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Aaron Maté

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New leaks shatter OPCW’s attacks on Douma whistleblowers

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For the past year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been roiled by allegations that it manipulated an investigation to falsely accuse the Syrian government of a chemical weapons attack. An OPCW report released in March 2019 lent credence to claims by Islamist militants and Western governments that the Syrian military killed around 40 civilians with toxic gas in the city of Douma in April 2018. The accusation against Damascus led to US-led military strikes on Syrian government sites that same month.

But leaked internal documents published by Wikileaks show that OPCW inspectors who deployed to Douma rejected the official story, and complained that higher-level officials excluded them from the post-mission process, distorted key evidence, and ignored their findings.

After months of virtual silence, the OPCW has responded with an internal inquiry that lambasts two veteran officials who raised internal objections, attacking their credibility and qualifications. The OPCW’s self-described “independent investigation” describes the pair as rogue, low-level actors who played minor roles in the Douma mission and lacked access to crucial evidence. In a briefing to member states, OPCW Director General Fernando Arias dismissed them as disgruntled ex-employees. The two “are not whistle-blowers,” Arias said. “They are individuals who could not accept that their views were not backed by evidence.”
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The Brennan Dossier: All About a Prime Mover of Russiagate

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In the waning days of the Obama administration, the US intelligence community produced a report saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump. The January 2017 report, called an Intelligence Community Assessment, followed months of leaks to the media that had falsely suggested illicit ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while also revealing that such contacts were the subject of a federal investigation.
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New Studies Show Pundits Are Wrong About Russian Social-Media Involvement in US Politics

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The release of two Senate-commissioned reports has sparked a new round of panic about Russia manipulating a vulnerable American public on social media. Headlines warn that Russian trolls have tried to suppress the African-American votepromote Green Party candidate Jill Steinrecruit “assets,” and “sow discord” or “hack the 2016 election” via sex-toy ads and Pokémon Go. “The studies,” writes David Ignatius of The Washington Post, “describe a sophisticated, multilevel Russian effort to use every available tool of our open society to create resentment, mistrust and social disorder,” demonstrating that the Russians, “thanks to the Internet…seem to be perfecting these dark arts.” According to Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times, “it looks increasingly as though” Russian disinformation “changed the direction of American history” in the narrowly decided 2016 election, when “Russian trolling easily could have made the difference.”

The reports, from the University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Research Project and the firm New Knowledge, do provide the most thorough look at Russian social-media activity to date. With an abundance of data, charts, graphs, and tables, coupled with extensive qualitative analysis, the authors scrutinize the output of the Internet Research Agency (IRA) the Russian clickbait firm indicted by special counsel Robert Muellerin February 2018. On every significant metric, it is difficult to square the data with the dramatic conclusions that have been drawn.

• 2016 Election Content: The most glaring data point is how minimally Russian social-media activity pertained to the 2016 campaign. The New Knowledge report acknowledges that evaluating IRA content “purely based on whether it definitively swung the election is too narrow a focus,” as the “explicitly political content was a small percentage.” To be exact, just “11% of the total content” attributed to the IRA and 33 percent of user engagement with it “was related to the election.” The IRA’s posts “were minimally about the candidates,” with “roughly 6% of tweets, 18% of Instagram posts, and 7% of Facebook posts” having “mentioned Trump or Clinton by name.”
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