Assad, Putin and…Iceland???

The Panama Papers “leak” is blatantly a propaganda op, with ties to soft imperialism’s usual suspects — Open Society, USAID, the Ford Foundation etc — and leading off with the most crude attacks on Putin and Assad. It’s so blatant I found myself wondering if it were intentional but couldn’t imagine why. Is it to further normalize the credulous boobery of the knowing knowers who honed their belligerent stupidity on Snowwald? Whatever the case, it’s certainly fitting, and not at all surprising, that Snowden, the Way-Better-Than-Manning avatar of scare quote dissidence, was among the very first Twitter accounts to tweet out a link to The Biggest Most Important Leak ever, just after it went live.

These spectacles are useful in two ways: you get an idea of what’s bugging a certain segment of the ruling class, and you identify the biggest tools and operatives in media by the avidity with which they promote the show. An example of the latter is The Guardian which has, for the umpteenth time, made itself a complete laughingstock, with ham-fisted gems like this “video explainer” on how Putin allegedly offshored a billion dollars.

But if this is an op, why Iceland?  A few commenters have dismissed the attack on Iceland as cover for the obvious targets — the U.S. State Department’s official bogeymen and Panama, the “problem child” impeding “global tax transparency plans.” But considering how much traction the Iceland scandal got in the media and how much Snowden and his ilk have been boosting it, this seems extremely unlikely. Certainly Iceland has been proportionally the country most affected by the leaks, with its Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigning today in the wake of a large protest rally calling for his ouster.

Corruption scandals are a tried and true method by which empire stokes instability and fosters regime change, but what had Iceland done that warrants a hit job? Well, one can only speculate, but my money is on the increasingly cozy relationship its current government has been cultivating with China.

Global warming has made Iceland extremely important strategically, by opening up new polar shipping routes that greatly reduce travel time, and providing access to previously unreachable resources, including huge reserves of oil and natural gas.  By way of a trade agreement it signed with Iceland’s current leadership in 2013, China got its foot in the door for increasing its presence and influence in the region. This coincides with the diminishing influence of the United States in Iceland, where the last of its military aircraft were withdrawn in 2006.

All of this is spelled out in this 2013 New York Times Op-Ed by Einar Benediktsson, a former Iceland ambassador to the United States, NATO and the European Union, and Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Russia and the United Nations.  The column conjures a China aggressively pushing its tentacles into the region and, with a great deal of urgency, calls on the United States to “take the changing situation more fully into account.” UPDATE: In February of this year, the US resumed the use of its Cold War air base in Keflavik, with the stated purpose of patrolling Russian submarines in the North Atlantic.

One certain outcome of the current scandal will be greatly increased political power for Iceland’s Pirate Party, which, in the four years since its founding, has become the most popular political party in the country. It only got three members into Iceland’s Parliament in 2013, but since mid-2015 it has consistently outpolled all other parties for the parliamentary election in 2017. In the wake of the Panama Papers, protestors are calling for early elections, which would give the Pirate Party a huge advantage in light of its high poll numbers and heady new car smell.

Assuming the U.S. is attempting to further its interests in Iceland, what does it get from an ascendant, nominally radical, political party with ties to Wikileaks that denounces the NSA and advocates for Snowden? Well, for starters, the Pirate Party was the only party to oppose the agreement with China, ostensibly out of human rights concerns. The Party’s rising star, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the three party members in Parliament, bemoans China’s human rights trangressions a lot and seems in helpful alignment with U.S. foreign policy generally.

Jónsdóttir, who refers to herself as a “poetician,” called for no fly zones in Libya and Syria during campaigns for intervention in those countries. The present government, however, opposed military intervention in Libya, and when Obama fingered Syria for chemical weapons, and Jónsdóttir reflexively called for a no fly zone, Iceland’s foreign minister said he needed more evidence for Obama’s claims before he would support intervention.

In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Jónsdóttir and her party zealously joined the reactionary Je Suis Charlie campaign, and successfully sought repeal of Iceland’s 75-year-old anti-blasphemy law, so that the crucial speech act of anti-Islam provocation would be legal.

Pirate Parties vary widely, but clearly Iceland’s is one more expression of a “post-ideological” radicalism focused on democratic process, privacy, free speech, transparency, and “internet freedom”, that dispenses with even gestures toward that relic, socialism, or any other form of anti-capitalism. Of course, there is nothing post-ideological about any of this. It simply finds the common ground between leftists and reactionaries and leaves out the rest. This is undoubtedly why there is “a rabid and growing right-libertarian wing within [the Pirate Party’s] ranks” according to Vidar Thorsteinsson, an activist from Iceland, writing in Jacobin.

