Category Archives: internet freedom

Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

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The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

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Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

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Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

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Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

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update: censorship of alternative left-wing websites by Google intensifies

The latest follow-up article published by WSWS.org on Tuesday [Sept 19th] supplies evidence that Google’s algorithm changes have continued to reduce traffic to alternative left-wing websites:

By other measures, the WSWS’s performance in search results has been impacted even more substantially. On September 16, the latest date available, articles from the WSWS were shown in search results 68,000 times, down from over 450,000 in April. This constitutes a decline of some 85 percent.

As a result of Google’s censorship, the WSWS’s global page rank has fallen from 31,000 to 41,000, according to Amazon’s Alexa traffic ranking software.

Other sites affected include:

Alternet, one of the top 3,000 sites in the US, has seen its Google search traffic fall by 71 percent between April and September, up from 63 percent in the period through July.

Democracy Now, one of the top 5,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall 50 percent between April and September, up from 36 percent in the period through July.

Common Dreams, ranked in the top 8,000 US sites, had its Google search traffic fall by 50 percent between April and September, up from 37 percent in the period through July.

Global Research, one of the top 14,000 sites in the US, had its traffic fall slightly from its massive 62 percent decline between April and July.

Truth-out.org, ranked in the top 12,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall by 49 percent, up from 25 percent in the period through July. [bold highlights added]

Although the article above makes no specific mention of smaller outlets and blogs, I was recently interviewed by a journalist from WSWS.org who confirmed that the attack is more widespread. For the purpose of our discussion I also constructed a graph that shows data for this site from April up to mid-August:

The blue line shows the % total visitors to this site (compared to the figure averaged for previous six months); the green line shows % change in traffic only directed from Google searches; and the red line is % change in total traffic from UK (I don’t have separate Google figures for this).

Overall Google searches and total UK traffic both fell by 75% since the start of April and (not shown above) continued to decline throughout the second half of August and September. It is worth noting that although the overall decline is in some ways steady, I experienced a quite sudden collapse in traffic at the beginning of July when figures for visitors were abruptly halved and never recovered.

I would be interested to hear from others whose websites have been suffering similar declines in traffic and encourage readers to comment below.

Note that the green and red lines show % change since the first week of April and therefore these values begin at 0%.

The blue line is constructed quite differently with 100% marking the equivalence to the average level during the previous six months (The line begins fractionally higher than that average, briefly exceeds it again at the beginning of June, and then very rapidly declines).

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Update: David North responds to NYT article on Google blacklisting

Correspondence received from WSWS.org on October 3rd.

The WSWS published Monday an article reporting on the New York Times’ interview with WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North, which was sent out in the last newsletter.

In response to the Times article, North issued the following statement:

“The WSWS’ exposure of Google’s attack on democratic rights is being widely followed and is having a substantial impact. The article that appeared in the Times was in preparation for a month. Its own research confirmed that traffic to the WSWS has fallen dramatically. When asked by the Times to answer our allegations, Google chose to stonewall its reporter. If Google had been able to refute the WSWS, it would have provided the evidence to Mr. Wakabayashi. It failed to do so because our charges are true. Google is engaged in a conspiracy to censor the Internet.

“Google’s effort will fail. Awareness is growing rapidly that core democratic rights are under attack. Google is discrediting itself as its name becomes synonymous with manipulating searches and suppressing freedom of speech and critical thought.

“The World Socialist Web Site will not retreat or back down from this fight. We are confident that our fight against government and corporate-sponsored censorship will continue to gain support.”

The WSWS’s petition protesting Internet censorship is gaining support, and has received nearly 4,500 signatures.

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Correction:

In the original piece I had stated misleadingly “The blue line shows the % change in total traffic (based on figures averaged for previous six months)”. The new statement is clearer and accurate.

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Chris Hedges on “The Silencing of Dissent” and Google’s part in it

The following is a short extract from an extended article entitled “The Silencing of Dissent” written by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and published yesterday in Truthdig:

In the name of combating Russia-inspired “fake news,” Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by “evaluators,” that hunt for key words such as “U.S. military,” “inequality” and “socialism,” along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 “evaluators” to determine the “quality” and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.

The World Socialist Web Site reported in July that its aggregate volume, or “impressions”—links displayed by Google in response to search requests—fell dramatically over a short period after the new algorithms were imposed. It also wrote that a number of sites “declared to be ‘fake news’ by the Washington Post’s discredited [PropOrNot] blacklist … had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent. …”

[…]

The accusation that left-wing sites collude with Russia has made them theoretically subject, along with those who write for them, to the Espionage Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires Americans who work on behalf of a foreign party to register as foreign agents.

The latest salvo came last week. It is the most ominous. The Department of Justice called on RT America and its “associates”—which may mean people like me—to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. No doubt, the corporate state knows that most of us will not register as foreign agents, meaning we will be banished from the airwaves. This, I expect, is the intent. The government will not stop with RT. The FBI has been handed the authority to determine who is a “legitimate” journalist and who is not. It will use this authority to decimate the left.

This is a war of ideas. The corporate state cannot compete honestly in this contest. It will do what all despotic regimes do—govern through wholesale surveillance, lies, blacklists, false accusations of treason, heavy-handed censorship and, eventually, violence.

I encourage readers to click here to read Chris Hedges full article.

And here to read my previous post with links to sign the WSWS online petition against Google’s internet censorship.

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of course we’re evil — how Google is killing the internet by stealth

“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.

“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”

“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.” […]

“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google.

Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said. 1

On July 31st, World Socialist Web Site reporter, Andre Damon, spoke with RT America’s Natasha Sweatte about how and why Google is now directly targeting progressive websites:

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An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet!

Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site!

August 25th 2017

Sundar Pichai
Chief Executive Officer
Google, Inc.

Lawrence Page
Chief Executive Officer/Director
Alphabet, Inc.

Sergey Brin
President/Director
Alphabet, Inc.

Eric Schmidt
Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Alphabet, Inc.

Gentlemen:

Google’s mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its official code of conduct was proclaimed in Google’s famous motto: “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, you have seriously lost your way. You are now engaged in hiding the world’s information, and, in the process, are doing a great deal of evil.

When Google officially discontinued its China-based search engine, due to censorship by the Chinese government of search engine results for political criticism, Mr. Brin publicly stated that for Google, “it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”

In 2013, when Mr. Schmidt visited Burma, he spoke in favor of free and open Internet use in the country. In light of Google’s recent actions, the statements of Mr. Brin and Mr. Schmidt appear utterly hypocritical.

Google, and by implication, its parent company Alphabet, Inc., are now engaged in political censorship of the Internet. You are doing what you have previously publicly denounced.

Google is manipulating its Internet searches to restrict public awareness of and access to socialist, anti-war and left-wing websites. The World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) has been massively targeted and is the most affected by your censorship protocols. Referrals to the WSWS from Google have fallen by nearly 70 percent since April of this year.

Censorship on this scale is political blacklisting. The obvious intent of Google’s censorship algorithm is to block news that your company does not want reported and to suppress opinions with which you do not agree. Political blacklisting is not a legitimate exercise of whatever may be Google’s prerogatives as a commercial enterprise. It is a gross abuse of monopolistic power. What you are doing is an attack on freedom of speech.

We therefore call upon you and Google to stop blacklisting the WSWS and renounce the censorship of all the left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive websites that have been affected adversely by your new discriminatory search policies. […]

Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).

As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.

Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

Google, according to Gomes, has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of websites. These evaluators are trained to “flag” websites that are deemed to “include misleading information” and “unsupported conspiracy theories.” Gomes explained that the blacklists created by these evaluators will be used, in combination with the latest developments in technology, to develop an algorithm that will impose censorship automatically, in real time, across future search results.

