Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans approve? – Article to appear in Die Zeit on Thursday 16th July 2015

Yanis Varoufakis

Pre-publication summary: Five months of intense negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup never had a chance of success. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone.

  • This is no theory.
  • How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe?
  • Because he told me so!

I wrote this article not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks.

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US drone programme deemed unlawful by two major human rights groups

Amnesty International yesterday released an important new report on how US drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan, saying that some drone killings may amount to war crimes. In a separate report, Human Rights Watch criticized the US drone programme in Yemen, where strikes have also killed many civilians.

Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report, “‘Will I be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” was interviewed on today’s Democracy Now! broadcast. He says:

When you look at people living there, already facing so many threats, curfew, living a very difficult life, the idea that in the skies, the skies are no longer safe, and then when these strikes happen—you know, it could be very close to you, could be your neighbors, could be your loved ones involved—obviously you want to help them, and now people are so scared even to do that, it’s really quite shocking.

In terms of the law, that—we see that as unlawful. We can’t see a justification for that. We really call on the U.S., as we saw with [White House Press Secretary] Jay Carney claiming this is a legal program—well, fine, show us the legal justification for it and ensure those justifications and the facts are given to a genuinely independent, impartial investigator. That’s the key thing. We are saying now to the U.S. government: Come clean, show us what is your evidence in law and fact for justifying rescuer attacks and the other unlawful killings we’ve documented in the report.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the video on the Democracy Now! website.

Concurrently, a second report by Human Rights Watch entitled “US: Reassess Targeted Killings in Yemen” was also released yesterday. Author of the report, Letta Tayler, who is senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, saying in the press release:

“The US says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen. Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Meanwhile, BBC news also reported on this latest evidence presented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch under the headline “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’”. What caught the eye, however, was an inset to the main article under the heading “analysis” put together by their correspondent M Ilyas Khan, who writes:

The general impression that one gets from talking to elders and correspondents from the area is that drone strikes are for the most part accurate, causing little or no collateral damage.

They say if civilians deaths had been as high as those mentioned in some recent international reports, there would have been more of an outcry against it both socially and also in the media.1

Khan’s remarks are deplorable. Presented with carefully gathered evidence from not one, but two human rights groups, independently alleging that US drone attacks are probably in violation of international law, his response is to ignore the evidence and downplay their conclusions purely on the basis of hearsay that drone strikes have caused “little or no collateral damage”. Such thoughtless use of neo-con euphemisms simply underlining his deliberately calculated and utterly flippant dismissal of the crimes taking place. Lazy and biased reporting which, to quote Khan again, is a big part of the reason there hasn’t been “more of an outcry against it… in the media”. Shameful.

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

1 From an article entitled “US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’” published by BBC news on October 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24618701

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“Into The Fire” — ‘austerity’ and its part in the return of fascism

Angela Merkel tried to contain her irritation when asked at a podium discussion in Berlin this week whether southern European countries could take much more German-ordered austerity.

But the frustration in her voice was clear enough after a week in which several European allies broke ranks, and in a public challenge to Germany, effectively declared the era of deficit reduction in Europe to be over.

“I call it balancing the budget,” the German chancellor told her audience at a book presentation. “Everyone else is using this term austerity. That makes it sound like something truly evil.”

So begins an article published yesterday by Greek Independent Press. The article continues:

There are signs the criticism is beginning to grate. German officials turn testy when the word “austerity” is mentioned these days. In recent months, they have deliberately adjusted their language, adopting the term “growth-friendly consolidation” to describe their policy approach.

Yes, whatever you do just make sure you don’t mention… “the austerity”!

Listening to Angela Merkel here, one might mistakenly imagine that “austerity” was some kind of nasty term made up by opponents of the agenda, whereas, in actual fact, it was coined as the euphemism of choice by those who advocated and most avidly sought the implementation of such an economic “shock therapy”. “Shock therapy” being, of course, a term conveniently applied by the earlier proponents of such measures, and good enough when the victims mostly lived in Latin America or Africa. But then, when “shock therapy” came back to Europe and America it needed another name, and, as euphemisms go, “austerity” obviously had its advantages: it was short and memorable, and unconsciously appealed to a certain kind of stoical, almost religious outlook, and as such was able to cover its ill intentions beneath the guise of such virtues as frugality and self-restraint.

Of course, the term “austerity” is actually just a polite cover needed to hide away the truly diabolical consequences of destroying a nation’s wealth and welfare provision. “Growth-friendly consolidation”, on the other hand, and aside from being unmitigated nonsense*, is far too much of a mouthful. After all, does anyone still remember the dear old “Community Charge”? – most people don’t. When it came to naming, more cuddly sounding “Community Charge” simply didn’t stand a chance against its punchier rival “The Poll Tax”. So Merkel and the others should be warned: they are no doubt already stuck with the term “austerity”, whether they like it or not.

And “austerity” is only getting a bad name because it is indeed “something truly evil” (as Merkel put it); an evil that, as time passes, will doubtless become more and more obvious to everyone. For “austerity” is as socially divisive as it is economically destructive: opening up the way for the very worst forms of political extremism to rise and prosper. Savage economics and hard right policies complimenting one another perfectly; the iron fist slipped (but only barely concealed) inside an already iron glove. We should call it what it is: extreme “austerity” is creeping fascism.

I actually visited Greece in the Summer of 2006, just about a year before this crisis kicked off, and back then it was a fully functioning western democratic society. It felt like a home from home. Yet, in little more than six years the country has been trashed. Broken on the wheel of “austerity”, and with no end at all in sight.

To see how terribly Greece has been ruined, and to also understand how, on the back of such wanton destruction, a neo-Nazi group like Golden Dawn has grown and incrementally seized more power, I strongly recommend a new documentary entitled “Into The Fire: The Hidden Victims of Austerity in Greece”, which was released just a few days ago and is embedded below:

Into the Fire is being crowd-released today [April 20th]: All over the internet people are embedding Into the Fire on their website or blog. With everyone who participates the audience and distribution network will grow. Are you participating? http://intothefire.org

A hard hitting documentary which shows the plight of refugees and migrants in recession hit Athens, Into The Fire is a film with a difference.

Shot and edited with sensitivity and compassion, it doesn’t pull its punches and makes for harrowing viewing in parts. It is the product of crowd funding, dedication, self-sacrifice and a burning sense of justice.

In times of severe austerity things look bleak for Greek people, but they’re far worse for those who have recently arrived. Without housing, legal papers or support, migrants in Greece are faced with increasing and often violent racism at the hands of the growing Nazi party Golden Dawn and the police in Athens. Many are trapped by EU laws and legislation of other EU countries meaning they’d be returned to Greece if they managed to get to another member state, they are desperate to leave the country.

This film gives incredible insights into the reality faced by people who simply want to lead peaceful, normal lives.

*

* Here are some interesting graphs taken from an wikipedia article entitled “European sovereign-debt crisis”, which show the rise in the levels of Greek, Spanish and Portuguese debt since 1999 as compared to the average of the Eurozone:

All three graphs (and others including those for Ireland and Cyprus) show a marked turning point around 2007-8, providing further evidence not only that “austerity” hasn’t worked (even within its own terms of debt reduction), but that the western world is actually faced with a systemic banking crisis that flared up at that time. (Please note that the flattening off throughout the final three years of these graphs represents only projected estimates.)

