Grayzone Project articles and reports on Syria, the Syrian Civil War, foreign intervention, rebel groups, ISIS, and the role of the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Iran, and Russia

ShamiWitness: How Bellingcat and Neocons Collaborated with the Most Influential ISIS Propagandist on Twitter

How some of the best known Syria regime-change hustlers and “experts” helped transform the @ShamiWitness account from a cretinous troll into a credible “ISIS expert.”

By Mark Ames

Who remembers @ShamiWitness? At the peak of ISIS’s power, @ShamiWitness stood out as the genocidal militia group’s “most influential Twitter account” according to a Channel 4 exposé and a Kings College report. The @ShamiWitness account was followed by some two-thirds of foreign jihadis. But it went further than propogandizing Islamic State’s massacres and rapes: @Shamiwitness also actively recruited foreign jihadis and helped lead them through the ratlines in Turkey, into the ISIS killing fields in Syria and Iraq, as a George Washington University reportrevealed this year.

But I want to talk about the western “experts” in Washington and London who cozied up to @ShamiWitness — especially since all of them are still around, many of them bigger and more influential in our political discourse than ever. They’re the ones who built up @ShamiWitness’s social media capital, making his account so popular, and so effective, in recruiting ISIS murderers. Some of the best known Syria regime-change hustlers and “experts”—Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat and the Saudi-funded Atlantic Council; Charles Lister of the Saudi-funded Middle East Institute, former CNN “Syria expert” and Atlantic Council fellow Michael Weiss, all major figures promoting today’s RussiaGate hysteria—together helped transform the @ShamiWitness account from a cretinous troll into a credible “ISIS expert”. They validated and lent credibility to ShamiWitness as someone with deep, local insider knowledge, boosting ShamiWitness’s social capital their countless retweets, #FF’s, #Pt’s, and their numerous public interactions.

As it turned out, @ShamiWitness was a fake “Syria expert”. The millennial yuppie who ran the ShamiWitness account was as much an insider expert on ISIS as the western Syria hacks who boosted him. It wasn’t the “experts” like Bellingcat who unmasked ShamiWitness — quite the opposite, Bellingcat’s team played a major role in building him up as a credible expert. Rather, it was a Channel 4 report exposing ShamiWitness as a fake — but a very dark and dangerous fake, with very real world consequences. @ShamiWitness was run by a 24-year-old Indian marketing executive named Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who tweeted out ISIS and Syria “expertise” from his bachelor pad in Bangalore, India.

And just like that, the London and Washington Syria regime-change neocons who’d been boosting @ShamiWitness suddenly looked like fools — as well as ISIS accessories. Contrary to what they had all assumed, @ShamiWitness wasn’t the expert Syria insider he pretended to be. He spoke no Arabic; he was nowhere near Syria.

Continue reading “ShamiWitness: How Bellingcat and Neocons Collaborated with the Most Influential ISIS Propagandist on Twitter”

Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

Presenting The Syria Deception: Al Qaeda Goes to Hollywood (VIDEO)

An exclusive Grayzone investigative documentary rips the cover off of the most sophisticated and expensive campaign of humanitarian interventionist propaganda in modern history.

By Dan Cohen

For decades, Western governments, corporate media and Hollywood have engaged in a project of mass deception to manufacture consent for military interventions. Waged in the name of lofty ideals like freedom, human rights and democracy, US-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya wound up bringing death, destruction and even the return of slavery to the African continent. As the wounds from those catastrophes festered, Washington embarked on its most ambitious project yet, marketing another war of regime change, this time in Syria.

This investigative mini-doc exposes the cynical deceptions and faux humanitarianism behind the campaign to sell the dirty war on Syria. It will also demonstrate the lengths that the US and its allies have gone to develop new ploys to tug at Western heartstrings and convince even liberal minded skeptics of war that a US intervention was necessary — even if it meant empowering Al Qaeda’s largest franchise since 9/11 and its theocratic allies among the insurgency. Big lies and little children have formed the heart of what is perhaps the most expensive, sophisticated, and shameless propaganda blitz ever conducted. Welcome to the Syria Deception.

