White Helmets The Future of Funding State Sponsored Terrorism via a Propaganda Construct
VANESSA BEELEY: During my time working in East Aleppo, it was clear that the councils were working hand in hand with [Al] Nusra Front. Their centers in each district were always next door to Nusra Front headquarters and White Helmet centres, i.e., they always formed an integrated complex.
JOHN PILGER: In Syria they know how to intervene, they know how to manipulate the media. We had the “White Helmets,” a complete propaganda construct in Syria. They end up getting an Academy Award. They know how to intervene in public discourse every day, and in politics every day.
SALMA HAYEK: And the Oscar goes to…okay…The White Helmets![Applause]
NPR REPORTER: Hi, I’m wondering…um, I thought the White Helmets we’re gonna be here, or the leader and the cinematographer who shot a lot of this film. What happened?ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL: Well, Raed Saleh, who’s the leader of the White Helmets, he couldn’t come in the end because the last couple of days in Syria the violence has really escalated and he does life-saving work[…]. Our cinematographer, I mean, you know we’re confused about this, too. The last two weeks have been very difficult. He had a US visa, he tried to board a plane, and he wasn’t able to come, so we—you know, we’re very sad about that.
MATT LEE: You commend this group, you’re going to continue to support them, and yet you revoked the visa of their leader? I don’t…that makes zero sense to me.[…]MARK TONER: So, a couple responses. One is, unfortunately, we can’t speak to individual visa cases. I think, broadly speaking, though, on any visa case we are constantly looking at new information, so-called “continually vetting” travel or records, and if we do have new information that we believe an individual–let me finish–would pose a security risk, we’ll certainly act on that.[…]LEE: I’m saying that it just strikes me as a bit odd that you’re saying that this group is wonderful and does such a great job and you’re commending them for their heroism, and yet you’re doing this just 10 days after the leader of this group, who was supposed to be, you know…got his visa revoked or wasn’t allowed to travel here.[…]TONER: Well, he’s one individual in the group, and any individual—again, I’m broadening my language here for specific reasons—but any individual in any group suspected of ties or relations with extremist groups, or that we have believed to be a security threat to the United States, we would act accordingly. But that does not by extension mean we condemn or would cut off ties to the group for which that individual works for.
MARCIA BIGGS: This is the call to work for the brave members of the Syrian Civil Defence, an ad hoc, grassroots, first-response unit within rebel-held Syria. Nicknamed “The White Helmets,” they rush toward the scene of a bombing to save victims, many of whom are trapped under rubble. Once tailors, bakers, pharmacists, these 3,000 ordinary Syrian men, and some women, now unwitting heroes.
LAURA LING: So who are these heroic volunteers? The White Helmets is the unofficial name for the Syrian Civil Defence, a rescue organization made up entirely of volunteers who operate in opposition-controlled Syria. According to their own data the group have rescued more than 58,000 people including Omran Daqneesh, who painfully reminded the world of the horrors unfolding in Syria every day.The task of these modern-day war heroes is extremely dangerous. To date around 130 White Helmet volunteers have been killed in the country’s relentless civil war. One of the group’s most notable losses happen in August when an airstrike killed the White Helmet volunteer who miraculously rescued a baby who had been trapped under rubble for 16 hours.SOURCE: Who Are Syria’s White Helmets?
LARA SETRAKIAN: Raed Saleh and Farouq al-Habib are joining us today from in and around Syria. They represent the Civil Defence Forces, what the Syria Campaign has come to introduce as “The White Helmets.” We often heard over the past three and a half years of covering the conflict, “Who are the good guys in Syria? It’s such a mess.” They are the good guys.
JAMES LE MESURIER: In early 2013 I had a meeting with nine local leaders that had come out from northern Aleppo, and they painted this picture of the frequency and the intensity of the bombing that was taking place. And I was delivering programs on behalf of the US and UK governments, and we were able to offer them some good governance training, some democratizing training, and a handful of sat phones.Several days later I was very fortunate to meet the head of Turkey’s earthquake response group, a group of people called “AKUT.” And the conversation that we had was along the lines of: If they can rescue people from a building that has been flattened as a result of an earthquake, how possible is it to rescue people from a building that’s been collapsed as a result of a bomb? And this led to a series of design labs. We brought a number of people out of Syria who brought building samples, and we sat down over several days merging the expertise of the Syrians that had come out from the ground (who knew the regime tactics) with my organization that understood operating in war zones and the expertise of this organization, AKUT, who rescue people after earthquakes.