For Empire, what’s not to like about this radical party and its “anarchist” leadership? Very little, it seems, unless political asylum for Snowden is a dealbreaker, which I strongly doubt.

UPDATE 2

A number of people felt the impetus for the engineered ouster of Iceland’s prime minister was the hard line Iceland had taken against the bankers responsible for that country’s financial crisis. I discounted that initially, simply because The Pirate Party that is about to dominate Iceland’s politics is not likely to be any softer on the bankers than the current government.

However, I may have to reconsider that, because only days after Gunnlaugsson resigned, three of the bankers Iceland sentenced to prison were released after serving only one year of their five year sentences. The story is that newly enacted legislation about prison sentencing made this release possible, suggesting that the best way to speed up improvement in the penal system is to throw rich people in jail.

I still think empire’s enemies and the BRICS countries are mostly what this targeted anti-corruption campaign is about, but it’s unlikely those are the only things. Certainly the good example Iceland set with the banks is not something empire wants to see repeated anywhere else.

UPDATE (link to this update)

…and David Cameron???

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40 Responses to Assad, Putin and…Iceland???

  1. Albert Meyer says:

    It seems obvious to me what is going on. Iceland threw banksters in prison; the only country that did so. At one point they were threatened with being placed on a “terrorism” list because of this. I’ve been waiting to see how they will be punished for daring to stand up to the banksters.

  2. Right, you are. Another beautiful piece, in step. Nice find!

  3. So Far Right... says:

    If this was an operation against the IPP, it seems pretty risky. The files would have to have been closely vetted to make sure no important Western leaders got tangled up in the disclosure. We’ve already seen David Cameron get tangentially smeared through his father’s actions.

    • So Far Right... says:

      Of course, that assumes that a full accounting of all those involved will be published, or that we’ll have access to the source files. I think ICIJ has stated the won’t release the source documents.

      Reminds me of the UBS tax evasion scandal. Nearly every criminal in that affair got away with paying their back taxes and a fine, with no public disclosure. I’d love for an IRS whistle blower to drop a list of those names.

    • no soy yo says:

      According to the Guardian, “While much of the leaked material will remain private, there are compelling reasons for publishing some of the data. The documents reveal a huge breadth of unseen activity.”

      They are making no secret of the fact that they will only publish a fraction of the material.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah. All the organizations involved with these leaks have said that. It’s basically a disclosure of cherry-picking.

        However, I really doubt that it matters. It’s remarkable that people like Craig Murray, who is deeply skeptical of the media’s filtering of the leaks, takes it as given that the leaks themselves were proffered in good faith by a person or group who wants to shed light on an important issue. But if you look at how and where MF does business, the likelihood of exposing a US bigwigs is very slim. Panama is a haven mostly for Asians, Europeans and South Americans. Mossack Fonseca has eight offices in China, more than in any other country. The filtering clearly began with choosing the company to take documents from and they probably cleaned up the trove itself to prevent any possible cock-up.

        If the whole trove were released it’s not likely to matter much. The trove has been cleaned and Americans hide their money elsewhere. Higher risk is for European pals I believe.

  4. BRUCE TYLER WICK says:

    I recall Iceland, as the site of the Gorbachev-Reagan summit(s) dismantling the Cold War. And before that, or about the same time, a good fit for Bobby Fischer, as a place of exile and asylum.

  5. roastyagain says:

    I think Iceland is almost ‘useful opposition’ to Empire in a way. Or ‘controlled opposition’ might be better. Especially vis a vis the Pirate Party.. I don’t know much about pirate parties in other countries, but the one in Iceland has always seemed to be a perfect foil for the U.S… It’s libertarian in a way that tickles Silicon Valley billionaires who present themselves as some sort of dissident force in the recent and ongoing farce that is Silicon Valley vs THE MAN; it ticks certain ‘anarchist’ boxes, as you mention, though notably only the ones that are either benign or useful to Empire (‘anti-authoritarinsm’ in the vein of Occupy’s class-dismissing 99% trope, conflating opposition to someone like Assad with leftism because DICTATOR OMG, etc – in fact they fit well within the criticisms of ‘anarchist’ positioning that Kevin Dooley does so well in this post: https://kevindooleyirl.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/the-limits-of-chomskys-anti-imperialism/). As opposition goes, they’re perfect – all bark, no bite, with zero semblance of actual radicalism.

