Saturday, June 29, 2013

Conscience Without a Cause

Edward Snowden: A Conscience, Just Waiting For a Cause

by William Blum - Killing Hope

In the course of his professional life in the world of national security Edward Snowden must have gone through numerous probing interviews, lie detector examinations, and exceedingly detailed background checks, as well as filling out endless forms carefully designed to catch any kind of falsehood or inconsistency. The Washington Post (June 10) reported that “several officials said the CIA will now undoubtedly begin reviewing the process by which Snowden may have been hired, seeking to determine whether there were any missed signs that he might one day betray national secrets.”

Yes, there was a sign they missed – Edward Snowden had something inside him shaped like a conscience, just waiting for a cause.

It was the same with me. I went to work at the State Department, planning to become a Foreign Service Officer, with the best – the most patriotic – of intentions, going to do my best to slay the beast of the International Communist Conspiracy. But then the horror, on a daily basis, of what the United States was doing to the people of Vietnam was brought home to me in every form of media; it was making me sick at heart. My conscience had found its cause, and nothing that I could have been asked in a pre-employment interview would have alerted my interrogators of the possible danger I posed because I didn’t know of the danger myself. No questioning of my friends and relatives could have turned up the slightest hint of the radical anti-war activist I was to become. My friends and relatives were to be as surprised as I was to be. There was simply no way for the State Department security office to know that I should not be hired and given a Secret Clearance. 1

So what is a poor National Security State to do? Well, they might consider behaving themselves. Stop doing all the terrible things that grieve people like me and Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and so many others. Stop the bombings, the invasions, the endless wars, the torture, the sanctions, the overthrows, the support of dictatorships, the unmitigated support of Israel; stop all the things that make the United States so hated, that create all the anti-American terrorists, that compel the National Security State – in pure self defense – to spy on the entire world.
Eavesdropping on the planet

The above is the title of an essay that I wrote in 2000 that appeared as a chapter in my book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Here are some excerpts that may help to put the current revelations surrounding Edward Snowden into perspective …

Can people in the 21st century imagine a greater invasion of privacy on all of earth, in all of history? If so, they merely have to wait for technology to catch up with their imagination.

Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex … satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links … voice, text, images … captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth, then processed by high-powered computers … if it runs on electromagnetic energy, NSA is there, with high high tech. Twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps billions of messages sucked up each day. No one escapes. Not presidents, prime ministers, the UN Secretary-General, the pope, the Queen of England, embassies, transnational corporation CEOs, friend, foe, your Aunt Lena … if God has a phone, it’s being monitored … maybe your dog isn’t being tapped. The oceans will not protect you. American submarines have been attaching tapping pods to deep underwater cables for decades.

Under a system codenamed ECHELON, launched in the 1970s, the NSA and its junior partners in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada operate a network of massive, highly automated interception stations, covering the globe amongst them. Any of the partners can ask any of the others to intercept its own domestic communications. It can then truthfully say it does not spy on its own citizens.

Apart from specifically-targeted individuals and institutions, the ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting huge quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. Every intercepted message – all the embassy cables, the business deals, the sex talk, the birthday greetings – is searched for keywords, which could be anything the searchers think might be of interest. All it takes to flag a communication is for one of the parties to use a couple or so of the key words in the ECHELON “dictionary” – “He lives in a lovely old white house on Bush Street, right near me. I can shoot over there in two minutes.” Within limitations, computers can “listen” to telephone calls and recognize when keywords are spoken. Those calls are extracted and recorded separately, to be listened to in full by humans. The list of specific targets at any given time is undoubtedly wide ranging, at one point including the likes of Amnesty International and Christian Aid.

ECHELON is carried out without official acknowledgment of its existence, let alone any democratic oversight or public or legislative debate as to whether it serves a decent purpose. The extensiveness of the ECHELON global network is a product of decades of intense Cold War activity. Yet with the end of the Cold War, its budget – far from being greatly reduced – was increased, and the network has grown in both power and reach; yet another piece of evidence that the Cold War was not a battle against something called “the international communist conspiracy”.

The European Parliament in the late 1990s began to wake up to this intrusion into the continent’s affairs. The parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee commissioned a report, which appeared in 1998 and recommended a variety of measures for dealing with the increasing power of the technologies of surveillance. It bluntly advised: “The European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for making private messages via the global communications network [Internet] accessible to US intelligence agencies.” The report denounced Britain’s role as a double-agent, spying on its own European partners.

Despite these concerns the US has continued to expand ECHELON surveillance in Europe, partly because of heightened interest in commercial espionage – to uncover industrial information that would provide American corporations with an advantage over foreign rivals.

German security experts discovered several years ago that ECHELON was engaged in heavy commercial spying in Europe. Victims included such German firms as the wind generator manufacturer Enercon. In 1998, Enercon developed what it thought was a secret invention, enabling it to generate electricity from wind power at a far cheaper rate than before. However, when the company tried to market its invention in the United States, it was confronted by its American rival, Kenetech, which announced that it had already patented a near-identical development. Kenetech then brought a court order against Enercon to ban the sale of its equipment in the US. In a rare public disclosure, an NSA employee, who refused to be named, agreed to appear in silhouette on German television to reveal how he had stolen Enercon’s secrets by tapping the telephone and computer link lines that ran between Enercon’s research laboratory and its production unit some 12 miles away. Detailed plans of the company’s invention were then passed on to Kenetech.

In 1994, Thomson S.A., located in Paris, and Airbus Industrie, based in Blagnac Cedex, France, also lost lucrative contracts, snatched away by American rivals aided by information covertly collected by NSA and CIA. The same agencies also eavesdropped on Japanese representatives during negotiations with the United States in 1995 over auto parts trade.

German industry has complained that it is in a particularly vulnerable position because the government forbids its security services from conducting similar industrial espionage. “German politicians still support the rather naive idea that political allies should not spy on each other’s businesses. The Americans and the British do not have such illusions,” said journalist Udo Ulfkotte, a specialist in European industrial espionage, in 1999.

That same year, Germany demanded that the United States recall three CIA operatives for their activities in Germany involving economic espionage. The news report stated that the Germans “have long been suspicious of the eavesdropping capabilities of the enormous U.S. radar and communications complex at Bad Aibling, near Munich”, which is in fact an NSA intercept station. “The Americans tell us it is used solely to monitor communications by potential enemies, but how can we be entirely sure that they are not picking up pieces of information that we think should remain completely secret?” asked a senior German official. Japanese officials most likely have been told a similar story by Washington about the more than a dozen signals intelligence bases which Japan has allowed to be located on its territory.

In their quest to gain access to more and more private information, the NSA, the FBI, and other components of the US national security establishment have been engaged for years in a campaign to require American telecommunications manufacturers and carriers to design their equipment and networks to optimize the authorities’ wiretapping ability. Some industry insiders say they believe that some US machines approved for export contain NSA “back doors” (also called “trap doors”).

The United States has been trying to persuade European Union countries as well to allow it “back-door” access to encryption programs, claiming that this was to serve the needs of law-enforcement agencies. However, a report released by the European Parliament in May 1999 asserted that Washington’s plans for controlling encryption software in Europe had nothing to do with law enforcement and everything to do with US industrial espionage. The NSA has also dispatched FBI agents on break-in missions to snatch code books from foreign facilities in the United States, and CIA officers to recruit foreign communications clerks abroad and buy their code secrets, according to veteran intelligence officials.

For decades, beginning in the 1950s, the Swiss company Crypto AG sold the world’s most sophisticated and secure encryption technology. The firm staked its reputation and the security concerns of its clients on its neutrality in the Cold War or any other war. The purchasing nations, some 120 of them – including prime US intelligence targets such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia – confident that their communications were protected, sent messages from their capitals to their embassies, military missions, trade offices, and espionage dens around the world, via telex, radio, and fax. And all the while, because of a secret agreement between the company and NSA, these governments might as well have been hand delivering the messages to Washington, uncoded. For their Crypto AG machines had been rigged before being sold to them, so that when they used them the random encryption key could be automatically and clandestinely transmitted along with the enciphered message. NSA analysts could read the messages as easily as they could the morning newspaper.

In 1986, because of US public statements concerning the La Belle disco bombing in West Berlin, the Libyans began to suspect that something was rotten with Crypto AG’s machines and switched to another Swiss firm, Gretag Data Systems AG. But it appears that NSA had that base covered as well. In 1992, after a series of suspicious circumstances over the previous few years, Iran came to a conclusion similar to Libya’s, and arrested a Crypto AG employee who was in Iran on a business trip. He was eventually ransomed, but the incident became well known and the scam began to unravel in earnest.

In September 1999 it was revealed that NSA had arranged with Microsoft to insert special “keys” into Windows software, in all versions from 95-OSR2 onwards. An American computer scientist, Andrew Fernandez of Cryptonym in North Carolina, had disassembled parts of the Windows instruction code and found the smoking gun – Microsoft’s developers had failed to remove the debugging symbols used to test this software before they released it. Inside the code were the labels for two keys. One was called “KEY”. The other was called “NSAKEY”. Fernandez presented his finding at a conference at which some Windows developers were also in attendance. The developers did not deny that the NSA key was built into their software, but they refused to talk about what the key did, or why it had been put there without users’ knowledge. Fernandez says that NSA’s “back door” in the world’s most commonly used operating system makes it “orders of magnitude easier for the US government to access your computer.”

In February 2000, it was disclosed that the Strategic Affairs Delegation (DAS), the intelligence arm of the French Defense Ministry, had prepared a report in 1999 which also asserted that NSA had helped to install secret programs in Microsoft software. According to the DAS report, “it would seem that the creation of Microsoft was largely supported, not least financially, by the NSA, and that IBM was made to accept the [Microsoft] MS-DOS operating system by the same administration.” The report stated that there had been a “strong suspicion of a lack of security fed by insistent rumors about the existence of spy programs on Microsoft, and by the presence of NSA personnel in Bill Gates’ development teams.” The Pentagon, said the report, was Microsoft’s biggest client in the world.

Recent years have seen disclosures that in the countdown to their invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States had listened in on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, and all the members of the UN Security Council during a period when they were deliberating about what action to take in Iraq.

It’s as if the American national security establishment feels that it has an inalienable right to listen in; as if there had been a constitutional amendment, applicable to the entire world, stating that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the government to intercept the personal communications of anyone.” And the Fourth Amendment had been changed to read: “Persons shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, except in cases of national security, real or alleged.” 2
The leading whistleblower of all time: Philip Agee

Before there was Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake … before there was Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds and Jesselyn Radack … there was Philip Agee. What Agee revealed is still the most startling and important information about US foreign policy that any American government whistleblower has ever revealed.

