Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Israel: Spinning Fear into Gold

Gaza: Not Just a Prison, a Laboratory By Naomi Klein, The Nation

June 19, 2007

Gaza in the hands of Hamas, with masked militants sitting in the president's chair; the West Bank on the edge; Israeli army camps hastily assembled in the Golan Heights; a spy satellite over Iran and Syria; war with Hezbollah a hair trigger away; a scandal-plagued political class facing a total loss of public faith.

At a glance, things aren't going well for Israel. But here's a puzzle: why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates nearing China's?

Thomas Friedman recently offered his theory in the New York Times. Israel "nurtures and rewards individual imagination," and so its people are constantly spawning ingenious high-tech start-ups -- no matter what messes their politicians are making. After perusing class projects by students in engineering and computer science at Ben Gurion University, Friedman made one of his famous fake-sense pronouncements: Israel "had discovered oil." This oil, apparently, is located in the minds of Israel's "young innovators and venture capitalists," who are too busy making megadeals with Google to be held back by politics.

Here's another theory: Israel's economy isn't booming despite the political chaos that devours the headlines, but because of it. This phase of development dates back to the mid-nineties, when Israel was in the vanguard of the information revolution -- the most tech-dependent economy in the world. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Israel's economy was devastated, facing its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners.

Within three years, large parts of Israel's tech economy had been radically repurposed. Put in Friedmanesque terms: Israel went from inventing the networking tools of the "flat world" to selling fences to an apartheid planet. Many of the country's most successful entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, surrounded by furious enemies, as a kind of twenty-four-hour-a-day showroom-a living example of how to enjoy relative safety amid constant war. And the reason Israel is now enjoying supergrowth is that those companies are busily exporting that model to the world.

Discussions of Israel's military trade usually focus on the flow of weapons into the country-US-made Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes in the West Bank and British companies supplying parts for F-16s. Overlooked is Israel's huge and expanding export business. Israel now sends $1.2 billion in "defense" products to the United States-up dramatically from $270 million in 1999. In 2006 Israel exported $3.4 billion in defense products-well over a billion more than it received in US military aid. That makes Israel the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world, overtaking Britain.

Much of this growth has been in the so-called "homeland security" sector. Before 9/11 homeland security barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2 billion-an increase of 20 percent. The key products and services are high-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems -- precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock-in the occupied territories.

And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn't threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the "global war on terror."

It's no coincidence that the class projects at Ben Gurion that so impressed Friedman have names like "Innovative Covariance Matrix for Point Target Detection in Hyperspectral Images" and "Algorithms for Obstacle Detection and Avoidance." Thirty homeland security companies were launched in Israel in the past six months alone, thanks in large part to lavish government subsidies that have transformed the Israeli army and the country's universities into incubators for security and weapons start-ups (something to keep in mind in the debates about the academic boycott).

Next week, the most established of these companies will travel to Europe for the Paris Air Show, the arms industry's equivalent of Fashion Week. One of the Israeli companies exhibiting is Suspect Detection Systems (SDS), which will be showcasing its Cogito1002, a white, sci-fi-looking security kiosk that asks air travelers to answer a series of computer-generated questions, tailored to their country of origin, while they hold their hand on a "biofeedback" sensor. The device reads the body's reactions to the questions and certain responses flag the passenger as "suspect."

Like hundreds of other Israeli security start-ups, SDS boasts that it was founded by veterans of Israel's secret police and that its products were road-tested on Palestinians. Not only has the company tried out the biofeedback terminals at a West Bank checkpoint, it claims the "concept is supported and enhanced by knowledge acquired and assimilated from the analysis of thousands of case studies related to suicide bombers in Israel."

Another star of the Paris Air Show will be Israeli defense giant Elbit, which plans to showcase its Hermes 450 and 900 unmanned air vehicles. As recently as May, according to press reports, Israel used the drones on bombing missions in Gaza. Once tested in the territories, they are exported abroad: the Hermes has already been used at the Arizona-Mexico border; Cogito1002 terminals are being auditioned at an unnamed US airport; and Elbit, one of the companies behind Israel's "security barrier," has partnered with Boeing to construct the Department of Homeland Security's $2.5 billion "virtual" border fence around the United States.

