Kremlin rejects secret NSA report accusing Russia of targeting voter registrars

Russia denies an NSA claim that its military intelligence tried to hack local US government organizations managing voter lists. A secret report on the alleged operation was apparently leaked to the Intercept by a whistleblower named Reality Winner.

Commenting on the unfolding scandal in the US, Moscow reiterated its denial of targeting US election system by hacking attacks.

“The claim is absolutely detached from reality. We have not seen any additional information or heard arguments in favor of that information’s credibility,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

The comment came after a publication by the investigative website the Intercept, which detailed a secret report by the NSA. The report published in May claimed that Russian military intelligence had conducted an operation to falsify the email credentials of a US company producing solutions for the holding of elections. The credentials were then used to target over a hundred email addresses of local organizations responsible for registering voters in US counties with spear-phishing attacks.

 
The National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland. © AFP

The NSA was uncertain about the results of the attacks, which happened in October last year, according to the report. The Intercept didn’t explain how exactly the intelligence agency attributed the hacking attempt to Russian military intelligence.

One of the immediate results of the publication was apparently the exposure of the whistleblower behind the leak. NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was arrested under charges of violating the Espionage Act, the DoJ announced on Monday. The charges don’t identify the Intercept as the news outlet Winner allegedly leaked to, but the connection is widely believed to exist.

Winner allegedly printed the classified report and delivered it to a news outlet. The investigation into the leak identified six people, who had printed the document, and singled out Winner by her communication with the news outlet.

Some security experts believe that the news outlet may have exposed the whistleblower by failing to redact special markings from the scans of the document that detailed printing metadata.

The arrest of Winner is the first connected with leaking classified information under the Trump administration. His first months in office have been plagued by leaks to the mainstream media of details of classified investigations into the alleged links between his campaign and Russia.

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West bears responsibility for chaos & terrorist attacks in MidEast and N. Africa – Lavrov

The western states that supported regime changes and financed militants in the Greater Middle East, particularly in Libya, bear responsibility for the chaos ravaging the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his visit to Cairo.

Lavrov arrived in Cairo on Monday with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu for a joint meeting of the Russian and Egyptian foreign and defense ministers. The fight against terrorism was top of the meeting’s agenda.

Both sides reiterated that for counter-terrorist efforts to have any effect, the fight against this global threat must be carried out jointly.

“The recent attack on the Coptic Christians once again highlights the need for vigilance. We stand united in our attempt to boost anti-terrorist efforts around the globe,” Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart that followed the meeting.

Lavrov was referring to Friday’s terrorist attack in the town of Minya, which claimed the lives of 28 people, including children, and left dozens injured. Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, which prompted Egypt to launch what it called responsive strikes against jihadist positions in neighboring Libya.

On Saturday, the Egyptian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Egypt’s armed forces have successfully completed the destruction of all planned targets abroad, including the militants’ concentration areas and training camps.

During the press conference, Lavrov addressed the issue of the ongoing Libyan crisis that poses a security threat for neighboring countries, including Egypt, and once again drew attention to the fact that western involvement in the crisis in the North African country led only to the dismantling of its statehood and eventually turned it into “a backyard for terrorists.”

“Libya was bombed and its government was violently overthrown. It was turned into a backyard for terrorists and criminals. The regime was changed with the help of those [militants], who came from Europe. They were free to leave their countries because everybody knew where they were going and what they were going to do there. And then they were welcomed back,” he said.

“Now, we just see the consequences of these irresponsible policies,” Lavrov told reporters at the press conference, adding that western countries should bear responsibility for the chaos that resulted from their actions.

Earlier, Lavrov also met with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit. The Secretary-General later told RT’s Maria Finoshina that he “very much” approves of Egypt’s airstrikes against terrorists in Libya.

Shoigu also discussed issues related to combating terrorism and extremism with his Egyptian counterpart. The two sides agreed to continue sharing intelligence and discussed joint exercises and military training.

The Russian and Egyptian foreign and defense ministers also held a joint meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and discussed regional conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

In October 2015, 224 people, mostly Russian citizens, were killed after an improvised explosive device went off on board an Airbus A321 flying from Sharm El Sheikh International Airport to St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport. The Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed as it was flying over the northern Sinai Peninsula. Islamic State’s supporters in Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack. The bombing led to several countries suspending flights to Egypt over concerns of lack of airport security. While Moscow has continued to uphold the ban, the steps undertaken by Cairo to improve security have led to an agreement to resume the flights “in the shortest term,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said following Monday’s meeting in Cairo.