Philip Agee spent 12 years (1957-69) as a CIA case officer, most of it in Latin America. His first book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974 – a pioneering work on the Agency’s methods and their devastating consequences – appeared in about 30 languages around the world and was a best seller in many countries; it included a 23-page appendix with the names of hundreds of undercover Agency operatives and organizations.

Under CIA manipulation, direction and, usually, their payroll, were past and present presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, “our minister of labor”, “our vice-president”, “my police”, journalists, labor leaders, student leaders, diplomats, and many others. If the Agency wished to disseminate anti-communist propaganda, cause dissension in leftist ranks, or have Communist embassy personnel expelled, it need only prepare some phoney documents, present them to the appropriate government ministers and journalists, and – presto! – instant scandal.

Agee’s goal in naming all these individuals, quite simply, was to make it as difficult as he could for the CIA to continue doing its dirty work.

A common Agency tactic was writing editorials and phoney news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of the CIA authorship or CIA payment to the media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.

Wooing the working class came in for special treatment. Labor organizations by the dozen, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were created, altered, combined, liquidated, and new ones created again, in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right combination to compete with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership away from them.

In 1975 these revelations were new and shocking; for many readers it was the first hint that American foreign policy was not quite what their high-school textbooks had told them nor what the New York Times had reported.

“As complete an account of spy work as is likely to be published anywhere, an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British ‘case officer’ operates … All of it … presented with deadly accuracy,” wrote Miles Copeland, a former CIA station chief, and ardent foe of Agee. (There’s no former CIA officer more hated by members of the intelligence establishment than Agee; no one’s even close; due in part to his traveling to Cuba and having long-term contact with Cuban intelligence.)

In contrast to Agee, WikiLeaks withheld the names of hundreds of informants from the nearly 400,000 Iraq war documents it released.

In 1969, Agee resigned from the CIA (and colleagues who “long ago ceased to believe in what they are doing”).

While on the run from the CIA as he was writing Inside the Company – at times literally running for his life – Agee was expelled from, or refused admittance to, Italy, Britain, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. (West Germany eventually gave him asylum because his wife was a leading ballerina in the country.) Agee’s account of his period on the run can be found detailed in his book On the Run (1987). It’s an exciting read.


To read about my State Department and other adventures, see my book West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold war Memoir (2002)

See Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 21, for the notes for the above.

U.S. Threats Against ICC Inclusion: Punishing Palestine's International Aspirations

The White House Threatens To End Aid if Palestine Joins the ICC

by Franklin Lamb - Al Manar English

Beirut - Fatou Bom Bensouda, the Gambian-born deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), was never Washington’s first choice to succeed the inveterately self-promoting elitist ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

And it is doubtful that key Obama administration officials have changed their minds this week given Ms. Bensouda’s impassioned invitation on 6/27/13 to Palestine, urging its accession to the Rome Statute and the ICC, the former signed and ratified, as of this month, by 122 states with 31 additional countries, including Russia, having signed with ratification pending in their legislatures.

Visiting Al Jalil UNWRA high school across from Shatila camp here in Beirut recently, this observer was asked several questions by students and staff and the most frequent inquiry, which came as no surprise, concerned why the Lebanese government, even those who claim to support the Palestinian cause, still have not acted in Parliament to grant Palestinian refugees the same elementary civil right to work and to own a home that every refugee everywhere, even in Zionist occupied Palestine, have long enjoyed.

The second most commonly asked question, did surprise me a bit and it was why the Palestinian leaders in Ramallah have not joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to challenge the criminal, apartheid regime in occupied Tel Aviv and hold it accountable under international humanitarian law for crimes against Palestinian prisoners and more than a dozen equally brutal campaigns that target the indigenous population increasingly being condemned internationally.

From my time visiting Al Jalil School, it became clear that the students and faculty want their country, Palestine, to join the ICC. One is advised that this sentiment is the same in all 54 Palestinian refugees’ schools in Lebanon and this insistence mirrors virtually all Palestinian, camps, groups and NGO’s with whom I have discussed the subject.

The new ICC Prosecutor Bensouda is also encouraging Palestine to join the International Criminal Court, as she prepares for the cases that are likely to be filed with the ICC in the coming months. Addressing this week’s Transitional Justice and International Justice the Arab World conference, she declared that her office believes Palestine qualifies to join the ICC after the UN General Assembly voted to admit Palestine as a non-member state last November.

The ICC prosecutor’s office is rumored in The Hague to be particularly impassioned and focused on those areas in which their chief, Ms. Bensouda, has particular international legal expertise. With the main area being international crimes comprising the category of continuous crimes against humanity, which, arguably, since 1948, have been most egregiously committed by the last 19th century colonial enterprise that still brutally occupies Palestine.

Prosecutor Bensouda and her ICC staff is reported to be particularly intent on investigating continuing violations of basic humanitarian principles, standards and rules and both have spoken about the case of Palestinian Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a cancer-sufferer who died in Israeli custody on 6/25/13 after the Israeli government rejected repeated international calls and protests for his release. This, even as its officials conceded that Mr. Abu Hamidiyeh was no threat to society and could likely be successfully treated if allowed medical treatment for his life threatening condition. One ICC investigator, who asked for anonymity, stated that she and her colleagues considered the actions of the Netanyahu government with respect to the Abu Hamidiyeh, and similar cases, to be “sick!”

The White House and its allies are not pleased by prospects for an eventful next few years at the ICC. What have particularly unnerved outgoing UN Ambassador, Susan Rice and Israeli PM Netanyahu, are the 5/23/13 comments of Ms. Bensouda during the 38th FIDH Congress in Istanbul which celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Rome Statute which created the ICC.

“Gone are the days when those who commit international crimes, could be cleansed of their atrocities through a mere hand shake and a scribble of their initials on a piece of paper which purports to bind them to conditions that they have no intention of ever observing.” She added: “My challenge is to consolidate what has been achieved, to build on from it, and to answer victims’ calls for justice. That is the promise made in Rome and that is the promise we cannot fail to fulfill”.

One the several “going out the door” comments Ms. Rice made on cleaning out her UN office on her way to become President Obama’s National Security Adviser, was basically a reiteration of her livid expressions made following last fall’s UN General Assembly vote giving Palestine its new international status. When asked if she considered the UN vote a repudiation of the Obama administration and her personally, Ms. Rice scolded:

“That resolution is not going to take them closer to statehood, or to the ICC! It may actually make the environment more difficult for them and public references to the “State of Palestine” do not make it a sovereign state. Any reference to the ‘State of Palestine’ in the United Nations, including the use of the term ‘State of Palestine’ on the placard in the Security Council or the use of the term ‘State of Palestine’ in the invitation do not reflect acquiescence that ‘Palestine’ is a state,” she said.
It may be recalled that in a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the UN Security Council immediately following the 11/29/12 General Assembly vote, the permanent UN observer of Palestine reiterated his delegation’s position that “all Israeli settlement activities are illegal, constituting grave breaches of article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus constituting war crimes, as further determined in accordance with article 8 (2) (b) (viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israel, the occupying Power, must be held accountable for all of the war crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people.”

This letter was cited by the most recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report of February 2013, which also found Israel, as an occupying power, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for “transferring parts of its civilian population into territory that it occupies.”

Adding to all its currents problems, is this week’s announcement that President Obama’s “favorite general,” Retired Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright will likely cause yet more serious problems for the administration when details of his suspected leaks of information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyber-attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program, for which he is expected to soon be arrested and indicted. Coming on the heels of the Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks case, Washington is said to have no patience whatsoever, for Palestine making more problems and opening an ICC Pandora’s box.

Ramallah is being flooded with threats this month from Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, now on his 5th visit to the Middle East in as many months, Jordan’s King Hussein and reportedly, several others. The message for Mahmoud Abbas is that the Palestinian Authority risks a cut-off of funds and US dis-engagement from any “peace process” as well as the scrapping of the rumored “mega economic & development package” which Kerry aids are currently finalizing, if Palestine goes anywhere near the International Criminal Court.

It’s a tough call for President Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters because Hamas wants Palestine to immediately file cases against Israel at the ICC and so it appears, do a large majority of Palestinians, in Lebanon and internationally.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon
and can be reached c/o

The Problematic Mr. Snowden

America's Edward Snowden problem 

by Peter Lee - Asia Times Online

The main problem for Edward Snowden is that he ran away. That's not Edward Snowden's problem; it's America's problem. The idea that Edward Snowden decided to flee overseas in order to deliver his revelations of massive US government surveillance is awkward for the United States politically, and difficult for a lot of Americans on the emotional level.

Some complain that Snowden did not do what might be characterized as "the full Ellsberg", bravely and patriotically staying in the United States to face the legal music as did Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, did in 1971.

Tim Weiner, a former national security reporter for the New York Times, made the case in a Bloomberg op-ed:

Snowden should have the courage to come home, to fight in court, under the law. He has damaged his cause by fleeing to China, then to Russia. Why seek refuge in bastions of repression? Why contemplate asylum in Ecuador, a country with one of the worst records on free speech and free press in the Western Hemisphere? Why does he act like a spy on the run from a country he betrayed?

He does his cause no good by hiding. If he stood trial, as Daniel Ellsberg did after leaking the Pentagon Papers, he could try to justify his disclosure of national-security secrets. He conceivably might even win, if only a moral victory. [1] This is apparently not an opinion that Daniel Ellsberg himself shares.

Speaking on the Scott Horton show on June 20, Ellsberg said:

But meanwhile, the treatment of him, and the pronouncements by everybody here, like - I'm talking about Snowden now - have convinced Snowden, and I think very realistically, that if he wanted to be able to tell the public what he had done and why he had done it and what his motives were and what the patterns of criminality were in the material that he was releasing, it had to be outside the United States. Otherwise he would be in perhaps the same cell that Bradley Manning was, and that's a military cell.
The NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, permits military custody indefinitely of an American citizen who's a civilian, and Snowden could very well find himself at Quantico, naked perhaps like Bradley was for a while, and be really incommunicado, as Bradley has been for three years with the single exception of being allowed to make a statement when he pled guilty to 10 charges. And that's the only chance he had to speak out. So I think Snowden has learned from that example. [2] It might be pointed out that it is still not too late for Snowden to win the grudging respect of the nation's national security pundits with some post-revelation self-immolation. After all, Daniel Ellsberg did not fling himself into the fire of US justice at the first opportunity.

Ellsberg, a distinguished member of the national security establishment who routinely hobnobbed with senators, Henry Kissinger, and a sympathetic cohort of reporters who shared his first-hand experience and revulsion with the Vietnam War, at first declined to identify himself as the source of the leak. Instead, he went into hiding for 13 days after the New York Times broke the Pentagon Papers story in order to evade "the largest FBI manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping", avoid questioning, achieve the maximum publicity for his disclosures, and circulate the Papers to as many media outlets as possible.

