First published September 3, 2016
The UK’s Guardian newspaper is fond of saying it supports investigative journalism. Its distinguished former editor, Peter Preston, goes round the world lecturing on investigative journalism, exposing himself to the risks involved from the leafy lanes of Surrey’s stockbroker belt.
So when The Guardian publishes an investigative piece it goes to the head of the queue. If The Guardian says it, it must be the product of dedicated research by credible journalists. Conversely, what The Guardian doesn’t say in its articles must be less credible, simply because the Guardian didn’t say it. It must be founded on less rigorous evidence, or be the product of some less-than-honest agenda.
On Wednesday 27th July The Guardian published report entitled “Revealed: the £1bn of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East”. This “revelation” is given extra credibility by coming from three authors: Ivan Angelovski, Miranda Patrucic and Lawrence Marzouk. It claims that East European countries have been approving the sale of large quantities of weapons to countries known to supply Syria, which pass along a new pipeline established for the purpose.
The article cites two sources: the Balkan investigative Reporting Network and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Apparently these organisations have been working on this story for a year, but only now do they have the evidence to make it public in this scoop designed for The Guardian’s traditionally well-off-but-trendy-liberal readership.
If The Guardian really knew anything about these arms sales it wouldn’t say they are only now being “Revealed.” People such as Jeffrey Silverman in Georgia and Henry Kamens in Azerbaijan have been writing about them for the past ten years.
Their reward has been assault, torture and degradation. Silverman is a US Army veteran, but has been rendered stateless by the US authorities for writing about the US government’s involvement in this trade, amongst other things.
Silverman has worked for intelligence and risk management concerns, the International Crisis Group and Safer World, and has conducted a range of due diligence activities for private contractors and European intelligence services. His assignments have involved investigating the links between the Georgian banking and real estate market, high level money laundering, illicit payments for weapons, drug for weapon swaps and the integrity of energy testing laboratories.
He has eked out a living by being willing to investigate various manifestations of organised crime and its nexus to not-so-hidden political agendas, both at national (within Georgia), and international (Syria and the wider region) levels.
He’s demonstrated that many arms shipments to Georgia were never intended for defensive purposes, and that the weapons in the manifests are largely being sold on to terrorists or kept for future use against Iran and in planned regional proxy wars, similar to those we have already seen in Ukraine and Syria.
So if you want to know what’s happening in the arms trade, Silverman would be a good place to start. But his work is not cited by The Guardian article. Is that because it is not relevant to the article – or more relevant than The Guardian wishes to admit?
Why only now?
The Guardian has not “revealed” a story which the independent media have reported on for a decade, and backed up with facts like the fake end user certificates used to import the arms. All that has happened is that it has got the story past its legal department.
That may be an achievement in itself, but is not what the article implies the newspaper has done. This trade was only a secret to most Guardian readers because The Guardian chose not to publish anything about it, not because it was not known.
Similarly, The Guardian has been very selective in what it chooses to report. It says that eight particular countries have been sending weapons to Syria, which by some ill fortune end up in the hands of terrorists. However it does not mention other countries involved, principally Georgia, long demonstrated by Silverman and others to be the CIA dirty tricks capital of Eastern Europe.
Why is this, when there is abundant evidence of the direct personal involvement of figures from the previous Georgian government in this trade, and the continued acquiescence of the present one?
The Guardian article is like most mainstream media “revelations” of things already long reported elsewhere. It is not intended to reveal anything, let alone actually stop this trade occurring. Its agenda is to attack one or more of the countries involved, and make this the focus of any action taken, to enable other guilty parties to get away with it just as before.
Georgia has long been recognised as a transit point for all sorts of illegal trade between Central Asia and Europe. It is in the direct interest of Western law enforcement and intelligence services to understand this conduit so that they can anticipate goods movements which can have a drastic impact on both national communities and foreign civil and military deployments.
Knowledge of the key links within these networks can provide deeply important information regarding the activities of various groups of interest, including terrorist networks and governments of concern.
As Georgia has become an important hub for the supply and support of NATO forces in Afghanistan, some of the things that go on there can be passed off as part of genuine military supply operations, making it all the more important to be able to distinguish the genuine from the criminal. But this isn’t done, not because it is difficult but because it isn’t. The US runs both the legal and illegal arms distribution operations, and the genuine supply lines are primarily there to cover the illegal ones.