    All of that being said, I am a bit skeptical of Iceland being the *reason* for the Panama leak – I’m more inclined to say that the leaks were immediately useful in Iceland and therefore used that way. I don’t know what their primary purpose was, but it’s been interesting watching who’s been shaken out of it. So far I’ve seen attacks on Assad, Putin, and China; I’ve seen Bernie Sanders getting boosted at the expense of Clinton; then there’s the randoms: David Cameron, Poroshenko, Sharif in Pakistan – it’s a really weird mix (hell even FIFA made it back in the news for this). My point is that this seems a far more muddled group then I would expect (Putin AND Poroshenko, for example). I don’t doubt that this is an opp necessarily, but to me it seems more like something you’d see from an Intel agency or similar that wanted to flex nuts and make a point than it does a straight up imperial smear opp.

    At any rate, I’m a firm believer that just like you can follow the money, you can follow the cheerleading – and the cheerleaders in this all seem to be everyone I hate.

    Interesting stuff (sorry for the rambling nature of this comment, I’ve been trying to write it, but distracted, for almost 45 minutes lol)

    • roastyagain says:

      Addendum: just noticed a comment from @cordeliers on Twitter suggesting the leaks are aimed at BRICS countries, maybe that’s it.

    • Tarzie says:

      I like your description of the Pirate Party. I looked at their platform and saw Silicon Valley’s fingerprints all over it.

      I am a bit skeptical of Iceland being the *reason* for the Panama leak – I’m more inclined to say that the leaks were immediately useful in Iceland and therefore used that way.

      I never said Iceland was *the* reason. I discounted the idea it was cover for the *real* reason, presumed to be attacks on more obvious targets like Putin. This is a big trove, providing numerous opportunities to destabilize with the press of a send button. They’re already moving onto Zuma, in South Africa, another country with strong economic ties to China.

      As for the messiness, such as the apparent contradiction in Putin/Poroshenko, we all know that destabilization is an end in itself. That doesn’t preclude outright attempts at regime change. Considering all the journalists involved and the complexity of the operation, particularly message control, intel nut-flexing seems unlikely as a primary motive.

      • roastyagain says:

        Oh yeah didn’t mean to suggest that you said Iceland was the reason, more was thinking out loud with that. Cordeliers comment about BRICS ties in well with your suspicion about China ties, and the Zuma thing seems to be the clincher… China, Russia, and countries with ties to both.

  6. roastyagain says:

    “Considering all the journalists involved and the complexity of the operation, particularly message control, intel nut-flexing seems unlikely as a primary motive.”

    Yeah, more I dig into this the more I retract that. I think it’s the BRICS thing- look at the fact that Iceland has been open to setting up alternatives to the SWIFT monetary transaction system (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/11/reinventing-banking-from-russia-to-iceland-to-ecuador/), which has been a keystone of the BRICS nations.

    • Tarzie says:

      wow. good find. I can’t wrap my head around the nuances of currency. I envy people who can.

      • roastyagain says:

        Well I generally can’t either, and I could be grossly misreading that, but it seems to me to jive with some of what I remember coming out of Iceland, at least rhetorically, right after 2008.

      • Tarzie says:

        No I think you’re onto something. That certainly fuels the fire. My focus on access to sea routes and oil is probably too narrow. Iceland has been all kinda bad when Empire wasn’t looking. That they’re among the least bellicose members of NATO doesn’t help them either. Clearly the Pirate Party can help with that too.

  7. raved says:

    Reblogged this on Situations Vacant and commented:
    Panama leaks seem aimed at BRICS or rather the growing intensity of the rivalry between the two big imperialist blocs – USA vs China.

  8. reallysmall fish says:

    Another reason to target Iceland was their approach to the financial crisis (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/06/iceland-financial-recovery-banking-collapse). They screwed the wrong people (i.e. the banks).

  9. walterglass4 says:

    Thanks for writing this, helps answer the biggest question I had (about Iceland).

    Not sure if this has already made the rounds or not, but the first 30 seconds of this video from the ICIJ on “Victims of Offshore” really gives the whole game away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6XnH_OnpO0

  10. AmishRakeFight says:

    I think your take is dead on, Tarzie. I just saw this today, which fits in with your conclusion perfectly.
    http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/06/panama-papers-reveal-offshore-secrets-china-red-nobility-big-business

  11. Johnny says:

    With all.due respect, this doesn’t change the fact that Putin is caught screwing the country over, or at least people close to him.

    • Tarzie says:

      Who said it did?

      With all due respect, Putin screwing the country over doesn’t change the fact that this “leak” is extremely ham-fisted propaganda. Obviously.

  12. Chauncey Gardiner says:

    “By way of a trade agreement it signed with Iceland’s current leadership in 2013, China got its foot in the door for increasing its presence and influence in the region.”

