Friday, 28 June 2013

The Naked Empire

by Robert C. Koehler     Common Dreams         June 28, 2013

America, America…  Edward Snowden’s crime is one of public relations. In this day and age, power ain’t just jackboots, tanks and missiles. What he did by outing the NSA and its gargantuan surveillance operation was mess hugely with the American image — the American brand — with its irresistible combination of might and right.
That’s the nature of his “treason.” The secret he gave away was pretty much the same one the little boy blurted out in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale: “The emperor has no clothes!” That is, the government’s security industry isn’t devoted, benevolently, to protecting the American public. Instead, it’s obsessively irrational, bent on accumulating data on every phone call we make. It’s a berserk spy machine, seemingly to no sane end. How awkward.
For instance, the government of Hong Kong, in refusing to extradite Snowden as per the Obama administration’s request, explained in its refusal letter that it has “formally written to the U.S. Government requesting clarification on reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by U.S. government agencies. It will follow up on the matter, to protect the legal rights of people of Hong Kong.”  In other words, sorry, Naked Empire. We’re not going to do what you ask, and by the way, we have some issues with your behavior we’d like to discuss.
This is not the sort of insolence the world’s only superpower wants to hear, and it’s Snowden’s fault, along with other whistleblowers. Traitors, all of them — at least as far as the government is concerned.  Incredibly, so much of the Fourth Estate goes along with this, aligning itself with the raw, unarticulated interests of power — with the idea that security equals the status quo. The assumption is that the government protects us by doing whatever it does, and we don’t really need to know the details. We just need to round up the transgressors and bring them to justice.
Outside the mainstream, there has, of course, been excellent critical analysis both of Snowden’s revelations and the mainstream media’s snarky dismissal of same, but one assumption strikes me as largely unexamined: that the U.S. government essentially has the power to do whatever it wants, independent of the citizenry living under its auspices, and that our choices are either to go along with it or rail angrily against it. But maybe we have other options as well.
Gene Sharp, the extraordinary historian and theorist of nonviolent power, writes in Power and Struggle: The Nature and Control of Political Power: “Basically, there appear to be two views of the nature of power. One can see people as dependent upon the good will, the decisions and the support of their government or any other system to which they belong. Or, one can see that government or system dependent on the people’s good will, decisions and support.
“One can see the power of a government as emitted from the few who stand at the pinnacle of command. Or one can see that power, in all governments, as continually rising from many parts of the society. One can also see power as self-perpetuating, durable, not easily or quickly controlled or destroyed. Or political power can be viewed as fragile, always dependent for its strength and existence upon replenishment of its sources, by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people — cooperation which may or may not continue.” (Emphasis added.)
Indeed, Snowden, Manning and other whistleblowers have demonstrated the fragility of governmental power with their very actions. Hence the government’s kneejerk response: They’re traitors! They disobeyed and must be punished, because any unofficial leakage of government policy is bad for security. Of course the security in question is the security of those in power. The belief that their security is our security is the link that must be broken. As Sharp points out, we don’t automatically owe those in power our good will.
Tim Wise, in an excellent essay putting the NSA revelations into context, writes: “Maybe it is time to remind ourselves that the only things worse than what this government and its various law enforcement agencies do in secret, are the things they’ve been doing blatantly, openly, but only to some, for a long time now.”
From a genocidal war against the continent’s original inhabitants to the institution of slavery to Jim Crow . . . to Vietnam, Agent Orange, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, shock and awe bombing, torture, ecocide, drone warfare . . . to the millions of people trapped in our prison gulag . . . the agenda of empire has been going on, with unquestioning public support, for far too long. What the empire fears most is the day that it can no longer take this support for granted. That day is coming.    [Abridged]
© 2013 Tribune Media Services         Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist

Monday, 24 June 2013

In Yemen, Most Al Qaeda can be Captured, but Killing is Easier

by Ann Wright                      Common Dreams                      June 22, 2013