REPORTER: Do you know who finances them, how they operate, who are they supported by, what kind of organization they have? How do you get your information?TONER: Well, I can say we provide them…Well, I can tell you that we provide through USAID about 23 million dollars in assistance to them.BORIS JOHNSON: But they are fantastically brave, these White Helmets, and I am proud to say we are giving them £32 million in funding as part of a wider £65 million package for non-humanitarian aid.VANESSA BEELEY: Now I would like to come back to the funding of the White Helmets in a little more detail. My colleague here covered it in general, but I would like to focus on the UK Foreign Office and the use of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to support and finance the Syrian opposition and the White Helmets. The UK regime is a primary player in the US coalition and in its operations inside Syria. Following a recent parliamentary question from Baroness Caroline Cox it has been confirmed that the UK Foreign Office has financed the Syrian opposition almost 200 million pounds over three years through this conflict fund. However, the British government has so far refused to release the names of the recipients.During my time in East Aleppo in 2016/17 and with Syrian journalists Khaled Iskef, while searching the local council offices we found untranslated documents in Arabic that referred to two UK organizations: Adam Smith International and Integrity Global. Both organizations are funded by the UK Foreign Office via this conflict fund to offer assistance to the Syrian opposition, and this has been achieved via a variety of outreach agents, one of whom is the Tamkeen Project, which claims to build resilience in Syrian communities and which establishes funds and supports the local councils in terrorist-held areas such as East Aleppo and Idlib. Tamkeen was responsible for the financing and maintenance of the East Aleppo councils, according to Britta Haji Hassan, self-professed mayor of Aleppo, in an interview with The Guardian. The program provided East Aleppo City Council with eight hundred and twenty thousand pounds in May 2016.During my time working in East Aleppo, it was clear that the councils were working hand in hand with [Al] Nusra Front. Their centers in each district were always next door to Nusra Front headquarters and White Helmet centres—i.e., they always formed an integrated complex.
BEELEY: And the majority of the evidence against the White Helmets comes from the White Helmets themselves, from their own videos, their own videos of them participating in the executions of both civilians and Syrian Arab Army prisoners of war—for which crimes they are sacked, by the way. You know, none of their sponsors at that point are held accountable for their crimes against the Syrian people and against the Syrian army that is defending the Syrian people and that comes from the Syrian people.
BARTLETT: So Raed Saleh, who is the White Helmets leader, isn’t allowed in the US. He was denied entry to the US for his questionable ties to extremists, and that’s actually from the State Department’s Mark Toner. And then the White Helmets leader in Idlib, Muawiya Hassan Agha, he was somebody that is a “rogue element” and he was apparently involved in an execution or he was there at an execution of two prisoners of war in Aleppo, and he was supposedly fired from the Helmets, but then he later reappeared with the White Helmets. So he’s a leader, you know. And so these are not “rogue agents.” There’s a number of people that have compiled photos showing over 60 White Helmets members’ social media posts, with them either with black flags, Al Qaeda flags, ISIS flags, holding weapons, or them even in White Helmets uniforms holding weapons, and them in uniforms at Al Qaeda cheering rallies with black flags flying all over the place. So these are clearly not “rogue.”
BARTLETT: In early October I received an email—I don’t think I noticed it right away. But anyway, when I did, essentially it was an email from this Olivia Solon—who contributes to The Guardian and is based in San Francisco, California—saying that she’d love to interview me for a story she was doing “imminently.” And, as I said, I didn’t see the email right away, so she sent another email within the next day or so again asking some questions about my stance on the White Helmets—if I believe they were actors. I can pull up the exact email, and I think you’ve seen a rebuttal I did on Global Research, which actually includes screenshots of our conversation.Anyway, though, the questions she posed to me indicated that she didn’t have an honest intent in investigating the White Helmets. And in fact, given that she contributes to The Guardian—albeit from California, not from Syria—but The Guardian itself has consistently spewed war propaganda on Syria, just that factor alone would make one pause and think, “What’s the objective of this article?”But then the questions: “Have I received any gifts from Assad or from Syria and Russia or North Korea?” She noticed with interest that I had been to North Korea recently. “How is it possible to go to Syria and North Korea given that they’re both so darn controlled?” You know, and when I get those kind of claims, I refer back to a blog post I very quickly typed out last year or so: “Those Who Transmit Syrian Voices Are Russian Propagandists?” Anyway, this is a segue, but the whole point being anybody can apply for a visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut. You do have to wait a while. I’ve had to wait over a month on many occasions, and you pay a fee and then you go to Syria. You arrange your transportation. And in fact, had I been reporting for The Guardian, I would assume that all my expenses and all that would have been taken care of by that corporate institution.Anyway, so her questions were very leading. She had a predetermined “story”as she called it, and I wonder if her use of the word “story” was to kind of take away from the fact that she wasn’t actually gonna insert any truth and it was just a story. And so basically after seeing her questions I just replied to her something like “I’m not interested in participating in your article, your pre-determined script.” You know, my colleague Vanessa Beeley received a similar email around the same time with similar questions, some slightly catered to Vanessa’s own background, and she did reply more in-depth.