Whatever the technical changes Google has made to the search algorithm, the anti-left bias of the results is undeniable. The most striking outcome of Google’s censorship procedures is that users whose search queries indicate an interest in socialism, Marxism or Trotskyism are no longer directed to the World Socialist Web Site. Google is “disappearing” the WSWS from the results of search requests. For example, Google searches for “Leon Trotsky” yielded 5,893 impressions (appearances of the WSWS in search results) in May of this year. In July, the same search yielded exactly zero impressions for the WSWS, which is the Internet publication of the international movement founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.

Other frequently used words and phrases that no longer include the WSWS in Google search results include: socialism, class struggle, class conflict, socialist movement, social inequality in the world, poverty and social inequality, antiwar literature, and the Russian revolution. A search for socialism vs. capitalism, which, as recently as April, would have listed the World Socialist Web Site as the eighth result on the first page of search results, now no longer returns any results at all for the WSWS. Of the top 150 search queries that returned results for the WSWS in April, 145 now no longer do so.

All the search terms listed above are employed frequently by users seeking a left-wing, socialist or Marxist take on events. Far from protecting readers from “unexpected” responses to their search requests, Google is manipulating its algorithm to make sure that the left-wing and progressive segment of their users, who would be most interested in the World Socialist Web Site, will not find it. Moreover, the extent and precision of the exclusion of the WSWS from search results strongly suggests that the anti-socialist bias of the new algorithm is being supplemented by the actual physical intervention of Google personnel, enforcing authoritarian-style direct and deliberate blacklisting.

As stated above, since April, other left-wing publications that present themselves as progressive, socialist or anti-war also have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results:

* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent

Google justifies the imposition of political censorship by using a loaded term like “fake news.” This term, properly used, signifies the manufacturing of news based on an artificially constructed event that either never occurred or has been grossly exaggerated. The present-day furor over “fake news” is itself an example of an invented event and artificially constructed narrative. It is a “fake” term that is used to discredit factual information and well-grounded analyses that challenge and discredit government policies and corporate interests. Any invocation of the phrase “fake news,” as it pertains to the WSWS, is devoid of any substance or credibility. In fact, our efforts to combat historical falsification have been recognized, including by the scholarly journal American Historical Review.

The facts prove that Google is rigging search results to blacklist and censor the WSWS and other left-wing publications. This raises a very serious question, with far-reaching constitutional implications. Is Google coordinating its censorship program with the American government, or sections of its military and intelligence apparatus?

Google probably will dismiss the question as an example of conspiracy theorizing. However, it is legitimate given the ample evidence that Google maintains close ties with the state. In 2016, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, appointed you, Mr. Schmidt, to chair the Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Google headquarters to discuss the ongoing and close collaboration between the company and the Pentagon. More generally, according to a report in The Intercept, Google representatives attended White House meetings on average at least once a week from January 2009 through October 2015.

Google claims to be a private corporation, but it is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of government policy. The distinction between commercial interests and state objectives is increasingly difficult to detect. By obstructing the free access to and exchange of information, Google’s censorship program is aimed at enforcing a twenty-first century version of Orwellian “Right-Think.” It is undermining the development of progressive and constitutionally protected political opposition. It is benefiting the proponents of war, inequality, injustice and reaction.

The censorship of left-wing websites, and the WSWS in particular, reflects the fear that a genuine socialist perspective, if allowed a fair hearing, will find a mass audience in the US and internationally. There is widespread popular opposition to your efforts to suppress freedom of speech and thought. That is why Google feels compelled to cloak its anti-democratic policies with misleading arguments and outright lies. An online petition circulated by the WSWS demanding a halt to Google’s censorship efforts has already attracted several thousand signatures from readers in 70 different countries on five continents. We are determined to resist Google’s efforts to censor our publication, and to continue to raise awareness internationally about Google censorship. As long as this policy continues, Google will pay a heavy price in lost public credibility.

The International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Sites demands that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed, and that Google cease its effort to curtail search accessibility to the WSWS and other left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive web publications.

Sincerely,
David North
Chairperson, International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site

Click here to read the open letter in full and here to sign the petition.

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Further thoughts

The open letter reprinted above from WSWS is an excellent one and very little can be usefully added in terms of alerting interested parties (basically everyone with a left-leaning or else genuinely libertarian outlook) regarding Google’s part in the ongoing censorship of the internet. It should however cause us to think extremely carefully about the fragility of this new information commons we increasingly depend upon. Any library can only be as good as its indexing system. When the library is as huge as the internet then good indexing is the only way to prevent information from becoming lost forever.

A few months ago, Google, which holds a de facto monopoly position on indexing the world’s greatest library, changed its algorithms. It actually does this on a fairly regular basis and historically these changes have generally been small and rather hard to detect. On this occasion, however, the changes were just as dramatic as they are very blatantly targeted.

Just as WSWS reports, the traffic to my own website (this one) suffered a vertiginous fall during recent months. Around the start of July the number of hits was cut in half, virtually overnight. What’s more, it has been traffic from the UK (my home country) that has plummeted most. Indeed, traffic to this site from the UK has been falling steadily since April (when Google announced its algorithm changes) and I now estimate that it has dropped by something like 80%. So what is happening here is obviously a very deliberate attack on the alternative left even including such small sites this.

But we should not be so very surprised. Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google (today it also owns youtube), is one of the most profitable and powerful of all global corporations. Amazingly, having entered the Fortune 500 little more than a decade ago, it then climbed into the top 100 within four years and currently stands at #27. 2 Although maybe this isn’t half so amazing once one considers Google’s true origins; and its hand-in-glove ties to the security state:

“From inception,” writes investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, “Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community” […]

“The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.” (More in an addendum below)

Or click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.

The everyman gloss also comes off once one considers that its billionaire Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and has been a Bilderberg attendee every year since 2008 (apart from his absence in 2009). In fact, Google and Bilderberg appear to have firmer ties than Eric Schmidt’s affiliation as I explained when the two organisations ran back-to-back conferences at Watford in 2013:

It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:

“The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.”

On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel: a meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:

“In a statement, Google said: ‘Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.’”

Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:

“Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. ‘If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,’ one said.

“An Apple spokesman said it had ‘never heard’ of Prism.” 3

I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.

Click here to read my earlier post.

From an article published by The Independent, we learn how such ‘Google-berg’ events take place annually:

Each year, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, jet into London for the invitation-only annual gathering, at the Grove hotel, where 400 delegates, chosen from the “great minds of our time”, discuss topics ranging from technology and the media to politics and the arts. […]

For conspiracy theorists, the conference, staged by the search engine giant, which reported a 60 per cent surge in earnings to $2.89bn this year, is a cuddlier version of the Bilderberg Group, the supposedly shadowy network of financiers that holds a private annual assembly, recast in the image of our new tech masters. 4 [my own bold highlight added]

This is also discussed at slightly greater length in another earlier post.

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Although dominated by corporations, the internet operates as a commons: a public space to which we contribute voluntarily and as individuals. Anyone can publish online just as I did right now. There’s no editorial control and relatively little censorship. Knowing how to peruse the enormous and ever-expanding repository of online publications, anyone might stumble across my words. Access which is aided thanks to the principle of net neutrality – a democratic notion that all internet traffic should be treated equally – helping online communities to flourish and maintaining a measure of equality in cyberspace. But this is rapidly changing.

Around the time of the Arab Spring there was increasing furore closer to home which surrounded disputed claims about the creation of an “internet kill switch”. In June 2010, some six months prior to the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked riots that led to the Tunisian Revolution, US Senator Joe Lieberman presented a bill entitled “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” with provision for ‘emergency’ shutdown. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Britain as The Independent reported in March 2011:

In Britain there are two pieces of legislation which give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet and, in theory, bring about web armageddon. The Civil Contingencies Act [2004] and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend internet services, either by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the protocol of the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary. In the eyes of the legislature, Jeremy Hunt is the man invested with the power to send us back to the dark ages.

