Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why Russian Plane Downed by NATO's Turkey  (Ben Carson:  Lear's Fool?)  Blowing It After Paris  (Bankster Fraud Outed:  Inside the Money Laundering Scheme That Citi Overlooked for Years)  Tangled Threads of US False Narratives

My hero says "Planet Earth has hit a brick wall (on growth). . . . Japan is back in recession. Abenomics did not work - and they invented QE!"

He's more than a little bit excited.


As for a real world-changing news item.

How about this? (Don't tell anyone but Turkey is also bombing the Kurds.)

On Tuesday, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that was carrying out military operations against jihadi groups in Northern Syria. The downing of the Su-24 fighter jet is part of a broader plan by the administration of Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan to topple the secular government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and to establish “safe zones” on the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border. Erdogan needs the safe zones to provide a sanctuary for the militant extremists who are the foot soldiers in his war against Syria. The downing of the Russian fighter is a desperate attempt by Erdogan to incite a reaction from Russia that will draw either NATO or the United States deeper into a conflict which has dragged on for 4 and a half years and killed 250,000 people.

Or these?

An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness

Who Created This Monster?

After Paris:  Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large

Of course, sometimes . . . there's more than meets the eye.

But don't quote me.

Turkey Has Destroyed Russia’s Hope Of Western Cooperation

Turkey’s unprovoked shoot-down of a Russian military aircraft over Syria raises interesting questions. It seems unlikely that the Turkish government would commit an act of war against a much more powerful neighbor unless Washington had cleared the attack. Turkey’s government is not very competent, but even the incompetent know better than to put themselves into a position of facing Russia alone.

If the attack was cleared with Washington, was Obama bypassed by the neocons who control his government, or is Obama himself complicit? Clearly the neoconservatives are disturbed by the French president’s call for unity with Russia against ISIL and easily could have used their connections to Turkey to stage an event that Washington can use to prevent cooperation with Russia.

Washington’s complicity is certainly indicated, but it is not completely out of the question that the well-placed Turks who are purchasing oil from ISIL took revenge against Russia for destroying their oil tanker investments and profitable business. But if the attack has a private or semi-private origin in connections between gangsters and military, would Turkey’s president have defended the shoot-down on such spurious grounds as “national defense”? No one can believe that one Russian jet is a threat to Turkey’s security.

. . . The responses to the shoot-down are also interesting. From what I heard of Obama’s press conference, Obama’s definition of “moderate Syrian rebels” includes all the extremist jihadish groups, such as al Nursa and ISIL, that are the focus of the Russian attacks. Only Assad is an extremist. Obama, following the neocon line, says that Assad has too much blood on his hands to be allowed to remain president of Syria.

Obama is not specific about the “blood on Assad’s hands,” but we can be. The blood is the blood of ISIL forces fighting the Syrian army. Obama doesn’t refer to the blood on ISIL’s hands, but even the presstitutes have told us the horror stories associated with the blood on ISIL’s hands, with whom Obama has allied us.

And what about the blood on Obama’s hands? Here we are talking about a very large quantity of blood:  the blood of entire countries — Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and the blood that Obama’s puppet government in Kiev has spilled of the ethnic Russian inhabitants of Ukraine, not to forget the Palestinian blood spilled by Israel using US supplied weapons.

If the blood on Assad’s hands disqualifies Assad from office, the much greater quantity on Obama’s hands disqualifies Obama. And Cameron. And Hollande. And Merkel. And Netanyahu.

Throughout the entire Washington orchestrated conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine, the Russian government has spoken reasonably and responded in a diplomatic manner to the many provocations. The Russian government relied on European governments realizing that Europe does not benefit from conflicts generated by Washington and separating themselves from a policy that is against their interests. But Europe proved to be a collection of American vassals, not independent countries capable of independent foreign policies.

In its campaign against ISIL in Syria, the Russian government relied on the agreement made with NATO countries to avoid engaging in the air. Now Turkey has violated this agreement.

I will be surprised if the Russian government any longer places any trust in the words of the West and any hope in diplomacy with the West. By now the Russian government and the Russian people will have learned that the Wolfowitz doctrine means what it says and is in force against Russia.

From the Ukrainian attack on Crimea’s power supply and the blackout that is affecting Crimea, the Russian government has also learned that Washington’s puppet government in Kiev intends further conflict with Russia.

Washington has made it clear from the beginning that Washington’s focus is on overthrowing Assad, not ISIL. Despite the alleged attack on France by ISIL, the US State Department press spokesperson, Admiral John Kirby, said that Russia cannot be a member of the coalition against ISIL until Russia stops propping up Assad.

It's difficult to see the Republican Party Follies as serious as those in "King Lear."

Although, they are in there trying and there is an awe-inspiring fool.

And not just one.

What a country.

“I’ll take my chances with the brain tumor:”  Larry Wilmore devastates Ben Carson’s Geography-gate debacle

Do we really need another President who is geographically dyslexic (can't read a map)?

From the suddenly un-subtle Trevor Noah:

Ben Carson apparently doesn’t know anything about foreign policy. Shocking, I know, for the guy who thinks the pyramids were used as grain silos. He was asked three times for the first person he would have called after the Paris attacks if he’s been in office. He couldn’t answer the question.
Trevor Noah had some fun with that on Wednesday night’s “Daily Show,” saying these issues are really complex and you can’t change the way a person thinks. That’s really left up to a neurosurgeon.