Hollywood’s role in promoting war is nothing new. The American film industry has collaborated over the years with the State Department, the Pentagon, and the intelligence services to produce an array of films burnishing the military’s image, revising controversial US actions, and propagating official accounts of critical events through action blockbusters. As the American role in destabilizing Syria expanded, so too did the number of high budget documentaries produced on the crisis. This film will examine what is perhaps the most ambitious perception management documentary project of them all: Cries From Syria.

Produced by HBO, debuted at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and now available on Netflix, Cries from Syria was widely promoted in mainstream Western media outlets and was even screened in the International Court of Justice. The feature length documentary has been also promoted by public figures from the neoconservative Nikki Haley, who as us ambassador to the united nations has agitated for regime change from Syria to Iran, to recently-deceased rock musician Chris Cornell, who included footage from the film in his final music video before he committed suicide. pop diva Cher even composed an original song for the film.

Watch as I attended a screening of the film on Capitol Hill in May 2017 that brought together some of the key lawmakers, pseudo-experts, corporate media pundits, and professional regime change lobbyists behind the Syria deception.

If you want to see more exclusive content like this that confronts and exposes Washington’s dangerous bipartisan foreign policy establishment consensus, become a Grayzone patron here

dan cohen

Dan Cohen is a journalist and filmmaker. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. Dan is a correspondent at RT America and tweets at @DanCohen3000.

“We Don’t Want To Lose Anymore”: Inside the Complex Peace Process That Helped Syrians Find an End to the Fighting

In war torn areas across Syria, a series of reconciliation deals overseen by the secret fixer of Damascus, Khaled al Ahmad, has given residents a respite from the bloodshed.

By Rania Khalek

This is part 2 of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria. You can read part 1 here.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – Since the Syrian government’s reconquest of its southernmost regions, only two zones remain outside its control. Turkey still occupies parts of Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo in the northwest of the country, relying on proxy militias including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which has changed its name several times. Meanwhile, the US and its allied Kurdish militias occupy the northeast. Khaled al Ahmad, Assad’s secret emissary introduced in part 1 of this series, seems to have played a key role in influencing the final outcome in the latter region.

According to American officials, a series of meetings al Ahmad convened with Kurdish leadership in Moscow last year convinced the Kurds to adopt a more conciliatory posture towards Damascus. American officials who had been working with the Kurds had also pushed them towards pragmatism, urging them to reach their own agreement with the Syrian government to avoid the fate of the rebels of southern Syria, who were abandoned by their foreign sponsors ahead of their defeat in June 2018.

When Trump announced in March 2018 that he wanted to withdraw from Syria “very soon“, it became clear to Kurdish negotiators that they needed to plan for the day after. The Americans told them to see the statement the US issued to the southern rebels, which bluntly informed them that “you’re on your own,” as a message to the Kurds as well.

Continue reading ““We Don’t Want To Lose Anymore”: Inside the Complex Peace Process That Helped Syrians Find an End to the Fighting”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War

How a nearly unknown businessman named Khaled al Ahmad became Damascus’ secret liaison to the West and quietly dealt Syria’s grinding war to a close. 

By Rania Khalek

This is part one of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – After seven years of grinding war, the Syrian government has achieved victory. According to current and former international officials and diplomats as well as UN officials, credit or blame for the Syrian government’s recent victories in East Ghouta and then in the south — along with the tacit acceptance these sweeping military successes received — can be placed on one man.

He is Khaled al Ahmad, a Syrian government emissary and businessman who masterminded the Syrian government’s reconciliation strategy. Al Ahmad is the secret diplomat who has exerted exceptional tolls of energy building bridges with the enemies of Damascus. Despite his central role in bringing one of the worst conflicts since World War Two to an end, he remains almost totally unknown in international media and has scarcely been discussed even among expert Syria observers.

Bashar al Assad’s victory was made clear by the middle of July of this year, when multiple Israeli outlets confirmed that Israel’s government was cooperating with Russia to facilitate the return of Syrian forces and UN observers to the pre-2011 border with the occupied Golan Heights. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself stated that he had no objection to Assad’s rule while his defense minister even allowed for the possibility of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These statements were met with embarrassed silence by the Syrian government and its allies like the Lebanese political party and militia, Hezbollah, but they marked a striking shift in Israeli policy.