The same piece continues:

In theory, the mechanical process of shutting down the internet should be simple. In addition to ordering the nation’s main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close main internet exchanges such as Linx – the London Internet Exchange – which handles 80 per cent of our internet traffic.

To illustrate the case, the article then reminds us of internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring:

The ISP shutdown process was used recently by the Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt, ostensibly to stifle the propagation of dissent. On 27 January Egypt was effectively disconnected from the rest of the web after its ISPs were ordered to shut down their services. […]

Egypt’s other three big ISPs – Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – also stopped services. A few days later the final service provider, Noor, went down, taking the country’s stock exchange with it.

The pattern has since been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where popular uprisings have occurred. On 19 February Libya went completely offline. In Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February.

However, shutting down the web isn’t always this simple:

The problem comes down to the very nature of the internet in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections. […]

It seems highly likely then, that as happened in Egypt, if the Jeremy Hunt Doomsday scenario were ever come to pass, an alternative network would quickly expand and provide access to the internet for all. Which is a relief. 5

Click here to read the full article.

The internet “kill switch” is mostly a red herring, because the corporatocracy has no cause to kill the internet for so long as it is maximising profits by selling the latest products – including obviously so many virtual products of our dot.com world – and in the process is hoovering up data about us.

For corporate needs the internet is little more than the free market on steroids, and for the security state it is, as Julian Assange put it so eloquently, ‘the worldwide wiretap’. As these merge, the wealth of data accumulated is filtered and packaged to fit the needs of both sectors. Knowledge becomes both power and profits. But it comes at a cost for our increasingly merged corporations and state. In the pursuit of profits and the acquisition of personal information, they sacrificed a stranglehold over public discourse. That anyone can now broadcast and publish threatens to undermine establishment control. The corporatocracy, however, still holds the key, just so long as we remain reliant on Google and the other corporate tech giants for access to this information commons.

To all intents and purposes, Google are now in the process of throwing that mythical internet “kill switch” except it’s not a switch, it’s a knob… and they are suddenly turning the amplitude right down. If this continues and we are unable to find an efficient and fully independent alternative to Google then the internet will effectively die. It will appear much the same and many of its old functions will remain unaltered – doubtless, it will provide an expanding marketplace and likewise it will continue to track our lives in ever higher resolution – but the internet as tool for progressive resistance will become ossified. For the true potential it still holds for bringing about radical political change and transforming society in truly revolutionary ways will be lost forever.

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Addendum: ‘How the CIA made Google’

In an extended article entitled “How the CIA made Google” Nafeez Ahmed embarked on a trail that took him from the Pentagon, the NSA, and CIA’s venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, via a group known as the Highlands Forum – a private network and “bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites” – back to Stanford University, and legendary PhD students Larry Page and, more especially, Sergey Brin. It also led him to the door of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), and its purportedly discontinued Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme (featured in an earlier post about the rise of the surveillance state).

It is impossible to neatly summarise all of Ahmed’s findings here so without reprinting too much of the original I have tried to capture a flavour of what he discovers with regards to how Google grew out of DARPA and TIA:

“According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD [Evidence Extraction and Link Detection] program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.”

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Aside:

“[U]nder the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.” […]

“Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.” […]

“By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.”

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TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation, a US defence firm and “the forum’s partner organization”] which changed its name to Leidos in 2013. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.

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Aside:

According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”

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Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. […]

From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.

Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.

In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA. […]

After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community. […]

In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. […]

Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.” […]

In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. 6

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.

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1 From an article entitled “Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount” written by Andre Damon, published in World Socialist Web Site on August 8, 2017. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/08/goog-a08.html

2 http://fortune.com/fortune500/alphabet/

3              From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

4 From an article entitled “The great Google gathering: The search engine is taking its quest for knowledge offline at a secluded British hotel” written by Adam Sherwin, published in The Independent on May 22, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/the-great-google-gathering-7771352.html

5 From an article entitled “Could the UK Government Shut Down the Web?” published in The Independent on March 8, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/could-the-uk-government-shut-down-the-web-2235116.html

6 From an article entitled “How the CIA made Google” written by Nafeez Ahmed, published by Insurge Intelligence on January 22, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e

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this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #3. ‘The Brussels Business’

“Who runs the European Union?” This is the question front and centre of the excellent 2012 documentary The Brussels Business which takes the viewer on “a journey into the corridors of power of the biggest economy on earth – the European Union.” What filmmakers Matthieu Lietaert (Belgium) and Friedrich Moser (Italy) find is a Byzantine complex of corporate entanglements and high-powered lobby groups.

Assiduously researched and documented, the real importance of this film is that almost uniquely it presents an exposé of the European Union from a leftist perspective:

Produced by:
Steven Dhoedt (VisualAntics – Be)
Friedrich Moser (green + blue communication – Austria)

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Additional: latest example of EU corporatocracy at work

On Tuesday [May 31st] the European Commission together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft announced a code of conduct “to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe”:

The definition of illegal online content is based on the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia which criminalises the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. 1

In accordance with the directive, views and opinions that the aforementioned corporations deem “hate speech” will be removed within 24 hours, whereas “alternative” content deemed “a counter narrative” to “hate speech” will be actively promoted. In other words, the tech giants who already own most of the internet will be put in charge of policing it too:

In short, the “code of conduct” downgrades the law to a second-class status, behind the “leading role” of private companies that are being asked to arbitrarily implement their terms of service. This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies. It also creates serious risks for freedom of expression as legal but controversial content may well be deleted as a result of this voluntary and unaccountable take down mechanism. 2

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1 http://ec.europa.eu/news/2016/05/20160531_en.htm

2

Today, on 31 May, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now delivered a joint statement on the EU Commission’s “EU Internet Forum”, announcing our decision not to take part in future discussions and confirming that we do not have confidence in the ill considered “code of conduct” that was agreed.

Launched at the end of 2015, the “EU Internet Forum” was meant to counter vaguely defined “terrorist activity and hate speech online”. The discussions were convened by the European Commission and brought together almost exclusively US-based internet companies and representatives of EU Member States. While no civil society organisations were invited to attend the discussions on terrorism, several civil society representatives were allowed to take part in some of the discussions on online hate speech. However, civil society was systematically excluded from the negotiations that led to the voluntary “code of conduct” for IT companies – an official document that was presented today, despite the lack of transparency and public input into its content.

From the joint statement released by European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now on May 31, 2016. https://edri.org/edri-access-now-withdraw-eu-commission-forum-discussions/ 

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the story behind the story of Turkey’s internet bans

Turks greeted the news that YouTube has been blocked in the country with the grimly raised eyebrows Brits reserve for an unusually bad weather forecast. “So it’s come to this”, they say, but no one is overly shocked. Internet bans are becoming a weekly occurrence. A week ago Twitter was banned at the personal behest of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and remains so days after a court order annulled the block.

So begins an article in Friday’s Guardian, which continues:

By painting both Twitter and YouTube (and no doubt Facebook next week) as online dens of iniquity, he aims to convince his supporters that the allegations are malicious falsehoods, and that he is the victim of an international smear campaign operating on social media. Extreme tactics; but in a country rife with conspiracy theories and pre-election tension, they might well work.

