Dubious Company

MerkelBased on documents which had been leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters of the Guardian and Washington Post in June last year in Hong Kong, Der Spiegel reports today, among other widespread spying activities in Germany, about  a top secret list (apparently produced for the Five Eyes, i.e. USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which names, in alphabetical order by their first name, altogether 122 targeted country leaders. It mentions, at number 9, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in between former President Amadou Toumadi Toure of Mali  and Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad. The undated list seems to be rather old since former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who had spend the last two and half years in jail from where she was released only a couple of weeks ago during the uproar in Ukraine, is listed last. As Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark got to know,

“The document indicates that Angela Merkel has been placed in the so-called ‘Target Knowledge Database’ (TKB), the central database of individual targets. An internal NSA description states that employees can use it to analyze ‘complete profiles’ of target persons. The responsible NSA unit praises the automated machine-driven administration of collected information about high-value targets.

The searchable sources cited in the document include, among others, the signals intelligence database ‘Marina,’ which contains metadata ingested from sources around the world. The unit also gives special attention to promoting a system for automated name recognition called ‘Nymrod’. The document states that some 300 automatically generated ‘cites,’ or citations, are provided for Angela Merkel alone. The citations in ‘Nymrod’ are derived from intelligence agencies, transcripts of intercepted fax, voice and computer-to-computer communication. According to internal NSA documents, it is used to ‘find information relating to targets that would otherwise be tough to track down.’ Each of the names contained in Nymrod is considered a ‘SIGINT target.’”

It is not clear why not all targeted individuals were published by Der Spiegel. That Angela Merkel, after all America’s strongest ally, is listed by the American intelligence community among dictators is quite unintelligible. In fact, a trained ape, to use a recent comparison by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, would have put her there wasting his time by tapping her text messaging. But Merkel is not really the main problem here. As Der Spiegel argues, the U.S. has apparently access to the communications of all German citizens, “regardless whether those affected are suspected of having committed an offense or not.” Germany as a prime NSA target is in the same league as “China, Mexico, Japan, Venezuela, Yemen, Brazil, Sudan, Guatemala, Bosnia and Russia.”

29 March 2014 @ 4:50 pm.
Last modified March 29, 2014.


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Annexation of Crimea by Russia has been compared with that of the West Bank by Israel today. Well, I had in mind the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1990. While the West is still ignoring the decades-long shameless theft of Palestinean land by Israeli settlers, Saddam’s aggression was initially also tolerated by the United States. Then American Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, had talked to Saddam a week before his onslaught and had suggested sort of a “green light” for war with Kuwait, which Saddam has declared the 19th province of Iraq.

“But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. […] All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.”

We know about that because of the leaked, by WikiLeaks, diplomatic cables (although they had been declassified already in 1998, see a pdf here; at that time Glaspie’s inexperience was easily overlooked by the public). Saddam’s annexation resulted, after George H. W. Bush had changed his mind about his former ally, in a 24-year long war and civil war which is not over. When considering the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980, the Iraqi people are enduring permanent war now for 34 years.

That is not to be expected in the case of Crimea. After American and European amateurish meddling in the Ukrainian uproar Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a walk-over. And, as many believe, no other choice. As a matter of fact, Crimea belonged to Russia, not the Ukraine, which got it as a thoughtless gift from Nikita Khrushchev (“unconstitutional”, as Putin declared yesterday) in 1954, just a symbolic guesture marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part ofthe Russian Empire.

And what about President Obama? Putin may be right when he sees him in a very weak position. Another Cold War is looming, something which America has apparently missed for the past 20 years while desperately seeking new adversaries, for instance, al-Qaeda and all kinds of terrorists, the Iranians, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and last but not least, whistle-blowers, journalists and, well, normal citizens.

Certainly, Russia’s annexation is illegal under international law. As Juan Cole writes, “The Crimean assembly that voted to hold a referendum was not representative. The referendum on Sunday was held under conditions of Russian military occupation and cannot be certified as meeting international standards for elections. The statistics put out about turnout and outcome are suspicious. Still, the annexation is ambiguous.” But is it such a big issue? Not really. At least nothing for going to war. Despite condemning  annexation of Crimea, what Putin actually did, namely making sure that the erosion at the Russian borders does not further accelerate due to meddling of the EU and, in particular, NATO, would be out of question for Obama in case of the U.S. interests being affected.