The following is taken from an article written by Tyler Durden and posted on zerohedge from February 18, 2013:

“Beleaguered Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just broke another record. As if a plague of corruption scandals was not enough, Spain’s debt-to-GDP has now reached levels not seen in over 100 years. As El Pais reports, Spanish debt levels rose at an alarming EUR 400 million per day in 2012 making for the largest annual increase in debt in the nation’s history – all the while proclaiming austerity.”

And here’s another helpful graph that goes along with the article, showing once more that rather than reducing Spanish debt, the imposition of “austerity measures” is very closely correlated to the spike in that debt:

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Dutch scientists to resume weaponising bird flu — but why?

Little more than a year ago I posted an article entitled “Dutch scientists have weaponised bird flu — but why?

And then, one week later, the research project was abruptly halted:

Scientists who created a potentially more deadly bird flu strain have temporarily stopped their research amid fears it could be used by terrorists.

In a letter published in Science and Nature, the teams call for an “international forum” to debate the risks and value of the studies.1

One of the concerns then being highlighted was the intention of the Erasmus Medical Center, the group behind the research, to make their findings public:

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended key details be omitted from publication of the research, which sparked international furore.

“I would have preferred if this hadn’t caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can’t change that,” Ron Fouchier, a researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider.

“So I think it’s the right step to make.”

So now apparently we had two controversies. A more academic one concerning the rights and wrongs of censoring scientific publications, and the other one about whether creating “a potentially more deadly bird flu strain” is a good idea in the first instance. In any case, concerns about the research had effectively forced a voluntary 60-day moratorium:

But some said the 60-day pause on research was not enough.

One critic of the studies, Richard Ebright, a biologist at Rutgers University, told Science Insider that the letter “includes flatly false statements” making assurances about the safety of H1N1 research labs.

Reports say that a meeting debating the research and steps forward could come during a World Health Organization meeting in February.

Click here to read the full article on the BBC news website.

With research on hold, “publication was [also] delayed for several months after a US agency expressed concern that it might be useful to bioterrorists”. That delay lasted until May:

[Eventually] the US government and the journals Science and Nature agreed that the papers from teams in Rotterdam and Wisconsin [the other institute involved] should be published in full.

And so they were:

Last month Nature published its H5N1 research and now that’s been followed by a series of papers in the journal Science.

Together they set out the potential threat of an H5N1 pandemic and how to prepare for it.

My colleague Pallab Ghosh has a summary of the Science research which you can read here.2

[In fact, you probably can’t read that particular summary because the link seems to have failed.]

These extracts are taken from a BBC news report by Fergus Walsh, someone who seems intent on playing down the worries about the research itself and keener to emphasise the likely prospects of a future flu pandemic:

The potential for a pandemic of avian flu is considered by the World Health Organisation as one of the greatest potential threats to global health.

So is the world a safer or a more dangerous place now that these papers have been published?

The journals involved argue this data will allow scientists to monitor the threat from avian flu and work on preparations for a potential pandemic. That view is widely shared among scientists.

And on the same day, BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh wrote a companion piece also highlighting dangers of a bird flu pandemic:

The H5N1 bird flu virus could change into a form able to spread rapidly between humans, scientists have warned.

Researchers have identified five genetic changes that could allow the virus to start a deadly pandemic.

Writing in the journal Science, they say it would be theoretically possible for these changes to occur in nature.3

Which has always remained the justification given by those scientists undertaking the research: that the study will help them and others to “learn which viruses can cause pandemics and by knowing that we might be able to prevent them by enforcing strict eradication programmes”. But should we not be concerned that as a direct consequence of their research such a strain has now been artificially mutated and so presumably already exists.

In the next part of Pallab Ghosh’s article, we come to what many (myself included) see as the most troubling part of the whole exercise – it appears as a bold subheading that instantly puts the research back into more chilling context:

Bioweapon

It is the first time it has been shown that it is possible for bird flu to become airborne, but the research team was unable to determine precisely how likely this was to happen.

Prof Derek Smith, who led the analysis, said more information was needed.

He said researchers required a better understanding of how flu viruses were transmitted between people in order to develop a clearer idea of the likelihood of the emergence of an airborne strain of bird flu.

“These are difficult things to find out,” Prof Smith told BBC News.

“What this work enables us to do is to prioritise particular experiments to obtain this information”.

And yet the very next statement in the same article then immediately raises more questions about the supposed value of the research whilst simultaneously coming as a great relief:

It is clear though that the emergence of an airborne mutation of H5N1 is unlikely. Were it not it would have emerged already.

I have highlighted this in bold because, to my admittedly untrained eye, it already contains a rather significant answer to the question they are supposed to be trying to answer — that any naturally occurring variant is unlikely to be a highly dangerous “airborne mutation”. So what is the point of the research, again…? Back to Ghosh’s article:

But researchers want to be able to calculate the risk of such a virus emerging more precisely in order to help public health officials in their contingency planning.

Is this really a good enough reason?

Click here to read the full article by Pallab Ghosh.

All of which brings me to the latest BBC news report, which was published yesterday [Jan 23rd] and entitled “Controversial bird flu work resumes”. Apparently, the moratorium, which had initially been set at 60-days, and then was later extended to a year, is finally over:

Controversial research into making bird flu easier to spread in people is to resume after a year-long pause.

Some argue the research is essential for understanding how viruses spread and could be used to prevent deadly pandemics killing millions of people.

Research was stopped amid fierce debate including concerns about modified viruses escaping the laboratory or being used for terrorism.

The moratorium gave authorities time to fully assess the safety of the studies.4

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

So is it regarded as safe to continue the research then? What do most experts think now, and following a year’s consideration? Back to the article:

[Other] scientists said the risk of the virus spreading was too great for such research to take place and described it as a folly.

That sounds like the same opinion as before – yet surely if the research is about to be resumed there must now be a consensus in favour…?

“This research is urgent, while we are having this pause bird flu virus continues to evolve in nature and we need to continue this research.

“We cannot wait for another year or two years.”

And who says so?

“One of the leading proponents of the research Prof Ron Fouchier, from the Erasmus Medical Centre”

But do other leading experts, and in light of whatever debate has taken place during the year long moratorium, now concur with the assessment of Professor Fouchier?

Prof Robert May, from the University of Oxford and a former president of The Royal Society, said: “These are not bad people, they are good people with good intentions, but they look through rose-coloured glasses at the security of the laboratories.”

He said past history suggests “it will get out” as there had been more than a thousand cases of people being infected in labs with the highest standards and the 1977 outbreak of flu may have been connected to a Russian facility.

“That’s why I feel the world is a safer place if we maintain this moratorium.”