Allegations? Malicious falsehoods? An international smear campaign? Conspiracy theories…? Well, not just “theories” as it transpires… Here’s a little more of the same article:

On Thursday he sounded hoarse and shrill as he poured scorn on opponents for the umpteenth time, causing much amusement among Twitter users merrily circumnavigating the ban. Hours later, YouTube was blocked, drawing immediate attention to the recording released that day of the foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization allegedly planning a Syrian provocation. The government has not denied these tapes, instead labelling their circulation as “a declaration of war against the Turkish Republic”. War machinations aside, they have a serious espionage problem on their hands.1

“Allegedly planning a Syrian provocation” – in what way? What exactly is on these tapes that the Turkish government are not denying? The article doesn’t say, but perhaps the BBC can help… (although we’ll need to go back another day – to Thursday):

Earlier, what appeared to be a leaked audio recording of Turkish officials discussing Syria appeared on YouTube.

It relates to a discussion of possible military operations in Syria, which was apparently attended by Turkey’s intelligence chief, its foreign minister and the deputy head of the armed forces.
Reuters news agency, which examined the recording, said it could not verify its authenticity but it was potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation. […]

At a rally in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday, Mr Erdogan appeared to confirm the latest audio leak was genuine.
“They even leaked a national security meeting,” he said. “This is villainous, this is dishonesty… Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”2

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

So not only do we learn that the Turkish government “has not denied these tapes” (as the Guardian reports) but that Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan does in fact “confirm the latest audio leak was genuine” – although once again, when it comes to specific details, the BBC seems reluctant to tell us what these “possible military operations in Syria” might have been. As with the Guardian article there is again no link to the leaked discussion on the tapes. We might reasonably wonder why they are being so tight-lipped.

Well, judge for yourself – because here is part of a transcript of the (translated) discussion involving foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan:

Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Prime Minister said that in current conjuncture, this attack (on Suleiman Shah Tomb) must be seen as an opportunity for us.”

Hakan Fidan: “I’ll send 4 men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary.”

And it is important to understand that the Tomb of Suleyman Shah is an exclave of the Republic of Turkey situated in Aleppo, Syria. Note too that back in August 2012, Prime Minister Erdoğan had publicly stated:

“The tomb of Suleyman Shah [in Syria] and the land surrounding it is our territory. We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory, as well as an attack on NATO land… Everyone knows his duty, and will continue to do what is necessary”3

Click here to read a full translation of the leaked discussion at the national security meeting.

The youtube audio clip is also embedded below (but unfortunately only available with Turkish subtitles):

This recording (which has already had more than 300,000 ‘views’) supplies evidence of a NATO-member country planning to expand the war in Syria. Caught red-handed, Prime Minister Erdoğan has conceded that the recording is authentic whilst attempting to deflect attention by saying the leak was “immoral”.

However, the important story here is not the one about the “villainous” leaking of “a highly confidential and sensitive conversation” – has Erdoğan never heard of Edward Snowden…? Neither is it news that Turkey has clamped down on youtube and twitter, as troubling as these bans are. Far more important is the confirmed leak itself – that Head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, and foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, were discussing the option of launching covert attacks on the Turkish exclave of Suleiman Shah Tomb.

The Financial Times published their own report on the leak also on Friday [March 28th] and it is a little more candid. Whilst accepting Turkish foreign ministry claims that “parts of the recording were doctored” (which parts? Again there are no details) the article does go on to point out how:

“the most contentious segment is a discussion on how to justify military intervention, including a suggestion, which is not taken up, of staging an attack on the tomb…” [my bold emphasis added]4

A clear reference to the part of the leaked discussion reproduced above.

Click here to read the full Financial Times article.

And if this discussion hadn’t been leaked, and a later attack had been staged, then would Nato have followed Turkey into battle? All on the pretext of what the Guardian described as “a Syrian provocation”, but should more properly be called “a Turkish false flag”. Little wonder Erdoğan and the Turkish government have been so keen to shut down the internet. More worrying, however, is that the Guardian, BBC, Reuters and other mainstream media outlets have followed suit. The details sketched over, the links unavailable, and the discussion between foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan only paraphrased and hinted at. Is the big story just too hot to handle?

Click here to read an alternative article on the leaked tapes posted by zerohedge also on Thursday [March 27th].

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“Why would Turkey want to start a war with Syria?” a friend asked in reply to my email that linked to the zerohedge article above. And my short answer was that Turkey are already heavily involved, having assisted both with allowing a supply of arms as well as the passage of al-Qaeda fighters across their borders into Syria.

The slightly longer answer is that Turkey has its own interests in a northern portion of Syria known as Rojava (or Syrian Kurdistan) where local YPG units (or People’s Protection Units) are engaged in regular battles to hold off a Turkish-backed invasion by Islamists in what is a more or less unreported war within the larger Syrian conflict.

In September of 2013, VICE reporter Aris Roussinos crossed the border into Rojava to document the YPG’s counteroffensive against the jihadists. There he was shown evidence of fighters coming from Libya, Chechnya and even Afghanistan to join the ranks of “the rebels” and saw how sections of the Turkish border had been deliberately opened up and left unprotected:

With unparalleled access to the Kurdish and Syrian Christian fighters on the frontlines, we found ourselves witnessing a bitter and almost unreported conflict within the Syrian war, where the Assad regime is a neutral spectator in a life or death struggle between jihadist-led rebels and Kurdish nationalists, pitting village against village and neighbor against neighbor.

As Syria’s bloody civil war enters its third year, fighting has reached the country’s Kurdish-dominated northeast, a region until recently almost untouched by the conflict. The Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in neighboring Turkey, took over control of much of Hassakeh province from the Assad regime in the summer of 2012, and with it control of Syria’s precious oilfields.

But the PYD’s hopes of staying neutral in the conflict and building an autonomous Kurdish state were dashed when clashes broke out with Syrian rebel forces in the strategic border city of Ras al-Ayn. That encounter quickly escalated into an all-out war between the Kurds and a powerful alliance of jihadist groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliates ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

The notes above are taken from the VICE.com website.

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The documentary embedded above presents very much the Kurdish perspective. Nevertheless, it provides an alternative standpoint since the fighters, although defending themselves against “the rebels”, remain in opposition to Assad.

The Syrian war is complex, but if you’d prefer something a little simpler, then let me also draw attention to a youtube animation entitled “The war in Syria explained in five minutes” uploaded by the Guardian last September – and shame on the Guardian for producing such drivel:

 

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1 From an article entitled “Turkey’s YouTube and Twitter bans show a government in serious trouble” written by Alev Scott, published by the Guardian on March 28, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/28/turkey-youtube-twitter-ban-government-trouble

2 From an article entitled “Turkey moves to block YouTube access after ‘audio leak’” published by BBC news on March 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26773702

3 From an article entitled “Ankara warns against attack on tomb” published by News from Azerbaijan on August 7, 2012. http://www.news.az/articles/turkey/65999

4 From an article entitled “Ankara hits back at Gulenists over stream of damaging web leaks” written by Daniel Dombey, published by the Financial Times on March 28, 2014. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c591d4ea-b670-11e3-b230-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2xS6eeyoL

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play up! play up! and don’t play the game!

It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel. A meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.1

I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.

Driving down in our van together we were missing the coverage of Snowden’s document release but then again we already knew all the most important details of the supposedly breaking story. That we are all now living under constant internet and telephone surveillance being old news to any who have cared to search within the margins or else entirely beyond the mainstream news. Since if you are familiar with the names of William Binney or Tom Drake, to name but two former NSA whistleblowers who have both featured in earlier posts, then Snowden’s document dump comes mainly as confirmation of prior knowledge. Details added, yes, but nothing substantially new or remotely surprising.