Since Israel began its policy of sealing off the occupied territories with checkpoints and walls, human rights activists have often compared Gaza and the West Bank to open-air prisons. But in researching the explosion of Israel's homeland security sector, a topic I explore in greater detail in a forthcoming book (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), it strikes me that they are something else too: laboratories where the terrifying tools of our security states are being field-tested. Palestinians -- whether living in the West Bank or what the Israeli politicians are already calling "Hamasistan" -- are no longer just targets. They are guinea pigs.

So in a way Friedman is right: Israel has struck oil. But the oil isn't the imagination of its techie entrepreneurs. The oil is the war on terror, the state of constant fear that creates a bottomless global demand for devices that watch, listen, contain and target "suspects." And fear, it turns out, is the ultimate renewable resource.

Naomi Klein is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" and "Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/54216/

Monday, June 18, 2007

Unfit to Fly in Canada?

Grounding the No-Fly List

'Useless security theatre'?
Rights groups seek to block 'illegitimate' security plan.
By Tom Barrett
June 18, 2007

Starting Monday, anyone boarding a commercial airliner in Canada will be screened against a home-grown no-fly list. But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is still fighting to kill the list.

Calling the process by which the list was enacted "illegitimate," the association is calling on MPs who belong to the Commons public safety committee to hold public hearings into the list.

The BCCLA is part of a coalition of 10 groups that is calling for the immediate cancellation of the no-fly list.

The list "doesn't do a darn thing for security," BCCLA policy director Micheal Vonn told The Tyee.

"It has terrible implications for rights and it's massively subject to abuse.

"And the other thing that's kind of tied into this is that there has been no democratic process. We say that the process is illegitimate."

Known as Passenger Protect, the federal plan establishes a secret list of persons who are believed to represent an "immediate threat" to airline security.

All passengers in Canada will be automatically screened against the list before they are issued a boarding pass. In the event of a possible match, airlines must immediately contact Transport Canada, which will decide whether the passenger can fly.

'Back door'

The federal cabinet created the list by passing regulations. Unlike legislation, regulations are not debated or voted on by Parliament. And while regulations are supposed to fill in the details on specific pieces of legislation, the BCCLA argues that there is nothing in the relevant law that specifically authorizes a no-fly list.

"No one who passed this legislation would have any reason to believe that they were putting in a no-fly list," said Vonn. "The words 'no fly' have never been uttered in a parliamentary debate on the issue of whether or not we should do this."

The government brought in the list "through the back door," said Vonn. "Clearly this is a national security measure. It should go to the public safety committee."

Although no hearings have ever been held, the public safety committee has been briefed on the list by bureaucrats and several members have been sharply critical of its provisions.

The no-fly list has been criticized by opposition politicians and by the federal privacy commissioner. Earlier this week, Air Canada's head of security warned that the list could create "unruly" situations when passengers are told they cannot fly.

Yves Duguay said the airline supports the idea of a no-fly list, but is worried about the safety of front-line staff.

"That's a point we've been making for two years, the employee security issue," Vonn said.

The BCCLA is also hoping to be given permission to make a public submission to an obscure parliamentary committee that reviews federal regulations. Vonn said the association hopes to hear in the fall whether the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations will grant it permission to argue publicly against the no-fly list.

Made up of senators and MPs, the scrutiny committee reviews new regulations to ensure the government has the authority to make them and that they comply with existing laws, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

'Kafka nightmare'

The BCCLA has opposed the no-fly list since plans to implement it were first made public. The group has called the scheme a "useless piece of security theatre" that "may represent a foothold for an electronic infrastructure for unprecedented traveller surveillance."

The association argues that the U.S. No-fly list has had a "devastating impact on thousands of ordinary citizens who have been flagged by the system mistakenly or because they have a name that sounds like a name on the list."

The U.S. no-fly list, which was created in the wake of 9-11, has apparently grown to half a million names, ABC News reports.