In Yemen, civilians who have no connection with Al Qaeda are killed when the U.S. uses drones to target Al Qaeda members who travel freely throughout the country. High unemployment and feelings of injustice for the killing of people in their area by drones and Yemeni air strikes provide a fertile recruiting ground for al Qaeda in Yemen. Prisons in which young people have been detained and imprisoned for months and years without trial by the Government of Yemen is a key place where radicalization for armed groups, including al Qaeda, occurs.
Several who have been killed by US drone attacks had been released from prison and had been reporting to a government office each month. Their locations were known to government officials. Entsar said that once a person is labeled as an al Qaeda member, there is nothing that person can do to erase the label, including renouncing violence, serving time in prison and reporting back to eh government on a regular basis. Once labeled as al Qaeda by the U.S. government one remains on an assassination list no matter what one does, according to Al-Qadhi.
'Sympathy increases for al Qaeda and other armed groups after a drone strike.' The Yemen government imprisons and then releases former al Qaeda members and then assists in the targeting and killing of those who have served their sentences for al Qaeda affiliation. The community knows that the released prisoners have to report frequently to the government as a part of their release. In Yemeni tribal customs, once a person is “cleansed” of their previous affiliations, they are allowed back into the community. When those who have been “cleansed” are then killed by U.S. drones, the recruitment for armed groups including al Qaeda increases.
Entsar said that some women in her community have told her that while they disagree with violent acts committed by some al Qaeda members, at least they can talk with them, whereas they can’t communicate with a drone operator who is also committing violent acts. Sympathy increases for armed groups after a drone strike.
Al-Qadhi said that in January, 2013, there were five drone strikes in one day in the area where she lives around Marib. The first drone killed 3 brothers in the al Jaradh family. The eldest brother had been a member of al Qaeda, but had turned himself in to Yemeni authorities. He had been imprisoned, but had recently been released by the government. The other brothers were not known to be members of al Qaeda. The brothers had been driving in a car, spotted the drone, left their car and went into a garden where the drone attacked them. All three were killed.  As the bodies of the al Jaradh brothers were taken for burial, a car carrying 5 people to their funeral was hit in a drone strike. The driver of the car was known to be an al Qaeda member, but the others in the car were not. Two hours later, another car in the Marib area was blown up by a drone strike. 4 young men ages 16-18 were killed.
Many contend that these al Qaeda could be captured, but the Government of Yemen gets funding for counter-terrorism programs when the U.S. can kill rather than the Government of Yemen capture suspected al Qaeda. From the Government of Yemen’s viewpoint, capture of suspected criminals clogs up the judicial system and becomes a burden on government resources while the killing of suspected criminals is easy and financially rewarding
In a June 10, 2013 letter, Al Karama requested that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions intervene with the United States and Yemen governments to “open a prompt, impartial, independent and effective inquiry on the chain of command and the procedures that allowed for the targeting, tracking and killing of four unarmed civilians, and that individuals responsible for the attack, whether they are American or Yemeni, are impartially judged for their acts.”
The United States has not disciplined those involved in the targeting and assassination of 41 civilians in the December 17, 2009 airstrike in the al-Majalah region in southwestern Yemen. The strike killed a reported 41 people, including at least 21 children. The Yemeni government initially claimed that it had carried out the strike, but leaked US government cables later revealed that Yemen had covered up the US  responsibility for the strike.
 Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.     [Excerpts only]