After advisor Duane Clarridge made a few truthful comments outing Carson as lacking the foreign policy chops to debate on his feet, the campaign denied that the adviser was ever actually an adviser. Well, except for that time they used him to help with an op-ed in the "New York Times."

He is a person who has come in on a couple of our sessions to offer his opinions about what was going on,” Carson said in an interview trying to distance himself from the non-adviser adviser.

So, basically that’s like “I don’t think of myself as a surgeon; I’m just a guy people pay to stab their brain until they’re healthy,” Noah joked.

The campaign actually disavowed Clarridge as “an elderly gentleman” a comment Noah felt was “dickish.” That’s a decent characterization when a presidential candidate uses “elderly” as a derogatory term to imply someone doesn’t know anything. Kind of like if we coined the phrase “Carson” to be synonymous with being an ill-informed, featherbrained, ditz on foreign policy matters.

Such as:  “Huckabee just Carsoned his way through that question on ISIS” or “That governor is Carsoning his response on refugees.”

He then played the hilarious clip of Chris Matthews on “Hardball” nearly dying with laughter when Carson openly pondered if a Palestinian territory should be in Israel, or if perhaps they could instead “slip it into Egypt.”

“‘Can’t you just slip it into Egypt?'” Noah asked. “You think the Egyptians won’t just notice him walking in with Palestine?”

Check out the hilarity below:

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Get More:  The Daily Show Full Episodes,The Daily Show on Facebook,The Daily Show Video Archive

I lost my last teaching position after 9/11 after I mentioned the word "blowback" (okay, I wrote it on the board), and made the same boring arguments for cool heads and measured responses that appear below. My problem with how today's events are transpiring is almost exactly the same. The integrity of the reporting on "RT" ("Russia Today") and Thom Hartmann's "FSTV" show " is miles above that on all the other channels and that which occurred during the 9/11 event (which was never believable as reported by the mainstream media beginning the day of or as the government's appointed 9/11 Commission detailed ultimately as the investigated truth). The coordinated strikes on display in Paris demand the same if not a closer analysis and measured response (although this is never what the mob screams for). And somehow, against all historical perspective, the mob always rules.

We Blew It After 9/11. We’re Blowing It Again After Paris

On Sept. 14, 2001, 800 million Europeans in 43 countries observed three minutes of silence for the victims of 9/11. From Europe and around the world came pleas that the U.S. not squander this global goodwill. I recall the words of my brother John, a French-American Medieval scholar and co-author of “Europe and Islam:  Fifteen Centuries of History,” who wrote then from France:  “This massive unity of public opinion and political will provides the United States with a tremendous opportunity and risk:  the chance to capitalize on this good will and the danger of taking action that will splinter the forces that stand with us now.”
Of course, we blew it, instead pursuing a foolhardy war under false pretense and prompting a 14-year ongoing nightmare:  half a million Iraqi civilians dead, by one estimate, a deep and abiding rage against America and its occupation, and a mighty vacuum in the wake of Saddam Hussein that prompted the rise of ISIS and the biggest global refugee crisis since World War II.
Now, the fury has exploded, again:  129 people dead in Paris at the hands of a twisted ideology forged in a cauldron of rage, disenfranchisement, perverse religious interpretation and cool military calculation. And again, the West is faced with a choice:  lash out in vengeance, stigmatize certain immigrants, and seal off the borders, or devise a more measured response in keeping with values that for centuries have led refugees to Western shores.

And returning once again to the financial world that was constructed by connected insiders behind the public's back (and that has never been rectified):

Inside the Money Laundering Scheme That Citi Overlooked for Years

How Citigroup's Banamex USA unit turned a blind eye on the Mexican border.
When Antonio Peña Arguelles opened an account in 2005 at Citigroup’s Banamex USA, the know-your-customer documents said he had a small business breeding cattle and white-tailed deer, ranch-raised for their stately antlers. About $50 a month would come into the account, according to the documents.
A week later, Peña Arguelles wired in $7.09 million from an account in Mexico, allegedly drug money from Los Zetas, a violent cartel founded by former Mexican soldiers, documents in his money-laundering case in Texas say. In all, Peña Arguelles shuttled $59.4 million through the account, according to a confidential report by banking regulators that berated Banamex USA in 2013 for its failure to comply with anti-money-laundering rules.
Banamex USA didn’t file a suspicious activity report about the account, according to regulators, even after Peña Arguelles’s brother Alfonso was killed in late 2011, his body dumped at the Christopher Columbus monument in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, with a banner draped above it accusing Antonio of being a money launderer and stealing from the Zetas. The bank didn’t produce an activity report after U.S. prosecutors asked for the account documents at the end of that year or when Peña Arguelles was indicted in early 2012 for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. And it didn’t file one until May 2013, months after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the California Department of Business Oversight issued a written order in August 2012 demanding the bank check old accounts.
Alfonso Peña Arguelles was murdered in 2011 and his body was dumped at the Christopher Columbus monument in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, under a banner calling his brother Antonio 'a money-laundering murderer living in the U.S.'
Alfonso Peña Arguelles was murdered in 2011 and his body was dumped at the Christopher Columbus monument in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, under a banner calling his brother Antonio 'a money-laundering murderer living in the U.S.'
(Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Image)