    Very unlikely if impossible. While still geopolitical reasons are behind that “why” but probably for different reasons. The US is back to Iceland, to once an important the Cold Ware base Keflawik, with its military after of ten years of absence.
    http://www.stripes.com/news/navy-aircraft-returning-to-former-cold-war-base-in-iceland-1.393156
    for “hunting Russian submarines.”

    Not sure what this has implication on internal political arena of Iceland but most likely it means realignment toward more “friendly” foreign policy, towards the US interest, stance of that Pirate party. By the way, the same thing is Germany where various “left” parties Die Linke, Green, are very imperialistic and aggressive in its foreign policy.

    • Tarzie says:

      I regret I can only guess at what you think you’re proving here. Am I supposed to take “hunting Russian submarines” at face value? Am I supposed to conclude – stupidly – that the return of US defense is game over? Otherwise it seems the sudden return makes my point stronger. Are you also saying this return obviates taking out additional insurance via a coup and a public demonstration of who’s boss?

      I can’t imagine why Pirate Party’s friendly foreign policy counts for more than their singular hostility to an Iceland/China friendship, or that they’re separate things, especially given the extent to which the emphasis on these leaks is clearly on the BRIC countries and nations friendly to them.

      Now another apparent ‘friend’ — Cameron — is being taken down and excessive friendliness toward China seems the most likely reason there too. What’s the alternative theory there? Just arbitrarily caught in the net? Yeah, sure.

      • Chauncey Gardiner says:

        “I regret I can only guess at what you think you’re proving here.”

        I regret as well, I’ll leave you at that…keep continue with guessing. Maybe “unknown known” will help you ;-). Oh, “sudden return” this is funny, just as is sudden return to Eastern Europe with two complete combat brigades and spending $3.2 billion.

      • Tarzie says:

        Sudden is sudden, isn’t it, regardless of how much it costs? It was only three years ago that Thomas Pickering was whining about the US turning its back.

        But since you brought it up, are there two complete combat brigades in Iceland? Have they spent 3.2 billion dollars?

        You’re basically saying the US is invincible and so certain of its invincibility that having a very easily accomplished coup to install a friendlier party on China and other matters would just be utterly ridiculous. If that were the case, would the US have had a shit fit when Cameron went off the rez about the AIIB? Or was that just an act? Eleven dimensional chess.

        What’s the US gonna do now that it’s back? Tell China to close down its mines in Greenland and go home? Threaten to sink any Chinese ship that attempts to probe the Arctic seabed, or use a polar shipping route?

        Why keep me guessing other than to dodge?

        “Maybe known unknown will help you”

        Yeah. Donald Rumsfeld is my idol.

  13. The Panama Papers also work, perhaps, as a way to keep a big part of the the western media’s investigative journalists busy on something that is going nowhere.

    • Tarzie says:

      Considering the affiliations of the ICIJ, I doubt that most of these journalists are a threat. Very few journalists are. But certainly having a story “they” control gives them a lot of direct influence over the international news cycle.

  14. wendyedavis says:

    I’d have to add ‘charges of genocide and egregious human rights abuses’ to your ‘corruption scandals’ as soft power regime changes, but yes, thanks for this. robert parry posits ‘BRICS’ as well, as far as i can tell, it’s a fine piece of journalism.

    https://consortiumnews.com/2016/04/04/corruption-as-a-propaganda-weapon/

    now i’m not really sure how zuma fits into all this, although lula and dilma are clearly being singled out by a judicial system that’s patently corrupt and anti-constitutional, according to mark weisbrot and others.

    but as for poroshenko as an outlier, yes he was ‘a friend’ to the coup-designers, but nato and the EU really wanted to admit Ukraine to the EU. trouble was, they couldn’t accept such a major debtor-nation into their hive. zo, the IMF broke their own rules to lend them more lucre, creditors wrote down lots of their debt…and they still are in dire financial straits. more loans, same thing; corruption? maybe. but Yats was the fall guy, and resigned (perhaps for the second time), and poroshenko will likely be gone soon. it was complicated by the fact that the dutch referendum rejected the EU-ukraine association agreement, the one yanukovich reused, and was er…run outta dodge.

    but if one imagines that a more cooperative PM and Prez might rule ukraine, and accept IMF/world bank loans austerity resets, consider how lovely it would be for the US-based multinationals that have heavily invested in the country, including monsanto, cargill, john deere (iirc), hunter biden’s gas/oil company, i forget who all. i amost remember ‘pierre’, too. but in his panama papers diary, b at MoA had featured this ken silverstein tweet, partially by old news, but not just that; i loved it, although it might be familiar to you already:

    i did a quickie throw-away post once i’d seen yats had resigned, mainly all tweets. it’s almost too much fun to see the clueless hypocrisy of the very interested players. and remember: ukraine is already under NATO’s ‘friends of nato’ umbrella, because: evil, revanchist putin.

    • wendyedavis says:

      And by ‘Pierre’, i’d meant bidness investments, not just his investments in Centre UA. but according to the kyiv post (no longer behind a paywall; it was for a time), prior to poroshenko going to washington for ‘the nuclear summit’, biden had advised him to fire prosecutor general victor shokin; he was gone before P got to washington, plus his deputy prosecutor. but biden told him ukraine would get her next tranche from the IMF as soon as a new G was installed, and he was a bit worried that jaresco (the crook robert parry wrote about) might be gone. she’d apparently approved the earlier ‘reforms’ the IMF required.

      anyhoo, petroshenko also met w/ obama; it’s getting funnier all the time, it can’t get sicker, though.. right-wing nationalist julia tymenshenko is considered by the ptb too hostile to the IMF to regain a key spot in the new G..

      poroshenko maintains that he only had the off-shore account to sell his chocolate factory, but the kyiv post has a piece up something like: ‘poroshenko’s moment of truth’, and it might be: #byebyePoroshenko. we’ll see.

      (the link is grotesquely long, or i’d include it, and anyway…it’s only a part of the larger picture.)

    • Tarzie says:

      Hi Wendy:

      That’s a really good take on Ukraine. The skeptics are looking at this in a simplistic Friend/Enemy way, as if those two things haven’t always been instantly interchangeable for empire, or any country for that matter. And some of the fellow tinfoil hat wearers are convinced the UK and Iceland scandals are cover which is really ridiculous considering how much energy has been put into pumping the two scandals. Once Cameron’s apostasy came to my attention, I kept seeing other things that really pissed off the US. For instance, Obama blames Cameron especially for the shitty follow-up after Quadaffi’s ouster.

      For me, the one that looks like cover, if there are any, is Macri. Surely the op doers love that guy. He’s one of them. I’m figuring that if he’s not just cover, he’s been slapped on the wrist for being on way too friendly terms with Putin. He refused to go along with sanctions and, like the rest of South America, began selling sanctioned items to Russia. He also pledged that the the strong relationship Kirchener had built with Putin was by no means in jeopardy. These don’t seem like topple-worthy crimes, but certainly they merit a slap on the wrist. Kirchener also has ties to MF and that could well distract from Macri’s infractions. I’m guessing they’re not going to put a lot of firepower into making the scandal and public anger escalate.

      I’m curious how they’re working the ground on these countries to tip the scales. I saw something that referred to “organizers” in Iceland and wondered just who these organizers were, for what was made to seem like a spontaneous run to the streets.

      You have to admire the ingeniousness of this. Look how much destabilization they’ve caused in just a few weeks with entirely unremarkable disclosures. It’s almost as if Snowden — who has remade himself a financial transparency advocate — was a dress rehearsal.

      • wendyedavis says:

        ‘snowden was a dress rehearsal, lol. yes, good on the cameron NOT such an oultier; i’d forgotten how many EU nations went running to the AIIB for pats o the head. also, re: brazil, someone said that dilma really is beginning to build an alternative undersea communications cable; can’t swear it’s true.

        how interesting what you’ve said about putin and macri, though; i didn’t know any of that. but when obama left cuba to announce that ‘cubas open for bidness’ (fidel may have different ideas than raoul, at least publicly), and went to visit macri, what transpired makes me think you’re right that he is indeed cover. well, depending on the timing of the ‘leaks’, anyway. easier than trying to narrate, given my sucky memory:

        https://cafe-babylon.net/2016/03/25/obama-joins-macri-for-an-alley-oop-to-turn-the-pink-tide-in-argentina-the-color-of-money/

        but then as competition for financial hegemony, there are also the New BRICS development bank, as well as the eurasian shanghai cooperation organization.

        guess sarkozy was gone by the time the West was installing their governments in libya? thing is, those ‘hillary emails’ on libya were quite one-sided, weren’t they? where’s all that gold, secretary clinton? gawd, what a loathesome person. i used to have a photo much like the one cory morningstar used on an afghanistan ‘war by ngo’ post for afghanistan), of one of many theater marquee posters thanking NATO for ‘freeing libya’. makes ya kind of cynical after awhile, yanno? the afghan version was was thanking NATO for ‘freeing the women and chirren’ or close. my.stars.

        ‘interchangeable friends and enemies’ is just right: ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’…for as long as it’s practical.

      • Tarzie says:

        i’d forgotten how many EU nations went running to the AIIB for pats o the head.

        Yeah, and all because of Cameron by Washington’s lights. That’s huge.

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