Your Government on War

Robert Kohler         Common Dreams        June 20, 2013
“Our primary long range interest in Geneva, is general and complete disarmament, designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. . . . “While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”
That was President John F. Kennedy speaking to the 1963 graduating class of American University —announcing that the human race was ready to move beyond war. This was the speech in which he revealed that talks on a Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union had begun, and that the U.S. was unilaterally suspending atmospheric nuclear testing.  Fifty years later, the words seem like an archaeological find — quaint, strange, shocking. Look, common sense! Perfectly preserved. Once upon a time, such a goal — disarmament, the end (good God!) of war itself —had political cred at the highest levels.  Kennedy even had the audacity to proclaim that peace wasn’t totally a matter of our enemy du jour, the Soviets, changing their behavior. “I also believe,” he said, “that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs.”
Politics that makes room for self-reflection? While he proceeds to bash the Communists for bad-mouthing the U.S., he calls their rhetoric “a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.”This is politics outside of winning and losing. Kennedy dared to suggest that peace was complex, that it was not a mere matter of military strength and the power to dominate, and that “our enemy” was not subhuman. The American public was ready to hear this half a century ago. What happened? And how do we return to this cutting edge of political sanity?
Once upon a time, not all that long ago, the highest levels of American government were capable of representing more than just the status quo, and were not irrelevant to real social change. Once upon a time, principles stood independent of politics. It was always shaky, of course. The Kennedy presidency was flawed; the Vietnam War was set at simmer. But once upon a time, one could look for real values in the political arena . . . and find them.
What has happened in the intervening years has been a hollowing out of those principles and of democracy itself — a moral bottoming out, you might say. What has happened is that the military-industrial consensus has taken control. No more nonsense. War wins. We’re addicted to it. “But any awake American can see that PRISM is only one sock on a long line of dirty laundry,” “While PRISM and the rest of the gang are individually sordid, when combined they are the track marks of a far more pervasive, widespread, life-wasting problem. One that has systematically attacked not just the Fourth Amendment, but also the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and 10th. “This is your government on war.”
Whatever the threats that emanate from beyond or within the national borders, the overwhelming condition that concerned citizens — the ones, for instance, in sync with Kennedy’s 1963 speech — must address is that the government itself is the problem, and its abuses both at home and abroad are only going to escalate until its addiction to war is curbed. And the first step in this process is to declare: no future wars. The seductive rhetoric pushing “the next war” is a lie. It’s always a lie, concealing the addiction. The game stops here. No future wars!
Niemela proposes a constitutional amendment: “The American people, in accordance with the promotion of international justice, peace, human rights and dignity, hereby renounce the use of organized, armed force to resolve intra- and inter-state conflict; neither war nor war-making processes shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” David Swanson, in response, proposed enforcing the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which the United States along with more than 80 other nations signed, agreeing that the settlement of all disputes between signatory nations “shall never be sought except by pacific means.”
I don’t doubt that the moral passion, in the U.S. and around the globe, is there. The idea of ending war can no longer be compromised. Can it regain the political presence it had 50 years ago? That part is up to us.
© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.          {Abridged]

My Fight for Justice in Guantánamo

Killing innocent people for an idea, whether on London's streets or from the skies of Pakistan, is always wrong
by Shaker Aamer                     Guardian/UK                        June 14, 2013

Here I am in Guantánamo Bay. I was meant to be a Muslim extremist, one of the "worst of the worst", according to the former United States defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Indeed, because I am still here and 613 detainees have left, you might think that I am the worst of the worst of the worst – although perhaps the fact that I was cleared for release six years ago would give you pause for thought.
As I sit alone in my cell, I learn about acts of terrorism that take place around the world. Because the censors here do not let us have the news any more as a punishment for being on hunger strike, I have only heard the bare bones of what happened in Woolwich but, even without knowing all the facts, it is easy for me to condemn it. Just yesterday I was talking to another detainee about the murder of Lee Rigby. Neither of us could understand how anyone could think such an act was consistent with Islam. I condemn it regardless of the men's motive. I don't know what they thought might be achieved by it. Perhaps they were just mentally ill.
The same is true of the attack on the Boston Marathon in April. Maybe those who killed the innocent thought somehow that their attack was going to strike a blow against those who were fighting Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Americans who were killing innocent children with drones in Pakistan and Yemen. But their actions were just plain wrong. You do not kill innocent people on the streets of London or Boston and say that is a jihad for justice.
It is important to recognise that the Americans do evil things as well. They say their motivation is to fight terrorism, and fighting terror is something I wholeheartedly support. But while their intentions may be good, their actions are also very wrong – when they kill a small child with a drone missile in Pakistan, or when they lock people up without trial in Guantánamo Bay. These actions are very unwise, too. They anger people who might before have been reasonable, so that more of them turn to extremism. They feed terrorism, just as once the denial of legal rights to those suspected of being Irish terrorists drew disaffected people to the IRA banner.
I was very pleased to hear this week that the prime minister, David Cameron, read the letter my daughter, Johina, sent him. I hope one day soon I will be back in the UK and I will be able to talk with politicians about how to reduce extremism – whether it is Muslims who misinterpret the Holy Qur'an, or members of the English Defence League who misinterpret Muslims.  We cannot establish justice by committing injustice. Evil begets evil.
But at the same time, goodwill brings goodwill. Misguided people will always commit misguided acts, but we do not need to live as if it might happen to each of us every day. Yet the US is still living the 9/11 nightmare. Guards on my block here in Guantánamo, who were just eight years old at the time of the attacks, now treat me as if I blew up the World Trade Centre. Why have we passed this nightmare to the next generation? They have been taught to hate. This is driving the world away from reconciliation. Our children are being taught to live in the past, not the future.
No matter who we are, we must bear in mind what we are fighting for. Right now, I am on a hunger strike for justice. To me, it is worth suffering for that goal, and I will continue my personal struggle one way or another till justice prevails. I am deeply grateful to those in Britain and the US who support us: I am particularly grateful to Jane Ellison, my MP. Maybe some people think that a Conservative MP would have no sympathy for someone like me, but she sees past the prejudice. And so do I. Our prophet teaches us that if we do not thank others, we do not thank our God.
When we combat terrorism, we are in a struggle to maintain our principles – ideas that terrorists and EDL members have apparently long forgotten. We must always ensure that we do not make our principles, and our respect for others, the first victims in the fight.
• This piece was dictated by Shaker Aamer to his lawyer on 10 June    © 2013 p://