So no then…

*

1 From an article entitled “Bioterror fears halt research on mutant bird flu” published by BBC news on January 20, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16662346

2 From an article entitled “Five genetic changes that could allow bird flu pandemic” written by Fergus Walsh, published by BBC news on June 21, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/18541433

3 From an article entitled “Bird flu ‘could mutate to cause deadly human pandemic’” written by Pallab Ghosh, published by BBC news on June 21, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18534676

4 From an article entitled “Controversial bird flu work resumes” written by James Gallagher, published by BBC news on January 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21165288

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fight over NDAA indefinite detention bill is telling

On May 16th, District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan made a preliminarily ruling in favour of a group of seven civilian activists and journalists, which included Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and perhaps most prominently, former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.

The plaintiffs had argued that a section of the NDAA 2012 bill, which had been signed into law by President Barack Obama late on New Year’s Eve, was in violation of “both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”1

In response, the Obama administration immediately contested the judgement, asking Judge Forrest to reconsider her ruling:

… saying that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law and that it was “extraordinary” for her to have restrained future military operations that might be ordered by the commander in chief during wartime.2

In case you’re not sure, by the way, the US commander in chief is the President. And yes, just like Bush, Obama obviously sees himself as a “war president”. After all, he’s still fighting that preposterous “war on terror”, which rumbles mercilessly on and on, forever and ever, as it inevitably must – “terror” being such a deliberately ill-defined adversary.

Bravely, Judge Forrest stood her ground:

As part of that request, the government said in a footnote that it was interpreting her injunction narrowly as applying only to the handful of people specifically named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Chris Hedges, a journalist who interacts with terrorists as part of his reporting work, and several prominent supporters of WikiLeaks.

But on Wednesday [June 6th], Judge Forrest said that her order still stood — and that, contrary to the government’s narrow interpretation of it, her injunction applied broadly and not just to the named plaintiffs.

“Put more bluntly, the May 16 order enjoined enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) against anyone until further action by this, or a higher, court — or by Congress,” she wrote. “This order should eliminate any doubt as to the May 16 order’s scope.”3

And then, on September 12th, Judge Forrest made permanent her order that blocked enforcement of the provision within NDAA 2012:

The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.4

However, the Obama administration came rushing back again, and on Monday [Sept 17th] won an emergency suspension of the ruling that was now blocking their indefinite detention provisions:

The Justice Department, which represents U.S. President Barack Obama, argued the judge’s September 12 injunction barring enforcement of a portion of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions would harm U.S. war efforts abroad. […]

Monday night’s order by Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier said the district court’s order is stayed until an appeals panel considers the issue.

Carl Mayer, a lawyer for Hedges, said Tuesday that the order was procedural and “we are confident the district court opinion will be vindicated.”5

On Tuesday [Sept 18th], Democracy Now! covered the issue of the Obama administration’s appeals against Judge Forrest’s rulings on NDAA 2012, as well as Obama’s continuing use of indefinite detention at Guantánamo.

Amy Goodman spoke to Marcy Wheeler, investigative blogger who runs the website emptywheel.net. Wheeler told her:

Just last night, the Second Circuit did issue a stay in that. So, Friday night, the judge issued an injunction saying you can’t hold anybody according to this NDAA. The government immediately said they were going to appeal. There are some interesting legal issues about whether the government appeal—should have been able to appeal, but nevertheless, judges in this country continue to say, you know, “As soon as the president says ‘national security,’ we’re going to do whatever you say.” And they did that in this case. They’ve issued—they’ve issued a stay, which means they can go ahead and use the NDAA.

And what it means is this kind of vaguely defined—the government hasn’t even been able to define it—this vaguely defined category of people who substantially support al-Qaeda, Taliban, other terrorist organizations can be indefinitely detained. U.S. citizens, Obama has said, wouldn’t be held in military custody, but there’s a lot of gray area there, and I think people are right to be concerned.

Of course, Obama is far from alone in endorsing the tyrannical and unconstitutional NDAA 2012. Here’s what presidential rival Mitt Romney had to say when asked if he would have signed the act:

Yes, I would have. And I do believe that it’s appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al-Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues, but you don’t have a right to join a group that has challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans and has declared war against America. That’s treason. And in this country, we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

The highlight in bold is mine, of course, added to drew attention to what civil rights campaigners and all true constitutionalists are constantly up against – that like it or lump it, America remains at war… Romney being eager to pick up where Obama left off, as the next war president.

So these are the two guys running for office and heaven help us all! As bad as Obama has been during his four years in the White House, we can only expect Romney to be at least as bad, and judging from what we already know, a good deal worse again.

To get some measure of just how bad Romney could be, here’s Marcy Wheeler again, taking a closer look at a few of the people now installed around him:

You know, as problematic as Obama has been on things like indefinite detention, when you look at Romney’s aides, they’ve got people like Cofer Black6, who really invented the counterterrorism program that we’ve been using since 9/11. You’ve got Steven Bradbury”7, who was one of the writers of the—

Amy Goodman: Cofer Black, who used to be an official with Blackwater.

Yeah, he went from the CIA to the State Department to Blackwater. But he’s the guy who invented targeted killing, who invented torture, who invented—I mean, he’s the architect of our entire counterterrorism program—top Mitt Romney aide. You’ve got Tim Flanigan8, who’s another one of the architects of the torture program. So, if you you look at the people who are close to Mitt Romney, and if you look at what he said—he’s also said that he thinks we should bring back torture—it’s clear that, if anything, he’s going to be worse than Obama on these issues. We don’t—we don’t have a great choice on these issues at the top of the ticket in November.

Nothing can really change in America until the “war on terror” is officially ended. A ‘war’ that is without any sense or direction, although undoubtedly useful when it comes to justifying the old wars, and with the dangerous potential for sparking new ones: Iran, very evidently, now in the cross-hairs. And aside from keeping the war machine ticking over, the “war on terror” also continues to provide cover for the escalating assault against all of our individual rights and freedoms – so perfectly encapsulated in the current legal battle taking place over NDAA 2012.

“The war against terror is like the war against dandruff, I mean it’s a metaphor. It doesn’t mean anything…” said the late Gore Vidal, but in truth it’s even less meaningful than that, since when it comes to dandruff we at least know what we’re looking for.

For further information about NDAA 2012 and the Hedges vs Obama legal battle visit www.stopndaa.org

Click here to read more of the transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Update:

Carl Mayer, an attorney with The Mayer Law Group and legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, spoke with Russia Today on September 14th:

In brief, Mayer says:

“[The Obama administration] plan to appeal this to the Second Circuit and probably ultimately to the Supreme Court. We think this is ill advised because it contradicts President Obama’s campaign statements, it contradicts his criticism of his own legislation in his signing statement and he knows, as a former constitutional law professor, that this is wholly unconstitutional.” […]

“Because the language is so vague in this law,” Mr. Mayer explains, “if any journalist or activist is seen as reporting or offering opinions about groups that could somehow be linked not just to al-Qaeda but to any opponent of the United States or even opponents of our allies” they could be imprisoned indefinitely.

“I think they are ill advised to appeal this at all,” he tells Russia Today. “The Obama administration has now lost three times. They lost the temporary injunction, they lost the motion for reconsideration and they lost the hearing for permanent injunction. I say three strikes and you’re out.”

Click here to read a more complete transcript or to watch the interview on the Russia Today website.

