BBC News website showcases Paul Danahar’s Middle East narrative

An AFP report from May 14th about the WhatsApp security flaw story states: [emphasis added]

“”This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world” according to initial investigations, it [WhatsApp] added, but did not name the firm.”

AFP’s article goes on:

“The spyware appears to be related to the Pegasus software developed by Israeli-based NSO group, which is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services, according to Washington-based analyst Joseph Hall.

The spyware “could have gotten into someone’s hands” outside legitimate channels for nefarious purposes, Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told AFP.

It’s unclear who is doing this.””

Former BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Paul Danahar however has no such doubts and on May 14th he published an article on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages titled “Why the WhatsApp spies may have eyes on Iran”.

Readers got some early signposting in the form of the main photograph used to illustrate the article. The image – which has no connection whatsoever to the story itself – was captioned “Young Israeli soldiers take a selfie”.

Danahar opened his article as follows: [all emphasis added]

“Time to join some dots.

The WhatsApp hack, “sabotaged” oil tankers, the push in the US to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood and “plans” to deploy American troops to the Gulf are all strands of the same story. At its heart is the struggle between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Danahar then spent the next seven paragraphs establishing linkage between the Israeli army and tech companies while promoting an unsupported claim regarding the function of intelligence units.

“The Israeli army takes in every youngster, assesses their greatest strength and parks them where they can do the most national good.

The computer nerds who would otherwise be locked in their mum’s basement are forced out into the light and into doing their national service in cyber-warfare.

When they leave the army, they take the skills and the connections they made into the industrial sector and they form companies like the NSO Group.”

That section also promotes a link to another report on the WhatsApp story written on the same day by the BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee. In that report Lee linked to an article he wrote in 2016 in which he made some dubious claims concerning NSO and the IDF’s 8200 unit which remain in situ.

Danahar next managed to bring Palestinians into the story:

“The NSO Group makes hacking tools to sell to governments to fight crime and terrorism.

But – and it is a big but – they’ll only get an export licence from the Israeli government if it deems that the sale does not harm the national interest.

In the past that meant no sales to Iran and nothing to Arab Gulf states either.

That’s because in the past the Gulf states stood with the Palestinians against Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council states ditched the Arab League boycott of Israel in 1996, Danahar went on to claim that:

“In the post-Arab Spring period, the Gulf states (apart from Qatar) have all but abandoned the Palestinian cause and moved to side with Israel against Iran.

This slow shift was accelerated by the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of so many anti-Iran hawks to his administration, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.”

The Gulf states’ recognition of threats posed by Iran was of course amply evident long before Donald Trump ran for president. Providing no concrete supporting evidence, Danahar then promoted “speculation”.

“There’s much speculation that the Israeli government would, to build relations with their new friends in the Gulf, have allowed the NSO Group to sell their software to Gulf states.

What suggests that? Well it’s perhaps not a coincidence that among those reportedly targeted by the WhatsApp hacking software were lawyers investigating human rights abuses in Gulf states, a Saudi dissident and a Qatari citizen.”

Failing to inform readers of Iran’s financing and support of terror groups such as Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and ignoring the regular Iranian threats against Israel, Danahar continued:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his reason for being (and his only political legacy) his effort to contain Iran, which he projects as Israel’s only existential threat.”

Danahar – now the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor in Washington then went on to promote his notion of how US foreign policy is made.

“The Saudi rulers see two existential threats. One from without: Iran. And one from within: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are scared of Iran because of its military might.

They are scared of the Muslim Brotherhood because they offer political Islam as an alternative to the dynastic rule of the royal family.

The Trump administration is made up of people who hate the Iranian regime and everything it stands for.

So, this new “Axis of Egos” is all doing each other favours to position themselves collectively to fully unite against Iran.

Lots of trades are taking place.

Some involve arms sales, some involve the price of oil and gas, some involve political trades like the one that some in the White House are doing for the Saudis by trying to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

A photo caption tells readers that: “The Trump administration decided to pursue sanctions against the Muslim Brotherhood following an April meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi”.

As was noted here when the BBC previously promoted that claim in late April, “the idea of designating the Brotherhood” predates both the Trump administration and that meeting.

Danahar next invoked the Iraq war spectre while a photo caption once again used scare quotes around the word “sabotaged” to suggest to readers that damage done to four ships off the coast of the UAE on May 12th may not have been deliberate.

“In a replay of what happened before the invasion of Iraq, it appears that any strand of intelligence that can be spun into a reason to ratchet up the pressure on Iran is being used.

This atmosphere is all very familiar to those of us who were around to witness the build-up towards the war in Iraq.”

Danahar closed his polemic by trying to persuade audiences that if the US did go to war with Iran, it would ultimately be because of Israel. 