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

I know why asylum seekers come

I was one of them  I fled Afghanistan to escape persecution. My new life in Australia is fraught with difficulties, but I am thankful to be here

By Hussein                                  Guardian/UK                                   20 June 2013
'In Afghanistan, as an Hazara, what I look like defines me.' We asked each other what we imagined Australia would be like, to keep spirits high as we drifted aimlessly in the ocean. “I hear Australians are nice ... they like human rights, and they respect everyone. “Australia has every religion and every ethnicity, so people can be whatever they like.” “No one cares what our faces looks like. They won’t care that we are Hazara.”
Me, Salim*, Hassan and Ali, along with 75 other people, had been lost at sea for four days after our rickety boat’s engine had finally given way. We had run out of food and water and, very quickly, the hope that we would ever make it out of this journey alive. But on our fifth day, the Australian navy rescued us. Six months later, I find myself sharing a small two bedroom house with Salim, Hassan and Ali, the same men that were with me when we got on the boat in Indonesia. We have been welcomed with open arms by the community.
In Afghanistan, as an Hazara, what I look like defines me. It is what got my father and my brother kidnapped by the Taliban – they were Hazara men who dared to dream of a better life by pursuing education, and wished the same for their children. That’s why I was forced to flee, leaving my family behind in Afghanistan. I still remember my father’s exact words to me, "I know my life is in danger, but the Taliban will not take me because I am a doctor and serve the people." Sadly, he was proven wrong. 
I have miraculously made it here and I have been fortunate enough to get help from an extremely generous couple – I call them my "Aussie parents". Along with Salim, Ali and Hassan, they are my family here. They have supported me and my father’s dreams by helping to cover the costs of my education. While I have been lucky enough to spend my time studying to get a complete in IT, not many others are in my position.
Because we arrived on boat after 13 August 2012, we are under the "no advantage rule". This means that we have been living in the community without any work rights, and we don’t know for how many years we won't be allowed to work. We receive under $30 a day from Centrelink which goes towards paying for rent, bills including electricity and water, weekly groceries and if there’s any left over, warm clothes for winter to help keep our costs down.
We have been depending on the kindness of the community which has come together to help us. They provide us with clothing, food, even English dictionaries, and a lending hand whenever we need it. In true Australian spirit, these people have made us feel welcome in our new home, even when those new rules try to do the opposite. Each day I see Salim, Hassan and Ali go through the same routine. No job, no income, no study, no opportunities, and ultimately, no self-worth. And then I recall the conversations we had on the boat.
We still want nothing more than to belong and to be part of community. We want to build a safe future for ourselves and our children – the ones we have left back home at the wrath of the Taliban, and the ones we want to raise as Australians with a shot at a good life. Our image of Australia as a refugee friendly country has not changed. Knowing the terror that Hazaras face in Afghanistan, we are just thankful to be alive. That is also why, despite these new rules, people still make the journey to Australia. Salim, Hassan, Ali and I know why people come here – we have lived it. Like us, they have no choice.
It is stressful for us not to know our future. We don't know if we will be accepted and taken in as Australians, or if we will be sent back to face it all over again. But as we wait, we’ll have long conversations with our new Australian friends, we’ll make tasty Afghan dishes to take to our neighbour’s BBQ, and best of all, I'll keep going to the beautiful ocean, my favourite place here. Who knows how long this will last.
* Names changed to protect.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

NSA and GCHQ: mass surveillance is about power as much as privacy

Seumas Milne                                 Guardian/UK                           11 June 2013

Democratic institutions have spectacularly failed to hold US and other western states' intelligence and military operations to account. So it's been left to a string of whistleblowers to fill the gap.  Courtesy of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know the US National Security Agency is collecting 200 billion pieces of intelligence a month, hoovering up the mobile records of more than 200 million Americans and helping itself to a vast quantity of emails, web searches and live chats from the world's largest internet companies via a program called Prism.