As we approached the M25 we had entered a twenty mile section of the M1 with CCTV cameras (unless we were both mistaken) fitted every hundred yards along the hard shoulder and funneling our way ahead to London. Having not driven along this newly refurbished stretch of the M1, I felt a growing unease at this additional and less anticipated evidence of where our society is so obviously heading, thoughts which were also combined with something more primal: a loathing of being so tightly boxed in. My friend said he felt similarly unnerved. The claustrophobia of high surveillance was creeping both of us out.

At Junction 8 we turned off and from there onwards followed the softly spoken instructions of our satnav. As patient as she was mellifluous, surely ‘Emily’, the satnav babe, was on our side, but hang on, what’s this…?

A secret ‘Big Brother’ operation is allowing officials to pinpoint the exact location of thousands of vehicles with satellite navigation systems.

The controversial scheme is built into the small print of a contract between the Department for Transport and the satnav company Trafficmaster.

Currently the ‘spy in the sky’ system is limited to some 50,000 drivers who have Trafficmaster’s Smartnav system.2

And that story was released back in 2007 so god knows what Emily gets up to these days… the flirty little snitch! Still, at least she knew the whereabouts of where we were heading, reliably delivering us to the entrance of the Bilderberg Fringe designated campsite where we were soon spotted by a warden who politely but promptly informed us that we were actually the wrong side of the hundred acres of scout parkland. In view of the latest child protection laws, the protesters, he informed us, were being located well away from the scouts and with access guarded by a couple of police vans on 24-hour patrol outside the gates just in case.

So we turned the van around and, without Emily to guide us now, aimed a little across country, down some forest tracks, and eventually coming to the proper site. It was dusk and we were soon parked up in a beautiful corner of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside, brewing up some teas and pulling out the camping chairs to idle the rest of the evening beside the white blossoms of the hawthorns and the brighter flush of ox-eye daisies. A lovely spot for camping, quiet and secluded, and also close enough to the main field to mingle with other campers who as darkness fell had put together a makeshift bonfire from pallets and entertained themselves with beers and music. It was odd to think that this accidental mix of people had all come along with the same singular intent. There to vent a little of our collective spleen directly towards the secretive banker-CEO-politico hobnobbing which was already well underway but happening five miles away inside the plush Grove hotel.

In many ways it was turning into a rather beautiful weekend. Beautiful weather, beautiful location and the following day, a beautiful gathering of common humanity hollering our peaceful but intransigent dissent across the lines of G4S security guards and towards the high security steel perimeter that surrounded the hotel half a mile away in the distance. Did the Bilderberg delegates hear our cries from our small but thronging paddock of free speech? I think they most probably did. Were they remotely listening to what any one of us had to say? Of course not – what do you think this is… a democracy or something?

In truth I’ve been struggling to decide what to write about the Bilderberg protests ever since I returned. The media, of course, knew exactly where to point its cameras. Alex Jones was bound to provide them with a story and offer a further distraction to the main event. Duly he obliged, goaded into action by the smug Andrew Neil and his supercilious sidekick David Aaronvitch (who ironically enough was once awarded the Orwell Prize – how Orwell must be turning in his grave). His latest rant going viral once again and thus overshadowing the more considered position of Tony Gosling who had sparred with Neil on the same subject only a few days earlier:

But then, Neil and Jones weren’t the only ones playing games over the Bilderberg weekend. For instance, the police liaison officers convivial mingling with the crowds was another little game with different rules. Likewise, the men in sharp suits who were milling around the gates of the Grove before drifting across to be matey with those of us enclosed within our little pen were part of yet another form of the same game. In response to all this or else for more provocative reasons, some of the protesters were playing parallel games of their own. Making entertaining announcements over their personal megaphones or more simply befriending those who helped to keep us under restraint.

And perhaps the one time the protesters really got the upper hand in these ongoing games was when two small children breached the security cordon and briefly ran amok. The G4S guards were clearly flustered and at a total loss to know what to do. Sure the meeting was taking place half a mile away across a canal with only one small bridge crossing and firmly sealed behind the newly installed and heavily patrolled perimeter fence high on the hill in the distance, but just what might have happened if these children had been permitted to run loose… might others have been inspired to boldly follow their lead?

Maybe if we sent all the kids out ahead, perhaps followed soon after by the pensioners and the disabled, then such a diversionary tactic might just be enough to keep the troops of security guards and mounted police sufficiently preoccupied for the rest of us to make a proper assault on the castle walls! I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in thinking such subversive thoughts… although these were just games of a purely imaginative kind. The single person who did in fact embark upon such daring act of civil disobedience having already been promptly captured; foiled within seconds by the lines of blue. She hadn’t stood an earthly. So why then had we all been submitted to airport-style security checks before being allowed entry into the paddock? Well, it was just another part of the games being played, as was the enormous police presence that accompanied some of the protesters, keeping an eye on their later pub rendezvous many miles away in a different village. Being followed hither and thither by security vans was all part of the festival, and of course we all enjoyed the romp no end.

Which basically sums up the lasting lesson of Bilderberg 2013 for me at least; that all of the many impositions and cruelties inflicted upon the downtrodden populations of this world by a small but dominant gang of well established oligarchs can actually be maintained only by virtue of such tacitly accepted games – games being so absolutely vital for ensuring that the world goes on working in the unjust way it does, with tyranny being so much more effectively instilled and ensured through disingenuous smiles and knowing winks than by any amount of armed security guards and steel fences. The fences and the guns being reserved for emergencies only and if the herd should ever get too out of control.

“One pro-transparency campaigner has had enough” wrote Charlie Skelton in his final Bilderblog for this year’s event, continuing with a quote:

“For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account.”

Who might that have been, you may wonder. Perhaps Michael Meacher, who was the only parliamentarian with the gumption to directly address the protesters gathered at the gates of the Grove. Well, no actually…

This particular critic of closed-doors government is a certain David Cameron, speaking shortly after taking office. “This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture,” he said, “and it’s called transparency.”

And Cameron wasn’t alone in his humbug:

Cameron wasn’t the only one swinging the wrecking-ball of transparency inside this year’s Bilderberg. He was joined on the end of the chain by Jessica Mathews, who sits on the advisory council of Transparency International, and James Wolfensohn, who’s on the advisory council of Transparency International USA. Together, I’m sure, they were lobbying hard to open up this last bastion of murky politicking to the sunlight. If they could find the time between seminars.3

Click here to read more of Charlie Skelton’s summary of this year’s Bilderberg.

When I got home to Sheffield I had some explaining to do. Principally I needed to account for why it was I’d let myself get so sunburnt during the weekend. Now the strict answer was that due to the security checks and the long tailback that had resulted (many of the protesters, we understood, having been turned away at the entrance) I hadn’t been able to return from the paddock to pick up the sunscreen we’d rather foolishly left behind in our van. Not a terribly romantic answer and so I improvised. “A battle scar,” I told my nephews and niece when they asked me later, “received at the cost of fighting against the Bilderbergers.”

“Why are you fighting the Build-A-Bears?” my niece objected. “I love the Build-A-Bears” she added. “Not Build-A-Bears,” I explained, “but Bilderbergers…”

“What do they make?” she asked me. What do the make…? I hesitated. How could I explain to an eight year-old what the Bilderbergers make? “War,” I said bluntly after a pause. With both General Petraeus and Kissinger in attendance it seemed like a fair if simplified version of the truth.

Meanwhile Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, has been involved in quite a caper of his own, leading the American government a merry dance in an almost nostalgic game of Cold War cat and mouse. Landing first in Hong Kong and then taking a flight on to Moscow, the news media is now altogether consumed with speculation about when and where he’ll most likely turn up next, whereas some others, perhaps most notably Naomi Wolf, are also questioning Snowden’s motivations. Is he really who he purports to be?, asks Wolf, with the unstated implication being that his adventures might in some way be part of a “limited hangout” operation; a convenient way to leak out minimal information primarily to the advantage of the spy agencies involved. As a further response, some are already asking who Naomi Wolf really is… here for example is Dave Lindorff offering a counter-offensive in last week’s Counterpunch.