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‘Disgusting hypocrisy’: Macron’s ‘RT-Sputnik propaganda’ comments ignite social media backlash

After French President Emmanuel Macron labeled Moscow-based news outlets RT and Sputnik “deceitful propaganda,” social media users were quick to remind the new French leader of the “hypocritical” Liberation newspaper’s pro-Macron cover on the eve of his election win.

Speaking at a press conference after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles on Monday, Macron explained his team’s decision to deny RT and Sputnik accreditation during his campaign, branding the media outlets “propaganda.”

“They didn’t act like the media, like journalists. They behaved like deceitful propaganda,” Macron said during a joint press conference with President Putin.

That statement, however, ignited a storm of social media comments on “propaganda tools.”

READ MORE: Macron accuses RT and Sputnik of ‘behaving like deceitful propaganda’

People were quick to note that the day before the second round of the French presidential elections earlier in May, the cover of the Liberation newspaper called on voters to cast their ballots for Macron.

The paper’s weekend edition, which came just as the pre-election ban on reporting went into effect, read: “Do what you want, but vote for Macron.”

“When Macron says that RT and Sputnik are propaganda tools, I remember once again this Liberation [front page],” one person wrote.

 

READ MORE: ‘Propaganda machine’: Twitter blasts Liberation newspaper’s pro-Macron cover on eve of vote

People on Twitter didn’t hold back with the sarcasm, either: “Bravo, French media is an example to follow.”

“‘RT and Sputnik acted like propaganda tools’, said the one who was created by media propaganda,” another wrote, referring to the new French leader.

Some Twitter users were quick to remind that owners of large French newspapers and magazines are Macron’s “billionaire friends.”

“Your media billionaire friends made your election campaign: Le Monde, Le Point, L’Obs, BFM,” one person wrote.

In fact, the editorial director of Le Monde, Jérôme Fenoglio, indeed repeatedly called to vote for Macron during the election campaign, saying that it is “logical.” 

One of the Twitterati noted that “even radio has become the friend of Emmanuel Macron,” giving the example of FranceInfo.

The social media wrath was also directed at other French media, including L'Obs and L'Express magazines, Le Monde newspaper and BFMTV and France2 channels.

“L'Obs, L'Express and Le Monde made false propaganda according to democratic rules,” one person wrote.

Others wondered why certain French media outlets don’t appear to bother the newly-elected French leader.

“The majority of the pro-Macron French media are also the tools of influence, but this does not irritate Macron.”

“Macron … has a disgusting taste of hypocrisy. Can we talk about our long-corrupted media that allowed him to be elected?” another person asked.

Others admired the reaction of President Putin when Macron made his propaganda claims.

“I admire the patience of Putin in the face of this clown Macron.”

Though many of the comments were critical, Macron’s statement did find some support across the Atlantic. 

One Twitter user praised the French president, saying that “unlike Trump and Republicans Macron was brave” enough to accuse “RT and Sputnik of spreading lies” right in front of the Russian president.

Some even suggested trading US President Donald Trump for Macron.

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Russia to NATO: Stop Dominating World, Warns of Arms Race

Russia condemned NATO's "reckless" and "destructive" efforts, and warned that continued actions near Russia's border would lead to an arms race.

On Friday in response to the ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned in a statement Friday the “destructive line” of NATO allied nations which it said are an attempt to dominate global affairs. The ministry warned that the alliance's actions make a constructive relationship impossible, and will lead to an arms race.

RELATED: Pentagon Confirms March US Strike Killed 105 Civilians in Iraq

Moscow blamed deteriorating NATO-Russian relations on western aggression. “The growing negative tendency is not Russia's choice,” the Foreign Ministry reiterated. “This is a direct result of a destructive line of the bloc, aimed at reckless achievement of military and political dominance in European and global affairs,” they continued.

The statement comes in response to NATO reaffirming its approach of simultaneously building up defense against Russia, while also seeking a more “constructive relationship.”

“NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. Actually we recognize that Russia is our biggest neighbour, Russia is here to stay, and we are striving for a better and more constructive relationship with Russia. At the same time, NATO has to deliver credible deterrence and defence. Because by delivering credible deterrence and defence we are preventing conflict. We are preventing war,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The statement went on to justify heightened NATO activity near Russia as being necessary following the annexation of Crimea.

However, Moscow does not view NATO actions as “defensive,” as Stoltenberg insisted. Rather they see them as “the alliance's desire to legitimize military preparations near the Russian borders, which – in conjunction with the military activity of individual bloc countries – change the alignment of forces in Europe and lead to a dangerous spiral of an arms race.”

In addition to tensions from conflicts of interest in the ongoing Syrian conflict, last year NATO stationed 1,100 soldiers in the Baltic region close to the Russian border, 900 of which were U.S. troops.

The Russian ministry acknowledged that Russian-NATO relations “are in the deepest crisis since the end of the Cold War,” and went on to condemn efforts at “whipping up a myth on 'a threat from the East'.”

RELATED: Trump Revealed Classified Information to Russians

U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured for NATO European allies to increase military spending in order to do their “fair share.” Doubts are cast over the unpredictable U.S. President's committment to the organization, which he called "obsolete" while campaigning.

NATO was founded in 1949 as a collective defense alliance between various North American and European states. According to Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are obligated to assist any member country that is attacked. NATO countries formed an allied military bloc in opposition to the socialist Soviet bloc during the cold war.

Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the militaristic organization has played a role in regime change interventions like Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya that claimed tens of thousands of lives and produced a crisis of refugees due to destabilization. As member nations arrived in Brussels this week, thousands protested the meeting of the organization.

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At least 35 civilians killed in US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria – state media

At least 35 civilians were killed by US-led airstrikes in Syria on Thursday evening, according to state media. The UN’s human rights chief has called on all sides to take greater care to protect civilian lives in the war-torn country.

The airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor province hit the market in the city of Mayadeen, as well as a four-story building that was completely destroyed, Sana news agency reported

According to the news agency, at least 35 civilians were killed, most of whom were women and children. Injuries have also been reported.

 
© Rodi Said

However, a spokesman for the US-led coalition denied that its forces had conducted airstrikes near Mayadeen on Thursday and Friday, while telling Reuters that they are in the process of assessing the results.

Meanwhile, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights has called on all forces operating in Syria to be more careful to correctly distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians when conducting airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“The rising toll of civilian deaths and injuries already caused by airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Raqqa suggests that insufficient precautions may have been taken in the attacks,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a Friday statement, as quoted by Reuters.

Hussein was referring to airstrikes carried out in mid-May that he said killed nearly two dozen farmworkers – most women – in a village in eastern Raqqa, as well as at least 59 civilians in residential areas of Deir al-Zor.

The UN human rights chief went on to describe some of the atrocities committed by IS in the region, noting that “scant attention is being paid by the outside world to the appalling predicament of the civilians trapped in these areas.”

 
US Defense Secretary James Mattis (L) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford © Yuri Gripas

Hussein’s comments came just one day after a Pentagon investigation admitted that more than 100 civilians had been killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in March, but largely placed the blame on IS. 

According to the probe, the airstrike on a building in Mosul’s al-Jadida neighborhood triggered secondary explosions from devices planted by IS fighters.

The investigation also states that the episode began when two IS snipers began firing at troops from Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, prompting the US-led coalition to respond with the airstrike.

The US-led coalition has increased the number of bombs dropped on IS by about 50 percent this year, according to statistics from the US Air Forces Central Command.

The figures show that a total of 14,192 rockets, bombs, and other munitions were dropped in the first four months of 2017, up from 9,442 during the same period in 2016.

The increased number of airstrikes “can be attributed to the increased pace of operations in both Iraq and Syria as we target and destroy ISIS,” Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Force Central Command said on Tuesday, as quoted by USA Today.

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4 ISIS-linked terrorists plotting public transport attacks detained in Moscow – FSB

Four members of an ISIS-linked terrorist network, who were managed from the territory of Syria and were preparing attacks on the Moscow public transport system, have been detained, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reports.

“The Russian Federal Security Service has detained four members of a terrorist group that consists of citizens of Russia and countries of the Central Asian region on May 25, 2017 in Moscow. They were preparing terrorist attacks on Moscow transport infrastructure using improvised explosive devices,” the FSB said in a statement.

The group was part of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist organization and was managed from the territory of Syria, the statement adds.

 
© RT

During the searches in the detainees’ houses, the FSB says it found an explosives production laboratory.

“An explosives production laboratory, a ready-to-use improvised explosive device with shrapnel and components for its production have been found during searches,” the FSB said, adding that they also found “automatic firearms, ammunition, grenades, as well as literature and videos of extremist and terrorist orientation.”

The terrorists planned to go to Syria and fight alongside ISIS militants after conducting the attacks in the Russian capital, according to the FSB.