So in June 2013, when more than a dozen Citigroup and Banamex USA executives walked into a meeting to discuss progress on satisfying that order, they faced a group of angry state and national regulators. “Management and board supervision of the bank’s affairs has been critically deficient,” the FDIC and the California agency wrote about Banamex USA in the confidential report, reviewed by Bloomberg, which has never been publicly disclosed. “The willingness to accept and maintain a customer relationship identified with major illicit activity is revealing as to the board’s appetite for reputational and money laundering risk.” The report blasted Banamex USA for looking the other way and for failing to fix problems despite budgeting $32 million that year alone to correct them.
Mark Costiglio, a spokesman for Citigroup in New York, said in an e-mail that Banamex USA has made a “comprehensive effort over a number of years” to address regulators’ concerns, including enhancing controls and ending certain customer relationships.
Seven years after the financial crisis laid bare Wall Street’s inability to contain risk, big global banks are still struggling to stamp out bad behavior and profitably manage their international operations. They’ve paid billions of dollars in fines after employees were found to have manipulated interest rate and foreign-exchange benchmarks, helped clients avoid taxes, and funneled money to countries such as Sudan and Iran.
Big banks, including Citigroup, have continued to stumble over compliance with U.S. anti-money-laundering laws. Citigroup has been reprimanded repeatedly during the past two decades for inadequately monitoring groups that use the financial system to turn dirty funds into legal means of exchange. Since HSBC Holdings agreed in 2012 to pay $1.9 billion for Mexican money-laundering lapses and sanctions violations, it and other banks have severed ties to some foreign lenders and money-changers. “This is the kind of situation where, if you’re a top manager at Citi, you have to say, ‘What are we doing here?’” says Jack Blum, a former investigator for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
What the regulators’ account of the Peña Arguelles case and interviews with more than a dozen former Citigroup employees and consultants show is that Banamex USA tolerated a culture of negligence during years of moving money across the U.S.-Mexico border. And they provide a rare look into how Citigroup failed to oversee a small but risky business in one corner of its global operation. Regulators use the words failed and failure more than 60 times in their report to describe how Banamex USA didn’t comply with anti-money-laundering rules before and after being ordered to do so. The lapses are now the subject of a government investigation that could cost Citigroup hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
“You would certainly think, with all the going back and forth, that know-your-customer would have merited a much more aggressive or closer scrutiny of this client,” says Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency who now works as a security consultant for companies doing business in Latin America.
Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat pledged in April to have 30,000 people working in regulatory and compliance functions by the end of 2015, an increase of about 15 percent from a year earlier. Since then, Citigroup has continued to be fined. In May, the bank settled probes into currency rigging, agreeing to pay the U.S. government $925 million, and its Citicorp unit pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros. In July, Citigroup was ordered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to pay $700 million to customers for illegal practices related to the marketing of credit card add-on products.

(Click to enlarge photo.)

Citigroup is still under orders from its two main regulators, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, to fix its anti-money-laundering practices and is the subject of a Justice Department investigation that focuses on money-laundering controls at Banamex USA.
Costiglio, the Citigroup spokesman, declined to comment on specific allegations made in the FDIC report and by former employees. More broadly, he defended the bank’s efforts. “Citi is committed to achieving the strongest possible system for anti-money-laundering and sanctions compliance,” Costiglio said. “We fully understand our obligation to be vigilant and respond to the changing patterns of criminal and terrorist behavior. Over the past several years, we have spent nearly a billion dollars annually and now employ more than 11,000 full-time employees to prevent money laundering.”
Banamex USA, based in Century City, California, was the U.S. arm of Banco Nacional de Mexico, the country’s third-largest bank, known as Banamex, when Citigroup bought the Mexican lender in 2001. The U.S. unit operated as California Commerce Bank for the next five years, offering U.S. dollar credit cards for Mexican customers traveling north, maintaining deposit accounts like the one used by Peña Arguelles, and wiring money to Mexico and elsewhere as part of an agreement with Western Union.
Although California Commerce was formally part of the U.S. banking division, Citigroup started using the Banamex name in 2006 to align it more closely with the Mexican operation. While the unit’s compliance group reported to New York, the banking operations worked closely with Mexico, former employees say.
In 2010, Banamex USA CEO Salvador Villar embarked on an expansion strategy that ultimately attracted regulatory scrutiny. In June of that year, the unit had just two branches, in Century City and Calexico, California. A year later, the number had grown to 17, from California to Texas, many along the Mexican border, according to the FDIC.
The strategy coincided with a push by Manuel Medina-Mora, 65, the CEO of Banamex when it was sold to Citigroup, who had at that point risen to become Citigroup’s head of consumer banking in the Americas. Medina-Mora, who didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment, sent a memo to staff in July 2010 detailing “multi-year investments in people, infrastructure, and marketing” to expand the North American consumer business.
The CEO of Banamex when Citigroup bought it in 2001, Manuel Medina-Mora became head of consumer banking in the Americas and Citigroup’s co-president.
The CEO of Banamex when Citigroup bought it in 2001, Manuel Medina-Mora became head of consumer banking in the Americas and Citigroup’s co-president.
(Photographer: Marco Ugarte/Bloomberg News)
In 2012, the bank opened a branch in Laredo, Texas, in the bustling Mall del Norte, about a mile from the Rio Grande. In April of that year, Sonia de Pau opened an account. She said she was a Mexican housewife who wanted to save money in dollars and pay for personal expenses, according to the 2013 FDIC report. (The FDIC didn’t identify de Pau or Peña Arguelles by name; it called them Customer A and Customer B. But the report provided many details about their cases, including information about de Pau’s ex-husband, who had been indicted in the U.S. for money laundering and bank fraud, and the timing of Peña Arguelles’s indictment, which made it possible to identify them.)
In November 2012, de Pau deposited a $25,000 check. Then, 11 days after that, she deposited four cashier’s checks issued by the International Bank of Commerce in Brownsville, Texas, for a total of $1.44 million. “When someone says they are a housewife, and with that amount of money going through, that should raise questions,” says Peña, the former immigration official.
What Banamex USA failed to note until after de Pau had drained the account, according to the FDIC report, was that she had been arrested in Mexico almost a year before she showed up at Banamex USA. She was alleged to be a financial operator for a former governor of Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, the FDIC report said. He was indicted in Texas in May 2012 for allegedly taking bribes from drug cartels and laundering funds. The bribes came from, or were on behalf of, the same Zetas cartel that Peña Arguelles had worked for, as well as the Gulf Cartel, according to a separate affidavit in the case against de Pau’s ex-husband. De Pau, who is in a witness-protection program in Mexico, couldn’t be reached for comment.
(Click to enlarge figure.)