We expect Putin, Obama and the European leaders to normalize as soon as possible diplomatic relationships. Rather talk than sanctions which hardly ever had worked.

19 March 2014 @ 6:36 pm.
Last modified March 19, 2014.
Posted in EU, Russia, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end”

Edward Snowden has testified at the EU parliament in writing to written questions. The pdf file can be found here. As expected he referred in some detail only to what has been püublished already by journalists. When having been asked by Greens Group member Jan Philipp Albrecht of Germany, “Could we help you in any way, and do you seek asylum in the EU?,” he responded,

“If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end. What happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights.” (Emphasis added.)

It is not about Snowden. Due to his courage we all got a tiny chance to get mass surveillance, a global panopticon, Orwellian persecution of “thoughtcrimes”, once and forever stopped.

As for asylum, Snowden writes,

“[...], I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, ‘will not allow’ EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage.”

It is not so clear whether the United States “won’t allow EU partners to offer” Snowden asylum or whether certain EU countries (not the UK) have to ponder pro and cons of a transatlantic crisis. But someone has to do it. What kind of sanctions would be imposed if Snowden would get asylum and a new identity in Germany? After Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “handy” and mobile phones of members of her Cabinet were tapped by NSA? After continuing education courses, conducted by NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, on how to discredit targets by abusing internet tools.

We need to understand that claims that mass surveillance is for safety is nonsense. After all, not a single terrorist attack after 9-11 had been prevented by mass surveillance, as Snowden repeats in his introduction. Quite the opposite.

One rapporteur, apparently from the UK, eventually asked the misleading question, “Do you still plan to release more files, and have you disclosed or been asked to disclose any information regarding the content of these files to Chinese and Russian authorities or any names contained within them?”, still not realizing that Snowden is no longer in the possession of the files.

8 March 2014 @ 6:07 pm.
Last modified March 8, 2014.
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Manufactured Evidence

HostagesThe new book by true investigative journalist Gareth Porter, Manufactured Crisis, summarizes the decade-long deception of the public about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. It is not real news that the United States, Israel and the Iranian terrorist organization Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) had joined in a big conspiracy in the successful attempt to isolate Iran internationally and impose on the Pariah state eventually crippling sanctions. However, since Porter bases much of his narrative on recent interviews with numerous insiders, among them former CIA and IAEA officers, some of whom only testifying after insisting not to be identified, the picture, which may have been blurred when just reading the quarterly reports by IAEA Director General on Iran, or David Albright’s interpretations, becomes clearer. A policy of denial since the mid-1980s, Natanz, George W. Bush putting Iran on an imaginary “axis of evil”, exploiting IAEA’s leverage for foreign policy, Fordow, Parchin, UN sanctions; and more sanctions.

Well, Porter’s “alternative narrative” is biased as well. Painting Israel, the MEK and the U.S. as the sole villains in the play is not enough. Americans have asked, in particular after traumatic 9-11, “Why do they [the Muslims] hate us ['Westerners']?”, a question which can easily be answered by analyzing U.S. American foreign policy after WWII. But why do America and the West hate Iran? The 1979/81 hostage crisis and Jimmy Carter’s  helpless attempt to free the American diplomats in his ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw is not mentioned in Porter’s book. As fact of the matter, America was at war with Iran ever since. The brutal Iraq-Iran war was just a proxy where Saddam’s war crimes had been tolerated if not facilitated by the Americans under President Ronald Reagan. Iranians had to pay the highest price. Of course would they be denied of nuclear technology, and anything else.

But didn’t they deserve? The Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Khomeini, which emerged after the ouster of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was in fact a rogue regime which undoubtedly helped all kinds of terrorist organizations in the Middle East and conducted terrorist acts itself. It was another cold war, and the U.S. was lacking an arch foe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Porter doesn’t explain why Iran strived for nuclear technology at all. It is indeed most likely that Iran seeks (and always sought) what is called nuclear latency, the “Japan option” of being in the position to quickly build a nuclear bomb if and only if a decision was made. Self-evidently, the U.S. and other world powers (P5+1) do not want that and cannot publicly discuss that since Iran is a member state of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has therefore the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Since the Iranians eventually helped themself a “crisis” was inevitable.

That any intelligence which would point to Iran’s peaceful nuclear ambitions was frankly ignored is not credible. It is more likely that realpolitik was made by several American administrations regardless of evidence for Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. American administrations’ policy is in fact to misinform the public, at least since the Vietnam war. In that regard, Porter’s book comes late.

