BBG Watch Commentary

Call it getting even by the Voice of America.

In a wide-ranging news conference last Thursday, August 4, at the U.S. Department of Defense, President Barack Obama spoke at length about the need to counter ISIL terrorist ideas and its propaganda but once again failed to mention the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) media (total FY 2017 budget: $777 million) as having any role in this U.S. government effort. President Obama talked about “working to counter violent extremism more broadly” and “to knock down their propaganda,” presumably with the help of U.S.-funded news and information programs, but the Voice of America (VOA) English news department did not quote these remarks online.

VOA, which is one of BBG’s taxpayer-funded U.S. media entities serving overseas audiences, reported on some of the themes raised during President Obama’s news conference, but the VOA English news reports last week failed to mention any of the president’s comments on ISIL propaganda and the need to counter it with an effective non-military strategy. Many taxpayers, members of Congress and presumably White House officials believe that reporting news in such a way as to expose propaganda and disinformation should be part of the Voice of America’s mission. Even though this was a major presidential news conference before President Obama’s departure for his summer vacation, VOA News failed to post online a report which would summarize all the major topics raised during the news conference.

In his news conference remarks last week, President Obama did not mention the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Voice of America, and other BBG media entities, such as Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa, which operate as part of BBG’s Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). In a symbolic sense–the BBG’s premier media outlet, the Voice of America through its main English news operation, got even with President Obama for ignoring VOA with the rest of the BBG by ignoring in VOA online news reports his specific comments about countering ISIL’s propaganda.

The fact that President Obama failed to mention the BBG in the context of his remarks on fighting the information war with ISIL is highly disturbing but not surprising. U.S. mainstream media and experts on countering propaganda and disinformation also view the BBG as having become irrelevant in this critical effort affecting U.S. national security, which also includes counter Russian propaganda.

In commenting about the lack of any mention of the BBG in a recent Washington Post article on the successes of the Chinese government in censoring the Internet, a former high-level U.S. government official who wants to remain anonymous, said: “These, apparently, are the days when such a story can be written without a single mention of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), or at least a quote from someone in USIB [United States International Broadcasting].” “We are now less than an afterthought,” a former senior U.S. government official added.

Indeed, such a story as the Washington Post article would not have been written during the Cold War, before the BBG came into existence, without numerous references to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL). If during the Cold War, the president of the United States spoke at length about the need to counter Soviet propaganda and failed to mention either the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, or Radio Liberty, some heads within their bureaucracies would most certainly roll for not doing their job.

Nothing like this has happened this time, at least not yet, even though the head of the anti-ISIL, anti-Putin propaganda countering effort, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, was exposed as flying to Moscow on his regular passport with an apparent intention to do or discuss some kind of private business in Russia, a country known to be ruled by President Putin’s business and ex-KGB/FSB mafia.

To make things worse, BBG officials who should have been focusing all of their energies on countering ISIL and Putin propaganda–BBG CEO John Lansing, deputy director of BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Jeff Trimble, and new RFE/RL president Thomas Kent–were caught assisting BBG chair Jeff Shell in his private business trip to Russia.

Talk about numerous potential or real conflicts of interest that could have resulted from this trip. Under a flawed law, which lawmakers of both parties in Congress have been attempting to change without success for some time, BBG chairman and members are legally permitted to conduct private business in countries such as Russia or China which are ruled by authoritarian regimes and to which the BBG directs its various programs in support of freedom and democracy.

To their surprise, but nobody else’s, Russian officials expelled Jeff Shell but allowed John Lansing, Jeff Trimble and Thomas Kent to enter the country. The White House and the State Department were embarrassed trying to explain Mr. Shell’s reportedly dual, private-U.S. government business trip to Russia. What a fiasco.

No wonder that President Obama did not mention the BBG in his news conference. We can’t, however, think of any excuse as to why the Voice of America, which is now under new director Amanda Bennett, would not mention President Obama’s comments about countering ISIL propaganda or at least try to summarize them in its VOA English news reports on last week’s presidential news conference.

Since VOA News did not do it, we will.

We are posting segments of President Obama news conference in which he talks about ISIL’s “twisted ideology,” “working to counter violent extremism more broadly,” “to discredit ISIL,” “expose ISIL for what they are,” “to knock down their propaganda,” “draining the ideology that is behind these attacks,” “psychology and thinking about how do these messages of hate reach individuals, and are there ways in which we can intervene ahead of time.”

The Voice of America English News failed to report online on any of these comments, many of which pertain directly to VOA’s and BBG’s missions. A few VOA English newsroom reporters had expressed earlier their strong opposition to any efforts by the Voice of America to counter violent extremism, calling such efforts contrary to their journalistic ethics. Many other VOA journalists see nothing wrong in exposing propaganda and disinformation, but even VOA English newsroom reporters who feel otherwise should have reported on President Obama’s comments dealing with U.S. efforts to counter ISIL propaganda.