In April, the security agency held a special operation in Vladimir Region, around 190km from Moscow, and after a standoff during an attempted arrest, “neutralized” two citizens from the Central Asian region who “were in contact with recruiters from international terrorist organizations.” Searching the site, the officers also found components of improvised explosive devices, a Kalashnikov AK-74 assault rifle, a PM handgun, and ammunition.

A suicide bomb terrorist attack hit the St. Petersburg Metro on April 3, killing 16 people and injuring dozens of others. No terrorist organization officially claimed responsibility for the attack. In raids following the assault, six suspected IS and Al-Nusra Front recruiters from Central Asian countries were detained in the city.

On Thursday, Abror and Abram Azimov, earlier detained in connection with the April attack, were charged with terrorism and possession of weapons, according to their lawyer Dmitry Dinze, as cited by Interfax. Eleven people remain in custody over case, the Russian Investigative Committee reported earlier in May.

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Trump, European Union leaders remain at odds over Russia

BRUSSELS – As President Trump met with European leaders on Thursday, he couldn't escape the Russia controversy dogging him at home and now abroad.

The White House is grappling with multiple investigations into Russia's interference in last year's presidential election, including an FBI probe into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow. Still, Trump has openly sought warmer relations with Russia – and just this month welcomed top diplomats to a controversial Oval Office meeting in which he reportedly disclosed highly classified information in an apparent attempt to get Moscow to step up its fight against the Islamic State.

Yet in Brussels, home of the NATO and European Union headquarters, EU leaders publicly broke with Trump's more positive diplomatic approach to President Vladimir Putin's government.

"I am not 100% sure that we can say today ... that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia," said European Council President Donald Tusk after meeting with Trump. Tusk added that both parties remain critical of Russia's military incursions into neighboring Ukraine.

Tusk also said "some issues remain open" with Trump, including climate change and trade policy.

Trump's meeting with Tusk, who presides over the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, preceded talks with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Brussels stop came in the middle of Trump's first foreign trip as president, one that began with visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Rome. Trump is spending nine days away from Washington, which is still reeling from a spate of recent revelations related to Trump's links to Russia.

Trump's first foreign trip as president came a week after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 presidential campaign. The U.S. intelligence community has accused Moscow of orchestrating a high-level campaign of cyberattacks, propaganda and fake news to try and influence the 2016 election, though the president and his aides have denied any collusion.

Still, EU members have long questioned Trump's warm comments toward Putin, who has backed many anti-EU candidates in elections throughout the continent. And countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns about similar Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns to undermine elections in their countries.

Trump's lean towards Russia was on full display one day after firing his FBI director, when Trump took an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kisylak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. on May 10. The Washington Post subsequently revealed Trump divulged highly classified intelligence in that meeting about a terror plot, in a way the Russians could have deduced secret sources and methods.

This is notable not just because it potentially compromised a source of intelligence on the Islamic State – believed to be Israel – but because Russia has also backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. and European countries accuse of widespread killing civilians and opponents in the name of fighting terrorism.

Trump also unnerved European Union leaders by supporting last year's "Brexit" vote in which the United Kingdom opted to exit the EU. Trump, who met with new president of France, Emmanuel Macron also had kind words for defeated French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, another EU opponent.

While Trump said better American relations with Russia would benefit all nations, he has also opposed Putin on occasion. The Trump administration supported Montenegro's admission to NATO, an addition Russia opposed. The president has made no move to lift sanctions on Russia over its activities in Ukraine.

Trump ends his journey this weekend at a Group of Seven industrial nations summit on the Italian island of Sicily. Trump is expected to air his concerns about what he calls unfair trade policies by other nations and the Paris climate change pact that obligates the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – two other issues on which the president and European Union leaders disagree.

The Trump-EU meeting did have its lighter moments, including the fact that complex European Union rules require the naming of two presidents: Tusk, who presides over the European Council, and Juncker, president of the European Commission.

“Do you know, Mr President, we have two presidents in the EU,” Tusk told Trump, who responded: “I know that."

Juncker chimed in by joking, "there is one too much."

Later, when asked his impressions of Trump, Juncker simply said, "I hope he hasn't sent a tweet about me yet."

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Trump facing 'shark tank' feeding frenzy from 'military industrial media'

There are elements of the ‘Deep State’ here who are very opposed to the things Donald Trump said during the campaign. They don’t want to cooperate with Russia, Jim Jatras, former US diplomat, told RT. Political analyst John Bosnitch joins the discussion.

US President Trump said his White House meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ranged from airline safety to terrorism. A Washington Post story, however, has accused the American leader of revealing classified information to Russian officials.

RT:  What’s your take on it? Is the media on to something big here?

