miscreants, liars, grifters, and charlatans are drawn to right-wing media. Even amid such a wretched group, it stands out when multiple witnesses testify to Congress that a conservative columnist colluded with agents of the president to advance a fabricated story intended to blow up an entire presidential election. Even more so, he did that while aiding in a plot to extort a foreign government into supporting the effort, which has led to the president of the United States being impeached.

For all of that and more, John Solomon is the 2019 Misinformer of the Year.

Who is John Solomon?

Years before he became a Sean Hannity sidekick, Solomon was a mainstream reporter, writing for The Associated Press and The Washington Post. At the time, he was more than once criticized for shoddy work that furthered a right-wing narrative. In 2004, a Solomon report on John Kerry had “a strong resemblance to an RNC press release.” A 2012 Columbia Journalism Review profile noted that “Solomon has a history of bending the truth to his storyline” and that he “was notorious for massaging facts to conjure phantom scandals.”

Solomon’s talent for conjuring “phantom scandals” was never more apparent than when he emerged as a Trump defender and anti-Robert Mueller figure on Fox News while working for Sinclair’s Circa website as chief operating officer. He and co-worker Sara Carter seemed to be primarily focused on undermining the origins of the Russia investigation to suggest Donald Trump’s campaign had been set up. 

Solomon left Circa in July 2017, becoming executive vice president of digital video at The Hill. He started pushing another “phantom scandal” — the Uranium One conspiracy theory, which originated with Peter Schweizer and Steve Bannon’s lie that Hillary Clinton corruptly sold the United States’ uranium to Russia because donors to her family’s foundation stood to benefit. None of it was true, but that sure didn’t stop right-wing media and their Republican allies in Congress from seizing on the claim to go after Clinton. Solomon’s main contribution to the conspiracy theory was reporting on an informant who he said could corroborate the accusations. Later, we learned that Justice Department officials deemed the informant not credible, and when the informant testified before a House committee, he was reportedly unable to provide any information. The informant’s attorney was Victoria Toensing, a notable connection that would play out repeatedly over the course of Solomon’s reporting.

While Solomon was at Circa — and continuing into his time at The Hill — he emerged as a key figure on Hannity’s Fox show. Circa under Solomon fueled Hannity’s show with pro-Trump stories on a nightly basis. It was during this stretch, all the way into 2019, that Hannity was working to spin a counternarrative to the charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Solomon’s “slanted reporting” was a fundamental part of Hannity’s conspiracy theories. Hannity even wanted to award Solomon (and others like him, including Carter) a Pulitzer Prize. Solomon has penned dozens of columns and made numerous appearances on Fox in attempts to undermine investigations into Russia’s interference with our elections to benefit Trump.

All of this work was a precursor to Solomon’s involvement with Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Ukraine and The Hill

Solomon is one of the most critical figures in Trump and Giuliani’s plot to extort the Ukrainian government into meddling in our 2020 election to help the president. Giuliani — who the president hired in late 2018 as part of his legal team responding to the Mueller investigation — claims to have stumbled upon information late last year regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s alleged prior corrupt behavior in Ukraine as well as evidence that it was really Ukraine that interfered with our 2016 election, doing so to hurt Trump and benefit Clinton. With a heavy assist from two Soviet-born con men who have since been federally indicted for alleged campaign finance violations, Giuliani set out to “investigate” these claims by enlisting a series of corrupt Ukrainian political figures.

In March 2019, Giuliani completed his “investigation” into Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine and sent the results to the Department of State — and also to Solomon. Solomon then began laundering Giuliani’s claims through his opinion columns in The Hill. The conspiracy theory they wove was complex, but it fit neatly into the right wing’s ongoing campaign to absolve Trump as having benefited from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The theory roughly boils down to this: Corrupt Ukrainian officials worked with equally corrupt American officials to frame Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort in order to discredit Trump and benefit Clinton. As with most conspiracy theories on the right, George Soros is supposedly involved, through anti-corruption organizations funded by his foundations that worked to expose Manafort’s illegal activities stemming from his work in Ukraine. (Manafort is currently serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence due to these activities.) Additionally, the conspiracy theory posits that not only was the Ukrainian government working to do Trump dirty, but it was also aiding Biden in supposedly getting investigations into the Burisma gas company shut down because his son Hunter served on the board. Of course, consistent with Solomon’s history, none of this is true.

