Breaking! U.S army generals disregard Obama's direct order to help the rebels and help Assad!

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN:
The United Nations Security Council’s passage of a peace plan for Syria
has been called perhaps the best chance yet to end the country’s civil
war. The measure, approved Friday, calls for a ceasefire, talks between
the government and opposition, and a roughly two-year timeline to form a
unity government and hold elections. Secretary of State John Kerry
outlined the terms.

Under the resolution approved today, the purpose of those negotiations
between the responsible opposition and the government is to facilitate a
transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian
governance within six months. The process would lead to the drafting of a
new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised
election within 18 months.

The resolution is silent on the fate of Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad. The U.S. has insisted on excluding Assad from a political
transition, pointing to the mass killings of his own people throughout
the more than four-year war. But Russia and China have staunchly backed
Assad. The world powers’ impasse has fueled U.N. inaction amidst a death
toll of more than 250,000 and the world’s worst refugee crisis.
Although the U.S. remains opposed to Assad, his omission from the
Security Council resolution signals a softening stance and a potential
diplomatic turning point. The Obama administration has quietly backed
off its public insistence that Assad must go, claiming it’s no longer
seeking regime change in Syria.
Now an explosive new
says U.S. military leadership in the Joint Chiefs of Staff has held
that view all along and has taken secret steps to move U.S. policy in
that direction. According to award-winning veteran investigative
journalist Seymour Hersh, the Joint of Chiefs of Staff has tacitly aided
the Assad regime to help it defeat radical jihadists. Hersh reports the
Joint Chiefs sent intelligence via Russia, Germany and Israel, on the
understanding it would be transmitted to help Assad push back Jabhat
al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Hersh also claims the military even
undermined a U.S. effort to arm Syrian rebels in a bid to prove to Assad
it was serious about helping him fight their common enemies. At the
Joint Chiefs’ behest, a CIA weapons shipment
to the Syrian opposition was allegedly downgraded to include obsolete
weapons. Hersh says the Joint Chiefs’ maneuvering was rooted in several
concerns, including the U.S. arming of unvetted Syrian rebels with
jihadist ties, a belief the administration was overly focused on
confronting Assad’s ally in Moscow, and anger the White House was
unwilling to confront Turkey and Saudi Arabia over their support of
extremist groups in Syria.
Hersh’s report in the London Review of Books follows his controversial
in May challenging the Obama administration’s account of the killing of
Osama bin Laden. Like that story, his latest piece relies heavily on a
single source, described as a "former senior adviser to the Joint
Chiefs." And while critics have dismissed both stories as conspiracy
theories, it turns out that key aspects of the bin Laden report have
since been corroborated. After the bin Laden story came out, U.S. and
Pakistani intelligence sources confirmed Hersh’s reporting that the U.S.
discovered bin Laden’s location when a Pakistani officer told the CIA, and that the Pakistani government knew all along where bin Laden was hiding.
For more, we’re joined by Seymour Hersh. He won the Pulitzer Prize
for exposing the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when U.S. forces
killed hundreds of civilians. In 2004, Sy Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib
prisoner abuse scandal. His latest in the London Review of Books
is headlined "Military to Military: US Intelligence Sharing in the
Syrian War." Hersh is working on a study of Dick Cheney’s vice
We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Sy Hersh. Why don’t you lay out this very controversial report that you have just published in the London Review of Books. What did you find?

Well, it began, actually, as I wrote, with a very serious, extensive
assessment of our policy, that was completed by June—let’s say by middle
of 2013, two-and-a-half years ago. It was a study done by the Joint
Chiefs and the Defense Intelligence Agency that came to three sort of
conclusions, that may seem obvious now but were pretty interesting then.
One is that they said Assad must stay, at least through—through the
resolution of the war, because, as we saw in Libya, once you get rid of a
leader, like Gaddafi—same, you can argue, in Iraq with the demise of
Saddam Hussein—chaos ensues. The second—so that was an issue, that
there—the point being, elections at some point, certainly, but for the
short term, while we’re still fighting, he has to stay. And that wasn’t
the American position then. And, I would argue with you, I still think
the American position is very muddled, although they have seemed to
soften it.
Secondly, the other point they made is that their investigation
showed this notion of a moderate force just was a fiction, was just a
fantasy, that most of the Free Syrian Army, by the summer, by mid-2013,
were in some sort of an understanding with al-Nusra, or, as you put it, ISIL,
the Islamic State. There was a lot of back-and-forth going—arms going
into the Free Syrian Army and other moderates were being peddled, sold,
or transferred to the more extremist groups.
And the third major finding was about Turkey. It said we simply have
to deal with the problem. The Turkish government, led by Erdogan,
was—had opened—basically, his borders were open, arms were flying. I had
written about that earlier for the London Review, the rat
line. There were arms flying since 2012, covertly, with the CIA’s
support and the support of the American government. Arms were coming
from Tripoli and other places in Benghazi, in Libya, going into Turkey
and then being moved across the line. And another interesting point is
that a lot of Chinese dissidents, the Uyghurs, the Muslim Chinese that
are being pretty much hounded by the Chinese, were also—another rat line
existed. They were coming from China into Kazakhstan, into Turkey and
into Syria. So, this was a serious finding.
It was not the first time some of these points had been raised. And
there was simply no echo. Once you pass this stuff on to the White House
or into the other agencies—the Defense Department does this routinely.
These are very highly secret. This study was composed of overhead
satellite intelligence, human intelligence, etc., very compartmentalized
stuff. But it did go to the State Department and to a lot of offices in
the White House and National Security Council. No response, no change
in policy.
So, at this point, as I wrote, the Joint Chiefs, then headed by an
Army general named Dempsey, Martin Dempsey, who has since retired,
decided that they had—that there was a chance to do something about it
without directly contravening the policy. And that was simply that we
were aware that Germany, the German intelligence service, the German
General Staff, had been involved pretty closely with Bashar in terms of
funneling intelligence. Russia—and it’s— a lot of people will find this
surprising, but the United States military, the military has had a very
solid relationship with the leadership of the Russian military since the
fall of the Soviet Union in '91. And General Dempsey, in particular,
had a one-on-one relationship with the general who now runs the military
for the Soviet Union. And so, we knew the Russians and the Israelis
were also involved in some back-channel conversation with Syria, with
the idea being Israel, sort of very on the margin on this, understood
that if Bashar went, what comes next would not be healthy for Israel.
They share a border with Syria, and you don't want Islamic State or
al-Nusra or any of those groups to be that close to the Israelis. It
would be a national security threat for them.
So there was a lot of people, a lot of other services communicating,
and so what the Joint Chiefs did is they began to pass along some of
this very good strategic intelligence and technical intelligence we
have—where the bad guys are, you can put it; what they might be
thinking; what information we had. That was passed not directly to
Assad, but it was passed to the Germans, to the Russians, through the
Israelis, etc. The exact process is, of course, way beyond my ken, but
there was no question that was a transmission point. The point being
that there was no direct contact, but the information certainly got to
him, and it certainly had an impact on Saddam’s—the Syrian army’s
ability to improve its position by the end of the year, 2013.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Period. That’s the story. Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the source that you used for this story and the criticism of your single-source method.

Oh, my god. Well, you know, as you know, it’s usually anonymous sources
you get criticized for. That’s always been traditionally, although any
day in The New York Times and Washington Post, they’re
full of anonymous sources. That’s an easy way out. I wish I could tell
you that I haven’t been relying on this particular person for since
9/11, but I have been. And many of the stories I wrote for The New Yorker
about what was going on inside Iran, what was going—there was no bombs
inside Iraq, part of those early stories I was writing, all came from
one particularly well-informed person, who, as—you know, who, for a lot
of reasons, I can’t make public. One is them is this government would
prosecute him.
So the idea that there’s one source, that’s—I’ve done that—I worked for The New York Times,
as you know, for eight or nine years, all during Watergate and the
Vietnam War years, and won many, many prizes based on stories based on
one source. I don’t know what the public think goes on, but, you know,
if you get a very good source who over many years has been totally
reliable, I’m not troubled by it at all. And neither—you know, the London Review,
as many in America know, is a very, very seriously edited magazine, who
did the same amount of very intense fact checking as happened when I
worked at The New Yorker, which is famous for its fact checking, and the editing was certainly as competent and as good as you get in The New Yorker.
I’m very happy working for them. And so, it’s not as if I’m not put to
the same question that you’re putting, that critics may put, by the
editors of the magazine. And they get—they have direct contact. They
know who the person is. They have discussions with him, and with me not
present. All of these standards are met.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me share with you some of the criticism of your piece—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, oh, spare me.