Linking sources in Afghanistan with those in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey would enable anyone to build a picture of the ratline which supplies weapons and material support to ISIL, but is intentionally overlooked, time and again, by the mainstream media.
Information on arms shipments and drugs for guns swaps would curtail the flow of weapons and financial support to ISIL and other forces. But governments don’t release this information, the mainstream media don’t release it, so when people suspect it exists stories which point the finger elsewhere have to be concocted to nip potential public concern in the bud.
Documents provided by former Georgian Security Colonel Konstantin Porchkhidze, signed by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are rather revealing. They disclose that the ex -members of the former United National Movement government of Georgia.
These include David Kezerashvili, Gia Baramidze, Irakli Oqruashvili, Vano Merabishvili, Giga Bokeria and Mikheil Saakashvili, have all been actively involved in international arms trafficking on a massive scale, working in close cooperation with a US company, Bell Trading and Consulting. Many of the arms contracts which involved issuing fake end user cetificates were signed by both the Georgian Ministry of Defense and Bell Trading.
But little is ever reported about people like the above-mentioned Kezerashvili, Georgia’s former Minister of Defence and a former resident of Israel who reportedly has close ties to that country’s Shin Beth secret service. Israel has contributed to the arms build-up in the region by selling mobile rocket systems and spy drones to Georgia, which like most such weapons its armed forces never see, and Kezerashvili has also acted as a go-between for weapons coming out of Mexico that were later resold to third countries.
Yet he was given a get out of jail card by the Western authorities when a warrant was issued for his arrest by the Georgian government. This has somehow escaped the attention of mainstream media sources trying to write about the illegal arms trade.
Not feeling the BIRN
Other Eastern European links in the arms smuggling chain are well known to the same Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (birn.eu.com) which is cited as one of the sources of the Guardian article. It is fully aware of the nature of the arms industry in the Balkans and of the companies run by a notorious dealer, Slobodan Tesic.
Tesic is the owner of a host of suspect companies, and these include Melvale, a company known to have provided weapons which were first delivered to Jordan and then sold on paper to Georgia, being sent from there to third countries in violation of export controls. But BIRN isn’t saying all it knows, leaving others to bear the personal and political consequences of doing so.
Who are these others? They include Levan Samkharauli, the former head of the Georgian Forensics Bureau. He was killed in the resort in the town of Kvareli in the Kakheti region, the site of a proposed NATO Command and Control Centre.
The real owners of that resort are tied to the US Embassy, and particularly former US Ambassador John Bass, the same current US Ambassador to Turkey whose actions demonstrate that he had inside knowledge of the failed “coup plot.” The owners of the resort have a major contract providing food to the Georgian Ministry of Defence, but under its terms actually provide logistics for the weapons and drug for weapons swaps made via the port of Poti, which is near the administrative border with the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia.
The same individuals are known to have been involved in weapons trafficking for years. Though these stories were long just rumour, the once widely reported allegations of moderate Syrian rebels meeting with Western and local arms traffickers in Georgia connected the dots when the connections of the traffickers within Georgia were traced.
The Georgian media has published the names of specific individuals who can be shown to be connected with this trade, and there are clear connections between those individuals and people such as Kezerashvili and Temur Alasania, the uncle of former president Saakashvili, who is now continuing these activities in Odessa with the blessing of US intelligence.
Red herring reporting
Unsurprisingly one of the countries mentioned by the Guardian is Serbia, that perennial target of Western attacks and disinformation campaigns. Guardian readers have always been told that that country is full of rabid racist warmongers. So they would be doing such dirty deeds, wouldn’t they?
But bashing Serbs has nothing to do with stopping the flow of illegal arms to terrorists, when the presence of so many countries on the list demonstrates that a bigger power controls this trade, and its demonstrable centre is in a country not included, which is too insignificant to threaten The Guardian’s legal department.
When public figures are exposed as being involved in things like child abuse UK readers are told this exposure is “in the public interest”. They are not told about the other public figures guilty of the same things, who then do them all the more with attention diverted. So what agenda does the Guardian revelation serve?
The previous Georgian government often gets puff stories in that paper when its misdeeds become subject of debate. Sadly it seems that this apparent “revelation” is designed to have the same effect. Georgia is still sending arms to terrorists illegally, even if this is no longer a government-run scheme.
The Georgian links in the chain are more important than those in other countries, so now a lot of people are looking at what is going on they are being sacrificed to provide a smoke screen for the big players.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.