Such rampant blanket surveillance of course makes a mockery of the right to privacy.  But this is as much about power as it is about privacy. Surveillance and intelligence are tools of control, at home and abroad. The history of their abuse by the US and British governments is voluminous, both in subverting and overthrowing foreign governments, from Iran to Chile, or in attacking civil rights at home, during the cold war and since 9/11.
The NSA and GCHQ, whose collaboration is at the heart of the US and British "special relationship", have been central to that for decades. Their global eavesdropping role is the cornerstone of the "five eyes" alliance of anglophone states (including Australia, Canada and NZ) which underpins US-dominated western global power. Both agencies were founded to spy on the rest of the world, but ended up also targeting their own people.

Two elements are new. The first is the sheer scale and scope of the NSA's trawling, which dwarfs what was possible in the past. The second is the central role of private corporations in the emerging global surveillance state. Corporations have long been hand in glove with the secret state, working with the security services to this day to blacklist trade unionists and funding covert labour movement organisations during the cold war. What's changed is that communication is in the hands of the corporations. And the companies whose servers are vacuumed up by Prism are a roll call of US internet giants, from Google to YouTube.
Any idea that these tax-dodging behemoths represent a new form of libertarian democratic cool has now been comprehensively exposed as yesterday's marketing guff. But it's the war on terror that has driven the hyper-expansion of the new security-industrial complex. Along with the meaningless catch-all justification of "national security", terrorism is invoked to justify all manner of anti-democratic innovations. And since nobody wants to be blown up on buses or trains, it gives a veneer of credibility to formerly discredited spying organisations.

In reality, both the NSA and GCHQ, along with their sister spying outfits, are fuelling as much as fighting terrorism. It is they who provide the intelligence for drone attacks that have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. A Pakistani man is currently taking a case to the court of appeal against GCHQ for allegedly providing the "intelligence" for a CIA drone strike that killed his father.  And it's the same US and British intelligence services that have been involved in widespread torture, kidnapping and other crimes in the past decade – as well as scandalous intelligence manipulation over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – who now claim to be protecting us from some of the consequences.

At home, GCHQ and the NSA were mobilised to conduct spying and dirty tricks operations against the 1980s British miners' strike, while in the 1970s the US Senate Church committee exposed systematic abuse of US eavesdropping powers against civil rights and anti-war activists (along with assassination abroad). Senator Frank Church himself warned then that the NSA's capability "at any time could be turned around on the American people". That is what has now happened. Claims that the intelligence agencies are now subject to genuine accountability have been repeatedly shown to be nonsense. But the political elites have their own priorities. Instead of drawing back from mass surveillance, British ministers are chafing to introduce new legislation to extend it.

The US and allied intelligence services are instruments of both domestic and global power and dominance, far beyond issues of terrorism. Revealingly, the state shown by the leaks to be the NSA's biggest intelligence target in Europe is the economic powerhouse of Germany – to a flurry of cautious protests from German politicians.
Democratic institutions have spectacularly failed to hold US and other western states' intelligence and military operations to account. So it's been left to a string of whistleblowers – from Cathy Massiter andKatharine Gun to Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – to fill the gap. It's now up to the rest of us to make sure their courage isn't wasted.                      Twitter: @SeumasMilne                    [Abridged]

Victory Over Death

Ian Harris           Otago Daily Times            June 14, 2013

IT is a central Christian conviction that Jesus overcame death, and that his followers can do so too. What that means has been interpreted in many different ways, including immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body, depending on people’s understanding of God, the universe, the laws of nature, and humanity.

But the beauty of Christianity is that it is continually evolving, so its followers need not be frozen into past understandings based on outmoded world-views – though some will insist that is precisely where truth lies. Instead, people are free to think the questions through in the light of new knowledge and new circumstances and see where that leads them.  

My previous two columns described how in the United States today a lot of energy is going into finding ways to overcome death by circumventing it, and how, long ago, notions of immortality and resurrection emerged to promise that after death the essential “I” will live on.  These days, however, the life sciences make it far harder to sustain the idea of a soul or disembodied mind continuing to exist once the brain has ceased to function, or of the body being reconstituted in some magical way. Those sciences come much closer to the old Hebrew idea of human beings as body-mind or body-spirit, fused and dependent on each other.

Even near-death and out-of-body experiences can be explained in terms of brain processes (such as oxygen deprivation, endorphin release and random neural firing) rather than as proof of a disembodied consciousness. In short, death happens and the whole self dies.

Nevertheless, within the contemporary secular world-view it is still possible to talk of victory over death, a victory that accepts its finality but takes away its sting. The key is to place each life within a wider context than concern for one’s own destiny. This is because the Christian approach is centred not on what happens after death but on what we make of life, both individually and in community with other people.

So for English Bishop John Robinson, author of the explosive little book Honest to God, the good news of Christianity “is not of the rescuing of individuals out of nature and history . . . but the redeeming of all the myriad relationships of creation into a new heaven and a new earth, the city of God, the body of Christ”. The language is metaphorical, but the application is to this world of space and time.

Robinson underlines that by saying: “The resurrection of the body begins not at death, but at baptism.” For Christians that is not just a pretty naming ceremony, but a rite symbolising death to a cynical, self-centred world, and welcome to the new world of Christ’s inspiration, whose hallmark is unconditional love.

People who live by that insight find it liberating. It opens up a trusting orientation to life and its possibilities. Hope expands. So does concern for the pain, suffering and deprivation around them, since this new quality of life is seen not as something to be hogged and hoarded, but shared. They find Christ somehow resurrected in the body of his followers, the church – not always, admittedly, but at its best. To the extent that they reflect his spirit, however fleetingly, they are sharing in the Godness discernible in him. And that Godness is timeless. So that is where the experience of eternal life begins – right here on this messy planet. Its validity does not depend on whether it extends beyond death: rather, that becomes a matter of supreme indifference.

But what about meaning? The churches once taught confidently that the point of this life is to prepare for the next one, though that message is more muted these days. It seems to me perverse, however, to locate the ultimate meaning of life in what happens when it ends. That would be like saying that the after-match function for a rugby test is more important than the way the game was played on the field.

People’s search for meaning in their life is as important today as it has ever been. Some never find it, and their sense that life is meaningless can lead to listlessness, despair, hostility, even suicide. But meaning needs to be created in the context of a modern understanding of life and the way the world is, not by ignoring it. While some will continue to pin their faith on the promise of life in a world beyond, victory over death can be confidently affirmed without it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Ed. Snowden: Saving Us from the U Stasi of A

by Daniel Ellsberg                   Guardian.UK                         June 10, 2013

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an "executive coup" against the US constitution. Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under FISA – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.
Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people's privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.
There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That's why Bradley Manning and I – both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed. But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that's why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.
In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms: "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."  The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America's intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – "at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left."
That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former "democratic republic" of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.
So we have fallen into Senator Church's abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.  But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage, I see the possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.
Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect.             [Abridged]                               © 2013 The Guardian

Monday, 10 June 2013

Edward Snowden as Conscientious Objector

US members of Congress ought to be seeking the earliest opportunity to learn what this brave whistleblower is saying
Guardian Editorial                              June 10, 2013

Edward Snowden is a very modern spy – neither gun-blazingly dashing nor cat-strokingly sinister. He is young, tech-savvy, quietly articulate and intensely interested in human rights. His work did not involve high-speed car chases or elaborate gadgets – just a desk and a computer. Using these simple tools he could spy on anyone, anywhere.
There are many people like him, and they are, on his account, potentially frightening figures. "We hack everyone everywhere," he told the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald in the foreign hotel where he has taken refuge. "I had the authorities to wiretap anyone – you, a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email." He describes a "horrifying" infrastructure where he and other analysts could intercept the vast majority of human communications around the world.
And now Edward Snowden has gone and blown it open – literally. He has stepped out of the shadows and revealed himself to be the source of the Guardian's string of recent disclosures of what the National Security Agency has been up to in recent years – some of it ostensibly legal. He asserts that the NSA has routinely misled the people who are supposed to oversee its actions. He is only too aware that he has himself broken the law by going public with his concerns and that the consequences could well be personally extremely uncomfortable. His actions make him a different kind of frightening figure – to those whose methods he is now directly challenging.
The script for what happens next is, in a sense, routine. It is certain that the US government and security agencies will pursue Snowden to the ends of the earth – appropriately, in his case, since he has taken himself off to Hong Kong. But in other ways the usual processes are already wrong. There is no need for a leaks inquiry: the source has outed himself. And Snowden's current location complicates matter immensely for the US administration. He cannot easily be arrested, rendered and kept in solitary confinement – the fate of another young whistleblower, Bradley Manning, currently on trial and facing an eternity in prison. Edward Snowden promises to be a much more complex problem.
It is doubtless futile to suggest that the US government holds off from its pursuit of Snowden. The legal and diplomatic machinery is probably unstoppable. The appropriate authorities will doubtless bear in mind the parallels with the last comparable attempt to prosecute such a high-profile whistleblower – Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, who also revealed his own actions. His case, 40 years ago this year, was dismissed on grounds of government misconduct.
But it is not, we hope, ridiculous to suggest that both White House and Congress (and governments abroad, including in Westminster) take an intense interest in what Snowden has to say.
President Obama made much this week of the constitutional oversights of the intelligence infrastructure from both Congress and the courts – even if the secret proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts offer limited comfort to the general public. If this oversight is to be at all meaningful members of Congress ought to be seeking the earliest opportunity to learn what Snowden has to say – by video link, if necessary. Snowden is self-evidently not a common thief. He is more like a conscientious objector. It is not enough for Congress to outsource his interrogation to the FBI. It is vital, above all, that elected representatives test the truth of what he is saying – and not simply the ones who, it seems all too possible, have been asleep while minding the shop.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

NSA Whistleblower Revealed

Q&A with Edward Snowden        From a hotel room in Hong Kong, the systems administrator explains why he leaked NSA documents
- Jon Queally, staff writer                         Common Dreams                   June 10, 2013

Get used to hearing the name that belongs to the twenty-nine year old systems administrator who came forward on Sunday as the source behind an explosive series of news stories which detail some of the US government's most far-reaching surveillance programs run by its National Security Agency. In a video interview conducted by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and released by the British newspaper on Sunday, Snowden confesses his role as a NSA whisteblower and explains why he decided to risk his livelihood—and possibly his freedom and his life—in order to bring to American public the extent of the programs he once administered.

"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things," Snowden explained to Greenwald and his colleague Ewan MacAskill in an extensive question and answer session. "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
As the Guardian team reported: Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors.  The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

The Washington Post, at his request, also revealed Snowden's identity on Sunday and reported that his motivations stemmed from a desire to expose the growing ‘surveillance state’ in the US. Along with the Guardian, the Post published an explosive report about the existence of a program called PRISM on Thursday, which was based on documents provided by Snowden and showed that the spy agency has the ability to access the online data from the world's largest private internet systems.

“As I advanced and learned the dangerous truth behind the U.S. policies that seek to develop secret, irresistible powers and concentrate them in the hands of an unaccountable few, human weakness haunted me,” Snowden wrote in a note that accompanied the first documents he leaked to the Post. “As I worked in secret to resist them, selfish fear questioned if the stone thrown by a single man could justify the loss of everything he loves."
From the Post: Snowden said he admires other accused leakers of government secrets, such as Pfc. Bradley E. Manning — who is accused of leaking classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks — but considers himself different. “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest” he told the Guardian. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
There will be much written about Snowden's confession and his decision in the coming days, but for the moment—and given his ability to do it well—perhaps it's most important to let him speak for himself. 
Snowden was interviewed over several days in Hong Kong by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill:
Q: Why did you decide to become a whistleblower? A: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.  "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
Q: But isn't there a need for surveillance to try to reduce the chances of terrorist attacks such as Boston?                A: "We have to decide why terrorism is a new threat. There has always been terrorism. Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The police are very good at what they do."
Q: Do you see yourself as another Bradley Manning?  A: "Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good." 