Jim Jatras: To start with, again, this is from the Washington Post and an unnamed source. So you do have to doubt the accuracy of the information knowing the vendetta the Washington Post and other mainstream media have against the Trump administration and against President Trump personally and how much they want to disrupt any kind of cooperation with Russia against the terrorist threat. I would say that was the first thing.

@RT_America 'I was in the room. It didn’t happen' - National Security Advisor H.R. http://on.rt.com/8br9

Second, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy of National Security Adviser Dina Powell, who were both in the meeting, have stated since the Washington Post article appeared – there was nothing discussed with Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov and Mr. [Sergey] Kislyak that compromised what they call “sources and methods” that would lead to any kind of intelligence vulnerability on the part of the US. But rather this was all part of a discussion of common action against ISIS. Those are the first things to be noted…

Let’s remember that there are elements of what we call the ‘Deep State’ here who are very opposed to the things Donald Trump said during the campaign. They don’t want to cooperate with the Russians; they don’t want improved relations with Moscow. And let’s be honest, they have a very strong investment in the various jihadist groups that we have supported for the past six years trying to overthrow the legitimate government in Damascus. I am sure there are people – maybe in the National Security Council, maybe in the Staff, maybe in the State Department – who are finding some way to try and discredit the Trump administration. The question is where is the investigation into these leaks? Who is going to hold these people accountable?

RT:  The mainstream media is going on little more than 'anonymous sources.' Could it have a hidden agenda here?

JJ: Of course. In fact, I would even go further. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if President Trump timed his firing with the FBI Director James Comey – what some people even pointed out – he himself in one of his tweets says “drain the swamp.” One of the first elements was getting rid of the principals of the Deep State who have been trying to hijack his policy; that he did this precisely because he was meeting with Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kislyak the next day. He’s shoving it in their face, saying: “I am moving forward with my program.” And I think that’s the reason we’re getting this hysteria building around the Russians, the Russians, the Russians when what we need is to move forward on an America First national security policy.

@RT_com ‘US policy today: Aircraft, where co-pilots try to override pilots’ (Op-Edge) https://on.rt.com/8bpm

RT:  Do you think mainstream media is a part of something big and controlled all over from the top?

JJ: Absolutely. There is a whole structure of what people call the 'Deep State' establishment, the oligarchy – whatever you want to call it. Of course, the mainstream media is part of this. It includes all the Democrats, who were very easy on the Soviet Union when it was Communist. But now that it is not Communist under Russia, they have a deep, very deep hatred of Russia, and they don’t want any kind of rapprochement with Russia. And unfortunately, there are Republicans who sympathize with this agenda, as well. I think we can say at this point that Mr. Trump is only partially in control of the apparatus of government. He does not yet have complete control and that there is a frantic effort by these elements to make sure he is not able to get … control of the American government and carry out the policies he talked about.

@RT_com says he had ‘absolute right’ to share data on flight safety & terrorism with Russia https://on.rt.com/8bsg

The 'military industrial media'

The mainstream media of the US is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the military industrial complex. If you want to call it anything, you can call it the ‘military media,’ John Bosnitch, political analyst, told RT.

RT:  The media has run with this. Are they on to something big here?

John Bosnitch: I wouldn’t say so. I’ve worked in this field for three decades. I don’t see a scrap of evidence here. But I do see like a shark tank of media feeding – no evidence.

RT:  Trump attacked Hillary Clinton as being unreliable with state secrets. Can the same now be said of him?

JB: Trump is the chief executive officer of the United States of America. As the chief executive officer of the country, he has full legal and constitutional authority to use state secrets in the conduct of diplomacy. He’s also the chief diplomat of the country. So there is a big difference between the chief executive officer deciding what information he can share in conducting of state policy, and Hillary Clinton deciding as a cabinet minister which laws she chooses to obey, and which ones she doesn’t.

RT:  The mainstream media is going on little more than 'anonymous sources'... could it have a hidden agenda here?

JB: I don’t see any other possibility, whatsoever. Let’s not play the game of dividing the so-called mainstream media from its owners. The mainstream media of the US is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the military industrial complex. If you want to call it anything, you can call it the ‘military media.’ The military makes money by making war; they buy the media to promote war. They use the media to promote propaganda in favor of war. And that is where we get into the mess we’re in today. Because we have a president who is a businessman and would prefer to make money, and would prefer to put people to work in any industry other than war. The military industrial media in the United States is depending on being able to speak to a captive audience of uninformed viewers… The military controls the media because they own them.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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