Citigroup and its subsidiaries have been cited for multiple anti-money- laundering lapses over the past two decades and under five CEOs. Click to enlarge.
Citigroup and its subsidiaries have been cited for multiple anti-money- laundering lapses over the past two decades and under five CEOs.
The bank had been alerted to a problem before de Pau took the money out of the account. On Dec. 3, 2012, Banamex USA contacted Banamex in Mexico and was told that de Pau had an account there and that it was blocked by a judicial order. Banamex USA did nothing until Dec. 20, when it filed a suspicious activity report with the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the FDIC report said. Even that was insufficient, because it didn’t mention that de Pau had already withdrawn most of the money. After the initial report, the bank neglected to conduct a review for continuing suspicious activity, as required by the rules governing the filing, preventing law enforcement from tracing where the funds were eventually deposited, according to the FDIC report.
Before the FDIC issued a formal agreement in August 2012 spelling out what the bank needed to fix, known as a consent order, management displayed only negligible interest or ability to detect or report suspicious transfers, the agency said in its report. Even after the order, the bank was slow to address shortcomings, regulators said. Many of the efforts it did make as of mid-2013 were ineffective.
By the time the FDIC presented its report to bank executives, the Fed had filed its own consent order with Citigroup, citing Banamex USA’s deficiencies. The document, like the FDIC consent order, called for a plan to plug the holes in the screening process and for funding personnel, systems, and other resources. The OCC, the regulator for Citigroup’s U.S. national bank, issued a separate order in 2012 demanding improvements in money-laundering controls.
In January 2015, the Justice Department sent a subpoena to Citigroup’s Mexico unit, following up on a probe into Banamex USA that focuses on fund transfers between the U.S. and Mexico. The information demanded in that subpoena highlights many of the issues raised by the FDIC. 
It took the 2013 Fed order to get senior management at Citigroup to take action on Banamex USA, according to two people who worked at the bank at the time, and New York compliance staff soon descended on the Century City offices.
They weren’t the only ones. A slew of independent consultants arrived, with at least six firms working on various projects. As the workforce swelled from a couple of hundred to 700 or more, the bank ran out of space to house all of the additional people on the floors it occupied near the top of a 44-story skyscraper west of downtown Los Angeles. Some employees were forced to camp out in hallways, according to three people who worked there.
Progress was slow. Consultants operated in silos, and senior compliance officers were discouraged from sharing information within the department, according to one former Citigroup employee who worked on the project. Citigroup compliance and internal audit staff members weren’t able to check easily on correspondence within the unit because Banamex USA’s e-mails were kept on separate servers, two former employees say.
Less than two weeks after the Fed’s 2013 consent order, Citigroup placed Villar on leave, choosing as CEO Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, now 51, then president of Citigroup’s California operations. Villar, who declined to comment, left the bank in September of that year.
Macieira-Kaufmann hired a new Bank Secrecy Act officer in charge of making sure Banamex USA complied with anti-money-laundering rules. She also added employees to oversee transaction monitoring, know-your-customer procedures, and compliance with Office of Foreign Assets Control rules, which prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with certain individuals and firms.
The new team quickly got bogged down in the minutiae of responding to the consent orders, according to two former employees. Executives broke the documents down by paragraph and created lists of items to address each deficiency. When a bunch of those was completed, management would hold an ice cream social or bring a fruit basket into a conference room to celebrate with staff, says one person who attended. By the fall of 2014, the bank had completed only about half of what regulators demanded and didn’t fully comply until June 2015, another person said. Citigroup declined to make Macieira-Kaufmann available for comment.
At its peak, Banamex USA was just one thread in a global bank that carpeted the globe. The unit never had more than $3 billion in assets, compared with Citigroup’s $1.8 trillion. Yet its compliance failures were a bellwether for lapses in risk controls in other parts of the bank, including a $400 million loan fraud and embezzlement scandal in 2014 at Banamex, Citigroup’s largest international subsidiary.
Citigroup’s money-laundering issues, and the regulatory rancor they bring, go back decades. The bank helped Raúl Salinas, the brother of Mexico’s president at the time, move as much as $100 million into Swiss and U.K. accounts in the mid-1990s and disguised the funds’ source, according to a 1998 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, which was followed by Senate hearings the next year. In 2001, a Senate investigations committee said Citigroup allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to flow through an account of a correspondent bank operating in Argentina after U.S. law enforcement officials ordered the seizure of $7.7 million of alleged drug money. Japanese regulators shut down the firm’s private bank in 2004 for failing to conduct money-laundering checks.