Q: Do you think what you have done is a crime?  A: "We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me. They have narrowed the public sphere of influence."
Q: What do you think is going to happen to you?  A: "Nothing good."
Q: Why Hong Kong?  A: "I think it is really tragic that an American has to move to a place that has a reputation for less freedom. Still, Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People's Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech."
Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?  A: "That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians." (Snowden is a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA).
Q: What about the Obama administration's protests about hacking by China?  A: "We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries."
Q: Is it possible to put security in place to protect against state surveillance?  A: "You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place."
Q: Does your family know you are planning this?  A: "No. My family does not know what is happening … My primary fear is that they will come after my family, my friends, my partner. Anyone I have a relationship with …      I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. I am not going to be able to communicate with them. They [the authorities] will act aggressively against anyone who has known me. That keeps me up at night."
Q: When did you decide to leak the documents?  A: "You see things that may be disturbing. When you see everything you realise that some of these things are abusive. The awareness of wrong-doing builds up. There was not one morning when I woke up [and decided this is it]. It was a natural process.  "A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor."
Q: What is your reaction to Obama denouncing the leaks on Friday while welcoming a debate on the balance between security and openness?  A: "My immediate reaction was he was having difficulty in defending it himself. He was trying to defend the unjustifiable and he knew it."
Q: What about the response in general to the disclosures?  A: "I have been surprised and pleased to see the public has reacted so strongly in defence of these rights that are being suppressed in the name of security. It is not like Occupy Wall Street but there is a grassroots movement to take to the streets on July 4 in defence of the Fourth Amendment called Restore The Fourth Amendment and it grew out of Reddit. The response over the internet has been huge and supportive."         [Abbrev.]

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Rethinking American Exceptionalism

by David Sirota                Pub. by  TruthDig                      June 9, 2013

“American exceptionalism” is perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in politics. If, like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we define “exceptionalism” as “the condition of being different from the norm”—then it’s certainly true that America is exceptional. But we rarely stop to ask: Should we always want to be exceptional?  The assumption in our culture is yes—but it’s not always so clear-cut when you consider the key ways we are exceptional in comparison to other industrialized countries.
America, for instance, has an exceptional economy. GDP-wise, it is the largest in the world, making it the planet’s most powerful engine of technological innovation and wealth creation. At the same time, the economy is exceptional for creating the industrialized world’s most financially unequal society; producing one of the industrialized world’s highest rates of childhood poverty; and mandating the industrialized world’s least amount of off time (paid sick days, maternity leave, etc.).
In terms of health care, we have an exceptional system that stands out for spending more than any other nation’s. According to the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner, that gets us a system that “is at the top of the charts when it comes to surviving cancer (and) drives much of the innovation and research on health care worldwide.”
Then again, America’s health care system is also exceptional for being the only one in the industrialized world that doesn’t guarantee health care to every citizen. Results-wise, that contributes to a society that, according to a recent National Academy of Sciences report, is far more unhealthy than 16 other developed nations.  “Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries,” the report noted. “Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the life course.”
In terms of freedom, even with the post-9/11 crackdown on civil liberties, America remains exceptional for how our laws safeguard free speech. But we are also exceptional for having the industrialized world’s only president who asserts the right to execute citizens without due process. Similarly, we are exceptional in incarcerating more citizens than any other nation on Earth.
In terms of military might, America is exceptional for having the planet’s most dominant fighting force. We are also exceptional for our spending—we devote more resources to military programs than the next 19 biggest-spending nations combined. And compared to the rest of the industrialized world, we are exceptional in the number of ongoing wars we prosecute; the amount of people we kill; and the amount of casualties we regularly incur.
So, again, in many ways America is indeed quite exceptional. But that’s not always a positive thing, which raises the ultimate question: Is there a way to remain exceptional in ways that benefit us while also being a bit less exceptional in the ways that harm us and others?
Can, for instance, we have an exceptional economy without the exceptionally crushing inequality and poverty? Can we preserve the exceptional parts of our health care system, but also have a system that is less exceptional for how it denies access to all citizens and often delivers substandard health outcomes? Can we preserve exceptional freedoms while also being a less exceptional in our incarceration policies? And can we preserve an exceptionally effective military but be a little less exceptional in how much we spend on the Pentagon, how many wars we initiate, how many casualties we incur and how many people we kill?
The pessimistic answer to these questions is no. But the true sign of American exceptionalism is an America that starts saying yes.             © 2013 TruthDig
David Sirota is a best-selling author whose new book "Back to Our Future" is now available.