In my opinion questioning the motivation of both parties is perfectly legitimate, since after all I cannot vouch for either Wolf or Snowden, having absolutely no personal association with either one. Wolf’s speculations may indeed be wild and self-promoting, as Lindorff asserts, yet the fuller verdict on Snowden surely remains unclear. For though his release of the Prism documents was undoubtedly in the public interest, and for that reason alone he ought to be protected from any subsequent prosecution, yet as I pointed out above, the evidence he presents adds surprisingly little to what we already knew or might easily have presumed.

What Snowden unquestionably has achieved, however, is to put the matter of public surveillance under the mainstream spotlight. Yet does this alone automatically affirm him as our new hero for freedom and democracy? For there might indeed be, as Wolf tentatively points out, a more hidden agenda going on behind the scenes, and whether or not Snowden is a man of integrity, he may still be an unwitting dupe. This leak, which serves to apply extra pressure to Obama, might, for instance, help with forcing the beleaguered President’s hand in other areas. It could be that by such means, Obama may now be further pressured into engaging in all-out war on Syria – one conflict that Obama has so far managed to steer clear of. Snowden’s leak becoming the straw that finally broke the camel’s back…

That said, charging Snowden under the Espionage Act strikes another fierce blow against freedom of speech, issuing a chill warning to other potential whistleblowers who may contemplate speaking out in the public interest, and thereby further trampling on the tattered remains of the American constitution. It is right therefore that those who stand for freedom ought to back Snowden’s actions and demand that he is pardoned of any crime, but it is also wise to be cautious of all those who cross from behind enemy lines. So let’s also remind ourselves that Snowden worked for the NSA and though we may like to believe that a leopard can change its spots, the associated proverb helpfully cautions us not to wish to be deceived…

The truth is the truth and yet the truth gets harder and harder to find. Take Bilderberg again, which commentators like Andrew Neil assure us is just a private club, and nothing to bother our silly little heads about. Ken Clarke, answering questions in the House of Commons (see below), playing a similar gambit. But then why the cover up for so long, we may legitimately ask, and why does the BBC even now continue to stick with the party line (of “nothing to see here”) rather than asking the tougher questions directly of the Bilderbergers themselves?

As a consequence, when we desire to uncover any meaningful facts about Bilderberg (starting with its actual existence) we are instead forced to turn to the alternative media, and the same goes for most other pressing issues including, to stick with the pertinent illustration, the rise of the surveillance state. The BBC reporting next to nothing when William Binney and Tom Drake were spilling the beans about the NSA, but some years later totally seduced by the story of Edward Snowden. The best we can say is that this is too little too late: closing the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.

And the emphasis is also shifted. Stories not to reveal more about Bilderberg or to challenge NSA and GCHQ surveillance, but instead about what Alex Jones believes about Bilderberg or intrigue surrounding the continuing flight of Edward Snowden. The news becoming the metanews and the important message being lost in all the hubbub. In such a fashion we are cajoled into accepting the unacceptable. These kinds of reporting of the news helping to get us more accustomed to the idea of clandestine political gatherings and of the secret services spying into every area of our personal lives. The media playing their own considerable part in the very same game… tricking us into masking our fears with our own false grins as we laugh along with the lies and feign delight in our own deception.

*

Update:

An article published in last Wednesday’s Washington Post [June 26th] offers further reasons to be cautious when it comes to Ed Snowden’s motivations. Entitled “Four years ago, Ed Snowden thought leakers should be ‘shot’”, it begins as follows:

Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.

“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat.

Click here to read the full article by Timothy B. Lee.

*

Additional:

Here is the best video compilation of the Bilderberg Fringe event I have found uploaded:

1 From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

2 From an article entitled “Big Brother is keeping tabs on satnav motorists” published by the Daily Mail on September 25, 2007. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-483682/Big-Brother-keeping-tabs-satnav-motorists.html

3 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2013: The sun sets on Watford” written by Charlie Skelton and published by the Guardian on June 11, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/11/bilderberg-davidcameron

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Charlie Skelton, internet freedom, mass surveillance

look who’s coming into the cross-hairs next…

I’ve now been writing this blog for just about two years, and this will be my 200th post. Being something of an anniversary then, I’ve been wondering how to mark the occasion. How about some kind of a retrospective, for instance… reviewing my earlier reports on the decline of the world’s economy as an inevitable consequence of systemic fraud and failure; or the rise of the surveillance state with the introduction of fingerprinting of kids in Britain and of drones over America; or the serious environmental threat from nuclear power and fracking (this ultra-destructive ‘technology’ coming to Britain almost immediately after I first heard and wrote about it!); mixed in perhaps with another reminder of how the neo-imperialist wars of the twenty-first century are being expanded into Africa and why the civil war in Syria is really just a proxy war with the al-Qaeda-led rebel forces being covertly supported by their own sworn enemy, America. (To read posts on any of the above just follow the relevant links from the main menu or use the search tool.)

However, to do justice to such a monumental post would possibly have taken a month or more. All the troubles I have written about, and sadly with very few exceptions, worsening during the past two years; our descent into chaos and tyranny happening quicker now than before I began.

More wars; more environmental devastation in the name of environmental protection; greater infringement of our civil liberties and human rights; and an economy that is teetering on the very edge of total collapse. Indeed, the economic situation is now so bad that on BBC2’s Newsnight a few nights ago [Tuesday 19th], Jeremy Paxman was reduced to interrogating an MP from Cyprus. And just think about that for a moment, and bear in mind that Cyprus (and I mean no offence to Cypriots when I say this) is an economic gnat. Yet we are seriously contemplating how the effects of a debt problem in Cyprus might undo the entire Eurozone. All of which is actually a measure of how broken the banking system has become.

Yes, the financial system of much of the world (and especially our region of it) is bankrupt, and has been for some time. The reason is the multiple hundreds of trillions of dollars of so-called ‘toxic’ derivatives that have still yet to be deleted. But instead of cancelling the odious debts and prosecuting a corrupt banking establishment, the proposed solution is instead to openly steal money from personal bank accounts in order to keep the Ponzi scheme up and running just a little longer. This brazen theft being described in places like the BBC as “a haircut” or “a tax on savings”. You just can’t make it up any more! And sooner or later, we must expect that all of this will be coming to a bank nearby…

Those who have listened carefully to people really in the know, like former regulator William K Black, are aware not only of the real cause of this crisis (and the resulting depression which the mainstream media have also helped to play down) but also precisely who is really to blame – and let’s name names here: hands up Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch! The three credit rating agencies who gave triple-A’s to toxic trash on the basis of mere opinion and yet continue to downgrade the credit worthiness of nation states in a deepening crisis which they were instrumental in starting… you really can’t make this up! And hands up Goldman Sachs, J.P Morgan, Citibank, Barclays, HSBC, and all the cronies in government, at the ECB, the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, and not forgetting the FSA and other supposed “regulatory agencies”. Agencies working for whom and to what ends, we may all reasonably demand.

It is the greed, incompetence and malfeasance across the whole of the financial sector that has brought us to this brink. It was never the fault of “the lazy Greeks” and it’s not the fault of pesky Cypriots either, but the mainstream media still hesitates at telling the people the truth – and why? Just how deep does the cronyism run…?