1 From an article entitled “Federal court enjoins NDAA: An Obama-appointed judge rules its indefinite detention provisions likely to violate the 1st and 5th Amendments”, written by Glenn Greenwald, published in Salon on May 16, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/05/16/federal_court_enjoins_ndaa/

2 From an article entitled “Detention Provision Is Blocked”, written by Charlie Savage, published in the New York Times on June 6, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/us/terrorism-detention-provision-is-blocked.html

3 Ibid.

4 From an article entitled “US judge’s rule protects reporters, activists in their Middle East work”, written by Basil Katz, published by Reuters on September 12, 2012. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/12/usa-security-lawsuit-idINL1E8KCI8N20120912

5 From an article entitled “Government wins temporary freeze of military detention order”, published by Reuters on September 18, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-usa-security-lawsuit-idUSBRE88H0X020120918

6 If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, his trusted man inside the intel community will almost certainly be Cofer Black, a retired CIA officer best known for running the agency’s counterterrorism center on 9/11. […] Early in his career, Black was credited with doing much of the street work that led to France’s apprehension in Khartoum, Sudan, of the master terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. After the 9/11 attacks, according to Bob Woodward’s first book in his series about the Bush presidency, it was Black who briefed the president on the CIA’s war plan for Afghanistan. He’s also the guy who promised to leave al Qaeda’s operatives with “flies walking across their eyeballs.”

Taken from an article entitled “Meet Mitt Romney’s Trusted Envoy to the Dark Side, Cofer Black”, written by Eli Lake, published in The Daily Beast on April 11, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/11/meet-mitt-romney-s-trusted-envoy-to-the-dark-side-cofer-black.html

7 “Steven G. Bradbury is one of three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos enabling the Central Intelligence Agency to use harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects. […] The first of the memos, from August 2002, was signed by Jay S. Bybee, who oversaw the Office of Legal Counsel, and gave the C.I.A. its first detailed legal approval for waterboarding and other harsh treatment. Three others, signed by Mr. Bradbury, sought to reassure the agency in May 2005 that its methods were still legal, even when multiple methods were used in combination, and despite the prohibition in international law against “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. Mr. Bradbury was serving as the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.”

Taken from an article published by the New York Times and updated on April 22, 2009.

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/b/steven_g_bradbury/index.html

8 “The torture memos recently released by the Obama administration have focused interest on three of their authors: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury. However, there’s another lawyer involved in the creation of the torture memos whose name hasn’t yet come into the discussion — Timothy Flanigan.
Flanigan did not work for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel like the others. He was a deputy to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2001-02, when he helped craft some of the earliest justifications for the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture”

Taken from an article entitled “Timothy Flanigan: The torture memo lawyer no one is mentioning”, written by Muriel Kane, published in The Raw Story on April 22, 2009. http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Timothy_Flanigan_The_torture_memo_lawyer_0422.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Noam Chomsky, police state, Uncategorized, USA

the decline and fall of the Labour Party

I was recently recommended the excellent four-part BBC documentary series “Labour – The Wilderness Years”, which offers an analysis of the causes underlying the decline of the British Labour Party, beginning with the catastrophic 1979 general election, and following events up until the sudden and tragic loss of party leader John Smith in 1994, and a little beyond.

The series, first broadcast in December 1995, is a example of just how good television really can be . Without the need for repeating video loops, and endless recaps on what’s just gone. Without eye-candy graphics, emotive music and an overbearing narrative commentary. Just relevant archive footage, alongside in-depth interviews with those most closely involved in the events.

Although suspicious of much that purports to be politically neutral, on this occasion there is also a sense of genuine impartiality. The film-makers allowing arguments from all sides to be voiced, and thus leaving the viewer free to draw their own conclusions.

All four episodes have been uploaded (sliced into six 10 minute segments for each) on youtube and so I provide links for the complete lists of the parts that make up each of the episodes. Alongside those links, you can also read my own rather less neutral précis.

The four parts were named and aired as below:

1. Cast Into The Wilderness (3rd December 1995)

The fierce war between the left and the right wings of the party begins at the 1980 party conference. Tony Benn, who is already expressing concerns that Britain may be sliding into a police state, sets out to democratise the party. He is roundly condemned by those on the right, but thanks to union retaliation against the hopeless and recently defeated Jim Callaghan, leads the left to a bitter victory at the party conference.

To heal the developing schism between left and right, the party then elects the erudite and compassionate Michael Foot over the more bruising but worldly “old flamethrower” Denis Healey. But Foot’s efforts to pour oil on troubled waters is quickly undone as the treacherous “Gang of Four”, led by former Home Secretary and then-President of the European Commission, Roy Jenkins, with Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and the ever-so-dashing David Owen in tow, all running off to form their own shambolic party, the quickly defunct SDP. The longer-term consequence being that the Labour vote is split for many years to come.

Click here to watch on youtube.

2. Comrades At War (10th December 1995)

Tony Benn vs. Denis Healey in the race for deputy leader and a fight for the soul of the party, as support for Thatcher’s new Tory government wanes and as riots break out across the country. With Michael Foot still trying to steady the ship, Benn’s battle for democracy and socialism comes to blows against the ‘establishment left’ and their popular heavyweight Denis Healey. Meanwhile, the ambitious Neil Kinnock also begins to push his weight around, and very publicly withdraws his own support from Tony Benn’s campaign by abstaining from the vote. Healey narrowly wins by virtue of Kinnock’s abstention.

Michael Foot is then hauled over the coals by the right-wing press for turning up in an inappropriate coat on Remembrance Day. Whilst Foot, in turn, fails to support prospective Labour candidate Peter Tatchell, as he is grilled by the same right-wing media, and ridiculed principally on the grounds that he is candid about his own homosexuality. Finally, and on the basis that they are facing almost certain defeat in the forthcoming general election, the right-wing of the party decide to put together an extreme Bennite-style manifesto purely in order to discredit the policies of the left once and for all.

With the nation still rallying around the flag after victory in the Falklands, Michael Foot misjudges the mood again, placing his main emphasis on promoting the manifesto promise of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Rupert Murdoch’s press, Kenny Everett and Satan’s little helpers, Saatchi & Saatchi, also work tirelessly to secure Thatcher’s second term in office. Aside from ensuring an election disaster, the manifesto, which becomes popularly known as “the longest suicide note in history”, also effectively sets the seal on the Labour Party’s steady march towards the right.

Click here to watch on youtube.

3. Enter The Rose (17th December 1995)

The ambitious Neil Kinnock becomes leader and immediately shows his true colours by choosing to sit on the fence as the Thatcher government crushes the miners’ strike. He then begins “modernising” the party, by, most significantly, expunging the Trotskyist parasite ‘Militant tendency’.

During the years of 1985 and 1986, Labour’s National Executive Committee sit through hours of McCarthyite hearings: Kinnock’s inquisition leading to the expulsion of more than 200 members, including, most justifiably, the egotistical popinjay Derek Hatton. But corrupt as ‘Militant tendency’ were, many good and previously loyal party members are also forced out during this protracted witch hunt.