AMY GOODMAN: —like Max Fisher’s writing in Vox—but
let me share it with our audience, as well—who, you know, talks about
your relying entirely on one unnamed source for your principal
allegation that U.S. defense officials bypassed the Obama administration
and shared intelligence with allies, who subsequently shared it with
the Assad regime. Fisher goes on to conclude,,
"We are required to believe that the senior-most leaders of our
military one day in 2013 decided to completely transform how they behave
and transgress every norm they have in a mass act of treason, despite
never having done so before, and then promptly went back to normal this
September when Dempsey retired." Can you respond to that?
Well, there’s—it’s so many instances where the military disagree with a
president. We’ve seen this in World War II, MacArthur. I mean, the idea
that the Joint Chiefs of Staff—let me just say, in general, when you’re
at that level, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, you make an oath of office not to the president of the
United States, but to the Constitution. And there’s been many times the
military objects. There were times just in the last couple of years, in
congressional testimony, that General Dempsey has made it clear he
disagrees with the policy.
Specifically about some of the matters that were raised in that
article—and I did look at it, of course—is that, for example, Dempsey
agreed in testimony that we should arm the moderates—the opposition,
rather. And, in fact, what he agreed to—this is with the head of the CIA,
Leon Panetta, at the time—when this discussion came up of arming
dissident groups, opposition groups inside Syria, Panetta and the
chairman both made a point of saying "vetted groups." They said only
those groups we really know are reliable, and not wackos and not
jihadist groups that want to exclude anybody except those who share
their particular beliefs in the future state, if they were to take it
over. So there’s a lot of—there’s a lot of contradictory evidence about
it. And there are—there certainly can be more sophisticated arguments to
make than this has never happened before. This is certainly unusual
that, in a time like this, the military would give information to
allies, our allies, at their request, that differ from the official
policy. Sure, that’s a very complicated thing, and it was a tough thing
to do, but it happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there direct communication between the United States and Syria?

SEYMOUR HERSH: I’m going to stand by what I wrote in the article.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was?

I wrote in the article that there was no direct contact, that the whole
purpose was to use the cutouts, that there was no attempt to directly
engage with Bashar al-Assad or his regime.
AMY GOODMAN: And what—

SEYMOUR HERSH: But there—yes?

AMY GOODMAN: What did the U.S. get in return?

Well, there was an understanding, obviously, conveyed by our allies.
And the understanding was that we were going to give this stuff, and if
Bashar would, among other things, agree to an election, a monitored
election, once the war was over, and presumably he had
re-established—you know, Bashar—there’s a lot of talk about the success
of the Islamic groups, but Bashar right now, although he doesn’t control
100 percent—much less, 60—I’m not sure of the number, but it was more
than 50 percent, less than—the opposition groups controlled large
swaths, 30 percent, 40 percent. But he does control as much as—I’ve seen
estimates of 86 percent of the population. And the notion that
everybody in Syria despises him, etc., all these things you hear, that’s
not true. He has a lot of native support, and even from Muslims,
because every Muslim in Syria is not a Wahhabi or a Salafist, an
extremist. Many are very moderate people who believe they would be in
trouble if the Islamic force, the Islamic groups, came into power,
because they would go and seek out those fellow Muslims that don’t agree
with their extreme views. So he does have an awful lot of support, more
than most people think. This is not to say he’s a good guy or bad guy.
We’re just talking about reality.
And don’t forget, we are a country that, in World War II, a year
after the Russians had done—were in a pact with Hitler, we joined with
the Russians against Hitler. So, you know, you sometimes overlook—one of
the points also made by—in this article is this incredible hostility
towards Russia and these allegations, time and time again, that Russia
is not really serious about going after the Islamic State. And
there—even just in the debate over at the U.N., a statistic suggesting
that 80 percent of the Russian attacks have nothing to do with ISIS, but they’re attacking the ISIS opposition, the moderates. And you just have to say to yourself, "Well, why then did ISIS bomb, as we all believe and the Russians believe, destroy a Russian airliner? Why was ISIS
upset with Russia, if Russia was basically bombing their enemy, the
moderates?" It doesn’t—it just—the logic in some of the American
thinking and the thinking around the world on this, it doesn’t make much
sense to me.
We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Sy Hersh is
our guest, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His latest is in the London Review of Books; it’s headlined "Military to Military: US Intelligence Sharing in the Syrian War." This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

That’s Pete Seeger singing "If I Had a Hammer." And in our next
segment, we’ll be talking about the U.S. government spying on Pete
Seeger for close to 30 years. New documents have been released by the
government, over 1,700 of them.