“The present occupant in the White House has far fewer ideological bones in his body, perhaps none. […]

He’s unlikely to sign up to another war in the Middle East, certainly not this side of the 2020 election, unless he is seriously provoked.

That would require being able to pin some very bad action on Tehran. The best way to do that is to gather intelligence.

And the best way to gather intelligence is for all your allies to be spying on as many people in the region as you can.

One of the best ways to do that is to hack into the Trojan horse we all voluntarily carry with us, our smartphones.”

As we saw in November 2012 when Paul Danahar – then head of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau – signed off and personally promoted inaccurate reports concerning the death of a child in the Gaza Strip, he apparently does not find it necessary to have verified evidence before promoting a version of events which fits in with his chosen political narrative.

And as we see in this item, Danahar’s chosen narrative includes an Iranian regime which is so passive and innocuous that it would have to have “some very bad action” pinned on it by underhand actors.

Notably, that is being presented to BBC audiences as “news that you can trust”.  

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Odd claim from BBC Technology appears – and disappears – on Wikipedia

Superficial BBC News reporting on Muslim Brotherhood

 

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Odd claim from BBC Technology appears – and disappears – on Wikipedia

On August 26th an article by the BBC’s North America technology reporter Dave Lee appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Who are the hackers who cracked the iPhone?“.Dave Lee iphone art

In that article readers find a decidedly bizarre description of the purpose of Unit 8200 of the Israeli army’s Intelligence Corps together with an unsupported assertion. [emphasis added]

“According to the Surveillance Industry Index (SII), the NSO Group was founded in 2010 and is based in Herzliya, an attractive city north of Tel Aviv that is known as being a cluster of tech start-ups. The group was likely funded by the elite 8200 Intelligence Unit, an Israeli military-funded scheme for start-ups.”

Lee does not provide any evidence to back up his odd claim that the NSO group – or indeed any other start-up – was “likely funded” by the IDF. Numerous local media reports refer to the company having recruited private investors when it was launched in 2009.

Nevertheless, Dave Lee’s unsupported claim quickly found its way into Wikipedia’s entry on NSO Group.

NSO Wiki

NSO Wiki refs

Wikipedia has since wisely removed that assertion from its entry but it does remain in place in the BBC News website’s article. 

BBC News report on 8200 tells a partial story

On the afternoon of September 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israeli intelligence veterans refuse to spy on Palestinians“. The report is illustrated with an unrelated image photographed during rioting in Qalandiya a month ago and carrying the amusing caption: “Intelligence gathering is a key part of Israel’s military operations”.  Intelligence gathering is of course a key part of any country’s military operations, including (one at least hopes) the UK.8200 art

Two hundred and thirty-seven of the report’s 407 words are devoted to amplification of the obviously politically motivated – and unverified – claims of a small group of apparently soon to be former reservists in Unit 8200. Ninety-five words are allotted to the IDF’s response to the letter which was promoted in local and foreign media and the rest of the report’s word-count is devoted to background, including amplification of a no less politically motivated UN position.

“Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since 1967. It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, though the UN still regards Gaza as under Israeli occupation.”

Since its publication, this BBC article has not been updated to reflect the fact that on the same day another letter was also published.

“Meanwhile, over 150 reservists from the same unit signed a letter on Friday protesting the claims put forth in the original letter.

“Having been familiar with the unit for many reasons, we can’t accept the claims regarding a lack of ethical and moral guidelines in the intelligence work of the unit,” the 150-plus soldiers wrote. “Throughout our service, we bore witness to many cases in which the use of intelligence capabilities made it possible to safeguard human lives, on both sides.”

“Even when moral dilemmas arise during the work, as well as in wartime, we have witnessed, and still witnessed, a mature and responsible response which is in line with international law and the ethical and moral code of the army.”

The soldiers noted that when summoned for reserve duty, they cast their political opinions aside and “come to serve the country, as any soldier should do, particularly in a unit like ours.” “

That letter now has some 200 signatories.

Likewise, BBC audiences have not been informed of other reactions to the letter, including from the leader of the Labour party and chair of the opposition.

“Also on Saturday, Israeli opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog came out against the reservists’ letter. Herzog, who served in the unit during his time in the military, said on his Facebook page that he strongly opposes the refusal of military orders, and warned that at the end of the day the Israeli public will pay the price. “This unit and its operations are vital not just for wartime but also, and in particular, during times of peace,” he wrote.”

The fact that 43 reservists of a particular political stripe were able to publish such a letter (just as similar ones have been published in the past), and that some 200 others were able to publish their counter-statement, is of course testimony to Israel’s free and vibrant democracy. BBC audiences, however, have missed out on that important aspect of this story because – after having published the part which conforms to the narrative it wishes to promote – the corporation then dropped the story.