With Russian support, Syrian armed forces initiated a march to the southern borders of Jordan and Israel this July. The operation turned out to be a cakewalk. This success followed the recapture of East Ghouta and northern Homs, themselves relatively easy taken compared to the grinding battles of previous years. The reassertion of Syrian government authority over the south has as its final target the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and full restoration of the pre-2011 situation in the south. The US has not objected, and in fact, has even sent a message to its former anti-Assad proxies in Syria informing them that they were on their own. Israel and Jordan, for their part, made it clear they had no objections either, as long the operation was strictly Syrian, with no visible Iranian or Shia militia role in the battles.

The battles in this phase were limited and not as brutal as they have sometimes been elsewhere. Many towns or rebel groups were not involved in the fighting and others quickly agreed to deals. This may have surprised some observers unfamiliar with the events that took place on the ground in 2015 and 2016, when tens of deals were struck secretly with rebel groups in the south. These deals helped thwart the 2015 Southern Storm operation launched by rebels when one of the main factions called Ababil Horan betrayed its allies. It was through this process that al Ahmad laid the foundation for the end of Syria’s war.

Continue reading “Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War”

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure podcast.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Is Funded by UK Government

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the pro-opposition monitoring group that is cited in most media reports on the war in Syria, received funding from the British Foreign Office.

By David Edwards / Media Lens

(Editor’s NoteBen Norton: It has long been suspected that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is funded by Western governments. This is the first official confirmation that the leading “monitoring group” — which is run by a pro-opposition activist working from his home in England — has gotten money from the UK government. It is also worth noting that the SOHR’s rival the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which is much less reputable and even more explicitly partisan, has quietly admitted in passing that it is funded by “states.” The SNHR is notorious for whitewashing the crimes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist militias in Syria.)

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Is Funded by the British Government

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

‘Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The “Observatory” says on its website that it is “not associated or linked to any political body.”

‘To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that “the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras.” That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.’

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair. (Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018)

Continue reading “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Is Funded by UK Government”

media lens

David Edwards is a co-editor of the British media watchdog Media Lens. He has articles published in The Independent, The Times, Red Pepper, New Internationalist, Z Magazine, The Ecologist, Resurgence, The Big Issue. He is a ZNet commentator and author of Free To Be Human – Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions (Green Books, 1995), published in the United States as Burning All Illusions (South End Press, 1996), and The Compassionate Revolution – Radical Politics and Buddhism (1998, Green Books).

Sulome Anderson Admits Her Supposed Hezbollah Source Is ‘Incredibly Unreliable’

By Ben Norton

Journalist Sulome Anderson, whose reporting on Hezbollah has repeatedly been called into question, has admitted that one of her supposed Hezbollah sources is “incredibly unreliable,” after she was once again exposed for having reported false information.

On May 9, Anderson tweeted two videos that she claimed showed Iran supposedly firing missiles at the illegally Israel-occupied Golan. Numerous Twitter users immediately pointed out that the videos contained no such footage.

Anderson then deleted these tweets, and they were not archived. But an archived Google search shows the cached versions of the tweets:

google sulome anderson video iranian missiles
A Google search showing Sulome Anderson’s deleted tweets with fake video of a supposed Iranian missile attack (screenshot taken on May 9 at 11 pm EST)

Continue reading “Sulome Anderson Admits Her Supposed Hezbollah Source Is ‘Incredibly Unreliable’”

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a producer and reporter for The Real News, and a contributor to the Grayzone Project and FAIR. Ben co-hosts the Moderate Rebels podcast with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

Exclusive Emails Show How The White Helmets Tried To Recruit Roger Waters With Saudi Money

During a Barcelona concert on April 13, Roger Waters denounced the Syrian White Helmets as “a fake organization that exists only to create propaganda for jihadists and terrorists.” Warning that the groups’ unverified claims about chemical weapons attacks across insurgent-held territory were aimed at triggering Western military intervention, Waters cautioned his audience, “If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions for us as human beings.”