Five years later, Citigroup was barred for a month from marketing banking services to individuals in Japan because it didn’t have adequate money-laundering controls. Citigroup spokesman Costiglio said the bank has strengthened its compliance program “across business and geographic lines” and improved controls, technology, and audit operations to support a “zero-tolerance approach.”

Citigroup isn’t the only global bank to be punished for lax controls linked to operations in Mexico. Wells Fargo paid $160 million in 2010 after Wachovia, which it bought in 2008, admitted it had willfully failed to maintain an anti-money-laundering program linked to transactions with Mexican currency-exchange houses. HSBC agreed in 2012 to pay $1.9 billion for similar failures, as well as for sanctions violations. Both banks were found to have allowed Mexican drug cartels to launder money through their institutions.
It may take prison time for senior executives or even bigger fines to get more banks to focus on preventing money laundering, says Jerry Robinette, a former compliance officer at JPMorgan Chase who served as the agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio. “Until you start sending people to jail, the pockets are there to satisfy the penalties,” he says. “It’s not until the ends don’t justify the means that you may start seeing people thinking differently.”
On the same day as the HSBC settlement, Banamex USA officers in Laredo failed to raise an alarm when Sonia de Pau took $1.4 million out of her account. But the biggest miss appears to be Antonio Peña Arguelles and the bank’s lack of action despite publicity around his brother’s 2011 murder, one of 27,213 in Mexico that year, the most homicidal in Mexico’s history, according to the national statistics agency.
“Still a money-laundering murderer living in the U.S., nice and peaceful,” read the banner hung above the body, taunting the dead man’s brother. Before relations with the Zetas soured — Peña Arguelles and his brother allegedly stole $5 million from the cartel, according to an affidavit by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent — he also had allowed the Zetas to use his ranch to move drugs, bypassing a federal checkpoint, and served as the conduit between the cartel head and several Mexican politicians, the affidavit said.
Peña Arguelles, 60, pleaded guilty in federal court in Texas in March 2014 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 30 months in prison, most of that time already served. He agreed to forfeit about $5.5 million in cash and real estate. His lawyer, Gerry Goldstein, declined to make Peña Arguelles available for this story, citing a lawsuit he’s filed trying to get back some forfeited property. Charlie Strauss, the assistant U.S. attorney in San Antonio who led the prosecution, declined to comment on the case or on Banamex USA.
The FDIC fined Banamex USA $140 million in July for violating anti-money-laundering laws. It didn’t provide an estimate of how much money, if any, was actually laundered. Barbara Hagenbaugh, a spokeswoman for the agency, declined to comment on the action or on the 2013 report.
If Peña Arguelles walked into a Banamex USA branch today, he’d find a much different institution. In fact, he’d likely be turned away — not just because of his record. In July, Citigroup said it was shutting Banamex USA’s remaining branches and winding down the business. — With assistance from Ben Bain.