In late 1985, Kinnock appoints Peter Mandelson, a former television producer, to work as Director of Communications. At first, Mandelson’s “Red Rose Revolution” means mainly that message plays second fiddle to the party image. New logo, new sets, new emphasis on style over substance… the conception, if not yet the birth, of New Labour. Yet in spite of all the razzamatazz, which includes some surprisingly nifty swing dancing with wife Glenys, “the Welsh windbag” still fails to impress the electorate.

Click here to watch on youtube.

4. The Pursuit Of Power (18th December 1995)

Kinnock decides to sell-out absolutely, surrendering many more of his and the party’s remaining leftist principles in deliberate efforts to fall into line with the prevailing Thatcherite neoliberal hegemony. As his ‘revolution’ progresses, Kinnock ruthlessly puts down any dissent coming from within the shadow cabinet, whilst meanwhile instituting a nationwide “Labour Listens” polling campaign, the results of which will provide convenient populist cover for justifying the party’s ideological U-turn.

Peter Mandelson, now Labour’s spin doctor, helps Kinnock to promote the ‘policy review’ and to limit the damage caused by those who still oppose the changes. This includes briefing the media against other high-ranking Labour politicians. Michael Meacher, who was one of the victims of Mandelson’s many smear campaigns, is replaced by Tony Blair as Employment Spokesman, and, as they say… the rest is history!

Kinnock’s suits are sharpened up, and we have the debacle of the “Jennifer’s Ear” party political broadcast; a mere prelude to the jaw-dropping Hollywood-style Sheffield Rally that marks the eve of the general election. Watch it and weep:

Click here to see the remaining episodes on youtube.

Following John Smith’s untimely death, the party comes more directly under the centralised control of ‘modernisers’ like Mandelson, Blair and Brown, although the first prominent party member to publicly endorse Tony Blair as the next leader is actually Denis Healey. Whilst Blair’s closest rival, Gordon Brown, conveniently steps aside. With “the Prince of Darkness” Mandelson finally ruling the roost, Labour now drop all remaining pretence to socialism, and also betray their commitments to human rights and the rule of international law.

Margaret Thatcher once asked: “If they would abandon their most cherished policies in opposition, what will they do with their promises in government”.

A decade of New Labour rule provided us with a very sorry answer. In its wake, we live in a country riven by greater disparities in wealth than ever, and indebted thanks chiefly to market deregulation which Blair and Brown had very much permitted and encouraged. We also have a national health service made ready for privatisation, along with the prisons and our schools. And capping everything, we are mired in an unwinnable war (having already abandoned a second war, fought at the cost of countless lives, and entirely without legal or other justification). So the short answer to Thatcher’s albeit rhetorical question: that in the pursuit of power, Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest of the New Labour crew would happily sell their own grandmothers.

*

This is an appropriate juncture to also mention two very intelligent and well produced dramas that tackle similar issues from around the same period.

A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) offers a glimpse of how a left-wing Labour government might have tackled the problems facing Britain back in the 1980s. Ray McAnally is wonderful as the down-to-earth leader and MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, who takes on the ruling establishment, attempts to break the newspaper monopolies, and more generally to bring to heel the military-industrial complex. Hardly surprisingly, Perkins is met with stiff resistance and dirty tricks of every kind. The three-part television series, first screened on Channel 4, won Bafta and Emmy awards. It was based on a 1982 novel by British politician Chris Mullin, who also gives interviews throughout in “Labour – the wilderness years”. The novel was adapted for television, with a screenplay by Alan Plater, and directed by Mick Jackson.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

GBH (Channel 4, 1991) is a gritty seven-part drama written by Alan Bleasdale, starring Robert Lindsay as Michael Murray, the Militant tendency Labour leader of an unspecified British northern city. The parallels with Derek Hatton are obvious enough. Michael Palin co-stars as the principled school teacher, Jim Nelson, who inadvertently finds himself fighting against corruption and intimidation. As the plots steadily build, we discover that all is not quite as it first appears. The series was produced by David W. Jones.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

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poisoning of Fallujah: the hidden costs of modern warfare

In every war there are casualties, but in modern wars, many of the casualties are yet to have been born, or even conceived. This is the case in Fallujah, where the suffering certainly did not end after the US onslaught in 2004 that directly killed many hundreds of civilians and thousands of “insurgents” (as usual in Iraq, the full death toll remains uncertain), and left much of the city in ruins, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. The use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium (DU)* have since brought new horrors in the form of birth defects, infant mortality, and a huge increase in cancers. Yet this on-going atrocity, which is hidden away behind stringent Iraqi security lines, receives almost no media attention.

If you are a person of goodwill, then before getting behind the next call for “humanitarian intervention”, be it in Syria or Uganda or elsewhere, I implore you to first watch “Fallujah: A Lost Generation?” An investigative documentary covertly filmed in Fallujah during Winter 2011, with the testimony of residents carefully backed up by evidence from scientific experts and conflict veterans, that unflinchingly shows, not so much what modern warfare looks like, as what it leaves behind.

Fallujah, A Lost Generation?

Directed by Feurat Alani

Produced by Baozi Prod

With the participation of CANAL+

Click here to watch on vimeo.

* The whole issue surrounding the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) is deliberately obscure; the term in itself being intentionally misleading to the general public. Depleted meaning ’emptied’ or ‘diminished’ and so ‘depleted uranium’ to the untrained ear sounds like a substance that is dilute in uranium, or at least significantly different from ordinary uranium such that its properties and effects are substantially reduced. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depleted uranium IS uranium, but depleted of the isotope U-235, for the simple reason that U-235 is very useful in nuclear power plants and weapons. After enrichment, the 99% of the uranium left over is mostly U-238, which is the depleted uranium.

So how are the properties of depleted uranium different from natural uranium? Well, firstly, and from a chemical point of view, uranium is uranium is uranium. U-238 being just as toxic as any of the other isotopes. But even radiologically, there is little difference between the two main isotopes. Both are alpha-emitters of similar energy. Alpha emitters produce the worst damage when taken internally compared to other types of radioactive decay. Unfortunately, they are also the hardest to detect, and so we learn from a Nato document on depleted uranium that:

With an usual hand monitor for the detection of radioactivity, a DU metallic fragment can be detected from a distance of some 10 cm without any problem.

Since the alpha and beta radiation in the air have a very limited range and only a small amount of gamma radiation is present, it is very difficult to detect remains of DU ammunition from a distance of one meter or more.

Therefore, an efficient and extensive search for DU fragments is practically impossible. A determination of the DU content in a soil sample or in the dust of an air filter with the help of gamma detectors is barely possible or even impossible. This makes it extremely difficult to establish a reliable geographical distribution of the DU contamination on the former battlefields in Iraq or Kosovo.

U-235 has a half-life of 700 million years, whereas U-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion year, which means both isotopes stick around for a very, very long time. But there is another side to this. Activity (how many radioactive particles are emitted by a sample) is also a measure of the rate of decay. Activity is therefore inversely related to half-life. So if something decays quickly, it might well be causing a lot more damage as it does so. U-235 does have a slightly higher activity, whilst other trace isotopes in natural uranium (also ‘depleted’ in the enrichment process) have shorter half-lives again, and thus, even higher activities. The removal of these trace isotopes (mainly U-234) will reduce the overall activity, but it should be noted that since 99.99% of natural uranium is either U-238 (99.27%) or U-235 (0.72%), these other isotopes make up less than a one hundredth of one percent!

In short, depleted uranium is just another name for nuclear waste – and I suppose you’ve got to put it somewhere. The estimated stocks of DU worldwide are reported to be in excess of a million tonnes. Thousands of tonnes of that waste have now been spread out across the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan (although this is still disputed) and in other parts of the world (including test ranges).

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welcome to the Panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance

Two centuries ago:

In 1791, the Father of Utilitarianism and ardent social reformer Jeremy Bentham published blueprints for a wholly new design of prisons. Called the Panopticon, from observe (-opticon) all (pan-), the design, which involved a circular annulus of cells surrounding a central lodge, allowed the guards to keep an eye on all of the inmates, and importantly, without them, in turn, being aware of when they were being watched.

Bentham had big plans for his design, suggesting that aspects of the concept might usefully be applied to the construction of hospitals, schools and workhouses.

One century ago:

H.G. Wells was the father of a good many utopias. He spent the greater part of his creative life planning the shape of future societies. One of his most complete visions is laid out in a novel entitled simply A Modern Utopia (and published 1905). The story goes that two travellers walking in the Swiss Alps suddenly discover themselves in a parallel world. A new world that is Earth (at least geographically and biologically speaking) but one where civilisation has been reconstructed on altogether more Wellsian principles.

The inhabitants of this world are guaranteed housing, food and basic essentials. Even the unemployed are provided with a minimum wage, this safety net granted as “workfare” rather than “welfare”, with its recipients being coerced into work for the greater good of the state. In this vision of Wellsian meritocracy, the total measure of individual status depends solely upon earned income: the citizens of the new society regarding being broke as “clear evidence of unworthiness”.

Meanwhile criminal types and drug-users are given very short shrift. Removed from the main body of society and placed on high security prison islands, they are also sexually segregated to ensure that such poor genetic stock can never again pollute the otherwise healthy gene-pool.

Central to this alternative civilisation, the two explorers learn, there is a world-government (Wells never can resist the idea) made possible by a monumental database, with information stored on a card-index system housed in Paris. And Wells says that “Such a record is inevitable if a Modern Utopia is to be achieved.” But of course, what Wells could not foretell was how quickly technology would render the card-index system obsolete and make the establishment of such a global database entirely achievable.

Half a century ago:

It was 1948 when George Orwell settled into seclusion on the Isle of Jura, and there began to work on his most lasting contribution to literature and language. A little over a year passed before his terrifying vision of a future dystopia would be published, entitled simply Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t merely gloomy, it is hellish in altogether more Orwellian ways. A one-party state, in which every member of Ingsoc (the Party) lives under close and constant scrutiny, watched on two-way telescreens, which are highly sensitive devices that can never be turned off. Casual conversations are eavesdropped, by friends just as surely as by strangers, and children are actively encouraged to snoop on their parents; enrolling with the juvenile troops of Spies rather than Scouts (often to the delight and pride of their own brainwashed parents).

There is absolutely no place for privacy in Nineteen Eighty-Four, certainly not for anyone in the Party, with the telescreens monitoring indoors, whilst outside, and aside from the hidden microphones, it is safe to presume that everyone is probably an informant. The Party has, however, less concern for minor dissent that may flare up within the lower ranks of ‘the proles’; the masses that it regards as so ignorant and intent on self-preservation as to pose no serious counter-revolutionary threat. Although even amongst the proles there stalks the ever-present menace of the Thought Police.

Orwell’s new world of dread was forged from the same ideological foundations as the just defeated axis of Fascism. It was a world divided by class, hatred and perpetual war. A world riven and driven by Power. And undoubtedly Orwell was in part presenting his critique of the post-war Soviet Union reconstructed under that other great dictator, Joseph Stalin, with his all-new formula for Communism. Indeed, on the basis of Orwell’s images of Big Brother, it’s fair to judge that this all-powerful leader of Ingsoc (the single party governing the new alliance of Oceania1) was a caricature of Stalin.

Aldous Huxley was Orwell’s old teacher, and in his own futurist satire Brave New World (published in 1932), had envisaged a world of shopping and leisure, founded upon gentle Pavlovian conditioning of eugenically perfected infants, made ready for the soft bed of a world constructed in accordance with Freud’s pleasure principle. In Brave New World, everyone is Dolly the Sheep, and so more forcible means of coercion have become a thing of the forgotten past. George Orwell wrote of his old teacher Huxley’s prophesy as follows:

Mr Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning.”2

Of course, it has turned out to be more complicated than that. Stalin died, and the Eastern Bloc with its many citizen spies and Stasi Thought Police was eventually overthrown by resistance within as much as without. Aldous Huxley always maintained that all forms of brutal totalitarian oppression must eventually succumb to such internal pressures, being forced to give way to a different and softer kind of centralised control, and for a short time it seemed that he was correct. But then came September 11th and how quickly in its shadows, the jackboots came back on the ground. Stomping down on the face of humanity all across the world.

Since about a decade:

In January 2002, within the months following the September 11th attacks, the US Defense Department, under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began to develop a vast surveillance project, requiring a database even beyond H.G. Wells’ imagining. Set up under the direction of Admiral John Poindexter – formerly Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor3 – the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was intended to serve the interests of “National Security”. Its aim was to establish methods of collecting and collating information of all kinds. Records of what an individual purchased, where they travelled, what they watched, and so on, whilst also incorporating information from public records on education and health. More covert snooping was also proposed as a necessary means of analysing internet use, emails, and faxs.

Other plans included the development of “human identification at distance systems” based on biometrics, which would obviate the current reliance on human operators to keep their eyes peeled. Combined with the ever extending network of CCTV, such a system could conceivably keep track of movements of the entire population. In a world soon to be filled with automated face-recognition systems or more probably – given recent technological developments – whole body scanners, it will be unnecessary for government authorities to force the people to carry forms of identity (or under more extreme tyranny, to wear badges), because it will become impossible to hide.

By February 2003, the IAO had begun funding what they called the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, although by May 2003 the program had already been renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in an attempt to allay growing public anxiety of its Orwellian spectre. Then in August 2003, Poindexter was forced to resign as TIA chief with concerns that his central role in the Iran-Contra affair had made him unfit to run a sensitive intelligence program. Soon after this the IAO closed and officially the TIA program was terminated with all funding removed, yet it is widely acknowledged that the core of the project remains and that funding was merely switched to other government agencies.4

Finally, perhaps some indication of the true intent of these surveillance projects may be gleaned from the original IAO logo. Featuring a planetary-sized pyramid capped by an all-seeing eye that is scanning the entire Earth, the message is surely loud enough, especially when captioned with the motto “scientia est potentia” (knowledge is power). For what is this pyramid and the all-seeing eye meant to represent? That Big Brother is watching you? That you are already inside the Panopticon? Here was the official explanation of its meaning:

For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office; i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making. On an elemental level, the logo is the representation of the office acronym (IAO) the eye above the pyramid represents “I” the pyramid represents “A,” and the globe represents “O.” In the detail, the eye scans the globe for evidence of terrorist planning and is focused on the part of the world that was the source of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”5