After the C-SPAN video and segments from the transcript of President Obama’s news conference, we are also reposting the VOA English News reports on the same news conference.





U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Finally, it should be clear by now, and no one knows this better than our military leaders, that even as we need to crush ISIL on the battlefield, their military defeat will not be enough.
So long as their twisted ideology persists and drives people to violence, then groups like ISIL will keep emerging. And the international community will continue to be at risk in getting sucked into the kind of global whack-a-mole, where we’re always reacting to the latest threat or a lone actor.
And that’s why we’re also working to counter violent extremism more broadly, including the social, economic and political factors that help fuel groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda in the first place.
Nothing will do more to discredit ISIL and its phony claims to being a caliphate, then when it loses its base in Raqqa and in Mosul. And we’re going to keep working with partners, including Muslim countries and communities, especially online, to expose ISIL for what they are – murderers who kill innocent people, including Muslim families and children as they break the Ramadan fast, and who set off bombs in Medina near the Prophet’s Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
And we have to understand that as painful and as tragic as these attacks are that we are going to keep on grinding away, preventing them wherever we can, using a whole government effort to knock down their propaganda, to disrupt their networks, to take their key operatives off the battlefield, and that eventually we will – we will win.
But if we start making bad decisions, indiscriminately killing civilians for example in some of these areas, instituting offensive religious tests on who can enter the country, you know, those kinds of strategies can end up backfiring. Because in order for us to ultimately win this fight, we cannot frame this as a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, that plays exactly into the hands of ISIL and the perversions and perverse interpretations of Islam that they’re putting forward.
But it points to the fact that we are going to have to do a better job in draining the ideology that is behind these attacks. That right now is emanating largely out of the Middle East, and a very small fraction of the Muslim world. A perversion of Islam that has taken root, and has been turbo charged over the Internet, and that is appealing to even folks who don’t necessarily know anything about Islam, and aren’t even practicing Islam in any serious way.
But, they have all kinds of psychosis and latch onto this as some way of being important and magnifying themselves. And that’s tougher because that involves both changes in geopolitics in places like Syria. It requires cultural changes in regions like the Middle East and North Africa that are going the generational changes and shifts as the old order collapses. It requires psychology and thinking about how do these messages of hate reach individuals, and are there ways in which we can intervene ahead of time.
All that work is being done. We’ve got got the very best people at it, and each day they are making a difference and saving lives, not just here, but around the world.
It is a challenge precisely because if you’re successful 99 percent of the time, that one percent could still mean heartbreak for families. And, it’s difficult because in a country, let’s say, of 300 million people here in the United States, if 99.9 percent of people are immune from this hateful ideology, but one tenth of one percent are susceptible to it, that’s a lot of dangerous people running around, and we can’t always anticipate them ahead of time because they may not have criminal records.
This is going to be a challenge. I just want to end on the point that I made earlier. How we react to this is as important as the efforts we take to destroy ISIL, prevent these networks from penetrating.
You can’t separate those two things. The reason it’s called terrorism, as opposed to just a standard war, is that these are weak enemies that can’t match us in conventional power. But what they can do is make us scared.
When societies get scared they can react in ways that undermine the fabric of our society. It makes us weaker, and make us more vulnerable, and creates politics that divide us in ways that hurt us over the long-term.
So, if we remain steady, and steadfast, and vigilant, but also take the long view and maintain perspective, and remind ourselves of who we are and what we care about most deeply, and what we cherish, and what is good about this country, and what is good about the international order and civilization that was built in part because of the sacrifices of our men and women after a 20th century full of world war. If we remember that, then we’re going to be OK.
But we’re still going to see episodically these kinds of tragedies, and we are going to have to keep working on it until we make things better.





Obama: National Security Briefings for Trump, Clinton Required by Law | VOA News

[Click on the title to see the original VOA News report. News agency photos, which can be seen in the original VOA post, were omitted in our reposting.]

Ken Schwartz

August 04, 2016 9:15 PM

President Barack Obama said Thursday that his administration was required by law to give national security briefings, including classified information that is not disclosed to the public, to major presidential nominees.

This includes Republican Donald Trump, whom Obama has called unfit to serve as president.

During the past year of political campaigning, Trump has become known as a public speaker who often ignores prepared texts and relies instead on spontaneous remarks that are sometimes seen as unusually frank or critical of other American public figures. That has prompted concern in some quarters about how Trump would treat information gained from national security briefings.

“If they want to be president,” Obama, speaking of party nominees, told reporters at the Pentagon, “they’ve got to start acting like a president, and that means being able to receive these briefings and not spread them around.”