Tangled Threads of US False Narratives

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

20 November 15

Official Washington’s many false narratives about Russia and Syria have gotten so tangled that they have become a danger to the struggle against Sunni jihadist terrorism and conceivably a threat to the future of the planet, a risk that Robert Parry explores.
ne way to view Official Washington is to envision a giant bubble that serves as a hothouse for growing genetically modified “group thinks.” Most inhabitants of the bubble praise these creations as glorious and beyond reproach, but a few dissenters note how strange and dangerous these products are. Those critics, however, are then banished from the bubble, leaving behind an evermore concentrated consensus.
This process could be almost comical – as the many armchair warriors repeat What Everyone Knows to Be True as self-justifying proof that more and more wars and confrontations are needed – but the United States is the most powerful nation on earth and its fallacious “group thinks” are spreading a widening arc of chaos and death around the globe.
We even have presidential candidates, especially among the Republicans but including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, competing to out-bellicose each other, treating an invasion of Syria as the least one can do and some even bragging about how they might like to shoot down a few Russian warplanes.
Though President Barack Obama has dragged his heels regarding some of the more extreme proposals, he still falls in line with the “group think,” continuing to insist on “regime change” in Syria (President Bashar al-Assad “must go”), permitting the supply of sophisticated weapons to Sunni jihadists (including TOW anti-tank missiles to Ahrar ash-Sham, a jihadist group founded by Al Qaeda veterans and fighting alongside Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front), and allowing his staff to personally insult Russian President Vladimir Putin (having White House spokesman Josh Earnest in September demean Putin’s posture for sitting with his legs apart during a Kremlin meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu).
Not surprisingly, I guess, Earnest’s prissy disapproval of what is commonly called “man spread” didn’t extend to Netanyahu who adopted the same open-leg posture in the meeting with Putin on Sept. 21 and again in last week’s meeting with Obama, who – it should be noted – sat with his legs primly crossed.
This combination of tough talk, crude insults and reckless support of Al Qaeda-connected jihadis (“our guys”) apparently has become de rigueur in Official Washington, which remains dominated by the foreign policy ideology of neoconservatives, who established the goal of “regime change” in Iraq, Syria and Iran as early as 1996 and haven’t changed course since. [See’s “How Neocons Destabilized Europe.”]
Shaping Narratives
Despite the catastrophic Iraq War – based on neocon-driven falsehoods about WMD and the complicit unthinking “group think” – the neocons retained their influence largely through an alliance with “liberal interventionists” and their combined domination of major Washington think tanks, from the American Enterprise Institute to the Brookings Institution, and the mainstream U.S. news media, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.
This power base has allowed the neocons to continue shaping Official Washington’s narratives regardless of what the actual facts are. For instance, a Post editorial on Thursday repeated the claim that Assad’s “atrocities” included use of chemical weapons, an apparent reference to the now largely discredited claim that Assad’s forces were responsible for a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
After the attack, there was a rush to judgment by the U.S. State Department blaming Assad’s troops and leading Secretary of State John Kerry to threaten retaliatory strikes against the Syrian military. But U.S. intelligence analysts refused to sign on to the hasty conclusions, contributing to President Obama’s last-minute decision to hold off on a bombing campaign and to accept Putin’s help in negotiating Assad’s surrender of all Syrian chemical weapons (though Assad still denied a role in the sarin attack).
Subsequently, much of the slapdash case for bombing Syria fell apart. As more evidence became available, it increasingly appeared that the sarin attack was a provocation by Sunni jihadists, possibly aided by Turkish intelligence, to trick the United States into destroying Assad’s military and thus clearing the way for a Sunni jihadist victory.
We now know that the likely beneficiaries of such a U.S. attack would have been Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the spinoff known as the Islamic State (also called ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). But the Obama administration never formally retracted its spurious sarin claims, thus allowing irresponsible media outlets, such as The Washington Post, to continue citing the outdated “group think.”
The same Post editorial denounced Assad for using “barrel bombs” against the Sunni rebels who are seeking to overthrow his secular government, which is viewed as the protector of Syria’s minorities – including Christians, Alawites and Shiites – who could face genocide if the Sunni extremists prevail.
Though this “barrel bomb” theme has become a favorite talking point of both the neocons and liberal “human rights” groups, it’s never been clear how these homemade explosive devices shoved out of helicopters are any more inhumane than the massive volumes of “shock and awe” ordnance, including 500-pound bombs, deployed by the U.S. military across the Middle East, killing not only targeted fighters but innocent civilians.
Nevertheless, the refrain “barrel bombs” is accepted across Official Washington as a worthy argument for launching devastating airstrikes against Syrian government targets, even if such attacks clear the way for Al Qaeda’s allies and offshoots gaining control of Damascus and unleashing even a worse humanitarian cataclysm. [See’s “Obama’s Ludicrous ‘Barrel Bomb’ Theme.”]
False-Narrative Knots
But it is now almost impossible for Official Washington to disentangle itself from all the false narratives that the neocons and the liberal hawks have spun in support of their various “regime change” strategies. Plus, there are few people left inside the bubble who even recognize how false these narratives are.
So, the American people are left with the mainstream U.S. news media endlessly repeating storylines that are either completely false or highly exaggerated. For instance, we hear again and again that the Russians intervened in the Syrian conflict promising to strike only ISIS but then broke their word by attacking Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and “our guys” in Sunni jihadist forces armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the CIA.
Though you hear this narrative everywhere in Official Washington, no one ever actually quotes Putin or another senior Russian official promising to strike only at ISIS. In all the quotes that I’ve seen, the Russians refer to attacking “terrorists,” including but not limited to ISIS.