I hate to say this but quite frankly our world, by which I mean our civilisation, is going to hell in a handbasket. Because just as our economies collapse, and the social structures we rely upon follow, at very same time the controls on us are being tightened one notch at a time, and at an accelerating rate. This is another big theme I have returned to time and again. How in America there was Obama’s introduction of the NDAA “indefinite detention act”, and how in Britain we look set to get our own secret trials too. How in America (and most probably in Britain, although here the available evidence is less certain) there is already universal surveillance of internet activity and soon (certainly if Obama gets his way) of bank accounts too.1

These are the considered thoughts of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger, writing almost a year ago an article on his own website entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?”:

You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished. Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center may monitor whether you are typing not merely “al-Qaeda”, but “exercise”, “drill”, “wave”, “initiative” and “organisation”: all proscribed words. The British government’s announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years. What has changed is that a state of permanent war has been launched by the United States and a police state is consuming western democracy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Britain, on instructions from the CIA, secret courts are to deal with “terror suspects”. Habeas Corpus is dying. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five men, including three British citizens, can be extradited to the US even though none except one has been charged with a crime. All have been imprisoned for years under the 2003 US/UK Extradition Treaty which was signed one month after the criminal invasion of Iraq. The European Court had condemned the treaty as likely to lead to “cruel and unusual punishment”. One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was awarded 63,000 pounds compensation for 73 recorded injuries he sustained in the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Sexual abuse, the signature of fascism, was high on the list. Another man is a schizophrenic who has suffered a complete mental collapse and is in Broadmoor secure hospital; another is a suicide risk. To the Land of the Free, they go – along with young Richard O’Dwyer, who faces 10 years in shackles and an orange jump suit because he allegedly infringed US copyright on the internet. 2

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Meanwhile, of course, the neo-imperialist adventuring remains not only unchecked, but is actually gathering momentum. The war racket pressing full-steam ahead and flattening all before it. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have money to fix our broken hospitals, or to build houses and renew infrastructure, or that in America there are fifty million people already on food stamps – and if you picture those people in sepia forming a queue then you’ll see how this depression has already reached 1930s levels. But in spite of these hardships at home, no amount of money is ever spared when it comes the next country on our checklist for “humanitarian intervention” – and more thoughts on this in my next post.

So these days I am finding every post I write is harder than the last. How many ways are there to say that nuclear power and fracking are a menace not only to human beings but to most other life on the planet (cockroaches aside perhaps)? How many times do you need to say that “austerity measures” are not merely ideological in design but that they serve no useful purpose other than to wreck economies (as the IMF and World Bank have done in so many other countries across the globe) whilst redistributing wealth from the relatively poor to the mega-rich? How many times does it need pointing out that America is backing al-Qaeda when it suits their ends? – when, after all, al-Qaeda owes its origins to Zbigniew Brzezinski and the CIA and their dirty campaign to overthrow the Soviets in Afghanistan. So it is genuinely painful to have to repeat these things, and totally depressing to be shown to be right – that our collective future really is becoming so absolutely bleak, and unremittingly brutalised. Sooner rather than later, I want to be proved wrong – this hope is the only thing that actually keeps me writing this damned blog.

Now if any of the above sounds to you like craziness, then let me confirm that on one level it really is, though the craziness is not mine. For, in a sense, this is simply the way things have always worked: policies of expedience, of realpolitik. It is how ruling elites prefer to govern the masses, and all that stuff and nonsense about “freedom and democracy” and “saving the planet” is for the proles and “the gentlemen” (as neo-con political philosopher Leo Strauss called them) – those in the higher-up echelons who truly believe in the goodness of the system, but whose real job is to protect the interests of the powers that be. But the difference now is that the ruling elites are ready to assume a more complete dominion over all of their underlings. And it will be achieved by a scientifically-driven programme of social engineering that is already well underway: bringing us into the scientific dictatorship that globalist bigwig Zbigniew Brzezinski famously called “the Technetronic Era”:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” [..]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 3

Do Brzezinski’s words represent a warning or a blueprint… this ambiguity remains only because Brzezinski quite deliberately never makes his position clear:

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure. 4

The quote above is taken from a rather favourable review of Brzezinski’s book written by Stephen McGlinchey in 2011. The book itself has been out of print for three decades.

There is plenty of speculation about Brzezinski’s real intent when he wrote the book, but does this even matter – especially as we have good reasons to be suspicious given his record in other more tangible ways – the more important point is that the direction he outlines is evidently the direction our world has taken. And I would like to think that my own ant-sized efforts to halt the progress of this imposed revolution, alongside the efforts of countless other out-spoken ants, all trying so hard to speak up with truth to power is having some effect. That we may be small and struggling to be heard above the largely controlled, mainstream din, with tiny readerships and such small spheres of influence, but that our combining ripples are building in amplitude and spreading wider…. And then I read an article and I think that yes indeed, tiny as we are, we really must be having some effect, because it seems that the government is suddenly intent on shutting voices like mine down altogether.

Never letting any good crisis go to waste, the government it seems has twisted the whole Leveson Inquiry around to its own advantage – in a fashion reminiscent of what happened with the Hutton Inquiry (from which, of course, the BBC has never properly recovered). The Leveson Inquiry, we should remember, was set up to deal with crimes, and specifically the crime of phone hacking, perpetrated by media giants (most prominently Rupert Murdoch’s News International), and to also look into the role played by the London Metropolitan Police, yet in consequence, the results of that inquiry look likely to close down parts of the alternative media instead. Here’s an extract from Tuesday’s Guardian:

Bloggers could face high fines for libel under the new Leveson deal with exemplary damages imposed if they don’t sign up to the new regulator, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Under clause 29 introduced to the crime and courts bill in the Commons on Monday night, the definition of “relevant” bloggers or websites includes any that generate news material where there is an editorial structure giving someone control over publication. […]

Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for press freedom around the world, said it was a “sad day” for British democracy. “This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use,” she said.

She said she feared thousands of websites could fall under the definition of a “relevant publisher” in clause 29.

Hughes said: “Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

My belief has always been (and remains) that the best way to lose your freedom of speech is by refusing to use it, and so this ludicrous regulatory overreach is more reason to keep offering some small alternative to the mainstream behemoths. And rest assured that I certainly won’t be signing up to any regulatory body.

Finally then, and if the authorities ever do decide to go after me for daring to disagree with mainstream authority, then I ask in advance for your support – why? Because I’m the little guy, the ant, the gnat, the gadfly. The main difference between you and I, in this respect, is merely that I have perhaps put my head a little higher above the parapet. So once I’m firmly in the cross-hairs, assuming this should happen, then you can be absolutely certain it’ll be your turn next, and rather sooner than you might suppose…

1“The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

“The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.”

From an article entitled “Obama Administration Proposing To Let U.S. Spy Agencies Have Access To Massive Financial Database”, written by Emily Flitter, Stella Dawson and Mark Hosenball, (from Reuters) published by Huffingtonpost. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/obama-spy-agencies_n_2868389.html

2 From an article entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?” written by John Pilger and posted on his own website on April 26, 2012. http://johnpilger.com/articles/you-are-all-suspects-now-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it

3 Both quotes taken from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

4 Taken from a review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

5 From an article entitled “Press regulation deal sparks fears of high libel fines for bloggers: Websites could have to pay exemplary damages if they don’t sign up to new regulator, claim opponents of Leveson deal”, written by Lisa O’Carroll, published by the Guardian on March 19, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/mar/19/bloggers-libel-fines-press-regulation

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Britain, Cyprus, financial derivatives, internet freedom, John Pilger, mass surveillance, Syria, USA

CISPA: the latest attack on freedom in America

A few months ago many were worrying about PIPA and SOPA, two US bills drafted ostensibly to protect intellectual property rights, but blocked thanks to widespread protests including the blackout of many internet sites – most notably wikipedia. Meantime, we have also seen the European Union attempting to ratify the international ‘anti-piracy’ ACTA treaty, this time ignoring not only public opinion, but the advice of two of their own appointed rapporteurs.1 So there has never been such a conspicuous rush by governments to take control of the internet, and to limit the free sharing of information, as we have seen during the last few months.