"Privacy and civil liberties advocates say the list is growing uncontrollably, threatening its usefulness in the war on terror," ABC reported last week.

With that many names, it's inevitable that confusion will set in. Because the list contains the name T. Kennedy, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was stopped and questioned five times at U.S. airports by security staff. It took Kennedy more than three weeks to get his name off the list.

The U.S. no-fly system "can't tell the difference between famous U.S. senators and actual terrorists," the BCCLA has argued

Thousands of ordinary Americans "are now unable to board an airplane or are subject to highly intrusive questioning and searching before being allowed on a plane," the BCCLA says.

"And like a Kafka nightmare, they can't find out how they got on the list and can't get themselves off the list."

Two lists

Americans aren't the only ones who have run into troubles with the U.S. no-fly list. The Canadian Press has reported that Canadian airlines already use the U.S. list for domestic flights and that "dozens of Canadians have formally complained about being delayed at airports because their name -- or at least one that matches theirs -- turned up on the U.S. no-fly roster, or possibly another list that singles out passengers for secondary screening."

And, reports CP, Canadian airlines intend to keep using the U.S. list once the Canadian list goes into effect -- even though the federal government has said they should not be using the U.S. list.

Transport Canada says persons on the Canadian list will include:

"An individual who is or has been involved in a terrorist group, and who, it can reasonably be suspected, will endanger the security of any aircraft or aerodrome or the safety of the public, passengers or crew members"

"An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening crimes against aviation security"

"An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening offences and who may attack or harm an air carrier, passengers or crew members."

Photo ID

As of Monday, everyone travelling by air within Canada who appears to be 12 or older must present one piece of government-issued photo ID -- or two pieces of government ID without a photo -- showing their name, date of birth and gender.

The federal government has said it will "take steps to minimize the risk" of mistakes through several procedures:

"The specified persons list will be limited in scope and focused only on aviation security"
"The list will be reviewed and refreshed at least every 30 days to incorporate any new information quickly"

"The list provided to air carriers will provide name, date of birth and gender for each entry, which will allow accurate identification"

"Air carriers will verify possible matches with the list"

"Individuals will be required to present government-issued ID for the verification of name, date of birth and gender."

"The government, not the airline, will make the final decision on whether to deny boarding to an individual who is a match with the list," states Transport Canada.

A passenger who is mistakenly barred from flying can appeal to a Transport Canada "Office of Reconsideration."

To complain to the office, known as the OOR, a person must provide a notarized document that proves that they are who they say they are.

After reviewing the case, the OOR will recommend to the minister of transport whether the government should consider taking the person's name off the list.

"The OOR process will take approximately 30 working days, and the individual will be informed of the decision," states Transport Canada. "Should the individual not be satisfied with the decision of the Minister, they will still have the option of pursuing other legal avenues to challenge the decision, such as the Federal Court."

Privacy concerns

Despite the complaints of civil libertarians, the government says the Canadian no-fly list will comply with both the Charter and privacy laws.

However, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart isn't happy.

Stoddart was highly critical of the home-grown no-fly list when it was first announced and a spokeswoman for her office recently told CanWest News that the commissioner's views "have not drastically changed."

When the no-fly list was first proposed, Stoddart sent Transport Canada a list of 24 questions that outlined her concerns.

Stoddart's first question was:

"What studies, if any, has the department carried out to demonstrate that advance passenger information will be useful in identifying high-risk travelers?"

The government's answer:

"The Passenger Protect program proposes to use a watchlist to prevent specified individuals from boarding flights based on practical global experience and risk assessment rather than specific studies."

Critics say this means that the government has no proof no-fly lists work.

The coalition of groups calling for the immediate cancellation of the no-fly list includes the BCCLA, the Canadian Arab Foundation, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Centre for Research Action in Race Relations, the Coalition of Arab Canadian Professionals and Community Associations, the Chinese Canadian National Council, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada.

The B.C. government's response to the U.S. Patriot Act pre-empted its own privacy commissioner.

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Despite slams from a Supreme Court judge and civil liberties advocates, America's DEA calls B.C. home.

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Read his previous stories here.