Unless Official Washington no longer regards Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization – a trial balloon that some neocons have floated – then the Putin-lied narrative makes no sense, even though every Important Person Knows It to Be True, including Obama’s neocon-leaning Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
The U.S. political and media big shots also mock the current Russian-Iranian proposal for first stabilizing Syria and then letting the Syrian people decide their own leadership through internationally observed democratic elections.
Okay, you might say, what’s wrong with letting the Syrian people go to the polls and pick their own leaders? But that just shows that you’re a Russian-Iranian “apologist” who doesn’t belong inside the bubble. The Right Answer is that “Assad Must Go!” whatever the Syrian people might think.
Or, as the snarky neocon editors of The Washington Post wrote on Thursday, “Mr. Putin duly dispatched his foreign minister to talks in Vienna last weekend on a Syrian political settlement. But Moscow and Tehran continue to push for terms that would leave Mr. Assad in power for 18 months or longer, while — in theory — a new constitution is drafted and elections organized. Even a U.S. proposal that Mr. Assad be excluded from the eventual elections was rejected, according to Iranian officials.”
In other words, the U.S. government doesn’t want the Syrian people to decide whether Assad should be kicked out, an odd and contradictory stance since President Obama keeps insisting that the vast majority of Syrians hate Assad. If that’s indeed the case, why not let free-and-fair elections prove the point? Or is Obama so enthralled by the neocon insistence of “regime change” for governments on Israel’s “hit list” that he doesn’t want to take the chance of the Syrian voters getting in the way?
Reality Tied Down
But truth and reality have become in Official Washington something like Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians. There are so many strands of lies and distortions that it’s impossible for sanity to rise up.
Another major factor in America’s crisis of false narratives relates to the demonizing of Russia and Putin, a process that dates back in earnest to 2013 when Putin helped Obama sidetrack the neocon dream of bombing Syria and then Putin compounded his offense by assisting Obama in getting Iran to constrain its nuclear program, which derailed another neocon dream to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.
It became ominously clear to the neocons that this collaboration between the two presidents might even lead to joint pressure on Israel to finally reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, a possibility that struck too close to the heart of neocon thinking which, for the past two decades, has favored using “regime change” in nearby countries to isolate and starve Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian groups, giving Israel a free hand to do whatever it wished.
So, this Obama-Putin relationship had to be blown up and the point of detonation was Ukraine on Russia’s border. Official Washington’s false narratives around the Ukraine crisis are now also central to neocon/liberal-hawk efforts to prevent meaningful coordination between Obama and Putin in countering ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq.
Inside Official Washington’s bubble, the crisis in Ukraine is routinely described as a simple case of Russian “aggression” against Ukraine, including an “invasion” of Crimea.
If you relied on The New York Times or The Washington Post or the major networks that repeat what the big newspapers say, you wouldn’t know there was a U.S.-backed coup in February 2014 that overthrew the elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, even after he agreed to a European compromise in which he surrendered many powers and accepted early elections.
Instead of letting that agreement go forward, right-wing ultra-nationalists, including neo-Nazis operating inside the Maidan protests, overran government buildings in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, causing Yanukovych and other leaders to flee for their lives.
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials, such as neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, had collaborated in the coup plans and celebrated the victory by Nuland’s handpicked leaders, including the post-coup Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whom she referred to in an earlier intercepted phone call as “Yats is the guy.”
Nor would you know that the people of Crimea had voted overwhelmingly for President Yanukovych and – after the coup – voted overwhelmingly to get out of the failed Ukrainian state and reunify with Russia.
The major U.S. news media twists that reality into a Russian “invasion” of Crimea even though it was the strangest “invasion” ever because there were no photos of Russian troops landing on the beaches or parachuting from the skies. What the Post and the Times routinely ignored was that Russian troops were already stationed inside Crimea as part of a basing agreement for the Russian fleet at Sevastopol. They didn’t need to “invade.”
And Crimea’s referendum showing 96 percent approval for reunification with Russia – though hastily arranged – was not the “sham” that the U.S. mainstream media claimed. Indeed, the outcome has been reinforced by various polls conducted by Western agencies since then.
The MH-17 Case
The demonization of Putin reached new heights after the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people onboard. Although substantial evidence and logic point to elements of the Ukrainian military as responsible, Official Washington’s rush to judgment blamed ethnic Russian rebels for firing the missile and Putin for supposedly giving them a powerful Buk anti-aircraft missile system.
That twisted narrative often relied on restating the irrelevant point that the Buks are “Russian-made,” which was used to implicate Moscow but was meaningless since the Ukrainian military also possessed Buk missiles. The real question was who fired the missiles, not where they were made.
But the editors of the Post, the Times and the rest of the mainstream media think you are very stupid, so they keep emphasizing that the Buks are “Russian-made.” The more salient point is that U.S. intelligence with all its satellite and other capabilities was unable – both before and after the shoot-down – to find evidence that the Russians had given Buks to the rebels.
Since the Buk missiles are 16-feet-long and hauled around by slow-moving trucks, it is hard to believe that U.S. intelligence would not have spotted them given the intense surveillance then in effect over eastern Ukraine.
A more likely scenario of the MH-17 shoot-down was that Ukraine moved several of its Buk batteries to the frontlines, possibly fearing a Russian airstrike, and the operators were on edge after a Ukrainian warplane was shot down along the border on July 16, 2014, by an air-to-air missile presumably fired by a Russian plane.
But – after rushing out a white paper five days after the tragedy pointing the finger at Moscow – the U.S. government has refused to provide any evidence or intelligence that might help pinpoint who fired the missile that brought down MH-17.
Despite this remarkable failure by the U.S. government to cooperate with the investigation, the mainstream U.S. media has found nothing suspicious about this dog not barking and continues to cite the MH-17 case as another reason to despise Putin.