Starting on March 20, Solomon published 45 columns in The Hill aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation, 12 of which were primarily focused on planting the seeds of this new Ukrainian element of the conspiracy theory. These stories relied on Giuliani’s sources (like disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko) and spelled out Giuliani’s conspiracy theory in detail. Solomon helped Giuliani not only to plant the seeds of a disinformation campaign against Biden, but to make public a behind-the-scenes smear campaign targeting the then-American Ambassador to the U.S. Maria Yovankovitch. The campaign was championed by Giuliani’s now-indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, as they viewed Yovankovitch as an obstacle to a shady oil and gas deal the two hoped to broker in Ukraine. Parnas worked closely with Solomon, assisting in and helping to secure interviews with Giuliani’s sources and sometimes listening in as they occurred. Also consistent with Solomon’s reporting, at least three of these columns featured information that may have been leaked from Ukrainian pro-Russia oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a client of lawyer Toensing and her husband/legal partner Joseph diGenova. The material Giuliani gave to the State Department included an email in which Solomon forwarded a draft of one of his columns to Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas.

Turns out Toensing and diGenova were working closely with Giuliani on his disinformation campaign, even employing Parnas as part of their efforts. After word of these relationships began to come out following the release of a whistleblower report about the July 25 phone call in which Trump pressured Ukraine’s president — which led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry — we learned for the first time that Solomon himself is a client of theirs as well.

We know now that Parnas had been working with diGenova, Toensing, and Firtash and that Parnas would eventually be paid $1 million by the Russian government. ProPublica reported that Parnas closely worked with Solomon during this entire endeavor.

None of this information was disclosed when Solomon brought the conspiracy theory to Fox News and Fox Business, where he has appeared at least 92 times since March 20 to push elements of the conspiracy theory, in some cases alongside his attorneys diGenova and Toensing. Hannity gushed over Solomon’s work, hosting him at least 65 times during this same time period. Solomon’s efforts paid off when Fox News announced in October that it was hiring him as a contributor; he had recently announced his departure from The Hill.

Solomon wasn’t the only one to cash in on this conspiracy theory. While Giuliani claims to represent Trump for free, he reportedly was paid at least $500,000 by Parnas last year, ostensibly for assisting him with a sham oil and gas import startup. Toensing and diGenova have also reportedly earned at least $1 million to represent Firtash and to use his case to further the smear campaign against Biden, while also reportedly kicking Parnas another $200,000 to help with that case.

Solomon’s propaganda called out at impeachment inquiry

After the whistleblower flagged Trump’s phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Solomon’s work became a critical part of the subsequent impeachment inquiry.

Multiple witnesses (former diplomat Kurt Volker, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman) testified that Solomon’s reporting was inaccurate. The three diplomats and Hill said the corruption claims Solomon published about Yovanovitch (which came from Lutsenko) were lies, and the former ambassador said his fabricated columns put so much pressure on her that the State Department couldn’t defend her and she was removed.

Here’s one example of Solomon’s faulty reporting: He published Lutsenko’s claim that Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list. The Hill credulously put that claim in a headline, and from there it spread more. Within days, a Russian propaganda network also reportedly started circulating the claim. Several of the witnesses listed above testified before Congress that the idea of a “do not prosecute” list was absurd and ridiculous. Lutsenko subsequently walked back his claims before later doubling down on them after Giuliani continued to pursue dirt on Biden during Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

As the hearings went on, The Hill announced that it would review Solomon’s work; with the release of the House Intelligence Committee report into Trump and Giuliani’s plotting in Ukraine, the paper reiterated that it was planning this investigation. Included in the House Intelligence Committee report were phone logs that demonstrated the frequency with which Solomon was communicating with Parnas and Giuliani during crucial time periods in his reporting. Parnas’ attorney has also claimed that Solomon participated in a series of meetings at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., with Giuliani, Parnas, diGenova, and Toensing about their efforts in Ukraine. Solomon and his allies have loudly complained about the revelations. But their claims are baseless given the context.

Nothing Ends, Nothing Ever Really Ends

While Giuliani’s Ukraine plot has been exposed, it’s worth underscoring that the dishonest scheme at play here may yet still work, despite Trump’s impeachment. Removal seems unlikely, and with Biden still one of the Democratic front-runners for the presidential nomination, the entire incident has made Hunter Biden into the 2020 edition of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Giuliani, Trump, and their congressional allies have shown no sign of backing off of the Ukraine disinformation campaign they started. Fox News still runs with the story, and mainstream outlets are feeding into false comparisons between Biden and Trump. Further, it is often lost in the news around the impeachment that this Ukraine conspiracy theory is part of a larger effort to discredit the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign, an effort being led by Attorney General Bill Barr. Parnas, for his part, firmly believed that his efforts in Ukraine would also be beneficial for Barr’s investigation. Barr appears to be laying the groundwork to release the results of this investigation in the spring or early summer, just as the 2020 campaign hits a fevered pitch.

If 2020 plays out as 2016 redux, we will have John Solomon to thank.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore