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Syrian Rebels Caught in "False-Flag" Kidnapping

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Reprinted from Consortium News


Richard Engel, NBC's chief foreign correspondent.
(Image by NBC Screen Grab)
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In December 2012, Syria's U.S.-backed "moderate" rebels pulled off a false-flag kidnapping and "rescue" of NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew, getting the crime blamed on a militia tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a propaganda scam that NBC played along with despite having evidence of the truth.

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On Wednesday, Engel, who had blamed an Assad-linked Shiite militia in reports both for NBC and Vanity Fair, acknowledged that a new examination of the case persuaded him that "the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia." He added that the kidnappers "put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen."

According to an account published by the New York Times on Thursday -- in its "Business Day" section -- NBC executives had evidence from the beginning that the actual kidnappers were part of "a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad."

The Free Syrian Army has been the principal rebel force supported by the U.S. government which, in April 2013, several months after Engel's high-profile ordeal, earmarked $123 million in aid to the group to carry out its war against Assad's government.

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The other significance of the Syrian rebels' successful false-flag kidnapping/rescue of Engel is that it may have encouraged them to sponsor other events that would be blamed on the Syrian government and excite the U.S. government and media to intervene militarily against Assad.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus killed several hundred people, causing U.S. officials, journalists and human rights activists to immediately leap to the conclusion that Assad was responsible and that he had crossed President Barack Obama's "red line" against the use of chemical weapons and thus deserved U.S. military retaliation.

Within days, this political-media hysteria brought the United States to the verge of a sustained bombing campaign against the Syrian military before contrary evidence began emerging suggesting that extremist elements of the Syrian rebel force may have deployed the Sarin as a false-flag event. Obama pulled back at the last moment, infuriating America's influential neoconservatives who had long put "regime change" in Syria near the top of their to-do list.

In retrospect, the aborted U.S. bombing campaign, if carried out, might well have so devastated the Syrian military that the gates of Damascus would have fallen open to the two most powerful rebel armies, Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the hyper-brutal Islamic State, meaning that the black flag of Islamic terrorism might have been raised over one of the Mideast's most important capitals.

Dangers of Bad Journalism

The revelations about Engel's staged kidnapping/rescue also illuminate the dangers of biased mainstream U.S. journalism in which the big news organizations take sides in a conflict overseas and shed even the pretense of professional objectivity.

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In the case of Syria, the major U.S. media put on blinders for many months to pretend that Assad was opposed by "moderate" rebels until it became impossible to deny that the dominant rebel forces were Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Islamic State. In late September 2013, many of the U.S.-backed, supposedly "moderate" rebels realigned themselves with Al-Qaeda's affiliate.

In the case of Ukraine, U.S. journalists have put on their blinders again so as not to notice that the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev has relied on neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists to wage an "anti-terrorist operation" against ethnic Russians in the east who have resisted the overthrow of their elected President Viktor Yanukovych. When it comes to Ukraine, the more than 5,000 deaths -- mostly ethnic Russians in the east -- are all blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine."]

These biased storylines -- with the "U.S. side" wearing white hats and the other side wearing black hats -- are not only bad journalism but invite atrocities because the "U.S. side" knows that the U.S. mainstream media with reflexively blame any horrors on the black-hatted "bad guys."

In the case of Engel's staged kidnapping/rescue, the New York Times belatedly reexamined the case not in the context of a disinformation campaign designed to excite war against Syria's Assad but as a follow-up to disclosures that NBC's longtime anchor Brian Williams had exaggerated the danger he was in while covering the Iraq War in 2003 -- explaining the story's placement in the business section where such media articles often go.

The most serious journalistic offense by NBC in this case appeared to be that it was aware of the behind-the-scenes reality -- that individuals associated with the U.S.-backed rebels were likely responsible -- but still let Engel go on the air to point the finger of blame in Assad's direction.

The Times reported that...

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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