How upside-down this “Everything Is Putin’s Fault” can be was displayed in a New York Times “news analysis” by Steven Erlanger and Peter Baker on Thursday when all the “fundamental disagreements” between Obama and Putin were blamed on Putin.
“Dividing them are the Russian annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s efforts to demonize Washington and undermine confidence in NATO’s commitment to collective defense, and the Kremlin’s support of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria,” Erlanger and Baker wrote.
Helping ISIS
This tangle of false narratives is now tripping up the prospects of a U.S.-French-Russian-Iranian alliance to take on the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other Sunni jihadist forces seeking to overthrow Syria’s secular government.
The neocon Washington Post, in particular, has been venomous about this potential collaboration which – while possibly the best chance to finally resolve the horrific Syrian conflict – would torpedo the neocons’ long-held vision of imposed “regime change” in Syria.
In editorials, the Post’s neocon editors also have displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the 224 Russian tourists and crew killed in what appears to have been a terrorist bombing of a chartered plane over the Sinai in Egypt.
On Nov. 7, instead of expressing solidarity, the Post’s editors ridiculed Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for not rushing to a judgment that it was an act of terrorism, instead insisting on first analyzing the evidence. The Post also mocked the two leaders for failing to vanquish the terrorists.
Or as the "Post"’s editors put it:  “While Mr. Putin suspended Russian flights on [Nov. 6], his spokesman was still insisting there was no reason to conclude that there had been an act of terrorism. … While Western governments worried about protecting their citizens, the Sissi and Putin regimes were focused on defending themselves. …
“Both rulers have sold themselves as warriors courageously taking on the Islamic State and its affiliates; both are using that fight as a pretext to accomplish other ends, such as repressing peaceful domestic opponents and distracting attention from declining living standards. On the actual battlefield, both are failing.”
Given the outpouring of sympathy that the United States received after the 9/11 attacks and the condolences that flooded France over the past week, it is hard to imagine a more graceless reaction to a major terrorist attack against innocent Russians.
As for the Russian hesitancy to jump to conclusions earlier this month, that may have been partially wishful thinking but it surely is not an evil trait to await solid evidence before reaching a verdict. Even the Post’s editors admitted that U.S. officials noted that as of Nov. 7 there was “no conclusive evidence that the plane was bombed.”
But the Post couldn’t wait to link the terrorist attack to “Mr. Putin’s Syrian adventure” and hoped that it would inflict on Putin “a potentially grievous political wound.” The Post’s editors also piled on with the gratuitous claim that Russian officials “still deny the overwhelming evidence that a Russian anti-aircraft missile downed a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine last year.” (There it is again, the attempt to dupe Post readers with a reference to “a Russian anti-aircraft missile.”)
The Post seemed to take particular joy in the role of U.S. weapons killing Syrian and Iranian soldiers. On Thursday, the Post wrote, “Syrian and Iranian troops have lost scores of Russian-supplied tanks and armored vehicles to the rebels’ U.S.-made TOW missiles. Having failed to recapture significant territory, the Russian mission appears doomed to quagmire or even defeat in the absence of a diplomatic bailout.”
Upping the Ante
The neocons’ determination to demonize Putin has upped the ante, turning their Mideast obsession with “regime change” into a scheme for destabilizing Russia and forcing “regime change” in Moscow, setting the stage for a potential nuclear showdown that could end all life on the planet.
To listen to the rhetoric from most Republican candidates and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, it is not hard to envision how all the tough talk could take on a life of its own and lead to catastrophe. [See, for instance, Philip Giraldi’s review of the “war with Russia” rhetoric free-flowing on the campaign trail and around Official Washington.]
At this point, it may seem fruitless – even naïve – to suggest ways to pierce the various “group thinks” and the bubble that sustains them. But a counter-argument to the fake narratives is possible if some candidate seized on the principle of an informed electorate as vital to democracy.
An argument for empowering citizens with facts is one that transcends traditional partisan and ideological boundaries. Whether on the right, on the left or in the center, Americans don’t want to be treated like cattle being herded by propaganda or “strategic communication” or whatever the latest euphemism is for deception and manipulation.
So, a candidate could do the right thing and the smart thing by demanding the release of as much U.S. intelligence information to cut this Gordian knot of false narratives as possible. For instance, it is way past time to declassify the 28 pages from the congressional 9/11 report addressing alleged Saudi support for the hijackers. There also are surely more recent intelligence estimates on the funding of Al Qaeda’s affiliates and spin-offs, including ISIS.
If this information embarrasses some “allies” – such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – so be it. If this history makes some past or present U.S. president look bad, so be it. American elections are diminished, if not made meaningless, when there is no informed electorate.
A presidential candidate also could press President Obama to disclose what U.S. intelligence knows about other key turning points in the establishment of false narratives, such as what did CIA analysts conclude about the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack and what do they know about the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of MH-17.
The pattern of the U.S. government exploiting emotional moments to gain an edge in an “info-war” against some “enemy” and then going silent as more evidence comes in has become a direct threat to American democracy and – in regards to nuclear-armed Russia – possibly the planet.
Legitimate secrets, such as sources and methods, can be protected without becoming an all-purpose cloak to cover up whatever facts don’t fit with the desired propaganda narrative that is then used to whip the public into some mindless war frenzy.
However, at this point in the presidential campaign, no candidate is making transparency an issue. Yet, after the deceptions of the Iraq War – and with the prospects of another war based on misleading or selective information in Syria and potentially a nuclear showdown with Russia – it seems to me that the American people would respond positively to someone treating them with the respect deserving of citizens in a democratic Republic.

(Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.)

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