After the Justice Department finally collected enough evidence (from Ellsberg's ex-wife) to justify issuing an arrest warrant, Ellsberg held off surrendering for another two days to make sure he could finish distributing the last of the Pentagon Papers copies in his possession.

So Edward Snowden still might have a chance to redeem himself in Tim Weiner's eyes - after he's milked his laptops for all they are worth.

Weiner also makes the argument that Snowden is discrediting "his cause" by "seeking refuge in bastions of repression".

This argument was echoed by Ken Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who did his organization no favors by peppering Snowden's travels with a series of dismissive tweets and retweets:

ian bremmer @ianbremmer 23 Jun:
Edward Snowden, martyr for online freedom and privacy, now passing thru Moscow? Say hi to Alexei @Navalny while you're there.
Retweeted by Kenneth Roth
@KenRoth, 23 Jun: If Snowden's reported itinerary is true, China-Russia-Cuba-Venezuela is hardly an archipelago of free expression.

Kenneth Roth @KenRoth 23 Jun: Snowden's @Ecuador is limiting asylum rights and criminalizing journalists who harm security

Kenneth Roth @KenRoth 5h: As Snowden proceeds on his itinerary of govt censorship, it's an opportunity to blow the whistle on their repression.
Weiner also went the extra mile and called Snowden a coward - "maybe".

[Snowden] had a fight-or-flight moment. He fled. I don't think he is a traitor. But I do think he may be a coward. It seems rather perverse to demand that Snowden, in addition to the difficulties he has already experienced, eschew any potential haven and offer himself up as a human sacrifice in an attempt to demonstrate the worthiness of himself and his cause to his most determined critics.

Some people also have a problem with Snowden's statement that he took employment with the consulting firm Booz Allen for the purpose of collecting more documents. It appears that for some observers Snowden's whistleblowing are understandable and forgivable only as ungovernable moral outrage, a spasm of uncontrollable insanity, and not a calculated effort to document for the US public the almost unimaginable reach of the US surveillance apparatus.

The most interesting expression of the "impulsive dingbat" meme is the one that accuses Snowden of almost criminal naivete in carrying his four laptops of US government secrets into the lair of America's enemies (of course, we are not at war with China or Russia, but that is a complication that the press has largely chosen not to address).

As the China newsletter Sinocism reported, identical language was deployed in two backgrounders designed to place the onus on Snowden to prove he was not a spy:

Regardless of how Snowden came to land in Hong Kong and then Moscow, US intelligence agencies must assume that China and Russia have debriefed Snowden and now have all the digital information he brought with him, said one of the officials. Such a debriefing could have been direct or through intermediaries that Snowden may not have known were giving what they learned to a foreign intelligence agency, the official said. [3] Considering that the US government does not even know where Snowden is, let alone to whom he is talking, this exercise in pre-emptive accusation achieves Bush-in-Iraq levels of factless innuendo that must be a source of perverse pride to the Obama administration.

In its invocation of "all the digital information" (as opposed to "all the documents"), the White House talking points also slide over the interesting issue of encryption, something that Snowden, as a former NSA employee, is presumably well-aware of, but does not fit in with the public framing of Snowden as an impulsive, destructive, and self-destructive naif.

The successful 1990s battle against US attempts to curb the export and extensive use of encryption technology is one of the few instances in which, depending on your point of view, the public was able to fight the surveillance state to a draw-or the bad guys won. Today, 256-bit encryption is good enough for US government Top Secret classification data. It's also probably good enough for Snowden's laptop.

Breaking encryption is one of the NSA's holy grails. Currently, there is reportedly no computer fast enough to handle brute force decryption - though the NSA is working on that, too, thanks to several billion of America's tax dollars. NSA decryption gets help from "side-channel" attacks that pick up information leakage from the encryption process and use it to assist the massive NSA computers.

In the area of dirty pool, there is keylogging, surreptitious entry, and even rumors that the US government has corrupted the open source software commonly used to generate the random numbers used in the encryption process, thereby reducing the universe of used numbers to make cracking more feasible. If one has access to the physical person of the encrypter, there is also the less elegant "rubber hose cryptanalysis" - using coercion to obtain the encryption key from somebody who knows it.

Long story short, if Snowden has encrypted his laptops, even if the Russian and Chinese security services were able to copy the hard drives (access "all the digital information") and get to work on them (and there is no evidence as yet that this has occurred), it is unlikely that they would be able to decrypt them (retrieve "all the documents") unless they have sustained access to, and active cooperation from, Snowden.

If the United States is really concerned about this happening, that might be a good reason to make some deal with Snowden to bring him home, not to let him continue to hang around Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow under the interested eyes of Russia's FSB.

The good news is, Snowden has encrypted the data on the insurance files he has salted around the Internet, and it is a safe assumption that he has done the same for his hard drives.

Per the Daily Beast:

The former NSA systems administrator has already given encoded files containing an archive of the secrets he lifted from his old employer to several people. If anything happens to Snowden, the files will be unlocked... [Glenn] Greenwald [the journalist with Britain's Guardian newspaper who broke the news of Snowden's flight with secret information] added that the people in possession of these files "cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords." But, Greenwald said, "if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives." [4] This information provides an interesting perspective on Snowden's travails in Hong Kong. Apparently, he left Hong Kong because it appeared he would be detained for a prolonged period of time while his extradition and/or asylum case wound its way through the courts, and he could not be assured of access to his laptops during this period.

According to [Hong Kong lawyer Albert] Ho, Snowden was upset to learn that he may have to spend years in prison during litigation over whether he would be granted asylum in Hong Kong or be sent to the United States. He was particularly scared that he could lose access to his computer.

"He didn't go out, he spent all his time inside a tiny space, but he said it was OK because he had his computer," Ho said. "If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable." [5] One of Snowden's critics on the liberal side of the blogosphere sneered at Snowden's anxieties: going offline - it's the new waterboarding.

If Snowden were separated from his laptops, he would not be able to control the pace and content of the document releases. He would have to provide the decryption key to a partner, thereby putting his fate in the hands of Greenwald or, if Greenwald got hit by a truck or whatever, whoever was left to pick up the pieces.

Again, drawing on the case of Ellsberg, it is interesting that, according to his own account, Ellsberg hesitated so much about giving the New York Times control over the Pentagon Papers story that, after weeks of dithering, he never gave them the papers. After Ellsberg tipped off fabled NYT Vietnam correspondent Neil Sheehan to the papers, Sheehan and his wife surreptitiously entered the apartment in Boston where the papers were stored, copied them all, and prepared the Times series without telling Ellsberg what was going on (I will admit this smells like a nod-and-wink stratagem concocted between Ellsberg and his close friend Sheehan to relieve Ellsberg of the legal onus of having actively passed the classified documents to the New York Times; nevertheless, that is the story he chose to tell 35 years after the fact - see p375 of Ellsberg's memoir Secrets - and his hesitation over handing the Papers over to the New York Times seems to have been genuine):

In considering the security issues involved, consider these remarks that Greenwald made to the Daily Beast (including the possibility that Greenwald's laptop got stolen because somebody thought it contained Snowden's trove, an item that has gotten remarkably little play).

For now, Greenwald said he is taking extra precautions against the prospect that he is a target of US surveillance. He said he began using encrypted email when he began communicating with Snowden in February after Snowden sent him a YouTube video walking him through the procedure to encrypt his email.
"When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents," Greenwald said. "I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it's connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists."

When asked if Greenwald believed his computer was being monitored by the US government. "I would be shocked if the US government were not trying to access the information on my computer. I carry my computers and data with me everywhere I go." [6] And, rest assured, Snowden also wishes to have access to his computers wherever he goes.

Beyond the need to keep control over the laptops, the story, and his future, one can also speculate that Snowden has to send out a safe message periodically, perhaps from his laptops, to prevent release of the decryption key that would allow the contents of the insurance files to be read.

The Obama administration has been less than sure-footed in its response to the Snowden shock.

Certainly, after 16 months of painstaking and systematic preparation of the Chinese cyber-espionage dossier, orchestration of a six-month campaign of public hysterics about the Chinese cyber-threat, and, just as he was about to present a lovingly prepared hit list of Chinese cyber villains to President Xi Jinping at Sunnylands in California this month, President Obama's campaign received a nasty and unexpected jolt courtesy of Edward Snowden.

President Obama had the opportunity to shrug off the Snowden revelations - or handle them as an element in the US domestic debate over intensive/extensive NSA surveillance - and manage America's cyber issues with the People's Republic of China as a separate matter.

Instead, the United States at first decided to make a big deal out of the patent disinterest of the PRC, Hong Kong, and Russia in detaining Snowden for return to the United States, and embarked on a whispering campaign apparently designed to use Snowden's Hong Kong/Moscow/? itinerary to push him out of the embarrassing whistleblower category and into the despised spy/traitor camp.

General Keith Alexander, the NSA troll who lives under your bridge in order to extract your metadata, your data, your audio, and who knows what else, appeared before a congressional committee to assert that Snowden had done "irreversible and significant damage" to the United States. Peter King called Snowden a defector. Dick Cheney called him a traitor.

The Obama White House apparatchiks (and Hillary Clinton) expressed the highest of dudgeon at China, Hong Kong, and Russia for not cooperating with the United States, in an effort to shift the framing from "US persecution of whistleblower" to "creepy tyrannies flouting the international rule of law".

Beating on China and Russia to relieve the Obama administration's Snowden-related embarrassment may be an understandable public relations strategy; however, for the PRC it merely affirms that the Obama administration's China policy is hostage to its confrontational policies and ostentatious moralizing, even on the sordid matter - in which President Obama might enjoy Xi Jinping's instinctive sympathy - of seeking the return of a whistleblower so his embarrassing revelations can be suppressed.

Greenwald tried to cut through the fool/defector/spy/traitor chaff being thrown around by the government and its supporters to distract attention from the content of Snowden's leaks and steer the narrative back to what Edward Snowden is: a whistleblower carefully revealing embarrassing secrets - but not vital operational details - in order to force a public debate on surveillance practices that the US government is desperate to keep private.

As Greenwald told the Daily Beast (while offering the interesting observation that he, like legendary NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, believes that Snowden "wandered off the res" a little too far with his revelations to the South China Morning Post about the details of US hacks against China):

Greenwald said he would not have published some of the stories that ran in the South China Morning Post. "Whether I would have disclosed the specific IP addresses in China and Hong Kong the NSA is hacking, I don't think I would have," Greenwald said. "What motivated that leak though was a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China."

However, Greenwald said that in his dealings with Snowden the 30-year-old systems administrator was adamant that he and his newspaper go through the document and only publish what served the public's right to know. "Snowden himself was vehement from the start that we do engage in that journalistic process and we not gratuitously publish things," Greenwald said. "I do know he was vehement about that. He was not trying to harm the US government; he was trying to shine light on it."

Greenwald said Snowden for example did not wish to publicize information that gave the technical specifications or blueprints for how the NSA constructed its eavesdropping network.

"He is worried that would enable other states to enhance their security systems and monitor their own citizens." Greenwald also said Snowden did not wish to repeat the kinds of disclosures made famous a generation ago by former CIA spy, Philip Agee - who published information after defecting to Cuba that outed undercover CIA officers. "He was very insistent he does not want to publish documents to harm individuals or blow anyone's undercover status," Greenwald said.
He added that Snowden told him, "Leaking CIA documents can actually harm people, whereas leaking NSA documents can harm systems."

Greenwald also said his newspaper had no plans to publish the technical specifications of NSA systems. "I do not want to help other states get better at surveillance," Greenwald said. He added, "We won't publish things that might ruin ongoing operations from the US government that very few people would object to the United States doing." As to the issue of Snowden seeking a haven in nations that are more interested in embarrassing the United States than cooperating with it, I find myself on the same page with these passages from author Alex Berenson, who took to the New York Times op-ed pages to remark:

We have treated a whistle-blower like a traitor - and thus made him a traitor. Great job. Did anyone in the White House or the NSA or the C.I.A. consider flying to Hong Kong and treating Mr Snowden like a human being, offering him a chance to testify before Congress and a fair trial? ... If the masters of the apparatus were really ready to have an honest discussion about their powers, Mr Snowden might have wound up not in Moscow, but back in Washington, his girl by his side on the Capitol steps, headed for a few years in prison and then a job with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [7] The ironic thing is, there is probably still time for the United States to acknowledge Snowden as a whistleblower and perhaps even negotiate with him for his return to the United States.

But it doesn't look like that is going to happen. The Obama administration has apparently learned from the backlash to its scolding of China and Russia and widespread international indifference (or active hostility from the foreign subjects of US surveillance) to the US government's extravagant claims of grievance over the cyber-violation it has allegedly experienced at the hands of Snowden.

During a press availability in Senegal, Obama pooh-poohed the idea that he would be "scrambling fighters" to pursue a "29-year-old hacker" (in the process implying that, despite the anguished vaporings in the popular press about the contents of Snowden's laptops, the US government is confident, perhaps on the basis of information provided by Snowden himself, of the level of encryption protecting the data).

Meanwhile, quiet pressure on Ecuador has apparently elicited a repudiation of the provisional travel document that was somehow extracted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Current predictions are that Snowden may rusticate at the airport in Moscow for months, raising the possibility that Putin will eventually offer Snowden asylum, thereby giving the United States the perfect excuse to forget about Snowden and his awkward information.

Considering the steady drip of damaging revelations that Snowden and the Guardian seem prepared to provide (today, NSA collection of the e-mail metadata of US persons under Bush and Obama was added to the sizable list of questionable surveillance activities), for the next few weeks the Obama administration's best hope - and evolving strategy - is to get the American people, against their most visceral instincts, to stop caring about Edward Snowden.

[Originally posted to Asia Times Online, June 28, 2013. Repost only with ATOl acknowledgement/ link .]
1. Come Home, Edward Snowden. Stand Up and Fight., Bloomberg, June 24, 2013.
2. See here.
3. The Sinocism China Newsletter, June 25, 2013.
4. Greenwald: Snowden's Files Are Out There if 'Anything Happens' to Him, The Daily Beast, June 25, 2013.
5. See here.
6. See note 4.
7. Snowden, Through the Eyes of a Spy Novelist, The New York Times, June 25, 2013.
Labels: Alex Berenson, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, encryption, Glenn Greenwald, NSA, Pentagon Papers, Tim Weiner

Is Germany's Academe Now Ready for Israel/Palestine Debate?

The Gatekeeper of Freiburg University

by Gabi Weber - The OtherSite

Six weeks ago, the University of Freiburg was defeated by Cafe Palestine (Press Release) when five judges at the Administrative Court of Freiburg rejected the university’s arguments for denying Cafe Palestine a venue for one of its speakers. Surely it is now time to delve a little more deeply into this unprecedented case which deserves close attention.

At the centre of it all we find one Dr. Heinrich Schwendemann, Freiburg University historian and a founder of one of many German Holocaust memorial sites

A year ago, Cafe Palestine invited Dr. Schwendemann, together with Prof. Norton Mezvinsky the renowned American Jewish historian to participate in a panel at Freiburg University. Also participating was Gilad Atzmon, the Jazz artist and author of "The Wandering Who – A Study of Jewish Identity Politics". This much discussed book has been endorsed by some of the most important scholars and intellectuals of our time with a German edition published in June 2012.

Dr. Schwendemann enthusiastically accepted the invitation but, three days before the event, he changed his mind insisting that reading Atzmon’s book made it impossible for him to share a platform with somebody who is "relativising the Holocaust". The event took place without Dr. Schwendemann (Speech Gilad Atzmon), (Speech Prof. Mezvinsky)

In July 2012, Cafe Palestine planned to host another talk at Freiburg University featuring French professor Christophe Oberlin from Paris. The talk was titled "Plastic Surgery in Gaza" and was set to attract the attention of the local medical community as well as Palestine supporters and humanists. But Cafe Palestine soon learned that the university had decided to withdraw use of the venue. Smelling a rat, Cafe Palestine looked closely into this cancellation and after having received the letter from the University outlining the reasons for the cancellation, decided to issue a complaint at the Administrative Court.

It became clear that the University has been foolish enough to allow itself to be guided by Dr. Schwendemann, even going so far as to make Schwendemann part of its legal team. Schwendemann duly appeared at the Administrative Court at the defendant´s desk together with the University’s lawyer and a University representative.

When it was time for the University to present its defence, it was to Schwendemann to whom it turned as its expert witness. Unfortunately, the arguments presented by Schwendemann were so off-topic as to be simply embarrassing. According to Schwendemann, Cafe Palestine Freiburg´s crime was in bringing Gilad Atzmon as a speaker and in translating his talks without comment which, according to Schwendemann, meant that Cafe Palestine must be in complete accord with absolutely everything Atzmon says and must fully support all his political views.

In fact, Cafe Palestine Freiburg doesn’t actually agree with everything Gilad Atzmon or for that matter, any other participant of the talks, says but does believe that Atzmon's, as well as all the other speakers´ ideas deserve public attention, discussion and critical thought. It further believed that Freiburg University was a most appropriate platform for this discussion as was proved by the vivid debate that was provoked by the Mezvinsky-Atzmon panel.

Although the arguments against Atzmon delivered by Schwendemann and the University were so ridiculous and out of order that the Court dismissed them completely and rejected the University´s defence altogether, it is still well worth examining their arguments because they provide us with a glimpse into those powerful but destructive mechanisms that interfere with our most precious rights and liberties.

The University’s lawyer wrote that “According to Dr. Schwendemann”, Atzmon’s book “contains the entire anti-Semitic arsenal including Holocaust Relativism" but failed to explain exactly what it was that makes Atzmon into a ‘relativist’.

Then, “According to (Atzmon’s book) the Jews were made responsible for all evil,” at which point it became embarrassingly obvious that Schwendemann, as well as the University attorney had either not read the book or even more worryingly, had failed to understand it. Atzmon’s book is, as its title suggests, ‘a study of Jewish Identity politics’. It refers to ideology (Jewish identity politics) not to people (Jews) – a point Atzmon makes clear numerous times in the text.

Atzmon may be right and he may be wrong, but his ideas deserve attention and discussion and the University of Freiburg is surely the place for this.

Schwendemann did state that “Atzmon declares that he is conducting his own personal war against Zionism and Jewish identity politics.” Yet, neither the historian nor the University explained what exactly is wrong with criticism of a political standpoint - or is it just that political criticism to be outlawed in Freiburg University?

It took the Court under an hour to grasp that Freiburg University was wrong and ruled the University’s conduct unlawful. Cafe Palestine Freiburg and justice itself had won a landmark victory. Since then, the University has assured Cafe Palestine that future applications for space will be treated impartially. A talk with Professor Oberlin from Paris is planned for October.

So here are two question we might ask ourselves:

1. Why did this German historian not take the opportunity to challenge Atzmon in the open debate organised by Cafe Palestine Freiburg in July 2012 rather than act clandestinely, denying ‘the accused’ the possibility to defend himself.

2. Do we need a German from Freiburg University to tell an Israeli-born intellectual, who has served in the Israeli Military during the first Lebanon war, how to deal with his own society and its ideologies, his own past, his own culture and the future? Is it not enough that the "Schwendemanns" of our time tell the Germans what to think?

And one more…. How is it possible that a prominent German university with the words “The Truth Will Set You Free” engraved in gold over one of its entrances follows the orders of someone like Dr. Heinrich Schwendemann – a man who by his conduct has managed to set new standards of a lack of intellectual integrity and clumsy scholarship.

Sustained Aerial Chemical Assault over Victoria

The Important Topic of Our Time


Global geoengineering programs are literally ripping the atmosphere/climate, and Earths life support systems apart.

The lethally toxic fallout from these same programs is poisoning every breath we take, and the entire web of life.

If you think this sounds absurd, or impossible, take the time to examine the points made in this presentation, then investigate for yourself.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Punishing Cuba: Still Loco After All These Years

The Unrelenting Economic War on Cuba

by Daniel Kovalik - CounterPunch

If it weren’t bad enough that the U.S. has imposed an illegal embargo against Cuba for over 50 years, it has also tried to prevent those interested in learning about this embargo (more accurately termed ablockade because the U.S. aggressively enforces it against third countries to stop them from trading with the island) from reading Salim Lamrani’s new book, The Economic War Against Cuba. Thus, according to Opera Mundi, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Office Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – the government agency tasked with enforcing the blockade against Cuba – seized the funds aBritish NGO, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, attempted to wire to purchase 100 copies of this book from Monthly Review Press. (1) OFAC also demanded that this same NGO describe its relationship with Cuba in detail. This episode is emblematic of the absurd lengths to which the U.S. government will go to stop the world from dealing with Cuba.