Meanwhile, British governments have also brought in rafts of new legislation to extend police powers and limit personal freedom. Indeed, the first major new Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2000 (and thus prior to the September 11th attacks), actually redefined the meaning of terrorism in order to increase the scope for police intervention. Whilst the disconcertingly titled RIP Act, which quickly followed, further extended the rights for government to intercept communications and to patrol the internet. Then, during David Blunkett’s tenure as Home Secretary, the RIP Act (or RIPA) was broadened again, becoming so extensive that almost 800 separate organisations, including more than 450 councils, have the right to invoke it. People might now be snooped on right across the country for offences no more serious than littering and under-age smoking.6

In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7th 2005, the New Labour governments under both Blair and Brown also pressed hard for an extension of police rights to detain terrorist suspects. What had begun with seven days, quickly progressed to three weeks, and then, at least in the government’s opinion, required not less than 90 days. The justification given for these extraordinary new measures – the worst of which were thankfully rejected by Parliament – being that plots of the most diabolical kind were suddenly so widespread and complex that the ordinary course of justice had to be by-passed in order to ensure public safety. Around the same time, the introduction of national ID cards was also thwarted, in part thanks to a massive public outcry. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism (the real risk of which is far lower than during the days of IRA attacks) is the overriding justification for ever more surveillance of our public spaces and our personal lives.7

Throughout the last decade we have all been asked to give up our privacy and other civil liberties on the grounds of enhanced security: sacrificing freedom today for the sake of freedom tomorrow, which may well be, of course, a bargain with the devil. By the end of 2006, the United Kingdom was being described by some experts as ‘the most surveilled country’ among all industrialized Western nations.8

I heard someone speaking on Radio 4 a few years ago. Wrongly convicted for a crime he was later cleared of, he had as a direct consequence spent more than ten years of his life in prison. The interviewer asked him what his first thoughts were after being released as a free man. “Well, I was horrified,” he replied, “horrified that there were just as many cameras on the outside as inside. It was like I’d never left prison.”9

Now and the foreseeable future:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy10.

From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Published in Wired magazine on March 15th, Bamford continues:

For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail. William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. […]

He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. […]

The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. […]

Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light. […]

After he left the NSA, Binney suggested a system for monitoring people’s communications according to how closely they are connected to an initial target. The further away from the target—say you’re just an acquaintance of a friend of the target—the less the surveillance. But the agency rejected the idea, and, given the massive new storage facility in Utah, Binney suspects that it now simply collects everything. “The whole idea was, how do you manage 20 terabytes of intercept a minute?” he says. “The way we proposed was to distinguish between things you want and things you don’t want.” Instead, he adds, “they’re storing everything they gather.” And the agency is gathering as much as it can.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

Click here to read more of James Bamford’s eye-opening article, and then, here to read a still more extraordinary article published by Wired magazine on the very same day:

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”11

Orwell, for all of his profound insight and prescience, could never have imagined the sort of universal networks of surveillance being so rapidly put in place today. He didn’t see, for instance, as Huxley might have done, how people would one day almost willingly give up their privacy, and not only as the price for security, but purely for convenience and pleasure. That personal tracking devices would one day become such highly desirable commodities, in the form of mobile phones and ‘sat nav’s, that it would actually be strange not to carry one. That social networking sites would be temptation enough for many millions to divulge huge volumes of personal information, private opinions, dreams and fantasies. That others would broadcast their thoughts via emails, tweets, blogs, and all could be swept up in a worldwide web. The worldwide wiretap, as Julian Assange referred to it.

This post is another part of the immense traffic of data presumably being collected and analysed by those at the NSA (and in all probability also filtered using servers at our own GCHQ). That you are reading this is most probably being recorded too. So feel free to add a comment, although you should be cautioned that whatever you do say may later be used as evidence against you. The Panopticon is watching all of us.

Click here to read a wikipedia overview of the types of mass surveillance now used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

*

Additional:

Here is a Russia Today report broadcast a few days later on Friday 30th March entitled: “Minority report: Era of total surveillance zooms-in on US?”

Click here to find the same report at Russia Today website.

As for Britain, and whatever the situation right now, the government is just about to announce new measures that will open the way for GCHQ to have “access to communications on demand, in real time” with the justification being, as always, “to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public”:

A new law – which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech in May – would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.

Click here to read the full BBC news report from April 1st.

1 The setting is roughly as follows. Some time after the World War, the world divided up into three warring superpowers: Oceania (previously America, Australia and Airstrip One); Eurasia (Russia and the rest of Europe); and Eastasia (China and India). These states have since then been engaged in an endless three-sided conflict, fighting to gain control of the resources in a disputed zone which includes North Africa and the Middle East. Progress in this conflict is reported to the citizens of Oceania via a government controlled media, relaying information manufactured by the Ministry of Truth.

2 Taken from “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940.

3 Poindexter had been previously been convicted of lying to Congress and altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.

4 These include Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a part of the Disruptive Technology Office (run by to the Director of National Intelligence); and SAIC, run by former Defense and military officials and which had originally been awarded US$19 million IAO contract to build the prototype system in late 2002.

5 Statement of the Information Awareness Office regarding the meaning and use of the IAO logo. Source: Question 15 in the IAO Frequently Asked Questions – document dated February, 2003 which can be accessed at http://www.darpa.mil/iao/TIA_FAQs.pdf

6 The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, especially with regard to the interception of communication. It can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

“Councils have used laws designed to combat terrorism to access more than 900 people’s private phone and email records in the latest example of Britain’s growing surveillance state. Town hall spies found out who residents were phoning and emailing as they investigated such misdemeanours as dog quarantine breaches and unlicensed storage of petrol. The news prompted fresh calls from civil rights groups for a reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was originally brought in to combat terrorism and serious crime but is increasingly being used by councils to snoop on members of the public. In April a council in Dorset used Ripa powers to spy for weeks on a family it wrongly suspected of breaking rules on school catchment areas. Other local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking.” extract from “Council snoopers access 900 phone bills” by Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter, Daily Telegraph, 5th June 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2075026/Council-snoopers-access-900-phone-bills.html

7 “Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner. He told the BBC‘s Politics Show that CCTV was being used in small towns and villages where crime rates were low… ‘If it’s in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?’

‘And I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.’ There are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.” from BBC News, Sunday, 20th May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6673579.stm

8 “Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the [Surveillance Society] report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office. […]

The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.

“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.

“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”

The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with ‘endemic surveillance’.”

From a BBC news article entitled “Britain is ‘surveillance society’” published on November 2, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6108496.stm

9 Unfortunately, since I did not have pen at hand – I was driving at the time! – I can no longer recall his precise words and so I have been compelled to paraphrase what he said. I have tried to be accurate so far as memory serves me.

10 From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, published in Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

11 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher”, written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

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Obama wants Yemeni journalist Shaye kept in prison – Jeremy Scahill investigates

In January 2011, a Yemeni state security court gave the journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a five-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges following a trial that has been condemned by several human rights and press freedom groups. Within a month of Shaye’s sentencing, then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he was going to pardon the journalist – and it should be noted that the imprisonment and pardon of journalists is repeated time and again by the Yemeni authorities as a way to “bludgeon journalists into submission”. But on this occasion, Saleh changed his mind. Thirteen months later Shaye remains behind bars.

