See my full report on the Australian Government's Magnitsky Inquiry, including submission analysis: 'Sanctioned Targets'.
On 25 June the Australian Magnitsky Inquiry heard testimony from former Australian diplomat Mr Tony Kevin (below), which reflected Kevin’s thirty years of diplomatic experience. Kevin revealed the true cost of Magnitsky legislation: “sanctions are just one step short of war. They are extremely cruel to the citizens of sanctioned countries and they cause enormous human suffering”. Magnitsky sanctions are promoted under cover of a “human rights” propaganda campaign, and ironically ignore the humanitarian cost of sanctions. Ominously, as sanctions are “one step short of war”, Magnitsky proponents are shadowed by war profiteers.
US politicians funded by arms companies
In 2014, co-sponsor of the original US Magnitsky legislation, US Senator Ben Cardin, told Reuters the Magnitsky Act was “a major human rights initiative…. What it does is really put a spotlight on human rights violators”. Yet several years later, Cardin opposed blocking US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, in spite of the Saudi contribution to war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen: “They’re trying to make a point with an arms sale that’s not relevant to those concerns….”
Affiliates of weapons manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, have increasingly occupied Cardin’s top 20 campaign contribution spots since his ongoing sponsorship of Magnitsky legislation began.
In 2016, the President of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) commended Cardin for his leadership on Magnitsky legislation. Independent journalist Max Blumenthal calls NED “America’s meddling machine … a taxpayer-funded organisation that has interfered in elections, mobilised coups, and orchestrated public relations campaigns against nations that resist Washington’s agenda”.
In 2018, warmongering British neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society “welcomed” as “long overdue” proposed UK Magnitsky laws. HJS stated: “The US Magnitsky Act would not have happened without [Bill cosponsor] John McCain.”
In 2008, the Cato Institute reported “John McCain on Foreign Policy” was “even worse than Bush”. McCain argued for committing more troops to the Iraq War and “advocated hardline policies toward Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and has even staked out confrontational positions toward such major powers as China and Russia. … The foreign policy that John McCain now advocates is reckless and promiscuously interventionist.”
In 2012, shortly after McCain and Cardin introduced Magnitsky legislation, McCain hired a former Lockheed Martin lobbyist as a top Republican staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Filings revealed the lobbyist had received more than US$1.66 million from Lockheed Martin soon before leaving Lockheed to work for the government, including a significant lump sum described as “RETIRED PAY”.
Noted for his former criticism of defence contractor Lockheed Martin and of wasteful military spending, in 2012 McCain apparently flipped, announcing he would join other lawmakers publicly opposing proposed military spending cuts, which represented US$500 billion over nine years. After his death in 2018, McCain received a glowing eulogy from Lockheed Martin.
Like Cardin, in the years following his advocacy of Magnitsky sanctions, McCain’s top 20 campaign contributor spots increasingly included affiliates of arms manufacturers including Lockheed Martin; Northrop Grumman; BAE Systems; General Atomics and Raytheon.
Cardin and McCain used their Magnitsky Act to sabotage US President Donald Trump’s efforts at rapprochement with Russia that Trump said he hoped would reduce the danger of nuclear conflict. A 26 July 2018 joint statement declared: “Senators Cardin and McCain, the co-authors of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, remain concerned about the Administration’s posture toward Russia, particularly after the Helsinki Summit between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. The lawmakers want to ensure that, should the Administration move to de-sanction Russian officials or stop sanctions designations all together under the Magnitsky law, that Congress has the option to disapprove of those actions.”
HSBC and Bill Browder
Magnitsky narrative proponent William Browder is the former CEO and co-Founder of Hermitage Capital Management. In a “joint venture” with banking giant HSBC, Hermitage became the largest foreign-owned investment fund in Russia, with (reportedly) US$4 billion under management.
In a 2017 report, Deadly Investments, UK anti-poverty charity War on Want exposed UK banks’ funding of the military-industrial complex, making these banks complicit in war crimes. Deadly Investments reported HSBC had £831.5 million invested in companies that profit from arms trade. War on Want’s Senior Campaigner on Militarism and Security, Ryvka Barnard, said: “HSBC makes much of its ethical credentials yet its contempt for human rights couldn’t be starker.”
In 2018, neoliberal think tank the Aspen Institute awarded Bill Browder the “Henry Crown Leadership Award”. Previous winners of the award include a former Lockheed Martin CEO; former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (who said 500,000 Iraqi children dead from sanctions was “worth it”); US General Colin Powell (who shamefully presented fabricated “evidence” of WMDs to the UN to justify the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq by the same countries now pushing human rights sanctions); and alleged Afghanistan war criminal US General Stanley McChrystal. In 2018, the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellowship Program sponsors included a US$175,000 contribution from Lockheed. In 2018, Browder was awarded the Coalition for Integrity’s “Integrity Award”, with arms manufacturer Raytheon one of the premier sponsors of the event.
Closer to war
Tony Kevin testified that “sanctions of any kind are a very, very aggressive action. They take us closer to World War III.” This is evidenced in Hillary Evans’ 2014 research published in the Maryland Journal of International Law, which found Magnitsky legislation had not achieved its purported objective of obtaining justice for human rights violations, and instead had been detrimental to American foreign relations with Russia: “the resentment incurred could undermine US-Russian relations for years to come.”
Evans said the Magnitsky Act produced adversarial, retaliatory responses from the Russian government, which did not take kindly to US interference with domestic rule of law: “[inflaming] tensions between two governments with an already unstable relationship … negotiations, agreements and treaties could be impeded, if not halted altogether”. Evans noted cooperative agreements between the US and Russia to each reduce their nuclear weapons may be negatively impacted, a potentially catastrophic unintended consequence of Magnitsky sanctions.