As an initial matter, author Salim Lamrani, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, explains that the U.S. war against post-revolutionary Cuba began on March 17, 1960 – one month before Cuba established relations with Moscow. Lamrani relates that this war, declared by President Eisenhower, was “built on several pillars: the cancellation of the Cuban sugar quota, an end to the deliveries of energy resources such as oil, the continuation of the arms embargo imposed in March 1958, the establishment of a campaign of terrorism and sabotage, and the organization of a paramilitary force designed to invade the island overthrow Fidel Castro.” This war would then be expanded by President Kennedy in 1962 to include the unprecedented economic blockade against Cuba – a blockade which continues to this day, over 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is important, for it demonstrates what Noam Chomsky has argued numerous times before: that during the Cold War the U.S. intentionally pushed Third World countries guilty of declaring their independence from U.S. hegemony towards the Soviet Union so as to manufacture a convenient pretext for U.S. belligerence. And, the blockade initially imposed by Kennedy did just that. As Lamrani explains, “[o]n September 16, 1962, Kennedy developed a blacklist that included all ships having commercial relations with Cuba, regardless of their country of origin, and banned them from docking in a U.S. port. These measures drastically reduced the links between Cuba and the Western World and increased the island’s dependence upon the USSR.”

Lamrani concludes that the results of this relentless 50-year blockade have cost Cuba more than $751 billion, and has “affected all sectors of Cuban society and all categories of the population, especially the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, and women. Over 70 percent of all Cubans have lived in a climate of permanent economic hostility.”

Indeed, the stated purpose of the blockade all along has been to inflict suffering on the Cuban people to achieve the U.S.’s political objective of regime – the sine a qua non of terrorism. Thus, Lamrani quotes Lester D. Mallory, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who wrote on August 6, 1960:

The majority of the Cuban people support Castro. There is no effective political opposition. . . . The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship. . . . every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . a line of action which . . . makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.

According to this plan, which continues to this day, the blockade has caused immense suffering amongst the Cuban civilian population. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of medicine where Cubans are denied critical U.S. pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies – a huge deprivation given that the U.S., according to Lamrani, holds 80% of the patents in the medical sector.

And so, Lamrani sets forth a laundry list of examples in which Cubans have been deprived critical medical aid due to the blockade:

  • Cuban children suffering from cancer of the retina cannot receive effective treatment because the surgical microscopes and other equipment needed for this treatment are sold exclusively by the U.S. company, Iris Medical Instruments.
  • The National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology in Havana cannot use radioactive isotope plaques for the treatment of retinal cancer as they are sold exclusively by U.S. companies, thereby requiring doctors to remove the affected eyes of children altogether rather than treat and preserve them.
  • Nearly 1600 Cubans a year are denied effective diagnosis of cancerous tumors because Cuba cannot obtain the necessary German-made optical coherence tomography – an item prohibited by the embargo because it contains some American-made components.
  • Cubans are denied the drug temozolomide (Temodar) necessary for the effective treatment of tumors of the central nervous system.
  • Cuban children are denied the benefit of the U.S.-made Amplatzer device which could help them to avoid open heart surgery.
  • Cubans were denied $4.1 million for treating AIDS, Tuberulosis and Malaria when these monies were seized by the U.S. from an NGO which had earmarked those monies for Cuba.
  • Cubans were denied the funds designated by the United Nations Program for Development for Cuba’s health care system when those monies were seized by the U.S.
  • Cubans are denied critical drugs for treating bone cancer and HIV AIDS.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, as cited by Lamrani, “The Cuban and Iraqi instances make it abundantly clear that economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.” And still, as the Journal goes on to explain, Cuba has, against the formidable obstacles set up by the embargo, managed to maintain one of the best health systems in the world. As the Journal notes;

The Cuban health care system . . . is exceptional for a poor country and represents an important political accomplishment of the Castro government. Since 1959, Cuba has invested heavily in health care and now has twice as many physicians per capita as the United States and health indicators on a par with those in most developed nations – despite the U.S. embargo that severely reduces the availability of medications and medical technology.

And indeed, Cuba, despite the blockade, continues to give unprecedented assistance to other poor nations through its medical internationalism, sending doctors to 70 different countries throughout the world, including to Haiti where, according to The New York Times, it has been on the forefront in the fight against cholera since the 2010 earthquake. In addition, for the past 21 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens, mostly children, affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana.

Imagine then, what Cuba could do if the U.S. blockade were lifted. It is clear that the rulers of the U.S. have imagined this, and with terror in their hearts.

Indeed, Lamrani quotes former Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, as quite rightly asserting:
Why does the U.S. government not lift the blockade against Cuba? I will answer: because it is afraid. It fears our example. It knows that if the blockade were lifted, Cuba’s economic and social development would be dizzying. It knows that we would demonstrate even more so than now, the possibilities of Cuban socialism, all the potential not yet fully deployed of a country without discrimination of any kind, with social justice and human rights for all citizens, and not just for the few. It is the government of a great and powerful empire, but it fears the example of this small insurgent island.

The next critical question is how can those of good will help and support the good example of Cuba in the face of the U.S. blockade. Obviously, the first answer is to organize and agitate for an end the blockade. As a young Senator, Barack Obama said that the blockade was obsolete and should end, and yet, while loosening the screws just a bit, President Obama has continued to aggressively enforce the blockade. He must be called to task on this. In addition, Congress must be lobbied to end the legal regime which keeps the embargo in place.

In addition, we must support Venezuela and its new President, Nicolas Maduro, as Venezuela has been quite critical in supporting Cuba in its international medical mission. And indeed, one of the first things President Maduro did once elected in April was to travel to Cuba to reaffirm his support for these efforts. It should be noted that Maduro’s electoral rival, Henrique Capriles – who led an attack against the Cuban Embassy in Caracas during the 2002 coup — vowed to end support for, and joint work, with Cuba.

Furthermore, to help Cuba and its domestic and international medical programs, one can donate to Global Links ( which provides medical supplies which benefit both of these programs.

Finally, order a copy of The Economic War Against Cuba from Monthly Review.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights attorney, and teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.



The Plot to Assassinate Occupy Activists the FBI Ignored

FBI Knew of Plot to Execute Occupy Activists But Did Nothing

by Dave Lindorff - WhoWhatWhy

Would you be shocked to learn that the FBI apparently knew that some organization, perhaps even a law enforcement agency or private security outfit, had contingency plans to assassinate peaceful protestors in a major American city — and did nothing to intervene?

Would you be surprised to learn that this intelligence comes not from a shadowy whistle-blower but from the FBI itself – specifically, from a document obtained from Houston FBI office last December, as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Washington, DC-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund?

To repeat: this comes from the FBI itself. The question, then, is: What did the FBI do about it?

The Plot

Remember the Occupy Movement? The peaceful crowds that camped out in the center of a number of cities in the fall of 2011, calling for some recognition by local, state and federal authorities that our democratic system was out of whack, controlled by corporate interests, and in need of immediate repair?

That movement swept the US beginning in mid-September 2011. When, in early October, the movement came to Houston, Texas, law enforcement officials and the city’s banking and oil industry executives freaked out perhaps even more so than they did in some other cities. The push-back took the form of violent assaults by police on Occupy activists, federal and local surveillance of people seen as organizers, infiltration by police provocateurs—and, as crazy as it sounds, some kind of plot to assassinate the “leaders” of this non-violent and leaderless movement.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what the document obtained from the Houston FBI, said:

An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles. (Note: protests continued throughout the weekend with approximately 6000 persons in NYC. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests have spread to about half of all states in the US, over a dozen European and Asian cities, including protests in Cleveland (10/6-8/11) at Willard Park which was initially attended by hundreds of protesters.)

Occupiers Astounded—But Not Entirely

Paul Kennedy, the National Lawyers Guild attorney in Houston who represented a number of Occupy Houston activists arrested during the protests, had not heard of the sniper plot, but said, “I find it hard to believe that such information would have been known to the FBI and that we would not have been told about it.” He then added darkly, “If it had been some right-wing group plotting such an action, something would have been done. But if it is something law enforcement was planning, then nothing would have been done. It might seem hard to believe that a law enforcement agency would do such a thing, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”

He adds, “The use of the phrase ‘if deemed necessary,’ sounds like it was some kind of official organization that was doing the planning.” In other words, the “identified [DELETED” mentioned in the Houston FBI document may have been some other agency with jurisdiction in the area, which was calculatedly making plans to kill Occupy activists.

Kennedy knows first-hand the extent to which combined federal-state-local law enforcement forces in Houston were focused on disrupting and breaking up the Occupy action in that city. He represented seven people who were charged with felonies for a protest that attempted to block the operation of Houston’s port facility. That case fell apart when in the course of discovery, the prosecution disclosed that the Occupiers had been infiltrated by three undercover officers from the Austin Police department, who came up with the idea of using a device called a “sleeping dragon” -- actually chains inside of PVC pipe -- which are devilishly hard to cut through, for chaining protesters together blocking port access. The police provocateurs, Kennedy says, actually purchased the materials and constructed the “criminal instruments” themselves, supplying them to the protesters. As a result of this discovery, the judge tossed out the felony charges.

FBI Response

WhoWhatWhy contacted FBI headquarters in Washington, and asked about this document—which, despite its stunning revelation and despite PCFJ press releases, was (notwithstanding a few online mentions) generally ignored by mainstream and “alternative” press alike.

The agency confirmed that it is genuine and that it originated in the Houston FBI office. (The plot is also referenced in a second document obtained in PCJF’s FOIA response, in this case from the FBI’s Gainesville, Fla., office, which cites the Houston FBI as the source.) That second document actually suggests that the assassination plot, which never was activated, might still be operative should Occupy decisively re-emerge in the area. It states:

On 13 October 20111, writer sent via email an excerpt from the daily [DELETED] regarding FBI Houston’s [DELETED] to all IAs, SSRAs and SSA [DELETED] This [DELETED] identified the exploitation of the Occupy Movement by [LENGTHY DELETION] interested in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.

Asked why solid information about an assassination plot against American citizens exercising their Constitutional right to free speech and assembly never led to exposure of the plotters’ identity or an arrest—as happened with so many other terrorist schemes the agency has publicized—Paul Bresson, head of the FBI media office, offered a typically elliptical response:

The FOIA documents that you reference are redacted in several places pursuant to FOIA and privacy laws that govern the release of such information so therefore I am unable to help fill in the blanks that you are seeking. Exemptions are cited in each place where a redaction is made. As far as the question about the murder plot, I am unable to comment further, but rest assured if the FBI was aware of credible and specific information involving a murder plot, law enforcement would have responded with appropriate action.

Note that the privacy being “protected” in this instance (by a government that we now know has so little respect for our privacy) was of someone or some organization that was actively contemplating violating other people’s Constitutional rights— by murdering them. That should leave us less than confident about Bresson’s assertion that law enforcement would have responded appropriately to a “credible” threat.

Houston Cops Not Warned?

The Houston FBI office stonewalled our requests for information about the sniper-rifle assassination plot and why nobody was ever arrested for planning to kill demonstrators. Meanwhile, the Houston Police, who had the job of controlling the demonstrations, and of maintaining order and public safety, displayed remarkably little interest in the plot: “We haven’t heard about it,” said Keith Smith, a public affairs officer for the department, who told us he inquired about the matter with senior department officials.

Asked whether he was concerned that, if what he was saying was correct, it meant the FBI had not warned local police about a possible terrorist act being planned in his city, he said, “No. You’d have to ask the Houston FBI about that.”

Craft International Again

Sniper action by law enforcement officials in Texas would not be anything new. Last October, a border patrol officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety, riding in a helicopter, used a sniper rifle to fire at a fast-moving pickup truck carrying nine illegal immigrants into the state from Mexico, killing two and wounding a third, and causing the vehicle to crash and overturn. It turns out that Border Patrol agents, like a number of Texas law enforcement organizations, had been receiving special sniper training from a Dallas-based mercenary-for-hire organization called Craft International LLC. It seems likely that Houston Police have also received such training, possibly from Craft, which has a contract for such law-enforcement training funded by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Efforts to obtain comment from Craft International have been unsuccessful, but the company’s website features photos of Craft instructors training law enforcement officers in sniper rifle use (the company was founded in 2009 by Chris Kyle, a celebrated Army sniper who last year was slain by a combat veteran he had accompanied to a shooting range). A number of men wearing Craft-issued clothing and gear, and bearing the company’s distinctive skull logo, were spotted around the finish line of the April Boston Marathon, both before and after the bombing. Some were wearing large black backpacks with markings resembling what was seen on an exploded backpack image released by the FBI.(For more on the backpacks that allegedly contained the bombs, see this piece we did in May.)

An Activist Responds

Remington Alessi, an Occupy Houston activist who played a prominent role during the Occupy events, was one of the seven defendants whose felony charge was dropped because of police entrapment. He says of the sniper plot information, which first came to light last December as one of hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by PCJF, “We have speculated heavily about it. The ‘if deemed necessary’ phrase seems to indicate it was an organization. It could have been the police or a private security group.”

Alessi, who hails from a law-enforcement family and who ran last year for sheriff of Houston’s Harris County on the Texas Green Party ticket, garnering 22,000 votes, agrees with attorney Kennedy that the plotters were not from some right-wing organization. “If it had been that, the FBI would have acted on it,” he agrees. “I believe the sniper attack was one strategy being discussed for dealing with the occupation.” He adds:

I assume I would have been one of the targets, because I led a few of the protest actions, and I hosted an Occupy show on KPFT. I wish I could say I’m surprised that this was seriously discussed, but remember, this is the same federal government that murdered (Black Panther Party leader) Fred Hampton. We have a government that traditionally murders people who are threats. I guess being a target is sort of an honor.

There, Alessi is referring to evidence made public in the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s which revealed that the FBI was orchestrating local police attacks (in Chicago, San Francisco and New York) on Panther leaders. (For more on that, see this, starting at p. 185, esp. pp. 220-223; also see this .)

Alessi suspects that the assassination plot cited in the FBI memo was probably developed in the Houston Fusion Center (where federal, state and local intelligence people work hand-in-glove). During our trial we learned that they were all over our stuff, tracking Twitter feeds etc. It seems to me that based on the access they were getting they were using what we now know as the NSA’s PRISM program.

He notes, correctly, that in documents obtained from the FBI and Homeland Security by the PCJF’s FOIA search, the Occupy Movement is classed as a “terrorist” activity.

Ironically, while the Occupy Movement was actually peaceful, the FBI, at best, was simply standing aside while some organization plotted to assassinate the movement’s prominent activists.

The FBI’s stonewalling response to inquiries about this story, and the agency’s evident failure to take any action regarding a known deadly threat to Occupy protesters in Houston, will likely make protesters at future demonstrations look differently at the sniper-rifle equipped law-enforcement personnel often seen on rooftops during such events. What are they there for? Who are the threats they are looking for and potentially targeting? Who are they protecting? And are they using “suppressed” sniper rifles? Would this indicate they have no plans to take responsibility for any shots silently fired? Or that they plan to frame someone else?

FBI Documents (click on each to enlarge)


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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Migrant Worker Tragedy Hearing Could Trigger First Canadian Inquest

Historic human rights hearing on migrant worker's death enters final day; decision could trigger first migrant work inquest in Canadian history

by Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)

Final arguments to be heard into death of migrant worker Ned Livingston Peart.

Toronto -The widows of the 11 Peruvian migrant workers killed in the Hampstead ON tragedy will be at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on June 28th to hear final arguments into the death of migrant worker Ned Livingston Peart. The decision could trigger the first public inquest into the death of a migrant worker in Canadian history.
Mr. Peart was crushed to death in a workplace accident on a tobacco farm near Brantford, Ontario, on August 22, 2002. He was one of the over 30,000 migrant workers that toil under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, a government program that brings farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean to farms across Canada. Migrant workers and their allies are mobilizing to ensure their presence is felt during this historic proceeding to improve workplace conditions for all migrant farm workers.

The Peart family sought to have a coroner's inquest held into the death because Mr. Peart had raised concerns with them over dangerous working conditions on the farm prior to his death. In fact, there has never been an inquest into the death of a migrant worker. 
The Office of Chief Coroner denied the request. Working with Justicia for Migrant Workers' organizers, the family then brought a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in the summer of 2005 claiming that the Coroners Act violates the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Coroners Act provides mandatory inquests for certain types of workers while excluding others, which causes adverse impacts on Mr. Peart and all migrant farm workers in Ontario. 
Community members, migrant workers and members of the Peart family will be attending the tribunal proceedings on Friday, June 28th, and they will also participate in a rally and press briefing that will be held outside of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (655 Bay St.) at 12:30pm.

Who: Family of Ned Livingston Peart, Migrant Workers including surviving family members of the Hampstead deaths, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and community allies.

What: Hearing at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal regarding the death of migrant worker Ned Livingston Peart.

Where: Ontario Human Rights Tribunal 655 Bay at Elm. St. (between Dundas St. and Gerrard St.) 14th Floor.

When: June 28th, 2013, Press Briefing at 12:30 outside of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal; Tribunal is from 9:30 am to 4:30pm.

June 27, 2013
For more information please contact

Chris Ramsaroop or Tzazna Miranda Leal 

Guaranteeing Disaster: Obama Carbon "Reduction Plan"

Obama's Carbon Reduction Plan "Will Guarantee Global Warming Disaster"


Nafeez Ahmed: Environmental activists need to redouble efforts to demand Obama reject Keystone XL, abandon hydrofracking, and adopt tougher emission standards.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a best-selling author, investigative journalist, and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, among other books. He writes for The Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy, and economic crises on his Earth Insight blog.

Spying 2.0: The Wild and Wacky World of Modern American Surveillance

The Wonderful American World of Informers and Agents Provocateurs: Close Encounters of the Lower-Tech Kind

by Todd Gitlin

Only Martians, by now, are unaware of the phone and online data scooped up by the National Security Agency (though if it turns out that they are aware, the NSA has surely picked up their signals and crunched their metadata). American high-tech surveillance is not, however, the only kind around. There’s also the lower tech, up-close-and-personal kind that involves informers and sometimes government-instigated violence.

Just how much of this is going on and in how coordinated a way no one out here in the spied-upon world knows. The lower-tech stuff gets reported, if at all, only one singular, isolated event at a time -- look over here, look over there, now you see it, now you don’t. What is known about such surveillance as well as the suborning of illegal acts by government agencies, including the FBI, in the name of counterterrorism has not been put together by major news organizations in a way that would give us an overview of the phenomenon. (The ACLU has done by far the best job of compiling reports on spying on Americans of this sort.)

Some intriguing bits about informers and agents provocateurs briefly made it into the public spotlight when Occupy Wall Street was riding high. But as always, dots need connecting. Here is a preliminary attempt to sort out some patterns behind what could be the next big story about government surveillance and provocation in America.

Tomgram: Todd Gitlin, Are "Intelligence" and Instigation Running Riot?
Back in the early 1970s, I worked for Pacific News Service (PNS), a small antiwar media outfit that operated out of the Bay Area Institute (BAI), a progressive think tank in San Francisco. The first story I ever wrote for PNS came about because an upset U.S. Air Force medic wanted someone to know about the American war wounded then pouring in from the invasion of Laos. So he snuck me onto Travis Air Force Base in northern California and into a military hospital to interview wigged-out guys with stumps for limbs who thought the war was a disaster. In some cases, they also thought we should have bombed the Vietnamese “back to the stone age.”

I was a good boy from the 1950s and sneaking onto that base made me nervous indeed. It was also the most illegal act I encountered at either PNS or the institute in those years. We did, of course, regularly have active duty antiwar soldiers and members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War pass through our office, and we had an antiwar GI in Vietnam writing for us under a pseudonym. (At some point, we found out that the Pentagon had actually tracked down and interviewed every soldier in Vietnam with that pseudonymous name in its attempt to uncover our journalist.)

In any case, we doggedly researched, reported, wrote, and edited our stories on U.S. war policy, which we syndicated, with modest success, to mainstream newspapers as well as what, in those days, was romantically called “the underground press.” The only hints of “violence” you might have stumbled across in our office would have been discussions of the violence of U.S. war policy.

So imagine my surprise -- okay, I shouldn’t have been, but I was anyway -- when years later one of my co-workers got his FBI files thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, and it became clear, on reading through those heavily redacted, semi-blacked-out pages, that there had been an informer in our office, spying on us and feeding information to the Bureau. If that was true in a modest place like PNS/BAI, where wouldn’t there have been such spies in the world of the antiwar movement? In fact, U.S. government informers and sometimes agents provocateurs were, it seems, a widespread phenomenon of those years. It’s a story that has never fully been told, in part obviously because the information to tell it just isn’t fully there. By far the best account I've read on the subject, particularly when it comes to agents provocateurs -- government agents sent in to provoke violence -- was a section of Todd Gitlin’s 1980 book The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left.

Recently, as Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations about the high-tech gathering of global (and domestic) communications of every imaginable sort began unspooling, Gitlin’s work came to mind again. I had certainly been aware of how many post-9/11 “terror” cases against American Muslims rested on the acts and testimony of government informers, who sometimes even provided (fake) weaponry to hapless plotters and the spark to begin plotting in the first place. I began to wonder, however, what we didn’t know about the low-tech side of America’s massive intelligence overreach. So I picked up the phone and called Gitlin. The answer, as his piece today indicates, is one hell of a horrifying lot. Among the few outfits to pay significant attention to spies and informers in the ranks of groups opposed to some aspect of Washington’s policies, the ACLU stands out. In fact, in a map that organization created, “Spying on First Amendment Activity -- State by State,” you can take a Mr. Toad’s wild ride through what’s known of the universe of the twenty-first century American informer. TomDispatch is pleased to follow up with a Mr. Todd’s wild ride through the thickets of American intelligence clearly on the march domestically. Tom 

The Wonderful American World of Informers and Agents Provocateurs: Close Encounters of the Lower-Tech Kind

by Todd Gitlin

Two Stories from Occupy Wall Street

The first is about surveillance. The second is about provocation.