One may question whether now emerging aggressive and, as claimed, “fearless and adversarial” journalism by Greenwald et al. would have prevented such a decade-long manufactured crisis with its dramatic consequences not only for Iran but the whole region. Well, who knows?

7 March 2014 @ 10:30 am.
Last modified March 7, 2014.
Posted in Book Review, Iran, USA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How War Against Terror Became War Against Journalists Turning War Against Terror Again

When listening to journalists’ immediate comments after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2001, one could only expect that the world would change forever. Of course, all of us feared long-lasting war with the Islamic world, in particular having a former alcoholic and born-again Christian and crusader sitting in the White House. When George W. Bush struck Afghanistan couple of weeks later, that time, under the world-wide shock of 9-11, with a broad coalition, it was very clear that dumb retaliation was his main motivation, not so much the capture of the assault’s masterminds who might have fled already to neighboring Pakistan (where bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEAL almost a decade later). Let alone building wells and girl schools as was told the public in Germany when its soldiers were sent on a mission which was called a war only in 2010.

As the war went on for a decade and half, setting the whole Middle East on fire, the anti-war movement grew world-wide. But did anybody expect an Orwellian surveillance state developing? Well, there were early warnings, of course.

What essentially shaped much of domestic and foreign politics (after the financial meltdown of 2007/08 and the Eurozone crisis) in the present decade were the massive leaks by Chelsea Manning providing just a glimpse of what was really going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and U.S. American Embassies around the world; and those of Edward Snowden whose leaks have unmasked tactis and means of huge, unelected spying organizations in the U.S. and UK of, well, Orwellian dimension. And they have shown us the true colors of a Peace Nobel Prize awardee whose numerous noble speeches turned out to be rubbish. A useless presidency of someone once regarded nothing but a new messiah.

There are still claims that NSA mass surveillance has made the world a safer place after the terror attacks causing about 3000+ casualties (to be compared with millions of killed and displaced people including the new civil wars in the Middle East). But these claims are heavily questioned meanwhile. The world-wide panopticon via internet and mobile comunication (Jeremy Benthem who had actually invented it, had, it is said,  quite noble intents) has only one aim: total control of all citizens. Earlier attempts were made by Nazi (Gestapo) and Communist Germany (Stasi) and Stalinist USSR. And it’s no wonder that the totalitarian surveillance state turns against those who have courageously exposed it, Convicted Chelsea Manning being locked-up for 35 years in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange having got stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, UK, since August 2012; Edward Snowden in an undisclosed place having been granted asylum in Russia; and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in unintended exile in Rio de Janeiro and Berlin, respectively.

The War against Terror, which President Obama had proclaimed to end during his term, has all of the sudden turned into a war on journalists who had dared to report on troves of leaks exposing its highly questionable collateral damages. And while he threw down the gauntlet for only one purpose, intimidation, they picked it up.

Glenn Greenwald, who describes his new magazine The Intercept (of Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media enterprise) as “fearless, adversarial journalism”, has exposed, from Edward Snowden’s archive of leaks, the abject mindset of employees of the British counterpart of NSA, the GCHQ (public servants after all) who actually teach their collaborators “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations”, another document by the GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group which had been presented to the NSA as well as spy organizations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand (the so-called “Five Eyes Alliance”). Given the fact that internet usage and mobile communication of all of us is monitored meanwhile and it is not clear who is “the target to be discredited”, the document on “The Art of Deception” is a war declaration on all citizens. It is of course about sex (“Set up a honey trap”) and defamation (“Write a blog purporting to be one of their victims”; “Email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc”). It is about infiltrating computers with viruses and other malware. It is about “The 4 D’s: Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive.” As Greenwald writes, “these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.”

I want to go further: this seems to be outright state terrorism. Can new media enterprises ever fight it? We’ll see. At least, Manning’s and Snowden’s leaks may be regarded later as a turning point. A last chance to abrogate a development which has been foreseen by George Orwell in 1949. It didn’t happen in 1984. It happened more or less unnoticed somewhat later. It took about 30 years that people became aware of it.

The internet was just a tool for a desired panopticon. It was never meant to enhance democracy.

25 February 2014 @ 10:15 am.
Last modified February 25, 2014.
Posted in surveillance, Terrorism, UK, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment