Which do you trust: CNN, or Tass?

Eric Zuesse

On Tuesday July 25th, Russia’s official Tass News Agency bannered “Diplomat blasts US media reports on Russia’s alleged arms supplies to Taliban: The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says a misinformation campaign is underway in the US media.” Tass reported:

CNN has become a propaganda instrument in a US misinformation campaign about Russia’s alleged weapons supplies to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday.

Foreign Ministry slams accusations over Russia’s alleged support for Taliban as absurd

“We have repeatedly said that a misinformation campaign is underway in the US media alleging that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan and so forth. CNN is a reliable propaganda instrument used by relevant American structures in this game,” she told the Govorit Moskva radio station commenting on CNN’s allegations that it has evidence proving arms supplies to the Taliban from Russia.

Earlier in the day, CNN’s headline had been “Videos suggest Russian government may be arming Taliban”, and their reporter in Kabul interviewed anti-Russian officials from the U.S. and Afghan governments. The printed news-report opens as follows (and I add boldfaces here, to highlight the questions that are behind CNN’s headline-word “suggest” — the possible dubiousness of those alleged sources and assertions):

The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country. US generals first suggested they were concerned the Russian government was seeking to arm the Afghan insurgents back in April, but images from the battlefield here corroborating these claims have been hard to come by.

CNN’s report continues:

Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of US Central Command, told a congressional committee in March he believed the Russians were seeking influence in Afghanistan.

I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to (the Taliban) in terms of weapons or other things that may be there,” he said.

The CNN International video that automatically accompanies or comes on at this written online news-report, presents U.S. General John Nicholson (at 1:23 in that video) alleging some nation (but CNN International’s video of him speaking starts right after he has named the alleged country) is “arming belligerents” and that this “is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.” The CNN reporter then comes on and asks someone else about the alleged indications that Russia is arming the Taliban against the Afghan government and U.S. troops, “There’s no smoke without fire, is there?” The interviewee answers “Absolutely.”

Supporting evidence to back up their allegation, that’s supplied by CNN, consists only of one Taliban fighter, from a Taliban faction that is said by CNN to be fighting against another Taliban faction. This man there accuses Russia of having been the source of the other faction’s guns. As the printed news-report puts this: “‘The Russians are giving them these weapons to fight ISIS in Afghanistan, but they are using them against us too,’ he said.” If that allegation by the man is true, then Russia has been trying to help a Taliban group to kill ISIS in Afghanistan — not to kill Afghan government troops, or U.S. troops, there (such as the CNN report claims to be discussing). Moreover, if that man is telling the truth, then the Taliban faction against which his group is fighting is itself fighting against ISIS. The question as to whether that man’s own group supports ISIS in Afghanistan, was not raised there by CNN’s reporter. But, in any case, if that Taliban member’s allegation is true, then it wouldn’t be Russia against the Afghan and United States governments, such as the CNN headline is conveying and the CNN reporter claims to be discussing, but instead it would be Russia against ISIS that is the issue here. CNN’s headline instead presents Russia as being pro-Taliban, not Russia as being anti-ISIS (which — if the interviewed Taliban person is to be believed — was what had actually happened). And that is the only evidence CNN’s report provides.

Nothing in CNN’s report discusses whether the United States has been arming jihadists. There are, in fact, many reliable news-reports of the U.S. government itself arming Al Qaeda in Syria, in order to overthrow the existing Syrian government (which is opposed to control of the state by any religious sect or group; it’s the most staunchly secular government in the Middle East). On 11 December 2012, Bill Roggio, of Long War Journal, had reported that Al Qaeda’s Syrian organization, Al-Nusra, “has by far taken the lead among the jihadist groups in executing suicide and other complex attacks against the Syrian military [Assad’s government]. The terror group is known to conduct joint operations with other Syrian jihadist organizations.” The next day, Roggio reported that “29 Syrian opposition groups have signed a petition” saying “‘we are all Nusrah,’ and [it] urges their supporters to raise Al Nusrah’s flag (which of course is al Qaeda’s flag).” He linked there to a news-report in Britain’s Telegraph, which provided the English translation that Roggio was quoting from (the document itself having been in Arabic). On 17 April 2014, Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books reported that the Obama Administration was arming Al Nusra, but that it was taking measures to hide the fact by sourcing the weapons from stockpiles of second-hand arms in other countries. This arrangement was subsequently confirmed to be true, in Jane’s Defence Weekly, on 8 April 2016, headlining “Details of US arms shipment to Syrian rebels revealed”. All of those published sources — the Telegraph, London Review of Books, and Jane’s Defence Weekly — were non-U.S., but U.S.-allied (British, specifically). Then, on 2 July 2017, the Bulgarian newspaper, Trud, bannered in English, “350 diplomatic flights carry weapons for terrorists”, and presented there photos of transit documents on some of these weapons, which the Syrian government had just discovered in a warehouse in east Aleppo after the Syrian government had ousted Al Nusra from there recently. This Bulgarian article also described and documented the means that the U.S. government had gone through in order to veil the source of these weapons; some of the documents were U.S. government documents authorizing these arms-shipments to terrorist groups in Syria.

So, the question is whether it is CNN that is reporting credible news, or whether it is Tass that is doing so — or, perhaps, neither. (But, Seymour Hersh, Jane’s Defence Weekly, etc., are, in any case, documenting that the U.S. government supplies arms to Islamic terrorists, even if not to ISIS ones.) CNN’s report insinuates that Russia is arming Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan; it’s not alleging that Russia arms Islamic terrorists in Syria.

Tass is saying that CNN is a propaganda organization, and that Russia is not arming and never does arm Islamic terrorists. However, if Russia does arm terrorists (and is doing so not merely to fight against ISIS in Afghanistan), then would that be any different from what the U.S. is, in fact, doing? So, even if CNN’s reports do have a foundation in reality, what would then be the supposed difference between the two governments, which CNN seems to believe exists?

CNN and Tass disagree on a lot that they report, and the current example is representative of their disagreements, showing the typical differences between CNN and Tass, even if not necessarily differences between the two nations’ governments — though maybe that too.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.