Several years after Evans’ publication, the USA announced its formal withdrawal from a Cold War-era nuclear treaty with Russia and was preparing to test a new missile, which CNN reported was “sparking fears of a new arms race.” The Trump Administration is indicating it will let a major Russia-US nuclear arms treaty expire in 2021, a treaty TIME described as “the last remaining arms control agreement constraining the arsenals of the two major nuclear weapons powers”. In May 2020, former Pentagon advisor Jason Israel spoke to Sky News about the possibility of Australia being asked to host nuclear weapons for the USA—a dangerous proposition that would paint Australia a military target.
Target: Russia and China
In 2017, the US government’s National Security Strategy report stated: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”
In 2018, independent journalist Whitney Webb reported Lockheed Martin was awarded over US$3 billion in government contracts in only two days, amidst US military fretting about Russian/Chinese advancement: “Since January, the US military—through the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy—shifted gears, replacing the ‘War on Terror’ with a war against ‘great power competition’. In other words, the US military’s focus on fighting terrorism has ended, replaced with a focus on fighting what is essentially a new Cold War against Russia and China.”
In June 2020, independent media site MintPress reported: “Washington is currently ramping up hostilities with China, the Pentagon’s 2021 budget explicitly asking for extra funding to be ready for an aggressive war in Asia.” Cold War and escalating hostilities are a payday for war profiteers--Lockheed Martin and Raytheon stock soared after escalation of US-Iran tensions in January 2020. In May 2020, MintPress reported: “American weapons manufacturers are thriving even as the US economy suffers … [they] are busier than ever and are even advertising for tens of thousands of more workers.”
At Tony Kevin’s testimony appearance, Committee members seemed incredulous and affronted at Kevin’s position that allegations of human rights abuses in China and Russia do not seem based on credible evidence. Kevin acknowledged propaganda and a “huge disinformation narrative” in Western countries regarding China and Russia: “there’s a great deal of conflicting narrative floating around the world now about alleged misbehaviour by Russia and China, and I find a lot of those narratives implausible—and a lot of other people do too.”
Committee members seemed unable to comprehend the possibility of a disinformation narrative conducted on such a vast scale, despite the fact that Committee MP Andrew Hastie has previously advocated for political warfare and narrative management, aimed internationally and at “informing domestic public”. In 2013, declassified Australian Defence Force papers revealed the ADF conducts “psychological warfare” operations, which may possibly be aimed at Australian citizens, potentially including legislators. MintPress reports systemic Western government and intelligence infiltration of big tech and social media companies renders them effective platforms for large-scale narrative management: “public opinion on China has quickly soured; only nine years ago, Americans had a strongly positive view of the country. Today 66 per cent dislike China and around 80 per cent are ready to embrace a full-scale economic war against it. If conflict with the world’s most populous nation is to occur, the information war must be won first. It seems that it is well on the way to being achieved.”
Contributing to information warfare are a vast network of non-profit organisations, including the World Uighur Congress, which independent news site The Grayzone says is “posing as grassroots human rights organisation”, but in fact is a “US-funded and directed separatist network… The goal spelled out by its founders is clear: the destabilisation of China and regime change in Beijing. … Western media accounts of China’s Uighur Muslims [are] the product of a carefully conceived media campaign generated by an apparatus of rightwing, anti-communist Uighur separatists funded and trained by the US government.” The Grayzone exposes key members of the network’s ties to the US security state and intelligence apparatus, and notes Western media claims of Chinese abuse of Uighurs are based largely on only two studies, with dubious authors and “absurdly shoddy methodologies”.
Australia in lockstep
The 2017 US National Security Strategy report reveals expectations that allies such as Australia will align with US military interests: “Allies and partners magnify our power. … [They] must also contribute the capabilities, and demonstrate the will, to confront shared threats. Experience suggests that the willingness of rivals to abandon or forego aggression depends on their perception of US strength and the vitality of our alliances.”
In Australia, most mainstream reporting on alleged Chinese human rights abuses refers to foreign policy think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) as an authority, relying on ASPI’s hawkish analysis and aggressively anti-China reports. MintPress reports ASPI “is headed by ultrahawkish defence official Peter Jennings, who defended the Iraq War, supports regime change in other Middle Eastern states, and argued that ‘the West is setting the bar for military response too high’.”
Recently, ASPI, as a “leading research partner”, was central to Twitter’s blanket shut-down of 170,000 accounts. Twitter claimed these were “state-linked information operations … spreading geopolitical narratives favourable to the Communist Party of China (CCP)”. Although the vast majority of the accounts spoke only in Chinese language, and 95 per cent had fewer than eight followers, ASPI stated: “The disruption caused by COVID-19 has created a permissive environment for the CCP to experiment with overt manipulation of global social media audiences on Western platforms. There’s much to suggest that the CCP’s propaganda apparatus has been watching the tactics and impact of Russian disinformation.” (ASPI conveniently ignores the ongoing debunking of “Russiagate” hysteria.) ASPI receives funding from the Australian government, and also from the US State Department, NATO and arms manufacturers including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and MBDA Missile Systems—whose interests does ASPI represent?
Magnitsky sanctions are aggressive and destabilising, “just one step short of war”, provoking retaliation from sovereign nations. In his testimony Kevin stated sanctions “take us closer to World War III”. The ghoulish spectre of war profiteers as Magnitsky benefactors and anti-China agitators reveals expectations of a lucrative payout—the true enemy of the military industrial complex is peace.
By Melissa Harrison
Originally published in the Australian Alert Service, 8 July 2020