Combined with this, we also recently learned that the NSA are constructing a massive new centre for the purpose of the interception and storage of all email and other personal data passing through the United States. Finally, we see how this unlawful intrusion on personal privacy is to be legitimised, by, of course, yet another draft of internet regulation: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed yesterday in the House of Representatives:

On a bipartisan vote of 248-168, the Republican-controlled House backed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which would encourage companies and the federal government to share information collected on the internet to prevent electronic attacks from cybercriminals, foreign governments and terrorists.2

Taken from a report in today’s Guardian.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Michelle Richardson has since made the following statement:

“CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”3

The ACLU is also holding out hope that the Obama administration will now veto the bill as it is threatening to do. The Guardian also reports that The House of Representatives “ignored objections from Barack Obama’s administration” by approving the legislation. But now let us rewind just a little. This is taken from another Guardian article published in December last year:

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law [NDAA 2012] that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.4

The same article goes on to say:

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing.

Returning to CISPA, and in contrast to the outcry over SOPA and PIPA, it is interesting to note that all of the major corporations involved with the internet have been supporting the bill. No blackout of wikipedia, or any other major sites. What do these companies have to gain? Here’s Michelle Richardson speaking on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

[And] frankly, they’re going to make out like bandits. Under this bill, if they share our private information, they get complete protection from liability. Consumers will no longer be able to assert their privacy rights that exist under current law and hold them accountable in court. They can’t be prosecuted by the government like they currently can for illegal wiretapping or sharing information. They’re getting FOIA exemptions, so that no one will ever know about these breaches or the things that they share with the government. They’re really walking away here with maximum flexibility to share our personal information with minimum accountability and no enforcement to make sure that they are not oversharing and infringing on our privacy.5

Click here to watch video and read the full transcript of the Democracy Now! interview

Asked what the prospects are of the legislation passing, Richardson replies:

Well, we were very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat yesterday and said, in very clear terms, that they believe that control of the internet needs to remain civilian, and the military shouldn’t be routinely collecting information on innocent people.

Very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat… Why so pleased? Can it be that Richardson and the rest of ACLU are suffering some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten that Obama reneged on his promise not to authorise the NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ act less than four months ago? Are they also oblivious to the fact that the necessary facilities for such widespread domestic surveillance is now being constructed in a heavily fortified centre in Bluffdale, Utah at a cost of $2 billion? So Obama isn’t fighting the same corner. Surely by now that’s obvious, isn’t it?

“But why did he do it?” a friend said to me, soon after Obama had given the go-ahead for indefinite detention without trial. This common response simply reminds me of the question the drowning frog asks the scorpion in the fable.6 The answer being, if you remember, “I couldn’t help it – I’m a scorpion”.

1 Kader Arif resigned in protest on January 26 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

The newly appointed rapporteur, British MEP David Martin, also recommended against the treaty, stating “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.

2 From an article entitled “Cispa cybersecurity bill passed by House of Representatives”, from Associated Press, published in the Guardian on April 27, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/27/cispa-cybersecurity-bill-passed-senate

4 From an article entitled “Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill”, written by Chris McGreal, published in the Guardian on December 15, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/americans-face-guantanamo-detention-obama

6 A frog and a scorpion are trying to cross a river. “Hello Mr. Frog!” says the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog.

Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

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ACTA is a treaty drawn up by pirates and for pirates

With SOPA and PIPA kicked into the long grass, another attempt to close down free speech on the internet is now coming under scrutiny. ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, is yet another draft of legislation that is ostensibly for the purpose of enforcing intellectual property rights, although unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA is an international treaty. (And apologies for such an obfuscation of acronyms — I presume that’s the correct collective noun).

ACTA, which establishes its own governing body outside existing international institutions such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or even the United Nations, was originally signed by countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States back on October 1st 2011.

When, last Thursday [Jan 26th], twenty-two of the European Union member states including the UK also signed the agreement, French Member of the European Parliament, Kader Arif, was so angered by “manoeuvres” used to get the bill approved, that he immediately resigned in protest from his position as rapporteur:

Negotiations over a controversial anti-piracy agreement have been described as a “masquerade” by a key Euro MP.

Kader Arif, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), resigned over the issue on Friday.

He said he had witnessed “never-before-seen manoeuvres” by officials preparing the treaty.1

And Kader Arif made the following statement:

“I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

In Poland, tens of thousands of demonstrators also voiced opposition to their own government’s signature to the ACTA agreement:

Crowds of mostly young people held banners with slogans such as “no to censorship” and “a free internet”.

Earlier in the week, hackers attacked several Polish government websites, including that of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.2

Russia Today reported that the Anonymous group had earlier sent out ‘a stern warning’ to the Polish authorities, issuing what was little short of a blackmail note:

“Polish government – we are more powerful than you. We have a lot of your files and personal information. We warn you to exercise caution” which was published on pastebin.com.

The scope of ACTA is more expansive than SOPA and PIPA, not merely geographically, but because it aims to establish and enforce global standards in many other areas. Here’s analysis of how the new legislation will affect the lives of people across the world, published in Forbes:

Worse, it appears to go much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, according to critics of the agreement:

  • ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.
  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament.
  • ACTA was written and hammered out behind closed doors. While some of the provisions have been taken out of the final US draft, plenty of unknowns still exist. It’s not nearly clear enough how the agreement will affect US laws.3

Click here to read more details in Forbes.

With regards to the internet, the tightening of control on websites will automatically lead to the closer scrutiny of all internet users:

Under ACTA, internet service providers are virtually obliged to monitor all user activity for possible copyright violations. It also gives trademark owners and officers of the law great authority to violate privacy while investigating suspected infringements.4

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, told Russia Today that the ACTA copyright protection treaty is an “excellent example of abuse of power by the corporate industry”:

“This legislation about putting people in jail was negotiated by corporations and the lawmakers just got it in their lap,” he explained. “That is not how a democratic society should work, quite regardless of what this law says.”

Click here to read the full Russia Today article.

Jonathan Swift famously said that “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” ACTA is a perfect example of Swift’s observation, drawn up in order to serve the interests of the biggest pirates of our economies. The pirates at the helm of the megabanks who continue to force whole nations to surrender their wealth to bail them out on the basis of threats from their pirate buddies at the credit rating agencies. And the multinational corporate pirates who refuse to pay up their modest contribution in taxes, preferring to bury their treasures in offshore havens.

We already have laws to bring many of the major pirates to justice, but these laws are rarely used for such purposes. Regulations that haven’t so far been axed are increasingly being ignored. Meanwhile, bills like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have been drawn up to further choke opposition, opening the way for greater corporate control over our lives. All of this so-called ‘anti-piracy’ legislation is nothing but humbug, and poisonous humbug at that. The signing of ACTA, which is clearly designed to squeeze out the little guy and stifle the independent voice, represents just another miserable step towards a globalised corporate tyranny. In short, ACTA was written by the pirates and for the pirates.

1 From an article entitled “European Parliament rapporteur quits in Acta protest” written by Dave Lee, published by BBC news on January 27, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16757142

2 From an article entitled “ACTA action: Poland signs up to ‘censorship’ as 20,000 rage”, published by Russia Today on January 26, 2012. http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

3 From an article entitled “If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet ACTA”, written by E.D. Kain, published by Forbes on January 23, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/23/if-you-thought-sopa-was-bad-just-wait-until-you-meet-acta/

4  http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

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