The Obama administration is now facing criticism for its role in the continuing imprisonment of Shaye, especially in light of the fact that Saleh’s unusual decision not to issue a pardon appears to have been made in direct response to a phone call from President Obama.

Prior to his arrest, Shaye broke a number of important stories about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as recording the last known interview with Anwar al-Awlaki just before it was revealed that Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric, was on a CIA hit list. Shaye also exposed how the United States was behind a 2009 bombing in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children.

On Thursday [March 15th], Democracy Now! examined the case and its significance in an extended report and interviews with Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose latest article published in The Nation is entitled “Why Is President Obama Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?”

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I learned about his case because of the bombing of al-Majala in December of 2009. You’ll recall it was the first time that President Obama, that we know of, authorized a U.S. strike against Yemen. And when the strike initially happened, the United States’ position was to say nothing. There were some anonymous officials that had leaked some information to news networks indicating that the U.S. was behind the bombing, but the official position was that it was a Yemeni strike and that an al-Qaeda camp had been targeted and that 34 members of al-Qaeda had been killed.

Then Amnesty International obtained photographs of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs from the scene and pictures and video of the bodies of dead women and children. And Amnesty International then determined that it had to have been a U.S. strike, because Yemen didn’t have those missiles and didn’t have those cluster bombs, and that, in fact, the victims of—among the victims of that strike were a tremendous number of women and children. Well, the individual who provided that documentary evidence to Al Jazeera—or, excuse me, to Amnesty International and to Al Jazeera and other networks was Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Yeah. The trial does not pass the laugh test, at all. And the court does not pass the laugh test. And actually, in my research, I could not locate a single case that was tried in this special—specialized criminal tribunal—you can just tell by the name that this is—this is not going to be a serious affair. I could not find a single case that met, even remotely, like fair trial standards. So there’s no transparency. There’s no proper appeals process. Lawyers are deprived of a lot of the files. Things are slid in last minute. It just failed to meet those standards. And this is not just my opinion, but this was observed by every single person who attended these sessions, when they were allowed to attend.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What’s important to realize here, and what Mohamed is saying, is that, on one side of this, you have major media freedom organizations. You have major human rights organizations—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. You have every legal and human rights organization in Yemen. You have very prominent foreign correspondents who have spoken out on this case, some of whom knew Abdulelah Haider Shaye. So they’re on one side of it, condemning his trial as a sham, talking about who he actually was as a journalist.

And on the other side of it, you have the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh, a specialized criminal tribunal set up to go after journalists, and the White House. And so, President Obama is the single person keeping that man in prison right now, because even the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was prepared to release him, and it was a phone call, not from one of Obama’s people, from Obama himself, that kept him in prison.

And so, when I called the State Department, one of the things I said is, “What is the evidence that you have to support your contention that Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a terrorist or is affiliated with al-Qaeda?” And they said, “We don’t have anything to say on that right now.” So, you know, that’s how much of a sham this is. So anyone who wants to say, “Well, Obama must know what he’s doing,” needs to realize that you’re taking a position against major human rights organizations and journalist organizations against the United States, which is currently engaged in its biggest crackdown on whistleblowers in history. So just be clear on what side of the line you’re on, if you’re a journalist, when you say that.

Click here to watch the report and interviews and to read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Yesterday’s Storyville also premiered Sean McAllister’s powerful documentary “The Reluctant Revolutionary”. The film follows the political awakening of Kais, a tour guide in Sana’a, who although initially irritated by the demonstrations, gradually feels inspired to join them. A very intimate and at times deeply shocking film, Kais and Sean McAllister ultimately become eyewitnesses to the massacre of 52 protesters almost exactly a year ago [“Friday of Dignity” March 18, 2011] that helped put an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign in Yemen.

Storyville: The Reluctant Revolutionary

broadcast on BBC4 at 10:00pm-11:10pm on Monday 19th March
Director: Sean McAllister

Click here for link to BBC iplayer

Available on BBC iplayer until 12:09 am on Tuesday, 3rd April 2012

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campaign to save the NHS — petition as Lords vote on Lansley’s bill

Two votes of no confidence in the government’s NHS reforms have been comfortably defeated but other developments mean that ministers face at least two further major challenges to the legislation in the final week before the bill is due to be passed.

MPs voted twice on Tuesday on motions to drop the health and social care bill after Labour held a three-hour opposition day debate inspired by a public e-petition signed by more than 174,000 people calling for the government to abandon the legislation.1

According to campaign group 38 degrees, their own petition has now been endorsed by more then half a million people, but they are still asking for more signatures before the final vote in the House of Lords on Monday 19th March:

As the Lords gather to decide whether or not to press on with changing the NHS without knowing all the risks, let’s send them a reminder. Let’s remind them that across the UK, hundreds of thousands of us know what it feels like to arrive at a hospital or a doctor’s surgery, tired, sick or frightened for someone you love. And that we know how much we rely on our NHS in those situations to give us the care we need.

Each name on our petition [standing at more than 520,000 as I write] is a reason for the Lords to think twice before gambling with the future of our NHS. It will show them that although we all know the NHS isn’t perfect, we know that it’s pretty amazing. It will remind them that when we talk about risk registers, we’re talking about threats to a health service which is the envy of the world.

This could be the final opportunity for your friends, workmates and family to stand up for the NHS before the key votes happen. So please can you forward this email and ask them to sign the petition?

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/Save-our-NHS

Apparently Lord David Owen is delivering the petition just before the debate begins. Lord Owen has also tabled the following motion:

Lord Owen to move to resolve that the Health and Social Care Bill be not read a third time until either the House has had an opportunity to consider the detailed reasons for the first-tier tribunal decision that the transitional risk register be disclosed and the Government’s response thereto, or until the last practical opportunity which would allow the bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation.

If the Government table a motion for Third Reading on Monday 19 March it will be moved as an amendment to Earl Howe’s motion as follows but it is essentially the same motion.

To read the full motion please click here

Here’s more from Tuesday’s Guardian article:

Writing last week after the tribunal ruled that the risk register should be published, Lord Owen urged peers to vote for his amendment on Monday. “To go ahead with legislation, while appealing to the high court, would be the third constitutional outrage associated with this legislation,” he wrote. “The first was to legislate within months of the prime minister promising in the general election that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The second was to implement large parts of the legislation without parliamentary authority. The attempt to railroad this legislation through both Houses of Parliament has raised very serious questions about the legitimacy of this coalition government. Now at the last moment parliament has a chance to assert its democratic rights and the many Liberal Democrat peers, who know in their heart of hearts that this legislative procedure is fundamentally wrong, have the opportunity to stand by their principles.”

Click here to read the full article published in the Guardian.

Click here to find more information about the progress of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill.

1 From an article entitled “Commons revolt against NHS reforms defeated: Government survives two votes of no confidence in health and social care bill but faces at least two further major challenges”, written by the Guardian‘s political correspondent, Juliette Jowit, published on March 13, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/13/commons-revolt-nhs-reforms-defeated

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