The main reason for the nominees’ briefings, Obama said, is to ensure that a president-elect, whether a Democrat or a Republican, does not step into the job unprepared.

‘Rigged’ election

Trump, meanwhile, has told supporters at campaign rallies that he is concerned the U.S. election in November will be “rigged” against him. Obama dismissed that claim Thursday as “ridiculous.”

In a separate development, a group of U.S. military veterans delivered petitions to Arizona Senator John McCain and other leading Republicans in Washington on Thursday, urging them to withdraw their public endorsements of Trump’s candidacy.

Former Marine Alexander McCoy said he was shocked by Trump’s “reckless ignorance about America’s responsibilities in the world.”

Navy veteran Nate Terani, who is a Muslim, decried what he called the Republican nominee’s “hate speech, bigotry and unabashed incitement to violence against minorities,” including Muslims.

Trump’s seemingly lighthearted acceptance this week of a gift of a Purple Heart medal — awarded to wounded or dead service members — and his public feud with Khizir and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, have dismayed many American military veterans, who have complained they felt insulted and dishonored by the candidate’s remarks.

Endorsement stands

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, has said Trump’s remarks about the Khans do not represent the Republican Party, but he has declined to rescind his endorsement of Trump as the party’s chosen candidate for president.

Campaigning Thursday in Portland, Maine, Trump promised to take care of veterans who still endure long waits for government-provided medical care, and to strengthen what he called a “depleted military.”

Trump said his main opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, could not be trusted with national security matters. He contends she put the country at risk by the way in which she handled classified information in email exchanges when she was secretary of state.

Clinton was in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Thursday, visiting an electrical parts plant. The Democratic candidate noted again that virtually all of the many Trump-branded products on sale in the U.S., such as shirts, ties and other garments, are manufactured abroad, not in the United States.

‘Look at what he’s done’

“Everything he’s made, he’s made somewhere else. He’s not putting Americans to work,” Clinton said. She added that Trump hires foreign workers to fill low-paid jobs at his country clubs and has frequently failed to pay contractors who worked on his projects.

“I’ve met people who were destroyed by Donald Trump,” Clinton said, “so take a look at what he’s done, not what he says.”

On Friday, Trump is due to appear with his vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, in Des Moines, Iowa. Clinton is scheduled to campaign in New York and in McLean, Virginia, just outside the U.S. capital.

Recent surveys of American voters indicated Clinton was leading Trump by an average of 6 percentage points nationally. A poll released this week by Fox News estimated the Democratic candidate was ahead of Trump by an even wider margin, 49 percent to 39 percent; others taking part in the survey either were undecided or planned to vote for other candidates.

VOA’s Michael Bowman, Ken Bredemeier and Jim Malone contributed to this report.


Obama Not Sure if Putin, Russia Can Be Trusted to Help End Syrian War | VOA News

[Click on the title to see the original VOA News report. News agency photos, which can be seen in the original VOA post, were omitted in our reposting.]

Carla Babb

Last updated on: August 04, 2016 9:21 PM

PENTAGON—President Barack Obama on Thursday cast extreme doubt on whether the United States could trust Russia as a partner to end the Syrian civil war.

“I’m not confident that we can trust the Russians and Vladimir Putin, which is why we have to test whether or not we can get an actual cessation of hostilities,” Obama told reporters at the Pentagon after meeting with members of his National Security Council to discuss the fight against Islamic State.

The president said Russia might not be able to help end the violence, “either because they don’t want to, or because they don’t have sufficient influence over [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad.”

“That’s what we’re going to test,” Obama said, “We go into this without any blinders on.”

The Syrian government and its Russian allies are battling rebels for control of an area in and around Aleppo. Fighting has raged for more than two months, and monitors from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report at least 6,000 people have been killed or wounded in the past 80 days.

“We’re very clear,” Obama said, “that Russia has been willing to support a murderous regime and an individual, in Assad, who has destroyed his country just to cling on to power.”

The president said any cessation of hostilities in Syria must include an end to aerial bombings and other methods used to kill civilians that have been carried out by the Syrian regime.

For nearly two years, the U.S. has been supporting local forces in Syria and neighboring Iraq as they work to push Islamic State terrorists out of their countries. The U.S. started launching strikes against IS in Afghanistan in January and began supporting local forces aligned with the government in Libya earlier this week as they fight to push IS out of its stronghold, Sirte.

“The finish line is in sight,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters this week, “and we are helping [the Libyan Government of National Accord] get there.”

US threat?

The president held an hours-long meeting with military leaders at the Pentagon about the fight against Islamic State. He later told reporters there have been gains in weakening IS in Iraq and Syria, but he conceded the extremist group still poses a threat to the United States as it shifts its tactics to recruit members, train them and encourage “lone wolf” attacks.