BEELEY: Olivia Solon contacted myself and Eva Bartlett pretty much at the same time and she sent a list, from memory, of about 20 questions, all of which were basically asking myself and Eva to defend our position and the evidence that we’d collated over, you know, a couple of years. For me, certainly, three years, or now four years, investigating the White Helmets organization, both remotely and inside Syria on the ground.And so it was it was very much an attempt to put us in a position of having to defend ourselves. And I think both of us quite rightly took the position that, “Look, we’re not here to defend ourselves. You should be defending the evidence against this organization instead of providing a blanket promotional report on this organization,” which is what The Guardian has specifically done, of course, since the creation of this organization. In 2016 it lobbied, effectively, for the White Helmets to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and when it was inundated with negative comments it simply closed comments.So, you know, The Guardian, which itself is embedded in the corporate neo-colonialist structure in the UK—I mean, it’s owned by Scott Trust Limited, it gets most of its ad revenue from HSBC. That is, not only the Swiss banking part of HSBC that has been basically prosecuted for fraud, but also has been found guilty of fraud against consumers in the UK. So, you know, this is already a sort of an interesting background to The Guardian and hardly surprising, then, of course, that they’re supporting the sort of “humanitarian war” concept that is always the driver behind, particularly, UK Foreign Office policy in the region.So when Solon approached us with these questions, we both went back and basically said we have no interest in defending ourselves, and then, of course, she went out to fundamentally all of those entities, organizations, and individuals who support, fund, finance and do the PR for the White Helmets, such as The Syria Campaign, which incidentally two days later produced a 46-page report in which again I’m described as “The Queen of Disinformation.” And even in that 46 pages, they do not address one element of the evidence against the White Helmets.
JOHN PILGER: In Syria they know how to intervene, they know how to manipulate the media. We had the “White Helmets,” a complete propaganda construct in Syria. They end up getting an Academy Award. They know how to intervene in in public discourse every day, and in politics every day.
BEELEY: But I think what is interesting, why is this organization being protected to such an extent? I think it’s because the imperialist apparatus is defending the concept. We’ve already seen [White Helmets founder] James Le Mesurier recruiting in Brazil. We know that the White Helmets have appeared in Malaysia and in Venezuela, and in the Philippines. So you know, because this went through my head so many times, these are only 3,000 criminals and thugs that have emerged from the terrorist ranks or the Free Syrian Army “moderate extremist” ranks to become the White Helmets in order to continue to get paid doing the same job but under a different auspice.Why are they being so heavily protected? But I think it’s more to do with the concept. It’s more to do with the importance of this concept going forward. As James Le Mesurier said very recently, who would you trust more than the fire brigade or a first response NGO? There you have it. That’s the key to why this group is so important.
BARLTETT: So I wasn’t really aware of Olivia Solon prior to her having contacted me, so I wasn’t following her on Twitter. However, after the article came out, I found that first her Twitter account was closed to comments, and then it was opened, but people like myself were blocked from commenting. And she was seemingly outraged at one point that we went ahead and made our own statements and rebuttals without having the courtesy of sending her an email, even though we were the subject of her smear piece. And the other thing is that The Guardian comments section is closed except on social media. I don’t look at The Guardian that much except when I want to prove how they’re lying, so I’m not aware if that’s been their policy for a while [or] if that’s a new thing. I do notice that at the bottom of many of their articles there’s a plea for donations for honest investigative journalism, and I say, “Yes! Definitely support honest investigative journalism! But you won’t find it on The Guardian.”