On September 17, 2011, Plan A for the New York activists who came to be known as Occupy Wall Street was to march to the territory outside the bank headquarters of JPMorgan Chase. Once there, they discovered that the block was entirely fenced in. Many activists came to believe that the police had learned their initial destination from e-mail circulating beforehand. Whereupon they headed for nearby Zuccotti Park and a movement was born.

The evening before May Day 2012, a rump Occupy group marched out of San Francisco’s Dolores Park and into the Mission District, a neighborhood where not so many 1-percenters live, work, or shop. There, they proceeded to trash “mom and pop shops, local boutiques and businesses, and cars,” according to Scott Rossi, a medic and eyewitness, who summed his feelings up this way afterward: “We were hijacked.” The people “leading the march tonight,” he added, were

“clean cut, athletic, commanding, gravitas not borne of charisma but of testosterone and intimidation. They were decked out in outfits typically attributed to those in the ‘black bloc’ spectrum of tactics, yet their clothes were too new, and something was just off about them. They were very combative and nearly physically violent with the livestreamers on site, and got ignorant with me, a medic, when I intervened... I didn’t recognize any of these people. Their eyes were too angry, their mouths were too severe. They felt ‘military’ if that makes sense. Something just wasn’t right about them on too many levels.”

He was quick to add, “I’m not one of those tin foil hat conspiracy theorists. I don’t subscribe to those theories that Queen Elizabeth’s Reptilian slave driver masters run the Fed. I’ve read up on agents provocateurs and plants and that sort of thing and I have to say that, without a doubt, I believe 100% that the people that started tonight’s events in the Mission were exactly that.”

Taken aback, Occupy San Francisco condemned the sideshow: “We consider these acts of vandalism and violence a brutal assault on our community and the 99%.”

Where does such vandalism and violence come from? We don’t know. There are actual activists who believe that they are doing good this way; and there are government infiltrators; and then there are double agents who don’t know who they work for, ultimately, but like smashing things or blowing them up. By definition, masked trashers of windows in Oakland or elsewhere are anonymous. In anonymity, they -- and the burners of flags and setters of bombs -- magnify their power. They hijack the media spotlight. In this way, tiny groups -- incendiary, sincere, fraudulent, whoever they are -- seize levers that can move the entire world.

The Sting of the Clueless Bee

Who casts the first stone? Who smashes the first window? Who teaches bombers to build and plant actual or spurious bombs? The history of the secret police planting agents provocateurs in popular movements goes back at least to nineteenth century France and twentieth century Russia. In 1905, for example, the priest who led St. Petersburg’s revolution was some sort of double agent, as was the man who organized the assassination of the Czar’s uncle, the Grand Duke. As it happens, the United States has its own surprisingly full history of such planted agents at work turning small groups or movements in directions that, for better or far more often worse, they weren’t planning on going. One well-documented case is that of “Tommy the Traveler,” a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organizer who after years of trying to arouse violent action convinced two 19-year-old students to firebomb an ROTC headquarters at Hobart College in upstate New York. The writer John Schultz reported on likely provocateurs in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention of 1968. How much of this sort of thing went on? Who knows? Many relevant documents molder in unopened archives, or have been heavily redacted or destroyed.

As the Boston marathon bombing illustrates, there are homegrown terrorists capable of producing the weapons they need and killing Americans without the slightest help from the U.S. government. But historically, it’s surprising how relatively often the gendarme is also a ringleader. Just how often is hard to know, since information on the subject is fiendishly hard to pry loose from the secret world.

Through 2011, 508 defendants in the U.S. were prosecuted in what the Department of Justice calls “terrorism-related cases.” According to Mother Jones’s Trevor Aaronson, the FBI ran sting operations that “resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants” -- about one-third of the total. “Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur -- an FBI operative instigating terrorist action. With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”

In Cleveland, on May Day of 2012, in the words of a Rolling Stone exposé, the FBI “turned five stoner misfits into the world's most hapless terrorist cell.” To do this, the FBI put a deeply indebted, convicted bank robber and bad-check passer on their payroll, and hooked him up with an arms dealer, also paid by the Bureau. The FBI undercover man then hustled five wacked-out wannabe anarchists into procuring what they thought was enough C4 plastic explosive to build bombs they thought would blow up a bridge. The bombs were, of course, dummies. The five were arrested and await trial.

What do such cases mean? What is the FBI up to? Trevor Aaronson offers this appraisal:

“The FBI's goal is to create a hostile environment for terrorist recruiters and operators -- by raising the risk of even the smallest step toward violent action. It's a form of deterrence… Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there hasn't been a successful large-scale attack against the United States since 9/11. But what can't be answered -- as many former and current FBI agents acknowledge -- is how many of the bureau's targets would have taken the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.”

Perhaps Aaronson is a bit too generous. The FBI may, at times, be anything but thoughtful in its provocations. It may, in fact, be flatly dopey. COINTELPRO records released since the 1960s under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that it took FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover until 1968 to discover that there was such a thing as a New Left that might be of interest. Between 1960 and 1968, as the New Left was becoming a formidable force in its own right, the Bureau’s top officials seem to have thought that groups like Students for a Democratic Society were simply covers for the Communist Party, which was like mistaking the fleas for the dog. We have been assured that the FBI of today has learned something since the days of J. Edgar Hoover. But of ignorance and stupidity there is no end.

Trivial and Nontrivial Pursuits

Entrapment and instigation to commit crimes are in themselves genuine dangers to American liberties, even when the liberties are those of the reckless and wild. But there is another danger to such pursuits: the attention the authorities pay to nonexistent threats (or the creation of such threats) is attention not paid to actual threats.

Anyone concerned about the security of Americans should cast a suspicious eye on the allocation or simply squandering of resources on wild goose chases. Consider some particulars which have recently come to light. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has unearthed documents showing that, in 2011 and 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies were busy surveilling and worrying about a good number of Occupy groups -- during the very time that they were missing actual warnings about actual terrorist actions.

From its beginnings, the Occupy movement was of considerable interest to the DHS, the FBI, and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while true terrorists were slipping past the nets they cast in the wrong places. In the fall of 2011, the DHS specifically asked its regional affiliates to report on “Peaceful Activist Demonstrations, in addition to reporting on domestic terrorist acts and ‘significant criminal activity.’”

Aware that Occupy was overwhelmingly peaceful, the federally funded Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), one of 77 coordination centers known generically as “fusion centers,” was busy monitoring Occupy Boston daily. As the investigative journalist Michael Isikoff recently reported, they were not only tracking Occupy-related Facebook pages and websites but “writing reports on the movement’s potential impact on ‘commercial and financial sector assets.’”

It was in this period that the FBI received the second of two Russian police warnings about the extremist Islamist activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the future Boston Marathon bomber. That city’s police commissioner later testified that the federal authorities did not pass any information at all about the Tsarnaev brothers on to him, though there’s no point in letting the Boston police off the hook either. The ACLU has uncovered documents showing that, during the same period, they were paying close attention to the internal workings of…Code Pink and Veterans for Peace.

Public Agencies and the “Private Sector”

So we know that Boston’s master coordinators -- its Committee on Public Safety, you might say -- were worried about constitutionally protected activity, including its consequences for “commercial and financial sector assets.” Unsurprisingly, the feds worked closely with Wall Street even before the settling of Zuccotti Park. More surprisingly, in Alaska, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, intelligence was not only pooled among public law enforcement agencies, but shared with private corporations -- and vice versa.

Nationally, in 2011, the FBI and DHS were, in the words of Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity.” Last December using FOIA, PCJF obtained 112 pages of documents (heavily redacted) revealing a good deal of evidence for what might otherwise seem like an outlandish charge: that federal authorities were, in Verheyden-Hilliard’s words, “functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.” Consider these examples from PCJF’s summary of federal agencies working directly not only with local authorities but on behalf of the private sector:

• “As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests that wouldn’t start for another month. By September, prior to the start of the OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest.”

• “The FBI in Albany and the Syracuse Joint Terrorism Task Force disseminated information to... [22] campus police officials... A representative of the State University of New York at Oswego contacted the FBI for information on the OWS protests and reported to the FBI on the SUNY-Oswego Occupy encampment made up of students and professors.”

• An entity called the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector,” sent around information regarding Occupy protests at West Coast ports [on Nov. 2, 2011] to “raise awareness concerning this type of criminal activity.” The DSAC report contained “a ‘handling notice’ that the information is ‘meant for use primarily within the corporate security community. Such messages shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, the general public or other personnel…’ Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) reported to DSAC on the relationship between OWS and organized labor.”

• DSAC gave tips to its corporate clients on “civil unrest,” which it defined as running the gamut from “small, organized rallies to large-scale demonstrations and rioting.” It advised corporate employees to dress conservatively, avoid political discussions and “avoid all large gatherings related to civil issues. Even seemingly peaceful rallies can spur violent activity or be met with resistance by security forces.”

• The FBI in Anchorage, Jacksonville, Tampa, Richmond, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Birmingham also gathered information and briefed local officials on wholly peaceful Occupy activities.

• In Jackson, Mississippi, FBI agents “attended a meeting with the Bank Security Group in Biloxi, MS with multiple private banks and the Biloxi Police Department, in which they discussed an announced protest for ‘National Bad Bank Sit-In-Day’ on December 7, 2011.” Also in Jackson, “the Joint Terrorism Task Force issued a ‘Counterterrorism Preparedness’ alert” that, despite heavy redactions, notes the need to ‘document…the Occupy Wall Street Movement.’”

Sometimes, “intelligence” moves in the opposite direction -- from private corporations to public agencies. Among the collectors of such “intelligence” are entities that, like the various intelligence and law enforcement outfits, do not make distinctions between terrorists and nonviolent protesters. Consider TransCanada, the corporation that plans to build the 1,179 mile Keystone-XL tar sands pipeline across the U. S. and in the process realize its “vision to become the leading energy infrastructure company in North America.“ The anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska filed a successful Freedom of Information Act request with the Nebraska State Patrol and so was able to put TransCanada’s briefing slideshow up online.

So it can be documented in living color that the company lectured federal agents and local police to look into the use of “anti-terrorism statutes” against peaceful anti-Keystone activists. TransCanada showed slides that cited as sinister the “attendance” of Bold Nebraska members at public events, noting “Suspicious Vehicles/Photography.” TransCanada alerted the authorities that Nebraska protesters were guilty of “aggressive/abusive behavior,” citing a local anti-pipeline group that, they said, committed a “slap on the shoulder” at the Merrick County Board Meeting (possessor of said shoulder unspecified). They fingered nonviolent activists by name and photo, paying them the tribute of calling them “'Professionals' & Organized.” Native News Network pointed out that “although TransCanada's presentation to authorities contains information about property destruction, sabotage, and booby traps, police in Texas and Oklahoma have never alleged, accused, or charged Tar Sands Blockade activists of any such behaviors.”

Centers for Fusion, Diffusion, and Confusion

After September 11, 2001, government agencies at all levels, suddenly eager to break down information barriers and connect the sort of dots that had gone massively unconnected before the al-Qaida attacks, used Department of Homeland Security funds to start “fusion centers.” These are supposed to coordinate anti-terrorist intelligence gathering and analysis. They are also supposed to “fuse” intelligence reports from federal, state, and local authorities, as well as private companies that conduct intelligence operations. According to the ACLU, at least 77 fusion centers currently receive federal funds.

Much is not known about these centers, including just who runs them, by what rules, and which public and private entities are among the fused. There is nothing public about most of them. However, some things are known about a few. Several fusion center reports that have gone public illustrate a remarkably slapdash approach to what constitutes “terrorist danger” and just what kinds of data are considered relevant for law enforcement. In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee learned, for instance, that the Tennessee Fusion Center was “highlighting on its website map of ‘Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity’ a recent ACLU-TN letter to school superintendents. The letter encourages schools to be supportive of all religious beliefs during the holiday season.” (The map is no longer online.)

So far, the prize for pure fused wordiness goes to a 215-page manual issued in 2009 by the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC), filled with Keystone Kop-style passages among pages that in their intrusive sweep are anything but funny. The VFC warned, for instance, that “the Garbage Liberation Front (GLF) is an ecological direct action group that demonstrates the joining of anarchism and environmental movements.” Among GLF’s dangerous activities well worth the watching, the VFC included “dumpster diving, squatting, and train hopping.”

In a similarly jaw-dropping manner, the manual claimed -- the italics are mine -- that “Katuah Earth First (KEF), based in Asheville, North Carolina, sends activists throughout the region to train and engage in criminal activity. KEF has trained local environmentalists in non-violent tactics, including blocking roads and leading demonstrations, at action camps in Virginia. While KEF has been primarily involved in protests and university outreach, members have also engaged in vandalism.” Vandalism! Send out an APB!

The VFC also warned that, “[a]lthough the anarchist threat to Virginia is assessed as low, these individuals view the government as unnecessary, which could lead to threats or attacks against government figures or establishments.” It singled out the following 2008 incidents as worth notice:

• At the Martinsville Speedway, “A temporary employee called in a bomb threat during a Sprint Cup race... because he was tired of picking up trash and wanted to go home.”

• In Missouri, “a mobile security team observed an individual photographing an unspecified oil refinery... The person abruptly left the scene before he could be questioned."

• Somewhere in Virginia, “seven passengers aboard a white pontoon boat dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garments immediately sped away after being sighted in the recreational area, which is in close proximity to” a power plant.

What idiot or idiots wrote this script?

Given a disturbing lack of evidence of terrorist actions undertaken or in prospect, the authors even warned:

“It is likely that potential incidents of interest are occurring, but that such incidents are either not recognized by initial responders or simply not reported. The lack of detailed information for Virginia instances of monitored trends should not be construed to represent a lack of occurrence.”

Lest it be thought that Virginia stands alone and shivering on the summit of bureaucratic stupidity, consider an “intelligence report” from the North Central Texas fusion center, which in a 2009 “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” described, in the ACLU’s words, “a purported conspiracy between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, the anti-war movement, a former U.S. Congresswoman, the U.S. Treasury Department, and hip hop bands to spread tolerance in the United States, which would ‘provide an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish.’”

And those Virginia and Texas fusion centers were hardly alone in expanding the definition of “terrorist” to fit just about anyone who might oppose government policies. According to a 2010 report in the Los Angeles Times, the Justice Department Inspector General found that “FBI agents improperly opened investigations into Greenpeace and several other domestic advocacy groups after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and put the names of some of their members on terrorist watch lists based on evidence that turned out to be ‘factually weak.’” The Inspector General called "troubling" what the Los Angeles Times described as “singling out some of the domestic groups for investigations that lasted up to five years, and were extended ‘without adequate basis.’”

Subsequently, the FBI continued to maintain investigative files on groups like Greenpeace, the Catholic Worker, and the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, cases where (in the politely put words of the Inspector General’s report) “there was little indication of any possible federal crimes… In some cases, the FBI classified some investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its 'acts of terrorism' classification."

One of these investigations concerned Greenpeace protests planned for ExxonMobil shareholder meetings. (Note: I was on Greenpeace’s board of directors during three of those years.) The inquiry was kept open "for over three years, long past the shareholder meetings that the subjects were supposedly planning to disrupt." The FBI put the names of Greenpeace members on its federal watch list. Around the same time, an ExxonMobil-funded lobby got the IRS to audit Greenpeace.

This counterintelligence archipelago of malfeasance and stupidity is sometimes fused with ass-covering fabrication. In Pittsburgh, on the day after Thanksgiving 2002 (“a slow work day” in the Justice Department Inspector General’s estimation), a rookie FBI agent was outfitted with a camera, sent to an antiwar rally, and told to look for terrorism suspects. The “possibility that any useful information would result from this make-work assignment was remote,” the report added drily.

“The agent was unable to identify any terrorism subjects at the event, but he photographed a woman in order to have something to show his supervisor. He told us he had spoken to a woman leafletter at the rally who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, and that she was probably the person he photographed.”

The sequel was not quite so droll. The Inspector General found that FBI officials, including their chief lawyer in Pittsburgh, manufactured postdated “routing slips” and the rest of a phony paper trail to justify this surveillance retroactively.

Moreover, at least one fusion center has involved military intelligence in civilian law enforcement. In 2009, a military operative from Fort Lewis, Washington, worked undercover collecting information on peace groups in the Northwest. In fact, he helped run the Port Militarization Resistance group’s Listserv. Once uncovered, he told activists there were others doing similar work in the Army. How much the military spies on American citizens is unknown and, at the moment at least, unknowable.

Do we hear an echo from the abyss of the counterintelligence programs of the 1960s and 1970s, when FBI memos -- I have some in my own heavily redacted files obtained through an FOIA request -- were routinely copied to military intelligence units? Then, too, military intelligence operatives spied on activists who violated no laws, were not suspected of violating laws, and had they violated laws, would not have been under military jurisdiction in any case. During those years, more than 1,500 Army intelligence agents in plain clothes were spying, undercover, on domestic political groups (according to Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1967-70, an unpublished dissertation by former Army intelligence captain Christopher H. Pyle). They posed as students, sometimes growing long hair and beards for the purpose, or as reporters and camera crews. They recorded speeches and conversations on concealed tape recorders. The Army lied about their purposes, claiming they were interested solely in “civil disturbance planning.”

Years later, I met one of these agents, now retired, in San Francisco. He knew more about what I was doing in the late 1960s than my mother did.

Squaring Circles

In 2009, President Obama told the graduating class at the Naval Academy that, “as Americans, we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.” Security and ideals: officially we want both. But how do you square circles, especially in a world in which “security” has often enough become a stand-in for whatever intelligence operatives decide to do?

The ACLU’s Tennessee office sums the situation up nicely: “While the ostensible purpose of fusion centers, to improve sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels and arms of government, is legitimate and important, using the centers to monitor protected First Amendment activity clearly crosses the line.” Nationally, the ACLU rightly worries about who is in charge of fusion centers and by what rules they operate, about what becomes of privacy when private corporations are inserted into the intelligence process, about what the military is doing meddling in civilian law enforcement, about data-mining operations that Federal guidelines encourage, and about the secrecy walls behind which the fusion centers operate.

Even when fusion centers do their best to square that circle in their own guidelines, like the ones obtained by the ACLU from Massachusetts’s Commonwealth Fusion Center (CFC), the knots in which they tie themselves are all over the page. Imagine, then, what happens when you let informers or agents provocateurs loose in actual undercover situations.

“Undercovers,” writes the Massachusetts CFC, “may not seek to gain access to private meetings and should not actively participate in meetings… At the preliminary inquiry stage, sources and informants should not be used to cultivate relationships with persons and groups that are the subject of the preliminary inquiry.” So far so good. Then, it adds, “Investigators may, however, interview, obtain, and accept information known to sources and informants.” By eavesdropping, say? Collecting trash? Hacking? All without warrants? Without probable cause?

“Undercovers and informants,” the guidelines continue, “are strictly prohibited from engaging in any conduct the sole purpose of which is to disrupt the lawful exercise of political activity, from disrupting the lawful operations of an organization, from sowing seeds of distrust between members of an organization involved in lawful activity, or from instigating unlawful acts or engaging in unlawful or unauthorized investigative activities.” Now, go back and note that little, easy-to-miss word “sole.” Who knows just what grim circles that tiny word squares?

The Massachusetts CFC at least addresses the issue of entrapment: “Undercovers should not become so involved in a group that they are participating in directing the operations of a group, either by accepting a formal position in the hierarchy or by informally establishing the group's policy and priorities. This does not mean an undercover cannot support a group's policies and priorities; rather an undercover should not become a driving force behind a group's unlawful activities.” Did Cleveland’s fusion center have such guidelines? Did they follow them? Do other state fusion centers? We don’t know.

Whatever the fog of surveillance, when it comes to informers, agents provocateurs, and similar matters, four things are clear enough:

• Terrorist plots arise, in the United States as elsewhere, with the intent of committing murder and mayhem. Since 2001, in the U.S., these have been almost exclusively the work of freelance Islamist ideologues like the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston. None have been connected in any meaningful way with any legitimate organization or movement.

• Government surveillance may in some cases have been helpful in scotching such plots, but there is no evidence that it has been essential.

• Even based on the limited information available to us, since September 11, 2001, the net of surveillance has been thrown wide indeed. Tabs have been kept on members of quite a range of suspect populations, including American Muslims, anarchists, and environmentalists, among others -- in situation after situation where there was no probable cause to suspect preparations for a crime.

• At least on occasion -- we have no way of knowing how often -- agents provocateurs on government payrolls have spurred violence.

How much official unintelligence is at work? How many demonstrations are being poked and prodded by undercover agents? How many acts of violence are being suborned? It would be foolish to say we know. At least equally foolish would be to trust the authorities to keep to honest-to-goodness police work when they are so mightily tempted to take the low road into straight-out, unwarranted espionage and instigation.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, the chair of the PhD program in communications, and the author of The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left; The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage; and Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

[Note: Thanks to the ACLU’s Michael German and Matt Harwood and TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, for research help on this piece.]

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Copyright 2013 Todd Gitlin