While those attacks may result in less carnage, Obama said IS knows it still can create “the kinds of fear and concern that elevates their profile.”

Libya air operation

A Pentagon official said the air operation in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, probably will last weeks, rather than months.

The forces aligned with the U.N.-backed GNA have spent several months whittling down IS territory along the coastline of the Gulf of Sidra from Tripoli to near Benghazi. Davis said thanks to GNA-aligned fighters, IS control in Libya has essentially collapsed to the city center of Sirte.

The Pentagon estimates that IS fighter numbers have been reduced from thousands in the city to fewer than 1,000.

After Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011, IS extremists targeted Libya as a safe haven outside its initial strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Carla Babb

Carla BabbCarla is VOA’s Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.


Obama on Iran Payment | VOA News

Published August 04, 2016

President Barack Obama explains why cash was sent to Iran


Obama: $400M Cash Transfer to Tehran Was Neither Secret Nor ‘Ransom’ | VOA News

[Click on the title to see the original VOA News report. News agency photos, which can be seen in the original VOA post, were omitted in our reposting.]
VOA News

Last updated on: August 04, 2016 9:01 PM

U.S. President Barack Obama denied that a payment of $400 million in cash to Iran on the same day as a hostage release was “some nefarious deal,” pointing out that the transfer was announced in January, a day after implementation of the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran.

“It wasn’t a secret,” he said. “We were completely open about it.”

He said the one new piece of information, reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, was that the payment was made in cash, in non-U.S. currencies, delivered in an unmarked plane.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Obama said there was a reason the payment was made in cash.

“The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran, so that we could not send them a check and could not wire the money,” he said.

WATCH: Obama on Why Cash Was Sent

Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. “does not pay ransom,” in response to criticism of the payment on the same day Tehran released four American hostages.

Congressional criticism

U.S. officials said the January payment was partially to settle a decades-old dispute over an aborted arms deal. But critics, especially those who oppose the Iran nuclear deal, have termed it a ransom payment.

Florida senator Marco Rubio tweeted that the deal was “just unreal.”

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said in a statement that “paying ransom only puts more American lives in jeopardy. We already know the Iran nuclear deal was a historic mistake. It keeps getting worse.”

House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise cited Iranian media reports quoting senior defense officials as saying they considered the cash as a ransom payment.

“By paying Iran $1.7 billion in what Iranian officials themselves are calling a ransom, the Obama administration is showing us once again how horrible their nuclear deal is for America’s national security,” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to American taxpayers that their hard-earned dollars are being literally airlifted by the hundreds-of-millions to the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence tweeted Thursday, “The $400,000,000 ransom we gave to Iran that’ll be used to sponsor terrorism could’ve provided 8,000 4yr scholarships to impoverished youths.”

During a visit Thursday to Argentina, Secretary Kerry defended the move.

WATCH: Kerry on Alleged Ransom Payment to Iran

“The United States of America does not pay ransom and does not negotiate ransoms with any country — we never have and we’re not doing that now,” Kerry said. “It is not our policy. That’s number one. Number two: This story is not a new story. This was announced by the president of the United States himself at the very time that this transaction and the nuclear deal was being put together.”

The statement echoed one made earlier by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said that the only people arguing that the cash was a ransom payment are “right wingers in Iran and [U.S.] Republicans who don’t like the [nuclear] deal.”

The U.S. stacked the cash — in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies — on wooden pallets and flew it into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane. It was the first installment on a $1.7 billion settlement stemming from the failed U.S. weapons pact with Iran in 1979 just before its last monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was toppled. The U.S. dispatched the cash in foreign currencies because any transaction with Iran in dollars is illegal under U.S. law.

On the same day, last January 17, Iran released four Americans, including The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian; Marine veteran Amir Hekmati; Christian pastor Saeed Abedin; and a fourth man, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose disappearance had not been publicly known before he was freed.

The cash transfer and the release of the hostages came at the same time as Iran’s deal with the United States and five other world powers restraining Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons, along with the lifting of sanctions that had hobbled Iran’s economy.

VOA Image Obama Iran Hostages Report

President Barack Obama said at the time, “With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” referring to the 37-year-old arms deal that was never carried out. But Obama did not disclose the $400 million payment, a fact revealed by The Wall Street Journal in a Wednesday story.

Iranian media reports have quoted senior defense officials as saying they considered the cash as a ransom payment.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, of complicity in the payment.

“Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!” Trump said on Twitter.

Later in the day, he wondered aloud if the money were being used inappropriately. “You see it, you don’t believe it,” he said. “Four hundred million in cash being flown in an airplane to Iran. I wonder where that money really goes by the way, right? I wonder where it really goes. Well, it went to either in their pockets, which I actually think more so, or toward terrorism — probably a combination of both.”