In fact, Waters had first hand experience with the powerful pro-war PR operation behind the White Helmets. Back in October 2016, a public relations firm representing the White Helmets called The Syria Campaign attempted to recruit Waters by inviting him to a lavish dinner organized by a Saudi-British billionaire, Hani Farsi. The rock legend and renowned activist was told that by signing on to the organization’s mission, he could help “elevate the voices of Syria’s peaceful heroes”

Just days before his recent concert in Barcelona, Waters was lobbied again to support the White Helmets, this time by an eccentric French photojournalist affiliated with what he described as a “very powerfull [sic] syrian network.” The activist demanded to join Waters on stage and deliver a message for the “children of syria.”

Waters did not respond to either request.

These emailed solicitations from White Helmets representatives and activists were provided by Waters to the Grayzone Project, and are published in full at the bottom of this article. The documents demonstrate how the organization’s well-funded public relations apparatus has targeted celebrities as the key to the hearts and minds of the broader Western public.

Unlike many other A-listers, however, Waters took time to research the White Helmets and investigate its ulterior agenda. 

“I was quite suspicious after I was invited to that [White Helmets] dinner,” Waters told the Grayzone Project. “And now my worst suspicions have been confirmed.”

Continue reading “Exclusive Emails Show How The White Helmets Tried To Recruit Roger Waters With Saudi Money”

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, The Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

On Sky News, challenging the push for US attack on Syria and questioning sources

Max Blumenthal, editor of the Grayzone Project, appeared on Sky News Australia to discuss how corporate media outlets are imploring Donald Trump to launch airstrikes on the Syrian government, after an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, The Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

“Al Qaeda’s MASH Unit”: How the Syrian American Medical Society Is Selling Regime Change and Driving the US to War

Reports on unproven allegations of a chemical attack in Douma, the Syria city formerly occupied by the Army of Islam insurgent group, invariably rely on a key source: The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). Together with the White Helmets, SAMS has been cited by the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and virtually every Western media organization reporting on the incident. In Douma, SAMS staff have claimed that they treated more than 500 people for symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

The group also played a central role in shaping the narrative of a sarin attack in Al Qaeda-controlled Khan Sheikhoun in April, 2017, providing biomedical samples to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which violated its stated protocol by accepting evidence without a verifiable chain of custody. That incident prompted the launching of 57 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base by the American military. Almost exactly a year later, a strikingly similar event is said to have tripped the “red line” again, and is likely to trigger a more robust assault by the US and its allies.

SAMS claims to be a “non-political, non-profit medical organization,” and is cited as a credible authority by media reporting on the incident in Douma. Scant published material is available on the organization’s origins as an exile arm of the Islamist-oriented Syrian opposition, its involvement in sophisticated influence operations from the Turkish-Syrian border, or its close relationship to neoconservative elements in Washington and Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

Continue reading ““Al Qaeda’s MASH Unit”: How the Syrian American Medical Society Is Selling Regime Change and Driving the US to War”

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, The Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

US Ambassador Confirms Billions Spent on Regime Change in Syria, Debunking ‘Obama Did Nothing’ Myth

The US government spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, former ambassador Robert Ford disclosed in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

By Ben Norton

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

This striking figure provides a further glimpse of the exorbitant sums of money the U.S. spent trying to topple the government in Damascus. It also bluntly contradicts claims by Syrian opposition supporters that the former administration of President Barack Obama “did nothing” in Syria, or that it supposedly did not seek regime change fervently enough.

Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford disclosed this information in written testimony prepared for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on February 6.

“The cost of US military operations in Syria between FY 2014 and the end of FY 2017 was between $3 and $4 billion,” Ford said. “In addition to the cost of those military operations, the FY 2017 budget request included $430 [million] to build local security forces and the FY 2018 request was for $500 million.”

Continue reading “US Ambassador Confirms Billions Spent on Regime Change in Syria, Debunking ‘Obama Did Nothing’ Myth”

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a producer and reporter for The Real News, and a contributor to the Grayzone Project and FAIR. Ben co-hosts the Moderate Rebels podcast with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.